The End of Her Honeymoon
Mrs. Belloc Lowndes
Author of "The Uttermost Farthing," "The Chink in the Armour," etc., etc.
"Cocher? l'Hotel Saint Ange, Rue Saint Ange!"
The voice of John Dampier, Nancy's three-weeks bridegroom, rang out strongly, joyously, on this the last evening of their honeymoon. And before the lightly hung open carriage had time to move, Dampier added something quickly, at which both he and the driver laughed in unison.
Nancy crept nearer to her husband. It was tiresome that she knew so little French.
"I'm telling the man we're not in any hurry, and that he can take us round by the Boulevards. I won't have you seeing Paris from an ugly angle the first time—darling!"
"But Jack? It's nearly midnight! Surely there'll be nothing to see on the Boulevards now?"
"Won't there? You wait and see—Paris never goes to sleep!"
And then—Nancy remembered it long, long afterwards—something very odd and disconcerting happened in the big station yard of the Gare de Lyon. The horse stopped—stopped dead. If it hadn't been that the bridegroom's arm enclosed her slender, rounded waist, the bride might have been thrown out.
The cabman stood up in his seat and gave his horse a vicious blow across the back.
"Oh, Jack!" Nancy shrank and hid her face in her husband's arm. "Don't let him do that! I can't bear it!"
Dampier shouted out something roughly, angrily, and the man jumped off the box, and taking hold of the rein gave it a sharp pull. He led his unwilling horse through the big iron gates, and then the little open carriage rolled on smoothly.
How enchanting to be driving under the stars in the city which hails in every artist—Jack Dampier was an artist—a beloved son!
In the clear June atmosphere, under the great arc-lamps which seemed suspended in the mild lambent air, the branches of the trees lining the Boulevards showed brightly, delicately green; and the tints of the dresses worn by the women walking up and down outside the cafes and still brilliantly lighted shops mingled luminously, as on a magic palette.
Nancy withdrew herself gently from her husband's arm. It seemed to her that every one in that merry, slowly moving crowd on either side must see that he was holding her to him. She was a shy, sensitive little creature, this three-weeks-old bride, whose honeymoon was now about to merge into happy every-day life.
Dampier divined something of what she was feeling. He put out his hand and clasped hers. "Silly sweetheart," he whispered. "All these merry, chattering people are far too full of themselves to be thinking of us!"
As she made no answer, bewildered, a little oppressed by the brilliance, the strangeness of everything about them, he added a little anxiously, "Darling, are you tired? Would you rather go straight to the hotel?"
But pressing closer to him, Nancy shook her head. "No, no, Jack! I'm not a bit tired. It was you who were tired to-day, not I!"
"I didn't feel well in the train, 'tis true. But now that I'm in Paris I could stay out all night! I suppose you've never read George Moore's description of this very drive we're taking, little girl?"
And again Nancy shook her head, and smiled in the darkness. In the world where she had lived her short life, in the comfortable, unimaginative world in which Nancy Tremain, the delightfully pretty, fairly well-dowered, orphan, had drifted about since she had been "grown-up," no one had ever heard of George Moore.
Strange, even in some ways amazing, their marriage—hers and Jack Dampier's—had been! He, the clever, devil-may-care artist, unconventional in all his ways, very much a Bohemian, knowing little of his native country, England, for he had lived all his youth and working life in France—and she, in everything, save an instinctive love of beauty, which, oddly yet naturally enough, only betrayed itself in her dress, the exact opposite!
A commission from an English country gentleman who had fancied a portrait shown by Dampier in the Salon, had brought the artist, rather reluctantly, across the Channel, and an accident—sometimes it made them both shiver to realise how slight an accident—had led to their first and decisive meeting.
Nancy Tremain had been brought over to tea, one cold, snowy afternoon, at the house where Dampier was painting. She had been dressed all in grey, and the graceful velvet gown and furry cap-like toque had made her look, in his eyes, like an exquisite Eighteenth Century pastel.
One glance—so Dampier had often since assured her and she never grew tired of hearing it—had been enough. They had scarcely spoken the one to the other, but he had found out her name, and, writing, cajoled her into seeing him again. Very soon he had captured her in the good old way, as women—or so men like to think—prefer to be wooed, by right of conquest.
There had been no one to say them nay, no one to comment unkindly over so strange and sudden a betrothal. On the contrary, Nancy's considerable circle of acquaintances had smilingly approved.
All the world loves a masterful lover, and Nancy Tremain was far too pretty, far too singular and charming, to become engaged in the course of nature to some commonplace young man. This big, ugly, clever, amusing artist was just the contrast which was needed for romance.
And he seemed by his own account to be making a very good income, too! Yet, artists being such eccentric, extravagant fellows, doubtless Nancy's modest little fortune would come in useful—so those about them argued carelessly.
Then one of her acquaintances, a thought more good-natured than the rest, arranged that lovely, happy Nancy should be married from a pleasant country house, in a dear little country church. Braving superstition, the wedding took place in the last week of May, and bride and bridegroom had gone to Italy—though, to be sure, it was rather late for Italy—for three happy weeks.
Now they were about to settle down in Dampier's Paris studio.
Unluckily it was an Exhibition Year, one of those years, that is, which, hateful as they may be to your true Parisian, pour steady streams of gold into the pockets of fortunate hotel and shop keepers, and which bring a great many foreigners to Paris who otherwise might never have come. Quite a number of such comfortable English folk were now looking forward to going and seeing Nancy Dampier in her new home—of which the very address was quaint and unusual, for Dampier's studio was situated Impasse des Nonnes.
They were now speeding under and across the vast embracing shadow of the Opera House. And again Dampier slipped his arm round his young wife. It seemed to this happy man as if Paris to-night had put on her gala dress to welcome him, devout lover and maker of beauty, back to her bosom.
"Isn't it pleasant to think," he whispered, "that Paris is the more beautiful because you now are in it and of it, Nancy?"
And Nancy smiled, well pleased at the fantastic compliment.
She pressed more closely to him.
"I wish—I wish—" and then she stopped, for she was unselfish, shy of expressing her wishes, but that made Dampier ever the more eager to hear, and, if possible, to gratify them.
"What is it that you wish, dear heart?" he asked.
"I wish, Jack, that we were going straight home to the studio now—instead of to an hotel."
"We'll get in very soon," he answered quickly. "Believe me, darling, you wouldn't like going in before everything is ready for you. Mere Bideau has her good points, but she could never make the place look as I want it to look when you first see it. I'll get up early to-morrow morning and go and see to it all. I wouldn't for the world you saw our home as it must look now—the poor little living rooms dusty and shabby, and our boxes sitting sadly in the middle of the studio itself!"
They had sent their heavy luggage on from England, and for the honeymoon Nancy had contented herself with one modest little trunk, while Dampier had taken the large portmanteau which had been the useful wedding present of the new friend and patron in whose house he had first seen his wife.
Swiftly they shot through the triple arch which leads from the Rue de Rivoli to the Carousel. How splendid and solitary was the vast dimly-lit space. "I like this," whispered Nancy dreamily, gazing up at the dark, star-powdered sky.
And then Dampier turned and caught her, this time unresisting, yielding joyfully, to his breast. "Nancy?" he murmured thickly. "Nancy? I'm afraid!"
"Afraid?" she repeated wonderingly.
"Yes, horribly afraid! Pray, my pure angel, pray that the gods may indulge their cruel sport elsewhere. I haven't always been happy, Nancy."
And she clung to him, full of vague, unsubstantial fears. "Don't talk like that," she murmured. "It—it isn't right to make fun of such things."
"Make fun? Good God!" was all he said.
And then his mood changed. They were now being shaken across the huge, uneven paving stones of the quays, and so on to a bridge. "I never really feel at home in Paris till I've crossed the Seine," he cried joyously. "Cheer up, darling, we shall soon be at the Hotel Saint Ange!"
"Have you ever stayed in the Hotel Saint Ange?" she said, with a touch of curiosity in her voice.
"I used to know a fellow who lived there," he said carelessly. "But what made me pick it out was the fact that it's such a queer, beautiful old house, and with a delightful garden. Also we shall meet no English there."
"Don't you like English people?" she asked, a little protestingly.
And Dampier laughed. "I like them everywhere but in Paris," he said: and then, "But you won't be quite lonely, little lady, for a good many Americans go to the Hotel Saint Ange. And for such a funny reason—"
"It was there that Edgar Allan Poe stayed when he was in Paris."
Their carriage was now engaged in threading narrow, shadowed thoroughfares which wound through what might have been a city of the dead. From midnight till cock-crow old-world Paris sleeps, and the windows of the high houses on either side of the deserted streets through which they were now driving were all closely shuttered.
"Here we have the ceremonious, the well-bred, the tactful Paris of other days," exclaimed Dampier whimsically. "This Paris understands without any words that what we now want is to be quiet, and by ourselves, little girl!"
A gas lamp, burning feebly in a corner wine shop, lit up his exultant face for a flashing moment.
"You don't look well, Jack," Nancy said suddenly. "It was awfully hot in Lyons this morning—"
"We stayed just a thought too long in that carpet warehouse," he said gaily,—"And then—and then that prayer carpet, which might have belonged to Ali Baba of Ispahan, has made me feel ill with envy ever since! But joy! Here we are at last!"
After emerging into a square of which one side was formed by an old Gothic church, they had engaged in a dark and narrow street the further end of which was bastioned by one of the flying buttresses of the church they had just passed.
The cab drew up with a jerk. "C'est ici, monsieur."
The man had drawn up before a broad oak porte cochere which, sunk far back into a thick wall, was now inhospitably shut.
"They go to bed betimes this side of the river!" exclaimed Dampier ruefully.
Nancy felt a little troubled. The hotel people knew they were coming, for Jack had written from Marseilles: it was odd no one had sat up for them.
But their driver gave the wrought-iron bell-handle a mighty pull, and after what seemed to the two travellers a very long pause the great doors swung slowly back on their hinges, while a hearty voice called out, "C'est vous, Monsieur Gerald? C'est vous, mademoiselle?"
And Dampier shouted back in French, "It's Mr. and Mrs. Dampier. Surely you expect us? I wrote from Marseilles three days ago!"
He helped his wife out of the cab, and they passed through into the broad, vaulted passage which connected the street with the courtyard of the hotel. By the dim light afforded by an old-fashioned hanging lamp Nancy Dampier saw that three people had answered the bell; they were a middle-aged man (evidently mine host), his stout better half, and a youth who rubbed his eyes as if sleepy, and who stared at the newcomers with a dull, ruminating stare.
As is generally the case in a French hotel, it was Madame who took command. She poured forth a torrent of eager, excited words, and at last Dampier turned to his wife:—"They got my letter, but of course had no address to which they could answer, and—and it's rather a bore, darling—but they don't seem to have any rooms vacant."
But even as he spoke the fat, cheerful-looking Frenchwoman put her hand on the young Englishman's arm. She had seen the smart-looking box of the bride, the handsome crocodile skin bag of the bridegroom, and again she burst forth, uttering again and again the word "arranger."
Dampier turned once more, this time much relieved, to his wife: "Madame Poulain (that's her name, it seems) thinks she can manage to put us up all right to-night, if we don't mind two very small rooms—unluckily not on the same floor. But some people are going away to-morrow and then she'll have free some charming rooms overlooking the garden."
He took a ten-franc piece out of his pocket as he spoke, and handed it to the gratified cabman:—"It doesn't seem too much for a drive through fairyland"—he said aside to his wife.
And Nancy nodded contentedly. It pleased her that her Jack should be generous—the more that she had found out in the last three weeks that if generous, he was by no means a spendthrift. He had longed to buy a couple of Persian prayer carpets in that queer little warehouse where a French friend of his had taken them in Lyons, but he had resisted the temptation—nobly.
Meanwhile Madame Poulain was talking, talking, talking—emphasising all she said with quick, eager gestures.
"They are going to put you in their own daughter's room, darling. She's luckily away just now. So I think you will be all right. I, it seems, must put up with a garret!"
"Oh, must you be far away from me?" she asked a little plaintively.
"Only for to-night, only till to-morrow, sweetheart."
And then they all began going up a winding staircase which started flush from the wall to the left.
First came Madame Poulain, carrying a candle, then Monsieur Poulain with his new English clients, and, last of all, the loutish lad carrying Nancy's trunk. They had but a little way to go up the shallow slippery stairs, for when they reached the first tiny landing Madame Poulain opened a curious, narrow slit of a door which seemed, when shut, to be actually part of the finely panelled walls.
"Here's my daughter's room," said the landlady proudly. "It is very comfortable and charming."
"What an extraordinary little room!" whispered Nancy.
And Dampier, looking round him with a good deal of curiosity, agreed.
In the days when the Hotel Saint Ange belonged to the great soldier whose name it still bears, this strange little apartment had surely been, so the English artist told himself, a powdering closet. Even now the only outside light and air came from a small square window which had evidently only recently been cut through the thick wall. In front of this aperture fluttered a bright pink curtain.
Covering three of the walls as well as the low ceiling, was a paper simulating white satin powdered with rose-buds, and the bed, draped with virginal muslin curtains, was a child's rather than a woman's bed.
"What's that?" asked Dampier suddenly. "A cupboard?"
He had noticed that wide double doors, painted in the pale brownish grey called grisaille, formed the further side of the tiny apartment.
Madame Poulain, turning a key, revealed a large roomy space now fitted up as a cupboard. "It's a way through into our bedroom, monsieur," she said smiling. "We could not of course allow our daughter to be far from ourselves."
And Dampier nodded. He knew the ways of French people and sympathised with those ways.
He stepped up into the cupboard, curious to see if this too had been a powdering closet, and if that were so if the old panelling and ornamentation had remained in their original condition.
Thus for a moment was Dampier concealed from those in the room. And during that moment there came the sound of footsteps on the staircase, followed by the sudden appearance on the landing outside the open door of the curious little apartment of two tall figures—a girl in a lace opera cloak, and a young man in evening dress.
Nancy Dampier, gazing at them, a little surprised at the abrupt apparition, told herself that they must be brother and sister, so striking was their resemblance to one another.
"We found the porte cochere open, Madame Poulain, so we just came straight in. Good night!"
The young lady spoke excellent French, but as she swept on up the staircase out of sight there came a quick low interchange of English words between herself and the man with her.
"Daisy? Did you notice that beautiful young woman? A regular stunner! She must be that daughter the Poulains are always talking about."
And then "Daisy's" answer floated down. "Yes, I noticed her—she is certainly very pretty. But do be careful, Gerald, I expect she knows a little English—"
Dampier stepped down out of the cupboard.
"That American cub ought to be put in his place!" he muttered heatedly.
Nancy turned her face away to hide a little smile. Jack was so funny! He delighted in her beauty—he was always telling her so, and yet it annoyed him if other people thought her pretty too. This young American had looked at her quite pleasantly, quite respectfully; he hadn't meant to be offensive—of that Nancy felt sure.
"I suppose you have a good many Americans this year?" went on Dampier in French, turning to Monsieur Poulain.
"No, monsieur, no. Our clientele is mostly French. We have only this young lady, her brother, and their father, monsieur. The father is a Senator in his own country—Senator Burton. They are very charming people, and have stayed with us often before. All our other guests are French. We have never had such a splendid season: and all because of the Exhibition!"
"I'm glad you are doing well," said Dampier courteously. "But for my part"—he shrugged his shoulders—"I'm too much of a Parisian to like the Exhibition."
Then he turned to Nancy: "Well, you'll be quite safe, my darling. Monsieur and Madame Poulain are only just through here, so you needn't feel lonely."
And then there came a chorus of bonsoirs from host, from hostess, and from the lad who now stood waiting with the Englishman's large portmanteau hitched up on his shoulder.
Dampier bent and kissed his wife very tenderly: then he followed Monsieur Poulain and the latter's nephew up the stairs, while Madame Poulain stayed behind and helped Mrs. Dampier to unpack the few things she required for the night.
And Nancy, though she felt just a little bewildered to find herself alone in this strange house, was yet amused and cheered by the older woman's lively chatter, and that although she only understood one word in ten.
Madame Poulain talked of her daughter, Virginie, now in the country well away from the holiday crowds brought by the Exhibition, and also of her nephew, Jules, the lad who had carried up the luggage, and who knew—so Madame Poulain went to some pains to make Nancy understand—a little English.
Late though it was, the worthy woman did not seem in any hurry to go away, but at last came the kindly words which even Nancy, slight as was her knowledge of French, understood: "Bonsoir, madame. Dormez bien."
Nancy Dampier sat up in bed.
Through the curtain covering the square aperture in the wall which did duty for a window the strong morning light streamed in, casting a pink glow over the peculiar little room.
She drew the pearl-circled watch, which had been one of Jack's first gifts to her, from under the big, square pillow.
It was already half-past nine. How very tiresome and strange that she should have overslept herself on this, her first morning in Paris! And yet—and yet not so very strange after all, for her night had been curiously and disagreeably disturbed.
At first she had slept the deep, dreamless sleep of happy youth, and then, in a moment, she had suddenly sat up, wide awake.
The murmur of talking had roused her—of eager, low talking in the room which lay the other side of the deep cupboard. When the murmur had at last ceased she had dozed off, only to be waked again by the sound of the porte cochere swinging back on its huge hinges.
It was evidently quite true—as Jack had said—that Paris never goes to sleep.
Jack had declared he would get up and go over to the studio early, so there was nothing for it but to get up, and wait patiently till he came back. Nancy knew that her husband wouldn't like her to venture out into the streets alone. He was extraordinarily careful of her—careful and thoughtful for her comfort.
What an angel he was—her great strong, clever Jack!
A girl who goes about by herself as much as Nancy Tremain had gone about alone during the three years which had elapsed betwixt her leaving school and her marriage, obtains a considerable knowledge of men, and not of the nicest kind of men. But Jack was an angel—she repeated the rather absurdly incongruous word to herself with a very tender feeling in her heart. He always treated her not only as if she were something beautiful and rare, but something fragile, to be respected as well as adored....
He had left her so little during the last three weeks that she had never had time to think about him as she was thinking of him now; "counting up her mercies," as an old-fashioned lady she had known as a child was wont to advise those about her to do.
At last she looked round her for a bell. No, there was nothing of the sort in the tiny room. But Nancy Dampier had already learned to do without all sorts of things which she had regarded as absolute necessities of life when she was Nancy Tremain. In some of the humbler Italian inns in which she and Jack had been so happy, the people had never even heard of a bell!
She jumped out of bed, put on her pretty, pale blue dressing-gown—it was a fancy of Jack's that she should wear a great deal of pale blue and white—and then she opened the door a little way.
"Madame!" she called out gaily. "Madame Poulain?" and wondered whether her French would run to the words "hot water"—yes, she thought it would. "Eau chaude"—that was hot water.
But there came no answering cry, and again, this time rather impatiently, she called out, "Madame Poulain?"
And then the shuffling sounds of heavy footsteps made Nancy shoot back from the open door.
"Yuss?" muttered a hoarse voice.
This surely must be the loutish-looking youth who, so Nancy suddenly remembered, knew a little English.
"I want some hot water," she called out through the door. "And will you please ask your aunt to come here for a moment?"
"Yuss," he said, in that queer hoarse voice, and shuffled downstairs again. And there followed, floating up from below, one of those quick, gabbling interchanges of French words which Nancy, try as she might, could not understand.
She got into bed again. Perhaps after all it would be better to allow them to bring up her "little breakfast" in the foreign fashion. She would still be in plenty of time for Jack. Once in the studio he would be in no hurry, or so she feared, to come back—especially if on his way out he had opened her door and seen how soundly she was sleeping.
She waited some time, and then, as no one came, grew what she so seldom was, impatient and annoyed. What an odd hotel, and what dilatory, disagreeable ways! But just as she was thinking of getting up again she heard a hesitating knock.
It was Madame Poulain, and suddenly Nancy—though unobservant as is youth, and especially happy youth—noticed that mine hostess looked far less well in the daytime than by candle-light.
Madame Poulain's stout, sallow face was pale, her cheeks puffy; there were rings round the black eyes which had sparkled so brightly the night before. But then she too must have had a disturbed night.
In her halting French Mrs. Dampier explained that she would like coffee and rolls, and then some hot water.
"C'est bien, mademoiselle!"
And Nancy blushed rosy-red. "Mademoiselle?" How odd to hear herself so addressed! But Madame Poulain did not give her time to say anything, even if she had wished to do so, for, before Mrs. Dampier could speak again, the hotel-keeper had shut the door and gone downstairs.
And then, after a long, long wait, far longer than Nancy had ever been made to wait in any of the foreign hotels in which she and her husband had stayed during the last three weeks, Madame Poulain reappeared, bearing a tray in her large, powerful hands.
She put the tray down on the bed, and she was already making her way quickly, silently to the door, when Nancy called out urgently, "Madame? Madame Poulain! Has my husband gone out!"
And then she checked herself, and tried to convey the same question in her difficult French—"Mon mari?" she said haltingly. "Mon mari?"
But Madame Poulain only shook her head, and hurried out of the room, leaving the young Englishwoman oddly discomfited and surprised.
It was evidently true what Jack had said—that tiresome Exhibition had turned everything in Paris, especially the hotels, topsy-turvy. Madame Poulain was cross and tired, run off her feet, maybe; her manner, too, quite different now from what it had been the night before.
Nancy Dampier got up and dressed. She put on a pale blue linen gown which Jack admired, and a blue straw hat trimmed with grey wings which Jack said made her look like Mercury.
She told herself that there could be no reason why she shouldn't venture out of her room and go downstairs, where there must surely be some kind of public sitting-room.
Suddenly remembering the young American's interchange of words with his sister, she wondered, smiling to herself, if she would ever see them again. How cross the young man's idle words had made Jack! Dear, jealous Jack, who hated it so when people stared at her as foreigners have a trick of staring. It made Nancy happy to know that people thought her pretty, nay beautiful, for it would have been dreadful for Jack, an artist, to marry an ugly woman....
Locking her box she went out onto the shallow staircase, down the few steps which led straight under the big arch of the porte cochere. It was thrown hospitably open on to the narrow street now full of movement, colour, and sound. But in vivid contrast to the moving panorama presented by the busy, lane-like thoroughfare outside, was the spacious, stone-paved courtyard of the hotel, made gay with orange trees in huge green tubs. Almost opposite the porte cochere was another arch through which she could see a glimpse of the cool, shady garden Jack remembered.
Yes, it was a strangely picturesque and charming old house, this Hotel Saint Ange; but even so Nancy felt a little lost, a little strange, standing there under the porte cochere. Then she saw that painted up on a glass door just opposite the stairs leading to her room was the word "Bureau": it was doubtless there that Jack had left word when he would be back.
She went across and opened the door, but to her surprise there was no one in the little office; she hadn't, however, long to wait, for Madame Poulain's nephew suddenly appeared from the courtyard.
He had on an apron; there was a broom in his hand, and as he came towards her, walking very, very slowly, there came over Nancy Dampier, she could not have told you why, a touch of repulsion from the slovenly youth.
"I wish to know," she said, "whether my husband left any message for me?"
But the young man shook his head. He shuffled first on one foot and then on the other, looking miserably awkward. It was plain that he did not know more than a word or two of English.
"I am sure," she said, speaking slowly and very distinctly, "that my husband left some kind of message with your uncle or aunt. Will you please ask one of them to speak to me?"
He nodded. "Si, mademoiselle" and walked quickly away, back into the courtyard.
"Mademoiselle" again! What an extraordinary hotel, and what bad manners these people had! And yet again and again Jack had compared English and French hotels—always to the disadvantage of the former.
Long minutes went by, and Nancy began to feel vexed and angry. Then there fell on her listening ears a phrase uttered very clearly in Madame Poulain's resonant voice: "C'est ton tour maintenant! Vas-y, mon ami!"
And before she had time to try and puzzle out the sense of the words, she saw Monsieur Poulain's portly figure emerge from the left side of the courtyard, and then—when he caught sight of the slim, blue-clad figure standing under his porte cochere—beat a hasty retreat.
Nancy's sense of discomfort and indignation grew. What did these people mean by treating her like this? She longed with a painful, almost a sick longing for her husband's return. It must be very nearly eleven o'clock. Why did he stay away so long?
A painful, choking feeling—one she had very, very seldom experienced during the course of her short, prosperous life, came into her throat.
Angrily she dashed away two tears from her eyes.
This was a horrid hotel! The Poulains were hateful people! Jack had made a mistake—how could he have brought her to such a place? She would tell him when he came back that he must take her away now, at once, to some ordinary, nice hotel, where the people knew English, and where they treated their guests with ordinary civility.
And then there shot through Nancy Dampier a feeling of quick relief, for, walking across the courtyard, evidently on their way out, came a pleasant-looking elderly gentleman, accompanied by the girl whom Nancy had seen for a brief moment standing on the landing close to her bedroom door the night before.
These were English people? No, American of course! But that was quite as good, for they, thank heaven! spoke English. She could ask them to be her interpreters with those extraordinary Poulains. Jack wouldn't mind her doing that. Why, he might have left quite an important message for her!
She took a step forward, and the strangers stopped. The old gentleman—Nancy called him in her own mind an old gentleman, though Senator Burton was by no means old in his own estimation or in that of his contemporaries—smiled a very pleasant, genial smile.
Nancy Dampier made a charming vision as she stood under the arch of the porte cochere, her slender, blue-clad figure silhouetted against the dark background by the street outside, and the colour coming and going in her face.
"May I speak to you a moment?" she said shyly.
The American took off his hat, and stood looking down at her kindly. "My name is Burton, Senator Burton, at your service! What can I do for you?".
The simple little question brought back all Nancy's usual happy confidence. How silly she had been just now to feel so distressed.
"I'm Mrs. Dampier, and I can't make the hotel people understand what I say," she explained. "I mean Monsieur and Madame Poulain—and the nephew—I think his name is Jules—though he is supposed to speak English, is so very stupid."
"Yes, indeed he is!" chimed in the girl whom her brother had called "Daisy." "I've long ago given up trying to make that boy understand anything, even in French. But they do work him most awfully hard, you know; they have women in each day to help with the cleaning, but that poor lad does everything else—everything, that is, that the Poulains don't do themselves."
"What is it that you can't make them understand?" asked Senator Burton indulgently. "Tell us what it is you want to ask them?"
"I only wish to know at what time my husband went out, and whether he left any message for me," answered Nancy rather shamefacedly. "You see the hotel is so full that they put us on different floors, and I haven't seen him this morning."
"I'll find that out for you at once. I expect Madame Poulain is in her kitchen just now."
The Senator turned and went back into the courtyard, leaving his daughter and the young Englishwoman alone together.
"The Poulains seem such odd, queer people," said Nancy hesitatingly.
"D'you think so? We've always found them all right," said the girl, smiling. "Of course they're dreadfully busy just now because of the Exhibition. The hotel is full of French people, and they give Madame Poulain a great deal of trouble. But she doesn't grudge it, for she and her husband are simply coining money! They're determined that their daughter shall have a splendid dowry!" She waited a moment, and then repeated, "Oh, yes, the Poulains are very good sort of people. They're very kindly and good-natured."
To this remark Nancy made no answer. She thought the Poulains both rude and disagreeable, but she had no wish to speak ill of them to this nice girl. How lucky it was that these kind Americans had come to her rescue! Though still feeling indignant and uncomfortable with regard to the way in which she had been treated by the hotel-keeper and his wife, she felt quite happy again now.
Senator Burton was away for what seemed, not only to Mrs. Dampier, but also to his daughter, a considerable time. But at last they saw him coming slowly towards them. His eyes were bent on the ground; he seemed to be thinking, deeply.
Nancy Dampier took a step forward. "Well?" she said eagerly, and then a little shyly she uttered his name, "Well, Mr. Burton? What do they say? Did my husband leave any message?"
"No, he doesn't seem to have done that." And then the Senator looked down searchingly into the young Englishwoman's face. It was a very lovely face, and just now the look of appeal, of surprise, in the blue eyes added a touch of pathetic charm. He thought of the old expression, "Beauty in distress."
His daughter broke in: "Why, Mrs. Dampier, do come upstairs and wait in our sitting-room," she said cordially. "I'll come with you, for we were only going out for a little stroll, weren't we, father?"
Nancy Dampier hesitated. She did not notice that the American Senator omitted to endorse his daughter's invitation; she hesitated for a very different reason: "You're very kind; but if I do that I shall have to tell Madame Poulain, for it would give my husband a dreadful fright if he came in and found I had left my room and disappeared"—she blushed and smiled very prettily.
And again Senator Burton looked searchingly down into the lovely, flushed little face; but the deep-blue, guileless-looking eyes met his questioning gaze very frankly. He said slowly, "Very well, I will go and tell Madame Poulain that you will be waiting up in our sitting-room, Mrs.—ah—Dampier."
He went out across the courtyard again, and once more he seemed, at any rate to his daughter, to stay away longer than was needed for the delivery of so simple a message.
Growing impatient, Miss Burton took Nancy Dampier across the sunlit courtyard to the wide old oak staircase, the escalier d'honneur, as it was still called in the hotel, down which the Marquis de Saint Ange had clattered when starting for Fontenoy.
When they were half-way up the Senator joined them, and a few moments later when they had reached the second landing, he put a key in the lock of a finely carved door, then he stood back, courteously, to allow his daughter's guest to walk through into the small lobby which led to the delightful suite of rooms which the Burtons always occupied during their frequent visits to Paris.
Nancy uttered an exclamation of delight as she passed through into the high-pitched, stately salon, whose windows overlooked one of those leafy gardens which are still the pride of old Paris. "This is delightful!" she exclaimed. "Who would ever have thought that they had such rooms as this in the Hotel Saint Ange!"
"There are several of these suites," said Daisy Burton pleasantly. "In fact, a good many French provincial people come up here, year after year, for the winter."
While Mrs. Dampier and his daughter were exchanging these few words the Senator remained silent. Then—"Is your brother gone out?" he said abruptly.
"Yes, father. He went out about half an hour ago. But he said he'd be back in ample time to take us out to luncheon. He thought we might like to go to Foyot's to-day."
"So we will. Daisy, my dear—?" He stopped short, and his daughter looked at him, surprised.
"I'm afraid I must ask you to leave me with this young lady for a few moments. I have something to say to her which I think it would be as well that I should say alone."
Nancy got up from the chair on which she had already seated herself, and fear flashed into her face. "What is it?" she cried apprehensively. "You're not going to tell me that anything's happened to Jack!"
"No, no," said the Senator quickly, but even as he uttered the two short, reassuring little words he averted his eyes from Mrs. Dampier's questioning anxious eyes.
His daughter left the room.
"What is it?" said Nancy again, trying to smile. "What is it, Mr. Burton?"
And then the Senator, motioning her to a chair, sat down too.
"The Poulains," he said gravely—he was telling himself that he had never come across so accomplished an actress as this young Englishwoman was proving herself to be—"the Poulains," he repeated very distinctly, "declare that you arrived here last night alone. They say that they did not know, as a matter of fact, that you were married. You do not seem to have even given them your name."
Nancy stared at him for a moment. Then, "There must be some extraordinary mistake," she said quietly. "The Poulains must have thought you meant someone else. My husband and I arrived, of course together, late last night. At first Madame Poulain said she couldn't take us in as the hotel was full. But at last she said that they could give us two small rooms. They knew our name was Dampier, for Jack wrote to them from Marseilles. He and I were only married three weeks ago: this is the end of our honeymoon. My husband, who is an artist, is now at his studio. We're going to move there in a day or two."
She spoke quite simply and straightforwardly, and the Senator felt oddly relieved by her words.
He tried to remember exactly what had happened, what exactly the Poulains had said, when he had gone into the big roomy kitchen which lay to the left of the courtyard.
He had certainly been quite clear. That is, he had explained, in his very good French, to Madame Poulain, that he came to inquire, on behalf of a young English lady, whether her husband, a gentleman named Dampier, had left any message for her. And Madame Poulain, coming across to him in a rather mysterious manner, had said in a low voice that she feared the young lady was toquee—i. e., not quite all right in her head—as, saving Monsieur le Senateur's presence, English ladies so often were! At great length she had gone on to explain that the young lady in question had arrived very late the night before, and that seeing that she was so young and pretty, and also that she knew so very little French, they had allowed her, rather than turn her out, to occupy their own daughter's room, a room they had never, never, under any circumstances, allowed a client to sleep in before.
Then Madame Poulain had gone out and called Monsieur Poulain; and the worthy man had confirmed, in every particular, what his wife had just said—that is, he had explained how they had been knocked up late last night by a loud ringing at the porte cochere; how they had gone out to the door, and there, seized with pity for this pretty young English lady, who apparently knew so very, very little French, they had allowed her to occupy their daughter's room....
Finally, the good Poulains, separately and in unison, had begged the Senator to try and find out something about their curious guest, as she apparently knew too little French to make herself intelligible.
Now that he heard Nancy's quiet assertion, the Senator felt sure there had been a mistake. The Poulains had evidently confused pretty Mrs. Dampier with some wandering British spinster.
"Let me go down with you now," she said eagerly. "The truth is—I know you'll think me foolish—but I'm afraid of the Poulains! They've behaved so oddly and so rudely to me this morning. I liked them very much last night."
"Yes," he said cordially. "We'll go right down now; and my girl, Daisy, can come too."
When his daughter came into the room, "There's been some mistake," said Senator Burton briefly. "It's my fault, I expect. I can't have made it clear to Madame Poulain whom I meant. She has confused Mrs. Dampier with some English lady who turned up here alone late last night."
"But we turned up late last night," said Nancy quickly. "Very, very late; long after midnight."
"Still, my brother and I came in after you," said Daisy Burton suddenly. And then she smiled and reddened. Mrs. Dampier must certainly have overheard Gerald's remark.
"It was an awful job getting a cab after that play, father, and it must have been nearly one o'clock when we got in. As we felt sure this side of the house was shut up we went up that queer little back staircase, and so past the open door of Mrs. Dampier's room," she explained.
To the Senator's surprise, Mrs. Dampier also grew red; indeed, she blushed crimson from forehead to chin.
"My brother thought you were French," went on Daisy, a little awkwardly. "In fact, we both thought you must be Madame Poulain's daughter. We knew that was Virginie's room, and we've always been hearing of that girl ever since we first came to stay in Paris. She used to be at a convent school, and she's with her grandmother in the country just now, to be out of the Exhibition rush. The Poulains simply worship her."
The Senator looked very thoughtful as he walked downstairs behind the two girls. The mystery was thickening in a very disagreeable way. Both hotel-keepers had stated positively that the "demoiselle anglaise," as they called her, had slept in their daughter's room....
But what was this the lady who called herself Mrs. Dampier saying?
"My husband and I realised you thought I was Mademoiselle Poulain," said Nancy, and she also spoke with a touch of awkwardness.
Senator Burton put out his right hand and laid it, rather heavily, on his daughter's shoulder.
She stopped and turned round. "Yes, father?"
"Then I suppose you also saw Mr. Dampier, Daisy?"
Eagerly he hoped for confirmation of the charming stranger's story. But—
"No," she said reluctantly. "We only saw Mrs. Dampier and the Poulains, father—they were all in the room together. You see, we were outside on the dark staircase, and just stopped for a minute on the landing to say good-night to the Poulains, and to tell them that we had come in."
"I suppose, Mrs. Dampier, that by then your husband had already gone to his room?" But in spite of his efforts to make his voice cordial the Senator failed to do so.
"No, he hadn't gone upstairs then." Nancy waited a moment, puzzled, then she exclaimed, "I remember now! Jack had just stepped up into a big cupboard which forms one side of the little room. He came out again just as Miss Burton and—and your son had gone on upstairs." Again she reddened uncomfortably, wondering if this nice, kind girl had heard Jack's unflattering epithets concerning "the young American cub." But no, Jack's voice, if angry, had been low.
When they were at the bottom of the staircase the Senator turned to his daughter.
"Daisy," he said quietly, "I think it will be best for this lady to see Madame Poulain with me alone." And as his daughter showed no sign of having understood, he said again, with a touch of severity in his voice: "Daisy, I desire you to go upstairs."
"You'll bring Mrs. Dampier up again, father?"
He hesitated—and then he said, "Yes, should she wish it, I will do so."
And Daisy Burton turned away, up the stairs again, very reluctantly. Her indulgent father was not given to interfere with even the most casual of her friendships, and she already felt as if this attractive young Englishwoman was to be her friend.
Madame Poulain came slowly across the courtyard, and the Senator was struck by her look of ill-health, of languor. Clearly the worthy woman was overtaxing her strength. It was foolish of the Poulains not to have more help in, but French people were like that!
Senator Burton knew that these good folks were trying to amass as large a dowry as possible for their adored only child. Virginie was now of marriageable age, and the Poulains had already selected in their own minds the man they wished to see their son-in-law. He was owner of an hotel at Chantilly, and as he was young, healthy, and reputed kind and good-tempered, he had the right to expect a good dowry with his future wife. The fact that this was an Exhibition Year was a great stroke of luck for the Poulains. It almost certainly meant that their beloved Virginie would soon be settled close to them in charming salubrious Chantilly....
The proprietress of the Hotel Saint Ange now stood close to Senator Burton and his companion. Her voluble tongue was stilled for once: she was twisting a corner of her blue check apron round and round in her strong, sinewy-looking fingers.
"Well, Madame Poulain," the American spoke very gravely, "there has evidently been some strange misunderstanding. This lady asserts most positively that she arrived here last night accompanied by her husband, Mr. Dampier."
A look of—was it anger or pain?—came over Madame Poulain's face. She shook her head decidedly. "I have already told monsieur," she said quickly, "that this lady arrived here last night alone. I know nothing of her husband: I did not even know she was married. To tell you the truth, monsieur, we ought to have made her fill in the usual form. But it was so late that we put off the formality till to-day. I now regret very much that we did so."
The Senator looked questioningly at Nancy Dampier. She had become from red very white. "Do you understand what she says?" he asked slowly, impassively.
"Yes—I understand. But she is not telling the truth."
The Senator hesitated. "I have known Madame Poulain a long time," he said.
"Yes—and you've only known me a few minutes."
Nancy Dampier felt as though she were living through a horrible nightmare—horrible and at the same time absurd. But she made a great effort to remain calm, and to prove herself a sensible woman. So she added quietly: "I can't tell—I can't in the least guess—why this woman is telling such a strange, silly untruth. It is easy to prove the truth of what I say, Mr. Burton. My husband's name is John Dampier. He is an artist, and has a studio here in Paris."
"Do you know the address of your husband's studio, Mrs. Dampier?"
"Of course I do." The question stung her, this time past endurance. "I think I had better have a cab and drive there straight," she said stiffly. "Please forgive me for having given you so much trouble. I'll manage all right by myself now."
Every vestige of colour had receded from her face. There was a frightened, hunted expression in her blue eyes, and the Senator felt a sudden thrill of concern, of pity. What did it all mean? Why should this poor girl—she looked even younger than his daughter—pretend that she had come here accompanied, if, after all, she had not done so?
Madame Poulain was still looking at them fixedly, and there was no very pleasant expression on her face.
"Well," she said at last, "that comes of being too good-natured, Monsieur le Senateur. I never heard of such a thing! What does mademoiselle accuse us of? Does she think we made away with her friend? She may have arrived with a man—as to that I say nothing—but I assert most positively that in that case he left her before she actually came into the Hotel Saint Ange."
"Will you please ask her to call me a cab?" said Nancy trembling.
And he transmitted the request; adding kindly in English, "Of course I am coming with you as far as your husband's studio. I expect we shall find that Mr. Dampier went there last night. The Poulains have forgotten that he came with you: you see they are very tired and overworked just now—"
But Nancy shook her head. It was impossible that the Poulains should have forgotten Jack.
Madame Poulain went a step nearer to Senator Burton and muttered something, hurriedly. He hesitated.
"Mais si, Monsieur le Senateur."
And very reluctantly he transmitted the woman's disagreeable message. "She thinks that perhaps as you are going to your husband's rooms, you had better take your trunk with you, Mrs. Dampier."
Nancy assented, almost eagerly. "Yes, do ask her to have my trunk brought down! I would far rather not come back here." She was still quite collected and quiet in her manner. "But, Mr. Burton, hadn't I better pay? Especially if they persist in saying I came alone?" she smiled, a tearful little smile. It still seemed so—so absurd.
She took out her purse. "I haven't much money, for you see Jack always pays everything. But I've got an English sovereign, and I can always draw a cheque. I have my own money."
And the Senator grew more and more bewildered. It was clear that this girl was either speaking the truth, or else that she was a most wonderful actress. But, as every man who has reached the Senator's age is ruefully aware, very young women can act on occasion in ordinary every day life, as no professional actress of genius ever did or ever will do on a stage.
Madame Poulain went off briskly, and when she came back a few moments later, there was a look of relief, almost of joy, on her face. "The cab is here," she exclaimed, "and Jules has brought down madame's trunk."
Nancy looked at the speaker quickly. Then she was "madame" again? Well, that was something.
"Three francs—that will quite satisfy us," said Madame Poulain, handing over the change for her English sovereign. It was a gold napoleon and a two-franc piece. For the first time directly addressing Mrs. Dampier, "There has evidently been a mistake," she said civilly. "No doubt monsieur left madame at the door, and went off to his studio last night. I expect madame will find monsieur there, quite safe and sound."
Senator Burton, well as he believed himself to be acquainted with his landlady, would have been very much taken aback had he visioned what followed his own and Mrs. Dampier's departure from the Hotel Saint Ange.
Madame Poulain remained at the door of the porte cochere till the open carriage turned the corner of the narrow street. Then she looked at her nephew.
"How much did she give you?" she asked roughly. And the young man reluctantly opened a grimy hand and showed a two franc piece.
She snatched it from him, and motioned him back imperiously towards the courtyard.
After he had gone quite out of sight she walked quickly up the little street till she came to a low, leather-bound door which gave access to the church whose fine buttress bestowed such distinction on the otherwise rather sordid Rue Saint Ange. Pushing open the door she passed through into the dimly-lit side aisle where stood the Lady Altar.
This old church held many memories for Madame Poulain. It was here that Virginie had been christened, here that there had taken place the funeral service of the baby son she never mentioned and still bitterly mourned, and it was there, before the High Altar, to the right of which she now stood, that she hoped to see her beloved daughter stand ere long a happy bride.
She looked round her for a moment, bewildered by the sudden change from the bright sunlit street to the shadowed aisle. Then she suddenly espied what she had come to seek. Close to where she stood an alms-box clamped to the stone wall had written upon it the familiar legend, "Pour les Pauvres."
Madame Poulain took a step forward, then dropped the three francs Nancy Dampier had just paid her, and the two francs she had extracted from Jules's reluctant hand, into the alms-box.
That the cabman was evidently familiar with the odd address, "Impasse des Nonnes," brought a measure of relief to Senator Burton's mind, and as he turned and gazed into the candid eyes of the girl sitting by his side he was ashamed of his vague suspicions.
The little carriage bowled swiftly across the great square behind which wound the Rue Saint Ange, up one of the steep, picturesque streets which lead from thence to the Luxembourg Gardens.
When they had gone some considerable way round the gay and stately pleasance so dear to the poets and students of all nations, they suddenly turned into the quaintest, quietest thoroughfare imaginable, carved out of one of those old convent gardens which till lately were among the most beautiful and characteristic features of the "Quartier."
An architect, who happened also to be an artist, had set up in this remote and peaceful oasis his household gods, adding on this, his own domain, a few studios with living rooms attached.
A broad, sanded path ran between the low picturesque buildings, and so the carriage was obliged to draw up at the entrance to the Impasse.
Senator Burton looked up at the cabman: "Better not take off the lady's trunk just yet," he said quickly in French, and though Nancy Dampier made no demur, she looked surprised.
They began walking up the shaded path, for above the low walls on either side sprang flowering shrubs and trees.
"What a charming place!" exclaimed the Senator, smiling down at her. "How fond you and your husband must be of it!"
But his companion shook her head. "I've never been here," she said slowly. "You see this is my first visit to Paris. Though I ought not to call it a visit, for Paris is to be my home now," and she smiled at last, happy in the belief that in a few moments she would see Jack.
She was a little troubled at the thought that Jack would be disappointed at her coming here in this way, with a stranger. But surely after she had explained the extraordinary occurrence of the morning he would understand?
They were now opposite No. 3. It was a curious, mosque-like building, with the domed roof of what must be the studio, in the centre. Boldly inscribed on a marble slab set above the door was the name, "John Dampier."
Before the bell had well stopped ringing, a sturdy apple-faced old woman, wearing the Breton dress Jack so much admired, stood before them.
Nancy of course knew her at once for Mere Bideau.
A pleasant smile lit up the gnarled face, and Nancy remembered what Jack had so often said as to Mere Bideau's clever way of dealing with visitors, especially with possible art patrons.
Mrs. Dampier looked very kindly at the old woman who had been so good and so faithful a servant to her Jack, and who, she hoped, would also serve her well and faithfully.
Before the Senator had time to speak, Mere Bideau, shaking her head, observed respectfully, "Mr. Dampier is not yet arrived. But if you, monsieur, and you, madame, will give yourselves the trouble of coming back this afternoon he will certainly be here, for I am expecting him any moment—"
"Do you mean that Mr. Dampier has not been here at all this morning?" enquired the Senator.
"No, monsieur, but as I have just had the honour of informing you, my master is to arrive to-day without fail. Everything is ready for him and for his lady. I had a letter from Mr. Dampier the day before yesterday." She waited a moment, and then added, "Won't monsieur come in and wait? Mr. Dampier would indeed be sorry to miss monsieur!"
So far so good. Senator Burton eagerly acknowledged to himself that here was confirmation—as much confirmation as any reasonable man could expect—of Mrs. Dampier's story.
This respectable old woman was evidently expecting her master and his bride to-day—of that there could now be no doubt.
"I beg of you to enter," said Mere Bideau again. "Monsieur and madame may like to visit the studio? I do not say that it is very tidy—but my master's beautiful paintings are not affected by untidiness—" and she smiled ingratiatingly.
This important-looking gentleman, whom her shrewd Parisian eyes and ears had already told her was an American, might be an important picture-buyer; in any case, he was evidently gravely disappointed at not finding Mr. Dampier at home.
"My master may arrive any moment," she said again; "and though I've had to put all the luggage he sent on some time ago, in the studio—well, monsieur and madame will excuse that!"
She stood aside to allow the strangers to step through into the little passage.
The Senator turned to Nancy: "Hadn't we better go in and wait?" he asked. "You must remember that if Mr. Dampier has gone to the hotel they will certainly tell him we are here."
"No," said Nancy in a low voice, "I would rather not go in—now. My husband doesn't want me to see the place until he has got it ready for me." Her lips quivered. "But oh, Mr. Burton, where can Jack be? What can he be doing?" She put her hands together with a helpless, childish gesture of distress. Then, making an effort over herself, she said in a more composed voice, "But I should like you to go in and just see some of Jack's pictures."
With a smiling face Mere Bideau preceded the Senator down a sunny corridor into the large studio. It was circular in shape, lighted by a skylight, and contained a few pieces of fine old furniture, now incongruously allied to a number of unopened packing-cases and trunks.
Mere Bideau went on talking volubly. She was evidently both fond and proud of her master. Suddenly she waved her lean arm towards a large, ambitious painting showing a typical family group of French bourgeois sitting in an arbour.
"This is what won Mr. Dampier his first Salon medal," she explained. "But his work has much improved since then, as monsieur can see for himself!" and she uncovered an unframed easel portrait. It was a really interesting, distinguished presentment of a man. "Is not this excellent?" exclaimed Mere Bideau eagerly. "What expression, what strength in the mouth, in the eyes!"
Senator Burton, had the circumstances been other, would perhaps have smiled at the old woman's enthusiasm, and at her intelligent criticism. But now he simply nodded his head gravely. "Yes, that is a very good portrait," he said absently. "And—and—where are the living rooms?"
"This way, monsieur!" Then, with some surprise, "Would monsieur care to see the appartement? Then I presume monsieur is a friend of my master."
But the Senator shook his head quickly. "No, no, I don't want to see the rooms," he said. "I was only curious to know if Mr. Dampier actually lived here."
As there was a suite of living rooms attached to the studio, why had the Dampiers gone to an hotel?
"Yes, monsieur, there are three beautiful bedrooms, also a bath-room, and a room which was not used by us, but which my master is going to turn into a little salon for his lady. As for their meals—" she shrugged her shoulders—"they will have to be served as heretofore in the studio." Then, "Does monsieur know the new Madame Dampier?" enquired Mere Bideau a trifle anxiously.
"Yes," he answered uncomfortably. "Yes, I do know her."
"And if monsieur will excuse the question, is she a nice lady? It will make a great difference to me—"
"Yes, yes—she is very charming, very pretty."
He could not bring himself to inform the good woman that the lady who had come with him, and who was now waiting outside the house, claimed to be Mrs. Dampier. It would be too—too unpleasant if it turned out to be—well, a mistake!
The Senator was telling himself ruefully that though there was now ample evidence of the existence of John Dampier, there was not evidence at all as yet that the artist had ever been at the Hotel Saint Ange: still less that the young Englishwoman who had just now refused to accompany him into the studio was John Dampier's wife. However, that fact, as she had herself pointed out rather piteously, could very soon be put to the proof.
Slowly Senator Burton left the studio and made his way into the open air, where Nancy was waiting for him.
"Well?" he said questioningly. "Well, Mrs. Dampier, what is it that you would like to do now?"
"I don't know what I ought to do," said Nancy helplessly. She had again become very pale and she looked bewildered, as well as distressed. "You see I felt so sure that we should find Jack here!"
"The only thing I can suggest your doing," the American spoke kindly, if a little coldly, "is to come back with me to the Hotel Saint Ange. It is probable that we shall find Mr. Dampier there, waiting for you. A dozen things may have happened to him, none of which need give you any cause for anxiety." He pulled out his watch. "Hum! It's close on twelve—yes, the only thing to do is to go back to the hotel. It's almost certain we shall find him there—" it was on his lips to add, "if he really did come with you last night," but he checked himself in time.
"But Mr. Burton? Suppose Jack is not there?"
"If he doesn't return within the next two or three hours, then I will consult with my son, who, young though he be, has a very good head on his shoulders, as to what will be the best step for you to take. But don't let's meet trouble half-way! I have little doubt that we shall find Mr. Dampier waiting for you, vowing vengeance against the bold man who has eloped, even with the best of motives, with his wife!" he smiled, and poor Nancy gave a quivering smile in return.
"I should so much have preferred not to go back to that hotel," she said, in a low voice. "I do hope Jack won't make me stay on there for the next two or three days."
And with the remembrance of what she had considered to be the gross insult put upon her by Madame Poulain, Nancy Dampier reddened deeply, while her new friend felt more and more bewildered and puzzled.
On the one hand Senator Burton had the testimony of three trustworthy persons that the young Englishwoman had arrived alone at the hotel the night before; and against this positive testimony there was nothing but her bare word.
Very, very reluctantly, he felt compelled to believe the Poulains' version of what had happened. He could think of no motive—in fact there was no motive—which could prompt a false assertion on their part.
As they were driving back, each silent, each full of painful misgivings, the kindly American began to wonder whether he had not met with that, if rare yet undoubted, condition known as entire loss of memory.
If, as Madame Poulain had suggested, Mr. Dampier had left his wife just before their arrival at the hotel, was it not conceivable that by some kind of kink in Mrs. Dampier's brain—the kind of kink which brings men and women to entertain, when otherwise sane, certain strange delusions—she had imagined the story she now told with so much circumstantial detail and clearness?
When they were nearing the hotel, Nancy put her hand nervously on her companion's arm.
"Mr. Burton," she whispered, "I'm horribly afraid of the Poulains! I keep thinking of such dreadful things."
"Now look here, Mrs. Dampier—" Senator Burton turned, and looking down into her agitated face, spoke gently and kindly—"though I quite admit to you these people's conduct must seem inexplicable, I feel sure you are wronging the Poulains. They are very worthy, respectable folk—I've known them long enough to vouch for that fact. This extraordinary misunderstanding, this mistake—for it must be either a misunderstanding or a mistake on some one's part—will soon be cleared up, so much is certain: till then I beg you not to treat them as enemies."
And yet even Senator Burton felt taken aback when he saw the undisguised annoyance, the keen irritation with which their return to the Hotel Saint Ange was greeted by the woman to whom he had just given so good a certificate of character.
Madame Poulain was standing on the street side of the open porte cochere, as the carriage drove down the narrow street, and the American was astonished to see the change which came over her face.
An angry, vindictive, even a cruel expression swept over it, and instead of waiting to greet them as the carriage drew up at the door she turned abruptly away, and shuffled out of sight.
"Wait a moment," he said, as the fiacre drew up, "don't get out of the carriage yet, Mrs. Dampier—"
And meekly Nancy obeyed him.
The Senator hurried through into the courtyard. Much would he have given, and he was a careful man, to have seen the image he had formed of Jack Dampier standing on the sun-flecked flagstones. But the broad space stretching before him was empty, deserted; during the daylight hours of each day the Exhibition drew every one away much as a honey cask might have done a hive of bees.
Madame Poulain did not come out of her kitchen as was her usual hospitable wont when she heard footsteps echoing under the vaulted porte cochere, and so her American guest had to go across, and walk right into her special domain.
"We did not find the gentleman at his studio," he said shortly, "and I presume, Madame Poulain, that he has not yet been here?"
She shook her head sullenly, and then, with none of her usual suavity, exclaimed, "I do not think, Monsieur le Senateur, that you should have brought that demoiselle back here!"
She gave him so odd—some would have said, so insolent a look, that the Senator realised for the first time what he was to realise yet further in connection with this strange business, namely, that the many who go through life refusing to act the part of good Samaritans have at any rate excellent reasons for their abstention.
It was disagreeably dear that Madame Poulain thought him a foolish old man who had been caught by an adventuress's pretty face....
To their joint relief Monsieur Poulain came strolling into his wife's kitchen.
"I've been telling Monsieur le Senateur," exclaimed Madame Poulain, "that we do not wish to have anything more to do with that young person who asserts that she arrived here with a man last night. Monsieur le Senateur has too good a heart: he is being deceived."
The hotel-keeper looked awkwardly, deprecatingly, at his valued American client. "Paris is so full of queer people just now," he muttered. "They keep mostly to the other side of the river, to the Opera quarter, but we are troubled with them here too, during an Exhibition Year!"
"There is nothing at all queer about this poor young lady," said Senator Burton sharply—somehow the cruel insinuation roused him to chivalrous defence. But soon he changed his tone, "Now look here, my good friends"—he glanced from the husband to the wife—"surely you have both heard of people who have suddenly lost their memory, even to the knowledge of who they were and where they came from? Now I fear—I very much fear—that something of the kind has happened to this Mrs. Dampier! I am as sure that she is not consciously telling a lie as I am that you are telling me the truth. For one thing, I have ascertained that this lady's statement as to Mr. John Dampier having a studio in Paris, where he was expected this morning, is true. As to who she is herself that question can and will be soon set at rest. Meanwhile my daughter and myself"—and then he hesitated, for, well as he knew French, Senator Burton did not quite know how to convey his meaning, namely, that they, he and his daughter, meant to see her through. "My daughter and myself," he repeated firmly, "are going to do the best we can to help her."
Madame Poulain opened her lips—then she shut them tight again. She longed to tell "Monsieur le Senateur" that in that case she and Poulain must have the regret of asking him to leave their hotel.
But she did not dare to do this.
Her husband broke in conciliatingly: "No doubt it is as Monsieur le Senateur says," he observed; "the demoiselle is what we said she was only this morning—" and then he uttered the word which in French means so much and so little—the word "toquee."
There came another interruption. "Here come Mademoiselle Daisy and Monsieur Gerald!" exclaimed Madame Poulain in a relieved tone.
The Senator's son and daughter had just emerged across the courtyard, from the vestibule where ended the escalier d'honneur. There was a look of keen, alert interest and curiosity on Gerald Burton's fine, intelligent face. He was talking eagerly to his sister, and Madame Poulain told herself that surely these two young people could not wish their stay in Paris to be complicated by this—this unfortunate business—for so the Frenchwoman in her own secret heart designated the mysterious affair which was causing her and her worthy husband so much unnecessary trouble.
Some little trouble, so she admitted to herself, they had expected to have, but they had not thought it would take this very strange and tiresome shape.
But the hotel-keeper was destined to be bitterly disappointed in her hope that Daisy and Gerald Burton would try and dissuade their father from having anything more to do with Mrs. Dampier.
"Well, father?" the two fresh voices rang out, and the Senator smiled back well pleased. He was one of those fortunate fathers who are on terms of full confidence and friendship as well as affection with their children. Indeed Senator Burton was specially blessed; Daisy was devoted to her father, and Gerald had never given him a moment of real unease: the young man had done well at college, and now seemed likely to become one of the most distinguished and successful exponents of that branch of art—architecture—modern America has made specially her own.
"Well?" said the Senator, "well, Daisy, I suppose you have told your brother about this odd affair?"
As his daughter nodded, he went on:—"As for me, I have unfortunately nothing to tell. We found the studio, and everything was exactly as this poor young lady said it would be—with the one paramount exception that her husband was not there! And though his housekeeper seems to be expecting Mr. Dampier every moment, she has had no news of him since he wrote, some days ago, saying he would arrive this morning. It certainly is a very inexplicable business—" he looked helplessly from one good-looking, intelligent young face to the other.
"But where is Mrs. Dampier now?" asked Daisy eagerly. "I do think you might have told me before you took her away, father. I would have loved to have said good-bye to her. I do like her so much!"
"You won't have far to go to see her. Mrs. Dampier's at the door, sitting in a carriage," said her father drily. "I had to bring her back here: I didn't know what else to do."
"Why, of course, father, you did quite right!"
And Gerald Burton chimed in, "Yes, of course you were right to do that, father."
Senator Burton smiled a little ruefully at his children's unquestioning approval. He himself was by no means sure that he had done "quite right."
They walked, the three of them, across to the porte-cochere.
Nancy Dampier was now sitting crouched up in a corner of the fiacre; a handkerchief was pressed to her face, and she was trying, not very successfully, to stifle her sobs of nervous fear and distress.
With an eager, impulsive gesture the American girl leapt up the step of the little open carriage. "Don't cry," she whispered soothingly. "It will all come right soon! Why, I expect your husband just went out to see a friend and got kept somehow. If it wasn't for those stupid Poulains' mistake about last night you wouldn't feel really worried, now would you?"
Nancy dabbed her eyes. She felt ashamed of being caught crying by these kind people. "I know I'm being silly!" she gasped. "You must forgive me! It's quite true I shouldn't feel as worried as I feel now if it wasn't for the Poulains—their saying, I mean, that they've never seen my husband. That's what upset me. It all seems so strange and—and horrid. My sense tells me it's quite probable Jack has gone in to see some friend, and was kept somehow."
"And now," said Daisy Burton persuasively, "you must come upstairs with us, and we'll get Madame Poulain to send us up a nice dejeuner to our sitting-room."
And so the Senator found part of his new problem solved for him. Daisy, so much was dear, had determined to befriend—and that to the uttermost—this unfortunate young Englishwoman.
But now there arose another most disagreeable complication.
Madame Poulain had strolled out, her arms akimbo, to see what was going on. And, as if she had guessed the purport of Miss Burton's words, she walked forward, and speaking this time respectfully, even suavely, to "Monsieur le Senateur," observed, "My husband and I regret very greatly that we cannot ask this lady to stay on in our hotel. We have no vacant room—no room at all!"
And then it was that Gerald Burton, who had stood apart from the discussion, saying nothing, simply looking intently, sympathetically at his sister and Mrs. Dampier—took a hand in the now complicated little human game.
"Father!" he exclaimed, speaking in low, sharp tones. "Of course Mrs. Dampier must stay on here with us till her husband comes back! If by some extraordinary chance he isn't back by to-night she can have my room—I shall easily find some place outside." And as his father looked at him a little doubtfully he went on:—"Will you explain to Madame Poulain what we've settled? I can't trust myself to speak to the woman! She's behaving in the most unkind, brutal way to this poor little lady."
He went on between his teeth, "The Poulains have got some game on in connection with this thing. I wish I could guess what it is."
And the Senator, much disliking his task, did speak to Madame Poulain. "I am arranging for Mrs. Dampier to stay with us, as our guest, till her husband's—hem—arrival. My son will find a room outside, so you need not disturb yourself about the matter. Kindly send for Jules, and have her trunk carried up to our apartments."
And Madame Poulain, after an uncomfortably long pause, turned and silently obeyed the Senator's behest.
The afternoon wore itself away, and to two out of the four people who spent it together in the pleasant salon of the Burtons' suite of rooms the hours, nay the very minutes, dragged as they had never dragged before.
Looking back to that first day of distress and bewilderment, Nancy later sometimes asked herself what would have happened, what she would have done, had she lacked the protection, the kindness—and what with Daisy Burton almost at once became the warm affection—of this American family?
Daisy and Gerald Burton not only made her feel that they understood, and, in a measure, shared in her distress, but they also helped her to bear her anguish and suspense.
Although she was not aware of it very different was the mental attitude of their father.
Senator Burton was one of those public men of whom modern America has a right to be proud. He was a hard worker—chairman of one Senate committee and a member of four others; he had never been a brilliant debater, but his more brilliant colleagues respected his sense of logic and force of character. He had always been unyielding in his convictions, absolutely independent in his views, a man to whom many of his fellow-countrymen would have turned in any kind of trouble or perplexity sure of clear and honest counsel.
And yet now, as to this simple matter, the Senator, try as he might, could not make up his mind. Nothing, in his long life, had puzzled him as he was puzzled now. No happening, connected with another human being, had ever so filled him with the discomfort born of uncertainty.
But the object of his—well, yes, his suspicions, was evidently quite unconscious of the mingled feelings with which he regarded her, and he was half ashamed of the ease with which he concealed his trouble both from his children and from their new friend.
Nancy Dampier was far too ill at ease herself to give any thought as to how others regarded her. She had now become dreadfully anxious, dreadfully troubled about Jack.
Much of her time was spent standing at a window of the corridor which formed a portion of the Burtons' "appartement." This corridor overlooked the square, sunny courtyard below; but during that first dreary afternoon of suspense and waiting the Hotel Saint Ange might have been an enchanted palace of sleep. Not a creature came in or out through the porte cochere—with one insignificant exception: two workmen, dressed in picturesque blue smocks, clattered across the big white stones, the one swinging a pail of quaking lime in his hand, and whistling gaily as he went.
When a carriage stopped, or seemed to stop, in the street which lay beyond the other side of the quadrangular group of buildings, then Nancy's heart would leap, and she would lean out, dangerously far over the grey bar of the window; but the beloved, and now familiar figure of her husband never followed on the sound, as she hoped against hope, it would do.
At last, when the long afternoon was drawing to a close, Senator Burton went down and had another long conversation with the Poulains.
The hotel-keeper and his wife by now had changed their tone; they were quite respectful, even sympathetic:
"Of course it is possible," observed Madame Poulain hesitatingly, "that this young lady, as you yourself suggested this morning, Monsieur le Senateur, is suffering from loss of memory, and that she has imagined her arrival here with this artist gentleman. But if so, what a strange thing to fancy about oneself! Is it not more likely—I say it with all respect, Monsieur le Senateur—that for some reason unknown to us she is acting a part?"
And with a heavy heart "Monsieur le Senateur" had to admit that Madame Poulain's view might be the correct one. Nancy's charm of manner, even her fragile and delicate beauty, told against her in the kindly but shrewd American's mind. True, Mrs. Dampier—if indeed she were Mrs. Dampier—did not look like an adventuress: but then does any adventuress look like an adventuress till she is found to be one?
The Frenchwoman suggested yet another theory. "I have been asking myself," she said, smiling a little wryly, "another question. Is it not possible that this young lady and her husband had a quarrel? Such incidents do occur, even during honeymoons. If the two had a little quarrel he may have left her at our door—just to punish her, Monsieur le Senateur. He would know she was safe in our respectable hotel. Your sex, if I may say so, Monsieur le Senateur, is sometimes very unkind, very unfeeling, in their dealings with mine."
Monsieur Poulain, who had said nothing, here intervened. "How you do run on," he said crossly. "You talk too much, my wife. We haven't to account for what has happened!"
But Senator Burton had been struck by Madame Poulain's notion. Men, and if all the Senator had heard was true, especially Englishmen, do behave very strangely sometimes to their women-folk. It was an Englishman who conceived the character of Petruchio. He remembered Mrs. Dampier's flushed face, the shy, embarrassed manner with which she had come forward to meet him that morning. She had seemed rather unnecessarily distressed at not being able to make the hotel people understand her: she had evidently been much disappointed that her husband had not left a message for her.
"My son thinks it possible that Mr. Dampier may have met with an accident on his way to the studio."
A long questioning look flashed from Madame Poulain to her husband, but Poulain was a cautious soul, and he gave his wife no lead.
"Well," she said at last, "of course that could be ascertained," and the Senator with satisfaction told himself that she was at last taking a proper part in what had become his trouble, "but I cannot help thinking, Monsieur le Senateur, that we might give this naughty husband a little longer—at any rate till to-morrow—to come back to the fold."
And the Senator, perplexed and disturbed, told himself that after all this might be good advice.
But when he again went upstairs and joined the young people, he found that this was not at all a plan to which any one of the three was likely to consent. In fact as he came into the sitting-room where Nancy Dampier was now restlessly walking up and down, he noticed that his son's hat and his son's stick were already in his son's hands.
"I think I ought to go off, father, to the local Commissaire of Police. There's one in every Paris district," said Gerald Burton abruptly. "Mrs. Dampier is convinced that her husband did go out this morning, even if the Poulains did not see him doing so; and she and I think it possible, in fact, we are afraid, that he may have met with an accident on his way to the studio."
As he saw by his father's face that this theory did not commend itself to the Senator, the young man went on quickly:—"At any rate my doing this can do no harm. I might just inform the Commissaire that a gentleman has been missing since this morning from the Hotel Saint Ange, and that the only theory we can form which can account for his absence is that he may have met with an accident. Mrs. Dampier has kindly provided me with a description of her husband, and she has told me what she thinks he might have been wearing."
Nancy stopped her restless pacing. "If only the Poulains would allow me to see where Jack slept last night!" she cried, bursting into tears. "But oh, everything is made so much more difficult by their extraordinary assertion that he never came here at all! You see he had quite a large portmanteau with him, and I can't possibly tell which of his suits he put on this morning."
And the Senator looking down into her flushed, tearful face, wondered whether she were indeed telling the truth—and most painfully he doubted, doubted very much.
But when Gerald Burton came back at the end of two hours, after a long and weary struggle with French officialdom, all he could report was that to the best of the Commissaire's belief no Englishman had met with an accident that day. There had been three street accidents yesterday in which foreigners had been concerned, but none, most positively none, to-day. He admitted, however, that all his reports were not yet in.
Paris, from the human point of view, swells to monstrous proportions when it becomes the background of a great International World's Fair. And the police, unlike the great majority of those in the vast hive where they keep order, have nothing to gain in exchange for the manifold discomforts an Exhibition brings in its train.
At last, worn out by the mingled agitations and emotions of the day, Nancy went to bed.
The Senator, Gerald and Daisy Burton waited up some time longer. It was a comfort to the father to be able to feel that at last he was alone for a while with his children. To them at least he could unburden his perplexed and now burdened mind.
"I suppose it didn't occur to you, Gerald, to go to this Mr. Dampier's studio?"
He looked enquiringly at his son.
Gerald Burton was sitting at the table from which Mrs. Dampier had just risen. He looked, if a trifle weary, yet full of eager energy and life—a fine specimen of strong, confident young manhood—a son of whom any father might well be fond and proud.
The Senator had great confidence in Gerald's sense and judgment.
"Yes indeed, father, I went there first. Not only did I go to the studio, but from the Commissaire's office I visited many of the infirmaries and hospitals of the Quarter. You see, I didn't trust the Commissaire; I don't think he really knew whether there had been any street accidents or not. In fact at the end of our talk he admitted as much himself."