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   Chapter 18 THE MISSING SLIPPER

54-40 or Fight By Emerson Hough Characters: 11013

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


There will always remain something to be said of woman as long as there is one on earth.-Bauflers.

My new friend, I was glad to note, seemed not anxious to terminate our acquaintance, although in his amiable and childlike fashion he babbled of matters which to me seemed unimportant. He was eager to propound his views on the connection of the American tribes with the peoples of the Orient, whereas I was all for talking of the connection of England and the United States with Oregon. Thus we passed the luncheon hour at the hostelry of my friend Jacques Bertillon; after which I suggested a stroll about the town for a time, there being that upon my mind which left me ill disposed to remain idle. He agreed to my suggestion, a fact for which I soon was to feel thankful for more reasons than one.

Before we started upon our stroll, I asked him to step to my own room, where I had left my pipe. As we paused here for a moment, he noticed on the little commode a pair of pistols of American make, and, with a word of apology, took them up to examine them.

"You also are acquainted with these?" he asked politely.

"It is said that I am," I answered.

"Sometimes you need to be?" he said, smiling. There smote upon me, even as he spoke, the feeling that his remark was strangely true. My eye fell on the commode's top, casually. I saw that it now was bare. I recalled the strange warning of the baroness the evening previous. I was watched! My apartment had been entered in my absence. Property of mine had been taken.

My perturbation must have been discoverable in my face. "What iss it?" asked the old man. "You forget someting?"

"No," said I, stammering. "It is nothing."

He looked at me dubiously. "Well, then," I admitted; "I miss something from my commode here. Some one has taken it."

"It iss of value, perhaps?" he inquired politely.

"Well, no; not of intrinsic value. 'Twas only a slipper-of white satin, made by Braun, of Paris."

"One slipper? Of what use?-"

"It belonged to a lady-I was about to return it," I said; but I fear my face showed me none too calm. He broke out in a gentle laugh.

"So, then, we had here the stage setting," said he; "the pistols, the cause for pistols, sometimes, eh?"

"It is nothing-I could easily explain-"

"There iss not need, my young friend. Wass I not also young once? Yess, once wass I young." He laid down the pistols, and I placed them with my already considerable personal armament, which seemed to give him no concern.

"Each man studies for himself his own specialty," mused the old man. "You haf perhaps studied the species of woman. Once, also I."

I laughed, and shook my head.

"Many species are there," he went on; "many with wings of gold and blue and green, of unknown colors; creatures of air and sky. Haf I not seen them? But always that one species which we pursue, we do not find. Once in my life, in Oregon, I follow through the forest a smell of sweet fields of flowers coming to me. At last I find it-a wide field of flowers. It wass in summer time. Over the flowers were many, many butterflies. Some of them I knew; some of them I had. One great new one, such as I haf not seen, it wass there. It rested. 'I shall now make it mine,' I said. It iss fame to gif name first to this so noble a species. I would inclose it with mein little net. Like this, you see, I creep up to it. As I am about to put it gently in my net-not to harm it, or break it, or brush away the color of its wings-lo! like a puff of down, it rises and goes above my head. I reach for it; I miss. It rises still more; it flies; it disappears! So! I see it no more. It iss gone. Stella Terr? I name it-my Star of the Earth, that which I crave but do not always haf, eh? Believe me, my friend, yess, the study of the species hass interest. Once I wass young. Should I see that little shoe I think myself of the time when I wass young, and made studies-Ach, Mein Gott!-also of the species of woman! I, too, saw it fly from me, my Stella Terr?!"

We walked, my friend still musing and babbling, myself still anxious and uneasy. We turned out of narrow Notre Dame Street, and into St. Lawrence Main Street. As we strolled I noted without much interest the motley life about me, picturesque now with the activities of the advancing spring. Presently, however, my idle gaze was drawn to two young Englishmen whose bearing in some way gave me the impression that they belonged in official or military life, although they were in civilian garb.

Presently the two halted, and separated. The taller kept on to the east, to the old French town. At length I saw him joined, as though by appointment, by another gentleman, one whose appearance at once gave me reason for a second look. The severe air of the Canadian spring seemed not pleasing to him, and he wore his coat hunched up about his neck, as though he were better used to milder climes. He accosted my young Englishman, and without hesitation the two started off together. As they did so I gave an involuntary exclamation. The taller man I had seen once before, the shorter, very many times-in Washington!

"Yess," commented my old scientist calmly; "so strange! They go together."

"Ah, you know them!" I almost fell upon him.

"Yess-last night. The tall one iss Mr. Peel, a young Englishman; the other is Mexican, they said-Se?or Yturrio, of Mexico. He spoke much. Me, I wass sleepy then. But also that other tall one we saw go back-that wass Captain Parke, als

o of the British Navy. His ship iss the war boat Modesté-a fine one. I see her often when I walk on the riffer front, there."

I turned to him and made some excuse, saying that presently I would join him again at the hotel. Dreamily as ever, he smiled and took his leave. For myself, I walked on rapidly after the two figures, then a block or so ahead of me.

I saw them turn into a street which was familiar to myself. They passed on, turning from time to time among the old houses of the French quarter. Presently they entered the short side street which I myself had seen for the first time the previous night. I pretended to busy myself with my pipe, as they turned in at the very gate which I knew, and knocked at the door which I had entered with my mysterious companion!

The door opened without delay; they both entered.

So, then, Helena von Ritz had other visitors! England and Mexico were indeed conferring here in Montreal. There were matters going forward here in which my government was concerned. That was evident. I was almost in touch with them. That also was evident. How, then, might I gain yet closer touch?

At the moment nothing better occurred to me than to return to my room and wait for a time. It would serve no purpose for me to disclose myself, either in or out of the apartments of the baroness, and it would not aid me to be seen idling about the neighborhood in a city where there was so much reason to suppose strangers were watched. I resolved to wait until the next morning, and to take my friend Von Rittenhofen with me. He need not know all that I knew, yet in case of any accident to myself or any sudden contretemps, he would serve both as a witness and as an excuse for disarming any suspicion which might be entertained regarding myself.

The next day he readily enough fell in with my suggestion of a morning stroll, and again we sallied forth, at about nine o'clock, having by that time finished a déje?ner à la fourchette with Jacques Bertillon, which to my mind compared unfavorably with one certain other I had shared.

A sense of uneasiness began to oppress me, I knew not why, before I had gone half way down the little street from the corner where we turned. It was gloomy and dismal enough at the best, and on this morning an unusual apathy seemed to sit upon it, for few of the shutters were down, although the hour was now mid-morning. Here and there a homely habitant appeared, and bade us good morning; and once in a while we saw the face of a good wife peering from the window. Thus we passed some dozen houses or so, in a row, and paused opposite the little gate. I saw that the shutters were closed, or at least all but one or two, which were partly ajar. Something said to me that it would be as well for me to turn back.

I might as well have done so. We passed up the little walk, and I raised the knocker at the door; but even as it sounded I knew what would happen. There came to me that curious feeling which one experiences when one knocks at the door of a house which lacks human occupancy. Even more strongly I had that strange feeling now, because this sound was not merely that of unoccupied rooms-it came from rooms empty and echoing!

I tried the door. It was not locked. I flung it wide, and stepped within. At first I could not adjust my eyes to the dimness. Absolute silence reigned. I pushed open a shutter and looked about me. The rooms were not only unoccupied, but unfurnished! The walls and floors were utterly bare! Not a sign of human occupancy existed. I hastened out to the little walk, and looked up and down the street, to satisfy myself that I had made no mistake. No, this was the number-this was the place. Yesterday these rooms were fitted sumptuously as for a princess; now they were naked. Not a stick of the furniture existed, nor was there any trace either of haste or deliberation in this removal. What had been, simply was not; that was all.

Followed by my wondering companion, I made such inquiry as I could in the little neighborhood. I could learn nothing. No one knew anything of the occupant of these rooms. No one had heard any carts approach, nor had distinguished any sounds during the night.

"Sir," said I to my friend, at last; "I do not understand it. I have pursued, but it seems the butterfly has flown." So, both silent, myself morosely so, we turned and made our way back across the town.

Half an hour later we were on the docks at the river front, where we could look out over the varied shipping which lay there. My scientific friend counted one vessel after another, and at last pointed to a gap in the line.

"Yesterday I wass here," he said, "and I counted all the ships and their names. The steamer Modesté she lay there. Now she iss gone."

I pulled up suddenly. This was the ship which carried Captain Parke and his friend Lieutenant Peel, of the British Navy. The secret council at Montreal was, therefore, apparently ended! There would be an English land expedition, across Canada to Oregon. Would there be also an expedition by sea? At least my errand in Montreal, now finished, had not been in vain, even though it ended in a mystery and a query. But ah! had I but been less clumsy in that war of wits with a woman, what might I have learned! Had she not been free to mock me, what might I not have learned! She was free to mock me, why? Because of Elisabeth. Was it then true that faith and loyalty could purchase alike faithlessness and-failure?

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