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Title: Jason
Author: Forman, Justus Miles, 1875-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Jason" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



JASON

A ROMANCE

BY
JUSTUS MILES FORMAN

AUTHOR OF
"A STUMBLING BLOCK" "BUCHANAN'S WIFE"
"THE ISLAND OF ENCHANTMENT"

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
W. HATHERELL, R.I.

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
MCMIX


COPYRIGHT, 1908.

       *       *       *       *       *


À PARIS

MÈRE MYSTÉRIEUSE ... SOEUR CONSOLATRICE
ENCHANTERESSE AUX YEUX VOILÉS
JÉ DÉDIE CE PETIT ROMAN
EN RECONNAISSANCE
J.M.F.


       *       *       *       *       *



CONTENTS

     I. STE. MARIE HEARS OF A MYSTERY AND MEETS A DARK LADY

    II. THE LADDER TO THE STARS

   III. STE. MARIE MAKES A VOW, BUT A PAIR OF EYES HAUNT HIM

    IV. OLD DAVID STEWART

     V. JASON SETS FORTH UPON THE GREAT ADVENTURE

    VI. A BRAVE GENTLEMAN RECEIVES A HURT, BUT VOLUNTEERS IN A GOOD CAUSE

   VII. CAPTAIN STEWART MAKES A KINDLY OFFER

  VIII. JASON MEETS WITH A MISADVENTURE AND DREAMS A DREAM

    IX. JASON GOES UPON A JOURNEY, AND RICHARD HARTLEY PLEADS FOR HIM

     X. CAPTAIN STEWART ENTERTAINS

    XI. A GOLDEN LADY ENTERS--THE EYES AGAIN

   XII. THE NAME OF THE LADY WITH THE EYES--EVIDENCE HEAPS UP SWIFTLY

  XIII. THE VOYAGE TO COLCHIS

   XIV. THE WALLS OF AEA

    XV. A CONVERSATION AT LA LIERRE

   XVI. THE BLACK CAT

  XVII. THOSE WHO WERE LEFT BEHIND

 XVIII. A CONVERSATION OVERHEARD

   XIX. THE INVALID TAKES THE AIR

    XX. THE STONE BENCH AT THE ROND POINT

   XXI. A MIST DIMS THE SHINING STAR

  XXII. A SETTLEMENT REFUSED

 XXIII. THE LAST ARROW

  XXIV. THE JOINT IN THE ARMOR

   XXV. MEDEA GOES OVER TO THE ENEMY

  XXVI. BUT THE FLEECE ELECTS TO REMAIN

 XXVII. THE NIGHT'S WORK

XXVIII. MEDEA'S LITTLE HOUR

  XXIX. THE SCALES OF INJUSTICE

   XXX. JASON SAILS BACK TO COLCHIS--JOURNEY'S END

       *       *       *       *       *



I

STE. MARIE HEARS OF A MYSTERY AND MEETS A DARK LADY


From Ste. Marie's little flat, which overlooked the gardens, they drove
down the quiet rue du Luxembourg, and at the Place St. Sulpice turned to
the left. They crossed the Place St. Germain des Prés, where lines of
home-bound working-people stood waiting for places in the electric
trams, and groups of students from the Beaux Arts or from Julien's sat
under the awnings of the Deux Magots, and so, beyond that busy square,
they came into the long and peaceful stretch of the Boulevard St.
Germain. The warm, sweet dusk gathered round them as they went, and the
evening air was fresh and aromatic in their faces. There had been a
little gentle shower in the late afternoon, and roadway and pavement
were still damp with it. It had wet the new-grown leaves of the
chestnuts and acacias that bordered the street. The scent of that living
green blended with the scent of laid dust and the fragrance of the last
late-clinging chestnut blossoms; it caught up a fuller, richer burden
from the overflowing front of a florist's shop; it stole from open
windows a savory whiff of cooking, a salt tang of wood smoke; and the
soft little breeze--the breeze of coming summer--mixed all together and
tossed them and bore them down the long, quiet street; and it was the
breath of Paris, and it shall be in your nostrils and mine, a keen agony
of sweetness, so long as we may live and so wide as we may
wander--because we have known it and loved it--and in the end we shall
go back to breathe it when we die.

The strong white horse jogged evenly along over the wooden pavement, its
head down, the little bell at its neck jingling pleasantly as it went.
The cocher, a torpid, purplish lump of gross flesh, pyramidal, pearlike,
sat immobile in his place. The protuberant back gave him an
extraordinary effect of being buttoned into his fawn-colored coat wrong
side before. At intervals he jerked the reins like a large strange toy,
and his strident voice said:

"Hé!" to the stout white horse, which paid no attention whatever. Once
the beast stumbled and the pearlike lump of flesh insulted it, saying:

"Hé! veux tu, cochon!"

Before the War Office a little black slip of a milliner's girl dodged
under the horse's head, saving herself and the huge box slung to her arm
by a miracle of agility, and the cocher called her the most frightful
names, without turning his head and in a perfunctory tone quite free
from passion.

Young Hartley laughed and turned to look at his companion, but Ste.
Marie sat still in his place, his hat pulled a little down over his
brows and his handsome chin buried in the folds of the white silk
muffler with which for some obscure reason he had swathed his neck.

"This is the first time in many years," said the Englishman, "that I
have known you to be silent for ten whole minutes. Are you ill, or are
you making up little epigrams to say at the dinner-party?"

Ste. Marie waved a despondent glove.

"I 'ave," said he, "w'at you call ze blue. Papillons noirs--clouds in my
soul." It was a species of jest with Ste. Marie--and he seemed never to
tire of it--to pretend that he spoke English very brokenly. As a matter
of fact, he spoke it quite as well as any Englishman and without the
slightest trace of accent. He had discovered a long time before this--it
may have been while the two were at Eton together--that it annoyed
Hartley very much, particularly when it was done in company and before
strangers. In consequence he became on such occasions a sort of
comic-paper caricature of his race, and by dint of much practice, added
to a naturally alert mind, he became astonishingly ingenious in the
torture of that honest but unimaginative gentleman whom he considered
his best friend. He achieved the most surprising expressions by the mere
literal translation of French idiom, and he could at any time bring
Hartley to a crimson agony by calling him "my dear "'before other men,
whereas at the equivalent "mon cher" the Englishman would doubtless
never, as the phrase goes, have batted an eye.

"Ye-es," he continued, sadly, "I 'ave ze blue. I weep. Weez ze tears
full ze eyes. Yes." He descended into English. "I think something's
going to happen to me. There's calamity, or something, in the air.
Perhaps I'm going to die."

"Oh, I know what you are going to do, right enough," said the other man.
"You're going to meet the most beautiful woman--girl--in the world at
dinner, and of course you are going to fall in love with her."

"Ah, the Miss Benham!" said Ste. Marie, with a faint show of interest.
"I remember now, you said that she was to be there. I had forgotten.
Yes, I shall be glad to meet her. One hears so much. But why am I of
course going to fall in love with her?"

"Well, in the first place," said Hartley, "you always fall in love with
all pretty women as a matter of habit, and, in the second place,
everybody--well, I suppose you--no one could help falling in love with
her, I should think."

"That's high praise to come from you," said the other. And Hartley said,
with a short, not very mirthful laugh:

"Oh, I don't pretend to be immune. We all--everybody who knows her.
You'll understand presently."

Ste. Marie turned his head a little and looked curiously at his friend,
for he considered that he knew the not very expressive intonations of
that young gentleman's voice rather well, and this was something
unusual. He wondered what had been happening during his six months'
absence from Paris.

"I dare say that's what I feel in the air, then," he said, after a
little pause. "It's not calamity; it's love.

"Or maybe," he said, quaintly, "it's both. L'un n'empêche pas I'autre."
And he gave an odd little shiver, as if that something in the air had
suddenly blown chill upon him.

They were passing the corner of the Chamber of Deputies, which faces the
Pont de la Concorde. Ste. Marie pulled out his watch and looked at it.

"Eight-fifteen," said he. "What time are we asked for--eight-thirty?
That means nine: It's an English house, and nobody will be on time. It's
out of fashion to be prompt nowadays."

"I should hardly call the Marquis de Saulnes English, you know,"
objected Hartley.

"Well, his wife is," said the other, "and they're altogether English in
manner. Dinner won't be before nine. Shall we get out, and walk across
the bridge and up the Champs-Elysées? I should like to, I think. I like
to walk at this time of the evening--between the daylight and the dark."
Hartley nodded a rather reluctant assent, and Ste. Marie prodded the
pear-shaped cocher in the back with his stick. So they got down at the
approach to the bridge, Ste. Marie gave the cocher a piece of two
francs, and they turned away on foot. The pear-shaped one looked at the
coin in his fat hand as if it were something unclean and
contemptible--something to be despised. He glanced at the dial of his
taximeter, which had registered one franc twenty-five, and pulled the
flag up. He spat gloomily out into the street, and his purple lips moved
in words. He seemed to say something like "Sale diable de métier!"
which, considering the fact that he had just been overpaid, appears
unwarrantably pessimistic in tone. Thereafter he spat again, picked up
his reins and jerked them, saying:

"Hè, Jean Baptiste! Uip, uip!" The unemotional white horse turned up the
boulevard, trotting evenly at its steady pace, head down, the little
bell at its neck jingling pleasantly as it went. It occurs to me that
the white horse was probably unique. I doubt that there was another
horse in Paris rejoicing in that extraordinary name.

But the two young men walked slowly on across the Pont de la Concorde.
They went in silence, for Hartley was thinking still of Miss Helen
Benham, and Ste. Marie was thinking of Heaven knows what. His gloom was
unaccountable unless he had really meant what he said about feeling
calamity in the air. It was very unlike him to have nothing to say.
Midway of the bridge he stopped and turned to look out over the river,
and the other man halted beside him. The dusk was thickening almost
perceptibly, but it was yet far from dark. The swift river ran leaden
beneath them, and the river boats, mouches and hirondelles, darted
silently under the arches of the bridge, making their last trips for the
day. Away to the west, where their faces were turned, the sky was still
faintly washed with color, lemon and dusky orange and pale thin green. A
single long strip of cirrus cloud was touched with pink, a lifeless old
rose, such as is popular among decorators for the silk hangings of a
woman's boudoir. And black against this pallid wash of colors the tour
Eiffel stood high and slender and rather ghostly. By day it is an ugly
thing, a preposterous iron finger upthrust by man's vanity against God's
serene sky; but the haze of evening drapes it in a merciful
semi-obscurity and it is beautiful.

Ste. Marie leaned upon the parapet of the bridge, arms folded before him
and eyes afar. He began to sing, à demi-voix, a little phrase out of
_Louise_--an invocation to Paris--and the Englishman stirred uneasily
beside him. It seemed to Hartley that to stand on a bridge, in a top-hat
and evening clothes, and sing operatic airs while people passed back and
forth behind you, was one of the things that are not done. He tried to
imagine himself singing in the middle of Westminster Bridge at half-past
eight of an evening, and he felt quite hot all over at the thought. It
was not done at all, he said to himself. He looked a little nervously at
the people who were passing, and it seemed to him that they stared at
him and at the unconscious Ste. Marie, though in truth they did nothing
of the sort. He turned back and touched his friend on the arm, saying:

"I think we'd best be getting along, you know." But Ste. Marie was very
far away, and did not hear. So then he fell to watching the man's dark
and handsome face, and to thinking how little the years at Eton and the
year or two at Oxford had set any real stamp upon him. He would never be
anything but Latin, in spite of his Irish mother and his public school.
Hartley thought what a pity that was. As Englishmen go, he was not
illiberal, but, no more than he could have altered the color of his
eyes, could he have believed that anything foreign would not be improved
by becoming English. That was born in him, as it is born in most
Englishmen, and it was a perfectly simple and honest belief. He felt a
deeper affection for this handsome and volatile young man whom all women
loved, and who bade fair to spend his life at their successive feet--for
he certainly had never shown the slightest desire to take up any sterner
employment--he felt a deeper affection for Ste. Marie than for any other
man he knew, but he had always wished that Ste. Marie were an
Englishman, and he had always felt a slight sense of shame over his
friend's un-English ways.

After a moment he touched him again on the arm, saying:

"Come along! We shall be late, you know. You can finish your little
concert another time."

"Eh!" cried Ste. Marie. "Quoi, donc?" He turned with a start.

"Oh yes!" said he. "Yes, come along! I was mooning. Allons! Allons, my
old!" He took Hartley's arm and began to shove him along at a rapid
walk. "I will moon no more," he said. "Instead, you shall tell me about
the wonderful Miss Benham whom everybody is talking about. Isn't there
something odd connected with the family? I vaguely recall something
unusual--some mystery or misfortune or something. But first a moment!
One small moment, my old. Regard me that!" They had come to the end of
the bridge, and the great Place de la Concorde lay before them.

"In all the world," said Ste. Marie--and he spoke the truth--"there is
not another such square. Regard it, mon brave! Bow yourself before it!
It is a miracle."

The great bronze lamps were alight, and they cast reflections upon the
still damp pavement about them. To either side, the trees of the
Tuileries gardens and of the Cours la Reine and the Champs-Elysées lay
in a solid black mass; in the middle, the obelisk rose slender and
straight, its pointed top black against the sky; and beneath, the water
of the Nèreid fountains splashed and gurgled. Far beyond, the gay lights
of the rue Royale shone in a yellow cluster; and beyond these still, the
tall columns of the Madeleine ended the long vista. Pedestrians and cabs
crept across that vast space and seemed curiously little, like black
insects, and round about it all the eight cities of France sat atop
their stone pedestals and looked on. Ste. Marie gave a little sigh of
pleasure, and the two moved forward, bearing to the left, toward the
Champs-Elysées.

"And now," said he, "about these Benhams. What is the thing I cannot
quite recall? What has happened to them?"

"I suppose," said the other man, "you mean the disappearance of Miss
Benham's young brother a month ago--before you returned to Paris. Yes,
that was certainly very odd--that is, it was either very odd or very
commonplace. And in either case the family is terribly cut up about it.
The boy's name was Arthur Benham, and he was rather a young fool, but
not downright vicious, I should think. I never knew him at all well, but
I know he spent his time chiefly at the Café de Paris and at the Olympia
and at Longchamps and at Henry's Bar. Well, he just disappeared, that is
all. He dropped completely out of sight between two days, and though the
family has had a small army of detectives on his trail they've not
discovered the smallest clew. It's deuced odd altogether. You might
think it easy to disappear like that, but it's not."

"No--no," said Ste. Marie, thoughtfully. "No, I should fancy not.

"This boy," he said, after a pause--"I think I had seen him--had him
pointed out to me--before I went away. I think it was at Henry's Bar,
where all the young Americans go to drink strange beverages. I am quite
sure I remember his face. A weak face, but not quite bad."

And after another little pause he asked:

"Was there any reason why he should have gone away--any quarrel or that
sort of thing?"

"Well," said the other man, "I rather think there was something of the
sort. The boy's uncle--Captain Stewart--middle-aged, rather prim old
party--you'll have met him, I dare say--he intimated to me one day that
there had been some trivial row. You see, the lad isn't of age yet,
though he is to be in a few months, and so he has had to live on an
allowance doled out by his grandfather, who's the head of the house. The
boy's father is dead. There's a quaint old beggar, if you like--the
grandfather. He was rather a swell in the diplomatic, in his day, it
seems--rather an important swell. Now he's bedridden. He sits all day in
bed and plays cards with his granddaughter or with a very superior
valet, and talks politics with the men who come to see him. Oh yes, he's
a quaint old beggar. He has a great quantity of white hair and an
enormous square white beard and the fiercest eyes I ever saw, I should
think. Everybody's frightened out of their wits of him. Well, he sits up
there and rules his family in good old patriarchal style, and it seems
he came down a bit hard on the poor boy one day over some folly or
other, and there was a row and the boy went out of the house swearing
he'd be even."

"Ah, well, then," said Ste. Marie, "the matter seems simple enough. A
foolish boy's foolish pique. He is staying in hiding somewhere to
frighten his grandfather. When he thinks the time favorable he will come
back and be wept over and forgiven."

The other man walked a little way in silence.

"Ye-es," he said, at last. "Yes, possibly. Possibly you are right.
That's what the grandfather thinks. It's the obvious solution.
Unfortunately there is more or less against it. The boy went away
with--so far as can be learned--almost no money, almost none at all. And
he has already been gone a month. Miss Benham, his sister, is sure that
something has happened to him, and I'm a bit inclined to think so, too.
It's all very odd. I should think he might have been kidnapped but that
no demand has been made for money."

"He was not," suggested Ste. Marie--"not the sort of young man to do
anything desperate--make away with himself?" Hartley laughed.

"Oh, Lord, no!" said he. "Not that sort of young man at all. He was a
very normal type of rich and spoiled and somewhat foolish American boy."

"Rich?" inquired the other, quickly.

"Oh yes; they're beastly rich. Young Arthur is to come into something
very good at his majority, I believe, from his father's estate, and the
old grandfather is said to be indecently rich--rolling in it! There's
another reason why the young idiot wouldn't be likely to stop away of
his own accord. He wouldn't risk anything like a serious break with the
old gentleman. It would mean a loss of millions to him, I dare say, for
the old beggar is quite capable of cutting him off if he takes the
notion. Oh, it's a bad business all through."

And after they had gone on a bit he said it again, shaking his head:

"It's a bad business! That poor girl, you know. It's hard on her. She
was fond of the young ass for some reason or other. She's very much
broken up over it."

"Yes," said Ste. Marie, "it is hard for her--for all the family, of
course. A bad business, as you say." He spoke absently, for he was
looking ahead at something which seemed to be a motor accident. They had
by this time got well up the Champs-Elysées and were crossing the Rond
Point. A motor-car was drawn up alongside the curb just beyond, and a
little knot of people stood about it and seemed to look at something on
the ground.

"I think some one has been run down," said Ste. Marie. "Shall we have a
look?" They quickened their pace and came to where the group of people
stood in a circle looking upon the ground, and two gendarmes asked many
questions and wrote voluminously in their little books. It appeared that
a delivery boy mounted upon a tricycle cart had turned into the wrong
side of the avenue and had got himself run into and overturned by a
motor-car going at a moderate rate of speed. For once the sentiment of
those mysterious birds of prey which flock instantaneously from nowhere
round an accident, was against the victim and in favor of the frightened
and gesticulating chauffeur.

Ste. Marie turned an amused face from this voluble being to the other
occupants of the patently hired car, who stood apart, adding very little
to the discussion. He saw a tall and bony man with very bright blue eyes
and what is sometimes called a guardsman's mustache--the drooping,
walruslike ornament which dates back a good many years now. Beyond this
gentleman he saw a young woman in a long, gray silk coat and a motoring
veil. He was aware that the tall man was staring at him rather fixedly
and with a half-puzzled frown, as though he thought that they had met
before and was trying to remember when, but Ste. Marie gave the man but
a swift glance. His eyes were upon the dark face of the young woman
beyond, and it seemed to him that she called aloud to him in an actual
voice that rang in his ears. The young woman's very obvious beauty, he
thought, had nothing to do with the matter. It seemed to him that her
eyes called him. Just that. Something strange and very potent seemed to
take sudden and almost tangible hold upon him--a charm, a spell, a
magic--something unprecedented, new to his experience. He could not take
his eyes from hers, and he stood staring.

As before, on the Pont de la Concorde, Hartley touched him on the arm,
and abruptly the chains that had bound him were loosened.

"We must be going on, you know," the Englishman said, and Ste. Marie
said, rather hurriedly:

"Yes, yes, to be sure! Come along!" But at a little distance he turned
once more to look back. The chauffeur had mounted to his place, the
delivery boy was upon his feet again, little the worse for his tumble,
and the knot of bystanders had begun to disperse, but it seemed to Ste.
Marie that the young woman in the long silk coat stood quite still where
she had been, and that her face was turned toward him, watching.

"Did you notice that girl?" said Hartley, as they walked on at a brisker
pace. "Did you see her face? She was rather a tremendous beauty, you
know, in her gypsyish fashion. Yes, by Jove, she was!"

"Did I see her?" repeated Ste. Marie. "Yes. Oh yes. She had very strange
eyes. At least, I think it was the eyes. I don't know. I've never seen
any eyes quite like them. Very odd!"

He said something more in French which Hartley did not hear, and the
Englishman saw that he was frowning.

"Oh, well, I shouldn't have said there was anything strange about them,"
Hartley said; "but they certainly were beautiful. There's no denying
that. The man with her looked rather Irish, I thought."

They came to the Etoile, and cut across it toward the Avenue Hoche. Ste.
Marie glanced back once more, but the motor-car and the delivery boy and
the gendarmes were gone.

"What did you say?" he asked, idly.

"I said the man looked Irish," repeated his friend. All at once Ste.
Marie gave a loud exclamation.

"Sacred thousand devils! Fool that I am! Dolt! Why didn't I think of it
before?"

Hartley stared at him, and Ste. Marie stared down the Champs-Elysées
like one in a trance.

"I say," said the Englishman, "we really must be getting on, you know;
we're late." And as they went along down the Avenue Hoche, he demanded:
"Why are you a dolt and whatever else it was? What struck you so
suddenly?"

"I remembered all at once," said Ste. Marie, "where I had seen that man
before and with whom I last saw him. I'll tell you about it later.
Probably it's of no importance, though."

"You're talking rather like a mild lunatic," said the other. "Here we
are at the house!"

       *       *       *       *       *



II

THE LADDER TO THE STARS


Miss Benham was talking wearily to a strange, fair youth with an
impediment in his speech, and was wondering why the youth had been asked
to this house, where in general one was sure of meeting only interesting
people, when some one spoke her name, and she turned with a little sigh
of relief. It was Baron de Vries, the Belgian First Secretary of
Legation, an old friend of her grandfather's, a man made gentle and
sweet by infinite sorrow. He bowed civilly to the fair youth and bent
over the girl's hand.

"It is very good," he said, "to see you again in the world. We have need
of you, nous autres. Madame your mother is well, I hope--and the bear?"
He called old Mr. Stewart "the bear" in a sort of grave jest, and that
fierce octogenarian rather liked it.

"Oh yes," the girl said, "we're all fairly well. My mother had one of
her headaches to-night and so didn't come here, but she's as well as
usual, and 'the bear'--yes, he's well enough physically, I should think,
but he has not been quite the same since--during the past month. It has
told upon him, you know. He grieves over it much more than he will
admit."

"Yes," said Baron de Vries, gravely. "Yes, I know." He turned about
toward the fair young man, but that youth had drifted away and joined
himself to another group. Miss Benham looked after him and gave a little
exclamation of relief.

"That person was rather terrible," she said. "I can't think why he is
here. Marian so seldom has dull people."

"I believe," said the Belgian, "that he is some connection of De
Saulnes'. That explains his presence." He lowered his voice. "You have
heard no--news? They have found no trace?"

"No," said she. "Nothing. Nothing at all. I'm rather in despair. It's
all so hideously mysterious. I am sure, you know, that something has
happened to him. It's--very, very hard. Sometimes I think I can't bear
it. But I go on. We all go on."

Baron de Vries nodded his head strongly.

"That, my dear child, is just what you must do," said he. "You must go
on. That is what needs the real courage, and you have courage. I am not
afraid for you. And sooner or later you will hear of him--from him. It
is impossible nowadays to disappear for very long. You will hear from
him." He smiled at her, his slow, grave smile that was not of mirth but
of kindness and sympathy and cheer.

"And if I may say so," he said, "you are doing very wisely to come out
once more among your friends. You can accomplish no good by brooding at
home. It is better to live one's normal life--even when it is not easy
to do it. I say so who know."

The girl touched Baron de Vries' arm for an instant with her hand--a
little gesture that seemed to express thankfulness and trust and
affection.

"If all my friends were like you!" she said to him. And after that she
drew a quick breath as if to have done with these sad matters, and she
turned her eyes once more toward the broad room where the other guests
stood in little groups, all talking at once, very rapidly and in loud
voices.

"What extraordinarily cosmopolitan affairs these dinner-parties in new
Paris are!" she said. "They're like diplomatic parties, only we have a
better time and the men don't wear their orders. How many nationalities
should you say there are in this room now?"

"Without stopping to consider," said Baron de Vries, "I say ten." They
counted, and out of fourteen people there were represented nine races.

"I don't see Richard Hartley," Miss Benham said. "I had an idea he was
to be here. Ah!" she broke off, looking toward the doorway. "Here he
comes now!" she said. "He's rather late. Who is the Spanish-looking man
with him, I wonder? He's rather handsome, isn't he?"

Baron de Vries moved a little forward to look, and exclaimed in his
turn. He said:

"Ah, I did not know he was returned to Paris. That is Ste. Marie." Miss
Benham's eyes followed the Spanish-looking young man as he made his way
through the joyous greetings of friends toward his hostess.

"So that is Ste. Marie!" she said, still watching him. "The famous Ste.
Marie!" She gave a little laugh.

"Well, I don't wonder at the reputation he bears for--gallantry and that
sort of thing. He looks the part, doesn't he?"

"Ye-es," admitted her friend. "Yes, he is sufficiently beau garçon.
But--yes--well, that is not all, by any means. You must not get the idea
that Ste. Marie is nothing but a genial and romantic young
squire-of-dames. He is much more than that. He has very fine qualities.
To be sure, he appears to possess no ambition in particular, but I
should be glad if he were my son. He comes of a very old house, and
there is no blot upon the history of that house--nothing but
faithfulness and gallantry and honor. And there is, I think, no blot
upon Ste. Marie himself. He is fine gold."

The girl turned and stared at Baron de Vries with some astonishment.

"You speak very strongly," said she. "I have never heard you speak so
strongly of any one, I think."

The Belgian made a little deprecatory gesture with his two hands, and he
laughed.

"Oh, well, I like the boy. And I should hate to have you meet him for
the first time under a misconception. Listen, my child! When a young man
is loved equally by both men and women, by both old and young, that
young man is worthy of friendship and trust. Everybody likes Ste. Marie.
In a sense, that is his misfortune. The way is made too easy for him.
His friends stand so thick about him that they shut off his view of the
heights. To waken ambition in his soul he has need of solitude or
misfortune or grief. Or," said the elderly Belgian, laughing gently--"or
perhaps the other thing might do it best--the more obvious thing?"

The girl's raised eyebrows questioned him, and when he did not answer,
she said:

"What thing, then?"

"Why, love," said Baron de Vries. "Love, to be sure. Love is said to
work miracles, and I believe that to be a perfectly true saying. Ah, he
is coming here!"

The Marquise de Saulnes, who was a very pretty little Englishwoman with
a deceptively doll-like look, approached, dragging Ste. Marie in her
wake. She said:

"My dearest dear, I give you of my best. Thank me and cherish him! I
believe he is to lead you to the place where food is, isn't he?" She
beamed over her shoulder and departed, and Miss Benham found herself
confronted by the Spanish-looking man. Her first thought was that he was
not as handsome as he had seemed at a distance, but something much
better. For a young man she thought his face was rather oddly
weather-beaten, as if he might have been very much at sea, and it was
too dark to be entirely pleasing. But she liked his eyes, which were not
brown or black, as she had expected, but a very unusual dark gray--a
sort of slate color. And she liked his mouth, too, while disapproving of
the fierce little upturned mustache which seemed to her a bit operatic.
It was her habit--and it is not an unreliable habit--to judge people by
their eyes and mouths. Ste. Marie's mouth pleased her because the lips
were neither thin nor thick, they were not drawn into an unpleasant line
by unpleasant habits, they did not pout as so many Latin lips do, and
they had at one corner a humorous expression which she found curiously
agreeable.

"You are to cherish me," Ste. Marie said. "Orders from headquarters. How
does one cherish people?" The corner of his very expressive mouth
twitched, and he grinned at her.

Miss Benham did not approve of young men who began an acquaintance in
this very familiar manner. She thought that there was a certain
preliminary and more formal stage which ought to be got through with
first, but Ste, Marie's grin was irresistible. In spite of herself, she
found that she was laughing.

"I don't quite know," she said. "It sounds rather appalling, doesn't it?
Marian has such an extraordinary fashion of hurling people at each
other's heads! She takes my breath away at times."

"Ah, well," said Ste. Marie, "perhaps we can settle upon something when
I've led you to the place where food is. And, by-the-way, what are we
waiting for? Are we not all here? There's an even number." He broke off
with a sudden exclamation of pleasure; and when Miss Benham turned to
look, she found that Baron de Vries, who had been talking to some
friends, had once more come up to where she stood.

She watched the greeting between the two men, and its quiet affection
impressed her very much. She knew Baron de Vries well, and she knew that
it was not his habit to show or to feel a strong liking for young and
idle men. This young man must be very worth while to have won the regard
of that wise old Belgian. Just then Hartley, who had been barricaded
behind a cordon of friends, came up to her in an abominable temper over
his ill luck, and a few moments later the dinner procession was formed
and they went in.

At table Miss Benham found herself between Ste. Marie and the same
strange, fair youth who had afflicted her in the drawing-room. She
looked upon him now with a sort of dismayed terror, but it developed
that there was nothing to fear from the fair youth. He had no attention
to waste upon social amenities. He fell upon his food with a wolfish
passion extraordinary to see and also--alas!--to hear. Miss Benham
turned from him to meet Ste. Marie's delighted eye.

"Tell him for me," begged that gentleman, "that soup should be seen--not
heard."

But Miss Benham gave a little shiver of disgust. "I shall tell him
nothing whatever," she said. "He's quite too dreadful, really! People
shouldn't be exposed to that sort of thing. It's not only the noises.
Plenty of very charming and estimable Germans, for example, make strange
noises at table. But he behaves like a famished dog over a bone. I
refuse to have anything to do with him. You must make up the loss to me,
M. Ste. Marie. You must be as amusing as two people." She smiled across
at him in her gravely questioning fashion. "I'm wondering," she said,
"if I dare ask you a very personal question. I hesitate because I don't
like people who presume too much upon a short acquaintance--and our
acquaintance has been very, very short, hasn't it? even though we may
have heard a great deal about each other beforehand. I wonder--"

"Oh, I should ask it if I were you!" said Ste. Marie, at once. "I'm an
extremely good-natured person. And, besides, I quite naturally feel
flattered at your taking interest enough to ask anything about me."

"Well," said she, "it's this: Why does everybody call you just 'Ste.
Marie'? Most people are spoken of as Monsieur this or that--if there
isn't a more august title; but they all call you Ste. Marie without any
Monsieur. It seems rather odd."

Ste. Marie looked puzzled. "Why," he said, "I don't believe I know,
just. I'd never thought of that. It's quite true, of course. They never
do use a Monsieur or anything, do they? How cheeky of them! I wonder why
it is? I'll ask Hartley."

He did ask Hartley later on, and Hartley didn't know, either. Miss
Benham asked some other people, who were vague about it, and in the end
she became convinced that it was an odd and quite inexplicable form of
something like endearment. But nobody seemed to have formulated it to
himself.

"The name is really 'De Ste. Marie,'" he went on, "and there's a title
that I don't use, and a string of Christian names that one never
employs. My people were Béarnais, and there's a heap of ruins on top of
a hill in the Pyrenees where they lived. It used to be Ste. Marie de
Mont-les-Roses, but afterward, after the Revolution, they called it Ste.
Marie de Mont Perdu. My great-grandfather was killed there, but some old
servants smuggled his little son away and saved him."

He seemed to Miss Benham to say that in exactly the right manner, not in
the cheap and scoffing fashion which some young men affect in speaking
of ancestral fortunes or misfortunes, nor with too much solemnity. And
when she allowed a little silence to occur at the end, he did not go on
with his family history, but turned at once to another subject. It
pleased her curiously.

The fair youth at her other side continued to crouch over his food,
making fierce and animal-like noises. He never spoke or seemed to wish
to be spoken to, and Miss Benham found it easy to ignore him altogether.
It occurred to her once or twice that Ste. Marie's other neighbor might
desire an occasional word from him, but, after all, she said to herself
that was his affair and beyond her control. So these two talked together
through the entire dinner period, and the girl was aware that she was
being much more deeply affected by the simple, magnetic charm of a man
than ever before in her life. It made her a little angry, because she
was unfamiliar with this sort of thing and distrusted it. She was rather
a perfect type of that phenomenon before which the British and
Continental world stands in mingled delight and exasperation--the
American unmarried young woman, the creature of extraordinary beauty and
still more extraordinary poise, the virgin with the bearing and
savoir-faire of a woman of the world, the fresh-cheeked girl with the
calm mind of a savante and the cool judgment, in regard to men and
things, of an ambassador. The European world says she is cold, and that
may be true; but it is well enough known that she can love very deeply.
It says that, like most queens, and for precisely the same set of
reasons, she later on makes a bad mother; but it is easy to point to
queens who are the best of mothers. In short, she remains an enigma,
and, like all other enigmas, forever fascinating.

Miss Benham reflected that she knew almost nothing about Ste. Marie save
for his reputation as a carpet knight, and Baron de Vries' good opinion,
which could not be despised. And that made her the more displeased when
she realized how promptly she was surrendering to his charm. In a moment
of silence she gave a sudden little laugh which seemed to express a
half-angry astonishment.

"What was that for?" Ste. Marie demanded.

The girl looked at him for an instant and shook her head.

"I can't tell you," said she. "That's rude, isn't it? I'm sorry. Perhaps
I will tell you one day, when we know each other better."

But inwardly she was saying: "Why, I suppose this is how they all
begin--all these regiments of women who make fools of themselves about
him! I suppose this is exactly what he does to them all!"

It made her angry, and she tried quite unfairly to shift the anger, as
it were, to Ste. Marie--to put him somehow in the wrong. But she was by
nature very just, and she could not quite do that, particularly as it
was evident that the man was using no cheap tricks. He did not try to
flirt with her, and he did not attempt to pay her veiled compliments,
though she was often aware that when her attention was diverted for a
few moments his eyes were always upon her, and that is a compliment that
few women can find it in their hearts to resent.

"You say," said Ste. Marie, "'when we know each other better.' May one
twist that into a permission to come and see you--I mean, really see
you--not just leave a card at your door to-morrow by way of observing
the formalities?"

"Yes," she said. "Oh yes, one may twist it into something like that
without straining it unduly, I think. My mother and I shall be very glad
to see you. I'm sorry she is not here to-night to say it herself."

Then the hostess began to gather together her flock, and so the two had
no more speech. But when the women had gone and the men were left about
the dismantled table, Hartley moved up beside Ste. Marie and shook a sad
head at him. He said:

"You're a very lucky being. I was quietly hoping, on the way here, that
I should be the fortunate man, but you always have all the luck. I hope
you're decently grateful."

"Mon vieux," said Ste. Marie, "my feet are upon the stars. No!" He shook
his head as if the figure displeased him. "No, my feet are upon the
ladder to the stars. Grateful? What does a foolish word like grateful
mean? Don't talk to me. You are not worthy to trample among my
magnificent thoughts. I am a god upon Olympus."

"You said just now," objected the other man, practically, "that your
feet were on a ladder. There are no ladders from Olympus to the stars."

"Ho!" said Ste. Marie. "Ho! Aren't there, though? There shall be ladders
all over Olympus, if I like. What do you know about gods and stars? I
shall be a god climbing to the heavens, and I shall be an angel of
light, and I shall be a miserable worm grovelling in the night here
below, and I shall be a poet, and I shall be anything else I happen to
think of--all of them at once, if I choose. And you shall be the
tongue-tied son of perfidious Albion that you are, gaping at my
splendors from a fog-bank--a November fog-bank in May. Who is the
desiccated gentleman bearing down upon us?"

       *       *       *       *       *



III

STE. MARIE MAKES A VOW, BUT A PAIR OF EYES HAUNT HIM


Hartley looked over his shoulder and gave a little exclamation of
distaste.

"It's Captain Stewart, Miss Benham's uncle," he said, lowering his
voice. "I'm off. I shall abandon you to him. He's a good old soul, but
he bores me." Hartley nodded to the man who was approaching, and then
made his way to the end of the table, where their host sat discussing
aero-club matters with a group of the other men.

Captain Stewart dropped into the vacant chair, saying: "May I recall
myself to you, M. Ste. Marie? We met, I believe, once or twice, a couple
of years ago. My name's Stewart."

Captain Stewart--the title was vaguely believed to have been borne some
years before in the American service, but no one appeared to know much
about it--was not an old man. He could not have been, at this time, much
more than fifty, but English-speaking acquaintances often called him
"old Stewart," and others "ce vieux Stewart." Indeed, at a first glance
he might have passed for anything up to sixty, for his face was a good
deal more lined and wrinkled than it should have been at his age. Ste.
Marie's adjective had been rather apt. The man had a desiccated
appearance. Upon examination, however, one saw that the blood was still
red in his cheeks and lips, and, although his neck was thin and withered
like an old man's, his brown eyes still held their fire. The hair was
almost gone from the top of his large, round head, but it remained at
the sides--stiff, colorless hair, with a hint of red in it. And there
were red streaks in his gray mustache, which was trained outward in two
loose tufts, like shaving-brushes. The mustache and the shallow chin
under it gave him an odd, catlike appearance. Hartley, who rather
disliked the man, used to insist that he had heard him mew.

Ste. Marie said something politely non-committal, though he did not at
all remember the alleged meeting two years before, and he looked at
Captain Stewart with a real curiosity and interest in his character as
Miss Benham's uncle. He thought it very civil of the elder man to make
these friendly advances when it was in no way incumbent upon him to do
so.

"I noticed," said Captain Stewart, "that you were placed next my niece,
Helen Benham, at dinner. This must be the first time you two have met,
is it not? I remember speaking of you to her some months ago, and I am
quite sure she said that she had not met you. Ah, yes, of course, you
have been away from Paris a great deal since she and her mother--her
mother is my sister: that is to say, my half-sister--have come here to
live with my father." He gave a little gentle laugh. "I take an elderly
uncle's privilege," he said, "of being rather proud of Helen. She is
called very pretty, and she certainly has great poise."

Ste. Marie drew a quick breath, and his eyes began to flash as they had
done a few moments before when he told Hartley that his feet were upon
the ladder to the stars.

"Miss Benham!" he cried. "Miss Benham is--" He hung poised so for a
moment, searching, as it were, for words of sufficient splendor, but in
the end he shook his head and the gleam faded from his eyes. He sank
back in his chair, sighing. "Miss Benham," said he, "is extremely
beautiful."

And again her uncle emitted his little gentle laugh, which may have
deceived Hartley into believing that he had heard the man mew. The sound
was as much like mewing as it was like anything else.

"I am very glad," Captain Stewart said, "to see her come out once more
into the world. She needs distraction. We--You may possibly have heard
that the family is in great distress of mind over the disappearance of
my young nephew. Helen has suffered particularly, because she is
convinced that the boy has met with foul play. I myself think it very
unlikely--very unlikely indeed. The lack of motive, for one thing, and
for another--Ah, well, a score of reasons! But Helen refuses to be
comforted. It seems to me much more like a boy's prank--his idea of
revenge for what he considered unjust treatment at his grandfather's
hands. He was always a headstrong youngster, and he has been a bit
spoiled. Still, of course, the uncertainty is very trying for us
all--very wearing."

"Of course," said Ste. Marie, gravely. "It is most unfortunate. Ah,
by-the-way!" He looked up with a sudden interest. "A rather odd thing
happened," he said, "as Hartley and I were coming here this evening. We
walked up the Champs-Elysées from the Concorde, and on the way Hartley
had been telling me of your nephew's disappearance. Near the Rond Point
we came upon a motor-car which was drawn up at the side of the
street--there had been an accident of no consequence, a boy tumbled over
but not hurt. Well, one of the two occupants of the motor-car was a man
whom I used to see about Maxim's and the Café de Paris and the
Montmartre places, too, some time ago--a rather shady character whose
name I've forgotten. The odd part of it all was that on the last
occasion or two on which I saw your nephew he was with this man. I think
it was in Henry's Bar. Of course, it means nothing at all. Your nephew
doubtless knew scores of people, and this man is no more likely to have
information about his present whereabouts than any of the others. Still,
I should have liked to ask him. I didn't remember who he was till he had
gone."

Captain Stewart shook his head sadly, frowning down upon the cigarette
from which he had knocked the ash.

"I am afraid poor Arthur did not always choose his friends with the best
of judgment," said he. "I am not squeamish, and I would not have boys
kept in a glass case, but--yes, I'm afraid Arthur was not always too
careful." He replaced the cigarette neatly between his lips. "This man,
now--this man whom you saw to-night--what sort of looking man will he
have been?"

"Oh, a tall, lean man," said Ste. Marie. "A tall man with blue eyes and
a heavy, old-fashioned mustache. I just can't remember the name."

The smoke stood still for an instant over Captain Stewart's cigarette,
and it seemed to Ste. Marie that a little contortion of anger fled
across the man's face and was gone again. He stirred slightly in his
chair. After a moment he said:

"I fancy, from your description--I fancy I know who the man was. If it
is the man I am thinking of, the name is--Powers. He is, as you have
said, a rather shady character, and I more than once warned my nephew
against him. Such people are not good companions for a boy. Yes, I
warned him."

"Powers," said Ste. Marie, "doesn't sound right to me, you know. I can't
say the fellow's name myself, but I'm sure--that is, I think--it's not
Powers."

"Oh yes," said Captain Stewart, with an elderly man's half-querulous
certainty. "Yes, the name is Powers. I remember it well. And I
remember--Yes, it was odd, was it not, your meeting him like that, just
as you were talking of Arthur? You--oh, you didn't speak to him, you
say? No, no, to be sure! You didn't recognize him at once. Yes, it was
odd. Of course, the man could have had nothing to do with poor Arthur's
disappearance. His only interest in the boy at any time would have been
for what money Arthur might have, and he carried none, or almost none,
away with him when he vanished. Eh, poor lad! Where can he be to-night,
I wonder? It's a sad business, M. Ste. Marie--a sad business."

Captain Stewart fell into a sort of brooding silence, frowning down at
the table before him, and twisting with his thin ringers the little
liqueur glass and the coffee-cup which were there. Once or twice, Ste.
Marie thought, the frown deepened and twisted into a sort of scowl, and
the man's fingers twitched on the cloth of the table; but when at last
the group at the other end of the board rose and began to move towards
the door, Captain Stewart rose also and followed them. At the door he
seemed to think of something, and touched Ste. Marie upon the arm.

"This--ah, Powers," he said, in a low tone--"this man whom you saw
to-night! You said he was one of two occupants of a motor-car. Yes? Did
you by any chance recognize the other?"

"Oh, the other was a young woman," said Ste. Marie. "No, I never saw her
before. She was very handsome."

Captain Stewart said something under his breath and turned abruptly
away. But an instant later he faced about once more, smiling. He said,
in a man-of-the-world manner, which sat rather oddly upon him:

"Ah, well, we all have our little love-affairs. I dare say this shady
fellow has his." And for some obscure reason Ste. Marie found the speech
peculiarly offensive.

In the drawing-room he had opportunity for no more than a word with Miss
Benham, for Hartley, enraged over his previous ill success, cut in ahead
of him and manoeuvred that young lady into a corner, where he sat before
her, turning a square and determined back to the world. Ste. Marie
listlessly played bridge for a time, but his attention was not upon it,
and he was glad when the others at the table settled their accounts and
departed to look in at a dance somewhere. After that he talked for a
little with Marian de Saulnes, whom he liked and who made no secret of
adoring him. She complained loudly that he was in a vile temper, which
was not true; he was only restless and distrait and wanted to be alone;
and so, at last, he took his leave without waiting for Hartley.

Outside, in the street, he stood for a moment, hesitating, and an
expectant fiacre drew up before the house, the cocher raising an
interrogative whip. In the end Ste. Marie shook his head and turned away
on foot. It was a still, sweet night of soft airs, and a moonless,
starlit sky, and the man was very fond of walking in the dark. From the
Etoile he walked down the Champs-Elysées, but presently turned toward
the river. His eyes were upon the mellow stars, his feet upon the ladder
thereunto. He found himself crossing the Pont des Invalides, and halted
midway to rest and look. He laid his arms upon the bridge's parapet and
turned his face outward. Against it bore a little gentle breeze that
smelled of the purifying water below and of the night and of green
things growing. Beneath him the river ran black as flowing ink, and
across its troubled surface the many-colored lights of the many bridges
glittered very beautifully, swirling arabesques of gold and crimson. The
noises of the city--beat of hoofs upon wooden pavements, horn of train
or motor-car, jingle of bell upon cab-horse--came here faintly and as if
from a great distance. Above the dark trees of the Cours la Reine the
sky glowed, softly golden, reflecting the million lights of Paris.

Ste. Marie closed his eyes, and against darkness he saw the beautiful
head of Helen Benham, the clear-cut, exquisite modelling of feature and
contour, the perfection of form and color. Her eyes met his eyes, and
they were very serene and calm and confident. She smiled at him, and the
new contours into which her face fell with the smile were more perfect
than before. He watched the turn of her head, and the grace of the
movement was the uttermost effortless grace one dreams that a queen
should have. The heart of Ste. Marie quickened in him, and he would have
gone down upon his knees.

He was well aware that with the coming of this girl something
unprecedented, wholly new to his experience, had befallen him--an
awakening to a new life. He had been in love a very great many times. He
was usually in love. And each time his heart had gone through the same
sweet and bitter anguish, the same sleepless nights had come and gone
upon him, the eternal and ever new miracle had wakened spring in his
soul, had passed its summer solstice, had faded through autumnal regrets
to winter's death; but through it all something within him had waited
asleep.

He found himself wondering dully what it was--wherein lay the great
difference?--and he could not answer the question he asked. He knew only
that whereas before he had loved, he now went down upon prayerful knees
to worship. In a sudden poignant thrill the knightly fervor of his
forefathers came upon him, and he saw a sweet and golden lady set far
above him upon a throne. Her clear eyes gazed afar, serene and
untroubled. She sat wrapped in a sort of virginal austerity, unaware of
the base passions of men. The other women whom Ste. Marie had--as he was
pleased to term it--loved had certainly come at least half-way to meet
him, and some of them had come a good deal farther than that. He could
not, by the wildest flight of imagination, conceive this girl doing
anything of that sort. She was to be won by trial and high endeavor, by
prayer and self-purification--not captured by a warm eye-glance, a
whispered word, a laughing kiss. In fancy he looked from the crowding
cohorts of these others to that still, sweet figure set on high, wrapped
in virginal austerity, calm in her serene perfection, and his soul
abased itself before her. He knelt in an awed and worshipful adoration.

So before quest or tournament or battle must those elder Ste.
Maries--Ste. Maries de Mont-les-Roses---have knelt, each knight at the
feet of his lady, each knightly soul aglow with the chaste ardor of
chivalry.

The man's hands tightened upon the parapet of the bridge, he lifted his
face again to the shining stars where-among, as his fancy had it, she
sat enthroned. Exultingly he felt under his feet the rungs of the
ladder, and in the darkness he swore a great oath to have done forever
with blindness and grovelling, to climb and climb, forever to climb,
until at last he should stand where she was--cleansed and made worthy by
long endeavor--at last meet her eyes and touch her hand.

It was a fine and chivalric frenzy, and Ste. Marie was passionately in
earnest about it, but his guardian angel--indeed, Fate herself--must
have laughed a little in the dark, knowing what manner of man he was in
less exalted hours.

It was an odd freak of memory that at last recalled him to earth. Every
man knows that when a strong and, for the moment, unavailing effort has
been made to recall something lost to mind, the memory, in some
mysterious fashion, goes on working long after the attention has been
elsewhere diverted, and sometimes hours afterward, or even days,
produces quite suddenly and inappropriately the lost article. Ste. Marie
had turned, with a little sigh, to take up, once more, his walk across
the Pont des Invalides, when seemingly from nowhere, and certainly by no
conscious effort, a name flashed into his mind. He said it aloud:

"O'Hara! O'Hara! That tall, thin chap's name was O'Hara, by Jove! It
wasn't Powers at all!" He laughed a little as he remembered how very
positive Captain Stewart had been. And then he frowned, thinking that
the mistake was an odd one, since Stewart had evidently known a good
deal about this adventurer. Captain Stewart, though, Ste. Marie
reflected, was exactly the sort to be very sure he was right about
things. He had just the neat and precise and semi-scholarly personality
of the man who always knows. So Ste. Marie dismissed the matter with
another brief laugh, but a cognate matter was less easy to dismiss. The
name brought with it a face--a dark and splendid face with tragic eyes
that called. He walked a long way thinking about them and wondering. The
eyes haunted him. It will have been reasonably evident that Ste. Marie
was a fanciful and imaginative soul. He needed but a chance word, the
sight of a face in a crowd, the glance of an eye, to begin
story-building, and he would go on for hours about it and work himself
up to quite a passion with his imaginings. He should have been a writer
of fiction.

He began forthwith to construct romances about this lady of the
motor-car. He wondered why she should have been with the shady
Irishman--if Irishman he was--O'Hara, and with some anxiety he wondered
what the two were to each other. Captain Stewart's little cynical jest
came to his mind, and he was conscious of a sudden desire to kick Miss
Benham's middle-aged uncle.

The eyes haunted him. What was it they suffered? Out of what misery did
they call--and for what? He walked all the long way home to his little
flat overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens, haunted by those eyes. As he
climbed his stair it suddenly occurred to him that they had quite driven
out of his mind the image of his beautiful lady who sat among the stars,
and the realization came to him with a shock.

       *       *       *       *       *



IV

OLD DAVID STEWART


It was Miss Benham's custom, upon returning home at night from
dinner-parties or other entertainments, to look in for a few minutes on
her grandfather before going to bed. The old gentleman, like most
elderly people, slept lightly, and often sat up in bed very late into
the night, reading or playing piquet with his valet. He suffered
hideously at times from the malady which was killing him by degrees, but
when he was free from pain the enormous recuperative power, which he had
preserved to his eighty-sixth year, left him almost as vigorous and
clear-minded as if he had never been ill at all. Hartley's description
of him had not been altogether a bad one: "a quaint old beggar... a
great quantity of white hair and an enormous square white beard and the
fiercest eyes I ever saw..." He was a rather "quaint old beggar,"
indeed! He had let his thick, white hair grow long, and it hung down
over his brows in unparted locks as the ancient Greeks wore their hair.
He had very shaggy eyebrows, and the deep-set eyes under them gleamed
from the shadow with a fierceness which was rather deceptive but none
the less intimidating. He had a great beak of a nose, but the mouth
below could not be seen. It was hidden by the mustache and the enormous
square beard. His face was colorless, almost as white as hair and beard;
there seemed to be no shadow or tint anywhere except the cavernous
recesses from which the man's eyes gleamed and sparkled. Altogether he
was certainly "a quaint old beggar."

He had, during the day and evening, a good many visitors, for the old
gentleman's mind was as alert as it ever had been, and important men
thought him worth consulting. The names which the admirable valet Peters
announced from time to time were names which meant a great deal in the
official and diplomatic world of the day. But if old David felt
flattered over the unusual fashion in which the great of the earth
continued to come to him, he never betrayed it. Indeed, it is quite
probable that this view of the situation never once occurred to him. He
had been thrown with the great of the earth for more than half a
century, and he had learned to take it as a matter of course.

On her return from the Marquise de Saulnes' dinner-party, Miss Benham
went at once to her grandfather's wing of the house, which had its own
street entrance, and knocked lightly at his door. She asked the
admirable Peters, who opened to her, "Is he awake?" and being assured
that he was, went into the vast chamber, dropping her cloak on a chair
as she entered.

David Stewart was sitting up in his monumental bed behind a sort of
invalid's table which stretched across his knees without touching them.
He wore over his night-clothes a Chinese mandarin's jacket of old red
satin, wadded with down, and very gorgeously embroidered with the cloud
and bat designs, and with large round panels of the imperial five-clawed
dragon in gold. He had a number of these jackets--they seemed to be his
one vanity in things external--and they were so made that they could be
slipped about him without disturbing him in his bed, since they hung
down only to the waist or thereabouts. They kept the upper part of his
body, which was not covered by the bedclothes, warm, and they certainly
made him a very impressive figure.

He said: "Ah, Helen! Come in! Come in! Sit down on the bed there and
tell me what you have been doing!" He pushed aside the pack of cards
which was spread out on the invalid's table before him, and with great
care counted a sum of money in francs and half-francs and nickel
twenty-five centime pieces. "I've won seven francs fifty from Peters
to-night," he said, chuckling gently. "That is a very good evening,
indeed. Very good! Where have you been, and who were there?"

"A dinner-party at the De Saulnes'," said Miss Benham, making herself
comfortable on the side of the great bed. "It's a very pleasant place.
Marian is, of course, a dear, and they're quite English and
unceremonious. You can talk to your neighbor at dinner instead of
addressing the house from a platform, as it were. French dinner-parties
make me nervous."

Old David gave a little growling laugh.

"French dinner-parties at least keep people up to the mark in the art of
conversation," said he. "But that is a lost art, anyhow, nowadays, so I
suppose one might as well be quite informal and have done with it. Who
were there?"

"Oh, well"--she considered, "no one, I should think, who would interest
you. Rather an indifferent set. Pleasant people, but not inspiring. The
Marquis had some young relative or connection who was quite odious and
made the most surprising noises over his food. I met a new man whom I
think I am going to like very much, indeed. He wouldn't interest you,
because he doesn't mean anything in particular, and of course he
oughtn't to interest me for the same reason. He's just an idle, pleasant
young man, but--he has great charm--very great charm. His name is Ste.
Marie. Baron de Vries seems very fond of him, which surprised me,
rather."

"Ste. Marie!" exclaimed the old gentleman, in obvious astonishment.
"Ste. Marie de Mont Perdu?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes, that is the name, I believe. You know him, then?
I wonder he didn't mention it."

"I knew his father," said old David. "And his grandfather, for that
matter. They're Gascon, I think, or Béarnais; but this boy's mother will
have been Irish, unless his father married again.

"So you've been meeting a Ste. Marie, have you?--and finding that he has
great charm?" The old gentleman broke into one of his growling laughs,
and reached for a long black cigar, which he lighted, eying his
granddaughter the while over the flaring match. "Well," he said, when
the cigar was drawing, "they all have had charm. I should think there
has never been a Ste. Marie without it. They're a sort of embodiment of
romance, that family. This boy's great-grandfather lost his life
defending a castle against a horde of peasants in 1799; his grandfather
was killed in the French campaign in Mexico in '39--at Vera Cruz it was,
I think; and his father died in a filibustering expedition ten years
ago. I wonder what will become of the last Ste. Marie?" Old David's eyes
suddenly sharpened. "You're not going to fall in love with Ste. Marie
and marry him, are you?" he demanded.

Miss Benham gave a little angry laugh, but her grandfather saw the color
rise in her cheeks for all that.

"Certainly not," she said, with great decision, "What an absurd idea!
Because I meet a man at a dinner-party and say I like him, must I marry
him to-morrow? I meet a great many men at dinners and things, and a few
of them I like. Heavens!"

"'Methinks the lady doth protest too much,'" muttered old David into his
huge beard.

"I beg your pardon?" asked Miss Benham, politely.

But he shook his head, still growling inarticulately, and began to draw
enormous clouds of smoke from the long black cigar. After a time he took
the cigar once more from his lips and looked thoughtfully at his
granddaughter, where she sat on the edge of the vast bed, upright and
beautiful, perfect in the most meticulous detail. Most women when they
return from a long evening out look more or less the worse for
it--deadened eyes, pale cheeks, loosened coiffure tell their inevitable
tale. Miss Benham looked as if she had just come from the hands of a
very excellent maid. She looked as freshly soignée as she might have
looked at eight that evening instead of at one. Not a wave of her
perfectly undulated hair was loosened or displaced, not a fold of the
lace at her breast had departed from its perfect arrangement.

"It is odd," said old David Stewart, "your taking a fancy to young Ste.
Marie. Of course, it's natural, too, in a way, because you are complete
opposites, I should think--that is, if this lad is like the rest of his
race. What I mean is that merely attractive young men don't, as a rule,
attract you."

"Well, no," she admitted, "they don't usually. Men with brains attract
me most, I think--men who are making civilization, men who are ruling
the world, or at least doing important things for it. That's your fault,
you know. You taught me that."

The old gentleman laughed.

"Possibly," said he. "Possibly. Anyhow, that is the sort of men you
like, and they like you. You're by no means a fool, Helen; in fact,
you're a woman with brains. You could wield great influence married to
the proper sort of man."

"But not to M. Ste. Marie," she suggested, smiling across at him.

"Well, no," he said. "No, not to Ste. Marie. It would be a mistake to
marry Ste. Marie--if he is what the rest of his house have been. The
Ste. Maries live a life compounded of romance and imagination and
emotion. You're not emotional."

"No," said Miss Benham, slowly and thoughtfully. It was as if the idea
were new to her. "No, I'm not, I suppose. No. Certainly not."

"As a matter of fact," said old David, "you're by nature rather cold.
I'm not sure it isn't a good thing. Emotional people, I observe, are
usually in hot water of some sort. When you marry you're very likely to
choose with a great deal of care and some wisdom. And you're also likely
to have what is called a career. I repeat that you could wield great
influence in the proper environment."

The girl frowned across at her grandfather reflectively.

"Do you mean by that," she asked, after a little silence--"do you mean
that you think I am likely to be moved by sheer ambition and nothing
else in arranging my life? I've never thought of myself as a very
ambitious person."

"Let us substitute for ambition common-sense," said old David. "I think
you have a great deal of common-sense for a woman--and so young a woman.
How old are you by-the-way? Twenty-two? Yes, to be sure. I think you
have great common-sense and appreciation of values. And I think you're
singularly free of the emotionalism that so often plays hob with them
all. People with common-sense fall in love in the right places."

"I don't quite like the sound of it," said Miss Benham. "Perhaps I am
rather ambitious--I don't know. Yes, perhaps. I should like to play some
part in the world, I don't deny that. But--am I as cold as you say? I
doubt it very much. I doubt that."

"You're twenty-two," said her grandfather, "and you have seen a good
deal of society in several capitals. Have you ever fallen in love?"

Oddly, the face of Ste. Marie came before Miss Benham's eyes as if she
had summoned it there. But she frowned a little and shook her head,
saying:

"No, I can't say that I have. But that means nothing. There's plenty of
time for that. And you know," she said, after a pause--"you know I'm
rather sure I could fall in love--pretty hard. I'm sure of that. Perhaps
I have been waiting. Who knows?"

"Aye, who knows?" said David. He seemed all at once to lose interest in
the subject, as old people often do without apparent reason, for he
remained silent for a long time, puffing at the long black cigar or
rolling it absently between his fingers. After awhile he laid it down in
a metal dish which stood at his elbow, and folded his lean hands before
him over the invalid's table. He was still so long that at last his
granddaughter thought he had fallen asleep, and she began to rise from
her seat, taking care to make no noise; but at that the old man stirred
and put out his hand once more for the cigar. "Was young Richard Hartley
at your dinner-party?" he asked, and she said:

"Yes. Oh yes, he was there. He and M. Ste. Marie came together, I
believe. They are very close friends."

"Another idler," growled old David. "The fellow's a man of parts--and a
man of family. What's he idling about here for? Why isn't he in
Parliament, where he belongs?"

"Well," said the girl, "I should think it is because he is too much a
man of family--as you put it. You see, he'll succeed his cousin, Lord
Risdale, before very long, and then all his work would have been for
nothing, because he'll have to take his seat in the Lords. Lord Risdale
is unmarried, you know, and a hopeless invalid. He may die any day. I
think I sympathize with poor Mr. Hartley. It would be a pity to build up
a career for one's self in the lower House, and then suddenly, in the
midst of it, have to give it all up. The situation is rather paralyzing
to endeavor, isn't it?"

"Yes, I dare say," said old David, absently. He looked up sharply.
"Young Hartley doesn't come here as much as he used to do."

"No," said Miss Benham, "he doesn't." She gave a little laugh. "To avoid
cross-examination," she said, "I may as well admit that he asked me to
marry him and I had to refuse. I'm sorry, because I like him very much,
indeed."

Old David made an inarticulate sound which may have been meant to
express surprise--or almost anything else. He had not a great range of
expression.

"I don't want," said he, "to seem to have gone daft on the subject of
marriage, and I see no reason why you should be in any haste about it.
Certainly I should hate to lose you, my child, but--Hartley as the next
Lord Risdale is undoubtedly a good match. And you say you like him."

The girl looked up with a sort of defiance, and her face was a little
flushed.

"I don't love him," she said. "I like him immensely, but I don't love
him, and, after all--well, you say I'm cold, and I admit I'm more or
less ambitious, but, after all--well, I just don't quite love him. I
want to love the man I marry."

Old David Stewart held up his black cigar and gazed thoughtfully at the
smoke which streamed thin and blue and veil-like from its lighted end.

"Love!" he said, in a reflective tone. "Love!" He repeated the word two
or three times slowly, and he stirred a little in his bed. "I have
forgotten what it is," said he. "I expect I must be very old. I have
forgotten what love--that sort of love--is like. It seems very far away
to me and rather unimportant. But I remember that I thought it important
enough once, a century or two ago. Do you know, it strikes me as rather
odd that I have forgotten what love is like. It strikes me as rather
pathetic." He gave a sort of uncouth grimace and stuck the black cigar
once more into his mouth. "Egad!" said he, mumbling indistinctly over
the cigar, "how foolish love seems when you look back at it across fifty
or sixty years!"

Miss Benham rose to her feet smiling, and she came and stood near where
the old man lay propped up against his pillows. She touched his cheek
with her cool hand, and old David put up one of his own hands and patted
it.

"I'm going to bed now," said she. "I've sat here talking too long. You
ought to be asleep, and so ought I."

"Perhaps! Perhaps!" the old man said. "I don't feel sleepy, though. I
dare say I shall read a little." He held her hand in his and looked up
at her.

"I've been talking a great deal of nonsense about marriage," said he.
"Put it out of your head! It's all nonsense. I don't want you to marry
for a long time. I don't want to lose you." His face twisted a little,
quite suddenly. "You're precious near all I have left, now," he said.

The girl did not answer at once, for it seemed to her that there was
nothing to say. She knew that her grandfather was thinking of the lost
boy, and she knew what a bitter blow the thing had been to him. She
often thought that it would kill him before his old malady could run its
course.

But after a moment she said, very gently: "We won't give up hope. We'll
never give up hope. Think! he might come home to-morrow! Who knows?"

"If he has stayed away of his own accord," cried out old David Stewart,
in a loud voice, "I'll never forgive him--not if he comes to me
to-morrow on his knees! Not even if he comes to me on his knees!"

The girl bent over her grandfather, saying: "Hush! hush! You mustn't
excite yourself." But old David's gray face was working, and his eyes
gleamed from their cavernous shadows with a savage fire.

"If the boy is staying away out of spite," he repeated, "he need never
come back to me. I won't forgive him." He beat his unemployed hand upon
the table before him, and the things which lay there jumped and danced.
"And if he waits until I'm dead and then comes back," said he, "he'll
find he has made a mistake--a great mistake. He'll find a surprise in
store for him, I can tell you that. I won't tell you what I have done,
but it will be a disagreeable surprise for Master Arthur, you may be
sure."

The old gentleman fell to frowning and muttering in his choleric
fashion, but the fierce glitter began to go out of his eyes and his
hands ceased to tremble and clutch at the things before him. The girl
was silent, because again there seemed to her to be nothing that she
could say. She longed very much to plead her brother's cause, but she
was sure that would only excite her grandfather, and he was growing
quieter after his burst of anger. She bent down over him and kissed his
cheek.

"Try to go to sleep," she said. "And don't torture yourself with
thinking about all this. I'm as sure that poor Arthur is not staying
away out of spite as if he were myself. He's foolish and headstrong, but
he's not spiteful, dear. Try to believe that. And now I'm really going.
Good-night." She kissed him again and slipped out of the room. And as
she closed the door she heard her grandfather pull the bell-cord which
hung beside him and summoned the excellent Peters from the room beyond.

       *       *       *       *       *



V

JASON SETS FORTH UPON THE GREAT ADVENTURE


Miss Benham stood at one of the long drawing-room windows of the house
in the rue de l'Université, and looked out between the curtains upon the
rather grimy little garden, where a few not very prosperous cypresses
and chestnuts stood guard over the rows of lilac shrubs and the
box-bordered flower-beds and the usual moss-stained fountain. She was
thinking of the events of the past month, the month which had elapsed
since the evening of the De Saulnes' dinner-party. They were not at all
startling events; in a practical sense there were no events at all, only
a quiet sequence of affairs which was about as inevitable as the night
upon the day--the day upon the night again. In a word, this girl, who
had considered herself very strong and very much the mistress of her
feelings, found, for the first time in her life, that her strength was
as nothing at all against the potent charm and magnetism of a man who
had almost none of the qualities she chiefly admired in men. During the
month's time she had passed from a phase of angry self-scorn through a
period of bewilderment not unmixed with fear, and from that she had come
into an unknown world, a land very strange to her, where old standards
and judgments seemed to be valueless--a place seemingly ruled altogether
by new emotions, sweet and thrilling, or full of vague terrors as her
mood veered here or there.

That sublimated form of guesswork which is called "woman's intuition"
told her that Ste. Marie would come to her on this afternoon, and that
something in the nature of a crisis would have to be faced. It can be
proved even by poor masculine mathematics that guesswork, like other
gambling ventures, is bound to succeed about half the time, and it
succeeded on this occasion. Even as Miss Benham stood at the window
looking out through the curtains, M. Ste. Marie was announced from the
doorway.

She turned to meet him with a little frown of determination, for in his
absence she was often very strong, indeed, and sometimes she made up and
rehearsed little speeches of great dignity and decision in which she
told him that he was attempting a quite hopeless thing, and, as a
well-wishing friend, advised him to go away and attempt it no longer.
But as Ste. Marie came quickly across the room toward her, the little
frown wavered and at last fled from her face and another look came
there. It was always so. The man's bodily presence exerted an absolute
spell over her.

"I have been sitting with your grandfather for half an hour," Ste. Marie
said. And she said:

"Oh, I'm glad! I'm very glad! You always cheer him up. He hasn't been
too cheerful or too well of late." She unnecessarily twisted a chair
about, and after a moment sat down in it. And she gave a little laugh.
"This friendship which has grown up between my grandfather and you,"
said she--"I don't understand it at all. Of course, he knew your father
and all that; but you two seem such very different types, I shouldn't
think you would amuse each other at all. There's Mr. Hartley, for
example. I should expect my grandfather to like him very much better
than you, but he doesn't--though I fancy he approves of him much more."

She laughed again, but a different laugh; and when he heard it Ste.
Marie's eyes gleamed a little and his hands moved beside him.

"I expect," said she--"I expect, you know, that he just likes you
without stopping to think why--as everybody else does. I fancy it's just
that. What do you think?"

"Oh, I?" said the man. "I--how should I know? I know it's a great
privilege to be allowed to see him--such a man as that. And I know we
get on wonderfully well. He doesn't condescend, as most old men do who
have led important lives. We just talk as two men in a club might talk,
and I tell him stories and make him laugh. Oh yes, we get on wonderfully
well."

"Oh," said she, "I've often wondered what you talk about. What did you
talk about to-day?"

Ste. Marie turned abruptly away from her and went across to one of the
windows--the window where she had stood earlier, looking out upon the
dingy garden. She saw him stand there, with his back turned, the head a
little bent, the hands twisting together behind him, and a sudden fit of
nervous shivering wrung her. Every woman knows when a certain thing is
going to be said to her, and usually she is prepared for it, though
usually, also, she says she is not. Miss Benham knew what was coming
now, and she was frightened, not of Ste. Marie, but of herself. It meant
so very much to her--more than to most women at such a time. It meant,
if she said yes to him, the surrender of almost all the things she had
cared for and hoped for. It meant the giving up of that career which old
David Stewart had dwelt upon a month ago.

Ste. Marie turned back into the room. He came a little way toward where
the girl sat, and halted, and she could see that he was very pale. A
sort of critical second self noticed that he was pale and was surprised,
because, although men's faces often turn red, they seldom turn
noticeably pale except in very great nervous crises--or in works of
fiction; while women, on the contrary, may turn red and white twenty
times a day, and no harm done. He raised his hands a little way from his
sides in the beginning of a gesture, but they dropped again as if there
was no strength in them.

"I told him," said Ste. Marie, in a flat voice--"I told your grandfather
that I--loved you more than anything in this world or in the next. I
told him that my love for you had made another being of me--a new being.
I told him that I wanted to come to you and to kneel at your feet, and
to ask you if you could give me just a little, little hope--something to
live for, a light to climb toward. That is what we talked about, your
grandfather and I."

"Ste. Marie! Ste. Marie!" said the girl, in a half whisper. "What did my
grandfather say to you?" she asked, after a silence.

Ste. Marie looked away.

"I cannot tell you," he said. "He--was not quite sympathetic."

The girl gave a little cry.

"Tell me what he said!" she demanded. "I must know what he said."

The man's eyes pleaded with her, but she held him with her gaze, and in
the end he gave in.

"He said I was a damned fool," said Ste. Marie.

And the girl, after an instant of staring, broke into a little fit of
nervous, overwrought laughter, and covered her face with her hands.

He threw himself upon his knees before her, and her laughter died away.
An Englishman or an American cannot do that. Richard Hartley, for
example, would have looked like an idiot upon his knees, and he would
have felt it. But it did not seem extravagant with Ste. Marie. It became
him.

"Listen! Listen!" he cried to her, but the girl checked him before he
could go on.

She dropped her hands from her face, and she bent a little forward over
the man as he knelt there. She put out her hands and took his head for a
swift instant between them, looking down into his eyes. At the touch a
sudden wave of tenderness swept her--almost an engulfing wave; it almost
overwhelmed her and bore her away from the land she knew. And so when
she spoke her voice was not quite steady. She said:

"Ah, dear Ste. Marie! I cannot pretend to be cold toward you. You have
laid a spell upon me, Ste. Marie. You enchant us all, somehow, don't
you? I suppose I'm not so different from the others as I thought I was.
And yet," she said, "he was right, you know. My grandfather was right.
No, let me talk, now. I must talk for a little. I must try to tell you
how it is with me--try somehow to find a way. He was right. He meant
that you and I were utterly unsuited to each other, and so, in calm
moments, I know we are. I know that well enough. When you're not with
me, I feel very sure about it. I think of a thousand excellent reasons
why you and I ought to be no more to each other than friends. Do you
know, I think my grandfather is a little uncanny. I think he has
prophetic powers. They say very old people often have. He and I talked
about you when I came home from that dinner-party at the De Saulnes', a
month ago--the dinner-party where you and I first met. I told him that I
had met a man whom I liked very much--a man with great charm; and though
I must have said the same sort of thing to him before about other men,
he was quite oddly disturbed, and talked for a long time about it--about
the sort of man I ought to marry and the sort I ought not to marry. It
was unusual for him. He seldom says anything of that kind. Yes, he is
right. You see, I'm ambitious in a particular way. If I marry at all I
ought to marry a man who is working hard in politics or in something of
that kind. I could help him. We could do a great deal together."

"I could go into politics!" cried Ste. Marie; but she shook her head,
smiling down upon him.

"No, not you, my dear. Politics least of all. You could be a soldier, if
you chose. You could fight as your father and your grandfather and the
others of your house have done. You could lead a forlorn hope in the
field. You could suffer and starve and go on fighting. You could die
splendidly, but--politics, no! That wants a tougher shell than you have.
And a soldier's wife! Of what use to him is she?"

Ste. Marie's face was very grave. He looked up to her, smiling.

"Do you set ambition before love, my Queen?" he asked, and she did not
answer him at once.

She looked into his eyes, and she was as grave as he.

"Is love all?" she said, at last. "Is love all? Ought one to think of
nothing but love when one is settling one's life forever? I wonder? I
look about me, Ste. Marie," she said, "and in the lives of my
friends--the people who seem to me to be most worth while, the people
who are making the world's history for good or ill--and it seems to me
that in their lives love has the second place--or the third. I wonder if
one has the right to set it first. There is, of course," she said, "the
merely domestic type of woman--the woman who has no thought and no
interest beyond her home. I am not that type of woman. Perhaps I wish I
were. Certainly they are the happiest. But I was brought up among--well,
among important people--men of my grandfather's kind. All my training
has been toward that life. Have I the right, I wonder, to give it all
up?"

The man stirred at her feet, and she put out her hands to him quickly.

"Do I seem brutal?" she cried. "Oh, I don't want to be! Do I seem very
ungenerous and wrapped up in my own side of the thing? I don't mean to
be that, but--I'm not sure. I expect it's that. I'm not sure, and I
think I'm a little frightened." She gave him a brief, anxious smile that
was not without its tenderness. "I'm so sure," she said, "when I'm away
from you. But when you're here--oh, I forget all I've thought of. You
lay your spell upon me."

Ste. Marie gave a little wordless cry of joy. He caught her two hands in
his and held them against his lips. Again that great wave of tenderness
swept her, almost engulfing. But when it had ebbed she sank back once
more in her chair, and she withdrew her hands from his clasp.

"You make me forget too much," she said. "I think you make me forget
everything that I ought to remember. Oh, Ste. Marie, have I any right to
think of love and happiness while this terrible mystery is upon
us--while we don't know whether poor Arthur is alive or dead? You've
seen what it has brought my grandfather to! It is killing him. He has
been much worse in the past fortnight. And my mother is hardly a ghost
of herself in these days. Ah, it is brutal of me to think of my own
affairs--to dream of happiness at such a time." She smiled across at him
very sadly. "You see what you have brought me to!" she said.

Ste. Marie rose to his feet. If Miss Benham, absorbed in that warfare
which raged within her, had momentarily forgotten the cloud of sorrow
under which her household lay, so much the more had he, to whom the
sorrow was less intimate, forgotten it. But he was ever swift to
sympathy, Ste. Marie--as quick as a woman, and as tender. He could not
thrust his love upon the girl at such a time as this. He turned a little
away from her, and so remained for a moment. When he faced about again
the flush had gone from his cheeks and the fire from his eyes. Only
tenderness was left there.

"There has been no news at all this week?" he asked, and the girl shook
her head.

"None! None! Shall we ever have news of him, I wonder? Must we go on
always and never know? It seems to me almost incredible that any one
could disappear so completely. And yet, I dare say, many people have
done it before and have been as carefully sought for. If only I could
believe that he is alive! If only I could believe that!"

"I believe it," said Ste. Marie.

"Ah," she said, "you say that to cheer me. You have no reason to offer."

"Dead bodies very seldom disappear completely," said he. "If your
brother died anywhere there would be a record of the death. If he were
accidentally killed there would be a record of that, too; and, of
course, you are having all such records constantly searched?"

"Oh yes," she said. "Yes, of course--at least, I suppose so. My uncle
has been directing the search. Of course, he would take an obvious
precaution like that."

"Naturally," said Ste. Marie. "Your uncle, I should say, is an unusually
careful man." He paused a moment to smile. "He makes his little
mistakes, though. I told you about that man O'Hara, and about how sure
Captain Stewart was that the name was Powers. Do you know"--Ste. Marie
had been walking up and down the room, but he halted to face her--"do
you know, I have a very strong feeling that if one could find this man
O'Hara, one would learn something about what became of your brother? I
have no reason for thinking that, but I feel it."

"Oh," said the girl, doubtfully, "I hardly think that could be so. What
motive could the man have for harming my brother?"

"None," said Ste. Marie; "but he might have an excellent motive for
hiding him away--kidnapping him. Is that the word? Yes, I know, you're
going to say that no demand has been made for money, and that is where
my argument--if I can call it an argument--is weak. But the fellow may
be biding his time. Anyhow, I should like to have five minutes alone
with him. I'll tell you another thing. It's a trifle, and it may be of
no consequence, but I add it to my vague and--if you like--foolish
feeling, and make something out of it. I happened, some days ago, to
meet at the Café de Paris a man who I knew used to know this O'Hara. He
was not, I think, a friend of his at all, but an acquaintance. I asked
him what had become of O'Hara, saying that I hadn't seen him in some
weeks. Well, this man said O'Hara had gone away somewhere a couple of
months ago. He didn't seem at all surprised, for it appears the
Irishman--if he is an Irishman--is decidedly a haphazard sort of person,
here to-day, gone to-morrow. No, the man wasn't surprised, but he was
rather angry, because he said O'Hara owed him some money. I said I
thought he must be mistaken about the fellow's absence, because I'd seen
him in the street within the month--on the evening of our dinner-party,
you remember--but this man was very sure that I had made a mistake. He
said that if O'Hara had been in town he was sure to have known it. Well,
the point is here. Your brother disappears at a certain time. At the
same time this Irish adventurer disappears, too, _and_ your brother was
known to have frequented the Irishman's company. It may be only a
coincidence, but I can't help feeling that there's something in it."

Miss Benham was sitting up straight in her chair with a little alert
frown.

"Have you spoken of this to my uncle?" she demanded.

"Well--no," said Ste. Marie. "Not the latter part of it--that is, not my
having heard of O'Hara's disappearance. In the first place, I learned of
that only three days ago, and I have not seen Captain Stewart since--I
rather expected to find him here to-day; and, in the second place, I was
quite sure that he would only laugh. He has laughed at me two or three
times for suggesting that this Irishman might know something. Captain
Stewart is--not easy to convince, you know."

"I know," she said, looking away. "He's always very certain that he's
right. Well, perhaps he is right. Who knows?" She gave a little sob.
"Oh!" she cried, "shall we ever have my brother back? Shall we ever see
him again? It is breaking my heart, Ste. Marie, and it is killing my
grandfather and, I think, my mother, too! Oh, can nothing be done?"

Ste. Marie was walking up and down the floor before her, his hands
clasped behind his back. When she had finished speaking the girl saw him
halt beside one of the windows, and after a moment she saw his head go
up sharply and she heard him give a sudden cry. She thought he had seen
something from the window which had wrung that exclamation from him, and
she asked:

"What is it?"

But abruptly the man turned back into the room and came across to where
she sat. It seemed to her that his face had a new look--a very strange
exaltation which she had never before seen there. He said:

"Listen! I do not know if anything can be done that has not been done
already, but if there is anything I shall do it, you may be sure."

"_You_, Ste. Marie?" she cried, in a sharp voice. "_You?_"

"And why not I?" he demanded.

"Oh, my friend," said she, "you could do nothing! You wouldn't know
where to turn, how to set to work. Remember that a score of men who are
skilled in this kind of thing have been searching for two months. What
could you do that they haven't done?"

"I do not know, my Queen," said Ste. Marie, "but I shall do what I can.
Who knows? Sometimes the fool who rushes in where angels have feared to
tread succeeds where they have failed. Oh, let me do this!" he cried
out. "Let me do it for both our sakes--for yours and for mine! It is for
your sake most. I swear that! It is to set you at peace again, bring
back the happiness you have lost. But it is for my sake, too, a little.
It will be a test of me, a trial. If I can succeed here where so many
have failed, if I bring back your brother to you--or, at least, discover
what has become of him--I shall be able to come to you with less shame
for my--unworthiness."

He looked down upon her with eager, burning eyes, and, after a little,
the girl rose to face him. She was very white, and she stared at him
silently.

"When I came to you to-day," he went on, "I knew that I had nothing to
offer you but my faithful love and my life, which has been a life
without value. In exchange for that I asked too much. I knew it, and you
knew it, too. I know well enough what sort of man you ought to marry,
and what a brilliant career you could make for yourself in the proper
place--what great influence you could wield. But I asked you to give
that all up, and I hadn't anything to offer in its place--nothing but
love. My Queen, give me a chance now to offer you more! If I can bring
back your brother or news of him, I can come to you without shame and
ask you to marry me, because if I can succeed in that you will know that
I can succeed in other things. You will be able to trust me. You'll know
that I can climb. It shall be a sort of symbol. Let me go!"

The girl broke into a sort of sobbing laughter.

"Oh, divine madman!" she cried. "Are you all mad, you Ste. Maries, that
you must be forever leading forlorn hopes? Oh, how you are, after all, a
Ste. Marie! Now, at last, I know why one cannot but love you. You're the
knight of old. You're chivalry come down to us. You're a ghost out of
the past when men rode in armor with pure hearts seeking the Great
Adventure. Oh, my friend," she said, "be wise. Give this up in time. It
is a beautiful thought, and I love you for it, but it is madness--yes,
yes, a sweet madness, but mad, nevertheless! What possible chance would
you have of success? And think--think how failure would hurt you--and
me! You must not do it, Ste. Marie."

"Failure will never hurt me, my Queen," said he, "because there are no
hurts in the grave, and I shall never give over searching until I
succeed or until I am dead." His face was uplifted, and there was a sort
of splendid fervor upon it. It was as if it shone.

The girl stared at him dumbly. She began to realize that the knightly
spirit of those gallant, long dead gentlemen was indeed descended upon
the last of their house, that he burnt with the same pure fire which had
long ago lighted them through quest and adventure, and she was a little
afraid with an almost superstitious fear. She put out her hands upon the
man's shoulders, and she moved a little closer to him, holding him.

"Oh, madness, madness!" she said, watching his face.

"Let me do it!" said Ste. Marie.

And after a silence that seemed to endure for a long time, she sighed,
shaking her head, and said she:

"Oh, my friend, there is no strength in me to stop you. I think we are
both a little mad, and I know that you are very mad, but I cannot say
no. You seem to have come out of another century to take up this quest.
How can I prevent you? But listen to one thing. If I accept this
sacrifice, if I let you give your time and your strength to this almost
hopeless attempt, it must be understood that it is to be within certain
limits. I will not accept any indefinite thing. You may give your
efforts to trying to find trace of my brother for a month if you like,
or for three months, or six, or even a year, but not for more than that.
If he is not found in a year's time we shall know that--we shall know
that he is dead, and that--further search is useless. I cannot say how
I--Oh, Ste. Marie, Ste. Marie, this is a proof of you, indeed! And I
have called you idle. I have said hard things of you. It is very bitter
to me to think that I have said those things."

"They were true, my Queen," said he, smiling. "They were quite, quite
true. It is for me to prove now that they shall be true no longer." He
took the girl's hand in his rather ceremoniously, and bent his head and
kissed it. As he did so he was aware that she stirred, all at once,
uneasily, and when he had raised his head he looked at her in question.

"I thought some one was coming into the room," she explained, looking
beyond him. "I thought some one started to come in between the portières
yonder. It must have been a servant."

"Then it is understood," said Ste. Marie. "To bring you back your
happiness, and to prove myself in some way worthy of your love, I am to
devote myself with all my effort and all my strength to finding your
brother or some trace of him, and until I succeed I will not see your
face again, my Queen."

"Oh, that!" she cried--"that, too?"

"I will not see you," said he, "until I bring you news of him, or until
my year is passed and I have failed utterly. I know what risk I run. If
I fail, I lose you. That is understood, too. But if I succeed--"

"Then?" she said, breathing quickly. "Then?"

"Then," said he, "I shall come to you, and I shall feel no shame in
asking you to marry me, because then you will know that there is in me
some little worthiness, and that in our lives together you need not be
buried in obscurity--lost to the world."

"I cannot find any words to say," said she. "I am feeling just now very
humble and very ashamed. It seems that I haven't known you at all. Oh
yes, I am ashamed."

The girl's face, habitually so cool and composed, was flushed with a
beautiful flush, and it had softened, and it seemed to quiver between a
smile and a tear. With a swift movement she leaned close to him, holding
by his shoulder, and for an instant her cheek was against his. She
whispered to him:

"Oh, find him quickly, my dear! Find him quickly, and come back to me!"

Ste. Marie began to tremble, and she stood away from him. Once he looked
up, but the flush was gone from Miss Benham's cheeks and she was pale
again. She stood with her hands tight clasped over her breast. So he
bowed to her very low, and turned and went out of the room and out of
the house.

So quickly did he move at this last that a man who had been, for some
moments, standing just outside the portières of the doorway had barely
time to step aside into the shadows of the dim hall. As it was, Ste.
Marie, in a more normal moment, must have seen that the man was there;
but his eyes were blind, and he saw nothing. He groped for his hat and
stick as if the place were a place of gloom, and, because the footman
who should have been at the door was in regions unknown, he let himself
out, and so went away.

Then the man who stood apart in the shadows crossed the hall to a small
room which was furnished as a library, but not often used. He closed the
door behind him, and went to one of the windows which gave upon the
street. And he stood there for a long time, drawing absurd invisible
pictures upon the glass with one finger and staring thoughtfully out
into the late June afternoon.

       *       *       *       *       *



VI

A BRAVE GENTLEMAN RECEIVES A HURT, BUT VOLUNTEERS IN A GOOD CAUSE


When Ste. Marie had gone, Miss Benham sat alone in the drawing-room for
almost an hour. She had been stirred that afternoon more deeply than she
thought she had ever been stirred before, and she needed time to regain
that cool poise, that mental equilibrium, which was normal to her and
necessary for coherent thought.

She was still in a sort of fever of bewilderment and exaltation, still
all aglow with the man's own high fervor; but the second self which so
often sat apart from her, and looked on with critical, mocking eyes,
whispered that to-morrow, the fever past, the fervor cooled, she must
see the thing in its true light--a glorious lunacy born of a moment of
enthusiasm. It was finely romantic of him, this mocking second self
whispered to her--picturesque beyond criticism--but, setting aside the
practical folly of it, could even the mood last?

The girl rose to her feet with an angry exclamation. She found herself
intolerable at such times as this.

"If there's a heaven," she cried out, "and by chance I ever go there, I
suppose I shall walk sneering through the streets and saying to myself:
'Oh yes, it's pretty enough, but how absurd and unpractical!'"

She passed before one of the small, narrow mirrors which were let into
the walls of the room in gilt Louis Seize frames with candles beside
them, and she turned and stared at her very beautiful reflection with a
resentful wonder.

"Shall I always drag along so far behind him?" she said. "Shall I never
rise to him, save in the moods of an hour?"

She began suddenly to realize what the man's going away meant--that she
might not see him again for weeks, months, even a year. For was it at
all likely that he could succeed in what he had undertaken?

"Why did I let him go?" she cried. "Oh, fool, fool, to let him go!" But
even as she said it she knew that she could not have held him back.

She began to be afraid, not for him, but of herself. He had taught her
what it might be to love. For the first time love's premonitory
thrill--promise of unspeakable, uncomprehended mysteries--had wrung her,
and the echo of that thrill stirred in her yet; but what might not
happen in his long absence? She was afraid of that critical and
analyzing power of mind which she had so long trained to attack all that
came to her. What might it not work with the new thing that had come? To
what pitiful shreds might it not be rent while he who only could renew
it was away? She looked ahead at the weeks and months to come, and she
was terribly afraid.

She went out of the room and up to her grandfather's chamber and knocked
there. The admirable Peters, who opened to her, said that his master had
not been very well, and was just then asleep, but as they spoke together
in low tones the old gentleman cried, testily, from within:

"Well? Well? Who's there? Who wants to see me? Who is it?"

Miss Benham went into the dim, shaded room, and when old David saw who
it was he sank back upon his pillows with a pacified growl. He certainly
looked ill, and he had grown thinner and whiter within the past month,
and the lines in his waxlike face seemed to be deeper scored.

The girl went up beside the bed and stood there a moment, after she had
bent over and kissed her grandfather's cheek, stroking with her hand the
absurdly gorgeous mandarin's jacket--an imperial yellow one this time.

"Isn't this new?" she asked. "I seem never to have seen this one before.
It's quite wonderful."

The old gentleman looked down at it with the pride of a little girl over
her first party frock. He came as near simpering as a fierce person of
eighty-six, with a square white beard, can come.

"Rather good--what? What?" said he. "Yes, it's new. De Vries sent it me.
It is my best one. Imperial yellow. Did you notice the little Show
medallions with the swastika? Young Ste. Marie was here this afternoon."
He introduced the name with no pause or change of expression, as if Ste.
Marie were a part of the decoration of the mandarin's jacket. "I told
him he was a damned fool."

"Yes," said Miss Benham, "I know. He said you did. I suppose," she said,
"that in a sort of very informal fashion I am engaged to him. Well, no,
perhaps not quite that; but he seems to consider himself engaged to me,
and when he has finished something very important that he has undertaken
to do he is coming to ask me definitely to marry him. No, I suppose we
aren't engaged yet; at least, I'm not. But it's almost the same, because
I suppose I shall accept him whether he fails or succeeds in what he is
doing."

"If he fails in it, whatever it may be," said old David, "he won't give
you a chance to accept him; he won't come back. I know him well enough
for that. He's a romantic fool, but he's a thoroughgoing fool. He plays
the game." The old man looked up to his granddaughter, scowling a
little. "You two are absurdly unsuited to each other," said he, "and I
told Ste. Marie so. I suppose you think you're in love with him."

"Yes," said the girl, "I suppose I do."

"Idleness and all? You were rather severe on idleness at one time."

"He isn't idle any more," said she. "He has undertaken--of his own
accord--to find Arthur. He has some theory about it; and he is not going
to see me again until he has succeeded--or until a year is past. If he
fails, I fancy he won't come back."

Old David gave a sudden hoarse exclamation, and his withered hands shook
and stirred before him. Afterward he fell to half-inarticulate
muttering.

"The young romantic fool!--Don Quixote--like all the rest of them--those
Ste. Maries. The fool and the angels. The angels and the fool."

The girl distinguished words from time to time. For the most part, he
mumbled under his breath. But when he had been silent a long time, he
said, suddenly:

"It would be ridiculously like him to succeed."

The girl gave a little sigh.

"I wish I dared hope for it," said she. "I wish I dared hope for it."

She had left a book that she wanted in the drawing-room, and, when
presently her grandfather fell asleep in his fitful manner, she went
down after it. In crossing the hall she came upon Captain Stewart, who
was dressed for the street and had his hat and stick in his hands. He
did not live in his father's house, for he had a little flat in the rue
du Faubourg St. Honoré, but he was in and out a good deal. He paused
when he saw his niece, and smiled upon her a benignant smile which she
rather disliked, because she disliked benignant people. The two really
saw very little of each other, though Captain Stewart often sat for
hours together with his sister, up in a little boudoir which she had
furnished in the execrable taste which to her meant comfort, while that
timid and colorless lady embroidered strange tea cloths with stranger
flora, and prattled about the heathen, in whom she had an academic
interest.

He said: "Ah, my dear! It's you?"

Indisputably it was, and there seemed to be no use of denying it, so
Miss Benham said nothing, but waited for the man to go on if he had more
to say.

"I dropped in," he continued, "to see my father, but they told me he was
asleep, and so I didn't disturb him. I talked a little while with your
mother instead."

"I have just come from him," said Miss Benham. "He dozed off again as I
left. Still, if you had anything in particular to tell him, he'd be glad
to be wakened, I fancy. There's no news?"

"No," said Captain Stewart, sadly--"no, nothing. I do not give up hope,
but I am, I confess, a little discouraged."

"We are all that, I should think," said Miss Benham, briefly.

She gave him a little nod and turned away into the drawing-room. Her
uncle's peculiar dry manner irritated her at times beyond bearing, and
she felt that this was one of the times. She had never had any reason
for doubting that he Was a good and kindly soul, but she disliked him
because he bored her. Her mother bored her, too--the poor woman bored
everybody--but the sense of filial obligation was strong enough in the
girl to prevent her from acknowledging this even to herself. In regard
to her uncle she had no sense of obligation whatever, except to be as
civil to him as possible, and so she kept out of his way. She heard the
heavy front door close, and gave a little sigh of relief.

"If he had come in here and tried to talk to me," she said, "I should
have screamed."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Ste. Marie, a man moving in a dream, uplifted,
cloud-enwrapped, made his way homeward. He walked all the long
distance--that is, looking backward upon it, later, he thought he must
have walked, but the half-hour was a blank to him, an indeterminate, a
chaotic whirl of things and emotions.

In the little flat in the rue d'Assas he came upon Richard Hartley, who,
having found the door unlocked and the master of the place absent, had
sat comfortably down, with a pipe and a stack of _Couriers Français_, to
wait. Ste. Marie burst into the doorway of the room where his friend sat
at ease. Hat, gloves, and stick fell away from him in a sort of shower.
He extended his arms high in the air. His face was, as it were,
luminous. The Englishman regarded him morosely. He said:

"You look as if somebody had died and left you money. What the devil you
looking like that for?"

"Hé!" cried Ste. Marie, in a great voice. "Hé, the world is mine!
Embrace me, my infant! Sacred name of a pig, why do you sit there?
Embrace me!"

He began to stride about the room, his head between his hands. Speech
lofty and ridiculous burst from him in a sort of splutter of fireworks,
but the Englishman sat still in his chair, and a gray, bleak look came
upon him, for he began to understand. He was more or less used to these
outbursts, and he bore them as patiently as he could, but though seven
times out of the ten they were no more than spasms of pure joy of
living, and meant, "It's a fine spring day," or "I've just seen two
beautiful princesses of milliners in the street," an inner voice told
him that this time it meant another thing. Quite suddenly he realized
that he had been waiting for this--bracing himself against its
onslaught. He had not been altogether blind through the past month. Ste.
Marie seized him and dragged him from his chair.

"Dance, lump of flesh! Dance, sacred English rosbif that you are! Sing,
gros polisson! Sing!" Abruptly, as usual, the mania departed from him,
but not the glory; his eyes shone bright and triumphant. "Ah, my old,"
said he, "I am near the stars at last. My feet are on the top rungs of
the ladder. Tell me that you are glad!"

The Englishman drew a long breath.

"I take it," said he, "that means that you're--that she has accepted
you, eh?" He held out his hand. He was a brave and honest man. Even in
pain he was incapable of jealousy. He said: "I ought to want to murder
you, but I don't. I congratulate you. You're an undeserving beggar, but
so were the rest of us. It was an open field, and you've won quite
honestly. My best wishes!"

Then at last Ste. Marie understood, and in a flash the glory went out of
his face. He cried: "Ah, mon cher ami! Pig that I am to forget. Pig!
Pig! Animal!"

The other man saw that tears had sprung to his eyes, and was horribly
embarrassed to the very bottom of his good British soul.

"Yes! Yes!" he said, gruffly. "Quite so, quite so! No consequence!" He
dragged his hands away from Ste. Marie's grasp, stuck them in his
pockets, and turned to the window beside which he had been sitting. It
looked out over the sweet green peace of the Luxembourg Gardens, with
their winding paths and their clumps of trees and shrubbery, their
flaming flower-beds, their groups of weather-stained sculpture. A youth
in laborer's corduroys and an unclean beret strolled along under the
high palings; one arm was about the ample waist of a woman somewhat the
youth's senior, but, as ever, love was blind. The youth carolled in a
high, clear voice, "Vous êtes si jolie," a song of abundant sentiment,
and the woman put up one hand and patted his cheek. So they strolled on
and turned up into the rue Vavin.

Ste. Marie, across the room, looked at his friend's square back, and
knew that in his silent way the man was suffering. A great sadness, the
recoil from his trembling heights of bliss, came upon him and enveloped
him. Was it true that one man's joy must inevitably be another's pain?
He tried to imagine himself in Hartley's place, Hartley in his, and he
gave a little shiver. He knew that if that bouleversement were actually
to take place he would be as glad for his friend's sake as poor Hartley
was now for his, but he knew also that the smile of congratulation would
be a grimace of almost intolerable pain, and so he knew what Hartley's
black hour must be like.

"You must forgive me," he said. "I had forgotten. I don't know why.
Well, yes, happiness is a very selfish state of mind, I suppose. One
thinks of nothing but one's self--and one other. I--during this past
month I've been in the clouds. You must forgive me."

The Englishman turned back into the room. Ste. Marie saw that his face
was as completely devoid of expression as it usually was, that his
hands, when he chose and lighted a cigarette, were quite steady, and he
marvelled. That would have been impossible for him under such
circumstances.

"She has accepted you, I take it?" said Hartley again.

"Not quite that," said he. "Sit down and I'll tell you about it." So he
told him about his hour with Miss Benham, and about what had been agreed
upon between them, and about what he had undertaken to do. "Apart from
wishing to do everything in this world that I can do to make her happy,"
he said--"and she will never be at peace again until she knows the truth
about her brother--apart from that, I'm purely selfish in the thing.
I've got to win her respect, as well as--the rest. I want her to respect
me, and she has never quite done that. I'm an idler. So are you, but you
have a perfectly good excuse. I have not. I've been an idler because it
suited me, because nothing turned up, and because I have enough to eat
without working for my living. I know how she has felt about all that.
Well, she shall feel it no longer."

"You're taking on a big order," said the other man.

"The bigger the better," said Ste. Marie. "And I shall succeed in it or
never see her again. I've sworn that."

The odd look of exaltation that Miss Benham had seen in his face, the
look of knightly fervor, came there again, and Hartley saw it, and knew
that the man was stirred by no transient whim. Oddly enough he thought,
as had the girl earlier in the day, of those elder Ste. Maries, who had
taken sword and lance and gone out into a strange world--a place of
unknown terrors--afire for the Great Adventure. And this was one of
their blood.

"I'm afraid you don't realize," he went on, "the difficulties you've got
to face. Better men than you have failed over this thing, you know."

"A worse might nevertheless succeed," said Ste. Marie. And the other
said:

"Yes. Oh yes. And there's always luck to be considered, of course. You
might stumble on some trace." He threw away his cigarette and lighted
another, and he smoked it down almost to the end before he spoke. At
last he said: "I want to tell you something. The reason why I want to
tell it comes a little later. A few weeks before you returned to Paris I
asked Miss Benham to marry me."

Ste. Marie looked up with a quick sympathy. "Ah," said he. "I have
sometimes thought--wondered. I have wondered if it went as far as that.
Of course, I could see that you had known her well, though you seldom go
there nowadays."

"Yes," said Hartley, "it went as far as that, but no farther. She--well,
she didn't care for me--not in that way. So I stiffened my back and shut
my mouth, and got used to the fact that what I'd hoped for was
impossible. And now comes the reason for telling you what I've told. I
want you to let me help you in what you're going to do--if you think you
can, that is. Remember, I--cared for her, too. I'd like to do something
for her. It would never have occurred to me to do this until you thought
of it, but I should like very much to lend a hand--do some of the work.
D'you think you could let me in?"

Ste. Marie stared at him in open astonishment, and, for an instant,
something like dismay.

"Yes, yes! I know what you're thinking," said the Englishman. "You'd
hoped to do it all yourself. It's _your_ game. I know. Well, it's your
game even if you let me come in. I'm just a helper. Some one to run
errands. Some one, perhaps, to take counsel with now and then. Look at
it on the practical side. Two heads are certainly better than one.
Certainly I could be of use to you. And besides--well, I want to do
something for her. I--cared, too, you see. D'you think you could take me
in?"

It was the man's love that made his appeal irresistible. No one could
appeal to Ste. Marie on that score in vain. It was true that he had
hoped to work alone--to win or lose alone; to stand, in this matter,
quite on his own feet; but he could not deny the man who had loved her
and lost her. Ste. Marie thrust out his hand.

"You love her, too!" he said. "That is enough. We work together. I have
a possibly foolish idea that if we can find a certain man we will learn
something about Arthur Benham. I'll tell you about it."

But before he could begin the door-bell jangled.

       *       *       *       *       *



VII

CAPTAIN STEWART MAKES A KINDLY OFFER


Ste. Marie scowled.

"A caller would come singularly malapropos just now," said he. "I've
half a mind not to go to the door. I want to talk this thing over with
you."

"Whoever it is," objected Hartley, "has been told by the concierge that
you're at home. It may not be a caller, anyhow. It may be a parcel or
something. You'd best go."

So Ste. Marie went out into the little passage, blaspheming fluently the
while. The Englishman heard him open the outer door of the flat. He
heard him exclaim, in great surprise:

"Ah, Captain Stewart! A great pleasure! Come in! Come in!"

And he permitted himself a little blaspheming on his own account, for
the visitor, as Ste. Marie had said, came most malapropos, and, besides,
he disliked Miss Benham's uncle. He heard the American say:

"I have been hoping for some weeks to give myself the pleasure of
calling here, and to-day such an excellent pretext presented itself that
I came straightaway."

Hartley heard him emit his mewing little laugh, and heard him say, with
the elephantine archness affected by certain dry and middle-aged
gentlemen:

"I come with congratulations. My niece has told me all about it. Lucky
young man! Ah--"

He reached the door of the inner room and saw Richard Hartley standing
by the window, and he began to apologize profusely, saying that he had
had no idea that Ste. Marie was not alone. But Ste. Marie said:

"It doesn't in the least matter. I have no secrets from Hartley. Indeed,
I have just been talking with him about this very thing."

But for all that he looked curiously at the elder man, and it struck him
as very odd that Miss Benham should have gone straight to her uncle and
told him all this. It did not seem in the least like her, especially as
he knew the two were on no terms of intimacy. He decided that she must
have gone up to her grandfather's room to discuss it with that old
gentleman--a reasonable enough hypothesis--and that Captain Stewart must
have come in during the discussion. Quite evidently he had wasted no
time in setting out upon his errand of congratulation.

"Then," said Captain Stewart, "if I am to be good-naturedly forgiven for
my stupidity, let me go on and say, in my capacity as a member of the
family, that the news pleased me very much. I was glad to hear it."

He shook Ste. Marie's hand, looking very benignant indeed, and Ste.
Marie was quite overcome with pleasure and gratitude; it seemed to him
such a very kindly act in the elder man. He produced things to smoke and
drink, and Captain Stewart accepted a cigarette and mixed himself a
rather stiff glass of absinthe--it was between five and six o'clock.

"And now," said he, when he was at ease in the most comfortable of the
low cane chairs, and the glass of opalescent liquor was properly curdled
and set at hand--"now, having congratulated you and--ah, welcomed you,
if I may put it so, as a probable future member of the family--I turn to
the other feature of the affair."

He had an odd trick of lowering his head and gazing benevolently upon an
auditor as if over the top of spectacles. It was one of his elderly
ways. He beamed now upon Ste. Marie in this manner, and, after a moment,
turned and beamed upon Richard Hartley, who gazed stolidly back at him
without expression.

"You have determined, I hear," said he, "to join us in our search for
poor Arthur. Good! Good! I welcome you there, also."

Ste. Marie stirred uneasily in his chair.

"Well," said he, "in a sense, yes. That is, I've determined to devote
myself to the search, and Hartley is good enough to offer to go in with
me; but I think, if you don't mind--of course, I know it's very
presumptuous and doubtless idiotic of us--but, if you don't mind, I
think we'll work independently. You see--well, I can't quite put it into
words, but it's our idea to succeed or fail quite by our own efforts. I
dare say we shall fail, but it won't be for lack of trying."

Captain Stewart looked disappointed.

"Oh, I think--" said he. "Pardon me for saying it, but I think you're
rather foolish to do that." He waved an apologetic hand. "Of course, I
comprehend your excellent motive. Yes, as you say, you want to succeed
quite on your own. But look at the practical side! You'll have to go
over all the weary weeks of useless labor we have gone over. We could
save you that. We have examined and followed up, and at last given over,
a hundred clews that on the surface looked quite possible of success.
You'll be doing that all over again. In short, my dear friend, you will
merely be following along a couple of months behind us. It seems to me a
pity. I sha'n't like to see you wasting your time and efforts."

He dropped his eyes to the glass of Pernod which stood beside him, and
he took it in his hand and turned it slowly and watched the light gleam
in strange pearl colors upon it. He glanced up again with a little smile
which the two younger men found oddly pathetic.

"I should like to see you succeed," said Captain Stewart. "I like to see
youth and courage and high hope succeed." He said: "I am past the age of
romance, though I am not so very old in years. Romance has passed me by,
but--I love it still. It still stirs me surprisingly when I see it in
other people--young people who are simple and earnest, and who--and who
are in love." He laughed gently, still turning the glass in his hand. "I
am afraid you will call me a sentimentalist," he said, "and an elderly
sentimentalist is, as a rule, a ridiculous person. Ridiculous or not,
though, I have rather set my heart on your success in this undertaking.
Who knows? You may succeed where we others have failed. Youth has such a
way of charging in and carrying all before it by assault--such a way of
overleaping barriers that look unsurmountable to older eyes! Youth!
Youth! Eh, my God," said he, "to be young again, just for a little
while! To feel the blood beat strong and eager! Never to be tired! Eh,
to be like one of you youngsters! You, Ste. Marie, or you, Hartley!
There's so little left for people when youth is gone!"

He bent his head again, staring down upon the glass before him, and for
a while there was a silence which neither of the younger men cared to
break.

"Don't refuse a helping hand," said Captain Stewart, looking up once
more. "Don't be over-proud. I may be able to set you upon the right
path. Not that I have anything definite to work upon--I haven't, alas!
But each day new clews turn up. One day we shall find the real one, and
that may be one that I have turned over to you to follow out. One never
knows."

Ste. Marie looked across at Richard Hartley, but that gentleman was
blowing smoke-rings and to all outward appearance giving them his entire
attention. He looked back to Captain Stewart, and Stewart's eyes
regarded him, smiling a little wistfully, he thought. Ste. Marie scowled
out of the window at the trees of the Luxembourg Gardens.

"I hardly know," said he. "Of course, I sound a braying ass in
hesitating even a moment; but, in a way, you understand, I'm so anxious
to do this or to fail in it quite on my own. You're--so tremendously
kind about it that I don't know what to say. I must seem very
ungrateful, I know; but I'm not."

"No," said the elder man, "you don't seem ungrateful at all. I
understand exactly how you feel about it, and I applaud your
feeling--but not your judgment. I am afraid that for the sake of a
sentiment you're taking unnecessary risks of failure."

For the first time Richard Hartley spoke.

"I've an idea, you know," said he, "that it's going to be a matter
chiefly of luck. One day somebody will stumble on the right trail, and
that might as well be Ste. Marie or I as your trained detectives. If you
don't mind my saying so, sir--I don't want to seem rude--your trained
detectives do not seem to accomplish much in two months, do they?"

Captain Stewart looked thoughtfully at the younger man.

"No," he said, at last. "I am sorry to say they don't seem to have
accomplished much--except to prove that there are a great many places
poor Arthur has _not_ been to and a great many people who have _not_
seen him. After all, that is something--the elimination of ground that
need not be worked over again." He set down the glass from which he had
been drinking. "I cannot agree with your theory," he said. "I cannot
agree that such work as this is best left to an accidental solution.
Accidents are too rare. We have tried to go at it in as scientific a way
as could be managed--by covering large areas of territory, by keeping
the police everywhere on the alert, by watching the boy's old friends
and searching his favorite haunts. Personally, I am inclined to think
that he managed to slip away to America very early in the course of
events, before we began to search for him, and, of course, I am having a
careful watch kept there as well as here. But no trace has appeared as
yet--nothing at all trustworthy. Meanwhile, I continue to hope and to
work, but I grow a little discouraged. In any case, though, we shall
hear of him in three months more if he is alive."

"Why three months?" asked Ste. Marie. "What do you mean by that?"

"In three months," said Captain Stewart, "Arthur will be of age, and he
can demand the money left him by his father. If he is alive he will turn
up for that. I have thought, from the first, that he is merely hiding
somewhere until this time should be past. He--you must know that he went
away very angry, after a quarrel with his grandfather? My father is not
a patient man. He may have been very harsh with the boy."

"Ah, yes," said Hartley; "but no boy, however young or angry, would be
foolish enough to risk an absolute break with the man who is going to
leave him a large fortune. Young Benham must know that his grandfather
would never forgive him for staying away all this time if he stayed away
of his own accord. He must know that he'd be taking tremendous risks of
being cut off altogether."

"And besides," added Ste. Marie, "it is quite possible that your father,
sir, may die at any time--any hour. And he's very angry at his grandson.
He may have cut him off already."

Captain Stewart's eyes sharpened suddenly, but he dropped them to the
glass in his hand.

"Have you any reason for thinking that?" he asked.

"No," said Ste. Marie. "I beg your pardon. I shouldn't have said it.
That is a matter which concerns your family alone. I forgot myself. The
possibility occurred to me suddenly for the first time."

But the elder man looked up at him with a smile.

"Pray don't apologize," said he. "Surely we three can speak frankly
together! And, frankly, I know nothing of my father's will. But I don't
think he would cut poor Arthur off, though he is, of course, very angry
about the boy's leaving in the manner he did. No, I am sure he wouldn't
cut him off. He was fond of the lad, very fond--as we all were."

Captain Stewart glanced at his watch and rose with a little sigh.

"I must be off," said he. "I have to dine out this evening, and I must
get home to change. There is a cabstand near you?" He looked out of the
window. "Ah, yes! Just at the corner of the Gardens."

He turned about to Ste. Marie, and held out his hand with a smile. He
said:

"You refuse to join forces with us, then? Well, I'm sorry. But, for all
that, I wish you luck. Go your own way, and I hope you'll succeed. I
honestly hope that, even though your success may show me up for an
incompetent bungler."

He gave a little kindly laugh, and Ste. Marie tried to protest.

"Still," said the elder man, "don't throw me over altogether. If I can
help you in any way, little or big, let me know. If I can give you any
hints, any advice, anything at all, I want to do it. And if you happen
upon what seems to be a promising clew come and talk it over with me.
Oh, don't be afraid! I'll leave it to you to work out. I sha'n't spoil
your game."

"Ah, now, that's very good of you," said Ste. Marie. "Only you make me
seem more than ever an ungrateful fool. Thanks, I will come to you with
my troubles if I may. I have a foolish idea that I want to follow out a
little first, but doubtless I shall be running to you soon for
information."

The elder man's eyes sharpened again with keen interest.

"An idea!" he said, quickly. "You have an idea? What--May I ask what
sort of an idea?"

"Oh, it's nothing," declared Ste. Marie. "You have already laughed at
it. I just want to find that man O'Hara, that's all. I've a feeling that
I should learn something from him."

"Ah!" said Captain Stewart, slowly. "Yes, the man O'Hara. There's
nothing in that, I'm afraid. I've made inquiries about O'Hara. It seems
he left Paris six months ago, saying he was off for America. An old
friend of his told me that. So you must have been mistaken when you
thought you saw him in the Champs-Elysées; and he couldn't very well
have had anything to do with poor Arthur. I'm afraid that idea is hardly
worth following up."

"Perhaps not," said Ste. Marie. "I seem to start badly, don't I? Ah,
well, I'll have to come to you all the sooner, then."

"You'll be welcome," promised Captain Stewart. "Good-bye to you!
Good-day, Hartley. Come and see me, both of you. You know where I live."

He took his leave then, and Hartley, standing beside the window, watched
him turn down the street, and at the corner get into one of the fiacres
there and drive away.

Ste. Marie laughed aloud.

"There's the second time," said he, "that I've had him about O'Hara. If
he is as careless as that about everything, I don't wonder he hasn't
found Arthur Benham. O'Hara disappeared from Paris--publicly, that
is--at about the time young Benham disappeared. As a matter of fact, he
remains, or at least for a time remained, in the city without letting
his friends know, because I made no mistake about seeing him in the
Champs-Elysées. All that looks to me suspicious enough to be worth
investigation. Of course," he admitted, doubtfully--"of course, I'm no
detective; but that's how it looks to me."

"I don't believe Stewart is any detective, either," said Richard
Hartley. "He's altogether too cocksure. That sort of man would rather
die than admit he is wrong about anything. He's a good old chap, though,
isn't he? I liked him to-day better than ever before. I thought he was
rather pathetic when he went on about his age."

"He has a good heart," said Ste. Marie. "Very few men under the
circumstances would come here and be as decent as he was. Most men would
have thought I was a presumptuous ass, and would have behaved
accordingly."

Ste. Marie took a turn about the room, and his face began to light up
with its new excitement and exaltation.

"And to-morrow!" he cried--"to-morrow we begin! To-morrow we set out
into the world and the Adventure is on foot! God send it success!"

He laughed across at the other man; but it was a laugh of eagerness, not
of mirth.

"I feel," said he, "like Jason. I feel as if we were to set sail
to-morrow for Colchis and the Golden Fleece."

"Y-e-s," said the other man, a little dryly--"yes, perhaps. I don't want
to seem critical, but isn't your figure somewhat ill chosen?"

"'Ill chosen'?" cried Ste. Marie. "What d'you mean? Why ill chosen?"

"I was thinking of Medea," said Richard Hartley.

       *       *       *       *       *



VIII

JASON MEETS WITH A MISADVENTURE AND DREAMS A DREAM


So on the next day these two rode forth upon their quest, and no quest
was ever undertaken with a stouter courage or with a grimmer
determination to succeed. To put it fancifully, they burned their tower
behind them, for to one of them, at least--to him who led--there was no
going back.

But, after all, they set forth under a cloud, and Ste. Marie took a
heavy heart with him. On the evening before an odd and painful incident
had befallen--a singularly unfortunate incident.

It chanced that neither of the two men had a dinner engagement that
evening, and so, after their old habit, they dined together. There was
some wrangling over where they should go, Hartley insisting upon
Armenonville or the Madrid, in the Bois, Ste. Marie objecting that these
would be full of tourists so late in June, and urging the claims of some
quiet place in the Quarter, where they could talk instead of listening
perforce to loud music. In the end, for no particular reason, they
compromised on the little Spanish restaurant in the rue Helder. They
went there about eight o'clock, without dressing, for it is a very quiet
place which the world does not visit, and they had a sopa de yerbas, and
some langostinos, which are shrimps, and a heavenly arroz, with fowl in
it, and many tender, succulent strips of red pepper. They had a salad
made out of a little of everything that grows green, with the true
Spanish oil, which has a tang and a bouquet unappreciated by the
Philistine; and then they had a strange pastry and some cheese and green
almonds. And to make then glad, they drank a bottle of old red
Valdepenas, and afterward a glass each of a special Manzanilla, upon
which the restaurant very justly prides itself.

It was a simple dinner and a little stodgy for that time of the year,
but the two men were hungry and sat at table, almost alone in the upper
room, for a long time, saying how good everything was, and from time to
time despatching the saturnine waiter, a Madrileno, for more peppers.
When at last they came out into the narrow street, and thence to the
thronged Boulevard des Italiens, it was nearly eleven o'clock. They
stood for a little time in the shelter of a kiosk, looking down the
boulevard to where the Place de l'Opéra opened wide and the lights of
the Café de la Paix shone garish in the night. And Ste. Marie said:

"There's a street fête in Montmartre. We might drive home that way."

"An excellent idea," said the other man. "The fact that Montmartre lies
in an opposite direction from home makes the plan all the better. And
after that we might drive home through the Bois. That's much farther in
the wrong direction. Lead on!"

So they sprang into a waiting fiacre, and were dragged up the steep,
stone-paved hill to the heights, where La Bohême still reigns, though
the glory of Moulin Rouge has departed and the trail of the tourist is
over all. They found Montmartre very much en fête. In the Place Blanche
were two of the enormous and brilliantly lighted merry-go-rounds, which
only Paris knows--one furnished with stolid cattle, theatrical-looking
horses, and Russian sleighs; the other with the ever-popular galloping
pigs. When these dreadful machines were in rotation, mechanical organs,
concealed somewhere in their bowels, emitted hideous brays and shrieks
which mingled with the shrieks of the ladies mounted upon the galloping
pigs, and together insulted a peaceful sky.

The square was filled with that extremely heterogeneous throng which the
Parisian street fête gathers together, but it was, for the most part, a
well-dressed throng, largely recruited from the boulevards, and it was
quite determined to have a very good time in the cheerful, harmless
Latin fashion. The two men got down from their fiacre and elbowed a way
through the good-natured crowd to a place near the more popular of the
merry-go-rounds. The machine was in rotation. Its garish lights shone
and glittered, its hidden mechanical organ blared a German waltz tune,
the huge, pink-varnished pigs galloped gravely up and down as the
platform upon which they were mounted whirled round and round. A little
group of American trippers, sight-seeing with a guide, stood near by,
and one of the group, a pretty girl with red hair, demanded plaintively
of the friend upon whose arm she hung: "Do you think momma would be
shocked if we took a ride? Wouldn't I love to!"

Hartley turned, laughing, from this distressed maiden to Ste. Marie. He
was wondering, with mild amusement, why anybody should wish to do such a
foolish thing; but Ste. Marie's eyes were fixed upon the galloping pigs,
and the eyes shone with a wistful excitement. To tell the truth, it was
impossible for him to look on at any form of active amusement without
thirsting to join it. A joyous and carefree lady in a blue hat, who was
mounted astride upon one of the pigs, hurled a paper serpentine at him
and shrieked with delight when it knocked his hat off.

"That's the second time she has hit me with one of those things," he
said, groping about his feet for the hat. "Here, stop that boy with the
basket!"

A vendor of the little rolls of paper ribbon was shouting his wares
through the crowd. Ste. Marie filled his pockets with the things, and
when the lady with the blue hat came round, on the next turn, lassoed
her neatly about the neck and held the end of the ribbon till it broke.
Then he caught a fat gentleman, who was holding himself on by his
steed's neck, in the ear, and the red-haired American girl laughed
aloud.

"When the thing stops," said Ste. Marie, "I'm going to take a ride--just
one ride. I haven't ridden a pig for many years."

Hartley jeered at him, calling him an infant, but Ste. Marie bought more
serpentines, and when the platform came to a stop clambered up to it and
mounted the only unoccupied pig he could find. His friend still scoffed
at him and called him names, but Ste. Marie tucked his long legs round
the pig's neck and smiled back, and presently the machine began again to
revolve.

At the end of the first revolution Hartley gave a shout of delight, for
he saw that the lady with the blue hat had left her mount and was making
her way along the platform toward where Ste. Marie sat hurling
serpentines in the face of the world. By the next time round she had
come to where he was, mounted astride behind him, and was holding
herself with one very shapely arm round his neck, while with the other
she rifled his pockets for ammunition. Ste. Marie grinned, and the
public, loud in its acclaims, began to pelt the two with serpentines
until they were hung with many-colored ribbons like a Christmas-tree.
Even Richard Hartley was so far moved out of the self-consciousness with
which his race is cursed as to buy a handful of the common missiles, and
the lady in the blue hat returned his attention with skill and despatch.

But as the machine began to slacken its pace, and the hideous wail and
blare of the concealed organ died mercifully down, Hartley saw that his
friend's manner had all at once altered, that he sat leaning forward
away from the enthusiastic lady with the blue hat, and that the paper
serpentines had dropped from his hands. Hartley thought that the rapid
motion must have made him a little giddy, but presently, before the
merry-go-round had quite stopped, he saw the man leap down and hurry
toward him through the crowd. Ste. Marie's face was grave and pale. He
caught Hartley's arm in his hand and turned him round, crying, in a low
voice:

"Come out of this as quickly as you can! No, in the other direction. I
want to get away at once!"

"What's the matter?" Hartley demanded. "Lady in the blue hat too
friendly? Well, if you're going to play this kind of game you might as
well play it."

"Helen Benham was down there in the crowd," said Ste. Marie. "On the
opposite side from you. She was with a party of people who got out of
two motor-cars to look on. They were in evening things, so they had come
from dinner somewhere, I suppose. She saw me."

"The devil!" said Hartley, under his breath. Then he gave a shout of
laughter, demanding: "Well, what of it? You weren't committing any
crime, were you? There's no harm in riding a silly pig in a silly
merry-go-round. Everybody does it in these fête things." But even as he
spoke he knew how extremely unfortunate the meeting was, and the
laughter went out of his voice.

"I'm afraid," said Ste. Marie, "she won't see the humor of it. Good God,
what a thing to happen! _You_ know well enough what she'll think of me.
At five o'clock this afternoon," he said, bitterly, "I left her with a
great many fine, high-sounding words about the quest I was to give my
days and nights to--for her sake. I went away from her like a--knight
going into battle--consecrated. I tell you, there were tears in her eyes
when I went. And _now_--now, at midnight--she sees me riding a galloping
pig in a street fête with a girl from the boulevards sitting on the pig
with me and holding me round the neck before a thousand people. What
will she think of me? What but one thing can she possibly think? Oh, I
know well enough! I saw her face before she turned away. And," he cried,
"I can't even go to her and explain--if there's anything to explain, and
I suppose there is not. I can't even go to her. I've sworn not to see
her."

"Oh, I'll do that," said the other man. "I'll explain it to her, if any
explanation's necessary. I think you'll find that she will laugh at it."

But Ste. Marie shook his head.

"No, she won't," said he.

And Hartley could say no more; for he knew Miss Benham, and he was very
much afraid that she would not laugh.

They found a fiacre at the side of the square and drove home at once.
They were almost entirely silent all the long way, for Ste. Marie was
buried in gloom, and the Englishman, after trying once or twice to cheer
him up, realized that he was best left to himself just then, and so held
his tongue. But in the rue d'Assas, as Ste. Marie was getting
down--Hartley kept the fiacre to go on to his rooms in the Avenue de
l'Observatoire--he made a last attempt to lighten the man's depression.
He said:

"Don't you be a silly ass about this! You're making much too much of it,
you know. I'll go to her to-morrow or next day and explain, and she'll
laugh---if she hasn't already done so. You know," he said, almost
believing it himself, "you are paying her a dashed poor compliment in
thinking she's so dull as to misunderstand a little thing of this kind.
Yes, by Jove, you are!"

Ste. Marie looked up at him, and his face, in the light of the cab lamp,
showed a first faint gleam of hope.

"Do you think so?" he demanded. "Do you really think that? Maybe I am.
But--Oh, Lord, who would understand such an idiocy? Sacred imbecile that
I am! Why was I ever born? I ask you."

He turned abruptly, and began to ring at the door, casting a brief
"Good-night" over his shoulder. And after a moment Hartley gave it up
and drove away.

Above, in the long, shallow front room of his flat, with the three
windows overlooking the Gardens, Ste. Marie made lights, and after much
rummaging unearthed a box of cigarettes of a peculiarly delectable
flavor which had been sent him by a friend in the Khedivial household.
He allowed himself one or two of them now and then, usually in sorrowful
moments, as an especial treat; and this seemed to him to be the moment
for smoking all that were left. Surely his need had never been greater.
In England he had, of course, learned to smoke a pipe, but pipe-smoking
always remained with him a species of accomplishment; it never brought
him the deep and ruminative peace with which it enfolds the Anglo-Saxon
heart. The "vieux Jacob" of old-fashioned Parisian Bohemia inspired in
him unconcealed horror, of cigars he was suspicious because, he said,
most of the unpleasant people he knew smoked cigars, so he soothed his
soul with cigarettes, and he was usually to be found with one between
his fingers.

He lighted one of the precious Egyptians, and after a first ecstatic
inhalation went across to one of the long windows, which was open, and
stood there with his back to the room, his face to the peaceful,
fragrant night. A sudden recollection came to him of that other night a
month before when he had stood on the Pont des Invalides with his eyes
upon the stars, his feet upon the ladder thereunto. His heart gave a
sudden exultant leap within him when he thought how far and high he had
climbed, but after the leap it shivered and stood still when this
evening's misadventure came before him.

Would she ever understand? He had no fear that Hartley would not do his
best with her. Hartley was as honest and as faithful as ever a friend
was in this world. He would do his best. But even then--It was the
girl's inflexible nature that made the matter so dangerous. He knew that
she was inflexible, and he took a curious pride in it. He admired it. So
must have been those calm-eyed, ancient ladies for whom other Ste.
Maries went out to do battle. It was well-nigh impossible to imagine
them lowering their eyes to silly revelry. They could not stoop to such
as that. It was beneath their high dignity. And it was beneath hers
also. As for himself, he was a thing of patches. Here a patch of exalted
chivalry--a noble patch--there a patch of bourgeois, childlike love of
fun; here a patch of melancholic asceticism, there one of something
quite the reverse. A hopeless patchwork he was. Must she not shrink from
him when she knew? He could not quite imagine her understanding the
wholly trivial and meaningless impulse that had prompted him to ride a
galloping pig and cast paper serpentines at the assembled world.

Apart from her view of the affair, he felt no shame in it. The moment of
childish gayety had been but a passing mood. It had in no way slackened
his tense enthusiasm, dulled the keenness of his spirit, lowered his
high flight. He knew that well enough. But he wondered if she would
understand, and he could not believe it possible. The mood of exaltation
in which they had parted that afternoon came to him, and then the sight
of her shocked face as he had seen it in the laughing crowd in the Place
Blanche.

"What must she think of me?" he cried, aloud. "What must she think of
me?"

So, for an hour or more, he stood in the open window staring into the
fragrant night, or tramped up and down the long room, his hands behind
his back, kicking out of his way the chairs and things which impeded
him, torturing himself with fears and regrets and fancies, until at
last, in a calmer moment, he realized that he was working himself up
into an absurd state of nerves over something which was done and could
not now be helped. The man had an odd streak of fatalism in his
nature--that will have come of his Southern blood--and it came to him
now in his need. For the work upon which he was to enter with the morrow
he had need of clear wits, not scattered ones; a calm judgment, not
disordered nerves. So he took himself in hand, and it would have been
amazing to any one unfamiliar with the abrupt changes of the Latin
temperament to see how suddenly Ste. Marie became quiet and cool and
master of himself.

"It is done," he said, with a little shrug, and if his face was for a
moment bitter it quickly enough became impassive. "It is done, and it
cannot be undone--unless Hartley can undo it. And now, revenons à nos
moutons! Or, at least," said he, looking at his watch--and it was
between one and two--"at least, to our beds!"

So he went to bed, and, so well had he recovered from his fit of
excitement, he fell asleep almost at once. But for all that the jangled
nerves had their revenge. He who commonly slept like the dead, without
the slightest disturbance, dreamed a strange dream. It seemed to him
that he stood spent and weary in a twilight place--a waste place at the
foot of a high hill. At the top of the hill She sat upon a sort of
throne, golden in a beam of light from heaven--serene, very beautiful,
the end and crown of his weary labors. His feet were set to the ascent
of the height whereon she waited, but he was withheld. From the shadows
at the hill's foot a voice called to him in distress, anguish of
spirit--a voice he knew; but he could not say whose voice. It besought
him out of utter need, and he could not turn away from it.

Then from those shadows eyes looked upon him, very great and dark eyes,
and they besought him, too; he did not know what they asked, but they
called to him like the low voice, and he could not turn away.

He looked to the far height, and with all his power he strove to set his
feet toward it--the goal of long labor and desire; but the eyes and the
piteous voice held him motionless--for they needed him.

From this anguish he awoke trembling. And after a long time, when he was
composed, he fell asleep once more, and once more he dreamed the dream.

So morning found him pallid and unrefreshed. But by daylight he knew
whose eyes had besought him, and he wondered and was a little afraid.

       *       *       *       *       *



IX

JASON GOES UPON A JOURNEY, AND RICHARD HARTLEY PLEADS FOR HIM


It may as well be admitted at the outset that neither Ste. Marie nor
Richard Hartley proved themselves to be geniuses, hitherto undeveloped,
in the detective science. They entered upon their self-appointed task
with a fine fervor, but, as Miss Benham had suggested, with no other
qualifications in particular. Ste. Marie had a theory that, when engaged
in work of this nature, you went into questionable parts of the city,
ate and drank cheek by jowl with questionable people--if possible, got
them drunk while you remained sober (difficult feat), and sooner or
later they said things which put you on the right road to your goal, or
else confessed to you that they themselves had committed the particular
crime in which you were interested. He argued that this was the way it
happened in books, and that surely people didn't write books about
things of which they were ignorant.

Hartley, on the other hand, preferred the newer, or scientific, methods.
You sat at home with a pipe and a whiskey-and-water--if possible, in a
long dressing-gown with a cord round its middle. You reviewed all the
known facts of the case, and you did mathematics about them with Xs and
Ys and many other symbols, and in the end, by a system of elimination,
you proved that a certain thing must infallibly be true. The chief
difficulty for him in this was, he said, that he had been at Oxford
instead of at Cambridge, and so the mathematics were rather beyond him.

In practice, however, they combined the two methods, which was doubtless
as well as if they hadn't, because for some time they accomplished
nothing whatever, and so neither one was able to sneer at the other's
stupidity.

This is not to say that they found nothing in the way of clews. They
found an embarrassment of them, and for some days went about in a fever
of excitement over these; but the fever cooled when clew after clew
turned out to be misleading. Of course, Ste. Marie's first efforts were
directed toward tracing the movements of the Irishman O'Hara, but the
efforts were altogether unavailing. The man seemed to have disappeared
as noiselessly and completely as had young Arthur Benham himself. He was
unable even to settle with any definiteness the time of the man's
departure from Paris. Some of O'Hara's old acquaintances maintained that
they had seen the last of him two months before, but a shifty-eyed
person in rather cheaply smart clothes came up to Ste. Marie one evening
in Maxim's and said he had heard that Ste. Marie was making inquiries
about M. O'Hara. Ste. Marie said he was, and that it was an affair of
money; whereupon the cheaply smart individual declared that M. O'Hara
had left Paris six months before to go to the United States of America,
and that he had had a picture postal-card from him, some weeks since,
from New York. The informant accepted an expensive cigar and a Dubonnet
by way of reward, but presently departed into the night, and Ste. Marie
was left in some discouragement, his theory badly damaged.

He spoke of this encounter to Richard Hartley, who came on later to join
him, and Hartley, after an interval of silence and smoke, said: "That
was a lie! The man lied!"

"Name of a dog, why?" demanded Ste. Marie; but the Englishman shrugged
his shoulders.

"I don't know," he said. "But I believe it was a lie. The man came to
you--sought you out to tell his story, didn't he? And all the others
have given a different date? Well, there you are! For some reason, this
man or some one behind him--O'Hara himself, probably--wants you to
believe that O'Hara is in America. I dare say he's in Paris all the
while."

"I hope you're right," said the other. "And I mean to make sure, too. It
certainly was odd, this strange being hunting me out to tell me that. I
wonder, by-the-way, how he knew I'd been making inquiries about O'Hara.
I've questioned only two or three people, and then in the most casual
way. Yes, it's odd."

It was about a week after this--a fruitless week, full of the alternate
brightness of hope and the gloom of disappointment--that he met Captain
Stewart, to whom he had been, more than once, on the point of appealing.
He happened upon him quite by chance one morning in the rue Royale.
Captain Stewart was coming out of a shop, a very smart-looking shop,
devoted, as Ste. Marie, with some surprise and much amusement, observed,
to ladies' hats, and the price of hats must have depressed him, for he
looked in an ill humor, and older and more yellow than usual. But his
face altered suddenly when he saw the younger man, and he stopped and
shook Ste. Marie's hand with every evidence of pleasure.

"Well met! Well met!" he exclaimed. "If you are not in a hurry, come and
sit down somewhere and tell me about yourself."

They picked their way across the street to the terrace of the Taverne
Royale, which was almost deserted at that hour, and sat down at one of
the little tables, well back from the pavement, in a corner.

"Is it fair," queried Captain Stewart--"is it fair, as a rival
investigator, to ask you what success you have had?"

Ste. Marie laughed rather ruefully, and confessed that he had as yet no
success at all.

"I've just come," said he, "from pricking one bubble that promised well,
and Hartley is up in Montmartre destroying another, I fancy. Oh, well,
we didn't expect it to be child's play."

Captain Stewart raised his little glass of dry vermouth in an
old-fashioned salute and drank it.

"You," said he--"you were--ah, full of some idea of connecting this man,
this Irishman O'Hara, with poor Arthur's disappearance. You've found
that not so promising as you went on, I take it."

"Well, I've been unable to trace O'Hara," said Ste. Marie. "He seems to
have disappeared as completely as your nephew. I suppose you have no
clews to spare? I confess I'm out of them at the moment."

"Oh, I have plenty," said the elder man. "A hundred. More than I can
possibly look after." He gave a little chuckling laugh. "I've been
waiting for you to come to me," he said. "It was a little ungenerous,
perhaps, but we all love to say, 'I told you so.' Yes, I have a great
quantity of clews, and of course they all seem to be of the greatest and
most exciting importance. That's a way clews have."

He took an envelope from an inner pocket of his coat, and sorted several
folded papers which were in it.

"I have here," said he, "memoranda of two--chances, shall I call
them?--which seem to me very good, though, as I have already said, every
clew seems good. That is the maddening, the heart-breaking, part of such
an investigation. I have made these brief notes from letters received,
one yesterday, one the day before, from an agent of mine who has been
searching the bains de mer of the north coast. This agent writes that
some one very much resembling poor Arthur has been seen at Dinard and
also at Deauville, and he urges me to come there or to send a man there
at once to look into the matter. You will ask, of course, why this agent
himself does not pursue the clew he has found. Unfortunately, he has
been called to London upon some pressing family matter of his own; he is
an Englishman."

"Why haven't you gone yourself?" asked Ste. Marie.

But the elder man shrugged his shoulders and smiled a tired, deprecatory
smile.

"Oh, my friend," said he, "if I should attempt personally to investigate
one-half of these things, I should be compelled to divide myself into
twenty parts. No, I must stay here. There must be, alas! the spider at
the centre of the web. I cannot go; but if you think it worth while, I
will gladly turn over the memoranda of these last clews to you. They may
be the true clews, they may not. At any rate, some one must look into
them. Why not you and your partner--or shall I say assistant?"

"Why, thank you!" cried Ste. Marie. "A thousand thanks! Of course, I
shall be--we shall be glad to try this chance. On the face of it, it
sounds very reasonable. Your nephew, from what I remember of him, is
much more apt to be in some place that is amusing, some place of gayety,
than hiding away where it is merely dull, if he has his choice in the
matter--that is, if he is free. And yet--" He turned and frowned
thoughtfully at the elder man. "What I want to know," said he, "is how
the boy is supporting himself all this time? You say he had no money, or
very little, when he went away. How is he managing to live if your
theory is correct--that he is staying away of his own accord? It costs a
lot of money to live as he likes to live."

Captain Stewart nodded.

"Oh, that," said he--"that is a question I have often proposed to
myself. Frankly, it's beyond me. I can only surmise that poor Arthur,
who had scattered a small fortune about in foolish loans, managed,
before he actually disappeared (mind you, we didn't begin to look for
him until a week had gone by)--managed to collect some of this money,
and so went away with something in pocket. That, of course, is only a
guess."

"It is possible," said Ste. Marie, doubtfully, "but--I don't know. It is
not very easy to raise money from the sort of people I imagine your
nephew to have lent it to. They borrow, but they don't repay." He
glanced up with a half-laughing, half-defiant air. "I can't," said he,
"rid myself of a belief that the boy is here in Paris, and that he is
not free to come or go. It's only a feeling, but it is very strong in
me. Of course, I shall follow out these clews you've been so kind as to
give me. I shall go to Dinard and Deauville, and Hartley, I imagine,
will go with me, but I haven't great confidence in them."

Captain Stewart regarded him reflectively for a time, and in the end he
smiled.

"If you will pardon my saying it," he said, "your attitude is just a
little womanlike. You put away reason for something vaguely intuitive. I
always distrust intuition myself."

Ste. Marie frowned a little and looked uncomfortable. He did not relish
being called womanlike--few men do; but he was bound to admit that the
elder man's criticism was more or less just.

"Moreover," pursued Captain Stewart, "you altogether ignore the point of
motive--as I may have suggested to you before. There could be no
possible motive, so far as I am aware, for kidnapping or detaining, or
in any way harming, my nephew except the desire for money; but, as you
know, he had no large sum of money with him, and no demand has been made
upon us since his disappearance. I'm afraid you can't get round that."

"No," said Ste. Marie, "I'm afraid I can't. Indeed, leaving that
aside--and it can't be left aside--I still have almost nothing with
which to prop up my theory. I told you it was only a feeling."

He took up the memoranda which Captain Stewart had laid upon the
marble-topped table between them, and read the notes through.

"Please," said he, "don't think I am ungrateful for this chance. I am
not. I shall do my best with it, and I hope it may turn out to be
important." He gave a little wry smile. "I have all sorts of reasons,"
he said, "for wishing to succeed as soon as possible. You may be sure
that there won't be any delays on my part. And now I must be going on. I
am to meet Hartley for lunch on the other side of the river, and, if we
can manage it, I should like to start north this afternoon or evening."

"Good!" said Captain Stewart, smiling. "Good! That is what I call true
promptness. You lose no time at all. Go to Dinard and Deauville, by all
means, and look into this thing thoroughly. Don't be discouraged if you
meet with ill success at first. Take Mr. Hartley with you, and do your
best."

He paid for the two glasses of apéritif, and Ste. Marie could not help
observing that he left on the table a very small tip. The waiter cursed
him audibly as the two walked away.

"If you have returned by a week from to-morrow," he said, as they shook
hands, "I should like to have you keep that evening--Thursday--for me. I
am having a very informal little party in my rooms. There will be two or
three of the opera people there, and they will sing for us, and the
others will be amusing enough. All young--all young. I like young people
about me." He gave his odd little mewing chuckle. "And the ladies must
be beautiful as well as young. Come if you are here! I'll drop a line to
Mr. Hartley also."

He shook Ste. Marie's hand, and went away down the street toward the rue
du Faubourg St. Honoré where he lived.

Ste. Marie met Hartley as he expected to do, at lunch, and they talked
over the possibilities of the Dinard and Deauville expedition. In the
end they decided that Ste. Marie should go alone, but that he was to
telegraph, later on, if the clew looked promising. Hartley had two or
three investigations on foot in Paris, and stayed on to complete these.
Also he wished, as soon as possible, to see Helen Benham and explain
Ste. Marie's ride on the galloping pigs. Ten days had elapsed since that
evening, but Miss Benham had gone into the country the next day to make
a visit at the De Saulnes' château on the Oise.

So Ste. Marie packed a portmanteau with clothes and things, and departed
by a mid-afternoon train to Dinard, and toward five Richard Hartley
walked down to the rue de I'Université. He thought it just possible that
Miss Benham might by now have returned to town, but if not he meant to
have half an hour's chat with old David Stewart, whom he had not seen
for some weeks.

At the door he learned that mademoiselle was that very day returned and
was at home. So he went in to the drawing-room, reserving his visit to
old David until later. He found the room divided into two camps. At one
side Mrs. Benham conversed in melancholic monotones with two elderly
French ladies who were clad in depressing black of a dowdiness surpassed
only in English provincial towns. It was as if the three mourned
together over the remains of some dear one who lay dead among them.
Hartley bowed low, with an uncontrollable shiver, and turned to the
tea-table, where Miss Benham sat in the seat of authority, flanked by a
young American lady whom he had met before, and by Baron de Vries, whom
he had not seen since the evening of the De Saulnes' dinner-party.

Miss Benham greeted him with evident pleasure, and to his great delight
remembered just how he liked his tea--three pieces of sugar and no milk.
It always flatters a man when his little tastes of this sort are
remembered. The four fell at once into conversation together, and the
young American lady asked Hartley why Ste. Marie was not with him.

"I thought you two always went about together," she said--"were never
seen apart and all that--a sort of modern Damon and Phidias."

Hartley caught Baron de Vries' eye, and looked away again hastily.

"My--ah, Phidias," said he, resisting an irritable desire to correct the
lady, "got mislaid to-day. It sha'n't happen again, I promise you. He's
a very busy person just now, though. He hasn't time for social
dissipation. I'm the butterfly of the pair."

The lady gave a sudden laugh.

"He was busy enough the last time I saw him," she said, crinkling her
eyelids. She turned to Miss Benham. "Do you remember that evening we
were going home from the Madrid and motored round by Montmartre to see
the fête?"

"Yes," said Miss Benham, unsmiling, "I remember."

"Your friend Ste. Marie," said the American lady to Hartley, "was
distinctly the lion of the fête--at the moment we arrived, anyhow. He
was riding a galloping pig and throwing those paper streamer
things--what do you call them?--with both hands, and a genial lady in a
blue hat was riding the same pig and helping him out. It was just like
the _Vie de Bohème_ and the other books. I found it charming."

Baron de Vries emitted an amused chuckle.

"That was very like Ste. Marie," he said. "Ste. Marie is a very
exceptional young man. He can be an angel one moment, a child playing
with toys the next, and--well, a rather commonplace social favorite the
third. It all comes of being romantic--imaginative. Ste. Marie--I know
nothing about this evening of which you speak, but Ste. Marie is quite
capable of stopping on his way to a funeral to ride a galloping pig--or
on his way to his own wedding. And the pleasant part of it is," said
Baron de Vries, "that the lad would turn up at either of these two
ceremonies not a bit the worse, outside or in, for his ride."

"Ah, now, that's an oddly close shot," said Hartley. He paused a moment,
looking toward Miss Benham, and said: "I beg pardon! Were you going to
speak?"

"No," said Miss Benham, moving the things about on the tea-table before
her, and looking down at them. "No, not at all!"

"You came oddly close to the truth," the man went on, turning back to
Baron de Vries.

He was speaking for Helen Benham's ears, and he knew she would
understand that, but he did not wish to seem to be watching her.

"I was with Ste. Marie on that evening," he said. "No, I wasn't riding a
pig, but I was standing down in the crowd throwing serpentines at the
people who were. And I happen to know that he--that Ste. Marie was on
that day, that evening, more deeply concerned about something, more
absolutely wrapped up in it, devoted to it, than I have ever known him
to be about anything since I first knew him. The galloping pig was an
incident that made, except for the moment, no impression whatever upon
him." Hartley nodded his head. "Yes," said he, "Ste. Marie can be an
angel one moment and a child playing with toys the next. When he sees
toys he always plays with them, and he plays hard, but when he drops
them they go completely out of his mind."

The American lady laughed.

"Gracious me!" she cried. "You two are emphatic enough about him, aren't
you?"

"We know him," said Baron de Vries.

Hartley rose to replace his empty cup on the tea-table. Miss Benham did
not meet his eyes, and as he moved away again she spoke to her friend
about something they were going to do on the next day, so Hartley went
across to where Baron de Vries sat at a little distance, and took a
place beside him on the chaise lounge. The Belgian greeted him with
raised eyebrows and the little, half-sad, half-humorous smile which was
characteristic of him in his gentler moments.

"You were defending our friend with a purpose," he said, in a low voice.
"Good! I am afraid he needs it--here."

The younger man hesitated a moment. Then he said:

"I came on purpose to do that. Ste. Marie knows that she saw him on that
confounded pig. He was half wild with distress over it, because--well,
the meeting was singularly unfortunate just then. I can't explain--"

"You needn't explain," said the Belgian, gravely. "I know. Helen told me
some days ago, though she did not mention this encounter. Yes, defend
him with all your power, if you will. Stay after we others have gone
and--have it out with her. The Phidias lady (I must remember that mot,
by-the-way) is preparing to take her leave now, and I will follow her at
once. She shall believe that I am enamoured, that I sigh for her. Eh!"
said he, shaking his head--and the lines in the kindly old face seemed
to deepen, but in a sort of grave tenderness--"eh, so love has come to
the dear lad at last! Ah, of course, the hundred other affairs! Yes,
yes. But they were light. No seriousness in them. The ladies may have
loved. He didn't--very much. This time, I'm afraid--"

Baron de Vries paused as if he did not mean to finish his sentence, and
Hartley said:

"You say 'afraid'! Why afraid?"

The Belgian looked up at him reflectively.

"Did I say 'afraid'?" he asked. "Well, perhaps it was the word I wanted.
I wonder if these two are fitted for each other. I am fond of them both.
I think you know that, but--she's not very flexible, this child. And she
hasn't much humor. I love her, but I know those things are true. I
wonder if one ought to marry Ste. Marie without flexibility and without
humor."

"If they love each other," said Richard Hartley, "I expect the other
things don't count. Do they?"

Baron de Vries rose to his feet, for he saw that the Phidias lady was
going.

"Perhaps not," said he; "I hope not. In any case, do your best for him
with Helen. Make her comprehend if you can. I am afraid she is unhappy
over the affair."

He made his adieus, and went away with the American lady, to that young
person's obvious excitement. And after a moment the three ladies across
the room departed also, Mrs. Benham explaining that she was taking her
two friends up to her own sitting-room, to show them something vaguely
related to the heathen. So Hartley was left alone with Helen Benham.

It was not his way to beat about the bush, and he gave battle at once.
He said, standing, to say it more easily:

"You know why I came here to-day? It was the first chance I've had since
that--unfortunate evening. I came on Ste. Marie's account."

Miss Benham said a weak "Oh!" And because she was nervous and
overwrought, and because the thing meant so much to her, she said,
cheaply: "He owes me no apologies. He has a perfect right to act as he
pleases, you know."

The Englishman frowned across at her. "I didn't come to make apologies,"
said he. "I came to explain. Well, I have explained--Baron de Vries and
I together. That's just how it happened. And that's just how Ste. Marie
takes things. The point is that you've got to understand it. I've got to
make you."

The girl smiled up at him dolefully. "You look," she said, "as if you
were going to beat me if necessary. You look very warlike."

"I feel warlike," the man said, nodding. He said: "I'm fighting for a
friend to whom you are doing, in your mind, an injustice. I know him
better than you do, and I tell you you're doing him a grave injustice.
You're failing altogether to understand him."

"I wonder," the girl said, looking very thoughtfully down at the table
before her.

"I know," said he.

Quite suddenly she gave a little overwrought cry, and she put up her
hands over her face. "Oh, Richard!" she said, "that day when he was
here! He left me--oh, I cannot tell you at what a height he left me! It
was something new and beautiful. He swept me to the clouds with him. And
I might--perhaps I might have lived on there. Who knows? But then that
hideous evening! Ah, it was too sickening: the fall back to common earth
again!"

"I know," said the man, gently--"I know. And _he_ knew, too. Directly
he'd seen you he knew how you would feel about it. I'm not pretending
that it was of no consequence. It was unfortunate, of course. But the
point is, it did not mean in him any slackening, any stooping, any
letting go. It was a moment's incident. We went to the wretched place by
accident after dinner. Ste. Marie saw those childish lunatics at play,
and for about two minutes he played with them. The lady in the blue hat
made it appear a little more extreme, and that's all."

Miss Benham rose to her feet and moved restlessly back and forth. "Oh,
Richard," she said, "the golden spell is broken--the enchantment he laid
upon me that day. I'm not like him, you know. Oh, I wish I were! I wish
I were! I can't change from hour to hour. I can't rise to the clouds
again after my fall to earth. It has all--become something different.
Don't misunderstand me!" she cried. "I don't mean that I've ceased to
care for him. No, far from that! But I was in such an exalted heaven,
and now I'm not there any more. Perhaps he can lift me to it again. Oh
yes, I'm sure he can, when I see him once more; but I wanted to go on
living there so happily while he was away! Do you understand at all?"

"I think I do," the man said, but he looked at her very curiously and a
little sadly, for it was the first time he had ever seen her swept from
her superb poise by any emotion, and he hardly recognized her. It was
very bitter to him to realize that he could never have stirred her to
this--never, under any conceivable circumstances.

The girl came to him where he stood, and touched his arm with her hand.
"He is waiting to hear how I feel about it all, isn't he?" she said. "He
is waiting to know that I understand. Will you tell him a little lie for
me, Richard? No, you needn't tell a lie. I will tell it. Tell him that I
said I understood perfectly. Tell him that I was shocked for a moment,
but that afterward I understood and thought no more about it. Will you
tell him I said that? It won't be a lie from you, because I did say it.
Oh, I will not grieve him or hamper him now while he is working in my
cause! I'll tell him a lie rather than have him grieve."

"Need it be a lie?" said Richard Hartley. "Can't you truly believe what
you've said?"

She shook her head slowly.

"I'll try," said she, "but--my golden spell is broken and I can't mend
it alone. I'm sorry."

He turned with a little sigh to leave her, but Miss Benham followed him
toward the door of the drawing-room.

"You're a good friend, Richard," she said, when she had come
near--"you're a good friend to him."

"He deserves good friends," said the young man, stoutly. "And besides,"
said he, "we're brothers in arms nowadays. We've enlisted together to
fight for the same cause." The girl fell back with a little cry.

"Do you mean," she said, after a moment--"do you mean that _you_ are
working with him--to find Arthur?"

Hartley nodded.

"But--" said she, stammering. "But, Richard--"

The man checked her.

"Oh, I know what I'm doing," said he. "My eyes are open. I know that I'm
not--well, in the running. I work for no reward except a desire to help
you and Ste. Marie. That's all. It pleases me to be useful."

He went away with that, not waiting for an answer, and the girl stood
where he had left her, staring after him.

       *       *       *       *       *



X

CAPTAIN STEWART ENTERTAINS


Ste. Marie returned, after three days, from Dinard in a depressed and
somewhat puzzled frame of mind. He had found no trace whatever of Arthur
Benham, either at Dinard or at Deauville, and, what was more, he was
unable to discover that any one even remotely resembling that youth had
been seen at either place. The matter of identification, it seemed to
him, should be a rather simple one. In the first place, the boy's
appearance was not at all French, nor, for that matter, English; it was
very American. Also, he spoke French--so Ste. Marie had been told--very
badly, having for the language that scornful contempt peculiar to
Anglo-Saxons of a certain type. His speech, it seemed, was, like his
appearance, ultra-American--full of strange idioms and oddly pronounced.
In short, such a youth would be rather sure to be remembered by any
hotel management and staff with which he might have come in contact.

At first Ste. Marie pursued his investigations quietly and, as it were,
casually; but after his initial failure he went to the managements of
the various hotels and lodging-houses, and to the cafés and bathing
establishments, and told them, with all frankness, a part of the
truth--that he was searching for a young man whose disappearance had
caused great distress to his family. He was not long in discovering that
no such young man could have been either in Dinard or Deauville.

The thing which puzzled him was that, apart from finding no trace of the
missing boy, he also found no trace of Captain Stewart's agent--the man
who had been first on the ground. No one seemed able to recollect that
such a person had been making inquiries, and Ste. Marie began to suspect
that his friend was being imposed upon. He determined to warn Stewart
that his agents were earning their fees too easily.

So he returned to Paris more than a little dejected, and sore over this
waste of time and effort. He arrived by a noon train, and drove across
the city in a fiacre to the rue d'Assas. But as he was in the midst of
unpacking his portmanteau--for he kept no servant; a woman came in once
a day to "do" the rooms--the door-bell rang. It was Baron de Vries, and
Ste. Marie admitted him with an exclamation of surprise and pleasure.

"You passed me in the street just now," explained the Belgian, "and as I
was a few minutes early for a lunch engagement I followed you up." He
pointed with his stick at the open bag. "Ah, you have been on a journey!
Detective work?"

Ste. Marie pushed his guest into a chair, gave him cigarettes, and told
him about the fruitless expedition to Dinard. He spoke, also, of his
belief that Captain Stewart's agent had never really found a clew at
all; and at that Baron de Vries nodded his gray head and said, "Ah!" in
a tone of some significance. Afterward he smoked a little while in
silence, but presently he said, as if with some hesitation: "May I be
permitted to offer a word of advice?"

"But surely!" cried Ste. Marie, kicking away the half-empty portmanteau.
"Why not?"

"Do whatever you are going to do in this matter according to your own
judgment," said the elder man, "or according to Mr. Hartley's and your
combined judgments. Make your investigations without reference to our
friend Captain Stewart." He halted there as if that were all he had
meant to say, but when he saw Ste. Marie's raised eyebrows he frowned
and went on, slowly, as if picking his words with some care. "I should
be sorry," he said, "to have Captain Stewart at the head of any
investigation of this nature in which I was deeply interested--just now,
at any rate. I am afraid--it is difficult to say; I do not wish to say
too much--I am afraid he is not quite the man for the position."

Ste. Marie nodded his head with great emphasis. "Ah," he cried, "that's
just what I have felt, you know, all along! And it's what Hartley felt,
too, I'm sure. No, Stewart is not the sort for a detective. He's too
cocksure. He won't admit that he might possibly be wrong now and then.
He's too--"

"He is too much occupied with other matters," said Baron de Vries.

Ste. Marie sat down on the edge of a chair. "Other matters?" he
demanded. "That sounds mysterious. What other matters?"

"Oh, there is nothing very mysterious about it," said the elder man. He
frowned down at his cigarette, and brushed some fallen ash neatly from
his knees. "Captain Stewart," said he, "is badly worried, and has been
for the past year or so--badly worried over money matters and other
things. He has lost enormous sums at play, as I happen to know, and he
has lost still more enormous sums at Auteuil and at Longchamps. Also,
the ladies are not without their demands."

Ste. Marie gave a shout of laughter. "Comment donc!" he cried. "Ce
vieillard?"

"Ah, well," deprecated the other man. "Vieillard is putting it rather
high. He can't be more than fifty, I should think. To be sure, he looks
older; but then, in his day, he lived a great deal in a short time. Do
you happen to remember Olga Nilssen?"

"I do," said Ste. Marie. "I remember her very well, indeed. I was a sort
of go-between in settling up that affair with Morrison. Morrison's
people asked me to do what I could. Yes, I remember her well, and with
some pleasure. I felt sorry for her, you know. People didn't quite know
the truth of that affair. Morrison behaved very badly to her."

"Yes," said Baron de Vries, "and Captain Stewart has behaved very badly
to her also. She is furious with rage or jealousy--or both. She goes
about, I am told, threatening to kill him, and it would be rather like
her to do it one day. Well, I have dragged in all this scandal by way of
showing you that Stewart has his hands full of his own affairs just now,
and so cannot give the attention he ought to give to hunting out his
nephew. As you suggest, his agents may be deceiving him. I don't know. I
suppose they could do it easily enough. If I were you I should set to
work quite independently of him."

"Yes," said Ste. Marie, in an absent tone. "Oh yes, I shall do that, you
may be sure." He gave a sudden smile. "He's a queer type, this Captain
Stewart. He begins to interest me very much. I had never suspected this
side of him, though I remember now that I once saw him coming out of a
milliner's shop. He looks rather an ascetic--rather donnish, don't you
think? I remember that he talked to me one day quite pathetically about
feeling his age and about liking young people round him. He's an odd
character. Fancy him mixed up in an affair with Olga Nilssen! Or,
rather, fancy her involved in an affair with him! What can she have seen
in him? She's not mercenary, you know--at least, she used not to be."

"Ah! there," said Baron de Vries, "you enter upon a terra incognita. No
one can say what a woman sees in this man or in that. It's beyond our
ken."

He rose to take his leave, and Ste. Marie went with him to the door.

"I've been asked to a sort of party at Stewart's rooms this week," Ste.
Marie said. "I don't know whether I shall go or not. Probably not. I
suppose I shouldn't find Olga Nilssen there?"

"Well, no," said the Belgian, laughing. "No, I hardly think so.
Good-bye! Think over what I've told you. Good-bye!"

He went away down the stair, and Ste. Marie returned to his unpacking.

Nothing more of consequence occurred in the next few days. Hartley had
unearthed a somewhat shabby adventurer who swore to having seen the
Irishman O'Hara in Paris within a month, but it was by no means certain
that this being did not merely affirm what he believed to be desired of
him, and in any case the information was of no especial value, since it
was O'Hara's present whereabouts that was the point at issue. So it came
to Thursday evening. Ste. Marie received a note from Captain Stewart
during the day, reminding him that he was to come to the rue du Faubourg
St. Honoré that evening, and asking him to come early, at ten or
thereabouts, so that the two could have a comfortable chat before any
one else turned up. Ste. Marie had about decided not to go at all, but
the courtesy of this special invitation from Miss Benham's uncle made it
rather impossible for him to stay away. He tried to persuade Hartley to
follow him on later in the evening, but that gentleman flatly refused
and went away to dine with some English friends at Armenonville.

So Ste. Marie, in a vile temper, dined quite alone at Lavenue's, beside
the Gare Montparnasse, and toward ten o'clock drove across the river to
the rue du Faubourg. Captain Stewart's flat was up five stories, at the
top of the building in which it was located, and so, well above the
noises of the street. Ste. Marie went up in the automatic lift, and at
the door above his host met him in person, saying that the one servant
he kept was busy making preparations in the kitchen beyond. They entered
a large room, long but comparatively shallow, in shape not unlike the
sitting-room in the rue d'Assas, but very much bigger, and Ste. Marie
uttered an exclamation of surprise and pleasure, for he had never before
seen an interior anything like this. The room was decorated and
furnished entirely in Chinese and Japanese articles of great age and
remarkable beauty. Ste. Marie knew little of the hieratic art of these
two countries, but he fancied that the place must be an endless delight
to the expert.

The general tone of the room was gold, dulled and softened by great age
until it had ceased to glitter, and relieved by the dusty Chinese blue
and by old red faded to rose and by warm ivory tints. The great expanse
of the walls was covered by a brownish-yellow cloth, coarse like burlap,
and against it, round the room, hung sixteen large panels representing
the sixteen Rakan. They were early copies--fifteenth century, Captain
Stewart said--of those famous originals by the Chinese Sung master
Ririomin, which have been for six hundred years or more the treasures of
Japan. They were mounted upon Japanese brocade of blue and dull gold,
framed in keyaki wood, and out of their brown, time-stained shadows the
great Rakan scowled or grinned or placidly gazed, grotesquely graceful
masterpieces of a perished art.

At the far end of the room, under a gilded canopy of intricate
wood-carving, stood upon his pedestal of many-petalled lotus a great
statue of Amida Buddha in the yogi attitude of contemplation, and at
intervals against the other walls other smaller images stood or sat:
Buddha, in many incarnations; Kwannon, goddess of mercy; Jizo Bosatzu
Hotei, pot-bellied, god of contentment; Jingo-Kano, god of war. In the
centre of the place was a Buddhist temple table, and priests' chairs,
lacquered and inlaid, stood about the room. The floor was covered with
Chinese rugs, dull yellow with blue flowers, and over a doorway which
led into another room was fixed a huge rama of Chinese pierced carving,
gilded, in which there were trees and rocks and little grouped figures
of the hundred immortals.

It, was, indeed an extraordinary room. Ste. Marie looked about its
mellow glow with a half-comprehending wonder, and he looked at the man
beside him curiously, for here was another side to this many-sided
character. Captain Stewart smiled.

"You like my museum?" he asked. "Few people care much for it except, of
course, those who go in for the Oriental arts. Most of my friends think
it bizarre--too grotesque and unusual. I have tried to satisfy them by
including those comfortable low divan-couches (they refuse altogether to
sit in the priests' chairs), but still they are unhappy."

He called his servant, who came to take Ste. Marie's hat and coat and
returned with smoking things.

"It seems entirely wonderful to me," said the younger man. "I'm not an
expert at all--I don't know who the gentlemen in those sixteen panels
are, for example--but it is very beautiful. I have never seen anything
like it at all." He gave a little laugh. "Will it sound very impertinent
in me, I wonder, if I express surprise--not surprise at finding this
magnificent room, but at discovering that this sort of thing is a taste
and, very evidently, a serious study of yours? You--I remember your
saying once with some feeling that it was youth and beauty and--well,
freshness that you liked best to be surrounded by. This," said Ste.
Marie, waving an inclusive hand, "was young so many centuries ago! It
fairly breathes antiquity and death."

"Yes," said Captain Stewart, thoughtfully. "Yes, that is quite true."

The two had seated themselves upon one of the broad, low benches which
had been built into the place to satisfy the Philistine.

"I find it hard to explain," he said, "because both things are passions
of mine. Youth--I could not exist without it. Since I have it no longer
in my own body, I wish to see it about me. It gives me life. It keeps my
heart beating. I must have it near. And then this--antiquity and death,
beautiful things made by hands dead centuries ago in an alien country! I
love this, too. I didn't speak too strongly; it is a sort of passion
with me--something quite beyond the collector's mania--quite beyond
that. Sometimes, do you know, I stay at home in the evening, and I sit
here quite alone, with the lights half on, and for hours together I
smoke and watch these things--the quiet, sure, patient smile of that
Buddha, for example. Think how long he has been smiling like that, and
waiting! Waiting for what? There is something mysterious beyond all
words in that smile of his, that fixed, crudely carved wooden smile--no,
I'll be hanged if it's crude! It is beyond our modern art. The dead men
carved better than we do. We couldn't manage that with such simple
means. We can only reproduce what is before us. We can't carve
questions--mysteries--everlasting riddles."

Through the pale-blue, wreathing smoke of his cigarette Captain Stewart
gazed down the room to where eternal Buddha stood and smiled eternally.
And from there the man's eyes moved with slow enjoyment along the
opposite wall over those who sat or stood there, over the panels of the
ancient Rakan, over carved lotus, and gilt contorted dragon forever in
pursuit of the holy pearl. He drew a short breath which seemed to
bespeak extreme contentment, the keenest height of pleasure, and he
stirred a little where he sat and settled himself among the cushions.
Ste. Marie watched him, and the expression of the man's face began to be
oddly revolting. It was the face of a voluptuary in the presence of his
desire. He was uncomfortable, and wished to say something to break the
silence, but, as often occurs at such a time, he could think of nothing
to say. So there was a brief silence between them. But presently Captain
Stewart roused himself with an obvious effort.

"Here, this won't do!" said he, in a tone of whimsical apology. "This
won't do, you know. I'm floating off on my hobby (and there's a mixed
metaphor that would do credit to your own Milesian blood!). I'm boring
you to extinction, and I don't want to do that, for I'm anxious that you
should come here again--and often. I should like to have you form the
habit. What was it I had in mind to ask you about? Ah, yes! The journey
to Dinard and Deauville. I am afraid it turned out to be fruitless or
you would have let me know."

"Entirely fruitless," said Ste. Marie.

He went on to tell the elder man of his investigation, and of his
certainty that no one resembling Arthur Benham had been at either of the
two places.

"It's no affair of mine, to be sure," he said, "but I rather suspect
that your agent was deceiving you--pretending to have accomplished
something by way of making you think he was busy."

Ste. Marie was so sure the other would immediately disclaim this that he
waited for the word, and gave a little smothered laugh when Captain
Stewart said, promptly:

"Oh no! No! That is impossible. I have every confidence in that man. He
is one of my best. No, you are mistaken there. I am more disappointed
than you could possibly be over the failure of your efforts, but I am
quite sure my man thought he had something worth working upon.
By-the-way, I have received another rather curious communication--from
Ostend this time. I will show you the letter, and you may try your luck
there if you would care to." He felt in his pockets and then rose. "I've
left the thing in another coat," said he; "if you will allow me, I'll
fetch it." But before he had turned away the door-bell rang and he
paused. "Ah, well," he said, "another time. Here are some of my guests.
They have come earlier than I had expected."

The new arrivals were three very perfectly dressed ladies, one of them
an operatic light, who chanced not to be singing that evening and whom
Ste. Marie had met before. The two others were rather difficult of
classification, but probably, he thought, ornaments of that mysterious
border-land between the two worlds which seems to give shelter to so
many people against whose characters nothing definite is known, but
whose antecedents and connections are not made topics of conversation.
The three ladies seemed to be on very friendly terms with Captain
Stewart, and greeted him with much noisy delight. One of the
unclassified two, when her host, with a glance toward Ste. Marie,
addressed her formally, seemed inordinately amused, and laughed for a
long time.

Within the next hour ten or a dozen other guests had arrived, and they
all seemed to know one another very well, and proceeded to make
themselves quite at home. Ste. Marie regarded them with a reflective and
not over-enthusiastic eye, and he wondered a good deal why he had been
asked here to meet them. He was as far from a prig or a snob as any man
could very well be, and he often went to very Bohemian parties which
were given by his painter or musician friends, but these people seemed
to him quite different. The men, with the exception of two eminent
opera-singers, who quite obviously had been asked because of their
voices, were the sort of men who abound at such places as Ostend and
Monte Carlo, and Baden-Baden in the race week. That is not to say that
they were ordinary racing touts or the cheaper kind of adventurers
(there was a count among them, and a marquis who had recently been
divorced by his American wife), but adventurers of a sort they
undoubtedly were. There was not one of them, so far as Ste. Marie was
aware, who was received anywhere in good society, and he resented very
much being compelled to meet them.

Naturally enough, he felt much less concern on the score of the ladies.
It is an undoubted and well-nigh universal truth that men who would
refuse outright to meet certain classes of their own sex show no
reluctance whatever over meeting the women of a corresponding
circle--that is, if the women are attractive. It is a depressing fact
and inclines one to sighs and head-shakes, and some moral indignation,
until the reverse truth is brought to light--namely, that women have
identically the same point of view; that, while they cast looks of
loathing and horror upon certain of their sisters, they will meet with
pleasure any presentable man whatever his crimes or vices.

Ste. Marie was very much puzzled over all this. It seemed to him so
unnecessary that a man who really had some footing in the newer society
of Paris should choose to surround himself with people of this type; but
as he looked on and wondered he became aware of a curious and, in the
light of a past conversation, significant fact: all of the people in the
room were young; all of them in their varying fashions and degrees very
attractive to look upon; all full to overflowing of life and spirits and
the determination to have a good time. He saw Captain Stewart moving
among them, playing very gracefully his rôle of host, and the man seemed
to have dropped twenty years from his shoulders. A miracle of
rejuvenation seemed to have come upon him: his eyes were bright and
eager, the color was high in his cheeks, and the dry, pedantic tone had
gone from his voice. Ste. Marie watched him, and at last he thought he
understood. It was half revolting, half pathetic, he thought, but it
certainly was interesting to see.

Duval, the great basso of the Opéra, accompanied at the piano by one of
the unclassified ladies, was just finishing Mephistopheles' drinking
song out of _Faust_ when the door-bell rang.

       *       *       *       *       *



XI

A GOLDEN LADY ENTERS--THE EYES AGAIN


The music of voice and piano was very loud just then, so that the
little, soft, whirring sound of the electric bell reached only one or
two pairs of ears in the big room. It did not reach the host certainly,
and neither he nor most of the others observed the servant make his way
among the groups of seated or standing people and go to the outer door,
which opened upon a tiny hallway. The song came to an end, and everybody
was cheering and applauding and crying "Bravo!" or "Bis!" or one of the
other things that people shout at such times, when, as if in unexpected
answer to the outburst, a lady appeared between the yellow portières and
came forward a little way into the room. She was a tall lady of an
extraordinary and immediately noticeable grace of movement--a lady with
rather fair hair; but her eyebrows and eyelashes had been stained darker
than it was their nature to be. She had the classic Greek type of
face--and figure, too--all but the eyes, which were long and
narrow--narrow, perhaps, from a habit of going half closed; and when
they were a little more than half closed they made a straight black line
that turned up very slightly at the outer end with an Oriental effect
which went oddly in that classic face. There is a popular piece of
sculpture now in the Luxembourg Gallery for which this lady "sat" as
model to a great artist. Sculptors from all over the world go there to
dream over its perfect line and contour, and little schoolgirls pretend
not to see it, and middle-aged maiden tourists, with red Baedekers in
their hands, regard it furtively and pass on, and after a while come
back to look again.

The lady was dressed in some very close-clinging material which was not
cloth of gold, but something very like it, only much duller--something
which gleamed when she stirred, but did not glitter--and over her
splendid shoulders was hung an Oriental scarf heavily worked with
metallic gold. She made an amazing and dramatic picture in that golden
room. It was as if she had known just what her surroundings would be and
had dressed expressly for them.

The applause ceased as suddenly as if it had been trained to break off
at a signal, and the lady came forward a little way, smiling a quiet,
assured smile. At each step her knee threw out the golden stuff of her
gown an inch or two, and it flashed suddenly--a dull, subdued flash in
the overhead light--and died and flashed again. A few of the people in
the room knew who the lady was, and they looked at one another with
raised eyebrows and startled faces; but the others stared at her with an
eager admiration, thinking that they had seldom seen anything so
beautiful or so effective. Ste. Marie sat forward on the edge of his
chair. His eyes sparkled, and he gave a little quick sigh of pleasurable
excitement. This was drama, and very good drama, too, and he suspected
that it might at any moment turn into a tragedy.

He saw Captain Stewart, who had been among a group of people half-way
across the room, turn his head to look when the cries and the applause
ceased so suddenly, and he saw the man's face stiffen by swift degrees,
all the joyous, buoyant life gone out of it, until it was yellow and
rigid like a dead man's face; and Ste. Marie, out of his knowledge of
the relations between these two people, nodded, en connaisseur, for he
knew that the man was very badly frightened.

So the host of the evening hung back, staring for what must have seemed
to him a long and terrible time, though in reality it was but an
instant; then he came forward quickly to greet the new-comer, and if his
face was still yellow-white there was nothing in his manner but the
courtesy habitual with him. He took the lady's hand, and she smiled at
him, but her eyes did not smile--they were hard. Ste. Marie, who was the
nearest of the others, heard Captain Stewart say:

"This is an unexpected pleasure, my dearest Olga!"

And to that the lady replied, more loudly: "Yes, I returned to Paris
only to-day. You didn't know, of course. I heard you were entertaining
this evening, and so I came, knowing that I should be welcome."

"Always!" said Captain Stewart--"always more than welcome!"

He nodded to one or two of the men who stood near, and when they
approached presented them. Ste. Marie observed that he used the lady's
true name--she had, at times, found occasion to employ others--and that
he politely called her "Madame Nilssen" instead of "Mademoiselle." But
at that moment the lady caught sight of Ste. Marie, and, crying out his
name in a tone of delighted astonishment, turned away from the other
men, brushing past them as if they had been furniture, and advanced
holding out both her hands in greeting.

"Dear Ste. Marie!" she exclaimed. "Fancy finding you here! I'm so glad!
Oh, I'm so very glad! Take me away from these people! Find a corner
where we can talk. Ah, there is one with a big seat! Allons-y!"

She addressed him for the most part in English, which she spoke
perfectly--as perfectly as she spoke French and German and, presumably,
her native tongue, which must have been Swedish.

They went to the broad, low seat, a sort of hard-cushioned bench, which
stood against one of the walls, and made themselves comfortable there by
the only possible means, which, owing to the width of the thing, was to
sit far back with their feet stuck straight out before them. Captain
Stewart had followed them across the room and showed a strong tendency
to remain. Ste. Marie observed that his eyes were hard and bright and
very alert, and that there were two bright spots of color in his yellow
cheeks. It occurred to Ste. Marie that the man was afraid to leave him
alone with Olga Nilssen, and he smiled to himself, reflecting that the
lady, even if indiscreetly inclined, could tell him nothing--save in
details--that he did not already know. But after a few rather awkward
moments Mile. Nilssen waved an irritated hand.

"Go away!" she said to her host. "Go away to your other guests! I want
to talk to Ste. Marie. We have old times to talk over."

And after hesitating awhile uneasily, Captain Stewart turned back into
the room; but for some time thereafter Ste. Marie was aware that a
vigilant eye was being kept upon them and that their host was by no
means at his ease.

When they were left alone together the girl turned to him and patted his
arm affectionately. She said:

"Ah, but it is very good to see you again, mon cher ami! It has been so
long!" She gave an abrupt frown. "What are you doing here?" she
demanded.

And she said an unkind thing about her fellow-guests. She called them
"canaille." She said:

"Why are you wasting your time among these canaille? This is not a place
for you. Why did you come?"

"I don't know," said Ste. Marie. He was still a little resentful, and he
said so. He said: "I didn't know it was going to be like this. I came
because Stewart went rather out of his way to ask me. I'd known him in a
very different milieu."

"Ah, yes!" she said, reflectively. "Yes, he does go into the world also,
doesn't he? But this is what he likes, you know." Her lips drew back for
an instant, and she said: "He is a pig-dog!"

Ste. Marie looked at her gravely. She had used that offensive name with
a little too much fierceness. Her face had turned for an instant quite
white, and her eyes had flashed out over the room a look that meant a
great deal to any one who knew her as well as Ste. Marie did. He sat
forward and lowered his voice. He said:

"Look here, Olga! I'm going to be very frank for a moment. May I?"

For just an instant the girl drew away from him with suspicion in her
eyes, and something else, alertly defiant. Then she put out her hands to
his arm.

"You may be what you like, dear Ste. Marie," she said, "and say what you
like. I will take it all--and swallow it alive--good as gold. What are
you going to do to me?"

"I've always been fair with you, haven't I?" he urged. "I've had
disagreeable things to say or do, but--you knew always that I liked you
and--where my sympathies were."

"Always! Always, mon cher!" she cried. "I trusted you always in
everything. And there is no one else I trust. No one! No one!--Ste.
Marie!"

"What then?" he asked.

"Ste. Marie," she said, "why did you never fall in love with me, as the
other men did?"

"I wonder!" said he. "I don't know. Upon my word, I really don't know."

He was so serious about it that the girl burst into a shriek of
laughter. And in the end he laughed, too.

"I expect it was because I liked you too well," he said, at last. "But
come! We're forgetting my lecture. Listen to your grandpère Ste. Marie!
I have heard--certain things--rumors--what you will. Perhaps they are
foolish lies, and I hope they are. But if not, if the fear I saw in
Stewart's face when you came here to-night, was--not without cause, let
me beg you to have a care. You're much too savage, my dear child. Don't
be so foolish as to--well, turn comedy into the other thing. In the
first place, it's not worth while, and, in the second place, it recoils
always. Revenge may be sweet. I don't know. But nowadays, with police
courts and all that, it entails much more subsequent annoyance than it
is worth. Be wise, Olga!"

"Some things, Ste. Marie," said the golden lady, "are worth all the
consequences that may follow them."

She watched Captain Stewart across the room, where he stood chatting
with a little group of people, and her beautiful face was as hard as
marble and her eyes were as dark as a stormy night, and her mouth, for
an instant, was almost like an animal's mouth--cruel and relentless.

Ste. Marie saw, and he began to be a bit alarmed in good earnest. In his
warning he had spoken rather more seriously than he felt the occasion
demanded, but he began at last to wonder if the occasion was not in
reality very serious, indeed. He was sure, of course, that Olga Nilssen
had come here on this evening to annoy Captain Stewart in some fashion.
As he put it to himself, she probably meant to "make a row," and he
would not have been in the least surprised if she had made it in the
beginning, upon her very dramatic entrance. Nothing more calamitous than
that had occurred to him. But when he saw the woman's face turned a
little away and gazing fixedly at Captain Stewart, he began to be aware
that there was tragedy very near him--or all the makings of it.

Mlle. Nilssen turned back to him. Her face was still hard, and her eyes
dark and narrowed with their oddly Oriental look. She bent her shoulders
together for an instant and her hands moved slowly in her lap,
stretching out before her in a gesture very like a cat's when it wakes
from sleep and yawns and extends its claws, as if to make sure that they
are still there and ready for use.

"I feel a little like Samson to-night," she said. "I am tired of almost
everything, and I should like very much to pull the world down on top of
me and kill everybody in it--except you, Ste. Marie, dear; except
you!--and be crushed under the ruins!"

"I think," said Ste. Marie, practically--and the speech sounded rather
like one of Hartley's speeches--"I think it was not quite the world that
Samson pulled down, but a temple--or a palace--something of that kind."

"Well," said the golden lady, "this place is rather like a temple--a
Chinese temple, with the pig-dog for high-priest."

Ste. Marie frowned at her.

"What are you going to do?" he demanded, sharply. "What did you come
here to do? Mischief of some kind--bien entendu--but what?"

"Do?" she said, looking at him with her narrowed eyes. "I? Why, what
should I do? Nothing, of course! I merely said I should like to pull the
place down. Of course, I couldn't do that quite literally, now, could I?
No. It is merely a mood. I'm not going to do anything."

"You're not being honest with me," he said.

And at that her expression changed, and she patted his arm again with a
gesture that seemed to beg forgiveness.

"Well, then," she said, "if you must know, maybe I did come here for a
purpose. I want to have it out with our friend Captain Stewart about
something. And Ste. Marie, dear," she pleaded, "please, I think you'd
better go home first. I don't care about these other animals, but I
don't want you dragged into any row of any sort. Please be a sweet Ste.
Marie and go home. Yes?"

"Absolutely, no!" said Ste. Marie. "I shall stay, and I shall try my
utmost to prevent you from doing anything foolish. Understand that! If
you want to have rows with people, Olga, for Heaven's sake don't pick an
occasion like this for the purpose. Have your rows in private!"

"I rather think I enjoy an audience," she said, with a reflective air,
and Ste. Marie laughed aloud because he knew that the naïve speech was
so very true. This lady, with her many good qualities and her bad
ones--not a few, alas!--had an undeniable passion for red fire that had
amused him very much on more than one past occasion.

"Please go home!" she said once more.

But when the man only shook his head, she raised her hands a little way
and dropped them again in her lap, in an odd gesture which seemed to say
that she had done all she could do, and that if anything disagreeable
should happen now, and he should be involved in it, it would be entirely
his fault because she had warned him.

Then quite abruptly a mood of irresponsible gayety seemed to come upon
her. She refused to have anything more to do with serious topics, and
when Ste. Marie attempted to introduce them she laughed in his face. As
she had said in the beginning she wished to do, she harked back to old
days (the earlier stages of what might be termed the Morrison régime),
and it seemed to afford her great delight to recall the happenings of
that epoch. The conversation became a dialogue of reminiscence which
would have been entirely unintelligible to a third person, and was,
indeed, so to Captain Stewart, who once came across the room, made a
feeble effort to attach himself, and presently wandered away again.

They unearthed from the past an exceedingly foolish song all about one
"Little Willie" and a purple monkey climbing up a yellow stick. It was
set to a well-known air from _Don Giovanni_, and when Duval, the basso,
heard them singing it he came up and insisted upon knowing what it was
about. He laughed immoderately over the English words when he was told
what they meant, and made Ste. Marie write them down for him on two
visiting-cards. So they made a trio out of "Little Willie," the great
Duval inventing a bass part quite marvellous in its ingenuity, and they
were compelled to sing it over and over again, until Ste. Marie's
falsetto imitation of a tenor voice cracked and gave out altogether,
since he was by nature barytone, if anything at all.

The other guests had crowded round to hear the extraordinary song, and
when the song was at last finished several of them remained, so that
Ste. Marie saw he was to be allowed an uninterrupted tête-à-tête with
Olga Nilssen no longer. He therefore drifted away, after a few moments,
and went with Duval and one of the other men across the room to look at
some small jade objects--snuff-bottles, bracelets, buckles, and the
like--which were displayed in a cabinet cleverly reconstructed out of a
Japanese shrine. It was perhaps ten minutes later when he looked round
the place and discovered that neither Mlle. Nilssen nor Captain Stewart
was to be seen.

His first thought was of relief, for he said to himself that the two had
sensibly gone into one of the other rooms to "have it out" in peace and
quiet. But following that came the recollection of the woman's face when
she had watched her host across the room. Her words came back to him: "I
feel a little like Samson to-night.... I should like very much to pull
the world down on top of me and kill everybody in it!" Ste. Marie
thought of these things, and he began to be uncomfortable. He found
himself watching the yellow-hung doorway beyond, with its intricate
Chinese carving of trees and rocks and little groups of immortals, and
he found that unconsciously he was listening for something--he did not
know what--above the chatter and laughter of the people in the room. He
endured this for possibly five minutes, and all at once found that he
could endure it no longer. He began to make his way quietly through the
groups of people toward the curtained doorway.

As he went, one of the women near by complained in a loud tone that the
servant had disappeared. She wanted, it seemed, a glass of water, having
already had many glasses of more interesting things. Ste. Marie said he
would get it for her, and went on his way. He had an excuse now.

He found himself in a square, dimly lighted room much smaller than the
other. There was a round table in the centre, so he thought it must be
Stewart's dining-room. At the left a doorway opened into a place where
there were lights, and at the other side was another door closed. From
the room at the left there came a sound of voices, and though they were
not loud, one of them, Mlle. Olga Nilssen's voice, was hard and angry
and not altogether under control. The man would seem to have been
attempting to pacify her, and he would seem not to have been very
successful.

The first words that Ste. Marie was able to distinguish were from the
woman. She said, in a low, fierce tone:

"That is a lie, my friend! That is a lie! I know all about the road to
Clamart, so you needn't lie to me any longer. It's no good."

She paused for just an instant there, and in the pause St. Marie heard
Stewart give a sort of inarticulate exclamation. It seemed to express
anger and it seemed also to express fear. But the woman swept on, and
her voice began to be louder. She said:

"I've given you your chance. You didn't deserve it, but I've given it
you--and you've told me nothing but lies. Well, you'll lie no more. This
ends it."

Upon that Ste. Marie heard a sudden stumbling shuffle of feet and a low,
hoarse cry of utter terror--a cry more animal-like than human. He heard
the cry break off abruptly in something that was like a cough and a
whine together, and he heard the sound of a heavy body falling with a
loose rattle upon the floor.

With the sound of that falling body he had already reached the doorway
and torn aside the heavy portière. It was a sleeping-room he looked
into, a room of medium size with two windows and an ornate bed of the
Empire style set sidewise against the farther wall. There were electric
lights upon imitation candles which were grouped in sconces against the
wall, and these were turned on, so that the room was brightly
illuminated. Midway between the door and the ornate Empire bed Captain
Stewart lay huddled and writhing upon the floor, and Olga Nilssen stood
upright beside him, gazing down upon him quite calmly. In her right
hand, which hung at her side, she held a little flat black automatic
pistol of the type known as Brownings--and they look like toys, but they
are not.

Ste. Marie sprang at her silently and caught her by the arm, twisting
the automatic pistol from her grasp, and the woman made no effort
whatever to resist him. She looked into his face quite frankly and
unmoved, and she shook her head.

"I haven't harmed him," she said. "I was going to, yes--and then
myself--but he didn't give me a chance. He fell down in a fit." She
nodded down toward the man who lay writhing at their feet. "I frightened
him," she said, "and he fell in a fit. He's an epileptic, you know.
Didn't you know that? Oh yes."

Abruptly she turned away shivering, and put up her hands over her face.
And she gave an exclamation of uncontrollable repulsion.

"Ugh!" she cried, "it's horrible! Horrible! I can't bear to look. I saw
him in a fit once before--long ago--and I couldn't bear even to speak to
him for a month. I thought he had been cured. He said--Ah, it's
horrible!"

Ste. Marie had dropped upon his knees beside the fallen man, and Mlle.
Nilssen said, over her shoulder:

"Hold his head up from the floor, if you can bear to. He might hurt it."

It was not an easy thing to do, for Ste. Marie had the natural sense of
repulsion in such matters that most people have, and this man's
appearance, as Olga Nilssen had said, was horrible. The face was drawn
hideously, and in the strong, clear light of the electrics it was a
deathly yellow. The eyes were half closed, and the eyeballs turned up so
that only the whites of them showed between the lids. There was froth
upon the distorted mouth, and it clung to the catlike mustache and to
the shallow, sunken chin beneath. But Ste. Marie exerted all his will
power, and took the jerking, trembling head in his hands, holding it
clear of the floor.

"You'd better call the servant," he said. "There may be something that
can be done."

But the woman answered, without looking:

"No, there's nothing that can be done, I believe, except to keep him
from bruising himself. Stimulants--that sort of thing--do more harm than
good. Could you get him on the bed here?"

"Together we might manage it," said Ste. Marie. "Come and help!"

"I can't!" she cried, nervously. "I can't--touch him. Please, I can't do
it."

"Come!" said the man, in a sharp tone. "It's no time for nerves. I don't
like it, either, but it's got to be done."

The woman began a half-hysterical sobbing, but after a moment she turned
and came with slow feet to where Stewart lay.

Ste. Marie slipped his arms under the man's body and began to raise him
from the floor.

"You needn't help, after all," he said. "He's not heavy."

And, indeed, under his skilfully shaped and padded clothes the man was a
mere waif of a man--as unbelievably slight as if he were the victim of a
wasting disease. Ste. Marie held the body in his arms as if it had been
a child, and carried it across and laid it on the bed; but it was many
months before he forgot the horror of that awful thing shaking and
twitching in his hold, the head thumping hideously upon his shoulder,
the arms and legs beating against him. It was the most difficult task he
had ever had to perform. He laid Captain Stewart upon the bed and
straightened the helpless limbs as best he could.

"I suppose," he said, rising again--"I suppose when the man comes out of
this he'll be frightfully exhausted and drop off to sleep, won't he?
We'll have to--"

He halted abruptly there, and for a single swift instant he felt the
black and rushing sensation of one who is going to faint away. The wall
behind the ornate Empire bed was covered with photographs, some in
frames, others left, as they had been received, upon the large squares
of weird cardboard which are termed "art mounts."

"Come here a moment, quickly!" said Ste. Marie, in a sharp voice.

Mlle. Nilssen's sobs had died down to a silent, spasmodic catching of
the breath, but she was still much unnerved, and she approached the bed
with obvious unwillingness, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
Ste. Marie pointed to an unframed photograph which was fastened to the
wall by thumb-tacks, and his outstretched hand shook as he pointed.
Beneath them the other man still writhed and tumbled in his epileptic
fit.

"Do you know who that woman is?" demanded Ste. Marie, and his tone was
such that Olga Nilssen turned slowly and stared at him.

"That woman," said she, "is the reason why I wished to pull the world
down upon Charlie Stewart and me to-night. That's who she is."

Ste. Marie gave a sort of cry.

"Who is she?" he insisted. "What is her name? I--have a particularly
important reason for wanting to know. I've got to know."

Mlle. Nilssen shook her head, still staring at him.

"I can't tell you that," said she. "I don't know the name. I only know
that--when he met her, he--I don't know her name, but I know where she
lives and where he goes every day to see her--a house with a big garden
and walled park on the road to Clamart. It's on the edge of the wood,
not far from Fort d'Issy. The Clamart-Vanves-Issy tram runs past the
wall of one side of the park. That's all I know."

Ste. Marie clasped his head with his hands.

"So near to it!" he groaned, "and yet--Ah!" He bent forward suddenly
over the bed and spelled out the name of the photographer which was
pencilled upon the brown cardboard mount. "There's still a chance," he
said, "There's still one chance."

He became aware that the woman was watching him curiously, and nodded to
her.

"It's something you don't know about," he explained. "I've got to find
out who this--girl is. Perhaps the photographer can help me. I used to
know him." All at once his eyes sharpened. "Tell me the simple truth
about something!" said he. "If ever we have been friends, if you owe me
any good office, tell me this: Do you know anything about young Arthur
Benham's disappearance two months ago, or about what has become of him?"

Again the woman shook her head.

"No," said she. "Nothing at all. I hadn't even heard of it. Young Arthur
Benham! I've met him once or twice. I wonder--I wonder Stewart never
spoke to me about his disappearance! That's very odd."

"Yes," said Ste. Marie, absently, "it is." He gave a little sigh. "I
wonder about a good many things," said he.

He glanced down upon the bed before them, and Captain Stewart lay still,
save for a slight twitching of the hands. Once he moved his head
restlessly from side to side and said something incoherent in a weak
murmur.

"He's out of it," said Olga Nilssen. "He'll sleep now, I think. I
suppose we must get rid of those people and then leave him to the care
of his man. A doctor couldn't do anything for him."

"Yes," said Ste. Marie, nodding, "I'll call the servant and tell the
people that Stewart has been taken ill."

He looked once more toward the photograph on the wall, and under his
breath he said, with an odd, defiant fierceness: "I won't believe it!"
But he did not explain what he wouldn't believe. He started out of the
room, but, half-way, halted and turned back. He looked Olga Nilssen full
in the eyes, saying:

"It is safe to leave you here with him while I call the servant?
There'll be no more--?"

But the woman gave a low cry and a violent shiver with it.

"You need have no fear," she said. "I've no desire now to--harm him.
The--reason is gone. This has cured me. I feel as if I could never bear
to see him again. Oh, hurry! Please hurry! I want to get away from
here!"

Ste. Marie nodded, and went out of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *



XII

THE NAME OF THE LADY WITH THE EYES--EVIDENCE HEAPS UP SWIFTLY


Ste. Marie drove home to the rue d'Assas with his head in a whirl, and
with a sense of great excitement beating somewhere within him--probably
in the place where his heart ought to be. He had a curiously sure
feeling that at last his feet were upon the right path. He could not
have explained this to himself--indeed, there was nothing to explain,
and if there had been he was in far too great an inner turmoil to manage
it. It was a mere feeling--the sort of thing which he had once tried to
express to Captain Stewart and had got laughed at for his pains.

There was, in sober fact, no reason whatever why Captain Stewart's
possession of a photograph of the beautiful lady whom Ste. Marie had
once seen in company with O'Hara should be taken as significant of
anything except an appreciation of beauty on the part of Miss Benham's
uncle--not even if, as Mlle. Nilssen believed, Captain Stewart was in
love with the lady. But to Ste. Marie, in his whirl of reawakened
excitement, the discovery loomed to the skies, and in a series of
ingenious but very vague leaps of the imagination he saw himself, with
the aid of this new evidence (which was no evidence at all, if he had
been calm enough to realize it), victorious in his great quest: leading
young Arthur Benham back to the arms of an ecstatic family, and kneeling
at the feet of that youth's sister to claim his reward. All of which
seems a rather startling flight of the imagination to have had its
beginning in the sight of one photograph of a young woman. But, then,
Ste. Marie was imaginative if he was anything.

He fell to thinking of this girl whose eyes, after one sight of them,
had so long haunted him. He thought of her between those two men, the
hard-faced Irish adventurer, and the other, Stewart, strange compound of
intellectual and voluptuary, and his eyes flashed in the dark and he
gripped his hands together upon his knees. He said again:

"I won't believe it! I won't believe it!" Believe what? one wonders.

He slept hardly at all: only, toward morning, falling into an uneasy
doze. And in the doze he dreamed once more the dream of the dim, waste
place and the hill, and the eyes and voice that called him back--because
they needed him.

As early as he dared, after his morning coffee, he took a fiacre and
drove across the river to the Boulevard de la Madeleine, where he
climbed a certain stair, at the foot of which were two glass cases
containing photographs of, for the most part, well-known ladies of the
Parisian stage. At the top of the stair he entered the reception-room of
a young photographer who is famous now the world over, but who, at the
beginning of his career, when he had nothing but talent and no
acquaintance, owed certain of his most important commissions to M. Ste.
Marie.

The man, whose name was Bernstein, came forward eagerly from the studio
beyond to greet his visitor, and Ste. Marie complimented him chaffingly
upon his very sleek and prosperous appearance, and upon the new
decorations of the little salon, which were, in truth, excellently well
judged. But after they had talked for a little while of such matters, he
said:

"I want to know if you keep specimen prints of all the photographs you
have made within the past few months, and, if so, I should like to see
them."

The young Jew went to a wooden portfolio-holder which stood in a corner,
and dragged it out into the light.

"I have them all here," said he--"everything that I have made within the
past ten or twelve months. If you will let me draw up a chair you can
look them over comfortably."

He glanced at his former patron with a little polite curiosity as Ste.
Marie followed his suggestion, and began to turn over the big
portfolio's contents; but he did not show any surprise nor ask
questions. Indeed, he guessed, to a certain extent, rather near the
truth of the matter. It had happened before that young gentlemen--and
old ones, too--wanted to look over his prints without offering
explanations, and they generally picked out all the photographs there
were of some particular lady and bought them if they could be bought.

So he was by no means astonished on this occasion, and he moved about
the room putting things to rights, and even went for a few moments into
the studio beyond until he was recalled by a sudden exclamation from his
visitor--an exclamation which had a sound of mingled delight and
excitement.

Ste. Marie held in his hands a large photograph, and he turned it toward
the man who had made it.

"I am going to ask you some questions," said he, "that will sound rather
indiscreet and irregular, but I beg you to answer them if you can,
because the matter is of great importance to a number of people. Do you
remember this lady?"

"Oh yes," said the Jew, readily, "I remember her very well. I never
forget people who are as beautiful as this lady was." His eyes gleamed
with retrospective joy. "She was splendid!" he declared. "Sumptuous! No,
I cannot describe her. I have not the words. And I could not photograph
her with any justice, either. She was all color: brown skin, with a
dull-red stain under the cheeks, and a great mass of hair that was not
black but very nearly black--except in the sun, and then there were red
lights in it. She was a goddess, that lady, a queen of goddesses-- the
young Juno before marriage--the--"

"Yes," interrupted Ste. Marie--"yes, I see. Yes, quite evidently she was
beautiful; but what I wanted in particular to know was her name, if you
feel that you have a right to give it to me (I remind you again that the
matter is very important), and any circumstances that you can remember
about her coming here: who came with her, for instance and things of
that sort."

The photographer looked a little disappointed at being cut off in the
middle of his rhapsody, but he began turning over the leaves of an
order-book which lay upon a table near by.

"Here is the entry," he said, after a few moments. "Yes, I thought so,
the date was nearly three months ago--April 5th. And the lady's name was
Mlle. Coira O'Hara."

"What!" cried the other man, sharply. "What did you say?"

"Mlle. Coira O'Hara was the name," repeated the photographer. "I
remember the occasion perfectly. The lady came here with three
gentlemen--one tall, thin gentleman with an eyeglass, an Englishman, I
think, though he spoke very excellent French when he spoke to me. Among
themselves they spoke, I think, English, though I do not understand it,
except a few words, such as ''ow moch?' and 'sank you' and 'rady,
pleas', now.'"

"Yes! yes!" cried Ste. Marie, impatiently. And the little Jew could see
that he was laboring under some very strong excitement, and he wondered
mildly about it, scenting a love-affair.

"Then," he pursued, "there was a very young man in strange clothes--a
tourist, I should think, like those Americans and English who come in
the summer with little red books and sit on the terrace of the Café de
la Paix." He heard his visitor draw a swift, sharp breath at that, but
he hurried on before he could be interrupted. "This young man seemed to
be unable to take his eyes from the lady--and small wonder! He was very
much épris--very much épris, indeed. Never have I seen a youth more so.
Ah, it was something to see, that--a thing to touch the heart!"

"What did the young man look like?" demanded Ste. Marie.

The photographer described the youth as best he could from memory, and
he saw his visitor nod once or twice, and at the end he said:

"Yes, yes; I thought so. Thank you."

The Jew did not know what it was the other thought, but he went on:

"Ah, a thing to touch the heart! Such devotion as that! Alas, that the
lady should seem so cold to it! Still, a goddess! What would you? A
queen among goddesses. One would not have them laugh and make little
jokes--make eyes at love-sick boys. No, indeed!" He shook his head
rapidly and sighed.

M. Ste. Marie was silent for a little space, but at length he looked up
as if he had just remembered something.

"And the third man?" he asked.

"Ah, yes, the third gentleman," said Bernstein. "I had forgotten him.
The third gentleman I knew well. He had often been here. It was he who
brought these friends to me. He was M. le Capitaine Stewart. Everybody
knows M. le Capitaine Stewart--everybody in Paris."

Again he observed that his visitor drew a little, swift, sharp breath,
and that he seemed to be laboring under some excitement.

However, Ste. Marie did not question him further, and so he went on to
tell the little more he knew of the matter--how the four people had
remained for an hour or more, trying many poses; how they had returned,
all but the tall gentleman, three days later to see the proofs and to
order certain ones to be printed (the young man paying on the spot in
advance), and how the finished prints had been sent to M. le Capitaine
Stewart's address.

When he had finished, his visitor sat for a long time silent, his head
bent a little, frowning upon the floor and chafing his hands together
over his knees. But at last he rose rather abruptly. He said:

"Thank you very much, indeed. You have done me a great service. If ever
I can repay it, command me. Thank you!"

The Jew protested, smiling, that he was still too deeply in debt to M.
Ste. Marie, and so, politely wrangling, they reached the door, and with
a last expression of gratitude the visitor departed down the stair. A
client came in just then for a sitting, and so the little photographer
did not have an opportunity to wonder over the rather odd affair as much
as he might have done. Indeed, in the press of work, it slipped from his
mind altogether.

But down in the busy boulevard Ste. Marie stood hesitating on the curb.
There were so many things to be done, in the light of these new
developments, that he did not know what to do first.

"Mlle. Coira O'Hara!--_Mademoiselle!_" The thought gave him a sudden
sting of inexplicable relief and pleasure. She would be O'Hara's
daughter, then. And the boy, Arthur Benham (there was no room for doubt
in the photographer's description) had seemed to be badly in love with
her. This was a new development, indeed! It wanted thought, reflection,
consultation with Richard Hartley. He signalled to a fiacre, and when it
had drawn up before him sprang into it and gave Richard Hartley's
address in the Avenue de l'Observatoire. But when they had gone a little
way he changed his mind and gave another address, one in the Boulevard
de la Tour Maubourg. It was where Mlle. Olga Nilssen lived. She had told
him when he parted from her the evening before.

On the way he fell to thinking of what he had learned from the little
photographer Bernstein, to setting the facts, as well as he could, in
order, endeavoring to make out just how much or how little they
signified by themselves or added to what he had known before. But he was
in far too keen a state of excitement to review them at all calmly. As
on the previous evening, they seemed to him to loom to the skies, and
again he saw himself successful in his quest--victorious--triumphant.
That this leap to conclusions was but a little less absurd than the
first did not occur to him. He was in a fine fever of enthusiasm, and
such difficulties as his eye perceived lay in a sort of vague mist to be
dissipated later on, when he should sit quietly down with Hartley and
sift the wheat from the chaff, laying out a definite scheme of action.

It occurred to him that in his interview with the photographer he had
forgotten one point, and he determined to go back, later on, and ask
about it. He had forgotten to inquire as to Captain Stewart's attitude
toward the beautiful lady. Young Arthur Benham's infatuation had filled
his mind at the time, and had driven out of it what Olga Nilssen had
told him about Stewart. He found himself wondering if this point might
not be one of great importance--the rivalry of the two men for O'Hara's
daughter. Assuredly that demanded thought and investigation.

He found the prettily furnished apartment in the Avenue de la Tour
Maubourg a scene of great disorder, presided over by a maid who seemed
to be packing enormous quantities of garments into large trunks. The
maid told him that her mistress, after a sleepless night, had departed
from Paris by an early train, quite alone, leaving the servant to follow
on when she had telegraphed or written an address. No, Mlle. Nilssen had
left no address at all--not even for letters or telegrams. In short, the
entire proceeding was, so the exasperated woman viewed it, everything
that is imbecile.

Ste. Marie sat down on a hamper with his stick between his knees, and
wrote a little note to be sent on when Mlle. Nilssen's whereabouts
should be known. It was unfortunate, he reflected, that she should have
fled away just now, but not of great importance to him, because he did
not believe that he could learn very much more from her than he had
learned already. Moreover, he sympathized with her desire to get away
from Paris--as far away as possible from the man whom she had seen in so
horrible a state on the evening past.

He had kept the fiacre at the door, and he drove at once back to the rue
d'Assas. As he started to mount the stair the concierge came out of her
loge to say that Mr. Hartley had called soon after Monsieur had left the
house that morning, had seemed very much disappointed on not finding
Monsieur, and before going away again had had himself let into
Monsieur's apartment with the key of the femme de ménage, and had
written a note which Monsieur would find là haut.

Ste. Marie thanked the woman, and went on up to his rooms, wondering why
Hartley had bothered to leave a note instead of waiting or returning at
lunch-time, as he usually did. He found the communication on his table
and read it at once. Hartley said:

I have to go across the river to the Bristol to see some relatives who
are turning up there to-day, and who will probably keep me until
evening, and then I shall have to go back there to dine. So I'm leaving
a word for you about some things I discovered last evening. I met Miss
Benham at Armenonville, where I dined, and in a tête-à-tête conversation
we had after dinner she let fall two facts which seem to me very
important. They concern Captain S. In the first place, when he told us
that day, some time ago, that he knew nothing about his father's will or
any changes that might have been made in it, he lied. It seems that old
David, shortly after the boy's disappearance, being very angry at what
he considered, and still considers, a bit of spite on the boy's part,
cut young Arthur Benham out of his will and transferred that share to
_Captain S._ (Miss Benham learned this from the old man only yesterday).
Also it appears that he did this after talking the matter over with
Captain S., who affected unwillingness. So, as the will reads now, Miss
B. and Captain S. stand to share equally the bulk of the old man's
money, which is several millions--in dollars, of course. Miss B.'s
mother is to have the interest of half of both shares as long as she
lives. Now mark this: Prior to this new arrangement, Captain S. was to
receive only a small legacy, on the ground that he already had a
respectable fortune left him by his mother, old David's first wife (I've
heard, by-the-way, that he has squandered a good share of this.)

Miss B. is, of course, much cut up over the injustice to the boy, but
she can't protest too much, as it only excites old David. She says the
old man is much weaker.

You see, of course, the significance of all this. If David Stewart dies,
as he's likely to do, before young Arthur's return, Captain S. gets the
money.

The second fact I learned was that Miss Benham did not tell her uncle
about her semi-engagement to you or about your volunteering to search
for the boy. She thinks her grandfather must have told him. I didn't say
so to her, but that is hardly possible in view of the fact that Stewart
came on here to your rooms very soon after you had reached them
yourself.

So that makes two lies for our gentle friend--and serious lies, both of
them. To my mind, they point unmistakably to a certain conclusion.
_Captain S. has been responsible for putting his nephew out of the way_.
He has either hidden him somewhere and is keeping him in confinement, or
he has killed him.

I wish we could talk it over to-day, but, as you see, I'm helpless.
Remain in to-night, and I'll come as soon as I can get rid of these
confounded people of mine.

One word more. Be careful! Miss B. is, up to this point, merely puzzled
over things. She doesn't suspect her uncle of any crookedness, I'm sure.
So we shall have to tread softly where she is concerned.

I shall see you to-night. R.H.

Ste. Marie read the closely written pages through twice, and he thought
how like his friend it was to take the time and trouble to put what he
had learned into this clear, concise form. Another man would have
scribbled, "Important facts--tell you all about it to-night," or
something of that kind. Hartley must have spent a quarter of an hour
over his writing.

Ste. Marie walked up and down the room with all his strength forcing his
brain to quiet, reasonable action. Once he said, aloud:

"Yes, you're right, of course. Stewart has been at the bottom of it all
along." He realized that he had been for some days slowly arriving at
that conclusion, and that since the night before he had been practically
certain of it, though he had not yet found time to put his suspicions
into logical order. Hartley's letter had driven the truth concretely
home to him, but he would have reached the same truth without it--though
that matter of the will was of the greatest importance. It gave him a
strong weapon to strike with.

He halted before one of the front windows, and his eyes gazed unseeing
across the street into the green shrubbery of the Luxembourg Gardens.
The lace curtains had been left by the femme de ménage hanging straight
down, and not, as usual, looped back to either side, so he could see
through them with perfect ease, although he could not be seen from
outside.

He became aware that a man who was walking slowly up and down a path
inside the high iron palings was in some way familiar to him, and his
eyes sharpened. The man was inconspicuously dressed, and looked like
almost any other man whom one might pass in the streets without taking
any notice of him; but Ste. Marie knew that he had seen him often, and
he wondered how and where. There was a row of lilac shrubs against the
iron palings just inside and between the palings and the path, but two
of the shrubs were dead and leafless, and each time the man passed this
spot he came into plain view; each time, also, he directed an oblique
glance toward the house opposite. Presently he turned aside and sat down
upon one of the public benches, where he was almost, but not quite,
hidden by the intervening foliage.

Then at last Ste. Marie gave a sudden exclamation and smote his hands
together.

"The fellow's a spy!" he cried, aloud. "He's watching the house to see
when I go out." He began to remember how he had seen the man in the
street and in cafés and restaurants, and he remembered that he had once
or twice thought it odd, but without any second thought of suspicion. So
the fellow had been set to spy upon him, watch his goings and comings
and report them to--no need of asking to whom.

Ste. Marie stood behind his curtains and looked across into the pleasant
expanse of shrubbery and greensward. He was wondering if it would be
worth while to do anything. Men and women went up and down the path,
hurrying or slowly, at ease with the world--laborers, students, bonnes
with market-baskets in their hands and long bread loaves under their
arms, nurse-maids herding small children, bigger children spinning
diabolo spools as they walked. A man with a pointed black beard and a
soft hat passed once and returned to seat himself upon the public bench
that Ste. Marie was watching. For some minutes he sat there idle,
holding the soft felt hat upon his knees for coolness. Then he turned
and looked at the other occupant of the bench, and Ste. Marie thought he
saw the other man nod, though he could not be sure whether either one
spoke or not. Presently the new-comer rose, put on the soft hat again,
and disappeared down the path going toward the gate at the head of the
rue du Luxembourg.

Five minutes later the door-bell rang.

       *       *       *       *       *



XIII

THE VOYAGE TO COLCHIS


Ste. Marie turned away from the window and crossed to the door. The man
with the pointed beard removed his soft hat, bowed very politely, and
asked if he had the honor to address M. Ste. Marie.

"That is my name," said Ste. Marie. "Entrez, Monsieur!" He waved his
visitor to a chair and stood waiting.

The man with the beard bowed once more. He said:

"I have not the great honor of Monsieur's acquaintance, but
circumstances, which I will explain later, have put it in my power--have
made it a sacred duty, if I may be permitted to say the word--to place
in Monsieur's hands a piece of information."

Ste. Marie smiled slightly and sat down. He said:

"I listen with pleasure--and anticipation. Pray go on!"

"I have information," said the visitor, "of the whereabouts of M. Arthur
Benham."

Ste. Marie waved his hand.

"I feared as much," said he. "I mean to say, I hoped so. Proceed,
Monsieur!"

"And learning," continued the other, "that M. Ste. Marie was conducting
a search for that young gentleman, I hastened at once to place this
information in his hands."

"At a price," suggested his host. "At a price, to be sure."

The man with the beard spread out his hands in a beautiful and eloquent
gesture which well accompanied his Marseillais accent.

"Ah, as to that!" he protested. "My circumstances--I am poor, Monsieur.
One must gain the livelihood. What would you? A trifle. The merest
trifle."

"Where is Arthur Benham?" asked Ste. Marie.

"In Marseilles, Monsieur. I saw him a week ago--six days. And, so far as
I could learn, he had no intention of leaving there immediately--though
it is, to be sure, hot."

Ste. Marie laughed a laugh of genuine amusement, and the man with the
pointed beard stared at him with some wonder. Ste. Marie rose and
crossed the room to a writing-desk which stood against the opposite
wall. He fumbled in a drawer of this, and returned holding in his hand a
pink-and-blue note of the Banque de France. He said:

"Monsieur--pardon! I have forgotten to ask the name--you have remarked
quite truly that one must gain a livelihood. Therefore, I do not presume
to criticise the way in which you gain yours. Sometimes one cannot
choose. However, I should like to make a little bargain with you,
Monsieur. I know, of course, being not altogether imbecile, who sent you
here with this story and why you were sent--why, also, your friend who
sits upon the bench in the garden across the street follows me about and
spies upon me. I know all this, and I laugh at it a little. But,
Monsieur, to amuse myself further, I have a desire to hear from your own
lips the name of the gentleman who is your employer. Amusement is almost
always expensive, and so I am prepared to pay for this. I have here a
note of one hundred francs. It is yours in return for the name--the
_right_ name. Remember, I know it already."

The man with the pointed beard sprang to his feet quivering with
righteous indignation. All Southern Frenchmen, like all other Latins,
are magnificent actors. He shook one clinched hand in the air, his face
was pale, and his fine eyes glittered. Richard Hartley would have put
himself promptly in an attitude of defence, but Ste. Marie nodded a
smiling head in appreciation. He was half a Southern Frenchman himself.

"Monsieur!" cried his visitor, in a choked voice, "Monsieur, have a
care! You insult me! Have a care, Monsieur! I am dangerous! My anger,
when roused, is terrible!"

"I am cowed," observed Ste. Marie, lighting a cigarette. "I quail."

"Never," declaimed the gentleman from Marseilles, "have I received an
insult without returning blow for blow! My blood boils!"

"The hundred francs, Monsieur," said Ste. Marie, "will doubtless cool
it. Besides, we stray from our sheep. Reflect, my friend! I have not
insulted you. I have asked you a simple question. To be sure, I have
said that I knew your errand here was not--not altogether sincere, but I
protest, Monsieur, that no blame attaches to yourself. The blame is your
employer's. You have performed your mission with the greatest of
honesty--the most delicate and faithful sense of honor. That is
understood."

The gentleman with the beard strode across to one of the windows and
leaned his head upon his hand. His shoulders still heaved with emotion,
but he no longer trembled. The terrible crisis bade fair to pass. Then,
abruptly, in the frank and open Latin way, he burst into tears, and wept
with copious profusion, while Ste. Marie smoked his cigarette and
waited.

When at length the Marseillais turned back into the room he was calm
once more, but there remained traces of storm and flood. He made a
gesture of indescribable and pathetic resignation.

"Monsieur," he exclaimed, "you have a heart of gold--of gold, Monsieur!
You understand. Behold us, two men of honor! Monsieur," he said, "I had
no choice. I was poor. I saw myself face to face with the misère. What
would you? I fell. We are all weak flesh. I accepted the commission of
the pig who sent me here to you."

Ste. Marie smoothed the pink-and-blue bank-note in his hands, and the
other man's eye clung to it as though he were starving and the bank-note
was food.

"The name?" prompted Ste. Marie.

The gentleman from Marseilles tossed up his hands.

"Monsieur already knows it. Why should I hesitate? The name is Ducrot."

"What!" cried Ste. Marie, sharply. "What is that? Ducrot?"

"But naturally!" said the other man, with some wonder. "Monsieur said he
knew. Certainly, Ducrot. A little, withered man, bald on the top of the
head, creases down the cheeks, a mustache like this"--he made a
descriptive gesture--"a little chin. A man like an elderly cat. M.
Ducrot."

Ste. Marie gave a sigh of relief.

"Yes, yes," said he. "Ducrot is as good a name as another. The gentleman
has more than one, it appears. Monsieur, the hundred-franc note is
yours."

The gentleman from Marseilles took it with a slightly trembling hand,
and began to bow himself toward the door as if he feared that his host
would experience a change of heart; but Ste. Marie checked him, saying:

"One moment. I was thinking," said he, "that you would perhaps not care
to present yourself to your--employer, M. Ducrot, immediately--not for a
few days, at least, in view of the fact that certain actions of mine
will show him your mission has--well, miscarried. It would, perhaps, be
well for you not to communicate with M. Ducrot. He might be displeased
with you."

"Monsieur," said the gentleman with the beard, "you speak with acumen
and wisdom. I shall neglect to report myself to M. Ducrot, who, I
repeat, is a pig."

"And," pursued Ste. Marie, "the individual on the bench across the
street?"

"It is not necessary that I meet that individual, either!" said the
Marseillais, hastily. "Monsieur, I bid you adieu!" He bowed again, a
profound, a scraping bow, and disappeared through the door.

Ste. Marie crossed to the window and looked down upon the pavement
below. He saw his late visitor emerge from the house and slip rapidly
down the street toward the rue Vavin. He glanced across into the gardens
and the spy still sat there on his bench, but his head lay back and he
slept--the sleep of the unjust. One imagined that he must be snoring,
for an incredibly small urchin in a blue apron stood on the path before
him and watched with the open mouth of astonishment.

Ste. Marie turned back into the room, and began to tramp up and down as
was his way in a perplexity or in any time of serious thought. He wished
very much that Richard Hartley were there to consult with. He considered
Hartley to have a judicial mind--a mind to establish, out of confusion,
something like logical order, and he was very well aware that he himself
had not that sort of mind at all. In action he was sufficiently
confident of himself, but to construct a course of action he was afraid,
and he knew that a misstep now, at this critical point, might be
fatal--turn success into disaster.

He fell to thinking of Captain Stewart (alias M. Ducrot) and he longed
most passionately to leap into a fiacre at the corner below, to drive at
a gallop across the city to the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, to fall upon
that smiling hypocrite in his beautiful treasure-house, to seize him by
the withered throat and say:

"Tell me what you have done with Arthur Benham before I tear your head
from your miserable body!"

Indeed, he was far from sure that this was not what it would come to, in
the end, for he reflected that he had not only a tremendous accumulation
of evidence with which to face Captain Stewart, but also a very terrible
weapon to hold over his head--the threat of exposure to the old man who
lay slowly dying in the rue de l'Université! A few words in old David's
ear, a few proofs of their truth, and the great fortune for which the
son had sold his soul--if he had any left to sell--must pass forever out
of his reach, like gold seen in a dream.

This is what it might well come to, he said to himself. Indeed, it
seemed to him at that moment far the most feasible plan, for to such
accusations, such demands as that, Captain Stewart could offer no
defence. To save himself from a more complete ruin he would have to give
up the boy or tell what he knew of him. But Ste. Marie was unwilling to
risk everything on this throw without seeing Richard Hartley first, and
Hartley was not to be had until evening.

He told himself that, after all, there was no immediate hurry, for he
was quite sure the man would be compelled to keep to his bed for a day
or two. He did not know much about epilepsy, but he knew that its
paroxysms were followed by great exhaustion, and he felt sure that
Stewart was far too weak in body to recuperate quickly from any severe
call upon his strength. He remembered how light that burden had been in
his arms the night before, and then an uncontrollable shiver of disgust
went over him as he remembered the sight of the horribly twisted and
contorted face, felt again the shaking, thumping head as it beat against
his shoulder. He wondered how much Stewart knew, how much he would be
able to remember of the events of the evening before, and he was at a
loss there because of his unfamiliarity with epileptic seizures. Of one
thing, however, he was almost certain, and that was that the man could
scarcely have been conscious of who were beside him when the fit was
over. If he had come at all to his proper senses before the ensuing
slumber of exhaustion, it must have been after Mlle. Nilssen and himself
had gone away.

Upon that he fell to wondering about the spy and the gentleman from
Marseilles--he was a little sorry that Hartley could not have seen the
gentleman from Marseilles--but he reflected that the two were, without
doubt, acting upon old orders, and that the latter had probably been
stalking him for some days before he found him at home.

He looked at his watch and it was half-past twelve. There was nothing to
be done, he considered, but wait--get through the day somehow; and so,
presently, he went out to lunch. He went up the rue Vavin to the
Boulevard Montparnasse and down that broad thoroughfare to Lavenue's, on
the busy Place de Rennes, where the cooking is the best in all this
quarter, and can, indeed, hold up its head without shame in the face of
those other more widely famous restaurants across the river, frequented
by the smart world and by the travelling gourmet.

He went through to the inner room, which is built like a raised loggia
round two sides of a little garden, and which is always cool and fresh
in summer. He ordered a rather elaborate lunch, and thought that he sat
a very long time at it, but when he looked again at his watch only an
hour and a half had gone by. It was a quarter-past two. Ste. Marie was
depressed. There remained almost all of the afternoon to be got through,
and Heaven alone could say how much of the evening, before he could have
his consultation with Richard Hartley. He tried to think of some way of
passing the time, but although he was not usually at a loss he found his
mind empty of ideas. None of his common occupations recommended
themselves to him. He knew that whatever he tried to do he would
interrupt it with pulling out his watch every half-hour or so and
cursing the time because it lagged so slowly. He went out to the terrace
for coffee, very low in his mind.

But half an hour later, as he sat behind his little marble-topped table,
smoking and sipping a liqueur, his eyes fell upon something across the
square which brought him to his feet with a sudden exclamation. One of
the big electric trams that ply between the Place St. Germain des Prés
and Clamart, by way of the Porte de Versailles and Vanves, was dragging
its unwieldy bulk round the turn from the rue de Rennes into the
boulevard. He could see the sign-board along the impériale--"Clamart-St.
Germain des Prés," with "Issy" and "Vanves" in brackets between.

Ste. Marie clinked a franc upon the table and made off across the Place
at a run. Omnibuses from Batignolles and Menilmontant got in his way,
fiacres tried to run him down, and a motor-car in a hurry pulled up just
in time to save his life, but Ste. Marie ran on and caught the tram
before it had completed the negotiation of the long curve and gathered
speed for its dash down the boulevard. He sprang upon the step, and the
conductor reluctantly unfastened the chain to admit him. So he climbed
up to the top and seated himself, panting. The dial high on the façade
of the Gare Montparnasse said ten minutes to three.

He had no definite plan of action. He had started off in this headlong
fashion upon the spur of a moment's impulse, and because he knew where
the tram was going. Now, embarked, he began to wonder if he was not a
fool. He knew every foot of the way to Clamart, for it was a favorite
half-day's excursion with him to ride there in this fashion, walk thence
through the beautiful Meudon wood across to the river, and from Bellevue
or Bas-Meudon take a Suresnes boat back into the city. He knew, or
thought he knew, just where lay the house, surrounded by garden and
half-wild park, of which Olga Nilssen had told him; he had often
wondered whose place it was as the tram rolled along the length of its
high wall. But he knew, also, that he could do nothing there,
single-handed and without excuse or preparation. He could not boldly
ring the bell, demand speech with Mile. Coira O'Hara, and ask her if she
knew anything of the whereabouts of young Arthur Benham, whom a
photographer had suspected of being in love with her. He certainly could
not do that. And there seemed to be nothing else that--Ste. Marie broke
off this somewhat despondent course of reasoning with a sudden little
voiceless cry. For the first time it occurred to him to connect the
house on the Clamart road and Mlle. Coira O'Hara and young Arthur Benham
(it will be remembered that the man had not yet had time to arrange his
suddenly acquired mass of evidence in logical order and to make
deductions from it), for the first time he began to put two and two
together. Stewart had hidden away his nephew; this nephew was known to
have been much enamoured of the girl Coira O'Hara; Coira O'Hara was said
to be living--with her father, probably--in the house on the outskirts
of Paris, where she was visited by Captain Stewart. Was not the
inference plain enough--sufficiently reasonable? It left, without doubt,
many puzzling things to be explained--perhaps too many; but Ste. Marie
sat forward in his seat, his eyes gleaming, his face tense with
excitement.

"Is young Arthur Benham in the house on the Clamart road?"

He said the words almost aloud, and he became aware that the fat woman
with a live fowl at her feet and the butcher's boy on his other side
were looking at him curiously. He realized that he was behaving in an
excited manner, and so sat back and lowered his eyes. But over and over
within him the words said themselves--over and over, until they made a
sort of mad, foolish refrain.

"Is Arthur Benham in the house on the Clamart road? Is Arthur Benham in
the house on the Clamart road?" He was afraid that he would say it aloud
once more, and, he tried to keep a firm hold upon himself.

The tram swung into the rue de Sevres, and rolled smoothly out the long,
uninteresting stretch of the rue Lecourbe, far out to where the houses,
became scattered, where mounds and pyramids of red tiles stood alongside
the factory where they had been made, where an acre of little glass
hemispheres in long, straight rows winked and glistened in the afternoon
sun--the forcing-beds of some market gardener; out to the Porte de
Versailles at the city wall, where a group of customs officers sprawled
at ease before their little sentry-box or loafed over to inspect an
incoming tram.

A bugle sounded and a drum beat from the great fosse under the wall, and
a company of piou-pious, red-capped, red-trousered, shambled through
their evolutions in a manner to break the heart of a British or a German
drill-sergeant. Then out past level fields to little Vanves, with its
steep streets and its old gray church, and past the splendid grounds of
the Lycée beyond. The fat woman got down, her live fowl shrieking
protest to the movement, and the butcher's boy got down, too, so that
Ste. Marie was left alone upon the impériale save for a snuffy old
gentleman in a pot-hat who sat in a corner buried behind the day's
_Droits de l'Homme_.

Ste. Marie moved forward once more and laid his arms upon the iron rail
before him. They were coming near. They ran past plum and apple orchards
and past humble little detached villas, each with a bit of garden in
front and an acacia or two at the gate-posts. But presently, on the
right, the way began to be bordered by a high stone wall, very long,
behind which showed the trees of a park, and among them, far back from
the wall beyond a little rise of ground, the gables and chimneys of a
house could be made out. The wall went on for perhaps a quarter of a
mile in a straight sweep, but half-way the road swung apart from it to
the left, dipped under a stone railway bridge, and so presently ended at
the village of Clamart.

As the tram approached the beginning of that long stone wall it began to
slacken speed, there was a grating noise from underneath, and presently
it came to an abrupt halt. Ste. Marie looked over the guard-rail and saw
that the driver had left his place and was kneeling in the dust beside
the car peering at its underworks. The conductor strolled round to him
after a moment and stood indifferently by, remarking upon the strange
vicissitudes to which electrical propulsion is subject. The driver,
without looking up, called his colleague a number of the most surprising
and, it is to be hoped, unwarranted names, and suddenly began to burrow
under the tram, wriggling his way after the manner of a serpent until
nothing could be seen of him but two unrestful feet. His voice, though
muffled, was still tolerably distinct. It cursed, in an unceasing
staccato and with admirable ingenuity, the tram, the conductor, the
sacred dog of an impediment which had got itself wedged into one of the
trucks, and the world in general.

Ste. Marie, sitting aloft, laughed for a moment, and then turned his
eager eyes upon what lay across the road. The halt had taken place
almost exactly at the beginning of that long stretch of park wall which
ran beside the road and the tramway. From where he sat he could see the
other wing which led inward from the road at something like a right
angle, but was presently lost to sight because of a sparse and unkempt
patch of young trees and shrubs, well-nigh choked with undergrowth,
which extended for some distance from the park wall backward along the
road-side toward Vanves. Whoever owned that stretch of land had
seemingly not thought it worth while to cultivate it or to build upon it
or even to clear it off.

Ste. Marie's first thought, as his eye scanned the two long stretches of
wall and looked over their tops to the trees of the park and the far-off
gables and chimneys of the house, was to wonder where the entrance to
the place could be, and he decided that it must be on the side opposite
to the Clamart tram-line. He did not know the smaller roads hereabouts,
but he guessed that there must be one somewhere beyond, between the
route de Clamart and Fort d'Issy, and he was right. There is a little
road between the two; it sweeps round in a long curve and ends near the
tiny public garden in Issy, and it is called the rue Barbés.

His second thought was that this unkempt patch of tree and brush offered
excellent cover for any one who might wish to pass an observant hour
alongside that high stone wall; for any one who might desire to cast a
glance over the lie of the land, to see at closer range that house of
which so little could be seen from the route de Clamart, to look over
the wall's coping into park and garden.

The thought brought him to his feet with a leaping heart, and before he
realized that he had moved he found himself in the road beside the
halted tram. The conductor brushed past him, mounting to his place, and
from the platform beckoned, crying out:

"En voiture, Monsieur! En voiture!"

Again something within Ste. Marie that was not his conscious direction
acted for him, and he shook his head. The conductor gave two little
blasts upon his horn, the tram wheezed and moved forward. In a moment it
was on its way, swinging along at full speed toward the curve in the
line that bore to the left and dipped under the railway bridge. Ste.
Marie stood in the middle of that empty road, staring after it until it
had disappeared from view.

       *       *       *       *       *



XIV

THE WALLS OF AEA


Ste. Marie had acted upon an impulse of which he was scarcely conscious
at all, and when he found himself standing alone in the road and
watching the Clamart tram disappear under the railway bridge he called
himself hard names and wondered what he was to do next. He looked before
and behind him, and there was no living soul in sight. He bent his eyes
again upon that unkempt patch of young trees and undergrowth, and once
more the thought forced itself to his brain that it would make excellent
cover for one who wished to observe a little--to reconnoitre.

He knew that it was the part of wisdom to turn his back upon this place,
to walk on to Clamart or return to Vanves and mount upon a
homeward-bound tram. He knew that it was the part of folly, of madness
even, to expose himself to possible discovery by some one within the
walled enclosure. What though no one there were able to recognize him,
still the sight of a man prowling about the walls, seeking to spy over
them, might excite an alarm that would lead to all sorts of undesirable
complications. Dimly Ste. Marie realized all this, and he tried to turn
his back and walk away, but the patch of little trees and shrubbery drew
him with an irresistible fascination. "Just a little look along that
unknown wall," he said to himself, "just the briefest of all brief
reconnaissances, the merest glance beyond the masking screen of wood
growth, so that in case of sudden future need he might have the lie of
the place clear in his mind;" for without any sound reason for it he was
somehow confident that this walled house and garden were to play an
important part in the rescue of Arthur Benham. It was once more a matter
of feeling. The rather womanlike intuition which had warned him that
O'Hara was concerned in young Benham's disappearance, and that the two
were not far from Paris, was again at work in him, and he trusted it as
he had done before.

He gave a little nod of determination, as one who, for good or ill,
casts a die, and he crossed the road. There was a deep ditch, and he had
to climb down into it and up its farther side, for it was too broad to
be jumped. So he came into the shelter of the young poplars and elms and
oaks. The underbrush caught at his clothes, and the dead leaves of past
seasons crackled underfoot; but after a little space he came to somewhat
clearer ground, though the saplings still stood thick about him and hid
him securely.

He made his way inward along the wall, keeping a short distance back
from it, and he saw that after twenty or thirty yards it turned again at
a very obtuse angle away from him and once more ran on in a long
straight line. Just beyond this angle he came upon a little wooden door
thickly studded with nails. It was made to open inward, and on the
outside there was no knob or handle of any kind, only a large key-hole
of the simple, old-fashioned sort. Slipping up near to look, Ste. Marie
observed that the edges of the key-hole were rusty, but scratched a
little through the rust with recent marks; so the door, it seemed, was
sometimes used. He observed another thing. The ground near by was less
encumbered with trees than at any other point, and the turf was
depressed with many wheel marks--broad marks, such as are made only by
the wheels of a motor-car. He followed these tracks for a little
distance, and they wound in and out among the trees, and beyond the thin
fringe of wood swept away in a curve toward Issy, doubtless to join the
road which he had already imagined to lie somewhere beyond the
enclosure.

Beyond the more open space about this little door the young trees stood
thick together again, and Ste. Marie pressed cautiously on. He stopped
now and then to listen, and once he thought that he heard from within
the sound of a woman's laugh, but he could not be sure. The slight
change of direction had confused him a little, and he was uncertain as
to where the house lay. The wall was twelve or fifteen feet high, and
from the level of the ground he could, of course, see nothing over it
but tree tops. He went on for what may have been a hundred yards, but it
seemed to him very much more than that, and he came to a tall gnarled
cedar-tree which stood almost against the high wall. It was half dead,
but its twisted limbs were thick and strong, and by force of the tree's
cramped position they had grown in strange and grotesque forms. One of
them stretched across the very top of the stone wall, and with the
wind's action it had scraped away the coping of tiles and bottle-glass
and had made a little depression there to rest in.

Ste. Marie looked up along this natural ladder, and temptation smote him
sorely. It was so easy and so safe! There was enough foliage left upon
the half-dead tree to screen him well, but whether or no it is probable
that he would have yielded to the proffered lure. There seems to have
been more than chance in Ste. Marie's movements upon this day; there
seems to have been something like the hand of Fate in them--as doubtless
there is in most things, if one but knew.

He left his hat and stick behind him, under a shrub, and he began to
make his way up the half-bare branches of the gnarled cedar. They bore
him well, without crack or rustle, and the way was very easy. No ladder
made by man could have offered a much simpler ascent. So, mounting
slowly and with care, his head came level with the top of the wall. He
climbed to the next branch, a foot higher, and rested there. The
drooping foliage from the upper part of the cedar-tree, which was still
alive, hung down over him and cloaked him from view, but through its
aromatic screen he could see as freely as through the window curtain in
the rue d'Assas.

The house lay before him, a little to the left and perhaps a hundred
yards away. It was a disappointing house to find in that great
enclosure, for though it was certainly neither small nor trivial, it was
as certainly far from possessing anything like grandeur. It had been in
its day a respectable, unpretentious square structure of three stories,
entirely without architectural beauty, but also entirely without the
ornate hideousness of the modern villas along the route de Clamart. Now,
however, the stucco was gone in great patches from its stone walls,
giving them an unpleasantly diseased look, and long neglect of all
decent cares had lent the place the air almost of desertion. Anciently
the grounds before the house had been laid out in the formal fashion
with a terrace and geometrical lawns and a pool and a fountain and a
rather fine, long vista between clipped larches, but the same neglect
which had made shabby the stuccoed house had allowed grass and weeds to
grow over the gravel paths, underbrush to spring up and to encroach upon
the geometrical turf-plots, the long double row of clipped larches to
flourish at will or to die or to fall prostrate and lie where they had
fallen.

So all the broad enclosure was a scene of heedless neglect, a riot of
unrestrained and wanton growth, where should have been decorous and
orderly beauty. It was a sight to bring tears to a gardener's eyes, but
it had a certain untamed charm of its own, for all that. The very riot
of it, the wanton prodigality of untouched natural growth, produced an
effect that was by no means all disagreeable.

An odd and whimsical thought came into Ste. Marie's mind that thus must
have looked the garden and park round the castle of the sleeping beauty
when the prince came to wake her.

But sleeping beauties and unkempt grounds went from him in a flash when
he became aware of a sound which was like the sound of voices.
Instinctively he drew farther back into the shelter of his aromatic
screen. His eyes swept the space below him from right to left, and could
see no one. So he sat very still, save for the thunderous beat of a
heart which seemed to him like drum-beats when soldiers are marching,
and he listened--"all ears," as the phrase goes.

The sound was in truth a sound of voices. He was presently assured of
that, but for some time he could not make out from which direction it
came. And so he was the more startled when quite suddenly there appeared
from behind a row of tall shrubs two young people moving slowly together
up the untrimmed turf in the direction of the house.

The two young people were Mlle. Coira O'Hara and Arthur Benham, and upon
the brow of this latter youth there was no sign of dungeon pallor, upon
his free-moving limbs no ball and chain. There was no apparent reason
why he should not hasten back to the eager arms in the rue de
l'Université if he chose to--unless, indeed, his undissembling attitude
toward Mlle. Coira O'Hara might serve as a reason. The young man
followed at her heel with much the manner and somewhat the appearance of
a small dog humbly conscious of unworthiness, but hopeful nevertheless
of an occasional kind word or pat on the head.

The world wheeled multi-colored and kaleidoscopic before Ste. Marie's
eyes, and in his ears there was a rushing of great winds, but he set his
teeth and clung with all the strength he had to the tree which sheltered
him. His first feeling, after that initial giddiness, was anger, sheer
anger, a bewildered and astonished fury. He had thought to find this
poor youth in captivity, pining through prison bars for the home and the
loved ones and the familiar life from which he had been ruthlessly torn.
Yet here he was strolling in a suburban garden with a lady--free, free
as air, or so he seemed. Ste. Marie thought of the grim and sorrowful
old man in Paris who was sinking untimely into his grave because his
grandson did not return to him; he thought of that timid soul--more
shadow than woman--the boy's mother; he thought of Helen Benham's tragic
eyes, and he could have beaten young Arthur half to death in that moment
in the righteous rage that stormed within him.

But he turned his eyes from this wretched youth to the girl who walked
beside, a little in advance, and the rage died in him swiftly.

After all, was she not one to make any boy--or any man--forget duty,
home, friends, everything?

Rather oddly his mind flashed back to the morning and to the words of
the little photographer, Bernstein. Perhaps the Jew had put it as well
as any man could:

"She was a goddess, that lady, a queen of goddesses ... the young Juno
before marriage...."

Ste. Marie nodded his head. Yes, she was just that. The little Jew had
spoken well. It could not be more fairly put--though without doubt it
could have been expressed at much greater length and with a great deal
more eloquence. The photographer's other words came also to his mind,
the more detailed description, and again he nodded his head, for this,
too, was true.

"She was all color--brown skin with a dull-red stain under the cheeks,
and a great mass of hair that was not black but very nearly
black--except in the sun, and then there were red lights in it."

It occurred to Ste. Marie, whimsically, that the two young people might
have stepped out of the door of Bernstein's studio straight into this
garden, judging from their bearing each to the other.

"Ah, a thing to touch the heart! Such devotion as that! Alas, that the
lady should seem so cold to it! ... Still, a goddess! What would you? A
queen among goddesses! ... One would not have them laugh and make little
jokes.... Make eyes at love-sick boys. No, indeed!"

Certainly Mlle. Coira O'Hara was not making eyes at the love-sick boy
who followed at her heel this afternoon. Perhaps it would be going too
far to say that she was cold to him, but it was very plain to see that
she was bored and weary, and that she wished she might be almost
anywhere else than where she was. She turned her beautiful face a little
toward the wall where Ste. Marie lay perdu, and he could see that her
eyes had the same dark fire, the same tragic look of appeal that he had
seen in them before--once in the Champs-Elysées and again in his dreams.

Abruptly he became aware that while he gazed, like a man in a trance,
the two young people walked on their way and were on the point of
passing beyond reach of eye or ear. He made a sudden involuntary
movement as if he would call them back, and for the first time his
faithful hiding-place, strained beyond silent endurance, betrayed him
with a loud rustle of shaken branches. Ste. Marie shrank back, his heart
in his throat. It was too late to retreat now down the tree. The damage
was already done. He saw the two young people halt and turn to look, and
after a moment he saw the boy come slowly forward, staring. He heard him
say:

"What's up in that tree? There's something in the tree." And he heard
the girl answer: "It's only birds fighting. Don't bother!" But young
Arthur Benham came on, staring up curiously until he was almost under
the high wall.

Then Ste. Marie's strange madness, or the hand of Fate, or whatever
power it was which governed him on that day, thrust him on to the
ultimate pitch of recklessness. He bent forward from his insecure perch
over the wall until his head and shoulders were in plain sight, and he
called down to the lad below in a loud whisper:

"Benham! Benham!"

The boy gave a sharp cry of alarm and began to back away. And after a
moment Ste. Marie heard the cry echoed from Coira O'Hara. He heard her
say:

"Be careful! Be careful, Arthur! Come away! Oh, come away quickly!"

Ste. Marie raised his own voice to a sort of cry. He said:

"Wait! I tell you to wait, Benham! I must have a word with you. I come
from your family--from Helen!"

To his amazement the lad turned about and began to run toward where the
girl stood waiting; and so, without a moment's hesitation, Ste. Marie
threw himself across the top of the wall, hung for an instant by his
hands, and dropped upon the soft turf. Scarcely waiting to recover his
balance, he stumbled forward, shouting:

"Wait! I tell you, wait! Are you mad? Wait, I say! Listen to me!"

Vaguely, in the midst of his great excitement, he had heard a whistle
sound as he dropped inside the wall. He did not know then whence the
shrill call had come, but afterward he knew that Coira O' Hara had blown
it. And now, as he ran forward toward the two who stood at a distance
staring at him, he heard other steps and he slackened his pace to look.

A man came running down among the black-boled trees, a strange, squat,
gnomelike man whose gait was as uncouth as his dwarfish figure. He held
something in his two hands as he ran, and when he came near he threw
this thing with a swift movement up before him, but he did not pause in
his odd, scrambling run.

Ste. Marie felt a violent blow upon his left leg between hip and knee.
He thought that somebody had crept up behind him and struck him; but as
he whirled about he saw that there was no one there, and then he heard a
noise and knew that the gnomelike running man had shot him. He faced
about once more toward the two young people. He was very angry and he
wished to say so, and very much he wished to explain why he had
trespassed there, and why they had no right to shoot him as if he were
some wretched thief. But he found that in some quite absurd fashion he
was as if fixed to the ground. It was as if he had suddenly become of
the most ponderous and incredible weight, like lead--or that other
metal, not gold, which is the heaviest of all. Only the metal,
seemingly, was not only heavy but fiery hot, and his strength was
incapable of holding it up any longer. His eyes fixed themselves in a
bewildered stare upon the figure of Mlle. Coira O'Hara; he had time to
observe that she had put up her two hands over her face, then he fell
down forward, his head struck something very hard, and he knew no more.

       *       *       *       *       *



XV

A CONVERSATION AT LA LIERRE


Captain Stewart walked nervously up and down the small inner
drawing-room at La Lierre, his restless hands fumbling together behind
him, and his eyes turning every half-minute with a sharp eagerness to
the closed door. But at last, as if he were very tired, he threw himself
down in a chair which stood near one of the windows, and all his tense
body seemed to relax in utter exhaustion. It was not a very comfortable
chair that he had sat down in, but there were no comfortable chairs in
the room--nor, for that matter, in all the house. When he had taken the
place, about two months before this time, he had taken it furnished, but
that does not mean very much in France. No French country-houses--or
town-houses, either--are in the least comfortable, by Anglo-Saxon
standards, and that is at least one excellent reason why Frenchmen spend
just as little time in them as they possibly can. Half the cafés in
Paris would promptly put up their shutters if Parisian homes could all
at once turn themselves into something like English or American ones. As
for La Lierre, it was even more dreary and bare and tomblike than other
country-houses, because it was, after all, a sort of ruin, and had not
been lived in for fifteen years, save by an ancient caretaker and his
nearly as ancient wife. And that was, perhaps, why it could be taken on
a short lease at such a very low price.

The room in which Captain Stewart sat was behind the large drawing-room,
which was always kept closed now, and it looked out by one window to the
west, and by two windows to the north, over a corner of the kitchen
garden and a vista of trees beyond. It was a high-ceiled room with walls
bare except for two large mirrors in the Empire fashion, which stared at
each other across the way with dull and flaking eyes. Under each of
these stood a heavy gilt and ebony console with a top of
chocolate-colored marble, and in the centre of the room there was a
table of a like fashion to the consoles. Further than this there was
nothing save three chairs, upon one of which lay Captain Stewart's
dust-coat and motoring cap and goggles.

A shaft of golden light from the low sun slanted into the place through
the western window from which the Venetians had been pulled back, and
fell across the face of the man who lay still and lax in his chair, eyes
closed and chin dropped a little so that his mouth hung weakly open. He
looked very ill, as, indeed, any one might look after such an attack as
he had suffered on the night previous. That one long moment of deathly
fear before he had fallen down in a fit had nearly killed him. All
through this following day it had continued to recur until he thought he
should go mad. And there was worse still. How much did Olga Nilssen
know? And how much had she told? She had astonished and frightened him
when she had said that she knew about the house on the road to Clamart,
for he thought he had hidden his visits to La Lierre well. He wondered
rather drearily how she had discovered them, and he wondered how much
she knew more than she had admitted. He had a half-suspicion of
something like the truth, that Mlle. Nilssen knew only of Coira O'Hara's
presence here, and drew a rather natural inference. If that was all,
there was no danger from her--no more, that is, than had already borne
its fruit, for Stewart knew well enough that Ste. Marie must have
learned of the place from her. In any case Olga Nilssen had left
Paris--he had discovered that fact during the day--and so for the
present she might be eliminated as a source of peril.

The man in the chair gave a little groan and rolled his head wearily to
and fro against the uncomfortable chair-back, for now he came to the
real and immediate danger, and he was so very tired and ill, and his
head ached so sickeningly that it was almost beyond him to bring himself
face to face with it.

There was the man who lay helpless upon a bed up-stairs! And there were
the man's friends, who were not at all helpless or bedridden or in
captivity!

A wave of almost intolerable pain swept through Stewart's aching head,
and he gave another groan which was almost like a child's sob. But at
just that moment the door which led into the central hall opened, and
the Irishman O'Hara came into the room. Captain Stewart sprang to his
feet to meet him, and he caught the other man by the arm in his
eagerness.

"How is he?" he cried out. "How is he? How badly was he hurt?"

"The patient?" said O'Hara. "Let go my arm! Hang it, man, you're
pinching me! Oh, he'll do well enough. He'll be fit to hobble about in a
week or ten days. The bullet went clean through his leg and out again
without cutting an artery. It was a sort of miracle--and a damned lucky
miracle for all hands, too! If we'd had a splintered bone or a severed
artery to deal with I should have had to call in a doctor. Then the
fellow would have talked, and there'd have been the devil to pay. As it
is, I shall be able to manage well enough with my own small skill. I've
dressed worse wounds than that in my time. By Jove, it was a miracle,
though!" A sudden little gust of rage swept him. He cried out: "That
confounded fool of a gardener, that one-eyed Michel, ought to be beaten
to death. Why couldn't he have slipped up behind this fellow and knocked
him on the head, instead of shooting him from ten paces away? The
benighted idiot! He came near upsetting the whole boat!"

"Yes," said Captain Stewart, with a sharp, hard breath, "he should have
shot straighter or not at all."

The Irishman stared at him with his bright blue eyes, and after a moment
he gave a short laugh.

"Jove, you're a bloodthirsty beggar, Stewart!" said he. "That would have
been a rum go, if you like! Killing the fellow! All his friends down on
us like hawks, and the police and all that! You can't go about killing
people in the outskirts of Paris, you know--at least not people with
friends. And this chap looks like a gentleman, more or less, so I take
it he has friends. As a matter of fact, his face is rather familiar. I
think I've seen him before, somewhere. You looked at him just now
through the crack of the door; do you know who he is? Coira tells me he
called out to Arthur by name, but Arthur says he never saw him before
and doesn't know him at all."

Captain Stewart shivered. It had not been a pleasant moment for him,
that moment when he had looked through the crack of the door and
recognized Ste. Marie.

"Yes," he said, half under his breath--"yes, I know who he is. A friend
of the family."

The Irishman's lips puckered to a low whistle. He said:

"Spying, then, as I thought. He has run us to earth."

And the other nodded. O'Hara took a turn across the room and back.

"In that case," he said, presently--"in that case, then, we must keep
him prisoner here so long as we remain. That's certain." He spun round
sharply with an exclamation. "Look here!" he cried, in a lower tone,
"how about this fellow's friends? It isn't likely he's doing his dirty
work alone. How about his friends, when he doesn't turn up to-night? If
they know he was coming here to spy on us; if they know where the place
is; if they know, in short, what he seems to have known, we're done for.
We'll have to run, get out, disappear. Hang it, man, d'you understand?
We're not safe here for an hour."

Captain Stewart's hands shook a little as he gripped them together
behind him, and a dew of perspiration stood out suddenly upon his
forehead and cheek-bones, but his voice, when he spoke, was well under
control.

"It's an odd thing," said he--"another miracle, if you like--but I
believe we are safe--reasonably safe. I--have reason to think that this
fellow learned about La Lierre only last evening from some one who left
Paris to-day to be gone a long time. And I also have reason to believe
that the fellow has not seen the one friend who is in his confidence,
since he obtained his information. By chance I met the friend, the other
man, in the street this afternoon. I asked after this fellow whom we
have here, and the friend said he hadn't seen him for twenty-four
hours--was going to see him to-night."

"By the Lord!" cried the Irishman, with a great laugh of relief. "What
luck! What monumental luck! If all that's true, we're safe. Why, man,
we're as safe as a fox in his hole. The lad's friends won't have the
ghost of an idea of where he's gone to.... Wait, though! Stop a bit! He
won't have left written word behind him, eh? He won't have done
that--for safety?"

"I think not," said Captain Stewart, but he breathed hard, for he knew
well enough that there lay the gravest danger. "I think not," he said
again.

He made a rather surprisingly accurate guess at the truth--that Ste.
Marie had started out upon impulse, without intending more than a
general reconnaissance, and therefore without leaving any word behind
him. Still, the shadow of danger uplifted itself before the man and he
was afraid. A sudden gust of weak anger shook him like a wind.

"In Heaven's name," he cried, shrilly, "why didn't that one-eyed fool
kill the fellow while he was about it? There's danger for us every
moment while he is alive here. Why didn't that shambling idiot kill
him?"

Captain Stewart's outflung hand jumped and trembled and his face was
twisted into a sort of grinning snarl. He looked like an angry and
wicked cat, the other man thought.

"If I weren't an over-civilized fool," he said, viciously, "I'd go
up-stairs and kill him now with my hands while he can't help himself.
We're all too scrupulous by half."

The Irishman stared at him and presently broke into amazed laughter.

"Scrupulous!" said he. "Well, yes, I'm too scrupulous to murder a man in
his bed, if you like. I'm not squeamish, but--Good Lord!"

"Do you realize," demanded Captain Stewart, "what risks we run while
that fellow is alive--knowing what he knows?"

"Oh yes, I realize that," said O'Hara. "But I don't see why _you_ should
have heart failure over it."

Captain Stewart's pale lips drew back again in their catlike fashion.

"Never mind about me," he said. "But I can't help thinking you're
peculiarly indifferent in the face of danger."

"No, I'm not!" said the Irishman, quickly. "No, I'm not. Don't you run
away with that idea! I merely said," he went oh--"I merely said that I'd
stop short of murder. I don't set any foolish value on life--my own or
any other. I've had to take life more than once, but it was in fair
fight or in self-defence, and I don't regret it. It was your coldblooded
joke about going up-stairs and killing this chap in his bed that put me
on edge. Naturally I know you didn't mean it. Don't you go thinking that
I'm lukewarm or that I'm indifferent to danger. I know there's danger
from this lad up-stairs, and I mean to be on guard against it. He stays
here under strict guard until--what we're after is accomplished--until
young Arthur comes of age. If there's danger," said he, "why, we know
where it lies, and we can guard against it. That kind of danger is not
very formidable. The dangerous dangers are the ones that you don't know
about--the hidden ones."

He came forward a little, and his lean face was as hard and as impassive
as ever, and the bright blue eyes shone from it steady and unwinking.
Stewart looked up to him with a sort of peevish resentment at the man's
confidence and cool poise. It was an odd reversal of their ordinary
relations. For the hour the duller villain, the man who was wont to take
orders and to refrain from overmuch thought or question, seemed to have
become master. Sheer physical exhaustion and the constant maddening pain
had had their will of Captain Stewart. A sudden shiver wrung him so that
his dry fingers rattled against the wood of the chair-arms.

"All the same," he cried, "I'm afraid. I've been confident enough until
now. Now I'm afraid. I wish the fellow had been killed."

"Kill him, then!" laughed the Irishman. "I won't give you up to the
police."

He crossed the room to the door, but halted short of it and turned about
again, and he looked back very curiously at the man who sat crouched in
his chair by the window. It had occurred to him several times that
Stewart was very unlike himself. The man was quite evidently tired and
ill, and that might account for some of the nervousness, but this fierce
malignity was something a little beyond O'Hara's comprehension. It
seemed to him that the elder man had the air of one frightened beyond
the point the circumstances warranted.

"Are you going back to town," he asked, "or do you mean to stay the
night?"

"I shall stay the night," Stewart said. "I'm too tired to bear the
ride." He glanced up and caught the other's eyes fixed upon him. "Well!"
he cried, angrily. "What is it? What are you looking at me like that
for? What do you want?"

"I want nothing," said the Irishman, a little sharply. "And I wasn't
aware that I'd been looking at you in any unusual way. You're precious
jumpy to-day, if you want to know.... Look here!" He came back a step,
frowning. "Look here!" he repeated. "I don't quite make you out. Are you
keeping back anything? Because if you are, for Heaven's sake have it out
here and now! We're all in this game together, and we can't afford to be
anything but frank with one another. We can't afford to make
reservations. It's altogether too dangerous for everybody. You're too
much frightened. There's no apparent reason for being so frightened as
that."

Captain Stewart drew a long breath between closed teeth, and afterward
he looked up at the younger man coldly.

"We need not discuss my personal feelings, I think," said he. "They have
no--no bearing on the point at issue. As you say, we are all in this
thing together, and you need not fear that I shall fail to do my part,
as I have done it in the past.... That's all, I believe."

"Oh, _as_ you like! As you like!" said the Irishman, in the tone of one
rebuffed. He turned again and left the room, closing the door behind
him. Outside on the stairs it occurred to him that he had forgotten to
ask the other man what this fellow's name was--the fellow who lay
wounded up-stairs. No, he had asked once, but in the interest of the
conversation the question had been lost. He determined to inquire again
that evening at dinner.

But Captain Stewart, left thus alone, sank deeper in the uncomfortable
chair, and his head once more stirred and sought vainly for ease against
the chair's high back. The pain swept him in regular throbbing waves
that were like the waves of the sea--waves which surge and crash and
tear upon a beach. But between the throbs of physical pain there was
something else that was always present while the waves came and went.
Pain and exhaustion, if they are sufficiently extreme, can well nigh
paralyze mind as well as body, and for some time Captain Stewart
wondered what this thing might be which lurked at the bottom of him
still under the surges of agony. Then at last he had the strength to
look at it, and it was fear, cold and still and silent. He was afraid to
the very depths of his soul.

True, as O'Hara had said, there did not seem to be any very desperate
peril to face, but Stewart was afraid with the gambler's unreasoning,
half-superstitious fear, and that is the worst fear of all. He realized
that he had been afraid of Ste. Marie from the beginning, and that, of
course, was why he had tried to draw him into partnership with himself
in his own official and wholly mythical search for Arthur Benham. He
could have had the other man under his eye then. He could have kept him
busy for months running down false scents. As it was, Ste. Marie's
uncanny instinct about the Irishman O'Hara had led him true--that and
what he doubtless learned from Olga Nilssen.

If Stewart had been in a condition and mood to philosophize, he would
doubtless have reflected that seven-tenths of the desperate causes, both
good and bad, which fail in this world, fail because they are wrecked by
some woman's love or jealousy--or both. But it is unlikely that he was
able just at this time to make such a reflection, though certainly he
wondered how much Olga Nilssen had known, and how much Ste. Marie had
had to put together out of her knowledge and any previous suspicions
which he may have had.

The man would have been amazed if he could have known what a mountain of
information and evidence had piled itself up over his head all in twelve
hours. He would have been amazed and, if possible, even more frightened
than he was, but he was without question sufficiently frightened, for
here was Ste. Marie in the very house, he had seen Arthur Benham, and
quite obviously he knew all there was to know, or at least enough to
ruin Arthur Benham's uncle beyond all recovery or hope of
recovery--irretrievably.

Captain Stewart tried to think what it would mean to him--failure in
this desperate scheme--but he had not the strength or the courage. He
shrank from the picture as one shrinks from something horrible in a bad
dream. There could be no question of failure. He had to succeed at any
cost, however desperate or fantastic. Once more the spasm of childish,
futile rage swept over him and shook him like a wind.

"Why couldn't the fellow have been killed by that one-eyed fool?" he
cried, sobbing. "Why couldn't he have been killed? He's the only one who
knows--the only thing in the way. Why couldn't he have keen killed?"

Quite suddenly Captain Stewart ceased to sob and shiver, and sat still
in his chair, gripping the arms with white and tense fingers. His eyes
began to widen, and they became fixed in a long, strange stare. He drew
a deep breath.

"I wonder!" he said, aloud. "I wonder, now."

       *       *       *       *       *



XVI

THE BLACK CAT


That providential stone or tree-root, or whatever it may have been,
proved a genuine blessing in disguise to Ste. Marie. It gave him a
splitting headache for a few hours, but it saved him a good deal of
discomfort the while his bullet wound was being more or less probed and
very skilfully cleansed and dressed by O'Hara. For he did not regain
consciousness until this surgical work was almost at its end, and then
he wanted to fight the Irishman for tying the bandages too tight.

But when O'Hara had gone away and left him alone he lay still--or as
still as the smarting, burning pain in his leg and the ache in his head
would let him--and stared at the wall beyond his bed, and bit by bit the
events of the past hour came back to him, and he knew where he was. He
cursed himself very bitterly, as he well might do, for a bungling idiot.
The whole thing had been in his hands, he said, with perfect
truth--Arthur Benham's whereabouts proved Stewart's responsibility or,
at the very least, complicity and the sordid motive therefor.
Remained--had Ste. Marie been a sane being instead of an impulsive
fool--remained but to face Stewart down in the presence of witnesses,
threaten him with exposure, and so, with perfect ease, bring back the
lost boy in triumph to his family.

It should all have been so simple, so easy, so effortless! Yet now it
was ruined by a moment's rash folly, and Heaven alone knew what would
come of it. He remembered that he had left behind him no indication
whatever of where he meant to spend the afternoon. Hartley would come
hurrying across town that evening to the rue d'Assas, and would find no
one there to receive him. He would wait and wait, and at last go home.
He would come again on the next morning, and then he would begin to be
alarmed and would start a second search--but with what to reckon by?
Nobody knew about the house on the road to Clamart but Mlle. Olga
Nilssen, and she was far away.

He thought of Captain Stewart, and he wondered if that gentleman was by
any chance here in the house, or if he was still in bed in the rue du
Faubourg St. Honoré, recovering from his epileptic fit.

After that he fell once more to cursing himself and his incredible
stupidity, and he could have wept for sheer bitterness of chagrin.

He was still engaged in this unpleasant occupation when the door of the
room opened and the Irishman O'Hara entered, having finished his
interview with Captain Stewart below. He came up beside the bed and
looked down not unkindly upon the man who lay there, but Ste. Marie
scowled back at him, for he was in a good deal of pain and a vile humor.

"How's the leg--_and_ the head?" asked the amateur surgeon. To do him
justice, he was very skilful, indeed, through much experience.

"They hurt," said Ste. Marie, shortly. "My head aches like the devil,
and my leg burns."

O'Hara made a sound which was rather like a gruff laugh, and nodded.

"Yes, and they'll go on doing it, too," said he. "At least the leg will.
Your head will be all right again in a day or so. Do you want anything
to eat? It's near dinner-time. I suppose we can't let you starve--though
you deserve it."

"Thanks; I want nothing," said Ste. Marie. "Pray don't trouble about
me."

The other man nodded again indifferently and turned to go out of the
room, but in the doorway he halted and looked back.

"As we're to have the pleasure of your company for some time to come,"
said he, "you might suggest a name to call you by. Of course I don't
expect you to tell your own name--though I can learn that easily
enough."

"Easily enough, to be sure," said the man on the bed. "Ask Stewart. He
knows only too well."

The Irishman scowled. And after a moment he said:

"I don't know any Stewart."

But at that Ste. Marie gave a laugh, and a tinge of red came over the
Irishman's cheeks.

"And so, to save Captain Stewart the trouble," continued the wounded
man, "I'll tell you my name with pleasure. I don't know why I shouldn't.
It's Ste. Marie."

"What?" cried O'Hara, hoarsely. "What? Say that again!"

He came forward a swift step or two into the room, and he stared at the
man on the bed as if he were staring at a ghost.

"Ste. Marie?" he cried, in a whisper. "It's impossible! What are you,"
he demanded, "to Gilles, Comte de Ste. Marie de Mont-Perdu? What are you
to him?"

"He was my father," said the younger man; "but he is dead. He has been
dead for ten years."

He raised his head, with a little grimace of pain, to look curiously
after the Irishman, who had all at once turned away across the room and
stood still beside a window with bent head.

"Why?" he questioned. "What about my father? Why did you ask that?"

O'Hara did not answer at once, and he did not stir from his place by the
window, but after a while he said:

"I knew him.... That's all."

And after another space he came back beside the bed, and once more
looked down upon the young man who lay there. His face was veiled,
inscrutable. It betrayed nothing.

"You have a look of your father," said he. "That was what puzzled me a
little. I was just saying to--I was just thinking that there was
something familiar about you.... Ah, well, we've all come down in the
world since then. The Ste. Marie blood, though. Who'd have thought it?"

The man shook his head a little sorrowfully, but Ste. Marie stared up at
him in frowning incomprehension. The pain had dulled him somewhat. And
presently O'Hara again moved toward the door. On the way he said:

"I'll bring or send you something to eat--not too much. And later on
I'll give you a sleeping-powder. With that head of yours you may have
trouble in getting to sleep. Understand, I'm doing this for your
father's son, and not because you've any right yourself to
consideration."

Ste. Marie raised himself with difficulty on one elbow.

"Wait!" said he. "Wait a moment!" and the other halted just inside the
door. "You seem to have known my father," said Ste. Marie, "and to have
respected him. For my father's sake, will you listen to me for five
minutes?"

"No, I won't," said the Irishman, sharply. "So you may as well hold your
tongue. Nothing you can say to me or to any one in this house will have
the slightest effect. We know what you came spying here for. We know all
about it."

"Yes," said Ste. Marie, with a little sigh, and he fell back upon the
pillows. "Yes, I suppose you do. I was rather a fool to speak. You
wouldn't all be doing what you're doing if words could affect you. I was
a fool to speak."

The Irishman stared at him for another moment, and went out of the room,
closing the door behind him.

So he was left once more alone to his pain and his bitter
self-reproaches and his wild and futile plans for escape. But O'Hara
returned in an hour or thereabout with food for him--a cup of broth and
a slice of bread; and when Ste. Marie had eaten these the Irishman
looked once more to his wounded leg, and gave him a sleeping-powder
dissolved in water.

He lay restless and wide-eyed for an hour, and then drifted away through
intermediate mists into a sleep full of horrible dreams, but it was at
least relief from bodily suffering, and when he awoke in the morning his
headache was almost gone.

He awoke to sunshine and fresh, sweet odors and the twittering of birds.
By good chance O'Hara had been the last to enter the room on the evening
before, and so no one had come to close the shutters or draw the blinds.
The windows were open wide, and the morning breeze, very soft and
aromatic, blew in and out and filled the place with sweetness. The room
was a corner room, with windows that looked south and east, and the
early sun slanted in and lay in golden squares across the floor.

Ste. Marie opened his eyes with none of the dazed bewilderment that he
might have expected. The events of the preceding day came back to him
instantly and without shock. He put up an experimental hand, and found
that his head was still very sore where he had struck it in falling, but
the ache was almost gone. He tried to stir his leg, and a protesting
pain shot through it. It burned dully, even when it was quiet, but the
pain was not at all severe. He realized that he was to get off rather
well, considering what might have happened, and he was so grateful for
this that he almost forgot to be angry with himself over his monumental
folly.

A small bird chased by another wheeled in through the southern window
and back again into free air. Finally, the two settled down upon the
parapet of the little shallow balcony which was there to have their
disagreement out, and they talked it over with a great deal of noise and
many threatening gestures and a complete loss of temper on both sides.
Ste. Marie, from his bed, cheered them on, but there came a commotion in
the ivy which draped the wall below, and the two birds fled in
ignominious haste, and just in the nick of time, for when the cause of
the commotion shot into view it was a large black cat, of great bodily
activity and an ardent single-heartedness of aim.

The black cat gazed for a moment resentfully after its vanished prey,
and then composed its sleek body upon the iron rail, tail and paws
tucked neatly under. Ste. Marie chirruped, and the cat turned yellow
eyes upon him in mild astonishment, as one who should say, "Who the
deuce are you, and what the deuce are you doing here?" He chirruped
again, and the cat, after an ostentatious yawn and stretch, came to
him--beating up to windward, as it were, and making the bed in three
tacks. When O'Hara entered the room some time later he found his patient
in a very cheerful frame of mind, and the black cat sitting on his chest
purring like a dynamo and kneading like an industrious baker.

"Ho," said the Irishman, "you seem to have found a friend!"

"Well, I need one friend here," argued Ste. Marie. "I'm in the enemy's
stronghold. You needn't be alarmed; the cat can't tell me anything, and
it can't help me to escape. It can only sit on me and purr. That's
harmless enough."

O'Hara began one of his gruff laughs, but he seemed to remember himself
in the middle of it and assumed an intimidating scowl instead.

"How's the leg?" he demanded, shortly. "Let me see it." He took off the
bandages and cleansed and sprayed the wound with some antiseptic liquid
that he had brought in a bottle. "There's a little fever," said he, "but
that can't be avoided. You're going on very well--a good deal better
than you'd any right to expect." He had to inflict not a little pain in
his examination and redressing of the wound. He knew that, and once or
twice he glanced up at Ste. Marie's face with a sort of reluctant
admiration for the man who could bear so much without any sign whatever.
In the end he put together his things and nodded with professional
satisfaction. "You'll do well enough now for the rest of the day," he
said. "I'll send up old Michel to valet you. He's the gardener who shot
you yesterday, and he may take it into his head to finish the job this
morning. If he does I sha'n't try to stop him."

"Nor I," said Ste. Marie. "Thanks very much for your trouble. An
excellent surgeon was lost in you."

O'Hara left the room, and presently the old caretaker, one-eyed,
gnomelike, shambling like a bear, sidled in and proceeded to set things
to rights. He looked, Ste. Marie said to himself, like something in an
old German drawing, or in those imitations of old drawings that one
sometimes sees nowadays in _Fliegende Blätter_. He tried to make the
strange creature talk, but Michel went about his task with an air
half-frightened, half-stolid, and refused to speak more than an
occasional "oui" or a "bien, Monsieur," in answer to orders. Ste. Marie
asked if he might have some coffee and bread, and the old Michel nodded
and slipped from the room as silently as he had entered it.

Thereafter Ste. Marie trifled with the cat and got one hand well
scratched for his trouble, but in five minutes there came a knocking at
the door. He laughed a little. "Michel grows ceremonious when it's a
question of food," he said. "Entrez, mon vieux!"

The door opened, and Ste. Marie caught his breath.

"Michel is busy," said Coira O'Hara, "so I have brought your coffee."

She came into the sunlit room holding the steaming bowl of café au lait
before her in her two hands. Over it her eyes went out to the man who
lay in his bed, a long and steady and very grave look. "A goddess that
lady, a queen among goddesses--" Thus the little Jew of the Boulevard de
la Madeleine. Ste. Marie gazed back at her, and his heart was sick
within him to think of the contemptible rôle Fate had laid upon this
girl to play: the candle to the moth, the bait to the eager, unskilled
fish, the lure to charm a foolish boy.

The girl's splendid beauty seemed to fill all that bright room with, as
it were, a richer, subtler light. There could be no doubt of her
potency. Older and wiser heads than young Arthur Benham's might well
forget the world for her. Ste. Marie watched, and the heartsickness
within him was like a physical pain, keen and bitter. He thought of that
first and only previous meeting--the single minute in the
Champs-Elysées, when her eyes had held him, had seemed to beseech him
out of some deep agony. He thought of how they had haunted him afterward
both by day and by night--calling eyes--and he gave a little groan of
sheer bitterness, for he realized that all this while she was laying her
snares about the feet of an inexperienced boy, decoying him to his ruin.
There was a name for such women, an ugly name. They were called
adventuresses.

The girl set the bowl which she carried down upon a table not far from
the bed. "You will need a tray or something," said she. "I suppose you
can sit up against your pillows? I'll bring a tray and you can hold it
on your knees and eat from it." She spoke in a tone of very deliberate
indifference and detachment. There seemed even to be an edge of scorn in
it, but nothing could make that deep and golden voice harsh or unlovely.
As the girl's extraordinary beauty had filled all the room with its
light, so the sound of her voice seemed to fill it with a sumptuous and
hushed resonance like a temple bell muffled in velvet. "I must bring
something to eat, too," she said. "Would you prefer croissants or
brioches or plain bread-and-butter? You might as well have what you
like."

"Thank you!" said Ste. Marie. "It doesn't matter. Anything. You are most
kind. You are Hebe, Mademoiselle, server of feasts." The girl turned her
head for a moment and looked at him with some surprise.

"If I am not mistaken," she said, "Hebe served to gods." Then she went
out of the room, and Ste. Marie broke into a sudden delighted laugh
behind her. She would seem to be a young woman with a tongue in her
head. She had seized the rash opening without an instant's hesitation.

The black cat, which had been cruising, after the inquisitive fashion of
its kind, in far corners of the room, strolled back and looked up to the
table where the bowl of coffee steamed and waited.

"Get out!" cried Ste. Marie. "Va t'en, sale petit animal! Go and eat
birds! That's _my_ coffee. Va! Sauve toi! Hé, voleur que tu es!" He
sought for something by way of missile, but there was nothing within
reach.

The black cat turned its calm and yellow eyes toward him, looked back to
the aromatic feast, and leaped expertly to the top of the table. Ste.
Marie shouted and made horrible threats. He waved an impotent pillow,
not daring to hurl it for fear of smashing the table's entire contents,
but the black cat did not even glance toward him. It smelled the coffee,
sneezed over it because it was hot, and finally proceeded to lap very
daintily, pausing often to take breath or to shake its head, for cats
disapprove of hot dishes, though they will partake of them at a pinch.

There came a step outside the door, and the thief leaped down with some
haste, yet not quite in time to escape observation. Mlle. O'Hara came
in, breathing terrible threats.

"Has that wretched animal touched your coffee?" she cried. "I hope not."
But Ste. Marie laughed weakly from his bed, and the guilty beast stood
in mid-floor, brown drops beading its black chin and hanging upon its
whiskers.

"I did what I could, Mademoiselle," said Ste. Marie, "but there was
nothing to throw. I am sorry to be the cause of so much trouble."

"It is nothing," said she. "I will bring some more coffee, only it will
take ten minutes, because I shall have to make some fresh." She made as
if she would smile a little in answer to him, but her face turned grave
once more and she went out of the room with averted eyes.

Thereafter Ste. Marie occupied himself with watching idly the movements
of the black cat, and, as he watched, something icy cold began to grow
within him, a sensation more terrible than he had ever known before. He
found himself shivering as if that summer day had all at once turned to
January, and he found that his face was wet with a chill perspiration.

When the girl at length returned she found him lying still, his face to
the wall. The black cat was in her path as she crossed the room, so that
she had to thrust it out of the way with her foot, and she called it
names for moving with such lethargy.

"Here is the coffee at last," she said. "I made it fresh. And I have
brought some brioches. Will you sit up and have the tray on your knees?"

"Thank you," said Ste. Marie. "I do not wish anything."

"You do not--" she repeated after him. "But I have made the coffee
especially for you," she protested. "I thought you wanted it. I don't
understand."

With a sudden movement the man turned toward her a white and drawn face.

"Mademoiselle," he cried, "it would have been more merciful to let your
gardener shoot again yesterday. Much more merciful, Mademoiselle."

She stared at him under her straight, black brows.

"What do you mean?" she demanded. "More merciful? What do you mean by
that?"

Ste. Marie stretched out a pointing finger, and the girl followed it.
She gave, after a tense instant, a single, sharp scream. And upon that:

"No, no! It's not true! It's not possible!"

Moving stiffly, she set down the bowl she carried, and the hot liquid
splashed up round her wrists. For a moment she hung there, drooping,
holding herself up by the strength of her hands upon the table. It was
as if she had been seized with faintness. Then she sprang to where the
cat crouched beside a chair. She dropped upon her knees and tried to
raise it in her arms, but the beast bit and scratched at her feebly, and
crept away to a little distance, where it lay struggling and very
unpleasant to see.

"Poison!" she said, in a choked, gasping whisper. "Poison!" She looked
once toward the man upon the bed, and she was white and shivering. "It's
not true!" she cried again. "I--won't believe it! It's because the
cat--was not used to coffee. Because it was hot. I won't believe it! I
won't believe it!" She began to sob, holding her hands over her white
face.

Ste. Marie watched her with puzzled eyes. If this was acting, it was
very good acting. A little glimmer of hope began to burn in him--hope
that in this last shameful thing, at least, the girl had had no part.

"It's impossible," she insisted, piteously. "I tell you it's impossible.
I brought the coffee myself from the kitchen. I took it from the pot
there--the same pot we had all had ours from. It was never out of my
sight--or, that is--I mean--"

She halted there, and Ste. Marie saw her eyes turn slowly toward the
door, and he saw a crimson flush come up over her cheeks and die away,
leaving her white again. He drew a little breath of relief and gladness,
for he was sure of her now. She had had no part in it.

"It is nothing, Mademoiselle," said he, cheerfully. "Think no more of
it. It is nothing."

"Nothing?" she cried, in a loud voice. "Do you call poison nothing?" She
began to shiver again very violently. "You would have drunk it!" she
said, staring at him in a white agony. "But for a miracle you would have
drunk it--and died!"

Abruptly she came beside the bed and threw herself upon her knees there.
In her excitement and horror she seemed to have forgotten what they two
were to each other. She caught him by the shoulders with her two hands,
and the girl's violent trembling shook them both.

"Will you believe," she cried, "that I had nothing to do with this? Will
you believe me? You must believe me!"

There was no acting in that moment. She was wrung with a frank anguish,
an utter horror, and between her words there were hard and terrible
sobs.

"I believe you, Mademoiselle," said the man, gently. "I believe you.
Pray think no more about it."

He smiled up into the girl's beautiful face, though within him he was
still cold and a-shiver, as even the bravest man might well be at such
an escape, and after a moment she turned away again. With unsteady hands
she put the new-made bowl of coffee and the brioches and other things
together upon the tray and started to carry it across the room to the
bed, but half-way she turned back again and set the tray down. She
looked about and found an empty glass, and she poured a little of the
coffee into it. Ste. Marie, who was watching her, gave a sudden cry.

"No, no, Mademoiselle, I beg you! You must not!"

But the girl shook her head at him gravely over the glass.

"There is no danger," she said, "but I must be sure."

She drank what was in the glass, and afterward went across to one of the
windows and stood there with her back to the room for a little time.

In the end she returned and once more brought the breakfast-tray to the
bed. Ste. Marie raised himself to a sitting posture and took the thing
upon his knees, but his hands were shaking.

"If I were not as helpless as a dead man, Mademoiselle," said he, "you
should not have done that. If I could have stopped you, you should not
have done it, Mademoiselle."

A wave of color spread up under the brown skin of the girl's face, but
she did not speak. She stood by for a moment to see if he was supplied
with everything he needed, and when Ste. Marie expressed his gratitude
for her pains she only bowed her head. Then presently she turned away
and left the room.

Outside the door she met some one who was approaching. Ste. Marie heard
her break into rapid and excited speech, and he heard O'Hara's voice in
answer. The voice expressed astonishment and indignation and a sort of
gruff horror, but the man who listened could hear only the tones, not
the words that were spoken.

The Irishman came quickly into the room. He glanced once toward the bed
where Ste. Marie sat eating his breakfast with apparent unconcern--there
may have been a little bravado in this--and then bent over the thing
which lay moving feebly beside a chair. When he rose again his face was
hard and tense and his blue eyes glittered in a fashion that boded
trouble for somebody.

"This looks very bad for us," he said, gruffly. "I should--I should like
to have you believe that neither my daughter nor I had any part in it.
When I fight I fight openly, I don't use poison. Not even with spies."

"Oh, that's all right," said Ste. Marie, taking an ostentatious sip of
coffee. "That's understood. I know well enough who tried to poison me.
If you'll just keep your friend Stewart out of the kitchen I sha'n't
worry about my food."

The Irishman's cheeks reddened with a quick flush and he dropped his
eyes. But in an instant he raised them again and looked full into the
eyes of the man who sat in bed.

"You seem," said he, "to be laboring under a curious misapprehension.
There is no Stewart here, and I don't know any man of that name."

Ste. Marie laughed.

"Oh, don't you?" he said. "That's my mistake then. Well, if you don't
know him, you ought to. You have interests in common."

O'Hara favored his patient with a long and frowning stare. But at the
end he turned without a word and went out of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *



XVII

THOSE WHO WERE LEFT BEHIND


That meeting with Richard Hartley of which Captain Stewart, in the small
drawing-room at La Lierre, spoke to the Irishman O'Hara, took place at
Stewart's own door in the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, and it must have
been at just about the time when Ste. Marie, concealed among the
branches of his cedar, looked over the wall and saw Arthur Benham
walking with Mlle. Coira O'Hara. Hartley had lunched at Durand's with
his friends, whose name--though it does not at all matter here--was
Reeves-Davis, and after lunch the four of them, Major and Lady
Reeves-Davis, Reeves-Davis' sister, Mrs. Carsten, and Hartley, spent an
hour at a certain picture-dealer's near the Madeleine. After that Lady
Reeves-Davis wanted to go in search of an antiquary's shop which was
somewhere in the rue du Faubourg, and she did not know just where. They
went in from the rue Royale, and amused themselves by looking at the
attractive windows on the way.

During one of their frequent halts, while the two ladies were
passionately absorbed in a display of hats, and Reeves-Davis was making
derisive comments from the rear, Hartley, who was too much bored to pay
attention, saw a figure which seemed to him familiar emerge from an
adjacent doorway and start to cross the pavement to a large touring-car,
with the top up, which stood at the curb. The man wore a dust-coat and a
cap, and he moved as if he were in a hurry, but as he went he cast a
quick look about him and his eye fell upon Richard Hartley. Hartley
nodded, and he thought the elder man gave a violent start; but then he
looked very white and ill and might have started at anything. For an
instant Captain Stewart made as if he would go on his way without taking
notice, but he seemed to change his mind and turned back. He held out
his hand with a rather wan and nervous smile, saying:

"Ah, Hartley! It is you, then! I wasn't sure." He glanced over the
other's shoulder and said, "Is that our friend Ste. Marie with you?"

"No," said Richard Hartley, "some English friends of mine. I haven't
seen Ste. Marie to-day. I'm to meet him this evening. You've seen him
since I have, as a matter of fact. He came to your party last night,
didn't he? Sorry I couldn't come. They must have tired you out, I should
think. You look ill."

"Yes," said the other man, absently. "Yes, I had an attack of--an old
malady last night. I am rather stale to-day. You say you haven't seen
Ste. Marie? No, to be sure. If you see him later on you might say that I
mean to drop in on him to-morrow to make my apologies. He'll understand.
Good-day."

So he turned away to the motor which was waiting for him, and Hartley
went back to his friends, wondering a little what it was that Stewart
had to apologize for.

As for Captain Stewart, he must have gone at once out to La Lierre. What
he found there has already been set forth.

It was about ten that evening when Hartley, who had left his people,
after dinner was over, at the Marigny, reached the rue d'Assas. The
street door was already closed for the night, and so he had to ring for
the cordon. When the door clicked open and he had closed it behind him
he called out his name before crossing the court to Ste. Marie's stair;
but as he went on his way the voice of the concierge reached him from
the little loge.

"M. Ste. Marie n'est pas là,"

Now, the Parisian concierge, as every one knows who has lived under his
iron sway, is a being set apart from the rest of mankind. He has, in
general, no human attributes, and certainly no human sympathy. His hand
is against all the world, and the hand of all the world is against him.
Still, here and there among this peculiar race are to be found a very
few beings who are of softer substance--men and women instead of spies
and harpies. The concierge who had charge of the house wherein Ste.
Marie dwelt was an old woman, undeniably severe upon occasion, but for
the most part a kindly and even jovial soul. She must have become a
concierge through some unfortunate mistake.

She snapped open her little square window and stuck out into the moonlit
court a dishevelled gray head.

"Il n'est pas là." she said again, beaming upon Richard Hartley, whom
she liked, and, when he protested that he had a definite and important
appointment with her lodger, went on to explain that Ste. Marie had gone
out, doubtless to lunch, before one o'clock and had never returned.

"He may have left word for me up-stairs," Hartley said; "I'll go up and
wait, if I may." So the woman got him her extra key, and he went up, let
himself into the flat, and made lights there.

Naturally he found no word, but his own note of that morning lay spread
out upon a table where Ste. Marie had left it, and so he knew that his
friend was in possession of the two facts he had learned about Stewart.
He made himself comfortable with a book and some cigarettes, and settled
down to wait.

Ste. Marie out at La Lierre, with a bullet-hole in his leg, was deep in
a drugged sleep just then, but Hartley waited for him, looking up now
and then from his book with a scowl of impatience, until the little
clock on the mantel said that it was one o'clock. Then he went home in a
very bad temper, after writing another note and leaving it on the table,
to say that he would return early in the morning.

But in the morning he began to be alarmed. He questioned the concierge
very closely as to Ste. Marie's movements on the day previous, but she
could tell him little, save to mention the brief visit of a man with an
accent of Toulouse or Marseilles, and there seemed to be no one else to
whom he could go. He spent the entire morning in the flat, and returned
there after a hasty lunch. But at mid-afternoon he took a fiacre at the
corner of the Gardens and drove to the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré.

Captain Stewart was at home. He was in a dressing-gown, and still looked
fagged and unwell. He certainly betrayed some surprise at sight of his
visitor, but he made Hartley welcome at once and insisted upon having
cigars and things to drink brought out for him. On the whole he
presented an astonishingly normal exterior, for within him he must have
been cold with fear, and in his ears a question must have rung and
shouted and rung again unceasingly--"What does this fellow know? What
does he know?"

Hartley's very presence there had a perilous look.

The younger man shook his head at the servant who asked him what he
wished to drink.

"Thanks, you're very good," he said to Captain Stewart, and that
gentleman eyed him silently. "I can't stay but a moment. I just dropped
in to ask if you'd any idea what can have become of Ste. Marie."

"Ste. Marie?" said Captain Stewart. "What do you mean--'become of him'?"
He moistened his lips to speak, but he said the words without a tremor.

"Well, what I meant was," said Hartley, "that you'd seen him last. He
was here Thursday evening. Did he say anything to you about going
anywhere in particular the next day--yesterday? He left his rooms about
noon and hasn't turned up since."

Captain Stewart drew a short breath and sat down, abruptly, in a near-by
chair, for all at once his knees had begun to tremble under him. He was
conscious of a great and blissful wave of relief and well-being, and he
wanted to laugh. He wanted so much to laugh that it became a torture to
keep his face in repose.

So Ste. Marie had left no word behind him, and the danger was past!

With a great effort he looked up from where he sat to Richard Hartley,
who stood anxious and frowning before him.

"Forgive me for sitting down," he said, "and sit down yourself, I beg.
I'm still very shaky from my attack of illness. Ste. Marie--Ste. Marie
has disappeared? How very extraordinary! It's like poor Arthur. Still--a
single day! He might be anywhere for a single day, might he not? For all
that, though, it's very odd. Why, no. No, I don't think he said anything
about going away. At least I remember nothing about it." The relief and
triumph within him burst out in a sudden little chuckle of malicious
fun. "I can think of only one thing," said he, "that might be of use to
you. Ste. Marie seemed to take a very great fancy to one of the ladies
here the other evening. And, I must confess, the lady seemed to return
it. It had all the look of a desperate flirtation--a most desperate
flirtation. They spent the evening in a corner together. You don't
suppose," he said, still chuckling gently, "that Ste. Marie is taking a
little holiday, do you? You don't suppose that the lady could account
for him?"

"No," said Richard Hartley, "I don't. And if you knew Ste. Marie a
little better you wouldn't suppose it, either." But after a pause he
said: "Could you give me the--lady's name, by any chance? Of course, I
don't want to leave any stone unturned."

And once more the other man emitted his pleased little chuckle that was
so like a cat's mew.

"I can give you her name," said he. "The name is Mlle.---- Bertrand.
Elise Bertrand. But I regret to say I haven't the address by me. She
came with some friends. I will try and get it and send it you. Will that
be all right?"

"Yes, thanks!" said Richard Hartley. "You're very good. And now I must
be going on. I'm rather in a hurry."

Captain Stewart protested against this great haste, and pressed the
younger man to sit down and tell him more about his friend's
disappearance, but Hartley excused himself, repeating that he was in a
great hurry, and went off.

When he had gone Captain Stewart lay back in his chair and laughed until
he was weak and ached from it, the furious, helpless laughter which
comes after the sudden release from a terrible strain. He was not, as a
rule, a demonstrative man, but he became aware that he would like to
dance and sing, and probably he would have done both if it had not been
for the servant in the next room.

So there was no danger to be feared, and his terrors of the night
past--he shivered a little to think of them--had been, after all,
useless terrors! As for the prisoner out at La Lierre, nothing was to be
feared from him so long as a careful watch was kept. Later on he might
have to be disposed of, since both bullet and poison had failed--he
scowled over that, remembering a bad quarter of an hour with O'Hara
early this morning--but that matter could wait. Some way would present
itself. He thought of the wholly gratuitous lie he had told Hartley, a
thing born of a moment's malice, and he laughed again. It struck him
that it would be very humorous if Hartley should come to suspect his
friend of turning aside from his great endeavors to enter upon an affair
with a lady. He dimly remembered that Ste. Marie's name had, from time
to time, been a good deal involved in romantic histories, and he said to
himself that his lie had been very well chosen, indeed, and might be
expected to cause Richard Hartley much anguish of spirit.

After that he lighted a very large cigarette, half as big as a cigar,
and he lay back in his low, comfortable chair and began to think of the
outcome of all this plotting and planning. As is very apt to be the case
when a great danger has been escaped, he was in a mood of extreme
hopefulness and confidence. Vaguely he felt as if the recent happenings
had set him ahead a pace toward his goal, though of course they had done
nothing of the kind. The danger that would exist so long as Ste. Marie,
who knew everything, was alive, seemed in some miraculous fashion to
have dwindled to insignificance; in this rebound from fear and despair
difficulties were swept away and the path was clear. The man's mind
leaped to his goal, and a little shiver of prospective joy ran over him.
Once that goal gained he could defy the world. Let eyes look askance,
let tongues wag, he would be safe then--safe for all the rest of his
life, and rich, rich, rich!

For he was playing against a feeble old man's life. Day by day he
watched the low flame sink lower as the flame of an exhausted lamp sinks
and flickers. It was slow, for the old man had still a little strength
left, but the will to live--which was the oil in the lamp--was almost
gone, and the waiting could not be long now. One day, quite suddenly,
the flame would sink down to almost nothing, as at last it does in the
spent lamp. It would flicker up and down rapidly for a few moments, and
all at once there would be no flame there. Old David would be dead, and
a servant would be sent across the river in haste to the rue du Faubourg
St. Honoré. Stewart lay back in his chair and tried to imagine that it
was true, that it had already happened, as happen it must before long,
and once more the little shiver, which was like a shiver of voluptuous
delight, ran up and down his limbs, and his breath began to come fast
and hard.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Richard Hartley drove at once back to the rue d'Assas. He was not
very much disappointed in having learned nothing from Stewart, though he
was thoroughly angry at that gentleman's hint about Ste. Marie and the
unknown lady. He had gone to the rue du Faubourg because, as he had
said, he wished to leave no stone unturned, and, after all, he had
thought it quite possible that Stewart could give him some information
which would be of value. Hartley firmly believed the elder man to be a
rascal, but of course he knew nothing definite save the two facts which
he had accidentally learned from Helen Benham, and it had occurred to
him that Captain Stewart might have sent Ste. Marie off upon another
wild-goose chase such as the expedition to Dinard had been. He would
have been sure that the elder man had had something to do with Ste.
Marie's disappearance if the latter had not been seen since Stewart's
party, but instead of that Ste. Marie had come home, slept, gone out the
next morning, returned again, received a visitor, and gone out to lunch.
It was all very puzzling and mysterious.

His mind went back to the brief interview with Stewart and dwelt upon
it. Little things which had at the time made no impression upon him
began to recur and to take on significance. He remembered the elder
man's odd and strained manner at the beginning, his sudden and causeless
change to ease and to something that was almost like a triumphant
excitement, and then his absurd story about Ste. Marie's flirtation with
a lady. Hartley thought of these things; he thought also of the fact
that Ste. Marie had disappeared immediately after hearing grave
accusations against Stewart. Could he have lost his head, rushed across
the city at once to confront the middle-aged villain, and
then--disappeared from human ken? It would have been very like him to do
something rashly impulsive upon reading that note.

Hartley broke into a sudden laugh of sheer amusement when he realized to
what a wild and improbable flight his fancy was soaring. He could not
quite rid himself of a feeling that Stewart was, in some mysterious
fashion, responsible for his friend's vanishing, but he was unlike Ste.
Marie: he did not trust his feelings, either good or bad, unless they
were backed by excellent evidence, and he had to admit that there was
not a single scrap of evidence in this instance against Miss Benham's
uncle.

The girl's name recalled him to another duty. He must tell her about
Ste. Marie. He was by this time half-way up the Boulevard St. Germain,
but he gave a new order, and the fiacre turned back to the rue de
l'Université. The footman at the door said that Mademoiselle was not in
the drawing-room, as it was only four o'clock, but that he thought she
was in the house. So Hartley sent up his name and went in to wait.

Miss Benham came down looking a little pale and anxious.

"I've been with grandfather," she explained. "He had some sort of
sinking-spell last night and we were very much frightened. He's much
better, but--well, he couldn't have many such spells and live. I'm
afraid he grows a good deal weaker day by day now. He sees hardly any
one outside the family, except Baron de Vries." She sat down with a
little sigh of fatigue and smiled up at her visitor. "I'm glad you've
come," said she. "You'll cheer me up, and I rather need it. What are you
looking so solemn about, though? You won't cheer me up if you look like
that."

"Well, you see," said Hartley, "I came at this impossible hour to bring
you some bad news. I'm sorry. Perhaps," he modified, "bad news is
putting it with too much seriousness. Strange news is better. To be
brief, Ste. Marie has disappeared--vanished into thin air. I thought you
ought to know."

"Ste. Marie!" cried the girl. "How? What do you mean--vanished? When did
he vanish?"

She gave a sudden exclamation of relief.

"Oh, he has come upon some clew or other and has rushed off to follow
it. That's all. How dare you frighten me so?"

"He went without luggage," said the man, shaking his head, "and he left
no word of any kind behind him. He went out to lunch yesterday about
noon, and, as I said, simply vanished, leaving no trace whatever behind
him. I've just been to see your uncle, thinking that he might know
something, but he doesn't."

The girl looked up quickly.

"My uncle?" she said. "Why my uncle?"

"Well," said Hartley, "you see, Ste. Marie went to a little party at
your uncle's flat on the night before he disappeared, and I thought your
uncle might have heard him say something that would throw light on his
movements the next day."

Hartley remembered the unfortunate incident of the galloping pigs, and
hurried on:

"He went to the party more for the purpose of having a talk with your
uncle than for any other reason, I think. I was to have gone myself, but
gave it up at the eleventh hour for the Cains' dinner at Armenonville.
Well, the next morning after Captain Stewart's party he went out early.
I called at his rooms to see him about something important that I
thought he ought to know. I missed him, and so left a note for him which
he got on his return and read. I found it open on his table later on. At
noon he went out again, and that's all. Frankly, I'm worried about him."

Miss Benham watched the man with thoughtful eyes, and when he had
finished she asked:

"Could you tell me what was in this note that you left for Ste. Marie?"

Hartley was by nature a very open and frank young man, and in
consequence an unusually bad liar. He hesitated and looked away, and he
began to turn red.

"Well--no," he said, after a moment--"no, I'm afraid I can't. It was
something you wouldn't understand--wouldn't know about."

And the girl said, "Oh!" and remained for a little while silent. But at
the end she looked up and met his eyes, and the man saw that she was
very grave. She said:

"Richard, there is something that you and I have been avoiding and
pretending not to see. It has gone too far now, and we've got to face it
with perfect frankness. I know what was in your note to Ste. Marie. It
was what you found out the other evening about--my uncle--the matter of
the will and the other matter. He knew about the will, but he told you
and Ste. Marie that he didn't. He said to you, also, that I had told him
about my engagement and Ste. Marie's determination to search for Arthur,
and that was--a lie. I didn't tell him, and grandfather didn't tell him.
He listened in the door yonder and heard it himself. I have a good
reason for knowing that. And then," she said, "he tried very hard to
persuade you and Ste. Marie to take up your search under his direction,
and he partly succeeded. He sent Ste. Marie upon a foolish expedition to
Dinard, and he gave him and gave you other clews just as foolish as that
one. Richard, do you believe that my uncle has hidden poor Arthur away
somewhere or--worse than that? Do you? Tell me the truth!"

"There is not," said Hartley, "one particle of real evidence against him
that I'm aware of. There's plenty of motive, if you like, but motive is
not evidence."

"I asked you a question," the girl said. "Do you believe my uncle has
been responsible for Arthur's disappearance?"

"Yes," said Richard Hartley, "I'm afraid I do."

"Then," she said, "he has been responsible for Ste. Marie's
disappearance also. Ste. Marie became dangerous to him, and so vanished.
What can we do, Richard? What can we do?"

       *       *       *       *       *



XVIII

A CONVERSATION OVERHEARD


In the upper chamber at La Lierre the days dragged very slowly by, and
the man who lay in bed there counted interminable hours and prayed for
the coming of night with its merciful oblivion of sleep. His inaction
was made bitterer by the fact that the days were days of green and gold,
of breeze-stirred tree-tops without his windows, of vagrant sweet airs
that stole in upon his solitude, bringing him all the warm fragrance of
summer and of green things growing.

He suffered little pain. There was, for the first three or four days, a
dull and feverish ache in his wounded leg, but presently even that
passed, and the leg hurt him only when he moved it. He thought sometimes
that he would be grateful for a bit of physical anguish to make the
hours pass more quickly.

The other inmates of the house held aloof from him. Once a day O'Hara
came in to see to the wound, but he maintained a well-nigh complete
silence over his work, and answered questions only with a brief yes or
no. Sometimes he did not answer them at all. The old Michel came twice
daily, but this strange being had quite plainly been frightened into
dumbness, and there was nothing to be got out of him. He shambled
hastily about the place, his one scared eye upon the man in bed, and as
soon as possible fled away, closing the door behind him. Sometimes
Michel brought in the meals, sometimes his wife, a creature so like him
that the two might well have passed for twin survivors of some unknown
race; sometimes--thrice altogether in that first week--Coira O'Hara
brought the tray, and she was as silent as the others.

So Ste. Marie was left alone to get through the interminable days as
best he might, and ever afterward the week remained in his memory as a
sort of nightmare. Lying idle in his bed, he evolved many surprising and
fantastic schemes for escape, for getting word to the outside world of
his presence here, and one by one he gave them up in disgust as their
impossibility forced itself upon him. Plans and schemes were useless
while he lay bedridden, unfamiliar even with the house wherein he dwelt,
with the garden and park that surrounded it.

As for aid from any of the inmates of the place, that was to be laughed
at. They were engaged together in a scheme so desperate that failure
must mean utter ruin to them all. He sometimes wondered if the two
servants could be bribed. Avarice unmistakable gleamed from their
little, glittering, ratlike eyes, but he was sure that they would sell
out for no small sum, and in so far as he could remember there had been
in his pockets, when he came here, not more than five or six louis.
Doubtless the old Michel had managed to abstract those in his daily
offices about the room, for Ste. Marie knew that the clothes hung in a
closet across from his bed. He had seen them there once when the
closet-door was open.

Any help that might come to him must come from outside--and what help
was to be expected there? Over and over again he reminded himself of how
little Richard Hartley knew. He might suspect Stewart of complicity in
this new disappearance, but how was he to find out anything definite?
How was any one to do so?

It was at such times as this, when brain and nerves were strained and
worn almost to breaking-point, that Ste. Marie had occasion to be
grateful for the Southern blood that was in him, the strong tinge of
fatalism which is common alike to Latin and to Oriental. It rescued him
more than once from something like nervous breakdown, calmed him
suddenly, lifted his burdens from outwearied shoulders, and left him in
peace to wait until some action should be possible. Then, in such hours,
he would fall to thinking of the girl for whose sake, in whose cause, he
lay bedridden, beset with dangers. As long before, she came to him in a
sort of waking vision--a being but half earthly, enthroned high above
him, calm-browed, very pure, with passionless eyes that gazed into far
distance and were unaware of the base things below. What would she think
of him, who had sworn to be true knight to her, if she could know how he
had bungled and failed? He was glad that she did not know, that if he
had blundered into peril the knowledge of it could not reach her to hurt
her pride.

And sometimes, also, with a great sadness and pity, he thought of poor
Coira O'Hara and of the pathetic wreck her life had fallen into. The
girl was so patently fit for better things! Her splendid beauty was not
a cheap beauty. She was no coarse-blown, gorgeous flower, imperfect at
telltale points. It was good blood that had modelled her dark
perfection, good blood that had shaped her long and slim and tapering
hands.

"A queen among goddesses!" The words remained with him, and he knew that
they were true. She might have held up her head among the greatest, this
adventurer's girl; but what chance had she had? What merest ghost of a
chance?

He watched her on the rare occasions when she came into the room. He
watched the poise of her head, her walk, the movements she made, and he
said to himself that there was no woman of his acquaintance whose grace
was more perfect--certainly none whose grace was so native.

Once he complained to her of the desperate idleness of his days, and
asked her to lend him a book of some kind, a review, even a daily
newspaper, though it be a week old.

"I should read the very advertisements with joy," he said.

She went out of the room and returned presently with an armful of books,
which she laid upon the bed without comment.

"In my prayers, Mademoiselle," cried Ste. Marie, "you shall be foremost
forever!" He glanced at the row of titles and looked up in sheer
astonishment. "May I ask whose books these are?" he said.

"They are mine," said the girl. "I caught up the ones that lay first at
hand. If you don't care for any of them, I will choose others."

The books were: _Diana of the Crossways, Richard Feverel,_ Henri
Lavedan's _Le Duel_, Maeterlinck's _Pelleas et Mélisande, Don Quixote de
la Mancha_, in Spanish, a volume of Virgil's _Eclogues_, and the _Life
of the Chevalier Bayard_, by the Loyal Servitor. Ste. Marie stared at
her.

"Do you read Spanish," he demanded, "and Latin, as well as French and
English?"

"My mother was Spanish," said she. "And as for Latin, I began to read it
with my father when I was a child. Shall I leave the books here?"

Ste. Marie took up the _Bayard_ and held it between his hands.

"It is worn from much reading, Mademoiselle," he said.

"It is the best of all," said she. "The very best of all. I didn't know
I had brought you that."

She made a step toward him as if she would take the book away, and over
it their eyes met and were held. In that moment it may have come to them
both who she was, who so loved the knight without fear and without
reproach--the daughter of art Irish adventurer of ill repute--for their
faces began suddenly to flush with red, and after an instant the girl
turned away.

"It is of no consequence," said she. "You may keep the book if you care
to."

And Ste. Marie said, very gently: "Thank you, Mademoiselle. I will keep
it for a little while."

So she went out of the room and left him alone.

This was at noon on the sixth day, and, after he had swallowed hastily
the lunch which had been set before him, Ste. Marie fell upon the books
like a child upon a new box of sweets. Like the child again, it was
difficult for him to choose among them. He opened one and then another,
gloating over them all, but in the end he chose the _Bayard_, and for
hours lost himself among the high deeds of the Preux Chevalier and his
faithful friends--among whom, by the way, there was a Ste. Marie who
died nobly for France. It was late afternoon when at last he laid the
book down with a sigh and settled himself more comfortably among the
pillows.

The sun was not in the room at that hour, but from where he lay he could
see it on the tree-tops, gold upon green. Outside his south window the
leaves of a chestnut which stood there quivered and rustled gently under
a soft breeze. Delectable odors floated in to Ste. Marie's nostrils, and
he thought how very pleasant it would be if he were lying on the turf
under the trees instead of bedridden in this upper chamber, which he had
come to hate with a bitter hatred.

He began to wonder if it would be possible to drag himself across the
floor to that south window, and so to lie down for a while with his head
in the tiny balcony beyond, his eyes turned to the blue sky. Astir with
the new thought, he sat up in bed and carefully swung his feet out till
they hung to the floor. The wound in the left leg smarted and burned,
but not too severely, and with slow pains Ste. Marie stood up. He almost
cried out when he discovered that it could be done quite easily. He
essayed to walk, and he was a little weak, but by no means helpless. He
found that it gave him pain to raise his left leg in the ordinary action
of walking or to bend that knee, but he could get about well enough by
dragging the injured member beside him, for when it was straight it
supported him without protest.

He took his pillows across to the window and disposed them there, for it
was a French window opening to the floor, and the level of the little
balcony outside was but a few inches above the level of the room. Then
the desire seized him to make a tour of his prison walls. He went first
to the closet where he had seen his clothes hanging, and they were still
there. He felt in the pockets and withdrew his little English pigskin
sovereign-purse. It had not been tampered with, and he gave an
exclamation of relief over that, for he might later on have use for
money. There were eight louis in it, each in its little separate
compartment, and in another pocket he found a fifty-franc note and some
silver. He went to the two east windows and looked out. The trees stood
thick together on that side of the house, but between two of them he
could see the park wall fifty yards away. He glanced down, and the side
of the house was covered thick with the ivy which had given the place
its name, but there was no water-pipe near, nor any other thing which
seemed to offer foot or hand hold, unless, perhaps, the ivy might prove
strong enough to bear a man's weight. Ste. Marie made a mental note to
look into that when he was a little stronger, and turned back to the
south window where he had disposed his pillows.

The unaccustomed activity was making his wound smart and prickle, and he
lay down at once with head and shoulders in the open air, and out of the
warm and golden sunshine and the emerald shade the breath of summer came
to him and wrapped him round with sweetness and pillowed him upon its
fragrant breast.

He became aware after a long time of voices below, and turned upon his
elbows to look. The ivy had clambered upon and partly covered the iron
grille of the little balcony, and he could observe without being seen.
Young Arthur Benham and Coira O'Hara had come out of the door of the
house, and they stood upon the raised and paved terrace which ran the
width of the façade, and seemed to hesitate as to the direction they
should take. Ste. Marie heard the girl say:

"It's cooler here in the shade of the house," and after a moment the two
came along the shady terrace whose outer margin was set at intervals
with stained and discolored marble nymphs upon pedestals, and between
the nymphs with moss-grown stone benches. They halted before a bench
upon which, earlier in the day, a rug had been spread out to dry in the
sun and had been forgotten, and after a moment's further hesitation they
sat down upon it. Their faces were turned toward the house, and every
word that they spoke mounted in that still air clear and distinct to the
ears of the man above.

Ste. Marie wriggled back into the room and sat up to consider. The
thought of deliberately listening to a conversation not meant for him
sent a hot flush to his cheeks. He told himself that it could not be
done, and that there was an end to the matter. Whatever might hang upon
it, it could not be asked of him that he should stoop to dishonor. But
at that the heavy and grave responsibility, which really did hang upon
him and upon his actions, came before his mind's eye and loomed there
mountainous. The fate of this foolish boy who was set round with thieves
and adventurers--even though his eyes were open and he knew where he
stood--that came to Ste. Marie and confronted him; and the picture of a
bitter old man who was dying of grief came to him; and a mother's face;
and _hers_. There could be no dishonor in the face of all this, only a
duty very clear and plain. He crept back to his place, his arms folded
beneath him as he lay, his eyes at the thin screen of ivy which cloaked
the balcony grille.

Young Arthur Benham appeared to be giving tongue to a rather sharp
attack of homesickness. It may be that long confinement within the walls
of La Lierre was beginning to try him somewhat.

"Mind you," he declared, as Ste. Marie's ears came once more within
range--"mind you, I'm not saying that Paris hasn't got its points. It
has. Oh yes! And so has London, and so has Ostend, and so has Monte
Carlo. Verree much so! I like Paris. I like the theatres and the
vaudeville shows in the Champs-Elysées, and I like Longchamps. I like
the boys who hang around Henry's Bar. They're good sports all right, all
right! But, by golly, I want to go home! Put me off at the corner of
Forty-second Street and Broadway, and I'll ask no more. Set me down at 7
P.M., right there on the corner outside the Knickerbocker, for that's
where I would live and die." There came into the lad's somewhat strident
voice a softness that was almost pathetic. "You don't know Broadway,
Coira, do you? Nix! of course not. Little girl, it's the one street of
all this large world. It's the equator that runs north and south instead
of east and west. It's a long, bright, gay, live wire!--that's what
Broadway is. And I give you my word of honor, like a little man, that
it--is--not--slow. No-o, indeed! When I was there last it was being
called the 'Gay White Way.' It is not called the 'Gay White Way' now. It
has had forty other new, good names since then, and I don't know what
they are, but I do know that it is forever gay, and that the electric
signs are still blazing all along the street, and the street-cars are
still killing people in the good old fashion, and the news-boys are
still dodging under the automobiles to sell you a _Woild_ or a _Choinal_
or, if it's after twelve at night, a _Morning Telegraph_. Coira, my
girl, standing on that corner after dark you can see the electric signs
of fifteen theatres, not one of them more than five minutes' walk away;
and just round the corner there are more. I want to go home! I want to
take one large, unparalleled leap from here and come down at the corner
I told you about. D'you know what I'd do? We'll say it's 7 P.M. and
beginning to get dark. I'd dive into the Knickerbocker--that's the hotel
that the bright and happy people go to for dinner or supper--and I'd
engage a table up on the terrace. Then I'd telephone to a little friend
of mine whose name is Doe--John Doe--and in about ten minutes he'd have
left the crowd he was standing in line with and he'd come galloping up,
that glad to see me you'd cry to watch him. We'd go up on the terrace,
where the potted palms grow, for our dinner, and the tables all around
us would be full of people that would know Johnnie Doe and me, and
they'd all make us drink drinks and tell us how glad they were to see us
aboard again. And after dinner," said young Arthur Benham, with wide and
smiling eyes--"after dinner we'd go to see one of the roof-garden shows.
Let me tell you they've got the Marigny or the Ambassadeurs or the
Jardin de Paris beaten to a pulp--to--a--pulp! And after the show we'd
slip round to the stage-door--you bet we would!--and capture the two
most beautiful ladies in the world and take 'em off to supper."

He wrinkled his young brow in great perplexity. "Now I wonder," said he,
anxiously--"I wonder where we'd go for supper. You see," he apologized,
"it's two years since I left the Real Street, and, gee! what a lot can
happen on Broadway in two years! There's probably half a dozen new
supper-places that I don't know anything about, and one of them's the
place where the crowd goes. Well, anyhow, we'd go to that place, and
there'd be a band playing, and the electric fans would go round and
round, and Johnnie Doe and I and the two most beautiful ladies would put
it all over the other pikers there."

Young Benham gave a little sigh of pleasure and excitement. "That's what
I'd like to do to-night," said he, "and that's what I'll do, you can bet
your sh--boots, when all this silly mess is over and I'm a free man.
I'll hike back to good old Broadway, and if ever you see any one trying
to pry me loose from it again you can laugh yourself to death, because
he'll never, never succeed.

"That's where I'll go," he said, nodding, "when this waiting is
over--straight back to Liberty Land and the bright lights. The rest of
the family can stay here till they die, if they want to--and I suppose
they do--_I'm_ going home as soon as I've got my money. Old Charlie'll
manage all that for me. He'll get a lawyer to look after it, and I won't
have to see anybody in the family at all.

"Nine more weeks shut in by stone walls!" said the boy, staring about
him with a sort of bitterness. "Nine weeks more!"

"Is it so hard as that?" asked the girl.

There was no foolish coquetry in her tone. She spoke as if the words
involved no personal question at all, but there was a little smile at
her lips, and Arthur Benham turned toward her quickly and caught at her
hands.

"No, no!" he cried. "I didn't mean that. You know I didn't mean that.
You're worth nine years' waiting. You're the best--d'you hear?--the best
there is. There's nobody anywhere that can touch you. Only--well, this
place is getting on my nerves. It's got me worn to a frazzle. I feel
like a criminal doing time."

"You came very near having to do time somewhere else," said the girl.
"If this M. Ste. Marie hadn't blundered we should have had them all
round our ears, and you'd have had to run for it."

"Yes," the boy said, nodding gravely. "Yes, that was great luck."

He raised his head and looked up along the windows above him.

"Which is his room?" he asked, and Mlle. O'Hara said:

"The one just overhead, but he's in bed far back from the window. He
couldn't possibly hear us talking."

She paused for a moment in frowning hesitation, and in the end said:

"Tell me about him, this Ste. Marie! Do you know anything about him?"

"No," said Arthur Benham, "I don't--not personally, that is. Of course
I've heard of him. Lots of people have spoken of him to me. And the odd
part of it is that they all had a good word to say. Everybody seemed to
like him. I got the idea that he was the best ever. I wanted to know
him. I never thought he'd take on a piece of dirty work like this."

"Nor I," said the girl, in a low voice. "Nor I."

The boy looked up.

"Oh, you've heard of him, too, then?" said he.

And she said, still in her low voice, "I--saw him once."

"Well," declared young Benham, "it's beyond me. I give it up. You never
can tell about people, can you? I guess they'll all go wrong when
there's enough in it to make it worth while. That's what old Charlie
always says. He says most people are straight enough when there's
nothing in it, but make the pot big enough and they'll all go crooked."

The young man's face turned suddenly hard and old and bitter.

"Gee! I ought to know that well enough, oughtn't I?" he said. "I guess
nobody knows that better than I do after what happened to me.... Come
along and take a walk in the garden, Maud! I'm sick of sitting still."

Mlle. Coira O'Hara looked up with a start, as if she had not been
listening, but she rose when the boy held out his hand to her, and the
two went down from the terrace and moved off toward the west.

Ste. Marie watched them until they had disappeared among the trees, and
then turned on his back, staring up into the softly stirring canopy of
green above him and the little rifts of bright blue sky. He did not
understand at all. Something mysterious had crept in where all had
seemed so plain to the eye. Certain words that young Arthur Benham had
spoken repeated themselves in his mind, and he could not at once make
them out. Assuredly there was something mysterious here.

In the first place, what did the boy mean by "dirty work"? To be sure,
spying, in its usual sense, is not held to be one of the noblest of
occupations, but--in such a cause as this! It was absurd, ridiculous, to
call it "dirty work." And what did he mean by the words which he had
used afterward? Ste. Marie did not quite follow the idiom about the "big
enough pot," but he assumed that it referred to money. Did the young
fool think he was being paid for his efforts? That was ridiculous, too.

The boy's face came before him as it had looked with that sudden hard
and bitter expression. What did he mean by saying that no one knew the
crookedness of humanity under money temptation better than he knew it
after something that had happened to him? In a sense his words were
doubtless very true. Captain Stewart--and he must have been "old
Charlie"; Ste. Marie remembered that the name was Charles--O'Hara, and
O'Hara's daughter stood excellent examples of that bit of cynicism, but
obviously the boy had not spoken in that sense--certainly not before
Mlle. O'Hara! He meant something else, then. But what--what?

Ste. Marie rose with some difficulty to his feet and carried the pillows
back to the bed whence he had taken them. He sat down upon the edge of
the bed, staring in great perplexity across the room at the open window,
but all at once he uttered an exclamation and smote his hands together.

"That boy doesn't know!" he cried. "They're tricking him, these others!"

The lad's face came once more before him, and it was a foolish and
stubborn face, perhaps, but it was neither vicious nor mean. It was the
face of an honest, headstrong boy who would be incapable of the cold
cruelty to which all circumstances seemed to point.

"They're tricking him somehow!" cried Ste. Marie again. "They're lying
to him and making him think--"

What was it they were making him think, these three conspirators? What
possible thing could they make him think other than the plain truth?
Ste. Marie shook a weary head and lay down among his pillows. He wished
that he had "old Charlie" in a corner of that room with his fingers
round "old Charlie's" wicked throat. He would soon get at the truth
then; or O'Hara, either, that grim and saturnine chevalier d'industrie,
though O'Hara would be a bad handful to manage; or--Ste. Marie's head
dropped back with a little groan when the face of young Arthur's
enchantress came between him and the opposite wall of the room and her
great and tragic eyes looked into his.

It seemed incredible that that queen among goddesses should be what she
was!

       *       *       *       *       *



XIX

THE INVALID TAKES THE AIR


When O'Hara, the next morning, went through the formality of looking in
upon his patient, and after a taciturn nod was about to go away again,
Ste. Marie called him back. He said, "Would you mind waiting a moment?"
and the Irishman halted inside the door. "I made an experiment
yesterday," said Ste. Marie, "and I find that, after a poor fashion, I
can walk--that is to say, I can drag myself about a little without any
great pain if I don't bend the left leg."

O'Hara returned to the bed and made a silent examination of the bullet
wound, which, it was plain to see, was doing very well indeed. "You'll
be all right in a few days," said he, "but you'll be lame for a week
yet--maybe two. As a matter of fact, I've known men to march half a day
with a hole in the leg worse than yours, though it probably was not
quite pleasant."

"I'm afraid I couldn't march very far," said Ste. Marie, "but I can
hobble a bit. The point is, I'm going mad from confinement in this room.
Do you think I might be allowed to stagger about the garden for an hour,
or sit there under one of the trees? I don't like to ask favors, but, so
far as I can see, it could do no harm. I couldn't possibly escape, you
see. I couldn't climb a fifteen-foot wall even if I had two good legs;
as it is, with a leg and a half, I couldn't climb anything."

The Irishman looked at him sharply, and was silent for a time, as if
considering. But at last he said: "Of course there is no reason whatever
for granting you any favors here. You're on the footing of a spy--a
captured spy--and you're very lucky not to have got what you deserved
instead of a trumpery flesh wound." The man's face twisted into a heavy
scowl. "Unfortunately," said he, "an accident has put me--put us in as
unpleasant a position toward you as you had put yourself toward us. We
seem to stand in the position of having tried to poison you, and--well,
we owe you something for that. Still, I'd meant to keep you locked up in
this room so long as it was necessary to have you at La Lierre." He
scowled once more in an intimidating fashion at Ste. Marie, and it was
evident that he found himself embarrassed. "And," he said, awkwardly, "I
suppose I owe something to your father's son.... Look here! If you're to
be allowed in the garden, you must understand that it's at fixed hours
and not alone. Somebody will always be with you, and old Michel will be
on hand to shoot you down if you try to run for it or if you try to
communicate with Arthur Benham. Is that understood?"

"Quite," said Ste. Marie, gayly. "Quite understood and agreed to. And
many thanks for your courtesy. I sha'n't forget it. We differ rather
widely on some rather important subjects, you and I, but I must confess
that you're very generous, and I thank you. The old Michel has my full
permission to shoot at me if he sees me trying to fly over a
fifteen-foot wall."

"He'll shoot without asking your permission," said the Irishman, grimly,
"if you try that on, but I don't think you'll be apt to try it for the
present--not with a crippled leg." He pulled out his watch and looked at
it. "Nine o'clock," said he. "If you care to begin to-day you can go out
at eleven for an hour. I'll see that old Michel is ready at that time."

"Eleven will suit me perfectly," said Ste. Marie. "You're very good.
Thanks once more!" The Irishman did not seem to hear. He replaced the
watch in his pocket and turned away in silence. But before he left the
room he stood a moment beside one of the windows, staring out into the
morning sunshine, and the other man could see that his face had once
more settled into the still and melancholic gloom which was
characteristic of it. Ste. Marie watched, and for the first time the man
began to interest him as a human being. He had thought of O'Hara before
merely as a rather shady adventurer of a not very rare type, but he
looked at the adventurer's face now and he saw that it was the face of a
man of unspeakable sorrows. When O'Hara looked at one, one saw only a
pair of singularly keen and hard blue eyes set under a bony brow. When
those eyes were turned away, the man's attention relaxed, the face
became a battle-ground furrowed and scarred with wrecked pride and with
bitterness and with shame and with agony. Most soldiers of fortune have
faces like that, for the world has used them very ill, and they have
lost one precious thing after another until all are gone, and they have
tasted everything that there is in life, and the flavor which remains is
a very bitter flavor--dry, like ashes.

It came to Ste. Marie, as he lay watching this man, that the story of
the man's life, if he could be made to tell it, would doubtless be one
of the most interesting stories in the world, as must be the tale of the
adventurous career of any one who has slipped down the ladder of
respectability, rung by rung, into that shadowy no-man's-land where the
furtive birds of prey foregather and hatch their plots. It was plain
enough that O'Hara had, as the phrase goes, seen better days. Without
question he was a villain, but, after all, a generous villain. He had
been very decent about making amends for that poisoning affair. A
cheaper rascal would have behaved otherwise. Ste. Marie suddenly
remembered what a friend of his had once said of this mysterious
Irishman. The two had been sitting on the terrace of a café, and as
O'Hara passed by Ste. Marie's friend pointed after him and said: "There
goes some of the best blood that ever came out of Ireland. See what it
has fallen to!"

Seemingly it had fallen pretty low. He would have liked very much to
know about the downward stages, but he knew that he would never hear
anything of them from the man himself, for O'Hara was clad, as it were,
in an armor of taciturnity. He was incredibly silent. He wore mail that
nothing could pierce.

The Irishman turned abruptly away and left the room, and Ste. Marie,
with all the gay excitement of a little girl preparing for her first
nursery party, began to get himself ready to go out. The old Michel had
already been there to help him bathe and shave, so that he had only to
dress himself and attend to his one conspicuous vanity--the painstaking
arrangement of his hair, which he wore, according to the fashion of the
day, parted a little at one side and brushed almost straight back, so
that it looked rather like a close-fitting and incredibly glossy
skullcap. Richard Hartley, who was inclined to joke at his friend's
grave interest in the matter, said that it reminded him of
patent-leather.

When he was dressed--and he found that putting on his left boot was no
mean feat--Ste. Marie sat down in a chair by the window and lighted a
cigarette. He had half an hour to wait, and so he picked up the volume
of _Bayard_, which Coira O'Hara had not yet taken away from him, and
began to read in it at random. He became so absorbed that the old
Michel, come to summon him, took him by surprise. But it was a pleasant
surprise and very welcome. He followed the old man out of the room with
a heart that beat fast with eagerness.

The descent of the stairs offered difficulties, for the wounded leg
protested sharply against being bent more than a very little at the
knee. But by the aid of Michel's shoulder he made the passage in safety
and so came to the lower story. At the foot of the stairs some one
opened a door almost in their faces, but closed it again with great
haste, and Ste. Marie gave a chuckle of laughter, for, though it was
almost dark there, he thought he had recognized Captain Stewart.

"So old Charlie's with us to-day, is he?" he said, aloud, and Michel
queried:

"Comment, Monsieur?" because Ste. Marie had spoken in English.

They came out upon the terrace before the house, and the fresh, sweet
air bore against their faces, and little flecks of live gold danced and
shivered about their feet upon the moss-stained tiles. The gardener
stepped back for an instant into the doorway, and reappeared bearing
across his arms the short carbine with which Ste. Marie had already made
acquaintance. The victim looked at this weapon with a laugh, and the old
Michel's gnomelike countenance distorted itself suddenly and a weird
cackle came from it.

"It is my old friend?" demanded Ste. Marie, and the gardener cackled
once more, stroking the barrel of the weapon as if it were a faithful
dog.

"The same, Monsieur," said he. "But she apologizes for not doing
better."

"Beg her for me," said the young man, "to cheer up. She may get another
chance."

Old Michel's face froze into an expression of anxious and rather
frightened solicitude, but he waved his arm for the prisoner to precede
him, and Ste. Marie began to limp down across the littered and unkempt
sweep of turf. Behind him, at the distance of a dozen paces, he heard
the shambling footfalls of his guard, but he had expected that, and it
could not rob him of his swelling and exultant joy at treading once more
upon green grass and looking up into blue sky. He was like a man newly
released from a dungeon rather than from a sunny and by no means
uncomfortable upper chamber. He would have liked to dance and sing, to
run at full speed like a child until he was breathless and red in the
face. Instead of that he had to drag himself with slow pains and some
discomfort, but his spirit ran ahead, dancing and singing, and he
thought that it even halted now and then to roll on the grass.

As he had observed a week before, from the top of the wall, a double row
of larches led straight down away from the front of the house, making a
wide and long vista interrupted half-way to its end by a rond point, in
the centre of which were a pool and a fountain. The double row of trees
was sadly broken now, and the trees were untrimmed and uncared for. One
of them had fallen, probably in a wind-storm, and lay dead across the
way. Ste. Marie turned aside toward the west and found himself presently
among chestnuts, planted in close rows, whose tops grew in so thick a
canopy above that but little sunshine came through, and there was no
turf under foot, only black earth, hard-trodden, mossy here and there.

From beyond, in the direction he had chanced to take, and a little
toward the west, a soft morning breeze bore to him the scent of roses so
constant and so sweet, despite its delicacy, that to breathe it was like
an intoxication. He felt it begin to take hold upon and to sway his
senses like an exquisite, an insidious wine.

"The flower-gardens, Michel?" he asked, over his shoulder. "They are
before us?"

"Ahead and to the left, Monsieur," said the old man, and he took up once
more his slow and difficult progress.

But again, before he had gone many steps, he was halted. There began to
reach his ears a rich but slender strain of sound, a golden thread of
melody. At first he thought that it was a 'cello or the lower notes of a
violin, but presently he became aware that it was a woman singing in a
half-voice without thought of what she sang--as women croon to a child,
or over their work, or when they are idle and their thoughts are far
wandering.

The mistake was not as absurd as it may seem, for it is a fact that the
voice which is called a contralto, if it is a good and clear and fairly
resonant voice, sounds at a distance very much indeed like a 'cello or
the lower register of a violin. And that is especially true when the
voice is hushed to a half-articulate murmur. Indeed, this is but one of
the many strange peculiarities of that most beautiful of all human
organs. The contralto can rarely express the lighter things, and it is
quite impossible for it to express merriment or gayety, but it can
thrill the heart as can no other sound emitted by a human throat, and it
can shake the soul to its very innermost hidden deeps. It is the soft,
yellow gold of singing--the wine of sound; it is mystery; it is shadowy,
unknown, beautiful places; it is enchantment. Ste. Marie stood still and
listened. The sound of low singing came from the right. Without
realizing that he had moved, he began to make his way in that direction,
and the old Michel, carbine upon arm, followed behind him. He had no
doubt of the singer. He knew well who it was, for the girl's speaking
voice had thrilled him long before this. He came to the eastern margin
of the grove of chestnuts and found that he was beside the open rond
point, where the pool lay within its stone circumference, unclean and
choked with lily-pads, and the fountain--a naked lady holding aloft a
shell--stood above. The rond point was not in reality round; it was an
oval with its greater axis at right angles to the long, straight avenue
of larches. At the two ends of the oval there were stone benches with
backs, and behind these, tall shrubs grew close and overhung, so that
even at noonday the spots were shaded.

       *       *       *       *       *



XX

THE STONE BENCH AT THE ROND POINT


Mlle. Coira O'Hara sat alone upon the stone bench at the hither end of
the rond point. With a leisurely hand she put fine stitches into a
mysterious garment of white, with lace on it, and over her not too
arduous toil she sang, à demi voix, a little German song all about the
tender passions.

Ste. Marie halted his dragging steps a little way off, but the girl
heard him and turned to look. After that she rose hurriedly and stood as
if poised for flight, but Ste. Marie took his hat in his hands and came
forward.

"If you go away, Mademoiselle," said he, "if you let me drive you from
your place, I shall limp across to that pool and fall in and drown
myself, or I shall try to climb the wall yonder and Michel will have to
shoot me."

He came forward another step.

"If it is impossible," he said, "that you and I should stay here
together for a few little moments and talk about what a beautiful day it
is--if that is impossible, why then I must apologize for intruding upon
you and go on my way, inexorably pursued by the would-be murderer who
now stands six paces to the rear. Is it impossible, Mademoiselle?" said
Ste. Marie.

The girl's face was flushed with that deep and splendid understain. She
looked down upon the white garment in her hand and away across the broad
rond point, and in the end she looked up very gravely into the face of
the man who stood leaning upon his stick before her.

"I don't know," she said, in her deep voice, "what my father would wish.
I did not know that you were coming into the garden this morning, or--"

"Or else," said Ste. Marie, with a little touch of bitterness in his
tone--"or else you would not have been here. You would have remained in
the house."

He made a bow.

"To-morrow, Mademoiselle," said he, "and for the remainder of the days
that I may be at La Lierre, I shall stay in my room. You need have no
fear of me."

All the man's life he had been spoiled. The girl's bearing hurt him
absurdly, and a little of the hurt may have betrayed itself in his face
as he turned away, for she came toward him with a swift movement,
saying:

"No, no! Wait!--I have hurt you," she said, with a sort of wondering
distress. "You have let me hurt you.... And yet surely you must see,...
you must realize on what terms.... Do you forget that you are not among
your friends... outside?... This is so very different!"

"I had forgotten," said he. "Incredible as it sounds, I had for a moment
forgotten. Will you grant me your pardon for that? And yet," he
persisted, after a moment's pause--"yet, Mademoiselle, consider a
little! It is likely that--circumstances have so fallen that it seems I
shall be here within your walls for a time, perhaps a long time. I am
able to walk a little now. Day by day I shall be stronger, better able
to get about. Is there not some way--are there hot some terms under
which we could meet without embarrassment? Must we forever glare at each
other and pass by warily, just because we--well, hold different views
about--something?"

It was not a premeditated speech at all. It had never until this moment
occurred to him to suggest any such arrangement with any member of the
household at La Lierre. At another time he would doubtless have
considered it undignified, if not downright unwise, to hold intercourse
of any friendly sort with this band of contemptible adventurers. The
sudden impulse may have been born of his long week of almost intolerable
loneliness, or it may have come of the warm exhilaration of this first
breath of sweet, outdoor air, or perhaps it needed neither of these
things, for the girl was very beautiful--enchantment breathed from her,
and, though he knew what she was, in what despicable plot she was
engaged, he was too much Ste. Marie to be quite indifferent to her.
Though he looked upon her sorrowfully and with pain and vicarious shame,
he could not have denied the spell she wielded. After all, he was Ste.
Marie.

Once more the girl looked up very gravely under her brows, and her eyes
met the man's eyes. "I don't know," she said. "Truly, I don't know. I
think I should have to ask my father about it.--I wish," she said, "that
we might do that. I should like it. I should like to be able to talk to
some one--about the things I like--and care for. I used to talk with my
father about things; but not lately. There is no one now." Her eyes
searched him. "Would it be possible, I wonder," said she. "Could we two
put everything else aside--forget altogether who we are and why we are
here. Is that possible?"

"We could only try, Mademoiselle," said Ste. Marie. "If we found it a
failure we could give it up." He broke into a little laugh. "And
besides," he said, "I can't help thinking that two people ought to be
with me all the time I am in the garden here--for safety's sake. I might
catch the old Michel napping one day, you know, throttle him, take his
rifle away, and escape. If there were two, I couldn't do it."

For an instant she met his laugh with an answering smile, and the smile
came upon her sombre beauty like a moment of golden light upon darkness.
But afterward she was grave again and thoughtful. "Is it not rather
foolish," she asked, "to warn us--to warn me of possibilities like that?
You might quite easily do what you have said. You are putting us on our
guard against you."

"I meant to, Mademoiselle," said Ste. Marie. "I meant to. Consider my
reasons. Consider what I was pleading for!" And he gave a little laugh
when the color began again to rise in the girl's cheeks.

She turned away from him, shaking her head, and he thought that he had
said too much and that she was offended, but after a moment the girl
looked up, and when she met his eyes she laughed outright.

"I cannot forever be scowling and snarling at you," said she. "It is
quite too absurd. Will you sit down for a little while? I don't know
whether or not my father would approve, but we have met here by
accident, and there can be no harm, surely, in our exchanging a few
civil words. If you try to bring up forbidden topics I can simply go
away; and, besides, Michel stands ready to murder you if it should
become necessary. I think his failure of a week ago is very heavy on his
conscience."

Ste. Marie sat down in one corner of the long stone bench, and he was
very glad to do it, for his leg was beginning to cause him some
discomfort. It felt hot and as if there were a very tight band round it
above the knee. The relief must have been apparent in his face, for
Mlle. O'Hara looked at him in silence for a moment, and she gave a
little, troubled, anxious frown. Men can be quite indifferent to
suffering in each other if the suffering is not extreme, and women can
be, too, but men are quite miserable in the presence of a woman who is
in pain, and women, before a suffering man, while they are not
miserable, are always full of a desire to do something that will help.
And that might be a small, additional proof--if any more proof were
necessary--that they are much the more practical of the two sexes.

The girl's sharp glance seemed to assure her that Ste. Marie was
comfortable, now that he was sitting down, for the frown went from her
brows, and she began to arrange the mysterious white garment in her lap
in preparation to go on with her work.

Ste. Marie watched her for a while in a contented silence. The leaves
overhead stirred under a puff of air, and a single yellow beam of
sunlight came down and shivered upon the girl's dark head and played
about the bundle of white over which her hands were busy. She moved
aside to avoid it, but it followed her, and when she moved back it
followed again and danced in her lap as if it were a live thing with a
malicious sense of humor. It might have been Tinker Bell out of _Peter
Pan_, only it did not jingle. Mlle. O'Hara uttered an exclamation of
annoyance, and Ste. Marie laughed at her, but in a moment the leaves
overhead were still again, and the sunbeam, with a sense of humor, was
gone to torment some one else.

Still neither of the two spoke, and Ste. Marie continued to watch the
girl bent above her sewing. He Was thinking of what she had said to him
when he asked her if she read Spanish--that her mother had been Spanish.
That would account, then, for her dark eyes. It would account for the
darkness of her skin, too, but not for its extraordinary clearness and
delicacy, for Spanish women are apt to have dull skins of an opaque
texture. This was, he said to himself, an Irish skin with a darker
stain, and he was quite sure that he had never before seen anything at
all like it.

Apart from coloring, she was all Irish, of the type which has become
famous the world over, and which in the opinion of men who have seen
women in all countries, and have studied them, is the most beautiful
type that exists in our time.

Ste. Marie was dark himself, and in the ordinary nature of things he
should have preferred a fair type in women. In theory, for that matter,
he did prefer it, but it was impossible for him to sit near Coira O'Hara
and watch her bent head and busy, hovering hands, and remain unstirred
by her splendid beauty. He found himself wondering why one kind of
loveliness more than another should exert a potent and mysterious spell
by virtue of mere proximity, and when the woman who bore it was entirely
passive. If this girl had been looking at him the matter would have been
easy to understand, for an eye-glance is often downright hypnotic; but
she was looking at the work in her hands, and, so far as could be
judged, she had altogether forgotten his presence; yet the mysterious
spell, the potent enchantment, breathed from her like a vapor, and he
could not be insensible to it. It was like sorcery.

The girl looked up so suddenly that Ste. Marie jumped. She said:

"You are not a very talkative person. Are you always as silent as this?"

"No," said he, "I am not. I offer my humblest apologies. It seems as if
I were not properly grateful for being allowed to sit here with you,
but, to tell the truth, I was buried in thought."

They had begun to talk in French, but midway of Ste. Marie's speech the
girl glanced toward the old Michel, who stood a short distance away, and
so he changed to English.

"In that case," she said, regarding her work with her head on one side
like a bird--"in that case you might at least tell me what your thoughts
were. They might be interesting."

Ste. Marie gave a little embarrassed laugh.

"I'm sorry," said he, "but I'm afraid they were too personal. I'm afraid
if I told you you'd get up and go away and be frigidly polite to me when
next we passed each other in the garden here. But there's no harm," he
said, "in telling you one thing that occurred to me. It occurred to me
that, as far as a young girl can be said to resemble an elderly woman,
you bear a most remarkable resemblance to a very dear old friend of mine
who lives near Dublin--Lady Margaret Craith. She's a widow, and almost
all of her family are dead, I believe--I didn't know any of them--and
she lives there in a huge old house with a park, quite alone with her
army of servants. I go to see her whenever I'm in Ireland, because she
is one of the sweetest souls I have ever known."

He became aware suddenly that Mlle. O'Hara's head was bent very low over
her sewing and that her face, or as much of it as he could see, was
crimson.

"Oh, I--I beg your pardon!" cried Ste. Marie. "I've done something
dreadful. I don't know what it is, but I'm very, very sorry. Please
forgive me if you can!"

"It is nothing," she said, in a low voice, and after a moment she looked
up for the swiftest possible glance and down again. "That is my--aunt,"
she said. "Only--please let us talk about something else! Of course you
couldn't possibly have known."

"No," said Ste. Marie, gravely. "No, of course. You are very good to
forgive me."

He was silent a little while, for what the girl had told him surprised
him very much indeed, and touched him, too. He remembered again the
remark of his friend when O'Hara had passed them on the boulevard:

"There goes some of the best blood that ever came out of Ireland. See
what it has fallen to!"

"It is a curious fact," said he, "that you and I are very close
compatriots in the matter of blood--if 'compatriots' is the word. You
are Irish and Spanish. My mother was Irish and my people were Béarnais,
which is about as much Spanish as French; and, indeed, there was a great
deal of blood from across the mountains in them, for they often married
Spanish wives."

He pulled the _Bayard_ out of his pocket.

"The Ste. Marie in here married a Spanish lady, didn't he?"

The girl looked up to him once more.

"Yes," she said. "Yes, I remember. He was a brave man, Monsieur. He had
a great soul. And he died nobly."

"Well, as for that," he said, flushing a little, "the Ste. Maries have
all died rather well."

He gave a short laugh.

"Though I must admit," said he, "that the last of them came precious
near falling below the family standard a week ago. I should think that
probably none of my respected forefathers was killed in climbing over a
garden-wall. Autres temps, autres moeurs."

He burst out laughing again at what seemed to him rather comic, but
Mlle. O'Hara did not smile. She looked very gravely into his eyes, and
there seemed to be something like sorrow in her look. Ste. Marie
wondered at it, but after a moment it occurred to him that he was very
near forbidden ground, and that doubtless the girl was trying to give
him a silent warning of it. He began to turn over the leaves of the book
in his hand.

"You have marked a great many pages here," said he.

And she said: "It is my best of all books. I read in it very often. I am
so thankful for it that there are no words to say how thankful I am--how
glad I am that I have such a world as that to--take refuge in sometimes
when this world is a little too unbearable. It does for me now what the
fairy stories did when I was little. And to think that it's true, true!
To think that once there truly were men like that--sans peur et sans
reproche! It makes life worth while to think that those men lived even
if it was long ago."

Ste. Marie bent his head over the little book, for he could not look at
Mlle. O'Hara just then. It seemed to him well-nigh the most pathetic
speech that he had ever heard. His heart bled for her. Out of what mean
shadows had the girl to turn her weary eyes upward to this sunlight of
ancient heroism!

"And yet, Mademoiselle," said he, gently, "I think there are such men
alive to-day, if only one will look for them. Remember, they were not
common even in Bayard's time. Oh yes, I think there are preux chevaliers
nowadays, only perhaps they don't go about things in quite the same
fashion. Other times, other manners," he said again.

"Do you know any such men?" she demanded, facing him with shadowy eyes.

And he said: "Yes, I know men who are in all ways as honorable and as
high-hearted as Bayard was. In his place they would have acted as he
did, but nowadays one has to practise heroism much less
conspicuously--in the little things that few people see and that no one
applauds or writes books about. It is much harder to do brave little
acts than brave big ones."

"Yes." she agreed, slowly. "Oh yes, of course."

But there was no spirit in her tone, rather a sort of apathy. Once more
the leaves overhead swayed in the breeze, opened a tiny rift, and the
little trembling ray of sunshine shot down to her where she sat. She
stretched out one hand cup-wise, and the sunbeam, after a circling
gyration, darted into it and lay there like a small golden bird panting,
as it were, from fright.

"If I were a painter," said Ste. Marie, "I should be in torture and
anguish of soul until I had painted you sitting there on a stone bench
and holding a sunbeam in your hand. I don't know what I should call the
picture, but I think it would be something figurative--symbolic. Can you
think of a name?"

Coira O'Hara looked up at him with a slight smile, but her eyes were
gloomy and full of dark shadows. "It might be called any one of a great
number of things, I should think," said she.
"Happiness--belief--illusion. See! The sunbeam is gone."

       *       *       *       *       *



XXI

A MIST DIMS THE SHINING STAR


Ste. Marie remained in his room all the rest of that day, and he did not
see Mlle. O'Hara again, for Michel brought him his lunch and the old
Justine his dinner. For the greater part of the time he sat in bed
reading, but rose now and then and moved about the room. His wound
seemed to have suffered no great inconvenience from the morning's
outing. If he stood or walked too long it burned somewhat, and he had
the sensation of a tight band round the leg; but this passed after he
had lain down for a little while, or even sat in a chair with the leg
straight out before him; so he knew that he was not to be crippled very
much longer, and his thoughts began to turn more and more keenly upon
the matter of escape.

He realized, of course, that now, since he was once more able to walk,
he would be guarded with unremitting care every moment of the day, and
quite possibly every moment of the night as well, though the simple
bolting of his door on the outside would seem to answer the purpose save
when he was out-of-doors. Once he went to the two east windows and hung
out of them, testing as well as he could with his hands the strength and
tenacity of the ivy which covered that side of the house. He thought it
seemed strong enough to give hand and foot hold without being torn
loose, but he was afraid it would make an atrocious amount of noise if
he should try to climb down it, and, besides, he would need two very
active legs for that.

At another time a fresh idea struck him, and he put it at once into
action. There might be just a chance, when out one day with Michel, of
getting near enough to the wall which ran along the Clamart road to
throw something over it when the old man was not looking. In one of his
pockets he had a card-case with a little pencil fitted into a loop at
the edge, and in the case it was his custom to carry postage-stamps. He
investigated and found pencil and stamps. Of course he had nothing but
cards to write upon, and they were useless. He looked about the room and
went through an empty chest of drawers in vain, but at last, on some
shelves in the closet where his clothes had hung, he found several large
sheets of coarse white paper. The shelves were covered with it loosely
for the sake of cleanliness. He abstracted one of these sheets, and cut
it into squares of the ordinary note-paper size, and he sat down and
wrote a brief letter to Richard Hartley, stating where he was, that
Arthur Benham was there, the O'Haras, and, he thought, Captain Stewart.
He did not write the names out, but put instead the initial letters of
each name, knowing that Hartley would understand. He gave careful
directions as to how the place was to be reached, and he asked Hartley
to come as soon as possible by night to that wall where he himself had
made his entrance, to climb up by the cedar-tree, and to drop his answer
into the thick leaves of the lilac bushes immediately beneath--an answer
naming a day and hour, preferably by night, when he could return with
three or four to help him, surprise the household at La Lierre, and
carry off young Benham.

Ste. Marie wrote this letter four times, and each of the four copies he
enclosed in an awkwardly fashioned envelope, made with infinite pains so
that its flaps folded in together, for he had no gum. He addressed and
stamped the four envelopes, and put them all in his pocket to await the
first opportunity.

Afterward he lay down for a while, and as, one after another, the books
he had in the room failed to interest him, his thoughts began to turn
back to Mlle. Coira O'Hara and his hour with her upon the old stone
bench in the garden. He realized all at once that he had been putting
off this reflection as one puts off a reckoning that one a little dreads
to face, and rather vaguely he realized why.

The spell that the girl wielded--quite without being conscious of it; he
granted her that grace--was too potent. It was dangerous, and he knew
it. Even imaginative and very unpractical people can be in some things
surprisingly matter-of-fact, and Ste. Marie was matter-of-fact about
this. The girl had made a mysterious and unprecedented appeal to him at
his very first sight of her, long before, and ever since that time she
had continued, intermittently at least, to haunt his dreams. Now he was
in the very house with her. It was quite possible that he might see her
and speak with her every day, and he knew there was peril in that.

He closed his eyes and she came to him, dark and beautiful, magnetically
vital, spreading enchantment about her like a fragrance. She sat beside
him on the moss-stained bench in the garden, holding out her hand
cup-wise, and a sunbeam lay in the hand like a little, golden,
fluttering bird. His thoughts ran back to that first morning when he had
narrowly escaped death by poison. He remembered the girl's agony of fear
and horror. He felt her hands once more upon his shoulders, and he was
aware that his breath was coming faster and that his heart beat quickly.
He got to his feet and went across to one of the windows, and he stood
there for a long time frowning out into the summer day. If ever in his
life, he said to himself with some deliberation, he was to need a cool
and clear head, faculties unclouded and unimpaired by emotion, it was
now in these next few days. Much more than his own well-being depended
upon him now. The fates of a whole family, and quite possibly the lives
of some of them, were in his hands. He must not fail, and he must not,
in any least way, falter.

For enemies he had a band of desperate adventurers, and the very boy
himself, the centre and reason for the whole plot, had been, in some
incomprehensible way, so played upon that he, too, was against him.

The man standing by the window forced himself quite deliberately to look
the plain facts in the face. He compelled himself to envisage this
beautiful girl with her tragic eyes for just what his reason knew her to
be--an adventuress, a decoy, a lure to a callow, impressionable, foolish
lad, the tool of that arch-villain Stewart and of the lesser villain her
father. It was like standing by and watching something lovely and
pitiful vilely befouled. It turned his heart sick within him, but he
held himself to the task. He brought to aid him the vision of his lady,
in whose cause he was pursuing this adventure. For strength and
determination he reached eye and hand to her where she sat enthroned,
calm-browed, serene.

For the first time since the beginning of all things his lady failed
him, and Ste. Marie turned cold with fear.

Where was that splendid frenzy that had been wont to sweep him all in an
instant into upper air--set his feet upon the stars? Where was it? The
man gave a sudden, voiceless cry of horror. The wings that had such
countless times upborne him fluttered weakly near the earth and could
not mount. His lady was there; through infinite space he was aware of
her, but she was cold and aloof, and her eyes gazed very serenely beyond
at something he could not see.

He knew well enough that the fault lay somewhere within himself. She was
as she had ever been, but he lacked the strength to rise to her. Why?
Why? He searched himself with a desperate earnestness, but he could find
no answer to his questioning. In himself, as in her, there had come no
change. She was still to him all that she ever had been--the star of his
destiny, the pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day, to guide him on
his path. Where, then, the fine, pure fervor that should, at thought of
her, whirl him on high and make a god of him?

He stood wrapped in bewilderment and despair, for he could find no
answer.

In plain words, in commonplace black-and-white, the man's anguish has an
over-fanciful, a well-nigh absurd look, but to Ste. Marie the thing was
very real and terrible, as real and as terrible as, to a half-starved
monk in his lonely cell, the sudden failure of the customary exaltation
of spirit after a night's long prayer.

He went, after a time, back to the bed, and lay down there with one
upflung arm across his eyes to shut out the light. He was filled with a
profound dejection and a sense of hopelessness. Through all the long
week of his imprisonment he had been cheerful, at times even gay.
However evil his case might have looked, his elastic spirits had mounted
above all difficulties and cares, confident in the face of apparent
defeat. Now at last he lay still, bruised, as it were, and battered and
weary. The flame of courage burned very low in him. From sheer
exhaustion he fell after a time into a troubled sleep, but even there
the enemy followed him and would not let him rest. He seemed to himself
to be in a place of shadows and fears. He strained his eyes to make out
above him the bright, clear star of guidance, for so long as that shone
he was safe; but something had come between--cloud or mist--and his star
shone dimly in fitful glimpses.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the next morning he went out once more with the old Michel into the
garden. He went with a stronger heart, for the morning had renewed his
courage, as bright, fresh mornings do. From the anguish of the day
before he held himself carefully aloof. He kept his mind away from all
thought of it, and gave his attention to the things about him. It would
return, doubtless, in the slow, idle hours; he would have to face it
again and yet again; he would have to contend with it; but for the
present he put it out of his thoughts, for there were things to do.

It was no more than human of him--and certainly it was very
characteristic of Ste. Marie--that he should be half glad and half
disappointed at not finding Coira O'Hara in her place at the rond point.
It left him free to do what he wished to do--make a careful
reconnaissance of the whole garden enclosure--but it left him empty of
something he had, without conscious thought, looked forward to.

His wounded leg was stronger and more flexible than on the day before;
it burned and prickled less, and could be bent a little at the knee with
small distress; so he led the old Michel at a good pace down the length
of the enclosure, past the rose-gardens, a tangle of unkempt sweetness,
and so to the opposite wall. He found the gates there, very
formidable-looking, made of vertical iron bars connected by cross-pieces
and an ornamental scroll. They were fastened together by a heavy chain
and a padlock. The lock was covered with rust, as were the gates
themselves, and Ste. Marie observed that the lane outside upon which
they gave was overgrown with turf and moss, and even with seedling
shrubs; so he felt sure that this entrance was never used. The lane, he
noted, swept away to the right toward Issy and not toward the Clamart
road. He heard, as he stood there, the whir of a tram from far away at
the left, a tram bound to or from Clamart, and the sound brought to his
mind what he wished to do. He turned about and began to make his way
round the rose-gardens, which were partly enclosed by a low brick wall
some two or three feet high. Beyond them the trees and shrubbery were
not set out in orderly rows as they were near the house, but grew at
will without hindrance or care. It was like a bit of the Meudon wood.

He found the going more difficult here for his bad leg, but he pressed
on, and in a little while saw before him that wall which skirted the
Clamart road. He felt in his pocket for the four sealed and stamped
letters, but just then the old Michel spoke behind him:

"Pardon, Monsieur! Ce n'est pas permis."

"What is not permitted?" demanded Ste. Marie, wheeling about.

"To approach that wall, Monsieur," said the old man, with an incredibly
gnomelike and apologetic grin.

Ste. Marie gave an exclamation of disgust. "Is it believed that I could
leap over it?" he asked. "A matter of five metres? Merci, non! I am not
so agile. You flatter me."

The old Michel spread out his two gnarled hands.

"Pas de ma faute. I have orders, Monsieur. It will be my painful duty to
shoot if Monsieur approaches that wall." He turned his strange head on
one side and regarded Ste. Marie with his sharp and beadlike eye. The
smile of apology still distorted his face, and he looked exactly like
the Punchinello in a street show.

Ste. Marie slowly withdrew from his pocket two louis d'or and held them
before him in the palm of his hand. He looked down upon them, and Michel
looked, too, with a gaze so intense that his solitary eye seemed to
project a very little from his withered face. He was like a hypnotized
old bird.

"Mon vieux," said Ste. Marie. "I am a man of honor."

"Sûrement! Sûrement, Monsieur!" said the old Michel, politely, but his
hypnotized gaze did not stir so much as a hair's-breadth. "Ça va sans le
dire."

"A man of honor," repeated Ste. Marie. "When I give my word I keep it.
Voilà! I keep it. And," said he, "I have here forty francs. Two louis. A
large sum. It is yours, my brave Michel, for the mere trouble of turning
your back just thirty seconds."

"Monsieur," whispered the old man, "it is impossible. He would kill
me--by torture."

"He will never know," said Ste. Marie, "for I do not mean to try to
escape. I give you my word of honor that I shall not try to escape.
Besides, I could not climb over that wall, as you see. Two louis,
Michel! Forty francs!"

The old man's hands twisted and trembled round the barrel of the
carbine, and he swallowed once with some difficulty. He seemed to
hesitate, but in the end he shook his head. It was as if he shook it in
grief over the grave of his first-born. "It is impossible," he said
again. "Impossible." He tore the beadlike eye away from those two
beautiful, glowing golden things, and Ste. Marie saw that there was
nothing to be done with him just now. He slipped the money back into his
pocket with a little sigh and turned away toward the rose-gardens.

"Ah, well," said he. "Another time, perhaps. Another time. And there are
more louis still, mon vieux. Perhaps three or four. Who knows?"

Michel emitted a groan of extreme anguish, and they moved on.

But a few moments later Ste. Marie gave a sudden low exclamation, and
then a soundless laugh, for he caught sight of a very familiar figure
seated in apparent dejection upon a fallen tree-trunk and staring across
the tangled splendor of the roses.

       *       *       *       *       *



XXII

A SETTLEMENT REFUSED


Captain Stewart had good reason to look depressed on that fresh and
beautiful morning when Ste. Marie happened upon him beside the
rose-gardens. Matters had not gone well with him of late. He was ill and
he was frightened, and he was much nearer than is agreeable to a
complete nervous breakdown.

It seemed to him that perils beset him upon every side, perils both seen
and unseen. He felt like a man who is hunted in the dark, hard pressed
until his strength is gone, and he can flee no farther. He imagined
himself to be that man shivering in the gloom in a strange place, hiding
eyes and ears lest he see or hear something from which he cannot escape.
He imagined the morning light to come, very slow and cold and gray, and
in it he saw round about him a silent ring of enemies, the men who had
pursued him and run him down. He saw them standing there in the pale
dawn, motionless, waiting for the day, and he knew that at last the
chase was over and he near done for.

Crouching alone in the garden, with the scent of roses in his nostrils,
he wondered with a great and bitter amazement at that madman--himself of
only a few months ago--who had sat down deliberately, in his proper
senses, to play at cards with Fate, the great winner of all games. He
wondered if, after all, he had been in his proper senses, for the deed
now loomed before him gigantic and hideous in its criminal folly. His
mind went drearily back to the beginning of it all, to the tremendous
debts which had hounded him day and night, to his fear to speak of them
with his father, who had never had the least mercy upon gamblers. He
remembered as if it were yesterday the afternoon upon which he learned
of young Arthur's quarrel with his grandfather, old David's senile
anger, and the boy's tempestuous exit from the house, vowing never to
return. He remembered his talk with old David later on about the will,
in which he learned that he was now to have Arthur's share under certain
conditions. He remembered how that very evening, three days after his
disappearance, the lad had come secretly to the rue du Faubourg St.
Honoré begging his uncle to take him in for a few days, and how, in a
single instant that was like a lightning flash, the Great Idea had come
to him.

What gigantic and appalling madness it had all been! And yet for a time
how easy of execution! For a time. Now.... He gave another quick shiver,
for his mind came back to what beset him and compassed him round
about--perils seen and hidden.

The peril seen was ever before his eyes. Against the light of day it
loomed a gigantic and portentous shadow, and it threatened him--the
figure of Ste. Marie _who knew_. His reason told him that if due care
were used this danger need not be too formidable, and, indeed, in his
heart he rather despised Ste. Marie as an individual; but the man's
nerve was broken, and in these days fear swept wavelike over reason and
had its way with him. Fear looked up to this looming, portentous shadow
and saw there youth and health and strength, courage and hopefulness,
and, best of all armors, a righteous cause. How was an ill and tired and
wicked old man to fight against these? It became an obsession, the
figure of this youth; it darkened the sun at noonday, and at night it
stood beside Captain Stewart's bed in the darkness and watched him and
waited, and the very air he breathed came chill and dark from its silent
presence there.

But there were perils unseen as well as seen. He felt invisible threads
drawing round him, weaving closer and closer, and he dared not even try
how strong they were lest they prove to be cables of steel. He was
almost certain that his niece knew something or at the least suspected.
As has already been pointed out, the two saw very little of each other,
but on the occasions of their last few meetings it had seemed to him
that the girl watched him with a strange stare, and tried always to be
in her grandfather's chamber when he called to make his inquiries. Once,
stirred by a moment's bravado, he asked her if M. Ste. Marie had
returned from his mysterious absence, and the girl said:

"No. He has not come back yet, but I expect him soon now--with news of
Arthur. We shall all be very glad to see him, grandfather and Richard
Hartley and I."

It was not a very consequential speech, and, to tell the truth, it was
what in the girl's own country would be termed pure "bluff," but to
Captain Stewart it rang harsh and loud with evil significance, and he
went out of that room cold at heart. What plans were they perfecting
among them? What invisible nets for his feet?

And there was another thing still. Within the past two or three days he
had become convinced that his movements were being watched--and that
would be Richard Hartley at work, he said to himself. Faces vaguely
familiar began to confront him in the street, in restaurants and cafés.
Once he thought his rooms had been ransacked during his absence at La
Lierre, though his servant stoutly maintained that they had never been
left unoccupied save for a half-hour's marketing. Finally, on the day
before this morning by the rose-gardens, he was sure that as he came out
from the city in his car he was followed at a long distance by another
motor. He saw it behind him after he had left the city gate, the Porte
de Versailles, and he saw it again after he had left the main route at
Issy and entered the little rue Barbés which led to La Lierre. Of
course, he promptly did the only possible thing under the circumstances.
He dashed on past the long stretch of wall, swung into the main avenue
beyond, and continued through Clamart to the Meudon wood, as if he were
going to St. Cloud. In the labyrinth of roads and lanes there he came to
a halt, and after a half-hour's wait ran slowly back to La Lierre.

There was no further sign of the other car, the pursuer, if so it had
been, but he passed two or three men on bicycles and others walking, and
what one of these might not be a spy paid to track him down?

It had frightened him badly, that hour of suspense and flight, and he
determined to remain at La Lierre for at least a few days, and wrote to
his servant in the rue du Faubourg to forward his letters there under
the false name by which he had hired the place.

He was thinking very wearily of all these things as he sat on the fallen
tree-trunk in the garden and stared unseeing across tangled ranks of
roses. And after a while his thoughts, as they were wont to do, returned
to Ste. Marie--that looming shadow which darkened the sunlight, that
incubus of fear which clung to him night and day. He was so absorbed
that he did not hear sounds which might otherwise have roused him. He
heard nothing, saw nothing, save that which his fevered mind projected,
until a voice spoke his name.

He looked over his shoulder thinking that O'Hara had sought him out. He
turned a little on the tree-trunk to see more easily, and the image of
his dread stood there a living and very literal shadow against the
daylight.

Captain Stewart's overstrained nerves were in no state to bear a sudden
shock. He gave a voiceless, whispering cry and he began to tremble very
violently, so that his teeth chattered. All at once he got to his feet
and began to stumble away backward, but a projecting limb of the fallen
tree caught him and held him fast. It must be that the man was in a sort
of frenzy. He must have seen through a red mist just then, for when he
found that he could not escape his hand went swiftly to his coat-pocket,
and in his white and contorted face there was murder plain and
unmistakable.

Ste. Marie was too lame to spring aside or to dash upon the man across
intervening obstacles and defend himself. He stood still in his place
and waited. And it was characteristic of him that at that moment he felt
no fear, only a fine sense of exhilaration. Open danger had no terrors
for him. It was secret peril that unnerved him, as in the matter of the
poison a week before.

Captain Stewart's hand fell away empty, and Ste. Marie laughed.

"Left it at the house?" said he. "You seem to have no luck, Stewart.
First the cat drinks the poison, and then you leave your pistol at home.
Dear, dear, I'm afraid you're careless."

Captain Stewart stared at the younger man under his brows. His face was
gray and he was still shivering, but the sudden agony of fear, which had
been, after all, only a jangle of nerves, was gone away. He looked upon
Ste. Marie's gay and untroubled face with a dull wonder, and he began to
feel a grudging admiration for the man who could face death without even
turning pale. He pulled out his watch and looked at it.

"I did not know," he said, "that this was your hour out-of-doors."

As a matter of fact, he had quite forgotten that the arrangement
existed. When he had first heard of it he had protested vigorously, but
had been overborne by O'Hara with the plea that they owed their prisoner
something for having come near to poisoning him, and Stewart did not
care to have any further attention called to that matter; it had already
put a severe strain upon the relations at La Lierre.

"Well," observed Ste. Marie, "I told you you were careless. That proves
it. Come! Can't we sit down for a little chat? I haven't seen you since
I was your guest at the other address--the town address. It seems to
have become a habit of mine--doesn't it?--being your guest." He laughed
cheerfully, but Captain Stewart continued to regard him without smiling.

"If you imagine," said the elder man, "that this place belongs to me you
are mistaken. I came here to-day to make a visit."

But Ste. Marie sat down at one end of the tree-trunk and shook his head.

"Oh, come, come!" said he. "Why keep up the pretence? You must know that
I know all about the whole affair. Why, bless you, I know it all--even
to the provisions of the will. Did you think I stumbled in here by
accident? Well, I didn't, though I don't mind admitting to you that I
remained by accident."

He glanced over his shoulder toward the one-eyed Michel, who stood
near-by, regarding the two with some alarm.

Captain Stewart looked up sharply at the mention of the will, and he
wetted his dry lips with his tongue. But after a moment's hesitation he
sat down upon the tree-trunk, and he seemed to shrink a little together,
when his limbs and shoulders had relaxed, so that he looked small and
feeble, like a very tired old man. He remained silent for a few moments,
but at last he spoke without raising his eyes. He said:

"And now that you--imagine yourself to know so very much, what do you
expect to do about it?"

Ste. Marie laughed again.

"Ah, that would be telling!" he cried. "You see, in one way I have the
advantage, though outwardly all the advantage seems to be with your
side--I know all about your game. I may call it a game? Yes? But you
don't know mine. You don't know what I--what we may do at any moment.
That's where we have the better of you."

"It would seem to me," said Captain Stewart, wearily, "that since you
are a prisoner here and very unlikely to escape, we know with great
accuracy what you will do--and what you will not."

"Yes," admitted Ste. Marie, "it would seem so. It certainly would seem
so. But you never can tell, can you?"

And at that the elder man frowned and looked away. Thereafter another
brief silence fell between the two, but at its end Ste. Marie spoke in a
new tone, a very serious tone. He said:

"Stewart, listen a moment!"

And the other turned a sharp gaze upon him.

"You mustn't forget," said Ste. Marie, speaking slowly as if to choose
his words with care--"you mustn't forget that I am not alone in this
matter. You mustn't forget that there's Richard Hartley--and that there
are others, too. I'm a prisoner, yes. I'm helpless here for the
present--perhaps, perhaps--but they are not, _and they know, Stewart.
They know_."

Captain Stewart's face remained gray and still, but his hands twisted
and shook upon his knees until he hid them.

"I know well enough what you're waiting for," continued Ste. Marie.
"You're waiting--you've got to wait--for Arthur Benham to come of age,
or, better yet, for your father to die." He paused and shook his head.
"It's no good. You can't hold out as long as that--not by half. We shall
have won the game long before. Listen to me! Do you know what would
occur if your father should take a serious turn for the worse
to-night--or at any time? Do you? Well, I'll tell you. A piece of
information would be given him that would make another change in that
will just as quickly as a pen could write the words. That's what would
happen."

"That is a lie!" said Captain Stewart, in a dry whisper. "A lie!"

And Ste. Marie contented himself with a slight smile by way of answer.
He was by no means sure that what he had said was true, but he argued
that since Hartley suspected, or perhaps by this time knew so much, he
would certainly not allow old David to die without doing what he could
do in an effort to save young Arthur's fortune from a rascal. In any
event, true or false, the words had had the desired effect. Captain
Stewart was plainly frightened by them.

"May I make a suggestion?" asked the younger man.

The other did not answer him, and he made it.

"Give it up!" said he. "You're riding for a tremendous fall, you know.
We shall smash you completely in the end. It'll mean worse than
ruin--much worse. Give it up, now, before you're too late. Help me to
send for Hartley and we'll take the boy back to his home. Some story can
be managed that will leave you out of the thing altogether, and those
who know will hold their tongues. It's your last chance, Stewart. I
advise you to take it."

Captain Stewart turned his gray face slowly and looked at the other man
with a sort of dull and apathetic wonder.

"Are you mad?" he asked, in a voice which was altogether without feeling
of any kind. "Are you quite mad?"

"On the contrary," said Ste. Marie, "I am quite sane, and I'm offering
you a chance to save yourself before it's too late. Don't misunderstand
me!" he continued. "I am not urging this out of any sympathy for you. I
urge it because it will bring about what I wish a little more quickly,
also because it will save your family from the disgrace of your
smash-up. That's why I'm making my suggestion."

Captain Stewart was silent for a little while, but after that he got
heavily to his feet. "I think you must be quite mad," said he, as
before, in a voice altogether devoid of expression. "I cannot talk with
madmen." He beckoned to the old Michel, who stood near-by, leaning upon
his carbine, and when the gardener had approached he said, "Take
this--prisoner back to his room!"

Ste. Marie rose with a little sigh. He said: "I'm sorry, but you'll
admit I have done my best for you. I've warned you. I sha'n't do it
again. We shall smash you now, without mercy."

"Take him away!" cried Captain Stewart, in a sudden loud voice, and the
old Michel touched his charge upon the shoulder. So Ste. Marie went
without further words. From a little distance he looked back, and the
other man still stood by the fallen tree-trunk, bent a little, his arms
hanging lax beside him, and his face, Ste. Marie thought, fancifully,
was like the face of a man damned.

       *       *       *       *       *



XXIII

THE LAST ARROW


The one birdlike eye of the old Michel regarded Ste. Marie with a glance
of mingled cunning and humor. It might have been said to twinkle.

"To the east, Monsieur?" inquired the old Michel.

"Precisely!" said Ste. Marie. "To the east, mon vieux." It was the
morning of the fourth day after that talk with Captain Stewart beside
the rose-gardens.

The two bore to the eastward, down among the trees, and presently came
to the spot where a certain trespasser had once leaped down from the top
of the high wall and had been shot for his pains. The old Michel halted
and leaned upon the barrel of his carbine. With an air of complete
detachment, an air vague and aloof as of one in a revery, he gazed away
over the tree-tops of the ragged park; but Ste. Marie went in under the
row of lilac shrubs which stood close against the wall, and a passer-by
might have thought the man looking for figs on thistles, for lilacs in
late July. He had gone there with eagerness, with flushed cheeks and
bright eyes; he emerged after some moments, moving slowly, with downcast
head.

"There are no lilac blooms now, Monsieur," observed the old Michel, and
his prisoner said, in a low voice:

"No, mon vieux. No. There are none." He sighed and drew a long breath.
So the two stood for some time silent, Ste. Marie a little pale, his
eyes fixed upon the ground, his hands chafing together behind him, the
gardener with his one bright eye upon his charge. But in the end Ste.
Marie sighed again and began to move away, followed by the gardener.
They went across the broad park, past the double row of larches, through
that space where the chestnut-trees stood in straight, close rows, and
so came to the west wall which skirted the road to Clamart. Ste. Marie
felt in his pocket and withdrew the last of the four letters--the last
there could be, for he had no more stamps. The others he had thrown over
the wall, one each morning, beginning with the day after he had made the
first attempt to bribe old Michel. As he had expected, twenty-four hours
of avaricious reflection had proved too much for that gnomelike being.

One each day he had thrown over the wall, weighted with a pebble tucked
loosely under the flap of the improvised envelope, in such a manner that
it would drop but when the letter struck the ground beyond. And each
following day he had gone with high hopes to the appointed place under
the cedar-tree to pick figs of thistles, lilac blooms in late July. But
there had been nothing there.

"Turn your back, Michel!" said Ste. Marie.

And the old man said, from a little distance: "It is turned, Monsieur. I
see nothing. Monsieur throws little stories at the birds to amuse
himself. It does not concern me."

Ste. Marie slipped a pebble under the flap of the envelope and threw his
letter over the wall. It went like a soaring bird, whirling
horizontally, and it must have fallen far out in the middle of the road
near the tramway. For the third time that morning the prisoner drew a
sigh. He said, "You may turn round now, my friend," and the old Michel
faced him. "We have shot our last arrow," said he. "If this also fails,
I think--well, I think the bon Dieu will have to help us then.--Michel,"
he inquired, "do you know how to pray?"

"Sacred thousand swine, no!" cried the ancient gnome, in something
between astonishment and horror. "No, Monsieur. 'Pas mon métier, ça!" He
shook his head rapidly from side to side like one of those toys in a
shop-window whose heads oscillate upon a pivot. But all at once a gleam
of inspiration sparkled in his lone eye. "There is the old Justine!" he
suggested. "Toujours sur les genoux, cette imbécile là."

"In that case," said Ste. Marie, "you might ask the lady to say one
little extra prayer for--the pebble I threw at the birds just now.
Hein?" He withdrew from his pocket the last two louis d'or, and Michel
took them in a trembling hand. There remained but the note of fifty
francs and some silver.

"The prayer shall be said, Monsieur," declared the gardener. "It shall
be said. She shall pray all night or I will kill her."

"Thank you," said Ste. Marie. "You are kindness itself. A gentle soul."

They turned away to retrace their steps, and Michel rubbed the side of
his head with a reflective air.

"The old one is a madman," said he. (The "old one" meant Captain
Stewart.) "A madman. Each day he is madder, and this morning he struck
me--here on the head, because I was too slow. Eh! a little more of that,
and--who knows? Just a little more, a small little! Am I a dog, to be
beaten? Hein? Je ne le crois pas. Hé!" He called Captain Stewart two
unprintable names, and after a moment's thought he called him an animal,
which is not so much of an anti-climax as it may seem, because to call
anybody an animal in French is a serious matter.

The gardener was working himself up into something of a quiet passion,
and Ste. Marie said:

"Softly, my friend! Softly!" It occurred to him that the man's
resentment might be of use later on, and he said: "You speak the truth.
The old one is an animal, and he is also a great rascal."

But Michel betrayed the makings of a philosopher. He said, with profound
conviction: "Monsieur, all men are great rascals. It is I who say it."

And at that Ste. Marie had to laugh.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had not consciously directed his feet, but without direction they led
him round the corner of the rose-gardens and toward the rond point. He
knew well whom he would find there. She had not failed him during the
past three days. Each morning he had found her in her place, and for his
allotted hour--which more than once stretched itself out to nearly two
hours, if he had but known--they had sat together on the stone bench,
or, tiring of that, had walked under the trees beyond.

Long afterward Ste. Marie looked back upon these hours with, among other
emotions, a great wonder--at himself and at her. It seemed to him then
one of the strangest relationships--intimacies, for it might well be so
called--that ever existed between a man and a woman, and he was amazed
at the ease, the unconsciousness, with which it had come about.

But during this time he did not allow himself to wonder or to examine,
scarcely even to think. The hours were golden hours, unrelated, he told
himself, to anything else in his life or in his interests. They were
like pleasant dreams, very sweet while they endured, but to be put away
and forgotten upon the waking. Only in that long afterward he knew that
they had not been put away, that they had been with him always, that the
morning hour had remained in his thoughts all the rest of the long day,
and that he had waked upon the morrow with a keen and exquisite sense of
something sweet to come.

It was a strange fool's paradise that the man dwelt in, and in some
small, vague measure he must, even at the time, have known it, for it is
certain that he deliberately held himself away from
thought--realization; that he deliberately shut his eyes, held his ears
lest he should hear or see.

That he was not faithless to his duty has been shown. He did his utmost
there, but he was for the time helpless save for efforts to communicate
with Richard Hartley, and those efforts could consume no more than ten
minutes out of the weary day.

So he drifted, wilfully blind to bearings, wilfully deaf to Sound of
warning or peril, and he found a companionship sweeter and fuller and
more perfect than he had ever before known in all his life, though that
is not to say very much, because sympathetic companionships between men
and women are very rare indeed, and Ste. Marie had never experienced
anything which could fairly be called by that name. He had had, as has
been related, many flirtations, and not a few so-called love-affairs,
but neither of these two sorts of intimacies are of necessity true
intimacies at all; men often feel varying degrees of love for women
without the least true understanding or sympathy or real companionship.

He was wondering, as he bore round the corner of the rose-gardens on
this day, in just what mood he would find her. It seemed to him that in
their brief acquaintance he had seen her in almost all the moods there
are, from bitter gloom to the irrepressible gayety of a little child. He
had told her once that she was like an organ, and she had laughed at him
for being pretentious and high-flown, though she could upon occasion be
quite high-flown enough herself for all ordinary purposes.

He reached the cleared margin of the rond point, and a little cold fear
stirred in him when he did not hear her singing under her breath, as she
was wont to do when alone, but he went forward and she was there in her
place upon the stone bench. She had been reading, but the book lay
forgotten beside her and she sat idle, her head laid back against the
thick stems of shrubbery which grew behind, her hands in her lap. It was
a warm, still morning, with the promise of a hot afternoon, and the girl
was dressed in something very thin and transparent and cool-looking,
open in a little square at the throat and with sleeves which came only
to her elbows. The material was pale and dull yellow, with very vaguely
defined green leaves in it, and against it the girl's dark and clear
skin glowed rich and warm and living, as pearls glow and seem to throb
against the dead tints of the fabric upon which they are laid.

She did not move when he came before her, but looked up to him gravely
without stirring her head.

"I didn't hear you come," said she. "You don't drag your left leg any
more. You walk almost as well as if you had never been wounded."

"I'm almost all right again," he answered. "I suppose I couldn't run or
jump, but I certainly can walk very much like a human being. May I sit
down?"

Mlle. O'Hara put out one hand and drew the book closer to make a place
for him on the stone bench, and he settled himself comfortably there,
turned a little so that he was facing toward her.

It was indicative of the state of intimacy into which the two had grown
that they did not make polite conversation with each other, but indeed
were silent for some little time after Ste. Marie had seated himself. It
was he who spoke first. He said:

"You look vaguely classical to-day. I have been trying to guess why, and
I cannot. Perhaps it's because your--what does one say: frock, dress,
gown?--because it is cut out square at the throat."

"If you mean by classical, Greek," said she, "it wouldn't be square at
the neck at all; it would be pointed--V-shaped. And it would be very
different in other ways, too. You are not an observing person, after
all."

"For all that," insisted Ste. Marie, "you look classical. You look like
some lady one reads about in Greek poems--Helen or Iphigenia or Medea or
somebody."

"Helen had yellow hair, hadn't she?" objected Mlle. O'Hara. "I should
think I probably look more like Medea--Medea in Colchis before Jason--"

She seemed suddenly to realize that she had hit upon an unfortunate
example, for she stopped in the middle of her sentence and a wave of
color swept up over her throat and face.

For a moment Ste. Marie did not understand, then he gave a low
exclamation, for Medea certainly had been an unhappy name. He remembered
something that Richard Hartley had said about that lady a long time
before. He made another mistake, for to lessen the moment's
embarrassment he gave speech to the first thought which entered his
mind. He said:

"Some one once remarked that you look like the young Juno--before
marriage. I expect it's true, too."

She turned upon him swiftly.

"Who said that?" she demanded. "Who has ever talked to you about me?"

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I seem to be singularly stupid this
morning. A mild lunacy. You must forgive me, if you can. To tell you
what you ask would be to enter upon forbidden ground, and I mustn't do
that."

"Still, I should like to know," said the girl, watching him with sombre
eyes.

"Well, then," said he, "it was a little Jewish photographer in the
Boulevard de la Madeleine."

And she said, "Oh!" in a rather disappointed tone and looked away.

"We seem to be making conversation chiefly about my personal
appearance," she said, presently. "There must be other topics if one
should try hard to find them. Tell me stories. You told me stories
yesterday; tell me more. You seem to be in a classical mood. You shall
be Odysseus, and I will be Nausicaa, the interesting laundress. Tell me
about wanderings and things. Have you any more islands for me?"

"Yes," said Ste. Marie, nodding at her slowly. "Yes, Nausicaa, I have
more islands for you. The seas are full of islands. What kind do you
want?"

"A warm one," said the girl. "Even on a hot day like this I choose a
warm one, because I hate the cold."

She settled herself more comfortably, with a little sigh of content that
was exactly like a child's happy sigh when stories are going to be told
before the fire.

"I know an island," said Ste. Marie, "that I think you would like
because it is warm and beautiful and very far away from troubles of all
kinds. As well as I could make out, when I went there, nobody on the
island had ever even heard of trouble. Oh yes, you'd like it. The people
there are brown, and they're as beautiful as their own island. They wear
hibiscus flowers stuck in their hair, and they very seldom do any work."

"I want to go there!" cried Mlle. Coira O'Hara. "I want to go there now,
this afternoon, at once! Where is it?"

"It's in the South Pacific," said he, "not so very far from Samoa and
Fiji and other groups that you will have heard about, and its name is
Vavau. It's one of the Tongans. It's a high, volcanic island, not a
flat, coral one like the southern Tongans. I came to it, one evening,
sailing north from Nukualofa and Haapai, and it looked to me like a
single big mountain jutting up out of the sea, black-green against the
sunset. It was very impressive. But it isn't a single mountain, it's a
lot of high, broken hills covered with a tangle of vegetation and set
round a narrow bay, a sort of fjord, three or four miles long, and at
the inner end of this are the village and the stores of the few white
traders. I'm afraid," said Ste. Marie, shaking his head--"I'm afraid I
can't tell you about it, after all. I can't seem to find the words. You
can't put into language--at least, I can't--those slow, hot, island days
that are never too hot because the trades blow fresh and strong, or the
island nights that are more like black velvet with pearls sewed on it
than anything else. You can't describe the smell of orange groves and
the look of palm-trees against the sky. You can't tell about the sweet,
simple, natural hospitality of the natives. They're like little,
unsuspicious children. In short," said he, "I shall have to give it up,
after all, just because it's too big for me. I can only say that it's
beautiful and unspeakably remote from the world, and that I think I
should like to go back to Vavau and stay a long time, and let the rest
of the world go hang."

Mlle. O'Hara stared across the park of La Lierre with wide and shadowy
eyes, and her lips trembled a little.

"Oh, I want to go there!" she cried again. "I want to go there--and
rest--and forget everything!" She turned upon him with a sudden bitter
resentment. "Why do you tell me things like that?" she cried. "Oh yes, I
know. I asked you, but--can't you see? To hide one's self away in a
place like that!" she said. "To let the sun warm you and the trade-winds
blow away--all that had ever tortured you! Just to rest and be at
peace!" She turned her eyes to him once more. "You needn't be afraid
that you have failed to make me see your island! I see it. I feel it. It
doesn't need many words. I can shut my eyes and I am there. But it was a
little cruel. Oh, I know, I asked for it. It's like the garden of the
Hesperides, isn't it?"

"Very like it," said Ste. Marie, "because there are oranges--groves of
them. (And they were the golden apples, I take it.) Also, it is very far
away from the world, and the people live in complete and careless
ignorance of how the world goes on. Emperors and kings die, wars come
and go, but they hear only a little faint echo of it all, long
afterward, and even that doesn't interest them."

"I know," she said. "I understand. Didn't you know I'd understand?"

"Yes," said he, nodding. "I suppose I did. We--feel things rather alike,
I suppose. We don't have to say them all out."

"I wonder," she said, in a low voice, "if I'm glad or sorry." She stared
under her brows at the man beside her. "For it is very probable that
when we have left La Lierre you and I will never meet again. I wonder if
I'm--"

For some obscure reason she broke off there and turned her eyes away,
and she remained without speaking for a long time. Her mind, as she sat
there, seemed to go back to that southern island, and to its peace and
loveliness, for Ste. Marie, who watched her, saw a little smile come to
her lips, and he saw her eyes half close and grow soft and tender as if
what they saw were very sweet to her. He watched many different
expressions come upon the girl's face and go again, but at last he
seemed to see the old bitterness return there and struggle with
something wistful and eager.

"I envy you your wide wanderings," she said, presently. "Oh, I envy you
more than I can find any words for. Your will is the wind's will. You go
where your fancy leads you, and you're free--free. We have wandered, you
know," said she, "my father and I. I can't remember when we ever had a
home to live in. But that is--that is different--a different kind of
wandering."

"Yes," said Ste. Marie. "Yes, perhaps." And within himself he said, with
sorrow and pity, "Different, indeed!"

As if at some sudden thought the girl looked up at him quickly. "Did
that sound regretful?" she asked. "Did what I say sound--disloyal to my
father? I didn't mean it to. I don't want you to think that I regret it.
I don't. It has meant being with my father. Wherever he has gone I have
gone with him, and if anything ever has been--unpleasant, I was willing,
oh, I was glad, glad to put up with it for his sake and because I could
be with him. If I have made his life a little happier by sharing it, I
am glad of everything. I don't regret."

"And yet," said Ste. Marie, gently, "it must have been hard sometimes."
He pictured to himself that roving existence lived among such people as
O'Hara must have known, and it sent a hot wave of anger and distress
over him from head to foot.

But the girl said: "I had my father. The rest of it didn't matter in the
face of that." After a little silence she said, "M. Ste. Marie!"

And the man said, "What is it, Mademoiselle?"

"You spoke the other day," she said, hesitating over her words, "about
my aunt, Lady Margaret Craith. I suppose I ought not to ask you more
about her, for my father quarrelled with his people very long ago and he
broke with them altogether. But--surely, it can do no harm--just for a
moment--just a very little! Could you tell me a little about her, M.
Ste. Marie--what she is like and--and how she lives--and things like
that?"

So Ste. Marie told her all that he could of the old Irishwoman who lived
alone in her great house, and ruled with a slack Irish hand, a sweet
Irish heart, over tenants and dependants. And when he had come to an end
the girl drew a little sigh and said:

"Thank you. I am so glad to hear of her. I--wish everything were
different, so that--I think I should love her very much if I might."

"Mademoiselle," said Ste. Marie, "will you promise me something?"

She looked at him with her sombre eyes, and after a little she said: "I
am afraid you must tell me first what it is. I cannot promise blindly."

He said: "I want you to promise me that if anything ever should
happen--any difficulty--trouble--anything to put you in the position of
needing care or help or sympathy--"

But she broke in upon him with a swift alarm, crying: "What do you mean?
You're trying to hint at something that I don't know. What difficulty or
trouble could happen to me? Please tell me just what you mean."

"I'm not hinting at any mystery," said Ste. Marie. "I don't know of
anything that is going to happen to you, but--will you forgive me for
saying it?--your father is, I take it, often exposed to--danger of
various sorts. I'm afraid I can't quite express myself, only, if any
trouble should come to you, Mademoiselle, will you promise me to go to
Lady Margaret, your aunt, and tell her who you are and let her care for
you?"

"There was an absolute break," she said. "Complete."

But the man shook his head, saying:

"Lady Margaret won't think of that. She'll think only of you--that she
can mother you, perhaps save you grief--and of herself, that in her old
age she has a daughter. It would make a lonely old woman very happy,
Mademoiselle."

The girl bent her head away from him, and Ste. Marie saw, for the first
time since he had known her, tears in her eyes. After a long time she
said:

"I promise, then. But," she said, "it is very unlikely that it should
ever come about--for more than one reason. Very unlikely."

"Still, Mademoiselle," said he, "I am glad you have promised. This is an
uncertain world. One never can tell what will come with the to-morrows."

"I can," the girl said, with a little tired smile that Ste. Marie did
not understand. "I can tell. I can see all the to-morrows--a long, long
row of them. I know just what they're going to be like--to the very
end."

But the man rose to his feet and looked down upon her as she sat before
him. And he shook his head.

"You are mistaken," he said. "Pardon me, but you are mistaken. No one
can see to-morrow--or the end of anything. The end may surprise you very
much."

"I wish it would!" cried Mlle. O'Hara. "Oh, I wish it would!"

       *       *       *       *       *



XXIV

THE JOINT IN THE ARMOR


Ste. Marie put down a book as O'Hara came into the room and rose to meet
his visitor.

"I'm compelled," said the Irishman, "to put you on your honor to-day if
you are to go out as usual. Michel has been sent on an errand, and I am
busy with letters. I shall have to put you on your honor not to make any
effort to escape. Is that agreed to? I shall trust you altogether. You
could manage to scramble over the wall somehow, I suppose, and get clean
away, but I think you won't try it if you give your word."

"I give my word gladly," said Ste. Marie. "And thanks very much. You've
been uncommonly kind to me here. I--regret more than I can say that
we--that we find ourselves on opposite sides, as it were. I wish we were
fighting for the same cause."

The Irishman looked at the younger man sharply for an instant, and he
made as if he would speak, but seemed to think better of it. In the end
he said:

"Yes, quite so. Quite so. Of course you understand that any
consideration I have used toward you has been by way of making amends
for--for an unfortunate occurrence."

Ste. Marie laughed.

"The poison," said he. "Yes, I know. And of course I know who was at the
bottom of that. By the way, I met Stewart in the garden the other day.
Did he tell you? He was rather nervous and tried to shoot me, but he had
left his revolver at the house--at least it wasn't in his pocket when he
reached for it."

O'Hara's hard face twitched suddenly, as if in anger, and he gave an
exclamation under his breath, so the younger man inferred that "old
Charlie" had not spoken of their encounter. And after that the Irishman
once more turned a sharp, frowning glance upon his prisoner as if he
were puzzled about something. But, as before, he stopped short of speech
and at last turned away.

"Just a moment!" said the younger man. He asked: "Is it fair to inquire
how long I may expect to be confined here? I don't want to presume upon
your good-nature too far, but if you could tell me I should be glad to
know."

The Irishman hesitated a moment and then said:--

"I don't know why I shouldn't answer that. It can't help you, so far as
I can see, to do anything that would hinder us. You'll stay until Arthur
Benham comes of age, which will be in about two months from now."

"Yes," said the other. "Thanks. I thought so. Until young Arthur comes
of age and receives his patrimony--or until old David Stewart dies. Of
course that might happen at any hour."

The Irishman said: "I don't quite see what--Ah, yes, to be sure! Yes, I
see. Well, I should count upon eight weeks if I were you. In eight weeks
the boy will be independent of them all, and we shall go to England for
the wedding."

"The wedding?" cried Ste. Marie. "What wedding?--Ah!"

"Arthur Benham and my daughter are to be married," said O'Hara, "so soon
as he reaches his majority. I thought you knew that."

In a very vague fashion he realized that he had expected it. And still
the definite words came to him with a shock which was like a physical
blow, and he turned his back with a man's natural instinct to hide his
feeling. Certainly that was the logical conclusion to be drawn from
known premises. That was to be the O'Haras' reward for their labor. To
Stewart the great fortune, to the O'Haras a good marriage for the girl
and an assured future. That was reward enough surely for a few weeks of
angling and decoying and luring and lying. That was what she had meant,
on the day before, by saying that she could see all the to-morrows. He
realized that he must have been expecting something like this, but the
thought turned him sick, nevertheless. He could not forget the girl as
he had come to know her during the past week. He could not face with any
calmness the thought of her as the adventuress who had lured poor Arthur
Benham on to destruction. It was an impossible thought. He could have
laughed at it in scornful anger, and yet--What else was she?

He began to realize that his action in turning his back upon the other
man in the middle of a conversation must look very odd, and he faced
round again trying to drive from his expression the pain and distress
which he knew must be there, plain to see. But he need not have troubled
himself, for the other man was standing before the next window and
looking out into the morning sunlight, and his hard, bony face had so
altered that Ste. Marie stared at him with open amazement. He thought
O'Hara must be ill.

"I want to see her married!" cried the Irishman, suddenly, and it was a
new voice, a voice Ste. Marie did not know. It shook a little with an
emotion that sat uncouthly upon this grim, stern man.

"I want to see her married and safe!" he said. "I want her to be rid of
this damnable, roving, cheap existence. I want her to be rid of me and
my rotten friends and my rotten life."

He chafed his hands together before him, and his tired eyes fixed
themselves upon something that he seemed to see out of the window and
glared at it fiercely.

"I should like," said he, "to die on the day after her wedding, and so
be out of her way forever. I don't want her to have any shadows cast
over her from the past. I don't want her to open closet doors and find
skeletons there. I want her to be free--free to live the sort of life
she was born to and has a right to."

He turned sharply upon the younger man.

"You've seen her!" he cried. "You've talked to her; you know her! Think
of that girl dragged about Europe with me ever since she was a little
child! Think of the people she's had to know, the things she's had to
see! Do you wonder that I want to have her free of it all, married and
safe and comfortable and in peace? Do you? I tell you it has driven me
as nearly mad as a man can be. But I couldn't go mad, because I had to
take care of her. I couldn't even die, because she'd have been left
alone without any one to look out for her. She wouldn't leave me. I
could have settled her somewhere in some quiet place where she'd have
been quit at least of shady, rotten people, but she wouldn't have it.
She's stuck to me always, through good times and bad. She's kept my
heart up when I'd have been ready to cut my throat if I'd been alone.
She's been the--bravest and faithfulest--Well, I--And look at her! Look
at her now! Think of what she's had to see and know--the people she's
had to live with--and look at her! Has any of it stuck to her? Has it
cheapened her in any littlest way? No, by God! She has come through it
all like a--like a Sister of Charity through a city slum--like an angel
through the dark."

The Irishman broke off speaking, for his voice was beyond control, but
after a moment he went on again, more calmly:

"This boy, this young Benham, is a fool, but he's not a mean fool.
She'll make a man of him. And, married to him, she'll have the comforts
that she ought to have and the care and--freedom. She'll have a chance
to live the life that she has a right to, among the sort of people she
has a right to know. I'm not afraid for her. She'll do her part and
more. She'll hold up her head among duchesses, that girl. I'm not afraid
for her."

He said this last sentence over several times, standing before the
window and staring out at the sun upon the tree-tops.

"I'm not afraid for her.... I'm not afraid for her."

He seemed to have forgotten that the younger man was in the room, for he
did not look toward him again or pay him any attention for a long while.
He only gazed out of the window into the fresh morning sunlight, and his
face worked and quivered and his lean hands chafed restlessly together
before him. But at last he seemed to realize where he was, for he turned
with a sudden start and stared at Ste. Marie, frowning as if the younger
man were some one he had never seen before. He said:

"Ah, yes, yes. You were wanting to go out into the garden. Yes, quite
so. I--I was thinking of something else. I seem to be absent-minded of
late. Don't let me keep you here."

He seemed a little embarrassed and ill at ease, and Ste. Marie said:

"Oh, thanks. There's no hurry. However, I'll go, I think. It's after
eleven. I understand that I'm on my honor not to climb over the wall or
burrow under it or batter it down. That's understood. I--"

He felt that he ought to say something in acknowledgment of O'Hara's
long speech about his daughter, but he could think of nothing to say,
and, besides, the Irishman seemed not to expect any comment upon his
strange outburst. So, in the end, Ste. Marie nodded and went out of the
room without further ceremony.

He had been astonished almost beyond words at that sudden and
unlooked-for breakdown of the other man's impregnable reserve, and dimly
he realized that it must have come out of some very extraordinary
nervous strain, but he himself had been in no state to give the
Irishman's words the attention and thought that he would have given them
at another time. His mind, his whole field of mental vision, had been
full of one great fact--_the girl was to be married to young Arthur
Benham_. The thing loomed gigantic before him, and in some strange way
terrifying. He could neither see nor think beyond it. O'Hara's burst of
confidence had reached his ears very faintly, as if from a great
distance--poignant but only half-comprehended words to be reflected upon
later in their own time.

He stumbled down the ill-lighted stair with fixed, wide, unseeing eyes,
and he said one sentence over and over aloud, as the Irishman standing
beside the window had said another.

"She is going to be married. She is going to be married."

It would seem that he must have forgotten his previous half-suspicion of
the fact. It would seem to have remained, as at the first hearing, a
great and appalling shock, thunderous out of a blue sky.

Below, in the open, his feet led him mechanically straight down under
the trees, through the tangle of shrubbery beyond, and so to the wall
under the cedar. Arrived there, he awoke all at once to his task, and
with a sort of frowning anger shook off the dream which enveloped him.
His eyes sharpened and grew keen and eager. He said:

"The last arrow! God send it reached home!" and so went in under the
lilac shrubs.

He was there longer than usual; unhampered now, he may have made a
larger search, but when at last he emerged Ste. Marie's hands were over
his face and his feet dragged slowly like an old man's feet.

Without knowing that he had stirred he found himself some distance away,
standing still beside a chestnut-tree. A great wave of depression and
fear and hopelessness swept him, and he shivered under it. He had an
instant's wild panic, and mad, desperate thoughts surged upon him. He
saw utter failure confronting him. He saw himself as helpless as a
little child, his feeble efforts already spent for naught, and, like a
little child, he was afraid. He would have rushed at that grim
encircling wall and fought his way up and over it, but even as the
impulse raced to his feet the momentary madness left him and he turned
away. He could not do a dishonorable thing even for all he held dearest.

He walked on in the direction which lay before him, but he took no heed
of where he went, and Mlle. Coira O'Hara spoke to him twice before he
heard or saw her.

       *       *       *       *       *



XXV

MEDEA GOES OVER TO THE ENEMY


They were near the east end of the rond point, in a space where
fir-trees stood and the ground underfoot was covered with dry needles.

"I was just on my way to--our bench beyond the fountain," said she.

And Ste. Marie nodded, looking upon her sombrely. It seemed to him that
he looked with new eyes, and after a little time, when he did not speak,
but only gazed in that strange manner, the girl said:

"What is it? Something has happened. Please tell me what it is."

Something like the pale foreshadow of fear came over her beautiful face
and shrouded her golden voice as if it had been a veil.

"Your father," said Ste. Marie, heavily, "has just been telling me--that
you are to marry young Arthur Benham. He has been telling me."

She drew a quick breath, looking at him, but after a moment she said:

"Yes, it is true. You knew it before, though, didn't you? Do you mean
that you didn't know it before? I don't quite understand. You must have
known that. What, in Heaven's name, _did_ you think?" she cried, as if
with a sort of anger at his dulness.

The man rubbed one hand wearily across his eyes.

"I--don't quite know," said he. "Yes, I suppose I had thought of it. I
don't know. It came to me with such a--shock! Yes. Oh, I don't know. I
expect I didn't think at all. I--just didn't think."

Abruptly his eyes sharpened upon her, and he moved a step forward.

"Tell me the truth!" he said. "Do you love this boy?"

The girl's cheeks burned with a swift crimson and she set her lips
together. She was on the verge of extreme anger just then, but after a
little the flush died down again and the dark fire went out of her eyes.
She made an odd gesture with her two hands. It seemed to express fatigue
as much as anything--a great weariness.

"I like him," she said. "I like him--enough, I suppose. He is good--and
kind--and gentle. He will be good to me. And I shall try very, very
hard, to make him happy."

Quite suddenly and without warning the fire of her anger burned up
again. She flamed defiance in the man's face.

"How dare you question me?" she cried. "What right have you to ask me
questions about such a thing? You--what you are!"

Ste. Marie bent his head.

"No right, Mademoiselle," said he, in a low voice. "I have no right to
ask you anything--not even forgiveness. I think I am a little mad
to-day. It--this news came to me suddenly. Yes, I think I am a little
mad."

The girl stared at him and he looked back with sombre eyes. Once more he
was stabbed with intolerable pain to think what she was. Yet in an
inexplicable fashion it pleased him that she should carry out her
trickery to the end with a high head. It was a little less base, done
proudly. He could not have borne it otherwise.

"Who are you," the girl cried, in a bitter resentment, "that you should
understand? What do you know of the sort of life I have led--we have led
together, my father and I? Oh, I don't mean that I'm ashamed of it! We
have nothing to feel shame for, but you simply do not know what such a
life is."

Though he writhed with pain, the man nodded over her. He was so glad
that she could carry it through proudly, with a high hand, an erect
head.

She spread out her arms before him, a splendid and tragic figure.

"What chance have I ever had?" she demanded. "No, I am not blaming him.
I am not blaming my father. I chose to follow him. I chose it. But what
chance have I had? Think of the people I have lived among. Would you
have me marry one of them--one of those men? I'd rather die. And yet I
cannot go on--forever. I am twenty now. What if my father--You yourself
said yesterday--Oh, I am afraid! I tell you I have lain awake at night a
hundred times and shivered with cold, terrible fear of what would become
of me if--if anything should happen--to my father. And so," she said,
"when I met Arthur Benham last winter, and he--began to--he said--when
he begged me to marry him.... Ah, can't you see? It meant
safety--safety--safety! And I liked him. I like him now--very, very
much. He is a sweet boy. I--shall be happy with him--in a peaceful
fashion. And my father--Oh, I'll be honest with you," said she. "It was
my father who decided me. He was--he is--so pathetically pleased with
it. He so wants me to be safe. It's all he lives for now. I--couldn't
fight against them both, Arthur and my father, so I gave in. And then
when Arthur had to be hidden we came here with him--to wait."

She became aware that the man was staring at her with something strange
and terrible in his gaze, and she broke off in wonder. The air of that
warm summer morning turned all at once keen and sharp about
them--charged with moment.

"Mademoiselle!" cried Ste. Marie. "Mademoiselle, are you telling me the
truth?"

For some obscure reason she was not angry. Again she spread out her
hands in that gesture of weariness. She said, "Oh, why should I lie to
you?" And the man began to tremble exceedingly. He stretched out an
unsteady hand.

"You--knew Arthur Benham last winter?" he said. "Long before his--before
he left his home? Before that?"

"He asked me to marry him last winter," said the girl. "For a long, long
time I--wouldn't. But he never let me alone. He followed me everywhere.
And my father--"

Ste. Marie clapped his two hands over his face, and a groan came to her
through the straining fingers. He cried, in an agony: "Mademoiselle!
Mademoiselle!"

He fell upon his knees at her feet, his head bent in what seemed to be
an intolerable anguish, his hands over his hidden face. The girl heard
hard-wrung, stumbling, incoherent words wrenched each with an effort out
of extreme pain.

"Fool! Fool!" the man cried, groaning. "Oh, fool that I have been! Worm,
animal! Oh, fool not to see--not to know! Madman, imbecile, thing
without a name!"

She stood white-faced, smitten with great fear over this abasement. Not
the least and faintest glimmer reached her of what it meant. She
stretched down a hand of protest, and it touched the man's head. As if
the touch were a stroke of magic, he sprang upright before her.

"Now at last, Mademoiselle," said he, "we two must speak plainly
together. Now at last I think I see clear, but I must know beyond doubt
or question. Oh, Mademoiselle, now I think I know you for what you are,
and it seems to me that nothing in this world is of consequence beside
that. I have been blind, blind, blind!... Tell me one thing. Why did
Arthur Benham leave his home two months ago?"

"He had to leave it," she said, wondering. She did not understand yet,
but she was aware that her heart was beating in loud and fast throbs,
and she knew that some great mystery was to be made plain before her.
Her face was very white. "He had to leave it," she said again. "_You_
know as well as I. Why do you ask me that? He quarrelled with his
grandfather. They had often quarrelled before--over money--always over
money. His grandfather is a miser, almost a madman. He tried to make
Arthur sign a paper releasing his inheritance--the fortune he is to
inherit from his father--and when Arthur wouldn't he drove him away.
Arthur went to his uncle--Captain Stewart--and Captain Stewart helped
him to hide. He didn't dare go back because they're all against him, all
his family. They'd make him give in."

Ste. Marie gave a loud exclamation of amazement. The thing was
incredible--childish. It was beyond the maddest possibilities. But even
as he said the words to himself a face came before him--Captain
Stewart's smiling and benignant face--and he understood everything. As
clearly as if he had been present, he saw the angry, bewildered boy,
fresh from David Stewart's berating, mystified over some commonplace
legal matter requiring a signature. He saw him appeal for sympathy and
counsel to "old Charlie," and he heard "old Charlie's" reply. It was
easy enough to understand now. It must have been easy enough to bring
about. What absurdities could not such a man as Captain Stewart instil
into the already prejudiced mind of that foolish lad?

His thoughts turned from Arthur Benham to the girl before him, and that
part of the mystery was clear also. She would believe whatever she was
told in the absence of any reason to doubt. What did she know of old
David Stewart or of the Benham family? It seemed to Ste. Marie all at
once incredible that he could ever have believed ill of her--ever have
doubted her honesty. It seemed to him so incredible that he could have
laughed aloud in bitterness and self-disdain. But as he looked at the
girl's white face and her shadowy, wondering eyes, all laughter, all
bitterness, all cruel misunderstandings were swallowed up in the golden
light of his joy at knowing her, in the end, for what she was.

"Coira! Coira!" he cried, and neither of the two knew that he called her
for the first time by her name. "Oh, child," said he, "how they have
lied to you and tricked you! I might have known, I might have seen it,
but I was a blind fool. I thought--intolerable things. I might have
known. They have lied to you most damnably, Coira."

She stared at him in a breathless silence without movement of any sort.
Only her face seemed to have turned a little whiter and her great eyes
darker, so that they looked almost black and enormous in that still
face.

He told her, briefly, the truth: how young Arthur had had frequent
quarrels with his grandfather over his waste of money, how after one of
them, not at all unlike the others, he had disappeared, and how Captain
Stewart, in desperate need, had set afoot his plot to get the lad's
greater inheritance for himself. He described for her old David Stewart
and the man's bitter grief, and he told her about the will, about how he
had begun to suspect Captain Stewart, and of how he had traced the lost
boy to La Lierre. He told her all that he knew of the whole matter, and
he knew almost all there was to know, and he did not spare himself even
his misconception of the part she had played, though he softened that as
best he could.

Midway of his story Mlle. O'Hara bent her head and covered her face with
her hands. She did not cry out or protest or speak at all. She made no
more than that one movement, and after it she stood quite still, but the
sight of her, bowed and shamed, stripped of pride, as it had been of
garments, was more than the man could bear.

He cried her name, "Coira!" And when she did not look up, he called once
more upon her. He said: "Coira, I cannot bear to see you stand so. Look
at me. Ah, child, look at me! Can you realize," he cried--"can you even
begin to think what a great joy it is to me to know at last that you
have had no part in all this? Can't you see what it means to me? I can
think of nothing else. Coira, look up!"

She raised her white face, and there were no tears upon it, but a still
anguish too great to be told. It would seem never to have occurred to
her to doubt the truth of his words. She said: "It is I who might have
known. Knowing what you have told me now, it seems impossible that I
could have believed. And Captain Stewart--I always hated him--loathed
him--distrusted him. And yet," she cried, wringing her hands, "how could
I know? How could I know?"

The girl's face writhed suddenly with her grief, and she stared up at
Ste. Marie with terror in her eyes. She whispered: "My father! Oh, Ste.
Marie, my father! It is not possible. I will not believe--he cannot have
done this, knowing. My father, Ste. Marie!"

The man turned his eyes away, and she gave a sobbing cry.

"Has he," she said, slowly, "done even this for me? Has he given--his
honor, also--when everything else was--gone? Has he given me his honor,
too? Oh," she said, "why could I not have died when I was a little
child? Why could I not have done that? To think that I should have lived
to--bring my father to this! I wish I had died. Ste. Marie," she said,
pleading with him. "Ste. Marie, do you think--my father--knew?"

"Let me think," said he. "Let me think! Is it possible that Stewart has
lied to you all--to one as to another? Let me think!" His mind ran back
over the matter, and he began to remember instances which had seemed to
him odd, but to which he had attached no importance. He remembered
O'Hara's puzzled and uncomprehending face when he, Ste. Marie, had
spoken of Stewart's villany. He remembered the man's indignation over
the affair of the poison, and his fairness in trying to make amends. He
remembered other things, and his face grew lighter and he drew a great
breath of relief. He said: "Coira, I do not believe he knew. Stewart has
lied equally to you all--tricked each one of you." And at that the girl
gave a cry of gladness and began to weep.

As long as men and women continue to stand upon opposite sides of a
great gulf--and that will be as long as they exist together in this
world--just so long will men continue to be unhappy and ill at ease in
the face of women's tears, even though they know vaguely that tears may
mean just anything at all, and by no means always grief.

Ste. Marie stood first upon one foot and then upon the other. He looked
anxiously about him for succor. He said, "There! there!" or words to
that effect, and once he touched the shoulder of the girl who stood
weeping before him, and he was very miserable indeed.

But quite suddenly, in the midst of his discomfort, she looked up to
him, and she was smiling and flushed, so that Ste. Marie stared at her
in utter amazement.

"So now at last," said she, "I have back my Bayard. And I think the
rest--doesn't matter very much."

"Bayard?" said he, wondering. "I don't understand," he said.

"Then," said she, "you must just go without understanding. For I shall
never, never explain." The bright flush went from her face and she
turned grave once more. "What is to be done?" she asked. "What must we
do now, Ste. Marie--I mean about Arthur Benham? I suppose he must be
told."

"Either he must be told," said the man, "or he must be taken back to his
home by force." He told her about the four letters which in four days he
had thrown over the wall into the Clamart road. "It was on the chance,"
he said, "that some one would pick one of them up and post it, thinking
it had been dropped there by accident. What has become of them I don't
know. I know only that they never reached Hartley."

The girl nodded thoughtfully. "Yes," said she, "that was the best thing
you could have done. It ought to have succeeded. Of course--" She paused
a moment and then nodded again. "Of course," said she, "I can manage to
get a letter in the post now. We'll send it to-day if you like. But I
was wondering--would it be better or not to tell Arthur the truth? It
all depends upon how he may take it--whether or not he will believe you.
He's very stubborn, and he's frightened about this break with his
family, and he is quite sure that he has been badly treated. Will he
believe you? Of course, if he does believe he could escape from here
quite easily at any time, and there'd be no necessity for a rescue. What
do you think?"

"I think he ought to be told," said Ste. Marie. "If we try to carry him
away by force there'll be a fight, of course, and--who knows what might
happen? That we must leave for a last resort--a last desperate resort.
First we must tell the boy." Abruptly he gave a cry of dismay, and the
girl looked up to him, staring. "But--but _you_, Coira!" said he,
stammering. "But _you_! I hadn't realized--I hadn't thought--it never
occurred to me what this means to you." The full enormity of the thing
came upon him slowly. He was asking this girl to help him in robbing her
of her lover.

She shook her head with a little wry smile. "Do you think," said she,
"that knowing what I know now I would go on with that until he has made
his peace with his family? Before, it was different. I thought him alone
and ill-treated and hunted down. I could help him then, comfort him. Now
I should be--all you ever thought me if I did not send him to his
grandfather." She smiled again a little mirthlessly. "If his love for me
is worth anything," she said, "he will come back--but openly this time,
not in hiding. Then I shall know that he is--what I would have him be.
Otherwise--"

Ste. Marie looked away.

"But you must remember, Coira," said he, "that the lad is very young and
that his family--they may try--it may be hard for him. They may say that
he is too young to know--Ah, child, I should have thought of this!"

"Ste. Marie," said the girl, and after a moment he turned to face her.
"What shall you say to Arthur's family, Ste. Marie," she demanded, very
soberly, "when they ask you if I--if Arthur should be allowed to--come
back to me?"

A wave of color flooded the man's face and his eyes shone. He cried:

"I shall tell them, Coira, that if that wretched, half-baked lad should
search this wide world round, from Paris on to Paris again, and if he
should spend a lifetime searching, he would never find the beauty and
the sweetness and the tenderness and the true faith that he left behind
at La Lierre--nor the hundredth part of them. I should say that you are
so much above him that he ought to creep to you on his knees from the
rue de l'Université to this garden, thanking God that you were here at
the journey's end, and kissing the ground that he dragged himself over
for sheer joy and gratitude. I should tell them--Oh, I have no words! I
could tell them so pitifully little of you! I think I should only say,
'Go to her and see!' I think I should just say that."

The girl turned her head away with a little sob. But afterward she faced
him once more, and she looked up to him with sweet, half-shut eyes for a
long time. At last she said:

"For love of whom, Ste. Marie, did you undertake this quest--this search
for Arthur Benham? It was not in idleness or by way of a whim. It was
for love. For love of whom?"

For some strange and inexplicable reason the words struck him like a
blow and he stared whitely.

"I came," he said, at last, and his voice was oddly flat, "for his
sister's sake. For love of her."

Coira O'Hara dropped her eyes. But presently she looked up again with a
smile. She said, "God make you happy, my friend."

And she turned and moved away from him up among the trees. At a little
distance she turned, saying:

"Wait where you are. I will fetch Arthur or send him to you. He must be
told at once."

Then she went on and was lost to sight.

Ste. Marie followed a few steps after her and halted. His face was
turned by chance toward the east wall, and suddenly he gave a great cry
and smothered it with his hands over his mouth. His knees bent under
him, and he was weak and trembling. Then he began to run. He ran with
awkward steps, for his leg was not yet entirely recovered, but he ran
fast, and his heart beat within him until he thought it must burst.

He was making for that spot which was overhung by the half-dead
cedar-tree.

       *       *       *       *       *



XXVI

BUT THE FLEECE ELECTS TO REMAIN


Ste. Marie came under the wall breathless and shaking. What he had seen
there from a distance was no longer visible, but he pressed in close
among the lilac shrubs and called out in an unsteady voice. He said:
"Who is there? Who is it?" And after a moment he called again.

A hand appeared at the top of the high wall. The drooping screen of
foliage was thrust aside, and he saw Richard Hartley's face looking
down. Ste. Marie held himself by the strong stems of the lilacs, for
once more his knees had weakened under him.

"There's no one in sight," Hartley said. "I can see for a long way. No
one can see us or hear us." And he said: "I got your letter this
morning--an hour ago. When shall we come to get you out--you and the
boy? To-night?"

"To-night at two," said Ste. Marie. He spoke in a loud whisper. "I'm to
talk with Arthur here in a few minutes. We must be quick. He may come at
any time. I shall try to persuade him to go home willingly, but if he
refuses we must take him by force. Bring a couple of good men with you
to-night, and see that they're armed. Come in a motor and leave it just
outside the wall by that small door that you passed. Have you any money
in your pockets? I may want to bribe the gardener."

Hartley searched in his pockets, and while he did so the man beneath
asked:

"Is old David Stewart alive?"

"Just about," Hartley said. "He's very low, and he suffers a great deal,
but he's quite conscious all the time. If we can fetch the boy to him it
may give him a turn for the better. Where is Captain Stewart? I had
spies on his trail for some time, but he has disappeared within the past
three or four days. Once I followed him in his motor-car out past here,
but I lost him beyond Clamart."

"He's here, I think," said Ste. Marie. "I saw him a few days ago."

The man on the wall had found two notes of a hundred francs each, and he
dropped them down to Ste. Marie's hands. Also he gave him a small
revolver which he had in his pocket, one of the little automatic weapons
such as Olga Nilssen had brought to the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré.
Afterward he glanced up and said:

"Two people are coming out of the house. I shall have to go. At two
to-night, then--and at this spot. We shall be on time."

He drew back out of sight, and the other man heard the cedar-tree shake
slightly as he went down it to the ground. Then Ste. Marie turned and
walked quickly back to the place where Mlle. O'Hara had left him. His
heart was leaping with joy and exultation, for now at last he thought
that the end was in sight--the end he had so long labored and hoped for.
He knew that his face must be flushed and his eyes bright, and he made a
strong effort to crush down these tokens of his triumph--to make his
bearing seem natural and easy. He might have spared himself the pains.

Young Arthur Benham and Coira O'Hara came together down under the trees
from the house. They walked swiftly, and the boy was a step in advance,
his face white with excitement and anger. He began to speak while he was
still some distance away. He cried out, in his strident young voice:

"What the devil is all this silly nonsense about old Charlie and lies
and misunderstandings and--and all that guff?" he demanded. "What the
devil is it? D'you think I'm a fool? D'you think I'm a kid? Well, I'm
not!"

He came close to Ste. Marie, staring at him with an angry scowl, but his
scowl twitched and wavered and his hands shook a little beside him and
his breath came irregularly. He was frightened.

"There is no nonsense," said Ste. Marie. "There is no nonsense in all
this whole sorry business. But there has been a great deal of
misunderstanding and a great many lies and not a little cruelty. It's
time you knew the truth at last." He turned his eyes to where Coira
O'Hara stood near-by. "How much have you told him?" he asked.

And the girl said: "I told him everything, or almost. But I had to say
it very quickly, and--he wouldn't believe me. I think you'd best tell
him again."

The boy gave a short, contemptuous laugh.

"Well, I don't want to hear it," said he.

He was looking toward the girl. He said:

"This fellow may be able to hypnotize you, all right, but not Willie.
Little Willie's wise to guys like him."

And swinging about to Ste. Marie, he cried:

"Forget it! For-get it! I don't want to listen to your little song
to-day. Ah, you make me sick! You'd try to make me turn on old Charlie,
would you? Why, old Charlie's the only real friend I've got in the
world. Old Charlie has always stood up for me against the whole bunch of
them. Forget it, George! I'm wise to your graft."

Ste. Marie frowned, for his temper was never of the most patient, and
the youth's sneering tone annoyed him. Truth to tell, the tone was about
all he understood, for the strange words were incomprehensible.

"Look here, Benham," he said, sharply, "you and I have never met, I
believe, but we have a good many friends in common, and I think we know
something about each other. Have you ever heard anything about me which
would give you the right to suspect me of any dishonesty of any sort?
Have you?"

"Oh, slush!" said the boy. "Anybody'll be dishonest if it's worth his
while."

"That happens to be untrue," Ste. Marie remarked, "and as you grow older
you will know it. Leaving my honesty out of the question if you like, I
have the honor to tell you that I am, perhaps not quite formally,
engaged to your sister, and it is on her account, for her sake, that I
am here. You will hardly presume, I take it, to question your sister's
motive in wanting you to return home? Incidentally, your grandfather is
so overcome by grief over your absence that he is expected to die at any
time. Come," said he, "I have said enough to convince you that you must
listen to me. Believe what you please, but listen to me for five
minutes. After that I have small doubt of what you will do."

The boy looked nervously from Ste. Marie to Mlle. O'Hara and back again.
He thrust his unsteady hands into his pockets, but withdrew them after a
moment and clasped them together behind him.

"I tell you," he burst out, at last--"I tell you, it's no good your
trying to knock old Charlie to me. I won't stand for it. Old Charlie's
my best friend, and I'd believe him before I'd believe anybody in the
world. You've got a knife out for old Charlie, that's what's the matter
with you."

"And your sister?" suggested Ste. Marie. "Your mother? You'd hardly know
your mother if you could see her to-day. It has pretty nearly killed
her."

"Ah, they're all--they're all against me!" the lad cried. "They've
always stood together against me. Helen, too!"

"You wouldn't think they were against you if you could just see them
once now," said Ste. Marie.

And Arthur Benham gave a sort of shamefaced sob, saying:

"Ah, cut it out! Cut it out! Go on, then, and talk, if you want to, _I_
don't care. I don't have to listen. Talk, if you're pining for it."

And Ste. Marie, as briefly as he could, told him the truth of the whole
affair from the beginning, as he had told it to Coira O'Hara. Only he
laid special stress upon Charles Stewart's present expectations from the
new will, and he assured the boy that no document his grandfather might
have asked him to sign could have given away his rights in his father's
fortune, since he was a minor and had no legal right to sign away
anything at all even if he wished to.

"If you will look back as calmly and carefully as you can," he said,
"you will find that you didn't begin to suspect your grandfather of
anything wrong until you had talked with Captain Stewart. It was your
uncle's explanation of the thing that made you do that. Well, remember
what he had at stake--I suppose it is a matter of several millions of
francs. And he needs them. His affairs are in a bad way."

He told also about the pretended search which Captain Stewart had so
long maintained, and of how he had tried to mislead the other searchers
whose motives were honest.

"It has been a gigantic gamble, my friend," he said, at the last. "A
gigantic and desperate gamble to get the money that should be yours. You
can end it by the mere trouble of climbing over that wall yonder and
taking the Clamart tram back to Paris. As easily as that you can end
it--and, if I am not mistaken, you can at the same time save an old
man's life--prolong it at the very least." He took a step forward. "I
beg you to go!" he said, very earnestly. "You know the whole truth now.
You must see what danger you have been and are in. You must know that I
am telling you the truth. I beg you to go back to Paris."

And from where she stood, a little aside, Coira O'Hara said: "I beg you,
too, Arthur. Go back to them."

The boy dropped down upon a tree-stump which was near and covered his
face with his hands. The two who watched him could see that he was
trembling violently. Over him their eyes met and they questioned each
other with a mute and anxious gravity:

"What will he do?" For everything was in Arthur Benham's weak hands now.

For a little time, which seemed hours to all who were there, the lad sat
still, hiding his face, but suddenly he sprang to his feet, and once
more stood staring into Ste. Marie's quiet eyes. "How do I know you're
telling the truth?" he cried, and his voice ran up high and shrill and
wavered and broke. "How do I know that? You'd tell just as smooth a
story if--if you were lying--if you'd been sent here to get me back
to--to what old Charlie said they wanted me for."

"You have only to go back to them and make sure," said Ste. Marie. "They
can't harm you or take anything from you. If they persuaded you to sign
anything--which they will not do--it would be valueless to them, because
you're a minor. You know that as well as I do. Go and make sure. Or
wait! Wait!" He gave a little sharp laugh of excitement. "Is Captain
Stewart in the house?" he demanded. "Call him out here. That's better
still. Bring your uncle here to face me without telling him what it's
for, without giving him time to make up a story. Then we shall see. Send
for him."

"He's not here," said the boy "He went away an hour ago. I don't know
whether he'll be back to-night or not." Young Arthur stared at the elder
man, breathing hard. "Good God!" he said, in a whisper, "if--old Charlie
is rotten, who in this world isn't? I--don't know what to believe."
Abruptly he turned with a sort of snarl upon Coira O'Hara. "Have you
been in this game, too?" he cried out. "I suppose you and your precious
father and old Charlie cooked it up together. What? You've been having a
fine, low-comedy time laughing yourselves to death at me, haven't you?
Oh, Lord, what a gang!"

Ste. Marie caught the boy by the shoulder and spun him round. "That will
do!" he said, sternly. "You have been a fool; don't make it worse by
being a coward and a cad. Mlle. O'Hara knew no more of the truth than
you knew. Your uncle lied to you all." But the girl came and touched his
arm.

She said: "Don't be hard with him. He is bewildered and nervous, and he
doesn't know what he is saying. Think how sudden it has been for him.
Don't be hard with him, M. Ste. Marie."

Ste. Marie dropped his hand, and the lad backed a few steps away. His
face was crimson. After a moment he said: "I'm sorry, Coira. I didn't
mean that. I didn't mean it. I beg your pardon. I'm about half dippy, I
guess. I--don't know what to believe or what to think or what to do." He
remained staring at her a little while in silence, and presently his
eyes sharpened. He cried out: "If I should go back there--mind you, I
say 'if'--d'you know what they'd do? Well, I'll tell you. They'd begin
to talk at me one at a time. They'd get me in a corner and cry over me,
and say I was young and didn't know my mind, and that I owed them
something for all that's happened, and not to bring their gray hairs in
sorrow to the grave--and the long and short of it would be that they'd
make me give you up." He wheeled upon Ste. Marie. "That's what they'd
do!" he said, and his voice began to rise again shrilly. "They're three
to one, and they know they can talk me into anything. _You_ know it,
too!" He shook his head. "I won't go back!" he cried, wildly. "That's
what will happen if I do. I don't want granddad's money. He can give it
to old Charlie or to a gendarme if he wants to. I'm going to have enough
of my own. I won't go back, and that's all there is of it. You may be
telling the truth or you may not, but I won't go."

Ste. Marie started to speak, but the girl checked him. She moved closer
to where Arthur Benham stood, and she said: "If your love for me,
Arthur, is worth having, it is worth fighting for. If it is so weak that
your family can persuade you out of it, then--I don't want it at all,
for it would never last. Arthur, you must go back to them. I want you to
go."

"I won't!" the boy cried. "I won't go! I tell you they could talk me out
of anything. You don't know 'em. I do. I can't stand against them. I
won't go, and that settles it. Besides, I'm not so sure that this
fellow's telling the truth. I've known old Charlie a lot longer than I
have him."

Coira O'Hara turned a despairing face over her shoulder toward Ste.
Marie. "Leave me alone with him," she begged. "Perhaps I can win him
over. Leave us alone for a little while."

Ste. Marie hesitated, and in the end went away and left the two
together. He went farther down the park to the rond point, and crossed
it to the familiar stone bench at the west side. He sat down there to
wait. He was anxious and alarmed over this new obstacle, for he had the
wit to see that it was a very important one. It was quite conceivable
that the boy, but half-convinced, half-yielding before, would balk
altogether when he realized, as evidently he did realize, what returning
home might mean to him--the loss of the girl he hoped to marry.

Ste. Marie was sufficiently wise in worldly matters to know that the
boy's fear was not unfounded. He could imagine the family in the rue de
l'Université taking exactly the view young Arthur said they would take
toward an alliance with the daughter of a notorious Irish adventurer.
Ste. Marie's cheeks burned hotly with anger when the words said
themselves in his brain, but he knew that there could be no doubt of the
Benhams' and even of old David Stewart's view of the affair. They would
oppose the marriage with all their strength.

He tried to imagine what weight such considerations would have with him
if it were he who was to marry Coira O'Hara, and he laughed aloud with
scorn of them and with great pride in her. But the lad yonder was very
young--too young; his family would be right to that extent. Would he be
able to stand against them?

Ste. Marie shook his head with a sigh and gave over unprofitable
wonderings, for he was still within the walls of La Lierre, and so was
Arthur Benham. And the walls were high and strong. He fell to thinking
of the attempt at rescue which was to be made that night, and he began
to form plans and think of necessary preparations. To be sure, Coira
might persuade the boy to escape during the day, and then the night
attack would be unnecessary, but in case of her failure it must be
prepared for. He rose to his feet and began to walk back and forth under
the rows of chestnut-trees, where the earth was firm and black and mossy
and there was no growth of shrubbery. He thought of that hasty interview
with Richard Hartley and he laughed a little. It had been rather like an
exchange of telegrams--reduced to the bare bones of necessary question
and answer. There had been no time for conversation.

His eyes caught a far-off glimpse of woman's garments, and he saw that
Coira O'Hara and Arthur Benham were walking toward the house. So he went
a little way after them, and waited at a point where he could see any
one returning. He had not long to wait, for it seemed that the girl went
only as far as the door with her fiancé and then turned back.

Ste. Marie met her with raised eyebrows, and she shook her head. "I
don't know," said she. "He is very stubborn. He is frightened and
bewildered. As he said awhile ago, he doesn't know what to think or what
to believe. You mustn't blame him. Remember how he trusted his uncle!
He's going to think it over, and I shall see him again this afternoon.
Perhaps, when he has had time to reflect--I don't know. I truly don't
know."

"He won't go to your father and make a scene?" said Ste. Marie, and the
girl shook her head.

"I made him promise not to. Oh, Bayard," she cried--and in his
abstraction he did not notice the name she gave him--"I am afraid
myself! I am horribly afraid about my father."

"I am sure he did not know," said the man. "Stewart lied to him."

But Coira O'Hara shook her head, saying: "I didn't mean that. I'm afraid
of what will happen when he finds out how he has been--how we have been
played upon, tricked, deceived--what a light we have been placed in. You
don't know, you can't even imagine, how he has set his heart on--what he
wished to occur. I am afraid he will do something terrible when he
knows. I am afraid he will kill Captain Stewart."

"Which," observed Ste. Marie, "would be an excellent solution of the
problem. But of course we mustn't let it happen. What can be done?"

"We mustn't let him know the truth," said the girl, "until Arthur is
gone and until Captain Stewart is gone, too. He is terrible when he's
angry. We must keep the truth from him until he can do no harm. It will
be bad enough even then, for I think it will break his heart."

Ste. Marie remembered that there was something she did not know, and he
told her about his interview with Richard Hartley and about their
arrangement for the rescue--if it should be necessary--on that very
night.

She nodded her head over it, but for a long time after he had finished
she did not speak. Then she said: "I am glad, I suppose. Yes, since it
has to be done, I suppose I am glad that it is to come at once." She
looked up at Ste. Marie with shadowy, inscrutable eyes. "And so,
Monsieur," said she, "it is at an end--all this." She made a little
gesture which seemed to sweep the park and gardens. "So we go out of
each other's lives as abruptly as we entered them. Well--" She had
continued to look at him, but she saw the man's face turn white, and she
saw something come into his eyes which was like intolerable pain; then
she looked away.

Ste. Marie said her name twice, under his breath, in a sort of soundless
cry, but he said no more, and after a moment she went on:

"Even so, I am glad that at last we know each other--for what we are....
I should have been sorry to go on thinking you ... what I thought
before.... And I could not have borne it, I'm afraid, to have you think
... what you thought of me ... when I came to know.... I'm glad we
understand at last."

Ste. Marie tried to speak, but no words would come to him. He was like a
man defeated and crushed, not one on the high-road to victory. But it
may have been that the look of him was more eloquent than anything he
could have said. And it may have been that the girl saw and understood.

So the two remained there for a little while longer in silence, but at
last Coira O'Hara said:

"I must go back to the house now. There is nothing more to be done, I
suppose--nothing left now but to wait for night to come. I shall see
Arthur this afternoon and make one last appeal to him. If that fails you
must carry him off. Do you know where he sleeps? It is the room
corresponding to yours on the other side of the house--just across that
wide landing at the top of the stairs. I will manage that the front door
below shall be left unlocked. The rest you and your friends must do. If
I can make any impression upon Arthur I'll slip a note under your door
this afternoon or this evening. Perhaps, even if he decides to go, it
would be best for him to wait until night and go with the rest of you.
In any case, I'll let you know."

She spoke rapidly, as if she were in great haste to be gone, and with
averted eyes. And at the end she turned away without any word of
farewell, but Ste. Marie started after her. He cried:

"Coira! Coira!" And when she stopped, he said: "Coira, I can't let you
go like this! Are we to--simply to go our different ways like this, as
if we'd never met at all?"

"What else?" said the girl.

And there was no answer to that. Their separate ways were determined for
them--marked plain to see.

"But afterward!" he cried. "Afterward--after we have got the boy back to
his home! What then?"

"Perhaps," she said, "he will return to me." She spoke without any show
of feeling. "Perhaps he will return. If not--well, I don't know. I
expect my father and I will just go on as we've always gone. We're used
to it, you know."

After that she nodded to him and once more turned away. Her face may
have been a very little pale, but, as before, it betrayed no feeling of
any sort. So she went up under the trees to the house, and Ste. Marie
watched her with strained and burning eyes.

When, half an hour later, he followed, he came unexpectedly upon the old
Michel, who had entered the park through the little wooden door in the
wall, and was on his way round to the kitchen with sundry parcels of
supplies. He spoke a civil "Bon jour, Monsieur," and Ste. Marie stopped
him. They were out of sight from the windows. Ste. Marie withdrew from
his pocket one of the hundred-franc notes, and the single, beadlike eye
of the ancient gnome fixed upon it and seemed to shiver with a
fascinated delight.

"A hundred francs!" said Ste. Marie, unnecessarily, and the old man
licked his withered lips. The tempter said: "My good Michel, would you
care to receive this trifling sum--a hundred francs?"

The gnome made a choked, croaking sound in his throat.

"It is yours," said Ste. Marie, "for a small service--for doing nothing
at all."

The beadlike eye rose to his and sharpened intelligently.

"I desire only," said he, "that you should sleep well to-night, very
well--without waking."

"Monsieur," said the old man, "I do not sleep at all. I watch. I watch
Monsieur's windows. Monsieur O'Hara watches until midnight, and I watch
from then until day."

"Oh, I know that," said the other. "I've seen you more than once in the
moonlight, but to-night, mon vieux, slumber will overcome you.
Exhaustion will have its way and you will sleep. You will sleep like the
dead."

"I dare not!" cried the gardener. "Monsieur, I dare not! The old one
would kill me. You do not know him. He would cut me into pieces and burn
the pieces. Monsieur, it is impossible."

Ste. Marie withdrew the other hundred-franc note and held the two
together in his hand. Once more the gnome made his strange, croaking
sound and the withered face twisted with anguish.

"Monsieur! Monsieur!" he groaned.

"I have an idea," said the tempter. "A little earth rubbed upon one side
of the head--perhaps a trifling scratch to show a few drops of blood.
You have been assaulted, beaten down, despite a heroic resistance, and
left for dead. An hour afterward you stagger into the house a frightful
object. Hein?"

The withered face of the old man expanded slowly into a senile grin.

"Monsieur," said he, with admiration in his tone, "it is magnificent. It
shall be done. I sleep like the good dead--under the trees, not too near
the lilacs, eh? Bien, Monsieur, it is done!"

Into his trembling claw he took the notes; he made an odd bow and
shambled away about his business.

Ste. Marie laughed and went on into the house. He counted, and there
were fourteen hours to wait. Fourteen hours, and at the end of
them--what? His blood began to warm to the night's work.

       *       *       *       *       *



XXVII

THE NIGHT'S WORK


The fourteen long hours dragged themselves by. They seemed interminable,
but somehow they passed and the appointed time drew near. Ste. Marie
spent the greater part of the afternoon reading, but twice he lay down
upon the bed and tried to sleep, and once he actually dozed off for a
brief space. The old Michel brought his meals. He had thought it
possible that Coira might manage to bring the dinner-tray, as she had
already done on several occasions, and so make an opportunity for
informing him as to young Arthur's state of mind. But she did not come,
and no word came from her. So evening drew on and the dusk gathered and
deepened to darkness.

Ste. Marie walked his floor and prayed for the hours to pass. He had
candles and matches, and there was even a lamp in the room, so that he
could have read if he chose, but he knew that the words would have been
meaningless to him, that he was incapable of abstracting his thought
from the night's stern work. He began to be anxious over not having
heard from Mlle. O'Hara. She had said that she would talk with Arthur
Benham during the afternoon, and then slip a note under Ste. Marie's
door. Yet no word had come from her, and to the man pacing his floor in
the darkness the fact took on proportions tremendous and fantastic.
Something had happened. The boy had broken his promise, burst out upon
O'Hara, or more probably upon his uncle, and the house was by the ears.
Coira was watched--even locked in her room. Stewart had fled. A score of
such terrible possibilities rushed through Ste. Marie's brain and
tortured him. He was in a state of nervous tension that was almost
unendurable, and the little noises of the night outside, a wind-stirred
rustle of leaves, a bird's flutter among the branches, the sound of a
cracking twig, made him start violently and catch his breath.

Then at his utmost need came reassurance and something like ease of
mind. He heard a sound of voices at the front of the house, and sprang
to his balconied window to listen. Captain Stewart and O'Hara were
walking upon the brick-paved terrace and chatting calmly over their
cigars. The man above, prone upon the floor, his head pressed against
the ivy-masked grille of the balcony, listened, and though he could hear
their words only at intervals when they passed beneath him he knew that
they spoke of trivial matters in voices free of strain or concern.

He drew back with a breath of relief, and at that moment a sound across
the room arrested him, a soft scraping sound such as a mouse might make.
He went where it was, and a little square of paper gleamed white through
the darkness just within the door. Ste. Marie caught it up and took it
to the far side of the room away from the window. He struck a match,
opened the folded paper, and a single line of writing was there:

"He will go with you. Wait by the door in the wall."

The man nearly cried out with joy.

He struck another match and looked at his watch. It was a quarter to
ten. Four hours left out of the fourteen.

Once more he lay down upon the bed and closed his eyes. He knew that he
could not sleep, but he was tired from long tramping up and down the
room and from the strain of over-tried nerves. From hour to hour he
looked at his watch by match-light, but he did not leave the bed until
half-past one. Then he rose and took a long breath, and the time was at
hand.

He stood a little while gazing out into the night. An old moon was high
overhead in a cloudless sky, and that would make the night's work both
easier and more difficult, but on the whole he was glad of it. He looked
to the east, toward that wall where was the little wooden door, and the
way was under cover of trees and shrubbery for the whole distance save a
little space beside the house. He listened, and the night was very
still--no sound from the house below him, no sound anywhere save the
barking of a dog from far away, and after an instant the whistle of a
distant train.

Ste. Marie turned back into the room and pulled the sheets from his bed.
He rolled them, corner-wise, into a sort of rope, and knotted them
together securely. Then he went to one of the east windows. There was no
balcony there, but, as in all French upper windows, a wood and iron bar
fixed, into the stone casing at both ends, with a little grille below
it. It crossed the window space a third of the distance from bottom to
top. He bent one end of the improvised rope to this, made it fast, and
let the other end hang out. The east side of the house was in shadow,
and the rolled sheet, a vague white line, disappeared into the darkness
below, but Ste. Marie knew that it must reach nearly to the ground. He
had made use of it because he was afraid there would be too much noise
if he tried to climb down the ivy. The room directly underneath was the
drawing-room, and he knew that it was closed and shuttered and
unoccupied both by day and by night. The only danger, he decided, was
from the sleeping-room behind his own, with its windows opening close
by; but, though he did not know it, he was safe there also, for the room
was Coira O'Hara's.

He felt in his pocket for the pistol, and it was ready to hand. Then he
buttoned his coat round him and swung himself out of the window. He held
his body away from the wall with one knee and went down hand under hand.
It was so quietly done that it did not even rouse the birds in the
near-by trees. Before he realized that he had come to the lower windows
his feet touched the earth and he was free.

He stood for a moment where he was, and then slipped rapidly across the
open, moonlit space into the inky gloom of the trees. He made a
half-circle round before the house and looked up at it. It lay gray and
black and still in the night. Where the moonlight was upon it, it was
gray; where there was shadow, black as black velvet, and the windows
were like open, dead eyes. He looked toward Arthur Benham's room, and
there was no light, but he knew that the boy was awake and waiting
there, shivering probably in the dark. He wondered where Coira O'Hara
was, and he pictured her lying in her bed fronting the gloom with
sleepless, open eyes, looking into those to-morrows which she had said
she saw so well. He wondered bitterly what the to-morrows were to bring
her, but he caught himself up with a stern determination and put her out
of his mind. He did not dare think of her in that hour.

He turned and began to make his way silently under the trees toward the
appointed meeting-place. Once he thought of the old Michel and wondered
where that gnarled and withered watch-dog had betaken himself.
Somewhere, within or without the house, he was asleep or pretending to
sleep, and Ste. Marie knew that he could be trusted. The man's cupidity
and his hatred of Captain Stewart together would make him faithful, or
faithless, as one chose to look upon it.

He came to that place where a row of lilac shrubs stood against the wall
and a half-dead cedar stretched gnarled branches above. He was a little
before his time, and he settled himself to listen and wait, his sharp
ears keenly on the alert, his eyes turned toward the dark and quiet
house.

The little noises of the night broke upon him with exaggerated clamor. A
crackling twig was a thunderous crash, a bird's sleepy stir was the
sound of pursuit and disaster. A hundred times he heard the cautious
approach of Richard Hartley's motor-car without the wall, and he fell
into a panic of fear lest that machine prove unruly, break down,
puncture a tire, or burst into a series of ear-splitting explosions. But
at last--it seemed to him that he had waited untold hours and that the
dawn must be nigh--there came an unmistakable rustling from overhead and
the sound of a hard-drawn breath. The top of the wall, just at that
point, was in moonlight, and a man's head appeared over it, then an arm
and then a leg. Hartley called down to him in a whisper, and Ste. Marie,
from the gloom beneath, whispered a reply. He said:

"The boy has promised to come with us. We sha'n't have to fight for it."

Richard Hartley said, "Thank God!" He spoke to some one outside, and
then turning about let himself down to arm's-length and dropped to the
ground. "Thank God!" he said again. "The two men who were to have come
with me didn't show up. I waited as long as I dared, and then came on
with only the chauffeur. He's waiting outside by the car ready to crank
up when I give the word. The car's just a few yards away, headed out for
the road. How are we to get back over the wall?"

Ste. Marie explained that Arthur Benham was to come out to join them at
the wooden door, and doubtless would bring a key. If not, the three of
them could scale fifteen feet easily enough in the way soldiers and
firemen are trained to do it. He told his friend all that was necessary
for the time, and they went together along the wall to the more open
space beside the little door.

They waited there in silence for five minutes, and once Hartley, with
his back toward the house, struck a match under his sheltering coat,
looked to see what time it was, and found it was three minutes past two.

"He ought to be here," the man growled. "I don't like waiting. Good
Lord, you don't think he's funked it, do you? Eh?"

Ste. Marie did not answer, but he was breathing very fast and he could
not keep his hands still.

The dog which he had heard from his window began barking again very far
away in the night, and kept it up incessantly. Perhaps he was barking at
the moon.

"I'm going a little way toward the house," said Ste. Marie, at last. "We
can't see the terrace from here."

But before he had started they heard the sound of hurrying feet, and
Richard Hartley began to curse under his breath. He said:

"Does the young idiot want to rouse the whole place? Why can't he come
quietly?"

Ste. Marie began to run forward, slipping the pistol out of his pocket
and holding it ready in his hand, for his quick ears told him that there
was more than one pair of feet coming through the night. He went to
where he could command the approach from the house and halted there, but
all at once he gave a low cry and started forward again, for he saw that
Arthur Benham and Coira O'Hara were running together, and that they were
in desperate haste. He called out to them, and the girl cried:

"Go to the door in the wall! The door in the wall! Oh, be quick!"

He fell into step beside her, and as they ran he said,

"You're going with him? You're coming with us?"

The girl answered him, "No, no!" and she sprang to the little, low door
and began to fit the iron key into the lock.

The three men stood about her, and young Arthur Benham drew his breath
in great, shivering gasps that were like sobs.

"They heard us!" he cried, in a whisper. "They're after us. They heard
us on the stairs. I--stumbled and fell. For God's sake, Coira, be
quick!"

The girl fumbled desperately with the clumsy key, and dropped upon her
knees to see the better. Once she said, in a whisper: "I can't turn it.
It won't turn." And at that Richard Hartley pushed her out of the way
and lent his greater strength to the task.

A sudden, loud cry came from the house, a hoarse, screeching cry in a
voice which might have been either man's or woman's, but was as mad and
as desperate and as horrible in that still night as the screech of a
tortured animal--or of a maniac. It came again and again, and it was
nearer.

"Oh, hurry, hurry!" said the girl. "Can't you be quick? They're coming."

And as she spoke the little group about the wall heard the engine of the
motor-car outside start up with a staccato roar and knew that the
faithful chauffeur was ready for them.

"I'm getting it, I think," said Richard Hartley, between his teeth. "I'm
getting it. Turn, you beast! Turn!"

There was a sound of hurrying feet, and Ste. Marie spun about. He cried:

"Don't wait for me! Jump into the car and go! Don't wait anywhere! Come
back after you've left Benham at home!"

He began to run forward toward those running feet, and he did not know
that the girl followed after him. A short distance away there was a
little open space of moonlight, and in its midst, at full career, he met
the Irishman O'Hara, a gaunt and grotesque figure in his sleeping-suit,
barefooted, with empty hands. Beyond him still, some one else ran,
stumbling, and sobbed and uttered mad cries.

Ste. Marie dropped his pistol to the ground and sprang upon the
Irishman. He caught him about the body and arms, and the two swayed and
staggered under the tremendous impact. At just that moment, from behind,
came the crash of the opened door and triumphant shouts. Ste. Marie gave
a little gasp of triumph, too, and clung the harder to the man with whom
he fought. He drove his head into the Irishman's shoulder, and set his
muscles with a grip which was like iron. He knew that it could not
endure long, for the Irishman was stronger than he, but the grip of a
nervous man who is keyed up to a high tension is incredibly powerful for
a little while. Trained strength is nothing beside it.

It seemed to Ste. Marie in this desperate moment--it cannot have been
more than a minute or two at the most--that a strange and uncanny
miracle befell him. It was as if he became two. Soul and body, spirit
and straining flesh, seemed to him to separate, to stand apart, each
from the other. There was a thing of iron flesh and thews which had
locked itself about an enemy and clung there madly with but one purpose,
one single thought--to grip and grip, and never loosen until flesh
should be torn from bones. But apart the spirit looked on with a
complete detachment. It looked beyond--he must have raised his head to
glance over O'Hara's shoulder--saw a mad figure staggering forward in
the moonlight, and knew the figure for Captain Stewart. It saw an
upraised arm and was not afraid, for the work was almost done now. It
listened and was glad, hearing the motor-car, without the walls, leap
forward into the night and its puffing grow fainter and fainter with
distance. It knew that the thing of strained sinews received a crashing
blow upon backflung head, and that the iron muscles were slipping away
from their grip, but it was still glad, for the work was done.

Only at the last, before red and whirling lights had obscured the view,
before consciousness was dissolved in unconsciousness, came horror and
agony, for the eyes saw Captain Stewart back away and raise the thing he
had struck with, a large revolver, saw Coira O'Hara, a swift and
flashing figure in the moonlight, throw herself upon him before he could
fire, heard together a woman's scream and the roar of the pistol's
explosion, and then knew no more.

       *       *       *       *       *



XXVIII

MEDEA'S LITTLE HOUR


When Coira O'Hara came to herself from the moment's swoon into which she
had fallen, she rose to her knees and stared wildly about her. She
seemed to be alone in the place, and her first thought was to wonder how
long she had lain there. Captain Stewart had disappeared. She remembered
her struggle with him to prevent him from firing at Ste. Marie, and she
remembered her desperate agony when she realized that she could not hold
him much longer. She remembered the accidental discharge of the revolver
into the air; she remembered being thrown violently to the ground--and
that was all.

Where was her father, and where was Ste. Marie? The first question
answered itself, for as she turned her eyes toward the west she saw
O'Hara's tall, ungainly figure disappearing in the direction of the
house. She called his name twice, but it may be that the man did not
hear, for he went on without pausing and was lost to sight.

The girl became aware of something which lay on the ground near her,
half in and half out of the patch of silver moonlight. For some moments
she stared at it uncomprehending. Then she gave a sharp scream and
struggled to her feet. She ran to the thing which lay there motionless
and fell upon her knees beside it. It was Ste. Marie, his face upturned
to the sky, one side of his head black and damp. Stewart had not shot
him, but that crashing blow with the clubbed revolver had struck him
full and fair, and he was very still.

For an instant the girl's strength went out of her, and she dropped lax
across the body, her face upon Ste. Marie's breast. But after that she
tore open coat and waistcoat and felt for a heart-beat. It seemed to her
that she found life, and she began to believe that the man had only been
stunned.

Once more she rose to her feet and looked about her. There was no one to
lend her aid. She bent over the unconscious man and slipped her arms
about him. Though Ste. Marie was tall, he was slightly built, by no
means heavy, and the girl was very strong. She found that she could
carry him a little way, dragging his feet after her. When she could go
no farther she laid him down and crouched over him, waiting until her
strength should return. And this she did for a score of times; but each
time the distance she went was shorter and her breathing came with
deeper gasps and the trembling in her limbs grew more terrible. At the
last she moved in a sort of fever, an evil dream of tortured body and
reeling brain. But she had got Ste. Marie up through the park to the
terrace and into the house, and with a last desperate effort she had
laid him upon a couch in a certain little room which opened from the
lower hall. Then she fell down before him and lay still for a long time.

When she came to herself again the man was stirring feebly and muttering
to himself under his breath. With slow and painful steps she got across
the room and pulled the bell-cord. She remained there ringing until the
old Justine, blinking and half-dressed, appeared with a candle in the
doorway. Coira told the woman to make lights, and then to bring water
and a certain little bottle of aromatic salts which was in her room
up-stairs. The old Justine exclaimed and cried out, but the girl flew at
her in a white fury, and she tottered away as fast as old legs could
move once she had set alight the row of candles on the mantelshelf. Then
Coira O'Hara went back to the man who lay outstretched on the low couch,
and knelt beside him, looking into his face. The man stirred, and moved
his head slowly. Half-articulate words came from his lips, and she made
out that he was saying her name in a dull monotone--only her name, over
and over again. She gave a little cry of grief and gladness, and hid her
face against him as she had done once before, out in the night.

The old woman returned with a jug of water, towels, and the bottle of
aromatic salts. The two of them washed that stain from Ste. Marie's
head, and found that he had received a severe bruise and that the flesh
had been cut before and above the ear.

"Thank God," the girl said, "it is only a flesh wound! If it were a
fracture he would be breathing in that horrible, loud way they always
do. He's breathing naturally. He has only been stunned. You may go now,"
she said. "Only bring a glass and some drinking-water--cold."

So the old woman went away to do her errand, returned, and went away
again, and the two were left together. Coira held the salts-bottle to
Ste. Marie's nostrils, and he gasped and sneezed and tried to turn his
head away from it, but it brought him to his senses--and doubtless to a
good deal of pain. Once when he could not escape the thing he broke into
a fit of weak cursing, and the girl laughed over him tenderly and let
him be.

Very slowly Ste. Marie opened his eyes, and in the soft half-light the
girl's face was bent above him, dark and sweet and beautiful--near, so
near that her breath was warm upon his lips. He said her name again in
an incredulous whisper:

"Coira! Coira!"

And she said, "I am here."

But the man was in a strange border-land of half-consciousness and his
ears were deaf. He said, gazing up at her:

"Is it--another dream?"

And he tried to raise one hand from where it lay beside him, but the
hand wavered and fell aslant across his body. It had not the strength
yet to obey him. He said, still in his weak whisper:

"Oh, beautiful--and sweet--and true!"

The girl gave a little sob and hid her face.

"A goddess!" he whispered. "'A queen among goddesses!' That's--what the
little Jew said. 'A queen among goddesses. The young Juno before--'" He
stirred restlessly where he lay, and he complained: "My head hurts!
What's the matter with my head? It hurts!"

She dipped one of the towels in the basin of cold water and held it to
the man's brow. The chill of it must have been grateful, for his eyes
closed and he breathed a little satisfied "Ah!"

"It mustn't hurt to-night," said he. "To-night at two--by the little
door in the garden wall. And he's coming with us. The young fool is
coming with us.... So she and I go out of each other's lives.... Coira!"
he cried, with a sudden sharpness. "Coira, I won't have it! Am I going
to lose you ... like this? Am I going to lose you, after all ... now
that we know?"

He put up his hand once more, a weak and uncertain hand. It touched the
girl's warm cheek and a sudden violent shiver wrung the man on the
couch. His eyes sharpened and stared with something like fear.

"_Real!_" he cried, whispering. "Real? ... Not a dream?"

"Oh, very real, my Bayard!" said she. A thought came to her, and she
drew away from the couch and sat back upon her heels, looking at the man
with grave and sombre eyes. In that moment she fought within herself a
battle of right and wrong. "He doesn't remember," she said. "He doesn't
know. He is like a little child. He knows nothing but that we two--are
here together. Nothing else. Nothing!"

His state was plain to see. He dwelt still in that vague border-land
between worlds. He had brought with him no memories, and no memories
followed him save those her face had wakened. Within the girl a great
and tender passion of love fought for possession of this little hour.

"It will be all I shall ever have!" she cried, piteously. "And it cannot
harm him. He won't remember it when he comes to his senses. He'll sleep
again and--forget. He'll go back to _her_ and never know. And I shall
never even see him again. Why can't I have my little sweet hour?"

Once more the man cried her name, and she knelt forward and bent above
him. "Oh, at last, Coira!" said he. "After so long! ... And I thought it
was another dream!"

"Do you dream of me, Bayard?" she asked.

And he said: "From the very first. From that evening in the
Champs-Elysées. Your eyes, they've haunted me from the very first. There
was a dream of you," he said, "that I had so often--but I cannot quite
remember, because my head hurts. What is the matter with my head? I
was--going somewhere. It was so very important that I should go, but I
have forgotten where it was and why I had to go there. I remember only
that you called to me--called me back--and I saw your eyes--and I
couldn't go. You needed me."

"Ah, sorely, Bayard! Sorely!" cried the girl above him.

"And now," said he, whispering.

"Now?" she said.

"Coira, I love you," said the man on the couch.

And Coira O'Hara gave a single dry sob.

She said: "Oh, my dear love! Now I wish that I might die after hearing
you say that. My life, Bayard, is full now. It's full of joy and
gratefulness and everything that is sweet. I wish I might die before
other things come to spoil it."

Ste. Marie--or that part of him which lay at La Lierre--laughed with a
fine scorn, albeit very weakly. "Why not live instead?" said he. "And
what can come to spoil our life for us? _Our life!_" he said again, in a
whisper. A flash of remembrance seemed to come to him, for he smiled and
said, "Coira, we'll go to Vavau."

"Anywhere!" said she. "Anywhere!"

"So that we go together."

"Yes," she said, gently, "so that we two go together." She tried with a
desperate fierceness to make herself like the man before her, to put
away, by sheer power of will, all memory, the knowledge of everything
save what was in this little room, but it was the vainest of all vain
efforts. She saw herself for a thief and a cheat--stealing, for love's
sake, the mere body of the man she loved while mind and soul were
absent. In her agony she almost cried out aloud as the words said
themselves within her. And she denied them. She said: "His mind may be
absent, but his soul is here. He loves me. It is I, not that other. Can
I not have my poor little hour of pretence? A little hour out of all a
lifetime! Shall I have nothing at all?"

But the voice which had accused her said, "If he knew, would he say he
loves you?" And she hid her face, for she knew that he would not--even
if it were true.

"Coira!" whispered the man on the couch, and she raised her head. In the
half darkness he could not have seen how she was suffering. Her face was
only a warm blur to him, vague and sweet and beautiful, with tender
eyes. He said: "I think--I'm falling asleep. My head is so very, very
queer! What is the matter with my head? Coira, do you think I might be
kissed before I go to sleep?"

She gave a little cry of intolerable anguish. It seemed to her that she
was being tortured beyond all reason or endurance. She felt suddenly
very weak, and she was afraid that she was going to faint away. She laid
her face down upon the couch where Ste. Marie's head lay. Her cheek was
against his and her hair across his eyes.

The man gave a contented sigh and fell asleep.

Later, she rose stiffly and wearily to her feet. She stood for a little
while looking down upon him. It was as if she looked upon the dead body
of a lover. She seemed to say a still and white and tearless farewell to
him. Her little hour was done, and it had been, instead of joy,
bitterness unspeakable: ashes in the mouth. Then she went out of the
room and closed the door.

In the hall outside she stood a moment considering, and finally mounted
the stairs and went to her father's door. She knocked and thought she
heard a slight stirring inside, but there was no answer. She knocked
twice again and called out her father's name, saying that she wished to
speak to him, but still he made no reply, and after waiting a little
longer she turned away. She went down-stairs again and out upon the
terrace. The terrace and the lawn before it were still checkered with
silver and deep black, but the moon was an hour lower in the west. A
little cool breeze had sprung up, and it was sweet and grateful to her.
She sat down upon one of the stone benches and leaned her head back
against the trunk of a tree which stood beside it and she remained there
for a long time, still and relaxed, in a sort of bodily and mental
languor--an exhaustion of flesh and spirit.

There came shambling footsteps upon the turf, and the old Michel
advanced into the moonlight from the gloom of the trees, emitting
mechanical and not very realistic groans. He had been hard put to it to
find any one before whom he could pour out his tale of heroism and
suffering. Coira O'Hara looked upon him coldly, and the gnome groaned
with renewed and somewhat frightened energy.

"What is the matter with you?" she asked. "Why are you about at this
hour?"

The old Michel told his piteous tale with tears and passion, protesting
that he had succumbed only before the combined attack of twenty armed
men, and exhibiting his wounds. But the girl gave a brief and mirthless
laugh.

"You were bribed to tell that, I suppose," said she. "By M. Ste. Marie?
Yes, probably. Well, tell it to my father to-morrow! You'd better go to
bed now."

The old man stared at her with open mouth for a breathless moment, and
then shambled hastily away, looking over his shoulder at intervals until
he was out of sight.

But after that the girl still remained in her place from sheer weariness
and lack of impulse to move. She fell to wondering about Captain Stewart
and what had become of him, but she did not greatly care. She had a
feeling that her world had come to its end, and she was quite
indifferent about those who still peopled its ashes--or about all of
them save her father.

She heard the distant sound of a motor-car, and at that sat up quickly,
for it might be Ste. Marie's friend, Mr. Hartley, returning from Paris.
The sound came nearer and ceased, but she waited for ten minutes before
rapid steps approached from the east wall and Hartley was before her.

He cried at once: "Where's Ste. Marie? Where is he? He hasn't tried to
walk into the city?"

"He is asleep in the house," said the girl. "He was struck on the head
and stunned. I got him into the house, and he is asleep now. Of course,"
she said, "we could wake him, but it would probably be better to let him
sleep as long as he will if it is possible. It will save him a great
deal of pain, I think. He'll have a frightful headache if he's wakened
now. Could you come for him or send for him to-morrow--toward noon?"

"Why--yes, I suppose so," said Richard Hartley. "Yes, of course, if you
think that's better. Could I just see him for a moment?" He stared at
the girl a bit suspiciously, and Coira looked back at him with a little
tired smile, for she read his thought.

"You want to make sure," said she. "Of course! Yes, come in. He's
sleeping very soundly." She led the man into that dim room where Ste.
Marie lay, and Hartley's quick eye noted the basin of water and the
stained towels and the little bottle of aromatic salts. He bent over his
friend to see the bruise at the side of the head, and listened to the
sleeper's breathing. Then the two went out again to the moonlit terrace.

"You must forgive me," said he, when they had come there. "You must
forgive me for seeming suspicious, but--all this wretched business--and
he is my closest friend--I've come to suspect everybody. I was unjust,
for you helped us to get away. I beg your pardon!"

The girl smiled at him again, her little, white, tired smile, and she
said: "There is nothing I would not do to make amends--now that I
know--the truth."

"Yes," said Hartley, "I understand. Arthur Benham told me how Stewart
lied to you all. Was it he who struck Ste. Marie?"

She nodded. "And then tried to shoot him; but he didn't succeed in that.
I wonder where he is--Captain Stewart?"

"I have him out in the car," Hartley said. "Oh, he shall pay, you may be
sure!--if he doesn't die and cheat us, that is. I nearly ran the car
over him a few minutes ago. If it hadn't been for the moonlight I would
have done for him. He was lying on his face in that lane that leads to
the Issy road. I don't know what is the matter with him. He's only half
conscious and he's quite helpless. He looks as if he'd had a stroke of
apoplexy or something. I must hurry him back to Paris, I suppose, and
get him under a doctor's care. I wonder what's wrong with him?"

The girl shook her head, for she did not know of Stewart's epileptic
seizures. She thought it quite possible that he had suffered a stroke of
apoplexy as Hartley suggested, for she remembered the half-mad state he
had been in.

Richard Hartley stood for a time in thought. "I must get Stewart back to
Paris at once," he said, finally. "I must get him under care and in a
safe place from which he can't escape. It will want some managing. If I
can get away I'll come out here again in the morning, but if not I'll
send the car out with orders to wait here until Ste. Marie is ready to
return to the city. Are you sure he's all right--that he isn't badly
hurt?"

"I think he will be all right," she said, "save for the pain. He was
only stunned."

And Hartley nodded. "He seems to be breathing quite naturally," said he.
"That's arranged, then. The car will be here in waiting, and I shall
come with it if I can. Tell him when he wakes." He put out his hand to
her, and the girl gave him hers very listlessly but smiling. She wished
he would go and leave her alone.

Then in a moment more he did go, and she heard his quick steps down
through the trees, and heard, a little later, the engine of the
motor-car start up with a sudden loud volley of explosions. And so she
was left to her solitary watch. She noticed, as she turned to go
indoors, that the blackness of the night was just beginning to gray
toward dawn.

       *       *       *       *       *



XXIX

THE SCALES OF INJUSTICE


Ste. Marie slept soundly until mid-morning--that it to say, about ten
o'clock--and then awoke with a dull pain in his head and a sensation of
extreme giddiness which became something like vertigo when he attempted
to rise. However, with the aid of the old Michel he got somehow
up-stairs to his room and made a rather sketchy toilet.

Coira came to him there, and while he lay still across the bed told him
about the happenings of the night after he had received his injury. She
told him also that the motor was waiting for him outside the wall, and
that Richard Hartley had sent a message by the chauffeur to say that he
was very busy in Paris making arrangements about Stewart, who had come
out of his strange state of half-insensibility only to rave in a
delirium.

"So," she said, "you can go now whenever you are ready. Arthur is with
his family, Captain Stewart is under guard, and your work is done. You
ought to be glad--even though you are suffering pain."

Ste. Marie looked up at her. "Do I seem glad, Coira?" said he.

And she said: "You will be glad to-morrow--and always, I hope and pray.
Always! Always!"

The man held one hand over his aching eyes.

"I have," he said, "queer half-memories. I wish I could remember
distinctly."

He looked up at her again.

"I dropped down by the gate in the wall. When I awoke I was in a room in
the house. How did that happen?"

"Oh," she said, turning her face away, "we got you up to the house
almost at once."

But Ste. Marie frowned thoughtfully.

"'We'? Who do you mean by 'we'?"

"Well, then, I," the girl said. "It was not difficult."

"Coira," cried the man, "do you mean that you carried me bodily all that
long distance? _You_?"

"Carried or dragged," she said. "As much one as the other. It was not
very difficult. I'm strong for a woman."

"Oh, child! child!" he cried. And he said: "I remember more. It was you
who held Stewart and kept him from shooting me. I heard the shot and I
heard you scream. The last thought I had was that you had been killed in
saving me. That's what I went out into the blank thinking."

He covered his eyes again as if the memory were intolerable. But after
awhile he said:

"You saved my life, you know."

And the girl answered him:

"I had nearly taken it once before. It was I who called Michel that day
you came over the wall, the day you were shot. I nearly murdered you
once. I owed you something. Perhaps we're even now."

She saw that he did not at all remember that hour in the little
room--her hour of bitterness--and she was glad. She had felt sure that
it would be so. For the present she did not greatly suffer, she had come
to a state beyond active suffering--a chill state of dulled
sensibilities.

The old Justine knocked at the door to ask if Monsieur was going into
the city soon or if she should give the chauffeur his déjeuner and tell
him to wait.

"Are you fit to go?" Coira asked.

And he said, "I suppose as fit as I shall be."

He got to his feet, and the things about him swam dangerously, but he
could walk by using great care. The girl stood white and still, and she
avoided his eyes.

"It is not good-bye," said he. "I shall see you soon again--and I hope,
often--often, Coira."

The words had a flat and foolish sound, but he could find no others. It
was not easy to speak.

"I suppose I must not ask to see your father?" said he.

And she told him that her father had locked himself in his own room and
would see no one--would not even open his door to take in food.

Ste. Marie went to the stairs leaning upon the shoulder of the stout old
Justine, but before he had gone Coira checked him for an instant. She
said:

"Tell Arthur, if he speaks to you about me, that what I said in the note
I gave him last night I meant quite seriously. I gave him a note to read
after he reached home. Tell him for me that it was final. Will you do
that?"

"Yes, of course," said Ste. Marie.

He looked at her with some wonder, because her words had been very
emphatic.

"Yes," he said, "I will tell him. Is that all?"

"All but good-bye," said she. "Good-bye, Bayard!"

She stood at the head of the stairs while he went down them. And she
came after him to the landing, half-way, where the stairs turned in the
opposite direction for their lower flight. When he went out of the front
door he looked back, and she was standing there above him, a straight,
still figure, dark against the light of the windows behind her.

He went straight to the rue d'Assas. He found that while he sat still in
the comfortable tonneau of the motor his head was fairly normal, and the
world did not swing and whirl about in that sickening fashion. But when
the car lurched or bumped over an obstruction it made him giddy, and he
would have fallen had he been standing.

The familiar streets of the Montparnasse and Luxembourg quarters had for
his eyes all the charm and delight of home things to the returned
traveller. He felt as if he had been away for months, and he caught
himself looking for changes, and it made him laugh. He was much relieved
when he found that his concierge was not on watch, and that he could
slip unobserved up the stairs and into his rooms. The rooms were fresh
and clean, for they had been aired and tended daily.

Arrived there, he wrote a little note to a friend of his who was a
doctor and lived in the rue Notre Dame des Champs, asking this man to
call as soon as it might be convenient. He sent the note by the
chauffeur and then lay down, dressed as he was, to wait, for he could
not stand or move about without a painful dizziness. The doctor came
within a half-hour, examined Ste. Marie's bruised head, and bound it up.
He gave him a dose of something with a vile taste which he said would
take away the worst of the pain in a few hours, and he also gave him a
sleeping-potion, and made him go to bed.

"You'll be fairly fit by evening," he said. "But don't stir until then.
I'll leave word below that you're not to be disturbed."

So it happened that when Richard Hartley came dashing up an hour or two
later he was not allowed to see his friend, and Ste. Marie slept a
dreamless sleep until dark.

He awoke then, refreshed but ravenous with hunger, and found that there
was only a dull ache in his battered head. The dizziness and the vertigo
were almost completely gone. He made lights and dressed with care. He
felt like a little girl making ready for a party, it was so long--or
seemed so long;--since he had put on evening clothes. Then he went out,
leaving at the loge of the concierge a note for Hartley, to say where he
might be found. He went to Lavenue's and dined in solitary pomp, for it
was after nine o'clock. Again it seemed to him that it was months since
he had done the like--sat down to a real table for a real dinner. At ten
he got into a fiacre and drove to the rue de l'Université.

The man who admitted him said that Mademoiselle was alone in the
drawing-room, and he went there at once. He was dully conscious that
something was very wrong, but he had suffered too much within the past
few hours to be analytical, and he did not know what it was that was
wrong. He should have entered that room with a swift and eager step,
with shining eyes, with a high-beating heart. He went into it slowly,
wrapped in a mantle of strange apathy.

Helen Benham came forward to meet him, and took both his hands in hers.
Ste. Marie was amazed to see that she seemed not to have altered at
all--in spite of this enormous lapse of time, in spite of all that had
happened in it. And yet, unaltered, she seemed to him a stranger, a
charming and gracious stranger with an icily beautiful face. He wondered
at her and at himself, and he was a little alarmed because he thought
that he must be ill. That blow upon the head must, after all, have done
something terrible to him.

"Ah, Ste. Marie!" she said, in her well-remembered voice--and again he
wondered that the voice should be so high-pitched and so without color
or feeling. "How glad I am," she said, "that you are safely out of it
all! How you have suffered for us, Ste. Marie! You look white and ill.
Sit down, please! Don't stand!"

She drew him to a comfortable chair, and he sat down in it obediently.
He could not think of anything to say, though he was not, as a rule,
tongue-tied; but the girl did not seem to expect any answer, for she
went on at once with a rather odd air of haste:

"Arthur is here with us, safe and sound. Richard Hartley brought him
back from that dreadful place, and he has talked everything over with my
grandfather, and it's all right. They both understand now, and there'll
be no more trouble. We have had to be careful, very careful, and we have
had to--well, to rearrange the facts a little so as to leave--my
uncle--to leave Captain Stewart's name out of it. It would not do to
shock my grandfather by telling him the truth. Perhaps later; I don't
know. That will have to be thought of. For the present we have left my
uncle out of it, and put the blame entirely upon this other man. I
forget his name."

"The blame cannot rest there," said Ste. Marie, sharply. "It is not
deserved, and I shall not allow it to be left so. Captain Stewart lied
to O'Hara throughout. You cannot leave the blame with an innocent man."

"Still," she said, "such a man!"

Ste. Marie looked at her, frowning, and the girl turned her eyes away.
She may have had the grace to be a little ashamed.

"Think of the difficulty we were in!" she urged. "Captain Stewart is my
grandfather's own son. We cannot tell him now, in his weak state, that
his own son is--what he is."

There was reason if not justice in that, and Ste. Marie was forced to
admit it. He said:

"Ah, well, for the present, then. That can be arranged later. The main
point is that I've found your brother for you. I've brought him back."

Miss Benham looked up at him and away again, and she drew a quick
breath. He saw her hands move restlessly in her lap, and he was aware
that for some odd reason she was very ill at ease. At last she said:

"Ah, but--but have you, dear Ste. Marie? Have you?"

After a brief silence she stole another swift glance at the man, and he
was staring in open and frank bewilderment. She rushed into rapid
speech.

"Ah," she cried, "don't misunderstand me! Don't think that I'm brutal or
ungrateful for all you've--you've suffered in trying to help us! Don't
think that! I can--we can never be grateful enough--never! But stop and
think! Yes, I know this all sounds hideous, but it's so terribly
important. I shouldn't dream of saying a word of it if it weren't so
important, if so much didn't depend upon it. But stop and think! Was it,
dear Ste. Marie, was it, after all, you? Was it you who brought Arthur
to us?"

The man fairly blinked at her, owl-like. He was beyond speech.

"Wasn't it Richard?" she hurried on. "Wasn't it Richard Hartley? Ah, if
I could only say it without seeming so contemptibly heartless! If only I
needn't say it at all! But it must be said because of what depends upon
it. Think! Go back to the beginning! Wasn't it Richard who first began
to suspect my uncle? Didn't he tell you or write to you what he had
discovered, and so set you upon the right track? And after you
had--well, just fallen into their hands, with no hope of ever escaping
yourself--to say nothing of bringing Arthur back--wasn't it Richard who
came to your rescue and brought it all to victory? Oh, Ste. Marie, I
must be just to him as well as to you! Don't you see that? However
grateful I may be to you for what you have done--suffered--I cannot, in
justice, give you what I was to have given you, since it is, after all,
Richard who has saved my brother. I cannot, can I? Surely you must see
it. And you must see how it hurts me to have to say it. I had hoped
that--you would understand--without my speaking."

Still the man sat in his trance of astonishment, speechless. For the
first time in his life he was brought face to face with the amazing, the
appalling injustice of which a woman is capable when her heart is
concerned. This girl wished to believe that to Richard Hartley belonged
the credit of rescuing her brother, and lo! she believed it. A score of
juries might have decided against her, a hundred proofs controverted her
decision, but she would have been deaf and blind. It is only women who
accomplish miracles of reasoning like that.

Ste. Marie took a long breath and he started to speak, but in the end
shook his head and remained silent. Through the whirl and din of falling
skies he was yet able to see the utter futility of words. He could have
adduced a hundred arguments to prove her absurdity. He could have shown
her that before he ever read Hartley's note he had decided upon
Stewart's guilt--and for much better reasons than Hartley had. He could
have pointed out to her that it was he, not Hartley, who discovered
young Benham's whereabouts, that it was he who summoned Hartley there,
and that, as a matter of fact, Hartley need not have come at all, since
the boy had been persuaded to go home in any case.

He thought of all these things and more, and in a moment of sheer anger
at her injustice he was on the point of stating them, but he shook his
head and remained silent. After all, of what use was speech? He knew
that it could make no impression upon her, and he knew why. For some
reason, in some way, she had turned during his absence to Richard
Hartley, and there was nothing more to be said. There was no treachery
on Hartley's part. He knew that, and it never even occurred to him to
blame his friend. Hartley was as faithful as any one who ever lived. It
seemed to be nobody's fault. It had just happened.

He looked at the girl before him with a new expression, an expression of
sheer curiosity. It seemed to him well-nigh incredible that any human
being could be so unjust and so blind. Yet he knew her to be, in other
matters, one of the fairest of all women, just and tender and thoughtful
and true. He knew that she prided herself upon her cool impartiality of
judgment. He shook his head with a little sigh and ceased to wonder any
more. It was beyond him. He became aware that he ought to say something,
and he said:

"Yes. Yes, I--see. I see what you mean. Yes, Hartley did all you say. I
hadn't meant to rob Hartley of the credit he deserves. I suppose you're
right."

He was possessed of a sudden longing to get away out of that room, and
he rose to his feet.

"If you don't mind," he said, "I think I'd better go. This is--well,
it's a bit of a facer, you see. I want to think it over. Perhaps
to-morrow--you don't mind?"

He saw a swift relief flash into Miss Benham's eyes, but she murmured a
few words of protest that had a rather perfunctory sound. Ste. Marie
shook his head.

"Thanks! I won't stay," said he. "Not just now. I--think I'd better go."

He had a confused realization of platitudinous adieus, of a silly
formality of speech, and he found himself in the hall. Once he glanced
back and Miss Benham was standing where he had left her, looking after
him with a calm and unimpassioned face. He thought that she looked
rather like a very beautiful statue.

The butler came to him to say that Mr. Stewart would be glad if he would
look in before leaving the house, and so he went up-stairs and knocked
at old David's door. He moved like a man in a dream, and the things
about him seemed to be curiously unreal and rather far away, as they
seem sometimes in a fever.

He was admitted at once, and he found the old man sitting up in bed,
clad in one of his incredibly gorgeous mandarin's jackets--plum-colored
satin this time, with peonies--overflowing with spirits and good-humor.
His grandson sat in a chair near at hand. The old man gave a shout of
welcome:

"Ah, here's Jason at last, back from Colchis! Welcome home to--whatever
the name of the place was! Welcome home!"

He shook Ste. Marie's hand with hospitable violence, and Ste. Marie was
astonished to see upon what a new lease of life and strength the old man
seemed to have entered. There was no ingratitude or misconception here,
certainly. Old David quite overwhelmed his visitor with thanks and with
expressions of affection.

"You've saved my life among other things!" he said, in his gruff roar.
"I was ready to go, but, by the Lord, I'm going to stay awhile longer
now! This world's a better place than I thought--a much better place."
He shook a heavily waggish head. "If I didn't know," said he, "what your
reward is to be for what you've done, I should be in despair over it
all, because there is nothing else in the world that would be anything
like adequate. You've been making sure of the reward down-stairs, I dare
say? Eh, what? Yes?"

"You mean--?" asked the younger man.

And old David said: "I mean Helen, of course. What else?"

Ste. Marie was not quite himself. At another time he might have got out
of the room with an evasive answer, but he spoke without thinking. He
said:

"Oh--yes! I suppose--I suppose I ought to tell you that Miss
Benham--well, she has changed her mind. That is to say--"

"What!" shouted old David Stewart, in his great voice. "What is that?"

"Why, it seems," said Ste. Marie--"it seems that I only blundered. It
seems that Hartley rescued your grandson, not I. And I suppose he did,
you know. When you come to think of it, I suppose he did."

David Stewart's great white beard seemed to bristle like the ruff of an
angry dog, and his eyes flashed fiercely under their shaggy brows. "Do
you mean to tell me that after all you've done and--and gone through,
Helen has thrown you over? Do you mean to tell me that?"

"Well," argued Ste. Marie, uncomfortably--"well, you see, she seems to
be right. I did bungle it, didn't I? It was Hartley who came and pulled
us out of the hole."

"Hartley be damned!" cried the old man, in a towering rage. And he began
to pour out the most extraordinary flood of furious invective upon his
granddaughter and upon Richard Hartley, whom he quite unjustly termed a
snake-in-the-grass, and finally upon all women, past, contemporary, or
still to be born.

Ste. Marie, in fear for old David's health, tried to calm him, and the
faithful valet came running from the room beyond with prayers and
protestations, but nothing would check that astonishing flow of fury
until it had run its full course. Then the man fell back upon his
pillows, crimson, panting, and exhausted, but the fierce eyes glittered
still, and they boded no good for Miss Helen Benham.

"You're well rid of her!" said the old gentleman, when at last he was
once more able to speak. "You're well rid of her! I congratulate you! I
am ashamed and humiliated, and a great burden of obligation is shifted
to me--though I assume it with pleasure--but I congratulate you. You
might have found out too late what sort of a woman she is."

Ste. Marie began to protest and to explain and to say that Miss Benham
had been quite right in what she said, but the old gentleman only waved
an impatient arm to him, and presently, when he saw the valet making
signs across the bed, and saw that his host was really in a state of
complete exhaustion after the outburst, he made his adieus and got away.

Young Arthur Benham, who had been sitting almost silent during the
interview, followed him out of the room and closed the door behind them.
For the first time Ste. Marie noted that the boy's face was white and
strained. He pulled a crumpled square of folded paper from his pocket
and shook it at the other man. "Do you know what this is?" he cried. "Do
you know what's in this?"

Ste. Marie shook his head, but a sudden recollection came to him.

"Ah," said he, "that must be the note Mlle. O'Hara spoke of! She asked
me to tell you that she meant it--whatever it may be--quite seriously;
that it was final. She didn't explain. She just said that--that you were
to take it as final."

The lad gave a sudden very bitter sob. "She has thrown me over!" he
said. "She says I'm not to come back to her."

Ste. Marie gave a wordless cry, and he began to tremble.

"You can read it if you want to," the boy said. "Perhaps you can explain
it. I can't. Do you want to read it?"

The elder man stood staring at him whitely, and the boy repeated his
words.

He said, "You can read it if you want to," and at last Ste. Marie took
the paper between stiff hands, and held it to the light.

Coira O'Hara said, briefly, that too much was against their marriage.
She mentioned his age, the certain hostility of his family, their
different tastes, a number of other things. But in the end she said she
had begun to realize that she did not love him as she ought to do if
they were to marry. And so, the note said, finally, she gave him up to
his family, she released him altogether, and she begged him not to come
back to her, or to urge her to change her mind. Also she made the trite
but very sensible observation that he would be glad of his freedom
before the year was out.

Ste. Marie's unsteady fingers opened and the crumpled paper slipped
through them to the floor. Over it the man and the boy looked at each
other in silence. Young Arthur Benham's face was white, and it was
strained and contorted with its first grief. But first griefs do not
last very long. Coira O'Hara had told the truth--before the year was out
the lad would be glad of his freedom. But the man's face was white also,
white and still, and his eyes held a strange expression which the boy
could not understand and at which he wondered. The man was trembling a
little from head to foot. The boy wondered about that, too, but abruptly
he cried out: "What's up? Where are you going?" for Ste. Marie had
turned all at once and was running down the stairs as fast as he could
run.

       *       *       *       *       *



XXX

JASON SAILS BACK TO COLCHIS.--JOURNEY'S END


In the hall below, Ste. Marie came violently into contact with and
nearly overturned Richard Hartley, who was just giving his hat and stick
to the man who had admitted him. Hartley seized upon him with an
exclamation of pleasure, and wheeled him round to face the light. He
said:

"I've been pursuing you all day. You're almost as difficult of access
here in Paris as you were at La Lierre. How's the head?"

Ste. Marie put up an experimental hand. He had forgotten his injury.
"Oh, that's all right," said he. "At least, I think so. Anderson fixed
me up this afternoon. But I haven't time to talk to you. I'm in a hurry.
To-morrow we'll have a long chin. Oh, how about Stewart?"

He lowered his voice, and Hartley answered him in the same tone.

"The man is in a delirium. Heaven knows how it'll end. He may die and he
may pull through. I hope he pulls through--except for the sake of the
family--because then we can make him pay for what he's done. I don't
want him to go scot free by dying."

"Nor I," said Ste. Marie, fiercely. "Nor I. I want him to pay, too--long
and slowly and hard; and if he lives I shall see that he does it, family
or no family. Now I must be off."

Ste. Marie's face was shining and uplifted. The other man looked at it
with a little envious sigh.

"I see everything is all right," said he, "and I congratulate you. You
deserve it if ever any one did."

Ste. Marie stared for an instant, uncomprehending. Then he saw.

"Yes," he said, gently, "everything is all right."

It was plain that the Englishman did not know of Miss Benham's decision.
He was incapable of deceit. Ste. Marie threw an arm over his friend's
shoulder and went with him a little way toward the drawing-room.

"Go in there," he said. "You'll find some one glad to see you, I think.
And remember that I said everything is all right."

He came back after he had turned away, and met Hartley's puzzled frown
with a smile.

"If you've that motor here, may I use it?" he asked. "I want to go
somewhere in a hurry."

"Of course," the other man said. "Of course. I'll go home in a cab."

So they parted, and Ste. Marie went out to the waiting car.

On the left bank the streets are nearly empty of traffic at night, and
one can make excellent time over them. Ste. Marie reached the Porte de
Versailles, at the city's limits, in twenty minutes and dashed through
Issy five minutes later. In less than half an hour from the time he had
left the rue de l'Université he was under the walls of La Lierre. He
looked at his watch, and it was not quite half-past eleven.

He tried the little door in the wall, and it was unlocked, so he passed
in and closed the door behind him. Inside he found that he was running,
and he gave a little laugh, but of eagerness and excitement, not of
mirth. There were dim lights in one or two of the upper windows, but
none below, and there was no one about. He pulled at the door-bell, and
after a few impatient moments pulled again and still again. Then he
noticed that the heavy door was ajar, and, since no one answered his
ringing, he pushed the door open and went in.

The lower hall was quite dark, but a very faint light came down from
above through the well of the staircase. He heard dragging feet in the
upper hall, and then upon one of the upper flights, for the stairs,
broad below, divided at a half-way landing and continued upward in an
opposite direction in two narrower flights. A voice, very faint and
weary, called:

"Who is there? Who is ringing, please?"

And Coira O'Hara, holding a candle in her hand, came upon the
stair-landing and stood gazing down into the darkness. She wore a sort
of dressing-gown, a heavy white garment which hung in straight, long
folds to her feet and fell away from the arm that held the candle on
high. The yellow beams of light struck down across her head and face,
and even at the distance the man could see how white she was and
hollow-eyed and worn--a pale wraith of the splendid beauty that had
walked in the garden at La Lierre.

"Who is there, please?" she asked again. "I can't see. What is it?"

"It is I, Coira!" said Ste. Marie.

And she gave a sharp cry. The arm which was holding the candle overhead
shook and fell beside her as if the strength had gone out of it. The
candle dropped to the floor, spluttered there for an instant and went
out, but there was still a little light from the hall above.

Ste. Marie sprang up the stairs to where the girl stood, and caught her
in his arms, for she was on the verge of faintness. Her head fell back
away from him, and he saw her eyes through half-closed lids, her white
teeth through parted lips. She was trembling--but, for that matter, so
was he at the touch of her, the heavy and sweet burden in his arms. She
tried to speak, and he heard a whisper:

"Why? Why? Why?"

"Because it is my place, Coira!" said he. "Because I cannot live away
from you. Because we belong together."

The girl struggled weakly and pushed against him. Once more he heard
whispering words and made out that she tried to say:

"Go back to her! Go back to her! You belong there!"

But at that he laughed aloud.

"I thought so, too," said he, "but she thinks otherwise. She'll have
none of me, Coira. It's Richard Hartley now. Coira, can you love a
jilted man? I've been jilted--thrown over--dismissed."

Her head came up in a flash and she stared at him, suddenly rigid and
tense in his arms.

"Is that true?" she demanded.

"Yes, my love!" said he.

And she began to weep, with long, comfortable sobs, her face hidden in
the hollow of his shoulder. On one other occasion she had wept before
him, and he had been horribly embarrassed, but he bore this present
tempest without, as it were, winking. He gloried in it. He tried to say
so. He tried to whisper to her, his lips pressed close to the ear that
was nearest them, but he found that he had no speech. Words would not
come to his tongue; it trembled and faltered and was still for sheer
inadequacy.

Rather oddly, in that his thoughts were chaos, swallowed up in the surge
of feeling, a memory struck through to him of that other exaltation
which had swept him to the stars. He looked upon it and was amazed
because now he saw it, in clear light, for the thing it had been. He saw
it for a fantasy, a self-evoked wraith of the imagination, a dizzy
flight of the spirit through spirit space. He saw that it had not been
love at all, and he realized how little a part Helen Benham had ever
really played in it. A cold and still-eyed figure for him to wrap the
veil of his imagination round, that was what she had been. There were
times when the sweep of his upward flight had stirred her a little,
wakened in her some vague response, but for the most part she had stood
aside and looked on, wondering.

The mist was rent away from that rainbow-painted cobweb, and at last the
man saw and understood. He gave an exclamation of wonder, and the girl
who loved him raised her head once more, and the two looked each into
the other's eyes for a long time. They fell into hushed and broken
speech.

"I have loved you so long, so long," she said, "and so hopelessly! I
never thought--I never believed. To think that in the end you have come
to me! I cannot believe it!"

"Wait and see!" cried the man. "Wait and see!"

She shivered a little. "If it is not true I should like to die before I
find out. I should like to die now, Bayard, with your arms holding me up
and your eyes close, close."

Ste. Marie's arms tightened round her with a sudden fierceness. He hurt
her, and she smiled up at him. Their two hearts beat one against the
other, and they beat very fast.

"Don't you understand," he cried, "that life's only just
beginning--day's just dawning, Coira? We've been lost in the dark. Day's
coming now. This is only the sunrise."

"I can believe it at last," she said, "because you hold me close and you
hurt me a little, and I'm glad to be hurt. And I can feel your heart
beating. Ah, never let me go, Bayard! I should be lost in the dark again
if you let me go." A sudden thought came to her, and she bent back her
head to see the better. "Did you speak with Arthur?"

And he said: "Yes. He asked me to read your note, so I read it. That
poor lad! I came straight to you then--straight and fast."

"You knew why I did it?" she said, and Ste. Marie said:

"Now I know."

"I could not have married him," said she. "I could not. I never thought
I should see you again, but I loved you and I could not have married
him. Ah, impossible! And he'll be glad later on. You know that. It will
save him any more trouble with his family, and besides--he's so very
young. Already, I think, he was beginning to chafe a little. I thought
so more than once. Oh, I'm trying to justify myself!" she cried. "I'm
trying to find reasons; but you know the true reason. You know it."

"I thank God for it," he said.

So they stood clinging together in that dim place, and broken,
whispering speech passed between them or long silences when speech was
done. But at last they went down the stairs and out upon the open
terrace, where the moonlight lay.

"It Was in the open, sweet air," the girl said, "that we came to know
each other. Let us walk in it now. The house smothers me." She looked up
when they had passed the west corner of the façade and drew a little
sigh. "I am worried about my father," said she. "He will not answer me
when I call to him, and he has eaten nothing all day long. Bayard, I
think his heart is broken. Ah, but to-morrow we shall mend it again! In
the morning I shall make him let me in, and I shall tell him--what I
have to tell."

They turned down under the trees, where the moonlight made silver
splashes about their feet, and the sweet night air bore soft against
their faces. Coira went a half-step in advance, her head laid back upon
the shoulder of the man she loved, and his arm held her up from falling.

So at last we leave them, walking there in the tender moonlight, with
the breath of roses about them and their eyes turned to the coming day.
It is still night and there is yet one cloud of sorrow to shadow them
somewhat, for up-stairs in his locked room a man lies dead across the
floor, with an empty pistol beside him--heart-broken, as the girl had
feared. But where a great love is, shadows cannot last very long, not
even such shadows as this. The morning must dawn--and joy cometh of a
morning.

So we leave them walking together in the moonlight, their faces turned
toward the coming day.

THE END





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