Part 4 out of 6
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 Blaetter_. 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 cafe 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 role 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-Elysees, 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
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
"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! He, voleur que tu es!" He
sought for something by way of missile, but there was nothing within
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
"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
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
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
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
"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.
* * * * *
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. Honore, 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.
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 la,"
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 la." 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. Honore.
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
"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. Honore. 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
* * * * *
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
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'Universite. 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
"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
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
"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
"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?"
* * * * *
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
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
"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
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 Melisande, 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
"Do you read Spanish," he demanded, "and Latin, as well as French and
"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
"It is of no consequence," said she. "You may keep the book if you care
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
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
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 facade, 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-Elysees, 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
"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
* * * * *
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
"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
"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 cafe, 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
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
"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
"The same, Monsieur," said he. "But she apologizes for not doing
"Beg her for me," said the young man, "to cheer up. She may get another
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
"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
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.
* * * * *
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, a demi voix, a little German song all about the
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
"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
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
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
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,
"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
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.
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
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
"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
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 Bearnais,
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
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
"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."
* * * * *
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
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,
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
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
"Mon vieux," said Ste. Marie. "I am a man of honor."
"Surement! Surement, Monsieur!" said the old Michel, politely, but his
hypnotized gaze did not stir so much as a hair's-breadth. "Ca va sans le
"A man of honor," repeated Ste. Marie. "When I give my word I keep it.
Voila! 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
"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.
* * * * *
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.
Honore 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
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
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 cafes.
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