Part 6 out of 6
MEDEA'S LITTLE HOUR
When Coira O'Hara came to herself from the moment's swoon into which she
had fallen, she rose to her knees and stared wildly about her. She
seemed to be alone in the place, and her first thought was to wonder how
long she had lain there. Captain Stewart had disappeared. She remembered
her struggle with him to prevent him from firing at Ste. Marie, and she
remembered her desperate agony when she realized that she could not hold
him much longer. She remembered the accidental discharge of the revolver
into the air; she remembered being thrown violently to the ground--and
that was all.
Where was her father, and where was Ste. Marie? The first question
answered itself, for as she turned her eyes toward the west she saw
O'Hara's tall, ungainly figure disappearing in the direction of the
house. She called his name twice, but it may be that the man did not
hear, for he went on without pausing and was lost to sight.
The girl became aware of something which lay on the ground near her,
half in and half out of the patch of silver moonlight. For some moments
she stared at it uncomprehending. Then she gave a sharp scream and
struggled to her feet. She ran to the thing which lay there motionless
and fell upon her knees beside it. It was Ste. Marie, his face upturned
to the sky, one side of his head black and damp. Stewart had not shot
him, but that crashing blow with the clubbed revolver had struck him
full and fair, and he was very still.
For an instant the girl's strength went out of her, and she dropped lax
across the body, her face upon Ste. Marie's breast. But after that she
tore open coat and waistcoat and felt for a heart-beat. It seemed to her
that she found life, and she began to believe that the man had only been
Once more she rose to her feet and looked about her. There was no one to
lend her aid. She bent over the unconscious man and slipped her arms
about him. Though Ste. Marie was tall, he was slightly built, by no
means heavy, and the girl was very strong. She found that she could
carry him a little way, dragging his feet after her. When she could go
no farther she laid him down and crouched over him, waiting until her
strength should return. And this she did for a score of times; but each
time the distance she went was shorter and her breathing came with
deeper gasps and the trembling in her limbs grew more terrible. At the
last she moved in a sort of fever, an evil dream of tortured body and
reeling brain. But she had got Ste. Marie up through the park to the
terrace and into the house, and with a last desperate effort she had
laid him upon a couch in a certain little room which opened from the
lower hall. Then she fell down before him and lay still for a long time.
When she came to herself again the man was stirring feebly and muttering
to himself under his breath. With slow and painful steps she got across
the room and pulled the bell-cord. She remained there ringing until the
old Justine, blinking and half-dressed, appeared with a candle in the
doorway. Coira told the woman to make lights, and then to bring water
and a certain little bottle of aromatic salts which was in her room
up-stairs. The old Justine exclaimed and cried out, but the girl flew at
her in a white fury, and she tottered away as fast as old legs could
move once she had set alight the row of candles on the mantelshelf. Then
Coira O'Hara went back to the man who lay outstretched on the low couch,
and knelt beside him, looking into his face. The man stirred, and moved
his head slowly. Half-articulate words came from his lips, and she made
out that he was saying her name in a dull monotone--only her name, over
and over again. She gave a little cry of grief and gladness, and hid her
face against him as she had done once before, out in the night.
The old woman returned with a jug of water, towels, and the bottle of
aromatic salts. The two of them washed that stain from Ste. Marie's
head, and found that he had received a severe bruise and that the flesh
had been cut before and above the ear.
"Thank God," the girl said, "it is only a flesh wound! If it were a
fracture he would be breathing in that horrible, loud way they always
do. He's breathing naturally. He has only been stunned. You may go now,"
she said. "Only bring a glass and some drinking-water--cold."
So the old woman went away to do her errand, returned, and went away
again, and the two were left together. Coira held the salts-bottle to
Ste. Marie's nostrils, and he gasped and sneezed and tried to turn his
head away from it, but it brought him to his senses--and doubtless to a
good deal of pain. Once when he could not escape the thing he broke into
a fit of weak cursing, and the girl laughed over him tenderly and let
Very slowly Ste. Marie opened his eyes, and in the soft half-light the
girl's face was bent above him, dark and sweet and beautiful--near, so
near that her breath was warm upon his lips. He said her name again in
an incredulous whisper:
And she said, "I am here."
But the man was in a strange border-land of half-consciousness and his
ears were deaf. He said, gazing up at her:
"Is it--another dream?"
And he tried to raise one hand from where it lay beside him, but the
hand wavered and fell aslant across his body. It had not the strength
yet to obey him. He said, still in his weak whisper:
"Oh, beautiful--and sweet--and true!"
The girl gave a little sob and hid her face.
"A goddess!" he whispered. "'A queen among goddesses!' That's--what the
little Jew said. 'A queen among goddesses. The young Juno before--'" He
stirred restlessly where he lay, and he complained: "My head hurts!
What's the matter with my head? It hurts!"
She dipped one of the towels in the basin of cold water and held it to
the man's brow. The chill of it must have been grateful, for his eyes
closed and he breathed a little satisfied "Ah!"
"It mustn't hurt to-night," said he. "To-night at two--by the little
door in the garden wall. And he's coming with us. The young fool is
coming with us.... So she and I go out of each other's lives.... Coira!"
he cried, with a sudden sharpness. "Coira, I won't have it! Am I going
to lose you ... like this? Am I going to lose you, after all ... now
that we know?"
He put up his hand once more, a weak and uncertain hand. It touched the
girl's warm cheek and a sudden violent shiver wrung the man on the
couch. His eyes sharpened and stared with something like fear.
"_Real!_" he cried, whispering. "Real? ... Not a dream?"
"Oh, very real, my Bayard!" said she. A thought came to her, and she
drew away from the couch and sat back upon her heels, looking at the man
with grave and sombre eyes. In that moment she fought within herself a
battle of right and wrong. "He doesn't remember," she said. "He doesn't
know. He is like a little child. He knows nothing but that we two--are
here together. Nothing else. Nothing!"
His state was plain to see. He dwelt still in that vague border-land
between worlds. He had brought with him no memories, and no memories
followed him save those her face had wakened. Within the girl a great
and tender passion of love fought for possession of this little hour.
"It will be all I shall ever have!" she cried, piteously. "And it cannot
harm him. He won't remember it when he comes to his senses. He'll sleep
again and--forget. He'll go back to _her_ and never know. And I shall
never even see him again. Why can't I have my little sweet hour?"
Once more the man cried her name, and she knelt forward and bent above
him. "Oh, at last, Coira!" said he. "After so long! ... And I thought it
was another dream!"
"Do you dream of me, Bayard?" she asked.
And he said: "From the very first. From that evening in the
Champs-Elysees. Your eyes, they've haunted me from the very first. There
was a dream of you," he said, "that I had so often--but I cannot quite
remember, because my head hurts. What is the matter with my head? I
was--going somewhere. It was so very important that I should go, but I
have forgotten where it was and why I had to go there. I remember only
that you called to me--called me back--and I saw your eyes--and I
couldn't go. You needed me."
"Ah, sorely, Bayard! Sorely!" cried the girl above him.
"And now," said he, whispering.
"Now?" she said.
"Coira, I love you," said the man on the couch.
And Coira O'Hara gave a single dry sob.
She said: "Oh, my dear love! Now I wish that I might die after hearing
you say that. My life, Bayard, is full now. It's full of joy and
gratefulness and everything that is sweet. I wish I might die before
other things come to spoil it."
Ste. Marie--or that part of him which lay at La Lierre--laughed with a
fine scorn, albeit very weakly. "Why not live instead?" said he. "And
what can come to spoil our life for us? _Our life!_" he said again, in a
whisper. A flash of remembrance seemed to come to him, for he smiled and
said, "Coira, we'll go to Vavau."
"Anywhere!" said she. "Anywhere!"
"So that we go together."
"Yes," she said, gently, "so that we two go together." She tried with a
desperate fierceness to make herself like the man before her, to put
away, by sheer power of will, all memory, the knowledge of everything
save what was in this little room, but it was the vainest of all vain
efforts. She saw herself for a thief and a cheat--stealing, for love's
sake, the mere body of the man she loved while mind and soul were
absent. In her agony she almost cried out aloud as the words said
themselves within her. And she denied them. She said: "His mind may be
absent, but his soul is here. He loves me. It is I, not that other. Can
I not have my poor little hour of pretence? A little hour out of all a
lifetime! Shall I have nothing at all?"
But the voice which had accused her said, "If he knew, would he say he
loves you?" And she hid her face, for she knew that he would not--even
if it were true.
"Coira!" whispered the man on the couch, and she raised her head. In the
half darkness he could not have seen how she was suffering. Her face was
only a warm blur to him, vague and sweet and beautiful, with tender
eyes. He said: "I think--I'm falling asleep. My head is so very, very
queer! What is the matter with my head? Coira, do you think I might be
kissed before I go to sleep?"
She gave a little cry of intolerable anguish. It seemed to her that she
was being tortured beyond all reason or endurance. She felt suddenly
very weak, and she was afraid that she was going to faint away. She laid
her face down upon the couch where Ste. Marie's head lay. Her cheek was
against his and her hair across his eyes.
The man gave a contented sigh and fell asleep.
Later, she rose stiffly and wearily to her feet. She stood for a little
while looking down upon him. It was as if she looked upon the dead body
of a lover. She seemed to say a still and white and tearless farewell to
him. Her little hour was done, and it had been, instead of joy,
bitterness unspeakable: ashes in the mouth. Then she went out of the
room and closed the door.
In the hall outside she stood a moment considering, and finally mounted
the stairs and went to her father's door. She knocked and thought she
heard a slight stirring inside, but there was no answer. She knocked
twice again and called out her father's name, saying that she wished to
speak to him, but still he made no reply, and after waiting a little
longer she turned away. She went down-stairs again and out upon the
terrace. The terrace and the lawn before it were still checkered with
silver and deep black, but the moon was an hour lower in the west. A
little cool breeze had sprung up, and it was sweet and grateful to her.
She sat down upon one of the stone benches and leaned her head back
against the trunk of a tree which stood beside it and she remained there
for a long time, still and relaxed, in a sort of bodily and mental
languor--an exhaustion of flesh and spirit.
There came shambling footsteps upon the turf, and the old Michel
advanced into the moonlight from the gloom of the trees, emitting
mechanical and not very realistic groans. He had been hard put to it to
find any one before whom he could pour out his tale of heroism and
suffering. Coira O'Hara looked upon him coldly, and the gnome groaned
with renewed and somewhat frightened energy.
"What is the matter with you?" she asked. "Why are you about at this
The old Michel told his piteous tale with tears and passion, protesting
that he had succumbed only before the combined attack of twenty armed
men, and exhibiting his wounds. But the girl gave a brief and mirthless
"You were bribed to tell that, I suppose," said she. "By M. Ste. Marie?
Yes, probably. Well, tell it to my father to-morrow! You'd better go to
The old man stared at her with open mouth for a breathless moment, and
then shambled hastily away, looking over his shoulder at intervals until
he was out of sight.
But after that the girl still remained in her place from sheer weariness
and lack of impulse to move. She fell to wondering about Captain Stewart
and what had become of him, but she did not greatly care. She had a
feeling that her world had come to its end, and she was quite
indifferent about those who still peopled its ashes--or about all of
them save her father.
She heard the distant sound of a motor-car, and at that sat up quickly,
for it might be Ste. Marie's friend, Mr. Hartley, returning from Paris.
The sound came nearer and ceased, but she waited for ten minutes before
rapid steps approached from the east wall and Hartley was before her.
He cried at once: "Where's Ste. Marie? Where is he? He hasn't tried to
walk into the city?"
"He is asleep in the house," said the girl. "He was struck on the head
and stunned. I got him into the house, and he is asleep now. Of course,"
she said, "we could wake him, but it would probably be better to let him
sleep as long as he will if it is possible. It will save him a great
deal of pain, I think. He'll have a frightful headache if he's wakened
now. Could you come for him or send for him to-morrow--toward noon?"
"Why--yes, I suppose so," said Richard Hartley. "Yes, of course, if you
think that's better. Could I just see him for a moment?" He stared at
the girl a bit suspiciously, and Coira looked back at him with a little
tired smile, for she read his thought.
"You want to make sure," said she. "Of course! Yes, come in. He's
sleeping very soundly." She led the man into that dim room where Ste.
Marie lay, and Hartley's quick eye noted the basin of water and the
stained towels and the little bottle of aromatic salts. He bent over his
friend to see the bruise at the side of the head, and listened to the
sleeper's breathing. Then the two went out again to the moonlit terrace.
"You must forgive me," said he, when they had come there. "You must
forgive me for seeming suspicious, but--all this wretched business--and
he is my closest friend--I've come to suspect everybody. I was unjust,
for you helped us to get away. I beg your pardon!"
The girl smiled at him again, her little, white, tired smile, and she
said: "There is nothing I would not do to make amends--now that I
"Yes," said Hartley, "I understand. Arthur Benham told me how Stewart
lied to you all. Was it he who struck Ste. Marie?"
She nodded. "And then tried to shoot him; but he didn't succeed in that.
I wonder where he is--Captain Stewart?"
"I have him out in the car," Hartley said. "Oh, he shall pay, you may be
sure!--if he doesn't die and cheat us, that is. I nearly ran the car
over him a few minutes ago. If it hadn't been for the moonlight I would
have done for him. He was lying on his face in that lane that leads to
the Issy road. I don't know what is the matter with him. He's only half
conscious and he's quite helpless. He looks as if he'd had a stroke of
apoplexy or something. I must hurry him back to Paris, I suppose, and
get him under a doctor's care. I wonder what's wrong with him?"
The girl shook her head, for she did not know of Stewart's epileptic
seizures. She thought it quite possible that he had suffered a stroke of
apoplexy as Hartley suggested, for she remembered the half-mad state he
had been in.
Richard Hartley stood for a time in thought. "I must get Stewart back to
Paris at once," he said, finally. "I must get him under care and in a
safe place from which he can't escape. It will want some managing. If I
can get away I'll come out here again in the morning, but if not I'll
send the car out with orders to wait here until Ste. Marie is ready to
return to the city. Are you sure he's all right--that he isn't badly
"I think he will be all right," she said, "save for the pain. He was
And Hartley nodded. "He seems to be breathing quite naturally," said he.
"That's arranged, then. The car will be here in waiting, and I shall
come with it if I can. Tell him when he wakes." He put out his hand to
her, and the girl gave him hers very listlessly but smiling. She wished
he would go and leave her alone.
Then in a moment more he did go, and she heard his quick steps down
through the trees, and heard, a little later, the engine of the
motor-car start up with a sudden loud volley of explosions. And so she
was left to her solitary watch. She noticed, as she turned to go
indoors, that the blackness of the night was just beginning to gray
* * * * *
THE SCALES OF INJUSTICE
Ste. Marie slept soundly until mid-morning--that it to say, about ten
o'clock--and then awoke with a dull pain in his head and a sensation of
extreme giddiness which became something like vertigo when he attempted
to rise. However, with the aid of the old Michel he got somehow
up-stairs to his room and made a rather sketchy toilet.
Coira came to him there, and while he lay still across the bed told him
about the happenings of the night after he had received his injury. She
told him also that the motor was waiting for him outside the wall, and
that Richard Hartley had sent a message by the chauffeur to say that he
was very busy in Paris making arrangements about Stewart, who had come
out of his strange state of half-insensibility only to rave in a
"So," she said, "you can go now whenever you are ready. Arthur is with
his family, Captain Stewart is under guard, and your work is done. You
ought to be glad--even though you are suffering pain."
Ste. Marie looked up at her. "Do I seem glad, Coira?" said he.
And she said: "You will be glad to-morrow--and always, I hope and pray.
The man held one hand over his aching eyes.
"I have," he said, "queer half-memories. I wish I could remember
He looked up at her again.
"I dropped down by the gate in the wall. When I awoke I was in a room in
the house. How did that happen?"
"Oh," she said, turning her face away, "we got you up to the house
almost at once."
But Ste. Marie frowned thoughtfully.
"'We'? Who do you mean by 'we'?"
"Well, then, I," the girl said. "It was not difficult."
"Coira," cried the man, "do you mean that you carried me bodily all that
long distance? _You_?"
"Carried or dragged," she said. "As much one as the other. It was not
very difficult. I'm strong for a woman."
"Oh, child! child!" he cried. And he said: "I remember more. It was you
who held Stewart and kept him from shooting me. I heard the shot and I
heard you scream. The last thought I had was that you had been killed in
saving me. That's what I went out into the blank thinking."
He covered his eyes again as if the memory were intolerable. But after
awhile he said:
"You saved my life, you know."
And the girl answered him:
"I had nearly taken it once before. It was I who called Michel that day
you came over the wall, the day you were shot. I nearly murdered you
once. I owed you something. Perhaps we're even now."
She saw that he did not at all remember that hour in the little
room--her hour of bitterness--and she was glad. She had felt sure that
it would be so. For the present she did not greatly suffer, she had come
to a state beyond active suffering--a chill state of dulled
The old Justine knocked at the door to ask if Monsieur was going into
the city soon or if she should give the chauffeur his dejeuner and tell
him to wait.
"Are you fit to go?" Coira asked.
And he said, "I suppose as fit as I shall be."
He got to his feet, and the things about him swam dangerously, but he
could walk by using great care. The girl stood white and still, and she
avoided his eyes.
"It is not good-bye," said he. "I shall see you soon again--and I hope,
The words had a flat and foolish sound, but he could find no others. It
was not easy to speak.
"I suppose I must not ask to see your father?" said he.
And she told him that her father had locked himself in his own room and
would see no one--would not even open his door to take in food.
Ste. Marie went to the stairs leaning upon the shoulder of the stout old
Justine, but before he had gone Coira checked him for an instant. She
"Tell Arthur, if he speaks to you about me, that what I said in the note
I gave him last night I meant quite seriously. I gave him a note to read
after he reached home. Tell him for me that it was final. Will you do
"Yes, of course," said Ste. Marie.
He looked at her with some wonder, because her words had been very
"Yes," he said, "I will tell him. Is that all?"
"All but good-bye," said she. "Good-bye, Bayard!"
She stood at the head of the stairs while he went down them. And she
came after him to the landing, half-way, where the stairs turned in the
opposite direction for their lower flight. When he went out of the front
door he looked back, and she was standing there above him, a straight,
still figure, dark against the light of the windows behind her.
He went straight to the rue d'Assas. He found that while he sat still in
the comfortable tonneau of the motor his head was fairly normal, and the
world did not swing and whirl about in that sickening fashion. But when
the car lurched or bumped over an obstruction it made him giddy, and he
would have fallen had he been standing.
The familiar streets of the Montparnasse and Luxembourg quarters had for
his eyes all the charm and delight of home things to the returned
traveller. He felt as if he had been away for months, and he caught
himself looking for changes, and it made him laugh. He was much relieved
when he found that his concierge was not on watch, and that he could
slip unobserved up the stairs and into his rooms. The rooms were fresh
and clean, for they had been aired and tended daily.
Arrived there, he wrote a little note to a friend of his who was a
doctor and lived in the rue Notre Dame des Champs, asking this man to
call as soon as it might be convenient. He sent the note by the
chauffeur and then lay down, dressed as he was, to wait, for he could
not stand or move about without a painful dizziness. The doctor came
within a half-hour, examined Ste. Marie's bruised head, and bound it up.
He gave him a dose of something with a vile taste which he said would
take away the worst of the pain in a few hours, and he also gave him a
sleeping-potion, and made him go to bed.
"You'll be fairly fit by evening," he said. "But don't stir until then.
I'll leave word below that you're not to be disturbed."
So it happened that when Richard Hartley came dashing up an hour or two
later he was not allowed to see his friend, and Ste. Marie slept a
dreamless sleep until dark.
He awoke then, refreshed but ravenous with hunger, and found that there
was only a dull ache in his battered head. The dizziness and the vertigo
were almost completely gone. He made lights and dressed with care. He
felt like a little girl making ready for a party, it was so long--or
seemed so long;--since he had put on evening clothes. Then he went out,
leaving at the loge of the concierge a note for Hartley, to say where he
might be found. He went to Lavenue's and dined in solitary pomp, for it
was after nine o'clock. Again it seemed to him that it was months since
he had done the like--sat down to a real table for a real dinner. At ten
he got into a fiacre and drove to the rue de l'Universite.
The man who admitted him said that Mademoiselle was alone in the
drawing-room, and he went there at once. He was dully conscious that
something was very wrong, but he had suffered too much within the past
few hours to be analytical, and he did not know what it was that was
wrong. He should have entered that room with a swift and eager step,
with shining eyes, with a high-beating heart. He went into it slowly,
wrapped in a mantle of strange apathy.
Helen Benham came forward to meet him, and took both his hands in hers.
Ste. Marie was amazed to see that she seemed not to have altered at
all--in spite of this enormous lapse of time, in spite of all that had
happened in it. And yet, unaltered, she seemed to him a stranger, a
charming and gracious stranger with an icily beautiful face. He wondered
at her and at himself, and he was a little alarmed because he thought
that he must be ill. That blow upon the head must, after all, have done
something terrible to him.
"Ah, Ste. Marie!" she said, in her well-remembered voice--and again he
wondered that the voice should be so high-pitched and so without color
or feeling. "How glad I am," she said, "that you are safely out of it
all! How you have suffered for us, Ste. Marie! You look white and ill.
Sit down, please! Don't stand!"
She drew him to a comfortable chair, and he sat down in it obediently.
He could not think of anything to say, though he was not, as a rule,
tongue-tied; but the girl did not seem to expect any answer, for she
went on at once with a rather odd air of haste:
"Arthur is here with us, safe and sound. Richard Hartley brought him
back from that dreadful place, and he has talked everything over with my
grandfather, and it's all right. They both understand now, and there'll
be no more trouble. We have had to be careful, very careful, and we have
had to--well, to rearrange the facts a little so as to leave--my
uncle--to leave Captain Stewart's name out of it. It would not do to
shock my grandfather by telling him the truth. Perhaps later; I don't
know. That will have to be thought of. For the present we have left my
uncle out of it, and put the blame entirely upon this other man. I
forget his name."
"The blame cannot rest there," said Ste. Marie, sharply. "It is not
deserved, and I shall not allow it to be left so. Captain Stewart lied
to O'Hara throughout. You cannot leave the blame with an innocent man."
"Still," she said, "such a man!"
Ste. Marie looked at her, frowning, and the girl turned her eyes away.
She may have had the grace to be a little ashamed.
"Think of the difficulty we were in!" she urged. "Captain Stewart is my
grandfather's own son. We cannot tell him now, in his weak state, that
his own son is--what he is."
There was reason if not justice in that, and Ste. Marie was forced to
admit it. He said:
"Ah, well, for the present, then. That can be arranged later. The main
point is that I've found your brother for you. I've brought him back."
Miss Benham looked up at him and away again, and she drew a quick
breath. He saw her hands move restlessly in her lap, and he was aware
that for some odd reason she was very ill at ease. At last she said:
"Ah, but--but have you, dear Ste. Marie? Have you?"
After a brief silence she stole another swift glance at the man, and he
was staring in open and frank bewilderment. She rushed into rapid
"Ah," she cried, "don't misunderstand me! Don't think that I'm brutal or
ungrateful for all you've--you've suffered in trying to help us! Don't
think that! I can--we can never be grateful enough--never! But stop and
think! Yes, I know this all sounds hideous, but it's so terribly
important. I shouldn't dream of saying a word of it if it weren't so
important, if so much didn't depend upon it. But stop and think! Was it,
dear Ste. Marie, was it, after all, you? Was it you who brought Arthur
The man fairly blinked at her, owl-like. He was beyond speech.
"Wasn't it Richard?" she hurried on. "Wasn't it Richard Hartley? Ah, if
I could only say it without seeming so contemptibly heartless! If only I
needn't say it at all! But it must be said because of what depends upon
it. Think! Go back to the beginning! Wasn't it Richard who first began
to suspect my uncle? Didn't he tell you or write to you what he had
discovered, and so set you upon the right track? And after you
had--well, just fallen into their hands, with no hope of ever escaping
yourself--to say nothing of bringing Arthur back--wasn't it Richard who
came to your rescue and brought it all to victory? Oh, Ste. Marie, I
must be just to him as well as to you! Don't you see that? However
grateful I may be to you for what you have done--suffered--I cannot, in
justice, give you what I was to have given you, since it is, after all,
Richard who has saved my brother. I cannot, can I? Surely you must see
it. And you must see how it hurts me to have to say it. I had hoped
that--you would understand--without my speaking."
Still the man sat in his trance of astonishment, speechless. For the
first time in his life he was brought face to face with the amazing, the
appalling injustice of which a woman is capable when her heart is
concerned. This girl wished to believe that to Richard Hartley belonged
the credit of rescuing her brother, and lo! she believed it. A score of
juries might have decided against her, a hundred proofs controverted her
decision, but she would have been deaf and blind. It is only women who
accomplish miracles of reasoning like that.
Ste. Marie took a long breath and he started to speak, but in the end
shook his head and remained silent. Through the whirl and din of falling
skies he was yet able to see the utter futility of words. He could have
adduced a hundred arguments to prove her absurdity. He could have shown
her that before he ever read Hartley's note he had decided upon
Stewart's guilt--and for much better reasons than Hartley had. He could
have pointed out to her that it was he, not Hartley, who discovered
young Benham's whereabouts, that it was he who summoned Hartley there,
and that, as a matter of fact, Hartley need not have come at all, since
the boy had been persuaded to go home in any case.
He thought of all these things and more, and in a moment of sheer anger
at her injustice he was on the point of stating them, but he shook his
head and remained silent. After all, of what use was speech? He knew
that it could make no impression upon her, and he knew why. For some
reason, in some way, she had turned during his absence to Richard
Hartley, and there was nothing more to be said. There was no treachery
on Hartley's part. He knew that, and it never even occurred to him to
blame his friend. Hartley was as faithful as any one who ever lived. It
seemed to be nobody's fault. It had just happened.
He looked at the girl before him with a new expression, an expression of
sheer curiosity. It seemed to him well-nigh incredible that any human
being could be so unjust and so blind. Yet he knew her to be, in other
matters, one of the fairest of all women, just and tender and thoughtful
and true. He knew that she prided herself upon her cool impartiality of
judgment. He shook his head with a little sigh and ceased to wonder any
more. It was beyond him. He became aware that he ought to say something,
and he said:
"Yes. Yes, I--see. I see what you mean. Yes, Hartley did all you say. I
hadn't meant to rob Hartley of the credit he deserves. I suppose you're
He was possessed of a sudden longing to get away out of that room, and
he rose to his feet.
"If you don't mind," he said, "I think I'd better go. This is--well,
it's a bit of a facer, you see. I want to think it over. Perhaps
to-morrow--you don't mind?"
He saw a swift relief flash into Miss Benham's eyes, but she murmured a
few words of protest that had a rather perfunctory sound. Ste. Marie
shook his head.
"Thanks! I won't stay," said he. "Not just now. I--think I'd better go."
He had a confused realization of platitudinous adieus, of a silly
formality of speech, and he found himself in the hall. Once he glanced
back and Miss Benham was standing where he had left her, looking after
him with a calm and unimpassioned face. He thought that she looked
rather like a very beautiful statue.
The butler came to him to say that Mr. Stewart would be glad if he would
look in before leaving the house, and so he went up-stairs and knocked
at old David's door. He moved like a man in a dream, and the things
about him seemed to be curiously unreal and rather far away, as they
seem sometimes in a fever.
He was admitted at once, and he found the old man sitting up in bed,
clad in one of his incredibly gorgeous mandarin's jackets--plum-colored
satin this time, with peonies--overflowing with spirits and good-humor.
His grandson sat in a chair near at hand. The old man gave a shout of
"Ah, here's Jason at last, back from Colchis! Welcome home to--whatever
the name of the place was! Welcome home!"
He shook Ste. Marie's hand with hospitable violence, and Ste. Marie was
astonished to see upon what a new lease of life and strength the old man
seemed to have entered. There was no ingratitude or misconception here,
certainly. Old David quite overwhelmed his visitor with thanks and with
expressions of affection.
"You've saved my life among other things!" he said, in his gruff roar.
"I was ready to go, but, by the Lord, I'm going to stay awhile longer
now! This world's a better place than I thought--a much better place."
He shook a heavily waggish head. "If I didn't know," said he, "what your
reward is to be for what you've done, I should be in despair over it
all, because there is nothing else in the world that would be anything
like adequate. You've been making sure of the reward down-stairs, I dare
say? Eh, what? Yes?"
"You mean--?" asked the younger man.
And old David said: "I mean Helen, of course. What else?"
Ste. Marie was not quite himself. At another time he might have got out
of the room with an evasive answer, but he spoke without thinking. He
"Oh--yes! I suppose--I suppose I ought to tell you that Miss
Benham--well, she has changed her mind. That is to say--"
"What!" shouted old David Stewart, in his great voice. "What is that?"
"Why, it seems," said Ste. Marie--"it seems that I only blundered. It
seems that Hartley rescued your grandson, not I. And I suppose he did,
you know. When you come to think of it, I suppose he did."
David Stewart's great white beard seemed to bristle like the ruff of an
angry dog, and his eyes flashed fiercely under their shaggy brows. "Do
you mean to tell me that after all you've done and--and gone through,
Helen has thrown you over? Do you mean to tell me that?"
"Well," argued Ste. Marie, uncomfortably--"well, you see, she seems to
be right. I did bungle it, didn't I? It was Hartley who came and pulled
us out of the hole."
"Hartley be damned!" cried the old man, in a towering rage. And he began
to pour out the most extraordinary flood of furious invective upon his
granddaughter and upon Richard Hartley, whom he quite unjustly termed a
snake-in-the-grass, and finally upon all women, past, contemporary, or
still to be born.
Ste. Marie, in fear for old David's health, tried to calm him, and the
faithful valet came running from the room beyond with prayers and
protestations, but nothing would check that astonishing flow of fury
until it had run its full course. Then the man fell back upon his
pillows, crimson, panting, and exhausted, but the fierce eyes glittered
still, and they boded no good for Miss Helen Benham.
"You're well rid of her!" said the old gentleman, when at last he was
once more able to speak. "You're well rid of her! I congratulate you! I
am ashamed and humiliated, and a great burden of obligation is shifted
to me--though I assume it with pleasure--but I congratulate you. You
might have found out too late what sort of a woman she is."
Ste. Marie began to protest and to explain and to say that Miss Benham
had been quite right in what she said, but the old gentleman only waved
an impatient arm to him, and presently, when he saw the valet making
signs across the bed, and saw that his host was really in a state of
complete exhaustion after the outburst, he made his adieus and got away.
Young Arthur Benham, who had been sitting almost silent during the
interview, followed him out of the room and closed the door behind them.
For the first time Ste. Marie noted that the boy's face was white and
strained. He pulled a crumpled square of folded paper from his pocket
and shook it at the other man. "Do you know what this is?" he cried. "Do
you know what's in this?"
Ste. Marie shook his head, but a sudden recollection came to him.
"Ah," said he, "that must be the note Mlle. O'Hara spoke of! She asked
me to tell you that she meant it--whatever it may be--quite seriously;
that it was final. She didn't explain. She just said that--that you were
to take it as final."
The lad gave a sudden very bitter sob. "She has thrown me over!" he
said. "She says I'm not to come back to her."
Ste. Marie gave a wordless cry, and he began to tremble.
"You can read it if you want to," the boy said. "Perhaps you can explain
it. I can't. Do you want to read it?"
The elder man stood staring at him whitely, and the boy repeated his
He said, "You can read it if you want to," and at last Ste. Marie took
the paper between stiff hands, and held it to the light.
Coira O'Hara said, briefly, that too much was against their marriage.
She mentioned his age, the certain hostility of his family, their
different tastes, a number of other things. But in the end she said she
had begun to realize that she did not love him as she ought to do if
they were to marry. And so, the note said, finally, she gave him up to
his family, she released him altogether, and she begged him not to come
back to her, or to urge her to change her mind. Also she made the trite
but very sensible observation that he would be glad of his freedom
before the year was out.
Ste. Marie's unsteady fingers opened and the crumpled paper slipped
through them to the floor. Over it the man and the boy looked at each
other in silence. Young Arthur Benham's face was white, and it was
strained and contorted with its first grief. But first griefs do not
last very long. Coira O'Hara had told the truth--before the year was out
the lad would be glad of his freedom. But the man's face was white also,
white and still, and his eyes held a strange expression which the boy
could not understand and at which he wondered. The man was trembling a
little from head to foot. The boy wondered about that, too, but abruptly
he cried out: "What's up? Where are you going?" for Ste. Marie had
turned all at once and was running down the stairs as fast as he could
* * * * *
JASON SAILS BACK TO COLCHIS.--JOURNEY'S END
In the hall below, Ste. Marie came violently into contact with and
nearly overturned Richard Hartley, who was just giving his hat and stick
to the man who had admitted him. Hartley seized upon him with an
exclamation of pleasure, and wheeled him round to face the light. He
"I've been pursuing you all day. You're almost as difficult of access
here in Paris as you were at La Lierre. How's the head?"
Ste. Marie put up an experimental hand. He had forgotten his injury.
"Oh, that's all right," said he. "At least, I think so. Anderson fixed
me up this afternoon. But I haven't time to talk to you. I'm in a hurry.
To-morrow we'll have a long chin. Oh, how about Stewart?"
He lowered his voice, and Hartley answered him in the same tone.
"The man is in a delirium. Heaven knows how it'll end. He may die and he
may pull through. I hope he pulls through--except for the sake of the
family--because then we can make him pay for what he's done. I don't
want him to go scot free by dying."
"Nor I," said Ste. Marie, fiercely. "Nor I. I want him to pay, too--long
and slowly and hard; and if he lives I shall see that he does it, family
or no family. Now I must be off."
Ste. Marie's face was shining and uplifted. The other man looked at it
with a little envious sigh.
"I see everything is all right," said he, "and I congratulate you. You
deserve it if ever any one did."
Ste. Marie stared for an instant, uncomprehending. Then he saw.
"Yes," he said, gently, "everything is all right."
It was plain that the Englishman did not know of Miss Benham's decision.
He was incapable of deceit. Ste. Marie threw an arm over his friend's
shoulder and went with him a little way toward the drawing-room.
"Go in there," he said. "You'll find some one glad to see you, I think.
And remember that I said everything is all right."
He came back after he had turned away, and met Hartley's puzzled frown
with a smile.
"If you've that motor here, may I use it?" he asked. "I want to go
somewhere in a hurry."
"Of course," the other man said. "Of course. I'll go home in a cab."
So they parted, and Ste. Marie went out to the waiting car.
On the left bank the streets are nearly empty of traffic at night, and
one can make excellent time over them. Ste. Marie reached the Porte de
Versailles, at the city's limits, in twenty minutes and dashed through
Issy five minutes later. In less than half an hour from the time he had
left the rue de l'Universite he was under the walls of La Lierre. He
looked at his watch, and it was not quite half-past eleven.
He tried the little door in the wall, and it was unlocked, so he passed
in and closed the door behind him. Inside he found that he was running,
and he gave a little laugh, but of eagerness and excitement, not of
mirth. There were dim lights in one or two of the upper windows, but
none below, and there was no one about. He pulled at the door-bell, and
after a few impatient moments pulled again and still again. Then he
noticed that the heavy door was ajar, and, since no one answered his
ringing, he pushed the door open and went in.
The lower hall was quite dark, but a very faint light came down from
above through the well of the staircase. He heard dragging feet in the
upper hall, and then upon one of the upper flights, for the stairs,
broad below, divided at a half-way landing and continued upward in an
opposite direction in two narrower flights. A voice, very faint and
"Who is there? Who is ringing, please?"
And Coira O'Hara, holding a candle in her hand, came upon the
stair-landing and stood gazing down into the darkness. She wore a sort
of dressing-gown, a heavy white garment which hung in straight, long
folds to her feet and fell away from the arm that held the candle on
high. The yellow beams of light struck down across her head and face,
and even at the distance the man could see how white she was and
hollow-eyed and worn--a pale wraith of the splendid beauty that had
walked in the garden at La Lierre.
"Who is there, please?" she asked again. "I can't see. What is it?"
"It is I, Coira!" said Ste. Marie.
And she gave a sharp cry. The arm which was holding the candle overhead
shook and fell beside her as if the strength had gone out of it. The
candle dropped to the floor, spluttered there for an instant and went
out, but there was still a little light from the hall above.
Ste. Marie sprang up the stairs to where the girl stood, and caught her
in his arms, for she was on the verge of faintness. Her head fell back
away from him, and he saw her eyes through half-closed lids, her white
teeth through parted lips. She was trembling--but, for that matter, so
was he at the touch of her, the heavy and sweet burden in his arms. She
tried to speak, and he heard a whisper:
"Why? Why? Why?"
"Because it is my place, Coira!" said he. "Because I cannot live away
from you. Because we belong together."
The girl struggled weakly and pushed against him. Once more he heard
whispering words and made out that she tried to say:
"Go back to her! Go back to her! You belong there!"
But at that he laughed aloud.
"I thought so, too," said he, "but she thinks otherwise. She'll have
none of me, Coira. It's Richard Hartley now. Coira, can you love a
jilted man? I've been jilted--thrown over--dismissed."
Her head came up in a flash and she stared at him, suddenly rigid and
tense in his arms.
"Is that true?" she demanded.
"Yes, my love!" said he.
And she began to weep, with long, comfortable sobs, her face hidden in
the hollow of his shoulder. On one other occasion she had wept before
him, and he had been horribly embarrassed, but he bore this present
tempest without, as it were, winking. He gloried in it. He tried to say
so. He tried to whisper to her, his lips pressed close to the ear that
was nearest them, but he found that he had no speech. Words would not
come to his tongue; it trembled and faltered and was still for sheer
Rather oddly, in that his thoughts were chaos, swallowed up in the surge
of feeling, a memory struck through to him of that other exaltation
which had swept him to the stars. He looked upon it and was amazed
because now he saw it, in clear light, for the thing it had been. He saw
it for a fantasy, a self-evoked wraith of the imagination, a dizzy
flight of the spirit through spirit space. He saw that it had not been
love at all, and he realized how little a part Helen Benham had ever
really played in it. A cold and still-eyed figure for him to wrap the
veil of his imagination round, that was what she had been. There were
times when the sweep of his upward flight had stirred her a little,
wakened in her some vague response, but for the most part she had stood
aside and looked on, wondering.
The mist was rent away from that rainbow-painted cobweb, and at last the
man saw and understood. He gave an exclamation of wonder, and the girl
who loved him raised her head once more, and the two looked each into
the other's eyes for a long time. They fell into hushed and broken
"I have loved you so long, so long," she said, "and so hopelessly! I
never thought--I never believed. To think that in the end you have come
to me! I cannot believe it!"
"Wait and see!" cried the man. "Wait and see!"
She shivered a little. "If it is not true I should like to die before I
find out. I should like to die now, Bayard, with your arms holding me up
and your eyes close, close."
Ste. Marie's arms tightened round her with a sudden fierceness. He hurt
her, and she smiled up at him. Their two hearts beat one against the
other, and they beat very fast.
"Don't you understand," he cried, "that life's only just
beginning--day's just dawning, Coira? We've been lost in the dark. Day's
coming now. This is only the sunrise."
"I can believe it at last," she said, "because you hold me close and you
hurt me a little, and I'm glad to be hurt. And I can feel your heart
beating. Ah, never let me go, Bayard! I should be lost in the dark again
if you let me go." A sudden thought came to her, and she bent back her
head to see the better. "Did you speak with Arthur?"
And he said: "Yes. He asked me to read your note, so I read it. That
poor lad! I came straight to you then--straight and fast."
"You knew why I did it?" she said, and Ste. Marie said:
"Now I know."
"I could not have married him," said she. "I could not. I never thought
I should see you again, but I loved you and I could not have married
him. Ah, impossible! And he'll be glad later on. You know that. It will
save him any more trouble with his family, and besides--he's so very
young. Already, I think, he was beginning to chafe a little. I thought
so more than once. Oh, I'm trying to justify myself!" she cried. "I'm
trying to find reasons; but you know the true reason. You know it."
"I thank God for it," he said.
So they stood clinging together in that dim place, and broken,
whispering speech passed between them or long silences when speech was
done. But at last they went down the stairs and out upon the open
terrace, where the moonlight lay.
"It Was in the open, sweet air," the girl said, "that we came to know
each other. Let us walk in it now. The house smothers me." She looked up
when they had passed the west corner of the facade and drew a little
sigh. "I am worried about my father," said she. "He will not answer me
when I call to him, and he has eaten nothing all day long. Bayard, I
think his heart is broken. Ah, but to-morrow we shall mend it again! In
the morning I shall make him let me in, and I shall tell him--what I
have to tell."
They turned down under the trees, where the moonlight made silver
splashes about their feet, and the sweet night air bore soft against
their faces. Coira went a half-step in advance, her head laid back upon
the shoulder of the man she loved, and his arm held her up from falling.
So at last we leave them, walking there in the tender moonlight, with
the breath of roses about them and their eyes turned to the coming day.
It is still night and there is yet one cloud of sorrow to shadow them
somewhat, for up-stairs in his locked room a man lies dead across the
floor, with an empty pistol beside him--heart-broken, as the girl had
feared. But where a great love is, shadows cannot last very long, not
even such shadows as this. The morning must dawn--and joy cometh of a
So we leave them walking together in the moonlight, their faces turned
toward the coming day.