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had been overborne by O'Hara with the plea that they owed their prisoner
something for having come near to poisoning him, and Stewart did not
care to have any further attention called to that matter; it had already
put a severe strain upon the relations at La Lierre.

"Well," observed Ste. Marie, "I told you you were careless. That proves
it. Come! Can't we sit down for a little chat? I haven't seen you since
I was your guest at the other address - the town address. It seems to
have become a habit of mine - doesn't it? - being your guest." He laughed
cheerfully, but Captain Stewart continued to regard him without smiling.

"If you imagine," said the elder man, "that this place belongs to me you
are mistaken. I came here to-day to make a visit."

But Ste. Marie sat down at one end of the tree-trunk and shook his head.

"Oh, come, come!" said he. "Why keep up the pretence? You must know that
I know all about the whole affair. Why, bless you, I know it all - even
to the provisions of the will. Did you think I stumbled in here by
accident? Well, I didn't, though I don't mind admitting to you that I
remained by accident."

He glanced over his shoulder toward the one-eyed Michel, who stood
near-by, regarding the two with some alarm.

Captain Stewart looked up sharply at the mention of the will, and he
wetted his dry lips with his tongue. But after a moment's hesitation he
sat down upon the tree-trunk, and he seemed to shrink a little together,
when his limbs and shoulders had relaxed, so that he looked small and
feeble, like a very tired old man. He remained silent for a few moments,
but at last he spoke without raising his eyes. He said:

"And now that you - imagine yourself to know so very much, what do you
expect to do about it?"

Ste. Marie laughed again.

"Ah, that would be telling!" he cried. "You see, in one way I have the
advantage, though outwardly all the advantage seems to be with your
side - I know all about your game. I may call it a game? Yes? But you
don't know mine. You don't know what I - what we may do at any moment.
That's where we have the better of you."

"It would seem to me," said Captain Stewart, wearily, "that since you
are a prisoner here and very unlikely to escape, we know with great
accuracy what you will do - and what you will not."

"Yes," admitted Ste. Marie, "it would seem so. It certainly would seem
so. But you never can tell, can you?"

And at that the elder man frowned and looked away. Thereafter another
brief silence fell between the two, but at its end Ste. Marie spoke in a
new tone, a very serious tone. He said:

"Stewart, listen a moment!"

And the other turned a sharp gaze upon him.

"You mustn't forget," said Ste. Marie, speaking slowly as if to choose
his words with care - "you mustn't forget that I am not alone in this
matter. You mustn't forget that there's Richard Hartley - and that there
are others, too. I'm a prisoner, yes. I'm helpless here for the
present - perhaps, perhaps - but they are not, _and they know, Stewart.
They know_."

Captain Stewart's face remained gray and still, but his hands twisted
and shook upon his knees until he hid them.

"I know well enough what you're waiting for," continued Ste. Marie.
"You're waiting - you've got to wait - for Arthur Benham to come of age,
or, better yet, for your father to die." He paused and shook his head.
"It's no good. You can't hold out as long as that - not by half. We shall
have won the game long before. Listen to me! Do you know what would
occur if your father should take a serious turn for the worse
to-night - or at any time? Do you? Well, I'll tell you. A piece of
information would be given him that would make another change in that
will just as quickly as a pen could write the words. That's what would

"That is a lie!" said Captain Stewart, in a dry whisper. "A lie!"

And Ste. Marie contented himself with a slight smile by way of answer.
He was by no means sure that what he had said was true, but he argued
that since Hartley suspected, or perhaps by this time knew so much, he
would certainly not allow old David to die without doing what he could
do in an effort to save young Arthur's fortune from a rascal. In any
event, true or false, the words had had the desired effect. Captain
Stewart was plainly frightened by them.

"May I make a suggestion?" asked the younger man.

The other did not answer him, and he made it.

"Give it up!" said he. "You're riding for a tremendous fall, you know.
We shall smash you completely in the end. It'll mean worse than
ruin - much worse. Give it up, now, before you're too late. Help me to
send for Hartley and we'll take the boy back to his home. Some story can
be managed that will leave you out of the thing altogether, and those
who know will hold their tongues. It's your last chance, Stewart. I
advise you to take it."

Captain Stewart turned his gray face slowly and looked at the other man
with a sort of dull and apathetic wonder.

"Are you mad?" he asked, in a voice which was altogether without feeling
of any kind. "Are you quite mad?"

"On the contrary," said Ste. Marie, "I am quite sane, and I'm offering
you a chance to save yourself before it's too late. Don't misunderstand
me!" he continued. "I am not urging this out of any sympathy for you. I
urge it because it will bring about what I wish a little more quickly,
also because it will save your family from the disgrace of your
smash-up. That's why I'm making my suggestion."

Captain Stewart was silent for a little while, but after that he got
heavily to his feet. "I think you must be quite mad," said he, as
before, in a voice altogether devoid of expression. "I cannot talk with
madmen." He beckoned to the old Michel, who stood near-by, leaning upon
his carbine, and when the gardener had approached he said, "Take
this - prisoner back to his room!"

Ste. Marie rose with a little sigh. He said: "I'm sorry, but you'll
admit I have done my best for you. I've warned you. I sha'n't do it
again. We shall smash you now, without mercy."

"Take him away!" cried Captain Stewart, in a sudden loud voice, and the
old Michel touched his charge upon the shoulder. So Ste. Marie went
without further words. From a little distance he looked back, and the
other man still stood by the fallen tree-trunk, bent a little, his arms
hanging lax beside him, and his face, Ste. Marie thought, fancifully,
was like the face of a man damned.

* * * * *



The one birdlike eye of the old Michel regarded Ste. Marie with a glance
of mingled cunning and humor. It might have been said to twinkle.

"To the east, Monsieur?" inquired the old Michel.

"Precisely!" said Ste. Marie. "To the east, mon vieux." It was the
morning of the fourth day after that talk with Captain Stewart beside
the rose-gardens.

The two bore to the eastward, down among the trees, and presently came
to the spot where a certain trespasser had once leaped down from the top
of the high wall and had been shot for his pains. The old Michel halted
and leaned upon the barrel of his carbine. With an air of complete
detachment, an air vague and aloof as of one in a revery, he gazed away
over the tree-tops of the ragged park; but Ste. Marie went in under the
row of lilac shrubs which stood close against the wall, and a passer-by
might have thought the man looking for figs on thistles, for lilacs in
late July. He had gone there with eagerness, with flushed cheeks and
bright eyes; he emerged after some moments, moving slowly, with downcast

"There are no lilac blooms now, Monsieur," observed the old Michel, and
his prisoner said, in a low voice:

"No, mon vieux. No. There are none." He sighed and drew a long breath.
So the two stood for some time silent, Ste. Marie a little pale, his
eyes fixed upon the ground, his hands chafing together behind him, the
gardener with his one bright eye upon his charge. But in the end Ste.
Marie sighed again and began to move away, followed by the gardener.
They went across the broad park, past the double row of larches, through
that space where the chestnut-trees stood in straight, close rows, and
so came to the west wall which skirted the road to Clamart. Ste. Marie
felt in his pocket and withdrew the last of the four letters - the last
there could be, for he had no more stamps. The others he had thrown over
the wall, one each morning, beginning with the day after he had made the
first attempt to bribe old Michel. As he had expected, twenty-four hours
of avaricious reflection had proved too much for that gnomelike being.

One each day he had thrown over the wall, weighted with a pebble tucked
loosely under the flap of the improvised envelope, in such a manner that
it would drop but when the letter struck the ground beyond. And each
following day he had gone with high hopes to the appointed place under
the cedar-tree to pick figs of thistles, lilac blooms in late July. But
there had been nothing there.

"Turn your back, Michel!" said Ste. Marie.

And the old man said, from a little distance: "It is turned, Monsieur. I
see nothing. Monsieur throws little stories at the birds to amuse
himself. It does not concern me."

Ste. Marie slipped a pebble under the flap of the envelope and threw his
letter over the wall. It went like a soaring bird, whirling
horizontally, and it must have fallen far out in the middle of the road
near the tramway. For the third time that morning the prisoner drew a
sigh. He said, "You may turn round now, my friend," and the old Michel
faced him. "We have shot our last arrow," said he. "If this also fails,
I think - well, I think the bon Dieu will have to help us then. - Michel,"
he inquired, "do you know how to pray?"

"Sacred thousand swine, no!" cried the ancient gnome, in something
between astonishment and horror. "No, Monsieur. 'Pas mon métier, ça!" He
shook his head rapidly from side to side like one of those toys in a
shop-window whose heads oscillate upon a pivot. But all at once a gleam
of inspiration sparkled in his lone eye. "There is the old Justine!" he
suggested. "Toujours sur les genoux, cette imbécile là."

"In that case," said Ste. Marie, "you might ask the lady to say one
little extra prayer for - the pebble I threw at the birds just now.
Hein?" He withdrew from his pocket the last two louis d'or, and Michel
took them in a trembling hand. There remained but the note of fifty
francs and some silver.

"The prayer shall be said, Monsieur," declared the gardener. "It shall
be said. She shall pray all night or I will kill her."

"Thank you," said Ste. Marie. "You are kindness itself. A gentle soul."

They turned away to retrace their steps, and Michel rubbed the side of
his head with a reflective air.

"The old one is a madman," said he. (The "old one" meant Captain
Stewart.) "A madman. Each day he is madder, and this morning he struck
me - here on the head, because I was too slow. Eh! a little more of that,
and - who knows? Just a little more, a small little! Am I a dog, to be
beaten? Hein? Je ne le crois pas. Hé!" He called Captain Stewart two
unprintable names, and after a moment's thought he called him an animal,
which is not so much of an anti-climax as it may seem, because to call
anybody an animal in French is a serious matter.

The gardener was working himself up into something of a quiet passion,
and Ste. Marie said:

"Softly, my friend! Softly!" It occurred to him that the man's
resentment might be of use later on, and he said: "You speak the truth.
The old one is an animal, and he is also a great rascal."

But Michel betrayed the makings of a philosopher. He said, with profound
conviction: "Monsieur, all men are great rascals. It is I who say it."

And at that Ste. Marie had to laugh.

* * * * *

He had not consciously directed his feet, but without direction they led
him round the corner of the rose-gardens and toward the rond point. He
knew well whom he would find there. She had not failed him during the
past three days. Each morning he had found her in her place, and for his
allotted hour - which more than once stretched itself out to nearly two
hours, if he had but known - they had sat together on the stone bench,
or, tiring of that, had walked under the trees beyond.

Long afterward Ste. Marie looked back upon these hours with, among other
emotions, a great wonder - at himself and at her. It seemed to him then
one of the strangest relationships - intimacies, for it might well be so
called - that ever existed between a man and a woman, and he was amazed
at the ease, the unconsciousness, with which it had come about.

But during this time he did not allow himself to wonder or to examine,
scarcely even to think. The hours were golden hours, unrelated, he told
himself, to anything else in his life or in his interests. They were
like pleasant dreams, very sweet while they endured, but to be put away
and forgotten upon the waking. Only in that long afterward he knew that
they had not been put away, that they had been with him always, that the
morning hour had remained in his thoughts all the rest of the long day,
and that he had waked upon the morrow with a keen and exquisite sense of
something sweet to come.

It was a strange fool's paradise that the man dwelt in, and in some
small, vague measure he must, even at the time, have known it, for it is
certain that he deliberately held himself away from
thought - realization; that he deliberately shut his eyes, held his ears
lest he should hear or see.

That he was not faithless to his duty has been shown. He did his utmost
there, but he was for the time helpless save for efforts to communicate
with Richard Hartley, and those efforts could consume no more than ten
minutes out of the weary day.

So he drifted, wilfully blind to bearings, wilfully deaf to Sound of
warning or peril, and he found a companionship sweeter and fuller and
more perfect than he had ever before known in all his life, though that
is not to say very much, because sympathetic companionships between men
and women are very rare indeed, and Ste. Marie had never experienced
anything which could fairly be called by that name. He had had, as has
been related, many flirtations, and not a few so-called love-affairs,
but neither of these two sorts of intimacies are of necessity true
intimacies at all; men often feel varying degrees of love for women
without the least true understanding or sympathy or real companionship.

He was wondering, as he bore round the corner of the rose-gardens on
this day, in just what mood he would find her. It seemed to him that in
their brief acquaintance he had seen her in almost all the moods there
are, from bitter gloom to the irrepressible gayety of a little child. He
had told her once that she was like an organ, and she had laughed at him
for being pretentious and high-flown, though she could upon occasion be
quite high-flown enough herself for all ordinary purposes.

He reached the cleared margin of the rond point, and a little cold fear
stirred in him when he did not hear her singing under her breath, as she
was wont to do when alone, but he went forward and she was there in her
place upon the stone bench. She had been reading, but the book lay
forgotten beside her and she sat idle, her head laid back against the
thick stems of shrubbery which grew behind, her hands in her lap. It was
a warm, still morning, with the promise of a hot afternoon, and the girl
was dressed in something very thin and transparent and cool-looking,
open in a little square at the throat and with sleeves which came only
to her elbows. The material was pale and dull yellow, with very vaguely
defined green leaves in it, and against it the girl's dark and clear
skin glowed rich and warm and living, as pearls glow and seem to throb
against the dead tints of the fabric upon which they are laid.

She did not move when he came before her, but looked up to him gravely
without stirring her head.

"I didn't hear you come," said she. "You don't drag your left leg any
more. You walk almost as well as if you had never been wounded."

"I'm almost all right again," he answered. "I suppose I couldn't run or
jump, but I certainly can walk very much like a human being. May I sit

Mlle. O'Hara put out one hand and drew the book closer to make a place
for him on the stone bench, and he settled himself comfortably there,
turned a little so that he was facing toward her.

It was indicative of the state of intimacy into which the two had grown
that they did not make polite conversation with each other, but indeed
were silent for some little time after Ste. Marie had seated himself. It
was he who spoke first. He said:

"You look vaguely classical to-day. I have been trying to guess why, and
I cannot. Perhaps it's because your - what does one say: frock, dress,
gown? - because it is cut out square at the throat."

"If you mean by classical, Greek," said she, "it wouldn't be square at
the neck at all; it would be pointed - V-shaped. And it would be very
different in other ways, too. You are not an observing person, after

"For all that," insisted Ste. Marie, "you look classical. You look like
some lady one reads about in Greek poems - Helen or Iphigenia or Medea or

"Helen had yellow hair, hadn't she?" objected Mlle. O'Hara. "I should
think I probably look more like Medea - Medea in Colchis before Jason - "

She seemed suddenly to realize that she had hit upon an unfortunate
example, for she stopped in the middle of her sentence and a wave of
color swept up over her throat and face.

For a moment Ste. Marie did not understand, then he gave a low
exclamation, for Medea certainly had been an unhappy name. He remembered
something that Richard Hartley had said about that lady a long time
before. He made another mistake, for to lessen the moment's
embarrassment he gave speech to the first thought which entered his
mind. He said:

"Some one once remarked that you look like the young Juno - before
marriage. I expect it's true, too."

She turned upon him swiftly.

"Who said that?" she demanded. "Who has ever talked to you about me?"

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I seem to be singularly stupid this
morning. A mild lunacy. You must forgive me, if you can. To tell you
what you ask would be to enter upon forbidden ground, and I mustn't do

"Still, I should like to know," said the girl, watching him with sombre

"Well, then," said he, "it was a little Jewish photographer in the
Boulevard de la Madeleine."

And she said, "Oh!" in a rather disappointed tone and looked away.

"We seem to be making conversation chiefly about my personal
appearance," she said, presently. "There must be other topics if one
should try hard to find them. Tell me stories. You told me stories
yesterday; tell me more. You seem to be in a classical mood. You shall
be Odysseus, and I will be Nausicaa, the interesting laundress. Tell me
about wanderings and things. Have you any more islands for me?"

"Yes," said Ste. Marie, nodding at her slowly. "Yes, Nausicaa, I have
more islands for you. The seas are full of islands. What kind do you

"A warm one," said the girl. "Even on a hot day like this I choose a
warm one, because I hate the cold."

She settled herself more comfortably, with a little sigh of content that
was exactly like a child's happy sigh when stories are going to be told
before the fire.

"I know an island," said Ste. Marie, "that I think you would like
because it is warm and beautiful and very far away from troubles of all
kinds. As well as I could make out, when I went there, nobody on the
island had ever even heard of trouble. Oh yes, you'd like it. The people
there are brown, and they're as beautiful as their own island. They wear
hibiscus flowers stuck in their hair, and they very seldom do any work."

"I want to go there!" cried Mlle. Coira O'Hara. "I want to go there now,
this afternoon, at once! Where is it?"

"It's in the South Pacific," said he, "not so very far from Samoa and
Fiji and other groups that you will have heard about, and its name is
Vavau. It's one of the Tongans. It's a high, volcanic island, not a
flat, coral one like the southern Tongans. I came to it, one evening,
sailing north from Nukualofa and Haapai, and it looked to me like a
single big mountain jutting up out of the sea, black-green against the
sunset. It was very impressive. But it isn't a single mountain, it's a
lot of high, broken hills covered with a tangle of vegetation and set
round a narrow bay, a sort of fjord, three or four miles long, and at
the inner end of this are the village and the stores of the few white
traders. I'm afraid," said Ste. Marie, shaking his head - "I'm afraid I
can't tell you about it, after all. I can't seem to find the words. You
can't put into language - at least, I can't - those slow, hot, island days
that are never too hot because the trades blow fresh and strong, or the
island nights that are more like black velvet with pearls sewed on it
than anything else. You can't describe the smell of orange groves and
the look of palm-trees against the sky. You can't tell about the sweet,
simple, natural hospitality of the natives. They're like little,
unsuspicious children. In short," said he, "I shall have to give it up,
after all, just because it's too big for me. I can only say that it's
beautiful and unspeakably remote from the world, and that I think I
should like to go back to Vavau and stay a long time, and let the rest
of the world go hang."

Mlle. O'Hara stared across the park of La Lierre with wide and shadowy
eyes, and her lips trembled a little.

"Oh, I want to go there!" she cried again. "I want to go there - and
rest - and forget everything!" She turned upon him with a sudden bitter
resentment. "Why do you tell me things like that?" she cried. "Oh yes, I
know. I asked you, but - can't you see? To hide one's self away in a
place like that!" she said. "To let the sun warm you and the trade-winds
blow away - all that had ever tortured you! Just to rest and be at
peace!" She turned her eyes to him once more. "You needn't be afraid
that you have failed to make me see your island! I see it. I feel it. It
doesn't need many words. I can shut my eyes and I am there. But it was a
little cruel. Oh, I know, I asked for it. It's like the garden of the
Hesperides, isn't it?"

"Very like it," said Ste. Marie, "because there are oranges - groves of
them. (And they were the golden apples, I take it.) Also, it is very far
away from the world, and the people live in complete and careless
ignorance of how the world goes on. Emperors and kings die, wars come
and go, but they hear only a little faint echo of it all, long
afterward, and even that doesn't interest them."

"I know," she said. "I understand. Didn't you know I'd understand?"

"Yes," said he, nodding. "I suppose I did. We - feel things rather alike,
I suppose. We don't have to say them all out."

"I wonder," she said, in a low voice, "if I'm glad or sorry." She stared
under her brows at the man beside her. "For it is very probable that
when we have left La Lierre you and I will never meet again. I wonder if
I'm - "

For some obscure reason she broke off there and turned her eyes away,
and she remained without speaking for a long time. Her mind, as she sat
there, seemed to go back to that southern island, and to its peace and
loveliness, for Ste. Marie, who watched her, saw a little smile come to
her lips, and he saw her eyes half close and grow soft and tender as if
what they saw were very sweet to her. He watched many different
expressions come upon the girl's face and go again, but at last he
seemed to see the old bitterness return there and struggle with
something wistful and eager.

"I envy you your wide wanderings," she said, presently. "Oh, I envy you
more than I can find any words for. Your will is the wind's will. You go
where your fancy leads you, and you're free - free. We have wandered, you
know," said she, "my father and I. I can't remember when we ever had a
home to live in. But that is - that is different - a different kind of

"Yes," said Ste. Marie. "Yes, perhaps." And within himself he said, with
sorrow and pity, "Different, indeed!"

As if at some sudden thought the girl looked up at him quickly. "Did
that sound regretful?" she asked. "Did what I say sound - disloyal to my
father? I didn't mean it to. I don't want you to think that I regret it.
I don't. It has meant being with my father. Wherever he has gone I have

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Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 18 of 23)