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gone with him, and if anything ever has been - unpleasant, I was willing,
oh, I was glad, glad to put up with it for his sake and because I could
be with him. If I have made his life a little happier by sharing it, I
am glad of everything. I don't regret."

"And yet," said Ste. Marie, gently, "it must have been hard sometimes."
He pictured to himself that roving existence lived among such people as
O'Hara must have known, and it sent a hot wave of anger and distress
over him from head to foot.

But the girl said: "I had my father. The rest of it didn't matter in the
face of that." After a little silence she said, "M. Ste. Marie!"

And the man said, "What is it, Mademoiselle?"

"You spoke the other day," she said, hesitating over her words, "about
my aunt, Lady Margaret Craith. I suppose I ought not to ask you more
about her, for my father quarrelled with his people very long ago and he
broke with them altogether. But - surely, it can do no harm - just for a
moment - just a very little! Could you tell me a little about her, M.
Ste. Marie - what she is like and - and how she lives - and things like

So Ste. Marie told her all that he could of the old Irishwoman who lived
alone in her great house, and ruled with a slack Irish hand, a sweet
Irish heart, over tenants and dependants. And when he had come to an end
the girl drew a little sigh and said:

"Thank you. I am so glad to hear of her. I - wish everything were
different, so that - I think I should love her very much if I might."

"Mademoiselle," said Ste. Marie, "will you promise me something?"

She looked at him with her sombre eyes, and after a little she said: "I
am afraid you must tell me first what it is. I cannot promise blindly."

He said: "I want you to promise me that if anything ever should
happen - any difficulty - trouble - anything to put you in the position of
needing care or help or sympathy - "

But she broke in upon him with a swift alarm, crying: "What do you mean?
You're trying to hint at something that I don't know. What difficulty or
trouble could happen to me? Please tell me just what you mean."

"I'm not hinting at any mystery," said Ste. Marie. "I don't know of
anything that is going to happen to you, but - will you forgive me for
saying it? - your father is, I take it, often exposed to - danger of
various sorts. I'm afraid I can't quite express myself, only, if any
trouble should come to you, Mademoiselle, will you promise me to go to
Lady Margaret, your aunt, and tell her who you are and let her care for

"There was an absolute break," she said. "Complete."

But the man shook his head, saying:

"Lady Margaret won't think of that. She'll think only of you - that she
can mother you, perhaps save you grief - and of herself, that in her old
age she has a daughter. It would make a lonely old woman very happy,

The girl bent her head away from him, and Ste. Marie saw, for the first
time since he had known her, tears in her eyes. After a long time she

"I promise, then. But," she said, "it is very unlikely that it should
ever come about - for more than one reason. Very unlikely."

"Still, Mademoiselle," said he, "I am glad you have promised. This is an
uncertain world. One never can tell what will come with the to-morrows."

"I can," the girl said, with a little tired smile that Ste. Marie did
not understand. "I can tell. I can see all the to-morrows - a long, long
row of them. I know just what they're going to be like - to the very

But the man rose to his feet and looked down upon her as she sat before
him. And he shook his head.

"You are mistaken," he said. "Pardon me, but you are mistaken. No one
can see to-morrow - or the end of anything. The end may surprise you very

"I wish it would!" cried Mlle. O'Hara. "Oh, I wish it would!"

* * * * *



Ste. Marie put down a book as O'Hara came into the room and rose to meet
his visitor.

"I'm compelled," said the Irishman, "to put you on your honor to-day if
you are to go out as usual. Michel has been sent on an errand, and I am
busy with letters. I shall have to put you on your honor not to make any
effort to escape. Is that agreed to? I shall trust you altogether. You
could manage to scramble over the wall somehow, I suppose, and get clean
away, but I think you won't try it if you give your word."

"I give my word gladly," said Ste. Marie. "And thanks very much. You've
been uncommonly kind to me here. I - regret more than I can say that
we - that we find ourselves on opposite sides, as it were. I wish we were
fighting for the same cause."

The Irishman looked at the younger man sharply for an instant, and he
made as if he would speak, but seemed to think better of it. In the end
he said:

"Yes, quite so. Quite so. Of course you understand that any
consideration I have used toward you has been by way of making amends
for - for an unfortunate occurrence."

Ste. Marie laughed.

"The poison," said he. "Yes, I know. And of course I know who was at the
bottom of that. By the way, I met Stewart in the garden the other day.
Did he tell you? He was rather nervous and tried to shoot me, but he had
left his revolver at the house - at least it wasn't in his pocket when he
reached for it."

O'Hara's hard face twitched suddenly, as if in anger, and he gave an
exclamation under his breath, so the younger man inferred that "old
Charlie" had not spoken of their encounter. And after that the Irishman
once more turned a sharp, frowning glance upon his prisoner as if he
were puzzled about something. But, as before, he stopped short of speech
and at last turned away.

"Just a moment!" said the younger man. He asked: "Is it fair to inquire
how long I may expect to be confined here? I don't want to presume upon
your good-nature too far, but if you could tell me I should be glad to

The Irishman hesitated a moment and then said: -

"I don't know why I shouldn't answer that. It can't help you, so far as
I can see, to do anything that would hinder us. You'll stay until Arthur
Benham comes of age, which will be in about two months from now."

"Yes," said the other. "Thanks. I thought so. Until young Arthur comes
of age and receives his patrimony - or until old David Stewart dies. Of
course that might happen at any hour."

The Irishman said: "I don't quite see what - Ah, yes, to be sure! Yes, I
see. Well, I should count upon eight weeks if I were you. In eight weeks
the boy will be independent of them all, and we shall go to England for
the wedding."

"The wedding?" cried Ste. Marie. "What wedding? - Ah!"

"Arthur Benham and my daughter are to be married," said O'Hara, "so soon
as he reaches his majority. I thought you knew that."

In a very vague fashion he realized that he had expected it. And still
the definite words came to him with a shock which was like a physical
blow, and he turned his back with a man's natural instinct to hide his
feeling. Certainly that was the logical conclusion to be drawn from
known premises. That was to be the O'Haras' reward for their labor. To
Stewart the great fortune, to the O'Haras a good marriage for the girl
and an assured future. That was reward enough surely for a few weeks of
angling and decoying and luring and lying. That was what she had meant,
on the day before, by saying that she could see all the to-morrows. He
realized that he must have been expecting something like this, but the
thought turned him sick, nevertheless. He could not forget the girl as
he had come to know her during the past week. He could not face with any
calmness the thought of her as the adventuress who had lured poor Arthur
Benham on to destruction. It was an impossible thought. He could have
laughed at it in scornful anger, and yet - What else was she?

He began to realize that his action in turning his back upon the other
man in the middle of a conversation must look very odd, and he faced
round again trying to drive from his expression the pain and distress
which he knew must be there, plain to see. But he need not have troubled
himself, for the other man was standing before the next window and
looking out into the morning sunlight, and his hard, bony face had so
altered that Ste. Marie stared at him with open amazement. He thought
O'Hara must be ill.

"I want to see her married!" cried the Irishman, suddenly, and it was a
new voice, a voice Ste. Marie did not know. It shook a little with an
emotion that sat uncouthly upon this grim, stern man.

"I want to see her married and safe!" he said. "I want her to be rid of
this damnable, roving, cheap existence. I want her to be rid of me and
my rotten friends and my rotten life."

He chafed his hands together before him, and his tired eyes fixed
themselves upon something that he seemed to see out of the window and
glared at it fiercely.

"I should like," said he, "to die on the day after her wedding, and so
be out of her way forever. I don't want her to have any shadows cast
over her from the past. I don't want her to open closet doors and find
skeletons there. I want her to be free - free to live the sort of life
she was born to and has a right to."

He turned sharply upon the younger man.

"You've seen her!" he cried. "You've talked to her; you know her! Think
of that girl dragged about Europe with me ever since she was a little
child! Think of the people she's had to know, the things she's had to
see! Do you wonder that I want to have her free of it all, married and
safe and comfortable and in peace? Do you? I tell you it has driven me
as nearly mad as a man can be. But I couldn't go mad, because I had to
take care of her. I couldn't even die, because she'd have been left
alone without any one to look out for her. She wouldn't leave me. I
could have settled her somewhere in some quiet place where she'd have
been quit at least of shady, rotten people, but she wouldn't have it.
She's stuck to me always, through good times and bad. She's kept my
heart up when I'd have been ready to cut my throat if I'd been alone.
She's been the - bravest and faithfulest - Well, I - And look at her! Look
at her now! Think of what she's had to see and know - the people she's
had to live with - and look at her! Has any of it stuck to her? Has it
cheapened her in any littlest way? No, by God! She has come through it
all like a - like a Sister of Charity through a city slum - like an angel
through the dark."

The Irishman broke off speaking, for his voice was beyond control, but
after a moment he went on again, more calmly:

"This boy, this young Benham, is a fool, but he's not a mean fool.
She'll make a man of him. And, married to him, she'll have the comforts
that she ought to have and the care and - freedom. She'll have a chance
to live the life that she has a right to, among the sort of people she
has a right to know. I'm not afraid for her. She'll do her part and
more. She'll hold up her head among duchesses, that girl. I'm not afraid
for her."

He said this last sentence over several times, standing before the
window and staring out at the sun upon the tree-tops.

"I'm not afraid for her.... I'm not afraid for her."

He seemed to have forgotten that the younger man was in the room, for he
did not look toward him again or pay him any attention for a long while.
He only gazed out of the window into the fresh morning sunlight, and his
face worked and quivered and his lean hands chafed restlessly together
before him. But at last he seemed to realize where he was, for he turned
with a sudden start and stared at Ste. Marie, frowning as if the younger
man were some one he had never seen before. He said:

"Ah, yes, yes. You were wanting to go out into the garden. Yes, quite
so. I - I was thinking of something else. I seem to be absent-minded of
late. Don't let me keep you here."

He seemed a little embarrassed and ill at ease, and Ste. Marie said:

"Oh, thanks. There's no hurry. However, I'll go, I think. It's after
eleven. I understand that I'm on my honor not to climb over the wall or
burrow under it or batter it down. That's understood. I - "

He felt that he ought to say something in acknowledgment of O'Hara's
long speech about his daughter, but he could think of nothing to say,
and, besides, the Irishman seemed not to expect any comment upon his
strange outburst. So, in the end, Ste. Marie nodded and went out of the
room without further ceremony.

He had been astonished almost beyond words at that sudden and
unlooked-for breakdown of the other man's impregnable reserve, and dimly
he realized that it must have come out of some very extraordinary
nervous strain, but he himself had been in no state to give the
Irishman's words the attention and thought that he would have given them
at another time. His mind, his whole field of mental vision, had been
full of one great fact - _the girl was to be married to young Arthur
Benham_. The thing loomed gigantic before him, and in some strange way
terrifying. He could neither see nor think beyond it. O'Hara's burst of
confidence had reached his ears very faintly, as if from a great
distance - poignant but only half-comprehended words to be reflected upon
later in their own time.

He stumbled down the ill-lighted stair with fixed, wide, unseeing eyes,
and he said one sentence over and over aloud, as the Irishman standing
beside the window had said another.

"She is going to be married. She is going to be married."

It would seem that he must have forgotten his previous half-suspicion of
the fact. It would seem to have remained, as at the first hearing, a
great and appalling shock, thunderous out of a blue sky.

Below, in the open, his feet led him mechanically straight down under
the trees, through the tangle of shrubbery beyond, and so to the wall
under the cedar. Arrived there, he awoke all at once to his task, and
with a sort of frowning anger shook off the dream which enveloped him.
His eyes sharpened and grew keen and eager. He said:

"The last arrow! God send it reached home!" and so went in under the
lilac shrubs.

He was there longer than usual; unhampered now, he may have made a
larger search, but when at last he emerged Ste. Marie's hands were over
his face and his feet dragged slowly like an old man's feet.

Without knowing that he had stirred he found himself some distance away,
standing still beside a chestnut-tree. A great wave of depression and
fear and hopelessness swept him, and he shivered under it. He had an
instant's wild panic, and mad, desperate thoughts surged upon him. He
saw utter failure confronting him. He saw himself as helpless as a
little child, his feeble efforts already spent for naught, and, like a
little child, he was afraid. He would have rushed at that grim
encircling wall and fought his way up and over it, but even as the
impulse raced to his feet the momentary madness left him and he turned
away. He could not do a dishonorable thing even for all he held dearest.

He walked on in the direction which lay before him, but he took no heed
of where he went, and Mlle. Coira O'Hara spoke to him twice before he
heard or saw her.

* * * * *



They were near the east end of the rond point, in a space where
fir-trees stood and the ground underfoot was covered with dry needles.

"I was just on my way to - our bench beyond the fountain," said she.

And Ste. Marie nodded, looking upon her sombrely. It seemed to him that
he looked with new eyes, and after a little time, when he did not speak,
but only gazed in that strange manner, the girl said:

"What is it? Something has happened. Please tell me what it is."

Something like the pale foreshadow of fear came over her beautiful face
and shrouded her golden voice as if it had been a veil.

"Your father," said Ste. Marie, heavily, "has just been telling me - that
you are to marry young Arthur Benham. He has been telling me."

She drew a quick breath, looking at him, but after a moment she said:

"Yes, it is true. You knew it before, though, didn't you? Do you mean
that you didn't know it before? I don't quite understand. You must have
known that. What, in Heaven's name, _did_ you think?" she cried, as if
with a sort of anger at his dulness.

The man rubbed one hand wearily across his eyes.

"I - don't quite know," said he. "Yes, I suppose I had thought of it. I
don't know. It came to me with such a - shock! Yes. Oh, I don't know. I
expect I didn't think at all. I - just didn't think."

Abruptly his eyes sharpened upon her, and he moved a step forward.

"Tell me the truth!" he said. "Do you love this boy?"

The girl's cheeks burned with a swift crimson and she set her lips
together. She was on the verge of extreme anger just then, but after a
little the flush died down again and the dark fire went out of her eyes.
She made an odd gesture with her two hands. It seemed to express fatigue
as much as anything - a great weariness.

"I like him," she said. "I like him - enough, I suppose. He is good - and
kind - and gentle. He will be good to me. And I shall try very, very
hard, to make him happy."

Quite suddenly and without warning the fire of her anger burned up
again. She flamed defiance in the man's face.

"How dare you question me?" she cried. "What right have you to ask me
questions about such a thing? You - what you are!"

Ste. Marie bent his head.

"No right, Mademoiselle," said he, in a low voice. "I have no right to
ask you anything - not even forgiveness. I think I am a little mad
to-day. It - this news came to me suddenly. Yes, I think I am a little

The girl stared at him and he looked back with sombre eyes. Once more he
was stabbed with intolerable pain to think what she was. Yet in an
inexplicable fashion it pleased him that she should carry out her
trickery to the end with a high head. It was a little less base, done
proudly. He could not have borne it otherwise.

"Who are you," the girl cried, in a bitter resentment, "that you should
understand? What do you know of the sort of life I have led - we have led
together, my father and I? Oh, I don't mean that I'm ashamed of it! We
have nothing to feel shame for, but you simply do not know what such a
life is."

Though he writhed with pain, the man nodded over her. He was so glad
that she could carry it through proudly, with a high hand, an erect

She spread out her arms before him, a splendid and tragic figure.

"What chance have I ever had?" she demanded. "No, I am not blaming him.
I am not blaming my father. I chose to follow him. I chose it. But what
chance have I had? Think of the people I have lived among. Would you
have me marry one of them - one of those men? I'd rather die. And yet I
cannot go on - forever. I am twenty now. What if my father - You yourself
said yesterday - Oh, I am afraid! I tell you I have lain awake at night a
hundred times and shivered with cold, terrible fear of what would become
of me if - if anything should happen - to my father. And so," she said,
"when I met Arthur Benham last winter, and he - began to - he said - when
he begged me to marry him.... Ah, can't you see? It meant
safety - safety - safety! And I liked him. I like him now - very, very
much. He is a sweet boy. I - shall be happy with him - in a peaceful
fashion. And my father - Oh, I'll be honest with you," said she. "It was
my father who decided me. He was - he is - so pathetically pleased with
it. He so wants me to be safe. It's all he lives for now. I - couldn't
fight against them both, Arthur and my father, so I gave in. And then
when Arthur had to be hidden we came here with him - to wait."

She became aware that the man was staring at her with something strange
and terrible in his gaze, and she broke off in wonder. The air of that
warm summer morning turned all at once keen and sharp about
them - charged with moment.

"Mademoiselle!" cried Ste. Marie. "Mademoiselle, are you telling me the

For some obscure reason she was not angry. Again she spread out her
hands in that gesture of weariness. She said, "Oh, why should I lie to
you?" And the man began to tremble exceedingly. He stretched out an
unsteady hand.

"You - knew Arthur Benham last winter?" he said. "Long before his - before
he left his home? Before that?"

"He asked me to marry him last winter," said the girl. "For a long, long
time I - wouldn't. But he never let me alone. He followed me everywhere.
And my father - "

Ste. Marie clapped his two hands over his face, and a groan came to her
through the straining fingers. He cried, in an agony: "Mademoiselle!

He fell upon his knees at her feet, his head bent in what seemed to be
an intolerable anguish, his hands over his hidden face. The girl heard
hard-wrung, stumbling, incoherent words wrenched each with an effort out
of extreme pain.

"Fool! Fool!" the man cried, groaning. "Oh, fool that I have been! Worm,
animal! Oh, fool not to see - not to know! Madman, imbecile, thing
without a name!"

She stood white-faced, smitten with great fear over this abasement. Not
the least and faintest glimmer reached her of what it meant. She
stretched down a hand of protest, and it touched the man's head. As if
the touch were a stroke of magic, he sprang upright before her.

"Now at last, Mademoiselle," said he, "we two must speak plainly
together. Now at last I think I see clear, but I must know beyond doubt
or question. Oh, Mademoiselle, now I think I know you for what you are,
and it seems to me that nothing in this world is of consequence beside
that. I have been blind, blind, blind!... Tell me one thing. Why did
Arthur Benham leave his home two months ago?"

"He had to leave it," she said, wondering. She did not understand yet,
but she was aware that her heart was beating in loud and fast throbs,
and she knew that some great mystery was to be made plain before her.
Her face was very white. "He had to leave it," she said again. "_You_
know as well as I. Why do you ask me that? He quarrelled with his
grandfather. They had often quarrelled before - over money - always over
money. His grandfather is a miser, almost a madman. He tried to make
Arthur sign a paper releasing his inheritance - the fortune he is to
inherit from his father - and when Arthur wouldn't he drove him away.
Arthur went to his uncle - Captain Stewart - and Captain Stewart helped
him to hide. He didn't dare go back because they're all against him, all
his family. They'd make him give in."

Ste. Marie gave a loud exclamation of amazement. The thing was
incredible - childish. It was beyond the maddest possibilities. But even
as he said the words to himself a face came before him - Captain
Stewart's smiling and benignant face - and he understood everything. As
clearly as if he had been present, he saw the angry, bewildered boy,
fresh from David Stewart's berating, mystified over some commonplace
legal matter requiring a signature. He saw him appeal for sympathy and
counsel to "old Charlie," and he heard "old Charlie's" reply. It was
easy enough to understand now. It must have been easy enough to bring
about. What absurdities could not such a man as Captain Stewart instil
into the already prejudiced mind of that foolish lad?

His thoughts turned from Arthur Benham to the girl before him, and that
part of the mystery was clear also. She would believe whatever she was
told in the absence of any reason to doubt. What did she know of old
David Stewart or of the Benham family? It seemed to Ste. Marie all at
once incredible that he could ever have believed ill of her - ever have
doubted her honesty. It seemed to him so incredible that he could have
laughed aloud in bitterness and self-disdain. But as he looked at the
girl's white face and her shadowy, wondering eyes, all laughter, all
bitterness, all cruel misunderstandings were swallowed up in the golden
light of his joy at knowing her, in the end, for what she was.

"Coira! Coira!" he cried, and neither of the two knew that he called her
for the first time by her name. "Oh, child," said he, "how they have
lied to you and tricked you! I might have known, I might have seen it,
but I was a blind fool. I thought - intolerable things. I might have
known. They have lied to you most damnably, Coira."

She stared at him in a breathless silence without movement of any sort.
Only her face seemed to have turned a little whiter and her great eyes
darker, so that they looked almost black and enormous in that still

He told her, briefly, the truth: how young Arthur had had frequent
quarrels with his grandfather over his waste of money, how after one of

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Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 19 of 23)