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them, not at all unlike the others, he had disappeared, and how Captain
Stewart, in desperate need, had set afoot his plot to get the lad's
greater inheritance for himself. He described for her old David Stewart
and the man's bitter grief, and he told her about the will, about how he
had begun to suspect Captain Stewart, and of how he had traced the lost
boy to La Lierre. He told her all that he knew of the whole matter, and
he knew almost all there was to know, and he did not spare himself even
his misconception of the part she had played, though he softened that as
best he could.

Midway of his story Mlle. O'Hara bent her head and covered her face with
her hands. She did not cry out or protest or speak at all. She made no
more than that one movement, and after it she stood quite still, but the
sight of her, bowed and shamed, stripped of pride, as it had been of
garments, was more than the man could bear.

He cried her name, "Coira!" And when she did not look up, he called once
more upon her. He said: "Coira, I cannot bear to see you stand so. Look
at me. Ah, child, look at me! Can you realize," he cried - "can you even
begin to think what a great joy it is to me to know at last that you
have had no part in all this? Can't you see what it means to me? I can
think of nothing else. Coira, look up!"

She raised her white face, and there were no tears upon it, but a still
anguish too great to be told. It would seem never to have occurred to
her to doubt the truth of his words. She said: "It is I who might have
known. Knowing what you have told me now, it seems impossible that I
could have believed. And Captain Stewart - I always hated him - loathed
him - distrusted him. And yet," she cried, wringing her hands, "how could
I know? How could I know?"

The girl's face writhed suddenly with her grief, and she stared up at
Ste. Marie with terror in her eyes. She whispered: "My father! Oh, Ste.
Marie, my father! It is not possible. I will not believe - he cannot have
done this, knowing. My father, Ste. Marie!"

The man turned his eyes away, and she gave a sobbing cry.

"Has he," she said, slowly, "done even this for me? Has he given - his
honor, also - when everything else was - gone? Has he given me his honor,
too? Oh," she said, "why could I not have died when I was a little
child? Why could I not have done that? To think that I should have lived
to - bring my father to this! I wish I had died. Ste. Marie," she said,
pleading with him. "Ste. Marie, do you think - my father - knew?"

"Let me think," said he. "Let me think! Is it possible that Stewart has
lied to you all - to one as to another? Let me think!" His mind ran back
over the matter, and he began to remember instances which had seemed to
him odd, but to which he had attached no importance. He remembered
O'Hara's puzzled and uncomprehending face when he, Ste. Marie, had
spoken of Stewart's villany. He remembered the man's indignation over
the affair of the poison, and his fairness in trying to make amends. He
remembered other things, and his face grew lighter and he drew a great
breath of relief. He said: "Coira, I do not believe he knew. Stewart has
lied equally to you all - tricked each one of you." And at that the girl
gave a cry of gladness and began to weep.

As long as men and women continue to stand upon opposite sides of a
great gulf - and that will be as long as they exist together in this
world - just so long will men continue to be unhappy and ill at ease in
the face of women's tears, even though they know vaguely that tears may
mean just anything at all, and by no means always grief.

Ste. Marie stood first upon one foot and then upon the other. He looked
anxiously about him for succor. He said, "There! there!" or words to
that effect, and once he touched the shoulder of the girl who stood
weeping before him, and he was very miserable indeed.

But quite suddenly, in the midst of his discomfort, she looked up to
him, and she was smiling and flushed, so that Ste. Marie stared at her
in utter amazement.

"So now at last," said she, "I have back my Bayard. And I think the
rest - doesn't matter very much."

"Bayard?" said he, wondering. "I don't understand," he said.

"Then," said she, "you must just go without understanding. For I shall
never, never explain." The bright flush went from her face and she
turned grave once more. "What is to be done?" she asked. "What must we
do now, Ste. Marie - I mean about Arthur Benham? I suppose he must be
told."

"Either he must be told," said the man, "or he must be taken back to his
home by force." He told her about the four letters which in four days he
had thrown over the wall into the Clamart road. "It was on the chance,"
he said, "that some one would pick one of them up and post it, thinking
it had been dropped there by accident. What has become of them I don't
know. I know only that they never reached Hartley."

The girl nodded thoughtfully. "Yes," said she, "that was the best thing
you could have done. It ought to have succeeded. Of course - " She paused
a moment and then nodded again. "Of course," said she, "I can manage to
get a letter in the post now. We'll send it to-day if you like. But I
was wondering - would it be better or not to tell Arthur the truth? It
all depends upon how he may take it - whether or not he will believe you.
He's very stubborn, and he's frightened about this break with his
family, and he is quite sure that he has been badly treated. Will he
believe you? Of course, if he does believe he could escape from here
quite easily at any time, and there'd be no necessity for a rescue. What
do you think?"

"I think he ought to be told," said Ste. Marie. "If we try to carry him
away by force there'll be a fight, of course, and - who knows what might
happen? That we must leave for a last resort - a last desperate resort.
First we must tell the boy." Abruptly he gave a cry of dismay, and the
girl looked up to him, staring. "But - but _you_, Coira!" said he,
stammering. "But _you_! I hadn't realized - I hadn't thought - it never
occurred to me what this means to you." The full enormity of the thing
came upon him slowly. He was asking this girl to help him in robbing her
of her lover.

She shook her head with a little wry smile. "Do you think," said she,
"that knowing what I know now I would go on with that until he has made
his peace with his family? Before, it was different. I thought him alone
and ill-treated and hunted down. I could help him then, comfort him. Now
I should be - all you ever thought me if I did not send him to his
grandfather." She smiled again a little mirthlessly. "If his love for me
is worth anything," she said, "he will come back - but openly this time,
not in hiding. Then I shall know that he is - what I would have him be.
Otherwise - "

Ste. Marie looked away.

"But you must remember, Coira," said he, "that the lad is very young and
that his family - they may try - it may be hard for him. They may say that
he is too young to know - Ah, child, I should have thought of this!"

"Ste. Marie," said the girl, and after a moment he turned to face her.
"What shall you say to Arthur's family, Ste. Marie," she demanded, very
soberly, "when they ask you if I - if Arthur should be allowed to - come
back to me?"

A wave of color flooded the man's face and his eyes shone. He cried:

"I shall tell them, Coira, that if that wretched, half-baked lad should
search this wide world round, from Paris on to Paris again, and if he
should spend a lifetime searching, he would never find the beauty and
the sweetness and the tenderness and the true faith that he left behind
at La Lierre - nor the hundredth part of them. I should say that you are
so much above him that he ought to creep to you on his knees from the
rue de l'Université to this garden, thanking God that you were here at
the journey's end, and kissing the ground that he dragged himself over
for sheer joy and gratitude. I should tell them - Oh, I have no words! I
could tell them so pitifully little of you! I think I should only say,
'Go to her and see!' I think I should just say that."

The girl turned her head away with a little sob. But afterward she faced
him once more, and she looked up to him with sweet, half-shut eyes for a
long time. At last she said:

"For love of whom, Ste. Marie, did you undertake this quest - this search
for Arthur Benham? It was not in idleness or by way of a whim. It was
for love. For love of whom?"

For some strange and inexplicable reason the words struck him like a
blow and he stared whitely.

"I came," he said, at last, and his voice was oddly flat, "for his
sister's sake. For love of her."

Coira O'Hara dropped her eyes. But presently she looked up again with a
smile. She said, "God make you happy, my friend."

And she turned and moved away from him up among the trees. At a little
distance she turned, saying:

"Wait where you are. I will fetch Arthur or send him to you. He must be
told at once."

Then she went on and was lost to sight.

Ste. Marie followed a few steps after her and halted. His face was
turned by chance toward the east wall, and suddenly he gave a great cry
and smothered it with his hands over his mouth. His knees bent under
him, and he was weak and trembling. Then he began to run. He ran with
awkward steps, for his leg was not yet entirely recovered, but he ran
fast, and his heart beat within him until he thought it must burst.

He was making for that spot which was overhung by the half-dead
cedar-tree.

* * * * *




XXVI

BUT THE FLEECE ELECTS TO REMAIN


Ste. Marie came under the wall breathless and shaking. What he had seen
there from a distance was no longer visible, but he pressed in close
among the lilac shrubs and called out in an unsteady voice. He said:
"Who is there? Who is it?" And after a moment he called again.

A hand appeared at the top of the high wall. The drooping screen of
foliage was thrust aside, and he saw Richard Hartley's face looking
down. Ste. Marie held himself by the strong stems of the lilacs, for
once more his knees had weakened under him.

"There's no one in sight," Hartley said. "I can see for a long way. No
one can see us or hear us." And he said: "I got your letter this
morning - an hour ago. When shall we come to get you out - you and the
boy? To-night?"

"To-night at two," said Ste. Marie. He spoke in a loud whisper. "I'm to
talk with Arthur here in a few minutes. We must be quick. He may come at
any time. I shall try to persuade him to go home willingly, but if he
refuses we must take him by force. Bring a couple of good men with you
to-night, and see that they're armed. Come in a motor and leave it just
outside the wall by that small door that you passed. Have you any money
in your pockets? I may want to bribe the gardener."

Hartley searched in his pockets, and while he did so the man beneath
asked:

"Is old David Stewart alive?"

"Just about," Hartley said. "He's very low, and he suffers a great deal,
but he's quite conscious all the time. If we can fetch the boy to him it
may give him a turn for the better. Where is Captain Stewart? I had
spies on his trail for some time, but he has disappeared within the past
three or four days. Once I followed him in his motor-car out past here,
but I lost him beyond Clamart."

"He's here, I think," said Ste. Marie. "I saw him a few days ago."

The man on the wall had found two notes of a hundred francs each, and he
dropped them down to Ste. Marie's hands. Also he gave him a small
revolver which he had in his pocket, one of the little automatic weapons
such as Olga Nilssen had brought to the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré.
Afterward he glanced up and said:

"Two people are coming out of the house. I shall have to go. At two
to-night, then - and at this spot. We shall be on time."

He drew back out of sight, and the other man heard the cedar-tree shake
slightly as he went down it to the ground. Then Ste. Marie turned and
walked quickly back to the place where Mlle. O'Hara had left him. His
heart was leaping with joy and exultation, for now at last he thought
that the end was in sight - the end he had so long labored and hoped for.
He knew that his face must be flushed and his eyes bright, and he made a
strong effort to crush down these tokens of his triumph - to make his
bearing seem natural and easy. He might have spared himself the pains.

Young Arthur Benham and Coira O'Hara came together down under the trees
from the house. They walked swiftly, and the boy was a step in advance,
his face white with excitement and anger. He began to speak while he was
still some distance away. He cried out, in his strident young voice:

"What the devil is all this silly nonsense about old Charlie and lies
and misunderstandings and - and all that guff?" he demanded. "What the
devil is it? D'you think I'm a fool? D'you think I'm a kid? Well, I'm
not!"

He came close to Ste. Marie, staring at him with an angry scowl, but his
scowl twitched and wavered and his hands shook a little beside him and
his breath came irregularly. He was frightened.

"There is no nonsense," said Ste. Marie. "There is no nonsense in all
this whole sorry business. But there has been a great deal of
misunderstanding and a great many lies and not a little cruelty. It's
time you knew the truth at last." He turned his eyes to where Coira
O'Hara stood near-by. "How much have you told him?" he asked.

And the girl said: "I told him everything, or almost. But I had to say
it very quickly, and - he wouldn't believe me. I think you'd best tell
him again."

The boy gave a short, contemptuous laugh.

"Well, I don't want to hear it," said he.

He was looking toward the girl. He said:

"This fellow may be able to hypnotize you, all right, but not Willie.
Little Willie's wise to guys like him."

And swinging about to Ste. Marie, he cried:

"Forget it! For-get it! I don't want to listen to your little song
to-day. Ah, you make me sick! You'd try to make me turn on old Charlie,
would you? Why, old Charlie's the only real friend I've got in the
world. Old Charlie has always stood up for me against the whole bunch of
them. Forget it, George! I'm wise to your graft."

Ste. Marie frowned, for his temper was never of the most patient, and
the youth's sneering tone annoyed him. Truth to tell, the tone was about
all he understood, for the strange words were incomprehensible.

"Look here, Benham," he said, sharply, "you and I have never met, I
believe, but we have a good many friends in common, and I think we know
something about each other. Have you ever heard anything about me which
would give you the right to suspect me of any dishonesty of any sort?
Have you?"

"Oh, slush!" said the boy. "Anybody'll be dishonest if it's worth his
while."

"That happens to be untrue," Ste. Marie remarked, "and as you grow older
you will know it. Leaving my honesty out of the question if you like, I
have the honor to tell you that I am, perhaps not quite formally,
engaged to your sister, and it is on her account, for her sake, that I
am here. You will hardly presume, I take it, to question your sister's
motive in wanting you to return home? Incidentally, your grandfather is
so overcome by grief over your absence that he is expected to die at any
time. Come," said he, "I have said enough to convince you that you must
listen to me. Believe what you please, but listen to me for five
minutes. After that I have small doubt of what you will do."

The boy looked nervously from Ste. Marie to Mlle. O'Hara and back again.
He thrust his unsteady hands into his pockets, but withdrew them after a
moment and clasped them together behind him.

"I tell you," he burst out, at last - "I tell you, it's no good your
trying to knock old Charlie to me. I won't stand for it. Old Charlie's
my best friend, and I'd believe him before I'd believe anybody in the
world. You've got a knife out for old Charlie, that's what's the matter
with you."

"And your sister?" suggested Ste. Marie. "Your mother? You'd hardly know
your mother if you could see her to-day. It has pretty nearly killed
her."

"Ah, they're all - they're all against me!" the lad cried. "They've
always stood together against me. Helen, too!"

"You wouldn't think they were against you if you could just see them
once now," said Ste. Marie.

And Arthur Benham gave a sort of shamefaced sob, saying:

"Ah, cut it out! Cut it out! Go on, then, and talk, if you want to, _I_
don't care. I don't have to listen. Talk, if you're pining for it."

And Ste. Marie, as briefly as he could, told him the truth of the whole
affair from the beginning, as he had told it to Coira O'Hara. Only he
laid special stress upon Charles Stewart's present expectations from the
new will, and he assured the boy that no document his grandfather might
have asked him to sign could have given away his rights in his father's
fortune, since he was a minor and had no legal right to sign away
anything at all even if he wished to.

"If you will look back as calmly and carefully as you can," he said,
"you will find that you didn't begin to suspect your grandfather of
anything wrong until you had talked with Captain Stewart. It was your
uncle's explanation of the thing that made you do that. Well, remember
what he had at stake - I suppose it is a matter of several millions of
francs. And he needs them. His affairs are in a bad way."

He told also about the pretended search which Captain Stewart had so
long maintained, and of how he had tried to mislead the other searchers
whose motives were honest.

"It has been a gigantic gamble, my friend," he said, at the last. "A
gigantic and desperate gamble to get the money that should be yours. You
can end it by the mere trouble of climbing over that wall yonder and
taking the Clamart tram back to Paris. As easily as that you can end
it - and, if I am not mistaken, you can at the same time save an old
man's life - prolong it at the very least." He took a step forward. "I
beg you to go!" he said, very earnestly. "You know the whole truth now.
You must see what danger you have been and are in. You must know that I
am telling you the truth. I beg you to go back to Paris."

And from where she stood, a little aside, Coira O'Hara said: "I beg you,
too, Arthur. Go back to them."

The boy dropped down upon a tree-stump which was near and covered his
face with his hands. The two who watched him could see that he was
trembling violently. Over him their eyes met and they questioned each
other with a mute and anxious gravity:

"What will he do?" For everything was in Arthur Benham's weak hands now.

For a little time, which seemed hours to all who were there, the lad sat
still, hiding his face, but suddenly he sprang to his feet, and once
more stood staring into Ste. Marie's quiet eyes. "How do I know you're
telling the truth?" he cried, and his voice ran up high and shrill and
wavered and broke. "How do I know that? You'd tell just as smooth a
story if - if you were lying - if you'd been sent here to get me back
to - to what old Charlie said they wanted me for."

"You have only to go back to them and make sure," said Ste. Marie. "They
can't harm you or take anything from you. If they persuaded you to sign
anything - which they will not do - it would be valueless to them, because
you're a minor. You know that as well as I do. Go and make sure. Or
wait! Wait!" He gave a little sharp laugh of excitement. "Is Captain
Stewart in the house?" he demanded. "Call him out here. That's better
still. Bring your uncle here to face me without telling him what it's
for, without giving him time to make up a story. Then we shall see. Send
for him."

"He's not here," said the boy "He went away an hour ago. I don't know
whether he'll be back to-night or not." Young Arthur stared at the elder
man, breathing hard. "Good God!" he said, in a whisper, "if - old Charlie
is rotten, who in this world isn't? I - don't know what to believe."
Abruptly he turned with a sort of snarl upon Coira O'Hara. "Have you
been in this game, too?" he cried out. "I suppose you and your precious
father and old Charlie cooked it up together. What? You've been having a
fine, low-comedy time laughing yourselves to death at me, haven't you?
Oh, Lord, what a gang!"

Ste. Marie caught the boy by the shoulder and spun him round. "That will
do!" he said, sternly. "You have been a fool; don't make it worse by
being a coward and a cad. Mlle. O'Hara knew no more of the truth than
you knew. Your uncle lied to you all." But the girl came and touched his
arm.

She said: "Don't be hard with him. He is bewildered and nervous, and he
doesn't know what he is saying. Think how sudden it has been for him.
Don't be hard with him, M. Ste. Marie."

Ste. Marie dropped his hand, and the lad backed a few steps away. His
face was crimson. After a moment he said: "I'm sorry, Coira. I didn't
mean that. I didn't mean it. I beg your pardon. I'm about half dippy, I
guess. I - don't know what to believe or what to think or what to do." He
remained staring at her a little while in silence, and presently his
eyes sharpened. He cried out: "If I should go back there - mind you, I
say 'if' - d'you know what they'd do? Well, I'll tell you. They'd begin
to talk at me one at a time. They'd get me in a corner and cry over me,
and say I was young and didn't know my mind, and that I owed them
something for all that's happened, and not to bring their gray hairs in
sorrow to the grave - and the long and short of it would be that they'd
make me give you up." He wheeled upon Ste. Marie. "That's what they'd
do!" he said, and his voice began to rise again shrilly. "They're three
to one, and they know they can talk me into anything. _You_ know it,
too!" He shook his head. "I won't go back!" he cried, wildly. "That's
what will happen if I do. I don't want granddad's money. He can give it
to old Charlie or to a gendarme if he wants to. I'm going to have enough
of my own. I won't go back, and that's all there is of it. You may be
telling the truth or you may not, but I won't go."

Ste. Marie started to speak, but the girl checked him. She moved closer
to where Arthur Benham stood, and she said: "If your love for me,
Arthur, is worth having, it is worth fighting for. If it is so weak that
your family can persuade you out of it, then - I don't want it at all,
for it would never last. Arthur, you must go back to them. I want you to
go."

"I won't!" the boy cried. "I won't go! I tell you they could talk me out
of anything. You don't know 'em. I do. I can't stand against them. I
won't go, and that settles it. Besides, I'm not so sure that this
fellow's telling the truth. I've known old Charlie a lot longer than I
have him."

Coira O'Hara turned a despairing face over her shoulder toward Ste.
Marie. "Leave me alone with him," she begged. "Perhaps I can win him
over. Leave us alone for a little while."

Ste. Marie hesitated, and in the end went away and left the two
together. He went farther down the park to the rond point, and crossed
it to the familiar stone bench at the west side. He sat down there to
wait. He was anxious and alarmed over this new obstacle, for he had the
wit to see that it was a very important one. It was quite conceivable
that the boy, but half-convinced, half-yielding before, would balk
altogether when he realized, as evidently he did realize, what returning
home might mean to him - the loss of the girl he hoped to marry.

Ste. Marie was sufficiently wise in worldly matters to know that the
boy's fear was not unfounded. He could imagine the family in the rue de
l'Université taking exactly the view young Arthur said they would take
toward an alliance with the daughter of a notorious Irish adventurer.
Ste. Marie's cheeks burned hotly with anger when the words said
themselves in his brain, but he knew that there could be no doubt of the
Benhams' and even of old David Stewart's view of the affair. They would
oppose the marriage with all their strength.

He tried to imagine what weight such considerations would have with him
if it were he who was to marry Coira O'Hara, and he laughed aloud with
scorn of them and with great pride in her. But the lad yonder was very
young - too young; his family would be right to that extent. Would he be
able to stand against them?

Ste. Marie shook his head with a sigh and gave over unprofitable
wonderings, for he was still within the walls of La Lierre, and so was
Arthur Benham. And the walls were high and strong. He fell to thinking
of the attempt at rescue which was to be made that night, and he began


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