Justus Miles Forman.

Jason online

. (page 21 of 23)
Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 21 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to form plans and think of necessary preparations. To be sure, Coira
might persuade the boy to escape during the day, and then the night
attack would be unnecessary, but in case of her failure it must be
prepared for. He rose to his feet and began to walk back and forth under
the rows of chestnut-trees, where the earth was firm and black and mossy
and there was no growth of shrubbery. He thought of that hasty interview
with Richard Hartley and he laughed a little. It had been rather like an
exchange of telegrams - reduced to the bare bones of necessary question
and answer. There had been no time for conversation.

His eyes caught a far-off glimpse of woman's garments, and he saw that
Coira O'Hara and Arthur Benham were walking toward the house. So he went
a little way after them, and waited at a point where he could see any
one returning. He had not long to wait, for it seemed that the girl went
only as far as the door with her fiancé and then turned back.

Ste. Marie met her with raised eyebrows, and she shook her head. "I
don't know," said she. "He is very stubborn. He is frightened and
bewildered. As he said awhile ago, he doesn't know what to think or what
to believe. You mustn't blame him. Remember how he trusted his uncle!
He's going to think it over, and I shall see him again this afternoon.
Perhaps, when he has had time to reflect - I don't know. I truly don't
know."

"He won't go to your father and make a scene?" said Ste. Marie, and the
girl shook her head.

"I made him promise not to. Oh, Bayard," she cried - and in his
abstraction he did not notice the name she gave him - "I am afraid
myself! I am horribly afraid about my father."

"I am sure he did not know," said the man. "Stewart lied to him."

But Coira O'Hara shook her head, saying: "I didn't mean that. I'm afraid
of what will happen when he finds out how he has been - how we have been
played upon, tricked, deceived - what a light we have been placed in. You
don't know, you can't even imagine, how he has set his heart on - what he
wished to occur. I am afraid he will do something terrible when he
knows. I am afraid he will kill Captain Stewart."

"Which," observed Ste. Marie, "would be an excellent solution of the
problem. But of course we mustn't let it happen. What can be done?"

"We mustn't let him know the truth," said the girl, "until Arthur is
gone and until Captain Stewart is gone, too. He is terrible when he's
angry. We must keep the truth from him until he can do no harm. It will
be bad enough even then, for I think it will break his heart."

Ste. Marie remembered that there was something she did not know, and he
told her about his interview with Richard Hartley and about their
arrangement for the rescue - if it should be necessary - on that very
night.

She nodded her head over it, but for a long time after he had finished
she did not speak. Then she said: "I am glad, I suppose. Yes, since it
has to be done, I suppose I am glad that it is to come at once." She
looked up at Ste. Marie with shadowy, inscrutable eyes. "And so,
Monsieur," said she, "it is at an end - all this." She made a little
gesture which seemed to sweep the park and gardens. "So we go out of
each other's lives as abruptly as we entered them. Well - " She had
continued to look at him, but she saw the man's face turn white, and she
saw something come into his eyes which was like intolerable pain; then
she looked away.

Ste. Marie said her name twice, under his breath, in a sort of soundless
cry, but he said no more, and after a moment she went on:

"Even so, I am glad that at last we know each other - for what we are....
I should have been sorry to go on thinking you ... what I thought
before.... And I could not have borne it, I'm afraid, to have you think
... what you thought of me ... when I came to know.... I'm glad we
understand at last."

Ste. Marie tried to speak, but no words would come to him. He was like a
man defeated and crushed, not one on the high-road to victory. But it
may have been that the look of him was more eloquent than anything he
could have said. And it may have been that the girl saw and understood.

So the two remained there for a little while longer in silence, but at
last Coira O'Hara said:

"I must go back to the house now. There is nothing more to be done, I
suppose - nothing left now but to wait for night to come. I shall see
Arthur this afternoon and make one last appeal to him. If that fails you
must carry him off. Do you know where he sleeps? It is the room
corresponding to yours on the other side of the house - just across that
wide landing at the top of the stairs. I will manage that the front door
below shall be left unlocked. The rest you and your friends must do. If
I can make any impression upon Arthur I'll slip a note under your door
this afternoon or this evening. Perhaps, even if he decides to go, it
would be best for him to wait until night and go with the rest of you.
In any case, I'll let you know."

She spoke rapidly, as if she were in great haste to be gone, and with
averted eyes. And at the end she turned away without any word of
farewell, but Ste. Marie started after her. He cried:

"Coira! Coira!" And when she stopped, he said: "Coira, I can't let you
go like this! Are we to - simply to go our different ways like this, as
if we'd never met at all?"

"What else?" said the girl.

And there was no answer to that. Their separate ways were determined for
them - marked plain to see.

"But afterward!" he cried. "Afterward - after we have got the boy back to
his home! What then?"

"Perhaps," she said, "he will return to me." She spoke without any show
of feeling. "Perhaps he will return. If not - well, I don't know. I
expect my father and I will just go on as we've always gone. We're used
to it, you know."

After that she nodded to him and once more turned away. Her face may
have been a very little pale, but, as before, it betrayed no feeling of
any sort. So she went up under the trees to the house, and Ste. Marie
watched her with strained and burning eyes.

When, half an hour later, he followed, he came unexpectedly upon the old
Michel, who had entered the park through the little wooden door in the
wall, and was on his way round to the kitchen with sundry parcels of
supplies. He spoke a civil "Bon jour, Monsieur," and Ste. Marie stopped
him. They were out of sight from the windows. Ste. Marie withdrew from
his pocket one of the hundred-franc notes, and the single, beadlike eye
of the ancient gnome fixed upon it and seemed to shiver with a
fascinated delight.

"A hundred francs!" said Ste. Marie, unnecessarily, and the old man
licked his withered lips. The tempter said: "My good Michel, would you
care to receive this trifling sum - a hundred francs?"

The gnome made a choked, croaking sound in his throat.

"It is yours," said Ste. Marie, "for a small service - for doing nothing
at all."

The beadlike eye rose to his and sharpened intelligently.

"I desire only," said he, "that you should sleep well to-night, very
well - without waking."

"Monsieur," said the old man, "I do not sleep at all. I watch. I watch
Monsieur's windows. Monsieur O'Hara watches until midnight, and I watch
from then until day."

"Oh, I know that," said the other. "I've seen you more than once in the
moonlight, but to-night, mon vieux, slumber will overcome you.
Exhaustion will have its way and you will sleep. You will sleep like the
dead."

"I dare not!" cried the gardener. "Monsieur, I dare not! The old one
would kill me. You do not know him. He would cut me into pieces and burn
the pieces. Monsieur, it is impossible."

Ste. Marie withdrew the other hundred-franc note and held the two
together in his hand. Once more the gnome made his strange, croaking
sound and the withered face twisted with anguish.

"Monsieur! Monsieur!" he groaned.

"I have an idea," said the tempter. "A little earth rubbed upon one side
of the head - perhaps a trifling scratch to show a few drops of blood.
You have been assaulted, beaten down, despite a heroic resistance, and
left for dead. An hour afterward you stagger into the house a frightful
object. Hein?"

The withered face of the old man expanded slowly into a senile grin.

"Monsieur," said he, with admiration in his tone, "it is magnificent. It
shall be done. I sleep like the good dead - under the trees, not too near
the lilacs, eh? Bien, Monsieur, it is done!"

Into his trembling claw he took the notes; he made an odd bow and
shambled away about his business.

Ste. Marie laughed and went on into the house. He counted, and there
were fourteen hours to wait. Fourteen hours, and at the end of
them - what? His blood began to warm to the night's work.

* * * * *




XXVII

THE NIGHT'S WORK


The fourteen long hours dragged themselves by. They seemed interminable,
but somehow they passed and the appointed time drew near. Ste. Marie
spent the greater part of the afternoon reading, but twice he lay down
upon the bed and tried to sleep, and once he actually dozed off for a
brief space. The old Michel brought his meals. He had thought it
possible that Coira might manage to bring the dinner-tray, as she had
already done on several occasions, and so make an opportunity for
informing him as to young Arthur's state of mind. But she did not come,
and no word came from her. So evening drew on and the dusk gathered and
deepened to darkness.

Ste. Marie walked his floor and prayed for the hours to pass. He had
candles and matches, and there was even a lamp in the room, so that he
could have read if he chose, but he knew that the words would have been
meaningless to him, that he was incapable of abstracting his thought
from the night's stern work. He began to be anxious over not having
heard from Mlle. O'Hara. She had said that she would talk with Arthur
Benham during the afternoon, and then slip a note under Ste. Marie's
door. Yet no word had come from her, and to the man pacing his floor in
the darkness the fact took on proportions tremendous and fantastic.
Something had happened. The boy had broken his promise, burst out upon
O'Hara, or more probably upon his uncle, and the house was by the ears.
Coira was watched - even locked in her room. Stewart had fled. A score of
such terrible possibilities rushed through Ste. Marie's brain and
tortured him. He was in a state of nervous tension that was almost
unendurable, and the little noises of the night outside, a wind-stirred
rustle of leaves, a bird's flutter among the branches, the sound of a
cracking twig, made him start violently and catch his breath.

Then at his utmost need came reassurance and something like ease of
mind. He heard a sound of voices at the front of the house, and sprang
to his balconied window to listen. Captain Stewart and O'Hara were
walking upon the brick-paved terrace and chatting calmly over their
cigars. The man above, prone upon the floor, his head pressed against
the ivy-masked grille of the balcony, listened, and though he could hear
their words only at intervals when they passed beneath him he knew that
they spoke of trivial matters in voices free of strain or concern.

He drew back with a breath of relief, and at that moment a sound across
the room arrested him, a soft scraping sound such as a mouse might make.
He went where it was, and a little square of paper gleamed white through
the darkness just within the door. Ste. Marie caught it up and took it
to the far side of the room away from the window. He struck a match,
opened the folded paper, and a single line of writing was there:

"He will go with you. Wait by the door in the wall."

The man nearly cried out with joy.

He struck another match and looked at his watch. It was a quarter to
ten. Four hours left out of the fourteen.

Once more he lay down upon the bed and closed his eyes. He knew that he
could not sleep, but he was tired from long tramping up and down the
room and from the strain of over-tried nerves. From hour to hour he
looked at his watch by match-light, but he did not leave the bed until
half-past one. Then he rose and took a long breath, and the time was at
hand.

He stood a little while gazing out into the night. An old moon was high
overhead in a cloudless sky, and that would make the night's work both
easier and more difficult, but on the whole he was glad of it. He looked
to the east, toward that wall where was the little wooden door, and the
way was under cover of trees and shrubbery for the whole distance save a
little space beside the house. He listened, and the night was very
still - no sound from the house below him, no sound anywhere save the
barking of a dog from far away, and after an instant the whistle of a
distant train.

Ste. Marie turned back into the room and pulled the sheets from his bed.
He rolled them, corner-wise, into a sort of rope, and knotted them
together securely. Then he went to one of the east windows. There was no
balcony there, but, as in all French upper windows, a wood and iron bar
fixed, into the stone casing at both ends, with a little grille below
it. It crossed the window space a third of the distance from bottom to
top. He bent one end of the improvised rope to this, made it fast, and
let the other end hang out. The east side of the house was in shadow,
and the rolled sheet, a vague white line, disappeared into the darkness
below, but Ste. Marie knew that it must reach nearly to the ground. He
had made use of it because he was afraid there would be too much noise
if he tried to climb down the ivy. The room directly underneath was the
drawing-room, and he knew that it was closed and shuttered and
unoccupied both by day and by night. The only danger, he decided, was
from the sleeping-room behind his own, with its windows opening close
by; but, though he did not know it, he was safe there also, for the room
was Coira O'Hara's.

He felt in his pocket for the pistol, and it was ready to hand. Then he
buttoned his coat round him and swung himself out of the window. He held
his body away from the wall with one knee and went down hand under hand.
It was so quietly done that it did not even rouse the birds in the
near-by trees. Before he realized that he had come to the lower windows
his feet touched the earth and he was free.

He stood for a moment where he was, and then slipped rapidly across the
open, moonlit space into the inky gloom of the trees. He made a
half-circle round before the house and looked up at it. It lay gray and
black and still in the night. Where the moonlight was upon it, it was
gray; where there was shadow, black as black velvet, and the windows
were like open, dead eyes. He looked toward Arthur Benham's room, and
there was no light, but he knew that the boy was awake and waiting
there, shivering probably in the dark. He wondered where Coira O'Hara
was, and he pictured her lying in her bed fronting the gloom with
sleepless, open eyes, looking into those to-morrows which she had said
she saw so well. He wondered bitterly what the to-morrows were to bring
her, but he caught himself up with a stern determination and put her out
of his mind. He did not dare think of her in that hour.

He turned and began to make his way silently under the trees toward the
appointed meeting-place. Once he thought of the old Michel and wondered
where that gnarled and withered watch-dog had betaken himself.
Somewhere, within or without the house, he was asleep or pretending to
sleep, and Ste. Marie knew that he could be trusted. The man's cupidity
and his hatred of Captain Stewart together would make him faithful, or
faithless, as one chose to look upon it.

He came to that place where a row of lilac shrubs stood against the wall
and a half-dead cedar stretched gnarled branches above. He was a little
before his time, and he settled himself to listen and wait, his sharp
ears keenly on the alert, his eyes turned toward the dark and quiet
house.

The little noises of the night broke upon him with exaggerated clamor. A
crackling twig was a thunderous crash, a bird's sleepy stir was the
sound of pursuit and disaster. A hundred times he heard the cautious
approach of Richard Hartley's motor-car without the wall, and he fell
into a panic of fear lest that machine prove unruly, break down,
puncture a tire, or burst into a series of ear-splitting explosions. But
at last - it seemed to him that he had waited untold hours and that the
dawn must be nigh - there came an unmistakable rustling from overhead and
the sound of a hard-drawn breath. The top of the wall, just at that
point, was in moonlight, and a man's head appeared over it, then an arm
and then a leg. Hartley called down to him in a whisper, and Ste. Marie,
from the gloom beneath, whispered a reply. He said:

"The boy has promised to come with us. We sha'n't have to fight for it."

Richard Hartley said, "Thank God!" He spoke to some one outside, and
then turning about let himself down to arm's-length and dropped to the
ground. "Thank God!" he said again. "The two men who were to have come
with me didn't show up. I waited as long as I dared, and then came on
with only the chauffeur. He's waiting outside by the car ready to crank
up when I give the word. The car's just a few yards away, headed out for
the road. How are we to get back over the wall?"

Ste. Marie explained that Arthur Benham was to come out to join them at
the wooden door, and doubtless would bring a key. If not, the three of
them could scale fifteen feet easily enough in the way soldiers and
firemen are trained to do it. He told his friend all that was necessary
for the time, and they went together along the wall to the more open
space beside the little door.

They waited there in silence for five minutes, and once Hartley, with
his back toward the house, struck a match under his sheltering coat,
looked to see what time it was, and found it was three minutes past two.

"He ought to be here," the man growled. "I don't like waiting. Good
Lord, you don't think he's funked it, do you? Eh?"

Ste. Marie did not answer, but he was breathing very fast and he could
not keep his hands still.

The dog which he had heard from his window began barking again very far
away in the night, and kept it up incessantly. Perhaps he was barking at
the moon.

"I'm going a little way toward the house," said Ste. Marie, at last. "We
can't see the terrace from here."

But before he had started they heard the sound of hurrying feet, and
Richard Hartley began to curse under his breath. He said:

"Does the young idiot want to rouse the whole place? Why can't he come
quietly?"

Ste. Marie began to run forward, slipping the pistol out of his pocket
and holding it ready in his hand, for his quick ears told him that there
was more than one pair of feet coming through the night. He went to
where he could command the approach from the house and halted there, but
all at once he gave a low cry and started forward again, for he saw that
Arthur Benham and Coira O'Hara were running together, and that they were
in desperate haste. He called out to them, and the girl cried:

"Go to the door in the wall! The door in the wall! Oh, be quick!"

He fell into step beside her, and as they ran he said,

"You're going with him? You're coming with us?"

The girl answered him, "No, no!" and she sprang to the little, low door
and began to fit the iron key into the lock.

The three men stood about her, and young Arthur Benham drew his breath
in great, shivering gasps that were like sobs.

"They heard us!" he cried, in a whisper. "They're after us. They heard
us on the stairs. I - stumbled and fell. For God's sake, Coira, be
quick!"

The girl fumbled desperately with the clumsy key, and dropped upon her
knees to see the better. Once she said, in a whisper: "I can't turn it.
It won't turn." And at that Richard Hartley pushed her out of the way
and lent his greater strength to the task.

A sudden, loud cry came from the house, a hoarse, screeching cry in a
voice which might have been either man's or woman's, but was as mad and
as desperate and as horrible in that still night as the screech of a
tortured animal - or of a maniac. It came again and again, and it was
nearer.

"Oh, hurry, hurry!" said the girl. "Can't you be quick? They're coming."

And as she spoke the little group about the wall heard the engine of the
motor-car outside start up with a staccato roar and knew that the
faithful chauffeur was ready for them.

"I'm getting it, I think," said Richard Hartley, between his teeth. "I'm
getting it. Turn, you beast! Turn!"

There was a sound of hurrying feet, and Ste. Marie spun about. He cried:

"Don't wait for me! Jump into the car and go! Don't wait anywhere! Come
back after you've left Benham at home!"

He began to run forward toward those running feet, and he did not know
that the girl followed after him. A short distance away there was a
little open space of moonlight, and in its midst, at full career, he met
the Irishman O'Hara, a gaunt and grotesque figure in his sleeping-suit,
barefooted, with empty hands. Beyond him still, some one else ran,
stumbling, and sobbed and uttered mad cries.

Ste. Marie dropped his pistol to the ground and sprang upon the
Irishman. He caught him about the body and arms, and the two swayed and
staggered under the tremendous impact. At just that moment, from behind,
came the crash of the opened door and triumphant shouts. Ste. Marie gave
a little gasp of triumph, too, and clung the harder to the man with whom
he fought. He drove his head into the Irishman's shoulder, and set his
muscles with a grip which was like iron. He knew that it could not
endure long, for the Irishman was stronger than he, but the grip of a
nervous man who is keyed up to a high tension is incredibly powerful for
a little while. Trained strength is nothing beside it.

It seemed to Ste. Marie in this desperate moment - it cannot have been
more than a minute or two at the most - that a strange and uncanny
miracle befell him. It was as if he became two. Soul and body, spirit
and straining flesh, seemed to him to separate, to stand apart, each
from the other. There was a thing of iron flesh and thews which had
locked itself about an enemy and clung there madly with but one purpose,
one single thought - to grip and grip, and never loosen until flesh
should be torn from bones. But apart the spirit looked on with a
complete detachment. It looked beyond - he must have raised his head to
glance over O'Hara's shoulder - saw a mad figure staggering forward in
the moonlight, and knew the figure for Captain Stewart. It saw an
upraised arm and was not afraid, for the work was almost done now. It
listened and was glad, hearing the motor-car, without the walls, leap
forward into the night and its puffing grow fainter and fainter with
distance. It knew that the thing of strained sinews received a crashing
blow upon backflung head, and that the iron muscles were slipping away
from their grip, but it was still glad, for the work was done.

Only at the last, before red and whirling lights had obscured the view,
before consciousness was dissolved in unconsciousness, came horror and
agony, for the eyes saw Captain Stewart back away and raise the thing he
had struck with, a large revolver, saw Coira O'Hara, a swift and
flashing figure in the moonlight, throw herself upon him before he could
fire, heard together a woman's scream and the roar of the pistol's
explosion, and then knew no more.

* * * * *




XXVIII

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


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21 23

Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 21 of 23)