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she stared at it uncomprehending. Then she gave a sharp scream and
struggled to her feet. She ran to the thing which lay there motionless
and fell upon her knees beside it. It was Ste. Marie, his face upturned
to the sky, one side of his head black and damp. Stewart had not shot
him, but that crashing blow with the clubbed revolver had struck him
full and fair, and he was very still.

For an instant the girl's strength went out of her, and she dropped lax
across the body, her face upon Ste. Marie's breast. But after that she
tore open coat and waistcoat and felt for a heart-beat. It seemed to her
that she found life, and she began to believe that the man had only been
stunned.

Once more she rose to her feet and looked about her. There was no one to
lend her aid. She bent over the unconscious man and slipped her arms
about him. Though Ste. Marie was tall, he was slightly built, by no
means heavy, and the girl was very strong. She found that she could
carry him a little way, dragging his feet after her. When she could go
no farther she laid him down and crouched over him, waiting until her
strength should return. And this she did for a score of times; but each
time the distance she went was shorter and her breathing came with
deeper gasps and the trembling in her limbs grew more terrible. At the
last she moved in a sort of fever, an evil dream of tortured body and
reeling brain. But she had got Ste. Marie up through the park to the
terrace and into the house, and with a last desperate effort she had
laid him upon a couch in a certain little room which opened from the
lower hall. Then she fell down before him and lay still for a long time.

When she came to herself again the man was stirring feebly and muttering
to himself under his breath. With slow and painful steps she got across
the room and pulled the bell-cord. She remained there ringing until the
old Justine, blinking and half-dressed, appeared with a candle in the
doorway. Coira told the woman to make lights, and then to bring water
and a certain little bottle of aromatic salts which was in her room
up-stairs. The old Justine exclaimed and cried out, but the girl flew at
her in a white fury, and she tottered away as fast as old legs could
move once she had set alight the row of candles on the mantelshelf. Then
Coira O'Hara went back to the man who lay outstretched on the low couch,
and knelt beside him, looking into his face. The man stirred, and moved
his head slowly. Half-articulate words came from his lips, and she made
out that he was saying her name in a dull monotone - only her name, over
and over again. She gave a little cry of grief and gladness, and hid her
face against him as she had done once before, out in the night.

The old woman returned with a jug of water, towels, and the bottle of
aromatic salts. The two of them washed that stain from Ste. Marie's
head, and found that he had received a severe bruise and that the flesh
had been cut before and above the ear.

"Thank God," the girl said, "it is only a flesh wound! If it were a
fracture he would be breathing in that horrible, loud way they always
do. He's breathing naturally. He has only been stunned. You may go now,"
she said. "Only bring a glass and some drinking-water - cold."

So the old woman went away to do her errand, returned, and went away
again, and the two were left together. Coira held the salts-bottle to
Ste. Marie's nostrils, and he gasped and sneezed and tried to turn his
head away from it, but it brought him to his senses - and doubtless to a
good deal of pain. Once when he could not escape the thing he broke into
a fit of weak cursing, and the girl laughed over him tenderly and let
him be.

Very slowly Ste. Marie opened his eyes, and in the soft half-light the
girl's face was bent above him, dark and sweet and beautiful - near, so
near that her breath was warm upon his lips. He said her name again in
an incredulous whisper:

"Coira! Coira!"

And she said, "I am here."

But the man was in a strange border-land of half-consciousness and his
ears were deaf. He said, gazing up at her:

"Is it - another dream?"

And he tried to raise one hand from where it lay beside him, but the
hand wavered and fell aslant across his body. It had not the strength
yet to obey him. He said, still in his weak whisper:

"Oh, beautiful - and sweet - and true!"

The girl gave a little sob and hid her face.

"A goddess!" he whispered. "'A queen among goddesses!' That's - what the
little Jew said. 'A queen among goddesses. The young Juno before - '" He
stirred restlessly where he lay, and he complained: "My head hurts!
What's the matter with my head? It hurts!"

She dipped one of the towels in the basin of cold water and held it to
the man's brow. The chill of it must have been grateful, for his eyes
closed and he breathed a little satisfied "Ah!"

"It mustn't hurt to-night," said he. "To-night at two - by the little
door in the garden wall. And he's coming with us. The young fool is
coming with us.... So she and I go out of each other's lives.... Coira!"
he cried, with a sudden sharpness. "Coira, I won't have it! Am I going
to lose you ... like this? Am I going to lose you, after all ... now
that we know?"

He put up his hand once more, a weak and uncertain hand. It touched the
girl's warm cheek and a sudden violent shiver wrung the man on the
couch. His eyes sharpened and stared with something like fear.

"_Real!_" he cried, whispering. "Real? ... Not a dream?"

"Oh, very real, my Bayard!" said she. A thought came to her, and she
drew away from the couch and sat back upon her heels, looking at the man
with grave and sombre eyes. In that moment she fought within herself a
battle of right and wrong. "He doesn't remember," she said. "He doesn't
know. He is like a little child. He knows nothing but that we two - are
here together. Nothing else. Nothing!"

His state was plain to see. He dwelt still in that vague border-land
between worlds. He had brought with him no memories, and no memories
followed him save those her face had wakened. Within the girl a great
and tender passion of love fought for possession of this little hour.

"It will be all I shall ever have!" she cried, piteously. "And it cannot
harm him. He won't remember it when he comes to his senses. He'll sleep
again and - forget. He'll go back to _her_ and never know. And I shall
never even see him again. Why can't I have my little sweet hour?"

Once more the man cried her name, and she knelt forward and bent above
him. "Oh, at last, Coira!" said he. "After so long! ... And I thought it
was another dream!"

"Do you dream of me, Bayard?" she asked.

And he said: "From the very first. From that evening in the
Champs-Elysées. Your eyes, they've haunted me from the very first. There
was a dream of you," he said, "that I had so often - but I cannot quite
remember, because my head hurts. What is the matter with my head? I
was - going somewhere. It was so very important that I should go, but I
have forgotten where it was and why I had to go there. I remember only
that you called to me - called me back - and I saw your eyes - and I
couldn't go. You needed me."

"Ah, sorely, Bayard! Sorely!" cried the girl above him.

"And now," said he, whispering.

"Now?" she said.

"Coira, I love you," said the man on the couch.

And Coira O'Hara gave a single dry sob.

She said: "Oh, my dear love! Now I wish that I might die after hearing
you say that. My life, Bayard, is full now. It's full of joy and
gratefulness and everything that is sweet. I wish I might die before
other things come to spoil it."

Ste. Marie - or that part of him which lay at La Lierre - laughed with a
fine scorn, albeit very weakly. "Why not live instead?" said he. "And
what can come to spoil our life for us? _Our life!_" he said again, in a
whisper. A flash of remembrance seemed to come to him, for he smiled and
said, "Coira, we'll go to Vavau."

"Anywhere!" said she. "Anywhere!"

"So that we go together."

"Yes," she said, gently, "so that we two go together." She tried with a
desperate fierceness to make herself like the man before her, to put
away, by sheer power of will, all memory, the knowledge of everything
save what was in this little room, but it was the vainest of all vain
efforts. She saw herself for a thief and a cheat - stealing, for love's
sake, the mere body of the man she loved while mind and soul were
absent. In her agony she almost cried out aloud as the words said
themselves within her. And she denied them. She said: "His mind may be
absent, but his soul is here. He loves me. It is I, not that other. Can
I not have my poor little hour of pretence? A little hour out of all a
lifetime! Shall I have nothing at all?"

But the voice which had accused her said, "If he knew, would he say he
loves you?" And she hid her face, for she knew that he would not - even
if it were true.

"Coira!" whispered the man on the couch, and she raised her head. In the
half darkness he could not have seen how she was suffering. Her face was
only a warm blur to him, vague and sweet and beautiful, with tender
eyes. He said: "I think - I'm falling asleep. My head is so very, very
queer! What is the matter with my head? Coira, do you think I might be
kissed before I go to sleep?"

She gave a little cry of intolerable anguish. It seemed to her that she
was being tortured beyond all reason or endurance. She felt suddenly
very weak, and she was afraid that she was going to faint away. She laid
her face down upon the couch where Ste. Marie's head lay. Her cheek was
against his and her hair across his eyes.

The man gave a contented sigh and fell asleep.

Later, she rose stiffly and wearily to her feet. She stood for a little
while looking down upon him. It was as if she looked upon the dead body
of a lover. She seemed to say a still and white and tearless farewell to
him. Her little hour was done, and it had been, instead of joy,
bitterness unspeakable: ashes in the mouth. Then she went out of the
room and closed the door.

In the hall outside she stood a moment considering, and finally mounted
the stairs and went to her father's door. She knocked and thought she
heard a slight stirring inside, but there was no answer. She knocked
twice again and called out her father's name, saying that she wished to
speak to him, but still he made no reply, and after waiting a little
longer she turned away. She went down-stairs again and out upon the
terrace. The terrace and the lawn before it were still checkered with
silver and deep black, but the moon was an hour lower in the west. A
little cool breeze had sprung up, and it was sweet and grateful to her.
She sat down upon one of the stone benches and leaned her head back
against the trunk of a tree which stood beside it and she remained there
for a long time, still and relaxed, in a sort of bodily and mental
languor - an exhaustion of flesh and spirit.

There came shambling footsteps upon the turf, and the old Michel
advanced into the moonlight from the gloom of the trees, emitting
mechanical and not very realistic groans. He had been hard put to it to
find any one before whom he could pour out his tale of heroism and
suffering. Coira O'Hara looked upon him coldly, and the gnome groaned
with renewed and somewhat frightened energy.

"What is the matter with you?" she asked. "Why are you about at this
hour?"

The old Michel told his piteous tale with tears and passion, protesting
that he had succumbed only before the combined attack of twenty armed
men, and exhibiting his wounds. But the girl gave a brief and mirthless
laugh.

"You were bribed to tell that, I suppose," said she. "By M. Ste. Marie?
Yes, probably. Well, tell it to my father to-morrow! You'd better go to
bed now."

The old man stared at her with open mouth for a breathless moment, and
then shambled hastily away, looking over his shoulder at intervals until
he was out of sight.

But after that the girl still remained in her place from sheer weariness
and lack of impulse to move. She fell to wondering about Captain Stewart
and what had become of him, but she did not greatly care. She had a
feeling that her world had come to its end, and she was quite
indifferent about those who still peopled its ashes - or about all of
them save her father.

She heard the distant sound of a motor-car, and at that sat up quickly,
for it might be Ste. Marie's friend, Mr. Hartley, returning from Paris.
The sound came nearer and ceased, but she waited for ten minutes before
rapid steps approached from the east wall and Hartley was before her.

He cried at once: "Where's Ste. Marie? Where is he? He hasn't tried to
walk into the city?"

"He is asleep in the house," said the girl. "He was struck on the head
and stunned. I got him into the house, and he is asleep now. Of course,"
she said, "we could wake him, but it would probably be better to let him
sleep as long as he will if it is possible. It will save him a great
deal of pain, I think. He'll have a frightful headache if he's wakened
now. Could you come for him or send for him to-morrow - toward noon?"

"Why - yes, I suppose so," said Richard Hartley. "Yes, of course, if you
think that's better. Could I just see him for a moment?" He stared at
the girl a bit suspiciously, and Coira looked back at him with a little
tired smile, for she read his thought.

"You want to make sure," said she. "Of course! Yes, come in. He's
sleeping very soundly." She led the man into that dim room where Ste.
Marie lay, and Hartley's quick eye noted the basin of water and the
stained towels and the little bottle of aromatic salts. He bent over his
friend to see the bruise at the side of the head, and listened to the
sleeper's breathing. Then the two went out again to the moonlit terrace.

"You must forgive me," said he, when they had come there. "You must
forgive me for seeming suspicious, but - all this wretched business - and
he is my closest friend - I've come to suspect everybody. I was unjust,
for you helped us to get away. I beg your pardon!"

The girl smiled at him again, her little, white, tired smile, and she
said: "There is nothing I would not do to make amends - now that I
know - the truth."

"Yes," said Hartley, "I understand. Arthur Benham told me how Stewart
lied to you all. Was it he who struck Ste. Marie?"

She nodded. "And then tried to shoot him; but he didn't succeed in that.
I wonder where he is - Captain Stewart?"

"I have him out in the car," Hartley said. "Oh, he shall pay, you may be
sure! - if he doesn't die and cheat us, that is. I nearly ran the car
over him a few minutes ago. If it hadn't been for the moonlight I would
have done for him. He was lying on his face in that lane that leads to
the Issy road. I don't know what is the matter with him. He's only half
conscious and he's quite helpless. He looks as if he'd had a stroke of
apoplexy or something. I must hurry him back to Paris, I suppose, and
get him under a doctor's care. I wonder what's wrong with him?"

The girl shook her head, for she did not know of Stewart's epileptic
seizures. She thought it quite possible that he had suffered a stroke of
apoplexy as Hartley suggested, for she remembered the half-mad state he
had been in.

Richard Hartley stood for a time in thought. "I must get Stewart back to
Paris at once," he said, finally. "I must get him under care and in a
safe place from which he can't escape. It will want some managing. If I
can get away I'll come out here again in the morning, but if not I'll
send the car out with orders to wait here until Ste. Marie is ready to
return to the city. Are you sure he's all right - that he isn't badly
hurt?"

"I think he will be all right," she said, "save for the pain. He was
only stunned."

And Hartley nodded. "He seems to be breathing quite naturally," said he.
"That's arranged, then. The car will be here in waiting, and I shall
come with it if I can. Tell him when he wakes." He put out his hand to
her, and the girl gave him hers very listlessly but smiling. She wished
he would go and leave her alone.

Then in a moment more he did go, and she heard his quick steps down
through the trees, and heard, a little later, the engine of the
motor-car start up with a sudden loud volley of explosions. And so she
was left to her solitary watch. She noticed, as she turned to go
indoors, that the blackness of the night was just beginning to gray
toward dawn.

* * * * *




XXIX

THE SCALES OF INJUSTICE


Ste. Marie slept soundly until mid-morning - that it to say, about ten
o'clock - and then awoke with a dull pain in his head and a sensation of
extreme giddiness which became something like vertigo when he attempted
to rise. However, with the aid of the old Michel he got somehow
up-stairs to his room and made a rather sketchy toilet.

Coira came to him there, and while he lay still across the bed told him
about the happenings of the night after he had received his injury. She
told him also that the motor was waiting for him outside the wall, and
that Richard Hartley had sent a message by the chauffeur to say that he
was very busy in Paris making arrangements about Stewart, who had come
out of his strange state of half-insensibility only to rave in a
delirium.

"So," she said, "you can go now whenever you are ready. Arthur is with
his family, Captain Stewart is under guard, and your work is done. You
ought to be glad - even though you are suffering pain."

Ste. Marie looked up at her. "Do I seem glad, Coira?" said he.

And she said: "You will be glad to-morrow - and always, I hope and pray.
Always! Always!"

The man held one hand over his aching eyes.

"I have," he said, "queer half-memories. I wish I could remember
distinctly."

He looked up at her again.

"I dropped down by the gate in the wall. When I awoke I was in a room in
the house. How did that happen?"

"Oh," she said, turning her face away, "we got you up to the house
almost at once."

But Ste. Marie frowned thoughtfully.

"'We'? Who do you mean by 'we'?"

"Well, then, I," the girl said. "It was not difficult."

"Coira," cried the man, "do you mean that you carried me bodily all that
long distance? _You_?"

"Carried or dragged," she said. "As much one as the other. It was not
very difficult. I'm strong for a woman."

"Oh, child! child!" he cried. And he said: "I remember more. It was you
who held Stewart and kept him from shooting me. I heard the shot and I
heard you scream. The last thought I had was that you had been killed in
saving me. That's what I went out into the blank thinking."

He covered his eyes again as if the memory were intolerable. But after
awhile he said:

"You saved my life, you know."

And the girl answered him:

"I had nearly taken it once before. It was I who called Michel that day
you came over the wall, the day you were shot. I nearly murdered you
once. I owed you something. Perhaps we're even now."

She saw that he did not at all remember that hour in the little
room - her hour of bitterness - and she was glad. She had felt sure that
it would be so. For the present she did not greatly suffer, she had come
to a state beyond active suffering - a chill state of dulled
sensibilities.

The old Justine knocked at the door to ask if Monsieur was going into
the city soon or if she should give the chauffeur his déjeuner and tell
him to wait.

"Are you fit to go?" Coira asked.

And he said, "I suppose as fit as I shall be."

He got to his feet, and the things about him swam dangerously, but he
could walk by using great care. The girl stood white and still, and she
avoided his eyes.

"It is not good-bye," said he. "I shall see you soon again - and I hope,
often - often, Coira."

The words had a flat and foolish sound, but he could find no others. It
was not easy to speak.

"I suppose I must not ask to see your father?" said he.

And she told him that her father had locked himself in his own room and
would see no one - would not even open his door to take in food.

Ste. Marie went to the stairs leaning upon the shoulder of the stout old
Justine, but before he had gone Coira checked him for an instant. She
said:

"Tell Arthur, if he speaks to you about me, that what I said in the note
I gave him last night I meant quite seriously. I gave him a note to read
after he reached home. Tell him for me that it was final. Will you do
that?"

"Yes, of course," said Ste. Marie.

He looked at her with some wonder, because her words had been very
emphatic.

"Yes," he said, "I will tell him. Is that all?"

"All but good-bye," said she. "Good-bye, Bayard!"

She stood at the head of the stairs while he went down them. And she
came after him to the landing, half-way, where the stairs turned in the
opposite direction for their lower flight. When he went out of the front
door he looked back, and she was standing there above him, a straight,
still figure, dark against the light of the windows behind her.

He went straight to the rue d'Assas. He found that while he sat still in
the comfortable tonneau of the motor his head was fairly normal, and the
world did not swing and whirl about in that sickening fashion. But when
the car lurched or bumped over an obstruction it made him giddy, and he
would have fallen had he been standing.

The familiar streets of the Montparnasse and Luxembourg quarters had for
his eyes all the charm and delight of home things to the returned
traveller. He felt as if he had been away for months, and he caught
himself looking for changes, and it made him laugh. He was much relieved
when he found that his concierge was not on watch, and that he could
slip unobserved up the stairs and into his rooms. The rooms were fresh
and clean, for they had been aired and tended daily.

Arrived there, he wrote a little note to a friend of his who was a
doctor and lived in the rue Notre Dame des Champs, asking this man to
call as soon as it might be convenient. He sent the note by the
chauffeur and then lay down, dressed as he was, to wait, for he could
not stand or move about without a painful dizziness. The doctor came
within a half-hour, examined Ste. Marie's bruised head, and bound it up.
He gave him a dose of something with a vile taste which he said would
take away the worst of the pain in a few hours, and he also gave him a
sleeping-potion, and made him go to bed.

"You'll be fairly fit by evening," he said. "But don't stir until then.
I'll leave word below that you're not to be disturbed."

So it happened that when Richard Hartley came dashing up an hour or two
later he was not allowed to see his friend, and Ste. Marie slept a
dreamless sleep until dark.

He awoke then, refreshed but ravenous with hunger, and found that there
was only a dull ache in his battered head. The dizziness and the vertigo
were almost completely gone. He made lights and dressed with care. He
felt like a little girl making ready for a party, it was so long - or
seemed so long; - since he had put on evening clothes. Then he went out,
leaving at the loge of the concierge a note for Hartley, to say where he
might be found. He went to Lavenue's and dined in solitary pomp, for it
was after nine o'clock. Again it seemed to him that it was months since
he had done the like - sat down to a real table for a real dinner. At ten
he got into a fiacre and drove to the rue de l'Université.

The man who admitted him said that Mademoiselle was alone in the
drawing-room, and he went there at once. He was dully conscious that
something was very wrong, but he had suffered too much within the past
few hours to be analytical, and he did not know what it was that was
wrong. He should have entered that room with a swift and eager step,
with shining eyes, with a high-beating heart. He went into it slowly,
wrapped in a mantle of strange apathy.

Helen Benham came forward to meet him, and took both his hands in hers.
Ste. Marie was amazed to see that she seemed not to have altered at
all - in spite of this enormous lapse of time, in spite of all that had
happened in it. And yet, unaltered, she seemed to him a stranger, a
charming and gracious stranger with an icily beautiful face. He wondered
at her and at himself, and he was a little alarmed because he thought
that he must be ill. That blow upon the head must, after all, have done
something terrible to him.

"Ah, Ste. Marie!" she said, in her well-remembered voice - and again he
wondered that the voice should be so high-pitched and so without color
or feeling. "How glad I am," she said, "that you are safely out of it
all! How you have suffered for us, Ste. Marie! You look white and ill.


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Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 22 of 23)