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Sit down, please! Don't stand!"

She drew him to a comfortable chair, and he sat down in it obediently.
He could not think of anything to say, though he was not, as a rule,
tongue-tied; but the girl did not seem to expect any answer, for she
went on at once with a rather odd air of haste:

"Arthur is here with us, safe and sound. Richard Hartley brought him
back from that dreadful place, and he has talked everything over with my
grandfather, and it's all right. They both understand now, and there'll
be no more trouble. We have had to be careful, very careful, and we have
had to - well, to rearrange the facts a little so as to leave - my
uncle - to leave Captain Stewart's name out of it. It would not do to
shock my grandfather by telling him the truth. Perhaps later; I don't
know. That will have to be thought of. For the present we have left my
uncle out of it, and put the blame entirely upon this other man. I
forget his name."

"The blame cannot rest there," said Ste. Marie, sharply. "It is not
deserved, and I shall not allow it to be left so. Captain Stewart lied
to O'Hara throughout. You cannot leave the blame with an innocent man."

"Still," she said, "such a man!"

Ste. Marie looked at her, frowning, and the girl turned her eyes away.
She may have had the grace to be a little ashamed.

"Think of the difficulty we were in!" she urged. "Captain Stewart is my
grandfather's own son. We cannot tell him now, in his weak state, that
his own son is - what he is."

There was reason if not justice in that, and Ste. Marie was forced to
admit it. He said:

"Ah, well, for the present, then. That can be arranged later. The main
point is that I've found your brother for you. I've brought him back."

Miss Benham looked up at him and away again, and she drew a quick
breath. He saw her hands move restlessly in her lap, and he was aware
that for some odd reason she was very ill at ease. At last she said:

"Ah, but - but have you, dear Ste. Marie? Have you?"

After a brief silence she stole another swift glance at the man, and he
was staring in open and frank bewilderment. She rushed into rapid
speech.

"Ah," she cried, "don't misunderstand me! Don't think that I'm brutal or
ungrateful for all you've - you've suffered in trying to help us! Don't
think that! I can - we can never be grateful enough - never! But stop and
think! Yes, I know this all sounds hideous, but it's so terribly
important. I shouldn't dream of saying a word of it if it weren't so
important, if so much didn't depend upon it. But stop and think! Was it,
dear Ste. Marie, was it, after all, you? Was it you who brought Arthur
to us?"

The man fairly blinked at her, owl-like. He was beyond speech.

"Wasn't it Richard?" she hurried on. "Wasn't it Richard Hartley? Ah, if
I could only say it without seeming so contemptibly heartless! If only I
needn't say it at all! But it must be said because of what depends upon
it. Think! Go back to the beginning! Wasn't it Richard who first began
to suspect my uncle? Didn't he tell you or write to you what he had
discovered, and so set you upon the right track? And after you
had - well, just fallen into their hands, with no hope of ever escaping
yourself - to say nothing of bringing Arthur back - wasn't it Richard who
came to your rescue and brought it all to victory? Oh, Ste. Marie, I
must be just to him as well as to you! Don't you see that? However
grateful I may be to you for what you have done - suffered - I cannot, in
justice, give you what I was to have given you, since it is, after all,
Richard who has saved my brother. I cannot, can I? Surely you must see
it. And you must see how it hurts me to have to say it. I had hoped
that - you would understand - without my speaking."

Still the man sat in his trance of astonishment, speechless. For the
first time in his life he was brought face to face with the amazing, the
appalling injustice of which a woman is capable when her heart is
concerned. This girl wished to believe that to Richard Hartley belonged
the credit of rescuing her brother, and lo! she believed it. A score of
juries might have decided against her, a hundred proofs controverted her
decision, but she would have been deaf and blind. It is only women who
accomplish miracles of reasoning like that.

Ste. Marie took a long breath and he started to speak, but in the end
shook his head and remained silent. Through the whirl and din of falling
skies he was yet able to see the utter futility of words. He could have
adduced a hundred arguments to prove her absurdity. He could have shown
her that before he ever read Hartley's note he had decided upon
Stewart's guilt - and for much better reasons than Hartley had. He could
have pointed out to her that it was he, not Hartley, who discovered
young Benham's whereabouts, that it was he who summoned Hartley there,
and that, as a matter of fact, Hartley need not have come at all, since
the boy had been persuaded to go home in any case.

He thought of all these things and more, and in a moment of sheer anger
at her injustice he was on the point of stating them, but he shook his
head and remained silent. After all, of what use was speech? He knew
that it could make no impression upon her, and he knew why. For some
reason, in some way, she had turned during his absence to Richard
Hartley, and there was nothing more to be said. There was no treachery
on Hartley's part. He knew that, and it never even occurred to him to
blame his friend. Hartley was as faithful as any one who ever lived. It
seemed to be nobody's fault. It had just happened.

He looked at the girl before him with a new expression, an expression of
sheer curiosity. It seemed to him well-nigh incredible that any human
being could be so unjust and so blind. Yet he knew her to be, in other
matters, one of the fairest of all women, just and tender and thoughtful
and true. He knew that she prided herself upon her cool impartiality of
judgment. He shook his head with a little sigh and ceased to wonder any
more. It was beyond him. He became aware that he ought to say something,
and he said:

"Yes. Yes, I - see. I see what you mean. Yes, Hartley did all you say. I
hadn't meant to rob Hartley of the credit he deserves. I suppose you're
right."

He was possessed of a sudden longing to get away out of that room, and
he rose to his feet.

"If you don't mind," he said, "I think I'd better go. This is - well,
it's a bit of a facer, you see. I want to think it over. Perhaps
to-morrow - you don't mind?"

He saw a swift relief flash into Miss Benham's eyes, but she murmured a
few words of protest that had a rather perfunctory sound. Ste. Marie
shook his head.

"Thanks! I won't stay," said he. "Not just now. I - think I'd better go."

He had a confused realization of platitudinous adieus, of a silly
formality of speech, and he found himself in the hall. Once he glanced
back and Miss Benham was standing where he had left her, looking after
him with a calm and unimpassioned face. He thought that she looked
rather like a very beautiful statue.

The butler came to him to say that Mr. Stewart would be glad if he would
look in before leaving the house, and so he went up-stairs and knocked
at old David's door. He moved like a man in a dream, and the things
about him seemed to be curiously unreal and rather far away, as they
seem sometimes in a fever.

He was admitted at once, and he found the old man sitting up in bed,
clad in one of his incredibly gorgeous mandarin's jackets - plum-colored
satin this time, with peonies - overflowing with spirits and good-humor.
His grandson sat in a chair near at hand. The old man gave a shout of
welcome:

"Ah, here's Jason at last, back from Colchis! Welcome home to - whatever
the name of the place was! Welcome home!"

He shook Ste. Marie's hand with hospitable violence, and Ste. Marie was
astonished to see upon what a new lease of life and strength the old man
seemed to have entered. There was no ingratitude or misconception here,
certainly. Old David quite overwhelmed his visitor with thanks and with
expressions of affection.

"You've saved my life among other things!" he said, in his gruff roar.
"I was ready to go, but, by the Lord, I'm going to stay awhile longer
now! This world's a better place than I thought - a much better place."
He shook a heavily waggish head. "If I didn't know," said he, "what your
reward is to be for what you've done, I should be in despair over it
all, because there is nothing else in the world that would be anything
like adequate. You've been making sure of the reward down-stairs, I dare
say? Eh, what? Yes?"

"You mean - ?" asked the younger man.

And old David said: "I mean Helen, of course. What else?"

Ste. Marie was not quite himself. At another time he might have got out
of the room with an evasive answer, but he spoke without thinking. He
said:

"Oh - yes! I suppose - I suppose I ought to tell you that Miss
Benham - well, she has changed her mind. That is to say - "

"What!" shouted old David Stewart, in his great voice. "What is that?"

"Why, it seems," said Ste. Marie - "it seems that I only blundered. It
seems that Hartley rescued your grandson, not I. And I suppose he did,
you know. When you come to think of it, I suppose he did."

David Stewart's great white beard seemed to bristle like the ruff of an
angry dog, and his eyes flashed fiercely under their shaggy brows. "Do
you mean to tell me that after all you've done and - and gone through,
Helen has thrown you over? Do you mean to tell me that?"

"Well," argued Ste. Marie, uncomfortably - "well, you see, she seems to
be right. I did bungle it, didn't I? It was Hartley who came and pulled
us out of the hole."

"Hartley be damned!" cried the old man, in a towering rage. And he began
to pour out the most extraordinary flood of furious invective upon his
granddaughter and upon Richard Hartley, whom he quite unjustly termed a
snake-in-the-grass, and finally upon all women, past, contemporary, or
still to be born.

Ste. Marie, in fear for old David's health, tried to calm him, and the
faithful valet came running from the room beyond with prayers and
protestations, but nothing would check that astonishing flow of fury
until it had run its full course. Then the man fell back upon his
pillows, crimson, panting, and exhausted, but the fierce eyes glittered
still, and they boded no good for Miss Helen Benham.

"You're well rid of her!" said the old gentleman, when at last he was
once more able to speak. "You're well rid of her! I congratulate you! I
am ashamed and humiliated, and a great burden of obligation is shifted
to me - though I assume it with pleasure - but I congratulate you. You
might have found out too late what sort of a woman she is."

Ste. Marie began to protest and to explain and to say that Miss Benham
had been quite right in what she said, but the old gentleman only waved
an impatient arm to him, and presently, when he saw the valet making
signs across the bed, and saw that his host was really in a state of
complete exhaustion after the outburst, he made his adieus and got away.

Young Arthur Benham, who had been sitting almost silent during the
interview, followed him out of the room and closed the door behind them.
For the first time Ste. Marie noted that the boy's face was white and
strained. He pulled a crumpled square of folded paper from his pocket
and shook it at the other man. "Do you know what this is?" he cried. "Do
you know what's in this?"

Ste. Marie shook his head, but a sudden recollection came to him.

"Ah," said he, "that must be the note Mlle. O'Hara spoke of! She asked
me to tell you that she meant it - whatever it may be - quite seriously;
that it was final. She didn't explain. She just said that - that you were
to take it as final."

The lad gave a sudden very bitter sob. "She has thrown me over!" he
said. "She says I'm not to come back to her."

Ste. Marie gave a wordless cry, and he began to tremble.

"You can read it if you want to," the boy said. "Perhaps you can explain
it. I can't. Do you want to read it?"

The elder man stood staring at him whitely, and the boy repeated his
words.

He said, "You can read it if you want to," and at last Ste. Marie took
the paper between stiff hands, and held it to the light.

Coira O'Hara said, briefly, that too much was against their marriage.
She mentioned his age, the certain hostility of his family, their
different tastes, a number of other things. But in the end she said she
had begun to realize that she did not love him as she ought to do if
they were to marry. And so, the note said, finally, she gave him up to
his family, she released him altogether, and she begged him not to come
back to her, or to urge her to change her mind. Also she made the trite
but very sensible observation that he would be glad of his freedom
before the year was out.

Ste. Marie's unsteady fingers opened and the crumpled paper slipped
through them to the floor. Over it the man and the boy looked at each
other in silence. Young Arthur Benham's face was white, and it was
strained and contorted with its first grief. But first griefs do not
last very long. Coira O'Hara had told the truth - before the year was out
the lad would be glad of his freedom. But the man's face was white also,
white and still, and his eyes held a strange expression which the boy
could not understand and at which he wondered. The man was trembling a
little from head to foot. The boy wondered about that, too, but abruptly
he cried out: "What's up? Where are you going?" for Ste. Marie had
turned all at once and was running down the stairs as fast as he could
run.

* * * * *




XXX

JASON SAILS BACK TO COLCHIS. - JOURNEY'S END


In the hall below, Ste. Marie came violently into contact with and
nearly overturned Richard Hartley, who was just giving his hat and stick
to the man who had admitted him. Hartley seized upon him with an
exclamation of pleasure, and wheeled him round to face the light. He
said:

"I've been pursuing you all day. You're almost as difficult of access
here in Paris as you were at La Lierre. How's the head?"

Ste. Marie put up an experimental hand. He had forgotten his injury.
"Oh, that's all right," said he. "At least, I think so. Anderson fixed
me up this afternoon. But I haven't time to talk to you. I'm in a hurry.
To-morrow we'll have a long chin. Oh, how about Stewart?"

He lowered his voice, and Hartley answered him in the same tone.

"The man is in a delirium. Heaven knows how it'll end. He may die and he
may pull through. I hope he pulls through - except for the sake of the
family - because then we can make him pay for what he's done. I don't
want him to go scot free by dying."

"Nor I," said Ste. Marie, fiercely. "Nor I. I want him to pay, too - long
and slowly and hard; and if he lives I shall see that he does it, family
or no family. Now I must be off."

Ste. Marie's face was shining and uplifted. The other man looked at it
with a little envious sigh.

"I see everything is all right," said he, "and I congratulate you. You
deserve it if ever any one did."

Ste. Marie stared for an instant, uncomprehending. Then he saw.

"Yes," he said, gently, "everything is all right."

It was plain that the Englishman did not know of Miss Benham's decision.
He was incapable of deceit. Ste. Marie threw an arm over his friend's
shoulder and went with him a little way toward the drawing-room.

"Go in there," he said. "You'll find some one glad to see you, I think.
And remember that I said everything is all right."

He came back after he had turned away, and met Hartley's puzzled frown
with a smile.

"If you've that motor here, may I use it?" he asked. "I want to go
somewhere in a hurry."

"Of course," the other man said. "Of course. I'll go home in a cab."

So they parted, and Ste. Marie went out to the waiting car.

On the left bank the streets are nearly empty of traffic at night, and
one can make excellent time over them. Ste. Marie reached the Porte de
Versailles, at the city's limits, in twenty minutes and dashed through
Issy five minutes later. In less than half an hour from the time he had
left the rue de l'Université he was under the walls of La Lierre. He
looked at his watch, and it was not quite half-past eleven.

He tried the little door in the wall, and it was unlocked, so he passed
in and closed the door behind him. Inside he found that he was running,
and he gave a little laugh, but of eagerness and excitement, not of
mirth. There were dim lights in one or two of the upper windows, but
none below, and there was no one about. He pulled at the door-bell, and
after a few impatient moments pulled again and still again. Then he
noticed that the heavy door was ajar, and, since no one answered his
ringing, he pushed the door open and went in.

The lower hall was quite dark, but a very faint light came down from
above through the well of the staircase. He heard dragging feet in the
upper hall, and then upon one of the upper flights, for the stairs,
broad below, divided at a half-way landing and continued upward in an
opposite direction in two narrower flights. A voice, very faint and
weary, called:

"Who is there? Who is ringing, please?"

And Coira O'Hara, holding a candle in her hand, came upon the
stair-landing and stood gazing down into the darkness. She wore a sort
of dressing-gown, a heavy white garment which hung in straight, long
folds to her feet and fell away from the arm that held the candle on
high. The yellow beams of light struck down across her head and face,
and even at the distance the man could see how white she was and
hollow-eyed and worn - a pale wraith of the splendid beauty that had
walked in the garden at La Lierre.

"Who is there, please?" she asked again. "I can't see. What is it?"

"It is I, Coira!" said Ste. Marie.

And she gave a sharp cry. The arm which was holding the candle overhead
shook and fell beside her as if the strength had gone out of it. The
candle dropped to the floor, spluttered there for an instant and went
out, but there was still a little light from the hall above.

Ste. Marie sprang up the stairs to where the girl stood, and caught her
in his arms, for she was on the verge of faintness. Her head fell back
away from him, and he saw her eyes through half-closed lids, her white
teeth through parted lips. She was trembling - but, for that matter, so
was he at the touch of her, the heavy and sweet burden in his arms. She
tried to speak, and he heard a whisper:

"Why? Why? Why?"

"Because it is my place, Coira!" said he. "Because I cannot live away
from you. Because we belong together."

The girl struggled weakly and pushed against him. Once more he heard
whispering words and made out that she tried to say:

"Go back to her! Go back to her! You belong there!"

But at that he laughed aloud.

"I thought so, too," said he, "but she thinks otherwise. She'll have
none of me, Coira. It's Richard Hartley now. Coira, can you love a
jilted man? I've been jilted - thrown over - dismissed."

Her head came up in a flash and she stared at him, suddenly rigid and
tense in his arms.

"Is that true?" she demanded.

"Yes, my love!" said he.

And she began to weep, with long, comfortable sobs, her face hidden in
the hollow of his shoulder. On one other occasion she had wept before
him, and he had been horribly embarrassed, but he bore this present
tempest without, as it were, winking. He gloried in it. He tried to say
so. He tried to whisper to her, his lips pressed close to the ear that
was nearest them, but he found that he had no speech. Words would not
come to his tongue; it trembled and faltered and was still for sheer
inadequacy.

Rather oddly, in that his thoughts were chaos, swallowed up in the surge
of feeling, a memory struck through to him of that other exaltation
which had swept him to the stars. He looked upon it and was amazed
because now he saw it, in clear light, for the thing it had been. He saw
it for a fantasy, a self-evoked wraith of the imagination, a dizzy
flight of the spirit through spirit space. He saw that it had not been
love at all, and he realized how little a part Helen Benham had ever
really played in it. A cold and still-eyed figure for him to wrap the
veil of his imagination round, that was what she had been. There were
times when the sweep of his upward flight had stirred her a little,
wakened in her some vague response, but for the most part she had stood
aside and looked on, wondering.

The mist was rent away from that rainbow-painted cobweb, and at last the
man saw and understood. He gave an exclamation of wonder, and the girl
who loved him raised her head once more, and the two looked each into
the other's eyes for a long time. They fell into hushed and broken
speech.

"I have loved you so long, so long," she said, "and so hopelessly! I
never thought - I never believed. To think that in the end you have come
to me! I cannot believe it!"

"Wait and see!" cried the man. "Wait and see!"

She shivered a little. "If it is not true I should like to die before I
find out. I should like to die now, Bayard, with your arms holding me up
and your eyes close, close."

Ste. Marie's arms tightened round her with a sudden fierceness. He hurt
her, and she smiled up at him. Their two hearts beat one against the
other, and they beat very fast.

"Don't you understand," he cried, "that life's only just
beginning - day's just dawning, Coira? We've been lost in the dark. Day's
coming now. This is only the sunrise."

"I can believe it at last," she said, "because you hold me close and you
hurt me a little, and I'm glad to be hurt. And I can feel your heart
beating. Ah, never let me go, Bayard! I should be lost in the dark again
if you let me go." A sudden thought came to her, and she bent back her
head to see the better. "Did you speak with Arthur?"

And he said: "Yes. He asked me to read your note, so I read it. That
poor lad! I came straight to you then - straight and fast."

"You knew why I did it?" she said, and Ste. Marie said:

"Now I know."

"I could not have married him," said she. "I could not. I never thought
I should see you again, but I loved you and I could not have married
him. Ah, impossible! And he'll be glad later on. You know that. It will
save him any more trouble with his family, and besides - he's so very
young. Already, I think, he was beginning to chafe a little. I thought
so more than once. Oh, I'm trying to justify myself!" she cried. "I'm
trying to find reasons; but you know the true reason. You know it."

"I thank God for it," he said.

So they stood clinging together in that dim place, and broken,
whispering speech passed between them or long silences when speech was
done. But at last they went down the stairs and out upon the open
terrace, where the moonlight lay.

"It Was in the open, sweet air," the girl said, "that we came to know
each other. Let us walk in it now. The house smothers me." She looked up
when they had passed the west corner of the façade and drew a little
sigh. "I am worried about my father," said she. "He will not answer me
when I call to him, and he has eaten nothing all day long. Bayard, I
think his heart is broken. Ah, but to-morrow we shall mend it again! In
the morning I shall make him let me in, and I shall tell him - what I
have to tell."

They turned down under the trees, where the moonlight made silver
splashes about their feet, and the sweet night air bore soft against
their faces. Coira went a half-step in advance, her head laid back upon
the shoulder of the man she loved, and his arm held her up from falling.

So at last we leave them, walking there in the tender moonlight, with
the breath of roses about them and their eyes turned to the coming day.
It is still night and there is yet one cloud of sorrow to shadow them
somewhat, for up-stairs in his locked room a man lies dead across the
floor, with an empty pistol beside him - heart-broken, as the girl had
feared. But where a great love is, shadows cannot last very long, not
even such shadows as this. The morning must dawn - and joy cometh of a
morning.

So we leave them walking together in the moonlight, their faces turned
toward the coming day.

THE END







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