But Captain Stewart, left thus alone, sank deeper in the uncomfortable chair, and his head once more stirred and sought vainly for ease against the chair’s high back. The pain swept him in regular throbbing waves that were like the waves of the sea—waves which surge and crash and tear upon a beach. But between the throbs of physical pain there was something else that was always present while the waves came and went. Pain and exhaustion, if they are sufficiently extreme, can well nigh paralyze mind as well as body, and for some time Captain Stewart wondered what this thing might be which lurked at the bottom of him still under the surges of agony. Then at last he had the strength to look at it, and it was fear, cold and still and silent. He was afraid to the very depths of his soul.
True, as O’Hara had said, there did not seem to be any very desperate peril to face, but Stewart was afraid with the gambler’s unreasoning, half-superstitious fear, and that is the worst fear of all. He realized that he had been afraid of Ste. Marie from the beginning, and that, of course, was why he had tried to draw him into partnership with himself in his own official and wholly mythical search for Arthur Benham. He could have had the other man under his eye then. He could have kept him busy for months running down false scents. As it was, Ste. Marie’s uncanny instinct about the Irishman O’Hara had led him true—that and what he doubtless learned from Olga Nilssen.
If Stewart had been in a condition and mood to philosophize, he would doubtless have reflected that seven-tenths of the desperate causes, both good and bad, which fail in this world, fail because they are wrecked by some woman’s love or jealousy—or both. But it is unlikely that he was able just at this time to make such a reflection, though certainly he wondered how much Olga Nilssen had known, and how much Ste. Marie had had to put together out of her knowledge and any previous suspicions which he may have had.
The man would have been amazed if he could have known what a mountain of information and evidence had piled itself up over his head all in twelve hours. He would have been amazed and, if possible, even more frightened than he was, but he was without question sufficiently frightened, for here was Ste. Marie in the very house, he had seen Arthur Benham, and quite obviously he knew all there was to know, or at least enough to ruin Arthur Benham’s uncle beyond all recovery or hope of recovery—irretrievably.
Captain Stewart tried to think what it would mean to him—failure in this desperate scheme—but he had not the strength or the courage. He shrank from the picture as one shrinks from something horrible in a bad dream. There could be no question of failure. He had to succeed at any cost, however desperate or fantastic. Once more the spasm of childish, futile rage swept over him and shook him like a wind.