“Why couldn’t the fellow have been killed by that one-eyed fool?” he cried, sobbing. “Why couldn’t he have been killed? He’s the only one who knows—the only thing in the way. Why couldn’t he have keen killed?”
Quite suddenly Captain Stewart ceased to sob and shiver, and sat still in his chair, gripping the arms with white and tense fingers. His eyes began to widen, and they became fixed in a long, strange stare. He drew a deep breath.
“I wonder!” he said, aloud. “I wonder, now.”
* * * * *
THE BLACK CAT
That providential stone or tree-root, or whatever it may have been, proved a genuine blessing in disguise to Ste. Marie. It gave him a splitting headache for a few hours, but it saved him a good deal of discomfort the while his bullet wound was being more or less probed and very skilfully cleansed and dressed by O’Hara. For he did not regain consciousness until this surgical work was almost at its end, and then he wanted to fight the Irishman for tying the bandages too tight.
But when O’Hara had gone away and left him alone he lay still—or as still as the smarting, burning pain in his leg and the ache in his head would let him—and stared at the wall beyond his bed, and bit by bit the events of the past hour came back to him, and he knew where he was. He cursed himself very bitterly, as he well might do, for a bungling idiot. The whole thing had been in his hands, he said, with perfect truth—Arthur Benham’s whereabouts proved Stewart’s responsibility or, at the very least, complicity and the sordid motive therefor. Remained—had Ste. Marie been a sane being instead of an impulsive fool—remained but to face Stewart down in the presence of witnesses, threaten him with exposure, and so, with perfect ease, bring back the lost boy in triumph to his family.
It should all have been so simple, so easy, so effortless! Yet now it was ruined by a moment’s rash folly, and Heaven alone knew what would come of it. He remembered that he had left behind him no indication whatever of where he meant to spend the afternoon. Hartley would come hurrying across town that evening to the rue d’Assas, and would find no one there to receive him. He would wait and wait, and at last go home. He would come again on the next morning, and then he would begin to be alarmed and would start a second search—but with what to reckon by? Nobody knew about the house on the road to Clamart but Mlle. Olga Nilssen, and she was far away.
He thought of Captain Stewart, and he wondered if that gentleman was by any chance here in the house, or if he was still in bed in the rue du Faubourg St. Honore, recovering from his epileptic fit.
After that he fell once more to cursing himself and his incredible stupidity, and he could have wept for sheer bitterness of chagrin.