“No, no!” he cried. “I didn’t mean that. You know I didn’t mean that. You’re worth nine years’ waiting. You’re the best—d’you hear?—the best there is. There’s nobody anywhere that can touch you. Only—well, this place is getting on my nerves. It’s got me worn to a frazzle. I feel like a criminal doing time.”
“You came very near having to do time somewhere else,” said the girl. “If this M. Ste. Marie hadn’t blundered we should have had them all round our ears, and you’d have had to run for it.”
“Yes,” the boy said, nodding gravely. “Yes, that was great luck.”
He raised his head and looked up along the windows above him.
“Which is his room?” he asked, and Mlle. O’Hara said:
“The one just overhead, but he’s in bed far back from the window. He couldn’t possibly hear us talking.”
She paused for a moment in frowning hesitation, and in the end said:
“Tell me about him, this Ste. Marie! Do you know anything about him?”
“No,” said Arthur Benham, “I don’t—not personally, that is. Of course I’ve heard of him. Lots of people have spoken of him to me. And the odd part of it is that they all had a good word to say. Everybody seemed to like him. I got the idea that he was the best ever. I wanted to know him. I never thought he’d take on a piece of dirty work like this.”
“Nor I,” said the girl, in a low voice. “Nor I.”
The boy looked up.
“Oh, you’ve heard of him, too, then?” said he.
And she said, still in her low voice, “I—saw him once.”
“Well,” declared young Benham, “it’s beyond me. I give it up. You never can tell about people, can you? I guess they’ll all go wrong when there’s enough in it to make it worth while. That’s what old Charlie always says. He says most people are straight enough when there’s nothing in it, but make the pot big enough and they’ll all go crooked.”
The young man’s face turned suddenly hard and old and bitter.
“Gee! I ought to know that well enough, oughtn’t I?” he said. “I guess nobody knows that better than I do after what happened to me.... Come along and take a walk in the garden, Maud! I’m sick of sitting still.”
Mlle. Coira O’Hara looked up with a start, as if she had not been listening, but she rose when the boy held out his hand to her, and the two went down from the terrace and moved off toward the west.
Ste. Marie watched them until they had disappeared among the trees, and then turned on his back, staring up into the softly stirring canopy of green above him and the little rifts of bright blue sky. He did not understand at all. Something mysterious had crept in where all had seemed so plain to the eye. Certain words that young Arthur Benham had spoken repeated themselves in his mind, and he could not at once make them out. Assuredly there was something mysterious here.