Crouching alone in the garden, with the scent of roses in his nostrils, he wondered with a great and bitter amazement at that madman—himself of only a few months ago—who had sat down deliberately, in his proper senses, to play at cards with Fate, the great winner of all games. He wondered if, after all, he had been in his proper senses, for the deed now loomed before him gigantic and hideous in its criminal folly. His mind went drearily back to the beginning of it all, to the tremendous debts which had hounded him day and night, to his fear to speak of them with his father, who had never had the least mercy upon gamblers. He remembered as if it were yesterday the afternoon upon which he learned of young Arthur’s quarrel with his grandfather, old David’s senile anger, and the boy’s tempestuous exit from the house, vowing never to return. He remembered his talk with old David later on about the will, in which he learned that he was now to have Arthur’s share under certain conditions. He remembered how that very evening, three days after his disappearance, the lad had come secretly to the rue du Faubourg St. Honore begging his uncle to take him in for a few days, and how, in a single instant that was like a lightning flash, the Great Idea had come to him.
What gigantic and appalling madness it had all been! And yet for a time how easy of execution! For a time. Now.... He gave another quick shiver, for his mind came back to what beset him and compassed him round about—perils seen and hidden.
The peril seen was ever before his eyes. Against the light of day it loomed a gigantic and portentous shadow, and it threatened him—the figure of Ste. Marie who knew. His reason told him that if due care were used this danger need not be too formidable, and, indeed, in his heart he rather despised Ste. Marie as an individual; but the man’s nerve was broken, and in these days fear swept wavelike over reason and had its way with him. Fear looked up to this looming, portentous shadow and saw there youth and health and strength, courage and hopefulness, and, best of all armors, a righteous cause. How was an ill and tired and wicked old man to fight against these? It became an obsession, the figure of this youth; it darkened the sun at noonday, and at night it stood beside Captain Stewart’s bed in the darkness and watched him and waited, and the very air he breathed came chill and dark from its silent presence there.
But there were perils unseen as well as seen. He felt invisible threads drawing round him, weaving closer and closer, and he dared not even try how strong they were lest they prove to be cables of steel. He was almost certain that his niece knew something or at the least suspected. As has already been pointed out, the two saw very little of each other, but on the occasions of their last few meetings it had seemed to him that the girl watched him with a strange stare, and tried always to be in her grandfather’s chamber when he called to make his inquiries. Once, stirred by a moment’s bravado, he asked her if M. Ste. Marie had returned from his mysterious absence, and the girl said: