The two bore to the eastward, down among the trees, and presently came to the spot where a certain trespasser had once leaped down from the top of the high wall and had been shot for his pains. The old Michel halted and leaned upon the barrel of his carbine. With an air of complete detachment, an air vague and aloof as of one in a revery, he gazed away over the tree-tops of the ragged park; but Ste. Marie went in under the row of lilac shrubs which stood close against the wall, and a passer-by might have thought the man looking for figs on thistles, for lilacs in late July. He had gone there with eagerness, with flushed cheeks and bright eyes; he emerged after some moments, moving slowly, with downcast head.
“There are no lilac blooms now, Monsieur,” observed the old Michel, and his prisoner said, in a low voice:
“No, mon vieux. No. There are none.” He sighed and drew a long breath. So the two stood for some time silent, Ste. Marie a little pale, his eyes fixed upon the ground, his hands chafing together behind him, the gardener with his one bright eye upon his charge. But in the end Ste. Marie sighed again and began to move away, followed by the gardener. They went across the broad park, past the double row of larches, through that space where the chestnut-trees stood in straight, close rows, and so came to the west wall which skirted the road to Clamart. Ste. Marie felt in his pocket and withdrew the last of the four letters—the last there could be, for he had no more stamps. The others he had thrown over the wall, one each morning, beginning with the day after he had made the first attempt to bribe old Michel. As he had expected, twenty-four hours of avaricious reflection had proved too much for that gnomelike being.
One each day he had thrown over the wall, weighted with a pebble tucked loosely under the flap of the improvised envelope, in such a manner that it would drop but when the letter struck the ground beyond. And each following day he had gone with high hopes to the appointed place under the cedar-tree to pick figs of thistles, lilac blooms in late July. But there had been nothing there.
“Turn your back, Michel!” said Ste. Marie.
And the old man said, from a little distance: “It is turned, Monsieur. I see nothing. Monsieur throws little stories at the birds to amuse himself. It does not concern me.”
Ste. Marie slipped a pebble under the flap of the envelope and threw his letter over the wall. It went like a soaring bird, whirling horizontally, and it must have fallen far out in the middle of the road near the tramway. For the third time that morning the prisoner drew a sigh. He said, “You may turn round now, my friend,” and the old Michel faced him. “We have shot our last arrow,” said he. “If this also fails, I think—well, I think the bon Dieu will have to help us then.—Michel,” he inquired, “do you know how to pray?”