“Monsieur! Monsieur!” he groaned.
“I have an idea,” said the tempter. “A little earth rubbed upon one side of the head—perhaps a trifling scratch to show a few drops of blood. You have been assaulted, beaten down, despite a heroic resistance, and left for dead. An hour afterward you stagger into the house a frightful object. Hein?”
The withered face of the old man expanded slowly into a senile grin.
“Monsieur,” said he, with admiration in his tone, “it is magnificent. It shall be done. I sleep like the good dead—under the trees, not too near the lilacs, eh? Bien, Monsieur, it is done!”
Into his trembling claw he took the notes; he made an odd bow and shambled away about his business.
Ste. Marie laughed and went on into the house. He counted, and there were fourteen hours to wait. Fourteen hours, and at the end of them—what? His blood began to warm to the night’s work.
* * * * *
THE NIGHT’S WORK
The fourteen long hours dragged themselves by. They seemed interminable, but somehow they passed and the appointed time drew near. Ste. Marie spent the greater part of the afternoon reading, but twice he lay down upon the bed and tried to sleep, and once he actually dozed off for a brief space. The old Michel brought his meals. He had thought it possible that Coira might manage to bring the dinner-tray, as she had already done on several occasions, and so make an opportunity for informing him as to young Arthur’s state of mind. But she did not come, and no word came from her. So evening drew on and the dusk gathered and deepened to darkness.
Ste. Marie walked his floor and prayed for the hours to pass. He had candles and matches, and there was even a lamp in the room, so that he could have read if he chose, but he knew that the words would have been meaningless to him, that he was incapable of abstracting his thought from the night’s stern work. He began to be anxious over not having heard from Mlle. O’Hara. She had said that she would talk with Arthur Benham during the afternoon, and then slip a note under Ste. Marie’s door. Yet no word had come from her, and to the man pacing his floor in the darkness the fact took on proportions tremendous and fantastic. Something had happened. The boy had broken his promise, burst out upon O’Hara, or more probably upon his uncle, and the house was by the ears. Coira was watched—even locked in her room. Stewart had fled. A score of such terrible possibilities rushed through Ste. Marie’s brain and tortured him. He was in a state of nervous tension that was almost unendurable, and the little noises of the night outside, a wind-stirred rustle of leaves, a bird’s flutter among the branches, the sound of a cracking twig, made him start violently and catch his breath.