“You mean—?” asked the younger man.
And old David said: “I mean Helen, of course. What else?”
Ste. Marie was not quite himself. At another time he might have got out of the room with an evasive answer, but he spoke without thinking. He said:
“Oh—yes! I suppose—I suppose I ought to tell you that Miss Benham—well, she has changed her mind. That is to say—”
“What!” shouted old David Stewart, in his great voice. “What is that?”
“Why, it seems,” said Ste. Marie—“it seems that I only blundered. It seems that Hartley rescued your grandson, not I. And I suppose he did, you know. When you come to think of it, I suppose he did.”
David Stewart’s great white beard seemed to bristle like the ruff of an angry dog, and his eyes flashed fiercely under their shaggy brows. “Do you mean to tell me that after all you’ve done and—and gone through, Helen has thrown you over? Do you mean to tell me that?”
“Well,” argued Ste. Marie, uncomfortably—“well, you see, she seems to be right. I did bungle it, didn’t I? It was Hartley who came and pulled us out of the hole.”
“Hartley be damned!” cried the old man, in a towering rage. And he began to pour out the most extraordinary flood of furious invective upon his granddaughter and upon Richard Hartley, whom he quite unjustly termed a snake-in-the-grass, and finally upon all women, past, contemporary, or still to be born.
Ste. Marie, in fear for old David’s health, tried to calm him, and the faithful valet came running from the room beyond with prayers and protestations, but nothing would check that astonishing flow of fury until it had run its full course. Then the man fell back upon his pillows, crimson, panting, and exhausted, but the fierce eyes glittered still, and they boded no good for Miss Helen Benham.
“You’re well rid of her!” said the old gentleman, when at last he was once more able to speak. “You’re well rid of her! I congratulate you! I am ashamed and humiliated, and a great burden of obligation is shifted to me—though I assume it with pleasure—but I congratulate you. You might have found out too late what sort of a woman she is.”
Ste. Marie began to protest and to explain and to say that Miss Benham had been quite right in what she said, but the old gentleman only waved an impatient arm to him, and presently, when he saw the valet making signs across the bed, and saw that his host was really in a state of complete exhaustion after the outburst, he made his adieus and got away.
Young Arthur Benham, who had been sitting almost silent during the interview, followed him out of the room and closed the door behind them. For the first time Ste. Marie noted that the boy’s face was white and strained. He pulled a crumpled square of folded paper from his pocket and shook it at the other man. “Do you know what this is?” he cried. “Do you know what’s in this?”