Ste. Marie shook his head, but a sudden recollection came to him.
“Ah,” said he, “that must be the note Mlle. O’Hara spoke of! She asked me to tell you that she meant it—whatever it may be—quite seriously; that it was final. She didn’t explain. She just said that—that you were to take it as final.”
The lad gave a sudden very bitter sob. “She has thrown me over!” he said. “She says I’m not to come back to her.”
Ste. Marie gave a wordless cry, and he began to tremble.
“You can read it if you want to,” the boy said. “Perhaps you can explain it. I can’t. Do you want to read it?”
The elder man stood staring at him whitely, and the boy repeated his words.
He said, “You can read it if you want to,” and at last Ste. Marie took the paper between stiff hands, and held it to the light.
Coira O’Hara said, briefly, that too much was against their marriage. She mentioned his age, the certain hostility of his family, their different tastes, a number of other things. But in the end she said she had begun to realize that she did not love him as she ought to do if they were to marry. And so, the note said, finally, she gave him up to his family, she released him altogether, and she begged him not to come back to her, or to urge her to change her mind. Also she made the trite but very sensible observation that he would be glad of his freedom before the year was out.
Ste. Marie’s unsteady fingers opened and the crumpled paper slipped through them to the floor. Over it the man and the boy looked at each other in silence. Young Arthur Benham’s face was white, and it was strained and contorted with its first grief. But first griefs do not last very long. Coira O’Hara had told the truth—before the year was out the lad would be glad of his freedom. But the man’s face was white also, white and still, and his eyes held a strange expression which the boy could not understand and at which he wondered. The man was trembling a little from head to foot. The boy wondered about that, too, but abruptly he cried out: “What’s up? Where are you going?” for Ste. Marie had turned all at once and was running down the stairs as fast as he could run.
* * * * *
JASON SAILS BACK TO COLCHIS.—JOURNEY’S END
In the hall below, Ste. Marie came violently into contact with and nearly overturned Richard Hartley, who was just giving his hat and stick to the man who had admitted him. Hartley seized upon him with an exclamation of pleasure, and wheeled him round to face the light. He said:
“I’ve been pursuing you all day. You’re almost as difficult of access here in Paris as you were at La Lierre. How’s the head?”
Ste. Marie put up an experimental hand. He had forgotten his injury. “Oh, that’s all right,” said he. “At least, I think so. Anderson fixed me up this afternoon. But I haven’t time to talk to you. I’m in a hurry. To-morrow we’ll have a long chin. Oh, how about Stewart?”