He made his way inward along the wall, keeping a short distance back from it, and he saw that after twenty or thirty yards it turned again at a very obtuse angle away from him and once more ran on in a long straight line. Just beyond this angle he came upon a little wooden door thickly studded with nails. It was made to open inward, and on the outside there was no knob or handle of any kind, only a large key-hole of the simple, old-fashioned sort. Slipping up near to look, Ste. Marie observed that the edges of the key-hole were rusty, but scratched a little through the rust with recent marks; so the door, it seemed, was sometimes used. He observed another thing. The ground near by was less encumbered with trees than at any other point, and the turf was depressed with many wheel marks—broad marks, such as are made only by the wheels of a motor-car. He followed these tracks for a little distance, and they wound in and out among the trees, and beyond the thin fringe of wood swept away in a curve toward Issy, doubtless to join the road which he had already imagined to lie somewhere beyond the enclosure.
Beyond the more open space about this little door the young trees stood thick together again, and Ste. Marie pressed cautiously on. He stopped now and then to listen, and once he thought that he heard from within the sound of a woman’s laugh, but he could not be sure. The slight change of direction had confused him a little, and he was uncertain as to where the house lay. The wall was twelve or fifteen feet high, and from the level of the ground he could, of course, see nothing over it but tree tops. He went on for what may have been a hundred yards, but it seemed to him very much more than that, and he came to a tall gnarled cedar-tree which stood almost against the high wall. It was half dead, but its twisted limbs were thick and strong, and by force of the tree’s cramped position they had grown in strange and grotesque forms. One of them stretched across the very top of the stone wall, and with the wind’s action it had scraped away the coping of tiles and bottle-glass and had made a little depression there to rest in.
Ste. Marie looked up along this natural ladder, and temptation smote him sorely. It was so easy and so safe! There was enough foliage left upon the half-dead tree to screen him well, but whether or no it is probable that he would have yielded to the proffered lure. There seems to have been more than chance in Ste. Marie’s movements upon this day; there seems to have been something like the hand of Fate in them—as doubtless there is in most things, if one but knew.
He left his hat and stick behind him, under a shrub, and he began to make his way up the half-bare branches of the gnarled cedar. They bore him well, without crack or rustle, and the way was very easy. No ladder made by man could have offered a much simpler ascent. So, mounting slowly and with care, his head came level with the top of the wall. He climbed to the next branch, a foot higher, and rested there. The drooping foliage from the upper part of the cedar-tree, which was still alive, hung down over him and cloaked him from view, but through its aromatic screen he could see as freely as through the window curtain in the rue d’Assas.