Ste. Marie felt a violent blow upon his left leg between hip and knee. He thought that somebody had crept up behind him and struck him; but as he whirled about he saw that there was no one there, and then he heard a noise and knew that the gnomelike running man had shot him. He faced about once more toward the two young people. He was very angry and he wished to say so, and very much he wished to explain why he had trespassed there, and why they had no right to shoot him as if he were some wretched thief. But he found that in some quite absurd fashion he was as if fixed to the ground. It was as if he had suddenly become of the most ponderous and incredible weight, like lead—or that other metal, not gold, which is the heaviest of all. Only the metal, seemingly, was not only heavy but fiery hot, and his strength was incapable of holding it up any longer. His eyes fixed themselves in a bewildered stare upon the figure of Mlle. Coira O’Hara; he had time to observe that she had put up her two hands over her face, then he fell down forward, his head struck something very hard, and he knew no more.
* * * * *
A CONVERSATION AT LA LIERRE
Captain Stewart walked nervously up and down the small inner drawing-room at La Lierre, his restless hands fumbling together behind him, and his eyes turning every half-minute with a sharp eagerness to the closed door. But at last, as if he were very tired, he threw himself down in a chair which stood near one of the windows, and all his tense body seemed to relax in utter exhaustion. It was not a very comfortable chair that he had sat down in, but there were no comfortable chairs in the room—nor, for that matter, in all the house. When he had taken the place, about two months before this time, he had taken it furnished, but that does not mean very much in France. No French country-houses—or town-houses, either—are in the least comfortable, by Anglo-Saxon standards, and that is at least one excellent reason why Frenchmen spend just as little time in them as they possibly can. Half the cafes in Paris would promptly put up their shutters if Parisian homes could all at once turn themselves into something like English or American ones. As for La Lierre, it was even more dreary and bare and tomblike than other country-houses, because it was, after all, a sort of ruin, and had not been lived in for fifteen years, save by an ancient caretaker and his nearly as ancient wife. And that was, perhaps, why it could be taken on a short lease at such a very low price.
The room in which Captain Stewart sat was behind the large drawing-room, which was always kept closed now, and it looked out by one window to the west, and by two windows to the north, over a corner of the kitchen garden and a vista of trees beyond. It was a high-ceiled room with walls bare except for two large mirrors in the Empire fashion, which stared at each other across the way with dull and flaking eyes. Under each of these stood a heavy gilt and ebony console with a top of chocolate-colored marble, and in the centre of the room there was a table of a like fashion to the consoles. Further than this there was nothing save three chairs, upon one of which lay Captain Stewart’s dust-coat and motoring cap and goggles.