Read CHAPTER XXX of Jason, free online book, by Justus Miles Forman, on ReadCentral.com.

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?”

He lowered his voice, and Hartley answered him in the same tone.

“The man is in a delirium. Heaven knows how it’ll end. He may die and he may pull through. I hope he pulls through except for the sake of the family because then we can make him pay for what he’s done. I don’t want him to go scot free by dying.”

“Nor I,” said Ste. Marie, fiercely. “Nor I. I want him to pay, too long and slowly and hard; and if he lives I shall see that he does it, family or no family. Now I must be off.”

Ste. Marie’s face was shining and uplifted. The other man looked at it with a little envious sigh.

“I see everything is all right,” said he, “and I congratulate you. You deserve it if ever any one did.”

Ste. Marie stared for an instant, uncomprehending. Then he saw.

“Yes,” he said, gently, “everything is all right.”

It was plain that the Englishman did not know of Miss Benham’s decision. He was incapable of deceit. Ste. Marie threw an arm over his friend’s shoulder and went with him a little way toward the drawing-room.

“Go in there,” he said. “You’ll find some one glad to see you, I think. And remember that I said everything is all right.”

He came back after he had turned away, and met Hartley’s puzzled frown with a smile.

“If you’ve that motor here, may I use it?” he asked. “I want to go somewhere in a hurry.”

“Of course,” the other man said. “Of course. I’ll go home in a cab.”

So they parted, and Ste. Marie went out to the waiting car.

On the left bank the streets are nearly empty of traffic at night, and one can make excellent time over them. Ste. Marie reached the Porte de Versailles, at the city’s limits, in twenty minutes and dashed through Issy five minutes later. In less than half an hour from the time he had left the rue de l’Universite he was under the walls of La Lierre. He looked at his watch, and it was not quite half-past eleven.

He tried the little door in the wall, and it was unlocked, so he passed in and closed the door behind him. Inside he found that he was running, and he gave a little laugh, but of eagerness and excitement, not of mirth. There were dim lights in one or two of the upper windows, but none below, and there was no one about. He pulled at the door-bell, and after a few impatient moments pulled again and still again. Then he noticed that the heavy door was ajar, and, since no one answered his ringing, he pushed the door open and went in.

The lower hall was quite dark, but a very faint light came down from above through the well of the staircase. He heard dragging feet in the upper hall, and then upon one of the upper flights, for the stairs, broad below, divided at a half-way landing and continued upward in an opposite direction in two narrower flights. A voice, very faint and weary, called:

“Who is there? Who is ringing, please?”

And Coira O’Hara, holding a candle in her hand, came upon the stair-landing and stood gazing down into the darkness. She wore a sort of dressing-gown, a heavy white garment which hung in straight, long folds to her feet and fell away from the arm that held the candle on high. The yellow beams of light struck down across her head and face, and even at the distance the man could see how white she was and hollow-eyed and worn a pale wraith of the splendid beauty that had walked in the garden at La Lierre.

“Who is there, please?” she asked again. “I can’t see. What is it?”

“It is I, Coira!” said Ste. Marie.

And she gave a sharp cry. The arm which was holding the candle overhead shook and fell beside her as if the strength had gone out of it. The candle dropped to the floor, spluttered there for an instant and went out, but there was still a little light from the hall above.

Ste. Marie sprang up the stairs to where the girl stood, and caught her in his arms, for she was on the verge of faintness. Her head fell back away from him, and he saw her eyes through half-closed lids, her white teeth through parted lips. She was trembling but, for that matter, so was he at the touch of her, the heavy and sweet burden in his arms. She tried to speak, and he heard a whisper:

“Why? Why? Why?”

“Because it is my place, Coira!” said he. “Because I cannot live away from you. Because we belong together.”

The girl struggled weakly and pushed against him. Once more he heard whispering words and made out that she tried to say:

“Go back to her! Go back to her! You belong there!”

But at that he laughed aloud.

“I thought so, too,” said he, “but she thinks otherwise. She’ll have none of me, Coira. It’s Richard Hartley now. Coira, can you love a jilted man? I’ve been jilted thrown over dismissed.”

Her head came up in a flash and she stared at him, suddenly rigid and tense in his arms.

“Is that true?” she demanded.

“Yes, my love!” said he.

And she began to weep, with long, comfortable sobs, her face hidden in the hollow of his shoulder. On one other occasion she had wept before him, and he had been horribly embarrassed, but he bore this present tempest without, as it were, winking. He gloried in it. He tried to say so. He tried to whisper to her, his lips pressed close to the ear that was nearest them, but he found that he had no speech. Words would not come to his tongue; it trembled and faltered and was still for sheer inadequacy.

Rather oddly, in that his thoughts were chaos, swallowed up in the surge of feeling, a memory struck through to him of that other exaltation which had swept him to the stars. He looked upon it and was amazed because now he saw it, in clear light, for the thing it had been. He saw it for a fantasy, a self-evoked wraith of the imagination, a dizzy flight of the spirit through spirit space. He saw that it had not been love at all, and he realized how little a part Helen Benham had ever really played in it. A cold and still-eyed figure for him to wrap the veil of his imagination round, that was what she had been. There were times when the sweep of his upward flight had stirred her a little, wakened in her some vague response, but for the most part she had stood aside and looked on, wondering.

The mist was rent away from that rainbow-painted cobweb, and at last the man saw and understood. He gave an exclamation of wonder, and the girl who loved him raised her head once more, and the two looked each into the other’s eyes for a long time. They fell into hushed and broken speech.

“I have loved you so long, so long,” she said, “and so hopelessly! I never thought I never believed. To think that in the end you have come to me! I cannot believe it!”

“Wait and see!” cried the man. “Wait and see!”

She shivered a little. “If it is not true I should like to die before I find out. I should like to die now, Bayard, with your arms holding me up and your eyes close, close.”

Ste. Marie’s arms tightened round her with a sudden fierceness. He hurt her, and she smiled up at him. Their two hearts beat one against the other, and they beat very fast.

“Don’t you understand,” he cried, “that life’s only just beginning day’s just dawning, Coira? We’ve been lost in the dark. Day’s coming now. This is only the sunrise.”

“I can believe it at last,” she said, “because you hold me close and you hurt me a little, and I’m glad to be hurt. And I can feel your heart beating. Ah, never let me go, Bayard! I should be lost in the dark again if you let me go.” A sudden thought came to her, and she bent back her head to see the better. “Did you speak with Arthur?”

And he said: “Yes. He asked me to read your note, so I read it. That poor lad! I came straight to you then straight and fast.”

“You knew why I did it?” she said, and Ste. Marie said:

“Now I know.”

“I could not have married him,” said she. “I could not. I never thought I should see you again, but I loved you and I could not have married him. Ah, impossible! And he’ll be glad later on. You know that. It will save him any more trouble with his family, and besides he’s so very young. Already, I think, he was beginning to chafe a little. I thought so more than once. Oh, I’m trying to justify myself!” she cried. “I’m trying to find reasons; but you know the true reason. You know it.”

“I thank God for it,” he said.

So they stood clinging together in that dim place, and broken, whispering speech passed between them or long silences when speech was done. But at last they went down the stairs and out upon the open terrace, where the moonlight lay.

“It Was in the open, sweet air,” the girl said, “that we came to know each other. Let us walk in it now. The house smothers me.” She looked up when they had passed the west corner of the façade and drew a little sigh. “I am worried about my father,” said she. “He will not answer me when I call to him, and he has eaten nothing all day long. Bayard, I think his heart is broken. Ah, but to-morrow we shall mend it again! In the morning I shall make him let me in, and I shall tell him what I have to tell.”

They turned down under the trees, where the moonlight made silver splashes about their feet, and the sweet night air bore soft against their faces. Coira went a half-step in advance, her head laid back upon the shoulder of the man she loved, and his arm held her up from falling.

So at last we leave them, walking there in the tender moonlight, with the breath of roses about them and their eyes turned to the coming day. It is still night and there is yet one cloud of sorrow to shadow them somewhat, for up-stairs in his locked room a man lies dead across the floor, with an empty pistol beside him heart-broken, as the girl had feared. But where a great love is, shadows cannot last very long, not even such shadows as this. The morning must dawn and joy cometh of a morning.

So we leave them walking together in the moonlight, their faces turned toward the coming day.