FATHER ALLARD'S desk had been moved into the front room. Raymond, on a very thin piece of paper, was tracing the signature inscribed on the fly-leaf of the prayer-book—François Aubert. Before him lay a number of letters written that morning by Valérie—parish letters, a letter to the bishop—awaiting his signature. Valérie, who had been private secretary to her uncle, was now private secretary to—François Aubert!

The day before yesterday he had signed a letter in this manner, and Valérie, who was acquainted with the signature from her uncle's correspondence, had had no suspicions. Raymond placed his tracing over the bottom of one of the letters, and, bearing down heavily as he wrote, obtained an impression on the letter itself. The impression served as a guide, and he signed—François Aubert.

It was simple enough, this expedient in lieu of a piece of carbon paper that he had no opportunity to buy, and for which, from the notary perhaps, Valérie's other uncle, who alone in the village might be expected to have such a thing, he had not dared to make the request; but it was tedious and laborious—and besides, for the moment, his mind was not upon his task.

He signed another, and still another, his face deeply lined as he worked, wrinkles nesting in strained little puckers around the corners of his eyes—and suddenly, while there were yet two of the letters to be signed, he sat back in his chair, staring unseeingly before him. From the rear room came that footstep, slow, irregular, uncertain. It was Henri Mentone. Dupont's “flea” in the doctor's ear had had its effect. Henri Mentone was taking his exercise—from the bed to the window, from the window to the door, from the door to the bed, and over again. In the three days since the man had recovered consciousness, he had made rapid strides toward recovering his strength as well, though he still spent part of the day in bed—this afternoon, for instance, he was to be allowed out for a little while in the open air.

Raymond's eyes fixed on the open window where the morning sunlight streamed into the room. Yes, the man was getting on his feet rapidly enough to suit even Monsieur Dupont. The criminal assizes began at Tournayville the day after to-morrow. And the day after to-morrow Henri Mentone was to stand his trial for the murder of Théophile Blondin!

Raymond's fingers tightened upon the penholder until it cracked warningly, recalling him to himself. He had not gone that night. Gone! He laughed mockingly. The man had lost his memory! Who would have thought of that—and what it meant? If the man had died, or even if the man had talked and so forced him to accept pursuit as his one and only chance, the issue would have been clear cut. But the man, curse him, had not died; nor had he told his story—and to all appearances at least, except for still being naturally a little weak, was as well as any one. Gone! Gone—that night! Great God, they would hang the fool for this!

The sweat beads crept out on Raymond's forehead. No, no—not that! They thought the man was shamming now, but they would surely realise before it was too late that he was not. They would convict him of course, the evidence was damning, overwhelming, final—but they would not hang a man who could not remember. No, they wouldn't hang him. But what they would do was horrible enough—they would sentence the man for life, and keep him in the infirmary perhaps of some penitentiary. For life—that was all.

The square jaw was suddenly out-thrust. Well, what of it! He, Raymond, was safe as it was. It was his life, or the other's. In either case it would be an innocent man who suffered. As far as actual murder was concerned, he was no more guilty than this priest who had had nothing to do with it. Besides, they would hang him, Raymond, and they wouldn't hang the other. Of course, they didn't believe the man now! Why should they? They did not know what he, Raymond, knew; they had only the evidence before them that was conclusive enough to convict a saint from Heaven! Ha, ha! Why, even the man himself was beginning to believe in his own guilt! Sometimes the man was as a caged beast in an impotent fury; and—and sometimes he would cling like a frightened child with his arms around his, Raymond's, neck.

It was warm here in the room, warm with the bright, glorious sunlight of the summer morning. Why did he shiver like that? And this—why this? The smell of incense; those organ notes rising and swelling through the church; the voices of the choir; the bowed heads everywhere! He surged up from his chair, and, rocking on his feet, his hands clenched upon the edge of the desk. Before what dread tribunal was this that he was being called suddenly to account! Yesterday—yesterday had been Sunday—and yesterday he had celebrated mass. His own voice seemed to sound again in his ears: “Introibo ad altare Dei—I will go in unto the Altar of God.... Ab homme iniquo et dolosoerue me—Deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.... In quorum manibus iniquitates sunt—In whose hands are iniquities.... Hic est enim Calix sanguinis mei novi et æterni testamenti: mysterium fidei—For this is the Chalice of My Blood of the new and eternal testament: the mystery of faith....” No—no, no! He had not profaned those holy things, those holy vessels. He had not done it! It was a lie! He had fooled even Gauthier Beaulieu, the altar boy.

He sank back into his chair like a man exhausted, and drew his hand across his eyes. It was nothing! He was quite calm again. Those words, the church, those holy things had nothing to do with Henri Mentone. If any one should think otherwise, that one was a fool! Had Three-Ace Artie ever been swayed by “mystery of faith”—or been called a coward! Yes, that was it—a coward! It was true that he had as much right to life as that pitiful thing in the back room, but it was he who had put that other's life in jeopardy! That creed—that creed of his, born of the far Northland where men were men, fearing neither God nor devil, nor man, nor beast—it was better than those trembling words which had just been upon his lips. True, he was safe now, if he let them dispose of this Henri Mentone—but to desert the other would be a coward's act. Well, what then—what then! Confess—and with meek, uplifted eyes, like some saintly martyr, stand upon the gibbet and fasten the noose around his own neck? No! Well then, what—what? The tormented look was back in Raymond's eyes. There was a way, a way by which he could give the man a chance, a way by which they both might have their chance, only the difficulties so far had seemed insurmountable—a problem that he had not yet been able to solve—and the time was short. Yes, the way was there, if only——.

With a swift movement, incredibly swift, alert in an instant, his hand swept toward the desk. Some one was knocking at the door. His fingers closed on the thin piece of paper that had served him in tracing the signature of Francois Aubert, and crushed it into a little ball in the palm of his hand. The door opened. There were dark eyes there, dark hair, a slim figure, a sweet, quiet smile, a calm, an untroubled peace, a pervading radiance. It was unreal. It could not exist. There was only a ghastly turmoil, agony, dismay and strife everywhere—his soul told him so! This was Valérie. God, how tired he was, how weary! Once he had seen those arms supporting that wounded man's head so tenderly—like a soothing caress. If he might, just for a moment, know that too, it would bring him—rest.

She came lightly across the room and stood before the desk.

“It is for the letters, Monsieur le Curé,” she smiled. “I am going down to the post-office.” She picked up the little pile of correspondence; and, very prettily business-like, began to run through it.

Impulsively Raymond reached out to take the letters from her—and, instead, his hand slipped inside his soutane, and dropped the crushed ball of paper into one of his pockets. It was too late, of course! She would already have noticed the omission of the two signatures.

“There are two there that I have not yet signed,” observed Raymond casually.

“Yes; so I see!” she answered brightly. “I was just going to tell you how terribly careless you were, Monsieur le Curé! Well, you can sign them now, while I am putting the others in their envelopes. Here they are.”

He took the two letters from her hand—and laid them deliberately aside upon the desk.

“It was not carelessness,” he said laughingly; “except that I should not have allowed them to get mixed up with the others. There are some changes that I think I should like to make before they go. They are not important—to-morrow will do.”

“Of course!” she said. Then, in pretended consternation: “I hope the mistakes weren't mine!”

“No—not yours”—he spoke abstractedly now. He was watching her as she folded the letters and sealed the envelopes. How quickly she worked! In a minute now she would go and leave him alone again to listen to those footfalls from the other room. He wanted rest for his stumbling brain; and, yes—he wanted her. He could have reached out and caught her hands, and drawn that dark head bending over the desk closer to him, and held her there—a prisoner. He brushed his hands hurriedly over his forehead. A prisoner! What did he mean by that? Oh, yes, the thought was born of the idea that he was already a jailor. He had been a jailor for three days now—of that man there, who was too weak to get away. He had appointed himself jailor—and Monsieur Dupont had confirmed the appointment. What had that to do with Valérie? He only wanted her to stay because—a fool, was he!—because he wanted to torture himself a little more. Well, it was exquisite torture then, her presence, her voice, her smile! Love? Well, what if he loved! Days and days their lives had been spent together now. How long was it? A week—no, it must be more than a week—it seemed as though it had been as long as he could remember. Yes, he loved her! He knew that now—scoff, sneer and gibe if that inner voice would! He loved her! He loved Valérie! Madness? Well, what of that, too! Did he dispute it! Yes, it was madness—and in more ways than one! He was fighting for his life in this devil's masquerade, and he might win; but he could not fight for or win his love. That was just dangled before his eyes as the final Satanic touch to this hell-born conspiracy that engulfed him! He was in the garb of a priest! How those hell demons must shake their very souls out with laughter in their damnable glee! He could not even touch her; he could say no word, his tongue was tied; nor look at her—he was in the garb of a priest! He—what was this! A fire seemed in his veins. Her hand in his! Across the desk, her hand had crept softly into his!

“Monsieur—Monsieur le Curé—you are ill!” she cried anxiously.

And then Raymond found himself upon his feet, his other hand laid over hers—and he forced a smile.

“I—no”—Raymond shook his head—“no, Mademoiselle Valérie, I am not ill.”

“You are worn out, then!” she insisted tremulously. “And it is our fault. We should have made you let us help you more. You have been up night after night with that man, and in the daytime there was the parish work, and you have never had any rest. And yesterday in the church you looked so tired—and—and——”

The dark eyes were misty; the sweet face was very close to his. If he might bend a little, just a very little, that glad wealth of hair would brush his cheek.

“A little tired, perhaps—yes—mademoiselle,” he said, in a low voice. “But it is nothing!” He released her hand, and, turning abruptly from the desk, walked to the window.

She had followed him with her eyes, turned to look after him—he sensed that. There was silence in the room. He did not speak. He did not dare to speak until—ah!—this should bring him to his senses quickly enough!

He was staring out through the window. A buck-board had turned in from the road, and was coming across the green toward the presbytère. Dupont and Doctor Arnaud! They were coming for Henri Mentone now—now! He had let the time slip by until it was too late—because he had not been able to fight his way through the odds against him! And then there came a wan smile to Raymond's lips. No! His fears were groundless. Three-Ace Artie would have seen that at once! The buckboard was single-seated, there was room only for two—and Monsieur Dupont could be well trusted to look after his own comfort when he took the man away.

He drew back from the window, and faced around—and the thrill that had come from the touch of her hand was back again, as he caught her gaze upon him. What was it that was in those eyes, that was in her face? She had been looking at him like that, he knew, all the time that he had been standing at the window. They were still misty, those eyes—she could not hide that, though she lowered them hurriedly now. And that faint flush tinging her cheeks! Did it mean that she—Fool! He knew what it meant! It meant that if he cared to seek for any added self-torture with his madman's imaginings, he could find it readily to hand. She—to have any thought but that prompted by her woman's sympathy, her tender anxiety for another's trouble! She—who thought him a priest, and, pure in her faith as in her soul, would have recoiled in horror from——

He steadied his voice.

“Monsieur Dupont and the doctor have just arrived,” he said.

She looked up, her face serious now.

“They have come for Henri Mentone?”

“No, not yet, I imagine,” he answered; “since they have only a one-seated buckboard.”

“I will be glad when he has gone!” she exclaimed impulsively.


“Yes—for your sake,” she said. “He has brought you to the verge of illness yourself.” She was looking down again, shuffling the sealed envelopes abstractedly. “And it is not only I who say so—it is all St. Marleau. St. Marleau loves you for it, for your care of him, Monsieur le Curé—but also St. Marlbau thinks more of its curé than it does of one who has taken another's life.”

Raymond did not reply—he was listening now to the footsteps of Monsieur Dupont and the doctor, as they passed by along the hallway outside. Came then a sharp, angry voice raised querulously from the rear room—that was Henri Mentone. Monsieur Dupont's voice snapped in reply; and then the voices merged into a confused buzz and murmur. He glanced quickly at Valérie. She, too, was listening. Her head was turned toward the door, he could not see her face.

He walked slowly across the room to her side by the desk.

“You do not think, mademoiselle,” he asked gravely, “that it is possible the man is telling the truth, that he really cannot remember anything that happened that night—and before?”

She shook her head.

“Every one knows he is guilty,” she said thoughtfully. “The evidence proves it absolutely. Why, then, should one believe him? If there was even a little doubt of his guilt, no matter how little, it might be different, and one might wonder then; but as it is—no.”

“And it is not only you who say so”—he smiled, using her own words—“it is all St. Marleau?”

“Yes, all St. Marleau—and every one else, including Monsieur le Curé, even if he has sacrificed himself for the man,” she smiled in return. Her brows puckered suddenly. “Sometimes I am afraid of him,” she said nervously. “Yesterday I ran from the room. He was in a fury.”

Raymond's face grew grave.

“Ah! You did not tell me that, mademoiselle,” he said soberly.

“And I am sorry I have told you now, if it is going to worry you,” she said quickly. “You must not say anything to him. The next time I went in he was so sorry that it was pitiful.”

In a fury—at times! Was it strange! Was it strange if one did not sit unmoved to watch, fettered, bound, impotent, a horrible doom creeping inexorably upon one! Was it strange if at times, all recollection blotted out, conscious only that one was powerless to avert that creeping terror, one should experience a paroxysm of fury that rocked one to the very soul—and at times in anguish left one like a helpless child! He had seen the man like that—many times in the last few days. And he, too, had seen that same terror creep like a dread thing out of the night upon himself to hover over him; and he could see it now lurking there, ever present—but he, Raymond, could fight!

The door of the rear room opened and closed; and Monsieur Dupont's voice resounded from the hall.

“Where is Monsieur le Curé? Ho, Monsieur le Curé!”

Valérie looked toward him inquiringly.

“Shall I tell them you are here?” she asked.

Raymond nodded mechanically.

“Yes—if you will, please.”

He leaned against the desk, his hands gripping its edge behind his back. What was it now that this Monsieur Dupont wanted? He was never sure of Dupont. And this morning his brain was fagged, and he did not want to cope with this infernal Monsieur Dupont! He watched Valérie walk across the room, and disappear outside in the hall.

“Monsieur le Curé is here,” he heard her say. “Will you walk in?” And then, at some remark in the doctor's voice which he did not catch: “No; he is not busy. I was just going to take his letters to the postoffice. He heard Monsieur Dupont call.”

And then, as the two men stepped in through the doorway, Raymond spoke quietly:

“Good morning, Monsieur Dupont! Good morning, Doctor Arnaud!”

“Hah! Monsieur le Curé!” Monsieur Dupont wagged his head vigorously. “He is in a very pretty temper this morning, our friend in there—eh? Yes, very pretty! You have noticed it? Yes, you have noticed it. It would seem that he is beginning to realise at last that his little tricks are going to do him no good!”

Raymond waved his hand toward chairs.

“You will sit down?” he invited courteously.

“No”—Doctor Arnaud smiled, as he answered for them both. “No, not this morning, Monsieur le Curé. We are returning at once to Tournayville. I have an important case there, and Monsieur Dupont has promised to have me back before noon.”

“Yes,” said Monsieur Dupont, “we stopped only to tell you”—Monsieur Dupont jerked his hand in the direction of the rear room—“that we will take him away to-morrow morning. Doctor Arnaud says he will be quite able to go. We will see what the taste of a day in jail will do for him before he goes into the dock—what? He is very fortunate! Yes, very! There are not many who have only one day in jail before they are tried! Yes! To-morrow morning! You look surprised, Monsieur le Curé, that it should be so soon. Yes, you look surprised!”

“On the contrary,” observed Raymond impassively, “when I saw you drive up a few minutes ago, I thought you had come to take him away at once.”

“But, not at all!” Monsieur Dupont indulged in a significant smile. “No—not at all! I take not even that chance of cheating the court out of his appearance—I do not wish to house him for months until the next assizes. I take no chances on a relapse. He has been quite safe here. Yes—quite! He will be quite safe for another twenty-four hours in your excellent keeping, Monsieur le Curé—since he is still too weak to run far enough to have it do him any good!”

“You pay a high compliment to my vigilance, Monsieur Dupont,” said Raymond, with a faint smile.

“Hah!” cried Monsieur Dupont. “Hah!”—he began to chuckle. “Do you hear that, Monsieur le Docteur Arnaud? I thought it had escaped him! He has a sense of humour, our estimable curé! You see, do you not? Yes, you see. Well, we will go now!” He pushed the doctor from the room. “Au revoir Monsieur le Curé! It is understood then? To-morrow morning! Au revoir—till to-morrow!”

Monsieur Dupont bowed, and whisked himself out of sight. Raymond went to the door, closed it, and mechanically began to pace up and down the room. He heard Monsieur Dupont and the doctor clamber into the buckboard, and heard the buckboard drive off. There was moisture upon his forehead again. He swept it away. To-morrow morning! He had until to-morrow morning in which to act—if he was to act at all. But the way! He could not see the way. It was full of peril. The risk was too great to be overcome! He dared not even approach that man in there with any plan. There was something horribly sardonic in that! If he was to act, he must act now, at once—there was only the afternoon and the night left.

“You are safe as it is,” whispered that inner voice insidiously. “The man's condemnation by the law will dispose of the killing of Théophile Blondin forever. It will be as a closed book. And then—have you forgotten?—there is your own plan for getting away after a little while. It cannot fail, that plan. Besides, they will not sentence the man to hang, they will be sure to see that his memory is really gone; whereas they will surely hang you if you are caught—as you will be, if you are fool enough to attempt the impossible now. What did you ever get out of being quixotic? Do you remember that little affair in Ton-Nugget Camp?”

“My God, what shall I do?” Raymond cried out aloud. “If—if only I could see the way!”

“But you can't!” sneered the voice viciously. “Haven't you tried hard enough to satisfy even that remarkably tender conscience that you seem to have picked up somewhere so suddenly! You—who were going to kill the man with your own hands! Let well enough alone!”

It was silent now in the rear room. Raymond halted in the centre of the floor and listened. There were no footsteps; no sound of voice—only silence. He laughed a little harshly. What was the man doing? Planning his own escape! Again Raymond laughed in bitter mirth. God speed to the man in any such plans—only the man, as Monsieur Dupont had most sagaciously suggested, would not get very far alone. But still it would be humorous, would it not, if the man should succeed alone, where he, Raymond, had utterly failed so far to work out any plan that would accomplish the same end! There was the open window to begin with, the man had been told now probably that he was to be taken away to-morrow morning, and—why was there such absolute stillness from that other room? The partitions were very thin, and—Raymond, as mechanically as he had set to pacing up and down the room, turned to the door, passed out into the hall, and walked softly along to the door of the rear room. He listened there again. There was still silence. He opened the door, stepped across the threshold—and a strange white look crept into his face, and he stood still.

Upon the floor at the bedside knelt Henri Mentone, and at the opening of the door the man did not look up. There was no fury now; it was the child, helpless in despair and grief. His hands were outflung across the coverlet, his head was buried in his arms—and there was no movement, save only a convulsive tremor that shook the thin shoulders. And there was no sound.

And the whiteness deepened in Raymond's face—and, as he looked, suddenly the scene was blurred before his eyes.

And then Raymond stepped back into the hall, and closed the door again, and on Raymond's lips was a queer, twisted smile.

“To-morrow morning, I think you said, Monsieur Dupont,” he whispered. “Well, to-morrow morning, Monsieur Dupont—he will be gone.”

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