IT was late, a good half hour after the usual supper time, when Raymond returned to the presbytère. He had done a very strange thing. He had gone into the church, and sat there in the silence and the quiet of the sacristy—and twilight had come unnoticed. It was the quiet he had sought, respite for a mind that had suddenly seemed nerve-racked to the breaking point as he had come down the hill from Mother Blondin's. It had been dim, and still, and cool, and restful in there—in the church. There was still Valerie, still the priest who had not died, still his own peril and danger, and still the hazard of the night before him; all that had not been altered; all that still remained—but in a measure, strangely, somehow, he was calmed. He was full of apologies now to Madame Lafleur, as he sat down to supper.

“But it is nothing!” she said, placing a lamp upon the table. She sat down herself; and added simply, as though, indeed, no reason could be more valid: “I saw you go into the church, Monsieur le Curé.”

“Yes,” said Raymond, his eyes now on Valerie's empty seat. “And where is Mademoiselle Valerie? Taking our pauvre Mentone his supper?”

“Oh, no!” she answered quickly. “I took him his supper myself a little while ago—though I do not know whether he will eat it or not. Valerie went over to her uncle's about halfpast five. She said something about going for a drive.”

Raymond cut his slice of cold pork without comment. He was conscious of a dismal sense of disappointment, a depression, a falling of his spirits again. The room seemed cold and dead without Valérie there, without her voice, without her smile. And then there came a sense of pique, of irritation, unreasonable no doubt, but there for all that. Why had she not included him in the drive? Fool! Had he forgotten? He could not have gone if she had—he had other things to do than drive that evening!

“Yes,” said Madame Lafleur, significantly reverting to her former remark, as she handed him his tea, “yes, I do not know if the poor fellow will eat anything or not.”

Raymond glanced at her quickly. What was the matter? Had anything been discovered! And then his eyes were on his plate again. Madame Lafleur's face, whatever her words might be intended to convey, was genuinely sympathetic, nothing more.

“Not eat?” he repeated mildly. “And why not, Madame Lafleur?”

“I am sure I do not know,” she replied, a little anxiously. “I have never seen him so excited. I thought it was because he was to be taken away to-morrow morning. And so, when we went out this afternoon, I tried to say something to him about his going away that would cheer him up. And would you believe it, Monsieur le Curé, he just stared at me, and then, as though I had said something droll, he—fancy, Monsieur le Curé, from a man who was going to be tried for his life—he laughed until I thought he would never stop. And after that he would say nothing at all; and since he has come in he has not been for an instant still. Do you not hear him, Monsieur le Curé?”

Raymond heard very distinctly. His ears had caught the sounds from the moment he had entered the presbytère. Up and down, up and down, from that back room came the stumbling footfalls; then silence for a moment, as though from exhaustion the man had sunk down into a chair; and then the pacing to and fro again. Raymond's lips tightened in understanding, as he bent his head over his plate. Like himself, the man in there was waiting—for darkness!

“He is over-excited,” he said gravely. “And being still so weak, the news that he is to go to-morrow, I am afraid, has been too much for him. I have no doubt he was verging on hysteria when he laughed at you like that, Madame Lafleur.”

“I—I hope we shall not have any trouble with him,” said Madame Lafleur nervously. “I mean that I hope he won't be taken sick again. He did not look at the tray at all when I took it in; he kept his eyes on me all the time, as though he were trying to read something in my face.”

“Poor fellow!” murmured Raymond.

Madame Lafleur nodded her gray head in sympathetic assent.

“Ah, yes, Monsieur le Curé—the poor fellow!” she sighed. “It is a terrible thing that he has done; but it is also terrible to think of what he will have to face. Do you think it wrong, Monsieur le Curé, to wish almost that he might escape?”

Escape! Curse it—what was the matter with Madame Lafleur to-night? Or was it something the matter with himself?

“Not wrong, perhaps,” he said, smiling at her, “if you do not connive at it.”

“Oh, but, Monsieur le Curé!” she exclaimed reprovingly. “What a thing to say! But I would never do that! Still, it is all very sad, and I am heartily glad that I am not to be a witness at the trial like you and Valérie. And they say that Madame Blondin, and Monsieur Labbée, the station agent, and a lot of the villagers are to go too.”

“Yes, I believe so,” Raymond nodded.

Madame Lafleur, in quaint consternation, suddenly changed the subject.

“Oh, but I forgot to tell you!” she cried. “The bread! Madame Bouchard sent you two loaves all fresh and hot. Do you like it?”

The bread! He had been conscious neither that the bread was sour, nor that the crust was unmanageable. He became suddenly aware that the morsel in his mouth was not at all like the baking of Madame Lafleur.

“You are all too good to me here in St. Marleau,” he protested.

He checked her reply with a chiding forefinger, and a shake of his head—and presently, the meal at an end, pushed back his chair, and strolled to the window. He stood there for a moment looking out. It was dark now—dark enough for his purpose.

“It is a beautiful night, Madame Lafleur,” he said enthusiastically. “I am almost tempted to go out again for a little walk.”

“But, yes, Monsieur le Curé—why not!” Madame Lafleur was quite anxious that he should go. Madame Lafleur was possessed of that enviable disposition that was instantly responsive to the interests and pleasures of others.

“Yes—why not!” smiled Raymond, patting her arm as he passed by her on his way to the door. “Well, I believe I will.”

But outside in the hall he hesitated. Should he go first to the man in the rear room? He had intended to do so before he went out—to probe the other, as it were, to satisfy himself, perhaps more by the man's acts and looks than by words, that Henri Mentone had entered into the plans for the night. But he was satisfied of that now. Madame Lafleur's conversation had left no doubt but that the man's unusual restlessness and excitement were due to his being on the qui vive of expectancy. No, there was no use, therefore, in going to the man now, it would only be a waste of valuable time.

This decision taken, Raymond walked to the front door and down the steps of the porch. Here he turned, and, choosing the opposite side of the house from the kitchen and dining room, where he might have been observed by Madame Lafleur, yet still moving deliberately as though he were but sauntering idly toward the beach, made his way around to the rear of the presbytère. It was quite dark. There were stars, but no moon. Behind here, between the back of the house and the shed, there was no possibility of his being seen. The only light came from Henri Mentone's room, and the shades there were drawn.

He opened the shed door silently, stepped inside, and closed the door behind him. He struck a match, held it above his head—and almost instantly extinguished it, as he located the sacristan's overalls, and the old coat and hat.

And now Raymond worked quickly. He stripped off his soutane, drew on the overalls, turning the bottoms well up over his own trousers, slipped on the coat, tucked the hat into one of the coat pockets, and put on his soutane again. It was very simple—the soutane hid everything. He smiled grimly, as he, stepped outside again—the Monsieur le Curé who came out, was the Monsieur le Curé who had gone in.

Raymond chose the beach. The village street meant that he would be delayed by being forced to stop and talk with any one he might meet, to say nothing of the possibility of having the ruinous, if well meaning, companionship of some one foisted upon him—while, even if seen, there would be nothing strange in the fact that the curé should be taking an evening walk along the shore.

He started off at a brisk pace along the stretch of sand just behind the presbytère. It was a mile and a quarter to the point—to Jacques Bourget's. At the end of the sandy stretch Raymond went more slowly—the shore line as a promenade left much to be desired—there was a seemingly interminable ledge of slate rock over which he had need to pick his way carefully. He negotiated this, and was rewarded with another short sandy strip—but only to encounter the slate rocks again with their ubiquitous little pools of water in the hollows, which he must avoid warily.

Sometimes he slipped; once he fell. The grim smile was back on his lips. There seemed to be something ironical even in these minor difficulties that stood between him and the effecting of the other's escape! There seemed to be a world of irony in the fact that he who sought escape himself should plan another's rather than his own! It was the devil's toils, that was all, the devil's damnable ingenuity, and hell's incomparable sense of humour! He had either to desert the man; or stand in the man's place himself, and dangle from the gallows for his pains; or get the man away. Well, he had no desire to dangle from the gallows—or to desert the man! He had chosen the third and only course left open to him. If he got the man away, if the man succeeded in making his escape, it would not only save the man, but he, Raymond, would have nothing thereafter to fear—the Curé of St. Marleau in due course would meet with his deplorable and fatal accident! True, the man would always live in the shadow of pursuit, a thing that he, Raymond, had been willing to accept for himself only as a last resort, but there was no help for that in the other's case now. He would give the man more money, plenty of it. The man should be across the border and in the States early to-morrow, then New York, and a steamer for South America. Yes, it should unquestionably succeed. He had worked out all those details while he was still racking his brain for a “Jacques Bourget,” and he would give the man minute instructions at the last moment when he gave him more money—that hundred dollars was only an evidence of good faith and of the loyalty of one “Pierre.” The only disturbing factor in the plan was the man's physical condition. The man was still virtually an invalid—otherwise the police would have been neither justified in so doing, nor for a moment have been willing to leave him in the presbytère, as they had. Monsieur Dupont was no fool, and it was perfectly true that the man had not the slightest chance in the world of getting away—alone. But, aided as he, Raymond, proposed to aid the other, the man surely would be able to stand the strain of travelling, for a man could do much where his life was at stake. Yes, after all, why worry on that score! It was only the night and part of the next day. Then the man could rest quietly at a certain address in New York, while waiting for his steamer. Yes, unquestionably, the man, with his life in the balance, would be able to manage that.

Raymond was still picking his way over the ledges, still slipping and stumbling, and now, recovering from a fall that had brought him to his knees, he gave his undivided attention to his immediate task. It seemed a very long mile and a quarter, but at the expiration of perhaps another twenty minutes he was at the end of it, and halted to take note of his surroundings. He could just distinguish the village road edging away on his left; while ahead of him, but a little to his right, out on the wooded point, he caught the glimmer of a light through the trees. That would be Jacques Bourget's house.

He now looked cautiously about him. There was no other house in sight. His eyes swept the road up and down as far as he could see—there was no one, no sign of life. He listened—there was nothing, save the distant lapping of the water far out, for the tide was low on the mud flats.

A large rock close at hand suggested a landmark that could not be mistaken. He stepped toward it, took off his soutane, and laid the garment down beside the rock; he removed his clerical collar and his clerical hat, and placed them on top of the soutane, taking care, however, to cover the white collar with the hat—then, turning down the trouser legs of the overalls, and turning up the collar of the threadbare coat, he took the battered slouch hat from his pocket and pulled it far down over his eyes.

“Behold,” said Raymond cynically, “behold Pierre—what is his other name? Well, what does it matter? Pierre—Desforges. Desforges will do as well as any—behold Pierre Desforges!”

He left the beach, went up the little rise of ground that brought him amongst the trees, and made his way through the latter toward the lighted window of the house. Arrived here, he once more looked about him.

The house was isolated, far back from the road; and, in the darkness and the shadows cast by the trees, would have been scarcely discernible, save that it was whitewashed, and but for the yellow glow diffused from the window. He approached the door softly, and listened. A woman's voice, and then a man's, snarling viciously, reached him. “... le sacré maudit curé!

Raymond laughed low. Jacques Bourget and his wife appeared to have an engrossing topic of conversation, if they had been at it since afternoon! Also Jacques Bourget appeared to be of an unforgiving nature!

There was no veranda, not even a step, the door was on a level with the ground; and, from the little Raymond could see of the house now that he was close beside it, it appeared to be as down-at-the-heels and as shiftless as its proprietor. He leaned forward to avail himself of the light from the window, and, taking out a roll of bills, of smaller denominations than those which he carried in his pocketbook, he counted out five ten-dollar notes.

Jacques Bourget from within was still in the midst of a blasphemous tirade. Raymond rapped sharply on the door with his knuckles. Bourget's voice ceased instantly, and there was silence for a moment. Raymond rapped again—and then, as a chair leg squeaked upon the floor, and there came the sound of a heavy tread approaching the door, he drew quickly back into the shadows at one side.

The door was flung open, and Bourget's face, battered and cut, an eye black and swollen, his lip puffed out to twice its normal size, peered out into the darkness.

“Who's there?” he called out gruffly.

“S-sh! Don't talk so loud!” Raymond cautioned in a guarded voice. “Are you Jacques Bourget?”

The man, with a start, turned his face in the direction of Raymond's voice. Mechanically he dropped his own voice.

“Mabbe I am, and mabbe I'm not,” he growled suspiciously. “What do you want?”

“I want to talk to you if you are Jacques Bourget,” Raymond answered. “And if you are Jacques Bourget I can put you in the way of turning a few dollars tonight, to say nothing of another little matter that will be to your liking.”

The man hesitated, then drew back a little in the doorway.

“Well, come in,” he invited. “There's no one but the old woman here.”

“The old woman is one old woman too many,” Raymond said roughly. “I'm not on exhibition. You come out here, and shut the door. You've nothing to be afraid of—the only thing I have to do with the police is to keep away from them, and that takes me all my time.”

“I ain't worrying about the police,” said Bourget shrewdly.

“Maybe not,” returned Raymond. “I didn't say you were. I said I was. I've got a hundred dollars here that——”

A woman appeared suddenly in the doorway behind Bourget.

“What is it? Who is it, Jacques?” she shrilled out inquisitively.

Bourget, for answer, swore at her, pushed her back, and, slamming the door behind him, stepped outside.

“Well, what is it? And who are you?” he demanded.

“My name is Desforges—Pierre Desforges,” said Raymond, his voice still significantly low. “That doesn't mean anything to you—and it doesn't matter. What I want you to do is to drive a man to the second station from here to-night—St. Eustace is the name, isn't it?—and you get a hundred dollars for the trip.”

“What do you mean?” Bourget's voice mingled incredulity and avarice. “A hundred dollars for that, eh? Are you trying to make a fool of me?”

Raymond held the bills up before the man's face. “Feel the money, if you can't see it!” he suggested, with a short laugh. “That's what talks.”

Bon Dieu!” ejaculated Bourget. “Yes, it is so! Well, who am I to drive? You? You are running away! Yes, Î understand! They are after you—eh? I am to drive you, eh?”

“No,” said Raymond. He drew the man close to him in the darkness, and placed his lips to Bourget's ear. “Henri Mentone.”

Bourget, startled, sprang back.

What! Who!” he cried out loudly.

“I told you not to talk so loud!” snapped Raymond. “You heard what I said.”

Bourget twisted his head furtively about.

“No, 'cré nom—no!” he said huskily. “It is too much risk! If one were caught at that—eh? Bien non, merci!

“There's no chance of your being caught”—Raymond's voice was smooth again. “It is only nine miles to St. Eustace—you will be back and in bed long before daylight. Who is to know anything about it?”

“Yes, and you!”—Bourget was still twisting his head about furtively. “What do I know about you? What have you to do with this?”

“I will tell you,” said Raymond, and into the velvet softness of his voice there crept an ominous undertone; “and at the same time I will tell you that you will be very wise to keep your mouth shut. You understand? If I trust you, it is to make you trust me. Henri Mentone is my pal. I was there the night Théophile Blondin was killed. But I made my escape. I do not desert a pal, only I had no money. Well, I have the money now, and I am back. And I am just in time—eh? They say he is well enough to be taken away in the morning.”

Mon Dieu, you were there at the killing!” muttered Bourget hoarsely. “No—I do not like it! No—it is too much risk!” His voice grew suddenly sharp with undisguised suspicion. “And why did you come to me, eh? Why did you come to me? Who sent you here?”

“I came because Mentone must be driven to St. Eustace—because he is not strong enough to walk,” said Raymond coolly. “And no one sent me here. I heard of your fight this afternoon. The curé is telling around the village that if he could not change the aspect of your heart, there was no doubt as to the change in the aspect of your face.”

Sacré nom!” gritted Bourget furiously. “He said that! I will show him! I am not through with him yet! But what has he to do with this that you come here? Eh? I do not understand.”

“Simply,” said Raymond meaningly, “that Monsieur le Curé is the one with whom we shall have to deal in getting Mentone away.”

“Hah!” exclaimed Bourget fiercely. “Yes—I am listening now! Well?”

“He sits a great deal of the time in the room with Mentone,” explained Raymond, with a callous laugh. “Very well. Mentone has been warned. If this fool of a curé knows no better than to sit there all night tonight, I will find some reason for calling him outside, and in the darkness where he will recognise no one we shall know what to do with him, and when we are through we will tie him and gag him and throw him into the shed where he will not be found until morning. On the other hand, if we are able to get Mentone away without the curé knowing it, you will still not be without your revenge. He is responsible for Mentone, and if Mentone gets away through the curé's negligence, the curé will get into trouble with the police.”

“I like the first plan better,” decided Bourget, with an ugly sneer. “He talks of my face, does he! Nom de Dieu, he will not be able to talk of his own! And a hundred dollars—eh? You said a hundred dollars? Well, if there is no more risk than that in the rest of the plan, sacré nom, you can count on Jacques Bourget”. . .

“There is no risk at all,” said Raymond. “And as to which plan—we shall see. We shall have to be guided by the circumstances, eh? And for the rest—listen! I will return by the beach, and watch the presbytère. You give me time to get back, then harness your horse and drive down there—drive past the presbytère. I will be listening, and will hear you. Then after you have gone a little way beyond, turn around and come back, and I will know that it is you. If you drive in behind the church to where the people tie their horses at mass on Sundays, you can wait there without being seen by any one passing by on the road. I will come and let you know how things are going. We may have to wait a while after that until everything is quiet, but in that way we will be ready to act the minute it is safe to do so.”

“All that is simple enough,” Bourget grunted in agreement. “And then?”

“And then,” said Raymond, “we will get Mentone out through the window of his room. There is a train that passes St. Eustace at ten minutes after midnight—and that is all. The St. Eustace station, I understand, is like the one here—far from the village, and with no houses about. He can hide near the station until traintime; and, without having shown yourself, you can drive back home and go to bed. It is your wife only that you have to think of—she will say nothing, eh?”

Baptême!” snorted Bourget contemptuously. “She has learned before now when to keep her tongue where it belongs! And you? You are coming, too?”

“Do you think I am a fool, Bourget?” inquired Raymond shortly. “When they find Mentone is gone, they will know he must have had an accomplice, for he could not get far alone. They will be looking for two of us travelling together. I will go the other way. That makes it safe for Mentone—and safe for me. I can walk to Tournayville easily before daylight; and in that way we shall both give the police the slip.”

Diable!” grunted Bourget admiringly. “You have a head!”

“It is good enough to take care of us all in a little job like to-night's,” returned Raymond, with a shrug of his shoulders. “Well, do you understand everything? For if you do, there's no use wasting any time.”

“Yes—I have it all!” Bourget's voice grew vicious again. “That sacré maudit curé! Yes, I understand.”

Raymond thrust the banknotes he had been holding into Bourget's hand.

“Here are fifty dollars to bind the bargain,” he said crisply. “You get the other fifty at the church. If you don't get them, all you've got to do is drive off and leave Mentone in the lurch. That's fair, isn't it?”

Bourget shuffled back to the edge of the lighted window, counted the money, and shoved it into his pocket.

Bon Dieu!” Bourget's puffed lip twisted into a satisfied grin. “I do not mind telling you, my Pierre Desforges, that it is long since I have seen so much.”

“Well, the other fifty is just as good,” said Raymond in grim pleasantry. He stepped back and away from the house. “At the church then, Bourget—in, say, three-quarters of an hour.”

“I will be there,” Bourget answered. “Have no fear—I will be there!”

“All right!” Raymond called back—and a moment later gained the beach again.

At the rock, he once more put on his soutane; and, running now where the sandy stretches gave him opportunity, scrambling as rapidly as he could over the ledges of slate rock, he headed back for the presbytère.

It was as good as done! There was a freeness to his spirits now—a weight and an oppression lifted from him. Henri Mentone would stand in no prisoner's dock the day after to-morrow to answer for the murder of Théophile Blondin! And it was very simple—now that Bourget's aid had been enlisted. He smiled ironically as he went along. It would not even be necessary to pommel Monsieur le Curé into a state of insensibility! Madame Lafleur retired very early—by nine o'clock at the latest—as did Valérie. As soon as he heard Bourget drive up to the church, he would go to the man to allay any impatience, and as evidence that the plan was working well. He would return then to the presbytère—it was a matter only of slipping on and off his soutane to appear as Father Aubert to Madame Lafleur and Valérie, and as Pierre Desforges to Jacques Bourget. And the moment Madame Lafleur and Valérie were in bed, he would extinguish the light in the front room as proof that Monsieur le Curé, too, had retired, run around to the back of the house, get Henri Mentone out of the window, and hand him over to Bourget, explaining that everything had worked even more smoothly than he had hoped for, that all were in bed, and that there was no chance of the escape being discovered until morning. Bourget, it was true, was very likely to be disappointed in the measure of the revenge wrecked upon the curé, but Bourget's feelings in the matter, since Bourget then would have no choice but to drive Henri Mentone to St. Eustace, were of little account.

And as far as Henri Mentone was concerned, it was very simple too. The man would have ample time and opportunity to get well out of reach. He, Raymond, would take care that the man's disappearance was not discovered any earlier than need be in the morning! It would then be a perfectly natural supposition—a supposition which he, Raymond, would father—that the man, in his condition, could not be far away, but had probably only gone restlessly and aimlessly from the house; and at first no one would even think of such a thing as escape. They would look for him around the presbytère, and close at hand on the beach. It would be impossible that, weak as he was, the man had gone far! The search would perhaps be extended to the village by the time Monsieur Dupont arrived for his vanished prisoner. Then they would extend the search still further, to the adjacent fields and woods, and it would certainly be noontime before the alternative that the man, aided by an accomplice, had got away became the only tenable conclusion. But even then Monsieur Dupont would either have to drive three miles to the station to reach the telegraph, or return to Tournayville—and by that time Henri Mentone would long since have been in the United States.

And after that—Raymond smiled ironically again—-well after that, it would be Monsieur Dupont's move!

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