THE reins lay idly in Raymond's hand. The horse, left to its own initiative, ambled lazily to the crest of a little rise that commanded a view of the town of Tournayville beyond. Raymond's eyes, lifting from the dash-board, ignoring the general perspective, fixed and held on a single detail, to the right, and perhaps a mile away—a high, rectangular, gray stone wall, that inclosed a gray, rectangular stone building.

His eyes reverted to the dash-board. It was nearly two weeks now since he had seen that cold and narrow space with its iron bars, and the figure that huddled on the cot clasping its hands dejectedly between its knees—nearly two weeks. It was ten days since he had been struck down in the church—and in another ten days, over yonder, inside that gray stone wall, a man was to be hung by the neck until he was dead. Ten days forward—ten days backward—ten days.

Ten days! In the ten days just past he had sought, in a deeper, more terrible anguish of mind than even in those days when he had thought the bitterest dregs were already at his lips, for the answer to these ten days to come—for now there was Valerie, Valérie's love, no longer a probability against which he might argue fiercely, desperately with himself, but an actual, real, existent, living thing, glorious and wonderful—and terrible as a hand of death stretching out a pointing finger to the “afterwards.” And there was God.

Yes—God! He was still the curé of St. Marleau, still the good, young Father Aubert; but since that morning when he had been struck down at the foot of God's altar he had not entered the church—and he had been no more a priest, profaning that holy place. It was not fear, a craven, superstitious fear that the hand which had struck him once would deal him physical injury again; it was not that—it was—what? He did not know. His mind was chaos there—chaos where it groped for a definite, tangible expression of his attitude toward God. There was a God. It was God who had drawn old Mother Blondin to the church that night, and had made him the instrument of her recovered faith—and the instrument of his own punishment when, in her fright which he had caused, she had loosened the great cross upon the wall. It was not coincidence, it was not superstition—deep in his consciousness lay the memory of that night when, with the old woman's hand in his, he had knelt and prayed; and deep in his consciousness was the sure knowledge that when he had prayed he had prayed in the presence of God. But he could get no further—it was as though he looked on God from afar off. Here turmoil took command. There was Valérie; the man who was to die; himself; the inflexible, immutable approach, the closing in upon him of that day of final reckoning. And God had shown him no way. He seemed to recognise an avenging God, not one to love. He could not say that he had the impulse to revere as the simple people of St. Marleau had, as Valérie had—and yet since that morning when they had carried him unconscious to the presbytère he had not again entered the church, he had not again stood before God's altar in his blasphemous, stolen garb of priest!

Raymond's thumb nail made abstracted little markings on the leather rein in his hand. Yes, that was true; profanation seemed to have acquired a new, and personal, and intimate meaning—and he had not gone. Circumstances had aided him. The solicitude of Madame Lafleur had made it easy for him to linger in bed, and subsequently to remain confined to his room long after his broken ribs, and the severe contusions he had received in his fall, had healed sufficiently to let him get about again. And he had allowed Madame Lafleur to “persuade” him! It had not been difficult as far as the early morning mass was concerned, for, with the curé sick in bed, the mass, it would be expected, would be temporarily dispensed with; but a Sunday had intervened. But even that he had solved. If some one from somewhere must say mass that day, it must be some one who would not by any chance have ever known or met the real Father François Aubert. There was Father Décan, the prison chaplain of Tour-nayville. He had never met Father Décan, even when visiting the jail, but since Father Décan had not recognised the prisoner, Father Décan obviously would have no suspicions of one Raymond Chapelle—and so he had sent a request to Father Décan to celebrate mass on the preceding Sunday, and Father Décan had complied.

The thumb nail bit a little deeper into the leather. Yesterday was the first day he had been out. This morning he had again deliberately dispensed with the mass, but to-day was Saturday—and to-morrow would be Sunday—and to-morrow St. Marleau would gather to hear the good, young Father Aubert preach again! Was God playing with him! Did God not see that he had twisted, and turned, and struggled, and planned that he might not blaspheme and profane God's altar again! Did God not see that he revolted at the thought! And yet God had shown him no other way. What else could he do? What else was there to do? He was still with his life at stake, with the life of another at stake—and there was Valérie—Valérie—Valérie!

A sharp cry of pain came involuntarily to his lips, and found utterance—and startled the horse into a reluctant jogging for a few paces. Valérie! He had scarcely seen her in all those ten days. It was Madame Lafleur who had taken care of him. Valérie had not purposely avoided him—it was not that—only she had gone to live practically all the time at old Mother Blondin's. The old woman was dying. For three days now she had not roused from unconsciousness. This morning she had been very low. By the time he returned she might be dead.

Dead! These were the closing hours of his own life in St. Marleau, the end here, too, was very near—and the closing hours, with sinister, ominous significance, seemed to be all encompassed about and permeated with death. It was not only old Mother Blon-din. There was the man in the death cell, whom he was on his way to see now, this afternoon, who was waiting for death—for death on a dangling rope—for death that was not many days off. Yesterday Father Décan had driven out to say that the prisoner was in a pitiful state of mental collapse, imploring, begging, entreating that Father Aubert should come to him—and so this afternoon Father Aubert, the good, young Father Aubert, was on his way—to the cell of death.

Raymond's lips moved silently. This was the very threshold of the “afterwards”—the threshold of that day—the day of wrath.

Dies ilia, dies ira, calamitatis et miserio, dies magna et am ara valde—That day, a day of wrath, of wasting, and of misery, a great day, and exceeding bitter.”

Unbidden had come the words. Set his face was, and white. If all else were false, if God were but the transition from the fairy tales of childhood to the fairy tale of maturity, if religion were but a shell, a beautiful shell that was empty, a storehouse of wonderful architectural beauty that held no treasure within—at least those words were true—a day of wrath, and exceeding bitter. And that day was upon him; and there was no way to go, no turn to take, only the dark, mocking pathways of the maze that possessed no opening, only the dank, slimy walls of that Walled Place against which he beat and bruised his fists in impotent despair. There was the man who was to be hanged—and himself—and Valerie—and he knew now that Valérie loved him.

The horse ambled on through the outskirts of the town. Occasionally Raymond mechanically turned out for a passing team, and acknowledged mechanically the respectful salutation. In his mind a new thought was germinating and taking form. He had said that God-had shown him no way. Was he so sure of that? If God had led him to the church that night, and had brought through him an eleventh hour reversion of faith to old Mother Blondin, and had forced the acceptance of divine existence upon himself, was he so sure that in the breaking of the fastenings of the cross, that it might fall and strike him down, there lay only a crowning punishment, only a thousandfold greater anguish, only bitter, helpless despair, in that it had been the means whereby, from Valérie's own lips, he had come to the knowledge of Valérie's love? Was he so sure of that? Was he so sure that in the very coming to him of the knowledge of her love he was not being shown the way he was to take!

The buckboard turned from the road it had been following, and took the one leading to the jail. Subconsciously Raymond guided the horse now, and subconsciously he was alive to his surroundings and to the passers-by—but his mind worked on and on with the thought that now obsessed him.

Suppose that his choice of saving one of the two lay between this man in the condemned cell and Valerie—which would he choose? He laughed sharply aloud in ironical derision. Which would he choose! It was pitiful, it was absurd—the question! Pitiful? Absurd? Well, but was it not precisely the choice he was called upon to make—to choose between Valérie and the man in the condemned cell? Was that not what the knowledge of her love meant? She loved him; from her own lips, as she had poured out her soul, thinking there was none but God to hear, he had learned the full measure of her love—a love that would never die, deep, and pure, and sinless—a love that was but the stronger for the sorrow it had to bear—a cherished, hallowed love around which her very life had entwined itself until life and love were one for always.

The gray stone walls of the jail, cold, dreary, forbidding, loomed up a little way ahead. The reins were loose upon the dashboard, but clenched in a mighty grip in Raymond's hand. He could save the man in there from death—but he could save Valérie from what would be worse than death to her. He could save her from the shame, the agony, the degradation that would kill that pure soul of hers, that would imbitter, wreck and ruin that young life, if he, the object of her love, should dangle as a felon from the gallows almost before her eyes, or flee, leaving to that love, a felon's heritage. Yes, he could save Valérie from that; and if he could save Valérie from that, what did the man in the condemned cell count for in the balance? The man meant nothing to him—nothing—nothing! It was Valérie! There was the “accident”—so easy, so sure—the “death” of the good, young Father Aubert—the upturned boat—the body supposedly washed out to sea. Long ago, in the first days of his life in St. Marleau, he had worked out the details, and the plan could not fail. There would be her grief, of course; he could not stand between her and her grief for the loss of the one she loved—but it would be a grief without bitterness, a memory without shame.

Did the man in the condemned cell count for anything against that! It would save Valerie, and—his face set suddenly in rigid lines, and his lips drew tight together—and it would save himself! It was the one alternative to either giving himself up to stand in the other's place, or of becoming a fugitive, branding himself as such, and saving the condemned man by a confession sent, say, to the Bishop, who, he remembered, knew the real François Aubert personally, and could therefore at once identify the man. Yes, it was the one alternative—and that alternative would save—himself! Wait! Was he sure that it was only Valérie of whom he was thinking? Was he sure that he was sincere? Was he sure there were no coward promptings—to save himself?

For a moment the tense and drawn expression in his face held as he groped in mind and soul for the answer; and then his lips parted in a bitter smile. It was not much to boast of! Three-Ace Artie a coward? Ask of the men of that far Northland whose lives ran hand in hand with death, ask of the men of the Yukon, ask of the men who knew! Gambler, roué, whatever else they might have called him, no man had ever called him coward! If his actual death, rather than his supposititious death, could save Valérie the better, in his soul he knew that he would not have hesitated. Why then should he hesitate about this man! If it lay between Valérie and this man, why should he hesitate! If he would give his own life to save Valérie from suffering and shame, why should he consider this man's life—this man who meant nothing to him—nothing!

Well, had he decided? He was at the jail now. Was he satisfied that this was the way? Yes! Yes—yes! He told himself with fierce insistence that it was—an insistence that by brute force beat down an opposition that somehow seemed miserably seeking to intrude itself. Yes—it was the way! There was only the appeal, that one chance to wait for, and once that was refused he would borrow Bouchard's boat—Bouchard's new boat—and to-morrow, or the next day, or the next, whenever it might be, instead of looking for him at mass in church, St. Marleau would look along the shore in search of the body of the good, young Father Aubert.

He tied his horse, and knocked upon the jail gate, and presently the gate was opened.

The attendant touched his cap.

Salut, Monsieur le Curé!” he said respectfully, as he stepped aside for Raymond to enter. “Monsieur le Curé had a very narrow escape. The blessed saints be praised! It is good to see him. He is quite well again?”

“Quite,” said Raymond pleasantly.

The man closed the gate, and led the way across a narrow courtyard to the jail building. The jail was pretentious neither in size nor in staff—the man who had opened the gate acted as one of the turnkeys as well.

“It is to see the prisoner Mentone that Monsieur le Curé has come, of course?” suggested the attendant.

“Yes,” Raymond answered.

The turnkey nodded.

Pauvre diable! He will be glad! He has been calling for you all the time. It did no good to tell him you were sick, and Father Décan could do nothing with him. He has been very bad—not hard to manage, you understand, Monsieur le Curé—but he does not sleep except when he is exhausted, because he says there is only a little while left and he will live that much longer if he keeps awake. Tiens! I have never had a murderer here to be hanged before, and I do not like it. I dream of the man myself!”

Raymond made no reply. They had entered the jail now, and the turnkey was leading the way along a cell-flanked corridor.

“Yes, I dream of him every night, and the job ahead of us—and so does Jacques, the other turnkey.” The man nodded his head again; then, over his shoulder: “He has a visitor with him now, Monsieur le Curé, but that will not matter—it is Monsieur l'Avocat, Monsieur Lemoyne, you know.”

Lemoyne! Lemoyne—here! Why? Raymond reached out impulsively, and, catching the turnkey's arm, brought the man to a sudden halt.

“Monsieur Lemoyne, you say!” he exclaimed sharply. “What is Monsieur Lemoyne doing here?”

“But—but, I do not know, Monsieur le Curé,” the turnkey, taken by surprise, stammered. “He comes often, he is often here, it is the privilege of the prisoner's lawyer. I—I thought that perhaps Monsieur le Curé would care to see him too. But perhaps Monsieur le Curé would prefer to wait until he has gone?”

“No”—Raymond's hand fell away from the other's arm. “No—I will see him. I was afraid for the moment that he might have brought—bad news. That was all.”

“Ah, yes, I understand, Monsieur le Curé”—the turnkey nodded once more. “But I do not know. Monsieur Lemoyne said nothing when he came in.”

Afraid! Afraid that Lemoyne had brought the answer to that appeal! Well, what if Lemoyne had! Had he, Raymond, not known always what the answer would be, and had he not just decided what he would do when that answer was received—had he not decided that between the man and Valérie there could be no hesitation, no more faltering, or tormenting——

The cell door swung open.

“Enter, Monsieur le Curé!”

The turnkey's voice seemed far away. Mechanically Raymond stepped forward. The door clanged raucously behind him. There came a cry, a choked cry, a strangling cry, that mingled a pitiful joy with terror and despair—and a figure with outstretched arms, a figure with gaunt, white, haggard face was stumbling toward him; and now the figure had flung itself upon its knees, and was clutching at him convulsively with its arms.

“Father—Father François Aubert—father, have pity upon me—father, tell them to have pity upon me!”

And yet he scarcely saw this figure, scarcely heard the voice, though his hands were laid upon the bowed head that was buried in the skirt of his soutane. He was looking at that other figure, at Lemoyne, the young lawyer, who stood at the far end of the cell near the iron-barred window. There were tears in Lemoyne's eyes; and Lemoyne held a document in his hand.

“Thank God that you have come, Monsieur le Curé!” Lemoyne said huskily.

“You have”—Raymond steadied his voice—“bad news?”

Lemoyne silently extended the document.

There were a great many words, a great many sentences written on the paper. If he read them all, Raymond was not conscious of it; he was conscious only that, in summary, he had grasped their meaning—the man must die.

The man's head was still buried in Raymond's soutane, his hands still clasped tightly at Raymond's knees. Raymond did not speak—the question was in his eyes as they met Lemoyne's.

Lemoyne shook his head hopelessly, and, taking the document back from Raymond, returned it slowly to his pocket.

“I will leave you alone with him, Monsieur le Curé—it will be better,” he said in a low voice. He stepped across the cell, and for a moment laid his hand on the shoulder of the kneeling man. “Courage, Henri—I will come back to-morrow,” he whispered, and passed on to the door.

“Wait!”—Raymond stepped to Lemoyne's side, as the lawyer rattled upon the door for the turnkey. “There—there is nothing more that can be done?” His throat was dry, even his undertone rasped and grated in his own ears. “Nothing?”

“Nothing!” Lemoyne's wet eyes lifted to meet Raymond's, and again he shook his head. “I shall ask, as a matter of course, that the sentence be commuted to life imprisonment—but it will not be granted. It—it would be cruelty even to suggest it to him, Monsieur le Curé.” And then, as the door opened, he wrung Raymond's hand, and went hurriedly from the cell.

Slowly Raymond turned away from the door. There was hollow laughter in his soul. A mocking voice was in his ears—that inner voice.

“Well, that is decided! Now put your own decision into effect, and have done with this! Have done with it—do you hear! Have done with it—have done with it—once for all!”

His eyes swept the narrow cell, its white walls, the bare, cold floor, the cot with its rumpled blanket, the iron bars on the window that sullenly permitted an oblong shaft of sunlight to fall obliquely on the floor—and upon the figure that, still upon its knees, held out its arms imploringly to him, that cried again to him piteously.

“Father—Father Aubert—help me—tell them to have pity upon me—save me, father—Father François Aubert—save me!”

And Raymond, though he fought to shift his eyes again to those iron bars, to the sunlight's shaft, to anywhere, could not take them from that figure. The man was distraught, stricken, beside himself; weakness, illness, the weeks of confinement, the mental anguish, crowned in this moment as he saw his last hope swept away, had done their work. The tears raced down the pallid cheeks; the eyes were like—like they had been in the courtroom that day—like dumb beast's in agony.

“Soothe him, quiet him,” snarled that voice savagely, “and do it as quickly as you can—and get out of here! Tell him about that God that you think you've come to believe is not a myth, if you like—tell him anything that will let you get away—and remember Valérie. Do you think this scene here in this cell, and that thing grovelling on the floor is the sum of human misery? Then picture Valérie nursing shame and horror and degradation in her soul! What is this man to you! Remember Valérie!”

Yes—Valérie! That was true! Only—if only he could avoid the man's eyes! Well, why did not he, Raymond, speak, why did he not act, why did he not do something—instead of standing here impotently over the other, and simply hold the man's hands—yes, that was what he was doing—that was what felt so hot, so feverishly hot—those hands that laced their fingers so frantically around his.

“My son,”—the words were coming by sheer force of will—“do not give way like this. Try and calm yourself. See”—he stooped, and, raising the other by the shoulders, drew him to the cot—“sit here, and——”

“You will not go, father—you will not go?”—the man was passing his hands up and down Raymond's arms, patting them, caressing them, as though to assure and reassure himself that Raymond was there. “They told me that you were hurt, and—and I was afraid, for there is no one else, father—no one else—only—only you—and you are here now—you are here now—and—and you will stay with me, father?”

“Yes,” said Raymond numbly.

“Yes, you are here”—it was as though the man were whispering to himself, and a smile had lighted up the wan face. “See, I am not afraid any more, for you have come. Monsieur Lemoyne said that I must die, that there was no hope any more, that—that I would have to be hanged, but you will not let them, father, you will not let them—for you have come now—you have come—Father François Aubert, my friend, you have come.”

Raymond's hand, resting on the cot behind the other's back, picked up and clenched a fold of blanket. There was something horrible, abominable, hellish in the man's trustful smile, in the man's faith, that was the faith of a child in the parent's omnipotence, in this man crying upon his own name as a magic talisman that would open to him the gates of life! What answer was there to make? He could not sit here dumb—and yet he could not speak. There were things a priest should say—a priest who was here to comfort a man condemned to death, a man who was to be hanged by the neck until he was dead. He should talk to the other of God, of the tender mercy of God, of the life that was to come where there was no more death. But talk to the man like that—when he, Raymond, was sending the other to his doom; when the other, not he, should be sitting here in this soutane; when he had already robbed the man of his identity, and even at this moment purposed robbing him of his life! Act Father François Aubert to Father François Aubert here in this prison cell under the shadow of that dangling rope, tell him of God, of God's tender mercy, supplicate to God for that mercy, pray with his lips for that mercy while he stabbed the man to death! He shivered, and it seemed as though his fingers would tear and rend through the blanket in the fierceness of their clutch—it was the one logical, natural thing that a priest should say, that he, in his priestly dress, should say! No! He neither would nor could! It was hideous! No human soul could touch depths as black as that—and the man was clinging to him—clinging to him—and—-

Remember Valérie!”—it came like a curling lash, that inner voice, curt, brutal, contemptuous. “Are you going to weaken again? Remember what it cost you once—and remember that it is for Valérie's sake this time!”

The strong jaws set together. Yes—Valérie! Yes—he would remember. He would not falter now—he would go through with it, and have done with it. Between this man's life and a lifelong misery for Valerie there could be no hesitation.

“Henri Mentone, my son,” he said gravely, “I adjure you to be brave. I have come, it is true, and I will come often, but——”

The words that Raymond's brain was stumbling, groping for, the “something,” the “anything” to say, found no expression. The man suddenly appeared to be paying no attention; his head was turned in a tense, listening attitude; there was horror in the white face; and now the other's hands closed like steel bands around Raymond's wrists.

“Listen!” whispered the man wildly. “Listen! Oh, my God—listen!”

Startled, Raymond turned his head about, looking quickly around the cell. There was nothing—there was no sound.

“Don't you hear it!”—the other's voice was guttural and choked now, and he shook fiercely at Raymond's wrists. “I thought it had gone away when you came, but there it is again. I—I thought you had told them to stop! Don't you hear it—don't you hear it! Don't you hear them hammering! Listen! Listen! There it is!”

Raymond felt the blood ebb swiftly from his face.

“No—try and compose yourself. There is nothing—nothing, my son—it is only————-”

“I tell you, yes!” cried the man frantically. “I hear it! I hear it! You say, no; and I tell you, yes! I have heard it night and day. It comes from there—see!”—he swept one hand toward the barred window, and suddenly, leaping to his feet, dragged at Raymond with almost superhuman strength, forcing Raymond up from the cot and across the cell. “Come, and I will show you! It is out there! They are hammering out there now!”

The man's face was ghastly, the frenzy with which he pulled was ghastly—and now at the window he thrust out his arm through the bars, far out up to the armpit, far out with horrible eagerness, and pointed.

“There! There! You cannot see, but it is just around the corner of the building—between the building and the wall. You cannot see, but it is just around the corner there that they are building it! Listen to them! Listen to them—hammering—hammering—hammering!”

Sweat was on Raymond's forehead.

“Come away!” he said hoarsely. “In the name of God, come away!”

“Ah, you hear it now!”—the condemned man drew in his arm, until his fingers clawed and picked at the bars. “They will not stop, and it is because I cannot remember—because I cannot remember—here—here—here”—he swung clear of the window—and suddenly raising his clenched fists began to beat with almost maniacal fury at his temples. “If I could remember, they would stop—they would——”

“Henri! My son!” Raymond cried out sharply—and caught at the other's hands. A crimson drop had oozed from the man's bruised skin, and now was trickling down the colourless, working face. “You do not know what you are doing! Listen to me! Listen! Let me go!”—the man wrenched and fought furiously to break Raymond's hold. “They will not stop out there—they are hammering—don't you hear them hammering—and it is because I—I——” The snarl, the fury in the voice was suddenly a sob. The man was like a child again, helpless, stricken, chidden; and as Raymond's hands unlocked, the man reached out his arms and put them around Raymond's neck, and hid his face upon Raymond's shoulder. “Forgive me, father—forgive me!” he pleaded brokenly. “Forgive me—it is sometimes more than I can bear.”

Raymond's arms mechanically tightened around the shaking shoulders; and mechanically he drew the other slowly back to the cot. Something was gnawing at his soul until his soul grew sick and faint. Hell shrieked its abominable approval in his ears, as he sat down upon the cot still holding the other—and shrieked the louder, until the cell seemed to ring and ring again with its unholy mirth, as the man pressed his lips to the crucifix on Raymond's breast.

“Father, I do not want to die”—the man spoke brokenly again. “They say I killed a man. How could I have killed a man, father? See”—he straightened back, and held out both his hands before Raymond's eyes—“see, father, surely these hands have never harmed any one. I cannot remember—I do not remember anything they say I did. Surely if I could remember, I could make them know that I am innocent. But I cannot remember. Father, must I die because I cannot remember? Must I, father”—the man's face was gray with anguish. “I have prayed to God to make me remember, father, and—and He does not answer—He does not answer—and I hear only that hammering—and sometimes in the night there is something that tightens and tightens around my throat, and—and it is horrible. Father—Father François Aubert—tell them to have pity upon me—you believe that I am innocent, don't you—you believe, father—yes, yes!”—he clutched at Raymond's shoulders—“yes, yes, y°u believe—look into my eyes, look into my face—look, father—look——”

Look! Look into that face, look into those eyes! He could not look.

“My son, be still!”—the words were wrung in sudden agony from Raymond's lips.

He drew the other's head to his shoulder again, and held the other there—that he might not look—that the eyes and the face might be hidden from him. And the form in his arms shook with convulsive sobs, and clung to him, and called him by its own name, and called him friend—this stricken man who was to die—for whom he, Raymond, was building “it” out there under the shadow of the jail wall—and—and—God, he too could hear that hammering and—“Fool, remember Valérie!”

The sweat beads multiplied upon Raymond's forehead. His face was bloodless; his grip so tight upon the other that the man cried out, yet in turn but clung the closer. Yes, that voice was right—right—right! It was only that for the moment he was unnerved. It was this man's life for Valérie—this man's life for Valérie. It would only be a few days more, and then it would be over in a second, before even the man knew it—but with Valérie it would be for all of life, and there would be years and years—yes, yes, it was only that he had been unnerved for the instant—it was this man's life for Valérie—if he would give his own life, why shouldn't he give this man's—why shouldn't——

His brain, his mind, his thoughts seemed suddenly to be inert, to be held in some strangely numbed, yet fascinated suspension. He was staring at the shaft of sunlight that fought for its right against those iron bars to enter this place of death. He stared and stared at it—something—a face—seemed to be emerging slowly out of the sunlight, to be taking form just beyond, just outside those iron bars, to become framed in the gray, pitiless stone of the window slit, to be pressed against those iron bars, to be looking in.

And suddenly he pushed the man violently and without heed from him, until the man fell forward on the cot, and Raymond, lurching upward himself, stood rocking upon his feet. It was clear, distinct now, that face looking in through those iron bars. It was Valerie's face—Valerie's—Valerie's face. It was beautiful as he had never seen it beautiful before. The sweet lips were parted in a smile of infinite tenderness and pity, and the dark eyes looked out through a mist of compassion, not upon him, but upon the figure behind him on the prison cot. He reached out his arms. His lips moved silently—Valérie! And then she seemed to turn her head and look at him, and her eyes swam deeper in their tears, and there was a wondrous light of love in her face, and with the love a condemnation that was one of sorrow and of bitter pain. She seemed to speak; he seemed to hear her voice: “That life is not yours to give. I have sinned, my lover, in loving you. Is my sin to be beyond all forgiveness because out of my love has been born the guilt of murder?”

The voice was gone. The face had faded out of that shaft of sunlight—only the iron bars were there now. Raymond's outstretched arms fell to his side—and then he turned, and dropped upon his knees beside the cot, and hid his face in his hands.

Murder! Yes, it was murder—murder that desecrated, that vilified, that made a wanton thing of that pure love, that brave and sinless love, that Valerie had given him. And he would have linked the vilest and the blackest crime, hideous the more in the Judas betrayal with which he would have accomplished it, with Valerie—with Valerie's love! His hands, locked about his face, trembled. He was weak and nerveless in a Titanic revulsion of soul and mind and body. And horror was upon him, a horror of himself—and yet, too, a strange and numbed relief. It was not he, it was not he as he knew himself, who had meant to do this thing—it was not Raymond Chapelle who had thought and argued that this was the way. See! His soul recoiled, blasted, shrivelled now from before it! It was because his brain had been tormented, not to the verge of madness, but had been flung across that border-line for a space into the gibbering realms beyond where reason tottered and was lost.

He was conscious that the man was sitting upright on the edge of the cot, conscious that the man's hands were plucking pitifully at the sleeve of his soutane, conscious that the man was pleading again hysterically: “Father, you will tell them that you know I am innocent. They will believe you, father—they will believe you. They say I did it, father, but I cannot remember, or—or, perhaps, I could make them believe me, too. You will not let me die, father—because—because I cannot remember. You will save me, father”—the man's voice was rising, passing beyond control—“Father François Aubert, for the pity of Christ's love, tell me that you will not let me die—tell me——”

And then Raymond raised his head. His face was strangely composed.

“Hush, my son”—he scarcely recognised his own voice—it was quiet, low, gentle, like one soothing a child. “Hush, my son, you will not die.”

“Father! Father Aubert!”—the man was lurching forward toward him; the white, hollow face was close to his; the burning deep-sunk eyes with a terrible hunger in them looked into his. “I will not die! I will not die! You said that, father? You said that?”

“Hush!” Raymond's lips were dry, he moistened them with his tongue. “Calm yourself now, my son—you need no longer have any fear.”

A sob broke from the man's lips. His hands covered his face; he began to rock slowly back and forth upon the cot. He crooned to himself:

“I will not die—I am to live—I will not die—I am to live....”

And then suddenly, in a paroxysm of returning fear, he was on his feet, dragging Raymond up from his knees, and, catching at Raymond's crucifix, lifted it wildly to Raymond's lips.

“Swear it, father!” he cried. “Swear it on the cross! Swear by God's holy Son that I will not die! Swear it on the blessed cross!”

“I swear it,” Raymond answered in a steady voice.

There was no sound, no cry now—only a transfigured face, glad with a mighty joy. And then the man's hands went upward queerly, seeking his temples—and the swaying form lay in Raymond's arms.

The man stirred after a moment, and opened his eyes.

“Are you there, father—my friend?” he whispered.

“Yes,” Raymond said.

The man's hold tightened, and he sighed like one over-weary who had found repose.

And sitting there upon the edge of the cot, Raymond held the other in his arms—and the sunlight's shaft through the barred window grew shorter—and shadows crept into the narrow cell. At times there came low sobs; at times the man's hand was raised to feel and touch Raymond's face, at times to touch the crucifix on Raymond's breast. And then at last the other moved no more, and the breathing became deep and regular, and a peaceful smile came and lingered on the lips.

And Raymond laid the other gently back upon the cot, and, crossing to the cell door, knocked softly upon it for the turnkey. And as the door was opened, he laid his finger across his lips.

“He is asleep,” he said. “Do not disturb him.”

“Asleep!”—the turnkey in amazement thrust his head inside the cell; and then he looked in wonder at Raymond. “Asleep—but Monsieur Lemoyne told me of the news when he went out. Asleep—after that! The man who never sleeps!”

But Raymond only shook his head, and did not answer, and walked on down the corridor, and out into the courtyard. It was dusk now. He seemed to be moving purely by intuition. It was not the way—the man was to live. His mind was obsessed with that. It was not the way. There were two ways left—two out of the three.

The turnkey, who had followed in respectful silence, spoke again as he opened the jail gates.

Au revoir, Monsieur le Cure”—he lifted his cap. “Monsieur le Curé will return to-morrow?”

To-morrow! Raymond's hands fumbled with the halter, as he untied the horse. To-morrow! There were two ways left, and the time was short. To-morrow—what would to-morrow bring!

“Perhaps,” he said, unconscious that his reply had been long delayed—and found that he was speaking to closed gates, and that the turnkey was gone.

And then Raymond smiled as he seated himself in the buckboard and drove away—the smile a curious twitching of the lips. The turnkey was a tactful man who would not intrude upon Monsieur le Curé's so easily understood sorrow for the condemned man!

He drove on through the town, and turned into the St. Marleau road that wound its way for miles along the river's shore. And as he had driven slowly on his way to the jail, so he drove slowly on his return to the village, the horse left almost to guide itself and to set its own pace.

The dusk deepened, and the road grew dark—it seemed fitting that the road should grow dark. There were two ways left. The jaws of the trap were narrowing—one of the three ways was gone. There were two left. Either he must stand in that other's place, and hang in that other's place; or run for it with what start he could, throw them off his trail if he could, and write from somewhere a letter that would exonerate the other and disclose the priest's identity—-a letter to the Bishop unquestionably, if the letter was to be written at all, for the Bishop, not only because he knew the man personally and could at once establish his identity, but because, in the very nature of the case, with the life of one of his own curés at stake, the Bishop, above all other men, would have both the incentive and the power to act. Two ways! One was a ghastly, ignominious death, to hang by the neck until he was dead—the other was to be a fugitive from the law, to become a hunted, baited beast, fighting every moment with his wits for the right to breathe. There were two ways! One was death—one held a chance for life. And the time was short.

It was the horse that turned of its own accord in past the church, and across the green to the presbytère.

He left the horse standing there—Narcisse would come and get it presently—and went up the steps, and entered the house. The door of the front room was open, a light burned upon his desk. Along the hall, from the dining room, Madame Lafleur came hurrying forward smilingly.

“Supper is ready, Monsieur le Curé,” she called out cheerily. “Poor man, you must be tired—it was a long drive to take so soon after your illness, and before you were really strong again.”

“I am late,” said Raymond; “that is the main thing, Madame Lafleur. I put you always, it seems, to a great deal of trouble.”

“Tut!” she expostulated, shaking her head at him as she smiled. “It is scarcely seven o'clock. Trouble! The idea! We did not wait for you, Monsieur le Curé, because Valérie had to hurry back to Madame Blondin. Madame Blondin is very, very low, Monsieur le Curé. Doctor Arnaud, when he left this afternoon, said that—but I will tell you while you are eating your supper. Only first—yes—wait—it is there on your desk. Monsieur Labbée sent it over from the station this afternoon—a telegram, Monsieur le Curé.”

A telegram! He glanced swiftly at her face. It told him nothing. Why should it!

“Thank you,” he said, and stepping into the front room, walked over to the desk, picked up the yellow-envelope, tore it open calmly, and read the message.

His back was toward the door. He laid the slip of paper down upon the desk, and with that curious trick of his stretched out his hand in front of him, and held it there, and stared at it. It was steady—without tremor. It was well that it was so. He would need his nerve now. He had been quite right—the time was short. There remained—one hour. In an hour from now, on the evening train, Monsignor the Bishop, who was personally acquainted with Father François Aubert, would arrive in St. Marleau.

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