A Question of Trust

by Ethel M. Dell

I

Pierre Dumaresq stood gazing out to the hard blue line of the horizon with a frown between his brows. The glare upon the water was intense, but he stared into it with fixed, unflinching eyes, unconscious of discomfort.

He held a supple riding-switch in his hands, at which his fingers strained and twisted continually, as though somewhere in the inner man there burned a fierce impatience. But his dark face was as immovable as though it had been carved in bronze. A tropical sun had made him even darker than Nature had intended him to be, a fact to which those fixed eyes testified, for they shone like steel in the sunlight, in curious contrast to his swarthy skin. His hair was black, cropped close about a bullet head, which was set on his broad shoulders with an arrogance that gave him a peculiarly aggressive air. The narrow black moustache he wore emphasised rather than concealed the thin straight line of mouth. Plainly a fighting man this, and one, moreover, accustomed to hold his own.

At the striking of a clock in the room behind him he turned as though a voice had spoken, and left the stone balcony on which he had been waiting. His spurs rang as he stepped into the room behind it. The floor was uncarpeted, and shone like ebony.

He glanced around him as one unfamiliar with his surroundings. It was a large apartment, and lofty, but it contained very little furniture—a couch, two or three chairs, a writing-table; on the walls, several strangely shaped weapons; on the mantelpiece a couple of foils.

He smiled as his look fell upon these, and, crossing the room, he took one of them up, and tested it between his hands.

At the quiet opening of the door he wheeled, still holding it. A woman stood a moment upon the threshold; then slowly entered. She was little more than a girl but the cold dignity of her demeanour imparted to her the severity of more advanced years. Her face was like marble, white, pure, immobile; but there was a touch of pathos about the eyes. They were deeply shadowed, and looked as if they had watched—or wept—for many hours.

Dumaresq bowed in the brief English fashion, instantly straightening himself with a squaring of his broad shoulders that were already so immensely square that they made his height seem inconsiderable.

She gravely inclined her head in response. She did not invite him to sit down, and he remained where he was, with his fierce eyes unwaveringly upon her.

In the middle of the room, full three yards from him, she paused, and deliberately met his scrutiny.

"You wished to see me, Monsieur Dumaresq?" she said in English.

"Yes," said Dumaresq. He turned, and laid the foil back upon the mantelpiece behind him; then calmly crossed the intervening space, and stood before her. "I am grateful to you for granting me an interview, mademoiselle," he said. "I am aware that you have done so against your will."

There was something of a challenge in the words, but she did not seem to hear it. She made answer in a slow, quiet voice that held neither antagonism nor friendliness.

"I supposed that you had some suggestion to make, monsieur, which it was my duty to hear."

"I see," said Dumaresq, still narrowly observing her. "Well, you are right. I have a suggestion to make, one which I beg, for your own sake, that you will cordially consider."

Before the almost brutal directness of his look her own eyes slowly sank. A very faint tinge of colour crept over her pallor, but she made no signs of flinching.

"What is your suggestion, monsieur?" she quietly asked him.

He did not instantly reply. Perhaps he had not altogether expected the calm question. She showed no impatience, but she would not again meet his eyes. In silence she waited.

At length abruptly he began to speak.

"Have you," he asked, "given any thought to your position here? Have you made any plans for yourself in the event of a rising?"

Her eyelids quivered a little, but she did not raise them.

"I do not think," she said, her voice very low, "that the time has yet come for making plans."

Dumaresq threw back his head with a movement that seemed to indicate either impatience or surprise.

"You are living on the edge of a volcano," he told her, with grim force; "and at any moment you may be overwhelmed. Have you never faced that yet? Haven't you yet begun to realise that Maritas is a hotbed of scoundrels—the very scum and rabble of creation—blackguards whom their own countries have, for the most part, refused to tolerate—some of them half-breeds, all of them savages? Haven't you yet begun to ask yourself what you may expect from these devils when they take the law into their own hands? I tell you, mademoiselle, it may happen this very night. It may be happening now!"

She raised her eyes at that—dark eyes that gleamed momentarily and were as swiftly lowered. When she spoke, her low voice held a thrill of scorn.

"Not now, monsieur," she said. "To-night—possibly! But not now—not without you to lead them!"

Pierre Dumaresq made a slight movement. It could not have been called a menace, though it was in a fashion suggestive of violence suppressed—the violence of the baited bull not fully roused to the charge.

"You are not wise, Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said.

She answered him in a voice that quivered, in spite of her obvious effort to control it.

"Nor am I altogether a fool, monsieur. Your sympathies are well known. The revolutionists have looked to you to lead them as long as I have known Maritas."

"That may be, mademoiselle," he sternly responded. "But it is possible, is it not, that they may look in vain?"

Again swiftly her glance flashed upwards.

"Is it possible?" she breathed.

He did not deign to answer.

"I have not come to discuss my position," he said curtly, "but yours. What are you going to do, mademoiselle? How do you propose to escape?"

She was white now, white to the lips; but she did not shrink.

"I beg that you will not concern yourself on my account," she said proudly. "I shall no doubt find a means of escape if I need it."

"Where, mademoiselle?" There was something dogged in the man's voice, his eyes were relentless in their determination. "Are you intending to look to your stepfather for protection?"

Again, involuntarily almost, she raised her eyes, but they held no fear.

"No, monsieur," she responded coldly. "I shall find a better way than that."

"How, mademoiselle?"

The brief question sounded like a threat. She stiffened as she heard it, and stood silent.

"How, mademoiselle?" he said again.

She made a slight gesture of protest.

"Monsieur, it is no one's concern but my own."

"And mine," he said stubbornly.

She shook her head.

"No, monsieur."

"And mine," he repeated with emphasis, "since I presume to make it so. You refuse to answer me merely because you know as well as I do that you are caught in a trap from which you are powerless to release yourself. And now listen to me. There is a way out—only one way, mademoiselle—and if you are wise you will take it, without delay. There is only one man in Maritas who can save you. So far as I know, there is only one man willing to attempt it. That man holds you already in the hollow of his hand. You will be wise to make terms with him while you can."

His tone was curiously calm, almost cynical. His eyes were still fixed unswervingly upon her face. They beat down the haughty surprise with which for a few seconds she encountered them.

"Yes, mademoiselle," he resumed quietly, as though she had spoken. "He is a man whom you despise from the bottom of your soul; but for all that, he is not wholly despicable. Nor is he incapable of deserving your trust if you will bestow it upon him. It is all a question of trust." He smiled grimly at the word. "Whatever you expect from him, that you will receive in full measure. He does not disappoint his friends—or his enemies."

He paused. She was listening with eyes downcast, but her face was a very mask of cold disdain.

"Monsieur," she said, with stately deliberation, "I do not—wholly—understand you. But it would be wasting your time and my own to ask you to explain. As I said before, in the event of a crisis I can secure my own safety."

"Nevertheless," said Pierre Dumaresq with a deliberation even greater than her own, "I will explain, since a clear understanding seems to me advisable. I am asking you to marry me, Mademoiselle Stephanie, in order to ensure your safety. It is practically your only alternative now, and it must be taken at once. I shall know how to protect my wife. Marry me, and I will take you out of the city to my home on the other side of the island. My yacht is there in readiness, and escape at any time would be easy."

"Escape, monsieur!" Sharply she broke in upon him. Her coldness was all gone in a sudden flame of indignation kindled by the sheer arrogance of his bearing. "Escape from whom—from what?"

He was silent an instant, almost as if disconcerted. Then:

"Escape from your enemies, mademoiselle," he rejoined sternly. "Escape from the mercy of the mob, which is all you can expect if you stay here."

Her eyes flashed over him in a single, searing glance of the most utter, the most splendid contempt. Then:

"You are more than kind, Monsieur Dumaresq," she said. "But your suggestion does not recommend itself to me. In short, I should prefer—the mercy of the mob."

The man's brows met ferociously. His hands clenched. He almost looked for the moment as though he would strike her. But she did not flinch before him, and very slowly the tension passed. Yet his eyes shone terribly upon her as a sword-blade that is flashed in the sunlight.

"A strange preference, mademoiselle," he remarked at length, turning to pick up his riding-switch. "Possibly you may change your mind—before it is too late."

"Never!" she answered proudly.

And Pierre Dumaresq laughed—a sudden, harsh laugh, and turned to go. It was only what he had expected, after all, but it galled him none the less. He uttered no threat of any sort; only at the door he stood for an instant and looked back at her. And the woman's heart contracted within her as though her blood had turned to ice.

II

When she was alone, when his departing footsteps had ceased to echo along the corridor without, Mademoiselle Stephanie drew a long, quivering breath and moved to a chair by the window. She sank into it with the abandonment of a woman at the end of her strength, and sat passive with closed eyes.

For three years now she had lived in this turbulent island of Maritas. For three years she had watched discontent gradually merge into rebellion and anarchy. And now she knew that at last the end was near.

Her stepfather, the Governor, held his post under the French Government, but France at that time was too occupied with matters nearer home to spare much attention for the little island in the Atlantic and its seething unrest. De Rochefort was considered a capable man, and certainly if treachery and cruelty could have upheld his authority he would have maintained his ascendency without difficulty. But the absinthe demon had gripped him with resistless strength, and all his shrewdness had long since been drained away.

Day by day he plunged deeper into the vice that was destroying him, and Stephanie could but stand by and watch the gradual gathering of a storm that was bound to overwhelm them both.

There was no love between them. They were bound together by circumstance alone. She had gone to the place to be with her dying mother, and had remained there at that mother's request. Madame de Rochefort's belief in her husband had never been shaken, and, dying, she had left her English daughter in his care.

Stephanie had accepted a position that there was no one else to fill, and then had begun the long martyrdom that, she now saw, could have only one ending. She and the Governor were doomed. Already the great wave of revolution towered above them. Very soon it would burst and sweep both away into the terrible vortex of destruction.

It was only of late that she had come to realise this, and the horror of the awakening still at times had power to appal her. For she knew she was utterly unprotected. She had tried in vain to rouse the Governor to see the ever-growing danger, had striven desperately to open his eyes to the unmistakable signs of the coming change. He had laughed at her at first, and later, when she had implored him to resign his post, he had brutally refused.

She had never approached him again on the matter, seeing the futility of argument; but on that selfsame day she had provided herself with a means of escape which could not fail her when the last terrible moment arrived. Flight she never contemplated. It would have been an utter impossibility. She was without friends, without money. Her relations in England were to her as beings in another sphere. She had known them in her childhood, but they had since dropped out of her existence. The only offer of help that had reached her was that which she had just rejected from the man whom, of all others, she most hated and desired to avoid.

She shivered suddenly and violently as she recalled the interview. Was it possible that she feared him as well? She had always disliked him, conscious of something in his manner that perpetually excited her antagonism. She had felt his lynx eyes watching her continually throughout the bitter struggle, and she had known always that he was watching for her downfall.

He was the richest man in the island, and as such his influence was considerable. He had not yet made common cause with the revolutionary party, but it was generally felt that his sympathies were on their side, and it was in him that the majority hoped to find a leader when the time for rebellion should be ripe. He had never committed himself to do so, but no one on either side doubted his intentions, Mademoiselle Stephanie, as every one called her, least of all.

She had been accustomed to meeting him fairly often, though he had never been a very frequent guest at the palace. Perhaps he divined her aversion, or perhaps—and this was the more likely supposition—his hatred of the Governor debarred him from enjoying his hospitality.

He was a man of fierce independence and passionate temperament, possessing withal a dogged tenacity that she always ascribed to the fact that he was born of an English mother. But she had never before that day credited him with the desire to exercise a personal influence in her life. She had avoided him by instinct, and till that day he had always seemed to acquiesce.

His offer of marriage had been utterly unexpected. Regarding him as she did, it seemed to her little short of an insult. She hardly knew what motive to ascribe to him for it; but circumstances seemed to point to one, ambition. No doubt he thought that she might prove of use to him when he stepped into the Governor's place.

Well, he had his answer—a very emphatic one. He could scarcely fail to take her at her word. She smiled faintly to herself even while she shivered, as she recalled the scarcely suppressed fury with which he had received his dismissal. She was glad that she had managed to pierce through that immaculate armour of self-complacence just once. She had not been woman otherwise.

III

An intense stillness brooded over the city. The night was starless, the sea black as ink. Stephanie stood alone in the darkness of her balcony, and listened to the silence.

Seven days had elapsed since her interview with Pierre Dumaresq—seven days of horrible, nerve-racking suspense, of anguished foreboding, of ever-creeping, leaden-footed despair. And now at last, though the suspense still held her, she knew that the end had come. Only that evening, as her carriage had been turning in at the palace gates, a bomb had been flung under the wheels. By some miracle it had not exploded. She had passed on unharmed.

But the ghastly incident was to her as the sounding of her own death-knell. Standing there with her face to the sea, she was telling herself that she would never see the daylight again. The very soldiers that guarded them were revolutionists at heart. They were only waiting, so she believed, for a strong man's word of command to throw open the palace doors to frenzied murderers.

No sound came up to her from the motionless sea, no faintest echo of waves upon the shore. The stillness hung like a weight upon the senses. There was something sinister about it, something vaguely terrible. Yet, as she stood there waiting, she was not afraid. Something deeper than fear was in her heart. Pulsing through and through her like an electric current was a deep and passionate revolt against the fate that awaited her.

She could not have said whence it came, this sudden, wild rebellion that tore her quivering heart, but it possessed her to the exclusion of all besides. She had told herself a hundred times before that death, when it came, would be welcome. Yet, now that death was so near her, she longed with all her soul to live. She yearned unspeakably to flee away from this evil place, to go out into the wide spaces of the earth and to feel the sunshine that as yet had never touched her life.

They thought her cold and proud, these people who hated her; but could they have seen the tears that rolled down her face that night there might have been some among them to pity her. But she was the victim of circumstance, bound and helpless, and, though her woman's heart might agonise, there was none to know.

A sudden sound in the night—a sharp sound like the crack of a whip, but louder, more menacing, more nerve-piercing. She turned, every muscle tense, and listened with bated breath.

It had not come from the garden below her. The silence hung there like a pall. Stay! What was that? The sound of a movement on the terrace under her balcony—a muffled, stealthy sound.

There was no sentry there, she knew. The sentries on that side of the palace were posted at the great iron gates that shut off the garden from the road which ran along the shore to the fortress above.

A spasm of fear, sharp as physical pain, ran through her. She stepped quickly back into the room; but there she stopped, stopped deliberately to wrestle with the terror which had swooped so suddenly upon her. She had maintained her self-control admirably a few hours before in the face of frightful danger, but now in this awful silence it threatened to desert her. Desperately, determinedly, she brought it back inch by inch, till the panic in her vanished and her heart began to beat more bravely.

She went at length and opened the door that led into the long corridor outside her apartments. The place was deserted. The silence hung like death. She stood a moment, gathering her courage, then passed out. She must ascertain if the Governor were in his room, and warn him—if he would be warned.

She had nearly traversed the length of the corridor when again the silence was rent suddenly and terribly by that sound that was like the crack of a whip. She stopped short, all the blood racing back to her heart. She knew it now beyond a doubt. She had known it before in her secret soul. It was the report of a rifle in the palace square.

As she stood irresolute, listening with straining nerves, another sound began to grow out of the night, gathering strength with every instant, a long, fierce roar that resembled nothing that she had ever heard, yet which she knew instinctively for what it was—the raging tumult of an angry crowd. It was like the yelling of a thousand demons.

Suddenly it swelled to an absolute pandemonium of sound, and she shrank appalled. The sudden, paralysing conviction flashed upon her that the palace had been deserted by its guards and was in the hands of murderers. She seemed to hear them swarming everywhere, unopposed, yet lusting for blood, while she, a defenceless woman, stood cowering against a door.

Sheer physical horror seized upon her. The mercy of the mob! The mercy of the mob! The words ran red-hot in her brain. She knew well what she might expect from them. They would tear her limb from limb.

She could not face it. She must escape. Even now surely she could escape. Back in her room, only the length of the corridor away, was deliverance. Surely she could reach it in time! Like a hunted creature she gathered herself together, and, turning, fled along the way she had come.

She rushed at length, panting, into her room, and, without a pause or glance around, fled into the bedroom beyond. It was here, it was here that her deliverance lay, safe hidden in a secret drawer.

The place was in darkness save for the light that streamed after her through the open door. Shaking in every limb, near to fainting, she groped her way across, found—almost fell against—her little writing-table, and sank upon her knees before it—for the moment too spent to move.

But a slight sound that seemed to come from near at hand aroused her. She started up in a fresh panic, pulled out a drawer, that fell with a crash from her trembling hands, and began to feel behind for a secret spring. Oh, she had been a fool, a fool to hide it so securely! She would never find it in the darkness.

Nevertheless, groping, her quivering fingers soon discovered that which they sought. The secret slide opened and she felt for what lay beyond. A moment later she was clasping tightly a little silver flask.

And then, with deliverance actually within her hold, she paused. Kneeling there in the darkness she strove to collect her thoughts, that she might not die in panic. It was not death that she feared just then. She knew that it would come to her swiftly, she believed painlessly. But she would not die before she need. She would wait a little. Perhaps when the wild tumult at her heart had subsided she would be able to pray, not for deliverance from death—there could be no alternative now—but for peace.

So, kneeling alone, she waited; and presently, growing calmer, removed the top of the flask so that she might be ready.

Seconds passed. Her nerves were growing steadier; the mad gallop of her heart was slackening.

She leaned her head on her hand and closed her eyes.

And then, all in a moment, fear seized her again—the sudden consciousness of some one near her, some one watching. With a gasp she started to her feet, and on the instant there came the click of the electric switch by the door, and the room was flooded with light.

Dazzled, almost blinded, she stared across the intervening space, and met the steely, relentless eyes of Pierre Dumaresq!

IV

She stood motionless, staring, as one dazed. He, without apology or word of any sort, strode straight forward. His face expressed stern determination, naught else.

But ere he reached her she awoke to action, stepping sharply backwards so that the table was between them. He came to a stand perforce in front of it, and looked her full and piercingly in the eyes.

"Mademoiselle," he said, and his voice was so curt that it sounded brutal, "you must come at once. The palace is in the hands of murderers. The Governor has been assassinated. In a few seconds more they will be at your door. Come!"

She recoiled from him with a face of horror.

"With you, monsieur? Never!" she cried.

He laid his hand upon the table and leaned forward.

"With me, yes," he said, speaking rapidly, yet with lips that scarcely seemed to move. "I have come for you, and I mean to take you. Be wise, Mademoiselle Stephanie! Come quietly!"

She scarcely heard him. Frenzy had gripped her—wild, unreasoning, all-mastering frenzy. The supreme moment had come for her, and, with a face that was like a death-mask, she raised the silver flask to her lips.

But no drop of its contents ever touched them, for in that instant Pierre vaulted the intervening table and hurled himself upon her. The flask flew from her hand and spun across the room, falling she knew not where; while she herself was caught in the man's arms and held in a grip like iron.

She struggled fiercely to free herself, but for many seconds she struggled in vain. Then, just as her strength was beginning to leave her, he abruptly set her free.

"Come!" he said. "There is no time for childish folly. Find a cloak, and we will go."

His tone was peremptory, but it held no anger. Turning from her, he walked deliberately away into the outer room.

She sank back trembling against the wall, nearer to collapse than she had ever been before. But the momentary respite had its effect, and instinctively she began to gather herself together for fresh effort. He had wrested her deliverance from her, but she would never accept what he offered in exchange. She would never escape with his man. She would sooner—yes, a thousand times sooner—face the mercy of the mob.

"Mademoiselle Stephanie!" Impatiently his voice came to her from the farther room. "Are you coming, or am I to fetch you?"

She did not answer. A sudden wild idea had formed in her brain. If she could slip past him—if she could reach the outer door—he would never overtake her on the corridor. But she must be brave, she must be subtle, she must watch her opportunity.

With some semblance of composure she took out a long travelling-cloak, and walked into the room in which he awaited her. With a start of surprise, she saw him standing by the open window.

"This way, mademoiselle," he said curtly; and she realised that he must have entered from the garden.

"One moment, monsieur," she returned, and quietly crossed the room to the door at the other end.

It was closed. It must have swung to behind her, for she did not remember closing it.

He made no attempt to stop her. He could not surely have guessed her intention, for he remained motionless by the window, watching her. Her heart was thumping as though it would choke her, but yet she controlled herself. He must not suspect till the door was open, till the passage was clear before her, and pursuit of no avail.

She reached out a quivering hand and grasped the ebony knob. Now—now for the last and greatest effort of her life! Sharply she turned the handle, pulled at it, wrenched it with frantic force, finally turned from it and confronted the man at the window with eyes that were hunted, desperate.

"Let me go!" she gasped hoarsely. "How dare you keep me here against my will?"

"I have no desire to keep you here, mademoiselle," he answered. "I am only waiting to take you away."

"I refuse to go with you!" she cried. "I would rather die a thousand times!"

His brows contracted into a single grim line. He left the window and came towards her.

But at his action she sprang away like a mad thing, dodged him, avoided him, then leapt suddenly upon a chair and snatched a rapier from a group of swords arranged in a circle upon the wall. The light fell full upon her ashen face and eyes of horror. She was beside herself.

All her instincts urged her to resistance. She had always shrunk from this man. If she could only hold him at bay for a little—if she could only resist long enough—surely she heard the feet of the murderers upon the corridor already! It would not take them long to batter down the door and take her life!

As she sprang to the ground again, Pierre spoke. The frown had gone from his face; it wore a faint, ironical smile. His eyes, alert, unblinking, marked her every movement as the eyes of a lynx upon its prey. He did not appear in the least disconcerted. There was even a sort of terrible patience in his attitude, as though he already saw the end of the struggle.

"Would it not be wiser, mademoiselle," he said, "to reserve your steel for an enemy?"

She met his piercing look for an instant as she compelled her white lips to answer. "You are the worst enemy that I have."

He threw back his head with an arrogant gesture very characteristic of him. "By your own choice, mademoiselle," he said.

"Yes," she flung back passionately. "I prefer you as an enemy."

He laughed at that—a fiendish, scoffing laugh that made her shrink in every nerve. Then, with unmoved composure, he walked to the mantelpiece and took up one of the foils that lay there.

"Now," he said quietly, "since you are determined to fight me, so be it! But when you are beaten, Mademoiselle Stephanie, do not ask for mercy!"

But she drew back sharply from his advance. "Take one of those rapiers," she said.

He shook his head, still with that mocking smile upon his lips. "This will serve my purpose better," he said. "Are you ready, mademoiselle? On guard!"

And with that his weapon crossed hers. She knew his purpose the moment she encountered it. It was written in every grim line of his countenance. He meant the conflict to be very short.

She was no novice in the art of fencing, but she was no match for him. Moreover, she could not meet the pitiless eyes that stared straight into hers. They distracted her. They terrified her. Yet every moment seemed to her to be something gained. Through all the wild chaos of her overstrung nerves she was listening, listening desperately, for the sound of feet outside the door. If she could only withstand him for a few short seconds! If only her strength would last!

But she was nearing exhaustion, and she knew it. Her brain had begun to swim. She saw him in a blur before her quivering vision. The hand that grasped the rapier was too numbed to obey her behests. Suddenly there came a tumult in the corridor without—a hoarse yelling and the rush of many feet. It was the sound she had been listening for, but it startled, it unnerved her. And in that instant Pierre thrust through her guard and with a lightning twist of the wrist sent her weapon hurtling through the air.

The sound of its fall was lost in the clamour outside the door—a clamour so sudden and so horrible that it did for Stephanie that which nothing else on earth could have accomplished. It drove her to the man she hated for protection.

As he flung down the foil, she made a swift move towards him. There was no longer shrinking in her eyes. She was simply a trembling, panic-stricken woman, turning instinctively to the stronger power for help. A little earlier she could have died without a tremor, but the wild strife of the past few minutes had broken down her fortitude. Her strength was gone.

"Monsieur!" she panted. "Monsieur!"

He caught her roughly to him. Even in that moment of deadly peril there was a certain fiery exultation about him. He held her fast, his eyes gazing straight down into hers.

"Shall I save you?" he said. "I can die with you—if you prefer it."

"Save me!" she cried piteously. "Save me!"

He bent his head, and suddenly, fiercely, savagely, he kissed her white lips. Then, before she could utter cry or protest, he whirled her across the room to the open window, catching up her cloak as he went; and, almost before the horror of his kiss had dawned upon her, she was out upon the balcony, alone with him in the awful dark.

He kept his hand upon her as he stepped over the stone railing, but all power of independent action seemed to have left her. She was as one stunned or beneath some spell. She stood quite rigid while he groped for and found the ladder by which he had ascended. Then, as he lifted her, she let herself go into his arms without resistance. He clasped her hands behind his neck, and she clung there mechanically as he made the swift descent.

They reached the ground in safety, and he set her on her feet. The terrace on which they found themselves was deserted. But as they stood in the dark they heard the fiends in the corridor burst into the room they had just left. And Pierre Dumaresq, lowering the ladder, laughed to himself a low, fierce laugh, without words.

The next instant there came a rush of feet upon the balcony above them and a torrent of angry shouting. Stephanie shrank against a pillar, but in a moment Pierre's arm encircled her, impelling her irresistibly, and they fled across the terrace through the darkness. The man was still laughing as he ran. There seemed to her something devilish in his laughter.

Down through the palace garden they sped, she gasping and stumbling in nightmare flight, he strongly upholding her, till half a dozen revolver shots pierced the infuriated uproar behind them and something that burned with a red-hot agony struck her left hand. She cried out involuntarily, and Pierre ceased his headlong rush for safety.

"You are hit?" he questioned. "Where?"

But she could not answer him, could not so much as stand. His voice seemed to come from an immense distance. She hardly heard his words. She was sinking, sinking into a void unfathomable.

He did not stay to question further. Abruptly he stooped, gathered her up, slung her across his shoulder, and ran on.

V

When Stephanie opened her eyes again the sound of the sea was in her ears, and she felt as if she must have heard it for some time. She was lying in a chair amid surroundings wholly strange to her, and some one—a man whose face she could not see—was beside her, bending over a table, evidently engaged upon something that occupied his most minute attention. She watched him dreamily for a little, till the immense breadth of his shoulders struck a quick-growing fear into her heart; then she made a sudden effort to raise herself.

Instantly she was stabbed by a dart of pain so acute that she barely repressed a cry.

"Keep still, mademoiselle!" It was Pierre's voice; he spoke without turning. "I shall not hurt you more than I can help."

She sank back again, shuddering uncontrollably. She knew now what he was doing. It had flashed upon her in that moment of horrible suffering. He was probing for a bullet in her left hand. Dumbly she shut her eyes and set herself to endure.

But the pain was almost insupportable; it seemed to rack her whole body. And the presence of the man she feared, his nearness to her, his touch, added tenfold to the torture. Yet she was helpless, and, spent, exhausted though she was, for very pride she would utter no complaint.

Minutes passed. She was near to fainting again, when abruptly Pierre stood up. She heard him move, and she was conscious of a blessed lessening of the pain. But she dared not stir or open her eyes, lest her self-control should forsake her utterly. She could only lie and wait in quivering suspense.

He bent over her without speaking, and suddenly she felt the rim of a glass against her lips. With a start she looked up. His swarthy face was close to her own, but it was grimly immobile. He seemed to have clad himself from head to foot in an impenetrable armour of reserve. His lips were set in a firm line, as though all speech were locked securely behind them.

Mutely she obeyed his unspoken command and drank. The draught was unlike anything she had ever tasted before. It revived her, renewing her failing strength.

"I thank you, monsieur," she said faintly.

He set down the glass, and busied himself once more with her wounded hand.

"I shall not hurt you any further," he said, as involuntarily she winced.

And he kept his word. The worst of his task was over. He only bathed and bandaged with a gentleness and dexterity at which she marvelled.

At last he looked at her.

"You are better?" he asked.

She met his eyes for an instant. They were absolutely steady, but they told her nothing whatever of his thoughts.

"Yes, I am better," she said, with an effort.

"Can you walk?" he said.

"I think so, monsieur."

"Then come with me," he rejoined, "and I will show you where you can rest."

She sat up slowly. He bent to help her, but she would not accept his help till, rising to her feet, she felt the floor sway beneath her. Then, with a sharp exclamation, she clutched for support and gripped his proffered arm.

"Monsieur!" she gasped.

He held her up, for she was tottering. Her pale face stared panic-stricken up to his.

"Monsieur!" she gasped again. "What is this? Where am I?"

He made answer curtly, in a tone that sounded repressive.

"You are on board my yacht, mademoiselle." She swayed, and he put his arm round her. "You are in safety," he said, in the same brief fashion.

"As—as your prisoner?" she whispered, trying weakly to free herself from his hold.

"As my guest," he said.

By an immense effort she controlled herself, meeting his stern eyes with something like composure. But the memory of that single, scorching kiss was still with her. And in spite of her utmost resolution, she flinched from his direct gaze.

"If I am your guest," she said, her low voice quivering a very little, "I am at liberty to come—and to go—as I will."

"Absolutely!" said Pierre, and she fancied for an instant that he smiled.

"You will take me wherever I desire to go?" she persisted, still battling with her agitation.

"With one exception," he answered quietly. "I will not take you back to Maritas."

She shivered. "Then where, monsieur?"

His expression changed slightly. She had a momentary glimpse of the arrogance she dreaded.

"The world is wide," he said. "And there is plenty of time before us. We need not decide to-night."

She trembled more at the tone than the words. "I did not think you would leave Maritas so soon," she murmured.

"Why not, mademoiselle?" His voice suddenly rang hard; it almost held a threat.

She had withdrawn herself from him, but she was hardly capable of standing alone. She leaned secretly against the chair from which she had just risen.

"Because," she made answer, still desperately facing him, "I thought that Maritas wanted you."

He uttered a brief laugh that sounded savage.

"That was yesterday," he told her grimly. "I have forfeited my popularity since then."

A slow, painful flush rose in Stephanie's drawn face, but she shrank no longer from his look. "And you have gained nothing in exchange," she said, her voice very low.

"Except what I desired to gain," said Pierre Dumaresq.

She made a slight, involuntary movement, and instantly her brows contracted. She closed her eyes with a shudder. The pain was almost intolerable.

A moment later she felt his strong arms lift her and a sudden passion of misery swept over her. Where was the use of feigning strength when he knew so well her utter weakness; of fighting, when she was already so hopelessly beaten; of begging his mercy even when he had warned her so emphatically that she must not expect it?

Despair entered into her. She could resist him no longer by so much as the lifting of a finger. And as the knowledge swept overwhelmingly upon her, the last poor shred of her pride crumbled to nothing in a rush of anguished tears.

Pierre said no more. His hard mouth grew a little harder, his steely eyes a shade more steely—that was all. He bore her unfaltering through the saloon to the state cabin beyond, and laid her down there.

In another second she heard the click of the latch, and his step upon the threshold. Softly the door closed. Softly he went away.

VI

And Stephanie slept. From her paroxysm of weeping she passed into deep, untroubled slumber, and hour after hour slipped over her unconscious head while she lay at rest.

When she awoke at last the evening sun was streaming in through the tiny porthole by the head of her couch, and she knew that she must have slept throughout the day. She was very drowsy still, and for a while she lay motionless, listening to the monotonous beat of the yacht's engines, and watching the white spray as it tossed past.

Very gradually she began to remember what had happened to her. She glanced at her wounded hand, swathed in bandages and resting upon a cushion. Who had arranged it so, she wondered? How had it been done without her waking?

At the back of her mind hovered the answers to both these questions, but she could not bring herself to face them—not yet. She was loth to withdraw herself from the haze of sleep that still hung about her. She shrank intuitively from a full awakening.

And then, while she still loitered on the way to consciousness, there came a soft movement near her, and in a moment all her repose was shattered.

Pierre, his dark face grimly inscrutable, bent over her with a cup of something steaming in his hand.

She shrank at the sight of him. Her whole body seemed to contract. Involuntarily almost she shut her eyes. Her heart leapt and palpitated within her like a chained thing seeking to escape.

Then suddenly it stood still. He was speaking.

"Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said, "I beg you will not agitate yourself. You have no cause for agitation. It is not by my own wish that I intrude upon you. I have no choice."

It was curtly uttered. It sounded rigidly uncompromising. Yet, for some reason wholly inexplicable to herself, she was conscious of relief. She opened her eyes, though she did not dare to raise them.

"How is that, monsieur?" she said faintly.

He was silent for a moment; then:

"There is no woman on board besides yourself," he told her briefly. "Your own people deserted you. I had no time to search for others."

She felt as if his eyes were drawing her own. Against her will she looked up and met them. They told her nothing, but at least they did not frighten her afresh.

"Where are you going to take me?" she asked.

"We will speak of that later," he said. "Will you drink this now? You need it."

"What is it, monsieur?"

For an instant she saw his faint, hard smile.

"It is broth, mademoiselle, nothing more."

"Nothing?" she said, still hesitating. "You—I think you gave me a narcotic before!"

"I did," said Pierre. "And it did you good."

She did not attempt to contradict him. The repression of his manner held her silent. Without further demur she sought to raise herself.

But her head swam the moment she lifted it from the pillow, and she sank down again with closed eyes and drawn brows.

"In a moment," she whispered.

"Permit me," said Pierre quietly; and slipped his arm under her pillow.

She looked up sharply to protest, but the words died on her lips. She saw that he would not be denied.

He supported her with absolute steadiness while she drank, not uttering a word. Finally, he lowered her again, and spoke:

"It is time that your wound was attended to. With your permission I will proceed with it at once."

"Is it serious, monsieur?" she asked.

"I can tell you better when I have seen it," he rejoined, beginning to loosen the bandage. "Does it pain you?" as she winced.

"A little," she acknowledged, with quivering lips.

He glanced at her, and for the first time in all her experience of him he spoke with a hint of kindness.

"It will not take long, Mademoiselle Stephanie. Shut your eyes till it is over."

She obeyed him mutely. Her fear of the man was merging into a curious feeling of reliance. She was beginning to realise that her enforced dependence upon him had in some fashion altered his attitude towards her.

"No," he said at last. "It is not a very serious matter, though it may give you some trouble till it is healed. You will need to keep very quiet, mademoiselle, and"—again momentarily she saw his smile—"avoid agitating yourself as much as possible."

"You may rely upon me to do that, monsieur," she returned with dignity; "if I am allowed to do so."

Again for an instant she felt his eyes upon her, and she thought he frowned; but he made no comment.

Quietly he finished his bandaging before he spoke again.

"If there is any other way in which I can serve you," he said then, "you have only to command me."

She turned upon her pillow and faced him. The gradual reviving of her physical strength helped her at least to simulate some of her ancient pride that he had trampled so ruthlessly underfoot.

"What do you mean by that?" she questioned calmly.

He met her look fully and sternly.

"I mean, Mademoiselle Stephanie, precisely what I have said—no more, no less!"

In spite of her utmost effort, she flinched a little. Yet she would not be conquered by a look.

"I am to treat you as my servant, then, monsieur?" she questioned.

He dropped his eyes suddenly from hers.

"If it suits you to do so," he said.

"The situation is not of my choosing," she reminded him.

"Nor mine," he answered drily.

Her heart sank, but with an effort she maintained a fair show of courage.

"Monsieur Dumaresq," she said, "I think that you mean to be kind. I shall act upon that assumption. Since I am thrown upon your hospitality under circumstances which neither of us would have chosen——"

"I did not say that, mademoiselle," he interposed. "I have no quarrel with the gods that govern circumstance. My only regret is that, as my guest, you should be inefficiently served. If you find yourself able to treat me as a servant it will be my pleasure to serve you."

She did not understand his tone. It seemed to her that he was trying in some fashion to warn her. Again the memory of his kiss swept over her; again to the very heart of her she shrank.

"I think," she said slowly, "that I am more your prisoner than your guest, Monsieur Dumaresq."

"It is not always quite wise to express our thoughts," he rejoined, with deliberate cynicism. "I have ventured to point that out to you before."

Again he baffled her. She looked at him doubtfully. He was standing up beside her on the point of departure. He returned her gaze with his steely eyes almost as though he challenged her to penetrate to the citadel they guarded.

With a sharp sigh she abandoned the contest. "I wish I understood you," she said.

He jerked his shoulders expressively.

"You knew me a week ago better than I knew myself," he remarked. "What more would you have?"

She did not answer him. She only moved her head upon the pillow with a gesture of weariness. She knew that she would search those pitiless eyes in vain for the key to the puzzle, and she only longed to be left alone. He could not, surely, refuse to grant her unspoken desire.

Yet for a moment it seemed that he would prolong the interview. He stood above her, motionless, arrogant, frowning downwards as though he had something more to say. Then, while she waited tensely, dreading the very sound of his voice, his attitude suddenly underwent a change. The thin lips tightened sharply. He turned away.

VII

After he was gone, Stephanie sat up and gazed for a long, long time at the scud of water leaping past the porthole.

She felt stunned by the events of the past twenty-four hours. She could only review them with a numbed amazement. The long suspense had ended so suddenly and so terribly. She could hardly begin to realise that it was indeed over, that the storm she had foreseen for so long had burst at last, sweeping away the Governor in headlong overthrow, and leaving her bruised and battered indeed, but still alive. She had never thought to survive him. She had not loved him, but her lot had been so inextricably bound up with his, that she had never seriously contemplated the possibility of life without him. What would happen to her? she asked herself. How would it end?

There was no denying the fact that, however inexplicable Pierre's treatment might be, she was completely and irretrievably his prisoner.

There was no one to deliver her from him; no one to know or care what became of her. Her importance had crumbled to nothing so far as the world was concerned. She had simply ceased to count. What did he mean to do with her? Why had he refused to discuss the future?

Gradually, with a certain reluctance, her thoughts came down to her recent interview with him, and again the feeling that he had been trying to convey something that she had failed to grasp possessed her. Why had he warned her against attempting to define her position? What had those last words of his meant?

One thing at least was certain. Though he had done little to reassure her, she must make a determined effort to overcome her fear of the man. She must not again shrink openly in his presence. She must feign confidence, though she felt it not. Something that he had said a week before on the occasion of his extraordinary proposal of marriage recurred to her at this point with curious force.

"It is all a question of trust," he had said, and she recalled the faint, derisive smile with which he had spoken. "Whatever you expect, that you will receive." The words dwelt in her memory with a strange persistence. She had a feeling that they meant a good deal. It was possible—surely it was possible—that if she trusted him, he might prove himself to be trustworthy. If only her nerves were equal to the task! If only the terrible memory of his kiss could be blotted for ever and ever from her mind!

She rose at last and began to move about the little state cabin. It was furnished luxuriously in every detail—almost, she told herself with a shiver, as though for a bride. Catching sight of her reflection in a mirror, she stared aghast, scarcely recognising herself in the wild-eyed, haggard woman who met her gaze. Small wonder that she had deemed him repressive, she told herself, for she looked like a demented creature.

That astounding glimpse did more for her than any mental effort. Quite calmly she set to work to render her appearance more normal, and, crippled though she was, she succeeded at length in attaining a fairly satisfactory result. At least she did not think that a masculine eye would detect anything amiss.

This achieved, she finally drew her travelling cloak about her and went to the door. It resisted her effort to open, but in a moment she heard a step on the other side and the withdrawal of a bolt.

Pierre opened the door for her, and stood back for her to pass. But she remained on the threshold.

"Monsieur Dumaresq, why did you lock me in?" she asked him, with something of her old stateliness of demeanour, which had made men deem her proud.

His grey eyes comprehended her in a single glance. He made her his curt, British bow.

"You were overwrought, Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said. "I was not sure of your intentions. But I see that the precaution was unnecessary."

She understood him, and a faint flush rose in her pale face.

"Quite," she responded. "I have come to my senses, monsieur, and I know how to value your protection. I shall not seek that means of escape so long as you are safeguarding me."

She smiled with the words, a brave and steadfast smile, and extended her hand to him.

The gesture was queenly, but the instant his fingers closed upon it she quivered uncontrollably from head to foot. A sudden mist descended before her eyes, and she groped out blindly for support. Her overtaxed nerves had betrayed her again.

"Come and sit down, mademoiselle," a quiet voice said; and a steady arm impelled her forward. "There is something of a swell to-night. I am afraid you feel it."

So courteous was the tone that she almost gasped her astonishment. She sank into a chair, and made a desperate effort to regain her self-control.

"You are very kind, monsieur," she said, not very steadily. "No doubt I shall become accustomed to it."

"I do not think you are quite fit for this," he said gravely.

She looked up at him with more confidence.

"I am really stronger than you think," she said. "And I wanted to speak to you on the subject of our destination."

She fancied that he stiffened a little at the words, but he merely said:

"Well, mademoiselle?"

"Will you not sit down," she said, "and tell me where the yacht is going?"

He sat down on the edge of the table. There was undeniable restlessness in his attitude.

"We are running due west at the present moment," he said.

"With what object?" she asked.

"With no object, mademoiselle," he rejoined, "except to keep out of reach of our enemies."

"You have left Maritas for good?" she asked.

He uttered a short laugh.

"Certainly. I have nothing to go back for."

"And you are indifferent," she questioned, with slight hesitation, "as to the direction you take?"

"No, I am not indifferent," he answered curtly.

She was silent. His manner puzzled her, made her afraid in spite of herself.

There followed a short pause, then he turned slightly and looked at her.

"Have you any particular wishes upon the subject?" he asked.

"Yes, monsieur."

Her reply was very low.

"Let me hear them," said Pierre.

"I should like," she said slowly, "if it be possible, to go to England. I have relations there who might help me."

"Help you, mademoiselle?"

His tone sounded harsh.

"To earn my living," she answered simply.

His brows met suddenly.

"It is a far cry to England," he observed.

"I know it," she said. "I am counting upon your kindness."

"I see," said Pierre. "I am to take you there, and—leave you. Is that it?"

She bent her head.

"If you will, monsieur."

"And if I will not?" he said.

She was silent.

He stood up abruptly, and walked to the farther end of the saloon. When he came back his face was set and grim. He halted in front of her.

"I am to do this thing for nothing?" he said. And it seemed to her that, though uttered quietly, his words came through clenched teeth.

Again wild panic was at her heart, but with all her strength she held it back.

"You offered to serve me, monsieur," she reminded him.

"Even a servant expects to be paid," he rejoined curtly.

"But I have nothing to offer you," she said.

She saw the grey eyes glitter as steel in sudden sunshine. Their brightness was intolerable. She turned her own away.

"Does it not occur to you, Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said, "that your life is more my property than your own at the present moment? Have I no claim to be consulted as to its disposal?"

"None, monsieur," she made answer quickly. "None whatever."

"And yet," he said, "you asked me to save you when—had you preferred it—I would have died with you."

She was silent, remembering with bitterness her wild cry for deliverance.

He waited a little. Then:

"You may have nothing to offer me, Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said, "but, by heaven, you shall take nothing away."

She heard a deep menace in his voice that was like the growl of an angry beast. She shuddered inwardly as she listened, but outwardly she remained calm. She even, after a few moments, mustered strength to rise and face him.

"What is it that you want of me, Monsieur Dumaresq?" she asked. "How can I purchase your services?"

He flung back his head abruptly. She thought that he was going to utter his scoffing laugh. But it did not come. Instead, he looked at her, looked at her long and piercingly, while she stood erect and waited.

At last: "The price for my services," he said deliberately, "is that you marry me as soon as we reach England."

"Marry you!" In spite of her utmost resolution she started, and slightly shrank. "You still desire that?"

"I still desire it," he said.

"And if I refuse?" she questioned, her voice very low.

"You will not refuse," he returned, with conviction. "You dare not refuse."

She stood silent.

"And that being so," said Pierre, with a certain doggedness peculiarly at variance with his fierce and headlong nature, "that being so, Mademoiselle Stephanie, would it not be wiser for you to yield at once?"

"To yield, monsieur?"

Her eyes sought his for the fraction of a second. He was still closely watching her.

"To give me your promise," he said. "It is all I shall ask of you. I shall be satisfied with that."

"And what have you to offer in exchange?" she said.

A strange expression, that was almost a smile, flitted over his hard face.

"I will give you my friendship," he said, "no more, no less."

But still she hesitated, till suddenly, with a gesture wholly arrogant, he held out his hand.

"Trust me," he said, "and I will be trustworthy."

She knew it for a definite promise, however insolently expressed. It was plain that he meant what he said. It was plain that he desired to win her confidence. And in a measure she was reassured. His actions testified to a patience of which she had not deemed him capable.

Slowly, in unconscious submission to his will, she laid her hand in his.

"And afterwards, monsieur?" she said. "Shall I be able to trust you then?"

He leaned slightly towards her, looking more closely into her face.

Then: "All my life, Stephanie," he said, and before she realised his intention he had pressed her hand to his lips with the action of a man who seals an oath.

VIII

From that hour forward, Stephanie was no longer a close prisoner. She was free to wander wherever she would about the yacht, but she never penetrated very far. The vessel was no mere pleasure boat, and there was much that might have interested her, had she been disposed to take an interest therein. But she shrank with a morbid dread from the eyes of the Spanish sailors. She longed unspeakably to hide herself away in unbroken seclusion.

Her wound healed rapidly, so rapidly that Pierre soon ceased to treat it, but it took much longer for her to recover from the effects of that terrible night at Maritas. The horror of it was with her night and day.

Pierre's treatment of her never varied. He saw to her comfort with unfailing vigilance and consideration, but he never attempted to obtrude himself upon her. He seldom spoke to her unless she addressed him. He never by word or look referred to the compact between them. Her fear of him had sunk away into the background of her thoughts. Furtively she studied him, but he gave her no cause for fear. When she sat on the deck, he never joined her. He did not so much as eat with her till one day, not without much inward trepidation, she invited him to do so. And she marvelled, again and again she marvelled, at his forbearance.

Calmly and uneventfully the endless summer days slipped by. Her strength was undoubtedly returning to her, the youth in her reviving. The long rest was taking effect upon her. The overstrung nerves were growing steady again. Often she would sit and ponder upon the future, but she had no definite idea to guide her. At first she shrank unspeakably from the bare thought of the end of the voyage, but gradually she became accustomed to it. It seemed too remote to be terrible, and her reliance upon Pierre's good faith increased daily. Somehow, unaccountably, she had wholly ceased to regard him as an enemy. Possibly her fears and even her antagonism were only dormant, but at least they did not torment her. She did not start at the sound of his voice, or shrink from the straight regard of those hard eyes. She knew by that instinct that cannot err that he meant to keep his word.

They left the regions of endless summer behind at last, and the cooler breezes of the north swept the long, blue ridges over which they travelled. They came into a more frequented, less dreamlike sea, but though many vessels passed them, they were seldom near enough for greeting. And Stephanie came to understand that it was not Pierre's desire to hold much converse with the outer world. Yet she knew that they were heading straight for England, and their isolation was bound ere long to come to an end.

It was summer weather even in England just then, summer weather in the blue Atlantic, summer everywhere. She spent many hours of each day in a sheltered corner of the deck, watching the leaping waves, green and splendid, racing from the keel. And a strange content was hers while she watched, born of the unwonted peace which of late had wrapped her round. She was as one come into safe harbourage after long and futile tossing upon the waters of strife. She did not question her security. She only knew that it was there.

But one day there came a change—a grey sky and white-capped waves. Suddenly and inexplicably, as is the way of the northern climate, the sunshine was withdrawn, the summer weather departed, and there came desolation.

Stephanie's corner on deck was empty. She crouched below, ill, shivering with cold and wretchedness. All day long she listened to the howling wind and pitiless, lashing rain, rising above the sullen roar of the waves. All day long the vessel pitched and tossed, flinging her back and forth while she clung in desperation to the edge of her berth.

Pierre waited upon her from time to time, but he could do little to relieve her discomfort, and he left her for the most part alone.

As evening drew on, the gale increased, and Stephanie, lying in her cabin, could hear the great waves breaking over the deck with a violence that grew more awful with every moment. Her nerves began to give way under the strain. It was a long while since Pierre had been near her, and the loneliness appalled her.

She could endure it no longer at last, and arose with a wild idea of going on deck. The narrow walls of her cabin had become unendurable.

With difficulty, grabbing at first one thing, then another for support, she made her way to the saloon. The place was empty, but a single lamp burned steadily by the door that led to the companion, and guided her halting steps.

The floor was at a steep upward angle when she started, but before she had accomplished half the distance it plunged suddenly downwards, and she was flung forward against the table. Bruised and frightened, she dragged herself up, reached the farther door at a run, only to fall once more against it.

Here she lay for a little, half-stunned, till that terrible slow upheaval began again. Then, with a sharp effort, she recalled her scattered senses and struggled up, clinging to the handle. Slowly she mounted, slowly, slowly, till her feet began to slip down that awful slant. Then at the last moment, when she thought she must fall headlong, there came that fearful plunge again, and she knew that the yacht was deep in the trough of some gigantic wave.

The loneliness was terrible. It seemed like the forerunner of annihilation. She felt that whatever the danger on deck, it must be easier to face than this fearful solitude. And so at last, in a brief lull, she opened the door.

A great swirl of wind and water dashed down upon her on the instant. The lamp behind her flickered and went out, but there was another at the head of the steps to light her halting progress, and, clinging with both hands to the rail, she began to ascend.

The uproar was deafening. It deprived her of the power to think. But she no longer felt afraid. She found this limbo of howling desolation infinitely preferable to the awful loneliness of her cabin. Slowly and with difficulty she made her way.

She had nearly reached the top when a man's figure in streaming oilskins sprang suddenly into the opening. Above the storm she heard a hoarse yell of warning or of anger, she knew not which, and the next instant Pierre was beside her, holding her imprisoned against the hand-rail to which she clung.

She stood up and faced him, still gripping the rail.

"Take me on deck!" she cried to him. "I shall not be afraid."

She had flung her cloak about her, but the hood had blown back from her head, and her hair hung loose. Pierre looked at her in stern silence, holding her fast. She fancied he was displeased with her for leaving the cabin, and she reiterated her earnest request that he would suffer her to come up just for a little to breathe the fresh air.

"It is so horrible below," she told him. "It frightens me."

Pierre was frowning heavily.

"Do you think you would not be my first care?" he demanded, bracing himself as the vessel plunged to support her with greater security.

She did not answer. There was a touch of ferocity in the question that silenced her. The pitching of the yacht threw her against him the next moment, and her feet slipped from beneath her.

Unconsciously almost she turned and clung to the arms that held her up. They tightened about her to a grip that made her gasp for breath. He lifted her back to the foothold she had lost. His face was more grimly set than she had ever seen it.

She wondered if he was secretly afraid. For they seemed to be sinking down, down, down into the depths of destruction, and only his close holding kept her where she was.

She thought that they were going straight to the bottom, and involuntarily her clinging hands held faster. Involuntarily, too, she raised her eyes to his, seeking, as the human soul is bound to seek, for human comradeship in face of mortal danger.

But the next instant she knew that no thought of danger was in his mind, or if it existed it was obscured by something infinitely greater.

His eyes saw her and her only. The fierce flame of his passion blazed down upon her, searing its terrible way to her soul, dazzling her, hypnotising her, till she could see nought else, could feel nought but the burning intensity of the fire that had kindled so suddenly about her.

A dart of wild dismay went through her as keen as physical pain, but in a moment it was gone. For though he held her caught against his breast and covered her face with kisses that seemed to scorch her, it was not fear that she felt so much as a gasping wonder that she was unafraid.

IX

When Pierre let her go, she fell, half-fainting, against the rail, and must have sunk at his feet had he not sharply stooped and lifted her. Profiting by a brief lull in the tempest, he bore her down the steps and into the dark saloon. She lay quite passive in his arms, dazed, exhausted, but still curiously devoid of fear.

He laid her upon a cushioned locker by the wall, and relighted the lamp. Then, in utter silence, he carried her to her cabin beyond and left her there. She had a single glimpse of his face as he turned away, and it seemed to her that she had looked upon the face of a man in torture. He went away without a word, and she was left alone.

And so for hours she lay, unmindful of the storm, regardless utterly of aught that happened, lying with wide eyes and burning cheeks, conscious only of that ever-growing wonder that was not fear.

At dawn the wind abated and the yacht began to pitch less. When the sun had been up for a few hours, the gale of the night was a thing of the past, and only the white-capped waves were left as a laughing reminder of the storm that had passed over.

The day was brilliant, and Stephanie arose at length with a feeling that she must go up into the sunshine and face the future. The thought of meeting Pierre even could not ultimately detain her below, though it kept her there considerably longer than usual. After all, was she not bound to meet him? Of what use was it to shirk the inevitable?

But when she finally entered the saloon, he was not there. The table was laid for breakfast, and a sailor was at hand to serve her. But of Pierre there was no sign. He evidently had no intention of joining her.

She made no inquiry for him, but as soon as the meal was over she took her cloak and prepared to go on deck. With nervous haste she passed the scene of the previous night's encounter. She almost expected to find Pierre waiting for her at the top of the companion, but she looked for him in vain. And even when she finally stepped upon the deck and crossed to the rail that she might search the whole length of the yacht, she could not discover him.

A vague uneasiness began to trouble her. The suspense was hard to bear. She longed to meet him and have done with it.

But she longed in vain. All through the sunny hours of the morning she sat or paced in solitude. No one came near her till her breakfast attendant appeared with another meal.

By the end of the afternoon she was thoroughly miserable. She longed intensely to inquire for the yacht's master, yet could not bring herself to do so. Eventually it began to rain, and she went below and sat in the saloon, trying, quite ineffectually, to ease her torment of suspense with a book. But she comprehended nothing of what she read, and when the young cabin steward appeared again to set the dinner she looked up in desperation.

She was on the point of questioning him as to his master's whereabouts; the question, indeed, was already half uttered, when her eyes went beyond him and she broke off short.

Pierre himself was quietly entering through the companion door.

He bowed to her in his abrupt way, and signed to the lad to continue his task.

"He understands no English," he said. "You do not object to his presence?"

She replied in the negative, though in her heart she wished he had dismissed him. She could not meet his eyes before a third person. It added tenfold to her embarrassment.

But when he seated himself near her, she did venture a fleeting glance at him, and was amazed unspeakably by what she saw. For his face was haggard and drawn like the face of a sick man, and every hint of arrogance was gone from his bearing. He looked beaten.

He began to speak at once, jerkily, unnaturally, almost as if he also were embarrassed. "I have something to say to you," he said, "which I beg you will hear with patience. It concerns your future—and mine."

The strangeness of his manner, his obvious dejection, the amazing humility of his address, combined to endue Stephanie with a composure she had scarcely hoped to attain.

She found herself able to look at him quite steadily, and did so. It was he who—for the first time in her recollection—avoided her eyes.

"What is it, Monsieur Dumaresq?" she asked quietly.

His hands were gripped upon the arms of his chair. He seemed to be holding himself there by force.

"Just this," he said. "I find that your estimate is after all the correct one. You have always regarded me as a blackguard, and a blackguard I am. I am not here to apologise for it, simply to acknowledge my mistake, for, strange as it will seem to you, I took myself for something different. At least when I gave you my word I thought I was capable of keeping it. Well, it is broken, and, that being so, I can no longer hold you to yours. Do you understand, Mademoiselle Stephanie? You are a free woman."

For an instant he looked at her, and an odd thrill of pity ran through her for his humiliation.

She said nothing. She had no words in which to express herself. Moreover, her eyes were suddenly full of unaccountable tears. She could not have trusted her voice.

After a moment he resumed. "There is only one thing left to say. In two days we shall be in British waters. I will land you wherever you wish. But you shall not go from me to earn your own living. You will accept—you shall accept"—she heard the stubborn note she had come to know so well in his voice—"sufficient from me to make you independent for the rest of your life. Yes, from me, mademoiselle!" He looked her straight in the eyes with something of his old arrogance. "You can refuse, of course. No doubt you will refuse. But I can compel you. If you will not have it as a gift, you shall have it as—a bequest."

He ceased, but he continued to sit with his eyes upon her, ready, she knew, to beat down any and every objection she might raise.

She did not speak. She was for the moment too much surprised for speech; but as his meaning dawned upon her, something that was greater than either surprise or pity took possession of her, holding her silent. She only, after several moments, rose and stood with her face turned from him, watching through the porthole the waves that leaped by, all green and amber, in the light of sunset.

"You understand me clearly, Mademoiselle Stephanie?" he asked at length, in a voice that came harshly through the silence.

She moved slightly, but she did not turn.

"I have never understood you, monsieur," she made answer, her voice very low.

He jerked his shoulders impatiently.

"At least you understand me on this point," he said curtly.

She was silent. At length:

"But you do not understand me," she said.

"Better than you fancy, mademoiselle," he answered bitterly. "I do not think your feelings where I am concerned have ever been very complicated."

Again slightly she moved without looking round.

"I wish you would tell your man to go," she said.

"Mademoiselle?" There was a note of surprise in the query.

"Tell him to go!" she reiterated, with nervous vehemence.

There fell an abrupt silence. Then she heard an imperious snap of the fingers from Pierre, followed instantly by the steward's retiring footsteps.

She waited till she heard them no longer, then slowly she turned. Pierre had not moved from his chair. He was gripping the arms as before. She stood with her back to the light, thankful for the dimness that obscured her face.

"I—I have something to say to you, monsieur," she said.

"I am listening, mademoiselle," he responded briefly, not raising his eyes.

"Ah, but you must help me," she said, and her voice shook a little. "It—it is no easy thing that I have to say."

He made a fierce movement of unrest.

"How can I help you? I have given you your freedom. What more can I do?"

"You can spare me a moment's kindness," she answered gently. "You may be angry with yourself, but you need not be angry with me also."

"I am not angry with you," he responded half sullenly. "But I can bear no trifling, I warn you. I am not my own master. If you wish to secure yourself from further insult, you will be wise to leave me alone."

"And if not?" she questioned slowly. "If—for instance—I do not feel myself insulted by what happened last night?"

He glanced up at that so suddenly that she felt as if something pierced her.

"Then," he rejoined harshly, "you are a very strange woman, Mademoiselle Stephanie."

"I begin to think I am," she said, with a rather piteous smile. "Yet, for all that, I will not be trifled with either. A compact such as ours can only be cancelled by mutual consent. I think you are rather inclined to forget that."

"Meaning?" said Pierre abruptly.

She drew a sharp breath. Her heart was beating very fast.

"Meaning," she said, "meaning that I do not—and I will not—agree to your proposal; that if I accept my freedom from you, it will be because you force me to do so, and I will take nothing else—do you hear?—nothing else, either as a gift or as a bequest. You may compel me to accept my freedom—against my will; but nothing else, I swear—I swear!"

Her voice broke suddenly. She pressed her hands against her throat, striving to control her agitation. But she might as well have striven to contend with the previous night's storm; for it shook her, from head to foot it shook her, as a tree is shaken by the tempest.

As for Pierre, before her words were fairly uttered he had leapt to his feet. His hands were clenched. He looked almost as if he would strike her.

"What do you mean?" he thundered.

She could not answer, but still she did not flinch. She only threw out her hands and set them against his breast, holding him from her. Whether or not her eyes spoke for her she never knew, but he became suddenly rigid at her touch, standing motionless, waiting for her with a patience she found well-nigh incredible.

"Tell me," he said at last, and in his voice restraint and passion were strangely mingled, "what is it you are trying to make me understand? In Heaven's name don't be afraid!"

"I am not," she whispered back breathlessly, "believe me, I am not. But, oh, Pierre, it's so hard for a woman to tell a man what is in her heart when—when she doesn't even know that he cares to hear."

"Stephanie!" he said. He unclenched his hands, and slowly, very slowly, took her quivering wrists. His eyes would have searched hers, but she was looking at him no longer. Her head was bent. She was crying softly, like a child that has been frightened.

"Stephanie!" he said again.

She made a little movement towards him, hesitated a moment, then went close and hid her face against his breast.

"Oh, do make it easy for me!" she entreated brokenly. "Do—do try to understand!"

His arms closed about her. He held her tensely against his heart, so that she heard the wild tumult of its beating. But he said nothing whatever. He waited for her still.

And so at last she found strength to turn her face a little upwards and whisper his name.

"Pierre!" And then, with more assurance, "Pierre, it is true I haven't much to offer you. But such as it is—such as it is—and you asked for it once, remember—will you not take it?"

"Meaning?" he said again, and his voice was hoarse and low. It seemed to come through closed lips.

"Meaning," she answered him quickly and passionately, "that revolutionist as you have been, tyrant as you are, you have managed somehow to bind me to you. Oh, I was a fool—a fool—not to marry you long ago at Maritas even though I hated you. I might have known that you would conquer me in the end."

"Has it come to that?" said Pierre, and there was a queer break in his voice that might have been laughter. "And have you never asked yourself what made me a revolutionist—and a tyrant?"

"Never," she murmured.

"Must I tell you?" he said. "Will you believe me if I do?"

She turned her face fully to him, no longer fearing to meet that piercing scrutiny before which she had so often quailed. "Was it for my sake?" she said.

He met her look with eyes that gleamed as steel gleams in red firelight.

"How else could I have saved you?" he said. "How else could I have been in time?"

"Oh, but you should have told me!" she said. "You should have told me!"

"And if I had," said Pierre, "would you have hated me less? Do you hate me the less now that you know it?"

She was silent.

"Tell me, Stephanie," he persisted.

Her eyes fell before his.

"Have I ever hated you?" she said, her voice very low.

"If I did not make you hate me last night," he said, "then you never have."

"And I never shall," she supplemented under her breath.

"That," said Pierre, "is another matter. You forget that I am a blackguard."

Again she heard in his voice that sound that might have been laughter. It thrilled her strangely, seeming in some fashion to convey a message that was beyond words. She turned in his arms, responding instinctively, and clung closely to him.

"I forget everything," she told him very earnestly, "except that to-morrow—or the next day—you will be—my husband."

His arms grew tense about her. She felt his breathing quicken.

"Be careful!" he muttered. "Be careful! Remember, I am not to be trusted."

But she answered him with that laughter that is without fear and more intimate than speech.

"All that is over," she said, and lifted her face to his. And then, more softly, in a voice that quivered and broke, "I trust you with my whole heart. And Pierre—my Pierre—you will never again—kiss me—against my will!"