The great dark outline that had come upon me took one step closer, then paused. I sprang at it, struck and missed as it dodged to one side.
"All right then, let's have it out," I managed to blurt, though my voice was drying up in my throat. "Come on, show your face."
"I'm not here to fight you," a good-natured voice assured me. "Why, I seldom even argue, except with proven friends."
I relaxed a trifle, but did not lower my club. "Who are you?"
"Judge Keith Pursuivant," was the level response, as though I had not just finished trying to kill him. "You must be the young man they're so anxious to hang, back in town. Is that right?"
I made no answer.
"Silence makes admission," the stranger said. "Well, come along to my house. This grove is between it and town, and nobody will bother us for the night, at least."
8. "A Trick that Almost Killed You."
When I stepped into the open with Judge Keith Pursuivant, the snow had ceased and a full moon glared through a rip in the clouds, making diamond dust of the sugary drifts. By its light I saw my companion with some degree of plainness–a man of great height and girth, with a wide blade hat and a voluminous gray ulster. His face was as round as the moon itself, at least as shiny, and much warmer to look at. A broad bulbous nose and broad bulbous eyes beamed at me, while under a drooping blond mustache a smile seemed to be lurking. Apparently he considered the situation a pleasant one.
"I'm not one of the mob," he informed me reassuringly. "These pastimes of the town do not attract me. I left such things behind when I dropped out of politics and practise–oh, I was active in such things, ten years ago up North–and took up meditation."
"I've heard that you keep to yourself," I told him.
"You heard correctly. My black servant does the shopping and brings me the gossip. Most of the time it bores me, but not today, when I learned about you and the killing of John Gird——"
"And you came looking for me?"
"Of course. By the way, that was a wise impulse, ducking into the Devil's Croft."
But I shuddered, and not with the chill of the outer night. He made a motion for me to come along, and we began tramping through the soft snow toward a distant light under the shadow of a hill. Meanwhile I told him something of my recent adventures, saving for the last my struggle with the monster in the grove.
He heard me through, whistling through his teeth at various points. At the end of my narrative he muttered to himself:
"The hairy ones shall dance——"
"What was that, sir?" I broke in, without much courtesy.
"I was quoting from the prophet Isaiah. He was speaking of ruined Babylon, not a strange transplanted bit of the tropics, but otherwise it falls pat. Suggestive of a demon-festival. 'The hairy ones shall dance there.'"
"Isaiah, you say? I used to be something of a Bible reader, but I'm afraid I don't remember the passage."
He smiled sidewise at me. "But I'm translating direct from the original, Mr.–Wills is the name, eh? The original Hebrew of the prophet Isaiah, whoever he was. The classic-ridden compilers of the King James Version have satyrs dancing, and the prosaic Revised Version offers nothing more startling than goats.