The Secret of Sarek/Chapter XII

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CHAPTER XII. THE ASCENT OF GOLGOTHA

TWENTY or thirty minutes elapsed. Veronique was still alone. The cords cut into her flesh; and the rails of the balcony bruised her forehead. The gag choked her. Her knees, bent in two and doubled up beneath her, carried the whole weight of her body. It was an intolerable position, an unceasing torture.... Still, though she suffered, she was not very clearly aware of it. She was unconscious of her physical suffering; and she had already undergone such mental suffering that this supreme ordeal did not awaken her drowsing senses.

She hardly thought. Sometimes she said to herself that she was about to die; and she already felt the repose of the after-life, as one sometimes, amidst a storm, feels in advance the wide peace of the harbour. Hideous things were sure to happen between the present moment and the conclusion which would set her free; but her brain refused to dwell on them; and her son's fate in particular elicited only momentary thoughts, which were immediately dispersed.

At heart, as there was nothing to enlighten her as to her frame of mind, she was hoping for a miracle. Would the miracle occur in Vorski? Incapable of generosity though he was, would not the monster hesitate none the less in the presence of an utterly unnecessary crime? A father does not kill his son, or at least the act must be brought about by imperative reasons; and Vorski had no such reasons to allege against a mere child whom he did not know and whom he could not hate except with an artificial hatred.

Her torpor was lulled by this hope of a miracle. All the sounds which reechoed through the house, sounds of discussions, sounds of hurrying footsteps, seemed to her to indicate not so much the preparations for the events foretold as the sign of interruptions which would ruin all Vorski's plans. Had not her dear Francois said that nothing could any longer separate them from each other and that, at the moment when everything might seem lost and even when everything would be really lost, they must keep their faith intact?

“My Francois,” she repeated, “my darling Francois, you shall not die... we shall see each other again... you promised me!”

Out of doors, a blue sky, flecked with a few menacing clouds, hung outspread above the tall oaks. In front of her, beyond that same window at which her father had appeared to her, in the middle of the grass which she had crossed with Honorine on the day of her arrival, a site had been recently cleared and covered with sand, like an arena. Was it here that her son was to fight? She received the sudden intuition that it must be; and her heart contracted.

“Francois,” she said, “Francois, have no fear.... I shall save you.... Oh, forgive me, Francois darling, forgive me!... All this is a punishment for the wrong I once did.... It is the atonement.... The son is atoning for the mother.... Forgive me, forgive me!...”

At that moment a door opened on the ground-floor and voices ascended from the doorstep. She recognized Vorski's voice among them.

“So it's understood,” he said. “We shall each go our own way; you two on the left, I on the right. You'll take this kid with you, I'll take the other and we'll meet in the lists. You'll be the seconds, so to speak, of yours and I'll be the second of mine, so that all the rules will be observed.”

Veronique shut her eyes, for she did not wish to see her son, who would no doubt be maltreated, led out to fight like a slave. She could hear the creaking of two sets of footsteps following the two circular paths. Vorski was laughing and speechifying.

The groups turned and advanced in opposite directions.

“Don't come any nearer,” Vorski ordered. “Let the two adversaries take their places. Halt, both of you. Good. And not a word, do you hear? If either of you speaks, I shall cut him down without mercy. Are you ready? Begin!”

So the terrible thing was commencing. In accordance with Vorski's will, the duel was about to take place before the mother, the son was about to fight before her face. How could she do other than look? She opened her eyes.

She at once saw the two come to grips and hold each other off. But she did not at once understand what she saw, or at least she failed to understand its exact meaning. She saw the two boys, it was true; but which of them was Francois and which was Raynold?

“Oh,” she stammered, “it's horrible!... And yet... no, I must be mistaken.... It's not possible...”

She was not mistaken. The two boys were dressed alike, in the same velvet knickerbockers, the same white-flannel shirts, the same leather belts. But each had his head wrapped in a red-silk scarf, with two holes for the eyes, as in a highwayman's mask.

Which was Francois? Which was Raynold?

Now she remembered Vorski's inexplicable threat.

This was what he meant by the programme drawn up by himself, this was to what he alluded when he spoke of a little play of his composing. Not only was the son fighting before the mother, but she did not know which was her son.

It was an infernal refinement of cruelty; Vorski himself had said so. No agony could add to Veronique's agony.'

The miracle which she had hoped for lay chiefly in herself and in the love which she bore her son. Because her son was fighting before her eyes, she felt certain that her son could not die. She would protect him against the blows and against the ruses of the foe. She would make the dagger swerve, she would ward off death from the head which she adored. She would inspire her boy with dauntless energy, with the will to attack, with indefatigable strength, with the spirit that foretells and seizes the propitious moment. But now that both of them were veiled, on which was she to exercise her good influence, for which to pray, against which to rebel?

She knew nothing. There was no clue to enlighten her. One of them was taller, slimmer and lither in his movements. Was this Francois? The other was more thick-set, stronger and stouter in appearance. Was this Raynold? She could not-tell. Nothing but a glimpse of a face, or even a fleeting expression, could have revealed the truth to her. But how was she to pierce the impenetrable mask?

And the fight continued, more terrible for her than if she had seen her son with his face uncovered.

“Bravo!” cried Vorski, applauding an attack.

He seemed to be following the duel like a connoisseur, with the affectation of impartiality displayed by a good judge of fighting who above all things wants the best man to win. And yet it was one of his sons that he had condemned to death.

Facing her stood the two accomplices, both of them men with brutal faces, pointed skulls and big noses with spectacles. One of them was extremely thin; the other was also thin, but with a swollen paunch like a leather bottle. These two did not applaud and remained indifferent, or perhaps even hostile, to the sight before them.

“Capital!” cried Vorski, approvingly. “Well parried! Oh, you're a couple of sturdy fellows and I'm wondering to whom to award the palm.”

He pranced around the adversaries, urging them on in a hoarse voice in which Veronique, remembering certain scenes in the past, seemed to recognize the effects of drink. Nevertheless the poor thing made an effort to stretch out her bound hands towards him; and she moaned under her gag:

“Mercy! Mercy! I can't bear it. Have pity!”

It was impossible for her martyrdom to last.

Her heart was beating so violently that it shook her from head to foot; and she was on the point of fainting when an incident occurred that gave her fresh life. One of the boys, after a fairly stubborn tussle, had jumped back and was swiftly bandaging his right wrist, from which a few drops of blood were trickling. Veronique seemed to remember seeing in her son's hand the small blue-and-white handkerchief which the boy was using.

She was immediately and irresistibly convinced. The boy — it was the more slender and agile of the two — had more grace than the other, more distinction, greater elegance of movement.

“It's Francois,” she murmured. “Yes, yes, it's he.... It's you, isn't it, my darling? I recognize you now.... The other is common and heavy.... It's you, my darling!... Oh, my Francois, my dearest Francois!”

In fact, though both were fighting with equal fierceness, this one displayed less savage fury and blind rage in his efforts. It was as though he were trying not so much to kill his adversary as to wound him and as though his attacks were directed rather to preserving himself from the death that lay in wait for him. Veronique felt alarmed and stammered, as though he could hear her:

“Don't spare him, my darling! He's a monster, too!... Oh, dear, if you're generous, you're lost!... Francois, Francois, mind what you're doing!”

The blade of the dagger had flashed over the head of the one whom she called her son; and she had cried out, under her gag, to warn him. Francois having avoided the blow, she felt persuaded that her cry had reached his ears; and she continued instinctively to put him on his guard and advise him:

“Take a rest.... Get your breath.... Whatever you do, keep your eyes on him.... He's getting ready to do something.... He's going to rush at you.... Here he comes! Oh, my darling, another inch and he would have stabbed you in the neck!... Be careful, darling, he's treacherous... there's no trick too mean for him to play....”

But the unhappy mother felt, however reluctant she might yet be to admit it, that the one whom she called her son was beginning to lose strength. Certain signs proclaimed a reduced power of resistance, while the other, on the contrary, was gaining in eagerness and vigour. Francois retreated until he reached the edge of the arena.

“Hi, you, boy!” grinned Vorski. “You're not thinking of running away, are you? Keep your nerve, damn it! Show some pluck! Remember the conditions!”

The boy rushed forward with renewed zest; and it was the other's turn to fall back. Vorski clapped his hands, while Veronique murmured:

“It's for me that he's risking his life. The monster must have told him, 'Your mother's fate depends on you. If you win, she's saved.' And he has sworn to win. He knows that I am watching him. He guesses that I am here. He hears me. Bless you, my darling!”

It was the last phase of the duel. Veronique trembled all over, exhausted by her emotion and by the too violent alternation of hope and anguish. Once again her son lost ground and once again he leapt forward. But, in the final struggle that followed, he lost his balance and fell on his back, with his right arm caught under his body.

His adversary at once stooped, pressed his knee on the other's chest and raised his arm. The dagger gleamed in the air.

“Help! Help!” Veronique gasped, choking under her gag.

She flattened her breast against the wall, without thinking of the cords which tortured her. Her forehead was bleeding, cut by the sharp corner of the rail, and she felt that she was about to die of the death of her son. Vorski had approached and stood, without moving, with a merciless look on his face.

Twenty seconds, thirty seconds passed. With his outstretched left hand, Francois checked his adversary's attempt. But the victorious arm sank lower and lower, the dagger descended, the point was only an inch or two from the neck.

Vorski stooped. Just then, he was behind Raynold, so that neither Raynold nor Francois could see him; and he was watching most attentively, as though intending to intervene at some given moment. But in whose favor would he intervene? Was it his plan to save Francois?

Veronique no longer breathed; her eyes were enormously dilated; she hung between life and death.

The point of the dagger touched the neck and must have pricked the flesh, but only very slightly, for it was still held back by Francois' resistance.

Vorski bent lower. He stood over the fighters and did not take his eyes from the deadly point. Suddenly he took a pen-knife from his pocket, opened it and waited. A few more seconds elapsed. The dagger continued to descend. Then quickly he gashed Raynold's shoulder with the blade of his knife.

The boy uttered a cry of pain. His grip at once became relaxed; and, at the same time, Francois, set free, his right arm released, half rose, resumed the offensive and, without seeing Vorski or understanding what had happened, in an instinctive impulse of his whole being escaped from death and revolting against his adversary, struck him full in the face. Raynold in his turn (ell like a log.

All this had certainly lasted no longer than ten seconds. But the incident was so unexpected and took Veronique so greatly aback that, not realizing, not knowing that she ought to rejoice, believing rather that she was mistaken and that the real Francois was dead, murdered by Vorski, the poor thing sank into a huddled heap and lost consciousness.


A long, long time elapsed. Then, gradually, Veronique became aware of certain sensations. She heard the clock strike four; and she said:

“It's two hours since Francois died. For it was he who died.”

She had not a doubt that the duel had ended in this way. Vorski would never have allowed Francois to be the victor and his other son to be killed. And so it was against her own child that she had sent up wishes and for the monster that she had prayed!

“Francois is dead,” she repeated. “Vorski has killed him.”

The door opened and the heard Vorski's voice. He entered, with an unsteady gait:

“A thousand pardons, dear lady, but I think Vorski must have fallen asleep. It's your father's fault, Veronique! He had hidden away in his cellar some confounded Saumur which Conrad and Otto discovered and which has fuddled me a bit! But don't cry; we shall make up for lost time.... Besides everything must be settled by midnight. So...

He had come nearer; and he now exclaimed:

“What! Did that rascal of a Vorski leave you tied up? What a brute that Vorski is! And how uncomfortable you must be!... Hang it all, how pale you are! I say, look here, you're not dead, are you? That would be a nasty trick to play us!”

He took Veronique's hand, which she promptly snatched away.

“Capital! We still loathe our little Vorski! Then that's all right and there's plenty of reserve strength. You'll hold out to the end, Veronique.”

He listened:

“What is it? Who's calling me? Is it you, Otto? Come up.... Well, Otto, what news? I've been asleep, you know. That damned Saumur wine!...”

Otto, one of the two accomplices, entered the room at a run. He was the one whose paunch bulged so oddly.

“What news?” he exclaimed. “Why, this: I've seen some one on the island!”

Vorski began to laugh:

“You're drunk, Otto. That damned Saumur wine...”

“I'm not drunk. I saw... and so did Conrad...”

“Oho,” said Vorski, more seriously, “if Conrad was with you! Well, what did you see?”

“A white figure, which hid when we came along.”

“Where?”

“Between the village and the heath, in a little wood of chestnut trees.”

“On the other side of the island then?”

“Yes.”

“All right. We'll take our precautions.”

“How? There may be several of them.”

“I don't care if there are ten of them; it would make no difference. Where's Conrad?”

“By the foot-bridge which we put in the place of the bridge that was burnt down. He's keeping watch from there.”

“Conrad is a clever one. When the bridge was burnt, we were kept on the other side; if the footbridge is burnt, it'll produce the same hindrance. Veronique, I really believe they're coming to rescue you. It's the miracle you expected, the assistance you hoped for. But it's too late, my beauty.”

He untied the bonds that fastened her to the balcony, carried her to the sofa and loosened the gag slightly:

“Sleep, my wench,” he said. “Get what rest you can. You're only half-way to Golgotha yet; and the last bit of the ascent will be the hardest.”

He went away jesting; and Veronique heard the two men exchange a few sentences which proved to her that Otto and Conrad were only supers who knew nothing of the business in hand:

“Who's this wretched woman whom you're persecuting?” asked Otto.

“That doesn't concern you.”

“Still, Conrad and I would like to know something about it.”

“Lord, why?”

“Oh, just because I—”

“Conrad and you are a pair of fools,” replied Vorski. “When I took you into my service and helped you to escape with me, I told you all I could of my plans. You accepted my conditions. It was your look-out. You've got to see this thing through now.”

“And if we don't?”

“If you don't, beware of the consequences. I don't like shirkers....”

More hours passed. Nothing, it seemed to Veronique, could any longer save her from the end for which she craved with all her heart. She no longer hoped for the intervention of which Otto had spoken.' In reality she was not thinking at all. Her son was dead; and she had no other wish than to join him without delay, even at the cost of the most dreadful suffering. What did that suffering matter to her? There are limits to the strength of those who are tortured; and she was so near to reaching those limits that her agony would not last long.

She began to pray. Once more the memory of the past forced itself on her mind; and the fault which she had committed seemed to her the cause of all the misfortunes heaped upon her.

And, while praying, exhausted, harassed, in a state of nervous extenuation which left her indifferent to anything that might happen, she fell asleep.

Vorski's return did not even rouse her. He had to shake her:

“The hour is at hand, my girl. Say your prayers.”

He spoke low, so that his assistants might not hear what he said; and, whispering in her ear, he told her things of long ago, insignificant trifles which he dribbled out in a thick tone. At last he called out:

“It's still too light, Otto. Go and see what you can find in the larder, will you? I'm hungry.”

They sat down to table, but Vorski stood up again at once:

“Don't look at me, my girl. Your eyes worry me. What do you expect? My conscience doesn't worry me when I'm alone, but it gets worked up when a fine pair of eyes like yours go right through me. Lower your lids, my pretty one.”

He bound Veronique's eyes with a handkerchief which he knotted behind her head. But this did not satisfy him; and he unhooked a muslin curtain from the window, wrapped her whole head in it and wound it round her neck. Then he sat down again to eat and drink.

The three of them hardly spoke and said not a word of their trip across the island, nor of the duel of the afternoon. In any case, these were details which did not interest Veronique and which, even if she had paid attention to them, would not have aroused her. Everything had become indifferent to her. The words reached her ears but assumed no definite meaning. She thought of nothing but dying.

When it was dark, Vorski gave the signal for departure.

“Then you're still determined?” asked Otto, in a voice betraying a certain hostility.

“More so than ever. What's your reason for asking?”

“Nothing.... But, all the same...”

“All the same what?”

“Well, I may as well out with it, we only half like the job.”

“You don't mean to say so! And you only discover it now, my man, after stringing up the sisters Archignat and treating it as a lark!”

“I was drunk that day. You made us drink.”

“Well, get boozed if you want to, old cock. Here, take the brandy-bottle. Fill your flask and shut up.... Conrad, is the stretcher ready?”

He turned to his victim:

“A polite attention for you, my dear.... Two old stilts of your brat's, fastened together with straps.... It's very practical and comfortable.”

At half-past eight, the grim procession set out, with Vorski at the head, carrying a lantern. The accomplices followed with the litter.

The clouds which had been threatening all the afternoon had now gathered and were rolling, thick and black, over the island. The night was falling swiftly. A stormy wind was blowing and made the candle flicker in the lantern.

“Brrrr!” muttered Vorski. “Dismal work! A regular Golgotha evening.”

He swerved and grunted at the sight of a little black shape bounding along by his side:

“What's that? Look. It's a dog, isn't it?”

“It's the boy's mongrel,” said Otto.

“Oh, of course, the famous All's Well! The brute's come in the nick of time. Everything's going jolly well! Just wait a bit, you mangy beast!”

He aimed a kick at the dog. All's Well avoided it and keeping out of reach, continued to accompany the procession, giving a muffled bark at intervals.

It was a rough ascent; and every moment one of the three men, leaving the invisible path that skirted the grass in front of the house and led to the open space by the Fairies' Dolmen, tripped in the brambles or in the runners of ivy.

“Halt!” Vorski commanded. “Stop and take breath, my lads. Otto, hand us your flask. My heart's turning upside down.”

He took a long pull:

“Your turn, Otto.... What, don't you want to? What's the matter with you?”

“I'm thinking that there are people on the island who are looking for us.”

“Let them look!”

“And suppose they come by boat and climb that path in the cliffs which the woman and the boy were trying to escape by this morning, the path we found?”

“What we have to fear is an attack by land, not by sea. Well, the foot-bridge is burnt. There's no means of communication.”

“Unless they find the entrance to the cells, on the Black Heath, and follow the tunnel to this place.”

“Have they found the entrance?”

“I don't know.”

“Well, granting that they do find it, haven't we just blocked the exit on this side, broken down the staircase, thrown everything topsy-turvy? To clear it will take them half a day and more. Whereas at midnight the thing'll be done and by daybreak we shall be far away from Sarek.”

“It'll be done, it'll be done; that is to say, we shall have one more murder on our conscience. But...”

“But what?”

“What about the treasure?”

“Ah, the treasure! You've got it out at last! Well, make your mind easy: your shares of it are as good as in your pockets.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Rather! Do you imagine that I'm staying here and doing all this dirty work for fun?”

They resumed their progress. After a quarter of an hour, a few drops of rain began to fall. There was a clap of thunder. The storm still appeared to be some distance away.

They had difficulty in completing the rough ascent: and Vorski had to help his companions.

“At last!” he said. “We're there. Otto, hand me the flask. That's it. Thanks.”

They had laid their victim at the foot of the oak which had had its lower branches removed. A flash of light revealed the inscription,” V. d'H.” Vorski picked up a rope, which had been left there in readiness, and set a ladder against the trunk of the tree:

“We'll do as we did with the sisters Archignat,” he said. “I'll pass the cord over the big branch which we left intact. That will serve as a pulley.”

He interrupted himself and jumped to one side. Something extraordinary had just happened.

“What's that?” he whispered. “What was it? Did you hear that whistling sound?”

“Yes,” said Conrad, “it grazed my ear. One would have said it was a bullet.”

“You're mad.”

“I heard it too,” said Otto, “and it seems to me that it hit the tree.”

“What tree?”

“The oak, of course! It was as though somebody had fired at us.”

“There was no report.”

“A stone, then; a stone that must have hit the oak.”

“We'll soon see,” said Vorski.

He turned his lantern and at once let fly an oath:

“Damn it! Look, there, under the lettering.”

They looked. An arrow was fixed at the spot to which he pointed. Its feathered end was still quivering.”

“An arrow!” gasped Conrad. “How is it possible? An arrow!”

And Otto spluttered:

“We're done for! It's us they were aiming at!”

“The man who took aim at us can't be far off,” Vorski observed. “Keep your eyes open. We'll have a look.”

He swung the light in a circle which penetrated the surrounding darkness.

“Stop,” said Conrad, eagerly. “A little more to the right. Do you see?”

“Yes, yes, I see.”

Thirty yards from where they stood, in the direction of the Calvary of the Flowers, just beyond the blasted oak, they saw something white, a figure which was trying, at least so it seemed, to hide behind a clump of bushes.

“Not a word, not a movement,” Vorski ordered. “Do nothing to let him think that we've discovered him. Conrad, come with me. You, Otto, stay here, with your revolver in your hand, and keep a good watch. If they try to come near and to release her ladyship, fire two shots and we'll run bade at once. Is that understood?”

“Quite.”

Vorski bent over Veronique and loosened the veil slightly. Her eyes and mouth were still concealed by their bandages. She was breathing with difficulty; the pulse was weak and slow.

“We have time,” he muttered, “but we must hurry if we want her to die according to plan. In any case she doesn't seem to be in pain. She has lost all consciousness.”

He put down the lantern and then softly, followed by his assistant, stole towards the white figure, both of them choosing the places where the shadow was densest.

But he soon became aware, on the one hand, that the figure, which had seemed stationary, was moving as he himself moved forward, so that the space between them remained the same, and, on the other hand, that it was escorted by a small black figure frisking by its side.

“It's that filthy mongrel!” growled Vorski.

He quickened his pace: the distance did not decrease. He ran: the figure in front of him ran likewise. And the strangest part of it was that they heard no sound of leaves disturbed or of ground trampled by the mysterious person running ahead of them.

“Damn it!” swore Vorski. “He's laughing at us. Suppose we fired at him, Conrad?”

“He's too far. The bullets wouldn't reach him.”

“All the same, we're not going to...”

The unknown individual led them to the end of the island and then down to the entrance of the tunnel, passed close to the Priory, skirted the west cliff and reached the foot-bridge, some of the planks of which were still smouldering. Then he branched off, passed back by the other side of the house and went up the grassy slope.

From time to time the dog barked gaily.

Vorski could not control his rage. However hard he tried, he was unable to gain an inch of ground: and the pursuit had lasted fifteen minutes. He ended by vituperating the enemy:

“Stop, can't you? Show yourself a man!... What are you trying to do? Lead us into a trap? What for?... Is it her ladyship you're trying to save? It's not worth while, in the state she's in. Oh, you damned, smart bounder, if I could only get hold of you!”

Suddenly Conrad seized him by the skirt of his robe.

“What is it, Conrad?”

“Look. He seems to be stopping.”

As Conrad suggested, the white figure for the first time was becoming more and more clearly visible in the darkness and they were able to distinguish, through the leaves of a thicket, its present attitude, with the arms slightly opened, the back bowed, the legs bent and apparently crossed on the ground.

“He must have fallen,” said Conrad.

Vorski, after running forward, shouted:

“Am I to shoot, you scum? I've got the drop on you. Hands up, or I fire.”

Nothing stirred.

“It's your own look-out! If you show fight, you're a dead man. I shall count three and fire.”

He walked to twenty yards of the figure and counted, with outstretched arm:

“One... two.... Are you ready, Conrad? Fire!”

The two bullets were discharged at the same time.

There was a cry of distress. The figure seemed to collapse. The two men rushed forward:

“Ah, now you've got it, you rascal! I'll show you the stuff that Vorski's made of! You've given me a pretty run, you oaf! Well, your account's settled!”

After the first few steps, he slackened his speed, for fear of a surprise. The figure did not move; and Vorski, on coming close, saw that it had the limp and misshapen look of a dead man, of a corpse. Nothing remained but to fall upon it. This was what Vorski did, laughing and jesting:

“A good bag, Conrad! Let's pick up the game.”

But he was greatly surprised, on picking up the game, to feel in his hands nothing but an almost impalpable quarry, consisting, to tell the truth, of just a white robe, with no one inside it, the owner of the robe having taken flight in good time, after hooking it to the thorns of a thicket. As for the dog, he had disappeared.

“Damn and blast it!” roared Vorski. “He's cheated us, the ruffian! But why, hang it, why?”

Venting his rage in the stupid fashion that was his habit, he was stamping on the piece of stuff, when a thought struck him:

“Why? Because, damn it, as I said just now, it's a trap: a trap to get us away from her ladyship while his friends went for Otto! Oh, what an ass I've been!”

He started to go back in the dark and, as soon as he was able to see the dolmen, he called out:

“Otto! Otto!”

“Halt! Who goes there?” answered Otto, in a scared voice.

“It's me.... Damn you, don't fire!”

“Who's there? You?”

“Yes, yes, you fool.”

“But the two shots?”

“Nothing.... A mistake.... We'll tell you about it....”

He was now close to the oak and, at once, taking up the lantern, turned its rays upon his victim. She had not moved and lay stretched at the foot of the tree, with her head wrapped in the veil.

“Ah!” he said. “I breathe again! Hang it, how frightened I was!”

“Frightened of what?”

“Of their taking her from us, of course!”

“Well, wasn't I here?”

“Oh, you! You've got no more pluck than a louse... and, if they had gone for you...”

“I should have fired, at any rate. You'd have heard the signal.”

“May be. Well, did nothing happen?”

“Nothing at all.”

“Her ladyship didn't carry on too much?”

“She did at first. She moaned and groaned under her hood, until I lost all patience.”

“And then?”

“Oh, then! It didn't last long: I stunned her with a good blow of my fist.”

“You brute!” exclaimed Vorski. “If you've killed her, you're a dead man.”

He plumped down and glued his ear to his unfortunate victim's breast.

“No,” he said, presently, “her heart is still beating. But that may not last long. To work, lads. It must all be over in ten minutes.”