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  ― 94 ―

VI.

It was three in the morning before Peake reached the hut on 5 B farm. His hut-mates—Reynell, Osborne, “Barrington,” and Felix—were waiting for him in a weird, Rembrandtesque half-light—waiting for the news of the doom. In his walk from the Iron Room to the farm he had passed three sentry-posts; but the “One” had given the countersign at each, and the quiver of trepidation with which Peake had come within range of each soldier's musket had proved quite unnecessary.

Not so, perhaps, the spasm which shook him when he re-entered the hut. The exhilaration of the ceremony had evaporated, and his sense of duty to the Ring was overlain by his awakened remorse that he had betrayed to the death the man who had become surety for his good conduct, and had thereby obtained for him comparative freedom. From the remorse sprang the dread that Reynell—already on his way to the grave—might avenge his betrayal on the betrayer. What would Reynell do?

For some moments after Peake entered no one spoke. Then the condemned broke silence.

“Is it—doom, Peake?” he asked.

Peake nodded.




  ― 95 ―

“Who,” stammeringly questioned Osborne, “who is the Ketch?”

Peake, with a trembling forefinger, pointed to Felix.

Felix, great hulking lout, bent himself in the shadows, and covered his face with his gnarled hands.

“An' I 'ad promised to be true man for ever an' a day, 'Arry! Yo brought me here, 'Arry, an' rid me o' the domned clinks, an' it's me that's to kill tho. I 'udn't do it!” He half said, half groaned these words.

“Then, if yer don't, it's yer doom too, yer know!” breathed Osborne.

“An' I'd take it 'fore I'd break my oath to 'Arry yonder. I'm his sworn man.”

“Yer the Ring's man first!” insisted Osborne.

“Ay, that war I; but there's a way to obey th' Ring an' keep my oath to 'Arry too!”

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