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  ― 122 ―

VII.

Along the pine-bordered lane—a tunnel to hold in the bleak blasts—passed Bill Felix. Gibbering shapes walked with him, “t'owd squoire an' pa'son, an' mither an' feyther from th' whoam village,” and dead and gone brother Ringers, and at least one of the three constables to whose death he had been an accessory. They shrieked at him in the gusts that shook the branches of the tall pyramidal pines, and he heard their sobs plainly in the sound of the sullen surf. He could have sworn some of them laid hold upon him; and great drops of perspiration beaded his forehead and soaked his peakless cap. The wonder was that he did not turn back in sheer affright. But the blind mute impulse which not rarely wins men to heroism when their wills bid them act the coward, held him to his path.

By Government House, the sentinel's shadow silhouetted by the door-lamp on the white garden-wall as he stood in front of the thirty-two-pound gun on the slope, startled him afresh. “O Gord!” he gasped. He had forgotten that by his oath to the Ring he should have called on Satan.

Past the Deputy-Assistant-Commissariat-General's cottage he stumbled, the scents of rose-tree, spice-plant,


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and magnolia from the carefully-tended garden banishing for a second some of his dread. He would have liked to have plucked a banana to refresh his parched lips, but dare not jump the fence. He did not want a bullet before his time.

Over the culvert by the Commissariat offices, creeping down by the low wall fearful that the soldier posted there might see him cross the fanshaped beam of light from the one unblinded window, he reached the Grass-plot. He paused then, leaning against the palisade that surrounded the flag-staff. He heard, rather than saw, the balled flag rustle softly as it hung suspended against the foot of the mast. He would have spat upon it could he have reached it. But he could curse it. To-morrow— nay, this very morning—the ball of bunting would run up quickly to the truck and would reveal itself magnificently as the Union Jack at the precise hour, perhaps, the requisition went in for his coffin. So he cursed it, beneath his breath.

At last he stood within a yard's length of his goal. See that narrow stream of light, shooting outwards from midway up that great rim of massy blackness? It projects from the loophole of the guard-tower at the north-eastern angle of the gaol. Six feet above the loophole stands, as Bill knows well, a soldier, with


  ― 124 ―
firelock ever ready; mute himself, save at half-hour intervals when he hurls into the night a grim, ironical “All's well!” or, more rarely, when he issues a challenge; and his old Brown Bess is mute too—till there is occasion for her to speak. A pace and a half, and Bill would be visible in the flash of light. Thirty-six inches this side of Eternity! And he had always calculated that it would take a drop of ten feet to dislocate his neck. Decidedly death was nearer this way than from the scaffold—by six feet or thereabouts!

Would Reynell do him justice? Would the Ring? Would the Ring, after all, think he was shot by mischance, instead of from his own purpose? “God!”—again! He had never thought of that! Would his sacrifice be all in vain, then? Suppose that the Ring still held Reynell to his doom? “God!”

In the agony of doubt he must have exclaimed aloud. Suddenly the challenge parted the darkness.

“Who goes there?”

He did not give himself time for another thought; he stepped boldly into the light.

“Who goes there? Answer, or I fire!”

“Fire, an' be domned t' tha!”

He challenged Fate as well as the soldier. And both answered.




  ― 125 ―

When they bore him into the guard-room he was still alive. He gasped two sentences. “Yo'll tell—Pe–ake—this be th' doom. An' give my lo–ave t' 'Arry Reynell, 'ull yo?” and in a little while passed out of the ken of an aggrieved System.

Maconochie, bending to view the wound, saw that the ball had entered between the rims of two circles described on the man's chest. One—the larger—was an old scar; the other—the inner circle—was still of a festering newness. The latter was the symbol of Bill's recently gained membership of No. 7 Circle.

“Bony” Anderson,note from the signal-station on Mount Pitt, came down to report that there had been no gun-fire from Phillip's at seven o'clock. A boat was despatched, and returned with the body of a suicide. Bill Felix's sacrifice was in vain, after all. Harry Reynell had anticipated the doom.

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