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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XIX My Great Hour

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There was a short pause.

"Well, you are not a coward, at all events!"

"Nor a murderer, Eva!"

"God forbid."

"Then forgive me for everything else that I have been - to you!"

And he was on his knees where I had knelt scarce a minute before; nor could I bear to watch them any longer. I believed that he loved her in his own way as sincerely as I did in mine. I believed that she detested him for the detestable crime in which he had been concerned. I believed that the opinion of him which she had expressed to his face, in my hearing, was her true opinion, and I longed to hear her mitigate it ever so little before he went. He won my sympathy as a gallant who valued a kind word from his mistress more than life itself. I hoped earnestly that that kind word would be spoken. But I had no desire to wait to hear it. I felt an intruder. I would leave them alone together for the last time. So I walked to the door, but, seeing a key in it, I changed my mind, and locked it on the inside. In the hall I might become the unintentional instrument of the squire's capture, though, so far as my ears served me, it was still empty as we had left it. I preferred to run no risks, and would have a look at the subterranean passage instead.

"I advise you to speak low," I said, "and not to be long. The place is alive with the police. If they hear you all will be up."

Whether he heard me I do not know. I left him on his knees still, and Eva with her face hidden in her hands.

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The cellar was a strange scene to revisit within an hour of my deliverance from that very torture-chamber. It had been something more before I left it, but in it I could think only of the first occupant of the camp-stool. The lantern still burned upon the floor. There was the mattress, still depressed where I had lain face to face with insolent death. The bullet was in the plaster; it could not have missed by the breadth of many hairs. In the corner was the shallow grave, dug by Harris for my elements. And Harris was dead. And Santos was dead. But life and love were mine.

I would have gone through it all again!

And all at once I was on fire to be back in the library; so much so, that half a minute at the manhole, lantern in hand, was enough for me; and a mere funnel of moist brown earth - a terribly low arch propped with beams - as much as I myself ever saw of the subterranean conduit between Kirby House and the sea. But I understood that the curious may traverse it for themselves to this day on payment of a very modest fee.

As for me, I returned as I had come after (say) five minutes' absence; my head full once more of Eva, and of impatient anxiety for the wild young squire's final flight; and my heart still singing with the joy of which my beloved's kindness seemed a sufficient warranty. Poor egotist! Am I to tell you what I found when I came up those steep stairs to the chamber where I had left him on his knees to her? Or can you guess?

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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