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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XVII Thieves Fall Out

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Santos was the first to find his voice.

"Another time you will perhaps think twice before you spik, friend squire."

Rattray simply asked me what I had been doing in there, in a white flame of passion, and with such an oath that I embellished the truth for him in my turn.

"Trying to give you blackguards the slip," said I.

"Then it was you who let down the sheet?"

"Of course it was."

"All right! I'm done with you," said he; "that settles it. I make you an offer. You won't accept it. I do my best; you do your worst; but I'll be shot if you get another chance from me!"

Brandy and the wine-glass stood where Rattray must have set them, on an oak stool beside the bed; as he spoke he crossed the room, filled the glass till the spirit dripped, and drained it at a gulp. He was twitching and wincing still when he turned, walked up to Joaquin Santos, and pointed to where I stood with a fist that shook.

"You wanted to deal with him," said Rattray; "you're at liberty to do so. I'm only sorry I stood in your way."

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But no answer, and for once no rings of smoke came from those shrivelled lips: the man had rolled and lighted a cigarette since Rattray entered, but it was burning unheeded between his skinny fingers. I had his attention, all to myself. He knew the tale that I was going to tell. He was waiting for it; he was ready for me. The attentive droop of his head; the crafty glitter in his intelligent eyes; the depth and breadth of the creased forehead; the knowledge of his resource, the consciousness of my error, all distracted and confounded me so that my speech halted and my voice ran thin. I told Rattray every syllable that these traitors had been saying behind his back, but I told it all very ill; what was worse, and made me worse, I was only too well aware of my own failure to carry conviction with my words.

"And why couldn't you come out and say so asked Rattray, as even I knew that he must. "Why wait till now?"

"Ah, why!" echoed Santos, with a smile and a shake of the head; a suspicious tolerance, an ostentatious truce, upon his parchment face. And already he was sufficiently relieved to suck his cigarette alight again.

"You know why," I said, trusting to bluff honesty with the one of them who was not rotten to the core: "because I still meant escaping."

"And then what?" asked Rattray fiercely.

"You had given me my chance," I said; "I hould have given you yours."

"You would, would you? Very kind of you, Mr. Cole!"

"No, no," said Santos; "not kind, but clever! Clever, spicious, and queeck-weeted beyond belif! Senhor Rattray, we have all been in the dark; we thought we had fool to dii with, but what admirable knave the young man would make! Such readiness, such resource, with his tongue or with his peestol; how useful would it be to us! I am glad you have decided to live him to me, friend Rattray, for I am quite come round to your way of thinking. It is no longer necessary for him to die!"

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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