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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XV First Blood

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I can see him now as he stood dumfounded on the threshold of the hall; and yet, at the time, my eyes sped past him into the room beyond.

It was the one I have described as being lined with books; there was a long rent in this lining, where the books had opened with a door, through which Captain Harris, Joaquin Santos, and Jane Braithwaite followed Rattray in quick succession, the men all with lanterns, the woman scarlet and dishevelled even for her. It was over the squire's shoulders I saw their faces;, he kept them from passing him in the doorway by a free use of his elbows; and when I looked at him again, his black eyes were blazing from a face white with passion, and they were fixed upon me.

"What the devil brings you here?" he thundered at last.

"Don't ask idle questions," was my reply to that.

"So you were shamming to-day!"

"I was taking a leaf out of your book."

"You'll gain nothing by being clever!" sneered the squire, taking a threatening step forward. For at the last moment I had tucked my revolver behind my back, not only for the pleasure, but for the obvious advantage of getting them all in front of me and off their guard. I had no idea that such eyes as Rattray's could be so fierce: they were dancing from me to my companion, whom their glitter frightened into an attempt to disengage herself from me; but my arm only tightened about her drooping figure.

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"I shall gain no more than I expect," said I, carelessly. "And I know what to expect from brave gentlemen like you! It will be better than your own fate, at all events; anything's better than being taken hence to the place of execution, and hanged by the neck until you're dead, all three of you in a row, and your bodies buried within the precincts of the prison!"

"The very thing for him," murmured Santos. "The - very - theeng!"

"But I'm so soft-hearted," I went insanely on, "that I should be sorry to see that happen to such fine fellows as you are. Come out of that, you little fraud behind there!" It was my betrayer skulking in the room. "Come out and line up with the rest! No, I'm not going to see you fellows dance on nothing; I've another kind of ball apiece for you, and one between 'em for the Braithwaites!"

Well, I suppose I always had a nasty tongue in me, and rather enjoyed making play with it on provocation; but, if so, I met with my deserts that night. For the nigger of the Lady Jermyn lay all but hid behind Eva and me; if they saw him at all, they may have thought him drunk; but, as for myself, I had fairly forgotten his existence until the very moment came for showing my revolver, when it was twisted out of my grasp instead, and a ball sang under my arm as the brute fell back exhausted and the weapon clattered beside him. Before I could stoop for it there was a dead weight on my left arm, and Squire Rattray was over the table at a bound, with his arms jostling mine beneath Eva Denison's senseless form.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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