“And you?” I asked.

“I do,” he said. “Well, well, the halter be it.”

“I’m sorry you won’t live to see it,” I observed.

“Has his Majesty done me the honour to fasten a particular quarrel on me?”

“I would you were a few years older, though.”

“Oh, God gives years, but the devil gives increase,” laughed he. “I can hold my own.”

“How is your prisoner?” I asked.

“The K—?”

“Your prisoner.”

“I forgot your wishes, sire. Well, he is alive.”

He rose to his feet; I imitated him. Then, with a smile, he said:

“And the pretty princess? Faith, I’ll wager the next Elphberg will be red enough, for all that Black Michael will be called his father.”

I sprang a step towards him, clenching my hand. He did not move an inch, and his lip curled in insolent amusement.

“Go, while your skin’s whole!” I muttered. He had repaid me with interest my hit about his mother.

Then came the most audacious thing I have known in my life. My friends were some thirty yards away. Rupert called to a groom to bring him his horse, and dismissed the fellow with a crown. The horse stood near. I stood still, suspecting nothing. Rupert made as though to mount; then he suddenly turned to me: his left hand resting in his belt, his right outstretched: “Shake hands,” he said.

I bowed, and did as he had foreseen—I put my hands behind me. Quicker than thought, his left hand darted out at me, and a small dagger flashed in the air; he struck me in the left shoulder—had I not swerved, it had been my heart. With a cry, I staggered back. Without touching the stirrup, he leapt upon his horse and was off like an arrow, pursued by cries and revolver shots—the last as useless as the first—and I sank into my chair, bleeding profusely, as I watched the devil’s brat disappear down the long avenue. My friends surrounded me, and then I fainted.

I suppose that I was put to bed, and there lay, unconscious, or half conscious, for many hours; for it was night when I awoke to my full mind, and found Fritz beside me. I was weak and weary, but he bade me be of good cheer, saying that my wound would soon heal, and that meanwhile all had gone well, for Johann, the keeper, had fallen into the snare we had laid for him, and was even now in the house.

“And the queer thing is,” pursued Fritz, “that I fancy he’s not altogether sorry to find himself here. He seems to think that when Black Michael has brought off his coup, witnesses of how it was effected—saving, of course, the Six themselves—will not be at a premium.”

This idea argued a shrewdness in our captive which led me to build hopes on his assistance. I ordered him to be brought in at once. Sapt conducted him, and set him in a chair by my bedside. He was sullen, and afraid; but, to say truth, after young Rupert’s exploit, we also had our fears, and, if he got as far as possible from Sapt’s formidable six-shooter, Sapt kept him as far as he could from me. Moreover, when he came in his hands were bound, but that I would not suffer.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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