The potations which had swelled and bloated his carcase had already weakened the springs of energy. One more huge effort, that came near to overpower me, and in which the pistol happily exploded, and I felt his grasp slacken and weakness come on his joints; his legs succumbed under his weight, and he grovelled on his knees on the stone floor. 'Spare me!' he gasped.
I had not only been abominably frightened; I was shocked besides: my delicacy was in arms, like a lady to whom violence should have been offered by a similar monster. I plucked myself from his horrid contact, I snatched the pistol--even discharged, it was a formidable weapon--and menaced him with the butt. 'Spare you!' I cried, 'you beast!'
His voice died in his fat inwards, but his lips still vehemently framed the same words of supplication. My anger began to pass off, but not all my repugnance; the picture he made revolted me, and I was impatient to be spared the further view of it.
'Here,' said I, 'stop this performance: it sickens me. I am not going to kill you, do you hear? I have need of you.'
A look of relief, that I could almost have called beautiful, dawned on his countenance. 'Anything--anything you wish,' said he.
Anything is a big word, and his use of it brought me for a moment to a stand. 'Why, what do you mean?' I asked. 'Do you mean that you will blow the gaff on the whole business?'
He answered me Yes with eager asseverations.
'I know Monsieur de Saint-Yves is in it; it was through his papers we traced you,' I said. 'Do you consent to make a clean breast of the others?'
'I do--I will!' he cried. 'The 'ole crew of 'em; there's good names among 'em. I'll be king's evidence.'
'So that all shall hang except yourself? You damned villain!' I broke out. 'Understand at once that I am no spy or thief-taker. I am a kinsman of Monsieur de St. Yves--here in his interest. Upon my word, you have put your foot in it prettily, Mr. Burchell Fenn! Come, stand up; don't grovel there. Stand up, you lump of iniquity!'
He scrambled to his feet. He was utterly unmanned, or it might have gone hard with me yet; and I considered him hesitating, as, indeed, there was cause. The man was a double-dyed traitor: he had tried to murder me, and I had first baffled his endeavours and then exposed and insulted him. Was it wise to place myself any longer at his mercy? With his help I should doubtless travel more quickly; doubtless also far less agreeably; and there was everything to show that it would be at a greater risk. In short, I should have washed my hands of him on the spot, but for the temptation of the French officers, whom I knew to be so near, and for whose society I felt so great and natural an impatience. If I was to see anything of my countrymen, it was clear I had first of all to make my peace with Mr. Fenn; and that was no easy matter. To make friends with any one implies concessions on both sides; and what could I concede? What could I say of him, but that he had proved himself a villain and a fool, and the worse man?
'Well,' said I, 'here has been rather a poor piece of business, which I dare say you can have no pleasure in calling to mind; and, to say truth, I would as readily forget it myself. Suppose we try. Take back your pistol, which smells very ill; put it in your pocket or wherever you had it concealed. There! Now let us meet for the first time.--Give you good morning, Mr. Fenn! I hope you do very well. I come on the recommendation of my kinsman, the Vicomte de St. Yves.'
'Do you mean it?' he cried. 'Do you mean you will pass over our little scrimmage?'
'Why, certainly!' said I. 'It shows you are a bold fellow, who may be trusted to forget the business when it comes to the point. There is nothing against you in the little scrimmage, unless that your courage is greater than your strength. You are not so young as you once were, that is all.'
'And I beg of you, sir, don't betray me to the Vis-count,' he pleaded. 'I'll not deny but what my 'eart failed me a trifle; but it was only a word, sir, what anybody might have said in the 'eat of the moment, and over with it.'
'Certainly,' said I.