On came the horrible underground thing. Desperately the Boy stirred the almost extinct embers with his foot, and a faint glow fell on the terror-frozen faces of the natives, fell on the bear-skin flap. It moved! A huge hand came stealing round. A hand? The skeleton of a hand—white, ghastly, with fingers unimaginably long. No mortal in Pymeut had a hand like that—no mortal in all the world!
A crisp, smart sound, and a match blazed. A tall, lean figure rose up from behind the bear-skin and received the sudden brightness full in his face, pale and beautiful, but angry as an avenging angel’s. For an instant the Boy still thought it a spectre, the delusion of a bewildered brain, till the girl cried out, “Brother Paul!” and fell forward on the floor, hiding her face in her hands.
“Light! make a light!” he commanded. Nicholas got up, dazed but obedient, and lit the seal-oil lamp.
The voice of the white man, the call for light, reached the Shaman. He seemed to shiver and shrink under the folds of the Kamlayka. But instead of getting up and looking his enemy in the face, he wriggled along on his belly, still under cover of the Kamlayka, till he got to the bear-skin, pushed it aside with a motion of the hooded head, and crawled out like some snaky symbol of darkness and superstition fleeing before the light.
“Brother Paul!” sobbed the girl, “don’t, don’t tell Sister Winifred.”
He took no notice of her, bending down over the motionless bundle in the corner.
“You’ve killed him, I suppose?”
“Brother Paul—” began Nicholas, faltering.
“Oh, I heard the pandemonium.” He lifted his thin white face to the smoke-hole. “It’s all useless, useless. I might as well go and leave you to your abominations. But instead, go you, all of you—go!” He flung out his long arms, and the group broke and scuttled, huddling near the bear-skin, fighting like rats to get out faster than the narrow passage permitted.
The Boy turned from watching the instantaneous flight, the scuffle, and the disappearance, to find the burning eyes of the Jesuit fixed fascinated on his face. If Brother Paul had appeared as a spectre in the ighloo, it was plain that he looked upon the white face present at the diabolic rite as dream or devil. The Boy stood up. The lay-brother started, and crossed himself.
“In Christ’s name, what—who are you?”
“I—a—I come from the white camp ten miles below.”
“And you were here—you allowed this? Ah-h!” He flung up his arms, the pale lips moved convulsively, but no sound came forth.
“I—you think I ought to have interfered?” began the Boy.
“I think—” the Brother began bitterly, checked himself, knelt down, and felt the old man’s pulse.
Nicholas at the bear-skin was making the Boy signs to come.
The girl was sobbing with her face on the ground. Again Nicholas beckoned, and then disappeared. There seemed to be nothing to do but to follow his host. When the bear-skin had dropped behind the Boy, and he crawled after Nicholas along the dark passage, he heard the muffled voice of the girl praying: “Oh, Mary, Mother of God, don’t let him tell Sister Winifred.”