“You have heard,” said a harsh voice, which seemed to be Astona’s, “there is no doubt now. You have your part to play, and can do it quickly and safely.”
I paid little attention to words whose dangerous significance would at another moment have been plain to me. But Davilo, greatly alarmed, laid his hand upon my arm. As he did so, another voice thrilled me with intensest pain and amazement.
“Be quick to bear your message,” Eive said, in rapid guarded tones. “They have means of vengeance certain and prompt, and they never spare.”
Astona departed without seeing us. Eive closed the door, and Davilo and I, hastily and unperceived, followed the spy to the gate of the enclosure. Some one waited for her there. What passed we could not hear; but, as we saw Astona and another depart, Davilo spoke imprudently aloud—
“She has the secret, and she must die. ‘Nay’ (as I would have expostulated), she is spy, traitress, and assassin, and merits her doom most richly.”
“Hist!” said I, “your words may have fallen into other ears;” for I thought that beyond the wall I discerned a crouching figure. If that of a man, however, it was too far off, and dressed in colours too dark, to be clearly seen; and in another instant it had certainly vanished.
“Remember,” he urged, “you have heard that one quite as dangerous is under your own roof; and, once more, it is not only your life that is at stake. What you call courage, what seems to us sheer folly, may cost you and others what you value far more than your life. An error of softness now may make your future existence one long and useless remorse.”
Half-an-hour later, having warned the women to their rooms—ordering a variety of disinfecting measures in which Martial science excelled while they were needed there—I opened the door of the death chamber to those who carried in a coffer hollowed out of a dark, exceedingly dense natural stone, and half-filled with a liquid of enormous destructive power. Then I lifted tenderly the lifeless form, laid it on cushions arranged therein, kissed the lips, and closed the coffer. Two of Davilo’s attendants had meantime adjusted the electric machinery. We carried the coffer into the apartment where this worked to heat the stove, to keep the lights burning, to raise, warm, and diffuse the water through the house, and perform many other important household services. Two strong bars of conducting metal were attached to the apparatus, and fitted into two hollows of the coffer. A flash, a certain hissing sound, followed. After a few moments the coffer was opened, and Davilo, carefully gathering a few handfuls of solid white material, something resembling pumice stone in appearance, placed them in a golden chest about twelve inches cube, which was then soldered down by the heat derived from the electric power. Then all infected clothes and the contents of the death chamber were carried out for destruction; while,