These were the words which met my eyes:—
’Fellow-citizens of France. The deed of to-day has proved that, even in the midst of his troops, a tyrant is unable to escape the vengeance of an outraged people. The committee of three, acting temporarily for the Republic, has awarded to Buonaparte the same fate which has already befallen Louis Capet. In avenging the outrage of the 18th Brumaire—’
So far I had got when my heart sprang suddenly into my mouth and the paper fluttered down from my fingers. A grip of iron had closed suddenly round each of my ankles, and there in the light of the fire I saw two hands which, even in that terrified glance, I perceived to be covered with black hair and of an enormous size.
‘So, my friend,’ cried a thundering voice, ’this time, at least, we have been too many for you.’
MEN OF THE NIGHT
I had little time given me to realise the extraordinary and humiliating position in which I found myself, for I was lifted up by my ankles, as if I were a fowl pulled off a perch, and jerked roughly down into the room, my back striking upon the stone floor with a thud which shook the breath from my body.
‘Don’t kill him yet, Toussac,’ said a soft voice. ’Let us make sure who he is first.’
I felt the pressure of a thumb upon my chin and of fingers upon my throat, and my head was slowly forced round until the strain became unbearable.
‘Quarter of an inch does it and no mark,’ said the thunderous voice. ‘You can trust my old turn.’
‘Don’t, Toussac; don’t!’ said the same gentle voice which had spoken first. ’I saw you do it once before, and the horrible snick that it made haunted me for a long time. To think that the sacred flame of life can be so readily snuffed out by that great material finger and thumb! Mind can indeed conquer matter, but the fighting must not be at close quarters.’
My neck was so twisted that I could not see any of these people who were discussing my fate. I could only lie and listen.
’The fact remains, my dear Charles, that the fellow has our all-important secret, and that it is our lives or his.