Disarmed before such moral degeneracy, knowing not how I can touch his ulcerated, irresponsible heart, I turn towards the door. It only remains for me to withdraw. What is to be, will be, since it is out of my power to prevent the frightful denouement that will occur in a few hours.
Thomas Roch takes no more notice of me. He seems to have forgotten that I am here. He has resumed his manipulations without realizing that he is not alone.
There is only one means of preventing the imminent catastrophe. Throw myself upon Roch, place him beyond the power of doing harm—strike him—kill him—yes, kill him! It is my right—it is my duty!
I have no arms, but on a near-by shelf I see some tools—a chisel and a hammer. What is to prevent me from knocking his brains out? Once he is dead I have but to smash the phials and his invention dies with him. The warships can approach, land their men upon the island, demolish Back Cup with their shells. Ker Karraje and his band will be killed to a man. Can I hesitate at a murder that will bring about the chastisement of so many crimes?
I advance to the shelf and stretch forth my hand to seize the chisel.
As I do so, Thomas Roch turns round.
It is too late to strike. A struggle would ensue. The noise and his cries would be heard, for there are still some pirates not far off, I can even now hear some one approaching, and have only just time to fly if I would not be seen.
Nevertheless, I make one last attempt to awaken the sentiment of patriotism within him.
“Thomas Roch,” I say, “warships are in sight. They have come to destroy this lair. Maybe one of them flies the French flag!”
He gazes at me. He was not aware that Back Cup is going to be attacked, and I have just apprised him of the fact. His brow darkens and his eyes flash.
“Thomas Roch, would you dare to fire upon your country’s flag—the tricolor flag?”
He raises his head, shakes it nervously, and with a disdainful gesture:
“What do you mean by ‘your country?’ I no longer have any country, Simon Hart. The inventor spurned no longer has a country. Where he finds an asylum, there is his fatherland! They seek to take what is mine. I will defend it, and woe, woe to those who dare to attack me!”
Then rushing to the door of the laboratory and throwing it violently open he shouts so loudly that he must be heard at the Beehive:
“Go! Get you gone!”
I have not a second to lose, and I dash out.
ONE AGAINST FIVE.
For a whole hour I wander about among Back Cup’s dark vaults, amid the stone trees, to the extreme limit of the cavern. It is here that I have so often sought an issue, a crevice, a crack through which I might squeeze to the shore of the island.
My search has been futile. In my present condition, a prey to indefinable hallucinations it seems to me that these walls are thicker than ever, that they are gradually closing in upon and will crush me.