She took up the glass in a sudden frenzy of defiance. He had frightened her—yes, he had frightened her—but he should see how little he had gained by that. She took a taste of the liquid, then paused, again assailed by a curious hesitancy. Had her father really meant her to take it all?
Nick had stopped short at her first movement, but as she began to lower the glass in response to that disquieting doubt, he swooped suddenly forward like a man possessed.
For a fleeting instant she thought he was going to wrest it from her, but in the next she understood—understood the man’s deep treachery, and with what devilish ingenuity he had worked upon her. Holding her with an arm that felt like iron, he forced the glass back between her teeth, and tilted the contents down her throat. She strove to resist him, strove wildly, frantically, not to swallow the draught. But he held her pitilessly. He compelled her, gripping her right hand with the glass, and pinning the other to her side.
When it was over, when he had worked his will and the hateful draught was swallowed, he set her free and turned himself sharply from her.
She sprang up trembling and hysterical. She could have slain him in that instant had she possessed the means to her hand. But her strength was more nearly exhausted than she knew. Her limbs doubled up under her weight, and as she tottered, seeking for support, she realised that she was vanquished utterly at last.
She saw him wheel quickly and start to support her, sought to evade him, failed—and as she felt his arms lift her, she cried aloud in anguished helplessness.
What followed dwelt ever after in her memory as a hideous dream, vivid yet not wholly tangible. He laid her down upon the couch and bent over her, his hands upon her, holding her still; for every muscle, every nerve twitched spasmodically, convulsively, in the instinctive effort of the powerless body to be free. She had a confused impression also that he spoke to her, but what he said she was never able to recall. In the end, her horror faded, and she saw him as through a mist bending above her, grim and tense and silent, controlling her as it were from an immense distance. And even while she yet dimly wondered, he passed like a shadow from her sight, and wonder itself ceased.
Half an hour later Nicholas Ratcliffe, the wit and clown of his regiment, regarded by many as harebrained or wantonly reckless, carried away from the beleaguered fort among the hostile mountains the slight, impassive figure of an English girl.
The night was dark, populated by terrors alive and ghastly. But he went through it as one unaware of its many dangers. Light-footed and fearless, he passed through the midst of his enemies, marching with the sublime audacity of the dominant race, despising caution—yea, grinning triumphant in the very face of Death.