Quick as thought, at sound of the imperative summons and sight of the levelled weapons, Gabriel swept up most of the papers and crammed them into the breast of his loose flannel shirt, then dashed the lamp to the floor, extinguishing it. The room grew dark, for now the fire had burned down to hardly more than glowing coals.
There was no panic; the men did not curse, neither did the women scream. As though the tactic had already been agreed on, Craig tipped the table up, making a kind of barricade; and over it Grantham’s revolver, snatched from his belt, spat viciously.
It all happened in a moment.
The foremost spy grunted, coughed and plunged forward. As he fell, he fired his terrible weapon.
The bullet—a small, thin metal shell, filled with a secret chemical and liquid oxygen—went wild. It struck the wall, some feet to the left of the fireplace, and instantly the wood burst into vivid flame. Flesh would crisp to nothing, solid stone would crumble, metal would gutter and run down, under that awful incandescence.
Again Grantham’s revolver barked, while Bevard tugged at his own, which had unaccountably got stuck in its holster. But this second shot missed. And even as Grantham’s bullet snicked a long splinter from the door-jamb, the second spy fired.
Brevard’s choking cry died as the gushing flame enveloped him. He staggered, flung up both arms and fell stone dead, the life seared clean out of him, as a lamp sears a moth.
Gasping, blinded, the others scattered; and for the third time—while the room now glowed with this unquenchable blossoming of flame—Grantham shot.
The spy’s body burst into a sheaf of fire. Up past the lintel streamed the burning swirl. Mute and annihilated, his charred body dropped beside that of his mate.
The total time from challenge to complete victory had not exceeded ten seconds.
“I exploded some of his cartridges!” choked Grantham. shielding his wife from the glare, while Gabriel protected Catherine.
“His—his cartridge belt!” gasped Craig.
“Yes! And now, out—out of here!”
“Brevard? We must save his body!” cried Gabriel, pointing.
“Impossible!” shouted Grantham. “That hellish compound will burn for hours! And in three minutes this whole place will be a roaring furnace! Out of here—out—away! We must save the hangar, at all hazards!”
Against their will, but absolutely unable to approach the now wildly-roaring fire on the floor that marked the spot where Brevard had fallen in the Battle with Plutocracy, the comrades quickly retreated.
Raging fire now hemmed them on three sides. Their only avenue of escape was through the eastern windows, eight or ten feet above the ground. Hastily snatching up such of the plans and papers as he had not already secured—and some of these already were beginning to smoke and turn brown, in the infernal heat—Gabriel shielded Catherine’s retreat. The others followed.