A look of fright and disappointment passed over Matin’s face. Slowly he lowered his revolver and turned toward the doorway. It was the moment for which Hal had been waiting.
With a bound he leaped upon Matin and with his left hand seized Matin’s right wrist. Matin uttered a snarl of rage.
“Tricked me, did you?” he shouted. “You shall pay for it.”
It had been Hal’s intention at first simply to wrest the revolver from his opponent’s hands and then turn the man over to the officer of the guard.
But Matin’s strength was greater than the lad had imagined; also he was wild with rage. With his free hand he struck viciously at Hal, while he kicked with his feet and sought to bury his teeth in Hal’s arm.
But Hal held him back.
Vainly, Matin sought to move his right arm around so as to bring the muzzle upon Hal’s heart. With a quick move Hal suddenly released his hold upon Matin’s pistol wrist and seized the pistol hand. His finger covered Matin’s finger on the trigger.
Matin’s hand at that moment was extended straight from him. Slowly now, as Hal exerted his utmost pressure, the arm described a semicircle. Now it pointed almost straight forward. Then, as Hal brought more strength into play, the arm curved inward; and directly the revolver pointed squarely at Matin’s heart.
The perspiration stood out in great beads on Matin’s forehead. He was panting and gasping for breath. Hal was breathing easily, though the manner in which the sinews on his forehead and arms stood out showed to what extent he had extended himself.
When the mouth of the revolver pointed at Matin’s heart, Hal said quietly:
“Now, Matin, if you will release your hold on this gun I will let you go free.”
Matin’s answer was a snarl of rage.
Whether the man went suddenly insane or whether he knew fully what he was about, Hal can not say to this day; but under his own finger, the finger on the trigger tightened. There was a flash, a muffled report and the form of Matin fell limp in the lad’s arms. Hal stepped back and Matin slid to the floor. Hal stooped over and laid a hand over the man’s heart.
“Dead!” the lad exclaimed, and added: “but not by my hand. He pressed the trigger himself!”
A bugle sounded.
The sleeping French camp sprang suddenly to life. Men, half dressed, sprang from their cots—they had not disrobed entirely the night before—and hurried to their positions, adjusting their clothing as they did so. Regiments formed hurriedly in the darkness that is always more intense just before dawn. Officers shouted and swore; horses whinnied from the distance, indicating that the French cavalry, as well as the infantry was forming.
A second bugle sounded; then many more. More commands from the various officers. Aides rushed hither and yon delivering sharp orders to division commanders. The men stood quietly in line. Came other sharp commands all down the line: