“Oscar, what do you recommend that we do with the prisoner?”
“He should be tied to a tree and shot; or, perhaps, it would be better to hang him to the rafters in the kitchen. Yet he is heavy and might pull down the roof.”
“You are a bloodthirsty wretch, and there is no mercy in you. Private executions are not allowed in this country; you would have us before a Virginia grand jury and our own necks stretched. No; we shall send him back to his master.”
“It is a mistake. If your Excellency would go away for an hour he should never know where the buzzards found this large carcass.”
“Tush! I would not trust his valuable life to you. Get up!” he commanded, and Oscar jerked Zmai to his feet.
“You deserve nothing at my hands, but I need a discreet messenger, and you shall not die to-night, as my worthy adjutant recommends. To-morrow night, however, or the following night—or any other old night, as we say in America—if you show yourself in these hills, my chief of staff shall have his way with you—buzzard meat!”
“The orders are understood,” said Oscar, thrusting the revolver into the giant’s ribs.
“Now, Zmai, blacksmith of Toplica, and assassin at large, here is a letter for Monsieur Chauvenet. It is still early. When you have delivered it, bring me back the envelope with Monsieur’s receipt written right here, under the seal. Do you understand?”
It had begun to dawn upon Zmai that his life was not in immediate danger, and the light of intelligence kindled again in his strange little eyes. Lest he might not fully grasp the errand with which Armitage intrusted him, Oscar repeated what Armitage had said in somewhat coarser terms.
Again through the moonlight strode the three—out of Armitage’s land to the valley road and to the same point to which Shirley Claiborne had only a few days before been escorted by the mountaineer.
There they sent the Servian forward to the Springs, and Armitage went home, leaving Oscar to wait for the return of the receipt.
It was after midnight when Oscar placed it in Armitage’s hands at the bungalow.
“Oscar, it would be a dreadful thing to kill a man,” Armitage declared, holding the empty envelope to the light and reading the line scrawled beneath the unbroken wax. It was in French:
“You are young to die, Monsieur.”
“A man more or less!” and Oscar shrugged his shoulders.
“You are not a good churchman. It is a grievous sin to do murder.”
“One may repent; it is so written. The people of your house are Catholics also.”
“That is quite true, though I may seem to forget it. Our work will be done soon, please God, and we shall ask the blessed sacrament somewhere in these hills.”
Oscar crossed himself and fell to cleaning his rifle.