There is a rustling of paper, then the match is struck, and Doctor Chicago is discovered bending low in order to keep it from the wind. His cigar is speedily lighted, and his eyes turned upon the paper which Philander has given him—Philander, who hovers over him now in eager distress, anxious to hear John’s opinion, and yet fearful lest the rash act may bring danger upon them.
John’s lips part to utter an exclamation of mingled amazement and delight, when from a point close to their shoulders an outcry proceeds; the burning match has betrayed them.
It is impossible for them to understand just at the moment what has occurred.
They are in a part of the Maltese city that Europeans might well hesitate to visit at the hour of midnight, however much they would frequent it in daylight.
The natives of Valetta have not all become reconciled to British rule, and although no open outbreak occurs, more than once has it been placed in evidence that there is a deep feeling of resentful distrust in certain quarters, which only awaits an opportunity to show its ugly teeth.
Knowing this fact, it is general principles more than anything else that causes Philander to have concern.
When those loud cries break forth close at hand, he knows his fears were not without foundation.
John Craig is also suddenly brought to a realization of the fact that he has hardly been prudent in his action.
He stows the paper away with a single movement of his hand. It is precious to him, and must be kept for future study.
Then he is ready to face those who, by their presence and outcries, announce themselves as the foes of foreigners.
There are many secret societies on the famous island besides the Knights of Malta, and it is not at all improbable that an organization exists which has for its main object the eventual uprising of the Maltese and their freedom from the British yoke.
This would naturally be kept a secret, and not proclaimed from the flat roofs of Valetta, or the platform of St. Lazarus.
Philander has shown remarkable traits upon this night of nights, traits which Doctor Chicago never suspected he possessed. He now proves that, in addition to these other commendable qualities, he has wonderful presence of mind, and that no sudden emergency can stupefy his senses.
Just as soon as the outcry is heard, he draws the small, cimeter-shaped paper-knife, which he claimed would make a serviceable weapon.
At the same time he cries out:
“We’re in for it, John, my boy! Don’t be too proud to run. Legs, do your duty!”
With which remark Philander starts his lower extremities into action, turning his head to make sure that his companion has not hesitated to follow.
If the professor is a small man, he has the faculty for getting over ground at quite an astonishing rate of speed. His short legs fairly twinkle as they measure off the yards; and, given a fair show, he would lead any ordinary runner a race.