“I was cruel—forgive me—forget that foolish word,” and while what she utters gives him a pleasurable feeling, and brings the color into his set face, he only smiles, as he answers:
“Willingly, Lady Ruth. I did not believe you could mean it.”
Then, as the colonel bustles up, the subject is tabooed, and the party of tourists proceed down the steep street leading to the Hotel Imperial.
A deadly encounter.
The scene, so peaceful, so picturesque, is rudely broken in upon by a clamor so strange and awful that the blood is chilled in the listeners’ veins. Cries are heard down the steep street; cries that indicate alarm, even terror; cries that proceed from children, women, ay, and strong men, too.
Our party comes to a halt midway between the brow of the hill and the base. On either side tall houses, the declivity ending only at the water. It is a bustling street at all hours, with loungers, business men, women going to and returning from market, and children playing as children do the world over, in the dirt.
“What can it mean?” says Lady Ruth, as she looks breathlessly down the street.
No one in their party can explain the cause of the excitement. They see people running madly this way and that, as if panic-stricken.
“By Jove! it must be a fire!” suggests the colonel, twirling his whiskers.
“Nonsense! we should see the smoke,” declares sensible Aunt Gwen.
“You are right; it is something more than a fire. Those people are almost crazed. I’ve seen such a sight in Chicago, when a wild Texan steer got loose and tossed things right and left,” asserts the medical student.
“That’s what’s the matter. See! they point at something as they run! Look out for the bull!” cries Philander.
Thus, in watching for a bulky frame to appear, they fail to notice the actual cause of the disturbance.
The street is almost deserted, save where people begin to reappear below, as though the danger were past, to reappear and shout afresh as they wave their arms.
Some one is shouting close to them now. They turn their heads and behold the crowd of commissionaires dashing headlong for the shelter of adjacent houses, and acting like crazy men.
It is Signor Giovani who shouts, first in Arabic, then in Italian, and finally in English. They hear him now, and no wonder the blood runs cold in their veins—it is a cry to alarm the boldest warrior on earth.
“Mad dog! Run, signors!—save the ladies! To the houses, or you are lost!”
That is what the old fencing-master of Malta shouts while he retreats. It causes them to turn their heads, and what do they see? Advancing up the middle of the inclined street, turning aside for neither king nor peasant, comes a great gaunt beast, his square head wagging from side to side, his eyes blood-shot, and the foam dropping from his open jaws.