WE COME TO DR. BEAUREGARD’S HOUSE.
Glass’s arm fell limp by his side, as though Dr. Beauregard had actually pulled the trigger and winged him. He turned half-about as the pistol slid from his fingers. He gave no cry; only there leached us a loose, throttling sound such as a steam whistle makes before fetching its note. It came to us in the lull between two waves that broke and raised up the sands to ripple round his feet.
“Both hands up, Mr. Glass!”
Dr. Beauregard advanced a step.
But instead of lifting his arms, the man curved them before him, and held them so, as if to protect his treasure, while he sank on his knees beside the box. His face was yellow with terror.
“You fool!” The Doctor, still holding him covered, advanced step by step to the box, and bent over it, staring down at him. The rest of us—that is to say, Miss Belcher, Captain Branscome, and I—under I know not what compulsion, followed and came to a halt a few paces behind him. Standing so, I felt, rather than saw, that Plinny and Mr. Goodfellow, attracted by the report of the pistol, were peering at us over the ridge of rocks on the right.
“You fool!” Dr. Beauregard repeated, and suddenly dropped the butt of his musket upon the loose cover of the chest.
“You fool!” said he, a third time, and tearing aside a splintered board, dipped his hand and held it up full of sparkling stones. Opening his fingers slowly, he let a few jewels rattle back upon the heap, and held out a moderate fistful towards the cowering Glass. “Did you actually suppose, having proved me once, that I would suffer such a common cut-throat as you to march off with my treasure? Look up at me, man! I charge you with having murdered Coffin, even as you have just murdered that other poor blockhead who trusted you.” He nodded sideways—but still keeping his eyes upon Glass—towards the body, which lay as it had fallen. “Answer me. Are you guilty? Yes or no?”
The man’s mouth worked, but his tongue crackled in his mouth like a parched leaf.
“Yes, I know what you would say; that you had some excuse—that Coffin in his time had stuck at nothing to be quit of you; that he sold you to the press-gang; that through Coffin you spent eight, ten—how many years?’—in the war-prisons; that he believed you dead, as he had taken pains to kill you. Well, we’ll grant it. As between two scoundrels I’ll not trouble to weigh the rights against the wrongs. But look at this boy, here. You recognize him, hey? I charge you with having murdered his father, Major Brooks, as you murdered Coffin. You have run up a pretty long account, my friend, for so clumsy a performer; but I think you have reached the end of it.”
Aaron Glass looked at me and blinked. Terror of the man confronting him had twisted his dumb mouth into a kind of grin horrible to see. It lifted his lip, like the snarl of a dog, over his yellow teeth. Dr. Beauregard laughed softly.