“He is dead,” I said, for I had laid my hand against his heart, and it was still, and his flesh was clammy cold, and when we found him he was lying face down in the mud.
“He escaped as we did, and wandered till he fell in here and was too weak to rise. Let us go on;” and we joined hands, for the comfort of the living touch, and went on our way more heavily than before.
We kept anxious look-out for lights or any sign of humanity. And lights indeed we saw at times that night, and cowered shivering in ditches and mudholes as they flitted to and fro about the marshes. For these, we knew, were no earthly lights, but ghost flares tempting us to destruction—stealthy pale flames of greenish-blue which hovered like ghostly butterflies, and danced on the darkness, and fluttered from place to place as though blown by unfelt winds. And one time, after we had left the dead man behind, one such came dancing straight towards us, and we turned and ran for our lives till we fell into a hole. For Le Marchant vowed it was the dead man’s spirit, and that the others were the spirits of those who had died in similar fashion. But for myself I was not sure, for I had seen similar lights on our masts at sea in the West Indies, though indeed there was nothing to prove that they also were not the spirits of drowned mariners.
HOW WE FOUND A FRIEND IN NEED
But—“pas de rue sans but!” as we say in Sercq—there is no road but has an ending. And, just as the dawn was softening the east, and when we were nigh our last effort, we stumbled by sheerest accident on shelter, warmth, and food,—and so upon life, for I do not think either of us could have carried on much longer, and to have sunk down there in the marsh, with no hope of food, must soon have brought us to an end.
It was Le Marchant who smelt it first.
“Carre,” he said suddenly, “there is smoke,” and he stood and sniffed like a starving dog. Then I smelt it also, a sweet pleasant smell of burning, and we sniffed together.
Since it came to us on the wind we followed up the wind in search of it, and nosed about hither and thither, losing it, finding it, but getting hotter and hotter on the scent till we came at last to a little mound, and out of the mound the smoke came.
A voice also as we drew close, muffled and monotonous, but human beyond doubt. We crept round the mound till we came on a doorway all covered with furze and grasses till it looked no more than a part of the mound. We pulled open the door, and the voice inside said, “Blight him! Blight him! Blight him!” and we crept in on our hands and knees.
There was a small fire of brown sods burning on the ground, and the place was full of a sweet pungent smoke. A little old man sat crouched with his chin on his knees staring into the fire, and said, “Blight him! Blight him! Blight him!” without ceasing. There was no more than room for the three of us, and we elbowed one another as we crouched by the fire.