He stood half sheltered by the projecting ledge, and his aspect so fascinated me that I forgot my resolution to shoot to kill.
“Bonjour, M. Hewlett,” he called across the chasm. “Don’t be afraid of me any more than I am afraid of you. Just wait a moment. I want to talk business.”
“I have no business to talk with you,” I answered.
“But I did not say it was with you, monsieur,” he answered in sneering tones. “It is with our friend, Duchaine. Hola, Duchaine!”
At the sound of Leroux’s voice the old man straightened himself and began muttering and looking from the one to the other of us undecidedly.
In vain I tried to drag him within the tunnel. He shook himself free from me and sprang out on the icy ledge, and he poised himself there, turning his head from side to side as either of us spoke. And he effectively prevented me from shooting Leroux.
“Don’t you know your best friends, Duchaine?” inquired Leroux; and the white beard was tipped toward the other side of the ledge.
“I don’t know who my friends are, Simon,” answered Duchaine, in his mild, melancholy voice. “What do you want?”
“Why, I want you, Charles, my old friend,” replied Leroux in a voice expressive of surprize. “You old fool, do you want to die? If you do, go with that gentleman. He comes from Quebec on government business.”
But I could plead better than that. I knew the symbol in his imagination.
“M. Duchaine! Come with me!” I cried. “He has a gallows ready for you back in that tunnel!”
It was a pitiful scheme, and yet for the life of me I could think of no other way to win him. And, as it happened, the word associated itself in the listener’s mind as much with the speaker as with the man spoken of, for I saw Duchaine start violently and cling to the icy wall.
“No, no!” he cried; “I won’t go with either of you. I am a poor old man. It was my brother who shot the soldier, and he is dead. Go away!”
He burst into senile tears and cowered there, surely the most pitiful spectacle that fate ever made of a man. The memories of the past thronged around him like avenging demons.
Suddenly I saw him turn his head and fix his eyes upon Leroux. He craned his neck forward; and then, very slowly, he began to walk toward his persecutor. I craned my neck.
Leroux was holding out—the roulette wheel!
“Come along, Charles, my friend,” he cried. “Come, let us try our fortunes! Don’t you want to stake some money upon your system against me?”
The old figure leaped forward over the ledge, and in a moment Leroux had grasped him and pulled him into the tunnel.
I whipped my revolver out and sent shot after shot across the chasm. The sound of the discharges echoed and re-echoed along the tunnel wall.
But the projecting ledge of rock effectively screened Leroux—and Duchaine as well, for in my passion I had been firing blindly, and but for that I should undoubtedly have killed Jacqueline’s father.