But when they saw his face a hush fell on every one. She was dead.
Wild-eyed, with the ghastliness of his pallor showing through the coating of grime and blood, Austin Selwyn stood in the ruins of the house, and the brown tresses of the child fell over his arm.
Kind hands were stretched out to him, but he shook them off angrily. He was talking to the thing in his arms—muttering, crooning something.
Slowly he raised his face to the skies. In the glare of the searchlights a gleaming, silvery, oblong-shaped form was turning and twisting like an animal at bay. They heard him catch his breath; then their blood was frozen by a choking, heart-rending cry of agony and rage.
It was the cry of the crystal-gazer who has had his crystal dashed from his eyes, to find himself in the presence of murder.
The crowd remained mute, helpless and frightened at the spectacle, when they saw a young woman approach him, a woman dressed in the khaki uniform of an ambulance-driver.
‘Austin,’ they heard her say, ‘please give me the little girl.’
With a stupid smile he handed the child to her, and she laid it on a stretcher. When it had been taken away, she took Selwyn’s hand in hers and led him, unresisting, to the ambulance.
Early next morning, in a large military ward of a London hospital, Austin Selwyn woke from a sleep that had been charged with black dreams, and tried to recall the events leading to his present whereabouts.
By slow, tortuous process he reconstructed the previous evening as far as the moment when he had heard the warning guns. After that the incidents grew dim, and faded into incoherency. He seemed to remember rushing somewhere in a motor-vehicle. He distinctly recalled seeing a policeman in Trafalgar Square. Yes, that was very clear—quite the most vivid impression of the whole night, indeed. He would hang on to that policeman.
With the care of an Arctic explorer establishing his base before going farther into terra incognita, he attached the threads of his wandering mind to that limb of the law, and groped in all the directions of his memory’s compass. But it was of no avail. Tired out with the futile efforts he had made, his bandaged head sank back in the pillows, and the vivid policeman in Trafalgar Square was reluctantly surrendered as a negligible means of solution.
When he next awoke, it was to the sound of many voices. There were two that were very close—one on either side of him, in fact. Affecting sleep, Selwyn listened carefully.
‘Wot’s that you say, Jock?’ said a Cockney voice to his left.
‘I was obsairvin’,’ said the other, ’that Number Twenty-sax is occupied this mornin’.’
’Ow yus, so it is. I was ’oping as ’ow me pal the Duke of Mudturtle would buy the plice next to mine. But he don’t look a bad cove, wot you can see under ’is farncy ‘ead-dress.’