“Speak, you cringing hound!”
Slavin gripped his great hands together convulsively, his throat swelling beneath its red beard. He knew there was no way of escape. “I—I had to do it! My God, Captain, I had to do it!”
“I had to, I tell you. Oh, you devil, you fiend! I ’m not the one you ’re after—it’s Murphy!”
For a single moment Hampton stared at the cringing figure. Then suddenly he rose to his feet in decision. “Stand up! Lift your hands first, you fool. Now unbuckle your gun-belt with your left hand—your left, I said! Drop it on the floor.”
There was an unusual sound behind, such as a rat might have made, and Hampton glanced aside apprehensively. In that single second Slavin was upon him, grasping his pistol-arm at the wrist, and striving with hairy hand to get a death-grip about his throat. Twice Hampton’s left drove straight out into that red, gloating face, and then the giant’s crushing weight bore him backward. He fought savagely, silently, his slender figure like steel, but Slavin got his grip at last, and with giant strength began to crunch his victim within his vise-like arms. There was a moment of superhuman strain, their breathing mere sobs of exhaustion. Then Slavin slipped, and Hampton succeeded in wriggling partially free from his death-grip. It was for scarcely an instant, yet it served; for as he bent aside, swinging his burly opponent with him, some one struck a vicious blow at his back; but the descending knife, missing its mark, sunk instead deep into Slavin’s breast.
Hampton saw the flash of a blade, a hand, a portion of an arm, and then the clutching fingers of Slavin swept him down. He reached out blindly as he fell, his hand closing about the deserted knife-hilt. The two crashed down together upon the floor, the force of the fall driving the blade home to the gambler’s heart.
THE COHORTS OF JUDGE LYNCH
Hampton staggered blindly to his feet, looking down on the motionless body. He was yet dazed from the sudden cessation of struggle, dazed still more by something he had seen in the instant that deadly knife flashed past him. For a moment the room appeared to swim before his eyes, and he clutched at the overturned table for support, Then, as his senses returned, he perceived the figures of a number of men jamming the narrow doorway, and became aware of their loud, excited voices. Back to his benumbed brain there came with a rush the whole scene, the desperation of his present situation. He had been found alone with the dead man. Those men, when they came surging in attracted by the noise of strife, had found him lying on Slavin, his hand clutching the knife-hilt. He ran his eyes over their horrified faces, and knew instantly they held him the murderer.