I looked at Irene and Irene looked at me.
“Augusta,” I said, “I do not believe your story. No spear wounded Heliodore while I was near her, and when I was not near her your Greeks were too far away for any spears to be thrown. Indeed, unless you stabbed her secretly, she was not wounded, and I am sure that, however much you have hated her, this you would not have dared to do for your own life’s sake. Augusta, for your own purposes you are trying to deceive me. I will not marry you. Do your worst. You have lied to me about the woman whom I love, and though I forgive you all the rest, this I do not forgive. You know well that Heliodore still lives beneath the sun.”
“If so,” answered the Empress, “you have looked your last upon the sun and—her. Never again shall you behold the beauty of Heliodore. Have you aught to say? There is still time.”
“Nothing, Augusta, at present, except this. Of late I have learned to believe in a God. I summon you to meet me before that God. There we will argue out our case and abide His judgment. If there is no God there will be no judgment, and I salute you, Empress, who triumph. If, as I believe and as you say you believe, there is a God, think whom you will be called upon to salute when that God has heard the truth. Meanwhile I repeat that Heliodore the Egyptian still lives beneath the sun.”
Irene rose from the stool on which she sat and thought a moment. I gazed through the bars of the window-place in my cell out at the night above. A young moon was floating in the sky, and near to it hung a star. A little passing cloud with a dented edge drifted over the star and the lower horn of the moon. It went by, and they shone out again upon the background of the blue heavens. Also an owl flitted across the window-place of my cell. It had a mouse in its beak, and the shadow of it and of the writhing mouse for a moment lay upon Irene’s breast, for I turned my head and saw them. It came into my mind that here was an allegory. Irene was the night-hawk, and I was the writhing mouse that fed its appetite. Doubtless it was decreed that the owl must be and the mouse must be, but beyond them both, hidden in those blue heavens, stood that Justice which we call God.
These were the last things that I saw in this life of mine, and therefore I remember them well, or rather, almost the last. The very last of which I took note was Irene’s face. It had grown like to that of a devil. The great eyes in it stared out between the puffed and purple eyelids. The painted cheeks had sunk in and were pallid beneath and round the paint. The teeth showed in two white lines, the chin worked. She was no longer a beautiful woman, she was a fiend.
Irene knocked thrice upon the door. Bolts were thrown back, and men entered.
“Blind him!” she said.
THE HALL OF THE PIT