And he still continued to strike—even after the path lay clear once more between him and the river.
What a terrible and inexcusable madness had possessed him, Kent realized the instant he rose from Mercer’s prostrate body. Never had his brain flamed to that madness before. He believed at first that he had killed Mercer. It was neither pity nor regret that brought him to his senses. Mercer, a coward and a traitor, a sneak of the lowest type, had no excuse for living. It was the thought that he had lost his chance to reach the river that cleared his head as he swayed over Mercer.
He heard running feet. He saw figures approaching swiftly through the starlight. And he was too weak to fight or run. The little strength he had saved up, and which he had planned to use so carefully in his flight, was gone. His wound, weeks in bed, muscles unaccustomed to the terrific exertion he had made in these moments of his vengeance, left him now panting and swaying as the running footsteps came nearer.
His head swam. For a space he was sickeningly dizzy, and in the first moment of that dizziness, when every drop of blood in his body seemed rushing to his brain, his vision was twisted and his sense of direction gone. In his rage he had overexerted himself. He knew that something had gone wrong inside him and that he was helpless. Even then his impulse was to stagger toward the inanimate Mercer and kick him, but hands caught him and held him. He heard an amazed voice, then another—and something hard and cold shut round his wrists like a pair of toothless jaws.
It was Constable Carter, Inspector Kedsty’s right-hand man about barracks, that he saw first; then old Sands, the caretaker at Cardigan’s place. Swiftly as he had turned sick, his brain grew clear, and his blood distributed itself evenly again through his body. He held up his hands. Carter had slipped a pair of irons on him, and the starlight glinted on the shining steel. Sands was bending over Mercer, and Carter was saying in a low voice:
“It’s too bad, Kent. But I’ve got to do it. I saw you from the window just as Mercer screamed. Why did you stop for him?”
Mercer was getting up with the assistance of Sands. He turned a bloated and unseeing face toward Kent and Carter. He was blubbering and moaning, as though entreating for mercy in the fear that Kent had not finished with him. Carter pulled Kent away.
“There’s only one thing for me to do now,” he said. “It isn’t pleasant. But the law says I must take you to barracks.”
In the sky Kent saw the stars clearly again, and his lungs were drinking in the cool air as in the wonderful moments before his encounter with Mercer.
He had lost. And it was Mercer who had made him lose. Carter felt the sudden tightening of his muscles as he walked with a hand on his arm. And Kent shut his teeth close and made no answer to what Carter had said, except that Carter heard something which he thought was a sob choked to death in the other’s throat.