Without restoratives at hand the moccasin’s bite is certain death. The plan had been well thought out. At the very first step the frantic prisoner might reasonably be relied on to encounter one or more of the crawling horrors. The box on which he crouched was barely eighteen inches high. The next box—under which rested the key—was several feet away. The door was still farther off.
Truly Standish and Hade appeared to have hit on an excellent plan for getting rid of the man they wanted out of the way! It would be so easy for Roke to explain to possible inquirers that Brice had chanced to tread on a poisonous snake in his wanderings about the key!
The slightest motion might well be enough to stir to active hostility the swarm of serpents already angered by their sudden dumping into this clammy den.
Weaponless, helpless, the trapped man crouched there and waited,
IN THE DAY OF BATTLE
As Gavin Brice sat with feet drawn up under him, listening to the gruesome slither of the mocca sinsalong the concrete floor just below he was gripped for a minute by irresistible terror. It was all so simple—so complete! And he had been calmly self-confident of his ability to command the situation, to play these people’s own game and to beat them at it. Grinning and open-eyed he had marched into the trap. He had been glad to let Hade and Standish think him safely out of their way, and had planned so confidently to return by stealth to the mainland that night and to Milo’s house!
And now they had had absolutely no difficulty in caging him, and in arranging that he should be put forever out of their way. The most stringent inquiry—should any such be made —could only show that he had been bitten once or more by a deadly snake. Any post-mortem would bear out the statement.
It was known to every one that many of the keys—even several miles from the mainland—are infested by rattlesnakes and by other serpents, though how such snakes ever got to the islands is as much of a mystery to the naturalist world as is the presence of raccoons and squirrels on the same keys. It is simply one of the hundred unsolvable mysteries and puzzles of the subtropic region.
In his jiu-jutsu instructions Brice had learned a rule which he had carried into good effect in other walks of life. Namely to seem to play one’s opponent’s game and to be fooled by it, and then, taking the conquering adversary by surprise, to strike. Thus he had fallen in with Standish’s suggestion that he come to the island, though he had thought himself fairly sure as to the reason for the request. Thus, too, he had let himself be lured into this storeroom, still smugly confident that he held the whip hand of the situation.
And as a result he was looking into the ghastly eyes of death.
Like an engine that “races,” his fertile brain was unduly active in this moment of stark horror, and it ran uselessly. Into his over-excited mind flashed pictures of a thousand bits of the past—one of them. by reason of recent association far more vivid than the rest.