The man called Richard withdrew, with his men, to his work of murder.
The prisoner rolled his eyes appealingly around that dreadful circle.
“Spare me!” he cried. “I know the secrets of the banks. I can lead you into the Prince of Cabano’s house. Do not kill me.
“Is that all?” asked the giant.
“Yes,” replied the cripple.
In an instant the huge man, like some beast that had been long held back from its prey, gave a leap forward, his face revealing terrible ferocity; it was a tiger that glares, plunges and devours. I saw something shining, brilliant and instantaneous as an electric flash; then there was the sound of a heavy blow. The spy sprang clean out of the hands that were holding him, high up in the air; and fell, close to me, stone dead. He had been dead, indeed, when he made that fearful leap. His heart was split in twain. His spring was not the act of the man; it was the protest of the body against the rush of the departing spirit; it was the clay striving to hold on to the soul.
The giant stooped and wiped his bloody knife upon the clothes of the dead man. The cripple laughed a crackling, hideous laugh. I hope God will never permit me to hear such a laugh again. Others took it up—it echoed all around the room. I could think of nothing but the cachinnations of the fiends as the black gates burst open and new hordes of souls are flung, startled and shrieking, into hell.
“Thus die all the enemies of the Brotherhood!” cried the thin voice of the cripple.
And long and loud they shouted.
“Remove the body through the back door,” said the giant, “and throw it into the river.”
“Search his clothes first,” said the cripple.
They did so, and found the money which the Prince had ordered to be given him—it was the price of his life—and also a bundle of papers. The former was handed over to the treasurer of the Brotherhood; the latter were taken possession of by the vice-president.
Then, resuming his seat, the giant said:
“Gabriel Weltstein, the Brotherhood thank you for the great service you have rendered them. We regret that your scruples will not permit you to become one of us; but we regard you as a friend and we honor you as a man; and if at any time the Brotherhood can serve you, be assured its full powers shall be put forth in your behalf.”
I was too much shocked by the awful scene I had just witnessed to do more than bow my head.
“There is one thing more,” he continued, “we shall ask of you; and that is that you will repeat your story once again to another man, who will soon be brought here. We knew from Maximilian what you were about to tell, and we made our arrangements accordingly. Do not start,” he said, “or look alarmed—there will be no more executions.”
Turning to the men, he said: “Resume your masks.” He covered his own face, and all the rest did likewise.