Turnbull saw the stare of consternation in his enemy’s face and swung round to share its cause. When he saw it, cool as he was, he staggered back.
“What the devil are you doing here?” he called out in a high, shrill voice of authority, like one who finds a tramp in his own larder.
“Well, sir,” said the sergeant in command, with that sort of heavy civility shown only to the evidently guilty, “seems to me we might ask what are you doing here?”
“We are having an affair of honour,” said Turnbull, as if it were the most rational thing in the world. “If the French police like to interfere, let them interfere. But why the blue blazes should you interfere, you great blue blundering sausages?”
“I’m afraid, sir,” said the sergeant with restraint, “I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you.”
“I mean, why don’t the French police take this up if it’s got to be taken up? I always heard that they were spry enough in their own way.”
“Well, sir,” said the sergeant reflectively, “you see, sir, the French police don’t take this up—well, because you see, sir, this ain’t France. This is His Majesty’s dominions, same as ’Ampstead ’eath.”
“Not France?” repeated Turnbull, with a sort of dull incredulity.
“No, sir,” said the sergeant; “though most of the people talk French. This is the island called St. Loup, sir, an island in the Channel. We’ve been sent down specially from London, as you were such specially distinguished criminals, if you’ll allow me to say so. Which reminds me to warn you that anything you say may be used against you at your trial.”
“Quite so,” said Turnbull, and lurched suddenly against the sergeant, so as to tip him over the edge of the road with a crash into the shingle below. Then leaving MacIan and the policemen equally and instantaneously nailed to the road, he ran a little way along it, leapt off on to a part of the beach, which he had found in his journey to be firmer, and went across it with a clatter of pebbles. His sudden calculation was successful; the police, unacquainted with the various levels of the loose beach, tried to overtake him by the shorter cut and found themselves, being heavy men, almost up to their knees in shoals of slippery shingle. Two who had been slower with their bodies were quicker with their minds, and seeing Turnbull’s trick, ran along the edge of the road after him. Then MacIan finally awoke, and leaving half his sleeve in the grip of the only man who tried to hold him, took the two policemen in the small of their backs with the impetus of a cannon-ball and, sending them also flat among the stones, went tearing after his twin defier of the law.
As they were both good runners, the start they had gained was decisive. They dropped over a high breakwater farther on upon the beach, turned sharply, and scrambled up a line of ribbed rocks, crowned with a thicket, crawled through it, scratching their hands and faces, and dropped into another road; and there found that they could slacken their speed into a steady trot. In all this desperate dart and scramble, they still kept hold of their drawn swords, which now, indeed, in the vigorous phrase of Bunyan, seemed almost to grow out of their hands.