They came up to the store door, and the crowd fell back on either side to let them pa.s.s.
"My lads," said Ellison, "this is a very bad business, as you can see.
Two of you catch hold of this man, and take care that he doesn't escape.
Jimmy Rhotoma, go into the store and bring me a pair of handcuffs you'll see hanging on a nail above my desk. Long Pete, you take a boat and pull across to the township for the doctor and a policeman. Bring them back with you, and be as quick as you can."
The handcuffs were soon forthcoming, and Ellison himself adjusted them on Merton's wrists.
"Now, boys, take him into your own hut and watch him there till I call.
If he wants to talk tell him to hold his jaw. If he tries to bolt, kill him with the first thing you find handy. Two of you remain with me."
An angry growl from the men evidenced the reception Merton might expect to meet with if he attempted to escape, and he was wise enough to see that it would be impossible. When he had been led away Ellison entered the store. He found Murkard lying on the floor, his head pillowed on a couple of chair-cushions. The pool of blood by his side proclaimed the fact that he was seriously wounded. Moreover, he was unconscious.
Ellison knelt beside him, and having found the wound on his breast, endeavoured to staunch the bleeding; but it was a hopeless task. Taking the whiskey bottle from the table, where it had remained since Merton had brought it down to him that evening, he tried to force some of the spirit into his mouth. A moment after he did so Murkard opened his eyes and looked about him.
"What has happened?" he asked faintly. Then his memory came back to him.
"Oh, I remember. He has not escaped, Ellison?"
"Not he. We have him safe enough. But, oh, Murkard, to think that you should be wounded like this!"
"I told you what it would be, old man. This is the fulfilment of my prophecy. I knew it would come."
He moved his hand and let it fall to his side.
"I'm all wet," he went on, after a long pause. "By Jove! it's blood.
Then it's hopeless. Well, I don't know that I'm sorry. But there is something else we have to do. When I came in he was burrowing behind that box there. Look for yourself. Don't bother about me."
He pointed to a box in the corner, and Ellison went towards it, and pulled it into the centre of the room.
"What do you see?"
"Nothing at all. Stay, there's a matchbox here."
He stooped and picked it up.
"Open it quickly--quickly!"
Ellison did as he was ordered.
"The pearl--the pearl! Here it is safe and sound!"
"I thought as much. The scoundrel! Now I can die happy. Give me some more whiskey."
Ellison thrust the pearl back into the safe, and then gave Murkard another drink of the spirit. It put fresh life into him for the moment.
"Ellison," he said, taking his friend's hand, "you've been a true friend to me."
"I have not been half as true a friend as you have been to me. My G.o.d, Murkard, is there nothing I can do for you until the doctor comes? I cannot let you die like this!"
"It's hopeless, old man. I can feel it. Let us talk while we have the chance. I want to tell you about that money. You see my family sent it to me, myself. They don't know you in the matter at all. I deceived you there. If you would like to pay it back and start afresh send it to them from me. Tell them, too,"--he paused,--"tell them, too,--that I died--doing my duty. Do you understand? It will surprise them, but I should like them to know it."
"They shall know that you died like a hero, giving your life for mine."
"Don't pile on the agony, old fellow. They'd not believe it; we're by nature a sceptical race. I don't want the matter turned to ridicule."
"Is there nothing I can do to make you easier?"
"Nothing, old man, except to give me more liquor. Thank you. I'm getting weaker every minute. I wonder what they'll do to that fellow Merton?"
"Hang him if I can do anything to forward it."
"Poor devil! And yet he was only sent into the world for this. Look, Ellison, bring him here for a minute--I must speak to him."
"I'll send for him."
Ellison went to the door, and sent one of the hands for Merton. The night was almost spent; the stars were paling in the eastern heavens. A cold, cheerless wind blew up from the sea.
In less time than it takes to tell Merton entered the hut, carefully guarded. He looked at the man lying on the floor, and a half-contemptuous smile pa.s.sed across his face.
"What do you bring me here for?" he asked.
"Murkard wishes to speak to you," said Ellison, and went outside leaving the pair together.
Three minutes later Merton emerged again, his face white as the death that was swiftly coming to the other. He was saying to himself over and over again, as the men led him away:
"G.o.d help me! If I had only known in time!"
Ellison went in again. One glance told him the end was very near at hand.
"Ellison, it's a rum world, isn't it? Do you know, I touched that fellow on his only tender spot, and I know now why he has always been so bitter against me. Poor devil, he never knew that----" He let the sentence die unfinished. Then he said, as if addressing someone present: "You need not have had any fear. I should not have betrayed you, dear. But five years is a long time to wait." A pause, during which his wits seemed to come back to him. "Would you mind holding my hand, Ellison. I've got rather a rocky place to pull through, and, after all, I'm a bit of a coward. Somehow I think I'm going to have a little sleep now.
Remember--we've got--to--get--those--accounts away--by--the mail--to-morrow----"
He closed his eyes, and a moment later the other knew that Silas Murkard's soul's account had gone to be audited by the Auditor of Heaven.
Ellison, having placed the hand he held gently down by the dead man's side, rose to his feet, and with a great mist between his eyes and a choking sensation in his throat went out of the hut. The doctor and two police-officers were climbing the hill. He waited and returned with them into the store. To the police officials he said:
"This is the victim; the murderer is in custody in the hut yonder." To the doctor he only said: "I am sorry to have troubled you. You have come too late. He died five minutes ago."
CONCLUSION AND EPILOGUE.
When the doctor, policemen, and prisoner had left the island, Ellison went up to his own house. Though it only wanted a few minutes of sunrise, the lamp was still burning in the sitting room. He pushed open the door and walked in. To his surprise Esther stood before him. She did not look into his face, but waited with downcast eyes for him to speak.
He gazed at her for a moment, and then led her to a chair.
"Esther," he said, kneeling beside her, "can you ever forgive me?"
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