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Dead Men's Money by J. S. Fletcher

Part 5 out of 5

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It was then that he fired at me--from some twelve or fifteen yards'
distance. And whether he meant to kill me, or only to cripple me, I don't
know; but the bullet went through my left knee, at the lower edge of the
knee-cap, and the next thing I knew I was sprawling on all-fours on the
earth, and the next--and it was in the succeeding second, before even I
felt a smart--I was staring up from that position to see the vengeance
that fell on my would-be murderer in the very instant of his attempt on
me. For as he fired and I fell, a woman sprang out of the bushes at his
side, and a knife flashed, and then he too fell with a cry that was
something between a groan and a scream--and I saw that his assailant was
the Irishwoman Nance Maguire, and I knew at once who it was that had
killed Hollins.

But she had not killed Meekin. He rose like a badly wounded thing--half
rose, that is, as I have seen crippled animals rise, and he cried like a
beast in a trap, fighting with his hands. And the woman struck again
with the knife--and again he sank back, and again he rose, and ... I
shut my eyes, sick with horror, as she drove the knife into him for the
third time.

But that was nothing to the horror to come. When I looked again, he was
still writhing and crying, and fighting blindly for his life, and I cried
out on her to leave him alone, for I saw that in a few minutes he would
be dead. I even made an effort to crawl to them, that I might drag her
away from him, but my knee gave at the movement and I fell back
half-fainting. And taking no more notice of me than if I had been one of
the stocks and stones close by, she suddenly gripped him, writhing as he
was, by the throat, and drawing him over the bank as easily as if he had
been a child in her grasp, she plunged knee-deep into the Till and held
him down under the water until he was drowned.

There was a most extraordinary horror came over me as I lay there,
powerless to move, propped up on my elbow, watching. The purposeful
deliberation with which the woman finished her work; the dead silence
about us, broken only by an occasional faint lapping of the river against
its bank; the knowledge that this was a deed of revenge--all these things
produced a mental state in me which was as near to the awful as ever I
approached it. I could only lie and watch--fascinated. But it was over at
last, and she let the body go, and stood watching for a moment as it
floated into a dark pool beneath the alders; and then, shaking herself
like a dog, she came up the bank and looked at me, in silence.

"That was--in revenge for Crone," I managed to get out.

"It was them killed Crone," she answered in a queer dry voice. "Let the
pollis find this one where they found Crone! You're not greatly hurt
yourself--and there's somebody at hand."

Then she suddenly turned and vanished amongst the trees, and, twisting
myself round in the direction to which she had pointed, I saw a
gamekeeper coming along. His gun was thrown carelessly in the crook of
his arm, and he was whistling, gaily and unconcernedly.

I have a perpetual memento of that morning in my somewhat crippled knee.
And once, two years ago, when I was on business in a certain English
town, and in a quarter of it into which few but its own denizens
penetrate, I met for one moment, at a slum corner, a great raw-boned
Irishwoman who noticed my bit of a limp, and turned her eyes for an
instant to give me a sharp look that won as sharp an answer. And there
may have been mutual understanding and sympathy in the glance we thus
exchanged--certainly, when it had passed between us, we continued on our
separate ways, silent.


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