Facing the Flag

Page 10

"How much will you give me for it--how much?" continued Roch. "How much--how much?"

"Ten million dollars," replied Gaydon.

"Ten millions! Ten millions! A fulgurator ten million times more powerful than anything hitherto invented! Ten millions for an autopropulsive projectile which, when it explodes, destroys everything in sight within a radius of over twelve thousand square yards! Ten millions for the only deflagrator that can provoke its explosion! Why, all the wealth of the world wouldn't suffice to purchase the secret of my engine, and rather than sell it at such a price I would cut my tongue in half with my teeth. Ten millions, when it is worth a billion--a billion--a billion!"

It was clear that Roch had lost all notion of things, and had Gaydon offered him ten billions the madman would have replied in exactly the same manner.

The Count d'Artigas and Captain Spade had not taken their eyes off him. The Count was impassible as usual, though his brow had darkened, but the captain shook his head in a manner that implied plainly: "Decidedly there is nothing to hope from this poor devil!"

After his outburst Roch fled across the garden crying hoarsely:

"Billions! Billions!"

Gaydon turned to the director and remarked:

"I told you how it would be."

Then he rushed after his patient, caught him by the arm, and led him, without any attempt at resistance, into the pavilion and closed the door.

The Count d'Artigas remained alone with the director, Captain Spade having strolled off again in the direction of the wall at the bottom of the park.

"You see I was not guilty of exaggeration, Count," said the director. "It is obvious to every one that Thomas Roch is becoming daily worse. In my opinion his case is a hopeless one. If all the money he asks for were offered to him, nothing could be got from him."

"Very likely," replied the Count, "still, if his pecuniary demands are supremely absurd, he has none the less invented an engine the power of which is infinite, one might say."

"That is the opinion expressed by competent persons, Count. But what he has discovered will ere long be lost with himself in one of these fits which are becoming more frequent and intense. Very soon even the motive of interest, the only sentiment that appears to have survived in his mind, will become extinct."

"Mayhap the sentiment of hatred will remain, though," muttered the Count, as Spade joined them at the garden gate.



Half an hour later the Count d'Artigas and Captain Spade were following the beech-lined road that separated the Healthful House estate from the right bank of the Neuse. Both had taken leave of the director, the latter declaring himself greatly honored by their visit, and the former thanking him warmly for his courteous reception. A hundred-dollar bill left as a tip for the staff of the establishment had certainly not belied the Count's reputation for generosity. He was--there could be no doubt about it--a foreigner of the highest distinction, if distinction be measured by generosity.

Issuing by the gate at the main entrance to Healthful House, they had skirted the wall that surrounded the property, and which was high enough to preclude the possibility of climbing it. Not a word passed between them for some time; the Count was deep in thought and Captain Spade was not in the habit of addressing him without being first spoken to.

At last when they stood beneath the rear wall behind which, though it was not visible, the Count knew Pavilion No. 17 was situated, he said:

"You managed, I presume, to thoroughly explore the place, and are acquainted with every detail of it?"

"Certainly, _Count_" replied Captain Spade, emphasizing the title.

"You are perfectly sure about it?"

"Perfectly. I could go through the park with my eyes shut. If you still persist in carrying out your scheme the pavilion can be easily reached."

"I do persist, Spade."

"Notwithstanding Thomas Roch's mental condition?"

"Notwithstanding his condition; and if we succeed in carrying him off----"

"That is my affair.

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