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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

Eive snatched at an object in its folds


up!" I said. "Lift her, then, Enva and Eirale. Unfasten the shoulder-clasps and zone."

As her outer robe dropped, Eive snatched at an object in its folds, but too late; and the electric keys, which gave access to all my cases, papers, and to the medicine-chest above all, lay glittering on the ground.

"That cup Eive brought to me. Which of you saw her?"

"I did," said Enva quietly, all feelings of malice and curiosity alike awed into silence by the evidence of some terrible, though as yet to them unknown, secret. "She mixed it and brought it hither herself."

"And," I said, "it contains a poison against which, had I drunk one-half the draught, no antidote could have availed--a poison to which these keys only could have given access."

Again the test-stone was applied, and again the discoloration testified to the truth of the charge.

"You have seen?" I said.

"We have seen," answered Enva, in the same tone of horror, too deep to be other than quiet.

We all left the room, closing the door upon the prisoner. Dismissing the girls to their own chambers, with strict injunctions not to quit them unpermitted, I was left alone with Eveena. We were silent for some minutes, my own heart oppressed with mingled emotions,

all intensely painful, but so confused that, while conscious of acute suffering, I scarcely realised anything that had occurred. Eveena, who knelt beside me, though deeply horror-struck, was less surprised and was far less agitated than I. At last, leaning forward with her arms on my knee and looking up in my face, she was about to speak. But the touch and look seemed to break a spell, and, shuddering from head to foot, I burst into tears like those of an hysterical girl. When, with the strongest effort that shame and necessity could prompt, aided by her silent soothing, I had somewhat regained my self-command, Eveena spoke, in the same attitude and with the same look:--

"You said once that you could pardon such an attempt. That you should ever forgive at heart cannot be. That punishment should not follow so terrible a crime, even I cannot desire. But for _my_ sake, do not give her up to the doom she has deserved. Do you know" (as I was silent) "what that doom is?"

"Death, I suppose."

"Yes!" she said, shuddering, "but death with torture--death on the vivisection-table. Will you, whatever the danger--_can_ you, give up to such a fate, to such hands, one whom your hand has caressed, whose head has rested on your heart?"

"It needs not that, Eveena," I answered; "enough that she is woman. I would face that death myself rather than, for whatever crime, send a woman, above all a young girl, to such an end. I would rather by far slay my worst enemy with my own hand than consign him to a death of torture. But, more than that, my conscience would not permit me to call on the law to punish a household treason, where household authority is so strong and so arbitrary as here. Assassination is the weapon of the oppressed and helpless; and it is not for me so to be judge in my own cause as to pronounce that Eive has had no provocation."

"Shame upon her!" said Eveena indignantly. "No one under your roof ever had or could have reason to raise a hand, I do not say against your life, but to give you a moment's pain. I do not ask, I do not wish you to spare her; only I am glad to think you will deal with her yourself--remember she has herself removed all limit to your power--and not by the shameless and merciless hands to which the law would give her."

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