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A Hero of Romance by Richard Marsh

Bertie stammered out a negative


All

at once the captain paused in front of him.

"Shall I throw you overboard?"

There was a glitter in his eyes. A faint smile played about his lips. Bertie was not inclined to smile. His tongue clave to the roof of his mouth.

"I have been asking myself the question, Why should I not? I shall have to dispose of you in one way or other in the end; why not by drowning now? One plunge and all is over."

This sort of conversation made Bertie believe in the possibility of one's hair standing straight up on end. He felt persuaded that none of his heroes had ever been spoken to like this; nothing made of flesh and blood could listen to such observations and remain unmoved, especially with the moonlit waters disappearing into the night on every side. What crimes would they not conceal?

"It is this way. It is you, or--I. In the railway train you would have proclaimed me had you dared. You did not dare; sooner or later, perhaps, you will dare more. Why should I wait for your courage to return? We are alone; the sea tells no tales. Boys will lean overboard: what more natural than that you should fall in? It is distressing to lose one's nephew, especially so dear a one; but what is life but a great battle-field which is covered with the slain? Sit up, my boy, and let us talk together."

Bertie

sat up, not because he wished it, but because he could not help it. He had lost all control over his own movements. This man seemed to him to be some supernatural being against whom it was vain to attempt to struggle.

There was no one by to listen to the somewhat curious conversation which occurred between these two.

"So you have run away? I think you said you ran away for fun. You have evidently a turn for humour. Does this sort of thing enter into your ideas of fun--this little trip of ours?"

It emphatically did not. Bertie stammered out a negative.

"No--o!"

"You say your father is rich, you have a good home. Were you not happy there?"

"Ye--es!"

"Seriously, then, what did you propose to yourself to do when you ran away?"

"I--I don't know."

"Did you propose to yourself a life like mine?"

Bertie shuddered. He shrank away from the man in front of him with an air of invincible repugnance.

"Answer me! Look me in the face and answer me. I have a taste for learning the opinions of my fellow-men, and you are something original in boys. Tell me, what is your candid opinion of myself? What do you think of me?"

Bertie looked up as he was bidden. There was in his face something of his old bull-dog look. Something of his old courage had come back again, and on his countenance was the answer ready written. But the captain meant to have the answer in plain words.


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