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A Hero of Romance by Richard Marsh

Baudry perceived this fact at once


They

entered the buck-wheat field. No persuasions would induce him to enter with the rest. He insisted on remaining outside, guiding them from a post of safety. His mother stayed to keep him company.

"By there! a little to the left! Keep straight on! If he has not gone, M. le Maire, which is always possible, you can touch him with your stick from where you are now standing!"

He had not gone.

The journey was almost done. The end was drawing near. Delirious, beside himself, fever-racked, hunger-stricken, not knowing what he was doing, the boy had sunk down in Madame Perchon's buck-wheat field to sleep. And he had slept--a mockery of sleep! A thousand hideous imaginations passed through his fevered mind. M. Robert Perchon, who had been contented with a single glance at the sleeping lad, had some warranty for his declaration that in his aspect there was something diabolical, for his limbs writhed and his countenance was distorted by the paroxysms of his fever.

Dreaming some horrible dream, the noise made by the advancing brave fell upon his fevered ear. Starting upright at M. Baudry's feet, with a shriek which horrified all who heard him, he rushed across the field, and flew as if all the powers of evil were treading on his heels. And, indeed, in a sense the powers of evil were, for he was delirious with fever.

The

first impulse of the champions of the fields of honest men was to do, with one accord, what the boy had done, to turn and flee--the other way. Some, believing Bertie's delirious shriek to be the veritable voice of Satan, acted on this first impulse and fled. Notable among them were M. Robert and his mother. That gallant pair raced each other homewards, shrieking with so much vigour that it almost seemed that in that direction they had made up their minds to outdo the plunderer of the fields of honest men. But there were braver spirits abroad that day. Among them was the mayor. Besides, the public eye was upon him, and behind him were the two gendarmes. In France the representative of authority never runs--at least, he never runs away.

It is true that when Bertie sprang with such startling suddenness from right underneath his feet, and gave utterance to that ear-alarming shriek, M. Baudry thought of running. But he only thought; it went no further. He would certainly have denied that he had even allowed himself to think of such an ignominious contingency a moment afterwards.

The creature was running away. That was evident. It would be absurd for the champions of those fields to run away from him, when the rascal had been sensible enough to run away from them. M. Baudry perceived this fact at once.

"After him!" he cried. "I give you my word we shall catch him yet!"

Off went the assembly, helter-skelter, after the delirious boy.


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