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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Book Of All-power - Chapter 19. The End Of Boolba
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The Book Of All-power - Chapter 19. The End Of Boolba Post by :Florence Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :1431

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The Book Of All-power - Chapter 19. The End Of Boolba

CHAPTER XIX. THE END OF BOOLBA

Cherry Bim, the last of the party to enter the room, made a dash for the door, and came face to face with the levelled rifle held in the hands of a soldier who had evidently been waiting the summons of Boolba's shout. Behind him were three other men. Cherry dropped to the ground as the man's rifle went off, shooting as he fell, and the man tumbled down. Scrambling to his feet, he burst through the doorway like a human cannon ball, but not even his nimble guns could save him this time. The hall was full of soldiers, and they bore him down by sheer weight.

They dragged him into the refectory, bleeding, and the diversion at any rate had had one good effect. Only Boolba was there, roaring and raging, groping a swift way round the walls, one hand searching, the other guiding.

"Where are they?" he bellowed. "Come to me, my little beauty. Hay! I will burn alive. Where are they?"

"Little Commissary," said the leader of the soldiers, "she is not here. They did not pass out."

"Search, search!" shouted Boolba, striking at the man. "Search, you pig!"

"We have the other boorjoo," stammered the man.

"Search!" yelled Boolba. "There is a door near the fire--is it open?"

The door lay in the shadow, and the man ran to look.

"It is open, comrade," he said.

"After them, after them!"

Boolba howled the words, and in terror they left their prisoner and flocked out of the door. Cherry stood in the centre of the room, his hands strapped behind his back, his shirt half ripped from his body, and looked up into the big blinded face which came peering towards him as though, by an effort of will, it could glimpse his enemy.

"You are there?"

Boolba's hands passed lightly over the gun-man's face, fell upon his shoulders, slipped down the arm.

"Is this the thief? Yes, yes; this is the thief. What is he doing?"

He turned, not knowing that the soldiers had left him alone, and again his hands passed lightly over Cherry's face.

"This is good," he said, as he felt the bands on the wrists. "To-morrow, little brother, you will be dead."

He might have spared himself his exercise and his reproaches, because to Cherry Bim's untutored ear his reviling was a mere jabber of meaningless words. Cherry was looking round to find something sharp enough on which to cut the strap which bound him, but there was nothing that looked like a knife in the room. He knew he had a minute, and probably less, to make his escape. His eyes rested for a moment on the holster at Boolba's belt, and he side-stepped.

"Where are you going?"

Boolba's heavy hand rested on his shoulder.

"Not out of the doorway, my little pigeon. I am blind, but----"

So far he had got when Cherry turned in a flash, so that his back was toward Boolba. He stooped, and made a sudden dash backward, colliding with the Commissary, and in that second his hand had gripped the gun at Boolba's waist. There was a strap across the butt, but it broke with a jerk.

Then followed a duel without parallel. Boolba pulled his second gun and fired, and, shooting as blindly, Cherry fired backward. He heard a groan over his shoulder and saw Boolba fall to his knees. Then he ran for the main door, stumbled past the state-bedroom of the monks, and into the chapel. It was his one chance that the priest had returned to his devotions, and he found the man on his knees.

"Percy," said Cherry, "unfasten that strap."

The priest understood no language but his own. But a gesture, the strap about the wrists, blue and swollen, and the long revolver, needed no explanation. The strap fell off and Cherry rubbed his wrists.

He opened the breech of his gun; he had four shells left, but he was alone against at least twenty men. He guessed that Boolba had made the monastery his advance headquarters whilst he was waiting for news of the fugitives, and probably not twenty but two hundred were within call.

He reached the road and made for the place where the car had been left. If the others had escaped they also would go in that direction. He saw no guard or sentry, and heard no sound from the walled enclosure of the monastery. He struck against something in the roadway and stooped and picked it up. It was stitched in a canvas cover and it felt like a book. He suddenly remembered the scraps of conversation he had overheard between the girl and Malcolm.

This, then, was the "Book of All-Power."

"Foolishness," said Cherry, and put it in his pocket. But the book showed one thing clearly--the others had got away. He had marked the place where they had stopped, but the car was gone!

It was too dark to see the tracks, but there was no question that it had been here, for he found an empty petrol tin and the still air reeked of rubber solution.

He had need of all his philosophy. He was in an unknown country, a fugitive from justice, and that country was teeming with soldiers. Every road was watched, and he had four cartridges between him and capture. There was only one thing to do, and that was to go back the way the car had come, and he stepped out undauntedly, halting now and again to stoop and look along the railway line, for he was enough of an old campaigner to know how to secure a skyline.

Then in the distance he saw a regular line of lights, and those lights were moving. It was a railway train, and apparently it was turning a curve, for one by one the lights disappeared and only one flicker, which he judged was on the engine, was visible. He bent down again and saw the level horizon of a railway embankment less than two hundred yards on his left, and remembered that Malinkoff had spoken of the Warsaw line.

He ran at full speed, floundering into pools, breaking through bushes, and finally scrambled up the steep embankment. How to board the train seemed a problem which was insuperable, if the cars were moving at any speed. There was little foothold by the side of the track, and undoubtedly the train was moving quickly, for now the noise of it was a dull roar, and he, who was not wholly unacquainted with certain unauthorized forms of travel, could judge to within a mile an hour the rate it was travelling.

He fumbled in his pocket and found a match. There was no means of making a bonfire. The undergrowth was wet, and he had not so much as a piece of paper in his pocket.

"The book!"

He pulled it out, ripped off the canvas cover with his knife, and tried to open it. The book was locked, he discovered, but locks were to Cherry like pie-crusts--made to be broken. A wrench and the covers fell apart.

He tore out the first three or four pages, struck the match, and the flame was touching the corner of the paper when his eyes fell upon the printed words. He stood open-mouthed, the flame still burning, gazing at the torn leaf until the burning match touched his finger and he dropped it.

Torn between doubts, and dazed as he was, the train might have passed him, but the light of a match in the still, dark night could be seen for miles, and he heard the jar of the brakes. He pushed the book and the loose leaves into his pocket and ran along the embankment to meet the slowing special--for special it was.

He managed to pass the engine unnoticed, then, crouching down until the last carriage was abreast, he leapt up, caught the rail and swung himself on to the rear footboard, up the steel plates which serve as steps, to the roof of the carriage, just as the train stopped.

There were excited voices demanding explanations, there was a confusion of orders, and presently the train moved on, gathering speed, and Cherry had time to think. It was still dark when they ran into a little junction, and, peeping over the side, he saw a group of officers descend from a carriage to stretch their legs. To them came a voluble and gesticulating railway official, and again there was a confusion of voices. He was telling them something and his tone was apologetic, almost fearful. Then, to Cherry's amazement, he heard somebody speak in English. It was the voice of a stranger, a drawling English voice.

"Oh, I say! Let them come on, general! I wouldn't leave a dog in this country--really I wouldn't."

"But it is against all the rules of diplomacy," said a gruffer voice in the same language.

"Moses!" gasped Cherry.

The road led into the station-yard and he had seen the car. There was no doubt of it. The lights from one of the train windows were sufficiently strong to reveal it, and behind the stationmaster was another little group in the shadow.

"It is a matter of life and death." It was Malcolm's voice. "I must get this lady to the Polish frontier--it is an act of humanity I ask."

"English, eh?" said the man called the general. "Get on board."

Malcolm took the girl in his arms before them all.

"Go, darling," he said gently.

"I cannot go without you," she said, but he shook his head.

"Malinkoff and I must wait. We cannot leave Cherry. We are going back to find him. I am certain he has escaped."

"I will not leave without you," she said firmly.

"You'll all have to come or all have to stay," said the Englishman briskly. "We haven't any time to spare, and the train is now going on. You see," he said apologetically, "it isn't our train at all, it belongs to the Polish Commission, and we're only running the food end of the negotiations. We have been fixing up terms between the Red Army and the Poles, and it is very irregular that we should take refugees from the country at all."

"_Go!_"

Malcolm heard the hoarse whisper, and it was as much as he could do to stop himself looking up. He remembered the motor-car and Cherry's mysterious and providential appearance from the roof, and he could guess the rest.

"Very well, we will go. Come, Malinkoff, I will explain in the car," said Malcolm.

They lifted the girl into the carriage and the men followed. A shriek from the engine, a jerk of the cars, and the train moved on. Before the rear carriage had cleared the platform a car rocked into the station-yard, dashing through the frail wooden fencing on to the platform itself.

"_Stoi! Stoi!_"

Boolba stood up in the big touring car, his arms outstretched, the white bandage about his neck showing clearly in the car lights. Cherry Bim rose to his knees and steadied himself. Once, twice, three times he fired, and Boolba pitched over the side of the car dead.

"I had a feeling that we should meet again," said Cherry. "That's not a bad gun."

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