He sat down again beside her. “What a night it has been!” he said, to hide how keenly he was listening.
“I don’t like dogs,” answered Elizabeth, after a long silence.
“Dogs never hurt any one,” said Denton. “In the old days—in the nineteenth century—everybody had a dog.”
“There was a romance I heard once. A dog killed a man.”
“Not this sort of dog,” said Denton confidently. “Some of those romances—are exaggerated.”
Suddenly a half bark and a pattering up the staircase; the sound of panting. Denton sprang to his feet and drew the sword out of the damp straw upon which they had been lying. Then in the doorway appeared a gaunt sheep-dog, and halted there. Behind it stared another. For an instant man and brute faced each other, hesitating.
Then Denton, being ignorant of dogs, made a sharp step forward. “Go away,” he said, with a clumsy motion of his sword.
The dog started and growled. Denton stopped sharply. “Good dog!” he said.
The growling jerked into a bark.
“Good dog!” said Denton. The second dog growled and barked. A third out of sight down the staircase took up the barking also. Outside others gave tongue—a large number it seemed to Denton.
“This is annoying,” said Denton, without taking his eye off the brutes before him. “Of course the shepherds won’t come out of the city for hours yet. Naturally these dogs don’t quite make us out.”
“I can’t hear,” shouted Elizabeth. She stood up and came to him.
Denton tried again, but the barking still drowned his voice. The sound had a curious effect upon his blood. Odd disused emotions began to stir; his face changed as he shouted. He tried again; the barking seemed to mock him, and one dog danced a pace forward, bristling. Suddenly he turned, and uttering certain words in the dialect of the underways, words incomprehensible to Elizabeth, he made for the dogs. There was a sudden cessation of the barking, a growl and a snapping. Elizabeth saw the snarling head of the foremost dog, its white teeth and retracted ears, and the flash of the thrust blade. The brute leapt into the air and was flung back.
Then Denton, with a shout, was driving the dogs before him. The sword flashed above his head with a sudden new freedom of gesture, and then he vanished down the staircase. She made six steps to follow him, and on the landing there was blood. She stopped, and hearing the tumult of dogs and Denton’s shouts pass out of the house, ran to the window.
Nine wolfish sheep-dogs were scattering, one writhed before the porch; and Denton, tasting that strange delight of combat that slumbers still in the blood of even the most civilised man, was shouting and running across the garden space. And then she saw something that for a moment he did not see. The dogs circled round this way and that, and came again. They had him in the open.
In an instant she divined the situation. She would have called to him. For a moment she felt sick and helpless, and then, obeying a strange impulse, she gathered up her white skirt and ran downstairs. In the hall was the rusting spade. That was it! She seized it and ran out.
She came none too soon. One dog rolled before him, well-nigh slashed in half; but a second had him by the thigh, a third gripped his collar behind, and a fourth had the blade of the sword between its teeth, tasting its own blood. He