Bibi - His Mark/Chapter 8
WHEN, around noon. Baron Eberhardt von Sydow came to the laboratory to make a report, he found neither his superior officer nor the French deserter. Wondering, though not yet alarmed, he was about to leave the house, as, crossing the outer hall, he noticed that the trap-door that led to the cellar was open.
He became suspicious, and went down the slippery, dark stairs.
And as an Uhlan cavalry patrol clattered past the house a few seconds afterward, they heard a shriek, a gurgling, rattling noise, climbing up to a terrible, high, soul-freezing pitch, and then cut off, in mid air, as it were. It was an eery, unearthly sound, as if from beyond the grave, causing a Bavarian peasant-lad to cross himself rapidly, and the squadron leader to spur his horse into a gallop.
He found Baron von Sydow, who had seen death face to face almost daily these last months, who had braved and dealt it, ruthlessly, fearlessly, had even reveled in it in his fanatic Prussian mind, curled up in a moaning, hysterical heap, half in and half out of the trap-door.
"Was ist denn los, Herr Kamerad?" asked the Uhlan. "What's the matter?" And speechless, shivering as if with ague, the baron pointed down the cellar steps—
Five days later a private of the Seven Hundred and Thirty-First French Infantry Regiment sneaked out of the dim, twisted horrors of No Man's Land and tumbled over the sand-bag top of a French first-line trench, narrowly avoiding a bayonet-thrust. He was caked with mud, scratched to the bone by barbed wire, haggard of eye, sunken of cheek, with a bundle across his shoulder, and a Prussian officer's long, silver-gray cape enveloping his lean frame in ludicrous folds.
He assaulted the man who had handled the bayonet, cursed a non-commissioned officer who came to the rescue in fluent and obscene gutter slang, called a captain a "dirty specimen of a bourgeois," made an unprintable gesture at a pompous, red-faced major of voltigeurs, mentioned to a brass-gallooned, white-mustached general that as to him—himself Bibi l'Tueur—he had done his little job for the glory of the quartier and his personal complete satisfaction, that he was as tired as a dog and wanted to rest.
With which he dropped into the nearest mud-puddle, his bundle tucked carefully beneath the folds of his cape, and snored a low accompaniment to the rumble of the guns.
"Utterly exhausted," said a field hospital surgeon. "Let him be."
Twenty-four hours later he faced Captain Daniélou and told him his story.
"How did you do it?" demanded the captain.
"The killing? Easy! The old trick—the garrotte—" And he was about to give a vivid and gruesome description when the other cut in with:
"Never mind that part. I want to know how you managed to get away."
"Ah! C'tait rigolo! Remember about that trap-door in the outer room?"
"Well—I picked up the boche's cape and saber—"
"What did you want the saber for?" asked Captain Daniélou.
Bibi winked one eye slowly and did not reply to the question, but went on with his tale:
"Then I dragged my little gentleman down the stairs, into the cellar. It was very dark there. No window."
"Yes, yes—but how did you get away? They must have sounded the alarm, and must have looked for you high and low!"
"High!" grinned the apache. "But not low!"
"Meaning by that?"
"Mon vieux," replied Bibi in his undisciplined manner, "if ever, when the war is over, you would like to join my little gang in the quartier—"
"Which God forbid!"
"But if you should—and if you should have the misfortune to croak a citizen or a policeman, remember the safest hiding-place is as near the unfortunate victim of your temper as possible. The police will search everywhere, except in the immediate vicinity of the body. Down in the cellar I found, deep in a corner, a sort of wooden box that before the war must have been used as a storage-place for cabbages and potatoes. There were still a few bags there, and a lot of dirt, and I hid there. First one Prussian came down. He stumbled over Von Baschwitz's body, lit a match, and—nom de Dieu!—you should have heard him yell! Like a hysterical woman! Then others came, and they picked up the body and left me alone.
"And so I lay there for two days. God! but I was hungry and thirsty! And then one night I sneaked out—and so," he wound up simply, "I came here—mostly on my stomach."
"But the proof!" demanded Daniélou. "What proof have you that you killed Von Baschwitz?"
"The best!" replied Bibi the Killer, and he drew the little bundle from the folds of his cape.
Neither Bibi nor Daniélou ever told what the bundle contained. But it is a curious fact that the late Baron von Baschwitz boasts two graves.
There is one in his native town of Magdeburg, where he sleeps the last sleep by the side of his father and grandfather and great-grandfather, beneath a beautifully chiseled and carved stone Maltese cross, with the simple inscription:
Wolf von Baschwitz. Aet. 39.
R. I. P.
And there is another, wooden, cross with his name in a military graveyard on the Picardy front.
But it is interesting to consider that, in the second grave, there is no coffin. Only a square box big enough to hold a human head.