Red Hand of Mars

Chapter the Second

New Blood

One the morning of the boxing match, two persons of interest arrived in Sternberg on the morning train from Strelsau. One was Jimothy Sobson, native Ruritanian of English parents, a talented greasemonkey who’d come to enjoy the beer and watch Faustmann fight. The other was Nigel Salisbury, an aristocratic Englishman of military age and bearing, although he traveled in civilian attire. Both made their way to the castle in time for the boxing match. Sobson quaffed the local brew, mingled with the peasants, an dheard tales of the recent spate of madmen; Salisbury went to the viewing platform and met the Baron, Captain von Hentzau, Lady Stella and Mr. Sator.
They all watched the bout—or more accurately, they all attended, as Lady Stella tried not to watch. And all went well, until, half an hour after the match finished, a man—a local working man named Schmidt, nothing remarkable by the look of him—turned on another member of the crowd and struck him savagely, felling him in a single blow. The man spun and, without any visible provocation, struck a willowy young woman in the throat, mortally injuring her. The crowd scattered away from the madman—except for Sobson, Faustmann and Salisbury, each of whom, impelled by his own motives, rushed toward the attacker.
Sobson and Faustmann tried to take Scmidt away from the crowd, only to find that the man was enraged and not to be calmed. Further, he was remarkably strong, his punches clumsy but brutally powerful.
Meanwhile, as Salisbury pushed through the crowd, another man—later found to be a local clerk named Kohler—howled with fury and swung wildly at him. Salisbury easily evaded the blows and pressed on to the castle stables, where he seized a shovel for use as an improvised weapon. Kohler, distracted, turned on another man and broke his jaw, then headed for the viewing platform. Lady Stella fled but Harriett was not as quick, and Kohler knocked the servant girl down. Salisbury returned to engage Kohler, but they had barely exchanged blows with the Ruritanian cavalry officer, von Hentzau, casually shot the madman in the back of the head. Harriett, who lay stunned at Kohler’s feet, was covered in splattered gore.
Salisbury, appalled at the sudden death and von Hentzau’s sang froid, turned back to help Sobson and Faustmann, who were trading blows with Schmidt and coming off the worse. Sobson fell. Faustmann gambled on a risky flurry of blows which staggered Schmidt but failed to take him down. Schmidt’s counterattack struck home and Faustmann found himself on the ground, dazed. Luther Hartmann, the local fighter, rushed and with a mighty blow knocked Schmidt to the ground; Hartmann turned to gloat over the fallen Faustmann, but had barely opened his mouth when Schmidt sprang to his feet and continued the fight. Schmidt belted Salisbury with a blow that rocked him back on his heels, then turned and hammered Hartmann with a body blow that knocked him cold.
Meanwhile Lady Stella ran towards the castle keep, looking for help. She found Mr Sator standing at the gate between the inner bailey and outer bailey, watching the crowd scatter. She implored Sator for assistance, but he demurred, calmly pointing out that Harriett—who had come stumbling toward the gate—didn’t appear to be seriously injured and that the blood that covered her didn’t seem to be her own, and therefore aid was not necessary. Stella, disgusted, went into the keep and upstairs to find Margaret Heathmoor, who she knew to have medical training.
Near the stables, the battle with Schmidt continued. Salisbury and Faustmann had given up on knocking him out, and were trying to restrain him. Sobson, with a natural mechanic’s instinct for broken things, had seen Schmidt’s broken jaw knitting together before his horrified eyes. He snatched the shovel away from Salisbury and brought it down, axelike, onto Schmidt’s head. The blade sank in and blood splashed, but Schmidt fought on. As von Hentzau sauntered over, pistol in hand, the three men finally managed to drag the madman down, The cavalryman holstered his weapon with visible reluctance, and began binding Schmidt’s arms. All concerned heaved a sigh of relief…until Schmidt, with a Herculean effort, managed to snap the rope! That broke through von Hentzau’s sunny demeanor; he cursed, yanked out his pistol, and fired. The heavy slug plowed a furrow across Schmidt’s forehead but didn’t knock him out. The madman twisted and struck Salisbury unconscious, dislodging the Englishman from his back. This proved his undoing, as Sobson brought the shovel blade down hard, severing the spine. Schmidt’s feet drummed, his hand clutched at the cobblestones, and then, at last, he fell still.

Unknown to all, a Martian agent watched the final scene of the drama with quiet amusement. He noted that Salisbury, Faustmann, Sobson, and the servant Harriett had all been exposed to the blood of one or the other of the madmen…

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