Page:The Yellow Book - 04.djvu/272

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A Thief in the Night

The nightlight, which she had raised to look at the photograph, guttered and diminished to little more than a spark. Throwing on a wrap, she pinched the wick with a hair-pin to kindle the flame, and then, with a swift glance at the sleeping man, turned with a stealthy movement to the door. What if her husband should wake? A crack, at the moment, from the great oak cupboard at the other side of the room made her start with trembling apprehension. It sounded loud enough to waken fifty sleepers, but the noise died away in the corner from which it came, and the steady breathing of the man continued as if nothing had disturbed the strained and looming silence. Catching her breath she again moved forward, though assailed by the dread of the door-handle rattling, and the fear that there might be a loose board on the stairs. Screening the light from the sleeping man's eyes, Mrs. Rathbourne made her way round the bed, and, pulling the door noiselessly to behind her, steadied herself to listen.

In the gloom of the empty passages a sinister faintness seemed to hover; the mist had eked in at the long landing window, and added a mystery all its own to the unfamiliar lines of the house. There was silence everywhere—in the room she had left and in the one her sister-in-law now occupied facing the stairs. Only from the lower hall came the harsh, mechanical tick, tick, tick (with a slight hesitation or hitch in every third tick) of the eight-day clock which fronted the hall-door.

Down towards it she crept, shading the dim light to see in front of her, while the great shadow of her own figure rose, as she turned the corner of the staircase, and filled the obscure corners of the lower passage walls.

Beneath it was the dead man's room. She saw, with a catch at the heart, that the latch had slipped, and knew by the long inch-strip of ominous darkness, that the door stood ajar. With averted