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The Woman in the Alcove Anna Katharine Green

V Superstition

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I had gone up stairs for my wraps--my uncle having insisted on my withdrawing from a scene where my very presence seemed in some degree to compromise me.

Soon prepared for my departure, I was crossing the hall to the small door communicating with the side staircase where my uncle had promised to await me, when I felt myself seized by a desire to have another look below before leaving the place in which were centered all my deepest interests.

A wide landing, breaking up the main flight of stairs some few feet from the top, offered me an admirable point of view. With but little thought of possible consequences, and no thought at all of my poor, patient uncle, I slipped down to this landing, and, protected by the unusual height of its balustrade, allowed myself a parting glance at the scene with which my most poignant memories were henceforth to be connected.

Before me lay the large square of the central hall. Opening out from this was the corridor leading to the front door, and incidentally to the library. As my glance ran down this corridor, I beheld, approaching from the room just mentioned, the tall figure of the Englishman.

He halted as he reached the main hall and stood gazing eagerly at a group of men and women clustered near the fireplace--a group on which I no sooner cast my own eye than my attention also became fixed.

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The inspector had come from the room where I had left him with Mr. Durand and was showing to these people the extraordinary diamond, which he had just recovered under such remarkable if not suspicious circumstances. Young heads and old were meeting over it, and I was straining my ears to hear such comments as were audible above the general hubbub, when Mr. Grey made a quick move and I looked his way again in time to mark his air of concern and the uncertainty he showed whether to advance or retreat.

Unconscious of my watchful eye, and noting, no doubt, that most of the persons in the group on which his own eye was leveled stood with their backs toward him, he made no effort to disguise his profound interest in the stone. His eye followed its passage from hand to hand with a covetous eagerness of which he may not have been aware, and I was not at all surprised when, after a short interval of troubled indecision, he impulsively stepped forward and begged the privilege of handling the gem himself.

Our host, who stood not far from the inspector, said something to that gentleman which led to this request being complied with. The stone was passed over to Mr. Grey, and I saw, possibly because my heart was in my eyes, that the great man's hand trembled as it touched his palm. Indeed, his whole frame trembled, and I was looking eagerly for the result of his inspection when, on his turning to hold the jewel up to the light, something happened so abnormal and so strange that no one who was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be present in the house at that instant will ever forget it.

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The Woman in the Alcove
Anna Katharine Green

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