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The Woman in the Alcove Anna Katharine Green

XIV Trapped

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"I was in a large hall, empty as a vault and almost as desolate. Blank doors met my eyes in all directions, with here and there an open passageway. I felt myself in a maze. I had no idea which was the door I sought, and it is not pleasant to turn unaccustomed knobs in a shut-up house at midnight, with the rain pouring in torrents and the wind making pandemonium in a half-dozen great chimneys.

"But it had to be done, and I went at it in regular order till I came to a little narrow one opening on the turret-stair. This gave me my bearings. Sears' room adjoined the staircase. There was no difficulty in spotting the exact door now and, merely stopping to close the opening I had made to this little staircase, I crossed to this door and flung it open. I had been right in my calculations. It was the steward's room, and I made at once for the desk."

"And you found--?"

"Mostly locked drawers. But a key on my bunch opened some of these and my knife the rest. Here are the specimens of his handwriting which I collected. I doubt if you will get much out of them. I saw nothing compromising in the whole room, but then I hadn't time to go through his trunks, and one of them looked very interesting,--old as the hills and--"

"You hadn't time? Why hadn't you time? What happened to cut it short?"

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"Well, sir, I'll tell you." The tone in which this was said roused me if it did not the inspector. "I had just come from the desk which had disappointed me, and was casting a look about the room, which was as bare as my hand of everything like ornament--I might almost say comfort--when I heard a noise which was not that of swishing rain or even gusty wind--these had not been absent from my ears for a moment. I didn't like that noise; it had a sneakish sound, and I shut my light off in a hurry. After that I crept hastily out of the room, for I don't like a set-to in a trap.

"It was darker than ever now in the hall, or so it seemed, and as I backed away I came upon a jog in the wall, behind which I crept. For the sound I had heard was no fancy. Some one besides myself was in the house, and that some one was coming up the little turret-stair, striking matches as he approached. Who could it be? A detective from the district attorney's office? I hardly thought so. He would have been provided with something better than matches to light his way. A burglar? No, not on the third floor of a house as rich as this. Some fellow on the force, then, who had seen me come in and, by some trick of his own, had managed to follow me? I would see. Meantime I kept my place behind the jog and watched, not knowing which way the intruder would go.

"Whoever he was, he was evidently astonished to see the turret door ajar, for he lit another match as he threw it open and, though I failed to get a glimpse of his figure, I succeeded in getting a very good one of his shadow. It was one to arouse a detective's instinct at once. I did not say to myself, this is the man I want, but I did say, this is nobody from headquarters, and I steadied myself for whatever might turn up.

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The Woman in the Alcove
Anna Katharine Green

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