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The Woman in the Alcove Anna Katharine Green

XIV Trapped

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"A torn photograph! Mrs. Fairbrother's!"

"Yes. Have you not heard how he loved her? A foolish passion, but evidently sincere and--"

"Never mind comments, Sweetwater. Stick to facts."

"I will, sir. They are interesting enough. After I had picked up these scraps I stole back to the turret staircase. And here I made my first break. I stumbled in the darkness, and the man below heard me, for the pistol clicked again. I did not like this, and had some thoughts of backing out of my job. But I didn't. I merely waited till I heard his step again; then I followed.

"But very warily this time. It was not an agreeable venture. It was like descending into a well with possible death at the bottom. I could see nothing and presently could hear nothing but the almost imperceptible sliding of my own fingers down the curve of the wall, which was all I had to guide me. Had he stopped midway, and would my first intimation of his presence be the touch of cold steel or the flinging around me of two murderous arms? I had met with no break in the smooth surface of the wall, so could not have reached the second story. When I should get there the question would be whether to leave the staircase and seek him in the mazes of its great rooms, or to keep on down to the parlor floor and so to the street, whither he was possibly bound. I own that I was almost tempted to turn on my light and have done with it, but I remembered of how little use I should be to you lying in this well of a stairway with a bullet in me, and so I managed to compose myself and go on as I had begun. Next instant my fingers slipped round the edge of an opening, and I knew that the moment of decision had come. Realizing that no one can move so softly that he will not give away his presence in some way, I paused for the sound which I knew must come, and when a click rose from the depths of the hall before me I plunged into that hall and thus into the house proper.

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"Here it was not so dark; yet I could make out none of the objects I now and then ran against. I passed a mirror (I hardly know how I knew it to be such), and in that mirror I seemed to see the ghost of a ghost flit by and vanish. It was too much. I muttered a suppressed oath and plunged forward, when I struck against a closing door. It flew open again and I rushed in, turning on my light in my extreme desperation, when, instead of hearing the sharp report of a pistol, as I expected, I saw a second door fall to before me, this time with a sound like the snap of a spring lock. Finding that this was so, and that all advance was barred that way, I wheeled hurriedly back toward the door by which I had entered the place, to find that that had fallen to simultaneously with the other, a single spring acting for both. I was trapped--a prisoner in the strangest sort of passageway or closet; and, as a speedy look about presently assured me, a prisoner with very little hope of immediate escape, for the doors were not only immovable, without even locks to pick or panels to break in, but the place was bare of windows, and the only communication which it could be said to have with the outside world at all was a shaft rising from the ceiling almost to the top of the house. Whether this served as a ventilator, or a means of lighting up the hole when both doors were shut, it was much too inaccessible to offer any apparent way of escape.

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The Woman in the Alcove
Anna Katharine Green

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