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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XIII The Longest Day of My Life

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I remember what a bright fine day it was, with the grand open country all smiles beneath a clear, almost frosty sky, once when I got up on tip-toe and peeped out. A keen wind whistled about the cottage; I felt it on my feet as I stood; but never have I known a more perfect and invigorating autumn day. And there I must lie, with the manhood ebbing Out of me, the manhood that I needed so for the night! I crept back into bed. I swore that I would sleep. Yet there I lay, listening sometimes to that vile woman's tread below; sometimes to mysterious whispers, between whom I neither knew nor cared; anon to my watch ticking by my side, to the heart beating in my body, hour after hour - hour after hour. I prayed as I have seldom prayed. I wept as I have never wept. I railed and blasphemed - not with my lips, because the woman must think I was asleep - but so much the more viciously in my heart.

Suddenly it turned dark. There were no gradations - not even a tropical twilight. One minute I aw the sun upon the blind; the next - thank God! Oh, thank God! No light broke any longer through the blind; just a faint and narrow glimmer stole between it and the casement; and the light that had been bright golden was palest silver now.

It was the moon. I had been in dreamless sleep for hours.

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The joy of that discovery! The transport of waking to it, and waking refreshed! The swift and sudden miracle that it seemed! I shall never, never forget it, still less the sickening thrill of fear which was cruelly quick to follow upon my joy. The cottage was still as the tomb. What if I had slept too long!

With trembling hand I found my watch.

Luckily I had wound it in the early morning. I now carried it to the window, drew back the blind, and held it in the moonlight. It was not quite ten o'clock. And yet the cottage was so still - so still.

I stole to the door, opened it by cautious degrees, and saw the reflection of a light below. Still not a sound could I hear, save the rapid drawing of my own breath, and the startled beating of my own heart.

I now felt certain that the Braithwaites were out, and dressed hastily, making as little noise as possible, and still hearing absolutely none from below. Then, feeling faint with hunger, though a new being after my sleep, I remembered a packet of sandwiches which I had not opened on my journey north. These I transferred from my travelling-bag (where they had lain forgotten to my jacket pocket, before drawing down the blind, leaving the room on tip-toe, and very gently fastening the door behind me. On the stairs, too, I trod with the utmost caution, feeling the wall with my left hand (my right was full), lest by any chance I might be mistaken in supposing I had the cottage to myself. In spite of my caution there came a creak at every step. And to my sudden horror I heard a chair move in the kitchen below.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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