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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XII My Lady's Bidding

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I may have sat there like a mouse for half an hour. The reason was that I had become mercifully engrossed in one of the subsidiary problems: whether it would be better to drop from the window or to trust to the creaking stairs. Would the creaking be much worse than the thud, and the difference worth the risk of a sprained ankle? Well worth it, I at length decided; the risk was nothing; my window was scarce a dozen feet from the ground. How easily it could be done, how quickly, how safely in this deep, stillness and bright moonlight! I would fall so lightly on my stocking soles; a single soft, dull thud; then away under the moon without fear or risk of a false step; away over the stone walls to the main road, and so to the nearest police-station with my tale; and before sunrise the villains would be taken in their beds, and my darling would be safe!

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I sprang up softly. Why not do it now? Was I bound to keep my rash, blind promise? Was it possible these murderers would murder her? I struck a match on my trousers, I lit a candle, I read her letter carefully again, and again it maddened and distracted me. I struck my hands together. I paced the room wildly. Caution deserted me, and I made noise enough to wake the very mute; lost to every consideration but that of the terrifying day before me, the day of silence and of inactivity, that I must live through with an unsuspecting face, a cool head, a civil tongue! The prospect appalled me as nothing else could or did; nay, the sudden noise upon the stairs, the knock at my door, and the sense that I had betrayed myself already even now all was over - these came as a relief after the haunting terror which they interrupted.

I flung the door opcn, and there stood Mrs. Braithwaite, as fully dressed as myself.

"You'll not be very well sir?"

No, I'm not."

"What's t' matter wi' you?"

This second question was rude and fierce with suspicion: the real woman rang out in it, yet its effect on me was astonishng: once again was I inspired to turn my slip into a move.

"Matter?" I cried. "Can't you see what's the matter; couldn't you see when I came in? Drink's the matter! I came in drunk, and now I'm mad. I can't stand it; I'm not in a fit state. Do you know nothng of me? Have they told you nothing? I'm the only man that was saved from the Lady Jermyn, the ship that was burned to the water's edge with every soul but me. My nerves are in little ends. I came down here for peace and quiet and sleep. Do you bow that I have hardly slept for two months? And now I shall never sleep again! O my God I shall die for want of it! The wine has done it. I never should have touched a drop. I can't stand it; I can't sleep after it; I shall kill myself if I get no sleep. Do you hear, you woman? I shall kill myself in your house if I don't get to sleep!"

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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