Within three he stopped dead, as if paralysed by sudden instinctive perception of that other presence close by.
Whether he had drawn near to it, inch by inch, or whether it, seeing him about to make good his escape, had crept up on him, he could not say. He only knew that it was there, within arm’s-length, waiting, tense, prepared, and somehow deadly in its animosity.
Digging the nails deep into the palms of his hands, until the pain relieved his nervous tension, he waited once more, one minute, two, three.
But nothing ...
Then very slowly he lifted an arm, and swept it before him right and left. At one point of the arc, a trifle to his left, his finger-tips brushed something. He thought he detected a stir in the darkness, a stifled sound, stepped forward quickly, clawing the air, and caught between his fingers a wisp of some material, like silk, sheer and glace, a portion of some garment.
Simultaneously he heard a smothered cry, of anger or alarm, and the night seemed to split and be rent into fragments by a thousand shooting needles of coloured flame.
Smitten brutally on the point of the jaw, his head jerked back, he reeled and fell against a chair, which went to the floor with a muffled crash.
But as A Mustard Seed...
Duchemin woke up in his bed, glare of sunlight in his eyes.
From the latter circumstance he reckoned, rather groggily, it must be about the middle of the forenoon; for not till about that time did the sun work round to the windows.
Still heavy with lees of slumber, his wits occupied themselves sluggishly with questions concerning the enervation that oppressed him, the reason for his oversleeping, why he had not been called. Then, reminded that noon was the hour set for Eve’s departure, fear lest she get away without his bon voyage brought him sharply up in a sitting position.
He groaned aloud and with both hands clutched temples that promised to split with pain that crashed between them, stroke upon stroke, like blows of a mighty hammer.
A neatly fastened bandage held in place, above one ear, a wad of cotton once saturated with arnica, now dry. Duchemin removed these and with gingerly fingers explored, discovering a noble swelling on the side of his head, where the cotton had been placed.
Also, his jaw was stiff, and developed a protesting ache whenever he opened his mouth.
Then Duchemin remembered ... That is to say, he recalled clearly all that had led up to that vicious blow from out of the darkness which had found his jaw with such surprising accuracy; and he was visited by one or two rather indefinite memories of subsequent events.
He remembered labouring up the stairs, half walking, half supported by the strong arms of the footman, Jean, who was in shirt, trousers and slippers only, while in front of them moved the shape of Madame de Montalais en negligee, carrying a lighted candle and constantly looking back.