Surely there were evil spirits in this place to lead my thoughts so much astray, and then there came to my mind that locket on my neck, which men had once hung round Blackbeard’s to scare evil spirits from his tomb. If it could frighten them from him, might it not rout them now, and make them fly from me? And with that thought I took the parchment out, and opening it before the flickering light, although I knew all, word for word, conned it over again, and read it out aloud. It was a relief to hear a human voice, even though ’twas nothing but my own, and I took to shouting the words, having much ado even so to make them heard for the raging of the storm:
’The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years: yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow; so soon passeth it away, and we are gone.
‘And as for me, my feet were almost ...’
At the ‘almost’ I stopped, being brought up suddenly with a fierce beat of blood through my veins, and a jump fit to burst them, for I had heard a scuffling noise in the passage that led to the cave, as if someone had stumbled against a loose stone in the dark. I did not know then, but have learnt since, that where there is a loud noise, such as the roaring of a cascade, the churning of a mill, or, as here, the rage and bluster of a storm—if there arise some different sound, even though it be as slight as the whistle of a bird, ’twill strike the ear clear above the general din. And so it was this night, for I caught that stumbling tread even when the gale blew loudest, and sat motionless and breathless, in my eagerness of listening, and then the gale lulled an instant, and I heard the slow beat of footsteps as of one groping his way down the passage in the dark. I knew it was not Elzevir, for first he could not be back from Poole for many hours yet, and second, he always whistled in a certain way to show ’twas he coming and gave besides a pass-word; yet, if not Elzevir, who could it be? I blew out the light, for I did not want to guide the aim of some unknown marksman shooting at me from the dark; and then I thought of that gaunt strangler that sprang on marbleworkers in the gloom; yet it could not be