The eyes were very wide. She looked almost like another woman.
She was whispering at a great pace: “Bill, Bill, wake up, quick!”
“I am awake. What is it?” I whispered too. I was startled.
“Listen!” was all she said. Her eyes stared into vacancy.
There was not a sound in the great house. The wind had dropped, and all was still. Only the tapping seemed to continue endlessly in my brain. The clock on the mantelpiece pointed to half-past two.
“I heard nothing, Frances. What is it?” I rubbed my eyes; I had been very deeply asleep.
“Listen!” she repeated very softly, holding up one finger and turning her eyes towards the door she had left ajar. Her usual calmness had deserted her. She was in the grip of some distressing terror.
For a full minute we held our breath and listened. Then her eyes rolled round again and met my own, and her skin went even whiter than before.
“It woke me,” she said beneath her breath, and moving a step nearer to my bed. “It was the Noise.” Even her whisper trembled.
“The Noise!” The word repeated itself dully of its own accord. I would rather it had been anything in the world but that—earthquake, foreign cannon, collapse of the house above our heads! “The Noise, Frances! Are you sure?” I was playing really for a little time.
“It was like thunder. At first I thought it was thunder. But a minute later it came again—from underground. It’s appalling.” She muttered the words, her voice not properly under control.
There was a pause of perhaps a minute, and then we both spoke at once. We said foolish, obvious things that neither of us believed in for a second. The roof had fallen in, there were burglars downstairs, the safes had been blown open. It was to comfort each other as children do that we said these things; also it was to gain further time.
“There’s some one in the house, of course,” I heard my voice say finally, as I sprang out of bed and hurried into dressing gown and slippers. “Don’t be alarmed. I’ll go down and see,” and from the drawer I took a pistol it was my habit to carry everywhere with me. I loaded it carefully while Frances stood stock-still beside the bed and watched. I moved towards the open door.
“You stay here, Frances,” I whispered, the beating of my heart making the words uneven, “while I go down and make a search. Lock yourself in, girl. Nothing can happen to you. It was downstairs, you said?”
“Underneath,” she answered faintly, pointing through the floor.
She moved suddenly between me and the door.
“Listen! Hark!” she said, the eyes in her face quite fixed; “it’s coming again,” and she turned her head to catch the slightest sound. I stood there watching her, and while I watched her, shook.
But nothing stirred. From the halls below rose only the whirr and quiet ticking of the numerous clocks. The blind by the open window behind us flapped out a little into the room as the draught caught it.