After a few evenings it was part of the ceremonies that the bottle should be produced; the kettle was boiling happily on the fire, there was lemon, there was a lump of sugar.... On a certain wet and depressing evening Mrs. Slater herself had a glass “just to see that she didn’t get a cold like Mrs. Carter’s.”
Henry’s bed-time was somewhere between the hours of eight and nine, but his mother did not care to leave Mrs. Carter (dear friend, though she was) quite alone downstairs with the bottom half of the house unguarded (although, of course, the doors were locked), therefore, Mrs. Carter came upstairs with her friend to see the little fellow put to bed; “and a hangel he looks, if ever I see one,” declared the lady enthusiastically.
When the two were gone and the house was still, Henry would sit up in bed and listen; then, moving quietly, he would creep out and listen again.
There, in the passage, it seemed to him that he could hear the whole house talking—first one sound and then another would come, the wheeze of some straining floor, the creak of some whispering board, the shudder of a door. “Look out! Look out! Look out!” and then, above that murmur, some louder voice: “Watch! there’s danger in the place!” Then, shivering with cold and his sense of evil, he would creep down into a lower passage and stand listening again; now the voices of the house were deafening, rising on every side of him, like the running of little streams suddenly heard on the turning of the corner of a hill. The dim light shrouded with fantasy the walls; along the wide passage and cabinets, high china jars, the hollow scoop of the window at the far-distant end, were all alive and moving. And, in strange contradiction to the moving voices within the house, came the blurred echo of the London life, whirring, buzzing, like a cloud of gnats at the window-pane. “Look out! Look out! Look out!” the house cried, and Henry, with chattering teeth, was on guard.
There came an evening when standing thus, shivering in his little shirt, he was aware that the terror, so long anticipated, was upon him. It seemed to him, on this evening, that the house was suddenly still; it was as though all the sounds, as of running water, that passed up and down the rooms and passages, were, in a flashing second, frozen. The house was holding its breath.
He had to wait for a breathless, agonising interval before he heard the next sound, very faint and stifled breathing coming up to him out of the darkness in little uncertain gusts. He heard the breathings pause, then recommence again in quicker and louder succession. Henry, stirred simply, perhaps, by the terror of his anticipation, moved back into the darker shadows in the nook of the cabinet, and stayed there with his shirt pressed against his little trembling knees.