A sense of uneasiness began to oppress me, I knew not why, before I had gone half way down the little street from the corner where we turned. It was gloomy and dismal enough at the best, and on this morning an unusual apathy seemed to sit upon it, for few of the shutters were down, although the hour was now mid-morning. Here and there a homely habitant appeared, and bade us good morning; and once in a while we saw the face of a good wife peering from the window. Thus we passed some dozen houses or so, in a row, and paused opposite the little gate. I saw that the shutters were closed, or at least all but one or two, which were partly ajar. Something said to me that it would be as well for me to turn back.
I might as well have done so. We passed up the little walk, and I raised the knocker at the door; but even as it sounded I knew what would happen. There came to me that curious feeling which one experiences when one knocks at the door of a house which lacks human occupancy. Even more strongly I had that strange feeling now, because this sound was not merely that of unoccupied rooms—it came from rooms empty and echoing!
I tried the door. It was not locked. I flung it wide, and stepped within. At first I could not adjust my eyes to the dimness. Absolute silence reigned. I pushed open a shutter and looked about me. The rooms were not only unoccupied, but unfurnished! The walls and floors were utterly bare! Not a sign of human occupancy existed. I hastened out to the little walk, and looked up and down the street, to satisfy myself that I had made no mistake. No, this was the number—this was the place. Yesterday these rooms were fitted sumptuously as for a princess; now they were naked. Not a stick of the furniture existed, nor was there any trace either of haste or deliberation in this removal. What had been, simply was not; that was all.
Followed by my wondering companion, I made such inquiry as I could in the little neighborhood. I could learn nothing. No one knew anything of the occupant of these rooms. No one had heard any carts approach, nor had distinguished any sounds during the night.
“Sir,” said I to my friend, at last; “I do not understand it. I have pursued, but it seems the butterfly has flown.” So, both silent, myself morosely so, we turned and made our way back across the town.
Half an hour later we were on the docks at the river front, where we could look out over the varied shipping which lay there. My scientific friend counted one vessel after another, and at last pointed to a gap in the line.
“Yesterday I wass here,” he said, “and I counted all the ships and their names. The steamer Modeste she lay there. Now she iss gone.”