Madame suddenly recollected her mistake of that evening, and tried the door; but it was duly locked. She took the key from her pocket and placed it in her breast.
’You weel ’av these rooms to yourself, ma chere. I shall sleep downstairs to-night.’
She poured out some of the hot claret into the glass abstractedly, and drank it off.
’’Tis very good—I drank without theenk. Bote ’tis very good. Why don’t you drink some?’
‘I could not’, I repeated. And Madame boldly helped herself.
‘Vary polite, certally, to Madame was it to send nothing at all for hair’ (so she pronounced ’her’); ‘bote is all same thing.’ And so she ran on in her tipsy vein, which was loud and sarcastic, with a fierce laugh now and then.
Afterwards I heard that they were afraid of Madame, who was given to cross purposes, and violent in her cups. She had been noisy and quarrelsome downstairs. She was under the delusion that I was to be conveyed away that night to a remote and safe place, and she was to be handsomely compensated for services and evidence to be afterwards given. She was not to be trusted, however, with the truth. That was to be known but to three people on earth.
I never knew, but I believe that the spiced claret which Madame drank was drugged. She was a person who could, I have been told. Drink a great deal without exhibiting any change from it but an inflamed colour and furious temper. I can only state for certain what I saw, and that was, that shortly after she had finished the claret she laid down upon my bed, and, I now know, fell asleep. I then thought she was feigning sleep only, and that she was really watching me.
About an hour after this I suddenly heard a little clink in the yard beneath. I peeped out, but saw nothing. The sound was repeated, however—sometimes more frequently, sometimes at long intervals. At last, in the deep shadow next the farther wall, I thought I could discover a figure, sometimes erect, sometimes stooping and bowing toward the earth. I could see this figure only in the rudest outline mingling with the dark.
Like a thunderbolt it smote my brain. ‘They are making my grave!’
After the first dreadful stun I grew quite wild, and ran up and down the room wringing my hands and gasping prayers to heaven. Then a calm stole over me—such a dreadful calm as I could fancy glide over one who floated in a boat under the shadow of the ‘Traitor’s Gate,’ leaving life and hope and trouble behind.
Shortly after there came a very low tap at my door; then another, like a tiny post-knock. I could never understand why it was I made no answer. Had I done so, and thus shown that I was awake, it might have sealed my fate. I was standing in the middle of the floor staring at the door, which I expected to see open, and admit I knew not what troop of spectres.