The candle flared up wildly.
Then it went out.
Something fell heavily into the room.
DESTINY KNOCKS AT THE DOOR
There are two things at least that modern warfare teaches you, one is to keep cool in an emergency, the other is not to be afraid of a corpse. Therefore I was scarcely surprised to find myself standing there in the dark calmly reviewing the extraordinary situation in which I now found myself. That’s the curious thing about shell-shock: after it a motor back-firing or a tyre bursting will reduce a man to tears, but in face of danger he will probably find himself in full possession of his wits as long as there is no sudden and violent noise connected with it.
Brief as the sounds without had been, I was able on reflection to identify that gasping gurgle, that rapid patter of the hands. Anyone who has seen a man die quickly knows them. Accordingly I surmised that somebody had come to my door at the point of death, probably to seek assistance.
Then I thought of the man next door, his painful breathlessness, his blueish lips, when I found him wrestling with his key, and I guessed who was my nocturnal visitor lying prone in the dark at my feet.
Shielding the candle with my hand I rekindled it. Then I grappled with the flapping curtains and got the windows shut. Then only did I raise my candle until its beams shone down upon the silent figure lying across the threshold of the room.
It was the man from No. 33. He was quite dead. His face was livid and distorted, his eyes glassy between the half-closed lids, while his fingers, still stiffly clutching, showed paint and varnish and dust beneath the nails where he had pawed door and carpet in his death agony.
One did not need to be a doctor to see that a heart attack had swiftly and suddenly struck him down.
Now that I knew the worst I acted with decision. I dragged the body by the shoulders into the room until it lay in the centre of the carpet. Then I locked the door.
The foreboding of evil that had cast its black shadow over my thoughts from the moment I crossed the threshold of this sinister hotel came over me strongly again. Indeed, my position was, to say the least, scarcely enviable. Here was I, a British officer with British papers of identity, about to be discovered in a German hotel, into which I had introduced myself under false pretences, at dead of night alone with the corpse of a German or Austrian (for such the dead man apparently was)!
It was undoubtedly a most awkward fix.
Everything in the hotel was silent as the grave.
I turned from my gloomy forebodings to look again at the stranger. In his crisp black hair and slightly protuberant cheekbones I traced again the hint of Jewish ancestry I had remarked before. Now that the man’s eyes—his big, thoughtful eyes that had stared at me out of the darkness of the corridor—were closed, he looked far less foreign than before: in fact he might almost have passed as an Englishman.