Torn between caution and impatience he worked on, and as soon as the hole was large enough he pulled himself cautiously up and dropped over the edge into the cage-like balcony on the other side. The panel which separated it from the rest of the old room was half open, and he stepped through it into what appeared utter darkness.
He stood listening keenly, for he knew that he was standing below the rose room; the very spot where he was must be almost exactly beneath that secret passage outside the panel in the rose room’s wall. Not a sound came down to him and he dared not wait longer, but turned to the left and passed through the arched doorway into the next great salon.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark he saw that it was not utter blackness, but that some wan light from the paler night without faintly penetrated through those jealously guarded windows—windows not so heavily screened, he had been told, as those upon the front of the palace, for these were upon the court. He found time for a flash of horror at this stifling barricade as he made his hurried way through the room and stepped out into the little anteroom beyond.
Here he paused, for he knew that to the left, ahead of him, was the curtained opening into the long salon upon the street, and within that, Fritzi had warned him, a eunuch sometimes slept or Seniha occasionally came from her small salon to play on the piano there and lingered apparently in wait. But no one seemed stirring, and Billy stole to the door on his right, opening on the encased stairs, and found it locked. Hurriedly he pried at it with a burglarious tool, and then a sudden outburst sounded overhead.
There was a racket of hurrying feet and then a muffled explosion of a shot. A hoarse voice yelled. Another shot, and then a thud of something falling.
Desperately Billy fired his gun into the lock. The noise did not matter now and might serve to divert the fight from Falconer. Throwing his weight against the shattered lock, he bounded up the narrow stairs and raced down the long hall to the door that was brightly gilded. From beyond, but fainter now, came the sounds of conflict. With a heart beating to suffocation he flung open the door and rushed into that room.
IN THE ROSE ROOM
Candles flared on the table but not a figure greeted his eye. The room was deathly still; nothing stirred but the long draperies fluttering in the wind.
“Arlee!” he whispered in a voice strained with excitement. “Arlee Beecher, are you here?... Arlee!”
No voice answered. No motion revealed her. Only the candle flames danced drunkenly in a puff of air, flaunting their secret knowledge of the tenant they had lighted.
He darted to the tumbled bed and flung aside the covers; he looked beneath it and beneath the couch; he sent a candle’s light traveling about the empty whiteness of the bath. No little figure, pitifully silenced, was, hidden there. The room was empty. And all the while that din sounded somewhere beyond them—running feet and strident yells.