‘Good-night, ma’am!’ said Doctor Unonius, and opened the door for her. Left alone, he went back to the table and began to turn the pages of Blair.
Doctor Unonius had drawn the table close beside an elbow-chair to the right of the fireplace. The excuse he made to himself was that, with a bright fire burning, he could the better see to read by blending its blaze with the light of the lamp. But it may be conjectured that, having disposed himself thus comfortably, he indulged in a nap. A strange sound fetched him out of it with a bounce. He leapt to his feet, and stood for a moment stupidly rubbing his eyes. The fire had burnt itself low. Blair’s Grave lay face-downward on the hearth-rug, whither it had slipped from his knee. The clock in the corner ticked at its same deliberate pace, but its hands pointed to twenty minutes past two.
What was the sound? Or, rather—since it no longer continued—what had it been? As it seemed to him, it had resembled the beat of horses’ hoofs at a gallop; a stampede almost. It could not have gone past on the high-road, for the noise had never been loud: yet it seemed to come from the high-road for a while, and then to drop suddenly and be drawn out in a series of faint thudded echoes.
Doctor Unonius went to the window, drew the curtains, unbarred a shutter, and stared out into the night. A newly risen moon hung low in the south-east, just above the coping of the courtlage wall, but the wall with its shrubs and clumps of ivy, massed in blackest shadow, excluded all view of the terrestrial world. The sound, whatever it had been, was not repeated.
Doctor Unonius stood for half a minute or so and gazed out with his forehead pressed to the pane. Then he closed the shutter again, let fall the curtain, and with a slight shiver went back to the fireplace.
He had picked up a pair of tongs and was stooping to pick up the charred ends of wood and pile them to revive the blaze, when another sound fetched him upright again. This also was the sound of a horse at a gallop, but now it drew nearer and nearer up the road. It clattered past the courtlage wall, and with that came to a sudden sprawling halt. A man’s voice, the rider’s, shouted some two or three words the doctor could not catch; but a moment later he heard the latch of the yard gate clink and horse and man lunge through, and had scarcely time to arm himself with one of the guns before three sharp strokes rattled on the back door.
Doctor Unonius hurried out to the passage. There he all but ran into Mrs Tresize, who came downstairs, lamp in hand and fully dressed as before. As before, too, she was entirely composed in manner.
‘I will open,’ she said. ’Go back and put the other gun away quickly, the pistol too. Keep the one in your hand if you will, and come back to me while I pretend to draw the bolts. No, please don’t argue. It will be all right if you do as I say.’