“Hardly that,” was the serious answer; “but it might have been my cat, Rameses.”
“Not unless it was Rameses II., because—well, it didn’t sound like a cat,” he wound up, guiltily conscious of his other reason for certainty on this point. “Perhaps Isis has climbed down from her pedestal to stretch herself,” and he smiled, but his eyes were anxious, and he shot a furtive glance toward the veil.
“It’s hardly probable,” was the calm reply.
“What? Can’t the thing use its legs as well as its arms?”
“Ah! then you know——”
“Yes; she reached for me when I was dusting her off, but I kicked harder than Doctor Athelstone, I suppose, and so touched the spring twice.”
“Well, let it go at that,” Simpkins assented. “And let’s hear the rest.” He was burning with impatience to reach the end and get away, back to noisy, crowded Broadway.
But Mrs. Athelstone answered nothing, only looked off toward the altar. It almost seemed as if she waited for something.
“Go on,” commanded Simpkins, stirred to roughness by his growing uneasiness.
“You will not leave while yet you may?” and her tone doubled the threat of her words.
“No, not till I’ve heard it all,” he answered doggedly, and gripped the butt of his revolver tighter. But though he told himself that her changed manner, this new confidence, this sudden indifference to his going, was the freak of a madwoman, down deep he felt that it portended some evil thing for him, knew it, and would not go, could not go; for he dared not pass the ambushed terror of that altar.
“You still insist?” the woman asked with rising anger. “So be it. Learn then the fate of meddlers, of dogs who dare to penetrate the mysteries of Isis.”
Simpkins took his eyes from her face and glanced mechanically toward the veil. But he looked back suddenly, and caught her signalling with a swift motion of her head to something in the darkness. There could be no mistake this time. And following her eyes he saw a form, black and shapeless, steal along to the nearest post.
Revolver in hand, he leaped up and back, upsetting his chair. The thing remained hidden. He cleared the partitioning sarcophagus at a bound, and, sliding and backing, reached the centre of the hall, never for one instant taking his eyes from that post or lowering his revolver. Step by step, back between the pillars, he retreated, stumbling toward the door and safety.
Half-way, he heard the woman hiss: “Stop him! Don’t let him escape!” And he saw the thing dart from behind the post. In the uncontrollable madness of his fear he hurled, instead of firing, his revolver at it, and turned and ran.
Tapping lightly on the flags behind, he heard swift feet. It was coming, it was gaining, but he was at the door, through it and had slammed it safely behind him. A leap, a bound, and he was through the ante-chamber, and, as the door behind him opened, he was slipping out into the passageway. He went down the stairs in great jumps. Thank God! he had left the street door unlocked. But already the sound of pursuit had stopped, and he reached the open air safely.