I heard a dull thud ... and the thing disappeared from my view, yet— and remembering the supreme terror of that visitation I am not ashamed to confess it—I dared not move from the spot upon which I stood, I dared not make to pass that which lay between me and the door.
“Smith!” I cried, but my voice was little more than a hoarse whisper— “Smith! Weymouth!”
The words became clearer and louder as I proceeded, so that the last— “Weymouth!”—was uttered in a sort of falsetto scream.
A door burst open upon the other side of the corridor. A key was inserted in the lock of the door. Into the dimly lighted arch which divided the bed-room from the sitting-room, sprang the figure of Nayland Smith!
“Petrie! Petrie!” he called—and I saw him standing there looking from left to right.
Then, ere I could reply, he turned, and his gaze fell upon whatever lay upon the floor at the foot of the bed.
“My God!” he whispered—and sprang into the room.
“Smith! Smith!” I cried, “what is it? what is it?”
He turned in a flash, as Weymouth entered at his heels, saw me, and fell back a step; then looked again down at the floor.
“God’s mercy!” he whispered, “I thought it was you—I thought it was you!”
Trembling violently, my mind a feverish chaos, I moved to the foot of the bed and looked down at what lay there.
“Turn up the light!” snapped Smith.
Weymouth reached for the switch, and the room became illuminated suddenly.
Prone upon the carpet, hands outstretched and nails dug deeply into the pile of the fabric, lay a dark-haired man having his head twisted sideways so that the face showed a ghastly pallid profile against the rich colorings upon which it rested. He wore no coat, but a sort of dark gray shirt and black trousers. To add to the incongruity of his attire, his feet were clad in drab-colored shoes, rubber-soled.
I stood, one hand raised to my head, looking down upon him, and gradually regaining control of myself. Weymouth, perceiving something of my condition, silently passed his flask to me; and I gladly availed myself of this.
“How in Heaven’s name did he get in?” I whispered.
“How, indeed!” said Weymouth, staring about him with wondering eyes.
Both he and Smith had discarded their disguises; and, a bewildered trio, we stood looking down upon the man at our feet. Suddenly Smith dropped to his knees and turned him flat upon his back. Composure was nearly restored to me, and I knelt upon the other side of the white-faced creature whose presence there seemed so utterly outside the realm of possibility, and examined him with a consuming and fearful interest; for it was palpable that, if not already dead, he was dying rapidly.
He was a slightly built man, and the first discovery that I made was a curious one. What I had mistaken for dark hair was a wig! The short black mustache which he wore was also factitious.