Quietly, I reclosed the window, and stood by it for a moment listening. Nothing occurred, and I returned to the writing-table, puzzled but in no sense alarmed. I resumed the seemingly interminable record of the Si-Fan mysteries, and I had just taken up my pen, when ... two loud raps sounded upon the pane behind me.
In a trice I was at the window, had thrown it open, and was craning out. Practical joking was not characteristic of Nayland Smith, and I knew of none other likely to take such a liberty. As before, the court below proved to be empty....
Some one was softly rapping at the door of the chambers!
I turned swiftly from the open window; and now, came fear. Momentarily, the icy finger of panic touched me, for I thought myself invested upon all sides. Who could this late caller be, this midnight visitor who rapped, ghostly, in preference to ringing the bell?
From the table drawer I took out a Browning pistol, slipped it into my pocket and crossed to the narrow hallway. It was in darkness, but I depressed the switch, lighting the lamp. Toward the closed door I looked —as the soft rapping was repeated.
I advanced; then hesitated, and, strung up to a keen pitch of fearful anticipation, stood there in doubt. The silence remained unbroken for the space, perhaps of half a minute. Then again came the ghostly rapping.
“Who’s there?” I cried loudly.
Nothing stirred outside the door, and still I hesitated. To some who read, my hesitancy may brand me childishly timid; but I, who had met many of the dreadful creatures of Dr. Fu-Manchu, had good reason to fear whomsoever or whatsoever rapped at midnight upon my door. Was I likely to forget the great half-human ape, with the strength of four lusty men, which once he had loosed upon us?—had I not cause to remember his Burmese dacoits and Chinese stranglers?
No, I had just cause for dread, as I fully recognized when, snatching the pistol from my pocket, I strode forward, flung wide the door, and stood peering out into the black gulf of the stairhead.
Nothing, no one, appeared!
Conscious of a longing to cry out—if only that the sound of my own voice might reassure me—I stood listening. The silence was complete.
“Who’s there?” I cried again, and loudly enough to arrest the attention of the occupant of the chambers opposite if he chanced to be at home.
None replied; and finding this phantom silence more nerve-racking than any clamor, I stepped outside the door—and my heart gave a great leap, then seemed to remain inert, in my breast....
Right and left of me, upon either side of the doorway, stood a dim figure: I had walked deliberately into a trap!
The shock of the discovery paralyzed my mind for one instant. In the next, and with the sinister pair closing swiftly upon me, I stepped back—I stepped into the arms of some third assailant, who must have entered the chambers by way of the open window and silently crept up behind me!