“God!—I... am dying... and I cannot—tell him!” she breathed.
Feverishly, weakly, she took up a pen, and upon a quarto page, already half filled with Leroux’s small, neat, illegible writing, began to scrawl a message, bending down, one hand upon the table, and with her whole body shaking.
Some three or four wavering lines she had written, when intimately, for the flat of Henry Leroux in Palace Mansions lay within sight of the clock-face—Big Ben began to chime midnight.
The writer started back and dropped a great blot of ink upon the paper; then, realizing the cause of the disturbance, forced herself to continue her task.
The chime being completed: One! boomed the clock; two!... Three! ... Four!...
The light in the entrance-hall went out!
Five! boomed Big Ben;—six!... Seven!...
A hand, of old ivory hue, a long, yellow, clawish hand, with part of a sinewy forearm, crept in from the black lobby through the study doorway and touched the electric switch!
The study was plunged in darkness!
Uttering a sob—a cry of agony and horror that came from her very soul—the woman stood upright and turned to face toward the door, clutching the sheet of paper in one rigid hand.
Through the leaded panes of the window above the writing-table swept a silvern beam of moonlight. It poured, searchingly, upon the fur-clad figure swaying by the table; cutting through the darkness of the room like some huge scimitar, to end in a pallid pool about the woman’s shadow on the center of the Persian carpet.
Coincident with her sobbing cry—nine! boomed Big Ben; ten!...
Two hands—with outstretched, crooked, clutching fingers—leapt from the darkness into the light of the moonbeam.
“God! Oh, God!” came a frenzied, rasping shriek—“Mr. King!”
Straight at the bare throat leapt the yellow hands; a gurgling cry rose—fell—and died away.
Gently, noiselessly, the lady of the civet fur sank upon the carpet by the table; as she fell, a dim black figure bent over her. The tearing of paper told of the note being snatched from her frozen grip; but never for a moment did the face or the form of her assailant encroach upon the moonbeam.
Batlike, this second and terrible visitant avoided the light.
The deed had occupied so brief a time that but one note of the great bell had accompanied it.
Twelve! rang out the final stroke from the clock-tower. A low, eerie whistle, minor, rising in three irregular notes and falling in weird, unusual cadence to silence again, came from somewhere outside the room.
Then darkness—stillness—with the moon a witness of one more ghastly crime.