The House of the Vampire/XXIX
The next morning's mail brought a letter from Ethel, a few lines of encouragement and affection. Yes, she was right; it would not do for him to stay under one roof with Reginald any longer. He must only obtain the manuscript and, if possible, surprise him in the attempt to exercise his mysterious and criminal power. Then he would be in the position to dictate terms and to demand Jack's safety as the price of his silence.
Reginald, however, had closeted himself that day in his studio busily writing. Only the clatter of his typewriter announced his presence in the house. There was no chance for conversation or for obtaining the precious manuscript of “Leontina.”
Meanwhile Ernest was looking over his papers and preparing everything for a quick departure. Glancing over old letters and notes, he became readily interested and hardly noticed the passage of the hours.
When the night came he only partly undressed and threw himself upon the bed. It was now ten. At twelve he had promised Ethel to speak to her over the telephone. He was determined not to sleep at all that night. At last he would discover whether or not on the previous and other nights Reginald had secretly entered his room.
When one hour had passed without incident, his attention relaxed a little. His eyes were gradually closing when suddenly something seemed to stir at the door. The Chinese vase came rattling to the floor.
At once Ernest sprang up. His face had blanched with terror. It was whiter than the linen in which they wrap the dead. But his soul was resolute.
He touched a buttton and the electric light illuminated the whole chamber. There was no nook for even a shadow to hide. Yet there was no one to be seen. From without the door came no sound. Suddenly something soft touched his foot. He gathered all his will power so as not to break out into a frenzied shriek. 'Then he laughed, not a hearty laugh, to be sure. A tiny nose and a tail gracefully curled were brushing against him. The source of the disturbance was a little Maltese cat, his favourite, that by some chance had remained in his room. After its essay at midnight gymnastics the animal quieted down and lay purring at the foot of his bed.
The presence of a living thing was a certain comfort, and the reservoir of his strength was well nigh exhausted.
He dimly remembered his promise to Ethel, but his lids drooped with sheer weariness. Perhaps an hour passed in this way, when suddenly his blood congealed with dread.
He felt the presence of the hand of Reginald Clarke—unmistakably—groping in his brain as if searching for something that had still escaped him.
He tried to move, to cry out, but his limbs were paralysed. When, by a superhuman effort, he at last succeeded in shaking off the numbness that held him enchained, he awoke just in time to see a figure, that of a man, disappearing in the wall that separated Reginald's apartments from his room . . .
This time it was no delusion of the senses. He heard something like a secret door softly closing behind retreating steps. A sudden fierce anger seized him. He was oblivious of the danger of the terrible power of the older man, oblivious of the love he had once borne him, oblivious of everything save the sense of outraged humanity and outraged right.
The law permits us to shoot a burglar who goes through our pockets at night. Must he tolerate the ravages of this a thousand times more dastardly and dangerous spiritual thief? Was Reginald to enjoy the fruit of other men's labour unpunished? Was he to continue growing into the mightiest literary factor of the century by preying upon his betters? Abel, Walkham, Ethel, he, Jack, were they all to be victims of this insatiable monster?
Was this force resistless as it was relentless?
No, a thousand times, no!
He dashed himself against the wall at the place where the shadow of Reginald Clarke had disappeared. In doing so he touched upon a secret spring. The wall gave way noiselessly. Speechless with rage he crossed the next room and the one adjoining it, and stood in Reginald's studio. The room was brilliantly lighted, and Reginald, still dressed, was seated at his writing- table scribbling notes upon little scraps of paper in his accustomed manner.
At Ernest's approach he looked up without evincing the least sign of terror or surprise. Calmly, almost majestically, he folded his arms over his breast, but there was a menacing glitter in his eyes as he confronted his victim.