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Title: The Dormer Window
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Dormer Window
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in The Windsor Magazine, August, 1902.

*



I.


"Do you wish to speak to me, General Sherlock?"

"My dear boy, I desire to do more than that," the veteran replied. The
white head was bent, the tired eyes were heavy with trouble. "I wish to
save you from a ghastly tragedy."

There was a nervous thrill and intensity in the words enough to carry
force under any circumstances, but, coming from one absolute stranger to
another, they seemed to bite into Ralph Cheriton's consciousness like a
saw.

Yet, under other circumstances, he would have laughed. But a gentleman
does not usually deride the beard of the veteran who has seen sixty
distinguished years in the service of his country.

"These are strange words, General," he replied.

The war-worn soldier sighed. His hair was white as the Afghan snows, his
face was covered with deep lines; what the man had once been was
mirrored only in his eyes. And those eyes were unutterably sad.

"You are absolutely a stranger to me," he said. "Beyond my own
household, I have seen no fresh face for years. My excuse for calling
upon you is that this house once belonged to my family. An aunt of mine
died here, my grandfather died here--he committed suicide."

"Indeed!" Cheriton murmured politely.

"Yes, he threw himself out of the dormer window, at the top of the
house. Within a year, two uncles of mine and an old family servant also
committed suicide in a precisely similar manner. I make no attempt to
explain the strange matter--I merely state the fact."

"A most extraordinary thing," Cheriton replied.

"More than extraordinary. Do you know that I often dream of that dormer
window in the night, and wake up with a strange longing to come here and
throw myself out, as my relatives did before me? One night, in the
Afghan passes near Kandahar, the impulse almost deprived me of reason
for a time. Now you know why that window was bricked up."

Cheriton was profoundly impressed. He would have repudiated any
suggestion of superstition, the hard enamel of a hard-ended century had
long been forged over that kind of folly. Still, the fact remained. Only
recently Cheriton had sold out of the Army and purchased Bernemore
House, the scene of the tragedies mentioned by Sherlock. Of the evil
reputation of the dormer window he had heard nothing. The fret of
seventy years had rubbed the story from the village tablets.

It was a little disturbing, because for some time Cheriton had had his
eye on that built-up dormer window. It was a double one and a fine bit
of architecture.

Accommodation downstairs for the irresponsible bachelor was limited, and
it seemed good to Cheriton to unseal the windows and make a luxurious
smoking-lounge of the room originally lighted by them. This thing had
been done, and only the previous evening the room had been greatly
admired by such men as were even now staying in the house.

"Only yesterday I heard what you were doing," the General remarked,
after a long pause. "Believe me, it is painful to drag myself thus from
my solitude. But my duty lies plainly before me. To sit down quietly and
allow things to take their course would be murder."

Sherlock's words thrilled with an absolute conviction. There was none of
the conscious shame of a man who whispers of Fear in the cold ear of
Courage.

"But, surely, General," Cheriton stammered, "you don't suppose that this
family curse, or whatever it is, holds good with strangers?"

"Indeed I do, Captain Cheriton. Did I not tell you that a valued old
servant of our family met his death in the same horrible way?"

"But his mind might have become unhinged. You are, of course, aware that
suicide sometimes takes the nature of an epidemic. No sooner does a man
destroy himself in some novel way, than a score of people follow by
example."

A little pool of light glittered in the General's eyes.

"You are an obstinate man, I see," he said.

"Well, I like to get to the bottom of things. To be perfectly candid, if
I do what you suggest, I shall be laughed at. It is only a very brave
man, or a very great fool, who is impervious to ridicule. And I'm bound
to confess to a strong desire to investigate this business further."

"Then you won't close that window again?"

"General, this is the beginning of the twentieth century!"

General Sherlock drew himself up as if shaking the burden of the years
from his shoulders. He seemed to expand, his voice grew firm, the tiny
pools in his eyes filled them with a liquid flame of anger.

"I see I must tell you the whole shameful story," he said. "My duty lies
plainly before me, and I must follow it at any cost. My grandfather was
an unmitigated scoundrel; he broke his wife's heart, he drove his
daughter and his sons from him. There was also a story of a betrayed
gipsy girl, and a curse--the same curse that was to fall on this house
and those who dwelt there for all time--but I need not go into that. For
years my grandfather lived here alone, with an old drunken scoundrel of
a servant to do his bidding; indeed, it was rarely that either of them
was sober."

The General paused, but Cheriton made no response.

"Well, the time was near at hand when the tragedy was to come. It so
happened, one winter evening, when the snow was on the ground and the
air was cold, that a coaching accident happened hard by. It so happened
also that one of the injured was the daughter of my grandfather, to whom
I have already alluded. She was badly hurt, but she managed to crawl
here for a night's lodging. It was quite dark when she arrived, dark and
terribly cold. Ill and suffering as she was, my poor aunt was refused
admission by that scoundrel; they thrust her out in their drunken fury,
to perish if she pleased. She staggered a few yards into the courtyard,
she lay down with her face to the stars and died. No words of mine could
convey more than that.

"The room with the dormer window was my grandfather's den. It was late
the following afternoon before he came from his debauched sleep; the
setting sun was shining in the courtyard as he looked out. And there,
with a smile upon her face, lay Mary Sherlock--dead.

"A cry rang through the house, the cry of a soul calling for mercy.
Then, in a dull, mechanical way, the wretched man drew to the window, he
flung back the leaded casement, and cast himself headlong to the ground.
Then----"

The General paused, as if unable to proceed, and held out his hand.

"I can say no more," he remarked presently. "If I have not convinced you
now, then indeed my efforts have been wasted. Good-bye. Whether or not I
shall ever see you again rests entirely with yourself."

"I am not unmoved," Cheriton replied. "Good-bye, and thank you
sincerely."




II.


Under ordinary circumstances they were a cheerful lot at Bernemore.
Cheriton was a capital host, he chose his company carefully, and Ida
Cheriton, a wife of six months' standing, had charms both of wit and
beauty.

She looked a little more dainty and fragile than usual, as she sat at
the foot of the dinner-table; her grey eyes were introspective, for
there was another joy coming to her out of the future, and it filled her
with a soft alarm. In her own absent fit she did not notice the absence
of mind of her husband.

It was summer time, and no lights gleamed across the table, save the
falling lances of sunshine playing on flowers and bloomy grapes. The air
was heavy with the fragrance of peaches and new-mown clover.

There were perhaps a dozen people dining there altogether. Dixon and his
wife, of Cheriton's old regiment; Michelmore the author and his bride,
with a naval lieutenant named Acton, and Ida Cheriton's brother Charlie,
a nervous, highly strung youth, with a marvellous record still making at
Oxford.

"What's the matter with Cheriton?" Acton demanded, when the last swish
of silk and muslin had died away. "Pass the cigarettes, Dixon. Out with
it, Ralph."

"I dare say you fellows will laugh at me," Cheriton remarked
sententiously.

"I dare say," Acton replied. "I laugh at most things. You don't mean
that you have found a tame ghost or something of that kind."

"It isn't a ghost, it's a story that I heard to-day. I'm going to tell
you the story, and then you can judge for yourselves."

Cheriton commenced in silence, and finished with the same complimentary
stillness. On the whole, Acton was the least impressed.

"I am bound to confess that it sounds creepy enough," he remarked. "But
a machine-made man can hardly be expected to swallow this kind of thing
without a protest. I'll bet you on one thing--no unseen hand could ever
lure me to chuck myself out of that window."

"I wouldn't be sure of that, Acton," Michelmore said gravely.

"Ah! you're a novelist, you have a profound imagination. A pony I sleep
in that room to-night, and beat you a hundred up at billiards before
breakfast to-morrow."

No response was made to this liberal offer, for latter-day convention is
not usually shaken off, influenced by neat claret imbibed under
circumstances calculated to cheer. Only Cheriton looked troubled.

"Well, somebody's got to knock the bottom out of this nonsense," Acton
protested. "General Sherlock has done some big things in his days, but
he's eighty years of age. Let us go up to the smoking-room and
investigate. There's a good hour or more of daylight yet, and we may
find something."

With a certain contempt for his own weakness, Cheriton complied. Once in
the room, he could see nothing to foster or encourage fear. The
apartment was furnished as a Moorish divan; it was bright and cheerful.
From the dormer window a charming view of the country was obtained.
Acton threw the casements back and looked out. His keen, sunburnt face
was lighted by a dry smile.

"Well, how do you feel?" asked Dixon.

"Pretty well, thank you," Acton laughed. "I have no impulses, nor do I
yearn to throw myself down, not a cent's worth. Come and try, Charlie."

Charlie Scott drew back and shivered. Cheriton's story had appealed
vividly to his sensitive, highly strung nature.

"Call me a coward if you like," he said, "but I couldn't lean out of
that window as you are doing, for all Golconda. I could kick myself for
my weakness, but it is there all the same."

Acton dropped into a comfortable lounge with a smile of contempt. Scott
flushed as he saw this, and timidly suggested that the windows should be
closed. With a foot high in the air, Acton protested vigorously.

"No, no," he cried. "Believe what you please, but do not pander to this
nonsense. If you should feel like doing the Curtius business, give us a
call, and we'll sit on your head, Charlie. But in the name of common
sense leave the windows open."

A murmur of approval followed. The line had to be drawn somewhere. As
yet no note of tragedy dominated the conversation. Acton and Dixon were
deep in the discussion of forthcoming Ascot, and Cheriton joined
fitfully in their conversation. Only Michelmore and Scott were silent.
The novelist was studying the sensitive face of his young companion, a
face white and uneasy, lighted by eyes that gleamed like liquid fire.
His glance was drawn to the open window, he sat gazing in that direction
with a gaze that never moved.

Thien, in a dazed kind of way, he rose and took a step forward. His eyes
were glazed and fixed in horror and repugnance. He looked like a man
going to the commission of some vile crime against which his whole soul
rebelled. Michelmore watched him with the subtle analysis of his tribe.

For the moment Cheriton seemed to have thrown off the weight from his
shoulders. He was lying back in a big arm-chair and discussing the
prospects of certain horses. And he was just faintly ashamed of himself.

But Michelmore's quiet, ruminative eyes were everywhere. He was watching
Scott with the zest of an expert in the dissecting of emotions, but
ready in a moment to restrain the other should he go too far.

It was a thrilling moment for the novelist, at any rate. He saw Scott
creeping gently like a cat to the window, groping with his hands as he
went, like one who is blind or in the dark. The horror of a great
loathing was in his eyes, yet he went on, and on, steadily.

Michelmore stretched out a hand and detained Scott as he passed. At the
touch of live, palpitating human fingers he pulled up suddenly, as if he
had just received an electric shock.

"Where are you going to?" Michelmore asked in a thin, grating voice.

"I was going to throw myself out of that window," he said.

"Oh! So Cheriton's story had all that effect upon you. Take my advice,
and chuck your books for the present. You are in a bad way."

"I'm nothing of the kind, Michelmore. I'm as sound in mind and body as
you are. Even if I had never heard that story, the same impulse would
have come over me on entering this room. You'll feel it sooner or later,
and so will the rest of them. The impulse has passed now, but after
to-night you do not catch me in here again."

Michelmore did not laugh, for the simple reason that he knew Scott to be
speaking from sheer conviction. His was no mind diseased. It was
impossible to note that clear skin and clear eye, and doubt that.
Michelmore stepped across the room to answer some question of Acton's,
and for the moment Scott was forgotten. When the novelist turned again,
a cry of horror broke from him.

[TheDormerWindow-01.jpg] "The same instant Scott had dived for it clean
through the window."

He saw Scott rise to his feet as if some unseen force had jerked him; he
saw the victim of this nameless horror cross like a flash to the window.
Then he darted forward and made a wild clutch for Scott's arm. At the
same instant Scott had dived for it clean through the window. There was
a vision like an empty sack fluttering from a warehouse shoot, and then
a dull, hideous, sickening smash below.

Though the whole room took in the incident like a flash, nobody moved
for a moment. Who does not know the jar and the snap of a broken limb,
the sense of all that is to follow, and the void of pain for the
merciful fraction of a merciful second? And then----

And then every man was on his feet. They clattered, heedless of necks,
down the stairs, all save Acton, who crossed to the window. He saw a
heap of black and white grotesquely twisted on the stones, he saw a slim
white figure in satin staring down at a bruised face no whiter than her
own.

"God help her!" Acton sobbed. "It's Mrs. Cheriton."

It was. She stood motionless like a statue until the men reached the
courtyard. Scott had fallen at her very feet as she was passing into the
garden; a single spot of blood glistened on her white gown. She made no
sound, though her face twitched and the muscles about her mouth vibrated
like harp-strings. Cheriton laid a shaking hand on his wife's shoulder.

"You must come out of this at once," he said hoarsely.

But the fascinating horror of the thing still held Ida Cheriton to the
spot. If she could only scream, or faint, or cry--anything but that grey
torpor and the horrible twitching of the muscles!

Not until the limp form of Scott was raised from the flags did sound
come from Ida's lips. Then she laughed, a laugh low down in her throat,
and gradually rising till the air rang with the screaming inhuman mirth.

Cheriton caught Ida in his arms and carried her into the house. The
curse of Cain seemed to have fallen upon him. It was he and he alone who
had brought about this nameless thing. With a sense of agony and shame,
he averted his eyes from those of his wife. But he need not have done
so, for Ida had fainted dead away upon his shoulder.

Meanwhile, they had laid Scott out upon a bed brought hurriedly down
into the hall. He still breathed; a moan and a shudder came from him
ever and again. The horror of his face was caused by something more than
pain. Then Cheriton came headlong in.

"Can I do anything!" Acton whispered.

"Yes, yes!" Cheriton cried. "For the love of Heaven go for the doctor!
Ride in to Castleford, and bring the first man you can find. Go quickly,
for my wife is dying!"




III.


Scott was not dead. The fall had been severe and the injury great, but
the unfortunate man still lingered. It was nearly midnight before an
anxious, haggard doctor came downstairs.

Cheriton was waiting there. For the last two hours he had been pacing up
and down the polished oak floor chewing the cud of a restless,
blistering agony.

"My wife!" he gasped, "she is----?"

"Asleep," Dr. Morrison replied. "She is likely to remain asleep for some
hours. To be candid, Mrs. Cheriton is under the influence of a strong
narcotic. There was no other way of preserving her reason."

"She has not suffered in--otherwise? You know what I mean. Morrison, if
anything like that has happened, I shall destroy myself!"

The man of medicine laid a soothing hand upon the speaker's arm. He
noted the white, haggard face and the restless eyes.

"You would be none the worse for a tonic yourself," he said. "Mrs.
Cheriton is suffering from a great shock. Apart from brain mischief, I
apprehend no serious results. What we want to do for the present is to
keep that brain dormant. In any case, it will be some weeks before Mrs.
Cheriton is herself again. You must be prepared to find her mind
temporarily unhinged."

Cheriton swallowed a groan. Then he asked after Scott.

"No hope there, I suppose?" he said.

"Well, yes, strange as it may seem. There is concussion of the brain and
a fractured thigh, but I can detect no internal injuries. I can do no
more to-night."

Ida Cheriton was sleeping peacefully. There was no sign on her face of
the terrible shock she had so lately sustained. She breathed lightly as
a little child. As Cheriton entered, Mrs. Michelmore rose out of the
shadow beyond the pool of light cast from a shaded candle.

"I am going to stay here till morning," she said.

Cheriton protested feebly. But he was too worn and spent to contend the
point. The last two hours seemed to have aged him terribly. The crushing
weight of terror held him down and throttled him. General Sherlock's
face rose up before him like an avenging shadow. A wild longing to fly
from the house and its nameless horror came over him.

Quivering and fluttering in every limb, Cheriton crept downstairs again.
A solitary lamp burned in the hall, the house had grown still and quiet.
Acton sat in the shadow, smoking a cigarette.

"I have been waiting for you," he said. "The others have gone to bed. It
seemed to them that they would be best out of the way, only, of course,
they earnestly desire to be called if their services are required."

"Hadn't you better follow their example?" Cheriton asked.

"What are you going to do, then?" Acton suggested. "My dear fellow, I
simply couldn't go to bed to-night. Not that I am impressed by this
horrible business quite in the same way as yourself--I mean as to its
occult side. It's a ghastly coincidence, all the same."

"It may be," Cheriton said wearily. "Heaven only knows!"

With a heavy sigh he rose from his place and crossed the hall. A deadly
faintness came upon him, he staggered almost to his fall. His eyes
closed, his head fell upon his breast--a strange desire to sleep came
over him.

"I'll lie here and close my eyes for a bit," he said.

In a long deck-chair Acton made his friend comfortable. Exhausted Nature
asserted herself at length, and Cheriton slept. A minute or two later
and the sound of his laboured breathing filled the hall.

"He'll not move for hours," Acton muttered. "Now's my chance."

He moved away quietly, but with resolution. The level-headed sailor,
with his logical, mathematical mind, a mind that must have a formula for
everything, was by no means satisfied. He would get to the bottom of
this thing. If he could do nothing else, he would rob the situation of
its unseen terrors.

Without the slightest feeling of excitement, and with nerves that beat
as steadily as his own ship's engines, he proceeded to his room. From
thence he took a fine hempen rope, and, with this in his hand, proceeded
to creep along till he came to the chamber of the dormer window.

Quite coolly he passed in and closed the door behind him. He switched on
the electric light and opened the windows wide. Then, with a smile of
contempt for his concession to popular prejudices, he proceeded to
scientifically arrange the rope he had brought with him. An hour passed,
two hours passed, and then Acton rose laggardly to his feet. His face
had grown set and pale, his eyes were fixed upon the open window.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, Cheriton had been sleeping like a man overcome with wine. An
hour or more passed away before the nature of his slumber changed. Then
he began to dream horribly--awful dreams of falling through space and
being drawn down steep places by evil eyes and mocking spirits.

Then somebody cried out, and Cheriton came to his consciousness. His
heart was beating like a steam hammer, a profuse sweat ran down his
face. All the dread weight of trouble fell upon him again.

"I could have sworn I heard somebody call," he said.

He listened intently, quivering from head to foot like a dog scenting
danger. It was no fancy, for again the cry was repeated. In the
stillness of the night Cheriton could locate the direction easily. It
came from outside the house. From one painted window a long lance of
moonlight glistened on the polished floor. Outside it was light as day.

With trembling hands Cheriton drew the bolts and plunged into the
garden.

"Who called?" he asked. "Where are you?"

"Round here, opposite the courtyard," came a faint voice, which Cheriton
had no difficulty in recognising as that of Acton. "Bring a ladder
quickly, for I am pretty well done for. Thank goodness somebody heard
me!"

Cheriton found a short ladder after some little search, and with it on
his shoulders made his way round to the courtyard upon which the dormer
window gave. At this very spot the tragedy had taken place.

"Get the ladder up quickly!" Acton gasped.

Cheriton complied as swiftly as his astonishment permitted. Acton was
suspended some fifteen feet from the ground by a rope firmly tied about
his body. He was hanging head downwards, and making feeble efforts to
right himself and get a good hand-purchase on the rope. As the ladder
was reared he contrived to get a grip and a foothold. He panted and
gasped like a man who has been forced under water till his strength is
exhausted.

"In the name of Fortune," asked Cheriton, "what does it mean?"

"Get me free first," Acton gurgled. "This rope is sawing me in two. You
shall know all about it presently. Just for the moment I would pledge my
soul for a glass of brandy and soda-water."

[TheDormerWindow-02.jpg] "Cheriton sawed through the cords with a
pocket-knife."

Cheriton sawed through the cords with a pocket-knife, and then helped
the limp figure of Acton to the ground. A minute or two later, and the
latter was reclining on a chair, with a full tumbler clinking against
his teeth. The colour filtered into his cheeks presently, his hand grew
steady.

"I wouldn't go through the last half-hour again for a flagship," he
explained. "After you had gone to sleep, I made up my mind to test the
dormer window business for myself. So as to be absolutely on the safe
side, I fastened the end of a coil of rope to the stone pillar inside
the window frame, and the other end I made fast round my own waist. Then
I lighted a cigarette and waited.

"It was perhaps an hour before I experienced any sensation. Then I found
that I could not keep my eyes from that window. I abandoned the struggle
to do so, and then I had a mind-picture of myself lying dead on the
stones below. I could see every hurt and wound distinctly. A violent fit
of trembling came over me, and I was conscious of a deep feeling of
depression. My mind was permeated with the idea that I had committed
some awful crime. I was shunned by everybody about me. The only way out
of the thing was to take my own life. Then I rose and made my way to the
window.

"I give you my word of honour, Cheriton, I struggled against that
impulse until I was as weak and feeble as a little child. I had entirely
forgotten that I was protected from damage by the rope. If I had
remembered, I should have most certainly been compelled to remove it,
and by this time I should be lying dead and mangled in the courtyard. I
would not go through it all again for the Bank of England. The horror is
indescribable.

"Well, I fought till I could fight no longer. With a wild cry I closed
my eyes and made a headlong dash for the window. I flung myself out. I
fell until the cord about my waist checked me and nearly dislocated
every limb. Then came the strangest part of this strange affair. Once I
was clear of that infernal room, the brooding depression passed from me,
and my desire was to save my life, to struggle for it to the end. I was
myself again, with nerves as strong and steady as ever, and nothing
troubling me beyond the weakness engendered by my efforts to get free. I
was forced to cry for help at last, and fortunately you heard my call.
And I'm not going to doubt any more. For Heaven's sake have that window
blocked up without delay!"

Cheriton turned his grey face to the light.

"I will," he said. "It shall be done as soon as possible. How faithfully
General Sherlock's prophecy has been verified I know to my sorrow."




IV.


Scott would recover. There was an infinite consolation in the doctor's
fiat, which he gave two days later. His recovery would of necessity be
painfully slow, for the injuries were many and deep-rooted. But youth
and a good constitution, in the absence of internal injuries, would do
much.

As yet Scott was unconscious. Nor was the condition of Ida Cheriton very
much better. It had been deemed prudent to tell her the good news so far
as Scott was concerned, but it seemed to convey very little impression.

For, sooth to say, the patient was not progressing as well as she might.
She did not seem to be able to shake off the strange mistiness that
clouded her intellect, she could only remember the horror she had seen.
Charlie was dead, and she had watched him come headlong to his
destruction. During her waking hours she lay still and numb, the horror
still in her eyes.

"It isn't madness?" Cheriton asked hoarsely.

"No," Morrison replied. "I should say not. The shock has caused the
brain to cease working for a time. Personally, I should prefer delirium.
I can only pursue my present course of treatment. When the trembling
fits come on, the drug will have to be administered as ordered. I will
take care that you have plenty of it in the house."

There was no more to be said, no more to be done, only to wait and hope.
One or two drear, miserable days dragged their weary length along. The
house was devoid of guests by this time; it was better thus, with two
patients there fighting for health and reason, and the whole place was
under the sway of two clear-eyed nurses whose word was law.

As yet no steps had been taken to have an end put to the cause of all
the mischief. Under the circumstances that was impossible. Anything in
the way of noise would have been sternly interdicted, and it was out of
the question to dispense with din and clamour with masons and
bricklayers about. Not that there was any danger, for everybody shunned
the haunted room like the plague. Not a servant would have entered it
for untold gold.

A great stillness lay over the house, for it was night again.
Downstairs, in the dining-room, Cheriton dined alone, and smoked
gloomily afterwards. The soothing influence of tobacco was one of the
few consolations he possessed. He rose for another cigarette, but his
cupboard was empty.

In the trouble and turmoil of the last few days the all-important
tobacco question had been forgotten. It seemed to Cheriton that he had
never thirsted for a cigarette as he did at this moment. He positively
ached for it.

Then he recollected. On the night of the tragedy they had all been
smoking in the room with the dormer window. There were a couple of boxes
up there, both of them practically intact. To get them would be an easy
matter.

Cheriton hesitated but a moment, then he passed up the stairs. As he
opened the door of the haunted chamber and turned up the light, he saw
the window was open, for nobody had entered since the adventure of Acton
there. Cheriton grabbed the boxes of cigarettes and turned to leave the
room.

As he did so he glanced involuntarily at the open window. He shuddered
and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he found, to his
surprise and horror, that he was some feet closer to the window than
before. A cold perspiration chilled him to the bone, he tried to move
and tried in vain.

When he did move, it was to advance still nearer to the window. Suddenly
there came over him a wave of depression, the same feeling of dull
despair so graphically described by Acton. It drew him on and on.

"Great Heaven!" he groaned, "I am lost! My poor wife!"

Then a strange thing happened. A light foot was heard coming up the
stairs. A moment later and Ida stood in the corridor in full view of her
husband. She made a sweet and thrilling picture, in her white, clinging
gown covered with foamy lace; her shining hair hung over a pair of ivory
shoulders.

"Ralph," she said, and her voice was low and sweet, "I want you."

She had risen from her bed in the temporary absence of her nurse.
Something in her clouded brain bade her seek for her husband. In a dim
fashion she saw him, knew that he stood before her.

She advanced with a tender half-smile. A sudden ray of hope jostled and
almost released Cheriton's frozen limbs. Then he saw that the danger was
likely to be doubled, the peril hers as well as his.

"Do not come any further," he cried. "Do not, I implore you!"

Ida paused, half irresolute. What was Ralph doing there, and why did he
look at her with that face of terror? Then the cloud rolled back from
her brain for a moment. It was from that fatal room that Charlie had
gone to his death. A quivering little cry escaped her.

"Come to me!" she implored. "Come to me, Ralph. Why are you in that
awful place? If you do not come, I must come to you."

She advanced with hands outstretched and eyes full of entreaty. And
Cheriton made an effort that turned him faint and dazy. Once Ida entered
that room, he knew only too well that nothing could save the pair of
them. But he could not move, he could only wave Ida back and speak with
dumb lips.

[TheDormerWindow-03.jpg] "With a force that surprised Cheriton she
pulled at his arms."

She came on, and on, until her hands lay on his. With a force that
surprised Cheriton she pulled at his arms. There was no longer the light
of madness in her eyes, but a desire to save him fighting the terror
that overcame her. The slim, white figure had a strength almost divine.

"For my sake!" she cried. "Come, come, come!"

As her voice rose higher and higher, some of her strength seemed to pass
into Cheriton. He no longer looked to the window. He raised one foot and
put it down a good yard nearer the door. With a last mighty effort, and
an effort that turned him sick and dizzy, and strained his heart to
bursting point, he gathered Ida in his arms and cleared the space to the
door with a spring. The lock was snapped, then the key went whizzing
through a window into a thicket of shrubs, where it was found many days
after.

Cheriton dropped in the corridor, and there he lay unconscious for a
time. When he came to himself again, Ida was bending over him. Her sweet
eyes were filled with tears, but in those eyes swam the light of reason.

"Don't speak, dear," Ida said tenderly. "I know everything now. I heard
them talking as behind a veil when I lay there, but now I understand.
Ralph, did you not tell me that Charlie would live?"

"The doctor said so, darling. Ida, you have saved my life."

"Yes, and I fancy I have saved my reason at the same time. Take me back
to my room, please; I am so tired, so tired."

Ida closed her eyes and slept again. But it was the dreamless sleep of
the child, the nurse said with a smile, and there would be no more
anxiety now. All the same, Mr. Cheriton must go away at once. As to his
wife, it was a mere matter of time; Nature would do the rest.

       *       *       *       *       *

People who know the story of the dormer window are many, but of all
those who speak with authority not one can explain what lies beyond the
veil.



THE END



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