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David Poindexter's Disappearance and Other Tales by Julian Hawthorne

Part 3 out of 3

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incumbent on me to procure. I went thither, lifted up a corner of the
rag between the bed and the stove, and beheld, in an aperture in the
floor, of the existence of which I had till now known nothing, the
antique poisoned dagger that Paton had showed me a few weeks before,
and which I had not seen since then. I brought it back to the sitting-
room, put it in a drawer of the table, and locked the drawer, at the
same time making a mental note to the effect that I should reopen the
drawer at a certain hour of the night and take the dagger out. All this
while Paton was close at hand, though not visible to sight; but I had a
sort of inner perception of his presence and movements. All at once, at
about the hour of sunset, I saw him again; he moved toward the looking-
glass at the narrow end of the room, laid his hand upon one of the
pilasters, glanced at me over his shoulder, and immediately seemed to
stoop down. As I sat, the edge of the table hid him from sight. I stood
up and looked across. He was not there; and a kind of reaction of my
nerves informed me that he was gone absolutely, for the time.

This reaction produced a lassitude impossible to describe; it was
overpowering, and I had no choice but to yield to it. I dropped back in
my chair, leaned forward on the table, and instantly fell into a heavy
sleep, or stupor.

I awoke abruptly, with a sensation as if a hand had been laid on my
shoulder. It was night, and I knew that the hour I had noted in my mind
was at hand. I opened the drawer and took out the dagger, which I put
in my pocket. The house was quite silent. A shiver passed through me. I
was aware that Paton was standing at the narrow end of the room,
waiting for me: Yes--there he was, or the impression of him in my
brain--what did it matter? I arose mechanically and walked toward him.
He had no need to direct me: I knew all there was to do, and how to do
it. I knelt on the floor, laid my shoulder against the pilaster, and
pushed it laterally. It moved aside on a pivot, disclosing an iron ring
let into the floor. I laid hold of this ring, and lifted. A section of
the floor came up, and I saw a sort of ladder descending
perpendicularly into darkness. Down the ladder Paton went, and I
followed him. Arrived at the bottom, I turned to the left, led by an
instinct or a fascination; passed along a passage barely wide enough to
admit me, until I came against a smooth, hard surface. I passed my hand
over it until I touched a knob or catch, which I pressed, and the
surface gave way before me like a door. I stumbled forward, and found
myself in a room of what was doubtless Herr Kragendorf's apartment. A
keen, cold air smote against my face; and with it came a sudden influx
of strength and self-possession. I felt that, for a moment at least,
the fatal influence of Paton upon me was broken. But what was that
sound of a struggle--those cries and gasps, that seemed to come from an
adjoining room?

I sprang forward, opened a door, and beheld a tall old man, with white
hair and beard, in the grasp of a ruffian whom I at once recognized as
the portier. A broken window showed how he had effected his entrance.
One hand held the old man by the throat; in the other was a knife,
which he was prevented from using by a young woman, who had flung
herself upon him in such a way as to trammel his movements. In another
moment, however, he would have shaken her off.

But that moment was not allowed him. I seized him with a strength that
amazed myself--a strength which never came upon me before or since. The
conflict lasted but a breath or two; I hurled him to the floor, and, as
he fell, his right arm was doubled under him, and the knife which he
held entered his back beneath the left shoulder-blade. When I rose up
from the whirl and fury of the struggle, I saw the old man reclining
exhausted on the bosom of the girl. I knew him, despite his white hair
and beard. And the face that bent so lovingly above him was the face
that had looked into mine that night on the street--the face of the
blue-eyed maiden--of a younger and a lovelier Juliet! As I gazed, there
came a thundering summons at the door, and the police entered.

* * * * *

My poor uncle Körner had not prospered after his great stroke of
roguery. His wife had died of a broken heart, after giving birth to a
daughter, and his stolen riches had vanished almost as rapidly as they
were acquired. He had at last settled down with his daughter in this
old house. The treasure in the leathern bag, though a treasure to him,
was not of a nature to excite general cupidity. It consisted, not of
precious stones, but of relics of his dead wife--her rings, a lock of
her hair, her letters, a miniature of her in a gold case. These poor
keepsakes, and his daughter, had been the only solace of his lonely and
remorseful life.

It was uncertain whether Paton and the portier had planned the robbery
together, or separately, and in ignorance of each other's purpose. Nor
can I tell whether my disembodied visitor came to me with good or with
evil intent. Wicked spirits, even when they seem to have power to carry
out their purposes, are perhaps only permitted to do so, so far as is
consistent with an overruling good of which they know nothing.
Certainly, if I had not descended the secret passage, Körner would have
been killed, and perhaps my Juliet likewise--the mother of my children.
But should I have been led on to stab him myself, with the poisoned
dagger, had the portier not been there? Juliet smiles and says No, and
I am glad to agree with her. But I have never since then found that
anniversary upon me, without a shudder of awe, and a dark thought of
Paton Jeffries.


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