Part III - Page Seven
Continued from PREVIOUS PAGE
At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he paused to strike another, and at the same moment a knock, so quiet and stealthy as to be scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.
The matches fell from his hand. He stood motionless, his breath suspended until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his room, and closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.
"What's that?" cried the old woman, starting up.
"A rat," said the old man, in shaking tones, "a rat. It passed me on the stairs."
His wife sat up in bed listening. A loud knock resounded through the house.
"It's Herbert!" she screamed. "It's Herbert!"
She ran to the door, but her husband was before her, and catching her by the arm, held her tightly.
"What are you going to do?" he whispered hoarsely.
"It's my boy; it's Herbert!" she cried, struggling mechanically. "I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door."
"For God's sake don't let it in," cried the old man, trembling.
"You're afraid of your own son," she cried, struggling. "Let me go. I'm coming, Herbert; I'm coming."
There was another knock, and another. The old woman, with a sudden wrench, broke free and ran from the room. Her husband followed to the landing, and called after her appealingly as she hurried downstairs. He heard the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman's voice, strained and panting.
"The bolt," she cried loudly. "Come down. I can't reach it."
But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment, he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.
The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair drawn back and the door opened. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long, loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond. The streetlamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.