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A Rogue's Life

I have already described how I heard the clang of the heavy door, on the
occasion of my first visit to the red-brick house. The next day, when the doctor
again took leave of me in the hall, I hit on a plan for seeing the door as well as
hearing it. I dawdled on my way out, till I heard the clang again; then pretended
to remember some important message which I had forgotten to give to the
doctor, and with a look of innocent hurry ran upstairs to overtake him. The
disguised workman ran after me with a shout of "Stop!" I was conveniently deaf
to him--reached the first floor landing--and arrived at a door which shut off the
whole staircase higher up; an iron door, as solid as if it belonged to a banker's
strong-room, and guarded millions of money. I returned to the hall, inattentive to
the servant's not over-civil remonstrances, and, saying that I would wait till I saw
the doctor again, left the house.
The next day two pale-looking men, in artisan costume, came up to the gate at
the same time as I did, each carrying a long wooden box under his arm, strongly
bound with iron. I tried to make them talk while we were waiting for admission,
but neither of them would go beyond "Yes," or "No"; and both had, to my eyes,
some unmistakably sinister lines in their faces. The next day the houskeeping
cook came to the door--a buxom old woman with a look and a ready smile, and
something in her manner which suggested that she had not begun life quite so
respectably as she was now ending it. She seemed to be decidedly satisfied with
my personal appearance; talked to me on indifferent matters with great glibness;
but suddenly became silent and diplomatic the moment I looked toward the stair
and asked innocently if she had to go up and down them often in the course of
the day. As for the doctor himself he was unapproachable on the subject of the
mysterious upper regions. If I introduced chemistry in general into the
conversation he begged me not to spoil his happy holiday hours with his
daughter and me, by leading him back to his work-a-day thoughts. If I referred to
his own experiments in particular he always made a joke about being afraid of
my chemical knowledge, and of my wishing to anticipate him in his discoveries.
In brief, after a week's run of the lower regions, the upper part of the red-brick
house and the actual nature of its owner's occupations still remained
impenetrable mysteries to me, pry, ponder, and question as I might.
Thinking of this on the river-bank, in connection with the distressing scene which
I had just had with Alicia, I found that the mysterious obstacle at which she had
hinted, the mysterious life led by her father, and the mysterious top of the house
that had hitherto defied my curiosity, all three connected themselves in my mind
as links of the same chain. The obstacle to my marrying Alicia was the thing that
most troubled me. If I only found out what it was, and if I made light of it (which I
was resolved beforehand to do, let it be what it might), I should most probably
end by overcoming her scruples, and taking her away from the ominous red-brick
house in the character of my wife. But how was I to make the all-important