The Devil's Paw
Julian, notwithstanding his deliberate intention of abandoning himself to an hour's
complete repose, became, after the first few minutes of solitude, conscious of a peculiar
and increasing sense of restlessness. With the help of a rubber-shod stick which leaned
against his chair, he rose presently to his feet and moved about the room, revealing a
lameness which had the appearance of permanency. In the small, white-ceilinged
apartment his height became more than ever noticeable, also the squareness of his
shoulders and the lean vigour of his frame. He handled his gun for a moment and laid it
down; glanced at the card stuck in the cheap looking glass, which announced that David
Grice let lodgings and conducted shooting parties; turned with a shiver from the
contemplation of two atrocious oleographs, a church calendar pinned upon the wall, and a
battered map of the neighbourhood, back to the table at which he had been seated. He
selected a cigarette and lit it. Presently he began to talk to himself, a habit which had
grown upon him during the latter years of a life whose secret had entailed a certain
amount of solitude.
"Perhaps," he murmured, "I am psychic. Nevertheless, I am convinced that something is
happening, something not far away."
He stood for a while, listening intently, the cigarette burning away between his fingers.
Then, stooping a little, he passed out into the narrow passage and opened the door into
the kitchen behind, from which the woman who came to minister to their wants had some
time ago departed. Everything was in order here and spotlessly neat. He climbed the
narrow staircase, looked in at Furley's room and his own, and at the third apartment, in
which had been rigged up a temporary bath. The result was unilluminating. He turned and
descended the stairs.
"Either," he went on, with a very slight frown, "I am not psychic, or whatever may be
happening is happening out of doors."
He raised the latch of the door, under which a little pool of water was now standing, and
leaned out. There seemed to be a curious cessation of immediate sounds. From
somewhere straight ahead of him, on the other side of that black velvet curtain of
darkness, came the dull booming of the wind, tearing across the face of the marshes; and
beyond it, beating time in a rhythmical sullen roar, the rise and fall of the sea upon the
shingle. But near at hand, for some reason, there was almost silence. The rain had ceased,
the gale for a moment had spent itself. The strong, salty moisture was doubly refreshing
after the closeness of the small, lamplit room. Julian lingered there for several moments.
"Nothing like fresh air," he muttered, "for driving away fancies."
Then he suddenly stiffened. He leaned forward into the dark, listening. This time there
was no mistake. A cry, faint and pitiful though it was, reached his ears distinctly.