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The Mayor's Wife

6. At The Stair-Head
I spent the evening alone. Mrs. Packard went to the theater with friends and
Mayor Packard attended a conference of politicians. I felt my loneliness, but
busied myself trying to sift the impressions made upon me by the different
members of the household.
It consisted, as far as my present observation went, of seven persons, the three
principals and four servants. Of the servants I had seen three, the old butler, the
nurse, and the housemaid, Ellen. I now liked Ellen; she appeared equally alive
and trustworthy; of the butler I could not say as much. He struck me as secretive.
Also, he had begun to manifest a certain antagonism to myself. Whence sprang
this antagonism? Did it have its source in my temperament, or in his? A question
possibly not worth answering and yet it very well might be. Who could know?
Pondering this and other subjects, I remained in my cozy little room up-stairs, till
the clock verging on to twelve told me that it was nearly time for Mrs. Packard's
return.
Hardly knowing my duties as yet, or what she might expect of me, I kept my door
open, meaning to speak to her when she came in. The thought had crossed my
mind that she might not return at all, but remain away with her friends. Some fear
of this kind had been in Mr. Packard's mind and naturally found lodgment in
mine. I was therefore much relieved when, sharp on the stroke of midnight, I
heard the front door-bell ring, followed by the sound of her voice speaking to the
old butler. I thought its tone more cheer ful than before she went out. At all
events, her face had a natural look when, after a few minutes' delay, she came
upstairs and stepped into the nursery-a room on the same floor as mine, but
nearer the stair-head.
From what impulse did I put out my light? I think now, on looking back, that I
hoped to catch a better glimpse of her face when she came out again, and so be
in a position to judge whether her anxiety or secret distress was in any special
way connected with her child. But I forgot the child and any motive of this kind
which I may have had; for when Mrs. Packard did reappear in the hall, there rang
up from some place below a laugh, so loud and derisive and of so raucous and
threatening a tone that Mrs. Packard reeled with the shock and I myself was
surprised in spite of my pride and usual impassibility. This, had it been all, would
not be worth the comment. But it was not all. Mrs. Packard did not recover from
the shock as I expected her to. Her fine figure straightened itself, it is true, but
only to sink again lower and lower, till she clung crouching to the stair-rail at
which she had caught for support, while her eyes, turning slowly in her head,
moved till they met mine with that unseeing and glassy stare which speaks of a
soul-piercing terror--not fear in any ordinary sense, but terror which lays bare the
soul and allows one to see into depths which--
 
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