The Secret of the Night
7. Arsenate Of Soda
The mysterious hand held a phial and poured the entire contents into the potion. Then the
hand withdrew as it had come, slowly, prudently, slyly, and the key turned in the lock and
the bolt slipped back into place.
Like a wolf, Rouletabille, warning Matrena for a last time not to budge, gained the
landing-place, bounded towards the stairs, slid down the banister right to the veranda,
crossed the drawing-room like a flash, and reached the little sitting-room without having
jostled a single piece of furniture. He noticed nothing, saw nothing. All around was
undisturbed and silent.
The first light of dawn filtered through the blinds. He was able to make out that the only
closed door was the one to Natacha's chamber. He stopped before that door, his heart
beating, and listened. But no sound came to his ear. He had glided so lightly over the
carpet that he was sure he had not been heard. Perhaps that door would open. He waited.
In vain. It seemed to him there was nothing alive in that house except his heart. He was
stifled with the horror that he glimpsed, that he almost touched, although that door
remained closed. He felt along the wall in order to reach the window, and pulled aside the
curtain. Window and blinds of the little room giving on the Neva were closed. The bar of
iron inside was in its place. Then he went to the passage, mounted and descended the
narrow servants' stairway, looked all about, in all the rooms, feeling everywhere with
silent hands, assuring himself that no lock had been tampered with. On his return to the
veranda, as he raised his head, he saw at the top of the main staircase a figure wan as
death, a spectral apparition amid the shadows of the passing night, who leaned toward
him. It was Matrena Petrovna. She came down, silent as a phantoms and he no longer
recognized her voice when she demanded of him, "Where? I require that you tell me.
"I have looked everywhere," he said, so low that Matrena had to come nearer to
understand his whisper. "Everything is shut tight. And there is no one about."
Matrena looked at Rouletabille with all the power of her eyes, as though she would
discover his inmost thoughts, but his clear glance did not waver, and she saw there was
nothing he wished to hide. Then Matrena pointed her finger at Natacha's chamber.
"You have not gone in there?" she inquired.
He replied, "It is not necessary to enter there."
"I will enter there, myself, nevertheless," said she, and she set her teeth.
He barred her way with his arms spread out.
"If you hold the life of someone dear," said he, "don't go a step farther."