The Woman in the Alcove
I must have remained insensible for many minutes, for when I returned to full
consciousness the supper-room was empty and the two hundred guests I had left seated at
table were gathered in agitated groups about the hall. This was what I first noted; not till
afterward did I realize my own situation. I was lying on a couch in a remote corner of this
same hall and beside me, but not looking at me, stood my lover, Mr. Durand.
How he came to know my state and find me in the general disturbance I did not stop to
inquire. It was enough for me at that moment to look up and see him so near. Indeed, the
relief was so great, the sense of his protection so comforting that I involuntarily stretched
out my hand in gratitude toward him, but, failing to attract his attention, slipped to the
floor and took my stand at his side. This roused him and he gave me a look which
steadied me, in spite of the thrill of surprise with which I recognized his extreme pallor
and a certain peculiar hesitation in his manner not at all natural to it.
Meanwhile, some words uttered near us were slowly making their way into my
benumbed brain. The waiter who had raised the first alarm was endeavoring to describe
to an importunate group in advance of us what he had come upon in that murderous
"I was carrying about a tray of ices," he was saying, "and seeing the lady sitting there,
went up. I had expected to find the place full of gentlemen, but she was all alone, and did
not move as I picked my way over her long train. The next moment I had dropped ices,
tray and all. I bad come face to face with her and seen that she was dead. She had been
stabbed and robbed. There was no diamond on her breast, but there was blood."
A hubbub of disordered sentences seasoned with horrified cries followed this simple
description. Then a general movement took place in the direction of the alcove, during
which Mr. Durand stooped to my ear and whispered:
"We must get out of this. You are not strong enough to stand such excitement. Don't you
think we can escape by the window over there?"
"What, without wraps and in such a snowstorm?" I protested. "Besides, uncle will be
looking for me. He came with me, you know."
An expression of annoyance, or was it perplexity, crossed Mr. Durand's face, and he
made a movement as if to leave me.
"I must go," he began, but stopped at my glance of surprise and assumed a different air--
one which became him very much better. "Pardon me, dear, I will take you to your uncle.
This--this dreadful tragedy, interrupting so gay a scene, has quite upset me. I was always
sensitive to the sight, the smell, even to the very mention of the word blood."
So was I, but not to the point of cowardice. But then I had not just come from an
interview with the murdered woman. Her glances, her smiles, the lift of her eyebrows
were not fresh memories to me. Some consideration was certainly due him for the shock
he must be laboring under. Yet I did not know how to keep back the vital question.