The Woman in the Alcove
I had gone up stairs for my wraps--my uncle having insisted on my withdrawing from a
scene where my very presence seemed in some degree to compromise me.
Soon prepared for my departure, I was crossing the hall to the small door communicating
with the side staircase where my uncle had promised to await me, when I felt myself
seized by a desire to have another look below before leaving the place in which were
centered all my deepest interests.
A wide landing, breaking up the main flight of stairs some few feet from the top, offered
me an admirable point of view. With but little thought of possible consequences, and no
thought at all of my poor, patient uncle, I slipped down to this landing, and, protected by
the unusual height of its balustrade, allowed myself a parting glance at the scene with
which my most poignant memories were henceforth to be connected.
Before me lay the large square of the central hall. Opening out from this was the corridor
leading to the front door, and incidentally to the library. As my glance ran down this
corridor, I beheld, approaching from the room just mentioned, the tall figure of the
He halted as he reached the main hall and stood gazing eagerly at a group of men and
women clustered near the fireplace--a group on which I no sooner cast my own eye than
my attention also became fixed.
The inspector had come from the room where I had left him with Mr. Durand and was
showing to these people the extraordinary diamond, which he had just recovered under
such remarkable if not suspicious circumstances. Young heads and old were meeting over
it, and I was straining my ears to hear such comments as were audible above the general
hubbub, when Mr. Grey made a quick move and I looked his way again in time to mark
his air of concern and the uncertainty he showed whether to advance or retreat.
Unconscious of my watchful eye, and noting, no doubt, that most of the persons in the
group on which his own eye was leveled stood with their backs toward him, he made no
effort to disguise his profound interest in the stone. His eye followed its passage from
hand to hand with a covetous eagerness of which he may not have been aware, and I was
not at all surprised when, after a short interval of troubled indecision, he impulsively
stepped forward and begged the privilege of handling the gem himself.
Our host, who stood not far from the inspector, said something to that gentleman which
led to this request being complied with. The stone was passed over to Mr. Grey, and I
saw, possibly because my heart was in my eyes, that the great man's hand trembled as it
touched his palm. Indeed, his whole frame trembled, and I was looking eagerly for the
result of his inspection when, on his turning to hold the jewel up to the light, something
happened so abnormal and so strange that no one who was fortunate (or unfortunate)
enough to be present in the house at that instant will ever forget it.
This something was a cry, coming from no one knew where, which, unearthly in its
shrillness and the power it had on the imagination, reverberated through the house and