The City of Fire (Chapter 9, page 2 of 9)


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Chapter 9

Such thoughts poured a torrent of hot fire through his brain while his
cold fingers gripped the door knob, and slowly, fiercely, compellingly,
made it turn in its socket till its rusty old spring whined in
complaint, and then he held his breath to listen again. It seemed an
age before he dared put any weight upon that unlatched door to see if
it would move, and then he did it so cautiously that he was not sure it
was opening till a ray of light from a high little window shot into his
eyes and blinded him. He held the knob like a vise, and it was another
age before he dared slowly release the spring and relax his hand. Then
he looked around. He found himself in a kind of narrow butler's pantry
with a swinging door opposite him into the room at the back, and a
narrow passage leading around the corner next the door. He peeked
cautiously, blinkingly round the door jamb and saw the lower step of
what must be back stairs. There were no back stairs in Aunt Saxon's
house, but before his mother died Billy Gaston had lived in the city
where they always had back stairs. That door before him likely led to
the dining-room. He took a careful step, pushed the swing door half an
inch and satisfied himself that was the kitchen at the back. No one
there. Another step or two gave him the same assurance about the
dining-room and no one there. He surveyed the distance to the foot of
the back stairs. It seemed long. What he was afraid of was that light
space at the foot of those stairs. He was almost sure there was a hall
straight through to the front door, and he had a hunch that that front
door was open. If he passed the steps and anyone was there they would
see him, and yet he wanted to get up those stairs now, right away,
before anything more happened. It was too still up there to suit him.
With trembling fingers he untied his shoe strings, and slipped off his
shoes, knotting the strings together and slinging the shoes around his
neck. He was taking no chances. He gripped the revolver with one hand
and stole out cautiously. When he reached the end of the dining-room
wall he applied an eye toward the opening of light, and behold it was
as he had suspected, a hall leading straight through to the front door,
and Shorty, with his full length profile cut clear against the morning,
standing on the upper step keeping lookout! He dodged back and caught
his breath, then made a noiseless dart toward those stairs. If Shorty
heard, or if he turned and saw anything he must have thought it was the
reported ghost walking, so silently and like a breath passed Billy up
the stair. But when he was come to the top, he held his breath again,
for now he could distinctly hear steps walking about in the room close
at hand, and peering up he saw the door was open part way. He paused
again to reconnoitre and his heart set up an intolerable pounding in
his breast.

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