I was still in this resolved mood, when something happened one night which confirmed my worst suspicions, showing me how faithfully I had weighed and measured the character of the man posing as a benevolent guest in the house, the hospitality of which he was designing all the time, in some mysteriously villainous way, to abuse. On that night I had gone to bed rather late, outstaying, in fact, the entire family and household, whose early country ways my degenerate London habits found sometimes rather irksome. It was past midnight when I turned out the lights in the billiard room, and, taking a candle, made my way upstairs. There was a double flight rising from a pretty spacious hall, and both the Baron's room and my own gave upon the corridor wThich opened west from the first-floor landing. As I passed his door I noticed that a thread of light showed under it, proving him to be either still awake, or fallen asleep with his candle unextinguished. Which ? For some unaccountable reason a thrill of excitement overtook me. No sound came from behind the door; the whole house was dead quiet. I stooped to peer through the keyhole-a naked light burning beside one's bed is a dangerous thing-but the key being in the lock prevented my seeing anything. Soft-footed I went on-but not to sleep. I determined to sit up and listen in my own room for any possible developments. I don't know why it was, but my heart misgave me that there was some rascality afoot, and that I had only to wait patiently, and go warily, to unmask it. And I was not mistaken.
Time passed-enough to assure the watcher at last of my being long in bed and asleep--when I was aware of a stealthy sound in the corridor. All my blood leaped and tingled to the shock of it. I stole, and put my ear to my own keyhole; and at once the nature of the sound was made clear to me. He had noiselessly opened his door and come out into the passage, down which he was stealthily creeping in a direction away from me. I don't know how I recognized all this, but there is a language in profound stillness. When silence is at its deathliest, one can hear almost the way the earth is moving on its axis. I waited until I felt that he had turned the corner to the stairs, then, with infinite care, manipulated, a fraction at a time, the handle of my own door, and, slipping off my pumps, emerged and followed, hardly breathing, in pursuit.
At the opening to the stairs I paused discreetly, to give my quarry ' law,' and, with sovereign caution, peered round the corner-and saw him. He was in his pyjamas, and carried an electric torch in his hand, reminding me somehow, thus attired, of the actor Pellissier, only a little squatter in his build. He descended soundlessly, throwing the little beam of light before him, and, reaching the foot of the flight, turned to his left at the moment that I withdrew my head. But I could see from my eyrie the way he was going by the course of the travelling light, and I believed that he was making for Sir Calvin's study. And the next moment there came to my ears the tiniest confirmatory sound-the minute bat-like screak of a rusty door-handle. I had noticed that very day how the one in question needed oiling, and the evidence left me no longer in doubt. It was for the study he was bound, and with what sinister purpose? That remained to see; but I remembered the hidden safe in the room. I had happened upon it once when left alone there.
A minute I paused, to allow him time to settle to his business; then descended the stairs cat-footed. At the newel post, crowned with a great carved wyvern, the Kennett device, I stood to reconnoitre, pressing my face to the wood and looking round it with one eye. And at once I perceived that I neither could nor need venture further. He stood, sure enough, at the desk in the study, fairly revealed in the diffused glow from his torch, whose little brilliant facula was turned upon a litter of papers that lay before him. But the door of the room-he had left it so in his fancied security-stood wide open, precluding any thought of a closer espionage on my part. I could only stay where I was, concentrating all my vision on the event.
Suddenly he seemed to find what he sought, and I saw a paper in his hand. Something appeared to tell me at the same moment that he was about to return, and I yielded and-judging discretion, for the occasion, to be the better part of valour-went up the stairs on my hands and feet as fast as I could paddle, in a soft hurry to regain my room and extinguish the light before so much as the ghost of a suspicion could occur to him. It would not have served my purpose to face him then and there, and I had learnt as much as for the time being I needed. To have detected our worthy friend in a secret midnight raid on his host's papers was proof damning enough of the correctness of my judgment.
Listening intently, I heard him re-enter his room, as he had left it, with supreme caution. I was feeling a good deal agitated, and the moisture stood on my forehead. How was I to proceed; what course to take? My decision was not reached until after much debating within myself. It might be guided by the General's chance assertion that some important document had been lost or mislaid in his room, in which case I must act at once; but if, on the other hand, he made no such statement, it might very well be days or weeks before his loss were brought home to him. In that event I would say nothing about my discovery, trusting to lead the criminal on, through his sense of immunity, to further depredations. By then I might have acquired, what at present I lacked, some insight into the nature and meaning of his designs, holding the key to which I could face him with any discovery. No, I would not tell Sir Calvin as yet. In such a case premature exposure might very easily prove more futile than unsuspicion itself. The keystone being wanting, all one's structure might fall to pieces at the first test.
But what a stealthy villain it was ! As I recovered, it was-to plume myself a little, I confess, on my circumventing such a rogue. I would have given a good deal to know what was the character of the paper he had stolen. Hardly a draft, for such would not have been left about, not to speak of the crude futility of such a deed. No, there was some more subtle intention behind it--blackmail perhaps-but it was useless to speculate. He had not at least touched the safe, and that was so much to be thankful for.
Now I came to my resolution. I would speak to Sir Calvin on the subject when the moment was ripe, and not before: and then, having so far justified my remaining on as his guest, I would go. In the meanwhile I would make it my especial and individual province to expose this rascal, and thereby refute Audrey's detestable calumny of me as a sort of unpleasant eavesdropper and hanger-on. Perhaps she would learn to regret her insult when she saw in what fashion I had retaliated on it.