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The House Opposite
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1903
COPYRIGHT 1902 BY G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
Published, August, 1902 Reprinted, January, 1903; March, 1903; October, 1903
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
CHAPTER I PAGE THROUGH MY NEIGHBOUR'S WINDOWS 1
CHAPTER II I AM INVOLVED IN THE CASE 7
CHAPTER III A CORONER'S INQUEST 25
CHAPTER IV UNWILLING WITNESSES 36
CHAPTER V MRS. ATKINS HOLDS SOMETHING BACK 49
CHAPTER VI A LETTER AND ITS ANSWER 66
CHAPTER VII MR. MERRITT INSTRUCTS ME 72
CHAPTER VIII AN IDENTIFICATION 93
CHAPTER IX I INSTRUCT MR. MERRITT 107
CHAPTER X THE MISSING HAT 129
CHAPTER XI MADAME ARGOT'S MAD HUSBAND 148
CHAPTER XII A PROFESSIONAL VISIT OUT OF TOWN 160
CHAPTER XIII MR. AND MRS. ATKINS AT HOME 179
CHAPTER XIV MY HYSTERICAL PATIENT 198
CHAPTER XV A SUDDEN FLIGHT 208
CHAPTER XVI THAT TACTLESS DETECTIVE 220
CHAPTER XVII ONE WOMAN EXONERATED 231
CHAPTER XVIII THE TRUTH OF THE WHOLE MATTER 249
THE HOUSE OPPOSITE
THROUGH MY NEIGHBOUR'S WINDOWS
What I am about to relate occurred but a few years ago--in the summerof '99, in fact. You may remember that the heat that year was somethingfearful. Even old New Yorkers, inured by the sufferings of many summers,were overcome by it, and everyone who could, fled from the city. Onthe particular August day when this story begins, the temperature hadbeen even more unbearable than usual, and approaching night broughtno perceptible relief. After dining with Burton (a young doctor likemyself), we spent the evening wandering about town trying to discovera cool spot.
At last, thoroughly exhausted by our vain search, I decided to turn in,hoping to sleep from sheer fatigue; but one glance at my stuffy littlebedroom discouraged me. Dragging a divan before the window of the frontroom, I composed myself for the night with what resignation I couldmuster.
I found, however, that the light and noise from the street kept meawake; so, giving up sleep as a bad job, I decided to try my luck on theroof. Arming myself with a rug and a pipe, I stole softly upstairs. Itwas a beautiful starlight night, and after spreading my rug against achimney and lighting my pipe I concluded that things really might beworse.
Across the street loomed the great Rosemere apartment-house, and I notedwith surprise that, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour and ofthe season, several lights were still burning there. From two windowsdirectly opposite, and on a level with me, light filtered dimly throughlowered shades, and I wondered what possible motive people could havefor shutting out the little air there was on such a night. My neighboursmust be uncommonly suspicious, I thought, to fear observation from sounlikely a place as my roof; and yet that was the only spot from whichthey could by any chance be overlooked.
The only other light in the building shone clear and unobstructedthrough the open windows of the corresponding room two floors higher up.I was too far below to be able to look into this room, but I caught asuggestion of sumptuous satin hangings and could distinguish the tops ofheavy gilt frames and of some flowering plants and palms.
As I sat idly looking upwards at these latter windows, my attention wassuddenly arrested by the violent movement of one of the lace curtains.It was rolled into a cord by some unseen person who was presumably onthe floor, and then dragged across the window. A dark object, which Itook to be a human head, moved up and down among the palms, one of whichfell with an audible crash. At the same moment I heard a woman's voiceraised in a cry of terror. I leaped to my feet in great excitement, butnothing further occurred.
After a minute or so the curtain fell back into its accustomed folds,and I distinctly saw a man moving swiftly away from the windowsupporting on his shoulder a fair-haired woman. Soon afterwards thelights in this room were extinguished, to be followed almost immediatelyby the illumination of the floor above.
What I had just seen and heard would not have surprised me in atenement, but that such scenes could take place in a respectable houselike the Rosemere, inhabited largely by fashionable people, was indeedstartling. Who could the couple be? And what could have happened?Had the man, coming home drunk, proceeded to beat the woman and beenpartially sobered by her cry; or was the woman subject to hysteria, oreven insane? I remembered that the apartments were what are commonlyknown as double-deckers. That is to say: each one contained twofloors, connected by a private staircase--the living rooms below, thebedrooms above. So I concluded, from seeing a light in what was in allprobability a bedroom, that the struggle, or whatever the commotion hadbeen, was over, and that the victim and her assailant, or perhaps thepatient and her nurse, had gone quietly, and I trusted amicably, to bed.
Still ruminating over these different conjectures, I heard aneighbouring clock strike two. I now noticed for the first time signs oflife in the lower apartment which I first mentioned; shadows, reflectedon the blinds, moved swiftly to and fro, and, growing gigantic,vanished.
But not for long. Soon they reappeared, and the shades were at lastdrawn up. I had now an unobstructed view of the room, which proved tobe a drawing-room, as I had already surmised. It was dismantled for thesummer, and the pictures and furniture were hidden under brown holland.A man leant against the window with his head bowed down, in an attitudeexpressive of complete exhaustion or of great grief. It was too darkfor me to distinguish his features; but I noticed that he was tall anddark, with a youthful, athletic figure.
After standing there a few minutes, he turned away. His actions nowstruck me as most singular. He crawled on the floor, disappeared undersofas, and finally moved even the heavy pieces of furniture from theirplaces. However valuable the thing which he had evidently lost might be,yet 2 A.M. seemed hardly the hour in which to undertake a search for it.
Meanwhile, my attention had been a good deal distracted from the man byobserving a woman in one of the bedrooms of the floor immediately above,and consequently belonging to the same suite. When I first caught sightof her, the room was already ablaze with light and she was standing bythe window, gazing out into the darkness. At last, as if overcome by heremotions, she threw up her hands in a gesture of despair, and, kneelingdown with her elbows on the window sill, buried her head in her arms.Her hair was so dark that, as she knelt there against the light, it wasundistinguishable from her black dress.
I don't know how long she stayed in this position, but the man below hadgiven up his search and turned out the lights long before she moved.Finally, she rose slowly up, a tall black-robed figure, and disappearedinto the back of the room. I waited for some time hoping to see heragain, but as she remained invisible and nothing further happened, andthe approaching dawn held out hopes of a more bearable temperaturebelow, I decided to return to my divan; but the last thing I saw beforedescending was that solitary light, keeping its silent vigil in thegreat black building.