Read CHAPTER VII. - I ESCAPE FROM THE JEW’S HOUSE. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

It was Mr. Rodriguez.  He lay face downward and slantwise across the front of the hearth, with arms spread, fingers hooked, and his neck protruding from the collar of his dingy dressing-gown like a plucked fowl’s.  He had cast a slipper in falling, and the flesh of one heel showed through its rent stocking.  For a moment I supposed him in a fit; the next, I was recoiling towards the wall, away from a dark moist line which ran from under his left armpit and along the uneven boards to the far corner by the window, and there, under a disordered truckle-bed, spread itself in a pool.

With my eyes glued upon this horrid sight I slowly straightened myself up ­having crouched back until I felt the wall behind me ­and so grew aware of a door beside the chimney-breast, and that it stood ajar upon the empty landing.  The dead man’s heels pointed towards it, his head towards the window at the foot of the bed.

And still my shaken wits could not clutch at the meaning of what I saw.  I only felt that there was something horrible, menacing, hideously malignant in the figure at my feet:  only craved for strength of will to dash by it, reach the door and fling myself down the stairs ­anywhere ­away from it.  Had it stirred, I believe it had then and there destroyed my reason.

But it did not stir.  And all the while I knew that the thing lay with its breast in a bath of blood; that it had been stabbed in the back and the blood welling down under the clothes had gathered in a pool, ready to gush and spread on all sides as soon as the body should be lifted or its attitude interfered with.  I cannot tell how I found time to reason this out; but I did.

I knew, too, that I could not scream aloud if I tried:  but I had no desire to try. It might wake and lift up its head!  I felt backwards with my hand along the wall, groping unconsciously for something to aid my spring towards the door; but desisted.  For the moment I could not lift a foot.

With that ­either this was all a dream or I heard footsteps on the flat roof outside; very slow, soft footsteps, too, as of somebody walking on tiptoe.  But if on tiptoe, why was he coming towards me?  Yet so it was; my ear told me distinctly.

As his feet crunched the leads close outside the window I caught a gleam of scarlet; then the frame grew dark between me and the daylight, and through the pane a man peered cautiously into the room.

It was Archibald Plinlimmon.

He peered in, turning his face sideways for a better view and shading it, after a moment, with his hand.  So shaded, and with the daylight behind it, his face after that first instant became an inscrutable blur.

But while he peered speech broke from me ­words and a wild laugh.

“Look at it!  Look at it!” I cried, and pointed.

He drew back instantly, and was gone.

“Don’t leave me!  Mr. Plinlimmon ­please don’t leave me!” I made a leap for the window ­halted helplessly ­and fell back again from the body.  I was alone again.  But power to move had come back, and I must use it while it lasted.  If I could gain the stairs now . . .

Stealthily, and more stealthily as the fear returned and grew, I reached the door, pushed it open, and looked out on the landing.  But for a worm-eaten trunk and a line of old suits dangling from pegs around the wall, it was bare.  The little light filtered through a cracked and discoloured window high up in the slope of the roof.  The stairhead lay a short two yards from me, to be reached by one bold leap.

This, however, was not what I first saw; nay, how or when I saw it is a wonder still.  For, across the landing, a door faced me; and, as I pushed mine open, this door had moved ­was moving yet, as if to shut.

It did not quite shut.  It came to a standstill when almost a foot ajar.  Beyond it I could see yet other suits of clothes hanging:  and among these lurked someone, watching me, perhaps, through the chink by the hinges.  I was sure of it ­was almost sure I had seen a hand on the edge of the door; a hand with a ring on one of its fingers, and just the edge, and no more, of a black cuff.

For perhaps five seconds I endured it, my hair lifting:  then, with one sharp scream I dashed back into the room and across the corpse; struggled for a moment with the window-sash; and flinging it up, dropped out upon the leads.

Out there, in the restorative sunshine, my first thought was to crawl away as fast and as far as possible; to reach some hiding-place where I might lie down and pant, unpursued by the horrors of that house.  The roofs on my right were flat; I staggered along them, halting at every few steps to lean a hand for support against one or other of the chimney-stacks, now growing warm in the sunshine.

From the far side of one, as I leaned clinging, a man sprang up, almost at my feet.  It was Archie Plinlimmon again.  He had been flattening himself against its shadow; and at first ­so white and fierce was his face ­I made sure he meant to hurl me over and on to the street below.

“What do you want?  What have you seen?” Though he spoke fiercely, his teeth chattered.  “Oh ­it’s you!” he exclaimed, recognising me through my soot.

“Mr. Plinlimmon ­” I began.

“I didn’t do it.  I didn’t ­” He broke off.  “For Heaven’s sake, how are we to get down out of this?”

“There’s no way on the street side,” I answered, “unless ­”

He took me up short.  “The street?  We can’t go that way ­it’s as much as my neck’s worth.  Yours, too.”

“Mr. Trapp’s waiting for me,” I answered stupidly.

“Who knows who isn’t waiting?” he snapped.  “We’ll have to cut out of this.”  He pointed downward on the side away from the street.  “I say, what happened?  Who did it, eh?”

“I slipped in the chimney,” I answered again.  “He wanted his chimneys swept this morning.  We knocked ­Mr. Trapp and I ­and no one answered:  then we tried the door, and it opened.  There was no one about, and no one in the street but Sergeant Letcher.”

He began to shake.  “Sergeant Letcher?  What do you know about Sergeant Letcher?”

“Nothing, except that he was in the street ­the man the bull chased, you know.”

He was shaking yet.  “I ought to kill you,” said he.  “But I didn’t do it.  Look here, show me a way down and I’ll let you off.  You’re used to this work, ain’t you?”

“How did you come up?” I asked, innocently enough.

“By the Lord, if you ask questions, I’ll strangle you!  You were in the room with ­with it!  I saw you:  I’ll swear I saw you.  Get me down out of this, and hide ­get on board some ship, and clear.  See?  If you breathe a word that you’ve seen me, I’ll cut your heart out.  You understand me?”

I hadn’t a doubt then that he was guilty.  His fear was too craven.  “There’s a warehouse at the end here,” said I, and led the way to it.  But when we reached it, its roof rose in a sharp slope from the low parapet guarding the leads where we stood.

“But I don’t see,” he objected; “and, anyway, I can’t manage that.”

I pointed to a louver skylight half-way up the roof.  “We can prise that open, or break it.  It’s easy enough to reach,” I assured him.

He was extraordinarily clumsy on the slates, but obeyed my instructions like a child.  I wrenched at the wooden louvers.

“Got a knife?” I asked.

He produced one ­an ugly-looking weapon, but clean.  By good luck, we did not need it; for as he passed it to me, the louver at which I was tugging broke and came away in my hand.  We easily loosened another and, squeezing through, dropped into the loft upon a sliding pile of grain.

The loft was dark enough; but a glimmer of light shone through the chinks of a door at the far end.  Unbolting it, we looked down, from the height of thirty feet or so, into a deserted lane.  Or rather I looked down:  for while I fumbled with the bolts Master Archie had banged his head into something hard, and dropped, rubbing the hurt and cursing.

It proved to be the timber cross-piece of a derrick used for hoisting sacks of grain into the loft, working on an axle, and now swung inboard for the night.  A double rope ran through the pulley at its end and had been hitched back over the iron winch which worked it.  We pushed the derrick out over the lane and I manned the winch handle, while Master Archie caught hold of the hook and pulley at the end of the double line.  Checking the handle with all my strength I lowered him as noiselessly as I could.  As his feet touched the cobbles below he let go and, without a thought of my safety, made off down the lane.

I tugged the derrick inboard and recaptured the rope; cogged the winch, swung out, dropped hand over hand into the lane, and raced up it with all the terrors of the law at my heels.