(By R.L. Stevenson)
Out I went into the night. The wind was still moaning in the distance, though never a breath of it came near the house of Shaws. It had fallen blacker than ever; and I was glad to feel along the wall, till I came the length of the stair-tower door at the far end of the unfinished wing. I had put the key into the keyhole and had just turned it, when all upon a sudden, without sound of wind or thunder, the whole sky lighted up with wild fire and went black again. I had to put my hand over my eyes to get back to the colour of the darkness; and indeed I was already half blinded when I stepped into the tower.
It was so dark inside but I pushed out with foot and hand, and presently struck the wall with the one, and the lowest step with the other. The wall, by the touch, was of fine hewn stone; the steps were steep and narrow. Minding my uncle’s word about the handrails, I kept close to the tower side and felt my way in the darkness with a beating heart.
The house of Shaws stood some five full storeys high, not counting lofts. Well, as I advanced, it seemed to me the air was getting fresher and the darkness began dispersing. I was wondering what might be the cause of this change, when a second blink of the summer lightning came and went. If I did not cry out, it was because fear had me by the throat; and if I did not fall, it was more by Heaven’s mercy than my own strength. A rapid flash was enough to notice that there were deep gaps between the tower wall and the stairs from both sides at that, and that one of my feet rested that moment within two inches of the gap.
This was the grand stair! A gust of a kind of angry courage came into my heart. My uncle had sent me here, certainly to run great risks, perhaps to die. I swore to find out if he had done that intentionally. The oath got me down upon my hands and knees; and as slowly as a snail, feeling before me every inch, and testing the solidity of every stone, I continued to ascend the stair. The darkness, by contrast with the flash, appeared to have redoubled. A great stir of bats in the top part of the tower flying downwards sometimes beat about my face and body.
The tower, I should have said, was square; and in every corner the step was made of a great stone of a different shape to join the flights. Well, I had come close to one of these turns, when, feeling forward as usual, my hand slipped upon an edge and found nothing but emptiness beyond it. The stair had been carried no higher; to make a stranger climb it in the darkness was to send him straight to his death; and (although, thanks to the lightning and my own precautions, I was safe enough) the mere thought of the dreadful height I might have fallen from, brought out the sweat upon my body and relaxed my joints.
But I knew what I wanted now, and turned and groped my way down again, with a wonderful anger in my heart. About half-way down, the wind sprang up in a clap and shook the tower, the rain followed; and before I had reached the ground level it fell in buckets. I put out my head into the storm, and looked along towards the house. A blinding flash showed me my uncle plainly. He couldn’t see me but was seized on by a kind of panic fear. He ran into the house and left the door open behind him. I followed as softly as I could, and, coming unheard into the kitchen, stood and watched him.
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The author was going to find out.
- if his uncle wanted him to die
- if his uncle wanted to help him
- if his uncle was somewhere near him
- if his uncle was crazy
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