Crime And Punishment Page-75

Crime And Punishment

house, here was the gate. Suddenly a clock somewhere struck once. “What! can it be half-past seven? Impossible, it must be fast!” Luckily for him, everything went well again at the gates. At that very moment, as though expressly for his benefit, a huge waggon of hay had just driven in at the gate, completely screening him as he passed under the gateway, and the waggon had scarcely had time to drive through into the yard, before he had slipped in a flash to the right. On the other side of the waggon he could hear shouting and quarrelling; but no one noticed him and no one met him. Many windows looking into that huge quadrangular yard were open at that moment, but he did not raise his head—he had not the strength to. The staircase leading to the old woman’s room was close by, just on the right of the gateway. He was already on the stairs.... Drawing a breath, pressing his hand against his throbbing heart, and once more feeling for the axe and setting it straight, he began softly and cautiously ascending the stairs, listening every minute. But the stairs, too, were quite deserted; all the doors were shut; he met no one. One flat indeed on the first floor was wide open and painters were at work in it, but they did not glance at him. He stood still, thought a minute and went on. “Of course it would be better if they had not been here, but... it’s two storeys above them.” And there was the fourth storey, here was the door, here was the flat opposite, the empty one. The flat underneath the old woman’s was apparently empty also; the visiting card nailed on the door had been torn off—they had gone away!... He was out of breath. For one instant the thought floated through his mind “Shall I go back?” But he made no answer and began listening at the old woman’s door, a dead silence. Then he listened again on the staircase, listened long and intently... then looked about him for the last time, pulled himself together, drew himself up, and once more tried the axe in the noose. “Am I very pale?” he wondered. “Am I not evidently agitated? She is mistrustful.... Had I better wait a little longer... till my heart leaves off thumping?” But his heart did not leave off. On the contrary, as though to spite him, it throbbed more and more violently. He could stand it no longer, he slowly put out his hand to the bell and rang. Half a minute later he rang again, more loudly. No answer. To go on ringing was useless and out of place. The old woman was, of course, at home, but she was suspicious and alone. He had some knowledge of her habits... and once more he put his ear to the door. Either his senses were peculiarly keen (which it is difficult to suppose), or the sound was really very distinct. Anyway, he suddenly heard something like the cautious touch of a hand on the lock and the rustle of a skirt at the very door. Someone