The Siege of Kemps House
KEMP READ A strange missive, written in pencil on a greasy sheet of paper.
“You have been amazingly energetic and clever,” this letter ran, “though what you stand to gain by it I cannot imagine. You are against me. For a whole day you have chased me; you have tried to rob me of a night's rest. But I have had food in spite of you, I have slept in spite of you, and the game is only beginning. The game is only beginning. There is nothing for it, but to start the Terror. This announces the first day of the Terror. Port Burdock is no longer under the Queen, tell your Colonel of Police, and the rest of them; it is under me—the Terror! This is day one of year one of the new epoch—the Epoch of the Invisible Man. I am Invisible Man the First. To begin with the rule will be easy. The first day there will be one execution for the sake of example—a man named Kemp. Death starts for him to-day. He may lock himself away, hide himself away, get guards about him, put on armour if he likes—Death, the unseen Death, is coming. Let him take precautions; it will impress my people. Death starts from the pillar box by midday. The letter will fall in as the postman comes along, then off! The game begins. Death starts. Help him not, my people, lest Death fall upon you also. To-day Kemp is to die.”
When Kemp read this letter twice, “It's no hoax,” he said. “That's his voice! And he means it.”
He turned the folded sheet over and saw on the addressed side of it the postmark Hintondean, and the prosaic detail “2d. to pay.”
He got up slowly, leaving his lunch unfinished—the letter had come by the one o'clock post—and went into his study. He rang for his housekeeper, and told her to go round the house at once, examine all the fastenings of the windows, and close all the shutters. He closed the shutters of his study himself. From a locked drawer in his bedroom he took a little revolver, examined it carefully, and put it into the pocket of his lounge jacket. He wrote a number of brief notes, one to Colonel Adye, gave them to his servant to take, with explicit instructions as to her way of leaving the house. “There is no danger,” he said, and added a mental reservation, “to you.” He remained meditative for a space after doing this, and then returned to his cooling lunch.
He ate with gaps of thought. Finally he struck the table sharply. “We will have him!” he said; “and I am the bait. He will come too far.”
He went up to the belvedere, carefully shutting every door after him. “It's a game,” he said, “an odd game—but the chances are all for me, Mr. Griffin, in spite of your invisibility. Griffin contra mundum…with a vengeance.”
He stood at the window staring at the hot hillside. “He must get food every day—and I don't envy him. Did he really sleep last night? Out in the open somewhere—secure from collisions. I wish we could get some good cold wet weather instead of the heat.
“He may be watching me now.”
He went close to the window. Something rapped smartly against the brickwork over the frame, and made him start violently back.
“I'm getting nervous,” said Kemp. But it was five minutes before he went to the window again. “It must have been a sparrow,” he said.
Presently he heard the front-door bell ringing, and hurried downstairs. He unbolted and unlocked the door, examined the chain, put it up, and opened cautiously without showing himself. A familiar voice hailed him. It was Adye.
“Your servant's been assaulted, Kemp,” he said round the door.
“What!” exclaimed Kemp.
“Had that note of yours taken away from her. He's close about here. Let me in.”
Kemp released the chain, and Adye entered through as narrow an opening as possible. He stood in the hall, looking with infinite relief at Kemp refastening the door. “Note was snatched out of her hand. Scared her horribly. She's down at the station. Hysterics. He's close here. What was it about?”
“What a fool I was,” said Kemp. “I might have known. It's not an hour's walk from Hintondean. Already?”
“What's up?” said Adye.
“Look here!” said Kemp, and led the way into his study. He handed Adye the Invisible Man's letter. Adye read it and whistled softly. “And you—?” said Adye.
“Proposed a trap—like a fool,” said Kemp, “and sent my proposal out by a maid servant. To him.”
Adye followed Kemp's profanity.
“He'll clear out,” said Adye.
“Not he,” said Kemp.
A resounding smash of glass came from upstairs. Adye had a silvery glimpse of a little revolver half out of Kemp's pocket. “It's a window, upstairs!” said Kemp, and led the way up. There came a second smash while they were still on the staircase. When they reached the study they found two of the three windows smashed, half the room littered with splintered glass, and one big flint lying on the writing table. The two men stopped in the doorway, contemplating the wreckage. Kemp swore again, and as he did so the third window went with a snap like a pistol, hung starred for a moment, and collapsed in jagged, shivering triangles into the room.
“What's this for?” said Adye.
“It's a beginning,” said Kemp.
“There's no way of climbing up here?”
“Not for a cat,” said Kemp.
“Not here. All the downstairs rooms—Hullo!”
Smash, and then whack of boards hit hard came from downstairs. “Confound him!” said Kemp. “That must be—yes—it's one of the bedrooms. He's going to do all the house. But he's a fool. The shutters are up, and the glass will fall outside. He'll cut his feet.”
Another window proclaimed its destruction. The two men stood on the landing perplexed. “I have it!” said Adye. “Let me have a stick or something, and I'll go down to the station and get the bloodhounds put on. That ought to settle him! They're hard by—not ten minutes—”
Another window went the way of its fellows.
“You haven't a revolver?” asked Adye.
Kemp's hand went to his pocket. Then he hesitated. “I haven't one—at least to spare.”
“I'll bring it back,” said Adye, “you'll be safe here.”
Kemp, ashamed of his momentary lapse from truthfulness, handed him the weapon.
“Now for the door,” said Adye.
As they stood hesitating in the hall, they heard one of the first-floor bedroom windows crack and clash. Kemp went to the door and began to slip the bolts as silently as possible. His face was a little paler than usual. “You must step straight out,” said Kemp. In another moment Adye was on the doorstep and the bolts were dropping back into the staples. He hesitated for a moment, feeling more comfortable with his back against the door. Then he marched, upright and square, down the steps. He crossed the lawn and approached the gate. A little breeze seemed to ripple over the grass. Something moved near him. “Stop a bit,” said a Voice, and Adye stopped dead and his hand tightened on the revolver.
“Well?” said Adye, white and grim, and every nerve tense.
“Oblige me by going back to the house,” said the Voice, as tense and grim as Adye's.
“Sorry,” said Adye a little hoarsely, and moistened his lips with his tongue. The Voice was on his left front, he thought. Suppose he were to take his luck with a shot?
“What are you going for?” said the Voice, and there was a quick movement of the two, and a flash of sunlight from the open lip of Adye's pocket.
Adye desisted and thought. “Where I go,” he said slowly, “is my own business.” The words were still on his lips, when an arm came round his neck, his back felt a knee, and he was sprawling backward. He drew clumsily and fired absurdly, and in another moment he was struck in the mouth and the revolver wrested from his grip. He made a vain clutch at a slippery limb, tried to struggle up and fell back. “Damn!” said Adye. The Voice laughed. “I'd kill you now if it wasn'tt the waste of a bullet,” it said. He saw the revolver in mid-air, six feet off, covering him.
“Well?” said Adye, sitting up.
“Get up,” said the Voice.
Adye stood up.
“Attention,” said the Voice, and then fiercely, “Don't try any games. Remember I can see your face if you can't see mine. You've got to go back to the house.”
“He won't let me in,” said Adye.
“That's a pity,” said the Invisible Man. “I've got no quarrel with you.”
Adye moistened his lips again. He glanced away from the barrel of the revolver and saw the sea far off very blue and dark under the midday sun, the smooth green down, the white cliff of the Head, and the multitudinous town, and suddenly he knew that life was very sweet. His eyes came back to this little metal thing hanging between heaven and earth, six yards away. “What am I to do?” he said sullenly.
“What am I to do?” asked the Invisible Man. “You will get help. The only thing is for you to go back.”
“I will try. If he lets me in will you promise not to rush the door?”
“I've got no quarrel with you,” said the Voice.
Kemp had hurried upstairs after letting Adye out, and now crouching among the broken glass and peering cautiously over the edge of the study window sill, he saw Adye stand parleying with the Unseen. “Why doesn't he fire?” whispered Kemp to himself. Then the revolver moved a little and the glint of the sunlight flashed in Kemp's eyes. He shaded his eyes and tried to see the source of the blinding beam.
“Surely!” he said, “Adye has given up the revolver.”
“Promise not to rush the door,” Adye was saying. “Don't push a winning game too far. Give a man a chance.”
“You go back to the house. I tell you flatly I will not promise anything.”
Adye's decision seemed suddenly made. He turned towards the house, walking slowly with his hands behind him. Kemp watched him—puzzled. The revolver vanished, flashed again into sight, vanished again, and became evident on a closer scrutiny as a little dark object following Adye. Then things happened very quickly. Adye leapt backwards, swung round, clutched at this little object, missed it, threw up his hands and fell forward on his face, leaving a little puff of blue in the air. Kemp did not hear the sound of the shot. Adye writhed, raised himself on one arm, fell forward, and lay still.
For a space Kemp remained staring at the quiet carelessness of Adye's attitude. The afternoon was very hot and still, nothing seemed stirring in all the world save a couple of yellow butterflies chasing each other through the shrubbery between the house and the road gate. Adye lay on the lawn near the gate. The blinds of all the villas down the hill-road were drawn, but in one little green summer-house was a white figure, apparently an old man asleep. Kemp scrutinised the surroundings of the house for a glimpse of the revolver, but it had vanished. His eyes came back to Adye. The game was opening well.
Then came a ringing and knocking at the front door, that grew at last tumultuous, but pursuant to Kemp's instructions the servants had locked themselves into their rooms. This was followed by a silence. Kemp sat listening and then began peering cautiously out of the three windows, one after another. He went to the staircase head and stood listening uneasily. He armed himself with his bedroom poker, and went to examine the interior fastenings of the ground-floor windows again. Everything was safe and quiet. He returned to the belvedere. Adye lay motionless over the edge of the gravel just as he had fallen. Coming along the road by the villas were the housemaid and two policemen.
Everything was deadly still. The three people seemed very slow in approaching. He wondered what his antagonist was doing.
He started. There was a smash from below. He hesitated and went downstairs again. Suddenly the house resounded with heavy blows and the splintering of wood. He heard a smash and the destructive clang of the iron fastenings of the shutters. He turned the key and opened the kitchen door. As he did so, the shutters, split and splintering, came flying inward. He stood aghast. The window frame, save for one crossbar, was still intact, but only little teeth of glass remained in the frame. The shutters had been driven in with an axe, and now the axe was descending in sweeping blows upon the window frame and the iron bars defending it. Then suddenly it leapt aside and vanished. He saw the revolver lying on the path outside, and then the little weapon sprang into the air. He dodged back. The revolver cracked just too late, and a splinter from the edge of the closing door flashed over his head. He slammed and locked the door, and as he stood outside he heard Griffin shouting and laughing. Then the blows of the axe with its splitting and smashing consequences, were resumed.
Kemp stood in the passage trying to think. In a moment the Invisible Man would be in the kitchen. This door would not keep him a moment, and then—
A ringing came at the front door again. It would be the policemen. He ran into the hall, put up the chain, and drew the bolts. He made the girl speak before he dropped the chain, and the three people blundered into the house in a heap, and Kemp slammed the door again.
“The Invisible Man!” said Kemp. “He has a revolver, with two shots—left. He's killed Adye. Shot him anyhow. Didn't you see him on the lawn? He's lying there.”
“Who?” said one of the policemen.
“Adye,” said Kemp.
“We came in the back way,” said the girl.
“What's that smashing?” asked one of the policemen.
“He's in the kitchen—or will be. He has found an axe—”
Suddenly the house was full of the Invisible Man's resounding blows on the kitchen door. The girl stared towards the kitchen, shuddered, and retreated into the dining-room. Kemp tried to explain in broken sentences. They heard the kitchen door give.
“This way,” said Kemp, starting into activity, and bundled the policemen into the dining-room doorway.
“Poker,” said Kemp, and rushed to the fender. He handed the poker he had carried to the policeman and the dining-room one to the other. He suddenly flung himself backward.
“Whup!” said one policeman, ducked, and caught the axe on his poker. The pistol snapped its penultimate shot and ripped a valuable Sidney Cooper. The second policeman brought his poker down on the little weapon, as one might knock down a wasp, and sent it rattling to the floor.
At the first clash the girl screamed, stood screaming for a moment by the fireplace, and then ran to open the shutters—possibly with an idea of escaping by the shattered window.
The axe receded into the passage, and fell to a position about two feet from the ground. They could hear the Invisible Man breathing. “Stand away, you two,” he said. “I want that man Kemp.”
“We want you,” said the first policeman, making a quick step forward and wiping with his poker at the Voice. The Invisible Man must have started back, and he blundered into the umbrella stand.
Then, as the policeman staggered with the swing of the blow he had aimed, the Invisible Man countered with the axe, the helmet crumpled like paper, and the blow sent the man spinning to the floor at the head of the kitchen stairs. But the second policeman, aiming behind the axe with his poker, hit something soft that snapped. There was a sharp exclamation of pain and then the axe fell to the ground. The policeman wiped again at vacancy and hit nothing; he put his foot on the axe, and struck again. Then he stood, poker clubbed, listening intent for the slightest movement.
He heard the dining-room window open, and a quick rush of feet within. His companion rolled over and sat up, with the blood running down between his eye and ear. “Where is he?” asked the man on the floor.
“Don't know. I've hit him. He's standing somewhere in the hall. Unless he's slipped past you. Doctor Kemp—sir.”
“Doctor Kemp,” cried the policeman again.
The second policeman began struggling to his feet. He stood up. Suddenly the faint pad of bare feet on the kitchen stairs could be heard. “Yap!” cried the first policeman, and incontinently flung his poker. It smashed a little gas bracket.
He made as if he would pursue the Invisible Man downstairs. Then he thought better of it and stepped into the dining-room.
“Doctor Kemp—” he began, and stopped short—
“Doctor Kemp's in here,” he said, as his companion looked over his shoulder.
The dining-room window was wide open, and neither housemaid nor Kemp was to be seen.
The second policeman's opinion of Kemp was terse and vivid.