Is anyone ill?' I repeated these enquiries in Italian and in French, but there was none that answered. Fortunately I had some matches in my pocket and was able to light my candle. I then examined every pan of the room carefully, and especially the wall at the head of my bed, sounding it with my knuckles; it was firm and solid there, as in all other places. I unfastened my door, and explored the passage and the two adjoining rooms, which were unoccupied and almost destitute of furniture; they had evidently not been used for some time. Search as I would I could gain no clue to the mystery. Returning to my room I sat down upon the bed in great perplexity, and began to turn over in my mind whether it was possible I could have been deceived whether the sounds which caused me such distress might be the offspring of some dream or nightmare; but to that conclusion I could not bring myself at all, much as I wished it, for the groaning had continued ringing in my ears long after I was wide awake and conscious. While I was thus reflecting, having neglected to close the door which was opposite to the side of my bed where I was sitting, I heard a soft footstep at a distance, and presently a light appeared at the further end of the passage. Then I saw the shadow of a man east upon the opposite wall; it moved very slowly, and presently stopped. I saw the hand raised, as if making a sign to someone, and I knew from the fact of the shadow being thrown in advance that there must be a second person in the rear by whom the light was earned. After a short pause they seemed to retrace their steps, without my having had a glimpse of either of them, but only of the shadow which had come before and which followed them as they withdrew. It was then a little after one o'clock, and I concluded they were retiring late to rest, and anxious to avoid disturbing me, though I have since thought that it was the light from my room which caused their retreat. I felt half inclined to call to them, but I shrank, without knowing why, from making known what had disturbed me, and while I hesitated they were gone; so I fastened my door again, and resolved to sit up and watch a little longer by myself. But now my candle was beginning to burn low, and I found myself in this dilemma: either I must extinguish it at once, or I should be left without the means of procuring a light in ease I should be again disturbed. I regretted that I had not called for another candle while there were people yet moving in the house, but I could not do so now without making explanations; so I grasped my box of matches, put out my light, and lay down, not without a shudder, in the bed.
'For an hour or more I lay awake thinking over what had occurred, and by that time I had almost persuaded myself that I had nothing but my own morbid imagination to thank for the alarm whish I had suffered. 'It is an outer wall,' I said to myself; 'they are all outer walls, and the house is built of stone; it is impossible that any sound could be heard through such a thickness. Besides, it seemed to be in my room, close to my ear.
What an idiot I must be, to be excited and alarmed about nothing; I'll think no more about it.' So I turned on my side, with a smile (rather a forced one) at my own foolishness, and composed myself to sleep.
'At that instant I heard, with more distinctness than I ever heard any other sound in my life, a gasp, a voiceless gasp, as if someone were in agony for breath, biting at the air, or trying with desperate efforts to cry out or speak. It was repeated a second and a third time; then there was a pause; then again that horrible gasping; and then a long?drawn breath, an audible drawing up of the air into the throat, such as one would make in heaving a deep sigh. Such sounds as these could not possibly have been heard unless they had been close to my car; they seemed to come from the wall at my head, or to rise up out of my pillow. That fearful gasping, and that drawing in of the breath, in the darkness and silence of the night, seemed to make every nerve in my body thrill with dreadful expectation. Unconsciously I shrank away from it, crouching down as before, with my face upon my knees. It ceased, and immediately a moaning sound began, which lengthened out into an awful, protracted groan, waxing louder and louder, as if under an increasing agony, and then dying away slowly and gradually into silence; yet painfully and distinctly audible even to the last.
'As soon as I could rouse myself from the freezing horror which seemed to penetrate even to my joints and marrow, I crept away from the bed, and in the furthest corner of the room lighted with shaking hand my candle, looking anxiously about me as I did so, expecting some dreadful revelation as the light flashed up.
Yet, if you will believe me, I did not feel alarmed or frightened; but rather oppressed, and penetrated with an unnatural, overpowering, sentiment of awe. I seemed to be in the presence of some great and horrible mystery, some bottomless depth of woe, or misery, or crime. I shrank from it with a sensation of intolerable loathing and suspense. It was a feeling akin to this which prevented me from calling to my landlord. I could not bring myself to speak to him of what had passed; not knowing how nearly he might be himself involved in the mystery. I was only anxious to escape as quietly as possible from the room and from the house. The candle was now beginning to flicker in its socket, but the stars were shining outside, and there was space and air to breathe there, which seemed to be wanting in my room; so I hastily opened my window, tied the bedclothes together for a rope, and lowered myself silently and safely to the ground.