The Oakdale Affair

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 37

counterpart of himself, for the slender Bridge was muscled as
a Greek god, while the stocky Byrne, metamorphosed by the fire of a
woman's love, possessed all the chivalry of the care free tramp whose
vagabondage had never succeeded in submerging the evidences of his
cultural birthright.

In the youth Bridge found an intellectual equal with the added charm
of a physical dependent. The man did not attempt to fathom the evident
appeal of the other's tacitly acknowledged cowardice; he merely knew
that he would not have had the youth otherwise if he could have
changed him. Ordinarily he accepted male cowardice with the resignation
of surfeited disgust; but in the case of The Oskaloosa Kid he realized a
certain artless charm which but tended to strengthen his liking for the
youth, so brazen and unaffected was the boy's admission of his terror of
both the real and the unreal menaces of this night of horror.

That the girl also was well bred was quite evident to Bridge, while both
the girl and the youth realized the refinement of the strange companion
and protector which Fate had ordered for them, while they also saw
in one another social counterparts of themselves. Thus, as the night
dragged its slow course, the three came to trust each other more
entirely and to speculate upon the strange train of circumstances which
had brought them thus remarkably together--the thief, the murderer's
accomplice, and the vagabond.

It was during a period of thoughtful silence when the night was darkest
just before the dawn and the rain had settled to a dismal drizzle
unrelieved by lightning or by thunder that the five occupants of the
room were suddenly startled by a strange pattering sound from the
floor below. It was as the questioning fall of a child's feet upon the
uncarpeted boards in the room beneath them. Frozen to silent rigidity,
the five sat straining every faculty to catch the minutest sound from
the black void where the dead man lay, and as they listened there
came up to them, mingled with the inexplicable footsteps, the hollow
reverberation from the dank cellar--the hideous dragging of the
chain behind the nameless horror which had haunted them through the
interminable eons of the ghastly night.

Up, up, up it came toward the first floor. The pattering of the feet
ceased. The clanking rose until the five heard the scraping of the chain
against the door frame at the head of the cellar stairs. They heard it
pass across the floor toward the center of the room and then, loud
and piercing, there rang out against the

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