Page:The Yellow Book - 04.djvu/273

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By Marion Hepworth Dixon

eyes—for she dreaded with an unaccountable dread that shrouded something on the bed—she leant her elbow on one of the upper panels, and with the stealthy movement of a cat slipped inside. An insatiable desire mastered her. The nervous hands twitched, her eyes travelled hungrily from one object to another, round the room. It was his room. The room in which he had slept, and lived, and died . . . . in it there must be something which he had used, that he had touched, and handled, that she could seize and call her own?

But the mortuary chamber wore that rigid, unfathomable look peculiar to rooms where the dead lie. Everything had been tidied, straightened; the dressing-table was bare, the books, papers, even the medicine-bottles had been cleared away. His favourite armchair—the chair, she remembered with a shiver, in which he had died—had been ranged stiffly, itself a dead thing, against the wall. There was no trace of life, or suggestion of it, in an emptiness which ached. Mrs. Rathbourne gazed at the mechanically arranged furniture in a baffled way, dimly realising that the soul of the room had fled from it, as it had from the body of the man she loved. Nothing remained but the shell. The kindly, loyal, and withal quaintly sarcastic man, who had struggled with disease within those four walls, had been posed, too, in the foolishly conventional attitude of the dead, the white sheet transforming the body into the mere shapeless outline of a man. He was hidden, covered up, put away, as he would soon be beneath the earth, to be forgotten.

Mrs. Rathbourne drew near the bed, holding the feeble light aloft with a trembling hand. With dilated eyes she stooped over the shrouded thing, and then, when about to raise the coverlid, fell back, as earlier in the evening, with a renewed sense of horror. Her pulse leapt, and then seemed to cease altogether. The strange-