Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/112

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moment in all the period of waiting, he was sure of it, had there been the slightest sensation of fear. Van Mitten wondered at this, passively and coolly. Then he wondered at another thing–at a strange, regularly recurring sound which had suddenly penetrated his consciousness, and which seemed to be somewhere very near him.

He thought: "What extraordinary rhythm is this?"

But in a moment he understood. The sound was in his own body. It was in his own throat, in his own breathing. It was a phenomenon which he had read about, which he had even heard once or twice before, himself. It was the death-rattle.

"Well now!" he thought calmly. "So the death-agony has begun?"

The more he thought of it, the more surprized he was. He had supposed that the death-agony was invariably something very painful. But search through his consciousness as he might, he could not discover that he was suffering in the slightest.

In the meantime, the old nurse had awakened. Several other persons had come in–relatives and friends. The little bedroom was crowded with them. The dying man was still able to see, but he saw everything and everybody with perfect unruffled indifference. He was not clear about who all these visitors were. A sort of fog seemed to be coming over his vision. But he had no particular desire to recognize any of them. In this last moment of life, he was interested only in himself. One curious question held all his feeble attention, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and feelings: What was coming to him next? Nothing? Something? What?

His lips made a vague effort to frame the assurance, for himself alone:

"I shall know very soon–I shall know certainly–I shall know everything–everything——"

But the only visible and audible effect of his effort was an increase in the violence of the death-rattle. Someone who stood beside him murmured:

"Ah, how he is suffering!"

Van Mitten heard the words and would have been glad to make a sign that the speaker was mistaken; but he had not the power to move a muscle. His eyes grew dimmer and dimmer. And he noticed that his hearing was dulling.

Some time passed. Minutes. Many minutes. The dying man no longer saw anything at all, no longer heard anything. Then he had the sensation that he had made an entirely involuntary motion; it seemed to him that his hands had stirred as if to draw the bed-clothing up toward his face. His thoughts were full of confusion, but he remembered one thing distinctly:

"All, yes! my hands lay on the counter-pane–in front of me——"

He felt a resurgence of curiosity, and he began again to study his sensations and emotions. No, there was no doubt about it; he was not afraid. But his interest in his situation, in spite of the tenuous and as it were muted condition of his thinking faculties, seemed to grow keener and keener, as he felt that he was approaching nearer and nearer–it could only be a matter of seconds now–to the supreme moment. It was all very strange, almost unbelievable. For a moment, he felt a flash of incredulity that it could be he, and not someone else, that lay here on this bed, on the point of passing out of life. Well, his life had had a beginning, and it had to have an ending–that was logical, wasn't it?–Logical? Was it logical, after all?–Perhaps it wasn't so inevitable!–Was it true that his life had