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- In the Closed Room - 3/7 -
and don't want interfered with. I told the boss I thought the basement would seem like the Waldorf-Astoria to us. I tell you I was so glad I scarcely knew what to say."
Jane drew a long breath.
"A big house up there," she said. "And only one closed room in it. It's too good to be true!"
"Well, whether it's true or not we'll move out there to-morrow," Jem answered cheerfully. "To-morrow morning bright and early. The boss said the sooner the better."
A large house left deserted by those who have filled its rooms with emotions and life, expresses a silence, a quality all its own. A house unfurnished and empty seems less impressively silent. The fact of its devoidness of sound is upon the whole more natural. But carpets accustomed to the pressure of constantly passing feet, chairs and sofas which have held human warmth, draperies used to the touch of hands drawing them aside to let in daylight, pictures which have smiled back at thinking eyes, mirrors which have reflected faces passing hourly in changing moods, elate or dark or longing, walls which have echoed back voices--all these things when left alone seem to be held in strange arrest, as if by some spell intensifying the effect of the pause in their existence.
The child Judith felt this deeply throughout the entirety of her young being.
"How STILL it is," she said to her mother the first time they went over the place together.
"Well, it seems still up here--and kind of dead," Jane Foster replied with her habitual sociable half-laugh. "But seems to me it always feels that way in a house people's left. It's cheerful enough down in that big basement with all the windows open. We can sit in that room they've had fixed to play billiards in. We shan't hurt nothing. We can keep the table and things covered up. Tell you, Judy, this'll be different from last summer. The Park ain't but a few steps away an' we can go and sit there too when we feel like it. Talk about the country--I don't want no more country than this is. You'll be made over the months we stay here."
Judith felt as if this must veritably be a truth. The houses on either side of the street were closed for the summer. Their occupants had gone to the seaside or the mountains and the windows and doors were boarded up. The street was a quiet one at any time, and wore now the aspect of a street in a city of the dead. The green trees of the Park were to be seen either gently stirring or motionless in the sun at the side of the avenue crossing the end of it. The only token of the existence of the Elevated Railroad was a remote occasional hum suggestive of the flying past of a giant bee. The thing seemed no longer a roaring demon, and Judith scarcely recognized that it was still the centre of the city's rushing, heated life.
The owners of the house had evidently deserted it suddenly. The windows had not been boarded up and the rooms had been left in their ordinary condition. The furniture was not covered or the hangings swathed. Jem Foster had been told that his wife must put things in order.
The house was beautiful and spacious, its decorations and appointments were not mere testimonies to freedom of expenditure, but expressions of a dignified and cultivated thought. Judith followed her mother from room to room in one of her singular moods. The loftiness of the walls, the breadth and space about her made her, at intervals, draw in her breath with pleasure. The pictures, the colours, the rich and beautiful textures she saw brought to her the free--and at the same time soothed--feeling she remembered as the chief feature of the dreams in which she "fell awake." But beyond all other things she rejoiced in the height and space, the sweep of view through one large room into another. She continually paused and stood with her face lifted looking up at the pictured things floating on a ceiling above her. Once, when she had stood doing this long enough to forget herself, she was startled by her mother's laugh, which broke in upon the silence about them with a curiously earthly sound which was almost a shock.
"Wake up, Judy; have you gone off in a dream? You look all the time as if you was walking in your sleep."
"It's so high," said Judy. "Those clouds make it look like the sky."
"I've got to set these chairs straight," said Jane. "Looks like they'd been havin' a concert here. All these chairs together an' that part of the room clear."
She began to move the chairs and rearrange them, bustling about cheerfully and talking the while. Presently she stooped to pick something up.
"What's this," she said, and then uttered a startled exclamation. "Mercy! they felt so kind of clammy they made me jump. They HAVE had a party. Here's some of the flowers left fallen on the carpet."
She held up a cluster of wax-white hyacinths and large heavy rosebuds, faded to discoloration.
"This has dropped out of some set piece. It felt like cold flesh when I first touched it. I don't like a lot of white things together. They look too kind of mournful. Just go and get the wastepaper basket in the library, Judy. We'll carry it around to drop things into. Take that with you."
Judith carried the flowers into the library and bent to pick up the basket as she dropped them into it.
As she raised her head she found her eyes looking directly into other eyes which gazed at her from the wall. They were smiling from the face of a child in a picture. As soon as she saw them Judith drew in her breath and stood still, smiling, too, in response. The picture was that of a little girl in a floating white frock. She had a deep dimple at one corner of her mouth, her hanging hair was like burnished copper, she held up a slender hand with pointed fingers and Judith knew her. Oh! she knew her quite well. She had never felt so near any one else throughout her life.
"Judy, Judy!" Jane Foster called out. "Come here with your basket; what you staying for?"
Judith returned to her.
"We've got to get a move on," said Jane, "or we shan't get nothin' done before supper time. What was you lookin' at?"
"There's a picture in there of a little girl I know," Judith said. "I don't know her name, but I saw her in the Park once and--and I dreamed about her."
"Dreamed about her? If that ain't queer. Well, we've got to hurry up. Here's some more of them dropped flowers. Give me the basket."
They went through the whole house together, from room to room, up the many stairs, from floor to floor, and everywhere Judith felt the curious stillness and silence. It can not be doubted that Jane Foster felt it also.
"It is the stillest house I was ever in," she said. "I'm glad I've got you with me, Judy. If I was sole alone I believe it 'ud give me the creeps. These big places ought to have big families in them."
It was on the fourth floor that they came upon the Closed Room. Jane had found some of the doors shut and some open, but a turn of the handle gave entrance through all the unopened ones until they reached this one at the back on the fourth floor.
"This one won't open," Jane said, when she tried the handle. Then she shook it once or twice. "No, it's locked," she decided after an effort or two. "There, I've just remembered. There's one kept locked. Folks always has things they want locked up. I'll make sure, though."
She shook it, turned the handle, shook again, pressed her knee against the panel. The lock resisted all effort.
"Yes, this is the closed one," she made up her mind. "It's locked hard and fast. It's the closed one."
It was logically proved to be the closed one by the fact that she found no other one locked as she finished her round of the chambers.
Judith was a little tired before they had done their work. But her wandering pilgrimage through the large, silent, deserted house had been a revelation of new emotions to her. She was always a silent child. Her mind was so full of strange thoughts that it seemed unnecessary to say many words. The things she thought as she followed her from room to room, from floor to floor, until they reached the locked door, would have amazed and puzzled Jane Foster if she had known of their existence. Most of all, perhaps, she would have been puzzled by the effect the closed door had upon the child. It puzzled and bewildered Judith herself and made her feel a little weary.
She wanted so much to go into the room. Without in the least understanding the feeling, she was quite shaken by it. It seemed as if the closing of all the other rooms would have been a small matter in comparison with the closing of this one. There was something inside which she wanted to see--there was something--somehow there was something which wanted to see her. What a pity that the door was locked! Why had it been done? She sighed unconsciously several times during the evening, and Jane Foster thought she was tired.
"But you'll sleep cool enough to-night, Judy," she said. "And get a good rest. Them little breezes that comes rustling through the trees in the Park comes right along the street to us."
She and Jem Foster slept well. They spent the evening in the highest spirits and--as it seemed to them--the most luxurious comfort. The space afforded them by the big basement, with its kitchen and laundry and pantry, and, above all, the specially
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