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- In the Closed Room - 4/7 -
large room which had been used for billiard playing, supplied actual vistas. For the sake of convenience and coolness they used the billiard room as a dormitory, sleeping on light cots, and they slept with all their windows open, the little breezes wandering from among the trees of the Park to fan them. How they laughed and enjoyed themselves over their supper, and how they stretched themselves out with sighs of joy in the darkness as they sank into the cool, untroubled waters of deep sleep.
"This is about the top notch," Jem murmured as he lost his hold on the world of waking life and work.
But though she was cool, though she was undisturbed, though her body rested in absolute repose, Judith did not sleep for a long time. She lay and listened to the quietness. There was mystery in it. The footstep of a belated passer-by in the street woke strange echoes; a voice heard in the distance in a riotous shout suggested weird things. And as she lay and listened, it was as if she were not only listening but waiting for something. She did not know at all what she was waiting for, but waiting she was.
She lay upon her cot with her arms flung out and her eyes wide open. What was it that she wanted--that which was in the closed room? Why had they locked the door? If they had locked the doors of the big parlours it would not have mattered. If they had locked the door of the library--Her mind paused--as if for a moment, something held it still. Then she remembered that to have locked the doors of the library would have been to lock in the picture of the child with the greeting look in her eyes and the fine little uplifted hand. She was glad the room had been left open. But the room up-stairs--the one on the fourth floor--that was the one that mattered most of all. She knew that to-morrow she must go and stand at the door and press her cheek against the wood and wait--and listen. Thinking this and knowing that it must be so, she fell--at last--asleep.
Judith climbed the basement stairs rather slowly. Her mother was busy rearranging the disorder the hastily departing servants had left. Their departure had indeed been made in sufficient haste to have left behind the air of its having been flight. There was a great deal to be done, and Jane Foster, moving about with broom and pail and scrubbing brushes, did not dislike the excitement of the work before her. Judith's certainty that she would not be missed made all clear before her. If her absence was observed her mother would realize that the whole house lay open to her and that she was an undisturbing element wheresoever she was led either by her fancy or by circumstance. If she went into the parlours she would probably sit and talk to herself or play quietly with her shabby doll. In any case she would be finding pleasure of her own and would touch nothing which could be harmed.
When the child found herself in the entrance hall she stopped a few moments to look about her. The stillness seemed to hold her and she paused to hear and feel it. In leaving the basement behind, she had left the movement of living behind also. No one was alive upon this floor--nor upon the next--nor the next. It was as if one had entered a new world--a world in which something existed which did not express itself in sound or in things which one could see. Chairs held out their arms to emptiness--cushions were not pressed by living things--only the people in the pictures were looking at something, but one could not tell what they were looking at.
But on the fourth floor was the Closed Room, which she must go to--because she must go to it--that was all she knew.
She began to mount the stairs which led to the upper floors. Her shabby doll was held against her hip by one arm, her right hand touched the wall as she went, she felt the height of the wall as she looked upward. It was such a large house and so empty. Where had the people gone and why had they left it all at once as if they were afraid? Her father had only heard vaguely that they had gone because they had had trouble.
She passed the second floor, the third, and climbed towards the fourth. She could see the door of the Closed Room as she went up step by step, and she found herself moving more quickly. Yes, she must get to it--she must put her hand on it--her chest began to rise and fall with a quickening of her breath, and her breath quickened because her heart fluttered--as if with her haste. She began to be glad, and if any one could have seen her they would have been struck by a curious expectant smile in her eyes.
She reached the landing and crossed it, running the last few steps lightly. She did not wait or stand still a moment. With the strange expectant smile on her lips as well as in her eyes, she put her hand upon the door--not upon the handle, but upon the panel. Without any sound it swung quietly open. And without any sound she stepped quietly inside.
The room was rather large and the light in it was dim. There were no shutters, but the blinds were drawn down. Judith went to one of the windows and drew its blind up so that the look of the place might be clear to her. There were two windows and they opened upon the flat roof of an extension, which suggested somehow that it had been used as a place to walk about in. This, at least, was what Judith thought of at once--that some one who had used the room had been in the habit of going out upon the roof and staying there as if it had been a sort of garden. There were rows of flower pots with dead flowers in them--there were green tubs containing large shrubs, which were dead also--against the low parapet certain of them held climbing plants which had been trained upon it. Two had been climbing roses, two were clematis, but Judith did not know them by name. The ledge of the window was so low that a mere step took her outside. So taking it, she stood among the dried, withered things and looked in tender regret at them.
"I wish they were not dead," she said softly to the silence. "It would be like a garden if they were not dead."
The sun was hot, but a cool, little breeze seemed straying up from among the trees of the Park. It even made the dried leaves of the flowers tremble and rustle a little. Involuntarily she lifted her face to the blue sky and floating white clouds. They seemed so near that she felt almost as if she could touch them with her hand. The street seemed so far--so far below--the whole world seemed far below. If one stepped off the parapet it would surely take one a long time to reach the earth. She knew now why she had come up here. It was so that she might feel like this--as if she was upheld far away from things--as if she had left everything behind--almost as if she had fallen awake again. There was no perfume in the air, but all was still and sweet and clear.
Suddenly she turned and went into the room again, realizing that she had scarcely seen it at all and that she must see and know it. It was not like any other room she had seen. It looked more simple, though it was a pretty place. The walls were covered with roses, there were bright pictures, and shelves full of books. There was also a little writing desk and there were two or three low chairs, and a low table. A closet in a corner had its door ajar and Judith could see that inside toys were piled together. In another corner a large doll's house stood, looking as if some one had just stopped playing with it. Some toy furniture had been taken out and left near it upon the carpet.
"It was a little girl's room," Judith said. "Why did they close it?"
Her eye was caught by something lying on a sofa--something covered with a cloth. It looked almost like a child lying there asleep--so fast asleep that it did not stir at all. Judith moved across to the sofa and drew the cloth aside. With its head upon a cushion was lying there a very large doll, beautifully dressed in white lace, its eyes closed, and a little wreath of dead flowers in its hair.
"It looks almost as if it had died too," said Judith.
She did not ask herself why she said "as if it had died too"--perhaps it was because the place was so still--and everything so far away--that the flowers had died in the strange, little deserted garden on the roof.
She did not hear any footsteps--in fact, no ghost of a sound stirred the silence as she stood looking at the doll's sleep--but quite quickly she ceased to bend forward, and turned round to look at something which she knew was near her. There she was--and it was quite natural she should be there--the little girl with the face like a white flower, with the quantity of burnished coppery hair and the smile which deepened the already deep dimple near her mouth.
"You have come to play with me," she said.
"Yes," answered Judith. "I wanted to come all night. I could not stay down-stairs."
"No," said the child; "you can't stay down-stairs. Lift up the doll."
They began to play as if they had spent their lives together. Neither asked the other any questions. Judith had not played with other children, but with this one she played in absolute and lovely delight. The little girl knew where all the toys were, and there were a great many beautiful ones. She told Judith where to find them and how to arrange them for their games. She invented wonderful things to do--things which were so unlike anything Judith had ever seen or heard or thought of that it was not strange that she realized afterwards that all her past life and its belongings had been so forgotten as to be wholly blotted out while she was in the Closed Room. She did not know her playmate's name, she did not remember that there were such things as names. Every moment was happiness. Every moment the little girl seemed to grow more beautiful in the flower whiteness of her face and hands and the strange lightness and freedom of her movements. There was an ecstasy in looking at her--in feeling her near.
Not long before Judith went down-stairs she found herself standing with her outside the window in among the withered flowers.
"It was my garden," the little girl said. "It has been so hot and no one has been near to water them, so they could not live."
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