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- In the Closed Room - 5/7 -
She went lightly to one of the brown rose-bushes and put her pointed-fingered little hand quite near it. She did not touch it, but held her hand near--and the leaves began to stir and uncurl and become fresh and tender again, and roses were nodding, blooming on the stems. And she went in the same manner to each flower and plant in turn until all the before dreary little garden was bright and full of leaves and flowers.
"It's Life," she said to Judith. Judith nodded and smiled back at her, understanding quite well just as she had understood the eyes of the bird who had swung on the twig so near her cheek the day she had hidden among the bushes in the Park.
"Now, you must go," the little girl said at last. And Judith went out of the room at once--without waiting or looking back, though she knew the white figure did not stir till she was out of sight.
It was not until she had reached the second floor that the change came upon her. It was a great change and a curious one. The Closed Room became as far away as all other places and things had seemed when she had stood upon the roof feeling the nearness of the blueness and the white clouds--as when she had looked round and found herself face to face with the child in the Closed Room. She suddenly realized things she had not known before. She knew that she had heard no voice when the little girl spoke to her--she knew that it had happened, that it was she only who had lifted the doll--who had taken out the toys--who had arranged the low table for their feast, putting all the small service upon it--and though they had played with such rapturous enjoyment and had laughed and feasted--what had they feasted on? That she could not recall--and not once had she touched or been touched by the light hand or white dress--and though they seemed to express their thoughts and intentions freely she had heard no voice at all. She was suddenly bewildered and stood rubbing her hand over her forehead and her eyes--but she was happy--as happy as when she had fallen awake in her sleep--and was no more troubled or really curious than she would have been if she had had the same experience every day of her life.
"Well, you must have been having a good time playing up-stairs," Jane Foster said when she entered the big kitchen. "This is going to do you good, Judy. Looks like she'd had a day in the country, don't she, Jem?"
Through the weeks that followed her habit of "playing up-stairs" was accepted as a perfectly natural thing. No questions were asked and she knew it was not necessary to enter into any explanations.
Every day she went to the door of the Closed Room and, finding it closed, at a touch of her hand upon the panel it swung softly open. There she waited--sometimes for a longer sometimes for a shorter time--and the child with the coppery hair came to her. The world below was gone as soon as she entered the room, and through the hours they played together joyously as happy children play. But in their playing it was always Judith who touched the toys--who held the doll---who set the little table for their feast. Once as she went down-stairs she remembered that when she had that day made a wreath of roses from the roof and had gone to put it on her playmate's head, she had drawn back with deepened dimple and, holding up her hand, had said, laughing: "No. Do not touch me."
But there was no mystery in it after all. Judith knew she should presently understand.
She was so happy that her happiness lived in her face in a sort of delicate brilliance. Jane Foster observed the change in her with exceeding comfort, her view being that spacious quarters, fresh air, and sounder sleep had done great things for her.
"Them big eyes of hers ain't like no other child's eyes I've ever seen," she said to her husband with cheerful self-gratulation. "An' her skin's that fine an' thin an' fair you can jest see through it. She always looks to me as if she was made out of different stuff from me an' you, Jem. I've always said it."
"She's going to make a corking handsome girl," responded Jem with a chuckle.
They had been in the house two months, when one afternoon, as she was slicing potatoes for supper, Jane looked round to see the child standing at the kitchen doorway, looking with a puzzled expression at some wilted flowers she held in her hand. Jane's impression was that she had been coming into the room and had stopped suddenly to look at what she held.
"What've you got there, Judy?" she asked.
"They're flowers," said Judith, her eyes still more puzzled.
"Where'd you get 'em from? I didn't know you'd been out. I thought you was up-stairs."
"I was," said Judith quite simply. "In the Closed Room."
Jane Foster's knife dropped into her pan with a splash.
"Well," she gasped.
Judith looked at her with quiet eyes.
"The Closed Room!" Jane cried out. "What are you saying? You couldn't get in?"
"Yes, I can."
Jane was conscious of experiencing a shock. She said afterwards that suddenly something gave her the creeps.
"You couldn't open the door," she persisted. "I tried it again yesterday as I passed by--turned the handle and gave it a regular shove and it wouldn't give an inch."
"Yes," the child answered; "I heard you. We were inside then."
A few days later, when Jane weepingly related the incident to awe-stricken and sympathizing friends, she described as graphically as her limited vocabulary would allow her to do so, the look in Judith's face as she came nearer to her.
"Don't tell me there was nothing happening then," she said. "She just came up to me with them dead flowers in her hand an' a kind of look in her eyes as if she was half sorry for me an' didn't know quite why.
"'The door opens for me,' she says. 'That's where I play every day. There's a little girl comes and plays with me. She comes in at the window, I think. She is like the picture in the room where the books are. Her hair hangs down and she has a dimple near her mouth.'
"I couldn't never tell any one what I felt like. It was as if I'd got a queer fright that I didn't understand.
"'She must have come over the roof from the next house,' I says. 'They've got an extension too--but I thought the people were gone away.'
"'There are flowers on our roof,' she said. 'I got these there.' And that puzzled look came into her eyes again. 'They were beautiful when I got them--but as I came down-stairs they died.'
"'Well, of all the queer things,' I said. She put out her hand and touched my arm sort of lovin' an' timid.
"'I wanted to tell you to-day, mother,' she said. 'I had to tell you to-day. You don't mind if I go play with her, do you? You don't mind?'
"Perhaps it was because she touched me that queer little loving way--or was it the way she looked--it seemed like something came over me an' I just grabbed her an' hugged her up.
"'No,' I says. 'So as you come back. So as you come back.'
"And to think!" And Jane rocked herself sobbing.
A point she dwelt on with many tears was that the child seemed in a wistful mood and remained near her side--bringing her little chair and sitting by her as she worked, and rising to follow her from place to place as she moved from one room to the other.
"She wasn't never one as kissed you much or hung about like some children do--I always used to say she was the least bother of any child I ever knew. Seemed as if she had company of her own when she sat in her little chair in the corner whispering to herself or just setting quiet." This was a thing Jane always added during all the years in which she told the story. "That was what made me notice. She kept by me and she kept looking at me different from any way I'd seen her look before--not pitiful exactly--but something like it. And once she came up and kissed me and once or twice she just kind of touched my dress or my hand--as I stood by her. SHE knew. No one need tell me she didn't."
But this was an error. The child was conscious only of a tender, wistful feeling, which caused her to look at the affectionate healthy young woman who had always been good to her and whom she belonged to, though she remotely wondered why--the same tenderness impelled her to touch her arm, hand and simple dress, and folding her arms round her neck to kiss her softly. It was an expression of gratitude for all the rough casual affection of the past. All her life had been spent at her side--all her life on earth had sprung from her.
When she went up-stairs to the Closed Room the next day she told her mother she was going before she left the kitchen.
"I'm going up to play with the little girl, mother," she said. "You don't mind, do you?"
Jane had had an evening of comfortable domestic gossip and joking with Jem, had slept, slept soundly and eaten a hearty breakfast. Life had reassumed its wholly normal aspect. The sun was shining hot and bright and she was preparing to scrub the kitchen floor. She believed that the child was mistaken as to the room she had been in.
"That's all right," she said, turning the hot water spigot over
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