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- In the Closed Room - 6/7 -
the sink so that the boiling water poured forth at full flow into her pail, with clouds of steam. "But when I've done my scrubbing I'm comin' up to see if it IS the Closed Room you play in. If it is, I guess you'd better play somewhere else--and I want to find out how you get that door open. Run along if you like."
Judith came back to her from the door. "Yes," she said, "come and see. But if she is there," putting her hand on Jane's hip gently, "you mustn't touch her."
Jane turned off the hot water and stared.
"The little girl who plays. _I_ never touch her. She says I must not."
Jane lifted her pail from the sink, laughing outright.
"Well, that sounds as if she was a pretty airy young one," she said. "I guess you're a queer little pair. Run on. I must get at this floor."
Judith ran up the three flights of stairs lightly. She was glad she had told her mother, though she wondered vaguely why it had never seemed right to tell her until last night, and last night it had seemed not so much necessary as imperative. Something had obliged her to tell her. The time had come when she must know. The Closed Room door had always shut itself gently after Judith had passed through it, and yesterday, when her mother passing by chance, had tried the handle so vigorously, the two children inside the room had stood still gazing at each other, but neither had spoken and Judith had not thought of speaking. She was out of the realm of speech, and without any sense of amazement was aware that she was out of it. People with voices and words were in that faraway world below.
The playing to-day was even a lovelier, happier thing than it had ever been before. It seemed to become each minute a thing farther and farther away from the world in the streets where the Elevated Railroad went humming past like a monster bee. And with the sense of greater distance came a sense of greater lightness and freedom. Judith found that she was moving about the room and the little roof garden almost exactly as she had moved in the waking dreams where she saw Aunt Hester--almost as if she was floating and every movement was ecstasy. Once as she thought this she looked at her playmate, and the child smiled and answered her as she always did before she spoke.
"Yes," she said; "I know her. She will come. She sent me."
She had this day a special plan with regard to the arranging of the Closed Room. She wanted all the things in it--the doll--the chairs--the toys--the little table and its service to be placed in certain positions. She told Judith what to do. Various toys were put here or there--the little table was set with certain dishes in a particular part of the room. A book was left lying upon the sofa cushion, the large doll was put into a chair near the sofa, with a smaller doll in its arms, on the small writing desk a letter, which Judith found in a drawer--a half-written letter--was laid, the pen was left in the ink. It was a strange game to play, but somehow Judith felt it was very pretty. When it was all done--and there were many curious things to do--the Closed Room looked quite different from the cold, dim, orderly place the door had first opened upon. Then it had looked as if everything had been swept up and set away and covered and done with forever--as if the life in it had ended and would never begin again. Now it looked as if some child who had lived in it and loved and played with each of its belongings, had just stepped out from her play--to some other room quite near--quite near. The big doll in its chair seemed waiting--even listening to her voice as it came from the room she had run into.
The child with the burnished hair stood and looked at it with her delicious smile.
"That is how it looked," she said. "They came and hid and covered everything--as if I had gone--as if I was Nowhere. I want her to know I come here. I couldn't do it myself. You could do it for me. Go and bring some roses."
The little garden was a wonder of strange beauty with its masses of flowers. Judith brought some roses from the bush her playmate pointed out. She put them into a light bowl which was like a bubble of thin, clear glass and stood on the desk near the letter.
"If they would look like that," the little girl said, "she would see. But no one sees them like that--when the Life goes away with me."
After that the game was finished and they went out on the roof garden and stood and looked up into the blue above their heads. How blue--how blue--how clear--how near and real! And how far and unreal the streets and sounds below. The two children stood and looked up and laughed at the sweetness of it.
Then Judith felt a little tired.
"I will go and lie down on the sofa," she said.
"Yes," the little girl answered. "It's time for you to go to sleep."
They went into the Closed Room and Judith lay down. As she did so, she saw that the door was standing open and remembered that her mother was coming up to see her and her playmate.
The little girl sat down by her. She put out her pretty fine hand and touched Judith for the first time. She laid her little pointed fingers on her forehead and Judith fell asleep.
It seemed only a few minutes before she wakened again. The little girl was standing by her.
"Come," she said.
They went out together onto the roof among the flowers, but a strange--a beautiful thing had happened. The garden did not end at the parapet and the streets and houses were not below. The little garden ended in a broad green pathway--green with thick, soft grass and moss covered with trembling white and blue bell-like flowers. Trees--fresh leaved as if spring had just awakened them--shaded it and made it look smiling fair. Great white blossoms tossed on their branches and Judith felt that the scent in the air came from them. She forgot the city was below, because it was millions and millions of miles away, and this was where it was right to be. There was no mistake. This was real. All the rest was unreal--and millions and millions of miles away.
They held each other's slim-pointed hands and stepped out upon the broad, fresh green pathway. There was no boundary or end to its beauty, and it was only another real thing that coming towards them from under the white, flowering trees was Aunt Hester.
In the basement Jane Foster was absorbed in her labours, which were things whose accustomedness provided her with pleasure. She was fond of her scrubbing, she enjoyed the washing of her dishes, she definitely entertained herself with the splash and soapy foam of her washtubs and the hearty smack and swing of her ironing. In the days when she had served at the ribbon counter in a department store, she had not found life as agreeable as she had found it since the hours which were not spent at her own private sewing machine were given to hearty domestic duties providing cleanliness, savoury meals, and comfort for Jem.
She was so busy this particular afternoon that it was inevitable that she should forget all else but the work which kept her on her knees scrubbing floors or on a chair polishing windows, and afterwards hanging before them bits of clean, spotted muslin.
She was doing this last when her attention being attracted by wheels in the street stopping before the door, she looked out to see a carriage door open and a young woman, dressed in exceptionally deep mourning garb, step onto the pavement, cross it, and ascend the front steps.
"Who's she?" Jane exclaimed disturbedly. "Does she think the house is to let because it's shut?" A ring at the front door bell called her down from her chair. Among the duties of a caretaker is naturally included that of answering the questions of visitors. She turned down her sleeves, put on a fresh apron, and ran up-stairs to the entrance hall.
When she opened the door, the tall, young woman in black stepped inside as if there were no reason for her remaining even for a moment on the threshold.
"I am Mrs. Haldon," she said. "I suppose you are the caretaker?"
Haldon was the name of the people to whom the house belonged. Jem Foster had heard only the vaguest things of them, but Jane remembered that the name was Haldon, and remembering that they had gone away because they had had trouble, she recognized at a glance what sort of trouble it had been. Mrs. Haldon was tall and young, and to Jane Foster's mind, expressed from head to foot the perfection of all that spoke for wealth and fashion. Her garments were heavy and rich with crape, the long black veil, which she had thrown back, swept over her shoulder and hung behind her, serving to set forth, as it were, more pitifully the white wornness of her pretty face, and a sort of haunting eagerness in her haggard eyes. She had been a smart, lovely, laughing and lovable thing, full of pleasure in the world, and now she was so stricken and devastated that she seemed set apart in an awful lonely world of her own.
She had no sooner crossed the threshold than she looked about her with a quick, smitten glance and began to tremble. Jane saw her look shudder away from the open door of the front room, where the chairs had seemed left as if set for some gathering, and the wax-white flowers had been scattered on the floor.
She fell into one of the carved hall seats and dropped her face into her hands, her elbows resting on her knees.
"Oh! No! No!" she cried. "I can't believe it. I can't believe it!"
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