She was one of those persons whose moments between sleeping and waking, especially during a little attack of feverishness, are occupied in contemplating a number of little vivid pictures of all kinds that present themselves to the mental vision; and she saw as usual a quantity of these, made up of tiny details of the day that was gone, and of other details markedly unconnected with it. She saw for example little scenes in which Maggie and Charlotte and medicine bottles and Chinese faces and printed pages of a book all moved together in a sort of convincing incoherence; and she was just beginning to lose herself in the depths of sleep, and to forget her firm resolution of reading another page or so of the book by her side, when a little sound came, and she opened, as she thought, her eyes.
Her reading lamp cast a funnel of light across her bed, and the rest of the room was lit only by the fire dancing in the chimney. Yet this was bright enough, she thought at the time, to show her perfectly distinctly, though with shadows fleeting across it, her son’s face peering in at the door. She thought she said something; but she was not sure afterwards. At any rate, the face did not move; and it seemed to her that it bore an expression of such extraordinary malignity that she would hardly have known it for her son’s. In a sudden panic she raised herself in bed, staring; and as the shadows came and went, as she stared, the face was gone again. Mrs. Baxter drew a quick breath or two as she looked; but there was nothing. Yet again she could have sworn that she heard the faint jar of the closing door.
She reached out and put her hand on the bell-string that hung down over her bed. Then she hesitated. It was too ridiculous, she told herself. Besides, Charlotte would have gone to her room.
But the fear did not go immediately; though she told herself again and again that it was just one of those little waking visions that she knew so well.
She lay back on the pillow, thinking.... Why, they would have reached the fish by now. No; she would tell Maggie when she came up. How Laurie would laugh tomorrow! Then, little by little, she dozed off once more.
* * * * *
The next thing of which she was aware was Maggie bending over her.
“Asleep, Auntie dear?” said the girl softly.
The old lady murmured something. Then she sat up, suddenly.
“No, my dear. Have you finished dinner?”
“Where’s Laurie? I should like to see him for a minute.”
“Not tonight, Auntie; you’re too tired. Besides, I think he’s gone to the smoking-room.”
She acquiesced placidly.
“Very well, dearest.... Oh! Maggie, such a queer thing happened just now—when you were at dinner.”
“I thought I saw Laurie look in, just for an instant. But he looked awful, somehow. It was just one of my little waking visions I’ve told you of, I suppose.”