Yet as he watched and waited his own horror grew. That for which in men we have as yet no term was strong within him, as in every beast that lives by perception rather than reason; and he too by this strange faculty knew well enough that something was abroad, raying out from that silent curtained unseen window—something of an utterly different order from that of dog or flung shoe and furious vituperation—something that affected certain nerves within his body in a new and awful manner. Once or twice in his life he had been conscious of it before, once in an empty room, once in a room tenanted by a mere outline beneath a sheet and closed by a locked door.
His heart too seemed melted within him; his tail too hung limply behind the stucco parapet, and he made no answering movement to the tiny crooning note that sounded once in his ears.
And still the horror grew....
Presently he withdrew one claw from the crumbling edge, raising his head delicately; and then the other. For an instant longer he waited, feeling his back heave uncontrollably. Then, dropping noiselessly on to the lead, he fled beneath the sheltering parapet, a noiseless shadow in the gloom; and his mate fled with him.
Laurie turned slowly over in bed, drew a long breath, expelled it, and, releasing his arms from the bed-clothes, sat up. He switched on the light by his bed, glanced at his watch, switched off the light, and sank down again into the sheets. He need not get up just yet.
Then he remembered.
When an event of an entirely new order comes into experience, it takes a little time to be assimilated. It is as when a large piece of furniture is brought into a room; all the rest of the furniture takes upon itself a different value. A picture that did very well up to then over the fire-place must perhaps be moved. Values, relations, and balance all require readjustment.
Now up to last night Laurie had indeed been convinced, in one sense, of spiritualistic phenomena; but they had not yet for him reached the point of significance when they affected everything else. The new sideboard, so to speak, had been brought into the room, but it had been put temporarily against the wall in a vacant space to be looked at; the owner of the room had not yet realized the necessity of rearranging the whole. But last night something had happened that changed all this. He was now beginning to perceive the need of a complete review of everything.
As he lay there, quiet indeed, but startlingly alert, he first reviewed the single fact.
* * * * *
About an hour or so had passed away before anything particular happened. They had sat there, those four, in complete silence, their hands upon the table, occasionally shifting a little, hearing the sound of one another’s breathing or the faint rustle of one of the ladies’ dresses, in sufficient light from the screened fire and the single heavily shaded electric burner to recognize faces, and even, after the first few minutes, to distinguish small objects, or to read large print.