“Take that chair! Take that chair!” cried Janet.
He picked it up by its heavy arms, stood back and then charged the door. There was a shuddering noise, a splintering sound of wood giving. Then it was all quiet again.
He got ready to do it again.
“Wait!” said Janet. In a quivering voice she called Sally’s name again.
There was no reply.
“Do it now!” she said, almost incoherently. “Do it now! I believe one of the panels is giving.”
He charged it once more, and then again.
“The panel’s giving,” said Janet.
He flung down the chair from his shoulders. The panel had splintered from its joining at the bottom. He could just push it forward a little, making a slight aperture.
“Get the poker!” he said firmly.
She ran obediently and brought it to him. He prized it into the gap, levered it forward until there was room for his fingers to squeeze through; then he thrust them in and used the strength of his arm, an additional lever, to push an opening down towards the key inside.
“Mind your arm,” said Janet; “you’re tearing the skin.”
He made no reply—forced his hand still further through the gap until the splinters of wood were cutting into the flesh and the blood was dripping down in red blotches on the white paint of the door. She glanced at his face. It was grey. The pupils of his eyes were large with fear. His breath was hunting through his nostrils as he strained to reach the key.
“Now I’ve got it,” he whispered. “Prize that open with the poker as far as you can or I’ll never get my hand back.”
She leant all her fragile weight against it, aided with the strength of maddening fear. Her ears were strained for the sound in the lock. When she heard the bolt click, she gasped and pressed forward again with redoubled vigour as he slowly drew out his lacerated hand from the crevice.
Then they both stood upright. Together they both drew a deep breath as Traill turned the handle and opened the door. A physical sickness made them weak. Janet half tumbled, half ran into the room. The length of Traill’s strides brought him even with her.
Sally was there. Sally was in the room. She lay crumpled on the bed, her legs drawn up, twisted, bent; one arm thrown out covering her face, her other hand gripping a corner of the bed-clothes, stretching out from her in tautened creases. She looked as though some giant hand had knotted her fragile body with fingers of iron.
With a cry, Janet bent over the bed. At her feet, Traill picked up a little bottle, hurriedly read the label, and blindly put it in his pocket.
“Uncover her face,” he whispered; “take her arm away from her face—she’s choking herself.”
“Choking herself!” Janet gently bent the arm back. Every feature was twisted in the same grip, the lips caught in the same iron fingers and dragged in her suffering, baring the teeth—the whole expression of her face was as though she had died, emitting one last scream of unbearable agony. “Look! Choking herself? She’s dead!”