“Thank you,” said Charlotte.
It was an hour and a half before the next train. She went out of the store and walked miserably along the street to her deserted home.
There is, to a human being of Charlotte Carroll’s type, something unutterably terrifying about entering, especially at nightfall, an entirely empty house. The worst of it is it does not seem to be empty. In reality, the emptiness of it is the last thing which is comprehended. It is full to overflowing with terrors, with spiritual entities which are much more palpable, when one is in a certain mood, than actual physical presences. Charlotte approaching the house, saw, first, glimmers of light on the windows, which were merely reflections ostensibly from the electric light in the street, not so ostensibly from other lights.
“Oh, there is some one in there,” Charlotte thought to herself, and again that horrible, pulsing, vibrating motion of her heart overcame her. “Who is there?” she asked herself. She remembered that terrible tramp whom she had seen asleep in the woods that day. He might have been riding on some freight-train which had stopped at Banbridge, and stolen across and entered the vacant house. She stood still, staring at the cold glimmers on the windows. Then gradually she became convinced that they were merely reflections which she saw. Aside from her imagination, Charlotte was not entirely devoid of a certain bravery, or, rather, of a certain reason which came to her rescue. “What a little goose I am!” she told herself. “Those are only reflections. They are the reflections of the light in the street.” As she studied it more closely she saw that the light, being intercepted by the branches of the trees on the lawn, swaying in a light wind, produced some of the strange effects at the windows which had seemed like people moving back and forth in the rooms. Then all at once she saw another glimmer of light on the front window of her father’s room which she could not account for at all. She moved in front of a long, fan-shaped ray cast by the electric light in the street, and, looking at the window, the reflection was still there. She could not account for that at all, unless it was produced by a light from a house window—which was probably the case. At all events, it disquieted her. Still, she overcame her disinclination to enter the house because of that. She reasoned from analogy. “All the other lights are reflections,” she told herself, “and of course that must be.” However, the main cause of her terror remained: the unfounded, world-old conviction of presences behind closed doors, the almost impossibility for a very imaginative person to conceive of an entirely empty room or house—that is, empty of sentient life. She had hidden the front-door key under the mat before the front door; she had lived long enough in the country to acquire that absurdly innocent habit. She groped for it, thought for a second, with a gasp of horror, that it was not there. Then she felt it with her gloved hand, fitted it in the lock, opened the door, and went in, and the inner darkness smote her like a hostile crowd.