A smother of dust—an odour of decay—a lack of all order in the room’s arrangements and furnishings—even a general disarray, hallowed, if not affected, by time—for all this she was prepared. But not for the wild confusion—the inconceivable litter and all the other signs she saw about her of a boy’s mad packing and reckless departure. Here her imagination, so lively at times, had failed her; and, as her eye became accustomed to the semi-obscurity, and she noted the heaps of mouldering clothing lying amid overturned chairs and trampled draperies, she felt her heart grow cold with a nameless dread she could only hope to counteract by quick and impulsive action.
But what action? Was it for her to touch, to rearrange, to render clean and orderly this place of unknown memories? She shrank with inconceivable distaste from the very idea of such meddling; and, though she saw and noted all, she did not put out so much as a finger towards any object there till—There was an inner door, and this some impulse drove her to open. A small closet stood revealed, empty but for one article. When she saw this article she gave a great gasp; then she uttered a low pshaw! and with a shrug of the shoulders drew back and flung to the door. But she opened it again. She had to. One cannot live in hideous doubt, without an effort to allay it. She must look at that small, black article again; look at it with candle in hand; see for herself that her fears were without foundation; that a shadow had made the outline on the wall which—
She found herself laughing. There was nothing else to do. She with thoughts like these; she, Reuther’s mother! Verily, the early hours of morning were unsuited for any such work as this. She would go back to her own room and bed—But she only went as far as the bureau where she had left the candlestick, which having seized, she returned to the closet and slowly, reluctantly reopened the door. Before her on the wall hung a cap,—and it was no shadow which gave it that look like her husband’s; the broad peak was there. She had not been mistaken; it was the duplicate of the one she had picked up in the attic of the Claymore Inn when that inn was simply a tavern.
Well, and what if it was!—Such was her thought a moment later. She would take down the cap, set it before her and look at it till her brain grew clear of its follies.
But after she had it in her hand she found herself looking anywhere but at the cap. She stared at the floor, the walls about, the desk she had mechanically approached. She even noticed the books lying about on the shelves before her and took down one or two, to glance at their title-pages in a blind curiosity she could not account for the next minute. Then she found herself looking into a drawer half drawn out and filled with all sorts of heterogeneous articles: sealing-wax, a roll of pins, a pen-holder, a knife—A knife! Why should she recoil again at that? Nothing could be more ordinary than to find a knife in the desk-drawer of a young man! The fact was not worth a thought; yet before she knew it, her fingers were creeping towards this knife, had picked it up from among the other scattered articles, had closed upon it, let it drop again, only to seize hold of it yet more determinedly and carry it straight to the light.