For an instant the flush disappeared from his cheeks, as a great fear took possession of him. He was not able to face the sight of Montevarchi’s body lying across that table in the silent study. His hand fell to his side and he almost ran to the other side of the library; then, as though ashamed of his weakness he came back slowly and listened at the door. It was scarcely possible that any distant echo could reach his ears, if the household had been already roused, for the passage was long and tortuous, interrupted by other doors and by a winding staircase. But in his present state he fancied that his senses must be preternaturally sharpened and he listened eagerly. All was still. He went back to the books.
There was nothing to be done but to make a desperate effort to occupy himself and to steady his nerves. If any one came now, he thought, his face would betray him. There must be a light in his eyes, an uncertainty in his manner which would speak plainly enough to his guilt. He tried to imagine what would take place when the body was found. Some one would enter the room and would see the body. He, or she, would perhaps think that the prince was in a fit, or asleep—who could tell? But he would not answer the voice that called him. Then the person would come forward and touch him—Meschini forced himself to think of it—would touch the dead hand and would feel that it was cold. With a cry of horror the person would hasten from the room. He might hear that cry, if he left the door open. Again he laid his hand upon the latch. His fingers seemed paralysed and the cold sweat stood on his face, but he succeeded in mastering himself enough to turn the handle and look out. The cry came, but it was from his own lips. He reeled back from the entrance in horror, his eyes starting from his head. There stood the dead man, in the dusky passage, shaking at him the handkerchief.
It was only his fancy. He passed his hand across his forehead and a sickly look of relief crept over his face. He had been frightened by his own coat, that hung on a peg outside, long and thin and limp, a white handkerchief depending from the wide pocket. There was not much light in the corridor. He crept cautiously out and took the garment from its place with a nervous, frightened gesture. Dragging it after him, he hastily re-entered the library and rolled up the coat into a shape that could not possibly resemble anything which might frighten him. He laid it upon the table in the brightest place, where the afternoon sun fell upon it. There was a sort of relief in making sure that the thing could not again look like the dead man. He looked up and saw with renewed terror that he had left the door open. There was nothing but air between him and the place where that awful shadow had been conjured up by his imagination. The door must be shut. If it remained open he should go mad. He tried to think calmly, but it was beyond his power.