The great hall now seemed very gloomy and cold, and the solitude was oppressive. He felt the necessity for movement, and began to walk quickly up and down the length of the library between the broad tables, from one door to the other. At first, as he reached the one that separated him from the passage he experienced no disagreeable sensation, but turned his back upon it at the end of his walk and retraced his steps. Very gradually, however, he began to feel uncomfortable as he reached that extremity of the room, and the vision of the dead prince rose before his eyes. The coat was there again, on the other side of the door. No doubt it would take the same shape again if he looked at it. His varying courage was just at the point when he was able to look out in order to assure himself that the limp garment had not assumed the appearance of a ghost. He felt a painful thrill in his back as he turned the handle, and the cold air that rushed in as he opened the door seemed to come from a tomb. Although his eyes were satisfied when he had seen the coat in the corner, he drew back quickly, and the thrill was repeated with greater distinctness as he heard the bolt of the latch slip into its socket. He walked away again, but the next time he came back he turned at some distance from the threshold, and, as he turned, he felt the thrill a third time, almost like an electric shock. He could not bear it and sat down before the catalogue. His eyes refused to read, and after a lengthened struggle between his fears, his prudence and his economy, he once more drew the bottle from his pocket and fortified himself with a draught. This time he drank more, and the effect was different. For some seconds he felt no change in his condition. Presently, however, his nervousness disappeared, giving place now to a sort of stupid indifference. The light was fading from the clerestory windows of the library, and, within, the corners and recesses were already dark. But Meschini was past imagining ghosts or apparitions. He sat quite still, his chin leaning on his hand and his elbow on the table, wondering vaguely how long it would be before they came to tell him that the prince was dead. He did not sleep, but he fell into a state of torpor which was restful to his nerves. Sleep would certainly come in half an hour if he were left to himself as long as that. His breathing was heavy, and the silence around him was intense. At last the much-dreaded moment came, and found him dull and apathetic.
The door opened and a ray of light from a candle entered the room, which was now almost dark. A foot-man and a housemaid thrust in their heads cautiously and peered into the broad gloom, holding the candle high before them. Either would have been afraid to come alone.
“Sor Arnoldo, Sor Arnoldo!” the man called out timidly, as though frightened by the sound of his own voice.
“Here I am,” answered Meschini, affecting a cheerful tone as well as he could. Once more and very quickly he took a mouthful from the bottle, behind the table where they could not see him. “What is the matter?” he asked.