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Famous Modern Ghost Stories

The Shell of Sense
BY OLIVIA HOWARD DUNBAR
From Harper's Magazine, December, 1908. By permission of Harper and Brothers and Olivia
Howard Dunbar.
It was intolerably unchanged, the dim, dark-toned room. In an agony of recognition my
glance ran from one to another of the comfortable, familiar things that my earthly life had
been passed among. Incredibly distant from it all as I essentially was. I noted sharply that
the very gaps that I myself had left in my bookshelves still stood unfilled; that the
delicate fingers of the ferns that I had tended were still stretched futilely toward the light;
that the soft agreeable chuckle of my own little clock, like some elderly woman with
whom conversation has become automatic, was undiminished.
Unchanged—or so it seemed at first. But there were certain trivial differences that shortly
smote me. The windows were closed too tightly; for I had always kept the house very
cool, although I had known that Theresa preferred warm rooms. And my work-basket
was in disorder; it was preposterous that so small a thing should hurt me so. Then, for this
was my first experience of the shadow-folded transition, the odd alteration of my
emotions bewildered me. For at one moment the place seemed so humanly familiar, so
distinctly my own proper envelope, that for love of it I could have laid my cheek against
the wall; while in the next I was miserably conscious of strange new shrillnesses. How
could they be endured—and had I ever endured them?—those harsh influences that I now
perceived at the window; light and color so blinding that they obscured the form of the
wind, tumult so discordant that one could scarcely hear the roses open in the garden
below?
But Theresa did not seem to mind any of these things. Disorder, it is true, the dear child
had never minded. She was sitting all this time at my desk—at my desk—occupied, I
could only too easily surmise how. In the light of my own habits of precision it was plain
that that sombre correspondence should have been attended to before; but I believe that I
did not really reproach Theresa, for I knew that her notes, when she did write them, were
perhaps less perfunctory than mine. She finished the last one as I watched her, and added
it to the heap of black-bordered envelopes that lay on the desk. Poor girl! I saw now that
they had cost her tears. Yet, living beside her day after day, year after year, I had never
discovered what deep tenderness my sister possessed. Toward each other it had been our
habit to display only a temperate affection, and I remember having always thought it
distinctly fortunate for Theresa, since she was denied my happiness, that she could live so
easily and pleasantly without emotions of the devastating sort.... And now, for the first
time, I was really to behold her.... Could it be Theresa, after all, this tangle of subdued
turbulences? Let no one suppose that it is an easy thing to bear, the relentlessly lucid
understanding that I then first exercised; or that, in its first enfranchisement, the timid
vision does not yearn for its old screens and mists.
 
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