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The Mill Mystery

6. Mrs. Pollard
That day was a marked one in my life. It was not only the longest I have ever
known, but it was by far the dreariest, and, if I may use the word in this
connection, the most unearthly. Indeed, I cannot think of it to this day without a
shudder; its effect being much the same upon my memory as that of a vigil in
some underground tomb, where each moment was emphasized with horror lest
the dead lying before me might stir beneath their cerements and wake. The
continual presence of one or both of the brothers at my side did not tend to
alleviate the dread which the silence, the constant suspense, the cold gloom of
the ever dimly-lighted chamber were calculated to arouse; for the atmosphere of
unreality and gloom was upon them too, and, saving the quick, short sigh that
escaped from their lips now and then, neither of them spoke nor relaxed for an
instant from that strain of painful attention which had for its focus their mother's
stony face. Mrs. Harrington, who, in her youthful freshness and dimpled beauty,
might have relieved the universal sombreness of the scene, was not in the room
all day; but whether this was on account of her inability to confront sickness and
trouble, or whether it was the result of the wishes of her brothers, I have never
been able to decide; probably the latter, for, though she was a woman of
frivolous mind, she had a due sense of the proprieties, and was never known to
violate them except under the stress of another will more powerful than her own.
At last, as the day waned, and what light there was gradually vanished from the
shadowy chamber, Guy made a movement of discouragement, and, rising from
his place, approached his brother, dropped a word in his ear, and quietly left the
room. The relief I felt was instantaneous. It was like having one coil of an
oppressive nightmare released from my breast. Dwight, on the contrary, who had
sat like a statue ever since the room began to darken, showed no evidence of
being influenced by this change, and, convinced that any movement towards a
more cheerful order of things must come from me, I rose, and, without consulting
his wishes, dropped the curtains and lighted the lamp. The instant I had done so I
saw why he was so silent and immovable. Overcome by fatigue, and possibly by
a long strain of suppressed emotion, he had fallen asleep, and, ignorant of the
fact that Guy had left the room, slumbered as peacefully as if no break had
occurred in the mysterious watch they had hitherto so uninterruptedly maintained
over their mother and me.
The peacefulness of his sleeping face made a deep impression upon me.
Though I knew that with his waking the old look would come back, it was an
indescribable pleasure to me to see him, if but for an instant, free from that
shadowy something which dropped a vail of mistrust between us. It seemed to
show me that evil was not innate in this man, and explained, if it did not justify,
the weakness which had made me more lenient to what was doubtful in his