The owner of the small room was gone, and her bed empty. The bed linens had been messily turned down in anticipation of another fatigued night. A white shift, muddied about the sleeves with earth, hung limply from one corner of the bed. The reminder as to the events of last night was as subdued and as pale as a ghost.
In the light of day, the objects on the walls erupted in a menagerie of colour that the night had leeched from them. They largely consisted of clothes - stiff whalebone stays, plaited dresses in indigo, and crimson shawls – not the drab, utilitarian clothes of a housekeeper, but the lively attire of a young woman of means. They were hung neatly on the walls more in the fashion of art rather than apparel, sometimes in stacks of two or three as though they had been pilfered from a proper closet to be stored here. Here and there a glint of gold and gemmed jewelry peeked through the clutter of fabric.
A section of flat wall was bare of ruffles and lace. Instead, scraps of paper in various sizes had been fastidiously tacked there. Some were old enough for the edges to have begun curling inward. Upon closer inspection, they were revealed to be pencil sketches drawn in a competent hand. The earliest varied in subject matter – here a shadowy skyline silhouetted by the sun, there a passable representation of a young man with dark hair frowning at the book in his hand – although they lingered on a tabby cat who was depicted in every manner of sitting, stalking, and sleeping feline activity imaginable.
The later pictures, evinced from the crisp newness of their lines, were mostly words written in a neat, educated hand, interposed with small roughs that were difficult to make out without context. In a gap between words a hand lay with fingers curled over a dark pool like spilt ink; on the margins of one page a human mouth bristled with inhuman teeth. The stretched body of Jesus Christ wracked in agony upon the cross occupied the entire center of one, the shine of his skin betraying the crucifix that must have been the reference.
The mouth-wateringly sweet smell of roasted sugar and the earthy fragrance of strong, dark tea wafted up from the kitchen below. It was accompanied by the clinking of dishes and, faintly, the unmistakably deep murmur of the master of the house. It was impossible to discern what was being said in the one-sided discussion, although his tone sounded relaxed, perhaps even amiable. His voice rose in a question and he paused as though to let it be answered. This too, was bound to be strange – how the cadence of his conversation followed the predictable rhythm of a back-and-forth despite the silent gaps which the girl did not fill.