Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/149

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It was the boys Boynton saw first. He got up instantly.

“Oh, come, we can’t have that! Why, he’s a man as old as I am! She’s going round to the back, Cara. You head her off and I’ll go down and speak to him.”

Parker bad turned in behind the hedge with which the Boyntons were replacing a partly torn down brick wall. Behind it, he was out of sight from the house, and remembering the three girls at the table, Boynton hurried, with the charitable purpose of saving him the embarrassment of an audience.

“Where’s that coat, Parker?’’ he demanded, as he came into hearing.

“What coat, Mr. Boynton?”

“Now, look here,’’ Boynton ordered, with exasperation, “you know what coat as well as I do. Haven’t you just come from Thornley’s? Didn’t he tell you I said I’d finish you if you came near this place again "without bringing it back? If you haven’t it——”

“I don’t know about no coat, Mr. Boynton. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Mr. Thornley, he come out an’ said somethin’, but I didn’t know——”

The sentence went unfinished. Boynton, facing the speaker from the other side of the pile of bricks, had turned his eyes away in a sort of vicarious shame at his protestations. As the words broke off, he was conscious of something, he hardly knew what—a kind of concussion, a sense of violent disturbance to which there was yet attached no movement. The man in front of him flung up his hands with a choking grunt and crumpled forward. Instinctively, Boynton caught at him as he fell, but he broke through his hold, a dead weight, and dropped across the bricks. On Boynton’s hands and his cuffs blood had flicked itself in sickening red blots. The still sunny lane, with its signs of peaceable labour, was suddenly a place of horror.

And then at once the stillness was broken. Mrs. Parker rushed round the end of the hedge. She threw herself on the thing on the ground, howling and wailing, pulling at it, grotesque, unhuman. Mrs. Boynton had run out, too, and Helen and her friends, and two men from the street, and Boynton knew that he must have cried out, though he had not meant to do so.