Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/150

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The two men dragged Mrs. Parker up and bent over the body. They babbled together of a doctor, though all of them knew in advance that the thing on the ground was dead. Nothing living could have had that look. In the press and sudden confusion Mrs. Boynton was the only one who had a definite intention. She caught hold of Boynton’s sleeve.

‘Come into the house. They’ll look out for things. You have to get—to get this off you.”

She would have accompanied him into the bathroom, but he stopped her at the door. ‘‘I have to have a minute to pull myself together. I’ll be down directly. What on earth was it that happened to him!”

Inside, he turned on all the taps. It seemed to him he could never get water enough on his hands. When his hands were clean he pulled off his cuffs and let them drop on the floor, and scrubbed his fingers again after touching them. He could not bear to put the befouled things into the laundry hamper, but with his foot he pushed them out of sight behind the tub.

By the time he came downstairs, the knot of people in the lane had disappeared. Mrs. Boynton was sitting on the porch, and Helen, with scared, reddened eyes, was leaning against her knees. Boynton had recovered enough to be paternal and soothing. He sat on the steps for a few minutes, talking over the grotesque tragedy.

"Poor old soul, I wish I hadn’t harried him about that coat. He was always honest enough when we was sober. They’ve taken him to the morgue, I suppose?——— Well, we’d better get back to work, hadn’t we, little daughter? There’s no advantage to him in our spoiling an afternoon.”

Inside his study his mind refused to apply itself to work. In spite of him, it flashed back again and again to that minute in the lane. He got up and walked up and down the room, puzzling. "What happened to him? What on earth happened to him?” Toward the middle of the afternoon, when he heard a masculine voice answering Mrs. Boynton’s, he took advantage of hearing to stroll out from his seclusion. Their next-door neighbour, Judge Bolling—a judge long since retired—was filling one of the porch chairs. Boynton greeted him briefly.