Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/153

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



he knew it perfectly—in which the ravings of Mrs. Parker could meet with any reception except indignant incredulity.

It was pleasant, though, all the same, that the telephone kept up its friendly clamour, that Mrs. Boynton on the porch was holding what amounted to an impromptu reception. Two or three times Boynton strolled out to add his greetings to his wife’s.

“To let you see the villain of the piece,” he explained his coming. He was good-humouredly qualified in his comments on Mrs. Parker. ‘‘Poor old wreck! In her condition no telling what she would see! No, I don’t blame her; the people I do blame are the town authorities. A little more sense of responsibility on their part——”

Charlie arrived just before dinner, a smaller man than his brother—hawk-nosed, black-haired. Through the meal they kept chiefly to family topics. Even in the study afterward the newcomer fended off discussion until Mrs. Boynton, leaning forward in her chair, taxed him directly:

‘Is it Helen and I that are the difficulty, Charlie? Would you rather talk to Edward by himself?”

He gave her his first unqualified smile. “Could I? It’s a sort of a professional prejudice of mine. You don’t mind?”

He got up to open the door for her and came back from it to the fireplace, where he stood staring down at the logs. him what do you think, Sherlock?” Boynton challenged him.

“I think you’re in a hole.”’

“Did you actually take it seriously enough to come down from San Francisco on account of this?”

“I did.”

“Now that,” Boynton commented, “is what criminal practice does for the mind. I might be in a hole if I were a tramp picked up on Pacific Street—I admit that; but here in West Brookins——”

“It’s exactly that ‘here in West Brookins’ that worries me. Did you really tell the fellow you’d kill him?”

“Why, as far as that goes——”

"Did you or didn’t you?”

Boynton got up, too. ‘Look here, I’m not on the witness