Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/190

This page needs to be proofread.

156

PRIZE STORIES OF 1924

no more comfortable in mind as she advanced, because the steps would creak far more loudly than the floor, and when she reached the bottom of the flight she would have to speak a reassuring word to the dog and the cat. This was not a new experience; for almost a month she had been stealing nightly from her sister’s side.

Compared to the bedroom the kitchen was bright. The fire shone through the mica doors of the stove and was reflected from the lustre ware on the mantel and the brass knobs on the ancient cupboard. The black window-panes formed mirrors so that there seemed to be many fires. On one side of the room a quilt was stretched on a frame and on the taut surface lay scissors, spools of thread, a little pincushion, two pairs of spectacles, and two thimbles. The ground of the quilt was dark and spread over it were multitudes of white spots of various sizes.

Other reflecting surfaces were presented by the eyes of a Maltese cat and an Airedale dog, the one lying on a chair, the other beside the stove. Apparently unsurprised by this mysterious advent in the middle of the night, the cat purred and the dog parted his lips and teeth in a grin, and both having raised their heads laid them down. They paid no heed when Betsey, touching a spill to the coals, lit the hanging lamp which illuminated brilliantly the quilt and the sewing implements lying upon it. The background of the quilt was blue and the white spots were star-shaped. The Milky Way crossed the surface diagonally and along the edge and in the dark spaces were set Orion, the Pleiades, Ursa Major, and other familiar constellations. Between the stars the quilt was covered with tiny stitches set close together.

Sinking into one of the Windsor armchairs at the side of the frame, Betsey selected a needle from the pincushion. It was not one of the fine needles with which the delicate quilting had been done, but a larger one, and she used it not to sew, but to destroy sewing. Stitch by stitch she ripped the fine work, sighing as she did so. It was clear that that which she ripped was not as even as the section opposite the other chair.

The hands of the clock pointed to half-past twelve, and presently to one. Then Betsey exchanged the large needle for a smaller one and threading it began to replace the stitches