Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/191

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THE COURIER OF THE CZAR

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she had ripped out. Those she put in were as straight as a ruler and as much alike as rice grains.

At three o’clock she rose stiffly. Though her back ached, and though her eyes were heavy and her hands stiff she was happy; the catastrophe which she feared and against which she struggled was postponed a little longer. Then, suddenly, she was smitten by terror. She did not exactly hear Tilly move, but she knew that Tilly had moved, moreover, that she was awake. If Tilly spoke she believed she would die of shock. But when Tilly did speak she answered calmly.

“Betsey!” The voice was sharp with terror. “Sister!”

“Yes.” Betsey walked toward the stairway.

“Where are you?”

“I’m coming.” What should she say? It would be easy to invent an excuse, but Betsey did not like to lie. “I did not lock the door, Tilly.”

“Why, no, of course not! I locked it, like always. Come back to bed!”

“I’m coming,” answered Betsey.

Her voice was steady, but her heart jumped in her side. As she grasped the railing to ascend she was aware of her pulse throbbing in her wrist. She felt her way across the room and lay down, slippers, gown, and all. She was trembling, not only because she was frightened, but because she was cold.

“I had a queer dream,” said Tilly, drowsily. “I dreamed I could not see any more to sew straight.”

“Are you awake?” asked Betsey, sharply.

Tilly did not answer. Did she speak from a dream or from full consciousness?


Hearing the clock strike twelve, Betsey opened her eyes, It was harder to open them to-night than last night and last night it had been harder than the night before. It was the twenty-eighth night she had wakened at twelve o’clock and had gone faltering down the stairs.

Beside her Tilly lay quietly, her breathing that of a child. The sky was black outside the rectangle of the window and there was again an uneasy whispering round the frame. The old furniture showed only vague outlines. “I can’t do this forever,” said Betsey to herself. “I’m