Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/197

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THE COURIER OF THE CZAR

163

an iron. You can’t catch me on the Martyr Book. And the almanac, that I know also.”

“We could sing,” suggested Betsey. Her voice had a heartbroken quality. Her heart was breaking.

“Sing!” mocked Tilly. “Sing! When I’m blind!”

The clock ticked on and on, the rain fell steadily, silently upon the earth, audibly upon the roof of the porch, noisily through the tin spouting. Another sort of rain fell quietly from Betsey’s eyes upon the starry quilt. Tilly did not cry, the consequent physical agony was too keen.

“If I only could do something for you!” mourned Betsey in her heart.

“You can do something for me if you will,” said Tilly, as though she could see into Betsey’s heart.

“What can I do for you?” asked Betsey, eagerly.

“There’s a book in this house,” said Tilly. “The doctor left it the first time. I guess he forgot it. When he said I must have my eyes tied shut I looked quickly at it. I couldn’t read the reading, but I saw the picture. It was a picture of an old woman kneeling and a sword was pointing at her and a man was standing with a whip over her. Her back was bare and her breast was bare. I must know what happened to that old woman. Will you not”—Tilly’s wheedling voice besought, pleaded; she knew but too well how much she asked—“will you not read me that book, Betsey?”

“Where is the book?” asked Betsey, to gain time.

“Hidden in the upstairs,” confessed Tilly. “I hid it. I was afraid he would ask for it. I hid it first in the churn, then I carried it in the upstairs.”

“He did ask for it,” said Betsey. “He said did I see such a book laying round. I told him no.”

“I heard you,” acknowledged Tilly. “It was before I took it to the upstairs. I was then sitting on it. Will you read me that book, Betsey?”

“I cannot,” said Betsey, weeping. “Anything else I’ll do for you. But that’s the world’s book.”

“You'll not find out what became of that poor old woman with the sword pointing at her and the whip coming down on her?” Tilly’s voice was hard.

“No,” wept Betsey. “I can’t. It’s to resist temptations