Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/202

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and across great rivers. The Susquehanna is nothing to those rivers. A wicked man, Ivan, catches him; and in order to make him tell who he is he takes his mother and puts a sword in front of her and is going to whip her and when she shrinks from the whip the sword will pierce her. That’s what he does. It’s like you read in the Martyr Book when they burned the people and drowned them. Then when this courier defended his poor mother this Ivan burned his eyes with a hot sword and made him blind.” Betsey’s tongue failed her on this word, she repeated it and her effort produced a prolonged and tragic sound—“b-l-i-n-d!”

“But he went on and on and a young girl helped him. They find a good young man who’s their friend and this Ivan has had him buried in the sand up to his neck and big birds get after him and he dies. They come at last to the place where he’s to give his message to the brother of the K-zar and they’re floating on an iceberg down the river and there are springs of something like coal-oil near the river and it’s on fire and they’re floating on the ice in the midst of the fire.”

Stupefaction continued but it was now not the stupefaction of amazement but of enchantment. Betsey told her story well and every eye was fixed upon her; every pair of lungs was either full of air or empty of air; inhalation and exhalation had ceased.

Betsey, alas, ceased also.

“That’s as far as I have gone,” she said, exhausted. ‘But I’m going to finish this book. I’m going to finish it this afternoon on the Sabbath, whether or no.”

Now eye met eye, colour came back into pale cheeks. The prevailing expression was one of excitement touched with horror. Betsey remained standing; she seemed about to leave; as though, willing to bear the consequences of her crime, she would excommunicate herself and depart. Only William Hershey was able to reason. He rose slowly, his gentle bearded face turned toward Betsey. Were there tears in William Hershey’s eyes?

“Betsey,” said he, slowly. ‘Do you do this for your poor sister?”

Betsey seized the back of the bench before her. She looked smitten, as he looks the secret of whose heart is discovered.

“Don’t blame Tilly. The doctor says she must be yet for