Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/40

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PRIZE STORIES OF 1924

long, slim new moon had slunk almost to the horizon. Yet it shed light enough to reveal a faint wet wash of street; blank parallel stretches of half-timbered walls; black rectangles of street signs. The night had turned chill; a sharp and knifelike wind searched out the openings in his cape. He drew it closer about him as he turned in the direction of Cheapside. Physically, the bath, the delectable hot supper, the delicious cool ale had refreshed him. But mentally——! He could not say that Mistress Montjoy’s chatter had inspired him; at times, even, it had hurt: but at least for a while it t had ousted from his mind the accumulated melancholies of the last three months. Now that her cheerful presence had gone, those humours flowed back in a sinister black flood. And indeed, one or two of Mistress Montjoy’s remarks had pricked into faint being a dead desire, a lost regret. . . . Southampton and Anne . . . For an instant the old pain seared a fiery trail across his heart. Women named Anne had played important parts in his life, he reflected; Anne, his sister, the playmate of his childhood—pink-and-white, doll-faced, dead ere she had matured. Anne Hathaway, the sweetheart of his boyhood! Sleek-haired was Anne Hathaway and dove-eyed; the brown of the country sun struggling with the pink of the country air for the mastery of her cheeks. Anne, as round and warm as a pigeon—and as unthinking. And then Anne Davenant, the passion of his maturity. What had there been about Anne Davenant that could make a half-decade of agony in a sane man’s life? She was not beautiful. He himself, in one of his bitter rebellions against her spell, had avowed that in verse. But there was something—— No, her face was not beautiful; it was the colour of whey and it kept, except at the creeping-in of her silver smile, a strange, still look. And her little flat figure was not beautiful, though it was so delicate that she moved like a shadow. Nor her jet-black, straight, coarse hair. Nor her rather slitted, heavily lidded eyes, so shadow-smooched, so vivid and sparkless. But the combination of all this with her mouth! Surely no woman had ever owned a mouth like Anne’s—so wide-centred and deep-cornered, so cool and so warm, so lusciously crimson that, flaring out of the pallor of her face, it was like a blood-hot signal to the senses. Southampton and Anne . . . The image of his friend—and