Page:The Yellow Book - 04.djvu/270

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242

A Thief in the Night

To avoid the possibility of noise she placed it on the washstand, and, as she approached the light, her eye was caught by the faded photograph which hung directly above on the wall.

It was of Colonel Rathbourne, the dead man below-stairs. Outwardly the portrait was a thing of little beauty. A mere drabbish presentment of a young man, dressed in the fashion of the sixties, with somewhat sloping shoulders, and whiskers of extravagant shape. Not that Mrs. Rathbourne saw either the whiskers or the shoulders. Long familiarity with such accessories made them part of the inevitable, part of all fixed and determined concrete things, part, indeed, of the felicitous “had been” of her youth. Had she thought of them at all, she would have thought of them as beautiful, as everything connected with the dead man had always seemed, then, thirty years ago, in the rare intervals he had been at home on leave, and now on the night of his sudden death.

To look at this portrait meant to ignore all intervening time, to forget that dread thing, that shrouded and awful something stretched on the bed in the room below. To look at it meant to be transported to a garden in Hampshire, to a lawn giving on Southampton Water, a lawn vivid and green in the shadow of the frothing hawthorns, grey in the softer stretches dotted with munching cattle which swept out to the far-off, tremulous line intersected with distant masts. She had dreaded to look or to think of that line. It meant the sea that ugly void of wind and wave that was to carry him away from her. How determinedly she had put the thought aside, rejoicing in the moment, the soft atmosphere, the persistent hum of bees, the enervating cooing of the wood-pigeons.

Yet the eve of the day had come when the regiment was to sail, and when, across the intimacies of the cottage dining-table,

they