Page:The Yellow Book - 04.djvu/274

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246
A Thief in the Night

ness of death paralysed the very muscles of her arm. She wanted .... she wanted the living, not the dead. It was the living man who, though so rarely seen, had filled the dreary emptiness of her life. She wanted the man, not the clay. Dazed, unstrung, and with the odd sensation of a hand clutching at her heart, she dropped into one of the cretonne-covered chairs beside the bed, and, as she did so, became conscious that her arm touched something warm.

It was a well-worn dressing-gown which had been thrown over the chair-back, the sleeve still bulging and round with the form of the man who had worn it that very day. In one of the wide-open pockets there was a crumpled handkerchief, while about it there hovered the vague odour of cigars. The button at the breast, she noticed, was loose and hung by a thread as if he had been in the habit of playing with it, even the bit of frayed braid on the cuff spoke in some unaccountable way of palpitating, everyday, intimate life.

A gush of tears—the first she had shed—rose to the wretched woman s eyes. She pressed her pinched lips to the warm, woolly sleeve, and then, with a convulsive movement, seized the dressing-gown and pressed it passionately against her flat chest. With the bundle in her arms, hugged close in guilty exultation, Mrs. Rathbourne stole to the door, and so noiselessly out and up the stair.

As before, the dank night swooned in the dour passages. With a hurrying beat, a beat which seemed to speak of the inexorable passage of time, the hall clock ticked, while behind, in the silent room, the motionless figure with the upturned feet loomed grim and aloof in the faint gleam of the vanishing light.