9p3

9p3

'Is that you, Bill?'

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It was Elizabeth's voice. He could just see her, framed in the doorway.

His throat was dry. He swallowed, and found that he could speak.

'Did you just come in?'

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'Then--you heard?'

There was a long silence. Then the door closed gently and he heard her go upstairs.

When Bill woke next morning it was ten o'clock; and his first emotion, on a day that was to be crowded with emotions of various kinds, was one of shame. The desire to do the fitting thing is innate in man, and it struck Bill, as he hurried through his toilet, that he must be a shallow, coarse-fibred sort of person, lacking in the finer feelings, not to have passed a sleepless night. There was something revolting in the thought that, in circumstances which would have made sleep an impossibility for most men, he had slept like a log. He did not do himself the justice to recollect that he had had a singularly strenuous day, and that it is Nature's business, which she performs quietly and unromantically, to send sleep to tired men regardless of their private feelings; and it was in a mood of dissatisfaction with the quality of his soul that he left his room.

He had a general feeling that he was not much of a chap and that when he died--which he trusted would be shortly--the world would be well rid of him. He felt humble and depressed and hopeless.

Elizabeth met him in the passage. At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies. Except for a pallor strange to her face and a drawn look about her eyes, there was nothing to show that all was not for the best with Elizabeth in a best of all possible worlds. If she did not look jaunty, she at least looked composed. She greeted Bill with a smile.

'I didn't wake you. I thought I would let you sleep on.'

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The words had the effect of lending an additional clarity and firmness of outline to the picture of himself which Bill had already drawn in his mind--of a soulless creature sunk in hoggish slumber.

'We've had breakfast. Nutty has gone for a walk. Isn't he wonderful nowadays? I've kept your breakfast warm for you.'

Bill protested. He might be capable of sleep, but he was not going to sink to food.

'Not for me, thanks,' he said, hollowly.