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Ruffian’s Wife
by [?]

Margaret Tharp habitually passed from slumber to clear-eyed liveliness without intermediate languor. This morning nothing was unusual in her awakening save the absence of the eight o’clock San Francisco boat’s sad hooting. Across the room the clock’s hands pointed like one long hand to a few minutes past seven. Margaret rolled over beneath the covers, putting her back to the sunpainted west wall, and closed her eyes again.

But drowsiness would not come. She was definitely awake to the morning excitement of the next-door chickens, the hum of an automobile going toward the ferry, the unfamiliar fragrance of magnolia in the breeze tickling her cheek with loose hair-ends. She got up, slid feet into soft slippers, shoulders into bathrobe, and went downstairs to start toast and coffee before dressing.

A fat man in black was on the point of leaving the kitchen.

Margaret cried out, catching the robe to her throat with both hands.

Red and crystal glinted on the hand with which the fat man took off his black derby. Holding the doorknob, he turned to face Margaret. He turned slowly, with the smooth precision of a globe revolving on a fixed axis, and he managed his head with care, as if it balanced an invisible burden.

“You—are—Mrs. —Tharp.”

Sighing puffs of breath spaced his words, cushioned them, gave them the semblance of gems nested separately in raw cotton. He was a man past forty, with opaquely glistening eyes whose blackness was repeated with variety of finish in moustache and hair, freshly ironed suit, and enamelled shoes. The dark skin of his face — ball-round over a tight stiff collar — was peculiarly coarse, firm-grained, as if it had been baked. Against this background his tie was half a foot of scarlet flame.

“Your—husband—is—not—home.”

It was no more a question than his naming her had been, but he paused expectantly. Margaret, standing where she had stopped in the passageway between stairs and kitchen, was still too startled not to say ‘No.’

“You’re—expecting—him.”

There was nothing immediately threatening in the attitude of this man who should not have been in her kitchen but who seemed nowise disconcerted by her finding him there. Margaret’s words came almost easily. “Not just — I expect him, yes, but I don’t know exactly when he will come.”

Black hat and black shoulders, moving together, achieved every appearance of a bow without disturbing round head’s poise.

“You—will—so—kindly—tell—him—when—he—comes—I—am—waiting. I—await—him—at—the—hotel.” The spacing puffs prolonged his sentences interminably, made of his phrases thin-spread word-groups whose meanings were elusive. “You—will—tell—him—Leonidas—Doucas—is— waiting. He—will—know. We—are—friends—very—good—friends. You— will—not—forget—the—name—Leonidas—Doucas.”

“Certainly I shall tell him. But I really do not know when he will come.”

The man who called himself Leonidas Doucas nodded frugally beneath the unseen something his head supported. Darkness of moustache and skin exaggerated whiteness of teeth. His smile went away as stiffly as it came, with as little elasticity.

“You—may—expect—him. He—comes—now.”

He revolved slowly away from her and went out of the kitchen, shutting the door behind him.

Margaret ran tiptoe across the room to twist the key in the door. The lock’s inner mechanism rattled loosely, the bolt would not click home. The warmly sweet fragrance of magnolia enveloped her. She gave up the struggle with the broken lock and dropped down on a chair beside the door. Points of dampness were on her back. Under gown and robe her legs were cold. Doucas, not the breeze, had brought the bream of magnolia to her in bed. His un-guessed presence in the bedroom had wakened her. He had been up there looking with his surface-shining eyes for Guy. If Guy had been home, asleep beside her? A picture came of Doucas bending over the bed, his head still stiffly upright, a bright blade in his jeweled fist. She shivered.