The Man in Lower Ten, by Mary Roberts Rinehart
I I GO TO PITTSBURG
II A TORN TELEGRAM
III ACROSS THE AISLE
IV NUMBERS SEVEN AND NINE
V THE WOMAN IN THE NEXT CAR
VI THE GIRL IN BLUE
VII A FINE GOLD CHAIN
VIII THE SECOND SECTION
IX THE HALCYON BREAKFAST
X MISS WEST’S REQUEST
XI THE NAME WAS SULLIVAN
XII THE GOLD BAG
XIII FADED ROSES
XIV THE TRAP-DOOR
XV THE CINEMATOGRAPH
XVI THE SHADOW OF A GIRL
XVII AT THE FARM-HOUSE AGAIN
XVIII A NEW WORLD
XIX AT THE TABLE NEXT
XX THE NOTES AND A BARGAIN
XXI MCKNIGHT’S THEORY
XXII AT THE BOARDING-HOUSE
XXIII A NIGHT AT THE LAURELS
XXIV HIS WIFE’S FATHER
XXV AT THE STATION
XXVI ON TO RICHMOND
XXVII THE SEA, THE SAND, THE STARS
XXVIII ALISON’S STORY
XXIX IN THE DINING-ROOM
XXX FINER DETAILS
XXXI AND ONLY ONE ARM
THE MAN IN LOWER TEN
I GO TO PITTSBURG
McKnight is gradually taking over the criminal end of the business. I never liked it, and since the strange case of the man in lower ten, I have been a bit squeamish. Given a case like that, where you can build up a network of clues that absolutely incriminate three entirely different people, only one of whom can be guilty, and your faith in circumstantial evidence dies of overcrowding. I never see a shivering, white-faced wretch in the prisoners’ dock that I do not hark back with shuddering horror to the strange events on the Pullman car Ontario, between Washington and Pittsburg, on the night of September ninth, last.
McKnight could tell the story a great deal better than I, although he can not spell three consecutive words correctly. But, while he has imagination and humor, he is lazy.
“It didn’t happen to me, anyhow,” he protested, when I put it up to him. “And nobody cares for second-hand thrills. Besides, you want the unvarnished and ungarnished truth, and I’m no hand for that. I’m a lawyer.”
So am I, although there have been times when my assumption in that particular has been disputed. I am unmarried, and just old enough to dance with the grown-up little sisters of the girls I used to know. I am fond of outdoors, prefer horses to the aforesaid grown-up little sisters, am without sentiment (am crossed out and was substituted.-Ed.) and completely ruled and frequently routed by my housekeeper, an
In fact, of all the men of my acquaintance, I was probably the most prosaic, the least adventurous, the one man in a hundred who would be likely to go without a deviation from the normal through the orderly procession of the seasons, summer suits to winter flannels, golf to bridge.
So it was a queer freak of the demons of chance to perch on my unsusceptible thirty-year-old chest, tie me up with a crime, ticket me with a love affair, and start me on that sensational and not always respectable journey that ended so surprisingly less than three weeks later in the firm’s private office. It had been the most remarkable period of my life. I would neither give it up nor live it again under any inducement, and yet all that I lost was some twenty yards off my drive!
It was really McKnight’s turn to make the next journey. I had a tournament at Chevy Chase for Saturday, and a short yacht cruise planned for Sunday, and when a man has been grinding at statute law for a week, he needs relaxation. But McKnight begged off. It was not the first time he had shirked that summer in order to run down to Richmond, and I was surly about it. But this time he had a new excuse. “I wouldn’t be able to look after the business if I did go,” he said. He has a sort of wide-eyed frankness that makes one ashamed to doubt him. “I’m always car sick crossing the mountains. It’s a fact, Lollie. See-sawing over the peaks does it. Why, crossing the Alleghany Mountains has the Gulf Stream to Bermuda beaten to a frazzle.”
So I gave him up finally and went home to pack. He came later in the evening with his machine, the Cannonball, to take me to the station, and he brought the forged notes in the Bronson case.
“Guard them with your life,” he warned me. “They are more precious than honor. Sew them in your chest protector, or wherever people keep valuables. I never keep any. I’ll not be happy until I see Gentleman Andy doing the lockstep.”
He sat down on my clean collars, found my cigarettes and struck a match on the mahogany bed post with one movement.
“Where’s the Pirate?” he demanded. The Pirate is my housekeeper, Mrs Klopton, a very worthy woman, so labeled – and libeled – because of a ferocious pair of eyes and what McKnight called a bucaneering nose. I quietly closed the door into the hall.
“Keep your voice down, Richey,” I said. “She is looking for the evening paper to see if it is going to rain. She has my raincoat and an umbrella waiting in the hall.”
The collars being damaged beyond repair, he left them and went to the window. He stood there for some time, staring at the blackness that represented the wall of the house next door.
“It’s raining now,” he said over his shoulder, and closed the window and the shutters. Something in his voice made me glance up, but he was watching me, his hands idly in his pockets.
“Who lives next door?” he inquired in a perfunctory tone, after a pause. I was packing my razor.
“House is empty,” I returned absently. “If the landlord would put it in some sort of shape – “
“Did you put those notes in your pocket?” he broke
“Yes.” I was impatient. “Along with my certificates of registration, baptism and vaccination. Whoever wants them will have to steal my coat to get them.”
“Well, I would move them, if I were you. Somebody in the next house was confoundedly anxious to see where you put them. Somebody right at that window opposite.”
I scoffed at the idea, but nevertheless I moved the papers, putting them in my traveling-bag, well down at the bottom. McKnight watched me uneasily.
“I have a hunch that you are going to have trouble,” he said, as I locked the alligator bag. “Darned if I like starting anything important on Friday.”
“You have a congenital dislike to start anything on any old day,” I retorted, still sore from my lost Saturday. “And if you knew the owner of that house as I do you would know that if there was any one at that window he is paying rent for the privilege.”
Mrs. Klopton rapped at the door and spoke discreetly from the hall.
“Did Mr. McKnight bring the evening paper?” she inquired.
“Sorry, but I didn’t, Mrs. Klopton,” McKnight called. “The Cubs won, three to nothing.” He listened, grinning, as she moved away with little irritated rustles of her black silk gown.
I finished my packing, changed my collar and was ready to go. Then very cautiously we put out the light and opened the shutters. The window across was merely a deeper black in the darkness. It was closed and dirty. And yet, probably owing to Richey’s suggestion, I had an uneasy sensation of eyes staring across at me. The next moment we were at the door, poised for flight.
“We’ll have to run for it,” I said in a whisper. “She’s down there with a package of some sort, sandwiches probably. And she’s threatened me with overshoes for a month. Ready now!”
I had a kaleidoscopic view of Mrs. Klopton in the lower hall, holding out an armful of such traveling impedimenta as she deemed essential, while beside her, Euphemia, the colored housemaid, grinned over a white-wrapped box.
“Awfully sorry-no time-back Sunday,” I panted over my shoulder. Then the door closed and the car was moving away.
McKnight bent forward and stared at the facade of the empty house next door as we passed. It was black, staring, mysterious, as empty buildings are apt to be.
“I’d like to hold a post-mortem on that corpse of a house,” he said thoughtfully. “By George, I’ve a notion to get out and take a look.”
“Somebody after the brass pipes,” I scoffed. “House has been empty for a year.”
With one hand on the steering wheel McKnight held out the other for my cigarette case. “Perhaps,” he said; “but I don’t see what she would want with brass pipe.”
“A woman!” I laughed outright. “You have been looking too hard at the picture in the back of your watch, that’s all. There’s an experiment like that: if you stare long enough – “
But McKnight was growing sulky: he sat looking rigidly ahead, and he did not speak again until he brought the Cannonball to a stop at the station. Even then it was only a perfunctory remark. He went through the gate with me, and with five minutes to spare, we lounged and smoked in the train shed. My mind had slid away from my surroundings and had wandered to a polo pony that I couldn’t afford and intended to buy anyhow. Then McKnight shook off his taciturnity.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t look so martyred,” he burst out; “I know you’ve done all the traveling this summer. I know you’re missing a game to-morrow. But don’t be a patient mother; confound it, I have to go to Richmond on Sunday. I – I want to see a girl.”
“Oh, don’t mind me,” I observed politely. “Personally, I wouldn’t change places with you. What’s her name – North? South?”
“West,” he snapped. “Don’t try to be funny. And all I have to say, Blakeley, is that if you ever fall in love I hope you make an egregious ass of yourself.”
In view of what followed, this came rather close to prophecy.
The trip west was without incident. I played bridge with a furniture dealer from Grand Rapids, a sales agent for a Pittsburg iron firm and a young professor from an eastern college. I won three rubbers out of four, finished what cigarettes McKnight had left me, and went to bed at one o’clock. It was growing cooler, and the rain had ceased. Once, toward morning, I wakened with a start, for no apparent reason, and sat bolt upright. I had an uneasy feeling that some one had been looking at me, the same sensation I had experienced earlier in the evening at the window. But I could feel the bag with the notes, between me and the window, and with my arm thrown over it for security, I lapsed again into slumber. Later, when I tried to piece together the fragments of that journey, I remembered that my coat, which had been folded and placed beyond my restless tossing, had been rescued in the morning from a heterogeneous jumble of blankets, evening papers and cravat, had been shaken out with profanity and donned with wrath. At the time, nothing occurred to me but the necessity of writing to the Pullman Company and asking them if they ever traveled in their own cars. I even formulated some of the letter.
“If they are built to scale, why not take a man of ordinary stature as your unit?” I ‘wrote mentally. “I can not fold together like the traveling cup with which I drink your abominable water.”
I was more cheerful after I had had a cup of coffee in the Union Station. It was too early to attend to business, and I lounged in the restaurant and hid behind the morning papers. As I had expected, they had got hold of my visit and its object. On the first page was a staring announcement that the forged papers in the Bronson case had been brought to Pittsburg. Underneath, a telegram from Washington stated that Lawrence Blakeley, of Blakeley and McKnight, had left for Pittsburg the night before, and that, owing to the approaching trial of the Bronson case and the illness of John Gilmore, the Pittsburg millionaire, who was the chief witness for the prosecution, it was supposed that the visit was intimately concerned with the trial.
I looked around apprehensively. There were no reporters yet in sight, and thankful to have escaped notice I paid for my breakfast and left. At the cab-stand I chose the least dilapidated hansom I could find, and giving the driver the address of the Gilmore residence, in the East end, I got in.
I was just in time. As the cab turned and rolled off, a slim young man in a straw hat separated himself from a little group of men and hurried toward us.
“Hey! Wait a minute there!” he called, breaking into a trot.
But the cabby did not hear, or perhaps did not care to. We jogged comfortably along, to my relief, leaving the young man far behind. I avoid reporters on principle, having learned long ago that I am an easy mark for a clever interviewer.
It was perhaps nine o’clock when I left the station. Our way was along the boulevard which hugged the side of one of the city’s great hills. Far below, to the left, lay the railroad tracks and the seventy times seven looming stacks of the mills. The white mist of the river, the grays and blacks of the smoke blended into a half-revealing haze, dotted here and there with fire. It was unlovely, tremendous. Whistler might have painted it with its pathos, its majesty, but he would have missed what made it infinitely suggestive – the rattle and roar of iron on iron, the rumble of wheels, the throbbing beat, against the ears, of fire and heat and brawn welding prosperity.
Something of this I voiced to the grim old millionaire who was responsible for at least part of it. He was propped up in bed in his East end home, listening to the market reports read by a nurse, and he smiled a little at my enthusiasm.
“I can’t see much beauty in it myself,” he said. “But it’s our badge of prosperity. The full dinner pail here means a nose that looks like a flue. Pittsburg without smoke wouldn’t be Pittsburg, any more than New York prohibition would be New York. Sit down for a few minutes, Mr. Blakeley. Now, Miss Gardner, Westinghouse Electric.”
The nurse resumed her reading in a monotonous voice. She read literally and without understanding, using initials and abbreviations as they came. But the shrewd old man followed her easily. Once, however, he stopped her.
“D-o is ditto,” he said gently, “not do.”
As the nurse droned along, I found myself looking curiously at a photograph in a silver frame on the bed-side table. It was the picture of a girl in white, with her hands clasped loosely before her. Against the dark background her figure stood out slim and young. Perhaps it was the rather grim environment, possibly it was my mood, but although as a general thing photographs of young girls make no appeal to me, this one did. I found my eyes straying back to it. By a little finesse I even made out the name written across the corner, “Alison.”
Mr. Gilmore lay back among his pillows and listened to the nurse’s listless voice. But he was watching me from under his heavy eyebrows, for when the reading was over, and we were alone, he indicated the picture with a gesture.
“I keep it there to remind myself that I am an old man,” he said. “That is my granddaughter, Alison West.”
I expressed the customary polite surprise, at which, finding me responsive, he told me his age with a chuckle of pride. More surprise, this time genuine. From that we went to what he ate for breakfast and did not eat for luncheon, and then to his reserve power, which at sixty-five becomes a matter for thought. And so, in a wide circle, back to where we started, the picture.
“Father was a rascal,” John Gilmore said, picking up the frame. “The happiest day of my life was when I knew he was safely dead in bed and not hanged. If the child had looked like him, I – well, she doesn’t. She’s a Gilmore, every inch. Supposed to look like me.”
“Very noticeably,” I agreed soberly.
I had produced the notes by that time, and replacing the picture Mr. Gilmore gathered his spectacles from beside it. He went over the four notes methodically, examining each carefully and putting it down before he picked up the next. Then he leaned back and took off his glasses.
“They’re not so bad,” he said thoughtfully. “Not so bad. But I never saw them before. That’s my unofficial signature. I am inclined to think – ” he was speaking partly to himself – “to think that he has got hold of a letter of mine, probably to Alison. Bronson was a friend of her rapscallion of a father.”
I took Mr. Gilmore’s deposition and put it into my traveling-bag with the forged notes. When I saw them again, almost three weeks later, they were unrecognizable, a mass of charred paper on a copper ashtray. In the interval other and bigger things had happened: the Bronson forgery case had shrunk beside the greater and more imminent mystery of the man in lower ten. And Alison West had come into the story and into my life.
A TORN TELEGRAM
I lunched alone at the Gilmore house, and went back to the city at once. The sun had lifted the mists, and a fresh summer wind had cleared away the smoke pall. The boulevard was full of cars flying countryward for the Saturday half-holiday, toward golf and tennis, green fields and babbling girls. I gritted my teeth and thought of McKnight at Richmond, visiting the lady with the geographical name. And then, for the first time, I associated John Gilmore’s granddaughter with the “West” that McKnight had irritably flung at me.
I still carried my traveling-bag, for McKnight’s vision at the window of the empty house had not been without effect. I did not transfer the notes to my pocket, and, if I had, it would not have altered the situation later. Only the other day McKnight put this very thing up to me.
“I warned you,” he reminded me. “I told you there were queer things coming, and to be on your guard. You ought to have taken your revolver.”
“It would have been of exactly as much use as a bucket of snow in Africa,” I retorted. “If I had never closed my eyes, or if I had kept my finger on the trigger of a six-shooter (which is novelesque for revolver), the result would have been the same. And the next time you want a little excitement with every variety of thrill thrown in, I can put you by way of it. You begin by getting the wrong berth in a Pullman car, and end – “
“Oh, I know how it ends,” he finished shortly. “Don’t you suppose the whole thing’s written on my spinal marrow?”
But I am wandering again. That is the difficulty with the unprofessional story-teller: he yaws back and forth and can’t keep in the wind; he drops his characters overboard when he hasn’t any further use for them and drowns them; he forgets the coffee-pot and the frying-pan and all the other small essentials, and, if he carries a love affair, he mutters a fervent “Allah be praised” when he lands them, drenched with adventures, at the matrimonial dock at the end of the final chapter.
I put in a thoroughly unsatisfactory afternoon. Time dragged eternally. I dropped in at a summer vaudeville, and bought some ties at a haberdasher’s. I was bored but unexpectant; I had no premonition of what was to come. Nothing unusual had ever happened to me; friends of mine had sometimes sailed the high seas of adventure or skirted the coasts of chance, but all of the shipwrecks had occurred after a woman passenger had been taken on. “Ergo,” I had always said “no women!” I repeated it to myself that evening almost savagely, when I found my thoughts straying back to the picture of John Gilmore’s granddaughter. I even argued as I ate my solitary dinner at a downtown restaurant.
“Haven’t you troubles enough,” I reflected, “without looking for more? Hasn’t Bad News gone lame, with a matinee race booked for next week? Otherwise aren’t you comfortable? Isn’t your house in order? Do you want to sell a pony in order to have the library done over in mission or the drawing-room in gold? Do you want somebody to count the empty cigarette boxes lying around every morning?”
Lay it to the long idle afternoon, to the new environment, to anything you like, but I began to think that perhaps I did. I was confoundedly lonely. For the first time in my life its even course began to waver: the needle registered warning marks on the matrimonial seismograph, lines vague enough, but lines.
My alligator bag lay at my feet, still locked. While I waited for my coffee I leaned back and surveyed the people incuriously. There were the usual couples intent on each other: my new state of mind made me regard them with tolerance. But at the next table, where a man and woman dined together, a different atmosphere prevailed. My attention was first caught by the woman’s face. She had been speaking earnestly across the table, her profile turned to me. I had noticed casually her earnest manner, her somber clothes, and the great mass of odd, bronze-colored hair on her neck. But suddenly she glanced toward me and the utter hopelessness – almost tragedy – of her expression struck me with a shock. She half closed her eyes and drew a long breath, then she turned again to the man across the table.
Neither one was eating. He sat low in his chair, his chin on his chest, ugly folds of thick flesh protruding over his collar. He was probably fifty, bald, grotesque, sullen, and yet not without a suggestion of power. But he had been drinking; as I looked, he raised an unsteady hand and summoned a waiter with a wine list.
The young woman bent across the table and spoke again quickly. She had unconsciously raised her voice. Not beautiful, in her earnestness and stress she rather interested me. I had an idle inclination to advise the waiter to remove the bottled temptation from the table. I wonder what would have happened if I had? Suppose Harrington had not been intoxicated when he entered the Pullman car Ontario that night!
For they were about to make a journey, I gathered, and the young woman wished to go alone. I drank three cups of coffee, which accounted for my wakefulness later, and shamelessly watched the tableau before me. The woman’s protest evidently went for nothing: across the table the man grunted monosyllabic replies and grew more and more lowering and sullen. Once, during a brief unexpected pianissimo in the music, her voice came to me sharply:
“If I could only see him in time!” she was saying. “Oh, it’s terrible!”
In spite of my interest I would have forgotten the whole incident at once, erased it from my mind as one does the inessentials and clutterings of memory, had I not met them again, later that evening, in the Pennsylvania station. The situation between them had not visibly altered: the same dogged determination showed in the man’s face, but the young woman – daughter or wife? I wondered – had drawn down her veil and I could only suspect what white misery lay beneath.
I bought my berth after waiting in a line of some eight or ten people. When, step by step, I had almost reached the window, a tall woman whom I had not noticed before spoke to me from my elbow. She had a ticket and money in her hand.
“Will you try to get me a lower when you buy yours?” she asked. “I have traveled for three nights in uppers.”
I consented, of course; beyond that I hardly noticed the woman. I had a vague impression of height and a certain amount of stateliness, but the crowd was pushing behind me, and some one was standing on my foot. I got two lowers easily, and, turning with the change and berths, held out the tickets.
“Which will you have?” I asked. “Lower eleven or lower ten?”
“It makes no difference,” she said. “Thank you very much indeed.”
At random I gave her lower eleven, and called a porter to help her with her luggage. I followed them leisurely to the train shed, and ten minutes more saw us under way.
I looked into my car, but it presented the peculiarly unattractive appearance common to sleepers. The berths were made up; the center aisle was a path between walls of dingy, breeze-repelling curtains, while the two seats at each end of the car were piled high with suitcases and umbrellas. The perspiring porter was trying to be six places at once: somebody has said that Pullman porters are black so they won’t show the dirt, but they certainly show the heat.
Nine-fifteen was an outrageous hour to go to bed, especially since I sleep little or not at all on the train, so I made my way to the smoker and passed the time until nearly eleven with cigarettes and a magazine. The car was very close. It was a warm night, and before turning in I stood a short time in the vestibule. The train had been stopping at frequent intervals, and, finding the brakeman there, I asked the trouble.
It seemed that there was a hot-box on the next car, and that not only were we late, but we were delaying the second section, just behind. I was beginning to feel pleasantly drowsy, and the air was growing cooler as we got into the mountains. I said good night to the brakeman and went back to my berth. To my surprise, lower ten was already occupied – a suit-case projected from beneath, a pair of shoes stood on the floor, and from behind the curtains came the heavy, unmistakable breathing of deep sleep. I hunted out the porter and together we investigated.
“Are you asleep, sir?” asked the porter, leaning over deferentially. No answer forthcoming, he opened the curtains and looked in. Yes, the intruder was asleep – very much asleep – and an overwhelming odor of whisky proclaimed that he would probably remain asleep until morning. I was irritated. The car was full, and I was not disposed to take an upper in order to allow this drunken interloper to sleep comfortably in my berth.
“You’ll have to get out of this,” I said, shaking him angrily. But he merely grunted and turned over. As he did so, I saw his features for the first time. It was the quarrelsome man of the restaurant.
I was less disposed than ever to relinquish my claim, but the porter, after a little quiet investigation, offered a solution of the difficulty. “There’s no one in lower nine,” he suggested, pulling open the curtains just across. “It’s likely nine’s his berth, and he’s made a mistake, owing to his condition. You’d better take nine, sir.”
I did, with a firm resolution that if nine’s rightful owner turned up later I should be just as unwakable as the man opposite. I undressed leisurely, making sure of the safety of the forged notes, and placing my grip as before between myself and the window.
Being a man of systematic habits, I arranged my clothes carefully, putting my shoes out for the porter to polish, and stowing my collar and scarf in the little hammock swung for the purpose.
At last, with my pillows so arranged that I could see out comfortably, and with the unhygienic-looking blanket turned back – I have always a distrust of those much-used affairs – I prepared to wait gradually for sleep.
But sleep did not visit me. The train came to frequent, grating stops, and I surmised the hot box again. I am not a nervous man, but there was something chilling in the thought of the second section pounding along behind us. Once, as I was dozing, our locomotive whistled a shrill warning – “You keep back where you belong,” it screamed to my drowsy ears, and from somewhere behind came a chastened “All-right-I-will.”
I grew more and more wide-awake. At Cresson I got up on my elbow and blinked out at the station lights. Some passengers boarded the train there and I heard a woman’s low tones, a southern voice, rich and full. Then quiet again. Every nerve was tense: time passed, perhaps ten minutes, possibly half an hour. Then, without the slightest warning, as the train rounded a curve, a heavy body was thrown into my berth. The incident, trivial as it seemed, was startling in its suddenness, for although my ears were painfully strained and awake, I had heard no step outside. The next instant the curtain hung limp again; still without a sound, my disturber had slipped away into the gloom and darkness. In a frenzy of wakefulness, I sat up, drew on a pair of slippers and fumbled for my bath-robe.
>From a berth across, probably lower ten, came that particular aggravating snore which begins lightly, delicately, faintly soprano, goes down the scale a note with every breath, and, after keeping the listener tense with expectation, ends with an explosion that tears the very air. I was more and more irritable: I sat on the edge of the berth and hoped the snorer would choke to death. He had considerable vitality, however; he withstood one shock after another and survived to start again with new vigor. In desperation I found some cigarettes and one match, piled my blankets over my grip, and drawing the curtains together as though the berth were still occupied, I made my way to the vestibule of the car.
I was not clad for dress parade. Is it because the male is so restricted to gloom in his every-day attire that he blossoms into gaudy colors in his pajamas and dressing-gowns? It would take a Turk to feel at home before an audience in my red and yellow bathrobe, a Christmas remembrance from Mrs. Klopton, with slippers to match.
So, naturally, when I saw a feminine figure on the platform, my first instinct was to dodge. The woman, however, was quicker than I; she gave me a startled glance, wheeled and disappeared, with a flash of two bronze-colored braids, into the next car.
Cigarette box in one hand, match in the other, I leaned against the uncertain frame of the door and gazed after her vanished figure. The mountain air flapped my bath-robe around my bare ankles, my one match burned to the end and went out, and still I stared. For I had seen on her expressive face a haunting look that was horror, nothing less. Heaven knows, I am not psychological. Emotions have to be written large before I can read them. But a woman in trouble always appeals to me, and this woman was more than that. She was in deadly fear.
If I had not been afraid of being ridiculous, I would have followed her. But I fancied that the apparition of a man in a red and yellow bath-robe, with an unkempt thatch of hair, walking up to her and assuring her that he would protect her would probably put her into hysterics. I had done that once before, when burglars had tried to break into the house, and had startled the parlor maid into bed for a week. So I tried to assure myself that I had imagined the lady’s distress – or caused it, perhaps – and to dismiss her from my mind. Perhaps she was merely anxious about the unpleasant gentleman of the restaurant. I thought smugly that I could have told her all about him: that he was sleeping the sleep of the just and the intoxicated in a berth that ought, by all that was fair and right, to have been mine, and that if I were tied to a man who snored like that I should have him anesthetized and his soft palate put where it would never again flap like a loose sail in the wind.
We passed Harrisburg as I stood there. It was starlight, and the great crests of the Alleghanies had given way to low hills. At intervals we passed smudges of gray white, no doubt in daytime comfortable farms, which McKnight says is a good way of putting it, the farms being a lot more comfortable than the people on them.
I was growing drowsy: the woman with the bronze hair and the horrified face was fading in retrospect. It was colder, too, and I turned with a shiver to go in. As I did so a bit of paper fluttered into the air and settled on my sleeve, like a butterfly on a gorgeous red and yellow blossom. I picked it up curiously and glanced at it. It was part of a telegram that had been torn into bits.
There were only parts of four words on the scrap, but it left me puzzled and thoughtful. It read, “-ower ten, car seve-.”
“Lower ten, car seven,” was my berth-the one I had bought and found preempted.
ACROSS THE AISLE
No solution offering itself, I went back to my berth. The snorer across had apparently strangled, or turned over, and so after a time I dropped asleep, to be awakened by the morning sunlight across my face.
I felt for my watch, yawning prodigiously. I reached under the pillow and failed to find it, but something scratched the back of my hand. I sat up irritably and nursed the wound, which was bleeding a little. Still drowsy, I felt more cautiously for what I supposed had been my scarf pin, but there was nothing there. Wide awake now, I reached for my traveling-bag, on the chance that I had put my watch in there. I had drawn the satchel to me and had my hand on the lock before I realized that it was not my own!
Mine was of alligator hide. I had killed the beast in Florida, after the expenditure of enough money to have bought a house and enough energy to have built one. The bag I held in my hand was a black one, sealskin, I think. The staggering thought of what the loss of my bag meant to me put my finger on the bell and kept it there until the porter came.
“Did you ring, sir?” he asked, poking his head through the curtains obsequiously. McKnight objects that nobody can poke his head through a curtain and be obsequious. But Pullman porters can and do.
“No,” I snapped. “It rang itself. What in thunder do you mean by exchanging my valise for this one? You’ll have to find it if you waken the entire car to do it. There are important papers in that grip.”
“Porter,” called a feminine voice from an upper berth near-by. “Porter, am I to dangle here all day?”
“Let her dangle,” I said savagely. “You find that bag of mine.
The porter frowned. Then he looked at me with injured dignity. “I brought in your overcoat, sir. You carried your own valise.”
The fellow was right! In an excess of caution I had refused to relinquish my alligator bag, and had turned over my other traps to the porter. It was clear enough then. I was simply a victim of the usual sleeping-car robbery. I was in a lather of perspiration by that time: the lady down the car was still dangling and talking about it: still nearer a feminine voice was giving quick orders in French, presumably to a maid. The porter was on his knees, looking under the berth.
“Not there, sir,” he said, dusting his knees. He was visibly more cheerful, having been absolved of responsibility. “Reckon it was taken while you was wanderin’ around the car last night.”
“I’ll give you fifty dollars if you find it,” I said. “A hundred. Reach up my shoes and I’ll – “
I stopped abruptly. My eyes were fixed in stupefied amazement on a coat that hung from a hook at the foot of my berth. From the coat they traveled, dazed, to the soft-bosomed shirt beside it, and from there to the collar and cravat in the net hammock across the windows.
“A hundred!” the porter repeated, showing his teeth. But I caught him by the arm and pointed to the foot of the berth.
“What – what color’s that coat?” I asked unsteadily.
“Gray, sir.” His tone was one of gentle reproof.
“And – the trousers?”
He reached over and held up one creased leg. “Gray, too,” he grinned.
“Gray!” I could not believe even his corroboration of my own eyes. “But my clothes were blue!” The porter was amused: he dived under the curtains and brought up a pair of shoes. “Your shoes, sir,” he said with a flourish. “Reckon you’ve been dreaming, sir.
Now, there are two things I always avoid in my dress – possibly an idiosyncrasy of my bachelor existence. These tabooed articles are red neckties and tan shoes. And not only were the shoes the porter lifted from the floor of a gorgeous shade of yellow, but the scarf which was run through the turned over collar was a gaudy red. It took a full minute for the real import of things to penetrate my dazed intelligence. Then I gave a vindictive kick at the offending ensemble.
“They’re not mine, any of them,” I snarled. “They are some other fellow’s. I’ll sit here until I take root before I put them on.”
“They’re nice lookin’ clothes,” the porter put in, eying the red tie with appreciation. “Ain’t everybody would have left you anything.”
“Call the conductor,” I said shortly. Then a possible explanation occurred to me. “Oh, porter – what’s the number of this berth?”
“Seven, sir. If you cain’t wear those shoes – “
“Seven!” In my relief I almost shouted it. “Why, then, it’s simple enough. I’m in the wrong berth, that’s all. My berth is nine. Only – where the deuce is the man who belongs here?”
“Likely in nine, sir.” The darky was enjoying himself. “You and the other gentleman just got mixed in the night. That’s all, sir.” It was clear that he thought I had been drinking.
I drew a long breath. Of course, that was the explanation. This was number seven’s berth, that was his soft hat, this his umbrella, his coat, his bag. My rage turned to irritation at myself.
The porter went to the next berth and I could hear his softly insinuating voice. “Time to get up, sir. Are you awake? Time to get up.”
There was no response from number nine. I guessed that he had opened the curtains and was looking in. Then he came back.
“Number nine’s empty,” he said.
“Empty! Do you mean my clothes aren’t there?” I demanded. “My valise? Why don’t you answer me?”
“You doan’ give me time,” he retorted. “There ain’t nothin’ there. But it’s been slept in.”
The disappointment was the greater for my few moments of hope. I sat up in a white fury and put on the clothes that had been left me. Then, still raging, I sat on the edge of the berth and put on the obnoxious tan shoes. The porter, called to his duties, made little excursions back to me, to offer assistance and to chuckle at my discomfiture. He stood by, outwardly decorous, but with little irritating grins of amusement around his mouth, when I finally emerged with the red tie in my hand.
“Bet the owner of those clothes didn’t become them any more than you do,” he said, as he plied the ubiquitous whisk broom.
“When I get the owner of these clothes,” I retorted grimly, “he will need a shroud. Where’s the conductor?”
The conductor was coming, he assured me; also that there was no bag answering the description of mine on the car. I slammed my way to the dressing-room, washed, choked my fifteen and a half neck into a fifteen collar, and was back again in less than five minutes. The car, as well as its occupants, was gradually taking on a daylight appearance. I hobbled in, for one of the shoes was abominably tight, and found myself facing a young woman in blue with an unforgettable face. (“Three women already.” McKnight says: “That’s going some, even if you don’t count the Gilmore nurse.”) She stood, half-turned toward me, one hand idly drooping, the other steadying her as she gazed out at the flying landscape. I had an instant impression that I had met her somewhere, under different circumstances, more cheerful ones, I thought, for the girl’s dejection now was evident. Beside her, sitting down, a small dark woman, considerably older, was talking in a rapid undertone. The girl nodded indifferently now and then. I fancied, although I was not sure, that my appearance brought a startled look into the young woman’s face. I sat down and, hands thrust deep into the other man’s pockets, stared ruefully at the other man’s shoes.
The stage was set. In a moment the curtain was going up on the first act of the play. And for a while we would all say our little speeches and sing our little songs, and I, the villain, would hold center stage while the gallery hissed.
The porter was standing beside lower ten. He had reached in and was knocking valiantly. But his efforts met with no response. He winked at me over his shoulder; then he unfastened the curtains and bent forward. Behind him, I saw him stiffen, heard his muttered exclamation, saw the bluish pallor that spread over his face and neck. As he retreated a step the interior of lower ten lay open to the day.
The man in it was on his back, the early morning sun striking full on his upturned face. But the light did not disturb him. A small stain of red dyed the front of his night clothes and trailed across the sheet; his half-open eyes were fixed, without seeing, on the shining wood above.
I grasped the porter’s shaking shoulders and stared down to where the train imparted to the body a grisly suggestion of motion. “Good Lord,” I gasped. “The man’s been murdered!”
NUMBERS SEVEN AND NINE
Afterwards, when I tried to recall our discovery of the body in lower ten, I found that my most vivid impression was not that made by the revelation of the opened curtain. I had an instantaneous picture of a slender blue-gowned girl who seemed to sense my words rather than hear them, of two small hands that clutched desperately at the seat beside them. The girl in the aisle stood, bent toward us, perplexity and alarm fighting in her face.
With twitching hands the porter attempted to draw the curtains together. Then in a paralysis of shock, he collapsed on the edge of my berth and sat there swaying. In my excitement I shook him.
“For Heaven’s sake, keep your nerve, man,” I said bruskly. “You’ll have every woman in the car in hysterics. And if you do, you’ll wish you could change places with the man in there.” He rolled his eyes.
A man near, who had been reading last night’s paper, dropped it quickly and tiptoed toward us. He peered between the partly open curtains, closed them quietly and went back, ostentatiously solemn, to his seat. The very crackle with which he opened his paper added to the bursting curiosity of the car. For the passengers knew that something was amiss: I was conscious of a sudden tension.
With the curtains closed the porter was more himself; he wiped his lips with a handkerchief and stood erect.
“It’s my last trip in this car,” he remarked heavily. “There’s something wrong with that berth. Last trip the woman in it took an overdose of some sleeping stuff, and we found her, jes’ like that, dead! And it ain’t more’n three months now since there was twins born in that very spot. No, sir, it ain’t natural.”
At that moment a thin man with prominent eyes and a spare grayish goatee creaked up the aisle and paused beside me.
“Porter sick?” he inquired, taking in with a professional eye the porter’s horror-struck face, my own excitement and the slightly gaping curtains of lower ten. He reached for the darky’s pulse and pulled out an old-fashioned gold watch.
“Hm! Only fifty! What’s the matter? Had a shock?” he asked shrewdly.
“Yes,” I answered for the porter. “We’ve both had one. If you are a doctor, I wish you would look at the man in the berth across, lower ten. I’m afraid it’s too late, but I’m not experienced in such matters.”
Together we opened the curtains, and the doctor, bending down, gave a comprehensive glance that took in the rolling head, the relaxed jaw, the ugly stain on the sheet. The examination needed only a moment. Death was written in the clear white of the nostrils, the colorless lips, the smoothing away of the sinister lines of the night before. With its new dignity the face was not unhandsome: the gray hair was still plentiful, the features strong and well cut.
The doctor straightened himself and turned to me. “Dead for some time,” he said, running a professional finger over the stains. “These are dry and darkened, you see, and rigor mortis is well established. A friend of yours?”
“I don’t know him at all,” I replied. “Never saw him but once before.”
“Then you don’t know if he is traveling alone?”
“No, he was not – that is, I don’t know anything about him,” I corrected myself. It was my first blunder: the doctor glanced up at me quickly and then turned his attention again to the body. Like a flash there had come to me the vision of the woman with the bronze hair and the tragic face, whom I had surprised in the vestibule between the cars, somewhere in the small hours of the morning. I had acted on my first impulse – the masculine one of shielding a woman.
The doctor had unfastened the coat of the striped pajamas and exposed the dead man’s chest. On the left side was a small punctured wound of insignificant size.
“Very neatly done,” the doctor said with appreciation. “Couldn’t have done it better myself. Right through the intercostal space: no time even to grunt.”
“Isn’t the heart around there somewhere?” I asked. The medical man turned toward me and smiled austerely.
“That’s where it belongs, just under that puncture, when it isn’t gadding around in a man’s throat or his boots.”
I had a new respect for the doctor, for any one indeed who could crack even a feeble joke under such circumstances, or who could run an impersonal finger over that wound and those stains. Odd how a healthy, normal man holds the medical profession in half contemptuous regard until he gets sick, or an emergency like this arises, and then turns meekly to the man who knows the ins and outs of his mortal tenement, takes his pills or his patronage, ties to him like a rudderless. ship in a gale.
“Suicide, is it, doctor?” I asked.
He stood erect, after drawing the bed-clothing over the face, and, taking off his glasses, he wiped them slowly.
“No, it is not suicide,” he announced decisively. “It is murder.”
Of course, I had expected that, but the word itself brought a shiver. I was just a bit dizzy. Curious faces through the car were turned toward us, and I could hear the porter behind me breathing audibly. A stout woman in negligee came down the aisle and querulously confronted the porter. She wore a pink dressing-jacket and carried portions of her clothing.
“Porter,” she began, in the voice of the lady who had “dangled,” “is there a rule of this company that will allow a woman to occupy the dressing-room for one hour and curl her hair with an alcohol lamp while respectable people haven’t a place where they can hook their – “
She stopped suddenly and stared into lower ten. Her shining pink cheeks grew pasty, her jaw fell. I remember trying to think of something to say, and of saying nothing at all. Then – she had buried her eyes in the nondescript garments that hung from her arm and tottered back the way she had come. Slowly a little knot of men gathered around us, silent for the most part. The doctor was making a search of the berth when the conductor elbowed his way through, followed by the inquisitive man, who had evidently summoned him. I had lost sight, for a time, of the girl in blue.
“Do it himself?” the conductor queried, after a businesslike glance at the body.
“No, he didn’t,” the doctor asserted. “There’s no weapon here, and the window is closed. He couldn’t have thrown it out, and he didn’t swallow it. What on earth are you looking for, man?”
Some one was on the floor at our feet, face down, head peering under the berth. Now he got up without apology, revealing the man who had summoned the conductor. He was dusty, alert, cheerful, and he dragged up with him the dead man’s suit-case. The sight of it brought back to me at once my own predicament.
“I don’t know whether there’s any connection or not, conductor,” I said, “but I am a victim, too, in less degree; I’ve been robbed of everything I possess, except a red and yellow bath-robe. I happened to be wearing the bath-robe, which was probably the reason the thief overlooked it.”
There was a fresh murmur in the crowd. Some body laughed nervously. The conductor was irritated.
“I can’t bother with that now,” he snarled. “The railroad company is responsible for transportation, not for clothes, jewelry and morals. If people want to be stabbed and robbed in the company’s cars, it’s their affair. Why didn’t you sleep in your clothes? I do.”
I took an angry step forward. Then somebody touched my arm, and I unclenched my fist. I could understand the conductor’s position, and beside, in the law, I had been guilty myself of contributory negligence.
“I’m not trying to make you responsible,” I protested as amiably as I could, “and I believe the clothes the thief left are as good as my own. They are certainly newer. But my valise contained valuable papers and it is to your interest as well as mine to find the man who stole it.”
“Why, of course,” the conductor said shrewdly. “Find the man who skipped out with this gentleman’s clothes, and you’ve probably got the murderer.”
“I went to bed in lower nine,” I said, my mind full again of my lost papers, “and I wakened in number seven. I was up in the night prowling around, as I was unable to sleep, and I must have gone back to the wrong berth. Anyhow, until the porter wakened me this morning I knew nothing of my mistake. In the interval the thief – murderer, too, perhaps – must have come back, discovered my error, and taken advantage of it to further his escape.”
The inquisitive man looked at me from between narrowed eyelids, ferret-like.
“Did any one on the train suspect you of having valuable papers?” he inquired. The crowd was listening intently.
“No one,” I answered promptly and positively. The doctor was investigating the murdered man’s effects. The pockets of his trousers contained the usual miscellany of keys and small change, while in his hip pocket was found a small pearl-handled revolver of the type women usually keep around. A gold watch with a Masonic charm had slid down between the mattress and the window, while a showy diamond stud was still fastened in the bosom of his shirt. Taken as a whole, the personal belongings were those of a man of some means, but without any particular degree of breeding. The doctor heaped them together.
“Either robbery was not the motive,” he reflected, “or the thief overlooked these things in his hurry.”
The latter hypothesis seemed the more tenable, when, after a thorough search, we found no pocketbook and less than a dollar in small change.
The suit-case gave no clue. It contained one empty leather-covered flask and a pint bottle, also empty, a change of linen and some collars with the laundry mark, S. H. In the leather tag on the handle was a card with the name Simon Harrington, Pittsburg. The conductor sat down on my unmade berth, across, and made an entry of the name and address. Then, on an old envelope, he wrote a few words and gave it to the porter, who disappeared.
“I guess that’s all I can do,” he said. “I’ve had enough trouble this trip to last for a year. They don’t need a conductor on these trains any more; what they ought to have is a sheriff and a posse.”
The porter from the next car came in and whispered to him. The conductor rose unhappily.
“Next car’s caught the disease,” he grumbled. “Doctor, a woman back there has got mumps or bubonic plague, or something. Will you come back?”
The strange porter stood aside.
“Lady about the middle of the car,” he said, “in black, sir, with queer-looking hair – sort of copper color, I think, sir.”
THE WOMAN IN THE NEXT CAR
With the departure of the conductor and the doctor, the group around lower ten broke up, to re-form in smaller knots through the car. The porter remained on guard. With something of relief I sank into a seat. I wanted to think, to try to remember the details of the previous night. But my inquisitive acquaintance had other intentions. He came up and sat down beside me. Like the conductor, he had taken notes of the dead man’s belongings, his name, address, clothing and the general circumstances of the crime. Now with his little note-book open before him, he prepared to enjoy the minor sensation of the robbery.
“And now for the second victim,” he began cheerfully. “What is your name and address, please?” I eyed him with suspicion.
“I have lost everything but my name and address,” I parried. “What do you want them for? Publication?”
“Oh, no; dear, no!” he said, shocked at my misapprehension. “Merely for my own enlightenment. I like to gather data of this kind and draw my own conclusions. Most interesting and engrossing. Once or twice I have forestalled the results of police investigation – but entirely for my own amusement.”
I nodded tolerantly. Most of us have hobbies; I knew a man once who carried his handkerchief up his sleeve and had a mania for old colored prints cut out of Godey’s Lady’s Book.
“I use that inductive method originated by Poe and followed since with such success by Conan Doyle. Have you ever read Gaboriau? Ah, you have missed a treat, indeed. And now, to get down to business, what is the name of our escaped thief and probable murderer?”
“How on earth do I know?” I demanded impatiently. “He didn’t write it in blood anywhere, did he?”
The little man looked hurt and disappointed.
“Do you mean to say,” he asked, “that the pockets of those clothes are entirely empty?” The pockets! In the excitement I had forgotten entirely the sealskin grip which the porter now sat at my feet, and I had not investigated the pockets at all. With the inquisitive man’s pencil taking note of everything that I found, I emptied them on the opposite seat.
Upper left-hand waist-coat, two lead pencils and a fountain pen; lower right waist-coat, match-box and a small stamp book; right-hand pocket coat, pair of gray suede gloves, new, size seven and a half; left-hand pocket, gun-metal cigarette case studded with pearls, half-full of Egyptian cigarettes. The trousers pockets contained a gold penknife, a small amount of money in bills and change, and a handkerchief with the initial “S” on it.
Further search through the coat discovered a card-case with cards bearing the name Henry Pinckney Sullivan, and a leather flask with gold mountings, filled with what seemed to be very fair whisky, and monogrammed H. P. S.
“His name evidently is Henry Pinckney Sullivan,” said the cheerful follower of Poe, as he wrote it down. “Address as yet unknown. Blond, probably. Have you noticed that it is almost always the blond men who affect a very light gray, with a touch of red in the scarf? Fact, I assure you. I kept a record once of the summer attire of men, and ninety per cent, followed my rule. Dark men like you affect navy blue, or brown.”
In spite of myself I was amused at the man’s shrewdness.
“Yes; the suit he took was dark – a blue,” I said. He rubbed his hands and smiled at me delightedly. “Then you wore black shoes, not tan,” he said, with a glance at the aggressive yellow ones I wore.
“Right again,” I acknowledged. “Black low shoes and black embroidered hose. If you keep on you’ll have a motive for the crime, and the murderer’s present place of hiding. And if you come back to the smoker with me, I’ll give you an opportunity to judge if he knew good whisky from bad.”
I put the articles from the pockets back again and got up. “I wonder if there is a diner on?” I said. “I need something sustaining after all this.”
I was conscious then of some one at my elbow. I turned to see the young woman whose face was so vaguely familiar. In the very act of speaking she drew back suddenly and colored.
“Oh, – I beg your pardon,” she said hurriedly, “I – thought you were – some one else.” She was looking in a puzzled fashion at my coat. I felt all the cringing guilt of a man who has accidentally picked up the wrong umbrella: my borrowed collar sat tight on my neck.
“I’m sorry,” I said idiotically. “I’m sorry, but – I’m not.” I have learned since that she has bright brown hair, with a loose wave in it that drops over her ears, and dark blue eyes with black lashes and – but what does it matter? One enjoys a picture as a whole: not as the sum of its parts.
She saw the flask then, and her errand came back to her. “One of the ladies at the end of car has fainted,” she explained. “I thought perhaps a stimulant – “
I picked up the flask at once and followed my guide down the aisle. Two or three women were working over the woman who had fainted. They had opened her collar and taken out her hairpins, whatever good that might do. The stout woman was vigorously rubbing her wrists, with the idea, no doubt, of working up her pulse! The unconscious woman was the one for whom I had secured lower eleven at the station.
I poured a little liquor in a bungling masculine fashion between her lips as she leaned back, with closed eyes. She choked, coughed, and rallied somewhat.
“Poor thing,” said the stout lady. “As she lies back that way I could almost think it was my mother; she used to faint so much.”
“It would make anybody faint,” chimed in another. “Murder and robbery in one night and on one car. I’m thankful I always wear my rings in a bag around my neck – even if they do get under me and keep me awake.”
The girl in blue was looking at us with wide, startled eyes. I saw her pale a little, saw the quick, apprehensive glance which she threw at her traveling companion, the small woman I had noticed before. There was an exchange – almost a clash – of glances. The small woman frowned. That was all. I turned my attention again to my patient.
She had revived somewhat, and now she asked to have the window opened. The train had stopped again and the car was oppressively hot. People around were looking at their watches and grumbling over the delay. The doctor bustled in with a remark about its being his busy day. The amateur detective and the porter together mounted guard over lower ten. Outside the heat rose in shimmering waves from the tracks: the very wood of the car was hot to touch. A Camberwell Beauty darted through the open door and made its way, in erratic plunges, great wings waving, down the sunny aisle. All around lay the peace of harvested fields, the quiet of the country.
THE GIRL IN BLUE
I was growing more and more irritable. The thought of what the loss of the notes meant was fast crowding the murder to the back of my mind. The forced inaction was intolerable.
The porter had reported no bag answering the description of mine on the train, but I was disposed to make my own investigation. I made a tour of the cars, scrutinizing every variety of hand luggage, ranging from luxurious English bags with gold mountings to the wicker nondescripts of the day coach at the rear. I was not alone in my quest, for the girl in blue was just ahead of me. Car by car she preceded me through the train, unconscious that I was behind her, looking at each passenger as she passed. I fancied the proceeding was distasteful, but that she had determined on a course and was carrying it through. We reached the end of the train almost together – empty-handed, both of us.
The girl went out to the platform. When she saw me she moved aside, and I stepped out beside her. Behind us the track curved sharply; the early sunshine threw the train, in long black shadow, over the hot earth. Forward somewhere they were hammering. The girl said nothing, but her profile was strained and anxious.
“I – if you have lost anything,” I began, “I wish you would let me try to help. Not that my own success is anything to boast of.”
She hardly glanced at me. It was not flattering. “I have not been robbed, if that is what you mean,” she replied quietly. “I am – perplexed. That is all.”
There was nothing to say to that. I lifted my hat – the other fellow’s hat – and turned to go back to my car. Two or three members of the train crew, including the conductor, were standing in the shadow talking. And at that moment, from a farm-house near came the swift clang of the breakfast bell, calling in the hands from barn and pasture. I turned back to the girl.
“We may be here for an hour,” I said, “and there is no buffet car on. If I remember my youth, that bell means ham and eggs and country butter and coffee. If you care to run the risk – “
“I am not hungry,” she said, “but perhaps a cup of coffee – dear me, I believe I am hungry,” she finished. “Only – ” She glanced back of her.
“I can bring your companion,” I suggested, without enthusiasm. But the young woman shook her head.
“She is not hungry,” she objected, “and she is very – well, I know she wouldn’t come. Do you suppose we could make it if we run?”
“I haven’t any idea,” I said cheerfully. “Any old train would be better than this one, if it does leave us behind.”
“Yes. Any train would be better than this one,” she repeated gravely. I found myself watching her changing expression. I had spoken two dozen words to her and already I felt that I knew the lights and shades in her voice, – I, who had always known how a woman rode to hounds, and who never could have told the color of her hair.
I stepped down on the ties and turned to assist her, and together we walked back to where the conductor and the porter from our car were in close conversation. Instinctively my hand went to my cigarette pocket and came out empty. She saw the gesture.
“If you want to smoke, you may,” she said. “I have a big cousin who smokes all the time. He says I am ‘kippered.'”
I drew out the gun-metal cigarette case and opened it. But this most commonplace action had an extraordinary result: the girl beside me stopped dead still and stood staring at it with fascinated eyes.
“Is – where did you get that?” she demanded, with a catch in her voice; her gaze still fixed on the cigarette case.
“Then you haven’t heard the rest of the tragedy?” I asked, holding out the case. “It’s frightfully bad luck for me, but it makes a good story. You see – “
At that moment the conductor and porter ceased their colloquy. The conductor came directly toward me, tugging as he came at his bristling gray mustache.
“I would like to talk to you in the car,” he said to me, with a curious glance at the young lady.
“Can’t it wait?” I objected. “We are on our way to a cup of coffee and a slice of bacon. Be merciful, as you are powerful.”
“I’m afraid the breakfast will have to wait,” he replied. “I won’t keep you long.” There was a note of authority in his voice which I resented; but, after all, the circumstances were unusual.
“We’ll have to defer that cup of coffee for a while,” I said to the girl; “but don’t despair; there’s breakfast somewhere.”
As we entered the car, she stood aside, but I felt rather than saw that she followed us. I was surprised to see a half dozen men gathered around the berth in which I had wakened, number seven. It had not yet been made up.
As we passed along the aisle, I was conscious of a new expression on the faces of the passengers. The tall woman who had fainted was searching my face with narrowed eyes, while the stout woman of the kindly heart avoided my gaze, and pretended to look out the window.
As we pushed our way through the group, I fancied that it closed around me ominously. The conductor said nothing, but led the way without ceremony to the side of the berth.
“What’s the matter?” I inquired. I was puzzled, but not apprehensive. “Have you some of my things? I’d be thankful even for my shoes; these are confoundedly tight.”
Nobody spoke, and I fell silent, too. For one of the pillows had been turned over, and the under side of the white case was streaked with brownish stains. I think it was a perceptible time before I realized that the stains were blood, and that the faces around were filled with suspicion and distrust.
“Why, it – that looks like blood,” I said vacuously. There was an incessant pounding in my ears, and the conductor’s voice came from far off.
“It is blood,” he asserted grimly.
I looked around with a dizzy attempt at nonchalance. “Even if it is,” I remonstrated, “surely you don’t suppose for a moment that I know anything about it!”
The amateur detective elbowed his way in. He had a scrap of transparent paper in his hand, and a pencil.
“I would like permission to trace the stains,” he began eagerly. “Also” – to me – “if you will kindly jab your finger with a pin – needle – anything – “
“If you don’t keep out of this,” the conductor said savagely, “I will do some jabbing myself. As for you, sir – ” he turned to me. I was absolutely innocent, but I knew that I presented a typical picture of guilt; I was covered with cold sweat, and the pounding in my ears kept up dizzily. “As for you, sir – “
The irrepressible amateur detective made a quick pounce at the pillow and pushed back the cover. Before our incredulous eyes he drew out a narrow steel dirk which had been buried to the small cross that served as a head.
There was a chorus of voices around, a quick surging forward of the crowd. So that was what had scratched my hand! I buried the wound in my coat pocket.
“Well,” I said, trying to speak naturally, “doesn’t that prove what I have been telling you? The man who committed the murder belonged to this berth, and made an exchange in some way after the crime. How do you know he didn’t change the tags so I would come back to this berth?” This was an inspiration; I was pleased with it. “That’s what he did, he changed the tags,” I reiterated.
There was a murmur of assent around. The doctor, who was standing beside me, put his hand on my arm. “If this gentleman committed this crime, and I for one feel sure he did not, then who is the fellow who got away? And why did he go?”
“We have only one man’s word for that,” the conductor snarled. “I’ve traveled some in these cars myself, and no one ever changed berths with me.”
Somebody on the edge of the group asserted that hereafter he would travel by daylight. I glanced up and caught the eye of the girl in blue.
“They are all mad,” she said. Her tone was low, but I heard her distinctly. “Don’t take them seriously enough to defend yourself.”
“I am glad you think I didn’t do it,” I observed meekly, over the crowd. “Nothing else is of any importance.
The conductor had pulled out his note-book again. “Your name, please,” he said gruffly.
“Lawrence Blakeley, Washington.”
“Attorney. A member of the firm of Blakeley and McKnight.”
“Mr. Blakeley, you say you have occupied the wrong berth and have been robbed. Do you know anything of the man who did it?”
“Only from what he left behind,” I answered. “These clothes – “
“They fit you,” he said with quick suspicion. “Isn’t that rather a coincidence? You are a large man.”
“Good Heavens,” I retorted, stung into fury, “do I look like a man who would wear this kind of a necktie? Do you suppose I carry purple and green barred silk handkerchiefs? Would any man in his senses wear a pair of shoes a full size too small?”
The conductor was inclined to hedge. “You will have to grant that I am in a peculiar position,” he said. “I have only your word as to the exchange of berths, and you understand I am merely doing my duty. Are there any clues in the pockets?”
For the second time I emptied them of their contents, which he noted. “Is that all?” he finished. “There was nothing else?”
“That’s not all, sir,” broke in the porter, stepping forward. “There was a small black satchel.”
“That’s so,” I exclaimed. “I forgot the bag. I don’t even know where it is.”
The easily swayed crowd looked suspicious again. I’ve grown so accustomed to reading the faces of a jury, seeing them swing from doubt to belief, and back again to doubt, that I instinctively watch expressions. I saw that my forgetfulness had done me harm – that suspicion was roused again.
The bag was found a couple of seats away, under somebody’s raincoat – another dubious circumstance. Was I hiding it? It was brought to the berth and placed beside the conductor, who opened it at once.
It contained the usual traveling impedimenta – change of linen, collars, handkerchiefs, a bronze-green scarf, and a safety razor. But the attention of the crowd riveted itself on a flat, Russia leather wallet, around which a heavy gum band was wrapped, and which bore in gilt letters the name “Simon Harrington.”
A FINE GOLD CHAIN
The conductor held it out to me, his face sternly accusing.
“Is this another coincidence?” he asked. “Did the man who left you his clothes and the barred silk handkerchief and the tight shoes leave you the spoil of the murder?”
The men standing around had drawn off a little, and I saw the absolute futility of any remonstrance. Have you ever seen a fly, who, in these hygienic days, finding no cobwebs to entangle him, is caught in a sheet of fly paper, finds himself more and more mired, and is finally quiet with the sticky stillness of despair?
Well, I was the fly. I had seen too much of circumstantial evidence to have any belief that the establishing of my identity would weigh much against the other incriminating details. It meant imprisonment and trial, probably, with all the notoriety and loss of practice they would entail. A man thinks quickly at a time like that. All the probable consequences of the finding of that pocket-book flashed through my mind as I extended my hand to take it. Then I drew my arm back.
“I don’t want it,” I said. “Look inside. Maybe the other man took the money and left the wallet.”
The conductor opened it, and again there was a curious surging forward of the crowd. To my intense disappointment the money was still there.
I stood blankly miserable while it was counted out – five one-hundred-dollar bills, six twenties, and some fives and ones that brought the total to six hundred and fifty dollars.
The little man with the note-book insisted on taking the numbers of the notes, to the conductor’s annoyance. It was immaterial to me: small things had lost their power to irritate. I was seeing myself in the prisoner’s box, going through all the nerve-racking routine of a trial for murder – the challenging of the jury, the endless cross-examinations, the alternate hope and fear. I believe I said before that I had no nerves, but for a few minutes that morning I was as near as a man ever comes to hysteria.
I folded my arms and gave myself a mental shake. I seemed to be the center of a hundred eyes, expressing every shade of doubt and distrust, but I tried not to flinch. Then some one created a diversion.
The amateur detective was busy again with the seal-skin bag, investigating the make of the safety razor and the manufacturer’s name on the bronze-green tie. Now, however, he paused and frowned, as though some pet theory had been upset.
Then from a corner of the bag he drew out and held up for our inspection some three inches of fine gold chain, one end of which was blackened and stained with blood!
The conductor held out his hand for it, but the little man was not ready to give it up. He turned to me.
“You say no watch was left you? Was there a piece of chain like that?”
“No chain at all,” I said sulkily. “No jewelry of any kind, except plain gold buttons in the shirt I am wearing.”
“Where are your glasses?” he threw at me suddenly: instinctively my hand went to my eyes. My glasses had been gone all morning, and I had not even noticed their absence. The little man smiled cynically and held out the chain.
“I must ask you to examine this,” he insisted. “Isn’t it a part of the fine gold chain you wear over your ear?”
I didn’t want to touch the thing: the stain at the end made me shudder. But with a baker’s dozen of suspicious eyes – well, we’ll say fourteen: there were no one-eyed men – I took the fragment in the tips of my fingers and looked at it helplessly.
“Very fine chains are much alike,” I managed to say. “For all I know, this may be mine, but I don’t know how it got into that sealskin bag. I never saw the bag until this morning after daylight.”
“He admits that he had the bag,” somebody said behind me. “How did you guess that he wore glasses, anyhow?” to the amateur sleuth.
That gentleman cleared his throat. “There were two reasons,” he said, “for suspecting it. When you see a man with the lines of his face drooping, a healthy individual with a pensive eye, – suspect astigmatism. Besides, this gentleman has a pronounced line across the bridge of his nose and a mark on his ear from the chain.”
After this remarkable exhibition of the theoretical as combined with the practical, he sank into a seat near-by, and still holding the chain, sat with closed eyes and pursed lips. It was evident to all the car that the solution of the mystery was a question of moments. Once he bent forward eagerly and putting the chain on the window-sill, proceeded to go over it with a pocket magnifying glass, only to shake his head in disappointment. All the people around shook their heads too, although they had not the slightest idea what it was about.
The pounding in my ears began again. The group around me seemed to be suddenly motionless in the very act of moving, as if a hypnotist had called “Rigid!” The girl in blue was looking at me, and above the din I thought she said she must speak to me – something vital. The pounding grew louder and merged into a scream. With a grinding and splintering the car rose under my feet. Then it fell away into darkness.
THE SECOND SECTION
Have you ever been picked up out of your three-meals-a-day life, whirled around in a tornado of events, and landed in a situation so grotesque and yet so horrible that you laugh even while you are groaning, and straining at its hopelessness? McKnight says that is hysteria, and that no man worthy of the name ever admits to it.
Also, as McKnight says, it sounds like a tank drama. Just as the revolving saw is about to cut the hero into stove lengths. the second villain blows up the sawmill. The hero goes up through the roof and alights on the bank of a stream at the feet of his lady love, who is making daisy chains.
Nevertheless, when I was safely home again, with Mrs. Klopton brewing strange drinks that came in paper packets from the pharmacy, and that smelled to heaven, I remember staggering to the door and closing it, and then going back to bed and howling out the absurdity and the madness of the whole thing. And while I laughed my very soul was sick, for the girl was gone by that time, and I knew by all the loyalty that answers between men for honor that I would have to put her out of my mind.
And yet, all the night that followed, filled as it was with the shrieking demons of pain, I saw her as I had seen her last, in the queer hat with green ribbons. I told the doctor this, guardedly, the next morning, and he said it was the morphia, and that I was lucky not to have seen a row of devils with green tails.
I don’t know anything about the wreck of September ninth last. You who swallowed the details with your coffee and digested the horrors with your chop, probably know a great deal more than I do. I remember very distinctly that the jumping and throbbing in my arm brought me back to a world that at first was nothing but sky, a heap of clouds that I thought hazily were the meringue on a blue charlotte russe. As the sense of hearing was slowly added to vision, I heard a woman near me sobbing that she had lost her hat pin, and she couldn’t keep her hat on.
I think I dropped back into unconsciousness again, for the next thing I remember was of my blue patch of sky clouded with smoke, of a strange roaring and crackling, of a rain of fiery sparks on my face and of somebody beating at me with feeble hands. I opened my eyes and closed them again: the girl in blue was bending over me. With that imperviousness to big things and keenness to small that is the first effect of shock, I tried to be facetious, when a spark stung my cheek.
“You will have to rouse yourself!” the girl was repeating desperately. “You’ve been on fire twice already.” A piece of striped ticking floated slowly over my head. As the wind caught it its charring edges leaped into flame.
“Looks like a kite, doesn’t it?” I remarked cheerfully. And then, as my arm gave an excruciating throb – “Jove, how my arm hurts!”
The girl bent over and spoke slowly, distinctly, as one might speak to a deaf person or a child.
“Listen, Mr. Blakeley,” she said earnestly. “You must rouse yourself. There has been a terrible accident. The second section ran into us. The wreck is burning now, and if we don’t move, we will catch fire. Do you hear?”
Her voice and my arm were bringing me to my senses. “I hear,” I said. “I – I’ll sit up in a second. Are you hurt?”
“No, only bruised. Do you think you can walk?”
I drew up one foot after another, gingerly.
“They seem to move all right,” I remarked dubiously. “Would you mind telling me where the back of my head has gone? I can’t help thinking it isn’t there.”
She made a quick examination. “It’s pretty badly bumped,” she said. “You must have fallen on it.”
I had got up on my uninjured elbow by that time, but the pain threw me back. “Don’t look at the wreck,” I entreated her. “It’s no sight for a woman. If – if there is any way to tie up this arm, I might be able to do something. There may be people under those cars!”
“Then it is too late to help,” she replied solemnly. A little shower of feathers, each carrying its fiery lamp, blew over us from some burning pillow. A part the wreck collapsed with a crash. In a resolute to play a man’s part in the tragedy going on around, I got to my knees. Then I realized what had not noticed before: the hand and wrist of the broken left arm were jammed through the handle of the sealskin grip. I gasped and sat down suddenly.
“You must not do that,” the girl insisted. I noticed now that she kept her back to the wreck, her eyes averted. “The weight of the traveling-bag must be agony. Let me support the valise until we get back a few yards. Then you must lie down until we can get it cut off.”
“Will it have to be cut off?” I asked as calmly as possible. There were red-hot stabs of agony clear to my neck, but we were moving slowly away from the track.
“Yes,” she replied, with dumfounding coolness. “If I had a knife I could do it myself. You might sit here and lean against this fence.”
By that time my returning faculties had realized that she was going to cut off the satchel, not the arm. The dizziness was leaving and I was gradually becoming myself.
“If you pull, it might come,” I suggested. “And with that weight gone, I think I will cease to be five feet eleven inches of baby.”
She tried gently to loosen the handle, but it would not move, and at last, with great drops of cold perspiration over me, I had to give up.
“I’m afraid I can’t stand it,” I said. “But there’s a knife somewhere around these clothes, and if I can find it, perhaps you can cut the leather.”
As I gave her the knife she turned it over, examining it with a peculiar expression, bewilderment rather than surprise. But she said nothing. She set to work deftly, and in a few minutes the bag dropped free.
“That’s better,” I declared, sitting up. “Now, if you can pin my sleeve to my coat, it will support the arm so we can get away from here.”
“The pin might give,” she objected, “and the jerk would be terrible.” She looked around, puzzled; then she got up, coming back in a minute with a draggled, partly scorched sheet. This she tore into a large square, and after she had folded it, she slipped it under the broken arm and tied it securely at the back of my neck.
The relief was immediate, and, picking up the sealskin bag, I walked slowly beside her, away from the track.
The first act was over: the curtain fallen. The scene was “struck.”
THE HALCYON BREAKFAST
We were still dazed, I think, for we wandered like two troubled children, our one idea at first to get as far away as we could from the horror behind us. We were both bareheaded, grimy, pallid through the grit. Now and then we met little groups of country folk hurrying to the track: they stared at us curiously, and some wished to question us. But we hurried past them; we had put the wreck behind us. That way lay madness.
Only once the girl turned and looked behind her. The wreck was hidden, but the smoke cloud hung heavy and dense. For the first time I remembered that my companion had not been alone on the train.
“It is quiet here,” I suggested. “If you will sit down on the bank I will go back and make some inquiries. I’ve been criminally thoughtless. Your traveling companion – “
She interrupted me, and something of her splendid poise was gone. “Please don’t go back,” she said. “I am afraid it would be of no use. And I don’t want to be left alone.”
Heaven knows I did not want her to be alone. I was more than content to walk along beside her aimlessly, for any length of time. Gradually, as she lost the exaltation of the moment, I was gaining my normal condition of mind. I was beginning to realize that I had lacked the morning grace of a shave, that I looked like some lost hope of yesterday, and that my left shoe pinched outrageously. A man does not rise triumphant above such handicaps. The girl, for all her disordered hair and the crumpled linen of her waist, in spite of her missing hat and the small gold bag that hung forlornly from a broken chain, looked exceedingly lovely.
“Then I won’t leave you alone,” I said manfully, and we stumbled on together. Thus far we had seen nobody from the wreck, but well up the lane we came across the tall dark woman who had occupied lower eleven. She was half crouching beside the road, her black hair about her shoulders, and an ugly bruise over her eye. She did not seem to know us, and refused to accompany us. We left her there at last, babbling incoherently and rolling in her hands a dozen pebbles she had gathered in the road.
The girl shuddered as we went on. Once she turned and glanced at my bandage. “Does it hurt very much?” she asked.
“It’s growing rather numb. But it might be worse,” I answered mendaciously. If anything in this world could be worse, I had never experienced it.
And so we trudged on bareheaded under the summer sun, growing parched and dusty and weary, doggedly leaving behind us the pillar of smoke. I thought I knew of a trolley line somewhere in the direction we were going, or perhaps we could find a horse and trap to take us into Baltimore. The girl smiled when I suggested it.
“We will create a sensation, won’t we?” she asked. “Isn’t it queer – or perhaps it’s my state of mind – but I keep wishing for a pair of gloves, when I haven’t even a hat!”
When we reached the main road we sat down for a moment, and her hair, which had been coming loose for some time, fell over her shoulders in little waves that were most alluring. It seemed a pity to twist it up again, but when I suggested this, cautiously, she said it was troublesome and got in her eyes when it was loose. So she gathered it up, while I held a row of little shell combs and pins, and when it was done it was vastly becoming, too. Funny about hair: a man never knows he has it until he begins to lose it, but it’s different with a girl. Something of the unconventional situation began to dawn on her as she put in the last hair-pin and patted some stray locks to place.
“I have not told you my name,” she said abruptly. “I forgot that because I know who you are, you know nothing about me. I am Alison West, and my home is in Richmond.”
So that was it! This was the girl of the photograph on John Gilmore’s bedside table. The girl McKnight expected to see in Richmond the next day, Sunday! She was on her way back to meet him! Well, what difference did it make, anyhow? We had been thrown together by the merest chance. In an hour or two at the most we would be back in civilization and she would recall me, if she remembered me at all, as an unshaven creature in a red cravat and tan shoes, with a soiled Pullman sheet tied around my neck. I drew a deep breath.
“Just a twinge,” I said, when she glanced up quickly. “It’s very good of you to let me know, Miss West. I have been hearing delightful things about you for three months.”
“From Richey McKnight?” She was frankly curious.
“Yes. From Richey McKnight,” I assented. Was it any wonder McKnight was crazy about her? I dug my heels into the dust.
“I have been visiting near Cresson, in the mountains,” Miss West was saying. “The person you mentioned, Mrs. Curtis, was my hostess. We – we were on our way to Washington together.” She spoke slowly, as if she wished to give the minimum of explanation. Across her face had come again the baffling expression of perplexity and trouble I had seen before.
“You were on your way home, I suppose? Richey spoke about seeing you,” I floundered, finding it necessary to say something. She looked at me with level, direct eyes.
“No,” she returned quietly. “I did not intend to go home. I – well, it doesn’t matter; I am going home now.”
A woman in a calico dress, with two children, each an exact duplicate of the other, had come quickly down the road. She took in the situation at a glance, and was explosively hospitable.
“You poor things,” she said. “If you’ll take the first road to the left over there, and turn in at the second pigsty, you will find breakfast on the table and a coffee-pot on the stove. And there’s plenty of soap and water, too. Don’t say one word. There isn’t a soul there to see you.”
We accepted the invitation and she hurried on toward the excitement and the railroad. I got up carefully and helped Miss West to her feet.
“At the second pigsty to the left,” I repeated, “we will find the breakfast I promised you seven eternities ago. Forward to the pigsty!”
We said very little for the remainder of that walk. I had almost reached the limit of endurance: with every step the broken ends of the bone grated together. We found the farm-house without difficulty, and I remember wondering if I could hold out to the end of the old stone walk that led between hedges to the door.
“Allah be praised,” I said with all the voice I could muster. “Behold the coffee-pot!” And then I put down the grip and folded up like a jack-knife on the porch floor.
When I came around something hot was trickling down my neck, and a despairing voice was saying, “Oh, I don’t seem to be able to pour it into your mouth. Please open your eyes.”
“But I don’t want it in my eyes,” I replied dreamily. “I haven’t any idea what came over me. It was the shoes, I think: the left one is a red-hot torture.” I was sitting by that time and looking across into her face.
Never before or since have I fainted, but I would do it joyfully, a dozen times a day, if I could waken again to the blissful touch of soft fingers on my face, the hot ecstasy of coffee spilled by those fingers down my neck. There was a thrill in every tone of her voice that morning. Before long my loyalty to McKnight would step between me and the girl he loved: life would develop new complexities. In those early hours after the wreck, full of pain as they were, there was nothing of the suspicion and distrust that came later. Shorn of our gauds and baubles, we were primitive man and woman, together: our world for the hour was the deserted farm-house, the slope of wheat-field that led to the road, the woodland lot, the pasture.
We breakfasted together across the homely table. Our cheerfulness, at first sheer reaction, became less forced as we ate great slices of bread from the granny oven back of the house, and drank hot fluid that smelled like coffee and tasted like nothing that I have ever swallowed. We found cream in stone jars, sunk deep in the chill water of the spring house. And there were eggs, great yellow-brown ones, – a basket of them.
So, like two children awakened from a nightmare, we chattered over our food: we hunted mutual friends, we laughed together at my feeble witticisms, but we put the horror behind us resolutely. After all, it was the hat with the green ribbons that brought back the strangeness of the situation.
All along I had had the impression that Alison West was deliberately putting out of her mind something that obtruded now and then. It brought with it a return of the puzzled expression that I had surprised early in the day, before the wreck. I caught it once, when, breakfast over, she was tightening the sling that held the broken arm. I had prolonged the morning meal as much as I could, but when the wooden clock with the pink roses on the dial pointed to half after ten, and the mother with the duplicate youngsters had not come back, Miss West made the move I had dreaded.
“If we are to get into Baltimore at all we must start,” she said, rising. “You ought to see a doctor as soon as possible.”
“Hush,” I said warningly. “Don’t mention the arm, please; it is asleep now. You may rouse it.”
“If I only had a hat,” she reflected. “It wouldn’t need to be much of one, but – ” She gave a little cry and darted to the corner. “Look,” she said triumphantly, “the very thing. With the green streamers tied up in a bow, like this – do you suppose the child would mind? I can put five dollars or so here – that would buy a dozen of them.”
It was a queer affair of straw, that hat, with a round crown and a rim that flopped dismally. With a single movement she had turned it up at one side and fitted it to her head. Grotesque by itself, when she wore it it was a thing of joy.
Evidently the lack of head covering had troubled her, for she was elated at her find. She left me, scrawling a note of thanks and pinning it with a bill to the table-cloth, and ran up-stairs to the mirror and the promised soap and water.
I did not see her when she came down. I had discovered a bench with a tin basin outside the kitchen door, and was washing, in a helpless, one-sided way. I felt rather than saw that she was standing in the door-way, and I made a final plunge into the basin.
“How is it possible for a man with only a right hand to wash his left ear?” I asked from the roller towel. I was distinctly uncomfortable: men are more rigidly creatures of convention than women, whether they admit it or not. “There is so much soap on me still that if I laugh I will blow bubbles. Washing with rain-water and home-made soap is like motoring on a slippery road. I only struck the high places.”
Then, having achieved a brilliant polish with the towel, I looked at the girl.
She was leaning against the frame of the door, her face perfectly colorless, her breath coming in slow, difficult respirations. The erratic hat was pinned to place, but it had slid rakishly to one side. When I realized that she was staring, not at me, but past me