The Man in Lower Ten
8. 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!"