The Man in Lower Ten
9. 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.