The Man in Lower Ten
10. Miss West's Request
The surprising change in her held me speechless. All the animation of the breakfast table
was gone: there was no hint of the response with which, before, she had met my
nonsensical sallies. She stood there, white-lipped, unsmiling, staring down the dusty road.
One hand was clenched tight over some small object. Her eyes dropped to it from the
distant road, and then closed, with a quick, indrawn breath. Her color came back slowly.
Whatever had caused the change, she said nothing. She was anxious to leave at once,
almost impatient over my deliberate masculine way of getting my things together.
Afterward I recalled that I had wanted to explore the barn for a horse and some sort of a
vehicle to take us to the trolley, and that she had refused to allow me to look. I
remembered many things later that might have helped me, and did not. At the time, I was
only completely bewildered. Save the wreck, the responsibility for which lay between
Providence and the engineer of the second section, all the events of that strange morning
were logically connected; they came from one cause, and tended unerringly to one end.
But the cause was buried, the end not yet in view.
Not until we had left the house well behind did the girl's face relax its tense lines. I was
watching her more closely than I had realized, for when we had gone a little way along
the road she turned to me almost petulantly. "Please don't stare so at me," she said, to my
sudden confusion. "I know the hat is dreadful. Green always makes me look ghastly."
"Perhaps it was the green." I was unaccountably relieved. "Do you know, a few minutes
ago, you looked almost pallid to me!"
She glanced at me quickly, but I was gazing ahead. We were out of sight of the house,
now, and with every step away from it the girl was obviously relieved. Whatever she held
in her hand, she never glanced at it. But she was conscious of it every second. She
seemed to come to a decision about it while we were still in sight of the gate, for she
murmured something and turned back alone, going swiftly, her feet stirring up small
puffs of dust at every step. She fastened something to the gate-post, - I could see the
nervous haste with which she worked. When she joined me again it was without
explanation. But the clenched fingers were free now, and while she looked tired and
worn, the strain had visibly relaxed.
We walked along slowly in the general direction of the suburban trolley line. Once a man
with an empty wagon offered us a lift, but after a glance at the springless vehicle I
"The ends of the bone think they are castanets as it is," I explained. "But the lady - "
The young lady, however, declined and we went on together. Once, when the trolley line
was in sight, she got a pebble in her low shoe, and we sat down under a tree until she
found the cause of the trouble.