The Man in Lower Ten
12. The Gold Bag
I have always smiled at those cases of spontaneous combustion which, like fusing the
component parts of a seidlitz powder, unite two people in a bubbling and ephemeral
ecstasy. But surely there is possible, with but a single meeting, an attraction so great, a
community of mind and interest so strong, that between that first meeting and the next the
bond may grow into something stronger. This is especially true, I fancy, of people with
temperament, the modern substitute for imagination. It is a nice question whether lovers
begin to love when they are together, or when they are apart.
Not that I followed any such line of reasoning at the time. I would not even admit my
folly to myself. But during the restless hours of that first night after the accident, when
my back ached with lying on it, and any other position was torture, I found my thoughts
constantly going back to Alison West. I dropped into a doze, to dream of touching her
fingers again to comfort her, and awoke to find I had patted a teaspoonful of medicine out
of Mrs. Klopton's indignant hand. What was it McKnight had said about making an
egregious ass of myself?
And that brought me back to Richey, and I fancy I groaned. There is no use expatiating
on the friendship between two men who have gone together through college, have
quarreled and made it up, fussed together over politics and debated creeds for years: men
don't need to be told, and women can not understand. Nevertheless, I groaned. If it had
been any one but Rich!
Some things were mine, however, and I would hold them: the halcyon breakfast, the
queer hat, the pebble in her small shoe, the gold bag with the broken chain - the bag!
Why, it was in my pocket at that moment.
I got up painfully and found my coat. Yes, there was the purse, bulging with an opulent
suggestion of wealth inside. I went back to bed again, somewhat dizzy, between effort
and the touch of the trinket, so lately hers. I held it up by its broken chain and gloated
over it. By careful attention to orders, I ought to be out in a day or so. Then - I could
return it to her. I really ought to do that: it was valuable, and I wouldn't care to trust it to
the mail. I could run down to Richmond, and see her once - there was no disloyalty to
Rich in that.
I had no intention of opening the little bag. I put it under my pillow - which was my
reason for refusing to have the linen slips changed, to Mrs. Klopton's dismay. And
sometimes during the morning, while I lay under a virgin field of white, ornamented with
strange flowers, my cigarettes hidden beyond discovery, and Science and Health on a
table by my elbow, as if by the merest accident, I slid my hand under my pillow and
touched it reverently.
McKnight came in about eleven. I heard his car at the curb, followed almost immediately
by his slam at the front door, and his usual clamor on the stairs. He had a bottle under his