Song of the Lark HTML version

Chapter II.8
ONE warm damp June night the Denver Express was speeding westward across
the earthy-smelling plains of Iowa. The lights in the day-coach were turned low
and the ventilators were open, admitting showers of soot and dust upon the
occupants of the narrow green plush chairs which were tilted at various angles of
discomfort. In each of these chairs some uncomfortable human being lay drawn
up, or stretched out, or writhing from one position to another. There were tired
men in rumpled shirts, their necks bare and their suspenders down; old women
with their heads tied up in black handkerchiefs; bedraggled young women who
went to sleep while they were nursing their babies and forgot to button up their
dresses; dirty boys who added to the general discomfort by taking off their boots.
The brakeman, when he came through at midnight, sniffed the heavy air
disdainfully and looked up at the ventilators. As he glanced down the double
rows of contorted figures, he saw one pair of eyes that were wide open and
bright, a yellow head that was not overcome by the stupefying heat and smell in
the car. "There's a girl for you," he thought as he stopped by Thea's chair.
"Like to have the window up a little?" he asked.
Thea smiled up at him, not misunderstanding his friendliness. "The girl behind
me is sick; she can't stand a draft. What time is it, please?"
He took out his open-faced watch and held it before her eyes with a knowing
look. "In a hurry?" he asked. "I'll leave the end door open and air you out. Catch
a wink; the time'll go faster."
Thea nodded good-night to him and settled her head back on her pillow,
looking up at the oil lamps. She was going back to Moonstone for her summer
vacation, and she was sitting up all night in a day-coach because that seemed
such an easy way to save money. At her age discomfort was a small matter,
when one made five dollars a day by it. She had confidently expected to sleep
after the car got quiet, but in the two chairs behind her were a sick girl and her
mother, and the girl had been coughing steadily since ten o'clock. They had
come from somewhere in Pennsylvania, and this was their second night on the
road. The mother said they were going to Colorado "for her daughter's lungs."
The daughter was a little older than Thea, perhaps nineteen, with patient dark
eyes and curly brown hair. She was pretty in spite of being so sooty and travel-
stained. She had put on an ugly figured satine kimono over her loosened clothes.
Thea, when she boarded the train in Chicago, happened to stop and plant her
heavy telescope on this seat. She had not intended to remain there, but the sick
girl had looked up at her with an eager smile and said, "Do sit there, miss. I'd so
much rather not have a gentleman in front of me."
After the girl began to cough there were no empty seats left, and if there had
been Thea could scarcely have changed without hurting her feelings. The mother
turned on her side and went to sleep; she was used to the cough. But the girl lay