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´╗┐Title: The Indiscreet Letter
Author: Abbott, Eleanor Hallowell, 1872-1958
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.


*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Indiscreet Letter" ***


THE INDISCREET LETTER

by

ELEANOR HALLOWELL ABBOTT

Author of _Molly Make Believe_, _The Sick-A-Bed Lady_, etc., etc.

New York
The Century Co.

1915



THE INDISCREET LETTER


The Railroad Journey was very long and slow. The Traveling Salesman
was rather short and quick. And the Young Electrician who lolled
across the car aisle was neither one length nor another, but most
inordinately flexible, like a suit of chain armor.

More than being short and quick, the Traveling Salesman was distinctly
fat and unmistakably dressy in an ostentatiously new and pure-looking
buff-colored suit, and across the top of the shiny black sample-case
that spanned his knees he sorted and re-sorted with infinite
earnestness a large and varied consignment of "Ladies' Pink and Blue
Ribbed Undervests." Surely no other man in the whole southward-bound
Canadian train could have been at once so ingenuous and so nonchalant.

There was nothing dressy, however, about the Young Electrician. From
his huge cowhide boots to the lead smouch that ran from his rough,
square chin to the very edge of his astonishingly blond curls, he was
one delicious mess of toil and old clothes and smiling, blue-eyed
indifference. And every time that he shrugged his shoulders or crossed
his knees he jingled and jangled incongruously among his coil-boxes
and insulators, like some splendid young Viking of old, half blacked
up for a modern minstrel show.

More than being absurdly blond and absurdly messy, the Young
Electrician had one of those extraordinarily sweet, extraordinarily
vital, strangely mysterious, utterly unexplainable masculine faces
that fill your senses with an odd, impersonal disquietude, an itching
unrest, like the hazy, teasing reminder of some previous existence in
a prehistoric cave, or, more tormenting still, with the tingling,
psychic prophecy of some amazing emotional experience yet to come. The
sort of face, in fact, that almost inevitably flares up into a woman's
startled vision at the one crucial moment in her life when she is not
supposed to be considering alien features.

Out from the servient shoulders of some smooth-tongued Waiter it
stares, into the scared dilating pupils of the White Satin Bride with
her pledged hand clutching her Bridegroom's sleeve. Up from the
gravelly, pick-and-shovel labor of the new-made grave it lifts its
weirdly magnetic eyes to the Widow's tears. Down from some petted
Princeling's silver-trimmed saddle horse it smiles its electrifying,
wistful smile into the Peasant's sodden weariness. Across the slender
white rail of an always _out-going_ steamer it stings back into your
gray, land-locked consciousness like the tang of a scarlet spray. And
the secret of the face, of course, is "Lure"; but to save your soul
you could not decide in any specific case whether the lure is the lure
of personality, or the lure of physiognomy--a mere accidental,
coincidental, haphazard harmony of forehead and cheek-bone and
twittering facial muscles.

Something, indeed, in the peculiar set of the Young Electrician's jaw
warned you quite definitely that if you should ever even so much as
hint the small, sentimental word "lure" to him he would most certainly
"swat" you on first impulse for a maniac, and on second impulse for a
liar--smiling at you all the while in the strange little wrinkly
tissue round his eyes.

The voice of the Railroad Journey was a dull, vague, conglomerate,
cinder-scented babble of grinding wheels and shuddering window frames;
but the voices of the Traveling Salesman and the Young Electrician
were shrill, gruff, poignant, inert, eternally variant, after the
manner of human voices which are discussing the affairs of the
universe.

"Every man," affirmed the Traveling Salesman sententiously--"every man
has written one indiscreet letter during his lifetime!"

"Only one?" scoffed the Young Electrician with startling distinctness
above even the loudest roar and rumble of the train.

With a rather faint, rather gaspy chuckle of amusement the Youngish
Girl in the seat just behind the Traveling Salesman reached forward
then and touched him very gently on the shoulder.

"Oh, please, may I listen?" she asked quite frankly.

With a smile as benevolent as it was surprised, the Traveling Salesman
turned half-way around in his seat and eyed her quizzically across the
gold rim of his spectacles.

"Why, sure you can listen!" he said.

The Traveling Salesman was no fool. People as well as lisle thread
were a specialty of his. Even in his very first smiling estimate of
the Youngish Girl's face, neither vivid blond hair nor luxuriantly
ornate furs misled him for an instant. Just as a Preacher's high
waistcoat passes him, like an official badge of dignity and honor,
into any conceivable kind of a situation, so also does a woman's high
forehead usher her with delicious impunity into many conversational
experiences that would hardly be wise for her lower-browed sister.

With an extra touch of manners the Salesman took off his neat brown
derby hat and placed it carefully on the vacant seat in front of him.
Then, shifting his sample-case adroitly to suit his new twisted
position, he began to stick cruel little prickly price marks through
alternate meshes of pink and blue lisle.

"Why, sure you can listen!" he repeated benignly. "Traveling alone's
awful stupid, ain't it? I reckon you were glad when the busted heating
apparatus in the sleeper gave you a chance to come in here and size up
a few new faces. Sure you can listen! Though, bless your heart, we
weren't talking about anything so very specially interesting," he
explained conscientiously. "You see, I was merely arguing with my
young friend here that if a woman really loves you, she'll follow you
through any kind of blame or disgrace--follow you anywheres, I
said--anywheres!"

"Not anywheres," protested the Young Electrician with a grin. "'Not up
a telegraph pole!'" he requoted sheepishly.

"Y-e-s--I heard that," acknowledged the Youngish Girl with blithe
shamelessness.

"Follow you '_anywheres_,' was what I said," persisted the Traveling
Salesman almost irritably. "Follow you '_anywheres_'! Run! Walk! Crawl
on her hands and knees if it's really necessary. And yet--" Like a
shaggy brown line drawn across the bottom of a column of figures, his
eyebrows narrowed to their final calculation. "And yet--" he estimated
cautiously, "and yet--there's times when I ain't so almighty sure
that her following you is any more specially flattering to you than if
you was a burglar. She don't follow you so much, I reckon, because you
_are_ her love as because you've _got_ her love. God knows it ain't
just you, yourself, she's afraid of losing. It's what she's already
invested in you that's worrying her! All her pinky-posy, cunning
kid-dreams about loving and marrying, maybe; and the pretty-much
grown-up winter she fought out the whisky question with you, perhaps;
and the summer you had the typhoid, likelier than not; and the spring
the youngster was born--oh, sure, the spring the youngster was born!
Gee! If by swallowing just one more yarn you tell her, she can only
keep on holding down all the old yarns you ever told her--if, by
forgiving you just one more forgive-you, she can only hang on, as it
were, to the original worth-whileness of the whole darned
business--if by--"

"Oh, that's what you meant by the 'whole darned business,' was it?"
cried the Youngish Girl suddenly, edging away out to the front of her
seat. Along the curve of her cheeks an almost mischievous smile began
to quicken. "Oh, yes! I heard that, too!" she confessed cheerfully.
"But what was the beginning of it all? The very beginning? What was
the first thing you said? What started you talking about it? Oh,
please, excuse me for hearing anything at all," she finished abruptly;
"but I've been traveling alone now for five dreadful days, all the way
down from British Columbia, and--if--you--will--persist--in--saying
interesting things--in trains--you must take the consequences!"

There was no possible tinge of patronage or condescension in her
voice, but rather, instead, a bumpy, naive sort of friendliness, as
lonesome Royalty sliding temporarily down from its throne might
reasonably contend with each bump, "A King may look at a cat! He may!
He may!"

Along the edge of the Young Electrician's cheek-bones the red began to
flush furiously. He seemed to have a funny little way of blushing just
before he spoke, and the physical mannerism gave an absurdly
italicized sort of emphasis to even the most trivial thing that he
said.

"I guess you'll have to go ahead and tell her about 'Rosie,'" he
suggested grinningly to the Traveling Salesman.

"Yes! Oh, do tell me about 'Rosie,'" begged the Youngish Girl with
whimsical eagerness. "Who in creation was 'Rosie'?" she persisted
laughingly. "I've been utterly mad about 'Rosie' for the last
half-hour!"

"Why, 'Rosie' is nobody at all--probably," said the Traveling Salesman
a trifle wryly.

"Oh, pshaw!" flushed the Young Electrician, crinkling up all the
little smile-tissue around his blue eyes. "Oh, pshaw! Go ahead and
tell her about 'Rosie.'"

"Why, I tell you it wasn't anything so specially interesting,"
protested the Traveling Salesman diffidently. "We simply got jollying
a bit in the first place about the amount of perfectly senseless,
no-account truck that'll collect in a fellow's pockets; and then some
sort of a scorched piece of paper he had, or something, got him
telling me about a nasty, sizzling close call he had to-day with a
live wire; and then I got telling him here about a friend of
mine--and a mighty good fellow, too--who dropped dead on the street
one day last summer with an unaddressed, typewritten letter in his
pocket that began 'Dearest Little Rosie,' called her a 'Honey' and a
'Dolly Girl' and a 'Pink-Fingered Precious,' made a rather foolish
dinner appointment for Thursday in New Haven, and was signed--in the
Lord's own time--at the end of four pages, 'Yours forever, and then
some. TOM.'--Now the wife of the deceased was named--Martha."

Quite against all intention, the Youngish Girl's laughter rippled out
explosively and caught up the latent amusement in the Young
Electrician's face. Then, just as unexpectedly, she wilted back a
little into her seat.

"I don't call that an 'indiscreet letter'!" she protested almost
resentfully. "You might call it a knavish letter. Or a foolish letter.
Because either a knave or a fool surely wrote it! But 'indiscreet'?
U-m-m, No!"

"Well, for heaven's sake!" said the Traveling Salesman.
"If--you--don't--call--that--an--indiscreet letter, what would you
call one?"

"Yes, sure," gasped the Young Electrician, "what would you call one?"
The way his lips mouthed the question gave an almost tragical purport
to it.

"What would I call an 'indiscreet letter'?" mused the Youngish Girl
slowly. "Why--why--I think I'd call an 'indiscreet letter' a letter
that was pretty much--of a gamble perhaps, but a letter that was
perfectly, absolutely legitimate for you to send, because it would be
your own interests and your own life that you were gambling with, not
the happiness of your wife or the honor of your husband. A letter,
perhaps, that might be a trifle risky--but a letter, I mean, that is
absolutely on the square!"

"But if it's absolutely 'on the square,'" protested the Traveling
Salesman, worriedly, "then where in creation does the 'indiscreet'
come in?"

The Youngish Girl's jaw dropped. "Why, the 'indiscreet' part comes
in," she argued, "because you're not able to prove in advance, you
know, that the stakes you're gambling for are absolutely 'on the
square.' I don't know exactly how to express it, but it seems somehow
as though only the very little things of Life are offered in open
packages--that all the big things come sealed very tight. You can poke
them a little and make a guess at the shape, and you can rattle them a
little and make a guess at the size, but you can't ever open them and
prove them--until the money is paid down and gone forever from your
hands. But goodness me!" she cried, brightening perceptibly; "if you
were to put an advertisement in the biggest newspaper in the biggest
city in the world, saying: 'Every person who has ever written an
indiscreet letter in his life is hereby invited to attend a
mass-meeting'--and if people would really go--you'd see the most
distinguished public gathering that you ever saw in your life! Bishops
and Judges and Statesmen and Beautiful Society Women and Little Old
White-Haired Mothers--everybody, in fact, who had ever had red blood
enough at least once in his life to write down in cold black and white
the one vital, quivering, questioning fact that happened to mean the
most to him at that moment! But your 'Honey' and your 'Dolly Girl' and
your 'Pink-Fingered Precious' nonsense! Why, it isn't real! Why, it
doesn't even _make sense_!"

Again the Youngish Girl's laughter rang out in light, joyous, utterly
superficial appreciation.

Even the serious Traveling Salesman succumbed at last.

"Oh, yes, I know it sounds comic," he acknowledged wryly. "Sounds like
something out of a summer vaudeville show or a cheap Sunday
supplement. But I don't suppose it sounded so specially blamed comic
to the widow. I reckon she found it plenty-heap indiscreet enough to
suit her. Oh, of course," he added hastily, "I know, and Martha knows
that Thomkins wasn't at all that kind of a fool. And yet, after
all--when you really settle right down to think about it, Thomkins'
name was easily 'Tommy,' and Thursday sure enough was his day in New
Haven, and it was a yard of red flannel that Martha had asked him to
bring home to her--not the scarlet automobile veil that they found in
his pocket. But 'Martha,' I says, of course, 'Martha, it sure does
beat all how we fellows that travel round so much in cars and trains
are always and forever picking up automobile veils--dozens of them,
_dozens_--red, blue, pink, yellow--why, I wouldn't wonder if my wife
had as many as thirty-four tucked away in her top bureau drawer!'--'I
wouldn't wonder,' says Martha, stooping lower and lower over
Thomkins's blue cotton shirt that she's trying to cut down into
rompers for the baby. 'And, Martha,' I says, 'that letter is just a
joke. One of the boys sure put it up on him!'--'Why, of course,' says
Martha, with her mouth all puckered up crooked, as though a kid had
stitched it on the machine. 'Why, of course! How dared you think--'"

Forking one bushy eyebrow, the Salesman turned and stared quizzically
off into space.

"But all the samey, just between you and I," he continued judicially,
"all the samey, I'll wager you anything you name that it ain't just
death that's pulling Martha down day by day, and night by night,
limper and lanker and clumsier-footed. Martha's got a sore thought.
That's what ails her. And God help the crittur with a sore thought!
God help anybody who's got any one single, solitary sick idea that
keeps thinking on top of itself, over and over and over, boring into
the past, bumping into the future, fussing, fretting, eternally
festering. Gee! Compared to it, a tight shoe is easy slippers, and
water dropping on your head is perfect peace!--Look close at Martha,
I say. Every night when the blowsy old moon shines like courting
time, every day when the butcher's bill comes home as big as a swollen
elephant, when the crippled stepson tries to cut his throat again,
when the youngest kid sneezes funny like his father--'WHO WAS
ROSIE? WHO WAS ROSIE?'"

"Well, who was Rosie?" persisted the Youngish Girl absent-mindedly.

"Why, Rosie was _nothing_!" snapped the Traveling Salesman; "nothing
at all--probably." Altogether in spite of himself, his voice trailed
off into a suspiciously minor key. "But all the same," he continued
more vehemently, "all the same--it's just that little darned word
'probably' that's making all the mess and bother of it--because, as
far as I can reckon, a woman can stand absolutely anything under God's
heaven that she knows; but she just up and can't stand the littlest,
teeniest, no-account sort of thing that she ain't sure of. Answers may
kill 'em dead enough, but it's questions that eats 'em alive."

For a long, speculative moment the Salesman's gold-rimmed eyes went
frowning off across the snow-covered landscape. Then he ripped off his
glasses and fogged them very gently with his breath.

"Now--I--ain't--any--saint," mused the Traveling Salesman
meditatively, "and I--ain't very much to look at, and being on the
road ain't a business that would exactly enhance my valuation in the
eyes of a lady who was actually looking out for some safe place to
bank her affections; but I've never yet reckoned on running with any
firm that didn't keep up to its advertising promises, and if a man's
courtship ain't his own particular, personal advertising
proposition--then I don't know anything about--_anything_! So if I
should croak sudden any time in a railroad accident or a hotel fire or
a scrap in a saloon, I ain't calculating on leaving my wife any very
large amount of 'sore thoughts.' When a man wants his memory kept
green, he don't mean--gangrene!

"Oh, of course," the Salesman continued more cheerfully, "a sudden
croaking leaves any fellow's affairs at pretty raw ends--lots of
queer, bitter-tasting things that would probably have been all right
enough if they'd only had time to get ripe. Lots of things, I haven't
a doubt, that would make my wife kind of mad, but nothing, I'm
calculating, that she wouldn't understand. There'd be no questions
coming in from the office, I mean, and no fresh talk from the road
that she ain't got the information on hand to meet. Life insurance
ain't by any means, in my mind, the only kind of protection that a
man owes his widow. Provide for her Future--if you can!--That's my
motto!--But a man's just a plain bum who don't provide for his own
Past! She may have plenty of trouble in the years to come settling her
own bills, but she ain't going to have any worry settling any of mine.
I tell you, there'll be no ladies swelling round in crape at my
funeral that my wife don't know by their first names!"

With a sudden startling guffaw the Traveling Salesman's mirth rang
joyously out above the roar of the car.

"Tell me about your wife," said the Youngish Girl a little wistfully.

Around the Traveling Salesman's generous mouth the loud laugh
flickered down to a schoolboy's bashful grin.

"My wife?" he repeated. "Tell you about my wife? Why, there isn't
much to tell. She's little. And young. And was a school-teacher. And I
married her four years ago."

"And were happy--ever--after," mused the Youngish Girl teasingly.

"No!" contradicted the Traveling Salesman quite frankly. "No! We
didn't find out how to be happy at all until the last three years!"

Again his laughter rang out through the car.

"Heavens! Look at me!" he said at last. "And then think of
her!--Little, young, a school-teacher, too, and taking poetry to read
on the train same as you or I would take a newspaper! Gee! What would
you expect?" Again his mouth began to twitch a little. "And I thought
it was her fault--'most all of the first year," he confessed
delightedly. "And then, all of a sudden," he continued eagerly, "all
of a sudden, one day, more mischievous-spiteful than anything else, I
says to her, 'We don't seem to be getting on so very well, do we?' And
she shakes her head kind of slow. 'No, we don't!' she says.--'Maybe
you think I don't treat you quite right?' I quizzed, just a bit
mad.--'No, you don't! That is, not--exactly right,' she says, and came
burrowing her head in my shoulder as cozy as could be.--'Maybe you
could show me how to treat you--righter,' I says, a little bit
pleasanter.--'I'm perfectly sure I could!' she says, half laughing and
half crying. 'All you'll have to do,' she says, 'is just to watch
me!'--'Just watch what _you_ do?' I said, bristling just a bit
again.--'No,' she says, all pretty and soft-like; 'all I want you to
do is to watch what I _don't_ do!'"

With slightly nervous fingers the Traveling Salesman reached up and
tugged at his necktie as though his collar were choking him suddenly.

"So that's how I learned my table manners," he grinned, "and that's
how I learned to quit cussing when I was mad round the house, and
that's how I learned--oh, a great many things--and that's how I
learned--" grinning broader and broader--"that's how I learned not to
come home and talk all the time about the 'peach' whom I saw on the
train or the street. My wife, you see, she's got a little scar on her
face--it don't show any, but she's awful sensitive about it, and
'Johnny,' she says, 'don't you never notice that I don't ever rush
home and tell _you_ about the wonderful _slim_ fellow who sat next to
me at the theater, or the simply elegant _grammar_ that I heard at the
lecture? I can recognize a slim fellow when I see him, Johnny,' she
says, 'and I like nice grammar as well as the next one, but praising
'em to you, dear, don't seem to me so awfully polite. Bragging about
handsome women to a plain wife, Johnny,' she says, 'is just about as
raw as bragging about rich men to a husband who's broke.'

"Oh, I tell you a fellow's a fool," mused the Traveling Salesman
judicially, "a fellow's a fool when he marries who don't go to work
deliberately to study and understand his wife. Women are awfully
understandable if you only go at it right. Why, the only thing that
riles them in the whole wide world is the fear that the man they've
married ain't quite bright. Why, when I was first married I used to
think that my wife was awful snippety about other women. But, Lord!
when you point a girl out in the car and say, 'Well, ain't that girl
got the most gorgeous head of hair you ever saw in your life?' and
your wife says: 'Yes--Jordan is selling them puffs six for a dollar
seventy-five this winter,' she ain't intending to be snippety at all.
No!--It's only, I tell you, that it makes a woman feel just plain
silly to think that her husband don't even know as much as she does.
Why, Lord! she don't care how much you praise the grocer's daughter's
style, or your stenographer's spelling, as long as you'll only show
that you're _equally wise_ to the fact that the grocer's daughter sure
has a nasty temper, and that the stenographer's spelling is mighty
near the best thing about her.

"Why, a man will go out and pay every cent he's got for a good hunting
dog--and then snub his wife for being the finest untrained retriever
in the world. Yes, sir, that's what she is--a retriever; faithful,
clever, absolutely unscarable, with no other object in life except to
track down and fetch to her husband every possible interesting fact in
the world that he don't already know. And then she's so excited and
pleased with what she's got in her mouth that it 'most breaks her
heart if her man don't seem to care about it. Now, the secret of
training her lies in the fact that she won't never trouble to hunt out
and fetch you any news that she sees you already know. And just as
soon as a man once appreciates all this--then Joy is come to the Home!

"Now there's Ella, for instance," continued the Traveling Salesman
thoughtfully. "Ella's a traveling man, too. Sells shotguns up through
the Aroostook. Yes, shotguns! Funny, ain't it, and me selling
undervests? Ella's an awful smart girl. Good as gold. But cheeky? Oh,
my!--Well, once I would have brought her down to the house for Sunday,
and advertised her as a 'peach,' and a 'dandy good fellow,' and
praised her eyes, and bragged about her cleverness, and generally
done my best to smooth over all her little deficiencies with as much
palaver as I could. And that little retriever of mine would have gone
straight to work and ferreted out every single, solitary,
uncomplimentary thing about Ella that she could find, and 'a' fetched
'em to me as pleased and proud as a puppy, expecting, for all the
world, to be petted and patted for her astonishing shrewdness. And
there would sure have been gloom in the Sabbath.

"But now--now--what I say now is: 'Wife, I'm going to bring Ella down
for Sunday. You've never seen her, and you sure will hate her. She's
big, and showy, and just a little bit rough sometimes, and she rouges
her cheeks too much, and she's likelier than not to chuck me under the
chin. But it would help your old man a lot in a business way if you'd
be pretty nice to her. And I'm going to send her down here Friday, a
day ahead of me.'--And oh, gee!--I ain't any more than jumped off the
car Saturday night when there's my little wife out on the street
corner with her sweater tied over her head, prancing up and down first
on one foot and then on the other--she's so excited, to slip her hand
in mine and tell me all about it. 'And Johnny,' she says--even before
I've got my glove off--'Johnny,' she says, 'really, do you know, I
think you've done Ella an injustice. Yes, truly I do. Why, she's _just
as kind_! And she's shown me how to cut my last year's coat over into
the nicest sort of a little spring jacket! And she's made us a
chocolate cake as big as a dish-pan. Yes, she has! And Johnny, don't
you dare tell her that I told you--but do you know she's putting her
brother's boy through Dartmouth? And you old Johnny Clifford, I don't
care a darn whether she rouges a little bit or not--and you oughtn't
to care--either! So there!'"

With sudden tardy contrition the Salesman's amused eyes wandered to
the open book on the Youngish Girl's lap.

"I sure talk too much," he muttered. "I guess maybe you'd like half a
chance to read your story."

The expression on the Youngish Girl's face was a curious mixture of
humor and seriousness. "There's no special object in reading," she
said, "when you can hear a bright man talk!"

As unappreciatingly as a duck might shake champagne from its back, the
Traveling Salesman shrugged the compliment from his shoulders.

"Oh, I'm bright enough," he grumbled, "but I ain't refined." Slowly
to the tips of his ears mounted a dark red flush of real
mortification.

"Now, there's some traveling men," he mourned, "who are as slick and
fine as any college president you ever saw. But me? I'd look coarse
sipping warm milk out of a gold-lined spoon. I haven't had any
education. And I'm fat, besides!" Almost plaintively he turned and
stared for a second from the Young Electrician's embarrassed grin to
the Youngish Girl's more subtle smile. "Why, I'm nearly fifty years
old," he said, "and since I was fifteen the only learning I've ever
got was what I picked up in trains talking to whoever sits nearest to
me. Sometimes it's hens I learn about. Sometimes it's national
politics. Once a young Canuck farmer sitting up all night with me
coming down from St. John learned me all about the French Revolution.
And now and then high school kids will give me a point or two on
astronomy. And in this very seat I'm sitting in now, I guess, a
red-kerchiefed Dago woman, who worked on a pansy farm just outside of
Boston, used to ride in town with me every night for a month, and she
coached me quite a bit on Dago talk, and I paid her five dollars for
that."

"Oh, dear me!" said the Youngish Girl, with unmistakable sincerity.
"I'm afraid you haven't learned anything at all from me!"

"Oh, yes, I have too!" cried the Traveling Salesman, his whole round
face lighting up suddenly with real pleasure. "I've learned about an
entirely new kind of lady to go home and tell my wife about. And I'll
bet you a hundred dollars that you're a good deal more of a 'lady'
than you'd even be willing to tell us. There ain't any provincial--
'Don't-you-dare-speak-to-me--this-is-the-first-time-I-ever-was-on-a-train
air about you! I'll bet you've traveled a lot--all round the
world--froze your eyes on icebergs and scorched 'em some on tropics."

"Y-e-s," laughed the Youngish Girl.

"And I'll bet you've met the Governor-General at least once in your
life."

"Yes," said the Girl, still laughing. "He dined at my house with me a
week ago yesterday."

"And I'll bet you, most of anything," said the Traveling Salesman
shrewdly, "that you're haughtier than haughty with folks of your own
kind. But with people like us--me and the Electrician, or the
soldier's widow from South Africa who does your washing, or the Eskimo
man at the circus--you're as simple as a kitten. All your own kind of
folks are nothing but grown-up people to you, and you treat 'em like
grown-ups all right--a hundred cents to the dollar--but all our kind
of folks are _playmates_ to you, and you take us as easy and pleasant
as you'd slide down on the floor and play with any other kind of a
kid. Oh, you can tackle the other proposition all right--dances and
balls and general gold lace glories; but it ain't fine loafers sitting
round in parlors talking about the weather that's going to hold you
very long, when all the time your heart's up and over the back fence
with the kids who are playing the games. And, oh, say!" he broke off
abruptly--"would you think it awfully impertinent of me if I asked you
how you do your hair like that? 'Cause, surer than smoke, after I get
home and supper is over and the dishes are washed and I've just got to
sleep, that little wife of mine will wake me up and say: 'Oh, just
one thing more. How did that lady in the train do her hair?'"

With her chin lifting suddenly in a burst of softly uproarious
delight, the Youngish Girl turned her head half-way around and raised
her narrow, black-gloved hands to push a tortoise-shell pin into
place.

"Why, it's perfectly simple," she explained. "It's just three puffs,
and two curls, and then a twist."

"And then a twist?" quizzed the Traveling Salesman earnestly, jotting
down the memorandum very carefully on the shiny black surface of his
sample-case. "Oh, I hope I ain't been too familiar," he added, with
sudden contriteness. "Maybe I ought to have introduced myself first.
My name's Clifford. I'm a drummer for Sayles & Sayles. Maine and the
Maritime Provinces--that's my route. Boston's the home office. Ever
been in Halifax?" he quizzed a trifle proudly. "Do an awful big
business in Halifax! Happen to know the Emporium store? The London,
Liverpool, and Halifax Emporium?"

The Youngish Girl bit her lip for a second before she answered. Then,
very quietly, "Y-e-s," she said, "I know the Emporium--slightly. That
is--I--own the block that the Emporium is in."

"Gee!" said the Traveling Salesman. "Oh, gee! Now I _know_ I talk too
much!"

In nervously apologetic acquiescence the Young Electrician reached up
a lean, clever, mechanical hand and smouched one more streak of black
across his forehead in a desperate effort to reduce his tousled yellow
hair to the particular smoothness that befitted the presence of a
lady who owned a business block in any city whatsoever.

"My father owned a store in Malden, once," he stammered, just a trifle
wistfully, "but it burnt down, and there wasn't any insurance. We
always were a powerfully unlucky family. Nothing much ever came our
way!"

Even as he spoke, a toddling youngster from an overcrowded seat at the
front end of the car came adventuring along the aisle after the
swaying, clutching manner of tired, fretty children on trains.
Hesitating a moment, she stared up utterly unsmilingly into the
Salesman's beaming face, ignored the Youngish Girl's inviting hand,
and with a sudden little chuckling sigh of contentment, climbed up
clumsily into the empty place beside the Young Electrician, rummaged
bustlingly around with its hands and feet for an instant, in a
petulant effort to make a comfortable nest for itself, and then
snuggled down at last, lolling half-way across the Young Electrician's
perfectly strange knees, and drowsed off to sleep with all the
delicious, friendly, unconcerned sang-froid of a tired puppy. Almost
unconsciously the Young Electrician reached out and unfastened the
choky collar of the heavy, sweltering little overcoat; yet not a
glance from his face had either lured or caressed the strange child
for a single second. Just for a moment, then, his smiling eyes
reassured the jaded, jabbering French-Canadian mother, who turned
round with craning neck from the front of the car.

"She's all right here. Let her alone!" he signaled gesticulatingly
from child to mother.

Then, turning to the Traveling Salesman, he mused reminiscently:
"Talking's--all--right. But where in creation do you get the time to
_think_? Got any kids?" he asked abruptly.

"N-o," said the Traveling Salesman. "My wife, I guess, is kid enough
for me."

Around the Young Electrician's eyes the whimsical smile-wrinkles
deepened with amazing vividness. "Huh!" he said. "I've got six."

"Gee!" chuckled the Salesman. "Boys?"

The Young Electrician's eyebrows lifted in astonishment. "Sure they're
boys!" he said. "Why, of course!"

The Traveling Salesman looked out far away through the window and
whistled a long, breathy whistle. "How in the deuce are you ever going
to take care of 'em?" he asked. Then his face sobered suddenly. "There
was only two of us fellows at home--just Daniel and me--and even
so--there weren't ever quite enough of anything to go all the way
round."

For just an instant the Youngish Girl gazed a bit skeptically at the
Traveling Salesman's general rotund air of prosperity.

"You don't look--exactly like a man who's never had enough," she said
smilingly.

"Food?" said the Traveling Salesman. "Oh, shucks! It wasn't food I was
thinking of. It was education. Oh, of course," he added
conscientiously, "of course, when the crops weren't either too heavy
or too blooming light, Pa usually managed some way or other to get
Daniel and me to school. And schooling was just nuts to me, and not a
single nut so hard or so green that I wouldn't have chawed and bitten
my way clear into it. But Daniel--Daniel somehow couldn't seem to see
just how to enter a mushy Bartlett pear without a knife or a fork--in
some other person's fingers. He was all right, you know--but he just
couldn't seem to find his own way alone into anything. So when the
time came--" the grin on the Traveling Salesman's mouth grew just a
little bit wry at one corner--"and so when the time came--it was an
awful nice, sweet-smelling June night, I remember, and I'd come home
early--I walked into the kitchen as nice as pie, where Pa was sitting
dozing in the cat's rocking-chair, in his gray stocking feet, and I
threw down before him my full year's school report. It was pink, I
remember, which was supposed to be the rosy color of success in our
school; and I says: 'Pa! There's my report! And Pa,' I says, as bold
and stuck-up as a brass weathercock on a new church, 'Pa! Teacher says
that one of your boys has got to go to college!' And I was grinning
all the while, I remember, worse than any Chessy cat.

"And Pa he took my report in both his horny old hands and he spelt it
all out real careful and slow and respectful, like as though it had
been a lace valentine, and 'Good boy!' he says, and 'Bully boy!' and
'So Teacher says that one of my boys has got to go to college? One of
my boys? Well, which one? Go fetch me Daniel's report.' So I went and
fetched him Daniel's report. It was gray, I remember--the supposed
color of failure in our school--and I stood with the grin still half
frozen on my face while Pa spelt out the dingy record of poor Daniel's
year. And then, 'Oh, gorry!' says Pa. 'Run away and g'long to bed.
I've got to think. But first,' he says, all suddenly cautious and
thrifty, 'how much does it cost to go to college?' And just about as
delicate and casual as a missionary hinting for a new chapel, I
blurted out loud as a bull: 'Well, if I go up state to our own
college, and get a chance to work for part of my board, it will cost
me just $255 a year, or maybe--maybe,' I stammered, 'maybe, if I'm
extra careful, only $245.50, say. For four years that's only $982,' I
finished triumphantly.

"'_G-a-w-d!_' says Pa. Nothing at all except just, '_G-a-w-d!_'

"When I came down to breakfast the next morning, he was still sitting
there in the cat's rocking-chair, with his face as gray as his socks,
and all the rest of him--blue jeans. And my pink school report, I
remember, had slipped down under the stove, and the tortoise-shell cat
was lashing it with her tail; but Daniel's report, gray as his face,
was still clutched up in Pa's horny old hand. For just a second we
eyed each other sort of dumb-like, and then for the first time, I tell
you, I seen tears in his eyes.

"'Johnny,' he says, 'it's Daniel that'll have to go to college.
Bright men,' he says, 'don't need no education.'"

Even after thirty years the Traveling Salesman's hand shook slightly
with the memory, and his joggled mind drove him with unwonted
carelessness to pin price mark after price mark in the same soft,
flimsy mesh of pink lisle. But the grin on his lips did not altogether
falter.

"I'd had pains before in my stomach," he acknowledged good-naturedly,
"but that morning with Pa was the first time in my life that I ever
had any pain in my plans!--So we mortgaged the house and the cow-barn
and the maple-sugar trees," he continued, more and more cheerfully,
"and Daniel finished his schooling--in the Lord's own time--and went
to college."

With another sudden, loud guffaw of mirth all the color came flushing
back again into his heavy face.

"Well, Daniel has sure needed all the education he could get," he
affirmed heartily. "He's a Methodist minister now somewhere down in
Georgia--and, educated 'way up to the top notch, he don't make no more
than $650 a year. $650!--oh, glory! Why, Daniel's piazza on his new
house cost him $175, and his wife's last hospital bill was $250, and
just one dentist alone gaffed him sixty-five dollars for straightening
his oldest girl's teeth!"

"Not sixty-five?" gasped the Young Electrician in acute dismay. "Why,
two of my kids have got to have it done! Oh, come now--you're
joshing!"

"I'm not either joshing," cried the Traveling Salesman. "Sure it was
sixty-five dollars. Here's the receipted bill for it right here in my
pocket." Brusquely he reached out and snatched the paper back again.
"Oh, no, I beg your pardon. That's the receipt for the piazza.--What?
It isn't? For the hospital bill then?--Oh, hang! Well, never mind. It
_was_ sixty-five dollars. I tell you I've got it somewhere."

"Oh--you--paid--for--them--all, did you?" quizzed the Youngish Girl
before she had time to think.

"No, indeed!" lied the Traveling Salesman loyally. "But $650 a year?
What can a family man do with that? Why, I earned that much before I
was twenty-one! Why, there wasn't a moment after I quit school and
went to work that I wasn't earning real money! From the first night I
stood on a street corner with a gasoline torch, hawking rasin-seeders,
up to last night when I got an eight-hundred-dollar raise in my
salary, there ain't been a single moment in my life when I couldn't
have sold you my boots; and if you'd buncoed my boots away from me I'd
have sold you my stockings; and if you'd buncoed my stockings away
from me I'd have rented you the privilege of jumping on my bare toes.
And I ain't never missed a meal yet--though once in my life I was
forty-eight hours late for one!--Oh, I'm bright enough," he mourned,
"but I tell you I ain't refined."

With the sudden stopping of the train the little child in the Young
Electrician's lap woke fretfully. Then, as the bumpy cars switched
laboriously into a siding, and the engine went puffing off alone on
some noncommittal errand of its own, the Young Electrician rose and
stretched himself and peered out of the window into the acres and
acres of snow, and bent down suddenly and swung the child to his
shoulder, then, sauntering down the aisle to the door, jumped off
into the snow and started to explore the edge of a little,
snow-smothered pond which a score of red-mittened children were trying
frantically to clear with huge yellow brooms. Out from the crowd of
loafers that hung about the station a lean yellow hound came nosing
aimlessly forward, and then suddenly, with much fawning and many
capers, annexed itself to the Young Electrician's heels like a dog
that has just rediscovered its long-lost master. Halfway up the car
the French Canadian mother and her brood of children crowded their
faces close to the window--and thought they were watching the snow.

And suddenly the car seemed very empty. The Youngish Girl thought it
was her book that had grown so astonishingly devoid of interest. Only
the Traveling Salesman seemed to know just exactly what was the
matter. Craning his neck till his ears reddened, he surveyed and
resurveyed the car, complaining: "What's become of all the folks?"

A little nervously the Youngish Girl began to laugh. "Nobody has
gone," she said, "except--the Young Electrician."

With a grunt of disbelief the Traveling Salesman edged over to the
window and peered out through the deepening frost on the pane.
Inquisitively the Youngish Girl followed his gaze. Already across the
cold, white, monotonous, snow-smothered landscape the pale afternoon
light was beginning to wane, and against the lowering red and purple
streaks of the wintry sunset the Young Electrician's figure, with the
little huddling pack on its shoulder, was silhouetted vaguely, with an
almost startling mysticism, like the figure of an unearthly Traveler
starting forth upon an unearthly journey into an unearthly West.

"Ain't he the nice boy!" exclaimed the Traveling Salesman with almost
passionate vehemence.

"Why, I'm sure I don't know!" said the Youngish Girl a trifle coldly.
"Why--it would take me quite a long time--to decide just how--nice he
was. But--" with a quick softening of her voice--"but he certainly
makes one think of--nice things--Blue Mountains, and Green Forests,
and Brown Pine Needles, and a Long, Hard Trail, shoulder to
shoulder--with a chance to warm one's heart at last at a
hearth-fire--bigger than a sunset!"

Altogether unconsciously her small hands went gripping out to the edge
of her seat, as though just a grip on plush could hold her
imagination back from soaring into a miraculous, unfamiliar world
where women did not idle all day long on carpets waiting for men who
came on--pavements.

"Oh, my God!" she cried out with sudden passion. "I wish I could have
lived just one day when the world was new. I wish--I wish I could have
reaped just one single, solitary, big Emotion before the world had
caught it and--appraised it--and taxed it--and licensed it--and
_staled_ it!"

"Oh-ho!" said the Traveling Salesman with a little sharp indrawing of
his breath. "Oh-ho!--So that's what the--Young Electrician makes you
think of, is it?"

For just an instant the Traveling Salesman thought that the Youngish
Girl was going to strike him.

"I wasn't thinking of the Young Electrician at all!" she asserted
angrily. "I was thinking of something altogether--different."

"Yes. That's just it," murmured the Traveling Salesman placidly.
"Something--altogether--different. Every time I look at him it's the
darnedest thing! Every time I look at him I--forget all about him. My
head begins to wag and my foot begins to tap--and I find myself trying
to--_hum_ him--as though he was the words of a tune I used to know."

When the Traveling Salesman looked round again, there were tears in
the Youngish Girl's eyes, and an instant after that her shoulders went
plunging forward till her forehead rested on the back of the Traveling
Salesman's seat.

But it was not until the Young Electrician had come striding back to
his seat, and wrapped himself up in the fold of a big newspaper, and
not until the train had started on again and had ground out another
noisy mile or so, that the Traveling Salesman spoke again--and this
time it was just a little bit surreptitiously.

"What--you--crying--for?" he asked with incredible gentleness.

"I don't know, I'm sure," confessed the Youngish Girl, snuffingly. "I
guess I must be tired."

"U-m-m," said the Traveling Salesman.

After a moment or two he heard the sharp little click of a watch.

"Oh, dear me!" fretted the Youngish Girl's somewhat smothered voice.
"I didn't realize we were almost two hours late. Why, it will be dark,
won't it, when we get into Boston?"

"Yes, sure it will be dark," said the Traveling Salesman.

After another moment the Youngish Girl raised her forehead just the
merest trifle from the back of the Traveling Salesman's seat, so that
her voice sounded distinctly more definite and cheerful.
"I've--never--been--to--Boston--before," she drawled a little
casually.

"What!" exclaimed the Traveling Salesman. "Been all around the
world--and never been to Boston?--Oh, I see," he added hurriedly,
"you're afraid your friends won't meet you!"

Out of the Youngish Girl's erstwhile disconsolate mouth a most
surprising laugh issued. "No! I'm afraid they _will_ meet me," she
said dryly.

Just as a soldier's foot turns from his heel alone, so the Traveling
Salesman's whole face seemed to swing out suddenly from his chin, till
his surprised eyes stared direct into the Girl's surprised eyes.

"My heavens!" he said. "You don't mean that _you've_--been writing
an--'indiscreet letter'?"

"Y-e-s--I'm afraid that I have," said the Youngish Girl quite blandly.
She sat up very straight now and narrowed her eyes just a trifle
stubbornly toward the Traveling Salesman's very visible astonishment.
"And what's more," she continued, clicking at her watch-case
again--"and what's more, I'm on my way now to meet the consequences of
said indiscreet letter.'"

"Alone?" gasped the Traveling Salesman.

The twinkle in the Youngish Girl's eyes brightened perceptibly, but
the firmness did not falter from her mouth.

"Are people apt to go in--crowds to--meet consequences?" she asked,
perfectly pleasantly.

"Oh--come, now!" said the Traveling Salesman's most persuasive voice.
"You don't want to go and get mixed up in any sensational nonsense
and have your picture stuck in the Sunday paper, do you?"

The Youngish Girl's manner stiffened a little. "Do I look like a
person who gets mixed up in sensational nonsense?" she demanded rather
sternly.

"N-o-o," acknowledged the Traveling Salesman conscientiously. "N-o-o;
but then there's never any telling what you calm, quiet-looking,
still-waters sort of people will go ahead and do--once you get
started." Anxiously he took out his watch, and then began hurriedly to
pack his samples back into his case. "It's only twenty-five minutes
more," he argued earnestly. "Oh, I say now, don't you go off and do
anything foolish! My wife will be down at the station to meet me.
You'd like my wife. You'd like her fine!--Oh, I say now, you come
home with us for Sunday, and think things over a bit."

As delightedly as when the Traveling Salesman had asked her how she
fixed her hair, the Youngish Girl's hectic nervousness broke into
genuine laughter. "Yes," she teased, "I can see just how pleased your
wife would be to have you bring home a perfectly strange lady for
Sunday!"

"My wife is only a kid," said the Traveling Salesman gravely, "but she
likes what I like--all right--and she'd give you the shrewdest,
eagerest little 'helping hand' that you ever got in your life--if you'd
only give her a chance to help you out--with whatever your trouble
is."

"But I haven't any 'trouble,'" persisted the Youngish Girl with brisk
cheerfulness. "Why, I haven't any trouble at all! Why, I don't know
but what I'd just as soon tell you all about it. Maybe I really ought
to tell somebody about it. Maybe--anyway, it's a good deal easier to
tell a stranger than a friend. Maybe it would really do me good to
hear how it sounds out loud. You see, I've never done anything but
whisper it--just to myself--before. Do you remember the wreck on the
Canadian Pacific Road last year? Do you? Well--I was in it!"

"Gee!" said the Traveling Salesman. "'Twas up on just the edge of
Canada, wasn't it? And three of the passenger coaches went off the
track? And the sleeper went clear over the bridge? And fell into an
awful gully? And caught fire besides?"

"Yes," said the Youngish Girl. "I was in the sleeper."

Even without seeming to look at her at all, the Traveling Salesman
could see quite distinctly that the Youngish Girl's knees were fairly
knocking together and that the flesh around her mouth was suddenly
gray and drawn, like an old person's. But the little persistent desire
to laugh off everything still flickered about the corners of her lips.

"Yes," she said, "I was in the sleeper, and the two people right in
front of me were killed; and it took almost three hours, I think,
before they got any of us out. And while I was lying there in the
darkness and mess and everything, I cried--and cried--and cried. It
wasn't nice of me, I know, nor brave, nor anything, but I couldn't
seem to help it--underneath all that pile of broken seats and racks
and beams and things.

"And pretty soon a man's voice--just a voice, no face or anything, you
know, but just a voice from somewhere quite near me, spoke right out
and said: 'What in creation are you crying so about? Are you awfully
hurt?' And I said--though I didn't mean to say it at all, but it came
right out--'N-o, I don't think I'm hurt, but I don't like having all
these seats and windows piled on top of me,' and I began crying all
over again. 'But no one else is crying,' reproached the Voice.--'And
there's a perfectly good reason why not,' I said. 'They're all
dead!'--'O--h,' said the Voice, and then I began to cry harder than
ever, and principally this time, I think, I cried because the horrid,
old red plush cushions smelt so stale and dusty, jammed against my
nose.

"And then after a long time the Voice spoke again and it said, 'If
I'll sing you a little song, will you stop crying?' And I said, 'N-o,
I don't think I could!' And after a long time the Voice spoke again,
and it said, 'Well, if I'll tell you a story will you stop crying?'
And I considered it a long time, and finally I said, 'Well, if you'll
tell me a perfectly true story--a story that's never, never been told
to any one before--_I'll try and stop!_'

"So the Voice gave a funny little laugh almost like a woman's
hysterics, and I stopped crying right off short, and the Voice said,
just a little bit mockingly: 'But the only perfectly true story that I
know--the only story that's never--never been told to anybody before
is the story of my life.' 'Very well, then,' I said, 'tell me that! Of
course I was planning to live to be very old and learn a little about
a great many things; but as long as apparently I'm not going to live
to even reach my twenty-ninth birthday--to-morrow--you don't know how
unutterably it would comfort me to think that at least I knew
_everything_ about some one thing!'

"And then the Voice choked again, just a little bit, and said:
'Well--here goes, then. Once upon a time--but first, can you move your
right hand? Turn it just a little bit more this way. There! Cuddle it
down! Now, you see, I've made a little home for it in mine. Ouch!
Don't press down too hard! I think my wrist is broken. All ready,
then? You won't cry another cry? Promise? All right then. Here goes.
Once upon a time--'

"Never mind about the story," said the Youngish Girl tersely. "It
began about the first thing in all his life that he remembered
seeing--something funny about a grandmother's brown wig hung over the
edge of a white piazza railing--and he told me his name and address,
and all about his people, and all about his business, and what banks
his money was in, and something about some land down in the Panhandle,
and all the bad things that he'd ever done in his life, and all the
good things, that he wished there'd been more of, and all the things
that no one would dream of telling you if he ever, ever expected to
see Daylight again--things so intimate--things so--

"But it wasn't, of course, about his story that I wanted to tell you.
It was about the 'home,' as he called it, that his broken hand made
for my--frightened one. I don't know how to express it; I can't
exactly think, even, of any words to explain it. Why, I've been all
over the world, I tell you, and fairly loafed and lolled in every
conceivable sort of ease and luxury, but the Soul of me--the wild,
restless, breathless, discontented _soul_ of me--_never sat down
before in all its life_--I say, until my frightened hand cuddled into
his broken one. I tell you I don't pretend to explain it, I don't
pretend to account for it; all I know is--that smothering there under
all that horrible wreckage and everything--the instant my hand went
home to his, the most absolute sense of serenity and contentment went
over me. Did you ever see young white horses straying through a
white-birch wood in the springtime? Well, it felt the way that
_looks_!--Did you ever hear an alto voice singing in the candle-light?
Well, it felt the way that _sounds_! The last vision you would like to
glut your eyes on before blindness smote you! The last sound you would
like to glut your ears on before deafness dulled you! The last
touch--before Intangibility! Something final, complete,
supreme--ineffably satisfying!

"And then people came along and rescued us, and I was sick in the
hospital for several weeks. And then after that I went to Persia. I
know it sounds silly, but it seemed to me as though just the smell of
Persia would be able to drive away even the memory of red plush dust
and scorching woodwork. And there was a man on the steamer whom I used
to know at home--a man who's almost always wanted to marry me. And
there was a man who joined our party at Teheran--who liked me a
little. And the land was like silk and silver and attar of roses. But
all the time I couldn't seem to think about anything except how
perfectly awful it was that a _stranger_ like me should be running
round loose in the world, carrying all the big, scary secrets of a man
who didn't even know where I was. And then it came to me all of a
sudden, one rather worrisome day, that no woman who knew as much about
a man as I did was exactly a 'stranger' to him. And then, twice as
suddenly, to great, grown-up, cool-blooded, money-staled, book-tamed
_me_--it swept over me like a cyclone that I should never be able to
decide anything more in all my life--not the width of a tinsel ribbon,
not the goal of a journey, not the worth of a lover--until I'd seen
the Face that belonged to the Voice in the railroad wreck.

"And I sat down--and wrote the man a letter--I had his name and
address, you know. And there--in a rather maddening moonlight night on
the Caspian Sea--all the horrors and terrors of that other--Canadian
night came back to me and swamped completely all the arid timidity
and sleek conventionality that women like me are hidebound with
all their lives, and I wrote him--that unknown, unvisualized,
unimagined--MAN--the utterly free, utterly frank, utterly
honest sort of letter that any brave soul would write any other brave
soul--every day of the world--if there wasn't any flesh. It wasn't a
love letter. It wasn't even a sentimental letter. Never mind what I
told him. Never mind anything except that there, in that tropical
night on a moonlit sea, I asked him to meet me here, in Boston, eight
months afterward--on the same Boston-bound Canadian train--on
this--the anniversary of our other tragic meeting."

"And you think he'll be at the station?" gasped the Traveling
Salesman.

The Youngish Girl's answer was astonishingly tranquil. "I don't know,
I'm sure," she said. "That part of it isn't my business. All I know is
that I wrote the letter--and mailed it. It's Fate's move next."

"But maybe he never got the letter!" protested the Traveling
Salesman, buckling frantically at the straps of his sample-case.

"Very likely," the Youngish Girl answered calmly. "And if he never got
it, then Fate has surely settled everything perfectly definitely for
me--that way. The only trouble with that would be," she added
whimsically, "that an unanswered letter is always pretty much like an
unhooked hook. Any kind of a gap is apt to be awkward, and the hook
that doesn't catch in its own intended tissue is mighty apt to tear
later at something you didn't want torn."

"I don't know anything about that," persisted the Traveling Salesman,
brushing nervously at the cinders on his hat. "All I say is--maybe he's
married."

"Well, that's all right," smiled the Youngish Girl. "Then Fate would
have settled it all for me perfectly satisfactorily _that_ way. I
wouldn't mind at all his not being at the station. And I wouldn't
mind at all his being married. And I wouldn't mind at all his turning
out to be very, very old. None of those things, you see, would
interfere in the slightest with the memory of the--Voice or
the--chivalry of the broken hand. THE ONLY THING I'D MIND, I TELL
YOU, WOULD BE TO THINK THAT HE REALLY AND TRULY WAS THE MAN WHO WAS
MADE FOR ME--AND I MISSED FINDING IT OUT!--Oh, of course, I've
worried myself sick these past few months thinking of the audacity of
what I've done. I've got such a 'Sore Thought,' as you call it, that
I'm almost ready to scream if anybody mentions the word 'indiscreet'
in my presence. And yet, and yet--after all, it isn't as though I were
reaching out into the darkness after an indefinite object. What I'm
reaching out for is a _light_, so that I can tell exactly just what
object is there. And, anyway," she quoted a little waveringly:

    "He either fears his fate too much,
      Or his, deserts are small,
    Who dares not put it to the touch
      To gain or lose it all!"

"Ain't you scared just a little bit?" probed the Traveling Salesman.

All around them the people began bustling suddenly with their coats
and bags. With a gesture of impatience the Youngish Girl jumped up and
started to fasten her furs. The eyes that turned to answer the
Traveling Salesman's question were brimming wet with tears.

"Yes--I'm--scared to death!" she smiled incongruously.

Almost authoritatively the Salesman reached out his empty hand for her
traveling-bag. "What you going to do if he ain't there?" he asked.

The Girl's eyebrows lifted. "Why, just what I'm going to do if he _is_
there," she answered quite definitely. "I'm going right back to
Montreal to-night. There's a train out again, I think, at
eight-thirty. Even late as we are, that will give me an hour and a
half at the station."

"Gee!" said the Traveling Salesman. "And you've traveled five days
just to see what a man looks like--for an hour and a half?"

"I'd have traveled twice five days," she whispered, "just to see what
he looked like--for a--second and a half!"

"But how in thunder are you going to recognize him?" fussed the
Traveling Salesman. "And how in thunder is he going to recognize you?"

"Maybe I won't recognize him," acknowledged the Youngish Girl, "and
likelier than not he won't recognize me; but don't you see?--can't you
understand?--that all the audacity of it, all the worry of it--is
absolutely nothing compared to the one little chance in ten thousand
that we _will_ recognize each other?"

"Well, anyway," said the Traveling Salesman stubbornly, "I'm going to
walk out slow behind you and see you through this thing all right."

"Oh, no, you're not!" exclaimed the Youngish Girl. "Oh, no, you're
not! Can't you see that if he's there, I wouldn't mind you so much;
but if he doesn't come, can't you understand that maybe I'd just as
soon you didn't know about it?"

"O-h," said the Traveling Salesman.

A little impatiently he turned and routed the Young Electrician out
of his sprawling nap. "Don't you know Boston when you see it?" he
cried a trifle testily.

For an instant the Young Electrician's sleepy eyes stared dully into
the Girl's excited face. Then he stumbled up a bit awkwardly and
reached out for all his coil-boxes and insulators.

"Good-night to you. Much obliged to you," he nodded amiably.

A moment later he and the Traveling Salesman were forging their way
ahead through the crowded aisle. Like the transient, impersonal,
altogether mysterious stimulant of a strain of martial music, the
Young Electrician vanished into space. But just at the edge of the car
steps the Traveling Salesman dallied a second to wait for the Youngish
Girl.

"Say," he said, "say, can I tell my wife what you've told me?"

"Y-e-s," nodded the Youngish Girl soberly.

"And say," said the Traveling Salesman, "say, I don't exactly like to
go off this way and never know at all how it all came out." Casually
his eyes fell on the big lynx muff in the Youngish Girl's hand. "Say,"
he said, "if I promise, honest-Injun, to go 'way off to the other end
of the station, couldn't you just lift your muff up high, once, if
everything comes out the way you want it?"

"Y-e-s," whispered the Youngish Girl almost inaudibly.

Then the Traveling Salesman went hurrying on to join the Young
Electrician, and the Youngish Girl lagged along on the rear edge of
the crowd like a bashful child dragging on the skirts of its mother.

Out of the groups of impatient people that flanked the track she saw
a dozen little pecking reunions, where some one dashed wildly into the
long, narrow stream of travelers and yanked out his special friend or
relative, like a good-natured bird of prey. She saw a tired, worn,
patient-looking woman step forward with four noisy little boys, and
then stand dully waiting while the Young Electrician gathered his
riotous offspring to his breast. She saw the Traveling Salesman grin
like a bashful school-boy, just as a red-cloaked girl came running to
him and bore him off triumphantly toward the street.

And then suddenly, out of the blur, and the dust, and the dizziness,
and the half-blinding glare of lights, the figure of a Man loomed up
directly and indomitably across the Youngish Girl's path--a Man
standing bare-headed and faintly smiling as one who welcomes a
much-reverenced guest--a Man tall, stalwart, sober-eyed, with a touch
of gray at his temples, a Man whom any woman would be proud to have
waiting for her at the end of any journey. And right there before all
that hurrying, scurrying, self-centered, unseeing crowd, he reached
out his hands to her and gathered her frightened fingers close into
his.

"You've--kept--me--waiting--a--long--time," he reproached her.

"Yes!" she stammered. "Yes! Yes! The train was two hours late!"

"It wasn't the hours that I was thinking about," said the Man very
quietly. "It was the--_year_!"

And then, just as suddenly, the Youngish Girl felt a tug at her coat,
and, turning round quickly, found herself staring with dazed eyes
into the eager, childish face of the Traveling Salesman's red-cloaked
wife. Not thirty feet away from her the Traveling Salesman's
shameless, stolid-looking back seemed to be blocking up the main exit
to the street.

"Oh, are you the lady from British Columbia?" queried the excited
little voice. Perplexity, amusement, yet a divine sort of marital
confidence were in the question.

"Yes, surely I am," said the Youngish Girl softly.

Across the little wife's face a great rushing, flushing wave of
tenderness blocked out for a second all trace of the cruel, slim scar
that marred the perfect contour of one cheek.

"Oh, I don't know at all what it's all about," laughed the little
wife, "but my husband asked me to come back and kiss you!"





*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Indiscreet Letter" ***

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