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“Another gripping novel from Classic Detective Presents”…Lawrence Blakely, attorney-at-law, sets off by train to deliver valuable documents in a criminal case. His ride will be eventful. Along the way he'll encounter romance, treachery, a train wreck, even a murder in which he'll be implicated. Who's after Blakely and his papers -- why? The first detective novel to appear on national bestseller lists, The Man In Lower Ten is still a great read almost ninety years after its publication. It has all the thrills of a contemporary whodunit and a satiric edge that gently mocks the conventions of male detective fiction.
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CHAPTER I. I GO TO PITTSBURG
CHAPTER II. A TORN TELEGRAM
CHAPTER III. ACROSS THE AISLE
CHAPTER IV. NUMBERS SEVEN AND NINE
CHAPTER V. THE WOMAN IN THE NEXT CAR
CHAPTER VI. THE GIRL IN BLUE
CHAPTER VII. A FINE GOLD CHAIN
CHAPTER VIII. THE SECOND SECTION
CHAPTER IX. THE HALCYON BREAKFAST
CHAPTER X. MISS WEST’S REQUEST
CHAPTER XI. THE NAME WAS SULLIVAN
CHAPTER XII. THE GOLD BAG
CHAPTER XIII. FADED ROSES
CHAPTER XIV. THE TRAP-DOOR
CHAPTER XV. THE CINEMATOGRAPH
CHAPTER XVI. THE SHADOW OF A GIRL
CHAPTER XVII. AT THE FARM-HOUSE AGAIN
CHAPTER XVIII. A NEW WORLD
CHAPTER XIX. AT THE TABLE NEXT
CHAPTER XX. THE NOTES AND A BARGAIN
CHAPTER XXI. Mc KNIGHT’S THEORY
CHAPTER XXII. AT THE BOARDING-HOUSE
CHAPTER XXIII. A NIGHT AT THE LAURELS
CHAPTER XXIV. HIS WIFE’S FATHER
CHAPTER XXV. AT THE STATION
CHAPTER XXVI. ON TO RICHMOND
CHAPTER XXVII. THE SEA, THE SAND, THE STARS
CHAPTER XXVIII. ALISON’S STORY
CHAPTER XXIX. IN THE DINING-ROOM
CHAPTER XXX. FINER DETAILS
CHAPTER XXXI. AND ONLY ONE ARM
MCKNIGHT IS GRADUALLY TAKING OVER the criminal end of the business. I never liked it, and since the strange case of the man in lower ten, I have been a bit squeamish. Given a case like that, where you can build up a network of clues that absolutely incriminate three entirely different people, only one of whom can be guilty, and your faith in circumstantial evidence dies of overcrowding. I never see a shivering, white-faced wretch in the prisoners’ dock that I do not hark back with shuddering horror to the strange events on the Pullman car Ontario, between Washington and Pittsburg, on the night of September ninth, last.
McKnight could tell the story a great deal better than I, although he can not spell three consecutive words correctly. But, while he has imagination and humor, he is lazy.
“It didn’t happen to me, anyhow,” he protested, when I put it up to him. “And nobody cares for second-hand thrills. Besides, you want the unvarnished and ungarnished truth, and I’m no hand for that. I’m a lawyer.”
So am I, although there have been times when my assumption in that particular has been disputed. I am unmarried, and just old enough to dance with the grown-up little sisters of the girls I used to know. I am fond of outdoors, prefer horses to the aforesaid grown-up little sisters, am without sentiment (am crossed out and was substituted.-Ed.) and completely ruled and frequently routed by my housekeeper, an elderly widow.
In fact, of all the men of my acquaintance, I was probably the most prosaic, the least adventurous, the one man in a hundred who would be likely to go without a deviation from the normal through the orderly procession of the seasons, summer suits to winter flannels, golf to bridge.
So it was a queer freak of the demons of chance to perch on my unsusceptible thirty-year-old chest, tie me up with a crime, ticket me with a love affair, and start me on that sensational and not always respectable journey that ended so surprisingly less than three weeks later in the firm’s private office. It had been the most remarkable period of my life. I would neither give it up nor live it again under any inducement, and yet all that I lost was some twenty yards off my drive!
It was really McKnight’s turn to make the next journey. I had a tournament at Chevy Chase for Saturday, and a short yacht cruise planned for Sunday, and when a man has been grinding at statute law for a week, he needs relaxation. But McKnight begged off. It was not the first time he had shirked that summer in order to run down to Richmond, and I was surly about it. But this time he had a new excuse. “I wouldn’t be able to look after the business if I did go,” he said. He has a sort of wide-eyed frankness that makes one ashamed to doubt him. “I’m always car sick crossing the mountains. It’s a fact, Lollie. See-sawing over the peaks does it. Why, crossing the Alleghany Mountains has the Gulf Stream to Bermuda beaten to a frazzle.”
So I gave him up finally and went home to pack. He came later in the evening with his machine, the Cannonball, to take me to the station, and he brought the forged notes in the Bronson case.
“Guard them with your life,” he warned me. “They are more precious than honor. Sew them in your chest protector, or wherever people keep valuables. I never keep any. I’ll not be happy until I see Gentleman Andy doing the lockstep.”
He sat down on my clean collars, found my cigarettes and struck a match on the mahogany bed post with one movement.
“Where’s the Pirate?” he demanded. The Pirate is my housekeeper, Mrs. Klopton, a very worthy woman, so labeled—and libeled—because of a ferocious pair of eyes and what McKnight called a bucaneering nose. I quietly closed the door into the hall.
“Keep your voice down, Richey,” I said. “She is looking for the evening paper to see if it is going to rain. She has my raincoat and an umbrella waiting in the hall.”
The collars being damaged beyond repair, he left them and went to the window. He stood there for some time, staring at the blackness that represented the wall of the house next door.
“It’s raining now,” he said over his shoulder, and closed the window and the shutters. Something in his voice made me glance up, but he was watching me, his hands idly in his pockets.
“Who lives next door?” he inquired in a perfunctory tone, after a pause. I was packing my razor.
“House is empty,” I returned absently. “If the landlord would put it in some sort of shape—-“
“Did you put those notes in your pocket?” he broke in.
“Yes.” I was impatient. “Along with my certificates of registration, baptism and vaccination. Whoever wants them will have to steal my coat to get them.”
“Well, I would move them, if I were you. Somebody in the next house was confoundedly anxious to see where you put them. Somebody right at that window opposite.”
I scoffed at the idea, but nevertheless I moved the papers, putting them in my traveling-bag, well down at the bottom. McKnight watched me uneasily.
“I have a hunch that you are going to have trouble,” he said, as I locked the alligator bag. “Darned if I like starting anything important on Friday.”
“You have a congenital dislike to start anything on any old day,” I retorted, still sore from my lost Saturday. “And if you knew the owner of that house as I do you would know that if there was any one at that window he is paying rent for the privilege.”
Mrs. Klopton rapped at the door and spoke discreetly from the hall.
“Did Mr. McKnight bring the evening paper?” she inquired.
“Sorry, but I didn’t, Mrs. Klopton,” McKnight called. “The Cubs won, three to nothing.” He listened, grinning, as she moved away with little irritated rustles of her black silk gown.
I finished my packing, changed my collar and was ready to go. Then very cautiously we put out the light and opened the shutters. The window across was merely a deeper black in the darkness. It was closed and dirty. And yet, probably owing to Richey’s suggestion, I had an uneasy sensation of eyes staring across at me. The next moment we were at the door, poised for flight.
“We’ll have to run for it,” I said in a whisper. “She’s down there with a package of some sort, sandwiches probably. And she’s threatened me with overshoes for a month. Ready now!”
I had a kaleidoscopic view of Mrs. Klopton in the lower hall, holding out an armful of such traveling impedimenta as she deemed essential, while beside her, Euphemia, the colored housemaid, grinned over a white-wrapped box.
“Awfully sorry-no time-back Sunday,” I panted over my shoulder. Then the door closed and the car was moving away.
McKnight bent forward and stared at the facade of the empty house next door as we passed. It was black, staring, mysterious, as empty buildings are apt to be.
“I’d like to hold a post-mortem on that corpse of a house,” he said thoughtfully. “By George, I’ve a notion to get out and take a look.”
“Somebody after the brass pipes,” I scoffed. “House has been empty for a year.”
With one hand on the steering wheel McKnight held out the other for my cigarette case. “Perhaps,” he said; “but I don’t see what she would want with brass pipe.”
“A woman!” I laughed outright. “You have been looking too hard at the picture in the back of your watch, that’s all. There’s an experiment like that: if you stare long enough—”
But McKnight was growing sulky: he sat looking rigidly ahead, and he did not speak again until he brought the Cannonball to a stop at the station. Even then it was only a perfunctory remark. He went through the gate with me, and with five minutes to spare, we lounged and smoked in the train shed. My mind had slid away from my surroundings and had wandered to a polo pony that I couldn’t afford and intended to buy anyhow. Then McKnight shook off his taciturnity.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t look so martyred,” he burst out; “I know you’ve done all the traveling this summer. I know you’re missing a game to-morrow. But don’t be a patient mother; confound it, I have to go to Richmond on Sunday. I—I want to see a girl.”
“Oh, don’t mind me,” I observed politely. “Personally, I wouldn’t change places with you. What’s her name—North? South?”
“West,” he snapped. “Don’t try to be funny. And all I have to say, Blakeley, is that if you ever fall in love I hope you make an egregious ass of yourself.”
In view of what followed, this came rather close to prophecy.
The trip west was without incident. I played bridge with a furniture dealer from Grand Rapids, a sales agent for a Pittsburg iron firm and a young professor from an eastern college. I won three rubbers out of four, finished what cigarettes McKnight had left me, and went to bed at one o’clock. It was growing cooler, and the rain had ceased. Once, toward morning, I wakened with a start, for no apparent reason, and sat bolt upright. I had an uneasy feeling that some one had been looking at me, the same sensation I had experienced earlier in the evening at the window. But I could feel the bag with the notes, between me and the window, and with my arm thrown over it for security, I lapsed again into slumber. Later, when I tried to piece together the fragments of that journey, I remembered that my coat, which had been folded and placed beyond my restless tossing, had been rescued in the morning from a heterogeneous jumble of blankets, evening papers and cravat, had been shaken out with profanity and donned with wrath. At the time, nothing occurred to me but the necessity of writing to the Pullman Company and asking them if they ever traveled in their own cars. I even formulated some of the letter.
“If they are built to scale, why not take a man of ordinary stature as your unit?” I wrote mentally. “I can not fold together like the traveling cup with which I drink your abominable water.”
I was more cheerful after I had had a cup of coffee in the Union Station. It was too early to attend to business, and I lounged in the restaurant and hid behind the morning papers. As I had expected, they had got hold of my visit and its object. On the first page was a staring announcement that the forged papers in the Bronson case had been brought to Pittsburg. Underneath, a telegram from Washington stated that Lawrence Blakeley, of Blakeley and McKnight, had left for Pittsburg the night before, and that, owing to the approaching trial of the Bronson case and the illness of John Gilmore, the Pittsburg millionaire, who was the chief witness for the prosecution, it was supposed that the visit was intimately concerned with the trial.
I looked around apprehensively. There were no reporters yet in sight, and thankful to have escaped notice I paid for my breakfast and left. At the cab-stand I chose the least dilapidated hansom I could find, and giving the driver the address of the Gilmore residence, in the East end, I got in.
I was just in time. As the cab turned and rolled off, a slim young man in a straw hat separated himself from a little group of men and hurried toward us.
“Hey! Wait a minute there!” he called, breaking into a trot.
But the cabby did not hear, or perhaps did not care to. We jogged comfortably along, to my relief, leaving the young man far behind. I avoid reporters on principle, having learned long ago that I am an easy mark for a clever interviewer.
It was perhaps nine o’clock when I left the station. Our way was along the boulevard which hugged the side of one of the city’s great hills. Far below, to the left, lay the railroad tracks and the seventy times seven looming stacks of the mills. The white mist of the river, the grays and blacks of the smoke blended into a half-revealing haze, dotted here and there with fire. It was unlovely, tremendous. Whistler might have painted it with its pathos, its majesty, but he would have missed what made it infinitely suggestive—the rattle and roar of iron on iron, the rumble of wheels, the throbbing beat, against the ears, of fire and heat and brawn welding prosperity.
Something of this I voiced to the grim old millionaire who was responsible for at least part of it. He was propped up in bed in his East end home, listening to the market reports read by a nurse, and he smiled a little at my enthusiasm.
“I can’t see much beauty in it myself,” he said. “But it’s our badge of prosperity. The full dinner pail here means a nose that looks like a flue. Pittsburg without smoke wouldn’t be Pittsburg, any more than New York without prohibition would be New York. Sit down for a few minutes, Mr. Blakeley. Now, Miss Gardner, Westinghouse Electric.”
The nurse resumed her reading in a monotonous voice. She read literally and without understanding, using initials and abbreviations as they came. But the shrewd old man followed her easily. Once, however, he stopped her.
“D-o is ditto,” he said gently, “not do.”
As the nurse droned along, I found myself looking curiously at a photograph in a silver frame on the bed-side table. It was the picture of a girl in white, with her hands clasped loosely before her. Against the dark background her figure stood out slim and young. Perhaps it was the rather grim environment, possibly it was my mood, but although as a general thing photographs of young girls make no appeal to me, this one did. I found my eyes straying back to it. By a little finesse I even made out the name written across the corner, “Alison.”
Mr. Gilmore lay back among his pillows and listened to the nurse’s listless voice. But he was watching me from under his heavy eyebrows, for when the reading was over, and we were alone, he indicated the picture with a gesture.
“I keep it there to remind myself that I am an old man,” he said. “That is my granddaughter, Alison West.”
I expressed the customary polite surprise, at which, finding me responsive, he told me his age with a chuckle of pride. More surprise, this time genuine. From that we went to what he ate for breakfast and did not eat for luncheon, and then to his reserve power, which at sixty-five becomes a matter for thought. And so, in a wide circle, back to where we started, the picture.
“Father was a rascal,” John Gilmore said, picking up the frame. “The happiest day of my life was when I knew he was safely dead in bed and not hanged. If the child had looked like him, I—well, she doesn’t. She’s a Gilmore, every inch. Supposed to look like me.”
“Very noticeably,” I agreed soberly.
I had produced the notes by that time, and replacing the picture Mr. Gilmore gathered his spectacles from beside it. He went over the four notes methodically, examining each carefully and putting it down before he picked up the next. Then he leaned back and took off his glasses.
“They’re not so bad,” he said thoughtfully. “Not so bad. But I never saw them before. That’s my unofficial signature. I am inclined to think—” he was speaking partly to himself—"to think that he has got hold of a letter of mine, probably to Alison. Bronson was a friend of her rapscallion of a father.”
I took Mr. Gilmore’s deposition and put it into my traveling-bag with the forged notes. When I saw them again, almost three weeks later, they were unrecognizable, a mass of charred paper on a copper ashtray. In the interval other and bigger things had happened: the Bronson forgery case had shrunk beside the greater and more imminent mystery of the man in lower ten. And Alison West had come into the story and into my life.
I LUNCHED ALONE AT THE Gilmore house, and went back to the city at once. The sun had lifted the mists, and a fresh summer wind had cleared away the smoke pall. The boulevard was full of cars flying countryward for the Saturday half-holiday, toward golf and tennis, green fields and babbling girls. I gritted my teeth and thought of McKnight at Richmond, visiting the lady with the geographical name. And then, for the first time, I associated John Gilmore’s granddaughter with the “West” that McKnight had irritably flung at me.
I still carried my traveling-bag, for McKnight’s vision at the window of the empty house had not been without effect. I did not transfer the notes to my pocket, and, if I had, it would not have altered the situation later. Only the other day McKnight put this very thing up to me.
“I warned you,” he reminded me. “I told you there were queer things coming, and to be on your guard. You ought to have taken your revolver.”
“It would have been of exactly as much use as a bucket of snow in Africa,” I retorted. “If I had never closed my eyes, or if I had kept my finger on the trigger of a six-shooter (which is novelesque for revolver), the result would have been the same. And the next time you want a little excitement with every variety of thrill thrown in, I can put you by way of it. You begin by getting the wrong berth in a Pullman car, and end—”
“Oh, I know how it ends,” he finished shortly. “Don’t you suppose the whole thing’s written on my spinal marrow?”
But I am wandering again. That is the difficulty with the unprofessional story-teller: he yaws back and forth and can’t keep in the wind; he drops his characters overboard when he hasn’t any further use for them and drowns them; he forgets the coffee-pot and the frying-pan and all the other small essentials, and, if he carries a love affair, he mutters a fervent “Allah be praised” when he lands them, drenched with adventures, at the matrimonial dock at the end of the final chapter.
I put in a thoroughly unsatisfactory afternoon. Time dragged eternally. I dropped in at a summer vaudeville, and bought some ties at a haberdasher’s. I was bored but unexpectant; I had no premonition of what was to come. Nothing unusual had ever happened to me; friends of mine had sometimes sailed the high seas of adventure or skirted the coasts of chance, but all of the shipwrecks had occurred after a woman passenger had been taken on. “Ergo,” I had always said “no women!” I repeated it to myself that evening almost savagely, when I found my thoughts straying back to the picture of John Gilmore’s granddaughter. I even argued as I ate my solitary dinner at a downtown restaurant.
“Haven’t you troubles enough,” I reflected, “without looking for more? Hasn’t Bad News gone lame, with a matinee race booked for next week? Otherwise aren’t you comfortable? Isn’t your house in order? Do you want to sell a pony in order to have the library done over in mission or the drawing-room in gold? Do you want somebody to count the empty cigarette boxes lying around every morning?”
Lay it to the long idle afternoon, to the new environment, to anything you like, but I began to think that perhaps I did. I was confoundedly lonely. For the first time in my life its even course began to waver: the needle registered warning marks on the matrimonial seismograph, lines vague enough, but lines.
My alligator bag lay at my feet, still locked. While I waited for my coffee I leaned back and surveyed the people incuriously. There were the usual couples intent on each other: my new state of mind made me regard them with tolerance. But at the next table, where a man and woman dined together, a different atmosphere prevailed. My attention was first caught by the woman’s face. She had been speaking earnestly across the table, her profile turned to me. I had noticed casually her earnest manner, her somber clothes, and the great mass of odd, bronze-colored hair on her neck. But suddenly she glanced toward me and the utter hopelessness—almost tragedy—of her expression struck me with a shock. She half closed her eyes and drew a long breath, then she turned again to the man across the table.
Neither one was eating. He sat low in his chair, his chin on his chest, ugly folds of thick flesh protruding over his collar. He was probably fifty, bald, grotesque, sullen, and yet not without a suggestion of power. But he had been drinking; as I looked, he raised an unsteady hand and summoned a waiter with a wine list.
The young woman bent across the table and spoke again quickly. She had unconsciously raised her voice. Not beautiful, in her earnestness and stress she rather interested me. I had an idle inclination to advise the waiter to remove the bottled temptation from the table. I wonder what would have happened if I had? Suppose Harrington had not been intoxicated when he entered the Pullman car Ontario that night!
For they were about to make a journey, I gathered, and the young woman wished to go alone. I drank three cups of coffee, which accounted for my wakefulness later, and shamelessly watched the tableau before me. The woman’s protest evidently went for nothing: across the table the man grunted monosyllabic replies and grew more and more lowering and sullen. Once, during a brief unexpected pianissimo in the music, her voice came to me sharply:
“If I could only see him in time!” she was saying. “Oh, it’s terrible!”
In spite of my interest I would have forgotten the whole incident at once, erased it from my mind as one does the inessentials and clutterings of memory, had I not met them again, later that evening, in the Pennsylvania station. The situation between them had not visibly altered: the same dogged determination showed in the man’s face, but the young woman—daughter or wife? I wondered—had drawn down her veil and I could only suspect what white misery lay beneath.
I bought my berth after waiting in a line of some eight or ten people. When, step by step, I had almost reached the window, a tall woman whom I had not noticed before spoke to me from my elbow. She had a ticket and money in her hand.
“Will you try to get me a lower when you buy yours?” she asked. “I have traveled for three nights in uppers.”
I consented, of course; beyond that I hardly noticed the woman. I had a vague impression of height and a certain amount of stateliness, but the crowd was pushing behind me, and some one was standing on my foot. I got two lowers easily, and, turning with the change and berths, held out the tickets.
“Which will you have?” I asked. “Lower eleven or lower ten?”
“It makes no difference,” she said. “Thank you very much indeed.”
At random I gave her lower eleven, and called a porter to help her with her luggage. I followed them leisurely to the train shed, and ten minutes more saw us under way.
I looked into my car, but it presented the peculiarly unattractive appearance common to sleepers. The berths were made up; the center aisle was a path between walls of dingy, breeze-repelling curtains, while the two seats at each end of the car were piled high with suitcases and umbrellas. The perspiring porter was trying to be six places at once: somebody has said that Pullman porters are black so they won’t show the dirt, but they certainly show the heat.
Nine-fifteen was an outrageous hour to go to bed, especially since I sleep little or not at all on the train, so I made my way to the smoker and passed the time until nearly eleven with cigarettes and a magazine. The car was very close. It was a warm night, and before turning in I stood a short time in the vestibule. The train had been stopping at frequent intervals, and, finding the brakeman there, I asked the trouble.
It seemed that there was a hot-box on the next car, and that not only were we late, but we were delaying the second section, just behind. I was beginning to feel pleasantly drowsy, and the air was growing cooler as we got into the mountains. I said good night to the brakeman and went back to my berth. To my surprise, lower ten was already occupied—a suit-case projected from beneath, a pair of shoes stood on the floor, and from behind the curtains came the heavy, unmistakable breathing of deep sleep. I hunted out the porter and together we investigated.
“Are you asleep, sir?” asked the porter, leaning over deferentially. No answer forthcoming, he opened the curtains and looked in. Yes, the intruder was asleep—very much asleep—and an overwhelming odor of whisky proclaimed that he would probably remain asleep until morning. I was irritated. The car was full, and I was not disposed to take an upper in order to allow this drunken interloper to sleep comfortably in my berth.
“You’ll have to get out of this,” I said, shaking him angrily. But he merely grunted and turned over. As he did so, I saw his features for the first time. It was the quarrelsome man of the restaurant.
I was less disposed than ever to relinquish my claim, but the porter, after a little quiet investigation, offered a solution of the difficulty. “There’s no one in lower nine,” he suggested, pulling open the curtains just across. “It’s likely nine’s his berth, and he’s made a mistake, owing to his condition. You’d better take nine, sir.”
I did, with a firm resolution that if nine’s rightful owner turned up later I should be just as unwakable as the man opposite. I undressed leisurely, making sure of the safety of the forged notes, and placing my grip as before between myself and the window.
Being a man of systematic habits, I arranged my clothes carefully, putting my shoes out for the porter to polish, and stowing my collar and scarf in the little hammock swung for the purpose.
At last, with my pillows so arranged that I could see out comfortably, and with the unhygienic-looking blanket turned back—I have always a distrust of those much-used affairs—I prepared to wait gradually for sleep.
But sleep did not visit me. The train came to frequent, grating stops, and I surmised the hot box again. I am not a nervous man, but there was something chilling in the thought of the second section pounding along behind us. Once, as I was dozing, our locomotive whistled a shrill warning—"You keep back where you belong,” it screamed to my drowsy ears, and from somewhere behind came a chastened “All-right-I-will.”
I grew more and more wide-awake. At Cresson I got up on my elbow and blinked out at the station lights. Some passengers boarded the train there and I heard a woman’s low tones, a southern voice, rich and full. Then quiet again. Every nerve was tense: time passed, perhaps ten minutes, possibly half an hour. Then, without the slightest warning, as the train rounded a curve, a heavy body was thrown into my berth. The incident, trivial as it seemed, was startling in its suddenness, for although my ears were painfully strained and awake, I had heard no step outside. The next instant the curtain hung limp again; still without a sound, my disturber had slipped away into the gloom and darkness. In a frenzy of wakefulness, I sat up, drew on a pair of slippers and fumbled for my bath-robe.
From a berth across, probably lower ten, came that particular aggravating snore which begins lightly, delicately, faintly soprano, goes down the scale a note with every breath, and, after keeping the listener tense with expectation, ends with an explosion that tears the very air. I was more and more irritable: I sat on the edge of the berth and hoped the snorer would choke to death. He had considerable vitality, however; he withstood one shock after another and survived to start again with new vigor. In desperation I found some cigarettes and one match, piled my blankets over my grip, and drawing the curtains together as though the berth were still occupied, I made my way to the vestibule of the car.
I was not clad for dress parade. Is it because the male is so restricted to gloom in his every-day attire that he blossoms into gaudy colors in his pajamas and dressing-gowns? It would take a Turk to feel at home before an audience in my red and yellow bathrobe, a Christmas remembrance from Mrs. Klopton, with slippers to match.
So, naturally, when I saw a feminine figure on the platform, my first instinct was to dodge. The woman, however, was quicker than I; she gave me a startled glance, wheeled and disappeared, with a flash of two bronze-colored braids, into the next car.
Cigarette box in one hand, match in the other, I leaned against the uncertain frame of the door and gazed after her vanished figure. The mountain air flapped my bath-robe around my bare ankles, my one match burned to the end and went out, and still I stared. For I had seen on her expressive face a haunting look that was horror, nothing less. Heaven knows, I am not psychological. Emotions have to be written large before I can read them. But a woman in trouble always appeals to me, and this woman was more than that. She was in deadly fear.
If I had not been afraid of being ridiculous, I would have followed her. But I fancied that the apparition of a man in a red and yellow bath-robe, with an unkempt thatch of hair, walking up to her and assuring her that he would protect her would probably put her into hysterics. I had done that once before, when burglars had tried to break into the house, and had startled the parlor maid into bed for a week. So I tried to assure myself that I had imagined the lady’s distress—or caused it, perhaps—and to dismiss her from my mind. Perhaps she was merely anxious about the unpleasant gentleman of the restaurant. I thought smugly that I could have told her all about him: that he was sleeping the sleep of the just and the intoxicated in a berth that ought, by all that was fair and right, to have been mine, and that if I were tied to a man who snored like that I should have him anesthetized and his soft palate put where it would never again flap like a loose sail in the wind.
We passed Harrisburg as I stood there. It was starlight, and the great crests of the Alleghanies had given way to low hills. At intervals we passed smudges of gray white, no doubt in daytime comfortable farms, which McKnight says is a good way of putting it, the farms being a lot more comfortable than the people on them.
I was growing drowsy: the woman with the bronze hair and the horrified face was fading in retrospect. It was colder, too, and I turned with a shiver to go in. As I did so a bit of paper fluttered into the air and settled on my sleeve, like a butterfly on a gorgeous red and yellow blossom. I picked it up curiously and glanced at it. It was part of a telegram that had been torn into bits.
There were only parts of four words on the scrap, but it left me puzzled and thoughtful. It read, “-ower ten, car seve-.”
“Lower ten, car seven,” was my berth-the one I had bought and found preempted.
NO SOLUTION OFFERING ITSELF, I went back to my berth. The snorer across had apparently strangled, or turned over, and so after a time I dropped asleep, to be awakened by the morning sunlight across my face.
I felt for my watch, yawning prodigiously. I reached under the pillow and failed to find it, but something scratched the back of my hand. I sat up irritably and nursed the wound, which was bleeding a little. Still drowsy, I felt more cautiously for what I supposed had been my scarf pin, but there was nothing there. Wide awake now, I reached for my traveling-bag, on the chance that I had put my watch in there. I had drawn the satchel to me and had my hand on the lock before I realized that it was not my own!
Mine was of alligator hide. I had killed the beast in Florida, after the expenditure of enough money to have bought a house and enough energy to have built one. The bag I held in my hand was a black one, sealskin, I think. The staggering thought of what the loss of my bag meant to me put my finger on the bell and kept it there until the porter came.
“Did you ring, sir?” he asked, poking his head through the curtains obsequiously. McKnight objects that nobody can poke his head through a curtain and be obsequious. But Pullman porters can and do.
“No,” I snapped. “It rang itself. What in thunder do you mean by exchanging my valise for this one? You’ll have to find it if you waken the entire car to do it. There are important papers in that grip.”
“Porter,” called a feminine voice from an upper berth near-by. “Porter, am I to dangle here all day?”
“Let her dangle,” I said savagely. “You find that bag of mine.”
The porter frowned. Then he looked at me with injured dignity. “I brought in your overcoat, sir. You carried your own valise.”
The fellow was right! In an excess of caution I had refused to relinquish my alligator bag, and had turned over my other traps to the porter. It was clear enough then. I was simply a victim of the usual sleeping-car robbery. I was in a lather of perspiration by that time: the lady down the car was still dangling and talking about it: still nearer a feminine voice was giving quick orders in French, presumably to a maid. The porter was on his knees, looking under the berth.
“Not there, sir,” he said, dusting his knees. He was visibly more cheerful, having been absolved of responsibility. “Reckon it was taken while you was wanderin’ around the car last night.”
“I’ll give you fifty dollars if you find it,” I said. “A hundred. Reach up my shoes and I’ll—”
I stopped abruptly. My eyes were fixed in stupefied amazement on a coat that hung from a hook at the foot of my berth. From the coat they traveled, dazed, to the soft-bosomed shirt beside it, and from there to the collar and cravat in the net hammock across the windows.
“A hundred!” the porter repeated, showing his teeth. But I caught him by the arm and pointed to the foot of the berth.
“What—what color’s that coat?” I asked unsteadily.
“Gray, sir.” His tone was one of gentle reproof.
He reached over and held up one creased leg. “Gray, too,” he grinned.
“Gray!” I could not believe even his corroboration of my own eyes. “But my clothes were blue!” The porter was amused: he dived under the curtains and brought up a pair of shoes. “Your shoes, sir,” he said with a flourish. “Reckon you’ve been dreaming, sir.”
Now, there are two things I always avoid in my dress—possibly an idiosyncrasy of my bachelor existence. These tabooed articles are red neckties and tan shoes. And not only were the shoes the porter lifted from the floor of a gorgeous shade of yellow, but the scarf which was run through the turned over collar was a gaudy red. It took a full minute for the real import of things to penetrate my dazed intelligence. Then I gave a vindictive kick at the offending ensemble.
“They’re not mine, any of them,” I snarled. “They are some other fellow’s. I’ll sit here until I take root before I put them on.”
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