“God forgive me for talkin’ so loud.... I’d ought to have known....”
“What is it? Who was that?” demanded Queed, startled more by Klinker’s look than by that scream.
But Klinker only turned and slipped softly out of the door, tipping on his toes as though somebody near at hand 4 were asleep.
Queed was left bewildered, and completely at a loss. Whatever the matter was, it clearly concerned Buck Klinker. Equally clearly, it did not concern him. People had a right to scream if they felt that way, without having a horde of boarders hurry out and call them to book.
However, his scientist’s fondness for getting at the underlying causes—or as some call it, curiosity—presently obtained control of him, and he went downstairs.
There is no privacy of grief in the communism of a middle-class boarding-house. It is ordered that your neighbor shall gaze upon your woe and you shall stare at his anguish, when both are new and raw. That cry of pain had been instantly followed by a stir of movement; a little shiver ran through the house. Doors opened and shut; voices murmured; quick feet sounded on the stairs. Now the boarders were gathered in the parlor, very still and solemn, yet not to save their lives unaware that for them the humdrum round was to go on just the same. And here, of course, is no matter of a boarding-house: for queens must eat though kings lie high in state.
To Mrs. Paynter’s parlor came a girl, white-faced and shadowy-eyed, but for those hours at least, calm and tear-less and the mistress of herself. The boarders rose as she appeared in the door, and she saw that after all she had no need to tell them anything. They came and took her hand, one by one, which was the hardest to bear, and even Mr. Bylash seemed touched with a new dignity, and even Miss Miller’s pompadour looked human and sorry. But two faces Miss Weyland did not see among the kind-eyed boarders: the old professor, who had locked himself in his room, and the little Doctor who was at that moment coming down the steps.
“Supper’s very late,” said she. “Emma and Laura ... have been much upset. I’ll have it on the table in a minute.”
She turned into the hail and saw Queed on the stairs. He halted his descent five steps from the bottom, and she came to the banisters and stood and looked up at him. And if any memory of their last meeting was with them then, neither of them gave any sign of it.
“No, I don’t know,” he replied, disturbed by her look, he did not know why, and involuntarily lowering his voice. “I came down expressly to find out.”
“Is worse again?”
“She ... stopped breathing a few minutes ago.”
Sharlee winced visibly at the word, as the fresh stricken always will.