Late on a March afternoon, Queed finished a review article—his second since he had left the newspaper, four days before—and took it himself to the post-office. He wanted to catch the night mail for the North; and besides his body, jaded by two days’ confinement, cried aloud for a little exercise. His fervent desire was to rush out all the articles that were in him, and get money for them back with all possible speed. But he knew that the market for this work was limited. He must find other work immediately; he did not care greatly what kind it was, provided only that it was profitable. Thoughts of ways and means, mostly hard thoughts, occupied his mind all the way downtown. And always it grew plainer to him how much he was going to miss, now of all times, his eighteen hundred a year from the Post.
In the narrowest corridor of the post-office—like West in the Byrds’ vestibule—he came suddenly face to face with Sharlee Weyland.
The meeting was unwelcome to them both, and both their faces showed it. Sharlee had told herself, a thousand times in a week, that she never wanted to see Mr. Queed again. Queed had known, without telling himself at all, that he did not want to see Miss Weyland, not, at least, till he had more time to think. But Queed’s dread of seeing the girl had nothing to do with what was uppermost in her mind—the Post’s treacherous editorial. Of course, West had long since made that right as he had promised, as he would have done with no promising. But—ought he to tell her now, or to wait?... And what would she say when she knew the whole shameful truth about him—knew that for nearly a year Surface Senior and Surface Junior, shifty father and hoodwinked son, had been living fatly on the salvage of her own plundered fortune?
She would have passed him with a bow, but Queed, more awkward than she, involuntarily halted. The dingy gas-light, which happened to be behind him, fell full upon her face, and he said at once:—
“How do you do?—not very well, I fear. You look quite used up—not well at all.”
Pride raised a red flag in her cheek. She lifted a great muff to her lips, and gave a little laugh.
“Thank you. I am quite well.”
Continuing to gaze at her, he went ahead with customary directness: “Then I am afraid you have been taking—the reformatory too hard.”
“No, not the reformatory. It is something worse than that. I had a friend once,” said Sharlee, muff to her lips, and her level eyes, upon him, “and he was not worthy.”
To follow out that thought was impossible, but Queed felt very sorry for West when he saw how she said it.
“I’m sorry that you should have had this—to distress you. However—”
“Isn’t it rather late to think of that now? As to saying it—I should have thought that you would tell me of your sorrow immediately—or not at all.”
A long look passed between them. Down the corridor, on both sides of them, flowed a stream of people bent upon mails; but these two were alone in the world.