“Here is Colonel Cowles now.”
She breathed a sigh. Colonel Cowles, entering with the breath of winter upon him, greeted her affectionately. Queed, rather relieved that his too hasty offer had not been accepted, noted with vexation that his conversation with the agent had cost him eighteen minutes of time. Vigorously he readdressed himself to the currency problems of the Bavarians; the girl’s good-night, as applied to him, fell upon ears deafer than any post.
Sharlee walked home through the tingling twilight; fourteen blocks, and she did them four times a day. It was a still evening, clear as a bell and very cold; already stars were pushing through the dim velvet round; all the world lay white with a light hard snow, crusted and sparkling under the street lights. Her private fear about the whole matter was that Queed Senior was a person of a criminal mode of life, who, discovering the need of a young helper, was somehow preparing to sound and size up his long-neglected son.
In which an Assistant Editor, experiencing the Common Desire to thrash a Proof-Reader, makes a Humiliating Discovery; and of how Trainer Klinker gets a Pupil the Same Evening.
The industrial problems of the Bavarians seemed an inoffensive thesis enough, but who can evade Destiny?
Queed never read his own articles when they appeared in print in the Post. In this peculiarity he may be said to have resembled all the rest of the world, with the exception of the Secretary of the Tax Reform League, and the Assistant Secretary of the State Department of Charities. But not by any such device, either, can a man elude his Fate. On the day following his conversation with Mrs. Paynter’s agent, Fortune gave Queed to hear a portion of his article on the Bavarians read aloud, and read with derisive laughter.
The incident occurred on a street-car, which he had taken because of the heavy snow-fall: another illustration of the tiny instruments with which Providence works out its momentous designs. Had he not taken the car—he was on the point of not taking it, when one whizzed invitingly up—he would never have heard of the insult that the Post’s linotype had put upon him, and the course of his life might have been different. As it was, two men on the next seat in front were reading the Post and making merry.
“... ‘A lengthy procession of fleas harassed the diet.’ Now what in the name of Bob ...”
Gradually the sentence worked its way into the closed fastness of the young man’s mind. It had a horrible familiarity, like a ghastly parody on something known and dear. With a quick movement he leaned forward, peering over the shoulder of the man who held the paper.
The man looked around, surprised and annoyed by the strange face breaking in so close to his own, but Queed paid no attention to him. Yes ... it was his article they were mocking at—HIS article. He remembered the passage perfectly. He had written: “A lengthy procession of pleas harassed the Diet.” His trained eye swept rapidly down the half column of print. There it was! “A procession of fleas.” In his article! Fleas, unclean, odious vermin, in His Article!