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.