As she rehearsed these words in her mind, Miss Eastman went hurrying through the streets. Twilight had set in, close and sultry, with low grumblings of thunder, and there was that stillness in the air, that strange sense of waiting, which precedes the storm. Gray, scarf-like films were speeding across the black-purple sky, and were suddenly rent by a zig-zag quiver of blue-white fire. The trees along the walk flamed green, and then were dark again, and overhead a flight of pigeons clove the air with a rushing of swift wings. An instant later a whirling litter of straws, flapping newspapers, and dust came swishing down the pavement, and with the coming of this first strong gust of wind was a noise of slamming doors and the sound of windows being quickly lowered. With the swift and vigorous whiff of storm came the good, cooling smell of rain.
Miss Eastman paid no heed. She was too indignant and too hurt to think much about so trifling a matter as a shower, and when she reached the house of Dr. Redfield it further exasperated her that she should be kept waiting upon his doorstep. Twice, and a third time, she gave the bell an energetic pull, but no one answered. The gush of water from the roof tinkled loudly in the tin drain-pipes, but throughout the dwelling there was a tomb-like silence. Presently, though, Miss Eastman heard a “squadgy” tread that was steadily drawing nearer. When the door was at last cautiously opened she caught a glimpse of the housekeeper, the discreet and red-faced Mrs. Botz. As the shiny countenance leisurely appeared, the woman revealed two flour-coated fingers pressed upon her heavy lips.
“Herr Doctor iss maybe gone to sleep already,” she whispered; then she laughed a wheezy chuckle that shook her ponderous bust. She pointed up the hallway to something under the light of the oil lamp which much resembled a fat rag doll. The queer object was shaking with strange contortions in the place where the hall-bell should have hung. “I play him one good trick, ain’t it?” she added. “Mit a towel I tie up the bell-knocker—zo!” She illustrated with her flour-dusted hands. “Den I wrap him round like one sore foot. Hoffentlich, nopody vill vake him up if he iss sleeping.”
“But why, Mary, why should he be asleep? Is he so tired, then?”
“Ach, mein lieber Gott! Do you not know? It iss Duck Town. Vonce more yet a funeral. I know from his face it is this time maybe one little schildt. He carry them in his eyes, the little schildren, unt he is coming home, unt he say nudding; he cannot eat, unt zo I know vot iss it.”
Although this announcement went to Miss Eastman’s heart, it was not sufficient to outweigh her resolution. She would speak plainly to him. Glancing toward the office, she saw that a dim light was shining from an open door into the hallway.
“I think I shall have to go in,” she said to Mrs. Botz, and started for the office.