The Mystery of Mary (Chapter 4, page 1 of 8)

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Chapter 4

Dunham listened as long as his ear could catch the sound, then a strange desolation settled down upon him. How was it that a few short hours ago he had known nothing, cared nothing, about this stranger? And now her going had left things blank enough! It was foolish, of course--just highly wrought nerves over this most extraordinary occurrence. Life had heretofore run in such smooth, conventional grooves as to have been almost prosaic; and now to be suddenly plunged into romance and mystery unbalanced him for the time.

To-morrow, probably, he would again be able to look sane living in the face, and perhaps call himself a fool for his most unusual interest in this chance acquaintance; but just at this moment when he had parted from her, when the memory of her lovely face and pure eyes lingered with him, when her bravery and fear were both so fresh in his mind, and the very sound of her music was still in his brain, he simply could not without a pang turn back again to life which contained no solution of her mystery, no hope of another vision of her face.

The little station behind him was closed, though a light over the desk shone brightly through its front window and the telegraph sounder was clicking busily. The operator had gone over the hill with an important telegram, leaving the station door locked. The platform was windy and cheerless, with a view of a murky swamp, and the sound of deep-throated inhabitants croaking out a late fall concert. A rusty-throated cricket in a crack of the platform wailed a plaintive note now and then, and off beyond the swamp, in the edge of the wood, a screech-owl hooted.

Turning impatiently from the darkness, Dunham sought the bright window, in front of which lay a newspaper. He could read the large headlines of a column--no more, for the paper was upside down, and a bunch of bill-heads lay partly across it. It read: MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF YOUNG AND PRETTY WOMAN His heart stood still, and then went thudding on in dull, horrid blows. Vainly he tried to read further. He followed every visible word of that paper to discover its date and origin, but those miserable bill-heads frustrated his effort. He felt like dashing his hand through the glass, but reflected that the act might result in his being locked up in some miserable country jail. He tried the window and gave the door another vicious shake, but all to no purpose.

Finally he turned on his heel and walked up and down for an hour, tramping the length of the shaky platform, back and forth, till the train rumbled up. As he took his seat in the car he saw the belated agent come running up the platform with a lighted lantern on his arm, and a package of letters, which he handed to the brakeman, but there was not time to beg the newspaper from him. Dunham's indignant mind continued to dwell upon the headlines, to the annoying accompaniment of screech-owl and frog and cricket. He resented the adjective "pretty." Why should any reporter dare to apply that word to a sweet and lovely woman? It seemed so superficial, so belittling, and--but then, of course, this headline did not apply to his new friend. It was some other poor creature, some one to whom perhaps the word "pretty" really applied; some one who was not really beautiful, only pretty.

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