THE SECRET AT THE CROSSROADS
But I did not rush off to bed. Instead, I explained the propriety of my going to the "back" with him.
"No, no!" he protested, wretchedly.
It was as I had surmised: a "hospital," the most unprofessional thing of its kind I have ever beheld, a squatting-place for misery. A playhouse dispensary and operating room; two sheds in lieu of wards, with two-tiered board bunks along each wall. An imbecile black hag in one room, whimpering for cocaine; in the other, a care-free son of Ham who, from some incentive, had reached a hand under a logging locomotive. Dearth of linen; the cases lay on unsheeted oilcloth; dismal kerosene lamps, and remnants of greasy victuals on tin plates.
Pearline was brought in. She was made as easy as possible in the bunk referred to as "Number Four," which Sarah had by some process made "ready." The case was well advanced but not yet urgent. Agard sent the two men on their way and set the elegant Sarah to watch and doze while nature took its course. His one expressed notion as we walked to the dwelling house was that he might yet "get a little sleep."
But by this time curiosity had got the upper hand of me. Agard's "ethical background" was becoming far more complicated than I had supposed. I was to leave early in the morning. He and I talked and tramped around in my room for some time, at the point of saying good-night, and at last sat down on opposite sides of the bed.
"Well, you see," he admitted in a manner of desperation, "things sort-of drove me to it—everything, seems like. You know, it can get powerful quiet here in the brush. Sometimes for an hour you might hear a pin drop. An' I'd set an' think—just as free as if I was ridin' up yonder on one o' them hot-weather clouds. It's hard to explain. . . ."
"Those mental processes can't be explained," I agreed, diagnosing a solitude-complex.
"No—you understand? Well, an' these niggers, now—you can't let 'em think they're as good as you are, or first thing you know they're better than you are, by George."
"Quite right," I observed; "in some localities I could mention they won't give a white woman a seat in a street-car."
"Certainly they won't," he went on. "But, in his place,