Part 11 out of 19
Susan thanked him but declined. "What's the use of my taking
a job I couldn't keep more than a day or two?" explained she.
"I haven't it in me to boss people."
"Then you've got to get it, or you're done for," said he.
"Nobody ever gets anywhere until he's making others work for him."
It was the advice she had got from Matson, the paper box
manufacturer in Cincinnati. It was the lesson she found in all
prosperity on every hand. Make others work for you--and the
harder you made them work the more prosperous you
were--provided, of course, you kept all or nearly all the
profits of their harder toil. Obvious common sense. But how
could she goad these unfortunates, force their clumsy fingers
to move faster, make their long and weary day longer and
wearier--with nothing for them as the result but duller brain,
clumsier fingers, more wretched bodies? She realized why those
above lost all patience with them, treated them with contempt.
Only as one of them could any intelligent, energetic human
being have any sympathy for them, stupid and incompetent from
birth, made ever more and more stupid and incapable by the
degrading lives they led. She could scarcely conceal her
repulsion for their dirty bodies, their stained and rotting
clothing saturated with stale sweat, their coarse flesh reeking
coarse food smells. She could not listen to their
conversation, so vulgar, so inane. Yet she felt herself--for
the time--one of them, and her heart bled for them. And while
she knew that only their dullness of wit and ignorance kept
them from climbing up and stamping and trampling full as
savagely and cruelly as did those on top, still the fact
remained that they were not stamping and trampling.
As she was turning in some work, Miss Tuohy said abruptly:
"You don't belong here. You ought to go back."
Susan started, and her heart beat wildly. She was going to
lose her job!
The forelady saw, and instantly understood. "I don't mean
that," she said. "You can stay as long as you like--as long as
your health lasts. But isn't there somebody
somewhere--_anybody_--you can go to and ask them to help you out
"No--there's no one," said she.
"That can't be true," insisted the forelady. "Everybody has
somebody--or can get somebody--that is, anyone who looks like
you. I wouldn't suggest such a thing to a fool. But _you_
could keep your head. There isn't any other way, and you might
as well make up your mind to it."
To confide is one of the all but universal longings--perhaps
needs--of human nature. Susan's honest, sympathetic eyes, her
look and her habit of reticence, were always attracting
confidences from such unexpected sources as hard, forbidding
Miss Tuohy. Susan was not much surprised when Miss Tuohy went
on to say:
"I was spoiled when I was still a kid--by getting to know well
a man who was above my class. I had tastes that way, and he
appealed to them. After him I couldn't marry the sort of man
that wanted me. Then my looks went--like a flash--it often
happens that way with us Irish girls. But I can get on. I
know how to deal with these people--and _you_ never could learn.
You'd treat 'em like ladies and they'd treat you as easy fruit.
Yes, I get along all right, and I'm happy--away from here."
Susan's sympathetic glance of inquiry gave the necessary
encouragement. "It's a baby," Miss Tuohy explained--and Susan
knew it was for the baby's sake that this good heart had
hardened itself to the dirty work of forelady. Her eyes
shifted as she said, "A child of my sister's--dead in Ireland.
How I do love that baby----"
They were interrupted and it so happened that the confidence
was never resumed and finished. But Miss Tuohy had made her
point with Susan--had set her to thinking less indefinitely.
"I _must_ take hold!" Susan kept saying to herself. The
phrase was always echoing in her brain. But how?--_how?_ And
to that question she could find no answer.
Every morning she bought a one-cent paper whose big circulation
was in large part due to its want ads--its daily section of
closely printed columns of advertisements of help wanted and
situations wanted. Susan read the columns diligently. At
first they acted upon her like an intoxicant, filling her not
merely with hope but with confident belief that soon she would
be in a situation where the pay was good and the work
agreeable, or at least not disagreeable. But after a few weeks
she ceased from reading.
Why? Because she answered the advertisements, scores of them,
more than a hundred, before she saw through the trick and gave
up. She found that throughout New York all the attractive or
even tolerable places were filled by girls helped by their
families or in other ways, girls working at less than living
wages because they did not have to rely upon their wages for
their support. And those help wanted advertisements were
simply appeals for more girls of that sort--for cheaper girls;
or they were inserted by employment agencies, masquerading in
the newspaper as employers and lying in wait to swindle working
girls by getting a fee in exchange for a false promise of good
work at high wages; or they were the nets flung out by crafty
employers who speeded and starved their slaves, and wished to
recruit fresh relays to replace those that had quit in
exhaustion or in despair.
"Why do you always read the want ads?" she said to Lany
Ricardo, who spent all her spare time at those advertisements
in two papers she bought and one she borrowed every day. "Did
you ever get anything good, or hear of anybody that did?"
"Oh, my, no," replied Lany with a laugh. "I read for the same
reason that all the rest do. It's a kind of dope. You read
and then you dream about the places--how grand they are and how
well off you'll be. But nobody'd be fool enough to answer one
of 'em unless she was out of a job and had to get another and
didn't care how rotten it was. No, it's just dope--like buyin'
policy numbers or lottery tickets. You know you won't git a
prize, but you have a lot of fun dreaming about it."
As Susan walked up and down at the lunch hour, she talked with
workers, both men and women, in all sorts of employment. Some
were doing a little better than she; others--the most--were
worse off chiefly because her education, her developed
intelligence, enabled her to ward off savage blows--such as
illness from rotten food--against which their ignorance made
them defenseless. Whenever she heard a story of someone's
getting on, how grotesquely different it was from the stories
she used to get out of the Sunday school library and dream
over! These almost actualities of getting on had nothing in
them about honesty and virtue. According to them it was always
some sort of meanness or trickery; and the particular meanness
or tricks were, in these practical schools of success in
session at each lunch hour, related in detail as lessons in how
to get on. If the success under discussion was a woman's, it
was always how her boss or employer had "got stuck on her" and
had given her an easier job with good pay so that she could
wear clothes more agreeable to his eyes and to his touch. Now
and then it was a wonderful dazzling success--some girl had got
her rich employer so "dead crazy" about her that he had taken
her away from work altogether and had set her up in a flat with
a servant and a "swell trap"; there was even talk of marriage.
Was it true? Were the Sunday school books through and through
lies--ridiculous, misleading lies, wicked lies--wicked because
they hid the shameful truth that ought to be proclaimed from
the housetops? Susan was not sure. Perhaps envy twisted
somewhat these tales of rare occasional successes told by the
workers to each other. But certain it was that, wherever she
had the opportunity to see for herself, success came only by
hardness of heart, by tricks and cheats. Certain it was also
that the general belief among the workers was that success
could be got in those ways only--and this belief made the
falsehood, if it was a falsehood, or the partial truth, if it
was a twisted truth, full as poisonous as if it had been true
throughout. Also, if the thing were not true, how came it that
everyone in practical life believed it to be so--how came it
that everyone who talked in praise of honesty and virtue
looked, as he talked, as if he were canting and half expected
to be laughed at?
All about her as badly off as she, or worse off. Yet none so
unhappy as she--not even the worse off. In fact, the worse off
as the better off were not so deeply wretched. Because they
had never in all their lives known the decencies of life clean
lodgings, clean clothing, food fit to eat, leisure and the
means of enjoying leisure. And Susan had known all these
things. When she realized why her companions in misery, so
feeble in self-restraint, were able to endure patiently and for
the most part even cheerfully, how careful she was never to say
or to suggest anything that might put ideas of what life might
be, of what it was for the comfortable few, into the minds of
these girls who never had known and could only be made wretched
by knowing! How fortunate for them, she thought, that they had
gone to schools where they met only their own kind! How
fortunate that the devouring monster of industry had snatched
them away from school before their minds had been awakened to
the realities of life! How fortunate that their imaginations
were too dull and too heavy to be touched by the sights of
luxury they saw in the streets or by what they read in the
newspapers and in the cheap novels! To them, as she soon
realized, their world seemed the only world, and the world that
lived in comfort seemed a vague unreality, as must seem
whatever does not come into our own experience.
One lunch hour an apostle of discontent preaching some kind of
politics or other held forth on the corner above the shop.
Susan paused to listen. She had heard only a few words when
she was incensed to the depths of her heart against him. He
ought to be stopped by the police, this scoundrel trying to
make these people unhappy by awakening them to the misery and
degradation of their lot! He looked like an honest, earnest
man. No doubt he fancied that he was in some way doing good.
These people who were always trying to do the poor good--they
ought all to be suppressed! If someone could tell them how to
cease to be poor, that would indeed be good. But such a thing
would be impossible. In Sutherland, where the best off hadn't
so painfully much more than the worst off, and where everybody
but the idle and the drunken, and even they most of the time,
had enough to eat, and a decent place to sleep, and some kind
of Sunday clothes--in Sutherland the poverty was less than in
Cincinnati, infinitely less than in this vast and incredibly
rich New York where in certain districts wealth, enormous
wealth, was piled up and up. So evidently the presence of
riches did not help poverty but seemed to increase it. No, the
disease was miserable, thought Susan. For most of the human
race, disease and bad food and vile beds in dingy holes and
days of fierce, poorly paid toil--that was the law of this hell
of a world. And to escape from that hideous tyranny, you must
be hard, you must trample, you must rob, you must cease to be human.
The apostle of discontent insisted that the law could be
changed, that the tyranny could be abolished. She listened,
but he did not convince her. He sounded vague and dreamy--as
fantastically false in his new way as she had found the Sunday
school books to be. She passed on.
She continued to pay out a cent each day for the newspaper.
She no longer bothered with the want ads. Pipe dreaming did
not attract her; she was too fiercely bent upon escape, actual
escape, to waste time in dreaming of ways of escape that she
never could realize. She read the paper because, if she could
not live in the world but was battered down in its dark and
foul and crowded cellar, she at least wished to know what was
going on up in the light and air. She found every day news of
great doings, of wonderful rises, of rich rewards for industry
and thrift, of abounding prosperity and of opportunity fairly
forcing itself into acceptance. But all this applied only to
the few so strangely and so luckily chosen, while the mass was
rejected. For that mass, from earliest childhood until death,
there was only toil in squalor--squalid food, squalid clothing,
squalid shelter. And when she read one day--in an obscure
paragraph in her newspaper--that the income of the average
American family was less than twelve dollars a week--less than
two dollars and a half a week for each individual--she realized
that what she was seeing and living was not New York and
Cincinnati, but was the common lot, country wide, no doubt
"_Must_ take hold!" her mind cried incessantly to her shrinking
heart. "Somehow--anyhow--take hold!--must--must--_must!_"
Those tenement houses! Those tenement streets! Everywhere
wandering through the crowds the lonely old women--holding up
to the girls the mirror of time and saying: "Look at my
misery! Look at my disease-blasted body. Look at my toil-bent
form and toil-wrecked hands. Look at my masses of wrinkles, at
my rags, at my leaky and rotten shoes. Think of my
aloneness--not a friend--feared and cast off by my relatives
because they are afraid they will have to give me food and
lodgings. Look at me--think of my life--and know that I am
_you_ as you will be a few years from now whether you work as a
slave to the machine or as a slave to the passions of one or of
many men. I am _you_. Not one in a hundred thousand escape my
fate except by death."
"Somehow--anyhow--I must take hold," cried Susan to her
When her capital had dwindled to three dollars Mrs. Tucker
appeared. Her face was so beaming bright that Susan, despite
her being clad in garments on which a pawnshop would advance
nothing, fancied she had come with good news.
"Now that I'm rid of that there house," said she, "I'll begin
to perk up. I ain't got nothing left to worry me. I'm ready
for whatever blessings the dear Master'll provide. My pastor
tells me I'm the finest example of Christian fortitude he ever
Saw. But"--and Mrs. Tucker spoke with genuine modesty--"I tell
him I don't deserve no credit for leaning on the Lord. If I
can trust Him in death, why not in life?"
"You've got a place? The church has----"
"Bless you, no," cried Mrs. Tucker. "Would I burden 'em with
myself, when there's so many that has to be looked after? No,
I go direct to the Lord."
"What are you going to do? What place have you got?"
"None as yet. But He'll provide something--something better'n
Susan had to turn away, to hide her pity--and her
disappointment. Not only was she not to be helped, but also
she must help another. "You might get a job at the hat
factory," said she.
Mrs. Tucker was delighted. "I knew it!" she cried. "Don't you
see how He looks after me?"
Susan persuaded Miss Tuohy to take Mrs. Tucker on. She could
truthfully recommend the old woman as a hard worker. They
moved into a room in a tenement in South Fifth Avenue. Susan
read in the paper about a model tenement and went to try for
what was described as real luxury in comfort and cleanliness.
She found that sort of tenements filled with middle-class
families on their way down in the world and making their last
stand against rising rents and rising prices. The model
tenement rents were far, far beyond her ability to pay. She
might as well think of moving to the Waldorf. She and Mrs.
Tucker had to be content with a dark room on the fifth floor,
opening on a damp air shaft whose odor was so foul that in
comparison the Clinton Place shaft was as the pure breath of
the open sky. For this shelter--more than one-half the free
and proud citizens of prosperous America dwelling in cities
occupy its like, or worse they paid three dollars a week--a
dollar and a half apiece. They washed their underclothing at
night, slept while it was drying. And Susan, who could not
bring herself to imitate the other girls and wear a blouse of
dark color that was not to be washed, rose at four to do the
necessary ironing. They did their own cooking. It was no
longer possible for Susan to buy quality and content herself
with small quantity. However small the quantity of food she
could get along on, it must be of poor quality--for good
quality was beyond her means.
It maddened her to see the better class of working girls.
Their fairly good clothing, their evidences of some comfort at
home, seemed to mock at her as a poor fool who was being beaten
down because she had not wit enough to get on. She knew these
girls were either supporting themselves in part by prostitution
or were held up by their families, by the pooling of the
earnings of several persons. Left to themselves, to their own
earnings at work, they would be no better off than she, or at
best so little better off that the difference was unimportant.
If to live decently in New York took an income of fifteen
dollars a week, what did it matter whether one got five or ten
or twelve? Any wages below fifteen meant a steady downward
drag--meant exposure to the dirt and poison of poverty
tenements--meant the steady decline of the power of resistance,
the steady oozing away of self-respect, of the courage and hope
that give the power to rise. To have less than the fifteen
dollars absolutely necessary for decent surroundings, decent
clothing, decent food--that meant one was drowning. What
matter whether the death of the soul was quick, or slow,
whether the waters of destruction were twenty feet deep or
Mrs. Reardon, the servant woman on the top floor, was evicted
and Susan and Mrs. Tucker took her in. She protested that she
could sleep on the floor, that she had done so a large part of
her life--that she preferred it to most beds. But Susan made
her up a kind of bed in the corner. They would not let her pay
anything. She had rheumatism horribly, some kind of lung
trouble, and the almost universal and repulsive catarrh that
preys upon working people. Her hair had dwindled to a meager
wisp. This she wound into a hard little knot and fastened with
an imitation tortoise-shell comb, huge, high, and broken, set
with large pieces of glass cut like diamonds. Her teeth were
all gone and her cheeks almost met in her mouth.
One day, when Mrs. Tucker and Mrs. Reardon were exchanging
eulogies upon the goodness of God to them, Susan shocked them
by harshly ordering them to be silent. "If God hears you," she
said, "He'll think you're mocking Him. Anyhow, I can't stand
any more of it. Hereafter do your talking of that kind when
I'm not here."
Another day Mrs. Reardon told about her sister. The sister had
worked in a factory where some sort of poison that had a
rotting effect on the human body was used in the manufacture.
Like a series of others the sister caught the disease. But
instead of rotting out a spot, a few fingers, or part of the
face, it had eaten away the whole of her lower jaw so that she
had to prepare her food for swallowing by first pressing it
with her fingers against her upper teeth. Used as Susan was to
hearing horrors in this region where disease and accident
preyed upon every family, she fled from the room and walked
shuddering about the streets--the streets with their incessant
march past of blighted and blasted, of maimed and crippled and
worm-eaten. Until that day Susan had been about as unobservant
of the obvious things as is the rest of the race. On that day
she for the first time noticed the crowd in the street, with
mind alert to signs of the ravages of accident and disease.
Hardly a sound body, hardly one that was not piteously and
When she returned--and she did not stay out long--Mrs. Tucker
was alone. Said she:
"Mrs. Reardon says the rotten jaw was sent on her sister as a
punishment for marrying a Protestant, she being a Catholic.
How ignorant some people is! Of course, the good Lord sent the
judgment on her for being a Catholic at all."
"Mrs. Tucker," said Susan, "did you ever hear of Nero?"
"He burned up Rome--and he burned up the Christian martyrs,"
said Mrs. Tucker. "I had a good schooling. Besides, sermons
is highly educating."
"Well," said Susan, "if I had a choice of living under Nero or
of living under that God you and Mrs. Reardon talk about, I'd
take Nero and be thankful and happy."
Mrs. Tucker would have fled if she could have afforded it. As
it was all she ventured was a sigh and lips moving in prayer.
On a Friday in late October, at the lunch hour, Susan was
walking up and down the sunny side of Broadway. It was the
first distinctly cool day of the autumn; there had been a heavy
downpour of rain all morning, but the New York sun that is ever
struggling to shine and is successful on all but an occasional
day was tearing up and scattering the clouds with the aid of a
sharp north wind blowing down the deep canyon. She was wearing
her summer dress still--old and dingy but clean. That look of
neatness about the feet--that charm of a well-shaped foot and
a well-turned ankle properly set off--had disappeared--with her
the surest sign of the extreme of desperate poverty. Her shoes
were much scuffed, were even slightly down at the heel; her
sailor hat would have looked only the worse had it had a fresh
ribbon on its crown. This first hint of winter had stung her
fast numbing faculties into unusual activity. She was
remembering the misery of the cold in Cincinnati--the misery
that had driven her into prostitution as a drunken driver's
lash makes the frenzied horse rush he cares not where in his
desire to escape. This wind of Broadway--this first warning of
winter--it was hissing in her ears: "Take hold! Winter is
coming! Take hold!"
Summer and winter--fiery heat and brutal cold. Like the devils
in the poem, the poor--the masses, all but a few of the human
race--were hurried from fire to ice, to vary their torment and
to make it always exquisite.
To shelter herself for a moment she paused at a spot that
happened to be protected to the south by a projecting sidewalk
sign. She was facing, with only a tantalizing sheet of glass
between, a display of winter underclothes on wax figures. To
show them off more effectively the sides and the back of the
window were mirrors. Susan's gaze traveled past the figures to
a person she saw standing at full length before her. "Who is
that pale, stooped girl?" she thought. "How dreary and sad she
looks! How hard she is fighting to make her clothes look
decent, when they aren't! She must be something like me--only
much worse off." And then she realized that she was gazing at
her own image, was pitying her own self. The room she and Mrs.
Tucker and the old scrubwoman occupied was so dark, even with
its one little gas jet lighted, that she was able to get only
a faint look at herself in the little cracked and water-marked
mirror over its filthy washstand--filthy because the dirt was so
ground in that only floods of water and bars of soap could have
cleaned down to its original surface. She was having a clear
look at herself for the first time in three months.
She shrank in horror, yet gazed on fascinated. Why, her
physical charm had gone gone, leaving hardly a trace! Those
dull, hollow eyes--that thin and almost ghastly face--the
emaciated form--the once attractive hair now looking poor and
stringy because it could not be washed properly--above all, the
sad, bitter expression about the mouth. Those pale lips! Her
lips had been from childhood one of her conspicuous and most
tempting beauties; and as the sex side of her nature had
developed they had bloomed into wonderful freshness and
vividness of form and color. Now----
Those pale, pale lips! They seemed to form a sort of climax of
tragedy to the melancholy of her face. She gazed on and on.
She noted every detail. How she had fallen! Indeed, a fallen
woman! These others had been born to the conditions that were
destroying her; they were no worse off, in many cases better
off. But she, born to comfort and custom of intelligent
educated associations and associates----
A fallen woman!
Honest work! Even if it were true that this honest work was a
sort of probation through which one rose to better things--even
if this were true, could it be denied that only a few at best
could rise, that the most--including all the sensitive, and
most of the children--must wallow on, must perish? Oh, the
lies, the lies about honest work!
Rosa Mohr, a girl of her own age who worked in the same room,
joined her. "Admiring yourself?" she said laughing. "Well, I
don't blame you. You _are_ pretty."
Susan at first thought Rosa was mocking her. But the tone and
expression were sincere.
"It won't last long," Rosa went on. "I wasn't so bad myself
when I quit the high school and took a job because father lost
his business and his health. He got in the way of one of those
trusts. So of course they handed it to him good and hard. But
he wasn't a squealer. He always said they'd done only what
he'd been doing himself if he'd had the chance. I always think
of what papa used to say when I hear people carrying on about
how wicked this or that somebody else is."
"Are you going to stay on--at this life?" asked Susan, still
looking at her own image.
"I guess so. What else is there? . . . I've got a steady.
We'll get married as soon as he has a raise to twelve per. But
I'll not be any better off. My beau's too stupid ever to make
much. If you see me ten years from now I'll probably be a fat,
sloppy old thing, warming a window sill or slouching about in
"Isn't there any way to--to escape?"
"It does look as though there ought to be--doesn't it? But
I've thought and thought, and __I__ can't see it--and I'm pretty
near straight Jew. They say things are better than they used
to be, and I guess they are. But not enough better to help me
any. Perhaps my children--_if_ I'm fool enough to have
any--perhaps they'll get a chance. . . . But I wouldn't
gamble on it."
Susan was still looking at her rags--at her pale lips--was
avoiding meeting her own eyes. "Why not try the streets?"
"Nothing in it," said Rosa, practically. "I did try it for a
while and quit. Lots of the girls do, and only the fools stay
at it. Once in a while there's a girl who's lucky and gets a
lover that's kind to her or a husband that can make good. But
that's luck. For one that wins out, a thousand lose."
"Luck?" said Susan.
Rosa laughed. "You're right. It's something else besides
luck. The trouble is a girl loses her head--falls in
love--supports a man--takes to drink--don't look out for her
health--wastes her money. Still--where's the girl with head
enough to get on where there's so many temptations?"
"But there's no chance at all, keeping straight, you say."
"The other thing's worse. The street girls--of our class, I
mean--don't average as much as we do. And it's an awful
business in winter. And they spend so much time in station
houses and over on the Island. And, gosh! how the men do
treat them! You haven't any idea. You wouldn't believe the
horrible things the girls have to do to earn their money--a
quarter or half a dollar--and maybe the men don't pay them even
that. A girl tries to get her money in advance, but often she
doesn't. And as they have to dress better than we do, and live
where they can clean up a little, they 'most starve. Oh, that
Susan had turned away from her image, was looking at Rosa.
"As for the fast houses----" Rosa shuddered--"I was in one for
a week. I ran away--it was the only way I could escape. I'd
never tell any human being what I went through in that house. . . .
Never!" She watched Susan's fine sympathetic face, and
in a burst of confidence said: "One night the landlady sent me
up with seventeen men. And she kept the seventeen dollars I
made, and took away from me half a dollar one drunken
longshoreman gave me as a present. She said I owed it for
board and clothes. In those houses, high and low, the girls
always owes the madam. They haven't a stitch of their own to
The two girls stood facing each other, each looking past the
other into the wind-swept canyon of Broadway--the majestic
vista of lofty buildings, symbols of wealth and luxury so
abundant that it flaunted itself, overflowed in gaudy
extravagance. Finally Susan said:
"Do you ever think of killing yourself?"
"I thought I would," replied the other girl. "But I guess I
wouldn't have. Everybody knows there's no hope, yet they keep
on hopin'. And I've got pretty good health yet, and once in a
while I have some fun. You ought to go to dances--and drink.
You wouldn't be blue _all_ the time, then."
"If it wasn't for the sun," said Susan.
"The sun?" inquired Rosa.
"Where I came from," explained Susan, "it rained a great deal,
and the sky was covered so much of the time. But here in New
York there is so much sun. I love the sun. I get
desperate--then out comes the sun, and I say to myself, `Well,
I guess I can go on a while longer, with the sun to help me.'"
"I hadn't thought of it," said Rosa, "but the sun is a help."
That indefatigable New York sun! It was like Susan's own
courage. It fought the clouds whenever clouds dared to appear
and contest its right to shine upon the City of the Sun, and
hardly a day was so stormy that for a moment at least the sun
did not burst through for a look at its beloved.
For weeks Susan had eaten almost nothing. During her previous
sojourn in the slums--the slums of Cincinnati, though they were
not classed as slums--the food had seemed revolting. But she
was less discriminating then. The only food she could afford
now--the food that is the best obtainable for a majority of the
inhabitants of any city--was simply impossible for her. She
ate only when she could endure no longer. This starvation no
doubt saved her from illness; but at the same time it drained
her strength. Her vitality had been going down, a little each
day--lower and lower. The poverty which had infuriated her at
first was now acting upon her like a soothing poison. The
reason she had not risen to revolt was this slow and subtle
poison that explains the inertia of the tenement poor from
babyhood. To be spirited one must have health or a nervous
system diseased in some of the ways that cause constant
irritation. The disease called poverty is not an irritant, but
an anesthetic. If Susan had been born to that life, her
naturally vivacious temperament would have made her gay in
unconscious wretchedness; as it was, she knew her own misery
and suffered from it keenly--at times hideously--yet was
rapidly losing the power to revolt.
Perhaps it was the wind--yes, it must have been the wind with
its threat of winter--that roused her sluggish blood, that
whipped thought into action. Anything--anything would be right,
if it promised escape. Right--wrong! Hypocritical words for
That Friday night, after her supper of half-cooked corn meal
and tea, she went instantly to work at washing out clothes.
Mrs. Tucker spent the evening gossiping with the janitress,
came in about midnight. As usual she was full to the brim with
news of misery--of jobs lost, abandoned wives, of abused
children, of poisoning from rotten "fresh" food or from
"embalmed" stuff in cans, of sickness and yet more sickness, of
maiming accidents, of death--news that is the commonplace of
tenement life. She loved to tell these tales with all the
harrowing particulars and to find in each some evidence of the
goodness of God to herself. Often Susan could let her run on
and on without listening. But not that night. She resisted
the impulse to bid her be silent, left the room and stood at
the hall window. When she returned Mrs. Tucker was in bed, was
snoring in a tranquillity that was the reverse of contagious.
With her habitual cheerfulness she had adapted herself to her
changed condition without fretting. She had become as ragged
and as dirty as her neighbors; she so wrought upon Susan's
sensibilities, blunted though they were, that the girl would
have been unable to sleep in the same bed if she had not always
been tired to exhaustion when she lay down. But for that
matter only exhaustion could have kept her asleep in that
vermin-infested hole. Even the fiercest swarms of the insects
that flew or ran or crawled and bit, even the filthy mice
squeaking as they played upon the covers or ran over the faces
of the sleepers, did not often rouse her.
While Mrs. Tucker snored, Susan worked on, getting every piece
of at all fit clothing in her meager wardrobe into the best
possible condition. She did not once glance at the face of the
noisy sleeper--a face homely enough in Mrs. Tucker's waking
hours, hideous now with the mouth open and a few scattered
rotten teeth exposed, and the dark yellow-blue of the unhealthy
gums and tongue.
At dawn Mrs. Tucker awoke with a snort and a start. She rubbed
her eyes with her dirty and twisted and wrinkled fingers--the
nails were worn and broken, turned up as if warped at the
edges, blackened with dirt and bruisings. "Why, are you up
already?" she said to Susan.
"I've not been to bed," replied the girl.
The woman stretched herself, sat up, thrust her thick,
stockinged legs over the side of the bed. She slept in all her
clothing but her skirt, waist, and shoes. She kneeled down
upon the bare, sprung, and slanting floor, said a prayer, arose
with a beaming face. "It's nice and warm in the room. How I
do dread the winter, the cold weather--though no doubt we'll
make out all right! Everything always does turn out well for
me. The Lord takes care of me. I must make me a cup of tea."
"I've made it," said Susan.
The tea was frightful stuff--not tea at all, but cheap
adulterants colored poisonously. Everything they got was of
the same quality; yet the prices they paid for the tiny
quantities they were able to buy at any one time were at a rate
that would have bought the finest quality at the most expensive
grocery in New York.
"Wonder why Mrs. Reardon don't come?" said Mrs. Tucker. Mrs.
Reardon had as her only work a one night job at scrubbing.
"She ought to have come an hour ago."
"Her rheumatism was bad when she started," said Susan. "I
guess she worked slow."
When Mrs. Tucker had finished her second cup she put on her
shoes, overskirt and waist, made a few passes at her hair.
She was ready to go to work.
Susan looked at her, murmured: "An honest, God-fearing working woman!"
"Huh?" said Mrs. Tucker.
"Nothing," replied Susan who would not have permitted her to
hear. It would be cruel to put such ideas before one doomed
Susan was utterly tired, but even the strong craving for a
stimulant could not draw that tea past her lips. She ate a
piece of dry bread, washed her face, neck, and hands. It was
time to start for the factory.
That day--Saturday--was a half-holiday. Susan drew her week's
earnings--four dollars and ten cents--and came home. Mrs.
Tucker, who had drawn--"thanks to the Lord"--three dollars and
a quarter, was with her. The janitress halted them as they
passed and told them that Mrs. Reardon was dead. She looked
like another scrubwoman, living down the street, who was known
always to carry a sum of money in her dress pocket, the banks
being untrustworthy. Mrs. Reardon, passing along in the dusk
of the early morning, had been hit on the head with a
blackjack. The one blow had killed her.
Violence, tragedy of all kinds, were too commonplace in that
neighborhood to cause more than a slight ripple. An old
scrubwoman would have had to die in some peculiarly awful way
to receive the flattery of agitating an agitated street. Mrs.
Reardon had died what was really almost a natural death. So
the faint disturbance of the terrors of life had long since
disappeared. The body was at the Morgue, of course.
"We'll go up, right away," said Mrs. Tucker.
"I've something to do that can't be put, off," replied Susan.
"I don't like for anyone as young as you to be so hard,"
reproached Mrs. Tucker.
"Is it hard," said Susan, "to see that death isn't nearly so
terrible as life? She's safe and at peace. I've got to _live_."
Mrs. Tucker, eager for an emotional and religious opportunity,
hastened away. Susan went at her wardrobe ironing, darning,
fixing buttonholes, hooks and eyes. She drew a bucket of water
from the tap in the hall and proceeded to wash her hair with
soap; she rinsed it, dried it as well as she could with their
one small, thin towel, left it hanging free for the air to
finish the job.
It had rained all the night before--the second heavy rain in
two months. But at dawn the rain had ceased, and the clouds
had fled before the sun that rules almost undisputed nine
months of the year and wars valiantly to rule the other three
months--not altogether in vain. A few golden strays found
their way into that cavelike room and had been helping her
wonderfully. She bathed herself and scrubbed herself from head
to foot. She manicured her nails, got her hands and feet into
fairly good condition. She put on her best underclothes, her
one remaining pair of undarned stockings, the pair of ties she
had been saving against an emergency. And once more she had
the charm upon which she most prided herself--the charm of an
attractive look about the feet and ankles. She then took up
the dark-blue hat frame--one of a lot of "seconds"--she had
bought for thirty-five cents at a bargain sale, trimmed it with
a broad dark-blue ribbon for which she had paid sixty cents.
She was well pleased--and justly so--with the result. The
trimmed hat might well have cost ten or fifteen dollars--for
the largest part of the price of a woman's hat is usually the
taste of the arrangement of the trimming.
By this time her hair was dry. She did it up with a care she
had not had time to give it in many a week. She put on the
dark-blue serge skirt of the between seasons dress she had
brought with her from Forty-fourth Street; she had not worn it
at all. With the feeble aid of the mirror that distorted her
image into grotesqueness, she put on her hat with the care that
important detail of a woman's toilet always deserves.
She completed her toilet with her one good and unworn
blouse--plain white, the yoke gracefully pointed--and with a
blue neck piece she had been saving. She made a bundle of all
her clothing that was fit for anything--including the unworn
batiste dress Jeffries and Jonas had given her. And into it
she put the pistol she had brought away from Forty-fourth
Street. She made a separate bundle of the Jeffries and Jonas
hat with its valuable plumes. With the two bundles she
descended and went to a pawnshop in Houston Street, to which
she had made several visits.
A dirty-looking man with a short beard fluffy and thick like a
yellow hen's tail lurked behind the counter in the dark little
shop. She put her bundles on the counter, opened them. "How
much can I get for these things?" she asked.
The man examined every piece minutely. "There's really nothing
here but the summer dress and the hat," said he. "And they're
out of style. I can't give you more than four dollars for the
lot--and one for the pistol which is good but old style now.
Five dollars. How'll you have it?"
Susan folded the things and tied up the bundles. "Sorry to
have troubled you," she said, taking one in either hand.
"How much did you expect to get, lady?" asked the pawnbroker.
He laughed, turned toward the back of the shop. As she reached
the door he called from his desk at which he seemed about to
seat himself, "I might squeeze you out ten dollars."
"The plumes on the hat will sell for thirty dollars," said
Susan. "You know as well as I do that ostrich feathers have
The man slowly advanced. "I hate to see a customer go away
unsatisfied," said he. "I'll give you twenty dollars."
"Not a cent less than twenty-five. At the next place I'll ask
thirty--and get it."
"I never can stand out against a lady. Give me the stuff."
Susan put it on the counter again. Said she:
"I don't blame you for trying to do me. You're right to try to
buy your way out of hell."
The pawnbroker reflected, could not understand this subtlety,
went behind his counter. He produced a key from his pocket,
unlocked a drawer underneath and took out a large tin box.
With another key from another pocket he unlocked this, threw
back the lid revealing a disorder of papers. From the depths
he fished a paper bag. This contained a roll of bills. He
gave Susan a twenty and a five, both covered with dirt so
thickly that she could scarcely make out the denominations.
"You'll have to give me cleaner money than this," said she.
"You are a fine lady," grumbled he. But he found cleaner bills.
She turned to her room. At sight of her Mrs. Tucker burst out
laughing with delight. "My, but you do look like old times!"
cried she. "How neat and tasty you are! I suppose it's no
need to ask if you're going to church?"
"No," said Susan. "I've got nothing to give, and I don't beg."
"Well, I ain't going there myself, lately--somehow. They got
so they weren't very cordial--or maybe it was me thinking that
way because I wasn't dressed up like. Still I do wish you was
more religious. But you'll come to it, for you're naturally a
good girl. And when you do, the Lord'll give you a more
contented heart. Not that you complain. I never knew anybody,
especially a young person, that took things so quiet. . . .
It can't be you're going to a dance?"
"No," said Susan. "I'm going to leave--go back uptown."
Mrs. Tucker plumped down upon the bed. "Leave for good?" she gasped.
"I've got Nelly Lemayer to take my place here, if you want her,"
said Susan. "Here is my share of the rent for next week and
half a dollar for the extra gas I've burned last night and today."
"And Mrs. Reardon gone, too!" sobbed Mrs. Tucker, suddenly
remembering the old scrubwoman whom both had forgotten. "And
up to that there Morgue they wouldn't let me see her except
where the light was so poor that I couldn't rightly swear it
was her. How brutal everybody is to the poor! If they didn't
have the Lord, what would become of them! And you leaving me
The sobs rose into hysteria. Susan stood impassive. She had
seen again and again how faint the breeze that would throw
those shallow waters into commotion and how soon they were
tranquil again. It was by observing Mrs. Tucker that she first
learned an important unrecognized truth about human nature that
amiable, easily sympathetic and habitually good-humored people
are invariably hard of heart. In this parting she had no sense
of loss, none of the melancholy that often oppresses us when we
separate from someone to whom we are indifferent yet feel bound
by the tie of misfortunes borne together. Mrs. Tucker, fallen
into the habits of their surroundings, was for her simply part
of them. And she was glad she was leaving them--forever, she
hoped. _Christian_, fleeing the City of Destruction, had no
sterner mandate to flight than her instinct was suddenly urging
When Mrs. Tucker saw that her tears were not appreciated, she
decided that they were unnecessary. She dried her eyes and said:
"Anyhow, I reckon Mrs. Reardon's taking-off was a mercy."
"She's better dead," said Susan. She had abhorred the old
woman, even as she pitied and sheltered her. She had a way of
fawning and cringing and flattering--no doubt in well meaning
attempt to show gratitude--but it was unendurable to Susan.
And now that she was dead and gone, there was no call for
"You ain't going right away?" said Mrs. Tucker.
"Yes," said Susan.
"You ought to stay to supper."
Supper! That revolting food! "No, I must go right away,"
"Well, you'll come to see me. And maybe you'll be back with
us. You might go farther and do worse. On my way from the
morgue I dropped in to see a lady friend on the East Side. I
guess the good Lord has abandoned the East Side, there being
nothing there but Catholics and Jews, and no true religion.
It's dreadful the way things is over there--the girls are
taking to the streets in droves. My lady friend was telling me
that some of the mothers is sending their little girls out
streetwalking, and some's even taking out them that's too young
to be trusted to go alone. And no money in it, at that. And
food and clothing prices going up and up. Meat and vegetables
two and three times what they was a few years ago. And rents!"
Mrs. Tucker threw up her hands.
"I must be going," said Susan. "Good-by."
She put out her hand, but Mrs. Tucker insisted on kissing her.
She crossed Washington Square, beautiful in the soft evening
light, and went up Fifth Avenue. She felt that she was
breathing the air of a different world as she walked along the
broad clean sidewalk with the handsome old houses on either
side, with carriages and automobiles speeding past, with clean,
happy-faced, well dressed human beings in sight everywhere. It
was like coming out of the dank darkness of Dismal Swamp into
smiling fields with a pure, star-spangled sky above. She was
free--free! It might be for but a moment; still it was freedom,
infinitely sweet because of past slavery and because of the
fear of slavery closing in again. She had abandoned the old
toilet articles. She had only the clothes she was wearing, the
thirty-one dollars divided between her stockings, and the
two-dollar bill stuffed into the palm of her left glove.
She had walked but a few hundred feet. She had advanced into
a region no more prosperous to the eye than that she had been
working in every day. Yet she had changed her world--because
she had changed her point of view. The strata that form
society lie in roughly parallel lines one above the other. The
flow of all forms of the currents of life is horizontally along
these strata, never vertically from one stratum to another.
These strata, lying apparently in contact, one upon another,
are in fact abysmally separated. There is not--and in the
nature of things never can be any genuine human sympathy
between any two strata. We _sympathize_ in our own stratum, or
class; toward other strata--other classes--our attitude is
necessarily a looking up or a looking down. Susan, a bit of
flotsam, ascending, descending, ascending across the social
layers--belonging nowhere having attachments, not sympathies,
a real settled lot nowhere--Susan was once more upward bound.
At the corner of Fourteenth Street there was a shop with large
mirrors in the show windows. She paused to examine herself.
She found she had no reason to be disturbed about her
appearance. Her dress and hat looked well; her hair was
satisfactory; the sharp air had brought some life to the pallor
of her cheeks, and the release from the slums had restored some
of the light to her eyes. "Why did I stay there so long?" she
demanded of herself. Then, "How have I suddenly got the
courage to leave?" She had no answer to either question. Nor
did she care for an answer. She was not even especially
interested in what was about to happen to her.
The moment she found herself above Twenty-third Street and in
the old familiar surroundings, she felt an irresistible longing
to hear about Rod Spenser. She was like one who has been on a
far journey, leaving behind him everything that has been life
to him; he dismisses it all because he must, until he finds
himself again in his own country, in his old surroundings.
She went into the Hoffman House and at the public telephone
got the _Herald_ office. "Is Mr. Drumley there?"
"No," was the reply. "He's gone to Europe."
"Did Mr. Spenser go with him?"
"Mr. Spenser isn't here--hasn't been for a long time.
He's abroad too. Who is this?"
"Thank you," said Susan, hanging up the receiver.
She drew a deep breath of relief.
She left the hotel by the women's entrance in Broadway. It was
six o'clock. The sky was clear--a typical New York sky with
air that intoxicated blowing from it--air of the sea--air of
the depths of heaven. A crescent moon glittered above the
Diana on the Garden tower. It was Saturday night and Broadway
was thronged--with men eager to spend in pleasure part of the
week's wages or salary they had just drawn; with women
sparkling-eyed and odorous of perfumes and eager to help the
men. The air was sharp--was the ocean air of New York at its
delicious best. And the slim, slightly stooped girl with the
earnest violet-gray eyes and the sad bitter mouth from whose
lips the once brilliant color had now fled was ready for
whatever might come. She paused at the corner, and gazed up
brilliantly lighted Broadway.
"Now!" she said half aloud and, like an expert swimmer
adventuring the rapids, she advanced into the swift-moving
crowd of the highway of New York's gayety. V
AT the corner of Twenty-sixth Street a man put himself squarely
across her path. She was attracted by the twinkle in his
good-natured eyes. He was a youngish man, had the stoutness of
indulgence in a fondness for eating and drinking--but the
stoutness was still well within the bounds of decency. His
clothing bore out the suggestion of his self-assured way of
stopping her--the suggestion of a confidence-giving prosperity.
"You look as if you needed a drink, too," said he. "How about
it, lady with the lovely feet?"
For the first time in her life she was feeling on an equality
with man. She gave him the same candidly measuring glance that
man gives man. She saw good-nature, audacity without
impudence--at least not the common sort of impudence. She
smiled merrily, glad of the chance to show her delight that she
was once more back in civilization after the long sojourn in
the prison workshops where it is manufactured. She said:
"A drink? Thank you--yes."
"That's a superior quality of smile you've got there," said he.
"That, and those nice slim feet of yours ought to win for you
anywhere. Let's go to the Martin."
"Down University Place?"
The stout young man pointed his slender cane across the street.
"You must have been away."
"Yes," said the girl. "I've been--dead."
"I'd like to try that myself--if I could be sure of coming to
life in little old New York." And he looked round with
laughing eyes as if the lights, the crowds, the champagne-like
air intoxicated him.
At the first break in the thunderous torrent of traffic they
crossed Broadway and went in at the Twenty-sixth Street
entrance. The restaurant, to the left, was empty. Its little
tables were ready, however, for the throng of diners soon to
come. Susan had difficulty in restraining herself. She was
almost delirious with delight. She was agitated almost to
tears by the freshness, the sparkle in the glow of the
red-shaded candles, in the colors and odors of the flowers
decorating every table. While she had been down there all this
had been up here--waiting for her! Why had she stayed down
there? But then, why had she gone? What folly, what madness!
To suffer such horrors for no reason--beyond some vague,
clinging remnant of a superstition--or had it been just plain
insanity? "Yes, I've been crazy--out of my head. The break
with--Rod--upset my mind."
Her companion took her into the cafe to the right. He seated
her on one of the leather benches not far from the door, seated
himself in a chair opposite; there was a narrow marble-topped
table between them. On Susan's right sat a too conspicuously
dressed but somehow important looking actress; on her left, a
shopkeeper's fat wife. Opposite each woman sat the sort of man
one would expect to find with her. The face of the actress's
man interested her. It was a long pale face, the mouth weary,
in the eyes a strange hot fire of intense enthusiasm. He was
young--and old--and neither. Evidently he had lived every
minute of every year of his perhaps forty years. He was
wearing a quiet suit of blue and his necktie was of a darker
shade of the same color. His clothes were draped upon his good
figure with a certain fascinating distinction. He was smoking
an unusually long and thick cigarette. The slender strong
white hand he raised and lowered was the hand of an artist. He
might be a bad man, a very bad man--his face had an expression
of freedom, of experience, that made such an idea as
conventionality in connection with him ridiculous. But however
bad he might be, Susan felt sure it would be an artistic kind
of badness, without vulgarity. He might have reached the stage
at which morality ceases to be a conviction, a matter of
conscience, and becomes a matter of preference, of tastes--and
he surely had good taste in conduct no less than in dress and
manner. The woman with him evidently wished to convince him
that she loved him, to convince those about her that they were
lovers; the man evidently knew exactly what she had in
mind--for he was polite, attentive, indifferent, and--Susan
Susan's escort leaned toward her and said in a low tone, "The
two at the next table--the woman's Mary Rigsdall, the actress,
and the man's Brent, the fellow who writes plays." Then in a
less cautious tone, "What are you drinking?"
"What are _you_ drinking?" asked Susan, still covertly watching Brent.
"You are going to dine with me?"
"I've no engagement."
"Then let's have Martinis--and I'll go get a table and order
dinner while the waiter's bringing them."
When Susan was alone, she gazed round the crowded cafe, at the
scores of interesting faces--thrillingly interesting to her
after her long sojourn among countenances merely expressing
crude elemental appetites if anything at all beyond toil,
anxiety, privation, and bad health. These were the faces of
the triumphant class--of those who had wealth or were getting
it, fame or were striving for it, of those born to or acquiring
position of some sort among the few thousands who lord it over
the millions. These were the people among whom she belonged.
Why was she having such a savage struggle to attain it? Then,
all in an instant the truth she had been so long groping for in
vain flung itself at her. None of these women, none of the
women of the prosperous classes would be there but for the
assistance and protection of the men. She marveled at her
stupidity in not having seen the obvious thing clearly long
ago. The successful women won their success by disposing of
their persons to advantage--by getting the favor of some man of
ability. Therefore, she, a woman, must adopt that same policy
if she was to have a chance at the things worth while in life.
She must make the best bargain--or series of bargains--she
could. And as her necessities were pressing she must lose no
time. She understood now the instinct that had forced her to
fly from South Fifth Avenue, that had overruled her hesitation
and had compelled her to accept the good-natured, prosperous
man's invitation. . . . There was no other way open to her.
She must not evade that fact; she must accept it. Other ways
there might be--for other women. But not for her, the outcast
without friends or family, the woman alone, with no one to lean
upon or to give her anything except in exchange for what she
had to offer that was marketable. She must make the bargain
she could, not waste time in the folly of awaiting a bargain to
her liking. Since she was living in the world and wished to
continue to live there, she must accept the world's terms. To
be sad or angry either one because the world did not offer her
as attractive terms as it apparently offered many other
women--the happy and respected wives and mothers of the
prosperous classes, for instance--to rail against that was
silly and stupid, was unworthy of her intelligence. She would
do as best she could, and move along, keeping her eyes open;
and perhaps some day a chance for much better terms might
offer--for the best--for such terms as that famous actress
there had got. She looked at Mary Rigsdall. An expression in
her interesting face--the latent rather than the surface
expression--set Susan to wondering whether, if she knew
Rigsdall's _whole_ story--or any woman's whole story--she might
not see that the world was not bargaining so hardly with her,
after all. Or any man's whole story. There her eyes shifted
to Rigsdall's companion, the famous playwright of whom she had
so often heard Rod and his friends talk.
She was startled to find that his gaze was upon her--an
all-seeing look that penetrated to the very core of her being.
He either did not note or cared nothing about her color of
embarrassment. He regarded her steadily until, so she felt, he
had seen precisely what she was, had become intimately
acquainted with her. Then he looked away. It chagrined her
that his eyes did not again turn in her direction; she felt
that he had catalogued her as not worth while. She listened to
the conversation of the two. The woman did the talking, and
her subject was herself--her ability as an actress, her
conception of some part she either was about to play or was
hoping to play. Susan, too young to have acquired more than
the rudiments of the difficult art of character study, even had
she had especial talent for it--which she had not--Susan
decided that the famous Rigsdall was as shallow and vain as Rod
had said all stage people were.
The waiter brought the cocktails and her stout young companion
came back, beaming at the thought of the dinner he had
painstakingly ordered. As he reached the table he jerked his
head in self-approval. "It'll be a good one," said he.
"Saturday night dinner--and after--means a lot to me. I work
hard all week. Saturday nights I cut loose. Sundays I sleep
and get ready to scramble again on Monday for the dollars." He
seated himself, leaned toward her with elevated glass. "What
name?" inquired he.
"That's a good old-fashioned name. Makes me see the
hollyhocks, and the hens scratching for worms. Mine's Howland.
Billy Howland. I came from Maryland . . . and I'm mighty
glad I did. I wouldn't be from anywhere else for worlds, and
I wouldn't be there for worlds. Where do you hail from?"
"The West," said Susan.
"Well, the men in your particular corner out yonder must be a
pretty poor lot to have let you leave. I spotted you for mine
the minute I saw you--Susan. I hope you're not as quiet as
your name. Another cocktail?"
"Like to drink?"
"I'm going to do more of it hereafter."
"Been laying low for a while--eh?"
"Very low," said Susan. Her eyes were sparkling now; the
cocktail had begun to stir her long languid blood.
"Live with your family?"
"I haven't any. I'm free."
"On the stage?"
"I'm thinking of going on."
Billy Howland's face was radiant. "I had a date tonight and
the lady threw me down. One of those drummer's wives that take
in washing to add to the family income while hubby's flirting
round the country. This hubby came home unexpectedly. I'm
glad he did."
He beamed with such whole-souled good-nature that Susan
laughed. "Thanks. Same to you," said she.
"Hope you're going to do a lot of that laughing," said he.
"It's the best I've heard--such a quiet, gay sound. I sure do
have the best luck. Until five years ago there was nothing
doing for Billy--hall bedroom--Wheeling stogies--one shirt and
two pairs of cuffs a week--not enough to buy a lady an
ice-cream soda. All at once--bang! The hoodoo busted, and
everything that arrived was for William C. Howland. Better
"Here I am."
"Hold on tight. I pay no attention to the speed laws, and
round the corners on two wheels. Do you like good things to eat?"
"I haven't eaten for six months."
"You must have been out home. Ah!--There's the man to tell us
They finished the second cocktail. Susan was pleased to note
that Brent was again looking at her; and she thought--though
she suspected it might be the cocktail--that there was a
question in his look--a question about her which he had been
unable to answer to his satisfaction. When she and Howland
were at one of the small tables against the wall in the
restaurant, she said to him:
"You know Mr. Brent?"
"The play man? Lord, no. I'm a plain business dub. He
wouldn't bother with me. You like that sort of man?"
"I want to get on the stage, if I can," was Susan's diplomatic reply.
"Well--let's have dinner first. I've ordered champagne, but if
you prefer something else----"
"Champagne is what I want. I hope it's very dry."
Howland's eyes gazed tenderly at her. "I do like a woman who
knows the difference between champagne and carbonated sirup.
I think you and I've got a lot of tastes in common. I like
eating--so do you. I like drinking--so do you. I like a good
time--so do you. You're a little bit thin for my taste, but
you'll fatten up. I wonder what makes your lips so pale."
"I'd hate to remind myself by telling you," said Susan.
The restaurant was filling. Most of the men and women were in
evening dress. Each arriving woman brought with her a new
exhibition of extravagance in costume, diffused a new variety
of powerful perfume. The orchestra in the balcony was playing
waltzes and the liveliest Hungarian music and the most sensuous
strains from Italy and France and Spain. And before her was
food!--food again!--not horrible stuff unfit for beasts, worse
than was fed to beasts, but human food--good things, well
cooked and well served. To have seen her, to have seen the
expression of her eyes, without knowing her history and without
having lived as she had lived, would have been to think her a
glutton. Her spirits giddied toward the ecstatic. She began
to talk--commenting on the people about her--the one subject she
could venture with her companion. As she talked and drank, he
ate and drank, stuffing and gorging himself, but with a
frankness of gluttony that delighted her. She found she could
not eat much, but she liked to see eating; she who had so long
been seeing only poverty, bolting wretched food and drinking
the vilest kinds of whiskey and beer, of alleged coffee and
tea--she reveled in Howland's exhibition. She must learn to
live altogether in her senses, never to think except about an
appetite. Where could she find a better teacher? . . .
They drank two quarts of champagne, and with the coffee she
took _creme de menthe_ and he brandy. And as the sensuous
temperament that springs from intense vitality reasserted
itself, the opportunity before her lost all its repellent
features, became the bright, vivid countenance of lusty youth,
irradiating the joy of living.
"I hear there's a lively ball up at Terrace Garden," said he.
"Want to go?"
"That'll be fine!" cried she.
She saw it would have taken nearly all the money she possessed
to have paid that bill. About four weeks' wages for one
dinner! Thousands of families living for two weeks on what she
and he had consumed in two hours! She reached for her half
empty champagne glass, emptied it. She must forget all those
things! "I've played the fool once. I've learned my lesson.
Surely I'll never do it again." As she drank, her eyes chanced
upon the clock. Half-past ten. Mrs. Tucker had probably just
fallen asleep. And Mrs. Reardon was going out to scrub--going
out limping and groaning with rheumatism. No, Mrs. Reardon was
lying up at the morgue dead, her one chance to live lost
forever. Dead! Yet better off than Mrs. Tucker lying alive.
Susan could see her--the seamed and broken and dirty old
remnant of a face--could see the vermin--and the mice could
hear the snoring--the angry grunt and turning over as the
"I want another drink--right away," she cried.
"Sure!" said Howland. "I need one more, too."
They drove in a taxi to Terrace Garden, he holding her in his
arms and kissing her with an intoxicated man's enthusiasm.
"You certainly are sweet," said he. "The wine on your breath
is like flowers. Gosh, but I'm glad that husband came home!
Like me a little?"
"I'm so happy, I feel like standing up and screaming," declared she.
"Good idea," cried he. Whereupon he released a war whoop and
they both went off into a fit of hysterical laughter. When it
subsided he said, "I sized you up as a live wire the minute I
saw you. But you're even better than I thought. What are you
in such a good humor about?"
"You couldn't understand if I told you," replied she. "You'd
have to go and live where I've been living--live there as long
as I have."
"Worse. Worse than a jail."
The ball proved as lively as they hoped. A select company from
the Tenderloin was attending, and the regulars were all of the
gayest crowd among the sons and daughters of artisans and small
merchants up and down the East Side. Not a few of the women
were extremely pretty. All, or almost all, were young, and
those who on inspection proved to be older than eighteen or
twenty were acting younger than the youngest. Everyone had
been drinking freely, and continued to drink. The orchestra
played continuously. The air was giddy with laughter and song.
Couples hugged and kissed in corners, and finally openly on the
dancing floor. For a while Susan and Howland danced together.
But soon they made friends with the crowd and danced with
whoever was nearest. Toward three in the morning it flashed
upon her that she had not even seen him for many a dance. She
looked round--searched for him--got a blond-bearded man in
evening dress to assist her.
"The last seen of your stout friend," this man finally
reported, "he was driving away in a cab with a large lady from
Broadway. He was asleep, but I guess she wasn't."
A sober thought winked into her whirling brain--he had warned
her to hold on tight, and she had lost her head--and her
opportunity. A bad start--a foolishly bad start. But out
winked the glimpse of sobriety and Susan laughed. "That's the
last I'll ever see of _him_," said she.
This seemed to give Blond-Beard no regrets. Said he: "Let's
you and I have a little supper. I'd call it breakfast, only
then we couldn't have champagne."
And they had supper--six at the table, all uproarious, Susan
with difficulty restrained from a skirt dance on the table up
and down among the dishes and bottles. It was nearly five
o'clock when she and Blond-Beard helped each other toward a cab.
"What's your address?" said he.
"The same as yours," replied she drowsily.
Late that afternoon she established herself in a room with a
bath in West Twenty-ninth Street not far from Broadway. The
exterior of the house was dingy and down-at-the-heel. But the
interior was new and scrupulously clean. Several other young
women lived there alone also, none quite so well installed as
Susan, who had the only private bath and was paying twelve
dollars a week. The landlady, frizzled and peroxide,
explained--without adding anything to what she already
knew--that she could have "privileges," but cautioned her
against noise. "I can't stand for it," said she. "First
offense--out you go. This house is for ladies, and only
gentlemen that know how to conduct themselves as a gentleman
should with a lady are allowed to come here."
Susan paid a week in advance, reducing to thirty-one dollars
her capital which Blond-Beard had increased to forty-three.
The young lady who lived at the other end of the hall smiled at
her, when both happened to glance from their open doors at the
same time. Susan invited her to call and she immediately
advanced along the hall in the blue silk kimono she was wearing
over her nightgown.
"My name's Ida Driscoll," said she, showing a double row of
charming white teeth--her chief positive claim to beauty.
She was short, was plump about the shoulders but slender in the
hips. Her reddish brown hair was neatly done over a big rat,
and was so spread that its thinness was hidden well enough to
deceive masculine eyes. Nor would a man have observed that one
of her white round shoulders was full two inches higher than
the other. Her skin was good, her features small and
irregular, her eyes shrewd but kindly.
"My name's"--Susan hesitated--"Lorna Sackville."
"I guess Lorna and Ida'll be enough for us to bother to
remember," laughed Miss Driscoll. "The rest's liable to
change. You've just come, haven't you?"
"About an hour ago. I've got only a toothbrush, a comb, a
washrag and a cake of soap. I bought them on my way here."
"Baggage lost--eh?" said Ida, amused.
"No," admitted Susan. "I'm beginning an entire new deal."
"I'll lend you a nightgown. I'm too short for my other things
to fit you."
"Oh, I can get along. What's good for a headache? I'm nearly
crazy with it."
"Wait a minute." Ida, with bedroom slippers clattering,
hurried back to her room, returned with a bottle of bromo
seltzer and in the bathroom fixed Susan a dose. "You'll feel
all right in half an hour or so. Gee, but you're swell--with
your own bathroom."
Susan shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
Ida shook her head gravely. "You ought to save your money. I do."
"Later--perhaps. Just now--I _must_ have a fling."
Ida seemed to understand. She went on to say: "I was in
millinery. But in this town there's nothing in anything unless
you have capital or a backer. I got tired of working for five
per, with ten or fifteen as the top notch. So I quit, kissed
my folks up in Harlem good-by and came down to look about. As
soon as I've saved enough I'm going to start a business. That'll
be about a couple of years--maybe sooner, if I find an angel."
"I'm thinking of the stage."
"Cut it out!" cried Ida. "It's on the bum. There's more money
and less worry in straight sporting--if you keep respectable.
Of course, there's nothing in out and out sporting."
"Oh, I haven't decided on anything. My head is better."
"Sure! If the dose I gave you don't knock it you can get one
at the drug store two blocks up Sixth Avenue that'll do the
trick. Got a dinner date?"
"No. I haven't anything on hand."
"I think you and I might work together," said Ida. "You're
thin and tallish. I'm short and fattish. We'd catch 'em
coming and going."
"That sounds good," said Susan.
"You're new to--to the business?"
"In a way--yes."
"I thought so. We all soon get a kind of a professional look.
You haven't got it. Still, so many dead respectable women
imitate nowadays, and paint and use loud perfumes, that
sporting women aren't nearly so noticeable. Seems to me the
men's tastes even for what they want at home are getting louder
and louder all the time. They hate anything that looks slow.
And in our business it's harder and harder to please them--except
the yaps from the little towns and the college boys. A woman
has to be up to snuff if she gets on. If she looks what she
is, men won't have her--nor if she is what she looks."
Susan had not lived where every form of viciousness is openly
discussed and practiced, without having learned the things
necessary to a full understanding of Ida's technical phrases
and references. The liveliness that had come with the
departure of the headache vanished. To change the subject she
invited Ida to dine with her.
"What's the use of your spending money in a restaurant?"
objected Ida. "You eat with me in my room. I always cook
myself something when I ain't asked out by some one of my
gentleman friends. I can cook you a chop and warm up a can of
French peas and some dandy tea biscuits I bought yesterday."
Susan accepted the invitation, promising that when she was
established she would reciprocate. As it was about six, they
arranged to have the dinner at seven, Susan to dress in the
meantime. The headache had now gone, even to that last
heaviness which seems to be an ominous threat of a return.
When she was alone, she threw off her clothes, filled the big
bathtub with water as hot as she could stand it. Into this she
gently lowered herself until she was able to relax and recline
without discomfort. Then she stood up and with the soap and
washrag gave herself the most thorough scrubbing of her life.
Time after time she soaped and rubbed and scrubbed, and dipped
herself in the hot water. When she felt that she had restored
her body to some where near her ideal of cleanness, she let the
water run out and refilled the tub with even hotter water. In
this she lay luxuriously, reveling in the magnificent
sensations of warmth and utter cleanliness. Her eyes closed;
a delicious languor stole over her and through her, soothing
every nerve. She slept.
She was awakened by Ida, who had entered after knocking and
calling at the outer door in vain. Susan slowly opened her
eyes, gazed at Ida with a soft dreamy smile. "You don't know
what this means. It seems to me I was never quite so
comfortable or so happy in my life."
"It's a shame to disturb you," said Ida. "But dinner's ready.
Don't stop to dress first. I'll bring you a kimono."
Susan turned on the cold water, and the bath rapidly changed
from warm to icy. When she had indulged in the sense of cold
as delightful in its way as the sense of warmth, she rubbed her
glowing skin with a rough towel until she was rose-red from
head to foot. Then she put on stockings, shoes and the pink
kimono Ida had brought, and ran along the hall to dinner. As
she entered Ida's room, Ida exclaimed, "How sweet and pretty
you do look! You sure ought to make a hit!"
"I feel like a human being for the first time in--it seems
"You've got a swell color--except your lips. Have they always
been pale like that?"
"I thought not. It don't seem to fit in with your style. You
ought to touch 'em up. You look too serious and innocent,
anyhow. They make a rouge now that'll stick through
Susan regarded herself critically in the glass. "I'll see,"
The odor of the cooking chops thrilled Susan like music. She
drew a chair up to the table, sat in happy-go-lucky fashion,
and attacked the chop, the hot biscuit, and the peas, with an
enthusiasm that inspired Ida to imitation. "You know how to
cook a chop," she said to Ida. "And anybody who can cook a
chop right can cook. Cooking's like playing the piano. If you
can do the simple things perfectly, you're ready to do anything."
"Wait till I have a flat of my own," said Ida. "I'll show you
what eating means. And I'll have it, too, before very long.
Maybe we'll live together. I was to a fortune teller's
yesterday. That's the only way I waste money. I go to fortune
tellers nearly every day. But then all the girls do. You get
your money's worth in excitement and hope, whether there's
anything in it or not. Well, the fortune teller she said I was
to meet a dark, slender person who was to change the whole
course of my life--that all my troubles would roll away--and
that if any more came, they'd roll away, too. My, but she did
give me a swell fortune, and only fifty cents! I'll take you
Ida made black coffee and the two girls, profoundly contented,
drank it and talked with that buoyant cheerfulness which
bubbles up in youth on the slightest pretext. In this case the
pretext was anything but slight, for both girls had health as
well as youth, had that freedom from harassing responsibility
which is the chief charm of every form of unconventional life.
And Susan was still in the first flush of the joy of escape
from the noisome prison whose poisons had been corroding her,
soul and body. No, poison is not a just comparison; what
poison in civilization parallels, or even approaches, in
squalor, in vileness of food and air, in wretchedness of
shelter and clothing, the tenement life that is really the
typical life of the city? From time to time Susan, suffused
with the happiness that is too deep for laughter, too deep for
tears even, gazed round like a dreamer at those cheerful
comfortable surroundings and drew a long breath--stealthily, as
if she feared she would awaken and be again in South Fifth
Avenue, of rags and filth, of hideous toil without hope.
"You'd better save your money to put in the millinery business
with me," Ida advised. "I can show you how to make a lot.
Sometimes I clear as high as a hundred a week, and I don't
often fall below seventy-five. So many girls go about this
business in a no account way, instead of being regular and
Susan strove to hide the feelings aroused by this practical
statement of what lay before her. Those feelings filled her
with misgiving. Was the lesson still unlearned? Obviously Ida
was right; there must be plan, calculation, a definite line
laid out and held to, or there could not but be failure and
disaster. And yet--Susan's flesh quivered and shrank away.
She struggled against it, but she could not conquer it.
Experience had apparently been in vain; her character had
remained unchanged. . . . She must compel herself. She
must do what she had to do; she must not ruin everything by
imitating the people of the tenements with their fatal habit of
living from day to day only, and taking no thought for the
morrow except fatuously to hope and dream that all would be well.
While she was fighting with herself, Ida had been talking
on--the same subject. When Susan heard again, Ida was saying:
"Now, take me, for instance. I don't smoke or drink. There's
nothing in either one--especially drink. Of course sometimes
a girl's got to drink. A man watches her too close for her to
dodge out. But usually you can make him think you're as full
as he is, when you really are cold sober."
"Do the men always drink when they--come with--with--us?" asked Susan.
"Most always. They come because they want to turn themselves
loose. That's why a girl's got to be careful not to make a man
feel nervous or shy. A respectable woman's game is to be
modest and innocent. With us, the opposite. They're both
games; one's just as good as the other."
"I don't think I could get along at all--at this," confessed
Susan with an effort, "unless I drank too much--so that I was
reckless and didn't care what happened."
Ida looked directly into her eyes; Susan's glance fell and a
flush mounted. After a pause Ida went on:
"A girl does feel that way at first. A girl that marries as
most of them do--because the old ones are pushing her out of
the nest and she's got no place else to go--she feels the same
way till she hardens to it. Of course, you've got to get broke
into any business."
"Go on," said Susan eagerly. "You are so sensible. You must
"Common sense is a thing you don't often hear--especially about
getting on in the world. But, as I was saying--one of my
gentlemen friends is a lawyer--such a nice fellow--so liberal.
Gives me a present of twenty or twenty-five extra, you
understand--every time he makes a killing downtown. He asked
me once how I felt when I started in; and when I told him, he
said, `That's exactly the way I felt the first time I won a
case for a client I knew was a dirty rascal and in the wrong.
But now--I take that sort of thing as easy as you do.' He says
the thing is to get on, no matter how, and that one way's as
good as another. And he's mighty right. You soon learn that
in little old New York, where you've got to have the mon. or
you get the laugh and the foot--the swift, hard kick. Clean up
after you've arrived, he says--and don't try to keep clean
while you're working--and don't stop for baths and things while
you're at the job."
Susan was listening with every faculty she possessed.
"He says he talks the other sort of thing--the dope--the fake
stuff--just as the rest of the hustlers do. He says it's
necessary in order to keep the people fooled--that if they got
wise to the real way to succeed, then there'd be nobody to rob
and get rich off of. Oh, he's got it right. He's a smart one."
The sad, bitter expression was strong in Susan's face.
After a pause, Ida went on: "If a girl's an ignorant fool or
squeamish, she don't get up in this business any more than in
any other. But if she keeps a cool head, and don't take lovers
unless they pay their way, and don't drink, why she can keep
her self-respect and not have to take to the streets."
Susan lifted her head eagerly. "Don't have to take to the
streets?" she echoed.
"Certainly not," declared Ida. "I very seldom let a man pick
me up after dark--unless he looks mighty good. I go out in the
daytime. I pretend I'm an actress out of a job for the time
being, or a forelady in a big shop who's taking a day or so
off, or a respectable girl living with her parents. I put a
lot of money into clothes--quiet, ladylike clothes. Mighty
good investment. If you ain't got clothes in New York you
can't do any kind of business. I go where a nice class of men
hangs out, and I never act bold, but just flirt timidly, as so
many respectable girls or semi-respectables do. But when a
girl plays that game, she has to be careful not to make a man
think he ain't expected to pay. The town's choked full of men
on the lookout for what they call love--which means, for
something cheap or, better still, free. Men are just crazy
about themselves. Nothing easier than to fool 'em--and
nothing's harder than to make 'em think you ain't stuck on 'em.
I tell you, a girl in our life has a chance to learn men. They
turn themselves inside out to us."
Susan, silent, her thoughts flowing like a mill race, helped
Ida with the dishes. Then they dressed and went together for
a walk. It being Sunday evening, the streets were quiet. They
sauntered up Fifth Avenue as far as Fifty-ninth Street and
back. Ida's calm and sensible demeanor gave Susan much needed
courage every time a man spoke to them. None of these men
happened to be up to Ida's standard, which was high.
"No use wasting time on snide people," explained she. "We
don't want drinks and a gush of loose talk, and I saw at a
glance that was all those chappies were good for."
They returned home at half-past nine without adventure. Toward
midnight one of Ida's regulars called and Susan was free to go
to bed. She slept hardly at all. Ever before her mind hovered
a nameless, shapeless horror. And when she slept she dreamed
of her wedding night, woke herself screaming, "Please, Mr.
Ida had three chief sources of revenue.
The best was five men--her "regular gentleman friends"--who
called by appointment from time to time. These paid her ten
dollars apiece, and occasionally gave her presents of money or
jewelry--nothing that amounted to much. From them she averaged
about thirty-five dollars a week. Her second source was a Mrs.
Thurston who kept in West Fifty-sixth Street near Ninth Avenue
a furnished-room house of the sort that is on the official--and
also the "revenue"--lists of the police and the anti-vice
societies. This lady had a list of girls and married women
upon whom she could call. Gentlemen using her house for
rendezvous were sometimes disappointed by the ladies with whom
they were intriguing. Again a gentleman grew a little weary of
his perhaps too respectable or too sincerely loving ladylove
and appealed to Mrs. Thurston. She kept her list of availables
most select and passed them off as women of good position
willing to supplement a small income, or to punish stingy
husbands or fathers and at the same time get the money they
needed for dress and bridge, for matinees and lunches. Mrs.
Thurston insisted--and Ida was inclined to believe--that there
were genuine cases of this kind on the list.
"It's mighty hard for women with expensive tastes and small
means to keep straight in New York," said she to Susan. "It
costs so much to live, and there are so many ways to spend
money. And they always have rich lady friends who set an
extravagant pace. They've got to dress--and to kind of keep up
their end. So--" Ida laughed, went on: "Besides the city
women are getting so they like a little sporty novelty as much
as their brothers and husbands and fathers do. Oh, I'm not
ashamed of my business any more. We're as good as the others,
and we're not hypocrites. As my lawyer friend says,
everybody's got to make a _good_ living, and good livings can't
be made on the ways that used to be called on the
level--they're called damfool ways now."
Ida's third source of income was to her the most attractive
because it had such a large gambling element in it. This was
her flirtations as a respectable woman in search of lively
amusement and having to take care not to be caught. There are
women of all kinds who delight in deceiving men because it
gives them a sweet stealthy sense of superiority to the
condescending sex. In women of the Ida class this pleasure
becomes as much a passion as it is in the respectable woman
whom her husband tries to enslave. With Susan, another woman
and one in need of education, Ida was simple and scrupulously
truthful. But it would have been impossible for a man to get
truth as to anything from her. She amused herself inventing
plausible romantic stories about herself that she might enjoy
the gullibility of the boastfully superior and patronizing
male. She was devoid of sentiment, even of passion. Yet at
times she affected both in the most extreme fashion. And
afterward, with peals of laughter, she would describe to Susan
how the man had acted, what an ass she had made of him.
"Men despise us," she said. "But it's nothing to the way I
despise them. The best of them are rotten beasts when they
show themselves as they are. And they haven't any mercy on us.
It's too ridiculous. Men despise a man who is virtuous and a
woman who isn't. What rot!"
She deceived the "regulars" without taking the trouble to
remember her deceptions. They caught her lying so often that
she knew they thought her untruthful through and through. But
this only gave her an opportunity for additional pleasure--the
pleasure of inventing lies that they would believe in spite of
their distrust of her. "Anyhow," said she, "haven't you
noticed the liars everybody's on to are always believed and
truthful people are doubted?"
Upon the men with whom she flirted, she practiced the highly
colored romances it would have been useless to try upon the
regulars. Her greatest triumph at this game was a hard luck
story she had told so effectively that the man had given her
two hundred dollars. Most of her romances turned about her own
ruin. As a matter of fact, she had told Susan the exact truth
when she said she had taken up her mode of life deliberately;
she had grown weary and impatient of the increasing
poverty of a family which, like so many of the artisan and
small merchant and professional classes in this day of
concentrating wealth and spreading tastes for comfort and
luxury, was on its way down from comfort toward or through the
tenements. She was a type of the recruits that are swelling
the prostitute class in ever larger numbers and are driving the
prostitutes of the tenement class toward starvation--where they
once dominated the profession even to its highest ranks, even
to the fashionable _cocotes_ who prey upon the second generation
of the rich. But Ida never told her lovers her plain and
commonplace tale of yielding to the irresistible pressure of
economic forces. She had made men weep at her recital of her
wrongs. It had even brought her offers of marriage--none,
however, worth accepting.
"I'd be a boob to marry a man with less than fifteen or twenty
thousand a year, wouldn't I?" said she. "Why, two of the
married men who come to see me regularly give me more than they
give their wives for pin money. And in a few years I'll be
having my own respectable business, with ten thousand
income--maybe more--and as well thought of as the next woman."
Ida's dream was a house in the country, a fine flat in town, a
husband in some "refined" profession and children at high-class
schools. "And I'll get there, don't you doubt it!" exclaimed
she. "Others have--of course, you don't know about
them--they've looked out for that. Yes, lots of others
have--but--well, just you watch your sister Ida."
And Susan felt that she would indeed arrive. Already she had
seen that there was no difficulty such as she had once imagined
about recrossing the line to respectability. The only real
problem in that matter was how to get together enough to make
the crossing worth while--for what was there in respectability
without money, in a day when respectability had ceased to mean
anything but money?
Ida wished to take her to Mrs. Thurston and get her a favored
place on the list. Susan thanked her, but said, "Not yet--not
quite yet." Ida suggested that they go out together as two
young married women whose husbands had gone on the road. Susan
put her off from day to day. Ida finally offered to introduce
her to one of the regulars: "He's a nice fellow--knows how to
treat a lady in a gentlemanly way. Not a bit coarse or
familiar." Susan would not permit this generosity. And all
this time her funds were sinking. She had paid a second week's
rent, had bought cooking apparatus, some food supplies, some
necessary clothing. She was down to a five-dollar bill and a
"Look here, Lorna," said Ida, between remonstrance and
exasperation, "when _are_ you going to start in?"
Susan looked fixedly at her, said with a slow smile, "When I
can't hold out another minute."
Ida tossed her head angrily. "You've got brains--more than I
have," she cried. "You've got every advantage for catching
rich men--even a rich husband. You're educated. You speak and
act and look refined. Why you could pretend to be a howling
fashionable swell. You've got all the points. But what have
you got 'em for? Not to use that's certain."
"You can't be as disgusted with me as I am."
"If you're going to do a thing, why, _do_ it!"
"That's what I tell myself. But--I can't make a move."
Ida gave a gesture of despair. "I don't see what's to become
of you. And you could do _so_ well! . . . Let me phone Mr.
Sterling. I told him about you. He's anxious to meet you.
He's fond of books--like you. You'd like him. He'd give up a
lot to you, because you're classier than I am."
Susan threw her arms round Ida and kissed her. "Don't bother
about me," she said. "I've got to act in my own foolish,
stupid way. I'm like a child going to school. I've got to
learn a certain amount before I'm ready to do whatever it is
I'm going to do. And until I learn it, I can't do much of
anything. I thought I had learned in the last few months. I
see I haven't."
"Do listen to sense, Lorna," pleaded Ida. "If you wait till
the last minute, you'll get left. The time to get the money's
when you have money. And I've a feeling that you're not
"I'll do the best I can. And I can't move till I'm ready."
Meanwhile she continued to search for work--work that would
enable her to live _decently_, wages less degrading than the
wages of shame. In a newspaper she read an advertisement of a
theatrical agency. Advertisements of all kinds read well;
those of theatrical agencies read--like the fairy tales that
they were. However, she found in this particular offering of
dazzling careers and salaries a peculiar phrasing that decided
her to break the rule she had made after having investigated
scores of this sort of offers.
Rod was abroad; anyhow, enough time had elapsed. One of the
most impressive features of the effect of New York--meaning by
"New York" only that small but significant portion of the four
millions that thinks--at least, after a fashion, and acts,
instead of being mere passive tools of whatever happens to turn
up--the most familiar notable effect of this New York is the
speedy distinction in the newcomer of those illusions and
delusions about life and about human nature, about good and
evil, that are for so many people the most precious and the
only endurable and beautiful thing in the world. New York,
destroyer of delusions and cherished hypocrisies and pretenses,
therefore makes the broadly intelligent of its citizens hardy,
makes the others hard--and between the hardy and hard, between
sense and cynicism, yawns a gulf like that between Absalom and
Dives. Susan, a New Yorker now, had got the habit--in thought,
at least--of seeing things with somewhat less distortion from
the actual. She no longer exaggerated the importance of the
Rod-Susan episode. She saw that in New York, where life is
crowded with events, everything in one's life, except death,
becomes incident, becomes episode, where in regions offering
less to think about each rare happening took on an aspect of
vast importance. The Rod-Susan love adventure, she now saw,
was not what it would have seemed--therefore, would have
been--in Sutherland, but was mere episode of a New York life,
giving its light and shade to a certain small part of the long,
variedly patterned fabric of her life, and of his, not
determining the whole. She saw that it was simply like a bend
in the river, giving a new turn to current and course but not
changing the river itself, and soon left far behind and
succeeded by other bends giving each its equal or greater turn
to the stream.
Rod had passed from her life, and she from his life. Thus she
was free to begin her real career--the stage--if she could. She
went to the suite of offices tenanted by Mr. Josiah Ransome.
She was ushered in to Ransome himself, instead of halting with
underlings. She owed this favor to advantages which her lack
of vanity and of self-consciousness prevented her from
surmising. Ransome--smooth, curly, comfortable
looking--received her with a delicate blending of the paternal
and the gallant. After he had inspected her exterior with
flattering attentiveness and had investigated her
qualifications with a thoroughness that was convincing of
sincerity he said:
"Most satisfactory! I can make you an exceptional assurance.
If you register with me, I can guarantee you not less than
twenty-five a week."
Susan hesitated long and asked many questions before she
finally--with reluctance paid the five dollars. She felt
ashamed of her distrust, but might perhaps have persisted in it
had not Mr. Ransome said:
"I don't blame you for hesitating, my dear young lady. And if
I could I'd put you on my list without payment. But you can
see how unbusinesslike that would be. I am a substantial,
old-established concern. You--no doubt you are perfectly
reliable. But I have been fooled so many times. I must not
let myself forget that after all I know nothing about you."
As soon as Susan had paid he gave her a list of vaudeville and
musical comedy houses where girls were wanted. "You can't fail
to suit one of them," said he. "If not, come back here and get
After two weary days of canvassing she went back to Ransome.
He was just leaving. But he smiled genially, opened his desk
and seated himself. "At your service," said he. "What luck?"
"None," replied Susan. "I couldn't live on the wages they
offered at the musical comedy places, even if I could get placed."
"And the vaudeville people?"
"When I said I could only sing and not dance, they looked
discouraged. When I said I had no costumes they turned me down."
"Excellent!" cried Ransome. "You mustn't be so easily beaten.
You must take dancing lessons--perhaps a few singing lessons,
too. And you must get some costumes."
"But that means several hundred dollars."
"Three or four hundred," said Ransome airily. "A matter of a