Part 13 out of 19
"This is about you," said Maud. "If it's ever found out that
I put you wise, Jim'll have me killed. Yes--killed."
Susan, reckless by this time, laughed. "Oh, trash!" she said.
"No trash at all," insisted Maud. "When you know this town
through and through you'll know that murder's something that
can be arranged as easy as buying a drink. What risk is there
in making one of _us_ `disappear'? None in the world. I always
feel that Jim'll have me killed some day--unless I go crazy
sometime and kill him. He's stuck on me--or, at least, he's
jealous of me--and if he ever found out I had a
lover--somebody--anybody that didn't pay--why, it'd be all up
with me. Little Maud would go on the grill."
She ordered and slowly drank another whiskey before she
recalled what she had set out to confide. By way of a fresh
start she said, "What do you think of Freddie?"
"I don't know," replied Susan. And it was the truth. Her
instinctive belief in a modified kind of fatalism made her
judgments of people--even of those who caused her to
suffer--singularly free from personal bitterness. Freddie, a
mere instrument of destiny, had his good side, his human side,
she knew. At his worst he was no worse than the others, And
aside from his queer magnetism, there was a certain force in
him that compelled her admiration; at least he was not one of
the petty instruments of destiny. He had in him the same
quality she felt gestating within herself. "I don't know what
to think," she repeated.
Maud had been reflecting while Susan was casting about, as she
had many a time before, for her real opinion of her master who
was in turn the slave of Finnegan, who was in his turn the
slave of somebody higher up, she didn't exactly know who--or
why--or the why of any of it--or the why of the grotesque
savage purposeless doings of destiny in general. Maud now
"I don't care. I'm going to put you wise if I die for it."
"Don't," said Susan. "I don't want to know."
"But I've _got_ to tell you. Do you know what Freddie's going to do?"
Susan smiled disdainfully. "I don't care. You mustn't tell
me--when you've been drinking this way "
"Finnegan's police judge is a man named Bennett. As soon as
Bennett comes back to Jefferson Market Police Court, Freddie's
going to have you sent up for three months."
Susan's glass was on the way to her lips. She set it down
again. The drunken old wreck of an entertainer at the piano in
the corner was bellowing out his favorite song--"I Am the King
of the Vikings." Susan began to hum the air.
"It's gospel," cried Maud, thinking Susan did not believe her.
"He's a queer one, is Freddie. They're all afraid of him.
You'd think he was a coward, the way he bullies women and that.
But somehow he ain't--not a bit. He'll be a big man in the
organization some day, they all say. He never lets up till he
gets square. And he thinks you're not square--after all he's
done for you."
"Perhaps not--as he looks at it," said Susan.
"And Jim says he's crazy in love with you, and that he wants to
put you where other men can't see you and where maybe he can
get over caring about you. That's the real reason. He's a
queer devil. But then all men are though none quite like Freddie."
"So I'm to go to the Island for three months," said Susan reflectively.
"You don't seem to care. It's plain you never was there. . . .
And you've got to go. There's no way out of it--unless you
skip to another city. And if you did you never could come back
here. Freddie'd see that you got yours as soon as you landed."
Susan sat looking at her glass. Maud watched her in
astonishment. "You're as queer as Freddie," said she at
length. "I never feel as if I was acquainted with you--not
really. I never had a lady friend like that before. You don't
seem to be a bit excited about what Freddie's going to do. Are
you in love with him?"
Susan lifted strange, smiling eyes to Maud's curious gaze.
"I--in _love_--with a _man_," she said slowly. And then she laughed.
"Don't laugh that way," cried Maud. "It gives me the creeps.
What are you going to do?"
"What can I do?"
"Then if there's nothing to do, I'll no nothing."
"Go to the Island for three months?"
Susan shrugged her shoulders. "I haven't gone yet." She rose.
"It's too stuffy and smelly in here," said she. "Let's move out."
"No. I'll wait. I promised to meet a gentleman friend here.
You'll not tell that I tipped you off?"
"You'd not have told me if you hadn't known I wouldn't."
"That's so. But--why don't you make it up with Freddie?"
"I couldn't do that."
"He's dead in love. I'm sure you could."
Again Susan's eyes became strange. "I'm sure I couldn't. Good
night." She got as far as the door, came back. "Thank you for
"Oh, that's all right," murmured the girl. She was embarrassed
by Susan's manner. She was frightened by Susan's eyes. "You
ain't going to----" There she halted.
"To jump off? Kill yourself?"
"Hardly," said Susan. "I've got a lot to do before I die."
She went directly home. Palmer was lying on the bed, a
cigarette between his lips, a newspaper under his feet to
prevent his boots from spoiling the spread--one of the many
small indications of the prudence, thrift and calculation that
underlay the almost insane recklessness of his surface
character, and that would save him from living as the fool
lives and dying as the fool dies.
"I thought you wouldn't slop round in these streets long," said
he, as she paused upon the threshold. "So I waited."
She went to the bureau, unlocked the top drawer, took the
ten-dollar bill she had under some undershirts there, put it in
her right stocking where there were already a five and a two.
She locked the drawer, tossed the key into an open box of
hairpins. She moved toward the door.
"Where are you going?" asked he, still staring at the ceiling.
"Out. I've made almost nothing this week."
"Sit down. I want to talk to you."
She hesitated, seated herself on a chair near the bed.
He frowned at her. "You've been drinking?"
"I've been drinking myself, but I've got a nose like a hunting
dog. What do you do it for?"
"What's the use of explaining? You'd not understand."
"Perhaps I would. I'm one-fourth Italian--and they understand
everything. . . . You're fond of reading, aren't you?"
"It passes the time."
"While I was waiting for you I glanced at your new
books--Emerson--Dickens--Zola." He was looking toward the row of
paper backs that filled almost the whole length of the mantel.
"I must read them. I always like your books. You spend nearly
as much time reading as I do--and you don't need it, for you've
got a good education. What do you read for? To amuse yourself?"
"To get away from yourself?"
"Then why?" persisted he.
"To find out about myself."
He thought a moment, turned his face toward her. "You _are_
clever!" he said admiringly. "What's your game?"
"What are you aiming for? You've got too much sense not to be
aiming for something."
She looked at him; the expression that marked her as a person
peculiar and apart was glowing in her eyes like a bed of
red-hot coals covered with ashes.
"What?" he repeated.
"To get strong," replied she. "Women are born weak and bred
weaker. I've got to get over being a woman. For there isn't
any place in this world for a woman except under the shelter of
some man. And I don't want that." The underlying strength of
her features abruptly came into view. "And I won't have it,"
He laughed. "But the men'll never let _you_ be anything but a woman."
"We'll see," said she, smiling. The strong look had vanished
into the soft contour of her beautiful youth.
"Personally, I like you better when you've been drinking," he
went on. "You're sad when you're sober. As you drink you
"When I get over being sad if I'm sober, when I learn to take
things as they come, just like a man--a strong man, then I'll
be----" She stopped.
"Ready for what?"
"How do I know?"
He swung himself to a sitting position. "Meanwhile, you're
coming to live with me. I've been fighting against it, but I
give up. I need you. You're the one I've been looking for.
Pack your traps. I'll call a cab and we'll go over to my flat.
Then we'll go to Rector's and celebrate."
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, but I can't."
"I told you. There's something in me that won't let me."
He rose, walked to her very deliberately. He took one of her
hands from her lap, drew her to her feet, put his hands
strongly on her shoulders. "You belong to me," he said, his
lips smiling charmingly, but the devil in the gleam of his eyes
and in the glistening of his beautiful, cruel teeth. "Pack up."
"You know that I won't."
He slowly crushed her in his arms, slowly pressed his lips upon
hers. A low scream issued from her lips and she seized him by
the throat with both hands, one hand over the other, and thrust
him backward. He reeled, fell upon his back on the bed; she
fell with him, clung to him--like a bull dog--not as if she
would not, but as if she could not, let go. He clutched at her
fingers; failing to dislodge them, he tried to thrust his
thumbs into her eyes. But she seized his right thumb between
her teeth and bit into it until they almost met. And at the
same time her knees ground into his abdomen. He choked,
gurgled, grew dark red, then gray, then a faint blackish blue,
lay limp under her. But she did not relax until the blue of
his face had deepened to black and his eyes began to bulge from
their sockets. At those signs that he was beyond doubt
unconscious, she cautiously relaxed her fingers. She
unclenched her teeth; his arm, which had been held up by the
thumb she was biting, dropped heavily. She stood over him, her
eyes blazing insanely at him. She snatched out her hatpin,
flung his coat and waistcoat from over his chest, felt for his
heart. With the murderous eight inches of that slender steel
poniard poised for the drive, she began to sob, flung the
weapon away, took his face between her hands and kissed him.
"You fiend! You fiend!" she sobbed.
She changed to her plainest dress. Leaving the blood-stained
blouse on the bed beside him where she had flung it down after
tearing it off, she turned out the light, darted down stairs
and into the street. At Times Square she took the Subway for
the Bowery. To change one's world, one need not travel far in
New York; the ocean is not so wide as is the gap between the
Tenderloin and the lower East Side. VIII
SHE had thought of escape daily, hourly almost, for nearly five
months. She had advanced not an inch toward it; but she never
for an instant lost hope. She believed in her destiny, felt
with all the strength of her health and vitality that she had
not yet found her place in the world, that she would find it,
and that it would be high. Now--she was compelled to escape,
and this with only seventeen dollars and in the little time
that would elapse before Palmer returned to consciousness and
started in pursuit, bent upon cruel and complete revenge.
She changed to an express train at the Grand Central Subway
station, left the express on impulse at Fourteenth Street, took
a local to Astor Place, there ascended to the street.
She was far indeed from the Tenderloin, in a region not visited
by the people she knew. As for Freddie, he never went below
Fourtenth Street, hated the lower East Side, avoided anyone
from that region of his early days, now shrouded in a mystery
that would not be dispelled with his consent. Freddie would
not think of searching for her there; and soon he would believe
she was dead--drowned, and at the bottom of river or bay. As
she stepped from the exit of the underground, she saw in the
square before her, under the Sunset Cox statue, a Salvation
Army corps holding a meeting. She heard a cry from the center
of the crowd:
"The wages of sin is death!"
She drifted into the fringe of the crowd and glanced at the
little group of exhorters and musicians. The woman who was
preaching had taken the life of the streets as her text. Well
fed and well clad and certain of a clean room to sleep
in--certain of a good living, she was painting the moral
horrors of the street life.
"The wages of sin is death!" she shouted.
She caught Susan's eye, saw the cynical-bitter smile round her
lips. For Susan had the feeling that, unsuspected by the upper
classes, animates the masses as to clergy and charity workers
of all kinds--much the same feeling one would have toward the
robber's messenger who came bringing from his master as a
loving gift some worthless trifle from the stolen goods. Not
from clergy, not from charity worker, not from the life of the
poor as they take what is given them with hypocritical cringe
and tear of thanks, will the upper classes get the truth as to
what is thought of them by the masses in this day of awakening
intelligence and slow heaving of crusts so long firm that they
have come to be regarded as bed-rock of social foundation.
Cried the woman, in response to Susan's satirical look:
"You mock at that, my lovely young sister. Your lips are
painted, and they sneer. But you know I'm right--yes, you show
in your eyes that you know it in your aching heart! The wages
of sin is _death!_ Isn't that so, sister?"
Susan shook her head.
"Speak the truth, sister! God is watching you. The wages of
sin is _death!_"
"The wages of weakness is death," retorted Susan. "But--the
wages of sin--well, it's sometimes a house in Fifth Avenue."
And then she shrank away before the approving laughter of the
little crowd and hurried across into Eighth Street. In the
deep shadow of the front of Cooper Union she paused, as the
meaning of her own impulsive words came to her. The wages of
sin! And what was sin, the supreme sin, but weakness? It was
exactly as Burlingham had explained. He had said that, whether
for good or for evil, really to live one must be strong. Strong!
What a good teacher he had been--one of the rare kind that not
only said things interestingly but also said them so that you
never forgot. How badly she had learned!
She strolled on through Eighth Street, across Third Avenue and
into Second Avenue. It was ten o'clock. The effects of the
liquor she had drunk had worn away. In so much wandering she
had acquired the habit of closing up an episode of life as a
traveler puts behind him the railway journey at its end. She
was less than half an hour from her life in the Tenderloin; it
was as completely in her past as it would ever be. The cards
had once more been shuffled; a new deal was on.
A new deal. What? To fly to another city--that meant another
Palmer, or the miseries of the unprotected woman of the
streets, or slavery to the madman of what the French with cruel
irony call a _maison de joie_. To return to work----
What was open to her, educated as the comfortable classes
educate their women? Work meant the tenements. She loathed
the fast life, but not as she loathed vermin-infected
tenements. To toil all day at a monotonous task, the same task
every day and all day long! To sleep at night with Tucker and
the vermin! To her notion the sights and sounds and smells and
personal contacts of the tenements were no less vicious;
were--for her at least--far more degrading than anything in the
Tenderloin and its like. And there she got money to buy
whiskey that whirled her almost endurably, sometimes even
gayly, over the worst things--money to buy hours, whole days of
respite that could be spent in books, in dreams and plannings,
in the freedom of a clean and comfortable room, or at the
theater or concert. There were degrees in horror; she was
paying a hateful price, but not so hateful as she had paid when
she worked. The wages of shame were not so hard earned as the
wages of toil, were larger, brought her many of the things she
craved. The wages of toil brought her nothing but the right to
bare existence in filth and depravity and darkness. Also, she
felt that if she were tied down to some dull and exhausting
employment, she would be settled and done for. In a few years
she would be an old woman, with less wages or flung out
diseased or maimed--to live on and on like hundreds of wretched
old creatures adrift everywhere in the tenement streets. No,
work had nothing to offer her except "respectability." And
what a mocking was "respectability," in rags and filth!
Besides, what had _she_, the outcast born, to do with this
No--not work--never again. So long as she was roving about,
there was hope and chance somehow to break through into the
triumphant class that ruled the world, that did the things
worth while--wore the good clothes, lived in the good houses,
ate the good food, basked in the sunshine of art.
Either she would soar above respectability, or she would remain
beneath it. Respectability might be an excellent thing; surely
there must be some merit in a thing about which there was so
much talk, after which there was so much hankering, and to
which there was such desperate clinging. But as a sole
possession, as a sole ambition, it seemed thin and poor and
even pitiful. She had emancipated herself from its tyranny;
she would not resume the yoke. Among so many lacks of the good
things of life its good would not be missed. Perhaps, when she
had got a few other of the good things she might try to add it
to them--or might find herself able to get comfortably along
without it, as had George Eliot and Aspasia, George Sand and
Duse and Bernhardt and so many of the world's company of
self-elected women members of the triumphant class.
A new deal! And a new deal meant at least even chance for good luck.
As she drifted down the west side of Second Avenue, her
thoughts so absorbed her that she was oblivious of the slushy
sidewalk, even of the crossings where one had to pick one's way
as through a shallow creek with stepping stones here and there.
There were many women alone, as in every other avenue and every
frequented cross street throughout the city--women made eager
to desperation by the long stretch of impossible weather.
Every passing man was hailed, sometimes boldly, sometimes
softly. Again and again that grotesque phrase "Let's go have
a good time" fell upon the ears. After several blocks, when
her absent-mindedness had got her legs wet to the knees in the
shallow shiny slush, she was roused by the sound of music--an
orchestra playing and playing well a lively Hungarian dance.
She was standing before the winter garden from which the sounds
came. As she opened the door she was greeted by a rush of warm
air pleasantly scented with fresh tobacco smoke, the odors of
spiced drinks and of food, pastry predominating. Some of the
tables were covered ready for those who would wish to eat; but
many of them were for the drinkers. The large, low-ceilinged
room was comfortably filled. There were but a few women and
they seemed to be wives or sweethearts. Susan was about to
retreat when a waiter--one of those Austrians whose heads end
abruptly an inch or so above the eyebrows and whose chins soon
shade off into neck--advanced smilingly with a polite, "We
serve ladies without escorts."
She chose a table that had several other vacant tables round
it. On the recommendation of the waiter she ordered a "burning
devil"; he assured her she would find it delicious and the
very thing for a cold slushy night. At the far end of the room
on a low platform sat the orchestra. A man in an evening suit
many sizes too large for him sang in a strong, not disagreeable
tenor a German song that drew loud applause at the end of each
stanza. The "burning devil" came--an almost black mixture in
a large heavy glass. The waiter touched a match to it, and it
was at once wreathed in pale flickering flames that hovered
like butterflies, now rising as if to float away, now lightly
descending to flit over the surface of the liquid or to dance
along the edge of the glass.
"What shall I do with it?" said Susan.
"Wait till it goes out," said the waiter. "Then drink, as you
would anything else." And he was off to attend to the wants of
a group of card players a few feet away.
Susan touched her finger to the glass, when the flame suddenly
vanished. She found it was not too hot to drink, touched her
lips to it. The taste, sweetish, suggestive of coffee and of
brandy and of burnt sugar, was agreeable. She slowly sipped
it, delighting in the sensation of warmth, of comfort, of well
being that speedily diffused through her. The waiter came to
receive her thanks for his advice. She said to him:
"Do you have women sing, too?"
"Oh, yes--when we can find a good-looker with a voice. Our
customers know music."
"I wonder if I could get a trial?"
The waiter was interested at once. "Perhaps. You sing?"
"I have sung on the stage."
"I'll ask the boss."
He went to the counter near the door where stood a short
thick-set Jew of the East European snub-nosed type in earnest
conversation with a seated blonde woman. She showed that skill
at clinging to youth which among the lower middle and lower
classes pretty clearly indicates at least some experience at
the fast life. For only in the upper and upper middle class
does a respectable woman venture thus to advertise so
suspicious a guest within as a desire to be agreeable in the
sight of men. Susan watched the waiter as he spoke to the
proprietor, saw the proprietor's impatient shake of the head,
sent out a wave of gratitude from her heart when her waiter
friend persisted, compelled the proprietor to look toward her.
She affected an air of unconsciousness; in fact, she was posing
as if before a camera. Her heart leaped when out of the corner
of her eye she saw the proprietor coming with the waiter. The
two paused at her table, and the proprietor said in a sharp,
"Well, lady--what is it?"
"I want a trial as a singer."
The proprietor was scanning her features and her figure which
was well displayed by the tight-fitting jacket. The result
seemed satisfactory, for in a voice oily with the softening
influence of feminine charm upon male, he said:
"You've had experience?"
"Yes--a lot of it. But I haven't sung in about two years."
"Only ballads in English. But I can learn anything."
"English'll do--_if_ you can _sing_. What costume do you wear?"
And the proprietor seated himself and motioned the waiter away.
"I have no costume. As I told you, I've not been singing lately."
"We've got one that might fit--a short blue silk skirt--low
neck and blue stockings. Slippers too, but they might be
tight--I forget the number."
"I did wear threes. But I've done a great deal of walking. I
wear a five now." Susan thrust out a foot and ankle, for she
knew that despite the overshoe they were good to look at.
The proprietor nodded approvingly and there was the note of
personal interest in his voice as he said: "They can try your
voice tomorrow morning. Come at ten o'clock."
"If you decide to try me, what pay will I get?"
The proprietor smiled slyly. "Oh, we don't pay anything to the
singers. That man who sang--he gets his board here. He works
in a factory as a bookkeeper in the daytime. Lots of
theatrical and musical people come here. If a man or a girl
can do any stunt worth while, there's a chance."
"I'd have to have something more than board," said Susan.
The proprietor frowned down at his stubby fingers whose black
and cracked nails were drumming on the table. "Well--I might
give you a bed. There's a place I could put one in my
daughter's room. She sings and dances over at Louis Blanc's
garden in Third Avenue. Yes, I could put you there. But--no
privileges, you understand."
"Certainly. . . . I'll decide tomorrow. Maybe you'll not
"Oh, yes--if you can sing at all. Your looks'd please my
customers." Seeing the dubious expression in Susan's face, he
went on, "When I say `no privilege' I mean only about the room.
Of course, it's none of my business what you do outside. Lots
of well fixed gents comes here. My girls have all had good
luck. I've been open two years, and in that time one of my
singers got an elegant delicatessen owner to keep her."
"Really," said Susan, in the tone that was plainly expected of her.
"Yes--an _elegant_ gentleman. I'd not be surprised if he
married her. And another married an electrician that cops out
forty a week. You'll find it a splendid chance to make nice
friends--good spenders. And I'm a practical man."
"I suppose there isn't any work I could do in the daytime?"
"Not nowhere, so far as I know. That is, work you'd care to
do. The factories and stores is hard on a woman, and she don't
get much. And besides they ain't very classy to my notion. Of
course, if a woman ain't got looks or sense or any tone to her,
if she's satisfied to live in a bum tenement and marry some dub
that can't make nothing, why, that's different. But you look
like a woman that had been used to something and wanted to get
somewhere. I wouldn't have let _my_ daughter go into no such
low, foolish life."
She had intended to ask about a place to stop for the night.
She now decided that the suggestion that she was homeless might
possibly impair her chances. After some further
conversation--the proprietor repeating what he had already
said, and repeating it in about the same language--she paid the
waiter fifteen cents for the drink and a tip of five cents out
of the change she had in her purse, and departed. It had
clouded over, and a misty, dismal rain was trickling through
the saturated air to add to the messiness of the churn of cold
slush. Susan went on down Second Avenue. On a corner near its
lower end she saw a Raines Law hotel with awnings, indicating
that it was not merely a blind to give a saloon a hotel license
but was actually open for business. She went into the
"family" entrance of the saloon, was alone in a small clean
sitting-room with a sliding window between it and the bar. A
tough but not unpleasant young face appeared at the window. It
was the bartender.
"Evening, cutie," said he. "What'll you have?"
"Some rye whiskey," replied Susan. "May I smoke a cigarette here?"
"Sure, go as far as you like. Ten-cent whiskey--or fifteen?"
"Fifteen--unless it's out of the same bottle as the ten."
"Call it ten--seeing as you are a lady. I've got a soft heart
for you ladies. I've got a wife in the business, myself."
When he came in at the door with the drink, a young man
followed him--a good-looking, darkish youth, well dressed in a
ready made suit of the best sort. At second glance Susan saw
that he was at least partly of Jewish blood, enough to elevate
his face above the rather dull type which predominates among
clerks and merchants of the Christian races. He had small,
shifty eyes, an attractive smile, a manner of assurance
bordering on insolence. He dropped into a chair at Susan's
table with a, "You don't mind having a drink on me."
As Susan had no money to spare, she acquiesced. She said to the
bartender, "I want to get a room here--a plain room. How much?"
"Maybe this gent'll help you out," said the bartender with a
grin and a wink. "He's got money to burn--and burns it."
The bartender withdrew. The young man struck a match and held
it for her to light the cigarette she took from her purse.
Then he lit one himself. "Next time try one of mine," said he.
"I get 'em of a fellow that makes for the swellest uptown
houses. But I get 'em ten cents a package instead of forty.
I haven't seen you down here before. What a good skin you've
got! It's been a long time since I've seen a skin as fine as
that, except on a baby now and then. And that shape of yours
is all right, too. I suppose it's the real goods?"
With that he leaned across the table and put his hand upon her
bosom. She drew back indifferently.
"You don't give anything for nothing--eh?" laughed he. "Been
in the business long?"
"It seems long."
"It ain't what it used to be. The competition's getting to be
something fierce. Looks as if all the respectable girls and
most of the married women were coming out to look for a little
extra money. Well--why not?"
Susan shrugged her shoulders. "Why not?" echoed she carelessly.
She did not look forward with pleasure to being alone. The man
was clean and well dressed, and had an unusual amount of
personal charm that softened his impertinence of manner.
Evidently he has the habit of success with women. She much
preferred him sitting with her to her own depressing society.
So she accepted his invitation. She took one of his
cigarettes, and it was as good as he had said. He rattled on,
mingling frank coarse compliments with talk about "the
business" from a standpoint so practical that she began to
suspect he was somehow in it himself. He clearly belonged to
those more intelligent children of the upper class tenement
people, the children who are too bright and too well educated
to become working men and working women like their parents; they
refuse to do any kind of manual labor, as it could never in the
most favorable circumstances pay well enough to give them the
higher comforts they crave, the expensive comforts which every
merchant is insistently and temptingly thrusting at a public
for the most part too poor to buy; so these cleverer children
of the working class develop into shyster lawyers, politicians,
sports, prostitutes, unless chance throws into their way some
respectable means of getting money. Vaguely she
wondered--without caring to question or guess what particular
form of activity this young man had taken in avoiding
monotonous work at small pay.
After her second drink came she found that she did not want it.
She felt tired and sleepy and wished to get her wet stockings
off and to dry her skirt which, for all her careful holding up,
had not escaped the fate of whatever was exposed to that
abominable night. "I'm going along with you," said the young
man as she rose. "Here's to our better acquaintance."
"Thanks, but I want to be alone," replied she affably. And,
not to seem unappreciative of his courtesy, she took a small
drink from her glass. It tasted very queer. She glanced
suspiciously at the young man. Her legs grew suddenly and
strangely heavy. her heart began to beat violently, and a
black fog seemed to be closing in upon her eyes. Through it
she saw the youth grinning sardonically. And instantly she
knew. "What a fool I am!" she thought.
She had been trapped by another form of the slave system. This
man was a recruiting sergeant for houses of prostitution--was
one of the "cadets." They search the tenement districts for
good-looking girls and young women. They hang about the street
corners, flirting. They attend the balls where go the young
people of the lower middle class and upper lower class. They
learn to make love seductively; they understand how to tempt a
girl's longing for finery, for an easier life, her dream of a
husband above her class in looks and in earning power. And for
each recruit "broken in" and hardened to the point of
willingness to go into a sporting house, they get from the
proprietor ten to twenty-five dollars according to her youth
and beauty. Susan knew all about the system, had heard stories
of it from the lips of girls who had been embarked through
it--embarked a little sooner than they would have embarked
under the lash of want, or of that other and almost equally
compelling brute, desire for the comforts and luxuries that
mean decent living. Susan knew; yet here she was, because of
an unguarded moment, and because of a sense of security through
experience--here she was, succumbing to knockout drops as easily
as the most innocent child lured away from its mother's door to
get a saucer of ice cream! She tried to rise, to scream,
though she knew any such effort was futile.
With a gasp and a sigh her head fell forward and she was unconscious.
She awakened in a small, rather dingy room. She was lying on
her back with only stockings on. Beyond the foot of the bed
was a little bureau at which a man, back full to her, stood in
trousers and shirt sleeves tying his necktie. She saw that he
was a rough looking man, coarsely dressed--an artisan or small
shop-keeper. Used as she was to the profound indifference of
men of all classes and degrees of education and intelligence to
what the woman thought--used as she was to this sensual
selfishness which men at least in part conceal from their
respectable wives, Susan felt a horror of this man who had not
minded her unconsciousness. Her head was aching so fiercely
that she had not the courage to move. Presently the man turned
toward her a kindly, bearded face. But she was used to the man
of general good character who with little shame and no
hesitation became beast before her, the free woman.
"Hello, pretty!" cried he, genially. "Slept off your jag, have you?"
He was putting on his coat and waistcoat. He took from the
waistcoat pocket a dollar bill. "You're a peach," said he.
"I'll come again, next time my old lady goes off guard." He
made the bill into a pellet, dropped it on her breast. "A
little present for you. Put it in your stocking and don't let
the madam grab it."
With a groan Susan lifted herself to a sitting position, drew
the spread about her--a gesture of instinct rather than of
conscious modesty. "They drugged me and brought me here," said
she. "I want you to help me get out."
"Good Lord!" cried the man, instantly all a-quiver with
nervousness. "I'm a married man. I don't want to get mixed up
in this." And out of the room he bolted, closing the door
Susan smiled at herself satirically. After all her experience,
to make this silly appeal--she who knew men! "I must be
getting feeble-minded," thought she. Then----
Her clothes! With a glance she swept the little room. No
closet! Her own clothes gone! On the chair beside the bed
a fast-house parlor dress of pink cotton silk, and a kind of
abbreviated chemise. The stockings on her legs were not her
own, but were of pink cotton, silk finished. A pair of pink
satin slippers stood on the floor beside the two galvanized
iron wash basins.
The door opened and a burly man, dressed in cheap ready-made
clothes but with an air of authority and prosperity, was
smiling at her. "The madam told me to walk right in and make
myself at home," said he. "Yes, you're up to her account of
you. Only she said you were dead drunk and would probably be
asleep. Now, honey, you treat me right and I'll treat you right."
"Get out of here!" cried Susan. "I'm going to leave this
house. They drugged me and brought me here."
"Oh, come now. I've got nothing to do with your quarrels with
the landlady. Cut those fairy tales out. You treat me right
A few minutes later in came the madam. Susan, exhausted, sick,
lay inert in the middle of the bed. She fixed her gaze upon
the eyes looking through the hideous mask of paint and powder
partially concealing the madam's face.
"Well, are you going to be a good girl now?" said the madam.
"I want to sleep," said Susan.
"All right, my dear." She saw and snatched the five-dollar
bill from the pillow. "It'll go toward paying your board and
for the parlor dress. God, but you was drunk when they brought
you up from the bar!"
"When was that?" asked Susan.
"About midnight. It's nearly four now. We've shut the house
for the night. You're in a first-rate house, my dear, and if
you behave yourself, you'll make money--a lot more than you
ever could at a dive like Zeist's. If you don't behave well,
we'll teach you how. This building belongs to one of the big
men in politics, and he looks after my interests--and he ought
to, considering the rent I pay--five hundred a month--for the
three upper floors. The bar's let separate. Would you like a
"No," said Susan. Trapped! Hopelessly trapped! And she would
never escape until, diseased, her looks gone, ruined in body
and soul, she was cast out into the hospital and the gutter.
"As I was saying," ventured the madam, "you might as well
settle down quietly."
"I'm very well satisfied," said Susan. "I suppose you'll give
me a square deal on what I make." She laughed quietly as if
secretly amused at something. "In fact, I know you will," she
added in a tone of amused confidence.
"As soon as you've paid up your twenty-five a week for room and
board and the fifty for the parlor dress----"
Susan interrupted her with a laugh. "Oh, come off," said she.
"I'll not stand for that. I'll go back to Jim Finnegan."
The old woman's eyes pounced for her face instantly. "Do you
"I'm his girl," said Susan carelessly. She stretched herself
and yawned. "I got mad at him and started out for some fun.
He's a regular damn fool about me. But I'm sick of him.
Anything but a jealous man! And spied on everywhere I go. How
much can I make here?"
"Ain't you from Zeist's?" demanded the madam. Her voice was
quivering with fright. She did not dare believe the girl; she
did not dare disbelieve her.
"Zeist's? What's that?" said Susan indifferently.
"The joint two blocks down. Hasn't Joe Bishop had you in there
for a couple of months?"
Susan yawned. "Lord, how my head does ache! Who's Joe Bishop?
I'm dead to the world. I must have had an awful jag!" She
turned on her side, drew the spread over her. "I want to
sleep. So long!"
"Didn't you run away from home with Joe Bishop?" demanded the
madam shrilly. "And didn't he put you to work for Zeist?"
"Who's Joe Bishop? Where's Zeist's?" Susan said, cross and yawning.
"I've been with Jim about a year. He took me off the street.
I was broke in five years ago."
The madam gave a kind of howl. "And that Joe Bishop got
twenty-five off me!" she screamed. "And you're Finnegan's
girl, and he'll make trouble for me."
"He's got a nasty streak in him," said Susan, drowsily. "He
put me on the Island once for a little side trip I made." She
laughed, yawned. "But he sent and got me out in two days--and
gave me a present of a hundred. It's funny how a man'll make
a fool of himself about a woman. Put out the light."
"No, I won't put out the light," shrieked the madam. "You
can't work here. I'm going to telephone Jim Finnegan to come
and get you."
Susan started up angrily, as if she were half-crazed by drink.
"If you do, you old hag," she cried, "I'll tell him you doped
me and set these men on me. I'll tell him about Joe Bishop.
And Jim'll send the whole bunch of you to the pen. I'll not go
back to him till I get good and ready. And that means, I won't
go back at all, no matter what he offers me." She began to cry
in a maudlin way. "I hate him. I'm tired of living as if I
was back in the convent."
The madam stood, heaving to and fro and blowing like a chained
elephant. "I don't know what to do," she whined. "I wish Joe
Bishop was in hell."
"I'm going to get out of here," shrieked Susan, raving and
blazing again and waving her arms. "You don't know a good
thing when you get it. What kind of a bumjoint is this,
anyway? Where's my clothes? They must be dry by this time."
"Yes--yes--they're dry, my dear," whined the madam. "I'll
bring 'em to you."
And out she waddled, returning in a moment with her arms full
of the clothing. She found Susan in the bed and nestling
comfortably into the pillows. "Here are your clothes," she cried.
"No--I want to sleep," was Susan's answer in a cross, drowsy
tone. "I think I'll stay. You won't telephone Jim. But when
he finds me, I'll tell him to go to the devil."
"For God's sake!" wailed the madam. "I can't let you work
here. You don't want to ruin me, do you?"
Susan sat up, rubbed her eyes, yawned, brushed her hair back, put
a sly, smiling look into her face. "How much'll you give me to
go?" she asked. "Where's the fifteen that was in my stocking?"
"I've got it for you," said the madam.
"How much did I make tonight?"
"There was three at five apiece."
Three!--not only the two, but a third while she lay in a dead
stupor. Susan shivered.
"Your share's four dollars," continued the madam.
"Is that all!" cried Susan, jeering. "A bum joint! Oh,
there's my five the man gave me as a present."
"Yes--yes," quavered the madam.
"And another man gave me a dollar." She looked round. "Where
the devil is it?" She found it in a fold of the spread. "Then
you owe me twenty altogether, counting the money I had on me."
She yawned. "I don't want to go!" she protested, pausing
halfway in taking off the second pink stocking. Then she
laughed. "Lord, what hell Jim will raise if he finds I spent
the night working in this house. Why is it that, as soon as
men begin to care for a woman, they get prim about her?"
"Do get dressed, dear," wheedled the madam.
"I don't see why I should go at this time of night," objected
Susan pettishly. "What'll you give me if I go?"
The madam uttered a groan.
"You say you paid Joe Bishop twenty-five----"
"I'll kill him!" shrieked the madam. "He's ruined me--ruined me!"
"Oh, he's all right," said Susan cheerfully. "I like him.
He's a pretty little fellow. I'll not give him away to Jim."
"Joe was dead stuck on you," cried the madam eagerly. "I
might 'a' knowed he hadn't seen you before. I had to pay him
the twenty-five right away, to get him out of the house and let
me put you to work. He wanted to stay on."
Susan shivered, laughed to hide it. "Well, I'll go for twenty-five."
"Twenty-five!" shrieked the madam.
"You'll get it back from Joe."
"Maybe I won't. He's a dog--a dirty dog."
"I think I told Joe about Jim," said Susan reflectively. "I
was awful gabby downstairs. Yes--I told him."
And her lowered eyes gleamed with satisfaction when the madam
cried out: "You did! And after that he brought you here!
He's got it in for me. But I'll ruin him! I'll tear him up!"
Susan dressed with the utmost deliberation, the madam urging
her to make haste. After some argument, Susan yielded to the
madam's pleadings and contented herself with the twenty
dollars. The madam herself escorted Susan down to the outside
door and slathered her with sweetness and politeness. The rain
had stopped again. Susan went up Second Avenue slowly. Two
blocks from the dive from which she had escaped, she sank down
on a stoop and fainted. IX
THE dash of cold rain drops upon her face and the chill of
moisture soaking through her clothing revived her. Throughout
the whole range of life, whenever we resist we suffer. As
Susan dragged her aching, cold wet body up from that stoop, it
seemed to her that each time she resisted the penalty grew
heavier. Could she have been more wretched had she remained in
that dive? From her first rebellion that drove her out of her
uncle's house had she ever bettered herself by resisting? She
had gone from bad to worse, from worse to worst.
Worst? "This _must_ be the worst!" she thought. "Surely there
can be no lower depth than where I am now." And then she
shuddered and her soul reeled. Had she not thought this at
each shelf of the precipice down which she had been falling?
"Has it a bottom? Is there no bottom?"
Wet through, tired through, she put up her umbrella and forced
herself feebly along. "Where am I going? Why do I not kill
myself? What is it that drives me on and on?"
There came no direct answer to that last question. But up from
those deep vast reservoirs of vitality that seemed sufficient
whatever the drain upon them--up from those reservoirs welled
strength and that unfaltering will to live which breathes upon
the corpse of hope and quickens it. And she had a sense of an
invisible being, a power that had her in charge, a destiny,
walking beside her, holding up her drooping strength, compelling
her toward some goal hidden in the fog and the storm.
At Eighth Street she turned west; at Third Avenue she paused,
waiting for chance to direct her. Was it not like the
maliciousness of fate that in the city whose rarely interrupted
reign of joyous sunshine made her call it the city of the Sun
her critical turn of chance should have fallen in foul weather?
Evidently fate was resolved on a thorough test of her
endurance. In the open square, near the Peter Cooper statue,
stood a huge all-night lunch wagon. She moved toward it, for
she suddenly felt hungry. It was drawn to the curb; a short
flight of ladder steps led to an interior attractive to sight
and smell. She halted at the foot of the steps and looked in.
The only occupant was the man in charge. In a white coat he
was leaning upon the counter, reading a newspaper which lay
flat upon it. His bent head was extensively and roughly
thatched with black hair so thick that to draw a comb through
it would have been all but impossible. As Susan let down her
umbrella and began to ascend, he lifted his head and gave her
a full view of a humorous young face, bushy of eyebrows and
mustache and darkly stained by his beard, close shaven though
it was. He looked like a Spaniard or an Italian, but he was a
black Irishman, one of the West coasters who recall in their
eyes and coloring the wrecking of the Armada.
"Good morning, lady," said he. "Breakfast or supper?"
"Both," replied Susan. "I'm starved."
The air was gratefully warm in the little restaurant on wheels.
The dominant odor was of hot coffee; but that aroma was carried
to a still higher delight by a suggestion of pastry. "The best
thing I've got," said the restaurant man, "is hot corn beef
hash. It's so good I hate to let any of it go. You can have
griddle cakes, too--and coffee, of course."
"Very well," said Susan.
She was ascending upon a wave of reaction from the events of
the night. Her headache had gone. The rain beating upon the
roof seemed musical to her now, in this warm shelter with its
certainty of the food she craved.
The young man was busy at the shiny, compact stove; the odors
of the good things she was presently to have grew stronger and
stronger, stimulating her hunger, bringing joy to her heart and
a smile to her eyes. She wondered at herself. After what she
had passed through, how could she feel thus happy--yes,
positively happy? It seemed to her this was an indication of
a lack in her somewhere--of seriousness, of sensibility, of she
knew not what. She ought to be ashamed of that lack. But she
was not ashamed. She was shedding her troubles like a
child--or like a philosopher.
"Do you like hash?" inquired the restaurant man over his shoulder.
"Just as you're making it," said she. "Dry but not too dry.
Brown but not too brown."
"You don't think you'd like a poached egg on top of it?"
"Exactly what I want!"
"It isn't everybody that can poach an egg," said the restaurant
man. "And it isn't every egg that can be poached. Now, my
eggs are the real thing. And I can poach 'em so you'd think
they was done with one of them poaching machines. I don't have
'em with the yellow on a slab of white. I do it so that the
white's all round the yellow, like in the shell. And I keep
'em tender, too. Did you say one egg or a pair?"
"Two," said Susan.
The dishes were thick, but clean and whole. The hash--"dry but
not too dry, brown but not too brown"--was artistically
arranged on its platter, and the two eggs that adorned its top
were precisely as he had promised. The coffee, boiled with the
milk, was real coffee, too. When the restaurant man had set
these things before her, as she sat expectant on a stool, he
viewed his handiwork with admiring eyes.
"Delmonico couldn't beat it," said he. "No, nor Oscar,
neither. That'll take the tired look out of your face, lady,
and bring the beauty back."
Susan ate slowly, listening to the music of the beating rain.
It was like an oasis, a restful halt between two stretches of
desert journey; she wished to make it as long as possible.
Only those who live exposed to life's buffetings ever learn to
enjoy to the full the great little pleasures of life--the
halcyon pauses in the storms--the few bright rays through the
break in the clouds, the joy of food after hunger, of a bath
after days of privation, of a jest or a smiling face or a kind
word or deed after darkness and bitterness and contempt. She saw
the restaurant man's eyes on her, a curious expression in them.
"What's the matter?" she inquired.
"I was thinking," said he, "how miserable you must have been to
be so happy now."
"Oh, I guess none of us has any too easy a time," said she.
"But it's mighty hard on women. I used to think different,
before I had bad luck and got down to tending this lunch wagon.
But now I understand about a lot of things. It's all very well
for comfortable people to talk about what a man or a woman
ought to do and oughtn't to do. But let 'em be slammed up
against it. They'd sing a different song--wouldn't they?"
"Quite different," said Susan.
The man waved a griddle spoon. "I tell you, we do what we've
got to do. Yes--the thieves and--and--all of us. Some's used
for foundations and some for roofing and some for inside fancy
work and some for outside wall. And some's used for the
rubbish heap. But all's used. They do what they've got to do.
I was a great hand at worrying what I was going to be used for.
But I don't bother about it any more." He began to pour the
griddle cake dough. "I think I'll get there, though," said he
doggedly, as if he expected to be derided for vanity.
"You will," said Susan.
"I'm twenty-nine. But I've been being got ready for something.
They don't chip away at a stone as they have at me without
intending to make some use of it."
"No, indeed," said the girl, hope and faith welling up in her
"And what's more, I've stood the chipping. I ain't become
rubbish; I'm still a good stone. That's promising, ain't it?"
"It's a sure sign," declared Susan. Sure for herself, no less
than for him.
The restaurant man took from under the counter several
well-worn schoolbooks. He held them up, looked at Susan and
winked. "Good business--eh?"
She laughed and nodded. He put the books back under the
counter, finished the cakes and served them. As he gave her
more butter he said:
"It ain't the best butter--not by a long shot. But it's
good--as good as you get on the average farm--or better. Did
you ever eat the best butter?"
"I don't know. I've had some that was very good."
"Eighty cents a pound?"
"Mercy, no," exclaimed Susan.
"Awful price, isn't it? But worth the money--yes, sir! Some
time when you've got a little change to spare, go get half a
pound at one of the swell groceries or dairies. And the best
milk, too. Twelve cents a quart. Wait till I get money. I'll
show 'em how to live. I was born in a tenement. Never had
nothing. Rags to wear, and food one notch above a garbage
"I know," said Susan.
"But even as a boy I wanted the high-class things. It's
wanting the best that makes a man push his way up."
Another customer came--a keeper of a butcher shop, on his way
to market. Susan finished the cakes, paid the forty cents and
prepared to depart. "I'm looking for a hotel," said she to the
restaurant man, "one where they'll take me in at this time, but
one that's safe not a dive."
"Right across the square there's a Salvation Army shelter--very
good--clean. I Don't know of any other place for a lady."
"There's a hotel on the next corner," put in the butcher,
suspending the violent smacking and sipping which attended his
taking rolls and coffee. "It ain't neither the one thing nor
the other. It's clean and cheap, and they'll let you behave if
you want to."
"That's all I ask," said the girl. "Thank you." And she
departed, after an exchange of friendly glances with the
restaurant man. "I feel lots better," said she.
"It was a good breakfast," replied he.
"That was only part. Good luck!"
"Same to you, lady. Call again. Try my chops."
At the corner the butcher had indicated Susan found the usual
Raines Law hotel, adjunct to a saloon and open to all comers,
however "transient." But she took the butcher's word for it,
engaged a dollar-and-a-half room from the half-asleep clerk,
was shown to it by a colored bellboy who did not bother to wake
up. It was a nice little room with barely space enough for a
bed, a bureau, a stationary washstand, a chair and a small
radiator. As she undressed by the light of a sad gray dawn,
she examined her dress to see how far it needed repair and how
far it might be repaired. She had worn away from Forty-third
Street her cheapest dress because it happened to be of an
inconspicuous blue. It was one of those suits that look fairly
well at a glance on the wax figure in the department store
window, that lose their bloom as quickly as a country bride,
and at the fourth or fifth wearing begin to make frank and
sweeping confession of the cheapness of every bit of the
material and labor that went into them. These suits are
typical of all that poverty compels upon the poor, all that
they in their ignorance and inexperience of values accept
without complaint, fancying they are getting money's worth and
never dreaming they are more extravagant than the most prodigal
of the rich. However, as their poverty gives them no choice,
their ignorance saves them from futilities of angry discontent.
Susan had bought this dress because she had to have another
dress and could not afford to spend more than twelve dollars,
and it had been marked down from twenty-five. She had worn it
in fair weather and had contrived to keep it looking pretty
well. But this rain had finished it quite. Thereafter, until
she could get another dress, she must expect to be classed as
poor and seedy--therefore, on the way toward deeper
poverty--therefore, an object of pity and of prey. If she went
into a shop, she would be treated insultingly by the shopgirls,
despising her as a poor creature like themselves. If a man
approached her, he would calculate upon getting her very cheap
because a girl in such a costume could not have been in the
habit of receiving any great sum. And if she went with him, he
would treat her with far less consideration than if she had
been about the same business in smarter attire. She spread the
dress on bureau and chair, smoothing it, wiping the mud stains
from it. She washed out her stockings at the stationary stand,
got them as dry as her remarkably strong hands could wring
them, hung them on a rung of the chair near the hot little
radiator. She cleaned her boots and overshoes with an old
newspaper she found in a drawer, and wet at the washstand. She
took her hat to pieces and made it over into something that
looked almost fresh enough to be new. Then, ready for bed, she
got the office of the hotel on the telephone and left a call
for half-past nine o'clock--three hours and a half away. When
she was throwing up the window, she glanced into the street.
The rain had once more ceased. Through the gray dimness the
men and women, boys and girls, on the way to the factories and
shops for the day's work, were streaming past in funereal
procession. Some of the young ones were lively. But the mass
was sullen and dreary. Bodies wrecked or rapidly wrecking by
ignorance of hygiene, by the foul air and foul food of the
tenements, by the monotonous toil of factory and shop--mindless
toil--toil that took away mind and put in its place a distaste
for all improvement--toil of the factories that distorted the
body and enveloped the soul in sodden stupidity--toil of the
shops that meant breathing bad air all day long, meant stooped
shoulders and varicose veins in the legs and the arches of the
insteps broken down, meant dull eyes, bad skin, female
complaints, meant the breeding of desires for the luxury the
shops display, the breeding of envy and servility toward those
able to buy these luxuries.
Susan lingered, fascinated by this exhibit of the price to the
many of civilization for the few. Work? Never! Not any more
than she would. "Work" in a dive! Work--either branch of it,
factory and shop or dive meant the sale of all the body and all
the soul; her profession--at least as she practiced it--meant
that perhaps she could buy with part of body and part of soul
the privilege of keeping the rest of both for her own self. If
she had stayed on at work from the beginning in Cincinnati,
where would she be now? Living in some stinking tenement hole,
with hope dead. And how would she be looking? As dull of eye
as the rest, as pasty and mottled of skin, as ready for any
chance disease. Work? Never! Never! "Not at anything that'd
degrade me more than this life. Yes--more." And she lifted
her head defiantly. To her hunger Life was thus far offering
only a plate of rotten apples; it was difficult to choose among
them--but there was choice.
She was awakened by the telephone bell; and it kept on ringing
until she got up and spoke to the office through the sender.
Never had she so craved sleep; and her mental and physical
contentment of three hours and a half before had been succeeded
by headache, a general soreness, a horrible attack of the
blues. She grew somewhat better, however, as she washed first
in hot water, then in cold at the stationary stand which was
quite as efficient if not so luxurious as a bathtub. She
dressed in a rush, but not so hurriedly that she failed to make
the best toilet the circumstances permitted. Her hair went up
unusually well; the dress did not look so badly as she had
feared it would. "As it's a nasty day," she reflected, "it won't
do me so much damage. My hat and my boots will make them give
me the benefit of the doubt and think I'm saving my good clothes."
She passed through the office at five minutes to ten. When she
reached Lange's winter garden, its clock said ten minutes past
ten, but she knew it must be fast. Only one of the four
musicians had arrived--the man who played the drums, cymbals,
triangle and xylophone--a fat, discouraged old man who knew how
easily he could be replaced. Neither Lange nor his wife had
come; her original friend, the Austrian waiter, was wiping off
tables and cleaning match stands. He welcomed her with a smile
of delight that showed how few teeth remained in the front of
his mouth and how deeply yellow they were. But Susan saw only
his eyes--and the kind heart that looked through them.
"Maybe you haven't had breakfast already?" he suggested.
"I'm not hungry, thank you."
"Perhaps some coffee--yes?"
Susan thought the coffee would make her feel better. So he
brought it--Vienna fashion--an open china pot full of strong,
deliciously aromatic black coffee, a jug of milk with whipped
white of egg on top, a basket of small sweet rolls powdered
with sugar and caraway seed. She ate one of the rolls, drank
the coffee. Before she had finished, the waiter stood beaming
before her and said:
"Oh, no," replied Susan, a little sadly.
"But yes," urged he. "It isn't against the rules. The boss's
wife smokes. Many ladies who come here do--real ladies. It is
the custom in Europe. Why not?" And he produced a box of
cigarettes and put it on the table. Susan lit one of them and
once more with supreme physical content came a cheerfulness
that put color and sprightliness into the flowers of hope. And
the sun had won its battle with the storm; the storm was in
retreat. Sunshine was streaming in at the windows, into her
heart. The waiter paused in his work now and then to enjoy
himself in contemplating the charming picture she made. She
was thinking of what the wagon restaurant man had said. Yes,
Life had been chipping away at her; but she had remained good
stone, had not become rubbish.
About half-past ten Lange came down from his flat which was
overhead. He inspected her by daylight and finding that his
electric light impressions were not delusion was highly pleased
with her. He refused to allow her to pay for the coffee.
"Johann!" he called, and the leader of the orchestra approached
and made a respectful bow to his employer. He had a solemn
pompous air and the usual pompadour. He and Susan plunged into
the music question, found that the only song they both knew was
Tosti's "Good Bye."
"That'll do to try," said Lange. "Begin!"
And after a little tuning and voice testing, Susan sang the
"Good Bye" with full orchestra accompaniment. It was not good;
it was not even pretty good; but it was not bad. "You'll do
all right," said Lange. "You can stay. Now, you and Johann
fix up some songs and get ready for tonight." And he turned
away to buy supplies for restaurant and bar.
Johann, deeply sentimental by nature, was much pleased with
Susan's contralto. "You do not know how to sing," said he.
"You sing in your throat and you've got all the faults of
parlor singers. But the voice is there--and much
expressiveness--much temperament. Also, you have
intelligence--and that will make a very little voice
go a great way."
Before proceeding any further with the rehearsal, he took Susan
up to a shop where sheet music was sold and they selected three
simple songs: "Gipsy Queen," "Star of My Life" and "Love in
Dreams." They were to try "Gipsy Queen" that night, with "Good
Bye" and, if the applause should compel, "Suwanee River."
When they were back at the restaurant Susan seated herself in
a quiet corner and proceeded to learn the words of the song and
to get some notion of the tune.
She had lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Lange and Katy, whose hair was
very golden indeed and whose voice and manner proclaimed the
Bowery and its vaudeville stage. She began by being grand with
Susan, but had far too good a heart and far too sensible a
nature to keep up long. It takes more vanity, more solemn
stupidity and more leisure than plain people have time for, to
maintain the force of fake dignity. Before lunch was over it
was Katy and Lorna; and Katy was distressed that her duties at
the theater made it impossible for her to stay and help Lorna
with the song.
At the afternoon rehearsal Susan distinguished herself. To
permit business in the restaurant and the rehearsal at the same
time, there was a curtain to divide the big room into two
unequal parts. When Susan sang her song through for the first
time complete, the men smoking and drinking on the other side
of the curtain burst into applause. Johann shook hands with
Susan, shook hands again, kissed her hand, patted her shoulder.
But in the evening things did not go so well.
Susan, badly frightened, got away from the orchestra, lagged
when it speeded to catch up with her. She made a pretty and
engaging figure in the costume, low in the neck and ending at
the knees. Her face and shoulders, her arms and legs, the
lines of her slender, rounded body made a success. But they
barely saved her from being laughed at. When she finished,
there was no applause so no necessity for an encore. She ran
upstairs, and, with nerves all a-quiver, hid herself in the
little room she and Katy were to share. Until she failed she
did not realize how much she had staked upon this venture. But
now she knew; and it seemed to her that her only future was the
streets. Again her chance had come; again she had thrown it
away. If there were anything in her--anything but mere vain
hopes--that could not have occurred. In her plight anyone with
a spark of the divinity that achieves success would have
scored. "I belong in the streets," said she. Before dinner
she had gone out and had bought a ninety-five cent night-dress
and some toilet articles. These she now bundled together again.
She changed to her street dress; she stole down the stairs.
She was out at the side door, she was flying through the side
street toward the Bowery. "Hi!" shouted someone behind her.
"Where you going?" And overtaking her came her staunch friend
Albert, the waiter. Feeling that she must need sympathy and
encouragement, he had slipped away from his duties to go up to
her. He had reached the hall in time to see what she was about
and had darted bareheaded after her.
"Where you going?" he repeated, excitedly.
A crowd began to gather. "Oh, good-by," she cried. "I'm
getting out before I'm told to go--that's all. I made a
failure. Thank you, Albert." She put out her hand; she was
still moving and looking in the direction of the Bowery.
"Now you mustn't be foolish,", said he, holding on tightly to her
hand. "The boss says it's all right. Tomorrow you do better."
"I'd never dare try again."
"Tomorrow makes everything all right. You mustn't act like a
baby. The first time Katy tried, they yelled her off the
stage. Now she gets eleven a week. Come back right away with
me. The boss'd be mad if you won't. You ain't acting right,
Miss Lorna. I didn't think you was such a fool."
He had her attention now. Unmindful of the little crowd they
had gathered, they stood there discussing until to save Albert
from pneumonia she returned with him. He saw her started up
the stairs, then ventured to take his eye off her long enough
to put his head into the winter garden and send a waiter for
Lange. He stood guard until Lange came and was on his way to her.
The next evening, a Saturday, before a crowded house she sang
well, as well as she had ever sung in her life--sang well enough
to give her beauty of face and figure, her sweetness, her charm
the opportunity to win a success. She had to come back and
sing "Suwanee River." She had to come for a second encore;
and, flushed with her victory over her timidity, she sang
Tosti's sad cry of everlasting farewell with all the tenderness
there was in her. That song exactly fitted her passionate,
melancholy voice; its words harmonized with the deep sadness
that was her real self, that is the real self of every
sensitive soul this world has ever tried with its exquisite
torments for flesh and spirit. The tears that cannot be shed
were in her voice, in her face, as she stood there, with her
violet-gray eyes straining into vacancy. But the men and the
women shed tears; and when she moved, breaking the spell of
silence, they not only applauded, they cheered.
The news quickly spread that at Lange's there was a girl singer
worth hearing and still more worth looking at. And Lange had
his opportunity to arrive.
But several things stood in his way, things a man of far more
intelligence would have found it hard to overcome.
Like nearly all saloon-keepers, he was serf to a brewery; and
the particular brewery whose beer his mortgage compelled
him to push did not make a beer that could be pushed. People
complained that it had a disagreeably bitter aftertaste. In
the second place, Mrs. Lange was a born sitter. She had
married to rest--and she was resting. She was always piled
upon a chair. Thus, she was not an aid but a hindrance, an
encourager of the help in laziness and slovenliness. Again,
the cooking was distinctly bad; the only really good thing the
house served was coffee, and that was good only in the
mornings. Finally, Lange was a saver by nature and not a
spreader. He could hold tightly to any money he closed his
stubby fingers upon; he did not know how to plant money and
make it grow, but only how to hoard.
Thus it came to pass that, after the first spurt, the business
fell back to about where it had been before Susan came.
Albert, the Austrian waiter, explained to Susan why it was that
her popularity did the house apparently so little
good--explained with truth where she suspected kind-hearted
plotting, that she had arrested its latterly swift-downward
slide. She was glad to hear what he had to say, as it was most
pleasant to her vanity; but she could not get over the
depression of the central fact--she was not making the sort of
business to justify asking Lange for more than board and lodging;
she was not in the way of making the money that was each
day more necessary, as her little store dwindled.
The question of getting money to live on is usually dismissed
in a princely way by writers about human life. It is in
reality, except with the few rich, the ever-present
question--as ever-present as the necessity of breathing--and it
is not, like breathing, a matter settled automatically. It
dominates thought; it determines action. To leave it out of
account ever, in writing a human history, is to misrepresent
and distort as utterly as would a portrait painter who
neglected to give his subject eyes, or a head, even. With the
overwhelming mass of us, money is at all times all our lives
long the paramount question--for to be without it is
destruction worse than death, and we are almost all perilously
near to being without it. Thus, airily to pass judgment upon
men and women as to their doings in getting money for
necessaries, for what the compulsion of custom and habit has
made necessaries to them--airily to judge them for their doings
in such dire straits is like sitting calmly on shore and
criticizing the conduct of passengers and sailors in a
stormbeset sinking ship. It is one of the favorite pastimes of
the comfortable classes; it makes an excellent impression as to
one's virtue upon one's audience; it gives us a pleasing sense
of superior delicacy and humor. But it is none the less mean
and ridiculous. Instead of condemnation, the world needs to
bestir itself to remove the stupid and cruel creatures that
make evil conduct necessary; for can anyone, not a prig, say
that the small part of the human race that does well does so
because it is naturally better than the large part that does ill?
Spring was slow in opening. Susan's one dress was in a
deplorable state. The lining hung in rags. The never good
material was stretched out of shape, was frayed and worn gray
in spots, was beyond being made up as presentable by the most
careful pressing and cleaning. She had been forced to buy a
hat, shoes, underclothes. She had only three dollars and a few
cents left, and she simply did not dare lay it all out in dress
materials. Yet, less than all would not be enough; all would
not be enough.
Lange had from time to time more than hinted at the
opportunities she was having as a public singer in his hall.
But Susan, for all her experience, had remained one of those
upon whom such opportunities must be thrust if they are to be
So long as she had food and shelter, she could not make
advances; she could not even go so far as passive acquiescence.
She knew she was again violating the fundamental canon of
success; whatever one's business, do it thoroughly if at all.
But she could not overcome her temperament which had at this
feeble and false opportunity at once resented itself. She knew
perfectly that therein was the whole cause of her failure to
make the success she ought to have made when she came up from
the tenements, and again when she fell into the clutches of
Freddie Palmer. But it is one thing to know; it is another
thing to do. Susan ignored the attempts of the men; she
pretended not to understand Lange when they set him on to
intercede with her for them. She saw that she was once more
drifting to disaster--and that she had not long to drift. She
was exasperated against herself; she was disgusted with
herself. But she drifted on.
Growing seedier looking every day, she waited, defying the
plain teachings of experience. She even thought seriously of
going to work. But the situation in that direction remained
unchanged. She was seeing things, the reasons for things, more
clearly now, as experience developed her mind. She felt that
to get on in respectability she ought to have been either more
or less educated. If she had been used from birth to
conditions but a step removed from savagery, she might have
been content with what offered, might even have felt that she
was rising. Or if she had been bred to a good trade, and
educated only to the point where her small earnings could have
satisfied her desires, then she might have got along in
respectability. But she had been bred a "lady"; a Chinese
woman whose feet have been bound from babyhood until her
fifteenth or sixteenth year--how long it would be, after her
feet were freed, before she could learn to walk at all!--and
would she ever be able to learn to walk well?
What is luxury for one is squalor for another; what is
elevation for one degrades another. In respectability she
could not earn what was barest necessity for her--what she was
now getting at Lange's--decent shelter, passable food. Ejected
from her own class that shelters its women and brings them up
in unfitness for the unsheltered life, she was dropping as all
such women must and do drop--was going down, down,
down--striking on this ledge and that, and rebounding to resume
her ever downward course.
She saw her own plight only too vividly. Those whose outward
and inward lives are wide apart get a strong sense of dual
personality. It was thus with Susan. There were times when
she could not believe in the reality of her external life.
She often glanced through the columns on columns, pages on
pages of "want ads" in the papers--not with the idea of
answering them, for she had served her apprenticeship at that,
but simply to force herself to realize vividly just how matters
stood with her. Those columns and pages of closely printed
offerings of work! Dreary tasks, all of them--tasks devoid of
interest, of personal sense of usefulness, tasks simply to keep
degrading soul in degenerating body, tasks performed in filthy
factories, in foul-smelling workrooms and shops, in unhealthful
surroundings. And this, throughout civilization, was the
"honest work" so praised--by all who don't do it, but live
pleasantly by making others do it. Wasn't there something in
the ideas of Etta's father, old Tom Brashear? Couldn't
sensible, really loving people devise some way of making most
tasks less repulsive, of lessening the burdens of those tasks
that couldn't be anything but repulsive? Was this stupid
system, so cruel, so crushing, and producing at the top such
absurd results as flashy, insolent autos and silly palaces and
overfed, overdressed women, and dogs in jeweled collars, and
babies of wealth brought up by low menials--was this system
really the best?
"If they'd stop canting about `honest work' they might begin to
In the effort to prevent her downward drop from beginning again
she searched all the occupations open to her. She could not
find one that would not have meant only the most visionary
prospect of some slight remote advancement, and the certain and
speedy destruction of what she now realized was her chief asset
and hope--her personal appearance. And she resolved that she
would not even endanger it ever again. The largest part of the
little capital she took away from Forty-third Street had gone
to a dentist who put in several fillings of her back teeth.
She had learned to value every charm--hair, teeth, eyes, skin,
figure, hands. She watched over them all, because she felt
that when her day finally came--and come it would, she never
allowed long to doubt--she must be ready to enter fully into
her own. Her day! The day when fate should change the life her
outward self would be compelled to live, would bring it into
harmony with the life of inward self--the self she could control.
Katy had struck up a friendship at once profitable and
sentimental with her stage manager. She often stayed out all
night. On one of these nights Susan, alone in the tiny room
and asleep, was roused by feeling hands upon her. She started
up half awake and screamed.
"Sh!" came in Lange's voice. "It's me."
Susan had latterly observed sly attempts on his part to make
advances without his wife and daughter's suspecting; but she
had thought her way of quietly ignoring was effective. "You
must go," she whispered. "Mrs. Lange must have heard."
"I had to come," said he hoarsely, a mere voice in the
darkness. "I can't hold out no longer without you, Lorna."
"Go--go," urged Susan.
But it was too late. In the doorway, candle in hand, appeared
Mrs. Lange. Despite her efforts at "dressiness" she was in her
best hour homely and nearly shapeless. In night dress and
released from corsets she was hideous and monstrous. "I
thought so!" she shrieked. "I thought so!"
"I heard a burglar, mother," whined Lange, an abject and
"Shut your mouth, you loafer!" shrieked Mrs. Lange. And she
turned to Susan. "You gutter hussy, get on your clothes and
"But--Mrs. Lange----" began Susan.
"Clear out!" she shouted, opening the outer hall. "Dress
mighty damn quick and clear out!"
"Mother, you'll wake the people upstairs," pleaded Lange--and
Susan had never before realized how afraid of his wife the
little man was. "For God's sake, listen to sense."
"After I've thrown you--into the streets," cried his wife,
beside herself with jealous fury. "Get dressed, I tell you!"
she shouted at Susan.
And the girl hurried into her clothes, making no further
attempt to speak. She knew that to plead and to explain would
be useless; even if Mrs. Lange believed, still she would drive
from the house the temptation to her husband. Lange, in a
quaking, cowardly whine, begged his wife to be sensible and
believe his burglar story. But with each half-dozen words he
uttered, she interrupted to hurl obscene epithets at him or at
Susan. The tenants of the upstairs flats came down. She told
her wrongs to a dozen half-clad men, women and children; they
took her side at once, and with the women leading showered vile
insults upon Susan. The uproar was rising, rising. Lange
cowered in a corner, crying bitterly like a whipped child.
Susan, only partly dressed, caught up her hat and rushed into
the hall. Several women struck at her as she passed. She
stumbled on the stairs, almost fell headlong. With the most
frightful words in tenement house vocabulary pursuing her she
fled into the street, and did not pause until she was within a
few yards of the Bowery. There she sat down on a doorstep and,
half-crazed by the horror of her sudden downfall, laced her
shoes and buttoned her blouse and put on her hat with fumbling,
shaking fingers. It had all happened so quickly that she would
have thought she was dreaming but for the cold night air and
the dingy waste of the Bowery with the streetwalkers and
drunken bums strolling along under the elevated tracks. She
had trifled with the opportunity too long. It had flown in
disgust, dislodging her as it took flight. If she would be
over nice and critical, would hesitate to take the only upward
path fate saw fit to offer, then--let her seek the bottom!
Susan peered down, and shuddered.
She went into the saloon at the corner, into the little back
room. She poured down drink after drink of the frightful
poison sold as whiskey with the permission of a government
owned by every interest that can make big money out of a race
of free men and so can afford to pay big bribes. It is
characteristic of this poison of the saloon of the tenement
quarter that it produces in anyone who drinks it a species of
quick insanity, of immediate degeneration--a desire to commit
crime, to do degraded acts. Within an hour of Susan's being
thrown into the streets, no one would have recognized her. She
had been drinking, had been treating the two faded but young
and decently dressed streetwalkers who sat at another table.
The three, fired and maddened by the poison, were amusing
themselves and two young men as recklessly intoxicated as they.
Susan, in an attitude she had seen often enough but had never
dreamed of taking, was laughing wildly at a coarse song, was
standing up, skirts caught high and body swaying in drunken
rhythm as she led the chorus.
When the barkeeper announced closing time, one of the young men
said to her:
"To hell," laughed she. "I've been thrown out everywhere else.
Want to go along?"
"I'll never desert a perfect lady," replied he. X
SHE was like one who has fallen bleeding and broken into a
cave; who after a time gathers himself together and crawls
toward a faint and far distant gleam of light; who suddenly
sees the light no more and at the same instant lurches forward
and down into a deeper chasm.
Occasionally sheer exhaustion of nerves made it impossible for
her to drink herself again into apathy before the effects of
the last doses of the poison had worn off. In these intervals
of partial awakening--she never permitted them to lengthen out,
as such sensation as she had was of one
falling--falling--through empty space--with whirling brain and
strange sounds in the ears and strange distorted sights or
hallucinations before the eyes--falling
down--down--whither?--to how great a depth?--or was there no
bottom, but simply presently a plunging on down into the black
of death's bottomless oblivion?
Drink--always drink. Yet in every other way she took care of
her health--a strange mingling of prudence and subtle hope with
recklessness and frank despair. All her refinement, baffled in
the moral ways, concentrated upon the physical. She would be
neat and well dressed; she would not let herself be seized of
the diseases on the pariah in those regions--the diseases
through dirt and ignorance and indifference.
In the regions she now frequented recklessness was the keynote.
There was the hilarity of the doomed; there was the cynical or
stolid indifference to heat or cold, to rain or shine, to rags,
to filth, to jail, to ejection for nonpayment of rent, to
insult of word or blow. The fire engines--the ambulance--the
patrol wagon--the city dead wagon--these were all ever passing
and repassing through those swarming streets. It was the
vastest, the most populous tenement area of the city. Its
inhabitants represented the common lot--for it is the common
lot of the overwhelming mass of mankind to live near to
nakedness, to shelterlessness, to starvation, without ever
being quite naked or quite roofless or quite starved. The
masses are eager for the necessities; the classes are eager for
the comforts and luxuries. The masses are ignorant; the
classes are intelligent--or, at least, shrewd. The unconscious
and inevitable exploitation of the masses by the classes
automatically and of necessity stops just short of the
catastrophe point--for the masses must have enough to give them
the strength to work and reproduce. To go down through the
social system as had Susan from her original place well up
among the classes is like descending from the beautiful dining
room of the palace where the meat is served in taste and
refinement upon costly dishes by well mannered servants to
attractively dressed people--descending along the various stages
of the preparation of the meat, at each stage less of
refinement and more of coarseness, until one at last arrives at
the slaughter pen. The shambles, stinking and reeking blood
and filth! The shambles, with hideous groan or shriek, or more
hideous silent look of agony! The shambles of society where
the beauty and grace and charm of civilization are created out
of noisome sweat and savage toil, out of the health and
strength of men and women and children, out of their ground up
bodies, out of their ground up souls. Susan knew those regions
well. She had no theories about them, no resentment against
the fortunate classes, no notion that any other or better
system might be possible, any other or better life for the
masses. She simply accepted life as she found it, lived it as
best she could.
Throughout the masses of mankind life is sustained by
illusions--illusions of a better lot tomorrow, illusions of a
heaven beyond a grave, where the nightmare, life in the body,
will end and the reality, life in the spirit, will begin. She
could not join the throngs moving toward church and synagogue
to indulge in their dream that the present was a dream from
which death would be a joyful awakening. She alternately
pitied and envied them. She had her own dream that this dream,
the present, would end in a joyful awakening to success and
freedom and light and beauty. She admitted to herself that the
dream was probably an illusion, like that of the pious throngs.
But she was as unreasonably tenacious of her dream as they were
of theirs. She dreamed it because she was a human being--and
to be human means to hope, and to hope means to dream of a
brighter future here or hereafter, or both here and hereafter.
The earth is peopled with dreamers; she was but one of them.
The last thought of despair as the black earth closes is a
hope, perhaps the most colossal of hope's delusions, that there
will be escape in the grave.
There is the time when we hope and know it and believe in it.
There is the time when we hope and know it but have ceased to
believe in it. There is the time when we hope, believing that
we have altogether ceased to hope. That time had come for
Susan. She seemed to think about the present. She moved about
like a sleepwalker.
What women did she know--what men? She only dimly remembered
from day to day--from hour to hour. Blurred faces passed
before her, blurred voices sounded in her ears, blurred
personalities touched hers. It was like the jostling of a huge
crowd in night streets. A vague sense of buffetings--of rude
contacts--of momentary sensations of pain, of shame, of
disgust, all blunted and soon forgotten.
In estimating suffering, physical or mental, to fail to take
into account a more important factor--the merciful paralysis or
partial paralysis of any center of sensibility--that is
She no longer had headaches or nausea after drinking deeply.
And where formerly it had taken many stiff doses of liquor to
get her into the state of recklessness or of indifference, she
was now able to put herself into the mood in which life was
endurable with two or three drinks, often with only one. The
most marked change was that never by any chance did she become
gay; the sky over her life was steadily gray--gray or black, to
gray again--never lighter.
How far she had fallen! But swift descent or gradual, she had
adapted herself--had, in fact, learned by much experience of
disaster to mitigate the calamities, to have something to keep
a certain deep-lying self of selfs intact--unaffected by what
she had been forced to undergo. It seemed to her that if she
could get the chance--or could cure herself of the blindness
which was always preventing her from seeing and seizing the
chance that doubtless offered again and again--she could shed
the surface her mode of life had formed over her and would find
underneath a new real surface, stronger, sightly, better able
to bear--like the skin that forms beneath the healing wound.
In these tenements, as in all tenements of all degrees, she and
the others of her class were fiercely resented by the heads of
families where there was any hope left to impel a striving
upward. She had the best furnished room in the tenement. She
was the best dressed woman--a marked and instantly recognizable
figure because of her neat and finer clothes. Her profession
kept alive and active the instincts for care of the person that
either did not exist or were momentary and feeble in the
respectable women. The slovenliness, the scurrilousness of
even the wives and daughters of the well-to-do and the rich of
that region would not have been tolerated in any but the lowest
strata of her profession, hardly even in those sought by men of
the laboring class. Also, the deep horror of disease, which
her intelligence never for an instant permitted to relax its
hold, made her particular and careful when in other
circumstances drink might have reduced her to squalor. She
spent all her leisure time--for she no longer read--in the care
of her person.
She was watched with frightened, yet longing and curious, eyes
by all the girls who were at work. The mothers hated her; many
of them spat upon the ground after she had passed. It was a
heart-breaking struggle, that of these mothers to save their
daughters, not from prostitution, not from living with men
outside marriage, not from moral danger, but from the practical
danger, the danger of bringing into the world children with no
father to help feed and clothe them. In the opinion of these
people--an opinion often frankly expressed, rarely concealed
with any but the thinnest hypocrisy--the life of prostitution
was not so bad. Did the life of virtue offer any attractive
alternative? Whether a woman was "bad" or "good," she must
live in travail and die in squalor to be buried in or near the
Potter's Field. But if the girl still living at home were not
"good," that would mean a baby to be taken care of, would mean
the girl herself not a contributor to the family support but a
double burden. And if she went into prostitution, would her
family get the benefit? No.
The mothers made little effort to save their sons; they
concentrated on the daughters. It was pitiful to see how in
their ignorance they were unaware of the strongest forces
working against them. The talk of all this motley humanity--of
"good" no less than "bad" women, of steady workingmen, of
political heelers, thieves and bums and runners for dives--was
frankly, often hideously, obscene. The jammed together way of
living made modesty impossible, or scantest decency--made the
pictures of it among the aspiring few, usually for the benefit
of religion or charitable visitors, a pitiful, grotesque
hypocrisy. Indeed, the prostitute class was the highest in
this respect. The streetwalkers, those who prospered, had
better masters, learned something about the pleasures and
charms of privacy, also had more leisure in which to think, in
however crude a way, about the refinements of life, and more
money with which to practice those refinements. The boys from
the earliest age were on terms of licentious freedom with the
girls. The favorite children's games, often played in the open
street with the elders looking on and laughing, were sex games.
The very babies used foul language--that is, used the language
they learned both at home and in the street. It was primitive
man; Susan was at the foundation of the world.
To speak of the conditions there as a product of civilization
is to show ignorance of the history of our race, is to fancy
that we are civilized today, when in fact we
are--historically--in a turbulent and painful period of
transition from a better yesterday toward a tomorrow in which
life will be worth living as it never has been before in all
the ages of duration. In this today of movement toward
civilization which began with the discovery of iron and will
end when we shall have discovered how to use for the benefit of
all the main forces of nature--in this today of agitation
incident to journeying, we are in some respects better off, in
other respects worse off, than the race was ten or fifteen
thousand years ago. We have lost much of the freedom that was
ours before the rise of governments and ruling classes; we have
gained much--not so much as the ignorant and the unthinking and
the uneducated imagine, but still much. In the end we which
means the masses of us--will gain infinitely. But gain or loss
has not been in so-called morality. There is not a virtue that
has not existed from time ages before record. Not a vice which
is shallowly called "effete" or the "product of
overcivilization," but originated before man was man.
To speak of the conditions in which Susan Lenox now lived as
savagery is to misuse the word. Every transitional stage is
accompanied by a disintegration. Savagery was a settled state
in which every man and every woman had his or her fixed
position, settled duties and rights. With the downfall of
savagery with the beginning of the journey toward that hope of
tomorrow, civilization, everything in the relations of men with
men and men with women, became unsettled. Such social systems
as the world has known since have all been makeshift and
temporary--like our social systems of today, like the moral and
extinct codes rising and sinking in power over a vast multitude
of emigrants moving from a distant abandoned home toward a
distant promised land and forced to live as best they can in
the interval. In the historic day's journey of perhaps fifteen
thousand years our present time is but a brief second. In that
second there has come a breaking up of the makeshift
organization which long served the working multitudes fairly
well. The result is an anarchy in which the strong oppress the
weak, in which the masses are being crushed by the burdens
imposed upon them by the classes. And in that particular part
of the human race en route into which fate had flung Susan
Lenox conditions not of savagery but of primitive chaos were
prevailing. A large part of the population lived off the
unhappy workers by prostitution, by thieving, by petty
swindling, by politics, by the various devices in coarse, crude
and small imitation of the devices employed by the ruling
classes. And these petty parasites imitated the big parasites
in their ways of spending their dubiously got gains. To have
a "good time" was the ideal here as in idle Fifth Avenue; and
the notions of a "good time" in vogue in the two opposite
quarters differed in degree rather than in kind.
Nothing to think about but the appetites and their vices.
Nothing to hope for but the next carouse. Susan had brought
down with her from above one desire unknown to her associates
and neighbors--the desire to forget. If she could only forget!
If the poison would not wear off at times!
She could not quite forget. And to be unable to forget is to
remember--and to remember is to long--and to long is to hope.