Produced by Steven desJardins and Distributed Proofreaders
FOR GOLD OR SOUL?
_THE STORY OF A GREAT DEPARTMENT STORE_
By LURANA W. SHELDON
FOR GOLD OR SOUL
IN THE SUPERINTENDENT’S OFFICE.
The monster department store of Messrs. Denton, Day & Co. was thronged with shoppers, although the morning was still young.
Scores of pale-faced women and narrow-chested men stood behind the counters, while “cash girls,” with waxen cheeks and scrawny figures, darted here and there on their ceaseless errands. On the fifth floor of the building, where the firm’s offices were quartered, a score or more of anxious girls and women waited eagerly for an opportunity to enter their applications for service.
At last a private door was opened by an elfish-looking boy, and the earliest applicant was allowed to enter, the boy warning her, as she did so, to “be quick about it.”
“So you are looking for work? Well, what can you do? Got any references? Talk fast, for I have no time to waste on applicants.”
The speaker was Mr. Duncan Forbes, junior partner, as well as business superintendent of the establishment, and the person spoken to was a beautiful girl, about seventeen years of age, who had called to apply for a position as saleswoman.
“I have never worked before, sir,” said the young girl, trying to obey and talk as rapidly as possible, “but I am sure I could learn in a very short time, if only you will give me a trial as saleswoman. Do please give me a trial!”
The keen-eyed superintendent looked over her scrutinizingly.
He at once saw that she was a girl unaccustomed to drudgery, and that her clothes were of fine materials, although they were fast growing shabby.
Her cheeks were rosy from plenty of exercise in the sun and air, her figure was rounded, and her carriage graceful.
She did not resemble in the least the sallow-faced specimens of womanhood who swarmed over Denton, Day & Co.’s various departments, but these very differences seemed to influence him against her. He wanted girls with experience, and experience, in their line of business, meant haggard expressions and sallow faces.
His answer was as heartless as crisp words could make it.
“Can’t do it! The thing would be ridiculous! We have no time nor inclination to break in green hands, besides, we’ve got help enough at present; it’s almost our dull season.”
“But I would be a cash girl, anything!” the girl urged, eagerly. “Oh, I need work so badly, and I’ve been all over the city!”
The tears had risen to her eyes and were trembling on her lashes. She clasped her hands entreatingly as the superintendent rudely turned his back upon her.
“Can’t do it, I tell you, so there’s no use taking up any more of my time! Well, what is it, Watkins?”
The question was addressed to an employee, a pale, slim young man, who had just entered the office.
“Excuse me, Mr. Forbes, but there’s three clerks absent to-day. They have sent word that they are sick. Mr. Gibson told me to tell you.”
“Who are they, do you know?”
Mr. Forbes spoke sharply, his face flushing with anger.
“Miss Jennings and Miss Brown–” began the young man, but his superior stopped him before he could finish.
“That Miss Jennings is faking! She is no more sick than I am! This is the third time this month that she has staid away because of sickness! It’s probably an excuse to go on some picnic or other. Tell Mr. Gibson that I say to fine her double the regular amount. We must put a stop to this sham sickness among the women clerks; it’s getting too frequent!”
“But I am sure Miss Jennings is sick,” began Mr. Watkins, impetuously. “You should hear her cough! And I know her mother died of consumption.”
“You know too much for your own good, Watkins,” broke in the superintendent, sharply. “Just keep your knowledge to yourself if you wish to hold your position in this establishment!”
A flush rose quickly to the young man’s brow. He bit his lips and locked his fingers together nervously.
It was plain that another word would have meant his immediate discharge, and there was an invalid mother depending upon him. He was obliged to hold his peace, though the words almost choked him. “Then I am to tell Mr. Gibson to double Miss Jennings’ fine.”
The superintendent broke in upon him again in his snappiest manner.
He had suddenly turned and caught sight of the timid young applicant, who was standing almost motionless in the centre of the office.
“No!” he roared out, angrily. “Tell him to discharge Miss Jennings at once! Here is a girl he can take on in her place. She’s green, but Miss Fairbanks, the buyer, can train her.”
“Oh! no, sir! Not for the world!”
It was a cry of almost horror that issued from the young girl’s lips. Even Mr. Forbes looked startled, and he was not usually startled at anything.
The applicant was standing before him now, with her head held high and her blue eyes flashed like diamonds over his shameful proposition.
“Oh, no, sir! I beg that you will not dream of doing such a thing. I would starve before I would deprive that poor girl of her position. If you have no place for me, I will go at once. If I were to take her place it would be a cruel injustice!”
She looked him fearlessly in the face as she spoke the words. Her whole manner had changed. She was timid no longer.
Mr. Forbes stared at her curiously for half a minute. He saw that there was a spirit in her that would make her valuable in business.
In an instant his manner changed to a studied indifference. He rubbed his hands together gently, toying with a fine ring upon his finger.
“But I shall discharge Miss Jennings any way, so if you do not accept the position I will give it to some one else,” he said. “You can take it or leave it. Decide quick; which is it?”
For the space of a second the applicant wavered, but in that second she read something in Mr. Watkins’ expression. His look was unmistakable. He was waiting to see if she faltered in her decision.
She raised her head and looked Mr. Forbes squarely in the eyes.
“I thank you, sir, for your offer,” she said, as calmly as she could, “but I would rather die than do anything I considered wrong, and this act of yours is both wicked and unjust! God will punish you for your cruelty to that poor Miss Jennings!”
She turned and walked toward the door, leaving Mr. Forbes and Mr. Watkins both staring after her.
A HUMBLE BEGINNING.
It was the second time that the young girl had succeeded in startling the superintendent, but this time she had accomplished far more than she knew, for her few words fell upon the brain of the business man with a significance that for a moment almost overcame him. Under favorable conditions far less thrilling words than these have taken root and yielded a bountiful harvest, but the time for this man’s awakening was at hand. His only son, a youth of nineteen, was lying critically ill at home, and, while Mr. Forbes was worldly, he was also unusually superstitious, and her words, “God will punish you,” rang in his ears like a blast from a trumpet.
Almost involuntarily he took a step forward. He could not explain so unusual an action.
“Wait!” he said, peremptorily.
The young girl paused, with her hand on the door.
“I am not so cruel as you think, miss,” he said, trying to speak as sternly as ever, “so your speech just now was entirely uncalled for. If you are really in desperate need of work, I can give you a position as packer at three dollars a week. This is the best I can offer. Do you care to accept it?”
“I will take any position where I am not defrauding any one else, sir,” the girl answered, quickly. “But I could not accept what belongs to another. I think that money so earned would prove a curse instead of a blessing.”
The superintendent stared at her with a puzzled look.
“What is your name?” he asked, after this second scrutiny of her features.
“Faith Marvin, sir,” replied the applicant, promptly.
Mr. Forbes repeated the name a little absently.
Miss Marvin watched him eagerly. Her face had flushed a little.
“I’ve heard that name somewhere, but I can’t think where,” remarked Mr. Forbes, with a glance toward Mr. Watkins, “but it don’t matter about the name. Come to-morrow morning at seven-thirty, sharp, and I’ll set you to work. Well, what is it, Jackson?”
Another employee had entered hurriedly.
As he stood directly in her way, Miss Marvin could not leave the office at once, so she was forced to hear the conversation that followed.
“There’s one of them Government Inspectors on the first floor, sir,” reported the newcomer, “and she’s a sharp one, I can tell you! Mr. Gibson wants to know if you’ll come down and see her. It’s the lavatories, sir; she’s determined to see ’em.”
The change that came over the superintendent’s face at this announcement was astonishing. His naturally florid features grew as red as a blaze, and he actually increased in size as he swelled with indignation.
“Another of those prying, inquisitive people, hey!” he cried furiously. “Another spy to look over the store and report to the Board of Health that our plumbing is out of order! Tell Mr. Gibson I’ll come down at once, and see here, Jackson, tell him to keep her on the first floor. I’ll send the porter to the basement to open the windows. They shall not get ahead of me, the impudent creatures. The firm of Denton, Day & Co. is not going to waste money on new-fangled sanitary improvements just to please a lot of cranks with sensitive noses!”
Mr. Jackson hurried away at once to report to the manager, Mr. Gibson, leaving his employer still fuming and growing angrier every minute.
He was so terrible in his anger that Miss Marvin was glad when she was able to slip through the door at last and pick her way through the group of applicants, who were still patiently waiting.
Mr. Forbes took no notice of her departure, as he was pushing back the papers on his desk, preparatory to closing it.
Suddenly he uttered an exclamation that made Mr. Watkins jump. He had been looking over a file of letters, but turned quickly to see what was the matter.
“Quick, Watkins, stop her! Stop her!” cried the superintendent, sharply. “There were five hundred dollars on my desk ten minutes ago! It’s gone, every cent of it. Quick, I tell you. Stop her!”
Mr. Watkins was over to the door before he asked the question.
“Faith Marvin, that girl that was looking for a job. The money was on the desk while she was here in the office. She’s stolen it and gone, and to think, I offered her a position!”
Mr. Forbes ran his hands through his hair and glared at Mr. Watkins.
“Well, why don’t you go?” he thundered, as the young man stood stock still, staring at him like a dummy.
Mr. Watkins hurried from the office on his disagreeable errand. He would have staked his all that the girl had not touched the money.
Mr. Forbes made a hurried search through his desk while the young man was gone. He was so upset about his loss that he had forgotten the Government Inspector completely.
The five hundred dollars was not to be found and Mr. Forbes was allowing his temper full vent–through the usual medium of blasphemous profanity.
He was so positive that the girl would be caught at once that he almost gasped when Mr. Watkins came back without her.
“She’s gone, sir,” said the young man, shortly. “The detective here saw her go out. She went down the elevator and out the side entrance. Bob’s description of her is all right. I am sure it was Miss Marvin.”
Bob Hardy, a store detective, came in while Mr. Watkins was speaking.
“I’m right, sir; couldn’t be mistaken. She was out like an arrow,” he said, respectfully.
“And to think that I was stupid enough not to take her address, but probably she would have lied about it. Those creatures are always tricky,” snarled the superintendent.
The detective took a step forward and removed his hat.
“There’ll be no trouble in finding her, sir,” he said; “I know who she is. I’ve seen her a dozen times before, and I’m not apt to be mistaken.”
The superintendent looked at him questioningly, so the officer went on:
“She’s the daughter of Douglass Marvin, who used to keep a bookstore in this block. Denton, Day & Co. put him out of business when they opened their book department. He committed suicide soon after he failed. He left a wife and this daughter, and not a penny.”
“Then the deed was deliberate!” cried Mr. Forbes, almost choking with anger. “The girl is trying to square accounts for what we did to her father!”
Mr. Watkins uttered the word with extraordinary daring.
“She came here to look for a job, and you have offered her one, Mr. Forbes! Mark my words, she’ll be on hand to-morrow morning at half-past seven!”
“And the money?”
The superintendent turned upon the speaker with a perfect thundercloud darkening his face.
“Perhaps, as you know so much, Watkins, you can explain about the money!”
Before any one could answer the door opened and Mr. Jackson came in again.
“Please, Mr. Forbes, the manager says come down quick, sir!” he cried, with a grin. “He can’t keep that Government woman out of the basement much longer.”
A GLIMPSE OF THE DARKNESS.
When Faith Marvin reached the employees’ entrance of Denton, Day & Co.’s department store the next morning at half-past seven, she was shown into a room that was a sort of cloak-room, lunch-room and lavatory combined, in the basement of the building.
The place was poorly lighted and badly ventilated, and there were fully two hundred women and girls crowding and jostling each other while they hung up their wraps and put on false sleeves and black aprons.
For a while the din was confusing, but Faith soon began to see and hear distinctly.
She was amazed and then horrified at the snatches of conversation she heard. Even a little cash girl used language that was almost profanity, and others made remarks of a most heartless nature.
Here and there Faith saw a face that looked different from the rest. They were mostly pale, pinched faces, bearing deep lines of care, but they all looked stolid, hardened and indifferent.
“I suppose it’s the hard work and worry,” whispered Faith, involuntarily. Just then she felt some one tapping her smartly on the shoulder.
She turned quickly and confronted a woman about her own height, who had the sharpest pair of eyes that Faith ever remembered seeing.
“Is this Faith Marvin?”
The woman spoke softly, but her voice was cold and metallic.
“It is,” answered Faith. “I was told to come this morning. Can you give me any information as to where I am to go? I see the others are all hurrying upstairs, but there is no one to direct me.”
The woman had not taken her eyes from Faith’s face while the young girl was talking. She seemed to be scanning her features with more than ordinary curiosity.
“Where do you live?”
The question was asked by the woman in a business-like manner, but as Faith hesitated before answering the sharp eyes twinkled a little.
“Am I obliged to give my address?” asked Faith very slowly.
“Certainly–it’s the rule of the house.”
The woman frowned as she answered.
Faith gave her address in a faltering voice. She had hoped to be able to keep that a secret.
The woman wrote down the address on a piece of paper.
“A mother and father?” was the next brief question.
Faith’s face was scarlet now, but she answered promptly.
“A mother, yes; but my father is dead. He was Douglass Marvin. He owned a bookstore in this block. When Denton, Day & Co. opened their book department my father was ruined.”
The woman looked at her enviously as she asked the next question.
“How did you happen to come to this store to look for work? Don’t you resent the injury that was done to your father?”
In a second Faith Marvin’s eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, no!” she cried hastily. “I bear no resentment! I know it is always the weak who must suffer! I came here because I was desperately in need of work. My mother’s health is failing and we are penniless.”
“Well, it’s lucky you’re so forgiving,” said the woman with a peculiar stare; “but come, you must report to Miss Fairbanks, the buyer in the ribbon department! She’s on the first floor. I’ll take you to her.”
Miss Fairbanks looked Faith over almost as sharply as the other woman had done.
She was short-handed that morning, so there was no time for preliminaries.
“Ever work in a store before?” was her first business-like question.
“No, madam,” said Faith timidly; “I have had no experience at all, but I am sure I shall learn quickly if you will be so kind as to teach me.”
She was beginning to tremble a little for fear the woman would not try her.
“Oh, I guess you’ll do if you are not too stuck up,” said the buyer carelessly. “Girls who have never worked in a store always think they know it all, and that sort of thing doesn’t go, not in my department!”
She led Faith up to one of the gates at the ribbon counter and showed her how to crawl up to the packer’s desk above the shelves, where the stock was kept.
“Now, when one of the saleswomen hands you up a check and some ribbon you must measure the ribbon carefully to see that the firm is not being cheated,” she explained in a shrill voice, “and if one of the girls makes a mistake report it to me immediately.”
Faith was up by this time and trying to accommodate herself to the awkward position, while she listened intently to all the buyer’s instructions.
The packer’s desk was so low that it cramped her limbs even in sitting, and Faith soon saw that she was older and larger than any other girl in that position on the floor.
This fact alone made her feel awkward and uncomfortable, and when she saw one of the clerks looking up at her and tittering she blushed and nearly cried through sheer embarrassment. To add to her nervousness she soon noticed that two men, who were standing in one of the aisles, were watching her every movement for some reason or other. She was thankful when the checks and goods began to come up. It was a relief to keep her eyes on the different packages.
Faith had never had much experience in doing up parcels, but she managed very nicely after her hands stopped trembling.
Long before noon she was aching in every muscle. The dust that rose from the floor was irritating her throat and the store was so hot that her head was aching.
She looked down at the clerks, who had been on their feet steadily since eight o’clock, and began to understand the callousness of their expressions. A great throb of pity for them, rather than for herself, dimmed her eyes for an instant so that she could not see her packages.
During that first few hours Faith could not help noticing how often Number 89 sent up goods to be wrapped. There were double as many sales to her credit as to any of the others at the counter, and at a leisure moment she leaned over and looked down at her.
Just as she did so Number 89 was seized with a fit of coughing. It was over in a minute, but was extremely severe while it lasted.
In spite of herself Faith could not resist glancing at her often, and once when she caught her eye she smiled at her pleasantly.
The effect was magical.
Number 89 soon handed up a check and three yards of ribbon, and as their hands met over the goods she caught and squeezed the “packer’s” little finger.
“I’m sorry you have such a cough!”
Faith whispered the words quickly.
Number 89 was about to reply when Miss Fairbanks, the buyer, passed the counter.
“No loitering, Miss Jennings! Don’t you see there are customers waiting? Forward at once! And you, packer, attend to business! I see you have goods in your hands. Wrap them up this minute!”
SOME UNPLEASANT INFORMATION.
Faith’s face turned scarlet, but she obeyed at once. The next instant the buyer was forgotten. She was thinking of Miss Jennings.
So the superintendent had not carried out his threat after all. He could not have forgotten it, his anger had been too genuine.
Faith was thankful enough that the poor girl was still at work, although she looked sick enough to be in bed in the care of a doctor.
As Faith looked at her she could see plainly the stamp of death upon her brow. Her cheeks were bloodless and her eyes were sunken.
After eleven o’clock the girls took turns in going to their luncheons. Some repaired to the basement lunch room, while others who could afford it patronized the nearby restaurants.
It was a pleasant surprise to Faith when Miss Jennings joined her in the lunch room. She had a paper bag in her hand, while Faith carried a small basket.
Almost instinctively the two girls drew away from the others. There was a bond of sympathy between them that they could not account for.
“Do tell me your name,” whispered Miss Jennings at once. “It does sound so ‘shoppy’ to be always saying ‘packer.'”
She had opened her bag and taken out a cracker. It was evident that there was no time to be wasted in lunching.
“Call me Faith, if you will. I should like to have you so much! I think it will make me feel a little less strange,” was the impulsive answer.
“I will if you’ll call me Mary,” replied Miss Jennings. “I’ve just been longing to talk to you all the morning, but there’s no dodging Miss Fairbanks’ eye; it’s always upon you.”
“Are we not supposed to speak at all?” asked Faith, who was forgetting to eat her luncheon.
“Oh, yes, we can speak, but not if there are customers waiting. But, tell me, how do you happen to be a packer? You are too old for that kind of work, and quite too clever, I’m sure,” said Miss Jennings kindly.
Faith told her how difficult it had been to get any position at all, but she did not dream of telling her how closely her name and work had been connected with the matter.
When she spoke of Mr. Forbes, Miss Jennings fairly shuddered.
“He’s a terrible brute,” she said in a nervous whisper. “And what do you think, Faith; he’s a Sunday-school teacher!”
“Oh no, it can’t be!”
Faith caught her breath with a shiver.
“I mean, it doesn’t seem possible,” she added after a minute.
“Yes, he is,” reiterated Miss Jennings soberly.
“I used to go to the same church. Now I don’t go to any–I have no use for religion!”
She started coughing, and this gave Faith an opportunity to recover from the shock. When the spasm was over she put her arms affectionately over Miss Jennings’ shoulder.
“What has turned you against religion, dear?” she asked very softly. “Is it such men as Mr. Forbes, or just the bitterness from misfortune?”
“Both,” said Miss Jennings stubbornly and with a little frown on her face.
“If God is good, why is there so much misery? If He is just, why are we subjected to such terrible oppression, and if He is merciful, why doesn’t He hear us when we pray to Him to help us bear our burdens?”
There was a ring of defiance in Miss Jennings’ tones. As Faith looked at the pinched features her frame became almost convulsed with anguish.
“Oh, I wish I could answer all your questions, dear!” she cried softly, “and I can, I am sure, if you will just lay aside your bitterness! You are holding black glasses to your own eyes, you poor child, but the light will come; you must keep on praying for it!”
“There is no use, Faith. I’ve prayed until I’m tired. But don’t mind me, dear. I’m what they call a pessimist. I look on the dark side of everything, I suppose; but listen, do you hear what that cash girl is saying?”
Faith shook her head. She had heard nothing but her companion’s words.
“Jack Forbes is dying! I saw it in the paper. That’s why the old bear isn’t here to-day, I suppose! It will just serve him right! I’m not a bit sorry!”
Cash girl Number 9 laughed shrilly as she finished her announcement, and in the remarks that followed Faith learned who Jack Forbes was, and that he was a really fine fellow in spite of his gold-loving father.
In a second she understood also why Miss Jennings was still working. No doubt she would be discharged as soon as Mr. Forbes came back to business.
She moved nearer to her companion as this thought flashed through her mind.
Just then a man stuck his head in the lunch room and looked around. When he saw Faith he stared a minute, and then disappeared very suddenly.
“Hello! Wonder who Hardy is after?” cried one of the girls.
“Who was he?” asked Faith in a whisper of Miss Jennings. “I’ve seen him watching me several times this morning.”
Miss Jennings straightened up and looked at her a minute.
“He’s one of the house detectives,” she said slowly, “and you happen to be a new girl. Don’t bother about him, Faith. They are always watching some one.”
“Couldn’t hold their jobs if they didn’t,” chimed in a clerk who had overheard her.
“They have to arrest some one regularly about once in so often. I hope some day they’ll arrest the wrong person. It would cost old Denton a pretty penny!”
Just then another clerk from the ribbon counter came up and joined them.
“Did you hear about that inspector coming here yesterday, girls? Well, it didn’t do any good, for old Forbes fooled her completely! She didn’t get a peep at this room or a sniff at these odors. He means to poison us all to death with sewer gas before he’s done with us, but perhaps it will be just as pleasant a death as any other.”
Faith Marvin looked up at the speaker with an expression of horror in her eyes.
“Do you mean to say that this place is really unhealthy, and that the firm refuses to comply with the law on such matters?”
“I mean to say that Denton, Day & Co. comply with no law whatever except their own sweet will, and that is to overwork, underpay and bulldoze their employees and then kick them out at a minute’s notice.”
The girl spoke the words with apparent indifference. Only a long-drawn sigh at their conclusion showed the inmost feeling on the subject.
Faith sprang to her feet with flashing eyes.
“Then that accounts for the haggard faces of the girls whom I have seen this morning! Oh, we must do something at once to alter these conditions! Our employers are but men; they must have hearts in their bosoms!”
“You don’t know them, Faith.”
It was Miss Jennings who spoke. She was trying her best to conquer another fit of coughing.
“Our employers look upon us girls as so many machines, created for the sole purpose of filling their coffers, and it is this God whom you respect who allows them to abuse us! to grind us into the dust because we are helpless!”
The ring of bitterness in her tones appalled all who heard her except Faith, who threw her arms about her tenderly as she answered:
“No, no, Mary! Don’t say that! You are mistaken, dear! God is watching over us all with the tenderest love, and from this whirlwind of injustice He will yet reap a harvest of good! I believe it! I know it, and I shall live to see it!”
THE FIRST INSULT.
As the young girl gave utterance to these words of prophecy her beautiful eyes were luminous with the fire of a noble purpose. She drew her graceful form to its full height and her voice rang out like the peal of a bell, carrying the message of hope to all that heard it.
Before any one could think of answering, two gentlemen suddenly appeared in the doorway of the poorly lighted room.
When the saleswomen and cash girls saw them they almost stopped breathing, for the two men were the two senior members of the firm, who, for some reason or others, were going over the store together.
Both men stared at Faith in open amazement. It was plain that they had overheard her words, and were surprised at such sentiments from the lips of a greenhorn “packer.”
Mr. Denton, a gray-haired man with a fairly benevolent face, seemed more disturbed than his partner over the extraordinary utterance, but as neither of them had heard what Miss Jennings had said, their surprise passed quickly and they began talking together.
“This is the room that they complain of,” said Mr. Day, with a contemptuous gesture. “Those sneaking inspectors seem bent on making us as much trouble and expense as possible.”
Mr. Denton peered around the room, and even sniffed a little.
“I do not consider it exactly healthy down here,” he said, slowly, “but of course you know best, Mr. Day; you have charge of that department. I should not dream of interfering. I know you will do your duty.”
“Certainly, certainly,” said Mr. Day, promptly. He was a short, stout man, and exceedingly curt and pompous.
“I consider it quite healthy enough for our purpose, Mr. Denton; for what do our salespeople know of modern sanitary improvements?”
“That is so,” replied Mr. Denton, with a smile of satisfaction. “What do they know, indeed? Why, they are nearly all of them from the garrets of some tenement or other. They have never been accustomed to anything better, nor perhaps half as comfortable.”
They passed out of the room, leaving Faith almost speechless with horror.
In her whole life she had never dreamed of such cowardly injustice.
“Now you know that I am right, Faith,” Miss Jennings remarked, with a harsh laugh. “Now you have seen for yourself what we have to expect from our employers.”
“They look on us as a lot of rats from some garret or other,” added the clerk who had spoken so bitterly before. “But, time’s up; we must go back and take in some more money for the darlings.”
Faith stifled a sob as she took Miss Jennings’ arm and started upstairs. She was pained and disgusted, but by no means discouraged.
“There must be some way,” she whispered to Miss Jennings. “It looks very dark, I am willing to admit, but with God all things are possible. I shall not give up. There must be some way of bringing the light into this place. Just now it seems lost in a terrible darkness.”
“If God had wished it to be different He would have changed it long ago,” muttered Miss Jennings. “But He doesn’t care, Faith. Don’t tell me that He cares! Why, I am dying, dying, yet He cares nothing about it!”
She broke out into such a terrible fit of coughing that she had to stop on the stairs. Faith kept her arm about her until the spell was over.
When they reached the floor they were two minutes late.
Miss Fairbanks met them and scolded them both severely.
Faith noticed that Miss Jennings did not offer to explain the delay. She would have explained it herself if her companion had not stopped her in a whisper.
“It’s no use, Faith; she won’t believe it, or, if she did, she’d say I had no right to cough. Poor devil! She treats the people under her just as Forbes treats her. They are a lot of slave drivers and slaves together!”
Faith crawled up to her desk feeling sick at heart. She was overwhelmed with the knowledge of evil which was being forced upon her.
During the afternoon she found time to write a few words on a bit of paper and slip it into Miss Jennings’ hand without the buyer seeing her.
“Dear Mary,” she wrote, “don’t give up in despair. I am sure that Mr. Denton is a good man, only weak and indifferent. I shall pray to-night that God will open his eyes–then to-morrow I shall try personally to talk to him, for I believe that prayer and effort should always go together. Who knows but that I may be able to brighten things a little? It certainly is worth trying for–to bring the light into dark places.”
Miss Jennings watched her chance and handed back her reply.
“It’s no use, I tell you, Faith. His heart is like stone. You’ll only lose your place. Take my advice and don’t do it.”
Faith smiled at her brightly as she read the words. They were characteristic of Miss Jennings, philosophic but bitter.
A few minutes later a dashing young man passed by the counter. The clerks all seemed to know him, and several of the prettiest girls in the department smiled at him openly in a way that Faith thought very immodest. As he caught sight of the new packer he stopped abruptly and stared at her.
“Who the deuce is that?” Faith heard him say to one of the saleswomen, a girl whose cheeks were flaming with paint and whose appearance was that of a very vulgar person.
“I’m sure I don’t know, Mr. Denton,” replied the girl, with a simper. “She’s a new packer that was taken on this morning. I haven’t heard her name, and I don’t know as I want to.”
“Oh, you’re jealous of her, are you, Mag?” said the young man with a laugh. “Well, I don’t wonder, for she is a peach. I’m in love with her this minute!”
“You’re a flirt, all right, Mr. Denton,” said the girl, with a pout. “I think she’s as awkward as anything, and her color is abominable.”
“She’s as fresh as a daisy,” was the young man’s answer. “Forbes had an eye for beauty when he hired that lovely creature.”
“You men have queer taste,” snapped the saleswoman, angrily, but the young man had passed on, staring at Faith all the way. Miss Fairbanks greeted him with a bow that was positively servile.
“That’s old Denton’s son Jim,” explained Miss Jennings to Faith as she handed up a check. “He’s a regular masher. Comes in here every few days, just to flirt with the girls. They say he’s very wild and costs his father a lot of money.”
“He is very bold,” was Faith’s whispered answer. “Why, he stared at me as if I were a dummy instead of a lady.”
“Oh, we are none of us ladies: we are only clerks,” replied Miss Jennings, bitterly. “If we were to snub Jim Denton he would make a lot of trouble for us.”
“Mercy!” cried Faith. “It doesn’t seem possible! Why, there seems to be pitfalls on every side for the girl who earns her own living.”
Miss Fairbanks was coming, so the conversation was ended abruptly.
Miss Jennings went back to a customer who had just stopped at the counter.
“Show me some yellow ribbon, right away, miss,” she said, very sharply. “I want to match this sample. Here, take a good look at it!”
Faith glanced down and saw that the customer was an ignorant-looking woman. She had on tawdry clothing and a lot of cheap jewelry.
Miss Jennings took the sample and glanced at it sharply.
“Do you wish exactly the same shade and width?” she asked, very politely.
“Of course! What did you suppose I brought the sample for if I don’t?” cried the woman. “You must be a dunce to ask such a question!”
Faith felt her cheeks grow hot at this arrogant insult, but Miss Jennings replied as quietly as ever, “I cannot give you the same shade nor the same width exactly, madam. This is the nearest I have.”
She handed her a roll that was a little different from the sample.
“But you must have it! Look again!” commanded the woman, angrily. “You are just trying to save yourself trouble, you lazy hussy!”
Miss Jennings turned very indifferently and called to another of the saleswomen:
“Miss Jones, have we any number twelve lemon in reserve? Here’s a sample, and this lady is anxious to match it.”
Miss Jones glanced at the sample that Miss Jennings was holding.
“You know very well that we are all out of that,” she replied, sharply. “How often have I told you not to bother me with such questions!”
Miss Jennings handed the sample to the customer without the slightest trace of emotion.
“The ‘head of stock’ says we have none. I trust you will believe her, madam.”
The woman snatched her sample and hurried away, while Miss Jennings went to another customer as calmly as though nothing had happened.
Faith drew a long breath. Her cheeks were fairly tingling. She glanced about a little to see whether any one else had noticed the transaction.
The clerks were all moving about in their automatic way. It was plain that such occurrences as this amounted to nothing.
Suddenly Faith’s glance rested on a young man who was standing in the aisle where he could watch her every movement.
As their eyes met he raised his hat and smiled at her brazenly.
Faith gasped for breath. Her insulter was young Denton.
FAITH DISCOVERS A FRESH HORROR.
Faith dropped her eyes to her desk so that she would not see the fellow, but she could still feel the insulting gaze that was bent upon her.
She was glad when a great crowd of shoppers came surging in at the big doors, for the afternoons were always far busier than the mornings at this establishment.
Faith soon began to wonder if the goods could possibly come up to be wrapped very much faster. Her arms as well as her back were aching. The clerks were screaming for cash girls every other minute, for besides the packer above each counter there were a number of others at different points throughout the store and all were as busy as bees through the rush hours.
“There’s no rest for the weary.”
It was Miss Jennings who spoke. She was talking to a customer, a fine-looking old lady.
“I expect there isn’t, dear,” said the lady, pleasantly. “And you do look fagged out–I declare if you don’t. I hope you get good pay for standing all day behind this counter!”
Miss Jennings laughed in her harsh, dry way.
“I won’t shock you by telling you what I get,” she said wearily. “But if all my customers were like you it would not matter so much. It’s a pleasure to wait upon you! I hope you’ll come often.”
“Dear, dear! Well, I’m sorry if they are not all kind to you,” said the lady. “It is hard to have to work, but there is some good reason for it. It will all come right by and by; but tell me, child, what in the world is the matter?”
There was a terrible racket on the floor overhead. As the lady asked the question a perfect bedlam broke loose.
The next second the cry of “Fire!” was heard all over the building.
“Quick! Come behind the counter, madam!” cried Miss Jennings, trying to draw the old lady through the gate. “There’s a panic on the stairs! The mob will sweep through here directly!”
In less than a minute her words came true. There was a fearful rush of feet overhead, then with shrill shrieks of fright great crowds of women and children swept down the stairway. These were swelled by a small army of male and female clerks, until the whole lower floor was filled with a mob of struggling, pushing, human beings.
Miss Jennings succeeded in dragging the kind old lady behind the counter, then she began pulling away her goods as quickly as possible.
“Quick, girls! Get out while you can!” cried a frightened voice. “The second floor is all on fire! The ceiling will fall in a minute!”
Faith glanced around to see who had spoken. She was surprised to see that it was Miss Fairbanks, the buyer. In the hour of danger this coarse woman had actually thought to warn her charges, but she vanished in a second without waiting to see who followed.
“It will be folly to attempt to get out now,” Faith cried distinctly. “We would only be trampled to death! Wait a minute,–do, until the aisles get clearer!”
“Remain at your posts and look after your goods!” cried a voice that every one recognized as that of Mr. Gibson, the manager, “The fire amounts to nothing. It was a false alarm! Don’t one of you dare to leave your counters!”
“Do you expect us to stay here and burn up?” cried a woman’s voice. “Well, I, for one, won’t do it! Come on, Miss Jennings!”
“Not a step!” answered Miss Jennings in her shrill, weak voice. “You are a fool to trust your life in that howling mob, Kate! Wait a minute; we’ll get out all right if we keep our wits about us.”
“That’s right,” called Faith, standing erect at her desk. “Keep cool, girls; we are perfectly safe as long as we keep behind the counters.”
“You are a nervy one, miss,” said a voice at her ear.
Faith turned and saw that young Denton was standing close behind her.
“It is the only thing to do,” she said with perfect composure. “Those people are all crazy. See how they trample on each other!”
She was gazing over the store in a perfectly natural way. There was not a trace of fear or excitement upon her features.
“The floor managers are getting them under control, I think,” said the young man, who, like Faith, was as cool and composed as possible. “There they go–the very last of them–and the floor is deserted. Ten to one there’s no fire at all. I’ll go up and investigate.”
He sprang off the counter and bounded up the stairs. Faith could not help noticing that he was really a very manly fellow. She began to think that she had been mistaken regarding his insulting actions.
“There is no fire, I tell you!” called Mr. Gibson again. “It was only a puff of smoke on the second floor! Will people never learn to keep their heads at such times, I wonder!”
The most of the clerks were still behind the counters, and as the manager made this remark one of the oldest men in the store raised his head and answered him.
“Our customers probably know our facilities for fighting a fire,” he said sneeringly. “The place is a regular death-trap. No wonder they ran from it!”
“Keep your news to yourself, Block, if you please!” said Mr. Gibson quickly.
Some one called him at that instant or his reprimand would probably have been sharper.
Faith had heard both remarks, and so had the old lady, who was still standing beside Miss Jennings behind the ribbon counter.
“Is that true? Is the store such a fire-trap?” asked the old lady quickly. “Dear, dear, what a place to cage a lot of human beings!”
“The fire department has ordered the boss to put in more apparatus a dozen times that I know of,” answered Miss Jennings, promptly, “but the building is insured and so is the stock. What do they care about us! We must take our chances!”
“Well, I guess the danger is over now, so I’ll go,” said the lady. “Thank you, my dear, for your kindness. I wish I could do something to help you.”
“You have helped me with your sympathy,” said Miss Jennings, quickly.
“You shall see me again,” was the old lady’s reply. “As a Christian woman, I must look into this matter.”
She went away after shaking hands with Miss Jennings and smiling up at Faith in a friendly manner.
The clerks who had rushed down from the second floor at the alarm of fire were coming back slowly with a shamed look on their faces.
They trooped back up the stairs to their different departments just as a big sign was posted before the main entrance, stating that there was no fire in the building.
It was an exciting half hour, but through it all Faith stood erect, ready and calmly waiting for anything that might happen. In the very midst of the commotion her quick eyes detected a fresh horror. She saw a clerk at a neighboring counter grab a handsome piece of jewelry and secrete it in her pocket with the rapidity of lightning.
When order was at last restored Faith was in a most distressed frame of mind. She was dreading through sheer pity what she knew to be her duty.
“All over, Faith, and no lives lost,” called Miss Jennings softly.
She was as absolutely colorless and apathetic as ever.
“Oh, Mary,” whispered Faith, “there’s something I must tell you.”
She bent down from her desk after looking about sharply for the buyer.
“Don’t mind about Fairbanks, she has bolted!” said Miss Jennings with a laugh. “You can trust the heads of departments to save their own bacon!”
“But, she thought of us, too; you heard her, Mary,” said Faith. “Poor thing, she may be irritable, but she isn’t bad-hearted.”
“I ain’t so sure about that–but what is it, Faith? There will be no customers for some time, probably, so you have a right to talk to me.”
Faith leaned a little lower so she could whisper in her ear.
“I just saw one of the clerks steal something,” she said, “It was during the excitement. She has it in her pocket.”
“Oh, that’s nothing!”
Miss Jennings spoke as indifferently as ever.
“Why, what do you mean?” Faith gasped in astonishment. “You surely do not mean that you approve of stealing!”
“Approve of it, no!” answered Miss Jennings slowly. “But it doesn’t concern you or me, either, Faith. The girl was probably desperate. I do not blame her!”
Faith’s words were redolent of bitter anguish. For the first time since they met she drew a little away from her.
“You don’t understand, Faith,” said the other quickly. She had noticed the movement, and her tone showed that she was pained by it.
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
Faith said the words coldly. “I certainly don’t understand dishonesty in the very least. I may be wrong, but I cannot excuse it. It is my duty to report that girl, and I shall certainly do it.”
“You shall not!”
Miss Jennings had lost her apathy and indifference for once. She was locking Faith steadily in the eye, her own fairly burning with anger.
“See here, Faith,” she went on, “you have a whole lot to learn, and I guess I am just as well qualified to teach you as any one. What you don’t know about dishonesty would fill a whole library of books. Promise me that you will say nothing about that matter until to-morrow, at least. Promise, Faith. It will do no harm. If you are a Christian you must have charity.”
Faith gazed at her earnestly for the space of a second. There was something besides anger in her new friend’s eagerness.
FRESH GLIMPSES OF EVIL.
“I promise,” said Faith, after another moment’s hesitation. “I will hear what you have to say on the subject, Mary, but I am sure I shall still think it right to report that theft to-morrow.”
Miss Jennings turned away with a relieved expression. The woman she had called “Kate” was just coming back behind the counter.
“I’ve lost my job through my stupidity,” she said sullenly. “Gibson says I am discharged for being impudent to him.”
“I’m sorry, but you might have known,” replied Miss Jennings shortly. “Still, you haven’t lost much; perhaps you’ll get something better.”
“Well, I hope so, but there’s not much chance at this season,” said the woman. “Six dollars a week was better than nothing. It’s more than I can make by taking in washing.”
“Oh, you surely won’t have to do that!” cried Faith involuntarily. She had been listening to their conversation without realizing it.
The woman glanced up at her and gave a sharp laugh.
“That, or worse,” she said coarsely. “I can’t starve to death, can I?”
There was no mistaking what she meant. Her words sent a thrill of horror through every fibre of Faith’s body.
“She surely did not mean that,” she whispered to Miss Jennings as soon as the saleswoman had gone.
“Why not?” asked Miss Jennings in her bitterest manner.
For the second time that day Faith drew back with swift motion, but this time her companion did not appear to notice it.
“She’s got a sick husband and three children,” she said sharply; “and it’s no fault of hers that she can’t earn an honest living. I tell you, Faith, that you have lots to learn. I’m sorry you must learn it all in a lump, of course, but the sooner it is learned the sooner you’ll get used to it.”
She breathed a deep sigh as she turned away. For a moment her real feeling showed above her indifference.
“Get used to it–never!” cried Faith, almost hysterically. “And you are not used to it, either, Mary; it is killing you this minute!”
“Perhaps you are right,” said Miss Jennings, slowly, then as the customers were gradually drifting back into the store she went forward to wait upon them with her usual indifference.
For the next half hour Faith was very busy. The excitement had passed, leaving no trace behind it.
At exactly six o’clock a big gong was sounded. Faith was so tired and nervous that she almost cried for joy when she heard it.
“It has been the hardest day of my life,” she said to Miss Jennings as they reached the cloak-room.
“Well, you’ll have many such if you stay here long,” was the reply. “There are nothing but hard days for the slaves of Denton, Day & Co.”
There was a crowd of women and girls waiting at the lavatory basins, and as Faith caught sight of the towels she turned away with a shudder.
“You’ll have to go home with dirty hands, Faith, but you musn’t mind that; we wouldn’t get out of here until midnight if we waited our turn at those basins.”
Miss Jennings was putting on her hat as she spoke, and as Faith started to look for hers the clerk whom young Denton had called “Mag” came slowly up to them.
“Heard the news, eighty-nine?”
She asked Miss Jennings the question, but she was looking straight at Faith. There was a gleam in her eye that was very unpleasant.
“What news, Maggie?” asked Miss Jennings, noticing the look at once. She knew the girl’s disposition, and almost dreaded what was coming.
“Old Forbes was robbed of five hundred dollars! Some one stole it from his desk early yesterday morning. There’s pretty good proof already as to who was the thief. I wouldn’t stand in her shoes for double the money!”
She was still watching Faith with her eyes half closed. Miss Jennings was too shrewd to be deceived a minute as to her actual meaning.
“Well, you’ll save yourself trouble by keeping your mouth shut,” she said, crossly, “it dont pay to meddle with such matters as that, Maggie, especially if you happen to be living under a cloud yourself. Somebody might take a notion to turn the tables on you, you know. I’d as as soon be a thief as some other things I might mention.”
There was a sneer in her tones that was unmistakable. Faith turned just in time to catch its full meaning.
“Oh, you needn’t preach!” cried the other angrily. “Any one can see you’re fairly green with envy, eighty-nine! You’d give a whole lot to be able to flirt with the boys, but, as Jim Denton says, you are too pale and skinny!”
It was Faith who spoke the words. She was facing the brazen-faced girl with her eyes blazing angrily.
“How dare you speak like that to a poor, sick girl? Have you no heart in your bosom, no decency or conscience! It does not seem possible to me that girls can be so hateful toward each other. Are we not all sisters, who have been commanded to love one another?”
There was silence for just a second as Faith finished speaking, then a loud, coarse laugh broke from Maggie Brady’s lips.
“Oh, Lord! Hear her, girls! Hear the little preacher in petticoats! Isn’t she eloquent, the pretty thing! Why, she ought to be a corporal in the Salvation Army!”
There was a roar of laughter at the rude girl’s words, during which Miss Jennings caught Faith by the arm and half dragged her from the cloak-room.
“Come, Faith, let us go! This is no place for you. That girl is the most brazen hussy in the whole establishment, and that’s saying a good deal, as you’ll find out later!”
They hurried out into the street as quickly as possible. Faith was almost crying with indignation when they reached the sidewalk.
“Now, brace up, dear; it’s all over for to-day,” said Miss Jennings. “You’ll soon get used to it; that’s exactly what every one of us have had to go through with, but the girls are not all like Mag; there are lots of nice ones. She wasn’t so bad, either, until Jim Denton noticed her.”
“Is he her sweetheart?” asked Faith as soon as she could control her voice. “I heard them talking together and I am sure she loves him.”
Miss Jennings gave vent to one of her harshest laughs.
“Jim Denton is a wicked young man,” she said very slowly. “He cares no more for Maggie than he does for lots of the others, but she’s such a fool she can’t see it, and that shows, of course, that she’s pretty badly gone on him.”
“You mean that she loves him?” questioned Faith, who was not very familiar with shop-girl slang.
“Well, you can’t call it love, exactly,” explained Miss Jennings, “but it’s the best she’s got. She thinks she loves him.”
The girls had walked a couple of blocks and were waiting for a car. They were glad to find that they lived near each other. The same street car would land them a short distance from their homes, which were modest flats in the cheapest portion of Harlem.
As they hailed the car, Faith’s quick eye caught a glimpse of a man who seemed to be following them.
As he sprang on the rear platform of the car she called her companion’s attention to him.
“It’s Bob Hardy, one of our detectives,” said Miss Jennings, wonderingly. “Why, he lives in Jersey. He must be following somebody.”
Faith looked at her a moment before she spoke again.
“I wonder if there is any truth in what that girl said about the robbery in the office. I’ve been thinking of it ever since. She looked at me so funny! And see, Mary, that detective is watching me, too, he has hardly taken his eyes off me since we entered the car. It can’t be possible that they think I took the money, can it? You know I was in the office early yesterday morning.”
She spoke so timidly that Miss Jennings gave her a sharp glance. Then she turned involuntarily and looked at the detective.
“God help you if Hardy is after you,” she whispered with a shudder. “That fellow is a fiend about making arrests. He’d accuse his own mother of stealing, I believe, if he thought he could win the regard of old Forbes by doing it!”
A FIENDISH PROPOSITION.
When Faith left the car Bob Hardy followed her. He made no attempt to conceal the fact that he was watching her, and when Faith had reached the middle of a block of vacant lots he quickened his steps and was soon beside her.
“Just a minute, miss,” he said, tapping her lightly on the shoulder.
Faith wheeled around and confronted him with cold dignity.
“Well, what do you wish with me, sir?” she asked quietly. “I noticed that you were following me. Have you had orders to do so?”
“Not exactly, miss,” said the detective, a little disconcertedly, “but you are in a pretty bad fix over that money affair, and I just thought I’d put you on your guard as a sort of favor.”
Faith’s voice fairly vibrated with indignation. “Explain yourself, sir. I do not understand you?”
“Oh, if you insist,” said the detective with a disagreeable leer, “I won’t be so unkind as to disappoint a lady.”
He stepped a little to one side as he spoke, and his eyes wandered scrutinizingly over Faith’s lovely face and figure.
“You see,” he continued, “you are badly tangled up in that affair at the office; in fact, to be plain, Mr. Forbes thinks that you stole the five hundred dollars, and it will go hard with you when he gets back to biz; that’s why I wanted to warn you.”
Faith’s head towered above the detective’s as she spoke.
“You are very kind, Mr. Detective; but, as I have stolen no money, nor anything else, I have no fear of Mr. Forbes, or any need of your most extraordinary warning. You will please allow me to pass and not follow me any farther. It is no sign because I am working in a store that I am not a lady and entitled to courtesy.”
She started to pass him, but with a stride the fellow was before her.
“Not so fast, my fine lady,” he cried with a sneer. “You don’t know me, I guess. I don’t let thieves escape me so easily.”
“How dare you?” cried Faith, her face flaming with anger.
“Oh, I dare anything,” retorted the detective, “especially where my reputation is at stake! I’ve got orders from Forbes to catch that thief, and, as you are the easiest bird to catch, I’m just going to bag you–that’s all there is about it. I’ll swear that I found this wad of bills in your pocket, see!”
He drew a roll of money from his pocket and flourished it before her as he spoke.
“Oh, you would never be so wicked, so dastardly, as that!” cried Faith. “Have you no sense of honor, no manliness about you?”
Her words were so appealing that the detective winced a little. His keen eyes shifted uneasily. He could not face her.
“I offered to warn you,” he muttered at last. “There’s a way out of the fix if you are a mind to take it.”
“But I am in no fix!” protested Faith. “I have done no wrong! How dare you accuse me!”
The detective went on as though she had not spoken.
“There’s a way out of it, miss; you have only to say the word. I know a gent that’s in love with you this very minute. He’ll fix things with old Forbes–he’s got lots of dough. Just you promise to be agreeable and I’ll hush the whole thing up to-morrow.”
As he made this fiendish suggestion he eyed the girl sharply.
Each change in her expression seemed to render her more beautiful. For a moment she was dazed and almost powerless to speak, then, as a great wave of color swept up to her very brow, she fairly hissed her answer in a scorching whisper.
“You coward! You cur! Go at once and leave me! Make what accusations you like–I am afraid of you no longer! In God will I place my trust, and He will not forsake me! Go, I say, and think well over what you are doing. Remember that there is One above you who is watching your evil deeds and as surely as He will punish the wicked so will He protect the innocent!”
As she spoke the last words she walked hastily away.
Bob Hardy stared after her stupidly, but did not attempt to follow her.
“Well, what did she say?” asked a voice at his elbow.
A well-dressed man of middle age had walked slowly across the street and stood waiting impatiently for Hardy’s answer.
The detective drew a long breath and shrugged his shoulders a little.
“Oh, she’s a high flyer,” he answered, cautiously. “It will take time to clip her wings and tame her, captain, but don’t you worry a bit. I’ll earn your fifty dollars.”
“As you have earned several other fifties,” said the “captain,” smiling. “Oh, well, you are in the right place for just such work. It’s dead easy for you, Hardy. Why, those girls would all of them jump at the chance of getting out from behind those counters, but the deuce of it is that it’s only the new ones who are pretty.”
“Well, you’ve picked out the prettiest now, all right,” laughed Hardy. “But I expect I shall have to scare her a little. She’s not only proud as Lucifer, but she’s chock full of religion. Says God will protect her and all that sort of thing.”
The well-dressed “captain” threw back his head and roared.
“God will trouble Himself a lot about her, I’m thinking,” he said, chuckling. “He is so given to looking after those half-starved creatures! Why, the Devil is the shop girls’ best friend, if they only knew it.”
“He stands by us pretty well, too, eh! captain?” said Hardy. “But I must be getting home, as I live way over in Jersey. I’ll report to-morrow night at your place downtown. She’ll be less religious by that time if she sees that God has gone back on her, I guess.”
“You mean that you will press the charge against her and have them send her to jail? That’s going pretty far, Hardy; but I’ll leave it to your judgment.”
“Oh, pshaw! She’ll be tractable before it comes to that pass, captain. I’ve seen girls before. I know how to handle ’em.”
The two men parted, Hardy going to his home in Jersey, while the man whom he had called “captain” went in the direction of Fifth avenue.
When he arrived at his magnificent bachelor apartments he let himself in with a latch-key. His colored valet was busy in one of the rooms packing his master’s clothing into two traveling bags.
“Well, Dave,” said the captain, gayly, “we will have a fine trip South, I fancy; but don’t hurry with that packing. Let it go for a day. I’ve decided not to start as soon as I intended.”
“All right, sah; I’ll drop it right quick, sah,” said the negro. “Yere’s a letter, sah, dat was brung ’bout an hour ago. I dun tole de boy dat you would anser it at your leesyur, sah.”
Captain Paul Deering laughed at his servant’s language. Dave always used big words and the most extravagant manners when he came in contact with other people’s servants.
“By Jove!” exclaimed the captain, as he opened the letter. “It’s from my lawyer, Dave, telling me that my sister has been found. She is living here in the city, and is a widow with one daughter.”
“Yo’ doan’ say so, sah!”
Dave was standing with his mouth wide open to indicate his interest in the news. He had been with the captain so long that he was very deep in his confidences.
“Yes, she’s here in town, and has been for years, and to think I’ve been here, too, and didn’t know it! You see, Dave, I ran away from home when she was only a young girl. When the home was broken up I lost track of her completely. Now there’s a snug little fortune waiting for her that she should have had five years ago, but perhaps it’s just as well it’s been accumulating interest all the time.”
“An’ yourn has bin a losin’ interes’,” replied the negro, grinning. “I neber see money slip troo’ a man’s fingers so fas’ as it do troo’ yourn, capting, dat’s a fac’.”
“Oh, I get the worth of it as I go along, Dave,” laughed the captain, “but I suppose I’ve got to go out again now and call on my new-found sister.”
He glanced at the address which the lawyer had given him.
“Pshaw! That’s too bad,” he said, impatiently. “If I had only known this two hours sooner! Why, I’ve just come from that very locality, and it’s way up in Harlem.”
As he reached for his hat there was a sharp ring at his door-bell.
“Dat’s Dr. Graham, sah; I knows dat ring ob his,” said the valet quickly. “Dat mean, sah, you doan’ call on no sister dis ebenin’.”
THE PLEA OF MISS JENNINGS.
When Faith Marvin entered her mother’s four-room flat on the top floor of a dingy brick building she was almost out of breath from indignation and rapid walking.
She tried to calm herself a little before her mother saw her, for Mrs. Marvin was on the verge of nervous prostration.
When Faith looked into the little parlor she saw what she dreaded most, her mother lying on the sofa suffering from a terrible headache.
“I must say absolutely nothing,” whispered Faith to herself; “but what if that fellow should follow me home! Oh, it would be terrible! Terrible! I am sure it would kill her!”
She washed her face and hands and smoothed her hair, then went quietly into the parlor and kissed her mother.
“Oh, Faith,” cried the sick woman, sharply.
“How did you get along, dear? Were they kind to you in that dreadful store, or will they kill my daughter, as they did my husband?”
“Hush, mother; don’t say anything like that, there’s a dear,” said Faith quickly. “Don’t let your mind dwell so steadily on unpleasant things, and just as soon as your head is better I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Tell me now, Faith, I insist,” cried her mother, irritably. “I must know the truth at once. Just think, dear, I have lain here all day worrying about you, my child! It has been the hardest day of your life! I feel it and I can see it.”
She was gazing at Faith with a keen, penetrating glance. It would have been cruel to have kept her in ignorance any longer.
“Well, then, lie down, dear, and I’ll begin at the beginning,” said Faith gently, “and you must promise not to ask questions until I have finished.”
She laid her mother back on the sofa and began her tale, but she took care to touch upon some things very lightly and leave others out of her narration altogether.
When she had finished her mother still lay silent for a few minutes, then she suddenly sat up straight and stared at her daughter.
“It is a thousand times worse than I thought,” she said slowly. “Although your father told me a great deal about the evils that exist in business places. Why, those men are criminals and nothing less! They are destroying women’s souls as well as starving their bodies, and all to swell their own bank accounts and ride in carriages. Oh, it is shameful! And to think that nothing can be done to stop it.”
“But something must be done! Something shall be done!” cried Faith stoutly. “There is one power alone that can conquer all evil. We must invoke that power upon this dreadful curse, and God has promised that the prayer of faith shall not go unanswered.”
“Oh, child, can you not see how foolish all that is?” asked her mother irritably. “As if prayer was needed for what God can see for Himself! If He wished things different He could easily change them. I have no faith in His goodness, His love or His mercy.”
The tears sprang to Faith’s eyes, but the words did not surprise her. She laid them to the weakness of her mother’s physical condition.
“Some day you will see it differently, dear little mother,” she said, sweetly. “You are still resentful for the injury which you have suffered. When that spirit has been conquered your faith will return. ‘All things work together for good to them that love Him.'”
“Do you mean that your dear father’s death was intended for my good?” her mother almost screamed. “Do you see mercy, child, in such cruel injustice, injustice that allows the rich to prosper in their evil ways and puts the knife of poverty to the throat of the deserving? No! a thousand times no! I will not believe it! Your father was an honest man doing a legitimate business. Those sharks opened their store and put in a book department. They undercut his figures even when it was a loss to do so, knowing that in the end they would ruin him and drive him out of their path forever! What followed? You know only too well, my poor, fatherless daughter. In a fit of despondency he killed himself; the man who had done no wrong–except to lose his courage, and they, Denton, Day & Co., have accumulated millions. They have his blood on their hands as they have the blood of many others!”
The poor woman was rocking herself back and forth as she talked, while Faith could only bury her head in the sofa pillows and pray silently for wisdom.
She knew that the frenzy would wear away soon. Her mother’s strength could not stand the strain of such agony many minutes.
“I can understand that girl stealing the jewelry, Faith,” she went on more calmly, “It was a terrible thing to do, but she doubtless justified herself in doing it. And the woman who is going from bad is worse–oh, she has my sympathy, poor wretch! She is hopeless, discouraged; she does not know what she is doing.”
Faith got up silently and went out into the kitchen. In a few moments she came back with a cup of tea for her mother.
In a second her action had reaped its results. The mother instinct asserted itself. Mrs Marvin suddenly remembered that Faith had had no supper.
“I am to have a visitor soon, mother,” said Faith with a smile, while her mother was getting the supper, “Miss Jennings is coming in later. She lives only two blocks from the corner.”
“She is a consumptive, I think you said. I shall be glad to see her,” said Mrs. Marvin, “and I’ll try, Faith, to calm my nerves, and not force my bitterness on another.”
Faith smiled very sadly at her mother’s words.
“Miss Jennings is far more bitter than you can ever be, mother dear,” she said slowly. “She is almost callous, while you are still smarting with anguish.”
For the next half-hour Faith busied herself with their frugal supper. Before the meal was over she was pleased to see that her mother was becoming more composed and natural. When Miss Jennings came in both ladies greeted her warmly. There was a hectic glow in her cheeks, and she coughed almost constantly.
Mrs. Marvin left the two girls together at an early hour. She had kept her promise and been remarkably cheerful.
“Now, Faith, to business,” said Miss Jennings, as soon as they were alone. “I want to tell you why you must not report that clerk’s theft to-morrow.”
Faith drew her chair a little nearer and prepared to listen. She was beginning to understand her friend’s character a little better.
“In the first place,” began Miss Jennings, “we will consider the girl. I know her well. You need not describe her. What I know about her is this: She is the daughter of a criminal. Her father was a pickpocket, he died in prison. Now I ask you, Faith, what can you expect from this girl? According to your Bible are not ‘the iniquities’ of the fathers visited upon the children, and are the innocents to blame for their undesirable inheritance? Furthermore, that girl’s mother was what we call an outcast. Can you reasonably look for morality of any sort in the offspring of such an infamous union? You do not answer, because you cannot! I defy any of your Christians to straighten out this matter. The viciousness of most children is their only endowment, unless we add the poverty, the diseases and the hopelessness that go with it. Now to consider her environments and her temptations in that store. She is working for thieves, why should she not steal? She is working for successful people, why should she not take example of their methods. These things seem harsh and hard to you, Faith, but they are actual facts, just as you will surely see them. If you report that girl what will be the result? Listen, here it is, the outcome in a nutshell. You will be reporting to robbers that they are being robbed, not of their lives, their liberties and their honors, as they rob us, but of a paltry piece of jewelry, which they have bought out of their enormous profits. You will, no doubt, lose for the girl a position which has the semblance of respectability, and like poor Kate Travers, she will go from bad to worse, only, unlike Kate, she will have no pure motive. Then, lastly, to consider your own position in the matter, from that standpoint which you choose to call your Christian duty–“
She stopped to cough, and Faith broke in upon her.
“I know what you would say. You think by reporting her crime I will only be driving her to more vicious depths, whereas, by protecting her from the punishment she deserves I may be able to influence her toward a better life. Oh, Mary, I thank you! You have shown me my error. Say no more to me to-night about censuring any one for their wrongdoing! It grows more wonderful every moment that the girls are as good as they are. God help them, they are innocent! It is all the fault of conditions! If we could only strike at the root of it all, Mary.”
“We would have to go back many years and generations, I’m afraid,” whispered Miss Jennings. “But at present we need go no further than the heads of that firm–for Denton, Day & Forbes are the roots in this case, from which emanate the evils which are destroying us soul and body.”
A STARTLING SUGGESTION.
The gossip in the cloak-room was at its height the next morning when Faith entered promptly at half-past seven. She looked around for Miss Jennings, but did not see her. The next moment her attention was attracted by a short conversation between two of the saleswomen.
“Well, Jack Forbes is dead at last, poor fellow,” said one of them, “and they say that his father is all broke up over it. Jack was his ideal always. It’s sure to go hard with him.”
“He deserves his trouble if ever any one did,” was the indifferent answer. “He’s made life miserable for lots of young men who were just as worthy as Jack ever was and just as much beloved by their mothers and fathers.”
“Well, he’s being punished now all right. They say he looks like a ghost. Wonder if he’ll have the good taste to close the store! Or will he keep open that day to make funeral expenses?”
There was a shout of laughter after this remark, and Faith was surprised to see how many of the girls joined in it.
“Oh, here you are,” said a voice at her side.
She turned and was delighted to see Miss Jennings.
“How pale you look, Mary! Did you tire yourself too much last night?” she asked quickly. “Really dear, you should have stayed at home. You are sick abed this very minute!”
“That would mean a dollar, my dear Faith,” said Miss Jennings sharply. “I’ve lost three already this month so far and as I’m liable to need a coffin soon I must keep at work and earn it!”
“Don’t, Mary!” cried Faith, in genuine distress. “Don’t joke about such things, dear. I can’t bear to hear you.”
“As well laugh as cry,” said Miss Jennings shortly; “but I hear that Jack Forbes is dead. I’m in hopes the firm will show proper decency by giving us a holiday.”
“Oh, they’ll do that all right, if it is only for the looks of the thing,” cried one of the girls who had overheard her. “You can trust them to keep up appearances before the public, even if they dock us a day’s pay in order to square it.”
“They would never do that!” cried Faith in dismay.
“They’d do it if they dared,” was the answer; “they are not above it.”
“There is Mr. Gibson now,” whispered another girl as the form of the manager appeared in the doorway.
“The store will be closed to-morrow,” he said, shortly, “so you girls want to be smart and make all the sales you can to-day. Remember that you are expected to do your best in such emergencies.”
As he went away the clerks all looked at each other.
“That sounded just like Forbes himself,” giggled one of the girls. “I’ll bet ten dollars he sent down that message.”
“Well, we all get a day off anyway,” said another, “and for my part I’m glad to laugh once while Old Forbes is crying. The shoe is on the other foot generally and we girls do the weeping.”
“I wonder if that detective will annoy me to-day,” whispered Faith to her friend. She had already told her of the proposition which Hardy had made to her.
“I wonder who the fellow is who has got his eye on you,” said Miss Jennings, soberly. “It’s the same old story. They think because we are poor that we are to be bought and sold like puppets. You’d be surprised, Faith, to know how men look upon us girls, but never mind about it, dear; Hardy can’t do anything until the superintendent comes back, and by that time Mr. Watkins may have found the money.”
“Who is Mr. Watkins?” asked Faith, who had quite forgotten the young man.
“He’s the superintendent’s lackey, but they call him an assistant,” said Miss Jennings, with a slight blush. “He’s a remarkably fine young man who would be honest if he could, but, poor soul, he’s like the rest of us–tied hand and foot! If he expresses an honest opinion, out he goes into the street, and that means that not only himself but his mother would starve.”
“I remember him now,” said Faith; “he was in the superintendent’s office when I applied for my position. I liked his looks; he seemed refined and honest. I wish I could help him, but–Oh, Mary, what’s the matter?”
Miss Jennings had suddenly put her handkerchief to her lips. When she took it down there were blood stains upon it.
“Nothing, dear,” she said as soon as she could speak, “only the last end of a hemorrhage that I had this morning.”
“But do you have to work to-day? Is it really necessary?” urged Faith.
Miss Jennings turned to her quickly and opened her pocket-book. There were seventeen cents and a small photograph in the purse. Faith had just time to recognize the picture as that of Mr. Watkins when Miss Jennings closed the book with a flush of annoyance.
“That’s all I’ve got to last out the week, Faith,” she said between her coughs, “and I have a crippled brother at home, a last legacy from my parents.”
She hurried up the stairs, with Faith close behind her. In five minutes the work of the day had begun; goods were being taken deftly from the shelves and displayed upon the counters.
Miss Fairbanks was on hand and as cross as ever. She went around like a virago and scolded nearly every one in her department.
When Maggie Brady came in she looked weary and jaded, and the paint on her face made her more conspicuous than ever.
During a lull in the business Faith heard her speaking to Miss Fairbanks in a tone that showed plainly that she was very confidential with the buyer.
“Jim Denton took me to the theatre last night and we had an elegant supper after. It cost him a pile, I tell you, for I just laid myself out to be expensive. It’s the only way I have of getting square with the firm. What the old man makes his son blows in; that’s right, ain’t it, Fairbanks?” she winked at the woman as she finished.
“Sure,” replied Miss Fairbanks in a lower tone; “but look out for him, Mag, there’s a new star in the heavens. I wouldn’t trust Jim Denton around the corner, and you wouldn’t either if you were wiser.”
“Oh, I’m not afraid of that, if that’s what you mean,” said the girl. She nodded her head in Faith’s direction, but did not deign to look at her.
“She’s a beauty all right,” was the buyer’s reply, “and she doesn’t have to improve on nature a little bit, eh, Maggie?”
“She won’t keep that color long in this store,” sneered Miss Brady. “She’ll fade like all the rest of us, and it won’t take long either.”
“Miss Fairbanks,” gasped Miss Jennings from behind the counter, “I can’t stand up any longer. You will have to excuse me.”
“Well, you do look sick, so I suppose you can go. But as it is only ten o’clock I shall have to call it a full day, Miss Jennings.”
“Call it anything you like,” whispered Miss Jennings hoarsely; “only let me lie down, on the floor or anywhere.”
Faith sprang down from her high perch without an instant of hesitation.
“Let me take her to the cloak-room, please, Miss Fairbanks,” she begged. “Miss Jennings is my friend–do, please, let me take her.”
“Nonsense! Get back to your desk this instant, packer! If she is too sick to go alone one of the cash girls can take her. Come, hurry along; there are customers coming.”
Faith gave a despairing sob as she climbed back to her seat. Miss Jennings was desperately ill–she was sure of it.
Suddenly it occurred to her what a really brave fellow Mr. Watkins was. She had heard Mr. Forbes tell him to have Miss Jennings discharged, yet for two days he had disregarded the order.
That, and the picture of the young man in Miss Jennings’ purse told Faith a story as plain as words could have done. The two were lovers, she was positive of it, she began to wonder if Mr. Watkins knew of his sweetheart’s condition.
“Move faster there, packer!” called Miss Fairbanks crossly. “Can’t you see the lady is waiting for her parcel while you are loitering?”
“Oh, I am in no hurry at all, madam,” said a calm, lady-like voice. “Do not hurry the poor girl, please. She is probably tired.”
“She has no right to be tired at this time in the morning”–Miss Fairbanks was trying to be polite, but her voice was still snappy.
“Are you never tired at this hour?” asked the lady, calmly. “I frequently wake tired, and from no especial reason. In this case I should think it surprising if she ever felt rested.”
“Oh, they get used to it–we all do,” said Miss Fairbanks, stammering. “Or, at least, we must do our work just the same. We are not supposed to have feelings.”
“Pray, tell me who are your judges, madam?” The lady spoke more sharply. “Who dares to say that human beings who earn their living have no feelings?”
“Well, if they don’t say so out loud that is what they think,” replied the buyer. “Why, we’d be discharged before night if we were to complain of too much work. They want machines in these stores, and we are the nearest substitutes.”
“Well, why don’t you all rebel and force your employers to think differently? Mind, I don’t tell you to do it. I am just asking for information.”
“It would do no good; we would simply lose our places, and for each one of us there would be ten applicants to-morrow.”
Miss Fairbanks spoke the truth, and she spoke it sadly.
For the second time Faith was inclined to think that the woman was not bad-hearted.
“The law should step in and regulate such matters,” said the lady. “So much authority should not be allowed to a few human beings. A few arrests for manslaughter would not be amiss. I have just seen one woman who is being killed by this slavery, and there are plenty more behind these counters.”
“But no jury could convict our employers, if that is what you mean.” Miss Fairbanks was gasping over the startling suggestion.
“I’m not so sure,” said the lady thoughtfully. “If they could see what I have just seen they might possibly do it There is a young woman dying this minute down in that villainous cloak-room.”
With a smothered groan Faith sprang swiftly to the floor.
“It is Mary–my friend,” she cried out in agony. “No, Miss Fairbanks, you shall not stop me! I will go to Miss Jennings!”
A DEATH IN THE CLOAK-ROOM.
When Faith reached the cloak-room she found a scene of the wildest confusion. A number of clerks and cash girls were surrounding Miss Jennings, who lay on the floor upon a pile of wraps which they had hurriedly thrown down for her. Mr. Gibson, the manager, was bending over her with a glass of water in his hand, and was giving orders right and left in an excited manner.
“Go for a doctor, some one!” he cried. “No, get an ambulance–that will be better! The officer on the corner will call one for you. It will never do to have her die here! The newspapers would all get it, and goodness only knows what they would say about us.”
He raised his head as he spoke and found himself face to face with the new packer in the ribbon department. She was as white as chalk and her eyes were flaming with anger.
“How dare you send her to a hospital when she is so ill?” she whispered, sharply. “Get a physician here at once, sir, and a glass of wine instead of water.”
She pushed her way through the group of frightened girls and looked upon her friend, whom she saw at once was unconscious from weakness.
“Stand back a little, girls, and give her air,” she cried, firmly. “There is none too much ventilation in this place, Mr. Gibson; quick–lower the windows if you can, sir.”
Without dreaming of disobeying, Mr. Gibson sprang to the window. There was something so commanding in her manner that she fairly over-awed him. The next moment he had dispatched cash girls for a doctor and some wine, even taking the money out of his own pocket to pay for the cordial.
Faith had succeeded in clearing a circle about the fainting girl, and was just looking for something with which to fan her, when two people–a man and a woman–entered the door of the cloak-room, and stopped short when they saw the unusual spectacle.
“It is just as I thought–she is dying,” said the woman, softly.
Faith recognized the voice at once. It was the lady whom she had just left talking to Miss Fairbanks at the ribbon counter.
“You see, Mr. Denton, my words have come true! You are killing these young women by overwork and bad air, yet you dare to resent any interference in the matter.”