"THAT is all," said the assistant State attorney with a wave toward the door. The girl stepped down from the witness-stand. As she passed him a sudden impulse prompted Ogden Secor to stop her. He could not have explained why he did so, but before he realized it he had asked the girl to wait in the witness-room without until he came.
A great and sudden pity for her had welled within him at her last words: "There are no good men." To have spoken to such a woman as she would have seemed an utter impossibility to Ogden Secor a brief half-hour before, and now he had asked her to wait for him, and in his mind was a determination to help her--to save her from the hideous life she had chosen.
Immediately after he had spoken the words he regretted them. It was as though he had bound himself to personal contact with a leper. He paled a little at the thought of the ordeal which faced him; but he would go through with it, as to that he was determined, and if he could help the girl to a better life he would do so. Had he guessed the interpretation the girl put upon his request to speak with her outside the jury-room he would have flushed rather than paled. To her all men were hunters--all women quarry.
The jurors were discussing the wisdom of voting a true bill. All seemed to harbor not the slightest doubt that the girl had been held against her will in Farris's place. Had the vote been taken without discussion a true bill would have been the unanimous result; but with the discussion came the inevitable recourse to the superior legal judgment of the assistant State attorney.
"It is up to you, gentlemen," he said, when one of the jurymen asked his opinion. "I do not wish to influence you in any way. I am merely here to help you; but inasmuch as you ask, I might say, for your information, that this case is identical with many others we have handled during this session of the grand jury. The police advise us that there is insufficient evidence to convict.
"If we vote a true bill the taxpayers will be compelled to pay for an expensive trial, at the end of which the defendant will be discharged, and that will be the end of it; while should we vote a no-bill the case may again be brought before the grand jury should the police at any time in the future unearth further evidence.
"Remember, gentlemen, if you vote a true bill now, this case can never again come before the grand jury, and in my humble opinion you will be virtually playing into Farris's hands and insuring him immunity. It is up to you."
The foreman took the vote. A majority favored no bill, and that was the end of that particular case of the People vs. Abe Farris. Property interests throughout the city had been protected and real-estate values remained unchanged.
It was the last case on call for that day, and as the jurors hurried out to attend to their neglected businesses Ogden Secor found himself tarrying at his desk in the hope that there might be none present to witness his interview with the girl from Farris's. There was also a growing hope that the girl herself would tire of waiting and depart before he left the jury-room.
The others had gone before he emerged, and it was with a feeling of relief that he realized that this was true, for as he passed through the doorway he saw the trim figure of a young girl sitting in the far corner of the outer room. Her eyes were on the doorway leading to the grand jury room, and as Secor came out she rose and stood waiting him.
He came directly toward her, and as his eyes rested upon her face he ceased to regret that he had asked her to wait. Surely there could be no intentional evil in the owner of such a face. He was confident that it would be an easy matter to guide her into a decent life. As he reached her he found that it was to be rather an embarrassing conversation to open. For a moment he hesitated. It was the girl who first spoke.
"What do you wish of me?" she asked, although she was quite sure that she knew precisely what he wished. While she had waited for him she had quite fully determined her course of action. She was convinced that the "swell job at the Beverly Club " would not be for her, even though the grand jury failed to indict Farris.
A thousand times during the past bitter months she had thrashed out the problem of her life; a thousand times she had determined to seek other employment when she could leave Farris's; and a thousand times she had realized that her life was already ruined past redemption, and that never again could she live among decent people with the constant fear hanging over her that the horrible secret of her past might at any moment be discovered. Better, far better, she thought, to continue in that life until death released her.
But here, she felt, was to be an easier way for a few years at least. Sooner or later this man would tire of her, but in the mean time she would have a good living--it would be much better than either Farris's or the Beverly Club. Possibly she could save enough money to insure the balance of her life against want. She had heard of women like herself who had done this very thing. And so she waited now for the proposal which she was confident Mr. Ogden Secor was about to make.
She knew nothing about this young man--not even his name--nor did she care more about him than to know that he had ample funds with which to defray the cost of an expensive plaything.
"Miss Lynch," said Ogden Secor, "I find the things I wanted to say to you most difficult to say. I scarcely know how to commence. I should hate to offend you."
"No chance," she replied. "You know what I am. There is your answer. Go ahead--get the proposition out of your system."
Though her words were light, she was a trifle nonplused at his method of approach. There was a distinct note of deference in his voice that she had long been unused to from men. Could it be possible that she was mistaken in his intentions? But what else under the sun could he want of her?
"You See," continued Mr. Secor, "I couldn't help but know something of your life from your testimony in there; yet, even though I heard it from your own lips, I find it difficult to believe that it is true--it doesn't seem possible that you could prefer such a life; and I wanted to ask if I might not be of service to you in some way to help you to live differently."
The girl noted the clean, strong face of the young man before her, the clear eyes, and healthy skin. There was no indication of dissipation or evil habits. She had not spoken to such a man since she came to the city--she had not believed that any clean men lived in the city that she so loathed. She was still inclined, however, to be a trifle skeptical; yet she gave him the benefit of the doubt in her reply.
"I am afraid that it is too late," she said.
"It is never too late," he replied.
"You would not say that if you knew what my early training had been. I was taught to believe that God expected but two things of a woman--to be virtuous, and to become a wife and mother. If she were not virtuous, the second thing became a crime in her--for a woman such as I to marry and bear children were a crime a thousand times more hideous than loss of virtue.
"There was no place on earth for such as I, and no hell of sufficient horror in the hereafter. As far as this life or the next is concerned, I am absolutely and irrevocably lost. I appreciate your kind intentions, but I fear there is nothing to be done."
The girl's words brought Secor up with a sudden and most unpleasant jolt, for he realized that the thing she had said voiced precisely his own views in the matter, or rather what had been his lifelong views up to a few moments before. For the first time in his life he felt that there was something rather unfair, inhuman, and cruel in the sentence that the world passed on its unfortunate sisters.
"I know precisely how you feel," he said at length, making no attempt to lighten the gravity of her sin, "for I, too, have been taught to believe that same thing: but now that I come to deal with a specific case I find that the old theory was of value only in the abstract--it isn't human, and it isn't good sense. There is no reason why you shouldn't lead a decent life if you wish to.
"In fact, that you haven't recently done so is all the more reason that you should commence now. It can't make things any better if you go on as you have been, but as far as you yourself are concerned and those you come in contact with it will be very much better indeed if you live as you should live during the balance of your life."
"Why do you want to help me?" asked the girl suddenly. She had discovered that she had quite unexpectedly lost sight of the motives which she believed had prompted the young man to seek this interview. There had been nothing either in his words or manner to support her suspicions; yet, with her knowledge of men, it was difficult for her to dismiss them.
Secor hesitated a moment before replying, a half smile upon his lips,
"That is a difficult question," he said. "I never did anything of the sort before, and I don't know why I have attempted it now. If I tried to explain the psychology of it I should appear ridiculous, I fear."
"I should like to know," said the girl, "if for no other reason than to learn that I had made a good guess as to what you wanted." She had determined to prove her point for her own satisfaction.
"And what did you think was my reason?" asked Secor.
She looked him straight in the eyes, and without a smile said quite simply:
" To make a date with me."
To say that young Mr. Secor was shocked would have been to put it too mildly by far; but his expression gave no hint of the disappointment and disgust that surged through him.
"And if that were my reason," he asked, "would you have accepted my--ah--invitation?"
"Why not?" And she was about to add, "Isn't your money as good as anybody's?" But she found herself faltering in her suspicion of this young man, and a sudden sense of shame sent the red blood mantling to her cheek.
For a moment he stood looking straight into her eyes until hers dropped suddenly in confusion.
"I am sorry," he said, "that you should have misconstrued my intentions." His voice held a faint note of sadness and not a little of disappointment. "But as you have, I shall try to give you my real reasons at the risk of appearing silly."
"I wish you would," she said. "I didn't want to think the other, but af ter my experience with men, it was hard to believe that one of them could go out of his way to perform an unselfish act where a woman was concerned--a woman such as I," she added in a very faint whisper.
"I wanted to help you," said Secor from the moment that I saw your face and heard your voice in the jury-room. I couldn't believe that a girl like you belonged in the underworld. It was not because of the fact that you are a very beautiful girl, but that your face and expression reflect a sweetness of character that seemed entirely out of place in the life you have been leading. There must have been a sudden, subconscious appeal to the protective instinct that is supposed to have been very strong in primitive man--in no other way can I account for the immediate desire I had to save you. Those are my reasons, if you can call them reasons, for asking you to wait here for me. You will doubtless find them as ridiculous as they now seem to me."
The girl's lips trembled as she attempted to speak, and tears came to her eyes so that she had to turn away to hide her emotion. It had been long indeed since a man had spoken to her and of her in this way. Her whole heart went out to this stranger because of those few kindly words--such words as her poor soul had been starving for the want of during the long, hard months of her living death.
"What do you wish me to do?" she asked after she had regained control of her voice.
"Let me help you find employment--that is all that you may accept from any man. It is all that any decent man should offer you," he replied.
"I will do whatever you wish," she said simply.
"I am going away to-morrow," he went on, "to be gone for several weeks. In the mean time I'll give you the name and address of a man who can and will help you to at least temporary employment. Keep in touch with him and when I return we'll see what is best to be done, and what sort of work you are best qualified for."
As he spoke he bad written a name and address upon a leaf of his memorandum-book. He tore the sheet out and handed it to her. Without looking at it she slipped it into her hand-bag.
"And now good-by and good luck," he said, extending his hand to her.
"You must not shake hands with a--with me," she said.
"Don't say that," he replied. "Forget what you have been--you are that no longer. I am wanting to shake hands with an entirely new girl, and to prove that you intend to be a new girl you must let me."
He smiled the clean, wholesome smile that made his strong young face doubly attractive. There was no refusing Ogden Secor anything that he asked when he smiled, and so the girl placed her hand in his.
"This is the ratification of your pledge," he said. "I shall never doubt for a moment that you are keeping it. Until I return, then," and bowing he left her there, a new hope and a great happiness in her heart.
If one good man could forgive her her past, there must be others. Possibly the world would not be so hard upon her after all. Maybe there was a chance for her to live as she wanted to live, and to find the happiness that she had so craved, and which she had thought was lost forever.
Suddenly she recalled that she did not know the name of the man who had just left her. Well, that could easily be ascertained. She had the name and address of his friend. She would go to him at once and take any employment that he could find for her. She would work for a bare living, if necessary, rather than go back to the old life. She would do anything for the man who had spoken to her as this young stranger had spoken.
Eagerly she opened her hand-bag and withdrew the little slip of paper. As she read the name a cold wave of disappointment and bitterness chilled and blighted the new happiness and hope that had filled her being.
The name on the paper was "Rev. Theodore Pursen."