IT was a very disheartened girl who found her way out of the criminal court building and across the Dearborn Street Bridge to the Loop. She was wondering if her new friend were of the same type of reformer as the Rev. Mr. Pursen. Would he want her to narrate the story of her rescue for the Sunday editions upon his return?
Then it occurred to her that she would not see him when he came back to the city, for she had no idea who he might be, and she certainly would not go to the Rev. Mr. Pursen to find out. It began to look as though she had made a false start after all on her road to a new life.
At Lake and Dearborn she stopped to purchase an evening paper, and in the entrance to a near-by building she sought among the want ads for a likely boarding-house. She found an address far out on the South Side, and a moment later boarded a Cottage Grove Avenue car at Wabash Avenue.
As she rode South she tried to reach some definite decision as to her future. She could go back to the old life, and the young man would never know. The chances are that he would not care if he did know.
His act had been prompted by but the passing kindness of a moment. If he ever thought of her again, it would be but to inquire of his friend the Rev. Mr. Pursen if she had applied to him for aid, and finding that she had not, he would promptly forget all about the incident.
As she speculated upon her future, her eyes wandered aimlessly over the printed page of close-set want ads in the paper in her hand.
Presently a notice caught her attention:
WANTED--Neat girl for general office work; small wages to start; experience unnecessary. Apply Kesner Building.
" Why not try it?" she thought. "He'll never know, of course, but he was on the square. He wanted to help me, and I can't believe that he is like Pursen. He wanted to give me a chance to be the kind of girl he thought I looked like, and why shouldn't I be? I can do that much, surely, when all my inclinations lie in that direction. I haven't wanted to be bad, God knows; and I guess I've been a fool to think that I had to keep on that way just because I had started."
At Twenty-Fourth Street a pimply-faced young man boarded the car. As he walked forward toward the front platform, a lighted cigarette in his nicotin-stained fingers, be turned to stare into the face of every woman in the car. When he came opposite the girl from Farris's he stopped with a broad grin upon his unclean face.
"Why, hello there, Mag! " he cried. "When did you get out?" And with the words he plumped into the seat at her side.
"This afternoon, Eddie," she replied quietly.
"Where to now?" he asked.
"I'm on my way uptown to find a boarding-place."
"Got a new job already?" he asked, surprised.
"I'm cuttin' that out, Eddie," she said. "I'm goin' to be on the square after this."
"Forget it," he grinned.
"On the dead."
"Who's keepin' you?" he persisted.
"May Beverley asked me to look you up," he remarked. "She says you promised to come there."
"I didn't think she'd want me after that Farris business," replied the girl.
The young man laughed.
"Huh! What does she care? She ain't got no love for Farris, and besides a chicken with an angel face like yours can get in anywhere in the burg. But on the dead, Mag, you're a boob not to get your hooks onto some rich gazimbat. I know a gink right now that'll pass me out five hundred bones any time for a squab like you. Say the word and I'll split with you."
The girl looked at the man for a moment, and then turned and gazed out of the window.
"That's right; think it over," said Eddie. "It's a good proposition and that ain't no dream. He's not exactly pretty, but he's there with a bundle of kale that would choke the Panama. He'd set you up in a swell apartment, plaster sparklers all over you, and give you a year-after-next model eight-lunger and a shuffer. You'd be the only cheese on Mich. Boul."
The girl knew that Eddie was not romancing; and here she had been thinking that she could not even get into the Beverley Club. Here was easy money--riches even--just for the taking; and she would be no worse for it than she already was.
She looked again at the man beside her, and as she looked she found herself comparing him with the young man she had last talked with. He, too, had come to her with an offer. She glanced at the want ad lying face-up in the paper on her lap.
"Five dollars a week," she mused. "Six at the most."
"What's that?" asked Eddie. "I didn't getcha."
Eddie was smiling at her. She saw his smile, but beyond it she saw the smile of that other young man. Eddie would have felt pained could he have read the unvoiced comparison that shot into the girl's mind as she looked at Eddie's yellow-toothed, unwholesome smirk.
"Well?" asked Eddie at last. "Shall I frame up a date?"
"No," said the girl, "I think I've got a swell job already. Good-by, Eddie; here's where I get off."
She found the boarding-house, and after paying a week's board in advance returned to the Loop, seeking the Kesner Building. On the eighteenth floor she found the room number given in the want ad.
"There have been fifteen other applicants already," said the man to whom she had been directed by a typist near the door of the office; "but I haven't decided on any one in particular yet--there'll be as many more in to-morrow morning. Have you had any experience?"
"No; the advertisement said that was unnecessary," she replied.
"Yes, of course; but with so many applicants I would naturally prefer to choose an experienced girl. What have you been doing?"
The girl hesitated.
"Nothing." she said finally; "I have just come from the country."
"What is your name?"
"Lathrop--June Lathrop," she answered, giving him her true name; for with her decision to commence life anew she had also decided to do so under her true colors. There would be nothing in her future, she had determined, that could bring odium upon her father's name.
"Well Miss Lathrop," said he, "to be frank, you're the most likely looking of the applicants so far. Most of them have had experience, but that doesn't count much against natural intelligence, and unless I'm way off you've got that. I'll tell you what, you come back here tomorrow morning about nine-thirty, and if no one I like better has shown up by that time the job's yours. Good afternoon."
For three months June Lathrop folded and enclosed circulars on the eighteenth floor of the Kesner Building at the princely salary of six dollars a week. As her board and room at the place she had first selected cost her seven dollars a week, it required but a rudimentary knowledge of higher mathematics to convince her that she would either have to change positions or boarding-houses. She chose the latter alternative.
The change brought her into a neighborhood perilously close to the red-light district. Several times she saw women she had known in that other life. They passed her upon the street, clothed in clinging silk and starred with many a scintillating gem. June was careful to see that they did not have a chance to recognize her.
Her clothes were becoming a trifle shabby; but they were neat, and were worn with that indefinable air that some women can impart to rags.
Not once yet had she regretted the step she had taken. For the first time in months she felt a growing interest in life and a quiet contentment that was almost happiness--as near to happiness at least as she ever expected to attain.
She often smiled sadly to herself in recalling upon how slight a thing the turning in her life had hinged--the clean smile and kindly interest of a stranger, a man whose name, even, she did not know.
Early in her career upon the eighteenth floor of the Kesner Building June had discovered that the road to higher wages paralleled the acquirement of special training. Any one could fold and enclose circulars. There were always thousands of young girls to be employed at a moments notice for this class of work; but even here, she discovered, expertness demanded and received the highest wages. So she made it a point to become expert.
At the end of the second month she could handle a greater volume of work in a day than any other girl in the department, and with a lower percentage of errors. Her wages were advanced to seven dollars, and she was entrusted with the more important work of the department.
In the same room with her were several typists and on the floor below many stenographers. June discovered that the poorest paid typist earned a dollar a week more than she--or at least received that much more.
She determined to become a typist, and with that end in view practised during the noon hour each day under the guidance of one of the regular typists. From her she learned that some of the stenographers down-stairs received as much as seventy-five dollars a month--almost three times her wage!
That evening June enrolled in a night-school where she could study stenography. The venture necessitated a curtailment of expenses--it meant walking to and from her work and finding a still cheaper room than that she had. Her new lodgings were nearer the Loop. Here she had a tiny gas-stove, where she cooked her slender meals--two a day, some days.
At night she practised and studied. In a month she could take ordinary dictation and transcribe ninety per cent of it quite as it had been dictated. Without being aware of it she had become some forty per cent more efficient than most stenographers ever become; yet she felt that she was far from the proficiency required to obtain or hold a position.
Then the blow fell. Her careful attention to her work, in the circularizing department--her expertness--lost her position for her. It happens every day in the departments of big businesses in every city. A slack season came. Expenses must be curtailed. The head of the house conferred with the manager of her department. The pay-roll was the first item to be considered in reducing expenses--it always is. Likewise it was the last thing.
"How many girls can you spare at this season of the year, Mr. Brown?" asked the head of the house.
"We can cut the force in two," replied Mr. Brown, not because he thought so, but because he thought the head of the house would like to have him say it. Mr. Brown had been up against this same thing twice a year since he had assumed the management of the department. He had found it far easier to coincide with the wishes of his superior, especially when the hysteria of retrenchment was abroad; later he could employ other girls to bring his department up to a respectable working basis--after the head of the house had transferred his attention and hysteria to another department or another field of endeavor.
The head of the house glanced down the pay-roll, a copy of which Mr. Brown had handed him.
"H-m!" he said. "Seven dollars! Seven dollars is too much for this class of work, Mr. Brown. When I started this business I had but one employee--a girl. She and I did all the work. I used to work eighteen and twenty hours a day, and if I had made seven dollars a week clear the first year I should have been delighted. She worked nearly every night and Saturday afternoons as well, and did it for three dollars a week. You are paying your help altogether too much. I see you have three girls in this department who are receiving seven dollars a week--we will start with them."
And he made three little x's--one before the name of each of the three. So June lost her job. When Mr. Brown told her that he would not need her after the following Saturday she was dumfounded.
"Hasn't my work been satisfactory?" she asked.
"Yes," replied Mr. Brown; and then as well as he could he explained the necessity for cutting down the force: but just why it was necessary to lay off his most efficient help he did not attempt to explain.
That night and for many days thereafter June scanned the want columns of the papers. She wrote in reply to blind ads--letters that never received a response. She called in answer to those that gave an address, but there was always something they wanted that she lacked.
Quite often the positions were filled before she applied, and then she discovered that she must wait upon the corner near the office of the afternoon newspaper from which she obtained her leads, seize one of the first copies that came onto the street, and hasten to the addresses of the more likely appearing ads if she would be in time to obtain a first hearing.
In this way she managed, during the ensuing three or four months to pick up half a dozen temporary positions at wages ranging from five to nine dollars a week, but fully half the time she was idle. She had been compelled to give up night-school, but she still practised stenography at home; and her afternoons, when she was out of employment, she spent at the employment bureaus of various typewriter companies gaining speed on machines of different makes.
She had not sufficient confidence as yet to apply for a position as typist--she was too inexperienced to know that this is the sole asset of the majority of typists.
Four months after she lost her position in the Kesner Building she was working in the bindery department of a small job printing establishment at four dollars a week. Her clothes were by this time far too shabby for her to hope to obtain an office position; nor was there any immediate likelihood that she would be able to save sufficient money from her wages ever to purchase other clothing. But even now she retained her courage, though hope was rapidly succumbing.
Poor and insufficient food had left its mark upon her pallid, emaciated cheeks and dark-ringed eyes. She had made no friends among her coworkers. The good girls she avoided from a sense of shame in her past; the others, with their cheap immoralities, disgusted her. She would be one thing or the other--all good or all bad--and so she could not abide those who sailed under false colors, assuming a respectability that they did not have.
She still retained sufficient beauty to make her noticeable among other girls. It was her sole possession of value. One day she had an opportunity to cash it. The man who ran the print-shop often walked through the bindery inspecting the work. On several occasions he stopped and spoke to June about the job that she happened to be engaged upon. He was a middle-aged man, rather good-looking. There was little or no indication of dissipation upon his face, and yet June knew that he was a hunter--she had heard snatches of conversation among the other girls; conversation that made her blush, hardened as she thought she was.
One afternoon the forewoman told her that "the boss" wanted to see her in his office. She hastened to respond to the summons.
Her employer smiled pleasantly as she entered.
"Sit down," he said, indicating a chair beside his desk.
June did as he bid.
"How long have you been with us?" he asked.
"Two weeks," she replied.
"I have been noticing your work--and you," said the man. "I think that you are not getting enough wages. I believe that we can fix it up so that you can earn ten dollars a week--how would that strike you?"
The girl's eyes narrowed, but the man did not notice.
"I should be glad if I could earn ten dollars a week," she replied.
"Well, suppose you take dinner with me to-night and we'll talk it over--I'm too busy just now. Well, what do you say?"
June looked him straight in the eyes, and then she laughed. She thought of the apartment on Michigan Avenue, the eight-cylinder touring-car, the chauffeur, the diamonds--of all that she had refused seven months ago.
"You poor boob," she said. "You poor, cheap boob, you!"
The man turned scarlet. He tried to say something, but the words stuck in his throat.
June rose from her chair.
"Give me my time, please. I've heard that there were men like you. Before I went to work I thought they were all like you; but in all the offices I have worked--and I've worked in a lot of them--you're the first man that ever made a raw crack like that to me. If you had had the nerve to come right out and say what you wanted of me I might at least have had a little respect for you; but to try to work that rotten old cradle-robbing dinner-game on me! And offering me ten dollars a week and work all day in the bindery to boot! Give me my four dollars and let me get out of here!"
For two weeks June sought another position in vain. Her money was gone, and she owed for a week's room rent. She had no food or prospects of food. She had not eaten for twenty-four hours; and then, as fate would have it, she met Eddie on the street--Eddie of the pimply face, the unclean nails, and the stained fingers.
"For the love o' Mike!" exclaimed Eddie. "You?"
"Surest thing you know, Eddie," replied the girl, laughing.
"The swellest-lookin' chicken on the line--in rags!" he said. "What's the idea, Mag? Got a job as one of them new she-cops and doin' a little gum-shoe work in disguise?"
"No, Eddie; I'm out of a job."
Sudden enlightenment dawned upon Eddie's countenance.
"Bein' on the square hasn't got you much, eh?"
"No, Eddie; it hasn't got me anything except an awful appetite and nothing to satisfy it with."
The young man looked into her face searchingly.
"You hungry, Mag!"
She didn't deny it.
He grasped her by the arm.
"You come along with me," he commanded. "I know a joint round the corner where we can feed up swell on four bits, and that's all I got just now."
The girl drew back.
"No, Eddie," she said; "I can't sponge."
"Forget it," he cried. "Do you suppose I'll see an old pal hungry when I got the price? Not me!"
And then, as she still demurred, his expression changed.
"Oh." he said, "I forgot. You're on the square now, so you'd be ashamed to be seen with a dip like me--that's it. Well, I don't know but you're right. You can't be too careful."
"That's not it, Eddie, and you know it," she cried. "But I've been trying so hard to make good! I haven't asked anybody for help, and I've been on the square all the time. I hate to have to fall back on charity now."
"Charity nothin'!" he exploded. "You'd do as much for me if I was down and out. Come along now, and when you get the price you can feed me up in return if you feel that way about it."
And so they went together to the joint around the corner where they could get a swell feed for two for fifty cents.
"What do you think of this virtue lay by this time?" asked Eddie after they had partially satisfied the cravings of the inner man and woman.
"I guess it's its own reward all right enough," replied the girl.
Eddie was silent for a moment.
"Do you remember me tellin' you about an old bloke the last time I seen you?" he asked presently.
"That proposition's still open."
She reached across the table and laid her hand upon his stained fingers.
"Don't, Eddie," she said. "I'm trying hard to fight the temptation to go back where there is plenty of easy money, and good clothes, and enough to eat. I want to be on the square, though, Eddie, so don't make it harder for me."
He patted her hand.
"You're the real goods, Mag," he said. I thought you was just four-flushin' that time you told me you'd quit the gay life, but I guess it takes more'n a four-flush for a girl like you to wear them clothes and starve to boot just for the sake of bein' decent. I won't say nothin' more about that proposition; but if I can help you any other old way, why, you got my number.
"Gee!" he continued, "I wish I had your nerve. I tried a dozen times to quit and be decent. But the easy money down here always got me--that and the coke. Tell me all you been doin' since I seen you, and what's went wrong that you couldn't get a job."
She related her experiences; closing with an account of the print-shop man.
"The cheap skate!" exclaimed Eddie. "Gimme his number, and I'll hike down his way to-morrow and touch him for all he's got in his jeans--it'll teach him a lesson."
"No, Eddie, that wouldn't be setting me a very good example of being decent, would it?"
The man laughed.
"But say," he said, "why is it you don't go after a swell steno job? You say they told you down at the typewriter joint that you was the real cheese and ought to hold any job you could cop off."
"Yes, I know they did," she replied, "but they intimated that they couldn't send me out in answer to a call unless I had better clothes, and you can't buy much on four dollars a week, Eddie, especially if you only get the four some weeks."
Eddie sat for a moment deep in thought. Then he rose and reached for his hat.
"You sit tight here for about ten minutes, Mag," he said, "and I'll be right back. I got some business up the street. I want to see you again when I come back. You won't duck, will you?"
"I'll wait for you, Eddie," she replied.
The man stopped at the cashier's desk and paid the two checks, then he hurried out into the brilliantly lighted street.
It was fifteen minutes before he returned, and when he took his place at the table opposite her the girl did not know that he no longer wore a diamond stickpin, a watch of gold, and a diamond ring.
"Here," he said, shoving a roll of bills across the table to her. "Here's a stake for them swell clothes you need to land a decent job."