LONG before Mr. Ogden Secor returned to the city after his grand jury service had terminated and released him to attend to his own affairs, he had completely forgotten the girl from Farris's and his promise of assistance to her.
It was fully a month after his return that he was reminded of the affair by the sight of the Rev. Mr. Pursen at the home of Secor's fiancée where both had dropped in of a late afternoon.
"By the way, Mr. Pursen," said Secor, "did a girl I sent to you for assistance ever apply? She was the girl from Farris's in that case that was brought before the grand jury of which I was foreman."
"No," said the Rev. Mr. Pursen, "she did not come to me. I went to her the very day that Farris was arrested and offered to help her; but I found her entirely unresponsive to my advances. In fact, she seemed totally depraved, and though I labored with her I was finally forced to the conclusion that she was one of those hopelessly lost women which nothing but death can remove from the evil life they cling to by preference."
"Strange," said Mr. Secor; "she completely deceived me. I could have sworn that she was not innately vicious, and that if given a chance she might easily have been helped to a better way of living."
"No," said the Rev. Mr. Pursen; "I did my poor, weak best; but it was all to no avail."
"Too bad," said Mr. Secor, and that would have been the end of it had not fate been planning the perpetration of an odd trick upon him.
Sophia Welles entered at that moment, and both men arose to greet her.
"I have come to beg again, Miss Welles," said Mr. Pursen. "I find that our Society for the Uplift of Erring Women is sadly in need of funds. The secretary's salary is a month in arrears; the stenographer and the two investigators have not been paid for two weeks, and the rent is several days overdue."
"Well, well," murmured Miss Welles sympathetically, "that is too bad. We must certainly do something at once. How much do you need, and what can you rely upon from other sources?"
"We need about two hundred dollars at once," replied the clergyman, "and some arrangement would be very advantageous that would assure us of a permanent income of two hundred and fifty or three hundred dollars per month."
"I will subscribe fifty dollars toward the emergency fund at once," said Miss Welles. She looked expectantly toward Mr. Secor.
"What is the nature of the work done by the society?" asked that gentleman.
"The name of the society is self-explanatory," returned Mr. Pursen. "The Society for the Uplift of Erring Women."
"Roughly," Mr. Secor inquired, "how does it function?"
"Our investigators call upon the women whose cases come to our attention--usually through Municipal Court records--and endeavor to prevail upon them to attend our Monday evening Uplift Circle. The meetings are held in the church every Monday except during July and August. Here we enjoy a short song service, followed by prayer, and then the women listen to helpful talks by the noble women who are sacrificing their Monday evenings to their poor, fallen sisters."
"Do many of the women you seek to aid attend these meetings?" asked Mr. Secor.
"Unfortunately, no," admitted Mr. Pursen; "possibly five or six, on an average, I should say. The unfortunate part of it is that they seem to have so little real desire to embrace the opportunity we are offering them to begin life anew that seldom if ever do the same women attend our Uplift Circle a second time. You have no conception, Mr. Secor, how discouraging is labor of this nature--the utter indifference and ingratitude of those we would help is the first and greatest obstacle to our work."
"Just how would you help them, practically?" inquired Mr. Secor.
"By contact with good women; by the beauties of Scripture; by helpful suggestions and example; by impressing upon them their degradation; by--ah--"
" Do you find remunerative employment for them?" asked Mr. Secor.
"We have not gone thus far as yet, though that is the ultimate object, of course."
"I should think that it would be the primary object. Between meetings they go back and earn their livings in the old way--if you have accomplished anything it is undone at once."
"It is difficult to find people who will employ these women once we explain the sort of people they are," replied Mr. Pursen; "but that we hope to be able to do when we have sufficient funds to employ more assistants."
"You have placed none of them in decent employment, then?" asked Mr. Secor.
"Not as yet--it takes time to accomplish great reforrns--Rome was not--"
"Yes, of course," interrupted Mr. Secor; "but, looking at the matter from a purely business standpoint, I cannot see how you are going to raise sufficient funds to carry on any work until you have accomplished something practical with what you have. If four or five paid workers, with the assistance of a number of volunteers, have been unable to effect the regeneration of not a single woman in the six or eight months that the society has been organized, I should consider it a rather risky investment to subscribe any considerable amount for the continuation of the work.
"I don't wish to discourage you," continued Mr. Secor kindly, "but charities to be effective must be treated just as one would treat a business proposition. If a given charity is not producing results it would be better to divert our money to other channels--there are several well-managed charities, I understand, that are doing considerable practical good."
"Then you think that the Society for the Uplift of Erring Women is poorly managed?" asked Mr. Pursen a trifle acridly.
"It may be and it may not--there are some things which cannot be done--impractical things. This may be one of them; or the methods of the society may be faulty. Of course I am in no position to judge, nor do I wish to criticise."
"I can assure you that my cousin, Miss Peebles, is a very conscientious woman," said Mr. Pursen, "and is doing a noble work intelligently."
"Oh," said Mr. Secor; "I ask your pardon. I did not know that the secretary of the society is your cousin."
"She is," continued Mr. Pursen, "and the other active workers in the society are relatives of the good women who are aiding us in our thankless task."
"You mean by active workers--"
"Those who are on salary--not being financially able to devote their time to the work gratuitously," explained Mr. Pursen.
"I think," said Miss Welles, "that the society is doing a very noble work under most adverse conditions, and that we should do all in our power to help it financially, as well as to give it our moral support. It is very easy, Ogden, to criticise."
"I am sorry," said Mr. Secor, "if I have seemed to disparage the work of the society; but knowing as I do that it is rather a pet of yours, Sophia, I wanted to do something really worth while for it--if my money would do any good. There is no value in throwing money away for sentiment when there are so many places where it can be used to practical advantage.
"I should like very much to talk with Miss Peebles, and if I find that there is good foundation for the belief that fallen women can be really saved or benefited through your organization, I shall be most happy to subscribe toward an endowment fund, and influence my friends to do likewise."
"That is very kind of you, Mr. Secor," said Mr. Pursen, relaxing as he scented a substantial donation.
"Where is the office of the society?" asked Mr. Secor. "I shall make it a point to see Miss Peebles to-morrow."
"The office is in the church," said Mr. Pursen. "You will find Miss Peebles there about eleven o'clock. She is usually there between eleven and twelve daily."
"I thought from your reference to rent," remarked Mr. Secor, "that the society probably had a down-town office."
"No," replied Mr. Pursen; "we felt that as long as the society would have to pay rent it would be better to give this rent to the church rather than to outsiders, and we have made the amount very much smaller than the society could have obtained similar space for in the Loop."
"Oh," said Mr. Secor, "I see. Well, then, if possible, I shall call upon Miss Peebles to-morrow; but do not tell her to expect me, for I may find business engagements will prevent my seeing her before the first of the week."
"I hope not," Mr. Pursen said; "for I am sure that Miss Peebles can explain the work and scope of the society much more interestingly than I, in my poor, weak way. "
"We might look up that girl from Farris's again," suggested Mr. Secor, "and see what Miss Peebles can do for her."
"She is too degraded, I am afraid, ever to respond to the kind offices of good men and women. I think that she prefers her present life, sad as it may seem to us. Poor thing! I tried so hard to win her to godliness.
"But I must he going, now. I am so very glad to have met you again, Mr. Secor. May we not hope to see you oftener at our little church gatherings? In my poor, weak way I shall endeavor to make you welcome."
"Just a moment, Mr. Pursen," said Miss Welles, "until I make out a check for the Uplift Society."
After the Rev. Mr. Pursen had departed with his check Sophia turned to Secor.
"Isn't he splendid?" she exclaimed.
So noble and sincere in his desire to better his fellow man! So magnanimous in his practical relations with the poor creatures of the under-world!"
"Rather nice chap to have for a cousin, I should say, were one in quest of remunerative employment with short hours," replied Mr. Secor with a trace of dryness."
Miss Welles looked at her fiancée sharply.
"How perfectly unkind, Ogden," she exclaimed. "Really, I'd never have thought it of you. Mr. Pursen is one of nature's own noblemen."
"All right, Sophie; we won't quarrel about Mr. Pursen, although I must say that if his attitude toward that girl I spoke to him about is a decent sample of his magnanimous practicality, or whatever you called it, I am afraid it won't carry him very far in that class of work."
"And you won't help him?" she asked.
"If you wish me to, yes," he replied; "but if you were not interested I should feel that I'd rather contribute my money directly to the support of his indigent cousin and his church rather than through the medium of the Society for the Uplift of Erring Women. He'd get it all then, and wouldn't have to whack up with the indigent relatives of the noble women who sacrifice their Monday evenings, except during July and August, to the uplift of their less-fortunate sisters."
"You are entirely horrid to-day, Ogden,"pouted Miss Welles. "You do not like Mr. Pursen."
"Bless you, child, I don't know him. I've met him here perhaps a half dozen times--here, and in the newspapers. About all I've noticed about him is the poor, weak way he has of getting into print."
Miss Welles flushed. She had heard that criticism of her hero before.
"You are just like father," she said.
"He can't, or won't understand how much Mr. Pursen shrinks from the unpleasant notoriety his great reform work forces upon him. Like you, father seems to imagine that he courts publicity, while as a matter of fact he suffers it solely because he cannot avoid it, and because he knows that only by bringing the conditions of vice that exist in the city clearly before the people can they be awakened to the gravity of the issue which confronts them. I think the fact that he goes on and on regardless of the frequency with which the newspapers drag his name into publicity is one of the finest things about him--it proves conclusively his sincerity and his manly courage."
"All right, Sophie," replied Secor with one of his pleasant smiles, "if he succeeds in saving a single woman during his lifetime he will not have lived in vain, and there is every reason to hope for the best--Mr. Pursen is still a very young man."
The talk drifted then from Mr. Pursen and reform to more personal and intimate matters. They discussed their plans for the future. Secor broached the subject of a wedding date for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time Sophia Welles could not bring herself to be very definite in the matter.
She fully intended to marry Ogden Secor. She had not worked laboriously a whole year to that end with any intention of relinquishing her prize now that she had won it; but Miss Welles was in no great haste to wed. She loved Secor as well as she knew how. He was quite good-looking, had plenty of wealth, and a social position second to none in the city. Had he had nothing but the social position, Miss Welles could not have found it in her heart to give him up, but with such a combination of assets he was by far the best catch in many a season.
She had come from a small Indiana town where her father had made several fortunes in the automobile industry--saving them all and investing them wisely. She did not need to marry for money, though an alliance that would combine the wealth that would one day be hers with that of a wealthy husband was not to be ignored. What she did need was a stepping-stone to the social position she craved, but could not attain on the strength of her own name. Both she and her mother considered Ogden Secor an ideal stepping-stone, though neither had ever mentioned such a thing to the other.
As a matter of fact the Welleses were extremely nice people. Refined, educated cultured. Much nicer, if the truth could have found a champion of sufficient bravery to admit it, than many of the families to whose homes the feminine contingent of the Welles household craved entree; but their name was unknown in this new environment.
It had never graced a special brand of ham; it had never been intimately related and for generations with the filth and crime of the politics of the municipality; it did not blazon itself before the public eye from above the doorways of a hundred ten-cent lunch-counters--no, the Welleses were new, unknown; they did not belong.
But they meant to.
Ogden Secor had always known nice girls, pretty girls, rich girls. He did not succumb to the wiles of Sophia Welles at first sight, for she had nothing new to offer him; but she had that way with her which some women have of suggesting to a man a manner of proprietorship over them--a something that appeals to the protective instinct of the male.
It is done insidiously; you cannot put your finger on a single act that typifies it; yet before long the man comes to feel, without thinking about it, perhaps, that the woman belongs to him in a way. Then she plays her trump card. Just when she has him resting easily and comfortably in the belief that she looks to him for advice and guidance, she traps him into an attempt to exercise the power he thinks is his. Then she bowls him over merrily and does precisely as she pleases.
What is the result? Take away from a man by force something that he has come to believe he possessed, and you create a burning desire for the thing--though maybe before he would not have given a nickel for it.
So, when Ogden Secor discovered that Miss Welles admitted not his proprietorship over her, he immediately craved a real proprietorship, and the result was he discovered that he loved her.
They had been engaged now for three months, but the wedding day seemed as far in the future as ever. Miss Welles was having an excellent time as the fiancée of Mr. Ogden Secor. Already she had tasted of the fruits of conquest. Doors had opened to her that had previously been impregnable. She was in no haste to relinquish her freedom.
The sudden death of the elder Secor early in the spring had, of course, necessitated a delay in the wedding plans; for both Miss and Mrs. Welles desired a pretentious ceremony. It seemed now that a year at least must elapse before the marriage could take place.
As for Mr. Secor, he attempted to persuade his betrothed to slip away with him and be quietly married in some nearby town. Her father and mother could accompany them, and everything would be regular and lovely. He hated the idea of "the circus," as he called the affair the two women were planning.
But they would not listen to him.
Several times during the winter Secor met the Rev. Mr. Pursen at Miss Welles's. The more he saw of him the less he liked him, and the more he let Miss Welles see that he disliked her "parson," the more loyal she became to him.
"One would think that you were engaged to Pursen instead of to me," complained Mr. Secor on one occasion. "He is becoming a regular pest. I can scarcely ever find an opportunity to see you alone. Doesn't he know that we are engaged? Hasn't he any sense?"
"He has a great deal of sense, Ogden, she replied, "and he knows that we are engaged. He also knows that you do not like him. He has told me so."
"Then why does he persist in hanging around while I am here, Sophie?" he demanded.
"I think he wants to show his friendliness toward you and to win your friendship. I think it is perfectly sweet and noble of him--a sort of martyrship to brotherly love, as it were."
Carefully edited, Mr. Secor's reply would read: "Oh, piffle!"
"Ogden! How can you!" she cried, "I didn't know that you had such an uncharitable strain in your make-up."
"Clay feet will out," he laughed good-naturedly; "but really, Sophie, I'm sorry I was nasty. Forgive me, and I'll do my best to like your parson--in my poor, weak way.
"You'll have to like him, Ogden," she replied, "for we are bound to see a great deal of him! In the work that I am trying to do his assistance is invaluable--I am sure that the three of us can accomplish a great deal of good in this city could we but work in harmony--whole-heartedly for the uplift."
"Anything to make you happy Sophie," he said, and then the conversation turned to other things.
When he left she watched him as he walked to the curb and entered his car. Miss Welles was very proud of her fiancée. She noted his splendid carriage, his strong face and well-set head; and then she sighed. She wished that he understood her hopes and aspirations, and was in sympathy with them as was--well--Mr. Pursen, for example.
She found herself, quite unexpectedly, wondering why fate had not given Mr. Pursen a fat bank account and an old and socially honored name. How much more he could have accomplished, thus bucklered for the fight!