LATE in December Mr. Secor was called to New York on a matter of business.
"I'll be gone two or three weeks, Stickler," he said to his office manager; "and it'll be an excellent time to break in Miss Smith's successor. She'll be with us until the first of January, and that'll give her time to coach whoever you employ in her stead. Be sure you get a young woman of intelligence, and have her well versed in her duties before I return--I won't want to have to suffer the sorrows incident to breaking in a new stenographer myself with a bunch of accumulated matter piled up and waiting for me."
"Yes, sir," replied Mr. Stickler; "I'll see that you have a second Miss Smith if there's one to be found in the city. Too bad she had to go and get married--just when she was becoming invaluable."
"Very inconsiderate of her, Stickler, I'm sure," said Secor, laughing.
So Mr. Stickler inserted want ads in three papers and telephoned to the employment departments of three typewriter manufacturers. And it so happened that the following day June Lathrop, decently clothed with the money from Eddie's jewelry, walked into one of these departments, asking for an assignment.
The woman in charge looked up with a smile.
"Why, good morning, Miss Lathrop," she said. "Where in the world have you been? I thought we'd lost you entirely."
She had never before realized what a really beautiful girl Miss Lathrop was. A few months since she had explained to her in as kindly a way as possible that it would be impossible for her to place her in the class of offices to which they catered unless she could come better clothed. She had not seen her again after that interview until now, and she had often wondered if she had offended the girl.
"Oh, I've been doing temporary work about town," answered June; "but now I want a chance at a permanent position. Haven't you something that you could send me out on? Something really good."
"I've just the thing, Miss Lathrop," replied the woman, fingering through a number of index cards in a little box on her desk.
Presently she found what she sought, and for a moment was busy transcribing the contents of the card to a blank form.
"Here," she said finally; "go to this number in the Railway Exchange and ask for Mr. Stickler. He wants a girl of more experience than you have had, but I really believe that you are fully competent to fill the position satisfactorily, and I have told him so in this note. I have asked him to give you a trial."
"I don't know how I can thank you enough," cried the girl. "I shall make good, for I must make good."
"Good luck, then," called the woman, as June left.
In the Railway Exchange Building June found the suite number she sought. The door to the main office was open, and she did not see the lettering upon it as she entered. She wondered what the nature of the business might be, but that it was profitable was evidenced by the thick carpet upon the floor of the outer office; and by the simple elegance of the desks at which a number of clerks were working.
At the information desk June asked for Mr. Stickler, presenting her note of introduction to the office-boy in charge. He was a tall, somber youth of sixteen who looked fully twenty-one. He eyed June from beneath stern brows, and then slunk silently toward a mahogany door upon the opposite side of the general office. Here he turned cautiously to cast a sudden, veiled look of suspicion in the girl's direction.
"How perfectly weird," she thought. "He makes me feel as though I were a sneak-thief."
Three minutes later June turned with a little jump to find the young man standing just behind her scowling down upon her in the most malevolent manner. He had left the private office by another door and entered the reception hall from the main corridor of the building.
"Oh!" she exclaimed; "you startled me."
The youth almost smiled.
"Come!" he whispered. "Follow me," and on silent feet he led her toward the private office across the room.
Here she was ushered into the presence of Mr. Stickler--a bald-headed man with a thick neck and close-set eyes. At sight of the girl's face Mr. Stickler beamed pleasantly.
"Good morning," he said. "Have a chair. You come well recommended, I see. Mrs. Carson has never failed to furnish us with the most competent help that we have had. She tells me that you have had little practical experience; but she is positive that you can do our work most satisfactorily."
"If it is not too technical I am sure I can," replied June.
"There is nothing about it but what you can learn quickly if you set yourself to it," replied Mr. Stickler kindly. He had interviewed a dozen applicants already and he was tiring of the job. This was the first who had been good to look at; and good looks were a primary requisite to employment under Mr. Stickler. June's face had won more than half the battle for her.
"Would you mind taking a little dictation now and transcribing it for me, as a sort of test, you know?" he asked.
"Not at all; I should be very glad to," she replied.
"Good! " he exclaimed. "There are many applicants who will not take a test. They say it is unfair."
"It is as fair for one as another," she replied. "I cannot see how you are to judge as to my qualifications in any other way."
Mr. Stickler drew a note-book and pencil from his desk, and June removed her wraps and gloves. For five minutes he dictated continuously and rather rapidly; but he enunciated his words distinctly, and not once did June find it necessary to stop him or ask for a repetition.
When he had finished he sat back in his chair and smiled at her. He had putposely made the test unusually hard, for he had decided that the girl would do--she was too good-looking to be lost--and so he wanted an excuse in case she fell down on the test. If he made it exceptionally difficult, it would not prove that she was incompetent should she make numerous errors, for even an easy test is a nerve-racking experience, and the best of stenographers often fall down through nervousness.
Of course, if the result proved that she was absolutely hopeless, he could not employ her; but if she showed the slightest indication of ability, he would give her a trial.
"Do you think you got it?" he asked.
"Why, of course!" she replied, surprised.
"Good! I made it as hard as I could. If you can transcribe that with less than ten per cent errors, you will be doing splendidly for one entirely unaccustomed to my dictation and the terms I used."
"Where can I find a machine?" she asked.
Mr. Stickler touched a bell.
"Miss Smith," he said to the young lady who entered in response to his summons, "this is Miss Lathrop. She has just taken a test. Will you let her use your machine, please, to transcribe for a few minutes?"
"Certainly. Come with me, Miss Lathrop." And she led June to a small room off the private office.
In ten minutes June knocked upon Mr. Stickler's door.
"Come in," he called, and as he saw who it was: "Stuck?" he asked with a smile.
"No, indeed; I've finished."
"Well, well; that's fine. Let me see it."
June handed him a typewritten sheet, standing before him as he scanned it.
"Excellent!" he said when he had finished reading it. "Excellent! Not an error. I think I need look no further, Miss Lathrop, if we can arrange the question of wages satisfactorily. Be seated, please. Now, what do you believe would satisfy you to start?"
"Oh, I'd rather leave that to you," said June.
"Miss Smith has been with us for five years," said Mr. Stickler. "She is leaving on the first to be married. We pay her twenty-five dollars a week. On the first she would have been raised to thirty had she remained. Would you care to start at twenty, with every assurance of an increase as soon as you are familiar with our work?"
Nine dollars a week was the largest wage June had ever received since she left Farris's, and that for but a single week in a temporary position. Would she accept twenty? She tried not to look too eager. With difficulty she seemed to hesitate, as though weighing in her mind the possibilities of the future against the present small pittance that had been offered her. Mr. Stickler eyed her steadily.
"The hours are not bad," he commenced.
"I do not care anything about the hours," she replied.
Mr. Stickler had it on his tongue's end to raise it to twenty-five--there were few girls applying for positions who did not ask about the hours at the first opportunity they had. Here was an exceptionally rapid and accurate stenographer who cared nothing about hours--she was indeed a find; and further, she was the finest-looking girl be had ever seen in his life. But before he had an opportunity June spoke.
"I think that will be satisfactory," she said. "When shall you want me?"
"When can you come?"
"Eight-thirty to-morrow morning."
"Thank you," said June. "I'll be here promptly. Good day."
"Good day, Miss Lathrop."
In the reception hall the furtive-eyed office-boy shot a keen glance at the young woman through half-closed lids as he looked up from some loose, printed sheets over which he had been bent in close study. He saw her glance at the name upon the door, which was now visible to her as she approached the doorway. He saw her give a sudden start and pale as though she had seen a dead man. Her hands went suddenly to her breast as she stood wide-eyed, gazing in horror at the neat, black lettering of the name.
Then she caught the boy's eyes upon her, and with a little effort she regained her composure and walked calmly from the office.
"John Secor & Co.!" she murmured to herself. "My God, I can never do it!"
But she did, and the next morning found her at work in the mahogany-furnished inner office of John Secor & Co. The girl could not recall that she had spent such another night of indecision and anguish for many a long month, until, with the close approach of dawn, she had determined to stifle the sorrow and loathing that thought of constant employment in that office induced, and take the position.
The twenty dollars a week meant to her, possibly, life itself, as well as the means of pursuing the straight and narrow path upon which a young man's smile had set her feet. She often wondered about him and if she should ever see him again. Some day she would like to thank him, she felt, for what he had done for her. Doubtless he had forgotten both her and the incident--she rather hoped that he had.
With her first week's pay, June partially repaid Eddie the Dip the money he had loaned her. For this purpose she met him at the little joint around the corner where one can feed up swell on two bits. Eddie was apparently as delighted with June's success as she herself, and that his pleasure was sincere was evidenced by the genuine disinclination he showed to accept a return of his money. But the girl insisted, and at last Eddie took the bills reluctantly.
In the far corner of the dingy restaurant a heavy man sat alone at a little table. He had been buried in an evening paper as the two had entered, so had not noticed them. When finally he looked up, running his shrewd eyes quickly about the room, he recognized Eddie the Dip, who sat facing him upon the farther side of the eating-place, near the cashier's desk.
No changed expression marked his recognition. Immediately he resumed his paper, turning in his chair so that while appearing to be reading he might surreptitiously watch the newcomers through the fly-specked mirror that circled the room above the wainscot. He had no further interest in them than that of semiofficial curiosity, and having recognized the man, he wished to discover the identity of his companion.
It was not until the two rose to leave that the girl turned her head so that the man in the far corner caught a view of her features. At sight of them he pursed his lips into a silent whistle of surprise; then Eddie the Dip paid the checks and the two passed out into the brilliantly lighted street.
The man at the table drew a note-book from his pocket, and with a stub of pencil wrote, laboriously, two names, the date, the hour, and the place; then he resumed the demolition of a large platter of "ham and."
Outside the restaurant Eddie bade June good night.
"You run along now, kid," he said.
"It wouldn't help you none to be seen with me."
The girl objected, though she knew well the truth of his statement. He alone in all the great city had evinced disinterested friendship in her and had given her real and substantial aid when she most needed it. Her sense of gratitude and loyalty was strong, and she would rather have missed almost anything than to have hurt the young man's feelings.
Doubtless Eddie guessed the truth of her sentiments; for he was firm in his insistence that she "run along home."
"You've been so good to me, Eddie," she said, "I--"
"Forget it," admonished the Dip.
"What's money for, anyway?"
"It is not the money I was thinking about," she replied, "though, of course, I could have done nothing without it--it's that you have been willing to believe that I wanted to be on the square--that I could be, and were willing to help me without"--she hesitated--"without expecting anything in return."
"Have I ever done anything to you, Mag," he asked with a laugh, "that gives you any license to class me with them Commonwealth Avenue or Lake Shore Drive guys?"
The following Monday morning June sat at her desk in the little office just outside that of the president of John Secor & Co. Ten days had passed since she commenced work there, and under the careful tutorage of Miss Smith and Mr. Stickler she had progressed rapidly in the assimilation of the details of her work.
Ogden Secor, the president of the company, she had not seen, as his return from New York had been delayed. She found herself wondering what he might look like, and if she should be able to continue in his employ after he returned. Now it was not quite so bad, for he was just a name; but when she should be compelled to come into daily contact with him, sit for hours, perhaps, close beside him as he dictated, would it not be very different and very terrible? The girl shuddered.
It was ten o'clock when Mr. Stickler opened the door from the president's office and called her. As Mr. Stickler often had given her work in this office before, she gathered up her note-book and pencil as she replied to his summons.
Somehow she did not like Mr. Stickler particularly. He had a way of looking at her out of his fishy eyes that fell little short of being insultingly suggestive. When Mr. Secor returned she knew that she would be released from this distasteful ogling--unless Mr. Secor chanced to be of the same brand.
This, however, she doubted; for since her entrance into the world of business the girl had learned that the great majority of office men accord the same respect to their female coworkers--as they do to their own sisters. That there were exceptions she had also discovered.
At the door Mr. Stickler met her.
"Come in," he said, "Mr. Secor has returned; I wish to introduce you to him."
June felt suddenly all cold. She had known that this must come some time, but to that very instant she had not dreamed how terribly she dreaded the ordeal. Her heart seemed to go dead within her, and it was with difficulty that she raised her eyes to the face of the man who had risen courteously at her entrance. That she knew he had never before set eyes upon her did not lighten her burden of apprehension--it seemed that he must read the tragic truth that ran screaming through her brain.
And then at last she looked at him--the pleasant, honest smile; the cordial, outstretched hand. From cold she went hot. Could such a frightful contretemps actually occur in real life?
The man before her--her employer--was the young man whose kindly words had set her upon the road of righteousness! Would he remember her?