Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall by David Graham Phillips
Burlingham found for her a comfortable room in a flat in West Chestnut Street--a respectable middle-class neighborhood with three churches in full view and the spires of two others visible over the housetops. Her landlady was Mrs. Redding, a simple-hearted, deaf old widow with bright kind eyes beaming guilelessness through steel-framed spectacles. Mrs. Redding had only recently been reduced to the necessity of letting a room. She stated her moderate price--seven dollars a week for room and board--as if she expected to be arrested for attempted extortion. "I give good meals," she hastened to add. "I do the cooking myself--and buy the best. I'm no hand for canned stuff. As for that there cold storage, it's no better'n slow poison, and not so terrible slow at that. Anything your daughter wants I'll give her."
"She's not my daughter," said Burlingham, and it was his turn to be red and flustered. "I'm simply looking after her, as she's alone in the world. I'm going to live somewhere else. But I'll come here for meals, if you're willing, ma'am."
"I--I'd have to make that extry, I'm afraid," pleaded Mrs. Redding.
"Rather!" exclaimed Burlingham. "I eat like a pair of Percherons."
"How much did you calculate to pay?" inquired the widow. Her one effort at price fixing, though entirely successful, had exhausted her courage.
Burlingham was clear out of his class in those idyllic days of protector of innocence. He proceeded to be more than honest.
"Oh, say five a week."
"Gracious! That's too much," protested she. "I hate to charge a body for food, somehow. It don't seem to be accordin' to what God tells us. But I don't see no way out."
"I'll come for five not a cent less," insisted Burlingham. "I want to feel free to eat as much as I like." And it was so arranged. Away he went to look up his acquaintances, while Susan sat listening to the widow and trying to convince her that she and Mr. Burlingham didn't want and couldn't possibly eat all the things she suggested as suitable for a nice supper. Susan had been learning rapidly since she joined the theatrical profession. She saw why this fine old woman was getting poorer steadily, was arranging to spend her last years in an almshouse. What a queer world it was! What a strange way for a good God to order things! The better you were, the worse off you were. No doubt it was Burlingham's lifelong goodness of heart as shown in his generosity to her, that had kept him down. It was the same way with her dead mother--she had been loving and trusting, had given generously without thought of self, with generous confidence in the man she loved--and had paid with reputation and life.
She compelled Burlingham to take what was left of her fifty dollars. "You wouldn't like to make me feel mean," was the argument she used. "I must put in what I've got--the same as you do. Now, isn't that fair?" And as he was dead broke and had been unable to borrow, he did not oppose vigorously.
She assumed that after a day or two spent in getting his bearings he would take her with him as he went looking. When she suggested it, he promptly vetoed it. "That isn't the way business is done in the profession," said he. "The star--you're the star--keeps in the background, and her manager--that's me does the hustling."
She had every reason for believing this; but as the days passed with no results, sitting about waiting began to get upon her nerves. Mrs. Redding had the remnant of her dead husband's library, and he had been a man of broad taste in literature. But Susan, ardent reader though she was, could not often lose herself in books now. She was too impatient for realities, too anxious about them.
Burlingham remained equable, neither hopeful nor gloomy; he made her feel that he was strong, and it gave her strength. Thus she was not depressed when on the last day of their week he said: "I think we'd better push on to Cincinnati tomorrow. There's nothing here, and we've got to get placed before our cash gives out. In Cincinnati there are a dozen places to one in this snide town."
The idea of going to Cincinnati gave her a qualm of fear; but it passed away when she considered how she had dropped out of the world. "They think I'm dead," she reflected. "Anyhow, I'd never be looked for among the kind of people I'm in with now." The past with which she had broken seemed so far away and so dim to her that she could not but feel it must seem so to those who knew her in her former life. She had such a sense of her own insignificance, now that she knew something of the vastness and business of the world, that she was without a suspicion of the huge scandal and excitement her disappearance had caused in Sutherland.
To Cincinnati they went next day by the L. and N. and took two tiny rooms in the dingy old Walnut Street House, at a special rate--five dollars a week for the two, as a concession to the profession. "We'll eat in cheap restaurants and spread our capital out," said Burlingham. "I want you to get placed right, not just placed." He bought a box of blacking and a brush, instructed her in the subtle art of making a front--an art whereof he was past master, as Susan had long since learned. "Never let yourself look poor or act poor, until you simply have to throw up the sponge," said he. "The world judges by appearances. Put your first money and your last into clothes. And never--never--tell a hard-luck story. Always seem to be doing well and comfortably looking out for a chance to do better. The whole world runs from seedy people and whimperers."
"Am I--that way?" she asked nervously.
"Not a bit," declared he. "The day you came up to me in Carrollton I knew you were playing in the hardest kind of hard luck because of what I had happened to see and hear--and guess. But you weren't looking for pity--and that was what I liked. And it made me feel you had the stuff in you. I'd not waste breath teaching a whiner or a cheap skate. You couldn't be cheap if you tried. The reason I talk to you about these things is so you'll learn to put the artistic touches by instinct into what you do."
"You've taken too much trouble for me," said the girl. "Don't you believe it, my dear," laughed he. "If I can do with you what I hope--I've an instinct that if I win out for you, I'll come into my own at last."
"You've taught me a lot," said she.
"I wonder," replied he. "That is, I wonder how much you've learned. Perhaps enough to keep you--not to keep from being knocked down by fate, but to get on your feet afterward. I hope so--I hope so."
They dropped coffee, bought milk by the bottle, he smuggling it to their rooms disguised as a roll of newspapers. They carried in rolls also, and cut down their restaurant meals to supper which they got for twenty-five cents apiece at a bakery restaurant in Seventh Street. There is a way of resorting to these little economies--a snobbish, self-despairing way--that makes them sordid and makes the person indulging in them sink lower and lower. But Burlingham could not have taken that way. He was the adventurer born, was a hardy seasoned campaigner who had never looked on life in the snob's way, had never felt the impulse to apologize for his defeats or to grow haughty over his successes. Susan was an apt pupil; and for the career that lay before her his instructions were invaluable. He was teaching her how to keep the craft afloat and shipshape through the worst weather that can sweep the sea of life.
"How do you make yourself look always neat and clean?" he asked.
She confessed: "I wash out my things at night and hang them on the inside of the shutters to dry. They're ready to wear again in the morning."
"Getting on!" cried he, full of admiration. "They simply can't down us, and they might as well give up trying."
"But I don't look neat," sighed she. "I can't iron."
"No--that's the devil of it," laughed he. He pulled aside his waistcoat and she saw he was wearing a dickey. "And my cuffs are pinned in," he said. "I have to be careful about raising and lowering my arms."
"Can't I wash out some things for you?" she said, then hurried on to put it more strongly. "Yes, give them to me when we get back to the hotel."
"It does help a man to feel he's clean underneath. And we've got nothing to waste on laundries."
"I wish I hadn't spent that fifteen cents to have my heels straightened and new steels put in them." She had sat in a cobbler's while this repair to the part of her person she was most insistent upon had been effected.
He laughed. "A good investment, that," said he. "I've been noticing how you always look nice about the feet. Keep it up. The surest sign of a sloven and a failure, of a moral, mental, and physical no-good is down-at-the-heel. Always keep your heels straight, Lorna."
And never had he given her a piece of advice more to her liking. She thought she knew now why she had always been so particular about her boots and shoes, her slippers and her stockings. He had given her a new confidence in herself--in a strength within her somewhere beneath the weakness she was always seeing and feeling.
Not until she thought it out afterward did she realize what they were passing through, what frightful days of failure he was enduring. He acted like the steady-nerved gambler at life that he was. He was not one of those more or less weak losers who have to make desperate efforts to conceal a fainting heart. His heart was not fainting. He simply played calmly on, feeling that the next throw was as likely to be for as against him. She kept close to her room, walking about there--she had never been much of a sitter--thinking, practicing the new songs he had got for her--character songs in which he trained her as well as he could without music or costume or any of the accessories. He also had an idea for a church scene, with her in a choir boy's costume, singing the most moving of the simple religious songs to organ music. She from time to time urged him to take her on the rounds with him. But he stood firm, giving always the same reason of the custom in the profession. Gradually, perhaps by some form of that curious process of infiltration that goes on between two minds long in intimate contact, the conviction came to her that the reason he alleged was not his real reason; but as she had absolute confidence in him she felt that there was some good reason or he would not keep her in the background--and that his silence about it must be respected. So she tried to hide from him how weary and heartsick inaction was making her, how hard it was for her to stay alone so many hours each day.
As he watched her closely, it soon dawned on him that something was wrong, and after a day or so he worked out the explanation. He found a remedy--the reading room of the public library where she could make herself almost content the whole day long.
He began to have a haggard look, and she saw he was sick, was keeping up his strength with whisky. "It's only this infernal summer cold I caught in the smashup," he explained. "I can't shake it, but neither can it get me down. I'd not dare fall sick. What'd become of us?"
She knew that "us" meant only herself. Her mind had been aging rapidly in those long periods of unbroken reflection. To develop a human being, leave him or her alone most of the time; it is too much company, too little time to digest and assimilate, that keep us thoughtless and unformed until life is half over. She astonished him by suddenly announcing one evening:
"I am a drag on you. I'm going to take a place in a store."
He affected an indignation so artistic that it ought to have been convincing. "I'm ashamed of you!" he cried. "I see you're losing your nerve."
This was ingenious, but it did not succeed. "You can't deceive me any longer," was her steady answer. "Tell me honest--couldn't you have got something to do long ago, if it hadn't been for trying to do something for me?"
"Sure," replied he, too canny to deny the obvious. "But what has that to do with it? If I'd had a living offer, I'd have taken it. But at my age a man doesn't dare take certain kinds of places. It'd settle him for life. And I'm playing for a really big stake and I'll win. When I get what I want for you, we'll make as much money a month as I could make a year. Trust me, my dear."
It was plausible; and her "loss of nerve" was visibly aggravating his condition--the twitching of hands and face, the terrifying brightness of his eyes, of the color in the deep hollows under his cheek bones. But she felt that she must persist. "How much money have we got?" she asked.
"Oh--a great deal enough."
"You must play square with me," said she. "I'm not a baby, but a woman--and your partner."
"Don't worry me, child. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
"How much? You've no right to hide things from me. You--hurt me."
"Eleven dollars and eighty cents--when this bill for supper's paid and the waitress tipped."
"I'll try for a place in a store," said she.
"Don't talk that way or think that way," cried he angrily. "There's where so many people fail in life. They don't stick to their game. I wish to God I'd had sense enough to break straight for Chicago or New York. But it's too late now. What I lack is nerve--nerve to do the big, bold things my brains show me I ought."
His distress was so obvious that she let the subject drop. That night she lay awake as she had fallen into the habit of doing. But instead of purposeless, rambling thoughts, she was trying definitely to plan a search for work. Toward three in the morning she heard him tossing and muttering--for the wall between their rooms was merely plastered laths covered with paper. She tried his door; it was locked. She knocked, got no answer but incoherent ravings. She roused the office, and the night porter forced the door. Burlingham's gas was lighted; he was sitting up in bed--a haggard, disheveled, insane man, raving on and on--names of men and women she had never heard--oaths, disjointed sentences.
"Brain fever, I reckon," said the porter. "I'll call a doctor."
In a few minutes Susan was gladdened by the sight of a young man wearing the familiar pointed beard and bearing the familiar black bag. He made a careful examination, asked her many questions, finally said:
"Your father has typhoid, I fear. He must be taken to a hospital."
"But we have very little money," said Susan.
"I understand," replied the doctor, marveling at the calmness of one so young. "The hospital I mean is free. I'll send for an ambulance."
While they were waiting beside Burlingham, whom the doctor had drugged into unconsciousness with a hypodermic, Susan said: "Can I go to the hospital and take care of him?"
"No," replied the doctor. "You can only call and inquire how he is, until he's well enough to see you."
"And how long will that be?"
"I can't say." He hadn't the courage to tell her it would be three weeks at least, perhaps six or seven.
He got leave of the ambulance surgeon for Susan to ride to the hospital, and he went along himself. As the ambulance sped through the dimly lighted streets with clanging bell and heavy pounding of the horse's hoofs on the granite pavement, Susan knelt beside Burlingham, holding one of his hot hands. She was remembering how she had said that she would die for him--and here it was he that was dying for her. And her heart was heavy with a load of guilt, the heaviest she was ever to feel in her life. She could not know how misfortune is really the lot of human beings; it seemed to her that a special curse attended her, striking down all who befriended her.
They dashed up to great open doors of the hospital. Burlingham was lifted, was carried swiftly into the receiving room. Susan with tearless eyes bent over, embraced him lingeringly, kissed his fiery brow, his wasted cheeks. One of the surgeons in white duck touched her on the arm.
"We can't delay," he said.
"No indeed," she replied, instantly drawing back.
She watched the stretcher on wheels go noiselessly down the corridor toward the elevator and when it was gone she still continued to look. "You can come at any hour to inquire," said the young doctor who had accompanied her. "Now we'll go into the office and have the slip made out."
They entered a small room, divided unequally by a barrier desk; behind it stood a lean, coffee-sallowed young man with a scrawny neck displayed to the uttermost by a standing collar scarcely taller than the band of a shirt. He directed at Susan one of those obtrusively shrewd glances which shallow people practice and affect to create the impression that they have a genius for character reading. He drew a pad of blank forms toward him, wiped a pen on the mat into which his mouse-colored hair was roached above his right temple. "Well, miss, what's the patient's name?"
"I don't know."
"I--I don't know. I guess he isn't very young. But I don't know."
"Put down forty, Sim," said the doctor.
"Very well, Doctor Hamilton." Then to Susan: "Color white, I suppose. Nativity?"
Susan recalled that she had heard him speak of Liverpool as his birthplace. "English," said she.
"He hasn't any. It was sunk at Jeffersonville. We stop at the Walnut Street House."
"Walnut Street House. Was he married or single?"
"Single." Then she recalled some of the disconnected ravings. "I--I--don't know."
"Single," said the clerk. "No, I guess I'll put it widower. Next friend or relative?"
"I am. "
"Daughter. First name?"
"I am not his daughter. "
"Oh, niece. Full name, please."
"I am no relation--just his--his friend."
Sim the clerk looked up sharply. Hamilton reddened, glowered at him. "I understand," said Sim, leering at her. And in a tone that reeked insinuation which quite escaped her, he went on, "We'll put your name down. What is it?"
"You don't look English--not at all the English style of beauty, eh--Doctor?"
"That's all, Miss Sackville," said Hamilton, with a scowl at the clerk. Susan and he went out into Twelfth Street. Hamilton from time to time stole a glance of sympathy and inquiry into the sad young face, as he and she walked eastward together. "He's a strong man and sure to pull through," said the doctor. "Are you alone at the hotel?"
"I've nobody but him in the world," replied she.
"I was about to venture to advise that you go to a boarding house," pursued the young man.
"Thank you. I'll see."
"There's one opposite the hospital--a reasonable place."
"I've got to go to work," said the girl, to herself rather than to him.
"Oh, you have a position."
Susan did not reply, and he assumed that she had.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to call and see--Mr. Burlingham. The physicians at the hospital are perfectly competent, as good as there are in the city. But I'm not very busy, and I'd be glad to go."
"We haven't any money," said the girl. "And I don't know when we shall have. I don't want to deceive you."
"I understand perfectly," said the young man, looking at her with interested but respectful eyes. "I'm poor, myself, and have just started."
"Will they treat him well, when he's got no money?"
"As well as if he paid."
"And you will go and see that everything's all right?"
"It'll be a pleasure."
Under a gas lamp he took out a card and gave it to her. She thanked him and put it in the bosom of her blouse where lay all the money they had--the eleven dollars and eighty cents. They walked to the hotel, as cars were few at that hour. He did all the talking--assurances that her "father" could not fail to get well, that typhoid wasn't anything like the serious disease it used to be, and that he probably had a light form of it. The girl listened, but her heart could not grow less heavy. As he was leaving her at the hotel door, he hesitated, then asked if she wouldn't let him call and take her to the hospital the next morning, or, rather, later that same morning. She accepted, she hoped that, if he were with her, she gratefully; would be admitted to see Burlingham and could assure herself that he was well taken care of.
The night porter tried to detain her for a little chat. "Well," said he, "it's a good hospital--for you folks with money. Of course, for us poor people it's different. You couldn't hire me to go there."
Susan turned upon him. "Why not?" she asked.
"Oh, if a man's poor, or can't pay for nice quarters, they treat him any old way. Yes, they're good doctors and all that. But they're like everybody else. They don't give a darn for poor people. But your uncle'll be all right there."
For the first time in her life Susan did not close her eyes in sleep.
The young doctor was so moved by her worn appearance that he impulsively said: "Have you some troubles you've said nothing about? Please don't hesitate to tell me."
"Oh, you needn't worry about me," replied she. "I simply didn't sleep--that's all. Do they treat charity patients badly at the hospital?"
"Certainly not," declared he earnestly. "Of course, a charity patient can't have a room to himself. But that's no disadvantage."
"How much is a room?"
"The cheapest are ten dollars a week. That includes private attendance--a little better nursing than the public patients get--perhaps. But, really--Miss Sackville----"
"He must have a room," said Susan.
"You are sure you can afford it? The difference isn't----"
"He must have a room." She held out a ten-dollar bill--ten dollars of the eleven dollars and eighty cents. "This'll pay for the first week. You fix it, won't you?"
Young Doctor Hamilton hesitatingly took the money. "You are quite, quite sure, Miss Sackville?--Quite sure you can afford this extravagance--for it is an extravagance."
"He must have the best we can afford," evaded she.
She waited in the office while Hamilton went up. When he came down after perhaps half an hour, he had an air of cheerfulness. "Everything going nicely," said he.
Susan's violet-gray eyes gazed straight into his brown eyes; and the brown eyes dropped. "You are not telling me the truth," said she.
"I'm not denying he's a very sick man," protested Hamilton.
She could not pronounce the word.
"Nothing like that--believe me, nothing. He has the chances all with him."
And Susan tried to believe. "He will have a room?"
"He has a room. That's why I was so long. And I'm glad he has--for, to be perfectly honest, the attendance--not the treatment, but the attendance--is much hetter for private patients."
Susan was looking at the floor. Presently she drew a long breath, rose. "Well, I must be going," said she. And she went to the street, he accompanying her.
"If you're going back to the hotel," said he, "I'm walking that way."
"No, I've got to go this way," replied she, looking up Elm Street.
He saw she wished to be alone, and left her with the promise to see Burlingham again that afternoon and let her know at the hotel how he was getting on. He went east, she north. At the first corner she stopped, glanced back to make sure he was not following. From her bosom she drew four business cards. She had taken the papers from the pockets of Burlingham's clothes and from the drawer of the table in his room, to put them all together for safety; she had found these cards, the addresses of theatrical agents. As she looked at them, she remembered Burlingham's having said that Blynn--Maurice Blynn, at Vine and Ninth Streets--might give them something at one of the "over the Rhine" music halls, as a last resort. She noted the address, put away the cards and walked on, looking about for a policeman. Soon she came to a bridge over a muddy stream--a little river, she thought at first, then remembered that it must be the canal--the Rhine, as it was called, because the city's huge German population lived beyond it, keeping up the customs and even the language of the fatherland. She stood on the bridge, watching the repulsive waters from which arose the stench of sewage; watching canal boats dragged drearily by mules with harness-worn hides; followed with her melancholy eyes the course of the canal under bridge after bridge, through a lane of dirty, noisy factories pouring out from lofty chimneys immense clouds of black smoke. It ought to have been a bright summer day, but the sun shone palely through the dense clouds; a sticky, sooty moisture saturated the air, formed a skin of oily black ooze over everything exposed to it. A policeman, a big German, with stupid honest face, brutal yet kindly, came lounging along.
"I beg your pardon," said Susan, "but would you mind telling me where--" she had forgotten the address, fumbled in her bosom for the cards, showed him Blynn's card--"how I can get to this?"
The policeman nodded as he read the address. "Keep on this way, lady"--he pointed his baton south--"until you've passed four streets. At the fifth street turn east. Go one--two--three-- four--five streets east. Understand?"
"Yes, thank you," said the girl with the politeness of deep gratitude.
"You'll be at Vine. You'll see the name on the street lamp. Blynn's on the southwest corner. Think you can find it?"
"I'm sure I can."
"I'm going that way," continued the policeman.
"But you'd better walk ahead. If you walked with me, they'd think you was pinched--and we'd have a crowd after us." And he laughed with much shaking of his fat, tightly belted body.
Susan contrived to force a smile, though the suggestion of such a disgraceful scene made her shudder. "Thank you so much. I'm sure I'll find it." And she hastened on, eager to put distance between herself and that awkward company.
"Don't mention it, lady," the policeman called after her, tapping his baton on the rim of his helmet, as a mark of elegant courtesy.
She was not at ease until, looking back, she no longer saw the bluecoat for the intervening crowds. After several slight mistakes in the way, she descried ahead of her a large sign painted on the wall of a three-story brick building:
MAURICE BLYNN, THEATRICAL AGENT ALL KINDS OF TALENT PLACED AND SUPPLIED
After some investigation she discovered back of the saloon which occupied the street floor a grimy and uneven wooden staircase leading to the upper stories. At the first floor she came face to face with a door on the glass of which was painted the same announcement she had read from the wall. She knocked timidly, then louder. A shrill voice came from the interior:
"The door's open. Come in."
She turned the knob and entered a small, low-ceilinged room whose general grime was streaked here and there with smears of soot. It contained a small wooden table at which sprawled a freckled and undernourished office boy, and a wooden bench where fretted a woman obviously of "the profession." She was dressed in masses of dirty white furbelows. On her head reared a big hat, above an incredible quantity of yellow hair; on the hat were badly put together plumes of badly curled ostrich feathers. Beneath her skirt was visible one of her feet; it was large and fat, was thrust into a tiny slipper with high heel ending under the arch of the foot. The face of the actress was young and pertly pretty, but worn, overpainted, overpowdered and underwashed. She eyed Susan insolently.
"Want to see the boss?" said the boy.
"If you please," murmured Susan.
"I'm looking for a--for a place."
The boy examined her carefully. "Appointment?"
"No, sir," replied the girl.
"Well--he'll see you, anyhow," said the boy, rising.
The mass of plumes and yellow bangs and furbelows on the bench became violently agitated. "I'm first," cried the actress.
"Oh, you sit tight, Mame," jeered the boy. He opened a solid door behind him. Through the crack Susan saw busily writing at a table desk a bald, fat man with a pasty skin and a veined and bulbous nose.
"Lady to see you," said the boy in a tone loud enough for both Susan and the actress to hear.
"Who? What name?" snapped the man, not ceasing or looking up.
"She's young, and a queen," said the boy. "Shall I show her in?"
The actress started up. "Mr. Blynn----" she began in a loud, threatening, elocutionary voice.
"'Lo, Mame," said Blynn, still busy. "No time to see you. Nothing doing. So long."
"But, Mr. Blynn----"
"Bite it off, Mame," ordered the boy. "Walk in, miss."
Susan, deeply colored from sympathy with the humiliated actress and from nervousness in those forbidding and ominous surroundings, entered the private office. The boy closed the door behind her. The pen scratched on. Presently the man said:
"Well, my dear, what's your name?"
With the last word, the face lifted and Susan saw a seamed and pitted skin, small pale blue eyes showing the white, or rather the bloodshot yellow all round the iris, a heavy mouth and jaw, thick lips; the lower lip protruded and was decorated with a blue-black spot like a blood boil, as if to indicate where the incessant cigar usually rested. At first glance into Susan's sweet, young face the small eyes sparkled and danced, traveled on to the curves of her form.
"Do sit down, my dear," said he in a grotesquely wheedling voice. She took the chair close to him as it was the only one in the little room.
"What can I do for you? My, how fresh and pretty you are!"
"Mr. Burlingham----" began Susan.
"Oh--you're the girl Bob was talking about." He smiled and nodded at her. "No wonder he kept you out of sight." He inventoried her charms again with his sensual, confident glance. "Bob certainly has got good taste."
"He's in the hospital," said Susan desperately. "So I've come to get a place if you can find me one."
"Hospital? I'm sorry to hear that." And Mr. Blynn's tones had that accent of deep sympathy which get a man or woman without further evidence credit for being "kind-hearted whatever else he is."
"Yes, he's very ill--with typhoid," said the girl. "I must do something right away to help him."
"That's fine--fine," said Mr. Blynn in the same effective tone. "I see you're as sweet as you are pretty. Yes--that's fine--fine!" And the moisture was in the little eyes. "Well, I think I can do something for you. I must do something for you. Had much experience?--Professional, I mean."
Mr. Blynn laughed at his, to Susan, mysterious joke. Susan smiled faintly in polite response. He rubbed his hands and smacked his lips, the small eyes dancing. The moisture had vanished.
"Oh, yes, I can place you, if you can do anything at all," he went on. "I'd 'a' done it long ago, if Bob had let me see you. But he was too foxy. He ought to be ashamed of himself, standing in the way of your getting on, just out of jealousy. Sing or dance--or both?"
"I can sing a little, I think," said Susan.
"Now, that's modest. Ever worn tights?"
Susan shook her head, a piteous look in her violet-gray eyes.
"Oh, you'll soon get used to that. And mighty well you'll look in 'em, I'll bet, eh? Where did Bob get you? And when?" Before she could answer, he went on, "Let's see, I've got a date for this evening, but I'll put it off. And she's a peach, too. So you see what a hit you've made with me. We'll have a nice little dinner at the Hotel du Rhine and talk things over."
"Couldn't I go to work right away?" asked the girl.
"Sure. I'll have you put on at Schaumer's tomorrow night----" He looked shrewdly, laughingly, at her, with contracted eyelids. "If everything goes well. Before I do anything for you, I have to see what you can do for me." And he nodded and smacked his lips. "Oh, we'll have a lovely little dinner!" He looked expectantly at her. "You certainly are a queen! What a dainty little hand!" He reached out one of his hands--puffy as if it had been poisoned, very white, with stubby fingers. Susan reluctantly yielded her hand to his close, mushy embrace. "No rings. That's a shame, petty----" He was talking as if to a baby.--"That'll have to be fixed--yes, it will, my little sweetie. My, how nice and fresh you are!" And his great nostrils, repulsively hairy within, deeply pitted without, sniffed as if over an odorous flower.
Susan drew her hand away. "What will they give me?" she asked.
"How greedy it is!" he wheedled. "Well, you'll get plenty--plenty."
"How much?" said the girl. "Is it a salary?"
"Of course, there's the regular salary. But that won't amount to much. You know how those things are."
"Oh, say a dollar a night--until you make a hit."
"Six dollars a week."
"Seven. This is a Sunday town. Sunday's the big day. You'll have Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees, but they don't pay for them."
"Seven dollars a week." And the hospital wanted ten. "Couldn't I get--about fifteen--or fourteen? I think I could do on fourteen."
"Rather! I was talking only of the salary. You'll make a good many times fifteen--if you play your cards right. It's true Schaumer draws only a beer crowd. But as soon as the word flies round that you're there, the boys with the boodle'll flock in. Oh, you'll wear the sparklers all right, pet."
Rather slowly it was penetrating to Susan what Mr. Blynn had in mind. "I'd--I'd rather take a regular salary," said she. "I must have ten a week for him. I can live any old way."
"Oh, come off!" cried Mr. Blynn with a wink. "What's your game? Anyhow, don't play it on me. You understand that you can't get something for nothing. It's all very well to love your friend and be true to him. But he can't expect--he'll not ask you to queer yourself. That sort of thing don't go in the profession. . . . Come now, I'm willing to set you on your feet, give you a good start, if you'll play fair with me--show appreciation. Will you or won't you?"
"You mean----" began Susan, and paused there, looking at him with grave questioning eyes.
His own eyes shifted. "Yes, I mean that. I'm a business man, not a sentimentalist. I don't want love. I've got no time for it. But when it comes to giving a girl of the right sort a square deal and a good time, why you'll find I'm as good as there is going." He reached for her hands again, his empty, flabby chin bags quivering. "I want to help Bob, and I want to help you."
She rose slowly, pushing her chair back. She understood now why Burlingham had kept her in the background, why his quest had been vain, why it had fretted him into mortal illness. "I--couldn't do that," she said. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't."
He looked at her in a puzzled way. "You belong to Bob, don't you?"
"You mean you're straight--a good girl?"
He was half inclined to believe her, so impressive was her quiet natural way, in favorable contrast to the noisy protests of women posing as virtuous. "Well--if that's so--why you'd better drop out of the profession--and get away from Bob Burlingham."
"Can't I have a place without--what you said?"
"Not as pretty a girl as you. And if they ain't pretty the public don't want 'em."
Susan went to the door leading into the office. "No--the other door," said Blynn hastily. He did not wish the office boy to read his defeat in Susan's countenance. He got up himself, opened the door into the hall. Susan passed out. "Think it over," said he, eyes and mouth full of longing. "Come round in a day or two, and we'll have another talk."
"Thank you," said Susan. She felt no anger against him. She felt about him as she had about Jeb Ferguson. It was not his fault; it was simply the way life was lived--part of the general misery and horror of the established order--like marriage and the rest of it.
"I'll treat you white," urged Blynn, tenderly. "I've got a soft heart--that's why I'll never get rich. Any of the others'd ask more and give less."
She looked at him with an expression that haunted him for several hours. "Thank you. Good-by," she said, and went down the narrow, rickety stairs--and out into the confused maze of streets full of strangers.