Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall by David Graham Phillips
After a few days, when she was viewing her situation in a calmer, more normal mood with the practical feminine eye, she regretted that she had refused Gideon's money. She was proud of that within herself which had impelled and compelled her to refuse it; but she wished she had it. Taking it, she felt, would have added nothing to her humiliation in her own sight; and for what he thought of her, one way or the other, she cared not a pin. It is one of the familiar curiosities of human inconsistency which is at bottom so completely consistent, that she did not regret having refused his far more valuable offer to aid her.
She did not regret even during those few next days of disheartening search for work. We often read how purpose can be so powerful that it compels. No doubt if Susan's purpose had been to get temporary relief--or, perhaps, had it been to get permanent relief by weaving a sex spell--she would in that desperate mood have been able to compel. Unfortunately she was not seeking to be a pauper or a parasite; she was trying to find steady employment at living wages--that is, at wages above the market value for female and for most male--labor. And that sort of purpose cannot compel.
Our civilization overflows with charity--which is simply willingness to hand back to labor as generous gracious alms a small part of the loot from the just wages of labor. But of real help--just wages for honest labor--there is little, for real help would disarrange the system, would abolish the upper classes.
She had some faint hopes in the direction of millinery and dressmaking, the things for which she felt she had distinct talent. She was soon disabused. There was nothing for her, and could be nothing until after several years of doubtful apprenticeship in the trades to which any female person seeking employment to piece out an income instinctively turned first and offered herself at the employer's own price. Day after day, from the first moment of the industrial day until its end, she hunted--wearily, yet unweariedly--with resolve living on after the death of hope. She answered advertisements; despite the obviously sensible warnings of the working girls she talked with she even consulted and took lists from the religious and charitable organizations, patronized by those whose enthusiasm about honest work had never been cooled by doing or trying to do any of it, and managed by those who, beginning as workers, had made all haste to escape from it into positions where they could live by talking about it and lying about it--saying the things comfortable people subscribe to philanthropies to hear.
There was work, plenty of it. But not at decent wages, and not leading to wages that could be earned without viciously wronging those under her in an executive position. But even in those cases the prospect of promotion was vague and remote, with illness and failing strength and poor food, worse clothing and lodgings, as certainties straightway. At some places she was refused with the first glance at her. No good-looking girls wanted; even though they behaved themselves and attracted customers, the customers lost sight of matters of merchandise in the all-absorbing matter of sex. In offices a good-looking girl upset discipline, caused the place to degenerate into a deer-haunt in the mating season. No place did she find offering more than four dollars a week, except where the dress requirements made the nominally higher wages even less. Everywhere women's wages were based upon the assumption that women either lived at home or made the principal part of their incomes by prostitution, disguised or frank. In fact, all wages even the wages of men except in a few trades--were too small for an independent support. There had to be a family--and the whole family had to work--and even then the joint income was not enough for decency. She had no family or friends to help her--at least, no friends except those as poor as herself, and she could not commit the crime of adding to their miseries.
She had less than ten dollars left. She must get to work at once--and what she earned must supply her with all. A note came from Jeffries--a curt request that she call--curt to disguise the eagerness to have her back. She tore it up. She did not even debate the matter. It was one of her significant qualities that she never had the inclination, apparently lacked the power, to turn back once she had turned away. Mary Hinkle came, urged her. Susan listened in silence, merely shook her head for answer, changed the subject.
In the entrance to the lofts of a tall Broadway building she saw a placard: "Experienced hands at fancy ready-to-wear hat trimming wanted." She climbed three steep flights and was in a large, low-ceilinged room where perhaps seventy-five girls were at work. She paused in the doorway long enough to observe the kind of work--a purely mechanical process of stitching a few trimmings in exactly the same way upon a cheap hat frame. Then she went to an open window in a glass partition and asked employment of a young Jew with an incredibly long nose thrusting from the midst of a pimply face which seemed merely its too small base.
"Experienced?" asked the young man.
"I can do what those girls are doing."
With intelligent eyes he glanced at her face, then let his glance rove contemptuously over the room full of workers. "I should hope so," said he. "Forty cents a dozen. Want to try it?"
"When may I go to work?"
"Right away. Write your name here."
Susan signed her name to what she saw at a glance was some sort of contract. She knew it contained nothing to her advantage, much to her disadvantage. But she did not care. She had to have work--something, anything that would stop the waste of her slender capital. And within fifteen minutes she was seated in the midst of the sweating, almost nauseatingly odorous women of all ages, was toiling away at the simple task of making an ugly hat frame still more ugly by the addition of a bit of tawdry cotton ribbon, a buckle, and a bunch of absurdly artificial flowers. She was soon able to calculate roughly what she could make in six days. She thought she could do two dozen of the hats a day; and twelve dozen hats at forty cents the dozen would mean four dollars and eighty cents a week!
Four dollars and eighty cents! Less than she had planned to set aside for food alone, out of her ten dollars as a model.
Next her on the right sat a middle-aged woman, grossly fat, repulsively shapeless, piteously homely--one of those luckless human beings who are foredoomed from the outset never to know any of the great joys of life the joys that come through our power to attract our fellow-beings. As this woman stitched away, squinting through the steel-framed spectacles set upon her snub nose, Susan saw that she had not even good health to mitigate her lot, for her color was pasty and on her dirty skin lay blotches of dull red. Except a very young girl here and there all the women had poor or bad skins. And Susan was not made disdainful by the odor which is far worse than that of any lower animal, however dirty, because the human animal must wear clothing. She had lived in wretchedness in a tenement; she knew that this odor was an inevitable part of tenement life when one has neither the time nor the means to be clean. Poor food, foul air, broken sleep--bad health, disease, unsightly faces, repulsive bodies!
No wonder the common people looked almost like another race in contrast with their brothers and sisters of the comfortable classes. Another race! The race into which she would soon be reborn under the black magic of poverty! As she glanced and reflected on what she saw, viewed it in the light of her experience, her fingers slackened, and she could speed them up only in spurts.
"If I stay here," thought she, "in a few weeks I shall be like these others. No matter how hard I may fight, I'll be dragged down." As impossible to escape the common lot as for a swimmer alone in mid-ocean to keep up indefinitely whether long or brief, the struggle could have but, the one end--to be sunk in, merged in, the ocean.
It took no great amount of vanity for her to realize that she was in every way the superior of all those around her--in every way except one. What did she lack? Why was it that with her superior intelligence, her superior skill both of mind and of body, she could be thus dragged down and held far below her natural level? Why could she not lift herself up among the sort of people with whom she belonged--or even make a beginning toward lifting herself up? Why could she not take hold? What did she lack? What must she acquire--or what get rid of?
At lunch time she walked with the ugly woman up and down the first side street above the building in which the factory was located. She ate a roll she bought from a pushcart man, the woman munched an apple with her few remnants of teeth. "Most of the girls is always kicking," said the woman. "But I'm mighty satisfied. I get enough to eat and to wear, and I've got a bed to sleep in--and what else is there in life for anybody, rich or poor?"
"There's something to be said for that," replied Susan, marveling to find in this piteous creature the only case of thorough content she had ever seen.
"I make my four to five per," continued the woman. "And I've got only myself. Thank God, I was never fool enough to marry. It's marrying that drags us poor people down and makes us miserable. Some says to me, `Ain't you lonesome?' And I says to them, says I, `Why, I'm used to being alone. I don't want anything else.' If they was all like me, they'd not be fightin' and drinkin' and makin' bad worse. The bosses always likes to give me work. They say I'm a model worker, and I'm proud to say they're right. I'm mighty grateful to the bosses that provide for the like of us. What'd we do without 'em? That's what I'd like to know."
She had pitied this woman because she could never hope to experience any of the great joys of life. What a waste of pity, she now thought. She had overlooked the joy of joys--delusions. This woman was secure for life against unhappiness.
A few days, and Susan was herself regarded as a model worker. She turned out hats so rapidly that the forewoman, urged on by Mr. Himberg, the proprietor, began to nag at the other girls. And presently a notice of general reduction to thirty-five cents a dozen was posted. There had been a union; it had won a strike two years before--and then had been broken up by shrewd employing of detectives who had got themselves elected officers. With the union out of the way, there was no check upon the bosses in their natural and lawful effort to get that profit which is the most high god of our civilization. A few of the youngest and most spirited girls--those from families containing several workers--indignantly quit. A few others murmured, but stayed on. The mass dumbly accepted the extra twist in the screw of the mighty press that was slowly squeezing them to death. Neither to them nor to Susan herself did it happen to occur that she was the cause of the general increase of hardship and misery. However, to have blamed her would have been as foolish and as unjust as to blame any other individual. The system ordained it all. Oppression and oppressed were both equally its helpless instruments. No wonder all the vast beneficent discoveries of science that ought to have made the whole human race healthy, long-lived and prosperous, are barely able to save the race from swift decay and destruction under the ravages of this modern system of labor worse than slavery--for under slavery the slave, being property whose loss could not be made good without expense, was protected in life and in health.
Susan soon discovered that she had miscalculated her earning power. She had been deceived by her swiftness in the first days, before the monotony of her task had begun to wear her down. Her first week's earnings were only four dollars and thirty cents. This in her freshness, and in the busiest season when wages were at the highest point.
In the room next hers--the same, perhaps a little dingier--lived a man. Like herself he had no trade--that is, none protected by a powerful union and by the still more powerful--in fact, the only powerful shield--requirements of health and strength and a certain grade of intelligence that together act rigidly to exclude most men and so to keep wages from dropping to the neighborhood of the line of pauperism. He was the most industrious and, in his small way, the most resourceful of men. He was insurance agent, toilet soap agent, piano tuner, giver of piano lessons, seller of pianos and of music on commission. He worked fourteen and sixteen hours a day. He made nominally about twelve to fifteen a week. Actually--because of the poverty of his customers and his too sympathetic nature he made five to six a week--the most any working person could hope for unless in one of the few favored trades. Barely enough to keep body and soul together. And why should capital that needs so much for fine houses and wines and servants and automobiles and culture and charity and the other luxuries--why should capital pay more when so many were competing for the privilege of being allowed to work?
She gave up her room at Mrs. Tucker's--after she had spent several evenings walking the streets and observing and thinking about the miseries of the fast women of the only class she could hope to enter. "A woman," she decided, "can't even earn a decent living that way unless she has the money to make the right sort of a start. `To him that hath shall be given; from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.' Gideon was my chance and I threw it away."
Still, she did not regret. Of all the horrors the most repellent seemed to her to be dependence upon some one man who could take it away at his whim.
She disregarded the advice of the other girls and made the rounds of the religious and charitable homes for working girls. She believed she could endure perhaps better than could girls with more false pride, with more awe of snobbish conventionalities--at least she could try to endure--the superciliousness, the patronizing airs, the petty restraints and oppressions, the nauseating smugness, the constant prying and peeping, the hypocritical lectures, the heavy doses of smug morality. She felt that she could bear with almost any annoyances and humiliations to be in clean surroundings and to get food that was at least not so rotten that the eye could see it and the nose smell it. But she found all the homes full, with long waiting lists, filled for the most part, so the working girls said, with professional objects of charity. Thus she had no opportunity to judge for herself whether there was any truth in the prejudice of the girls against these few and feeble attempts to mitigate the miseries of a vast and ever vaster multitude of girls. Adding together all the accommodations offered by all the homes of every description, there was a total that might possibly have provided for the homeless girls of a dozen factories or sweatshops--and the number of homeless girls was more than a quarter of a million, was increasing at the rate of more than a hundred a day.
Charity is so trifling a force that it can, and should be, disregarded. It serves no good useful service. It enables comfortable people to delude themselves that all that can be done is being done to mitigate the misfortunes which the poor bring upon themselves. It obscures the truth that modern civilization has been perverted into a huge manufacturing of decrepitude and disease, of poverty and prostitution. The reason we talk so much and listen so eagerly when our magnificent benevolences are the subject is that we do not wish to be disturbed--and that we dearly love the tickling sensation in our vanity of generosity.
Susan was compelled to the common lot--the lot that will be the common lot as long as there are people to be made, by taking advantage of human necessities, to force men and women and children to degrade themselves into machines as wage-slaves. At two dollars a week, double what her income justified--she rented a room in a tenement flat in Bleecker street. It was a closet of a room whose thin, dirt-adorned walls were no protection against sound or vermin, not giving even privacy from prying eyes. She might have done a little better had she been willing to share room and bed with one or more girls, but not enough better to compensate for what that would have meant.
The young Jew with the nose so impossible that it elevated his countenance from commonplace ugliness to weird distinction had taken a friendly fancy to her. He was Julius Bam, nephew of the proprietor. In her third week he offered her the forewoman's place. "You've got a few brains in your head," said he. "Miss Tuohy's a boob. Take the job and you'll push up. We'll start you at five per."
Susan thanked him but declined. "What's the use of my taking a job I couldn't keep more than a day or two?" explained she. "I haven't it in me to boss people."
"Then you've got to get it, or you're done for," said he. "Nobody ever gets anywhere until he's making others work for him."
It was the advice she had got from Matson, the paper box manufacturer in Cincinnati. It was the lesson she found in all prosperity on every hand. Make others work for you--and the harder you made them work the more prosperous you were--provided, of course, you kept all or nearly all the profits of their harder toil. Obvious common sense. But how could she goad these unfortunates, force their clumsy fingers to move faster, make their long and weary day longer and wearier--with nothing for them as the result but duller brain, clumsier fingers, more wretched bodies? She realized why those above lost all patience with them, treated them with contempt. Only as one of them could any intelligent, energetic human being have any sympathy for them, stupid and incompetent from birth, made ever more and more stupid and incapable by the degrading lives they led. She could scarcely conceal her repulsion for their dirty bodies, their stained and rotting clothing saturated with stale sweat, their coarse flesh reeking coarse food smells. She could not listen to their conversation, so vulgar, so inane. Yet she felt herself--for the time--one of them, and her heart bled for them. And while she knew that only their dullness of wit and ignorance kept them from climbing up and stamping and trampling full as savagely and cruelly as did those on top, still the fact remained that they were not stamping and trampling.
As she was turning in some work, Miss Tuohy said abruptly: "You don't belong here. You ought to go back."
Susan started, and her heart beat wildly. She was going to lose her job!
The forelady saw, and instantly understood. "I don't mean that," she said. "You can stay as long as you like--as long as your health lasts. But isn't there somebody somewhere--anybody--you can go to and ask them to help you out of this?"
"No--there's no one," said she.
"That can't be true," insisted the forelady. "Everybody has somebody--or can get somebody--that is, anyone who looks like you. I wouldn't suggest such a thing to a fool. But you could keep your head. There isn't any other way, and you might as well make up your mind to it."
To confide is one of the all but universal longings--perhaps needs--of human nature. Susan's honest, sympathetic eyes, her look and her habit of reticence, were always attracting confidences from such unexpected sources as hard, forbidding Miss Tuohy. Susan was not much surprised when Miss Tuohy went on to say:
"I was spoiled when I was still a kid--by getting to know well a man who was above my class. I had tastes that way, and he appealed to them. After him I couldn't marry the sort of man that wanted me. Then my looks went--like a flash--it often happens that way with us Irish girls. But I can get on. I know how to deal with these people--and you never could learn. You'd treat 'em like ladies and they'd treat you as easy fruit. Yes, I get along all right, and I'm happy--away from here."
Susan's sympathetic glance of inquiry gave the necessary encouragement. "It's a baby," Miss Tuohy explained--and Susan knew it was for the baby's sake that this good heart had hardened itself to the dirty work of forelady. Her eyes shifted as she said, "A child of my sister's--dead in Ireland. How I do love that baby----"
They were interrupted and it so happened that the confidence was never resumed and finished. But Miss Tuohy had made her point with Susan--had set her to thinking less indefinitely. "I must take hold!" Susan kept saying to herself. The phrase was always echoing in her brain. But how?--how? And to that question she could find no answer.
Every morning she bought a one-cent paper whose big circulation was in large part due to its want ads--its daily section of closely printed columns of advertisements of help wanted and situations wanted. Susan read the columns diligently. At first they acted upon her like an intoxicant, filling her not merely with hope but with confident belief that soon she would be in a situation where the pay was good and the work agreeable, or at least not disagreeable. But after a few weeks she ceased from reading.
Why? Because she answered the advertisements, scores of them, more than a hundred, before she saw through the trick and gave up. She found that throughout New York all the attractive or even tolerable places were filled by girls helped by their families or in other ways, girls working at less than living wages because they did not have to rely upon their wages for their support. And those help wanted advertisements were simply appeals for more girls of that sort--for cheaper girls; or they were inserted by employment agencies, masquerading in the newspaper as employers and lying in wait to swindle working girls by getting a fee in exchange for a false promise of good work at high wages; or they were the nets flung out by crafty employers who speeded and starved their slaves, and wished to recruit fresh relays to replace those that had quit in exhaustion or in despair.
"Why do you always read the want ads?" she said to Lany Ricardo, who spent all her spare time at those advertisements in two papers she bought and one she borrowed every day. "Did you ever get anything good, or hear of anybody that did?"
"Oh, my, no," replied Lany with a laugh. "I read for the same reason that all the rest do. It's a kind of dope. You read and then you dream about the places--how grand they are and how well off you'll be. But nobody'd be fool enough to answer one of 'em unless she was out of a job and had to get another and didn't care how rotten it was. No, it's just dope--like buyin' policy numbers or lottery tickets. You know you won't git a prize, but you have a lot of fun dreaming about it."
As Susan walked up and down at the lunch hour, she talked with workers, both men and women, in all sorts of employment. Some were doing a little better than she; others--the most--were worse off chiefly because her education, her developed intelligence, enabled her to ward off savage blows--such as illness from rotten food--against which their ignorance made them defenseless. Whenever she heard a story of someone's getting on, how grotesquely different it was from the stories she used to get out of the Sunday school library and dream over! These almost actualities of getting on had nothing in them about honesty and virtue. According to them it was always some sort of meanness or trickery; and the particular meanness or tricks were, in these practical schools of success in session at each lunch hour, related in detail as lessons in how to get on. If the success under discussion was a woman's, it was always how her boss or employer had "got stuck on her" and had given her an easier job with good pay so that she could wear clothes more agreeable to his eyes and to his touch. Now and then it was a wonderful dazzling success--some girl had got her rich employer so "dead crazy" about her that he had taken her away from work altogether and had set her up in a flat with a servant and a "swell trap"; there was even talk of marriage.
Was it true? Were the Sunday school books through and through lies--ridiculous, misleading lies, wicked lies--wicked because they hid the shameful truth that ought to be proclaimed from the housetops? Susan was not sure. Perhaps envy twisted somewhat these tales of rare occasional successes told by the workers to each other. But certain it was that, wherever she had the opportunity to see for herself, success came only by hardness of heart, by tricks and cheats. Certain it was also that the general belief among the workers was that success could be got in those ways only--and this belief made the falsehood, if it was a falsehood, or the partial truth, if it was a twisted truth, full as poisonous as if it had been true throughout. Also, if the thing were not true, how came it that everyone in practical life believed it to be so--how came it that everyone who talked in praise of honesty and virtue looked, as he talked, as if he were canting and half expected to be laughed at?
All about her as badly off as she, or worse off. Yet none so unhappy as she--not even the worse off. In fact, the worse off as the better off were not so deeply wretched. Because they had never in all their lives known the decencies of life clean lodgings, clean clothing, food fit to eat, leisure and the means of enjoying leisure. And Susan had known all these things. When she realized why her companions in misery, so feeble in self-restraint, were able to endure patiently and for the most part even cheerfully, how careful she was never to say or to suggest anything that might put ideas of what life might be, of what it was for the comfortable few, into the minds of these girls who never had known and could only be made wretched by knowing! How fortunate for them, she thought, that they had gone to schools where they met only their own kind! How fortunate that the devouring monster of industry had snatched them away from school before their minds had been awakened to the realities of life! How fortunate that their imaginations were too dull and too heavy to be touched by the sights of luxury they saw in the streets or by what they read in the newspapers and in the cheap novels! To them, as she soon realized, their world seemed the only world, and the world that lived in comfort seemed a vague unreality, as must seem whatever does not come into our own experience.
One lunch hour an apostle of discontent preaching some kind of politics or other held forth on the corner above the shop. Susan paused to listen. She had heard only a few words when she was incensed to the depths of her heart against him. He ought to be stopped by the police, this scoundrel trying to make these people unhappy by awakening them to the misery and degradation of their lot! He looked like an honest, earnest man. No doubt he fancied that he was in some way doing good. These people who were always trying to do the poor good--they ought all to be suppressed! If someone could tell them how to cease to be poor, that would indeed be good. But such a thing would be impossible. In Sutherland, where the best off hadn't so painfully much more than the worst off, and where everybody but the idle and the drunken, and even they most of the time, had enough to eat, and a decent place to sleep, and some kind of Sunday clothes--in Sutherland the poverty was less than in Cincinnati, infinitely less than in this vast and incredibly rich New York where in certain districts wealth, enormous wealth, was piled up and up. So evidently the presence of riches did not help poverty but seemed to increase it. No, the disease was miserable, thought Susan. For most of the human race, disease and bad food and vile beds in dingy holes and days of fierce, poorly paid toil--that was the law of this hell of a world. And to escape from that hideous tyranny, you must be hard, you must trample, you must rob, you must cease to be human.
The apostle of discontent insisted that the law could be changed, that the tyranny could be abolished. She listened, but he did not convince her. He sounded vague and dreamy--as fantastically false in his new way as she had found the Sunday school books to be. She passed on.
She continued to pay out a cent each day for the newspaper. She no longer bothered with the want ads. Pipe dreaming did not attract her; she was too fiercely bent upon escape, actual escape, to waste time in dreaming of ways of escape that she never could realize. She read the paper because, if she could not live in the world but was battered down in its dark and foul and crowded cellar, she at least wished to know what was going on up in the light and air. She found every day news of great doings, of wonderful rises, of rich rewards for industry and thrift, of abounding prosperity and of opportunity fairly forcing itself into acceptance. But all this applied only to the few so strangely and so luckily chosen, while the mass was rejected. For that mass, from earliest childhood until death, there was only toil in squalor--squalid food, squalid clothing, squalid shelter. And when she read one day--in an obscure paragraph in her newspaper--that the income of the average American family was less than twelve dollars a week--less than two dollars and a half a week for each individual--she realized that what she was seeing and living was not New York and Cincinnati, but was the common lot, country wide, no doubt world wide.
"Must take hold!" her mind cried incessantly to her shrinking heart. "Somehow--anyhow--take hold!--must--must--must!"
Those tenement houses! Those tenement streets! Everywhere wandering through the crowds the lonely old women--holding up to the girls the mirror of time and saying: "Look at my misery! Look at my disease-blasted body. Look at my toil-bent form and toil-wrecked hands. Look at my masses of wrinkles, at my rags, at my leaky and rotten shoes. Think of my aloneness--not a friend--feared and cast off by my relatives because they are afraid they will have to give me food and lodgings. Look at me--think of my life--and know that I am you as you will be a few years from now whether you work as a slave to the machine or as a slave to the passions of one or of many men. I am you. Not one in a hundred thousand escape my fate except by death."
"Somehow--anyhow--I must take hold," cried Susan to her swooning heart.
When her capital had dwindled to three dollars Mrs. Tucker appeared. Her face was so beaming bright that Susan, despite her being clad in garments on which a pawnshop would advance nothing, fancied she had come with good news.
"Now that I'm rid of that there house," said she, "I'll begin to perk up. I ain't got nothing left to worry me. I'm ready for whatever blessings the dear Master'll provide. My pastor tells me I'm the finest example of Christian fortitude he ever Saw. But"--and Mrs. Tucker spoke with genuine modesty--"I tell him I don't deserve no credit for leaning on the Lord. If I can trust Him in death, why not in life?"
"You've got a place? The church has----"
"Bless you, no," cried Mrs. Tucker. "Would I burden 'em with myself, when there's so many that has to be looked after? No, I go direct to the Lord."
"What are you going to do? What place have you got?"
"None as yet. But He'll provide something--something better'n I deserve."
Susan had to turn away, to hide her pity--and her disappointment. Not only was she not to be helped, but also she must help another. "You might get a job at the hat factory," said she.
Mrs. Tucker was delighted. "I knew it!" she cried. "Don't you see how He looks after me?"
Susan persuaded Miss Tuohy to take Mrs. Tucker on. She could truthfully recommend the old woman as a hard worker. They moved into a room in a tenement in South Fifth Avenue. Susan read in the paper about a model tenement and went to try for what was described as real luxury in comfort and cleanliness. She found that sort of tenements filled with middle-class families on their way down in the world and making their last stand against rising rents and rising prices. The model tenement rents were far, far beyond her ability to pay. She might as well think of moving to the Waldorf. She and Mrs. Tucker had to be content with a dark room on the fifth floor, opening on a damp air shaft whose odor was so foul that in comparison the Clinton Place shaft was as the pure breath of the open sky. For this shelter--more than one-half the free and proud citizens of prosperous America dwelling in cities occupy its like, or worse they paid three dollars a week--a dollar and a half apiece. They washed their underclothing at night, slept while it was drying. And Susan, who could not bring herself to imitate the other girls and wear a blouse of dark color that was not to be washed, rose at four to do the necessary ironing. They did their own cooking. It was no longer possible for Susan to buy quality and content herself with small quantity. However small the quantity of food she could get along on, it must be of poor quality--for good quality was beyond her means.
It maddened her to see the better class of working girls. Their fairly good clothing, their evidences of some comfort at home, seemed to mock at her as a poor fool who was being beaten down because she had not wit enough to get on. She knew these girls were either supporting themselves in part by prostitution or were held up by their families, by the pooling of the earnings of several persons. Left to themselves, to their own earnings at work, they would be no better off than she, or at best so little better off that the difference was unimportant. If to live decently in New York took an income of fifteen dollars a week, what did it matter whether one got five or ten or twelve? Any wages below fifteen meant a steady downward drag--meant exposure to the dirt and poison of poverty tenements--meant the steady decline of the power of resistance, the steady oozing away of self-respect, of the courage and hope that give the power to rise. To have less than the fifteen dollars absolutely necessary for decent surroundings, decent clothing, decent food--that meant one was drowning. What matter whether the death of the soul was quick, or slow, whether the waters of destruction were twenty feet deep or twenty thousand?
Mrs. Reardon, the servant woman on the top floor, was evicted and Susan and Mrs. Tucker took her in. She protested that she could sleep on the floor, that she had done so a large part of her life--that she preferred it to most beds. But Susan made her up a kind of bed in the corner. They would not let her pay anything. She had rheumatism horribly, some kind of lung trouble, and the almost universal and repulsive catarrh that preys upon working people. Her hair had dwindled to a meager wisp. This she wound into a hard little knot and fastened with an imitation tortoise-shell comb, huge, high, and broken, set with large pieces of glass cut like diamonds. Her teeth were all gone and her cheeks almost met in her mouth.
One day, when Mrs. Tucker and Mrs. Reardon were exchanging eulogies upon the goodness of God to them, Susan shocked them by harshly ordering them to be silent. "If God hears you," she said, "He'll think you're mocking Him. Anyhow, I can't stand any more of it. Hereafter do your talking of that kind when I'm not here."
Another day Mrs. Reardon told about her sister. The sister had worked in a factory where some sort of poison that had a rotting effect on the human body was used in the manufacture. Like a series of others the sister caught the disease. But instead of rotting out a spot, a few fingers, or part of the face, it had eaten away the whole of her lower jaw so that she had to prepare her food for swallowing by first pressing it with her fingers against her upper teeth. Used as Susan was to hearing horrors in this region where disease and accident preyed upon every family, she fled from the room and walked shuddering about the streets--the streets with their incessant march past of blighted and blasted, of maimed and crippled and worm-eaten. Until that day Susan had been about as unobservant of the obvious things as is the rest of the race. On that day she for the first time noticed the crowd in the street, with mind alert to signs of the ravages of accident and disease. Hardly a sound body, hardly one that was not piteously and hideously marked.
When she returned--and she did not stay out long--Mrs. Tucker was alone. Said she:
"Mrs. Reardon says the rotten jaw was sent on her sister as a punishment for marrying a Protestant, she being a Catholic. How ignorant some people is! Of course, the good Lord sent the judgment on her for being a Catholic at all."
"Mrs. Tucker," said Susan, "did you ever hear of Nero?"
"He burned up Rome--and he burned up the Christian martyrs," said Mrs. Tucker. "I had a good schooling. Besides, sermons is highly educating."
"Well," said Susan, "if I had a choice of living under Nero or of living under that God you and Mrs. Reardon talk about, I'd take Nero and be thankful and happy."
Mrs. Tucker would have fled if she could have afforded it. As it was all she ventured was a sigh and lips moving in prayer.
On a Friday in late October, at the lunch hour, Susan was walking up and down the sunny side of Broadway. It was the first distinctly cool day of the autumn; there had been a heavy downpour of rain all morning, but the New York sun that is ever struggling to shine and is successful on all but an occasional day was tearing up and scattering the clouds with the aid of a sharp north wind blowing down the deep canyon. She was wearing her summer dress still--old and dingy but clean. That look of neatness about the feet--that charm of a well-shaped foot and a well-turned ankle properly set off--had disappeared--with her the surest sign of the extreme of desperate poverty. Her shoes were much scuffed, were even slightly down at the heel; her sailor hat would have looked only the worse had it had a fresh ribbon on its crown. This first hint of winter had stung her fast numbing faculties into unusual activity. She was remembering the misery of the cold in Cincinnati--the misery that had driven her into prostitution as a drunken driver's lash makes the frenzied horse rush he cares not where in his desire to escape. This wind of Broadway--this first warning of winter--it was hissing in her ears: "Take hold! Winter is coming! Take hold!"
Summer and winter--fiery heat and brutal cold. Like the devils in the poem, the poor--the masses, all but a few of the human race--were hurried from fire to ice, to vary their torment and to make it always exquisite.
To shelter herself for a moment she paused at a spot that happened to be protected to the south by a projecting sidewalk sign. She was facing, with only a tantalizing sheet of glass between, a display of winter underclothes on wax figures. To show them off more effectively the sides and the back of the window were mirrors. Susan's gaze traveled past the figures to a person she saw standing at full length before her. "Who is that pale, stooped girl?" she thought. "How dreary and sad she looks! How hard she is fighting to make her clothes look decent, when they aren't! She must be something like me--only much worse off." And then she realized that she was gazing at her own image, was pitying her own self. The room she and Mrs. Tucker and the old scrubwoman occupied was so dark, even with its one little gas jet lighted, that she was able to get only a faint look at herself in the little cracked and water-marked mirror over its filthy washstand--filthy because the dirt was so ground in that only floods of water and bars of soap could have cleaned down to its original surface. She was having a clear look at herself for the first time in three months.
She shrank in horror, yet gazed on fascinated. Why, her physical charm had gone gone, leaving hardly a trace! Those dull, hollow eyes--that thin and almost ghastly face--the emaciated form--the once attractive hair now looking poor and stringy because it could not be washed properly--above all, the sad, bitter expression about the mouth. Those pale lips! Her lips had been from childhood one of her conspicuous and most tempting beauties; and as the sex side of her nature had developed they had bloomed into wonderful freshness and vividness of form and color. Now----
Those pale, pale lips! They seemed to form a sort of climax of tragedy to the melancholy of her face. She gazed on and on. She noted every detail. How she had fallen! Indeed, a fallen woman! These others had been born to the conditions that were destroying her; they were no worse off, in many cases better off. But she, born to comfort and custom of intelligent educated associations and associates----
A fallen woman!
Honest work! Even if it were true that this honest work was a sort of probation through which one rose to better things--even if this were true, could it be denied that only a few at best could rise, that the most--including all the sensitive, and most of the children--must wallow on, must perish? Oh, the lies, the lies about honest work!
Rosa Mohr, a girl of her own age who worked in the same room, joined her. "Admiring yourself?" she said laughing. "Well, I don't blame you. You are pretty."
Susan at first thought Rosa was mocking her. But the tone and expression were sincere.
"It won't last long," Rosa went on. "I wasn't so bad myself when I quit the high school and took a job because father lost his business and his health. He got in the way of one of those trusts. So of course they handed it to him good and hard. But he wasn't a squealer. He always said they'd done only what he'd been doing himself if he'd had the chance. I always think of what papa used to say when I hear people carrying on about how wicked this or that somebody else is."
"Are you going to stay on--at this life?" asked Susan, still looking at her own image.
"I guess so. What else is there? . . . I've got a steady. We'll get married as soon as he has a raise to twelve per. But I'll not be any better off. My beau's too stupid ever to make much. If you see me ten years from now I'll probably be a fat, sloppy old thing, warming a window sill or slouching about in dirty rags."
"Isn't there any way to--to escape?"
"It does look as though there ought to be--doesn't it? But I've thought and thought, and I can't see it--and I'm pretty near straight Jew. They say things are better than they used to be, and I guess they are. But not enough better to help me any. Perhaps my children--if I'm fool enough to have any--perhaps they'll get a chance. . . . But I wouldn't gamble on it."
Susan was still looking at her rags--at her pale lips--was avoiding meeting her own eyes. "Why not try the streets?"
"Nothing in it," said Rosa, practically. "I did try it for a while and quit. Lots of the girls do, and only the fools stay at it. Once in a while there's a girl who's lucky and gets a lover that's kind to her or a husband that can make good. But that's luck. For one that wins out, a thousand lose."
"Luck?" said Susan.
Rosa laughed. "You're right. It's something else besides luck. The trouble is a girl loses her head--falls in love--supports a man--takes to drink--don't look out for her health--wastes her money. Still--where's the girl with head enough to get on where there's so many temptations?"
"But there's no chance at all, keeping straight, you say."
"The other thing's worse. The street girls--of our class, I mean--don't average as much as we do. And it's an awful business in winter. And they spend so much time in station houses and over on the Island. And, gosh! how the men do treat them! You haven't any idea. You wouldn't believe the horrible things the girls have to do to earn their money--a quarter or half a dollar--and maybe the men don't pay them even that. A girl tries to get her money in advance, but often she doesn't. And as they have to dress better than we do, and live where they can clean up a little, they 'most starve. Oh, that life's hell."
Susan had turned away from her image, was looking at Rosa.
"As for the fast houses----" Rosa shuddered--"I was in one for a week. I ran away--it was the only way I could escape. I'd never tell any human being what I went through in that house. . . . Never!" She watched Susan's fine sympathetic face, and in a burst of confidence said: "One night the landlady sent me up with seventeen men. And she kept the seventeen dollars I made, and took away from me half a dollar one drunken longshoreman gave me as a present. She said I owed it for board and clothes. In those houses, high and low, the girls always owes the madam. They haven't a stitch of their own to their backs."
The two girls stood facing each other, each looking past the other into the wind-swept canyon of Broadway--the majestic vista of lofty buildings, symbols of wealth and luxury so abundant that it flaunted itself, overflowed in gaudy extravagance. Finally Susan said:
"Do you ever think of killing yourself?"
"I thought I would," replied the other girl. "But I guess I wouldn't have. Everybody knows there's no hope, yet they keep on hopin'. And I've got pretty good health yet, and once in a while I have some fun. You ought to go to dances--and drink. You wouldn't be blue all the time, then."
"If it wasn't for the sun," said Susan.
"The sun?" inquired Rosa.
"Where I came from," explained Susan, "it rained a great deal, and the sky was covered so much of the time. But here in New York there is so much sun. I love the sun. I get desperate--then out comes the sun, and I say to myself, `Well, I guess I can go on a while longer, with the sun to help me.'"
"I hadn't thought of it," said Rosa, "but the sun is a help."
That indefatigable New York sun! It was like Susan's own courage. It fought the clouds whenever clouds dared to appear and contest its right to shine upon the City of the Sun, and hardly a day was so stormy that for a moment at least the sun did not burst through for a look at its beloved.
For weeks Susan had eaten almost nothing. During her previous sojourn in the slums--the slums of Cincinnati, though they were not classed as slums--the food had seemed revolting. But she was less discriminating then. The only food she could afford now--the food that is the best obtainable for a majority of the inhabitants of any city--was simply impossible for her. She ate only when she could endure no longer. This starvation no doubt saved her from illness; but at the same time it drained her strength. Her vitality had been going down, a little each day--lower and lower. The poverty which had infuriated her at first was now acting upon her like a soothing poison. The reason she had not risen to revolt was this slow and subtle poison that explains the inertia of the tenement poor from babyhood. To be spirited one must have health or a nervous system diseased in some of the ways that cause constant irritation. The disease called poverty is not an irritant, but an anesthetic. If Susan had been born to that life, her naturally vivacious temperament would have made her gay in unconscious wretchedness; as it was, she knew her own misery and suffered from it keenly--at times hideously--yet was rapidly losing the power to revolt.
Perhaps it was the wind--yes, it must have been the wind with its threat of winter--that roused her sluggish blood, that whipped thought into action. Anything--anything would be right, if it promised escape. Right--wrong! Hypocritical words for comfortable people!
That Friday night, after her supper of half-cooked corn meal and tea, she went instantly to work at washing out clothes. Mrs. Tucker spent the evening gossiping with the janitress, came in about midnight. As usual she was full to the brim with news of misery--of jobs lost, abandoned wives, of abused children, of poisoning from rotten "fresh" food or from "embalmed" stuff in cans, of sickness and yet more sickness, of maiming accidents, of death--news that is the commonplace of tenement life. She loved to tell these tales with all the harrowing particulars and to find in each some evidence of the goodness of God to herself. Often Susan could let her run on and on without listening. But not that night. She resisted the impulse to bid her be silent, left the room and stood at the hall window. When she returned Mrs. Tucker was in bed, was snoring in a tranquillity that was the reverse of contagious. With her habitual cheerfulness she had adapted herself to her changed condition without fretting. She had become as ragged and as dirty as her neighbors; she so wrought upon Susan's sensibilities, blunted though they were, that the girl would have been unable to sleep in the same bed if she had not always been tired to exhaustion when she lay down. But for that matter only exhaustion could have kept her asleep in that vermin-infested hole. Even the fiercest swarms of the insects that flew or ran or crawled and bit, even the filthy mice squeaking as they played upon the covers or ran over the faces of the sleepers, did not often rouse her.
While Mrs. Tucker snored, Susan worked on, getting every piece of at all fit clothing in her meager wardrobe into the best possible condition. She did not once glance at the face of the noisy sleeper--a face homely enough in Mrs. Tucker's waking hours, hideous now with the mouth open and a few scattered rotten teeth exposed, and the dark yellow-blue of the unhealthy gums and tongue.
At dawn Mrs. Tucker awoke with a snort and a start. She rubbed her eyes with her dirty and twisted and wrinkled fingers--the nails were worn and broken, turned up as if warped at the edges, blackened with dirt and bruisings. "Why, are you up already?" she said to Susan.
"I've not been to bed," replied the girl.
The woman stretched herself, sat up, thrust her thick, stockinged legs over the side of the bed. She slept in all her clothing but her skirt, waist, and shoes. She kneeled down upon the bare, sprung, and slanting floor, said a prayer, arose with a beaming face. "It's nice and warm in the room. How I do dread the winter, the cold weather--though no doubt we'll make out all right! Everything always does turn out well for me. The Lord takes care of me. I must make me a cup of tea."
"I've made it," said Susan.
The tea was frightful stuff--not tea at all, but cheap adulterants colored poisonously. Everything they got was of the same quality; yet the prices they paid for the tiny quantities they were able to buy at any one time were at a rate that would have bought the finest quality at the most expensive grocery in New York.
"Wonder why Mrs. Reardon don't come?" said Mrs. Tucker. Mrs. Reardon had as her only work a one night job at scrubbing. "She ought to have come an hour ago."
"Her rheumatism was bad when she started," said Susan. "I guess she worked slow."
When Mrs. Tucker had finished her second cup she put on her shoes, overskirt and waist, made a few passes at her hair. She was ready to go to work.
Susan looked at her, murmured: "An honest, God-fearing working woman!"
"Huh?" said Mrs. Tucker.
"Nothing," replied Susan who would not have permitted her to hear. It would be cruel to put such ideas before one doomed beyond hope.
Susan was utterly tired, but even the strong craving for a stimulant could not draw that tea past her lips. She ate a piece of dry bread, washed her face, neck, and hands. It was time to start for the factory.
That day--Saturday--was a half-holiday. Susan drew her week's earnings--four dollars and ten cents--and came home. Mrs. Tucker, who had drawn--"thanks to the Lord"--three dollars and a quarter, was with her. The janitress halted them as they passed and told them that Mrs. Reardon was dead. She looked like another scrubwoman, living down the street, who was known always to carry a sum of money in her dress pocket, the banks being untrustworthy. Mrs. Reardon, passing along in the dusk of the early morning, had been hit on the head with a blackjack. The one blow had killed her.
Violence, tragedy of all kinds, were too commonplace in that neighborhood to cause more than a slight ripple. An old scrubwoman would have had to die in some peculiarly awful way to receive the flattery of agitating an agitated street. Mrs. Reardon had died what was really almost a natural death. So the faint disturbance of the terrors of life had long since disappeared. The body was at the Morgue, of course.
"We'll go up, right away," said Mrs. Tucker.
"I've something to do that can't be put, off," replied Susan.
"I don't like for anyone as young as you to be so hard," reproached Mrs. Tucker.
"Is it hard," said Susan, "to see that death isn't nearly so terrible as life? She's safe and at peace. I've got to live."
Mrs. Tucker, eager for an emotional and religious opportunity, hastened away. Susan went at her wardrobe ironing, darning, fixing buttonholes, hooks and eyes. She drew a bucket of water from the tap in the hall and proceeded to wash her hair with soap; she rinsed it, dried it as well as she could with their one small, thin towel, left it hanging free for the air to finish the job.
It had rained all the night before--the second heavy rain in two months. But at dawn the rain had ceased, and the clouds had fled before the sun that rules almost undisputed nine months of the year and wars valiantly to rule the other three months--not altogether in vain. A few golden strays found their way into that cavelike room and had been helping her wonderfully. She bathed herself and scrubbed herself from head to foot. She manicured her nails, got her hands and feet into fairly good condition. She put on her best underclothes, her one remaining pair of undarned stockings, the pair of ties she had been saving against an emergency. And once more she had the charm upon which she most prided herself--the charm of an attractive look about the feet and ankles. She then took up the dark-blue hat frame--one of a lot of "seconds"--she had bought for thirty-five cents at a bargain sale, trimmed it with a broad dark-blue ribbon for which she had paid sixty cents. She was well pleased--and justly so--with the result. The trimmed hat might well have cost ten or fifteen dollars--for the largest part of the price of a woman's hat is usually the taste of the arrangement of the trimming.
By this time her hair was dry. She did it up with a care she had not had time to give it in many a week. She put on the dark-blue serge skirt of the between seasons dress she had brought with her from Forty-fourth Street; she had not worn it at all. With the feeble aid of the mirror that distorted her image into grotesqueness, she put on her hat with the care that important detail of a woman's toilet always deserves.
She completed her toilet with her one good and unworn blouse--plain white, the yoke gracefully pointed--and with a blue neck piece she had been saving. She made a bundle of all her clothing that was fit for anything--including the unworn batiste dress Jeffries and Jonas had given her. And into it she put the pistol she had brought away from Forty-fourth Street. She made a separate bundle of the Jeffries and Jonas hat with its valuable plumes. With the two bundles she descended and went to a pawnshop in Houston Street, to which she had made several visits.
A dirty-looking man with a short beard fluffy and thick like a yellow hen's tail lurked behind the counter in the dark little shop. She put her bundles on the counter, opened them. "How much can I get for these things?" she asked.
The man examined every piece minutely. "There's really nothing here but the summer dress and the hat," said he. "And they're out of style. I can't give you more than four dollars for the lot--and one for the pistol which is good but old style now. Five dollars. How'll you have it?"
Susan folded the things and tied up the bundles. "Sorry to have troubled you," she said, taking one in either hand.
"How much did you expect to get, lady?" asked the pawnbroker.
He laughed, turned toward the back of the shop. As she reached the door he called from his desk at which he seemed about to seat himself, "I might squeeze you out ten dollars."
"The plumes on the hat will sell for thirty dollars," said Susan. "You know as well as I do that ostrich feathers have gone up."
The man slowly advanced. "I hate to see a customer go away unsatisfied," said he. "I'll give you twenty dollars."
"Not a cent less than twenty-five. At the next place I'll ask thirty--and get it."
"I never can stand out against a lady. Give me the stuff."
Susan put it on the counter again. Said she:
"I don't blame you for trying to do me. You're right to try to buy your way out of hell."
The pawnbroker reflected, could not understand this subtlety, went behind his counter. He produced a key from his pocket, unlocked a drawer underneath and took out a large tin box. With another key from another pocket he unlocked this, threw back the lid revealing a disorder of papers. From the depths he fished a paper bag. This contained a roll of bills. He gave Susan a twenty and a five, both covered with dirt so thickly that she could scarcely make out the denominations.
"You'll have to give me cleaner money than this," said she.
"You are a fine lady," grumbled he. But he found cleaner bills.
She turned to her room. At sight of her Mrs. Tucker burst out laughing with delight. "My, but you do look like old times!" cried she. "How neat and tasty you are! I suppose it's no need to ask if you're going to church?"
"No," said Susan. "I've got nothing to give, and I don't beg."
"Well, I ain't going there myself, lately--somehow. They got so they weren't very cordial--or maybe it was me thinking that way because I wasn't dressed up like. Still I do wish you was more religious. But you'll come to it, for you're naturally a good girl. And when you do, the Lord'll give you a more contented heart. Not that you complain. I never knew anybody, especially a young person, that took things so quiet. . . . It can't be you're going to a dance?"
"No," said Susan. "I'm going to leave--go back uptown."
Mrs. Tucker plumped down upon the bed. "Leave for good?" she gasped.
"I've got Nelly Lemayer to take my place here, if you want her," said Susan. "Here is my share of the rent for next week and half a dollar for the extra gas I've burned last night and today."
"And Mrs. Reardon gone, too!" sobbed Mrs. Tucker, suddenly remembering the old scrubwoman whom both had forgotten. "And up to that there Morgue they wouldn't let me see her except where the light was so poor that I couldn't rightly swear it was her. How brutal everybody is to the poor! If they didn't have the Lord, what would become of them! And you leaving me all alone!"
The sobs rose into hysteria. Susan stood impassive. She had seen again and again how faint the breeze that would throw those shallow waters into commotion and how soon they were tranquil again. It was by observing Mrs. Tucker that she first learned an important unrecognized truth about human nature that amiable, easily sympathetic and habitually good-humored people are invariably hard of heart. In this parting she had no sense of loss, none of the melancholy that often oppresses us when we separate from someone to whom we are indifferent yet feel bound by the tie of misfortunes borne together. Mrs. Tucker, fallen into the habits of their surroundings, was for her simply part of them. And she was glad she was leaving them--forever, she hoped. Christian, fleeing the City of Destruction, had no sterner mandate to flight than her instinct was suddenly urging upon her.
When Mrs. Tucker saw that her tears were not appreciated, she decided that they were unnecessary. She dried her eyes and said:
"Anyhow, I reckon Mrs. Reardon's taking-off was a mercy."
"She's better dead," said Susan. She had abhorred the old woman, even as she pitied and sheltered her. She had a way of fawning and cringing and flattering--no doubt in well meaning attempt to show gratitude--but it was unendurable to Susan. And now that she was dead and gone, there was no call for further pretenses.
"You ain't going right away?" said Mrs. Tucker.
"Yes," said Susan.
"You ought to stay to supper."
Supper! That revolting food! "No, I must go right away," replied Susan.
"Well, you'll come to see me. And maybe you'll be back with us. You might go farther and do worse. On my way from the morgue I dropped in to see a lady friend on the East Side. I guess the good Lord has abandoned the East Side, there being nothing there but Catholics and Jews, and no true religion. It's dreadful the way things is over there--the girls are taking to the streets in droves. My lady friend was telling me that some of the mothers is sending their little girls out streetwalking, and some's even taking out them that's too young to be trusted to go alone. And no money in it, at that. And food and clothing prices going up and up. Meat and vegetables two and three times what they was a few years ago. And rents!" Mrs. Tucker threw up her hands.
"I must be going," said Susan. "Good-by."
She put out her hand, but Mrs. Tucker insisted on kissing her. She crossed Washington Square, beautiful in the soft evening light, and went up Fifth Avenue. She felt that she was breathing the air of a different world as she walked along the broad clean sidewalk with the handsome old houses on either side, with carriages and automobiles speeding past, with clean, happy-faced, well dressed human beings in sight everywhere. It was like coming out of the dank darkness of Dismal Swamp into smiling fields with a pure, star-spangled sky above. She was free--free! It might be for but a moment; still it was freedom, infinitely sweet because of past slavery and because of the fear of slavery closing in again. She had abandoned the old toilet articles. She had only the clothes she was wearing, the thirty-one dollars divided between her stockings, and the two-dollar bill stuffed into the palm of her left glove.
She had walked but a few hundred feet. She had advanced into a region no more prosperous to the eye than that she had been working in every day. Yet she had changed her world--because she had changed her point of view. The strata that form society lie in roughly parallel lines one above the other. The flow of all forms of the currents of life is horizontally along these strata, never vertically from one stratum to another. These strata, lying apparently in contact, one upon another, are in fact abysmally separated. There is not--and in the nature of things never can be any genuine human sympathy between any two strata. We sympathize in our own stratum, or class; toward other strata--other classes--our attitude is necessarily a looking up or a looking down. Susan, a bit of flotsam, ascending, descending, ascending across the social layers--belonging nowhere having attachments, not sympathies, a real settled lot nowhere--Susan was once more upward bound.
At the corner of Fourteenth Street there was a shop with large mirrors in the show windows. She paused to examine herself. She found she had no reason to be disturbed about her appearance. Her dress and hat looked well; her hair was satisfactory; the sharp air had brought some life to the pallor of her cheeks, and the release from the slums had restored some of the light to her eyes. "Why did I stay there so long?" she demanded of herself. Then, "How have I suddenly got the courage to leave?" She had no answer to either question. Nor did she care for an answer. She was not even especially interested in what was about to happen to her.
The moment she found herself above Twenty-third Street and in the old familiar surroundings, she felt an irresistible longing to hear about Rod Spenser. She was like one who has been on a far journey, leaving behind him everything that has been life to him; he dismisses it all because he must, until he finds himself again in his own country, in his old surroundings. She went into the Hoffman House and at the public telephone got the Herald office. "Is Mr. Drumley there?"
"No," was the reply. "He's gone to Europe."
"Did Mr. Spenser go with him?"
"Mr. Spenser isn't here--hasn't been for a long time.
He's abroad too. Who is this?"
"Thank you," said Susan, hanging up the receiver.
She drew a deep breath of relief.
She left the hotel by the women's entrance in Broadway. It was six o'clock. The sky was clear--a typical New York sky with air that intoxicated blowing from it--air of the sea--air of the depths of heaven. A crescent moon glittered above the Diana on the Garden tower. It was Saturday night and Broadway was thronged--with men eager to spend in pleasure part of the week's wages or salary they had just drawn; with women sparkling-eyed and odorous of perfumes and eager to help the men. The air was sharp--was the ocean air of New York at its delicious best. And the slim, slightly stooped girl with the earnest violet-gray eyes and the sad bitter mouth from whose lips the once brilliant color had now fled was ready for whatever might come. She paused at the corner, and gazed up brilliantly lighted Broadway.
"Now!" she said half aloud and, like an expert swimmer adventuring the rapids, she advanced into the swift-moving crowd of the highway of New York's gayety.