Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall by David Graham Phillips
They went through to Broadway and there stood waiting for a car, each under her own umbrella. "Holy Gee!" cried Susan's new acquaintance. "Ain't this rain a soaker?"
It was coming in sheets, bent and torn and driven horizontally by the wind. The umbrella, sheltering the head somewhat, gave a wholly false impression of protection. Both girls were soon sopping wet. But they were more than cheerful about it; the whiskey made them indifferent to external ills as they warmed themselves by its bright fire. At that time a famous and much envied, admired and respected "captain of industry," having looted the street-car systems, was preparing to loot them over again by the familiar trickery of the receivership and the reorganization. The masses of the people were too ignorant to know what was going on; the classes were too busy, each man of each of them, about his own personal schemes for graft of one kind and another. Thus, the street-car service was a joke and a disgrace. However, after four or five minutes a north-bound car appeared.
"But it won't stop," cried Susan. "It's jammed."
"That's why it will stop," replied her new acquaintance. "You don't suppose a New York conductor'd miss a chance to put his passengers more on the bum than ever?"
She was right, at least as to the main point; and the conductor with much free handling of their waists and shoulders added them to the dripping, straining press of passengers, enduring the discomforts the captain of industry put upon them with more patience than cattle would have exhibited in like circumstances. All the way up Broadway the new acquaintance enlivened herself and Susan and the men they were squeezed in among by her loud gay sallies which her young prettiness made seem witty. And certainly she did have an amazing and amusing acquaintance with the slang at the moment current. The worn look had vanished, her rounded girlhood freshness had returned. As for Susan, you would hardly have recognized her as the same person who had issued from the house in Twenty-ninth Street less than an hour before. Indeed, it was not the same person. Drink nervifies every character; here it transformed, suppressing the characteristics that seemed, perhaps were, essential in her normal state, and causing to bloom in sudden audacity of color and form the passions and gayeties at other times subdued by her intelligence and her sensitiveness. Her brilliant glance moved about the car full as boldly as her companion's. But there was this difference: Her companion gazed straight into the eyes of the men; Susan's glance shot past above or just below their eyes.
As they left the car at Forty-second Street the other girl gave her short skirt a dexterous upward flirt that exhibited her legs almost to the hips. Susan saw that they were well shaped legs, surprisingly plump from the calves upward, considering the slightness of her figure above the waist.
"I always do that when I leave a car," said the girl. "Sometimes it starts something on the trail. You forgot your package--back in the saloon!"
"Then I didn't forget much," laughed Susan. It appealed to her, the idea of entering the new life empty-handed.
The hotel was one that must have been of the first class in its day--not a distant day, for the expansion of New York in craving for showy luxury has been as sudden as the miraculous upward thrust of a steel skyscraper. It had now sunk to relying upon the trade of those who came in off Broadway for a few minutes. It was dingy and dirty; the walls and plastering were peeling; the servants were slovenly and fresh. The girl nodded to the evil-looking man behind the desk, who said:
"Hello, Miss Maud. Just in time. The boys were sending out for some others."
"They've got a nerve!" laughed Maud. And she led Susan down a rather long corridor to a door with the letter B upon it. Maud explained: "This is the swellest suite in the house parlor, bedroom, bath." She flung open the door, disclosing a sitting-room in disorder with two young men partly dressed, seated at a small table on which were bottles, siphons, matches, remains of sandwiches, boxes of cigarettes--a chaotic jumble of implements to dissipation giving forth a powerful, stale odor. Maud burst into a stream of picturesque profanity which set the two men to laughing. Susan had paused on the threshold. The shock of this scene had for the moment arrested the triumphant march of the alcohol through blood and nerve and brain.
"Oh, bite it off!" cried the darker of the two men to Maud, "and have a drink. Ain't you ashamed to speak so free before your innocent young lady friend?" He grinned at Susan. "What Sunday school do you hail from?" inquired he.
The other young man was also looking at Susan; and it was an arresting and somewhat compelling gaze. She saw that he was tall and well set up. As he was dressed only in trousers and a pale blue silk undershirt, the strength of his shoulders, back and arms was in full evidence. His figure was like that of the wonderful young prize-fighters she had admired at moving picture shows to which Drumley had taken her. He had a singularly handsome face, blond yet remotely suggesting Italian. He smiled at Susan and she thought she had never seen teeth more beautiful--pearl-white, regular, even. His eyes were large and sensuous; smiling though they were, Susan was ill at ease--for in them there shone the same untamed, uncontrolled ferocity that one sees in the eyes of a wild beast. His youth, his good looks, his charm made the sinister savagery hinted in the smile the more disconcerting. He poured whiskey from a bottle into each of the two tall glasses, filled them up with seltzer, extended one toward Susan.
"Shut the door, Queenie," he said to her in a pleasant tone that subtly mingled mockery and admiration. "And let's drink to love."
"Didn't I do well for you, Freddie?" cried Maud.
"She's my long-sought affinity," declared Freddie with the same attractive mingling of jest and flattery.
Susan closed the door, accepted the glass, laughed into his eyes. The whiskey was once more asserting its power. She took about half the drink before she set the glass down.
The young man said, "Your name's Queenie, mine's Freddie." He came to her, holding her gaze fast by the piercing look from his handsome eyes. He put his arms round her and kissed her full upon the pale, laughing lips. His eyes were still smiling in pleasant mockery; yet his kiss burned and stung, and the grip of his arm round her shoulders made her vaguely afraid. Her smile died away. The grave, searching, wondering expression reappeared in the violet-gray eyes for a moment.
"You're all right," said he. "Except those pale lips. You're going to be my girl. That means, if you ever try to get away from me unless I let you go--I'll kill you--or worse." And he laughed as if he had made the best joke in the world. But she saw in his eyes a sparkle that seemed to her to have something of the malignance of the angry serpent's.
She hastily finished her drink.
Maud was jerking off her clothes, crying, "I want to get out of these nasty wet rags." The steam heat was full on; the sitting-room, the whole suite, was intensely warm. Maud hung her skirt over the back of a chair close to the radiator, took off her shoes and stockings and put them to dry also. In her chemise she curled herself on a chair, lit a cigarette and poured a drink. Her feet were not bad, but neither were they notably good; she tucked them out of sight. She looked at Susan. "Get off those wet things," urged she, "or you'll take your death."
"In a minute," said Susan, but not convincingly.
Freddie forced another drink and a cigarette upon her. As a girl at home in Sutherland, she had several times--she and Ruth--smoked cigarettes in secrecy, to try the new London and New York fashion, announced in the newspapers and the novels. So the cigarette did not make her uncomfortable. "Look at the way she's holding it?" cried Maud, and she and the men burst out laughing. Susan laughed also and, Freddie helping, practiced a less inexpert manner. Jim, the dark young man with the sullen heavy countenance, rang for more sandwiches and another bottle of whiskey. Susan continued to drink but ate nothing.
"Have a sandwich," said Freddie.
"I'm not hungry."
"Well, they say that to eat and drink means to die of paresis, while to only drink means dying of delirium tremens. I guess you're right. I'd prefer the d.t.'s. It's quicker and livelier."
Jim sang a ribald song with some amusing comedy business. Maud told several stories whose only claim to point lay in their frankness about things not usually spoken. "Don't you tell any more, Maudie," advised Freddie. "Why is it that a woman never takes up a story until every man on earth has heard it at least twice?" The sandwiches disappeared, the second bottle of whiskey ran low. Maud told story after story of how she had played this man and that for a sucker--was as full of such tales and as joyous and self-pleased over them as an honest salesman telling his delighted, respectable, pew-holding employer how he has "stuck" this customer and that for a "fancy" price. Presently Maud again noticed that Susan was in her wet clothes and cried out about it. Susan pretended to start to undress. Freddie and Jim suddenly seized her. She struggled, half laughing; the whiskey was sending into her brain dizzying clouds. She struggled more fiercely. But it was in vain.
"Gee, you have got a prize, Freddie!" exclaimed Jim at last, angry. "A regular tartar!"
"A damn handsome one," retorted Freddie. "She's even got feet."
Susan, amid the laughter of the others, darted for the bedroom. Cowering in a corner, trying to cover herself, she ordered Freddie to leave her. He laughed, seized her in his iron grip. She struck at him, bit him in the shoulder. He gave a cry of pain and drove a savage blow into her cheek. Then he buried his fingers in her throat and the gleam of his eyes made her soul quail.
"Don't kill me!" she cried, in the clutch of cowardice for the first time. It was not death that she feared but the phantom of things worse than death that can be conjured to the imagination by the fury of a personality which is utterly reckless and utterly cruel. "Don't kill me!" she shrieked. "What the hell are you doing?" shouted Jim from the other room.
"Shut that door," replied Freddie. "I'm going to attend to my lady friend."
As the door slammed, he dragged Susan by the throat and one arm to the bed, flung her down. "I saw you were a high stepper the minute I looked at you," said he, in a pleasant, cooing voice that sent the chills up and down her spine. "I knew you'd have to be broke. Well, the sooner it's done, the sooner we'll get along nicely." His blue eyes were laughing into hers. With the utmost deliberation he gripped her throat with one hand and with the other began to slap her, each blow at his full strength. Her attempts to scream were only gasps. Quickly the agony of his brutality drove her into unconsciousness. Long after she had ceased to feel pain, she continued to feel the impact of those blows, and dully heard her own deep groans.
When she came to her senses, she was lying sprawled upon the far side of the bed. Her head was aching wildly; her body was stiff and sore; her face felt as if it were swollen to many times its normal size. In misery she dragged herself up and stood on the floor. She went to the bureau and stared at herself in the glass. Her face was indeed swollen, but not to actual disfigurement. Under her left eye there was a small cut from which the blood had oozed to smear and dry upon her left cheek. Upon her throat were faint bluish finger marks. The damage was not nearly so great as her throbbing nerves reported--the damage to her body. But--her soul--it was a crushed, trampled, degraded thing, lying prone and bleeding to death. "Shall I kill myself?" she thought. And the answer came in a fierce protest and refusal from every nerve of her intensely vital youth. She looked straight into her own eyes--without horror, without shame, without fear. "You are as low as the lowest," she said to her image--not to herself but to her image; for herself seemed spectator merely of that body and soul aching and bleeding and degraded.
It was the beginning of self-consciousness with her--a curious kind of self-consciousness--her real self, aloof and far removed, observing calmly, critically, impersonally the adventures of her body and the rest of her surface self.
She turned round to look again at the man who had outraged them. His eyes were open and he was gazing dreamily at her, as smiling and innocent as a child. When their eyes met, his smile broadened until he was showing his beautiful teeth. "You are a beauty!" said he. "Go into the other room and get me a cigarette."
She continued to look fixedly at him.
Without change of expression he said gently, "Do you want another lesson in manners?"
She went to the door, opened it, entered the sitting-room. The other two had pulled open a folding bed and were lying in it, Jim's head on Maud's bosom, her arms round his neck. Both were asleep. His black beard had grown out enough to give his face a dirty and devilish expression. Maud looked far more youthful and much prettier than when she was awake. Susan put a cigarette between her lips, lit it, carried a box of cigarettes and a stand of matches in to Freddie.
"Light one for me," said he.
She obeyed, held it to his lips.
"Kiss me, first."
Her pale lips compressed.
"Kiss me," he repeated, far down in his eyes the vicious gleam of that boundlessly ferocious cruelty which is mothered not by rage but by pleasure.
She kissed him on the cheek.
"On the lips," he commanded.
Their lips met, and it was to her as if a hot flame, terrible yet thrilling, swept round and embraced her whole body.
"Do you love me?" he asked tenderly.
She was silent.
"You love me?" he asked commandingly.
"You can call it that if you like."
"I knew you would. I understand women. The way to make a woman love is to make her afraid."
She gazed at him. "I am not afraid," she said.
He laughed. "Oh, yes. That's why you do what I say--and always will."
"No," replied she. "I don't do it because I am afraid, but because I want to live."
"I should think! . . . You'll be all right in a day or so," said he, after inspecting her bruises. "Now, I'll explain to you what good friends we're going to be."
He propped himself in an attitude of lazy grace, puffed at his cigarette in silence for a moment, as if arranging what he had to say. At last he began:
"I haven't any regular business. I wasn't born to work. Only damn fools work--and the clever man waits till they've got something, then he takes it away from 'em. You don't want to work, either."
"I haven't been able to make a living at it," said the girl. She was sitting cross-legged, a cover draped around her.
"You're too pretty and too clever. Besides, as you say, you couldn't make a living at it--not what's a living for a woman brought up as you've been. No, you can't work. So we're going to be partners."
"No," said Susan. "I'm going to dress now and go away."
Freddie laughed. "Don't be a fool. Didn't I say we were to be partners? . . . You want to keep on at the sporting business, don't you?"
Hers was the silence of assent.
"Well--a woman--especially a young one like you--is no good unless she has someone--some man--behind her. Married or single, respectable or lively, working or sporting--N. G. without a man. A woman alone doesn't amount to any more than a rich man's son."
There had been nothing in Susan's experience to enable her to dispute this.
"Now, I'm going to stand behind you. I'll see that you don't get pinched, and get you out if you do. I'll see that you get the best the city's got if you're sick--and so on. I've got a pull with the organization. I'm one of Finnegan's lieutenants. Some day--when I'm older and have served my apprenticeship--I'll pull off something good. Meanwhile--I manage to live. I always have managed it--and I never did a stroke of real work since I was a kid--and never shall. God was mighty good to me when he put a few brains in this nut of mine."
He settled his head comfortably in the pillow and smiled at his own thoughts. In spite of herself Susan had been not only interested but attracted. It is impossible for any human being to contemplate mystery in any form without being fascinated. And here was the profoundest mystery she had ever seen. He talked well, and his mode of talking was that of education, of refinement even. An extraordinary man, certainly--and in what a strange way!
"Yes," said he presently, looking at her with his gentle, friendly smile. "We'll be partners. I'll protect you and we'll divide what you make."
What a strange creature! Had he--this kindly handsome youth--done that frightful thing? No--no. It was another instance of the unreality of the outward life. He had not done it, any more than she--her real self--had suffered it. Her reply to his restatement of the partnership was:
"No, thank you. I want nothing to do with it."
"You're dead slow," said he, with mild and patient persuasion. "How would you get along at your business in this town if you didn't have a backer? Why, you'd be taking turns at the Island and the gutter within six months. You'd be giving all your money to some rotten cop or fly cop who couldn't protect you, at that. Or you'd work the street for some cheap cadet who'd beat you up oftener than he'd beat up the men who welched on you."
"I'll look out for myself," persisted she.
"Bless the baby!" exclaimed he, immensely amused. "How lucky that you found me! I'm going to take care of you in spite of yourself. Not for nothing, of course. You wouldn't value me if you got me for nothing. I'm going to help you, and you're going to help me. You need me, and I need you. Why do you suppose I took the trouble to tame you? What you want doesn't go. It's what I want."
He let her reflect on this a while. Then he went on:
"You don't understand about fellows like Jim and me--though Jim's a small potato beside me, as you'll soon find out. Suppose you didn't obey orders--just as I do what Finnegan tells me--just as Finnegan does what the big shout down below says? Suppose you didn't obey--what then?"
"I don't know," confessed Susan.
"Well, it's time you learned. We'll say, you act stubborn. You dress and say good-by to me and start out. Do you think I'm wicked enough to let you make a fool of yourself? Well, I'm not. You won't get outside the door before your good angel here will get busy. I'll be telephoning to a fly cop of this district. And what'll he do? Why, about the time you are halfway down the block, he'll pinch you. He'll take you to the station house. And in Police Court tomorrow the Judge'll give you a week on the Island for being a streetwalker."
Susan shivered. She instinctively glanced toward the window. The rain was still falling, changing the City of the Sun into a city of desolation. It looked as though it would never see the sun again--and her life looked that way, also.
Freddie was smiling pleasantly. He went on:
"You do your little stretch on the Island. When your time's up I send you word where to report to me. We'll say you don't come. The minute you set foot on the streets again alone, back to the Island you go. . . . Now, do you understand, Queenie?" And he laughed and pulled her over and kissed her and smoothed her hair. "You're a very superior article--you are," he murmured. "I'm stuck on you."
Susan did not resist. She did not care what happened to her. The more intelligent a trapped animal is, the less resistance it offers, once it realizes. Helpless--absolutely helpless. No money--no friends. No escape but death. The sun was shining. Outside lay the vast world; across the street on a flagpole fluttered the banner of freedom. Freedom! Was there any such thing anywhere? Perhaps if one had plenty of money--or powerful friends. But not for her, any more than for the masses whose fate of squalid and stupid slavery she was trying to escape. Not for her; so long as she was helpless she would simply move from one land of slavery to another. Helpless! To struggle would not be courageous, but merely absurd.
"If you don't believe me, ask Maud," said Freddie. "I don't want you to get into trouble. As I told you, I'm stuck on you." With his cigarette gracefully loose between those almost too beautifully formed lips of his and with one of his strong smooth white arms about his head, he looked at her, an expression of content with himself, of admiration for her in his handsome eyes. "You don't realize your good luck. But you will when you find how many girls are crazy to get on the good side of me. This is a great old town, and nobody amounts to anything in it unless he's got a pull or is next to somebody else that has."
Susan's slow reflective nod showed that this statement explained, or seemed to explain, certain mysteries of life that had been puzzling her.
"You've got a lot in you," continued he. "That's my opinion, and I'm a fair judge of yearlings. You're liable to land somewhere some day when you've struck your gait. . . . If I had the mon I'd be tempted to set you up in a flat and keep you all to myself. But I can't afford it. It takes a lot of cash to keep me going. . . . You'll do well. You won't have to bother with any but classy gents. I'll see that the cops put you wise when there's anyone round throwing his money away. And I can help you, myself. I've got quite a line of friends among the rich chappies from Fifth Avenue. And I always let my girls get the benefit of it."
My girls! Susan's mind, recovering now from its daze, seized upon this phrase. And soon she had fathomed how these two young men came to be so luxuriously dressed, so well supplied with money. She had heard of this system under which the girls in the streets were exploited as thoroughly as the girls in the houses. In all the earth was there anyone who was suffered to do for himself or herself without there being a powerful idle someone else to take away all the proceeds but a bare living? Helpless! Helpless!
"How many girls have you?" she asked.
"Jealous already!" And he laughed and blew a cloud of smoke into her face.
She took the quarters he directed--a plain clean room two flights up at seven dollars a week, in a furnished room house on West Forty-third Street near Eighth Avenue. She was but a few blocks from where she and Rod had lived. New York--to a degree unrivaled among the cities of the world--illustrates in the isolated lives of its never isolated inhabitants how little relationship there is between space and actualities of distance. Wherever on earth there are as many as two human beings, one may see an instance of the truth. That an infinity of spiritual solitude can stretch uncrossable even between two locked in each other's loving arms! But New York's solitudes, its separations, extend to the surface things. Susan had no sense of the apparent nearness of her former abode. Her life again lay in the same streets; but there again came the sense of strangeness which only one who has lived in New York could appreciate. The streets were the same; but to her they seemed as the streets of another city, because she was now seeing in them none of the things she used to see, was seeing instead kinds of people, aspects of human beings, modes of feeling and acting and existing of which she used to have not the faintest knowledge. There were as many worlds as kinds of people. Thus, though we all talk to each other as if about the same world, each of us is thinking of his own kind of world, the only one he sees. And that is why there can never be sympathy and understanding among the children of men until there is some approach to resemblance in their various lots; for the lot determines the man.
The house was filled with women of her own kind. They were allowed all privileges. There was neither bath nor stationary washstand, but the landlady supplied tin tubs on request. "Oh, Mr. Palmer's recommendation," said she; "I'll give you two days to pay. My terms are in advance. But Mr. Palmer's a dear friend of mine."
She was a short woman with a monstrous bust and almost no hips. Her thin hair was dyed and frizzled, and her voice sounded as if it found its way out of her fat lips after a long struggle to pass through the fat of her throat and chest. Her second chin lay upon her bosom in a soft swollen bag that seemed to be suspended from her ears. Her eyes were hard and evil, of a brownish gray. She affected suavity and elaborate politeness; but if the least thing disturbed her, she became red and coarse of voice and vile of language. The vile language and the nature of her business and her private life aside, she would have compared favorably with anyone in the class of those who deal--as merchants, as landlords, as boarding-house keepers--with the desperately different classes of uncertain income. She was reputed rich. They said she stayed on in business to avoid lonesomeness and to keep in touch with all that was going on in the life that had been hers from girlhood.
"And she's a mixer," said Maud to Susan. In response to Susan's look of inquiry, she went on to explain, "A mixer's a white woman that keeps a colored man." Maud laughed at Susan's expression of horror. "You are a greenie," she mocked. "Why, it's all the rage. Nearly all the girls do--from the headliners that are kept by the young Fifth Avenue millionaires down to nine out of ten of the girls of our set that you see in Broadway. No, I'm not lying. It's the truth. I don't do it--at least, not yet. I may get round to it."
After the talk with Maud about the realities of life as it is lived by several hundred thousand of the inhabitants of Manhattan Island Susan had not the least disposition to test by defiance the truth of Freddie Palmer's plain statement as to his powers and her duties. He had told her to go to work that very Sunday evening, and Jim had ordered Maud to call for her and to initiate her. And at half-past seven Maud came. At once she inspected Susan's swollen face.
"Might be a bit worse," she said. "With a veil on, no one'd notice it."
"But I haven't a veil," said Susan.
"I've got mine with me--pinned to my garter. I haven't been home since this afternoon." And Maud produced it.
"But I can't wear a veil at night," objected Susan.
"Why not?" said Maud. "Lots of the girls do. A veil's a dandy hider. Besides, even where a girl's got nothing to hide and has a face that's all to the good, still it's not a bad idea to wear a veil. Men like what they can't see. One of the ugliest girls I know makes a lot of money--all with her veil. She fixes up her figure something grand. Then she puts on that veil--one of the kind you think you can see a face through but you really can't. And she never lifts it till the `come on' has given up his cash. Then----" Maud laughed. "Gee, but she has had some hot run-ins after she hoists her curtain!"
"Why don't you wear a veil all the time?" asked Susan.
Maud tossed her head. "What do you take me for? I've got too good an opinion of my looks for that."
Susan put on the veil. It was not of the kind that is a disguise. Still, diaphanous though it seemed, it concealed astonishingly the swelling in Susan's face. Obviously, then, it must at least haze the features, would do something toward blurring the marks that go to make identity.
"I shall always wear a veil," said Susan.
"Oh, I don't know," deprecated Maud. "I think you're quite pretty--though a little too proper and serious looking to suit some tastes."
Susan had removed veil and hat, was letting down her hair.
"What are you doing that for?" cried Maud impatiently. "We're late now and----"
"I don't like the way my hair's done," cried Susan.
"Why, it was all right--real swell--good as a hairdresser could have done."
But Susan went on at her task. Ever since she came East she had worn it in a braid looped at the back of her head. She proceeded to change this radically. With Maud forgetting to be impatient in admiration of her swift fingers she made a coiffure much more elaborate--wide waves out from her temples and a big round loose knot behind. She was well content with the result--especially when she got the veil on again and it was assisting in the change.
"What do you think?" she said to Maud when she was ready.
"My, but you look different!" exclaimed Maud. "A lot dressier--and sportier. More--more Broadway."
"That's it--Broadway," said Susan. She had always avoided looking like Broadway. Now, she would take the opposite tack. Not loud toilets--for they would defeat her purpose. Not loud but--just common.
"But," added Maud, "you do look swell about the feet. Where do you get your shoes? No, I guess it's the feet."
As they sallied forth Maud said, "First, I'll show you our hotel." And they went to a Raines Law hotel in Forty-second Street near Eighth Avenue. "The proprietor's a heeler of Finnegan's. I guess Freddie comes in for some rake-off. He gives us twenty-five cents of every dollar the man spends," explained she. "And if the man opens wine we get two dollars on every bottle. The best way is to stay behind when the man goes and collect right away. That avoids rows--though they'd hardly dare cheat you, being as you're on Freddie's staff. Freddie's got a big pull. He's way up at the top. I wish to God I had him instead of Jim. Freddie's giving up fast. They say he's got some things a lot better'n this now, and that he's likely to quit this and turn respectable. You ought to treat me mighty white, seeing what I done for you. I've put you in right--and that's everything in this here life."
Susan looked all round--looked along the streets stretching away with their morning suggestion of freedom to fly, freedom to escape--helpless! "Can't I get a drink?" asked she. There was a strained look in her eyes, a significant nervousness of the lips and hands. "I must have a drink."
"Of course. Max has been on a vacation, but I hear he's back. When I introduce you, he'll probably set 'em up. But I wouldn't drink if I were you till I went off duty."
"I must have a drink," replied Susan.
"It'll get you down. It got me down. I used to have a fine sucker--gave me a hundred a week and paid my flat rent. But I had nothing else to do, so I took to drinking, and I got so reckless that I let him catch me with my lover that time. But I had to have somebOdy to spend the money on. Anyhow, it's no fun having a John."
"A John?" said Susan. "What's that?"
"You are an innocent----!" laughed Maud. "A John's a sucker--a fellow that keeps a girl. Well, it'd be no fun to have a John unless you fooled him--would it?"
They now entered the side door of the hotel and ascended the stairs. A dyspeptic looking man with a red nose that stood out the more strongly for the sallowness of his skin and the smallness of his sunken brown eyes had his hands spread upon the office desk and was leaning on his stiff arms. "Hello, Max," said Maud in a fresh, condescending way. "How's business?"
"Slow. Always slack on Sundays. How goes it with you, Maudie?"
"So--so. I manage to pick up a living in spite of the damn chippies. I don't see why the hell they don't go into the business regular and make something out of it, instead of loving free. I'm down on a girl that's neither the one thing nor the other. This is my lady friend, Miss Queenie." She turned laughingly to Susan. "I never asked your last name."
"My, what a strange name!" cried Maud. Then, as the proprietor laughed with the heartiness of tradesman at good customer's jest, she said, "Going to set 'em up, Max?"
He pressed a button and rang a bell loudly. The responding waiter departed with orders for a whiskey and two lithias. Maud explained to Susan:
"Max used to be a prize-fighter. He was middleweight champion."
"I've been a lot of things in my days," said Max with pride.
"So I've heard," joked Maud. "They say they've got your picture at headquarters."
"That's neither here nor there," said Max surlily. "Don't get too flip." Susan drank her whiskey as soon as it came, and the glow rushed to her ghastly face. Said Max with great politeness:
"You're having a little neuralgia, ain't you? I see your face is swhole some."
"Yes," said Susan. "Neuralgia." Maud laughed hilariously. Susan herself had ceased to brood over the incident. In conventional lives, visited but rarely by perilous storms, by disaster, such an event would be what is called concise. But in life as it is lived by the masses of the people--life in which awful disease, death, maiming, eviction, fire, violent event of any and every kind, is part of the daily routine in that life of the masses there is no time for lingering upon the weathered storm or for bothering about and repairing its ravages. Those who live the comparatively languid, the sheltered life should not use their own standards of what is delicate and refined, what is conspicuous and strong, when they judge their fellow beings as differently situated. Nevertheless, they do--with the result that we find the puny mud lark criticizing the eagle battling with the hurricane.
When Susan and Maud were in the street again, Susan declared that she must have another drink. "I can't offer to pay for one for you," said she to Maud. "I've almost no money. And I must spend what I've got for whiskey before I--can--can--start in."
Maud began to laugh, looked at Susan, and was almost crying instead. "I can lend you a fiver," she said. "Life's hell--ain't it? My father used to have a good business--tobacco. The trust took it away from him--and then he drank--and mother, she drank, too. And one day he beat her so she died--and he ran away. Oh, it's all awful! But I've stopped caring. I'm stuck on Jim--and another little fellow he don't know about. For God's sake don't tell him or he'd have me pinched for doing business free. I get full every night and raise old Nick. Sometimes I hate Jim. I've tried to kill him twice when I was loaded. But a girl's got to have a backer with a pull. And Jim lets me keep a bigger share of what I make than some fellows. Freddie's pretty good too, they say--except when he's losing on the races or gets stuck on some actress that's too classy to be shanghaied--like you was--and that makes him cough up."
Maud went on to disclose that Jim usually let her have all she made above thirty dollars a week, and in hard weeks had sometimes let her beg off with fifteen. Said she:
"I can generally count on about fifteen or twenty for myself. Us girls that has backers make a lot more money than the girls that hasn't. They're always getting pinched too--though they're careful never to speak first to a man. We can go right up and brace men with the cops looking on. A cop that'd touch us would get broke--unless we got too gay or robbed somebody with a pull. But none of our class of girls do any robbing. There's nothing in it. You get caught sooner or later, and then you're down and out."
While Susan was having two more drinks Maud talked about Freddie. She seemed to know little about him, though he was evidently one of the conspicuous figures. He had started in the lower East Side--had been leader of one of those gangs that infest tenement districts--the young men who refuse to submit to the common lot of stupid and badly paid toil and try to fight their way out by the quick methods of violence instead of the slower but surer methods of robbing the poor through a store of some kind. These gangs were thieves, blackmailers, kidnapers of young girls for houses of prostitution, repeaters. Most of them graduated into habitual jailbirds, a few--the cleverest--became saloon-keepers and politicians and high-class professional gamblers and race track men.
Freddie, Maud explained, was not much over twenty-five, yet was already well up toward the place where successful gang leaders crossed over into the respectable class--that is, grafted in "big figures." He was a great reader, said Maud, and had taken courses at some college. "They say he and his gang used to kill somebody nearly every night. Then he got a lot of money out of one of his jobs--some say it was a bank robbery and some say they killed a miner who was drunk with a big roll on him. Anyhow, Freddie got next to Finnegan--he's worth several millions that he made out of policy shops and poolrooms, and contracts and such political things. So he's in right--and he's got the brains. He's a good one for working out schemes for making people work hard and bring him their money. And everybody's afraid of him because he won't stop at nothing and is too slick to get caught."
Maud broke off abruptly and rose, warned by the glazed look in Susan's eyes. Susan was so far gone that she had difficulty in not staggering and did not dare speak lest her uncertain tongue should betray her. Maud walked her up and down the block several times to give the fresh air a chance, then led her up to a man who had looked at them in passing and had paused to look back. "Want to go have a good time, sweetheart?" said Maud to the man. He was well dressed, middle-aged, with a full beard and spectacles, looked as if he might be a banker, or perhaps a professor in some college.
"How much?" asked he.
"Five for a little while. Come along, sporty. Take me or my lady friend."
"How much for both of you?"
"Ten. We don't cut rates. Take us both, dearie. I know a hotel where it'd be all right."
"No. I guess I'll take your lady friend." He had been peering at Susan through his glasses. "And if she treats me well, I'll take her again. You're sure you're all right? I'm a married man."
"We've both been home visiting for a month, and walking the chalk. My, but ma's strict! We got back tonight," said Maud glibly. "Go ahead, Queenie. I'll be chasing up and down here, waiting." In a lower tone: "Get through with him quick. Strike him for five more after you get the first five. He's a blob."
When Susan came slinking through the office of the hotel in the wake of the man two hours later, Maud sprang from the little parlor. "How much did you get?" she asked in an undertone.
Susan looked nervously at the back of the man who was descending the stairway to the street. "He said he'd pay me next time," she said. "I didn't know what to do. He was polite and----"
Maud seized her by the arm. "Come along!" she cried. As she passed the desk she said to the clerk, "A dirty bilker! Tryin' to kiss his way out!"
"Give him hell," said the clerk.
Maud, still gripping Susan, overtook the man at the sidewalk. "What do you mean by not paying my lady friend?" she shouted.
"Get out!" said the man in a low tone, with an uneasy glance round. "If you annoy me I'll call the police."
"If you don't cough up mighty damn quick," cried Maud so loudly that several passers-by stopped, "I'll do the calling myself, you bum, and have you pinched for insulting two respectable working girls." And she planted herself squarely before him. Susan drew back into the shadow of the wall.
Up stepped Max, who happened to be standing outside his place. "What's the row about?" he demanded.
"These women are trying to blackmail me," said the man, sidling away.
Maud seized him by the arm. "Will you cough up or shall I scream?" she cried.
"Stand out of the way, girls," said Max savagely, "and let me take a crack at the----."
The man dived into his pocket, produced a bill, thrust it toward Susan. Maud saw that it was a five. "That's only five," she cried. "Where's the other five?"
"Five was the bargain," whined the man.
"Do you want me to push in your blinkers, you damned old bilk, you?" cried Max, seizing him violently by the arm. The man visited his pocket again, found another five, extended the two. Maud seized them. "Now, clear out!" said Max. "I hate to let you go without a swift kick in the pants."
Maud pressed the money on Susan and thanked Max. Said Max, "Don't forget to tell Freddie what I done for his girl."
"She'll tell him, all right," Maud assured him.
As the girls went east through Forty-second Street, Susan said, "I'm afraid that man'll lay for us."
"Lay for us," laughed Maud. "He'll run like a cat afire if he ever sights us again."
"I feel queer and faint," said Susan. "I must have a drink."
"Well--I'll go with you. But I've got to get busy. I want a couple of days off this week for my little fellow, so I must hustle. You let that dirty dog keep you too long. Half an hour's plenty enough. Always make 'em cough up in advance, then hustle 'em through. And don't listen to their guff about wanting to see you again if you treat 'em right. There's nothing in it."
They went into a restaurant bar near Broadway. Susan took two drinks of whiskey raw in rapid succession; Maud took one drink--a green mint with ice. "While you was fooling away time with that thief," said she, "I had two men--got five from one, three from the other. The five-dollar man took a three-dollar room--that was seventy-five for me. The three-dollar man wouldn't stand for more than a dollar room--so I got only a quarter there. But he set 'em up to two rounds of drinks--a quarter more for me. So I cleared nine twenty-five. And you'd 'a' got only your twenty-five cents commission on the room if it hadn't been for me. You forgot to collect your commission. Well, you can get it next time. Only I wouldn't ask for it, Max was so nice in helping out. He'll give you the quarter."
When Susan had taken her second stiff drink, her eyes were sparkling and she was laughing recklessly. "I want a cigarette," she said.
"You feel bully, don't you?"
"I'm ready for anything," declared she giddily. "I don't give a damn. I'm over the line. I--don't--give--a--damn!"
"I used to hate the men I went up with," said Maud, "but now I hardly look at their faces. You'll soon be that way. Then you'll only drink for fun. Drink--and dope--they are about the only fun we have--them and caring about some fellow."
"How many girls has Freddie got?"
"Search me. Not many that he'd speak to himself. Jim's his wardman--does his collecting for him. Freddie's above most of the men in this business. The others are about like Jim--tough straight through, but Freddie's a kind of a pullman. The other men-even Jim--hate him for being such a snare and being able to hide it that he's in such a low business. They'd have done him up long ago, if they could. But he's to wise for them. That's why they have to do what he says. I tell you, you're in right, for sure. You'll have Freddie eating out of your hand, if you play a cool hand."
Susan ordered another drink and a package of Egyptian cigarettes. "They don't allow ladies to smoke in here," said Maud. "We'll go to the washroom."
And in the washroom they took a few hasty puffs before sallying forth again. Usually Sunday night was dull, all the men having spent their spare money the night before, and it being a bad night for married men to make excuses for getting away from home. Maud explained that, except "out-of-towners," the married men were the chief support of their profession--"and most of the cornhuskers are married men, too." But Susan had the novice's luck. When she and Maud met Maud's "little gentleman friend" Harry Tucker at midnight and went to Considine's for supper, Susan had taken in "presents" and commissions twenty-nine dollars and a half. Maud had not done so badly, herself; her net receipts were twenty-two fifty.
She would not let Susan pay any part of the supper bill, but gave Harry the necessary money. "Here's a five," said she, pressing the bill into his hand, "and keep the change."
And she looked at him with loving eyes of longing. He was a pretty, common-looking fellow, a mere boy, who clerked in a haberdashery in the neighborhood. As he got only six dollars a week and had to give five to his mother who sewed, he could not afford to spend money on Maud, and she neither expected nor wished it. When she picked him up, he like most of his fellow-clerks had no decent clothing but the suit he had to have to "make a front" at the store. Maud had outfitted him from the skin with the cheap but showy stuff exhibited for just such purposes in the Broadway windows. She explained confidentially to Susan:
"It makes me sort of feel that I own him. Then, too, in love there oughtn't to be any money. If he paid, I'd be as cold to him as I am to the rest. The only reason I like Jim at all is I like a good beating once in a while. It's exciting. Jim--he treats me like the dirt under his feet. And that's what we are--dirt under the men's feet. Every woman knows it, when it comes to a showdown between her and a man. As my pop used to say, the world was made for men, not for women. Still, our graft ain't so bum, at that--if we work it right."
Freddie called on Susan about noon the next day. She was still in bed. He was dressed in the extreme of fashion, was wearing a chinchilla-lined coat. He looked the idle, sportively inclined son of some rich man in the Fifth Avenue district. He was having an affair with a much admired young actress--was engaged in it rather as a matter of vanity and for the fashionable half-world associations into which it introduced him rather than from any present interest in the lady. He stood watching Susan with a peculiar expression--one he might perhaps have found it hard to define himself. He bent over her and carelessly brushed her ear with his lips. "How did your royal highness make out?" inquired he.
"The money's in the top bureau drawer," replied she, the covers up to her eyes and her eyes closed.
He went to the bureau, opened the drawer, with his gloved hands counted the money. As he counted his eyes had a look in them that was strangely like jealous rage. He kept his back toward her for some time after he had crossed to look at the money. When he spoke it was to say:
"Not bad. And when you get dressed up a bit and lose your stage fright, you'll do a smashing business. I'll not take my share of this. I had a good run with the cards last night. Anyhow, you've got to pay your rent and buy some clothes. I've got to invest something in my new property. It's badly run down. You'll get busy again tonight, of course. Never lay off, lady, unless the weather's bad. You'll find you won't average more than twenty good business days a month in summer and fall, and only about ten in winter and spring, when it's cold and often lots of bad weather in the afternoons and evenings. That means hustle."
No sign from Susan. He sat on the bed and pulled the covers away from her face. "What are you so grouchy about, pet?" he inquired, chucking her under the chin.
"Too much booze, I'll bet. Well, sleep your grouch off. I've got a date with Finnegan. The election's coming on, and I have to work--lining up the vote and getting the repeaters ready. It all means good money for me. Look out about the booze, lady. It'll float you into trouble--trouble with me, I mean." And he patted her bare shoulders, laughed gently, went to the door. He paused there, struggled with an impulse to turn--departed.