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THE WORKS OF KATHLEEN NORRIS
"Friday's child is loving and giving; But Saturday's child must work for her living."
To C. G. N.
How shall I give you this, who long have known Your gift of all the best of life to me? No living word of mine could ever be Without the stirring echo of your own. Under your hand, as mine, this book has grown, And you, whose faith sets all my musing free, You, whose true vision helps my eyes to see, Know that these pages are not mine alone.
Not mine to give, not yours, the happy days, The happy talks, the hoping and the fears That made this story of a happy life. But, in dear memory of your words of praise, And grateful memory of four busy years, Accept her portion of it, from your wife.
Not the place in which to look for the Great Adventure, the dingy, narrow office on the mezzanine floor of Hunter, Baxter & Hunter's great wholesale drug establishment, in San Francisco city, at the beginning of the present century. Nothing could have seemed more monotonous, more grimy, less interesting, to the outsider's eye at least, than life as it presented itself to the twelve women who were employed in bookkeeping there. Yet, being young, as they all were, each of these girls was an adventuress, in a quiet way, and each one dreamed bright dreams in the dreary place, and waited, as youth must wait, for fortune, or fame, or position, love or power, to evolve itself somehow from the dulness of her days, and give her the key that should open—and shut—the doors of Hunter, Baxter & Hunter's offices to her forever.
And, while they waited, working over the unvaried, stupid columns of the company's books, they talked, confided, became friends, and exchanged shy hints of ambition. The ill-ventilated, neglected room was a little world, and rarely, in a larger world, do women come to know each other as intimately as these women did.
Therefore, on a certain sober September morning, the fact that Miss Thornton, familiarly known as "Thorny," was out of temper, speedily became known to all the little force. Miss Thornton was not only the oldest clerk there, but she was the highest paid, and the longest in the company's employ; also she was by nature a leader, and generally managed to impress her associates with her own mood, whatever it might be. Various uneasy looks were sent to-day in her direction, and by eleven o'clock even the giggling Kirk sisters, who were newcomers, were imbued with a sense of something wrong.
Nobody quite liked to allude to the subject, or ask a direct question. Not that any one of them was particularly considerate or reserved by nature, but because Miss Thornton was known to be extremely unpleasant when she had any grievance against one of the younger clerks. She could maintain an ugly silence until goaded into speech, but, once launched, few of her juniors escaped humiliation. Ordinarily, however, Miss Thornton was an extremely agreeable woman, shrewd, kindly, sympathetic, and very droll in her passing comments on men and events. She was in her early thirties, handsome, and a not quite natural blonde, her mouth sophisticated, her eyes set in circles of a leaden pallor. An assertive, masterful little woman, born and reared in decent poverty, still Thorny claimed descent from one of the first families of Maryland, and talked a good deal of her birth. Her leading characteristic was a determination never, even in the slightest particular, to allow herself to be imposed upon, and she gloried in stories of her own success in imposing upon other people.
Miss Thornton's desk stood at the inner end of the long room, nearest the door that led out to the "deck," as the girls called the mezzanine floor beyond, and so nearest the little private office of Mr. George Brauer, the arrogant young German who was the superintendent of the Front Office, and heartily detested by every girl therein.
When Miss Thornton wanted to be particularly annoying to her associates she would remark casually that "she and Mr. Brauer" thought this or that, or that "she suggested, and Mr. Brauer quite agreed" as to something else. As a matter of fact, she disliked him as much as they did, although she, and any and every girl there, would really have been immensely pleased and flattered by his admiration, had he cared to bestow it. But George Brauer's sea-blue eyes never rested for a second upon any Front Office girl with anything but annoyed responsibility. He kept his friendships severely remote from the walls of Hunter, Baxter & Hunter, and was suspected of social ambitions, and of distinguished, even noble connections in the Fatherland.
This morning Miss Thornton and Mr. Brauer had had a conference, as the lady called it, immediately after his arrival at nine o'clock, and Miss Murray, who sat next to Miss Thornton, suspected that it had had something to do with her neighbor's ill-temper. But Miss Thornton, delicately approached, had proved so ungracious and so uncommunicative, that Miss Murray had retired into herself, and attacked her work with unusual briskness.
Next to friendly, insignificant little Miss Murray was Miss Cottle, a large, dark, morose girl, with untidy hair, and untidy clothes, and a bad complexion. Miss Cottle was unapproachable and insolent in her manner, from a sense of superiority. She was connected, she stated frequently, with one of the wealthy families of the city, whose old clothes, the girls suspected, she frequently wore. On Saturday, a half-day, upon which all the girls wore their best clothes to the office, if they had matinee or shopping plans for the afternoon, Miss Cottle often appeared with her frowsy hair bunched under a tawdry velvet hat, covered with once exquisite velvet roses, and her muscular form clad in a gown that had cost its original owner more than this humble relative could earn in a year. Miss Cottle's gloves were always expensive, and always dirty, and her elaborate silk petticoats were of soiled pale pinks and blues.
Miss Cottle's neighbor was Miss Sherman, a freckled, red-headed, pale little girl, always shabby and pinched-looking, eager, silent, and hard-working. Miss Sherman gave the impression—or would have given it to anyone who cared to study her—of having been intimidated and underfed from birth. She had a keen sense of humor, and, when Susan Brown "got started," as Susan Brown occasionally did, Miss Sherman would laugh so violently, and with such agonized attempts at suppression, that she would almost strangle herself. Nobody guessed that she adored the brilliant Susan, unless Miss Brown herself guessed it. The girls only knew of Miss Sherman that she was the oldest of eight brothers and sisters, and that she gave her mother all her money every Saturday night.
Miss Elsie Kirk came next, in the line of girls that faced the room, and Miss Violet Kirk was next to her sister. The Kirks were pretty, light-headed girls, frivolous, common and noisy. They had a comfortable home, and worked only because they rather liked the excitement of the office, and liked an excuse to come downtown every day. Elsie, the prettier and younger, was often "mean" to her sister, but Violet was always good-natured, and used to smile as she told the girls how Elsie captured her—Violet's—admirers. The Kirks' conversation was all of "cases," "the crowd," "the times of their lives," and "new crushes"; they never pinned on their audacious hats to go home at night without speculating as to possible romantic adventures on the car, on the street, everywhere. They were not quite approved by the rest of the Front Office staff; their color was not all natural, their clothes were "fussy." Both wore enormous dry "rats," that showed through the thin covering of outer hair, their stockings were quite transparent, and bows of pink and lavender ribbon were visible under their thin shirt-waists. It was known that Elsie had been "spoken to" by old Mr. Baxter, on the subject of a long, loose curl, which had appeared one morning, dangling over her powdered neck. The Kirks, it was felt, never gave an impression of freshness, of soapiness, of starched apparel, and Front Office had a high standard of personal cleanliness. Miss Sherman's ears glowed coldly all morning long, from early ablutions, and her fingertips were always icy, and Miss Thornton and Susan Brown liked to allude casually to their "cold plunges" as a daily occurrence—although neither one ever really took a cold bath, except, perhaps, for a few days in mid-summer. But all of cleanliness is neither embraced nor denied by the taking of cold baths, and the Front Office girls, hours and obligations considered, had nothing on this score of which to be ashamed. Manicuring went on in every quiet moment, and many of the girls spent twenty minutes daily, or twice daily, in the careful adjustment of large sheets of paper as cuffs, to protect their sleeves. Two elastic bands held these cuffs in place, and only long practice made their arrangement possible. This was before the day of elbow sleeves, although Susan Brown always included elbow sleeves in a description of a model garment for office wear, with which she sometimes amused her associates.
"No wet skirts to freeze you to death," Susan would grumble, "no high collar to scratch you! It's time that the office women of America were recognized as a class with a class dress! Short sleeves, loose, baggy trousers—"
A shriek would interrupt her.
"Yes, I SEE you wearing that in the street, Susan!"
"Well, I WOULD. Overshoes," the inventor would pursue, "fleece-lined leggings, coming well up on your—may I allude to limbs, Miss Wrenn?"
"I don't care what you allude to!" Miss Wrenn, the office prude, a little angry at being caught listening to this nonsense, would answer snappily.
"Limbs, then," Susan would proceed graciously, "or, as Miss Sherman says, legs—-"
"Oh, Miss Brown! I DIDN'T! I never use that word!" the little woman would protest.
"You don't! Why, you said last night that you were trying to get into the chorus at the Tivoli! You said you had such handsome—"
"Oh, aren't you awful!" Miss Sherman would put her cold red fingers over her ears, and the others, easily amused, would giggle at intervals for the next half hour.
Susan Brown's desk was at the front end of the room, facing down the double line. At her back was a round window, never opened, and never washed, and so obscured by the great cement scrolls that decorated the facade of the building that it gave only a dull blur of light, ordinarily, and no air at all. Sometimes, on a bright summer's morning, the invading sunlight did manage to work its way in through the dust-coated ornamental masonry, and to fall, for a few moments, in a bright slant, wheeling with motes, across the office floor. But usually the girls depended for light upon the suspended green-hooded electric lights, one over each desk.
Susan though that she had the most desirable seat in the room, and the other girls carefully concealed from her the fact that they thought so, too. Two years before, a newcomer, she had been given this same desk, but it faced directly against the wall then, and was in the shadow of a dirty, overcrowded letter press. Susan had turned it about, straightened it, pushed the press down the room, against the coat-closet, and now, like all the other girls, she faced the room, could see more than any of them, indeed, and keep an eye on Mr. Brauer, and on the main floor below, visible through the glass inner wall of the office. Miss Brown was neither orderly nor industrious, but she had an eye for proportion, and a fine imagination. She loved small, fussy tasks, docketed and ruled the contents of her desk scrupulously, and lettered trim labels for boxes and drawers, but she was a lazy young creature when regular work was to be done, much given to idle and discontented dreams.
At this time she was not quite twenty-one, and felt herself to be distressingly advanced in years. Like all except a few very fortunate girls of her age, Susan was brimming with perverted energy—she could have done a thousand things well and joyously, could have used to the utmost the exceptional powers of her body and soul, but, handicapped by the ideals of her sex, and lacking the rare guidance that might have saved her, she was drifting, busy with work she detested, or equally unsatisfied in idleness, sometimes lazily diverted and soothed by the passing hour, and sometimes stung to her very soul by longings and ambitions.
"She is no older than I am—she works no harder than I do!" Susan would reflect, studying the life of some writer or actress with bitter envy. But how to get out of this groove, and into another, how to work and fight and climb, she did not know, and nobody ever helped her to discover.
There was no future for her, or for any girl here, that she knew. Miss Thornton, after twelve years of work, was being paid forty-five dollars, Miss Wrenn, after eight years, forty, and Susan only thirty dollars a month. Brooding over these things, Susan would let her work accumulate, and endure, in heavy silence, the kindly, curious speculations and comments of her associates.
But perhaps a hot lunch or a friendly word would send her spirits suddenly up again, Susan would forget her vague ambitions, and reflect cheerfully that it was already four o'clock, that she was going with Cousin Mary Lou and Billy Oliver to the Orpheum to-night, that her best white shirtwaist ought by this time to have come back from the laundry.
Or somehow, if depression continued, she would shut her desk, in mid-afternoon, and leave Front Office, cross the long deck—which was a sort of sample room for rubber goods, and was lined with long cases of them—descend a flight of stairs to the main floor, cross it and remount the stairs on the other side of the building, and enter the mail-order department. This was an immense room, where fifty men and a few girls were busy at long desks, the air was filled with the hum of typewriters and the murmur of low voices. Beyond it was a door that gave upon more stairs, and at the top of them a small bare room known as the lunch-room. Here was a great locker, still marked with the labels that had shown where senna leaves and tansy and hepatica had been kept in some earlier stage of Hunter, Baxter & Hunter's existence, and now filled with the girls' lunch-boxes, and rubber overshoes, and hair-brushes. There was a small gas-stove in this room, and a long table with benches built about it. A door gave upon a high strip of flat roof, and beyond a pebbled stretch of tar were the dressings-rooms, where there were wash-stands, and soap, and limp towels on rollers.
Here Susan would wash her hands and face, and comb her bright thick hair, and straighten belt and collar. There were always girls here: a late-comer eating her luncheon, two chatter-boxes sharing a bit of powdered chamois-skin at a mirror, a girl who felt ill drinking something hot at the stove. Here was always company, and gossip, Susan might stop for a half-cup of scalding hot tea, or a chocolate from a striped paper bag. Returning, refreshed and cheered, to the office, she would lay a warm, damp hand over Miss Thornton's, and give her the news.
"Miss Polk and Miss French are just going it up there, Thorny, mad as hops!" or "Miss O'Brien is going to be in Mr. Joe Hunter's office after this."
"'S'at so?" Miss Thornton would interestedly return, wrinkling her nose under the glasses she used while she was working. And perhaps after a few moments she would slip away herself for a visit to the lunch-room. Mr. Brauer, watching Front Office through his glass doors, attempted in vain to discourage these excursions. The bolder spirits enjoyed defying him, and the more timid never dared to leave their places in any case. Miss Sherman, haunted by the horror of "losing her job," eyed the independent Miss Brown and Miss Thornton with open awe and admiration, without ever attempting to emulate them.
Next to Susan sat severe, handsome, reserved little Miss Wrenn, who coldly repelled any attempts at friendship, and bitterly hated the office. Except for an occasional satiric comment, or a half-amused correction of someone's grammar, Miss Wrenn rarely spoke.
Miss Cashell was her neighbor, a mysterious, pretty girl, with wicked eyes and a hard face, and a manner so artless, effusive and virtuous as to awaken the basest suspicions among her associates. Miss Cashell dressed very charmingly, and never expressed an opinion that would not well have become a cloistered nun, but the girls read her colorless face, sensuous mouth, and sly dark eyes aright, and nobody in Front Office "went" with Miss Cashell. Next her was Mrs. Valencia, a harmless little fool of a woman, who held her position merely because her husband had been long in the employ of the Hunter family, and who made more mistakes than all the rest of the staff put together. Susan disliked Mrs. Valencia because of the jokes she told, jokes that the girl did not in all honesty always understand, and because the little widow was suspected of "reporting" various girls now and then to Mr. Hunter.
Finishing the two rows of desks, down opposite Miss Thornton again were Miss Kelly and Miss Garvey, fresh-faced, intelligent Irish girls, simple, merry, and devoted to each other. These two took small part in what did not immediately concern them, but went off to Confession together every Saturday, spent their Sundays together, and laughed and whispered together over their ledgers. Everything about them was artless and pure. Susan, motherless herself, never tired of their talk of home, their mothers, their married sisters, their cousins in convents, their Church picnics and concerts and fairs, and "joshes"—"joshes" were as the breath of life to this innocent pair. "Joshes on Ma," "joshes on Joe and Dan," "joshes on Cecilia and Loretta" filled their conversations.
"And Ma yells up, 'What are you two layin' awake about?'" Miss Garvey would recount, with tears of enjoyment in her eyes. "But we never said nothing, did we, Gert? Well, about twelve o'clock we heard Leo come in, and he come upstairs, and he let out a yell—'My God!' he says—"
But at the recollection of Leo's discovery of the sheeted form, or the pail of water, or whatever had awaited him at the top of the stairs, Miss Garvey's voice would fail entirely, and Miss Kelly would also lay her head down on her desk, and sob with mirth. It was infectious, everyone else laughed, too.
To-day Susan, perceiving something amiss with Miss Thornton, sauntered the length of the office, and leaned over the older woman's desk. Miss Thornton was scribbling a little list of edibles, her errand boy waiting beside her. Tea and canned tomatoes were bought by the girls every day, to help out the dry lunches they brought from home, and almost every day the collection of dimes and nickels permitted a "wreath-cake" also, a spongy, glazed confection filled with chopped nuts and raisins. The tomatoes, bubbling hot and highly seasoned, were quite as much in demand as was the tea, and sometimes two or three girls made their entire lunch up by enlarging this list with cheese, sausages and fruit.
"Mad about something," asked Susan, when the list for to-day was finished.
Miss Thornton, under "2 wreath" wrote hastily, "Boiling! Tell you later," and turned it about for Susan to read, before she erased it.
"Shall I get that?" she asked, for the benefit of the attentive office.
"Yes, I would," answered her fellow-conspirator, as she turned away.
The hour droned by. Boys came with bills, and went away again. Sudden sharp pangs began to assert themselves in Susan's stomach. An odor of burning rubber drifted up from below, as it always drifted up at about this time. Susan announced that she was starving.
"It's not more than half-past eleven," said Miss Cottle, screwing her body about, so that she could look down through the glass walls of the office to the clock, on the main floor below. "Why, my heavens! It's twelve o'clock!" she announced amazedly, throwing down her pen, and stretching in her chair.
And, in instant confirmation of the fact, a whistle sounded shrilly outside, followed by a dozen more whistles, high and low, constant and intermittent, sharp on the silent noon air. The girls all jumped up, except Miss Wrenn, who liked to assume that the noon hour meant nothing to her, and who often finished a bill or two after the hour struck.
But among the others, ledgers were slammed shut, desk drawers jerked open, lights snapped out. Miss Thornton had disappeared ten minutes before in the direction of the lunch-room; now all the others followed, yawning, cramped, talkative.
They settled noisily about the table, and opened their lunches. A joyous confusion of talk rose above the clinking of spoons and plates, as the heavy cups of steaming tea were passed and the sugar- bowl went the rounds; there was no milk, and no girl at Hunter, Baxter & Hunter's thought lemon in tea anything but a wretched affectation. Girls who had been too pale before gained a sudden burning color, they had been sitting still and were hungry, now they ate too fast. Without exception the Front Office girls suffered from agonies of indigestion, and most of them grew used to a dull headache that came on every afternoon. They kept flat bottles of soda-mint tablets in their desks, and exchanged them hourly. No youthful constitution was proof against the speed with which they disposed of these fresh soft sandwiches at noon-time, and gulped down their tea.
In ten minutes some of them were ready to hurry off into sunny Front Street, there to saunter past warehouses, and warehouses, and warehouses, with lounging men eyeing them from open doorways.
The Kirks disappeared quickly to-day, and some of the others went out, too. When Miss Thornton, Miss Sherman, Miss Cottle and Miss Brown were left, Miss Thornton said suddenly:
"Say, listen, Susan. Listen here—"
Susan, who had been wiping the table carefully, artistically, with a damp rag, was arrested by the tone.
"I think this is the rottenest thing I ever heard, Susan," Miss Thornton began, sitting down at the table. The others all sat down, too, and put their elbows on the table. Susan, flushing uncomfortably, eyed Miss Thornton steadily.
"Brauer called me in this morning," said Miss Thornton, in a low voice, marking the table with the handle of a fork, in parallel lines, "and he asked me if I thought—no, that ain't the way he began. Here's what he said first: he says, 'Miss Thornton,' he says, 'did you know that Miss Wrenn is leaving us?'"
"What!" said all the others together, and Susan added, joyfully, "Gee, that means forty for me, and the crediting."
"Well, now listen," Miss Thornton resumed. "I says, 'Mr. Brauer, Miss Wrenn didn't put herself out to inform me of her plans, but never mind. Although,' I says, 'I taught that girl everything she ever knew of office work, and the day she was here three weeks Mr. Philip Hunter himself came to me and said, "Miss Thornton, can you make anything of her?" So that if it hadn't been for me—'"
"But, Thorny, what's she leaving for?" broke in Susan, with the excited interest that the smallest change invariably brought.
"Her uncle in Milwaukee is going to pay her expenses while she takes a library course, I believe," Miss Thornton said, indifferently. "Anyway, then Brauer asked—now, listen, Susan—he asked if I thought Violet Kirk could do the crediting—"
"Violet Kirk!" echoed Susan, in incredulous disappointment. This blow to long-cherished hopes gave her a sensation of actual sickness.
"Violet Kirk!" the others broke out, indignant and astonished. "Why, she can't do it! Is he crazy? Why, Joe Hunter himself told Susan to work up on that! Why, Susan's done all the substituting on that! What does she know about it, anyway? Well, wouldn't that honestly jar you!"
Susan alone did not speak. She had in turn begun to mark the table, in fine, precise lines, with a hairpin. She had grown rather pale.
"It's a rotten shame, Susan," said Rose Murray, sympathetically. Miss Sherman eyed Susan with scared and sorrowful eyes. "Don't you care—don't you care, Susan!" said the soothing voices.
"I don't care," said Susan presently, in a hard, level voice. She raised her somber eyes. "I don't care because I simply won't stand it, that's all," said she. "I'll go straight to Mr. Baxter. Yes, I WILL, Thorny. Brauer'll see if he can run everything this way! Is she going to get forty?"
"What do you care if she does?" Miss Thornton said, hardily.
"All right," Susan answered. "Very well. But I'll get forty next month or I'll leave this place! And I'm not one bit afraid to go straight to old 'J. G.' and tell him so, too! I'll—"
"Listen, Susan, now listen," urged Miss Thornton. "Don't you get mad, Susan. She can't do it. It'll be just one mistake after another. Brauer will have to give it to you, inside of two months. She'll find," said Miss Thornton, with a grim tightening of the lips, "that precious few mistakes get by ME! I'll make that girl's life a burden, you trust me! And meantime you work up on that line, Sue, and be ready for it!"
Susan did not answer. She was staring at the table again, cleaning the cracks in its worn old surface with her hairpin.
"Thorny," she said huskily, "you know me. Do you think that this is fair?"
"Aw—aw, now, Susan, don't!" Miss Thornton jumped up, and put her arm about Susan's shoulders, and Susan, completely unnerved by the sympathy in the other's tone, dropped her head upon her arm, and began to cry.
A distressed murmur of concern and pity rose all about her, everyone patted her shoulder, and bitter denunciations of Mr. Brauer and Miss Kirk broke forth. Even Hunter, Baxter & Hunter were not spared, being freely characterized as "the rottenest people in the city to work for!" "It would serve them right," said more than one indignant voice, "if the whole crowd of us walked out on them!"
Presently Susan indicated, by a few gulps, and by straightening suddenly, that the worst of the storm was over, and could even laugh shakily when Miss Thornton gave her a small, fringed lunch napkin upon which to wipe her eyes.
"I'm a fool to cry this way," said Susan, sniffing.
"Fool!" Miss Cottle echoed tenderly, "It's enough to make a cow cry!"
"Not calling Susan a cow, or anything like that," said Miss Thornton humorously, as she softly smoothed Susan's hair. At which Susan began to laugh violently, and the others became almost hysterical in their delight at seeing her equilibrium restored.
"But you know what I do with my money, Thorny," began Susan, her eyes filling again.
"She gives every cent to her aunt," said Miss Thornton sternly, as if she accused the firm, Mr. Brauer and Miss Kirk by the statement.
"And I've—worked—so hard!" Susan's lips were beginning to tremble again. But with an effort she controlled herself, fumbled for a handkerchief, and faced the group, disfigured as to complexion, tumbled as to hair, but calm.
"Well, there's no help for it, I suppose!" said she hardily, in a tone somewhat hoarsened by tears. "You're all darlings, and I'm a fool. But I certainly intend to get even with Mr. Brauer!"
"DON'T give up your job," Miss Sherman pleaded.
"I will the minute I get another," said Susan, morosely, adding anxiously, "Do I look a perfect fright, Thorny? Do my eyes show?"
"Not much—" Miss Cottle wavered.
"Wash them with cold water, and powder your nose," advised Miss Thornton briskly.
"And my hair—!" Susan put her hand to the disordered mass, and laughed helplessly.
"It's all right!" Thorny patted it affectionately. "Isn't it gorgeous, girls? Don't you care, Susan, you're worth ten of the Kirks!"
"Here they come now!" Miss Murray whispered, at the head of the stairs. "Beat it, Susan, don't let 'em see you!"
Susan duly fled to the wash-room, where, concealed a moment later by a towel, and the hanging veil of her hair, she could meet the Kirks' glances innocently enough. Later, fresh and tidy, she took her place at her desk, rather refreshed by her outburst, and curiously peaceful in spirit. The joys of martyrdom were Susan's, she was particularly busy and cheerful. Fate had dealt her cruel blows before this one, she inherited from some persecuted Irish ancestor a grim pleasure in accepting them.
Afternoons, from one o'clock until half-past five, seemed endless in Front Office. Mornings, beside being exactly one hour shorter by the clock, could be still more abbreviated by the few moments gained by the disposal of hats and wraps, the dusting of desks, sharpening of pencils, and filling of ink-wells. The girls used a great many blocks of yellow paper called scratch-pads, and scratch-pads must be gotten down almost daily from the closet, dusted and distributed, there were paper cuffs to adjust, and there was sometimes a ten or fifteen-minute delay before the bills for the day began to come up. But the afternoons knew no such delays, the girls were tired, the air in the office stale. Every girl, consciously or not, sighed as she took her seat at one o'clock.
The work in Front Office was entirely with bills. These bills were of the sales made in the house itself the day before, and those sent by mail from the traveling salesmen, and were accompanied by duplicate bills, on thin yellow sheets. It was Mrs. Valencia's work, the easiest in the office, to compare originals and duplicates, and supply to the latter any item that was missing. Hundreds of the bills were made out for only one or two items, many were but one page in length, and there were several scores of longer ones every day, raging from two to twenty pages.
The original bills went downstairs again immediately, and Miss Thornton, taking the duplicates one by one from Mrs. Valencia, marked the cost price of every article in the margin beyond the selling price. Thorny, after twelve years' experience, could jot down costs, percentages and discounts at an incredible speed. Drugs, patent medicines, surgical goods and toilet articles she could price as fast as she could read them, and, even while her right hand scribbled busily, her left hand turned the pages of her cost catalog automatically, when her trained eye discovered, half-way down the page, some item of which she was not quite sure. Susan never tired of admiring the swiftness with which hand, eye and brain worked together. Thorny would stop in her mad flight, ponder an item with absent eyes fixed on space, suddenly recall the price, affix the discounts, and be ready for the next item. Susan had the natural admiration of an imaginative mind for power, and the fact that Miss Thornton was by far the cleverest woman in the office was one reason why Susan loved her best.
Miss Thornton whisked her finished duplicates, in a growing pile, to the left-hand side of Miss Munay's desk. Her neighbor also did "costing," but in a simpler form. Miss Murray merely marked, sometimes at cost, sometimes at an advance, those articles that were "B. O." or "bought out," not carried in Hunter, Baxter & Hunter's regular stock. Candy, postal-cards, cameras, sporting-goods, stamps, cigars, stationery, fruit-sirups, all the things in fact, that the firm's customers, all over the state, carried in their little country stores, were "B. O." Miss Murray had invoices for them all, and checked them off as fast as she could find their places on the duplicates.
Then Miss Cottle and Susan Brown got the duplicates and "extended" them. So many cases of cold cream at so much per case, so many ounces of this or that at so much the pound, so many pounds at so much per ounce, and forty and ten and ten off. Two-thirds of a dozen, one hundredweight, one eighth of a gross, twelve per cent, off, and twenty-three per cent. on for freight charges; the "extenders" had to keep their wits about them.
After that the duplicates went to Miss Sherman, who set down the difference between cost and selling price. So that eventually every article was marked five times, its original selling price, extended by the salesman, its cost price, separately extended, and the difference between the two.
From Miss Sherman the bills went to the Misses Kirk, who gave every item a red number that marked it in its proper department, drugs or rubber goods or soaps and creams and colognes. The entire stock was divided into ten of these departments, and there were ten great ledgers in which to make entries for each one.
And for every one of a hundred salesmen a separate great sheet was kept for the record of sales, all marked with the rubber stamp "B. O.," or the number of a department in red ink. This was called "crediting," and was done by Miss Wrenn. Finally, Miss Garvey and Miss Kelly took the now limp bills, and extracted from them bewildering figures called "the percentages," into the mysteries of which Susan never dared to penetrate.
This whole involved and intricate system had originated, years before, in the brain of one of the younger members of the firm, whose theory was that it would enable everyone concerned to tell "at a glance" just where the firm stood, just where profits and losses lay. Theoretically, the idea was sound, and, in the hands of a few practiced accountants, it might have been practically sound as well. But the uninterested, untrained girls in Front Office never brought their work anywhere near a conclusion. Several duplicates on Miss Thornton's desk were eternally waiting for special prices, several more, delayed by the non-appearance of invoices, kept Miss Murray always in arrears, and Susan Brown had a little habit of tucking away in a desk drawer any duplicate whose extension promised to be unusually tedious or difficult. Girls were continually going into innocent gales of mirth because long-lost bills were discovered, shut in some old ledger, or rushing awe-struck to Miss Thornton with accounts of others that had been carried away in waste-baskets and burned.
"Sh-sh! Don't make such a fuss," Miss Thornton would say warningly, with a glance toward Mr. Brauer's office. "Perhaps he'll never ask for them!"
And perhaps he never did. If he did, the office presented him a blank and innocent face. "Miss Brown, did you see this bill Mr. Brauer speaks of?" "Beg pardon? Oh, no, Miss Thornton." "Miss Cashell, did you? " "Just-one-moment-Miss-Thornton-until-I-foot-up- this-column. Thank you! No. No, I haven't seen it, Miss Thornton. Did you trace it to my desk, Mr. Brauer?"
Baffled, Mr. Brauer would retire to his office. Ten silent, busy minutes would elapse before Miss Cottle would say, in a low tone, "Bet it was that bill that you were going to take home and work on, Miss Murray!"
"Oh, sure!" Miss Murray would agree, with a startled smile. "Sure. Mamma stuck it behind the clock—I remember now. I'll bring it down to-morrow."
"Don't you forget it, now," Miss Thornton would perhaps command, with a sudden touch of authority, "old Baxter'd jump out of his skin if he knew we ever took 'em home!"
"Well, YOU do!" Miss Murray would retort, reddening resentfully.
"Ah, well," Susan Brown would answer pompously, for Miss Thornton, "you forget that I'm almost a member of the firm! Me and the Baxters can do pretty much what we like! I'll fire Brauer to-morrow if he—"
"You shut up, Susan!" Miss Thornton, her rising resentment pricked like a bubble, would laugh amiably, and the subject of the bill would be dismissed with a general chuckle.
On this particular afternoon Miss Thornton delayed Susan Brown, with a significant glance, when the whistle blew at half-past five, and the girls crowded about the little closet for their wraps.
"S'listen, Susan," said she, with a look full of import. Susan leaned over Miss Thornton's flat-topped desk so that their heads were close together. "Listen," said Miss Thornton, in a low tone, "I met George Banks on the deck this afternoon, see? And I happened to tell him that Miss Wrenn was going." Miss Thornton glanced cautiously about her, her voice sank to a low murmur. "Well. And then he says, 'Yes, I knew that,' he says, 'but do you know who's going to take her place?' 'Miss Kirk is,' I says, 'and I think it's a dirty shame!'"
"Good for you!" said Susan, grateful for this loyalty.
"Well, I did, Susan. And it is, too! But listen. 'That may be,' he says, 'but what do you know about young Coleman coming down to work in Front Office!'"
"Peter Coleman!" Susan gasped. This was the most astonishing, the most exciting news that could possibly have been circulated. Peter Coleman, nephew and heir of old "J. G." himself, handsome, college- bred, popular from the most exclusive dowager in society to the humblest errand boy in his uncle's employ, actually coming down to Front Office daily, to share the joys and sorrows of the Brauer dynasty—it was unbelievable, it was glorious! Every girl in the place knew all about Peter Coleman, his golf record, his blooded terriers, his appearances in the social columns of the Sunday newspapers! Thorny remembered, although she did not boast of it, the days when, a little lad of twelve or fourteen, he had come to his uncle's office with a tutor, or even with an old, and very proud, nurse, for the occasional visits which always terminated with the delighted acceptance by Peter of a gold piece from Uncle Josiah. But Susan only knew him as a man, twenty-five now, a wonderful and fascinating person to watch, even, in happy moments, to dream about.
"You know I met him, Thorny," she said now, eager and smiling.
"'S'at so?" Miss Thornton said, politely uninterested.
"Yes, old Baxter introduced me, on a car. But, Thorny, he can't be coming right down here into this rotten place!" protested Susan.
"He'll have a desk in Brauer's office," Miss Thornton explained. "He is to learn this branch, and be manager some day. George says that Brauer is going to buy into the firm."
"Well, for Heaven's sake!" Susan's thoughts flew. "But, Thorny," she presently submitted, "isn't Peter Coleman in college?"
Miss Thornton looked mysterious, looked regretful.
"I understand old J. G.'s real upset about that," she said discreetly, "but just what the trouble was, I'm not at liberty to mention. You know what young men are."
"Sure," said Susan, thoughtfully.
"I don't mean that there was any scandal," Miss Thornton amended hastily, "but he's more of an athlete than a student, I guess—"
"Sure," Susan agreed again. "And a lot he knows about office work, NOT," she mused. "I'll bet he gets a good salary?"
"Three hundred and fifty," supplied Miss Thornton.
"Oh, well, that's not so much, considering. He must get that much allowance, too. What a snap! Thorny, what do you bet the girls all go crazy about him!"
"All except one. I wouldn't thank you for him."
"All except TWO!" Susan went smiling back to her desk, a little more excited than she cared to show. She snapped off her light, and swept pens and blotters into a drawer, pulling open another drawer to get her purse and gloves. By this time the office was deserted, and Susan could take her time at the little mirror nailed inside the closet door.
A little cramped, a little chilly, she presently went out into the gusty September twilight of Front Street. In an hour the wind would die away. Now it was sweeping great swirls of dust and chaff into the eyes of home-going men and women. Susan, like all San Franciscans, was used to it. She bent her head, sank her hands in her coat-pockets, and walked fast.
Sometimes she could walk home, but not to-night, in the teeth of this wind. She got a seat on the "dummy" of a cable-car. A man stood on the step, holding on to the perpendicular rod just before her, but under his arm she could see the darkened shops they passed, girls and men streaming out of doors marked "Employees Only," men who ran for the car and caught it, men who ran for the car and missed it. Her bright eyes did not miss an inch of the crowded streets.
Susan smiled dreamily. She was arranging the details of her own wedding, a simple but charming wedding in Old Saint Mary's. The groom was of course Mr. Peter Coleman.
The McAllister Street cable-car, packed to its last inch, throbbed upon its way so jerkily that Susan, who was wedged in close to the glass shield at the front of the car, had sometimes to cling to the seat with knees and finger-tips to keep from sliding against her neighbor, a young man deep in a trade-journal, and sometimes to brace herself to withstand his helpless sliding against her. They both laughed presently at the absurdity of it.
"My, don't they jerk!" said the friendly Susan, and the young man agreed fervently, in a bashful mumble, "It's fierce, all right," and returned to his book. Susan, when she got down at her corner, gave him a little nod and smile, and he lifted his hat, and smiled brightly in return.
There was a little bakery on this corner, with two gaslights flaring in its window. Several flat pies and small cakes were displayed there, and a limp curtain, on a string, shut off the shop, where a dozen people were waiting now. A bell in the door rang violently, whenever anyone came out or in. Susan knew the bakery well, knew when the rolls were hot, and just the price and variety of the cookies and the pies.
She knew, indeed, every inch of the block, a dreary block at best, perhaps especially dreary in this gloomy pitiless summer twilight. It was lined with shabby, bay-windowed, three-story wooden houses, all exactly alike. Each had a flight of wooden steps running up to the second floor, a basement entrance under the steps, and a small cemented yard, where papers and chaff and orange peels gathered, and grass languished and died. The dining-room of each house was in the basement, and slatternly maids, all along the block, could be seen setting tables, by flaring gas-light, inside. Even the Nottingham lace curtains at the second-story windows seemed akin, although they varied from the stiff, immaculate, well-darned lengths that adorned the rooms where the Clemenceaus—grandmother, daughter and granddaughter, and direct descendants of the Comte de Moran—were genteelly starving to death, to the soft, filthy, torn strips that finished off the parlor of the noisy, cheerful, irrepressible Daleys' once-pretentious home. Poverty walked visibly upon this block, the cold, forbidding poverty of pride and courage gone wrong, the idle, decorous, helpless poverty of fallen gentility. Poverty spoke through the unobtrusive little signs over every bell, "Rooms," and through the larger signs that said "Costello. Modes and Children's Dressmaker." Still another sign in a second-story bay said "Alice. Milliner," and a few hats, dimly discernible from the street, bore out the claim.
Upon the house where Susan Brown lived with her aunt, and her aunt's three daughters, there was no sign, although Mrs. Lancaster, and Mary Lou, Virginia and Georgianna had supported themselves for many years by the cheerless process known as taking boarders. Sometimes, when the Lancasters were in especially trying financial straits, the possibility of a little sign was discussed. But so far, the humiliating extreme had been somehow avoided.
"No, I feel that Papa wouldn't like it," Mrs. Lancaster persisted.
"Oh, Papa! He'd have died first!" the daughters would agree, in eager sympathy. And the question of the sign would be dismissed again.
"Papa" had been a power in his day, a splendid, audacious, autocratic person, successful as a pioneer, a miner, a speculator, proud of a beautiful and pampered Southern wife and a nurseryful of handsome children. These were the days of horses and carriages, when the Eddy Street mansion was built, when a score of servants waited upon Ma and the children. But terrible times came finally upon this grandeur, the stock madness seized "Papa," he was a rich man one day, a millionaire the next,—he would be a multi-millionaire next week! Ma never ceased to be grateful that Papa, on the very day that his fortune crashed to ruin, came home too sick and feverish to fully comprehend the calamity, and was lying in his quiet grave before his widow and her children did.
Mrs. Lancaster, in her fresh expensive black, with her five black- clad children beside her, thus had the world to face, at thirty- four. George, the first-born, destined to die in his twentieth summer, was eighteen then, Mary Lou sixteen, helpless and feminine, and Alfred, at thirteen, already showed indications of being entirely spoiled. Then came conscientious, gentle little Virginia, ten years old, and finally Georgianna, who was eight.
Out of the general wreckage, the Fulton Street house was saved, and to the Fulton Street house the spoiled, terrified little family moved. Mary Lou sometimes told Susan with mournful pride of the weeping and wailing of those days, of dear George's first job, that, with the check that Ma's uncle in Albany sent every month, supported the family. Then the uncle died, and George died, and Ma, shaken from her silent and dignified retirement, rose to the occasion in a manner that Mary Lou always regarded as miraculous, and filled the house with boarders. And enjoyed the new venture thoroughly, too, although Mary Lou never suspected that. Perhaps Ma, herself, did not realize how much she liked to bustle and toil, how gratifying the stir and confusion in the house were, after the silent want and loneliness. Ma always spoke of women in business as unfortunate and hardened; she never spoke of her livelihood as anything but a temporary arrangement, never made out a bill in her life. Upon her first boarders, indeed, she took great pride in lavishing more than the luxuries for which their board money could possibly pay. Ma reminded them that she had no rent to pay, and that the girls would soon be married, and Alfie working.
But Papa had been dead for twenty years now, and still the girls were unmarried, and Alfred, if he was working, was doing it in so fitful and so casual a manner as to be much more of a burden than a help to his mother. Alfred lost one position after another because he drank, and Ma, upon whose father's table wine had been quite a matter of course, could not understand why a little too much drinking should be taken so seriously by Alfie's employers, and why they could not give the boy another—and another, and another— chance. Ma never alluded, herself, to this little weakness of Alfie's. He was still her darling, the one son she had left, the last of the Lancasters.
But, as the years went on, she grew to be less of the shrinking Southern lady, more the boarding-house keeper. If she wrote no bills, she kept them pretty straight in her head, and only her endless courage and industry kept the crazy enterprise afloat, and the three idle girls comfortable and decently dressed. Theoretically, they "helped Ma." Really, one well-trained servant could have done far more than Mary Lou, Virginia and Georgie did between them. This was, of course, primarily her own fault. Ma belonged to the brisk and bustling type that shoves aside a pair of eager little hands, with "Here, I can do that better myself!" She was indeed proud of the fact that Mary Lou, at thirty-six, could not rent a room or receipt a bill if her life were at stake. "While I'm here, I'll do this, dear," said Ma, cheerfully. "When I'm gone you'll have quite enough to do!"
Susan entered a small, square entrance-hall, papered in arabesques of green against a dark brown, where a bead of gas flickered dispiritedly in a red glass shade over the newel post. Some fly- specked calling cards languished in the brass tray of an enormous old walnut hat-rack, where several boarders had already hung wraps and hats.
The upper part of the front door was set with two panels of beveled glass, decorated with a scroll design in frosted glass. When Susan Brown had been a very small girl she would sometimes stand inside this door and study the passing show of Fulton Street for hours at a time. Somebody would come running up the street steps, and pull the bell! Susan could hear it tinkle far downstairs in the kitchen, and would bashfully retire to the niche by the hat-rack. Minnie or Lizzie, or perhaps a Japanese schoolboy,—whoever the servant of the hour might be, would come slowly up the inside stairs, and cautiously open the street door an inch or two.
A colloquy would ensue. No, Mrs. Lancaster wasn't in, no, none of the family wasn't in. He could leave it. She didn't know, they hadn't said. He could leave it. No, she didn't know.
The collector would discontentedly depart, and instantly Mary Lou or Georgie, or perhaps both, would hang over the railing in the upper hall.
"Lizzie, who was it?" they would call down softly, impatient and excited, as Lizzie dragged her way upstairs.
"Who was it, Mary Lou?"
"Why, how do I know?"
"Here, GIVE it to me, Lizzie!"
A silence. Then, "Oh, pshaw!" and the sound of a closing door. Then Lizzie would drag downstairs again, and Susan would return to her silent contemplation of the street.
She had seen nothing particularly odd or unattractive about the house in those little-girl days, and it seemed a perfectly normal establishment to her now. It was home, and it was good to get home after the long day. She ran up the flight of stairs that the gas- bead dimly lighted, and up another, where a second gas-jet, this one without a shade, burned unsteadily and opened the door, at the back of the third-floor hall, that gave upon the bedroom that she shared with Mary Lou and Georgianna. The boarding-house was crowded, at this particular time, and Georgie, who flitted about as a rule to whatever room chanced to be empty, was now quartered here and slept on a narrow couch, set at an angle from the bay-window, and covered with a worn strip of chenille.
It was a shabby room, and necessarily crowded, but it was bright, and its one window gave an attractive view of little tree-shaded backyards below, where small tragedies and comedies were continually being enacted by dogs and babies and cats and the crude little maids of the neighborhood. Susan enjoyed these thoroughly, and she and Georgie also liked to watch the girl in the house just behind theirs, who almost always forgot to draw the shades when she lighted her gas. Whatever this unconscious neighbor did they found very amusing.
"Oh, look, Georgie, she's changing her slippers. Don't miss this— She must be going out to-night!" Susan would quiver with excitement until her cousin joined her at the window.
"Well, I wish you could have seen her trying her new hat on to-day!" Georgie would contribute. And both girls would kneel at the window as long as the bedroom in the next house was lighted. "Gone down to meet that man in the light overcoat," Susan would surmise, when the light went out, and if she and Georgie, hurrying to the bakery, happened to encounter their neighbor, they had much difficulty in suppressing their mirth.
To-night the room that the cousins shared was empty, and Susan threw her hat and coat over the foot of the large, lumpy wooden bed that seemed to take up at least one-half of the floor-space. She sat down on the side of the bed, feeling the tension of the day relax, and a certain lassitude creep over her. An old magazine lay nearby on a chair, she reached for it, and began idly to re-read it.
Beside the bed and Georgie's cot, there was a walnut bureau in the room, two chairs and one rocking chair, and a washstand. One the latter was a china basin, half-full of cold, soapy water, a damp towel was spread upon the pitcher that stood beside it on the floor. The wet pink soap, lying in a blue saucer, scented the room. On the bureau were combs and brushes, powders and cold creams, little brass and china trays filled with pins and buttons, and an old hand- mirror, in a loosened, blackened silver mounting. There was a glazed paper candy-box with hairpins in it, and a little liqueur glass, with "Hotel Netherlands" written upon it in gold, held wooden collar buttons and odd cuff-links. A great many hatpins, some plain, some tarnished and ornate, all bent, were stuck into a little black china boot. A basket of china and gold wire was full of combings, some dotted veils were folded into squares, and pinned into the wooden frame of the mirror, and the mirror itself was thickly rimmed with cards and photographs and small souvenirs of all sorts, that had been stuck in between the glass and the frame. There were dance cards with dangling tiny pencils on tasseled cords, and score cards plastered with tiny stars. There were calling cards, and newspaper clippings, and tintypes taken of young people at the beach or the Chutes. A round pilot-biscuit, with a dozen names written on it in pencil, was tied with a midshipman's hat-ribbon, there were wooden plates and champagne corks, and toy candy-boxes in the shapes of guitars and fire-crackers. Miss Georgie Lancaster, at twenty-eight, was still very girlish and gay, and she shared with her mother and sisters the curious instinctive acquisitiveness of the woman who, powerless financially and incapable of replacing, can only save.
Moments went by, a quarter-hour, a half-hour, and still Susan sat hunched up stupidly over her book. It was not an interesting magazine, she had read it before, and her thoughts ran in an uneasy undercurrent while she read. "I ought to be doing my hair—it must be half-past six o'clock—I must stop this—"
It was almost half-past six when the door opened suddenly, and a large woman came in.
"Well, hello, little girlie!" said the newcomer, panting from the climb upstairs, and turning a cold, fresh-colored cheek for Susan's kiss. She took off a long coat, displaying beneath, a black walking- skirt, an elaborate high collar, and a view of shabby corset and shabby corset-cover between. "Ma wanted butter," she explained, with a pleasant, rueful smile, "and I just slipped into anything to go for it!"
"You're an angel, Mary Lou," Susan said affectionately.
"Oh, angel!" Miss Lancaster laughed wearily, but she liked the compliment for all that. "I'm not much of an angel," she said with a sigh, throwing her hat and coat down beside Susan's, and assuming a somewhat spotted serge skirt, and a limp silk waist a trifle too small for her generous proportions. Susan watched her in silence, while she vigorously jerked the little waist this way and that, pinning its torn edges down firmly, adjusting her skirt over it, and covering the safety-pin that united them with a cracked patent- leather belt.
"There!" said Mary Lou, "that doesn't look very well, but I guess it'll do. I have to serve to-night, and I will not wear my best skirt into the kitchen. Ready to go down?"
Susan flung her book down, yawned.
"I ought to do my hair—" she began.
"Oh, you look all right," her cousin assured her, "I wouldn't bother."
She took a small paper bag full of candy from her shopping bag and tucked it out of sight in a bureau drawer. "Here's a little sweet bite for you and me, Sue," said she, with childish, sweet slyness, "when Jinny and Ma go to the lecture to-night, we'll have OUR little party, too. Just a little secret between you and me."
They went downstairs with their arms about each other, to the big front dining-room in the basement. The lower hall was dark and draughty, and smelled of boiling vegetables. There was a telephone on a little table, close by the dining-room door, and a slender, pretty young woman was seated before it. She put her hand over the transmitter, as they came downstairs, and said in a smiling whisper, "Hello, darling!" to Susan. "Shut the door," she added, very low, "when you go into the dining-room."
Susan nodded, and Georgianna Lancaster returned at once to her telephoned conversation.
"Yes, you did!" said she, satirically, "I believe that! ... Oh, of course you did! ... And I suppose you wrote me a note, too, only I didn't get it. Now, listen, why don't you say that you forgot all about it, I wouldn't care ... Honestly, I wouldn't ... honestly, I wouldn't ... Yes, I've heard that before ... No, he didn't either, Rose was furious. ... No, I wasn't furious at all, but at the same time I didn't think it was a very gentlemanly way to act, on your part ..."
Susan and Mary Lou went into the dining-room, and the closing door shut off the rest of the conversation. The household was quite used to Georgie's quarrels with her male friends.
A large, handsome woman, who did not look her sixty years, was moving about the long table, which, spread with a limp and slightly spotted cloth, was partially laid for dinner. Knives, spoons, forks and rolled napkins were laid in a little heap at each place, the length of the table was broken by salt shakers of pink and blue glass, plates of soda crackers, and saucers of green pickles.
"Hello, Auntie!" Susan said, laying an arm about the portly figure, and giving the lady a kiss. Mrs. Lancaster's anxious eye went to her oldest daughter.
"Who's Georgie talking to?" she asked, in a low tone.
"I don't know, Ma," Mary Lou said, sympathetically, pushing a chair against the table with her knee, "Fred Persons, most likely."
"No. 'Tisn't Fred. She just spoke about Fred," said the mother uneasily. "This is the man that didn't meet them Sunday. Sometimes," she complained, "it don't seem like Georgie has any dignity at all!" She had moved to the china closet at one end of the room, and now stood staring at it. "What did I come here for?" she asked, helplessly.
"Glasses," prompted Susan, taking some down herself.
"Glasses," Mrs. Lancaster echoed, in relief. "Get the butter, Mary Lou?"
"In the kitchen, Ma." Miss Lancaster went into the kitchen herself, and Susan went on with the table-setting. Before she had finished, a boarder or two, against the unwritten law of the house, had come downstairs. Mrs. Cortelyou, a thin little wisp of a widow, was in the rocker in the bay-window, Major Kinney, fifty, gray, dried-up, was on the horsehair sofa, watching the kitchen door over his paper. Georgia, having finished her telephoning, had come in to drop idly into her own chair, and play with her knives and forks. Miss Lydia Lord, a plain, brisk woman, her upper lip darkened with hair, her figure flat and square, like a boy's, had come down for her sister's tray, and was talking to Susan in the resolutely cheerful tone that Susan always found annoying, when she was tired.
"The Keiths are off for Europe again, Susan,—dear me! isn't it lovely for the people who can do those things!" said Miss Lord, who was governess in a very wealthy household, and liked to talk of the city's prominent families. "Some day you and I will have to find a million dollars and run away for a year in Italy! I wonder, Sue," the mild banter ceased, "if you could get Mary's dinner? I hate to go into the kitchen, they're all so busy—"
Susan took the tray, and went through the swinging door, and into the kitchen. Two or three forms were flitting about in the steam and smoke and flickering gas-light, water was running, gravy hissing on the stove; Alice, the one poor servant the establishment boasted, was attempting to lift a pile of hot plates with an insufficient cloth. Susan filled her tray silently.
"Anything I can do, Mary Lou?"
"Just get out of the WAY, lovey—that's about all—I salted that once, Ma. If you don't want that table, Sue—and shut the door, dear! The smoke—"
Susan was glad to get out of the kitchen, and in a moment Mrs. Lancaster and Mary Lou came into the dining-room, too, and Alice rang the dinner bell. Instantly the boarders streamed downstairs, found their places with a general murmuring of mild little pleasantries. Mrs. Lancaster helped the soup rapidly from a large tureen, her worried eyes moved over the table-furnishings without pause.
The soup was well cooled before the place next to Susan was filled by a tall and muscular young man, with very blue eyes, and a large and exceptionally charming mouth. The youth had teeth of a dazzling whiteness, a smile that was a bewildering Irish compound of laughter and tears, and sooty blue-black hair that fitted his head like a thick cap. He was a noisy lad, this William Oliver, opinionated, excitable, a type that in its bigness and broadness seemed almost coarse, sometimes, but he had all a big man's tenderness and sweetness, and everyone liked him. Susan and he quarreled with and criticized each other, William imitating her little affectations of speech and manner, Susan reviling his transparent and absurd ambitions, but they had been good friends for years. Young Oliver's mother had been Mrs. Lancaster's housekeeper for the most prosperous period in the history of the house, and if Susan naturally felt that the son of a working housekeeper was seriously handicapped in a social sense, she nevertheless had many affectionate memories of his mother, as the kindly dignified "Nellie" who used to amuse them so delightfully on rainy days. Nellie had been long dead, now, and her son had grown up into a vigorous, enthusiastic young person, burning his big hands with experiments in physics and chemistry, reading the Scientific American late into the night, until his broad shoulders were threatened with a permanent stoop, and his eager eyes blinked wearily at breakfast, anxious to disprove certain accepted theories, and as eager to introduce others, unaffected, irreverent, and irresistibly buoyant. William could not hear an opera praised without dragging Susan off to gallery seats, which the lady frankly characterized as "smelly," to see if his opinion agreed with that of the critics. If it did not, Susan must listen to long dissertations upon the degeneracy of modern music. His current passion was the German language, which he was studying in odd moments so that he might translate certain scientific treatises in a manner more to the scientific mind.
"Hello, Susan, darling!" he said now, as he slipped into his chair.
"Hello, heart's delight!" Susan answered composedly.
"Well, here—here—here!" said an aged gentleman who was known for no good reason as "Major," "what's all this? You young folks going to give us a wedding?"
"Not unless I'm chloroformed first, Major," Susan said, briskly, and everybody laughed absently at the well-known pleasantry. They were all accustomed to the absurdity of the Major's question, and far more absorbed just now in watching the roast, which had just come on. Another pot-roast. Everybody sighed.
"This isn't just what I meant to give you good people to-night," said Mrs. Lancaster cheerfully, as she stood up to carve, "but butchers can be tyrants, as we all know. Mary Lou, put vegetables on that for Mrs. Cortelyou."
Mary Lou briskly served potatoes and creamed carrots and summer squash; Susan went down a pyramid of saucers as she emptied a large bowl of rather watery tomato-sauce.
"Well, they tell us meat isn't good for us anyway!" piped Mrs. Kinney, who was rheumatic, and always had scrambled eggs for dinner.
"—ELEGANT chicken, capon, probably, and on Sundays, turkey all winter long!" a voice went on in the pause.
"My father ate meat three times a day, all his life," said Mrs. Parker, a dark, heavy woman, with an angelic-looking daughter of nineteen beside her, "and papa lived to be—let me see—"
"Ah, here's Jinny!" Mrs. Lancaster stopped carving to receive the kiss of a tall, sweet-faced, eye-glassed young woman who came in, and took the chair next hers. "Your soup's cold, dear," said she tenderly.
Miss Virginia Lancaster looked a little chilly; her eyes, always weak, were watery now from the sharp evening air, and her long nose red at the tip. She wore neat, plain clothes, and a small hat, and laid black lisle gloves and a small black book beside her plate as she sat down.
"Good evening, everybody!" said she, pleasantly. "Late comers mustn't complain, Ma, dear. I met Mrs. Curry, poor thing, coming out of the League rooms, and time flew, as time has a way of doing! She was telling me about Harry," Miss Virginia sighed, peppering her soup slowly. "He knew he was going," she resumed, "and he left all his little things—"
"Gracious! A child of seven?" Mrs. Parker said.
"Oh, yes! She said there was no doubt of it."
The conversation turned upon death, and the last acts of the dying. Loretta Parker related the death of a young saint. Miss Lord, pouring a little lime water into most of her food, chewed religiously, her eyes moving from one speaker's face to another.
"I saw my pearl to-day," said William Oliver to Susan, under cover of the general conversation.
"Eleanor Harkness? Where?"
"On Market Street,—the little darling! Walking with Anna Carroll. Going to the boat."
"Oh, and how's Anna?"
"Fine, I guess. I only spoke to them for a minute. I wish you could have seen her dear little laugh—"
"Oh, Billy, you fatuous idiot! It'll be someone else to-morrow."
"It will NOT," said William, without conviction "No, my little treasure has all my heart—"
"Honestly," said Susan, in fine scorn, "it's cat-sickening to hear you go on that way! Especially with that snapshot of Anna Carroll still in your watch!"
"That snapshot doesn't happen to be still in my watch, if it's any business of yours!" the gentleman said, sweetly.
"Why, it is TOO! Let's see it, then!"
"No, I won't let you see it, but it's not there, just the same."
"Oh, Billy, what an awful lie!"
"Susan!" said Mrs. Lancaster, partly in reproof, partly to call her niece's attention to apple-pie and tapioca pudding.
"Pudding, please, auntie." Susan subsided, not to break forth again until the events of the day suddenly rushed into her mind. She hastily reviewed them for William's benefit.
"Well, what do you care?" he consoled her for the disappointment, "here's your chance to bone up on the segregating, or crediting, or whatever you call it."
"Yes, and then have someone else get it!"
"No one else could get it, if you understood it best!" he said impatiently.
"That shows just about how much you know about the office!" Susan retorted, vexed at his lack of sympathy. And she returned to her pudding, with the real cream of the day's news yet untold.
A few moments later Billy was excused, for a struggle with German in the night school, and departed with a joyous, "Auf wiedersehen, Fraulein Brown!" to Susan. Such boarders as desired were now drinking their choice between two dark, cool fluids that might have been tea, or might have been coffee, or might have been neither.
"I am going a little ahead of you and Georgie, Ma," said Virginia, rising, "for I want to see Mamie Evans about tickets for Saturday."
"Say, listen, Jin, I'm not going to-night," said Miss Georgie, hastily, and with a little effort.
"Why, you said you were, Georgie!" the older sister said reproachfully. "I thought you'd bring Ma."
"Well, I'm not, so you thought wrong!" Georgie responded airily.
"Somebody coming to see you, dear?" asked her mother.
"I don't know—maybe." Miss Georgie got up, brushing the crumbs from her lap.
"Who is it, dear?" her mother pursued, too casually.
"I tell you it may not be anyone, Ma!" the girl answered, suddenly irritated. A second later they heard her running upstairs.
"I really ought to be early—I promised Miss Evans—" Virginia murmured.
"Yes, I know, lovey," said her mother. "So you run right along. I'll just do a few little things here, and come right after you." Virginia was Mrs. Lancaster's favorite child, now she kissed her warmly. "Don't get all tired out, my darling!" said she, and when the girl was gone she added, "Never gives ONE thought to herself!"
"She's an angel!" said Loretta Parker fervently.
"But I kind of hate to have you go down to League Hall alone, Ma," said Mary Lou, who was piling dishes and straightening the room, with Susan's help.
"Yes, let us put you on the car," Susan suggested.
"I declare I hate to have you," the older woman hesitated.
"Well, I'll change," Mary Lou sighed wearily. "I'll get right into my things, a breath of air will do us both good, won't it, Sue?"
Presently they all walked to the McAllister Street car. Susan, always glad to be out at night, found something at which to stop in every shop window; she fairly danced along at her cousin's side, on the way back.
"I think Fillmore Street's as gay as Kearney, don't you, Mary Lou? Don't you just hate to go in. Don't you wish something exciting would happen?"
"What a girl you are for wanting excitement, Sue. I want to get back and see that Georgie hasn't shut everyone out of the parlor!" worried Mary Lou.
They went through the basement door to the dining room, where one or two old ladies were playing solitaire, on the red table-cloth, under the gas-light. Susan drew up a chair, and plunged into a new library book. Mary Lou, returning from a trip upstairs, said noiselessly, "Gone walking!" and Susan looked properly disgusted at Georgie's lack of propriety. Mary Lou began a listless game of patience, with a shabby deck of cards taken from the sideboard drawer, presently she grew interested, and Susan put aside her book, and began to watch the cards, too. The old ladies chatted at intervals over their cards. One game followed another, Mary Lou prefacing each with a firm, "Now, no more after this one, Sue," and a mention of the time.
It was like many of their evenings, like three hundred evenings a year. The room grew warm, the gas-lights crept higher and higher, flared noisily, and were lowered. Mary Lou unfastened her collar, Susan rumpled her hair. The conversation, always returning to the red king and the black four-spot, ranged idly here and there. Susan observed that she must write some letters, and meant to take a hot bath and go early to bed. But she sat on and on; the cards, by the smallest percentage of amusement, still held them.
At ten o'clock Mrs. Lancaster and Virginia came in, bright-eyed and chilly, eager to talk of the lecture. Mrs. Lancaster loosened her coat, laid aside the miserable little strip of fur she always wore about her throat, and hung her bonnet, with its dangling widow's veil, over the back of her deep chair. She drew Susan down to sit on her knee. "All the baby auntie's got," she said. Georgie presently came downstairs, her caller, "that fresh kid I met at Sallie's," had gone, and she was good-natured again. Mary Lou produced the forgotten bag of candy; they all munched it and talked. The old ladies had gone upstairs long ago.
All conversations led Mrs. Lancaster into the past, the girls could almost have reconstructed those long-ago, prosperous years, from hearing her tell of them.
"—Papa fairly glared at the man," she was saying presently, won to an old memory by the chance meeting of an old friend to-night, "I can see his face this day! I said, 'Why, papa, I'd JUST as soon have these rooms!' But, no. Papa had paid for the best, and he was going to have the best—"
"That was Papa!" laughed his daughters.
"That was Papa!" his widow smiled and sighed. "Well. The first thing I knew, there was the proprietor,—you may imagine! Papa says, 'Will you kindly tell me why I have to bring my wife, a delicate, refined Southern woman—'"
"And he said beautiful, too, Ma!"
Mrs. Lancaster laughed mildly.
"Poor papa! He was so proud of my looks! 'Will you tell me,' he says, 'why I have to put my wife into rooms like these?' 'Sir,' the landlord says, 'I have only one better suite—'"
"Bridal suite, he said, Ma!"
"Yes, he did. The regular bridal suite. I wasn't a bride then, that was after poor George was born, but I had a very high color, and I always dressed very elegantly. And I had a good figure, your father's two hands could meet around my waist. Anyway, then Papa— dear me, how it all comes back!—Papa says, fairly shouting, 'Well, why can't I have that suite?' 'Oh, sir,' the landlord says, 'a Mr. George Lancaster has engaged that for his wife, and they say that he's a man who WILL get what he pays for—'" Another mild laugh interrupted the narrative.
"Didn't you nearly DIE, Ma?"
"Well, my dear! If you could have seen the man's face when Papa—and how well he did this sort of thing, deary me!—whips out a card—"
They all laughed merrily. Then Mrs. Lancaster sighed.
"Poor Papa, I don't know what he would have done if he could have seen us to-day," she said. "It's just as well we couldn't see ahead, after all!"
"Gee, but I'd like to see what's coming," Susan said thoughtfully.
"Bed is coming next!" Mary Lou said, putting her arm about the girl. Upstairs they all filed sleepily, lowering the hall gases as they went. Susan yawningly kissed her aunt and Virginia good-night, on the second floor, where they had a dark and rather colorless room together. She and the other girls went on up to the third-story room, where they spent nearly another hour in dilatory undressing. Susan hesitated again over the thought of a hot bath, decided against it, decided against even the usual brushing of her hair to- night, and sprang into bed to lie flat on her tired back, watching Mary Lou make up Georgie's bed with dislocating yawns, and Georgie, wincing as she put her hair into tight "kids." Susan slept in a small space bounded by the foot of the bed, the head of the bed, the wall, and her cousin's large person, and, as Mary Lou generally made the bed in the morning by flapping the covers back without removing them, they were apt to feel and smell unaired, and to be rumpled and loose at the foot. Susan could not turn over in the night without arousing Mary Lou, who would mutter a terrified "What is it—what is it?" for the next ten minutes. Years before, Susan, a timid, country-bred child, had awakened many a time in the night, frightened by the strange city noises, or the fire-bells, and had lain, with her mouth dry, and her little heart thundering, through lessening agonies of fright. But she never liked to awake Mary Lou. Now she was used to the city, and used to the lumpy, ill-made bed as well; indeed Susan often complained that she fell asleep too fast, that she wanted to lie awake and think.
But to-night she lay awake for a long time. Susan was at twenty-one no more than a sweet and sunny child, after all. She had accepted a rather cheerless destiny with all the extraordinary philosophy and patience of a child, thankful for small pleasures, enduring small discomforts gaily. No situation was too hopeless for Susan's laughter, and no prospect too dark for her bright dreams. Now, to- night for the first time, the tiny spark of a definite ambition was added to this natural endowment. She would study the work of the, office systematically, she would be promoted, she would be head girl some day, some day very soon, and obliged, as head girl, to come in and out of Mr. Peter Coleman's office constantly. And by the dignity and gravity of her manner, and her personal neatness, and her entire indifference to his charms—always neat little cuffs and collars basted in her tailor-made suit—always in her place on the stroke of half-past eight—
Susan began to get sleepy. She turned over cautiously, and bunched her pillow comfortably under one cheek. Hazy thoughts wheeled through her tired brain. Thorny—the man on the dummy—the black king—
Among Mrs. Lancaster's reminiscences Susan had heard none more often than the one in which the first appearance of Billy Oliver and his mother in the boarding-house was described. Mrs. Oliver had been newly widowed then, and had the round-faced, square-shouldered little Billy to support, in a city that was strange and unfriendly. She had gone to Mrs. Lancaster's intending merely to spend a day or two, until the right work and the right home for herself and Billy should be found.
"It happened to be a bad time for me," Mrs. Lancaster would say, recalling the event. "My cook had gone, the house was full, and I had a quinsy sore throat. But I managed to find her a room, and Alfie and George carried in a couch for the little boy. She borrowed a broom, I remember, and cleaned out the I room herself. I explained how things were with me, and that I ought to have been on my back THEN! She was the cleanest soul I ever saw, she washed out the very bureau drawers, and she took the little half-curtain down, it was quite black,—we used to keep that window open a good deal. Well, and we got to talking, and she told me about her husband's death, he was a surveyor, and a pretty clever man, I guess. Poor thing, she burst right out crying—"
"And you kept feeling sicker and sicker, Ma."
"I began to feel worse and worse, yes. And at about four o'clock I sent Ceely,—you remember Ceely, Mary Lou!—for the doctor. She was getting dinner—everything was upset!"
"Was that the day I broke the pitchers, Ma?"
"No. That was another day. Well, when the doctor came, he said BED. I was too wretched then to say boo to a goose, and I simply tumbled in. And I wasn't out of bed for five weeks!"
"Not for five weeks. Well. But that first night, somebody knocked at my door, and who should it be but my little widow! with her nice little black gown on, and a white apron. She'd brought me some gruel, and she began to hang up my things and straighten the room. I asked about dinner, and she said she had helped Ceely and that it was all right. The relief! And from that moment she took hold, got a new cook, cleaned house, managed everything! And how she adored that boy! I don't think that, in the seven years that she was with me, Nellie ever spent an evening away from him. Poor Nellie! And a witty, sweet woman she was, too, far above that sort of work. She was taking the public library examinations when she died. Nellie would have gone a long way. She was a real little lady. Billy must be more like his father, I imagine."
"Oh, now, Ma!" There was always someone to defend Billy. "Look how good and steady Billy is!"
"Steady, yes, and a dear, dear boy, as we all know. But—but very different from what I would wish a son of mine to be!" Mrs. Lancaster would say regretfully.
Susan agreed with her aunt that it was a great pity that a person of Billy's intelligence should voluntarily grub away in a dirty iron foundry all the days of his youth, associating with the commonest types of laboring men. A clerkship, an agency, a hundred refined employments in offices would have seemed more suitable, or even a professional vocation of some sort. But she had in all honesty to admit that Alfred's disinclination to do anything at all, and Alfred's bad habits, made Billy's industry and cleanness and temperance a little less grateful to Mrs. Lancaster than they might otherwise have been.
Alfred tried a great many positions, and lost them all because he could not work, and could not refrain from drinking. The women of his family called Alfred nothing more unkind than "unfortunate," and endured the drunkenness, the sullen aftermath, the depression while a new job was being found, and Alfie's insufferable complacency when the new job was found, with tireless patience and gentleness. Mary Lou carried Alfie's breakfast upstairs to his bed, on Sunday mornings, Mrs. Lancaster often gave him an early dinner, and hung over him adoringly while he ate it, because he so hated to dine with the boarders. Susan loaned him money, Virginia's prayers were all for him, and Georgie laughed at his jokes and quoted him as if he had been the most model of brothers. How much they realized of Alfie's deficiencies, how important the matter seemed to them, even Susan could not guess Mrs. Lancaster majestically forbade any discussion of Alfie. "Many a boy has his little weakness in early youth," she said, "Alfie will come out all right!"
She had the same visionary optimism in regarding her daughters' futures. The girls were all to marry, of course, and marry well, far above their present station, indeed.
"Somehow I always think of Mary Lou's husband as a prominent officer, or a diplomat," Mrs. Lancaster would say. "Not necessarily very rich, but with a comfortable private income. Mary Lou makes friends very easily, she likes to make a good appearance, she has a very gracious manner, and with her fine figure, and her lovely neck, she would make a very handsome mistress for a big home—yes, indeed you would, dear! Where many a woman would want to run away and hide, Mary Lou would be quite in her element—"
"Well, one thing," Mary Lou would say modestly, "I'm never afraid to meet strangers, and, don't you know you've spoken of it, Ma? I never have any trouble in talking to them. Do you remember that woman in the grocery that night, Georgie, who said she thought I must have traveled a great deal, I had such an easy way of speaking? And I'd love to dress every night for dinner."
"Of course you would!" her mother always said approvingly. "Now, Georgie," she would pursue, "is different again. Where Mary Lou only wants the very NICEST people about her, Georgie cares a good deal more for the money and having a good time!"
"The man I marry has got to make up his mind that I'm going to keep on the go," Georgie would admit, with an independent toss of her head.
"But you wouldn't marry just for that, dear? Love must come, too."
"Oh, the love would come fast enough, if the money was there!" Georgie would declare naughtily.
"I don't like to have you say that even in fun, dear! ... Now Jinny," and Mrs. Lancaster would shake her head, "sometimes I think Jinny would be almost too hard upon any man," she would say, lovingly. "There are mighty few in this world good enough for her. And I would certainly warn any man," she usually added seriously, "that Jinny is far finer and more particular than most women. But a good, good man, older than she, who could give her a beautiful home- -"
"I would love to begin, on my wedding-day, to do some beautiful, big, charitable thing every day," Virginia herself would say eagerly. "I would like to be known far and wide as a woman of immense charities. I'd have only one handsome street suit or two, each season, beside evening dresses, and people would get to know me by sight, and bring their babies up to me in the street—" Her weak, kind eyes always watered at the picture.
"But Mama is not ready yet to let you go!" her mother would say jealously. "We'll hope that Mr. Right will be a long time arriving!"
Then it was Susan's turn.
"And I want some fine, good man to make my Sue happy, some day," her aunt often said, affectionately. Susan writhed in spirit under the implication that no fine, good man yet had desired the honor; she had a girl's desire that her affairs—or the absence of affairs—of the heart should not be discussed. Susan felt keenly the fact that she had never had an offer of marriage; her one consolation, in this humiliation, was that no one but herself could be quite sure of it. Boys had liked her, confided in her, made her small Christmas presents,—just how other girls led them from these stages to the moment of a positive declaration, she often wondered. She knew that she was attractive to most people; babies and old men and women, servants and her associates in the office, strangers on ferryboats and sick people in hospitals alike responded to her friendliness and gaiety. But none of these was marriageable, of course, and the moment Susan met a person who was, a subtle change crept over her whole personality, veiled the bright charm, made the friendliness stiff, the gaiety forced. Susan, like all other girls, was not herself with the young unmarried men of her acquaintance; she was too eager to be exactly what they supposedly wanted her to be. She felt vaguely the utter unnaturalness of this, without ever being able to analyze it. Her attitude, the attitude of all her sex, was too entirely false to make an honest analysis possible. Susan, and her cousins, and the girls in the office, rather than reveal their secret longings to be married, would have gone cheerfully to the stake. Nevertheless, all their talk was of men and marriage, and each girl innocently appraised every man she met, and was mentally accepting or refusing an offer of marriage from him before she had known him five minutes.
Susan viewed the single state of her three pretty cousins with secret uneasiness. Georgie always said that she had refused "dozens of fellows," meeting her mother's occasional mild challenge of some specific statement with an unanswerable "of course you didn't know, for I never told you, Ma." And Virginia liked to bemoan the fact that so many nice men seemed inclined to fall in love with herself, a girl who gave absolutely no thought to such things at all. Mrs. Lancaster supported Virginia's suspicions by memories of young men who had suddenly and mysteriously appeared, to ask her to accept them as boarders, and young attorneys who had their places in church changed to the pews that surrounded the Lancaster pew. But Susan dismissed these romantic vapors, and in her heart held Mary Lou in genuine admiration, because Mary Lou had undoubtedly and indisputably had a real lover, years ago.
Mary Lou loved to talk of Ferd Eastman still; his youth, his manly charms, his crossing an empty ball-room floor, on the memorable evening of their meeting, especially to be introduced to her, and to tell her that brown hair was his favorite color for hair. After that the memories, if still fondly cherished, were less bright. Mary Lou had been "perfectly wretched," she had "cried for nights and nights" at the idea of leaving Ma; Ma had fainted frequently. "Ma made it really hard for me," said Mary Lou. Ma was also held to blame for not reconciling the young people after the first quarrel. Ma might have sent for Ferd. Mary Lou, of course, could do nothing but weep.
Poor Mary Lou's weeping soon had good cause. Ferd rushed away, rushed into another marriage, with an heiress and a beauty, as it happened, and Mary Lou had only the dubious consolation of a severe illness.
After that, she became cheerful, mild, unnecessary Mary Lou, doing a little bit of everything about the house, appreciated by nobody. Ferd and his wife were the great people of their own little town, near Virginia City, and after a while Mary Lou had several pictures of their little boy to treasure,—Robbie with stiff curls falling over a lace collar, and plaid kilts, in a swing, and Robbie in velvet knickerbockers, on a velocipede.
The boarding-house had a younger affair than Mary Lou's just now in the attachment felt for lovely Loretta Parker by a young Mission doctor, Joseph O'Connor. Susan did not admire the gentleman very much, with his well-trimmed little beard, and his throaty little voice, but she could not but respect the dreamy and indifferent Loretta for his unquestionable ardor. Loretta wanted to enter a convent, to her mother's bitter anguish, and Susan once convulsed Georgie by the remark that she thought Joe O'Connor would make a cute nun, himself.
"But think of sacrificing that lovely beard!" said Georgie.
"Oh, you and I could treasure it, Georgie! Love's token, don't you know?"
Loretta's affair was of course extremely interesting to everyone at Mrs. Lancaster's, as were the various "cases" that Georgie continually talked of, and the changing stream of young men that came to see her night after night. But also interesting were all the other lives that were shut up here together, the varied forms which sickness and money-trouble can take for the class that has not learned to be poor. Little pretenses, timid enjoyments and mild extravagances were all overshadowed by a poverty real enough to show them ever more shadowy than they were. Susan grew up in an atmosphere where a lost pair of overshoes, or a dentist's bill, or a counterfeit half-dollar, was a real tragedy. She was well used to seeing reddened eyes, and hearing resigned sighs at the breakfast table, without ever knowing what little unforeseen calamity had caused them. Every door in the dark hallways shut in its own little story of suffering and privation. Susan always thought of second- floor alcoved bedrooms as filled with the pungent fumes of Miss Beattie's asthma powder, and of back rooms as redolent of hot kerosene and scorched woolen, from the pressing of old Mr. Keane's suits, by Mrs. Keane. She could have identified with her eyes shut any room in the house. A curious chilliness lurked in the halls, from August to May, and an odor compounded of stale cigarette smoke, and carbolic acid, and coal-gas, and dust.