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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSusan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 21
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Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 21 Post by :rosalyn Category :Long Stories Author :David Graham Phillips Date :May 2012 Read :963

Click below to download : Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 21 (Format : PDF)

Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 21


EACH girl now had with her at all times everything she possessed in the world--a toothbrush, a cake of castile soap, the little money left out of the week's wages, these three items in the pocket of her one skirt, a cheap dark blue cloth much wrinkled and patched; a twenty-five cent felt hat, Susan's adorned with a blue ribbon, Etta's with a bunch of faded roses; a blue cotton blouse patched under the arms with stuff of a different shade; an old misshapen corset that cost forty-nine cents in a bargain sale; a suit of gray shoddy-and-wool underwear; a pair of fifteen-cent stockings, Susan's brown, Etta's black; a pair of worn and torn ties, scuffed and down at the heel, bought for a dollar and nine cents; a dirt-stained dark blue jacket, Susan's lacking one button, Etta's lacking three and having a patch under the right arm.

Yet they often laughed and joked with each other, with their fellow-workers. You might have said their hearts were light; for so eager are we to believe our fellow-beings comfortable, a smile of poverty's face convinces us straightway that it is as happy as we, if not happier. There would have been to their mirth a little more than mere surface and youthful ability to find some jest in the most crushing tragedy if only they could have kept themselves clean. The lack of sufficient food was a severe trial, for both had voracious appetites; Etta was tormented by visions of quantity, Susan by visions of quality as well as of quantity. But only at meal times, or when they had to omit a meal entirely, were they keenly distressed by the food question. The cold was a still severer trial; but it was warm in the factory and it was warm in Mrs. Cassatt's flat, whose windows were never opened from closing in of winter until spring came round. The inability to keep clean was the trial of trials.

From her beginning at the box factory the physical uncleanness of the other girls had made Susan suffer keenly. And her suffering can be understood only by a clean person who has been through the same ordeal. She knew that her fellow-workers were not to blame. She even envied them the ignorance and the insensibility that enabled them to bear what, she was convinced, could never be changed. She wondered sometimes at the strength and grip of the religious belief among the girls--even, or, rather, especially, among those who had strayed from virtue into the path their priests and preachers and rabbis told them was the most sinful of all strayings. But she also saw many signs that religion was fast losing its hold. One day a Lutheran girl, Emma Schmeltz, said during a Monday morning lunch talk:

"Well, anyhow, I believe it's all a probation, and everything'll be made right hereafter. _I believe my religion, I do. Yes, we'll be rewarded in the hereafter."

Becky--Rebecca Lichtenspiel--laughed, as did most of the girls. Said Becky:

"And there ain't no hereafter. Did you ever see a corpse? Ain't they the dead ones! Don't talk to me about no hereafter."

Everybody laughed. But this was a Monday morning conversation, high above the average of the girls' talk in intelligence and liveliness. Their minds had been stimulated by the Sunday rest from the dreary and degenerating drudgery of "honest toil."

It was the physical contacts that most preyed upon Susan. She was too gentle, too considerate to show her feelings; in her determined and successful effort to conceal them she at times went to the opposite extreme and not only endured but even courted contacts that were little short of loathsome. Tongue could not tell what she suffered through the persistent affectionateness of Letty Southard, a sweet and pretty young girl of wretchedly poor family who developed an enormous liking for her. Letty, dirty and clad in noisome undergarments beneath soiled rags and patches, was always hugging and kissing her--and not to have submitted would have been to stab poor Letty to the heart and humiliate all the other girls. So no one, not even Etta, suspected what she was going through.

From her coming to the factory in the morning, to hang her hat and jacket in the only possible place, along with the soiled and smelling and often vermin-infected wraps of the others--from early morning until she left at night she was forced into contacts to which custom never in the least blunted her. However, so long as she had a home with the Brashears there was the nightly respite. But now--

There was little water, and only a cracked and filthy basin to wash in. There was no chance to do laundry work; for their underclothes must be used as night clothes also. To wash their hair was impossible.

"Does my hair smell as bad as yours?" said Etta. "You needn't think yours is clean because it doesn't show the dirt like mine."

"Does my hair smell as bad as the rest of the girls'?" said Susan.

"Not quite," was Etta's consoling reply.

By making desperate efforts they contrived partially to wash their bodies once a week, not without interruptions of privacy--to which, however, they soon grew accustomed. In spite of efforts which were literally heroic, they could not always keep free from parasites; for the whole tenement and all persons and things in it were infected--and how could it be otherwise where no one had time or money or any effective means whatsoever to combat nature's inflexible determination to breed wherever there is a breeding spot? The last traces of civilization were slipping from the two girls; they were sinking to a state of nature.

Even personal pride, powerful in Susan and strong in Etta through Susan's example, was deserting them. They no longer minded Dan's sleeping in their room. They saw him, his father, the other members of the family in all stages of nudity and at the most private acts; and they were seen by the Cassatts in the same way. To avoid this was impossible, as impossible as to avoid the parasites swarming in the bed, in the woodwork, in cracks of ceiling, walls, floor.

The Cassatts were an example of how much the people who live in the sheltered and more or less sunny nooks owe to their shelter and how little to their own boasted superiority of mind and soul. They had been a high class artisan family until a few months before. The hard times struck them a series of quick, savage blows, such as are commonplace enough under our social system, intricate because a crude jumble of makeshifts, and easily disordered because intricate. They were swept without a breathing pause down to the bottom. Those who have always been accustomed to prosperity have no reserve of experience or courage to enable them to recuperate from sudden and extreme adversity. In an amazingly short time the Cassatts had become demoralized--a familiar illustration of how civilization is merely a wafer-thin veneer over most human beings as yet. Over how many is it more? They fought after a fashion; they fought valiantly. But how would it have been possible not steadily to yield ground against such a pitiless, powerful foe as poverty? The man had taken to drink, to blunt outraged self-respect and to numb his despair before the spectacle of his family's downfall. Mrs. Cassatt was as poor a manager as the average woman in whatever walk of life, thanks to the habit of educating woman in the most slipshod fashion, if at all, in any other part of the business but sex-trickery. Thus she was helpless before the tenement conditions. She gave up, went soddenly about in rags with an incredibly greasy and usually dangling tail of hair.

"Why don't you tie up that tail, ma?" said the son Dan, who had ideas about neatness.

"What's the use?" said Mrs. Cassatt. "What's the use of _anything_?"

"Ma don't want to look stylish and stuck up," said the daughter.

Mrs. Cassatt's haunting terror was lest someone who had known them in the days of their prosperity with a decently furnished little house of their own should run into one of the family now.

Kate, the sixteen-year-old had a place as saleslady in a big shop in Fifth, Street; her six dollars a week was the family's entire steady income. She had formerly possessed a good deal of finery for a girl in her position, though really not much more than the daughter of the average prosperous artisan or small shopkeeper expects, and is expected, to have. Being at the shop where finery was all the talk and sight and thought from opening until closing had developed in her a greedy taste for luxury. She pilfered from the stocks of goods within her reach and exchanged her stealings for the stealings of girls who happened to be able to get things more to her liking or need. But now that the family savings--bank account was exhausted, all these pilferings had to go at once to the pawnshop. Kate grew more and more ill-tempered as the family sank. Formerly she had been noted for her amiability, for her vanity easily pleased with a careless compliment from no matter whom--a jocose, half-drunken ash man, half-jeering, half-admiring from his cart seat quite as satisfactory as anybody. But poverty was bringing out in her all those meanest and most selfish and most brutish instincts--those primal instincts of human nature that civilization has slowly been subjecting to the process of atrophy which has lost us such other primal attributes as, for example, prehensile toes and a covering of hair.

"Well, I for one don't have to stay in this slop barrel," Kate was always saying. "Some fine morning I'll turn up missing--and you'll see me in my own turnout."

She was torturing her mother and father with the dread that she would leave the family in the lurch and enter a house of prostitution. She recounted with the utmost detail how the madam of a house in Longworth Street came from time to time to her counter in the perfumery and soap department--and urged her to "stop making a fool of yourself and come get good money for your looks before you lose 'em drudging behind a counter." The idea grew less abhorrent, took on allurement as the degradation of tenement life ate out respect for conventional restraints--for modesty, for virtue, for cleanness of speech, and the rest. More and more boldly Kate was announcing that she wasn't going to be a fool much longer.

Dan, the fourteen-year-old boy, had attracted the attention of what Cassatt called "a fancy lady" who lived two floors below them. She made sometimes as much as nine or ten dollars a week and slept all day or lounged comfortably about in showy, tawdry stuff that in those surroundings seemed elegant luxury. She was caught by the boy's young beauty and strength, and was rapidly training him in every vice and was fitting him to become a professional seducer and "lover."

Said Mrs. Cassatt in one of her noisy wailing appeals to Dan:

"You better keep away from that there soiled dove. They tell me she's a thief--has done time--has robbed drunken men in dark hallways."

Dan laughed impudently. "She's a cute one. What diff does it make how she gets the goods as long as she gets it?"

Mrs. Cassatt confided to everybody that she was afraid the woman would make a thief of her boy--and there was no disputing the justice of her forebodings.

Foul smells and sights everywhere, and foul language; no privacy, no possibility of modesty where all must do all in the same room: vermin, parasites, bad food vilely cooked--in the midst of these and a multitude of similar ills how was it possible to maintain a human standard, even if one had by chance acquired a knowledge of what constituted a human standard? The Cassatts were sinking into the slime in which their neighbors were already wallowing. But there was this difference. For the Cassatts it was a descent; for many of their neighbors it was an ascent--for the immigrants notably, who had been worse off in their European homes; in this land not yet completely in the grip of the capitalist or wage system they were now getting the first notions of decency and development, the first views and hope of rising in the world. The Cassatts, though they had always lived too near the slime to be nauseated by it, still found it disagreeable and in spots disgusting. Their neighbors--

One of the chief reasons why these people were rising so slowly where they were rising at all was that the slime seemed to them natural, and to try to get clean of it seemed rather a foolish, finicky waste of time and effort. People who have come up--by accident, or by their own force, or by the force of some at once shrewd and brutal member of the family--have to be far and long from the slums before they lose the sense that in conforming to the decencies of life they are making absurd effeminate concessions. When they go to buy a toothbrush they blush and stammer.

"Look at Lorna and Etta," Mrs. Cassatt was always saying to Kate.

"Well, I see 'em," Kate would reply. "And I don't see much."

"Ain't you ashamed of yourself!" cried the mother. "Them two lives straight and decent. And you're better off than they are."

"Don't preach to me, ma," sneered Kate. "When I get ready I'll--stop making a damn fool of myself."

But the example of the two girls was not without its effect. They, struggling on in chastity against appalling odds, became the models, not only to Mrs. Cassatt, but all the mothers of that row held up to their daughters. The mothers--all of them by observation, not a few by experience--knew what the "fancy lady's" life really meant. And they strove mightily to keep their daughters from it. Not through religion or moral feeling, though many pretended--perhaps fancied--that this was their reason; but through the plainest kind of practical sense--the kind that in the broad determines the actions of human beings of whatever class, however lofty the idealistic pretenses may be. These mothers knew that the profession of the pariah meant a short life and a wretched one, meant disease, lower and ever lower wages, the scale swiftly descending, meant all the miseries of respectability plus a heavy burden of miseries of its own. There were many other girls besides Susan and Etta holding up their heads--girls with prospects of matrimony, girls with fairly good wages, girls with fathers and brothers at work and able to provide a home. But Susan and Etta were peculiarly valuable as examples because they were making the fight alone and unaided.

Thus, they were watched closely. In those neighborhoods everyone knows everyone's else business down to how the last cent is got and spent. If either girl had appeared in a new pair of shoes, a new hat, a new garment of any kind, at once the report would have sped that the wearer had taken a turn in the streets. And the scandal would have been justified; for where could either have respectably got the money for the smallest and cheapest addition to her toilet? Matson, too, proudly pointed them out as giving the lie to the talk about working girls not getting living wages, to the muttering against him and his fellow employers as practically procurers for the pavement and the dive, for the charity hospital's most dreadful wards, for the Morgue's most piteous boxes and slabs.

As their strength declined, as their miseries ate in and in, the two girls ceased talking together; they used to chatter much of the time like two birds on a leafy, sunny bough. Now they walked, ate their scanty, repulsive meals, dressed, worked, all in silence. When their eyes met both glanced guiltily away, each fearing the other would discover the thought she was revolving--the thought of the streets. They slept badly--Etta sometimes, Susan every night. For a long time after she came to the tenements she had not slept well, despite her youth and the dull toil that wore her out each day. But after many months she had grown somewhat used to the noisiness--to fretting babies, to wailing children, the mixed ale parties, the quarrelings of the ill and the drunk, the incessant restlessness wherever people are huddled so close together that repose is impossible. And she had gradually acquired the habit of sleeping well--that is, well for the tenement region where no one ever gets the rest without which health is impossible. Now sleeplessness came again--hours on hours of listening to the hateful and maddening discords of densely crowded humanity, hours on hours of thinking--thinking--in the hopeless circles like those of a caged animal, treading with soft swift step round and round, nose to the iron wall, eyes gleaming with despairing pain. One Saturday evening after a supper of scorched cornmeal which had been none too fresh when they got it at the swindling grocer's on the street floor, Etta put on the tattered, patched old skirt at which she had been toiling. "I can't make it fit to wear," said she. "It's too far gone; I think"--her eyelids fluttered--"I'll go see some of the girls."

Susan, who was darning--seated on the one chair--yes, it had once been a chair--did not look up or speak. Etta put on her hat--slowly. Then, with a stealthy glance at Susan, she moved slidingly toward the door. As she reached it Susan's hands dropped to her lap; so tense were Etta's nerves that the gesture made her startle. "Etta!" said Susan in an appealing voice.

Etta's hand dropped from the knob. "Well--what is it, Lorna?" she asked in a low, nervous tone.

"Look at me, dear."

Etta tried to obey, could not.

"Don't do it--yet," said Susan. "Wait--a few more days."

"Wait for what?"

"I don't know. But--wait."

"You get four, I get only three--and there's no chance of a raise. I work slower instead of faster. I'm going to be discharged soon. I'm in rags underneath. . . . I've got to go before I get sick--and won't have anything to--to sell."

Susan did not reply. She stared at the remains of a cheap stocking in her lap. Yes, there was no doubt about it, Etta's health was going. Etta was strong, but she had no such store of strength to draw upon as had accumulated for Susan during the seventeen years of simple, regular life in healthful surroundings. A little while and Etta would be ill--would, perhaps--probably--almost certainly--die--

Dan Cassatt came in at the other door, sat on the edge of his bed and changed his trousers for what he was pleased to imagine a less disreputable pair. Midway the boy stopped and eyed Susan's bare leg and foot, a grin of pleasure and amusement on his precociously and viciously mature face.

"My, but you keep clean," he cried. "And you've got a mighty pretty foot. Minnie's is ugly as hell."

Minnie was the "fancy lady" on the floor below--"my skirt," he called her. Susan evidently did not hear his compliment. Dan completed his "sporting toilet" with a sleeking down of his long greasy hair, took himself away to his girl. Susan was watching a bug crawl down the wall toward their bed with its stained and malodorous covers of rag. Etta was still standing by the door motionless. She sighed, once more put her hand on the knob.

Susan's voice came again. "You've never been out, have you?" "No," replied Etta.

Susan began to put on her stocking. "I'll go," said she. "I'll go--instead."

"No!" cried Etta, sobbing. "It don't matter about me. I'm bound to be sucked under. You've got a chance to pull through."

"Not a ghost of a chance," answered Susan. "I'll go. You've never been."

"I know, but----"

"You've never been," continued Susan, fastening her shoe with its ragged string. "You've never been. Well--I have."

"You!" exclaimed Etta, horrified though unbelieving. "Oh, no, you haven't."

"Yes," said Susan. "And worse."

"And worse?" repeated Etta. "Is that what the look I sometimes see in your eyes--when you don't know anyone's seeing--is that what it means?"

"I suppose so. I'll go. You stay here."

"And you--out there!"

"It doesn't mean much to me."

Etta looked at her with eyes as devoted as a dog's. "Then we'll go together," she said.

Susan, pinning on her weather-stained hat, reflected. "Very well," she said finally. "There's nothing lower than this."

They said no more; they went out into the clear, cold winter night, out under the brilliant stars. Several handsome theater buses were passing on their way from the fashionable suburb to the theater. Etta looked at them, at the splendid horses, at the men in top hats and fur coats--clean looking, fine looking, amiable looking men--at the beautiful fur wraps of the delicate women--what complexions!--what lovely hair!--what jewels! Etta, her heart bursting, her throat choking, glanced at Susan to see whether she too was observing. But Susan's eyes were on the tenement they had just left.

"What are you looking at--so queer?" asked Etta.

"I was thinking that we'll not come back here."

Etta started. "Not come back _home!_"

Susan gave a strange short laugh. "Home!. . . No, we'll not come back home. There's no use doing things halfway. We've made the plunge. We'll go--the limit."

Etta shivered. She admired the courage, but it terrified her. "There's something--something--awful about you, Lorna," she said. "You've changed till you're like a different person from what you were when you came to the restaurant. Sometimes--that look in your eyes--well, it takes my breath away."

"It takes _my breath away, too. Come on."

At the foot of the hill they took the shortest route for Vine Street, the highway of the city's night life.

Though they were so young and walked briskly, their impoverished blood was not vigorous enough to produce a reaction against the sharp wind of the zero night which nosed through their few thin garments and bit into their bodies as if they were naked. They came to a vast department store. Each of its great show-windows, flooded with light, was a fascinating display of clothing for women upon wax models--costly jackets and cloaks of wonderful furs, white, brown, gray, rich and glossy black; underclothes fine and soft, with ribbons and flounces and laces; silk stockings and graceful shoes and slippers; dresses for street, for ball, for afternoon, dresses with form, with lines, dresses elegantly plain, dresses richly embroidered. Despite the cold the two girls lingered, going from window to window, their freezing faces pinched and purple, their eyes gazing hungrily.

"Now that we've tried 'em all on," said Susan with a short and bitter laugh, "let's dress in our dirty rags again and go."

"Oh, I couldn't imagine myself in any of those things--could you?" cried Etta.

"Yes," answered Susan. "And better."

"You were brought up to have those things, I know."

Susan shook her head. "But I'm going to have them."

"When?" said Etta, scenting romance. "Soon?"

"As soon as I learn," was Susan's absent, unsatisfactory reply.

Etta had gone back to her own misery and the contrasts to it. "I get mad through and through," she cried, "when I think how all those things go to some women--women that never did work and never could. And they get them because they happen to belong to rich fathers and husbands or whoever protects them. It isn't fair! It makes me crazy!"

Susan gave a disdainful shrug. "What's the use of that kind of talk!" said she. "No use at all. The thing is, _we haven't got what we want, and we've got to _get it--and so we've got to _learn how."

"I can't think of anything but the cold," said Etta. "My God, how cold I am! There isn't anything I wouldn't do to get warm. There isn't anything anybody wouldn't do to get warm, if they were as cold as this. It's all very well for warm people to talk----"

"Oh, I'm sick of all the lying and faking, anyhow. Do you believe in hell, Lorna?"

"Not in a hot one," said Susan.

Soon they struck into Vine Street, bright as day almost, and lined with beer halls, concert gardens, restaurants. Through the glass fronts crowds of men and women were visible--contented faces, well-fed bodies, food on the tables or inviting-looking drink. Along the sidewalk poured an eager throng, all the conspicuous faces in it notable for the expectancy of pleasure in the eyes.

"Isn't this different!" exclaimed Etta. "My God, how cold I am--and how warm everybody else is but us!"

The sights, the sounds of laughter, of gay music, acted upon her like an intoxicant. She tossed her head in a reckless gesture. "I don't care what becomes of me," said she. "I'm ready for anything except dirt and starvation."

Nevertheless, they hurried down Vine Street, avoiding the glances of the men and behaving as if they were two working girls in a rush to get home. As they walked, Susan, to delude herself into believing that she was not hesitating, with fainting courage talked incessantly to Etta--told her the things Mabel Connemora had explained to her--about how a woman could, and must, take care of her health, if she were not to be swept under like the great mass of the ignorant, careless women of the pariah class. Susan was astonished that she remembered all the actress had told her--remembered it easily, as if she had often thought of it, had used the knowledge habitually.

They arrived at Fountain Square, tired from the long walk. They were both relieved and depressed that nothing had happened. "We might go round the fountain and then back," suggested Susan.

They made the tour less rapidly but still keeping their heads and their glances timidly down. They were numb with the cold now. To the sharp agony had succeeded an ache like the steady grinding pain of rheumatism. Etta broke the silence with, "Maybe we ought to go into a house."

"A house! Oh--you mean a--a sporting house." At that time professional prostitution had not become widespread among the working class; stationary or falling wages, advancing cost of food and developing demand for comfort and luxury had as yet only begun to produce their inevitable results. Thus, prostitution as an industry was in the main segregated in certain streets and certain houses and the prostitutes were a distinct class.

"You haven't been?" inquired Etta.

"No," said Susan.

"Dan Cassatt and Kate told me about those places," Etta went on. "Kate says they're fine and the girls make fifty and sometimes a hundred dollars a week, and have everything--servants to wait on them, good food, bathrooms, lovely clothes, and can drive out. But I--I think I'd stay in the house."

"I want to be my own boss," said Susan.

"There's another side than what Kate says," continued Etta as consecutively as her chattering teeth would permit. "She heard from a madam that wants her to come. But Dan heard from Minnie--she used to be in one--and she says the girls are slaves, that they're treated like dogs and have to take anything. She says it's something dreadful the way men act--even the gentlemen. She says the madam fixes things so that every girl always owes her money and don't own a stitch to her back, and so couldn't leave if she wanted to."

"That sounds more like the truth," said Susan.

"But we may _have to go," pleaded Etta. "It's awful cold--and if we went, at least we'd have a warm place. If we wanted to leave, why, we couldn't be any worse off for clothes than we are."

Susan had no answer for this argument. They went several squares up Vine Street in silence. Then Etta burst out again:

"I'm frozen through and through, Lorna, and I'm dead tired--and hungry. The wind's cutting the flesh off my bones. What in the hell does it matter what becomes of us? Let's get warm, for God's sake. Let's go to a house. They're in Longworth Street--the best ones."

And she came to a halt, forcing Susan to halt also. It happened to be the corner of Eighth Street. Susan saw the iron fence, the leafless trees of Garfield Place. "Let's go down this way," said she. "I had luck here once."

"Luck!" said Etta, her curiosity triumphant over all.

Susan's answer was a strange laugh. Ahead of them, a woman warmly and showily dressed was sauntering along. "That's one of them," said Etta. "Let's see how _she does it. We've got to learn quick. I can't stand this cold much longer."

The two girls, their rags fluttering about their miserable bodies, kept a few feet behind the woman, watched her with hollow eyes of envy and fear. Tears of anguish from the cold were streaming down their cheeks. Soon a man alone--a youngish man with a lurching step--came along. They heard the woman say, "Hello, dear. Don't be in a hurry."

He tried to lurch past her, but she seized him by the lapel of his overcoat. "Lemme go," said he. "You're old enough to be a grandmother, you old hag."

Susan and Etta halted and, watching so interestedly that they forgot themselves, heard her laugh at his insult, heard her say wheedlingly, "Come along, dearie, I'll treat you right. You're the kind of a lively, joky fellow I like."

"Go to hell, gran'ma," said the man, roughly shaking her off and lurching on toward the two girls. He stopped before them, eyed them by the light of the big electric lamp, grinned good-naturedly. "What've we got here?" said he. "This looks better."

The woman rushed toward the girls, pouring out a stream of vileness. "You git out of here!" she shrilled. "You chippies git off my beat. I'll have you pinched--I will!"

"Shut up!" cried the drunken man, lifting his fist. "I'll have _you pinched. Let these ladies alone, they're friends of mine. Do you want me to call the cop?"

The woman glanced toward the corner where a policeman was standing, twirling his club. She turned away, cursing horribly. The man laughed. "Dirty old hag--isn't she?" said he. "Don't look so scared, birdies." He caught them each by an arm, stared woozily at Etta. "You're a good little looker, you are. Come along with me. There's three in it."

"I--I can't leave my lady friend," Etta succeeded in chattering. "Please really I can't."

"Your lady friend?" He turned his drunken head in Susan's direction, squinted at her. He was rather good-looking. "Oh--she means _you_. Fact is, I'm so soused I thought I was seein' double. Why, _you're a peach. I'll take you." And he released his hold on Etta to seize her. "Come right along, my lovey-dovey dear."

Susan drew away; she was looking at him with terror and repulsion. The icy blast swept down the street, sawed into her flesh savagely.

"I'll give _you five," said the drunken man. "Come along." He grabbed her arm, waved his other hand at Etta. "So long, blondie. 'Nother time. Good luck."

Susan heard Etta's gasp of horror. She wrenched herself free again. "I guess I'd better go with him," said she to Etta.

Etta began to sob. "Oh, Lorna!" she moaned. "It's awful."

"You go into the restaurant on the corner and get something to eat, and wait for me. We can afford to spend the money. And you'll be warm there."

"Here! Here!" cried the tipsy man. "What're you two whispering about? Come along, skinny. No offense. I like 'em slim." And he made coarse and pointed remarks about the sluggishness of fat women, laughing loudly at his own wit.

The two girls did not hear. The wind straight from the Arctic was plying its hideous lash upon their defenseless bodies.

"Come on, lovey!" cried the man. "Let's go in out of the cold."

"Oh, Lorna! You can't go with a drunken man! I'll--I'll take him. I can stand it better'n you. You can go when there's a gentleman----"

"You don't know," said Susan. "Didn't I tell you I'd been through the worst?"

"Are you coming?" broke in the man, shaking his head to scatter the clouds over his sight.

The cold was lashing Susan's body; and she was seeing the tenement she had left--the vermin crawling, the filth everywhere, the meal bugs in the rotting corn meal--and Jeb Ferguson. "Wait in the restaurant," said she to Etta. "Didn't I tell you I'm a nobody. This is what's expected of me." The wind clawed and tore at her quivering flesh. "It's cold, Etta. Go get warm. Good-by."

She yielded to the tipsy man's tugging at her arm. Etta stood as if paralyzed, watching the two move slowly westward. But cold soon triumphed over horror. She retraced her steps toward Vine Street. At the corner stood an elderly man with an iron-gray beard. She merely glanced at him in passing, and so was startled when he said in a low voice:

"Go back the way you came. I'll join you." She glanced at him again, saw a gleam in his eyes that assured her she had not imagined the request. Trembling and all at once hot, she kept on across the street. But instead of going into the restaurant she walked past it and east through dark Eighth Street. A few yards, and she heard a quiet step behind her. A few yards more, and the lights of Vine Street threw a man's shadow upon the sidewalk beside her. From sheer fright she halted. The man faced her--a man old enough to be her father, a most respectable, clean looking man with a certain churchly though hardly clerical air about him. "Good evening, miss," said he.

"Good evening," she faltered.

"I'm a stranger--in town to buy goods and have a little fun," stammered he with a grotesque attempt to be easy and familiar. "I thought maybe you could help me."

A little fun! Etta's lips opened, but no words came. The cold was digging its needle-knives into flesh, into bone, into nerve. Through the man's thick beard and mustache came the gleam of large teeth, the twisting of thick raw lips. A little fun!

"Would it," continued the man, nervously, "would it be very dear?"

"I--I don't know," faltered Etta.

"I could afford--say--" he looked at her dress--"say--two dollars."

"I--I" And again Etta could get no further.

"The room'd be a dollar," pleaded the man. "That'd make it three."

"I--I--can't," burst out Etta, hysterical. "Oh, please let me alone. I--I'm a good girl, but I do need money. But I--I can't. Oh, for God's sake--I'm so cold--so cold!"

The man was much embarrassed. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said feelingly. "That's right--keep your virtue. Go home to your parents." He was at ease now; his voice was greasy and his words sleek with the unction of an elder. "I thought you were a soiled dove. I'm glad you spoke out--glad for my sake as well as your own. I've got a daughter about your age. Go home, my dear, and stay a good girl. I know it's hard sometimes; but never give up your purity--never!" And he lifted his square-topped hard hat and turned away.

Suddenly Etta felt again the fury of the winter night and icy wind. As that wind flapped her thin skirt and tortured her flesh, she cried, "Wait--please. I was just--just fooling."

The man had halted, but he was looking at her uncertainly. Etta put her hand on his arm and smiled pertly up at him--smiled as she had seen other street girls smile in the days when she despised them. "I'll go--if you'll give me three."

"I--I don't think I care to go now. You sort of put me out of the humor."

"Well--two, then." She gave a reckless laugh. "God, how cold it is! Anybody'd go to hell to get warm a night like this."

"You are a very pretty girl," said the man. He was warmly dressed; his was not the thin blood of poverty. He could not have appreciated what she was feeling. "You're sure you want to go? You're sure it's your--your business?"

"Yes. I'm strange in this part of town. Do you know a place?"

An hour later Etta went into the appointed restaurant. Her eyes searched anxiously for Susan, but did not find her. She inquired at the counter. No one had asked there for a young lady. This both relieved her and increased her nervousness; Susan had not come and gone--but would she come? Etta was so hungry that she could hold out no longer. She sat at a table near the door and took up the large sheet on which was printed the bill of fare. She was almost alone in the place, as it was between dinner and supper. She read the bill thoroughly, then ordered black bean soup, a sirloin steak and German fried potatoes. This, she had calculated, would cost altogether a dollar; undoubtedly an extravagance, but everything at that restaurant seemed dear in comparison with the prices to which she had been used, and she felt horribly empty. She ordered the soup, to stay her while the steak was broiling.

As soon as the waiter set down bread and butter she began upon it greedily. As the soup came, in walked Susan--calm and self-possessed, Etta saw at first glance. "I've been so frightened. You'll have a plate of soup?" asked Etta, trying to look and speak in unconcerned fashion.

"No, thank you," replied Susan, seating herself opposite.

"There's a steak coming--a good-sized one, the waiter said it'd be."

"Very well."

Susan spoke indifferently.

"Aren't you hungry?"

"I don't know. I'll see." Susan was gazing straight ahead. Her eyes were distinctly gray--gray and as hard as Susan Lenox's eyes could be.

"What're you thinking about?"

"I don't know," she laughed queerly.


A pause, then: "Nothing is going to be dreadful to me any more. It's all in the game, as Mr. Burlingham used to say."

"Burlingham--who's he?" It was Etta's first faint clew toward that mysterious past of Susan's into which she longed to peer.

"Oh--a man I knew. He's dead."

A long pause, Etta watching Susan's unreadable face. At last she said:

"You don't seem a bit excited."

Susan came back to the present. "Don't I? Your soup's getting cold."

Etta ate several spoonfuls, then said with an embarrassed attempt at a laugh, "I--I went, too."

Susan slowly turned upon Etta her gaze--the gaze of eyes softening, becoming violet. Etta's eyes dropped and the color flooded into her fair skin. "He was an old man--forty or maybe fifty," she explained nervously. "He gave me two dollars. I nearly didn't get him. I lost my nerve and told him I was good and was only starting because I needed money."

"Never whine," said Susan. "It's no use. Take what comes, and wait for a winning hand."

Etta looked at her in a puzzled way. "How queer you talk! Not a bit like yourself. You sound so much older. . . . And your eyes--they don't look natural at all."

Indeed they looked supernatural. The last trace of gray was gone. They were of the purest, deepest violet, luminous, mysterious, with that awe-inspiring expression of utter aloneness. But as Etta spoke the expression changed. The gray came back and with it a glance of irony. Said she:

"Oh--nonsense! I'm all right."

"I didn't mind nearly as much as I thought I would. Yes, I'll get used to it."

"You mustn't," said Susan.

"But I've got to."

"We've got to do it, but we haven't got to get used to it," replied Susan.

Etta was still puzzling at this when the dinner now came--a fine, thick broiled steak, the best steak Susan had ever seen, and the best food Etta had ever seen.

They had happened upon one of those famous Cincinnati chop houses where in plain surroundings the highest quality of plain food is served. "You _are hungry, aren't you, Lorna?" said Etta.

"Yes--I'm hungry," declared Susan. "Cut it--quick."

"Draught beer or bottled?" asked the waiter.

"Bring us draught beer," said Etta. "I haven't tasted beer since our restaurant burned."

"I never tasted it," said Susan. "But I'll try it tonight."

Etta cut two thick slices from the steak, put them on Susan's plate with some of the beautifully browned fried potatoes. "Gracious, they have good things to eat here!" she exclaimed. Then she cut two thick slices for herself, and filled her mouth. Her eyes glistened, the color came into her pale cheeks. "Isn't it _grand_!" she cried, when there was room for words to pass out.

"Grand," agreed Susan, a marvelous change of expression in her face also.

The beer came. Etta drank a quarter of the tall glass at once. Susan tasted, rather liked the fresh bitter-sweet odor and flavor. "Is it--very intoxicating?" she inquired.

"If you drink enough," said Etta. "But not one glass."

Susan took quite a drink. "I feel a lot less tired already," declared she.

"Me too," said Etta. "My, what a meal! I never had anything like this in my life. When I think what we've been through! Lorna, will it _last_?"

"We mustn't think about that," said Susan.

"Tell me what happened to you."

"Nothing. He gave me the money, that was all."

"Then we've got seven dollars--seven dollars and twenty cents, with what we brought away from home with us."

"Seven dollars--and twenty cents," repeated Susan thoughtfully. Then a queer smile played around the corners of her mouth. "Seven dollars--that's a week's wages for both of us at Matson's."

"But I'd go back to honest work tomorrow--if I could find a good job," Etta said eagerly--too eagerly. "Wouldn't you, Lorna?"

"I don't know," replied Susan. She had the inability to make pretenses, either to others or to herself, which characterizes stupid people and also the large, simple natures.

"Oh, you can't mean that!" protested Etta. Instead of replying Susan began to talk of what to do next. "We must find a place to sleep, and we must buy a few things to make a better appearance."

"I don't dare spend anything yet," said Etta. "I've got only my two dollars. Not that when this meal's paid for."

"We're going to share even," said Susan. "As long as either has anything, it belongs to both."

The tears welled from Etta's eyes. "You are too good, Lorna! You mustn't be. It isn't the way to get on. Anyhow, I can't accept anything from you. You wouldn't take anything from me."

"We've got to help each other up," insisted Susan. "We share even--and let's not talk any more about it. Now, what shall we get? How much ought we to lay out?"

The waiter here interrupted. "Beg pardon, young ladies," said he. "Over yonder, at the table four down, there's a couple of gents that'd like to join you. I seen one of 'em flash quite a roll, and they acts too like easy spenders."

As Susan was facing that way, she examined them. They were young men, rather blond, with smooth faces, good-natured eyes and mouths; they were well dressed--one, the handsomer, notably so. Susan merely glanced; both men at once smiled at her with an unimpertinent audacity that probably came out of the champagne bottle in a silver bucket of ice on their table.

"Shall I tell 'em to come over?" said the waiter.

"Yes," replied Susan.

She was calm, but Etta twitched with nervousness, saying, "I wish I'd had your experience. I wish we didn't look so dreadful--me especially. _I_'m not pretty enough to stand out against these awful clothes."

The two men were pushing eagerly toward them, the taller and less handsome slightly in advance. He said, his eyes upon Susan, "We were lonesome, and you looked a little that way too. We're much obliged." He glanced at the waiter. "Another bottle of the same."

"I don't want anything to drink," said Susan.

"Nor I," chimed in Etta. "No, thank you."

The young man waved the waiter away with, "Get it for my friend and me, then." He smiled agreeably at Susan. "You won't mind my friend and me drinking?"

"Oh, no."

"And maybe you'll change your mind," said the shorter man to Etta. "You see, if we all drink, we'll get acquainted faster. Don't you like champagne?"

"I never tasted it," Etta confessed.

"Neither did I," admitted Susan.

"You're sure to like it," said the taller man to Susan--his friend presently addressed him as John. "Nothing equal to it for making friends. I like it for itself, and I like it for the friends it has made me."

Champagne was not one of the commonplaces of that modest chop house. So the waiter opened the bottle with much ceremony. Susan and Etta startled when the cork popped ceilingward in the way that in such places is still regarded as fashionable. They watched with interested eyes the pouring of the beautiful pale amber liquid, were fascinated when they saw how the bubbles surged upward incessantly, imprisoned joys thronging to escape. And after the first glass, the four began to have the kindliest feelings for each other. Sorrow and shame, poverty and foreboding, took wings unto themselves and flew away. The girls felt deliciously warm and contented, and thought the young men charming--a splendid change from the coarse, badly dressed youths of the tenement, with their ignorant speech and rough, misshapen hands. They were ashamed of their own hands, were painfully self-conscious whenever lifting the glass to the lips brought them into view. Etta's hands in fact were not so badly spoiled as might have been expected, considering her long years of rough work; the nails were in fairly good condition and the skin was rougher to the touch than to the sight. Susan's hands had not really been spoiled as yet. She had been proud of them and had taken care of them; still, they were not the hands of a lady, but of a working girl. The young men had gentlemen's hands--strong, evidently exercised only at sports, not at degrading and deforming toil.

The shorter and handsomer youth, who answered to the name of Fatty, for obvious but not too obvious reasons, addressed himself to Etta. John--who, it came out, was a Chicagoan, visiting Fatty--fell to Susan. The champagne made him voluble; he was soon telling all about himself--a senior at Ann Arbor, as was Fatty also; he intended to be a lawyer; he was fond of a good, time was fond of the girls--liked girls who were gay rather than respectable ones--"because with the prim girls you have to quit just as the fun ought really to begin."

After two glasses Susan, warned by a slight dizziness, stopped drinking; Etta followed her example. But the boys kept on, ordered a second bottle. "This is the fourth we've had tonight," said Fatty proudly when it came.

"Don't it make you dizzy?" asked Etta.

"Not a bit," Fatty assured her. But she noticed that his tongue now swung trippingly loose.

"You haven't been at--at this--long, have you?" inquired John of Susan.

"Not long," replied she.

Etta, somewhat giddied, overheard and put in, "We began tonight. We got tired of starving and freezing."

John looked deepest sympathy into Susan's calm violet-gray eyes. "I don't blame you," said he. "A woman does have a--a hades of a time!"

"We were going out to buy some clothes when you came," proceeded Etta. "We're in an awful state."

"I wondered how two girls with faces like yours," said John, "came to be dressed so--so differently. That was what first attracted us." Then, as Etta and Fatty were absorbed in each other, he went on to Susan: "And your eyes--I mustn't forget them. You certainly have got a beautiful face. And your mouth--so sweet and sad--but, what a lovely, _lovely smile!"

At this Susan smiled still more broadly with pleasure. "I'm glad you're pleased," said she.

"Why, if you were dressed up----

"You're not a working girl by birth, are you?"

"I wish I had been," said Susan.

"Oh, I think a girl's got as good a right as a man to have a good time," lied John.

"Don't say things you don't believe," said Susan. "It isn't necessary."

"I can hand that back to you. You weren't frank, yourself, when you said you wished you'd been born in the class of your friend--and of my friend Fatty, too."

Susan's laugh was confession. The champagne was dancing in her blood. She said with a reckless toss of the head:

"I was born nothing. So I'm free to become anything I please--anything except respectable."

Here Fatty broke in. "I'll tell you what let's do. Let's all go shopping. We can help you girls select your things."

Susan laughed. "We're going to buy about three dollars' worth. There won't be any selecting. We'll simply take the cheapest."

"Then--let's go shopping," said John, "and you two girls can help Fatty and me select clothes for you."

"That's the talk!" cried Fatty. And he summoned the waiter. "The bill," said he in the manner of a man who likes to enjoy the servility of servants.

"We hadn't paid for our supper," said Susan. "How much was it, Etta?"

"A dollar twenty-five."

"We're going to pay for that," said Fatty. "What d'ye take us for?"

"Oh, no. We must pay it," said Susan.

"Don't be foolish. Of course I'll pay."

"No," said Susan quietly, ignoring Etta's wink. And from her bosom she took a crumpled five-dollar bill.

"I should say you _were new," laughed John. "You don't even know where to carry your money yet." And they all laughed, Susan and Etta because they felt gay and assumed the joke whatever it was must be a good one. Then John laid his hand over hers and said, "Put your money away."

Susan looked straight at him. "I can't allow it," she said. "I'm not that poor--yet."

John colored. "I beg your pardon," he said. And when the bill came he compelled Fatty to let her pay a dollar and a quarter of it out of her crumpled five. The two girls were fascinated by the large roll of bills--fives, tens, twenties--which Fatty took from his trousers pocket. They stared open-eyed when he laid a twenty on the waiter's plate along with Susan's five. And it frightened them when he, after handing Susan her change, had left only a two-dollar bill, four silver quarters and a dime. He gave the silver to the waiter.

"Was that for a tip?" asked Susan.

"Yes," said Fatty. "I always give about ten per cent of the bill unless it runs over ten dollars. In that case--a quarter a person as a rule. Of course, if the bill was very large, I'd give more." He was showing his amusement at her inquisitiveness.

"I wanted to know," explained she. "I'm very ignorant, and I've got to learn."

"That's right," said John, admiringly--with a touch of condescension. "Don't be afraid to confess ignorance."

"I'm not," replied Susan. "I used to be afraid of not being respectable and that was all. Now, I haven't any fear at all."

"You are a queer one!" exclaimed John. "You oughtn't to be in this life."

"Where then?" asked she.

"I don't know," he confessed.

"Neither do I." Her expression suddenly was absent, with a quaint, slight smile hovering about her lips. She looked at him merrily. "You see, it's got to be something that isn't respectable."

"What _do you mean?" demanded he.

Her answer was a laugh.

Fatty declared it too cold to chase about afoot--"Anyhow, it's late--nearly eleven, and unless we're quick all the stores'll be closed." The waiter called them a carriage; its driver promised to take them to a shop that didn't close till midnight on Saturdays. Said Fatty, as they drove away:

"Well, I suppose, Etta, you'll say you've never been in a carriage before."

"Oh, yes, I have," cried Etta. "Twice--at funerals."

This made everyone laugh--this and the champagne and the air which no longer seemed cruel to the girls but stimulating, a grateful change from the close warmth of the room. As the boys were smoking cigarettes, they had the windows down. The faces of both girls were flushed and lively, and their cheeks seemed already to have filled out. The four made so much noise that the crowds on the sidewalk were looking at them--looking smilingly, delighted by the sight of such gayety. Susan was even gayer than Etta. She sang, she took a puff at John's cigarette; then laughed loudly when he seized and kissed her, laughed again as she kissed him; and she and John fell into each other's arms and laughed uproariously as they saw Fatty and Etta embracing.

The driver kept his promise; eleven o'clock found them bursting into Sternberg's, over the Rhine--a famous department store for Germans of all classes. They had an hour, and they made good use of it. Etta was for yielding to Fatty's generous urgings and buying right and left. But Susan would not have it. She told the men what she and Etta would take--a simple complete outfit, and no more. Etta wanted furs and finery. Susan kept her to plain, serviceable things. Only once did she yield. When Etta and Fatty begged to be allowed a big showy hat, Susan yielded--but gave John leave to buy her only the simplest of simple hats. "You needn't tell _me any yarns about your birth and breeding," said he in a low tone so that Etta should not hear.

But that subject did not interest Susan. "Let's forget it," said she, almost curtly. "I've cut out the past--and the future. Today's enough for me."

"And for me, too," protested he. "I hope you're having as good fun as I am."

"This is the first time I've really laughed in nearly a year," said she. "You don't know what it means to be poor and hungry and cold--worst of all, cold."

"You unhappy child," said John tenderly.

But Susan was laughing again, and making jokes about a wonderful German party dress all covered with beads and lace and ruffles and embroidery. When they reached the shoe department, Susan asked John to take Fatty away. He understood that she was ashamed of their patched and holed stockings, and hastened to obey. They were making these their last purchases when the big bell rang for the closing. "I'm glad these poor tired shopgirls and clerks are set free," said John.

It was one of those well-meaning but worthless commonplaces of word-kindness that get for their utterance perhaps exaggerated credit for "good heart." Susan, conscience-stricken, halted. "And I never once thought of them!" she exclaimed. "It just shows."

"Shows what?"

"Oh, nothing. Come on. I must forget that, for I can't be happy again till I do. I understand now why the comfortable people can be happy. They keep from knowing or they make themselves forget."

"Why not?" said John. "What's the use in being miserable about things that can't be helped?"

"No use at all," replied the girl. She laughed. "I've forgotten."

The carriage was so filled with their bundles that they had some difficulty in making room for themselves--finally accomplished it by each girl sitting on her young man's lap. They drove to a quietly placed, scrupulously clean little hotel overlooking Lincoln Park. "We're going to take rooms here and dress," explained Fatty. "Then we'll wander out and have some supper."

By this time Susan and Etta had lost all sense of strangeness. The spirit of adventure was rampant in them as in a dreaming child. And the life they had been living--what they had seen and heard and grown accustomed to--made it easy for them to strike out at once and briskly in the new road, so different from the dreary and cruel path along which they had been plodding. They stood laughing and joking in the parlor while the boys registered; then the four went up to two small but comfortable and fascinatingly clean rooms with a large bathroom between. "Fatty and I will go down to the bar while you two dress," said John.

"Not on your life!" exclaimed Fatty. "We'll have the bar brought up to us."

But John, fortified by Susan's look of gratitude for his tactfulness, whispered to his friend--what Susan could easily guess. And Fatty said, "Oh, I never thought of it. Yes, we'll give 'em a chance. Don't be long, girls."

"Thank you," said Susan to John.

"That's all right. Take your time."

Susan locked the hall door behind the two men. She rushed to the bathroom, turned on the hot water. "Oh, Etta!" she cried, tears in her eyes, a hysterical sob in her throat. "A bathtub again!"

Etta too was enthusiastic; but she had not that intense hysterical joy which Susan felt--a joy that can be appreciated only by a person who, clean by instinct and by lifelong habit, has been shut out from thorough cleanliness for long months of dirt and foul odors and cold. It was no easy matter to become clean again after all those months. But there was plenty of soap and brushes and towels, and at last the thing was accomplished. Then they tore open the bundles and arrayed themselves in the fresh new underclothes, in the simple attractive costumes of jacket, blouse and skirt. Susan had returned to her class, and had brought Etta with her.

"What shall we do with these?" asked Etta, pointing disdainfully with the toe of her new boot to the scatter of the garments they had cast off.

Susan looked down at it in horror. She could not believe that _she had been wearing such stuff--that it was the clothing of all her associates of the past six months--was the kind of attire in which most of her fellow-beings went about the beautiful earth, She shuddered. "Isn't life dreadful?" she cried. And she kicked together the tattered, patched, stained trash, kicked it on to a large piece of heavy wrapping paper she had spread out upon the floor. Thus, without touching her discarded self, she got it wrapped up and bound with a strong string. She rang for the maid, gave her a quarter and pointed to the bundle. "Please take that and throw it away," she said.

When the maid was gone Etta said: "I'm mighty glad to have it out of the room."

"Out of the room?" cried Susan. "Out of my heart. Out of my life."

They put on their hats, admired themselves in the mirror, and descended--Susan remembering halfway that they had left the lights on and going back to turn them off. The door boy summoned the two young men to the parlor. They entered and exclaimed in real amazement. For they were facing two extremely pretty young women, one dark, the other fair. The two faces were wreathed in pleased and grateful smiles.

"Don't we look nice?" demanded Etta.

"Nice!" cried Fatty. "We sure did draw a pair of first prizes--didn't we, Johnny?"

John did not reply. He was gazing at Susan. Etta had young beauty but it was of the commonplace kind. In Susan's face and carriage there was far more than beauty. "Where _did you come from?" said John to her in an undertone. "And _where are you going?"

"Out to supper, I hope," laughed she.

"Your eyes change--don't they? I thought they were violet. Now I see they're gray--gray as can be."

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Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 22 Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 22

Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 22
VOLUME I CHAPTER XXIIAT lunch, well toward the middle of the following afternoon, Fatty--his proper name was August Gulick--said: "John and I don't start for Ann Arbor until a week from today. That means seven clear days. A lot can be done in that time, with a little intelligent hustling. What do you say, girls? Do you stick to us?" "As long as you'll let us," said Etta, who was delighting Gulick with her frank and wondering and grateful appreciation of his munificence. Never before had his own private opinion of himself received such a

Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 18 Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 18

Susan Lenox: Her Fall And Rise - Volume 1 - Chapter 18
VOLUME I CHAPTER XVIIITHE next thing she knew, she felt herself seized strongly by the arm. She gazed round in a dazed way. She was in the street--how she got there she had no idea. The grip on her arm--it was the young doctor, Hamilton. "I called you twice," explained he, "but you didn't hear." "He is dead," said she. Hamilton had a clear view of her face now. There was not a trace of the child left. He saw her eyes--quiet, lonely, violet stars. "You must go and rest quietly," he said with gentleness.