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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 36
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The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 36 Post by :Brian_Mullis Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2847

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The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 36

Chapter XXXVI

Carroll, in the ensuing weeks, living alone with Charlotte, endured a species of mental and spiritual torture which might have been compared with the rack and wheel of the Inquisition. It seemed to Arthur Carroll in those days as if torture was as truly one of the elements incumbent upon man's existence as fire, water, or air. He got an uncanny fancy that if it ceased he would cease. He had all his life, except in violent stresses, that happy, contented-with-the-sweet-of-the-moment temperament popularly supposed to be a characteristic of the butterfly over the rose. But deprive the butterfly of the rose and he might easily become a more tragic thing than any in existence. Now Carroll was deprived of his rose, he could get absolutely none of the sweets out of existence from whence his own individuality manufactured its honey. Even Charlotte's presence became an additional torment to him, dearly as he loved her and as thoroughly as he realized what her coming back had done for him, from what it had saved him. She had given him the impetus which placed him back in his normal condition, but, back there, he suffered even more, as a man will suffer less under a surgical operation than when the influence of the anesthetics has ceased. There was absolutely no ready money in the house during those weeks except the sum which Charlotte's aunt had sent her, which was fast diminishing, and a few scattering dollars, or rather, pennies, which Carroll picked up in ways which almost unhinged his brain when he reflected upon them afterwards. Whatever he had done before, the man tried in those days every means to obtain an honest livelihood, except the one which he knew was always open, and from which he shrank with such repugnance that it seemed he could not even contemplate it and his mind retain his balance. In his uneasy sleep at night he often had a dream of that experience which had yielded him money, which might yield him money again. He saw before him the sea of faces, of the commonest American type, of the type whose praise and applause mean always a certain disparagement. He saw his own face, his proud, white face with the skin and lineaments of a proud family, stained into the likeness of a despised race; he heard his own tongue forsaking the pure English of his fathers for the soft thickness of the negro, roaring the absurd sentimental songs; he saw his own stately limbs contorted in the rollicking, barbaric dance--and awoke with a cold sweat over him. He knew all the time that that was all was left to him, but he snatched at everything. He could not obtain the floor-walker position of which he had spoken to Anderson. He thought that possibly his fine presence and urbane manner might recommend him for a place of that sort, but it was already filled. He went to several of the great department stores and inquired if there was a vacancy. He felt that the superintendents to whom he applied regarded his good points as he might have regarded the good points of a horse. One of them told him that if he would give his address, he would be given the preference whenever a vacancy occurred. Carroll knew that he was mentally appraised as a promising person to direct ladies to ribbon and muslin counters. He looked at another floor-walker strutting up and down the aisle, and felt sure that he could do better, and all this amused contempt for himself deepened and bored its way into his very soul. He always asked himself, with the demand of an unpitying judge, if he could not have done better for himself if he had begun at once; if he had not at the first failure drifted with no resistance, with the pleasant, easy, devil-may-careness which was in his nature along with the sterner stuff which was now upheaving and asserting itself, and taken what he could, how he could. He had not, after all, had an absolutely unhappy home, although it had been founded on the sands, and although that iron of hatred of the man who had done him the wrong had been always in his soul. The life he had led had been not one of active and voluntary preying upon his fellow-men; it had been only the life of one who must have the sweets of existence for himself and those he loved, and he had gotten them, even if the flowers and the fruit hung over the garden-walls of others. Now it suddenly seemed to him that he could no longer do it, as he had done, even if the owners of the fruit and flowers should be still unawares. Curiously enough, the old Pilgrim's Progress which he had read as a child was very forcibly in his mind in these days. He remembered the child that ate the fruit that hung over the wall, and how the gripes, in consequence, seized him. Something very like the conviction of sin was over the man, or, rather, a complete consciousness of himself and his deeds, which is, maybe, after all, the true meaning of the term. It was true that the self-knowledge had seemed to come, perforce, because it was temporarily out of his power to transgress farther; in other words, because he was completely found out; but all the same, the knowledge was there. He saw himself just as he was, had been--a great man goaded on always by the small, never-ceasing prick of hatred, with the sense of injury always stinging his soul, living as he chose, having all that he could procure, utterly careless whether at the expense and suffering of others or not. Now, for the first time, he began to adjust himself in the place of others, and the adjusting produced torment from the realization of their miseries, and worse torment from realization of his own contemptibility. It really seemed as if all positions which might have been in some keeping with the man and his antecedents were absolutely out of his reach. Not a night but he read the advertising columns until he was blind and dizzy. Every morning he went to New York and hunted. The first morning he had taken the train, he had actually to assure some of his watchful creditors that he was going to return. Then all day he wandered about the streets, making one of long lines of applicants for the vacant positions. One morning he found himself in the line with William Allbright. He recognized unmistakably the meek, bent back of the old clerk three ahead of him in the line. A book-keeper had been advertised for in a large wholesale house, and there were perhaps forty applicants all awaiting their turn. His first impulse, when he caught sight of his old clerk, was to leave the line himself; then the nobility which was struggling for life within him asserted itself and made him ashamed of his shame. He stood still with his head a little higher, and moved on with the slowly moving line of men which crawled towards the desk like a caterpillar. He saw Allbright turn away rejected with a feeling of pity; the old man looked dejected. Carroll reflected with a sensation of pride that at least he did not owe him. He himself was rejected promptly after he had owned to his age. The man four behind him was chosen. He was a very young man, scarcely more than a boy, unless his looks belied him. He was distinctly handsome, with the boy-doll style of beauty--curly, dark hair, rosy cheeks, and a small, very carefully tended mustache. He wore a very long and fashionable coat, and was evidently pleasantly conscious of its flop around his ankles. His handsome face wore an expression of pert triumph as he passed on into the inner office.... Carroll, who had lingered with an idle curiosity to ascertain who was the successful applicant, heard a voice so near his ear that it whistled. The voice was exceedingly bitter, even malignant.

"That's the way it goes, these times; that's the way it always goes," said the voice.

Carroll turned and gazed at the speaker, a man probably older than himself; if not, he looked older, since his hair was quite white and his carriage not so good.

"The employers nowadays are a pack of fools, a pack of fools!" said the man. His long, rather handsome face, a face which should have been mild in its natural state was twisted into a thousand sardonic wrinkles. "A pack of fools!" he repeated. "Here they'll go and hire a little whippersnapper like that every time, instead of a man who has had experience and knows how to do the work, just because he's young. Young! What's that? You'd think what they wanted was a man to keep their books straight. I can keep books if I do say so, and that young snip can't. Lord! He was in Avin & Mann's with me. Why, I tell you he can't add up a column of figures three inches long straight, to save his neck. The books will be in a pretty state. I'll give him just ten days before they'll have to get an expert in to straighten out things. Hope they will; serve 'em right. Here I am, can't get a job to save my life, because my hair has turned and I've got a few more years over my head, and I can keep books better than I ever could in my life. Good Lord! You'd think it was what was inside a man's head they'd be after, instead of the outside." He looked at Carroll. "Guess I've got a little the advantage of you in age," he said, "but I suppose that's the matter why you were given the cold shoulder."

"I shouldn't be surprised if you were right, sir," replied Carroll, rather apathetically. He was going through all this without the slightest hope, but only for the sake of feeling that he had done his utmost before he took up with the alternative which so dismayed his very soul. He himself looked old that morning. He had retained his youthful appearance much longer than men usually do, but as he had viewed his reflection in the glass that morning he had said to himself that he at last was showing his years. His hair had turned visibly gray in the last few weeks; lines had deepened; and not only that, but the youthful fire had given place to the apathy and weary resignation of age.

"But you look as if you could do more and better work in an hour than that young bob-squirt could in a month," said the man at his side.

"Very likely," replied Carroll, indifferently.

"You don't seem to care much about it," the other man said. The two had gone out of the building, and were walking slowly down the street.

"If they want young men, they do, I suppose," Carroll said.

"Been trying long?"

"Quite a time."

"Well, the employers are a set of G. D. fools!" said the other man. An oath sounded horribly incongruous coming from his long, thin, benevolent mouth.

"I don't see what you are going to do about it if they are," Carroll replied, still with that odd patience. It seemed to him as if he was getting a sort of fellow-feeling and intense personal knowledge of his fellow-beings, which united him to them with ties stronger than those of love. He felt as if he more than loved this rebellious wretch beside him, as if he were one with him, only possessed of that patience which gave him a certain power to aid him. "I suppose men have the right to employ whom they choose," said Carroll. "If they prefer young men who don't know how to do the work, to old men who do, I suppose they have a right to engage them. And they may have some show of reason for it. I don't see what can be done, anyway."

"I'll tell you what has got to be done, sir, and how we can help ourselves," returned the other, with a ranting voice which made people turn and stare at him. "I'll tell you. We've got to form a union. There are unions for everything else. We have got to have a union of older men qualified to work, who are shouldered out of it by boys. Once that is done, we are all right. To-day in this country a man can't hire whom he pleases in most things. The unions have put it out of his power. The people have risen. We belong to a part of the people who haven't risen. Now we must rise. Let us form a union, I say. If they engage young men before us, there are ways of making them smart for it, the employers as well as the employes. I tell you that has got to be done."

Suddenly the men heard a laugh behind them. It was a woman's laugh, shrill and not altogether pleasant--not the laugh of a young woman, but the woman who came up with and immediately began to speak looked quite young. She was undeniably pretty. Her blond pompadour drooped coquettishly over one eye, her cheeks were pink, her face smooth, her figure was really superb, and she was very well dressed, in a tailor-made gown, smart furs, and a hat evidently of the English-tailor make.

"Excuse me," she said, with perfect assurance, and yet with nothing of offensive boldness, rather with an air of _camaraderie_, "but I heard you talking, you two, and I thought I would give you a few points. I don't know whether you know it or not, but I have recently secured the position of cashier there, in Adkins & Somers's." She motioned with one nicely gloved hand back towards the place they had just left. "I got it in preference to about a dozen young girls, too," she said, with triumph, "but I shouldn't have if--" She hesitated a minute. The color on her cheeks deepened under the floating veil, and there was, in consequence, a curious effect of two shades of rose on her cheeks. "See here," she said, walking along with them, "I don't know you two men from Adam, and I needn't take the trouble, and if you don't like it you can lump it, but I'm going to say something. I know I look young. I ain't fishing for a compliment. I know it. I've got a looking-glass in a good light, and I've got my eyes in my head, and, what's more, I'm spunky enough to own it to myself if I don't look young; but I ain't young. I ain't going to say how old I am, but I will say this much, I ain't young. I've been married twice and I've had three children. My first husband died, the second went off and left me. I've got a daughter fourteen years old I'm keeping in school. She ain't going into a department store, if I work my fingers to the bone." She said the last with a fierce air that made her for a second really look younger. "Well," she went on. "I'll tell you, too. I had a good place for a number of years, but the man died in September, and the man that took the business put his sister in my place. Then I was out of a job. I hadn't saved a cent, and I didn't know what I was going to do. Mildred--that's my daughter--is big of her age and good-looking, and she wanted to leave school and go to work, but I wouldn't let her. Well, I studied up all the advertisements and I tried, and I couldn't do a thing. Then I set my wits to work. I ain't one to give up in a hurry; I never was. As I said before, I didn't have much money, but I hire our little flat of a woman, and she's a good sort, and she's willing to wait, and a month ago I took every cent I could raise and I went through a course of treatment with a beauty-doctor. I had my hair (it was turned some) dyed, and I was massaged until I felt like a currant-bun, but I always had a good skin, and there was something to work on, and I took my figure in hand; that wasn't very bad, anyway, but I got new corsets, awful expensive ones, and had a tailor suit made. I had to raise some money on a little jewelry I had, but I made up my mind it was neck or nothing, and, sir, a month ago I got that place in Adkins & Somers's at a thousand a year. They are good men, too. You needn't think there's anything wrong." She looked at them with an expression as if she was ready to spring at the slightest intimation of distrust on their part. "It is only just that people think they want young help and they are going to have it. I've got the place and I'm in clover, and it's worth something looking so much better, though it don't make much difference to me. All I care about nowadays is my daughter."

The two men looked at the woman, Carroll with a courteous sympathy, and the interest of an observer of human nature. She was of a pronounced American type, coarse, vulgar, strident-voiced, smart, with a shrewdly working brain and of an unimpeachable heart. She was generosity and honesty itself, as she looked at the two men in a similar strait to the one from which she had extricated herself.

The other man, who had a bitter, possibly a dangerous strain developed by his misfortunes, laughed sardonically. "How long do you think you can keep it up?" said he. "Hm?" Had he been less worn and weary, and apparently even starved, his laugh and question would have evoked a sharper response. As it was, the woman replied with the utmost good-nature.

"Any old time," said she. "Lord! I ain't setting up for a kid. I ain't fool enough to put on short skirts and pigtails, but I am setting up for a young lady, and I can keep it up, anyhow. Lord! I ain't so very old, anyhow. If I didn't look the way I do now, I couldn't get a position, because they'd put me down for a back-number; but I had something left for that beauty-doctor to work on." Then she gazed critically at the two men. "It wouldn't take much to make you into a regular dude," said she to Carroll. "You are dressed to beat the band as it is. Say!" She gave him a confidential wink.

"Well?" said Carroll.

"You are dressed most too well. It's all very well to look stylish, to look as if you had been earning twenty-five hundred a year, but, Lord! you look as if you had been getting ten! The bosses might be a little afraid of you. They might say they didn't see how a man could have dressed like you do, unless he had helped himself to some of the firm's cash. See? I don't mean any offence. You look to me like a real gentleman."

"Thank you," replied Carroll.

"If I was you I'd put on a pair of pants not quite so nicely creased, and I'd sell that overcoat and get a good-style ready-made one. Your chances would be a heap better--honest."

"Thank you," said Carroll, again. He was conscious of amusement and a curious sense of a mental tonic from this loud-voiced, eagerly helpful female.

"I'm right, you bet," said she. "But otherwise it wouldn't take much. You go and have a little something put on your hair, and have your face massaged a little, and if I was you I'd buy a red tie. You can get a dandy red tie at Steele & Esterbrook's for a quarter. That one you have on makes you look kinder pale. Then a red tie is younger. Say, I'll tell you, if you would only have your mustache trimmed, and wax the ends, it would make no end of difference."

"What are you going to do when you are asked how old you are? Lie?" inquired the other man, in his bitter, sardonic voice.

This time the woman regarded him with slight indignation. "Say," said she, "you'll never get a place if you don't act pleasanter. Places ain't to be got that way, I can tell you. You've got to act as if you'd eat nothin' but butter an' honey for a fortnight. If you feel mad, you'd better keep it in your insides." Then she answered his questions. "No, I ain't goin' to lie, and I ain't goin' to tell anybody else to lie," said she. "Lying ain't my style. But it ain't anybody's business how old you are, anyhow. I don't know what right a man that I go to get a place from has got to ask how old I be. All he has any right to know is whether I ain't too old to do my work. I don't lie; no, siree. All I say is, and kinder laugh, 'Well, call it twenty-five,' or you might call it thirty, and with some, again, you might call it thirty-two or three. That ain't lyin' if I know what lyin' is." As the woman spoke her face assumed precisely the mischievous, challenging smile with which she had replied to similar questions. Carroll laughed, and the other man also, although grudgingly.

"Well," he said, "there's different ways of looking at a lie."

"It wouldn't be any manner of use for you to say you wouldn't see twenty-eight again, no matter how much you got fixed up," the woman retorted. "But I guess you can get something, if it ain't quite so good. I have a gentleman friend who is over fifty and who said he was thirty-seven, and he got a dandy place last week. But I tell you you'll have to hustle more'n this other gentleman. You're bald, ain't you?"

"I don't know what that has got to do with it," growled the man, and he tried to quicken his pace; but she kept up with him.

"It's got a good deal to do with it," said she. "I know a place on Sixth Avenue where you can get an elegant front-piece that nobody could ever tell, for three dollars and forty-nine cents. Another gentleman friend of mine--he's a sort of relation of mine; my sister was his first wife--got one there. Yes, sir, you'll have to get one, and you'll have to get your face massaged and your eyebrows blacked, and, Lord! you'll have to have that beard shaved off and have a mustache, if you get anything at all. Lord! you look as if you'd come right out of the Old Testament. I don't see why you're wasting your time hanging around offices for, without you see to that, first of all. I should think your wife would tell you, but I suppose she's the same sort. Now as for you," she added, turning again to Carroll, "if you just get polished up a little bit--say, here's the card of my beauty-doctor" (she produced a card from an ornate wrist-bag)--"you'll look dandy."

Suddenly the woman, with a quick good-bye, turned to cross Broadway, but her good-nature and sympathy had something fine and inexhaustible, for even then she turned back to look encouragingly upon the older, soured, bitter, ungrateful man with Carroll, and she said: "You go 'long with him, and I guess you'll get a place, too. Good-bye."

With that she was gone, passing as straight as if she owned an unassailable right of way through the press of vehicles. Just as she gained the opposite sidewalk a fire-engine thundered up.

"She had a close call from that," Carroll said. His face had altered. He still looked amused.

"That woman couldn't get run over if she tried," said the other man.

"There ain't nothing made in the country that can run over her. It's women like her that's keeping men out of the places that belong to them by right."

"I am afraid there was some truth in her theory and her advice," Carroll said, laughing, and looking after the second engine clanging through the scattering crowd.

"Well, I guess when I go to buying women's frizzes to wear to get a place, she'll know it," said the other man. "Good lord! if it's the outside of the head they want, why don't they get dummies and done with it? I tell you what is needed is a new union."

Just at that moment they reached a restaurant from which came an odor of soup. Carroll turned to his companion. "I am going in here to get some lunch," he said. "I don't know what kind of a place it is, but if you will go with me, I shall take pleasure in--"

But the man turned upon him fiercely. "I 'ain't got quite so low yet that I have to eat at another man's expense," he said. "You needn't think, because you wear a better coat than I do, that--" The man stopped and nodded his head, speechless, and went on, and was out of sight, but Carroll had seen tears in the angry eyes.

He went into the restaurant, took a seat at a table, and ordered a bowl of tomato-soup. As he was sipping it he heard a voice pronounce his name, and, glancing up, saw two pretty girls and a young man at a near-by table. He recognized the young man as the one who had been lately in his employ. About the girls he was not so sure, but he thought they were the same who had come to Banbridge to plead for their payment. They all bowed to him, and he returned the salutation. They all had a severe and, at the same time, curious expression. One of the girls whispered to the other, and although the words were not audible, the sharp hiss reached Carroll's ears.

"Wonder what he's doing in this place," she said.

The other girl, the elder, craned her neck and observed what Carroll was eating. "He hasn't got anything but a bowl of tomato-soup," she replied.

"S'pose he's goin' through the whole bill," said the young man. The three were themselves lunching frugally. One of the girls had also a bowl of tomato-soup, the other a large piece of squash-pie. The young man had a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee. Smoking was allowed in the place, and the atmosphere was thick with cigarette smoke, and a warm, greasy scent of boiling and frying. Carroll continued to eat his soup. The three at the other table had nearly finished their luncheons when he entered. Presently they rose and passed him. The young man stopped. He paled a little. His old awe of Carroll was over him. In spite of himself, the worshipful admiration he had had for the man still influenced him. The poor young fellow, whose very pertness and braggadocio were simple and childlike, really felt towards the older man who had been his employer much as a faithful retainer towards a feudal baron. His feeling towards him was something between love and an enormous mental worship. His little, ordinary soul seemed to flatten itself like an Oriental before his emperor when he spoke to Carroll sipping his bowl of tomato-soup in the cheap restaurant. He had, after all, that nobility of soul which altered circumstances could not affect. He was just as deferential as if Carroll had been seated at a table in Delmonico's, but the fact remained that he was about to ask him again for his money. He was horribly pressed. He had obtained another position in one of the department stores, which paid him very little, and he was in debt, while his clothes were in such a degree of shabbiness that they were fairly precarious. The very night before he had sat up until midnight mending a rent in his trousers, which he afterwards inked; and as for his overcoat, he always removed that with a sleight-of-hand lest its ragged lining become evident, and when ladies were about he put it on in an agony lest his arms catch in the rents. He had even meditated cutting out the lining altogether, although he had a cold. He was so in debt that he had stopped eating breakfast; and the leaving off of breakfast for other than hygienic reasons, and when it has not been preceded by a heavy dinner the night before, is not conducive to comfort. So he bent low over Carroll and asked him in a small voice of the most delicate consideration, if he could let him have a little on account.

Carroll had turned quite white when he approached him, but his regard of him was unswerving. "It is impossible for me to-day, Mr. Day," he replied, "but I assure you that you shall have every cent in the end."

The tears actually sprang into the young fellow's nervously winking eyes. "It would be a great accommodation," he said, in the same low tone.

"You shall have every cent as soon as I can possibly manage it," Carroll repeated.

"I have a position, but it does not pay me very much yet," said the young fellow, "and--and--I am owing considerable, and--I need some things."

His involuntary shrug of his narrow shoulders in his poor coat spoke as loudly as words.

Carroll was directly conscious in an odd, angry, contemptuous sort of fashion, and whether because of himself, or of that other man, or of an overruling Providence, he would have been puzzled to say, of his own outer garment of the finest cloth and most irreproachable make. "As soon as I can manage it, every cent," he repeated, almost mechanically, and took another sip of his soup. The young fellow's winking eyes, full of tears, were putting him to an ignominious torture.

The two girls had stood close behind the young man, waiting their turns. Now the younger stepped forward, and she spoke quite audibly in her high-pitched voice.

"Good-morning, Mr. Carroll," said she, with a strained pertness of manner.

"Good-morning," Carroll returned, politely. He half arose from the table.

The girl giggled nervously. Her pretty, even beautiful face, under her crest of blond hair and the scoop of a bright red hat, paled and flushed. "Oh, don't stop your luncheon," said she. "Go right on. I just wanted to ask if you could possibly--"

"I am very sorry," Carroll replied, "but to-day it is impossible; but in the end you shall not lose one dollar."

The girl pouted. Her beauty gave her some power of self-assertion, although in reality she was of an exceedingly mild and gentle sort.

"That is very well," said she, "but how long do you think it will be before we get to the end, Mr. Carroll?"

"I hope not very long," Carroll said, with a miserable patience.

"It had better not be very long," said she, and suddenly her high voice pitched to tragedy. "If--if--I can't get another place that's decent for a girl to take," said she, "and if I don't get what's owing me before long, I shall either have to take one of them places or get a dose." She said the last word with an indescribably hideous significance. Her blue eyes seemed to blaze at Carroll.

Then the other girl pressed closer. "You needn't talk that way," said she to the girl. "You know that I--"

"I ain't goin' to live on you," returned the other girl, violently. People were beginning to look at the group.

"Now, you know, May," said the other girl, "my room is plenty big enough for two, and I'm earning plenty to give you a bite till you get a place yourself, and you know you may get that place you went to see about yesterday."

"No, I won't," said May. "It seems to me it's pretty hard lines that a poor girl can't get the money she's worked as hard for as I have."

The other girl pushed herself in front of May and spoke to Carroll, and there was something womanly and beautiful in her face. "I have a real good place," she said, in a low voice, and she enunciated like a lady. "A real good place, and I'll look out for May till she gets one, and I can wait until you are able to pay me."

"I will pay you all as soon as possible. I give you all my word I will pay you in the end," said Carroll.

He seemed to see the three go out in a sort of dream. It did not really seem to him that it was he, Arthur Carroll, who was sitting there in that smoking, greasy atmosphere, before that table covered with a stained cloth, over which the waiter had ostentatiously spread a damp napkin, with that bowl of canned tomato-soup before him, and that thick cup of coffee, with those three unhappy young creditors, who had reviled and, worse than reviled, pitied him, passing out, with the open glances of amused curiosity fastened upon him on every side.

"Guess that dude is down on his luck," he heard a young man at his left say.

"Guess he put the money he'd ought to have paid that young lady with into his overcoat," his companion, a girl with a picture-hat, and a wide lace collar over her coat, responded.

Carroll felt that he was overwhelmed, beaten, at bay before utter ignominy. The thought flashed across him, as he tried to swallow some more of the soup, that in some respects, if he had been a murderer or a great bank defaulter with detectives on his track, the situation would at least have been more endurable. The horrible pettiness of it all, constituted the maddening sting of it. While he was thinking this the girl they called May came flying back, her blond crest bobbing, her cheeks blazing. She looked like a beautiful and exceedingly vulgar little fury. She came close to Carroll, while the other girl's voice was heard at the door pleading with her to come back.

"I won't come back till I have said my say, so there!" she called back. Then she addressed Carroll very loudly. She was transformed for the time. Hysteria had her in its clutch. She was half-fed, half-clothed, made desperate by repeated failures. There was also a love affair in the background. She was, in reality, not so very far removed from the carbolic-acid crisis. "I say," said she. "I say, you! You'd better look out! You'd better pony up pretty quickly or you'll get into trouble you don't count on. There was a man at the office that morning after you quit, and if he should happen to walk in here and see you, you'd have a policeman after you. You'd better look out!"

Carroll felt his face flush hot. For the first time in his life he was conscious of being actually down. He realized the sensation of the under dog, and he realized his utter helplessness, his utter lack of defence against this small, pretty girl who was attacking him. Everybody in the place seemed listening. Some of the people at the farther tables came nearer, other's were craning their necks. The girl gave her head an indescribable toss, at once vicious, coquettish, and triumphant. Her blond crest tossed, the scoop of her red hat rocked.

"I thought I'd just tell you," said she. Then she marched, holding her skirts tightly around her, with a disclosure of embroidered ruffles and the contour of pretty hips, and there was a shout of laughter in the place. Carroll pushed away his bowl of soup and turned to a grinning waiter near him.

"My check," he said.

"I ain't your waiter," replied the man, insolently.

"Bring me my check for this soup and coffee," repeated Carroll, and the man started. There was something in his look and tone that commanded respect even in this absurdity. In reality, for the time, he was almost a madman. His fixed idea reasserted itself. At that moment, if it had been possible that his enemy, the man who had precipitated all this upon him, could have entered the room, there would have been murder done, and again for the moment his mind overlapped on the wrong side of life, and the desire for death was upon him. There was that in his face which hushed the laughter.

"They had better not hound that man much farther," one man at the table on the right whispered to his companion, who nodded, with sharp eyes on Carroll's face. They were both newspaper-men.

When Carroll had paid his bill and passed out, one of the men, young and clean-shaven, pressed close to his side.

"Pardon me, sir," he said, "but if you would allow me to express my regrets and sympathy--"

"No regrets nor sympathy are required, thank you, sir," replied Carroll.

"If I could be of any assistance," persisted the man, who was short in his weekly column and not easily daunted.

"No assistance is required, thank you, sir," replied Carroll.

The man retreated, and rejoined his companion at the table.

"Get anything out of him?" asked the other.

"No, but I can make something out of him, I guess."

"Poor devil!" said the other man.

"It might have paid to shadow him," said the first man, thoughtfully. "I shouldn't wonder if he took a bee-line for a drug-store. He looked desperate."

"Or perhaps the park. He looks like the sort that might have a pistol around somewhere."

This man actually, after a second's reflection, left his luncheon and hastened after Carroll, but he did not find him. Carroll had recovered himself and had taken the Elevated up-town to answer another advertisement. That was one for a book-keeper, and there was also unsuccessful. Coming out, he stood on the corner, looking at his list. He had written down nearly every want in the advertising columns. Actually he had even thought of trying for a position as coachman. He certainly could drive and could care for horses, and he considered quite impartially that he might make a good appearance in a livery on a fashionable turn-out. He had left now on his list only two which he had not tried; one was for a superintendent to care for a certain public building, a small museum. He had really a somewhat better chance there, apparently, for he had at one time known one of the trustees quite well. For that very reason he had put it off until the last, for he dreaded meeting an old acquaintance, and, too, there was a chance, though not a very good one, that the acquaintance might work harm instead of advantage. Still, the trustee had been in Europe for several years past, and the chances were that he would know nothing derogatory to Carroll which would interfere with his obtaining the position.

He reached the building, took the elevator to the floor on which was situated the offices, and, curiously enough, the first person he saw, on emerging from the elevator, was the man whom he knew, waiting to ascend. The man, whose name was Fowler, recognized him at once, and greeted him, but with constraint. Carroll immediately understood that in some unforeseen way the news which travels in circles in this small world had reached the other. He saw that he knew of his record during the last years.

"I have not seen you for a number of years, Mr. Carroll," said Fowler.

"No," replied Carroll, trying to speak coolly, "but that is easily accounted for; you have been abroad most of the time, living in London, have you not?"

"Yes, for seven years," replied the other, "but now I am home in my native land to end my days." Fowler was quite an elderly man, and remarkably distinguished in appearance, clean-featured and white-haired--indeed, he had cut quite a considerable figure in certain circles on the other side. He was even taller than Carroll, and portly in spite of the sharpness of his features.

"You are glad to be back in America?" Carroll said; he was almost forgetting, for the moment, the object of his visit to the place. He had years ago been on terms of social intimacy with this man.

"If I were not I would not say so," replied Fowler, with a diplomatic smile. "I do not disparage my country nor give another the preference in my speech, until I deliberately take out naturalization papers elsewhere."

Carroll smiled.

"By-the-way," said Fowler, whose handsome face had hard lines which appeared from time to time from beneath his polished surface-urbanity, "I have not seen you for perhaps ten years, Mr. Carroll, but I heard from you in an out-of-the-way place--that is, if anything is out of the way in these days. It was in a little Arab village in Egypt. I was going down the Nile with a party, and something went wrong with the boat and we had to stop for repairs; and there I found--quartered in a most amazing studio which he had rigged up for himself out of a native hut and hung with things which looked to me like nightmares, and making studies of the native Egyptians--and I must say he seemed to be doing some fine work at last--Evan Dodge."

Carroll understood then, perfectly, but he took it calmly. "I always felt that Dodge had genuine ability," he said.

"He has the ability to strike twelve, but not to strike it often," said Fowler. "However, all his models in that place striking twelve made it easier for him. His work was good, and I think it will be heard from. He had some good tea, and a tea-kettle, and he made us a cup, and we talked over the home news, Dodge and I and two other gentlemen and three ladies of the party. You see, Dodge was comparatively fresh from home. He had only been quartered there about a month."

"Yes," said Carroll.

"He spoke of seeing you quite recently. He said he had had a studio the summer before in Hillfield, where I believe you were living at the time." Nothing could have excelled the smoothness and even sweetness of Fowler's tone and manner; nothing could have excelled the mercilessness of his blue eyes beneath rather heavy lids, and the lines of his fine mouth.

"Yes, he did have a studio there," assented Carroll.

"I believe that is quite a picturesque country about there."

"Quite picturesque."

"Well, Dodge did not make a mistake going so far afield, though, for, after all, his specialty is the human figure, and here it is only trees that are not altered in their contour by the fashions. Yes, he was doing some really fine work. There was one study of a child--"

"He made one very good thing in Hillfield," said Carroll, "a view from the top of a sort of half-mountain there. I believe he sold it for a large price."

"Well, I am glad of that," said Fowler. "Dodge has always been hampered in that way. Yes, he told me all the news, and especially mentioned having lived in the same village with you."

"Yes," said Carroll, with the dignity of a dauntless spirit on the rack.

"I hope your wife and family are well," said Fowler, further.

"Quite well, thank you."

"Let me see--you are living in New York now?"

"No, I am at present in Banbridge."


"In New Jersey."

"Let me see--your family consists of your wife and a daughter and son?"

"Two daughters and a son. One daughter married, last September, Major Arms."

"Arms? Oh, I know him. A fine man." Fowler regarded Carroll with a slight show of respect. "But," he said, "I thought--Major Arms is nearly quite your age, is he not?"

"He is much older than Ina, but she seemed very fond of him."

"Well, she has a fine man for a husband," said Fowler, still with the air of respect. "Your son is quite a boy now?"

"He is only ten."

"Hardly more than a child."

"My wife and son and my sister are at present in Kentucky with my wife's aunt, Miss Dunois; only my younger daughter is with me in Banbridge."

"Catherine Dunois?"


"I used to know her very well. She was a beauty, with the spirit of a duchess."

"The spirit still survives," said Carroll, smiling.

"She must be quite old."

"Nearly eighty."

The elevator going up stopped in response to a signal from Fowler. He extended his hand. "Well, good-day," said Fowler. "I am glad we chanced to meet."

"Well, it is a small world," replied Carroll, smiling. "The chances for meeting are much better than they would be, say, in Mars."

"Much better, and for hearing, also. Good-day."


Carroll saw the elevator with its open sides of filigree iron, ascending, and the expression upon Fowler's calm, handsome face, gazing backward at him, was unmistakable. It was even mocking.

Carroll touched the electric button of one of the downward elevators, and was soon carried rapidly down to the street door. He felt, as he gained the street, that he would rather starve to death than ask a favor of Fowler. He did not ask for pity, or even sympathy, in his downfall, but he did ask for recognition of it as a common accident that might befall mankind, and a consequent passing by with at least the toleration of indifference from those not actively concerned in it; but in this man's face had been something like exultation, even gloating, Carroll thought to himself, as he went down the street, in the childish way that Eddy might have done, with a sort of wonder, reflecting that he never in his life, that he could remember, had done Fowler, even indirectly, a bad turn. He might easily have been totally indifferent to his misfortunes, to his failings, but why should they have pleased him?

Carroll walked rapidly along the street until he reached Broadway again. It was a strange day; a sort of snow-fog was abroad. The air was dense and white. Now and then a mist of sleet fell, and the sidewalks were horribly treacherous. The children enjoyed it, and there were many boys and a few girls with tossing hair sliding along with cries of merriment.

Carroll thought of Eddy as one little fellow, who did not look unlike him, fairly slid into his arms.

"Look out, my boy," Carroll said, good-humoredly, keeping him from falling, and the little fellow raised his cap with a charming blush and a "Beg your pardon, sir." A miserable home-sickness for them came over Carroll as he passed on. He longed for the sight of his boy, or his wife and Anna. He had grown, in a manner, accustomed to Ina being away. There is something about marriage and the absence it causes that brings one into the state of acquiescence concerning death. But he longed for the others, and he thought of his poor little Charlotte at home all day, and her loneliness. He looked at his watch, and realized that he must hurry if he caught the train which would take him to Banbridge at six o'clock. He had one more place on his list, and that was far up-town. He crossed to the Elevated station and boarded the first up-town train. What he was about to do was, in a way, so monstrous, taking into consideration his antecedents, his bringing-up, and all his forebears, that it had to his mind the grotesqueness of a gargoyle on his house of life. He was now going to apply for the last position on his list, that of a coachman for a gentleman, presumably of wealth, in Harlem. The name was quite unknown to him. It was German. He thought to himself in all probability the owner was Jewish. This was absolutely his last venture. He chose this as he would choose anything in preference to the one which was always within reach. As the train sped along he fell to thinking of himself in this position for which he was about to apply. He imagined himself in livery sitting with a pair of sleek bays well in hand. He reflected that at least he could do his work well. He wondered idly about the questions he would be asked. He considered suddenly that he must have a reference for a place of this sort, and he tore a leaf out of his note-book, took out his stylo-graphic pen, and scribbled a reference, signing his own name. He reflected, as he did so, that it was odd that he, who had employed so many doubtful methods to gain financial ends, should feel an inward qualm at the proceeding. Still, he was somewhat amused at the thought that Mr. A. Baumstein might write to him at Banbridge, and he should in that case reply, repeating his own list of qualification for the place. He wondered if they would ask if he were married, if they would prefer him married, if he drank, if he would be forbidden to smoke in the stables. He considered all the questions which he should be likely to ask himself, in a similar case. He got a curious feeling as if he were having an experience like Alice in Wonderland, as if he were in reality going in at the back of his own experiences, gaining the further side of his moon. He began to be almost impatient to reach his station and see the outcome of it all. Strangely enough, he never reflected on the good advice which the young woman that morning had given him as to the undesirable gentility of his general appearance. He never considered that as a drawback. When he reached his station he got off the train, went down the stairs, crossed the avenue, and up a block to the next street. When he found the number of which he was in search he hesitated a second. He wondered at what door he should apply. It manifestly could not be the front door. He therefore went farther down the street and gained the one running parallel, by which means he could reach the rear entrance of the house. It had no basement entrance under the front door. It was a new building, and quite pretentious, the most pretentious of a new and pretentious block. He traversed the small back yard, bending his stately head under a grove of servants' clothes which were swinging whitely from a net-work of lines, and knocked on the door. His knock was answered by a woman, presumably a cook, and she looked like a Swede. Unaccountably to him, she started back with a look of alarm and nearly closed the door, and inquired in good English, with a little accent, what he wanted. Carroll raised his hat and explained.

"I saw an advertisement for a coachman," he said, briefly, "and I have come to apply for the place if it is not already filled."

To his utter amazement the door was closed violently in his face, and he distinctly heard the bolt shot. He was completely at a loss to account for such a proceeding. He remained standing, staring at the blank front of the door, and a light flashed across the room inside and caused him to look at the windows. The light had been carried into a room at the back, but he saw in the pale dimness of the kitchen a group of women and one boy, and they were all staring out at him. Then the boy started on a run across the room, and he heard a door slam. Carroll waited. He could not imagine what it was all about, and a feeling of desperation was coming over him. It seemed to him that he must find something to do, that he could not go home again. The position of coachman began to seem desirable to him. Charlotte need not know what he was doing; no one need know. He had resolved to give another name, and he would soon find another position. This would be a makeshift. In this he could at least keep himself to himself. He need associate with nothing except the horses, and they were likely to be thorough-breds. It would not, after all, be half so bad as some other things--guiding superb horses through the streets and waiting at doors for his employers. To his mind, a coachman--that is, a City coachman--wears always more or less of a mask of stiff attention to duty. He could hide behind this mask. In reality, Carroll was almost at the end of his strength. His pride had suddenly become a forgotten thing. He was wretchedly worn out, and, in fact, he was hungry, almost famished. He had eaten very little lately, and poor Charlotte, in truth, knew little about cookery. He, in reality, became for the time what in once sense he was impersonating. He became a coachman in dire need of a job. Therefore he waited. He reflected, while he waited, that if they did not hurry he would miss his train and Charlotte would worry. In case he secured the position she would certainly have to join the others in Kentucky; there would be no other way, for he would be obliged to remain in the City over night.

All at once the door before him was swung violently open and a gentleman stood there. Carroll felt at once that he was Mr. A. Baumstein.

"What do you want, sir?" inquired the gentleman, and his tone was distinctly hostile, although he looked like a well-bred man, and it seemed puzzling that he thus received an answer to his application.

"I saw your advertisement, sir--" Carroll began.

"My advertisement for what, pray?" repeated Mr. Baumstein.

"For a coachman," replied Carroll, "and I thought if you had not already secured one--"

"Clear out, or I will call a policeman!" thundered Mr. Baumstein, and again the door was slammed in his face.

Carroll then understood. A gentleman who would have been presentable at the Waldorf-Astoria, at a gentleman's area door applying for a position as coachman, was highly suspicious. He understood readily how he would have looked at the matter had the cases been reversed. He made his way out of the little yard, dodging the fluttering banners of servants' clothes, and was conscious that his progress was anxiously watched by peering eyes at the windows. He reflected that undoubtedly that house would be doubly bolted and barred that night, and he would not be surprised if a special policeman were summoned, in view of the great probability that he was a gentleman burglar spying out the land before he descended upon it in search of the spoons and diamonds. Somehow the fancy tickled him to that extent that he felt almost as hysterical as a woman. He laughed aloud, and two men whom he met just then turned round and looked at him suspiciously.

"Dopey, I guess," one said, audibly, to the other.

It was now in Carroll's mind to gain the Elevated as soon as possible, and hurry down-town to his ferry and catch his train. He consulted his watch, and saw that he had just about time, if there were no delays. As he replaced his watch he remembered that he had, besides his railroad book, very little money, only a little silver. The helplessness of a cripple came over him. He recalled seeing a man who had lost both his legs shuffling along on the sidewalk, with the stumps bound with leather, carrying a little tray of lead-pencils which nobody seemed to buy. He felt like that cripple. A man living to-day in the heart of civilization, where money is in reality legs and wings and hands, is nothing more than a torso without it, he thought. He felt mutilated, unspeakably humiliated. It seemed more out of his ability to get any honest employment than it had ever done before. A number of laborers with their dinner-satchels, and their pickaxes over their shoulders, passed him. They looked at him, as they passed, with gloomy hostility. It was as if they accused him of having something which of a right belonged to them. He fell to wondering how he would figure in their ranks. He was no longer a very young man. However, his muscles were still good and supple; it really seemed to him that he might dig or pick away at rocks, as he had seen men doing in that apparently aimless and hopeless and never-ending fashion. He thought in such a case he should have to join the union, and he really wondered if they would admit him, if he pawned his clothes and should buy some poorer ones. He decided, passing himself before himself in mental review, that he might be treated by the leaders of a labor union very much as he had just been treated by Mr. Baumstein at his area door. He also decided that men like those who had just met him regard him with even worse suspicion and disfavor. He remembered stories he had read of gentlemen, of students, voluntarily joining the ranks of labor for the sake of information, but it seemed somehow impossible when it was attempted in earnest. Decidedly, his appearance was against him. He had the misfortune to look too much like a man who did not need to dig to easily obtain, in labor's parlance, a job to dig. Yet, while he thought of it, such was the man's desperation, his rage against his odds of life, that it seemed to him that a purely physical attack on the earth, to which he was fastened by some indissoluble laws of nature which he could not grasp, would be a welcome relief. He felt that with a heavy pick in his hand he could strike savagely at the concrete rock, the ribs of the earth, and almost enjoy himself. He felt that it would be like an attack, although a futile and antlike one, at creation itself. All this he thought idly, walking, even hurrying, along the slippery pavement through the pale, sleety mist. He walked as rapidly as he could, some of the time slipping, and recovering himself with a long slide. He came to a block of new stone houses, divided from another by a small space taken up by a little, old-fashioned, wooded structure that might have been with propriety in Banbridge. He noticed this, and the thought came to him that possibly it was the property of some ancient and opinionated mortal who was either holding it for higher prices or for the sake of some attachment or grudge. And just as he reached it he saw coming from the opposite direction his old book-keeper, William Allbright. Allbright, moving with a due regard to the dangerous state of the pavement, had still an alacrity of movement rather unusual to him. As he came nearer it was plain to see that his soberly outlined face, long and clean-shaven, was elated by something. He started when he recognized Carroll, and stopped. Carroll felt, meeting him a sensation of self-respect like a tonic. Here was at least one man to whom he owed nothing, whom he had not injured. He held out his hand.

"How do you do, Mr. Allbright?" he said.

"Quite well, thank you, Mr. Carroll," replied Allbright, then his delight, which makes a child of most men, could not be restrained. "I have just secured a very good position in a wholesale tea-house--Allen, Day & Co.," he said.

"That is good," said Carroll, echoing the other's enthusiasm. He really felt a leap of joy in his soul because of the other's good-fortune. He felt that in some way he himself needed to be congratulated for his good-fortune, that he had been instrumental in securing it. His face lit up. "I am delighted, Mr. Allbright," he repeated.

"Yes, it is a very good thing for me," said Allbright, simply. "I was beginning to get a little discouraged. I had saved a little, but I did not like to spend it all, and I have my sister to take care of."

"I am very glad," Carroll said, still again.

Allbright then looked at him with a little attention, pushing, as it were, his own self, intensified by joy, aside. "You are not looking very well, Mr. Carroll," he said, deferentially, and yet with a kindly concern.

"I am very well," said Carroll. Then he pulled out his watch again, and Allbright noticed quickly that it was a dollar watch. He remembered his suspicion. "I must hurry if I am to get my train," said Carroll. "You live here, Mr. Allbright?"

"Yes. I have lived here for twenty years."

"Well, I am very glad to hear of your good-fortune. Good-day, Mr. Allbright."

Carroll had not advanced three paces from Allbright before his feet glissaded on the thin glare of the pavement, he tried to recover himself, and came down heavily, striking his head; then he knew no more for some time.

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The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 37 The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 37

The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 37
Chapter XXXVIICharlotte had expected her father home at a little after six o'clock that night. That was the train on which he usually arrived lately. She had not the least idea what he was doing in the City. She supposed he was in the office as he had been hitherto. She never inquired. With all the girl's love for her father, she had a decided respect. She was old-fashioned in her ways of never interfering or even asking for information concerning a man's business affairs.Charlotte went down to the station to meet her father, as she was fond of doing. She

The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 35 The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 35

The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 35
Chapter XXXVIt was the next day but one that Mrs. Anderson, arrayed in her best, seated in state in the Rawdy coach, was driven into the grounds of the Carroll house. Charlotte answered her ring. The elder woman's quick eye saw, with both pity and disapproval, that the girl was unsuitably arrayed for housework in a light cloth dress, which was necessarily stained and spotted."She had on no apron," she told her son that night. "I don't suppose the poor child owns one, and of course she could not help getting her dress spotted. Her little hands were clean, though, and