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- The Efficiency Expert - 8/31 -
While Jimmy had always been hugely disgusted with his position, the sight of the girl seemed to have suddenly crystallized all those weeks of self-contempt into a sudden almost mad desire to escape what he considered his degrading and effeminating surroundings. One must bear with Jimmy and judge him leniently, for after all, notwithstanding his college diploma and physique, he was still but a boy and so while it is difficult for a mature and sober judgment to countenance his next step, if one can look back a few years to his own youth he can at least find extenuating circumstances surrounding Jimmy's seeming foolishness.
For with a bang that caused startled clerks in all directions to look up from their work he shattered the decorous monotone of the great store by slamming his sales book viciously upon the counter, and without a word of explanation to his fellow clerks marched out of the section toward the buyer's desk.
"Well, Mr. Torrance," asked that gentleman, "what can I do for you?"
"I am going to quit," announced Jimmy.
"Quit!"' exclaimed the buyer. "Why, what's wrong? Isn't everything perfectly satisfactory? You have never complained to me."
"I can't explain," replied Jimmy. "I am going to quit. I am not satisfied. I am going to er--ah--accept another position."
The buyer raised his eyebrows. "Ah! he said. "With--" and he named their closest competitor.
"No," said Jimmy. "I am going to get a regular he-job."
The other smiled. "If an increase in salary," he suggested, "would influence you, I had intended to tell you that I would take care of you beginning next week. I thought of making it fifteen dollars," and with that unanswerable argument for Jimmy's continued service the buyer sat back and folded his bands.
"Nothing stirring," said Jimmy. "I wouldn't sell another sock if you paid me ten thousand dollars a year. I am through."
"Oh, very well," said the buyer aggrievedly, "but if you leave me this way you will be unable to refer to the house."
But nothing, not even a team of oxen, could have held Jimmy in that section another minute, and so he got his pay and left with nothing more in view than a slow death by starvation.
"There," exclaimed Elizabeth Compton, as she sank back on the cushions of her car.
"There what?" asked Harriet.
"I have placed him."
"That nice-looking young person who waited on us in the hosiery section."
"Oh!" said Harriet. "He was nice-looking, wasn't he? But be looked out of place there, and I think he felt out of place. Did you notice how he flushed when he asked you what size?" and the girls laughed heartily at the recollection. "But where have you ever met him before?" Harriet asked.
"I have never met him," corrected Elizabeth, accenting the "met." "He changed a wheel on the roadster several weeks ago one evening after I had taken Harold down to the club. And he was very nice about it. I should say that he is a gentleman, although his clothes were pretty badly worn."
"Yes," said Harriet, "his suit was shabby, but his linen was clean and his coat well brushed."
"My!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "He must have made an impression on some one."
"Well," said Harriet, "it isn't often you see such a nice-looking chap in the hosiery section."
"No," said Elizabeth, "and probably if he were as nice as he looks he wouldn't be there."
Whereupon the subject was changed, and she promptly forgot Mr. Jimmy Torrance. But Jimmy was not destined soon to forget her, for as the jobless days passed and he realized more and more what an ass he had made of himself, and why, he had occasion to think about her a great deal, although never in any sense reproaching her. He realized that the fault was his own and that he had done a foolish thing in giving up his position because of a girl he did not know and probably never would.
There came a Saturday when Jimmy, jobless and fundless, dreaded his return to the Indiana Avenue rooming-house, where he knew the landlady would be eagerly awaiting him, for he was a week in arrears in his room rent already, and had been warned he could expect no further credit.
"There is a nice young man wanting your room," the landlady had told him, "and I shall have to be having it Saturday night unless you can pay up."
Jimmy stood on the corner of Clark and Van Buren looking at his watch. "I hate to do it," he thought, "but the Lizard said he could get twenty for it, and twenty would give me another two weeks." And so his watch went, and two weeks later his cigarette-case and ring followed. Jimmy had never gone in much for jewelry--a fact which he now greatly lamented.
Some of the clothes he still had were good, though badly in want of pressing, and when, after still further days of fruitless searching for work the proceeds from the articles he had pawned were exhausted, it occurred to him he might raise something on all but what he actually needed to cover his nakedness.
In his search for work he was still wearing his best-looking suit; the others he would dispose of; and with this plan in his mind on his return to his room that night he went to the tiny closet to make a bundle of the things which he would dispose of on the morrow, only to discover that in his absence some one had been there before him, and that there was nothing left for him to sell.
It would be two days before his room rent was again due, but in the mean time Jimmy had no money wherewith to feed the inner man. It was an almost utterly discouraged Jimmy who crawled into his bed to spend a sleepless night of worry and vain regret, the principal object of his regret being that he was not the son of a blacksmith who had taught him how to shoe horses and who at the same time had been too poor to send him to college.
Long since there had been driven into his mind the conviction that for any practical purpose in life a higher education was as useless as the proverbial fifth wheel to the coach.
"And even, "mused Jimmy, "if I had graduated at the head of my class, I would be no better off than I am now."
BREAD FROM THE WATERS.
The next day, worn out from loss of sleep, the young man started out upon a last frenzied search for employment. He had no money for breakfast, and so he went breakfastless, and as he had no carfare it was necessary for him to walk the seemingly interminable miles from one prospective job to another. By the middle of the afternoon Jimmy was hungrier than he had ever been before in his life. He was so hungry that it actually hurt, and he was weak from physical fatigue and from disappointment and worry.
"I've got to eat," he soliloquized fiercely, "if I have to go out to-night and pound somebody on the head to get the price, and I'm going to do it," he concluded as the odors of cooking food came to him from a cheap restaurant which he was passing. He stopped a moment and looked into the window at the catsup bottles and sad-looking pies which the proprietor apparently seemed to think formed an artistic and attractive window display.
"If I had a brick," thought Jimmy, "I would have one of those pies, even if I went to the jug for it," but his hunger had not made him as desperate as he thought he was, and so he passed slowly on, and, glancing into the windows of the store next door, saw a display of second-hand clothes and the sign "Clothes Bought and Sold."
Jimmy looked at those in the window and then down at his own, which, though wrinkled, were infinitely better than anything on display.
"I wonder," he mused, "if I couldn't put something over in the way of high finance here," and, acting upon the inspiration, he entered the dingy little shop. When he emerged twenty minutes later he wore a shabby and rather disreputable suit of hand-me-downs, but he had two silver dollars in his pocket.
When Jimmy returned to his room that night it was with a full stomach, but with the knowledge that he had practically reached the end of his rope. He had been unable to bring himself to the point of writing his father an admission of his failure, and in fact he had gone so far, and in his estimation had sunk so low, that he had definitely determined he would rather starve to death now than admit his utter inefficiency to those whose respect he most valued.
As he climbed the stairway to his room he heard some one descending from above, and as they passed beneath the dim light of a flickering gas-jet he realized that the other stopped suddenly and turned back to look after him as Jimmy continued his ascent of the stairs; and then a low voice inquired:
"Say, bo, what you doin' here?"
Jimmy turned toward the questioner.
"Oh!" he exclaimed as recognition of the other dawned slowly upon him. "It's you, is it? My old and esteemed friend, the Lizard."
"Sure, it's me," replied the Lizard. "But what you doin' here? Looking for an assistant general manager?"
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