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- Without a Home - 30/94 -
gives cursed busybodies a chance to rant about women standing all day. (Out of the corner of his eye he measured Belle from head to foot.) She can stand, and stand it, too, for a long while. She's compact and stout. She's built right for the business." At last he said, aloud, "In case I should so far depart from my usual custom and make a place for you, as you suggest, what do you propose to charge for the services you rate so highly?"
"What you choose to give."
"Well," was the laughing answer, "there's method in your madness. Take that pen and write what I dictate."
Belle wrote a few sentences in a dashing, but sufficiently legible hand.
"You will have to practice a little, and aim at distinctness and clearness. That's more than style in business," Mr. Schriven continued deliberately, for the young creature was so delightfully fresh and original that he began to regard her as an agreeable episode in the dull August day. "I'll make a place for you, as you say, if you will come for three dollars a week and comply with the rules. You are to do just as you are bid by those having charge of your department, and you had better keep on their right side. You are not to come to me again, remember, unless I send for you," he concluded, with his characteristic smile; "an event that you must not look forward to, for I assure you such interviews are rare in my experience. Come next Monday at seven if you agree to these conditions."
"I agree, and I thank you," the girl promptly answered, her brilliant eyes glowing with triumph, for thoughts like these were in her mind: "How I can crow over mamma and Millie, who said this very morning there was no use in trying! Won't it be delicious to hand papa enough money to pay the rent for a month!" No wonder the child's face was radiant.
The thoughts of her employer were of quite a different character. He gave her a look of bold admiration, and said familiarly, "By Jupiter, but you are a daisy!"
Belle's manner changed instantly. He caught a swift, indignant flash in her dark eyes, and then she laid her hand on the door-knob and said, with the utmost deference and distance of manner, "I will try to attend to the duties of my station in a way that will cause no complaint. Good morning, sir."
"Wait a moment," and Mr. Schriven touched a bell, and immediately the foreman appeared.
"Give this girl a place next Monday at the ribbon counter," he said, in the quick staccato tones of one who is absolute and saves time even in the utterance of words. "I also wish to see you two hours hence."
The man bowed, as if all were a matter of course, but when he was alone with Belle he said sharply, "You think you got ahead of me."
He would indeed have been the most malicious of dragons had not Belle's smiling face and frank words disarmed him.
"I did get ahead of you, and you know it, but you are too much of a man to hold a grudge against a poor girl who has her bread to earn. Now that I am under your charge I promise that I'll do my best to please you."
"Very well, then; we'll see. I'll have my eye on you, and don't you forget it."
Mrs. Jocelyn and Mildred laughed, sighed, and shook their heads over Belle's humorous account of her morning's adventure. They praised her motive, they congratulated her on her success, but her mother said earnestly, "My dear little girl, don't get bold and unwomanly. We had all better starve than come to that. It would wound me to the heart if your manner should ever cause any one to think of you otherwise than as the pure-hearted, innocent girl that you are. But alas! Belle, the world is too ready to think evil. You don't know it yet at all."
She knew it better than they thought. There was one phase of her interview with Mr. Schriven that she had not revealed, well knowing that her gentle mother would be inexorable in her decision that the shop must not even be entered again. The girl was rapidly acquiring a certain shrewd hardihood. She was not given to sentiment, and was too young to suffer deeply from regret for the past. Indeed she turned buoyantly toward the future, while at the same time she recognized that life had now become a keen battle among others in like condition.
"I don't intend to starve," she said to herself, "nor to bite off my own nose because the world is not just what mother and Millie think it ought to be. Papa would be inclined to break that man's head if I told him what he said and how he looked. But what would come of it? Papa would go to jail and we into the street. Unless papa can get up in the world again very fast, Millie and I shall find that we have got to take care of ourselves and hold our tongues. I hadn't been around with mamma one day before I learned that much. Mamma and Millie were never made to be working-women. They are over-refined and high-toned, but I can't afford too much of that kind of thing on three dollars a week. I'm a 'shop lady'--that's the kind of lady I'm to be--and I must come right down to what secures success without any nonsense."
In justice it should be said that Belle's practical acceptance of the situation looked forward to no compromise with evil; but she had seen that she must come in contact with the world as it existed, and that she must resolutely face the temptations incident to her lot rather than vainly seek to escape from them. Alas! her young eyes had only caught a faint glimpse of the influences that would assail her untrained, half-developed moral nature. Body and soul would be taxed to the utmost in the life upon which she was entering.
On the Sunday following Mr. Jocelyn slept so late that none of the family went to church. Indeed, since their old relations were broken up they scarcely knew where to go, and Mildred no more felt that she could return to the fashionable temple in which Mrs. Arnold worshipped than present herself at the elegant mansion on Fifth Avenue. The family spent the after part of the day in one of the most secluded nooks they could find in Central Park, and Mildred often looked back upon those hours as among the brightest in the shrouded past. Mr. Jocelyn gauged his essential stimulant so well that he was geniality itself; Belle was more exuberant than usual; Fred and Minnie rejoiced once more in flowers and trees and space to run. Mrs. Jocelyn's low, sweet laugh was heard again and again, for those who made her life were all around her, and they seemed happier than they had been for many a long, weary day. For a brief time at least the sun shone brightly through a rift in the clouds gathering around them.
Beyond the fact that Belle had found a place, little was said to Mr. Jocelyn, for the subject seemed very painful to him, and the young girl started off Monday morning in high spirits. The foreman met her in a curt, business-like way, and assigned her to her place, saying that the girl in charge of the goods would tell her about the marks, prices, etc. This girl and her companions received Belle very coldly, nor did they thaw out before her sunshine. As a matter both of duty and interest the young woman upon whom the task devolved explained all that was essential in a harsh, constrained voice, and the others ignored the newcomer during business hours. Belle paid no attention to them, but gave her whole mind to the details of her work, making rapid progress. "I'll have time for them by and by," she muttered, "and can manage them all the better when I know as much as they do."
She saw, too, that the foreman had his eye upon her and her companions, so she assumed the utmost humility and docility, but persisted in being told and retold all she wished to know. Since she observed that it was the foreman's eye and not good-will which constrained the cold, unsympathetic instruction received, she made no scruple in taxing the giver to the utmost.
When at last they went to the room in which they ate their lunch, the girls treated her as if she were a leper; but just to spite them she continued as serene as a May morning, either acting as if she did not see them or treating them as if they were the most charming young women she had ever met. She saw with delight that her course aggravated them and yet gave no cause for complaint.
As soon as permitted she hastened home, and was glad to lie down all the evening from sheer fatigue, but she made light of her weariness, concealed the treatment she had received from the girls, and the dejection it was beginning to occasion in spite of her courage; she even made the little home group laugh by her droll accounts of the day. Then they all petted and praised and made so much of her that her spirits rose to their usual height, and she said confidently, as she went to a long night's rest, "Don't you worry, little mother; I didn't expect to get broken in to my work without a backache."
The next day it was just the same, but Belle knew now what to charge for the ribbons, or, if she was not sure, the others were obliged, under the eye of the inexorable foreman--who for some reason gave this counter a great deal of attention--to tell her correctly, so she began to lie in wait for customers. Some came to her of their own accord, and they smiled back into her eager, smiling face.
In two or three instances her intent black eyes and manner seemed to attract attention and arrest the steps of those who had no intention of stopping. One case was so marked that the alert foreman drew near to note the result. An elderly lady, whose eye Belle had apparently caught by a look of such vivacity and interest that the woman almost felt that she had been spoken to, came to the girl, saying, "Well, my child, what have you that is pretty to-day?"
"Just what will please you, madam."
"YOU please me, whether your ribbons will or not. It's pleasant for a customer to be looked at as if she were not a nuisance," she added significantly, and in a tone that Belle's companions, with their cold, impassive faces, could not fail to hear. "You may pick out something nice for one of my little granddaughters."
Dimpling with smiles and pleasure, Belle obeyed. Feeling that the eye of the arbiter of their fates was upon them, the young women near might have been statues in their rigid attitudes. Only the hot blood mounting to their faces betrayed their anger. There was evidently something wrong at the ribbon counter--something repressed, a smouldering and increasing indignation, a suggestion of rebellion. So the foreman evidently thought, from his frequent appearances; so the floor-walker clearly surmised, for with imperious glances and words he held each one sternly to her duty. Belle was smiling
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