The Girl in the Crowd
Girl in the Crowd
by Albert Payson Terhune
STRETCH an invisible cord knee-high across the sidewalk at Broadway and Forty-second Street, and in five minutes a hundred prettier girls than Daisy Reynolds will stumble over it. (A hundred homelier girls too, for that matter!)
Daisy was just the Girl in the Crowd. Look down the aisle of your subway—or surface—or L-car on the way home to-night, and you will see her. You will see her by the dozen.
But you will not observe her, unless you look hard. She is not the type of girl to make you murmur fatuously: “Gee, but I wish she was my stenographer!” Nor is she the sort that excites pity for her plainness. She is—yes, my term “the Girl in the Crowd” best fits her.
For three years, after she left high school, Daisy occupied twenty-eight inches of space along one of the two sides of a room whose walls were wainscoted in honeycombed metal. At shelves in front of the honeycombing sat double lines of girls with ugly steel appliances over their frizzed or lanky hair. Their hands were ever flitting from spot to spot in the perforated wainscoting, deftly shifting plugs from hole to hole.
An excrescence, like a misshapen black-rubber lily, jutted forth from the wall facing each girl. Into these lily-mouths the damsels were wont to croon such airy sentiments as these:
“Schuyler 9051 don’t answer. —Yes, I’m ringing Aud’bon 2973. —Beekman 4000 is busy. —I’ll give you Inf’mation. —’Xcuse it, please. —No’m, I didn’t cut you off. What number was you talking to? —Schuyler 4789 is still busy. —It’s just twelve-forty-two, by the c’rect time. —Number, please.”
Up and down the double rank marched a horribly efficient woman who discouraged repartee and inter-desk conversation. The long room buzzed with the rhythmic droning of fifty voices and with the purring of countless plugs clicked into innumerable sockets.
To end, once and for all, the killing suspense, the room wherein Daisy Reynolds toiled for the first three years of her business career was a telephone-exchange.
And at the three years’ end, she was assigned to the job of day-operator at the Clavichord Arms.
THE pay at the hotel was no larger than at the exchange; but there was always the possibility of tips, and the certainty of Christmas-money. Besides, there were chances to rest or to read between calls. On the whole, Daisy rejoiced at the change—as might a private who is made corporal.
The Clavichord Arms is a glorious monument to New York’s efforts at boosting the high cost of living. The building occupies nearly a third of a city block, in length and depth, and it towers to the height of nine stories. Its façade and main entrance and cathedral-like lobby are rare samples of an architecture whose sacred motto is, “Put all your goods in the show-window.”
When the high cost of living first menaced our suffering land, scores of such apartment-houses sprang into life, in order that New Yorkers might do their bit toward the upkeep of high prices. Here, at a rental ranging from fifteen hundred to five thousand dollars a year, one may live in quarters almost as commodious as those for which a suburbanite or smaller city’s dweller pays fifty dollars a month.
And nobly did New York rally to the aid of the men who sought thus to get its coin. So quickly did the new apartments fill with tenants that more and yet more and more such buildings were run up.
Men who grumbled right piteously at the advance of bread from five to six cents a loaf eagerly paid three thousand dollars a year for the privilege of living in the garish-fronted abodes, and they sneered at humbler friends who, for the same sum, rented thirty-room mansions in the suburbs.
And this, by prosy degrees, brings us back to Daisy Reynolds.
THE CLAVICHORD ARMS’ interior decorator had used up all his ingenuity and his appropriation before he came to the cubby-hole behind the gilded elevators—the cubby-hole that served as the telephone-operator’s quarters. The cubby-hole was airless, windowless, low and sloped of ceiling, calcimined of wall, and equipped with no furniture at all except the switchboard-desk, a single kitchen chair, one eight-candle-power electric light and an iron clothes-hook.
Here, for eight hours a day, sat Daisy Reynolds. Here, with stolid conscientiousness, she manipulated the plugs, that the building’s seventy tenants might waste their own and their friends’ time in endless phone-chats.
It was dull and uninspiring and lonely in the dark cubby-hole, after the lights and the constant work and companionship of the Exchange. There was much more leisure, too, than at the Exchange.
Daisy at first tried to enliven this leisure by reading. She loved to read; book of magazine—it was all the same to Daisy, so long as the hero and heroine at last outwitted the villain and came together at the altar.
But there are drawbacks to reading all day—even to reading union-made love stories, by eight-candle-power light and with everlasting interruption from the switchboard. So Daisy, by way of amusement, began to “listen in.”
“Listening in” is a plug-shifting process whereby the telephone-operator may hear any conversation over the wire. In some States, I understand, it is a misdemeanor. But perhaps there is no living operator who has not done it. In some private exchanges it is so common a custom that the cry of “Fish!” warns every other operator in the room that a particularly listenable talk is going on. This same cry of “Fish” is an invitation for all present to listen in.
(Yes, your telephonic love-talk, your fierce love-spats and your sacredest love-secrets have been avidly heard—and possibly repeated—again and again, by Central. Remember that, next time. When you hear a faint click on the wire during your conversation,—and sometimes when you don’t,—an operator is pretty certain to be listening in.)
At first Daisy was amused by what she heard. The parsimonious butcher-order of the house’s richest woman, the hiccoughed excuses of a husband whom business detained downtown, the vapid chatter of lad and lass, the scolding of slow dressmakers, the spicy anecdotes told by half-hour phone-gabblers—all these were a pleasant variation on the day’s routine. But at last, they began to pall. And just as they waxed tiresome—romance began.
THE voice in Apartment 60—a clear voice, girlish and vibrant—called up 9999-Z Worth. And Worth 9999-Z replied in a tone that fairly throbbed with eager longing. That was the beginning. Shamelessly—soon rapturously—Daisy Reynolds listened in.
The voice in Apartment 60 belonged to a girl named Madeline. And Worth 9999-Z (whose first name, by the way, was Karl) spoke that foreign-sounding name Madeline as though it were a phrase of hauntingly sweet church-music. He and Madeline had known each other, it appeared, for some months; but only recently had they made the divine discovery of their mutual love. It was then that the phone-talks had begun—the talks that varied in number from three to seven a day, and in length from three to thirty minutes.
Always, now, promptly at nine o’clock in the morning, Karl called up his sweetheart. And always, an hour or so later, she called him up for a return-dialogue. Their talk was not mushy; it was beautiful. It thrilled with a love as deathless as the stars, a love through whose longing ran a current of unhappiness that Daisy could not understand.
Daisy grew to live for those talks. They became part of her very life—the loveliest part. She was curt, almost snappish, when other calls interfered with the bliss of listening-in. More than once she shamelessly broke off the connection when Madeline chanced to be talking to some old bore at a time when Karl sought to speak to her.
Karl, it seemed, was a downtown business man. As scientists reconstruct an entire fossil animal from a single bone of its left hind leg, so Daisy Reynolds built up a vision of Karl from his deep and powerful voice. He was tall, slender, graceful, yet broad of shoulder and deep of chest. Brown curls crisped above his white Greek forehead. His eyes were somber yet glowing. His age was from twenty-eight to thirty. He dressed like a collar advertisement.
Madeline was still easier to reconstruct, from her voice. She too was tall. She was willowy and infinitely graceful—gold-brown of hair, dark blue of eye, with soft-molded little features and long jetty lashes. With such a voice, she could not have been otherwise.
Daisy gathered from their earlier talks that Madeline’s family disapproved the match. She even learned, from something Karl said, that there was another suitor—one Phil—on whom the family smiled and whom Madeline cordially detested. Once or twice, too, Phil called up Apartment 60. He had a husky voice and spoke brief commonplaces. Madeline answered him listlessly and still more briefly. But he seldom phoned to her. And she never, by any chance, phoned to him.
SO the ardent, tenderly melancholy love-story wore on. The lovers would make appointments for clandestine meetings—would speak in joyous retrospect of luncheons or motor-drives of the preceding day. Evidently, Madeline’s cruel family kept stern watch upon her movements. Daisy used to smile in joyous approval at the girl’s dainty cleverness in outmaneuvering them and meeting her sweetheart.
Ever through the glory of their love ran that black thread of melancholy. Apparently all the glad secret meetings and the adoring phone-talks could not make up to them for the family’s opposition. Daisy had to bite her lips, sometimes, to keep from breaking in on the conversation and demanding:
“Why don’t you two run off and get married? They’d have to come around, then. And if they didn’t, why should you care?”
To a girl cooped up alone all day in a stuffy cubby-hole, imagination is ten times stronger than to the girl whose thoughts can be distracted by outside things. To Daisy, immured in her dim-lighted cupboard behind the elevators, this romance of Karl and Madeline was fast becoming the very biggest thing in her drab life.
These two lovers were as romantic, as poetical, as yearningly adoring as Romeo and Juliet. Karl was as desperately jealous as Othello or as the hero of one of Laura Jean Libbey’s greatest books. Madeline was the Captive Maid come to life again. Oh, it was all very, very wonderful!
Then came the day of jarring disillusionment, a day which Daisy followed by sobbing until midnight on her none-too-soft boarding-house bed, three blocks to westward.
PROMPTLY at nine that morning, as usual, Karl called up Apartment 60.
“Sweetheart,” he joyfully hailed Madeline, “I’ve just bought the new car. It’s a beauty. And you’re going to be the very first person to ride in it—to consecrate it.”
“That’s darling of you!” replied Madeline in evident delight. “I’d rather ride in a wheelbarrow with you than in a Rolls-Royce with—with—”
“With Phil?” asked Karl almost savagely.
“With anybody,” she evaded. “Tell me more about the car. Is it—”
“I’m not going to tell you,” he refused. “I’m going to show it to you instead. Here’s my idea: I’ll knock off work at noon and bring the car uptown. I’ll meet you at the subway kiosk at half-after twelve; we can run up to the Arrowhead to lunch, and then on up to the Tumble Inn for—”
“But I can’t, dear—I can’t!” expostulated Madeline. “Don’t you remember? I told you I have to lunch with Phil and those people from Buffalo, at the Knickerbocker; at one o’clock. Oh, dear! I wish I didn’t have to. But I—”
“Phone him you're sick,” urged Karl. “I’ve set my heart on christening the new car this way.”
“I could get away to-morrow—” she began.
“But I can’t,” he said. “I’ve a directors’ meeting at three. Oh, come along to-day, Beautiful! Tell Phil you’re sick and—”
“And have him come rushing up here, in a fidget, for fear I’m going to die?” she suggested. “That is just what Phil would do. No, dear, I—”
“Then tell him you don’t want to lunch with him,” urged Karl, losing patience as a man will when some babyishly cherished woman-plan of his is upset. “Tell him you have to go to your sister’s or—”
“I can’t, Karl!” she declared; and she added, beseechingly: “Don’t be unreasonable, dear boy. Please don’t. And don’t be cross; it makes me so unhappy when you are. You know how hard I try to do everything you want me to—and how glad I am to. But I can’t get out of this luncheon. Phil especially wants me to be there. These Buffalo people are old friends of his.”
“Why should you have to go there, just because he wants you to?” demanded Karl, far more crankily than ever Daisy had heard him speak. “Why do you? You aren’t his slave.”
“No,” returned Madeline, her own temper beginning to fray, “but I am his wife. You seem to forget that.”
“I don’t forget it half as often as you do!” flashed Karl.
At which brutally truthful reply, the receiver of Apartment 60’s wire clanked down upon its hook. Nor could all of Karl’s repeated efforts bring Madeline back to the telephone.
DAISY REYNOLDS slumped forward upon the switchboard desk, her face in her hands, her slim body a-shake. She felt as though her every nerve had been wrenched. She was sick all over. This, then, was the wondrous romance in which she had reveled. This was the melancholy, beauteous love-story which had become part of her own colorless life! A vulgar intrigue between a married woman (not a wife, but a married woman—Daisy now realized the difference between the two) and a man not her husband!
The iridescent bubbles of romance burst into thinnest air. Daisy was numb with the horror and disgust of it all. Even of old she had fastidiously refused to listen in when another girl’s merry cry of “Fish!” had told that some such illicit dialogue was on the wire. And now, for weeks, she had been raptly listening to just such talks.
She loathed herself for the silly bubbles she had blown. Their lovely sheen was miasmic slime. They were filled with foul gases. A great shame possessed Daisy Reynolds.
Next morning Daisy came to work swollen-eyed from futile crying over the death of her dreams, and dull-headed from too little sleep. Half an hour later, promptly at nine, Karl called up Apartment 60.
Daisy’s hand trembled as she made the connection. She hated herself for listening in. Yet from morbid fascination she did it.
“Darling!” was Karl’s remorsefully passionate greeting as Madeline answered the phone-bell’s summons. “I’m so sorry! So horribly sorry! I spoke rottenly to you yesterday. Wont you forgive me? Please do!”
“Please don’t let us speak about it,” began Madeline stiffly.
Then her shell of offendedness collapsed, and she went on with a break in her sweet voice.
“Oh, I’m so glad you called up! I was so afraid you wouldn’t. And I was going to try so hard not to phone to you. But I knew I’d do it—I knew I would—if you didn’t call me first. I’ve been terribly unhappy, dear.”
“You’ve had nothing on me, in that,” he made answer. “I haven’t slept all night, thinking how I spoke to you. It was our first quarrel. And it was all my fault.”
“It wasn’t,” she contradicted chokily. “It was all mine. I shouldn’t have been hurt by what you said about my forgetting so often that—”
“Don’t, dear,” he begged. “Don’t! It was a rotten thing for me to say.”
“It was—it was true,” she replied, her voice quavering as she fought back the tears. “But you told me yourself that you don’t blame me. You know what my life with him has been, from the very beginning. And till I met you I used to wish I were dead. Oh, you can’t blame me for forgetting him, for—for you!”
“You’re an angel!” he declared. “I’m not fit to touch your hand. But my love for you is the only thing there is in my life. And it’s brought me the only happiness I ever knew. I used to think I’d like to kill myself if it weren’t for my mother. And now you’ve given me something—everything—to live for. I love you so, Madeline! Are you sure you’ve forgiven me?”
“Forgiven you?” she echoed. “Why, Karl, I love you.”
Yes, the reply was banal enough. But the tone was not, nor was the wordless exclamation of worship with which Karl received it. And to her own self-disgust Daisy felt a stir of answering emotion in her own breast.
Just then she was required to connect Apartment 42 with the market, and at once afterward to put through a long-distance call for the building’s superintendent. And when next she sought to listen in, Karl and Madeline were finishing their talk. All Daisy could catch was Madeline’s childish query:
“Can’t we please try out the new car to-morrow, if the directors’ meeting is going to keep you this afternoon?”
And he answered gayly:
“To blue blazes with the directors! We’re going to Tumble Inn to-day, you and I, sweetheart—even if New York doesn’t get a stroke of business done south of Canal Street all afternoon. Good-by. You'll be sure to call me up later, wont you?”
DAISY sat back in her wabbly chair to take mental account of stock. She was amazed at herself—amazed, and a bit displeased, though not as much so as she could have wished. All her ideas and ideals seemed to be as wabbly as the kitchen chair she sat in. Woman-like, she straightway began to justify herself. True, an hour earlier, she had been filled with contempt for these two. Equally true, she was now irresistibly drawn to them again—which most certainly called for a reason; so she supplied the reason:
Madeline had been forced into a marriage, in mere childhood, with a man she did not love. And had she not said, “You know what my life with him has been, from the very beginning?” That alone told the story—the heartbreaking story of neglected wifehood, of ill-treatment, of a starved soul.
Who was Daisy to blame this pathetic young wife if she had at last let love into her heart after years of bondage to a brute? Daisy recalled Phil’s husky voice. From it she built up a physique that was a blend of Simon Legree’s and Falstaff’s, with a tinge of Bill Sikes. And, her moral sense deserting her, she realized that right or wrong she was steadfastly on the side of the lovers.
During the days that followed, she listened in again, with all her old-time hero-and-heroine-worship. Now she understood the strain of melancholy in these two people’s love. It was the hopelessness of that love which made them so sad, in the midst of their stolen happiness.
Once, in a free moment, Daisy slipped from her cubby-hole and into the superintendent’s office, to ask for a stronger light-bulb. There on the wall hung a typed list of the house’s tenants. Stealing a glance at it while the superintendent’s back was turned, Daisy ran her eye down the list until she came to the number she wanted:
- Apartment 60—Mr. and Mrs. Philip Caleb Vanbrugh.
Caleb! Yes, that was the sort of middle name her ugly-tempered clod of a husband would have been likely to own. The names Madeline and Caleb could no more blend than could violets and prunes. Doubly, now, Daisy’s heart was with the lovers.
One qualm, only, marred her sympathy. From the fact that Karl always spoke of Vanbrugh by his first name, the men apparently were friends. And to woo one’s friend’s wife is black vileness. Even Daisy knew that. So she readjusted matters in her elastic mind, and decided the men were merely close business acquaintances, and that friendship did not enter into their relations. Daisy felt better about it, after that—much better.
ONE morning when Daisy connected the wire for the lovers and prepared for her daily feast of listening in, a sharp whir from another apartment in the house drew her back to earth. In her nervous haste to make the new connection and get back to her listening, she awkwardly knocked out a plug or two. Absent-mindedly she readjusted them, trying meantime to catch what the second caller was trying to say to her.
This caller was a fussy woman in Apartment 12, who first wanted to know the correct time and then asked for a wire to Philadelphia. A full minute elapsed before Daisy could get back to the lovers. And as she turned again to their talk, she realized with a guilty start that in the mix-up of the various plugs she had left the switch open.
Have you ever called up a telephone-number and been let in on a conversation already going on between the person you called up and somebody else? It gives one an absurdly guilty feeling. And it means the switch has carelessly been left open, so that anybody calling up can tap the wire. That is the condition in which Daisy had chanced to leave the switch to Apartment 60. Eagerly she stretched forth her hand to repair the error. As she did so, three sentences struck her ear. They were spoken in quick succession by three people—as follows:
“Good-by, darling,” said Karl. “I’ll be there at one.”
“Good-by, boy dear,” answered Madeline. “I'll call you up again before then.”
“Who in hell are you?” bellowed a third and huskier voice. “And what do you mean by calling my wife darling?”
Click! All three wires were shut off by one lightning swirl of Daisy’s fingers.
SHE sat aghast. The third voice had most assuredly been Phil’s—Philip Caleb Vanbrugh’s. What had she done? What hadn’t she done? Then she became aware of a buzzing call.
“Clavichord Arms,” she said primly in reply as she sought to rally her shaky nerves.
“That the house operator?” harshly demanded the husky voice. “I called up my apartment-—-Apartment 60—a minute ago, and my wife was talking over the phone. What number was she talking to?”
“What apartment did you say?” asked Daisy.
“Apartment 60 hasn’t had a call this morning,” solemnly answered Daisy, her throat tightening under the grip of outraged conscience. “Nor it hasn’t sent in one, either.”
“I’d swear that was my wife’s voice,” growled the man. “I couldn’t place the man’s. But it was my wife’s, all right. And—”
“It may ’a’ been Sarah Bernhardt’s voice, for all I know,” snapped Daisy. “But it didn’t come from Apartment 60. Not any calls have been turned in from there since I came on.”
“You’re sure?” he asked in sour doubt.
“You can look at my slip here on the desk,” pertly retorted Daisy. “All the calls are marked on that.”
“No,” said the man slowly, “I wont do that—because, if you’ve lied, you wouldn’t be past altering the slip. What I’m going to do is to ask the building’s superintendent for an itemized list of all the calls from my apartment for the past month or two. He’s obliged to furnish it on demand. That ought to tell me something.”
HE hung up. Daisy sat gasping. Before her mental gaze ranged the memory of forty-odd calls a month to Worth 9999-Z. Then she came to a decision. Out into the marble-lined hallway she went. There she corralled the second elevator-boy and bribed him with twenty-five cents to take charge of the switchboard for a few minutes. A moment or so later, a colored maid was ushering her into Apartment 60.
In the middle of a garish living-room stood Daisy, trying desperately to think straight. The curtains parted, and a woman came into the room. Daisy blinked at her in bewilderment—then said:
“I should like to speak to Mrs. Vanbrugh, please. It’s very important.”
“I’m Mrs. Vanbrugh,” answered the woman, eying the girl with curiosity.
“I mean Mrs. Madeline Vanbrugh,” faltered the girl.
“I am Mrs. Madeline Vanbrugh,” was the answer, and now Daisy recognized the voice, “—Mrs. Philip C. Vanbrugh. What can I do for you?”
Daisy could not answer at once. Around her dumfounded head the bubbles were bursting like a myriad Roman-candle balls.
This woman framed in the doorway was Madeline—her Madeline? This woman whose dumpy figure was swathed in a bedraggled negligee that had once been clean! This woman whose scalp was haloed by a crescent of kid-curlers that held in hard lumps her brass-hued front hair! This woman with the hard, light eyes and sagging mouth-lines and beaklike nose—this woman whose face was sallow and coarse, because it had not yet received its daily dress of make-up! This—this was Madeline!
“What can I do for you?” the woman was saying for the second time, her early air of curiosity merging into one of dawning hostility.
“I am the switchboard operator downstairs,” said Daisy faintly.
A LOOK of terror that had all along lurked in the hard eyes now sprang to new light.
“What do you want of me?”
“I want to tell you your husband heard the last part of your phone-talk just now,” returned Daisy conscientiously, though her heart was no longer in her mission of rescue. “He called me up about it. I—”
“You told him?” blithered the woman in panic.
“I told him your apartment hadn’t had a call all morning.”
“You did?” cried the woman, her sweet voice sharpening to a peacock-screech of relief. “Good for you! Good for you! And you were perfectly right to come directly up here for your pay. What do you think would be fair reward? Don’t be afraid to say. You've done me a great service, and—”
“I don’t understand you,” stammered Daisy. “I don’t understand you at all. If you think I did this for money—”
“My dear,” laughed the woman nervously, “we do everything for money. So you needn’t be ashamed. We don’t always say it’s for money. But it is. That’s why I got into this scrape. My husband is the stingiest man in New York. He pretends his business is on such a ragged edge that he can’t give me any extra cash. But I know better. That’s why I let myself get interested in Mr. Schreiner. He is a widower, and he has more money than he can—”
“Oh!” cried Daisy in sick horror.
“So he'll make it good to you for all that you’ve done for us,” prattled on the woman, without noticing. “He’ll—”
“That isn’t why I came up here!” broke in Daisy angrily. “And I don’t want your filthy money, either. I wont touch it. I came up here to warn you that your husband is going to—”
THE buzz of the flat’s front-door bell interrupted her. The woman, too, turned nervously to look. They heard the maid fumble with the knob. Then some one brushed past the servant and into the living-room.
The intruder was a chunky and yellowish man, of late middle years—incredibly bald of head and suspiciously black of eyebrows. He caught sight of Mrs. Vanbrugh, who chanced to be standing between him and Daisy. And he exclaimed:
“I jumped into a taxi and hustled here, as soon as I left the phone. I didn’t dare call up again. Do you suppose he recognized me?”
Yes, the voice was indubitably the voice of Karl. But the fat and elderly swain was in anything but a loverly mood. He was a-quake with terror. Beads of sweat trickled down on his brows and mustache. His yellowish complexion was blotchy from fear. He was not a pretty sight.
Daisy by this time should have been past surprise. Yet her preconceived vision of Karl—of young, athletic, hero-featured Karl—died hard and in much and sudden pain. Poor Daisy! Until he spoke, she had mistaken him for the husband.
“If he knew my voice,” babbled the man, “we’re up against it. I’d better get out of town for a while, I suppose. Maybe he—”
“Don’t worry!” interposed Madeline acidly. “You wont have to run away from town and leave me to face it all. This girl has gotten us out of it. She is the operator downstairs. Phil called up and asked her all sorts of questions. And she told him the apartment hadn’t had a call all morning. Isn’t she a brick?”
A sound like the exhaust of an empty soda-siphon broke from between Karl’s puffy lips—a sound of pure if porcine reaction from dread.
“Good girl!” he croaked, still hoarse with recent fright. “Dandy girl!”
He sought to pat Daisy approvingly on the shoulder with one pudgy hand. She recoiled.
“How much?” he asked jovially, not observing the stark repulsion in her face and gesture as she shrank away. “How much, little girl? You’ve done a mighty big stroke of business this day. What do you say I owe you? Or will you leave it to me to do the right thing by you?”
He juggled a bloated wad of bills from his trousers pocket as he spoke. And at his motion something in Daisy’s taut brain seemed to snap.
THE girl did not “see red.” She saw only two fat and greasy creatures who thought she was as vile as they—who took it for granted that she had done this thing to extort a rich tip from them, for covering up their sin. And wrath gave her back her momentarily lost power of speech.
“Oh!” she cried in utter loathing, “you’d dare pay me for trying to help you? If I’d known what you both are, all the money in New York wouldn’t have gotten me to lift a finger for you. You horrible—”
“There, there, my dear!” oilily soothed Karl. “You're a little bit excited. Calm down and tell us how much—”
“Tf you don’t want pay,” shrilled Madeline, “what did you come here for?”
“What did I come here for?” echoed Daisy, white with rage. “To make a fool of myself, of course. To warn you that your husband is going to get the call-lists for the past month from the super, and find out from them what numbers you’ve been calling up. That’s—”
“Good Lord!” gabbled the woman in crass horror.
Karl’s fat jaw dropped upon his fatter throat. He tried to speak. He could only gargle.
“That’s why I came here!” finished Daisy, striding past them toward the door. “To warn you. And now I’ve done it. Your husband’s liable to be streaking back home any minute now. And I’m going. And if either of you says any more about money, I’ll—”
She was making for the outer door. But for all her start, Karl reached it three lengths ahead of her. He banged it shut after him as he darted out. Through the panel Daisy could hear him ringing frantically for the elevator.
Daisy was following, when a choking sound made her turn back. The woman still stood in the middle of the living-room. Her hard, light eyes were dark and dilated. Her sallow face was haggard and ghastly. Yet her features were unmoved. There was about her bearing and expression a certain hopeless courage that lent dignity to the squat figure.
DAISY hesitated—then turned back into the room. The woman stared dully past her toward the doorway through which Karl had vanished. She acknowledged the girl’s presence by muttering, in a curiously dead voice, more to herself than to Daisy:
“Men are queer animals, aren’t they? He has sworn to me, time and again, that he’d stand by me to the end.”
“Yes,” assented Daisy in perfect simplicity, “I’ve heard him say it to you myself—twice.”
“He’s gone,” went on the woman in that same dead voice so unlike her own. “He’s gone. And I’m left to hold the bag. I—I think I’m cured. There are worse things than a husband who loves you—even if he can’t give you all the money you want to spend. Phil would never have run away like that, from anything—not that the lesson is likely to do me any good, now.”
“Here!” exclaimed the girl, shaking the dazed Madeline roughly by the shoulder. “I’m going to get you out of this. I don’t know why, but I am. Maybe I’ve a bill of my own to pay, as well as you have. We’ve all done some learning to-day, I guess. And learning isn’t on the free-list.”
“Go to the phone right away,” commanded Daisy, “and call up the super. Tell him you’ve got to see him, up here, in a hurry. Act scared. Tell him it can’t wait a single minute. Get him up here. That’s the main thing. Then—then tell him you want new faucets in the bathroom. Or tell him anything at all. Do as I say. Jump! There isn’t much time to waste. Hubby’s sure to be hotfooting it home. And when hubby comes, deny everything. Deny! And keep on denying. He wont have any proof, remember that. He'll have no proof. Pay for the lie by being a whole lot decenter to him, forever-after-amen.”
MOVING away from the dumfounded woman, Daisy bolted out of the flat and was lucky enough to catch a down-going elevator. She reached the ground floor just as the building’s perplexed superintendent came to the shaft on his way to answer Madeline’s urgent summons.
Into the superintendent’s deserted office sped Daisy. Going directly to his unlocked desk, she rummaged feverishly amid its drawers until she found what she wanted.
Crumpling and pocketing the telephone-sheets for the past two months, she crossed to the file cabinet, hunted through a stack of dusty papers and drew forth the sheaf of penciled telephone-slips for the preceding year.
Selecting from these the slips for the two corresponding months, she put back the rest of the sheaf. Then, changing with eraser and pencil the date of the year on the two slips she had abstracted from the cabinet, she put them in the drawer. After which, feeling oddly weak about the knees, she started out of the office.
At the door she almost collided with the returning superintendent. Vexed at having been called upstairs in such haste on an utterly trivial errand, he very naturally wreaked his ill-temper on the first subordinate he chanced to meet—which was Daisy.
“What are you doing away from your switchboard?” he snarled. “I wont stand for any loafing. Get that into your mind, once and for all. What did you want in here, anyhow?”
“I came in to see you, sir,” was the girl’s demure reply.
“What do you want of me?” he rasped.
“I wanted to tell you I’m leaving here to-morrow,” said Daisy. “I’m going back to work at the Exchange. I’m lonesome on this job. There aren’t enough things happening at the Clavichord Arms. It’s too slow—not enough excitement for a live wire like me. That's all, sir.”
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1942, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.