“Not yet,” proclaimed Nan. “But we would like to find a couple of girls who, I think, came to Chicago for that purpose.”
“Hi! them two I was tellin’ you about?”
“Their folks want ’em back?” asked the street child, abruptly.
“I should say they did!” cried Bess.
“Ain’t they the sillies!” exclaimed Inez. “Catch me leavin’ a place where they didn’t beat me too much and where the eats came reg’lar.”
“Oh!” again ejaculated Bess.
Just then a little boy, more ragged even than their guide, approached. At once Inez proceeded to shove him off the sidewalk, and when he objected, she slapped him soundly.
“Why, goodness me, child!” cried the astonished Nan, “what did you do that for? Did he do anything to you?”
“Nope. Never seen him before,” admitted Inez. “But I pitch into all the boys I see that I’m sure I can whip. Then they let me alone. They think I’m tough. These boys wouldn’t let a girl sell a flower, nor a newspaper, nor nothin’, if they could help it. We girls got ter fight ’em.”
“The beginning of suffragism,” groaned Nan.
“I never heard of such a thing!” Bess cried. “Fighting the boys—how disgraceful!”
Inez stared at her. “Hi!” she finally exclaimed, “you wouldn’t make much if you didn’t fight, I can tell ye. When I see a boy with a basket of posies, I pull it away from him and tear ’em up. Boys ain’t got no business selling posies around here. That’s a girl’s job, and I’m goin’ to show ’em, I am!”
Nan and Bess listened to this with mingled emotions. It was laughable, yet pitiful. Little boys and girls fighting like savages for a bare existence. The chums were silent the rest of the way to the old brick house—just a “slice” out of a three-story-and-basement row of such houses, which Inez announced to be “Mother Beasley’s.”
“Sometimes she’s got her beds all full and you hafter wait for lodgin’s. Mebbe she’ll let you camp in her room, or in one of the halls up-stairs.”
“Oh, but, my dear, we don’t wish to stay!” Nan said. “Only to eat here and inquire about those other girls.”
“Where’ ye goin’ to stop?” asked Inez, curiously.
“We have friends out by Washington Park,” Bess said. “They’d have met us, only there was some mistake in the arrival of our train.”
“Hi! Washington Park?” exclaimed the flower-seller. “Say, you must be big-bugs.”
Nan laughed. “I guess they are,” she said.
“Youse won’t be suited with Mother Beasley’s grub,” said the girl, hesitating at the basement steps.
“I believe she’s right,” Bess said faintly, as the odor of cooking suddenly burst forth with the opening of the door under the long flight leading to the front door of the house.
“I’ve eaten in a lumber camp,” said Nan, stoutly. “I’m sure this can’t be as hard.”