THE CONQUEST OF CENTROPOLIS
Centropolis wasn’t a very big town, but it had a wide, well paved street lined with stores, and a pleasant variety of gravel roads winding round hills that had neat and fairly prosperous-looking houses scattered over them. A rather dignified old court-house among the big trees of the Square proclaimed the place a county seat. It was a warm April day; the grass was green and the little leaves already were bursting out on the shrubbery.
Rose’s idea was to stroll about a little and get her bearings first, and then go into one store after another on Main Street until she should find a job. She had no serious misgiving that she wouldn’t get one eventually; before night, this was to say.
Her confidence sprang from two sources: one, that though inexperienced she knew she was intelligent, willing and attractive. People, she found, were apt to be disposed in her favor. The other source of her confidence was that she wasn’t looking for much. She would take, for the present, anything that offered. Because any sort of work, even menial work, would be a relief after that nightmare tour. The weeks since she had left Chicago, especially the last two or three of them, seemed unreal, and the incidents of them as if they couldn’t have happened. Anything that didn’t involve associations with that detestable company, and the unspeakable piece they had played, would seem—well, almost heavenly. If she couldn’t get a job in a store, she’d go and be a waitress at the hotel. She could make a pretty good waitress, she thought.
But her confidence was short-lived. She cut short her ramble about the streets because of the stares she attracted, and the remarks about herself that she couldn’t ignore. Young men shouted at each other directing attention to her with a brutality of epithet that brought the blood to her cheeks. During all the time she had had that room on Clark Street in Chicago, through their rehearsals and that month of performances, she’d gone alone about the streets at all sort of hours, both in the theatrical part of the loop and in the district where she lived, without any molestation whatever. The small towns that she had visited with the company had been different of course. She’d been stared at in the streets and not infrequently addressed. She’d forgiven that because she was a member of the company. It was natural enough for people to stare at a girl they’d paid to see on the stage the night before, or were going to see to-night.
Now she discovered that the company had been an immense protection to her; had accounted for her, caused her to be taken, to a certain extent, for granted. The wild beast that comes to town with the circus, though an object of legitimate curiosity, does not excite the hostile and fearful speculation that he would if he were left behind after the circus had gone.
People got together in groups and nodded at her, pointed at her. A few of them leered, but more of them scowled. There seemed to be a sense of outrage that she hadn’t left the town when the rest did.