It was but characteristic of Harlson that, in the midst of all this test of endurance of a certain sort, he should do what deprived him of all chance of greater ease and greater vantage-ground with time expended out of the line he had established. One of his old college friends, guessing, perhaps, his real condition, came to him with an offer of what was more than a fair income, if he would teach one of the city’s high-schools. The hungry fellow only laughed, and said that was not on his programme. He still went hungry and grew more shabby in appearance, and then came to him what was, perhaps, a sear upon his life—perhaps what broadened, educated, and made him wiser.
The strange world.
One night Harlson, with a great appetite, as usual,—for he had not eaten since his scant breakfast,—went out to get his supper. It was not dinner, for he never, at that time, dined. He had in his pocket twenty cents. The next day he would get his usual weekly stipend. He would spend fifteen cents, he thought, upon his supper, then return to the office to sleep, and would have five cents remaining for the morning meal. That would do to buy buns with, and he would endure what stomach clamor might come until evening, when he would be a capitalist, and riot in all he could eat, even though he doubled a cheap order.
So he reasoned, as he went down the garish street, and looked right and left for some new restaurant, for he chanced to want a change. One’s love for cheap restaurants is not perpetual. A mild illuminated sign over a small building attracted his attention. It had the aspect of what would be cheap, but clean.
Harlson entered the place and found what he had looked for. There was the small front room with scattered tables, the partition at the back, reaching but half way to the ceiling, with the usual curtained door, and there was no one in the room. He took a seat beside one of the tables and there waited. He had not long to wait. The curtains parted and a woman entered. The woman who came into the room was possibly thirty-five years of age. She was strong of frame, though not uncouth, and had keen, laughing gray eyes, heavy eyebrows and chestnut hair. She was a half jaunty, buxom amazon, with a brazen, comrade look about her, and was evidently the proprietress of the place. She came to where Harlson was seated and asked him what he wished to eat. The patron of this restaurant was studying the bill of fare intently. He wanted to get what was, as Sam Weller says, “werry fillin,” at the price, and yet he had certain fancies. He looked up at the woman and said, bluntly:
“I have only fifteen cents to spend. What would you advise for the money?”
For the first time the eyes of the two met. Harlson was interested in the fraction of a second. In the fraction of a second he knew that it was not a restaurant pure and simple that he had entered, for he had learned much already in the city. The woman who looked at him was not merely the proprietress of a place where food was sold.