“Shall I hit you just once more?” was Harlson’s query.
The man did not answer. The woman stood looking on curiously, but saying nothing. Harlson waited for a time, then told his assailant to go away; and the man picked up his hat and stumbled out upon the street.
The woman sat down again. It was some time before she spoke.
“You are strong, and will fight,” she said.
“I had nothing else to do.”
“Do you want to stay here?”
“It is better than the office floor.”
“Will you stay here?”
He hesitated. It was a turning-point in his life, and he knew it. There was something rather startling to him in it.
Then came the swift reflection: He wanted to know all of life. This was the under-life, the under-current, of which reformers prate so much and know so little. Why not be greater than they? Why not have been a part of it, and in time to come speak knowingly? He was but a part of this world, as accident had made it. He hoped if the world wagged well to be a protector for certain weak ones. It was a world wherein immediate brute force told. Well, he could supply that easily enough. And what would he not learn? He would learn the city, the ignorance of which had resulted in his being hungry—he, a young man college-bred, and with some knowledge of Quintilian’s crabbedness, or the equations of X and Y in this or that or the Witch of Agnesi. And were not these people part of the world, and was not this life something of which he ought to know the very heart?
Still, there were relations of things to be considered. There were people at home, and it would not do.
Then, just as he turned to refuge the woman who sat looking at him, the curtains parted again and a face appeared. It was the face of a woman, not of the world about him. It was some accident, some sinister, unexampled happening, which had brought the face to the surroundings. It gave to the wavering man a new idea of this world of shame and sin, and it may have been the deciding ounce.
The really ugly duckling.
He turned, to the woman across the table: “All right; I will stay.”
I am but telling the story of a man of whose life from this time for two years I know but little. He was always reticent about these years, yet always said he had no occasion to regret them. With the life’s outlines, though, with what it really was, aside from details, I became, in a degree, familiar.
What does the average person in one class know of the life in another? There are “classes,” certainly, with great bars between them here, though this is a republic, and all men and women are supposed to be free and equal and alike in most things. There are lower and wider grades of existence, such that the story of them may never be told save in patch-work or by inference, yet which have as full a history, and where there are loves and hates and hopes and despairs as deep as are ever felt in the mass where the creed-teachers and Mrs. Grundy and the legislatures are greater factors.