Jimmie found that it was with romance as with martyrdom—there was a lot of trouble about it which the romancers did not mention. He really felt quite dreadful, for he had a deep regard for this mother of his little ones, and he would not have made her suffer for anything. And she was right, too, he had to admit—her shots went deep home. “How’d you feel, if you was to find out I’d been walkin’ home with some man?” When it was put to him that way, he realized that he would have felt very badly indeed.
A flood of old emotions came back to him. He went in memory with his group of roystering friends to the house of evil where he had first met Elizabeth Huszar, pronounced Eleeza Betooser. She had taken him to her room, and instead of making herself agreeable in the usual way, had burst into tears. She had been ill-treated, and was wretchedly lonely and unhappy. Jimmie asked why she did not quit the life, and she answered that she had tried more than once, but she could not earn a living wage; and anyhow, because she was big and handsome, the bosses would never let her alone, and what was the difference, if you couldn’t keep away from the men?
They sat on the bed and talked, and Jimmie told her a little about his life, and she told about hers—a pitiful and moving story. She had been brought to America as an infant; her father had been killed in an accident, and her mother had supported several children by scrub-work. Lizzie had grown up in a slum on the far east side of New York, and she could not remember a time when she had not been sexually preyed upon; lewd little boys had taught her tricks, and men would buy her with candy or food. And yet there had been something in her struggling for decency; of her own volition she had tried to go to school, in spite of her rags; and then, when she was thirteen she had answered an advertisement for work as a nursemaid. That story had made an especial impression upon Jimmie—it was truly a most pitiful episode.
Her place of employment had been a “swell” apartment, with a hall-boy and an elevator—the most wonderful place that Lizzie had ever beheld; it was like living in Heaven, and she had tried so hard to do what she was told, and be worthy of her beautiful mistress and the lovely baby. But she had been there only two days when the mistress had discovered vermin on the baby, and had come to Lizzie and insisted on examining her head. And of course she had found something. “Them’s only nits!” Lizzie had said; she had never heard of anybody who did not have “nits” in their hair. But the beautiful lady had called her a vile creature, and ordered her to pack up her things and get out of the house at once. And so Lizzie had had to wait until she became an inmate of a brothel before anybody took the trouble to teach her how to get the “nits” out of her hair, and how to bathe, and to clean her finger-nails and otherwise be physically decent.