“Yes, ma’am,” he said, with mock submissiveness, “it looks like I do just that.”
Hilda went back into the room, and presently she and Ruth emerged and went out of the building. That day began their acquaintance, which was to expand into a friendship very precious to both of them—and one day to be the rod and staff that sustained Ruth and kept her from despair.
Hilda Lightener represented a new experience to Ruth. Never before had she come into such close contact with a woman of a class she had been taught to despise as useless and worse than useless. Even more than they hated the rich man Ruth’s class hated the rich man’s wife and daughter. Society women stood to them for definite transgressions of the demands of human equality and fairness and integrity of life. They were parasites, wasters, avoiding the responsibilities of womanhood and motherhood. They flaunted their ease and their luxuries. They were arrogant. When their lives touched the lives of the poor it was with maddening condescension. In short, they were not only no good, but were flagrantly bad.
The zealots among whom Ruth’s youth had lain knew no exceptions to this judgment. All so-called society women were included. Now Ruth was forced to make a revision. ... All employers of labor had been malevolent. Experience had proven to her that Bonbright Foote was not malevolent, and that a more conspicuous, vastly more powerful figure in the industrial world, Malcolm Lightener, was human, considerate, respectful of right, full of unexpected disturbing virtues. ... Ruth was forced to the conclusion that there were good men and good women where she had been taught to believe they did not exist. ... It was a pin-prick threatening the bubble of her fanaticism.
She had not been able to withhold her liking from Hilda Lightener. Hilda was strongly attracted by Ruth. King Copetua may occasionally wed the beggar maid, but it is rare for his daughter or his sister to desire a beggar maid’s friendship.
Hilda did not press Ruth for confidences, nor did Ruth bestow them. But Hilda succeeded in making Ruth feel that she was trustworthy, that she offered her friendship sincerely. ... That she was an individual to depend on if need came for dependence. They talked. At first Hilda carried on a monologue. Gradually Ruth became more like her sincere, calm self, and she met Hilda’s advances without reservation. ... When Hilda left her at her home both girls carried away a sense of possessing something new of value.
“Don’t you come back to the office to-day,” Hilda told her. “I’ll settle dad.”
“Thank you,” said Ruth. “I do need—rest. I’ve got to be alone to— think.” That was the closest she came to opening her heart.
She did have to think, though she had thought and reasoned and suffered the torture of mental conflict through a nearly sleepless night. She had told Bonbright to come on this day for her answer. ... She must have her answer ready. Also she must talk the thing over with Dulac. That would be hard—doubly hard in the situation that existed.