In the following week Rose learned that work was not to be had for the asking. Her love of pretty things and a desire to be independent of her father had occupied her mind to the exclusion of a consideration of what might be demanded of a girl seeking a position. She had no knowledge of stenography or bookkeeping; her handwriting was poor. Moreover, references from former employers were required and as she had never been employed, she was asked for recommendations from the principal of her school. These, of course, she could not supply. The stores of the better class had nothing to offer her except to put her name on the waiting-list.
Finally Rose secured a place in a second-rate establishment on Main Street. The work was hard; it necessitated long hours and continual standing on her feet. Rose was not rugged enough to accustom herself to the work all at once, and she was discharged. This disheartened her, but she kept on trying to find other employment.
One day in the shopping district, some one accosted her. She looked up to see a young man, slim, elegant, with a curl of his lips she remembered. He raised his hat.
"How do you do, Mr. Swann," she answered.
"Rose, are you on the way home?"
"Let's go down this side street," he said, throwing away his cigarette. "I've been looking for you."
They turned the corner. Rose felt strange to be walking alone with him, but she was not embarrassed. He had danced with her once. And she knew his friend Hardy Mackay.
"What're you crying about?" he said.
"You have been then. What for?"
"Come, tell me."
"I--I've been disappointed."
"What about?" He was persistent, and Rose felt that he must be used to having his own way.
"It was about a job I didn't get," replied Rose, trying to laugh.
"So you're looking for a job. Heard you'd been fired by old Hill. Gail told me. I had her out last night in my new car."
"I could go back to school. Miss Hill sent for me.... Was Bessy with you and Gail?"
"No. Gail and I were alone. We had a dandy time.... Rose, will you meet me some night and take a ride? It'll be fine and cool."
"Thank you, Mr. Swann. It's very kind of you to ask me."
"Well, will you go?" he queried, impatiently.
"No," she replied, simply.
"I don't want to."
"Well, that's plain enough," he said, changing his tone. "Say, Rose, you're in Clark's store, aren't you?"
"I was. But I lost the place."
"I couldn't stand on my feet all day. I fainted. Then he fired me."
"So you're hunting for another job?" inquired Swann, thoughtfully.
"Sorry. It's too bad a sweet kid like you has to work. You're not strong, Rose.... Well, I'll turn off at this corner. You won't meet me to-night?"
Swann pulled a gold case from his pocket, and extracting a cigarette, tilted it in his lips as he struck a match. His face wore a careless smile Rose did not like. He was amiable, but he seemed so sure, so satisfied, almost as if he believed she would change her mind.
"Rose, you're turning me down cold, then?"
"Take it any way you like, Mr. Swann," she replied. "Good day."
Rose forgot him almost the instant her back was turned. He had only annoyed her. And she had her stepfather to face, with news of her discharge from the store. Her fears were verified; he treated her brutally. Next day Rose went to work in a laundry.
And then, very soon it seemed, her school days, the merry times with the boys, and Bessy--all were far back in the past. She did not meet any one who knew her, nor hear from any one. They had forgotten her. At night, after coming home from the laundry and doing the housework, she was so tired that she was glad to crawl into bed.
But one night a boy brought her a note. It was from Dick Swann. He asked her to go to Mendleson's Hall to see the moving-pictures. She could meet him uptown at the entrance. Rose told the boy to tell Swann she would not come.
This invitation made her thoughtful. If Swann had been ashamed to be seen with her he would not have invited her to go there. Mendleson's was a nice place; all the nice people of Middleville went there. Rose found herself thinking of the lights, the music, the well-dressed crowd, and then the pictures. She loved moving-pictures, especially those with swift horses and cowboys and a girl who could ride. All at once a wave of the old thrilling excitement rushed over her. Almost she regretted having sent back a refusal. But she would not go with Swann. And it was not because she knew what kind of a young man he was--what he wanted. Rose refused from dislike, not scruples.
Then came a Saturday night which seemed a climax of her troubles. She was told not to come back to work until further notice, and that was as bad as being discharged. How could she tell her stepfather? Of late he had been hard with her. She dared not tell him. The money she earned was little enough, but during his idleness it had served to keep them.
Rose had scarcely gone a block when she encountered Dick Swann. He stopped her--turned to walk with her. It was a melancholy gift of Rose's that she could tell when men were even in the slightest under the influence of drink. Swann was not careless now or indifferent. He seemed excited and gay.
"Rose, you're just the girl I'm looking for," he said. "I really was going to your home. Got that job yet?"
"No," she replied.
"I've got one for you. It's at the Telephone Exchange. They need an operator. My dad owns the telephone company. I've got a pull. I'll get you the place. You can learn it easy. Nice job--short hours--you sit down all the time--good pay. What do you say, Rose?"
"I--I don't know--what to say," she faltered. "Thanks for thinking of me."
"I've had you in mind for a month. Rose, you take this job. Take it whether you've any use for me or not. I'm not rotten enough to put this in your way just to make you under obligations to me."
"I'll think about it. I--I do need a place. My father's out of work. And he's--he's not easy to get along with."
"I tell you what, Rose. You meet me to-night. We'll take a spin in my car. It'll be fine down the river road. Then we can talk it over. Will you?"
Rose looked at him, and thought how strange it was that she did not like him any better, now when she ought to.
"Why have you tried to--to rush me?" she asked.
"I like you, Rose."
"But you don't want me to meet you--go with you, when I--I can't feel as you do?"
"Sure, I want you to, Rose. Nobody ever likes me right off. Maybe you will, after you know me. The job is yours. Don't make any date with me for that. I say here's your chance to have a ride, to win a friend. Take it or not. It's up to you. I won't say another word."
Rose's hungry, lonely heart warmed toward Swann. He seemed like a ray of light in the gloom.
"I'll meet you," she said.
They arranged the hour and then she went on her way home.
The big car sped through River Park. Rose shivered a little as she peered into the darkness of the grove. Then the car shot under the last electric light, out into the country, with the level road white in the moonlight, and the river gleaming below. There was a steady, even rush of wind. The car hummed and droned and sang. And mingled with the dry scent of dust was the sweet fragrance of new-mown hay. Far off a light twinkled or it might have been a star.
Swann put his arm around Rose. She did not shrink--she did not repulse him--she did not move. Something strange happened in her mind or heart. It was that moment she fell.
And she fell wide-eyed, knowing what she was doing, not in a fervor of excitement, without pleasure or passion, bitterly sure that it was better to be with some one she could not like than to be alone forever. The wrong to herself lay only in the fact that she could not care.