When Marie returned to her home, she
found that her father had died. It made little
difference, practical or otherwise, to her or to her
mother, except to make her stay in the house less
dangerous, though quite as irksome, as formerly.
Her mother had, of course, reproached her bitterly
for her conduct in running away, and had kept up her
complaint so constantly that Marie could hardly endure
her home even for the night and early morning.
So for that reason, as well as for the need of making
her living, Marie went again into service, going quickly
from one job to another in the city.
And now there came for her a period
of wildness, in the ordinary sense of the word.
It was not the simple joys of her Kenilworth experience.
She had returned to her mother’s home in a kind
of despair. It seemed to her as if the innocent
pleasures of life were not for her. She had been
torn away from her happiness and had been compelled
to go back to conditions she hated. Her passions
were strong and her seventeen-year-old senses were
highly developed by premature work and an irritating
and ungenial home. So, in a kind of gloomy intensity,
she let herself go in the ordinary way of unguarded
young girlhood. She gave herself to a young fellow
she met in the street one evening, without joy but
with deep seriousness. She did not even explain
to him that it was her first experience. She
wanted nothing from him but the passionate illusion
of sex. And she parted from him without tenderness
and without explanations, to take up with other men
and boys in the same spirit of serious recklessness.
She had for the time lost hope, and therefore, of
course, care for herself, and her intense and passionate
nature strove to live itself out to the limit:
an instinct for life and at the same time for destruction.
From this period of her life comes
a story which she wrote for me, and which I quote
as being typical of her attitude and as throwing light
on her personality.
“The Southwest corner of State
and Madison Streets is the regular rendezvous of all
sorts of men. They can be seen standing there
every afternoon and evening, gazing at the surging
crowd which passes by. One sees day after day
the same faces, and one wonders why they are there,
for what they are looking. Some of these men have
brutal, sensual faces; others are cynical-looking
and sneer. These, it seems, nothing can move
or surprise. They have a look which says:
’Oh, I know you, I have met your kind before.
You do not move me, nothing can. I have tried
everything, there is nothing new for me.’
And yet they cannot tear themselves away from this
corner, coming day after day and night after night,
hoping against hope for some new adventure.
“Others stand there like owls,
stupidly staring at the rushing tide of faces.
They see nothing, and yet are seemingly hypnotised
by the panorama of life. Here, too, pass the
girls with the blond hair and the painted faces; they
ogle the men, and as they cross the street raise their
silken skirts a trifle, showing a bit of gay stocking.
Here, too, is the secret meeting-place of lovers,
who clasp hands furtively, glancing around with stealth.
All this is seen by the sensual men, who glance enviously
at the lovers, and by the cynical men whose cold smiles
seem to say: ’Bah! how tiresome! wait, and
your silly meetings will not be so charming!’
“On my evenings off I had sometimes
stopped to gaze at this, to me, strangely moving sight.
I saw in it then what I could not have seen a few
months before; but not as much as I can see now.
Then it excited me with the sense of a possible adventure.
Strange, but I never went there when I was happy,
only when I was uncommonly depressed.
“On a chilly Sunday evening
in October I was waiting on this corner to take a
car to the furnished room of a factory girl, named
Alice, whom I knew was out of town. As I was
out of a job and did not want to go home, I had availed
myself of her place for a few days. As I was waiting
on this corner, I saw a face in the crowd that attracted
me. It was, as I afterward learned, the face
of a club man, who had, on this Sunday evening, drifted
with the crowd and landed at this spot. He, too,
had stopped and gazed around him, idly. Several
times he started as if to move on, but he apparently
thought this place as good as any other, and so remained.
He seemed not to know what to do, to be tired of himself.
His face was quite the ordinary American type, clean-cut
features, rather thin and cold, with honest grey eyes,
but, in his case, a mouth rather sensuous and a general
air of curiosity and life which interested me.
“I was sufficiently interested
to allow several cars to pass by, while I watched
him. I noticed by the way he looked at the women
who passed that he was familiar with their kind.
Several gay girls tried to attract his attention,
but he turned away, bored. Finally I began to
walk away, and then for the first time his face lighted
up with interest. I was apparently something
new. I wore a straw hat, and a thin coat buttoned
tightly about my chest. My thin little face was
almost ghastly with pallor, and it made a strange
contrast with my full red lips, which were almost
scarlet, and my big glowing black eyes. He probably
saw that I was poor, dressed as I was at that season.
Why is it that for many rich men a working girl half
fed and badly dressed is so much more attractive than
a fine woman of the town or a nice lady?
“As I passed him, he said, ‘Good
evening,’ in a low and timid tone, as if he
thought I surely would not answer. I think it
surprised him when I looked him full in the face and
replied, ‘Good evening!’ He still hesitated,
until he saw in my face what I knew to be almost an
appealing look. I knew that in the depths of
my eyes a smile was lurking, and I wanted to bring
it forth! A moment later, I smiled indeed, when
he stepped forward, lifted his hat, and asked with
assurance: ’May I walk with you? Are
you going anywhere?’
“‘Yes, I am going somewhere,’
I said, smiling. ’To a meeting place in
Adams Street to hear a lecture.’
“‘Oh, I say, girlie,’
he cried, ’You’re jollying. That must
be a very dull thing for you, a lecture.’
funny,’ I said. But I did not say much about
it, as I had never yet been to a lecture. I made
up for that later in my life! I of course had
no intention of going to this.
“‘Come,’ he urged,
’let’s go in somewhere and have something
to eat and drink.’
“’Yes, I will have something,
not to eat, though, but let us go where there are
lots of people and lights and all that sort of thing,’
I finished, vaguely.
“Charley tucked my arm in his
and we walked along State Street until we came to
a brilliantly lighted cafe. The place was crowded
with well-dressed men and beautiful women, eating
and drinking, chatting and laughing. Waiters
were hastening to and fro. An orchestra was playing
gay music, as we wound our way through the crowd to
a table. I was painfully conscious that my shabby
coat and straw hat attracted attention. Some
of the women stared at me with a look of conscious
superiority in their eyes, others with a look of still
more galling pity. Charley, too, I thought, seemed
nervous. Perhaps he did not relish being seen
by some possible acquaintance with so dilapidated-looking
“But soon I lost consciousness
of these things and gave myself up to the scene and
the music. My sense of pleasure seemed to communicate
itself to my companion, who ordered some drinks; I
don’t know what they were, but they tasted good some
kind of cordial. I took longer and longer sips:
it was a new and very pleasant flavour. He ordered
more of the same kind and watched me with interest
as I drank and looked about me.
“‘Oh,’ I said, ’what
beautiful women, and how happy they are! look at that
one with the blond hair. Isn’t she beautiful,
a real dream?’
“Charley replied in a tone of
contempt: ’Yes, she’s beautiful, but
I would not envy her, if I were you neither
her happiness nor her good looks. She needs those
looks in her business. Nearly all the women here
belong to her class.’
“Charles looked at me intently
as he said this. Perhaps he thought I would be
angry because he had brought me to such a place.
But I watched the girls with even greater interest
and said: ’Ah, but they must be happy!’
“Charles shrugged his shoulders
and said, with contempt and some pity in his eyes,
‘A queer sort of happiness!’
“I looked at him rather angrily.
He did not seem just to me.
“‘You don’t like
them,’ I said, ’you think they are vile
and low. But you men seem to need them, just
the same. Oh! I think they are brave girls!’
“Charles looked at me in apparent
astonishment. But then a thought seemed to strike
him. He was thinking that I might be one of that
class, for he asked me questions which showed me plainly
enough what he was worrying about. He encouraged
me to drink again, and said with a self-confident
laugh, ’you’re a cute one but you cannot
fool me with any such tricks.’
“I paid no attention to his
remarks, and did not answer any of his personal questions.
He could find out nothing about me. I would only
smile and say, ’I don’t want to know anything
about you, why can’t you treat me the same way?’
“I could see that the less he
knew, the more interested he became. He plied
me with drinks, perhaps thinking that the sweet liquor
would loosen my tongue. Soon I began to feel
a little queer and the room began to go round, taking
with it the faces of the men and women. After
this dizziness passed, I felt very happy indeed, and
smiled at everybody in the room; and wanted to go
and tell them all how much I liked them. But
I did not dare trust my legs, they felt so heavy.
I thought I would like to stay there always, listening
to the music and watching the people.
“I suppose my happiness heightened
my colour, for Charles said, ’what a beautiful
mouth you have, what red lips. One would almost
believe they were painted. How your upper lip
lifts when you smile, Marie! Don’t you
want to go out now?’
“‘Yes, yes,’ I replied, hastily,
‘I must go home now.’
“I sprang from my chair, I made
for the door, but he, quickly seizing his hat, followed
me and took my arm. I went very slowly for my
feet seemed weighted. They were inclined to go
one way, while I went another. So when Charles
led me I was quite thankful. As we went out into
the street he asked me where I was living, what I
did, and if I were married, all in one breath.
This made me laugh merrily, as I assured him I was
not married. I told him I lived away out on the
West Side and that he could see me home, if he wanted;
but not to, if it was out of his way, for I was used
to going alone. He eagerly accepted, and we took
“I fell dreaming on the way,
of all nice things. The days in Kenilworth came
back to me and I smiled to myself and wistfully hoped
my present happiness would last. My companion
eagerly devoured me with his eyes, and asked me many
pressing questions. I answered only very vaguely,
for my mind was full of other things. So finally
Charles, too, was silent, and merely watched me.
“Suddenly I woke to the fact
that I was at Alice’s room, so I hastily arose
and signalled to the car to stop. Turning to Charles
I extended my hand in a good-bye and said: ‘This
is where I live.’ But he quickly got off
with me saying he would see me to the house. ’I
don’t like to leave you alone this time of night,’
he said. As we stopped in front of the dilapidated-looking
frame building where I was staying for a few days,
he seemed much embarrassed and not to know what to
say. Pointing upwards, I said, ‘that’s
where I live.’ ‘Do you live alone?’
he asked. ‘Yes, now, not always. Good
night Charles,’ I answered, mischievously,
but with a real and disturbing feeling taking possession
“But he seized me by the hand:
‘Don’t leave me yet, girlie,’ he
pleaded. ‘Think how lonesome I’ll
be when you are gone!’ He drew me to him in
the darkness, and I did not object, why should I?
My lips seemed to prepare themselves and after one
long kiss that sad intensity seized me; and I sighed
or sobbed, I don’t know which, as we went up
the stairs together.
“An hour later, as he was about
to descend the stairs, I said: ’Charles,
when will you come again?’
“‘Oh, I can’t tell,’ he replied
‘but it will be soon.’
“‘Well,’ I said,
’remember I shall be here only a few days.
Alice will be back within the week. Come Wednesday
“But he left with the remark
that it might not be possible! I did not care
for him deeply, of course, it was only an adventure,
but this stung me deeply. The light way he took
what he wanted and then seemed to want to have no
tie remaining! I felt as he did, too, really,
but I did not want him to feel so! I imagined
in what a self-satisfied mood he must be, how he walked
off, with his lighted cigar! He probably wondered
what sort of a girl this was who had given herself
so easily? Partly, too, no doubt, he laid it
to his charm and masculine virtue: though he knew
women were weak creatures, he also knew that men were
strong! Ah! I could almost hear him muse
aloud, in my imagination. His reveries, perhaps,
would run about like this:
“’I was rather lucky to
happen along this evening! She was certainly
worth while, though pretty weak, I must say. She
had fine eyes and, by jove, what a mouth! She
said, “Wednesday.” I think I will
go, though it is never good policy to let girls be
too sure of you. Besides, how do I know she isn’t
playing me some game?’
“I didn’t know as much
then as I do now about man’s nature, but now
I make no doubt that as the time passed between then
and Wednesday Charles’s desire grew: it
began with indifference, but ended, I am sure, with
intensity: for men are like that! Their fancy
works in the absence, not in the presence, of the
girl. I am sure the girl with the red lips and
the deep dark eyes haunted him more and more as time
“At the time, I didn’t
know just why, but I did know that I wanted nothing
more of Charley. He had never been anything but
a man to me he was a moment in my life,
that was all. But I decided to meet him, for
only in that way could I really finish the affair.
Otherwise, if I merely broke the engagement, he could
imagine whatever he wanted to account for it.
No, he must be under no illusion. He must know
that I did not want him!
“I waited for him in front of
the house, and on the appointed hour he arrived, looking
very happy and eager. He greeted me with much
warmth, to which I responded coldly. He suggested
going inside, but I said: ’No, I am going
away. I have been waiting here to tell you so,
in case you came to-night.’
“‘But,’ he exclaimed
in an aggrieved tone, ’Did not you ask me to
come, and now you say you are going away. Is
that fair to me?’
“I shrugged my shoulders and
said, ’I don’t know, but I’m going.
Good-bye,’ and I turned from him and started
to walk away. His tone changed to anger, as he
said: ’Now, see here, Marie, I won’t
stand for any nonsense of this kind. You can’t
treat me like this, you know. What right have
you to act in this lying way?’
“I had been walking away and
he following, and as he stopped talking, he took my
arm, which I jerked away and impatiently said:
’Well, to be frank, I don’t want you to-night.
Whether I have a right to act so, I don’t know
or care. Why I asked you to come I don’t
know, unless it was because I felt different from
what I do now.’
“Charles adopted a more conciliating
tone and asked me when he might come. His interest
in me seemed to grow with my resistance.
“‘I guess you’d better not come
at all,’ I said, coolly.
“‘But I want to,’ he said.
‘Do name the night, any night you say.’
“Then I turned to him with angry
eyes, and cried out, ’Oh, how stupid you are!
Don’t you understand that I don’t want
you at all?’
“I again started to walk away,
but he seized my arm and shouted angrily: ’You
cannot leave me like this without explaining some things
to me. In the first place, why did you pull me
on last Saturday night, and who are you to turn me
down like this?’ I answered, with flashing eyes,
’I owe you no explanation, but I will answer
your questions. As to who the girl is who can
dare to turn you down, you know very well she is not
what you think, or you wouldn’t so much object
to being turned down, as you call it. As to pulling
you on, you were the first to speak or, at any rate,
it was mutual, so you need not demand any explanation.
What you really want to know is why I don’t
want you now. If I were a man like you, I suppose
I should never even think of explaining to anyone why
I happened to change in feeling toward some persons,
but as I’m a woman, it’s different.
I must explain!’
“This speech I have no doubt
made him angry, but his pride came to the rescue and
he said with a show of indifference: ’I
was angry, it is true, but only for a moment.
It was irritating to me to have a girl like you show
the nerve to throw me down; for I’m not accustomed
to associate with your sort.’
“At this insolence my face flushed
hotly and I opened my mouth to make some indignant
reply, but I thought better of it and only walked away,
laughing softly to myself. As I went away, I heard
him mutter, ’What a cat.’
“But, I imagine, he didn’t
forget me so easily. I have no doubt that the
girl with the red lips and deep dark eyes haunted him
for a long time. Who was this girl who had given
herself to him once and only once? It is this
kind of a mystery that makes a man dream and dream
and curse himself.
“Probably for some time, as
he joined the crowd at State and Madison Streets,
he hoped to see me as I passed, but all things come
to an end and his passion for me did, no doubt, too.
But, in the routine course of his club life, moments
came, perhaps, when he thought of little Marie, her
red lips, deep eyes, and pale, pale face. I doubt
if he ever told this story to any of his boon companions.”