THE Junior Partner had leaned back in his chair and listened to the conversation that was being carried on behind him. Something in the girl's voice made him think she was deliberately lying, and he had considered her exceptionally truthful–for a girl.
"I am taking treatment from the specialist, Dr. Newton," she said. "I can do the work as well as ever when my eyes are a little better."
The head of the firm laughed.
"When you can do the work as well as ever," he said, "come back and I'll give you the position, Miss Wells."
He did not see the tragedy in the girl's face as she left the office, but the junior partner was more observant.
He was quite young, the junior partner, and had not yet been able to interest himself very deeply in, the routine of the office. Perhaps this accounts for his subsequent action. Or perhaps the fact that the girl was unusually handsome accounts for it. He thought that he was acuated solely by altruism, but the motives that prompt even our best strangely mixed.
He picked up a paper-weight on his desk, turned it over thoughtfully for a few minutes, and then followed Miss Wells. She was standing in the hall waiting for the elevator. She turned her face away as he came near, but he had seen that there were tears in her eyes and his dread of a scene weakened his resolve. He went on to another office.
A week or two later when he had almost forgotten the incident he was walking down the street with Dr. Newton when he noticed that the girl walking rather slowly in front of them was Miss Wells.
"Isn't that a patient of yours?" he asked the doctor.
"No, not now," the doctor said. "I treated her a little, a few months ago, but I soon saw that her case was incurable."
"Do you mean that she will be blind?"
"I do, and in two or three months, I suppose. Certainly not longer than that. Rather sad case, too. Supporting a mother or grandmother. She asked me about some home for old ladies where she can put her when her sight fails."
"But what will she do for herself?"
"I don't know. She didn't ask my advice on that point. I recommended an institution where I know they are well cared for–the old ladies. The entrance fee is five hundred dollars. I might have saved her sight if she had stopped work when I first began treating her. It's a shame," he added hotly. "This damnable competitive systems works its human machines like the others, until they are-worn out, and then throws them on the scrap heap."
Dr. Newton was a Socialist.
"A business firm is not a charitable institution," the younger man said. "A man can work a stenographer like Miss Wells just so long as he can make a profit off her labor, no longer."
"That is why the system should be changed," the doctor said. "Because it is impossible to practice the Golden Rule until it is changed."
The girl had turned down a side street and disappeared.
"I don't know about the Golden Rule," the young man said, "but something shall be done. That girl worked for us three years and earned more than we paid her most of the time." When he reached the office he looked up her address and that evening found him in her shabby little flat with his check book in his pocket.
Her mother, who had opened the door, retired from the scene as American mothers of all classes usually do when their daughters receive callers.
The girl was evidently glad to see him, perhaps she thought they needed her at the office.
"Miss Wells," the young man said, "Dr. Newton told me today of your misfortune. You have been in our employ so long and have rendered such efficient service, that I have taken the liberty of calling to see if there is any service we can render you now."
"I want nothing but a chance to work," the girl said, coldly. "If you can give me my old position I shall be very grateful."
"Dr. Newton told me that you should not be allowed to do such work."
"I know it, but I must earn a little more. Let me work only two or three months longer," she pleaded.
"I cannot do it," he said decidedly. "I should feel like a criminal. But we shall be very glad to pay you the three months wages now, if you will accept it–for your mother's sake," he added hastily, seeing that she was about to refuse, "and if you wish to consider it a loan, you may repay it whenever it is convenient."
"I can not take it," the girl said, slowly, "for I know I can never repay you."
"Miss Wells," the young man said earnestly, "you worked for us three years, and until the last few months you were the most trustworthy and efficient of all our corps of stenographers. There was never a day that you did not earn all you received. Most of the time you earned double your salary. For your mother's sake you must not be absurd. This is not charity. It is not even justice. It is only a poor, partial attempt at justice. You must take it as the payment of a debt–a debt of honor."
He had made out a check as he spoke and now he rose and laid it in her lap.
"Are you sure," he asked, "that this is enough?"
"It is more than enough. How can I thank you?"
"Don't thank me, please," he interrupted brusquely, "it makes me see how small I am. This is enough, I understand, for your mother. What will you do for yourself?"
She looked down at the check without replying for a moment.
"Have you a place for yourself?" he persisted.
"Yes," she answered, evenly, "I have a place. Oh, yes, I have a place. I was only worried about mother."
Two days afterward he read the end of the incident in the evening paper, dished up with the usual menu of murders, divorces and races, for the delectation of the public.
"GIRL STENOGRAPHER SUICIDES. Out of work and almost blind. Secured a home for invalid mother before taking fatal step." These were the headlines. Underneath he read the ghastly details.