WHAT POVERTY THREATENED--OF GRANITE AND BRASS
Minnie's flat, as the one-floor resident apartments were
being called, was in a part of West Van Buren Street
families of labourers and clerks, men who had come, and
still coming, with the rush of population pouring in
at the rate
of 50,000 a year. It was on the third floor, the front
looking down into the street, where, at night, the lights
grocery stores were shining and children were playing.
the sound of the little bells upon the horse-cars, as
tinkled in and out of hearing, was as pleasing as it
She gazed into the lighted street when Minnie brought
the front room, and wondered at the sounds, the movement,
murmur of the vast city which stretched for miles and
Mrs. Hanson, after the first greetings were over, gave
baby and proceeded to get supper. Her husband asked a
questions and sat down to read the evening paper. He
silent man, American born, of a Swede father, and now
employed as a cleaner of refrigerator cars at the stock-yards. To him the
presence or absence of his wife's sister was a matter
indifference. Her personal appearance did not affect
him one way
or the other. His one observation to the point was concerning
the chances of work in Chicago.
"It's a big place," he said. "You can get in somewhere
in a few
days. Everybody does."
It had been tacitly understood beforehand that she was
work and pay her board. He was of a clean, saving disposition,
and had already paid a number of monthly instalments
on two lots
far out on the West Side. His ambition was some day to
house on them.
In the interval which marked the preparation of the meal
found time to study the flat. She had some slight gift
observation and that sense, so rich in every woman--intuition.
She felt the drag of a lean and narrow life. The walls
rooms were discordantly papered. The floors were covered
matting and the hall laid with a thin rag carpet. One
that the furniture was of that poor, hurriedly patched
quality sold by the instalment houses.
She sat with Minnie, in the kitchen, holding the baby
began to cry. Then she walked and sang to it, until Hanson,
disturbed in his reading, came and took it. A pleasant
his nature came out here. He was patient. One could see
was very much wrapped up in his offspring.
"Now, now," he said, walking. "There, there," and there
certain Swedish accent noticeable in his voice.
"You'll want to see the city first, won't you?" said
they were eating. "Well, we'll go out Sunday and see
Carrie noticed that Hanson had said nothing to this. He
be thinking of something else.
"Well," she said, "I think I'll look around tomorrow.
Friday and Saturday, and it won't be any trouble. Which
the business part?"
Minnie began to explain, but her husband took this part
conversation to himself.
"It's that way," he said, pointing east. "That's east."
Then he went off into the longest
speech he had yet indulged in,
concerning the lay of Chicago.
"You'd better look in those big manufacturing houses along
Franklin Street and just the other side of the river," he concluded.
"Lots of girls work there. You could
get home easy, too. It isn't very far."
Carrie nodded and asked her sister about the neighbourhood.
latter talked in a subdued tone, telling the little she
about it, while Hanson concerned himself with the baby.
he jumped up and handed the child to his wife.
"I've got to get up early in the morning, so I'll go to
off he went, disappearing into the dark little bedroom
hall, for the night.
"He works way down at the stock-yards," explained Minnie,
he's got to get up at half-past five."
"What time do you get up to get breakfast?" asked Carrie.
"At about twenty minutes of five."
Together they finished the labour of the day, Carrie washing
dishes while Minnie undressed the baby and put it to
Minnie's manner was one of trained industry, and Carrie
that it was a steady round of toil with her.
She began to see that her relations with Drouet would
have to be
abandoned. He could not come here. She read from the
Hanson, in the subdued air of Minnie, and, indeed, the
atmosphere of the flat, a settled opposition to anything
conservative round of toil. If Hanson sat every evening
front room and read his paper, if he went to bed at nine,
Minnie a little later, what would they expect of her?
that she would first need to get work and establish herself
paying basis before she could think of having company
sort. Her little flirtation with Drouet seemed now an
"No," she said to herself, "he can't come here."
She asked Minnie for ink and paper, which were upon the
mantel in the dining-room, and when the latter had
gone to bed at ten, got
out Drouet's card and wrote him.
"I cannot have you call on me here. You will have to wait
you hear from me again. My sister's place is so small."
She troubled herself over what else to put in the letter.
wanted to make some reference to their relations upon
but was too timid. She concluded by thanking him for
kindness in a crude way, then puzzled over the formality
signing her name, and finally decided upon the severe,
with a "Very truly," which she subsequently changed to
"Sincerely." She scaled and addressed the letter, and
the front room, the alcove of which contained her bed,
one small rocking-chair up to the open window, and sat
out upon the night and streets in silent wonder. Finally,
wearied by her own reflections, she began to grow dull in her
chair, and feeling the need of sleep, arranged her clothing
for the night and went to bed.
When she awoke at eight the next morning, Hanson had gone.
sister was busy in the dining-room, which was also the
room, sewing. She worked, after dressing, to arrange
breakfast for herself, and then advised with Minnie as
way to look. The latter had changed considerably since
seen her. She was now a thin, though rugged, woman of
seven, with ideas of life coloured by her husband's,
hardening into narrower conceptions of pleasure and duty
than had ever been hers in a thoroughly circumscribed
youth. She had
invited Carrie, not because she longed for her presence,
because the latter was dissatisfied at home, and could
get work and pay her board here. She was pleased to see
her in a
way but reflected her husband's point of view in the
work. Anything was good enough so long as it paid--say,
dollars a week to begin with. A shop girl was the destiny
prefigured for the newcomer. She would get in one of
shops and do well enough until--well, until something
Neither of them knew exactly what. They did not figure
promotion. They did not exactly count on marriage. Things
go on, though, in a dim kind of way until the better
eventuate, and Carrie would be rewarded for coming and
the city. It was under such auspicious circumstances
started out this morning to look for work.
Before following her in her round of seeking, let us look
sphere in which her future was to lie. In 1889 Chicago
peculiar qualifications of growth which made such adventuresome
pilgrimages even on the part of young girls plausible.
and growing commercial opportunities gave it widespread
which made of it a giant magnet, drawing to itself, from
quarters, the hopeful and the hopeless--those who had
fortune yet to make and those whose fortunes and affairs
reached a disastrous climax elsewhere. It was a city
500,000, with the ambition, the daring, the activity
metropolis of a million. Its streets and houses were
scattered over an area of seventy-five square miles.
population was not so much thriving upon established
commerce as upon the industries which prepared for
the arrival of others.
The sound of the hammer engaged
upon the erection of new structures was everywhere
heard. Great industries were moving in. The huge railroad
corporations which had long before recognised the prospects
of the place had seized upon vast tracts of land for
transfer and shipping purposes. Street-car lines had
extended far out into the open country in anticipation
growth. The city had laid miles and miles of streets
through regions where, perhaps, one solitary house stood
alone--a pioneer of the populous ways to be. There were
open to the sweeping winds and rain, which were yet lighted
throughout the night with long, blinking lines of gas-lamps,
fluttering in the wind. Narrow board walks extended out,
here a house, and there a store, at far intervals, eventually
ending on the open prairie.
In the central portion was the vast wholesale and shopping
district, to which the uninformed seeker for work usually
drifted. It was a characteristic of Chicago then, and
generally shared by other cities, that individual firms
pretension occupied individual buildings. The presence
ground made this possible. It gave an imposing appearance
most of the wholesale houses, whose offices were upon
the ground floor and in plain view of the street.
The large plates of window glass, now so common, were
then rapidly coming into use, and gave to the ground
floor offices a distinguished and prosperous look.
The casual wanderer could see as he passed a polished
array of office fixtures, much frosted glass, clerks hard
at work, and genteel businessmen in "nobby" suits and clean linen
lounging about or sitting in groups. Polished brass or nickel
signs at the square stone entrances announced the firm and the
nature of the business in rather neat and reserved terms.
The entire metropolitan centre possessed a high and mighty
calculated to overawe and abash the common applicant,
and to make the gulf between poverty and success seem
both wide and deep.
Into this important commercial region the timid Carrie
walked east along Van Buren Street through a region of
importance, until it deteriorated into a mass of shanties
coal-yards, and finally verged upon the river. She walked
bravely forward, led by an honest desire to find employment
and delayed at every step by the interest of the unfolding
scene, and a sense of helplessness amid so much evidence
of power and force which she did not understand. These
vast buildings, what were they? These strange energies
and huge interests, for what purposes were they there?
She could have understood the meaning of a little
stone-cutter's yard at Columbia City, carving little pieces
of marble for individual use, but when the yards of some huge
stone corporation came into view, filled with spur tracks and
flat cars, transpierced by docks from the river and traversed overhead
by immense trundling cranes of wood and steel, it lost all
significance in her little world.
It was so with the vast railroad yards, with the crowded
RETURN | FORWARD
vessels she saw at the river, and the huge factories
way, lining the water's edge. Through the open windows
she could see the figures of men and women in working
aprons, moving busily about. The great streets were
wall-lined mysteries to her; the vast offices, strange
mazes which concerned far-off individuals
of importance. She could only think of people connected
them as counting money, dressing magnificently, and riding
carriages. What they dealt in, how they laboured, to
what end it
all came, she had only the vaguest conception. It was
all wonderful, all vast, all far removed, and she
sank in spirit inwardly and fluttered feebly at the
heart as she thought of entering any one of these
mighty concerns and asking for something todo--something
that she could do--anything.