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 When I asked Alice when I should see her again she suggested the following Tuesday or Thursday, asking me not to say anything to C——. I had not been calling on her more than a week or two before she confessed that there was another suitor, a telegraph operator to whom she was engaged and who was still calling on her regularly. When she came to our house to spend Christmas, she said, it was with no intention of seeking a serious , though in order not to embarrass the sense of opportunity we boys might feel she had taken off her engagement ring. Also, she confessed to me, she never wore it at the store, for the reason that it would create talk and make it seem that she might leave soon, when she was by no means sure that she would. In short, she had become engaged thus early without being certain that she was in love.  
Never were happier hours than those I spent with her, though at the time I was in that state of unrest and change which most youths who are endeavoring to discover what they want to do in life. On Christmas day my job was gone and the task of finding another was before me, but this did not seem so grim now. I felt more confident. True, the manager of the had told me to call after the first of the year, and I did so, but only to find that his suggestion of something important to come later had been merely a to secure eager and service for his bureau. When I told him I wanted to become a reporter, he said: “But, you see, I have nothing to do with that. You must see the managing editor on the fourth floor.”
To say this to me was about the same as to say: “You must see God.” Nevertheless I made my way to that floor, but at that hour of the morning, I found no one at all. Another day, going at three, so complete was my ignorance of newspaper hours, I found only a few uncommunicative individuals at widely desks in a room labeled “City Room.” One of these, after I had asked him how one secured a place as a reporter, looked at me quizzically and said: “You want to see the city editor. He isn’t here now. The best times to see him are at noon and six. That’s the only time he gives out assignments.”
“Aha!” I thought. “‘Assignments’—so that’s what reportorial work is called! And I must come at either twelve or six.” So I away, to return at six, for I felt that I must get work in this great and fascinating field. When I came at six and was directed to a man who over a desk and was evidently very much concerned about something, he exclaimed: “No . Nothing open. Sorry,” and turned away.
So I went out and more overawed than ever. Who was I to attempt to venture into such a wonderland as this—I, a collector by trade? I doubt if any one ever explored the mouth of a cave with more feeling of . It was all so new, so wonderful, so mysterious. I looked at the polished doors and marble floors of this new and handsome newspaper building with such a feeling as might have an Ethiopian slave examining the walls and the doors of the temple of Solomon. How wonderful it must be to work in such a place as this! How shrewd and wise must be the men whom I saw working here, able and successful and comfortable! How great and interesting the work they did! Today they were here, writing at one of these fine desks; tomorrow they would be away on some important mission somewhere, taking a train, riding in a Pullman car, entering some great home or office and interviewing some important citizen. And when they returned they were congratulated upon having discovered some interesting fact or story on which, having reported to their city editor or managing editor, or having written it out, they were permitted to retire in comfort with more compliments. Then they resorted to an excellent hotel or restaurant, to refresh themselves among interested and interesting friends before retiring to rest. Some such hodge-podge as this filled my brain.
Despite the discouraging reception of my first , I visited other newspaper offices, only to find the same, and even colder, conditions. The offices in most cases were by no means so grand, but the atmosphere was equally chill, and the city editor was a difficult man to approach. Often I was stopped by an office boy who reported, when I said I was looking for work, no vacancies. When I got in at all, nearly all the city editors merely gave me a quick glance and said: “No vacancies.” I began to feel that the newspaper world must be controlled by a secret or order until one bony with a green shade over his eyes and dusty red hair looked at me much as an eagle might look at a pouter pigeon, and asked:
“Ever worked on a paper before?”
“No, sir.”
“How do you know you can write?”
“I don’t; but I think I could learn.”
“Learn? Learn? We haven’t time to teach anybody here! You better try one of the little papers—a trade paper, maybe, until you learn how—then come back,” and he walked off.
This gave me at least a definite idea as to how I might begin, but just the same it did not get me a position.
Meanwhile, looking here and there and not finding anything, I , since I had had experience as a collector and must live while I was making my way into , to return to this work and see if I might not in the meantime get a place as a reporter.
Having been employed by an easy-payment instalment house, I now sought out another, the Corbin Company, in Lake Street, not very far from the office of the firm for which I had previously worked. From this firm, having been hard pressed for a winter overcoat the preceding fall, I had abstracted or held out twenty-five dollars, intending to restore it. But before I had been able to manage that a slack up in the work occurred, due to the fact that wandering street agents sold less in winter than in summer, and I was laid off and had to confess that I was short in my account.
The manager and owner, who had seemed to take a fancy to me, said nothing other than that I was making a mistake, taking the path that led to social hell. I do not recall that he even requested that the money be returned. But I was so nervous that I was convinced that some day, unless I returned the money, I should be arrested, and to avoid this I had written him a letter after leaving that I would pay up. He never even bothered to answer the letter, and I believe that if I had returned in the spring, paid the twenty-five dollars and asked for work he would have taken me on again. But I had no such thought in mind. I held myself disgraced forever and only wished to get clear of this sort of work. It was a vulture game at best, selling trash to the ignorant for twelve and fourteen times its value. Now that I was out of it I hated to return. I feared that the first thing my proposed employer would do would be to inquire of my previous employer, and that being informed of my stealing he would refuse to employ me.
With fear and trembling I inquired of the firm in Lake Street and was told that there was a place awaiting some one—“the right party.” The manager wanted to know if I could give a bond for three hundred dollars; they had just had one collector arrested for stealing sixty dollars. I told him I thought I could and decided to explain the proposition to my father and obtain his advice since I knew little about how a bond was secured. When I learned that the bonding company investigated one’s past, however, I was terrorized. My father, an honest, and German, on being told that a bond was required, the idea with much . Why should any one want a bond from me? he demanded to know. Hadn’t I worked for Mr. M—— in the same line? Couldn’t they go there and find out? At thought of M—— I shook, and, rather than have an , dropped the whole matter, deciding not to go near the place again.
But the manager, taken by my guileless look, I presume, called one evening at our house. He had taken a fancy to me, he said; I looked to be honest and industrious; he liked the neighborhood I lived in. He proposed that I should go to one of the local bonding companies and get a three hundred dollar bond for ten dollars a year, his company paying for the bond out of my first week’s salary, which was to be only twelve dollars to start with. This promised to involve explaining about M——, but I decided to go to the bonding company and refer only to two other men for whom I had worked and see what would happen. For the rest, I proposed to say that school and college life had filled my years before this. If trouble came over M—— I planned to run away.
But, to my and delight, my ruse worked admirably. The following Sunday afternoon my new manager called and asked me to report the following morning for work.
Oh, those singing days in the streets and parks and show-places of Chicago, those hours when in bright or thick lowery weather I tramped the highways and byways dreaming dreams. I had all my afternoons to myself after one or two o’clock. The speed with which I worked and could walk would soon get me over the list of my customers, and then I was free to go where I chose. Spring was coming. I was only nineteen. Life was all before me, and the feel of plenty of money in my pocket, even if it did not belong to me, was comforting. And then youth, youth—that lilt and song in one’s very blood! I felt as if I were walking on clouds, among the highlands of the dawn.
How shall I do justice to this period, which for perfection of spirit, ease of soul, was the very best I had so far known? In the first place, because of months of exercise in the open air, my physical condition was good. I was certain to get somewhere in the newspaper world, or so I thought. The condition of our family was better than it had ever been in my time, for we four younger children were working . Our home life, in spite of bickerings among several of my brothers and sisters, was still pleasing enough. Altogether we were , and my father was looking forward to a day when all family debts would be paid and the soul of my mother, as well as his own when it passed over, could be freed from too prolonged in ! For, as a Catholic, he believed that until all one’s full debts here on earth were paid one’s soul was held in durance on the other side.
For myself, life was at the topmost toss. I was like some bird on a high , teetering and fluttering and ready for flight. Again, I was like those flying and buzzards that ride so on still wings above a summer landscape, seeing all the wonders of the world below. Again, I was like a song that sings itself, the spirit of happy music that by some freak of creation is able to rejoice in its own harmonies and rhythms. Joy was ever before me, the sense of some great adventure just around the corner.
How I loved the note of even the grinding wheels of the trucks and cars, the clang and of cable and electric lines, the surge of vehicles in every street! The of heavy manufacturing smoke that hung low over the city like hurricanes; the storms of wintry snow or rain; the glow of yellow lights in little shops at evening, mile after mile, where people were stirring and over potatoes, flour, cabbages—all these things were the substance of songs, paintings, poems. I liked the sections where the women of the town were still, at noon, sleeping off the debauches of the preceding night, or at night were preparing for the make-believes of their midnight day. I liked those sections crowded with great black factories, stock-yards, steel works, Pullman yards, where in the midst of Plutonian stress and clang men mixed or forged or joined or prepared those , pleasures and perfections for which the world buys and sells itself. Life was at its best here, its promise the most glittering. I liked those raw neighborhoods where in small, unpainted, tumbledown set in grassless, can-strewn yards drunken and slatterns and brawlers were to be found mooning about in a hell of their own. And, for contrast, I liked those areas of great set upon the great streets of the city in lawns, where liveried servants stood by doors and carriages turned in at spacious gates and under heavy porte-cochères.
I think I grasped Chicago in its larger material if not in its more complicated mental aspects. Its bad was so deliciously bad, its good so very good, keen and succulent, reckless, inconsequential, , hopeful, eager, new. People cursed or or snarled—the more fortunate among them, but they were never heavy or dull or asleep. In some neighborhoods the rancidity of dirt, or the icy of poverty, fairly shouted, but they were never still, decaying pools of . On wide stretches of prairie swept by whipping winds one could find men who were tanning dog or cat hides but their wives were buying yellow plush albums or red silk-shaded lamps or blue and green rugs on time, as I could personally testify. Churches with gaudy altars and services rose out of mucky masses of shanties and gas-tanks; saloons with bars of colored glass and mirrors stood as the centers and clubs of drear, bleak masses of huts. There were districts and wealth districts hung with every luxury that the wit of a commonplace or conventional mind could suggest. Such was Chicago.
In the vice districts I had been paid for shabby rugs and lamps, all shamelessly overpriced, by plump naked girls striding from bed to dresser to get a purse, and then offered certain favors for a dollar, or its equivalent—a credit on the contract slip. In the more exclusive neighborhoods I was sent around to a side entrance by comfortably dressed women who were too proud or too sly to have their neighbors know that they were buying on time. Black negresses leered at me from behind shuttered windows at noon; plump wives drew me into risqué situations on sight; death-bereaved weepers mourned over their late lost in my presence—and paying me. But I liked the life. I was crazy about it. Chicago was like a great orchestra in a of noble harmonies. I was like a guest at a feast, eating and drinking in a of .

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