The young girl paid no attention to the bow, but put out her hand frankly and gave the stranger a friendly shake and said:
"How do you do?"
Then she marched to the one washstand in the room, tilted her head this way and that before the wreck of a cheap mirror that hung above it, dampened her fingers with her tongue, perfected the circle of a little lock of hair that was pasted against her forehead, then began to busy herself with the slops.
"Well, I must be going--it's getting towards supper time. Make yourself at home, Mr. Tracy, you'll hear the bell when it's ready."
The landlady took her tranquil departure, without commanding either of the young people to vacate the room. The young man wondered a little that a mother who seemed so honest and respectable should be so thoughtless, and was reaching for his hat, intending to disembarrass the girl of his presence; but she said:
"Where are you going?"
"Well--nowhere in particular, but as I am only in the way here--"
"Why, who said you were in the way? Sit down--I'll move you when you are in the way."
She was making the beds, now. He sat down and watched her deft and diligent performance.
"What gave you that notion? Do you reckon I need a whole room just to make up a bed or two in?"
"Well no, it wasn't that, exactly. We are away up here in an empty house, and your mother being gone--"
The girl interrupted him with an amused laugh, and said:
"Nobody to protect me? Bless you, I don't need it. I'm not afraid. I might be if I was alone, because I do hate ghosts, and I don't deny it. Not that I believe in them, for I don't. I'm only just afraid of them."
"How can you be afraid of them if you don't believe in them?"
"Oh, I don't know the how of it--that's too many for me; I only know it's so. It's the same with Maggie Lee."
"Who is that?"
"One of the boarders; young lady that works in the factry."
"She works in a factory?"
"Yes. Shoe factory."
"In a shoe factory; and you call her a young lady?"
"Why, she's only twenty-two; what should you call her?"
"I wasn't thinking of her age, I was thinking of the title. The fact is, I came away from England to get away from artificial forms--for artificial forms suit artificial people only--and here you've got them too. I'm sorry. I hoped you had only men and women; everybody equal; no differences in rank."
The girl stopped with a pillow in her teeth and the case spread open below it, contemplating him from under her brows with a slightly puzzled expression. She released the pillow and said:
"Why, they are all equal. Where's any difference in rank?"
"If you call a factory girl a young lady, what do you call the President's wife?"
"Call her an old one."
"Oh, you make age the only distinction?"
"There ain't any other to make as far as I can see."
"Then all women are ladies?"
"Certainly they are. All the respectable ones."
"Well, that puts a better face on it. Certainly there is no harm in a title when it is given to everybody. It is only an offense and a wrong when it is restricted to a favored few. But Miss--er--"
"Miss Hattie, be frank; confess that that title isn't accorded by everybody to everybody. The rich American doesn't call her cook a lady-- isn't that so?"
"Yes, it's so. What of it?"
He was surprised and a little disappointed, to see that his admirable shot had produced no perceptible effect.
"What of it?" he said. "Why this: equality is not conceded here, after all, and the Americans are no better off than the English. In fact there's no difference."
"Now what an idea. There's nothing in a title except what is put into it--you've said that yourself. Suppose the title is 'clean,' instead of 'lady.' You get that?"
"I believe so. Instead of speaking of a woman as a lady, you substitute clean and say she's a clean person."
"That's it. In England the swell folks don't speak of the working people as gentlemen and ladies?"
"And the working people don't call themselves gentlemen and ladies?"
"So if you used the other word there wouldn't be any change.