Contrary Mary (Chapter 7, page 3 of 6)

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Chapter 7

He flung the question later at the little stenographer who sat next to
him. "Miss Terry," he asked, "how long have you been here?"

She looked up at him, brightly. She was short and thin, with a
sprinkle of gray in her hair. But she was well-groomed and nicely
dressed in her mannish silk shirt and gray tailored skirt.

"Twenty years," she said, snapping a rubber band about her note-book.

"And always at this desk?"

"Oh, dear, no. I came in at nine hundred, and now I am getting twelve

"But always in this room?"

She nodded. "Yes. And it is very nice. Most of the people have been
here as long as I, and some of them much longer. There's Major Orr,
for example, he has been here since just after the War."

"Do you ever feel as if you were serving sentence?"

She laughed. She was not troubled by a vivid imagination. "It really
isn't bad for a woman. There aren't many places with as short hours
and as good pay."

For a woman? But for a man? He turned back to his desk. What would
he be after twenty years of this? He waked every morning with the
day's routine facing him--knowing that not once in the eight hours
would there be a demand upon his mentality, not once would there be the
thrill of real accomplishment.

At noon when he saw Miss Terry strew bird seed on the broad window sill
for the sparrows, he likened it to the diversions of a prisoner in his
cell. And, when he ate lunch with a group of fellow clerks in a cheap
restaurant across the way, he wondered, as they went back, why they
were spared the lockstep.

In this mood he left the office at half-past four, and passing the
place where he usually ate, inexpensively, he entered a luxurious
up-town hotel. There he read the papers until half-past six; then
dined in a grill room which permitted informal dress.

Coming out later, he met Barry coming in, linked arm in arm with two
radiant youths of his own kind and class. Musketeers of modernity,
they found their adventures on the city streets, in cafes and cabarets,
instead of in field and forest and on the battle-field.

Barry, with a flower in his buttonhole, welcomed Roger uproariously.
"Here's Whittington," he said. "You ought to hear his poem, fellows,
about a little cat. He had us all hypnotized the other night."

Roger glanced at him sharply. His exaggerated manner, the looseness of
his phrasing, the flush on his cheeks were in strange contrast to his
usual frank, clean boyishness.

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