Bill had decided to secure a position in a Chicago bank and he suddenly appeared. We spent two days together and I wore his fraternity pin for a spell – “just for fun”. Then Eric tried to get me to wear his seriously and, when I refused, he endeavoured to extract a promise that I’d tell him the minute I fell in love. It was all very silly and we compromised by his agreeing to teach me French. Meanwhile, Bill’s fraternity continued to call me “Bill’s girl” and Eric’s fraternity called me “Eric’s girl.”
Gossip that linked my name with anyone irritated me and I continued to accept invitations from boys I didn’t care about in order to prove to myself as well as others that I was an unfettered female. Time slipped away and almost before I knew it the holidays and our trip home were at hand.
Travelling in a train car shared with people unfriendly to the offices of soap and water was a strain and I resented the intimacies into which we were pitchforked by an improvident fate. I loathed one man who was snoring, and the habit I had acquired as a child of sniffing my way about had brought more penalties than rewards. I was growing more critical every day and my stomach surpassed me in exactions.
Trains at Christmas time, however, are happier because of people’s warm hearts, and the night was lovely. For once I didn’t mind being wakeful. I had so much to think about. The school year had already started off with a bang of satisfaction. Mr. Lutkin seemed to think that I had made satisfactory progress and he assured me that I would be able to give a fine program in the spring. I was very grateful for it all and dropped off to sleep looking forward to a breakfast with Bill at the train station.
As we pulled into East St. Louis the collector came through for bridge fare. Mother didn’t seem to remember what this was all about. The man just stood in the aisle a moment and repeated “Bridge Fare! Bridge Fare!”
“We are travelling on passes,” Mother said in her most aristocratic and final manner and she handed them to the collector for inspection.
“Bridge Tools are not included in your passes, Madam,” he replied, returning the sacred slips. At that order Mama turned to me and said, “Give him fifty cents, Una.”
“I haven’t any money, Mama,” I replied. “Don’t you remember I spent my last cent for that mechanical toy on the street corner?”
Mother opened her bag and extracted a stray quarter from it but, search as she might, not another penny could she unearth.
“I haven’t got but a quarter,” she said. “What will you do?” she asked the collector.
“I’ll have to put you off the train unless you pay your fare” he replied in rubberstamp style. I turned to the man who sat just behind me.
“Would you please loan me a quarter until we can meet our friends in the station?” I asked. He was the acme of gallantry and forked over the change. At the same moment a gentleman across the aisle, seeing a lady in distress, rose to his feet and stepped forward.
“May I be of service?” he inquired.
“Thank you, but this gentleman has been kind enough to help us until we can meet our friends in the depot,” said Mother with her grandest manner and she gave him a rewarding smile. He withdrew to his seat and I looked at Mother. She didn’t seem to mind the embarrassment as I did. I was shocked and, as we left the train, I kept close to the stranger who had so quietly assisted us. Mother gaily asked him to keep close to us, but when I looked around after we met Bill, he was nowhere to be found. A man passing and witnessing my concern spoke, “He didn’t want your money.”
Mother thought it was a good joke and she laughed with Bill about it but the very remembrance of it was painful to me.
Bill was glad to see us and we had a quick breakfast before he packed us onto the next train. We were to be gone two weeks and we made arrangements to meet him again on the way back.
An accommodation train that stops at practically every jerkwater pump is bound to be interesting from the standpoint of character study and by day I didn’t mind it. I could speculate as to what sort of homes the passengers came out of and forget the discomforts of the trip. Within a few miles of Springfield four swaggering youths entered the coach. They were hilariously drunk and one dared another to sit down beside me. He made the effort and fl
opped over onto my lap. I got to my feet, disgusted, grabbed my grip and stepped over him into the aisle where Mother was sitting and sank down beside her, feeling very conspicuous. “Such hillbillies! That is Missouri for you,” I thought.