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A Poor Wise Man

And around this social cancer the city worked and played. Its theatres were
crowded, its expensive shops, its hotels. Two classes of people were spending
money prodigally; women with shawls over their heads, women who in all their
peasant lives had never owned a hat, drove in automobiles to order their winter
supply of coal, and vast amounts of liquors were being bought by the foreign
element against the approaching prohibition law, and stored in untidy cellars.
On the other hand, the social life of the city was gay with reaction from war. The
newspapers were filled with the summer plans of the wealthy, and with
predictions of lavish entertaining in the fall. Among the list of debutantes Lily's
name always appeared.
And, in between the upper and the nether millstone, were being ground the
professional and salaried men with families, the women clerks, the vast army
who asked nothing but the right to work and live. They went through their days
doggedly, with little anxious lines around their eyes, suffering a thousand small
deprivations, bewildered, tortured with apprehension of to-morrow, and yet
patiently believing that, as things could not be worse, they must soon commence
to improve.
"It's bound to clear up soon," said Joe Wilkinson over the back fence one night
late in June, to Willy Cameron. Joe supported a large family of younger brothers
and sisters in the house next door, and was employed in a department store. "I
figure it this way - both sides need each other, don't they? Something like
marriage, you know. It'll all be over in six months. Only I'm thanking heaven just
now it's summer, because our kids are hell on shoes."
"I hope so," said Willy Cameron. "What are you doing over there, anyhow?"
"Wait and see," said Joe, cryptically. "If you think you're going to be the only
Central Park in this vicinity you've got to think again." He hesitated and glanced
around, but the small Wilkinsons were searching for worms in the overturned
garden mold. "How's Edith?" he asked.
"She's all right, Joe."
"Seeing anybody yet?"
"Not yet. In a day or so she'll be downstairs."
"You might tell her I've been asking about her."
There was something in Joel's voice that caught Willy Cameron's attention. He
thought about Joe a great deal that night. Joe was another one who must never
know about Edith's trouble. The boy had little enough, and if he had built a dream
about Edith Boyd he must keep his dream. He was rather discouraged that night,
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