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In the Cage - Henry James

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In the Cage


It had occurred to her early that in her position--that of a young
person spending, in framed and wired confinement, the life of a
guinea-pig or a magpie--she should know a great many persons
without their recognising the acquaintance.  That made it an
emotion the more lively--though singularly rare and always, even
then, with opportunity still very much smothered--to see any one
come in whom she knew outside, as she called it, any one who could
add anything to the meanness of her function.  Her function was to
sit there with two young men--the other telegraphist and the
counter-clerk; to mind the "sounder," which was always going, to
dole out stamps and postal-orders, weigh letters, answer stupid
questions, give difficult change and, more than anything else,
count words as numberless as the sands of the sea, the words of the
telegrams thrust, from morning to night, through the gap left in
the high lattice, across the encumbered shelf that her forearm
ached with rubbing.  This transparent screen fenced out or fenced
in, according to the side of the narrow counter on which the human
lot was cast, the duskiest corner of a shop pervaded not a little,
in winter, by the poison of perpetual gas, and at all times by the
presence of hams, cheese, dried fish, soap, varnish, paraffin and
other solids and fluids that she came to know perfectly by their
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