They were about to cross the crowded street when Arlington stooped and picked up something which he quickly thrust into his outer coat pocket. “Seven,” he said to himself.
“What’s that for?” asked Johnston. “What are you picking up all the time?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I’ve got the contract. Yep, and I’m making good on it, too. I’ve got the contract to pick up all the hairpins in the city. Get a cent apiece from the missus, and you’d be surprised to learn how much she owes me, and I’ve only been at it a week.”
“Yes, I picked up 17 yesterday, which was, to be sure, the biggest day I’ve had. That included two celluloid ones, or alleged tortoise shell affairs. I think they ought to be worth a nickel on the contract, but Mrs. Arlington won’t have it — a penny is all I get, whether they’re made of tin, iron, zinc, nickel, brass, tortoise shell, celluloid, ivory, bone, gold or silver or platinum, or whether they’ve been twisted all out of shape, are rusty, or have been flattened to a fare-ye-well by 16 streetcars or trucks.
“You’d be amazed to find how much I’ve learned about hairpins. And I must say I think the hairpin is the article most commonly lost in this city or any other city, for that matter. They say all the lost pins fall to the earth and become terrapins – well, all the hairpins fall and become terrahairpins, then. Eight,” and Arlington added a crinkled little affair to his collection.
“You find ’em anywhere. I don’t go hunting for them, understand, I just pick ’em up when they obtrude their presence upon me. And I’ve now got so in the habit of making quick downward glances as I go along that I guess I get ’em all.
“It all came about — let’s see, just a week ago today — when I absently remarked that I’d like to get a cent for every hairpin I saw lying around. I was taken up right there, and in the very next block, so help me, I found 12, all in stages of rust and twist. That was something of a staggerer to the missus, but she was game, and I have a very good prospect of being able to count a total of 1,200 before long… Nine,” and a tiny bent bit of wire went into the finder’s pocket.
“You see, a twelve dollar camera was stolen from my desk at the office, and Mrs A, with a brilliant burst of inspiration, said she’d provide funds for a new one with payment on my hairpin finds. So far I’ve found 93, including the nine today.
“But I’m going to do it on the honor system hereafter, if I can — just report the number seen each day — and I think she’ll agree, for she’s a good sport. This exertion of stooping over and picking ’em up is getting irksome. Besides, it’s embarrassing. The other day I was carrying a heavy suitcase and a package, and, believe me, I found six hairpins in two blocks. People on the crowded street naturally stared, and as it was a hot day in the bargain, my stunt was decidedly uncomfortable. But I got ’em all.
“Of course, I find ’em most frequently on stairs and platforms, but really they are everywhere. They’re jarred loose when women alight from cars; they drop in elevators and they are to be found on the floors of department stores — but they are everywhere. They are certainly prodigal with hairpins, and if any husband wants to know where the weekly allowance goes, I think I can tell him one reason for the family resources being dissipated.”