Part 4 out of 6
proper row, and say: "Good morning, Mr. Schultz! Sleep well?"
"Me!" you would stammer, surprised and gratified. "Me! Fine!
H'm--Thanks!" Whereupon you would cross your right foot over your left
nonchalantly and enjoy that brief moment's chat with Floor Clerk Number
Two. You went back to Ishpeming, Michigan, with three new impressions:
The first was that you were becoming a personage of considerable
importance. The second was that the Magnifique realised this great truth
and was grateful for your patronage. The third was that New York was a
friendly little hole after all!
Miss Sadie Corn was dean of the Hotel Magnifique's floor clerks. The
primary requisite in successful floor clerkship is homeliness. The
second is discreet age. The third is tact. And for the benefit of those
who think the duties of a floor clerk end when she takes your key when
you leave your room, and hands it back as you return, it may be
mentioned that the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh requisites are
diplomacy, ingenuity, unlimited patience and a comprehensive knowledge
of human nature. Ambassadors have been known to keep their jobs on less
She had come to the Magnifique at thirty-three, a plain, spare, sallow
woman, with a quiet, capable manner, a pungent trick of the tongue on
occasion, a sparse fluff of pale-coloured hair, and big, bony-knuckled
hands, such as you see on women who have the gift of humanness. She was
forty-eight now--still plain, still spare, still sallow. Those bony,
big-knuckled fingers had handed keys to potentates, and pork-packers,
and millinery buyers from Seattle; and to princes incognito, and paupers
much the same--the difference being that the princes dressed down to
the part, while the paupers dressed up to it.
Time, experience, understanding and the daily dealing with ever-changing
humanity had brought certain lines into Sadie Corn's face. So skilfully
were they placed that the unobservant put them down as wrinkles on the
countenance of a homely, middle-aged woman; but he who read as he ran
saw that the lines about the eyes were quizzical, shrewd lines, which
come from the practice of gauging character at a glance; that the
mouth-markings meant tolerance and sympathy and humour; that the
forehead furrows had been carved there by those master chisellers,
suffering and sacrifice.
In the last three or four years Sadie Corn had taken to wearing a little
lavender-and-white crocheted shawl about her shoulders on cool days, and
when Two-fifty-seven, who was a regular, caught his annual heavy cold
late in the fall, Sadie would ask him sharply whether he had on his
winter flannels. On his replying in the negative she would rebuke him
scathingly and demand a bill of sizable denomination; and when her watch
was over she would sally forth to purchase four sets of men's winter
underwear. As captain of the Magnifique's thirty-four floor clerks Sadie
Corn's authority extended from the parlours to the roof, but her
especial domain was floor two. Ensconced behind her little desk in a
corner, blocked in by mailracks, pantry signals, pneumatic-tube chutes
and telephone, with a clear view of the elevators and stairway, Sadie
Corn was mistress of the moods, manners and morals of the Magnifique's
It was six thirty p.m. on Monday of Automobile Show Week when Sadie Corn
came on watch. She came on with a lively, well-developed case of
neuralgia over her right eye and extending down into her back teeth.
With its usual spitefulness the attack had chosen to make its appearance
during her long watch. It never selected her short-watch days, when she
was on duty only from eleven a.m. until six-thirty p.m.
Now with a peppermint bottle held close to alternately sniffing nostrils
Sadie Corn was running her eye over the complex report sheet of the
floor clerk who had just gone off watch. The report was even more
detailed and lengthy than usual. Automobile Show Week meant that the
always prosperous Magnifique was filled to the eaves and turning them
away. It meant twice the usual number of inside telephone calls anent
rooms too hot, rooms too cold, radiators hammering, radiators hissing,
windows that refused to open, windows that refused to shut, packages
undelivered, hot water not forthcoming. As the human buffers between
guests and hotel management, it was the duty of Sadie Corn and her
diplomatic squad to pacify the peevish, to smooth the path of the
Down the hall strolled Donahue, the house detective--Donahue the
leisurely. Donahue the keen-eyed, Donahue the guileless--looking in his
evening clothes for all the world like a prosperous diner-out. He smiled
benignly upon Sadie Corn, and Sadie Corn had the bravery to smile back
in spite of her neuralgia, knowing well that men have no sympathy with
that anguishing ailment and no understanding of it.
"Everything serene, Miss Corn?" inquired Donahue.
"Everything's serene," said Sadie Corn. "Though Two-thirty-three
telephoned a minute ago to say that if the valet didn't bring his pants
from the presser in the next two seconds he'd come down the hall as he
is and get 'em. Perhaps you'd better stay round."
Donahue chuckled and passed on. Half way down the hall he retraced his
steps, and stopped again before Sadie Corn's busy desk. He balanced a
moment thoughtfully from toe to heel, his chin lifted inquiringly: "Keep
your eye on Two-eighteen and Two-twenty-three this morning?"
"Like a lynx!" answered Sadie.
"Not a thing. I guess they just scraped acquaintance in the Alley after
dinner, like they sometimes do. A man with eyelashes like his always
speaks to any woman alone who isn't pockmarked and toothless. Two
minutes after he's met a girl his voice takes on the 'cello note. I know
his kind. Why, say, he even tried waving those eyelashes of his at me
first time he turned in his key; and goodness knows I'm so homely that
pretty soon I'll be ripe for bachelor floor thirteen. You know as well
as I that to qualify for that job a floor clerk's got to look like a
"Maybe they're all right," said Donahue thoughtfully. "If it's just a
flirtation, why--anyway, watch 'em this evening. The day watch listened
in and says they've made some date for to-night."
He was off down the hall again with his light, quick step that still had
the appearance of leisureliness.
The telephone at Sadie's right buzzed warningly. Sadie picked up the
receiver and plunged into the busiest half hour of the evening. From
that moment until seven o'clock her nimble fingers and eyes and brain
and tongue directed the steps of her little world. She held the
telephone receiver at one ear and listened to the demands of incoming
and outgoing guests with the other. She jotted down reports, dealt out
mail and room-keys, kept her neuralgic eye on stairs and elevators and
halls, her sound orb on tube and pantry signals, while through and
between and above all she guided the stream of humanity that trickled
past her desk--bellhops, Polish chambermaids, messenger boys, guests,
waiters, parlour maids.
Just before seven there disembarked at floor two out of the
cream-and-gold elevator one of those visions that have helped to make
Fifth Avenue a street of the worst-dressed women in the world. The
vision was Two-eighteen, and her clothes were of the kind that prepared
you for the shock that you got when you looked at her face. Plume met
fur, and fur met silk, and silk met lace, and lace met gold--and the
whole met and ran into a riot of colour, and perfume--and little
jangling, swishing sounds. Just by glancing at Two-eighteen's feet in
their inadequate openwork silk and soft kid you knew that Two-eighteen's
lips would be carmined.
She came down the corridor and stopped at Sadie Corn's desk. Sadie Corn
had her key ready for her. Two-eighteen took it daintily between
"I'll want a maid in fifteen minutes," she said. "Tell them to send me
the one I had yesterday. The pretty one. She isn't so clumsy as some."
Sadie Corn jotted down a note without looking up.
"Oh, Julia? Sorry--Julia's busy," she lied.
Two-eighteen knew she lied, because at that moment there came round the
bend in the broad, marble stairway that led up from the parlour floor
the trim, slim figure of Julia herself.
Two-eighteen took a quick step forward. "Here, girl! I'll want you to
hook me in fifteen minutes," she said.
"Very well, ma'am," replied Julia softly.
There passed between Sadie Corn and Two-eighteen a--well, you could
hardly call it a look, it was so fleeting, so ephemeral; that electric,
pregnant, meaning something that flashes between two women who dislike
and understand each other. Then Two-eighteen was off down the hall to
Julia stood at the head of the stairway just next to Sadie's desk
and watched Two-eighteen until the bend in the corridor hid her.
Julia, of the lady's-maid staff, could never have qualified for the
position of floor clerk, even if she had chosen to bury herself in
lavender-and-white crocheted shawls to the tip of her marvellous little
Greek nose. In her frilly white cap, her trim black gown, her immaculate
collar and cuffs and apron, Julia looked distractingly like the young
person who, in the old days of the furniture-dusting drama, was wont to
inform you that it was two years since young master went away--all but
her feet. The feather-duster person was addicted to French-heeled,
beaded slippers. Not so Julia. Julia was on her feet for ten hours or so
a day. When you subject your feet to ten-hour tortures you are apt to
pass by French-heeled effects in favour of something flat-heeled, laced,
with an easy, comfortable crack here and there at the sides, and
stockings with white cotton soles.
Julia, at the head of the stairway, stood looking after Two-eighteen
until the tail of her silken draperies had whisked round the corner.
Then, still staring, Julia spoke resentfully:
"Life for her is just one darned pair of long white kid gloves after
another! Look at her! Why is it that kind of a face is always wearing
the sables and diamonds?"
"Sables and diamonds," replied Sadie Corn, sniffing essence of
peppermint, "seem a small enough reward for having to carry round a mug
Julia came round to the front of Sadie Corn's desk. Her eyes were
brooding, her lips sullen.
"Oh, I don't know!" she said bitterly. "Being pretty don't get you
anything--just being pretty! When I first came I used to wonder at those
women that paint their faces and colour their hair, and wear skirts that
are too tight and waists that are too low. But--I don't know! This
town's so big and so--so kind of uninterested. When you see everybody
wearing clothes that are more gorgeous than yours, and diamonds bigger,
and limousines longer and blacker and quieter, it gives you a kind of
fever. You--you want to make people look at you too."
Sadie Corn leaned back in her chair. The peppermint bottle was held at
her nose. It may have been that which caused her eyes to narrow to mere
slits as she gazed at the drooping Julia. She said nothing. Suddenly
Julia seemed to feel the silence. She looked down at Sadie Corn. As by a
miracle all the harsh, sullen lines in the girl's face vanished, to be
replaced by a lovely compassion.
"Your neuralgy again, dearie?" she asked in pretty concern.
Sadie sniffed long and audibly at the peppermint bottle.
"If you ask me I think there's some imp inside of my head trying to push
my right eye out with his thumb. Anyway it feels like that."
"Poor old dear!" breathed Julia. "It's the weather. Have them send you
up a pot of black tea."
"When you've got neuralgy over your right eye," observed Sadie Corn
grimly, "there's just one thing helps--that is to crawl into bed in a
flannel nightgown, with the side of your face resting on the red rubber
bosom of a hot-water bottle. And I can't do it; so let's talk about
something cheerful. Seen Jo to-day?"
There crept into Julia's face a wave of colour--not the pink of
pleasure, but the dull red of pain. She looked away from Sadie's eyes
and down at her shabby boots. The sullen look was in her face once more.
"No; I ain't seen him," she said.
"What's the trouble?" Sadie asked.
"I've been busy," replied Julia airily. Then, with a forced vivacity:
"Though it's nothing to Auto Show Week last year. I remember that week I
hooked up until my fingers were stiff. You know the way the dresses
fastened last winter. Some of 'em ought to have had a map to go by, they
were that complicated. And now, just when I've got so's I can hook any
dress that was ever intended for the human form--"
"Wasn't it Jo who said they ought to give away an engineering blueprint
with every dress, when you told him about the way they hooked?" put in
Sadie. "What's the trouble between you and--"
Julia rattled on, unheeding:
"You wouldn't believe what a difference there's been since these new
peasant styles have come in! And the Oriental craze! Hook down the side,
most of 'em--and they can do 'em themselves if they ain't too fat."
"Remember Jo saying they ought to have a hydraulic press for some of
those skintight dames, when your fingers were sore from trying to
squeeze them into their casings? By the way, what's the trouble between
"Makes an awful difference in my tips!" cut in Julia deftly. "I don't
believe I've hooked up six this evening, and two of them sprung the
haven't-anything-but-a-five-dollar-bill-see-you-to-morrow! Women are
devils! I wish--"
Sadie Corn leaned forward, placed her hand on Julia's arm, and turned
the girl about so that she faced her. Julia tried miserably to escape
her keen eyes and failed.
"What's the trouble between you and Jo?" she demanded for the fourth
time. "Out with it or I'll telephone down to the engine room and ask him
"Oh, well, if you want to know--" She paused, her eyelids drooping
again; then, with a rush: "Me and Jo have quarrelled again--for good,
this time. I'm through!"
"I s'pose you'll say I'm to blame. Jo's mother's sick again. She's got
to go to the hospital and have another operation. You know what that
means--putting off the wedding again until God knows when! I'm sick of
it--putting off and putting off! I told him we might as well quit and be
done with it. We'll never get married at this rate. Soon's Jo gets
enough put by to start us on, something happens. Last three times it's
been his ma. Pretty soon I'll be as old and wrinkled and homely as--"
"As me!" put in Sadie calmly. "Well, I don't know's that's the worst
thing that can happen to you. I'm happy. I had my plans, too, when I was
a girl like you--not that I was ever pretty; but I had my trials. Funny
how the thing that's easy and the thing that's right never seem to be
"Oh, I'm fond of Jo's ma," said Julia, a little shamefacedly. "We get
along all right. She knows how it is, I guess; and feels--well, in the
way. But when Jo told me, I was tired I guess. We had words. I told him
there were plenty waiting for me if he was through. I told him I could
have gone out with a real swell only last Saturday if I'd wanted to.
What's a girl got her looks for if not to have a good time?"
"Who's this you were invited out by?" asked Sadie Corn.
"You must have noticed him," said Julia, dimpling. "He's as handsome as
an actor. Name's Venner. He's in two-twenty-three."
There came the look of steel into Sadie Corn's eyes.
"Look here, Julia! You've been here long enough to know that you're not
to listen to the talk of the men guests round here. Two-twenty-three
isn't your kind--and you know it! If I catch you talking to him again
The telephone at her elbow sounded sharply. She answered it absently,
her eyes, with their expression of pain and remonstrance, still
unshrinking before the onslaught of Julia's glare. Then her expression
changed. A look of consternation came into her face.
"Right away, madam!" she said, at the telephone. "Right away! You won't
have to wait another minute." She hung up the receiver and waved Julia
away with a gesture. "It's Two-eighteen. You promised to be there in
fifteen minutes. She's been waiting and her voice sounds like a saw.
Better be careful how you handle her."
Julia's head, with its sleek, satiny coils of black hair that waved away
so bewitchingly from the cream of her skin, came up with a jerk.
"I'm tired of being careful of other people's feelings. Let somebody be
careful of mine for a change." She walked off down the hall, the little
head still held high. A half dozen paces and she turned. "What was it
you said you'd do to me if you caught me talking to him again?" she
A miserable twinge of pain shot through Sadie Corn's eye, to be followed
by a wave of nausea that swept over her. They alone were responsible for
"I'll report you!" she snapped, and was sorry at once.
Julia turned again, walked down the corridor and round the corner in the
direction of two-eighteen.
Long after Julia had disappeared Sadie Corn stared after
Julia knocked once at the door of two-eighteen and turned the knob
before a high, shrill voice cried:
Two-eighteen was standing in the centre of the floor in scant satin
knickerbockers and tight brassiere. The blazing folds of a cerise satin
gown held in her hands made a great, crude patch of colour in the
neutral-tinted bedroom. The air was heavy with scent. Hair, teeth, eyes,
fingernails--Two-eighteen glowed and glistened. Chairs and bed held odds
"Where've you been, girl?" shrilled Two-eighteen. "I've been waiting
like a fool! I told you to be here in fifteen minutes."
"My stop-watch isn't working right," replied Julia impudently and took
the cerise satin gown in her two hands.
She made a ring of the gown's opening, and through that cerise frame her
eyes met those of Two-eighteen.
"Careful of my hair!" Two-eighteen warned her, and ducked her head to
the practised movement of Julia's arms. The cerise gown dropped to her
shoulders without grazing a hair. Two-eighteen breathed a sigh of
relief. She turned to face the mirror.
"It starts at the left, three hooks; then to the centre; then back
four--under the arm and down the middle again. That chiffon comes over
like a drape."
She picked up a buffer from the litter of ivory and silver on the
dresser and began to polish her already glittering nails, turning her
head this way and that, preening her neck, biting her scarlet lips to
deepen their crimson, opening her eyes wide and half closing them
languorously. Julia, down on her knees in combat with the trickiest of
the hooks, glanced up and saw. Two-eighteen caught the glance in the
mirror. She stopped her idle polishing and preening to study the glowing
and lovely little face that looked up at her. A certain queer expression
grew in her eyes--a speculative, eager look.
"Tell me, little girl," she said, "What do you do round here?"
Julia turned from the mirror to the last of the hooks, her fingers
"Me? My regular job is working. Don't jerk, please. I've fastened this
one three times."
"Working!" laughed Two-eighteen, fingering the diamonds at her throat.
"What does a pretty girl like you want to do that for?"
"Hook off here," said Julia. "Shall I sew it?"
"Pin it!" snapped Two-eighteen.
Julia's tidy nature revolted.
"It'll take just a minute to catch it with thread--"
Two-eighteen whirled about in one of the sudden hot rages of her kind:
"Pin it, you fool! Pin it! I told you I was late!"
Julia paused a moment, the red surging into her face. Then in silence
she knelt and wove a pin deftly in and out. When she rose from her
knees her face was quite white.
"There, that's the girl!" said Two-eighteen blithely, her rage
forgotten. "Just pat this over my shoulders."
She handed a powder-puff to Julia and turned her back to the broad
mirror, holding a hand-glass high as she watched the powder-laden puff
leaving a snowy coat on the neck and shoulders and back so generously
displayed in the cherry-coloured gown. Julia's face was set and hard.
"Oh, now, don't sulk!" coaxed Two-eighteen good-naturedly, all of a
sudden. "I hate sulky girls. I like people to be cheerful round me."
"I'm not used to being yelled at," Julia said resentfully.
Two-eighteen patted her cheek lightly. "You come out with me to-morrow
and I'll buy you something pretty. Don't you like pretty clothes?"
"Of course you do. Every girl does--especially pretty ones like you. How
do you like this dress? Don't you think it smart?"
She turned squarely to face Julia, trying on her the tricks she had
practised in the mirror. A little cruel look came into Julia's face.
"Last year's, isn't it?" she asked coolly.
"This!" cried Two-eighteen, stiffening. "Last year's! I got it yesterday
on Fifth Avenue, and paid two hundred and fifty for it. What do you--"
"Oh, I believe you," drawled Julia. "They can tell a New Yorker from an
out-of-towner every time. You know the really new thing is the Bulgarian
"Well, of all the nerve!" began Two-eighteen, turning to the mirror in a
sort of fright. "Of all the--"
What she saw there seemed to reassure. She raised one hand to push the
gown a little more off the left shoulder.
"Will there be anything else?" inquired Julia, standing aloof.
Two-eighteen turned reluctantly from the mirror and picked up a jewelled
gold-mesh bag that lay on the bed. From it she extracted a coin and held
it out to Julia. It was a generous coin. Julia looked at it. Her
smouldering wrath burst into flame.
"Keep it!" she said savagely, and was out of the room and down the hall.
Sadie Corn, at her desk, looked up quickly as Julia turned the corner.
Julia, her head held high, kept her eyes resolutely away from Sadie.
"Oh, Julia, I want to talk to you!" said Sadie Corn as Julia reached the
stairway. Julia began to descend the stairs, unheeding. Sadie Corn rose
and leaned over the railing, her face puckered with anxiety. "Now,
Julia, girl, don't hold that up against me! I didn't mean it. You know
that. You wouldn't be mad at a poor old woman that's half crazy with
neuralgy!" Julia hesitated, one foot poised to take the next step. "Come
on up," coaxed Sadie Corn, "and tell me what Two-eighteen's wearing
this evening. I'm that lonesome, with nothing to do but sit here and
watch the letter-ghosts go flippering down the mailchute! Come on!"
"What made you say you'd report me?" demanded Julia bitterly.
"I'd have said the same thing to my own daughter if I had one. You know
yourself I'd bite my tongue out first!"
"Well!" said Julia slowly, and relented. She came up the stairs almost
shyly. "Neuralgy any better?"
"Worse!" said Sadie Corn cheerfully.
Julia leaned against the desk sociably and glanced down the hall.
"Would you believe it," she snickered, "she's wearing red! With that
hair! She asked me if I didn't think she looked too pale. I wanted to
tell her that if she had any more colour, with that dress, they'd be
likely to use the chemical sprinklers on her when she struck the Alley."
"Sh-sh-sh!" breathed Sadie in warning. Two-eighteen, in her shimmering,
flame-coloured costume, was coming down the hall toward the elevators.
She walked with the absurd and stumbling step that her scant skirt
necessitated. With each pace the slashed silken skirt parted to reveal a
shameless glimpse of cerise silk stocking. In her wake came Venner, of
Two-twenty-three--a strange contrast in his black and white.
Sadie and Julia watched them from the corner nook. Opposite the desk
Two-eighteen stopped and turned to Julia.
"Just run into my room and pick things up and hang them away, will you?"
she said. "I didn't have time--and I hate things all about when I come
in dead tired."
The little formula of service rose automatically to Julia's lips.
"Very well, madam," she said.
Her eyes and Sadie's followed the two figures until they had stepped
into the cream-and-gold elevator and had vanished. Sadie, peppermint
bottle at nose, spoke first:
"She makes one of those sandwich men with a bell, on Sixth Avenue, look
like a shrinking violet!"
Julia's lower lip was caught between her teeth. The scent that had
enveloped Two-eighteen as she passed was still in the air. Julia's
nostrils dilated as she sniffed it. Her breath came a little quickly.
Sadie Corn sat very still, watching her.
"Look at her!" said Julia, her voice vibrant. "Look at her! Old and
homely, and all made up! I powdered her neck. Her skin's like tripe.
"Now Julia--" remonstrated Sadie Corn soothingly.
"I don't care," went on Julia with a rush. "I'm young. And I'm pretty
too. And I like pretty things. It ain't fair! That was one reason why I
broke with Jo. It wasn't only his mother. I told him he couldn't ever
give me the things I want anyway. You can't help wanting 'em--seeing
them all round every day on women that aren't half as good-looking as
you are! I want low-cut dresses too. My neck's like milk. I want silk
underneath, and fur coming up on my coat collar to make my cheeks look
pink. I'm sick of hooking other women up. I want to stand in front of a
mirror, looking at myself, polishing my pink nails with a silver thing
and having somebody else hook me up!"
In Sadie Corn's eyes there was a mist that could not be traced to
neuralgia or peppermint.
"Julia, girl," said Sadie Corn, "ever since the world began there's been
hookers and hooked. And there always will be. I was born a hooker. So
were you. Time was when I used to cry out against it too. But shucks! I
know better now. I wouldn't change places. Being a hooker gives you such
an all-round experience like of mankind. The hooked only get a front
view. They only see faces and arms and chests. But the hookers--they see
the necks and shoulderblades of this world, as well as faces. It's
mighty broadening--being a hooker. It's the hookers that keep this world
together, Julia, and fastened up right. It wouldn't amount to much if it
had to depend on such as that!" She nodded her head in the direction the
cerise figure had taken. "The height of her ambition is to get the
cuticle of her nails trained back so perfectly that it won't have to be
cut; and she don't feel decently dressed to be seen in public unless
she's wearing one of those breastplates of orchids. Envy her! Why,
Julia, don't you know that as you were standing here in your black dress
as she passed she was envying you!"
"Envying me!" said Julia, and laughed a short laugh that had little of
mirth in it. "You don't understand, Sadie!"
Sadie Corn smiled a rather sad little smile.
"Oh, yes, I do understand. Don't think because a woman's homely, and
always has been, that she doesn't have the same heartaches that a pretty
woman has. She's built just the same inside."
Julia turned her head to stare at her wide-eyed. It was a long and
trying stare, as though she now saw Sadie Corn for the first time.
Sadie, smiling up at the girl, stood it bravely. Then, with a sudden
little gesture, Julia patted the wrinkled, sallow cheek and was off down
the hall and round the corner to two-eighteen.
The lights still blazed in the bedroom. Julia closed the door and stood
with her back to it, looking about the disordered chamber. In that
marvellous way a room has of reflecting the very personality of its
absent owner, room two-eighteen bore silent testimony to the manner of
woman who had just left it. The air was close and overpoweringly sweet
with perfume--sachet, powder--the scent of a bedroom after a vain and
selfish woman has left it. The litter of toilet articles lay scattered
about on the dresser. Chairs and bed held garments of lace and silk. A
bewildering negligee hung limply over a couch; and next it stood a
patent-leather slipper, its mate on the floor.
Julia saw these things in one accustomed glance. Then she advanced to
the middle of the room and stooped to pick up a pink wadded bedroom
slipper from where it lay under the bed. And her hand touched a coat of
velvet and fur that had been flung across the counterpane--touched it
and rested there.
The coat was of stamped velvet and fur. Great cuffs of fur there were,
and a sumptuous collar that rolled from neck to waist. There was a
lining of vivid orange. Julia straightened up and stood regarding the
garment, her hands on her hips.
"I wonder if it's draped in the back," she said to herself, and picked
it up. It was draped in the back--bewitchingly. She held it at arm's
length, turning it this way and that. Then, as though obeying some
powerful force she could not resist, Julia plunged her arms into the
satin of the sleeves and brought the great soft revers up about her
throat. The great, gorgeous, shimmering thing completely hid her grubby
little black gown. She stepped to the mirror and stood surveying herself
in a sort of ecstasy. Her cheeks glowed rose-pink against the dark fur,
as she had known they would. Her lovely little head, with its coils of
black hair, rose flowerlike from the clinging garment. She was still
standing there, lips parted, eyes wide with delight, when the door
opened and closed--and Venner, of two-twenty-three, strode into the
"You little beauty!" exclaimed Two-twenty-three.
Julia had wheeled about. She stood staring at him, eyes and lips wide
with fright now. One hand clutched the fur at her breast.
"Why, what--" she gasped.
"I knew I'd find you here. I made an excuse to come up. Old Nutcracker
Face in the hall thinks I went to my own room." He took two quick steps
forward. "You raving little Cinderella beauty, you!"--And he gathered
Julia, coat and all, into his arms.
"Let me go!" panted Julia, fighting with all the strength of her young
arms. "Let me go!"
"You'll have coats like this," Two-twenty-three was saying in her
ear--"a dozen of them! And dresses too; and laces and furs! You'll be
ten times the beauty you are now! And that's saying something. Listen!
You meet me to-morrow--"
There came a ring--sudden and startling--from the telephone on the wall
near the door. The man uttered something and turned. Julia pushed him
away, loosened the coat with fingers that shook and dropped it to the
floor. It lay in a shimmering circle about the tired feet in their worn,
cracked boots. And one foot was raised suddenly and kicked the silken
garment into a heap.
The telephone bell sounded again. Venner, of two-twenty-three, plunged
his hand into his pocket, took out something and pressed it in Julia's
palm, shutting her fingers over it. Julia did not need to open them and
look to see--she knew by the feel of the crumpled paper, stiff and
crackling. He was making for the door, with some last instructions that
she did not hear, before she spoke. The telephone bell had stopped its
Julia raised her arm and hurled at him with all her might the
yellow-backed paper he had thrust in her hand.
"I'll--I'll get my man to whip you for this!" she panted. "Jo'll pull
those eyelashes of yours out and use 'em for couplings. You miserable
The outside door opened again, striking Two-twenty-three squarely in the
back. He crumpled up against the wall with an oath.
Sadie Corn, in the doorway, gave no heed to him. Her eyes searched
Julia's flushed face. What she saw there seemed to satisfy her. She
turned to him then grimly.
"What are you doing here?" Sadie asked briskly.
Two-twenty-three muttered something about the wrong room by mistake.
"He lies!" she said, and pointed to the floor. "That bill belongs to
Sadie Corn motioned to him.
"Pick it up!" she said.
"I don't--want it!" snarled Two-twenty-three.
"Pick--it--up!" articulated Sadie Corn very carefully. He came forward,
stooped, put the bill in his pocket. "You check out to-night!" said
Sadie Corn. Then, at a muttered remonstrance from him: "Oh, yes, you
will! So will Two-eighteen. Huh? Oh, I guess she will! Say, what do you
think a floor clerk's for? A human keyrack? I'll give you until twelve.
I'm off watch at twelve-thirty." Then, to Julia, as he slunk off: "Why
didn't you answer the phone? That was me ringing!"
A sob caught Julia in the throat, but she turned it into a laugh.
"I didn't hardly hear it. I was busy promising him a licking from Jo."
Sadie Corn opened the door.
"Come on down the hall. I've left no one at the desk. It was Jo I was
telephoning you for."
Julia grasped her arm with gripping fingers.
"Jo! He ain't--"
Sadie Corn took the girl's hand in hers.
"Jo's all right! But Jo's mother won't bother you any more, Sadie.
You'll never need to give up your housekeeping nest-egg for her again.
Jo told me to tell you."
Julia stared at her for one dreadful moment, her fist, with the knuckles
showing white, pressed against her mouth. A little moan came from her
that, repeated over and over, took the form of words:
"Oh, Sadie, if I could only take back what I said to Jo! If I could only
take back what I said to Jo! He'll never forgive me now! And I'll never
"He'll forgive you," said Sadie Corn; "but you'll never forgive
yourself. That's as it should be. That, you know, is our punishment for
what we say in thoughtlessness and anger."
They turned the corridor corner. Standing before the desk near the
stairway was the tall figure of Donahue, house detective. Donahue had
always said that Julia was too pretty to be a hotel employe.
"Straighten up, Julia!" whispered Sadie Corn. "And smile if it kills
you--unless you want to make me tell the whole of it to Donahue."
Donahue, the keen-eyed, balancing, as was his wont, from toe to heel and
back again, his chin thrust out inquiringly, surveyed the pair.
"Off watch?" inquired Donahue pleasantly, staring at Julia's eyes.
"What's wrong with Julia?"
"Neuralgy!" said Sadie Corn crisply. "I've just told her to quit rubbing
her head with peppermint. She's got the stuff into her eyes."
She picked up the bottle on her desk and studied its label, frowning.
"Run along downstairs, Julia. I'll see if they won't send you some hot
Donahue, hands clasped behind him, was walking off in his leisurely,
"Everything serene?" he called back over his big shoulder.
The neuralgic eye closed and opened, perhaps with another twinge.
"Everything's serene!" said Sadie Corn.
THE GUIDING MISS GOWD
It has long been the canny custom of writers on travel bent to defray
the expense of their journeyings by dashing off tales filled with
foreign flavour. Dickens did it, and Dante. It has been tried all the
way from Tasso to Twain; from Raskin to Roosevelt. A pleasing custom it
is and thrifty withal, and one that has saved many a one but poorly
prepared for the European robber in uniform the moist and unpleasant
task of swimming home.
Your writer spends seven days, say, in Paris. Result? The Latin Quarter
story. _Oh, mes enfants!_ That Parisian student-life story! There is the
beautiful young American girl--beautiful, but as earnest and good as she
is beautiful, and as talented as she is earnest and good. And wedded, be
it understood, to her art--preferably painting or singing. From New
York! Her name must be something prim, yet winsome. Lois will do--Lois,
_la belle Americaine_. Then the hero--American too. Madly in love with
Lois. Tall he is and always clean-limbed--not handsome, but with one of
those strong, rugged faces. His name, too, must be strong and plain, yet
snappy. David is always good. The villain is French, fascinating, and
wears a tiny black moustache to hide his mouth, which is cruel.
The rest is simple. A little French restaurant--Henri's. Know you not
Henri's? _Tiens!_ But Henri's is not for the tourist. A dim little shop
and shabby, modestly tucked away in the shadows of the Rue Brie. But the
food! Ah, the--whadd'you-call'ems--in the savoury sauce, that is Henri's
secret! The tender, broiled _poularde_, done to a turn! The bottle of
red wine! _Mais oui_; there one can dine under the watchful glare of
Rosa, the plump, black-eyed wife of the _concierge_. With a snowy apron
about her buxom waist, and a pot of red geraniums somewhere, and a
sleek, lazy cat contentedly purring in the sunny window!
Then Lois starving in a garret. Temptation! _Sacre bleu! Zut!_ Also _nom
d'un nom!_ Enter David. _Bon!_ Oh, David, take me away! Take me back to
dear old Schenectady. Love is more than all else, especially when no one
will buy your pictures.
The Italian story recipe is even simpler. A pearl necklace; a low, clear
whistle. Was it the call of a bird or a signal? His-s-s-st! Again! A
black cape; the flash of steel in the moonlight; the sound of a splash
in the water; a sickening gurgle; a stifled cry! Silence! His-st!
There is the story made in Germany, filled with students and steins and
scars; with beer and blonde, blue-eyed _Maedchen_ garbed--the _Maedchen_,
that is--in black velvet bodice, white chemisette, scarlet skirt with
two rows of black ribbon at the bottom, and one yellow braid over the
shoulder. Especially is this easily accomplished if actually written in
the _Vaterland_, German typewriting machines being equipped with
And yet not one of these formulas would seem to fit the story of Mary
Gowd. Mary Gowd, with her frumpy English hat and her dreadful English
fringe, and her brick-red English cheeks, which not even the enervating
Italian sun, the years of bad Italian food or the damp and dim little
Roman room had been able to sallow. Mary Gowd, with her shabby blue suit
and her mangy bit of fur, and the glint of humour in her pale blue eyes.
Many, many times that same glint of humour had saved English Mary Gowd
from seeking peace in the muddy old Tiber.
Her card read imposingly thus: Mary M. Gowd, Cicerone. Certificated and
Licensed Lecturer on Art and Archaeology. Via del Babbuino, Roma.
In plain language Mary Gowd was a guide. Now, Rome is swarming with
guides; but they are men guides. They besiege you in front of Cook's.
They perch at the top of the Capitoline Hill, ready to pounce on you
when you arrive panting from your climb up the shallow steps. They lie
in wait in the doorway of St. Peter's. Bland, suave, smiling, quiet, but
insistent, they dog you from the Vatican to the Catacombs.
Hundreds there are of these little men--undersized, even in this land
of small men--dapper, agile, low-voiced, crafty. In his inner coat
pocket each carries his credentials, greasy, thumb-worn documents, but
precious. He glances at your shoes--this insinuating one--or at your
hat, or at any of those myriad signs by which he marks you for his own.
Then up he steps and speaks to you in the language of your country, be
you French, German, English, Spanish or American.
And each one of this clan--each slim, feline little man in blue serge,
white-toothed, gimlet-eyed, smooth-tongued, brisk--hated Mary Gowd. They
hated her with the hate of an Italian for an outlander--with the hate of
an Italian for a woman who works with her brain--with the hate of an
Italian who sees another taking the bread out of his mouth. All this,
coupled with the fact that your Italian is a natural-born hater, may
indicate that the life of Mary Gowd had not the lyric lilt that life is
commonly reputed to have in sunny Italy.
Oh, there is no formula for Mary Gowd's story. In the first place, the
tale of how Mary Gowd came to be the one woman guide in Rome runs like
melodrama. And Mary herself, from her white cotton gloves, darned at the
fingers, to her figure, which mysteriously remained the same in spite of
fifteen years of scant Italian fare, does not fit gracefully into the
role of heroine.
Perhaps that story, scraped to bedrock, shorn of all floral features,
may gain in force what it loses in artistry.
She was twenty-two when she came to Rome--twenty-two and art-mad. She
had been pretty, with that pink-cheesecloth prettiness of the provincial
English girl, who degenerates into blowsiness at thirty. Since seventeen
she had saved and scrimped and contrived for this modest Roman holiday.
She had given painting lessons--even painted on loathsome china--that
the little hoard might grow. And when at last there was enough she had
come to this Rome against the protests of the fussy English father and
the spinster English sister.
The man she met quite casually one morning in the Sistine
Chapel--perhaps he bumped her elbow as they stood staring up at the
glorious ceiling. A thousand pardons! Ah, an artist too? In five minutes
they were chattering like mad--she in bad French and exquisite English;
he in bad English and exquisite French. He knew Rome--its pictures, its
glories, its history--as only an Italian can. And he taught her art, and
he taught her Italian, and he taught her love.
And so they were married, or ostensibly married, though Mary did not
know the truth until three months later when he left her quite as
casually as he had met her, taking with him the little hoard, and Mary's
English trinkets, and Mary's English roses, and Mary's broken pride.
So! There was no going back to the fussy father or the spinster sister.
She came very near resting her head on Father Tiber's breast in those
days. She would sit in the great galleries for hours, staring at the
wonder-works. Then, one day, again in the Sistine Chapel, a fussy little
American woman had approached her, her eyes snapping. Mary was
sketching, or trying to.
"Do you speak English?"
"I am English," said Mary.
The feathers in the hat of the fussy little woman quivered.
"Then tell me, is this ceiling by Raphael?"
"Ceiling!" gasped Mary Gowd. "Raphael!"
Then, very gently, she gave the master's name.
"Of course!" snapped the excited little American. "I'm one of a party of
eight. We're all school-teachers And this guide"--she waved a hand in
the direction of a rapt little group standing in the agonising position
the ceiling demands--"just informed us that the ceiling is by Raphael.
And we're paying him ten lire!"
"Won't you sit here?" Mary Gowd made a place for her. "I'll tell you."
And she did tell her, finding a certain relief from her pain in
unfolding to this commonplace little woman the glory of the masterpiece
"Why--why," gasped her listener, who had long since beckoned the other
seven with frantic finger, "how beautifully you explain it! How much you
know! Oh, why can't they talk as you do?" she wailed, her eyes full of
contempt for the despised guide.
"I am happy to have helped you," said Mary Gowd.
"Helped! Why, there are hundreds of Americans who would give anything to
have some one like you to be with them in Rome."
Mary Gowd's whole body stiffened. She stared fixedly at the grateful
little American school-teacher.
"Some one like me--"
The little teacher blushed very red.
"I beg your pardon. I wasn't thinking. Of course you don't need to do
any such work, but I just couldn't help saying--"
"But I do need work," interrupted Mary Gowd. She stood up, her cheeks
pink again for the moment, her eyes bright. "I thank you. Oh, I thank
"You thank me!" faltered the American.
But Mary Gowd had folded her sketchbook and was off, through the
vestibule, down the splendid corridor, past the giant Swiss guard, to
the noisy, sunny Piazza di San Pietro.
That had been fifteen years ago. She had taken her guide's examinations
and passed them. She knew her Rome from the crypt of St. Peter's to the
top of the Janiculum Hill; from the Campagna to Tivoli. She read and
studied and learned. She delved into the past and brought up strange and
interesting truths. She could tell you weird stories of those white
marble men who lay so peacefully beneath St. Peter's dome, their ringed
hands crossed on their breasts. She learned to juggle dates with an ease
that brought gasps from her American clients, with their history that
went back little more than one hundred years.
She learned to designate as new anything that failed to have its origin
stamped B.C.; and the Magnificent Augustus, he who boasted of finding
Rome brick and leaving it marble, was a mere _nouveau riche_ with his
miserable A.D. 14.
She was as much at home in the Thermae of Caracalla as you in your
white-and-blue-tiled bath. She could juggle the history of emperors with
one hand and the scandals of half a dozen kings with the other. No ruin
was too unimportant for her attention--no picture too faded for her
research. She had the centuries at her tongue's end. Michelangelo and
Canova were her brothers in art, and Rome was to her as your back-garden
patch is to you.
Mary Gowd hated this Rome as only an English woman can who has spent
fifteen years in that nest of intrigue. She fought the whole race of
Roman guides day after day. She no longer turned sick and faint when
they hissed after her vile Italian epithets that her American or English
clients quite failed to understand. Quite unconcernedly she would jam
down the lever of the taximeter the wily Italian cabby had pulled only
halfway so that the meter might register double. And when that
foul-mouthed one crowned his heap of abuse by screaming "_Camorrista!
Camor-r-rista!_" at her, she would merely shrug her shoulders and say
"_Andate presto!_" to show him she was above quarrelling with a cabman.
She ate eggs and bread, and drank the red wine, never having conquered
her disgust for Italian meat since first she saw the filthy carcasses,
fly-infested, dust-covered, loathsome, being carted through the swarming
It was six o'clock of an evening early in March when Mary Gowd went home
to the murky little room in the Via Babbuino. She was too tired to
notice the sunset. She was too tired to smile at the red-eyed baby of
the cobbler's wife, who lived in the rear. She was too tired to ask Tina
for the letters that seldom came. It had been a particularly trying day,
spent with a party of twenty Germans, who had said "_Herrlich!_" when
she showed them the marvels of the Vatican and "_Kolossal!_" at the
grandeur of the Colosseum and, for the rest, had kept their noses buried
in their Baedekers.
She groped her way cautiously down the black hall. Tina had a habit of
leaving sundry brushes, pans or babies lying about. After the warmth of
the March sun outdoors the house was cold with that clammy, penetrating,
tomblike chill of the Italian home.
"Tina!" she called.
From the rear of the house came a cackle of voices. Tina was gossiping.
There was no smell of supper in the air. Mary Gowd shrugged patient
shoulders. Then, before taking off the dowdy hat, before removing the
white cotton gloves, she went to the window that overlooked the noisy
Via Babbuino, closed the massive wooden shutters, fastened the heavy
windows and drew the thick curtains. Then she stood a moment, eyes shut.
In that little room the roar of Rome was tamed to a dull humming. Mary
Gowd, born and bred amid the green of Northern England, had never become
hardened to the maddening noises of the Via Babbuino: The rattle and
clatter of cab wheels; the clack-clack of thousands of iron-shod hoofs;
the shrill, high cry of the street venders; the blasts of motor horns
that seemed to rend the narrow street; the roar and rumble of the
electric trams; the wail of fretful babies; the chatter of gossiping
women; and above and through and below it all the cracking of the
cabman's whip--that sceptre of the Roman cabby, that wand which is one
part whip and nine parts crack. Sometimes it seemed to Mary Gowd that
her brain was seared and welted by the pistol-shot reports of those
She came forward now and lighted a candle that stood on the table and
another on the dresser. Their dim light seemed to make dimmer the dark
little room. She looked about with a little shiver. Then she sank into
the chintz-covered chair that was the one bit of England in the sombre
chamber. She took off the dusty black velvet hat, passed a hand over her
hair with a gesture that was more tired than tidy, and sat back, her
eyes shut, her body inert, her head sagging on her breast.
The voices in the back of the house had ceased. From the kitchen came
the slipslop of Tina's slovenly feet. Mary Gowd opened her eyes and sat
up very straight as Tina stood in the doorway. There was nothing
picturesque about Tina. Tina was not one of those olive-tinted,
melting-eyed daughters of Italy that one meets in fiction. Looking at
her yellow skin and her wrinkles and her coarse hands, one wondered
whether she was fifty, or sixty, or one hundred, as is the way with
Italian women of Tina's class at thirty-five.
Ah, the signora was tired! She smiled pityingly. Tired! Not at all, Mary
Gowd assured her briskly. She knew that Tina despised her because she
worked like a man.
"Something fine for supper?" Mary Gowd asked mockingly. Her Italian was
like that of the Romans themselves, so soft, so liquid, so perfect.
Tina nodded vigorously, her long earrings shaking.
"_Vitello_"--she began, her tongue clinging lovingly to the double _l_
"Ugh!" shuddered Mary Gowd. That eternal veal and mutton, pinkish,
"What then?" demanded the outraged Tina.
Mary Gowd stood up, making gestures, hat in hand.
"Clotted cream, with strawberries," she said in English, an unknown
language, which always roused Tina to fury. "And a steak--a real steak
of real beef, three inches thick and covered with onions fried in
butter. And creamed chicken, and English hothouse tomatoes, and fresh
peaches and little hot rolls, and coffee that isn't licorice and ink,
Tina's dangling earrings disappeared in her shoulders. Her outspread
palms were eloquent.
"Crazy, these English!" said the shoulders and palms. "Mad!"
Mary Gowd threw her hat on the bed, pushed aside a screen and busied
herself with a little alcohol stove.
"I shall prepare an omelet," she said over her shoulder in Italian.
"Also, I have here bread and wine."
"Ugh!" granted Tina.
"Ugh, veal!" grunted Mary Gowd. Then, as Tina's flapping feet turned
away: "Oh, Tina! Letters?"
Tina fumbled at the bosom of her gown, thought deeply and drew out a
crumpled envelope. It had been opened and clumsily closed again. Fifteen
years ago Mary Gowd would have raged. Now she shrugged philosophic
shoulders. Tina stole hairpins, opened letters that she could not hope
to decipher, rummaged bureau drawers, rifled cupboards and fingered
books; but then, so did most of the other Tinas in Rome. What use to
Mary Gowd opened the thumb-marked letter, bringing it close to the
candlelight. As she read, a smile appeared.
"Huh! Gregg," she said, "Americans!" She glanced again at the hotel
letterhead on the stationery--the best hotel in Naples. "Americans--and
The pleased little smile lingered as she beat the omelet briskly for her
The Henry D. Greggs arrived in Rome on the two o'clock train from
Naples. And all the Roman knights of the waving palm espied them from
afar and hailed them with whoops of joy. The season was still young and
the Henry D. Greggs looked like money--not Italian money, which is
reckoned in lire, but American money, which mounts grandly to dollars.
The postcard men in the Piazza delle Terme sped after their motor taxi.
The swarthy brigand, with his wooden box of tawdry souvenirs, marked
them as they rode past. The cripple who lurked behind a pillar in the
colonnade threw aside his coat with a practised hitch of his shoulder to
reveal the sickeningly maimed arm that was his stock in trade.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry D. Gregg had left their comfortable home in Batavia,
Illinois, with its sleeping porch, veranda and lawn, and seven-passenger
car; with its two glistening bathrooms, and its Oriental rugs, and its
laundry in the basement, and its Sunday fried chicken and ice cream,
because they felt that Miss Eleanora Gregg ought to have the benefit of
foreign travel. Miss Eleanora Gregg thought so too: in fact, she had
thought so first.
Her name was Eleanora, but her parents called her Tweetie, which really
did not sound so bad as it might if Tweetie had been one whit less
pretty. Tweetie was so amazingly, Americanly pretty that she could have
triumphed over a pet name twice as absurd.
The Greggs came to Rome, as has been stated, at two P.M. Wednesday. By
two P.M. Thursday Tweetie had bought a pair of long, dangling earrings,
a costume with a Roman striped collar and sash, and had learned to loll
back in her cab in imitation of the dashing, black-eyed, sallow women
she had seen driving on the Pincio. By Thursday evening she was teasing
Papa Gregg for a spray of white aigrets, such as those same languorous
ladies wore in feathery mists atop their hats.
"But, Tweet," argued Papa Gregg, "what's the use? You can't take them
back with you. Custom-house regulations forbid it."
The rather faded but smartly dressed Mrs. Gregg asserted herself:
"They're barbarous! We had moving pictures at the club showing how
they're torn from the mother birds. No daughter of mine--"
"I don't care!" retorted Tweetie. "They're perfectly stunning; and I'm
going to have them."
And she had them--not that the aigret incident is important; but it may
serve to place the Greggs in their respective niches.
At eleven o'clock Friday morning Mary Gowd called at the Gregg's hotel,
according to appointment. In far-away Batavia, Illinois, Mrs. Gregg had
heard of Mary Gowd. And Mary Gowd, with her knowledge of everything
Roman--from the Forum to the best place at which to buy pearls--was to
be the staff on which the Greggs were to lean.
"My husband," said Mrs. Gregg; "my daughter Twee--er--Eleanora. We've
heard such wonderful things of you from my dear friend Mrs. Melville
Peters, of Batavia."
"Ah, yes!" exclaimed Mary Gowd. "A most charming person, Mrs. Peters."
"After she came home from Europe she read the most wonderful paper on
Rome before the Women's West End Culture Club, of Batavia. We're
affiliated with the National Federation of Women's Clubs, as you
probably know; and--"
"Now, Mother," interrupted Henry Gregg, "the lady can't be interested in
"Oh, but I am!" exclaimed Mary Gowd very vivaciously. "Enormously!"
Henry Gregg eyed her through his cigar smoke with suddenly narrowed
"M-m-m! Well, let's get to the point anyway. I know Tweetie here is
dying to see St. Peter's, and all that."
Tweetie had settled back inscrutably after one comprehensive, disdainful
look at Mary Gowd's suit, hat, gloves and shoes. Now she sat up, her
bewitching face glowing with interest.
"Tell me," she said, "what do they call those officers with the long
pale-blue capes and the silver helmets and the swords? And the ones in
dark-blue uniform with the maroon stripe at the side of the trousers?
And do they ever mingle with the--that is, there was one of the blue
capes here at tea yesterday--"
Papa Gregg laughed a great, comfortable laugh.
"Oh, so that's where you were staring yesterday, young lady! I thought
you acted kind of absent-minded." He got up to walk over and pinch
Tweetie's blushing cheek.
So it was that Mary Gowd began the process of pouring the bloody,
religious, wanton, pious, thrilling, dreadful history of Rome into the
pretty and unheeding ear of Tweetie Gregg.
On the fourth morning after that introductory meeting Mary Gowd arrived
at the hotel at ten, as usual, to take charge of her party for the day.
She encountered them in the hotel foyer, an animated little group
centred about a very tall, very dashing, very black-mustachioed figure
who wore a long pale blue cape thrown gracefully over one shoulder as
only an Italian officer can wear such a garment. He was looking down
into the brilliantly glowing face of the pretty Eleanora, and the pretty
Eleanora was looking up at him; and Pa and Ma Gregg were standing by,
A grim little line appeared about Miss Gowd's mouth. Blue Cape's black
eyes saw it, even as he bent low over Mary Gowd's hand at the words of
"Oh, Miss Gowd," pouted Tweetie, "it's too bad you haven't a telephone.
You see, we shan't need you to-day."
"No?" said Miss Gowd, and glanced at Blue Cape.
"No; Signor Caldini says it's much too perfect a day to go poking about
among old ruins and things."
Henry D. Gregg cleared his throat and took up the explanation. "Seems
the--er--Signor thinks it would be just the thing to take a touring car
and drive to Tivoli, and have a bite of lunch there."
"And come back in time to see the Colosseum by moonlight!" put in
"Oh, yes!" said Mary Gowd.
Pa Gregg looked at his watch.
"Well, I'll be running along," he said. Then, in answer to something in
Mary Gowd's eyes: "I'm not going to Tivoli, you see. I met a man from
Chicago here at the hotel. He and I are going to chin awhile this
morning. And Mrs. Gregg and his wife are going on a shopping spree. Say,
ma, if you need any more money speak up now, because I'm--"
Mary Gowd caught his coat sleeve.
Her voice was very low. "You mean--you mean Miss Eleanora will go to
Tivoli and to the Colosseum alone--with--with Signor Caldini?"
Henry Gregg smiled indulgently.
"The young folks always run round alone at home. We've got our own car
at home in Batavia, but Tweetie's beaus are always driving up for her
Mary Gowd turned her head so that only Henry Gregg could hear what she
"Step aside for just one moment. I must talk to you."
"Do as I say," whispered Mary Gowd.
Something of her earnestness seemed to convey a meaning to Henry Gregg.
"Just wait a minute, folks," he said to the group of three, and joined
Mary Gowd, who had chosen a seat a dozen paces away. "What's the
trouble?" he asked jocularly. "Hope you're not offended because Tweet
said we didn't need you to-day. You know young folks--"
"They must not go alone," said Mary Gowd.
"This is not America. This is Italy--this Caldini is an Italian."
"Why, look here; Signor Caldini was introduced to us last night. His
folks really belong to the nobility."
"I know; I know," interrupted Mary Gowd. "I tell you they cannot go
alone. Please believe me! I have been fifteen years in Rome. Noble or
not, Caldini is an Italian. I ask you"--she had clasped her hands and
was looking pleadingly up into his face--"I beg of you, let me go with
them. You need not pay me to-day. You--"
Henry Gregg looked at her very thoughtfully and a little puzzled. Then
he glanced over at the group again, with Blue Cape looking down so
eagerly into Tweetie's exquisite face and Tweetie looking up so raptly
into Blue Cape's melting eyes and Ma Gregg standing so placidly by. He
turned again to Mary Gowd's earnest face.
"Well, maybe you're right. They do seem to use chaperons in
Europe--duennas, or whatever you call 'em. Seems a nice kind of chap,
He strolled back to the waiting group. From her seat Mary Gowd heard
Mrs. Gregg's surprised exclamation, saw Tweetie's pout, understood
Caldini's shrug and sneer. There followed a little burst of
conversation. Then, with a little frown which melted into a smile for
Blue Cape, Tweetie went to her room for motor coat and trifles that the
long day's outing demanded. Mrs. Gregg, still voluble, followed.
Blue Cape, with a long look at Mary Gowd, went out to confer with the
porter about the motor. Papa Gregg, hand in pockets, cigar tilted, eyes
narrowed, stood irresolutely in the centre of the great, gaudy foyer.
Then, with a decisive little hunch of his shoulders, he came back to
where Mary Gowd sat.
"Did you say you've been fifteen years in Rome?"
"Fifteen years," answered Mary Gowd.
Henry D. Gregg took his cigar from his mouth and regarded it
"Well, that's quite a spell. Must like it here." Mary Gowd said nothing.
"Can't say I'm crazy about it--that is, as a place to live. I said to
Mother last night: 'Little old Batavia's good enough for Henry D.' Of
course it's a grand education, travelling, especially for Tweetie.
Funny, I always thought the fruit in Italy was regular hothouse
stuff--thought the streets would just be lined with trees all hung with
big, luscious oranges. But, Lord! Here we are at the best hotel in Rome,
and the fruit is worse than the stuff the pushcart men at home feed to
their families--little wizened bananas and oranges. Still, it's grand
here in Rome for Tweetie. I can't stay long--just ran away from business
to bring 'em over; but I'd like Tweetie to stay in Italy until she
learns the lingo. Sings, too--Tweetie does; and she and Ma think they'll
have her voice cultivated over here. They'll stay here quite a while, I
"Then you will not be here with them?" asked Mary Gowd.
They sat silent for a moment.
"I suppose you're crazy about Rome," said Henry Gregg again. "There's a
lot of culture here, and history, and all that; and--"
"I hate Rome!" said Mary Gowd.
Henry Gregg stared at her in bewilderment.
"Then why in Sam Hill don't you go back to England?"
"I'm thirty-seven years old. That's one reason why. And I look older.
Oh, yes, I do. Thanks just the same. There are too many women in England
already--too many half-starving shabby genteel. I earn enough to live on
here--that is, I call it living. You couldn't. In the bad season, when
there are no tourists, I live on a lire a day, including my rent."
Henry Gregg stood up.
"My land! Why don't you come to America?" He waved his arms. "America!"
Mary Gowd's brick-red cheeks grew redder.
"America!" she echoed. "When I see American tourists here throwing
pennies in the Fountain of Trevi, so that they'll come back to Rome, I
want to scream. By the time I save enough money to go to America I'll be
an old woman and it will be too late. And if I did contrive to scrape
together enough for my passage over I couldn't go to the United States
in these clothes. I've seen thousands of American women here. If they
look like that when they're just travelling about, what do they wear at
"Clothes?" inquired Henry Gregg, mystified. "What's wrong with your
"Everything! I've seen them look at my suit, which hunches in the back
and strains across the front, and is shiny at the seams. And my gloves!
And my hat! Well, even though I am English I know how frightful my hat
"You're a smart woman," said Henry D. Gregg.
"Not smart enough," retorted Mary Gowd, "or I shouldn't be here."
The two stood up as Tweetie came toward them from the lift. Tweetie
pouted again at sight of Mary Gowd, but the pout cleared as Blue Cape,
his arrangements completed, stood in the doorway, splendid hat in hand.
It was ten o'clock when the three returned from Tivoli and the
Colosseum--Mary Gowd silent and shabbier than ever from the dust of the
road; Blue Cape smiling; Tweetie frankly pettish. Pa and Ma Gregg were
listening to the after-dinner concert in the foyer.
"Was it romantic--the Colosseum, I mean--by moonlight?" asked Ma Gregg,
patting Tweetie's cheek and trying not to look uncomfortable as Blue
Cape kissed her hand.
"Romantic!" snapped Tweetie. "It was as romantic as Main Street on
Circus Day. Hordes of people tramping about like buffaloes. Simply
swarming with tourists--German ones. One couldn't find a single ruin to
sit on. Romantic!" She glared at the silent Mary Gowd.
There was a strange little glint in Mary Gowd's eyes, and the grim line
was there about the mouth again, grimmer than it had been in the
"You will excuse me?" she said. "I am very tired. I will say good
"And I," announced Caldini.
Mary Gowd turned swiftly to look at him.
"You!" said Tweetie Gregg.
"I trust that I may have the very great happiness to see you in the
morning," went on Caldini in his careful English. "I cannot permit
Signora Gowd to return home alone through the streets of Rome." He bowed
low and elaborately over the hands of the two women.
"Oh, well; for that matter--" began Henry Gregg gallantly.
Caldini raised a protesting, white-gloved hand.
"I cannot permit it."
He bowed again and looked hard at Mary Gowd. Mary Gowd returned the
look. The brick-red had quite faded from her cheeks. Then, with a nod,
she turned and walked toward the door. Blue Cape, sword clanking,
In silence he handed her into the _fiacre_. In silence he seated himself
beside her. Then he leaned very close.
"I will talk in this damned English," he began, "that the pig of a
_fiaccheraio_ may not understand. This--this Gregg, he is very rich,
like all Americans. And the little Eleanora! _Bellissima!_ You must not
stand in my way. It is not good." Mary Dowd sat silent. "You will help
me. To-day you were not kind. There will be much money--money for me;
also for you."
Fifteen years before--ten years before--she would have died sooner than
listen to a plan such as he proposed; but fifteen years of Rome blunts
one's English sensibilities. Fifteen years of privation dulls one's
moral sense. And money meant America. And little Tweetie Gregg had not
lowered her voice or her laugh when she spoke that afternoon of Mary
Gowd's absurd English fringe and her red wrists above her too-short
"How much?" asked Mary Gowd. He named a figure. She laughed.
He named another figure; then another.
"You will put it down on paper," said Mary Gowd, "and sign your
They drove the remainder of the way in silence. At her door in the Via
"You mean to marry her?" asked Mary Gowd.
Blue Cape shrugged eloquent shoulders:
"I think not," he said quite simply.
* * * * *
It was to be the Appian Way the next morning, with a stop at the
Catacombs. Mary Gowd reached the hotel very early, but not so early as
"Think the five of us can pile into one carriage?" boomed Henry Gregg
"A little crowded, I think," said Mary Gowd, "for such a long drive.
May I suggest that we three"--she smiled on Henry Gregg and his
wife--"take this larger carriage, while Miss Eleanora and Signor Caldini
follow in the single cab?"
A lightning message from Blue Cape's eyes.
"Yes; that would be nice!" cooed Tweetie.
So it was arranged. Mary Gowd rather outdid herself as a guide that
morning. She had a hundred little intimate tales at her tongue's end.
She seemed fairly to people those old ruins again with the men and women
of a thousand years ago. Even Tweetie--little frivolous, indifferent
Tweetie--was impressed and interested.
As they were returning to the carriages after inspecting the Baths of
Caracalla, Tweetie even skipped ahead and slipped her hand for a moment
into Mary Gowd's.
"You're simply wonderful!" she said almost shyly. "You make things sound
so real. And--and I'm sorry I was so nasty to you yesterday at Tivoli."
Mary Dowd looked down at the glowing little face. A foolish little face
it was, but very, very pretty, and exquisitely young and fresh and
sweet. Tweetie dropped her voice to a whisper:
"You should hear him pronounce my name. It is like music when he says
it--El-e-a-no-ra; like that. And aren't his kid gloves always
beautifully white? Why, the boys back home--"
Mary Gowd was still staring down at her. She lifted the slim, ringed
little hand which lay within her white-cotton paw and stared at that
Then with a jerk she dropped the girl's hand and squared her shoulders
like a soldier, so that the dowdy blue suit strained more than ever at
its seams; and the line that had settled about her mouth the night
before faded slowly, as though a muscle too tightly drawn had relaxed.
In the carriages they were seated as before. The horses started up, with
the smaller cab but a dozen paces behind. Mary Gowd leaned forward. She
began to speak--her voice very low, her accent clearly English, her
brevity wonderfully American.
"Listen to me!" she said. "You must leave Rome to-night!"
"Leave Rome to-night!" echoed the Greggs as though rehearsing a duet.
"Be quiet! You must not shout like that. I say you must go away."
Mamma Gregg opened her lips and shut them, wordless for once. Henry
Gregg laid one big hand on his wife's shaking knees and eyed Mary Gowd
"I don't get you," he said.
Mary Gowd looked straight at him as she said what she had to say:
"There are things in Rome you cannot understand. You could not
understand unless you lived here many years. I lived here many months
before I learned to step meekly off into the gutter to allow a man to
pass on the narrow sidewalk. You must take your pretty daughter and go
away. To-night! No--let me finish. I will tell you what happened to me
fifteen years ago, and I will tell you what this Caldini has in his
mind. You will believe me and forgive me; and promise me that you will
go quietly away."
When she finished Mrs. Gregg was white-faced and luckily too frightened
to weep. Henry Gregg started up in the carriage, his fists
white-knuckled, his lean face turned toward the carriage crawling
"Sit down!" commanded Mary Gowd. She jerked his sleeve. "Sit down!"
Henry Gregg sat down slowly. Then he wet his lips slightly and smiled.
"Oh, bosh!" he said. "This--this is the twentieth century and we're
Americans, and it's broad daylight. Why, I'll lick the--"
"This is Rome," interrupted Mary Gowd quietly, "and you will do nothing
of the kind, because he would make you pay for that too, and it would be
in all the papers; and your pretty daughter would hang her head in shame
forever." She put one hand on Henry Gregg's sleeve. "You do not know!
You do not! Promise me you will go." The tears sprang suddenly to her
English blue eyes. "Promise me! Promise me!"
"Henry!" cried Mamma Gregg, very grey-faced. "Promise, Henry!"
"I promise," said Henry Gregg, and he turned away.
Mary Gowd sank back in her seat and shut her eyes for a moment.
"_Presto!_" she said to the half-sleeping driver. Then she waved a gay
hand at the carriage in the rear. "_Presto!_" she called, smiling.
* * * * *
At six o'clock Mary Gowd entered the little room in the Via Babbuino.
She went first to the window, drew the heavy curtains. The roar of Rome
was hushed to a humming. She lighted a candle that stood on the table.
Its dim light emphasized the gloom. She took off the battered black
velvet hat and sank into the chintz-covered English chair. Tina stood in
the doorway. Mary Gowd sat up with a jerk.
Tina thought deeply, fumbled at the bosom of her gown and drew out a
sealed envelope grudgingly.
Mary Gowd broke the seal, glanced at the letter. Then, under Tina's
startled gaze, she held it to the flaming candle and watched it burn.
"What is it that you do?" demanded Tina.
Mary Gowd smiled.
"You have heard of America?"
"America! A thousand--a million time! My brother Luigi--"
"Naturally! This, then"--Mary Gowd deliberately gathered up the ashes
into a neat pile and held them in her hand, a crumpled heap--"this then,
Tina, is my trip to America."
The key to the heart of Paris is love. He whose key-ring lacks that open
sesame never really sees the city, even though he dwell in the shadow of
the Sorbonne and comprehend the _fiacre_ French of the Paris cabman.
Some there are who craftily open the door with a skeleton key; some who
ruthlessly batter the panels; some who achieve only a wax impression,
which proves to be useless. There are many who travel no farther than
the outer gates. You will find them staring blankly at the stone walls;
and their plaint is:
"What do they find to rave about in this town?"
Sophy Gold had been eight days in Paris and she had not so much as
peeked through the key-hole. In a vague way she realised that she was
seeing Paris as a blind man sees the sun--feeling its warmth, conscious
of its white light beating on the eyeballs, but never actually beholding
its golden glory.
This was Sophy Gold's first trip to Paris, and her heart and soul and
business brain were intent on buying the shrewdest possible bill of
lingerie and infants' wear for her department at Schiff Brothers',
Chicago; but Sophy under-estimated the powers of those three guiding
parts. While heart, soul, and brain were bent dutifully and
indefatigably on the lingerie and infants'-wear job they also were
registering a series of kaleidoscopic outside impressions.
As she drove from her hotel to the wholesale district, and from the
wholesale district to her hotel, there had flashed across her
consciousness the picture of the chic little modistes' models and
_ouvrieres_ slipping out at noon to meet their lovers on the corner, to
sit over their _sirop_ or wine at some little near-by cafe, hands
clasped, eyes glowing.
Stepping out of the lift to ask for her room key, she had come on the
black-gowned floor clerk, deep in murmured conversation with the valet,
and she had seemed not to see Sophy at all as she groped subconsciously
for the key along the rows of keyboxes. She had seen the workmen in
their absurdly baggy corduroy trousers and grimy shirts strolling along
arm in arm with the women of their class--those untidy women with the
tidy hair. Bareheaded and happy, they strolled along, a strange contrast
to the glitter of the fashionable boulevard, stopping now and then to
gaze wide-eyed at a million-franc necklace in a jeweller's window; then
on again with a laugh and a shrug and a caress. She had seen the silent
couples in the Tuileries Gardens at twilight.
Once, in the Bois de Boulogne, a slim, sallow _elegant_ had bent for
what seemed an interminable time over a white hand that was stretched
from the window of a motor car. He was standing at the curb; in either
greeting or parting, and his eyes were fastened on other eyes within the
car even while his lips pressed the white hand.
Then one evening--Sophy reddened now at memory of it--she had turned a
quiet corner and come on a boy and a girl. The girl was shabby and
sixteen; the boy pale, voluble, smiling.
Evidently they were just parting. Suddenly, as she passed, the boy had
caught the girl in his arms there on the street corner in the daylight,
and had kissed her--not the quick, resounding smack of casual
leave-taking, but a long, silent kiss that left the girl limp.
Sophy stood rooted to the spot, between horror and fascination. The
boy's arm brought the girl upright and set her on her feet.
She took a long breath, straightened her hat, and ran on to rejoin her
girl friend awaiting her calmly up the street. She was not even flushed;
but Sophy was. Sophy was blushing hotly and burning uncomfortably, so
that her eyes smarted.
Just after her late dinner on the eighth day of her Paris stay, Sophy
Gold was seated in the hotel lobby. Paris thronged with American
business buyers--those clever, capable, shrewd-eyed women who swarm on
the city in June and strip it of its choicest flowers, from ball gowns
to back combs. Sophy tried to pick them from the multitude that swept
past her. It was not difficult. The women visitors to Paris in June
drop easily into their proper slots.
There were the pretty American girls and their marvellously
young-looking mammas, both out-Frenching the French in their efforts to
look Parisian; there were rows of fat, placid, jewel-laden Argentine
mothers, each with a watchful eye on her black-eyed, volcanically calm,
be-powdered daughter; and there were the buyers, miraculously dressy in
next week's styles in suits and hats--of the old-girl type most of them,
alert, self-confident, capable.
They usually returned to their hotels at six, limping a little,
dog-tired; but at sight of the brightly lighted, gay hotel foyer they
would straighten up like war-horses scenting battle and achieve an
effective entrance from the doorway to the lift.
In all that big, busy foyer Sophy Gold herself was the one person
distinctly out of the picture. One did not know where to place her. To
begin with, a woman as irrevocably, irredeemably ugly as Sophy was an
anachronism in Paris. She belonged to the gargoyle period. You found
yourself speculating on whether it was her mouth or her nose that made
her so devastatingly plain, only to bring up at her eyes and find that
they alone were enough to wreck any ambitions toward beauty. You knew
before you saw it that her hair would be limp and straggling.
You sensed without a glance at them that her hands would be bony, with
The Fates, grinning, had done all that. Her Chicago tailor and milliner
had completed the work. Sophy had not been in Paris ten minutes before
she noticed that they were wearing 'em long and full. Her coat was short
and her skirt scant. Her hat was small. The Paris windows were full of
large and graceful black velvets of the Lillian Russell school.
"May I sit here?"
Sophy looked up into the plump, pink, smiling face of one of those very
women of the buyer type on whom she had speculated ten minutes before--a
good-natured face with shrewd, twinkling eyes. At sight of it you
forgave her her skittish white-kid-topped shoes.
"Certainly," smiled Sophy, and moved over a bit on the little French
The plump woman sat down heavily. In five minutes Sophy was conscious
she was being stared at surreptitiously. In ten minutes she was
uncomfortably conscious of it. In eleven minutes she turned her head
suddenly and caught the stout woman's eyes fixed on her, with just the
baffled, speculative expression she had expected to find in them. Sophy
Gold had caught that look in many women's eyes. She smiled grimly now.
"Don't try it," she said, "It's no use."
The pink, plump face flushed pinker.
"Don't try to convince yourself that if I wore my hair differently, or
my collar tighter, or my hat larger, it would make a difference in my
looks. It wouldn't. It's hard to believe that I'm as homely as I look,
but I am. I've watched women try to dress me in as many as eleven mental
changes of costume before they gave me up."
"But I didn't mean--I beg your pardon--you mustn't think--"
"Oh, that's all right! I used to struggle, but I'm used to it now. It
took me a long time to realise that this was my real face and the only
kind I could ever expect to have."
The plump woman's kindly face grew kinder.
"But you're really not so--"
"Oh, yes, I am. Upholstering can't change me. There are various kinds of
homely women--some who are hideous in blue maybe, but who soften up in
pink. Then there's the one you read about, whose features are lighted up
now and then by one of those rare, sweet smiles that make her plain face
almost beautiful. But once in a while you find a woman who is ugly in
any colour of the rainbow; who is ugly smiling or serious, talking or in
repose, hair down low or hair done high--just plain dyed-in-the-wool,
sewed-in-the-seam homely. I'm that kind. Here for a visit?"
"I'm a buyer," said the plump woman.
"Yes; I thought so. I'm the lingerie and infants'-wear buyer for Schiff,
"A buyer!" The plump woman's eyes jumped uncontrollably again to Sophy
Gold's scrambled features. "Well! My name's Miss Morrissey--Ella
Morrissey. Millinery for Abelman's, Pittsburgh. And it's no snap this
year, with the shops showing postage-stamp hats one day and cart-wheels
the next. I said this morning that I envied the head of the tinware
department. Been over often?"
Sophy made the shamefaced confession of the novice: "My first trip."
The inevitable answer came:
"Your first! Really! This is my twentieth crossing. Been coming over
twice a year for ten years. If there's anything I can tell you, just
ask. The first buying trip to Paris is hard until you know the ropes. Of
course you love this town?"
Sophy Gold sat silent a moment, hesitating. Then she turned a puzzled
face toward Miss Morrissey.
"What do people mean when they say they love Paris?"
Ella Morrissey stared. Then a queer look came into her face--a pitying
sort of look. The shrewd eyes softened. She groped for words.
"When I first came over here, ten years ago, I--well, it would have been
easier to tell you then. I don't know--there's something about
Paris--something in the atmosphere--something in the air. It--it makes
you do foolish things. It makes you feel queer and light and happy. It's
nothing you can put your finger on and say 'That's it!' But it's there."
"Huh!" grunted Sophy Gold. "I suppose I could save myself a lot of
trouble by saying that I feel it; but I don't. I simply don't react to
this town. The only things I really like in Paris are the Tomb of
Napoleon, the Seine at night, and the strawberry tart you get at Vian's.
Of course the parks and boulevards are a marvel, but you can't expect me
to love a town for that. I'm no landscape gardener."
That pitying look deepened in Miss Morrissey's eyes.
"Have you been out in the evening? The restaurants! The French women!
Sophy Gold caught the pitying look and interpreted it without
resentment; but there was perhaps an added acid in her tone when she
"I'm here to buy--not to play. I'm thirty years old, and it's taken me
ten years to work my way up to foreign buyer. I've worked. And I wasn't
handicapped any by my beauty. I've made up my mind that I'm going to buy
the smoothest-moving line of French lingerie and infants' wear that
Schiff Brothers ever had."
Miss Morrissey checked her.
"But, my dear girl, haven't you been round at all?"
"Oh, a little; as much as a woman can go round alone in Paris--even a
homely woman. But I've been disappointed every time. The noise drives me
wild, to begin with. Not that I'm not used to noise. I am. I can stand
for a town that roars, like Chicago. But this city yelps. I've been
going round to the restaurants a little. At noon I always picked the
restaurant I wanted, so long as I had to pay for the lunch of the
_commissionnaire_ who was with me anyway. Can you imagine any man at
home letting a woman pay for his meals the way those shrimpy Frenchmen
"Well, the restaurants were always jammed full of Americans. The men of
the party would look over the French menu in a helpless sort of way, and
then they'd say: 'What do you say to a nice big steak with French-fried
potatoes?' The waiter would give them a disgusted look and put in the
order. They might just as well have been eating at a quick lunch place.
As for the French women, every time I picked what I took to be a real
Parisienne coming toward me I'd hear her say as she passed: 'Henry, I'm
going over to the Galerie Lafayette. I'll meet you at the American
Express at twelve. And, Henry, I think I'll need some more money.'"
Miss Ella Morrissey's twinkling eyes almost disappeared in wrinkles of
laughter; but Sophy Gold was not laughing. As she talked she gazed
grimly ahead at the throng that shifted and glittered and laughed and
chattered all about her.
"I stopped work early one afternoon and went over across the river.
Well! They may be artistic, but they all looked as though they needed a
shave and a hair-cut and a square meal. And the girls!"
Ella Morrissey raised a plump, protesting palm.
"Now look here, child, Paris isn't so much a city as a state of mind. To
enjoy it you've got to forget you're an American. Don't look at it from
a Chicago, Illinois, viewpoint. Just try to imagine you're a mixture of
Montmartre girl, Latin Quarter model and duchess from the Champs
Elysees. Then you'll get it."
"Get it!" retorted Sophy Gold. "If I could do that I wouldn't be buying
lingerie and infants' wear for Schiffs'. I'd be crowding Duse and
Bernhardt and Mrs. Fiske off the boards."
Miss Morrissey sat silent and thoughtful, rubbing one fat forefinger
slowly up and down her knee. Suddenly she turned.
"Don't be angry--but have you ever been in love?"
"Look at me!" replied Sophy Gold simply. Miss Morrissey reddened a
little. "As head of the lingerie section I've selected trousseaus for I
don't know how many Chicago brides; but I'll never have to decide
whether I'll have pink or blue ribbons for my own."
With a little impulsive gesture Ella Morrissey laid one hand on the
shoulder of her new acquaintance.
"Come on up and visit me, will you? I made them give me an inside room,
away from the noise. Too many people down here. Besides, I'd like to
take off this armour-plate of mine and get comfortable. When a girl gets
as old and fat as I am--"
"There are some letters I ought to get out," Sophy Gold protested
"Yes; I know. We all have; but there's such a thing as overdoing this
duty to the firm. You get up at six to-morrow morning and slap off
those letters. They'll come easier and sound less tired."
They made for the lift; but at its very gates:
"Hello, little girl!" cried a masculine voice; and a detaining hand was
laid on Ella Morrissey's plump shoulder.
That lady recognised the voice and the greeting before she turned to
face their source. Max Tack, junior partner in the firm of Tack
Brothers, Lingerie and Infants' Wear, New York, held out an eager hand.
"Hello, Max!" said Miss Morrissey not too cordially. "My, aren't you
He was undeniably dressy--not that only, but radiant with the
self-confidence born of good looks, of well-fitting evening clothes, of
a fresh shave, of glistening nails. Max Tack, of the hard eye and the
soft smile, of the slim figure and the semi-bald head, of the flattering
tongue and the business brain, bent his attention full on the very plain
Miss Sophy Gold.
"Aren't you going to introduce me?" he demanded.
Miss Morrissey introduced them, buyer fashion--names, business
connection, and firms.
"I knew you were Miss Gold," began Max Tack, the honey-tongued. "Some
one pointed you out to me yesterday. I've been trying to meet you ever
"I hope you haven't neglected your business," said Miss Gold without
Max Tack leaned closer, his tone lowered.
"I'd neglect it any day for you. Listen, little one: aren't you going
to take dinner with me some evening?"
Max Tack always called a woman "Little one." It was part of his business
formula. He was only one of the wholesalers who go to Paris yearly
ostensibly to buy models, but really to pay heavy diplomatic court to
those hundreds of women buyers who flock to that city in the interests
of their firms. To entertain those buyers who were interested in goods
such as he manufactured in America; to win their friendship; to make
them feel under obligation at least to inspect his line when they came
to New York--that was Max Tack's mission in Paris. He performed it
"What evening?" he said now. "How about to-morrow?" Sophy Gold shook her
head. "Wednesday then? You stick to me and you'll see Paris. Thursday?"
"I'm buying my own dinners," said Sophy Gold.
Max Tack wagged a chiding forefinger at her.
"You little rascal!" No one had ever called Sophy Gold a little rascal
before. "You stingy little rascal! Won't give a poor lonesome fellow an
evening's pleasure, eh! The theatre? Want to go slumming?"
He was feeling his way now, a trifle puzzled. Usually he landed a buyer
at the first shot. Of course you had to use tact and discrimination.
Some you took to supper and to the naughty _revues_.
Occasionally you found a highbrow one who preferred the opera. Had he
not sat through Parsifal the week before? And nearly died! Some wanted
to begin at Tod Sloan's bar and work their way up through Montmartre,
ending with breakfast at the Pre Catalan. Those were the greedy ones.
But this one!
"What's she stalling for--with that face?" he asked himself.
Sophy Gold was moving toward the lift, the twinkling-eyed Miss Morrissey
"I'm working too hard to play. Thanks, just the same. Good-night."
Max Tack, his face blank, stood staring up at them as the lift began to
"_Trazyem_," said Miss Morrissey grandly to the lift man.
"Third," replied that linguistic person, unimpressed.
It turned out to be soothingly quiet and cool in Ella Morrissey's room.
She flicked on the light and turned an admiring glance on Sophy Gold.
"Is that your usual method?"
"I haven't any method," Miss Gold seated herself by the window. "But
I've worked too hard for this job of mine to risk it by putting myself
under obligations to any New York firm. It simply means that you've got
to buy their goods. It isn't fair to your firm."
Miss Morrissey was busy with hooks and eyes and strings. Her utterance
was jerky but concise. At one stage of her disrobing she breathed a
great sigh of relief as she flung a heavy garment from her.
"There! That's comfort! Nights like this I wish I had that back porch of
our flat to sit on for just an hour. Ma has flower boxes all round it,
and I bought one of those hammock couches last year. When I come home
from the store summer evenings I peel and get into my old blue-and-white
kimono and lie there, listening to the girl stirring the iced tea for
supper, and knowing that Ma has a platter of her swell cold fish with
egg sauce!" She relaxed into an armchair. "Tell me, do you always talk
to men that way?"
Sophy Gold was still staring out the open window.
"They don't bother me much, as a rule."
"Max Tack isn't a bad boy. He never wastes much time on me. I don't buy
his line. Max is all business. Of course he's something of a smarty, and
he does think he's the first verse and chorus of Paris-by-night; but you
can't help liking him."
"Well, I can," said Sophy Gold, and her voice was a little bitter, "and
without half trying."
"Oh, I don't say you weren't right. I've always made it a rule to steer
clear of the ax-grinders myself. There are plenty of girls who take
everything they can get. I know that Max Tack is just padded with
letters from old girls, beginning 'Dear Kid,' and ending, 'Yours with a
world of love!' I don't believe in that kind of thing, or in accepting
things. Julia Harris, who buys for three departments in our store,
drives up every morning in the French car that Parmentier's gave her
when she was here last year. That's bad principle and poor taste.
But--Well, you're young; and there ought to be something besides
business in your life."
Sophy Gold turned her face from the window toward Miss Morrissey. It
served to put a stamp of finality on what she said:
"There never will be. I don't know anything but business. It's the only
thing I care about. I'll be earning my ten thousand a year pretty soon."
"Ten thousand a year is a lot; but it isn't everything. Oh, no, it
isn't. Look here, dear; nobody knows better than I how this working and
being independent and earning your own good money puts the stopper on
any sentiment a girl might have in her; but don't let it sour you. You
lose your illusions soon enough, goodness knows! There's no use in
smashing 'em out of pure meanness."
"I don't see what illusions have got to do with Max Tack," interrupted
Miss Morrissey laughed her fat, comfortable chuckle.
"I suppose you're right, and I guess I've been getting a lee-tle bit
nosey; but I'm pretty nearly old enough to be your mother. The girls
kind of come to me and I talk to 'em. I guess they've spoiled me.