Part 1 out of 3
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EMMA McCHESNEY & CO.
by Edna Ferber
I. BROADWAY TO BUENOS AIRES
II. THANKS TO MISS MORRISSEY
III. A CLOSER CORPORATION
IV. BLUE SERGE
V. "HOOPS, MY DEAR!"
VI. SISTERS UNDER THEIR SKIN
VII. AN ETUDE FOR EMMA
EMMA McCHESNEY & CO.
BROADWAY TO BUENOS AIRES
The door marked "MRS. MCCHESNEY" was closed. T. A. Buck,
president of the Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company, coming gaily
down the hall, stopped before it, dismayed, as one who, with a
spicy bit of news at his tongue's end, is met with rebuff before
the first syllable is voiced. That closed door meant: "Busy.
"She'll be reading a letter," T. A. Buck told himself grimly.
Then he turned the knob and entered his partner's office.
Mrs. Emma McChesney was reading a letter. More than that, she
was poring over it so that, at the interruption, she glanced up
in a maddeningly half-cocked manner which conveyed the impression
that, while her physical eye beheld the intruder, her mental eye
was still on the letter.
"I knew it," said T. A. Buck morosely.
Emma McChesney put down the letter and smiled.
"Sit down--now that you're in. And if you expect me to say,
`Knew what?' you're doomed to disappointment."
T. A. Buck remained standing, both gloved hands clasping his
walking stick on which he leaned.
"Every time I come into this office, you're reading the latest
scrawl from your son. One would think Jock's letters were
deathless masterpieces. I believe you read them at half-hour
intervals all week, and on Sunday get 'em all out and play
solitaire with them."
Emma McChesney's smile widened frankly to a grin.
"You make me feel like a cash-girl who's been caught flirting
with the elevator starter. Have I been neglecting business?"
"Business? No; you've been neglecting me!"
"Now, T. A., you've just come from the tailor's, and I suppose
it didn't fit in the back."
"It isn't that," interrupted Buck, "and you know it. Look
here! That day Jock went away and we came back to the office,
and you said----"
"I know I said it, T. A., but don't remind me of it. That
wasn't a fair test. I had just seen Jock leave me to take his
own place in the world. You know that my day began and ended
with him. He was my reason for everything. When I saw him off
for Chicago that day, and knew he was going there to stay, it
seemed a million miles from New York. I was blue and lonely and
heart-sick. If the office-boy had thrown a kind word to me I'd
have broken down and wept on his shoulder."
Buck, still standing, looked down between narrowed lids at his
"Emma McChesney," he said steadily, "do you mean that?"
Mrs. McChesney, the straightforward, looked up, looked down,
fiddled with the letter in her hand.
"Well--practically yes--that is--I thought, now that you're
going to the mountains for a month, it might give me a chance to
"And d'you know what I'll do meanwhile, out of revenge on the
sex? I've just ordered three suits of white flannel, and I shall
break every feminine heart in the camp, regardless-- Oh, say,
that's what I came in to tell you! Guess whom I saw at the
"Well, Mr. Bones, whom did you, and so forth?"
"Fat Ed Meyers. I just glimpsed him in one of the
fitting-rooms. And they were draping him in white."
Emma McChesney sat up with a jerk.
"Are you sure?"
"Sure? There's only one figure like that. He had the thing on
and was surveying himself in the mirror--or as much of himself as
could be seen in one ordinary mirror. In that white suit, with
his red face above it, he looked like those pictures you see
labeled, `Sunrise on Snow-covered Mountain.' "
"Did he see----"
"He dodged when he saw me. Actually! At least, he seems to
have the decency to be ashamed of the deal he gave us when he
left us flat in the thick of his Middle Western trip and went
back to the Sans-Silk Skirt Company. I wanted him to know I had
seen him. As I passed, I said, `You'll mow 'em down in those
clothes, Meyers.' " Buck sat down in his leisurely fashion, and
laughed his low, pleasant laugh. "Can't you see him, Emma, at
But something in Emma McChesney's eyes, and something in her set,
unsmiling face, told him that she was not seeing seashores. She
was staring straight at him, straight through him, miles beyond
him. There was about her that tense, electric, breathless air of
complete detachment, which always enveloped her when her
lightning mind was leaping ahead to a goal unguessed by the
"What's your tailor's name?"
"Name? Trotter. Why?"
Emma McChesney had the telephone operator before he could finish.
"Get me Trotter, the tailor, T-r-o-double- t-e-r. Say I want to
speak to the tailor who fits Mr. Ed Meyers, of the Sans-Silk
T. A. Buck leaned forward, mouth open, eyes wide. "Well, what
in the name of----"
"I'll let you know in a minute. Maybe I'm wrong. It's just one
of my hunches. But for ten years I sold Featherlooms through
the same territory that Ed Meyers was covering for the Sans-Silk
Skirt people. It didn't take me ten years to learn that Fat Ed
hadn't the decency to be ashamed of any deal he turned, no matter
how raw. And let me tell you, T. A.: If he dodged when he saw
you it wasn't because he was ashamed of having played us
low-down. He was contemplating playing lower-down. Of course, I
She picked up the receiver in answer to the bell. Then, sweetly,
her calm eyes smiling into Buck's puzzled ones:
"Hello! Is this Mr. Meyers' tailor? I'm to ask if you are sure
that the grade he selected is the proper weight for the tropics.
What? Oh, you say you assured him it was the weight of flannel
you always advise for South America. And you said they'd be
ready when? Next week? Thank you."
She hung up the receiver. The pupils of her eyes were dilated.
Her cheeks were very pink as always under excitement. She stood
up, her breath coming rather quickly.
"Hurray for the hunch! It holds. Fat Ed Meyers is going down
to South America for the Sans-Silk Company. It's what I've been
planning to do for the last six months. You remember I spoke of
it. You pooh-poohed the idea. It means hundreds of thousands of
dollars to the Sans-Silk people if they get it. But they won't
T. A. Buck stood up suddenly.
"Look here, Emma! If you're----"
"I certainly am. Nothing can stop me. The skirt business has
been--well, you know what it's been for the last two years. The
South American boats sail twice a month. Fat Ed Meyers' clothes
are promised for next week. That means he isn't sailing until
week after next. But the next boat sails in three days." She
picked up a piece of paper from her desk and tossed it into
Buck's hand. "That's the letter I was reading when you came in.
No; don't read it. Let me tell you instead."
Buck threw cane, hat, gloves, and letter on the broad desk,
thrust his hands into his pockets, and prepared for argument.
But he got only as far as: "But I won't allow it! You couldn't
get away in three days, at any rate. And at the end of two weeks
you'll have come to your senses, and besides----"
"T. A., I don't mean to be rude. But here are your hat and
stick and gloves. It's going to take me just forty-eight hours
"But, Emma, even if you do get in ahead of Meyers, it's an
insane idea. A woman can't go down there alone. It isn't safe.
It's bad enough for a man to tackle it. Besides, we're holding
"That's just it. When a doctor issues a bulletin to the effect
that the patient is holding his own, you may have noticed that
the relatives always begin to gather."
"It's a bubble, this South American idea. Oshkosh and Southport
and Altoona money has always been good enough for us. If we can
keep that trade, we ought to be thankful."
Emma McChesney pushed her hair back from her forehead with one
gesture and patted it into place with another. Those two
gestures, to one who knew her, meant loss of composure for one
instant, followed by the quick regaining of it the next.
"Let's not argue about it now. Suppose we wait until
to-morrow--when it's too late. I am thankful for the trade we've
got. But I don't want to be narrow about it. My thanking
capacity is such that I can stretch it out to cover some things
we haven't got yet. I've been reading up on South America."
"Reading!" put in Buck hotly. "What actual first-hand
information can you get about a country from books?"
"Well, then, I haven't only been reading. I've been talking to
everyone I could lay my hands on who has been down there and who
knows. Those South American women love dress--especially the
Argentines. And do you know what they've been wearing?
Petticoats made in England! You know what that means. An
English woman chooses a petticoat like she does a husband--for
life. It isn't only a garment. It's a shelter. It's built like
a tent. If once I can introduce the T. A. Buck Featherloom
petticoat and knickerbocker into sunny South America, they'll use
those English and German petticoats for linoleum floor-coverings.
Heaven knows they'll fit the floor better than the human form!"
But Buck was unsmiling. The muscles of his jaw were tense.
"I won't let you go. Understand that! I won't allow it!"
"Tut, tut, T. A.! What is this? Cave-man stuff?"
"Emma, I tell you it's dangerous. It isn't worth the risk, no
matter what it brings us."
Emma McChesney struck an attitude, hand on heart. " `Heaven
will protect the working girrul,' " she sang.
Buck grabbed his hat.
"I'm going to wire Jock."
"All right! That'll save me fifty cents. Do you know what
he'll wire back? `Go to it. Get the tango on its native
tairn'--or words to that effect."
"Emma, use a little logic and common sense!"
There was a note in Buck's voice that brought a quick response
from Mrs. McChesney. She dropped her little air of gayety. The
pain in his voice, and the hurt in his eyes, and the pleading in
his whole attitude banished the smile from her face. It had not
been much of a smile, anyway. T. A. knew her genuine smiles well
enough to recognize a counterfeit at sight. And Emma McChesney
knew that he knew. She came over and laid a hand lightly on his
"T. A., I don't know anything about logic. It is a hot-house
plant. But common sense is a field flower, and I've gathered
whole bunches of it in my years of business experience. I'm not
going down to South America for a lark. I'm going because the
time is ripe to go. I'm going because the future of our business
needs it. I'm going because it's a job to be handled by the most
experienced salesman on our staff. And I'm just that. I say it
because it's true. Your father, T. A., used to see things
straighter and farther than any business man I ever knew. Since
his death made me a partner in this firm, I find myself, when I'm
troubled or puzzled, trying to see a situation as he'd see it if
he were alive. It's like having an expert stand back of you in a
game of cards, showing you the next move. That's the way I'm
playing this hand. And I think we're going to take most of the
tricks away from Fat Ed Meyers."
T. A. Buck's eyes traveled from Emma McChesney's earnest, glowing
face to the hand that rested on his arm. He reached over and
gently covered that hand with his own.
"I suppose you must be right, little woman. You always are.
Dad was the founder of this business. It was the pride of his
life. That word `founder' has two meanings. I never want to be
responsible for its second meaning in connection with this
"You never will be, T. A."
"Not with you at the helm." He smiled rather sadly. "I'm a
good, ordinary, common seaman. But you've got imagination, and
foresight, and nerve, and daring, and that's the stuff that
admirals are made of."
"Bless you, T. A.! I knew you'd see the thing as I do after the
first shock was over. It has always been nip and tuck between
the Sans-Silk Company and us. You gave me the hint that showed
me their plans. Now help me follow it up."
Buck picked up his hat, squared his shoulders and fumbled with
his gloves like a bashful schoolboy.
"You--you couldn't kill two birds with one stone on this trip,
could you, Mrs. Mack?"
Mrs. McChesney, back at her desk again, threw him an inquiring
glance over her shoulder.
"You might make it a combination honeymoon and Featherloom
"T. A. Buck!" exclaimed Emma McChesney. Then, as Buck dodged
for the door: "Just for that, I'm going to break this to you.
You know that I intended to handle the Middle Western territory
for one trip, or until we could get a man to take Fat Ed Meyers'
"Well?" said Buck apprehensively.
"I leave in three days. Goodness knows how long I'll be gone!
A business deal down there is a ceremony. And--you won't need
any white-flannel clothes in Rock Island, Illinois."
Buck, aghast, faced her from the doorway.
"You mean, I----"
"Just that," smiled Emma McChesney pleasantly. And pressed the
button that summoned the stenographer.
In the next forty-eight hours, Mrs. McChesney performed a series
of mental and physical calisthenics that would have landed an
ordinary woman in a sanatorium. She cleaned up with the
thoroughness and dispatch of a housewife who, before going to the
seashore, forgets not instructions to the iceman, the milkman,
the janitor, and the maid. She surveyed her territory, behind
and before, as a general studies troops and countryside before
going into battle; she foresaw factory emergencies, dictated
office policies, made sure of staff organization like the
business woman she was. Out in the stock-room, under her
supervision, there was scientifically packed into sample-trunks
and cases a line of Featherloom skirts and knickers calculated to
dazzle Brazil and entrance Argentina. And into her own personal
trunk there went a wardrobe, each article of which was a garment
with a purpose. Emma McChesney knew the value of a smartly
tailored suit in a business argument.
T. A. Buck canceled his order at the tailor's, made up his own
line for the Middle West, and prepared to storm that prosperous
and important territory for the first time in his business
The South American boat sailed Saturday afternoon. Saturday
morning found the two partners deep in one of those condensed,
last-minute discussions. Mrs. McChesney opened a desk drawer,
took out a leather-covered pocket notebook, and handed it to
Buck. A tiny smile quivered about her lips. Buck took it,
"Your last diary?"
"Something much more important. I call it `The Salesman's
Who's Who.' Read it as you ought your Bible."
"But what?" Buck turned the pages wonderingly. He glanced at
a paragraph, frowned, read it aloud, slowly.
"Des Moines, Iowa, Klein & Company. Miss Ella Sweeney, skirt
buyer. Old girl. Skittish. Wants to be entertained. Take her
to dinner and the theater."
He looked up, dazed. "Good Lord, what is this? A joke?"
"Wait until you see Ella; you won't think it's a joke. She'll
buy only your smoothest numbers, ask sixty days' dating, and
expect you to entertain her as you would your rich aunt."
Buck returned to the little book dazedly. He flipped another
leaf--another. Then he read in a stunned sort of voice:
"Sam Bloom, Paris Emporium, Duluth. See Sadie."
He closed the book. "Say, see here, Emma, do you mean to----"
"Sam is the manager," interrupted Mrs. McChesney pleasantly,
"and he thinks he does the buying, but the brains of that
business is a little girl named Sadie Harris. She's a wonder.
Five years from now, if she doesn't marry Sam, she'll be one of
those ten-thousand-a-year foreign buyers. Play your samples up
to Sammy, but quote your prices down to Sadie. Read the next
one, T. A."
Buck read on, his tone lifeless:
"Miss Sharp. Berg Brothers, Omaha. Strictly business. Known
among the trade as the human cactus. Canceled a
ten-thousand-dollar order once because the grateful salesman
called her `girlie.' Stick to skirts."
Buck slapped the book smartly against the palm of his hand.
"Do you mean to tell me that you made this book out for me? Do
you mean to say that I have to cram on this like a kid studying
for exams? That I'll have to cater to the personality of the
person I'm selling to? Why--it's--it's----"
Emma McChesney nodded calmly.
"I don't know how this trip of yours is going to affect the
firm's business, T. A. But it's going to be a liberal education
for you. You'll find that you'll need that little book a good
many times before you're through. And while you're following its
advice, do this: forget that your name is Buck, except for
business purposes; forget that your family has always lived in a
brownstone mausoleum in Seventy-second street; forget that you
like your chops done just so, and your wine at such-and-such a
temperature; get close to your trade. They're an awfully human
lot, those Middle Western buyers. Don't chuck them under the
chin, but smile on 'em. And you've got a lovely smile, T. A."
Buck looked up from the little leather book. And, as he gazed at
Emma McChesney, the smile appeared and justified its praise.
"I'll have this to comfort me, anyway, Emma. I'll know that
while I'm smirking on the sprightly Miss Sweeney, your face will
be undergoing various agonizing twists in the effort to make
American prices understood by an Argentine who can't speak
anything but Spanish."
"Maybe I am short on Spanish, but I'm long on Featherlooms. I
may not know a senora from a chili con carne, but I know
Featherlooms from the waistband to the hem." She leaned
forward, dimpling like fourteen instead of forty. "And you've
noticed--haven't you, T. A.?--that I've got an expressive
Buck leaned forward, too. His smile was almost gone.
"I've noticed a lot of things, Emma McChesney. And if you
persist in deviling me for one more minute, I'm going to mention
Emma McChesney surveyed her cleared desk, locked the top drawer
with a snap, and stood up.
"If you do I'll miss my boat. Just time to make Brooklyn.
Suppose you write 'em."
That Ed Meyers might know nothing of her sudden plans, she had
kept the trip secret. Besides Buck and the office staff, her son
Jock was the only one who knew. But she found her cabin stocked
like a prima donna's on a farewell tour. There were boxes of
flowers, a package of books, baskets of fruit, piles of
magazines, even a neat little sheaf of telegrams, one from the
faithful bookkeeper, one from the workroom foreman, two from
salesmen long in the firm's employ, two from Jock in Chicago.
She read them, her face glowing. He and Buck had vied with each
other in supplying her with luxuries that would make pleasanter
the twenty-three days of her voyage.
She looked about the snug cabin, her eyes suddenly misty. Buck
poked his head in at the door.
"Come on up on deck, Emma; I've only a few minutes left."
She snatched a pink rose from the box, and together they went on
"Just ten minutes," said Buck. He was looking down at her.
"Remember, Emma, nothing that concerns the firm's business,
however big, is half as important as the things that concern you
personally, however small. I realize what this trip will mean to
us, if it pans, and if you can beat Meyers to it. But if
anything should happen to you, why----"
"Nothing's going to happen, T. A., except that I'll probably
come home with my complexion ruined. I'll feel a great deal more
at home talking pidgin-English to Senor Alvarez in Buenos Aires
than you will talking Featherlooms to Miss Skirt-Buyer in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. But remember this, T. A.: When you get to
know--really to know--the Sadie Harrises and the Sammy Blochs and
the Ella Sweeneys of this world, you've learned just about all
there is to know about human beings. Quick--the gangplank!
Goodby, T. A."
The dock reached, he gazed up at her as she leaned far over the
railing. He made a megaphone of his hands.
"I feel like an old maid who's staying home with her knitting,"
The boat began to move. Emma McChesney passed a quick hand over
"Don't drop any stitches, T. A." With unerring aim she flung
the big pink rose straight at him.
She went about arranging her affairs on the boat like the
business woman that she was. First she made her cabin shipshape.
She placed nearest at hand the books on South America, and the
Spanish-American pocket interpreter. She located her deck chair,
and her seat in the dining-room. Then, quietly, unobtrusively,
and guided by those years spent in meeting men and women face to
face in business, she took thorough, conscientious mental stock
of those others who were to be her fellow travelers for twenty-
For the most part, the first-class passengers were men. There
were American business men--salesmen, some of them, promoters
others, or representatives of big syndicates shrewd, alert, well
dressed, smooth shaven. Emma McChesney knew that she would gain
valuable information from many of them before the trip was over.
She sighed a little regretfully as she thought of those
smoking-room talks--those intimate, tobacco-mellowed business
talks from which she would be barred by her sex.
There were two engineers, one British, one American, both very
intelligent-looking, both inclined to taciturnity, as is often
the case in men of their profession. They walked a good deal,
and smoked nut-brown, evil-smelling pipes, and stared
unblinkingly across the water.
There were Argentines--whole families of them--Brazilians, too.
The fat, bejeweled Brazilian men eyed Emma McChesney with open
approval, even talked to her, leering objectionably. Emma
McChesney refused to be annoyed. Her ten years on the road
served her in good stead now.
But most absorbing of all to Emma McChesney, watching quietly
over her book or magazine, was a tall, erect, white-bearded
Argentine who, with his family, occupied chairs near hers. His
name had struck her with the sound of familiarity when she read
it on the passenger list. She had asked the deck-steward to
point out the name's owner. "Pages," she repeated to herself,
worriedly, "Pages? P----" Suddenly she knew. Pages y
Hernandez, the owner of the great Buenos Aires shop--a shop finer
than those of Paris. And this was Pages! All the Featherloom
instinct in Emma McChesney came to the surface and stayed there,
That was the morning of the second day out. By afternoon, she
had bribed and maneuvered so that her deck chair was next that of
the Pages-family flock of chairs. Senor Pages reminded her of
one of those dashing, white-haired, distinguished-looking men
whose likeness graces the cover of a box of your favorite cigars.
General Something-or-other-ending-in-z he should have been, with
a revolutionary background. He dressed somberly in black, like
most of the other Argentine men on board. There was Senora
Pages, very fat, very indolent, very blank, much given to pink
satin and diamonds at dinner. Senorita Pages, over-powdered,
overfrizzed, marvelously gowned, with overplumpness just a few
years away, sat quietly by Senora Pages' side, but her darting,
flashing, restless eyes were never still. The son (Emma heard
them call him Pepe) was barely eighteen, she thought, but quite a
man of the world, with his cigarettes, his drinks, his bold eyes.
She looked at his sallow, pimpled skin, his lean, brown hands,
his lack-luster eyes, and she thought of Jock and was happy.
Mrs. McChesney knew that she might visit the magnificent Buenos
Aires shop of Pages y Hernandez day after day for months without
ever obtaining a glimpse of either Pages or Hernandez. And here
was Senor Pages, so near that she could reach out and touch him
from her deck chair. Here was opportunity! A caller who had
never been obliged to knock twice at Emma McChesney's door.
Her methods were so simple that she herself smiled at them. She
donned her choicest suit of white serge that she had been saving
for shore wear. Its skirt had been cut by the very newest trick.
Its coat was the kind to make you go home and get out your own
white serge and gaze at it with loathing. Senorita Pages' eyes
leaped to that suit as iron leaps to the magnet. Emma McChesney,
passing her deck chair, detached the eyes with a neat smile. Why
hadn't she spent six months neglecting Skirts for Spanish? she
asked herself, groaning. As she approached her own deck chair
again she risked a bright, "Good morning." Her heart bounded,
stood still, bounded again, as from the lips of the assembled
Pages there issued a combined, courteous, perfectly good
American, "Good morning!"
"You speak English!" Emma McChesney's tone expressed flattery
Pages pere made answer.
"Ah, yes, it is necessary. There are many English in
A sigh--a fluttering, tremulous sigh of perfect peace and
happiness--welled up from Emma McChesney's heart and escaped
through her smiling lips.
By noon, Senorita Pages had tried on the fascinating coat and
secured the address of its builder. By afternoon, Emma McChesney
was showing the newest embroidery stitch to the slow but docile
Senora Pages. Next morning she was playing shuffleboard with the
elegant, indolent Pepe, and talking North American football and
baseball to him. She had not been Jock McChesney's mother all
those years for nothing. She could discuss sports with the best
of them. Young Pages was avidly interested. Outdoor sports had
become the recent fashion among the rich young Argentines.
The problem of papa Pages was not so easy. Emma McChesney
approached her subject warily, skirting the bypaths of politics,
war, climate, customs--to business. Business!
"But a lady as charming as you can understand nothing of
business," said Senor Pages. "Business is for your militant
"But we American women do understand business. Many--many
charming American women are in business."
Senor Pages turned his fine eyes upon her. She had talked most
interestingly, this pretty American woman.
"Perhaps--but pardon me if I think not. A woman cannot be
really charming and also capable in business."
Emma McChesney dimpled becomingly.
"But I know a woman who is as--well, as charming as you say I
am. Still, she is known as a capable, successful business
woman. She'll be in Buenos Aires when I am."
Senor Pages shook an unbelieving head. Emma McChesney leaned
"Will you let me bring her in to meet you, just to prove my
"She must be as charming as you are." His Argentine betting
proclivities rose. "Here; we shall make a wager!" He took a
card from his pocket, scribbled on it, handed it to Emma
McChesney. "You will please present that to my secretary, who
will conduct you immediately to my office. We will pretend it is
a friendly call. Your friend need not know. If I lose----"
"If you lose, you must promise to let her show you her sample
"But, dear madam, I do no buying."
"Then you must introduce her favorably to the department buyer
of her sort of goods."
"But if I win?" persisted Senor Pages.
"If she isn't as charming as--as you say I am, you may make your
Senor Pages' fine eyes opened wide.
It was on the fourteenth day of their trip that they came into
quaint Bahia. The stay there was short. Brazilian business
methods are long. Emma McChesney took no chances with
sample-trunks or cases. She packed her three leading samples
into her own personal suitcase, eluded the other tourists,
secured an interpreter, and prepared to brave Bahia. She
returned just in time to catch the boat, flushed, tired, and
orderless. Bahia would have none of her.
In three days they would reach Rio de Janeiro, the magnificent.
They would have three days there. She told herself that Bahia
didn't count, anyway--sleepy little half-breed town! But the
arrow rankled. It had been the first to penetrate the armor of
her business success. But she had learned things from that
experience at Bahia. She had learned that the South American
dislikes the North American because his Northern cousin
patronizes him. She learned that the North American business
firm is thought by the Southern business man to be tricky and
dishonest, and that, because the Northerner has not learned how
to pack a case of goods scientifically, as have the English,
Germans, and French, the South American rages to pay cubic-feet
rates on boxes that are three-quarters empty.
So it was with a heavy heart but a knowing head that she faced
Rio de Janeiro. They had entered in the evening, the sunset
splashing the bay and the hills in the foreground and the
Sugar-loaf Mountain with an unbelievable riot of crimson and gold
and orange and blue. Suddenly the sun jerked down, as though
pulled by a string, and the magic purple night came up as though
pulled by another.
"Well, anyway, I've seen that," breathed Emma McChesney
Next morning, she packed her three samples, as before, her heart
heavy, her mind on Fat Ed Meyers coming up two weeks behind her.
Three days in Rio! And already she had bumped her impatient,
quick-thinking, quick-acting North American business head up
against the stone wall of South American leisureliness and
prejudice. She meant no irreverence, no impiety as she prayed,
meanwhile packing Nos. 79, 65, and 48 into her personal bag:
"O Lord, let Fat Ed Meyers have Bahia; but please, please help
me to land Rio and Buenos Aires!"
Then, in smart tailored suit and hat, interpreter in tow, a
prayer in her heart, and excitement blazing in cheeks and eyes,
she made her way to the dock, through the customs, into a cab
that was to take her to her arena, the broad Avenida.
Exactly two hours later, there dashed into the customs-house a
well-dressed woman whose hat was very much over one ear. She was
running as only a woman runs when she's made up her mind to get
there. She came hot-foot, helter-skelter, regardless of
modishly crippling skirt, past officers, past customs officials,
into the section where stood the one small sample-trunk that she
had ordered down in case of emergency. The trunk had not gone
through the customs. It had not even been opened. But Emma
McChesney heeded not trifles like that. Rio de Janeiro had
fallen for Featherlooms. Those three samples, Nos. 79, 65, and
48, that boasted style, cut, and workmanship never before seen in
Rio, had turned the trick. They were as a taste of blood to a
hungry lion. Rio wanted more!
Emma McChesney was kneeling before her trunk, had whipped out her
key, unlocked it, and was swiftly selecting the numbers wanted
from the trays, her breath coming quickly, her deft fingers
choosing unerringly, when an indignant voice said, in Portuguese,
"It is forbidden!"
Emma McChesney did not glance around. Her head was buried in the
depths of the trunk. But her quick ears had caught the word,
"Speak English," she said, and went on unpacking.
"INGLES!" shouted the official. "No!" Then, with a
superhuman effort, as Emma McChesney stood up, her arms laden
with Featherloom samples of rainbow hues, "PARE! Ar-r-r-rest!"
Mrs. McChesney slammed down the trunk top, locked it, clutched
her samples firmly, and faced the enraged official.
"Go 'way! I haven't time to be arrested this morning. This is
my busy day. Call around this evening."
Whereupon she fled to her waiting cab, leaving behind her a
Brazilian official stunned and raging by turns.
When she returned, happy, triumphant, order-laden, he was
standing there, stunned no longer but raging still. Emma
McChesney had forgotten all about him. The gold-braided
official advanced, mustachios bristling. A volley of Portuguese
burst from his long-pent lips. Emma McChesney glanced behind
her. Her interpreter threw up helpless hands, replying with a
still more terrifying burst of vowels. Bewildered, a little
frightened, Mrs. McChesney stood helplessly by. The official
laid a none too gentle hand on her shoulder. A little group of
lesser officials stood, comic-opera fashion, in the background.
And then Emma McChesney's New York training came to her aid. She
ignored the voluble interpreter. She remained coolly unruffled
by the fusillade of Portuguese. Quietly she opened her hand bag
and plunged her fingers deep, deep therein. Her blue eyes gazed
confidingly up into the Brazilian's snapping black ones, and as
she withdrew her hand from the depths of her purse, there passed
from her white fingers to his brown ones that which is the
Esperanto of the nations, the universal language understood from
Broadway to Brazil. The hand on her shoulder relaxed and fell
On deck once more, she encountered the suave Senor Pages. He
stood at the rail surveying Rio's shores with that lip-curling
contempt of the Argentine for everything Brazilian. He regarded
Emma McChesney's radiant face.
"You are pleased with this--this Indian Rio?"
Mrs. McChesney paused to gaze with him at the receding shores.
"Like it! I'm afraid I haven't seen it. From here it looks
like Coney. But it buys like Seattle. Like it! Well, I should
say I do!"
"Ah, senora," exclaimed Pages, distressed, "wait! In six days
you will behold Buenos Aires. Your New York, Londres,
Paris--bah! You shall drive with my wife and daughter through
Palermo. You shall see jewels, motors, toilettes as never
before. And you will visit my establishment?" He raised an
emphatic forefinger. "But surely!"
Emma McChesney regarded him solemnly.
"I promise to do that. You may rely on me."
Six days later they swept up the muddy and majestic Plata, whose
color should have won it the name of River of Gold instead of
River of Silver. From the boat's upper deck, Emma McChesney
beheld a sky line which was so like the sky line of her own New
York that it gave her a shock. She was due for still another
shock when, an hour later, she found herself in a maelstrom of
motors, cabs, street cars, newsboys, skyscrapers, pedestrians,
policemen, subway stations. Where was the South American
languor? Where the Argentine inertia? The rush and roar of it,
the bustle and the bang of it made the twenty-three-day voyage
seem a myth.
"I'm going to shut my eyes," she told herself, "and then open
them quickly. If that little brown traffic-policeman turns out
to be a big, red-faced traffic-policeman, then I'm right, and
this IS Broadway and Forty-second."
Shock number three came upon her entrance at the Grande Hotel.
It had been Emma McChesney's boast that her ten years on the road
had familiarized her with every type, grade, style, shape, cut,
and mold of hotel clerk. She knew him from the Knickerbocker to
the Eagle House at Waterloo, Iowa. At the moment she entered the
Grande Hotel, she knew she had overlooked one. Accustomed though
she was to the sartorial splendors of the man behind the desk,
she might easily have mistaken this one for the president of the
republic. In his glittering uniform, he looked a pass between
the supreme chancellor of the K.P.'s in full regalia and a prince
of India during the Durbar. He was regal. He was overwhelming.
He would have made the most splendid specimen of North American
hotel clerk look like a scullery boy. Mrs. McChesney spent two
whole days in Buenos Aires before she discovered that she could
paralyze this personage with a peso. A peso is forty-three
Her experience at Bahia and at Rio de Janeiro had taught her
things. So for two days, haunted, as she was, by visions of Fat
Ed Meyers coming up close behind her, she possessed her soul in
patience and waited. On the great firm of Pages y Hernandez
rested the success of this expedition. When she thought of her
little trick on Senor Pages, her blithe spirits sank. Suppose,
after all, that this powerful South American should resent her
little Yankee joke!
Her trunks went through the customs. She secured an interpreter.
She arranged her samples with loving care. Style, cut,
workmanship--she ran over their strong points in her mind. She
looked at them as a mother's eyes rest fondly on the shining
faces, the well-brushed hair, the clean pinafores of her brood.
And her heart swelled with pride. They lay on their tables, the
artful knickerbockers, the gleaming petticoats, the pink and blue
pajamas, the bifurcated skirts. Emma McChesney ran one hand
lightly over the navy blue satin folds of a sample.
"Pages or no Pages, you're a credit to your mother," she said,
Up in her room once more, she selected her smartest tailor
costume, her most modish hat, the freshest of gloves and blouses.
She chose the hours between four and six, when wheel traffic was
suspended in the Calle Florida and throughout the
shopping-district, the narrow streets of which are congested to
the point of suffocation at other times.
As she swung down the street they turned to gaze after her--these
Argentines. The fat senoras turned, and the smartly costumed,
sallow senoritas, and the men--all of them. They spoke to her,
these last, but she had expected that, and marched on with her
free, swinging stride, her chin high, her color very bright.
Into the great shop of Pages y Hernandez at last, up to the
private offices, her breath coming a little quickly, into the
presence of the shiny secretary--shiny teeth, shiny hair, shiny
skin, shiny nails. He gazed upon Emma McChesney, the shine
gleaming brighter. He took in his slim, brown fingers the card
on which Senor Pages had scribbled that day on board ship. The
shine became dazzling. He bowed low and backed his way into the
office of Senor Pages.
A successful man is most impressive when in those surroundings
which have been built up by his success. On shipboard, Senor
Pages had been a genial, charming, distinguished fellow
passenger. In his luxurious business office he still was genial,
charming, but his environment seemed to lend him a certain
("How awful that sounds!" Emma McChesney told herself.)
"We spoke of you but last night. And now you come to win the
wager, yes?" He smiled, but shook his head.
"Yes," replied Emma McChesney. And tried to smile, too.
Senor Pages waved a hand toward the outer office.
"She is with you, this business friend who is also so
"Oh, yes," said Emma McChesney, "she's--she's with me."
Then, as he made a motion toward the push-button, which would
summon the secretary: "No, don't do that! Wait a minute!"
From her bag she drew her business card, presented it. "Read
Senor Pages read it. He looked up. Then he read it again. He
gazed again at Emma McChesney. Emma McChesney looked straight at
him and tried in vain to remember ever having heard of the South
American's sense of humor. A moment passed. Her heart sank.
Then Senor Pages threw back his fine head and laughed--laughed as
the Latin laughs, emphasizing his mirth with many ejaculations
"Ah, you Northerners! You are too quick for us. Come; I myself
must see this garment which you honor by selling." His glance
rested approvingly on Emma McChesney's trim, smart figure.
"That which you sell, it must be quite right."
"I not only sell it," said Emma McChesney; "I wear it."
"That--how is it you Northerners say?--ah, yes--that settles
Six weeks later, in his hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, T. A. Buck
sat reading a letter forwarded from New York and postmarked
Argentina. As he read he chuckled, grew serious, chuckled again
and allowed his cigar to grow cold.
For the seventh time:
DEAR T. A.:
They've fallen for Featherlooms the way an Eskimo takes to
gum-drops. My letter of credit is all shot to pieces, but it was
worth it. They make you pay a separate license fee in each
province, and South America is just one darn province after
another. If they'd lump a peddler's license for $5,000 and tell
you to go ahead, it would be cheaper.
I landed Pages y Hernandez by a trick. The best of it is the man
I played it on saw the point and laughed with me. We North
Americans brag too much about our sense of humor.
I thought ten years on the road had hardened me to the most
fiendish efforts of a hotel chef. But the food at the Grande
here makes a quarter-inch round steak with German fried look like
Sherry's latest triumph. You know I'm not fussy. I'm the kind
of woman who, given her choice of ice cream or cheese for
dessert, will take cheese. Here, given my choice, I play safe
and take neither. I've reached the point where I make a meal of
radishes. They kill their beef in the morning and serve it for
lunch. It looks and tastes like an Ethiop's ear. But I don't
care, because I'm getting gorgeously thin.
If the radishes hold out I'll invade Central America and Panama.
I've one eye on Valparaiso already. I know it sounds wild, but
it means a future and a fortune for Featherlooms. I find I don't
even have to talk skirts. They're self-sellers. But I have to
talk honesty and packing.
How did you hit it off with Ella Sweeney? Haven't seen a sign of
Fat Ed Meyers. I'm getting nervous. Do you think he may have
exploded at the equator?
But kind fortune saw fit to add a last sweet drop to Emma
McChesney's already brimming cup. As she reached the docks on
the day of her departure, clad in cool, crisp white from hat to
shoes, her quick eye spied a red-faced, rotund, familiar figure
disembarking from the New York boat, just arrived. The fates,
grinning, had planned this moment like a stage-manager. Fat Ed
Meyers came heavily down the gangplank. His hat was off. He was
mopping the top of his head with a large, damp handkerchief. His
gaze swept over the busy landing-docks, darted hither and
thither, alighted on Emma McChesney with a shock, and rested
there. A distinct little shock went through that lady, too. But
she waited at the foot of her boat's gangway until the
unbelievably nimble Meyers reached her.
He was a fiery spectacle. His cheeks were distended, his eyes
protuberant. He wasted no words. They understood each other,
"Coming or going?"
"Going," replied Emma McChesney.
"Clean up this--this Bonez Areez, too?"
Meyers stood a moment panting, his little eyes glaring into her
"Well, I beat you in Bahia, anyway." he boasted.
Emma McChesney snapped her fingers blithely.
"Bah, for Bahia!" She took a step or two up the gangplank, and
turned. "Good-by, Ed. And good luck. I can recommend the
radishes, but pass up the beef. Dangerous."
Fat Ed Meyers, still staring, began to stutter unintelligibly,
his lips moving while no words came. Emma McChesney held up a
"Don't do that, Ed! Not in this climate! A man of your build,
too! I'm surprised. Consider the feelings of your firm!"
Fat Ed Meyers glared up at the white-clad, smiling, gracious
figure. His hands unclenched. The words came.
"Oh, if only you were a man for just ten minutes!" he moaned.
THANKS TO MISS MORRISSEY
It was Fat Ed Meyers, of the Sans-Silk Skirt Company, who first
said that Mrs. Emma McChesney was the Maude Adams of the business
world. It was on the occasion of his being called to the carpet
for his failure to make Sans-silks as popular as Emma McChesney's
famed Featherlooms. He spoke in self-defense, heatedly.
"It isn't Featherlooms. It's McChesney. Her line is no better
than ours. It's her personality, not her petticoats. She's got
a following that swears by her. If Maude Adams was to open on
Broadway in `East Lynne,' they'd flock to see her, wouldn't they?
Well, Emma McChesney could sell hoop-skirts, I'm telling you.
She could sell bustles. She could sell red-woolen mittens on
The title stuck.
It was late in September when Mrs. McChesney, sunburned,
decidedly under weight, but gloriously triumphant, returned from
a four months' tour of South America. Against the earnest
protests of her business partner, T. A. Buck, president of the
Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company, she had invaded the southern
continent and left it abloom with Featherlooms from the Plata to
Success was no stranger to Mrs. McChesney. This last business
victory had not turned her head. But it had come perilously near
to tilting that extraordinarily well-balanced part. A certain
light in her eyes, a certain set of her chin, an added briskness
of bearing, a cocky slant of the eyebrow revealed the fact that,
though Mrs. McChesney's feet were still on the ground, she might
be said to be standing on tiptoe.
When she had sailed from Brooklyn pier that June afternoon, four
months before, she had cast her ordinary load of business
responsibilities on the unaccustomed shoulders of T. A. Buck.
That elegant person, although president of the company which his
father had founded, had never been its real head. When trouble
threatened in the workroom, it was to Mrs. McChesney that the
forewoman came. When an irascible customer in Green Bay,
Wisconsin, waxed impatient over the delayed shipment of a
Featherloom order, it was to Emma McChesney that his typewritten
protest was addressed. When the office machinery needed mental
oiling, when a new hand demanded to be put on silk-work instead
of mercerized, when a consignment of skirt-material turned out to
be more than usually metallic, it was in Mrs. Emma McChesney's
little private office that the tangle was unsnarled.
She walked into that little office, now, at nine o'clock of a
brilliant September morning. It was a reassuring room, bright,
orderly, workmanlike, reflecting the personality of its owner.
She stood in the center of it now and looked about her, eyes
glowing, lips parted. She raised her hands high above her head,
then brought them down to her sides again with an unconsciously
dramatic gesture that expressed triumph, peace, content, relief,
accomplishment, and a great and deep satisfaction. T. A. Buck,
in the doorway, saw the gesture--and understood.
"Not so bad to get back to it, is it?"
"Bad! It's like a drink of cool spring water after too much
champagne. In those miserable South American hotels, how I used
to long for the orderliness and quiet of this!"
She took off hat and coat. In a vase on the desk, a cluster of
yellow chrysanthemums shook their shaggy heads in welcome. Emma
McChesney's quick eye jumped to them, then to Buck, who had come
in and was surveying the scene appreciatively.
"You--of course." She indicated the flowers with a nod and a
"Sorry--no. The office staff did that. There's a card of
welcome, I believe."
"Oh," said Emma McChesney. The smile was still there, but the
radiance was gone.
She seated herself at her desk. Buck took the chair near by.
She unlocked a drawer, opened it, rummaged, closed it again,
unlocked another. She patted the flat top of her desk with
"I can't help it," she said, with a little shamed laugh; "I'm
so glad to be back. I'll probably hug the forewoman and bite a
piece out of the first Featherloom I lay hands on. I had to use
all my self-control to keep from kissing Jake, the elevator-man,
Out of the corner of her eye, Emma McChesney had been glancing at
her handsome business partner. She had found herself doing the
same thing from the time he had met her at the dock late in the
afternoon of the day before. Those four months had wrought some
subtle change. But what? Where? She frowned a moment in
"Is that a new suit, T. A.?"
"This? Lord, no! Last summer's. Put it on because of this
July hangover in September. Why?"
"Oh, I don't know"--vaguely--"I just--wondered."
There was nothing vague about T. A. Buck, however. His old air
of leisureliness was gone. His very attitude as he sat there,
erect, brisk, confident, was in direct contrast to his old,
"I'd like to go over the home grounds with you this morning,"
he said. "Of course, in our talk last night, we didn't cover
the South American situation thoroughly. But your letters and
the orders told the story. You carried the thing through to
success. It's marvelous! But we stay-at-homes haven't been
marking time during your absence."
The puzzled frown still sat on Emma McChesney's brow. As though
thinking aloud, she said,
"Have you grown thinner, or fatter or--something?"
"Not an ounce. Weighed at the club yesterday."
He leaned forward a little, his face suddenly very sober.
"Emma, I want to tell you now that--that mother--she--I lost her
just a few weeks after you sailed."
Emma McChesney gave a little cry. She came quickly over to him,
and one hand went to his shoulder as she stood looking down at
him, her face all sympathy and contrition and sorrow.
"And you didn't write me! You didn't even tell me, last
"I didn't want to distress you. I knew you were having a
hard-enough pull down there without additional worries. It
happened very suddenly while I was out on the road. I got the
wire in Peoria. She died very suddenly and quite painlessly.
Her companion, Miss Tate, was with her. She had never been
herself since Dad's death."
"I could only do what was to be done. Then I went back on the
road. I closed up the house, and now I've leased it. Of course
it's big enough for a regiment. But we stayed on because mother
was used to it. I sold some of the furniture, but stored the
things she had loved. She left some to you."
"You know she used to enjoy your visits so much, partly because
of the way in which you always talked of Dad. She left you some
jewelry that she was fond of, and that colossal old mahogany
buffet that you used to rave over whenever you came up. Heaven
knows what you'll do with it! It's a white elephant. If you add
another story to it, you could rent it out as an apartment."
"Indeed I shall take it, and cherish it, and polish it up myself
every week--the beauty!"
She came back to her chair. They sat a moment in silence. Then
Emma McChesney spoke musingly.
"So that was it." Buck looked up. "I sensed
something--different. I didn't know. I couldn't explain it."
Buck passed a quick hand over his eyes, shook himself, sat up,
erect and brisk again, and plunged, with a directness that was as
startling as it was new in him, into the details of Middle
"Good!" exclaimed Emma McChesney.
"It's all very well to know that Featherlooms are safe in South
America. But the important thing is to know how they're going in
the corn country."
Buck stood up.
"Suppose we transfer this talk to my office. All the papers are
there, all the correspondence--all the orders, everything. You
can get the whole situation in half an hour. What's the use of
talking when figures will tell you."
He walked swiftly over to the door and stood there waiting. Emma
McChesney rose. The puzzled look was there again.
"No, that wasn't it, after all," she said.
"Eh?" said Buck. "Wasn't what?"
"Nothing," replied Emma McChesney.
"I'm wool-gathering this morning. I'm afraid it's going to
take me a day or two to get back into harness again."
"If you'd rather wait, if you think you'll be more fit to-morrow
or the day after, we'll wait. There's no real hurry. I just
But Mrs. McChesney led the way across the hall that separated her
office from her partner's. Halfway across, she stopped and
surveyed the big, bright, busy main office, with its clacking
typewriters and rustle and crackle of papers and its air of
"Why, you've run up a partition there between Miss Casey's desk
and the workroom door, haven't you?"
"Yes; it's much better that way."
"Yes, of course. And--why, where are the boys' desks?
Spalding's and Hutchinson's, and--they're all gone!" She
turned in amazement.
"Break it to me! Aren't we using traveling men any more?"
Buck laughed his low, pleasant laugh.
"Oh, yes; but I thought their desks belonged somewhere else than
in the main office. They're now installed in the little room
between the shop and Healy's office. Close quarters, but better
than having them out here where they were inclined to neglect
their reports in order to shine in the eyes of that pretty new
stenographer. There are one or two other changes. I hope you'll
approve of them."
"I'm sure I shall," replied Emma McChesney, a little stiffly.
In Buck's office, she settled back in her chair to watch him as
he arranged neat sheaves of papers for her inspection. Her eyes
traveled from his keen, eager face to the piles of paper and back
"Tell me, did you hit it off with the Ella Sweeneys and the
Sadie Harrises of the great Middle West? Is business as bad as
the howlers say it is? You said something last night about a
novelty bifurcated skirt. Was that the new designer's idea? How
have the early buyers taken to it?"
Buck crooked an elbow over his head in self-defense.
"Stop it! You make me feel like Rheims cathedral. Don't
bombard until negotiations fail."
He handed her the first sheaf of papers. But, before she began
to read: "I'll say this much. Miss Sharp, of Berg Brothers,
Omaha--the one you warned against as the human cactus--had me up
for dinner. Well, I know you don't, but it's true. Her father
and I hit it off just like that. He's a character, that old boy.
Ever meet him? No? And Miss Sharp told me something about
herself that explains her porcupine pose. That poor child was
engaged to a chap who was killed in the Spanish-American war,
"Kate Sharp!" interrupted Emma McChesney. "Why, T. A. Buck,
in all her vinegary, narrow life, that girl has never had a beau,
Buck's eyebrows came up slightly.
"Emma McChesney, you haven't developed--er--claws, have you?"
With a gasp, Emma McChesney plunged into the papers before her.
For ten minutes, the silence of the room was unbroken except for
the crackling of papers. Then Emma McChesney put down the first
sheaf and looked up at her business partner.
"Is that a fair sample?" she demanded.
"Very," answered T. A. Buck, and handed her another set.
Another ten minutes of silence. Emma McChesney reached out a
hand for still another set of papers. The pink of repressed
excitement was tinting her cheeks.
"They're--they're all like this?"
Mrs. McChesney faced him, her eyes wide, her breath coming fast.
"T. A. Buck," she slapped the papers before her smartly with
the back of her hand, "this means you've broken our record for
Middle Western sales!"
"Yes," said T. A., quietly. "Dad would have enjoyed a morning
like this, wouldn't he?"
Emma McChesney stood up.
"Enjoyed it! He is enjoying it. Don't tell me that T. A.,
Senior, just because he is no longer on earth, has failed to get
the joy of knowing that his son has realized his fondest dreams.
Why, I can feel him here in this room, I can see those bright
brown eyes of his twinkling behind his glasses. Not know it! Of
course he knows it."
Buck looked down at the desk, smiling curiously.
"D'you know, I felt that way, too."
Suddenly Emma McChesney began to laugh. It was not all
mirth--that laugh. Buck waited.
"And to think that I--I kindly and patronizingly handed you a
little book full of tips on how to handle Western buyers, `The
Salesman's Who's Who'--I, who used to think I was the witch of
the West when it came to selling! You, on your first
selling-trip, have made me look like--like a shoe-string
Buck put out a hand suddenly.
"Don't say that, Emma. I--somehow it takes away all the
"It's true. And now that I know, it explains a lot of things
that I've been puzzling about in the last twenty-four hours."
"What kind of things?"
"The way you look and act and think. The way you carry your
head. The way you sit in a chair. The very words you use, your
gestures, your intonations. They're different."
T. A. Buck, busy with his cigar, laughed a little
"Oh, nonsense!" he said. "You're imagining things."
Which remark, while not a particularly happy one, certainly was
not in itself so unfortunate as to explain why Mrs. McChesney
should have turned rather suddenly and bolted into her own office
across the hall and closed the door behind her.
T. A. Buck, quite cool and unruffled, viewed her sudden departure
quizzically. Then he took his cigar from his mouth and stood
eying it a moment with more attention, perhaps, than it deserved,
in spite of its fine aroma. When he put it back between his lips
and sat down at his desk once more he was smiling ever so
Then began a new order of things in the offices of the T. A. Buck
Featherloom Petticoat Company. Feet that once had turned quite
as a matter of course toward the door marked "MRS. MCCHESNEY,"
now took the direction of the door opposite--and that door bore
the name of Buck. Those four months of Mrs. McChesney's absence
had put her partner to the test. That acid test had washed away
the accumulated dross of years and revealed the precious metal
beneath. T. A. Buck had proved to be his father's son.
If Mrs. McChesney noticed that the head office had miraculously
moved across the hall, if her sharp ears marked that the many
feet that once had paused at her door now stopped at the door
opposite, if she realized that instead of, "I'd like your
opinion on this, Mrs. McChesney," she often heard the new,
"I'll ask Mr. Buck," she did not show it by word or sign.
The first of October found buyers still flocking into New York
from every State in the country. Shrewd men and women,
these--bargain hunters on a grand scale. Armed with the long
spoon of business knowledge, they came to skim the cream from
factory and workroom products set forth for their inspection.
For years, it had been Emma McChesney's quiet boast that of those
whose business brought them to the offices and showrooms of the
T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company, the foremost insisted
on dealing only with her. She was proud of her following. She
liked their loyalty. Their preference for her was the subtlest
compliment that was in their power to pay. Ethel Morrissey,
whose friendship dated back to the days when Emma McChesney had
sold Featherlooms through the Middle West, used to say
laughingly, her plump, comfortable shoulders shaking, "Emma, if
you ever give me away by telling how many years I've been buying
Featherlooms of you, I'll--I'll call down upon you the spinster's
Early Monday morning, Mrs. McChesney, coming down the hall from
the workroom, encountered Miss Ella Sweeney, of Klein & Company,
Des Moines, Iowa, stepping out of the elevator. A very skittish
Miss Sweeney, rustling, preening, conscious of her dangling black
earrings and her Robespierre collar and her beauty-patch. Emma
McChesney met this apparition with outstretched, welcoming hand.
"Ella Sweeney! Well, I'd almost given you up. You're late this
fall. Come into my office."
She led the way, not noticing that Miss Sweeney came reluctantly,
her eyes on the closed door across the way.
"Sit down," said Emma McChesney, and pulled a chair nearer her
desk. "No; wait a minute! Let me look at you. Now, Ella,
don't try to tell me that THAT dress came from Des Moines, Iowa!
Do I! Why, child, it's distinctive!"
Miss Sweeney, still standing, smiled a pleased but rather
preoccupied smile. Her eyes roved toward the door.
Emma McChesney, radiating good will and energy, went on:
"Wait till you see our new samples! You'll buy a million
dollars' worth. Just let me lead you to our new Walk-Easy
bifurcated skirt. We call it the `one-stepper's delight.' "
She put a hand on Ella Sweeney's arm, preparatory to guiding her
to the showrooms in the rear. But Miss Sweeney's strange
reluctance grew into resolve. A blush, as real as it was
unaccustomed, arose to her bepowdered cheeks.
"Is--I--that is--Mr. Buck is in, I suppose?"
"Mr. Buck? Oh, yes, he's in."
Miss Sweeney's eyes sought the closed door across the hall.
"Is that--his office?"
Emma McChesney stiffened a little. Her eyes narrowed
thoughtfully. "You have guessed it," she said crisply. "Mr.
Buck's name is on the door, and you are looking at it."
Miss Sweeney looked down, looked up, twiddled the chain about her
"You want to see Mr. Buck?" asked Emma McChesney quietly.
Miss Sweeney simpered down at her glove-tips, fluttered her
"Well--yes--I--I--you see, I bought of him this year, and when
you buy of a person, why, naturally, you----"
"Naturally; I understand."
She walked across the hall, threw open the door, and met T. A.
Buck's glance coolly.
"Mr. Buck, Miss Sweeney, of Des Moines, is here, and I'm sure
you want to see her. This way, Miss Sweeney."
Miss Sweeney, sidling, blushing, fluttering, teetered in. Emma
McChesney, just before she closed the door, saw a little spasm
cross Buck's face. It was gone so quickly, and a radiant smile
sat there so reassuringly, that she wondered if she had not been
mistaken, after all. He had advanced, hand outstretched, with:
"Miss Sweeney! It--it's wonderful to see you again! You're
The closed door stifled the rest. Emma McChesney, in her office
across the way, stood a moment in the center of the room, her
hand covering her eyes. The hardy chrysanthemums still glowed
sunnily from their vase. The little room was very quiet except
for the ticking of the smart, leather-encased clock on the desk.
The closed door shut out factory and office sounds. And Emma
McChesney stood with one hand over her eyes. So Napoleon might
have stood after Waterloo.
After this first lesson, Mrs. McChesney did not err again. When,
two days later, Miss Sharp, of Berg Brothers, Omaha, breezed in,
looking strangely juvenile and distinctly anticipatory, Emma
greeted her smilingly and waved her toward the door opposite.
Miss Sharp, the erstwhile bristling, was strangely smooth and
sleek. She glanced ever so softly, sighed ever so flutteringly.
"Working side by side with him, seeing him day after day, how
have you been able to resist him?"
Emma McChesney was only human, after all.
"By remembering that this is a business house, not a matrimonial
The dart found no lodging place in Miss Sharp's sleek armor. She
seemed scarcely to have heard.
"My dear," she whispered, "his eyes! And his manner! You
must be--whatchamaycallit --adamant. Is that the way you
pronounce it? You know what I mean."
"Oh, yes," replied Emma McChesney evenly, "I--know what you
She told herself that she was justified in the righteous contempt
which she felt for this sort of thing. A heart-breaker! A cheap
lady-killer! Whereupon in walked Sam Bloom, of the Paris
Emporium, Duluth, one of Mrs. McChesney's stanchest admirers and
a long-tried business friend.
The usual thing: "Younger than ever, Mrs. McChesney! You're a
wonder--yes, you are! How's business? Same here. Going to have
lunch with me to-day?" Then: "I'll just run in and see Buck.
Say, where's he been keeping himself all these years? Chip off
the old block, that boy."
So he had the men, too!
It was in this frame of mind that Miss Ethel Morrissey found her
on the morning that she came into New York on her semi-annual
buying-trip. Ethel Morrissey, plump, matronly-looking, quiet,
with her hair fast graying at the sides, had nothing of the
skittish Middle Western buyer about her. She might have passed
for the mother of a brood of six if it were not for her eyes--the
shrewd, twinkling, far-sighted, reckoning eyes of the business
woman. She and Emma McChesney had been friends from the day that
Ethel Morrissey had bought her first cautious bill of
Featherlooms. Her love for Emma McChesney had much of the
maternal in it. She felt a personal pride in Emma McChesney's
work, her success, her clean reputation, her life of self-denial
for her son Jock. When Ethel Morrissey was planned by her Maker,
she had not been meant to be wasted on the skirt-and-suit
department of a small-town store. That broad, gracious breast
had been planned as a resting-place for heads in need of comfort.
Those plump, firm arms were meant to enfold the weak and
distressed. Those capable hands should have smoothed troubled
heads and patted plump cheeks, instead of wasting their gifts in
folding piles of petticoats and deftly twitching a plait or a
tuck into place. She was playing Rosalind in buskins when she
should have been cast for the Nurse.
She entered Emma McChesney's office, now, in her quiet blue suit
and her neat hat, and she looked very sane and cheerful and
rosy-cheeked and dependable. At least, so Emma McChesney
thought, as she kissed her, while the plump arms held her close.
Ethel Morrissey, the hugging process completed, held her off and
"Well, Emma McChesney, flourish your Featherlooms for me. I
want to buy and get it over, so we can talk."
"Are you sure that you want to buy of me?" asked Emma
McChesney, a little wearily.
"What's the joke?"
"I'm not joking. I thought that perhaps you might prefer to see
Mr. Buck this trip."
Ethel Morrissey placed one forefinger under Emma McChesney's chin
and turned that lady's face toward her and gazed at her long and
thoughtfully--the most trying test of courage in the world, that,
to one whose eyes fear meeting yours. Emma McChesney, bravest of
women, tried to withstand it, and failed. The next instant her
head lay on Ethel Morrissey's broad breast, her hands were
clutching the plump shoulders, her cheek was being patted
soothingly by the kind hands.
"Now, now--what is it, dear? Tell Ethel. Yes; I do know, but
tell me, anyway. It'll do you good."
And Emma McChesney told her. When she had finished:
"You bathe your eyes, Emma, and put on your hat and we'll eat.
Oh, yes, you will. A cup of tea, anyway. Isn't there some
little cool fool place where I can be comfortable on a hot day
like this--where we can talk comfortably? I've got at least an
hour's conversation in me."
With the first sip of her first cup of tea, Ethel Morrissey began
to unload that burden of conversation.
"Emma, this is the best thing that could have happened to you.
Oh, yes, it is. The queer thing about it is that it didn't
happen sooner. It was bound to come. You know, Emma, the Lord
lets a woman climb just so high up the mountain of success. And
then, when she gets too cocky, when she begins to measure her
wits and brain and strength against that of men, and finds
herself superior, he just taps her smartly on the head and shins,
so that she stumbles, falls, and rolls down a few miles on the
road she has traveled so painfully. He does it just as a gentle
reminder to her that she's only a woman, after all. Oh, I know
all about this feminist talk. But this thing's been proven.
Look at what happened to--to Joan of Arc, and Becky Sharp, and
Mary Queen of Scots, and--yes, I have been spending my evenings
reading. Now, stop laughing at your old Ethel, Emma McChesney!"
"You meant me to laugh, dear old thing. I don't feel much like
it, though. I don't see why I should be reminded of my lowly
state. Heaven knows I haven't been so terrifically pleased with
myself! Of course, that South American trip was--well,
gratifying. But I earned it. For ten years I lived with head in
a sample-trunk, didn't I? I worked hard enough to win the love
of all these Westerners. It wasn't all walking dreamily down
Main Street, strewing Featherlooms along my path."
Ethel Morrissey stirred her second cup of tea, sipped, stirred,
smiled, then reached over and patted Emma McChesney's hand.
"Emma, I'm a wise old party, and I can see that it isn't all
pique with you. It's something else--something deeper. Oh, yes,
it is! Now let me tell you what happened when T. A. Buck invaded
your old-time territory. I was busy up in my department the
morning he came in. I had my head in a rack of coats, and a
henny customer waiting. But I sensed something stirring, and I
stuck my head out of the coat-rack in which I was fumbling. The
department was aflutter like a poultry-yard. Every woman in it,
from the little new Swede stock-girl to Gladys Hemingway, who is
only working to wear out her old clothes, was standing with her
face toward the elevator, and on her face a look that would make
the ordinary door-mat marked `Welcome' seem like an insult. I
kind of smoothed my back hair, because I knew that only one thing
could bring that look into a woman's face. And down the aisle
came a tall, slim, distinguished-looking, wonderfully tailored,
chamois-gloved, walking-sticked Fifth Avenue person with EYES!
Of course, I knew. But the other girls didn't. They just sort
of fell back at his approach, smitten. He didn't even raise an
eyebrow to do it. Now, Emma, I'm not exaggerating. I know what
effect he had on me and my girls, and, for that matter, every
other man or woman in the store. Why, he was a dream realized to
most of 'em. These shrewd, clever buyer-girls know plenty of
men--business men of the slap-bang, horn-blowing, bluff,
good-natured, hello-kid kind--the kind that takes you out to
dinner and blows cigar smoke in your face. Along comes this
chap, elegant, well dressed and not even conscious of it,
polished, suave, smooth, low-voiced, well bred. Why, when he
spoke to a girl, it was the subtlest kind of flattery. Can you
see little Sadie Harris, of Duluth, drawing a mental comparison
between Sam Bloom, the store-manager, and this fascinating
devil--Sam, red-faced, loud voiced, shirt-sleeving it around the
sample room, his hat pushed 'way back on his head, chewing his
cigar like mad, and wild-eyed for fear he's buying wrong? Why,
child, in our town, nobody carries a cane except the Elks when
they have their annual parade, and old man Schwenkel, who's lame.
And yet we all accepted that yellow walking-stick of Buck's. It
belonged to him. There isn't a skirt-buyer in the Middle West
that doesn't dream of him all night and push Featherlooms in the
store all day. Emma, I'm old and fat and fifty, but when I had
dinner with him at the Manitoba House that evening, I caught
myself making eyes at him, knowing that every woman in the
dining-room would have given her front teeth to be where I was."
After which extensive period, Ethel Morrissey helped herself to
her third cup of tea. Emma McChesney relaxed a little and
laughed a tremulous little laugh.
"Oh, well, I suppose I must not hope to combat such formidable
rivals as walking-sticks, chamois gloves, and EYES. My business
arguments are futile compared to those."
Ethel Morrissey delivered herself of a last shot.
"You're wrong, Emma. Those things helped him, but they didn't
sell his line. He sold Featherlooms out of salesmanship, and
because he sounded convincing and sincere and businesslike--and
he had the samples. It wasn't all bunk. It was three-quarters
business. Those two make an invincible combination."
An hour later, Ethel Morrissey was shrewdly selecting her winter
line of Featherlooms from the stock in the showrooms of the T. A.
Buck Company. They went about their business transaction, these
two, with the cool abruptness of men, speaking little, and then
only of prices, discounts, dating, shipping. Their luncheon
conversation of an hour before seemed an impossibility.
"You'll have dinner with me to-night?" Emma asked. "Up at my
apartment, all cozy?"
"Not to-night, dearie. I'll be in bed by eight. I'm not the
girl I used to be. Time was when a New York buying-trip was a
vacation. Now it's a chore."
She took Emma McChesney's hand and patted it.
"If you've got something real nice for dinner, though, and feel
like company, why don't you ask--somebody else that's lonesome."
After which, Ethel Morrissey laughed her wickedest and waved a
sudden good-by with a last word about seeing her to-morrow.
Emma McChesney, her color high, entered her office. It was five
o'clock. She cleared her desk in half an hour, breathed a sigh
of weariness, reached for hat and jacket, donned them, and,
turning out her lights, closed her door behind her for the day.
At that same instant, T. A. Buck slammed his own door and walked
briskly down the hall. They met at the elevator.
They descended in silence. The street gained, they paused
"Won't you stay down and have dinner with me to-night, Emma?"
"Thanks so much, T. A. Not to-night."
She turned away. He stood there, in the busy street, looking
irresolutely and not at all eagerly in the direction of his club,
perhaps, or his hotel, or whatever shelter he sought after
business hours. Something in his attitude--the loneliness of it,
the uncertainty, the indecision --smote Emma McChesney with a
great pang. She came swiftly back.
"I wish you'd come home to dinner with me. I don't know what
Annie'll give us. Probably bread pudding. She does, when she's
left to her own devices. But I--I wish you would." She looked
up at him almost shyly.
T. A. Buck took Emma McChesney's arm in a rather unnecessarily
firm grip and propelled her, surprised and protesting, in the
direction of the nearest vacant taxi.
"But, T. A.! This is idiotic! Why take a cab to go home from
the office on a--a week day?"
"In with you! Besides, I never have a chance to take one from
the office on Sunday, do I? Does Annie always cook enough for
Apparently Annie did. Annie was something of a witch, in her
way. She whisked about, wrought certain changes, did things with
asparagus and mayonnaise, lighted the rose-shaded table-candles.
No one noticed that dinner was twenty minutes late.
Together they admired the great mahogany buffet that Emma had
miraculously found space for in the little dining-room.
"It glows like a great, deep ruby, doesn't it?" she said
proudly. "You should see Annie circle around it with the
carpet-sweeper. She knows one bump would be followed by instant
Looking back on it, afterward, they remembered that the dinner
was a very silent one. They did not notice their wordlessness at
the time. Once, when the chops came on, Buck said absently,
"Oh, I had those for l----" Then he stopped abruptly.
Emma McChesney smiled.
"Your mother trained you well," she said.
The October night had grown cool. Annie had lighted a wood fire
in the living-room.
"That was what attracted me to this apartment in the first
place," Mrs. McChesney said, as they left the dining-room. "A
fireplace--a practical, real, wood-burning fireplace in a New
York apartment! I'd have signed the lease if the plaster had
been falling in chunks and the bathtub had been zinc."
"That's because fireplaces mean home--in our minds," said Buck.
He sat looking into the heart of the glow. There fell another of
those comfortable silences.
"T. A., I--I want to tell you that I know I've been acting the
cat ever since I got home from South America and found that you
had taken charge. You see, you had spoiled me. The thing that
has happened to me is the thing that always happens to those who
assume to be dictators. I just want you to know, now, that I'm
glad and proud and happy because you have come into your own. It
hurt me just at first. That was the pride of me. I'm quite over
that now. You're not only president of the T. A. Buck Company in
name. You're its actual head. And that's as it should be. Long
live the King!"
Buck sat silent a moment. Then,
"I had to do it, Emma." She looked up. "You have a wonderful
brain," said Buck then, and the two utterances seemed connected
in his mind.
They seemed to bring no great satisfaction to the woman to whom
he addressed them, however. She thanked him dryly, as women do
when their brain is dragged into an intimate conversation.
"But," said Buck, and suddenly stood up, looking at her very
intently, "it isn't for your mind that I love you this minute.
I love you for your eyes, Emma, and for your mouth--you have the
tenderest, most womanly-sweet mouth in the world--and for your
hair, and the way your chin curves. I love you for your
throat-line, and for the way you walk and talk and sit, for the
way you look at me, and for the way you don't look at me."
He reached down and gathered Emma McChesney, the alert, the
aggressive, the capable, into his arms, quite as men gather the
clingingest kind of woman. "And now suppose you tell me just
why and how you love me."
And Emma McChesney told him.
When, at last, he was leaving,
"Don't you think," asked Emma McChesney, her hands on his
shoulders, "that you overdid the fascination thing just the
least leetle bit there on the road?"
"Well, but you told me to entertain them, didn't you?"
"Yes," reluctantly; "but I didn't tell you to consecrate your
life to 'em. The ordinary fat, middle-aged, every-day traveling
man will never be able to sell Featherlooms in the Middle West
again. They won't have 'em. They'll never be satisfied with
anything less than John Drew after this."
"Emma McChesney, you're not marrying me because a lot of
overdressed, giggling, skittish old girls have taken a fancy to
make eyes at me, are you!"
Emma McChesney stood up very straight and tall.
"I'm marrying you, T. A., because you are a great, big, fine,
upstanding, tender, wonderful----"
"Oh, well, then that's all right," broke in Buck, a little
Emma McChesney's face grew serious.
"But promise me one thing, T. A. Promise me that when you come
home for dinner at night, you'll never say, `Good heavens, I had
that for lunch!' "
A CLOSER CORPORATION
Front offices resemble back kitchens in this: they have always an
ear at the keyhole, an eye at the crack, a nose in the air. But
between the ordinary front office and the front office of the T.
A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company there was a difference.
The employees at Buck's--from Emil, the errand boy, to old Pop
Henderson, who had started as errand boy himself twenty-five
years before--possessed the quality of loyalty. They were loyal
to the memory of old man Buck, because they had loved and
respected him. They were loyal to Mrs. Emma McChesney, because
she was Mrs. Emma McChesney (which amounts to the same reason).
They were loyal to T. A. Buck, because he was his father's son.
For three weeks the front office had been bewildered. From
bewilderment it passed to worry. A worried, bewildered front
office is not an efficient front office. Ever since Mrs.
McChesney had come off the road, at the death of old T. A. Buck,
to assume the secretaryship of the company which she had served
faithfully for ten years, she had set an example for the entire
establishment. She was the pacemaker. Every day of her life she
figuratively pressed the electric button that set the wheels to
whirring. At nine A.M., sharp, she appeared, erect, brisk,
alert, vibrating energy. Usually, the office staff had not yet
swung into its gait. In a desultory way, it had been getting
into its sateen sleevelets, adjusting its eye-shades, uncovering
its typewriter, opening its ledgers, bringing out its files.
Then, down the hall, would come the sound of a firm, light,
buoyant step. An electric thrill would pass through the front
office. Then the sunny, sincere, "Good morning!"
" `Morning, Mrs. McChesney!" the front office would chorus
The day had begun for the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat
Hortense, the blond stenographer (engaged to the shipping-clerk),
noticed it first. The psychology of that is interesting.
Hortense knew that by nine-thirty Mrs. McChesney's desk would be
clear and that the buzzer would summon her. Hortense didn't mind
taking dictation from T. A. Buck, though his method was
hesitating and jerky, and he was likely to employ quite casually
a baffling and unaccustomed word, over which Hortense's
scampering pencil would pause, struggle desperately, then race
on. Hortense often was in for a quick, furtive session with her
pocket-dictionary after one of T. A.'s periods. But with Mrs.
McChesney, dictation was a joy. She knew what she wanted to say
and she always said it. The words she used were short,
clean-cut, meaningful Anglo-Saxon words. She never used received
when she could use got. Hers was the rapid-fire-gun method, each
word sharp, well timed, efficient.
Imagine, then, Hortense staring wide-eyed and puzzled at a
floundering, hesitating, absent-minded Mrs. McChesney--a Mrs.
McChesney strangely starry as to eyes, strangely dreamy as to
mood, decidedly deficient as to dictation. Imagine a Hortense
with pencil poised in air a full five minutes, waiting until Mrs.
McChesney should come to herself with a start, frown, smile
vaguely, pass a hand over her eyes, and say, "Let me see--where
" `And we find, on referring to your order, that the goods you
mention----' " Hortense would prompt patiently.
"Oh, yes, of course," with an effort. Hortense was beginning
to grow alarmed.
In T. A. Buck's office, just across the hall, the change was
quite as noticeable, but in another way. His leisurely drawl was
gone. His deliberate manner was replaced by a brisk,
quick-thinking, quick-speaking one. His words were brief and to
the point. He seemed to be riding on the crest of an
excitement-wave. And, as he dictated, he smiled.
Hortense stood it for a week. Then she unburdened herself to
Miss Kelly, the assistant bookkeeper. Miss Kelly evinced no
surprise at her disclosures.
"I was just talking about it to Pop yesterday. She acts
worried, doesn't she? And yet, not exactly worried, either. Do
you suppose it can be that son of hers--what's his name? Jock."
Hortense shook her head.
"No; he's all right. She had a letter from him yesterday. He's
got a grand position in Chicago, and he's going to marry that
girl he was so stuck on here. And it isn't that, either, because
Mrs. McChesney likes her. I can tell by the way she talks about
her. I ought to know. Look how Henry's ma acted toward me when
we were first engaged!"
The front office buzzed with it. It crept into the
workroom--into the shipping-room. It penetrated the frowsy head
of Jake, the elevator-man. As the days went on and the tempo of
the front office slackened with that of the two bright little
inner offices, only one member of the whole staff remained
unmoved, incurious, taciturn. Pop Henderson listened, one scant
old eyebrow raised knowingly, a whimsical half-smile screwing up
his wrinkled face.
At the end of three weeks, Hortense, with that display of
temperament so often encountered in young ladies of her
profession, announced in desperation that, if this thing kept on,
she was going to forget herself and jeopardize her position by
demanding to know outright what the trouble was.
From the direction of Pop Henderson's inky retreat, there came
the sound of a dry chuckle. Pop Henderson had been chuckling in
just that way for three weeks, now. It was getting on the nerves
of his colleagues.
"If you ever spring the joke that's kept you giggling for a
month," snapped Hortense, "it'll break up the office."
Pop Henderson removed his eye-shade very deliberately, passed his
thin, cramped old hand over his scant gray locks to his bald
spot, climbed down stiffly from his stool, ambled to the center
of the room, and, head cocked like a knowing old brown sparrow,
regarded the pert Hortense over his spectacles and under his
spectacles and, finally, through his spectacles.
"Young folks now 'days," began Pop Henderson dryly, "are so
darned cute and knowin' that when an old fellow cuts in ahead of
'em for once, he likes to hug the joke to himself a while before
he springs it." There was no acid in his tone. He was beaming
very benignantly down upon the little blond stenographer. "You
say that Mrs. Mack is absent-minded-like and dreamy, and that
young T. A. acts like he'd swallowed an electric battery. Well,
when it comes to that, I've seen you many a time, when you didn't
know any one was lookin', just sitting there at your typewriter,