Emma McChesney & Co.
Part 2 out of 3
with your hands kind of poised halfway, and your lips sort of
parted, and your eyes just gazing away somewhere off in the
distance for fifteen minutes at a stretch. And out there in the
shipping-room Henry's singing like a whole minstrel troupe all
day long, when he isn't whistlin' so loud you can hear him over
's far as Eighth Avenue." Then, as the red surged up through
the girl's fair skin, "Well?" drawled old Pop Henderson, and
the dry chuckle threatened again. "We-e-ell?"
"Why, Pop Henderson!" exploded Miss Kelly from her cage.
In those six words the brisk and agile-minded Miss Kelly
expressed the surprise and the awed conviction of the office
Pop Henderson trotted over to the water-cooler, drew a brimming
glass, drank it off, and gave vent to a great exhaust of breath.
He tried not to strut as he crossed back to his desk, climbed his
stool, adjusted his eye-shade, and, with a last throaty chuckle,
plunged into his books again.
But his words already were working their wonders. The office,
after the first shock, was flooded with a new atmosphere--a
subtle, pervasive air of hushed happiness, of tender solicitude.
It went about like a mother who has found her child asleep at
play, and who steals away atiptoe, finger on lip, lips smiling
The delicate antennae of Emma McChesney's mind sensed the change.
Perhaps she read something in the glowing eyes of her sister-in-
love, Hortense. Perhaps she caught a new tone in Miss Kelly's
voice or the forewoman's. Perhaps a whisper from the outer
office reached her desk. The very afternoon of Pop Henderson's
electrifying speech, Mrs. McChesney crossed to T. A. Buck's
office, shut the door after her, lowered her voice discreetly,
"T. A., they're on."
"What makes you think so?"
"Nothing. That is, nothing definite. No man-reason. Just a
T. A. Buck strolled over to her, smiling.
"I haven't known you all this time without having learned that
that's reason enough. And if they really do know, I'm glad."
"But we didn't want them to know. Not yet--until--until just
T. A. Buck laid his hands lightly on Emma McChesney's shoulders.
Emma McChesney promptly reached up and removed them.
"There you are!" exclaimed Buck, and rammed the offending hands
into his pockets.
"That's why I'm glad they know--if they really do know. I'm no
actor. I'm a skirt-and-lingerie manufacturer. For the last six
weeks, instead of being allowed to look at you with the
expression that a man naturally wears when he's looking at the
woman he's going to marry, what have I had to do? Glare, that's
what! Scowl! Act like a captain of finance when I've felt like
a Romeo! I've had to be dry, terse, businesslike, when I was
bursting with adjectives that had nothing to do with business.
You've avoided my office as you would a small-pox camp. You've
greeted me with a what-can-I-do-for-you air when I've dared to
invade yours. You couldn't have been less cordial to a book
agent. If it weren't for those two hours you grant me in the
evening, I'd--I'd blow up with a loud report, that's what.
"Now, now, T. A.!" interrupted Emma McChesney soothingly, and
patted one gesticulating arm. "It has been a bit of a
strain--for both of us. But, you know, we agreed it would be
best this way. We've ten days more to go. Let's stick it out as
we've begun. It has been best for us, for the office, for the
business. The next time you find yourself choked up with a stock
of fancy adjectives, write a sonnet to me. Work 'em off that
T. A. Buck stood silent a moment, regarding her with a
concentration that would have unnerved a woman less poised.
"Emma McChesney, when you talk like that, so coolly, so evenly,
so--so darned mentally, I sometimes wonder if you really----"
"Don't say it, T. A. Because you don't mean it. I've had to
fight for most of my happiness. I've never before found it ready
at hand. I've always had to dig for it with a shovel and a spade
and a pickax, and then blast. I had almost twenty years of
that-- from the time I was eighteen until I was thirty-eight.
It taught me to take my happiness seriously and my troubles
lightly." She shut her eyes for a moment, and her voice was
very low and very deep and very vibrant. "So, when I'm coolest
and evenest and most mental, T. A., you may know that I've struck
A great glow illumined Buck's fine eyes. He took two quick steps
in her direction. But Emma McChesney, one hand on the door-knob,
warned him off with the other.
"Hey--wait a minute!" pleaded Buck.
"Can't. I've a fitting at the tailor's at three-thirty--my new
suit. Wait till you see it!"
"The dickens you have! But so have I"-- he jerked out his
watch--"at three-thirty! It's the suit I'm going to wear when I
travel as a blushing bridegroom."
"So's mine. And look here, T. A.! We can't both leave this
place for a fitting. It's absurd. If this keeps on, it will
break up the business. We'll have to get married one at a
time--or, at least, get our trousseaux one at a time. What's
"Sort of brown."
"Brown? So's mine! Good heavens, T. A., we'll look like a
Buck sighed resignedly.
"If I telephone my tailor that I can't make it until
four-thirty, will you promise to be back by that time?"
"Yes; but remember, if your bride appears in a skirt that sags
in the back or a coat that bunches across the shoulders, the
crime will lie at your door."
So it was that the lynx-eyed office staff began to wonder if,
after all, Pop Henderson was the wizard that he had claimed to
During working hours, Mrs. McChesney held rigidly to business.
Her handsome partner tried bravely to follow her example. If he
failed occasionally, perhaps Emma McChesney was not so displeased
as she pretended to be. A business discussion, deeply
interesting to both, was likely to run thus:
Buck, entering her office briskly, papers in hand: "Mrs.
McChesney--ahem!--I have here a letter from Singer & French,
Columbus, Ohio. They ask for an extension. They've had ninety
"That's enough. That firm's slow pay, and always will be until
old Singer has the good taste and common sense to retire. It
isn't because the stock doesn't move. Singer simply believes in
not paying for anything until he has to. If I were you, I'd
write him that this is a business house, not a charitable
institution---- No, don't do that. It isn't politic. But you
know what I mean."
"H'm; yes." A silence. "Emma, that's a fiendishly becoming
"Now, T. A.!"
"But it is! It--it's so kind of loose, and yet clinging, and
those white collar-and-cuff things----"
"T. A. Buck, I've worn this thing down to the office every day
for a month. It shines in the back. Besides, you promised not
"Oh, darn it all, Emma, I'm human, you know! How do you suppose
I can stand here and look at you and not----"
Emma McChesney (pressing the buzzer that summons Hortense):
"You know, Tim, I don't exactly hate you this morning, either.
But business is business. Stop looking at me like that!" Then,
to Hortense, in the doorway: "Just take this letter, Miss
Stotz-Singer & French, Columbus, Ohio. Dear Sirs: Yours of the
tenth at hand. Period. Regarding your request for further
extension we wish to say that, in view of the fact----"
T. A. Buck, half resentful, half amused, wholly admiring, would
disappear. But Hortense, eyes demurely cast down at her
notebook, was not deceived.
"Say," she confided to Miss Kelly, "they think they've got me
fooled. But I'm wise. Don't I know? When Henry passes through
the office here, from the shipping-room, he looks at me just as
cool and indifferent. Before we announced it, we had you all
guessing, didn't we? But I can see something back of that look
that the rest of you can't get. Well, when Mr. Buck looks at
her, I can see the same thing in his eyes. Say, when it comes to
seeing the love-light through the fog, I'm there with the
If Emma McChesney held herself well in leash during the busy day,
she relished her happiness none the less when she could allow
herself the full savor of it. When a girl of eighteen she had
married a man of the sort that must put whisky into his stomach
before the machinery of his day would take up its creaking round.
Out of the degradation of that marriage she had emerged
triumphantly, sweet and unsullied, and she had succeeded in
bringing her son, Jock McChesney, out into the clear sunlight
The evenings spent with T. A. Buck, the man of fine instincts, of
breeding, of proven worth, of rare tenderness, filled her with a
great peace and happiness. When doubts assailed her, it was not
for herself but for him. Sometimes the fear would clutch her as
they sat before the fire in the sitting-room of her comfortable
little apartment. She would voice those fears for the very joy
of having them stilled.
"T. A., this is too much happiness. I'm--I'm afraid. After
all, you're a young man, though you are a bit older than I in
actual years. But men of your age marry girls of eighteen.
You're handsome. And you've brains, family, breeding, money.
Any girl in New York would be glad to marry you--those tall,
slim, exquisite young girls. Young! And well bred, and poised
and fresh and sweet and lovable. You see them every day on Fifth
Avenue, exquisitely dressed, entirely desirable. They make me
feel--old--old and battered. I've sold goods on the road. I've
fought and worked and struggled. And it has left its mark. I
did it for the boy, God bless him! And I'm glad I did it. But
it put me out of the class of that girl you see on----"
"Yes, Emma; you're not at all in the class with that girl you
see every day on Fifth Avenue. Fifth Avenue's full of
her--hundreds of her, thousands of her. Perhaps, five years ago,
before I had worked side by side with you, I might have been
attracted by that girl you see every day on Fifth Avenue. You
don't see a procession of Emma McChesneys every day on Fifth
Avenue--not by a long shot! Why? Because there's only one of
her. She doesn't come in dozen lots. I know that that girl you
see every day on Fifth Avenue is all that I deserve. But, by
some heaven-sent miracle, I'm to have this Emma McChesney woman!
I don't know how it came to be true. I don't deserve it. But it
is true, and that's enough for me."
Emma McChesney would look up at him, eyes wet, mouth smiling.
"T. A., you're balm and myrrh and incense and meat and drink to
me. I wish I had words to tell you what I'm thinking now. But I
haven't. So I'll just cover it up. We both know it's there.
And I'll tell you that you make love like a `movie' hero. Yes,
you do! Better than a `movie' hero, because, in the films, the
heroine always has to turn to face the camera, which makes it
necessary for him to make love down the back of her neck."
But T. A. Buck was unsmiling.
"Don't trifle, Emma. And don't think you can fool me that way.
I haven't finished. I want to settle this Fifth Avenue creature
for all time. What I have to say is this: I think you are more
attractive--finer, bigger, more rounded in character and manner,
mellower, sweeter, sounder, with all your angles and corners
rubbed smooth, saner, better poised than any woman I have ever
known. And what I am to-day you have made me, directly and
indirectly, by association and by actual orders, by suggestion,
and by direct contact. What you did for Jock, purposefully and
by force, you did for me, too. Not so directly, perhaps, but
with the same result. Emma McChesney, you've made--actually
made, molded, shaped, and turned out two men. You're the
greatest sculptor that ever lived. You could make a scarecrow in
a field get up and achieve. Everywhere one sees women
over-wrought, over-stimulated, eager, tense. When there appears
one who has herself in leash, balanced, tolerant, poised, sane,
composed, she restores your faith in things. You lean on her,
spiritually. I know I need you more than you need me, Emma. And
I know you won't love me the less for that. There--that's about
all for this evening."
"I think," breathed Emma McChesney in a choked little voice,
"that that's about--enough."
Two days before the date set for their very quiet wedding, they
told the heads of office and workroom. Office and workroom,
somewhat moist as to eye and flushed as to cheek and highly
congratulatory, proved their knowingness by promptly presenting
to their employers a very costly and unbelievably hideous set of
mantel ornaments and clock, calculated to strike horror to the
heart of any woman who has lovingly planned the furnishing of her
drawing-room. Pop Henderson, after some preliminary wrestling
with collar, necktie, spectacles, and voice, launched forth on a
presentation speech that threatened to close down the works for
the day. Emma McChesney heard it, tears in her eyes. T. A. Buck
gnawed his mustache. And when Pop Henderson's cracked old voice
broke altogether in the passage that touched on his departed
employer, old T. A. Buck, and the great happiness that this
occasion would have brought him, Emma's hand met young T. A.'s
and rested there. Hortense and Henry, standing very close
together all through the speech, had, in this respect,
anticipated their employers by several minutes.
They were to be away two weeks only. No one knew just where,
except that some small part of the trip was to be spent on a
flying visit to young Jock McChesney out in Chicago. He himself
was to be married very soon. Emma McChesney had rather startled
her very good- looking husband-to-be by whirling about at him
"T. A., do you realize that you're very likely to be a
step-grandfather some fine day not so far away!"
T. A. had gazed at her for a rather shocked moment, swallowed
hard, smiled, and said,
"Even that doesn't scare me, Emma."
Everything had been planned down to the last detail. Mrs.
McChesney's little apartment had been subleased, and a very smart
one taken and furnished almost complete, with Annie installed in
the kitchen and a demure parlor-maid engaged.
"When we come back, we'll come home," T. A. Buck had said.
There had been much to do, but it had all been done smoothly and
expertly, under the direction of these two who had learned how to
plan, direct, and carry out.
Then, on the last day, Emma McChesney, visibly perturbed, entered
her partner's office, a letter in her hand.
"This is ghastly!" she exclaimed.
Buck pulled out a chair for her.
"Klein cancel his order again?"
"No. And don't ask me to sit down. Be thankful that I don't
"Is it as bad as that?"
"Bad! Here--read that! No, don't read it; I'll tell you.
It'll relieve my feelings. You know how I've been angling and
scheming and contriving and plotting for years to get an
exclusive order from Gage & Fosdick. Of course we've had a nice
little order every few months, but what's that from the biggest
mail-order house in the world? And now, out of a blue sky, comes
this bolt from O'Malley, who buys our stuff, saying that he's
coming on the tenth--that's next week--that he's planned to
establish our line with their trade, and that he wants us to be
prepared for a record-breaking order. I've fairly prayed for
this. And now--what shall we do?"
"Do?"--smoothly--"just write the gentleman and tell him you're
busy getting married this week and next, and that, by a singular
coincidence, your partner is similarly engaged; that our manager
will attend to him with all care and courtesy, unless he can
postpone his trip until our return. Suggest that he call around
a week or two later."
"T. A. Buck, I know it isn't considered good form to rage and
glare at one's fiance on the eve of one's wedding-day. If this
were a week earlier or a week later, I'd be tempted to--shake
Buck stood up, came over to her, and laid a hand very gently on
her arm. With the other hand he took the letter from her
"Emma, you're tired, and a little excited. You've been under an
unusual physical and mental strain for the last few weeks. Give
me that letter. I'll answer it. This kind of thing"--he held
up the letter--"has meant everything to you. If it had not,
where would I be to-day? But to-night, Emma, it doesn't mean a
thing. Not--one thing."
Slowly Emma McChesney's tense body relaxed. A great sigh that
had in it weariness and relief and acquiescence came from her.
She smiled ever so faintly.
"I've been a ramrod so long it's going to be hard to learn to be
a clinging vine. I've been my own support for so many years, I
don't use a trellis very gracefully--yet. But I think I'll get
the hang of it very soon."
She turned toward the door, crossed to her own office, looked all
about at the orderly, ship- shape room that reflected her
personality--as did any room she occupied.
"Just the same," she called out, over her shoulder, to Buck in
the doorway, "I hate like fury to see that order slide."
In hat and coat and furs she stood a moment, her fingers on the
electric switch, her eyes very bright and wide. The memories of
ten years, fifteen years, twenty years crowded up around her and
filled the little room. Some of them were golden and some of
them were black; a few had power to frighten her, even now. So
she turned out the light, stood for just another moment there in
the darkness, then stepped out into the hall, closed the door
softly behind her, and stood face to face with the lettering on
the glass panel of the door--the lettering that spelled the name,
T. A. Buck watched her in silence. She reached up with one
wavering forefinger and touched each of the twelve letters, one
after the other. Then she spread her hand wide, blotting out the
second word. And when she turned away, one saw--she being Emma
McChesney, and a woman, and very tired and rather sentimental,
and a bit hysterical and altogether happy--that, though she was
smiling, her eyes were wet.
In her ten years on the road, visiting town after town, catching
trains, jolting about in rumbling hotel 'buses or musty-smelling
small- town hacks, living in hotels, good, bad, and indifferent,
Emma McChesney had come upon hundreds of rice-strewn,
ribbon-bedecked bridal couples. She had leaned from her window
at many a railway station to see the barbaric and cruel old
custom of bride-and-bridegroom baiting. She had smiled very
tenderly--and rather sadly, and hopefully, too--upon the boy and
girl who rushed breathless into the car in a flurry of white
streamers, flowers, old shoes, laughter, cheers, last messages.
Now, as in a dream, she found herself actually of these. Of
rice, old shoes, and badinage there had been none, it is true.
She stood quietly by while Buck attended to their trunks, just as
she had seen it done by hundreds of helpless little cotton-wool
women who had never checked a trunk in their lives--she, who had
spent ten years of her life wrestling with trunks and baggagemen
and porters. Once there was some trifling mistake--Buck's fault.
Emma, with her experience of the road, saw his error. She could
have set him right with a word. It was on the tip of her tongue.
By sheer force of will she withheld that word, fought back the
almost overwhelming inclination to take things in hand, set them
right. It was just an incident, almost trifling in itself. But
its import was tremendous, for her conduct, that moment, shaped
the happiness of their future life together.
Emma had said that there would be no rude awakenings for them, no
"There isn't a thing we don't know about each other," she had
said. "We each know the other's weaknesses and strength. I
hate the way you gnaw your mustache when you're troubled, and I
think the fuss you make when the waiter pours your coffee without
first having given you sugar and cream is the most absurd thing
I've ever seen. But, then, I know how it annoys you to see me
sitting with one slipper dangling from my toe, when I'm
particularly comfortable and snug. You know how I like my eggs,
and you think it's immoral. I suppose we're really set in our
ways. It's going to be interesting to watch each other shift."
"Just the same," Buck said, "I didn't dream there was any
woman living who could actually make a Pullman drawing-room look
"Any woman who has spent a fourth of her life in hotels and
trains learns that trick. She has to. If she happens to be the
sort that likes books and flowers and sewing, she carries some of
each with her. And one book, one rose, and one piece of
unfinished embroidery would make an oasis in the Sahara Desert
It was on the westbound train that they encountered Sam--Sam of
the rolling eye, the genial grin, the deft hand. Sam was known
to every hardened traveler as the porter de luxe of the road.
Sam was a diplomat, a financier, and a rascal. He never forgot a
face. He never forgave a meager tip. The passengers who
traveled with him were at once his guests and his victims.
Therefore his, "Good evenin', Mis' McChesney, ma'am. Good
even'! Well, it suh't'nly has been a long time sense Ah had the
pleasuh of yoh presence as passengah, ma'am. Ah sure am----"
The slim, elegant figure of T. A. Buck appeared in the doorway.
Sam's rolling eye became a thing on ball bearings. His teeth
flashed startlingly white in the broadest of grins. He took
Buck's hat, ran a finger under its inner band, and shook it very
"What's the idea?" inquired Buck genially. "Are you a
combination porter and prestidigitator?"
Sam chuckled his infectious negro chuckle.
"Well, no, sah! Ah wouldn' go's fah as t' say that, sah. But
Ah hab been known to shake rice out of a gen'lman's ordinary,
ever'-day, black derby hat."
"Get out!" laughed T. A. Buck, as Sam ducked.
"You may as well get used to it," smiled Emma, "because I'm
known to every train-conductor, porter, hotel-clerk,
chamber-maid, and bell-boy between here and the Great Lakes."
It was Sam who proved himself hero of the honeymoon, for he saved
T. A. Buck from continuing his journey to Chicago brideless.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Buck had gone to the buffet-car for a
smoke. At Cleveland, Emma, looking out of the car window, saw a
familiar figure pacing up and down the station platform. It was
that dapper and important little Irishman, O'Malley, buyer for
Gage & Fosdick, the greatest mail-order house in the
world--O'Malley, whose letter T. A. Buck had answered; O'Malley,
whose order meant thousands. He was on his way to New York, of
In that moment Mrs. T. A. Buck faded into the background and Emma
McChesney rose up in her place. She snatched hat and coat and
furs, put them on as she went down the long aisle, swung down the
car steps, and flew down the platform to the unconscious
O'Malley. He was smoking, all unconscious. The Fates had
delivered him into her expert hands. She knew those kindly
sisters of old, and she was the last to refuse their largesse.
"Mrs. McChesney!" He had just a charming trace of a brogue.
His enemies said he assumed it. "Well, who was I thinkin' of
but you a minute ago. What----"
"I'm on my way to Chicago. Saw you from the car window. You're
on the New York train? I thought so. Tell me, you're surely
seeing our man, aren't you?"
O'Malley's smiling face clouded. He was a temperamental
Irishman--Ted O'Malley-- with ideas on the deference due him and
his great house.
"I'll tell you the truth, Mrs. McChesney. I had a letter from
your Mr. Buck. It wasn't much of a letter to a man like me,
representing a house like Gage & Fosdick. It said both heads of
the firm would be out of town, and would I see the manager.
Me--see the manager! Well, thinks I, if that's how important
they think my order, then they'll not get it--that's all. I've
"Dear Mr. O'Malley, please don't be offended. As a McChesney to
an O'Malley, I want to tell you that I've just been married."
"Married! God bless me--to----"
"To T. A. Buck, of course. He's on that train. He----"
She turned toward the train. And as she turned it began to move,
ever so gently. At the same moment there sped toward her, with
unbelievable swiftness, the figure of Sam the porter, his eyes
all whites. By one arm he grasped her, and half carried, half
jerked her to the steps of the moving train, swung her up to the
steps like a bundle of rags, caught the rail by a miracle, and
stood, grinning and triumphant, gazing down at the panting
O'Malley, who was running alongside the train.
"Back in a week. Will you wait for us in New York?" called
Emma, her breath coming fast. She was trembling, too, and
"Will I wait!" called back the puffing O'Malley, every bit of
the Irish in him beaming from his eyes. "I'll be there when you
get back as sure as your name's McBuck."
From his pocket he took a round, silver Western dollar and, still
running, tossed it to the toothy Sam. That peerless porter
caught it, twirled it, kissed it, bowed, and grinned afresh as
the train glided out of the shed.
Emma, flushed, smiling, flew up the aisle.
Buck, listening to her laughing, triumphant account of her
hairbreadth, harum-scarum adventure, frowned before he smiled.
"Emma, how could you do it! At least, why didn't you send back
for me first?"
Emma smiled a little tremulously.
"Don't be angry. You see, dear boy, I've only been your wife
for a week. But I've been Featherloom petticoats for over
fifteen years. It's a habit."
Just how strong and fixed a habit, she proved to herself a little
more than a week later. It was the morning of their first
breakfast in the new apartment. You would have thought, to see
them over their coffee and eggs and rolls, that they had been
breakfasting together thus for years--Annie was so at home in her
new kitchen; the deft little maid, in her crisp white, fitted so
perfectly into the picture. Perhaps the thing that T. A. Buck
said, once the maid left them alone, might have given an outsider
"You remind me of a sweetpea, Emma. One of those crisp, erect,
golden-white, fresh, fragrant sweetpeas. I think it is the
slenderest, sweetest, neatest, trimmest flower in the world, so
delicately set on its stem, and yet so straight, so
"T. A., you say such dear things to me!"
No; they had not been breakfasting together for years.
"I'm glad you're not one of those women that wears a frowsy,
lacy, ribbony, what-do-you- call-'em-boudoir-cap--down to
breakfast. They always make me think of uncombed hair. That's
just one reason why I'm glad."
"And I'm glad," said Emma, looking at his clear eyes and steady
hand and firm skin, "for a number of reasons. One of them is
that you're not the sort of man who's a grouch at breakfast."
When he had hat and coat and stick in hand, and had kissed her
good-by and reached the door and opened it, he came back again,
as is the way of bridegrooms. But at last the door closed behind
Emma sat there a moment, listening to his quick, light step down
the corridor, to the opening of the lift door, to its metallic
closing. She sat there, in the sunshiny dining-room, in her
fresh, white morning gown. She picked up her newspaper, opened
it; scanned it, put it down. For years, now, she had read her
newspaper in little gulps on the way downtown in crowded subway
or street-car. She could not accustom herself to this leisurely
scanning of the pages. She rose, went to the window, came back
to the table, stood there a moment, her eyes fixed on something
The swinging door between dining-room and butler's pantry opened.
Annie, in her neat blue-and-white stripes, stood before her.
"Shall it be steak or chops to-night, Mrs. Mc--Buck?"
Emma turned her head in Annie's direction--then her eyes. The
two actions were distinct and separate.
"Steak or----" There was a little bewildered look in her eyes.
Her mind had not yet focused on the question. "Steak--oh! Oh,
yes, of course! Why--why, Annie"--and the splendid
thousand-h.-p. mind brought itself down to the settling of this
butter-churning, two-h.-p. question--"why, Annie, considering
all things, I think we'll make it filet with mushrooms."
For ten years, Mrs. Emma McChesney's home had been a
wardrobe-trunk. She had taken her family life at second hand.
Four nights out of the seven, her bed was "Lower Eight," and
her breakfast, as many mornings, a cinder-strewn, lukewarm
horror, taken tete-a-tete with a sleepy-eyed stranger and
presided over by a white-coated, black-faced bandit, to whom a
coffee-slopped saucer was a matter of course.
It had been her habit during those ten years on the road as
traveling saleswoman for the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat
Company, to avoid the discomfort of the rapidly chilling car by
slipping early into her berth. There, in kimono, if not in
comfort, she would shut down the electric light with a snap,
raise the shade, and, propped up on one elbow, watch the little
towns go by. They had a wonderful fascination for her, those
Middle Western towns, whose very names had a comfortable, home-
like sound--Sandusky, Galesburg, Crawfordsville, Appleton--very
real towns, with very real people in them. Peering wistfully out
through the dusk, she could get little intimate glimpses of the
home life of these people as the night came on. In those modest
frame houses near the station they need not trouble to pull down
the shades as must their cautious city cousins. As the train
slowed down, there could be had a glimpse of a matronly housewife
moving deftly about in the kitchen's warm-yellow glow, a man
reading a paper in slippered, shirt-sleeved comfort, a pig-tailed
girl at the piano, a woman with a baby in her arms, or a family
group, perhaps, seated about the table, deep in an after-supper
conclave. It had made her homeless as she was homesick.
Emma always liked that picture best. Her keen, imaginative mind
could sense the scene, could actually follow the trend of the
talk during this, the most genial, homely, soul-cheering hour of
the day. The trifling events of the last twelve hours in
schoolroom, in store, in office, in street, in kitchen loom up
large as they are rehearsed in that magic, animated, cozy moment
just before ma says, with a sigh:
"Well, folks, go on into the sitting-room. Me and Nellie've got
to clear away."
Just silhouettes as the train flashed by--these small-town
people--but very human, very enviable to Emma McChesney.
"They're real," she would say. "They're regular,
three-meals-a-day people. I've been peeking in at their windows
for ten years, and I've learned that it is in these towns that
folks really live. The difference between life here and life in
New York is the difference between area and depth. D'you see
what I mean? In New York, they live by the mile, and here they
live by the cubic foot. Well, I'd rather have one juicy, thick
club-steak than a whole platterful of quarter-inch. It's the
To those of her business colleagues whose habit it was to lounge
in the hotel window with sneering comment upon the small-town
procession as it went by, Emma McChesney had been wont to say:
"Don't sneer at Main Street. When you come to think of it,
isn't it true that Fifth Avenue, any bright winter afternoon
between four and six, is only Main Street on a busy day
multiplied by one thousand?"
Emma McChesney was not the sort of woman to rail at a fate that
had placed her in the harness instead of in the carriage. But
during all the long years of up-hill pull, from the time she
started with a humble salary in the office of the T. A. Buck
Featherloom Petticoat Company, through the years spent on the
road, up to the very time when the crown of success came to her
in the form of the secretaryship of the prosperous firm of T. A.
Buck, there was a minor but fixed ambition in her heart. That
same ambition is to be found deep down in the heart of every
woman whose morning costume is a tailor suit, whose newspaper
must be read in hurried snatches on the way downtown in crowded
train or car, and to whom nine A.M. spells "Business."
"In fifteen years," Emma McChesney used to say, "I've never
known what it is to loll in leisure. I've never had a chance to
luxuriate. Sunday? To a working woman, Sunday is for the
purpose of repairing the ravages of the other six days. By the
time you've washed your brushes, mended your skirt-braid, darned
your stockings and gloves, looked for gray hairs and crows'-feet,
and skimmed the magazine section, it's Monday."
It was small wonder that Emma McChesney's leisure had been
limited. In those busy years she had not only earned the living
for herself and her boy; she had trained that boy into manhood
and placed his foot on the first rung of business success. She
had transformed the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company from
a placidly mediocre concern to a thriving, flourishing,
nationally known institution. All this might have turned another
woman's head. It only served to set Emma McChesney's more
splendidly on her shoulders. Not too splendidly, however; for,
with her marriage to her handsome business partner, T. A. Buck,
that well-set, independent head was found to fit very cozily into
the comfortable hollow formed by T. A. Buck's right arm.
"Emma," Buck had said, just before their marriage, "what is
the arrangement to be after--after----"
"Just what it is now, I suppose," Emma had replied, "except
that we'll come down to the office together."
He had regarded her thoughtfully for a long minute. Then,
"Emma, for three months after our marriage will you try being
just Mrs. T. A. Buck?"
"You mean no factory, no Featherlooms, no dictation, no business
bothers!" Her voice was a rising scale of surprise.
"Just try it for three months, with the privilege of a lifetime,
if you like it. But try it. I--I'd like to see you there when I
leave, Emma. I'd like to have you there when I come home. I
suppose I sound like a selfish Turk, but----"
"You sound like a regular husband," Emma McChesney had
interrupted, "and I love you for it. Now listen, T. A. For
three whole months I'm going to be what the yellow novels used to
call a doll-wife. I'm going to meet you at the door every night
with a rose in my hair. I shall wear pink things with lace
ruffles on 'em. Don't you know that I've been longing to do just
those things for years and years? I'm going to blossom out into
a beauty. Watch me! I've never had time to study myself. I'll
hold shades of yellow and green and flesh-color up to my face to
see which brings out the right tints. I'm going to gaze at
myself through half-closed eyes to see which shade produces
tawny lights in my hair. Ever since I can remember, I've been so
busy that it has been a question of getting the best possible
garments in the least possible time for the smallest possible
sum. In that case, one gets blue serge. I've worn blue serge
until it feels like a convict's uniform. I'm going to blossom
out into fawn and green and mauve. I shall get evening dresses
with only bead shoulder-straps. I'm going to shop. I've never
really seen Fifth Avenue between eleven and one, when the real
people come out. My views of it have been at nine A.M. when the
office-workers are going to work, and at five- thirty when they
are going home. I will now cease to observe the proletariat and
mingle with the predatory. I'll probably go in for those tiffin
things at the Plaza. If I do, I'll never be the same woman
Whereupon she paused with dramatic effect.
To all of which T. A. Buck had replied:
"Go as far as you like. Take fencing lessons, if you want to,
or Sanskrit. You've been a queen bee for so many years that I
think the role of drone will be a pleasant change. Let me
shoulder the business worries for a while. You've borne them
"It's a bargain. For three months I shall do nothing more
militant than to pick imaginary threads off your coat lapel and
pout when you mention business. At the end of those three months
we'll go into private session, compare notes, and determine
whether the plan shall cease or become permanent. Shake hands on
They shook hands solemnly. As they did so, a faint shadow of
doubt hovered far, far back in the depths of T. A. Buck's fine
eyes. And a faint, inscrutable smile lurked in the corners of
So it was that Emma McChesney, the alert, the capable, the brisk,
the business-like, assumed the role of Mrs. T. A. Buck, the
leisurely, the languid, the elegant. She, who formerly, at
eleven in the morning, might have been seen bent on selling the
best possible bill of spring Featherlooms to Joe Greenbaum, of
Keokuk, Iowa, could now be found in a modiste's
gray-and-raspberry salon, being draped and pinned and fitted.
She, whose dynamic force once charged the entire office and
factory with energy and efficiency, now distributed a tithe of
that priceless vigor here, a tithe there, a tithe everywhere, and
thus broke the very backbone of its power.
She had never been a woman to do things by halves. What she
undertook to do she did thoroughly and whole-heartedly. This
principle she applied to her new mode of life as rigidly as she
had to the old.
That first month slipped magically by. Emma was too much a woman
not to feel a certain exquisite pleasure in the selecting of
delicate and becoming fabrics. There was a thrill of novelty in
being able to spend an hour curled up with a book after lunch, to
listen to music one afternoon a week, to drive through the
mistily gray park; to walk up the thronged, sparkling Avenue,
pausing before its Aladdin's Cave windows. Simple enough
pleasures, and taken quite as a matter of course by thousands of
other women who had no work-filled life behind them to use as
She plunged into her new life whole-heartedly. The first new
gown was exciting. It was a velvet affair with furs, and
gratifyingly becoming. Her shining blond head rose above the
soft background of velvet and fur with an effect to distract the
"Like it?" she had asked Buck, turning slowly, frankly sure of
"You're wonderful in it," said T. A. Buck. "Say, Emma, where's
that blue thing you used to wear--the one with
the white cuffs and collar, and the little blue hat with the
what-cha-ma-call-ems on it?"
"T. A. Buck, you're--you're--well, you're a man, that's what you
are! That blue thing was worn threadbare in the office, and I
gave it to the laundress's niece weeks ago." Small wonder her
cheeks took on a deeper pink.
"Oh," said Buck, unruffled, "too bad! There was something
about that dress--I don't know----"
At the first sitting of the second gown, Emma revolted openly.
On the floor at Emma's feet there was knotted into a
contortionistic attitude a small, wiry, impolite person named
Smalley. Miss Smalley was an artist in draping and knew it. She
was the least fashionable person in all that smart dressmaking
establishment. She refused to notice the
corset-coiffure-and-charmeuse edict that governed all other
employees in the shop. In her shabby little dress, her
steel-rimmed spectacles, her black-sateen apron, Smalley might
have passed for a Bird Center home dressmaker. Yet, given a yard
or two or three of satin and a saucer of pins, Smalley could make
the dumpiest of debutantes look like a fragile flower.
At a critical moment Emma stirred. Handicapped as she was by a
mouthful of nineteen pins and her bow-knot attitude, Smalley
still could voice a protest.
"Don't move!" she commanded, thickly.
"Wait a minute," Emma said, and moved again, more disastrously
than before. "Don't you think it's too--too young?"
She eyed herself in the mirror anxiously, then looked down at
Miss Smalley's nut-cracker face that was peering up at her, its
lips pursed grotesquely over the pins.
"Of course it is," mumbled Miss Smalley. "Everybody's clothes
are too young for 'em nowadays. The only difference between the
dresses we make for girls of sixteen and the dresses we make for
their grandmothers of sixty is that the sixty-year-old ones want
'em shorter and lower, and they run more to rose-bud trimming."
Emma surveyed the acid Miss Smalley with a look that was half
amused, half vexed, wholly determined.
"I shan't wear it. Heaven knows I'm not sixty, but I'm not
sixteen either! I don't want to be."
Miss Smalley, doubling again to her task, flung upward a grudging
"Well, anyway, you've got the hair and the coloring and the
figure for it. Goodness knows you look young enough!"
"That's because I've worked hard all my life," retorted Emma,
almost viciously. "Another month of this leisure and I'll be as
wrinkled as the rest of them."
Smalley's magic fingers paused in their manipulation of a soft
fold of satin.
"Worked? Earned a living? Used your wits and brains every day
against the wits and brains of other folks?"
Into the eyes of Miss Smalley, the artist in draping, there crept
the shrewd twinkle of Miss Smalley, the successful woman in
business. She had been sitting back on her knees, surveying her
handiwork through narrowed lids. Now she turned her gaze on
Emma, who was smiling down at her.
"Then for goodness' sake don't stop! I've found out that work
is a kind of self-oiler. If you're used to it, the minute you
stop you begin to get rusty, and your hinges creak and you clog
up. And the next thing you know, you break down. Work that you
like to do is a blessing. It keeps you young. When my mother
was my age, she was crippled with rheumatism, and all gnarled up,
and quavery, and all she had to look forward to was death. Now
me--every time the styles in skirts change I get a new hold on
life. And on a day when I can make a short, fat woman look like
a tall, thin woman, just by sitting here on my knees with a
handful of pins, and giving her the line she needs, I go home
feeling like I'd just been born."
"I know that feeling," said Emma, in her eyes a sparkle that
had long been absent. "I've had it when I've landed a
thousand-dollar Featherloom order from a man who has assured me
that he isn't interested in our line."
At dinner that evening, Emma's gown was so obviously not of the
new crop that even her husband's inexpert eye noted it.
"That's not one of the new ones, is it?"
"This! And you a manufacturer of skirts!"
"What's the matter with the supply of new dresses? Isn't there
enough to go round?"
"Enough! I've never had so many new gowns in my life. The
trouble is that I shan't feel at home in them until I've had 'em
all dry-cleaned at least once."
During the second month, there came a sudden, sharp change in
skirt modes. For four years women had been mincing along in
garments so absurdly narrow that each step was a thing to be
considered, each curbing or car-step demanding careful
negotiation. Now, Fashion, in her freakiest mood, commanded a
bewildering width of skirt that was just one remove from the
flaring hoops of Civil War days. Emma knew what that meant for
the Featherloom workrooms and selling staff. New designs, new
models, a shift in prices, a boom for petticoats, for four years
a garment despised.
A hundred questions were on the tip of Emma's tongue; a hundred
suggestions flashed into her keen mind; there occurred to her a
wonderful design for a new model which should be full and flaring
without being bulky and uncomfortable as were the wide petticoats
of the old days.
But a bargain was a bargain. Still, Emma Buck was as human as
Emma McChesney had been. She could not resist a timid,
"T. A., are you--that is--I was just wondering--you're making
'em wide, I suppose, for the spring trade."
A queer look flashed into T. A. Buck's eyes --a relieved look
that was as quickly replaced by an expression both baffled and
"Why--a--mmmm--yes--oh, yes, we're making 'em up wide, but----"
"But what?" Emma leaned forward, tense.
During the second month there came calling on Emma, those solid
and heavy New Yorkers, with whom the Buck family had been on
friendly terms for many years. They came at the correct hour, in
their correct motor or conservative broughams, wearing their
quietly correct clothes, and Emma gave them tea, and they talked
on every subject from suffrage to salad dressings, and from war
to weather, but never once was mention made of business. And
Emma McChesney's life had been interwoven with business for more
than fifteen years.
There were dinners--long, heavy, correct dinners. Emma, very
well dressed, bright-eyed, alert, intelligent, vital, became very
popular at these affairs, and her husband very proud of her
popularity. And if any one as thoroughly alive as Mrs. T. A.
Buck could have been bored to extinction by anything, then those
dinners would have accomplished the deadly work.
"T. A.," she said one evening, after a particularly large
affair of this sort, "T. A., have you ever noticed anything
about me that is different from other women?"
"Have I? Well, I should say I----"
"Oh, I don't mean what you mean, dear-- thanks just the same. I
mean those women tonight. They all seem to `go in' for something
--votes or charity or dancing or social service, or
something--even the girls. And they all sounded so amateurish,
so untrained, so unprepared, yet they seemed to be dreadfully in
"This is the difference," said T. A. Buck. "You've rubbed up
against life, and you know. They've always been sheltered, but now
they want to know. Well, naturally they're going to bungle and
bump their heads a good many times before they really find out."
"Anyway," retorted Emma, "they want to know. That's
something. It's better to have bumped your head, even though you
never see what's on the other side of the wall, than never to
have tried to climb it."
It was in the third week of the third month that Emma encountered
Hortense. Hortense, before her marriage to Henry, the shipping-
clerk, had been a very pretty, very pert, very devoted little
stenographer in the office of the T. A. Buck Featherloom
Petticoat Company. She had married just a month after her
employers, and Emma, from the fulness of her own brimming cup of
happiness, had made Hortense happy with a gift of linens and
lingerie and lace of a fineness that Hortense's beauty-loving,
feminine heart could never have hoped for.
They met in the busy aisle of a downtown department store and
shook hands as do those who have a common bond.
Hortense, as pretty as ever and as pert, spoke first.
"I wouldn't have known you, Mrs. Mc-- Buck!"
"No? Why not?"
"You look--no one would think you'd ever worked in your life. I
was down at the office the other day for a minute--the first time
since I was married. They told me you weren't there any more."
"No; I haven't been down since my marriage either. I'm like
you--an elegant lady of leisure."
Hortense's bright-blue eyes dwelt searchingly on the face of her
"The bunch in the office said they missed you something awful."
Then, in haste: "Oh, I don't mean that Mr. Buck don't make
things go all right. They're awful fond of him. But--I don't
know--Miss Kelly said she never has got over waiting for the
sound of your step down the hall at nine--sort of light and quick
and sharp and busy, as if you couldn't wait till you waded into
the day's work. Do you know what I mean?"
"I know what you mean," said Emma.
There was a little pause. The two women so far apart, yet so
near; so different, yet so like, gazed far down into each other's
"Miss it, don't you?" said Hortense.
"Yes; don't you?"
"Do I! Say----" She turned and indicated the women surging up
and down the store aisles, and her glance and gesture were
replete with contempt. "Say; look at 'em! Wandering around
here, aimless as a lot of chickens in a barnyard. Half of 'em
are here because they haven't got anything else to do. Think of
it! I've watched 'em lots of times. They go pawing over silks
and laces and trimmings just for the pleasure of feeling 'em.
They stand in front of a glass case with a figure in it all
dressed up in satin and furs and jewels, and you'd think they
were worshiping an idol like they used to in the olden days.
They don't seem to have anything to do. Nothing to occupy
their--their heads. Say, if I thought I was going to be like
them in time, I----"
"Hortense, my dear child, you're--you're happy, aren't you?
"Well, I should say we are! I'm crazy about Henry, and he
thinks I'm perfect. Honestly, ain't they a scream! They think
they're so big and manly and all, and they're just like kids;
ain't it so? We're living in a four-room apartment in Harlem.
We've got it fixed up too cozy for anything."
"I'd like to come and see you," said Emma. Hortense opened her
"Honestly; if you would----"
"Let's go up now. I've the car outside."
"Now! Why I--I'd love it!"
They chattered like schoolgirls on the way uptown--these two who
had found so much in common. The little apartment reached,
Hortense threw open the door with the confident gesture of the
housekeeper who is not afraid to have her household taken by
surprise --whose housekeeping is an index of character.
Hortense had been a clean-cut little stenographer. Her
correspondence had always been free from erasures, thumb-marks,
errors. Her four-room flat was as spotless as her typewritten
letters had been. The kitchen shone in its blue and white and
nickel. A canary chirped in the tiny dining-room. There were
books and magazines on the sitting-room table. The bedroom was
brave in its snowy spread and the toilet silver that had been
Henry's gift to her the Christmas they became engaged.
Emma examined everything, exclaimed over everything, admired
everything. Hortense glowed like a rose.
"Do you really like it? I like the green velours in the
sitting-room, don't you? It's always so kind and cheerful.
We're not all settled yet. I don't suppose we ever will be.
Sundays, Henry putters around, putting up shelves, and fooling
around with a can of paint. I always tell him he ought to have
lived on a farm, where he'd have elbow-room."
"No wonder you're so happy and busy," Emma exclaimed, and
patted the girl's fresh, young cheek.
Hortense was silent a moment.
"I'm happy," she said, at last, "but I ain't busy. And--well,
if you're not busy, you can't be happy very long, can you?"
"No," said Emma, "idleness, when you're not used to it, is
"There! You've said it! It's like running on half-time when
you're used to a day-and-night shift. Something's lacking. It
isn't that Henry isn't grand to me, because he is. Evenings,
we're so happy that we just sit and grin at each other and half
the time we forget to go to a `movie.' After Henry leaves in the
morning, I get to work. I suppose, in the old days, when women
used to have to chop the kindling, and catch the water for
washing in a rain-barrel, and keep up a fire in the kitchen stove
and do their own bread baking and all, it used to keep 'em
hustling. But, my goodness! A four-room flat for two isn't any
work. By eleven, I'm through. I've straightened everything,
from the bed to the refrigerator; the marketing's done, and the
dinner vegetables are sitting around in cold water. The mending
for two is a joke. Henry says it's a wonder I don't sew
double-breasted buttons on his undershirts."
Emma was not smiling. But, then, neither was Hortense. She was
talking lightly, seemingly, but her pretty face was quite
"The big noise in my day is when Henry comes home at six. That
was all right and natural, I suppose, in those times when a
quilting-bee was a wild afternoon's work, and teaching school
was the most advanced job a woman could hold down."
Emma was gazing fascinated at the girl's sparkling face. Her own
eyes were very bright, and her lips were parted.
"Tell me, Hortense," she said now; "what does Henry say to all
this? Have you told him how you feel?"
"Well, I--I talked to him about it once or twice. I told him
that I've got about twenty-four solid hours a week that I might
be getting fifty cents an hour for. You know, I worked for a
manuscript-typewriting concern before I came over to
Buck's--plays and stories and that kind of thing. They used to
like my work because I never queered their speeches by leaving
out punctuation or mixing up the characters. The manager there
said I could have work any time I wanted it. I've got my own
typewriter. I got it second hand when I first started in. Henry
picks around on it sometimes, evenings. I hardly ever touch it.
It's getting rusty--and so am I."
"It isn't just the money you want, Hortense? Are you sure?"
"Of course I'd like the money. That extra coming in would mean
books--I'm crazy about reading, and so is Henry--and theaters and
lots of things we can't afford now. But that isn't all. Henry
don't want to be a shipping-clerk all his life. He's crazy
about mechanics and that kind of stuff. But the books that he
needs cost a lot. Don't you suppose I'd be proud to feel that
the extra money I'd earned would lift him up where he could have
a chance to be something! But Henry is dead set against it. He
says he is the one that's going to earn the money around here. I
try to tell him that I'm used to using my mind. He laughs and
pinches my cheek and tells me to use it thinking about him." She
stopped suddenly and regarded Emma with conscience-stricken
eyes. "You don't think I'm running down Henry, do you? My
goodness, I don't want you to think that I'd change back again
for a million dollars, because I wouldn't." She looked up at
Emma came swiftly over and put one hand on the girl's shoulder.
"I don't think it. Not for a minute. I know that the world is
full of Henrys, and that the number of Hortenses is growing
larger and larger. I don't know if the four-room flats are to
blame, or whether it's just a natural development. But the
Henry-Hortense situation seems to be spreading to the
nine-room-and-three-baths apartments, too."
Hortense nodded a knowing head.
"I kind of thought so, from the way you were listening."
The two, standing there gazing at each other almost shyly,
suddenly began to laugh. The laugh was a safety-valve. Then,
quite as suddenly, both became serious. That seriousness had
been the under-current throughout.
"I wonder," said Emma very gently, "if a small Henry, some
day, won't provide you with an outlet for all that stored-up
Hortense looked up very bravely.
"Maybe. You--you must have been about my age when your boy was
born. Did he make you feel--different?"
The shade of sadness that always came at the mention of those
unhappy years of her early marriage crept into Emma's face now.
"That was not the same, dear," she explained. "I hadn't your
sort of Henry. You see, my boy was my only excuse for living.
You'll never know what that means. And when things grew
altogether impossible, and I knew that I must earn a living for
Jock and myself, I just did it--that's all. I had to."
Hortense thought that over for one deliberate moment. Her brows
were drawn in a frown.
"I'll tell you what I think," she announced, at last, "though
I don't know that I can just exactly put it into words. I mean
this: Some people are just bound to--to give, to build up
things, to--well, to manufacture, because they just can't help
it. It's in 'em, and it's got to come out. Dynamos--that's what
Henry's technical books would call them. You're one--a great
big one. I'm one. Just a little tiny one. But it's sparking
away there all the time, and it might as well be put to some use,
Emma bent down and kissed the troubled forehead, and then, very
tenderly, the pretty, puckered lips.
"Little Hortense," she said, "you're asking a great big
question. I can answer it for myself, but I can't answer it for
you. It's too dangerous. I wouldn't if I could."
Emma, waiting in the hall for the lift, looked back at the slim
little figure in the doorway. There was a droop to the
shoulders. Emma's heart smote her.
"Don't bother your head about all this, little girl," she
called back to her. "Just forget to be ambitious and remember
to be happy. That's much the better way."
Hortense, from the doorway, grinned a rather wicked little grin.
"When are you going back to the office, Mrs. Buck?" she asked,
"What makes you think I'm going back at all?" demanded Emma,
stepping into the shaky little elevator.
"I don't think it," retorted Hortense, once more the pert. "I
Emma knew it, too. She had known it from the moment that she
shook hands in her compact. There was still one week remaining
of the stipulated three months. It seemed to Emma that that one
week was longer than the combined eleven. But she went through
with colors flying. Whatever Emma McChesney Buck did, she did
well. But, then, T. A. Buck had done his part well, too--so well
that, on the final day, Emma felt a sinking at her heart. He
seemed so satisfied with affairs as they were. He was,
apparently, so content to drop all thought of business when he
left the office for his home.
Emma had planned a very special little dinner that evening. She
wore a very special gown, too--one of the new ones. T. A.
noticed it at once, and the dinner as well, being that kind of
husband. Still, Annie, the cook, complained later, to the
parlor-maid, about the thanklessness of cooking dinners for folks
who didn't eat more'n a mouthful, anyway.
"Well, Emma?" said T. A. Buck.
"Light your cigar, T. A.," said Emma. "You'll need it."
T. A. lighted it with admirable leisureliness, sent out a great
puff of fragrant smoke, and surveyed his wife through half-closed
lids. Beneath his air of ease there was a tension.
"Well, Emma?" he said again, gently.
Emma looked at him a moment appreciatively. She had too much
poise and balance and control herself not to recognize and admire
those qualities in others.
"T. A., if I had been what they call a homebody, we wouldn't be
married to-day, would we?"
"You knew plenty of home-women that you could have married,
"I didn't ask them, Emma, but----"
"You know what I mean. Now listen, T. A.: I've loafed for
three months. I've lolled and lazied and languished. And I've
never been so tired in my life--not even when we were taking
January inventory. Another month of this, and I'd be an old, old
woman. I understand, now, what it is that brings that hard,
tired, stony look into the faces of the idle women. They have to
work so hard to try to keep happy. I suppose if I had been a
homebody all my life, I might be hardened to this kind of
thing. But it's too late now. And I'm thankful for it. Those
women who want to shop and dress and drive and play are welcome
to my share of it. If I am to be punished in the next world for
my wickedness in this, I know what form my torture will take. I
shall have to go from shop to shop with a piece of lace in my
hand, matching a sample of insertion. Fifteen years of being in
the thick of it spoil one for tatting and tea. The world is full
of homebodies, I suppose. And they're happy. I suppose I might
have been one, too, if I hadn't been obliged to get out and
hustle. But it's too late to learn now. Besides, I don't want
to. If I do try, I'll be destroying the very thing that
attracted you to me in the first place. Remember what you said
about the Fifth Avenue girl?"
"But, Emma," interrupted Buck very quietly, "I don't want you
Emma, with a rush of words at her very lips, paused, eyed him for
a doubtful moment, asked a faltering question.
"But it was your plan--you said you wanted me to be here when
you came home and when you left, didn't you? Do you mean
"I mean that I've missed my business partner every minute for
three months. All the time we've been going to those fool
dinners and all that kind of thing, I've been bursting to talk
skirts to you. I--say, Emma, Adler's designed a new model--a
full one, of course, but there's something wrong with it. I
can't put my finger on the flaw, but----"
Emma came swiftly over to his chair.
"Make a sketch of it, can't you?" she said. From his pocket
Buck drew a pencil, an envelope, and fell to sketching rapidly,
squinting down through his cigar smoke as he worked.
"It's like this," he began, absorbed and happy; "you see,
where the fulness begins at the knee----"
"Yes!" prompted Emma, breathlessly.
Two hours later they were still bent over the much marked bit of
paper. But their interest in it was not that of those who would
solve a perplexing problem. It was the lingering, satisfied
contemplation of a task accomplished.
Emma straightened, leaned back, sighed--a victorious, happy sigh.
"And to think," she said, marveling, "to think that I once
envied the women who had nothing to do but the things I've done
in the last three months!"
Buck had risen, stretched luxuriously, yawned. Now he came over
to his wife and took her head in his two hands, cozily, and stood
a moment looking into her shining eyes.
"Emma, I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but
perhaps you'll still be interested to know that I think you're a
wonder. A wonder! You're the----"
"Oh, well, we won't quarrel about that," smiled Emma brazenly.
"But I wonder if Adler will agree with us when he sees what
we've done to his newest skirt design."
Suddenly a new thought seemed to strike her. She was off down
the hall. Buck, following in a leisurely manner, hands in
pockets, stood in the bedroom door and watched her plunge into
the innermost depths of the clothes-closet.
"What's the idea, Emma?"
"Looking for something," came back his wife's muffled tones.
A long wait.
"Can I help?"
"I've got it!" cried Emma, and emerged triumphant, flushed,
smiling, holding a garment at arm's length, aloft.
Emma shook it smartly, turned it this way and that, held it up
under her chin by the sleeves.
"Why, girl!" exclaimed Buck, all a-grin, "it's the----"
"The blue serge," Emma finished for him, "with the white
collars and cuffs. And what's more, young man, it's the little
blue hat with the what-cha-ma-call-ems on it. And praise be!
I'm wearing 'em both down-town to-morrow morning."
"HOOPS, MY DEAR!"
Emma McChesney Buck always vigorously disclaimed any knowledge of
that dreamy-eyed damsel known as Inspiration. T. A. Buck, her
husband-partner, accused her of being on intimate terms with the
lady. So did the adoring office staff of the T. A. Buck
Featherloom Petticoat Company. Out in the workshop itself, the
designers and cutters, those jealous artists of the pencil,
shears, and yardstick, looked on in awed admiration on those rare
occasions when the feminine member of the business took the
scissors in her firm white hands and slashed boldly into a
shimmering length of petticoat-silk. When she put down the great
shears, there lay on the table the detached parts of that which
the appreciative and experienced eyes of the craftsmen knew to be
a new and original variation of that elastic garment known as the
For weeks preceding one of these cutting- exhibitions, Emma was
likely to be not quite her usual brisk self. A mystic glow
replaced the alert brightness of her eye. Her wide-awake manner
gave way to one of almost sluggish inactivity.
The outer office, noting these things, would lift its eyebrows
"Another hunch!" it would whisper. "The last time she beat
the rest of the trade by six weeks with that elastic-top gusset."
"Inspiration working, Emma?" T. A. Buck would ask, noting the
"It isn't inspiration, T. A. Nothing of the kind! It's just an
attack of imagination, complicated by clothes-instinct."
"That's all that ails Poiret," Buck would retort.
Early in the autumn, when women were still walking with an absurd
sidewise gait, like a duck, or a filly that is too tightly
hobbled, the junior partner of the firm began to show
unmistakable signs of business aberration. A blight seemed to
have fallen upon her bright little office, usually humming with
activity. The machinery of her day, ordinarily as noiseless and
well ordered as a thing on ball bearings, now rasped, creaked,
jerked, stood still, jolted on again. A bustling clerk or
stenographer, entering with paper or memorandum, would find her
bent over her desk, pencil in hand, absorbed in a rough drawing
that seemed to bear no relation to the skirt of the day. The
margin of her morning paper was filled with queer little scrawls
by the time she reached the office. She drew weird lines with
her fork on the table-cloth at lunch. These hieroglyphics she
covered with a quick hand, like a bashful schoolgirl, when any
"Tell a fellow what it's going to be, can't you?" pleaded Buck.
"I got one glimpse yesterday, when you didn't know I was looking
over your shoulder. It seemed a pass between an overgrown
Zeppelin and an apple dumpling. So I know it can't be a skirt.
Come on, Emma; tell your old man!"
"Not yet," Emma would reply dreamily.
Buck would strike an attitude intended to intimidate.
"If you have no sense of what is due me as your husband, then I
demand, as senior partner of this firm, to know what it is that
is taking your time, which rightfully belongs to this business."
"Go away, T. A., and stop pestering me! What do you think I'm
Buck, turning to go to his own office, threw a last retort over
his shoulder--a rather sobering one, this time.
"Whatever it is, it had better be good--with business what it is
and skirts what they are."
Emma lifted her head to reply to that.
"It isn't what they are that interests me. It's what they're
going to be."
Buck paused in the doorway.
"Going to be! Anybody can see that. Underneath that full,
fool, flaring over-drape, the real skirt is as tight as ever. I
don't think the spring models will show an inch of real
difference. I tell you, Emma, it's serious."
Emma, apparently absorbed in her work, did not reply to this.
But a vague something about the back of her head told T. A. Buck
that she was laughing at him. The knowledge only gave him new
confidence in this resourceful, many-sided, lovable, level-headed
partner-wife of his.
Two weeks went by--four--six--eight. Emma began to look a little
thin. Her bright color was there only when she was overtired or
excited. The workrooms began to talk of new designs for spring,
though it was scarcely mid-winter. The head designer came
forward timidly with a skirt that measured a yard around the
bottom. Emma looked at it, tried to keep her lower lip prisoner
between her teeth, failed, and began to laugh helplessly, almost
Amazement in the faces of Buck and Koritz, the designer, became
consternation, then, in the designer, resentment.
Koritz, dark, undersized, with the eyes of an Oriental and the
lean, sensitive fingers of one who creates, shivered a little,
like a plant that is swept by an icy blast. Buck came over and
laid one hand on his wife's shaking shoulder.
"Emma, you're overtired! This--this thing you've been slaving
over has been too much for you."
With one hand, Emma reached up and patted the fingers that rested
protectingly on her shoulder. With the other, she wiped her
eyes, then, all contrition, grasped the slender brown hand of the
"Bennie, please forgive me! I--I didn't mean to laugh. I
wasn't laughing at your new skirt."
"You think it's too wide, maybe, huh?" Bennie Koritz said, and
held it up doubtfully.
"Too wide!" For a moment Emma seemed threatened with another
attack of that inexplicable laughter. She choked it back
"No, Bennie; not too wide. I'll tell you to-morrow why I
laughed. Then, perhaps, you'll laugh with me."
Bennie, draping his despised skirt-model over one arm, had the
courage to smile even now, though grimly.
"I laugh--sure," he said, showing his white teeth now. "But
the laugh will be, I bet you, on me--like it was when you
designed that knickerbocker before the trade knew such a thing
Impulsively Emma grasped his hand and shook it, as though she
found a certain needed encouragement in the loyalty of this
sallow little Russian.
"Bennie, you're a true artist--because you're big enough to
praise the work of a fellow craftsman when you recognize its
value." And Koritz, the dull red showing under the olive of his
cheeks, went back to his cutting-table happy.
Buck bent forward, eagerly.
"You're going to tell me now, Emma? It's finished?"
"To-night--at home. I want to be the first to try it on. I'll
play model. A private exhibition, just for you. It's not only
finished; it is patented."
"Patented! But why? What is it, anyway? A new fastener? I
thought it was a skirt."
"Wait until you see it. You'll think I should have had it
copyrighted as well, not to say passed by the national board of
"Do you mean to say that I'm to be the entire audience at the
premiere of this new model?"
"You are to be audience, critic, orchestra, box-holder, patron,
and `Diamond Jim' Brady. Now run along into your own
office--won't you, dear? I want to get out these letters." And
she pressed the button that summoned a stenographer.
T. A. Buck, resigned, admiring, and anticipatory, went.
Annie, the cook, was justified that evening in her bitter
complaint. Her excellent dinner received scant enough attention
from these two. They hurried through it like eager, bright-eyed
school-children who have been promised a treat. Two scarlet
spots glowed in Emma's cheeks. Buck's eyes, through the haze of
his after-dinner cigar, were luminous.
"No; not yet. I want you to smoke your cigar and digest your
dinner and read your paper. I want you to twiddle your thumbs a
little and look at your watch. First-night curtains are always
late in rising, aren't they? Well!"
She turned on the full glare of the chandelier, turned it off,
went about flicking on the soft-shaded wall lights and the lamps.
"Turn your chair so that your back will be toward the door."
He turned it obediently.
From the direction of her bedroom there presently came the sounds
of dresser drawers hurriedly opened and shut with a bang, of a
slipper dropped on the hard-wood floor, a tune hummed in an
absent-minded absorption under the breath, an excited little
laugh nervously stifled. Buck, in his role of audience, began to
clap impatiently and to stamp with his feet on the floor.
"No gallery!" Emma called in from the hall. "Remember the
temperamental family on the floor below!" A silence--then:
"I'm coming. Shut your eyes and prepare to be jarred by the
There was a rustling of silks, a little rush to the center of the
big room, a breathless pause, a sharp snap of finger and thumb.
Buck opened his eyes.
He opened his eyes. Then he closed them and opened them again,
quickly, as we do, sometimes, when we are unwilling to believe
that which we see. What he beheld was this: A very pretty, very
flushed, very bright-eyed woman, her blond hair dressed quaintly
after the fashion of the early 'Sixties, her arms and shoulders
bare, a pink-slip with shoulder-straps in lieu of a bodice,
and--he passed a bewildered hand over his eyes a skirt that
billowed and flared and flounced and spread in a great, graceful
circle--a skirt strangely light for all its fulness--a skirt
like, and yet, somehow, unlike those garments seen in ancient
copies of Godey's Lady Book.
"That can't be--you don't mean--what--what IS it?" stammered
Emma, her arms curved above her head like a ballet-dancer's,
pirouetted, curtsied very low so that the skirt spread all about
her on the floor, like the petals of a flower.
"Hoops, my dear!"
"Hoops!" echoed Buck, in weak protest. "Hoops, my DEAR!"
Emma stroked one silken fold with approving fingers.
"Our new leader for spring."
"But, Emma, you're joking!"
She stared, suddenly serious.
"You mean--you don't like it!"
"Like it! For a fancy-dress costume, yes; but as a petticoat
for every-day wear, to be made up by us for our customers! But
of course you're playing a trick on me." He laughed a little
weakly and came toward her. "You can't catch me that way, old
girl! It's darned becoming, Emma--I'll say that." He bent down,
smiling. "I'll allow you to kiss me. And then try me with the
real surprise, will you?"
Her coquetry vanished. Her smile fled with it. Her pretty pose
was abandoned. Mrs. T. A. Buck, wife, gave way to Emma McChesney
Buck, business woman. She stiffened a little, as though bracing
herself for a verbal encounter.
"You'll get used to it. I expected you to be jolted at the
first shock of it. I was, myself--when the idea came to me."
Buck passed a frenzied forefinger under his collar, as though it
had suddenly grown too tight for him.
"Used to it! I don't want to get used to it! It's
preposterous! You can't be serious! No woman would wear a
garment like that! For five years skirts have been tighter and
"Until this summer they became tightest," interrupted Emma.
"They could go no farther. I knew that meant, `About face!' I
knew it meant not a slightly wider skirt but a wildly wider
skirt. A skirt as bouffant as the other had been scant. I was
sure it wouldn't be a gradual process at all but a mushroom
growth--hobbles to-day, hoops to-morrow. Study the history of
women's clothes, and you'll find that has always been true."
"Look here, Emma," began Buck, desperately; "you're wrong, all
wrong! Here, let me throw this scarf over your shoulders. Now
we'll sit down and talk this thing over sensibly."
"I'll agree to the scarf"--she drew a soft, silken, fringed
shawl about her and immediately one thought of a certain vivid,
brilliant portrait of a hoop-skirted dancer--"but don't ask me
to sit down. I'd rebound like a toy balloon. I've got to
convince you of this thing. I'll have to do it standing."
Buck sank into his chair and dabbed at his forehead with his
"You'll never convince me, sitting or standing. Emma, I know I
fought the knickerbocker when you originated it, and I know that
it turned out to be a magnificent success. But this is
different. The knicker was practical; this thing's absurd--it's
impossible! This is an age of activity. In Civil War days women
minced daintily along when they walked at all. They stitched on
samplers by way of diversion."
"What has all that to do with it?" inquired Emma sweetly.
"Everything. Use a little logic."
"Logic! In a discussion about women's dress! T. A., I'm
"But, Emma, be reasonable. Good Lord! You're usually
clear-sighted enough. Our mode of living has changed in the last
fifty years--our methods of transit, our pastimes, customs,
everything. Imagine a woman trying to climb a Fifth Avenue 'bus
in one of those things. Fancy her in a hot set of tennis. Women
use street-cars, automobiles, airships. Can you see a subway
train full of hoop-skirted clerks, stenographers, and models?
Street-car steps aren't built for it. Office-building elevators
can't stand for it. Six-room apartments won't accommodate 'em.
They're fantastic, wild, improbable. You're wrong, Emma--all
She had listened patiently enough, never once attempting to
interrupt. But on her lips was the maddening half-smile of one
whose rebuttal is ready. Now she perched for a moment at the
extreme edge of the arm of a chair. Her skirt subsided
decorously. Buck noticed that, with surprise, even in the midst
of his heated protest.
"T. A., you've probably forgotten, but those are the very
arguments used when the hobble was introduced. Preposterous,
people said--impossible! Women couldn't walk in 'em. Wouldn't,
couldn't sit down in 'em. Women couldn't run, play tennis, skate
in them. The car steps were too high for them. Well, what
happened? Women had to walk in them, and a new gait became the
fashion. Women took lessons in how to sit down in them. They
slashed them for tennis and skating. And street-car companies
all over the country lowered the car steps to accommodate them.
What's true for the hobble holds good for the hoop. Women will
cease to single-foot and learn to undulate when they walk.
They'll widen the car platforms. They'll sit on top the Fifth
Avenue 'buses, and you'll never give them a second thought."
"The things don't stay where they belong. I've seen 'em
misbehave in musical comedies," argued Buck miserably.
"That's where my patent comes in. The old hoop was cumbersome,
unwieldy, clumsy. The new skirt, by my patent featherboning
process, is made light, graceful, easily managed. T. A., I
predict that by midsummer a tight skirt will be as rare a sight
as a full one was a year ago."
"We're not quarreling, are we?"
"Quarreling! I rather think not! A man can have his own
opinion, can't he?"
It appeared, however, that he could not. For when they had
threshed it out, inch by inch, as might two partners whose only
bond was business, it was Emma who won.
"Remember, I'm not convinced," Buck warned her; "I'm only
beaten by superior force. But I do believe in your woman's
intuition--I'll say that. It has never gone wrong. I'm banking
"It's woman's intuition when we win," Emma observed,
thoughtfully. "When we lose it's a foolish, feminine notion."
There were to be no half-way measures. The skirt was to be the
feature of the spring line. Cutters and designers were one with
Buck in thinking it a freak garment. Emma reminded them that the
same thing had been said of the hobble on its appearance.
In February, Billy Spalding, veteran skirt-salesman, led a
flying wedge of six on a test-trip that included the Middle West
and the Coast. Their sample-trunks had to be rebuilt to
accommodate the new model. Spalding, shirt-sleeved, whistling
dolorously, eyed each garment with a look of bristling
antagonism. Spalding sold skirts on commission.
Emma, surveying his labors, lifted a quizzical eyebrow.
"If you're going to sell that skirt as enthusiastically as you
pack it, you'd better stay here in New York and save the house
Spalding ceased to whistle. He held up a billowy sample and
gazed at it.
"Honestly, Mrs. Buck, you know I'd try to sell pretzels in
London if you asked me to. But do you really think any woman
alive would be caught wearing a garment like this in these
"Not only do I think it, Billy; I'm certain of it. This new
petticoat makes me the Lincoln of the skirt trade. I'm literally
freeing my sisters from the shackles that have bound their ankles
for five years."
Spalding, unimpressed, folded another skirt.
"Um, maybe! But what's that line about slaves hugging their
The day following, Spalding and his flying squad scattered to
spread the light among the skirt trade. And things went wrong
from the start.
The first week showed an ominous lack of those cheering epistles
beginning, "Enclosed please find," etc. The second was worse.
The third was equally bad. The fourth was final. The second
week in March, Spalding returned from a territory which had
always been known as firmly wedded to the T. A. Buck Featherloom
petticoat. The Middle West would have none of him.
They held the post-mortem in Emma's bright little office, and
that lady herself seemed to be strangely sunny and undaunted,
considering the completeness of her defeat. She sat at her desk
now, very interested, very bright-eyed, very calm. Buck, in a
chair at the side of her desk, was interested, too, but not so
calm. Spalding, who was accustomed to talk while standing,
leaned against the desk, feet crossed, brows furrowed. As he
talked, he emphasized his remarks by jabbing the air with his
"Well," said Emma quietly, "it didn't go."
"It didn't even start," corrected Spalding.
"But why?" demanded Buck. "Why?"
Spalding leaned forward a little, eagerly.
"I'll tell you something: When I started out with that little
garment, I thought it was a joke. Before I'd been out with it a
week, I began to like it. In ten days, I was crazy about it, and
I believed in it from the waistband to the hem. On the level,
Mrs. Buck, I think it's a wonder. Now, can you explain that?"
"Yes," said Emma; "you didn't like it at first because it was
a shock to you. It outraged all your ideas of what a skirt ought
to be. Then you grew accustomed to it. Then you began to see
its good points. Why couldn't you make the trade get your
"This is why: Out in Manistee and Oshkosh and Terre Haute, the
girls have just really learned the trick of walking in tight
skirts. It's as impossible to convince a Middle West buyer that
the exaggerated full skirt is going to be worn next summer as it
would be to prove to him that men are going to wear sunbonnets.
They thought I was trying to sell 'em masquerade costumes. I may
believe in it, and you may believe in it, and T. A.; but the
girls from Joplin--well, they're from Joplin. And they're
waiting to hear from headquarters."
T. A. Buck crossed one leg over the other and sat up with a
"Well, that settles it, doesn't it?" he said.
"It does not," replied Emma McChesney Buck crisply. "If they
want to hear from headquarters, they won't have long to wait."
"Now, Emma, don't try to push this thing if it----"
"T. A., please don't look so forgiving. I'd much rather have
you reproach me."
"It's you I'm thinking of, not the skirt."
"But I want you to think of the skirt, too. We've gone into
this thing, and it has cost us thousands. Don't think I'm going
to sit quietly by and watch those thousands trickle out of our
hands. We've played our first card. It didn't take a trick.
Buck and Spalding were leaning forward, interested, attentive.
There was that in Emma's vivid, glowing face which did not mean
"March fifteenth, at Madison Square Garden, there is to be held
the first annual exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of
American Styles for American Women. For one hundred years we've
taken our fashions as Paris dictated, regardless of whether they
outraged our sense of humor or decency or of fitness. This year
the American designer is going to have a chance. Am I an
American designer, T. A., Billy?"
"Yes!" in chorus.
"Then I shall exhibit that skirt on a live model at the First
Annual American Fashion Show next month. Every skirt-buyer in
the country will be there. If it takes hold there, it's
made--and so are we."
March came, and with it an army of men and women buyers,
dependent, for the first time in their business careers, on the
ingenuity of the American brain. The keen-eyed legions that had
advanced on Europe early, armed with letters of credit--the vast
horde that returned each spring and autumn laden with their
spoils--hats, gowns, laces, linens, silks, embroideries--were
obliged to content themselves with what was to be found in their
Clever manager that she was, Emma took as much pains with her
model as with the skirt itself. She chose a girl whose demure
prettiness and quiet charm would enhance the possibilities of the
skirt's practicability in the eye of the shrewd buyer. Gertrude,
the model, developed a real interest in the success of the
petticoat. Emma knew enough about the psychology of crowds to
realize how this increased her chances for success.
The much heralded fashion show was to open at one o'clock on the
afternoon of March fifteenth. At ten o'clock that morning, there
breezed in from Chicago a tall, slim, alert young man, who made
straight for the offices of the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat
Company, walked into the junior partner's private office, and
took that astonished lady in his two strong arms.
"Jock McChesney!" gasped his rumpled mother, emerging from the
hug. "I've been hungry for a sight of you!" She was submerged
in a second hug. "Come here to the window where I can get a
real look at you! Why didn't you wire me? What are you doing
away from your own job? How's business? And why come to-day, of
all days, when I can't make a fuss over you?"
Jock McChesney, bright-eyed, clear-skinned, steady of hand, stood
up well under the satisfied scrutiny of his adoring mother. He
smiled down at her.
"Wanted to surprise you. Here for three reasons--the Abbott
Grape-juice advertising contract, you, and Grace. And why can't
you make a fuss over me, I'd like to know?"
Emma told him. His keen, quick mind required little in the way
"But why didn't you let me in on it sooner?"
"Because, son, nothing explains harder than embryo success. I
always prefer to wait until it's grown up and let it do its own
"But the thing ought to have national advertising," Jock
insisted, with the advertising expert's lightning grasp of its
possibilities. "What that skirt needs is publicity. Why didn't
you let me handle----"
"Yes, I know, dear; but you haven't seen the skirt. It won't do
to ram it down their throats. I want to ease it to them first.
I want them to get used to it. It failed utterly on the road,
because it jarred their notion of what a petticoat ought to be.
That's due to five years of sheath skirts."
"But suppose--just for the sake of argument --that it doesn't
strike them right this afternoon?"
"Then it's gone, that's all. Six months from now, every
skirt-factory in the country will be manufacturing a similar
garment. People will be ready for it then. I've just tried to
cut in ahead of the rest. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried to do
Jock hugged her again at that, to the edification of the office
windows across the way.
"Gad, you're a wiz, mother! Now listen: I 'phoned Grace when I
got in. She's going to meet me here at one. I'll chase over to
the office now on this grape-juice thing and come back here in
time for lunch. Is T. A. in? I'll look in on him a minute.
We'll all lunch together, and then----"
"Can't do it, son. The show opens at one. Gertrude, my model,
comes on at three. She's going to have the stage to herself for
ten minutes, during which she'll make four changes of costume to
demonstrate the usefulness of the skirt for every sort of gown
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