Story type: Literature
Temptation himself is not much of a spieler. Raucous-voiced, red- faced, greasy, he stands outside his gaudy tent, dilating on the wonders within. One or two, perhaps, straggle in. But the crowd, made wary by bitter experience of the sham and cheap fraud behind the tawdry canvas flap, stops a moment, laughs, and passes on. Then Temptation, in a panic, seeing his audience drifting away, summons from inside the tent his bespangled and bewitching partner, Mlle. Psychological Moment, the Hypnotic Charmer. She leaps to the platform, bows, pirouettes. The crowd surges toward the ticket-window, nickel in hand.
Six months of bad luck had dogged the footsteps of Mrs. Emma McChesney, traveling saleswoman for the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company, New York. It had started with a six-weeks’ illness endured in the discomfort of a stuffy little hotel bedroom at Glen Rock, Minnesota. By August she was back in New York, attending to out- of-town buyers.
Those friendly Middle-Western persona showed dismay at her pale, hollow-eyed appearance. They spoke to her of teaspoonfuls of olive-oil taken thrice a day, of mountain air, of cold baths, and, above all, of the advisability of leaving the road and taking an inside position. At that Emma McChesney always showed signs of unmistakable irritation.
In September her son, Jock McChesney, just turned eighteen, went blithely off to college, disguised as a millionaire’s son in a blue Norfolk, silk hose, flat-heeled shoes, correctly mounted walrus bag, and next-week’s style in fall hats. As the train glided out of the great shed Emma McChesney had waved her handkerchief, smiling like fury and seeing nothing but an indistinct blur as the observation platform slipped around the curve. She had not felt that same clutching, desolate sense of loss since the time, thirteen years before, when she had cut off his curls and watched him march sturdily off to kindergarten.
In October it was plain that spring skirts, instead of being full as predicted, were as scant and plaitless as ever. That spelled gloom for the petticoat business. It was necessary to sell three of the present absurd style to make the profit that had come from the sale of one skirt five years before.
The last week in November, tragedy stalked upon the scene in the death at Marienbad of old T. A. Buck, Mrs. McChesney’s stanch friend and beloved employer. Emma McChesney had wept for him as one weeps at the loss of a father.
They had understood each other, those two, from the time that Emma McChesney, divorced, penniless, refusing support from the man she had married eight years before, had found work in the office of the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company.
Old Buck had watched her rise from stenographer to head stenographer, from head stenographer to inside saleswoman, from that to a minor road territory, and finally to the position of traveling representative through the coveted Middle-Western territory.
Old T. A. Buck, gruff, grim, direct, far-seeing, kindly, shrewd–he had known Emma McChesney for what she was worth. Once, when she had been disclosing to him a clever business scheme which might be turned into good advertising material, old Buck had slapped his knee with one broad, thick palm and had said:
“Emma McChesney, you ought to have been a man. With that head on a man’s shoulders, you could put us out of business.”
“I could do it anyway,” Mrs. McChesney had retorted.
Old Buck had regarded her a moment over his tortoise-shell rimmed glasses. Then, “I believe you could,” he had said, quietly and thoughtfully.
That brings her up to December. To some few millions of people D-e-c- e-m-b-e-r spells Christmas. But to Emma McChesney it spelled the dreaded spring trip. It spelled trains stalled in snowdrifts, baggage delayed, cold hotel bedrooms, harassed, irritable buyers.
It was just six o’clock on the evening of December ninth when Mrs. Emma McChesney swung off the train at Columbus, Ohio, five hours late. As she walked down the broad platform her eyes unconsciously searched the loaded trucks for her own trunks. She’d have recognized them in the hold of a Nile steamer–those grim, travel-scarred sample-trunks. They had a human look to her. She had a way of examining them after each trip, as a fond mother examines her child for stray scratches and bruises when she puts it to bed for the night. She knew each nook and corner of the great trunks as another woman knows her linen-closet or her preserve-shelves.
Columbus, Ohio, was a Featherloom town. Emma McChesney had a fondness for it, with its half rustic, half metropolitan air. Sometimes she likened it to a country girl in a velvet gown, and sometimes to a city girl in white muslin and blue sash. Singer & French always had a Featherloom window twice a year.
The hotel lobby wore a strangely deserted look. December is a slack month for actors and traveling men. Mrs. McChesney registered automatically, received her mail, exchanged greetings with the affable clerk.
“Send my trunks up to my sample-room as soon as they get in. Three of ’em–two sample-trunks and my personal trunk. And I want to see a porter about putting up some extra tables. You see, I’m two days late now. I expect two buyers to-morrow morning.
“Send ’em right up, Mrs. McChesney,” the clerk assured her. “Jo’ll attend to those tables. Too bad about old Buck. How’s the skirt business?”
“Skirts? There is no such thing,” corrected Emma McChesney gently.” Sausage-casing business, you mean.”
“Guess you’re right, at that. By the way, how’s that handsome youngster of yours? He’s not traveling with you this trip?”
There came a wonderful glow into Emma McChesney’s tired face.
“Jock’s at college. Coming home for the holidays. We’re going to have a dizzy week in New York. I’m wild to see if those three months of college have done anything to him, bless his heart! Oh, kind sir, forgive a mother’s fond ravings! Where’d that youngster go with my bag?”
Up at last in the stuffy, unfriendly, steam-smelling hotel bedroom Emma McChesney prepared to make herself comfortable. A cocky bell-boy switched on the lights, adjusted a shade, straightened a curtain. Mrs. McChesney reached for her pocket-book.
“Just open that window, will you?”
“Pretty cold,” remonstrated the bell-boy. “Beginning to snow, too.”
“Can’t help it. I’ll shut it in a minute. The last man that had this room left a dead cigar around somewhere. Send up a waiter, please. I’m going to treat myself to dinner in my room.”
The boy gone, she unfastened her collar, loosened a shoe that had pressed a bit too tightly over the instep, took a kimono and toilette articles out of her bag.
“I’ll run through my mail,” she told herself. “Then I’ll get into something loose, see to my trunks, have dinner, and turn in early. Wish Jock were here. We’d have a steak, and some French fried, and a salad, and I’d let the kid make the dressing, even if he does always get in too much vinegar–“
She was glancing through her mail. Two from the firm–one from Mary Cutting–one from the Sure-White Laundry at Dayton (hope they found that corset-cover)–one from–why, from Jock! From Jock! And he’d written only two days before. Well!
Sitting there on the edge of the bed she regarded the dear scrawl lovingly, savoring it, as is the way of a woman. Then she took a hairpin from the knot of bright hair (also as is the way of woman) and slit the envelope with a quick, sure rip. M-m-m–it wasn’t much as to length. Just a scrawled page. Emma McChesney’s eye plunged into it hungrily, a smile of anticipation dimpling her lips, lighting up her face.
“Dearest Blonde,” it began.
(“The nerve of the young imp!”)
He hoped the letter would reach her in time. Knew how this weather mussed up her schedule. He wanted her honest opinion about something– straight, now! One of the frat fellows was giving a Christmas house- party. Awful swells, by the way. He was lucky even to be asked. He’d never remembered a real C
hristmas–in a home, you know, with a tree, and skating, and regular high jinks, and a dinner that left you feeling like a stuffed gooseberry. Old Wells says his grandmother wears lace caps with lavender ribbons. Can you beat it! Of course he felt like a hog, even thinking of wanting to stay away from her at Christmas. Still, Christmas in a New York hotel–! But the fellows had nagged him to write. Said they’d do it if he didn’t. Of course he hated to think of her spending Christmas alone–felt like a bloody villain–
Little by little the smile that had wreathed her lips faded and was gone. The lips still were parted, but by one of those miracles with which the face expresses what is within the heart their expression had changed from pleasure to bitter pain.
She sat there, at the edge of the bed, staring dully until the black scrawls danced on the white page. With the letter before her she raised her hand slowly and wiped away a hot, blinding mist of tears with her open palm. Then she read it again, dully, as though every selfish word of it had not already stamped itself on her brain and heart.
After the second reading she still sat there, her eyes staring down at her lap. Once she brushed an imaginary fleck of lint from the lap of her blue serge skirt–brushed, and brushed and brushed, with a mechanical, pathetic little gesture that showed how completely absent her mind was from the room in which she sat. Then her hand fell idle, and she became very still, a crumpled, tragic, hopeless look rounding the shoulders that were wont to hold themselves so erect and confident.
A tentative knock at the door. The figure on the bed did not stir. Another knock, louder this time. Emma McChesney sat up with a start. She shivered as she became conscious of the icy December air pouring into the little room. She rose, walked to the window, closed it with a bang, and opened the door in time to intercept the third knock.
A waiter proffered her a long card. “Dinner, Madame?”
“Oh!” She shook her head. “Sorry I’ve changed my mind. I–I shan’t want any dinner.”
She shut the door again and stood with her back against it, eying the bed. In her mind’s eye she had already thrown herself upon it, buried her face in the nest of pillows, and given vent to the flood of tears that was beating at her throat. She took a quick step toward the bed, stopped, turned abruptly, and walked toward the mirror.
“Emma McChesney,” she said aloud to the woman in the glass, “buck up, old girl! Bad luck comes in bunches of threes. It’s like breaking the first cup in a new Haviland set. You can always count on smashing two more. This is your third. So pick up the pieces and throw ’em in the ash-can.”
Then she fastened her collar, buttoned her shoe, pulled down her shirtwaist all around, smeared her face with cold cream, wiped it with a towel, smoothed her hair, donned her hat. The next instant the little room was dark, and Emma McChesney was marching down the long, red-carpeted hallway to the elevator, her head high, her face set.
Down-stairs in the lobby–“How about my trunks?” she inquired of a porter.
That blue-shirted individual rubbed a hard brown hand over his cheek worriedly.
“They ain’t come.”
“Ain’t come!”–surprise disregarded grammar.
Nope. No signs of ’em. I’ll tell you what: I think prob’ly they was overlooked in the rush, the train being late from Dayton when you started. Likely they’ll be in on the ten-thirteen. I’ll send ’em up the minute they get in.”
“I wish you would. I’ve got to get my stuff out early. I can’t keep customers waiting for me. Late, as it is.”
She approached the clerk once more. “Anything at the theaters?”
“Well, nothing much, Mrs. McChesney. Christmas coming on kind of puts a crimp in the show business. Nice little bill on at the Majestic, if you like vaudeville.”
“Crazy about it. Always get so excited watching to see if the next act is going to be as rotten as the last one. It always is.”
From eight-fifteen until ten-thirty Mrs. McChesney sat absolutely expressionless while a shrill blonde lady and a nasal dark gentleman went through what the program ironically called a “comedy sketch,” followed by a chummy person who came out in evening dress to sing a sentimental ditty, shed the evening dress to reappear in an ankle- length fluffy pink affair; shucked the fluffy pink affair for a child’s pinafore, sash, and bare knees; discarded the kiddie frock, disclosing a bathing-suit; left the bathing-suit behind the wings in favor of satin knee-breeches and tight jacket–and very discreetly stopped there, probably for no reason except to give way to the next act, consisting of two miraculously thin young men in lavender dress suits and white silk hats, who sang and clogged in unison, like two things hung on a single wire.
The night air was grateful to her hot forehead as she walked from the theater to the hotel.
“Trunks in?” to the porter.
“No sign of ’em, lady. They didn’t come in on the ten. Think they’d better wire back to Dayton.”
But the next morning Mrs. McChesney was in the depot baggage-room when Dayton wired back:
“Trunks not here. Try Columbus, Nebraska.”
“Crash!” said Emma McChesney to the surprised baggage-master. “There goes my Haviland vegetable-dish.”
“Were you selling china?” he inquired.
“No, I wasn’t,” replied Emma McChesney viciously. “And if you don’t let me stand here and give my frank, unbiased opinion of this road, its president, board of directors, stockholders, baggage-men, Pullman porters, and other things thereto appertaining, I’ll probably have hysterics.”
“Give it,” said the baggage-master.” You’ll feel better. And we’re used to it.”
She gave it. When she had finished:
“Did you say you was selling goods on the road? Say, that’s a hell of a job for a woman! Excuse me, lady. I didn’t mean–“
“I think perhaps you’re right,” said Emma McChesney slowly. “It is just that.”
“Well, anyway, we’ll do our best to trace it. Guess you’re in for a wait.”
Emma McChesney waited. She made the rounds of her customers, and waited. She wired her firm, and waited. She wrote Jock to run along and enjoy himself, and waited. She cut and fitted a shirt-waist, took her hat apart and retrimmed it, made the rounds of her impatient customers again, threatened to sue the road, visited the baggage-room daily–and waited.
Four weary, nerve-racking days passed. It was late afternoon of the fourth day when Mrs. McChesney entered the elevator to go to her room. She had come from another fruitless visit to the baggage-room. She sank into a leather-cushioned seat in a corner of the lift. Two men entered briskly, followed by a bellboy. Mrs. McChesney did not look up.
“Well, I’ll be dinged!” boomed a throaty voice. “Mrs. McChesney, by the Great Horn Spoon! H’are you? Talking about you this minute to my friend here.”
Emma McChesney, with the knowledge of her lost sample-trunks striking her afresh, looked up and smiled bravely into the plump pink face of Fat Ed Meyers, traveling representative for her firm’s bitterest rival, the Strauss Sans-silk Skirt Company.
“Talking about me, Mr. Meyers? Sufficient grounds for libel, right there.”
The little sallow, dark man just at Meyers’ elbow was gazing at her unguardedly. She felt that he had appraised her from hat to heels. Ed Meyers placed a plump hand on the little man’s shoulder.
“Abe, you tell the lady what I was saying. This is Mr. Abel Fromkin, maker of the Fromkin Form-Fit Skirt. Abe, this is the wonderful Mrs. McChesney.”
“Sorry I can’t wait to hear what you’ve said of me. This is my floor.” Mrs. McChesney was already leaving the elevator.
“Here! Wait a minute!” Fat Ed Meyers was out and standing beside her, his movements unbelievably nimble. “Will you have dinner with us, Mrs. McChesney?”
“Thanks. Not to-night.”
Meyers turned to the waiting elevator. “Fromkin, you go on up with the boy; I’ll talk to the lady a minute.”
tle displeased frown appeared on Emma McChesney’s face.
“You’ll have to excuse me, Mr. Meyers, I–“
“Heigh-ho for that haughty stuff, Mrs. McChesney,” grinned Ed Meyers. “Don’t turn up your nose at that little Kike friend of mine till you’ve heard what I have to say. Now just let me talk a minute. Fromkin’s heard all about you. He’s got a proposition to make. And it isn’t one to sniff at.”
He lowered his voice mysteriously in the silence of the dim hotel corridor.
“Fromkin started in a little one-room hole-in-the-wall over on the East Side. Lived on a herring and a hunk of rye bread. Wife used to help him sew. That was seven years ago. In three years, or less, she’ll have the regulation uniform–full length seal coat, bunch of paradise, five-drop diamond La Valliere set in platinum, electric brougham. Abe has got a business head, take it from me. But he’s wise enough to know that business isn’t the rough-and-tumble game it used to be. He realizes that he’ll do for the workrooms, but not for the front shop. He knows that if he wants to keep on growing he’s got to have what they call a steerer. Somebody smooth, and polished, and politic, and what the highbrows call suave. Do you pronounce that with a long a, or two dots over? Anyway, you get me. You’re all those things and considerable few besides. He’s wise to the fact that a business man’s got to have poise these days, and balance. And when it comes to poise and balance, Mrs. McChesney, you make a Fairbanks scale look like a raft at sea.”
“While I don’t want to seem to hurry you,” drawled Mrs. McChesney, “might I suggest that you shorten the overture and begin on the first act?”
“Well, you know how I feel about your business genius.”
“Yes, I know,” enigmatically.
Ed Meyers grinned. “Can’t forget those two little business misunderstandings we had, can you?”
“Business understandings,” corrected Emma McChesney.
“Call ’em anything your little heart dictates, but listen. Fromkin knows all about you. Knows you’ve got a million friends in the trade, that you know skirts from the belt to the hem. I don’t know just what his proposition is, but I’ll bet he’ll give you half interest in the livest, come-upest little skirt factory in the country, just for a few thousands capital, maybe, and your business head at the executive end. Now just let that sink in before you speak.”
“And why,” inquired Emma McChesney, “don’t you grab this matchless business opportunity yourself?”
“Because, fair lady, Fromkin wouldn’t let me get in with a crowbar. He’ll never be able to pronounce his t’s right, and when he’s dressed up he looks like a ‘bus-boy at Mouquin’s, but he can see a bluff farther than I can throw one–and that’s somewhere beyond the horizon, as you’ll admit. Talk it over with us after dinner then?”
Emma McChesney was regarding the plump, pink, eager face before her with keen, level, searching eyes.
“Yes,” she said slowly, “I will.”
“Cafe? We’ll have a bottle–“
Mrs. McChesney smiled. “I won’t ask you to make yourself that miserable. You can’t smoke in the parlor. We’ll find a quiet corner in the writing-room, where you men can light up. I don’t want to take advantage of you.”
Down in the writing-room at eight they formed a strange little group. Ed Meyers, flushed and eager, his pink face glowing like a peony, talking, arguing, smoking, reasoning, coaxing, with the spur of a fat commission to urge him on; Abel Fromkin, with his peculiarly pallid skin made paler in contrast to the purplish-black line where the razor had passed, showing no hint of excitement except in the restless little black eyes and in the work-scarred hands that rolled cigarette after cigarette, each glowing for one brief instant, only to die down to a blackened ash the next; Emma McChesney, half fascinated, half distrustful, listening in spite of herself, and trying to still a small inner voice–a voice that had never advised her ill.
“You know the ups and downs to this game,” Ed Meyers was saying. “When I met you there in the elevator you looked like you’d lost your last customer. You get pretty disgusted with it all, at times, like the rest of us.”
“At that minute,” replied Emma McChesney, “I was so disgusted that if some one had called me up on the ‘phone and said, ‘Hullo, Mrs. McChesney! Will you marry me?’ I’d have said: ‘Yes. Who is this?’”
“There! That’s just it. I don’t want to be impolite, or anything like that, Mrs. McChesney, but you’re no kid. Not that you look your age– not by ten years! But I happen to know you’re teetering somewhere between thirty-six and the next top. Ain’t that right?”
“Is that a argument to put to a lady?” remonstrated Abel Fromkin.
Fat Ed Meyers waved the interruption away with a gesture of his strangely slim hands. “This ain’t an argument. It’s facts. Another ten years on the road, and where’ll you be? In the discard. A man of forty-six can keep step with the youngsters, even if it does make him puff a bit. But a woman of forty-six–the road isn’t the place for her. She’s tired. Tired in the morning; tired at night. She wants her kimono and her afternoon snooze. You’ve seen some of those old girls on the road. They’ve come down step by step until you spot ’em, bleached hair, crow’s-feet around the eyes, mussy shirt-waist, yellow and red complexion, demonstrating green and lavender gelatine messes in the grocery of some department store. I don’t say that a brainy corker of a saleswoman like you would come down like that. But you’ve got to consider sickness and a lot of other things. Those six weeks last summer with the fever at Glen Rock put a crimp in you, didn’t it? You’ve never been yourself since then. Haven’t had a decent chance to rest up.”
“No,” said Emma McChesney wearily.
“Furthermore, now that old T. A.’s cashed in, how do you know what young Buck’s going to do? He don’t know shucks about the skirt business. They’ve got to take in a third party to keep it a close corporation. It was all between old Buck, Buck junior, and old lady Buck. How can you tell whether the new member will want a woman on the road, or not?”
A little steely light hardened the blue of Mrs. McChesney’s eyes.
“We’ll leave the firm of T. A. Buck out of this discussion, please.”
“Oh, very well!” Ed Meyers was unabashed. “Let’s talk about Fromkin. He don’t object, do you, Abe? It’s just like this. He needs your smart head. You need his money. It’ll mean a sure thing for you–a share in a growing and substantial business. When you get your road men trained it’ll mean that you won’t need to go out on the road yourself, except for a little missionary trip now and then, maybe. No more infernal early trains, no more bum hotel grub, no more stuffy, hot hotel rooms, no more haughty lady buyers–gosh, I wish I had the chance!”
Emma McChesney sat very still. Two scarlet spots glowed in her cheeks. “No one appreciates your gift of oratory more than I do, Mr. Meyers. Your flow of language, coupled with your peculiar persuasive powers, make a combination a statue couldn’t resist. But I think it would sort of rest me if Mr. Fromkin were to say a word, seeing that it’s really his funeral.”
Abel Fromkin started nervously, and put his dead cigarette to his lips. “I ain’t much of a talker,” he said, almost sheepishly. “Meyers, he’s got it down fine. I tell you what. I’ll be in New York the twenty-first. We can go over the books and papers and the whole business. And I like you should know my wife. And I got a little girl –Would you believe it, that child ain’t more as a year old, and says Papa and Mama like a actress!”
“Sure,” put in Ed Meyers, disregarding the more intimate family details. “You two get together and fix things up in shape; then you can sign up and have it off your mind so you can enjoy the festive Christmas season.”
Emma McChesney had been gazing out of the window to where the street- lamps were reflected in the ice-covered pavements. Now she spoke, still staring ou
t upon the wintry street.
Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling. And I haven’t got it.”
“Oh, come now, Mrs. McChesney!” objected Ed Meyers.
With a sudden, quick movement Emma McChesney turned from the window to the little dark man who was watching her so intently. She faced him squarely, as though utterly disregarding Ed Meyers’ flattery and banter and cajolery. The little man before her seemed to recognize the earnestness of the moment. He leaned forward a bit attentively.
“If what has been said is true,” she began, this ought to be a good thing for me. If I go into it, I’ll go in heart, soul, brain, and pocket-book. I do know the skirt business from thread to tape and back again. I’ve managed to save a few thousand dollars. Only a woman could understand how I’ve done it. I’ve scrimped on little things. I’ve denied myself necessities. I’ve worn silk blouses instead of linen ones to save laundry-bills and taken a street-car or ‘bus to save a quarter or fifty cents. I’ve always tried to look well dressed and immaculate–“
“You!” exclaimed Ed Meyers. “Why, say, you’re what I call a swell dresser. Nothing flashy, understand, or loud, but the quiet, good stuff that spells ready money.”
“M-m-m–yes. But it wasn’t always so ready. Anyway, I always managed somehow. The boy’s at college. Sometimes I wonder–well, that’s another story. I’ve saved, and contrived, and planned ahead for a rainy day. There have been two or three times when I thought it had come. Sprinkled pretty heavily, once or twice. But I’ve just turned up my coat-collar, tucked my hat under my skirt, and scooted for a tree. And each time it has turned out to be just a summer shower, with the sun coming out bright and warm.”
Her frank, clear, honest, blue eyes were plumbing the depths of the black ones. “Those few thousand dollars that you hold so lightly will mean everything to me. They’ve been my cyclone-cellar. If–“
Through the writing-room sounded a high-pitched, monotonous voice with a note of inquiry in it.
“Mrs. McChesney! Mr. Fraser! Mr. Ludwig! Please! Mrs. McChesney! Mr. Fraser! Mr. Lud–“
“Here, boy!” Mrs. McChesney took the little yellow envelope from the salver that the boy held out to her. Her quick glance rested on the written words. She rose, her face colorless.
“Not bad news?” The two men spoke simultaneously.
“I don’t know,” said Emma McChesney. “What would you say?”
She handed the slip of paper to Fat Ed Meyers. He read it in silence. Then once more, aloud:
“‘Take first train back to New York. Spalding will finish your trip.’”
“Why–say–” began Meyers.
“Why–say–this–this looks as if you were fired!”
“Does, doesn’t it?” She smiled.
“Then our little agreement goes?” The two men were on their feet, eager, alert. “That means you’ll take Fromkin’s offer?”
“It means that our little agreement is off. I’m sorry to disappoint you. I want to thank you both for your trouble. I must have been crazy to listen to you for a minute. I wouldn’t have if I’d been myself.”
“But that telegram–“
“It’s signed, ‘T. A. Buck.’ I’ll take a chance.”
The two men stared after her, disappointment and bewilderment chasing across each face.
“Well, I thought I knew women, but–” began Ed Meyers fluently.
Passing the desk, Mrs. McChesney heard her name. She glanced toward the clerk. He was just hanging up the telephone-receiver.
“Baggage-room says the depot just notified ’em your trunks were traced to Columbia City. They’re on their way here now.”
“Columbia City!” repeated Emma McChesney. “Do you know, I believe I’ve learned to hate the name of the discoverer of this fair land.”
Up in her room she opened the crumpled telegram again, and regarded it thoughtfully before she began to pack her bag.
The thoughtful look was still there when she entered the big bright office of the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company. And with it was another expression that resembled contrition.
“Mr. Buck’s waiting for you,” a stenographer told her.
Mrs. McChesney opened the door of the office marked “Private.”
Two men rose. One she recognized as the firm’s lawyer. The other, who came swiftly toward her, was T. A. Buck–no longer junior. There was a new look about him–a look of responsibility, of efficiency, of clear- headed knowledge.
The two clasped hands–a firm, sincere, understanding grip.
Buck spoke first. “It’s good to see you. We were talking of you as you came in. You know Mr. Beggs, of course. He has some things to tell you–and so have I. His will be business things, mine will be personal. I got there before father passed away–thank God! But he couldn’t speak. He’d anticipated that with his clear-headedness, and he’d written what he wanted to say. A great deal of it was about you. I want you to read that letter later.”
“I shall consider it a privilege,” said Emma McChesney.
Mr. Beggs waved her toward a chair. She took it in silence. She heard him in silence, his sonorous voice beating upon her brain.
“There are a great many papers and much business detail, but that will be attended to later,” began Beggs ponderously. “You are to be congratulated on the position of esteem and trust which you held in the mind of your late employer. By the terms of his will–I’ll put it briefly, for the moment–you are offered the secretaryship of the firm of T. A. Buck, Incorporated. Also you are bequeathed thirty shares in the firm. Of course, the company will have to be reorganized. The late Mr. Buck had great trust in your capabilities.”
Emma McChesney rose to her feet, her breath coming quickly. She turned to T. A. Buck. “I want you to know–I want you to know–that just before your telegram came I was half tempted to leave the firm. To–“
“Can’t blame you,” smiled T. A. Buck. “You’ve had a rotten six months of it, beginning with that illness and ending with those infernal trunks. The road’s no place for a woman.”
“Nonsense!” flashed Emma McChesney. “I’ve loved it. I’ve gloried in it. And I’ve earned my living by it. Giving it up–don’t now think me ungrateful–won’t be so easy, I can tell you.”
T. A. Buck nodded understandingly. “I know. Father knew too. And I don’t want you to let his going from us make any difference in this holiday season. I want you to enjoy it and be happy.”
A shade crossed Emma McChesney’s face. It was there when the door opened and a boy entered with a telegram. He handed it to Mrs. McChesney. It held ten crisp words:
Changed my darn fool mind. Me for home and mother.
Emma McChesney looked up, her face radiant.
“Christmas isn’t a season, Mr. Buck. It’s a feeling; and, thank God, I’ve got it!”