In The Absence Of The Agent by Edna Ferber
Story type: Literature
This is a love-story. But it is a love-story with a logical ending. Which means that in the last paragraph no one has any one else in his arms. Since logic and love have long been at loggerheads, the story may end badly. Still, what love passages there are shall be left intact. There shall be no trickery. There shall be no running breathless, flushed, eager-eyed, to the very gateway of Love’s garden, only to bump one’s nose against that baffling, impregnable, stone-wall phrase of “let us draw a veil, dear reader.” This is the story of the love of a man for a woman, a mother for her son, and a boy for a girl. And there shall be no veil.
Since 8 A.M., when she had unlocked her office door, Mrs. Emma McChesney had been working in bunches of six. Thus, from twelve to one she had dictated six letters, looked up memoranda, passed on samples of petticoat silk, fired the office-boy, wired Spalding out in Nebraska, and eaten her lunch. Emma McChesney was engaged in that nerve-racking process known as getting things out of the way. When Emma McChesney aimed to get things out of the way she did not use a shovel; she used a road-drag.
Now, at three-thirty, she shut the last desk-drawer with a bang, locked it, pushed back the desk-phone, discovered under it the inevitable mislaid memorandum, scanned it hastily, tossed the scrap of paper into the brimming waste-basket, and, yawning, raised her arms high above her head. The yawn ended, her arms relaxed, came down heavily, and landed her hands in her lap with a thud. It had been a whirlwind day. At that moment most of the lines in Emma McChesney’s face slanted downward.
But only for that moment. The next found her smiling. Up went the corners of her mouth! Out popped her dimples! The laugh-lines appeared at the corners of her eyes. She was still dimpling like an anticipatory child when she had got her wraps from the tiny closet, and was standing before the mirror, adjusting her hat.
The hat was one of those tiny, pert, head-hugging trifles that only a very pretty woman can wear. A merciless little hat, that gives no quarter to a blotched skin, a too large nose, colorless eyes. Emma McChesney stood before the mirror, the cruel little hat perched atop her hair, ready to give it the final and critical bash which should bring it down about her ears where it belonged. But even now, perched grotesquely atop her head as it was, you could see that she was going to get away with it.
It was at this critical moment that the office door opened, and there entered T. A. Buck, president of the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat and Lingerie Company. He entered smiling, leisurely, serene-eyed, as one who anticipates something pleasurable. At sight of Emma McChesney standing, hatted before the mirror, the pleasurable look became less confident.
“Hello!” said T. A. Buck. “Whither?” and laid a sheaf of businesslike- looking papers on the top of Mrs. McChesney’s well cleared desk.
Mrs. McChesney, without turning, performed the cramming process successfully, so that her hat left only a sub-halo of fluffy bright hair peeping out from the brim.
Then, “Playing hooky,” she said. “Go ‘way.”
T. A. Buck picked up the sheaf of papers and stowed them into an inside coat-pocket. “As president of this large and growing concern,” he said, “I want to announce that I’m going along.”
Emma McChesney adjusted her furs. “As secretary of said firm I rise to state that you’re not invited.”
T. A. Buck, hands in pockets, stood surveying the bright-eyed woman before him. The pleasurable expression had returned to his face.
“If the secretary of the above-mentioned company has the cheek to play hooky at 3:30 P.M. in the middle of November, I fancy the president can demand to know where she’s going, and then go too.”
Mrs. McChesney unconcernedly fastened the clasp of her smart English glove.
“Didn’t you take two hours for lunch? Had mine off the top of my desk. Ham sandwich and a glass of milk. Dictated six letters between bites and swallows.”
A frown of annoyance appeared between T. A. Buck’s remarkably fine eyes. He came over to Mrs. McChesney and looked down at her.
“Look here, you’ll kill yourself. It’s all very well to be interested in one’s business, but I draw the line at ruining my digestion for it. Why in Sam Hill don’t you take a decent hour at least?”
“Only bricklayers can take an hour for lunch,” retorted Emma McChesney. “When you get to be a lady captain of finance you can’t afford it.”
She crossed to her desk and placed her fingers on the electric switch. The desk-light cast a warm golden glow on the smart little figure in the trim tailored suit, the pert hat, the shining furs. She was rosy- cheeked and bright-eyed as a schoolgirl. There was about her that vigor, and glow, and alert assurance which bespeaks congenial work, sound sleep, healthy digestion, and a sane mind. She was as tingling, and bracing, and alive, and antiseptic as the crisp, snappy November air outdoors.
T. A. Buck drew a long breath as he looked at her.
“Those are devastating clothes,” he remarked. “D’you know, until now I always had an idea that furs weren’t becoming to women. Make most of ’em look stuffy. But you–“
Emma McChesney glanced down at the shining skins of muff and scarf. She stroked them gently and lovingly with her gloved hand.
“M-m-m-m! These semi-precious furs are rather satisfactory–until you see a woman in sealskin and sables. Then you want to use ’em for a hall rug.”
T. A. Buck stepped within the radius of the yellow light, so that its glow lighted up his already luminous eyes–eyes that had a trick of translucence under excitement.
“Sables and sealskin,” repeated T. A. Buck, his voice vibrant. “If it’s those you want, you can–“
Snap! went the electric switch under Emma McChesney’s fingers. It was as decisive as a blow in the face. She walked to the door. The little room was dim.
“I’m sending my boy through college with my sealskin-and-sable fund,” she said crisply; “and I’m to meet him at 4:30.”
“Oh, that’s your appointment!” Relief was evident in T. A. Buck’s tone.
Emma McChesney shook a despairing head. “For impudent and unquenchable inquisitiveness commend me to a man! Here! If you must know, though I intended it as a surprise when it was finished and furnished–I’m going to rent a flat, a regular six-room, plenty-of-closets flat, after ten years of miserable hotel existence. Jock’s running over for two days to approve it. I ought to have waited until the holidays, so he wouldn’t miss classes; but I couldn’t bear to. I’ve spent ten Thanksgivings, and ten Christmases, and ten New Years in hotels. Hell has no terrors for me.”
They were walking down the corridor together.
“Take me along–please!” pleaded T. A. Buck, like a boy. “I know all about flats, and gas-stoves, and meters, and plumbing, and everything!”
“You!” scoffed Emma McChesney, “with your five-story house and your summer home in the mountains!”
“Mother won’t hear of giving up the house. I hate it myself. Bathrooms in those darned old barracks are so cold that a hot tub is an icy plunge before you get to it.” They had reached the elevator. A stubborn look appeared about T. A. Buck’s jaw. “I’m going!” he announced, and scudded down the hail to his office door. Emma McChesney pressed the elevator-button. Before the ascending car showed a glow of light in the shaft T. A. Buck appeared with hat, gloves, stick.
“I think the car’s downstairs. We’ll run up in it. What’s the address? Seventies, I suppose?”
Emma McChesney stepped out of the elevator and turned. “Car! Not I! If you’re bound to come with me you’ll take the subway. They’re asking enough for that apartment as it is. I don’t intend to drive up in a five-thousand-dollar motor and have the agent tack on an extra twenty dollars a month.”
T. . Buck smiled with engaging agreeableness. “Subway it is,” he said. “Your presence would turn even a Bronx train into a rose-garden.”
utes later the new apartment building, with its cream-tile and red-brick Louis Somethingth facade, and its tan brick and plaster Michael-Dougherty-contractor back, loomed before them, soaring even above its lofty neighbors. On the door-step stood a maple-colored giant in a splendor of scarlet, and gold braid, and glittering buttons. The great entrance door was opened for them by a half-portion duplicate of the giant outside. In the foyer was splendor to grace a palace hall. There were great carved chairs. There was a massive oaken table. There were rugs, there were hangings, there were dim-shaded lamps casting a soft glow upon tapestry and velours.
Awaiting the pleasure of the agent, T. A. Buck, leaning upon his stick, looked about him appreciatively. “Makes the Knickerbocker lobby look like the waiting-room in an orphan asylum.”
“Don’t let ’em fool you,” answered Emma McChesney, sotto voce, just before the agent popped out of his office. “It’s all included in the rent. Dinky enough up-stairs. If ever I have guests that I want to impress I’ll entertain ’em in the hall.”
There approached them the agent, smiling, urbane, pleasing as to manner–but not too pleasing; urbanity mixed, so to speak, with the leaven of caution.
“Ah, yes! Mrs.–er–McChesney, wasn’t it? I can’t tell you how many parties have been teasing me for that apartment since you looked at it. I’ve had to–well–make myself positively unpleasant in order to hold it for you. You said you wished your son to–“
The glittering little jewel-box of an elevator was taking them higher and higher. The agent stared hard at T. A. Buck.
Mrs. McChesney followed his gaze. “My business associate, Mr. T. A. Buck,” she said grimly.
The agent discarded caution; he was all urbanity. Their floor attained, he unlocked the apartment door and threw it open with a gesture which was a miraculous mixture of royalty and generosity.
“He knows you!” hissed Emma McChesney, entering with T. A. “Another ten on the rent. “The agent pulled up a shade, switched on a light, straightened an electric globe. T. A. Buck looked about at the bare white walls, at the bare polished floor, at the severe fireplace.
“I knew it couldn’t last,” he said.
“If it did,” replied Emma McChesney good-naturedly, “I couldn’t afford to live here,” and disappeared into the kitchen followed by the agent, who babbled ever and anon of views, of Hudsons, of express-trains, of parks, as is the way of agents from Fiftieth Street to One Hundred and ‘Umpty-ninth.
T. A. Buck, feet spread wide, hands behind him, was left standing in the center of the empty living-room. He was leaning on his stick and gazing fixedly upward at the ornate chandelier. It was a handsome fixture, and boasted some of the most advanced ideas in modern lighting equipment. Yet it scarcely seemed to warrant the passionate scrutiny which T. A. Buck was bestowing upon it. So rapt was his gaze that when the telephone-bell shrilled unexpectedly in the hallway he started so that his stick slipped on the polished floor, and as Emma McChesney and the still voluble agent emerged from the kitchen the dignified head of the firm of T. A. Buck and Company presented an animated picture, one leg in the air, arms waving wildly, expression at once amazed and hurt.
Emma McChesney surveyed him wide-eyed. The agent, unruffled, continued to talk on his way to the telephone.
“It only looks small to you,” he was saying. “Fact is, most people think it’s too large. They object to a big kitchen. Too much work.” He gave his attention to the telephone.
Emma McChesney looked troubled. She stood in the doorway, head on one side, as one who conjures up a mental picture.
“Come here,” she commanded suddenly, addressing the startled T. A. “You nagged until I had to take you along. Here’s a chance to justify your coming. I want your opinion on the kitchen.”
“Kitchens,” announced T. A. Buck of the English clothes and the gardenia, “are my specialty,” and entered the domain of the gas-range and the sink.
Emma McChesney swept the infinitesimal room with a large gesture.
“Considering it as a kitchen, not as a locker, does it strike you as being adequate?”
T. A. Buck, standing in the center of the room, touched all four walls with his stick.
“I’ve heard,” he ventured, “that they’re–ah–using ’em small this year.”
Emma McChesney’s eyes took on a certain wistful expression. “Maybe. But whenever I’ve dreamed of a home, which was whenever I got lonesome on the road, which was every evening for ten years, I’d start to plan a kitchen. A kitchen where you could put up preserves, and a keg of dill pickles, and get a full-sized dinner without getting things more than just comfortably cluttered.”
T. A. Buck reflected. He flapped his arms as one who feels pressed for room. “With two people occupying the room, as at present, the presence of one dill pickle would sort of crowd things, not to speak of a keg of ’em, and the full-sized dinner, and the–er–preserves. Still–“
“As for a turkey,” wailed Emma McChesney, “one would have to go out on the fire-escape to baste it.”
The swinging door opened to admit the agent. “Would you excuse me? A party down-stairs–lease–be back in no time. Just look about–any questions–glad to answer later–“
“Quite all right,” Mrs. McChesney assured him. Her expression was one of relief as the hall door closed behind him. “Good! There’s a spot in the mirror over the mantel. I’ve been dying to find out if it was a flaw in the glass or only a smudge.”
She made for the living-room. T. A. Buck followed thoughtfully. Thoughtfully and interestedly he watched her as she stood on tiptoe, breathed stormily upon the mirror’s surface, and rubbed the moist place with her handkerchief. She stood back a pace, eyes narrowed critically.
“It’s gone, isn’t it?” she asked.
T. A. Buck advanced to where she stood and cocked his head too, judicially, and in the opposite direction to which Emma McChesney’s head was cocked. So that the two heads were very close together.
“It’s a poor piece of glass,” he announced at last.
A simple enough remark. Perhaps it was made with an object in view, but certainly it was not meant to bring forth the storm of protest that came from Emma McChesney’s lips. She turned on him, lips quivering, eyes wrathful.
“You shouldn’t have come!” she cried. “You’re as much out of place in a six-room flat as a truffle would be in a boiled New England dinner. Do you think I don’t see its shortcomings? Every normal woman, no matter what sort of bungalow, palace, ranch-house, cave, cottage, or tenement she may be living in, has in her mind’s eye a picture of the sort of apartment she’d live in if she could afford it. I’ve had mine mapped out from the wall-paper in the front hall to the laundry-tubs in the basement, and it doesn’t even bear a family resemblance to this.”
“I’m sorry,” stammered T. A. Buck. “You asked my opinion and I–“
“Opinion! If every one had so little tact as to give their true opinion when it was asked this would be a miserable world. I asked you because I wanted you to lie. I expected it of you. I needed bolstering up. I realize that the rent I’m paying and the flat I’m getting form a geometrical problem where X equals the unknown quantity and only the agent knows the answer. But it’s going to be a home for Jock and me. It’s going to be a place where he can bring his friends; where he can have his books, and his ‘baccy, and his college junk. It will be the first real home that youngster has known in all his miserable boarding-house, hotel, boys’ school, and college existence. Sometimes when I think of what he’s missed, of the loneliness and the neglect when I was on the road, of the barrenness of his boyhood, I–“
T. A. Buck started forward as one who had made up his mind about something long considered. Then he gulped, retreated, paced excitedly to the door and back again. On the return trip he found smiling and repentant Emma McChesney r
“Now aren’t you sorry you insisted on coming along? Letting yourself in for a ragging like that? I think I’m a wee bit taut in the nerves at the prospect of seeing Jock–and planning things with him–I–“
T. A. Buck paused in his pacing. “Don’t!” he said. “I had it coming to me. I did it deliberately. I wanted to know how you really felt about it.”
Emma McChesney stared at him curiously. “Well, now you know. But I haven’t told you half. In all those years while I was selling T. A. Buck’s Featherloom Petticoats on the road, and eating hotel food that tasted the same, whether it was roast beef or ice-cream, I was planning this little place. I’ve even made up my mind to the scandalous price I’m willing to pay a maid who’ll cook real dinners for us and serve them as I’ve always vowed Jock’s dinners should be served when I could afford something more than a shifting hotel home.”
T. A. Buck was regarding the head of his if walking-stick with a gaze as intent as that which he previously had bestowed upon the chandelier. For that matter it was a handsome enough stick–a choice thing in malacca. But it was scarcely more deserving than the chandelier had been.
Mrs. McChesney had wandered into the dining-room. She peered out of windows. She poked into butler’s pantry. She inspected wall-lights. And still T. A. Buck stared at his stick.
“It’s really robbery,” came Emma McChesney’s voice from the next room. “Only a New York agent could have the nerve to do it. I’ve a friend who lives in Chicago–Mary Cutting. You’ve heard me speak of her. Has a flat on the north side there, just next door to the lake. The rent is ridiculous; and–would you believe it?–the flat is equipped with bookcases, and gorgeous mantel shelves, and buffet, and bathroom fixtures, and china-closets, and hall-tree–“
Her voice trailed into nothingness as she disappeared into the kitchen. When she emerged again she was still enumerating the charms of the absurdly low-priced Chicago flat, thus:
“–and full-length mirrors, and wonderful folding table-shelf gimcracks in the kitchen, and–“
T. A. Buck did not look up. But, “Oh, Chicago!” he might have been heard to murmur, as only a New-Yorker can breathe those two words.
“Don’t ‘Oh, Chicago!’ like that,” mimicked Emma McChesney. “I’ve lain awake nights dreaming of a home I once saw there, with the lake in the back yard, and a couple of miles of veranda, and a darling vegetable- garden, and the whole place simply honeycombed with bathrooms, and sleeping-porches, and sun-parlors, and linen-closets, and–gracious, I wonder what’s keeping Jock!”
T. A. Buck wrenched his eyes from his stick. All previous remarks descriptive of his eyes under excitement paled at the glow which lighted them now. They glowed straight into Emma McChesney’s eyes and held them, startled.
“Emma,” said T. A. Buck quite calmly, “will you marry me? I want to give you all those things, beginning with the lake in the back yard and ending with the linen-closets and the sun-parlor.”
And Emma McChesney, standing there in the middle of the dining-room floor, stared long at T. A. Buck, standing there in the center of the living-room floor. And if any human face, in the space of seventeen seconds, could be capable of expressing relief, and regret, and alarm, and dismay, and tenderness, and wonder, and a great womanly sympathy, Emma McChesney’s countenance might be said to have expressed all those emotions–and more. The last two were uppermost as she slowly came toward him.
“T. A.,” she said, and her voice had in it a marvelous quality, “I’m thirty-nine years old. You know I was married when I was eighteen and got my divorce after eight years. Those eight years would have left any woman who had endured them with one of two determinations: to take up life again and bring it out into the sunshine until it was sound, and sweet, and clean, and whole once more, or to hide the hurt and brood over it, and cover it with bitterness, and hate until it destroyed by its very foulness. I had Jock, and I chose the sun, thank God! I said then that marriage was a thing tried and abandoned forever, for me. And now–“
There was something almost fine in the lines of T. A. Buck’s too feminine mouth and chin; but not fine enough.
“Now, Emma,” he repeated, “will you marry me?”
Emma McChesney’s eyes were a wonderful thing to see, so full of pain were they, so wide with unshed tears.
“As long as–he–lived,” she went on, “the thought of marriage was repulsive to me. Then, that day seven months ago out in Iowa, when I picked up that paper and saw it staring out at me in print that seemed to waver and dance”–she covered her eyes with her hand for a moment– “‘McChesney–Stuart McChesney, March 7, aged forty-seven years. Funeral to-day from Howland Brothers’ chapel. Aberdeen and Edinburgh papers please copy!’”
T. A. Buck took the hand that covered her eyes and brought it gently down.
“Emma,” he said, “will you marry me?”
“T. A., I don’t love you. Wait! Don’t say it! I’m thirty-nine, but I’m brave and foolish enough to say that all these years of work, and disappointment, and struggle, and bitter experience haven’t convinced me that love does not exist. People have said about me, seeing me in business, that I’m not a marrying woman. There is no such thing as that. Every woman is a marrying woman, and sometimes the light- heartedest, and the scoffingest, and the most self-sufficient of us are, beneath it all, the marryingest. Perhaps I’m making a mistake. Perhaps ten years from now I’ll be ready to call myself a fool for having let slip what the wise ones would call a ‘chance.’ But I don’t think so, T. A.”
“You know me too well,” argued T. A. Buck rather miserably. “But at least you know the worst of me as well as the best. You’d be taking no risks.”
Emma McChesney walked to the window. There was a little silence. Then she finished it with one clean stroke. “We’ve been good business chums, you and I. I hope we always shall be. I can imagine nothing more beautiful on this earth for a woman than being married to a man she cares for and who cares for her. But, T. A., you’re not the man.”
And then there were quick steps in the corridor, a hand at the door- knob, a slim, tall figure in the doorway. Emma McChesney seemed to waft across the rooms and into the embrace of the slim, tall figure.
“Welcome–home!” she cried. “Sketch in the furniture to suit yourself.”
“This is going to be great–great!” announced Jock. “What do you know about the Oriental potentate down-stairs! I guess Otis Skinner has nothing on him when it comes–Why, hello, Mr. Buck!” He was peering into the next room. “Why don’t you folks light up? I thought you were another agent person. Met that one down in the hail. Said he’d be right up. What’s the matter with him anyway? He smiles like a waxworks. When the elevator took me up he was still smiling from the foyer, and I could see his grin after the rest of him was lost to sight. Regular Cheshire. What’s this? Droring-room?”
He rattled on like a pleased boy. He strode over to shake hands with Buck. Emma McChesney, cheeks glowing, eyed him adoringly. Then she gave a little suppressed cry.
“Jock, what’s happened?”
Jock whirled around like a cat. “Where? When? What?”
Emma McChesney pointed at him with one shaking finger. “You! You’re thin! You’re–you’re emaciated. Your shoulders, where are they? Your– your legs–“
Jock looked down at himself. His glance was pride. “Clothes,” he said.
“Clothes?” faltered his mother.
“You’re losing your punch, Mother? You used to be up on men’s rigging. All the boys look like their own shadows these days. English cut. No padding. No heels. Incurve at the waist. Watch me walk.” He flapped across the room, chest concave, shoulders rounded, arms hanging limp, feet wide apart, chin thrust forward.
“Do you mean to tell me that’s your present form of locomotion?” demanded his mother.
“I hope so. Been practising it
for weeks. They call it the juvenile jump, and all our best leading men have it. I trailed Douglas Fairbanks for days before I really got it.”
And the tension between T. A. Buck and Emma McChesney snapped with a jerk, and they both laughed, and laughed again, at Jock’s air of offended dignity. They laughed until the rancor in the heart of the man and the hurt and pity in the heart of the woman melted into a bond of lasting understanding.
“Go on–laugh!” said Jock. “Say, Mother, is there a shower in the bathroom, h’m?” And was off to investigate.
The laughter trailed away into nothingness. “Jock,” called his mother, “do you want your bedroom done in plain or stripes?”
“Plain,” came from the regions beyond. “Got a lot of pennants and everything.”
T. A. Buck picked up his stick from the corner in which it stood.
“I’ll run along,” he said. “You two will want to talk things over together.” He raised his voice to reach the boy in the other room. “I’m off, Jock.”
Jock’s protest sounded down the hall. “Don’t leave me alone with her. She’ll blarney me into consenting to blue-and-pink rosebud paper in my bedroom.”
T. A. Buck had the courage to smile even at that. Emma McChesney was watching him, her clear eyes troubled, anxious.
At the door Buck turned, came back a step or two. “I–I think, if you don’t mind, I’ll play hooky this time and run over to Atlantic City for a couple of days. You’ll find things slowing up, now that the holidays are so near.”
“Fine idea–fine!” agreed Emma McChesney; but her eyes still wore the troubled look.
“Good-by,” said T. A. Buck abruptly.
“Good–” and then she stopped. “I’ve a brand-new idea. Give you something to worry about on your vacation.”
“I’m supplied,” answered T. A. Buck grimly.
“Nonsense! A real worry. A business worry. A surprise.”
Jock had joined them, and was towering over his mother, her hand in his.
T. A. Buck regarded them moodily. “After your pajama and knickerbocker stunt I’m braced for anything.”
“Nothing theatrical this time,” she assured him. “Don’t expect a show such as you got when I touched off the last fuse.”
An eager, expectant look was replacing the gloom that bad clouded his face. “Spring it.”
Emma McChesney waited a moment; then, “I think the time has come to put in another line–a staple. It’s–flannel nightgowns.”
“Flannel nightgowns!” Disgust shivered through Buck’s voice. “Flannel nightgowns! They quit wearing those when Broadway was a cow-path.”
“Did, eh?” retorted Emma McChesney. “That’s the New-Yorker speaking. Just because the French near-actresses at the Winter Garden wear silk lace and sea-foam nighties in their imported boudoir skits, and just because they display only those frilly, beribboned handmade affairs in the Fifth Avenue shop-windows, don’t you ever think that they’re a national vice. Let me tell you,” she went on as T. A. Buck’s demeanor grew more bristlingly antagonistic, “there are thousands and thousands of women up in Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and Michigan, and Oregon, and Alaska, and Nebraska, and Dakota who are thankful to retire every night protected by one long, thick, serviceable flannel nightie, and one practical hot-water bag. Up in those countries retiring isn’t a social rite: it’s a feat of hardihood. I’m keen for a line of plain, full, roomy old-fashioned flannel nightgowns of the improved T. A. Buck Featherloom products variety. They’ll be wearing ’em long after knickerbockers have been cut up for patchwork.”
The moody look was quite absent from T. A. Buck’s face now, and the troubled look from Emma McChesney’s eyes.
“Well,” Buck said grudgingly, “if you were to advise making up a line of the latest models in deep-sea divers’ uniforms, I suppose I’d give in. But flannel nightgowns! In the twentieth century–flannel night–“
“Think it over,” laughed Emma McChesney as he opened the door. “We’ll have it out, tooth and nail, when you get back.”
The door closed upon him. Emma McChesney and her son were left alone in their new home to be.
“Turn out the light, son,” said Emma McChesney, “and come to the window. There’s a view! Worth the money, alone.”
Jock switched off the light. “D’ you know, Blonde, I shouldn’t wonder if old T. A.’s sweetish on you,” he said as he came over to the window.
“He’s forty or over, isn’t he?”
“Son, do you realize your charming mother’s thirty-nine?”
“Oh, you! That’s different. You look a kid. You’re young in all the spots where other women of thirty-nine look old. Around the eyes, and under the chin, and your hands, and the corners of your mouth.”
In the twilight Emma McChesney turned to stare at her son. “Just where did you learn all that, young ‘un? At college?”
And, “Some view, isn’t it, Mother?” parried Jock. The two stood there, side by side, looking out across the great city that glittered and swam in the soft haze of the late November afternoon. There are lovelier sights than New York seen at night, from a window eyrie with a mauve haze softening all, as a beautiful but experienced woman is softened by an artfully draped scarf of chiffon. There are cities of roses, cities of mountains, cities of palm-trees and sparkling lakes; but no sight, be it of mountains, or roses, or lakes, or waving palm- trees, is more likely to cause that vague something which catches you in the throat.
It caught those two home-hungry people. And it opened the lips of one of them almost against his will.
“Mother,” said Jock haltingly, painfully, “I came mighty near coming home–for good–this time.”
His mother turned and searched his face in the dim light.
“What was it, Jock?” she asked, quite without fuss.
The slim young figure in the jumping juvenile clothes stirred and tried to speak, tried again, formed the two words: “A–girl.”
Emma McChesney waited a second, until the icy, cruel, relentless hand that clutched her very heart should have relaxed ever so little. Then, “Tell me, sonny boy,” she said.
“Why, Mother–that girl–” There was an agony of bitterness and of disillusioned youth in his voice.
Emma McChesney came very close, so that her head, in the pert little close-fitting hat, rested on the boy’s shoulder. She linked her arm through his, snug and warm.
“That girl–” she echoed encouragingly.
And, “That girl,” went on Jock, taking up the thread of his grief, “why, Mother, that–girl–“