Little Mrs. Sommers one day found herself the unexpected
possessor of fifteen dollars. It seemed to her a very large amount
of money, and the way in which it stuffed and bulged her worn old
porte-monnaie gave her a feeling of importance such as she had
not enjoyed for years.
The question of investment was one that occupied her greatly.
For a day or two she walked about apparently in a dreamy state, but
really absorbed in speculation and calculation. She did not wish
to act hastily, to do anything she might afterward regret. But it
was during the still hours of the night when she lay awake
revolving plans in her mind that she seemed to see her way clearly
toward a proper and judicious use of the money.
A dollar or two should be added to the price usually paid for
Janie's shoes, which would insure their lasting an appreciable time
longer than they usually did. She would buy so and so many yards
of percale for new shirt waists for the boys and Janie and Mag.
She had intended to make the old ones do by skilful patching. Mag
should have another gown. She had seen some beautiful patterns,
veritable bargains in the shop windows. And still there would be
left enough for new stockingstwo pairs apieceand what darning
that would save for a while! She would get caps for the boys and
sailor-hats for the girls. The vision of her little brood
looking fresh and dainty and new for once in their lives
excited her and made her restless and wakeful with anticipation.
The neighbors sometimes talked of certain "better days" that
little Mrs. Sommers had known before she had ever thought of being
Mrs. Sommers. She herself indulged in no such morbid
retrospection. She had no timeno second of time to devote to the
past. The needs of the present absorbed her every faculty. A
vision of the future like some dim, gaunt monster sometimes
appalled her, but luckily to-morrow never comes.
Mrs. Sommers was one who knew the value of bargains; who could
stand for hours making her way inch by inch toward the desired
object that was selling below cost. She could elbow her way if
need be; she had learned to clutch a piece of goods and hold it and
stick to it with persistence and determination till her turn came
to be served, no matter when it came.
But that day she was a little faint and tired. She had
swallowed a light luncheonno! when she came to think of it,
between getting the children fed and the place righted, and
preparing herself for the shopping bout, she had actually forgotten
to eat any luncheon at all!
She sat herself upon a revolving stool before a counter that
was comparatively deserted, trying to gather strength and courage
to charge through an eager multitude that was besieging
breastworks of shirting and figured lawn. An all-gone limp feeling had
come over her and she rested her hand aimlessly upon the counter.
She wore no gloves. By degrees she grew aware that her hand had
encountered something very soothing, very pleasant to touch. She
looked down to see that her hand lay upon a pile of silk stockings.
A placard near by announced that they had been reduced in price
from two dollars and fifty cents to one dollar and ninety-eight
cents; and a young girl who stood behind the counter asked her if
she wished to examine their line of silk hosiery. She smiled,
just as if she had been asked to inspect a tiara of diamonds
with the ultimate view of purchasing it. But she went on
feeling the soft, sheeny luxurious thingswith both hands now,
holding them up to see them glisten, and to feel them glide
serpent-like through her fingers.
Two hectic blotches came suddenly into her pale cheeks. She
looked up at the girl.
"Do you think there are any eights-and-a-half among these?"
There were any number of eights-and-a-half. In fact, there
were more of that size than any other. Here was a light-blue pair;
there were some lavender, some all black and various shades of tan
and gray. Mrs. Sommers selected a black pair and looked at them
very long and closely. She pretended to be examining their
texture, which the clerk assured her was excellent.
"A dollar and ninety-eight cents," she mused aloud. "Well,
I'll take this pair." She handed the girl a five-dollar bill and
waited for her change and for her parcel. What a very small parcel
it was! It seemed lost in the depths of her shabby old shopping-bag.
Mrs. Sommers after that did not move in the direction of the
bargain counter. She took the elevator, which carried her to an
upper floor into the region of the ladies' waiting-rooms. Here, in
a retired corner, she exchanged her cotton stockings for the new
silk ones which she had just bought. She was not going through any
acute mental process or reasoning with herself, nor was she
striving to explain to her satisfaction the motive of her action.
She was not thinking at all. She seemed for the time to be taking
a rest from that laborious and fatiguing function and to have
abandoned herself to some mechanical impulse that directed her
actions and freed her of responsibility.
How good was the touch of the raw silk to her flesh! She felt
like lying back in the cushioned chair and reveling for a while in
the luxury of it. She did for a little while. Then she replaced
her shoes, rolled the cotton stockings together and thrust them
into her bag. After doing this she crossed straight over to the
shoe department and took her seat to be fitted.
She was fastidious. The clerk could not make her out; he
could not reconcile her shoes with her stockings, and she was not
too easily pleased. She held back her skirts and turned her feet
one way and her head another way as she glanced down at the
polished, pointed-tipped boots. Her foot and ankle looked very
pretty. She could not realize that they belonged to her and were
a part of herself. She wanted an excellent and stylish fit, she
told the young fellow who served her, and she did not mind the
difference of a dollar or two more in the price so long as she got
what she desired.
It was a long time since Mrs. Sommers had been fitted with
gloves. On rare occasions when she had bought a pair they were
always "bargains," so cheap that it would have been preposterous
and unreasonable to have expected them to be fitted to the hand.
Now she rested her elbow on the cushion of the glove counter,
and a pretty, pleasant young creature, delicate and deft of touch,
drew a long-wristed "kid" over Mrs. Sommers's hand. She smoothed
it down over the wrist and buttoned it neatly, and both lost
themselves for a second or two in admiring contemplation of the
little symmetrical gloved hand. But there were other places where
money might be spent.
There were books and magazines piled up in the window of a
stall a few paces down the street. Mrs. Sommers bought two
high-priced magazines such as she had been accustomed to read in the
days when she had been accustomed to other pleasant things. She
carried them without wrapping. As well as she could she lifted her
skirts at the crossings. Her stockings and boots and well fitting
gloves had worked marvels in her bearinghad given her a feeling
of assurance, a sense of belonging to the well-dressed multitude.
She was very hungry. Another time she would have stilled the
cravings for food until reaching her own home, where she would have
brewed herself a cup of tea and taken a snack of anything that was
available. But the impulse that was guiding her would not suffer her
to entertain any such thought.
There was a restaurant at the corner. She had never entered
its doors; from the outside she had sometimes caught glimpses of
spotless damask and shining crystal, and soft-stepping waiters
serving people of fashion.
When she entered her appearance created no surprise, no
consternation, as she had half feared it might. She seated herself
at a small table alone, and an attentive waiter at once approached
to take her order. She did not want a profusion; she craved a nice
and tasty bitea half dozen blue-points, a plump chop with cress,
a something sweeta creme-frappee, for instance; a glass of Rhine
wine, and after all a small cup of black coffee.
While waiting to be served she removed her gloves very
leisurely and laid them beside her. Then she picked up a magazine
and glanced through it, cutting the pages with a blunt edge of her
knife. It was all very agreeable. The damask was even more
spotless than it had seemed through the window, and the crystal
more sparkling. There were quiet ladies and gentlemen, who did not
notice her, lunching at the small tables like her own. A soft,
pleasing strain of music could be heard, and a gentle breeze, was
blowing through the window. She tasted a bite, and she read a word
or two, and she sipped the amber wine and wiggled her toes in the
silk stockings. The price of it made no difference. She counted
the money out to the waiter and left an extra coin on his tray,
whereupon he bowed before her as before a princess of royal blood.
There was still money in her purse, and her next temptation
presented itself in the shape of a matinee poster.
It was a little later when she entered the theatre, the play
had begun and the house seemed to her to be packed. But there were
vacant seats here and there, and into one of them she was ushered,
between brilliantly dressed women who had gone there to kill time
and eat candy and display their gaudy attire. There were many
others who were there solely for the play and acting. It is safe
to say there was no one present who bore quite the attitude which Mrs.
Sommers did to her surroundings. She gathered in the wholestage
and players and people in one wide impression, and absorbed it and
enjoyed it. She laughed at the comedy and weptshe and the gaudy
woman next to her wept over the tragedy. And they talked a little
together over it. And the gaudy woman wiped her eyes and sniffled
on a tiny square of filmy, perfumed lace and passed little Mrs.
Sommers her box of candy.
The play was over, the music ceased, the crowd filed out. It
was like a dream ended. People scattered in all directions. Mrs.
Sommers went to the corner and waited for the cable car.
A man with keen eyes, who sat opposite to her, seemed to like
the study of her small, pale face. It puzzled him to decipher what
he saw there. In truth, he saw nothing-unless he were wizard
enough to detect a poignant wish, a powerful longing that the cable
car would never stop anywhere, but go on and on with her forever.