Emma McChesney & Co. by Edna Ferber
SISTERS UNDER THEIR SKIN
Women who know the joys and sorrows of a pay envelope do not speak of girls who work as Working Girls. Neither do they use the term Laboring Class, as one would speak of a distinct and separate race, like the Ethiopian.
Emma McChesney Buck was no exception to this rule. Her fifteen years of man-size work for a man-size salary in the employ of the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company, New York, precluded that. In those days, she had been Mrs. Emma McChesney, known from coast to coast as the most successful traveling saleswoman in the business. It was due to her that no feminine clothes-closet was complete without a Featherloom dangling from one hook. During those fifteen years she had educated her son, Jock McChesney, and made a man of him; she had worked, fought, saved, triumphed, smiled under hardship; and she had acquired a broad and deep knowledge of those fascinating and diversified subjects which we lump carelessly under the heading of Human Nature. She was Mrs. T. A. Buck now, wife of the head of the firm, and partner in the most successful skirt manufactory in the country. But the hard-working, clear-thinking, sane-acting habits of those fifteen years still clung.
Perhaps this explained why every machine-girl in the big, bright shop back of the offices raised adoring eyes when Emma entered the workroom. Italian, German, Hungarian, Russian—they lifted their faces toward this source of love and sympathetic understanding as naturally as a plant turns its leaves toward the sun. They glowed under her praise; they confided to her their troubles; they came to her with their joys—and they copied her clothes.
This last caused her some uneasiness. When Mrs. T. A. Buck wore blue serge, an epidemic of blue serge broke out in the workroom. Did Emma's spring hat flaunt flowers, the elevators, at closing time, looked like gardens abloom. If she appeared on Monday morning in severely tailored white-linen blouse, the shop on Tuesday was a Boston seminary in its starched primness.
"It worries me," Emma told her husband-partner. "I can't help thinking of the story of the girl and the pet chameleon. What would happen if I were to forget myself some day and come down to work in black velvet and pearls?"
"They'd manage it somehow," Buck assured her. "I don't know just how; but I'm sure that twenty-four hours later our shop would look like a Buckingham drawing-room when the court is in mourning."
Emma never ceased to marvel at their ingenuity, at their almost uncanny clothes-instinct. Their cheap skirts hung and fitted with an art as perfect as that of a Fifty-seventh Street modiste; their blouses, in some miraculous way, were of to-day's style, down to the last detail of cuff or collar or stitching; their hats were of the shape that the season demanded, set at the angle that the season approved, and finished with just that repression of decoration which is known as "single trimming." They wore their clothes with a chic that would make the far-famed Parisian outriere look dowdy and down at heel in comparison. Upper Fifth Avenue, during the shopping or tea-hour, has been sung, painted, vaunted, boasted. Its furs and millinery, its eyes and figure, its complexion and ankles have flashed out at us from ten thousand magazine covers, have been adjectived in reams of Sunday-supplement stories. Who will picture Lower Fifth Avenue between five and six, when New York's unsung beauties pour into the streets from a thousand loft-buildings? Theirs is no mere empty pink-and-white prettiness. Poverty can make prettiness almost poignantly lovely, for it works with a scalpel. Your Twenty-sixth Street beauty has a certain wistful appeal that your Forty-sixth Street beauty lacks; her very bravado, too, which falls just short of boldness, adds a final piquant touch. In the face of the girl who works, whether she be a spindle-legged errand-girl or a ten-thousand-a-year foreign buyer, you will find both vivacity and depth of expression. What she loses in softness and bloom she gains in a something that peeps from her eyes, that lurks in the corners of her mouth. Emma never tired of studying them—these girls with their firm, slim throats, their lovely faces, their Oriental eyes, and their conscious grace. Often, as she looked, an unaccountable mist of tears would blur her vision.
So that sunny little room whose door was marked "MRS. BUCK" had come to be more than a mere private office for the transaction of business. It was a clearing-house for trouble; it was a shrine, a confessional, and a court of justice. When Carmela Colarossi, her face swollen with weeping, told a story of parental harshness grown unbearable, Emma would put aside business to listen, and six o'clock would find her seated in the dark and smelly Colarossi kitchen, trying, with all her tact and patience and sympathy, to make home life possible again for the flashing-eyed Carmela. When the deft, brown fingers of Otti Markis became clumsy at her machine, and her wage slumped unaccountably from sixteen to six dollars a week, it was in Emma's quiet little office that it became clear why Otti's eyes were shadowed and why Otti's mouth drooped so pathetically. Emma prescribed a love philter made up of common sense, understanding, and world-wisdom. Otti took it, only half comprehending, but sure of its power. In a week, Otti's eyes were shadowless, her lips smiling, her pay-envelope bulging. But it was in Sophy Kumpf that the T. A. Buck Company best exemplified its policy. Sophy Kumpf had come to Buck's thirty years before, slim, pink-cheeked, brown-haired. She was a grandmother now, at forty-six, broad-bosomed, broad-hipped, but still pink of cheek and brown of hair. In those thirty years she had spent just three away from Buck's. She had brought her children into the world; she had fed them and clothed them and sent them to school, had Sophy, and seen them married, and helped them to bring their children into the world in turn. In her round, red, wholesome face shone a great wisdom, much love, and that infinite understanding which is born only of bitter experience. She had come to Buck's when old T. A. was just beginning to make Featherlooms a national institution. She had seen his struggles, his prosperity; she had grieved at his death; she had watched young T. A. take the reins in his unaccustomed hands, and she had gloried in Emma McChesney's rise from office to salesroom, from salesroom to road, from road to private office and recognized authority. Sophy had left her early work far behind. She had her own desk now in the busy workshop, and it was she who allotted the piece-work, marked it in her much-thumbed ledger—that powerful ledger which, at the week's end, decided just how plump or thin each pay-envelope would be. So the shop and office at T. A. Buck's were bound together by many ties of affection and sympathy and loyalty; and these bonds were strongest where, at one end, they touched Emma McChesney Buck, and, at the other, faithful Sophy Kumpf. Each a triumphant example of Woman in Business.
It was at this comfortable stage of Featherloom affairs that the Movement struck the T. A. Buck Company. Emma McChesney Buck had never mingled much in movements. Not that she lacked sympathy with them; she often approved of them, heart and soul. But she had been heard to say that the Movers got on her nerves. Those well-dressed, glib, staccato ladies who spoke with such ease from platforms and whose pictures stared out at one from the woman's page failed, somehow, to convince her. When Emma approved a new movement, it was generally in spite of them, never because of them. She was brazenly unapologetic when she said that she would rather listen to ten minutes of Sophy Kumpf's world-wisdom than to an hour's talk by the most magnetic and silken-clad spellbinder in any cause. For fifteen business years, in the office, on the road, and in the thriving workshop, Emma McChesney had met working women galore. Women in offices, women in stores, women in hotels—chamber-maids, clerks, buyers, waitresses, actresses in road companies, women demonstrators, occasional traveling saleswomen, women in factories, scrubwomen, stenographers, models—every grade, type and variety of working woman, trained and untrained. She never missed a chance to talk with them. She never failed to learn from them. She had been one of them, and still was. She was in the position of one who is on the inside, looking out. Those other women urging this cause or that were on the outside, striving to peer in.
The Movement struck T. A. Buck's at eleven o'clock Monday morning. Eleven o'clock Monday morning in the middle of a busy fall season is not a propitious moment for idle chit-chat. The three women who stepped out of the lift at the Buck Company's floor looked very much out of place in that hummingly busy establishment and appeared, on the surface, at least, very chit-chatty indeed. So much so, that T. A. Buck, glancing up from the cards which had preceded them, had difficulty in repressing a frown of annoyance. T. A. Buck, during his college-days, and for a lamentably long time after, had been known as "Beau" Buck, because of his faultless clothes and his charming manner. His eyes had something to do with it, too, no doubt. He had lived down the title by sheer force of business ability. No one thought of using the nickname now, though the clothes, the manner, and the eyes were the same. At the entrance of the three women, he had been engrossed in the difficult task of selling a fall line to Mannie Nussbaum, of Portland, Oregon. Mannie was what is known as a temperamental buyer. He couldn't be forced; he couldn't be coaxed; he couldn't be led. But when he liked a line he bought like mad, never cancelled, and T. A. Buck had just got him going. It spoke volumes for his self-control that he could advance toward the waiting three, his manner correct, his expression bland.
"I am Mr. Buck," he said. "Mrs. Buck is very much engaged. I understand your visit has something to do with the girls in the shop. I'm sure our manager will be able to answer any questions——"
The eldest women raised a protesting, white-gloved hand.
"Oh, no—no, indeed! We must see Mrs. Buck." She spoke in the crisp, decisive platform-tones of one who is often addressed as "Madam Chairman."
Buck took a firmer grip on his self-control.
"I'm sorry; Mrs. Buck is in the cutting-room."
"We'll wait," said the lady, brightly. She stepped back a pace. "This is Miss Susan H. Croft"—indicating a rather sparse person of very certain years—"But I need scarcely introduce her."
"Scarcely," murmured Buck, and wondered why.
"This is my daughter, Miss Gladys Orton-Wells."
Buck found himself wondering why this slim, negative creature should have such sad eyes. There came an impatient snort from Mannie Nussbaum. Buck waved a hasty hand in the direction of Emma's office.
"If you'll wait there, I'll send in to Mrs. Buck."
The three turned toward Emma's bright little office. Buck scribbled a hasty word on one of the cards.
Emma McChesney Buck was leaning over the great cutting-table, shears in hand. It might almost be said that she sprawled. Her eyes were very bright, and her cheeks were very pink. Across the table stood a designer and two cutters, and they were watching Emma with an intentness as flattering as it was sincere. They were looking not only at cloth but at an idea.
"Get that?" asked Emma crisply, and tapped the pattern spread before her with the point of her shears. "That gives you the fulness without bunching, d'you see?"
"Sure," assented Koritz, head designer; "but when you get it cut you'll find this piece is wasted, ain't it?" He marked out a triangular section of cloth with one expert forefinger.
"No; that works into the ruffle," explained Emma. "Here, I'll cut it. Then you'll see."
She grasped the shears firmly in her right hand, smoothed the cloth spread before her with a nervous little pat of her left, pushed her bright hair back from her forehead, and prepared to cut. At which critical moment there entered Annie, the errand-girl, with the three bits of white pasteboard.
Emma glanced down at them and waved Annie away.
"Can't see them. Busy."
Annie stood her ground.
"Mr. Buck said you'd see 'em. They're waiting."
Emma picked up one of the cards. On it Buck had scribbled a single word: "Movers." Mrs. T. A. Buck smiled. A little malicious gleam came into her eyes.
"Show 'em in here, Annie," she commanded, with a wave of the huge shears. "I'll teach 'em to interrupt me when I've got my hands in the bluing-water."
She bent over the table again, measuring with her keen eye. When the three were ushered in a moment later, she looked up briefly and nodded, then bent over the table again. But in that brief moment she had the three marked, indexed and pigeonholed. If one could have looked into that lightning mind of hers, one would have found something like this:
"Hmm! What Ida Tarbell calls 'Restless women.' Money, and always have had it. Those hats were born in one of those exclusive little shops off the Avenue. Rich but somber. They think they're advanced, but they still resent the triumph of the motor-car over the horse. That girl can't call her soul her own. Good eyes, but too sad. He probably didn't suit mother."
What she said was:
"Howdy-do. We're just bringing a new skirt into the world. I thought you might like to be in at the birth."
"How very interesting!" chirped the two older women. The girl said nothing, but a look of anticipation brightened her eyes. It deepened and glowed as Emma McChesney Buck bent to her task and the great jaws of the shears opened and shut on the virgin cloth. Six pairs of eyes followed the fascinating steel before which the cloth rippled and fell away, as water is cleft by the prow of a stanch little boat. Around the curves went the shears, guided by Emma's firm white hands, snipping, slashing, doubling on itself, a very swashbuckler of a shears.
"There!" exclaimed Emma at last, and dropped the shears on the table with a clatter. "Put that together and see whether it makes a skirt or not. Now, ladies!"
The three drew a long breath. It was the sort of sound that comes up from the crowd when a sky-rocket has gone off successfully, with a final shower of stars.
"Do you do that often?" ventured Mrs. Orton-Wells.
"Often enough to keep my hand in," replied Emma, and led the way to her office.
The three followed in silence. They were strangely silent, too, as they seated themselves around Emma Buck's desk. Curiously enough, it was the subdued Miss Orton-Wells who was the first to speak.
"I'll never rest," she said, "until I see that skirt finished and actually ready to wear."
She smiled at Emma. When she did that, you saw that Miss Orton-Wells had her charm. Emma smiled back, and patted the girl's hand just once. At that there came a look into Miss Orton-Wells' eyes, and you saw that most decidedly she had her charm.
Up spoke Mrs. Orton-Wells.
"Gladys is such an enthusiast! That's really her reason for being here. Gladys is very much interested in working girls. In fact, we are all, as you probably know, intensely interested in the working woman."
"Thank you!" said Emma McChesney Buck.
"That's very kind. We working women are very grateful to you."
"We!" exclaimed Mrs. Orton-Wells and Miss Susan Croft blankly, and in perfect time.
Emma smiled sweetly.
"Surely you'll admit that I'm a working woman."
Miss Susan H. Croft was not a person to be trifled with. She elucidated acidly.
"We mean women who work with their hands."
"By what power do you think those shears were moved across the cutting-table? We don't cut our patterns with an ouija-board."
Mrs. Orton-Wells rustled protestingly.
"But, my dear Mrs. Buck, you know, we mean women of the Laboring Class."
"I'm in this place of business from nine to five, Monday to Saturday, inclusive. If that doesn't make me a member of the laboring class I don't want to belong."
It was here that Mrs. Orton-Wells showed herself a woman not to be trifled with. She moved forward to the edge of her chair, fixed Emma Buck with determined eyes, and swept into midstream, sails spread.
"Don't be frivolous, Mrs. Buck. We are here on a serious errand. It ought to interest you vitally because of the position you occupy in the world of business. We are launching a campaign against the extravagant, ridiculous, and oftentimes indecent dress of the working girl, with especial reference to the girl who works in garment factories. They squander their earnings in costumes absurdly unfitted to their station in life. Our plan is to influence them in the direction of neatness, modesty, and economy in dress. At present each tries to outdo the other in style and variety of costume. Their shoes are high-heeled, cloth-topped, their blouses lacy and collarless, their hats absurd. We propose a costume which shall be neat, becoming, and appropriate. Not exactly a uniform, perhaps, but something with a fixed idea in cut, color, and style. A corps of twelve young ladies belonging to our best families has been chosen to speak to the shop girls at noon meetings on the subject of good taste, health, and morality in women's dress. My daughter Gladys is one of them. In this way, we hope to convince them that simplicity, and practicality, and neatness are the only proper notes in the costume of the working girl. Occupying as you do a position unique in the business world, Mrs. Buck, we expect much from your cooperation with us in this cause."
Emma McChesney Buck had been gazing at Mrs. Orton-Wells with an intentness as flattering as it was unfeigned. But at the close of Mrs. Orton-Wells' speech she was strangely silent. She glanced down at her shoes. Now, Emma McChesney Buck had a weakness for smart shoes which her slim, well-arched foot excused. Hers were what might be called intelligent-looking feet. There was nothing thick, nothing clumsy, nothing awkward about them. And Emma treated them with the consideration they deserved. They were shod now, in a pair of slim, aristocratic, and modish ties above which the grateful eye caught a flashing glimpse of black-silk stocking. Then her eye traveled up her smartly tailored skirt, up the bodice of that well-made and becoming costume until her glance rested on her own shoulder and paused. Then she looked up at Mrs. Orton-Wells. The eyes of Mrs. Orton-Wells, Miss Susan H. Croft, and Miss Gladys Orton-Wells had, by some strange power of magnetism, followed the path of Emma's eyes. They finished just one second behind her, so that when she raised her eyes it was to encounter theirs.
"I have explained," retorted Mrs. Orton-Wells, tartly, in reply to nothing, seemingly, "that our problem is with the factory girl. She represents a distinct and separate class."
Emma McChesney Buck nodded:
"I understand. Our girls are very young—eighteen, twenty, twenty-two. At eighteen, or thereabouts, practical garments haven't the strong appeal that you might think they have."
"They should have," insisted Mrs. Orton-Wells.
"Maybe," said Emma Buck gently. "But to me it seems just as reasonable to argue that an apple tree has no right to wear pink-and-white blossoms in the spring, so long as it is going to bear sober russets in the autumn."
Miss Susan H. Croft rustled indignantly.
"Then you refuse to work with us? You will not consent to Miss Orton-Wells' speaking to the girls in your shop this noon?"
Emma looked at Gladys Orton-Wells. Gladys was wearing black, and black did not become her. It made her creamy skin sallow. Her suit was severely tailored, and her hat was small and harshly outlined, and her hair was drawn back from her face. All this, in spite of the fact that Miss Orton-Wells was of the limp and fragile type, which demands ruffles, fluffiness, flowing lines and frou-frou. Emma's glance at the suppressed Gladys was as fleeting as it was keen, but it sufficed to bring her to a decision. She pressed a buzzer at her desk.
"I shall be happy to have Miss Orton-Wells speak to the girls in our shop this noon, and as often as she cares to speak. If she can convince the girls that a—er—fixed idea in cut, color, and style is the thing to be adopted by shop-workers I am perfectly willing that they be convinced."
Then to Annie, who appeared in answer to the buzzer,
"Will you tell Sophy Kumpf to come here, please?"
Mrs. Orton-Wells beamed. The somber plumes in her correct hat bobbed and dipped to Emma. The austere Miss Susan H. Croft unbent in a nutcracker smile. Only Miss Gladys Orton-Wells remained silent, thoughtful, unenthusiastic. Her eyes were on Emma's face.
A heavy, comfortable step sounded in the hall outside the office door. Emma turned with a smile to the stout, motherly, red-cheeked woman who entered, smoothing her coarse brown hair with work-roughened fingers.
Emma took one of those calloused hands in hers.
"Sophy, we need your advice. This is Mrs. Sophy Kumpf—Mrs. Orton-Wells, Miss Susan H. Croft"—Sophy threw her a keen glance; she knew that name—"and Miss Orton-Wells." Of the four, Sophy was the most at ease.
"Pleased to meet you," said Sophy Kumpf.
The three bowed, but did not commit themselves. Emma, her hand still on Sophy's, elaborated:
"Sophy Kumpf has been with the T. A. Buck Company for thirty years. She could run this business single-handed, if she had to. She knows any machine in the shop, can cut a pattern, keep books, run the entire plant if necessary. If there's anything about petticoats that Sophy doesn't know, it's because it hasn't been invented yet. Sophy was sixteen when she came to Buck's. I've heard she was the prettiest and best dressed girl in the shop."
"Oh, now, Mrs. Buck!" remonstrated Sophy.
Emma tried to frown as she surveyed Sophy's bright eyes, her rosy cheeks, her broad bosom, her ample hips—all that made Sophy an object to comfort and rest the eye.
"Don't dispute, Sophy. Sophy has educated her children, married them off, and welcomed their children. She thinks that excuses her for having been frivolous and extravagant at sixteen. But we know better, don't we? I'm using you as a horrible example, Sophy."
Sophy turned affably to the listening three.
"Don't let her string you," she said, and winked one knowing eye.
Mrs. Orton-Wells stiffened. Miss Susan H. Croft congealed. But Miss Gladys Orton-Wells smiled. And then Emma knew she was right.
"Sophy, who's the prettiest girl in our shop? And the best dressed?"
"Lily Bernstein," Sophy made prompt answer.
"Send her in to us, will you? And give her credit for lost time when she comes back to the shop."
Sophy, with a last beamingly good-natured smile, withdrew. Five minutes later, when Lily Bernstein entered the office, Sophy qualified as a judge of beauty. Lily Bernstein was a tiger-lily—all browns and golds and creams, all graciousness and warmth and lovely curves. As she came into the room, Gladys Orton-Wells seemed as bloodless and pale and ineffectual as a white moth beside a gorgeous tawny butterfly.
Emma presented the girl as formally as she had Sophy Kumpf. And Lily Bernstein smiled upon them, and her teeth were as white and even as one knew they would be before she smiled. Lily had taken off her shop-apron. Her gown was blue serge, cheap in quality, flawless as to cut and fit, and incredibly becoming. Above it, her vivid face glowed like a golden rose.
"Lily," said Emma, "Miss Orton-Wells is going to speak to the girls this noon. I thought you might help by telling her whatever she wants to know about the girls' work and all that, and by making her feel at home."
"Well, sure," said Lily, and smiled again her heart-warming smile. "I'd love to."
"Miss Orton-Wells," went on Emma smoothly, "wants to speak to the girls about clothes."
Lily looked again at Miss Orton-Wells, and she did not mean to be cruel. Then she looked quickly at Emma, to detect a possible joke. But Mrs. Buck's face bore no trace of a smile.
"Clothes!" repeated Lily. And a slow red mounted to Gladys Orton-Wells' pale face. When Lily went out Sunday afternoons, she might have passed for a millionaire's daughter if she hadn't been so well dressed.
"Suppose you take Miss Orton-Wells into the shop," suggested Emma, "so that she may have some idea of the size and character of our family before she speaks to it. How long shall you want to speak?"
Miss Orton-Wells started nervously, stammered a little, stopped.
"Oh, ten minutes," said Mrs. Orton-Wells graciously.
"Five," said Gladys, quickly, and followed Lily Bernstein into the workroom.
Mrs. Orton-Wells and Miss Susan H. Croft gazed after them.
"Rather attractive, that girl, in a coarse way," mused Mrs. Orton-Wells. "If only we can teach them to avoid the cheap and tawdry. If only we can train them to appreciate the finer things in life. Of course, their life is peculiar. Their problems are not our problems; their——"
"Their problems are just exactly our problems," interrupted Emma crisply. "They use garlic instead of onion, and they don't bathe as often as we do; but, then, perhaps we wouldn't either, if we hadn't tubs and showers so handy."
In the shop, queer things were happening to Gladys Orton-Wells. At her entrance into the big workroom, one hundred pairs of eyes had lifted, dropped, and, in that one look, condemned her hat, suit, blouse, veil and tout ensemble. When you are on piece-work you squander very little time gazing at uplift visitors in the wrong kind of clothes.
Gladys Orton-Wells looked about the big, bright workroom. The noonday sun streamed in from a dozen great windows. There seemed, somehow, to be a look of content and capableness about those heads bent so busily over the stitching.
"It looks—pleasant," said Gladys Orton-Wells.
"It ain't bad. Of course it's hard sitting all day. But I'd rather do that than stand from eight to six behind a counter. And there's good money in it."
Gladys Orton-Wells turned wistful eyes on friendly little Lily Bernstein.
"I'd like to earn money," she said. "I'd like to work."
"Well, why don't you?" demanded Lily.
"Work's all the style this year. They're all doing it. Look at the Vanderbilts and that Morgan girl, and the whole crowd. These days you can't tell whether the girl at the machine next to you lives in the Bronx or on Fifth Avenue."
"It must be wonderful to earn your own clothes."
"Believe me," laughed Lily Bernstein, "it ain't so wonderful when you've had to do it all your life."
She studied the pale girl before her with brows thoughtfully knit. Lily had met too many uplifters to be in awe of them. Besides, a certain warm-hearted friendliness was hers for every one she met. So, like the child she was, she spoke what was in her mind:
"Say, listen, dearie. I wouldn't wear black if I was you. And that plain stuff—it don't suit you. I'm like that, too. There's some things I can wear and others I look fierce in. I'd like you in one of them big flat hats and a full skirt like you see in the ads, with lots of ribbons and tag ends and bows on it. D'you know what I mean?"
"My mother was a Van Cleve," said Gladys drearily, as though that explained everything. So it might have, to any but a Lily Bernstein.
Lily didn't know what a Van Cleve was, but she sensed it as a drawback.
"Don't you care. Everybody's folks have got something the matter with 'em. Especially when you're a girl. But if I was you, I'd go right ahead and do what I wanted to."
In the doorway at the far end of the shop appeared Emma with her two visitors. Mrs. Orton-Wells stopped and said something to a girl at a machine, and her very posture and smile reeked of an offensive kindliness, a condescending patronage.
Gladys Orton-Wells did a strange thing. She saw her mother coming toward her. She put one hand on Lily Bernstein's arm and she spoke hurriedly and in a little gasping voice.
"Listen! Would you—would you marry a man who hadn't any money to speak of, and no sort of family, if you loved him, even if your mother wouldn't—wouldn't——"
"Would I! Say, you go out to-morrow morning and buy yourself one of them floppy hats and a lace waist over flesh-colored chiffon and get married in it. Don't get it white, with your coloring. Get it kind of cream. You're so grand and thin, this year's things will look lovely on you."
A bell shrilled somewhere in the shop. A hundred machines stopped their whirring. A hundred heads came up with a sigh of relief. Chairs were pushed back, aprons unbuttoned.
Emma McChesney Buck stepped forward and raised a hand for attention. The noise of a hundred tongues was stilled.
"Girls, Miss Gladys Orton-Wells is going to speak to you for five minutes on the subject of dress. Will you give her your attention, please. The five minutes will be added to your noon hour."
Gladys Orton-Wells looked down at her hands for one terrified moment, then she threw her head up bravely. There was no lack of color in her cheeks now. She stepped to the middle of the room.
"What I have to say won't take five minutes," she said, in her clear, well-bred tones.
"You all dress so smartly, and I'm such a dowd, I just want to ask you whether you think I ought to get blue, or that new shade of gray for a traveling-suit."
And the shop, hardened to the eccentricities of noonday speakers, made composed and ready answer:
"Oh, get blue; it's always good."
"Thank you," laughed Gladys Orton-Wells, and was off down the hall and away, with never a backward glance at her gasping and outraged mother.
Emma McChesney Buck took Lily Bernstein's soft cheek between thumb and forefinger and pinched it ever so fondly.
"I knew you'd do it, Judy O'Grady," she said.
"O'Grady—a lady famous in history."
"Oh, now, quit your kiddin', Mrs. Buck!" said Lily Bernstein.