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Buttered Side Down
Edna Ferber

£6.00

Edna Ferber is better known today for her novels written in the 1920s – So Big, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Show Boat, later a mould-breaking Broadway hit by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. She was also a superb short story writer and published twelve collections, each stuffed with panache and wit. This was Ferber’s first book, a collection of twelve witty and observational short stories published in 1912.

AMERICAN RETRO SERIES : AR07
C format paperback (216mm x 135mm)
gatefold cover, 160pp
illustrations by Christopher Vinz
cover design by Alexandra Andries

Biography

EDNA FERBER (1885-1968) made her name with a brace of stories centred upon a travelling underskirt saleswoman, Emma McChesney, published in national magazines and collected into three volumes between 1913 and 1915; a successful stage play and film starring Ethel Barrymore followed. They accumulated for Ferber a significant and loyal following, so much so that in the 1920s her writing career was in full swing. She had become successful and celebrated. The 1924 novel So Big was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and a Hollywood film version of it was made almost immediately. Its literary success was in large part due to the confident marketing campaign of its publisher, Doubleday, who thought highly of both the book and of its author, for “who would be interested in a novel,” wrote Ferber much later, “about a middle-aged woman in a calico dress with wispy hair and bad teeth, grubbing on a little truck farm south of Chicago?” A succession of successful and long-running plays peppered the decade (and beyond). The film of her novel Cimarron, published in 1929, won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1931. Ziegfeld’s 1927 production of the musical Show Boat was based on Ferber’s novel of the same name set on a floating theatre on the Mississippi; Ferber was dubious initially of their intent, but Kern and Hammerstein successfully challenged the norms of Broadway by melding musical cavalcade and storyboard consequence. Edna Ferber was not only a bestselling author, but a well regarded one. Mythology records that she was an occasional member of the Algonquin Round Table, a loose collection of wits and competitive wags who wrote (and believed in) their own press cuttings. They dined almost daily at the Algonquin hotel in New York throughout the 1920s, and by all accounts Ferber more than held her own. Her put downs – of Alexander Woollcott as a “New Jersey Nero who has mistaken his pinafore for a toga,” and of Noël Coward, who, when confronted by a cross-dressing Ferber remarked that she almost looked like a man, was told “so do you” – are much quoted. That she had humour and presence secured her the rights to dine out on literary success and to plump her reputation for as long as she wished. But she was capable still of making waves late in life. Giant, her lengthy novel published when she was sixty-seven, was set in Texas, where it was lambasted and greeted with furore. Ferber was unrepentant, her publisher’s sales team was delighted. The New York Times described the book as the “biggest witch’s broth of a book to hit the great Commonwealth of Texas since the revered Spindle blew its top;” The Houston Press suggested Ferber be lynched. Its inevitable film merited big budget, red carpet Hollywood treatment: it starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean (in his last role). When Edna Ferber died her obituary made the front page of The New York Times; an entire inner page was devoted to her. If not the grande dame of American letters, she was, as the paper concluded, “among the best-read novelists in the nation, and critics of the 1920s and ’30s did not hesitate to call her the greatest American woman novelist of her day.”

This obituary commented also that Ferber’s books, if not profound, were “vivid and had a sound sociological basis.” She was indeed the true American, or at least what she understood that to mean, and she rejoiced in that. She wrote about the sort of characters she came across as a child: mercantile, commercial and quietly ambitious, clerks who worked in shop stores, the women strong-willed, the men prone to weakness; most hoped to improve their lot or reshape their lives. Especially the women who wished to rise above the supposed limitations of their backgrounds – like Emma McChesney in Roast Beef, Medium and its sequelsor Fanny in Fanny Herself: “madams seeking to become respectable,” is how The New York Times put it.  Ferber believed that true working people possessed “a kind of primary American freshness and assertiveness,” and her writing attempted to do justice to them and their lives. She often imitated the “vigor and native tang” of working people’s talk; the conversation of a truck driver was always “more stimulating, saltier” than that of a man who “drove his own Cadillac.”

Ferber’s writing conveyed a broad yet nuanced vision of the United States, its work ethic, ambitious values and cosmopolitan aspect. She shared all these values in spades: she was industrious, successful and content with a defined sense of identity, even with her chequered pedigree. Her father was a Hungarian-born shopkeeper, her mother was of German-Jewish descent. She spoke often of her Jewishness, particularly with reference to the seven formative years of childhood that she spent in Ottumwa, Iowa, a town reputedly rife with antisemitism. Her Jewish identity was built perhaps more on the personal abuse she received and her devotion to her family than to any religious observance or allegiance to the Jewish world events of her era (though her autobiography was fuelled strongly by abhorrence for events in 1930s Germany and she was highly critical in public of Ben-Gurion). She claimed that as a child she received every day taunts of “sheeny,” slur that strengthened not just her sense of identity but also her “creative self-expression.”

Edna Ferber devoted her life to writing and was ambitious for it. She never married, had no children, is not known to have had any romantic or sexual engagement. In her first novel, Dawn O’Hara, the heroine’s aunt remarked, “Being an old maid was a great deal like death by drowning – a really delightful sensation when you ceased struggling.” She ring fenced herself casually: when on the road, either researching or accompanying friends, her companion often was her widowed mother. For Ferber, writing was a “necessary and chosen way of life” that excluded nearly all else. But there is little sense of self-sacrifice, or any self-conscious attempt to trade love or lust for her craft: Ferber just never appeared to be interested in intimacy.

The heroines of the twelve stories that comprise Buttered Side Down are usually in some way alienated from their big city environment, be it Chicago or New York. “I came to Chicago from Beloit, Wisconsin,” says Gertie in The Frog and the Puddle, “because I thought that little town was a lonesome hole for a vivacious creature like me. Lonesome! Listen while I laugh a low mirthless laugh. I didn’t know anything about the three-ply, double-barreled, extra heavy brand of lonesomeness that a big town like this can deal out. Talk about your desert wastes! They’re sociable and snug compared to this. I know three-fourths of the people in Beloit, Wisconsin, by their first names. I’ve lived here six months and I’m not on informal terms with anybody except Teddy, the landlady’s dog…” Alienation, or the distance she maintained between herself and other people or her environment, may have been Ferber’s general experience of life. Even as a child she described herself as observant before participative. She recalled, for instance, watching crowds slink home after attending matinees in town: “the passer-by does not notice you or care about you; they, the people, are intent on getting somewhere, their faces are open to the reader; they betray themselves by their walk, their voices, their hands, clenched or inert; their feet, their clothes, their eyes.”

What she referred to as the “inner life” of her imagination was her preferred world. She seemed to need little else. Her writing is noted for its sound and meticulous research, even if she chose to write always in the comfort of her New York apartment. Her early experience as a journalist – she had foregone attempts to train as an actress to support her family, her father had died early – suggests a default workaholism, when, on her own admission, she “worked like a man.” This led to a breakdown when she was only twenty-two. (Indeed, even when returned home to be in recovery from her collapse, she started to write her first fiction.)  Her journalism had started when she edited the school newspaper; professionally she had started at the age of seventeen for local newspapers in Appleton, where the family had moved when she was twelve, and then Milwaukee. Her work culminated with her covering in 1920 both the Republican and Democrat National Conventions for the United Press Association. Undoubtedly skills learnt as a journalist informed the easy-paced style of her fiction, which has momentum and reads with a succinct yet pointillist grace, as though dictated. There are textual hints that she edited and sculptured her text, particularly its punctuation. But there is a runic, repetitive pattern to her prose that is used to build momentum (and for humorous effect).

A sense of drama is apparent in her writing, too. A childhood love of theatre never left her. She wrote or co-wrote nine plays, usually in tandem with producer and playwright George S. Kaufman who had a family background of trade similar to her own. A melodramatic tension is prevalent in the plotting of her fiction, as though it were to be blocked on stage. It was hardly by accident that so many films were made of her books. There is a theatrical sense of childish wonderment perhaps in her writing and a delightful ham quality often in her characters. Giant, for instance, can be seen as an overture for TV’s soap Dallas, where all men are oil barons or cattle ranchers, and the women sit sun tanned by pools and gossip about saloon brawls. Panoramic vision with a potential for the close-up, costume and greasepaint is what you get when you read her novels, a rehearsed script and underplayed if subtle stereotype. There is even inherent drama in her titles also. So Big was a working title only; Ferber was never at ease with it but came up with nothing better. Yet the title was instinctively histrionic. Retrospectively she wrote “I now think that those two short words, and their familiar ring… helped to make the book a selling success.”

Selina Peak de Jong, So Big‘s heroine (played in turn by Colleen Moore, Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Wyman in its film adaptations), was both gratefully grandiose and monumentally demure. She might be said to sum up Ferber quite well: “Always to her,” wrote Ferber, “red and green cabbages were to be jade and burgundy, chrysoprase and porphyry. Life has no weapons against a woman like that.”

 

“She prefers to write about those solid, sometimes humble people who are the very essence of American life and she knows profoundly the difference between what is American and what is imitation European… About everything she writes there is an atmosphere, a treatment, a penetration which is profoundly American.”
– Louis Bromfield, 1935, from The Saturday Review

“The United States is, as somewhere been said before, a big country, and there are still reaches of it is it Miss Ferber has not attended to. And in every one, there awaits a gold mine for the lady who is surely America’s most successful writeress.”
– Dorothy Parker, 1958, from a review of Ice Palace in Esquire

USPS stamp, 2002

Extract

What She Wore

SOMEWHERE IN YOUR story you must pause to describe your heroine’s costume. It is a ticklish task. The average reader likes his heroine well dressed. He is not satisfied with knowing that she looked like a tall, fair lily. He wants to be told that her gown was of green crepe, with lace ruffles that swirled at her feet. Writers used to go so far as to name the dressmaker; and it was a poor kind of a heroine who didn’t wear a red velvet by Worth. But that has been largely abandoned in these days of commissions. Still, when the heroine goes out on the terrace to spoon after dinner (a quaint old English custom for the origin of which see any novel by the “Duchess,” page 179) the average reader wants to know what sort of a filmy wrap she snatches up on the way out. He demands a description, with as many illustrations as the publisher will stand for, of what she wore from the bedroom to the street, with full stops for the ribbons on her robe de nuit, and the buckles on her ballroom slippers. Half the poor creatures one sees flattening their noses against the shop windows are authors getting a line on the advance fashions. Suppose a careless writer were to dress his heroine in a full-plaited skirt only to find, when his story is published four months later, that full-plaited skirts have been relegated to the dim past!

I started to read a story once. It was a good one. There was in it not a single allusion to brandy-and-soda, or divorce, or the stock market. The dialogue crackled. The hero talked like a live man. It was a shipboard story, and the heroine was charming so long as she wore her heavy ulster. But along toward evening she blossomed forth in a yellow gown, with a scarlet poinsettia at her throat. I quit her cold. Nobody ever wore a scarlet poinsettia; or if they did, they couldn’t wear it on a yellow gown. Or if they did wear it with a yellow gown, they didn’t wear it at the throat.  Scarlet poinsettias aren’t worn, anyhow. To this day I don’t know whether the heroine married the hero or jumped overboard.

You see, one can’t be too careful about clothing one’s heroine.

I hesitate to describe Sophy Epstein’s dress. You won’t like it. In the first place, it was cut too low, front and back, for a shoe clerk in a downtown loft. It was a black dress, near-princess in style, very tight as to fit, very short as to skirt, very sleazy as to material. It showed all the delicate curves of Sophy’s under-fed, girlish body, and Sophy didn’t care a bit. Its most objectionable feature was at the throat. Collarless gowns were in vogue. Sophy’s daring shears had gone a snip or two farther. They had cut a startlingly generous V. To say that the dress was elbow-sleeved is superfluous. I have said that Sophy clerked in a downtown loft.

Sophy sold “sample” shoes at two-fifty a pair, and from where you were standing you thought they looked just like the shoes that were sold in the regular shops for six. When Sophy sat on one of the low benches at the feet of some customer, tugging away at a refractory shoe for a would-be small foot, her shameless little gown exposed more than it should have. But few of Sophy’s customers were shocked. They were mainly chorus girls and ladies of doubtful complexion in search of cheap and ultra footgear, and—to use a health term—hardened by exposure.

Have I told you how pretty she was? She was so pretty that you immediately forgave her the indecency of her pitiful little gown. She was pretty in a daringly demure fashion, like a wicked little Puritan, or a poverty-stricken Cleo de Merode, with her smooth brown hair parted in the middle, drawn severely down over her ears, framing the lovely oval of her face and ending in a simple coil at the neck. Some serpent’s wisdom had told Sophy to eschew puffs. But I think her prettiness could have triumphed even over those.

If Sophy’s boss had been any other sort of man he would have informed Sophy, sternly, that black princess effects, cut low, were not au fait in the shoe-clerk world. But Sophy’s boss had a rhombic nose, and no instep, and the tail of his name had been amputated. He didn’t care how Sophy wore her dresses so long as she sold shoes.

Once the boss had kissed Sophy—not on the mouth, but just where her shabby gown formed its charming but immodest V. Sophy had slapped him, of course. But the slap had not set the thing right in her mind. She could not forget it. It had made her uncomfortable in much the same way as we are wildly ill at ease when we dream of walking naked in a crowded street. At odd moments during the day Sophy had found herself rubbing the spot furiously with her unlovely handkerchief, and shivering a little. She had never told the other girls about that kiss.

So—there you have Sophy and her costume. You may take her or leave her. I purposely placed these defects in cos-tuming right at the beginning of the story, so that there should be no false pretenses. One more detail. About Sophy’s throat was a slender, near-gold chain from which was suspended a cheap and glittering La Valliere. Sophy had not intended it as a sop to the conventions. It was an offering on the shrine of Fashion, and represented many lunchless days.

At eleven o’clock one August morning, Louie came to Chicago from Oskaloosa, Iowa. There was no hay in his hair. The comic papers have long insisted that the country boy, on his first visit to the city, is known by his greased boots and his high-water pants. Don’t you believe them. The small-town boy is as fastidious about the height of his heels and the stripe of his shift and the roll of his hat-brim as are his city brothers. He peruses the slangily worded ads of the “classy clothes” tailors, and when scarlet cravats are worn the small-town boy is not more than two weeks late in acquiring one that glows like a headlight.

Louie found a rooming-house, shoved his suitcase under the bed, changed his collar, washed his hands in the gritty water of the wash bowl, and started out to look for a job.

Louie was twenty-one. For the last four years he had been employed in the best shoe store at home, and he knew shoe leather from the factory to the ash barrel. It was almost a religion with him.

Curiosity, which plays leads in so many life dramas, led Louie to the rotunda of the tallest building. It was built on the hollow center plan, with a sheer drop from the twenty-somethingth to the main floor. Louie stationed himself in the center of the mosaic floor, took off his hat, bent backward almost double and gazed, his mouth wide open. When he brought his muscles slowly back into normal position he tried hard not to look impressed. He glanced about, sheepishly, to see if any one was laughing at him, and his eye encountered the electric-lighted glass display case of the shoe company upstairs. The case was filled with pink satin slippers and cunning velvet boots, and the newest thing in bronze street shoes. Louie took the next elevator up. The shoe display had made him feel as though some one from home had slapped him on the back.

The God of the Jobless was with him. The boss had fired two boys the day before.

“Oskaloosa!” grinned the boss, derisively. “Do they wear shoes there? What do you know about shoes, huh boy?”

Louie told him. The boss shuffled the papers on his desk, and chewed his cigar, and tried not to show his surprise. Louie, quite innocently, was teaching the boss things about the shoe business.

When Louie had finished—”Well, I try you, anyhow,” the boss grunted, grudgingly. “I give you so-and-so much.” He named a wage that would have been ridiculous if it had not been so pathetic.

“All right, sir,” answered Louie, promptly, like the boys in the Alger series. The cost of living problem had never bothered Louie in Oskaloosa.

The boss hid a pleased smile.

“Miss Epstein!” he bellowed, “step this way! Miss Epstein, kindly show this here young man so he gets a line on the stock. He is from Oskaloosa, Ioway. Look out she don’t sell you a gold brick, Louie.”

But Louie was not listening. He was gazing at the V in Sophy Epstein’s dress with all his scandalized Oskaloosa, Iowa, eyes.

Louie was no mollycoddle. But he had been in great demand as usher at the Young Men’s Sunday Evening Club service at the Congregational church, and in his town there had been no Sophy Epsteins in too-tight princess dresses, cut into a careless V. But Sophy was a city product—I was about to say pure and simple, but I will not—wise, bold, young, old, underfed, overworked, and triumphantly pretty.

“How-do!” cooed Sophy in her best baby tones. Louie’s disapproving eyes jumped from the objectionable V in Sophy’s dress to the lure of Sophy’s face, and their expression underwent a lightning change. There was no disapproving Sophy’s face, no matter how long one had dwelt in Oskaloosa.

“I won’t bite you,” said Sophy. “I’m never vicious on Tuesdays. We’ll start here with the misses’ an’ children’s, and work over to the other side.”

Whereupon Louie was introduced into the intricacies of the sample shoe business. He kept his eyes resolutely away from the V, and learned many things. He learned how shoes that look like six dollar values may be sold for two-fifty. He looked on in wide-eyed horror while Sophy fitted a No. 5 C shoe on a 6 B foot and assured the wearer that it looked like a made-to-order boot. He picked up a pair of dull kid shoes and looked at them. His leather-wise eyes saw much, and I think he would have taken his hat off the hook, and his offended business principles out of the shop forever if Sophy had not completed her purchase and strolled over to him at the psychological moment.

She smiled up at him, impudently. “Well, Pink Cheeks,” she said, “how do you like our little settlement by the lake, huh?”

“These shoes aren’t worth two-fifty,” said Louie, indignation in his voice.

“Well, sure,” replied Sophy. “I know it. What do you think this is? A charity bazaar?”

“But back home——” began Louie, hotly.

“Ferget it, kid,” said Sophy. “This is a big town, but it ain’t got no room for back-homers. Don’t sour on one job till you’ve got another nailed. You’ll find yourself cuddling down on a park bench if you do. Say, are you honestly from Oskaloosa?”

“I certainly am,” answered Louie, with pride.

“My goodness!” ejaculated Sophy. “I never believed there was no such place. Don’t brag about it to the other fellows.”

“What time do you go out for lunch?” asked Louie.

“What’s it to you?” with the accent on the “to.”

“When I want to know a thing, I generally ask,” explained Louie, gently.

Sophy looked at him—a long, keen, knowing look. “You’ll learn,” she observed, thoughtfully.

Louie did learn. He learned so much in that first week that when Sunday came it seemed as though aeons had passed over his head. He learned that the crime of murder was as nothing compared to the crime of allowing a customer to depart shoeless; he learned that the lunch hour was invented for the purpose of making dates; that no one had ever heard of Oskaloosa, Iowa; that seven dollars a week does not leave much margin for laundry and general recklessness; that a madonna face above a V-cut gown is apt to distract one’s attention from shoes; that a hundred-dollar nest egg is as effective in Chicago as a pine stick would be in propping up a stone wall; and that all the other men clerks called Sophy “sweetheart.”

Some of his newly acquired knowledge brought pain, as knowledge is apt to do.

He saw that State Street was crowded with Sophys during the noon hour; girls with lovely faces under pitifully absurd hats. Girls who aped the fashions of the dazzling creatures they saw stepping from limousines. Girls who starved body and soul in order to possess a set of false curls, or a pair of black satin shoes with mother-o’-pearl buttons. Girls whose minds were bounded on the north by the nickel theatres; on the east by “I sez to him”; on the south by the gorgeous shop windows; and on the west by “He sez t’ me.”

Oh, I can’t tell you how much Louie learned in that first week while his eyes were getting accustomed to the shifting, jostling, pushing, giggling, walking, talking throng. The city is justly famed as a hot house of forced knowledge.

One thing Louie could not learn. He could not bring himself to accept the V in Sophy’s dress. Louie’s mother had been one of the old-fashioned kind who wore a blue-and-white checked gingham apron from 6 A.M. to 2 P.M., when she took it off to go downtown and help the ladies of the church at the cake sale in the empty window of the gas company’s office, only to don it again when she fried the potatoes for supper. Among other things she had taught Louie to wipe his feet before coming in, to respect and help women, and to change his socks often.

After a month of Chicago Louie forgot the first lesson; had more difficulty than I can tell you in reverencing a woman who only said, “Aw, don’t get fresh now!” when the other men put their arms about her; and adhered to the third only after a struggle, in which he had to do a small private washing in his own wash-bowl in the evening.

Sophy called him a stiff. His gravely courteous treatment of her made her vaguely uncomfortable. She was past mistress in the art of parrying insults and banter, but she had no reply ready for Louie’s boyish air of deference. It angered her for some unreasonable woman-reason.

There came a day when the V-cut dress brought them to open battle. I think Sophy had appeared that morning minus the chain and La Valliere. Frail and cheap as it was, it had been the only barrier that separated Sophy from frank shamelessness. Louie’s outraged sense of propriety asserted itself.

“Sophy,” he stammered, during a quiet half-hour, “I’ll call for you and take you to the nickel show to-night if you’ll promise not to wear that dress. What makes you wear that kind of a get-up, anyway?”

“Dress?” queried Sophy, looking down at the shiny front breadth of her frock. “Why? Don’t you like it?”

“Like it! No!” blurted Louie.

“Don’t yuh, rully! Deah me! Deah me! If I’d only knew that this morning. As a gen’ral thing I wear white duck complete down t’ work, but I’m savin’ my last two clean suits f’r gawlf.”

Louie ran an uncomfortable finger around the edge of his collar, but he stood his ground. “It—it—shows your—neck so,” he objected, miserably.

Sophy opened her great eyes wide. “Well, supposin’ it does?” she inquired, coolly. “It’s a perfectly good neck, ain’t it?”

Louie, his face very red, took the plunge. “I don’t know. I guess so. But, Sophy, it—looks so—so—you know what I mean. I hate to see the way the fellows rubber at you. Why don’t you wear those plain shirtwaist things, with high collars, like my mother wears back home?”

Sophy’s teeth came together with a click. She laughed a short cruel little laugh. “Say, Pink Cheeks, did yuh ever do a washin’ from seven to twelve, after you got home from work in the evenin’? It’s great! ‘Specially when you’re living in a six-by-ten room with all the modern inconveniences, includin’ no water except on the third floor down. Simple! Say, a child could work it. All you got to do, when you get home so tired your back teeth ache, is to haul your water, an’ soak your clothes, an’ then rub ‘em till your hands peel, and rinse ‘em, an’ boil ‘em, and blue ‘em, an’ starch ‘em. See? Just like that. Nothin’ to it, kid. Nothin’ to it.”

Louie had been twisting his fingers nervously. Now his hands shut themselves into fists. He looked straight into Sophy’s angry eyes.

“I do know what it is,” he said, quite simply. “There’s been a lot written and said about women’s struggle with clothes. I wonder why they’ve never said anything about the way a man has to fight to keep up the thing they call appearances. God knows it’s pathetic enough to think of a girl like you bending over a tubful of clothes. But when a man has to do it, it’s a tragedy.”

“That’s so,” agreed Sophy. “When a girl gets shabby, and her clothes begin t’ look tacky she can take a gore or so out of her skirt where it’s the most wore, and catch it in at the bottom, and call it a hobble. An’ when her waist gets too soiled she can cover up the front of it with a jabot, an’ if her face is pretty enough she can carry it off that way. But when a man is seedy, he’s seedy. He can’t sew no ruffles on his pants.”

“I ran short last week,” continued Louie. “That is, shorter than usual. I hadn’t the fifty cents to give to the woman. You ought to see her! A little, gray-faced thing, with wisps of hair, and no chest to speak of, and one of those mashed-looking black hats. Nobody could have the nerve to ask her to wait for her money. So I did my own washing. I haven’t learned to wear soiled clothes yet. I laughed fit to bust while I was doing it. But—I’ll bet my mother dreamed of me that night. The way they do, you know, when something’s gone wrong.”

Sophy, perched on the third rung of the sliding ladder, was gazing at him. Her lips were parted slightly, and her cheeks were very pink. On her face was a new, strange look, as of something half forgotten. It was as though the spirit of Sophy-as-she-might-have-been were inhabiting her soul for a brief moment. At Louie’s next words the look was gone.

“Can’t you sew something—a lace yoke—or whatever you call ‘em—in that dress?” he persisted.

“Aw, fade!” jeered Sophy. “When a girl’s only got one dress it’s got to have some tong to it. Maybe this gown would cause a wave of indignation in Oskaloosa, Iowa, but it don’t even make a ripple on State Street. It takes more than an aggravated Dutch neck to make a fellow look at a girl these days. In a town like this a girl’s got to make a showin’ some way. I’m my own stage manager. They look at my dress first, an’ grin. See? An’ then they look at my face. I’m like the girl in the story. Muh face is muh fortune. It’s earned me many a square meal; an’ lemme tell you, Pink Cheeks, eatin’ square meals is one of my favorite pastimes.”

“Say looka here!” bellowed the boss, wrathfully. “Just cut out this here Romeo and Juliet act, will you! That there ladder ain’t for no balcony scene, understand. Here you, Louie, you shinny up there and get down a pair of them brown satin pumps, small size.”

Sophy continued to wear the black dress. The V-cut neck seemed more flaunting than ever.

It was two weeks later that Louie came in from lunch, his face radiant. He was fifteen minutes late, but he listened to the boss’s ravings with a smile.

“You grin like somebody handed you a ten-case note,” commented Sophy, with a woman’s curiosity. “I guess you must of met some rube from home when you was out t’ lunch.”

“Better than that! Who do you think I bumped right into in the elevator going down?”

“Well, Brothah Bones,” mimicked Sophy, “who did you meet in the elevator going down?”

“I met a man named Ames. He used to travel for a big Boston shoe house, and he made our town every few months. We got to be good friends. I took him home for Sunday dinner once, and he said it was the best dinner he’d had in months. You know how tired those traveling men get of hotel grub.”

“Cut out the description and get down to action,” snapped Sophy.

“Well, he knew me right away. And he made me go out to lunch with him. A real lunch, starting with soup. Gee! It went big. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was working here, and he opened his eyes, and then he laughed and said: ‘How did you get into that joint?’ Then he took me down to a swell little shoe shop on State Street, and it turned out that he owns it. He introduced me all around, and I’m going there to work next week. And wages! Why say, it’s almost a salary. A fellow can hold his head up in a place like that.”

“When you leavin’?” asked Sophy, slowly.

“Monday. Gee! it seems a year away.”

Sophy was late Saturday morning. When she came in, hurriedly, her cheeks were scarlet and her eyes glowed. She took off her hat and coat and fell to straightening boxes and putting out stock without looking up. She took no part in the talk and jest that was going on among the other clerks. One of the men, in search of the missing mate to the shoe in his hand, came over to her, greeting her carelessly. Then he stared.

“Well, what do you know about this!” he called out to the others, and laughed coarsely, “Look, stop, listen! Little Sophy Bright Eyes here has pulled down the shades.”

Louie turned quickly. The immodest V of Sophy’s gown was filled with a black lace yoke that came up to the very lobes of her little pink ears. She had got some scraps of lace from—Where do they get those bits of rusty black? From some basement bargain counter, perhaps, raked over during the lunch hour. There were nine pieces in the front, and seven in the back. She had sat up half the night putting them together so that when completed they looked like one, if you didn’t come too close. There is a certain strain of Indian patience and ingenuity in women that no man has ever been able to understand.

Louie looked up and saw. His eyes met Sophy’s. In his there crept a certain exultant gleam, as of one who had fought for something great and won. Sophy saw the look. The shy questioning in her eyes was replaced by a spark of defiance. She tossed her head, and turned to the man who had called attention to her costume.

“Who’s loony now?” she jeered. “I always put in a yoke when it gets along toward fall. My lungs is delicate. And anyway, I see by the papers yesterday that collarless gowns is slightly passay f’r winter.”

Extract 2

The Leading Lady

THE LEADING LADY lay on her bed and wept. Not as you have seen leading ladies weep, becomingly, with eyebrows pathetically V-shaped, mouth quivering, sequined bosom heaving. The leading lady lay on her bed in a red-and-blue-striped kimono and wept as a woman weeps, her head burrowing into the depths of the lumpy hotel pillow, her teeth biting the pillow-case to choke back the sounds so that the grouch in the next room might not hear.

Presently the leading lady’s right hand began to grope about on the bedspread for her handkerchief. Failing to find it, she sat up wearily, raising herself on one elbow and pushing her hair back from her forehead—not as you have seen a leading lady pass a lily hand across her alabaster brow, but as a heart-sick woman does it. Her tears and sniffles had formed a little oasis of moisture on the pillow’s white bosom so that the ugly stripe of the ticking showed through. She gazed down at the damp circle with smarting, swollen eyes, and another lump came up into her throat.

Then she sat up resolutely, and looked about her. The leading lady had a large and saving sense of humor. But there is nothing that blunts the sense of humor more quickly than a few months of one-night stands. Even O. Henry could have seen nothing funny about that room.

The bed was of green enamel, with fly-specked gold trimmings. It looked like a huge frog. The wall-paper was a crime. It represented an army of tan mustard plasters climbing up a chocolate-fudge wall. The leading lady was conscious of a feeling of nausea as she gazed at it. So she got up and walked to the window. The room faced west, and the hot afternoon sun smote full on her poor swollen eyes. Across the street the red brick walls of the engine-house caught the glare and sent it back. The firemen, in their blue shirt-sleeves, were seated in the shade before the door, their chairs tipped at an angle of sixty. The leading lady stared down into the sun-baked street, turned abruptly and made as though to fall upon the bed again, with a view to forming another little damp oasis on the pillow. But when she reached the center of the stifling little bedroom her eye chanced on the electric call-button near the door. Above the electric bell was tacked a printed placard giving information on the subjects of laundry, ice-water, bell-boys and dining-room hours.

The leading lady stood staring at it a moment thoughtfully. Then with a sudden swift movement she applied her forefinger to the button and held it there for a long half-minute. Then she sat down on the edge of the bed, her kimono folded about her, and waited.

She waited until a lank bell-boy, in a brown uniform that was some sizes too small for him, had ceased to take any interest in the game of chess which Bauer and Merkle, the champion firemen chess-players, were contesting on the walk before the open doorway of the engine-house. The proprietor of the Burke House had originally intended that the brown uniform be worn by a diminutive bell-boy, such as one sees in musical comedies. But the available supply of stage size bell-boys in our town is somewhat limited and was soon exhausted. There followed a succession of lank bell-boys, with arms and legs sticking ungracefully out of sleeves and trousers.

“Come!” called the leading lady quickly, in answer to the lank youth’s footsteps, and before he had had time to knock.

“Ring?” asked the boy, stepping into the torrid little room.

The leading lady did not reply immediately. She swallowed something in her throat and pushed back the hair from her moist forehead again. The brown uniform repeated his question, a trifle irritably. Whereupon the leading lady spoke, desperately:

“Is there a woman around this place? I don’t mean dining-room girls, or the person behind the cigar-counter.”

Since falling heir to the brown uniform the lank youth had heard some strange requests. He had been interviewed by various ladies in varicolored kimonos relative to liquid refreshment, laundry and the cost of hiring a horse and rig for a couple of hours. One had even summoned him to ask if there was a Bible in the house. But this latest question was a new one. He stared, leaning against the door and thrusting one hand into the depths of his very tight breeches pocket.

“Why, there’s Pearlie Schultz,” he said at last, with a grin.

“Who’s she?” The leading lady sat up expectantly.

“Steno.”

The expectant figure drooped. “Blonde? And Irish crochet collar with a black velvet bow on her chest?”

“Who? Pearlie? Naw. You mustn’t get Pearlie mixed with the common or garden variety of stenos. Pearlie is fat, and she wears specs and she’s got a double chin. Her hair is skimpy and she don’t wear no rat. W’y no traveling man has ever tried to flirt with Pearlie yet. Pearlie’s what you’d call a woman, all right. You wouldn’t never make a mistake and think she’d escaped from the first row in the chorus.”

The leading lady rose from the bed, reached out for her pocket-book, extracted a dime, and held it out to the bell-boy.

“Here. Will you ask her to come up here to me? Tell her I said please.”

After he had gone she seated herself on the edge of the bed again, with a look in her eyes like that which you have seen in the eyes of a dog that is waiting for a door to be opened.

Fifteen minutes passed. The look in the eyes of the leading lady began to fade. Then a footstep sounded down the hall. The leading lady cocked her head to catch it, and smiled blissfully. It was a heavy, comfortable footstep, under which a board or two creaked. There came a big, sensible thump-thump-thump at the door, with stout knuckles. The leading lady flew to answer it. She flung the door wide and stood there, clutching her kimono at the throat and looking up into a red, good-natured face.

Pearlie Schultz looked down at the leading lady kindly and benignantly, as a mastiff might look at a terrier.

“Lonesome for a bosom to cry on?” asked she, and stepped into the room, walked to the west windows, and jerked down the shades with a zip-zip, shutting off the yellow glare. She came back to where the leading lady was standing and patted her on the cheek, lightly.

“You tell me all about it,” said she, smiling.

The leading lady opened her lips, gulped, tried again, gulped again—Pearlie Schultz shook a sympathetic head.

“Ain’t had a decent, close-to-nature powwow with a woman for weeks and weeks, have you?”

“How did you know?” cried the leading lady.

“You’ve got that hungry look. There was a lady drummer here last winter, and she had the same expression. She was so dead sick of eating her supper and then going up to her ugly room and reading and sewing all evening that it was a wonder she’d stayed good. She said it was easy enough for the men. They could smoke, and play pool, and go to a show, and talk to any one that looked good to ‘em. But if she tried to amuse herself everybody’d say she was tough. She cottoned to me like a burr to a wool skirt. She traveled for a perfumery house, and she said she hadn’t talked to a woman, except the dry-goods clerks who were nice to her trying to work her for her perfume samples, for weeks an’ weeks. Why, that woman made crochet by the bolt, and mended her clothes evenings whether they needed it or not, and read till her eyes come near going back on her.”

The leading lady seized Pearlie’s hand and squeezed it.

“That’s it! Why, I haven’t talked—really talked—to a real woman since the company went out on the road. I’m leading lady of the ‘Second Wife’ company, you know. It’s one of those small cast plays, with only five people in it. I play the wife, and I’m the only woman in the cast. It’s terrible. I ought to be thankful to get the part these days. And I was, too. But I didn’t know it would be like this. I’m going crazy. The men in the company are good kids, but I can’t go trailing around after them all day. Besides, it wouldn’t be right. They’re all married, except Billy, who plays the kid, and he’s busy writing a vawdeville skit that he thinks the New York managers are going to fight for when he gets back home. We were to play Athens, Wisconsin, to-night, but the house burned down night before last, and that left us with an open date. When I heard the news you’d have thought I had lost my mother. It’s bad enough having a whole day to kill but when I think of to-night,” the leading lady’s voice took on a note of hysteria, “it seems as though I’d——”

“Say,” Pearlie interrupted, abruptly, “you ain’t got a real good corset-cover pattern, have you? One that fits smooth over the bust and don’t slip off the shoulders? I don’t seem able to get my hands on the kind I want.”

“Have I!” yelled the leading lady. And made a flying leap from the bed to the floor.

She flapped back the cover of a big suit-case and began burrowing into its depths, strewing the floor with lingerie, newspaper clippings, blouses, photographs and Dutch collars. Pearlie came over and sat down on the floor in the midst of the litter. The leading lady dived once more, fished about in the bottom of the suit-case and brought a crumpled piece of paper triumphantly to the surface.

“This is it. It only takes a yard and five-eighths. And fits! Like Anna Held’s skirts. Comes down in a V front and back—like this. See? And no fulness. Wait a minute. I’ll show you my princess slip. I made it all by hand, too. I’ll bet you couldn’t buy it under fifteen dollars, and it cost me four dollars and eighty cents, with the lace and all.”

Before an hour had passed, the leading lady had displayed all her treasures, from the photograph of her baby that died to her new Blanche Ring curl cluster, and was calling Pearlie by her first name. When a bell somewhere boomed six o’clock Pearlie was being instructed in a new exercise calculated to reduce the hips an inch a month.

“My land!” cried Pearlie, aghast, and scrambled to her feet as nimbly as any woman can who weighs two hundred pounds. “Supper-time, and I’ve got a bunch of letters an inch thick to get out! I’d better reduce that some before I begin on my hips. But say, I’ve had a lovely time.”

The leading lady clung to her. “You’ve saved my life. Why, I forgot all about being hot and lonely and a couple of thousand miles from New York. Must you go?”

“Got to. But if you’ll promise you won’t laugh, I’ll make a date for this evening that’ll give you a new sensation anyway. There’s going to be a strawberry social on the lawn of the parsonage of our church. I’ve got a booth. You shed that kimono, and put on a thin dress and those curls and some powder, and I’ll introduce you as my friend, Miss Evans. You don’t look Evans, but this is a Methodist church strawberry festival, and if I was to tell them that you are leading lady of the ‘Second Wife’ company they’d excommunicate my booth.”

“A strawberry social!” gasped the leading lady. “Do they still have them?” She did not laugh. “Why, I used to go to strawberry festivals when I was a little girl in——”

“Careful! You’ll be giving away your age, and, anyway, you don’t look it. Fashions in strawberry socials ain’t changed much. Better bathe your eyes in eau de cologne or whatever it is they’re always dabbing on ‘em in books. See you at eight.”

At eight o’clock Pearlie’s thump-thump sounded again, and the leading lady sprang to the door as before. Pearlie stared. This was no tear-stained, heat-bedraggled creature in an unbecoming red-striped kimono. It was a remarkably pretty woman in a white lingerie gown over a pink slip. The leading lady knew a thing or two about the gentle art of making-up!

“That just goes to show,” remarked Pearlie, “that you must never judge a woman in a kimono or a bathing suit. You look nineteen. Say, I forgot something down-stairs. Just get your handkerchief and chamois together and meet in my cubby-hole next to the lobby, will you? I’ll be ready for you.”

Down-stairs she summoned the lank bell-boy. “You go outside and tell Sid Strang I want to see him, will you? He’s on the bench with the baseball bunch.”

Pearlie had not seen Sid Strang outside. She did not need to. She knew he was there. In our town all the young men dress up in their pale gray suits and lavender-striped shirts after supper on summer evenings. Then they stroll down to the Burke House, buy a cigar and sit down on the benches in front of the hotel to talk baseball and watch the girls go by. It is astonishing to note the number of our girls who have letters to mail after supper. One would think that they must drive their pens fiercely all the afternoon in order to get out such a mass of correspondence.

The obedient Sid reached the door of Pearlie’s little office just off the lobby as the leading lady came down the stairs with a spangled scarf trailing over her arm. It was an effective entrance.

“Why, hello!” said Pearlie, looking up from her typewriter as though Sid Strang were the last person in the world she expected to see. “What do you want here? Ethel, this is my friend, Mr. Sid Strang, one of our rising young lawyers. His neckties always match his socks. Sid, this is my friend, Miss Ethel Evans, of New York. We’re going over to the strawberry social at the M. E. parsonage. I don’t suppose you’d care about going?”

Mr. Sid Strang gazed at the leading lady in the white lingerie dress with the pink slip, and the V-shaped neck, and the spangled scarf, and turned to Pearlie.

“Why, Pearlie Schultz!” he said reproachfully. “How can you ask? You know what a strawberry social means to me! I haven’t missed one in years!”

“I know it,” replied Pearlie, with a grin. “You feel the same way about Thursday evening prayer-meeting too, don’t you? You can walk over with us if you want to. We’re going now. Miss Evans and I have got a booth.”

Sid walked. Pearlie led them determinedly past the rows of gray suits and lavender and pink shirts on the benches in front of the hotel. And as the leading lady came into view the gray suits stopped talking baseball and sat up and took notice. Pearlie had known all those young men inside of the swagger suits in the days when their summer costume consisted of a pair of dad’s pants cut down to a doubtful fit, and a nondescript shirt damp from the swimming-hole. So she called out, cheerily:

“We’re going over to the strawberry festival. I expect to see all you boys there to contribute your mite to the church carpet.”

The leading lady turned to look at them, and smiled.   They were such a dapper, pink-cheeked, clean-looking lot of boys, she thought. At that the benches rose to a man and announced that they might as well stroll over right now. Whenever a new girl comes to visit in our town our boys make a concerted rush at her, and develop a “case” immediately, and the girl goes home when her visit is over with her head swimming, and forever after bores the girls of her home town with tales of her conquests.

The ladies of the First M. E. Church still talk of the money they garnered at the strawberry festival. Pearlie’s out-of-town friend was garnerer-in-chief. You take a cross-eyed, pock-marked girl and put her in a white dress, with a pink slip, on a green lawn under a string of rose-colored Japanese lanterns, and she’ll develop an almost Oriental beauty. It is an ideal setting. The leading lady was not cross-eyed or pock-marked. She stood at the lantern-illumined booth, with Pearlie in the background, and dispensed an unbelievable amount of strawberries. Sid Strang and the hotel bench brigade assisted. They made engagements to take Pearlie and her friend down river next day, and to the ball game, and planned innumerable picnics, gazing meanwhile into the leading lady’s eyes. There grew in the cheeks of the leading lady a flush that was not brought about by the pink slip, or the Japanese lanterns, or the skillful application of rouge.

By nine o’clock the strawberry supply was exhausted, and the president of the Foreign Missionary Society was sending wildly down-town for more ice-cream.

“I call it an outrage,” puffed Pearlie happily, ladling ice-cream like mad. “Making a poor working girl like me slave all evening! How many was that last order? Four? My land! that’s the third dish of ice-cream Ed White’s had! You’ll have something to tell the villagers about when you get back to New York.”

The leading lady turned a flushed face toward Pearlie. “This is more fun than the Actors’ Fair. I had the photograph booth last year, and I took in nearly as much as Lil Russell; and goodness knows, all she needs to do at a fair is to wear her diamond-and-pearl stomacher and her set-piece smile, and the men just swarm around her like the pictures of a crowd in a McCutcheon cartoon.”

When the last Japanese lantern had guttered out, Pearlie Schultz and the leading lady prepared to go home. Before they left, the M. E. ladies came over to Pearlie’s booth and personally congratulated the leading lady, and thanked her for the interest she had taken in the cause, and the secretary of the Epworth League asked her to come to the tea that was to be held at her home the following Tuesday. The leading lady thanked her and said she’d come if she could.

Escorted by a bodyguard of gray suits and lavender-striped shirts Pearlie and her friend, Miss Evans, walked toward the hotel. The attentive bodyguard confessed itself puzzled.

“Aren’t you staying at Pearlie’s house?” asked Sid tenderly, when they reached the Burke House. The leading lady glanced up at the windows of the stifling little room that faced west.

“No,” answered she, and paused at the foot of the steps to the ladies’ entrance. The light from the electric globe over the doorway shone on her hair and sparkled in the folds of her spangled scarf.

“I’m not staying at Pearlie’s because my name isn’t Ethel Evans. It’s Aimee Fox, with a little French accent mark over the double E. I’m leading lady of the ‘Second Wife’ company and old enough to be—well, your aunty, anyway. We go out at one-thirty to-morrow morning.”

Extract 3

The Homely Heroine

MILLIE WHITCOMB, OF the fancy goods and notions, beckoned me with her finger. I had been standing at Kate O’Malley’s counter, pretending to admire her new basket-weave suitings, but in reality reveling in her droll account of how, in the train coming up from Chicago, Mrs. Judge Porterfield had worn the negro porter’s coat over her chilly shoulders in mistake for her husband’s. Kate O’Malley can tell a funny story in a way to make the after-dinner pleasantries of a Washington diplomat sound like the clumsy jests told around the village grocery stove.

“I wanted to tell you that I read that last story of yours,” said Millie, sociably, when I had strolled over to her counter, “and I liked it, all but the heroine. She had an ‘adorable throat’ and hair that ‘waved away from her white brow,’ and eyes that ‘now were blue and now gray.’ Say, why don’t you write a story about an ugly girl?”

“My land!” protested I. “It’s bad enough trying to make them accept my stories as it is. That last heroine was a raving beauty, but she came back eleven times before the editor of Blakely’s succumbed to her charms.”

Millie’s fingers were busy straightening the contents of a tray of combs and imitation jet barrettes. Millie’s fingers were not intended for that task. They are slender, tapering fingers, pink-tipped and sensitive.

“I should think,” mused she, rubbing a cloudy piece of jet with a bit of soft cloth, “that they’d welcome a homely one with relief. These goddesses are so cloying.”

Millie Whitcomb’s black hair is touched with soft mists of gray, and she wears lavender shirtwaists and white stocks edged with lavender. There is a Colonial air about her that has nothing to do with celluloid combs and imitation jet barrettes. It breathes of dim old rooms, rich with the tones of mahogany and old brass, and Millie in the midst of it, gray-gowned, a soft white fichu crossed upon her breast.

In our town the clerks are not the pert and gum-chewing young persons that story-writers are wont to describe. The girls at Bascom’s are institutions. They know us all by our first names, and our lives are as an open book to them. Kate O’Malley, who has been at Bascom’s for so many years that she is rumored to have stock in the company, may be said to govern the fashions of our town. She is wont to say, when we express a fancy for gray as the color of our new spring suit:

“Oh, now, Nellie, don’t get gray again. You had it year before last, and don’t you think it was just the least leetle bit trying? Let me show you that green that came in yesterday. I said the minute I clapped my eyes on it that it was just the color for you, with your brown hair and all.”

And we end by deciding on the green.

The girls at Bascom’s are not gossips—they are too busy for that—but they may be said to be delightfully well informed. How could they be otherwise when we go to Bascom’s for our wedding dresses and party favors and baby flannels? There is news at Bascom’s that our daily paper never hears of, and wouldn’t dare print if it did.

So when Millie Whitcomb, of the fancy goods and notions, expressed her hunger for a homely heroine, I did not resent the suggestion. On the contrary, it sent me home in thoughtful mood, for Millie Whitcomb has acquired a knowledge of human nature in the dispensing of her fancy goods and notions. It set me casting about for a really homely heroine.

There never has been a really ugly heroine in fiction. Authors have started bravely out to write of an unlovely woman, but they never have had the courage to allow her to remain plain. On Page 237 she puts on a black lace dress and red roses, and the combination brings out unexpected tawny lights in her hair, and olive tints in her cheeks, and there she is, the same old beautiful heroine. Even in the “Duchess” books one finds the simple Irish girl, on donning a green corduroy gown cut square at the neck, transformed into a wild-rose beauty, at sight of whom a ball-room is hushed into admiring awe. There’s the case of jane Eyre, too. She is constantly described as plain and mouse-like, but there are covert hints as to her gray eyes and slender figure and clear skin, and we have a sneaking notion that she wasn’t such a fright after all.

Therefore, when I tell you that I am choosing Pearlie Schultz as my leading lady you are to understand that she is ugly, not only when the story opens, but to the bitter end. In the first place, Pearlie is fat. Not, plump, or rounded, or dimpled, or deliciously curved, but FAT. She bulges in all the wrong places, including her chin. (Sister, who has a way of snooping over my desk in my absence, says that I may as well drop this now, because nobody would ever read it, anyway, least of all any sane editor. I protest when I discover that Sis has been over my papers. It bothers me. But she says you have to do these things when you have a genius in the house, and cites the case of Kipling’s “Recessional,” which was rescued from the depths of his wastebasket by his wife.)

Pearlie Schultz used to sit on the front porch summer evenings and watch the couples stroll by, and weep in her heart. A fat girl with a fat girl’s soul is a comedy. But a fat girl with a thin girl’s soul is a tragedy. Pearlie, in spite of her two hundred pounds, had the soul of a willow wand.

The walk in front of Pearlie’s house was guarded by a row of big trees that cast kindly shadows. The strolling couples used to step gratefully into the embrace of these shadows, and from them into other embraces. Pearlie, sitting on the porch, could see them dimly, although they could not see her. She could not help remarking that these strolling couples were strangely lacking in sprightly conversation. Their remarks were but fragmentary, disjointed affairs, spoken in low tones with a queer, tremulous note in them. When they reached the deepest, blackest, kindliest shadow, which fell just before the end of the row of trees, the strolling couples almost always stopped, and then there came a quick movement, and a little smothered cry from the girl, and then a sound, and then a silence. Pearlie, sitting alone on the porch in the dark, listened to these things and blushed furiously. Pearlie had never strolled into the kindly shadows with a little beating of the heart, and she had never been surprised with a quick arm about her and eager lips pressed warmly against her own.

In the daytime Pearlie worked as public stenographer at the Burke Hotel. She rose at seven in the morning, and rolled for fifteen minutes, and lay on her back and elevated her heels in the air, and stood stiff-kneed while she touched the floor with her finger tips one hundred times, and went without her breakfast. At the end of each month she usually found that she weighed three pounds more than she had the month before.

The folks at home never joked with Pearlie about her weight. Even one’s family has some respect for a life sorrow. Whenever Pearlie asked that inevitable question of the fat woman: “Am I as fat as she is?” her mother always answered: “You! Well, I should hope not! You’re looking real peaked lately, Pearlie. And your blue skirt just ripples in the back, it’s getting so big for you.”

Of such blessed stuff are mothers made.

But if the gods had denied Pearlie all charms of face or form, they had been decent enough to bestow on her one gift. Pearlie could cook like an angel; no, better than an angel, for no angel could be a really clever cook and wear those flowing kimono-like sleeves. They’d get into the soup. Pearlie could take a piece of rump and some suet and an onion and a cup or so of water, and evolve a pot roast that you could cut with a fork. She could turn out a surprisingly good cake with surprisingly few eggs, all covered with white icing, and bearing cunning little jelly figures on its snowy bosom. She could beat up biscuits that fell apart at the lightest pressure, revealing little pools of golden butter within. Oh, Pearlie could cook!

On week days Pearlie rattled the typewriter keys, but on Sundays she shooed her mother out of the kitchen. Her mother went, protesting faintly:

“Now, Pearlie, don’t fuss so for dinner. You ought to get your rest on Sunday instead of stewing over a hot stove all morning.”

“Hot fiddlesticks, ma,” Pearlie would say, cheerily. “It ain’t hot, because it’s a gas stove. And I’ll only get fat if I sit around. You put on your black-and-white and go to church. Call me when you’ve got as far as your corsets, and I’ll puff your hair for you in the back.”

In her capacity of public stenographer at the Burke Hotel, it was Pearlie’s duty to take letters dictated by traveling men and beginning: “Yours of the 10th at hand. In reply would say.…” or: “Enclosed please find, etc.” As clinching proof of her plainness it may be stated that none of the traveling men, not even Max Baum, who was so fresh that the girl at the cigar counter actually had to squelch him, ever called Pearlie “baby doll,” or tried to make a date with her. Not that Pearlie would ever have allowed them to. But she never had had to reprove them. During pauses in dictation she had a way of peering near-sightedly, over her glasses at the dapper, well-dressed traveling salesman who was rolling off the items on his sale bill. That is a trick which would make the prettiest kind of a girl look owlish.

On the night that Sam Miller strolled up to talk to her, Pearlie was working late. She had promised to get out a long and intricate bill for Max Baum, who travels for Kuhn and Klingman, so that he might take the nine o’clock evening train. The irrepressible Max had departed with much eclat and clatter, and Pearlie was preparing to go home when Sam approached her.

Sam had just come in from the Gayety Theater across the street, whither he had gone in a vain search for amusement after supper. He had come away in disgust. A soiled soubrette with orange-colored hair and baby socks had swept her practiced eye over the audience, and, attracted by Sam’s good-looking blond head in the second row, had selected him as the target of her song. She had run up to the extreme edge of the footlights at the risk of teetering over, and had informed Sam through the medium of song—to the huge delight of the audience, and to Sam’s red-faced discomfiture—that she liked his smile, and he was just her style, and just as cute as he could be, and just the boy for her. On reaching the chorus she had whipped out a small, round mirror and, assisted by the calcium-light man in the rear, had thrown a wretched little spotlight on Sam’s head.

Ordinarily, Sam would not have minded it. But that evening, in the vest pocket just over the place where he supposed his heart to be reposed his girl’s daily letter. They were to be married on Sam’s return to New York from his first long trip. In the letter near his heart she had written prettily and seriously about traveling men, and traveling men’s wives, and her little code for both. The fragrant, girlish, grave little letter had caused Sam to sour on the efforts of the soiled soubrette.

As soon as possible he had fled up the aisle and across the street to the hotel writing-room. There he had spied Pearlie’s good-humored, homely face, and its contrast with the silly, red and-white countenance of the unlaundered soubrette had attracted his homesick heart.

Pearlie had taken some letters from him earlier in the day. Now, in his hunger for companionship, he, strolled up to her desk, just as she was putting her typewriter to bed.

“Gee! This is a lonesome town!” said Sam, smiling down at her.

Pearlie glanced up at him, over her glasses. “I guess you must be from New York,” she said. “I’ve heard a real New Yorker can get bored in Paris. In New York the sky is bluer, and the grass is greener, and the girls are prettier, and the steaks are thicker, and the buildings are higher, and the streets are wider, and the air is finer, than the sky, or the grass, or the girls, or the steaks, or the air of any place else in the world. Ain’t they?”

“Oh, now,” protested Sam, “quit kiddin’ me! You’d be lonesome for the little old town, too, if you’d been born and dragged up in it, and hadn’t seen it for four months.”

“New to the road, aren’t you?” asked Pearlie.

Sam blushed a little. “How did you know?”

“Well, you generally can tell. They don’t know what to do with themselves evenings, and they look rebellious when they go into the dining-room. The old-timers just look resigned.”

“You’ve picked up a thing or two around here, haven’t you? I wonder if the time will ever come when I’ll look resigned to a hotel dinner, after four months of ‘em. Why, girl, I’ve got so I just eat the things that are covered up—like baked potatoes in the shell, and soft boiled eggs, and baked apples, and oranges that I can peel, and nuts.”

“Why, you poor kid,” breathed Pearlie, her pale eyes fixed on him in motherly pity. “You oughtn’t to do that. You’ll get so thin your girl won’t know you.”

Sam looked up quickly. “How in thunderation did you know——?”

Pearlie was pinning on her hat, and she spoke succinctly, her hatpins between her teeth: “You’ve been here two days now, and I notice you dictate all your letters except the longest one, and you write that one off in a corner of the writing-room all by yourself, with your cigar just glowing like a live coal, and you squint up through the smoke, and grin to yourself.”

“Say, would you mind if I walked home with you?” asked Sam.

If Pearlie was surprised, she was woman enough not to show it. She picked up her gloves and hand bag, locked her drawer with a click, and smiled her acquiescence. And when Pearlie smiled she was awful.

It was a glorious evening in the early summer, moonless, velvety, and warm. As they strolled homeward, Sam told her all about the Girl, as is the way of traveling men the world over. He told her about the tiny apartment they had taken, and how he would be on the road only a couple of years more, as this was just a try-out that the firm always insisted on. And they stopped under an arc light while Sam showed her the picture in his watch, as is also the way of traveling men since time immemorial.

Pearlie made an excellent listener. He was so boyish, and so much in love, and so pathetically eager to make good with the firm, and so happy to have some one in whom to confide.

“But it’s a dog’s life, after all,” reflected Sam, again after the fashion of all traveling men. “Any fellow on the road earns his salary these days, you bet. I used to think it was all getting up when you felt like it, and sitting in the big front window of the hotel, smoking a cigar and watching the pretty girls go by. I wasn’t wise to the packing, and the unpacking, and the rotten train service, and the grouchy customers, and the canceled bills, and the grub.”

Pearlie nodded understandingly. “A man told me once that twice a week regularly he dreamed of the way his wife cooked noodle-soup.”

“My folks are German,” explained Sam. “And my mother—can she cook! Well, I just don’t seem able to get her potato pancakes out of my mind. And her roast beef tasted and looked like roast beef, and not like a wet red flannel rag.”

At this moment Pearlie was seized with a brilliant idea. “To-morrow’s Sunday. You’re going to Sunday here, aren’t you? Come over and eat your dinner with us. If you have forgotten the taste of real food, I can give you a dinner that’ll jog your memory.”

“Oh, really,” protested Sam. “You’re awfully good, but I couldn’t think of it. I——”

“You needn’t be afraid. I’m not letting you in for anything. I may be homelier than an English suffragette, and I know my lines are all bumps, but there’s one thing you can’t take away from me, and that’s my cooking hand. I can cook, boy, in a way to make your mother’s Sunday dinner, with company expected, look like Mrs. Newlywed’s first attempt at ‘riz’ biscuits. And I don’t mean any disrespect to your mother when I say it. I’m going to have noodle-soup, and fried chicken, and hot biscuits, and creamed beans from our own garden, and strawberry shortcake with real——”

“Hush!” shouted Sam. “If I ain’t there, you’ll know that I passed away during the night, and you can telephone the clerk to break in my door.”

The Grim Reaper spared him, and Sam came, and was introduced to the family, and ate. He put himself in a class with Dr. Johnson, and Ben Brust, and Gargantua, only that his table manners were better. He almost forgot to talk during the soup, and he came back three times for chicken, and by the time the strawberry shortcake was half consumed he was looking at Pearlie with a sort of awe in his eyes.

That night he came over to say good-bye before taking his train out for Ishpeming. He and Pearlie strolled down as far as the park and back again.

“I didn’t eat any supper,” said Sam. “It would have been sacrilege, after that dinner of yours. Honestly, I don’t know how to thank you, being so good to a stranger like me. When I come back next trip, I expect to have the Kid with me, and I want her to meet you, by George! She’s a winner and a pippin, but she wouldn’t know whether a porterhouse was stewed or frapped. I’ll tell her about you, you bet. In the meantime, if there’s anything I can do for you, I’m yours to command.”

Pearlie turned to him suddenly. “You see that clump of thick shadows ahead of us, where those big trees stand in front of our house?”

“Sure,” replied Sam.

“Well, when we step into that deepest, blackest shadow, right in front of our porch, I want you to reach up, and put your arm around me and kiss me on the mouth, just once. And when you get back to New York you can tell your girl I asked you to.”

There broke from him a little involuntary exclamation. It might have been of pity, and it might have been of surprise. It had in it something of both, but nothing of mirth. And as they stepped into the depths of the soft black shadows he took off his smart straw sailor, which was so different from the sailors that the boys in our town wear. And there was in the gesture something of reverence.

Millie Whitcomb didn’t like the story of the homely heroine, after all. She says that a steady diet of such literary fare would give her blue indigestion. Also she objects on the ground that no one got married—that is, the heroine didn’t. And she says that a heroine who does not get married isn’t a heroine at all. She thinks she prefers the pink-cheeked, goddess kind, in the end.