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Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Shop-Girl, an electronic edition

by C.N. Williamson [Williamson, C.N. (Charles Norris), 1859-1920]

by A.M. Williamson [Williamson, A.M. (Alice Muriel Livingston), 1869-1933]

date: 1916
source publisher: Methuen & Co., Ltd.
collection: Genre Fiction

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CHAPTER II
BALM OF GILEAD

IT was the worst possible moment for the dryads. But when their tear-wet eyes beheld a girl and two men, some deep-down primordial pride of womanhood rushed to their rescue and, flowing through their veins, performed a miracle beyond the power of any patent remedy. The five forlorn girls became at need the five stately goddesses Madame Nadine paid them to be. (Winifred Child, by the way, was not paid, for she was not a goddess by profession. But she got her passage free. It was for that she was goddessing.)

Miss Devereux was the leader by virtue, not of extra age, no indeed! but of height, manner, and experience. She apologized, with the most refined accent, for Madame Nadine, who was "quite prostrated"; for Madame Nadine's manageress, who was even worse, and for themselves. "I'm afraid we must do the best we can alone," she finished with unconscious pathos.

"It's a shame to disturb you," said Peter Rolls.

Miss Devereux and her attendant dryads turned their eyes to him. They had fancied that he was the man who had burst in before and burst out again; now they were sure. If he had been a woman, they would have borne him a grudge for coming back and bringing companions worse than himself; but as he was a man, young, and not bad-looking, they forgave him meekly.

They forgave the other man for the same reason, and forgave the girl because she was with the men. If only | | 13 they could behave themselves as young ladies should through this ordeal! That was the effort on which they must concentrate their minds and other organs.

"Not at all," returned Miss Devereux, every inch a princess. "We are here to be disturbed." (Alas, how true!)

She smiled at Lady Eileen, but not patronizingly, because a mysterious instinct told her that the plain, pleasant young girl in Irish tweed was a "swell." The men, too, were swells, or important in some way or other. One exerted oneself to be charming to such people and keep the male members of the party from looking at the other girls. "Would you like to see something else, different from what we are showing? Evening cloaks? Day dresses? We have a number of smart little afternoon frocks——"

"I think that white dress is the meltingest thing I ever saw," said Lady Eileen, who had walked into the room without waiting for Miss Devereux's answer to Peter Rolls's objection.

She was a kind-hearted girl, but, after all, living models were living models until they were dead, and she wasn't going to lose the chance of getting a dreamy frock out of Rags! All the goddesses were on their mettle and their feet now, though swaying like tall lilies in a high wind and occasionally bracing themselves against mirrors, while Lady Eileen was in the biggest chair, with Raygan and Peter Rolls standing behind her. The men also were offered chairs by Miss Vedrine with lovely play of eyelashes, but refused them: the chairs, not the eyelashes, which no man could have spurned, despite their scattered effect.

"The white dress, moddam?" (It thrills a flapper to be called "moddam.") "It is one of the latest designs and considered perfect for a debutante. No doubt you know it is Madame Nadine's custom to name her inspira- | | 14 tions. Come here, if you please, Miss Child! This is 'First Love.'"

"Looks like it," remarked Lord Raygan, as Miss Child obeyed. He might have meant the wearer or the dress. Peter Rolls flashed a gimlet glance his way to see which. He felt uncomfortably responsible for the manners of the visitors and the feelings of the visited. But the face of Rags was grave, and no offence could be taken. Peter Rolls withdrew the glance, though not before Winifred Child had it intercepted and interpreted.

"I believe he's a nice fellow," was the thought that slid through her mind as, like a chicken on a spit, she turned and turned to let Lady Eileen behold "Firsts Love" from every point of view.

"Rippin', but a foot too tall for you, Eily," said Rags, more because it amused him to prolong the scene than through a real desire to criticize. "You don't go in for bein' a sylph."

Another back-handed compliment for the wearer, if she cared to accept it; but she was beautifully unconscious and for once not laughing. Her eyes looked miles away. Peter Rolls wondered to what land she had gone.

The girl appeared to be gazing over his head; but, as a matter of fact, she could see him perfectly. He had black hair and blue eyes, shrewd perhaps, yet they might be kind and merry; just now they looked worried. She thought him not handsome, but tanned and thin (she detested fat men) and somehow nice. Win wondered if she were taller than he. She hated being taller than men, though she owed her present engagement to her height and length of limb.

Miss Devereux respectfully argued that appearances were deceitful. Moddam was quite as sylph-like as the model. Might the dress be sent to moddam's cabin to try? Then it came out that moddam was Lady Eileen | | 15 O'Neill, and the four tallest dryads visibly brightened, not so much for the owner of the name as for her brother.

Their dull days had been dimly lightened by gossip on the ship, brought to them by a stewardess from Lord Raygan's native isle, who knew all about him: that he was an earl: that with his mother and sister he had booked from Liverpool to Queenstown, but, owing to the ferocity of the sea, had been unable to land and was being carried to America. Also that a rich young American and his sister had given up their suite to the ladies. This American was said to be of no birth, the son of some big shopkeeper, and far, far outside even the fringe of the Four Hundred; therefore the tallest dryads did their best eyelash work for Lord Raygan. They were born British, hailing from Brixton or other suburban health resorts, and now they knew he was a "lord" the nickname of "Rags," which had sickened them at first, seemed interesting and intimate as a domestic anecdote about royalty.

Rags consented to buy the dress for his sister if it fitted and didn't cost a million pounds. The dryads thought this adorably generous, for the stewardess who knew all about Lord Raygan, said that the "family had become impoverished; they were not what they had once been except in name, which was of the best and oldest in Ireland." Stewardesses can tell all the things that Marconi does not mention.

When the sale was settled Miss Devereux turned to Peter Rolls. "And you, sir?" she asked, slightly coquettish because he was a man, though not of the Four Hundred. "I suppose there's nothing we can do for you?"

"I suppose not," Peter was echoing, when something occurred to him. "Unless," he amended, "my sister would like to buy a dress. She's on board."

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"Would she care to look at Madame Nadine's designs?" suggested Miss Devereux. "We have wardrobes full of marvellous inspirations."

The trouble is, she feels queer if she walks around much," said Peter.

"Perhaps she would trust you to pick out something she might see in her own room? Is she tall or short?"

"Not so tall as any of you."

"Things which would fit this young lady would be the best, then. Miss Child, Miss Vedrine will help you out of 'First Love' behind the screen and put you into the 'Young Moon.' What"—sotto voce—" are you laughing at this time?"

"Nothing," said the smallest dryad meekly, though she gurgled under her breath.

"We'd better go now, and I'll come back," hastily suggested Peter. "Don't bother to change behind the screen for us, please. I must ask my sister about the dress."

He got the others out, which was not difficult as far as Eileen was concerned. She could hardly wait to try "First Love."

Rags was determined to ask Miss Rolls if he shouldn't choose a frock for her. But she said no, she didn't want one. This would have seemed to settle the matter, and did for Lord Raygan, who sat down beside her, abandoning further thought of the dryads. Peter, however, returned in due course to the room of the mirrors, because Miss Child could not be allowed to squeeze into the "Young Moon" in such weather, for nothing.

She was in it when he arrived. And pluck mingled with excitement, having had a truly bracing effect on the girls, in the absence of the peer they were nice to the plebeian. The girl in the "Young Moon," to be sure, had scarcely anything to say, but she had a peculiarly fascinating way of not saying it.

By the time Mr. Rolls had bought the "Moon" for | | 17 his sister he had become quite friendly with the other dryads on the strength of a few simple jokes about green cheese and blue moons and never having dreamed he could obtain one by crying for it.

"I was wondering," he said at last, when he was about to go, "whether you'd care for me to bring you some Balm of Gilead?"

"Balm of Gilead?" all five, even the girl in the "Moon," exclaimed.

"Yes. Stuff for sea-sickness. Not that you are sea-sick, of course. But the balm's a good preventive. Did you never hear of it?"

They shook their heads.

"It's the great thing our side of the water. I don't need it myself, but I know it's all right, because it's making my father a fortune."

"Did he invent it?" inquired Miss Carroll.

"No. But he named it and he sells it. It's the men who name things and sell things, not the ones who invent them, that get the money. My father is Peter Rolls, and I——"

"I hope you spell Rolls with an 'e,'" broke in Miss Vedrine. "Else it would remind me of something I want to forget."

"Something you——But maybe I can guess! What the ship does now?"

"Don't speak of it!" they groaned.

"I won't! Or my name, either, if you'd rather not, especially as only my sister spells it with an 'e.' I mentioned the name on account of the balm. The barber has no end of bottles. I'll go and buy you one now. It tastes good. Back in ten minutes." And he was gone.

"His father must be a chemist," sniffed Miss Devereux, as she unhooked the "Young Moon."

When Peter returned Miss Child was wearing a robe like an illuminated cobweb on a background of violets. | | 18 This was the "Yielding Heart." Peter had brought a bottle and a clean napkin and five teaspoons. "I got these things off a dining-room steward," he explained.

"Sounds like a conjurer," murmured the girl who laughed.

"How rude of you!" Miss Devereux scolded in a whisper. "Don't mind her, Mr. Rolls. She isn't a bit like the rest of us."

Peter had noticed that.

"She's always laughing at everything, and everybody too," went on Miss Devereux.

"She's welcome to laugh at me," said Peter. "I enjoy it."

"Ladies don't. She'd never do for a permanence with Madame Nadine. Clients wouldn't stand being grinned at by models."

"I don't laugh at people. I laugh at the world," the model defended herself.

"Why?" inquired Peter, with a straight look at the queer, arresting face.

"To keep it from laughing at me first. And to make it laugh with me—if I can."

"Do you think you can?"

"I shall try hard—against the biggest odds. And whatever it does to me, I sha'n't cry."

"I shouldn't wonder if that wasn't the whole secret of life!" said Peter Rolls, continuing to look at the face.

Suddenly it flashed a smile at him. "Shouldn't you? Give me the Balm of Gilead, and the rest would be easy!"

Peter was not stupid as a rule, yet he could not be quite sure what she meant. If he guessed right, the rest wasn't as easy as she thought. Yet the words made him wish that he could give the girl who laughed—the girl who was not to be a "permanence" with Nadine—more than a teaspoonful of balm.

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