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Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
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

Table of Contents

<< chapter 10 chapter 27 >>

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MISS KIRK was almost ready to go from the restaurant to work again when Win appeared, a three-cent entrance ticket in her hand, to face an atmosphere crowded with sundry uncongenial members of the vegetable kingdom.

"Hello, 2884 England!" Sadie feigned facetiously to call her up by telephone. "Got yer number, all right, you see! I begun to think they'd rung me off, so I wouldn't get onto you again this side of heaven. And say, that reminds me: heaven looks a long way from here, don't it?"

Win smiled.

"Good thing! You ain't got yer smile rubbed off yet. Stick to it if y' can. It's a fine prop. I otta go in a minute, but you're such a chicken, if I don't watch out for you y' might get lost in the wash. Anyone put you wise on that three-cent billy doo?"

"The girl at the door told me I was to buy it of her," said Win, "and then I could divide it up for three different things to eat. But can one get three different things to eat for three cents? It seems wonderful! "

"You won't be so much surprised when you've got 'em et. I'd try a soup, a mutton sandwich, and a cuppa cawfee for eight cents, if I was you. But see here, I ain't goin' to feed my face in this ranch after to-day. I knowed pretty near how punk 'twould be from things guyls told me about the Hands, and I only took a meal | | 108 so as to see you and ask how the giant child was gettin' along. No more o' this grub for mine! And if I was in your place I'd go out to eat. You get a breath o' fresh air; and a cuppa hot chocolate for a nickel at a drug-store, with a free lunch o' crackers thrown in, 'll do you a sight more good than the best there is in this dope shop."

Long before Miss Kirk had finished pouring out advice the eight-cent lunch of soup, sandwich, and coffee had been slapped down on a dirty table-cloth by a frantic rabbit of a waitress. The big restaurant was dim, even at midday, because its only windows gave upon a narrow court which separated that part of the building from another part of equal height. It was so dark that perhaps the hard-worked females who cleaned it might be excused for passing blemishes sunlight would have thrown into their faces.

One did not exactly see the dirt (except on the cheap, unbleached "damask" flung crookedly over the black oilcloth nailed onto table tops); but, like a cowardly ghost that dares not show itself, in some secret, shuddering way the squalor was able to make its presence felt. Now and then a black-beetle pottered across the oilcloth-covered floor; and, though a black-beetle may happen anywhere, it potters only where it feels at home, otherwise it scurries about in desperate apology for living. The soup was cold and greasy and tasted of an unscoured pot. The mutton sandwich, as Sadie remarked, would have been better suited to the antique department; and the coffee, though hot, might as easily have been tea or cocoa, or a blend of all three.

"What a shame to feed their people like this!" exclaimed Win, who had thought she was hungry but now found herself mistaken. And again the eyes of Peter Rolls junior seemed to be looking straight into hers. No wonder he was what his sister hinted at if | | 109 he knew all about this and had not the heart to care! And if he didn't trouble to know, it was just as bad.

"They don't want to feed us, you see," said Sadie, slowly finishing a baked apple which looked like a head-hunter's withered trophy. "On the low prices they're obliged to charge they can't make a cent offen us. Besides, if all the guyls et in the house they'd have to give up more of their valuable room. They'd rather we'd go out, so long as we're back in time. Only the poorest ones, who have to look twice at every cent, feed in the restaurant as a reg'lar thing; or the weak ones, who're so dead tired they can't bear to take a nextra step. And oh, by the way, talkin' o' that, you'll need foot-powder. Your first week your feet'll hurt that bad you'll be ready to bawl. But if you can stand it and your back bein' broke in two at the waist it 'll be better the week after, and so on, till you won't notice so much. Now I must go or I'll be docked, and I ain't the betrothed of a millionaire yet. But tell me where you live. Me and you might see something of e'juther, if you feel the way I do."

"I liked you the minute I looked round the corner of my shoulder and saw you plastered onto my back!" laughed Win, already revived, not by the food, but by some subtle emanation of strength and sympathy from the more experienced girl. "I wish I could live near you. The boarding-house where I am is too expensive, and I've given notice to leave on Saturday."

"My! You'd turn up your nose at Columbus Avenue, I guess," said Miss Kirk. "That's where I hang out. It ain't a boardin'-house. What's the use shellin' out for meals and not bein' home to them? I'd like awful well to have you in the same movie with me. There ain't a guyl I care to speak to on the film! But the 'L' runs past the place, and some folks say it otta be spelled with 'H.' The noise pretty near drove | | 110 me bug-house at fyst, but I'm settlin' down to it now. And oh, say, that big feller whose best lion died on him (good thing 'twasn't his best guyl!) he told me he's come to Columbus to room with the chum w'at put him onto wuykin for the Hands. He's in the toy department with me and feels real at home with the Teddy bears. I could get you a room in my house for two dollars per."

"Per what?" Win was obliged to ask.

"Per week. Per everything. And if you take my tips about grub, and do your own waists and hank'chiffs Sundays—laundry 'em, I mean, instead of wallerin' in bed like a sassiety bud, you'll have money to burn or put in the mishrunny box."

" I'll come!" exclaimed Win. "Please engage the room. If it's good enough for you, it's good enough for me, and I'll put up with the noise for the sake of your society."

"My! Thanks for the bookays and choclits! Ta, ta! I'll wait for you to-night at the stage entrance with the other Johnnies."

She was off with the promptness of a soubrette after an "exit speech," and Win was left to sip her stale coffee or spend what remained of her "off time" in the rest-room next door.

Legally, Peter Rolls was supposed to give his hands an hour for the midday meal, but in the rush of the holiday season a way had been found for whipping the inconvenient little law-devil round the post. Employés were asked to "lend" the management half of the legally allotted hour, the time to be repaid them later, so that after Christmas they might take once a week an hour and a half in the middle of the day instead of an hour. Those in the know had learned that, as on Christmas Eve most of the extra hands received with their pay-envelope a week's notice to quit, they, at | | 111 least, never got back the half-hours lent. As for the permanent hands, it would amount to a black mark secretly put against their names if they dared lay claim to the time owing. Win, however, was blissfully ignorant of this, and though she was tired, the arrangement seemed fair to her. As she got up from the table to spend fifteen minutes in the rest-room she was almost happy in the thought of having the sardine for a neighbour.

Two of the girls who had come up from the bargain square with her on the return of Miss Stein and their other seniors, looked after Win as she passed out of the restaurant.

"There goes Miss Thank-you-I-beg-your-pardon," said the young lady who had wondered if 2884 were a spy. "She's got a smile as if she was invited to tea with the Vanderbilts."

"By this time next week I bet she smiles the wrong side of her mouth if she puts on any airs with Dora Stein."

"Hum-m, yeh. Unless what you think's so, and she's on the right side o' Father."

It was true, as the girls had warned the new hand, when six o'clock—closing-time—came, you "couldn't chase the dames out." The salespeople began to put things away, and some even ventured to remind customers that the shop shut at six; but ladies who believed themselves possessed of the kindest hearts on earth pleaded that they must have one more thing, only just one, to complete their list for that day. Those who were too cross and tired to think about hearts or anything else except their own nerves made no excuses at all, but demanded what they wanted or threatened a report to the floor-walker if a saleswoman were "disagreeable."

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"Look at them!" snapped Miss Stein, maddened by a consignment of more blouses from the bankrupt sale (which had brought upon Horrocks the gibes of the head buyer), blouses without sashes, which not even Poiret could have turned into "Pavlovas."

"Look at them, the fat old, self-satisfied lemons, with their hats and their dresses and their squeezed-in corsets and shoes, and even their back hair bought in sweat-shops like ours! Pills, going to their homes to say their prayers, and then, full o' dinner, to the meeting of the Anti-Sweats. I know 'em! Maybe they'll do some o' the sweatin' in kingdom come!"

Already Win had learned that a "lemon" or a "pill" was a customer who made as much trouble as possible for as small as possible a return; but it gave her a stab to hear Peter Rolls's great department-store called a "sweat-shop." Again she saw the eyes. Was she never to get rid of the memory of those hypocritical blue eyes?

Nobody thought of being ready for home until nearly ten o'clock; and long before that Miss Stein's nerves felt as if they had been run, like threads, through the eyes of hot needles. Again Win had helped her in the afternoon by placing blouses of congenial colours together on the counters instead of letting them lie anyhow, as Miss Stein, in her recklessness, would have done. But less than ever had the elder girl seen reason for thanking Miss Child when the second instalment of "punk" goods was brought out of "reserve."

If the first lot had not gone off so soon they would not have been saddled with this, and so 2884 had, in Miss Stein's estimation, done nothing at the end of the day except "show herself off " and make everybody work twice as hard as necessary. She would not tell Win how to put things away, or let anybody else help her out.

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"You gotta learn for yourself or you never will," she said sharply, all the more sharply because Fred Thorpe, the floor-walker, happened to be within earshot.

"I don't care what he thinks of me!" she said fiercely to herself, knowing that Thorpe would understand and disapprove her injustice to the new girl. But it was only half true that she did not care.

She was longing desperately for somebody to love her; and though she could not in decency have accepted, after the way she had treated him, she wished that Thorpe would ask her to have supper with him that night. The Westlake pig, she knew, was going to Dorlon's for a pan roast with Horrocks, for the creature had told all the girls who were sure to run with it to her, Dora Stein. Thorpe would have been a faded flag to flaunt in the face of the enemy—a floor-walker, to one who had mashed a department manager! Still it would have been comforting to know that she still had attractions for some one, and at least she would have liked the chance to refuse an invitation.

Thorpe, on his part, would joyfully have asked her, for he could not quite "unlove" the beautiful face he had once adored, though he knew now what a fierce spirit lived behind it. He was well aware of his own weakness, and was humble enough to confuse with it the kindness of heart which permitted such treatment as he had received.

No girl, not even Dora Stein herself, would dare risk offending any other of the floor-walkers, men able to break a saleswoman if they "got a down" on her. But Dora knew only too well that he would not demean himself to take revenge on her, or anyone. And probably she believed that he would not punish or even "call her down" for injustice to a newcomer.

Thorpe was miserable that night, for he had missed | | 114 few incidents of the day in Dora's neighbourhood. He recognized a "live wire" when he saw one, and he did see that 2884 had "stuff" in her. She deserved to be praised, and encouragement was all that she needed to turn her into a valuable saleswoman, one who might become a "real winner" some day. He could help her by speaking a few kind words, but Miss Stein would think them spoken on purpose to spite her, and that wouldn't do 2884 much good if she stayed in the blouse department. Also he could help her by mentioning in the right quarter her generalship in the matter of the "Pavlovas" instead of letting Dora take the credit. But if he did the girl any sort of justice he would be harming Miss Stein.

"I don't know what to do! I guess I shall have to leave the thing to Providence—and the devil take the hindmost!" he thought gloomily.

It seemed to Win, as she went out at last, a week since she had come in by the same door. It was like a play she had seen, where, in the second act, the people who had been young in the first were middle-aged when the curtain next rose; and in the third they were old, all in the course of a few hours. But a year or two seemed to drop from her shoulders when she caught sight of Miss Kirk waiting for her in the street. Beside Miss Kirk, to the surprise of 2884, towered the lion-tamer.

"Well, I thought you'd never come!" was the greeting of Sadie. "But all's well that ends well. And Mr. Teddy Lion here wants to take us some place for a little supper."

"That ain't no way to interdooce me to the lady, kid," said the big fellow. "She won't look my way if you treat me light like that. My name's Earl Usher. Honest truth, 'tis, off the bills! Y' will come along, won't you?"

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"You're very kind," Win began in the conventional way that he had laughed at in the morning. Then, afraid of being teased again, she said that she must go home.

"I don't know what my landlady will think," she excused herself. "I walked out early this morning, never dreaming I should be gone until late at night."

"Well, she can't kill you," suggested Miss Kirk, "and, anyhow, you're leavin' the end of the week. I think you'll be real mean if you won't come. I know what your reason is, and so does he. He ain't nobody's fool. Do you s'pose I'm the sort would do anything myself, or ask you to do anything, that wasn't all right? We ain't in the four Hundred, nor yet in court circles, I don't think. And this ain't London, nor it ain't Boston. Thank Gawd it's little N'York."

"But——" Win persisted, and stopped.

"I know what's got her goat," said Earl Usher. "It's that slush o' mine this morning about not bein' a millionaire and my face needin' to be fed. I thought afterward 'that's no talk for a gen'leman to use before a lady.' Well, I may not be a millionaire at present, but I can see my way to feedin' our t'ree faces and not feel the pinch."

"Ain't you the fresh guy?" exclaimed Miss Kirk. "Our faces are our own, thank you just the same, and this is a Dutch treat. You might 'a' knowed we'd stick that close to ettiket. I can run to fifteen cents, as far as I'm concerned. How is it with you, Miss Child?"

"I can run to that, too," said Win.

"Same here," announced the big young man; "though I'd set my heart on t'other kind o' treat. Where shall it be? I suppose we mustn't think o' the Waldorf—what?"

"Hush!" snorted Miss Kirk, "not for mine, if I owned the mint! I bin to the Waldorf wunst, of course. | | 116 I went just out of curiosity to see how the swells et. Wunst is enough, like goin' to the menagerie. Y' owe it to yer intelligence to see all the different forms of animal life the good Lord has created, behavin' accordin' to their kind, and then come back to your own, thankin' Gawd you're not as they are. We'll eat at Ginger Jim's, where we can lean our elbows on the tables and get perfectly good oyster soup for ten cents a head!"

They walked for a while, Earl Usher insisting on the two girls taking his arm, one on either side. By and by they got into a crosstown car, and it was when Win was being helped out by the lion-tamer that a motor dashed past. The existence of people who went about in splendid grey motor-cars seemed to Win so far away from her own just then that, standing in the street, her hand in Earl Usher's, she gazed into the large, lighted window of the automobile as she might have gazed through a powerful telescope at a scene of family life on Mars.

There were two girls in evening dress and two young men in the illuminated chariot. It flashed by like a Leonid, but left a gay impression of flower-tinted velvet cloaks and ermine and waved hair with a glitter of diamonds, and oval white shirt-fronts and black coats. Also a pair of eyes seemed to look for the twentieth part of a second into Winifred's.

"I don't believe it was he!" she said to herself when the motor had gone by.

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