Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
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

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IT was a difficult situation for Miss Rolls. Dimly it had dawned upon her more than once that Rags regarded certain speeches and ways of hers as snobbish—speeches and ways which to her had seemed aristocratic. Neither Rags nor Eileen nor Lady Raygan had ever so much as mentioned the word "snob" in connection with any member of the Rolls family or their friends. But they had lightly let it drop in connection with others, and Ena's extreme sensitiveness on the subject, her extreme desire to be everything that Raygan liked, made her quick to put two and two together.

She began to see that many of her favourite tricks at home and abroad—with servants, with her parents, with acquaintances and the public in general—were not proofs, in Raygan's eyes, that she was to the manner born, rather the contrary, and that hurt. She was straining to understand and observe the finest nuances. Never had it been more difficult than to-day, during this visit she detested to the great department-store of Peter Rolls. If she had declined to come, that would have been snobbish. If, having come, she refused the "glad hand" to one of her father's shop-girls whom Raygan chose to greet as an equal—that, too, would be snobbish. And to be snobbish was, in Raygan's language, to be "vulgar."

If she were not snobbish—if she treated Miss Child | | 155 with warm cordiality, asked her a dozen questions, and listened kindly to the answers, Petro would come with Eileen and find his long-lost friend. Would Lord Raygan go so far in his dislike of snobbishness as to welcome an assistant culled from his bride's father's shop as a sister-in-law? Ena thought not. Besides, she was not sure yet that she would ever be his bride, and any risk she took might turn the scale against her, so uncertain seemed the balance. Just at present the danger was that she might fall in the slippery space between two high stools.

"Why, yes, of course, Lord Raygan," she said, able in the midst of alarums to enjoy the repetition of his title, which made people stare. "We'll stay in the elevator and talk to Miss Child and go up again when she has gone. Are you really working here in the store, Miss Child, as—as—a——"

"Yes, I'm in the blouse department," Win replied, quite as anxious to escape as Miss Rolls was anxious to blot her out. "I've been up to see the superintendent on business, and now I'm hurrying back to work."

"You never wrote me," said Ena, thinking it was better to chatter than let Lord Raygan talk, perhaps indiscreetly. And there were still more floors at which the elevator must stop before reaching the ground level. "I—I do trust you would have written if you'd wanted anything done that I could do." Her tone tried not to be too patronizing, lest patronage should be considered to verge on snobbishness.

"Thank you. I never did want anything that you could do. Though it was kind of you to offer," Win returned, and was aware that every one was listening.

Oh, why had she believed Mr. Löwenfeld when he vowed that the one secure sanctuary against the Rolls family was in Peter Rolls's store? If only she had not | | 156 come here, by this time surely she would have found something else and all would have been well.

"Anyhow, it's very nice to see you again, Lady in the Moon," said Raygan. "Do you like this place better than Nadine's?"

"There's more variety," replied Win.

"Not homesick yet for our side of the water—what?"

"I haven't time to think about it," she fibbed. "Now I must say good-bye. We're coming to the ground floor."

"Let's go along with her, Miss Rolls, and take her home," suggested Rags. "I want to know whether the blouse department beats that Monarchic room with all the mirrors—what?"

Ena's face showed distress. Her eyes actually appealed to the cause of it to save her, and Win was only too ready to respond.

"Please don't come," she protested earnestly. "It wouldn't do. It's against the rules to talk to—to any one you know, except on business. I'm new here still, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to get me into trouble. I'd much rather go alone, though it's very nice of you to offer. Good-bye!"

The lift had at last reached the ground floor, and all Win had to do was to let herself be borne out on a warm tide of females. Ena pressed her body against the wall, and Lord Raygan must, perforce, stand by her.

"Good-bye!" she cried. "We have to go up again, you know."

"We'll sail by, anyhow, and see where you hang out later," Raygan called after the disappearing form in black. "And we'll bring Rolls and my sister."

By this time the elevator had emptied itself, save for those bound for the basement and Ena and Rags. | | 157 It was impossible for Win to forbid the party to "sail by," or to make any answer at all, over the decorated heads of many women. But she felt as if she would rather die than have Peter Rolls see her working in his father's store. He might easily think that she had taken a place there because of knowing him, and that, regretting the snub delivered at parting, she had hoped he might some day find her in the Hands.

"I just can't bear it," she said to herself. "I'll have to pretend to be ill and get permission from Mr. Thorpe to leave the floor again—to go to the hospital room—anything to get away."

But—wouldn't that be like the ostrich hiding its head in the sand? Evidently Lord Raygan and Lady Eileen were being shown things. If they hadn't been there already, they would be sure to take a peep into the hospital as well as the rest-room. Not the restaurant perhaps! If Mr. Rolls junior and his sister had any idea what that was like they would avoid it with their distinguished guests. Still, even there one would not be safe. The only sure escape would be to go home, and she would have to look very ill indeed before she could obtain leave of absence for the rest of the day.

Wondering what on earth was to be done, Win suddenly recalled the look in Ena Rolls's eyes, which had said as plainly as spoken words: "For Heaven's sake get me out of this scrape and do or say something to put Lord Raygan off dragging me with him to your horrid old blouse department."

"She won't let them come!" Win told herself. "Somehow she'll prevent it. I'll stick to my guns."

So she went back to her place as if nothing had happened and returned to Mr. Thorpe the permit he, as aisle manager, had given her to leave her duties and | | 158 go off the floor on which they were carried out. It was a small paper slip signed by him, and Thorpe would have been responsible had she outstayed the time asked for. But she was safely within it, and she had herself well enough in hand, after her adventure, to answer his kind, sad smile with gratitude.

"What will Miss Rolls do to stop Lord Raygan from wanting to come—and from saying anything about me to the others?" she wondered. She could not guess. Yet she grew more and more confident of Ena's finesse as the long afternoon wore on.

What Miss Rolls did was very simple, if you had the clue. But the clue was what Win lacked.

"I thought we were due to meet Eily and Rolls about this time and look at those wonderful pearls your father says he gets straight from the fisheries," Rags reminded Ena when the elevator dropped to the basement and began to bound up again.

"So we are," she admitted, "but there's something I must tell you before we see Petro. That's why I made the excuse about getting out—only, of course, you didn't understand. You couldn't! Any floor will do, really—but we'll think of the one likely to be the least crowded. I can't explain if creatures are pushing us about. Oh, 'Upholstery and Furniture!' They'll do."

The two wormed their way out of the lift, which was becoming more congested at each stopping place, the legitimate hour for luncheon now being over. The floor chosen by Ena had a series of "Ideal Rooms," furnished according to periods, and she led Raygan into a Dutch dining-room with a high-backed settle which, if they sat down upon it, would screen them from passers-by outside the open, welcoming door. Besides, the old oak made a becoming background for a dark blue velvet dress and silvery ermine stole.

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"It's about that girl I want to speak," she said, when she had enticed Lord Raygan into this secluded retreat.

"Who, the Lady in the Moon?" He was staring at delft plates on panelled walls.

"Yes. I wished for a minute she'd been the Lady in Jericho. Perhaps you noticed that I didn't seem overwhelmed with joy at sight of her?"

"Well, it did occur to me that you might have been more enthusiastic if she'd been a Miss Vanderbilt."

"It wasn't that at all," Ena assured him eagerly, almost piteously. "I didn't mind having to speak to her because she's a shop-girl, but because I was afraid if we stopped and talked my brother might come along. I wouldn't have had that happen for anything."

"Why on earth not?"

"I can't tell you, Lord Raygan. Please don't ask me. You'll embarrass me very much if you do. But will you just trust me that it would be a very bad thing if they were to meet, and will you please not insist on our going to look her up at the waist counter or wherever she is?"

"Certainly I won't insist," said Rags. "I don't care, you know, whether we look her up or not. Only she was Rolls's chum on the Monarchic, and I thought if he——"

"Dear Lord Raygan, please don't think about it any more. And if you want to be very kind and make me real happy and comfortable, don't tell Petro we met the girl—or even mention her. You will promise not, won't you?"

"Of course, if you ask me, that's enough," said Rags, looking rather sulky. He was curious to know what she actually meant, but, of course, could not ask, and somehow the whole affair—Ena's deep solemnity and secrecy, her hints which mustn't be questioned, began to seem silly and even rather repulsive. He had never liked her less.

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Vaguely conscious that she was not "making a hit," and more than ever angry with the hateful necessity for this excursion which was to blame for everything, Ena rambled on, "hoping he wouldn't misunderstand," and floundering into half-explanations which made the situation less comfortable every minute. At last, when the subject was torn to tatters and Raygan had begun to betray impatience, she got up to go.

"Petro and Lady Eileen will be waiting for us in the jewellery department now, I expect," Ena said drearily. "Let's hurry and meet them, and then we can get away. I'm bored to death with the stuffy old place, and you must be, too. I can't bear anything commercial. If there's a lovely concert or a tango tea somewhere to finish up the afternoon, it will be nice. Or almost anything!"

There was a tango tea, and it was nice. Rags, however, was far from nice. He did not seem at all himself.

"I'm afraid the poor old store wasn't as much fun as you thought it would be," said Petro, half apologetically, when he began to realize that Rags had a "grouch." Petro had liked the plan to visit the Hands, and had liked the visit, too. The place had seemed a beehive of industry, and the bees—selling bees and buying bees—had all looked happy and prosperous enough. On the surface, dad's methods appeared to be the right methods. But Peter wondered if it would be a betrayal of his promise if he wandered through the store alone sometimes, when it was less crowded and tilings more normal. He had surrendered his conviction that he "ought to help," and as Peter senior had stipulated for no interference if Peter junior truly trusted him, one must be careful about interpretations.

Petro's ideas for a "Start in Life Fund" were occupying a great deal of his attention and were crystallizing into concrete form. He hoped that he might soon cease | | 161 to be a drone and end by being of some real use in the world. But as Peter junior passed out of the shop his promise to keep "hands off the Hands" seemed one of the things to regret, whether selfishly or otherwise. He would have liked to know more of the place, so passionately interesting to him, apart from its business side; and he was unable to understand how Raygan, the one whose curiosity had drawn all four to the Hands that day, could have managed to be bored.

"Blouses" pulsed with excitement. Miss Ena Rolls and her brother were said to be "showing their father's store to an English lord." How the thrilling tale began to go the rounds nobody in "Blouses" could tell. But whenever any famous personage—a millionaire's daughter, or an actress, a society beauty, or the heroine of a fashionable scandal—enters a big department-store the news of her advent runs from counter to counter like wild-fire. In some shops the appearance of an Astor, a Vanderbilt, or a Princess Patricia would send up the mercury of excitement forty degrees higher than that of a Miss or Mr. Rolls. But at the Hands Peter the Great's son and daughter would have drawn all eyes from the reigning Czar and Czarina of Russia.

It was rumoured that they had lunched early in the Pompeian Restaurant. The waitress who had served them had not known until too late. She would regret this all her life. Mr. Michaels, of "Jewellery," who had been honoured by showing them pearls, was envied by all his fellows, and the same with Miss Dick, of "Candy," and Miss Wallace, in "Perfume." Girls in all departments grew quite jumpy in expectation that the party might appear and under the intense nervous strain of trying to recognize them in time.

"Rubberneck!" one hissed to another, and giggled if she made her start.

Even Miss Stein, now somewhat resigned to fate | | 162 and looking more kindly at Fred Thorpe, became condescending and communicative in the general flurry.

"Keep your eyes peeled for a good-looking, short guyl in blue velvet, with an ermine muff and stole that's a beaut from Beautville," she said to Win. "Thorpe saw her. He's had her pointed out to him at the theatre, so he knows. Her brother's dark and thin, but blue-eyed. I see in the Sunday supplement he's goin' to marry the sister of that lord."

There was a dinner at Sea Gull Manor that night in honour of the Rollses' guests, and just as Eileen had finished dressing, her brother Raygan knocked at her door.

"Want me to say your tie's all right?" she chirped.

"No, my child, I do not," said Rags. "I wouldn't trust your taste round the corner with a tie. You're looking rather pleased with yourself—what?"

"I'm pleased with myself and everybody else," replied Eileen. "This is one of my happy nights."

"I wonder why? There's sure to be a dull crowd at dinner. I've found out now the Rollses know all the wrong lot."

"I found that out long ago. But I don't care. And I'm going to sit by Petro. So I shall be all right."

"You've jolly well been with him the whole blessed day. Aren't you sick of his society yet?"

"No. And I shouldn't be till Doomsday. He talks to me of such interesting things."

"Has he ever by chance said anything to you about the Lady in the Moon?"

"Good gracious! no, nor the man either. Nor the green cheese it's made of. Is that the sort of conversation Ena's been treating you to? If it is, no wonder you look bored stiff. You never could stand romance from any one but darling Pobbles."

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"Don't speak of Kathleen in this house. It makes me want to bolt for home. Not that she'd look at me if I did. But the contrast between her and Ena Rolls—good Lord, it doesn't bear thinking of! Nothing doing about the Lady in the Moon so far as I'm concerned. It's Rolls who got moonstruck—according to his sister. Now can you guess whom I mean?"

Eileen's pleasant, plain little face flushed up.

"Oh, the Nadine girl on the ship! The one who looked so nice in the moon dress. Petro bought it—for Ena. And she gave it to that fascinating girl. She—Ena, I mean—told me all about it."

"And about the girl, too?"

"What was there to tell?"

"Blessed if I know. But Ena was hinting dark things this afternoon. That's why I was wondering whether he'd opened out to you. You're such pals."

Eileen shook her head. She was not looking quite so bright as when Rags had first come into the over-heated, over-lighted, over-decorated room. But perhaps this was only because he had set her to thinking intently. "No, he's never spoken of the Lady in the Moon. Let me think—what was her name?"

"Miss Child."

"You seem to remember very well—you, who mix up all the wrong names with the right faces."

"But I saw her to-day. I forgot—I haven't told you of that yet, have I?"

"No. Where was it?"

"Wait a minute. Strictly speaking, I oughtn't to tell you, I suppose. All the same I will—for a reason—if you'll promise first not to mention it to Rolls. Never mind why not, but promise, if you want to know."

Of course I want to know. You make me fearfully curious. I'll promise not to breathe a word to Petro."

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"Where the girl is, or anything about her?"

"Where the girl is, or anything about her. Honour bright. Is that enough? Well, then—go on!"

"She's in the shop—employed there, it seems. We met her in the lift, Ena and I. It was a surprise all round. Ena wasn't overjoyed. No more was the Lady in the Moon. They got rid of each other quickly and skilfully. Afterward Ena button-holed me and sat me down on a hard settee in a beastly furnished room like a rathskeller, with price-tags on everything, and made me solemnly swear not to split to Rolls."

"About your meeting Miss Child?"

"Ra-ther! And all the rest of it."

"What rest?"

"A lot of rubbish. I don't know what she was driving at, I'm hanged if I do. But if I didn't like Rolls, I'd suspect."

"But you do like him. And so do I."

"I've noticed that. So would Mubs, if she ever noticed anything that didn't wave suffragette colours."

"And I shall go on liking him—'right straight on,' as he'd say himself. Nothing that Ena or anybody else could tell me would make me believe a word against him. And the girl's nice too. I'm sure she is. But how too endlessly quaint she should be in the shop."

"She intimated politely, when we asked her questions, that it was a last resort."

"I should think so, indeed! She was—well, not a beauty exactly, but too weirdly fascinating."

"She hasn't changed. Only she looked scared at the sight of us. And she's thinner in the face. Her eyes seemed to have grown too big for it. Ena said Petro mustn't find out where she is. Rather rum—what?"

"Is this the thing that's made you so grumpy ever since?"

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"I don't know that I've been grumpy. Only a bit reflective. The fact is——"


"Never mind. It wouldn't sound very nice."

"Who cares how it sounds? You might tell me, now we've got so far."

"Well, then, sometimes I wonder whether—the game's worth the candle. Whatever the rotten old proverb means!"

Eileen had no difficulty in understanding the allusion.

"She's got heaps of good things about her," the girl reminded him, being as loyal as was humanly possible to her hostess.

"Heaps. They're simply piled up in the corners of her nature. But I seemed to have wandered into an empty place to-day. By Jove, Eily, I thought I'd made up my mind. I'm fond of the old place at home, and I'd like to see it done up properly. It isn't as if I'd ever care tuppence again about any girl on earth after—Kathleen. So what does anything of that sort matter? At least that's what I've been asking myself."

"I'm afraid Ena thinks you'll soon be asking her."

"Heavens! I suppose she does. Not that I've said a confounded word. I'm hanged if I know what to do! I tell you what. I'll wait and see how things go to-night. And then—maybe I'll toss up a penny."

"We ought to go down now, anyhow," said Eileen, still very thoughtful.

"Come along, then, and face the music."

"You go. I'll follow in a minute. I want to put this wonderful pink orchid in just the right place in my dress, and I shall be nervous if you watch me."

"What a ripper! Where did you get it?" Rags pretended that he cared to know the history of a wonderful, live-looking flower that lay on his sister's dressing-table.

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"Petro. He bought it for me in the florist department of his father's shop. He said it was the latest addition—the department, not the orchid."

"Don't you get thinking too much about Rolls," grumbled Lord Raygan. "There may be something in that affair, after all. One can never be sure. Anyhow, I thought I'd tell you."

On that he closed the door, shutting himself out.

"Petro—and the Lady in the Moon," Eileen whispered, just above her breath, as she found the right place for the orchid.

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