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Meredith Nicholson.

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It was a clear, crisp morning and Grace decided
to walk the short distance to the business district.
Her buoyant step expressed her lightness of spirit;
never had she felt so well, never had she been so sure
of herself. She was convinced that it was only her
pride that had suffered in the sudden termination of
her college life and that the blow was not to any
lofty ideal that she had erected for herself. The
thought of freedom fascinated her. Her mother's con-
stant lament that the world was not what it used to be
and that the change was not all for the better only
piqued her curiosity. While the university had thrown
its protecting arm about her she had not thought of
perils or dangers; they were only the subject of tedious
warnings by pessimists who had despaired of youth in
all ages. But now that she had been thrust into the



16 BROKEN BARRIERS

world she refused to be appalled by hints of unseen
dangers; the fact that they were only hints, intima-
tions, vague insinuations, only increased her incredul-
ity while creating a wonder in her mind as to their
exact nature. She was afraid of .nothing; dared every-
thing.

A car screeched discordantly as it negotiated a turn
on its way into the interurban station. She noted the
faces of the passengers at the windows country folk
and small town people and felt her comradeship with
them. She had once heard the president of the uni-
versity say that the state was like a big neighborhood
of cheerful, industrious, aspiring people, and the
thought pleased her.

To Grace the capital city of her native state was
merely an aggregation of three hundred and some odd
thousand people. The rust-colored dome of the State
House and the majestic shaft of the Soldier's and
Sailor's Monument connoted history and implied
changes that were to influence and affect her as a child
of the commonwealth; but she was only vaguely con-
scious of them. It was her fate to become an active
member of the community at a time when elderly citi-
zens, who professed to believe that nothing had
changed since the last wild turkey was shot within the
town's original mile square, found themselves walking
from the postoffice to the old Bates House site with-
out meeting a single acquaintance. The languor that
for years gave Indianapolis a half-southern air was
gone. Here indeed was abundant material for the
student of change.

Still a sprawling country town at the end of the
Civil War, Indianapolis was booming gaily when the
panic of '73 punished it for its temerity. The few con-
servative capitalists who patiently sawed wood while



BROKEN BARRIERS 17

the bubbles were bursting had money to invest when
the Eastern insurance companies began foreclosing
their mortgages on the best corners. Such banks as
survived established new low records of refrigeration.
Newcomers, stupidly desirous of initiating new enter-
prises, were chilled by their reception. Melancholy
recollections of the panic of '73 were long a sufficient
excuse for restricted credits. Not going to take any
chances! As a matter of fact they never had taken
any, those cautious souls, and in the trail of the whirl-
wind they had gathered enough spoil to enrich them-
selves a thousand fold. Stinginess nobly standardized
by a few merely, one might think, that the generous of
hand and spirit might shine the more effulgently. The
town got by the pinching times of '84 and '93 and con-
tinued to grow right along until the automobile craze
arrived with a resulting multiplication of smokestacks.
With the old guard, and such portions of a new gen-
eration as had been intimidated by its caution, sitting
in pigeon-toed fear predicting calamity, the growth
persisted.

Prosperity began to wear strange faces; the old-
timers didn't know the new people or pretended they
didn't. Many of these new folk who rolled over the
asphalt in large expensive limousines didn't go to
church at all. A singular thing. Once it hadn't been
respectable to abstain from church. Spectacle of per-
fectly good citizens riding gaily to the country clubs
on Sunday morning without fear of eternal damnation.
Churches moving uptown, or those that clung to their
old sites trying valiantly to adjust themselves to chang-
ing spiritual needs.

Sentiment oodles and scads of sentiment about the
town and its people! Visitors expected to confess that
here throbs a different atmosphere an ampler ether, a



18 BROKEN BARRIERS

diviner air. Politics, no end. Statesmen and states-
women everywhere visible. Families torn asunder by
the battles of the primaries. A political bomb hidden
under the socks in every darning basket. The fine
arts not neglected. An honest , interest, dating back
to the founders, in bookish things; every mail box a
receptacle for manuscript. Riley in Lockerbie street
thrumming his lyre with the nation for audience.

No reason why anyone should go friendless or stray
from the straight and narrow path in a town so solidly
based on the ten commandments, except that the per-
centage of the wayward seems bound to grow with a
mounting population, particularly when the biggest
war in all creation comes along and jars most disturb-
ingly all the props of civilization. Changes! Changes
of course, not local as to cause and effect, but part of
the general onward sweep of the Time-Spirit impelled
by gasoline to jazzy music.

In so far as she paid any attention to the talk
about changes that she had heard at home and at the
university, Grace believed it was all for good; that it
was well to be done with hypocrisy, cant, prudishness;
that a frank recognition of evil rather than an attempt
to cloak it marked a distinct advance. When she
was about nine her mother had rebuked her severely
for using the word leg; a leg was a limb and not vul-
garly to be referred to as a leg. The use of leg when
leg was meant was still considered vulgar by fairly
broadminded folk in the corn belt, probably as late
as 1906 if one may attempt to fix a date for so
momentous a matter.

Grace Durland was no more responsible for the
changes going on about her than her parents had been
for the changes of their day. They had witnessed the
passing of the hoop-skirt and red flannel underwear,



BROKEN BARRIERS 19

the abandonment of the asafetida bag as a charm
against infection, and other follies innumerable. Boys
and girls had once stolen down the back stairs or
brazenly lied to gain an evening of freedom; now the
only difference was that they demanded and received
a key to the front door. Civilization will hardly go
to smash over the question of a girl's refusal to wear a
corset or her insistence on her right to roll her stock-
ings. The generation of Grace Durland isn't re-
sponsible for changes that began the day after creation
and started all over again after the flood and will con-
tinue right on to the end of all things.



Ill



The last of a number of errands she had undertaken
for her mother brought Grace to Shipley's a little
before twelve. She observed the young women who
waited on her with a particular attention inspired by
the feeling that she too might soon be standing behind
a counter. Some of the clerks at Shipley's were
women well advanced in middle life, whom she re-
membered from her earliest visits to the establishment.
These veterans contributed to Shipley's reputation for
solidity and permanence. They enjoyed the friendly
acquaintance of many customers, who relied upon their
counsel in their purchases. There were many more
employees of this type in Shipley's than in any other
establishment in town; they were an asset, a testi-
mony to the consideration shown the employees, the
high character of the owners. Grace's imagination
played upon her own future: what if she should find
herself in ten or twenty years behind a counter, am-
bition and hope dead in her and nothing ahead but



20 BROKEN BARRIERS

the daily exhibition of commodities and the making
out of sale slips!

But this cloud was only the tiniest speck on her
horizon. She had already set a limit upon the time
she would spend in such a place if her services were
accepted; it was the experience she wanted, and when
she had exhausted the possibilities of Shipley's or some
similar place she meant to carry her pitcher of curi-
osity to other fountains.

While waiting for Irene outside the lunch room she
found amusement in watching the shoppers, studying
them, determining their financial and social status.
Some one had told her that she was endowed with
special gifts for appraising character, and she had the
conceit of her inexperience as a student of the human
kind. Her speculations as to the passers-by were in-
terrupted by the arrival of Irene.

"It's perfectly wonderful to see you again! I was
that delighted to hear your voice over the wire last
night. You're looking marvelous! I always adored
your gypsy effect! Come along there's a particular
table in a far corner they keep for me and we can
buzz for just one hour."

She had put on her coat and hat, to disguise the
fact, she explained, that she was one of Shipley's hired
hands. She was a tall blonde, with a wealth of
honey-colored hair, china blue eyes and a clear bril-
liant complexion. Grace's admiration, dating from
high school days, quickened as she noted the girl's
ease and the somewhat scornful air with which she
inspected the lunch card. Irene's father was a loco-
motive engineer and the family lived in a comfortable
house on a pleasant street in the East End, not far
from the railway shops. Irene had brothers and sis-
ters, but they did not share her good looks or her social



BROKEN BARRIERS 21

qualities. Irene met the rest of the world with a lofty
condescension which fell short of being insufferable
only by reason of her good humor. Selfishness with
Irene was almost a virtue, it manifested itself so can-
didly. She had no intention of being bored, or of
putting herself out. Ugliness and clumsiness were
repugnant to her. Disagreeable things did not trouble
her because she had schooled herself not to see them.
She was clever, adroit, resourceful, and wise with the
astonishing worldly-wisdom that is the heritage of the
children of the Twentieth Century. In school she had
been a fair scholar but the grand manner and a ready
wit had assisted her even there. When puzzled by
Irene's ability to dress better than most of her girl
companions in the high school, Grace had been im-
pressed by the revelation that Irene made her own
clothes and could retouch last year's hat with a genius
that brought it into conformity with the latest and
most exclusive designs.

"You still have the same queenly look, Irene,"
Grace remarked.

"Queenly nothing! You're nearly as tall as I am
and I haven't a thing on you when it comes to hauteur.
I suppose the Lord made me tall and gave me square
shoulders just to hang clothes on for women with
money to look at. I wish I had your black hair. Be-
ing a blonde is an awful handicap if you're doomed to
work for a living. And a complexion like mine, which
is called good by experts, is a nuisance. I've refused
an offer about once a month to go on the road selling
and demonstrating cosmetics. Can you see me?"

"I supposed you'd be married before this, Irene.
You must have had loads of chances."

"Chances but not opportunities," replied Irene with
a shrug. Don't tell me you've quit college to get



22

married; it's not a professor, I hope! I'd hate to see
you sacrificing yourself in the noble cause of educa-
tion."

"Nothing like that. I quit because we're broke
father couldn't afford to keep me in college any longer.
Some one had to drop out and as Roy has only a
year more in the law school it seemed better for him
to keep on."

"Roy?" Irene repeated the name languidly as
though Roy were a negligible figure in the affairs of
the Durlands.

"My brother," said Grace.

"Oh, yes!" Irene's eyes lighted as with some mem-
ory. "Oh, yes brothers do rather have the best of it,
don't they? But it's too bad you couldn't finish.
You're just the type of girl that ought to be rounded
out at college."

"Oh, it's all right; I'm rather glad to be free."

"Well, I'd dreamed of seeing you land high as a
writer or something like that. I'll hand you this right
now: women can't know too much these days. It's
a big advantage to a woman to know how to talk to
men; I don't mean the pool room boys but the real
men the men who draw the large mazuma. They
have the brains themselves and they respect the same
ingredient in girls, a lot of silly ideas to the contrary
notwithstanding. Just by knowing Thackeray I'm
the assistant manager of the ready-to-wear depart-
ment of this spacious emporium the youngest assist-
ant in the house. Funny, but it's true!"

Asked for an elucidation of the statement, Irene ex-
plained that the general superintendent of Shipley's,
who had power of life and death over everything per-
taining to the establishment, was Thackeray-mad.
Learning this she had carelessly referred to "Becky



BROKEN BARRIERS 23

Sharp" in a chance conversation with him in the ele-
vator on a day when he deigned to notice her. In a
week she had been called to his office and promoted.

"Oh, don't imagine he was leading up to anything;
he's a gentleman with a wife and three children and
teaches a Sunday-school class. But he yearns to talk
to some one any one who has a scrap of interest in
Thackeray. His wife invited me to their house for
Sunday dinner awhile back and I was never so bored
in my life. But I did manage to show an intelligent
interest in his library, so I guess I'll hold my job."

Irene had finished at the high school two years
before Grace, but the difference in their ages was not
to be calculated in years. Irene had always seemed
to Grace to be endowed with the wisdom of all the
centuries.

"About those correspondence courses, Grace," Irene
was saying, "I've had most of the stuff on the sched-
ule of that English course I wrote you about. I
wouldn't read Carlyle's 'Heroes and Hero-worship'
again for a farm in Texas."

"Or Bacon's 'Novum Organum'," groaned Grace.

"Well I'm concentrating on French. You know
I had French in high school, and I'm keeping it up
in the hope the house will send me to Paris next year.
You know Shipley's is one of the most progressive
houses in the whole west; they certainly do treat you
white."

"Mother's not wildly enthusiastic about my going
into a store. You know mother; she thinks "

"I know," Irene caught her up, "she thinks it's not
as respectable as working in an office or teaching
a kindergarten. I met Ethel on the street the other
day and she told me she'd taken a place with an in-
surance firm. That's all right for Ethel but no good



24 BROKEN BARRIERS

for you. I looked over the office game before I
decided to come here and there's nothing to it, my
dear. You can make a good thing of this if you have
selling talent. My salary is nothing to speak of but
I get a bonus I drew seventy-five dollars last week
and I expect to hit the hundred mark before Christmas.
They steer the customers who look like real money
to me. When you've learned the trick you can make
them think it's a disgrace not to buy the highest
priced thing we carry. The women from the country
towns whose husbands have grabbed the water power
on 'Possum creek or foreclosed on ninety per cent
of the farmers in the township, bring said husbands
along and they are the easiest. I throw the wrap or
whatever it is on my own stately person, then clap
it on the wife and hubby doesn't dare let his wife
suspect he doesn't think her as much of a Venus de
Milo as I am! A modest little violet!"

"Oh, Irene!" cried Grace, enchanted with her
friend's wisdom.

She marveled at Irene's poise, and envied her the
light ironic flick she gave to the business of bargain
and sale. Irene complained in the most ladylike man-
ner of the chicken salad, which Grace had thought
very good. The head-waitress listened respectfully
and offered to substitute something else, but Irene de-
clined, with the indifference of one to whom petty an-
noyances are merely incidental and to be mentioned
merely for the good of the service.

As they ate their chocolate eclairs Grace became
impatient to broach the matter of her own ambition
to become a factor in Shipley's, but it seemed a pity
to break in upon Irene, who went on tranquilly dis-
cussing their old companions of high school days. Pres-
ently, after paying the checks, she brought her wrist



BROKEN BARRIERS 25

watch within range of her eyes with a graceful gesture,
and disposed of the matter with characteristic ease.

"I've spoken to Miss Lupton she manages our em-
ployment bureau about you. She's a very good
friend of mine; and I mentioned you to Miss Board-
man, the head of my department. I didn't wait to ask
where you'd rather be; but of course I'd like to have
you with me. I can't just see you in the toilet goods
or infants' wear. They're pretty full in all depart-
ments, but I think I've got you fixed."

"Oh, Irene "

"All you do is to fill out an application blank
they always require that and give two references.
You've had no experience, but your figure and general
intelligence will more than balance that. They do
their best to keep the standard high and it won't be
lost on them that you're of good family and have taken
a whirl at college."

"I'm certainly obliged to you, Irene. I didn't know
it would be as easy as this but" she laughed, "they
haven't seen me yet!"

"Don't fish! Your appearance is nothing to com-
plain of; you know that as well as I do. It will be
fine to have you where we can talk and play together
as we did in school. Between us we ought to be able
to give tone to our end of the shop!"

IV

Miss Lupton received Grace amiably, asked her a
few questions, and pushed a blank toward her.

"We always require this; it's just a matter of rou-
tine," she explained, and as Grace filled in the blank
she looked at Irene and nodded her approval of the
candidate.



26 BROKEN BARRIERS

Miss Boardman, a woman of forty, short, plump and
brisk in manner and speech, surveyed Grace with full
appreciation, remarking that Miss Kirby had covered
all the details.

"We'll be ready for you Monday morning," she said.
Then she directed Irene's attention to a lady who had,
she explained, inspected all the garments in the shop
and still lingered, a prey to uncertainty. "Miss Flagg
doesn't seem to be getting anywhere with that woman.
It's a Mrs. Bascomb from up in the state somewhere
Muncie or Anderson, or maybe Delphi. She's a
new customer and the fussiest person I ever saw.
Maybe you can help Miss Flagg, Miss Kirby, but be
careful not to rattle her. Very glad to know you, Miss
Durland. You will begin at twelve fifty; Miss Kirby
will explain about the bonuses and other little things."

"Watch me work," said Irene, her eyes upon Miss
Flagg's customer. "You can sit right here."

Without taking off her coat and hat Irene walked
toward the customer and clerk who were evidently in
a hopeless deadlock. Grace saw the slight gesture with
which Irene signalled to Miss Flagg. The import of
the signal was evidently that Miss Flagg was to con-
tinue her attentions to the lady from Muncie, An-
derson or Delphi while Irene idly examined the gar-
ments heaped on a table, with which Miss Flagg had
been tempting her difficult shopper. Irene picked
out a coat, held it at arm's length, and slipped it on.
Walking to a glass she passed back and forth the
better to observe the effect of the garment upon her
own person.

Miss Flagg's customer became interested, watching
Irene enviously, and the moment the girl divested her-
self of the garment she took it up. The lady from



BROKEN BARRIERS 27

Muncie, Anderson or Delphi exchanged a few words
with Irene; and again Irene put on the coat. Irene
was soon discussing with her the merits of other rai-
ment which Miss Flagg produced from the show cabi-
nets. Grace watched intently, hearing nothing of the
talk of the trio, but interpreting the pantomime. Irene
had evidently assumed the role of adviser in the deli-
cate matter of the lady's choice. Presently she took
off her hat, disclosing the fact that she was a member
of the selling staff of the establishment. Two gowns
having been added to the wrap and the lady from
the more northern provinces having been escorted to
the fitting room, Irene returned to Grace.

"Six hundred dollars worth," she said, flicking a
raveling from her sleeve. "I'll stay on the job till she's
given her shipping order. Miss Flagg is one of our
best saleswomen; but she just didn't hit it off with
that woman. They were both tired and irritating each
other. If I'd butted in and taken her away from Miss
Flagg that would have spoiled everything. I saved the
day by pretending I wasn't interested in her at all;
but now she knows I belong here and she wants me to
come back to the fitting room and make sure her
things are all right. All she needed was a little coax-
ing and the right kind of flattery. You'd better not
wait unless you want to watch the show a while.
There's a convention of women's clubs in town and
we're likely to be rushed this afternoon."

"I'll run along," said Grace. "And thank you ever
so much."

On her way to the elevator she passed a clerk who
was patiently answering the questions of a captious
customer as to the merits of a garment.

"I don't know about this," said the woman pecking



28 BROKEN BARRIERS

at the silk lining in the sleeve; "it looks cheap."

"What's the difference, lady," exclaimed the girl,
"nobody's going to notice the lining."

Grace smiled. The girl's phrase fastened itself in
her memory. "What's the difference, lady?" It was
susceptible of many interpretations and applications
not related to suits that sold for $19.50.

She left the store elated, feeling herself already an
essential unit of Shipley's. The great lower room
seemed larger than when she had entered. She went
into the book department and idled over the counters,
opening volumes that roused her interest. She had no
intention of relinquishing her interest in bookish things.
She would test life, probe into the heart of things, but
she would hold fast to all that she had gained in her
two years at the university. She had been impressed
by what the worldly-wise Irene had said of the value
of a little learning in getting on. She meant to pro-
pose to her friend that they attack French together;
and there were many lines of reading she intended
to pursue with a view to covering the more important
cultural courses which she had been obliged to aban-
don. Grace rejoiced in her sense of freedom; she was
tremendously sure of herself.

When she reached home her mother was leaving for
the first fall meeting of the West End Literary Club
which had held together for years in spite of the de-
terioration of the neighborhood. Mrs. Durland made
much of her loyalty to the organization, of which she
had been the founder. While her old friends had
dropped out when they moved away she thought it
her duty to fill up the membership with new arrivals
in the neighborhood. Women needed the inspiration
of just such a society. She had enrolled a number
of young married women, some of them hardly more



BROKEN BARRIERS 29

than transients domiciled in boarding houses, with a
view to keeping them in touch with the best thought
of the world. Ethel, sharing her mother's interest in
all movements and devices for uplift, had acted as her
scout in discovering these recruits.

"Well, Grace, I hope " Mrs. Durland began, gath-
ering up a number of magazines she was carrying to
the meeting.

"I've done gone and done it, mother! I go to work
at Shipley's Monday morning."

"I was afraid you would," said Mrs. Durland with a
sigh. "You're so headstrong, Grace. With a little
patience we'd have found something more suitable
more in keeping "

"Well, I may not like it. If I don't I'll change to
something else, so please don't worry about it."

Mrs. Durland had mislaid a glove; the loss of it
overshadowed immediately her daughter's grievous
error in accepting employment in a department store.
Grace found the glove and held the magazines while
her mother drew it on.

"The old security, the reticences and decencies of
life have passed," said Mrs. Durland. Grace suspected
that her mother was quoting from a magazine article
or a club paper. She declined an urgent invitation
to go to the meeting; she wanted to look over her
clothes, she said.

"I hope you'll not give up your interest in literature



Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 2 of 27)