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now that you're going to work. You should save a lit-
tle time every day for self-culture. There are some
new books on that line I want you to read. I some-
times think the poorer we are the more we lean on the
things of the spirit."

"I've already decided to do some studying," said
Grace, who at the moment didn't feel the need of lean-


ing on anything. She was relieved that her mother,
preoccupied with the club meeting, had so lightly
passed over the matter of her engagement at Shipley's.
"If I'm not back at five-thirty, put on that pot-
roast," said Mrs. Durland from the door. "It's all
fixed in the ice box. And if that collector comes about
the coal bill tell him I'll call at the office the next
time I'm down town. That last load we had was full
of slate and I'm not going to pay the bill till they
make it right."


" I MUSTN'T seem to be too much interested in you,"
said Irene when Grace reported for duty at Shipley's
on Monday morning. "I can't play favorites and it
wouldn't do to make the other girls jealous. The first
few days everything will seem strange but all you have
to do is to stand around and keep your eyes open. Be
nice to everybody that's the card to play. One girl
in a department can make all the rest uncomfortable.
Miss Boardman's a little sharp sometimes but never
talk back! She knows her business and prides herself
on keeping away ahead of her quota of sales. The
management is strong for esprit de corps and there's a
social club that's supposed to promote that sort of
thing. There'll be a few dances during the winter and
a theatre party and a few little things like that. You
won't mind them. They're really good fun."

Grace was number eighteen. Her investiture with
a number was the only real shock she experienced in
taking her place in Shipley's. One of her new asso-
ciates who was instructing her in the routine, which be-
gan with inspection of the stock, tightening of buttons,
the repair of minor damages incurred in the handling
of garments, addressed her casually as "Eighteen" as
though that had been Grace's name bestowed in bap-
tism. For an instant Grace resented her numerical
designation; it was almost as though she had been
robbed of her identity. Miss Boardman had given her
a quick looking over to satisfy herself that the new em-
ployee met the store's requirements as to raiment. She



nodded her approval of the frock of dark taffeta which
Grace had worn to simple afternoon affairs at college
and told her to watch the other girls and lend a hand
where she could.

Miss Boardman was beyond question a person of
strong executive talent. Though burdened with much
desk work as the head of the department, nothing
escaped her watchful eye on the floor confided to her
care. By eleven o'clock the ready-to-wear pre-
sented a scene of greatest animation. The day was
fine and a throng of out-of-town customers, lured by
double page advertisements of fall apparel in the
newspapers, were attacking the department in daunt-
less battalions. Grace was constantly on the alert,
keeping the much-examined stock in order, conducting
customers to the trying-on room, and otherwise mak-
ing herself useful to the experienced clerks.

A spectacled old lady fortified with a handbag ap-
peared and surveyed the scene of confusion with dis-

"Eighteen, see what that lady wants," said Miss
Boardman as she hurried by.

"What is it, please, that I can show you?" asked
Grace, feeling her heart thump as she realized that she
had accosted her first customer. She smiled encourag-
ingly and the old lady returned the smile.

"I want two suits a gray and a blue, cut as nearly
like this thing I have on as possible. I've written
my exact measurements on this card, so don't jump
at me with a tape-line. And I want a plain long
coat for rough weather something serviceable and
unfashionable. You look like an intelligent girl, so
I don't expect you to show me anything in red or green.
And don't tell me what they're wearing in Paris, Lon-
don or New York , as though 7 cared! I pay cash,


so there'll be no time lost in looking up my credit

Grace placed a chair for her singular customer, took
hurried counsel of Irene and was soon in the throes of
her first sale. The little old lady asked few questions
but her inquiries were much to the point.

"Show me only good quality," she said, tossing aside
a skirt after asking its price. "You know perfectly
well it can't be wool for that money, and the color,
will run the first time it gets rained on."

"This," began Grace, "is genuine home-spun, hand-
wove "

"That's better. This will do for the blue. Find
a gray of similar style."

The gray was more difficult than the blue. She
hadn't wanted a mixed weave but a plain gray, which
was not in stock. Grace warmed to her work, prais-
ing the quality of a gray with a misty heather mix-
ture. Holding the coat at arm's length and becoming
eloquent as to the fine quality of the garment, Grace
turned to find the customer regarding her with a whim-
sical smile.

"My dear child, you do that very well. How long
have you been here?" she demanded.

Grace colored. "This is my first day," she con-
fessed. The old lady seemed greatly amused at her
discomfiture. Her alert eyes brightened behind her

"Am I your first customer? Well, you're going
to get on. You've made me change my mind and not
many people ever do that. That heather tone really
pleases me better than the plain smooth cloth I had in
mind and I'll take it."

The customer explained that she walked in all weath-
ers, and wanted warmth, not style, in the topcoat with


loose sleeves which she described succinctly. Grace
produced half a dozen such coats, one of which her
customer chose immediately. She slipped it on, said
the sleeves were too short, and Irene passing along
opportunely said that nothing could be easier than
to let out the sleeve the required two inches.

"Be sure she's perfectly satisfied before she leaves,"
whispered Irene. "She looks like real money."

The old lady who looked like real money was watch-
ing attentively an evening gown whch was being dis-
played before a smartly-dressed young woman on the
further side of the room. She drew out a memoran-
dum book and turned over the leaves.

"I'll wait a moment to see whether that woman over
there buys that gown. You might find out the meas-
urements, if it will do for a thirty-six I'll take it for a
niece of mine in Evansville. She's very fond of that
rose color."

The rose colored gown was rejected a moment later
by the lady who had been considering it and Grace
laid it before her customer.

"My niece is just about your height and build, and
has your coloring. I'd like to see that on you!"

Grace asked the nearest clerk whether there was any
objection to meeting this unlocked for request. Cer-
tainly not, though there was a model for such pur-
poses. The old lady who looked like real money didn't
care to see the model in the gown and frankly said so.
She expressed her gratification when Grace paraded
before her in the gray and ivory fitting room. The
price was three hundred dollars.

"Thank you, I'll take it."

Grace got out of the gown as quickly as possible,
and presented the garments already chosen for final
approval. The old lady who looked like real money


produced from her satchel a checkbook and a fountain

The total was six hundred and ninety dollars. Grace
regarded the bit of paper with awe; it was the largest
check she had ever seen. The customer wrote out
the shipping directions for her niece's gown, screwed
the cap on her pen, took the cash sale slip Grace
gave her and tucked it carefully away.

"You've been very nice to me. Thank you very
much." She smilingly extended her hand. "Let this
be a little secret between us!"

The secret was a ten dollar bill. The little old
lady who really didn't look like real money was already
in the elevator and Grace turned with relief to Irene,
who inspected the office end of the cash-sale slip, and
read aloud the signature on the check.

"Beulah Reynolds you certainly drew a prize! I
never saw her before but you've heard of her. She
belongs to the old Hoosier nobility. Her people landed
before the Indians left. She's lived all over the world
and has just come back here and bought a house on
Washington Boulevard. I read a piece about her in
the paper. If she tipped you ten dollars it's a good
sign. Don't you be squeamish about taking tips it's
all perfectly right and it won't happen often. Don't
let your good luck turn your head; there's a lady
coming now who looks as though she lived on lemons.
Pass the sugar and see what you can do with her."


Mrs. Durland was greatly distressed that a daughter
of hers should have met Miss Beulah Reynolds in what
she was pleased to term a servile capacity. Miss Rey-
nolds was a personage, she said a Colonial Dame,


a D. A. R. and everything else that implied noble
American ancestry. Mrs. Durland had met her at a
tea, which she described with minute detail. It was
in Harrison's administration, she thought, though it
might have been in the second consulship of Cleveland.
That a lady so distinguished and wealthy should have
given Grace ten dollars quite as though she were a
waitress was humiliating. Miss Reynolds would never
have thought of tipping the daughter of Alicia Morley

"I'm number Eighteen to all the world when I'm
at Shipley's," Grace replied good-naturedly. "If I'd
told her in a burst of confidence that I was your daugh-
ter she probably wouldn't have given me the ten which
I sorely need. She was nice as possible and I didn't
see anything wrong in taking her money."

"Well, of course she meant to be kind, dear; but it
hurts me just a little."

Thanks to Mrs. Reynolds' generous purchases,
Grace's envelope for the first week contained $35.21.
Though warned by Irene that this was beginner's
luck she was satisfied that she could master the selling
art and earn a good income.

"You've got the gift, my dear. You'll build up a
line of regular customers," Irene expatiated, "who'll al-
ways ask for you, and that's what counts. I notice
that a good many customers already pick you out
and refuse to be steered to the other girls at your end
of the room. All due to your beaux yeux, as we say
in Paris, and general air of being somebody in par-

Grace quickly made friends in the store, both in
and out of her own department. Two members of
her sorority, who like herself had been obliged to leave
college before finishing, sought her out; an alumna of


the state university, a woman of thirty, who was
employed in the office as auditor, took her to lunch;
a charming English woman, stranded in America and
plying her needle in the alteration room, brought her
books to read. Miss Vail at the glove counter knew
all there was to know about palmistry, table-tipping
and automatic writing and aroused Grace's curiosity
as to the mysteries of the ouija board.

To break the monotony of her evenings, Grace asked
Miss Vail and two other girls from the store to the
house for some experiments. She had not announced
in advance that the purpose of the meeting was to
probe into the unknown, and had counted on Ethel's
assistance in entertaining her friends; but when the
ouija board was produced Ethel expressed a chilling
disapproval of ouija and everything else pertaining to
the occult. Mrs. Durland, anxious to promote har-
mony, suggested that they read aloud an article in a
late magazine that explained ouija writing and simi-
lar phenomena. Of course Grace and her friends did
not want scientific explanations of ouija; they wanted
to see the thing work.

"Much unhappiness may be caused by such things,"
said Mrs. Durland; "and of course they mean noth-

"I've always felt," remarked Ethel, "that there's
something just a little vulgar about it."

"Oh, piffle!" exclaimed Grace impatiently. "We
all know it's a joke; we just wanted to have a little
fun out of it."

"Don't bother, Grace," said Miss Vail. "We'll just
forget about it."

Stephen Durland, who had changed his clothes in
honor of Grace's party, broke his silence to say:

"I don't see any harm in those things. They're


all explained on scientific grounds. I think it would
be interesting to watch it work."

"It probably wouldn't work in such an atmosphere,"
said Grace, thoroughly irritated.

"Suppose," said Mrs. Durland with sudden inspira-
tion, "you girls make fudge! I'll get the things ready.
I never saw a girl yet who didn't like fudge."

Something had to be done to amuse the guests
and Grace assented. Ethel, however, did not partici-
pate in the fudge making, but took herself off to bed.
Grace resolved never again to ask any one to the house.
She said as much to Ethel the next morning.

"You seem to forget that I pay my board here and
help with the housework, too. I ought to have a few
privileges. Those are as nice girls as I ever knew and
you and mother drove us into the kitchen as though
we were a lot of silly children. You're certainly the
queen of the kill-joys."

"I should think," said Ethel, regarding her sister
pityingly, "that with your education you'd be above
putting yourself on the level with the cheap people
who patronize fortune-tellers. People who really have
faith that there's a life to come don't need such things.
They have no place in a Christian home."

Grace stared at her helplessly. Ethel was an
enigma; it was incredible that any one could feel so
intensely about so small a matter, or find so complete
a joy in making others uncomfortable.


MRS. DURLAND, no doubt to show her sympathetic
interest in her daughters' labors, asked innumerable
questions every evening when the family gathered at
the supper table. As Ethel's experiences were much
less interesting than Grace's, the burden of these con-
versations fell largely upon Grace. Whenever Grace
mentioned some customer her mother or Ethel knew or
knew about, that person was subjected to the most
searching analysis. It was incredible that they could
be so interested in people of whom they knew only
from reading of their social activities in the news-

Ethel's preoccupations with her church and philan-
thropic affairs took her away several evenings in the
week, and at such times Grace played checkers or sniff
with her father while Mrs. Durland read or sewed.
The fact that Grace's earnings averaged higher than
Ethel's made it necessary for Mrs. Durland to soothe
any feeling the older daughter manifested as to this

Grace found no joy in Ethel. Ethel hinted con-
stantly that her work in Gregg and Burley's office
placed her in a class much above that of a salesgirl.
She had brought to perfection a kind of cloying sweet-
ness in her attitude toward the other members of the
family which Grace found hard to bear. Ethel was at
pains to remind her father from time to time that it
was due to his lack of foresight and initiative that she
had been obliged to become a wage earner. Her re-



marks expressed something of the solicitude a mother
might manifest toward a slightly deficient child. The
effect of this upon Grace was to deepen her affection
and sympathy for her father. Several times she per-
suaded him to go down town with her to a big motion
picture house where there was good music. He en-
joyed the pictures, laughing heartily at the comics;
and laughter had been the rarest of luxuries in Stephen
Durland's life. Mrs. Durland refused to accompany
them; all the pictures she had ever seen had been vul-
gar and she was on a committee of the State Federa-
tion to go before the legislature and demand a more
rigid censorship.

Grace's announcement that, on evenings when she
went to the French class she had entered with Irene,
she would stay down town for supper did not pass
unchallenged at the supper table, which she had be-
gun to dread for its cheerlessness and the opportunity
it afforded her mother and sister to express their dire
forebodings as to the future of the human race. One
evening after listening to a reiteration of their predic-
tions of calamity Grace broke the silence in which
she usually listened to these discussions.

"I don't know where you get these ideas, Ethel.
You must be unfortunate in your acquaintances if
you're talking from your own knowledge."

Mrs. Durland rallied at once to Ethel's support.

"Now, Grace, you know Ethel is older and views
everything much more soberly than you do. You
know she's in touch with all these agencies that are
trying to protect the young from the evils of a grow-
ing city."

"Just what evils?" Grace demanded.

"There are some things," said Ethel impressively,
"that it's better not to talk about."


"That's always the way!" Grace flared. "You're
always insinuating that the world's going to the devil
but you never say just how. I know perfectly well
what you're driving at. You think because I work
in a department store I can't be as good as you are I,
I'll tell you right now that the girls I know in Shipley's
are just as good as any girls in town perfectly splen-
did hard-working girls. And one other thing I can
tell you, they don't spend their time sneering at every-
body else. I'd rather be the worst sinner in creation
than so pure I couldn't see a little good in other

"Please, Grace!" Mrs. Durland pleaded. "You're
unreasonable. No one was saying anything about
you or any other girl in Shipley's."

"Oh, Ethel doesn't have to say it straight out! I'm
not so stupid! Every time she takes that sanctified
air she's preaching at me. I don't pretend to be an
angel but I'm tired of hearing how wicked everybody
is. I don't dare ask any of the girls I work with to
the house; you think they're all rotten."

"I don't think they're all bad, and I've never said
such a thing," Ethel declared, "But I have said that
Irene Kirby is not the type of girl I'd deliberately
choose to be my sister's most intimate friend, and
I say it again."

"Now, Ethel, you girls mustn't hurt each other's
feelings! If you must quarrel please don't do it be-
fore your father and me."

This consideration for her father's feelings was so
unusual that Grace laughed. Durland had been twist-
ing uneasily in his chair. His sympathies were wholly
with Grace. Ethel's indirect method of criticizing her
younger sister enraged him, and in this particular in-
stance he was secretly pleased that Grace was strik-


ing back. He glanced about the table, cleared his
throat and asked in his mild tone for a second cup
of coffee.

"I hardly know Irene Kirby," said Ethel, "but I
have heard some things about her I hate to hear about
any girl."

"Such as what? Tell me just what you've heard,"
said Grace, sharply.

"Well, if you insist" replied Ethel, with affected
reluctance, "she's keeping company with a married
man. It's been going on for some time. They were
seen together last Sunday night, quite late, driving
into town. Suppose you ask Irene where she was
last Sunday."

"What's the man's name?" Grace demanded.

"Oh, I needn't mention his name! You ask Irene
to tell you. A girl friend of mine who used to work
in his office saw them."

"I don't believe a word of it," said Grace. "You or
I or any other girl might be seen driving with a mar-
ried man without there being anything wicked about

"Well, you asked me and I told you," returned
Ethel complacently. "It's not a new story. I knew it
when I tried to persuade you not to go into Shipley's,
but I thought I wouldn't tell you why I thought it
best for you to keep away from Irene."

"Irene has been fine to me," said Grace quickly;
"she's one of the nicest and one of the most intel-
ligent girls I ever knew. I think it poor business
for a girl like you, who pretends to be a Christian, to
listen to scandalous stories about some one you hardly
know. I'll say for Irene that I never heard her speak
an unkind word of any one. Every day she does a
lot of little kindnesses for people and she doesn't
strut around about it either."


"I don't question that you believe all that, Grace,"
remarked Mrs. Durland as she served the rice pud-
ding that was the regular dessert for Thursday eve-
ning. "But you know Ethel is very careful what
she says about every one."

"Yes, I've noticed that," said Grace coldly.

Durland had eaten his pudding and was stolidly
slipping his napkin into its ring. The better course
might be to follow his example. Silence, Grace re-
flected, offered the surest refuge from family bicker-
ing. She saw the years stretching on endlessly, with
her work-day followed by evenings of discord in the
cheerless home circle. The prospect was not hearten-
ing. It was two against two, and her father was only
passively an ally. When Roy came home he would
be pretty sure to align himself with his mother and
Ethel, in keeping with his general policy of taking
the easier and more comfortable way in everything.
It flashed through her mind that she might leave
home and take a room somewhere or join with two
or three girls and rent an apartment. But her parents
needed her help. She knew that her father was wholly
unlikely to assist materially with the household ex-
penses. Ethel had not demurred when she volunteered
to contribute in ratio to her earnings, which made
her share at least a third more each week than Ethel's.


Ethel's intimations that Irene Kirby was not as
good as she ought to be so exasperated Grace that in
a spirit of contrariness she hoped they were true. At
least she didn't care whether they were true or not.
She knew little of Irene's family but the bitterness
engendered by her own home life made it seem a
natural and pardonable thing for a girl who worked


hard and was obliged to live in an atmosphere of
perpetual criticism to take her pleasure where she
pleased. Her curiosity as to Irene's social contacts
was greatly aroused. Irene, outwardly at least the
most circumspect of young women, certainly had mas-
tered the art of keeping her private affairs to her-
self. Now and then she spoke of having gone to the
theatre or to a dance with some young man whose
name she always mentioned; but when Grace tried to
tease her about her suitors Irene dismissed them dis-
dainfully. They were impossible, she said, in her
large manner bank clerks, traveling salesmen or
young fellows just starting in small businesses. She
wasn't at all interested in marrying a young man with
his way to make, cooking for him in the kitchenette
of a four-room apartment, with a movie once a week
as the reward for faithful service.

These views on matrimony were revealed one day
early in November when they were lunching together
in Shipley's tea room. She went on to say that she
would wait a few years in the hope of meeting some
man of importance who could give her a position in
life worth while.

"It has been done before, my dear. It may not
sound romantic but it's the only way to play safe. I
want to get away from this town! It smothers and
chokes me. The firm has sent me to New York twice
this last year, and I think I could get along very well
down there if I had money to spend. I've beeij a
little afraid you'd engaged yourself to some strug-
gling young professor at the university. No? Well,
I'd hate to see you wasting yourself. You've got
brains and good looks and I hope you won't throw
yourself away. By the way just what do you do
with yourself evenings?"


"Oh, I stay at home, mostly. I do a turn in the
kitchen, play a game of checkers with father and go
to bed to read."

"Wholesome but not exciting! I'd imagined you
had a few suitors who dropped in occasionally."

"Haven't had a caller since I came home," said
Grace. "The beaux I had last summer don't know I'm
home and I haven't felt like stirring them up."

Irene was wearing a handsome emerald ring that
Grace had not noticed before. In keeping with the
tone of subdued elegance she affected, Irene never
wore jewelry; the ring was a departure and required
an explanation for which Grace hesitated to ask. In
spite of their long acquaintance Grace never overcame
her feeling of humility before Irene's large view of
things, her lofty disdain for small change. Grace
knew more out of books than Irene; but in her

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 3 of 27)