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- Roast Beef, Medium - 10/28 -


The hungry boy in him was uppermost. "That's so. I'm going to have some wheat cakes, and steak, and eggs, and coffee, and fruit, and toast, and rolls."

"Why slight the fish?" inquired his mother. Then, as he turned toward the dining-room, "I've two letters to get out. Then I'm going down the street to see a customer. I'll be up at the Sulzberg-Stein department store at nine sharp. There's no use trying to see old Sulzberg before ten, but I'll be there, anyway, and so will Ed Meyers, or I'm no skirt salesman. I want you to meet me there. It will do you good to watch how the overripe orders just drop, ker-plunk, into my lap."

Maybe you know Sulzberg & Stein's big store? No? That's because you've always lived in the city. Old Sulzberg sends his buyers to the New York market twice a year, and they need two floor managers on the main floor now. The money those people spend for red and green decorations at Christmas time, and apple-blossoms and pink crepe paper shades in the spring, must be something awful. Young Stein goes to Chicago to have his clothes made, and old Sulzberg likes to keep the traveling men waiting in the little ante-room outside his private office.

Jock McChesney finished his huge breakfast, strolled over to Sulzberg & Stein's, and inquired his way to the office only to find that his mother was not yet there. There were three men in the little waiting- room. One of them was Fat Ed Meyers. His huge bulk overflowed the spindle-legged chair on which he sat. His brown derby was in his hands. His eyes were on the closed door at the other side of the room. So were the eyes of the other two travelers. Jock took a vacant seat next to Fat Ed Meyers so that he might, in his mind's eye, pick out a particularly choice spot upon which his hard young fist might land--if only he had the chance. Breaking up a man's sleep like that, the great big overgrown mutt!

"What's your line?" said Ed Meyers, suddenly turning toward Jock.

Prompted by some imp--"Skirts," answered Jock. "Ladies' petticoats." ("As if men ever wore 'em!" he giggled inwardly.)

Ed Meyers shifted around in his chair so that he might better stare at this new foe in the field. His little red mouth was open ludicrously.

"Who're you out for?" he demanded next.

There was a look of Emma McChesney on Jock's face. "Why--er--the Union Underskirt and Hosiery Company of Chicago. New concern."

"Must be," ruminated Ed Meyers. "I never heard of 'em, and I know 'em all. You're starting in young, ain't you, kid! Well, it'll never hurt you. You'll learn something new every day. Now me, I--"

In breezed Emma McChesney. Her quick glance rested immediately upon Meyers and the boy. And in that moment some instinct prompted Jock McChesney to shake his head, ever so slightly, and assume a blankness of expression. And Emma McChesney, with that shrewdness which had made her one of the best salesmen on the road, saw, and miraculously understood.

"How do, Mrs. McChesney," grinned Fat Ed Meyers. "You see I beat you to it."

"So I see," smiled Emma, cheerfully. "I was delayed. Just sold a nice little bill to Watkins down the Street." She seated herself across the way, and kept her eyes on that closed door.

"Say, kid," Meyers began, in the husky whisper of the fat man, "I'm going to put you wise to something, seeing you're new to this game. See that lady over there?" He nodded discreetly in Emma McChesney's direction.

"Pretty, isn't she?" said Jock, appreciatively.

"Know who she is?"

"Well--I--she does look familiar but--"

"Oh, come now, quit your bluffing. If you'd ever met that dame you'd remember it. Her name's McChesney--Emma McChesney, and she sells T. A. Buck's Featherloom Petticoats. I'll give her her dues; she's the best little salesman on the road. I'll bet that girl could sell a ruffled, accordion-plaited underskirt to a fat woman who was trying to reduce. She's got the darndest way with her. And at that she's straight, too."

If Ed Meyers had not been gazing so intently into his hat, trying at the same time to look cherubically benign he might have seen a quick and painful scarlet sweep the face of the boy, coupled with a certain tense look of the muscles around the jaw.

"Well, now, look here," he went on, still in a whisper. "We're both skirt men, you and me. Everything's fair in this game. Maybe you don't know it, but when there's a bunch of the boys waiting around to see the head of the store like this, and there happens to be a lady traveler in the crowd, why, it's considered kind of a professional courtesy to let the lady have the first look-in. See? It ain't so often that three people in the same line get together like this. She knows it, and she's sitting on the edge of her chair, waiting to bolt when that door opens, even if she does act like she was hanging on the words of that lady clerk there. The minute it does open a crack she'll jump up and give me a fleeting, grateful smile, and sail in and cop a fat order away from the old man and his skirt buyer. I'm wise. Say, he may be an oyster, but he knows a pretty woman when he sees one. By the time she's through with him he'll have enough petticoats on hand to last him from now until Turkey goes suffrage. Get me?"

"I get you," answered Jock.

"I say, this is business, and good manners be hanged. When a woman breaks into a man's game like this, let her take her chances like a man. Ain't that straight?"

"You've said something," agreed Jock.

"Now, look here, kid. When that door opens I get up. See? And shoot straight for the old man's office. See? Like a duck. See? Say, I may be fat, kid, but I'm what they call light on my feet, and when I see an order getting away from me I can be so fleet that I have Diana looking like old Weston doing a stretch of muddy country road in a coast to coast hike. See? Now you help me out on this and I'll see that you don't suffer for it. I'll stick in a good word for you, believe me. You take the word of an old stager like me and you won't go far--"

The door opened. Simultaneously three figures sprang into action. Jock had the seat nearest the door. With marvelous clumsiness he managed to place himself in Ed Meyers' path, then reddened, began an apology, stepped on both of Ed's feet, jabbed his elbow into his stomach, and dropped his hat. A second later the door of old Sulzberg's private office closed upon Emma McChesney's smart, erect, confident figure.

Now, Ed Meyers' hands were peculiar hands for a fat man. They were tapering, slender, delicate, blue-veined, temperamental hands. At this moment, despite his purpling face, and his staring eyes, they were the most noticeable thing about him. His fingers clawed the empty air, quivering, vibrant, as though poised to clutch at Jock's throat.

Then words came. They spluttered from his lips. They popped like corn kernels in the heat of his wrath; they tripped over each other; they exploded.

"You darned kid, you!" he began, with fascinating fluency. "You thousand-legged, double-jointed, ox-footed truck horse. Come on out of here and I'll lick the shine off your shoes, you blue-eyed babe, you! What did you get up for, huh? What did you think this was going to be --a flag drill?"

With a whoop of pure joy Jock McChesney turned and fled.

They dined together at one o'clock, Emma McChesney and her son Jock. Suddenly Jock stopped eating. His eyes were on the door. "There's that fathead now," he said, excitedly. "The nerve of him! He's coming over here."

Ed Meyers was waddling toward them with the quick light step of the fat man. His pink, full-jowled face was glowing. His eyes were bright as a boy's. He stopped at their table and paused for one dramatic moment.

"So, me beauty, you two were in cahoots, huh? That's the second low- down deal you've handed me. I haven't forgotten that trick you turned with Nussbaum at DeKalb. Never mind, little girl. I'll get back at you yet."

He nodded a contemptuous head in Jock's direction. "Carrying a packer?"

[Illustration: "'Come on out of here, and I'll lick the shine off your shoes, you blue-eyed babe, you!'"]

Emma McChesney wiped her fingers daintily on her napkin, crushed it on the table, and leaned back in her chair. "Men," she observed, wonderingly, "are the cussedest creatures. This chap occupied the same room with you last night and you don't even know his name. Funny! If two strange women had found themselves occupying the same room for a night they wouldn't have got to the kimono and back hair stage before they would not only have known each other's name, but they'd have tried on each other's hats, swapped corset cover patterns, found mutual friends living in Dayton, Ohio, taught each other a new Irish crochet stitch, showed their family photographs, told how their married sister's little girl nearly died with swollen glands, and divided off the mirror into two sections to paste their newly washed handkerchiefs on. Don't tell _me_ men have a genius for friendship."

"Well, who is he?" insisted Ed Meyers. "He told me everything but his name this morning. I wish I had throttled him with a bunch of Bisons' badges last night."

"His name," smiled Emma McChesney, "is Jock McChesney. He's my one and only son, and he's put through his first little business deal this morning just to show his mother that he can be a help to his folks if he wants to. Now, Ed Meyers, if you're going to have apoplexy don't you go and have it around this table. My boy is only on his second piece of pie, and I won't have his appetite spoiled."

V

PINK TIGHTS AND GINGHAMS


Roast Beef, Medium - 10/28

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