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- Roast Beef, Medium - 20/28 -
Emma McChesney waited. She made the rounds of her customers, and waited. She wired her firm, and waited. She wrote Jock to run along and enjoy himself, and waited. She cut and fitted a shirt-waist, took her hat apart and retrimmed it, made the rounds of her impatient customers again, threatened to sue the road, visited the baggage-room daily--and waited.
Four weary, nerve-racking days passed. It was late afternoon of the fourth day when Mrs. McChesney entered the elevator to go to her room. She had come from another fruitless visit to the baggage-room. She sank into a leather-cushioned seat in a corner of the lift. Two men entered briskly, followed by a bellboy. Mrs. McChesney did not look up.
"Well, I'll be dinged!" boomed a throaty voice. "Mrs. McChesney, by the Great Horn Spoon! H'are you? Talking about you this minute to my friend here."
Emma McChesney, with the knowledge of her lost sample-trunks striking her afresh, looked up and smiled bravely into the plump pink face of Fat Ed Meyers, traveling representative for her firm's bitterest rival, the Strauss Sans-silk Skirt Company.
"Talking about me, Mr. Meyers? Sufficient grounds for libel, right there."
The little sallow, dark man just at Meyers' elbow was gazing at her unguardedly. She felt that he had appraised her from hat to heels. Ed Meyers placed a plump hand on the little man's shoulder.
"Abe, you tell the lady what I was saying. This is Mr. Abel Fromkin, maker of the Fromkin Form-Fit Skirt. Abe, this is the wonderful Mrs. McChesney."
"Sorry I can't wait to hear what you've said of me. This is my floor." Mrs. McChesney was already leaving the elevator.
"Here! Wait a minute!" Fat Ed Meyers was out and standing beside her, his movements unbelievably nimble. "Will you have dinner with us, Mrs. McChesney?"
"Thanks. Not to-night."
Meyers turned to the waiting elevator. "Fromkin, you go on up with the boy; I'll talk to the lady a minute."
A little displeased frown appeared on Emma McChesney's face.
"You'll have to excuse me, Mr. Meyers, I--"
"Heigh-ho for that haughty stuff, Mrs. McChesney," grinned Ed Meyers. "Don't turn up your nose at that little Kike friend of mine till you've heard what I have to say. Now just let me talk a minute. Fromkin's heard all about you. He's got a proposition to make. And it isn't one to sniff at."
He lowered his voice mysteriously in the silence of the dim hotel corridor.
"Fromkin started in a little one-room hole-in-the-wall over on the East Side. Lived on a herring and a hunk of rye bread. Wife used to help him sew. That was seven years ago. In three years, or less, she'll have the regulation uniform--full length seal coat, bunch of paradise, five-drop diamond La Valliere set in platinum, electric brougham. Abe has got a business head, take it from me. But he's wise enough to know that business isn't the rough-and-tumble game it used to be. He realizes that he'll do for the workrooms, but not for the front shop. He knows that if he wants to keep on growing he's got to have what they call a steerer. Somebody smooth, and polished, and politic, and what the highbrows call suave. Do you pronounce that with a long _a_, or two dots over? Anyway, you get me. You're all those things and considerable few besides. He's wise to the fact that a business man's got to have poise these days, and balance. And when it comes to poise and balance, Mrs. McChesney, you make a Fairbanks scale look like a raft at sea."
"While I don't want to seem to hurry you," drawled Mrs. McChesney, "might I suggest that you shorten the overture and begin on the first act?"
"Well, you know how I feel about your business genius."
"Yes, I know," enigmatically.
Ed Meyers grinned. "Can't forget those two little business misunderstandings we had, can you?"
"Business understandings," corrected Emma McChesney.
"Call 'em anything your little heart dictates, but listen. Fromkin knows all about you. Knows you've got a million friends in the trade, that you know skirts from the belt to the hem. I don't know just what his proposition is, but I'll bet he'll give you half interest in the livest, come-upest little skirt factory in the country, just for a few thousands capital, maybe, and your business head at the executive end. Now just let that sink in before you speak."
"And why," inquired Emma McChesney, "don't you grab this matchless business opportunity yourself?"
"Because, fair lady, Fromkin wouldn't let me get in with a crowbar. He'll never be able to pronounce his t's right, and when he's dressed up he looks like a 'bus-boy at Mouquin's, but he can see a bluff farther than I can throw one--and that's somewhere beyond the horizon, as you'll admit. Talk it over with us after dinner then?"
Emma McChesney was regarding the plump, pink, eager face before her with keen, level, searching eyes.
"Yes," she said slowly, "I will."
"Cafe? We'll have a bottle--"
Mrs. McChesney smiled. "I won't ask you to make yourself that miserable. You can't smoke in the parlor. We'll find a quiet corner in the writing-room, where you men can light up. I don't want to take advantage of you."
[Illustration: "'Not that you look your age--not by ten years!'"]
Down in the writing-room at eight they formed a strange little group. Ed Meyers, flushed and eager, his pink face glowing like a peony, talking, arguing, smoking, reasoning, coaxing, with the spur of a fat commission to urge him on; Abel Fromkin, with his peculiarly pallid skin made paler in contrast to the purplish-black line where the razor had passed, showing no hint of excitement except in the restless little black eyes and in the work-scarred hands that rolled cigarette after cigarette, each glowing for one brief instant, only to die down to a blackened ash the next; Emma McChesney, half fascinated, half distrustful, listening in spite of herself, and trying to still a small inner voice--a voice that had never advised her ill.
"You know the ups and downs to this game," Ed Meyers was saying. "When I met you there in the elevator you looked like you'd lost your last customer. You get pretty disgusted with it all, at times, like the rest of us."
"At that minute," replied Emma McChesney, "I was so disgusted that if some one had called me up on the 'phone and said, 'Hullo, Mrs. McChesney! Will you marry me?' I'd have said: 'Yes. Who is this?'"
"There! That's just it. I don't want to be impolite, or anything like that, Mrs. McChesney, but you're no kid. Not that you look your age-- not by ten years! But I happen to know you're teetering somewhere between thirty-six and the next top. Ain't that right?"
"Is that a argument to put to a lady?" remonstrated Abel Fromkin.
Fat Ed Meyers waved the interruption away with a gesture of his strangely slim hands. "This ain't an argument. It's facts. Another ten years on the road, and where'll you be? In the discard. A man of forty-six can keep step with the youngsters, even if it does make him puff a bit. But a woman of forty-six--the road isn't the place for her. She's tired. Tired in the morning; tired at night. She wants her kimono and her afternoon snooze. You've seen some of those old girls on the road. They've come down step by step until you spot 'em, bleached hair, crow's-feet around the eyes, mussy shirt-waist, yellow and red complexion, demonstrating green and lavender gelatine messes in the grocery of some department store. I don't say that a brainy corker of a saleswoman like you would come down like that. But you've got to consider sickness and a lot of other things. Those six weeks last summer with the fever at Glen Rock put a crimp in you, didn't it? You've never been yourself since then. Haven't had a decent chance to rest up."
"No," said Emma McChesney wearily.
"Furthermore, now that old T. A.'s cashed in, how do you know what young Buck's going to do? He don't know shucks about the skirt business. They've got to take in a third party to keep it a close corporation. It was all between old Buck, Buck junior, and old lady Buck. How can you tell whether the new member will want a woman on the road, or not?"
A little steely light hardened the blue of Mrs. McChesney's eyes.
"We'll leave the firm of T. A. Buck out of this discussion, please."
"Oh, very well!" Ed Meyers was unabashed. "Let's talk about Fromkin. He don't object, do you, Abe? It's just like this. He needs your smart head. You need his money. It'll mean a sure thing for you--a share in a growing and substantial business. When you get your road men trained it'll mean that you won't need to go out on the road yourself, except for a little missionary trip now and then, maybe. No more infernal early trains, no more bum hotel grub, no more stuffy, hot hotel rooms, no more haughty lady buyers--gosh, I wish I had the chance!"
Emma McChesney sat very still. Two scarlet spots glowed in her cheeks. "No one appreciates your gift of oratory more than I do, Mr. Meyers. Your flow of language, coupled with your peculiar persuasive powers, make a combination a statue couldn't resist. But I think it would sort of rest me if Mr. Fromkin were to say a word, seeing that it's really his funeral."
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