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- Roast Beef, Medium - 28/28 -


Fairbanks for days before I really got it."

And the tension between T. A. Buck and Emma McChesney snapped with a jerk, and they both laughed, and laughed again, at Jock's air of offended dignity. They laughed until the rancor in the heart of the man and the hurt and pity in the heart of the woman melted into a bond of lasting understanding.

"Go on--laugh!" said Jock. "Say, Mother, is there a shower in the bathroom, h'm?" And was off to investigate.

The laughter trailed away into nothingness. "Jock," called his mother, "do you want your bedroom done in plain or stripes?"

"Plain," came from the regions beyond. "Got a lot of pennants and everything."

T. A. Buck picked up his stick from the corner in which it stood.

"I'll run along," he said. "You two will want to talk things over together." He raised his voice to reach the boy in the other room. "I'm off, Jock."

Jock's protest sounded down the hall. "Don't leave me alone with her. She'll blarney me into consenting to blue-and-pink rosebud paper in my bedroom."

T. A. Buck had the courage to smile even at that. Emma McChesney was watching him, her clear eyes troubled, anxious.

At the door Buck turned, came back a step or two. "I--I think, if you don't mind, I'll play hooky this time and run over to Atlantic City for a couple of days. You'll find things slowing up, now that the holidays are so near."

"Fine idea--fine!" agreed Emma McChesney; but her eyes still wore the troubled look.

"Good-by," said T. A. Buck abruptly.

"Good--" and then she stopped. "I've a brand-new idea. Give you something to worry about on your vacation."

"I'm supplied," answered T. A. Buck grimly.

"Nonsense! A real worry. A business worry. A surprise."

Jock had joined them, and was towering over his mother, her hand in his.

T. A. Buck regarded them moodily. "After your pajama and knickerbocker stunt I'm braced for anything."

"Nothing theatrical this time," she assured him. "Don't expect a show such as you got when I touched off the last fuse."

An eager, expectant look was replacing the gloom that bad clouded his face. "Spring it."

Emma McChesney waited a moment; then, "I think the time has come to put in another line--a staple. It's--flannel nightgowns."

"Flannel nightgowns!" Disgust shivered through Buck's voice. "_Flannel nightgowns!_ They quit wearing those when Broadway was a cow-path."

"Did, eh?" retorted Emma McChesney. "That's the New-Yorker speaking. Just because the French near-actresses at the Winter Garden wear silk lace and sea-foam nighties in their imported boudoir skits, and just because they display only those frilly, beribboned handmade affairs in the Fifth Avenue shop-windows, don't you ever think that they're a national vice. Let me tell you," she went on as T. A. Buck's demeanor grew more bristlingly antagonistic, "there are thousands and thousands of women up in Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and Michigan, and Oregon, and Alaska, and Nebraska, and Dakota who are thankful to retire every night protected by one long, thick, serviceable flannel nightie, and one practical hot-water bag. Up in those countries retiring isn't a social rite: it's a feat of hardihood. I'm keen for a line of plain, full, roomy old-fashioned flannel nightgowns of the improved T. A. Buck Featherloom products variety. They'll be wearing 'em long after knickerbockers have been cut up for patchwork."

The moody look was quite absent from T. A. Buck's face now, and the troubled look from Emma McChesney's eyes.

"Well," Buck said grudgingly, "if you were to advise making up a line of the latest models in deep-sea divers' uniforms, I suppose I'd give in. But flannel nightgowns! In the twentieth century--flannel night--"

"Think it over," laughed Emma McChesney as he opened the door. "We'll have it out, tooth and nail, when you get back."

The door closed upon him. Emma McChesney and her son were left alone in their new home to be.

"Turn out the light, son," said Emma McChesney, "and come to the window. There's a view! Worth the money, alone."

Jock switched off the light. "D' you know, Blonde, I shouldn't wonder if old T. A.'s sweetish on you," he said as he came over to the window.

"Old!"

"He's forty or over, isn't he?"

"Son, do you realize your charming mother's thirty-nine?"

"Oh, you! That's different. You look a kid. You're young in all the spots where other women of thirty-nine look old. Around the eyes, and under the chin, and your hands, and the corners of your mouth."

In the twilight Emma McChesney turned to stare at her son. "Just where did you learn all that, young 'un? At college?"

And, "Some view, isn't it, Mother?" parried Jock. The two stood there, side by side, looking out across the great city that glittered and swam in the soft haze of the late November afternoon. There are lovelier sights than New York seen at night, from a window eyrie with a mauve haze softening all, as a beautiful but experienced woman is softened by an artfully draped scarf of chiffon. There are cities of roses, cities of mountains, cities of palm-trees and sparkling lakes; but no sight, be it of mountains, or roses, or lakes, or waving palm- trees, is more likely to cause that vague something which catches you in the throat.

It caught those two home-hungry people. And it opened the lips of one of them almost against his will.

"Mother," said Jock haltingly, painfully, "I came mighty near coming home--for good--this time."

His mother turned and searched his face in the dim light.

"What was it, Jock?" she asked, quite without fuss.

The slim young figure in the jumping juvenile clothes stirred and tried to speak, tried again, formed the two words: "A--girl."

Emma McChesney waited a second, until the icy, cruel, relentless hand that clutched her very heart should have relaxed ever so little. Then, "Tell me, sonny boy," she said.

"Why, Mother--that girl--" There was an agony of bitterness and of disillusioned youth in his voice.

Emma McChesney came very close, so that her head, in the pert little close-fitting hat, rested on the boy's shoulder. She linked her arm through his, snug and warm.

"That girl--" she echoed encouragingly.

And, "That girl," went on Jock, taking up the thread of his grief, "why, Mother, that--girl--"

THE END


Roast Beef, Medium - 28/28

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