Part I: Stories - Ardessa
The grand-mannered old man who sat at a desk in the reception-room of “The Outcry” offices to receive visitors and incidentally to keep the time-book of the employees, looked up as Miss Devine entered at ten minutes past ten and condescendingly wished him good morning. He bowed profoundly as she minced past his desk, and with an indifferent air took her course down the corridor that led to the editorial offices. Mechanically he opened the flat, black book at his elbow and placed his finger on D, running his eye along the line of figures after the name Devine. “It’s banker’s hours she keeps, indeed,” he muttered. What was the use of entering so capricious a record? Nevertheless, with his usual preliminary flourish he wrote 10:10 under this, the fourth day of May.
The employee who kept banker’s hours rustled on down the corridor to her private room, hung up her lavender jacket and her trim spring hat, and readjusted her side combs by the mirror inside her closet door. Glancing at her desk, she rang for an office boy, and reproved him because he had not dusted more carefully and because there were lumps in her paste. When he disappeared with the paste-jar, she sat down to decide which of her employer’s letters he should see and which he should not.
Ardessa was not young and she was certainly not handsome. The coquettish angle at which she carried her head was a mannerism surviving from a time when it was more becoming. She shuddered at the cold candor of the new business woman, and was insinuatingly feminine.
Ardessa’s employer, like young Lochinvar, had come out of the West, and he had done a great many contradictory things before he became proprietor and editor of “The Outcry.” Before he decided to go to New York and make the East take notice of him, O’Mally had acquired a punctual, reliable silver-mine in South Dakota. This silent friend in the background made his journalistic success comparatively easy. He had figured out, when he was a rich nobody in Nevada, that the quickest way to cut into the known world was through the printing-press. He arrived in New York, bought a highly respectable publication, and turned it into a red-hot magazine of protest, which he called “The Outcry.” He knew what the West wanted, and it proved to be what everybody secretly wanted. In six years he had done the thing that had hitherto seemed impossible: built up a national weekly, out on the news-stands the same day in New York and San Francisco; a magazine the people howled for, a moving-picture film of their real tastes and interests.
O’Mally bought “The Outcry” to make a stir, not to make a career, but he had got built into the thing more than he ever intended. It had made him a public man and put him into politics. He found the publicity game diverting, and it held him longer than any other game had ever done. He had built up about him an organization of which he was somewhat afraid and with which he was vastly bored. On his staff there were five famous men, and he had made every one of them. At first it amused him to manufacture celebrities. He found he could take an average reporter from the daily press, give him a “line” to follow, a trust to fight, a vice to expose,—this was all in that good time when people were eager to read about their own wickedness,—and in two years the reporter would be recognized as an authority. Other people—Napoleon, Disraeli, Sarah Bernhardt—had discovered that advertising would go a long way; but Marcus O’Mally discovered that in America it would go all the way—as far as you wished to pay its passage. Any human countenance, plastered in three-sheet posters from sea to sea, would be revered by the American people. The strangest thing was that the owners of these grave countenances, staring at their own faces on newsstands and billboards, fell to venerating themselves; and even he, O’Mally, was more or less constrained by these reputations that he had created out of cheap paper and cheap ink.
Constraint was the last thing O’Mally liked. The most engaging and unusual thing about the man was that he couldn’t be fooled by the success of his own methods, and no amount of “recognition” could make a stuffed shirt of him. No matter how much he was advertised as a great medicine-man in the councils of the nation, he knew that he was a born gambler and a soldier of fortune. He left his dignified office to take care of itself for a good many months of the year while he played about on the outskirts of social order. He liked being a great man from the East in rough-and-tumble Western cities where he had once been merely an unconsidered spender.
O’Mally’s long absences constituted one of the supreme advantages of Ardessa Devine’s position. When he was at his post her duties were not heavy, but when he was giving balls in Goldfield, Nevada, she lived an ideal life. She came to the office every day, indeed, to forward such of O’Mally’s letters as she thought best, to attend to his club notices and tradesmen’s bills, and to taste the sense of her high connections. The great men of the staff were all about her, as contemplative as Buddhas in their private offices, each meditating upon the particular trust or form of vice confided to his care. Thus surrounded, Ardessa had a pleasant sense of being at the heart of things. It was like a mental massage, exercise without exertion. She read and she embroidered. Her room was pleasant, and she liked to be seen at ladylike tasks and to feel herself a graceful contrast to the crude girls in the advertising and circulation departments across the hall. The younger stenographers, who had to get through with the enormous office correspondence, and who rushed about from one editor to another with wire baskets full of letters, made faces as they passed Ardessa’s door and saw her cool and cloistered, daintily plying her needle. But no matter how hard the other stenographers were driven, no one, not even one of the five oracles of the staff, dared dictate so much as a letter to Ardessa. Like a sultan’s bride, she was inviolate in her lord’s absence; she had to be kept for him.
Naturally the other young women employed in “The Outcry” offices disliked Miss Devine. They were all competent girls, trained in the exacting methods of modern business, and they had to make good every day in the week, had to get through with a great deal of work or lose their position. O’Mally’s private secretary was a mystery to them. Her exemptions and privileges, her patronizing remarks, formed an exhaustless subject of conversation at the lunch-hour. Ardessa had, indeed, as they knew she must have, a kind of “purchase” on her employer.
When O’Mally first came to New York to break into publicity, he engaged Miss Devine upon the recommendation of the editor whose ailing publication he bought and rechristened. That editor was a conservative, scholarly gentleman of the old school, who was retiring because he felt out of place in the world of brighter, breezier magazines that had been flowering since the new century came in. He believed that in this vehement world young O’Mally would make himself heard and that Miss Devine’s training in an editorial office would be of use to him.
When O’Mally first sat down at a desk to be an editor, all the cards that were brought in looked pretty much alike to him. Ardessa was at his elbow. She had long been steeped in literary distinctions and in the social distinctions which used to count for much more than they do now. She knew all the great men, all the nephews and clients of great men. She knew which must be seen, which must be made welcome, and which could safely be sent away. She could give O’Mally on the instant the former rating in magazine offices of nearly every name that was brought in to him. She could give him an idea of the man’s connections, of the price his work commanded, and insinuate whether he ought to be met with the old punctiliousness or with the new joviality. She was useful in explaining to her employer the significance of various invitations, and the standing of clubs and associations. At first she was virtually the social mentor of the bullet-headed young Westerner who wanted to break into everything, the solitary person about the office of the humming new magazine who knew anything about the editorial traditions of the eighties and nineties which, antiquated as they now were, gave an editor, as O’Mally said, a background.
Despite her indolence, Ardessa was useful to O’Mally as a social reminder. She was the card catalogue of his ever-changing personal relations. O’Mally went in for everything and got tired of everything; that was why he made a good editor. After he was through with people, Ardessa was very skilful in covering his retreat. She read and answered the letters of admirers who had begun to bore him. When great authors, who had been dined and fêted the month before, were suddenly left to cool their heels in the reception-room, thrown upon the suave hospitality of the grand old man at the desk, it was Ardessa who went out and made soothing and plausible explanations as to why the editor could not see them. She was the brake that checked the too-eager neophyte, the emollient that eased the severing of relationships, the gentle extinguisher of the lights that failed. When there were no longer messages of hope and cheer to be sent to ardent young writers and reformers, Ardessa delivered, as sweetly as possible, whatever messages were left.
In handling these people with whom O’Mally was quite through, Ardessa had gradually developed an industry which was immensely gratifying to her own vanity. Not only did she not crush them; she even fostered them a little. She continued to advise them in the reception-room and “personally” received their manuscripts long after O’Mally had declared that he would never read another line they wrote. She let them outline their plans for stories and articles to her, promising to bring these suggestions to the editor’s attention. She denied herself to nobody, was gracious even to the Shakspere-Bacon man, the perpetual-motion man, the travel-article man, the ghosts which haunt every magazine office. The writers who had had their happy hour of O’Mally’s favor kept feeling that Ardessa might reinstate them. She answered their letters of inquiry in her most polished and elegant style, and even gave them hints as to the subjects in which the restless editor was or was not interested at the moment: she feared it would be useless to send him an article on “How to Trap Lions,” because he had just bought an article on “Elephant-Shooting in Majuba Land,” etc.
So when O’Mally plunged into his office at 11:30 on this, the fourth day of May, having just got back from three-days’ fishing, he found Ardessa in the reception-room, surrounded by a little court of discards. This was annoying, for he always wanted his stenographer at once. Telling the office boy to give her a hint that she was needed, he threw off his hat and topcoat and began to race through the pile of letters Ardessa had put on his desk. When she entered, he did not wait for her polite inquiries about his trip, but broke in at once.
“What is that fellow who writes about phossy jaw still hanging round here for? I don’t want any articles on phossy jaw, and if I did, I wouldn’t want his.”
“He has just sold an article on the match industry to ‘The New Age,’ Mr. O’Mally,” Ardessa replied as she took her seat at the editor’s right.
“Why does he have to come and tell us about it? We’ve nothing to do with ‘The New Age.’ And that prison-reform guy, what’s he loafing about for?”
“You remember, Mr. O’Mally, he brought letters of introduction from Governor Harper, the reform Governor of Mississippi.”
O’Mally jumped up, kicking over his waste-basket in his impatience.
“That was months ago. I went through his letters and went through him, too. He hasn’t got anything we want. I’ve been through with Governor Harper a long while. We’re asleep at the switch in here. And let me tell you, if I catch sight of that causes-of-blindness-in-babies woman around here again, I’ll do something violent. Clear them out, Miss Devine! Clear them out! We need a traffic policeman in this office. Have you got that article on ‘Stealing Our National Water Power’ ready for me?”
“Mr. Gerrard took it back to make modifications. He gave it to me at noon on Saturday, just before the office closed. I will have it ready for you to-morrow morning, Mr. O’Mally, if you have not too many letters for me this afternoon,” Ardessa replied pointedly.
“Holy Mike!” muttered O’Mally, “we need a traffic policeman for the staff, too. Gerrard’s modified that thing half a dozen times already. Why don’t they get accurate information in the first place?”
He began to dictate his morning mail, walking briskly up and down the floor by way of giving his stenographer an energetic example. Her indolence and her ladylike deportment weighed on him. He wanted to take her by the elbows and run her around the block. He didn’t mind that she loafed when he was away, but it was becoming harder and harder to speed her up when he was on the spot. He knew his correspondence was not enough to keep her busy, so when he was in town he made her type his own breezy editorials and various articles by members of his staff.
Transcribing editorial copy is always laborious, and the only way to make it easy is to farm it out. This Ardessa was usually clever enough to do. When she returned to her own room after O’Mally had gone out to lunch, Ardessa rang for an office boy and said languidly, “James, call Becky, please.”
In a moment a thin, tense-faced Hebrew girl of eighteen or nineteen came rushing in, carrying a wire basket full of typewritten sheets. She was as gaunt as a plucked spring chicken, and her cheap, gaudy clothes might have been thrown on her. She looked as if she were running to catch a train and in mortal dread of missing it. While Miss Devine examined the pages in the basket, Becky stood with her shoulders drawn up and her elbows drawn in, apparently trying to hide herself in her insufficient open-work waist. Her wild, black eyes followed Miss Devine’s hands desperately. Ardessa sighed.
“This seems to be very smeary copy again, Becky. You don’t keep your mind on your work, and so you have to erase continually.”
Becky spoke up in wailing self-vindication.
“It ain’t that, Miss Devine. It’s so many hard words he uses that I have to be at the dictionary all the time. Look! Look!” She produced a bunch of manuscript faintly scrawled in pencil, and thrust it under Ardessa’s eyes. “He don’t write out the words at all. He just begins a word, and then makes waves for you to guess.”
“I see you haven’t always guessed correctly, Becky,” said Ardessa, with a weary smile. “There are a great many words here that would surprise Mr. Gerrard, I am afraid.”
“And the inserts,” Becky persisted. “How is anybody to tell where they go, Miss Devine? It’s mostly inserts; see, all over the top and sides and back.”
Ardessa turned her head away.
“Don’t claw the pages like that, Becky. You make me nervous. Mr. Gerrard has not time to dot his i’s and cross his t’s. That is what we keep copyists for. I will correct these sheets for you,—it would be terrible if Mr. O’Mally saw them,—and then you can copy them over again. It must be done by to-morrow morning, so you may have to work late. See that your hands are clean and dry, and then you will not smear it.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, Miss Devine. Will you tell the janitor, please, it’s all right if I have to stay? He was cross because I was here Saturday afternoon doing this. He said it was a holiday, and when everybody else was gone I ought to—”
“That will do, Becky. Yes, I will speak to the janitor for you. You may go to lunch now.”
Becky turned on one heel and then swung back.
“Miss Devine,” she said anxiously, “will it be all right if I get white shoes for now?”
Ardessa gave her kind consideration.
“For office wear, you mean? No, Becky. With only one pair, you could not keep them properly clean; and black shoes are much less conspicuous. Tan, if you prefer.”
Becky looked down at her feet. They were too large, and her skirt was as much too short as her legs were too long.
“Nearly all the girls I know wear white shoes to business,” she pleaded.
“They are probably little girls who work in factories or department stores, and that is quite another matter. Since you raise the question, Becky, I ought to speak to you about your new waist. Don’t wear it to the office again, please. Those cheap open-work waists are not appropriate in an office like this. They are all very well for little chorus girls.”
“But Miss Kalski wears expensive waists to business more open than this, and jewelry—”
Ardessa interrupted. Her face grew hard.
“Miss Kalski,” she said coldly, “works for the business department. You are employed in the editorial offices. There is a great difference. You see, Becky, I might have to call you in here at any time when a scientist or a great writer or the president of a university is here talking over editorial matters, and such clothes as you have on to-day would make a bad impression. Nearly all our connections are with important people of that kind, and we ought to be well, but quietly, dressed.”
“Yes, Miss Devine. Thank you,” Becky gasped and disappeared. Heaven knew she had no need to be further impressed with the greatness of “The Outcry” office. During the year and a half she had been there she had never ceased to tremble. She knew the prices all the authors got as well as Miss Devine did, and everything seemed to her to be done on a magnificent scale. She hadn’t a good memory for long technical words, but she never forgot dates or prices or initials or telephone numbers.
Becky felt that her job depended on Miss Devine, and she was so glad to have it that she scarcely realized she was being bullied. Besides, she was grateful for all that she had learned from Ardessa; Ardessa had taught her to do most of the things that she was supposed to do herself. Becky wanted to learn, she had to learn; that was the train she was always running for. Her father, Isaac Tietelbaum, the tailor, who pressed Miss Devine’s skirts and kept her ladylike suits in order, had come to his client two years ago and told her he had a bright girl just out of a commercial high school. He implored Ardessa to find some office position for his daughter. Ardessa told an appealing story to O’Mally, and brought Becky into the office, at a salary of six dollars a week, to help with the copying and to learn business routine. When Becky first came she was as ignorant as a young savage. She was rapid at her shorthand and typing, but a Kafir girl would have known as much about the English language. Nobody ever wanted to learn more than Becky. She fairly wore the dictionary out. She dug up her old school grammar and worked over it at night. She faithfully mastered Miss Devine’s fussy system of punctuation.
There were eight children at home, younger than Becky, and they were all eager to learn. They wanted to get their mother out of the three dark rooms behind the tailor shop and to move into a flat up-stairs, where they could, as Becky said, “live private.” The young Tietelbaums doubted their father’s ability to bring this change about, for the more things he declared himself ready to do in his window placards, the fewer were brought to him to be done. “Dyeing, Cleaning, Ladies’ Furs Remodeled”—it did no good.
Rebecca was out to “improve herself,” as her father had told her she must. Ardessa had easy way with her. It was one of those rare relationships from which both persons profit. The more Becky could learn from Ardessa, the happier she was; and the more Ardessa could unload on Becky, the greater was her contentment. She easily broke Becky of the gum-chewing habit, taught her to walk quietly, to efface herself at the proper moment, and to hold her tongue. Becky had been raised to eight dollars a week; but she didn’t care half so much about that as she did about her own increasing efficiency. The more work Miss Devine handed over to her the happier she was, and the faster she was able to eat it up. She tested and tried herself in every possible way. She now had full confidence that she would surely one day be a high-priced stenographer, a real “business woman.”
Becky would have corrupted a really industrious person, but a bilious temperament like Ardessa’s couldn’t make even a feeble stand against such willingness. Ardessa had grown soft and had lost the knack of turning out work. Sometimes, in her importance and serenity, she shivered. What if O’Mally should die, and she were thrust out into the world to work in competition with the brazen, competent young women she saw about her everywhere? She believed herself indispensable, but she knew that in such a mischanceful world as this the very powers of darkness might rise to separate her from this pearl among jobs.
When Becky came in from lunch she went down the long hall to the wash-room, where all the little girls who worked in the advertising and circulation departments kept their hats and jackets. There were shelves and shelves of bright spring hats, piled on top of one another, all as stiff as sheet-iron and trimmed with gay flowers. At the marble wash-stand stood Rena Kalski, the right bower of the business manager, polishing her diamond rings with a nail-brush.
“Hullo, kid,” she called over her shoulder to Becky. “I’ve got a ticket for you for Thursday afternoon.”
Becky’s black eyes glowed, but the strained look on her face drew tighter than ever.
“I’ll never ask her, Miss Kalski,” she said rapidly. “I don’t dare. I have to stay late to-night again; and I know she’d be hard to please after, if I was to try to get off on a week-day. I thank you, Miss Kalski, but I’d better not.”
Miss Kalski laughed. She was a slender young Hebrew, handsome in an impudent, Tenderloin sort of way, with a small head, reddish-brown almond eyes, a trifle tilted, a rapacious mouth, and a beautiful chin.
“Ain’t you under that woman’s thumb, though! Call her bluff. She isn’t half the prima donna she thinks she is. On my side of the hall we know who’s who about this place.”
The business and editorial departments of “The Outcry” were separated by a long corridor and a great contempt. Miss Kalski dried her rings with tissue-paper and studied them with an appraising eye.
“Well, since you’re such a ’fraidy-calf,’” she went on, “maybe I can get a rise out of her myself. Now I’ve got you a ticket out of that shirt-front, I want you to go. I’ll drop in on Devine this afternoon.”
When Miss Kalski went back to her desk in the business manager’s private office, she turned to him familiarly, but not impertinently.
“Mr. Henderson, I want to send a kid over in the editorial stenographers’ to the Palace Thursday afternoon. She’s a nice kid, only she’s scared out of her skin all the time. Miss Devine’s her boss, and she’ll be just mean enough not to let the young one off. Would you say a word to her?”
The business manager lit a cigar.
“I’m not saying words to any of the high-brows over there. Try it out with Devine yourself. You’re not bashful.”
Miss Kalski shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
“Oh, very well.” She serpentined out of the room and crossed the Rubicon into the editorial offices. She found Ardessa typing O’Mally’s letters and wearing a pained expression.
“Good afternoon, Miss Devine,” she said carelessly. “Can we borrow Becky over there for Thursday afternoon? We’re short.”
Miss Devine looked piqued and tilted her head.
“I don’t think it’s customary, Miss Kalski, for the business department to use our people. We never have girls enough here to do the work. Of course if Mr. Henderson feels justified—”
“Thanks awfully, Miss Devine,”—Miss Kalski interrupted her with the perfectly smooth, good-natured tone which never betrayed a hint of the scorn every line of her sinuous figure expressed,—“I will tell Mr. Henderson. Perhaps we can do something for you some day.” Whether this was a threat, a kind wish, or an insinuation, no mortal could have told. Miss Kalski’s face was always suggesting insolence without being quite insolent. As she returned to her own domain she met the cashier’s head clerk in the hall. “That Devine woman’s a crime,” she murmured. The head clerk laughed tolerantly.
That afternoon as Miss Kalski was leaving the office at 5:15, on her way down the corridor she heard a typewriter clicking away in the empty, echoing editorial offices. She looked in, and found Becky bending forward over the machine as if she were about to swallow it.
“Hello, kid. Do you sleep with that?” she called. She walked up to Becky and glanced at her copy. “What do you let ’em keep you up nights over that stuff for?” she asked contemptuously. “The world wouldn’t suffer if that stuff never got printed.”
Rebecca looked up wildly. Not even Miss Kalski’s French pansy hat or her ear-rings and landscape veil could loosen Becky’s tenacious mind from Mr. Gerrard’s article on water power. She scarcely knew what Miss Kalski had said to her, certainly not what she meant.
“But I must make progress already, Miss Kalski,” she panted.
Miss Kalski gave her low, siren laugh.
“I should say you must!” she ejaculated.
Ardessa decided to take her vacation in June, and she arranged that Miss Milligan should do O’Mally’s work while she was away. Miss Milligan was blunt and noisy, rapid and inaccurate. It would be just as well for O’Mally to work with a coarse instrument for a time; he would be more appreciative, perhaps, of certain qualities to which he had seemed insensible of late. Ardessa was to leave for East Hampton on Sunday, and she spent Saturday morning instructing her substitute as to the state of the correspondence. At noon O’Mally burst into her room. All the morning he had been closeted with a new writer of mystery-stories just over from England.
“Can you stay and take my letters this afternoon, Miss Devine? You’re not leaving until to-morrow.”
Ardessa pouted, and tilted her head at the angle he was tired of.
“I’m sorry, Mr. O’Mally, but I’ve left all my shopping for this afternoon. I think Becky Tietelbaum could do them for you. I will tell her to be careful.”
“Oh, all right.” O’Mally bounced out with a reflection of Ardessa’s disdainful expression on his face. Saturday afternoon was always a half-holiday, to be sure, but since she had weeks of freedom when he was away—However—
At two o’clock Becky Tietelbaum appeared at his door, clad in the sober office suit which Miss Devine insisted she should wear, her note-book in her hand, and so frightened that her fingers were cold and her lips were pale. She had never taken dictation from the editor before. It was a great and terrifying occasion.
“Sit down,” he said encouragingly. He began dictating while he shook from his bag the manuscripts he had snatched away from the amazed English author that morning. Presently he looked up.
“Do I go too fast?”
“No, sir,” Becky found strength to say.
At the end of an hour he told her to go and type as many of the letters as she could while he went over the bunch of stuff he had torn from the Englishman. He was with the Hindu detective in an opium den in Shanghai when Becky returned and placed a pile of papers on his desk.
“How many?” he asked, without looking up.
“All you gave me, sir.”
“All, so soon? Wait a minute and let me see how many mistakes.” He went over the letters rapidly, signing them as he read. “They seem to be all right. I thought you were the girl that made so many mistakes.”
Rebecca was never too frightened to vindicate herself.
“Mr. O’Mally, sir, I don’t make mistakes with letters. It’s only copying the articles that have so many long words, and when the writing isn’t plain, like Mr. Gerrard’s. I never make many mistakes with Mr. Johnson’s articles, or with yours I don’t.”
O’Mally wheeled round in his chair, looked with curiosity at her long, tense face, her black eyes, and straight brows.
“Oh, so you sometimes copy articles, do you? How does that happen?”
“Yes, sir. Always Miss Devine gives me the articles to do. It’s good practice for me.”
“I see.” O’Mally shrugged his shoulders. He was thinking that he could get a rise out of the whole American public any day easier than he could get a rise out of Ardessa. “What editorials of mine have you copied lately, for instance?”
Rebecca blazed out at him, reciting rapidly:
“Oh, ‘A Word about the Rosenbaums,’ ‘Useless Navy-Yards,’ ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’—”
“Wait a minute.” O’Mally checked her flow. “What was that one about—Cock Robin?”
“It was all about why the secretary of the interior dismissed—”
“All right, all right. Copy those letters, and put them down the chute as you go out. Come in here for a minute on Monday morning.”
Becky hurried home to tell her father that she had taken the editor’s letters and had made no mistakes. On Monday she learned that she was to do O’Mally’s work for a few days. He disliked Miss Milligan, and he was annoyed with Ardessa for trying to put her over on him when there was better material at hand. With Rebecca he got on very well; she was impersonal, unreproachful, and she fairly panted for work. Everything was done almost before he told her what he wanted. She raced ahead with him; it was like riding a good modern bicycle after pumping along on an old hard tire.
On the day before Miss Devine’s return O’Mally strolled over for a chat with the business office.
“Henderson, your people are taking vacations now, I suppose? Could you use an extra girl?”
“If it’s that thin black one, I can.”
O’Mally gave him a wise smile.
“It isn’t. To be honest, I want to put one over on you. I want you to take Miss Devine over here for a while and speed her up. I can’t do anything. She’s got the upper hand of me. I don’t want to fire her, you understand, but she makes my life too difficult. It’s my fault, of course. I’ve pampered her. Give her a chance over here; maybe she’ll come back. You can be firm with ’em, can’t you?”
Henderson glanced toward the desk where Miss Kalski’s lightning eye was skimming over the printing-house bills that he was supposed to verify himself.
“Well, if I can’t, I know who can,” he replied, with a chuckle.
“Exactly,” O’Mally agreed. “I’m counting on the force of Miss Kalski’s example. Miss Devine’s all right, Miss Kalski, but she needs regular exercise. She owes it to her complexion. I can’t discipline people.”
Miss Kalski’s only reply was a low, indulgent laugh.
O’Mally braced himself on the morning of Ardessa’s return. He told the waiter at his club to bring him a second pot of coffee and to bring it hot. He was really afraid of her. When she presented herself at his office at 10:30 he complimented her upon her tan and asked about her vacation. Then he broke the news to her.
“We want to make a few temporary changes about here, Miss Devine, for the summer months. The business department is short of help. Henderson is going to put Miss Kalski on the books for a while to figure out some economies for him, and he is going to take you over. Meantime I’ll get Becky broken in so that she could take your work if you were sick or anything.”
Ardessa drew herself up.
“I’ve not been accustomed to commercial work, Mr. O’Mally. I’ve no interest in it, and I don’t care to brush up in it.”
“Brushing up is just what we need, Miss Devine.” O’Mally began tramping about his room expansively. “I’m going to brush everybody up. I’m going to brush a few people out; but I want you to stay with us, of course. You belong here. Don’t be hasty now. Go to your room and think it over.”
Ardessa was beginning to cry, and O’Mally was afraid he would lose his nerve. He looked out of the window at a new sky-scraper that was building, while she retired without a word.
At her own desk Ardessa sat down breathless and trembling. The one thing she had never doubted was her unique value to O’Mally. She had, as she told herself, taught him everything. She would say a few things to Becky Tietelbaum, and to that pigeon-breasted tailor, her father, too! The worst of it was that Ardessa had herself brought it all about; she could see that clearly now. She had carefully trained and qualified her successor. Why had she ever civilized Becky? Why had she taught her manners and deportment, broken her of the gum-chewing habit, and made her presentable? In her original state O’Mally would never have put up with her, no matter what her ability.
Ardessa told herself that O’Mally was notoriously fickle; Becky amused him, but he would soon find out her limitations. The wise thing, she knew, was to humor him; but it seemed to her that she could not swallow her pride. Ardessa grew yellower within the hour. Over and over in her mind she bade O’Mally a cold adieu and minced out past the grand old man at the desk for the last time. But each exit she rehearsed made her feel sorrier for herself. She thought over all the offices she knew, but she realized that she could never meet their inexorable standards of efficiency.
While she was bitterly deliberating, O’Mally himself wandered in, rattling his keys nervously in his pocket. He shut the door behind him.
“Now, you’re going to come through with this all right, aren’t you, Miss Devine? I want Henderson to get over the notion that my people over here are stuck up and think the business department are old shoes. That’s where we get our money from, as he often reminds me. You’ll be the best-paid girl over there; no reduction, of course. You don’t want to go wandering off to some new office where personality doesn’t count for anything.” He sat down confidentially on the edge of her desk. “Do you, now, Miss Devine?”
Ardessa simpered tearfully as she replied.
“Mr. O’Mally,” she brought out, “you’ll soon find that Becky is not the sort of girl to meet people for you when you are away. I don’t see how you can think of letting her.”
“That’s one thing I want to change, Miss Devine. You’re too soft-handed with the has-beens and the never-was-ers. You’re too much of a lady for this rough game. Nearly everybody who comes in here wants to sell us a gold-brick, and you treat them as if they were bringing in wedding presents. Becky is as rough as sandpaper, and she’ll clear out a lot of dead wood.” O’Mally rose, and tapped Ardessa’s shrinking shoulder. “Now, be a sport and go through with it, Miss Devine. I’ll see that you don’t lose. Henderson thinks you’ll refuse to do his work, so I want you to get moved in there before he comes back from lunch. I’ve had a desk put in his office for you. Miss Kalski is in the bookkeeper’s room half the time now.”
Rena Kalski was amazed that afternoon when a line of office boys entered, carrying Miss Devine’s effects, and when Ardessa herself coldly followed them. After Ardessa had arranged her desk, Miss Kalski went over to her and told her about some matters of routine very good-naturedly. Ardessa looked pretty badly shaken up, and Rena bore no grudges.
“When you want the dope on the correspondence with the paper men, don’t bother to look it up. I’ve got it all in my head, and I can save time for you. If he wants you to go over the printing bills every week, you’d better let me help you with that for a while. I can stay almost any afternoon. It’s quite a trick to figure out the plates and over-time charges till you get used to it. I’ve worked out a quick method that saves trouble.”
When Henderson came in at three he found Ardessa, chilly, but civil, awaiting his instructions. He knew she disapproved of his tastes and his manners, but he didn’t mind. What interested and amused him was that Rena Kalski, whom he had always thought as cold-blooded as an adding-machine, seemed to be making a hair-mattress of herself to break Ardessa’s fall.
At five o’clock, when Ardessa rose to go, the business manager said breezily:
“See you at nine in the morning, Miss Devine. We begin on the stroke.”
Ardessa faded out of the door, and Miss Kalski’s slender back squirmed with amusement.
“I never thought to hear such words spoken,” she admitted; “but I guess she’ll limber up all right. The atmosphere is bad over there. They get moldy.”
After the next monthly luncheon of the heads of departments, O’Mally said to Henderson, as he feed the coat-boy:
“By the way, how are you making it with the bartered bride?”
Henderson smashed on his Panama as he said:
“Any time you want her back, don’t be delicate.”
But O’Mally shook his red head and laughed.
“Oh, I’m no Indian giver!”
Century, May 1918