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The Three of Them by Edna Ferber

 

For eleven years Martha Foote, head housekeeper at the Senate Hotel, Chicago, had catered, unseen, and ministered, unknown, to that great, careless, shifting, conglomerate mass known as the Travelling Public. Wholesale hostessing was Martha Foote's job. Senators and suffragists, ambassadors and first families had found ease and comfort under Martha Foote's regime. Her carpets had bent their nap to the tread of kings, and show girls, and buyers from Montana. Her sheets had soothed the tired limbs of presidents, and princesses, and prima donnas. For the Senate Hotel is more than a hostelry; it is a Chicago institution. The whole world is churned in at its revolving front door.

For eleven years Martha Foote, then, had beheld humanity throwing its grimy suitcases on her immaculate white bedspreads; wiping its muddy boots on her bath towels; scratching its matches on her wall paper; scrawling its pencil marks on her cream woodwork; spilling its greasy crumbs on her carpet; carrying away her dresser scarfs and pincushions. There is no supremer test of character. Eleven years of hotel housekeepership guarantees a knowledge of human nature that includes some things no living being ought to know about her fellow men. And inevitably one of two results must follow. You degenerate into a bitter, waspish, and fault-finding shrew; or you develop into a patient, tolerant, and infinitely understanding woman. Martha Foote dealt daily with Polack scrub girls, and Irish porters, and Swedish chambermaids, and Swiss waiters, and Halsted Street bell-boys. Italian tenors fried onions in her Louis-Quinze suite. College boys burned cigarette holes in her best linen sheets. Yet any one connected with the Senate Hotel, from Pete the pastry cook to H.G. Featherstone, lessee-director, could vouch for Martha Foote's serene unacidulation.

       * * * * *

Don't gather from this that Martha Foote was a beaming, motherly person who called you dearie. Neither was she one of those managerial and magnificent blonde beings occasionally encountered in hotel corridors, engaged in addressing strident remarks to a damp and crawling huddle of calico that is doing something sloppy to the woodwork. Perhaps the shortest cut to Martha Foote's character is through Martha Foote's bedroom. (Twelfth floor. Turn to your left. That's it; 1246. Come in!)

In the long years of its growth and success the Senate Hotel had known the usual growing pains. Starting with walnut and red plush it had, in its adolescence, broken out all over into brass beds and birds'-eye maple. This, in turn, had vanished before mahogany veneer and brocade. Hardly had the white scratches on these ruddy surfaces been doctored by the house painter when—whisk! Away with that sombre stuff! And in minced a whole troupe of near-French furnishings; cream enamel beds, cane-backed; spindle-legged dressing tables before which it was impossible to dress; perilous chairs with raspberry complexions. Through all these changes Martha Foote, in her big, bright twelfth floor room, had clung to her old black walnut set.

The bed, to begin with, was a massive, towering edifice with a headboard that scraped the lofty ceiling. Head and foot-board were fretted and carved with great blobs representing grapes, and cornucopias, and tendrils, and knobs and other bedevilments of the cabinet-maker's craft. It had been polished and rubbed until now it shone like soft brown satin. There was a monumental dresser too, with a liver-coloured marble top. Along the wall, near the windows, was a couch; a heavy, wheezing, fat-armed couch decked out in white ruffled cushions. I suppose the mere statement that, in Chicago, Illinois, Martha Foote kept these cushions always crisply white, would make any further characterization superfluous. The couch made you think of a plump grandmother of bygone days, a beruffled white fichu across her ample, comfortable bosom. Then there was the writing desk; a substantial structure that bore no relation to the pindling rose-and-cream affairs that graced the guest rooms. It was the solid sort of desk at which an English novelist of the three-volume school might have written a whole row of books without losing his dignity or cramping his style. Martha Foote used it for making out reports and instruction sheets, for keeping accounts, and for her small private correspondence.

Such was Martha Foote's room. In a modern and successful hotel, whose foyer was rose-shaded, brass-grilled, peacock-alleyed and tessellated, that bed-sitting-room of hers was as wholesome, and satisfying, and real as a piece of home-made rye bread on a tray of French pastry; and as incongruous.

It was to the orderly comfort of these accustomed surroundings that the housekeeper of the Senate Hotel opened her eyes this Tuesday morning. Opened them, and lay a moment, bridging the morphean chasm that lay between last night and this morning. It was 6:30 A.M. It is bad enough to open one's eyes at 6:30 on Monday morning. But to open them at 6:30 on Tuesday morning, after an indigo Monday.... The taste of yesterday lingered, brackish, in Martha's mouth.

“Oh, well, it won't be as bad as yesterday, anyway. It can't.” So she assured herself, as she lay there. “There never were two days like that, hand running. Not even in the hotel business.”

For yesterday had been what is known as a muddy Monday. Thick, murky, and oozy with trouble. Two conventions, three banquets, the lobby so full of khaki that it looked like a sand-storm, a threatened strike in the laundry, a travelling man in two-twelve who had the grippe and thought he was dying, a shortage of towels (that bugaboo of the hotel housekeeper) due to the laundry trouble that had kept the linen-room telephone jangling to the tune of a hundred damp and irate guests. And weaving in and out, and above, and about and through it all, like a neuralgic toothache that can't be located, persisted the constant, nagging, maddening complaints of the Chronic Kicker in six-eighteen.

Six-eighteen was a woman. She had arrived Monday morning, early. By Monday night every girl on the switchboard had the nervous jumps when they plugged in at her signal. She had changed her rooms, and back again. She had quarrelled with the room clerk. She had complained to the office about the service, the food, the linen, the lights, the noise, the chambermaid, all the bell-boys, and the colour of the furnishings in her suite. She said she couldn't live with that colour. It made her sick. Between 8:30 and 10:30 that night, there had come a lull. Six-eighteen was doing her turn at the Majestic.

Martha Foote knew that. She knew, too, that her name was Geisha McCoy, and she knew what that name meant, just as you do. She had even laughed and quickened and responded to Geisha McCoy's manipulation of her audience, just as you have. Martha Foote knew the value of the personal note, and it had been her idea that had resulted in the rule which obliged elevator boys, chambermaids, floor clerks, doormen and waiters if possible, to learn the names of Senate Hotel guests, no matter how brief their stay.

“They like it,” she had said, to Manager Brant. “You know that better than I do. They'll be flattered, and surprised, and tickled to death, and they'll go back to Burlington, Iowa, and tell how well known they are at the Senate.”

When the suggestion was met with the argument that no human being could be expected to perform such daily feats of memory Martha Foote battered it down with:

“That's just where you're mistaken. The first few days are bad. After that it's easier every day, until it becomes mechanical. I remember when I first started waiting on table in my mother's quick lunch eating house in Sorghum, Minnesota. I'd bring 'em wheat cakes when they'd ordered pork and beans, but it wasn't two weeks before I could take six orders, from soup to pie, without so much as forgetting the catsup. Habit, that's all.”

So she, as well as the minor hotel employes, knew six-eighteen as Geisha McCoy. Geisha McCoy, who got a thousand a week for singing a few songs and chatting informally with the delighted hundreds on the other side of the footlights. Geisha McCoy made nothing of those same footlights. She reached out, so to speak, and shook hands with you across their amber glare. Neither lovely nor alluring, this woman. And as for her voice!—And yet for ten years or more this rather plain person, somewhat dumpy, no longer young, had been singing her every-day, human songs about every-day, human people. And invariably (and figuratively) her audience clambered up over the footlights, and sat in her lap. She had never resorted to cheap music-hall tricks. She had never invited the gallery to join in the chorus. She descended to no finger-snapping. But when she sang a song about a waitress she was a waitress. She never hesitated to twist up her hair, and pull down her mouth, to get an effect. She didn't seem to be thinking about herself, at all, or about her clothes, or her method, or her effort, or anything but the audience that was plastic to her deft and magic manipulation.

Until very recently. Six months had wrought a subtle change in Geisha McCoy. She still sang her every-day, human songs about every-day, human people. But you failed, somehow, to recognise them as such. They sounded sawdust-stuffed. And you were likely to hear the man behind you say, “Yeh, but you ought to have heard her five years ago. She's about through.”

Such was six-eighteen. Martha Foote, luxuriating in that one delicious moment between her 6:30 awakening, and her 6:31 arising, mused on these things. She thought of how, at eleven o'clock the night before, her telephone had rung with the sharp zing! of trouble. The voice of Irish Nellie, on night duty on the sixth floor, had sounded thick-brogued, sure sign of distress with her.

“I'm sorry to be a-botherin' ye, Mis' Phut. It's Nellie speakin'—Irish Nellie on the sixt'.”

“What's the trouble, Nellie?”

“It's that six-eighteen again. She's goin' on like mad. She's carryin' on something fierce.”

“What about?”

“Th'—th' blankets, Mis' Phut.”

“Blankets?—”

“She says—it's her wurruds, not mine—she says they're vile. Vile, she says.”

Martha Foote's spine had stiffened. “In this house! Vile!”

If there was one thing more than another upon which Martha Foote prided herself it was the Senate Hotel bed coverings. Creamy, spotless, downy, they were her especial fad. “Brocade chairs, and pink lamps, and gold snake-work are all well and good,” she was wont to say, “and so are American Beauties in the lobby and white gloves on the elevator boys. But it's the blankets on the beds that stamp a hotel first or second class.” And now this, from Nellie.

“I know how ye feel, an' all. I sez to 'er, I sez: 'There never was a blanket in this house,' I sez, 'that didn't look as if it cud be sarved up wit' whipped cr-ream,' I sez, 'an' et,' I sez to her; 'an' fu'thermore,' I sez—”

“Never mind, Nellie. I know. But we never argue with guests. You know that rule as well as I. The guest is right—always. I'll send up the linen-room keys. You get fresh blankets; new ones. And no arguments. But I want to see those—those vile—”

“Listen, Mis' Phut.” Irish Nellie's voice, until now shrill with righteous anger, dropped a discreet octave. “I seen 'em. An' they are vile. Wait a minnit! But why? Becus that there maid of hers—that yella' hussy—give her a body massage, wit' cold cream an' all, usin' th' blankets f'r coverin', an' smearin' 'em right an' lift. This was afther they come back from th' theayter. Th' crust of thim people, using the iligent blankets off'n the beds t'—”

“Good night, Nellie. And thank you.”

“Sure, ye know I'm that upset f'r distarbin' yuh, an' all, but—”

Martha Foote cast an eye toward the great walnut bed. “That's all right. Only, Nellie—”

“Yesm'm.”

“If I'm disturbed again on that woman's account for anything less than murder—”

“Yesm'm?”

“Well, there'll be one, that's all. Good night.”

Such had been Monday's cheerful close.

Martha Foote sat up in bed, now, preparatory to the heroic flinging aside of the covers. “No,” she assured herself, “it can't be as bad as yesterday.” She reached round and about her pillow, groping for the recalcitrant hairpin that always slipped out during the night; found it, and twisted her hair into a hard bathtub bun.

With a jangle that tore through her half-wakened senses the telephone at her bedside shrilled into life. Martha Foote, hairpin in mouth, turned and eyed it, speculatively, fearfully. It shrilled on in her very face, and there seemed something taunting and vindictive about it. One long ring, followed by a short one; a long ring, a short. “Ca-a-an't it? Ca-a-an't it?”

“Something tells me I'm wrong,” Martha Foote told herself, ruefully, and reached for the blatant, snarling thing.

“Yes?”

“Mrs. Foote? This is Healy, the night clerk. Say, Mrs. Foote, I think you'd better step down to six-eighteen and see what's—”

“I am wrong,” said Martha Foote.

“What's that?”

“Nothing. Go on. Will I step down to six-eighteen and—?”

“She's sick, or something. Hysterics, I'd say. As far as I could make out it was something about a noise, or a sound or—Anyway, she can't locate it, and her maid says if we don't stop it right away—”

“I'll go down. Maybe it's the plumbing. Or the radiator. Did you ask?”

“No, nothing like that. She kept talking about a wail.”

“A what!”

“A wail. A kind of groaning, you know. And then dull raps on the wall, behind the bed.”

“Now look here, Ed Healy; I get up at 6:30, but I can't see a joke before ten. If you're trying to be funny!—”

“Funny! Why, say, listen, Mrs. Foote. I may be a night clerk, but I'm not so low as to get you out at half past six to spring a thing like that in fun. I mean it. So did she.”

“But a kind of moaning! And then dull raps!”

“Those are her words. A kind of m—”

“Let's not make a chant of it. I think I get you. I'll be down there in ten minutes. Telephone her, will you?”

“Can't you make it five?”

“Not without skipping something vital.”

Still, it couldn't have been a second over ten, including shoes, hair, and hooks-and-eyes. And a fresh white blouse. It was Martha Foote's theory that a hotel housekeeper, dressed for work, ought to be as inconspicuous as a steel engraving. She would have been, too, if it hadn't been for her eyes.

She paused a moment before the door of six-eighteen and took a deep breath. At the first brisk rat-tat of her knuckles on the door there had sounded a shrill “Come in!” But before she could turn the knob the door was flung open by a kimonoed mulatto girl, her eyes all whites. The girl began to jabber, incoherently but Martha Foote passed on through the little hall to the door of the bedroom.

Six-eighteen was in bed. At sight of her Martha Foote knew that she had to deal with an over-wrought woman. Her hair was pushed back wildly from her forehead. Her arms were clasped about her knees. At the left her nightgown had slipped down so that one plump white shoulder gleamed against the background of her streaming hair. The room was in almost comic disorder. It was a room in which a struggle has taken place between its occupant and that burning-eyed hag, Sleeplessness. The hag, it was plain, had won. A half-emptied glass of milk was on the table by the bed. Warmed, and sipped slowly, it had evidently failed to soothe. A tray of dishes littered another table. Yesterday's dishes, their contents congealed. Books and magazines, their covers spread wide as if they had been flung, sprawled where they lay. A little heap of grey-black cigarette stubs. The window curtain awry where she had stood there during a feverish moment of the sleepless night, looking down upon the lights of Grant Park and the sombre black void beyond that was Lake Michigan. A tiny satin bedroom slipper on a chair, its mate, sole up, peeping out from under the bed. A pair of satin slippers alone, distributed thus, would make a nun's cell look disreputable. Over all this disorder the ceiling lights, the wall lights, and the light from two rosy lamps, beat mercilessly down; and upon the white-faced woman in the bed.

She stared, hollow-eyed, at Martha Foote. Martha Foote, in the doorway, gazed serenely back upon her. And Geisha McCoy's quick intelligence and drama-sense responded to the picture of this calm and capable figure in the midst of the feverish, over-lighted, over-heated room. In that moment the nervous pucker between her eyes ironed out ever so little, and something resembling a wan smile crept into her face. And what she said was:

“I wouldn't have believed it.”

“Believed what?” inquired Martha Foote, pleasantly.

“That there was anybody left in the world who could look like that in a white shirtwaist at 6:30 A.M. Is that all your own hair?”

“Strictly.”

“Some people have all the luck,” sighed Geisha McCoy, and dropped listlessly back on her pillows. Martha Foote came forward into the room. At that instant the woman in the bed sat up again, tense, every nerve strained in an attitude of listening. The mulatto girl had come swiftly to the foot of the bed and was clutching the footboard, her knuckles showing white.

“Listen!” A hissing whisper from the haggard woman in the bed. “What's that?”

“Wha' dat!” breathed the coloured girl, all her elegance gone, her every look and motion a hundred-year throwback to her voodoo-haunted ancestors.

The three women remained rigid, listening. From the wall somewhere behind the bed came a low, weird monotonous sound, half wail, half croaking moan, like a banshee with a cold. A clanking, then, as of chains. A s-s-swish. Then three dull raps, seemingly from within the very wall itself.

The coloured girl was trembling. Her lips were moving, soundlessly. But Geisha McCoy's emotion was made of different stuff.

“Now look here,” she said, desperately, “I don't mind a sleepless night. I'm used to 'em. But usually I can drop off at five, for a little while. And that's been going on—well, I don't know how long. It's driving me crazy. Blanche, you fool, stop that hand wringing! I tell you there's no such thing as ghosts. Now you”—she turned to Martha Foote again—“you tell me, for God's sake, what is that!”

And into Martha Foote's face there came such a look of mingled compassion and mirth as to bring a quick flame of fury into Geisha McCoy's eyes.

“Look here, you may think it's funny but—”

“I don't. I don't. Wait a minute.” Martha Foote turned and was gone. An instant later the weird sounds ceased. The two women in the room looked toward the door, expectantly. And through it came Martha Foote, smiling. She turned and beckoned to some one without. “Come on,” she said. “Come on.” She put out a hand, encouragingly, and brought forward the shrinking, cowering, timorous figure of Anna Czarnik, scrub-woman on the sixth floor. Her hand still on her shoulder Martha Foote led her to the centre of the room, where she stood, gazing dumbly about. She was the scrub-woman you've seen in every hotel from San Francisco to Scituate. A shapeless, moist, blue calico mass. Her shoes turned up ludicrously at the toes, as do the shoes of one who crawls her way backward, crab-like, on hands and knees. Her hands were the shrivelled, unlovely members that bespeak long and daily immersion in dirty water. But even had these invariable marks of her trade been lacking, you could not have failed to recognise her type by the large and glittering mock-diamond comb which failed to catch up her dank and stringy hair in the back.

One kindly hand on the woman's arm, Martha Foote performed the introduction.

“This is Mrs. Anna Czarnik, late of Poland. Widowed. Likewise childless. Also brotherless. Also many other uncomfortable things. But the life of the crowd in the scrub-girls' quarters on the top floor. Aren't you, Anna? Mrs. Anna Czarnik, I'm sorry to say, is the source of the blood-curdling moan, and the swishing, and the clanking, and the ghost-raps. There is a service stairway just on the other side of this wall. Anna Czarnik was performing her morning job of scrubbing it. The swishing was her wet rag. The clanking was her pail. The dull raps her scrubbing brush striking the stair corner just behind your wall.”

“You're forgetting the wail,” Geisha McCoy suggested, icily.

“No, I'm not. The wail, I'm afraid, was Anna Czarnik, singing.”

“Singing?”

Martha Foote turned and spoke a gibberish of Polish and English to the bewildered woman at her side. Anna Czarnik's dull face lighted up ever so little.

“She says the thing she was singing is a Polish folk-song about death and sorrow, and it's called a—what was that, Anna?”

“Dumka.”

“It's called a dumka. It's a song of mourning, you see? Of grief. And of bitterness against the invaders who have laid her country bare.”

“Well, what's the idea!” demanded Geisha McCoy. “What kind of a hotel is this, anyway? Scrub-girls waking people up in the middle of the night with a Polish cabaret. If she wants to sing her hymn of hate why does she have to pick on me!”

“I'm sorry. You can go, Anna. No sing, remember! Sh-sh-sh!”

Anna Czarnik nodded and made her unwieldy escape.

Geisha McCoy waved a hand at the mulatto maid. “Go to your room, Blanche. I'll ring when I need you.” The girl vanished, gratefully, without a backward glance at the disorderly room. Martha Foote felt herself dismissed, too. And yet she made no move to go. She stood there, in the middle of the room, and every housekeeper inch of her yearned to tidy the chaos all about her, and every sympathetic impulse urged her to comfort the nerve-tortured woman before her. Something of this must have shone in her face, for Geisha McCoy's tone was half-pettish, half-apologetic as she spoke.

“You've no business allowing things like that, you know. My nerves are all shot to pieces anyway. But even if they weren't, who could stand that kind of torture? A woman like that ought to lose her job for that. One word from me at the office and she—”

“Don't say it, then,” interrupted Martha Foote, and came over to the bed. Mechanically her fingers straightened the tumbled covers, removed a jumble of magazines, flicked away the crumbs. “I'm sorry you were disturbed. The scrubbing can't be helped, of course, but there is a rule against unnecessary noise, and she shouldn't have been singing. But—well, I suppose she's got to find relief, somehow. Would you believe that woman is the cut-up of the top floor? She's a natural comedian, and she does more for me in the way of keeping the other girls happy and satisfied than—”

“What about me? Where do I come in? Instead of sleeping until eleven I'm kept awake by this Polish dirge. I go on at the Majestic at four, and again at 9.45 and I'm sick, I tell you! Sick!”

She looked it, too. Suddenly she twisted about and flung herself, face downward, on the pillow. “Oh, God!” she cried, without any particular expression. “Oh, God! Oh, God!”

That decided Martha Foote.

She crossed over to the other side of the bed, first flicking off the glaring top lights, sat down beside the shaken woman on the pillows, and laid a cool, light hand on her shoulder.

“It isn't as bad as that. Or it won't be, anyway, after you've told me about it.”

She waited. Geisha McCoy remained as she was, face down. But she did not openly resent the hand on her shoulder. So Martha Foote waited. And as suddenly as Six-eighteen had flung herself prone she twisted about and sat up, breathing quickly. She passed a hand over her eyes and pushed back her streaming hair with an oddly desperate little gesture. Her lips were parted, her eyes wide.

“They've got away from me,” she cried, and Martha Foote knew what she meant. “I can't hold 'em any more. I work as hard as ever—harder. That's it. It seems the harder I work the colder they get. Last week, in Indianapolis, they couldn't have been more indifferent if I'd been the educational film that closes the show. And, oh my God! They sit and knit.”

“Knit!” echoed Martha Foote. “But everybody's knitting nowadays.”

“Not when I'm on. They can't. But they do. There were three of them in the third row yesterday afternoon. One of 'em was doing a grey sock with four shiny needles. Four! I couldn't keep my eyes off of them. And the second was doing a sweater, and the third a helmet. I could tell by the shape. And you can't be funny, can you, when you're hypnotised by three stony-faced females all doubled up over a bunch of olive-drab? Olive-drab! I'm scared of it. It sticks out all over the house. Last night there were two young kids in uniform right down in the first row, centre, right. I'll bet the oldest wasn't twenty-three. There they sat, looking up at me with their baby faces. That's all they are. Kids. The house seems to be peppered with 'em. You wouldn't think olive-drab could stick out the way it does. I can see it farther than red. I can see it day and night. I can't seem to see anything else. I can't—”

Her head came down on her arms, that rested on her tight-hugged knees.

“Somebody of yours in it?” Martha Foote asked, quietly. She waited. Then she made a wild guess—an intuitive guess. “Son?”

“How did you know?” Geisha McCoy's head came up.

“I didn't.”

“Well, you're right. There aren't fifty people in the world, outside my own friends, who know I've got a grown-up son. It's bad business to have them think you're middle-aged. And besides, there's nothing of the stage about Fred. He's one of those square-jawed kids that are just cut out to be engineers. Third year at Boston Tech.”

“Is he still there, then?”

“There! He's in France, that's where he is. Somewhere—in France. And I've worked for twenty-two years with everything in me just set, like an alarm-clock, for the time when that kid would step off on his own. He always hated to take money from me, and I loved him for it. I never went on that I didn't think of him. I never came off with a half dozen encores that I didn't wish he could hear it. Why, when I played a college town it used to be a riot, because I loved every fresh-faced boy in the house, and they knew it. And now—and now—what's there in it? What's there in it? I can't even hold 'em any more. I'm through, I tell you. I'm through!”

And waited to be disputed. Martha Foote did not disappoint her.

“There's just this in it. It's up to you to make those three women in the third row forget what they're knitting for, even if they don't forget their knitting. Let 'em go on knitting with their hands, but keep their heads off it. That's your job. You're lucky to have it.”

“Lucky?”

“Yes ma'am! You can do all the dumka stuff in private, the way Anna Czarnik does, but it's up to you to make them laugh twice a day for twenty minutes.”

“It's all very well for you to talk that cheer-o stuff. It hasn't come home to you, I can see that.”

Martha Foote smiled. “If you don't mind my saying it, Miss McCoy, you're too worn out from lack of sleep to see anything clearly. You don't know me, but I do know you, you see. I know that a year ago Anna Czarnik would have been the most interesting thing in this town, for you. You'd have copied her clothes, and got a translation of her sob song, and made her as real to a thousand audiences as she was to us this morning; tragic history, patient animal face, comic shoes and all. And that's the trouble with you, my dear. When we begin to brood about our own troubles we lose what they call the human touch. And that's your business asset.”

Geisha McCoy was looking up at her with a whimsical half-smile. “Look here. You know too much. You're not really the hotel housekeeper, are you?”

“I am.”

“Well, then, you weren't always—”

“Yes I was. So far as I know I'm the only hotel housekeeper in history who can't look back to the time when she had three servants of her own, and her private carriage. I'm no decayed black-silk gentlewoman. Not me. My father drove a hack in Sorgham, Minnesota, and my mother took in boarders and I helped wait on table. I married when I was twenty, my man died two years later, and I've been earning my living ever since.”

“Happy?”

“I must be, because I don't stop to think about it. It's part of my job to know everything that concerns the comfort of the guests in this hotel.”

“Including hysterics in six-eighteen?”

“Including. And that reminds me. Up on the twelfth floor of this hotel there's a big, old-fashioned bedroom. In half an hour I can have that room made up with the softest linen sheets, and the curtains pulled down, and not a sound. That room's so restful it would put old Insomnia himself to sleep. Will you let me tuck you away in it?”

Geisha McCoy slid down among her rumpled covers, and nestled her head in the lumpy, tortured pillows. “Me! I'm going to stay right here.”

“But this room's—why, it's as stale as a Pullman sleeper. Let me have the chambermaid in to freshen it up while you're gone.”

“I'm used to it. I've got to have a room mussed up, to feel at home in it. Thanks just the same.”

Martha Foote rose, “I'm sorry. I just thought if I could help—”

Geisha McCoy leaned forward with one of her quick movements and caught Martha Foote's hand in both her own, “You have! And I don't mean to be rude when I tell you I haven't felt so much like sleeping in weeks. Just turn out those lights, will you? And sort of tiptoe out, to give the effect.” Then, as Martha Foote reached the door, “And oh, say! D'you think she'd sell me those shoes?”

Martha Foote didn't get her dinner that night until almost eight, what with one thing and another. Still as days go, it wasn't so bad as Monday; she and Irish Nellie, who had come in to turn down her bed, agreed on that. The Senate Hotel housekeeper was having her dinner in her room. Tony, the waiter, had just brought it on and had set it out for her, a gleaming island of white linen, and dome-shaped metal tops. Irish Nellie, a privileged person always, waxed conversational as she folded back the bed covers in a neat triangular wedge.

“Six-eighteen kinda ca'med down, didn't she? High toime, the divil. She had us jumpin' yist'iddy. I loike t' went off me head wid her, and th' day girl th' same. Some folks ain't got no feelin', I dunno.”

Martha Foote unfolded her napkin with a little tired gesture. “You can't always judge, Nellie. That woman's got a son who has gone to war, and she couldn't see her way clear to living without him. She's better now. I talked to her this evening at six. She said she had a fine afternoon.”

“Shure, she ain't the only wan. An' what do you be hearin' from your boy, Mis' Phut, that's in France?”

“He's well, and happy. His arm's all healed, and he says he'll be in it again by the time I get his letter.”

“Humph,” said Irish Nellie. And prepared to leave. She cast an inquisitive eye over the little table as she made for the door—inquisitive, but kindly. Her wide Irish nostrils sniffed a familiar smell. “Well, fur th' land, Mis' Phut! If I was housekeeper here, an' cud have hothouse strawberries, an' swatebreads undher glass, an' sparrowgrass, an' chicken, an' ice crame, the way you can, whiniver yuh loike, I wouldn't be a-eatin' cornbeef an' cabbage. Not me.”

“Oh, yes you would, Nellie,” replied Martha Foote, quietly, and spooned up the thin amber gravy. “Oh, yes you would.”

 
 
 

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