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
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 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.”
“Th'—th' blankets, Mis' Phut.”
“She says—it's her wurruds, not mine—she says they're vile. Vile,
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—”
“If I'm disturbed again on that woman's account for anything less
“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.
“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.
“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
“No, nothing like that. She kept talking about a wail.”
“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?”
“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.
“Wha' dat!” breathed the coloured girl, all her elegance gone, her
every look and motion a hundred-year throwback to her voodoo-haunted
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
“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
One kindly hand on the woman's arm, Martha Foote performed the
“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.”
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?”
“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!” 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
“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.
“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.”
“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,
“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.”
“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
“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
“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
“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
“Oh, yes you would, Nellie,” replied Martha Foote, quietly, and
spooned up the thin amber gravy. “Oh, yes you would.”