From Appleton’s Magazine
IT was the first time in an acquaintanceship dating from the days when they both wore pinafores and made mud pies together that Mrs. Jack Deming had ever seen Jimmy Farraday in the least embarrassed or ill at ease.
Now he was both. He sat on the edge of his chair and nervously fingered the paper-wrapped package laid across his knees.
“If it’s a present for me, Jimmy,” said Mrs. Jack at last, “I think you may give it to me; Jack won’t care.”
Jimmy laughed and began to undo the string. He understood Mrs. Jack perfectly.
With mounting curiosity she saw him unroll a foam of embroidery and fine white lawn, that, being shaken out, resolved itself into a
garment distinctly feminine.
Mrs. Tack reached out eager
hands. “O, Jimmy,” she cried,
“what a perfect love of an apron ! I never saw anything like it. Where on earth did you find it?”
“What does it make you think of?“ Jimmy demanded, ignoring the question.
Mrs. Jack drew a deep breath. Her eyes shone.
“Love and service, Jimmy,” she said softly. “Real love, and service because one loves.”
Timmy nodded. “Yes,” he said “that was what T thought. And if it makes von feel like that, too— “Jimmv,” broke in Mrs. Jack,
“only a poet or a man in love would have bought that apron. Now I know you’re not a poet. So-”
“Yes,” Jimmy admitted raptly. “Agatha Dean. I bought the apron for her.”
“That apron and Agatha Dent!” gasped Mrs. Jack. “Jimmy, you must be crazy! Why, Agatha writes; she hasn’t a thought beyond her stories. It’s a career Agatha wants, not an apron. What you want, Jimmy, is a homey little body— some one you can pet and take care of; some one who’ll love you hard, Jimmy, and—and live up to that apron.”
“Agatha’s just that,” Jimmy insisted, “only she doesn’t know it— yet.”
“Jimmy,” Mrs. Jack earnestly protested, “you take my word for it, Agatha Dean will not appreciate that apron at all : she won’t understand it. Give it to me, Jimmy: do! It looks just the way I feel toward Tack; I want to wear it for him.”
“I can’t,” Timmy objected. “It’s for Agatha.”
“Timmy,” Mrs. Jack was begging quite shameless,, “at least let me copv it ; T can make one just like it.”'
“I’m sorrv,” Timmy refused, “but it’s Agatha’s and there mustn’t be another one like it.”
“Verv well, Timmy.” Mrs. Jack yielded gracefully because she understood. She folded the apron cnrefullv and handed it back with a regretful sigh.
“But I want you to give it to her,” said Jimmy, at last revealing the real reason for his call. “She couldn’t take it from me, of course.”
“She’ll think me quite crazy,” protested Mrs. Jack. “And what earthly excuse can I offer for giving it? It isn’t Christmas or a birthday or anything, you know.”
“Oh. just tell her the apron reminded you of her, and so you send it,” Jimmy advised brilliantly.
“Jimmy”—Mrs. Jack was convulsed with laughter—“I take back what I said; perhaps Agatha’s the one for you, after all : you do need a guardian. Mercy! Don’t wad it up like that ! And in that horrid coarse brown paper, too. If I’m to send it, at least it shall be properly wrapped.”
She hunted up fine white tissue paper and some narrow scarlet ribbon ; but she balked at the note.
“I couldn’t, you know, Jimmy,” she protested, “tell a tarradiddle like that. I’ll just enclose my card. Shall I mail it, or send it by messenger, or what?”
“Give it to me,” said Jimmv. “I’ll have a massenger take it up. I want to be there, you know, when it’s delivered. I’m going to call on Agatha now,” he explained.
He took the package and reached for his hat.
“You’ve been awfullv good about it, Mrs. Jack,” he said, “and I’m no end grateful.”
Mrs. Jack accompanied him to the front door. As he went down the steps he was whistling softly. With her head on one side she listened and caught the air—it was the wedding march from Lohengrin.
Not being a mind-reader, Jimmy Farraday could not know that a new plot was seething in Agatha’s brain and that her fingers itched for a pencil ; and Agatha was too polite to tell him.
So he sat down and began to talk cheerful nothings the while he wait-
ed for his messenger bov. He tried not to look expectant when the bell rang, and hoped his manner was properly detached and disinterested when the maid brought in a familiar tissue-wrapped parcel.
Agatha laid it on the table and went on with the conversation.
“Haven’t you any natural curiosity ” Jimmy wanted to know.
“Not so much, I think, as you have,” Agatha Hashed back at him. But she laughed and began to untie the scarlet ribbon.
“Now, why,” she demanded, in a puzzled sort of way, when she had brought to light both apron and card, “should she be sending me that? It isn’t Christmas or a birthday, and, anyway, we never exchange gifts.”
“Who is ‘she’?” demanded Jimmy, feeling that when he took to civil engineering a talented actor was lost to the world.
“Mrs. Jack Deming,” Agatha explained, quite unnecessarily, had she but known it. “It’s an apron,” she further informed him, also unnecessarily.
Jimmy leaned over and meditatively fingered the embroidery.
“It seems a pretty one,” he ventured.
“Why, yes,” said Agatha, “as aprons go. I should sav it was an uncommonly nice one. I know that’s good embroidery; but I’d rather have it in a shirtwaist.”
“But it looks nice on the apron,” Jimmy insisted. He took it from Agatha and spread it across his knees.
“What does it make you think of?” he inquired hopefully.
“Of a lunatic asylum for Mrs. Jack,” Agatha returned promptly.
“Great Scott!” Jimmy gasped, rather taken aback. “But why?”
“An apron for me !” said Agatha, tossing it onto the table. “Why, an apron’s a badge of servitude. Only nurses and cooks have any use for aprons.”
“Mrs. Jack wears them sometimes,” Jimmy ventured.
“Yes, when she’s fussing over her chafing dish, or when it’s cook’s afternoon off.”
“I like an apron myself,” Jimmy stated. “That is, a nice apron like that one.”
Agatha looked at him curiously. “What’s come over you, Jimmv?” she wanted to know. “I begin to think you and Mrs. Jack must be two of a kind. If you want that apron for your best girl, Jimmy, for Heaven’s sake take it and give it to her.”
“I haven’t any ‘best girl,’ ” Jimmy confessed sadly. “I’d like to have, but she won’t have me.”
“Have you asked her?” Agatha demanded practicallv.
“Then how do you know she won’t have you?”
“Would you have me?”
“Goodness, no !”
“Then why should vou suppose that what isn’t good enough for you would do for some other girl?”
“It isn’t a question of good enough,” Agatha explained patiently. “I’m sure any girl who reallv wanted a husband would be glad enough to get you. But, vou see. I don’t want a husband ; I’m not the marrying kind.”
“But perhaps you are?” Jimmy suggested mildly: “only vou don’t know it yet.”
Agatha opened her lips for an emphatic denial, but Jimmy forestalled her by a question.
“Are you going to wear the apron?” he wanted to know.
“I am not.” Agatha’s answer was both prompt and emphatic. “I’m going to have it made into a shirtwaist. It’s a shame to waste such lovelv embroiderv, and so much of it.”
But Agatha did not have the apron made into a shirtwaist. Twice she took it out, fullv intending to
carry it to her dressmaker’s, and twice, for no reason at all, she put it back in the drawer.
Finally she went to call on Mrs. Deming.
“Mrs. Jack,” she said, going straight to the point, “that apron you sent me is getting on my nerves. What use could you possibly have thought I would ever have for it?”
“No use at all,” returned Mrs. Jack with frankness, watching Agatha.
“Then, why on earth,” demanded the amazed Agatha, “did you send it to me?”
“Because Jimmy Farraday asked me to.”
“Jimmy Farraday! What has he to do with it?”
“Agatha Dent,” said Mrs. Jack severely, “I’m ashamed of you ! And you a story writer, too! If one look at that apron does’t tell you, then I guess you’d better ask Jimmy.”
Which Agatha did.
I want you to marry me, Agatha,” said Jimmy bluntly.
“But what has the apron to do with it ” demanded poor, puzzled Agatha.
“Everything,” said Jimmy earnestly.
“Jimmy,” said Agatha, trying to treat the matter lightly, “the novelty of your proposal certainlv appeals to me . If-”
“I love you!” said Jimmy tensely. “Agatha Dent, I love you. and you don’t love me—yet. When you know what that apron means you’ll love me—or some other man. Oh. I know”—in answer to her little gesture of protest—“you think you don’t want love. But. perhaps, Agatha, some day you’ll find that you do. And if I’m the man—I won’t bother vou in the meantime : I won’t refer to this again—but if I’m the man, Agatha, will you tell me ?”
“Why, yes,” said Agatha slowly, I think I can promise that, Jimmy.”
For an hour Agatha had wrestled vainly with a heroine who insisted upon being clothed, most unfitly, in an apron, and a hero who liked aprons and said so.
At last she flung down her pencil in disgust.
“I’d like,” she said viciously, “to tie that apron about Jimmy Farraday’s neck and choke him.”
Then she went upstairs and took the apron out of the drawer. She tied it on and stood before the glass. In some subtle fashion the apron clashed with the gown she was wearing. She jerked it off and flung it on the bed.
“I’ll take it to Celeste,” she decided angrily, “and have it made into a shirt waist, and be done with it.”
Celeste was a little Frenchwoman who had been a lady’s maid, but who now sewed for a favored few.
She fell upon the apron with a little cry of admiration. Agatha waited till her first rapture had spent itself. Then, to her great disgust, she heard herself saying: “Celeste, l want a gown to wear with that apron. And you need not consider expense.”
The little Frenchwoman shrugged her shoulders and spread her palms in a queer, deprecating gesture.
“Mon Dieu !” she cried. “With you of America it ees like that always. It ees money, money, and then more money. It ees not money will make a gown for that so charming apron. Mais, non. A leetle of the head, and much of the heart, and a trifle of pink lawn, and behold it ees done !”
“Celeste,” she demanded suddenly, “were you ever in love?”
The effect of the question staggered Agatha.
The volatile little Frenchwoman turned quite white and dropped into the nearest chair.
“Mon Dieu !” she moaned. “It ees
so long ago, and yet I cannot forget, not ever can I forget !”
She was crying now, and between her sobs she explained.
“My Alphonse,” she said, “we were to have been married, but he die, and I am left alone. That little apron of mademoiselle, it makes me to think of Alphonse.”
She dried her eyes and stood up.
“I ask a thousand pardons,” she said, in a voice that still shook in spite of her efforts to control it. “The gown of Mademoiselle, in three days it shall be done.”
Celeste was as good as her word. In three days the gown came home. It was swathed in tissue paper and smelled faintly of orris.
Agatha looked at it in wonder, it was so simple, yet so perfect and so different from anything she had ever before worn.
She slipped it on, and her wonder grew. Clearly the little French dressmaker who sewed for her daily bread possessed some secret of living of which she, Agatha, was ignorant. And whatever it was, Mrs. Tack Deining knew it, too. That senseless apron appealed to her just as it had to Celeste. She had wanted to wear it for her Jack.
In deep disgust Agatha hung up the pink dress in her closet. She had acquired a perfectly useless frock and was no nearer to an understanding of the apron than she had been before.
Then she went downstairs, where she found a long brown, self-addressed envelope lying on the hall table.
Folded in the manuscript it contained was an editorial communication. From it Agatha gathered that that particular editor believed in the shoemaker sticking to his last, and that he thought Agatha had better leave the writing of love stories to some one who knew more about it than she did. Sadly Agatha dropned her despised and rejected story into the waste basket. She had not the heart to send it elsewhere, for she
feared that the editor was right.
“It will be a big thing,” said Jimmy Farraday, “the biggest thing I’ve ever seen yet, and I’m to have entire charge of the work.”
“But South America,” objected Agatha rather faintly, “is such a long way off.”
“It’s a chance such as comes to a chap but once in a lifetime,” contended Jimmy Farraday. “And, besides, there’s really nothing to keep me here, you know,” he ended rather dismally.
“Then,” said Agatha, “you’ve definitelv decided to go?”
He would not wait for the cup of tea she wanted to make for him, because, he said, he was pressed for time. He would sail in a week, and meantime there was much to be done.
That night Agatha lay long awake. She was trying to determine what her world would be like with Jimmy Farraday taken out of it. Somehow it had never occurred to her that Jimmy could go out of her life. She had accepted him just as she had the sunshine and the flowers in spring and the little new green leaves on the trees, and all tlie other things that went to make her life pleasant.
She would miss Jimmv; oh. yes, she was very sure indeed that she would miss Jimmy. Who understood her many moods as did Jimmy —kind, patient, thoughtful Jimmy? Who else would trouble to send her her favorite flowers, or to see always that the best in music and literature came her way? What would life be without Jimmy’s unobtrusive but, none the less, very real care of her?
Quite suddenly Agatha turned her face to her pillow and began to cry. Her world had all gone wrong.
Toward morning she fell asleep, but only to dream that she saw Jimmy standing on the deck of the steamer that was to take him to South America. But Jimmy was not alone. A girl was beside him—a girl
who wore an apron and seemed to like it. And the girl and Jimmy were so absorbed in each other that neither of them saw Agatha, who was standing on the shore and trying vainly to attract their attention.
Fierce, hot jealousy—an emotion hitherto unknown to Agatha—tore at her heart. So real was it that it woke her up.
It lacked quite an hour of her usual rising time, but she got up and began a frantic search through her bureau drawers. At length she pulled out what she wanted— Jimmy’s apron that she had done her best to mislay and forget.
Her tears rained down on its white folds and blistered the dainty lawn. At last she knew what the apron stood for.
Agatha stood before the telephone and clutched the receiver with a shaking hand. Central was very long in making the connection. Perhaps Jimmy was not there at all. He might be ill, or out of town, orwell, almost anvthing.
And then: “Hello!” came to her faintly. It was Jimmy speaking. As if she could possibly mistake any other voice for his !
“It’s Agatha.” she said, trying hard to speak quite naturally. “And I want you to come up at once. Oh. I know you're busy, but it's very important, and—and please come!”
“Why, of course I'll come.” The voice was kind and reassuring, but then it could not have been anything else, for was it not Jimmy’s voice ?
“Oh. I 'ín so glad !”
Jimmv Farradav could hardlv believe his ears. Indeed, he would have asked her to repeat that, but Agatha had already hung up the receiver and was on her way to the front door, that she might open it so soon as ever Jimmy should set foot on the porch.
Something of yielding, something of surrender Jimmy certainly ex-
pected, but even so he was all unprepared for the bundle of pink lawn that hurled itself into his arms and clutched him firmly.
“Oh, you may go to South America if you want to,” said a voice that was half smothered against his coat collar, “but, Jimmy Farraday, you’ve got to take me along. And see, Jimmy, I have on
your apron. I know what it means now, dear, and I’m going to wear it for you—always, Jimmy.”
Jimmy Farraday did not answer in words, because where his voice should have been there was only a lump. But his arms tightened about the pink-clad figure, and his lips had found hers. And both understood and were satisfied.