A LEAP YEAR PROPOSAL
P. W. LUCE
"DID you ever know any girl who really did propose during a leap Year?”
Miss Anstell’s question provoked many replies from the small crowd of salesgirls around her. Some had heard of oases, others guessed it had happened, but not one knew for certain.
“What I want to know,” Miss Anstell’s nasal tones broke in on the hubbub of feminine voices, “what I want to know is, has it ever really happened, or is it just a joke? I don’t want to be a suffragette, but if I thought I could land one man I’d certainly do it.”
The exact relation between a Leap Year proposal and the female suffrage movement did not seem to disturb the salesladies. And the moderation of Miss Anstell in aiming to land only one man apparently touched a responsive chord, for no girl advised a more ambitious effort.
“The trouble is that the right kind of men are scarce,” complained Jessie Braynes. “There are twelve men working in this place, and only one in the lot that I’d have.
“And what’s more—” she added as an afterthought. Then she stopped, slightly confused.
“You’d never dare.”
“He’d just shrivel you up.”
“I bet he’d take it just as a matter of course and say yes.”
“He’d lecture you like a fond mother.” Front these ejaculations it may be gathered that the other girls had a settled idea as to the identity of the míale individual whom Jessie Braynes visualized when she slightly colored as she spoke her unfinished sentence, “and what’s more.” No name was spoken by the _ little crowd. There was no occasion for it, because every girl knew that George Cammsard was the one elegible. He was in charge of the nmil order department of the firm and his duties brought him in close touch with the different salesladies.
He had been looking after the wants of the country customers of Grey & Grey for the past five years, and had seen many girls come and go, and some of them come back. But it was not on record that he had ever exerted himself in the slightest to create a favorable impression among the members of the fair sex.
There was a tradition that he had once been on the point of commenting on the fact that his private stenographer was wearing a new dress, but he had checked himself almost before the first words had passed his lips, and his views on that dress remained his own.
Cammsard was an ordinary man in appearance. He did not have one distinguishing feature that bespoke individuality. As a mail order manager he did his work well, without being in any way a brilliant success. If he excells in anything, it was in his diplomatic re-arrangemen of difficult store problems. His advice was never proffered, and it was never withheld when sought.
Somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five, without a known vice or an oppression of virtues, of a complacent disposition, and reputed to be worth a few thousand dollars, Cammsard was not to be considered a negligible quantity by Grey & Grey’s salesladies.
It was Leap Year. The girls considered very seriously the wisdom of the suggestion thrown out 'as to her intentions by Miss Braynes. Sundry wise nods became the straws that showed the current in which their thoughts were drifting.
George Cammsard, his mind immersed in the needs of the country buyers, did not look up from his order book as Jessie Braynes entered his office. He proceeded leisurely with his work until he felt he could afford to banish that particular piece of business from his attention for a moment while he heard the report brought in by one of the salesgirls. It was easier for the girl to wait than for him to recommence his tracing.
The lifting of his eyes from the order book intimated to Miss Braynes that Cammsard was ready. She gave him the information that the shade of silk needed by an outside customer could be supplied in any quantity.
“Good,” remarked Cammsard, as he turned his attention once again to his book. It was a very ordinary business transaction.
“There’s something else, Mr. Cammsard.”
The intonation made Cammsard look up quickly. The “something else” suggested in such a tone could hardly refer to business.
“Yes?” he queried. -“This is Leap Atoar, you know, Mr. Cammsard.”
“Four into nineteen—four and carry three—into thirty-one—seven and carry three—into thirty-two—eight even. Yes,” assented the practical man, “this is Leap Year. This is also Tuesday, and the sixteenth day of the month. To-morrow will be Wednesday and yesterday was Monday. Other obvious remarks I might make will probably occurto_ you when you regain your composure, Miss Braynes. By the way, why this sudden desire on your part to inform me that this was Leap Year? Were you—”
Miss Braynes, tell-tale blushes spreading over her pink and white cheeks, attempted to frame a negative answer. Now that she was face to face with the situation she had rehearsed _ so many times, she was helpless. Conflicting emotions urged her to admit and pressed her to deny the impeachment. Her feminine intuition whispered that she must deny that she ever, ever intended to propose to him, and that he musn’t think of such a thing, please. But on the other hand stern reason pointed out that Cammsard had accepted the situation exactly as she had foreseen. Had he parried her introductory remark concerning Leap Year, or directly expressed his opinion of a woman who proposed to a man because of the presumed privilege, she might have liad some excuse for being at a loss for words. But she had anticipated that he would make some ordinary remark to the effect that Leap Years were necessary for the scientific arrangement of the calendar, and she had prepared a touching
little follow-up speech. She recalled every word even as she stood there, and in a sub-conscious way her proposal kept itself in the foreground as she wrestled with the voices that urged, one to Cammsard and the other to the door.
It was not an effusive proposal that she had so carefully prepared. . She had studied Cammsard and had come to the conclusion that a direct business appeal would more likely meet with his favor. She would not make the mistake of learning by heart one of the “silent silv’ry moon” declarations of love she had frequently read—and with delight—in the last chapters of her favorite novels. No! She would say to the mail order manager :
“Leap Year confers upon woman a privilege founded on a very ancient custom. I really believe that I understand you well enough, Mr. Cammsard, to know that you will not despise me for taking advantage of this privilege, even if the suggestion I make does not meet with your approval. I believe that you would be happier if you were married, Mr. Cammsard, and I am willing to make you happy.”
No suggestion of devotion, no mention of love, no reference to his lonely state— nothing but a practical statement of fact. She had felt that Cammsard could _ not but be in sympathy with such a direct presentation of an important case.
But, somehow, now that she was face to face with the man, the training of centuries handed down to her by her mothers would not permit her to proceed. At the supreme moment she was not sure that she wished to proceed.
She was only conscious of one thing, and that was that she had remained silent for a long time, and that Cammsard stood watching her with an expressionless face.
Her gaze fell on the sample of silk she held in her hand and a sequence of ideas flashed through her brain as she saw that it was green. It would give her time to recover her composure, anyway.
“I was about to remark,” she said, “that this is the shade of green silk that is known as “Bachelor’s choice” during Leap Years. We have quite a lot of it in stock; I was wondering if it would sell well in 1912.”
In the cadences of the laugh with which she finished this sally she seemed to hear the hidden question. “What would you do?”
“There is always a good demand for this shade—among the country buyers.”
There was something in the inflection of the last three w’ords that dashed the hopes of Jessie Braynes to the ground. She understood quite plainly that whatever might be done during Leap Year in the rural district, it was not considered proper, in Mr. Cammsard’s opinion, for a city girl to take the first step towards a marriage proposal. She left the room, thankful that she could still face the mail order manager with a dignity she had almost lost.
As she closed the door a quiet smile spread over Cammsard’s face. “Number two; more to follow,” was his comment.
He wras right in his surmise. More followed. Miss Anstell broached the subject the same afternoon, but she failed to make any headway against the diplomatic barrier of Cammsard’s replies to her advances. She recognized that she lacked the finesse necessary to bring the interview’ to a successful conclusion and she retired, if not with glory, at least wdtli honor.
One after the other the salesladies came. Sometimes a few days elapsed without one of the girls making a haltingattempt to lead the mail order manager into a state of mind w7hen he would be in a receptive mood for a proposal of marriage, but he was adamant. Not one of the girls got beyond the mark set by Jessie Braynes.
_ Somehow the secret advances of the girls became known to each other. First it was whispered by one dear friend to her best chum. Then they exchanged secrets, and finally every one on the selling staff knew’ how7 badly matters were progressing. It became a matter of sex pride. Should one man defy the efforts of many elegible girls? Never!
Because her chance remark had started the campaign aimed at Cammsard’s celibacy, Miss Anstell declared that she would consider it a personal affront if not one of the girls could make him listen to a proposal.
“Somebody’s just got to blurt out the question, that’s all there is to it,” she re-
marked, “he can’t avoid answering when one of us says ‘Will you marry me?’ ”
“Then you ask the question,” chorused several voices.
“I’ll do it,” she answered with emphasis. “I’ll go in right now, w’hen I feel like it.”
Three minutes later Miss Anstell stepped out of Cammsard’s office. She held her head very high and her face bore no evidence of great joy.
She explained the interview’ in a few w’ords.
“I w’ent right to the point and said to him : “Mr. Cammsard, I w’ould like you to marry me.”
“He looked up without being the least bit surprised and said in his quiet way, “Certainly, Miss Anstell. As I am a justice of the peace in this state, I am empowered to unite two persons in wedlock. Make your arrangements with the bridegroom and let me know on w’hat date you will require my services.”
“Oh. it isn’t so funny as all that,” she w’ent on, checking a spreading smile. “What could I do? I just said ‘Thank you’ and came away.
“He’s too smart for any one of us, but I ve got another scheme that’s bound to work. Let’s wait on him in a body and present our request in w’riting. Then he can’t avoid giving an answer.”
The next few days were interesting ones for the salesladies. They had no precedent to guide them in the preparation of their composite marriage proposal, and because of the delicate nature of the negotiations they were not inclined to seek assistance outside of their number. Finally the document was drawn up to the general satisfaction and the date fixed for its presentation. Appropriately enough, the tw7entv-ninth of February was the day selected. It w7as the weekly early closing day.
“Whereas,” read the unusual document; “whereas, the salesladies of this establishment have decided that Mr. George Cammsard is a gentleman who would make an exemplary husband, and w’hereas we are all wfilling that one of us (names attached) should become Mrs. Cammsard, and whereas it is woman’s privilege to propose during a Leap Year.
“Therefore, we have resolved to ask Mr. Cammsard to make choice of a bride from among our number.”
The signatures of the girls followed. They all acknowledged that the petition didn’t read quite right at the finish, but they had been unable to agree on the termination, some insisting on the words “And your petitioners, as in duty bound, shall ever pray,” while others were equally strong in favor of “In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seals.” Unable to agree on the correct ending, the difficulty had been solved by omitting it.
The manner of presentation was carefully arranged. The girls were to troop into Cammsard’s office in a body, and without a word place the paper before him. The remainder of the program would depend wholly on the manner in which the mail order manager accepted the situation. It was all very simple.
At the appointed time the salesladies advanced on Cammsard’s office. Jessie Braynes led the group, with Miss Anstell in second place. The others crowded behind.
A gentle knock at the door brought the reply “Come in.”
The girls entered—eleven of them. In their self-consciousness they failed to notice that Cammsard was not alone, until it was too late to retreat. There was a lady sitting in the manager’s chair—a lady the girls had never seen.
Miss Braynes broke the awkward silence.
“We thought you were alone, Mr. Cammsard.”
She felt she could never place the petition on the desk in front of the strange lady. It would be too awful.
Two of the girls slipped out of the room, closing the door. The others could not escape without creating a scene. They waited for Cammsard to speak. Somehow they felt that he would straighten out the tangle and permit them to retire
without cheapening themselves in the eyes of the stranger.
In his usual calm manner Cammsard addressed the girls as he might have done had these descents on his office been matters of daily routine.
“Ladies, permit me to introduce to you my wife. Ella, these are some of our salesladies.”
Wife! His wife.
Mrs. Cammsard bowed and smiled genially to the group. The group returned the salutation in an amazed manner, gazing at Mrs. Cammsard as one might gaze on some prehistoric animal. There was nothing in the appearance of the lady to warrant this strange surprise. It was not Mrs. Cammsard that amazed the girls, it was the fact that she existed.
More than ever they realized the necessity for quick retreat. Jessie Braynes’ wit saw a way out.
“We came to congratulate you on your marriage, Mr. Cammsard.”
“Thank you,” replied that gentleman. And his face remained impassive even when his surprised wife volunteered the information :
“Congratulations? But we were married four years ago.”
“Ours was a Leap Year marriage,” supplemented Cammsard. “The present Mrs. Cammsard proposed in January and we were married on February 29. I would strongly advise you ladies to follow her excellent example.”
Mrs. Cammsard later declared that those were the most extraordinary young women she had ever seen. She could not understand why they should be so strangely and so variously agitated over a four-year-old marriage announcement.
Had Mr. Cammsard shown her a signed document he found on the floor after the girls had left the room, she might have understood. But he was a wise man and a diplomat, and he loved peace and quietness in the bosom of his family.