Four Bachelor Girls Find a Real Home
Women and their Work
MYRTLE B. PATTERSON
VAL PARKMAN listlessly shut the door behind her, switched on the electric bulb and, with a tired gesture, tossed her sodden hat on the bed where it proceeded to imprint a wet ring on the white spread. Vacantly she stood looking down at the shabby carpet and the little pools of water already made by the drip from her umbrella and slicker; dejection crept over her. Heavens, what a deadly close to a trying day. She ached with weariness, but this grey pale of stillness and loneliness was harder to endure.
From outside came the steady rush of rain. It was too stormy and too late to go out somewhere, anywhere. Up from Mrs. Spack’s boarding-house parlor arose the strains of the latest hit, badly played— Tilly Simmons of the doll-like face and curls, was entertaining her latest “she;k.” Val had seen them on her way upstairs. Here in her own room— her eyes gave it a slow, mechanical survey and dropped back dully to the carpet. There was no recrea-
A shabby room in a shabby boarding house on a shabby street. Hozv many thousand business girls call that home? Too many, by their ozun confession, and yet there is a way out. The four bachelor girls in this story found it, and it led to a home that was as cosy as it was manless.
tion to be gained by staying within its walls. A white, iron bed, a bureau, a table, two chairs, a wardrobe and a trunk—what company for a lively girl after a day’s work!
Books? She was sick of them. Sewing? Under the single light, it tried her eyes. Pressing her rumpled suit? Mrs. Spack forbade the use of electric irons in the bedrooms and if she went down to the kitchen Mrs. Spack would whine out her daily tale of woe. Poor soul, yes . . . but she didn’t want grief to-night. She wanted fun, youth, music, laughter, a fire, a snack to eat before she went to bed . . . just the things that she had always had at home before a newspaper career brought her to the city. Mother and the boys had never dreamed it would be like this . . .
Suddenly, she laughed. A short, hard laugh—but a laugh. She slipped out of the slicker and hung it carefully where it would dry. Then she began to undress.
A good joke on her, this, imagining she could leave all the old life behind and be happy with only a job. She could, too, if only it wasn’t . . . so . . . darned . . . lonesome. Tears began to tighten her throat. She winked hard. It was of no use. Defiantly,'she put out the light and crept into bed. For hours she lay awake in the darkness.
XJEXT morning the sun was shining. 1\ Val’s heart lifted. Supported by the resolution she had made in the night, she put away her depression. If she was to make a success of that newspaper job, she must be rested, well-fed—and happy. She gave her hat a saucy tilt over one eye, admired the effect of immaculate collar and cuffs against her dark suit and ran downstairs to breakfast. Twenty minutes later she was resolutely swinging down the street towards the office, her mind busy on her problem. When she Continued on page 58
Continued, from page 56 bumped into Anne McDougall ten blocks away, she had already put her finger on the weak spot in this new life: she needed a home.
“Anne,” she told her friend, who worked on a rival newspaper, “I’ve decided what makes the tired business girl. She needs a home. What does a career amount to if a hot dinner and a warm fireside don’t wait for her somewhere at six o’clock? Every woman or girl must have a home if she is to get the most out of life, or if—”
“Have you lost your senses?” Anne broke in. “Didn’t I hear you say only last week that husband and housework spelled the end of any woman’s career?”
“You did,” returned Val, with a grin. “I still believe it. A husband and housework would certainly cramp my style just now. But you don’t need them for a home, Anne. What does ‘home’ mean, anyway, toa business or professional woman? Why, a bright, cheerful place that is her own for entertaining friends, for studying, for carrying on her hundred and one interests. Where do the husband and housework come in? Nowhere. A capable woman does the housework and the independent woman’s own cheque pays the bills. What could be simpler?”
“But the expense, Val,” protested the other girl. “No woman, unless she were very well paid for superior work, could afford to keep up a home and a maid. She couldn’t do it.”
Val paused a moment. She knew it was a point well taken. No ordinary salary could encompass the items of rent, service, light, gas, telephone and food, not if there was to be any margin for other necessities. Two salaries, even, wouldn’t be too much. Two salaries . . . her mind snatched at the idea . . . two girls. Three salaries . . . three girls. Four salaries . . .
“Anne,” she said slowly. “I have it. Why can’t you and I and two other girls pool our belongings and our living expenses and make a real home for us all? The kind of home to which we are accustomed. We could . . . oh, will you?”
Anne, canny daughter of the Scots, hesitated a long minute, her eyes on Val’s eager face.
“I will,” she promised finally, and they solemnly shook hands.
They met that night at dinner to consider ways and means. First, they must find two other homeless girls to share the prospective apartment. These mates must be carefully chosen.
“We’d better look for them in the newspaper crowd,” Val pointed out, wisely. “Then, whatever other differences we may have, there will be that bond to hold us together. Think of the ‘shop-talks’ we’ll have around that lamplighted table of ours, while the plump Irish cook removes the dinner plates and brings on the apple pie and coffee.”
“Optimist!” jeered Anne. She turned serious. “But you’re right about our having work in common. Four different professions among us might give us a broader point of view, but with all of us newspaper workers, I’m sure we shall be a more solid unit. After all, real newspaper folk have their own way of looking at things. Well, that’s decided. What next?”
Val was thinking hard.
“How about asking Bobby Nairn?” she suggested. “She’s just back on the Journal after her trip to China. Staying for a while with a married cousin. I think you’d like her. She’s square and jolly and, they do say, a good housekeeper. We’ll need someone with a flair for that. I believe she plays the piano, too. Bobby draws a good salary—and that’s not to be overlooked, either. Best of all, she likes hiking and outdoor stuff. What do you say, Anne? Shall I ask her?”
Anne agreed. She was thinking of her “mortician” friend—the young woman who looked after the newspaper “morgue” in her office. Witty, well-read, whimsical, gay in spite of financial and health troubles, she was a bright spot in the office. Why not in their apartment? It was settled at last that the two originators of the plan should endeavor to “sell” the idea to Bobby Nairn and to Anne’s friend, Denny Dolan.
They did sell it, but only on the understanding that at the end of six months any one of the girls could withdraw, if she chose, without hard feelings. Four weeks later they had all moved into the upper half of a gray house on what Va! called
“a leafy street” and they were deep into the business of furnishing their apartment.
For $60 a month they had obtained the entire second storey of a remodelled old house, and a private stairway led from the lower front porch up into their domain. A charmingly irregular livingroom, a diningroom, a bedroom, a blue-and-white kitchen and a bathroom completed the main floor. There were wide windows on all sides, two porches and no less than six large and small closets. Above the whole, tucked away under the sloping roof, was a feature that had won the girls’ hearts— an attic with casement windows on two sides and two huge clothes cupboards. As a sleepingroom for two or more of them, it was perfect—airy, removed and possessed of a certain quaint “atmosphere” that was later accentuated by sheer curtains and mahogany furniture.
The mahogany furniture was a windfall. For the first three weeks their combined effects barely stretched from the kitchen to the living room. Then a motherly soul, who was going away that winter, left a part of her furnishings with them for use and safe keeping. A chair here, a table there, a bureau upstairs—it was a transformation.
The Flat delighted their eyes. Gray walls, ivory woodwork, dark floors that gleamed in the firelight; small rugs; a blue chesterfield in the bay window;a deep upholstered chair drawn into the circle of light from Anne’s lamD on the magazinelittered table; a wing chair beside the fireplace; Bobby’s old piano in the nook between the livingroom and the diningroom; gay cretonne draperies, white, frilled curtains—ah, yes, frilled curtains. Denny never forgot them. The other girls would not let her.
Thirty-three yards of dotted marquisette had been bought for the complete set of windows. Hemming these, top and bottom, was a rite they had kept for Saturday night. When the dinner dishes were done and a fire cracked on the hearth they reverently brought out the lengths of snowy material and settled down to sew. The telephone rang and, unbelievingly, they heard Denny make a date for a walk in the moonlit park. Such treason had to be nipped! Wickedly, they maintained a hurt silence while she said goodbye to them in her soft, Southern voice. She had to leave the house torn between guilt and a certain satisfaction in playing truant. Afterwards, a reference to “curtains” always brought Denny to time.
THAT September was the beginning of a wonderful two years for “the Three Bears—and Goldilocks.” The Flat repaid them again and again for their investment in work, tolerance and good sportsmanship. It was the core of their lives at that time. In it they learned to live and to “give or git” with equal equanimity. They played the game with one another, endeavored to be “big” about little things, allowed to creep in none of the “intrigue” that so often demoralizes friendships among girls, and maintained a steadfast respect for each’s right to live her own life without prying or interference. They had their own unwritten—and unspoken •—code.
It was a hilarious household. Fun sparkled there at any hour. Informal and friendly and devil-may-care-ish, the Flat welcomed the assorted friends and acquaintances that the girls brought home for the odd meal or evening. It cheered them with food, fire and comfort, and invited them to come back. A few “lame ducks” learned to fly again, thanks to the kind old Flat.
All four girls were incorrigible “nighthawks.” While other eyes grew heavy, theirs grew brighter, and guests who insisted on going home from the Flat at a conventional hour were seldom invited back as “kindred souls” to share some special occasion. One night the group around the fireplace broke up long after midnight only to adjourn to the kitchen for bacon and eggs. On another summer’s night day was breaking as they dried the last coffee cup after an informal gathering in honor of an English actor. Perforce, it had been held after the night performance. As they put the milk bottles out on the back porch, they could see the paling sky. Slipping into sweaters, the four friends walked to a point of vantage in the park and watched the glory of dawn. If even one Flat-mate had not been in full accord with nocturnal jaunts of this kind, serious differences might have arisen.
Bobby had a mania for cleanliness.
Two baths a day was her ideal quota. She hated to wash her neck, she explained, and it was easier to take a bath. She decided one noon, having missed her morning splash, to freshen up before Beth, a friend, called to drive her downtown for a luncheon she had to “cover.” She had just stepped out of the tub when the front door slammed and steps sounded on the stairs.
“Come on in-n!” she called, rubbing herself dry at a great rate. “Come on in-n.”
Silence in the hall.
“Old goulash, can’t you hear? Come on in-n!”
The front door slammed a second time and Bobby heard Beth’s whistle. She stood petrified. Who was that in the hall? Wrapping herself in a heavy bathrobe, she peered out through a crack in the door. There, nervously twirling his hat in big hands, shuffled the expressman.
“Does Miss Valerie Parkman live here?” he gulped.
Bobby’s mania for things clean got under Val’s skin more than once. It irritated her excessively when, having had a bath herself, she scrubbed the tub only to hear Bobby a little later give it another cleaning before she would let her own bath water run. Again, when she had carefully set the table for a meal at which there would be a guest, Bobby would enquire solicitously: “Is that a clean serviette, Mr. Brown?” Val’s face would flame. At first, she had to bite her lips to control an unruly tongue but after a while she merely shrugged. It was only old Bobby’s way. Not important enough to notice. It was on a par with Anne’s untidiness. This nearly drove Val mad the first autumn. Now she could come home to a tumbled bed, powder-flecked floor and strewn clothes—she flickered not an eye lash.
“For successful marriage—get your training in a bachelor girls’ apartment,” she would murmur, as she straightened the disorder. She could imagine herself meeting with composure a husband’s unthinking blunders. She’d smile where the unschooled bride would weep!
BEST of all their living arrangements was that which provided a housekeeper. For $6 a week and two meals a day she came every week-day to get luncheon at one o’clock, to wash, iron, sweep and scrub during the afternoon, and to have an appetizing hot meal ready to serve at 6.30 o’clock when her “young ladies” came home. After that she washed the dishes, leaving the girls free as men are free.
While each girl took a week at a time in which to be responsible for household affairs, the housekeeper did mest of the buying on her way to their apartment. During the summer of 1925, she was serving a dinner to four of them at a total cost of 75 cents. Keeping down the cost of food was her pride. Needless to say, her young ladies encouraged her! Not only did the simple, nutritious meals improve
their health, but their bank savings showed increases.
They learned to economize—all four of them. Bobby, the extravagant, generous one, found it hardest. It was Bobby who had 53 pairs of wearable stockings, some of them needing only a stitch of darning; it was Bobby who always bought flowers when they were most expensive; it was Bobby who purchased household supplies and then, unfair to herself, forgot to claim credit for them at the end of the month. In keeping a curb on Bobby, the morale of the other three improved. They preached economy—and practised it— sometimes.!
All expenses of the apartment were paid share and share alike, regardless of vacations, the missing of meals and any differences in the respective number of guests during the month. This plan did away with much vexatious bookkeeping, made The Flat a real home and, in the end, was fair to them all.
Denny kept the books. On the middle of the month she paid the rent of $60 and the telephone bill of $4. Each girl gave her $16 from the pay cheque of the fifteenth. At the end of the month she totalled up the other expenses and divided the amount four ways. She subtracted from each girl’s account the sums she had already laid out during the month past for household necessities. Thus, if Anne’s share of the expenses for groceries, meat, laundry, help, light and gas was $24, and she had already spent $8 for steak, bread, eggs and other items, her second cheque to Denny would be for $16. The individual cost of maintaining the apartment for the month was $16, plus $8, plus $16, or $40. The total cost was $40 multiplied by four, $160. During the summer months, it frequently dropped to $140, or $35 apiece. These are actual figures.
From the financial, social, health and comfort points of view, the Flat was eminently a success. There was only one drawback in the entire arrangement—a lack of privacy. Because their ages ranged from 22 to 28 years, the girls were young enough to adjust themselves to the sharing of living quarters, but as time went by and one or the other wanted to be alone to study or to follow some other individual bent, the need of more space presented itself. Val solved the difficulty by renting a basement room and bath in the apartment house next door and moving there her desk, typewriter, books, a cot and a lamp. She could work there undisturbed and still share the life at the Flat.
And so four young women lived happily together—if not for ever after, at least as long as it served their need. They provoked discussion.
“I never knew that women could be such good fellows together,” a man they knew once said to another.
“Yes, darn it,” returned his companion, “but where do we come in?”
Perhaps they don’t!