FICTION

No Personal Calls

ELISABETH SANXAY HOLDING July 15 1933
FICTION

No Personal Calls

ELISABETH SANXAY HOLDING July 15 1933

No Personal Calls

FICTION

ELISABETH SANXAY HOLDING

SANDERSON tried the door, and it was locked. A queer, desperate sort of rage came over him. There on the door was his name—Lewis Sanderson, Sole Agent for Marchesa La Rocca, Rome, Milan, Paris. Inside there was his battleground, his field of honor, where he fought his valiant fight. He put all his intelligence, his energy, his dogged courage into this business, and he was gaining a foothold. But against what obstacles!

Three persons beside himself got their living from his enterprise; it was to their interest as well as to his that it should succeed. Y’et not one of them would «»me a little earlier, work a little later, unless definitely and even grimly requested to do so; not one of them gave him the wholehearted service he needed. He was tired. He had sat up very late the night before, writing and rewriting a new form letter to be sent out to the trade; he was harassed by a score

of details. Nine o’clock was the prescribed hour for the office to open, and he was here at ten minutes before the hour. But neither Miss Shayne nor Connell nor Frank had come, or ever did or would come early. If he failed they would go down with him. but they didn’t care. They would, all three of them, do exactly what he paid them to do and no more, ever.

He unlocked the door with his own key, entered the little outer office neat, dim, wáth a look of disuse, of desertion that chilled him. He switched on the lights and, taking the mail from the box inside the door, wrent into his private office with it.

Three enquiries; that was good. But the fourth envelope contained the telephone bill, and that was not good. In his fatigue, his worry, his exasperation, he sw'ore at it. All the time there was this waste going on—personal calls that ran

up the bill, paper wasted, time wasted, everything wasted . . He sat with his head in his hands, and thought.

There were only two things he ever thought of now—his business and Marjorie. His business, desperately as it worried him, he could manage with intelligence; but where Marjorie was concerned, his intelligence failed him and he knew it. He was a slender, fair-haired young man, tall and elegant in his grey suit and spats. He had an air of distinction. He went out now and then to dinners and dances w'hich were reported in Society Notes; and these doings, his connections, his elegant and distinguished air, were definite business assets. But what impression he made upon Marjorie he knew' not.

He hated to think of her. He was certain that, w'hile he w’as building up his business, she would marry someone else. He did not know whether she was particularly interested in

him, but even if he had been certain that she adored him. he wouldn’t have asked her to “wait.” That sort of thing belonged to a different era. Girls like Marjorie didn’t wait for anything. They went out and got what they wanted.

She sold misses’ sports wear in a big department store. She had been to expensive schools and appeared to lead a dazzling life. She knew the people whose names appeared in the social news; she spent week-ends at exclusive resorts. She was, as far as Sanderson could see, perfectly happy and perfectly sure of herself. He had never seen her tired or depressed ; sometimes he thought of her as a little unhuman, a goddess amusing herself on earth. She was tall and blonde and beautiful, so that even the most trying jersey suit was wonderful when she slipped it on to oblige a customer.

When Sanderson asked her out to dinner she almost always accepted, and she seemed to enjoy herself. But taking her out meant an expense he could seldom afford, and he had the unhappy conviction that, in the intervals between their meetings, she forgot him. There were disadvantages in loving a goddess. It meant not only spending a good deal of money but a sometimes superhuman effort to forget his secret cares and be as debonair and carefree as she. Sometimes he failed, and she noticed it.

“All right,” she had said the last time they had dined together. “If that’s the way you feel, darling, let’s just sit and brood over things.”

That was exactly what he did. He was brooding this morning over the telephone bill.

AT THREE MINUTES to nine, Frank Maretti arrived.

^ Frank was the office boy and it was one of his duties to open the office. When he saw the boss already there he glanced in alarm at his wrist-watch, but, seeing the time, was reassured. He wasn’t late.

Covertly Sanderson watched him and seethed with fury. Very dressy, Frank was. His brown suit fitted snugly to his slight body; his black hair was brushed back in a fine wave; he was cool and easy beyond measure. He did not quite venture to whistle, but he came close to it, in a faint hissing

sound, as he walked over to the water-cooler, filled a paper cup and drank.

“I’m darned if I’ll get any more cups for them,” thought Sanderson. “It’s preposterous.

They’re like those children you see on trains; whenever they can’t think of a more expensive way to waste time they drink ice water.”

Now Miss Shayne arrived. He had picked her out with the greatest care. He had investigated her references, had asked her questions, had studied her; and he had believed her to be intelligent, level-headed, quick, competent. He had believed that she would be invaluable, but she wasn’t. She was good, but she wasn’t wonderful.

She was pretty in her own way—a tall, smartly dressed girl. Her appearance and her polite assurance were an asset to the office. But she was hard as nails, thought Sanderson, and entirely self-centred. From his desk he could see her carefully repairing her make-up, wasting more of his time.

Connell greeted her cheerfully when he entered. That

had been one reason for employing Connell that cheerfulness, that boyish and engaging manner, and his neat, alert appearance. But he was deteriorating, growing careless. His suit needed pressing; he required a haircut. And he would have to go out today to see three people who had made enquiries.

“If I could only run my business alone ...” thought Sanderson.

But he could not. He was obliged to employ these people and to pay them. Spinning round in his chair, he pulled forward a memo pad, and he wrote, on three separate sheets:

“Absolutely no personal calls allowed. L. S.”

He called Frank and gave one to him, and told him to put the others on Miss Shayne’s and on Connell’s desks; then he went into the showroom, and contemplated his samples.

He had met the Marchesa La Rocca by chance a year ago, at a week-end party. His hostess had been artlessly pleased at entertaining an Italian lady of title, but Sanderson, a cool and quiet observer, had not been impressed by the marchesa’s social standing. He had never had any doubts about her work, though; it was exquisite, and he was sure it was saleable. She made dolls, bedspreads, tablecloths. bookcovers, from cut velvet, in rich, beautiful colors, in clever, charming styles.

At first she had made a little pretense of making these things as a sort of diversion. “My sister and I—a little amusement . . .” But when she found that Sanderson took a practical and financial interest in the things, she was businesslike enough. She admitted that she had her "little workrooms,” her staff of assistants; she was prepared to fill pretty large orders at reasonable notice. And she never failed. Whenever he was able to get an order, he cabled to her, and she cabled back the date upon which the shipment would arrive; and, except for the interference of wind and weather, the shipment would arrive.

Connell came into his office, to get his orders for the day. He was an excellent salesman, but this growing slackness in his appearance . . . For a moment Sanderson contemplated speaking to him in a friendly fashion about this, but he refrained because he knew he was tired and irritable, and that if he once began his tone might not remain friendly. So he turned over to him the prospects, and rang the buzzer for Miss Shayne.

The sight of her increased his irritation. She was wearing a plaid taffeta blouse with puff sleeves, and her fair hair was unusually curly; her whole appearance was frivolous and annoying, even to her coral-pink nails. She could take dictation well enough, though. She finished his correspondence, and then he sent Frank down to the printer’s with the copy for the new form letter. Then he took his hat and set off to see the display manager of a big department store who was considering the idea of giving the import-

ations a window.

Sanderson had an appointment with the man. but what difference did that make?

First Mr. Lutrell was in conference; then Mr. Lutrell had a telephone call from Chicago. Sanderson

sat smoking cigarettes in a repressed fury of impatience for nearly an hour before he appeared.

“Sorry," said Lutrell with a sort of harassed politeness. “I m anxious to see you about this thing, but they’ve just called an executives’ meeting . . . See here; why don’t we have lunch together? Then we can talk it over.”

Sanderson agreed, and named a hotel where the lunch would be excellent and very expensive. He, of course, would insist upon paying for itand he had figured on cafeterias all week, so that he could take Marjorie out on Saturday evening. He couldn't do that now. All right ; if he wanted to succeed in business, business had to come first.

He went back in a preoccupied mood. Instead of entering through the outer office, he let himself into the sample room because he had a little idea about those dolls, a color scheme. The door into the outer office was ajar, and he saw Miss Shayne at the telephone. An order, could it be, or an enquiry?

“Hello,” she said. “Apartment six-o-three . . . Gene? This is Edna. Gene, listen. We're not supposed to make any more personal calls, so if Sandy comes in, and 1 hang up on you . . . Gene, what did the Warren people say to you? What? What do you mean, ‘nothing doing?’ They said they had an opening. I spoke to young Mr. Warren myself ... I bet you didn’t handle them right, then. I bet you didn’t tell them the experience you’ve had . . What? Gene, what are you saying? You turned down twenty a week? Gene, you fool ! You’re worse than a fool. There’s the rent a month overdue and you just, make me sick. I wish I’d never married you. I wish I’d never set eyes on you ... No! I can’t carry everything alone ... No! You needn’t come down to lunch with me. I haven’t any money. 1 know there’s nothing in the house. There’ll be less Ixfore long. It’s a grand time for you to be so proud, turning down a job . . . No!”

She hung up the receiver, and leaned back in her chair, and Sanderson saw that she was crying.

“She’s going to go,” he said to himself. "Married, is she, and never said a word alx>ut it. ‘If Sandy comes in.’ So I’m just Sandy!”

Her tears inspired him with no pity. She was hard, hard as nails toward the |xx>r devil who had married her. And Sanderson, too, would be hard. 1 íe had to be. This business was a life-and-death matter to him. He couldn't afford to keep anyone who deliberately broke rules, who wasted his time.

She was taking up the receiver again, asking for a number.

“Gene? Listen, Gene, I didn’t mean to lay you out like that. It’s just because I’m tired, Gene . . . You’re going back to set* Warren? Gene, jf you feel the way you do. don’t go . . . Oh, dam the money! Gene, I know you’re worth ten times that much, with your education and experience. You’re just grand . . , Listen, dear. There’s plenty in the house for your lunch. I've got some stuff put away for an emergency in case anyone comes in in the evening. In the bottom drawer of the chiffo-robe. Things you like. A jar of that chicken à la king . . . No, honestly, Gene please . . .! Well, aren’t you making a sacrifice for me, taking a job like that? I ’ll stop on the way home and bring in a steak . . . Gene. I know it won’t be long before you get a real break. A man with your ability. . . Gene, for the love of Pete ! You know how people always like you ...” Sanderson sat on the edge of the table listening to this, looking at Miss Shayne’s attractive profile. I íe was not finding her attractive now. He had

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particularly not wanted a married woman; he had a theory that they gave a divided allegiance to their work. Miss Shayne had deliberately concealed the fact of her marriage . . . She and her "Gene” . . . Wasting the time for which Sanderson paid her in this emotional conversation, these domestic details . . .

"All right,” he said to himself. “All right. She goes!”

In a way he was sorry, because he liked her and her work had been good enough. He was still sitting there, unhappy at the prospect of firing Miss Shayne, unhappy at the thought that this lunch with Lutrell meant not seeing Marjorie on Saturday, when the door of the outer office opened and Frank entered, very debonair and stylish, his bowler hat a little to one side. He raised his black brows and jerked his thumb in the direction of the private office.

“He won’t be in till after lunch,” said Miss Shayne.

“Okay,” said Frank. “Then I guess I’ll make a call.”

“All right,” said Sanderson to himself. “Go ahead.”

TRANK SEATED HIMSELF on the edge T of Miss Shayne’s desk, and she did not rebuke him. There seemed, indeed, to be a curious camaraderie between them; as if, thought Sanderson, they were leagued together against him, against the man who paid their salaries, who was struggling to keep alive the enterprise upon which they all depended.

“Frank dialled his number.

“Say, this Mr. Barbiere? Say, will you get Mrs. Maretti from upstairs? . . . Thanks.” He whistled while he waited ; then his face grew alert. “Mommer? This is Frank . . . Say! What did those guys tell you this morning? Those guys down to the clinic? . . . What? Eyeglasses, they said to get? Well, did you tell ’em how you get dizzy and all . . .? They did . . .? Well, okay, you go get them glasses . . . Aw, shut up! If them doctors said you was to get the glasses, get ’em. Me and Joe can pay for them. You go and—now, lissen, mommer! You can go alone aw’right. You can talk English as good as me, pretty near . . . Oh, aw’ right! But I can’t get no time off today. I’ll take you to get them glasses Sattiday then . . . Aw’right.”

He hung up the receiver and rose.

“Your mother been sick, Frank?” asked Miss Shayne.

“Naw!” said Frank. “On’y—she ain’t so young ...” And he was silent for a time, staring at the floor. “Well!” he said. “Everybody’s got troubles ... I bin sorry for Mr. Connell and that kid of his . . . Gee !

I thought he’d go off his nut for a while, didn’t you?”

“I certainly was sorry for him,” said Miss Shayne. “He says the danger’s over now— but the doctors’ bills he’ll have! Frank, what do you get paid for? I’ve got work to do.”

“Not much more work in my office,” thought Sanderson.

The blue memo slip, upon which he had written “No personal calls allowed,” lay on Miss Shayne’s desk, plainly visible to her and to Frank. And they ignored it utterly. He felt a violent impulse to walk into the room where they were, and to say what he thought, what he felt

“You have the lowest possible standards; no idea of co-operation, of fairness; no vision, no honesty even ...”

But he realized that extraneous things were getting into the imaginary discourse. He was incensed, not only by their flouting of his orders, their slackness, but he was equally irritated by Frank’s stylish overcoat and bowler hat, and by Miss Shayne’s nail polish. This was not just, and he would be just —at any cost.

Just—and cool. He must be cool and composed before he met Lutrell for lunch. That was a matter of extreme importance. He must think of that now, and leave other

matters to be dealt with later. When he came back from lunch he would give Miss Shayne and Frank each a week’s notice. He would send to an agency, and he would interview prospective employees with far greater care.

“Because I’ve got to get co-operation,” he cried to himself. “How can I run this show .when no one’s working with me? They haven’t the wit to see that it’s a matter of vital importance to them, too. They—”

The telephone began to ring.

“If that’s Miss Shayne’s ‘Gene’ or a girl to talk to Frank . . . By heaven! If that’s a personal call, I’ll fire them both now. On the spot!”

“Hello,” said Miss Shayne in her cool, agreeable voice. "Yes, this is Mr. Sanderson’s office . . . No, Mr. Sanderson isn’t in now. May I take a message? Miss Hawthorne? Very well, Miss Hawthorne, I’ll tell Mr. San—”

Sanderson came striding in from the sample room and took the receiver from Miss Shayne.

“Hello, Marjorie. I just—”

“Oh, Lewis ! I had to ring you up . . . I’m so cast down, Lewis. I’m so low . . . Please meet me for lunch and tell me I’m wonderful.”

“What’s happened?”

“I’ve lost my job! I didn’t think I ever would. I thought I’d grow old and grey in the service. I thought I was indispensable. And now, because I had words with a customer ... I couldn’t help it. I wish now it had been blows. I could perfectly well have knocked her down and left her dead or dying in the fitting-room. I’m really quite miserable . . . Will you meet me at twelve?”

“Yes,” he answered, without the slightest hesitation. “That place downtown—”

“Oh, no,” said she. “There’s a marvellous little place just across the street from here, where you can get three courses of almost edible food for the price of one good item elsewhere. In these times, Lewis darling .

“Wherever you like,” he said, and that was exactly what he meant. “Make it sharp at twelve, will you?”

HE DID NOT think any more about Miss Shayne and Frank just then; he had not noticed their consternation at his sudden appearance from the sample room. He attended to a few necessary routine details, then he put on his hat and coat and hurried out.

He reached the rendezvous a few minutes before twelve, and found it the sort of place he avoided when possible; one of those tea-rooms where the tables were too close together. When he had taken Marjorie to lunch in the past, it had been very different; he had taken her to tranquil and elegant places, such as befitted her. He would have to hurry, too. It would never do to keep Lutrell waiting.

He stood in the lobby, watching the door, and because of his sense of haste, he was nervous and frowned.

“I don’t suppose losing her job means anything to her,” he thought.

But it meant a lot to him that she had at once rung him up about it. As if he were of some importance to her; as if, after all, he were not just one young man among many.

“If I could only hurry up and make enough out of my business ...”

He realized now that there was danger in her losing her job, danger to him. Until now he had known where she was all day, but after this she would be remote. Perhaps ! she wouldn’t or couldn’t get another job; she would lead the strange, mysterious life of girls of her sort. They were always busy, but what did they do? They went shopping, went to cocktail parties, dinners, dances . . .

A wailing, sinister whistle blew. Twelve o’clock. He knew that Marjorie lived with her mother in a hotel. He had met her mother two or three times when he had called to take the girl out. A calm, aloof, little grey-haired lady. He had an idea that

site looked upon him as supremely ineligible. Naturally she would wish her daughter to marry a man oi immense wealth and prestige of supreme personal charm and brilliant intellect. She was right. There was no other girl like Marjorie . . .

Five minutes past twelve. Marjorie apparently didn’t know that hours were divided into minutes; apparently si e never thought of periods shorter than a quarter of an hour. When he called for her at the hotel and she said she would be ready “in a minute” it might mean half an hour. She might be half an hour late today.

"But I’ll have to leave at ten minutes to one,” he thought. "I can’t keep Lutrell waiting.”

At a quarter past twelve she came, and she was so beautiful that it took his breath away. His goddess, tall and cool and leisurely . . . For some time she had been wearing preposterous little hats at one side of her head gay and impudent little hats. But today she wore a different sort. It was an innocent, schoolgirl hat with a brim, and it changed her appearance; her face looked heartbreakingly young and gentle. He advanced to meet her. He rallied all his forces to be the debonair and amusing companion she wished, and all the time he felt, like a medieval knight. He could have gone off on any destrate quest, carrying one of her little gloves; he could almost have written a poem about her delicate brows, her glorious dark eyes . . .

"Lewis,” she said, holding out her hand.

Naturally, he took it, but he hadn't expected her fingers to cling to his. “Lewis, I can’t stay here ...”

She was not smiling at all; she was obviously very much upset, and he was only too glad to do whatever she wanted.

“Well go somewhere else,” he began.

"Get a taxi, will you, Lewis?" she said. "Quick.”

This worried him. Was she in any sort of serious trouble? Was she ill? Was she trying to escape from someone?

“Where to?” he asked when he had secured the cab.

"Anywhere . . along the lake-front,” she said. “I’ve—simply got to cry, Lewis.”

He put his arm around her, and she cried, with her head on his shoulder, crushing the new hat.

“My job !” she cried. “My job !”

“You'll find another - ”

“Not for hundreds of years. Now I'll have to s|xmge on poor mother’spoor little, tiny income . . Oh, I^ewis, I ought to have let that frightful customer trample me into the dust ...”

“Nothing of the sort,” he said. “But, see here, Marjorie ... I thought —I mean. I thought you had just about everything you wanted.”

"Why, Lewis!” she exclaimed, sitting up straight. “But, Lewis, ever since father died we haven't had anything. I thought you knew.”

He drew her head down on his shoulder again, but she was not crying any longer.

“Marjorie,” he said. “I mean—why did you ring me up?”

‘But I thought you knew that, too,” she said.

"You mean . . . ?” he cried.

SHE DID. As they drove along the lakefront she told him that of course she had noticed ages ago, that even her mother had noticed . . . “Darling, the way you looked at me !” she explained. And she had believed that he understood the way she had looked at him. She assured him that she had given him the most outrageous encouragement. This he denied, with his arm about her and her cheek against his.

They talked everything over in the most sensible, practical way. They decided that they always had known, from the very first. He told her how much he was making out of his business, and she was amazed; she told him he was wonderful. He denied that, but in his heart he felt that in the future he could be wonderful. They figured out how they would live; they discovered that they could have everything they really wanted; an existence of incredible delight lay before them.

"Lewis!” she cried. ‘Darling! Look at the meter!”

It had ticked up an enormous sum, and they very economically got out at once and walked to the nearest cafeteria and had lunch. It was far too late now for him to meet Lutrell, but it didn’t matter. That

evening he was going to Marjorie’s hotel and be presented to her mother in the guise of a future son-in-law, and they would arrange the details of their practical, sensible plans.

As he went back to his office, he was thinking that next winter he would have to get a new overcoat. But it was spring now . . . He opened the door and walked in. And he saw Connell just hanging up the receiver with an unmistakeable air of haste and guilt. Connell had undoubtedly been making a personal call.

Suddenly it seemed to Sanderson that he had been a sort of monster, some strange new development of the Industrial Era. He had wished these three persons to forget, to deny their personal lives. And what else had they, for what other reason did they work, or should they work? Did he himself work, like an example from a textbook on economics, only to distribute to the consumer?

No!

He thought of Marjorie and of what he himself had done, what a crime against business he had committed. The moment Marjorie had wanted him, he went. Probably he always would. On her account he had missed his important appointment with Lutrell, and he was very far from regretting it.

He felt like inviting his staff to sit down at the desk in turn and make unlimited personal calls. But he knew that wouldn’t do. Business was business. But business was only business.