Corned Beef and Caviar
EDWIN DIAL TORGERSON
HOLD THE POSE, my dear. You’re very pretty that way.” "Have it your way, sir,” said the girl, without looking up from the sales slip she was making out.
“In fact, you’re quite too pretty to be selling perfumes.”
“It’s prettier work than selling pots and pans, sir.
“But you’re ruining your little feet, standing up all day like this.”
The girl raised her eyes, with patient resignation and weariness. Whenever a man came to the perfume counter, unaccompanied by a woman, you could expect something like this.
He was a youngish middle-aged man, greying around the temples and thickening around the waist. He wore what are known as morning clothes, and this was morning. That in itself was impressive to Phoebe.
Old Stanhope was hovering in the aisle two counters away, blandly expectant in her gaze toward Phoebe and Morning Clothes. If you gave a fresh he-customer what-for at the perfume counter, you probably ruined a $100 sale. Such a one often bought five or six ounces of Nuit d’Amour, in a fancy gift bottle. And old Stanhope was watchful for unescorted he-customers.
“My ‘little’ feet, did you say?” said Phoebe with malice. “What searching eyes you have, grandma, to X-ray clean through the wooden bottom of thk show-
She went back to her sales slip.
Old Stanhope edged closer, just to be sure that everything was all right. In fact she asked Morning Clothes if she could “help” him.
“Thank you, the young lady’s waiting on me,” said the gentleman with the thickening waist.
He bought some perfume, nearly $100 worth, and paid cash for it. Obedient to the store’s mandate that no customer over $50 should get away without leaving his name and address, Phoebe asked for them. Philip Derwent, he said, and gave a fashionable address.
“Did I—ah—select the right perfume for the lady?” asked Mr. Derwent. “Is she blonde or brunette?”
“Why—ah—blonde. But why?”
“We usually recommend a lighter, more frivolous fragrance for a blonde,” said Phoebe mockingly. “Brunettes like heavy, languorous perfumes.” The man raised one eyebrow quizzically.
“My word! By your perfumes you shall know them. Makes it easier on blind men. Well, as I recall it, this lady used to be a brunette, then she was a blonde, and just at present she is—shall I say—slightly plaid? So I’ll take along whatever you wrap up.”
In spite of herself, Phoebe wanted to laugh. There was something engaging about this man, even if he was rather oldish, rather thick, rather fresh, and
attired in morning clothes—garments which her roommate, Norah, said were the badge of the dissolute rich. Norah worked upstairs, in Carpets and Linoleums. She was a communist, or thought she was. If Norah were only here now, mused Phoebe, she’d soon put this one in his place.
This one was saying something casually about taking her to lunch—“giving” her luncheon, was the way he expressed it—and Phoebe responded coolly :
"No, thank you, the man I’m engaged to marry wouldn’t like it.”
“Engaged—now isn’t that interesting!” exclaimed Mr. Derwent. “Who is he, may I ask—and what does he do?” “You may ask, but it won’t do you any good.” Then she added defiantly: “He’s a corporation executive, if you’ve got to know.”
SHE LEFT HIM unceremoniously to wait on another customer. He waited idly while she served the needs of a portly and fashionably dressed woman, and he made Phoebe so nervous that, when she made out the quadruplicate charge slip, she handed all four to the new customer, who couldn’t wait for her perfume to be wrapped. And the purchase was not an inconsiderable one—$65.
“Now see what you’ve made me do,” Phoebe burst out angrily when she realized her mistake. The new customer had disappeared.
“I? Now what have I done?” enquired Mr. Derwent. “Will you please go away?” she cried, almost in tears.
Old Stanhope was moving nearer, sniffing ozone in the surcharged air.
“Why, I’m sorry, my dear—”
“Will you please go away—and stay away !”
Mr. Derwent bowed politely and did as she bade him. “Why,” asked Mrs. Stanhope, “did you speak to a customer in that tone?”
“He was—he just made me nervous,” said Phoebe wretchedly.
"Yes? Well, he spoke in a very gentlemanly tone when he replied to you. I hope you are not forgetting our cardinal rule, Miss Leavell. The—’ ”
“ ‘The customer is always right.’ No indeed. I could never forget that. Who could!”
Mrs. Stanhope did not like her attitude and told her so. But Phoebe took her scolding gracefully. There would be trouble enough, she thought, when she told old Stanhope about her error in not retaining the sales-slip carbons.
She cudgelled her brain for the name of that woman. Winterbottom, Telescope, Heatherbloom—something crazy like that—oh, gosh, it was hopeless ! She couldn't remember it. She might as well have made her a present of this expensive purchase, unless the woman, with rare honesty, should call attention to the error. Phoebe was responsible for it.
SHE TOLD her troubles to Norah at luncheon in the store cafeteria.
“The swine,” said Norah, her blue eyes snapping indignantly. “We slave, starve and pinch ourselves, you and I, so that worthless drones like that man can loll around, halfdrunk, and get hard-working girls in trouble.”
“Oh, no, he hadn’t had anything to drink,” corrected Phoebe.
“So you’re defending him now, are you? Well, what are you complaining about then, if you like his stripe of capitalist?”
“Oh, I mean he wasn’t exactly—offensive. It was my fault, I suppose, for being so dumb as to get rattled just because he was kidding me.”
“Well, if you ever see him again, simpleton, you just pass him a bill for that sixty-five dollars you're out—that’s all the advice I’m giving you.”
"What? Accept money from a ‘hated capitalist’ ! ”
“You bet, accept all you can get, by any means expedient. It’s yours— why shouldn't you take it?”
Norah was not usually so “red” as she was today, except at parties. She kept her radical ideas to herself, as a rule, save in heated arguments with their men friends. Ted Davidson, particularly, was prone to bait her, with twinkling eyes, whenever he was present in a gathering with Norah. Ted was staunchly conservative.
Phoebe spent the afternoon comparing him mentally with Mr. Philip Derwent. Ted was a “corporation executive,” as Phoebe had told Mr. Derwent, but he was simply classed that way because he had five office boys working under him. He was office manager for a concern whose extensive offices were in a building not far from Balchman’s Department Store. But Phoebe never saw him except in the evening. Ted worked until six or later. One or other of the bosses often was there after hours, and Ted felt that as as long as the office was open he ought to be there to “manage” it.
He had been office manager three years. His salary had been cut progressively ten, fifteen, twenty-two per cent.
“One more cut,” Norah had told him bitingly, “and you and Phoebe can afford to get married.”
Ted could see it that way, but Phoebe couldn’t. She was willing enough to marry him if Ted would let her keep on working, but Ted shook his head firmly and said, “Much obliged. We’ll wait until I car make as much as the two
That ought to be soon, he felt. He was in line for promotion, and the next jump ahead of him would be to a considerably higher perdi. The various vice-presidents appreciated him. They admitted Ted had shown the company how to save $300 a year, for example, by introducing pencil holders in the head office and the many branches. The average life of a pencil, Ted had demonstrated, was four days, whereas with a holder it lasted twice that long. The company had given every employee a pencil holder for Christmas.
“Efficiency expert for the System,”
Norah had taunted him; and lately she had shortened that to “Fish.”
r’j~'ED CALLED at their
apartment at seven o’clock to take Phoebe out to dinner.
“Hello, Fish,” said Norah cheerfully. “You’re late again, but your date’s still in the bathtub. Working overtime for the System again?”
“And that isn’t all,” said Ted cheerfully. “I’ve got to go back and work tonight, too—and Phoebe and I were going to a show.”
“Watch yourself, fellow, you'll break a date with her once too often. She’s been counting on going tonight.
What’s the idea of all this extra slaving?”
“Special report I promised tomorrow. I’m working on a proposal to save the company three thousand dollars a year—the salaries of two stenographers.”
“You would!” said Norah scornfully. “Abolish the jobs of two hard-working girls by slave-driving the others, eh?”
“Oh, no, we won’t fire ’em.
We’ll put ’em to work doing something useful. You see, what I want to do is to get all our stenographers to quit writing ‘Dear Sir’ and ‘Yours very truly’ on all letters. We send out seventy-five thousand letters a year. That’s one hundred and fifty thousand typewritten lines we’ll save—the equivalent of fifteen hundred letters, which cost us twenty cents apiece to type.”
“That’s right—and you’ll let the world know what a hard-hearted, grasping, discourteous business concern you really are.”
“Not at all. We won’t make anybody mad.
We’ll print a line on the letterhead: ‘Dear Friend:’
Here’s your salutation and ‘Yours very truly’ all printed out for you. It saves us time and money and helps cut the cost of our products.”
Norah sniffed. "And they’ll add the three thousand dollars to the salary of one of those ‘big executives’— in-laws of the president and the directors.”
“They’ll add it, one of these days,” said Ted grimly, “to my salary.”
Phoebe came out, and he changed the subject quickly. All such business talk, he knew, wearied Phoebe. She hated business. She wanted to be married—to Ted. But when? How long? The waiting was so weary. He broke the news as gently as he could about having to call off the show date. They’d have to grab a quick meal in a beanery—she wouldn’t mind, would she? “No, I don’t mind.” But Phoebe said it very glumly. “We’ll take in that show tomorrow night—sure.”
THE RESTAURANT was a somewhat greasy one in the neighborhood, where they had dined before when they were in a hurry.
The waiter leaned over Ted with devoted familiarity to ask him what he thought of the way the baseball team was shaping up. The waiter licked his right thumb every once in a while, as though to taste the last soup he’d had it in.
Ted ordered corned beef, and Phoebe, to get rid of the waiter quickly, took the first thing she saw on the menu—Hungarian goulash.
They drifted quite soon into an old discussion —the subject of how soon it would be when they could start out in a little flat of their own. Somewhere in this neighborhood, probably, thought Phoebe.
She had never so hated the crush and misery of the street cars as she had today—jammed in between garlic-smelling fat men, and thin men who seized the excuse of bsing pressed close to
Then he said, “Hello—hello—don’t cut off. I want to buy
“Very well. I am waiting to take your order.”
He asked the price of one of those gold and crystal vanity sets they had at the perfume counter— had” was right, for they had never sold one. They were outrageously expensive.
“Just a moment,” said Phoebe. “I think you had better talk to the department manager.” “I insist on buying from you—and no one else,” he said quickly.
Mrs. Stanhope took the phone excitedly when Phoebe explained. But she sold Mr. Derwent nothing. He had decided that he must come back himself to select the article.
“You seemed very brusque in your tone to that gentleman again,” said Mrs. Stanhope disapprovingly. “Will you please try to be civil to him when he comes back?”
He did not return until the following afternoon, and before he came he sent Phoebe a box of orchids. Phoebe had never even seen a box of orchids before — Ted had bought her a single orchid, once, when they were selling fer a dollar in Balchman’s floral department. But a whole boxof orchids-Phoebe caught her breath even as she chucked the box under the counter.
The orchids stayed in their dark prison all morning, but they did not die for want of water. She peeked in at them again at two o’clock, and they were fresh as ever they had been. Philip Derwent came at
“Ah, I see you are not wearing the flowers,” he said. “You got them, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Phoebe shortly.
“I didn’t want you to wear them, you know. I want you to save them for this evening.”
paw her and thereupon cough rather suggestively in her ear.
The waiter brought her such a large helping of glorified hash that it sickened her. She couldn’t eat any of it.
“What’s getting into you these days?” asked Ted when he took her home.
She didn’t answer. But after he had gone she cried.
MR. PHILIP DERWENT telephoned her next morning. He told Mrs. Stanhope, who answered the department extension, that he wished to speak to the young lady about the purchase he had made yesterday. Old Stanhope hovered expectantly within earshot.
He invited Phoebe again to have dinner with him, and she declined curtlv.
“And what goes on—this evening?” asked Phoebe icily. “We’re having dinner together. Now say Yes, please do.” “I have a date. May I help you, now, with your purchase?” Old Mrs. Stanhope approached.
“Someone wants you on the telephone,” she said disapprovingly. “He says it’s business.” She turned to Mr. Derwent apologetically: “May I help you, sir?”
IT WAS BUSINESS, all right. It was Ted, and he called to break his date with her. He had to work late again, he said, perhaps until eleven o’clock.
“You won’t mind, will you? We’ll go to the show tomorrow night.”
“No, I don't mind,” replied Phoebe with sudden pique.
“But it’s the third date you’ve broken with me, Ted—you know that, don’t you? You’re so frightfully busy—perhaps we had better not bother about tomorrow night either.” There was a pause, and he said in a curious tone :
“Now listen, Phoebe—”
“I can’t listen now, I’ve got a customer. Good-by.”
She was angry with Ted, and she was angrier still with old Mrs. Stanhope when she returned to the counter. The department manager was trying to take her customer away from her, but she was not succeeding. Mr. Derwent had waited.
He made his substantial purchase, but he made it lingeringly.
“You really have an engagement this evening?” he said to her over the crystal set. “Or were you just rebuking me because I seemed too bold?”
“I had an engagement,” murmured Phoebe, “but I haven’t it any more.”
“Then you’ll dine with me—will you?” he asked eagerly. “I didn’t say I would. Perhaps the lady you’re buying all these things for would not approve of it.”
He laughed. “Two ladies, my dear—one of them an elderly aunt and the other an equally matronly person to whom I am paying a bet. I am thoroughly unattached, Miss Leavell, I assure you. If I had eyes before for any other creature of your sex, I assure you those eyes are sightless now. They can’t see anyone but you.”
“M-m!” said Phoebe. “But there’s only one reason I’m having dinner with you, I warn you—to make somebody else jealous.”
“Bravely spoken, my dear. The reasons motivating the fact do not concern me—it is only the fact, the exciting fact, that matters.”
T-TE WAITED for her after store hours and drove her home in his car.
“Now go ahead and gild the lily and try to make yourself prettier if you must,” he bade her. “It can’t be done, but I’ll be back for you at seven.”
They dined on the roof of the Plaza, amid flowering shrubs, snowy-bosomed waiters and the soft plash of fountains. The night was discreetly velvet, the stars were kind and unassuming, the moon slender and incurious. On such a night—but never had any night been so subtly pleasing, so perfect.
And they had tomatoes stuffed with caviar. Many other delightful things they had, served in small, tempting portions by waiters so deft they almost seemed nonexistent. But tomatoes stuffed with caviar hovered in Phoebe’s memory as the symbol of that evening.
Nearly always, when she dined with Ted, he ordered corned beef. He said he ordered it because he liked it, and he didn’t care how much fun the funny papers made of it. If the Prince of Wales invited Ted to lunch he’d order corned beef, and the Prince could like it or lump it.
But that last greasy restaurant where she had dined with Ted ; the waiter who licked his thumb . . .
“Pensive, my dear?” said Mr. Philip Derwent. “Does it leave you sad—this process of making another man jealous by having dinner with me?”
“A little,” admitted Phoebe, smiling wistfully. “But I was thinking, mostly, about how lovely it is here.”
She felt wretchedly disloyal. Ted Davidson was the salt of the earth, a rock of strength and dependableness; somebody to cleave to, no matter what your troubles were or what your joys. He was kind, he was good-natured, he was keen-witted and made you have a good time laughing at little nothings.
Mr. Philip Derwent wanted to know whether this corporation executive, no doubt insanely jealous by now, was anywhere on the roof at the present time, peeping at them from ambush and planning double homicide.
“Oh, no, he doesn’t know we’re here,” laughed Phoebe. “But he’ll know—Norah will tell him.”
“Who is Norah?”
She told him all about Norah, glad enough to change the subject. Norah was so glib, so deft at repartee and facile with the sharp retort, that there were dozens of stories to be told about her. Philip Derwent chuckled many times.
“I’d like to meet her,” he said. “I’ve never really talked to a genuine Red—that is, not an intelligent one. Would she go out with us some evening?”
“I’m sure she would,” said Phoebe. “She says the bourgeois must be encouraged in every manner expedient to spend their money.”
BUT NORAH laughed scornfully next morning at breakfast when Phoebe conveyed the suggestion. Norah had been asleep when she tiptoed in, quite late after a drive along the lake shore in Philip’s car.
“Not this one,” said Norah. “I have no truck with men, particularly with parasites. He’s yours apparently—you keep him. It’s one way you can beat the system. You can get your share of the bourgeois plunder without fighting for it. You can trade your pretty eyes and your kissable lips and your soft brown hair for absolute relief from the struggle—you don’t care a hang for the under-dog—” “Norah—stop it!”
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“Hm—gets your goat, does it? You can’t take the truth—or dish it out, either. It’s what you want—it’s what everybody wants —I want it, too, but I want it not only for myself but for everybody else—release from the chain gang. You’re a fool if you don’t go on and take it—I told Ted Davidson so last night.”
“Yes, he was here. He came here, the simpleton, after ten o’clock, to find out what was the matter with you. And did I tell
“What—did you tell him?” faltered Phoebe.
“I told him what a sap he was to expect you to push a baby carriage up and down a dingy street—or live in the cabbage reek of a neighborhood like this—eating bargainbruised vegetables, ruining your looks in a kitchenette box stall, scrubbing baby clothes and mopping floors—all the time you’re waiting for him to ‘make good.’ ‘Make good’ in a game where the cards are stacked!”
“Norah—how could you!”
"And after a man ‘makes good’—as some of them sometimes do by intelligent capitalistic stealing—what happens to the wife who ‘gave her all’ to mawkish sentiment as a young man's slave? What does he see in her —the glowing girl she was, the nymph of the perfume counter? No, he sees a superannuated dishrag. Her hands are red and horny, the struggle has bitten the beauty out of her face, her voice has a nervous twang from constant worry. And what does he do? —he goes running after some younger hussy who helps other people’s husbands ‘make good.’ His wife shares his springtime, and the Painted-Desert blonde reaps the harvest!”
“Norah—I didn’t think you’d talk—to me—like this,” Phoebe sobbed.
“I’m not talking to you; I’m telling you what I said to Ted Davidson.”
“What did he s-say?”
“Oh, he said something about your ‘clear eyes’ and your ‘chin always up,’ and if you lose that you’ll never be happy, and you can go ahead and marry a man for his money if you want to, but if you do you won’t be cheating him or the world, you’ll just be cheating yourself. Lotta bunk like that. He read it in a novel somewhere. People like you and Ted can’t call a spade a spade. You can’t face the hard facts of life and take ’em for the brickbats they are; you’ve got to pretend they’re ice-cream bricks or rose-
“Did you t-tell him—all about—Mr. Derwent?”
“I told him everything but the name. No sense in letting Ted get to him and say something to him to embarrass you. Ted says he won’t, though; I think he’s sensible. He says if there’s any making up to do you can do it—he won’t.”
NOR DID HE. For the better part of two weeks Mr. Philip Derwent consolidated his gains in the vicinity of the perfume counter at Balchman’s. He bought perfume for everybody he knew, so that he would have an excuse to drop around daily. He bought perfume for Phoebe, who wouldn’t take it. So he gave it to Norah, who took it readily. Norah didn’t smell very communistic these days.
Mr. Derwent liked Norah for her acerbity. He told her jovially she was simply agile at bandying words, and that was all there was to her. But he found in her somebody with whom he could clash wits; and that amused him. He drove them both home every evening now, the three of them in the front seat of Philip’s car. Phoebe had declined to ride with him unless he took Norah, too. And Phoebe invariably pushed Norah into the centre seat, and sat a little aloof and quiet on the outside, thinking.
She thought mostly of Ted. She saw him late one afternoon as they drove past the
office building where Ted worked. She observed with a pang that there was a girl with him—all she could see as they sped past was that the girl was very pretty, and that Ted was smiling at her with evident enjoyment and high spirits.
At the next red light she snapped open the door of the car, jumped out without a word and ran to a street car.
There was something homey and comfortable about a street car, even when you saw it through a blur of tears. Like a pair of old shoes; like sinking back into an old familiar habit.
There was a sign in the car advertising somebody-or-other’s corned beef. It said, “You’ll smack your lips over Goodfellow’s Corned Beef!” But the ad. lied. For Phoebe’s lips were trembling when she
rT"'HAT EVENING Philip Derwent, moved -Iperhaps by the fact that she was so unhappy, told her how much he loved her.
They had driven again up their favorite highway along the lake, for this was the avenue of quickest flight from the city. Here there were spots to park, away from the road and quite deserted, with the shimmering lake waters close at hand and the million lights of the city unreal across the distance.
Philip’s arm was about her, but she made no demur. She suffered him to kiss her on the cheek, and his lips found that it was wet.
“I love you,” he murmured, “and I’ll do anything in the world for you to keep you from being unhappy, ever again.”
“But I don’t—love you. I told you I was just going out with you in the f-first place to make another man j-jealous.”
“But that’s why I want you,” he went on steadily. “It’s human nature, isn’t it, to want most what you can’t have? You’re so different from the other girls I’ve been wasting my time on. They all put marriage on such a mercenary basis. It’s purely economic with them, really ; they’re just out to see how big a ‘catch’ they can land. And that’s why I want you so, don’t you see?— because you don’t want me.” He paused and added whimsically: “Did we make him —very jealous?”
Phoebe shut her lips tight and shook her head and said, “Mph—uh !” which meant a very doleful “No!” Then she cried on Philip’s shoulder. “We made me jealous— that’s all we did,” she sobbed. “He’s gone and got him another g-girl—he doesn’t care a rap about me any more—and I ’ll b-bet he’s out buying her c-comed beef—right now—”
“Corned beef?” he echoed with some astonishment. “Now just where does corned beef fit into the picture?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” she said dully. “You’ve been awfully sweet to me, Mr.—Philip, I mean,” as he raised a chiding finger. “And I’ve been awfully rude and thankless to keep talking to you about another man. I won’t do it any more. It’s not any use. It’s just not in the books for
He hugged her joyfully. “Then there’s hope for the spumed admirer after all? Then you will—take me under advisement?” he chuckled.
“If you’ll just give me a little time—”
“How much time?” he pressed.
“The first of the month.”
THE FIRST of the month, she reflected, as they drove home—her listless left hand in his right one—would be in many respects the last of Phoebe.
This premonition was strengthened next morning when she told Mrs. Stanhope about the $65 perfume item which was lost to the Balchman books. Phoebe had put off telling her as long as she could. She had hoped against hope that the customer would
“I’ll give you until the first of the month,” said Mrs. Stanhope grimly, “to think of
that customer’s name. And unless you do, or unless she comes back of her own accord to tell us about it, it will have to go to the
“But I can make it good—”
“Oh, I know—you can make it good. But the store can’t put up with such carelessness, that’s what they are going to say in the office. And this isn’t the only thing against your record, Miss Leavell. You have simply seemed to be walking around in a daze here of late. I suppose it’s that man Derwent—”
“You needn’t drag in my personal affairs,” Phoebe flared resentfully.
“Oh, I needn’t—needn’t I? Your personal affairs are business affairs to the store when they interfere with your usefulness as an employee.”
That sort of thing, consistently, until the first of the month—when they summoned her into the awesome precincts of The Office—and discharged her.
She was entitled to no notice. The two weeks salary which she might have received would be applied to the reduction of the loss due to her error.
She took her sentence apathetically. She told Mrs. Stanhope she would finish out the day, if there were no objection. Norah, at luncheon, told her she should worry; she would be able to buy out the store pretty*
Philip Derwent had won. He was coming for his answer at half-past five when the store closed. They would go somewhere, he had said, and he hoped they would have something to celebrate.
IT COULD be worse, thought Phoebe Leavell dully, as the leaden afternoon hours dragged by . . . If only Ted hadn’t been so proud and hardheaded; if only he had given her a chance to say she was
What was it he had told Norah? Whenever she was ready to do any making up . . . But it was too late for that now. Ted had another girl. Ted didn’t care. Ted was glad to be rid of her . . .
She answered customers’ questions in a far-off, heedless tonë . . . Such a bottle was such and such a price . . . On and on, mechanically.
Even a man in morning clothes made no impression on her. She glimpsed the striped trousers through the show case as she rearranged the display stock.
Oh, no, they were not Philip Derwent’s morning clothes, they were slimmer trousers than Philip’s . . . Another man coming to get fresh, she supposed.
Her eyes travelled disinterestedly up past trousers and waistcoat and boutonnière— and she uttered a squeal that was almost a shriek:
“Ted — Ted Davidson — what ■— why —Ted!”
“Me !” said Ted, grinning from brim to brim of his derby. “Everything but the top hat—I couldn’t go that, Phoebe. Listen— honey—darling—are you mad?”
“Mad? No—gracious—heavens—Ted— Oh, Ted!”
“Yeah! And I’ve come for you—all dressed up like a fire horse—like that other sap you like because he puts on the dog. Oh, no—I don’t mean ‘sap’—don’t get mad with me again. I want to take you somewhere, honey—somewhere big. I’ve got news, I tell you—big news! It’s nearly five-thirty—will you come?”
“Oh, Ted !” she answered breathlessly. “Of course I’ll come—I’m dying to know— can’t you tell me now?”
“Nope. The boss let me off, told me to get dolled up and split the town open. So you’re going with me to the Plaza—I’ll tell you there.”
“Well, wait for me ten minutes right here, will you? I’ve got to see Norah.”
She headed off Norah, inside, at the employees’ exit.
“Go home with Philip, Norah, and be sweet to him, won’t you?” Phoebe said.
“He’s such a dear—but that answer—it’s got to be No!”
“Idiot!” said Norah’s lips. But her eyes, when she read shrewdly the truth in Phoebe’s, said something else. “All right. I guess it’s up to me, then, to gather him in for the Cause.”
Phoebe saw Philip Derwent as he greeted Norah, but Philip did not see her.
Philip was such a sport. He merely raised his eyebrows when Norah told him. Then he helped Norah into his car. And Norah wasn’t arguing with him as they drove off; anyone could see that. Norah looked very sweet, and very pretty.
Ted Davidson said sotlo voce across the
“Honey, what do you order for tea at the Plaza? I bet they’d have swell corned beef here.” But he broke into a chuckle. “Nope —something classier for me now. Something else here starts with a C—caviar canapés. Waiter—some caviar canapés first, and then weil discuss what will follow.”
“Now, Ted—the news? Ted, Pm dying to
OH, THE NEWS,” he said with exaggerated solemnity. “Just this, darlinghoney-sweetheart—I’m no longer a papa to office boys. I’m a big business executive, today and henceforth. I’m assistant to the seventh vice-president, which means I’ll do all his work, because he hardly ever comes around the office—”
“Yeah. I don’t know what got into him —you could have knocked me cold with a cuckoo’s feather. Talked like he’d been to a revival and got converted or something. Honestly, he talked like a socialist. Called me in the office yesterday and I thought he was going to can me. But he said, ‘Davidson, tomorrow is the first of the month—and the beginning of better things for you.’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir? That sounds mighty good.’ And he said, ‘Davidson, I’ve been checking back on the things you’ve done for this company during the past year. You have saved the corporation more than three thousand dollars a year. In fact, I think you are much more useful to the company than I am, for instance.’ He said, “The System isn’t exactly fair, Davidson, when it rewards a man like me, who just inherited a job, and neglects a man like you, who is really a producer, really an originator. Now I want to bring you in here as my assistant. And I’d like to tack that three thousand dollars you saved on to your salary. But I can’t.’ ” “He couldn’t—why?” asked Phoebe in disappointment.
“Because he said then it wouldn’t be anything saved. But he said something else, honey. He said: ‘But if I ask the Board to be honest with the company for once and lop three thousand dollars a year off my salary and tack it on to yours, Davidson—why then it will be a saving, won’t it?’ ”
“And he did!” squealed Phoebe.
“He did.” Ted breathed a heavy sigh. “He can afford it—he draws thirty thousand. I thought daylight would never break. I thought I’d never be able to come back to you and say, ‘Now, here, Phoebe—’ ”
“But this seventh vice-president—this marvellous man,” cried Phoebe. “What sort of man is he—what is his name?”
“Why,” said Ted officiously, “I never discuss office affairs outside the office, dear. His name wouldn’t mean anything to you. He did ask me once what was a good store around our neighborhood and I told him Balchman’s, so maybe he’s been in the store. But you wouldn’t know him—he certainly wouldn’t buy perfume. Still, if you and I are going to be partners—are we, by the way, no kidding?”
She flushed and nodded happily.
“Well, I’ll tell you his name, then. Derwent—Philip Derwent.”
The waiter at Phoebe’s elbow thought she was going to swoon, but she didn’t.
“I beg pardon,” said the waiter discreetly. “But did you say caviar?”