Who was the Woman of the Glove?
He could see her in his mind, the exquisite creature who had carelessly dropped a glove, still warm from her hand. Who was she?
ON ONE of those hot August days when the heat hangs on the land like a huge damp paw I was hitchhiking to Montreal and not getting a ride so I picked a good big elm tree near the road and sat down. Then when the cars went by I could stick up my thumb but I didn’t have to move.
I guess twenty went by before the big black Cadillac came streaming along and I just passed my hand at him (because you know what Cadillacs are) but he stopped.
“I’m not going far, son,” he said, “but hop in.”
I mumbled my thanks and we sped off.
Wow there is an etiquette to hitchhiking like everything else and that is that you take your cue from the driver. If he talks and wants you to talk— you talk. If he talks and doesn’t want you to talk—you don’t talk. We went six miles in five minutes and he didn’t say a word. He was about sixty, compact, with a bald egg-shaped skull that shone dully in the heat. He was a determined driver: even in those big cars where they do everything they can for you with power-this and power-that his hands stayed more than casually on the wheel. Soon I found myself watching the hands: they were strongly veined, a series of high blue ridges crossing the backs in bold patterns, hands that looked powerful. And clean: each nail was trimmed to an exact length and shape, the cuticle meticulously tamed. They were stubby, chunky hands, yet I was struck with the gentle taper at the ends of the fingers. On his left hand he wore a heavy gold ring with a deep S engraved on it.
He frowned heavily as we raced along. It must have been after the tenth mile that he started to talk, lazy, careless, predictable talk: the weather “hot”; the political situation— “deplorable”; the inevitability of war “inevitable.”
“Do you smoke?” he said suddenly taking a large gold cigar case from his coat pocket and extract ing from it an evil-looking black cigar. It was not a day for cigars which I do not like anyway so I declined. But I noticed his ring again/and commented on it for I have always been fond of rings:’the first appreciable amount of money I ever earned went into a flattish gold ring, too thin to be ostentatious, which became an unrequited love-token in the first great unrequited love of my life. “It’s a beautiful ring,” he said. “It gives some body to a
finger—a touch of luxury. Hands hint at so much as if they concealed secrets. Good rings give up part of the secrets because they chart flaws, some of those small delicacies that make hands individual. It’s the same with gloves.”
“Surely gloves hide rather than reveal,” I said, smiling.
He looked at me very seriously. “You are too young, I think, to be profound,” he said, the frown growing on his face. “Rings are mere gilding, but gloves cut the whole cloth.” He seemed pleased with the phrase, the frown relaxed, and the speedometer edged up a bit.
“I’m afraid I can’t see that,” I said.
“Perhaps I can explain it to you,” he replied after thinking a moment. “We must go back, before the wars ...” He shrugged his shoulders over the wheel. Then he leaned over and said, “Do you know Quebec?”
“Ah. Well. When I was young I knew Quebec very well. I traveled there, through the Eastern Townships. I was a salesman, but it was more serious than that. I went from place to place and took orders and made installations and built a reputation. It was very hard.” The frown came back as he remembered. “The job was a lonely one. I had few friends. I worked days; at nights I would walk about the towns and listen to the talk in the cafés. Occasionally there would be a girl ...”
He described the circuit he took around the townships many times each year. And the lonely nights. He stayed at those small hotels that are cold and damp in the winter, with bad plumbing and grouchy proprietors. In them, at night, alone, he would lie for hours dreaming of an industrial empire he planned to build. He did not know how he would build it, but he dreamed anyway. It was a time in a dimming and carefully remembered past, from which he chose for me only the pertinent impressions.
“One spring night,” he said, “in May I believe, I was coming to the end of one of the trips. It was such a night, a kind of madness was in the air. It had been a poor day and I was in no mood that evening to go to the hotel so I walked and pretended I was a great success, and that I was in love. I went for some miles into the country looking for a hill -or even a small rise—so I could get above things and see. I had no luck. I searched for a long time but I couldn’t get above the land to look at it. At last I returned to the town and to the hotel. I was just about to go in the door when I found a glove.
“It was a remarkable piece of work. If you could have seen it. The workmanship and the design were superb. The lines were so delicate-—ah! I
imagined it was still warm from a hand, giving a hint of the woman of whom it had been a part. I could see her in my mind. I even looked up and down the street to see if perhaps . . . but no . . . she was not there. I could see the scene: I would turn to her and bow slightly, and then, without a word, return the glove. There would be a softness in her eye as she thanked me.”
He seemed to have forgotten me. The hills across the river were almost lost in the heavy haze from the heat.
“When I got to my room that night (he continued) I dreamed without sleeping for a long time. You have never seen such a glove: it was so small, with a bold, complicated stitching, elegantly, exquisitely made, a work of sound craft such as you can find in Quebec. And I could imagine the hand that had filled it, just touching those soft lines and giving life to the design. Yes. And behind that the woman. Great beauty. Great charm. And great wealth. I fell in love with her at once. Mercifully—oh, six hours later—I went to sleep.
“It was a grey morning the next day and I had to catch a train just at dawn. But I noticed as I packed the glove in my bag that it had inside the name of the glover and his town. I didn’t know that town but I resolved to search it out and find the owner of the glove.”
“Find its owner,” I said, “from a glove?”
“It was not just a glove,” he said. “It was unique. The man who made that glove would know for whom he made it. That much I could be sure of. Perhaps there would be a record, an address.”
“And did you find the glover?” I asked, using the word awkwardly for it does not trip from the tongue.
“Nothing happened for some time. I was working so hard and there was no opportunity. I believe I looked up the place on the map and even wrote a letter, but it was unsatisfactory.
“And then, perhaps a year after, I had a special order in that town—it was Designes—where the glove had been made. It was a lovely place, only a couple of thousand persons. I remember the hotel, L’Orient, dull and dreary like the rest.”
He stopped speaking. He seemed to be searching for something he had known long ago; I hesitated to say anything that would break into his mood. For a few minutes we just flew along and he smoked his cigar in long, hot, puffs.
WHERE was I?” he said finally.
“Oh, yes, L’Orient. Well, I found the glover and went to his shop to see if I could learn something about it.
“I went to see the manager. He had a small office in the front of the building —just a closed-in glass partition to separate him from the files and the secretary. There was a counter though I supposed they had few callers. It was an old establishment and smelled sweetly of leather and oils and old dirt. The secretary was chub-by”—he tasted
the word—“and she took my card in.
“ ‘Monsieur Lefevre will see you in a moment,’ she said when she returned. In a few moments he appeared and led me into his office.
“ ‘Bonjour monsieur,' I said, T have come on a small matter that troubles me. I believe I wrote a letter some time ago . . . ’ Lefevre was a fat sloppy person with greasy hands and dirty fingernails. He used some foul brilliantine on his black hair and the smell annoyed me. I explained my business quickly and told him I would like to return the glove if I could only get the name and address of the lady.
“ ‘You have the glove with you?’ he asked. I showed it to him. He examined it carefully the way a man might examine a jewel. ‘Yes,’ he said finally, ‘it is one of ours. A moment please.’ He went into the outer office and looked something up. When he returned there was a small ripple of
Summer’s Fine ... But...
The summer sun is hot and dry,
The sky a high blue ceiling.
The walls, the roof, my wife and I And everything is peeling.
BARBARA A. HUFF
amusement in the layers of fat that obscured the lines in his face.
“ ‘We would be happy to return it for you,’ he said.
“ ‘Perhaps if you gave me the address I might return it myself.’
“ ‘That is not possible,’ he said curtly. ‘Non, not possible at all. It is against our custom. I am sorry. We could return it for you, perhaps with your name, monsieur, but we—non—I am truly sorry, we could not possibly give you the address.’
“I was annoyed.
“ ‘Merci monsieur,' I said. T will just keep the glove if you have no objection.’ He handed it back and we bade each other a polite good-by. More than ever I wanted to know who owned that glove.
“Of course, it was a simple matter to find out. The ladies, my friend, are all much the same. They are susceptible to small things. I had to wait for the noon hour when the manager would go for his lunch and the girl would be alone in the office. I must say that I was not without charm in those days. And while I waited I went and got some bonbons from a shop and some flowers from a farmer. The secretary was a simple girl. I think there were some details I composed to give credit to my story—something of a young woman who had deliberately dropped the glove and then vanished. I told the secretary that I was troubled, that my mind burned with the memory of that simple gesture. She was not a complicated woman and she understood.
“ ‘You must say nothing,’ she warned me as she got the name from the file. I promised I would not. I blew her a kiss as I left—a nice touch.” He laughed a warm laugh inside him.
“No, I was not without charm in those days.
“I was now quite delirious with this dream of mine. I had the glove. I had the address. It was one of those situations where anything could happen. She lived in Sherbrooke, not a large town in those days, but one noted for its textile mills. I knew that she would be beautiful and that I would be completely conquered.” He looked me severely in the eye.
“You understand what I mean, eh?”
I wasn’t sure, but he seemed to want me to say yes and we were in danger of leaving the road so I nodded.
“The first thing I did when 1 got back to Montreal was to sit down and write a note explaining the situation and asking if I might call the next time I was in Sherbrooke and return the glove. 1 mentioned that I passed through there regularly, and gave my hotel. Sure enough, when I arrived on my next trip there was an invitation to tea already at the hotel. I arrived punctually at four, as indicated. Ah. if you could have seen the estate. It was beyond even my imagination. I rang the bell, but I was so nervous. A maid ushered me in.
“ ‘Miss MacKenzie will be down in a moment, sir, if you will take a chair.’ I settled myself. Surrounding me was that quiet pretentious elegance, that careless exquisite excess which is great wealth. This was the end of those many dreams that had kept me awake in the small hotel rooms at night. The glove had led me to a true love. I had it in my hand, loosely, so that it would not be crushed. This, I kept saying to myself, is my future. She will sweep in in a discreet manner and in that moment I will live. She will be majestic, petite, regal. There will be obstacles, but . . .
MR. STUART, it is so good of you to call.’ I had not been prepared. Majestic, petite, regal—and old. The shades of a great youthful beauty still moved across her face. She started pouring the tea and poured my dreams into little china cups so thin the light shone through them. She was at least seventy—and I? A poor salesman who had wasted his time.
“ ‘Will you have lemon?’ she asked. Though I never take lemon I had lemon. ‘And a cake perhaps?’ and though I never eat cake I had cake. We talked. I began to feel embarrassed for having taken such trouble. But she was pleased.
“ ‘We do not see such gallantry often enough these days,’ she said. ‘You have gone to a great deal of trouble to return the glove. The young men have lost their manners—that is, most young men have lost them.’ We talked of this and that, of my work, and her town. I learned she was head of a fastdwindling family. And of one of the 'arger textile works. It was very painful.
“I made my excuses as soon as I could.
“ ‘Perhaps if you are staying in Sherbrooke long enough you will be able to come to dinner,’ she said. ‘I am sure Louise will want to meet you.’ “ ‘Louise?’ 1 said.
“ ‘My niece.’ ”
Again he laughed to himself, the warm laugh. It came from deep inside him, from just above his belt, a full laugh for so compact a man.
For five minutes we drove furiously down the Ottawa Valley. He seemed to have finished.
“Did you go to dinner?” I finally asked.
“Oh yes, I went to dinner. And back again. I spent Christmas there. The glove, you see, had led me to friends. It held the promise after all; what I had seen in it was there. You can tell much from a glove, my friend.”
We suddenly dived into a dustchoked side road and he pulled up.
“This is as far as I go,” he said. I was just climbing out of the car when he took a card from a small leather case and handed it to me. “Perhaps you’ll be down our way some time and you’d care to call,” he said.
It was a simple card,
JAMES J. STUART
MacKenzie Textiles Sherbrooke, P.Q.
“Thanks for the ride,” 1 said, getting out of the car. Just before turning away, I said, “Louise, was she beautiful?”
He looked at me for a moment.
“Beautiful?” he said. “Beautiful?
Louise is without a doubt the ugliest woman a man ever married. Good luck, son.” The door slammed shut and the Cadillac disappeared into the dust.
I looked at the card for a moment and wondered if Fd ever get to Sherbrooke. It seemed unlikely. And then, because it was one of those hot August days when the heat hangs on the land like a huge damp paw, I picked a good big maple tree near the road and sat down. Then when the cars came by I could stick up my thumb but I didn’t have to move.