MoboReader> Literature > Personality Plus: Some Experiences of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock

   Chapter 1 MAKING GOOD WITH MOTHER

Personality Plus: Some Experiences of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock By Edna Ferber Characters: 26602

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When men began to build cities vertically instead of horizontally there passed from our highways a picturesque figure, and from our language an expressive figure of speech. That oily-tongued, persuasive, soft-stepping stranger in the rusty Prince Albert and the black string tie who had been wont to haunt our back steps and front offices with his carefully wrapped bundle, retreated in bewildered defeat before the clanging blows of steel on steel that meant the erection of the first twenty-story skyscraper. "As slick," we used to say, "as a lightning-rod agent." Of what use his wares on a building whose tower was robed in clouds and which used the chain lightning for a necklace? The Fourth Avenue antique dealer had another curio to add to his collection of andirons, knockers, snuff boxes and warming pans.

But even as this quaint figure vanished there sprang up a new and glittering one to take his place. He stood framed in the great plate-glass window of the very building which had brought about the defeat of his predecessor. A miracle of close shaving his face was, and a marvel of immaculateness his linen. Dapper he was, and dressy, albeit inclined to glittering effects and a certain plethory at the back of the neck. Back of him stood shining shapes that reflected his glory in enamel, and brass, and glass. His language was floral, but choice; his talk was of gearings and bearings and cylinders and magnetos; his method differed from that of him who went before as the method of a skilled a?ronaut differs from that of the man who goes over Niagara in a barrel. And as he multiplied and spread over the land we coined a new figure of speech. "Smooth!" we chuckled. "As smooth as an automobile salesman."

But even as we listened, fascinated by his fluent verbiage there grew within us a certain resentment. Familiarity with his glittering wares bred a contempt of them, so that he fell to speaking of them as necessities instead of luxuries. He juggled figures, and thought nothing of four of them in a row. We looked at our five-thousand-dollar salary, so strangely shrunken and thin now, and even as we looked we saw that the method of the unctuous, anxious stranger had become antiquated in its turn.

Then from his ashes emerged a new being. Neither urger nor spellbinder he. The twentieth century was stamped across his brow, and on his lips was ever the word "Service." Silent, courteous, watchful, alert, he listened, while you talked. His method, in turn, made that of the silk-lined salesman sound like the hoarse hoots of the ballyhoo man at a county fair. Blithely he accepted five hundred thousand dollars and gave in return-a promise. And when we would search our soul for a synonym to express all that was low-voiced, and suave, and judicious, and patient, and sure, we began to say, "As alert as an advertising expert."

Jock McChesney, looking as fresh and clear-eyed as only twenty-one and a cold shower can make one look, stood in the doorway of his mother's bedroom. His toilette had halted abruptly at the bathrobe stage. One of those bulky garments swathed his slim figure, while over his left arm hung a gray tweed Norfolk coat. From his right hand dangled a pair of trousers, in pattern a modish black-and-white.

Jock regarded the gray garment on his arm with moody eyes.

"Well, I'd like to know what's the matter with it!" he demanded, a trifle irritably.

Emma McChesney, in the act of surveying her back hair in the mirror, paused, hand glass poised half way, to regard her son.

"All right," she answered cheerfully. "I'll tell you. It's too young."

"Young!" He held it at arm's length and stared at it. "What d'you mean-young?"

Emma McChesney came forward, wrapping the folds of her kimono about her. She took the disputed garment in one hand and held it aloft. "I know that you look like a man on a magazine cover in it. But Norfolk suits spell tennis, and seashore, and elegant leisure. And you're going out this morning, Son, to interview business men. You're going to try to impress the advertising world with the fact that it needs your expert services. You walk into a business office in a Norfolk suit, and everybody from the office boy to the president of the company will ask you what your score is."

She tossed it back over his arm.

"I'll wear the black and white," said Jock resignedly, and turned toward his own room. At his doorway he paused and raised his voice slightly: "For that matter, they're looking for young men. Everybody's young. Why, the biggest men in the advertising game are just kids." He disappeared within his room, still talking. "Look at McQuirk, advertising manager of the Combs Car Company. He's so young he has to disguise himself in bone-trimmed eye-glasses with a black ribbon to get away with it. Look at Hopper, of the Berg, Shriner Company. Pulls down ninety thousand a year, and if he's thirty-five I'll-"

"Well, you asked my advice," interrupted his mother's voice with that muffled effect which is caused by a skirt being slipped over the head, "and I gave it. Wear a white duck sailor suit with blue anchors and carry a red tin pail and a shovel, if you want to look young. Only get into it in a jiffy, Son, because breakfast will be ready in ten minutes. I can tell by the way Annie's crashing the cups. So step lively if you want to pay your lovely mother's subway fare."

Ten minutes later the slim young figure, in its English-fitting black and white, sat opposite Emma McChesney at the breakfast table and between excited gulps of coffee outlined a meteoric career in his chosen field. And the more he talked and the rosier his figures of speech became, the more silent and thoughtful fell his mother. She wondered if five o'clock would find a droop to the set of those young shoulders; if the springy young legs in their absurdly scant modish trousers would have lost some of their elasticity; if the buoyant step in the flat-heeled shoes would not drag a little. Thirteen years of business experience had taught her to swallow smilingly the bitter pill of rebuff. But this boy was to experience his first dose to-day. She felt again that sensation of almost physical nausea-that sickness of heart and spirit which had come over her when she had met her first sneer and intolerant shrug. It had been her maiden trip on the road for the T.A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company. She was secretary of that company now, and moving spirit in its policy. But the wound of that first insult still ached. A word from her would have placed the boy and saved him from curt refusals. She withheld that word. He must fight his fight alone.

"I want to write the kind of ad," Jock was saying excitedly, "that you see 'em staring at in the subways, and street cars and L-trains. I want to sit across the aisle and watch their up-turned faces staring at that oblong, and reading it aloud to each other."

"Isn't that an awfully obvious necktie you're wearing, Jock?" inquired his mother irrelevantly.

"This? You ought to see some of them. This is a Quaker stock in comparison." He glanced down complacently at the vivid-hued silken scarf that the season's mode demanded. Immediately he was off again. "And the first thing you know, Mrs. McChesney, ma'am, we'll have a motor truck backing up at the door once a month and six strong men carrying my salary to the freight elevator in sacks."

Emma McChesney buttered her bit of toast, then looked up to remark quietly:

"Hadn't you better qualify for the trial heats, Jock, before you jump into the finals?"

"Trial heats!" sneered Jock. "They're poky. I want real money. Now! It isn't enough to be just well-to-do in these days. It needs money. I want to be rich! Not just prosperous, but rich! So rich that I can let the bath soap float around in the water without any pricks of conscience. So successful that they'll say, 'And he's a mere boy, too. Imagine!'"

And, "Jock dear," Emma McChesney said, "you've still to learn that plans and ambitions are like soap bubbles. The harder you blow and the more you inflate them, the quicker they burst. Plans and ambitions are things to be kept locked away in your heart, Son, with no one but yourself to take an occasional peep at them."

Jock leaned over the table, with his charming smile. "You're a jealous blonde," he laughed. "Because I'm going to be a captain of finance-an advertising wizard; you're afraid I'll grab the glory all away from you."

Mrs. McChesney folded her napkin and rose. She looked unbelievably young, and trim, and radiant, to be the mother of this boasting boy.

"I'm not afraid," she drawled, a wicked little glint in her blue eyes. "You see, they'll only regard your feats and say, 'H'm, no wonder. He ought to be able to sell ice to an Eskimo. His mother was Emma McChesney.'"

And then, being a modern mother, she donned smart autumn hat and tailored suit coat and stood ready to reach her office by nine-thirty. But because she was as motherly as she was modern she swung open the door between kitchen and dining-room to advise with Annie, the adept.

"Lamb chops to-night, eh, Annie? And sweet potatoes. Jock loves 'em. And corn au gratin and some head lettuce." She glanced toward Jock in the hallway, then lowered her voice. "Annie," she teased, "just give us one of your peach cobblers, will you? You see he-he's going to be awfully-tired when he gets home."

So they went stepping off to work together, mother and son. A mother of twenty-five years before would have watched her son with tear-dimmed eyes from the vine-wreathed porch of a cottage. There was no watching a son from the tenth floor of an up-town apartment house. Besides, she had her work to do. The subway swallowed both of them. Together they jostled and swung their way down-town in the close packed train. At the Twenty-third Street station Jock left her.

"You'll have dinner to-night with a full-fledged professional gent," he bragged, in his youth and exuberance and was off down the aisle and out on the platform. Emma McChesney managed to turn in her nine-inch space of train seat so that she watched the slim, buoyant young figure from the window until the train drew away and he was lost in the stairway jam. Just so Rachel had watched the boy Joseph go to meet the Persian caravans in the desert.

"Don't let them buffalo you, Jock," Emma had said, just before he left her. "They'll try it. If they give you a broom and tell you to sweep down the back stairs, take it, and sweep, and don't forget the corners. And if, while you're sweeping, you notice that that kind of broom isn't suited to the stairs go in and suggest a new kind. They'll like it."

Brooms and back stairways had no place in Jock McChesney's mind as the mahogany and gold elevator shot him up to the fourteenth floor of the great office building that housed the Berg, Shriner Company. Down the marble hallway he went and into the reception room. A cruel test it was, that reception room, with the cruelty peculiar to the modern in business. With its soft-shaded lamp, its two-toned rug, its Jacobean chairs, its magazine-laden cathedral oak table, its pot of bright flowers making a smart touch of color in the somber richness of the room, it was no place for the shabby, the down-and-out, the cringing, the rusty, or the mendicant.

Jock McChesney, from the tips of his twelve-dollar shoes to his radiant face, took the test and stood it triumphantly. He had entered with an air in which was mingled the briskness of assurance with the languor of ease. There were times when Jock McChesney was every inch the son of his mother.

There advanced toward Jock a large, plump, dignified personage, a personage courteous, yet reserved, inquiring, yet not offensively curious-a very Machiavelli of reception-room ushers. Even while his lips questioned, his eyes appraised clothes, character, conduct.

"Mr. Hupp, please," said Jock, serene in the perfection of his shirt, tie, collar and scarf pin, upon which the appraising eye now rested. "Mr. McChesney." He produced a card.

"Appointment?"

"No-but he'll see me."

But Machiavelli had seen too many overconfident callers. Their very confidence had taught him caution.

"If you will please state your-ah-business-"

Jock smiled a little patient smile and brushed an imaginary fleck of dust from the sleeve of his very correct coat.

"I want to ask him for a job as office boy," he jibed.

An answering grin overspread the fat features of the usher. Even an usher likes his little joke. The sense of humor dies hard.

"I have a letter from him, asking me to call," said Jock, to clinch it.

"This way." The keeper of the door led Jock toward the sacred inner portal and held it open. "Mr. Hupp's is the last door to the right."

The door closed behind him. Jock found himself in the big, busy, light-flooded central office. Down either side of the great room ran a row of tiny private offices, each partitioned off, each outfitted with desk, and chairs, and a big, bright window. On his way to the last door at the right Jock glanced into each tiny office, glimpsing busy men bent absorbedly over papers, girls busy with dictation, here and there a door revealing two men, or three, deep in discus

sion of a problem, heads close together, voices low, faces earnest. It came suddenly to the smartly modish, overconfident boy walking the length of the long room that the last person needed in this marvelously perfected and smooth-running organization was a somewhat awed young man named Jock McChesney. There came to him that strange sensation which comes to every job-hunter; that feeling of having his spiritual legs carry him out of the room, past the door, down the hall and into the street, even as, in reality, they bore him on to the very presence which he dreaded and yet wished to see.

Two steps more, and he stood in the last doorway, right. No matinee idol, nervously awaiting his cue in the wings, could have planned his entrance more carefully than Jock had planned this. Ease was the thing; ease, bordering on nonchalance, mixed with a brisk and businesslike assurance.

The entrance was lost on the man at the desk. He did not even look up. If Jock had entered on all-fours, doing a double tango to vocal accompaniment, it is doubtful if the man at the desk would have looked up. Pencil between his fingers, head held a trifle to one side in critical contemplation of the work before him, eyes narrowed judicially, lips pursed, he was the concentrated essence of do-it-now.

Jock waited a moment, in silence. The man at the desk worked on. His head was semi-bald. Jock knew him to be thirty. Jock fixed his eye on the semi-bald spot and spoke.

"My name's McChesney," he began. "I wrote you three days ago; you probably will remember. You replied, asking me to call, and I-"

"Minute," exploded the man at the desk, still absorbed.

Jock faltered, stopped. The man at the desk did not look up. A moment of silence, except for the sound of the busy pencil traveling across the paper. Jock, glaring at the semi-bald spot, spoke again.

"Of course, Mr. Hupp, if you're too busy to see me-"

"M-m-m-m," a preoccupied hum, such as a busy man makes when he is trying to give attention to two interests.

"-why I suppose there's no sense in staying; but it seems to me that common courtesy-"

The busy pencil paused, quivered in the making of a final period, enclosed the dot in a proofreader's circle, and rolled away across the desk, its work done.

"Now," said Sam Hupp, and swung around, smiling, to face the affronted Jock. "I had to get that out. They're waiting for it." He pressed a desk button. "What can I do for you? Sit down, sit down."

There was a certain abrupt geniality about him. His tortoise-rimmed glasses gave him an oddly owlish look, like a small boy taking liberties with grandfather's spectacles.

Jock found himself sitting down, his anger slipping from him.

"My name's McChesney," he began. "I'm here because I want to work for this concern." He braced himself to present the convincing, reason-why arguments with which he had prepared himself.

Whereupon Sam Hupp, the brisk, proceeded to whisk his breath and arguments away with an unexpected:

"All right. What do you want to do?"

Jock's mouth fell open. "Do!" he stammered. "Do! Why-anything-"

Sam Hupp's quick eye swept over the slim, attractive, radiant, correctly-garbed young figure before him. Unconsciously he rubbed his bald spot with a rueful hand.

"Know anything about writing, or advertising?"

Jock was at ease immediately. "Quite a lot; yes. I practically rewrote the Gridiron play that we gave last year, and I was assistant advertising manager of the college publications for two years. That gives a fellow a pretty broad knowledge of advertising."

"Oh, Lord!" groaned Sam Hupp, and covered his eyes with his hand, as if in pain.

Jock stared. The affronted feeling was returning. Sam Hupp recovered himself and smiled a little wistfully.

"McChesney, when I came up here twelve years ago I got a job as reception-room usher. A reception-room usher is an office boy in long pants. Sometimes, when I'm optimistic, I think that if I live twelve years longer I'll begin to know something about the rudiments of this game."

"Oh, of course," began Jock, apologetically. But Hupp's glance was over his head. Involuntarily Jock turned to follow the direction of his eyes.

"Busy?" said a voice from the doorway.

"Come in, Dutch! Come in!" boomed Hupp.

The man who entered was of the sort that the boldest might well hesitate to address as "Dutch"-a tall, slim, elegant figure, Van-dyked, bronzed.

"McChesney, this is Von Herman, head of our art department."

Their hands met in a brief clasp. Von Herman's thoughts were evidently elsewhere.

"Just wanted to tell you that that cussed model's skipped out. Gone with a show. Just when I had the whole series blocked out in my mind. He was a wonder. No brains, but a marvel for looks and style. These people want real stuff. Don't know how I'm going to give it to them now."

Hupp sat up. "Got to!" he snapped. "Campaign's late, as it is. Can't you get an ordinary man model and fake the Greek god beauty?"

"Yes-but it'll look faked. If I could lay my hands on a chap who could wear clothes as if they belonged to him-"

Hupp rose. "Here's your man," he cried, with a snap of his fingers. "Clothes! Look at him. He invented 'em. Why, you could photograph him and he'd look like a drawing."

Von Herman turned, surprised, incredulous, hopeful, his artist eye brightening at the ease and grace and modishness of the smart, well-knit figure before him.

"Me!" exploded Jock, his face suffused with a dull, painful red. "Me! Pose! For a clothing ad!"

"Well," Hupp reminded him, "you said you'd do anything."

Jock McChesney glared belligerently. Hupp returned the stare with a faint gleam of amusement shining behind the absurd glasses. The amused look changed to surprise as he beheld the glare in Jock's eyes fading. For even as he glared there had come a warning to Jock-a warning sent just in time from that wireless station located in his subconscious mind. A vivid face, full of pride, and hope, and encouragement flashed before him.

"Jock," it said, "don't let 'em buffalo you. They'll try it. If they give you a broom and tell you to sweep down the back stairs-"

Jock was smiling his charming, boyish smile.

"Lead me to your north light," he laughed at Von Herman. "Got any Robert W. Chambers's heroines tucked away there?"

Hupp's broad hand came down on his shoulder with a thwack. "That's the spirit, McChesney! That's the-" He stopped, abruptly. "Say, are you related to Mrs. Emma McChesney, of the Featherloom Skirt Company?"

"Slightly. She's my one and only mother."

"She-you mean-her son! Well I'll be darned!" He held out his hand to Jock. "If you're a real son of your mother I wish you'd just call the office boy as you step down the hall with Von Herman and tell him to bring me a hammer and a couple of spikes. I'd better nail down my desk."

"I'll promise not to crowd you for a year or two," grinned Jock from the doorway, and was off with the pleased Von Herman.

Past the double row of beehives again, into the elevator, out again, up a narrow iron stairway, into a busy, cluttered, skylighted room. Pictures, posters, photographs hung all about. Some of the pictures Jock recognized as old friends that had gazed familiarly at him from subway trains and street cars and theater programmes. Golf clubs, tennis rackets, walking sticks, billiard cues were stacked up in corners. And yet there was a bare and orderly look about the place. Two silent, shirt-sleeved men were busy at drawing boards. Through a doorway beyond Jock could see others similarly engaged in the next room. On a platform in one corner of the room posed a young man in one of those costumes the coat of which is a mongrel mixture of cutaway and sack. You see them worn by clergymen with unsecular ideas in dress, and by the leader of the counterfeiters' gang in the moving pictures. The pose was that met with in the backs of magazines-the head lifted, eyes fixed on an interesting object unseen, one arm crooked to hold a cane, one foot advanced, the other trailing slightly to give a Fifth Avenue four o'clock air. His face was expressionless. On his head was a sadly unironed silk hat.

Von Herman glanced at the drawing tacked to the board of one of the men. "That'll do, Flynn," he said to the model. He glanced again at the drawing. "Bring out the hat a little more, Mack. They won't burnish it if you don't,"-to the artist. Then, turning about, "Where's that girl?"

From a far corner, sheltered by long green curtains, stepped a graceful almost childishly slim figure in a bronze-green Norfolk suit and close-fitting hat from beneath which curled a fluff of bright golden hair. Von Herman stared at her.

"You're not the girl," he said. "You won't do."

"You sent for me," retorted the girl. "I'm Miss Michelin-Gelda Michelin. I posed for you six months ago, but I've been out of town with the show since then."

Von Herman, frowning, opened a table drawer, pulled out a card index, ran his long fingers through it and extracted a card. He glanced at it, and then, the frown deepening, read it aloud.

"'Michelin, Gelda. Telephone Bryant 4759. Brunette. Medium build. Good neck and eyes. Good figure. Good clothes.'"

He glanced up. "Well?"

"That's me," said Miss Michelin calmly. "I've got the same telephone number and eyes and neck and clothes. Of course my hair is different and I am thinner, but that's business. I'd like to know what chance a fat girl would have in the chorus these days."

Von Herman groaned. "I'll pay you for the time you've waited and for your trouble. Can't use you for these pictures." Then as she left he turned a comically despairing face to the two men at the drawing boards. "What are we going to do? We've got to make a start on these pictures and everything has gone wrong. They want something special. Two figures, young man and woman. Said expressly they didn't want a chicken. No romping curls and none of that eyes and lips fool-girl stuff. This chap's ideal for the man." He pointed to Jock.

Jock had been staring, fascinated, at the shaded, zigzag marks which the artist-dark-skinned, velvet-eyed, foreign-looking youth-was making on the sheet of paper before him. He had scarcely glanced up during the entire scene. Now he looked briefly and coolly at Jock.

"Where did you get him?" he asked, with the precise enunciation of the foreign-born. "Good figure. And he wears his clothes not like a cab driver, as the others do."

"Thanks," drawled Jock, flushing a little. Then, boyish curiosity getting the better of him, "Say, tell me, what in the world are you doing to that drawing?"

He of the velvety eyes smiled a twisted little smile. His slim brown fingers never stopped in their work of guiding the pen in its zigzag path.

"It is work," he sneered, "to delight the soul of an artist. I am now engaged in the pleasing task of putting the bones in a herringbone suit."

But Jock did not smile. Here was another man, he thought, who had been given a broom and told to sweep down the stairway.

Von Herman was regarding him almost wistfully. "I hate to let you slip," he said. Then, his face brightening, "By Jove! I wonder if Miss Galt would pose for us if we told her what a fix we were in."

He picked up the telephone receiver. "Miss Galt, please," he said. Then, aside, "Of course it's nerve to ask a girl who's earning three thousand a year to leave her desk and come up and pose for-Hello! Miss Galt?"

Jock, seated on the edge of the models' platform, was beginning to enjoy himself. Even this end of the advertising business had its interesting side, he thought. Ten minutes later he knew it had.

Ten minutes later there appeared Miss Galt. Jock left off swinging his legs from the platform and stood up. Miss Galt was that kind of girl. Smooth black hair parted and coiled low as only an exquisitely shaped head can dare to wear its glory-crown. A face whose expression was sweetly serious in spite of its youth. A girl whose clothes were the sort of clothes that girls ought to wear in offices, and don't.

"This is mighty good of you, Miss Galt," began Von Herman. "It's the Kool Komfort Klothes Company's summer campaign stuff. We'll only need you for an hour or so-to get the expression and general outline. Poster stuff, really. Then this young man will pose for the summer union suit pictures."

"Don't apologize," said Miss Galt. "We had a hard enough time to get that Kool Komfort account. We don't want to start wrong with the pictures. Besides, I think posing's real fun."

Jock thought so too, quite suddenly. Just as suddenly Von Herman remembered the conventions and introduced them.

"McChesney?" repeated Miss Galt, crisply. "I know a Mrs. McChesney, of the T.A. Buck-"

"My mother," proudly.

"Your mother! Then why-" She stopped.

"Because," said Jock, "I'm the rawest rooky in the Berg, Shriner Company. And when I begin to realize what I don't know about advertising I'll probably want to plunge off the Palisades."

Miss Galt smiled up at him, her clear, frank eyes meeting his.

"You'll win," she said.

"Even if I lose-I win now," said Jock, suddenly audacious.

"Hi! Hold that pose!" called Von Herman, happily.

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