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It Pays to Smile By Nina Wilcox Putnam Characters: 23171

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Since the very beginnings of Boston my people, who were, as every school child knows, an integral part of the original colony, had the commendable habit of recording all those events which bore in a manner either psychological or physiological upon their households or upon the affairs of state, in which they were ever active. In truth I make small doubt that but for the Talbots there would have been no Boston, or at least certainly no information regarding it recorded in intelligible English. And though in my girlhood I conceived my ancestors' style to be a trifle jejune and was myself fond of lighter and more frivolous works such as those of Emerson and Walter Pater, a weakness to which I confess with all due humility, I nevertheless realize the importance of the writings of my family and the desirability of maintaining our tradition of making an accurate record of such pertinent events as come under my immediate observation in order that future generations in their search after truth may have a reliable monument to depend upon. And this resolve has been greatly strengthened by perusing the ill-written, outrageously sensational and ill-considered newspaper versions of the affair which has so recently brought our historic name into the public notice under such distressingly vulgar and conspicuous circumstances.

Of course Talbot, the chauffeur, has enjoyed it all immensely, thereby to my mind proving once and for all that he has no genuine claim upon the name, and that his pretension of belonging to a younger Western branch is, as I have consistently maintained, absolutely fallacious. But I show weakness by digression. Permit me to recount the tale from its true beginning, which was, of course, my unfortunate answering of that advertisement in the Transcript.

When the wretched thing came to my attention Euphemia and I were seated at the supper table; she at the head and I at the side-a custom she has insisted upon since our parents' death, her position being that due to the elder sister and the rightful head of the family; and the table has continued to be set thus, though at the time of my rebellion I was fifty and she sixty, and it was absurd that she should maintain a formality instituted when she was twenty and I was ten. I had often disputed with her about it, but to no avail.

"My dear Freedom," she would rebuke me, "I am the elder and I know what is best for youth. So long as I am here this household shall be conducted properly!"

And nothing served to move her from that point of view.

Well, upon the portentous evening when my rebellion began we were sitting as usual, promptly at five-thirty, in the cheerful if shabby dining room of our vast and dilapidated old mansion on Chestnut Street, with the sun shining brightly upon the neatly darned table linen, the zinnias from the garden and the few remaining bits of family silver. It can hardly be said that Old Sol spread his refulgent glory upon very much to eat, for he did not, there being nothing but a pot of tea, four very thin half slices of toast and the evening Transcript. According to her custom Euphemia looked at this first herself.

"I perceive that the Republican Party is indignant with the Administration," she informed me. "And that a mail service is to be established by air from New York. How shocking! The postman will very likely drop things from the a?roplane! I don't approve of the Government taking such risks with other people's letters. It is positively unseemly. Letters should be brought to one's door by a person with a blue coat and a whistle."

"They probably will be," I ventured. "The radical changes in life only affect the big things at first."

Euphemia gave me a sharp look.

"Don't think too much, Freedom," she admonished me. "It is unfeminine in a younger person. And take care-your jabot almost went into your tea!"

I set down the cup, which I had in truth been holding in such a way that my lace cravat was endangered. I am occasionally rather given to daydreaming; a reprehensibly slack mental habit of which I have been unable wholly to break myself, and I was grateful for the merited reproof. Well, I set down the cup and put out my hand for the newspaper, which Euphemia, having glanced at the headlines, had finished reading. Again she rebuked me, this time with a gesture, and rang the bell. I subsided until the fourteen-year-old colored girl who constituted our domestic staff made her appearance, enveloped in a white apron which gave her a curiously grown-up appearance when viewed from the front, as it had been intended for an adult and reached the floor, but which, seen from the rear, revealed her immaturity.

"Galadia, hand this paper to Miss Freedom!" said Euphemia with dignity. And when the child had complied: "That is all; you may go!"

And Galadia made her exit, slamming the kitchen door behind which her voice immediately rose in song:

Kiss yo' Honey-Baby-Doll!

"Good heavens!" exclaimed my sister, rising in wrath. "What ever will become of that child?"

And gathering her woolen shawl about her she swept into the kitchen, her cap strings tremulous with indignation, and I was left to a swift and guilty perusal of the newspaper. I use the adjective "guilty" because I knew how thoroughly Euphemia would disapprove of the section to which I, for the seventh time in as many days, turned. It was the advertising page that I selected, and my eagerness was resultant from a desperate resolution which I had secretly made.

I was going to work.

For the first time in the history of my ancient and honorable family, a female Talbot was seeking remunerative employment. Terrible as I knew this act to be I was unalterably resolved upon it, and was keeping my secret from my dear sister only until armed with actual employment, for I was but too well aware of what her attitude would be, and determined to waste no time in disputing a theoretical situation, but once strengthened by actually being engaged in some capacity I would face her wrath. Besides, were she to learn prematurely of my plan, she was quite capable of attempting to lock me in my chamber as a preventive measure.

But though so long recreant in my decision to take what after mature consideration I deemed the right and proper course, it was not for nothing that my parents, despairing of ever being blessed with a son, had bestowed upon me the family name of Freedom. There had always been a male Freedom Talbot, and his tradition had ever justified his name; and at length I was determined to live up to it.

My desperate decision had, of course, a pecuniary basis. We were poor; there is no denying it. Our parents had left us the house and an income of seven hundred a year, which for two maidens who would presumably marry was not insufficient in the day of our inheritance. But no mate ever having chosen either of us, or been chosen by either of us, and the cost of living having risen so inexplicably, our situation had gradually become greatly altered. Euphemia steadily opposed the idea of any remunerative work, no matter how genteel, and so far I had unwillingly submitted, the more readily because we were utterly without training or equipment. But when in a single week the tax on the house was increased simultaneously with the price of butter, my resolve took shape, and my perusal of the advertising sheets began.

On this fateful evening the "Wanted" column at first appeared to be more than usually devoid of possibilities. There were the usual "Perfect 36-38" for Jewish concerns that apparently manufactured clothing. Shopgirls were needed, and houseworkers, but I could not bring myself to either of these occupations except as a last resort. Typists were also desired, and bookkeepers; but I feared my lack of practical education would count against me. A traveling saleslady was wanted, and a book agent; and as I was pondering the possibilities set forth by these my eye fell upon the fateful notice which led to all my strange adventures. It was printed rather larger than its fellows, and set forth an extraordinary request.

WANTED: An indigent old lady of impeccable social standing, to act as chaperon to a common young girl who is motherless. Must be dowdy, incompetent, financially embarrassed, snobbish, and never employed before. No pretenders will be considered. Excellent salary and a chance to see the world. Apply Apartment -, Plaza Hotel, between five and seven p.m.

Conceive, if you can, the astonishment with which I perused this advertisement. Had I inserted it myself, stating the sort of position for which I was best fitted, I could in all candor have stated my case and situation no better. Indeed I was obliged to reread the notice several times before feeling able to credit my own senses. Then I tore the corner containing it from the paper, hastily concealed it in my reticule, refolded the remaining sheets in such a fashion as to conceal the damage done, and laid it, as was our custom, upon the files under the china closet.

Then with quickly beating heart I got the porcelain tub and suds, spread the oilcloth upon the side table and completed my daily task of washing and putting away the tea china with fingers which trembled so that they were scarcely equal to the task.

Then, when Galadia, who refused to dwell with us continuously, had been sent home to her parents, and Euphemia had settled herself to her crochet work in the drawing-room I stole upstairs, upon the pretext of a slight headache, and in the privacy of my chamber again perused that amazing scrap of paper.

Could it by chance be the expression of some dull person's humor? Was it possibly a snare of some kind? But no, the last seemed improbable inasmuch as the requirements were a direct negation of anything which would appear desirable to the kidnapper or any such vicious character. Moreover, the address given inspired a degree of confidence, because, though I was under the impression that all expensive and fashionable hotels must be-well, not suitable for the conservative female element of our dear city to frequent, still there could be no real danger incident to a visit to them by a person like myself, who sought no evil. Considering this point I looked at my dear father's watch, which I always carried-Euphemia very properly having pre-empted mother's-and discovered that the hour was but six.

Then my resolution took firm hold upon me, and without more ado I got out my bonnet and pinned it on with resolute fingers, found my best silk gloves, and taking my dolman and reticule crept softly down the stairs, excitement high within my breast.

At the door of the once-elegant, now shabby reception room I paused to peek at Euphemia's unconscious back which was just visible, very stiff and correct, in the lonely drawing-room beyond. Fortunately she did not hear me, and having thus, as it were, silently saluted her, and feeling uncommonly like an errant daughter about to consummate an elopement, I shut the front door behind me with care and stepped forth into the roseate late afternoon sunlight and my desperate adventure.

I find it difficult indeed to express the mixture of trepidation and elation which possessed me upon this occasion. The very streets, familiar since childhood, took on a strange aspect, and the walk to the hotel was magically shortened by my excitement, though on its threshold I hesitated and might have turned back at the last moment had it not been for the inquiring gaze of the large uniformed colored perso

n who stood at the doorway. Fearful that he would address me if I delayed longer I gathered courage anew and entered through a most alarming revolving door.

I had never been in this hotel before, and neither had any of the ladies of my acquaintance, with the exception of Annie Tresdale, whose cousin from Chicago stayed there overnight and had Annie to luncheon; and she, I was aware, had felt the most severe criticism of the place owing to the fact that a female had smoked a cigarette in the dining room. I afterward ascertained that it was Annie's cousin who had done this, and so, of course, we never discussed the subject further. But I will confess the place bore no aspect of viciousness beyond a good many electric fixtures, and the young man at the desk was exceedingly polite and helpful, considering the number of persons who were simultaneously trying to engage his attention.

"Apartment B? Oh, yes; for Mr. Pegg!" said he in reply to my query. "There is one lady up there already! Boy! Show madam up to Mr. Pegg!"

And at this a youth appareled as a page took me in charge and led me to what I at once perceived to be an elevator. At the door I balked.

"I prefer to walk if there are stairs," said I.

The page looked as if he thought I had gone suddenly mad.

"It's six flights!" he said. And so I, realizing that the building was indeed a tall one, followed him into the trap, in which were several other persons, who appeared to me to be uncannily nonchalant. Maintaining as dignified an exterior as I could I concealed my alarm at what was a wholly novel experience to me, and was presently disgorged, quite unharmed, upon what the page assured me was the seventh story. He then preceded me down an interminable blue-carpeted hallway and paused before a door upon which he tapped.

After a moment it was opened by a manservant of extremely respectable appearance.

"Mr. Pegg?" I inquired.

"From the advertisement, madam?" said the servant.

"Yes," I replied with dignity.

"Is that all?" said the page.

"That is all, thank you, little boy," I replied, at which the child departed with an air of disappointment.

And then the manservant ushered me into a magnificent anteroom done in gold paneling and mauve velvet upholstery, most beautiful and in the best of taste. I subsequently ascertained that I was in the royal suite of the hotel, and that it occupied the entire floor.

"Will you be seated, please?" said the servant, handing me to a golden armchair. I dropped his arm, which I had taken upon entering, as is the custom in my circle where a butler is still maintained. "Mr. Pegg is interviewing another applicant in the drawing-room, but I believe he will shortly be at liberty." And with that he left me.

I took a tentative perch on the very edge of my magnificent seat, clasping my reticule firmly and feeling as though I had suddenly discovered myself in the midst of a dream which refused the half-conscious mind the acknowledgment of unreality. It was extraordinary, really, and I wondered who and what the unseen applicant might be, and if the position might not already be filled. I almost hoped it was, so overpowering was the room in which I sat, and yet it was patent that the advertiser must truly be a person of means and that the emolument would be considerable-certainly not less than four or five hundred a year-and I trembled at the thought that perhaps fortune had already dedicated this to another.

But before many moments had passed the door into the adjoining room was opened and two persons entered-a man and a woman-the later unquestionably my predecessor.

She was a vulgar overdressed person much younger than myself, and at the moment her attractions were not enhanced by a fit of anger. Her language was wholly unintelligible to me.

"Of course I thought you was a motion-picture bird!" she snapped, "and character parts is my middle name. Me a governess? My Lord-not for a gift!"

"Don't trouble yourself; nobody'll try and force it on you," said the man. "Good day, ma'am!"

And he opened the outer door for her impudent departure. Upon closing it after her he caught sight of me and stared. I confess I returned the favor quite involuntarily, for Mr. Pegg was certainly the most extraordinary man I had ever seen. He was about six feet four inches in height, and so heavy that at first his tallness was hardly remarkable. He was perhaps sixty years of age, though magnificently preserved, and his ruddy clean-shaven face had a jaw which my dear father would have described as "iron." His expensive clothing was worn with a negligent air, and his voice was like the roar of a lion.

"Jumping-er-grasshoppers!" he exclaimed, his eyes riveted upon me. "Are you made up for the part?"

At once I rose to my feet in proper indignation.

"I never paint!" I exclaimed angrily. "My color is natural, though perhaps unusual at my age. If it is your intention to get gentlewomen here merely to insult them, Mr. Pegg, I have no further occasion for remaining!"

To my surprise Mr. Pegg merely chuckled at this, and then assuming a more composed manner held open the door to the inner room, making a deep and courteous bow as he did so.

"My dear madam-a thousand pardons!" he said. "You seemed too real to be anything genuine. Please walk in."

And so, wondering if perhaps the poor man was insane, and far from feeling at ease, I complied, entering an enormous drawing-room and accepting the seat on the far side of an incongruously littered table-filled with papers, notes, and so on, and all the paraphernalia of a business man's desk. Mr. Pegg took the armchair behind it and settled to a critical inspection of me, though he did not look at me continuously. I faced the sunset, but as my face was clean, and as at my age I had got past attempting concealment of my crow's feet, I was quite composed-outwardly. Yet I could feel that his glance rested upon my hat, my hair, my silk gloves, my walkrite boots, even-though they were discreetly covered by my dress. And all at once my terror of him diminished. It would be difficult to say just why, but very possibly it was the tone of his voice when he spoke again, for though his diction was shockingly incorrect there was a certain kindliness, a gentleness to it which was unmistakably genuine.

"You ain't a Winthrop by any chance, are you, madam?" he asked.

"No my name is Talbot," said I.

And then as he appeared a trifle disappointed I elaborated, for his ignorance was patent. "My ancestors came over a generation before Winthrop," I said gently, for, of course, I would not like that family to hear that I had in any way classified them as nouveaux.

"Ah!" said Mr. Pegg, brightening again. "That's fine! That's fine, Madam Talbot-a real aristocrat!"

"I am Miss Talbot," I again corrected him.

"Well," said he doubtfully, "of course, that's not quite as desirable as a widow would be, is it now? To take care of my daughter, I mean. Still, in some ways an old maid is better. More particular, you'd be. And what's more, you are born blue-blooded, not just married to it!"

"Mr. Pegg," said I, "will you not set forth the exact nature of the occupation you propose for me?"

"That's it!" he cried, thumping the table. "That's the stuff exactly.

"I beg pardon?" said I.

"Talk like that!" he shouted. "And learn her to talk the same-give her some class!"

"You expect me to teach your daughter grammar?"

"Teach her everything!" said the giant. "Polish her up; finish her off-but not by instructin' her. My Lord, no! She'd never stand for it! Just stick round-be with her-let a little Boston rub off on her, and set her right when she makes a break."

"A sort of governess?" I ventured.

"Companion, chaperon-you get me!" said her parent, and leaned back in his chair beaming satisfaction. "Now look-a-here, Miss Talbot, I'll put the matter straight to you. I am a rich man, but I'm a roughneck and I know it. There is a few things I ain't been able to buy for myself, and refinement is one of them. But I calculate to pry off a little for my Peaches-no culls on this family tree if a little pruning and grafting can turn it into a perfect Seedless Apperson. Does that mean anything to you?"

I reflected a moment, and though the man's actual terminology was unintelligible to me the sense of his imagery was somehow perfectly clear.

"You speak of her as a young tree!" said I. "I think I do understand. 'Just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined.'"

This plainly interested him.

"True!" he exclaimed. "Just that. Well, as I was saying, I've just cleaned up the biggest deal the California fruit growers ever heard of-and I started out as a picker with a bunch of Hindus, getting four cents a lug for oranges! To-day I've got-well, it don't matter how many millions; and a daughter that's never been let off the home ranch until three weeks ago. Her mother died when she come. Well-never mind that either! And now I've made my haul and I've got a little time to give her-and to living generally. I'm a practical man, Miss Talbot. When I commence grafting a new orchard of Golden Americans on a twenty-acre stretch of old wild stock I cut, splice and bind it right, and I don't hurry myself until I get the grafts I want and the proper season and everything. And the same with the culture of my American Beauty. I've left her grow strong and wild for twenty years now, and she's about ready for cultivation. And I feel you are the right one for the job. You are hired!"

"But my dear Mr. Pegg!" I protested. "You really are not in the least informed as to my qualifications."

"You don't imagine that a feller that's been picking men for thirty years-Dagos, Greasers, Japs, Hindus, everything that could strip fruit or thought they could-needs much wising up about a mere female woman, do you?" he demanded. "I advertised for exactly what I wanted, and you are it! You are hired."

"But, Mr. Pegg--" I vainly endeavored to interrupt.

"Your salary will be five thousand dollars a year, your keep and all expenses," he went on as if I had not spoken. "You will commence work to-morrow morning at nine o'clock and the next day we sail for Italy and a course in how to be refined though American."

I assure you that my senses staggered beneath the force of his announcement. Five thousand dollars a year! Italy! Incredible! Like a dream come true.

"My Eastern bank is the Guarantee," said he. "Look me up if you like. I have the money and a honest name. Nobody in the world's got a thing on me. And as the notice is kind of short, and you might like a little advance to buy some knitting or something to take with you, here is a hundred to bind the bargain. And now good night, Miss Talbot-I got the Eastern Apple Growers coming in ten minutes. See you to-morrow at nine! Good night, good night!"

And almost immediately I found myself edged into the anteroom, where already several persons-fruit venders, I presume-were in waiting.

"But, Mr. Pegg," I managed to ejaculate, "your daughter may not like me. Am I not to meet her before I leave?"

"I should say not!" exclaimed her father. "She doesn't know anything about this. I am leaving the breaking of the whole idea to you! Good night!"

With these alarming words the door shut behind me; and presently, I scarcely knew how, I found myself once more upon the solid reality of the Boston street, with only the hundred-dollar bill as evidence that the whole experience had been other than a dream.

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