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Rain In The Doorway


Thorne Smith



IN the Toy Department they naturally lingered a little—which one of them started the lingering it would be difficult to decide. Probably it was by general consent. It is almost impossible not to linger in a Toy Department. They lingered long enough in this one for a lady, who seemingly had just remembered something, to accost Mr. Larkin.

"Have you something for a mechanical boy?" she asked, all of a breath.

Mr. Larkin looked puzzled.

"A mechanical boy?" he asked politely as if to give the woman another chance as well as himself.

"Yes," almost panted the woman. "A mechanical boy he is."

"Is he, now," murmured Mr. Larkin. "Too bad—too bad. A mechanical boy. Fancy that. How mechanical is he, madam?"

"Oh, very," replied the woman proudly. "Entirely."

"God spare me," breathed Mr. Larkin. "An entirely mechanical boy. What does he run by, madam, steam?"

"What?" cried the woman. "He doesn't run at all."

"Oh," exclaimed Mr. Larkin, his face lighting up. "I see it. You want this mechanical boy repaired, is that it?"

"It is not," said the woman coldly. "I want a mechanical toy for the boy."

"Does it play with mechanical toys?" asked Mr. Larkin, greatly interested.

"Naturally," replied the woman.

"Must be a remarkable sort of mechanical boy," observed Mr. Larkin with a sigh. "I'll have to admit that. Will someone else talk with the lady? We're not getting along so well."

"Certainly," volunteered the Major, stepping forward. "Is this a clockwork boy, madam, or an electric one?"

"Both," said the woman promptly. "He's good at both."

"Oh, he is," muttered the Major, slightly taken aback. "I never saw one of those."

"You never saw this boy," said the woman. "Never saw the likes of him myself."

"You must be right," admitted the Major, then turning to his senior, added in a low voice, "Shall we go? I'm afraid she'll get angry soon. I don't seem to understand either."

"You great big dummy," said Mr. Dinner, in turn confronting the woman. "Madam," he continued with great assurance, "you just can't have a mechanical boy that works by both clockwork and electricity, and if you have, it should be solving the fourth dimension instead of playing with toys. In other words, we place little reliance in what you have told us. Please come to the point. Make it snappy."

"All I want to do is to buy a mechanical toy," said the woman in a hopeless voice. "Here I've been talking to three grown men, and I don't seem to be any further along than if I'd been talking to three stuffed owls that had never——"

"Don't let her go on," interrupted Mr. Larkin anxiously. "She'll never stop if she once starts going on. They never do. I know them. The stuffed owls are very bad. God only knows what she'll take up next. Get her mind off us. Ask her how she feels—anything."

"Would you like a broken mechanical toy, madam?" asked Mr. Dinner.

"What would I want with a broken mechanical toy?" demanded the woman.

"We don't know," said Mr. Dinner, stepping back among his larger partners. "If that boy is such a wonder he might like to find out what's wrong with this mechanical toy. No one round here seems to know."

"A good idea," put in Major Barney. "I've been told on reliable authority that it's more fun to get mechanical toys to work than to watch them do their stuff. Don't you think so, madam?"

"No, I don't," retorted the woman. "I think you should have your minds examined—all of you."

"Does she now?" Mr. Larkin murmured thoughtfully. ďAll of us. That's a lot of minds to have examined. It would take so long to find Dinner's, if ever. And then it would be such a great disappointment when found."

"Don't want it examined," said Mr. Dinner. "If they found anything wrong with it, I'd go crazy wondering what it was."

"You don't have to wonder," replied the Major. "It's merely an alcoholic husk."

Mr. Larkin stopped a salesgirl.

"My dear child," he began gently.

"Don't call me that," she tossed back. "I believed you once when you did, and now I have one of my own."

"Oh, dear," said Mr. Larkin. "How unfortunate. Now I remember your face."

"You should remember much more of me than that," the salesgirl flung back.

"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed the senior partner, looking anxiously about. "What a sale this turned out to be! Mechanical toys, at that. Imagine!" He turned back to the girl. "We'll have a nice long talk," he told her, "all about infant mortality. But not now. I must think. This woman wants a mechanical boy, but I fancy she'd be glad to take a stuffed owl in its place. Give her anything she wants or she'll never get home." He now addressed himself to the woman. "This perfectly charming girl will fit in just splendidly with your plans. Her mind is good and her memory altogether too good. Good-night, madam. I hope we'll all feel better to-morrow."

Once more he turned and walked rapidly away. By the time he had reached the end of the Toy Department he was almost running. His companions were close behind. A floorwalker looked after them and sniffed the air enviously.

"I hope we make that sale," said the senior partner, leading them down a flight of stairs to the next floor. "To my dying day I'll never be sure in my mind about that mechanical boy—whether he was or wasn't, you know—not even sure what the woman wanted."

"Simply a mechanical toy," replied Mr. Dinner, in a superior sounding voice. "I would have fixed her up in a minute."

The Major looked at him scornfully.

"She was preparing to tear you limb from limb," he said.

"And I for one wouldn't have lifted a finger," Mr.

Larkin asserted impersonally. "Now, look here, Mr. Owen, this is the Fur Department. Women come here for furs, but most of the time men come with them. It's a very important department. Events leading up to the loss of more honour are initiated here than in any other department in the store. It's remarkable the things women will do for fur. As a matter of truth, I've never found out what they won't do for fur, and I've suggested about everything. Yes, yes, indeed. Women are savages for fur. If our present race of women had lived in the prehistoric days there'd be no fur-bearing animals left at all. Give a women a piece of fur———"

"They're very much like that where I come from," Mr. Owen broke in quickly, as a picture of a fur coat which he had never bought flashed disturbingly through his mind.

"It's the competitive instinct," contributed the Major with a surprising display of philosophy. "What one woman wears the other woman wants until she has it. Then she wants something else. And if the price of the best fur coats were reduced to five dollars you wouldn't be able to drag one on their backs. Yet the fur would be just as good."

"They don't wear them to keep warm," observed Mr. Dinner. "That's one sure thing. If you gave some of them a snout they'd look just like animals."

"Men are quite as bad," said the senior partner. "Especially young men who don't have to work for their money. At football games and other mob activities I've seen hundreds of young chaps overtaxing their maturing strength and spoiling their chances in life beneath the weight of strange-looking garments that would give a bear the creeps, assuming they ever crept, which I doubt."

"But women have to have something to give in for," suggested Mr. Dinner.

"Why don't they give in for an orange, as they used to when I was a boy?" demanded the Major.

"There we go," remarked the senior partner with a shrug to Mr. Owen. "Always getting personal. Now these furs all come from the best animals." Here he indicated the Fur Department with an inclusive wave of his eloquent hand. "All animals of the better class. I've often thought that if you could prevail upon elephants to grow hair everything would be much nicer. It fills me with regret to think that every piece of fur here displayed represents another step in the gradual extinction of animals whose only fault is that they have never learned how to shave."

"I wonder," mused Mr. Dinner, "what women would do if men suddenly began growing fur? Think they'd murder us all?"

"No," replied the senior partner quite seriously. "They'd hardly go so far as that, but I do think they'd try to drag us about on their backs with our arms tied around their necks."

"Why couldn't they tuck 'em in—our arms, I mean?" asked Mr. Dinner.

"That would never do," replied Mr. Larkin. "The fun would begin to pick the clothes off their wearers. A pretty sight that would be."

"How are we going to keep our hands warm, then?" persisted the small Dinner.

"Your hands would be covered with fur," the senior partner told him.

"Ugh!" muttered Mr. Dinner. "I wouldn't like that. Great furry hands like a beast's."

"It will probably never happen," interposed Mr. Larkin in a quiet voice. "There's no good building bridges before we've burned them, is there?"

Mr. Dinner and the Major looked uneasily at one another. This sort of question invariably set them puzzling —taxed them, as it were, beyond their capacity.

As they rounded a corner they came upon a scene of domestic discord. The partners stopped, enthralled, their worst instincts delighted. Two couples, the female members of which were exceedingly pretty women, were facing each other in battle array.

"May I ask why you are buying a fur coat for my wife?" one of the men demanded in a deadly cold voice.

"Apparently for the same reason you are buying one for mine," the other man smoothly replied.

"I'm buying a coat for your wife to keep the poor woman warm," replied the other with withering sarcasm.

"I don't have to buy a coat for your wife to keep her that way," retorted the other husband, growing a trifle common.

"Is that so?" was the brilliant rejoinder. "Well, your wife is hot stuff herself—once she gets away from you."

"Yeah?" shot back the other. "Well, your wife told me that to live with you was the same as living with an eating cadaver—a snoring dead man."

"That's funny," laughed the other nastily. "Your wife told me much the same thing. She said if it wasn't for the neighbours she'd have a hearse parked permanently at your door."

"At that," declared the other proudly, "she said it nicer than your wife did."

"Your wife can't say anything any nicer than my wife can!" was the perplexing reply to this.

"I do think," interposed one of the women involved, "that Jane would have shown better taste had she gone to another store. She knows very well that I always deal here."

"So sorry," said the one called Jane in a sweet voice. "I should have remembered meeting you here with still another woman's husband."

"I was selecting a coat for his wife," lied the first woman glibly.

"My mistake," replied Jane. "You wore one just like it all last season."

"We had planned to dress as twins," said the other lady.

"And doubtless were so successful her husband couldn't tell you apart," Jane remarked with a killing smile.

"Are you accusing me of improper conduct?" the other demanded icily.

"Why, no, my dear," said Jane. "Merely complimenting you on a long and successful career."

"Do you know what they're talking about?" one of the husbands asked the other.

"No," replied the man. "I'm getting tired as hell. They always go on like this."

"I'm dying on my feet," admitted the other. "Let's give them the air."

Fearing the loss of two simultaneous sales, Mr. Larkin felt himself called upon to exert a soothing influence. Leading the gentlemen aside he spoke to them in a low voice.

"If you gentlemen will step down to our Refreshment Department," he told them, "I'll send word that the drinks are on the house. In the meantime, I will take care of the ladies. They can charge the coats either to their own husbands or—if they find it more amusing—they can stick to the present arrangement. I'll see that neither of you gets done in the eye."

"What's the Refreshment Department like?" asked one of the men suspiciously.

"Dear me, don't you know?" exclaimed Mr. Larkin. "Why, there's nothing like it in any store in the city. It's a real innovation. It's run especially for gentlemen who are mad enough to go shopping with ladies. You'll love it."

"Why?" asked the other husband.

"I forgot to say," the senior partner apologised. "It's a sort of alcoholic harem with a continuous burlesque show. You won't find a decent woman in the place."

"Then don't tell our wives," said one of the men. "They'd break their necks getting there."

The two men hurried away, and Mr. Larkin turned to the ladies.

"Now that they've gone," he said, smiling dazzlingly upon each, "we can all get together."

"Where?" breathed one of the women so readily that Mr. Larkin put it down as an instinctive response to any agreeable suggestion.

"My office is busy now," he hedged, glancing at his watch, "but any morning in the swimming pool would make a good beginning."

"Are all men bad?" the one called Jane asked coyly.

"Not bad enough for you, I fear," Mr. Larkin answered gallantly. "Now, if you ladies will just step into those curtained enclosures, I'll take your lines for the fur coats. Dinner, you and the Major can have the one named Jane. Owen and myself will handle this beautiful blonde."

For a few minutes strange noises came from behind the enclosures. A series of giggles, small shrieks and startled ejaculations filled the air. Customers of both sexes paused and looked enviously at the curtains. Even the salesgirls, as accustomed as they were to the enthusiastic methods of the partners, did not remain unmoved.

"My God," came the voice of Jane. "The way these men go about it you'd think they were measuring one for a pair of tights instead of a fur coat."

Presently Mr. Owen came staggering from his booth and stood outside mopping his brow with a handkerchief.

"It's too much for me," he admitted to a salesgirl. "I know nothing about measuring."

"Neither do they," said the salesgirl.

"I'm not at all used to this sort of thing," Mr. Owen continued.

"No?" said the girl with interest, favouring him with an insinuating eye. "How'd you like to practise?"

"My God," muttered Mr. Owen, "what a store!"

The senior partner came bustling up to Mr. Owen and the salesgirl. He handed the girl a slip of paper on which some figures had been hastily scrawled.

"Give those women a couple of coats," he said. "Make the price right. It was worth it. These figures might help, but I doubt it. I was veering slightly when I jotted them down. Charge them. And," he added, looking severely at the girl, "that is the way to make sales. Remember— on your toes."

"I think I see what you mean," replied the girl. "Thank you very much."

Gathering his partners about him, Mr. Larkin moved away with dignity and aplomb.

"Let's collect Satin," suggested Mr. Larkin, "and ask her to buy us a drink."

And thus ended Mr. Hector Owen's first working day in his new occupation. Most people are of two minds. Hector Owen was of many. Of one thing, however, he was sure. He did not want to find himself on the other side of that dimly but hauntingly remembered door—waiting there in the rain.

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