Read CHAPTER XVI - BEAUX OR BUSINESS of Polly's Business Venture , free online book, by Lillian Elizabeth Roy, on

It was very late when the Fabian party reached home that Christmas night; thus there were no confidences given or taken between the girls until the following morning. To Eleanor’s keen sight Polly appeared ill at ease; and in the morning, after breakfast, the cloud seemed heavier than before. Then Eleanor decided to find out what unpleasant experience had occurred while at Latimers.

“I had a glorious time, last night didn’t you, Poll?” began Eleanor, guilelessly.

“Oh, yes! Until poor Tom came in with that nasty cold in his head. His condition was enough to ruin any one’s enjoyment, once you saw or heard him,” replied Polly, absentmindedly.

“A mere cold in the head is nothing to worry about. He will probably be here, today, as fresh as ever. That is, if the quinine he took last night permits him to see straight.” Eleanor laughed in order to show her friend how unconcerned she was about anything which might have happened at the Latimers.

“Had you seen him, with his feet in boiling water and mustard, his face coated with vaseline, his eyes like Bear Forks, and his temper like a sore hyena’s, you wouldn’t sit there and say he’d be fresh as ever today,” Polly retorted with a reminiscent smile.

“It’s a wonder to me that he permitted you to visit him after he had been doctored by his mother as you say he was,” returned Eleanor, musingly.

“He never would have, Nolla, had I not marched right into the room without his being aware of my presence. I never even knocked, because his mother told me he was in her dressing-room, off the large room. I waited in the large room until I heard him speak, then I pretended to be surprised and pleased to find him there.”

Eleanor laughed. “Yes, I can see you pretend anything, Poll. I just know your face was as serious as crepe, and your pretence a thing any child could see through.”

“Now, Nolla, you are all wrong! I can prove it. But the great trouble is, how shall I get out of what Tom believes to be true? I pretended so well that I almost fooled myself into believing that I was doing right. This morning I know it is not true,” said Polly, impatiently.

Eleanor now felt her curiosity rising for she realized she was on the verge of hearing what had caused Polly’s concern. But she knew she must be circumspect in her replies, or her friend would take alarm and not say a word.

“Polly, there speaks the born actress. When on the stage, acting in a play, the artiste is carried away by her own depth of feeling and faith in the truth of what she is saying or doing. Now, you see, you did the same and that proves you should study stage-craft instead of interior decorating.” Eleanor spoke in a jocular tone.

Polly smiled at her friend, but she was too preoccupied with her problem to pay attention to Eleanor whether she was in earnest or whether she was speaking in fun.

Suddenly Polly asked: “Nolla, are you engaged to Paul?”

Eleanor was taken off her feet. She never dreamed of having Polly ask her bluntly about her private interests in any one.

“W-h-y, n-o-o not ex-actly!” stammered she in reply.

Polly sat and stared at her companion as if to search out the truth. Then she said: “Have you any idea of being engaged within the next year or two?”

“Well, now, Poll,” returned Eleanor, finding her depth once more, and treading water to get her breath, “you know how I admire Paul, and you also know that Paul says he loves me. That was most obvious at Dalky’s party, the night Paul arrived so unexpectedly. But when you speak of engagements, I must remind you of the law you laid down for me not to tie myself to any such entanglement until after we had had our fill of business. Am I right?”

“Exactly!” sighed Polly. “But that does not go to say that you obeyed my law. There may be a secret understanding between you and Paul, and that is what I want to hear about.”

“It may be the same sort of a secret understanding as now exists between you and Tom Latimer,” retorted Eleanor, taking a wild chance that such was the fact.

“Then I pity poor Paul from the bottom of my heart,” was Polly’s unexpected reply.

“Paul doesn’t seem to think he is in need of any pity,” smiled Eleanor, as she thought of his joy the preceding evening as he escorted her from the Latimer’s apartment to the automobile.

“Well, then it is not the same sort of secret understanding. Now come out with it, Nolla, and tell me just how far you have complicated yourself with Paul in love, and with me in our business venture?”

“Not at all, Poll. That is what I wish to impress upon you that I am no deeper in the love tangle than you are with Tom.”

“All right, then, Nolla. Now I’ll confess, if you promise me to do likewise. Is it a bargain?”

“If you wish. But let me say beforehand, I have no more to confess than you know of already.”

“It’s a pact! Shake, Nolla,” exclaimed Polly, holding out her hand.

Of course Eleanor was more than amazed at such a to-do over what she considered a natural outcome of human attraction for Polly, and she shook the hand extended to seal the compact.

“There now! I’ll confess first. Last night, when I found poor Tom in such dire condition and wanting to die at once, I told his mother I would comfort him, somewhat, by wishing him a merry Christmas and showing him my business card. You know, the ones we just got back from the engravers late Christmas Eve.

“Well, I found him in such a pitiable way that I was sorry the moment I handed him my card. He took it so differently from what I had expected. When he raved about dying and nothing to live for, I was at my wit’s end. Finally, just after the basin in which he was boiling his feet slipped from under him, and sat him down unkindly upon the floor, I was moved to encourage him if he would but cheer up and think of living a little longer.

“Nolla, he took advantage of my weakness and wormed a promise from me to consider myself engaged to him, unless I found some one I liked much better within the next two years. Now tell me, Nolla, because you are educated in affairs like this where do I stand?”

Polly’s anxiety was so amusing to Eleanor and the whole situation so like a farce to her maturer love-affair, that she laughed merrily. But Polly was too concerned to take offence at the merriment.

“Oh, Polly! What a little lamb you are, to be sure! How lucky for you that I am always at hand to keep you from being led to the slaughter not altar!” Eleanor laughed again at her clever play on the hackneyed phrase.

“That doesn’t answer my question, Nolla. I am most serious in this matter and I do not wish to hear more ridicule from you.”

“I’m not ridiculing you or the awful mess you have made of your life,” retorted Eleanor with a sly grin, “but I cannot help giving vent to my risibles when you take it all so seriously. I wonder how you would take the measles, Poll.”

“Oh pshaw, Nolla! What has measles to do with me, right now!” was Polly’s impatient rejoinder.

“I don’t know, I’m sure. I was only wondering why you take everything so dreadfully in earnest. Now as far as your love tangle appears to be, I should prognosticate hear that word, Polly? I am trying to act the wise magistrate for you that there will be no suit for breach of promise, although there may be a case made out against you for alienating Tom’s affections from Choko’s Find Mine. On the other hand, you can serve a counter suit on Tom for alienating your affections from your first love your business venture.”

While Eleanor had been explaining the law to her friend, the latter grew more and more impatient, and when the self-appointed magistrate concluded her version of law, Polly sprang up angrily.

“I declare, Nolla, you will never be serious even at death! I’m disgusted with you, so there!” and Polly made for the door.

Eleanor made after her, saying as she ran: “I’m sure I’ll never want to take death seriously, Polly, for that is the time of all times when we need to be cheerful and prove to our dear ones that they have nothing to weep over because I am of the firm belief that no one goes into oblivion. It is simply progression, you know.”

The sudden change from laughter to seriousness halted Polly’s exit at the door, and she turned to look at her friend with a strange expression in her eyes.

“Nolla, you should have been born in April with the most changeable weather of the year. One moment you are too silly for words and the next you discourse on the most serious of all subjects.”

Again Eleanor laughed, teasingly: “Perhaps I should not have been born at all. Then, my family and friends would have been saved many trials. But I am here, you see, and they have to make the best of me.”

“That is exactly what we want to accomplish, don’t you see? We want to make the best of you, but you just won’t let us do it. You prefer to act like a big ninny instead of the cleverest girl in the world.”

“Always excepting you, dear!” and Eleanor bowed low.

“There you go again! Now I am mad!” and Polly tried to get through the open doorway, but her friend clung to her arm and refused to let her go.

“Wait a moment! I’ll let you go as soon as I have a word with you. This is going to be a real serious word, too,” promised Eleanor.

Polly turned back. Eleanor stood pondering for a moment, then said, “About Tom’s affair, I would advise this: treat him brotherly that is be sisterly to him; if you are not madly in love with him, so madly that you will jump into the Hudson or throw yourself upon the subway track unless you know he loves you the same way, then let Cupid manage the whole affair. Believe me, child, Cupid can do it far better than you or I!

“Concerning Paul and myself: I told the darling that I had a contract with you which had to be fulfilled before I could sign up with another one even though that other one seemed to be offering me easier work and better wages. So I’m in for the business venture for all it is worth for the next two, perhaps more, years. I refused to place any time limit on a promise to sign up with Paul. Satisfied?”

“Most assuredly! That is the first practical speech I’ve ever heard you make, Nolla!” was Polly’s emphatic reply.

“I trust you have sense enough to make the same speech to Tom Latimer. Then he will follow Paul’s example: be filled with ambition to go back to Pebbly Pit and straighten out that caved-in mine.”

But both the girls were to learn that it is much easier to talk how events should follow in sequence, than it is to compel fate to do as she is expected to with such events.

That evening, despite his parents’ advice to remain in bed, Tom drove up in a taxi and stopped before the Fabians’ house. He paid the driver, rushed up the steps and pulled at the doorbell.

Polly had just finished dinner and was slowly walking out of the dining-room when the maid opened the door. Tom fairly leaped in when he saw Polly stopping suddenly under the hall-light.

“Oh, my little ” he began, but Polly held up a warning hand and frowned him to silence; then she hurried him to the library across the hall from the dining-room.

“What’s the matter? Didn’t you tell them we were engaged?” asked Tom, impetuously.

“I didn’t know we were what one calls engaged, Tom. You are misunderstanding me. Of course, I did not tell them about what never happened.” Polly was annoyed.

“But,” began Tom, arguing for himself, “I felt sure you meant it the way I said: that you would wear my ring and consider I had a prior right to your love or affections.”

“You’re all wrong! Because that is exactly what I wish to retain for myself prior right to follow my own life-line. I did say that I liked you more than any other friend I know, and that I might consider you as my future fiance if, in two years’ time, I came to the conclusion that I would give up a business career. That’s all; and that holds no ground for your giving me an engagement ring, nor for me to take one and wear it. I simply refuse to be bound in any way. Better understand this, once for all, Tom!”

The other members of the family now came in and welcomed Tom and also insisted upon having him tell them how much better he felt. The ring-box which Tom had so eagerly pulled from his vest pocket as he sat upon the divan with Polly, he now managed to slip back again without having been discovered in the act. Even Eleanor failed to see the action.

Before Tom had had time to conclude his polite answers as to the state of his health, the bell rang a second time and the maid admitted Paul Stewart. Nor did the evening advance far before Jim and Ken dropped in, then came Dodo and Mr. Dalken, and last but not least the Ashbys stopped in to inquire how everyone was. Such “stoppings” usually ended, as on this evening, by their remaining until midnight.

Mr. Ashby had news for his two new assistants in business. “Late in the afternoon before Christmas, I had a ’phone call from Mrs. Courtney, girls. She asked me to make an appointment with you to meet her at my shop, tomorrow morning at eleven. I promised to let you know.”

“Oh, that’s the lady we met at the Parsippany sale,” exclaimed Eleanor. “I wondered what had become of her since then.”

“Maybe she wants us to find her a few antiques,” suggested Polly, eagerly.

“I believe she plans to redecorate her boudoir, and wants you two beginners to take the commission. She seems to place a great deal of confidence in your ability to please her,” said Mr. Ashby.

Eleanor smiled at her superior in business. “Feeling any jealousy at our popularity?”

“Not a whit!” laughed Mr. Ashby. “It only adds more glory to my brilliant fame, because I was astute enough to secure such talent!”

Mrs. Courtney’s appointment to meet the two young decorators in a business conference came at just the time when both Eleanor and Polly were half-persuaded to give up their art and turn aside to marriage, although neither girl really wanted to take the husband instead of the career, at that time. When Paul and Tom would be out of sight once more, and their magnetic presences removed so that calm business atmosphere might control again, both girls would see they had been wise in deferring their engagements for the present. Hence the visit of Mrs. Courtney came at just the critical time.

Polly and Eleanor were at the Ashby Shops a full hour before the lady could be expected. But they put in the hour in going over the latest samples of boudoir textiles, new ideas in furniture, and fascinating designs of cushions, draperies and other accessories for a boudoir.

Mrs. Courtney was very frank and pleasant in her cordial greeting. For all her fame as a social leader in New York and the fabulous wealth accredited to her, she seemed very plain and friendly. Eleanor could not help contrasting her with her mother and Barbara.

“Well, girls, how many millions of dollars have you made in your profession since I saw you at that farce of a sale in New Jersey,” said she smilingly after they had seated themselves in the small reception room.

“That was too bad, wasn’t it?” said Eleanor.

“We mean, it was too bad for that nice old auctioneer to be used by the city man as he certainly was. We met old Mr. Van Styne before that sale, you know, and he was so honest!” said Polly.

“So I learned. But I was annoyed at the city man’s methods of getting his regular customers so far from the city in order to make money out of them; I went down to his office and told him very plainly what I thought of such trickery as he had played on me. He apologised in every way when he learned that I would never buy another thing of him; but I knew his apologies were the result of his fear of losing a good customer. I told him frankly that I would not accept his regrets. I have heard from him several times since then, but I have paid no attention to his requests to allow him to explain the circumstance which ended in that sale in the country.

“I did take time to write to this Mr. Van Styne, however, and ask for the truth, as I did not want to condemn the city man if there might be extenuating reasons for the sale. The old man in Morristown answered that he had been used as an instrument in the padded sale. He had known nothing of the manner in which the antiques had been brought from the City and placed in the house, until afterward. He had sent letters to his clientele who favored him with confidence, and many were at that sale, much to his discomfiture when he learned the truth.

“Mr. Van Styne added that he had taken the trouble to find out from a few of his trusting customers that the articles they had purchased at that sale, and which were claimed in the catalogues to be genuine antiques, were clever imitations. In fact, a refectory table said to be of genuine Jacobean period, was manufactured in the man’s factory on the East Side. Even the worm-holes had been drilled in the wood and the worn slab of wood of the top was done by the plane. To keep himself out of Court, the clever fellow had to give back the buyer’s money and send up to Morristown and get the articles of ‘newly-made antique’ furniture.”

“I’m glad of that!” exclaimed Polly.

“But those buyers should have prosecuted the cheat!” declared Eleanor, impatiently.

“That’s exactly what I said, but one of them wrote me she was going away for the winter; she could not postpone her trip to try the case at Court. Thus she took the easiest way out.” Mrs. Courtney’s determined expression showed what she would have done had she been the dupe of such a clever dealer.

The subject was abruptly changed when Mrs. Courtney added: “Now we must talk business, young ladies. I am sure you cannot spare your valuable time in gossip.”

Polly and Eleanor glanced at each other and smiled at the idea of their “valuable time,” but Mrs. Courtney launched at once into the cause of her call that morning.

“I never felt at peace with the atrocious decorations in my boudoir, although one of the highest-priced firms in New York did the room for me. I know it was a case of making me take the costliest materials without regard to harmony or temperament. Now I wish to have you girls see what you would do with the suite. While I am here, I thought you might show me several suites exhibited on the floor and tell me which you would prefer for a woman of my age.”

Polly immediately signified that she was ready to escort Mrs. Courtney to the elevator, thence to the exhibition rooms where every conceivable period and price of boudoir furnishings were to be seen and examined.

The three stepped from the elevator, and Polly was leading the way to the boudoir suites; Mrs. Courtney watched with deep interest as she spoke in a low voice, to Eleanor.

“Jack Baxter called on me, one evening before he went West; he told me that your remarkable young friend had everything in life to make a young girl want to have a good time, yet she chose a profession for herself in place of gayety and beaux.”

Eleanor smiled and nodded affirmatively but said nothing.

“That is one of the reasons I wanted to meet you young ladies again. It is so gratifying to find any young girl, these days, who takes life in earnest. Of all the flippant, mothlike creatures I find flapping about at receptions or teas, I have yet to find one in every thousand who really thinks of anything other than cigarettes, matinées, and dress. It is positively revolting to me to have my rooms clouded with cigarette smoke, yet what can a hostess do? The women have gone mad over the habit. The danger lies in their not being able to break the influence as readily as they form it.”

Polly overheard the latter part of this speech and smiled admiringly at her client. Then they came to the boudoir exhibit.

A very pleasant hour passed while Polly and Eleanor told Mrs. Courtney of their visits to galleries in Europe, and in hearing Mrs. Courtney speak of her amusing excursions in quest of the antique. Finally the lady remembered an appointment, and in amazement found her wrist-watch told her it was twelve.

“Oh, oh! I had an imperative engagement at the dentist’s at twelve-fifteen. How could this hour have passed so rapidly?” said she, hurrying to the elevator in advance of the girls.

While waiting for the man to come for them, the two young salesladies wondered if their customer would leave without an order, or word of encouragement regarding the future of her boudoir.

On the elevator going down, Mrs. Courtney said: “When you have time to come to my address and look at the suite, just let me know by telephone and I will make it a point to be at home to meet you, to go into the work in earnest. I am confident you can give the right atmosphere to my boudoir.” Just as the elevator reached the ground floor, Mrs. Courtney handed Polly and Eleanor each a card upon which she wrote her private telephone number.

“Now, good-morning, my friends. Remember what I said to you about having chosen the right pathway, for the present. You will make all the better wives and mothers for having had a genuine business experience. How superior is your ideal to those of empty-headed society misses who live but to dance or drink or waste their true substance.”

With such praise of their endeavors, the lady left Polly and Eleanor; and they stood where she left them, holding her cards in their hands, but still gazing at the revolving doors through which she had passed and then disappeared.