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"What you gonna have?"
To this inquiry the patron made no response; head bent, nose between the pages of the magazine, she pored sedulously over a legend attached to one of the illustrations.
After a decent pause in waiting the waitress renewed her demand with a sharper accent:
"Say, lis'en; what you want?"
"White satin, veiled with point d' Angleterre,'" Miss Manvers replied distinctly, if without looking up, aware simply of something imperative in the starched but humid presence at her elbow.
Pardonably startled, the waitress demanded with the rising inflection: "Wha-a-at?"
"'The court train,'" Miss Manvers pursued in abstraction, "'is lined with lace and dotted with bouquets of orange-blossoms--'"
She checked herself suddenly, looked up shyly, and essayed a pale, apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry; I didn't realise--"
But now the waitress had caught a glimpse of the illustration and was bending over the patron's shoulder for a better look.
"Gee!" she commented sincerely. "Ain't that a dream?"
"Yes," Miss Manvers admitted wistfully, "it's a dream, right enough!"
"That's so, too." Deftly, with a large, moist, red hand, the waitress arranged knife, fork, spoon, and paper serviette on the unclothed brown board before Miss Manvers. "That's the worst of them fashion mag'zines," she complained; "they get your goat. Sometimes after readin' some of that dope I can't hardly remember orders right, just for wishin' somebody'd come along and hang some of them joyful rags onto me!"
Then, catching the eye of the manager, she straightway resumed her professional habit of slightly wilted hauteur--compounded in equal parts of discontent, tired feet, heat-fag and that profound disdain for food-consuming animals which inevitably informs the mind of every quick-lunch waitress.
"What you gonna have?" she demanded dispassionately.
"Plate of ham-and. Cawfy?"
"Yes, iced coffee and"--Miss Manvers hesitated briefly--"and a napoleon."
Reciting the amended order, the waitress withdrew.
For the next few moments the customer neglected the fashion magazine which she had found--apparently a souvenir of some other absent-minded patron--on the seat of the chair next that one of her own casual choice.
She stared blankly at the smudged and spotted bill of fare propped up, in its wooden frame, against an armour-plate-china sugar-bowl. She was deeply intrigued by the mystery of human frailty as exemplified by her reckless extravagance in ordering that superfluous bit of pastry. Miss Manvers's purse contained a single coin of silver, the quarter of a dollar; being precisely the sum of her entire fortune. Her ham and beans would cost fifteen cents, the coffee and the napoleon five cents each. In other words, she would be penniless when she had paid her score--and Heaven only knew for how long afterward.
Her lips moved without sound in her worn and pallid face. "What's the difference?" she bully-ragged her conscience. "I might as well be broke as the way I am!"
The argument was painfully reasonable; that inmate of New York who has but five cents has nothing.
On the other hand, there was nothing whatever to be advanced in extenuation of her folly in thus inviting indigestion--a passion for pastry is its own punishment no less than any other infatuation to which mortal flesh is prone. Sally was morally certain she would suffer, and that severely, before nightfall.
"Well, what of it?" she grumbled sullenly. "If I die for it, it's cheap at the price! And, no matter what happens, it can't be any hotter afterward than it is now."
Somehow soothed by this cynical reflection, she sat up, mopped her flushed forehead with a handkerchief of which she was not proud, and drank thirstily of her tumbler of ice-water.
The grateful draft reminded her that she had actually been athirst ever since noon. It was now almost three o'clock--thanks to which fact she might eat in the comparative comfort of a lunchroom which boasted no patron other than herself. But she was little appreciative of this boon; she comprehended her surroundings with just a little languid resentment of their smug cleanliness and their atmosphere impregnated with effluvia of cheap edibles. But if these seemed offensive she would have been willing to overlook them on certain conditions--as she proved when the waitress reappeared with her order.
"I don't suppose--" Miss Manvers began, but hesitated.
"I don't suppose you need any more girls here?"
"Lookin' for a job?" the waitress inquired brilliantly. "I dunno--I'll ask the manager, if you want."
Miss Manvers nodded a barely audible "Please!" She munched drearily for a few minutes, staring out through the front windows wherein, from dawn till dark, a white-clad chef industriously browned the wheats and cast sinkers; beyond their wide expanse of plate-glass, stenciled with the name of the establishment in reverse, a vista of sun-smitten street danced drunkenly through the reek from the sheet-iron griddles. Miss Manvers wondered dully if the sidewalks were really less hot than those same griddles.
"The manager says nothin' doin'," the waitress reported. "But you can leave your name and add-ress if you wanta."
"Thanks," said Miss Manvers; "but what's the use?"
"That's right, all right," the other sympathised. "Besides, take it from me, this ain't the kind of a job you could make good at. You gotta be a horse like me to stand it, 'specially days like this."
"Yes, I was thinking of that--"
"Believe me or not, nobody ain't got no idear what hot is without they've juggled hash in one of these joints on a summer day. The kitchen back there is honest' somethin' fierce. Three of our girls fainted dead away in the noon rush."
"Oh, I know," Miss Manvers sighed; "I've tried it before--and failed."
The entrance of another customer prevented further confidences, and Miss Manvers was left to resume her scanning of the fashion magazine.
If its distracting quality was unquestionable, it hardly contributed comfort to her mood.
"In selecting her personal apparel," she read, "the bride-to-be must, of necessity, be guided by individual requirements and the social position which she is to assume. Although much has been said about the advisability of purchasing only what is really needed and can be worn before the styles change, it is a common fault of brides to buy too much. . . . It is assumed that the June bride will have already on hand a suit or two, a one-piece frock of serge or similar material, a top-coat, an afternoon coat or one of the new capes, evening gowns, and an evening wrap, one or two afternoon and luncheon frocks, and hats, shoes, and similar accessories. . . ."
Here Miss Manvers withdrew from the printed page long enough mentally to inventory her own wardrobe.
"That lets me out," she said, and turned a page.
The caption, "A Feudal Aristocracy," caught her attention. "Long Island," she learned, "is a poem itself to-day, even if it is suffering from cheap developments, the encroachment of tenantry, and the swarming of the commuters. It is too bad that this garden spot must be overrun, and indeed there has been a movement to stay the tide of immigration from the city. In one section our best people are buying up vast stretches of property to add to their private estates. . . ."
Fascinated, Miss Manvers thrust aside a garnished plate, took a gulp of the decoction called coffee, and attacked her napoleon.