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A short story by Josephine Daskam Bacon

The Crystal

Title:     The Crystal
Author: Josephine Daskam Bacon [More Titles by Bacon]

In reviewing the matter dispassionately, it seems difficult to find anybody (anybody, that is to say, to whom her career was or is of the slightest interest) who omits to pronounce Molly Dickett's life an egregious and shameful failure. I should be sorry for any one, for instance, who had the hardihood to address her mother on the subject, for Mrs. Dickett's power of tongue is well known in and beyond local circles; and since Eleanor married young Farwell, who stands in line for cashier of the bank forty or fifty years from now, if all goes well and a series of providential deaths occurs--indeed, ever since Kathryn became assistant-principal at the high-school (because, as her mother points out, a mere teacher's position, even in a high-school, may not be much, but an assistant-principal may be called to consult with the trustees any day and Kathryn has twice refused a college professorship) since these family adjustments, I repeat, Mrs. Dickett's tongue has grown steadily more incisive and her attempts at scaling the fortress of Mr. Dickett's wardrobe more encouraging.

I believe it to be the simple truth to say that she literally never mentions her second daughter, and that Molly sends her letters direct to the factory to be sure that her father gets them--for Mrs. Dickett is Napoleonic in her methods and would really, I am afraid, stop at nothing. Any woman who has borne three children and will learn to drive an electric runabout at the age of forty-five, for the purpose of taking her husband home from his office in it, is to be reckoned with, you will agree.

The last time she is known to have referred to the girl definitely was when she announced the theory that her unfortunate name lay at the bottom of it all.

"Molly," she is reported to have said, "was named by her father--a mistake always, I think. The fact that Eleanor was baptised Ella has little or nothing to do with it; there was never any 'Nellie' or 'Lelie' about it, and at sixteen she began of her own accord to write it Eleanor. Kathryn I named entirely myself--and after all, what can Aunt Ella be said to have done for Eleanor? A silver ring and a bracelet when she graduated! But it was always 'Molly Dickett' all over the town!"

And it must be confessed that this was so, if, indeed, the confession proves anything. Nevertheless Mrs. Dickett cannot deny that for a long time, up to the period of her plunge into outer darkness, Molly was confessedly the flower of the family. Eleanor was rather soggy, a creature of inertia, chocolate caramels and a tendency to ritualism which her mother could not have foreseen when she encouraged her entering the Episcopal communion ("I don't mind candles so much," said Mrs. Dickett, "but I must say I think it's very bad taste to call yourself an American Catholic, when you can't help but feel that Catholics should be foreigners").

Kathryn her mother pronounced "a very ordinary girl, very ordinary indeed," up to the day when she was graduated, head of her class, at the State normal-school. She showed every sign, even after that, of snapping at the bait of a middle-aged widower with three children, simply because his hook was labelled New York; but when it became known, as a result of herculean detective efforts on Mrs. Dickett's part, that he employed but one servant, insisted upon the payment of what he termed "spot cash" for every article purchased in his establishment, and disapproved of the theatre, Kathryn yielded to reason and henceforth consulted her mother at each successive stage of her growing career until such consultation was frankly deprecated by the fountain-head itself.

But Molly was neither soggy nor ordinary, being distinctly handsome in a grey-eyed, black-haired, white-skinned way, a clever student, an original conversationalist--in short, a personality. Unlike the usual victim to an older and a younger sister, she managed to get quite her fair share of the family dignities and finances--was in fact accused by her sisters of using undue influence in persuading her father to send her to a woman's college. It is most characteristic of her that at this accusation she refused the favour, interested her teachers in her cause so that they procured her a full scholarship at the college of her choice, and actually completed a four years' course there with no other means than her share of the twenty-five dollars yearly placed to his daughters' bank accounts by their father since the birth of each. On this slender sum, plus the accruing interest, eked out by college journalism, which began to be mentionable in those years--the early 90's--strengthened further in the last terms by tutoring, did Molly Dickett triumphantly assert her independence, and I tell it of her at this length so that none may throw "rolling stones" at her, in what followed. A young woman of eighteen who can set her course in solitude and steer it alone, friendless, except for what friends her qualities can make her, absolutely unaided but for her own exertions, for four years, is not to be called lacking in application, I submit. She got out of that business just what there was in it, and so, she insists, she did at every stage of her subsequent history. Note this, for it is important.

Here you see her, then, at twenty-two; handsome, accomplished, independent, well-rated on her particular 'Change--one fairly hears Dick Whittington's bells in the air! Her mother, when Molly wrote home the news of her appointment as under-reader in the office of one of the new cheap magazines that began to appear with such frequency at about that time, spoke of her with the typical respect of the dependent woman for the wage-earner, and never dropped that note till the crash came. Mr. Dickett was head clerk by now, with an appreciable advance in salary; and Eleanor's wedding (it was in dressing the Roodscreen at Christmas that young Farwell met his fate), with her sisters as bridemaids, marked a distinct stage in the family's social career. Old Mr. Farwell, who had long been nursing his only son's bank position, did the handsome thing for the young couple, and stomached, very decently, what must have been his regret at the boy's choice--for we all like our children to "look up and not down," as the motto suggests, in these matters. And he was paid for it, for Eleanor made a man of the boy and a vestryman to boot, and quite won the old man's heart, though he never loved Mrs. Dickett.

By the time Molly had been for two years at her post in Slater's Monthly, Kathryn had moved back to her normal-school as instructor--"and they paid well to get her, too," as Mr. Dickett informed his stenographer confidentially. She had been invited to supper more than once, had the stenographer, in the old days, and there had even been a little talk of Kathryn's acquiring this accomplishment, once, but Mr. Dickett was far too wise to suggest her presence at the half-past six dinner now-a-days. He was far too wise, indeed, to do anything that seemed likely to ruffle the increasingly easy currents into which his bark had drifted of late. In a vague way he had always counted on supporting four women until three of them--or two, say, for Kathryn was plain and rather managing--should marry; and lo and behold, all three were off his hands in a twinkle, and there was a pretty little nest-egg growing for little Henry (for Eleanor had been very discreet about the first baby).

So now we arrive at the day when Molly left her desk in the ante-room of Slater's, walked through the book department and the art offices and encountered Miss Spinner, the little dried and spectacled reader of forty-odd years, and centuries (or their equivalent) of magazine experience.

"Miss Spinner," said Molly, "do you mind telling me what they pay you a week?"

"Twenty-five," Miss Spinner replied promptly. "Not at all. Of course I'd been fifteen years at Franklin Square, and it was all that experience that made them offer me the three dollars raise. So I left. But, of course, there are five magazines now where there used to be one. In ten years I think there'll be ten. So does Mr. Slater. That means competition, and that means that experience will always be worth something to the new ones. You started at fifteen, you see, and of course I only got ten ... Gracious, isn't that Mrs. Julia Carter Sykes's voice? Perhaps you'd better step out, my dear--Mr. Slater's talking with that English prison man and said that he wasn't to be disturbed if the Twelve Apostles came!"

Molly went with her swift, unhasty step (she had long legs) and received Mrs. Julia Carter Sykes urbanely, as befitted the best paid woman novelist of her country. Occasionally she had the fancy to "trot around to the office" as she called it: it was believed that she "picked up types" there. And Molly knew how to keep her waiting without offending her, just as she knew how to dispose of the illustrators, from the Great Moguls who came in cabs to scold about the defects in half-tone processes, to the just discovered young genius who waited an hour in the outside hall, his great pasteboard square between his knees.

"You're much too pretty to be here, my child--do you like it?" Mrs. Julia Carter Sykes remarked impertinently (she was supposed to believe that her manner was that of the English Aristocracy, and asked the most embarrassing questions of everybody with an income of less than fifteen thousand a year).

"Not very much," Molly replied placidly. "It's a little dull. I'm thinking of going into journalism. Couldn't you give me some letters to some of the editors? I could do good special article stuff, I'm sure."

"But certainly!" the novelist cried. "You are too delicious! I'll write you a card to Hecht himself this moment--I'm dining with him to-night--and I'll speak of you. I'll tell him to send you to interview me at 'Bonnybraeside.'"

"Thanks," said Molly laconically and rose to show the celebrity to Mr. Slater's sanctum. The English prison man, emerging, took in the contrasted couple at a single glance, supposed them to be the whirlwind editor's wife and daughter, from his greeting ("Come in, come in, my dears, both of you!") and inquired of his wife, eight days later, how she explained a woman of that type, "strung with sapphires, literally," and a daughter like a young duchess, with Irish eyes and a walk like Diana's. His wife could not explain it at all, and said as much.

Molly left Mr. Slater somewhat puzzled. He raised her salary three dollars, might have been pushed to five, but she merely smiled deprecatingly.

"It isn't exactly that," she said, "but there seems no outlook, somehow. I don't think it's a very reasonable profession--if it is a profession."

He exploded into the name of a great English novelist who held precisely that position.

"Yes. But I am not a great novelist, you see," said Molly, and cleared out her desk with the swift thoroughness that characterized her. She put a clean sheet of green blotting paper on it before she left, and washed out the inkwell herself.

"That stenographer spells worse and worse, remember," she remarked. "I'll look in for any mail."

"Why, aren't you going to stay at a hundred-and-three any more?"

Miss Pinner spoke with concern: she knew that the boarding-house recommended highly by Eleanor's rector (his sister had stayed there while studying singing) was very tautly managed, in an unobtrusive way, and that the sisters who directed it had a shrewd idea of the goings and comings of their "guests."

"No," said Molly. "I'll be out at all hours, maybe, and they wouldn't like it. Don't be worried--I'll look in now and then."

And so, for a year, she did, and they were all delighted to see her, for few people likely to enter such offices can talk more amusingly than Molly Dickett. She had always used her material well, when it was limited, and now, when it bumped into the Himalayas at one end (her famous Rajah of Bhutpore interview) and rounded the hitherto speechless promontories of Spud Connors' career, the champion heavyweight of the world (she actually drew vivid metaphors from him and he gave her a tintype of himself at eight years) the entire staff gathered 'round her when she came, and Mr. Slater, under a temporary financial cloud, wept literal tears because he could not afford to buy her back to them. It was, of course, the "Bonnybraeside" interview that did it. So cleverly was this column-and-a-half of chatty sharp-shooting manoeuvred that Mrs. Julia Carter Sykes sent hundreds of copies to her friends, while her fellow celebrities giggled among themselves, and the publishers wondered exactly what the Public really wanted, anyhow. You couldn't tell, any more, they complained.

Just here began the little cloud on Mrs. Dickett's happiness. For two years the family were very proud of Molly, and Eleanor gave a tea for her on one of her infrequent visits to them and got some people she could never have hoped for otherwise on the strength of her sister's celebrityship, for her Sunday morning column-and-a-half got to two-thirds of the town's breakfast tables, and her picture was at the head of it, now. At twenty-five she was called (and probably correctly) the second highest paid woman journalist in the country, and she spoke familiarly of names that are head-lines to most of us and bought evening gowns at "little shops" on Fifth Avenue. She lived with a red-haired friend, a clever illustrator of rising vogue, in a pretty little apartment, and Mrs. Dickett dined there one night with a really great novelist, a tenor from the Metropolitan Opera House and a young Englishman whose brother was a baronet. They had four glasses at their plates and the maid's cap and apron were tremendously interesting to Mrs. Dickett. But when she learned the rental of the apartment, the wages of the maid, the cost of Molly's black evening-frock and the average monthly bill for Molly's hansoms, she no longer wondered that her daughter was always poor. She had never spent seventy-five dollars for a single garment in her life, barring a fur-lined cloak, a Christmas gift from her husband, and to drink creme-de-menthe at a roof garden gave her a very odd sensation. However, there was the baronet's brother...

But at one of the songs at the roof-garden Mrs. Dickett drew the line, and the entire British Peerage, embattled, could not have persuaded her that it could possibly be the duty--not to suggest the pleasure--of any respectable woman to listen to it. As she put it later to the red-haired girl and Molly, no unmarried woman could understand it and no married woman would want to, a simple statement which they persisted in treating as an epigram, to her annoyance.

"But nobody minded it but you, dear Mrs. Dickett," the red-haired girl soothed her, "and it's all in how you take those things, don't you think? Of course, if you find it wrong, why then it is wrong--for you. But really, I assure you, I simply paid no attention to it..."

"Then you must allow me to say that I think you should have!" Mrs. Dickett snapped out.

"Oh, come, mother, a woman of twenty-five is to all intents and purposes as capable of hearing--anything--as a married woman," said Molly lazily. "I'm not a school girl, you know."

"I know that," her mother replied shortly, and might have added that Molly looked Kathryn's age--which she did, and Kathryn was twenty-eight.

She was, however, if anything, handsomer than when her cheek had its fuller curve, for her eyes looked larger and her mouth had more mobility: there was a stimulation in her tenseness. Mrs. Dickett felt a little troubled.

"Although, of course, Molly admitted that the creature had no character and sang that sort of song purposely," she confided to her husband.

Imagine, then, her feelings when Molly's interview with the singer was printed! She began a severe letter to her--and ceased midway of the first paragraph. What possible hold had she over her daughter? What did she know of her friends and associates, and what, had she known and disapproved, would it have mattered to Molly? Since the day she won her college scholarship at eighteen she had been independent, financially speaking, and, though financial independence is not, of course, everything ... but it would almost seem that it is! There must be some mistake here. Mrs. Dickett chewed the end of her pen and thought as hard as she had ever thought in her life. Nonsense! What finally settles the thing is public opinion--Society. If one's world turns the cold shoulder, one retracts, capitulates, acknowledges that the conventions are in the right of it. Well; but Molly's world was not the suburban circle of the Dicketts and her world applauded her; she stood high in it; her interview with the unspeakable one was "a great hit," in their jargon. Molly, in short, applied different standards, was in another class--was it, could it be, a Lower Class? And yet, the baronet!

Mrs. Dickett tore her letter through.

It is quite true that they didn't see her for a year, after that--eighteen months, if you except Kathryn's flying luncheon with her at the time of the Convention of Associated Normal Schools. Kathryn then informed them that the red-haired girl had married her teacher and left the apartment and that Molly lived alone there.

"I'm very glad," said her mother. "I never liked that girl."

"She seems to have been a bad influence," Kathryn agreed conservatively, and there, good, simple people as they were at heart, it would have ended.

But here comes Eleanor upon the scene, Eleanor, with two boys, a probable Warden for husband, and a father-in-law who has become very respectably wealthy from long ago, almost forgotten investments in Southern Railroads. And George is the only son. Eleanor wonders that people can send their children to the public schools, and wishes that Kathryn had married that college professor, even though his salary did barely equal hers.

"Every woman ought to settle, you know--it's nonsense to discuss it."

"But I am settled, my dear," said Kathryn blandly, "and I'm not fond of housekeeping. You don't get any time for anything else."

"!!!" said Eleanor.

Mrs. Dickett here intervened with news of Molly, and Eleanor's eyebrows lifted.

"You don't mean to say she's living alone there?"

Mrs. Dickett nodded uncertainly.

"Really, mother, I must say! She must be crazy. It's not right at all, and I'm sure George wouldn't like it."

"She's nearly twenty-seven," Kathryn put in coldly.

"As if that had anything to do with it! I'm going down to see her."

It was certainly unfortunate that she should have gone unheralded. The first wave of classical dancing had begun to lap the shores of New York society, and Molly's paper had got the first amazing pictures, the first technical chit-chat of "plastique" and "masque" and "flowing line." Behold Mrs. Eleanor then, tired and mussed with shopping, dyspeptic from unassimilated restaurant-lunching (and a little nervous at her task, when actually confronted with it), staring petrified at Molly's darkened dining-room, where, on a platform, against dull velvet backgrounds, an ivory, loose-haired, barely draped intaglio-woman, swayed and whirled and beckoned. A slender spiral of smoke rose from the incense bowl before her: the odour hung heavy in the room. Three or four women (much better gowned than Eleanor) and a dozen men applauded from the drawing-room; a strange-looking youth with a shock of auburn hair drew from a violin sounds which it required no knowledge of technique to feel extraordinarily poignant and moving. All but the dancer were smoking, and Molly sat on the floor (in copper-coloured chiffon, too!) her hands clasped about her knees, a cigarette in an amber holder between her lips and enunciated clearly,


In describing matters afterward Eleanor referred to Molly's reception of her as brazen. There is no reason to believe that this word has any relation to Molly's state of mind: she saw nothing to be brazen about. When she said, "How lucky you dropped in today, sis!" she unaffectedly meant it.

"Well, rather!" one of the young men replied. "Won't you have something, Mrs. Er--Oh, yes--Farwell? Rhine wine cup, what?"

"No, I thank you," said Eleanor frigidly. "May I have a few minutes' conversation with you, Mary?"

"Not just now, I hope," said some one, "for she's going to dance again."

"In that case I will not trouble you," said Eleanor, rather dramatically, one fears, and backed out to avoid the smoking violinist. It was a little trying, and Eleanor should have had tact enough to let the matter rest, but she was rather inelastic in her methods, and she had come to New York with a Purpose. So Molly disappeared with her into the bedroom, and they had it out, with what result it is unnecessary to say.

It was from that moment that a doubt as to whether Molly were an asset or a liability slipped into the Dickett family. It is improbable that knowledge of the fact that "the disgusting foreign dancing woman" was born and bred in Bangor, Maine, and had never been farther than a stage-length from a vigilant mother, would have greatly affected their judgment. And almost certainly the fact that the baronet's brother had asked her to marry him would only have irritated them the more--and perhaps with reason. Had he ever wanted to marry Molly? Maybe; she never said so.

And here one must pause, to consider the interesting subject of Molly's Relations with Men. It proved singularly lacking in richness. To state that she had lived four years (as she did, ultimately) on the staff of the largest New York daily newspaper, hanging personally over the "forms" many a time, among the printers, from 10 P.M. until 3 A.M., walking home with the milk-carts in the lead-blue morning; sitting in the outer office of one of the greatest city editors for three of these years; studying every "first night," every picturesque slum, every visiting or indigenous notoriety at close range--to catalogue a life like this, add that it was the life of a handsome, well-dressed, high-spirited girl, and pretend that it was an existence unqualified by male adjectives, would be the merest absurdity.

I hear that from the tiniest, most impudent printer's devil up to the Dean of College Presidents, who became so interested in her during his famous interview of "After Democracy--What? " that his wife asked her to luncheon and she spent the day with them, every man she encountered "swore by her," as they say. In a novel, the editor-in-chief would have married her and Eleanor would have been delighted; but in a novel the editors-in-chief are handsome, athletic young bachelors (which rarely occurs, as a matter of fact) or magnificent widowers whose first marriages were tragic mistakes, so the emotional field is really clear. Now Molly's editor-in-chief was, so far as is known, quite happy with his wife, and his four daughters were not so much younger than Molly herself. It is true, the art editor of the Sunday edition was supposed to be pretty far gone, but he was married, too, and even his stenographer, who was furiously jealous, admitted that Molly never gave him the slightest encouragement. Such reporters as were free to do so are generally credited with proposals in strict order of income (there had to be some working system), but nothing but continued good feeling ever came of it; and the French portrait-painter who spent three days at the Metropolitan Art Museum with her out of the ten he vouchsafed America, declared openly that she was perfectly cold, a charming, clever boy in temperament--"absolutely insulated." And perhaps she was. She always said that she knew too many men to take them too seriously. And yet when Kathryn remarked once that it was encouraging to observe how women were gradually growing independent of men, Molly laughed consumedly. So there, as the great Anglo-American novelist says, you are!

Living, as she did, alone, utterly unrestricted in her goings, uncensored except by her own common-sense, one readily imagines that there may have been scenes ... how could they have been avoided, mankind being as it is? But if her house was of glass, it was, by its very nature transparent, and I do not see how any one who didn't deserve it could have kept the consistent respect of the entire force of The Day.

On her twenty-eighth birthday she came home from a very gay supper at a very gay restaurant with a hard pain at the back of her neck and a deep wrinkle from it between her eyebrows. They had been harder of late, these headaches, and lasted longer, and this one not only failed to yield to the practised massage of her kindly housemaid, but baffled the nearest doctor and left her, finally, a pallid, shaken creature, who saw written on every wall in the little apartment, as she dragged herself about it:

I must not take any coal-tar preparation because my heart simply won't stand it!

"And let me tell you this, Miss Molly Dickett," said the great specialist she had consulted as a matter of course (he ordered Trust Magnates to Egypt and consulted at Presidents' bed-sides, and if Mrs. Dickett had known that he never accepted a cent from Molly, what would she have said?) "let me tell you this. You think you're a very remarkable young woman, don't you?"

"Don't you, Dr. Stanchon?" Molly retorted placidly.

He patted her shoulder and capitulated. "But you ought to be spanked, you know," he said. "Now, listen. For what was all this vitality and endurance given you, my child?"

"If you mean twins," said Molly curtly, "I won't. There are plenty of women to have twins, doctor."

"But there are not plenty of women to have your twins," said he.

She grimaced and blew a saucy kiss to him.

"I see why they all want you!" she told him. "But, honestly, do married women never have headaches?"

"There's no good being clever with me, child," he went on, a little wearily (he seemed middle-aged beyond words to her). "You are making a great mistake and when you find it out, it will in all probability be too late to remedy it, worse luck! That's the real harm of all this Advanced Woman stuff: if you could only get it over before twenty-five! But when you wake up, you're nearer forty, and then--what's the difference?"

"I'll marry, then, maybe!"

"Dear child, it doesn't matter a continental what you do, then," he said simply.

She gave a little shudder, in spite of herself. He sounded so final, and his eyes were so bright and deep. She stared into them and, somehow, lost herself--the eyes turned to bright points in space, and Time seemed to stop, with a sort of whir like a clock that runs down...

"There, there!" his voice came roughly. "None of that, my girl, none of that! You are in a nice state! Now, you march off on a vacation, and take it on a boat of some sort--do you hear? And, listen to me--if I find a nice woman to go with you----"

"Oh!" she interrupted mockingly, "the famous Miss Jessop! Now I know you think I'm pretty bad! You forget, doctor, that I've interviewed Miss Jessop--or tried to."

"That's better," he retorted grimly. "You hadn't much of a success, had you, missy? And would you like to know what the famous Miss Jessop said about you?"


"Yes, you. There are two sides to every interview, you know. She said, 'If you don't see Miss Molly Dickett in your office before a year, doctor, I miss my guess. She's a neurasthenic for you, all right.' So what do you think of that, eh?"

"I think she was impertinent," said Molly, weakly, "and you can tell her so."

"Bosh. Now go and lie down," he commanded shortly, and the interview closed.

A vacation seemed a simple remedy, and she started out, bent on one, with the kindest orders to make it long, accompanied by large credit; but the promised renewal of vitality did not come, and the taste seemed gone from everything. The quaint and tiny little fishing hamlet she had fixed upon as a good place for gathering "material" by the way, proved all and more than she had been led to hope for, and when the greatest north-easter that had blown for fifty years bruised and tore the rugged little coast, she "wrote it up" as a matter of course--as a bird-dog points or a carrier pigeon wheels for home. And then Molly Dickett received what was literally her first setback in ten years: the City Editor sent her copy back to her!

"You're too tired, my dear girl," he wrote. "Why not wait a bit? Or pad this out and point it up a little in the middle and send it to one of the magazines. Peterson covered it for us, anyway, at Kennebunkport. The cubs send you an officeful of affection, and we are all yours truly."

But the "cubs" never hung over her desk again, for Molly never returned to it.

"You see," as she explained to them gently, "I lost my nerve--that's all. If I hadn't sent the stuff, it would have been all right, later, I suppose. But I did send it, and I thought it was O.K., and if it was as rotten as you said, why, how could I ever tell, again? Anyway, I'm tired."

They protested, but the City Editor shook his head.

"Let her alone," he said shortly. "It's straight enough. I've seen it happen before. She's gone too far without a check: I don't believe women can stand it. Let her alone."

And when the most talented of the cubs went next to interview Mrs. Julia Carter Sykes as to her recently dramatized novel, he was referred to her secretary--and it was Molly.

"For heaven's sake!" he said angrily. "Are you insane? Wasn't it true that Slater offered----"

"Oh, yes," said Molly negligently, "but I'm tired of offices."

"I suppose you get time for writing your own stuff--on the side?" he suggested awkwardly, but Molly shook her head.

"Writing seems bad for the back of the neck," she said, with a grey flash out of the tail of her eye for the cub.

"We're getting ready for the sanitarium this morning--sun-baths and Swedish Movement Cure and grape diet. Of course you won't mention it," she said. "She can't possibly see you--I do all the interviews now--but if you come around to-morrow, after I get the house closed, I'll give you a good one."

A solemn butler entered.

"If you will be so kind as to cast your eye over the table for the ladies' luncheon, Miss Dickett?" he said weightily.

"There's two orchids short and no time for getting more. And the salt got into the mousse, I'm told by the cook--she wished to know if you could suggest anything. And one of the ladies has been detained and cannot come--by telephone message. Will you take her place, Miss Dickett?"

"Yes," said Molly. "Tell Mrs. Carter not to worry about the orchids, Halsey; I'll arrange something. I must go and dress, now--come to-morrow," she added hastily.

"By George!" the cub gasped, and left, to electrify the office later.

"It's a darned shame," he ended, and the other cubs nodded sagely over their pipes.

"With her talent, too!" they said...

You will have understood, of course, why Eleanor dropped Molly after the unfortunate Greek dancer, but you may be surprised to learn of Kathryn's attitude when she learned of the secretaryship. It wasn't dignified, she said, and she was greatly disappointed in Molly.

Kathryn was Dean of Women, now, in a co-educational college in the middle west, and was spoken of as Dean Dickett in the college journal. Of all her children Mrs. Dickett was proudest of Kathryn, because Molly frightened her and Eleanor patronized her. Eleanor was getting up in the world a little too fast for her mother, nowadays, and knew people Mrs. Dickett would never have dreamed of meeting in the old days--people that she had grown used to the idea of never meeting, even now that Mr. Dickett was in the Firm. Eleanor's little girl went to school with all the little girls on the Hill and was asked to attend their parties. Her name was Penelope, after George's mother, who had never expected it--the name being so old-fashioned--and was correspondingly delighted and had given her much jewelry already.

Eleanor, in so far as she mentioned Molly at all, had expressed her opinion that to live with Mrs. Julia Carter Sykes was the most respectable thing Molly had yet done, and added that there were exceptional opportunities in more ways than one for the woman who held that position--would perhaps even have called on her there, but Molly never asked her to. Kathryn, to her parents' surprise, developed a stodgy but unblinking antagonism to her sister, for what she called Molly's lowering of her sense of what was due to herself, and said coldly that she had no doubt her sister's life was easier now, but that it was un-American.

Un-American it may have been, but easier it assuredly was not. Unlike the factory-girls and clerks for whose benefit Mrs. Julia Carter Sykes gave readings from her unpublished works, Molly's hours were not limited, and her responsibility grew as her executive ability became increasingly manifest. The thousands of women to whom the celebrity's manifold occupations, publicities, hospitalities and charities were an endless wonder and discussion might have marvelled less had they been able to follow Molly's crowded days and nights and peep through the littered desk and scribbled calendar of her study.

To amusement and interest, succeeded fatigue and interest, and to these, fatigue alone. Each hurried, various day became a space of time to be got through, merely, and Mrs. Julia Carter Sykes's heavy sigh as she curled into her wicker-inset Circassian-walnut bed was no more heartfelt than her secretary's. If Molly had ever envied Mrs. Julia, she had long ceased to, and indeed, on that final afternoon when she laid her dark, braided head on her arms and cried on her desk, she felt as sorry for the authoress as for herself.

Mr. Julia Carter Sykes (as many of his friends called him) sat opposite her, biting his nails. He was well dressed, fond of auction-bridge, and travelled abroad in the interests of some vaguely comprehended firm.

"This will just about kill the madam," he said despondently.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Sykes, but I really must--I must," Molly gulped.

"It isn't money, is it?" he asked. "Because though I'm not a popular authoress or anything like that, I could----"

"Oh, goodness, no!" said Molly. "It's not money at all. Only I must get away."

"We've never got on so well with any of the others," he went on jerkily, "and she's certainly awfully fond of you--the madam is. She's taken you everywhere, I know, and all the dinners, and the car whenever you----"

"Mrs. Sykes has been very kind," Molly broke in dully, "but--oh, it's no use, Mr. Sykes. It's got to be done, and putting it off only makes her worse. So I'm going to-morrow. She'll feel better about it later."

"I hope so, I'm sure," Mr. Sykes responded doubtfully. "She was pretty bad when I left her. That brain of hers, you know--it's a great strain, they tell me. Hard on us all, in a way."

Molly always smiled and sighed when she remembered him and the hunched shoulders that leaned drearily over the tonneau.

"Where'll I tell him?" he asked, and she drew tighter the tight line between her brows, sighed, tried to speak, and found her mind quite utterly a blank.

"Where'll I tell him?" Mr. Sykes repeated, looking curiously at her.

To save her life Molly could not have remembered where she had arranged to go! A real horror caught her: was this the beginning of all the dreadful symptoms that few of Julia Carter Sykes's admirers suspected in their idol? She must say something, and there flashed suddenly into her mind, otherwise blank of any image or phrase, an odd occurrence of the afternoon before, an occurrence she had been too tired to try, even, to explain.

"Drive to the docks!" she cried sharply, and the chauffeur touched his visor, and her life poised for twenty minutes on its watershed, although she did not know it.

In the motor it came back to her, that twilight not eighteen hours back, when in clearing out her desk ("the last desk I shall ever clear, I swear!") she had happened on the little transparent glass ball, a paper-weight, she supposed, and fingered it idly, void of thought or feeling, after the last emotional storm with her celebrity.

As she looked into it, staring, her tired mind seemed to sink and sink and submerge in the little clear white sphere till it drowned utterly, and only a rigid body, its eyes turned into its lap, sat in the still, dim room.

Presently, after what might have been hours or seconds, she seemed to gather into herself again, but could not wrench her eyes from the crystal ball, which looked opalescent now, and filmy, so that she shaded her eyes mechanically with the black scarf of her dinner-dress, to shut out the reflections of the room. But they were not reflections, for there was bright blue in the ball, blue and white, and nothing of that sort was in the room.

She peered into the ball, and saw in it, clear and sharp and bright as the little coloured prints that are pasted to the bottom of such things, a tossing sapphire sea with little white-caps on it, a boat with a funnel, and little boats lashed to the side, a white rail, a tilted deck, and herself, Molly Dickett, in a striped blue and white frock and bare head, leaning over the rail on her elbows beside a broad-shouldered man with a cap such as officers on a boat wear. The waves actually danced and glittered in the sun. But the room was nearly dark, something whispered in her brain, and just then she had dropped the shielding scarf, and gasped back to a sense of reality and the ball was suddenly empty.

There had been no picture in the bottom of it, after all.

But on the bow of the little boat lashed to the side she had seen, written in tiny, tiny letters just as the Lord's Prayer is written in carved ivory toys of incredible smallness, the letters E-L-L-A, and these letters had fixed themselves in her mind, they had seemed so absurdly real and she had felt so absurdly sure of them.

"Which steamer, Miss Dickett?" the chauffeur inquired respectfully; all the employees of the Julia Carter Sykes establishment respected Molly, as well they might. A sudden, happy irresponsibility flooded Molly's tired mind, and she smiled into the man's face--the old, not-to-be-resisted Molly Dickett smile.

"The name of the boat is Ella, Pierce," she said cheerfully, "and it's a small boat, not a liner. Look it up."

And as he disappeared she laughed aloud.

She was still laughing softly when he returned, looking worried.

"I think you must have told me wrong, Miss Dickett, didn't you?" he began hurriedly, lifting out her small, flat trunk. "It's the Stella you mean, isn't it? There seems to be a misunderstanding; they said the stateroom was countermanded at the last minute, but the party's name was Richards. It's all right now, but we nearly lost it--they're holding her for you. There don't seem to be any more passengers--are you sure there's no mistake?"

"Perfectly sure," said Molly, sober enough now. "I'm very much indebted to you, Pierce."

She gave him a tip that caught his breath, walked up the gang-plank of the Stella, nodded easily to a severe official, and followed a pale, neat stewardess to her state-room.

"Where is this boat going?" she asked of the pale stewardess, who gasped and replied,

"South America, ma'am. Didn't you know?"

"I may have forgotten," said Molly, and then sleep overcame her and the days and nights were one for a long time.

The Stella carried hides and fruit and lumber, and, occasionally, two or three passengers, for whose convenience the company had fitted up a stateroom or two, since the demand for these proved steady. People, as Molly learned from the stewardess (whose sole charge she was) for whom a sea-voyage had been recommended for various reasons. There had never been more than five at a time and two was the average; one, very common.

The long, blue days slipped by, she ate and slept and lay in the deck-chair that had been sent by the party named Richards, and spoke to the stewardess alone, who was used to tired and silent charges, and served her meals on a tray.

She was a quiet, refined woman with a hand often at her heart. Molly found her gasping in the companionway once, fed her quickly from the little flask she pointed at in her pocket, and helped her to her berth, as clean and comfortable as Molly's own. This produced confidences, and she learned that Mrs. Cope (every one called her that, she said, and treated her most respectfully) had made her first voyage as children's nurse to an English family bound for Rio, who had turned her off on arriving at that port. The stewardess on that trip proved inclined to drink and sauciness, and at Mrs. Cope's suggestion they had given her the post in her stead and she had kept it for five years. An easy berth, she said, good pay, good board, little to do and pleasant people. She ate alone, was practically her own mistress, and the sea-air had saved her life, she knew.

This Molly could well believe, for she had come to count the days of her ignorance of salt water for days of loss and emptiness. The mornings of wind, the nights of stars and foam, the hot blue moons, sang in her blood and tinted her cheeks: she felt herself born again, the crowded past an ugly nightmare. She says that she had never, till then, been alone with herself for ten years and that she had never had time to find out what she really liked best in the world. We must suppose that she did at last find out, but it cannot be denied that the discovery was unusual.

Mrs. Cope died at Buenos Ayres, suddenly, as she was serving Molly's supper, and Molly, piloted by the first mate, for she knew no Spanish, buried her there and put up a neat headstone over her grave: the possible lack of one had been the poor woman's one terror, and she had sent every cent of her wages to some worthless, mysterious husband whose whereabouts nobody knew. This took all Molly's money but so much as was needed for her return trip, for it has to be confessed of her that she never saved a penny in her extravagant life.

And now we see her speaking, for the first time beyond perfunctory salutations, with the captain, a taciturn recluse of a man, furious just now at some unexpected litigation connected with his cargo and horribly inconvenienced by the loss of his stewardess. Two ladies waiting, literally, on the wharf, have been promised accommodation in the Stella by the owners, and there is not a decent, respectable woman to be found on the whole coast of South America, to look after them.

"Suppose you give me the job?" says Molly, quietly.

He looks her up, down and across, with an eye like a gimlet; she takes the scrutiny cheerfully, as her duty and his due, offers him her clear, grey eyes (her only reference for character) and her capable, trim, broad-shouldered figure as security for fitness.

"I suppose you know your own business best," he says brusquely. "You're engaged. What name do you wish to go by?"

"My own," says she, "Molly Dickett."

So now, you see! The secret is out, and you may observe her again piloted by the first mate, scouting through the shops of Buenos Ayres for a blue-and-white striped cotton frock, broad enough through the shoulders. Aprons she purchased and caps (larger caps than Mrs. Cope's, who compromised on white lawn bow-knots) and high-laced, rubber-soled, white canvas boots, only to be procured in English shops for sporting-goods. Their price caused the first mate to whistle.

"What's the idea of all this?" he demanded suddenly. "Of course, you know, you must be up to some game. Your kind doesn't ship as stewardess."

"What game were you up to?" Molly replied quickly. "Your kind doesn't ship as first mate, does it?"

"What kind?" he said gruffly.

"The 'Dicky' kind," she answered.

He blurted out some amazed incoherence, and,

"Oh, I've seen Harvard men, before," she assured him pleasantly.

Molly took the best of care of her two ladies and accepted their gratuities with a grave courtesy. They confided to the captain, at New York, that she seemed unusually refined for her position, and he replied that for all he knew, she might be.

"We'll never see her again," the first mate grumbled sourly, when she stepped off the gangplank, and the captain shrugged his shoulders non-committally.

They did, nevertheless, but her mother never did. After that one dreadful interview in the Dickett library (it had used to be the sitting-room in her college days) when Eleanor had cried, and Kathryn's letter had been read aloud, and Mr. Dickett had vainly displayed his bank-book, and her mother had literally trembled with rage, there was nothing for it but oblivion--oblivion, and silence.

"A stewardess! My daughter a stewardess! I believe we could put you in an asylum--you're not decent!"

Mrs. Dickett's cheeks were greyish and mottled.

"Come, come, mother! Come, come!" said Mr. Dickett. "There's some mistake, I'm sure. If you'd only come and live with us, Molly--we're all alone, now, you know, and Lord knows there's plenty for all. It doesn't seem quite the thing, I must say, though. It--it hurts your mother's pride, you see."

"I'm sorry," said Molly, sadly. It is incredible, but she had never anticipated it! She was really very simple and direct, and life seemed so clear and good to her, now.

"To compare yourself with that Englishman is ridiculous, and you know it," sobbed Eleanor. "What if he was a cow-boy? He didn't wear a cap and apron--and it was for his health--and George is too angry to come over, even!"

"It's for my health, too," Molly urged, trying to keep her temper. "I never was the same after I went on that vacation to Maine--I told you before. Life isn't worth living, unless you're well."

"But you could have the south chamber for your own sitting-room, as George suggested, and do your writing at your own time," Mr. Dickett began.

"I've told you I'm not a writer," she interrupted shortly.

"George would rather have paid out of his own pocket----"

"We'll leave George out of this, I think," said Molly, her foot tapping dangerously.

"Then you may leave me out, too!" cried George's wife. "I have my children to think of. If you are determined to go and be a chambermaid, this ends it. Come, mother!"

Mrs. Dickett avoided her husband's grasp and went to the door with Eleanor. It is hard to see how these things can be, but the cave-woman and her whelpish brood are far behind us now, and Molly's mother was cut to the dividing of the bone and the marrow. The two women went out of the room and Molly stood alone with her father.

"I'm sorry, father," she said quietly. "I can't see that I should change my way of life when it is perfectly honourable and proper, just to gratify their silly pride. You must realise that I have to be independent--I'm thirty years old and I haven't had a cent that I didn't earn for more than ten years. I have never been so well and so--so contented since I left college, really."

"Really?" Mr. Dickett echoed in dim amazement.

"Really. And mother never liked me--never. Oh, it's no use, father, she never has. I can't waste any more of my life. I've found what suits me--if I ever change, I'll let you know. I'll write you, anyway, now and then. Good-bye, father. Shake hands."

And so it was over, and she jumped into the waiting "hack" ("it was some comfort," Eleanor said, "that she wore that handsome broadcloth and the feather-boa") and left them.

Perhaps you had rather leave her, yourself? Remember, she had dined the brother of a baronet (and dined him well, too)! And George Farwell had never earned her salary on The Day. Still, if you will stick by her a little longer, you may feel a little more tolerant of her, and that is much, in this critical civilisation of ours.

She leaned over the rail in her striped blue-and-white, and the first mate leaned beside her. The sapphire sea raced along and the milky froth flew off from their bow. The sun beat down on her dark head, and there was a song in her heart--oh, there's no doubt of it, the girl was disgracefully happy!

"A fine trip, won't it be?" she said contentedly, and drew a deep breath, and washed her lungs clean of all the murk and cobwebs left behind.

"Yes," said the first mate. "My last, by the way."

"Your last?" she repeated vaguely. "Your last?"

He nodded and swallowed in his throat. "Shall I tell you why?"

"Yes, tell me why," she said, and stared at the ship's boat, lashed to the side.

"I've told you about myself," he blurted out roughly, "and my family, and all that. It can't be helped--now. We look at things differently. A man either wants to be an attache fooling around Baden, or he doesn't. I don't, that's all. And I go bad in offices. And I won't take money from them--or anybody. This suits me well enough. Probably I'm not ambitious."

"Then if it suits you," Molly began, but he put his hand over hers.

"It doesn't suit me to love any woman as much as I've loved you since Buenos Ayres," he said, "and feel that to get her I must give up this and settle down into a smelly office. It doesn't suit me to find that life is just hell without her, but to know that if I know anything about myself I couldn't live any other way but this, and that no decent man could ask a woman to lead the rolling-stone life that I lead--she wouldn't, anyhow."

Molly's eyes were fastened on the bow of the ship's boat; her heart pounded against the rail; she had never felt so frightened in her life.

And suddenly she became aware that she was staring at the letters E-L-L-A, and they looked very tiny, like the letters of the Lord's Prayer written in carved ivory toys, and something she had not thought of since she first left New York flashed into her mind, and she trembled slightly. Then all the vexed and broken, many-coloured fragments of her life clicked and settled into place, quietly and inevitably, as they do in a child's kaleidoscope, and the final pattern stood out, finished. She smiled slightly and thinks that perhaps she prayed. Then,

"Why don't you give the woman a chance?" said Molly Dickett.

* * * * *

Mr. Dickett pushed little Penelope gently off his knee and stroked a whitening whisker.

"Molly's baby was a boy, mother--I know you'd want to hear," he said.

Mrs. Dickett was silent.

"Her husband's bought a third interest in the boat," he went on firmly, "and she says he'll probably be captain some day."

"Indeed," said Mrs. Dickett.

"They've stopped carrying passengers and the rooms are fitted up for them, quite private, she writes, and the boy weighed nine pounds. I'm thinking of going down to see them, when they get in to this country again, mother. Would you care to see her husband's picture? He's a fine looking chap--six feet, she writes."

"I don't care about it," said Mrs. Dickett, through thin lips. "It is a relief, however, to learn that she is no longer a chambermaid."

"Come, come, mother, the ship's boy did all the emptying, you know," Mr. Dickett urged tolerantly. "It seems a roving sort of life, to us, I know, and unsettled, but if they like it, why I can't see any real harm..."

"Tastes differ," said his wife grimly--and so, God knows, they do!

[The end]
Josephine Daskam Bacon's short story: Crystal