On Dyeing

Men are warned not to read this dissertation on dyeing. Only women will recognize the truth of an experience common to our sex.

WHY is it that people who are employed in dye-house agencies are invariably confirmed pessimists on all questions that touch their own profession? Their spirits seem to have been subdued to that they work in, to have been dipped in the blackest of never-fading gloom. Melancholy has marked them for her own. Assuredly there should be inscribed over the door of the dye-house as over the door of other death-cells the classic phrase of doom, ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’

My thesis is that the women employed in these mortuary temples have only one human trait, which is, that in spite of their profession, they do not want to dye. In order to prove the truth of this conviction, I started forth a few weeks ago on an investigating expedition, carrying a large bundle under my arm. My package contained clothes, not old so much as middle-aged, some being really young, a baby’s coat of spotless purity being among the more juvenile members of the hand-picked collection.

Before entering the dyeing establishment, I paused to look in the cruelly deceptive shop-window. It presented a gay scene of headless ladies exquisitely gowned in every shade of delicate pink, blue, yellow, and lavender. A placard bore the legend (I use the word advisedly), ‘These dresses have all been dyed.’ Almost fearing that my theory was to be disproved, I entered and, placing my package on the marble tombstone of a counter, displayed the contents to a woe-begone female in black. Before I could explain what I wished to have done, the sallow saleslady summoned another human vulture from a hidden recess, and together they looked, with stricken faces, at my articles of apparel, shaking their heads ominously as I displayed my various exhibits.

’I have brought in a few things to be dyed,’ I began cheerfully. ‘Now, this little coat — which is perfectly clean, you see — I should like to have dyed light blue; this pink chiffon waist, which is a trifle soiled, I want to have dyed black; the little negligée I want pink, and this scarf lavender.’

While I was talking, the leading lady quietly removed the garments from my grasp and began rolling them up in the bundle again.

‘It is perfectly impossible, madam,’ she said in a tone of finality. ‘Your things cannot be dyed.’

‘May I ask why not?’ I inquired with quiet control. ‘My garments are most of them white, and many are practically new.’

The undertaker’s assistant now stepped forward, and in sepulchral tones made these disconnected announcements, which sounded like texts from a free-thinker’s burial service: —

‘The infant’s coat has too much wool. We do not recommend dyeing chiffon. The morning sack [she pronounced it ‘mourning’] is made of taffeta, which rots. The gauze scarf might possibly take a very dark —’

But at this moment the tragedyqueen broke in.

‘We will take no responsibility even about the scarf.’

The weird sisters had almost finished tying up my bundle again as I feebly protested, ‘But why do you advertise dyeing, why do you exhibit these dresses in the window, why do you — ’

One of the women held up a warning hand. ‘Your garments are not fit to dye’ (I blushed for their evil lives); ‘we could take no responsibility for the result.’

‘But if I am willing to take the responsibility,’ I protested in desperation, tearing open the bundle again, ‘how much should I have to pay for the experiment?’

The mutes exchanged a look, and in the character of pall-bearers carried the corpus vile to some distant cave, whence, after a muttered colloquy held over the remains, they returned with the verdict: —

‘The scarf is the only article we are willing even to attempt. We are much rushed with business.’ (The receiving vault in which we stood was perfectly empty.) ‘We shall have to keep it seven weeks, and the only color it can take is a brownish-red. Even that we do not advise.’

I almost smiled, they were so true to type. I had been waiting for that brownish-red suggestion.

‘That will be perfectly lovely,’ I said hastily; ‘and will you please charge the scarf and send it when it is finished? I have no account here,’ I added lightly, ‘but I can give good references.’

Hark! from the tombs a doleful sound. A masculine voice from behind the scenes proclaimed, ‘We never charge. It must be paid for C.O.D.’

My saleslady took her cue. ‘No, we never charge, and we cannot tell the exact cost. It will probably not exceed four dollars.’

‘But the scarf cost only $2.50!’ I gasped.

Silence and stony indifference on the part of the officiating executive.

‘I think I will take my things somewhere else,’ I announced. And with no help this time from the affronted attendants I made my exit, trailing clouds of paper and string as I departed to continue my investigations.

It is unnecessary to recount my experiences at the five other establishments I visited, so similar were my reception and dismissal in all. There were slight variations on the original minor theme: sometimes my test-cases had too much wool in their composition, sometimes too much silk; the heaviness of their material would cause them to shrink, or their flimsiness would cause them to dissolve. The fabrics seemed doomed to perish if subjected even to that arid process known as dry cleansing. There were faint glimpses of brownish-red on the horizon, but even they flickered out, leaving me in utter darkness.

At the sixth and last dyeing establishment I investigated, my cynicism received a slight set-back. After the usual preliminary discouragements and refusals and whispered consultations, the shop-girl, who had not fully developed into the usual shop-ghoul, betrayed unexpected symptoms of compassion. ‘I tell you what, lady,’ she at last conceded, ’there ain’t a thing in your collection that’s worth coloring; but if you want to leave the bundle at your own risk, we’ll do the best we can, only we’re so busy that you can’t get your things back for two months.’

‘Very well,’ I replied, ‘I will take all risks. I’m very much obliged to you for consenting to do something that you advertise to do — it is unusual; and I will give you my name and address and pay C.O.D., if I am still living when my things are dyed.’

I thought I had really found the rare establishment that does what it advertises to do; and when, at the end of one week instead of eight, a letter came bearing the name of my dye-house, my hopes rose high. Was I to hear that the firm had undergone conversion and would finish my work in a reasonable time? Was I to read some message of encouragement, ‘We who are about to dye salute you,’ or some such appropriate word of cheer? No. The note stated that after grave consideration it had been decided that the risk in dyeing any of my articles was too great — accordingly they were holding my bundle for further instructions. If I cared to have the scarf dyed a brownish-red instead of lavender — That day I read no more. I saw scarlet — scarlet untinged with brown. I vowed then the act of vengeance I am now perpetrating.

I would creep up unawares among these dyers who lie — and a blow from a Contributors’ Club, wielded by an unknown hand, should cause these liars to dye.