IT was early morning in the laundry. The girls were just arriving. They took off their hats and coats and collars, and wrapped them in the newspapers they had read on their way to work. Felice Malgari, ‘hand-ironer,’ waiting for the dampened shirts and collars to appear, leaned on Annie Duggan’s body-machine.
‘ Look at Flora,’ Felice was saying, ‘Did n’t her mother let her have the winder open to look out the whole of Fortajuly afternoon. Look at Angelina. She ain’t got no brothers, so her payrents make her walk to work all the time with Flora and her brother. Pretty soon Angelina marries that brother. You see!’
‘Gee!’ said Annie, ‘I should think Flora would get wise to that.’
‘What of it?’ replied Felice. ‘Ain’t it lucky for her? Tony is all the time talkin’ to Angelina, ain’t he? Well, leave it to Flora to get in a few winks with Lorenzo, when he ain’t got a haircut or a shave in the chair. You see! They ’ll all get married but me.’
‘Cut it,’ said Annie; ‘You’re too good-lookin’ ter be an ould maid.’
‘But who will see my good looks?’ broke in Felice, ‘with me doing nothing at all but sit in the kitchen evenings, thinking the same ould thought overand over.’
‘And what’s that?’ inquired Annie.
‘ How can a girl’s payrents expect her to get married when they don’t let her see no fellers?’
‘No fellers, and you wid seven brothers,’ jeered Annie.
Felice took her up eagerly. ‘Sure, seven, and every night they go out. Slam the door, and off to have a good time. And what do I do? String peppers, maybe. Maybe nothing. Saturday nights my father is all the time going to the Opera. Maybe two, three of my brothers goes with him. All day Sunday they hum them tunes, and say how fine is the Opera, something grand. I tell my father take me to the Opera. “No place fora girl,” he says. Always the same: “No place for a girl!”’
‘Aw, whudderya want ter go there fer anyway?’ said Annie scornfully. ‘Getcher brother ter take yer to the movies. You know, movin’ pitchers — some class ter them.’
‘Take me — no fear!’ responded Felice. ‘ Not me. What is movies like? ’ ‘Listen to the green diamond,’ said Annie. ‘It’s there you get life. Swell pitchers that tell a story. Like photos, only the folks move natural-like.’
‘ I donno,’ said Felice, only halfattending.
The big double-doors at the end of the laundry banged open. On Mondays and Tuesdays a row of dapper shining carts stood outside, waiting to disgorge their lumpy white bundles into the grimy pit below. But to-day was Thursday.
‘Gee! what’s that strange cart full of hampers blowin’ in here to-day for? ’ said Annie. ‘My God, if it’s another steamer in, I’m goin’ ter quit! Last time we only had two hours to get the work out in, and this time they’ll be askin’ us to cut that down. Gee, this joint makes me sick!’
Felice stretched and yawned, with her head flung back and the rings of Venus almost ironed out of her thick white throat, and fixed her golden eyes on the hampers.
‘That looks too swell to be a steamer job,’ she said. ‘I bet it ain’t. Well, so long! Me to my bosoms.’
She crossed slowly to her board, where a tray of damp shirts had been placed, turned on her iron, and began to work. She had ironed industriously for an hour or so, when she noticed that the ‘starchers’ at the farther end of the laundry were surrounded three deep by girls, all talking hard. ‘ Gee! ’ said Felice to herself, ‘them starchers must have found a dime in the bottom of the pail.’
The talk grew louder and the group grew larger, until Felice could bear it no longer; she turned off her iron and joined them.
‘What’s doing?’ she asked Veronica Quinn, the best starcher in the laundry.
‘Lookit, F’lees,’ answered Veronica, holding up a shirt.
The other girls also held up shirts, pointing to the inside of the neckbands, where Felice read the words, ‘Paris, Wien, Milan, London.’
‘Say, Felice oughter be able ter read these off,’ handing her a bundle of socks and handkerchiefs marked chiefly with Italian names.
Felice read them off. ‘Say, what is this anyway?’ she cried.
‘Didja see the cart wid the swell lot of new hampers in?’ said Veronica. ‘Well, it was the work from the Gran’ Opry company. What der yer know about that!’
The Opera! Felice felt chills running up her spine.
‘Them clothes sure is a dream,’ went on Kitty Donnelly. ‘Silk socks and silk handkerchiefs—nothing but class.’
‘ Say, F’lees,’ broke in Annie Duggan; “it’s maybe Caruso’s bosoms you ’ll he ironing up this after.’
All that afternoon Felice ironed the foreign shirts, with a thousand visions floating through her brain. Her favorite, which she oftenest went back to, was Caruso, advancing to the footlights with one white-gloved hand placed upon the ‘bosom’ that she, Felice Malgari, had ‘done up.’ One of her brothers had often rehearsed the bows of Grand Opera stars for the benefit of the family. Presently she unrolled a white evening shirt, and it was not long before she discovered an odd little pocket just, under the bosom. She examined it. with vivid interest. ‘Annie,’ she called, ‘come on over a jiff.’
‘Pipe this,’ said Felice, disclosing the pocket, to Annie’s penetrating gaze.
‘Imagine!’ chanted Annie, greatly struck. ‘Wot a place for a pockut.’
‘ It’s here he carries his grand creamsilk handkerchief,’ suggested Felice.
‘Say,’ said Annie, who had kept on looking at it with a sophistication born of moving pictures, ‘want to know what Mary Pickford would do if she got next to that pockut? She’d slip a slick note into it, askin’ fer a couple of Opry tickuts as a favor for doing up his shirt in fancy style.’
‘Annie, you sure are some smart kid,’ said Felice, her Latin nature kindling. ‘Would you write il for me, girlie; I can’t write the good English.’
‘Sure ting,’ answered Annie. ‘Wait till five. Leave ut ter me.’
When that hour came around, Annie, with a quill pen and some ink borrowed from the marking-room, and a sheet of slippery brown wrapping paper, penned, not without difficulty, the following effort, Felice dictating: —
this is a pur eyetalian Girl writine to you. i done up this shirt the beste i cud. Would you bee so kynd az to send me a cuple opera tikuts i got 7 bros. who go al the time they are somthin fieerce the way —
‘I would n’t be after givin’ away my own brothers to a purrfect stranger,’ interrupted Annie.
‘All right,’ agreed Felice. ‘Leave it out that they are fierce to me.’
‘ But if you sent me a cuple tikuts, my father wud maybe let me off to go,’ suggested Annie.
‘How ’ll I end ut?’ asked Annie.
‘Con amore,’ said Felice, grinning.
‘Whut ’s that you’ll be saying?’ asked Annie suspiciously.
‘ It’s the way you end letters in Italy,’ replied Felice.
‘But what is its meanin’ in American?’ persisted Annie.
‘Yours truthly,’ replied Felice glibly.
Annie spelled it as best she could, and signed it with Felice’s name and her home address. It would never do to let the boss know, even an inkling. Felice took the note in her long brown fingers, tucked it in the pocket, folded the garment deftly, and placed around the glossy bosom a strip of paper which she pinned in the back with great neatness and despatch. This done, she added it to the pile, and presently, with snapping brown eyes, watched it out of sight in the packer’s arms.
‘You know you may get nothing at all,’ said Annie sensibly.
Two days after this, Felice started for work in a downpour that threatened to last all day. A muddy dribble of water had slipped under the door of her house, and formed a fast-growing pool in the black hallway, into which she stepped, so start big the day with wet feet. The barnlike doors of the laundry were closed against, the rain; and when she succeeded in opening them, with difficulty because of the wind outside and the weights inside, she was greeted by a puff of foul steam, reeking of the ‘chemicals’ in which the world’s soiled linen was boiling. It seemed unbearable for a day’s breathing.
At eleven o’clock steamer-work arrived, to be finished at three, and the whole force was ‘ turned onto’ the mangles and shaking-tables, Felice among them. She thought drearily of the long evening hours she would have to spend at the ironing-board, to make up for this interruption, trying ever and again to catch a glimpse of the clock through the heavy, evil-smelling steam from the mangles. The hand-ironers took a half-hour at six for supper, and then to work again. No Paris and Milan shirts for Felice to-night — just the usual local varieties.
She finished, by dint of extra effort, at eight o’clock, and walked home with Flora, Flora’s brother, and Angelina, as her brother, who had called for her on his way home as usual, had directed. She forgot, the puddle which had grown to quite a lake during the day, and her shoes went plop, ker-plop, up the flight of dark stairs. Wet and weary, she opened the door. The kitchen was hot and bright. Her mother, a thin, gnarled woman, was leaning over a table covered with peppers, which she was stringing. Her gold ear-hoops dangled against the brown cords of her neck.
Felice suddenly swept down upon the table, and pulled from under the litter of peppers a large pink envelope. On it she read, with blurred incredulous eyes,
Signorina F. Malgari.
‘Who opened this?’ she jerked out to her mother, who replied in Italian, —
‘Thy father. In it were two tickets to the Opera. Was it not strange, eh? Very many strange things happen in this country.’
‘But where are they?’ demanded Felice, trembling from head to foot.
‘Thy father and brother have just gone with them,’ answered her mother placidly. ‘How much you got for the overtime?’