All You Need to Know

MY hat was gone when I went back for it. ‘I know,’ I assured the waiter, ‘you’re “not responsible for hats, coats, or parcels left by patrons,” but just between us — have you seen anything of a gray felt hat, with initials J. B. stamped in the band?’

I walked out before they might have a chance to arrest me, on charges of impersonating a man who’d lost his hat, when the waiter’s lofty glance indicated that he strongly suspected I had never had one.

Well, the next thing was to get Doris’s silk.

‘Four yards,’ she had said, eyeing me doubtfully. ‘Like this. You show this piece to the saleslady, you see, and tell her you want more just like it.’

‘Shall I — ’

‘That’s all you need to know,’ she interrupted. ‘Any further directions would only confuse you.’

I smiled and thought that here at least was an easy one. All I need do is — I reached into my pocket. There were other pockets, into all of which I reached. I remembered that the restaurant’s sign neglected to say the management would not be responsible for samples of silk goods left by the patrons. And yet — I had a record there, which might stand in my way.

‘Let’s see,’ I mused. ‘It was blue, with a little figure — a small flower, like. Or was it a house, with trees about? I’ll try them both, anyhow.’

So, uncovered, and only vaguely acquainted with what I wanted to buy, I ventured into the great department store to which Doris had sent me.

If you want silk goods and you arrive in lingerie, the thing to do, of course, is to consult the floorwalker. Having been informed as to this trick once before, I complacently made my way toward the sleek fount of knowledge in the next aisle.

‘Yes indeed, sir,’he was saying to a gentleman who evidently wanted baby carriages or tea wagons. ‘We have the rubber-tired ones. On the fifth floor.’ He smiled, bowed, and made a splendid gesture toward the elevator. A noble race of men, I thought, who were not accorded their just —

‘Have you any silk goods with a flower, like, or a house on it?’ I asked.

The expression of beatitude faded miraculously from his face.

‘You’ll have to learn these things faster,’ he said. ‘Did n’t they tell you not to be in the way here? How long have you been with the company?’

I walked on, half hoping he would carry on his rebuke, whereupon I would call the manager and show my credentials — or my lack of credentials — to prove I was not with the company at all.

‘Where is the ladies’ hose, please?’ demanded an aggressive, staccato voice over my shoulder. I was strongly tempted to ask, ‘Which lady’s?’ Of course it is the first reaction one has to such a question. I turned around, however, and explained, a bit haughtily, that I was not with the company. I noticed distinctly a slight sneer, as though if I were not with the company it was my own inferiority that kept me from it.

I determined not to let them walk on me thereafter. The very next time —

The very next time came promptly, but it quite changed my mind.

‘Could you direct me to the leathergoods counter, please?’ A pretty, shy, blue-eyed little thing, with such a sweet voice! And to be buying leather goods. ‘You, my dear, ought to be asking for the gossamer department, or the fairywings counter,’ I wanted to say. But I looked for leather goods hastily. They were not in sight.

‘Just what was it you — er — ’

‘A handbag,’ she smiled; ‘one with the fittings, you know.’ A handbag. Ah, now I had got in it! I could n’t tell her — well, I simply must be with the company. A silence, as though I were trying to provide the best handbag and the finest fittings possible.

‘We have some on the second floor,’ I said, ‘and, if I remember rightly, one or two on the third floor. However, the best ones possibly can be found on floor four. If I were you —’ But she had noticed the newspaper in my pocket, and had retreated in terror.

I started to meander on, hoping I might run across the silks if I pretended I did n’t care whether I found them or not. I passed books and I passed toilet articles very successfully, but just as I reached the hosiery I was accosted again.

‘Miss McMaster has fainted, sir! She’s back there! What shall we do?’ Two little girls in black were tugging at my arms, wide-eyed.

‘I’m sure I — you say she’s fainted?’ I thought of several things for Miss McMaster, including smelling salts and the fire department. But this was getting to be serious. ‘ Tell that gentleman over there,’ I said, pointing to a floorwalker and leaving the scene hurriedly.

‘Have you any blue with a flower on it?’

The elderly saleswoman smiled at me as though she had been waiting all day for someone to ask for just that.

‘We have six or eight blue patterns with flowers,’ she replied.

‘Well, then, I don’t want that. Have you any blue with a little house on it? ’

This was another matter. ‘I’ll look,’ she conceded. Perhaps after all — but there was n’t any. I went over the scene with Doris again. I was sure I had the right store.

‘ Well,’ I said as a last resort, ‘ do you remember selling any blue to a young lady a few days ago with a flower on — I mean on the blue? Sort of slender and pretty — I mean the lady?’

‘Let me see. Did she want it for draperies?’

‘Well, now, I really could n’t say.’ The good woman was getting unreasonable, I thought. I had already given her enough information.

‘I do remember the material, I believe,’ she said. ‘Was it this?’

It did have a flower, although it seemed to me a little more of the hothouse variety than Doris’s.

‘I believe that’s it,’ I said. I wanted to get it over with. ' I’ll take — let me see, did she want five or seven yards?’ I looked at the saleslady again, as one old friend seeks the help of another. ‘Well, I’ll take six, anyhow.’

‘Oh, I’m so sorry, dear,’ Doris said, when I had got home. ‘You’ll have to go back. You see, I measured wrong, and I’m afraid six will be needed. I told you four, did n’t I?’

‘Yes,’ I said, grasping my opportunity immediately, ‘but I felt sure it would n’t be enough, so I got six.’ That was something, at least. She looked at me wonderingly.

‘Now, is this right?’ Trembling, I revealed my purchase.

‘Yes, that’s it,’ she said. ‘But look — there’s your hat and the sample, on the hall table. How did you ever get it without the sample?’

‘Oh, I remembered, after I had seen it,’ I said, calmly.