At that same hour, in the Popular Store, where Broadway and West Street intersect, one hundred and fifty salesgirls—jaded sentinels for a public that dares not venture down, loll at their counters and after the occasional shopper, relax deeper to limpidity.
At the jewelry counter, a crystal rectangle facing broadside the main entrance and the bleached and sun-grilled street without, Miss Lola Hassiebrock, salient among many and with Olympian certainty of self, lifted two Junoesque arms like unto the handles of a vase, held them there in the kind of rigidity that accompanies a yawn, and then let them flop.
“Oh-h-h-h, God bless my soul!” she said.
Miss Josie Beemis, narrowly constricted between shoulders that barely sloped off from her neck, with arms folded flat to her flat bosom and her back a hypothenuse against the counter, looked up.
“Watch out, Loo! I read in the paper where a man up in Alton got caught in the middle of one of those gaps and couldn’t ungap.”
Miss Hassiebrock batted at her lips and shuddered.
“It’s my nerves, dearie. All the doctors say that nine gaps out of ten are nerves.”
Miss Beemis hugged herself a bit flatter, looking out straight ahead into a parasol sale across the aisle.
“Enough sleep ain’t such a bad cure for gaps,” she said.
“I’ll catch up in time, dearie; my foot’s been asleep all day.”
“Huh!”—sniffling so that her thin nose quirked sidewise. “I will now indulge in hollow laughter—”
“You can’t, dearie,” said Miss Hassiebrock, driven to vaudevillian extremities, “you’re cracked.”
“Well, I may be cracked, but my good name ain’t.”
A stiffening of Miss Hassiebrock took place, as if mere verbiage had suddenly flung a fang. From beneath the sternly and too starched white shirtwaist and the unwilted linen cravat wound high about her throat and sustained there with a rhinestone horseshoe, it was as if a wave of color had started deep down, rushing up under milky flesh into her hair.
“Is that meant to be an in-sinuating remark, Josie?”
“’Tain’t how it’s meant; it’s how it’s took.”
“There’s some poor simps in this world, maybe right here in this store, ought to be excused from what they say because they don’t know any better.”
“I know this much: To catch the North End street-car from here, I don’t have to walk every night down past the Stag Hotel to do it.”
At that Miss Hassiebrock’s ears, with the large pearl blobs in them, tingled where they peeped out from the scallops of yellow hair, and she swallowed with a forward movement as if her throat had constricted.
“I—take the street-car where I darn please, and it’s nobody’s darn business.”
“Sure it ain’t! Only, if a poor working-girl don’t want to make it everybody’s darn business, she can’t run around with the fast rich boys of this town and then get invited to help hem the altar-cloth.”