Once outside he stood in the spring wind and meditated. There must be other stores in Baltimore, little ones, where a man could buy things in quiet and decency. Until the four-o’clock motor stage started for Frederick he had nothing to do.
He stuck his hands in his pockets and started down the crowded crookedness of Lexington Street. He reached the market and strolled through it leisurely, feeling very much at home with the meats and vegetables and the good country look of many of the stall keepers. Its size amazed him; but then he’d always heard that Baltimore was a big city, and so many people must take a lot to eat. He went on, all the way through, and after a little hesitation struck down a quiet street to the right. But he saw no shops of the sort he was looking for, and he had thoughts of going back and braving the big store again. He turned again and again, pleased by the orderly rows of red-brick-with-white-trim houses, homey-looking places in spite of their smallness and close setting. At last, right in the middle of a row of these, he saw a large window set in place of the two usual smaller ones, a window filled with unmistakable feminine stuff, and the sign, small, neatly gilt lettered: Miss Tolman’s Ladies’ Shop. Hemstitching Done.
There wasn’t a soul going in or out, so he braved it, and was happier still when he found himself the sole customer. The opening of the door made a bell tinkle in a back room.
A girl came through parted green wool curtains, a girl so flaxen-haired, with such blue eyes—like a friendly kitten—that Wesley Dean almost forgot the errand that had brought him so far.
As for the girl, she was surprised to see a man, and particularly a young country man, among the gloves and stockings, cheap pink underthings, and embroideries of Miss Tolman’s shop.
“You got any—any aprons?” he stammered.
“White aprons or gingham?” The girl’s smile helped Wesley a great deal. A very nice girl, he decided; but she made him feel queer, light-headed.
“I’m not sure, ma’am. When I come away from home this morning I asked Aunt Dolcey did she need anything, and she said ’yes, a couple of aprons,’ but she didn’t say what kind.”
The girl thought it over. “I reckon maybe if she’s your auntie she’d want white aprons.”
Her mistake gave him a chance for the conversation which he felt a most surprising wish to make.
“No’m, she’s not my auntie. She’s the old coloured woman keeps house for me.”
Oh, she was a very nice girl; something about the way she held her head made Wesley think of his spunky little riding mare, Teeny.
“H’m. Then I think you’d be safe to get a gingham; anyway, a gingham apron comes in handy to anybody working round a kitchen. We got some nice big ones.”
“Aunt Dolcey’s not so awful big; not any bigger’n you, but heavier set, like.”
There is a distinct advance in friendly intimacy when one has one’s size considered in relation to a customer’s needs, particularly when the consideration shows how little a man knows about women’s garments. The girl reached beneath the counter and brought up an armful of blue-and-white-checked aprons. She unfolded them deftly, and Wesley saw that she had small strong hands and round wrists.