An Easy Errand

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An Easy Errand


"OH, John,” said pretty little Mrs. Hampton, as she sat at the breakfast table, “it’s the cook’s birthday to-day, and I haven’t any present ready for her. Whatever shall I do?”

“Huh?" responded Mr. Hampton, entirely unconscious of her remark, as he was immersed in the stock reports.

“John, please do lay down that paper a minute, and listen to me, your own and only wife? It’s a crisis! It’s a domestic tragedy! It’s a condition, not a theory! I tell you it’s the cook’s birthday, and if we don’t give her a present, she’ll leave!”

“Yes, my dear, yes; yes, give her a present by all means. Here’s the money—how much do you want?”

“Oh, it isn’t that, John; I mean that isn’t the point of the trouble. But you see I have a dressmaker coming to-day, and I can’t go down-town to buy anything, so I want you to stop and get something and have it sent up right away. Do, Johnsie, won’t you?”

The cajolling smile of Mrs. Hampton would have persuaded her John to a more difficult task than this, and, under the influence of the said smile, he responded heartily: “Why, yes; of course I’ll do that for you. For you, understand, and not for the cook. She has no business to have a birthday in a well-regulated family; but if you want a cook’s present, that’s what you’ll get. What shall I buy?”

“Oh, that’s just it. I can’t think of a thing; I’ve tried and tried. Can’t you think of something?”

“Of course! Why, it’s too easy! There never was but one present for a cook since Eve kept house. It would be false to all tradition to offer her anything else.”

"What do you mean?” asked Mrs. Hampton, looking puzzled.

“Why, a dress pattern, to be sure. Mother never used to think of giving the servants anything but a dress pattern, all folded up, don’t you know, in a box.”

"Oh yes; with narrow slimpsy blue ribbons crossing it like an 'X.’ I remember mother used to give those to our maids. That will be lovely, John; just drop in to Mason's and pick one out, and tell them to send it right up. It won’t be a bit of trouble, will it?”

“Oh no; not a bit! I'm glad of a chance to get into a department store! I love their cheerful atmosphere and waves of warm air!”

“I know you hate it, but you’re a dear duck of a man to go so good-naturedly. Run along now, and don’t dawdle.”

“Hold on, milady; what color do you want this robe to be?”

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“Oh, it doesn’t matter: something pretty. just pick out something pretty. Remember she‘s short and fat and blond, so blue ought to be becoming. In fact, John, she’s just about your size and coloring. You can remember by that.”

“Yes, so I can! You’re a genius for detecting likenesses!”

On reaching the department store, Mr. Hampton walked boldly in. His very soul was imbued with the masculine determination of doing up his errand in short order.

“Dress patterns,” he said, sternly, to the young woman at the first counter he encountered.

“Third floor,” she responded, with a haughty waggle of her pompadoured head.

Seeing a staircase in the distance, Mr. Hampton made for it, and laboriously climbed three flights of stairs. As his wife had implied, he did resemble the cook in the matter of avoidupois, and the three flights were by no means flights of fancy.

“Dress patterns,” he said again, but his lack of available lung-power made his tone supplicatory rather than dignified.

“Floor below,” remarked the person addressed.

“She told me the third floor,” declared Mr. Hampton, irately.

“Quite right; but this is the fourth floor. You came up three flights, didn’t you?”

It was hard after climbing an unnecessary flight to have the fact thus rubbed in, but Mr. Hampton said nothing, as he had no breath to waste in futile speech, and, turning, he started down-stairs again.

“Why don't you use the elevator, sir?" he heard murmured respectfully over his shoulder. But a further realization of his own stupidity roused his ire and his mendacity.

“I prefer this,” he flung back, and tramped on down the long flight.

Now he was really on the third floor: and, though he could see only counters piled with blankets and comfortables, he inquired of a dapper young man behind one of the counters where he might find dress patterns.

“I don’t know, really, was the answer; you should ask the floor-walker."

Now Mr. Hampton had known this well enough: what he didn’t know was, why he hadn't acted upon his own knowledge.

He began to stalk the floor-walker, and to his surprise found that animal more elusive than a deer. As he would approach one, it would whip around into another aisle and out of sight: or it would begin a conversation with some ladies, which Mr. Hampton was not rude enough to interrupt: or, in many aisles, it wouldn’t be there at all.

But at last, by some rather clever maneuvering, Mr. Hampton corralled one, and said, meekly, in spite of himself, “Please tell me where to find dress patterns.”

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“Certainly, sir: six aisles over and four aisles down on the avenue side.” The floor-walker turned away, as one who considers the incident closed, and Mr. Hampton started. Useless to detail his devious wanderings, his repeated inquiries, his variegated answers, his growing bewilderment and his rising temper.

At last, when he had almost reached the point of desperation, a mild-voiced floor-walker said, a little impatiently, “Why, there are the dress patterns, sir; right in front of you!”

But Mr. Hampton could see only an upright lot of pigeonholes, something like a village post-office, with a very citified-looking postmistress in charge.

“Certainly. sir,” she said, having heard the floor-walker's speech: “the dress patterns are right here. All our patterns are right here. We keep all makes, all styles, and all sizes. Have you the number? You want a pattern for a street dress or a house dress? What size is the lady? How tall? How old? That is—I mean—is it your wife. or—”

“Or my grandmother!” broke in John Hampton. “I don’t want a pattern at all, if you'll kindly give me a chance to say so. That is, I want a dress pattern—not a pattern of a dress!"

The lady looked at him as if she doubted his sanity: but this was no trouble for her, as she usually looked at people that way. “All our patterns are here,” she began again: “dress patterns, coat patterns, skirt patterns, waist patterns, petticoat patterns, under—”

But Mr. Hampton had walked away, with a determined though undefined intention of doing something desperate to that floor-walker. “Look here,” he said, “when I say a dress pattern, I don’t mean those foolish tissue paper things—I don’t mean a pattern to cut out by—I mean a dress pattern, enough stuff to make a dress for a woman—a woman short and fat and blond.”

“Oh, enough material for a dress! Why, my dear sir, we can sell you a dress pattern of any material in the house. What you want is the dry-goods counter.”

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“Of course I want the dry—goods counter! Do you suppose I want a dress pattern of linoleum—or wall-paper? Where is your dry-goods counter?”

“First floor; the elevator is directly opposite.”

With a curt bow of acknowledgment, John Hampton strolled across the floor to the elevator.

“Going up,” said the boy; but, unaccustomed to departmental regulations, Mr. Hampton stepped in. As a result he went up to the fifteenth story, and down again, pausing at nearly every floor. His temper rose by regular instalments on the upward trip: but, descending, it calmed down again, for he had time to realize that no one had been to blame but himself.

“I suppose I ought to have said dress patterns made of dry-goods, in the first place,” he admitted to himself, which proved what a wise and inst man John Hampton was.

It was not entirely a path of roses that led to the dry-goods counter, nor was it without difficulty that he finally brought up at the particular division where cotton goods were sold. The array was bewildering. Here were patterns blue enough to suit any short, fat, and blond person. His spirits rose; and it was with something of his original hauteur that he said, “A dress pattern, please,” secure in the conviction that he would not here he offered tissue paper.

“We can sell you a dress pattern of any of these materials,” was the polite response. “How many yards do you require?”

“But I don’t want it that way; I want it in a box—tied up, you know.”

“Well, we can put it in a box, if you wish, and we can tie it up. How many yards?”

“But you don’t understand. I mean the kind that’s all ready in a box: and you have to take the whole thing, no matter how many yards there are. It’s in the box before you see it.”

“Oh, you mean a pattern dress—a robe dress.”

“Well, I’ve always said dress pattern, but as everything is reversed nowadays. I suppose I must any pattern dress. All right, where are your pattern dresses?”

“Six aisles over and three aisles back, on the street side.”

Buoyed up by hope, and not daring to look at his watch, John Hampton started on what he fondly hoped was his last tack.

He neared, as he followed instructions, counters piled with rich and handsome materials, and he wondered if the low~priced stuff he was in search of would be forthcoming.

“Dress patterns—in boxes?” he asked of a specially dapper floor-walker.

“Certainly, sir: right here, sir,” and a grandiloquent wave of the hand indicated Mr. Hampton’s haven at last.

A good-looking young man said pleasantly, “What material, and what color?”

“Blue,” said Mr. Hampton, sure of one detail, at least; "for a lady—short, fat, and blond.”

The obliging clerk took down several large, flat boxes. With a flourish he threw off the covers, and exposed to view daintily folded and exquisitely embroidered fabrics in varying shades of pale blue.

“Oh, Lord!” groaned John Hampton, “not that kind! I want calico, man, for the cook!”

“You want an embroidered dress pattern for your cook?”

The man’s attitude was only slightly surprised, for he well knew to what lengths fashionable people must go to retain their cooks’ services.

“I didn’t say embroidered! and I don’t want silk or satin! I want a dress pattern of blue calico for a cook in a box!”

“Is that the only way you can keep your cook—to box her?” inquired the young man, interestedly.

But John Hampton had once more sought the floor-walker.

“Will you kindly conduct me to the head of this department?” he said, in tones of deadly desperation.

“He’s—he’s in his office,” stammered the floor-walker, who had little liking for this distracted customer.

“I don’t care if he’s in his office, or in his bath, or in bed; I’m going to see him, and I’m going to see him now!”

With real determination, it is not difficult to see heads of departments, and soon John Hampton was face to face with the object of his quest.

“What can I do for you?” inquired the object, kindly.

“I want a dress pattern,” said Mr. Hampton. “Now wait a minute; by a dress pattern I mean a sufficient number of yards of cotton material to make a dress for an average~sized woman. I mean that this material, previous to my view of it, shall have been cut off, neatly folded, placed in a box that exactly fits it; the box being perhaps twelve by fifteen inches. and the whole affair to be either with or without the mere technical detail of two narrow slimpsy blue ribbons, crossed diagonally over the material. I have no hope that you will understand this description, but that is the article that I am in search of, and I wish to know where to find it in this magnificent, but so far unsatisfactory, emporium of yours.”

“Oh, those,” said the man, as, with a bored look, he turned back to his desk; “we only keep those dress patterns at Christmas-time.”

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

The author died in 1942, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.