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Personality Plus: Some Experiences of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock

Edna Ferber















  "'What is this anyway? A George Cohan comedy?'" _Frontispiece_

  "'You're a jealous blond,' he laughed"

  "He was the concentrated essence of do-it-now"

  "'Hi! Hold that pose!' called Von Herman"

  "With a jolt Jock realized she had forgotten all about him"

  "'Well, raw-thah!' he drawled"

  "... became in some miraculous way a little boy again"

  "Jock McChesney began to carry a yellow walking stick down towork"

  "'Good Lord, Mother! Of course you don't mean it, but--'"


  "She laid one hand very lightly on his arm and looked up into thesullen, angry young face"

  "He made straight for the main desk with its battalion of clerks"

  "'Let's not waste any time,' he said"

  "He found his mother on the floor ... surrounded by piles ofpajamas, socks, shirts and collars"

  "'Well, you said you wanted somebody to worry about, didn't you?'"




  When men began to build cities vertically instead of horizontallythere passed from our highways a picturesque figure, and from ourlanguage an expressive figure of speech. That oily-tongued,persuasive, soft-stepping stranger in the rusty Prince Albert andthe black string tie who had been wont to haunt our back steps andfront offices with his carefully wrapped bundle, retreated inbewildered defeat before the clanging blows of steel on steel thatmeant the erection of the first twenty-story skyscraper. "Asslick," we used to say, "as a lightning-rod agent." Of what usehis wares on a building whose tower was robed in clouds and whichused the chain lightning for a necklace? The Fourth Avenue antiquedealer had another curio to add to his collection of andirons,knockers, snuff boxes and warming pans.

  But even as this quaint figure vanished there sprang up a new andglittering one to take his place. He stood framed in the greatplate-glass window of the very building which had brought aboutthe defeat of his predecessor. A miracle of close shaving his facewas, and a marvel of immaculateness his linen. Dapper he was, anddressy, albeit inclined to glittering effects and a certainplethory at the back of the neck. Back of him stood shining shapesthat reflected his glory in enamel, and brass, and glass. Hislanguage was floral, but choice; his talk was of gearings andbearings and cylinders and magnetos; his method differed from thatof him who went before as the method of a skilled aeronaut differsfrom that of the man who goes over Niagara in a barrel. And as hemultiplied and spread over the land we coined a new figure ofspeech. "Smooth!" we chuckled. "As smooth as an automobilesalesman."

  But even as we listened, fascinated by his fluent verbiage theregrew within us a certain resentment. Familiarity with hisglittering wares bred a contempt of them, so that he fell tospeaking of them as necessities instead of luxuries. He juggledfigures, and thought nothing of four of them in a row. We lookedat our five-thousand-dollar salary, so strangely shrunken and thinnow, and even as we looked we saw that the method of the unctuous,anxious stranger had become antiquated in its turn.

  Then from his ashes emerged a new being. Neither urger norspellbinder he. The twentieth century was stamped across his brow,and on his lips was ever the word "Service." Silent, courteous,watchful, alert, he listened, while you talked. His method, inturn, made that of the silk-lined salesman sound like the hoarsehoots of the ballyhoo man at a county fair. Blithely he acceptedfive hundred thousand dollars and gave in return--a promise. Andwhen we would search our soul for a synonym to express all thatwas low-voiced, and suave, and judicious, and patient, and sure,we began to say, "As alert as an advertising expert."

  Jock McChesney, looking as fresh and clear-eyed as only twenty-oneand a cold shower can make one look, stood in the doorway of hismother's bedroom. His toilette had halted abruptly at thebathrobe stage. One of those bulky garments swathed his slimfigure, while over his left arm hung a gray tweed Norfolk coat.From his right hand dangled a pair of trousers, in pattern amodish black-and-white.

  Jock regarded the gray garment on his arm with moody eyes.

  "Well, I'd like to know what's the matter with it!" he demanded, atrifle irritably.

  Emma McChesney, in the act of surveying her back hair in themirror, paused, hand glass poised half way, to regard her son.

  "All right," she answered cheerfully. "I'll tell you. It's tooyoung."

  "Young!" He held it at arm's length and stared at it. "What d'youmean--young?"

  Emma McChesney came forward, wrapping the folds of her kimonoabout her. She took the disputed garment in one hand and held italoft. "I know that you look like a man on a magazine cover in it.But Norfolk suits spell tennis, and seashore, and elegant leisure.And you're going out this morning, Son, to interview business men.You're going to try to impress the advertising world with the factthat it needs your expert services. You walk into a businessoffice in a Norfolk suit, and everybody from the office boy to thepresident of the company will ask you what your score is."

  She tossed it back over his arm.

  "I'll wear the black and white," said Jock resignedly, and turnedtoward his own room. At his doorway he paused and raised his voiceslightly: "For that matter, they're looking for young men.Everybody's young. Why, the biggest men in the advertising gameare just kids." He disappeared within his room, still talking."Look at McQuirk, advertising manager of the Combs Car Company.He's so young he has to disguise himself in bone-trimmedeye-glasses with a black ribbon to get away with it. Look atHopper, of the Berg, Shriner Company. Pulls down ninety thousand ayear, and if he's thirty-five I'll--"

  "Well, you asked my advice," interrupted his mother's voice withthat muffled effect which is caused by a skirt being slipped overthe head, "and I gave it. Wear a white duck sailor suit with blueanchors and carry a red tin pail and a shovel, if you want to lookyoung. Only get into it in a jiffy, Son, because breakfast will beready in ten minutes. I can tell by the way Annie's crashing thecups. So step lively if you want to pay your lovely mother'ssubway fare."

  Ten minutes later the slim young figure, in its English-fittingblack and white, sat opposite Emma McChesney at the breakfasttable and between excited gulps of coffee outlined a meteoriccareer in his chosen field. And the more he talked and the rosierhis figures of speech became, the more silent and thoughtful fellhis mother. She wondered if five o'clock would find a droop to theset of those young shoulders; if the springy young legs in theirabsurdly scant modish trousers would have lost some of theirelasticity; if the buoyant step in the flat-heeled shoes would notdrag a little. Thirteen years of business experience had taughther to swallow smilingly the bitter pill of rebuff. But this boywas to experience his first dose to-day. She felt again thatsensation of almost physical nausea--that sickness of heart andspirit which had come over her when she had met her first sneerand intolerant shrug. It had been her maiden trip on the road forthe T.A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company. She was secretary ofthat company now, and moving spirit in
its policy. But the woundof that first insult still ached. A word from her would haveplaced the boy and saved him from curt refusals. She withheld thatword. He must fight his fight alone.

  "I want to write the kind of ad," Jock was saying excitedly, "thatyou see 'em staring at in the subways, and street cars andL-trains. I want to sit across the aisle and watch their up-turnedfaces staring at that oblong, and reading it aloud to each other."

  "Isn't that an awfully obvious necktie you're wearing, Jock?"inquired his mother irrelevantly.

  "This? You ought to see some of them. This is a Quaker stock incomparison." He glanced down complacently at the vivid-hued silkenscarf that the season's mode demanded. Immediately he was offagain. "And the first thing you know, Mrs. McChesney, ma'am, we'llhave a motor truck backing up at the door once a month and sixstrong men carrying my salary to the freight elevator in sacks."

  Emma McChesney buttered her bit of toast, then looked up to remarkquietly:

  "Hadn't you better qualify for the trial heats, Jock, before youjump into the finals?"

  "Trial heats!" sneered Jock. "They're poky. I want real money.Now! It isn't enough to be just well-to-do in these days. It needsmoney. I want to be rich! Not just prosperous, but rich! So richthat I can let the bath soap float around in the water without anypricks of conscience. So successful that they'll say, 'And he's amere boy, too. Imagine!'"

  And, "Jock dear," Emma McChesney said, "you've still to learn thatplans and ambitions are like soap bubbles. The harder you blow andthe more you inflate them, the quicker they burst. Plans andambitions are things to be kept locked away in your heart, Son,with no one but yourself to take an occasional peep at them."

  Jock leaned over the table, with his charming smile. "You're ajealous blonde," he laughed. "Because I'm going to be a captain offinance--an advertising wizard; you're afraid I'll grab the gloryall away from you."

  "'You're a jealous blond,' he said"]

  Mrs. McChesney folded her napkin and rose. She looked unbelievablyyoung, and trim, and radiant, to be the mother of this boastingboy.

  "I'm not afraid," she drawled, a wicked little glint in her blueeyes. "You see, they'll only regard your feats and say, 'H'm, nowonder. He ought to be able to sell ice to an Eskimo. His motherwas Emma McChesney.'"

  And then, being a modern mother, she donned smart autumn hat andtailored suit coat and stood ready to reach her office bynine-thirty. But because she was as motherly as she was modern sheswung open the door between kitchen and dining-room to advise withAnnie, the adept.

  "Lamb chops to-night, eh, Annie? And sweet potatoes. Jock loves'em. And corn au gratin and some head lettuce." She glanced towardJock in the hallway, then lowered her voice. "Annie," she teased,"just give us one of your peach cobblers, will you? You seehe--he's going to be awfully--tired when he gets home."

  So they went stepping off to work together, mother and son. Amother of twenty-five years before would have watched her sonwith tear-dimmed eyes from the vine-wreathed porch of a cottage.There was no watching a son from the tenth floor of an up-townapartment house. Besides, she had her work to do. The subwayswallowed both of them. Together they jostled and swung their waydown-town in the close packed train. At the Twenty-third Streetstation Jock left her.

  "You'll have dinner to-night with a full-fledged professionalgent," he bragged, in his youth and exuberance and was off downthe aisle and out on the platform. Emma McChesney managed to turnin her nine-inch space of train seat so that she watched the slim,buoyant young figure from the window until the train drew away andhe was lost in the stairway jam. Just so Rachel had watched theboy Joseph go to meet the Persian caravans in the desert.

  "Don't let them buffalo you, Jock," Emma had said, just before heleft her. "They'll try it. If they give you a broom and tell youto sweep down the back stairs, take it, and sweep, and don'tforget the corners. And if, while you're sweeping, you notice thatthat kind of broom isn't suited to the stairs go in and suggest anew kind. They'll like it."

  Brooms and back stairways had no place in Jock McChesney's mind asthe mahogany and gold elevator shot him up to the fourteenth floorof the great office building that housed the Berg, ShrinerCompany. Down the marble hallway he went and into the receptionroom. A cruel test it was, that reception room, with the crueltypeculiar to the modern in business. With its soft-shaded lamp, itstwo-toned rug, its Jacobean chairs, its magazine-laden cathedraloak table, its pot of bright flowers making a smart touch of colorin the somber richness of the room, it was no place for theshabby, the down-and-out, the cringing, the rusty, or themendicant.

  Jock McChesney, from the tips of his twelve-dollar shoes to hisradiant face, took the test and stood it triumphantly. He hadentered with an air in which was mingled the briskness ofassurance with the languor of ease. There were times when JockMcChesney was every inch the son of his mother.

  There advanced toward Jock a large, plump, dignified personage, apersonage courteous, yet reserved, inquiring, yet not offensivelycurious--a very Machiavelli of reception-room ushers. Even whilehis lips questioned, his eyes appraised clothes, character,conduct.

  "Mr. Hupp, please," said Jock, serene in the perfection of hisshirt, tie, collar and scarf pin, upon which the appraising eyenow rested. "Mr. McChesney." He produced a card.


  "No--but he'll see me."

  But Machiavelli had seen too many overconfident callers. Theirvery confidence had taught him caution.

  "If you will please state your--ah--business--"

  Jock smiled a little patient smile and brushed an imaginary fleckof dust from the sleeve of his very correct coat.

  "I want to ask him for a job as office boy," he jibed.

  An answering grin overspread the fat features of the usher. Evenan usher likes his little joke. The sense of humor dies hard.

  "I have a letter from him, asking me to call," said Jock, toclinch it.

  "This way." The keeper of the door led Jock toward the sacredinner portal and held it open. "Mr. Hupp's is the last door to theright."

  The door closed behind him. Jock found himself in the big, busy,light-flooded central office. Down either side of the great roomran a row of tiny private offices, each partitioned off, eachoutfitted with desk, and chairs, and a big, bright window. On hisway to the last door at the right Jock glanced into each tinyoffice, glimpsing busy men bent absorbedly over papers, girls busywith dictation, here and there a door revealing two men, or three,deep in discussion of a problem, heads close together, voiceslow, faces earnest. It came suddenly to the smartly modish,overconfident boy walking the length of the long room thatthe last person needed in this marvelously perfected andsmooth-running organization was a somewhat awed young man namedJock McChesney. There came to him that strange sensation whichcomes to every job-hunter; that feeling of having his spirituallegs carry him out of the room, past the door, down the hall andinto the street, even as, in reality, they bore him on to the verypresence which he dreaded and yet wished to see.

  Two steps more, and he stood in the last doorway, right. Nomatinee idol, nervously awaiting his cue in the wings, could haveplanned his entrance more carefully than Jock had planned this.Ease was the thing; ease, bordering on nonchalance, mixed with abrisk and businesslike assurance.

  The entrance was lost on the man at the desk. He did not even lookup. If Jock had entered on all-fours, doing a double tango tovocal accompaniment, it is doubtful if the man at the desk wouldhave looked up. Pencil between his fingers, head held a trifle toone side in critical contemplation of the work before him, eyesnarrowed judicially, lips pursed, he was the concentrated essenceof do-it-now.

  "He was the concentrated essence of do-it-now"]

  Jock waited a moment, in silence. The man at the desk worked on.His head was semi-bald. Jock knew him to be thirty. Jock fixed hiseye on the semi-bald spot and spoke.

  "My name's McChesney," he began. "I wrote you three days ago; youprobably will remember. You replied, asking me to call, and I--"

p; "Minute," exploded the man at the desk, still absorbed.

  Jock faltered, stopped. The man at the desk did not look up. Amoment of silence, except for the sound of the busy penciltraveling across the paper. Jock, glaring at the semi-bald spot,spoke again.

  "Of course, Mr. Hupp, if you're too busy to see me--"

  "M-m-m-m," a preoccupied hum, such as a busy man makes when he istrying to give attention to two interests.

  "--why I suppose there's no sense in staying; but it seems to methat common courtesy--"

  The busy pencil paused, quivered in the making of a final period,enclosed the dot in a proofreader's circle, and rolled away acrossthe desk, its work done.

  "Now," said Sam Hupp, and swung around, smiling, to face theaffronted Jock. "I had to get that out. They're waiting for it."He pressed a desk button. "What can I do for you? Sit down, sitdown."

  There was a certain abrupt geniality about him. Histortoise-rimmed glasses gave him an oddly owlish look, like asmall boy taking liberties with grandfather's spectacles.

  Jock found himself sitting down, his anger slipping from him.

  "My name's McChesney," he began. "I'm here because I want to workfor this concern." He braced himself to present the convincing,reason-why arguments with which he had prepared himself.

  Whereupon Sam Hupp, the brisk, proceeded to whisk his breath andarguments away with an unexpected:

  "All right. What do you want to do?"

  Jock's mouth fell open. "Do!" he stammered. "Do! Why--anything--"

  Sam Hupp's quick eye swept over the slim, attractive, radiant,correctly-garbed young figure before him. Unconsciously he rubbedhis bald spot with a rueful hand.

  "Know anything about writing, or advertising?"

  Jock was at ease immediately. "Quite a lot; yes. I practicallyrewrote the Gridiron play that we gave last year, and I wasassistant advertising manager of the college publications fortwo years. That gives a fellow a pretty broad knowledge ofadvertising."

  "Oh, Lord!" groaned Sam Hupp, and covered his eyes with his hand,as if in pain.

  Jock stared. The affronted feeling was returning. Sam Hupprecovered himself and smiled a little wistfully.

  "McChesney, when I came up here twelve years ago I got a job asreception-room usher. A reception-room usher is an office boy inlong pants. Sometimes, when I'm optimistic, I think that if I livetwelve years longer I'll begin to know something about therudiments of this game."

  "Oh, of course," began Jock, apologetically. But Hupp's glance wasover his head. Involuntarily Jock turned to follow the directionof his eyes.

  "Busy?" said a voice from the doorway.

  "Come in, Dutch! Come in!" boomed Hupp.

  The man who entered was of the sort that the boldest might wellhesitate to address as "Dutch"--a tall, slim, elegant figure,Van-dyked, bronzed.

  "McChesney, this is Von Herman, head of our art department."

  Their hands met in a brief clasp. Von Herman's thoughts wereevidently elsewhere.

  "Just wanted to tell you that that cussed model's skipped out.Gone with a show. Just when I had the whole series blocked out inmy mind. He was a wonder. No brains, but a marvel for looks andstyle. These people want real stuff. Don't know how I'm going togive it to them now."

  Hupp sat up. "Got to!" he snapped. "Campaign's late, as it is.Can't you get an ordinary man model and fake the Greek godbeauty?"

  "Yes--but it'll look faked. If I could lay my hands on a chap whocould wear clothes as if they belonged to him--"

  Hupp rose. "Here's your man," he cried, with a snap of hisfingers. "Clothes! Look at him. He invented 'em. Why, you couldphotograph him and he'd look like a drawing."

  Von Herman turned, surprised, incredulous, hopeful, his artist eyebrightening at the ease and grace and modishness of the smart,well-knit figure before him.

  "Me!" exploded Jock, his face suffused with a dull, painful red."Me! Pose! For a clothing ad!"

  "Well," Hupp reminded him, "you said you'd do anything."

  Jock McChesney glared belligerently. Hupp returned the stare witha faint gleam of amusement shining behind the absurd glasses. Theamused look changed to surprise as he beheld the glare in Jock'seyes fading. For even as he glared there had come a warning toJock--a warning sent just in time from that wireless stationlocated in his subconscious mind. A vivid face, full of pride, andhope, and encouragement flashed before him.

  "Jock," it said, "don't let 'em buffalo you. They'll try it. Ifthey give you a broom and tell you to sweep down the backstairs--"

  Jock was smiling his charming, boyish smile.

  "Lead me to your north light," he laughed at Von Herman. "Got anyRobert W. Chambers's heroines tucked away there?"

  Hupp's broad hand came down on his shoulder with a thwack. "That'sthe spirit, McChesney! That's the--" He stopped, abruptly. "Say,are you related to Mrs. Emma McChesney, of the Featherloom SkirtCompany?"

  "Slightly. She's my one and only mother."

  "She--you mean--her son! Well I'll be darned!" He held out hishand to Jock. "If you're a real son of your mother I wish you'djust call the office boy as you step down the hall with Von Hermanand tell him to bring me a hammer and a couple of spikes. I'dbetter nail down my desk."

  "I'll promise not to crowd you for a year or two," grinned Jockfrom the doorway, and was off with the pleased Von Herman.

  Past the double row of beehives again, into the elevator, outagain, up a narrow iron stairway, into a busy, cluttered,skylighted room. Pictures, posters, photographs hung all about.Some of the pictures Jock recognized as old friends that had gazedfamiliarly at him from subway trains and street cars and theaterprogrammes. Golf clubs, tennis rackets, walking sticks, billiardcues were stacked up in corners. And yet there was a bare andorderly look about the place. Two silent, shirt-sleeved men werebusy at drawing boards. Through a doorway beyond Jock could seeothers similarly engaged in the next room. On a platform in onecorner of the room posed a young man in one of those costumes thecoat of which is a mongrel mixture of cutaway and sack. You seethem worn by clergymen with unsecular ideas in dress, and by theleader of the counterfeiters' gang in the moving pictures. Thepose was that met with in the backs of magazines--the head lifted,eyes fixed on an interesting object unseen, one arm crooked tohold a cane, one foot advanced, the other trailing slightly togive a Fifth Avenue four o'clock air. His face was expressionless.On his head was a sadly unironed silk hat.

  Von Herman glanced at the drawing tacked to the board of one ofthe men. "That'll do, Flynn," he said to the model. He glancedagain at the drawing. "Bring out the hat a little more, Mack. Theywon't burnish it if you don't,"--to the artist. Then, turningabout, "Where's that girl?"

  From a far corner, sheltered by long green curtains, stepped agraceful almost childishly slim figure in a bronze-green Norfolksuit and close-fitting hat from beneath which curled a fluff ofbright golden hair. Von Herman stared at her.

  "You're not the girl," he said. "You won't do."

  "You sent for me," retorted the girl. "I'm Miss Michelin--GeldaMichelin. I posed for you six months ago, but I've been out oftown with the show since then."

  Von Herman, frowning, opened a table drawer, pulled out a cardindex, ran his long fingers through it and extracted a card. Heglanced at it, and then, the frown deepening, read it aloud.

  "'Michelin, Gelda. Telephone Bryant 4759. Brunette. Medium build.Good neck and eyes. Good figure. Good clothes.'"

  He glanced up. "Well?"

  "That's me," said Miss Michelin calmly. "I've got the sametelephone number and eyes and neck and clothes. Of course my hairis different and I am thinner, but that's business. I'd like toknow what chance a fat girl would have in the chorus these days."

  Von Herman groaned. "I'll pay you for the time you've waited andfor your trouble. Can't use you for these pictures." Then as sheleft he turned a comically despairing face to the two men at thedrawing boards. "What are we going to do? We've got to make astart on these pictures and everything has gone wrong. They wantsomething sp
ecial. Two figures, young man and woman. Saidexpressly they didn't want a chicken. No romping curls and none ofthat eyes and lips fool-girl stuff. This chap's ideal for theman." He pointed to Jock.

  Jock had been staring, fascinated, at the shaded, zigzag markswhich the artist--dark-skinned, velvet-eyed, foreign-lookingyouth--was making on the sheet of paper before him. He hadscarcely glanced up during the entire scene. Now he looked brieflyand coolly at Jock.

  "Where did you get him?" he asked, with the precise enunciation ofthe foreign-born. "Good figure. And he wears his clothes not likea cab driver, as the others do."

  "Thanks," drawled Jock, flushing a little. Then, boyish curiositygetting the better of him, "Say, tell me, what in the world areyou doing to that drawing?"

  He of the velvety eyes smiled a twisted little smile. His slimbrown fingers never stopped in their work of guiding the pen inits zigzag path.

  "It is work," he sneered, "to delight the soul of an artist. I amnow engaged in the pleasing task of putting the bones in aherringbone suit."

  But Jock did not smile. Here was another man, he thought, who hadbeen given a broom and told to sweep down the stairway.

  Von Herman was regarding him almost wistfully. "I hate to let youslip," he said. Then, his face brightening, "By Jove! I wonder ifMiss Galt would pose for us if we told her what a fix we were in."

  He picked up the telephone receiver. "Miss Galt, please," he said.Then, aside, "Of course it's nerve to ask a girl who's earningthree thousand a year to leave her desk and come up and posefor--Hello! Miss Galt?"

  Jock, seated on the edge of the models' platform, was beginning toenjoy himself. Even this end of the advertising business had itsinteresting side, he thought. Ten minutes later he knew it had.

  Ten minutes later there appeared Miss Galt. Jock left offswinging his legs from the platform and stood up. Miss Galt wasthat kind of girl. Smooth black hair parted and coiled low as onlyan exquisitely shaped head can dare to wear its glory-crown. Aface whose expression was sweetly serious in spite of its youth. Agirl whose clothes were the sort of clothes that girls ought towear in offices, and don't.

  "This is mighty good of you, Miss Galt," began Von Herman. "It'sthe Kool Komfort Klothes Company's summer campaign stuff. We'llonly need you for an hour or so--to get the expression and generaloutline. Poster stuff, really. Then this young man will pose forthe summer union suit pictures."

  "Don't apologize," said Miss Galt. "We had a hard enough time toget that Kool Komfort account. We don't want to start wrong withthe pictures. Besides, I think posing's real fun."

  Jock thought so too, quite suddenly. Just as suddenly Von Hermanremembered the conventions and introduced them.

  "McChesney?" repeated Miss Galt, crisply. "I know a Mrs.McChesney, of the T.A. Buck--"

  "My mother," proudly.

  "Your mother! Then why--" She stopped.

  "Because," said Jock, "I'm the rawest rooky in the Berg, ShrinerCompany. And when I begin to realize what I don't know aboutadvertising I'll probably want to plunge off the Palisades."

  Miss Galt smiled up at him, her clear, frank eyes meeting his.

  "You'll win," she said.

  "Even if I lose--I win now," said Jock, suddenly audacious.

  "Hi! Hold that pose!" called Von Herman, happily.

  "'Hi! Hold that pose!' called Von Herman"]