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So that sunny little room whose door was marked "MRS. BUCK" had come to be more than a mere private office for the transaction of business. It was a clearing-house for trouble; it was a shrine, a confessional, and a court of justice. When Carmela Colarossi, her face swollen with weeping, told a story of parental harshness grown unbearable, Emma would put aside business to listen, and six o'clock would find her seated in the dark and smelly Colarossi kitchen, trying, with all her tact and patience and sympathy, to make home life possible again for the flashing-eyed Carmela. When the deft, brown fingers of Otti Markis became clumsy at her machine, and her wage slumped unaccountably from sixteen to six dollars a week, it was in Emma's quiet little office that it became clear why Otti's eyes were shadowed and why Otti's mouth drooped so pathetically. Emma prescribed a love philter made up of common sense, understanding, and world- wisdom. Otti took it, only half comprehending, but sure of its power. In a week, Otti's eyes were shadowless, her lips smiling, her pay-envelope bulging. But it was in Sophy Kumpf that the T. A. Buck Company best exemplified its policy. Sophy Kumpf had come to Buck's thirty years before, slim, pink-cheeked, brown- haired. She was a grandmother now, at forty-six, broad-bosomed, broad-hipped, but still pink of cheek and brown of hair. In those thirty years she had spent just three away from Buck's. She had brought her children into the world; she had fed them and clothed them and sent them to school, had Sophy, and seen them married, and helped them to bring their children into the world in turn. In her round, red, wholesome face shone a great wisdom, much love, and that infinite understanding which is born only of bitter experience. She had come to Buck's when old T. A. was just beginning to make Featherlooms a national institution. She had seen his struggles, his prosperity; she had grieved at his death; she had watched young T. A. take the reins in his unaccustomed hands, and she had gloried in Emma McChesney's rise from office to salesroom, from salesroom to road, from road to private office and recognized authority. Sophy had left her early work far behind. She had her own desk now in the busy workshop, and it was she who allotted the piece-work, marked it in her much-thumbed ledger--that powerful ledger which, at the week's end, decided just how plump or thin each pay-envelope would be. So the shop and office at T. A. Buck's were bound together by many ties of affection and sympathy and loyalty; and these bonds were strongest where, at one end, they touched Emma McChesney Buck, and, at the other, faithful Sophy Kumpf. Each a triumphant example of Woman in Business.
It was at this comfortable stage of Featherloom affairs that the Movement struck the T. A. Buck Company. Emma McChesney Buck had never mingled much in movements. Not that she lacked sympathy with them; she often approved of them, heart and soul. But she had been heard to say that the Movers got on her nerves. Those well-dressed, glib, staccato ladies who spoke with such ease from platforms and whose pictures stared out at one from the woman's page failed, somehow, to convince her. When Emma approved a new movement, it was generally in spite of them, never because of them. She was brazenly unapologetic when she said that she would rather listen to ten minutes of Sophy Kumpf's world-wisdom than to an hour's talk by the most magnetic and silken-clad spellbinder in any cause. For fifteen business years, in the office, on the road, and in the thriving workshop, Emma McChesney had met working women galore. Women in offices, women in stores, women in hotels--chamber-maids, clerks, buyers, waitresses, actresses in road companies, women demonstrators, occasional traveling saleswomen, women in factories, scrubwomen, stenographers, models--every grade, type and variety of working woman, trained and untrained. She never missed a chance to talk with them. She never failed to learn from them. She had been one of them, and still was. She was in the position of one who is on the inside, looking out. Those other women urging this cause or that were on the outside, striving to peer in.
The Movement struck T. A. Buck's at eleven o'clock Monday morning. Eleven o'clock Monday morning in the middle of a busy fall season is not a propitious moment for idle chit-chat. The three women who stepped out of the lift at the Buck Company's floor looked very much out of place in that hummingly busy establishment and appeared, on the surface, at least, very chit-chatty indeed. So much so, that T. A. Buck, glancing up from the cards which had preceded them, had difficulty in repressing a frown of annoyance. T. A. Buck, during his college-days, and for a lamentably long time after, had been known as "Beau" Buck, because of his faultless clothes and his charming manner. His eyes had something to do with it, too, no doubt. He had lived down the title by sheer force of business ability. No one thought of using the nickname now, though the clothes, the manner, and the eyes were the same. At the entrance of the three women, he had been engrossed in the difficult task of selling a fall line to Mannie Nussbaum, of Portland, Oregon. Mannie was what is known as a temperamental buyer. He couldn't be forced; he couldn't be coaxed; he couldn't be led. But when he liked a line he bought like mad, never cancelled, and T. A. Buck had just got him going. It spoke volumes for his self- control that he could advance toward the waiting three, his manner correct, his expression bland.
"I am Mr. Buck," he said. "Mrs. Buck is very much engaged. I understand your visit has something to do with the girls in the shop. I'm sure our manager will be able to answer any questions----"
The eldest women raised a protesting, white-gloved hand.
"Oh, no--no, indeed! We must see Mrs. Buck." She spoke in the crisp, decisive platform-tones of one who is often addressed as "Madam Chairman."
Buck took a firmer grip on his self-control.
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Ferber's Short Stories Vol. 2 -by- Edna Ferber