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قراءة كتاب The She Boss: A Western Story

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The She Boss: A Western Story

The She Boss: A Western Story

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 8

hand, when I'm hob-nobbin' with the upper class I keep them guessin'. I talk kinda crude, yet what I say seems to be worth listenin' to. I go into a flash hotel or cafe and never stumble over anything, or knock the carafe off the table, or order corned-beef hash when the menu card looks like an advanced lesson in parlez vous. They take me to the circus to amuse me, and I come back at 'em with grand opera.

"So that's the way it goes, and you'll savvy more about it when you see more o' me. At present I'm goin' to take you away from Frisco and, if somethin' turns up, give you a start. I'm doin't this principally because I need your little roll to tide me over till I get a workin' stake. I'm frank about it. But I may learn to like you. You appear to be sorta bright."

Tweet pushed back his chair. "Now we'll go down to Morgan & Stroud's and get out where we c'n go to work and do somethin', and have a chance to look about and think."

Protestations died on Hiram's lips, and he dutifully rose and followed.

There was a cigar case on the cashier's counter, and Tweet leaned over it, looking down at the contents, while Hiram laid his check beside the cash register and fumbled for his pocketbook. He produced a dollar and laid it on the check, then looked about for some one to receive them. The space behind the counter was empty, but from a little inclosed portion of the window came the slow, labored clicking of typewriter keys.

"Tap the dollar on the show case," suggested Tweet.

Hiram tapped the glass.

Instantly, in the window room, the clicking keys were hushed. Hiram heard the squeak of a swivel chair. He heard the swish and caught the gleam of a white skirt. The next moment she was standing before him.

His breathing checked itself, and his knees began that sickening tattoo. He was instantly so miserable that he longed to die. Yet he faced her big eyes, brown and good-natured and smiling with recognition, and dumbly pushed the check and the dollar across the counter.

"Why, hello!" she said lightly.

"Hello," came a quavering echo.

The drawer of the cash register shot out with a metallic clang. Hiram's dollar jingled in among its kind. The girl's slim fingers were suspending a quarter to be dropped into his palm, suggesting to Hiram's abnormal mind the fear of contamination. He feebly put out his hand, and she dropped the coin.

"Thank you," she acknowledged in a light, professional tone, raising her voice on the "you."

She was turning away, when Tweet looked up from the cigars.

"Since when, Lucy?" came his rollicking voice. She turned back, smiling. "Oh, since just this morning," she replied. "The boss fired the cashier just before I went off watch last night. He said he was going to call up the employment agency and get another the first thing this morning.

"'What's the matter with giving some one here a chance?' I says. 'That's the way with you fellows,' I says. 'A girl can work her fingers off for you for years, then when the chance comes for something better, why, you telephone an employment agency and give it to a perfect stranger. You give me a pain!' I says.

"'But you ain't a cashier—you're a waitress,' he says.

"'I'm not speaking about myself in particular,' I says. 'I'm speaking about all of us who are working for you. Then,' I says, 'how do you know I can't make change? When there's an opening for better pay and easier work,' I says, 'why don't you come to us and see if any of us think we can hold it down? You know us and can trust us, and instead of giving us a look-in, you go and hire an outsider.'"

"Good stuff!" commented Tweet. "And he fell for it, did he?"

She flipped out her palms in a little gesture. "I'm here, ain't I? Waited table from seven to three last night, and came behind the counter here at five-thirty this morning. The boss'll relieve me at twelve o'clock. Guess I'll sleep some to-night!"

"Fine business! Makin' good, eh?"

"I'm not fired yet, am I?" Her white teeth flashed.

"But c'n you keep the books?"

She sniffed. "I certainly can. I haven't been a waitress all my life. These books are nothing."

Here the gigantic Hiram caught his lower lip sagging and resolutely lifted it to dignity.

"Well, I like your style," Tweet was telling her. "Tell 'em about it, every time—that's the way to get a toehold. But you're not much of a stenog, Lucy—was that you peckin' away in there?"

A shade of pink swept her face.

"I used to operate a machine a little with one finger of each hand," she explained, "but I'm all out of practice. I don't have to use a typewriter on this job though. It's an old one the boss took for a bill."

"Just practicin' up again, eh?"

"Ye-yes," she hesitated. Again her skin grew faintly pink.

"Good business! Go to it! Every little bit helps. Well, congratulations, Lucy. So long! C'm on, Hiram."

"Thanks." Lucy laughed, and went into her little room.

Hiram sighed boyishly, upset the toothpick holder at his elbow, and fled in Mr. Tweet's wake.

"Pretty nifty little kid," Tweet remarked, as Hiram joined him.

"You know her—wh-what's her name?"

Tweet turned and looked at Hiram's red face in mild surprise.

"Wh-what's wrong with you?" he queried.

"Nothin'"—sheepishly.

"Well, I'll be dog-goned if I don't believe you're gun shy on the female question!" was Tweet's conviction. "These frisky Frisco pullets goin' to your head, Hooker. A little paint and a little powder and a frowsy topknot seems to sorta touched some new funny bone in you, eh? Heavens, I remember how I fell for it years ago!"

Hiram closed his lips tight. He hated Tweet.

Tweet slapped him on the back and laughed.

"Forget it, Hiram," he advised familiarly. "It ain't like me to roast anybody when I see it hurts. Why, le's see now—I don't know the kid's name. I've heard the men call her Lucy—that's all. I been eatin' there right along—that is, up till yesterday mornin'. She seems to be popular with the fellas. Not a bad little kid, though, I take it. Got some savvy, at any rate. Ain't content with her lowly lot—and that's my kind. Oughtn't to make customers have to call her away from that typewriter, though—I don't like that. Well," he switched abruptly, "what you been thinkin' about our little deal?"

"Nothing," Hiram retorted resentfully.

They had been slowly walking down the street. Tweet stopped short and looked at him.

"That means what? That you don't care to consider it further?"

It had meant just that when Hiram said it. There was now in Tweet's question a tone of finality. Hiram felt that his reply would end the matter. Swiftly his mind grasped for a judicious rejoinder and settled on "No." He could not bring himself to part with this semblance of friendship just yet.

"All right, then," Tweet returned. "You're just not through considerin', eh? Well, I'll tell you: We'll break away and give you a chance to think. There's a man down California Street I wanta see before I leave and I'll stroll down that way. You think it over, and meet me at eleven-thirty up in that disfiguration old Squinty calls a loungin' room. So long."

He turned abruptly and strode away.

Hiram watched his erect figure and firm step till the crowd hid him, then followed more slowly in the same direction. His feet were carrying him toward the restaurant, and he was guiltily permitting them. He saw a shining drab automobile drawn up at the curb before the restaurant door. He walked slower and slower as he neared the door, paused, and looked within.

Lucy was leaning on the counter negligently collecting scattered toothpicks, and conversing laughingly with a carefully dressed middle-aged man with a handsome face and curly brown hair. His hair and Lucy's fluffy topknot were almost touching. Hiram saw him grasp playfully at Lucy's hand, saw her jerk it away with a flirtatious laugh.

Then Hiram bolted, half blind with pain.

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