A PAIR OF SILK STOCKINGS
Narrated by Bernadette Dunne
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Little Mrs. Sommers one day found herself the unexpected possessor of
fifteen dollars. It seemed to her a very large amount of money, and the
way in which it stuffed and bulged her worn old porte-monnaie gave her a
feeling of importance such as she had not enjoyed for years.
The question of investment was one that occupied her greatly. For a
day or two she walked about apparently in a dreamy state, but really
absorbed in speculation and calculation. She did not wish to act
hastily, to do anything she might afterward regret. But it was during
the still hours of the night when she lay awake revolving plans in
her mind that she seemed to see her way clearly toward a proper and
judicious use of the money.
A dollar or two should be added to the price usually paid for Janie's
shoes, which would insure their lasting an appreciable time longer than
they usually did. She would buy so and so many yards of percale for new
shirt waists for the boys and Janie and Mag. She had intended to make
the old ones do by skilful patching. Mag should have another gown.
She had seen some beautiful patterns, veritable bargains in the shop
windows. And still there would be left enough for new stockings—two
pairs apiece—and what darning that would save for a while! She would
get caps for the boys and sailor-hats for the girls. The vision of her
little brood looking fresh and dainty and new for once in their lives
excited her and made her restless and wakeful with anticipation.
The neighbors sometimes talked of certain "better days" that little Mrs.
Sommers had known before she had ever thought of being Mrs. Sommers. She
herself indulged in no such morbid retrospection. She had no time—no
second of time to devote to the past. The needs of the present absorbed
her every faculty. A vision of the future like some dim, gaunt monster
sometimes appalled her, but luckily to-morrow never comes.
Mrs. Sommers was one who knew the value of bargains; who could stand
for hours making her way inch by inch toward the desired object that was
selling below cost. She could elbow her way if need be; she had learned
to clutch a piece of goods and hold it and stick to it with persistence
and determination till her turn came to be served, no matter when it
But that day she was a little faint and tired. She had swallowed a light
luncheon—no! when she came to think of it, between getting the children
fed and the place righted, and preparing herself for the shopping bout,
she had actually forgotten to eat any luncheon at all!
She sat herself upon a revolving stool before a counter that was
comparatively deserted, trying to gather strength and courage to charge
through an eager multitude that was besieging breastworks of shirting
and figured lawn. An all-gone limp feeling had come over her and she
rested her hand aimlessly upon the counter. She wore no gloves. By
degrees she grew aware that her hand had encountered something very
soothing, very pleasant to touch. She looked down to see that her hand
lay upon a pile of silk stockings. A placard near by announced that they
had been reduced in price from two dollars and fifty cents to one dollar
and ninety-eight cents; and a young girl who stood behind the counter
asked her if she wished to examine their line of silk hosiery. She
smiled, just as if she had been asked to inspect a tiara of diamonds
with the ultimate view of purchasing it. But she went on feeling the
soft, sheeny luxurious things—with both hands now, holding them up
to see them glisten, and to feel them glide serpent-like through her
Two hectic blotches came suddenly into her pale cheeks. She looked up at
"Do you think there are any eights-and-a-half among these?"
There were any number of eights-and-a-half. In fact, there were more of
that size than any other. Here was a light-blue pair; there were some
lavender, some all black and various shades of tan and gray. Mrs.
Sommers selected a black pair and looked at them very long and closely.
She pretended to be examining their texture, which the clerk assured her
"A dollar and ninety-eight cents," she mused aloud. "Well, I'll take
this pair." She handed the girl a five-dollar bill and waited for her
change and for her parcel. What a very small parcel it was! It seemed
lost in the depths of her shabby old shopping-bag.
Mrs. Sommers after that did not move in the direction of the bargain
counter. She took the elevator, which carried her to an upper floor into
the region of the ladies' waiting-rooms. Here, in a retired corner, she
exchanged her cotton stockings for the new silk ones which she had just
bought. She was not going through any acute mental process or reasoning
with herself, nor was she striving to explain to her satisfaction the
motive of her action. She was not thinking at all. She seemed for the
time to be taking a rest from that laborious and fatiguing function and
to have abandoned herself to some mechanical impulse that directed her
actions and freed her of responsibility.
How good was the touch of the raw silk to her flesh! She felt like lying
back in the cushioned chair and reveling for a while in the luxury of
it. She did for a little while. Then she replaced her shoes, rolled the
cotton stockings together and thrust them into her bag. After doing this
she crossed straight over to the shoe department and took her seat to be
She was fastidious. The clerk could not make her out; he could not
reconcile her shoes with her stockings, and she was not too easily
pleased. She held back her skirts and turned her feet one way and her
head another way as she glanced down at the polished, pointed-tipped
boots. Her foot and ankle looked very pretty. She could not realize that
they belonged to her and were a part of herself. She wanted an excellent
and stylish fit, she told the young fellow who served her, and she did
not mind the difference of a dollar or two more in the price so long as
she got what she desired.
It was a long time since Mrs. Sommers had been fitted with gloves. On
rare occasions when she had bought a pair they were always "bargains,"
so cheap that it would have been preposterous and unreasonable to have
expected them to be fitted to the hand.
Now she rested her elbow on the cushion of the glove counter, and a
pretty, pleasant young creature, delicate and deft of touch, drew a
long-wristed "kid" over Mrs. Sommers's hand. She smoothed it down over
the wrist and buttoned it neatly, and both lost themselves for a second
or two in admiring contemplation of the little symmetrical gloved hand.
But there were other places where money might be spent.
There were books and magazines piled up in the window of a stall a few
paces down the street. Mrs. Sommers bought two high-priced magazines
such as she had been accustomed to read in the days when she had been
accustomed to other pleasant things. She carried them without wrapping.
As well as she could she lifted her skirts at the crossings. Her
stockings and boots and well fitting gloves had worked marvels in her
bearing—had given her a feeling of assurance, a sense of belonging to
the well-dressed multitude.
She was very hungry. Another time she would have stilled the cravings
for food until reaching her own home, where she would have brewed
herself a cup of tea and taken a snack of anything that was available.
But the impulse that was guiding her would not suffer her to entertain
any such thought.
There was a restaurant at the corner. She had never entered its doors;
from the outside she had sometimes caught glimpses of spotless damask
and shining crystal, and soft-stepping waiters serving people of
When she entered her appearance created no surprise, no consternation,
as she had half feared it might. She seated herself at a small table
alone, and an attentive waiter at once approached to take her order. She
did not want a profusion; she craved a nice and tasty bite—a half
dozen blue-points, a plump chop with cress, a something sweet—a
creme-frappee, for instance; a glass of Rhine wine, and after all a
small cup of black coffee.
While waiting to be served she removed her gloves very leisurely and
laid them beside her. Then she picked up a magazine and glanced through
it, cutting the pages with a blunt edge of her knife. It was all very
agreeable. The damask was even more spotless than it had seemed through
the window, and the crystal more sparkling. There were quiet ladies and
gentlemen, who did not notice her, lunching at the small tables like
her own. A soft, pleasing strain of music could be heard, and a gentle
breeze, was blowing through the window. She tasted a bite, and she read
a word or two, and she sipped the amber wine and wiggled her toes in
the silk stockings. The price of it made no difference. She counted the
money out to the waiter and left an extra coin on his tray, whereupon he
bowed before her as before a princess of royal blood.
There was still money in her purse, and her next temptation presented
itself in the shape of a matinee poster.
It was a little later when she entered the theatre, the play had begun
and the house seemed to her to be packed. But there were vacant
seats here and there, and into one of them she was ushered, between
brilliantly dressed women who had gone there to kill time and eat candy
and display their gaudy attire. There were many others who were there
solely for the play and acting. It is safe to say there was no one
present who bore quite the attitude which Mrs. Sommers did to her
surroundings. She gathered in the whole—stage and players and people in
one wide impression, and absorbed it and enjoyed it. She laughed at
the comedy and wept—she and the gaudy woman next to her wept over the
tragedy. And they talked a little together over it. And the gaudy woman
wiped her eyes and sniffled on a tiny square of filmy, perfumed lace and
passed little Mrs. Sommers her box of candy.
The play was over, the music ceased, the crowd filed out. It was like
a dream ended. People scattered in all directions. Mrs. Sommers went to
the corner and waited for the cable car.
A man with keen eyes, who sat opposite to her, seemed to like the study
of her small, pale face. It puzzled him to decipher what he saw there.
In truth, he saw nothing-unless he were wizard enough to detect a
poignant wish, a powerful longing that the cable car would never stop
anywhere, but go on and on with her forever.
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