McClure's Magazine/Volume 27/Number 2/The Sewing-Machine Story

McClure's Magazine, Volume 27, Number 2
The Sewing-Machine Story by Frank H. Spearman

from June 1906, pp. 218-224. Illustrated by George A. Shipley omitted. Mrs. Henry may have reprimanded her niece for allowing the sewing-machine salesman inside her home. But she finds it's no easy task keeping him out, herself.




SHE was a good girl, Jessie, but her aunt thought not positive enough.

"Why didn't you shut the door in his face?"

"I understood he was a friend of yours," ventured Jessie in her mild, frightened way. "He spoke so nicely about you and all."

"It's just their trick, you innocent. Of course they're nice spoken. If they weren't how do you suppose they could fool women into buying sewing-machines all the while?"

Jessie looked only grieved. "He said he used to know our people in Canada, Auntie; and he said——"

"Stuff!" snapped her aunt. "Just wait till he comes again. I know all about their instalment plan. Just the very day you miss a payment on the day it's due, in they come and take your machine. If you're downtown they break into your flat—that's what they do—I know 'em." And Mrs. Henry mashed the potatoes as if she had a sewing-machine agent in the colander. "You'll never do for this country, Jessie," she declared oracularly. The little Canadian girl looked distressed, yet helpless. She seemed to realize her deficiencies. "You will let everybody run over you, that's the trouble. There's somebody at the door now," exclaimed her aunt as the bell rang rather undecidedly. "Who is it?" she cried, opening the speaking tube.

"Is Mrs. Henry at home?"

"Yes. What do you want?" Mrs. Henry usually spoke to the point.

"I will come up if she is at home," was the answer.

"Somebody to see me," remarked Mrs. Henry, getting hurriedly from behind her apron and putting her hands up to her hair.

"I beg your pardon, I am looking for Mrs. Henry," said the man that stood at the door as she opened it.

"I'm Mrs. Henry——"

The caller started, slightly; yet it was a distinct start.

"Possibly it is your mother?" he suggested.

"She's dead twenty years."

"At least I expected, madam, to meet an elderly lady; but I am taking too much of your time," he added, stepping just within the door to make himself better heard. He coughed mildly and Mrs. Henry noticed how serious a face he had.

"I am looking," said he, "for a lady to take charge, as manager, of our publicity department, in our city salesrooms. And understanding—" something that Mrs. Henry did not understand as he said it—"I have ventured to call for an——"

"Sit down, sir."

"I come from the general agent of the Marsale Sewing-Mach——"

Mrs. Henry sprang to her feet.

"I don't want a machine," she cried violently. "I have no time to talk to you."

"Pray don't attempt it. I understand, Mrs. Henry. In getting you, in fact I was referred to you, as a lady who might be secured for the position I mention, I had no thought of offering you a machine. Be seated, Mrs. Henry; thank you. My name is Stevens," explained her caller; but his mien was on the whole mournful.

He wore spectacles, though still a young man; his eyes were almost dull, and his straight, brown hair, falling clumsily across his forehead, gave him an expression of care and uprightness.

"Are you in any degree familiar with the Marsale machine, Mrs. Henry?"

"I am not. What does your position pay?"

"It depends in a measure—only in a measure—" answered Mr. Stevens with a careworn deliberateness, "on one's familiarity with our machine. What machine do you use, Mrs. Henry?"

"My machine is a Mossback," answered Mrs. Henry, defiantly.

"And a very good machine it is," observed Mr. Stevens, promptly. "The Mossback is a very good machine, though we see but few Mossbacks now. I know I have heard my mother say she used to use one—I think before the war—but perhaps I'm taking too much of your time."

"Oh, no."

"How long did you say you had had your machine, Mrs. Henry?"

"Some little time."

"Might I look at it?"

"It isn't necessary."

"Would you consider taking a position such as the one I speak of? Or could you recommend me, Mrs. Henry, to a lady of business tact and discretion, who is posted on the Marsale machine, to fill such a position? Experience is not really necessary—beyond such as could quickly be acquired."

Mrs. Henry wiped her nose tentatively. "I don't think I should be competent to take the place—what are the nature of the duties?"

"Principally executive, Mrs. Henry; occasionally demonstrating the points of the machine to large buyers. Have you seen the late improvements on the new Marsale, Mrs. Henry? No? Indeed? Well really, is that so?" Mr. Stevens' eyes brightened in a sad way. The pleasure that he felt was in store for Mrs. Henry seemed to relieve the heaviness of his reflections. He touched very, very gently on some of the salient features of the Marsale Machine. "But, perhaps," said he in conclusion, checking his natural enthusiasm, "am I taking too much of your time?"

Mrs. Henry fidgeted a little but made no distinct protest. Taking the life, Mr. Stevens dropped with such feeling into his own intimate affairs that before she realized it Mrs. Henry was asking what his wife had died of.

"Some called it one thing, some another, but my opinion is that it was inflammation of the borealis, Mrs. Henry, though I may say I have never mentioned this to any one before. She, by the way," observed Mr. Stevens, lifting his accusing finger at Mrs. Henry, "used a Mossback before we were married. But the general agent of the Marsale was a friend of my father—oh, no, I wasn't working for the company then—he induced us to trade it in on a Marsale—that's the way I happened to connect myself with the company; he gave us a very liberal trade," concluded Mr. Stevens, with a shading on the adverb which is somewhat fine for cold type. "Were you raised in Canada, Mrs. Henry?"

"Just across the line in New York State."

"My wife's people were from Onondaga county. The Marsale machine is made not far from there. The works cover twenty acres and they turn out a machine every minute and a half, night and day."

"It must keep the agents pretty busy selling them," smiled Mrs. Henry at her own joke. Mr. Stevens brightened sympathetically.

"Indeed it does. I have always thought I should have liked the sales department. I'm not permitted to do any selling myself; no. How? I belong to the department of publicity; sorry I haven't a card with me. But machines are very cheap now. I believe the best Marsale can be had—I mean the drop-cabinet, ball-bearing, side-snap-action machine—can be had for sixty-five dollars and our people are very liberal in the matter of exchanges. Might I see your machine, Mrs. Henry?"

"I don't want any machine," declared Mrs. Henry, who felt the ground slipping the least bit and clung instinctively to her sheet-anchor.

"I venture to say, without ever looking at it, that sixty dollars and your machine would take the best Marsale our people show and of course, easy payments for the asking, Mrs. Henry."

"I don't want a machine."

"I mean—if you should."

"I don't want one now."

"The attachments are all included at sixty-five dollars. You pay absolutely nothing for extras."

"But I don't need a machine now."

"And five dollars a month——"

"I don't need one."

"Without interest."

"That's liberal enough."

"And we give you a contract which is absolutely indefeasible. It is as good as a Government bond, Mrs. Henry. Would you like to have a new Marsale sent up on trial, Mrs. Henry, in order to fam——"

"No—I don't want a new machine yet."

"We would take it away any time on the mailing of a postal and we leave the postals already addressed."

"You needn't talk. I won't take a machine on trial," declared Mrs. Henry.

Mr. Stevens adjusted his ball-bearing spectacles. "Then I hope you will consider our proposal about the position."

"You might leave your card. If I conclude to try a machine I am willing to say I would take it from you."

"Thank you very much. think I will be going now. Good afternoon," and Mr. Stevens slowly and sadly made his way out. Mrs. Henry was conscious as she returned to the dining-room of some degree of perspiration, but her niece did not appear to have heard the conversation, and at that moment her daughter Belle came in and made it easier for Mrs. Henry to discuss the machine question in a general way.

"Position, granny!" exclaimed Belle indignantly. "He's just fooling you, mother. He never intends to give you any position."

And now that he had gone it looked so to Mrs. Henry herself. In fact, she could not remember just exactly what he had said; and all during dinner she was trying to recollect just what his wife had died of.

It was not quite six weeks later that another representing the Marsale Sewing-Machine Company called to see Mrs. Henry.

"You needn't come in," piped Mrs. Henry as he made a preliminary move across the threshold. "I don't want a machine—I promised Mr. Stevens that when I wanted a new machine I would take it of him."

"Oh, well—would you——"

But Mrs. Henry with a burst of resolution shut the door in his face, and Belle and Jessie applauded.

Next morning there was a knock at the door of the Henry flat. Mrs. Henry and Belle were out. Jessie answered. Two men stood there with a sewing-machine; but not for long. As the door opened one of the men had his back half-way through it and the two set the machine inside. It was Mr. Stevens with a new Marsale.

"They offered to show me how it worked," said Jessie tearfully when Mrs. Henry and Belle came home. "I begged them not to leave it. They just would do it."

Mrs. Henry looked apoplectic. Belle stormed. Jessie, poor Jessie, cried; tears were her only weapon.

"They will be back to-morrow, they said," trembled Jessie. That night Mrs. Henry ate round steak for dinner.

In the morning, while Belle was dusting the parlor, a Marsale wagon stopped in front of the flat. Mrs. Henry, warned, met the emissary at the door. He was a pleasant, round kind of a man with a genial smile and a hair-trigger laugh. "My name is Laycock, mam."

"Take your machine right out of my house. I don't want any machine. You had no business to leave it here."

"But, madam, we were told you thought favorably of the new Marsale."

"I promised Mr. Stevens when I got ready I would buy my new machine of him."

"I understand, I understand," interposed Mr. Laycock smiling firmly. "But we are not on commission now, any of us. It doesn't make a particle of difference. Everybody about the Chicago office of the Marsale Company draws a salary—even the cat—ha! ha! ha!" and Mr. Laycock, who had a rosy smile and warm teeth, laughed heartily at Mrs. Henry, and incidentally over her shoulder at Belle and Jessie, who flanked her doubtfully.

"It doesn't make any difference."

"There I beg to differ," interposed Mr. Laycock with that sidewise twist of the head which pleasantly agrees yet firmly disagrees. "Salary has a distinct advantage over a commission basis. Oh, yes, indeed—but Mrs. Henry—would you let me see your old machine?"

"No,sir.l won't."

"Ha! ha! ha! Well, I know it's all right," declared Mr. Laycock, recovering his voice gently. "I think you said it was a Mossback. Ha! ha! ha! Yes'm. They are good machines. We make this machine sixty-five dollars, Mrs. Henry, all complete. And I am willing—yes, I will stretch a point—say ten dollars for your Mossback," burst Mr. Laycock, frankly. "It's more than I have any business to give, but my salary is fixed by contract."

"I don't intend to buy a machine and I won't do it, so you might as well take your machine right out of here."

"But my dear Mrs. Henry."

"You needn't dear me—take your machine away."

"Do you understand our system of easy payments, Mrs. Henry?"

"No, and I don't want to. Take your machine away."

"It wouldn't make a particle of difference having promised Mr. Stevens. He will get credit for the sale just the same. Say fifteen dollars for your machine, Mrs. Henry, and it brings this elegant, curly maple, extension-front-end, really swell machine—why," declared Laycock, overcome with the absurdity of his own proposal, "it brings it down to fifty dollars."

"Mama doesn't want any machine," snapped Belle, for Mrs. Henry seemed to be failing.

"But have you ever run our machine, Miss?" protested Mr. Laycock. "Don't condemn it without having seen it," he urged. "If you would let me see your old machine——"

"Not if you stay here a week," exclaimed Belle, angrily.

"Ha! ha! ha! Well, of course not. But now, Mrs. Henry, I am not going to take this machine away if you want it for next to nothing. I will make you one more proposition. Twenty dollars, Mrs. Henry, for your old machine! Without ever seeing it! It makes this cost you——"


"With your choice of saddles, Mrs. Henry——"

"But I don't want it," screamed Mrs. Henry.

"Well, I'm sorry. I certainly am sorry. It is one of our rules never to try to force a machine on anybody, Mrs. Henry. Sullivan, give me a lift here, please. Ladies, I am sorry."


"I will leave my card."

"You needn't mind."

"I don't. It's all right; take two. And, by the way, here's a postal. Come, Sullivan."

"Did you ever see such cheek in all your born days?" cried Belle, as the two men toiled down the stairs with the big machine. But of course Jessie never had, coming from Canada, and so averred.

Twice, thereafter, Mr. Stevens called. Mrs. Henry and Belle were out each time. It was poor Jessie who had to meet him. However, she reported as if in duty bound that he had expressed great indignation at the conduct of Mr. Laycock and Mr. Sullivan. He even came again—though in the absence of Mrs. Henry—this time, so Jessie reported, at the instance pf the general manager, who desired a full account of the conduct of the two salesmen who had been so offensive. But not satisfied with Jessie's imperfect recollection of the details, Mr. Stevens agreed to return for them the following Wednesday. And he did return.

Mrs. Henry, sewing at the window, looked out and saw below a wagon in front of the door. Two men were just lifting a sewing-machine out of it. One of the men was Mr. Stevens. Mrs. Henry ran in a panic for the girls.

"Lock the door. Take off your shoes," she cried. "There is the sewing-machine wagon. Keep still as mice. Maybe they'll think we've gone out."

Reduced to stocking feet the three women waited anxiously for developments. They heard together the slow, patient efforts of the men carrying up-stairs the new machine; heard them set it down with emphasis; firmly touch the bell button; and felt them waiting for an answer.

There was a second ring and a third. There was some discussion in the hall and some fear in the flat that their visitors might climb up on the machine and peer in through the diaphanous transom curtain.

Presently the beleaguered women heard steps; the men were going downstairs. They heard them knock at the door of the flat below and ask if Mrs. Henry's folks were at home; heard them come up and ask the same question at the door of the opposite flat and heard the woman quite distinctly reply, "I think they are; they were all in a few minutes ago." And the three trembled.

One of the men then went down the stairs and came up the back way. But Mrs. Henry had prepared for that, and the shade on the kitchen door was drawn. The man rapped; rapped again and hard; swore a little and descended the stairs baffled. He made his way around to the front hall. There was a further confab; there were further inquiries of the neighbors; more ringing; some profanity, together with expostulations apparently from Mr. Stevens; and—silence.

Within the flat it was growing warm; not only warm, but close. Yet no one dreamed said it was of making a sound or of getting within range of the transom window. At the expiration of half an hour there was life again in the hall; a final and despairing pull at the bell, and the machine was laboriously carried down-stairs. From behind peep-holes in the curtains three unarmed women watched the efforts of the men to get the machine into the wagon. When they had succeeded—Mrs. Henry couldn't resist—she raised the curtain.

Mr. Stevens, lifting up the machine, lifted up his sad eyes; he saw Mrs. Henry. He pushed the machine firmly over the footboard with one hand—with the other he lifted his hat and without a change of his sad face bowed to Mrs. Henry; it was as if the incident were closed.

There was rejoicing in the flat that day; it looked like a complete and final victory for Mrs. Henry. How she was really undone came weeks later in the nature of a shock.

Jessie one afternoon answered a ring at the door and presently came into Mrs. Henry's room.

"A gentleman to see you, Auntie," said she, timidly. "I told him you would be in in a minute." Jessie disappeared.

Mrs. Henry walked into the parlor; but she staggered when, sitting near the door. she saw Mr. Stevens. He rose as she entered. His spectacles had lost nothing of their sad expression and the long hair fell across his forehead in the same tearful plenty, imparting to his face its familiar innocence.

"Mrs. Henry—good morning, madam—I want to ask you——"

"Mr. Stevens, you can't sell me a sewing-machine, now or ever." Mr. Stevens looked hurt.

"It is not that which I wish to——"

"And you needn't talk any more about getting me a position, for I won't have it."

"It is not that, Mrs. Henry, which I wish to mention."

"Well, then, I suppose you have come to apologize—1 don't bear any hard feelings, Mr. Stevens."

"Thank you," paused Mr. Stevens adjusting his spectacles. "But there's another—another matter still that I wished to speak about, Mrs. Henry. It is about your niece, Miss Musgrove—Jessie. We are anxious to get married." Mrs. Henry swallowed deeply.

"We have become deeply attached to each other during the summer. She has felt that I should take the initiative. You being her nearest living guardian, we naturally look, Mrs. Henry, to you."

"I hope, auntie," it was Jessie, timorous and subdued, who spoke from the doorway, "I hope you are not displeased."

Mrs. Henry rose. Mr. Stevens adjusted his spectacles more firmly on his nose—and held mournfully on to his chair.

"Jessie Musgrove, you are a deceitful thing," snapped her auntie.

"I have never found her so, Mrs. Henry," ventured her admirer.

"I used to know Mr. Stevens in Canada, auntie."

"Then why didn't you say so instead of making a fool of me?"

"I started to tell you what he said, auntie, about knowing our folks in Canada."

"I presume it is largely my fault, Mrs, Henry—I was afraid that if I showed any attention to Jessie you might think I wanted to sell you a machine," explained Mr. Stevens.

"Oh, of course you didn't want to do that," sneered Mrs. Henry; Belle was as yet unmarried.

"No, to say the truth, I didn't, Mrs. Henry; not after my first visit with Jessie. What I was trying to do was to make you a present of a machine. In fact, I brought it up-stairs here one day and tried my best to get in with it, Mrs. Henry. In presenting the machine I thought I might make a little explanation—" and Mr. Stevens furtively wiped his eye with a silk handkerchief. "But I couldn't get in that day—so I was obliged to take the machine away again. I was sorry that I had to do it. The cartage both ways cost me seventy-five cents."

Mrs. Henry's heart was beating very fast. "Under the circumstances, I think, Jessie—" she began indignantly.

"She didn't know. It was to be a surprise," explained Mr. Stevens, regretfully. "But I've got the machine yet. I'm manager of the sales department now."

"Well, I declare, you ought to be, Mr. Stevens—you beat all I ever seen," exclaimed Mrs. Henry excitedly. "I expect," she added with reluctant candor, "I'll have to buy a machine now, pretty soon anyway."