Too Many Runs
by Ellis Parker Butler
Mayme Dwyer, every bit as much a human being as the most fashionable woman in town, came running down from her bedroom to meet Ed Connors, room foreman at Mill No. 7 of the Superba Hosiery Company. She paused an instant in the doorway to let Ed have an eyeful of Mayme, and then gave him a good honest kiss, after which she immediately got her compact and lipstick and touched up her mouth again.
"But girl, girl!" Ed Connors exclaimed admiringly. "I'll say those Eight Four Three Fives look classy on your pins, Mayme. You're the sheik's dream, kid."
"Yeah?" Mayme said, pleased by his praise. "You've got a fine line of applesauce, Eddie, and I swallow it like a dumbbell, but I don't look so terrible, do I? If I had a decent face I wouldn't be so bad, would I, Eddie?"
"Here! Don't knock that face, kid," Eddie ordered. "I like that face. But, boy! Those pins! I'll say those Eight Four Three Fives have the looks, anyway; they look like a million dollars on you, Mayme."
"A dollar and a half, Ed." Mayme said. "Pity the poor working girl! I hope they don't go back on me the way them one-dollar Superbas did. Come on; are we going, or are we going to jaw here all night?"
She was chewing gum violently, as she always did, her jaws champing up and down, one champ to a heartbeat, as if her jaws were a metronome indicating her tempo. Her face was small, she was little and dark -- "pony size," Ed called her -- and her straight hard little mouth and seeking black eyes gave her a rather vicious look that was not just to Mayme Dwyer. She looked too keen, but she was only keen for making life give her the best it could give, and no doubt that is what we all should be keen for.
Mayme's red felt pill-box perched rakishly on the side of her head and made her face seem smaller and uglier than it was, and she had done her best to increase her frightfulness by giving her face a ghastly white, touched up with weird red spots high on her cheeks. Only at the very middle of her mouth had she used her lipstick, making a vivid little "kiss mouth" there, leaving the wide ends of her mouth aif naturel but completely apparent.
The white she had given her face did not intrude on the back of her neck or behind her ears, thus giving her naturally beautiful olive skin there a false appearance of being a stranger to soap and water, but Mayme, having done everything possible to make herself ugly from the neck up, was satisfied; she was in style. She knew she looked right.
Mayme's dress was not so long that it hid the fact that her understandings were worth a glance from anyone. Mayme was not ashamed to have her legs seen. She knew she had classy ankles and calves; her face might get by as long as it was made up, but she had two legs any motion-picture star might have been proud to own, and she dressed them accordingly. You have to make the best of what you have, in this world, even if the high cost of silk stockings cuts your lunch to a glass of milk and a few breaths of air.
"There was a fellow in the mill today," Ed said as they walked toward downtown. "He was talking to me. One of the guys on the directors' board; a guy named Bruce."
"Did you ask him for a raise, Ed?" Mayme asked eagerly.
"I did not! Directors don't have anything to do with raises. Danner has all that sort of thing -- superintendent of production, down at 276. He'll look out for me, Mayme, when he gets a chance; he said so. I'm next in line for a mill foremanship."
"You were next in line when they put Benchman in there," Mayme said. "It don't get you anywhere to be next in line if they always shove somebody in ahead of you, Ed. What did this fellow say?"
"This Bruce fellow this morning? He was just nosing around, wanting to know. He knew my name, anyway."
"You ought to have struck him for a raise, Ed," Mayme said. "You've got to keep asking."
"No good to ask him," Ed replied. "Danner is the man, and Danner has got to do what the big boss says -- Pelham. I got up the nerve to brave Pelham himself the last time he came to the mill, and he said he had me in mind."
They had reached a crossing and a huge glistening car, brilliant as a gunman's dream of wealth, rolled by close to the curb, and one of its fat tires sent a squizzle of muddy water shooting from a puddle onto the brand-new seaside-flesh silk stocking on Mayme's left leg.
"Say, you great big goof, you!" Mayme cried after the car, but it was already rods up the street. Neither the chauffeur nor the two men in the car heard her, and Ed, who had been watching the traffic-control light, turned to her with a grin.
"Who's the big goof now?" he asked teasingly.
In the big car, one of the passengers was a fat man. He was too fat. He was so fat that he seemed to be a huge mass of semi-liquid flesh precariously enclosed in skin, and rather perilously supported by some inadequate inner frame. When the car dipped to a depression in the road he quivered, and there seemed to be danger that if he was actually joggled he might burst and spill on the floor of the car.
"And issue $800,000 additional Superba common stock, with $500,000 of which we will retire all the seven per cent bonds," the fat man was saying, "offering a dollar in stock for each dollar in bonds. With the bonds at 102 and the stock at 101, that will look good to the board."
"And, you and I owning most of the bonds, it won't be so bad for us, Sam," the thin man in the car said. "You'll put up the price of the stock, I suppose?"
"I've been holding it down," the fat man said. "It will go up to 120, and maybe to 125 after Tuesday's board meeting re-elects me and I give out a statement."
"And a nice little private melon-cutting for you and me," the thin man said. "You handled the stockholders' meeting today cleverly, Sam; I was afraid Jim Bruce might try to make trouble."
"I had the proxies," Sam Pelham chuckled. "The easiest way was to re-elect the whole board. I might have thrown Bruce off the board, but we don't want any fights just now. We'll make some money this year, Trent."
"The company?" Harley Trent asked, but he grinned.
"You and I," Pelham said seriously. "I'm going to crowd our production to the limit, cut our costs everywhere, and show profits. You and I will get ours while the getting is good, Harley. I'll have the stock selling at 180 before this time next year. We can buy it in friend or family names, to get around the rules."
Harley Trent said nothing to this. He was not a hosiery man, he was a moneymaker, and it meant nothing to him that Pelham's policy meant the ruination of Superba's long-sustained reputation for quality.
"You'll be on hand at Tuesday's board meeting?" Pelham asked.
"You don't look for trouble?" Trent asked quickly.
"When I manage things there is never trouble," Pelham laughed, shaking so that even the big car shook. "I'll be elected president and general manager but I want you to propose the new stock issue."
"I'll be there, Sam," Trent said, and Pelham put him down at the door of the Ultimate Club. Pelham leaned back comfortably in the car's seat and lighted a fat and fragrant cigar. He had nothing to complain of.
But Mayme Dwyer had. The car might have splashed mud on her face and she would have repaired the damage in a minute with powder, rouge and lipstick, but mud polka dots are on a stocking to stay until the wash, and a silk stocking is never quite the same after the doing needed to take out street-mud stains. Ed put his hand under her elbow, but she drew her arm away.
"Oh, forget it!" she said crossly. "I don't have to be carried across the street. What do we have to cross for, anyway?"
"I thought we'd take in the show at Leitmann's Palace," Ed said. "They've got Deane Darnton in 'Fatal Wives,' kid. You're crazy about Deane Darnton, ain't you?"
"Oh, for cat's sake!" Mayme cried disgustedly. "Leitmann's Palace again. You can't take me anywhere but to a bum joint on a lousy street."
"Hey, now; what's the matter with the kid?" Ed asked. "What's bit you all of a sudden, Mayme? You didn't kick about Leitmann's the last time we went there."
"All you can do for a girl!" Mayme grumbled. "Drag her to a cheap show to sit with a lot of Hunks and Wops --"
"But, listen, Mayme," Ed pleaded. "What do you think, the night before pay day? Tomorrow night if you want the moon I'll buy it for you."
The traffic light had given them safety to cross and had flashed back again to red, and Mayme scowled at the close-packed cars that were hurrying by. She tapped the curb with her toe impatiently and suddenly she uttered a little cry of horror, like one stricken by death.
From above her knees she felt something creeping hastily down her calf, like a scrambling beetle. It was a run in her new stocking, ruining it for Mayme's wear, leaving a white line from knee to ankle -- one and a half good dollars gone just like that!
"What's the matter now, kid?" Ed asked, but Mayme turned and walked away from the crossing.
"I'm going home," she said.
"Now, Mayme, listen --"
"Oh, cut it out!" she cried angrily. "'Listen, Mayme! Listen, Mayme.' That's all I ever hear from you. Keep your hands off me; I'm sick of being pawed by a big ox like you. Here -- I'm through!"
She drew from her finger the engagement ring he had given her, a poor little ring with a very shallow and flawed little diamond over which she had exclaimed in ecstasy not long ago.
"You can take some other girl to your cheap shows. Stringing me along, saying we'll get married -- yes, in a million years we will! Maybe!"
"Mayme, as soon as I get a raise --"
"It sounds good the way you say it -- not! I'm through, Ed. I --"
She drew a deep breath and was silent. In the other stocking she felt a run begin where her clasp bit the stocking and felt it glide down, stop, and glide on down to her ankle.
"Enough is plenty, Ed," she said; "I'm through, I tell you," and she walked away and left him.
For a moment Ed Connors looked after her, then he shrugged his shoulders, pushed his hat a little farther to one side of his head, and crossed the street. It was not his place to show that he cared.
Mayme stopped and bent down to look at the runs in her stockings -- and to hide the tears in her eyes -- and then marched home with her chin up. She was all the angrier because she had been unreasonably unkind to Eddie, it being a queer quirk of our human nature that we are apt to hate most those we have injured. She ran upstairs to her own room and slammed the door and threw her hat on the bed. Then she looked at the runs in her stockings again.
"Him and his stocking factory!" she exclaimed. "These are the last Superbas that ever go on me, and I'll tell him so to his face."
She had been faithful to the Superbas, fondly and foolishly faithful. To Superbas she had owed her acquaintance with Eddie, for he had called at her one evening when she was going to the movies with Anna Schultz, "Some kid, you number Seven Six Eight Twos!" and, of course, she and Anna had stopped to say, "Who told you to get fresh?" and the three had gone to the movies together. After that, being in love and all, and engaged and everything, she could not very well wear anything but Superbas, with Eddie so crazy about his factory and so strong for Superbas being the best in the world because he helped to make them. But too much was enough and some over. She had been patient when the Seven Nine Eight Threes had faded in the wash, and she had said nothing when the Eight Two Four Sixes had gone through at the toe the first time she wore them, and she had hushed up about runs and other runs and more runs; but when a brand-new pair of Eight Four Three Fives, Seaside Flesh, for which she had paid a dollar and a half, good money, had runs within half an hour of the time when she first put her feet in them, Mayme was through.
Mayme threw herself on her bed beside her hat and for three minutes she had a good cry. Then -- three minutes for weeping being far beyond her usual allowance -- she sat up and wiped her eyes. She saw on the wall opposite her bed the Superba calendar Ed had given her, and she scowled at the million-dollar beauty whose lovely legs were supposed to induce all ladies to wear Superba stockings. Mayme jerked down the calendar and crumpled it in her hands, but as she raised her hand to throw it out of the window she had another thought. She would tell those Superba gyps what she thought of them and their stockings! She found a pad of paper and a pencil and an envelope, and she wrote them just what she did think of them and their stockings. The head office address was on the calendar.
The next morning on her way to work Mayme stopped at a drugstore and bought a stamp and mailed the letter. She was feeling frightfully blue and all washed up. She felt much as one might feel who had built a fine mansion brick by brick, to find suddenly that the solid foundation had turned to sand and that she must overthrow it and begin to build all over again from the first brick. Everything had seemed so complete and secure and comfortably satisfying -- Ed and the home they were to have.
And now she would have to hunt up Anna Schultz again, or some other girl, and begin again going downtown after dinner, wisecracking a lot of nervy sheiks in the hope of being able to pick up one she could work up to the engagement-ring point -- and that was not so easy.
Mayme felt terrible. She passed the Famous furniture store and thought of the times when she had stood with her arm under Ed's arm. discussing which bedroom set they had better have in their apartment. Ed wanted walnut. Walnut and mahogany were nothing in Mayme's life now. She passed 276, the building in which Superba had its general offices, and as she looked up at it a man crossed hurriedly from his automobile to the door, bumped into her.
"I beg your pardon," he said, and Mayme saw he was "one of those swell guys," but she was in no mood to enjoy being bumped by a handsome young stranger -- if thirty-eight is young.
"Yeah? You might look where you're going." she said.
"Sorry!" the man replied and hurried into 276. He took the elevator to the seventh floor and opened the door there on which were the words, "Superintendent of Production." Danner, the man in the chair behind the flat-topped desk, had been waiting for him. He got out of his chair and held out his hand, but without enthusiasm.
"Morning, Mr. Bruce," he said. "I've got all the papers here for you, and I've gone over them and marked them, but they aren't going to help you much. They'll help against you, more likely. They're the kind a board likes to see -- bigger output, lower cost, more sales and more profits. They don't ask any more than that, and why should they?"
"For one reason," Bruce said promptly, "because a board of directors is elected to office to look after the best interests of the company and its stockholders, and not to sit by and let a man like Samuel Pelham coin the lifeblood of the concern into temporary profits for himself."
"You try to tell them that, Mr. Bruce," Danner suggested, "but tell them it in a room without a window or they'll be apt to throw you out of it."
"The board room has no windows, Danner," Bruce laughed.
"But just the same, Mr. Bruce," the production superintendent said seriously, "I see nothing but for me to resign and get out before Mr. Pelham throws me out, like I told you."
"I saw Benchman, the man at No. 7 you and Pelham had the row about. He knows his business, Danner."
"Indeed, he does!" Danner agreed heartily, "but he's Pelham's man, you see. All of them except the foremen at No: 2 and No. 6 mills are, Mr. Bruce. They do what Mr. Pelham tells them and not what I tell them -- speed up, and never mind if there's a flaw or two. And Corney, my purchasing agent, listens to Mr. Pelham and not to me -- shade the quality here a bit and there a bit, and no letup to it. A man can't be happy in a job like mine, Mr. Bruce, and I'll get out."
"And let Sam Pelham ruin Superba finally and completely," Bruce said. "How comes it Pelham can do all this? You hire the foremen, don't you? You hired Benchman, he says."
"I hire who Mr. Pelham says, and that's the truth," Danner declared angrily. "This Benchman, now, is his wife's sister's husband or some such thing, and it is 'Will you please make Benchman foreman of No. 7, Danner?' but it means 'Hire Benchman. you! I'm president and general manager, and the board backs me up the way the ocean backs a wave, and you'll do as I say or you'll get out.' That's what it amounts to, Mr. Bruce. And I'm getting out. Nobody on that board will raise a hand; Mr. Pelham has them all in his pocket."
"Nobody ever knows what he has in his pocket when his hand is not in it," Bruce reminded Danner. "There will be half an hour tomorrow when Sam Pelham's hand will be in the air -- ex-president and not yet re-elected president. And I'm going to make a fight for a new president and general manager. What do you think of Loftus?"
"Now, there's a good man!" Danner exclaimed. "I clear forgot Loftus was on the board. All the time I thought you wanted the presidency, Mr. Bruce. Loftus would be fine. Loftus knows stockings. Loftus was a practical hosiery man until Superba swallowed the Loftus mills. He would give us a grand management; I could stay on with him. He's one board member who might be with you, but the others --"
Danner shook his head.
"Did it ever occur to you that Sam Pelham increased the number of board members from five to fifteen to lessen the individual power of each member?" Bruce asked him.
"A child could guess that."
"And did it ever occur to you that a man who uses that method of seeking safety is not as sure of himself as he pretends to be? A strong man wants a few men back of him, and wants them strong; the uncertain man wants a mob of weak men behind him. But there is this danger in numbers, Danner -- the man who was for you today may be against you tomorrow. When there are too many in a group, somebody's toes get stepped on. Who let me get on the board?"
"Mr. Pelham, no doubt," Danner ventured.
"And I'm not showing up so strong for Pelham, am I?" Bruce laughed. "I'm going to make a fight."
"And good luck to you, Mr. Bruce," Danner said, offering his hand. "I'd like to stay on in my job. I worked up to it right here in Superba, and my father was a factory hand in Superba before my day -- but I don't know."
"You'll know by tomorrow noon," Bruce said.
At the meeting of the board of directors the next morning, Jim Bruce dropped his bomb when President Pelham declared the meeting in order and that the first business was the election of a president and general manager. Bruce was on his feet putting Joseph Loftus in nomination at the same moment that Harley Trent was on his feet nominating Samuel K. Pelham. Bruce's action was a total surprise to Loftus, and he opened his mouth, possibly to decline, but Sam Pelham did not give him a chance to speak.
"One at a time! One at a time!" he exclaimed, and looked along the two rows of faces, wondering if this was a premeditated and concerted attack against him. "You have the floor, Mr. Trent."
Trent, not knowing how much of a party Bruce had gathered behind him, undoubtedly made the mistake of praising Sam Pelham too lengthily and too completely. It seemed as if he was pleading for Sam Pelham, asking them to give him another chance. It would have been better if he had said, "There is the annual statement; there are the figures; we want Sam Pelham kept on the job," and rested with that, but every man in the room knew that Harley Trent wanted all that could be got out of any concern with which he was connected. He appeared to be almost too eager to have Sam Pelham retained.
When Jim Brace got to his feet he looked down the board table and smiled. He took a folded paper from his pocket and put it on the table before him.
"I'm nominating Mr. Loftus, who has managed hosiery mills before now," he said. "I want to call your attention to the fact that I am not carrying this paper out of the company offices. I don't believe it is a document we want to let go out of the offices; it says too completely and too emphatically just what is wrong with Mr. Pelham's management of our affairs. I am sorry to say it was in Mr. Pelham's wastebasket this morning, where, I am afraid, all such documents go."
Sam Pelham, who had exchanged seats with Hermann Wirtz for the period while a president was being chosen, he being in nomination, reddened. He had not the slightest memory of what he had thrown into his wastebasket that morning, and he felt his pocket, fearing it might be the figures he had compiled to show to Harley Trent, but they were safe.
"This document, which is a letter from a user of Superba silk stockings -- specifically our Number Eight Four Three Five, Seaside Flesh --"
"Mill No. 7," said Mr. Wirtz.
"Is dated last Friday," continued Bruce. "It is signed 'Mayme Dwyer,' and the lady gives her address. I do not know Miss Dwyer, but it appears that she bought a pair of our Eight Four Three Five, Seaside Flesh, made in mill No. 7, for one-fifty. The first time she wore them, and within half an hour of first putting them on, runs developed in both stockings. I am going to pass this letter around the board for you to read, remembering that it was thrown into Mr. Pelham's wastebasket and then I will try to tell you why I nominated Mr. Loftus, but here are one or two passages I want to read to you in case they might otherwise escape your attention."
Bruce took up Mayme's letter. "It begins 'Gentlemen,'" he said, "but it soon loses that complimentary tone," and he read, omitting only the spelling, this that Mayme had written in her anger:
"All the Supperba silk stockings I buy me a year now aint no good at all you could get better wons at the 5 and 10 if they aint runs they go threw at toes or look bum first worsh and all you bums care is so you get a poor working girls money and you should worry."
"Indicating," said Bruce, "that she believes we may be speeding up production at the expense of quality, seeking big temporary profits at the cost of good will and permanent prosperity." He continued:
"I bin wairing Superbas aulways because my boy friend works for Supperba but tonite I got two runs in bran new one-fifty stokings and I got sore and tole him whare he got off and you bums is to blaim and I say youer a lot of cheep cheets, selling bum stokkings because Supperbas was good once and aint no moar."
"Which seems to imply that we are trading on our past reputation, breaking trusting hearts, and -- incidentally -- preparing a sad future for the Superba Hosiery Company. I will let you read for yourselves what the lady says about us personally, some of her remarks not being quite the thing to utter aloud in a group of innocent gentlemen directors."
He handed the letter to Sam Pelham. From down near the far end of the table a grim-visaged little man said, unexpectedly, "I second the nomination of Joe Loftus," and Bruce recognized William Galloway, who played atrocious golf with Mr. Loftus nearly every afternoon. Sam Pelham looked at Mr. Galloway with anger in his eyes. He leaned over and whispered with Harley Trent, and Trent -- before Mayme's letter had traveled halfway down one side of the table -- moved that the board adjourn to meet one week from that day.
It was a fatal error. The motion carried by three votes, enough to have elected Sam Pelham. But a week and three days later Eddie Connors stood with Mayme's hand tucked under his arm, looking at the bedroom suites in the windows of the Famous.
"It's all right with me if you want walnut, Eddie," Mayme said, leaning against him. "I kind of like walnut myself. Oh, gosh!"
"What's the matter, kid?"
"These new Superbas -- a run in them already, Eddie. Ain't it fierce?"
"Yeah? I'll fetch you a pair of the new Eight Four Three Sixes I started to make in my factory today, Mayme. Superbas are going to be good now," Eddie assured her. "This new President Loftus says to make them as good as I know how. 'You're foreman now, Connors,' he says to me, 'and it's up to you.' I told you I'd get my boost, didn't I, kid? You thought it was a bluff, didn't you? I guess you know now that little old Eddie knows how to get him ahead, huh?"
"You're all right, Eddie," Mayme told him. "I'm strong for you all the time."
She squeezed his arm tighter against her heart.
"Atta girl!" Eddie said fondly. "You and me and Superbas will show the world, kid. Superbas are good stockings, kid."
Mayme saw the diamond in her engagement ring sparkle in the light from the window.
"I never said they wasn't, Eddie," she said with convenient forgetfulness; "I always plugged for them, didn't I?"
"Sure! Let's go in and see what we've got to pay down on that walnut set," said Eddie.