"HOW do you like it?" asked Mary, as they sat down in the furniture department at McHarg's.
"Like what?" responded Harriet, whose mind was still on the gown that the modiste had failed to fit to her satisfaction.
"Why the chance to pick out furniture to suit ourselves, without any lord and master to say that it costs too much," said Mary.
"I never noticed that you had any trouble that way," retorted Harriet impatiently. "It's you who hold Jack down. He told me it was you who insisted on rag rugs upstairs in order to save money. And he says you persuaded him that they are more sanitary."
"Jack's a dear boy," said Mary, "but dreadfully obstinate. I not only had to persuade him that they are more sanitary, but also tease him to get them instead of Orientals just to please me. He seemed to be afraid Tom wouldn't like them."
"Tom doesn't," exclaimed Harriet. "He said he was surprised at you. Usually he talks about you as if you were the paragon of all perfections. But this time he told Jack he ought to assert himself - that rugs are the foundation of furnishing."
"I wonder how Tom happened to suggest that the selection of the guest-room furniture be left to you and me," commented Mary.
"Oh, just because the novelty of buying furniture has worn off, and he wanted Jack to look at a piece of property he is interested in. You remember how they treated us the afternoon of the Museum."
"Yes," answered Mary. "I don't think Jack will ever do that again. I punished him severely. The idea! They were to meet us at three and they arrived only fifteen minutes before the Museum closed."
"He made up for it later," remarked Harriet. "I don't think Jack was ever so entertaining as at Cabarin's. His stories about the odd people he meets in business were most delightful. I could actually see that Italian peddler, who turned out to be a prosperous Harlem builder, with money enough to buy an apartment building."
"What is more," said Mary, "Jack sold him an apartment building and he is a model landlord. I met him. He looks like a brigand with those big earrings, but he is well educated and has settled down as a good American citizen."
"I should be afraid of him," said Harriet. "I feel sure that he must have committed murder in his native Sicily."
"He did," responded Mary. "But his influence with the Camorra got him off. Besides, it wasn't a very bad murder."
Harriet looked shocked. "Murder is murder," she said.
"Not always," remarked Mary. "He has the dearest little wife, with skin as brown as a sailor's and eyes as black as night. It was to save her - "
Just then the clerk for whom they were waiting approached. He has been selling furniture for twenty years, and can at a glance identify the work of all important American makers and many foreign ones. Also, his mind is a chart of prices. Show him the photograph of a chair, and immediately he will name not only the maker and his price, but also the price charged by other makers for pieces that look like it. "The important part of a chair," he often says, "is not what appears in the photograph. It is the part only the trained eye can detect. It is the part that depends on the grade of the lumber, the skill of the workman, and the honest intention of the manufacturer. Take those two Chippendale chairs over there. One was made by C------, the other by D------. One is $40, the other $20. To the average purchaser they look alike, but the $40 one is much better value than the $20 one."
"How do you do, Mr. Marly?" said Mary. "You remember Mrs. Tom and myself? We were here once before."
"Yes, indeed, Mrs. Jack," he responded, "and Mr. Jack and Mr. Tom were with you. Did you find what you wanted elsewhere?"
"No," answered Mary. "We went to four other shops and got so tired I thought I should scream. And then we went home, and now the men have sent us to do it all."
"I think you said," remarked the salesman, "that you and Mrs. Tom have just visited the Decorative Arts Wing of the Metropolitan Museum."
"No," said Harriet, who had been listening with a bored expression. "We had just made an engagement to visit it."
"Did you find it interesting?" queried the salesman, who was somewhat piqued because he had not been able to sell them on the occasion of their previous visit.
"We liked the Colonial and English rooms," responded Harriet, "but we thought the French rooms were rather overdone."
"Speak for yourself, Harriet," interrupted Mary. "I simply love the French styles, and whenever Jack and I can afford it, we are going to have a Louis XVI drawing-room. Mr. Hunter says the French styles of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI are the only finished and perfected decorative styles since the Italian Renaissance and ancient Rome and Greece."
"What has caused the downfall of the French styles in this country, as far as the cheap trade is concerned," remarked the salesman, "are the absurdities and grotesqueries of the French furniture and interiors 'made in America.' The average newspaper and magazine writer on decorative subjects never has seen a good example of French decorative art, and naturally follows the multitude in condemning it. The Museum is doing a great work in showing the French styles right."
Mary laughed. "You seem quite an enthusiast," she remarked. "But I don't see much resemblance between the French pieces here and those at the Museum."
"There isn't," he answered. "We don't cater to that kind of trade. But I can show you the most interesting Louis XVI enameled chamber sets at moderate prices in town."
"I don't think $175 is so moderate," said Harriet.
"The same set made in France would cost here $400," said the salesman, "and the antique set from which this is adapted is worth not less than $2,500."
"I can't see why any one should pay such prices," remarked Harriet. "The main object is to have furniture that makes the right impression on visitors."