He never, by any chance, quite kept his word, though there was a moment in every case when he seemed to imagine doing what he said, and he took with mute patience the rakings which the ladies gave him when he disappointed them.
Disappointed is not just the word, for the ladies did not really expect him to do what he said. They pretended to believe him when he promised, but at the bottom of their hearts they never did or could. He was gentle-mannered and soft-spoken, and when he set his head on one side, and said that a coat would be ready on Wednesday, or a dress on Saturday, and repeated his promise upon the same lady's expressed doubt, she would catch her breath and say that now she absolutely must have it on the day named, for otherwise she would not have a thing to put on. Then he would become very grave, and his soft tenor would deepen to a bass of unimpeachable veracity, and he would say, "Sure, lady, you have it."
The lady would depart still doubting and slightly sighing, and he would turn to the customer who was waiting to have a button sewed on, or something like that, and ask him softly what it was he could do for him. If the customer offered him his appreciation of the case in hand, he would let his head droop lower, and in a yet deeper bass deplore the doubt of the ladies as an idiosyncrasy of their sex. He would make the customer feel that he was a favorite customer whose rights to a perfect fidelity of word and deed must by no means be tampered with, and he would have the button sewed on or the rip sewed up at once, and refuse to charge anything, while the customer waited in his shirt-sleeves in the small, stuffy shop opening directly from the street. When he tolerantly discussed the peculiarities of ladies as a sex, he would endure to be laughed at, "for sufferance was the badge of all his tribe," and possibly he rather liked it.
The favorite customer enjoyed being there when some lady came back on the appointed Wednesday or Saturday, and the tailor came soothingly forward and showed her into the curtained alcove where she was to try on the garments, and then called into the inner shop for them. The shirt-sleeved journeyman, with his unbuttoned waistcoat-front all pins and threaded needles, would appear in his slippers with the things barely basted together, and the tailor would take them, with an airy courage, as if they were perfectly finished, and go in behind the curtain where the lady was waiting in a dishabille which the favorite customer, out of reverence for the sex, forbore to picture to himself. Then sounds of volcanic fury would issue from the alcove. "Now, Mr. Morrison, you have lied to me again, deliberately _lied_. Didn't I tell you I _must_ have the things perfectly ready to-day? You see yourself that it will be another week before I can have my things."
"A week? Oh, madam! But I assure you--"
"Don't talk to me any more! It's the last time I shall ever come to you, but I suppose I can't take the work away from you as it is. _When_ shall I have it?"
"To-morrow. Yes, to-morrow noon. Sure!"
"Now you know you are always out at noon. I should think you would be ashamed."
"If it hadn't been for sickness in the family I would have finished your dress with my own hands. Sure I would. If you come here to-morrow noon you find your dress all ready for you."
"I know I won't, but I will come, and you'd _better_ have it ready."
The lady then added some generalities of opprobrium with some particular criticisms of the garments. Her voice sank into dispassionate murmurs in these, but it rose again in her renewed sense of the wrong done her, and when she came from the alcove she went out of the street door purple. She reopened it to say, "Now, remember!" before she definitely disappeared.
"Rather a stormy session, Mr. Morrison," the customer said.
"Something fierce," Mr. Morrison sighed. But he did not seem much troubled, and he had one way with all his victims, no matter what mood they came or went in.
One day the customer was by when a kind creature timidly upbraided him. "This is the third time you've disappointed me, Mr. Morrison. I really wish you wouldn't promise me unless you mean to do it. I don't think it's right for you."
"Oh, but sure, madam! The things will be done, sure. We had a strike on us."
"Well, I will trust you once more," the kind creature said.
"You can depend on me, madam, sure."
When she was gone the customer said: "I wonder you do that sort of thing, Mr. Morrison. You can't be surprised at their behaving rustily with you if you never keep your word."
"Why, I assure you there are times when I don't know where to look, the way they go on. It is something awful. You ought to hear them once. And now they want the wote." He rearranged some pieces of tumbled goods at the table where the customer sat, and put together the disheveled leaves of the fashion-papers which looked as if the ladies had scattered them in their rage.
One day the customer heard two ladies waiting for their disappointments in the outer room while the tailor in the alcove was trying to persuade a third lady that positively her things would be sent home the next day before dark. The customer had now formed the habit of having his own clothes made by the tailor, and his system in avoiding disappointment was very simple. In the early fall he ordered a spring suit, and in the late spring it was ready. He never had any difficulty, but he was curious to learn how the ladies managed, and he listened with all his might while these two talked.
"I always wonder we keep coming," one of them said.
"I'll tell you why," the other said. "Because he's cheap, and we get things from a fourth to a third less than we can get them anywhere else. The quality is first rate, and he's absolutely honest. And, besides, he's a genius. The wretch has _touch_. The things have a style, a look, a hang! Really it's something wonderful. Sure it iss," she ended in the tailor's accent, and then they both laughed and joined in a common sigh.
"Well, I don't believe he means to deceive any one."
"Oh, neither do I. I believe he expects to do everything he says. And one can't help liking him even when he doesn't."
"He's a good while getting through with her," the first lady said, meaning the unseen lady in the alcove.
"She'll be a good while longer getting through with _him_, if he hasn't them ready the next time," the second lady said.
But the lady in the alcove issued from it with an impredicable smile, and the tailor came up to the others, and deferred to their wishes with a sort of voiceless respect.
He gave the customer a glance of good-fellowship, and said to him, radiantly: "Your things all ready for you, this morning. As soon as I--"
"Oh, no hurry," the customer responded.
"I won't be a minute," the tailor said, pulling the curtain of the alcove aside, and then there began those sounds of objurgation and expostulation, although the ladies had seemed so amiable before.
The customer wondered if they did not all enjoy it; the ladies in their patience under long trial, and the tailor in the pleasure of practising upon it. But perhaps he did believe in the things he promised. He might be so much a genius as to have no grasp of facts; he might have thought that he could actually do what he said.
The customer's question on these points found answer when one day the tailor remarked, as it were out of a clear sky, that he had sold his business; sold it to the slippered journeyman who used to come in his shirt-sleeves, with his vest-front full of pins and needles, bringing the basted garments to be tried on the ladies who had been promised them perfectly finished.
"He will do your clothes all right," he explained to the customer. "He is a first-rate cutter and fitter; he knows the whole business."
"But why--why--" the customer began.
"I couldn't stand it. The way them ladies would talk to a person, when you done your best to please them; it's something fierce."
"Yes, I know. But I thought you liked it, from the way you always promised them and never kept your word."
"And if I hadn't promised them?" the tailor returned with some show of feeling. "They _wanted_ me to promise them--they made me--they wouldn't have gone away without it. Sure. Every one wanted her things before every one. You had got to think of that."
"But you had to think of what they would say."
"Say? Sometimes I thought they would _hit_ me. One lady said she had a notion to slap me once. It's no way to talk."
"But you didn't seem to mind it."
"I didn't mind it for a good while. Then I couldn't stand it. So I sold."
He shook his head sadly; but the customer had no comfort to offer him. He asked when his clothes would be done, and the tailor told him when, and then they were not. The new proprietor tried them on, but he would not say just when they would be finished.
"We have a good deal of work already for some ladies that been disappointed. Now we try a new way. We tell people exactly what we do."
"Well, that's right," the customer said, but in his heart he was not sure he liked the new way.
The day before his clothes were promised he dropped in. From the curtained alcove he heard low murmurs, the voice of the new proprietor and the voice of some lady trying on, and being severely bidden not to expect her things at a time she suggested. "No, madam. We got too much work on hand already. These things, they will not be done before next week."
"I told you to-morrow," the same voice said to another lady, and the new proprietor came out with an unfinished coat in his hand.
"I know you did, but I thought you would be better than your word, and so I came to-day. Well, then, to-morrow."
"Yes, to-morrow," the new proprietor said, but he did not seem to have liked the lady's joke. He did not look happy.
A few weeks after that the customer came for some little alterations in his new suit.
In the curtained alcove he heard the murmurs of trying on, much cheerfuller murmurs than before; the voice of a lady lifted in gladness, in gaiety, and an incredible voice replying, "Oh, sure, madam."
Then the old proprietor came out in his shirt-sleeves and slippers, with his waistcoat-front full of pins and needles, just like the new proprietor in former days.
"Why!" the customer exclaimed. "Have you bought back?"
"No. I'm just here like a journeyman already. The new man he want me to come. He don't get along very well with his way. He's all right; he's a good man and a first-class tailor. But," and the former proprietor looked down at the basted garment hanging over his arm, and picked off an irrelevant thread from it, "he thinks I get along better with the ladies."