The Goddess of Truth by Charles Weathers Bump

Not everybody was pleased among the many thousands who on September 12, 1906, saw the industrial parade with which Baltimore celebrated its wonderful recovery from the blow given by the great fire of 1904. Tobias Greenfield, head of a Lexington-street department store, was one who was not. He was angry, violently so. He had been in a chipper mood all morning and had enjoyed watching the long line from the windows of a bedecorated wholesale house on Baltimore street. But when his eyes alighted on the float of his own firm, the anger came. And the longer it stayed with him, the worse it grew, especially as he could not escape the prodding of the friends who had invited him to their warehouse.

When he could decently slip away from them he went to his office and peremptorily called for his advertising manager.

"What the devil do you mean, Melvale," he shouted, "by putting such a scrawny little girl on our float as the Goddess? She looked a fright in the clothes made for Miss Preston, and everyone is laughing at us. Why was not Miss Preston there? How came you to make such a mess?"

The advertising man was nervous under the volley of questions, but he explained at length. Boiled down, it was plain he could give only one reason why the float had been such a mess.

And that reason was William Henry Montgomery.

Miss Preston had been willing to be the Goddess, as planned, but William Henry Montgomery said no. And that settled it.

And who was William Henry Montgomery? Why, Miss Preston loved William Henry Montgomery.

You see, down on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where Maude Preston and William Henry Montgomery were to the manor born, they had sought each other's company so assiduously and for so long that in the length and breadth of Accomac—from Chincoteague to Great Machipongo—every man and woman regarded it as a sure thing that Maude and William Henry would hit it off for a marriage. And they had talked, as people will, about their being an ideal couple, so well suited—William Henry broad-shouldered and solidly knit and Maude molded on classic Diana's lines, erect and queenly, but sweet to look upon. The women thought William Henry a fine-looking lad, while men and women alike regarded Maude as the handsomest creature on the Peninsula below the Maryland line.

And then one day there had been a quarrel. Maude thought a bit of William Henry's advice too assertive, too near to an injunction to obey, and had flared up. And William Henry had flared up likewise. And when the two came to count the cost, William Henry was moodily filling a job in a cousin's lumber-yard in Philadelphia, while Maude, unknown to William Henry, had come to Baltimore to remove herself and her heart-wound from the well-meant, but too gossipy, neighbors in Accomac.

It was a matter of only a few months before she was the best-liked saleswoman in Greenfield & Jacobs' big store. From Mr. Greenfield down to the rawest cash girl all were glad to exchange a word with her, because there was something delightful in Maude's way of expressing even trivialities, and an especial joy in hearing her talk about "you all" and call a car "kyar," a girl "giurl" and other idioms peculiar to Tidewater Virginians. Besides that, she was too good-looking altogether to be passed without notice. The elevator boys were both in love with her, and their seniors—whether clerks, floor-walkers, salesmen or owners—would walk two aisles out of the way any time to pass by Miss Preston at the counter where she disposed of bolts of ribbon. But best of all was the regard which her scores of girl associates had for her. They liked her because they saw she made no effort to seek or to foster the attentions which the masculines of the store thrust upon her. They liked her, too, for the individuality and perfect neatness she showed in her dress, from the bows of ribbon on her short sleeves to the set of her skirts or the way her waists were arranged at the belt. As for her hair, eight-ninths of the store, being the feminine portion, envied its beautiful wave, and two-ninths mustered up courage to ask Maude how she managed to keep it so splendidly. And the two-ninths, being told, let the other six-ninths into the secret. Thus it was, in Greenfield & Jacobs', that the Maude wave became more popular than the one named after Marcelle.

And all the while Maude quietly went on thinking of William Henry. She heard about him sometimes in letters from Accomac, and knew that he was still in Philadelphia. And there were hours when she fought the temptation to write to him there, and humbly tell him that she had been wrong to grow angry with him. Perhaps he had forgotten her and was having a good time—she recoiled from the thought, and yet it would come now and then. And when it came, Maude had spells of the "blues" that she found hard to conceal from her new-made friends at the department store and in her boarding-house on Arlington avenue.

Greenfield & Jacobs was one of the first retail firms to take up the notion of having a float in the Jubilee parade. And, having once decided to exhibit, they went at the preparations with characteristic thoroughness. "Let us do it right," said Jacobs to Greenfield. "Let us spare no expense to have a car so beautiful that all Baltimore will remember it as one of the hits of the parade. Let it be chaste and symbolic, and not overloaded with bunting and people."

The head of the firm had the same thought. "We have always tried to tell the truth to our customers," he rejoined. "Why not try to bring that fact home to thousands by a float on which a handsome Goddess of Truth will be giving a laurel crown to our firm?"

"Capital!" exclaimed Jacobs. "And Miss Preston can be the Goddess."

"I had her in mind when I proposed it," remarked Greenfield.

And both men laughed.

Neither partner was up on mythology, so they turned over to Melvale, the advertising man, the duty of working out the details of the float. Now, Melvale wasn't literary, either; but he knew an obliging young woman at the Pratt Library, and he hied himself to her to ask who under Heaven was the Goddess of Truth and how was she dressed. And the obliging young woman looked up encyclopedias and finally handed Melvale an illustrated copy of Spenser's "Faerie Queene." Melvale had never heard of Spenser, and he had an idea that Spenser spelled his title badly, not even according to the simplified method of Roosevelt and Carnegie. But he took the book and read of the beautiful, pure and trustful Una, the personification of Truth, the beloved of the Red Cross Knight. And when he looked at the pictures he began to grow enthusiastic over the float.

"By George!" he exclaimed. "Miss Preston will look great in that Greek gown."

And Melvale sketched the float as it afterward grew into being at the hands of carpenters, painters and decorators at the old car shed on Pennsylvania avenue. There was, first of all, a beautiful little model of Greenfield & Jacobs' new store, about three feet high, over the corner dome of which the charming Goddess, bending forward, was about to place the laurel crown suggested by Greenfield. Behind her were finely modeled figures of the lion and the lamb which are devoted followers of Una. It was artistic; it was symbolic; it was chaste. There was no word of advertising save the neatly lettered inscription:

The Truth stands by us.
We stand by the Truth.

It was a harder task than either partner imagined to win the consent of Miss Preston to be a goddess for a few brief hours. She was not the sort of girl to like conspicuousness or notoriety, and she flatly refused when the float was first brought to her attention. Then they pleaded with her. Jacobs told her how much she would be helping the firm if she would only agree to oblige them. Greenfield promised to have the finest of Greek gowns made in the store's dressmaking department. And Melvale, clever man, deftly told her how beautiful and good Una was supposed to be, and mildly intimated that there was no other young woman in Baltimore who could possibly fill the bill on that float. Ultimately Miss Preston's scruples were overcome.

And into the preparations she entered with pleasing enthusiasm. Melvale took her several times to the shed to see the float materialize, and stopped each morning at the ribbon counter to tell her about details. The whole store told her a thousand times how glad each was that she was to be the Goddess. Greenfield did as he promised about the costume—and never was Greek gown made of more beautiful white goods, or more exquisitely and perfectly fitted. Maude read Spenser's poem, more understandingly than had Melvale, and the Goddess of Truth so completely filled her mind during those summer weeks that William Henry Montgomery was almost obscured except when she dreamed how she would like him to see her triumph.

At last came the day of the parade. Melvale, always fertile with expedients, had arranged with Townsend, floor-walker on the fourth floor, who lived on Fulton avenue just where the big parade was to form, that the Goddess Maude might array herself in her finery at his home. Bright and early that morning he sent a carriage for Miss Preston, and ordered the float to be at Townsend's curb by 9 o'clock. The beautiful gown and its accessories, laid away in soft tissue paper, were brought from the Lexington-street store, and a couple of the girls from the dressmaking department were on hand to aid the final making of a goddess.

Maude would not have been a woman had she not taken her time to get into such finery, and Melvale began to grow nervous as the parade hour grew near. The street was in confusion with the gathering of floats and men and curious crowds of onlookers. The chief marshal of the procession, Col. William A. Boykin, had warned him that the line was to move on time, and already there were signs of a start. Five times he dived into the hallway of Townsend's home and called agonizingly upstairs to know if Miss Preston was ready.

Finally she came. And Melvale held his breath as the beauty of the girl burst upon him, even in the half-light of the hall. While it concealed some of the lines of her figure, the gown accentuated her erect, queenly carriage. Her exquisitely molded arms and her full, round throat had been powdered, a bit or two of rouge had heightened the charm of her face and a touch of black had increased the brilliancy of her eyes, already flashing with the excitement of the moment. There was a tremulous curve to her lips as she glanced at Melvale to note whether he was pleased with her appearance.

"The goddess of men, as well as of truth," he murmured as he bent over and gallantly kissed her hand. Una's flush heightened, but she was pleased with the compliment.

Melvale opened the door and the goddess in white passed out into the morning sunlight on Fulton avenue.

And as she did so she gave a faint scream of surprise.

For there, on the sidewalk, was William Henry Montgomery, her Red Cross Knight.

William Henry was as much surprised as the damsel Una. He had no idea that Maude was nearer to him than Accomac, and he was in Baltimore for the day merely to mingle with the holiday crowds and perhaps encounter some Eastern Shore friend from whom he might learn news of her. His presence on Fulton avenue was due to the identical reason as that which inspired thousands of others curious to see the start of a big parade.

When he saw Maude come out of the doorway, a vision in white, he thought for a moment he had gone insane and was having a hallucination. Then he reflected that it could not possibly be Maude Preston in Baltimore and wearing such theatrical clothes on the street in broad daylight. Then he looked again and was certain it was Maude. Besides, hadn't she recognized him and put out her arm to steady herself against the arch of the doorway?

"Maude!" he exclaimed, simply, as he hurried up the marble steps.

"Bill Henry!" she cried, faintly.

She held out her hands and he took them.

"I've been sorry a long time, Bill Henry," she said.

"And I, too, sweetheart."

He would have kissed her in complete reconciliation, but Maude was conscious of the crowd on the street. "Don't, Bill Henry," she whispered as she laughed, flushed and tenderly pushed him away. He held on to both her hands.

Melvale, in the vestibule behind, had stood petrified as the incident developed. He was wise enough to understand that a reconciliation of lovers was in progress. Their words, and, above all, the ardency of their glances betrayed that.

From down Fulton avenue came the sound of a great bell. The parade had started. "Hurry," said Melvale, "you must take your position, Miss Preston."

"Take your position, Maude?" asked William Henry calmly, ignoring Melvale.

"Yes, Bill Henry," said his sweetheart, hurriedly; "I'm to be the Goddess of Truth on that float there."

William Henry turned and looked at the float. Then he stood off a step or two and studied Maude's make up. "I've never seen you look handsomer," he said, slowly, "but somehow you don't seem natural. I'd rather have met you again when you were not so full of paint and powder. I loved you always just as you were, without fancy fixings."

The bell was getting farther away.

"Come, Miss Preston," urged Melvale. "We will have to hurry."

For the first time William Henry recognized the presence of Melvale.

"She ain't going, Mister," declared William Henry, ungrammatically, but firmly.

"Not going!" screamed Melvale.

"Oh! Bill," stammered Maude, "they've gone to such a lot of expense and trouble! And they've been so kind to me!"

"I don't care," returned William Henry. "Down in Accomac we don't like this theatre business for girls we love, and I tell you I am not going to see you in that parade, showing yourself off to all Baltimore and thousands more, too. Who knows how many people are here from down home? If you want this notoriety and fuss, Maude," he went on sternly, "I can leave again."

A tear made its way out of Maude's eyes and threatened the rouge on her cheek.

"Come, Miss Preston," said Melvale.

"No, no; I can't go against what Bill wants," she said, feebly; "not again."

Melvale saw that he faced a serious business dilemma. Cupid had butt in at the wrong moment. It was necessary for Greenfield & Jacobs to be in that parade, and he had about six minutes to get the float in line. As he put it in his report to Mr. Greenfield, "There wasn't any use wasting time trying to persuade Miss Preston with that hulking big Eastern Shoreman menacing me. I had to let her do as William Henry wanted, without bandying words. At the same time I had to find another Goddess in a hurry. That's how I came to make use of Townsend's daughter."

"Was that thin girl Townsend's daughter?" asked Greenfield.

"There isn't any cause to be hard on the girl, Mr. Greenfield. She's not so thin, and she is good looking and with a sweet expression. You put any girl in clothes not made for her—just jump her into 'em without any time for those little tricks that women know so well how to do—and she's sure to feel a guy. And if she feels a guy, she's going to look it. Why, it took those two girls just six minutes to transfer that goddess rig from Miss Preston to Miss Townsend. She didn't have time to powder, and she didn't have time to dab on paint, and, besides, she had had no rehearsals. That's why she was so pale."

"And where did you leave Miss Preston and her mentor?"

"Sitting on the sofa in Townsend's parlor, wondering if they could get a license to be married today, it being a holiday."

"Mr. Melvale," directed Mr. Greenfield, "I want you to find them again, just as quick as you can, and if they are not already tied up I want you to help them do it in the most handsome style possible in a hurry. Reward Miss Townsend nicely, but get that gown from her and make a present of it to the girl it was made for. She might like to have it for a wedding gown. And as you go out, tell Mr. Stricker to send the bride the handsomest thing he can find in the glass and china department."

"Miss Preston'll appreciate all that. I think she's sorry she couldn't help you out. She has certainly missed a fine chance of being a goddess."

"You're wrong, Melvale; you're wrong! That girl doesn't need a Greek gown and a float and a parade to make her a goddess."

"William Henry don't think so, sir."