Polly Jackson was a model woman. She was practical and hard-working. She knew the value of a dollar, could make one and keep one, sometimes–fate permitting. Fate was usually Sam and Sam was Polly’s husband. Any morning at six o’clock she might be seen, basket on arm, wending her way to the homes of her wealthy patrons for the purpose of bringing in their washing, for by this means did she gain her livelihood. She had been a person of hard common sense, which suffered its greatest lapse when she allied herself with the man whose name she bore. After that the lapses were more frequent.
How she could ever have done so no one on earth could tell. Sam was her exact opposite. He was an easy-going, happy-go-lucky individual, who worked only when occasion demanded and inclination and the weather permitted. The weather was usually more acquiescent than inclination. He was sanguine of temperament, highly imaginative and a dreamer of dreams. Indeed, he just missed being a poet. A man who dreams takes either to poetry or policy. Not being able quite to reach the former, Sam had declined upon the latter, and, instead of meter, feet and rhyme, his mind was taken up with “hosses,” “gigs” and “straddles.”
He was always “jes’ behin’ dem policy sha’ks, an’ I’ll be boun’, Polly, but I gwine to ketch ’em dis time.”
Polly heard this and saw the same result so often that even her stalwart faith began to turn into doubt. But Sam continued to reassure her and promise that some day luck would change. “An’ when hit do change,” he would add, impressively, “it’s gwine change fu’ sho’, an’ we’ll have one wakenin’ up time. Den I bet you’ll git dat silk dress you been wantin’ so long.”
Polly did have ambitions in the direction of some such finery, and this plea always melted her. Trust was restored again, and Hope resumed her accustomed place.
It was, however, not through the successful culmination of any of Sam’s policy manipulations that the opportunity at last came to Polly to realize her ambitions. A lady for whom she worked had a second-hand silk dress, which she was willing to sell cheap. Another woman had spoken for it, but if Polly could get the money in three weeks she would let her have it for seven dollars.
To say that the companion of Sam Jackson jumped at the offer hardly indicates the attitude of eagerness with which she received the proposition.
“Yas’m, I kin sholy git dat much money together in th’ee weeks de way I’s a-wo’kin’.”
“Well, now, Polly, be sure; for if you are not prompt I shall have to dispose of it where it was first promised,” was the admonition.
“Oh, you kin ‘pend on me, Mis’ Mo’ton; fu’ when I sets out to save money I kin save, I tell you.” Polly was not usually so sanguine, but what changes will not the notion of the possession of a brown silk dress trimmed with passementrie make in the disposition of a woman?
Polly let Sam into the secret, and, be it said to his credit, he entered into the plan with an enthusiasm no less intense than her own. He had always wanted to see her in a silk dress, he told her, and then in a quizzically injured tone of voice, “but you ought to waited tell I ketched dem policy sha’ks an’ I’d ‘a’ got you a new one.” He even went so far as to go to work for a week and bring Polly his earnings, of course, after certain “little debts” which he mentioned but did not specify, had been deducted.
But in spite of all this, when washing isn’t bringing an especially good price; when one must eat and food is high; when a grasping landlord comes around once every week and exacts tribute for the privilege of breathing foul air from an alley in a room up four flights; when, I say, all this is true, and it generally is true in the New York tenderloin, seven whole dollars are not easily saved. There was much raking and scraping and pinching during each day that at night Polly might add a few nickels or pennies to the store that jingled in a blue jug in one corner of her closet. She called it her bank, and Sam had laughed at the conceit, telling her that that was one bank anyhow that couldn’t “bust.”