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"You sound like a regular husband," Emma McChesney had interrupted, "and I love you for it. Now listen, T. A. For three whole months I'm going to be what the yellow novels used to call a doll-wife. I'm going to meet you at the door every night with a rose in my hair. I shall wear pink things with lace ruffles on 'em. Don't you know that I've been longing to do just those things for years and years? I'm going to blossom out into a beauty. Watch me! I've never had time to study myself. I'll hold shades of yellow and green and flesh-color up to my face to see which brings out the right tints. I'm going to gaze at myself through half-closed eyes to see which shade produces tawny lights in my hair. Ever since I can remember, I've been so busy that it has been a question of getting the best possible garments in the least possible time for the smallest possible sum. In that case, one gets blue serge. I've worn blue serge until it feels like a convict's uniform. I'm going to blossom out into fawn and green and mauve. I shall get evening dresses with only bead shoulder-straps. I'm going to shop. I've never really seen Fifth Avenue between eleven and one, when the real people come out. My views of it have been at nine A.M. when the office-workers are going to work, and at five- thirty when they are going home. I will now cease to observe the proletariat and mingle with the predatory. I'll probably go in for those tiffin things at the Plaza. If I do, I'll never be the same woman again."
Whereupon she paused with dramatic effect.
To all of which T. A. Buck had replied:
"Go as far as you like. Take fencing lessons, if you want to, or Sanskrit. You've been a queen bee for so many years that I think the role of drone will be a pleasant change. Let me shoulder the business worries for a while. You've borne them long enough."
"It's a bargain. For three months I shall do nothing more militant than to pick imaginary threads off your coat lapel and pout when you mention business. At the end of those three months we'll go into private session, compare notes, and determine whether the plan shall cease or become permanent. Shake hands on it."
They shook hands solemnly. As they did so, a faint shadow of doubt hovered far, far back in the depths of T. A. Buck's fine eyes. And a faint, inscrutable smile lurked in the corners of Emma's lips.
So it was that Emma McChesney, the alert, the capable, the brisk, the business-like, assumed the role of Mrs. T. A. Buck, the leisurely, the languid, the elegant. She, who formerly, at eleven in the morning, might have been seen bent on selling the best possible bill of spring Featherlooms to Joe Greenbaum, of Keokuk, Iowa, could now be found in a modiste's gray-and-raspberry salon, being draped and pinned and fitted. She, whose dynamic force once charged the entire office and factory with energy and efficiency, now distributed a tithe of that priceless vigor here, a tithe there, a tithe everywhere, and thus broke the very backbone of its power.
She had never been a woman to do things by halves. What she undertook to do she did thoroughly and whole-heartedly. This principle she applied to her new mode of life as rigidly as she had to the old.
That first month slipped magically by. Emma was too much a woman not to feel a certain exquisite pleasure in the selecting of delicate and becoming fabrics. There was a thrill of novelty in being able to spend an hour curled up with a book after lunch, to listen to music one afternoon a week, to drive through the mistily gray park; to walk up the thronged, sparkling Avenue, pausing before its Aladdin's Cave windows. Simple enough pleasures, and taken quite as a matter of course by thousands of other women who had no work-filled life behind them to use as contrast.
She plunged into her new life whole-heartedly. The first new gown was exciting. It was a velvet affair with furs, and gratifyingly becoming. Her shining blond head rose above the soft background of velvet and fur with an effect to distract the least observing.
"Like it?" she had asked Buck, turning slowly, frankly sure of herself.
"You're wonderful in it," said T. A. Buck. "Say, Emma, where's that blue thing you used to wear--the one with the white cuffs and collar, and the little blue hat with the what-cha-ma-call-ems on it?"
"T. A. Buck, you're--you're--well, you're a man, that's what you are! That blue thing was worn threadbare in the office, and I gave it to the laundress's niece weeks ago." Small wonder her cheeks took on a deeper pink.
"Oh," said Buck, unruffled, "too bad! There was something about that dress--I don't know----"
At the first sitting of the second gown, Emma revolted openly.
On the floor at Emma's feet there was knotted into a contortionistic attitude a small, wiry, impolite person named Smalley. Miss Smalley was an artist in draping and knew it. She was the least fashionable person in all that smart dressmaking establishment. She refused to notice the corset-coiffure-and-charmeuse edict that governed all other employees in the shop. In her shabby little dress, her steel-rimmed spectacles, her black-sateen apron, Smalley might have passed for a Bird Center home dressmaker. Yet, given a yard or two or three of satin and a saucer of pins, Smalley could make the dumpiest of debutantes look like a fragile flower.
At a critical moment Emma stirred. Handicapped as she was by a mouthful of nineteen pins and her bow-knot attitude, Smalley still could voice a protest.
"Don't move!" she commanded, thickly.
"Wait a minute," Emma said, and moved again, more disastrously than before. "Don't you think it's too--too young?"
She eyed herself in the mirror anxiously, then looked down at Miss Smalley's nut-cracker face that was peering up at her, its lips pursed grotesquely over the pins.
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Ferber's Short Stories Vol. 2 -by- Edna Ferber