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Hortense, from the doorway, grinned a rather wicked little grin.
"When are you going back to the office, Mrs. Buck?" she asked, quietly enough.
"What makes you think I'm going back at all?" demanded Emma, stepping into the shaky little elevator.
"I don't think it," retorted Hortense, once more the pert. "I know it."
Emma knew it, too. She had known it from the moment that she shook hands in her compact. There was still one week remaining of the stipulated three months. It seemed to Emma that that one week was longer than the combined eleven. But she went through with colors flying. Whatever Emma McChesney Buck did, she did well. But, then, T. A. Buck had done his part well, too--so well that, on the final day, Emma felt a sinking at her heart. He seemed so satisfied with affairs as they were. He was, apparently, so content to drop all thought of business when he left the office for his home.
Emma had planned a very special little dinner that evening. She wore a very special gown, too--one of the new ones. T. A. noticed it at once, and the dinner as well, being that kind of husband. Still, Annie, the cook, complained later, to the parlor-maid, about the thanklessness of cooking dinners for folks who didn't eat more'n a mouthful, anyway.
"Well, Emma?" said T. A. Buck.
"Light your cigar, T. A.," said Emma. "You'll need it."
T. A. lighted it with admirable leisureliness, sent out a great puff of fragrant smoke, and surveyed his wife through half-closed lids. Beneath his air of ease there was a tension.
"Well, Emma?" he said again, gently.
Emma looked at him a moment appreciatively. She had too much poise and balance and control herself not to recognize and admire those qualities in others.
"T. A., if I had been what they call a homebody, we wouldn't be married to-day, would we?"
"You knew plenty of home-women that you could have married, didn't you?"
"I didn't ask them, Emma, but----"
"You know what I mean. Now listen, T. A.: I've loafed for three months. I've lolled and lazied and languished. And I've never been so tired in my life--not even when we were taking January inventory. Another month of this, and I'd be an old, old woman. I understand, now, what it is that brings that hard, tired, stony look into the faces of the idle women. They have to work so hard to try to keep happy. I suppose if I had been a homebody all my life, I might be hardened to this kind of thing. But it's too late now. And I'm thankful for it. Those women who want to shop and dress and drive and play are welcome to my share of it. If I am to be punished in the next world for my wickedness in this, I know what form my torture will take. I shall have to go from shop to shop with a piece of lace in my hand, matching a sample of insertion. Fifteen years of being in the thick of it spoil one for tatting and tea. The world is full of homebodies, I suppose. And they're happy. I suppose I might have been one, too, if I hadn't been obliged to get out and hustle. But it's too late to learn now. Besides, I don't want to. If I do try, I'll be destroying the very thing that attracted you to me in the first place. Remember what you said about the Fifth Avenue girl?"
"But, Emma," interrupted Buck very quietly, "I don't want you to try."
Emma, with a rush of words at her very lips, paused, eyed him for a doubtful moment, asked a faltering question.
"But it was your plan--you said you wanted me to be here when you came home and when you left, didn't you? Do you mean you----"
"I mean that I've missed my business partner every minute for three months. All the time we've been going to those fool dinners and all that kind of thing, I've been bursting to talk skirts to you. I--say, Emma, Adler's designed a new model--a full one, of course, but there's something wrong with it. I can't put my finger on the flaw, but----"
Emma came swiftly over to his chair.
"Make a sketch of it, can't you?" she said. From his pocket Buck drew a pencil, an envelope, and fell to sketching rapidly, squinting down through his cigar smoke as he worked.
"It's like this," he began, absorbed and happy; "you see, where the fulness begins at the knee----"
"Yes!" prompted Emma, breathlessly.
Two hours later they were still bent over the much marked bit of paper. But their interest in it was not that of those who would solve a perplexing problem. It was the lingering, satisfied contemplation of a task accomplished.
Emma straightened, leaned back, sighed--a victorious, happy sigh.
"And to think," she said, marveling, "to think that I once envied the women who had nothing to do but the things I've done in the last three months!"
Buck had risen, stretched luxuriously, yawned. Now he came over to his wife and took her head in his two hands, cozily, and stood a moment looking into her shining eyes.
"Emma, I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but perhaps you'll still be interested to know that I think you're a wonder. A wonder! You're the----"
"Oh, well, we won't quarrel about that," smiled Emma brazenly. "But I wonder if Adler will agree with us when he sees what we've done to his newest skirt design."
Suddenly a new thought seemed to strike her. She was off down the hall. Buck, following in a leisurely manner, hands in pockets, stood in the bedroom door and watched her plunge into the innermost depths of the clothes-closet.
"What's the idea, Emma?"
"Looking for something," came back his wife's muffled tones.
A long wait.
"Can I help?"
"I've got it!" cried Emma, and emerged triumphant, flushed, smiling, holding a garment at arm's length, aloft.
Emma shook it smartly, turned it this way and that, held it up under her chin by the sleeves.
"Why, girl!" exclaimed Buck, all a-grin, "it's the----"
"The blue serge," Emma finished for him, "with the white collars and cuffs. And what's more, young man, it's the little blue hat with the what-cha-ma-call-ems on it. And praise be! I'm wearing 'em both down-town to-morrow morning."
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Ferber's Short Stories Vol. 2 -by- Edna FerberBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.