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T. A. Buck crossed one leg over the other and sat up with a little sigh.
"Well, that settles it, doesn't it?" he said.
"It does not," replied Emma McChesney Buck crisply. "If they want to hear from headquarters, they won't have long to wait."
"Now, Emma, don't try to push this thing if it----"
"T. A., please don't look so forgiving. I'd much rather have you reproach me."
"It's you I'm thinking of, not the skirt."
"But I want you to think of the skirt, too. We've gone into this thing, and it has cost us thousands. Don't think I'm going to sit quietly by and watch those thousands trickle out of our hands. We've played our first card. It didn't take a trick. Here's another."
Buck and Spalding were leaning forward, interested, attentive. There was that in Emma's vivid, glowing face which did not mean defeat.
"March fifteenth, at Madison Square Garden, there is to be held the first annual exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of American Styles for American Women. For one hundred years we've taken our fashions as Paris dictated, regardless of whether they outraged our sense of humor or decency or of fitness. This year the American designer is going to have a chance. Am I an American designer, T. A., Billy?"
"Yes!" in chorus.
"Then I shall exhibit that skirt on a live model at the First Annual American Fashion Show next month. Every skirt-buyer in the country will be there. If it takes hold there, it's made--and so are we."
March came, and with it an army of men and women buyers, dependent, for the first time in their business careers, on the ingenuity of the American brain. The keen-eyed legions that had advanced on Europe early, armed with letters of credit--the vast horde that returned each spring and autumn laden with their spoils--hats, gowns, laces, linens, silks, embroideries--were obliged to content themselves with what was to be found in their own camp.
Clever manager that she was, Emma took as much pains with her model as with the skirt itself. She chose a girl whose demure prettiness and quiet charm would enhance the possibilities of the skirt's practicability in the eye of the shrewd buyer. Gertrude, the model, developed a real interest in the success of the petticoat. Emma knew enough about the psychology of crowds to realize how this increased her chances for success.
The much heralded fashion show was to open at one o'clock on the afternoon of March fifteenth. At ten o'clock that morning, there breezed in from Chicago a tall, slim, alert young man, who made straight for the offices of the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company, walked into the junior partner's private office, and took that astonished lady in his two strong arms.
"Jock McChesney!" gasped his rumpled mother, emerging from the hug. "I've been hungry for a sight of you!" She was submerged in a second hug. "Come here to the window where I can get a real look at you! Why didn't you wire me? What are you doing away from your own job? How's business? And why come to-day, of all days, when I can't make a fuss over you?"
Jock McChesney, bright-eyed, clear-skinned, steady of hand, stood up well under the satisfied scrutiny of his adoring mother. He smiled down at her.
"Wanted to surprise you. Here for three reasons--the Abbott Grape-juice advertising contract, you, and Grace. And why can't you make a fuss over me, I'd like to know?"
Emma told him. His keen, quick mind required little in the way of explanation.
"But why didn't you let me in on it sooner?"
"Because, son, nothing explains harder than embryo success. I always prefer to wait until it's grown up and let it do its own explaining."
"But the thing ought to have national advertising," Jock insisted, with the advertising expert's lightning grasp of its possibilities. "What that skirt needs is publicity. Why didn't you let me handle----"
"Yes, I know, dear; but you haven't seen the skirt. It won't do to ram it down their throats. I want to ease it to them first. I want them to get used to it. It failed utterly on the road, because it jarred their notion of what a petticoat ought to be. That's due to five years of sheath skirts."
"But suppose--just for the sake of argument --that it doesn't strike them right this afternoon?"
"Then it's gone, that's all. Six months from now, every skirt-factory in the country will be manufacturing a similar garment. People will be ready for it then. I've just tried to cut in ahead of the rest. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried to do it."
Jock hugged her again at that, to the edification of the office windows across the way.
"Gad, you're a wiz, mother! Now listen: I 'phoned Grace when I got in. She's going to meet me here at one. I'll chase over to the office now on this grape-juice thing and come back here in time for lunch. Is T. A. in? I'll look in on him a minute. We'll all lunch together, and then----"
"Can't do it, son. The show opens at one. Gertrude, my model, comes on at three. She's going to have the stage to herself for ten minutes, during which she'll make four changes of costume to demonstrate the usefulness of the skirt for every sort of gown from chiffon to velvet. Come back here at one, if you like. If I'm not here, come over to the show. But--lunch! I'd choke."
At twelve-thirty, there scampered into Emma's office a very white-faced, round-eyed little stock-girl. Emma, deep in a last-minute discussion with Buck, had a premonition of trouble before the girl gasped out her message.
"Oh, Mrs. Buck, Gertie's awful sick!"
"Sick!" echoed Emma and Buck, in duet. Then Emma:
"But she can't be! It's impossible! She was all right a half hour ago." She was hurrying down the hall as she spoke. "Where is she?"
"They've got her on one of the tables in the workroom. She's moaning awful."
Gertie's appendix, with that innate sense of the dramatic so often found in temperamental appendices, had indeed chosen this moment to call attention to itself. Gertie, the demurely pretty and quietly charming, was rolled in a very tight ball on the workroom cutting-table. At one o'clock, she was on her way home in a cab, under the care of a doctor, Miss Kelly, the bookkeeper, and Jock, who, coming in gaily at one, had been pressed into service, bewildered but willing.
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Ferber's Short Stories Vol. 2 -by- Edna Ferber