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Three rather tragic figures stared at one another in the junior partner's office. They were Emma, Buck, and Grace Galt, Jock's wife-to-be. Grace Galt, slim, lovely, girlish, was known, at twenty-four, as one of the most expert copy writers in the advertising world. In her clear-headed, capable manner, she tried to suggest a way out of the difficulty now.
"But surely the world's full of girls," she said. "It's late, I know; but any theatrical agency will send a girl over."
"That's just what I tried to avoid," Emma replied. "I wanted to show this skirt on a sweet, pretty, refined sort of girl who looks and acts like a lady. One of those blond show girls would kill it."
Gloom settled down again over the three. Emma broke the silence with a rueful little laugh.
"I think," she said, "that perhaps you're right, T. A., and this is the Lord's way of showing me that the world is not quite ready for this skirt."
"You're not beaten yet, Emma," Buck assured her vigorously. "How about this new girl--what's her name?--Myrtle. She's one of those thin, limp ones, isn't she? Try her."
"I will," said Emma. "You're right. I'm not beaten yet. I've had to fight for everything worth while in my life. I'm superstitious about it now. When things come easy I'm afraid of them." Then, to the stock-girl, "Annie, tell Myrtle I want to see her."
Silence fell again upon the three. Myrtle, very limp, very thin, very languid indeed, roused them at her entrance. The hopeful look in Emma's eyes faded as she beheld her. Myrtle was so obviously limp, so hopelessly new.
"Annie says you want me to take Gertie's place," drawled Myrtle, striking a magazine-cover attitude.
"I don't know that you are just the--er--type; but perhaps, if you're willing----"
"Of course I didn't come here as a model," said Myrtle, and sagged on the other hip. "But, as a special favor to you I'm willing to try it--at special model's rates."
Emma ran a somewhat frenzied hand through her hair.
"Then, as a special favor to me, will you begin by trying to stand up straight, please? That debutante slouch would kill a queen's coronation costume."
Myrtle straightened, slumped again.
"I can't help it if I am willowy"--listlessly.
"Your hair!" Myrtle's hand went vaguely to her head. "I can't have you wear it that way."
"Why, this is the French roll!" protested Myrtle, offended.
"Then do it in a German bun!" snapped Emma. "Any way but that. Will you walk, please?"
"Yes, walk; I want to see how you----"
Myrtle walked across the room. A groan came from Emma.
"I thought so." She took a long breath.
"Myrtle, listen: That Australian crawl was necessary when our skirts were so narrow we had to negotiate a curbing before we could take it. But the skirt you're going to demonstrate is wide. Like that! You're practically a free woman in it. Step out! Stride! Swing! Walk!"
Myrtle tried it, stumbled, sulked.
Emma, half smiling, half woeful, patted the girl's shoulder.
"Oh, I see; you're wearing a tight one. Well, run in and get into the skirt. Miss Loeb will help you. Then come back here--and quickly, please."
The three looked at each other in silence. It was a silence brimming with eloquent meaning. Each sought encouragement in the eyes of the other--and failed to find it. Failing, they broke into helpless laughter. It proved a safety-valve.
"She may do, Emma--when she has her hair done differently, and if she'll only stand up."
But Emma shook her head.
"T. A., something tells me you're going to have a wonderful chance to say, `I told you so!' at three o'clock this afternoon."
"You know I wouldn't say it, Emma."
"Yes; I do know it, dear. But what's the difference, if the chance is there?"
Suspense settled down on the little office. Billy Spalding entered, smiling. After five minutes of waiting, even his buoyant spirits sank.
"Don't you think--if you were to go in and--and sort of help adjust things----" suggested Buck vaguely.
"No; I don't want to prop her up. She'll have to stand alone when she gets there. She'll either do, or not. When she enters that door, I'll know."
When Myrtle entered, wearing the fascinatingly fashioned new model, they all knew.
Emma spoke decisively.
"That settles it."
"What's the matter? Don't it look all right?" demanded Myrtle.
"Take it off, Myrtle."
Then, to the others, as Myrtle, sulking, left the room:
"I can stand to see that skirt die if necessary. But I won't help murder it."
"But, Mrs. Buck," protested Spalding, almost tearfully, "you've got to exhibit that skirt. You've got to!"
Emma shook a sorrowing head.
"That wouldn't be an exhibition, Billy. It would be an expose."
Spalding clapped a desperate hand to his bald head.
"If only I had Julian Eltinge's shape, I'd wear it to the show for you myself."
"That's all it needs now," retorted Emma grimly.
Whereupon, Grace Galt spoke up in her clear, decisive voice.
"Wait a minute," she said quietly. "I'm going to wear that skirt at the fashion show."
"You!" cried the three, like a trained trio.
"Why not?" demanded Grace Galt, coolly. Then: "No; don't tell me why not. I won't listen."
But Emma, equally cool, would have none of it.
"It's impossible, dear. You're an angel to want to help me. But you must know it's quite out of the question."
"It's nothing of the kind. This skirt isn't merely a fad. It has a fortune in it. I'm business woman enough to know that. You've got to let me do it. It isn't only for yourself. It's for T. A. and for the future of the firm."
"Do you suppose I'd allow you to stand up before all those people?"
"Why not? I don't know them. They don't know me. I can make them get the idea in that skirt. And I'm going to do it. You don't object to me on the same grounds that you did to Myrtle, do you?"
"You!" burst from the admiring Spalding. "Say, you'd make a red-flannel petticoat look like crepe de Chine and lace."
"There!" said Grace, triumphant. "That settles it!" And she was off down the hall. They stood a moment in stunned silence. Then:
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Ferber's Short Stories Vol. 2 -by- Edna Ferber