Miss Kate answered him very quietly, trying to keep her own voice easy and natural. “That’s a toy chicken, cut out of wood.”
“What’m I doin’ with it?”
“You’ve just finished painting it.”
Chet Ball held it in his great hand and stared at it for a brief moment, struggling between anger and amusement. And between anger and amusement he put it down on the table none too gently and stoop up, yawning a little.
“That’s a hell of a job for a he-man!” Then in utter contrition: “Oh, beggin’ your pardon! That was fierce! I didn’t—”
But there was nothing shocked about the expression on Miss Kate’s face. She was registering joy—pure joy.
When you are twenty you do not patronize sunsets unless you are unhappy, in love, or both. Tessie Golden was both. Six months ago a sunset that Belasco himself could not have improved upon had wrung from her only a casual tribute such as: “My! Look how red the sky is!” delivered as unemotionally as a weather bulletin.
Tessie Golden sat on the top step of the back porch now, a slim, inert heap in a cotton kimono whose colour and design were libels on the Nipponese. Her head was propped wearily against the porch post. Her hands were limp in her lap. Her face was turned toward the west, where shone that mingling of orange and rose known as salmon pink. But no answering radiance in the girl’s face met the glow in the Wisconsin sky.
* * * * *
Saturday night, after supper in Chippewa, Wis., Tessie Golden of the pre-sunset era would have been calling from her bedroom to the kitchen: “Ma, what’d you do with my pink georgette waist?”
And from the kitchen: “It’s in your second bureau drawer. The collar was kind of mussed from Wednesday night, and I give it a little pressing while my iron was on.”
At seven-thirty Tessie would have emerged from her bedroom in the pink georgette blouse that might have been considered alarmingly frank as to texture and precariously V-cut as to neck had Tessie herself not been so reassuringly unopulent; a black taffeta skirt, lavishly shirred and very brief; white kid shoes, high-laced, whose height still failed to achieve the two inches of white silk stocking that linked skirt hem to shoe top; finally, a hat with a good deal of French blue about it.
As she passed through the sitting room on her way out her mother would appear in the doorway, dish towel in hand. Her pride in this slim young thing and her love of her she concealed with a thin layer of carping criticism.
“Runnin’ downtown again, I s’pose.” A keen eye on the swishing skirt hem.
Tessie, the quick-tongued, would pat the arabesque of shining hair that lay coiled so submissively against either glowing cheek. “Oh, my, no! I just thought I’d dress up in case Angie Hatton drove past in her auto and picked me up for a little ride. So’s not to keep her waiting.”