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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

A Tragedy Of Gowns

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Frau Knapf was panting as I pulled her after me in swift eagerness. Between puffs she brought out exclamations of surprise and unbelief such as: "Unmoglich! (Puff! Puff!) Aber--wunderbar! (Puff! Puff!)

We stopped before Frau Nirlanger's door. I struck a dramatic pose. "Prepare!" I cried grandly, and threw open the door with a bang.

Crouched against the wall at a far corner of the room was Frau Nirlanger. Her hands were clasped over her breast and her eyes were dilated as though she had been running. In the center of the room stood Konrad Nirlanger, and on his oogly face was the very oogliest look that I have ever seen on a man. He glanced at us as we stood transfixed in the doorway, and laughed a short, sneering laugh that was like a stinging blow on the cheek.

"So!" he said; and I would not have believed that men really said "So!" in that way outside of a melodrama. "So! You are in the little surprise, yes? You carry your meddling outside of your newspaper work, eh? I leave behind me an old wife in the morning and in the evening, presto! I find a young bride. Wonderful!-- but wonderful!" He laughed an unmusical and mirthless laugh.

"But--don't you like it?" I asked, like a simpleton.

Frau Nirlanger seemed to shrink before our very eyes, so that the pretty gown hung in limp folds about her.

I stared, fascinated, at Konrad Nirlanger's cruel face with its little eyes that were too close together and its chin that curved in below the mouth and out again so grotesquely.

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"Like it?" sneered Konrad Nirlanger. "For a young girl, yes. But how useless, this belated trousseau. What a waste of good money! For see, a young wife I do not want. Young women one can have in plenty, always. But I have an old woman married, and for an old woman the gowns need be few--eh, Frau Orme? And you too, Frau Knapf?"

Frau Knapf, crimson and staring, was dumb. There came a little shivering moan from the figure crouched in the corner, and Frau Nirlanger, her face queerly withered and ashen, crumpled slowly in a little heap on the floor and buried her shamed head in her arms.

Konrad Nirlanger turned to his wife, the black look on his face growing blacker.

"Come, get up Anna," he ordered, in German. "These heroics become not a woman of your years. And too, you must not ruin the so costly gown that will be returned to-morrow."

Frau Nirlanger's white face was lifted from the shelter of her arms. The stricken look was still upon it, but there was no cowering in her attitude now. Slowly she rose to her feet. I had not realized that she was so tall.

"The gown does not go back," she said.

"So?" he snarled, with a savage note in his voice. "Now hear me. There shall be no more buying of gowns and fripperies. You hear? It is for the wife to come to the husband for the money; not for her to waste it wantonly on gowns, like a creature of the streets. You," his voice was an insult, "you, with your wrinkles and your faded eyes in a gown of--" he turned inquiringly toward me--"How does one call it, that color, Frau Orme?"

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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