I Ain’t Afraid of No Black Bird Part X: Woman à La Mode

In which our heroine, ever so polite, but more than this, ever so dependent on the roofs of others, is clad in fashions most unsuited to her spirit…

Though Millie still threw the occasional cautionary look over her shoulder, she distracted herself by sitting at her writing desk with Imago. Her attention was only aroused at the encroaching sound of a flat and flopping footstep or the flagrant use of affected mispronunciation, both of which signalled the vicinity of the loathed Gunthar Hartsbinder. It had been over three hours since Millie had suffered his invitation to a certain soirée, and she had hoped that his offer to supply her with his own tailor had been nothing more than an empty boast: freely put forward and easily forgotten.

At first she resolved to build on her studies in anatomy, but soon formed the impression that such an endeavour was too ambitious for the spirit of the day. She then made up her mind to read for leisure, and removed, much to Imago’s dissatisfaction, a large green book from beneath the bird. She stared at her recent purchase from a London bookseller.

–          “Two Trips to Gorilla Land and the Cataracts of the Congo, my dear Imago: a travelogue, someone to see the world for us. That’s what we need. No tattered and dusty textbooks, not today at least…”

Imago moved closer, one black foot on the book which Millie had lain open, and his beak nibbling the corners of the first pages.

–          “Preface…” she said softly, commanding his curiosity.

But no sooner had her breath lifted her breast to read aloud, than Gunthar Hartsbinder, hand unknocking and gaze uninvited, came swinging through the door.

–          “Master Harts-bin-?” managed Millie.

Words stopped short when the whip-crack sound of an inch tape provided by Hartsbinder’s tailor finally sealed Millie and Imago’s terrified bemusement; they were frozen in mid-action.

The tailor’s crew hurriedly herded them off to the young Master’s personal fitting room, where they were met by an array of the most foppish fabrics. Yet more tongues of silk and velvet and satin and beaded details and rows of buttons stitched on strips of cotton poured out of two travel trunks, which were mounted on the backs of four young boys.

Millie was still aghast, and could not help acting like little more than a pliable statue for the tailor’s assistants, who turned, measured, prodded and posed her until they had, in little more than twenty minutes, sculpted around her form a shape made of paper and pins. She longed for a mirror, but it seemed that Gunthar Hartsbinder had other plans.

–          “Ak-ka! Naughty Frau Millie! Had I not told Miss Feathermann that she should not walk in on my arm without the finest in taste, ya? So no peeking!”

The tailor and the young Hartsbinder then proceeded to weigh out every roll of fabric they deemed reasonable, holding each up to Millie’s complexion. And, it seemed, it was always the face which gave offence to the tailor’s fabric, rather the fabric complement to the face. After many a laboured attempt at excellence – and with the great sigh of perfectionists forfeiting to the strains of time – the industrious pair finally settled on a colour and a style that they considered satisfactory in the case of such a last minute assignment.

Millie could not say what impression she had gathered of her destined garment; her head was still spinning from whirlwind measuring and from the criticism of her form in relation to the demands made on it by the current fashions. She exited with a flustered Imago, who had lost a few feathers and disturbed a few fingers in his attempt to get anywhere near his Millie. She held him close now.

Before retiring to the company of Old Hartsbinder, the young Gunthar Hartsbinder took her by the elbow and whispered a promise into her ear:

–          “My sweet Frau Millie shall be the best dressed, you shall see, ya…goodnight my angel, goodnight!”

Millie stared with lips apart at his flat feet. As they strode down the corridor, he got smaller and smaller, and disappeared, she wished forever, into his father’s sickroom.