The first serious cracks appeared when Walter cut back the housekeeping allowance. At first Ruby didn’t understand the reason and thought it was a reflection of her poor housekeeping ability. Possibly, she thought, it was because she had talked continually about buying a Singer Sewing Machine. Now they could be obtained through hire purchase and a small amount could be paid each month.
Walter’s friend Harry would call in for a glass of beer on Friday afternoon and sometimes stay for dinner. His wife had left him for a fellow up in Sydney so he enjoyed a home cooked meal when he could get it. She didn’t know why she said it, but when Walter was outside getting some wood for the fire she burst out suddenly with, “Walter doesn’t think much of me as a housekeeper – he’s cut my allowance.”
Harry shrugged and said, “Well I reckon I know why that is. He’s been losing a lot on the horses recently. Can’t seem to pick a winner and spends all his spare time at work studying the form. If I were you I’d take charge of the money and give him an allowance.”
After Harry left Ruby couldn’t contain herself. Anger consumed her and she told Walter what she thought of him.
Walter glared back. “What I do with my money is my concern. You will make do with what I give you.”
Still simmering with rage next day, Ruby took Annie for her morning outing in the pram. At the corner shop she examined the notices in the window. If she could earn some money she would not be dependent on Walter’s fickle income. Skimming over requests for gardeners and house cleaners she stopped at a carefully written card which simply said.
Without further hesitation Ruby wheeled the pram into the shop. A short, plump woman with a careworn face looked up with recognition and smiled.
“What can I do for you today, Mrs Lane?”
“It’s about that advertisement in the window – for a dressmaker. I’m wondering if I would be able to contact the lady who requires a dressmaker.”
“And what would you know about making dresses for the gentry?” the woman asked carefully.
“I learned dressmaking from Madame Chanel in Stawell. She is French and does all the latest fashions. I keep up to date with all the new designs.”
She swirled around in her newly completed dress, glad that she had chosen to wear it today. “Look, I made this.”
“I don’t hold with these new short skirts”, sniffed the shop keeper. “There ain’t nothing pretty about an ankle. Keep ‘em covered, I say.”
“But the gentry, as you say, want to be wearing the latest fashions,” exclaimed Ruby. “Now, tell me please, who is looking for a dressmaker?”
The woman disappeared behind the curtain, reappearing with a letter. “Read this and write a reply. I’ll give it to Mrs X and she will arrange a meeting if she approves of you.”
The meeting was a success. Her first dress was completely made by hand, with many hours spent joining seams with tiny stitches. She had to be careful to remove all traces of her work when Walter came home, especially when she was able to make the first payment on her Singer Sewing Machine.
Mrs X was delighted and told her friends of Ruby’s wonderful sense of style and expert sewing skills. Soon Ruby had more work than she could handle without Walter becoming suspicious. The money she earned paid off the sewing machine and contributed towards the food bill. Walter’s allowance was reduced once again so she argued for more control over his fortnightly pay.
It was as if she was talking to a different man to the one she had met in Stawell not so many years ago. The fever in his eyes was for his beloved horse races, not the rebellious young woman who lived in his house.