Mrs. Reginald Norman walked into Sherry’s and sank down at a small table with the calm assurance of one conscious of being both beautiful and perfectly gowned. There were no defects for the critical world to take up and magnify. Her gown fitted flawlessly, was built by the highest court of appeal on Parisian fashions, and suited her to perfection.
There is nothing like such a latent consciousness to impart poise to the wearer. Dainty little Ethel Danielson followed, dropping into the opposite chair.
“It was awfully nice of you to set this time for me to meet and lunch with you,” said Mrs. Danielson, leisurely drawing off her long gloves. “Really, if you do not set definite hours you never see your friends at all; this last whirl before Lent has been frightful, hasn’t it? I’m worn to a shred!”
“Yes, I shall be glad of a rest. You must go to things—if for no other reason than to prove you are asked. I haven’t seen any of my family for over a week. I saw your husband a moment or two at the Opera last night with the Goodhue Livingstons,” returned Mrs. Norman, as she loosened her veil.
“Oh, did you? Poor Harry—how was he? He has been having the grip or something, his valet told me a couple of days ago,” answered Mrs. Danielson carelessly. “Well, my dear, to change the subject—are you going to the Christy’s bridge party? I’m simply dying of curiosity to know! I thought of you the minute I opened the cards and wondered what you would do—you have said so much about them.”
“Don’t mention bridge to me!” burst out Mrs. Norman emphatically. “Look at my hair—did you ever behold such a vision in your life? The parlor-maid did it, after much persuasion and an ample tip. I’m perfectly discouraged—Therése has gone!”
“Gone? That maid you brought from Paris! Why you told me that nothing but fire or the sword would separate you from that girl,” ejaculated Mrs. Danielson in surprise; “wasn’t she satisfactory after all?”
“Perfectly satisfactory—perfectly, my love. I never had a maid who so thoroughly understood my style and what I could and could not wear. I was forced to let her go; every one of the eleven servants would have left. The housekeeper told me it was policy to dismiss her,” said Mrs. Norman, thrusting her fork into a soft shell crab with great vehemence.
“Might one ask why they objected to her? Certainly, her nationality wasn’t a ground for such a demand, for half your servants are French, aren’t they?” questioned Mrs. Danielson with much interest.
“Oh, it wasn’t that. She didn’t play bridge! She just made the twelfth one, and her not playing spoiled the third table—they would not have her,” explained Mrs. Norman dubiously.
“What are we coming to!” Mrs. Danielson exclaimed in despair; “I don’t wonder you’re discouraged—you have to be so careful how you are gotten up. You look so stunning in some things and so—well, you understand—one must study one’s style! Now tell me, what are you going to do about the Christy’s bridge? Everyone is wild over it! I’ve heard nothing else for days—it’s to be quite the event of the season. Shall you go?”
“No. I have thought it all out. It seems to me some of us must take a stand. If we accept invitations from the Christys’ why the harm is done—they will be in society before we know it! There are enough queer people in our set already without adding them. I shall not go!” Mrs. Norman drew herself up haughtily.
“That’s just what I think,” echoed Ethel Danielson; “we must, as you say, take some definite position in the matter. If we stand out I am sure others will. The Christys are simply dying to get in, and they have loads of money to back them. What was it—blacking? Something disagreeable, I remember.”
“No, ink! Just as black and disgusting. They’ve squandered hundreds on this bridge party; all the prizes were bought abroad, I hear, and Kathryn Van Rensselaer told me there were to be fifty tables,” continued Mrs. Norman.
“It will be one of those horribly vulgar affairs with five times as much of everything as there is any need of, I suppose,” rejoined Ethel scornfully.
“Do you know, I hear that ballroom is the most magnificent in New York—done entirely by Garten-Veen.”
“Well, we shall at least hear about it,” sighed Mrs. Norman, with a slight tinge of regret in her tone, “we’ll telephone—you have one of course!”
“Have a telephone? Well, I should say! One might as well be out of the world as try to live without one. Everyone has one now,” answered Mrs. Danielson with a shrug.
“Then do call me up and tell me everything you hear,” said Mrs. Norman eagerly, “and I will call you. Thank Heaven, there are two of us with conscience enough to block the Christys’ social pathway!”
During the week preceding the much talked of function, one heard it on every hand. Some said the prizes alone mounted up into the hundreds; others announced that the decorations were to be the floral marvel of the season; two reporters had been permitted to view Mrs. Christy’s gown and wrote exhaustive descriptions on this monument to the Parisian art.
Mrs. Norman and Ethel Danielson had frequent long gossips over the telephone, relating each fresh item and exulting that they, at least, had not lost their heads.
“Elise Thayer says she shall not go if we don’t,” called Mrs. Norman with great satisfaction; “I have talked to her very seriously about it and told her it was her duty to the rest of us to stay away, and she says she will. No, I haven’t sent regrets yet—I shall wait until the last moment and be as nasty as I can,” and Mrs. Norman gave a rippling laugh.
At last the eventful day of the great bridge party came and among the early arriving guests was Mrs. Norman. She glanced around her, noting critically every detail of the luxurious house with its exquisite appointments. Of course Ethel Danielson and Elise Thayer would hear that she had come and be furious, but she was well prepared with explanations when next she should meet them. She had planned it all very carefully.
She was sweeping down the staircase to greet her hostess when she suddenly stopped aghast! From opposite directions—entirely unconscious of the other’s approach—came Ethel Danielson and Elise Thayer. There was no avoiding the collision at the foot of the stairs and the three women were brought abruptly face to face.
Categories: English Literature