Page 2

1918_08_17--005_SP [The Vulgar Dollar]

6 THE SATURDAY EVENING POST August 17, 1918 Coming downstairs so early I had scarcely anticipated encountering any of the household except the servants. But fortunately I am never embarrassed by unexpected meetings, being always arrayed nowadays in my uniform, even when about to perform the more material duties of my situation, such as overseeing Hoskins while he oversaw the caterer's men in the arrangement of the tables on the west terrace. Therefore it was with some surprise, though without embarrassment, that I encountered Esmeralda upon emerging through the drawing-room window into the clear sunlight beyond. As usual she was the first thing discernible, being perched upon the terrace balustrade in a most undignified posture, her red head fairly, as I may say, burning against the blue waters beyond. That uncouth animal, her Jeffdog, as she called it, was with her, as always, and she was watching the caterer's men hurrying about, while she swung one foot to the rhythm of the tune she was singing- " My country, 'tis of thee," it was, I believe. When she saw me she jumped down and met me halfway across the terrace. "Say, Penny !" she began abruptly, waving one of her capable hands in a sweeping gesture that encompassed the entire activity then in progress by the caterer's men in conjunction with our own servants: "Say, Penny, how much is this blow-out going to cost in cold cash?" For a moment I pondered her singular inquiry, having first interpreted her language to myself and digested it. "Do you mean that you wish to know the extent of the expenditure which your aunt is mak- ing in this good cause?" I inquired in my turn, endeavoring to insinuate a more proper attitude of mind than that which was all too plainly exist- ent in her. " That's about it," said Mrs. Esmeralda. " What will it set her back?" "Your aunt has not set any definite limit on the expenditure," I replied; "nor have I any exact figures on the matter. I do not believe that dear Mrs. DeWynt would consider it altogether delicate to keep too close a track on such a thing. But roughly speaking and including the music I would say that the cost will be at least fifteen hundred dollars." I made this announcement with some pride, but I cannot truthfully record that Mrs. Esmeralda was duly impressed. Instead she stood there fixing me with that quizzical look of hers which always upset me so unaccountably. "And how many invitations at five dollars a ticket have been sent out?" she went on. "Two hundred," I replied. "This is to be distinctly exclusive; if the list were too large the people who are rather on the outside would not be so eager to come!" "So if every one of them does come," said Mrs. Esmeralda slowly, "you will take in a thousand dollars. And the show will have cost half as much again!" To say that I was shocked by her commercial attitude is putting it mildly. But I endeavored to clarify her point of view, as was ever my custom when she obtruded her ignorance, which was the more pitiful because of its utter unconsciousness, if you know what I mean. " My dear Mrs. Tugwell," I remonstrated as gently as possible, "you do not understand. This is not a commercial investment in which your dear aunt is putting fifteen hundred dollars with the prospect of getting back her money and having a profit left over to turn into the hands of the Red Cross! Every cent that comes in will be turned over to that organization by her in person at the next committee meeting. The money she is spending is spent out of her own pocket !" "Then why doesn't she give it direct to the Red Cross," Mrs. Esmeralda wanted to know, "instead of going to all this bother? They'd be making on it at that !" "My dear lady!" I protested. "Can you not perceive that more than mere money will come of this? Many women now without interest in the Red Cross will gain that interest through having attended this function. The organization will get publicity from it in connection with Mrs. DeWynt's name. And besides, the upkeep of any charitable organization conducted by gentle people is never done in the way you suggest. If such a thing were even attempted it would at once lose the interest of our set !" "I don't know about losing the interest of people," said Esmeralda slowly, "and I didn't know that the Red Cross was a charitable institution, either. I thought it was a patriotic affair like men volunteering for the Army. And as for the business end of it, if your local branch doesn't know any more about it than you say, well, it's time they learned, that's all!" With that she turned and left me there wordless before such a peculiar viewpoint. But without waiting to discover whether or not I had anything further to say she and her dog disappeared in the direction of the garage. When they had quite gone from sight I addressed myself to the work for which I had descended at such an impossible hour. But the fulfillment of my task was purely mechanical. Despite my utmost endeavor I could not but ponder upon this, as I may call her, stranger in our midst, and her peculiar conception of almost every custom that had long ago been settled correctly by—by a precedent or some equally good authority, if you know what I mean. Take bridge, for example. Before Mrs. Esmeralda's marriage my dear patroness, when she discovered that the game was unknown even by name to her niece, intrusted me with the not repugnant task of instructing that young lady in the rudiments of the art. "Aggie," my dear lady had said, "Aggie, get two other poor players who won't mind, and make that girl learn. If I am to take her about with me at all she must have some equipment as a dinner guest !" And so, though I would infinitely have preferred double-dummy, I managed to persuade Mrs. Ted Collins, who is absolutely shameless about the quality of her game, and her husband, who was always most awfully decent to our Western relative, to assist me in imparting the necessary knowledge to Esmeralda. And my com- plaint is not that she failed to learn the game. Far from that ! She acquired it with an ease that was almost un- maidenly. But she did not care for it, or so she said, as a pastime. "I think this game is a dead one!" she announced Thin k You and I Might Form the Basis of a New Bridge Table. At Onee I" after the first hour, during which I may mention en passant she had won a dollar and sixty cents at a penny a point. "It moves so slowly!" I endeavored to explain to her that the game was an intellectual effort and hardly a pastime as she had termed it; and how it broadened one and strengthened the brain. Mr. and Mrs. Ted failed to give me much backing on this, and I fear it did not make much impression on our pupil, for she only said: "What does it strengthen and broaden your brain for, Penny?" . " Why—er—for more and better bridge !" I replied. Really the girl had a way of asking the most pointless questions at times! And so, though I could faithfully report to my dear patroness that she had learned the game and learned it well, I was careful not to add that she had no taste for it. If I had but mentioned the fact, what disaster might we not have avoided! But at the time I had no conception that Esmeralda's lack of enthusiasm about what I fancy I may well term the national sport of the best people could possibly have any deeper significance than a mere expression of personal taste. Nor did the appearance of the too-large table upon the terrace have any sinister aspect to my unsuspecting eyes. Its advent occurred directly after Mrs. Esmeralda had left me to the performance ofjny duties after her questionnaire, as I may call it, regarding the cost of the forthcoming festivities. As I have mentioned, I was superintending Hoskins as he superintended the caterer's men, and I confess that I was somewhat absorbed in thoughts along other lines than those connected with my immediate task when Hoskins called upon me to settle an important point. I awoke from my, as I may call it, reverie, to find him at my elbow. "Beg pardon, sir," said Hoskins, "but if we scatter the tables so that they occupy the entire terrace they'll be rather skimpy-looking, sir, and far apart, sir !" I pulled myself together and grasped this difficult situation with that firmness which dear Mrs. DeWynt has been so kind as to describe as my masterly hand on the proper setting for a social function. I considered the size of the card tables, the length of the terrace and the likely number of guests. Hoskins was undoubtedly correct. It was at this point that I gave those directions which afterward had such fatal consequences. "Have the tables put closer together, Hoskins," I instructed him, "and fill out the far end by having one of the long tables from the library brought out. You may put a large bowl of tall bright-colored flowers in the center and place cigarettes, matches and extra packs of new cards on either side." I saw to the doing of this myself, and as a result the terrace balanced nicely. Not too empty nor overcrowded, but giving that pleasing sense of rightness which is so essential to the morale of any outdoor function, if you know what I mean; an arrangement which prevented the guests from feeling too uncomfortably close to Nature, and all that. I then established the position for music, the time and method of serving tea,and at length felt at liberty to indulge in a well-earned rest. Is it not strange how often the most momentous inci- dents can come upon us without casting the, as I may say, faintest shadow of foreboding before them? From the most serene sky can come, as some poet chap has it— doubtless one of Mrs. Ted's Bohemian curiosities—from a serene blue sky can come a bolt, or words to that effect, if you know what I mean. And possibly one of the very oddest things about our sky while Esmeralda was technically in our midst was that the bolts usually came in groups of two or even more. And the apparently well-attended-to day of our bridge drive was actually one of the worst. I have described how, my morning's labor ended, I was about to retire to the privacy of my chambers and indulge in a milkshake and a concentrated perusal of the social notes in the more important newspapers with a view of thus getting refreshment both intellectual and physical, when a most amazing occurrence temporarily impeded my progress. At dear Mrs. DeWynt's otherwise perfect country place there is one architectural defect. It is a narrow and even at noon totally dark corridor, which attaches the culinary department to the luncheon room. This amazing error in construction is due to the unfortunate fact that the plans of the house as originally submitted to my dear patroness and approved by her contained no culinary department whatsoever. You see the architect who made the drawings was Reginald Carrington -Tweedle, old Tweedle's only son, you know. And of course when Mrs. DeWynt heard that the poor misguided young chap had actually gone in for such a, as I might almost say, menial occupation as one of the arts, she at once, with her unfailing class instinct, felt that the least she could do for his poor mother was to assist him in confining his employment to the best people only. Besides which it was his first commission, and so of course a very large fee was out of the question. But unfortunately neither young Reggie nor my dear lady even thought about the kitchens, and so forth; with the result that the house was nearly built before this important though vulgar detail was missed. Consequently the necessary addition was hastily made; but the aforementioned dark little hallway was unavoidable. On one side of this corridor was the butler's pantry; on the other side, the luncheon room. At one end of it was a small dressing room for guests' hats, and so forth, and at the other end the main hall. Now to my incident: As I was crossing the last-mentioned end, whom should I encounter but Mrs. Esmeralda, who ran into me at a great speed and, being both a trifle breathless and inclined to suppressed mirth, pulled me into the nearest drawingroom. It was only then that I got the opportunity of observing that though she was evidently gowned for luncheon in a most becoming frock of white lace—Mrs. De- Wynt's choice, I have no doubt—she carried a partially consumed ham sandwich of enormous proportions in one hand. "Penny!" she said excitedly, "tell me quick ! Do I look anything like Mrs. St. Johns, even in the dark?" I did not need to hesitate. Even though Esmeralda looked undeniably smart and indeed in my estimation beautiful, she in no wise resembled her fashionable cousin, and I told her so quite frankly.


1918_08_17--005_SP [The Vulgar Dollar]
To see the actual publication please follow the link above