Chapter IX
 

Barry was the last guest to reach Holly Hall on the evening of Mrs. Burgoyne's first dinner-party, and came in to find the great painter who was her guest the centre of a laughing and talking group in the long drawing-room. Mrs. Apostleman, with an open book of reproductions from Whistler on her broad, brocade lap, had the armchair next to the guest of honor, and Barry's quick look for his hostess discovered her on a low hassock at the painter's knee, looking very young and fresh, in her white frock, with a LaMarque rose at her belt and another in her dark hair. She greeted him very gravely, almost timidly, and in the new self-consciousness that had suddenly come to them both it was with difficulty that even the commonplace words of greeting were accomplished, and it was with evident relief that she turned from him to ask her guests to come into the dining-room.

Warm daylight was still pouring into the drawing-room at seven o'clock, and in the pleasant dining-room, too, there was no other light. The windows here were wide open, and garden scents drifted in from the recently watered flower-beds. The long table, simply set, was ornamented only by low bowls of the lovely San Rafael roses.

Guided and stimulated by the hostess, the conversation ran in a gay, unbroken stream, for the painter liked to talk, and Santa Paloma enjoyed him. But under it all the women guests were aware of an almost resentful amazement at the simplicity of the dinner. When, after nine o'clock, the ladies went into the drawing-room and settled about a snapping wood fire, Mrs. Lloyd could not resist whispering to Mrs. Apostleman, "For a company dinner!" Mrs. Adams was entirely absorbed in deciding just what position she would take when Mrs. White alluded to the affair the next day; but Mrs. White had come primed for special business this evening, and she took immediate advantage of the absence of the men to speak to Mrs. Burgoyne.

"As president of our little club," said she, when they were all seated, "I am authorized to ask you if I may put your name up for membership, Mrs. Burgoyne. We are all members here, and in this quiet place our meetings are a real pleasure, and I hope an education as well."

"Oh, really--!" Mrs. Burgoyne began, but the other went on serenely:

"I brought one of our yearly programs, we have just got them out, and I'm going to leave it with you. I think Mr. White left it here on the table. Yes; here it is. You see," she opened a dainty little book and flattened it with a white, jeweled hand, "our work is all laid out, up to the president's breakfast in March. I go out then, and a week later we inaugurate the new president. Let me just run over this for you, for I know it will interest you. Now here, Tuesdays. Tuesday is our regular meeting day. We have a program, music, and books suggested for the week, reports, business, and one good paper--the topics vary; here's 'Old Thanksgiving Customs,' in November, then a debate, 'What is Friendship,' then 'Christmas Spirit,' and then our regular Christmas Tree and Jinks. Once a month, on Tuesday, we have some really fine speaker from the city, and we often have fine singers, and so on. Then we have a monthly reception for our visitors, and a supper; usually we just have tea and bread-and-butter after the meetings. Then, first Monday, Directors' Meeting; that doesn't matter. Every other Wednesday the Literary Section meets, they are doing wonderful work; Miss Foster has that; she makes it very interesting. 'What English Literature Owes to Meredith,' 'Rossetti, the Man,'--you see I'm just skimming, to give you some idea. Then the Dramatic Section, every other Thursday; they give a play once a year; that's great fun! 'Ibsen-- Did he Understand Women?' 'Please Explain--Mr. Shaw?'--Mrs. Moore makes that very amusing. Then alternate Thursdays the Civic and Political Section--"

"Ah! What does that do?" said Mrs. Burgoyne.

"Why," said Mrs. White hesitating, "I haven't been--however, I think they took up the sanitation of the schools; Miss Jewett, from Sacramento, read a splendid paper about it. There's a committee to look into that, and then last year that section planted a hundred trees. And then there's parliamentary drill."

"Which we all need," said Mrs. Adams, and there was laughter.

"Then there's the Art Department once a month," resumed Mrs. White, "Founders' Day, Old-Timers' Day, and, in February, we think Judge Lindsey may address us--"

"Oh, are you doing any juvenile-court work?" said the hostess.

"We wanted his suggestions about it," Mrs. White said. "We feel that if we could get some of the ladies interested--! Then here's the French class once a week; German, Spanish, and the bridge club on Fridays."

"Gracious! You use your clubhouse," said Mrs. Burgoyne.

"Nearly every day. So come on Tuesday," said the president winningly, "and be our guest. A Miss Carroll is to sing, and Professor Noyesmith, of Berkeley, will read a paper on: 'The City Beautiful.' Keep that year-book; I butchered it, running through it so fast."

"Well, just now," Mrs. Burgoyne began a little hesitatingly, "I'm rather busy. I am at the Mail office while the girls are in school, you know, and we have laid out an enormous lot of gardening for afternoons. They never tire of gardening if I'm with them, but, of course, no children will do that sort of thing alone; and it's doing them both so much good that I don't want to stop it. Then they study German and Italian with me, and on Saturday have a cooking lesson. You see, my time is pretty full."

"But a good governess would take every bit of that off your hands, me dear," said Mrs. Apostleman.

"Oh, but I love to do it!" protested Mrs. Burgoyne with her wide- eyed, childish look. "You can't really buy for them what you can do yourself, do you think so? And now the other children are beginning to come in, and it's such fun! But that isn't all. I have editorial work to do, besides the Mail, you know. I manage the 'Answers to Mothers' column in a little eastern magazine. I daresay you've never seen it; it is quite unpretentious, but it has a large circulation. And these mothers write me, some of them factory-workers, or mothers of child-workers even, or lonely women on some isolated ranch; you've no idea how interesting it is! Of course they don't know who I am, but we become good friends, just the same. I have the best reference books about babies and sickness, and I give them the best advice I can. Sometimes it's a boy's text-book that is wanted, or a second-hand crib, or some dear old mother to get into a home, and they are so self-respecting about it, and so afraid they aren't paying fair--I love that work! But, of course, it takes time. Then I've been hunting up a music-teacher for the girls. I can't teach them that--"

"I meant to speak to you of that," Mrs. White said. "There's a Monsieur Posti, Emil Posti, he studied with Leschetizky, you know, who comes up from San Francisco every other week, and we all take from him. In between times--"

"Oh, but I've engaged a nice little Miss Davids from Old Paloma," said Mrs. Burgoyne.

"From Old Paloma!" echoed three women together. And Mrs. Apostleman added heavily, "Never heard of her!"

"I got a good little Swedish sewing-woman over there," the hostess explained, "and she told me of this girl. She's a sweet girl; no mother, and a little sister to bring up. She was quite pleased."

"But, good heavens! What does she know? What's her method?" demanded Mrs. White in puzzled disapproval.

"She has a pretty touch," Mrs. Burgoyne said mildly, "and she's bristling with ambition and ideas. She's not a genius, perhaps; but, then, neither is either of the girls. I just want them to play for their own pleasure, read accompaniments; something of that sort. Don't you know how popular the girl who can play college songs always is at a house-party?"

"Well, really--" Mrs. White began, almost annoyed; but she broke her sentence off abruptly, and Mrs. Apostleman filled the pause.

"Whatever made ye go over there for a dress-maker?" she demanded. "We never think of going there. There's a very good woman here, in the Bank Building--"

"Madame Sorrel," supplemented Mrs. Adams.

"She's fearfully independent," Mrs. Lloyd contributed; "but she's good. She made your pink, didn't she, Sue? Wayne said she did."

Mrs. Adams turned pink herself; the others laughed suddenly.

"Oh, you naughty girl!" Mrs. White said. "Did you tell Wayne you got that frock in Santa Paloma?"

"What Wayne doesn't know won't hurt him," said his wife. "Sh! Here they come!" And the conversation terminated abruptly, with much laughter.

Mrs. Burgoyne's dinner-party dispersed shortly after ten o'clock, so much earlier than was the custom in Santa Paloma that none of the ordered motor-cars were in waiting. The guests walked home together, absorbed in an animated conversation; for the gentlemen, who were delighted to be getting home early, delighted with a dinner that, as Wayne Adams remarked, "really stood for something to eat, not just things passed to you, or put down in dabs before you," and delighted with the pleasant informality of sitting down in daylight, were enthusiastic in their praise of Mrs. Burgoyne. The ladies differed with them.

"She knows how to do things," said Parker Lloyd. "Old Von Praag himself said that she was a famous dinner-giver."

"I don't know what you'd say, Wayne," said Mrs. Adams patiently, "if I asked people to sit down to the dinner we had to-night! Of course we haven't eight millions, but I would be ashamed to serve a cocktail, a soup--I frankly admit it was delicious--steaks, plain lettuce salad, and fruit. I don't count coffee and cheese. No wines, no entrees; I think it was decidedly queer."

"I wish some of you others would try it," said Willard White unexpectedly. "I never get dinners like that, except at the club, down in town. The cocktail was a rare sherry, the steaks were broiled to a turn, and the salad dressing was a wonder. She had her cheese just ripe enough, and samovar coffee to wind up with--what more do you want? I serve wine myself, but champagne keeps you thirsty all night, and other wines put me to sleep. I don't miss wine! I call it a bang-up dinner, don't you, Parker?"

Parker Lloyd, with his wife on his arm, felt discretion his part.

"Well," he said innocently selecting the one argument most distasteful to the ladies, "it was a man's dinner, Will. It was just what a man likes, served the way he likes it. But if the girls like flummery and fuss, I don't see why they shouldn't have it."

"Really!" said Mrs. White with a laugh that showed a trace of something not hilarious, "really, you are all too absurd! We are a long way from the authorities here, but I think we will find out pretty soon that simple dinners have become the fad in Washington, or Paris, and that your marvelous Mrs. Burgoyne is simply following the fashion like all the rest of us."