A HOLE IN HAUTE SOCIETE
Discovered and Revealed by One of an Elder Social Realm.
Webster advises thus: "Society, - Latin societas. French, - societe. -
First. The relationship of men to one another, when associated in any way: "Her loved society."
Second. Connection, participation, partnership.
Third, An Association for joint usefulness, pleasure of profit.
Fourth. Synonym of all the above.
Fifth. The more cultivated portion of any community in its social relations and influences; those who mutually give and receive formal entertainments."
This latter covers my case. If I had read all these variations on social phases earlier in my life, I never should have written out this incident.
I, a bachelor, for this time nameless, not very old, had supposed society was a mellow, genuine experience of life, shaped and furthered by congenial sets of persons for mutual rest, peace, profit and happiness. The hole I suddenly met in it quite nonplussed me, but has fully equipped me for any farther toils of nominal society.
I was very tired from a rather monotonous life, and proposed for myself the pleasant itinerary of New York, Washington, Richmond, Old Point, and Hampton with its maturing race problem, - just to be diverted, - avoiding people, because people were my weariness, and this ailing is no case for "similar similibus." To one most manly cousin, a long resident of the capital, I confided my plan for a few days stay in Washington; not the least among my anticipations being those of long, and on her part brilliant talks, - of men and events. How could I have imagined that with the best of intention she should have shot the javelin that pierced my armor!
The familiar ride to Washington soothed my jagged nerves; the clear sunlight over the brown fields, wide levels with leagues of tree etchings, cheerful woods with no snow upon the floors, the shining rivers with open sea-like glimpses, - and best of all those hopeful plow furrows, as if spring were nigh instead of the entering plunge into the New England winter we had left behind. The "we" being my young-in-heart, and not-very-old-in-years mothers, and my sister, - my other self. The Shoreham afforded us a cosy home; with a flare of sunshine through its big windows all the day, wood fire at evening, comfort, rest, good food and more than an inn's welcome.
"Are you not going to see your cousins?" said our favorite, as she dined with us the evening of our arrival.
"Oh, no, we really cannot, - they are very nice, but we will do all that another time; we are incog everywhere, even to ourselves, if that were possible," - we chimed in a trio.
"But they are very desirable cousins, - one a retired general; another living plumply on his money, no sweat of labor on his brow; the third beautifully housed, a social feature of repute, with a daughter most daintily pretty and gifted! You really ought to see her."
"Very tempting, - but some other time," I rejoined.
"I am truly sorry, but I told them you were to be here, and I fear the daughter will call and invite you to dine," she confessed.
"I can manage that!" said my somewhat military mother.
The next day was almost ecstatic in it's enjoyment. Perfect as to weather; we rode and drove, picked the executive dandelions avoided the inside of things, [next line illegible]
White House, - and came home tired and hungry, to our restful suite in the hotel. Somebody says, and everybody knows, - there are shoals between high waves; and here in our harbor of repose we found the cousin, husband and daughter!
The call somewhat revived our languid interest in our relations; we volubly deplored the lack of warmth in the vein blood of relations, and resolved to grub at the roots of our ancestral trees, and love our 40th cousins! My mother bent off the impending dinner with valor. "Thanks! thanks! another time - good-by, - glad to have met!" and they were gone, - but no, not quite; for madam ran back through our compact lines, to urge with an air of warm glee, that I could and accordingly must come to luncheon at 1 o'clock the next day and drive on the fashionable
Martha Dickinson Bianchi Scrapbook, St. A. 126,
AUGUST 2, 1908
avenues with the pretty daughter afterward. The sharpest picket ever mounted is open to a surprise, and this one was captured in spite of almost audible demure and repeated apologies. No laggard school-boy ever resisted duty with more determined obstinacy! But when 1 o'clock came on the appointed day I was nearing Du Pont circle; feeling as "put upon" as a man always does, when his will has been, or is, or is about to be, - crossed.
I began by losing the address, and arrived shamefully late at the right number. It was third course by the luncheon, and I only preceded the game by half a minute; my late coming seeming to embarrass my hosts unduly, although my place had apparently been removed. So I hastened to make myself as charming as possible to the family, and a little patronizing to a German baron who had the seat of honor. With the ladies there seemed a growing lack of ease, and the chat rippled haltingly; their constraint reacting to my advantage in imperturbability and address. Even to my clumsy man's instinct there seemed a hitch.
After an interesting talk with the son of the house, - a promising young scientist, - I took my leave, - the loss of my drive being sufficiently explained in my own mind, by the unforeseen presence of the baron.
As I passed the drawing-room door, madam, with a light hand on my sleeve, detained me, saying, "Cousin Blank, did you receive my note?"
"Note?" I repeated, "No, madam, when did you send it?"
"This morning early."
"Ah, - my loss, - this must be good-by, I fear, - charming luncheon," I murmured, intent on backing myself into the open air once more.
"Then a strange thing happened behind that closed portal and had I possessed ears to match those eyes for which the immortal Weller longed, I should have heard, - "Thank heaven! it was lost! Blessings on the wretch of a black porter who lost it! I am saved!"
Tableau. Time, 4 o'clock: One bachelor entering his mother's parlor in innocence.
The Mother: "Welcome, - agreeable time?"
Bachelor: "Oh quite, - but you know I am sensitive to atmospheres and felt a sort of constraint over the family."
The Mother: "That was your imagination, - as older people told me as a child when I was particularly happy or sad over anything! But here is a note for you, - it was just brought in, but evidently sent early this morning."
Bachelor - Taking it and reading aloud in a leisurely manner: -
Dear Cousin: My daughter is so indisposed that we are obliged to deny ourselves the very great pleasure of your company at luncheon, and the drive following. It is a matter of deep regret to us, as my husband and son are obliged to be out of town, and I can offer you no attractions. Another time, may we be more fortunate! Till then, yours in most cousinly estate.
It was as still as Eden for a minute; and then such a shout of derisive laughter as touched the ceiling! The mother was silently indignant. The sister, intellectually interested, - exclaimed, "She outdoes Becky!"
But the bachelor had found a hole in society and sat absorbed, - looking into it. Tracing unconsciously on the back of the note just read, a pair of scales ladened with the baron, on one side, as a counter poise to himself, in the ascending balance; while the dainty jeweled fingers of madam - "Our Cousin" - held firmly the beam!
Transcription and commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith,
Laura Elyn Lauth, and Lara Vetter, all rights reserved
Maintained by Rebecca Mooney <email@example.com>
Last updated on January 24, 2008