12. The Thin Edge
Across the fresh and dainty breakfast table, Dr. Miles Elliot surveyed his even more fresh
and dainty niece and ward with an expression of sternest disapproval. Not that it affected
in any perceptible degree that attractive young person's healthy appetite. It was the habit
of the two to breakfast together early, while their elderly widowed cousin, who played the
part of Feminine Propriety in the household in a highly self-effacing and satisfactory
manner, took her tea and toast in her own rooms. It was further Dr. Elliot's custom to
begin the day by reprehending everything (so far as he could find it out) which Miss
Esmé had done, said, or thought in the previous twenty-four hours. This, as he frequently
observed to her, was designed to give her a suitably humble attitude toward the scheme of
creation, but didn't.
"Out all night again?" he growled.
"Pretty nearly," said Esmé cheerfully, setting a very even row of very white teeth into an
"Humph! What was it this time?"
"A dinner-dance at the Norris's."
"Have a good time?"
"Beautiful! My frock was pretty. And I was pretty. And everybody was nice to me. And I
wish it were going to happen right over again to-night."
"Whom did you dance with mostly?"
"Anybody that asked me."
"Dare say. How many new victims?" he demanded.
"Don't be a silly Guardy. I'm not a man-eating tiger or tigress, or the Great American
Puma—or pumess. Don't you think 'pumess' is a nice lady-word, Guardy?"
"Did you dance with Will Douglas?" catechised the grizzled doctor, declining to be
shunted off on a philological discussion. Next to acting as legal major domo to E.M.
Pierce, Douglas's most important function in life was apparently to fetch and carry for the
reigning belle of Worthington. His devotion to Esmé Elliot had become stock gossip of
the town, since three seasons previous.
"Almost half as often as he asked me," said the girl. "That was eight times, I think."
"Nice boy, Will."