In the front parlor of the Cresslers' house a little company was gathered--Laura
Dearborn and Page, Mrs. Wessels, Mrs. Cressler, and young Miss Gretry, an
awkward, plain-faced girl of about nineteen, dressed extravagantly in a decollete
gown of blue silk. Curtis Jadwin and Cressler himself stood by the open fireplace
smoking. Landry Court fidgeted on the sofa, pretending to listen to the Gretry girl,
who told an interminable story of a visit to some wealthy relative who had a
country seat in Wisconsin and who raised fancy poultry. She possessed, it
appeared, three thousand hens, Brahma, Faverolles, Houdans, Dorkings, even
peacocks and tame quails.
Sheldon Corthell, in a dinner coat, an unlighted cigarette between his fingers,
discussed the spring exhibit of water-colors with Laura and Mrs. Cressler, Page
listening with languid interest. Aunt Wess' turned the leaves of a family album,
counting the number of photographs of Mrs. Cressler which it contained.
Black coffee had just been served. It was the occasion of the third rehearsal for
the play which was to be given for the benefit of the hospital ward for Jadwin's
mission children, and Mrs. Cressler had invited the members of the company for
dinner. Just now everyone awaited the arrival of the "coach," Monsieur Gerardy,
who was always late.
"To my notion," observed Corthell, "the water-color that pretends to be anything
more than a sketch over-steps its intended limits. The elaborated water-color, I
contend, must be judged by the same standards as an oil painting. And if that is
so, why not have the oil painting at once?"
"And with all that, if you please, not an egg on the place for breakfast," declared
the Gretry girl in her thin voice. She was constrained, embarrassed. Of all those
present she was the only one to mistake the character of the gathering and
appear in formal costume. But one forgave Isabel Gretry such lapses as these.
Invariably she did the wrong thing; invariably she was out of place in the matter
of inadvertent speech, an awkward accident, the wrong toilet. For all her nineteen
years, she yet remained the hoyden, young, undeveloped, and clumsy.
"Never an egg, and three thousand hens in the runs," she continued. "Think of
that! The Plymouth Rocks had the pip. And the others, my lands! I don't know.
They just didn't lay."
"Ought to tickle the soles of their feet," declared Landry with profound gravity.
"Tickle their feet!"