Entertaining the Candidate

BAG in hand, brother stops in for fifteen minutes, from campaigning, to get some clean shirts. He says the candidate will be in town day after to-morrow. Do we want him to come here, or shall he go to a hotel ?

We want him, of course. But we deprecate the brevity of this notice. Also the cook and chambermaid are new, and remarkably inexpert. Brother, however, declines to feel any concern. His confidence in our power to cope with emergencies is flattering if exasperating.

There is nothing in the markets at this time of year. Guests have a malignant facility in choosing such times. We scour the country for forty miles in search of green vegetables. We confide in the fishmonger, who grieves sympathetically over the ’phone, because all crabs are now cold-storage, and he’d be deceiving us if he said otherwise.

Still we are determined to have luncheon prepared in the house. Last time the august judge dined with us we summoned a caterer from a hundred miles away, and though the caterer’s food was good, it was late. We love promptness, and we are going to have it. Ladies knew all about efficiency long before Mr. Frederick Taylor. Only they could n’t teach it to servants, and he would find he could n’t either. But every mistress of a house knows how to make short cuts, and is expert at ’record production’ in emergencies.

The casual brother says there will be one or two dozen people at luncheon. He will telephone us fifteen minutes before they arrive. Yes, really, that’s the best he can do.

So we prepare for one or two dozen people, and they must sit down to luncheon because men hate a buffet meal. We struggle with the problem, how many chickens are required for twelve or twenty-four people? The answer, however, is really obvious. Enough for twenty-four will be enough for twelve.

Day after to-morrow arrives. The gardener comes in to lay hearth-fires and carry tables. We get out china and silver. We make salad and rolls, fruitcup and cake. We guide the cook’s faltering steps over the critical moments of soup and chicken. We do the oysters in our own particular way, which we fancy inimitable. We arrange bushels of flowers in bowls, vases, and baskets, and set them on mantels, tables, bookcases, everywhere that a flower can find a footing. The chauffeur comes in proudly with the flower-holder from the limousine, and we fill it in honor of the distinguished guest.

Then we go outside to see that the approach to the house is satisfactory. The bland old gardener points to the ivy-covered wall, and says with innocent joy, '— — it, ain’t that ivory the prettiest thing you ever saw in your life?’ And we can’t deny that the lawn looks well, with ivy, and cosmos, and innumerable chrysanthemums.

The cook and chambermaid will have to help wait on the table. The chambermaid, who is what the butler contemptuously calls ’an educated nigger,’ and so knows nothing useful, announces that she has no white uniform. All she has is a cold in her head. We give her a blouse and skirt, wondering why Providence does n’t eliminate the unfit.

We run upstairs to put on our costliest shoes and stockings, and our most perishable gown. The leisurely brother gets us on the wire to say that there will be twenty guests in ten minutes.

Descending, we reset the tables to seat twenty guests, light the woodfires, toss together twenty mint-juleps, and a few over for luck, repeat our clear instructions to the goggling chambermaid, desperately implore the butler to see that she keeps on t he job, drop a last touch of flavoring in the soup, and are sitting by the fire with an air of childish gayety and carelessness when the train of motor-cars draws up to the door.

Here is the judge, courteous and authoritative. Here is his assiduous suite. The room fills with faces well known in every country that an illustrated newspaper can penetrate. From the Golden Gate and the Rio Grande, from New York and Alabama, these men have come together, intent on wresting to themselves the control of the Western Hemisphere. Now they are a sort of highly respectable guerillas. To-morrow, very likely, they will be awe-inspiring magnates.

Theoretically we are impressed. Actually they have mannerisms, and some of them wear spectacles. We reflect that the triumvirs very likely had mannerisms, too, and Antony himself might have been glad to own spectacles. We try to feel reverence for the high calling of these men. We hope they’ll like our luncheon.

The butler brings in the juleps and we maintain a detached look, as though those juleps were just a happy thought of the butler himself, and we were as much surprised as anybody. The judge won’t have one, but most everybody else will. The newspaper men look love and gratitude at the butler.

That earnest youth is the judge’s secretary. The huge, iron-gray man expects to be a governor after November fifth, if dreams come true. The amiable old gentleman who never leaves the judge’s side, has come two thousand miles out of pure political enthusiasm, to protect the candidate from assassins. He can do it, too, we conclude, when we look past his smiling mouth into his steely eyes.

Here is the campaign manager, business man and man-of-the-world.

This pretty little newspaper-woman from Utah implores us to get an utterance on suffrage from the judge. Just a word. It will save him thousands of votes. Well, she’s a dear little thing, but we can’t take advantage of our guest.

Luncheon is announced. Brother, slightly apologetic, murmurs that there are twenty-three. Entirely unforeseen. He babbles incoherently.

But it’s all right. We women won’t come to the table. Voting and eating and things like that are better left to the men anyway. Why should women want to do either, when they have fathers and brothers to do it for them? We can sit in the gallery and watch. It’s very nice for us. And exclusive. Nothing promiscuous. Yes, go on. We’ll wait.

Whoever is listening to our conversation professes heartbreak at our decision, and edges toward the rapidly filling dining-room.

We sit down to play lady of leisure, in various affected attitudes. We are not going near the kitchen again. The luncheon is simple. Everything is perfectly arranged. The servants can do it all. It’s mere machine work.

From afar we observe the soup vanishing. Then one by one we stammer, — ’The mayonnaise —’ — ’I wonder if the rolls are hot—' — ’Cook’s coffee is impossible, ’ — fade silently up the front stair, and scurry down the kitchen-way.

We cover the perishable gown with a huge white apron, we send up a fervent prayer for the costly shoes, and go where we are needed most.

We save the day for good coffee. With the precision of a juggler we rescue plates from the chambermaid, who is overcome by this introduction to the great world and dawdles contemplatively through the pantry door. Charmed with our proficiency, she stands by our side, and watches us clear a shelf of china in the twinkling of an eye. If she could find a stool, she would sit at our feet, making motion studies. But she could n’t find it if it were already there. She could n’t find anything. We order her back to the dining-room, where she takes up a strategic position by the window, from which she can idly survey the mob outside, and the hungry men within.

The last coffee-cup has passed through the doorway. Cigars and matches are circulating in the butler’s capable hands. No more need for us.

We shed the enveloping aprons, disappear from the kitchen, and materialize again, elegantly useless, in the drawing-room. Nobody can say that luncheon was n’t hot and promptly served.

Chairs begin to clatter. They are rising from the table. A brass band outside bursts into being.

Brother had foretold that, band to us, and we had expressed vivid doubts. He said it would cost eighty dollars. Now eighty dollars in itself is a respectable sum, a sum capable even of exerting some mild fascination, but eighty dollars viewed in relation to a band becomes merely ludicrous.

We said an eighty-dollar band was a thing innately impossible, like freetrade, or a dachshund. Brother attested that the next best grade of band would demand eight hundred. We justly caviled at eight hundred. We inquired, Why any band? Brother claimed that it would make a cheerful noise, and we yielded.

So at this moment the band begins to make a noise. We perceive at once that the price was accurately gauged. It is unquestionably an eight y-dollar band. We begin to believe in dachshunds.

To these supposedly cheerful strains the gentlemen stream into the drawingroom. They beam replctely. They tell us what a line luncheon it was. They are eloquent about it. All the conditions of their entertainment were ideal, they would have us believe. They imply that we are mighty lucky, in that our men can provide us with such a luxurious existence. They smile with majestic benignity at these fair, but frivolous, pensioners on masculine bounty. American women are petted, helpless dolls, anyway. Foreigners have said so. They clasp our useless hands in fervent farewells. They proceed instate to the waiting cars. They hope we will follow them to the meeting. Oh, yes, we will come, though incapable of apprehending the high problems of government.

Led by the honest band, surrounded by flags, followed by cheers, they disappear in magnificent procession. Now we may straggle to the dining-room and eat cold though matchless oysters, tepid chicken, and in general whatever there is any left of.

The chambermaid has broken a lovely old Minton plate. We are glad we did n’t use the coffee-cups that were made in France for Dolly Madison. She would have enjoyed wrecking those.

We hurry, because we don’t want to miss the meeting altogether. We think enviously of the men. In our secret souls, we’d like to campaign. We love to talk better than anything else in the world, and we could make nice speeches, too. But we must do the oysters and the odd jobs, and keep the hearthfires going, like responsible vestal virgins. It’s woman’s sphere. Man gave it to her because he did n’t want it himself.