Red-faced, puffy Mrs. Tom Tuttle had on a dark purple silk which gave her the appearance of being about to expire from an apoplectic stroke. Tall, angular Minnie Adams, with an aigrette from her last winter’s hat in her hair, had, in defiance of Biblical axiom, by taking thought added a cubit to her stature. Mrs. Meeker’s best black silk was slightly awry from much journeying to and fro between the sandwich table and the coffee pot. Addie Smith had on a really beautiful gown purchased at Capitol City.
“If she only doesn’t say ‘have saw,'” thought Ella.
Ella, herself, was in white–a dainty, sheer dress which she carried with that little indefinable air that no one else in Centerville possessed.
“You look like a bride yourself, Ella,” Mrs. Meeker paused in one of her breathless flittings to the kitchen. “I wish to the land it was you–you’d ‘a’ made Jim a real smart wife.”
“Ah, madam, I thank you!” Ella bowed in mock solemnity and then laughed gayly, while The-Thing-In-Her-Heart winced and moaned.
The assemblage was noticeably lacking in masculinity. To be sure, a few brave souls were there–Doctor Smith and old Judge Adams and the two ministers and the editor of the “Enterprise.” But not for the President of the United States would the majority of the Centerville men have gone through that boiled-shirt ordeal.
It was almost time now. The receiving line nervously eyed the chalk marks which designated the exact spot where, in a few moments, it was to function.
The train whistled in. That was the cue for several dozen people to do several dozen different things. Ella’s particular response to this signal was to go down two flights of stairs to the cellar under the dry-goods store and bring up part of the cold frappé, which had been packed since noon in an ice-filled tub, as the ice from the old frog pond was too dirty to put into the beverage. She did her assigned task, and then, with taut nerves, stood by the rear window of the hall and looked out over the dismal array of boxes, barrels and sheds, waiting–
At a slight commotion on the stairway she breathed a little prayer for composure and walked over to take her place at the frappé bowl. Even so walked Marie Antoinette out onto the balcony at Versailles.
THEY were coming in. There was Jim, taller, leaner, browner, his head thrown back with that familiar air, and the boyish smile she knew so well. And–that–beautiful– girl! She was not over twenty-two or -three, lithe, lovely, radiant. She was in gray, a soft, exquisite pearl-gray. >From the tips of her slender gray-shod feet and the tips of her slender gray-gloved hands to the drooping dove-winged hat, she was perfection.
Jim was shaking hands with Mrs. Tuttle, while his wife stood waiting with a pretty air of shy interest, until, with a protective gesture, he drew her forward.
Ella’s feet and hands were cold and her cheeks blazing. She did not know that, in the heightened color of her fair skin, the soft waves of her hair, the cornflower blue of her eyes, and the lovely contour of her face, she was as beautiful as the young girl she envied.
She only knew that everything was going wrong. Mrs. Tuttle, in her atrocious purple dress, had bounced out of the receiving line, thrown her massive arms around the girl and kissed her. Ella shuddered. From experience she knew what a combustion it had been.
The whole line was breaking up. Everyone was laughing immoderately. She could hear Minnie Adams’s high henlike cackle, and Mrs. Meeker’s bass rumble that always sounded as though she were using a megaphone. And in a few minutes Jim would bring that exquisite creature back here to meet her and to drink iceless punch. How characteristic of Centerville was that dirty frog-pond ice! The whole thing was horrible. They were frog-pond people, doing things in a frog-pond way. Oh, she was ashamed of Centerville, ashamed of Mrs. Tom Tuttle’s effusion, ashamed of her own handmade dress that she had thought so dainty in its white laciness. The girl would laugh at them all. And Jim–because he loved her–Jim would laugh with her. She could not endure it!