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VISITING AUNT CAROLINE.
It is a wearing thing, this shopping, and Aunt Caroline is glad to drop in with Mrs. Lunt at Sherry's or the Ritz, afterwards. Over the teacups, between intervals of glancing about and remarking that she hasn't seen what she calls a really good-looking woman since she came to New York, she tells about the perfectly delicious tea-not anything like this-that you can get at the new Cozy Tea Room back home.
And so, what with one thing and another, the hours dash by, as on their hands and knees, and the time comes for Aunt Caroline to leave the white-light district flat for another year. Tearful at leaving those poor children behind her, she kisses her nephew and niece, urges them as a personal favor to her to take care of themselves, and departs for the great open spaces where men are men and there are no couvert charges, leaving the Lunts to make up the deficit in the next five or six months.
Once a year, when advertising in America can manage to stagger along without Mr. Lunt for three or four days, the Lunts do their share in the way of tightening up the home ties by paying a visit to Aunt Caroline. With her noted kindness of heart Aunt Caroline is logically aglow over her annual opportunity to give the poor children a chance to stop existing for a little while, and take a crack at living, for a change. She meets them at the train, beaming with welcome and bubbling with exclamations of how glad they must be to get out of that horrid old New York.
Her friends, too, get into the spirit of the thing, and congratulate the Lunts on their escape, on meeting them. The impression seems to have got around that they are up from North Brother Island for a day or two. Also, it seems as if Aunt Caroline had taken everybody aside and warned them that her nephew and niece would strive to press New York City on them for a gift, the only condition being that they establish residence there.
"Well," is their cheery greeting, "I guess you're pretty glad to get out of that New York, heh? I go down there once or twice a year, and I tell you I'm glad enough to get back home after a day or two. I wouldn't live there if you gave me the place."
You gather from the firmness of the tones that they have been turning down offers of Manhattan Island all day long, and are getting sick and tired of the thing.
They are interesting conversations, but somewhat one-sided. The Lunts have yet to get together and work up something notably snappy in the way of a come-back.
VILLAGE HIGH LIFE.
The fun of visiting Aunt Caroline is not confined to exchanging friendly greetings with the natives. I don't mean by that you should go crashing to conclusions. I can't tell you how I should feel if you were to get the thing all wrong, and carry around the idea that Aunt Caroline's home life is one mad round of pleasures. Just one good look at her would put that thought out of your mind forever. In fact, if you want to find the ideal exponent of average small-town life, Aunt Caroline is the very girl for you.
In the first place, she really hasn't got it to burn. Though Mr. Lunt's Uncle Phil left enough always to keep the wolf at a respectful distance from the door, Aunt Caroline is in no position to give away any libraries.
Then, too, as she delicately puts it, she is not so young as she used to be. Even when she was, the wild life was not being done by the town's best families. And now, when after ten years of easy widowhood she has arrived comfortably at the middle fifties, she cares virtually nothing about making a habit of drinking champagne from slippers or being carried to the table in a pie. She has never had any desire to join the goings-on of the young married set, which she does hear are little short of scandalous, at the Country Club. Aunt Caroline seldom gives them a thought. Eleven o'clock, almost any night, finds her house dark, and her eight hours of sleep well under way.
Now I shouldn't want you to leap to the other extreme and believe that Aunt Caroline and her friends don't have plenty of wholesome enjoyment out of life. Indeed they do. And Aunt Caroline is only too glad to let the Lunts have a generous share of it when they come to visit her.
If they crave excitement there is a perfectly splendid moving-picture theater just three squares away from Aunt Caroline's, which shows all the big feature pictures just a month or so after they have been shown on Broadway. All you have to do is to be sure to get there around quarter past seven, so as to be certain of getting a seat.
If they want to patronize the drama Aunt Caroline inquires among her friends if the attraction then on view at the Majestic Theater is worthy of their attention. If she gets enough favorable replies she, her nephew and her niece make a family theater party of it.
To vary things Aunt Caroline asks in enough friends for a few tables of bridge one evening during the Lunts' stay. As a concession to the New York gambling spirit a stake of half a cent a point is agreed upon, with much laughter. When the rubbers are over, the losers put down the sum they have lost on a slip of paper, jokingly called a slate by the men, and all gayly agree to hold it over till the Lunts' next visit, and play it off then.
And then, of course, there is always the radio. Aunt Caroline's wealthy brother-in-law had it installed for her as a birthday gift, and you have hardly any idea of the comfort it has been to her. Sitting right there in Aunt Caroline's third-story guest room, the Lunts can hear all about "Tommy Woodchuck's Adventure with the Wishing Fairy" or listen to a discourse on "How Shall We Stop Our Forest Fires?" that they will never regret having heard. As Aunt Caroline often asks, Isn't it just wonderful what things science can do?
The big night of the visit comes when Aunt Caroline puts on the lavender-and-gray changeable taffeta dress she had sent her by her sister in Boston, and, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Lunt, who are dressed accordingly, attends a social gathering at the house of one of her friends. It is quite a wild night. The comparatively younger guests dance to the music of the phonograph. Between numbers the dancing ladies join the elder matrons and discuss the quaint sayings of their children and their maids, while the men exchange cigarettes and inquire if anybody doesn't want a window raised. Things grow pretty informal when the refreshments are served, and there are bursts of gayety over references to strictly local events.
The Lunts politely come in on the laughter, but they can't do much to adding any helpful lines to the somewhat specialized conversation.
Mr. Lunt sleeps long and deep on the Sunday morning of their visit. It is just as well, too, because then his mind is all fresh for the puzzle page which comes in the Sunday Clarion. The guests and their hostess devote a large part of the day to missing nothing in the papers, and then Mrs. Lunt, following Aunt Caroline's example, gets a few letters off her mind. Mr. Lunt, meanwhile, rambles about the house, striving to do something constructive about the limp G-flat on the piano, or seeking to discover what really is the matter with the hinge on the china-closet door.
Aunt Caroline often says that she loves her quiet Sundays at home. She really prefers them to the ones when her prosperous friends take her motoring through the surrounding country.
In the afternoons, while Mr. Lunt drops around at their various offices to talk over the old days with his one-time schoolmates, Aunt Caroline and Mrs. Lunt get in a little social intercourse. Some of Aunt Caroline's friends come in for the afternoon or else she takes Mrs. Lunt with her to spend a few hours at one of their houses. They may play a bit of bridge or they may devote the time to putting in some work on crepe-de-chine lingerie-it costs practically nothing at all when you make it yourself; and when you think of what the shops ask for it!
Either occupation just leads up to lettuce sandwiches and tea.
And so the time goes by, till the Lunts must return to New York. Aunt Caroline is annually pretty badly broken up over their leaving for that awful city. Tears blur her vision as she waves them good-by from the station platform, and the only thing that keeps her from going completely to pieces is the thought that she has again brought into their sultry lives a breath of real life.
The Lunts blow the annual kisses to her from the parlor-car window, and settle back to watch the old town go sliding past, a tolerant light in their eyes. As Mr. Lunt sums it up, it's all right for a visit, but he wouldn't live there if you gave him the place.
The Saturday Evening Post, July 22, 1922.
Our Own Crowd.
Mr. and Mrs. Grew annually take it pretty personally when the end of the season arrives and they must call it a summer. Of course, Mrs. Grew feels it only due to society that she get back to the apartment and find out what steps, if any, the agent has taken about that crack in the dining-room ceiling; but she is just about unhinged at the idea of leaving the Pebbly Point House and facing the harsh realities of life once more. If Mr. Grew, who is a perfect wizard at ferreting out the sunny side of things, did not call to her attention the fact that it is but a matter of eight or ten months before another summer will be upon them and they will find themselves-barring acts of God and a rise in the hotel rates-at the Pebbly Point House once again, it is doubtful if she would be able to pull herself together for the journey home.
Mr. and Mrs. Grew do not by any means imply that every visitor to the Pebbly Point House gets as much out of it as they do. It all comes down to a question of getting in with the right set, that impeccable group picturesquely summed up by the Grews in the phrase "our own crowd." And, of course, you will find it pretty uphill work attempting to make the social grade at first. But once you get to be one of the boys, the Grews join in reassuring you that "fun" isn't half the word for it.
You couldn't ask for anything much fairer than the rates at the Pebbly Point House. The catch to it is that good news like that always gets around pretty quickly, and so the hotel is approximately as exclusive as the subway.
But do you know, the Grews laughingly ask you, that they regard that, really, as one of the assets of the place? It gives our own crowd, you glean, such a perfectly corking opportunity to see the screaming way the other half lives. In fact our own crowd gets so many hearty snickers out of the mannerisms and the sports clothes of the transients that the summer is practically a whirlwind of merriment. Mr. Grew, who has the driest way of playing on words, often speaks of this outer circle not as guests but as jests, and, as you can readily see, it's a riot.
Another splendid thing about the Pebbly Point House is that it is so unspoiled. The Grews as good as admit that, even if the rates were twice what they are, they would be simply tickled to death to pay them for the privilege of stopping at a place so refreshingly free from the Ritzy note. Mrs. Grew is just about on tenterhooks as each fresh summer approaches for fear she will get to the hotel only to find it utterly ruined by the introduction of city-chap ideas in regard to rooms, service and cuisine. What our own crowd loves to do, the members frequently declare, is to go up to the Pebbly Point House and just rough it. And good old Mr. Blatch, the genial on-and-off host, sees to it that they get their wish.
Our own crowd does not, really, assume the proportions of a mob scene. There are but six members, all charter-the Grews, Mr. and Mrs. Eddy and Mr. and Mrs. Rinse. As soon as the Grews explain to you the series of curious coincidences that threw them together you realize for yourself that they were slated from the very beginning to be fast friends, and could you meet them you would see at a glance that "fast" is used in the best sense of the word.
In the first place, all three couples made their initial visit to the Pebbly Point House seven summers ago. Then scarcely had they been there a month before Mrs. Grew discovered that Mrs. Rinse's sister-in-law lived in the exact same apartment house where the Grews had been during 1910 - 1911, and was just as dissatisfied with the elevator service and the hot-water supply as they were. As additional proof that the world is small to the point of stuffiness, it later came out that Doctor Creevy, who had been Mrs. Grew's family physician before she was married, was living not much more than a stone's throw from the Eddy's house in South Orange, and both Mr. and Mrs. Eddy knew him very well by sight. It is things like that that make you stop and think, as Mrs. Grew said at the time.
The real leader of our own crowd is Mrs. Eddy. She is a woman born to command, and brought up accordingly. Until she came to the Pebbly Point House she had never set so much as a foot in any summer resort where the rates were less than ten dollars a day for one. You know that for a positive fact, because she tells you so herself shortly after you have been introduced to her. Naturally, she enjoys tremendous prestige at the hotel. She has one of the rooms with running water.
Rocking gently on the porch, Mrs. Eddy gives a series of short talks on how she locks up her jewels in the safe-deposit vault during the summer months and just goes a-gypsying along without them. Also, she explains that it is her practice to leave at home her really good gowns and hats. It may seem a bit selfish of her, at first thought, to deprive the guests of the privilege of seeing the real hot dog, but when you consider all the bother about luggage she saves herself and the railroads you can see that it is the only sensible course for her to take. She really has to laugh, though, and pretty frequently, too, when she thinks of the bewilderment of her winter friends, could they see her at the Pebbly Point House, snuggling right up close to Nature in simple frock and canvas shoes, no more bejeweled than the day she was born.
Mrs. Eddy is one of the most interesting conversationalists on the entire porch. "Well informed" is but a lukewarm term for her. She might, really, be called the Girl With the Camera Eye. She can tell you without a moment's floundering just who was sitting on the moonlit pier with whom, how close and until when on any night you can name; precisely how far things have got between that Sisson girl and the Binney boy; what Mrs. Binney thinks of it and what she would do if she were Mrs. Binney; at exactly what hour and in what state the McBirch party got back from that motor ride to the Goldenrod Inn.
Try to catch her-that's all she asks. She has never been known to make a memory-slip. It is not too much to say that she is losing time out of vaudeville.
Mrs. Rinse, now, is less the intellectual type and more the fluffy. She runs to ruffled organdie dresses with naive sashes, and when she is really willing to let herself go she tucks a rose into her hair over one ear, where it balances the delicate gold chain that fetters her glasses to the other ear. She is full of fluttery gestures, and often, before she can control herself, she breaks out skipping.
She is the envied possessor of a flutelike soprano, delightfully lilting but not quite massive enough to be called a parlor voice-a kitchenette voice, say. Oftentimes, of a Sunday evening, she may be cajoled into giving the guests a musical treat. Her selections are amorous, in a refined way. She has done much to make popular "Just A-Wearyin' for You" and "Little Gray Home in the West."
Mrs. Rinse makes a winsome picture standing there by the piano, gripping a property roll of music, her eyelids, behind the sparkling glasses, fluttering with the tender emotions caused by the lyrics. It has often been remarked what a shame it is that the hotel parlor, also used as a dance room, is so big and high-ceilinged. Those sitting back of the third row of camp chairs at Mrs. Rinse's recital might just as well be at the movies.
Mrs. Rinse is, also, a perfect shark with children. She explains it by admitting that she herself is nothing but a kiddie at heart. To put them at their ease, she employs baby talk in her conversations with them, which goes big with little boys of ten or twelve years old.
Annually she conceives and directs an entertainment given by the tiny guests in the dance room, with herself as prima donna. Two summers ago, for example, they did "The Woodsy Fairy's Birthday Party," Mrs. Rinse playing the lead, and the supporting company, cast as wild flowers, in crepe-paper costumes.
The plot of the piece unfolded to show how the Woodsy Fairy bade the woodland folk to her birthday feast; and, loosening up over the rose leaves and dew, they all came right out and told what they were thankful for. Some were thankful for the sunbeams, others for the brooklets; and that's the way it went, one thing leading to another. The Woodsy Fairy-being the author and producer, it was only fair that she got the big line of the show-was thankful that there was just nothing but happiness in all this great big old world.
Sex interest was supplied by the love of Spring Beauty for Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and comedy relief was provided by Johnny Chickadee, a character part played by a somewhat hard-boiled actor of eleven years, who was merely adequate in the role.
The guests at the Pebbly Point House, however, were almost unanimous in declaring that last summer's Rinse production was even better. It was called "Vacation Days at the Pebbly Point House," and the theme was much less generic than that of the Woodsy Fairy drama. It was a revue composed of sly cracks, in more-or-less verse, at recent local events. A member of the company would step forward, and, bucked up by tremendous laughter and applause, recite such telling thrusts as: Sherlock Holmes could do wonderful things,
But we doubt if he could find Mr. Armbruster's water wings.
When the audience were back in their seats again another performer would declaim: Whenever you see Tommy MacWinch looking blue,
It's a sign Mildred won't go out with him in the canoe.
The song hit of the piece, rendered by Mrs. Rinse, had a generous number of topical verses and wound up with a stirring chorus of: Then we'll give three cheers for the Pebbly Point,
And we'll all give three cheers more;
And we'll hope to all be back again
Next summertime once more.
It is, as you can see, a great thing for our own crowd to be able to list as a member one so feminine yet so full of fun as Mrs. Rinse.
She and Mrs. Eddy set each other off splendidly. And the beauty of it is that Mrs. Grew is entirely something else again-just a good fellow, she is; a regular pal to the college boys that spend their holidays at the Pebbly Point House, given to sailor hats and talk of cold showers, walking with the hands thrust deep in the sweater pockets, and even occasionally letting slip a goshdarn or a by golly before she catches herself.
The ladies of our own crowd do not go in any too heavily for athletics. Now and then, if it gives signs of being a reasonably cool day, they wander over the golf course, agreeing beforehand that there is no use in being fanatical about the thing and counting it as a stroke when you pick up your ball and toss it out of the rough. But usually a saunter into the sea as far as the waist, a conservative dip to get the shoulders wet, a good, rousing rock on the porch, and they are just about used up.
What energy remains goes into the knitting of sweaters or the crocheting of strips of lace for those guest towels that make such thoughtful Christmas gifts. The work goes easily, for the toilers are beguiled by Mrs. Eddy's tales of the troubles her maids give her, by Mrs. Grew's description of her trip to Bermuda, and by Mrs. Rinse's account of her sister-in-law's operation, from the day she first felt that peculiar shooting pain to the funny cracks she made on her way out of the ether.
In the evenings the ladies form a select group on the porch close to the dance-room windows, where they go off into perfect bursts of merriment at the remarks which Mrs. Eddy, who admittedly shook a mean schottish when she was a girl, makes about the technic of the dancers. Occasionally they participate in the hotel bridge parties. To Mrs. Eddy, as the brightest social light, falls the task of collecting the twenty-five-cent entrance fee from each of the players, which is no fool of a job either. She and her two friends form the committee which goes to the village and purchases the sweet-grass baskets for the prizes.
In short, or at least pretty short, the three female members of our own crowd are not out of one another's sight during the entire summer, save during the hours of sleep or during those few necessary moments when they are upstairs whitening their shoes. It is doubtful if they ever have a thought which they do not split three ways.
Each is constantly finding fresh words of encouragement to buoy up the others. If Mrs. Eddy remarks that she really must do something in the way of dieting, both Mrs. Grew and Mrs. Rinse are loud to reassure her that it's so much more becoming to her when her face is full, and that if they were in her shoes they would not cut out so much as a single calorie. If Mrs. Rinse knits a sweater, her two friends vow they have never seen a stitch so novel, without being risque. If Mrs. Grew springs a new sports skirt, Mrs. Eddy and Mrs. Rinse can hardly wait to get the address of her seamstress. And so it goes, day in, day out. It's enough, really, to put your faith in human nature right back on its feet again.
The big day of the week for our own crowd is Friday. For on Friday night the ladies are joined by the boys, which is the name that they have worked out for their husbands. The aggregate age of the boys, at the present writing, is somewhere along around one hundred and twenty-five, but the nickname sticks.
The boys cannot conscientiously be said to do much in the way of snapping things up on Friday evenings. Each naturally has to reply in full to his wife's anxious inquiries as to how affairs at the homestead are staggering along without her. There must be detailed reports on the weather in the city, the behavior of the maid, the promptness of the laundry, the regularity of the iceman's visits and the stand the cleaner has taken about the return of the rugs. It is an evening given over to connubial confidences. And as a concession to the boys' five days of labor in the city, and their grueling ride up on the train, our own crowd drifts hayward at a rurally early hour.
All day Saturday the boys devote to golf, although a casual observer of their game might pick up the idea that it was just so much devotion thrown away. The ladies meanwhile forge ahead on the sweaters and the guest towels. It is not until Saturday night that our own crowd really gets into its stride.
It isn't as if the members have to house a family of cocktails before they can get going. With nothing more to work on than the tomato omelet and the tinned cherries served for supper, they are off on an evening of revelry. Continuous laughter resounds from their jolly big circle of chairs on the porch, while lesser guests brush apologetically past. Any remark is good for a laugh, particularly allusions to jokes and adventures of past summers.
The Grews and the Eddys and the Rinses are so closely knitted together that their repartee is of a local, not to say an intimate, nature which makes a newcomer feel as cozily at home as if they were speaking in code. But the members of our own crowd, with their background of seven seasons at the Pebbly Point House, can feel for newcomers nothing more than a flicker of amused resentment. As they all agree, they don't want any outsiders, anyway; so that makes it just fine for everybody.
Even Mr. Eddy unbends on these occasions and becomes practically a boy again. Mr. Eddy, you can see at a glance, is a man weighted down with affairs. As he strides down the porch in his stylish stout flannels and the yachting cap which he wears out of compliment to the Pebbly Point House's nearness to the water, it is whispered after him that he is something down in the Street, and that his position is good for anywhere from ten thousand to twenty-two hundred a year.
He is not a constructive humorist, though he is loud in his appreciation of the cuttings-up of Mr. Grew and Mr. Rinse. He expresses his convivial feelings by taking our own crowd right in on the inside with him, and giving it some pretty strong hints on the business outlook. Mr. Eddy, for all his dignity, is a regular little sunbeam in the matter of point of view. He as good as blurts it right out that he considers it little more than a question of time before business takes up its bed and walks. It may require quite a while, he says in all fairness, or again, it may not. And he suggests, less in words than in manner, that it would not be a bad notion for the members of our own crowd to make their plans accordingly.
Mr. Grew and Mr. Rinse are the twin lives of the party. Mr. Grew is the more spontaneous comedian, great at impromptu cracks and catch-as-catch-can punning. Mr. Rinse has a number of specialties, including an impersonation of "Dinkelspiel on the Telephone," and a recitation of "How Tony Lose-a da Monk." He isn't one to push himself forward and insist on doing his stunts on all occasions, either, like so many of these home entertainers. Sometimes people even have to ask him to do them.
You couldn't want to see a prettier picture of perfect clubbiness than our own crowd at these Saturday-night meetings. No wonder that the members declare, as each orgy breaks up, that they don't know when they have had a better time or laughed themselves sicker. In the privacy of their various rooms, later, each couple decides that never in the history of social intercourse has there been a more congenial or an altogether dandier group.
The clubby spirit lasts well over into the next day, when, after a jolly morning on the beach, the ladies troop over to have an afternoon's golf with their husbands. This makes it considerably easier for the boys to tear themselves away and return home by the evening train.
Naturally, as the season crashes to a close, our own crowd is brim ming with plans for practically incessant reunions all during the winter. Upon the heart of each member are graven the addresses and the telephone numbers of the others. There are promises of daily telephone calls, and of evening gatherings at least twice weekly; the men are to get together about every other day for lunch and the women are to have afternoons of knitting and chat several times during the week.
It will not be, they must mournfully concede, quite the same as being up at the Pebbly Point House, but it will be the immediately next best thing.
And then, when they get back to their several homes, it is just as if all those golden plans went suddenly bad on them. No one seems to be able to say quite why it is. What Mrs. Grew lays it to, and a very good explanation at that, is the way that one thing after another comes up.
When Mrs. Grew first comes home she finds things at the apartment pretty nastily shot up. The curtains have to be hung, the chintz pajamas must be taken off the furniture, there is a bad delay in traffic somewhere in the pipes of the kitchen sink that requires attention, two of the blue dishes have got themselves broken and must be replaced. And, as you can see, it all runs into time.
Then she annually discovers that she has not so much as a single stitch to her back. Naturally, something has to be done to relieve her condition, and Mrs. Grew is just the girl to do it. And you could scarcely ask her to hurry through the assembling of her winter wardrobe.
Hardly can she feel that she is decently clad once more before the winter's social activities begin breaking out; and, as she often says, outsiders can have but little conception of the time and energy it takes to get Mr. Grew to put on his dinner coat and go out for an evening's bridge. Then, too, there are the movies to be caught up with, and Mrs. Grew is almost never without a bit of shopping that must be done immediately. So she is amply justified in saying that she really hasn't a minute that she can lawfully call her own.
Even during this long period of separation it is not as if the other members of our own crowd were not fresh in the memories of the Grews. Au contraire, if you'll pardon my French. They are almost always with them in conversation. In fact the Grews are quite celebrated among their city friends for their informal little travelogues on their adventures at the Pebbly Point House. Whenever they are among those present at a social gathering they contribute to the entertainment of the guests by giving spirited accounts of the unspoiled wholesomeness of the hotel itself, and the perfectly corking times that can be had there-provided, of course, that you belong to the right set.
Mrs. Grew's conscience gives her periodic bad spells, and she frequently remarks to Mr. Grew that she simply must call up the Eddys and the Rinses and have them up to dinner. She even goes to the length of setting dates for the function. First, she will have them when the new hall runner is laid down; then it shall be after she has had her georgette-crepe dress dyed henna; then as soon as Helga learns how to make decent gravy.
But the first thing you know there it is Thanksgiving, and hardly have they parked the last of the minced turkey before Christmas is upon them.
Mrs. Grew sends cards to the Eddys and the Rinses, and feels a lot better for it. She and Mr. Grew receive from Mr. and Mrs. Rinse the cunningest card with a picture of a little boy and a little girl kissing permanently under the mistletoe, and a highly engraved sheet stating that Mr. and Mrs. Waldemere Newins Eddy extend appropriate greetings.
Finally comes the day when Mrs. Eddy is in town for a smattering of shopping, and Mrs. Grew runs virtually smack into her, right out in broad daylight on Forty-second Street. Her first idea is to turn and run, but she dismisses that as impracticable. She approaches her friend apologetically, fearful that Mrs. Eddy has been so wounded by her neglect that the best she will draw is a cold nod.