The Howard Tates are, as everyone who lives in Toledo knows, the most formidable people in town. Mrs. Howard Tate was a Chicago Todd before she became a Toledo Tate, and the family generally affect that conscious simplicity which has begun to be the earmark of American aristocracy. The Tates have reached the stage where they talk about pigs and farms and look at you icy-eyed if you are not amused. They have begun to prefer retainers rather than friends as dinner guests, spend a lot of money in a quiet way and, having lost all sense of competition, are in process of growing quite dull.
The dance this evening was for little Millicent Tate, and though there was a scattering of people of all ages present the dancers were mostly from school and college—the younger married crowd was at the Townsends’ circus ball up at the Tallyho Club. Mrs. Tate was standing just inside the ballroom, following Millicent round with her eyes and beaming whenever she caught her eye. Beside her were two middle-aged sycophants who were saying what a perfectly exquisite child Millicent was. It was at this moment that Mrs. Tate was grasped firmly by the skirt and her youngest daughter, Emily, aged eleven, hurled herself with an “Oof—!” into her mother’s arms.
“Why, Emily, what’s the trouble?”
“Mamma,” said Emily, wild-eyed but voluble, “there’s something out on the stairs.”
“There’s a thing out on the stairs, mamma. I think it’s a big dog, mamma, but it doesn’t look like a dog.”
“What do you mean, Emily?”
The sycophants waved their heads and hemmed sympathetically.
“Mamma, it looks like a—like a camel.”
Mrs. Tate laughed.
“You saw a mean old shadow, dear, that’s all.”
“No, I didn’t. No, it was some kind of thing, mamma—big. I was downstairs going to see if there were any more people and this dog or something, he was coming upstairs. Kinda funny, mamma, like he was lame. And then he saw me and gave a sort of growl and then he slipped at the top of the landing and I ran.”
Mrs. Tate’s laugh faded.
“The child must have seen something,” she said.
The sycophants agreed that the child must have seen something—and suddenly all three women took an instinctive step away from the door as the sounds of muffled footsteps were audible just outside.
And then three startled gasps rang out as a dark brown form rounded the corner and they saw what was apparently a huge beast looking down at them hungrily.
“Oof!” cried Mrs. Tate.
“O-o-oh!” cried the ladies in a chorus.
The camel suddenly humped his back, and the gasps turned to shrieks.
“What is it?”
The dancing stopped, but the dancers hurrying over got quite a different impression of the invader from that of the ladies by the door; in fact, the young people immediately suspected that it was a stunt, a hired entertainer come to amuse the party. The boys in long trousers looked at it rather disdainfully and sauntered over with their hands in their pockets, feeling that their intelligence was being insulted. But the girls ran over with much handclapping and many little shouts of glee.