“But you can’t! You’re to stay to dinner, that’s why I didn’t telephone you about Claudia. The children chose taking dinner with you as their compensation for having to stay in on account of the weather, and they’re hanging over the banisters this very minute.” Mrs. Warrick got up and with care straightened her skimpy skirts. “Please don’t let them eat too much. They can have—”
“Not a bit more than they want.” Laine took the white fur coat which the maid had laid on the chair a minute before and held it for his sister to put on. “All this sloppy stuff given to children of the present day will mean anemic men and women to-morrow. I’ll take dinner with them, and if they are sick I’ll take the blame, but not if the Virginian has opinions of her own concerning modern manners. Are you sure you’re well wrapped?”
“Sure. I hope Decker can find her, but I doubt it. Maybe she can manage by herself. Anyway, I’ve done all I could. Good night, and please don’t let the children eat too much of a mixture. You’ll come and see Claudia, won’t you?”
Laine shook his head. “I haven’t time.”
“Time! Of all nonsense!” She turned and kissed him. “The children will have you at dinner, anyhow, and that’s why I sent for you. Good night, mean man!”
She gathered up her skirts, and Laine, following her to the door, at which the second man stood waiting to throw a roll of carpet down the snow-sprinkled steps to the car at the curb, watched it until the corner was turned, then walked toward the dining-room, where two young people threw two pair of arms around his legs and rent the air with two ecstatic shrieks.
“There’s turkey and giblet gravy and salad and loads of things, Uncle Winthrop, and I am going to sit at the head of the table, and Timkins says I may pour the coffee for you in the library, and—”
“Mother said I could have some ice-cream and two pieces of cake if they weren’t very big.” And Channing Warrick, Junior, aged seven, made effort to remove Dorothea Warrick, aged ten, from her point of vantage next her uncle’s right hand. But breath was lost in the high toss given him by the strong arms which had sent him in the air, and as he landed on his feet he laughed in gasping delight.
“Come on.” Dorothea’s voice was eager. “It’s ready, and so am I, and at eight we’ve got to be in bed.”
As he took his seat at the perfectly appointed table, Mr. Winthrop Laine nodded at first one child and then the other. “What very piggy relations I have,” he said, opening his napkin. “Not a word of greeting to an ancient uncle, but just an announcement of what there is to eat. One would think you were starving.”
“We are.” Dorothea laid down her napkin and got up. “Excuse me for leaving my seat, but mother ’said we could have a good time to-night, and we can’t if we’re particular about manners. I hate manners. I guess I get it from you, Uncle Winthrop. I heard Miss Robin French say you didn’t have any. She said she’d invited you to her house a dozen times, and you’d never been once, or made a party call or anything.”