Almost the first persons at the theatre on whom Selma’s eyes rested were the Gregory Williamses. They were in a box with two other people, and both Flossy and her husband were talking with the festive air peculiar to those who are willing to be noticed and conscious that their wish is being gratified. Flossy wore a gay bonnet and a stylish frock, supplemented by a huge bunch of violets, and her husband’s evening dress betrayed a slight exaggeration of the prevailing fashion in respect to his standing collar and necktie. Selma had never had a thorough look at him before, and she reflected that he was decidedly impressive and handsome. His face was full and pleasant, his mustache large and gracefully curved, and his figure manly. His most distinguishing characteristic was a dignity of bearing uncommon in so young a man, suggesting that he carried, if not the destiny of republics on his shoulders, at least, important financial secrets in his brain. The man and woman with them were almost elderly and gave the effect of being strangers to the city. They were Mr. and Mrs. Silas S. Parsons. Mr. Parsons was a prosperous Western business man, who now and then visited New York, and who had recently become a customer of Williams’s. He had dealt in the office where Williams was a clerk, and, having taken a fancy to him, was disposed to help the new firm. Gregory had invited them to dinner and to the theatre, by way of being attentive, and had taken a box instead of stalls, in order to make his civility as magnificent as the occasion would permit. A box, besides being a delicate testimonial to his guest, would cause the audience to notice him and his wife and to ask who they were.
In the gradual development of the social appetite in this country a certain class has been evolved whose drawing-room is the floor of the leading theatres. Society consists for them chiefly in being present often at theatrical performances in sumptuous dress, not merely to witness the play, but to be participants in a social function which enhances their self-esteem. To be looked at and to look on these occasions takes the place with them of balls and dinner parties. They are not theatregoers in the proper sense, but social aspirants, and the boxes and stalls are for them an arena in which for a price they can show themselves in their finery and attractions, for lack of other opportunities.
Our theatres are now in the full blaze of this harmless appropriation for quasi-ballroom uses. At the time when Selma was a New York bride the movement was in its infancy. The people who went to the theatre for spectacular purposes no less than to see the actors on the stage were comparatively few in number. Still the device was practised, and from the very fact that it was not freely employed, was apt to dazzle the eyes of the uninitiated public more unreservedly than to-day. The sight of Mrs. Williams in a box, in the glory of her becoming frock and her violets, caused even so stern a patriot and admirer of simplicity as Selma to seize her husband’s arm and whisper: