“Ordinary” in the lexicon of Amy and Ethel meant “plebeian.” No one in the Merryman family had ever been so ordinary as Anne. Hitherto the Merrymans had been content to warm themselves by the fires of their own complacency, to feed themselves on past splendors; for the Merrymans were as old as Norman rule in England. They had come to America with grants from the king, they had family portraits and family silver and family diamonds, and now in this generation of orphaned girls, two of them at least were fighting the last battles of family pride. The fortunes of the Merrymans had declined, and Amy and Ethel, with their backs, as it were, to the wall, were making a final stand.
“We must have evening clothes, we must entertain our friends, we must pay for the family pew”; this was their nervous litany. The Merrymans had always dressed and entertained and worshiped properly; hence it was for lace or tulle or velvet, as the case might be, that their money went. It went, too, for the very elegant and exclusive little dinners to which, on rare occasions, their friends were bidden; and it went for the high place in the synagogue from which they prayed their pharisaical prayers.
“We thank thee, Lord, that we are not as others,” prayed Amy and Ethel fervently.
But Anne prayed no such prayers. She wanted to be like other people. She wanted to eat and drink with the multitude, she wanted a warm, warm heart, a groaning board. She wanted snugness and coziness and comfort. And she grew up loving these things, and hating the pale walls of their old house in Georgetown, the family portraits, the made-over dinner gowns that her sisters wore, her own made-over party frocks.
“Can’t I have a new one, Amy?”
“It’s Ethel’s turn.”
So it was when Anne went to a certain diplomatic reception in a made-over satin slip, hidden by a cloud of snowy tulle, that Murray Flint first waked to the fact of her loveliness.
He had waked ten years earlier to the loveliness of Amy, and five years later to the beauty of Ethel.
And now here was Anne!
“She’s different though,” he told old Molly Winchell; “more spiritual than the others.”
It was Anne’s thinness which deceived him. It was an attractive thinness. She was pale, with red lips, and the fat fair braids had given way to a shining knot. She wore the family pearls, and the effect was, as Murray had said, spiritual. Anne had the look, indeed, of one who sees heavenly visions.
Amy had never had that look. She was dark and vivid. If at thirty the vividness was emphasized by artificial means the fault lay in Amy’s sacrifice to her social ideals, She needed the butter which she denied herself. She needed cream, and eggs, and her doctor had told her so. And Amy had kept the knowledge to herself.
Ethel, eating as little as Amy—or even less—had escaped, miraculously, attenuation. At twenty she had been a plump little beauty. She was still plump. Her neck in her low-cut gown was lovely. Her figure was not fashionable, and she lacked Amy’s look of race.