Margaret Vance tried to give herself some reason for going to call upon the Dryfooses, but she could find none better than the wish to do a kind thing. This seemed queerer and less and less sufficient as she examined it, and she even admitted a little curiosity as a harmless element in her motive, without being very well satisfied with it. She tried to add a slight sense of social duty, and then she decided to have no motive at all, but simply to pay her visit as she would to any other eligible strangers she saw fit to call upon. She perceived that she must be very careful not to let them see that any other impulse had governed her; she determined, if possible, to let them patronize her; to be very modest and sincere and diffident, and, above all, not to play a part. This was easy, compared with the choice of a manner that should convey to them the fact that she was not playing a part. When the hesitating Irish serving-man had acknowledged that the ladies were at home, and had taken her card to them, she sat waiting for them in the drawing-room. Her study of its appointments, with their impersonal costliness, gave her no suggestion how to proceed; the two sisters were upon her before she had really decided, and she rose to meet them with the conviction that she was going to play a part for want of some chosen means of not doing so. She found herself, before she knew it, making her banjo a property in the little comedy, and professing so much pleasure in the fact that Miss Dryfoos was taking it up; she had herself been so much interested by it. Anything, she said, was a relief from the piano; and then, between the guitar and the banjo, one must really choose the banjo, unless one wanted to devote one’s whole natural life to the violin. Of course, there was the mandolin; but Margaret asked if they did not feel that the bit of shell you struck it with interposed a distance between you and the real soul of the instrument; and then it did have such a faint, mosquitoy little tone! She made much of the question, which they left her to debate alone while they gazed solemnly at her till she characterized the tone of the mandolin, when Mela broke into a large, coarse laugh.
“Well, that’s just what it does sound like,” she explained defiantly to her sister. “I always feel like it was going to settle somewhere, and I want to hit myself a slap before it begins to bite. I don’t see what ever brought such a thing into fashion.”
Margaret had not expected to be so powerfully seconded, and she asked, after gathering herself together, “And you are both learning the banjo?” “My, no!” said Mela, “I’ve gone through enough with the piano. Christine is learnun’ it.”
“I’m so glad you are making my banjo useful at the outset, Miss Dryfoos.” Both girls stared at her, but found it hard to cope with the fact that this was the lady friend whose banjo Beaton had lent them. “Mr. Beaton mentioned that he had left it here. I hope you’ll keep it as long as you find it useful.”