“Oh,” she said vaguely. “Won’t you sit down? Peter—–” she paused.
“Peter is in Santa Barbara, isn’t he?” asked Susan, who knew he was not.
“I declare I don’t know where he is half the time,” Mrs. Baxter said, with her little, cracked laugh. They both sat down. “He has such a good time!” pursued his aunt, complacently.
“Doesn’t he?” Susan said pleasantly.
“Only I tell the girls they mustn’t take Peter too seriously,” cackled the sweet, old voice. “Dreadful boy!”
“I think they understand him.” Susan looked at her hostess solicitously. “You look well,” she said resolutely. “No more neuritis, Mrs. Baxter?”
Mrs. Baxter was instantly diverted. She told Susan of her new treatment, her new doctor, the devotion of her old maid; Emma, the servant of her early married life, was her close companion now, and although Mrs. Baxter always thought of her as a servant, Emma was really the one intimate friend she had.
Susan remained a brief quarter of an hour, chatting easily, but burning with inward shame. Never, never, never in her life would she pay another call like this one! Tea was not suggested, and when the girl said good-by, Mrs. Baxter did not leave the reception room. But just as Burns opened the street-door for her Susan saw a beautiful little coupe stop at the curb, and Miss Ella Saunders, beautifully gowned, got out of it and came up the steps with a slowness that became her enormous size.
“Hello, Susan Brown!” said Miss Saunders, imprisoning Susan’s hand between two snowy gloves. “Where’ve you been?”
“Where’ve you been?” Susan laughed. “Italy and Russia and Holland!”
“Don’t be an utter little hypocrite, child, and try to make talk with a woman of my years I I’ve been home two weeks, anyway.”
Miss Saunders nodded slowly, bit her lip, and stared at Susan in a rather mystifying and very pronounced way.
“Emily is home, indeed,” she said absently. Then abruptly she added: “Can you lunch with me to-morrow—no, Wednesday—at the Town and Country, infant?”
“Why, I’d love to!” Susan answered, dimpling.
“Well; at one? Then we can talk. Tell me,” Miss Saunders lowered her voice, “is Mrs. Baxter in? Oh, damn!” she added cheerfully, as Susan nodded. Susan glanced back, before the door closed, and saw her meet the old lady in the hall and give her an impulsive kiss.
The little Town and Country Club, occupying two charmingly-furnished, crowded floors of what had once been a small apartment house on Post Street, next door to the old library, was a small but remarkable institution, whose members were the wealthiest and most prominent women of the fashionable colonies of Burlingame and San Mateo, Ross Valley and San Rafael. Presumably only the simplest and least formal of associations, it was really the most important of all the city’s social institutions, and no woman was many weeks in San Francisco society without realizing that the various country clubs, and the Junior Cotillions were as dust and ashes, and that her chances of achieving a card to the Browning dances were very slim if she could not somehow push her name at least as far as the waiting list of the Town and Country Club.