“You’re an idiot!” said Nina, scornfully. Harriet laughed maternally, but in spite of herself her idle dream of the afternoon returned for a second, and she wondered just how that faintly supercilious smile of Isabelle’s would be affected if she had her own right, here in this family group, a Carter of the Carters, daughter of the house. And thinking this, her smoky blue eyes met Ward’s, and perhaps there was something in them that he had not seen there before. At all events, she was ashamed to see him colour suddenly, and become a little incoherent, and to have him turn to her his full attention, with a sort of boyish clumsiness that was touching in its way. Imaginary or not, the trifling episode troubled her, and as Madame Carter came majestically in and the little clock on the dresser pointed to the hour, she said her good-nights, and carried Nina off again.
Richard Carter’s wife and mother differed in no particular more strikingly than in their attitude toward the toilet artifices they both employed so lavishly. The old lady’s beauty was even more than Isabelle’s assisted by art, for her snowy-white hair was a wig, her teeth not her own, and her eyebrows quite openly manufactured without one single natural hair to build upon. But it pleased her generation to regard these facts as sacred, and to assume that the secrets of the boudoir were unsuspected. Even Nina never saw so much as a powder puff in her grandmother’s dressing room, and any compliment upon her hair or complexion Madame Carter received with gracious dignity.
She looked at Ward’s departing back, now, and remarked with pointed reproof:
“My son has never seen his mother even in the act of brushing her hair! There are reserves—there are niceties—”
“Where did you have it brushed—down at the shop?” Isabelle asked, laughing. Madame Carter never failed to be staggered by her daughter-in-law’s irreverence, yet she never could quite resist the criticisms that courted it.
“For the last few years, I admit,” she conceded with a somewhat shaken dignity, “I admit that I have had recourse to what they call ’puffs’—you know what I mean? Made of my own hair, of course—”
“Made of your own imagination!” Isabelle amended, in her own heart. But she only gave the old lady a somewhat disquieting smile as she picked up the tumbled black fan and led the way down to dinner.
Nina was duly dressed for the tea-party the next day, and went to show herself to her mother while Harriet dressed. The young girl really did look her best in the filmy white with its severely plain ruffles, and with a wide white hat on her thick, smoothly dressed hair. Miss Field, too, although she was very pale to-day, looked “simply gorgeous,” as Isabelle expressed it, when she saw them off in the car, although Harriet’s gown was not new, and the little flowered hat she had crushed down upon her splendid hair had been Isabelle’s own a season ago. Harriet was in no holiday mood; she felt herself in a false position; this was to be one of the times when she paid high for all the beauty and luxury of her life.