“... so then when she came to me,” Nina was recounting the reception of some celebrity at school, “of course I was awfully shy; you know me!” She was suddenly diverted. “But I’m not as shy as I used to be, am I, Miss Harriet?” she asked, confidingly.
“Not nearly!” Harriet made herself say, encouragingly.
“Well, then,” Nina resumed, “when she came to me I don’t know what I said—I just said something or other—I can’t for the life of me remember what it was! Probably I just said that I had seen her in her last three plays or something like that, anyway—anyway, she said to Miss King that she had noticed me, and she said, ’It’s an aristocratic face!’ Amy Hawkes told me, for a trade last. The girls were wild—they were all so crazy to have her notice them, you know, and I thought—I thought of course she’d speak of Lucia or Ethel Benedict or one of those prettier girls; although,” said Nina, with her little air of conscientiousness, “Ethel didn’t look a bit pretty that day. Sometimes she does; sometimes she looks perfectly lovely! But that day she looked sort of colourless. ’Aristocratic’!” Nina laughed softly. “Well, I’d rather look aristocratic than be the prettiest girl in the world, wouldn’t you?”
Harriet glanced at her with something like pity. This was Nina in her before-the-party mood. Her confidence and complacency would all begin to ooze away from her, presently, and the words that came so readily to Harriet would refuse to flow at all to any one else. She would come home saying that she hated parties because people were all so shallow and uninteresting, and that she couldn’t help what her friends said of her, she just wouldn’t descend to that sort of nonsense.
“Here we are!” Harriet rather drily interrupted the flood. Nina gave a startled glance at the lawns and gardens of the Jay mansion already dotted with awnings and chairs, and sprinkled with the bright gowns of the first arrivals. They were early, and their hostess, a handsome, heavily built woman with corsets like armourplate under her exquisite gown, and a blonde bang covering her forehead, came forward with her daughter to meet them. Francesca was as slight as a willow, with a demurely drooped little head and a honeyed little self-possessed manner.
“Very decent of you, Miss Field!” breathed Mrs. Jay, in a voice like that of a horn. “You girls run along now—people will be comin’ at any minute. I’m going to take Miss Field to the table. Three hundred people comin’,” she confided as Harriet followed her across the lawn, and to the rather quiet corner of the awninged porch where the tea table stood, “and Mist’ Jay just sent me a message that he won’t be here until six. My older daughter, Morgan, is stayin’ with the Tom Underbills—you know their place— lovely people—Well, now, I’ll leave you here, and you just ask for anything you need—”