“And don’t you think you deserve to be scolded?” said Amy, in a delightfully rebuking undertone. “My dear—he must be in the thirties!”
“No, I don’t, Amy!” Nina protested, in a tone of great honesty and innocence. “I can’t help being like that. If I don’t like a man, why, I have nothing to say to him! If I do, why—his age—nothing--matters!”
She hesitated, and laughed a little laugh of pure pleasure.
“You flirt!” Amy said.
“Truly, honestly—” Nina was beginning, when both girls were smitten into panicky silence by the sound of the slipper Harriet deliberately dropped on the floor. Nina noiselessly bent her stocky young body far forward, to look through the crack of the bathroom door. Harriet went on quietly spreading the youthful dinner dresses on Nina’s bed, snapped up a dressing-table light, went on into her own room. But she had been taken far more by surprise herself, if they had only known it, than had Amy and Nina. Could Royal possibly have been the subject of their confidences? Could he have made such progress in a single afternoon? Knowing Royal, and knowing Nina, she was obliged to confess it possible.
While she stood pondering, in her own beautiful room, there was a modest knock at the door, and Rosa came in with a box. She smiled, and put it on Harriet’s desk.
“For me?” the girl said, smiling in answer, and with some surprise. Rosa nodded, and went her way, and Harriet went to the box. It was not large, a florist’s box of dark green cardboard; Harriet untied the raffia string, and investigated the mass of silky tissue paper. Inside was an orchid.
She took it out, a delicate cluster of flaky blossoms, poised carelessly, like little white hearts, on the limp stem. She opened the accompanying envelope, and found Ward’s card. On the back he had written,
“Just a little worried because he’s afraid you’re cross at him!”
Harriet stood perfectly still, the orchid in one hand, the card crushed in the other. Ward Carter had sent orchids, no doubt, to other girls. But Harriet Field had never had an orchid before from a man.
She put the card into her little desk, and the orchid into a slender crystal vase. Then she went back to advise Amy and Nina as to gold beads and the arrangement of hair. But a little later, when she was in the big housekeeper’s pantry, where several maids were busy with last-minute manipulations of olives and ice and grapefruit, Ward came out and found her, soberly busy in her old checked silk.
“Why didn’t you wear it?”
“Wear it—you bad, extravagant child! I’ll wear it to town to-morrow.”
“No; but—” he sank his tone to one of enjoyable confidences—“but were you mad at me?”
“Mad at you? But why should I have been?” Harriet demanded.
“Oh, I don’t know! You looked so glum at breakfast.”
“Well, you had nothing to do with it!” she assured him, in her big-sisterly voice. “And it was the first orchid I ever had, and I loved you for it!”