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Chapter 12

XII

But I am allowing myself to wander too far from Mrs. Makely and her letter, which reached me only two days before Thanksgiving.

"MY DEAR MR. HOMOS,—Will you give me the pleasure of your company at dinner, on Thanksgiving-day, at eight o'clock, very informally. My friend, Mrs. Bellington Strange, has unexpectedly returned from Europe within the week, and I am asking a few friends, whom I can trust to excuse this very short notice, to meet her.

With Mr. Makely's best regards,
Yours cordially,
DOROTHEA MAKELY.

The Sphinx,
November the twenty sixth,
Eighteen hundred and
Ninety-three."

I must tell you that it has been a fad with the ladies here to spell out their dates, and, though the fashion is waning, Mrs. Makely is a woman who would remain in such an absurdity among the very last. I will let you make your own conclusions concerning this, for though, as an Altrurian, I cannot respect her, I like her so much, and have so often enjoyed her generous hospitality, that I cannot bring myself to criticise her except by the implication of the facts. She is anomalous, but, to our way of thinking, all the Americans I have met are anomalous, and she has the merits that you would not logically attribute to her character. Of course, I cannot feel that her evident regard for me is the least of these, though I like to think that it is founded on more reason than the rest.

I have by this time become far too well versed in the polite insincerities of the plutocratic world to imagine that, because she asked me to come to her dinner very informally, I was not to come in all the state I could put into my dress. You know what the evening dress of men is here, from the costumes in our museum, and you can well believe that I never put on those ridiculous black trousers without a sense of their grotesqueness—that scrap of waistcoat reduced to a mere rim, so as to show the whole white breadth of the starched shirt-bosom, and that coat chopped away till it seems nothing but tails and lapels. It is true that I might go out to dinner in our national costume; in fact, Mrs. Makely has often begged me to wear it, for she says the Chinese wear theirs; but I have not cared to make the sensation which I must if I wore it; my outlandish views of life and my frank study of their customs signalize me quite sufficiently among the Americans.

At the hour named I appeared in Mrs. Makely's drawing-room in all the formality that I knew her invitation, to come very informally, really meant. I found myself the first, as I nearly always do, but I had only time for a word or two with my hostess before the others began to come. She hastily explained that as soon as she knew Mrs. Strange was in New York she had despatched a note telling her that I was still here; and that as she could not get settled in time to dine at home, she must come and take Thanksgiving dinner with her. "She will have to go out with Mr. Makely; but I am going to put you next to her at table, for I want you both to have a good time. But don't you forget that you are going to take me out."

I said that I should certainly not forget it, and I showed her the envelope with my name on the outside, and hers on a card inside, which the serving-man at the door had given me in the hall, as the first token that the dinner was to be unceremonious.

She laughed, and said: "I've had the luck to pick up two or three other agreeable people that I know will be glad to meet you. Usually it's such a scratch lot at Thanksgiving, for everybody dines at home that can, and you have to trust to the highways and the byways for your guests, if you give a dinner. But I did want to bring Mrs. Strange and you together, and so I chanced it. Of course, it's a sent-in dinner, as you must have inferred from the man at the door; I've given my servants a holiday, and had Claret's people do the whole thing. It's as broad as it's long, and, as my husband says, you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb; and it saves bother. Everybody will know it's sent in, so that nobody will be deceived. There'll be a turkey in it somewhere, and cranberry sauce; I've insisted on that; but it won't be a regular American Thanksgiving dinner, and I'm rather sorry, on your account, for I wanted you to see one, and I meant to have had you here, just with ourselves; but Eveleth Strange's coming back put a new face on things, and so I've gone in for this affair, which isn't at all what you would like. That's the reason I tell you at once it's sent in."

William Dean Howells