The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Eliza Leslie/Mrs. Derrington's Reception Day
|←Autobiography|| Mrs. Derrington’s Reception Day
|published in The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings|
MRS. DERRINGTON’S RECEPTION DAY.
Major Fayland had departed on his return home, and Sophia’s tears had flowed fast and long on taking leave of her father. Mrs. Derrington reminded her, by way of consolation, that to-morrow was “reception day,” and that she would then most probably see many of the ladies, who, having heard of Miss Fayland’s arrival, had already left cards for her.
“And what, dear aunt, is exactly meant by a reception day?” inquired Sophia.
“It is a convenient way of getting through our morning ,” replied Mrs. Derrington. “We send round cards at the beginning of the season to notify our friends that we are at home on a certain morning, once a week. My day is Thursday. I sit in the drawing-room during several hours in a handsome demi-toilette. Full dress is not admissible, of course, at morning receptions. Any of my friends that wish to see me, take this opportunity; understanding that I receive calls at no other time. They are served with chocolate and other refreshments, brought in and handed to them soon after their arrival. They talk awhile, and then depart. There are some coming in, and some going out all the time, and no one staying long. The guests are chiefly ladies; few gentlemen of this city having leisure for morning visits. Still every gentleman manages to honour a lady’s reception day with at least one call during the season. I suppose you had no such things as morning receptions at the fort?”
“No, indeed,” replied Sophia; “our mornings were always fully occupied in attending to household affairs, and doing the sewing of the family. Afternoon was the time for walking or reading. But in the evening we all visited our neighbours, very much according to the fashion of Spanish tertulias.”
Next morning, when dressed for the reception, and seated in the drawing-room to wait for the first arrivals, Mrs. Derrington said to Sophia—”We shall now hear all about Mrs. Cotterell’s great party which came off last night. I have some curiosity to know what it was like, being her first since she came to live in this part of the town.”
“Do you visit her?” asked Sophia.
“Oh, no—not yet—and probably I never may. I am waiting to see if the Cotterells succeed in getting into society.”
“What society, dear aunt?” inquired Sophia.
“I see, Sophy, that I shall be much amused with your simplicity,” replied Mrs. Derrington; “or rather with your extreme newness. In using the word society, we allude only to one class, and that of course is the very best.”
“By that I understand a select circle of intellectual, refined, agreeable, and every way excellent people,” said Sophia; “men on whose integrity, and women on whose propriety there is not the slightest blemish, and who are admired for their talents, loved for their goodness, and esteemed for the truth and honour of their whole conduct.”
“Stop—stop,” interrupted Mrs. Derrington, “you are going quite too far. Can you suppose all this is required to get people into society, or to keep them there? The upper circles would be very small if nothing short of perfection could be admitted.”
“What then, dear aunt, are the requisites?” asked Sophia. “Is genius one?”
“Genius? Oh, no, indeed. It is not that sort of thing that brings people into society. It is mostly considered rather a draw back. Mrs. Goldsworth actually shuns people of genius. Indeed, most of my friends rather avoid them. I have no acquaintance whatever with any man or woman of genius.”
“I am sorry to hear it,” said Sophia. “I had hoped while in New York to meet many of those gifted persons whose fame has spread throughout our country, whom I already know by reputation, and whom I have long been desirous of seeing or hearing.”
“Oh, I suppose you mean lions,” said Mrs. Derrington. “I can assure you that I patronize none of them; neither do any of my friends.”
“I thought the lions were the patronizers,” said Sophia, “and that their position gave them the exclusive power of selecting their associates, and deciding on whom to confer the honour of their acquaintance.”
“Sophy—Sophy, you really make me laugh!” exclaimed her aunt. “What strange notions you have picked up, with your garrison education. Do not you know that people of genius seldom live in any sort of style, or keep carriages, or give balls? And they never make fortunes; unless they are foreign musicians or dancers, and I am not sure that the singing and dancing people are classed as geniuses. They are regarded as something much better.”
“Is society composed entirely of people of fortune?”
“Oh, no; there are persons in the first circle who are not half so rich as many in the second, or even in the third, or fourth.”
“Then, if society is not distinguished for pre-eminence in talent or wealth, the distinction must depend upon the transcendent goodness, and perfect respectability of those that belong to it.”
“Why, not exactly. I confess that some of the persons in society have done very bad things; which after the first few days it is best to hush up, for the honour of our class. But then in certain respects society is most exemplary. We always subscribe to public charities. Charity is very fashionable, and so is church.”
“And now,” continued Sophia, “to return to the lady who gave the party last night. Is not she a good and respectable woman?”
“I never heard anything against her goodness, or her respect ability.”
“She must surely be a woman of education.”
“Oh, yes; I went to school with her myself. But at all schools there is somewhat of a mixture. To give you Mrs. Cotterell’s history—her father kept a large store in Broadway, and afterwards he got into the wholesale line, and went into Pearl street. Now, my father was a shipping merchant, and owned vessels, and my dear late husband was his junior partner. Mr. Cotterell made his money in some sort of manufacturing business, across the river. He died two years ago, and is said to have left his family very rich. Her daughter being now grown, Mrs. Cotterell has bought a house up here, in the best part of the town, and has come out quite in style, and been tolerably called on. Some went to see her out of curiosity; and some because they have an insatiable desire for enlarging their circle; some because they have a passion for new people; and some because they like to go to houses where everything is profuse and costly, as is generally the case with parvenus.”
“And some, I hope,” said Sophia, “because they really like Mrs. Cotterell for herself.”
“She certainly is visited by a few very genteel people,” continued Mrs. Derrington, “and that has encouraged her to attempt a party last night. But the Goldsworths, the Highburys, the Featherstones, and myself, are waiting to hear if she is well taken up; and, above all, if the Pelham Prideauxs have called on her. And besides, it may be well for us not to begin till she has gradually gotten rid of the people with whom she associated in her husband’s time.”
“Surely,” said Sophia, “she cannot be expected to throw off her old friends?”
“Then she need not expect to gain new ones up here. We can not mix with people from the unfashionable districts. Mrs. Cotterell may do as she pleases—but she must be select in her circle, if she wants the countenance of the Pelham Prideauxs.”
“And who, dear aunt, are the Pelham Prideauxs?” inquired Sophia.
“Is it possible you never heard of them?” ejaculated Mrs. Derrington. “To know Mrs. Pelham Prideaux, to be seen at her house, or to have her seen at yours, is sufficient. It gives the stamp of high fashion at once.”
“And for what reason?” persisted Sophia.
“Because she is Mrs. Pelham Prideaux,” was the reply.
“What is her husband?” said Sophia.
“He is a gentleman who has always lived upon the fortune left him by his father, who inherited property from his father, and he from his. None of the Prideauxs have done anything for a hundred years. The great-grandfather was from England, and came over a gentleman.”
“Surprising!” said Sophia, mischievously. “And whom have they to inherit all this glory?”
“An only daughter,” replied Mrs. Derrington, “Maria Matilda Pelham Prideaux.”
At this moment a carriage stopped at the door, and presently Mrs. Middleby was announced; and immediately after, two young ladies came in who were presented to Sophia as Miss Telford and Miss Ellen Telford. The conversation soon turned on Mrs. Cotterell s party. Mrs. Middleby had been there—the Miss Telfords had not, and were therefore anxious to “hear all about it.”
“Really,” said Mrs. Middleby, “it was just like all other parties; and like all others, it went off tolerably well. The company was such as one meets everywhere. The rooms were decorated in the usual style. Some of the people looked better than others, and some worse than others. The dressing was just as it always is at parties. The hostess and her daughter behaved as people generally do in their own houses; the company as guests usually behave in other people s houses. There was some conversation and some music. The supper was like all other suppers, and everybody went away about the usual hour.”
Mrs. Derrington was dubious about taking up the Cotterells.
“I knew we should not get much information out of Mrs. Middleby,” said Miss Telford to Sophia, after the lady had departed. “She always deals in generals, whatever may be the topic of conversation.”
“Because her capacity of observation is so shallow that it cannot take in particulars,” said Ellen Telford. “But here comes Mrs. Honeywood—we will stay to hear what she says.”
Mrs. Honeywood was introduced, and on being applied to for her account of Mrs. Cotterell’s party, she pronounced it every way charming; and told of some delightful people that were there. “Among them,” said Mrs. Honeywood, “was the dashing widow, Mrs. Crandon, as elegant and as much admired as ever. She was certainly the belle of the room, and looked even more captivating than usual, with her blooming cheeks, and her magnificent dark eyes, and her rich and graceful ringlets, and her fine tall figure set off by her superb dress, giving her the air of a duchess, or a countess at least.”
“What was her dress?” inquired Sophia.
“Oh, a beautiful glossy cherry-coloured velvet, trimmed with a profusion of rich black lace. On her head was an exquisite dress-hat of white satin and blond, with a splendid ostrich plume. She was surrounded by beaux all the evening. The gentlemen almost neglected the young ladies to crowd round the enchanting widow, particularly when she played on the harp and sung. They would scarcely allow her to quit the instrument; and, indeed, her music was truly divine. There was quite a scramble as to who should have the honour of leading Mrs. Crandon to the supper-table.”
After some further encomiums on the widow Crandon, and on everything connected with the party, Mrs. Honeywood took her leave, first offering seats in her carriage to the Miss Telfords, which offer they accepted.
Mrs. Derrington rather thought she would take up the Cotterells.
The next of the guests who had been at Mrs. Cotterell’s party was Miss Rodwell; and she also gave an account of it.
“Mrs. Cotterell and her daughter are rather presentable, and they are visited to a certain degree,” said Miss Rodwell; “and I understand that Mrs. Pelham Prideaux does think of calling on them. I knew that I should meet many of my friends, or of course, I could not have risked being there myself. But, under any circumstances, the company was too large to be select. A party can not be perfectly comme il faut, if it numbers more than fifty. Mrs. De Manchester says, that to have the very cream and flower of New York society, you must not go beyond thirty. And, though an Englishwoman, I think, in this respect, she is right.”
“The Vanbombels, to be completely select, invite none but their own relations,” observed Mrs. Derrington.
“And for the same reason,” rejoined Miss Rodwell, “the Jenkses invite none of their relations at all. But who do you think I saw last evening? Poor Crandon, absolutely! I wonder where Mrs. Cotterell found her? She must have been invited out of compassion; it certainly could not have been for the purpose of ornamenting the rooms. Most likely Mrs. Cotterell did not know that poor Crandon is so entirely passé, nobody minds cutting her in the least. There she was rigged out in that old dingy red velvet that everybody was long ago tired of seeing. It is now quite too narrow for the fashion, and looks faded and threadbare. She had taken off the white satin trimming that graced it in its high and palmy days, and decorated it scantily with some coarse brownish, blackish lace. And then her head, with its forlorn ringlets, streaming down with the curl all out, and a queer yellowish-white hat, and a meagre old feather to match! Such an object! I wish you could have seen her! But, poor thing, I could not help pitying her, for she looked forlorn, and sat neglected, and was left to herself nearly all the time; except when the Cotterells talked to her from a sense of duty. She played something on the harp, but nobody seemed to listen. I know that I was talking and laughing all the time, and so was every one else. People that are ill-dressed should never play on harps. It shows them too plainly.”
“And they should never go to parties either,” said Mrs. Derrington. “Poor Mrs. Crandon, has she no friend to tell her so? But I never heard before that she had fallen off in her costume. The report may be true that her husband’s executors have defrauded her of a considerable portion of her property. However, I have lost sight of her for some years.”
“And then,” said Miss Rodwell, “it was not to be expected that Crandon could sustain herself permanently in society, considering how she first got into it.”
“I own,” resumed Mrs. Derrington, “I was rather surprised when I first saw Mrs. Crandon among us. It was, I believe, at Mrs. Hautonberg’s famous thousand dollar party, the winter that it was fashionable to report the cost of those things; so that, before the end of the season, parties had mounted up to twice that sum. How did she happen to get there, for it was certainly the cause of her having a run all that season? I never exactly understood the circumstances.”
“Oh, I can tell you all about it,” replied Miss Rodwell; “for I was in the secret. Mr. Crandon was a jobber, and had realized a great deal of money, and they lived in a fine house, and made a show, but nobody in society ever thought of noticing them. After a while he took her to Europe, and they spent several months in Paris, and Mrs. Crandon (who, to do her justice, was then a very handsome woman) fitted herself out with a variety of elegant French dresses, made by an exquisite artiste, and with millinery equally recherché. When she came home, the fame of all these beautiful things spread beyond the limits of her own circle, and we were all dying to see them (particularly the evening costumes), and to borrow them as patterns for our own mantuamakers and milliners. But while she continued meandering about among her own set, we had no chance of seeing much more than the divine bonnet and pelisse she wore in Broadway, and they only whetted our appetite for the rest. So at one of Mrs. Hautonberg’s soirées, a coterie of us got together and settled the plan. Mrs. Hautonberg at first made some difficulty, but finally came into it, and agreed to commence operations by calling on Mrs. Crandon next day, and afterwards sending her a note for her great thousand dollar party, which was then in agitation. So she called, and Mr. Hautonberg was prevailed on to leave his card for Mr. Crandon. They came to the party, thinking themselves highly honoured, and we all made a point of being introduced to the lady, and of showing her all possible civility, and of being delighted with her harp-playing. You may be sure, we took especial note of all the minutiae of her dress, which I must say far excelled in taste and elegance every other in the room. And no wonder, when it was fresh from France. Well, to be brief, she was visited and invited, and well treated, and her beautiful things were borrowed for patterns; and by the time she had shown them all round at different parties, imitations of them were to be seen everywhere throughout our circle. The cherry-coloured velvet and the white hat and feathers were among them. She gave a grand party herself, and as it was at the close of the season, we all honoured her with our presence. Poor woman, she really thought all this was to last. Next winter we let her gently down; some dropping her entirely, and a few compassionately dragging on with her a while longer. Indeed, I still meet her at two or three houses.”
“I am very sure she was never seen at Mrs. Pelham Prideaux,” observed Mrs. Derrington, “even in the winter of her glory. Her French costumes would have been no inducement to Mrs. Prideaux, whose station has placed her far above dress.”
“Mrs. Prideaux is rather too exclusive,” said Miss Kodwell, somewhat piqued.
“What an enviable station!” remarked Sophia, “to be above dress.”
“Well,” continued Mrs. Derrington, to Miss Rodwell, “what did you think of Mrs. Cotterell’s party arrangements? How were the decorations, the supper, and all things thereunto belonging?” “Oh! just such as we always see in the best houses. All in scrupulous accordance with the usual routine. Yet somehow it seemed to me there was a sort of parvenu air throughout.”
“What were the deficiencies?” asked Mrs. Derrington.
“Oh! no particular deficiencies, except a want of that indescribable something which can only be found in the mansions of people of birth.”
Sophia could not forbear asking what in republican America could be meant by people of birth. To this Miss Rodwell vouchsafed no reply, but looking at her watch, said it was time to call for Mrs. De Manchester, whom she had promised to accompany to Stewart’s. She then departed, leaving Mrs. Derrington impressed with a determination not to take up the Cotterells.
The stopping of a carriage was followed by the entrance of Mrs. and Miss Brockendale. The mother was a lady with an ever-varying countenance, and a restless eye. She was expensively dressed, but with her hair disordered, her bonnet crushed, her collar crooked, her gown rumpled, one end of her shawl trailing on the ground, and the other end scarcely reaching to her elbow. Her daughter’s very handsome habiliments were arranged with the most scrupulous nicety; and the young lady had a steadfast eye, and a resolute and determined expression of face. All her features were regular, but the tout ensemble was not agreeable.
After some very desultory conversation, Mrs. Derrington recurred to the subject that was uppermost in her mind, Mrs. Cotterell’s party; and on finding that the Brockendale ladies had been there, she again inquired about it; observing that much as she had heard of it in the course of the morning, she had still obtained no satisfactory account. “How did it really go off?” said she, addressing Miss Brockendale; but the mother eagerly answered, and the daughter finding herself anticipated, closed her lips firmly, and drew back her head.
“Oh! delightfully,” exclaimed Mrs. Brockendale. “Everything was so elegant, and in such good taste, and on such a liberal scale.”
“How were the rooms decorated?” asked Mrs. Derrington.
“Oh! superbly, with flowers wreathed around the columns.”
“Mrs. Cotterell’s rooms have no pillars,” said Miss Brockendale, speaking very audibly and distinctly, and addressing herself to Sophia, near whom she was seated.
“Well, then,” continued Mrs. Brockendale, “there were wreaths festooned along the walls. You cannot say there were no walls.”
“There were no wreaths except those that ornamented the lamps and chandeliers,” said Miss Brockendale, always addressing Sophia.
“Oh! yes, the flowers were all about the lights. That was what made them look so pretty. One thing I am certain of, the rooms were as light as day. There must have been five hundred candles.”
“There was not one,” said Miss Brockendale to Sophia. “The rooms were lighted entirely with gas.”
“Well, it might have been a sort of gas. I declare my head is always so filled with things of importance, that I have no memory for trifles. This I know, that the furniture was all crimson velvet trimmed with gold-colour.”
“It was blue satin damask trimmed with a rich dark brown,” said her daughter to Miss Fayland.
“Well, the crimson might have had a bluish cast. I have certainly seen crimson velvet somewhere. The truth is, almost as soon as we entered, I saw my friend Mr. Weston, the member of Congress (either from Greenbay or Georgetown, I forget which), and so we got to talking about Texas and things; and that may be the reason I did not particularly notice the rooms. I almost got into a quarrel with this same Congress-man about the President, who, in spite of all I could say, Mr. Weston persisted in declaring has never threatened to go to war with Germany.”
“Neither he has,” said Miss Brockendale, this time directing her looks to her mother.
“Then he has set himself against railroads, or injured the crops, or invited over five hundred thousand millions of Irish.”
“He has done none of these things.”
“He has done something, I am very sure. Or, if he has not, some other President has. I never can remember how the Presidents go, and perhaps I am apt to mix them up, my head being always full of more important objects.”
“I hear there was a very elegant supper,” said Mrs. Derrington.
“I believe there was. But all supper-time I was talking about the tariff, and the theatre, and the army and navy, and I did not notice the things on the table. I rather think there was ice-cream, and I am almost positive there was jelly.”
“Had you fine music?” inquired Mrs. Derrington.
“It seems to me that I heard music. But I was talking then to Mr. Van Valkenburgh, who has travelled over half the world; mostly pedestrian, poor fellow!”
“He is not a poor fellow,” explained her daughter to Sophia. “He is a rich bachelor, and a great botanist, and entomologist; and when he rambles on foot, it is always from his own choice.”
“Augustina,” said her mother, “do not you recollect we met Mr. Van Valkenburgh somewhere in Europe, when we were travelling with the Tirealls?”
“I never was in Europe,” said Augustina to Sophia. “When mamma went over, she took my sister Isabella, but left me a little girl at boarding-school.”
“So you were a little girl at boarding-school; I remember all about it,” continued Mrs. Brockendale, “and I did take Isabella, because she was grown up. She is married now, poor thing, to a man that never crossed the Atlantic, and never will, and so her going to Europe was of no manner of use. What a strange girl she was. When we were at Venice she would make me go everywhere in a boat—even to church.”
“You could not well go in anything else,” remarked Augustina.
“And then at Venice, she highly offended the showman by ringing the great bell of St. Mark’s.”
“She could not get at it.”
“Then it must have been at St. Peter’s, or St. Paul’s, or else Notre Dame. Any how, she rung a bell.”
“My sister has told me,” said Augustina, turning to Sophia, “that coming out of a village church in England, she took a fancy to pull the bell-rope, as it hung invitingly down just within the entrance; and she greatly scandalized the beadle by doing so, still she pacified him with a shilling.”
“But now about Mr. Van Valkenburgh,” proceeded Mrs. Brockendale, “this I am certain of, that we met him on the Alps, and we were joined up there by old General Offenham and his son, who was much taken with Isabella. It might have been a match, for the young man will be a half-millionaire one of these days; but he has fits, and rolls down mountains. So that rather discouraged us, and we thought that nobody would ever marry him. Yet, afterwards, at Paris, or Portsmouth, or some of those places, the widow Sweeting snapped up young Offenham, for her third husband. So Isabella might as well have taken him.”
“My sister,” said Augustina, turning to Sophia, “is happily married to a man of sense, as well as of large fortune, and high respectability.”
“Mr. Van Valkenburgh,” pursued Mrs. Brockendale, “was telling how delightful he found the literary society of England. I wish I had been in it, when I was there. He became acquainted with them all. He even knew Shakspeare.”
“His plays, of course,” said Sophia.
“Oh! no, the man himself. Shakspeare called on him at the hotel, and left his card for Mr. Van Valkenburgh.”
“Excuse me,” said Sophia, “Shakspeare has been dead considerably more than two hundred years.”
“Ah! my dear young lady,” observed Mrs. Brockendale, “you know we must not believe all we hear.”
“Mamma, we had best go home,” said her daughter, who had sat for some moments looking as if too angry to speak, leaving to Sophia the explanation concerning Shakspeare.
Mrs. Brockendale rose to depart. “If it was not Shakspeare that called on him, it must have been Dr. Johnson,” said she. “Any how, it was some great author.”
They then took their leave, Miss Brockendale expressing a desire to be intimately acquainted with Miss Fayland.
“Poor Mrs. Brockendale,” said Sophia, “her head reminds me of a lumber room, where all sorts of things are stowed away in confusion. My father thinks that a defective memory is generally the result of careless or inattentive observation. But perhaps this lady was never gifted with the capacity of seeing or hearing things understandingly.”
“I do not wonder that the daughter has no patience with the mother,” said Mrs. Derrington. “However, they are persons of birth, and live handsomely, and are visited. We cannot expect everybody in society to be alike. Unfortunately, Mr. Brockendale, who was a most excellent man, and doated on his queer wife, and tried hard to improve her, died ten years ago, and since losing his guidance, she has talked more like a fool than ever. And worse than all, every article of her dress seems to be continually getting into disorder. As soon as her things are put right, they somehow get wrong again.”
The next visitors were two rather insipid ladies, and soon after came in a remarkably handsome young man, dressed in the most perfect taste, but without the slightest approach to what is called dandyism. He had the air distingué which foreigners say is so rarely to be found among the citizens of America. He was introduced to Sophia as Mr. Percival Grafton, and she thought he looked exactly like a young nobleman, or rather as a young nobleman ought to look; and she was still more delighted with his conversation. After some very pleasant interchange of ideas with Miss Fayland, he inquired of Mrs. Derrington if she had yet become acquainted with Mrs. Cotterell and her charming daughter.
“Not yet,” was the reply.
“Then let me advise you by all means not to delay what I am sure will afford much pleasure to yourself and Miss Fayland. The Cotterells are delightful people; polished, intelligent, natural, and having l’air comme il faut, as if it had been born with them. Miss Cotterell is one of the loveliest girls I have ever seen; and does infinite honour to the system on which her mother has educated her.”
“Does she dress well?” inquired Mrs. Derrington.
“Charmingly,” replied Grafton, “and she could not do otherwise, her good taste is so apparent in everything. She dresses well, talks well, moves well, and plays and sings delightfully. I heard her speaking French to Madame St. Ange, with the utmost fluency and elegance. She is really a most enchanting girl.”
“You seem to be quite smitten!” remarked Miss Waterly, one of the insipid young ladies.
“Not to admire such a woman as Amelia Cotterell would evince the most pitiable insensibility to the united attractions of beauty, grace, and talent. But in the usual acceptation of the phrase, I am yet heart-whole. How long I may remain so is another question.”
Mr. Grafton then turned the conversation to another subject, and he soon after took his leave.
“Do you know, Mrs. Derrington,” said Miss Milkby, the other insipid young lady, “it’s all over town already, that Percival Grafton is dying in love with Amelia Cotterell. So you must not believe exactly all he says about her and her mother.”
“He really seems delirious,” said Miss Waterly.
Mrs. Derrington became again dubious about taking up the Cotterells. But her doubts grew fainter as she reflected that Percival Grafton was a young gentleman of acknowledged taste in all that was refined and elegant; being himself a person of birth, and “to the manner born” of the best society. Even his grandfather was an eminent lawyer, and Percival himself had been inducted into that high profession.
While Mrs. Derrington sat, “pondering in her mind,” Sophia was endeavouring to entertain the Misses Waterly and Milkby, when her aunt suddenly started from her reverie, and, her face beaming with ecstatic joy, advanced in eager empressement to receive a lady, whom the servant, throwing wide the door, announced as Mrs. Pelham Prideaux. When Mrs. Derrington had a little recovered the first excitement of this supreme felicity, and placed her high and mighty guest in the easiest fauteuil, and seen her well served with refreshments, she recollected to introduce her niece, Miss Sophia Fayland. The two other misses had long been within the pale of Mrs. Prideaux’s notice, and they timidly hoped she was well.
This arbitress of fashion, this dictatress to society, was a woman of no particular face, no particular figure, no particular dress, and no particular conversation. But she was well aware of her position, and made use of it accordingly.
Mrs. Derrington, whose whole morning had been one long thought of the Cotterells (whenever she had a new thought she always pursued it à l’outrance) said something about the party of last night.
“Were you there?” asked Mrs. Prideaux.
“Oh! no. Mrs. Cotterell has come among us so lately, I know not exactly in what circle she will be.”
“You might have gone,” said Mrs. Prideaux, “I intend calling on her.”
“Do you, indeed?” exclaimed Mrs. Derrington, with glad surprise. And Sophia’s face brightened also; for she longed to know the Cotterells, and she saw that all doubt was now over.
Miss Waterly and Miss Milkby now acknowledged that they had both been at the party, and that they had liked it.
“When do you make this call, my dear Mrs. Prideaux?” asked Mrs. Derrington.
“I have not exactly determined on the day,” was the reply.
“I hope Sophia and I may have the pleasure of meeting you there,” said Mrs. Derrington. “When you have fixed on the exact time, will you let us know?”
“Certainly, I can have no objection,” answered Mrs. Prideaux, graciously, “provided I know it myself.[”]
“How kind you always are! It will be so delightful for us to be at Mrs. Cotterell’s together. Will it not, Sophy?”
“On consideration, I cannot make this call before next week,” said Mrs. Prideaux.
“Oh! never mind. Consult your own convenience. We will wait for you.”
“Where does Mrs. Cotterell live?” inquired the great lady.
Miss Waterly and Miss Milkby now both spoke together, and designated the place. Mrs. Prideaux condescendingly thanked them for the information.
“Then,” said she to Mrs. Derrington, “as I must pass your door in going there, I may as well call for you in my carriage, whenever I do go.”
Mrs. Derrington was too happy at this unexpected glory; and Miss Waterly and Miss Milkby too envious. All these young ladies could do was to accompany Mrs. Prideaux when she departed, and be seen leaving the door at the same time with her. She honoured them with a bow as they lingered on the door-step, when her no-particular-sort-of-carriage drove away. Unluckily, there chanced to be no spectators but a small party of German emigrants, and two schoolboys. Perhaps some of the neighbours might have been at their windows.
The following Monday and Tuesday, Mrs. Derrington and Miss Fayland stayed at home all the morning ready-dressed, waiting in vain for Mrs. Prideaux to call for them in her carriage.
“Surely,” said Sophia, “she will apprise us in time?”
“She may probably not think of doing so,” replied Mrs. Derrington.
At last on Wednesday the joyful moment arrived when the vehicle of Mrs. Pelham Prideaux, with that lady in it, drew up to the door of Mrs. Derrington, who ran down stairs, followed by her niece; and in a very short time they arrived at the mansion of the Cotterells.