Instead of the Thorn – Clara Louise Burnham

On a June evening, Mr. and Mrs. Radcliffe were entertaining their New York friends the Lindsays at dinner at the South Shore Club. The dining-room, with its spacious semicircle of glass, is a place where Chicago may entertain New York with complacence, for the windows give upon Lake Michigan, whose billows break so close to the border of velvety grass that the effect is of dining on a yacht.

The Lindsays were enamored of the great marine view, lovely in the long June evening, and with many an admiring comment watched the white gulls hover and wheel above the sunset water.

Mrs. Radcliffe was a stout, white-haired woman, costumed with disregard of expense, and she habitually wore an expression of countenance which betokened general optimism.

Mrs. Lindsay, of about her friend’s age, was spare and lined of face, offering a contrast to the hostess’s plump smoothness. She again raised a jeweled lorgnette to watch the wheeling gulls.

“Oh, Chicago wouldn’t be anything without the lake,” remarked Mrs. Radcliffe complacently.

“And this clubhouse is such a perfect place to watch it,” returned her friend.

“We have a very charming ballroom here,” said Mrs. Radcliffe. “I’m sorry it isn’t a formal dance night.”

The orchestra was playing a Hesitation Waltz, which reminded her. For the Hesitation had not yet been driven from the field by troops who cantered, and those strains were always sufficient to people the spacious ballroom until it was alive with dancers, old and young. Indeed, as one comic paper had it that season, “He who does not hesitate is lost.” Just when or why silver threads among the gold ceased to relegate advancing years to a shelf above the dancers, it would be hard to say; but certain it is that the rosy walls behind the pure white columns in the popular ballroom threw their diffused and becoming light that season upon sometimes agile but always determined middle age, as well as upon slender youth.

There is a point, however, where Terpsichore stands inexorably and says, “Thus far and no farther”: a point where the wistful dancer realizes that all is Hesitation, and the Waltz balks. This is reached in the matron at the weight of two hundred pounds, and Mrs. Radcliffe had arrived there; so, like the spinster of the story, who settled down to contentment with her lot when she had “stopped strugglin’,” Mrs. Radcliffe enjoyed peacefully her visits to the club, and invaded the ballroom only as a spectator.

She looked up now at her friend. “Have you and Mr. Lindsay joined the one-stepping legion?” she asked.

“No, we have not. We have children and rheumatism. You know that does make a difference.” Mrs. Lindsay’s bright, nervous eyes snapped, and she showed a set of artistic teeth.

Mrs. Radcliffe shrugged a comfortable shoulder. “Well, I have one child, but that wouldn’t stop me. He has a child of his own. Let him attend to his own affairs. I haven’t the rheumatism, but neither have I any breath to spare. You look at me and you see that.”

The two ladies laughed and sipped their coffee. Their husbands, with chairs moved sidewise, were talking in low tones over their cigarettes.

“We have such a charming ballroom!” repeated the hostess. “It makes me hate my flesh to go in there; but Mr. Radcliffe says it’s the terror of his life that I may lose an ounce and want to dance, and he is always urging delicious salads on me.” The plump speaker shook again, till the diamonds on her ample breast scintillated. “He’s the laziest man in Chicago. I suppose I ought to be thankful that he doesn’t improve his slimness and the shining hour by coming and dancing with these buds. Lots of other gray heads do, and the buds can’t help themselves, poor little things. Isn’t that an attractive nosegay over there?” The speaker indicated the spot where twenty-four young girls and men were gayly dining at a round table, whose roses, violets, and lilies-of-the-valley strove with the material feast.

“My daughter-in-law, Harriet, is giving that dinner for her sister, who has just graduated from our University. If you want to see a spoiled child of fortune, look at Linda Barry now. That is she, holding up the glass of grape-juice. Aren’t her dimples wonderful? Look at those brown eyes sparkle. Doesn’t her very hair look as if electricity were running through the locks? I tell you she’s a handful! I’ve always been so thankful that Henry chose her sister Harriet. Such a quiet, sensible young woman, Harriet is. She wouldn’t let them have any wine, you see. She says it sounds like Fourth of July all the year around at this club, and she’s terribly particular about Henry. That’s Harriet, sitting with her back to us: the one with the velvet around her throat. I admire my daughter-in-law, but I always feel she thinks I’m too frivolous, and spend too much time playing cards.”

The speaker’s husband caught a part of what she was saying.

“Yes, Lindsay,” he said. “You knew one of Barry’s daughters married my boy, didn’t you? That’s the other one facing us.”

Mr. Lindsay turned his iron-gray head until he could observe the smiling girl, offering a grape-juice toast. The family of the head of the firm of Barry & Co. was of interest to him.

Some one had stuck a spray of leaves in the thick, bright waves of her hair.

“Make a corking study of a Bacchante, if some one should paint her just as she is,” remarked the New York man.

“Shades of my daughter-in-law—if she should hear you! She’d say that Linda had outwitted her after all.” Mr. Radcliffe smiled across at his wife. “Harriet is the modern progressive woman,—goes in for Suffrage and Eugenics and all that; but with the reserve and quiet of a Puritan. She can’t understand Linda, who is athletic, a comrade of boys, the idol of her father, and a law unto herself.”

Mr. Lindsay was regarding the girl, who was smiling confidently and making a speech inaudible from the distant corner. “She looks as if she had the world by the tail,” he remarked.

“That about describes her state of mind,” responded the other. “Life has been a triumphal progress for her, so far. She hasn’t had a mother for ten years, and her father couldn’t spare her to go away to school, so here she has been educated, right in our burg, though she’s a millionaire’s daughter. You’ve been in that old-fashioned stone pile of a house of Barry’s up there on Michigan Avenue? I should think Barry’d be sick of keeping a boarding-house for servants, and I’ve told him so.”

“He’s sick of something,” returned Mr. Lindsay quietly, “or so it seemed to my wife and me. We dined there last night.”

“Oh, you did?”

“Yes. The daughter wasn’t there. Her father said she was away at one of her graduation festivities. What’s the matter with Barry?”

The speaker’s eyes left the dimpling girl with the dancing eyes and came back to his friend as he asked the quiet question.

“Why, nothing that I know of,” replied the other, surprised. “Cares of state, I suppose.”

“No rumors on the street?” The slow question was put in a still lower tone.

“Haven’t heard any,” was the quick reply.

The other nodded. “Good,” he said.

“Why, have you?”

“There’s some talk in the East about the Antlers project. Probably nothing but gossip.”

“Nothing else, I’m sure. All these big irrigation deals have something of a black eye just now, but Barry & Co. know what they’re about. They never buy a pig in a poke.”

“What are you saying about pigs, Cyrus?” asked Mrs. Radcliffe smartly. “You know it’s a tabooed subject in our best families.”

Mr. Radcliffe paid no attention to her in his disturbance. “You know my nephew, Bertram King? He came straight out of college into that bank, and has been there nearly ten years. Barry likes him, and he’s had good luck, and I think another year’ll see him in the firm. Everybody believes that Barry doesn’t go into any big deal unless King approves. I see Bertram quite often. He’s over there in that dinner party now: sitting on Harriet’s right. You’ve met my daughter-in-law?”

“Oh, yes, and King, too. He dined with us last night. Seemed to be a brainy chap.”

“Oh, he’s sedate as they make ’em. I often think he’s the one that ought to have married Harriet. See Henry sitting between those pink and blue girls, and keeping ’em in a roar? He gets his frivolity from his mother.”

Mrs. Radcliffe drew down the corners of her lips. “Frivolity that captured Harriet Barry, you’ll notice. There they go,” she added, as the gay young people at the round table pushed back their chairs; “there they go to their dance. Happy young things!” Mrs. Radcliffe sighed. “With all their troubles before them,” she added, and the perfunctoriness of the addition made Mr. Lindsay smile.

“I hope they all weather it as well as you have, Mrs. Radcliffe,” he said.

The host smiled too as they rose from the table.

“So say we all of us,” he remarked. “Let’s go and have a game. Do you play nullos, Mrs. Lindsay?”

“I play everything I can get my hands on,” she returned promptly.


Click the title for a link to a free ebook care of Project Gutenberg:

Instead of the Thorn

by Clara Louise Burnham, 1916


Image by summersun