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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    I heard Maw catch her breath, and I heard Maw's husband give a grunt. Then I rose. "How are you, Billy?" gurgled a voice--one of those voices made especially for social occasions. "Wretched boy, why do you never come to see us?"

    "I was coming to-morrow," I said--for who could prove otherwise? "Mrs. Stebbins, permit me to introduce Mrs. Tszchniczklefritszch."

    "Charmed to meet you, I'm sure," said Mrs. Stebbins. "I've heard my husband speak of your husband so often. How well you are looking, Mrs.--"

    She stopped; and Maw, knowing the terrors of her name, made haste to say something agreeable. "Yes, ma'am; dis country agrees vit me fine. Since I come here, I've rode and et, shoost rode and et."

    "And Mr. T-S," said I.

    "Howdydo, Mr. T-S?"

    "Pretty good, ma'am," said T-S. He had been caught with his mouth full, and was making desperate efforts to swallow.

    A singular thing is the power of class prestige! Here was Maw, a good woman, according to her lights, who had worked hard all her life, and had achieved a colossal and astounding success. She had everything in the world that money could buy; her hair was done by the best hair-dresser, her gown had been designed by the best costumer, her rings and bracelets selected by the best jeweller; and yet nothing was right, no power on earth could make it right, and Maw knew it, and writhed the consciousness of it. And here was Mrs. Parmelee Stebbins, who had never done a useful thing in all her days--except you count the picking out of a rich husband; yet Mrs. Stebbins was "right," and Maw knew it, and in the presence of the other woman she was in an utter panic, literally quivering in every nerve. And here was old T-S, who, left to himself, might have really meant what he said, that Mrs. Stebbins could go to hell; but because he was married, and loved his wife, he too trembled, and gulped down his food!

    Mrs. Stebbins is one of those American matrons who do not allow marriage and motherhood to make vulgar physical impressions upon them. Her pale blue gown might have been worn by her daughter; her cool grey eyes looked out through a face without a wrinkle from a soul without a care. She was a patroness of art and intellect; but never did she forget her fundamental duty, the enhancing of the prestige of a family name. When she was introduced to a screen-actress, she was gracious, but did not forget the difference between an actress and a lady. When she was introduced to a strange man who did not wear trousers, she took it quite as an everyday matter, revealing no trace of vulgar human curiosity.

    There came Bertie, full grown, but not yet out of the pimply stage, and still conscious of the clothes which he had taken such pains to get right. Bertie's sister remained in her seat, refusing naughtily to be compromised by her mother's vagaries; but Bertie had a purpose, and after I had introduced him round, I saw what he wanted--Mary Magna! Bertie had a vision of himself as a sort of sporting prince in this movie world. His social position would make conquests easy; it was a sort of Christmas-tree, all a-glitter with prizes.

    I was standing near, and heard the beginning of their conversation. "Oh, Miss Magna, I'm so pleased to meet you. I've heard so much about you from Miss Dulles."

    "Miss Dulles?"

    "Yes; Dorothy Dulles."

    "I'm sorry. I don't think I ever heard of her."

    "What? Dorothy Dulles, the screen actress?"

    "No, I can't place her."

    "But--but she's a star!"

    "Well, but you know, Mr. Stebbins--there are so many stars in the heavens, and not all of them visible to the eye."

    I turned to Bertie's mamma. She had discovered that Carpenter looked even more thrilling on a close view; he was not a stage figure, but a really grave and impressive personality, exactly the thing to thrill the ladies of the Higher Arts Club at their monthly luncheon, and to reflect prestige upon his discoverer. So here she was, inviting the party to share her box at the theatre; and here was T-S explaining that it couldn't be done, he had got to see his French revolution pictures took, dey had five tousand men hired to make a mob. I noted that Mrs. Stebbins received the "advertising" figures on the production!

    The upshot of it was that the great lady consented to forget her box at the theatre, and run out to the studios to see the mob scenes for the "The Tale of Two Cities." T-S hadn't quite finished his dinner, but he waved his hand and said it was nuttin', he vouldn't keep Mrs. Stebbins vaitin'. He beckoned the waiter, and signed his magic name on the check, with a five-dollar bill on top for a tip. Mrs. Stebbins collected her family and floated to the door, and our party followed.

    I expected another scene with the mob; but I found that the street had been swept clear of everything but policemen and chauffeurs. I knew that this must have meant rough work on the part of the authorities, but I said nothing, and hoped that Carpenter would not think of it. The Stebbins car drew up by the porte-cochere; and suddenly I discovered why the wife of the street-car magnate was known as a "social leader." "Billy," she said, "you come in our car, and bring Mr. Carpenter; I have something to talk to you about." Just that easily, you see! She wanted something, so she asked for it!

    I took Carpenter by the arm and put him in. Bertie drove, the chauffeur sitting in the seat beside him. "Beat you to it!" called Bertie, with his invincible arrogance, and waved his hand to the picture magnate as we rolled away.
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