ELEANOR HALLOWELL ABBOTT
AUTHOR OF "OLD-DAD," "PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD-WILL, TO DOGS," ETC.
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
681 FIFTH AVENUE
By E. P. Button & Company
All Rights Reserved
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
IN the changes and chances of our New England climate it is not so much what a Guest can endure outdoors as what he can originate indoors that endears him most to a weather-worried Host.
Take Rollins, for instance, a small man, dour, insignificant— a prude in the moonlight, a duffer at sailing, a fool at tennis—yet once given a rain-patter and a smoky fireplace, of an audacity so impertinent, so altogether absurd, that even yawns must of necessity turn to laughter—or curses. The historic thunderstorm question, for instance, which he sprang at the old Bishop's house-party after five sweltering days of sunshine and ecclesiastical argument: "Who was the last person you kissed before you were married?"
A question innocent as milk if only swallowed! But unswallowed? Gurgled? Spat like venom from Bishop to Bishop? And from Bishop's Wife to Bishop's Wife? Oh la! Yet that Rollins himself was the only unmarried person present on that momentous occasion shows not at all, I still contend, the slightest "natural mendacity" of the man, but merely the perfectly normal curiosity of a confirmed Anchoret to learn what truths he may from those who have been fortunate—or unfortunate enough to live.
Certainly neither my Husband nor myself would ever dream of running a house-party without Rollins!
Yet equally certain it is not at all on Rollins's account but distinctly on our own that we invariably set the date for our annual house-party in the second week of May.
For twenty years, in the particular corner of the New England sea-coast which my husband and I happen to inhabit, it has never, with one single exception only, failed to rain from morning till night and night till morning again through the second week of May!
With all weather-uncertainties thus settled perfectly definitely, even for the worst, it is a comparatively easy matter for any Host and Hostess to Stage such events as remain. It is with purely confessional intent that I emphasize that word "stage." Every human being acknowledges, if honest, some one supreme passion of existence. My Husband's and mine is for what Highbrows call "the experimental drama."
We call it "Amateur Theatricals."
Yet even this innocent passion has not proved a serene one!
After inestimable seasons of devotion to that most ruthless of all goddesses, the Goddess of Amateur Theatricals, involving, as it does, wrangles with
Guests who refuse to accept unless they areassured that there will be a Play,
Guests who refuse to accept unless assured that there will not be a Play,
Guests already arrived, unpacked, tubbed, seated at dinner, who discover suddenly that their lines are too long,
Guests already arrived, unpacked, tubbed, seated at dinner, who discover equally suddenly that their lines are too short.
Guests who "can't possibly play in blue."
Guests who "can't possibly play in pink."
Guests who insist upon kissing in every act.
Guests who refuse to kiss in any act, it was my Husband's ingenious idea to organize instead an annual Play that should never dream it was a Play, acted by actors who never even remotely suspected that they were acting, evolving a plot that no one but the Almighty, Himself, could possibly foreordain.
We call this Play "Rainy Week."
Yet, do not, I implore you, imagine for a moment that by any such simple little trick as shifting all blame to the weather, all praise to the Almighty, Care has been eliminated from the enterprise.
It is only indeed at the instigation of this trick that the real hazard begins. For a Play after all is only a Play, be it humorous, amorous, murderous, adulterous,—a soap-bubble world combusting spontaneously of its own effervescence. But life is life and starkly real if not essentially earnest. And the merest flicker of the merest eyelid in one of life's real emotions has short-circuited long ere this with the eternities themselves! It's just this chance of "short- circuiting with the eternities" that shifts the pucker from a Host's brow to his spine!
No lazy, purring, reunion of old friends this Rainy Week of ours, you understand? No dully congenial convocation of in- bred relatives? No conference on literature,—music,— painting? No symposium of embroidery stitches? Nor of billiard shots? But the deliberate and relentlessly-planned assemblage of such distinctly diverse types of men and women as prodded by unusual conditions of weather, domicile, and propinquity, will best act and re-act upon each other in terms inevitably dramatic, though most naively unrehearsed!
"Vengeance is mine!" said the Lord. "Very considerable psychologic, as well as dramatic satisfaction is now at last ours!" confess your humble servants.
In this very sincere if somewhat whimsical dramatic adventure of Rainy Week, the exigencies of our household demand that the number of actors shall be limited to eight.
Barring the single exception of Husband and Wife no two people are invited who have ever seen each other before. Destiny plays very much more interesting tricks we have noticed with perfect strangers than she does with perfect friends!
Barring nothing no one is ever warned that the week will be rainy. It is astonishing how a guest's personality strips itself right down to the bare sincerities when he is forced unexpectedly to doff his extra-selected, super-fitting, ultra-becoming visiting clothes for a frankly nondescript costume chosen only for its becomingness to a—situation! In this connection, however, it is only fair to ourselves to attest that following the usual managerial custom of furnishing from its own pocket such costumes as may not for bizarre or historical reasons be readily converted by a cast to street and church wear, we invariably provide the Rainy Week costumes for our cast. This costume consists of one yellow oil-skin suit or "slicker," one yellow oil-skin hat, one pair of rubber boots. One dark blue jersey. And very warm woolen stockings.
Reverting also to dramatic sincerity no professional manager certainly ever chose his cast more conscientiously than does my purely whimsical Husband!
After several years of experiment and readjustment the ultimate cast of Rainy Week is fixed as follows:
A Bride and Groom
One Very Celibate Person
Someone With a Past
Someone With a Future
A Singing Voice
A May Girl
And a Bore. (Rollins, of course, figuring as the Bore.)
Always there must be that Bride and Groom (for the Celibate Person to wonder about). And the Very Celibate Person (for the Bride and Groom to wonder about). Male or Female, one Brave Soul who had Rebuilt Ruin. Male or Female, one Intrepid Brain that Dares to Boast of Having Made Tryst with the Future. Soprano, Alto, Bass or Tenor, one Singing Voice that can Rip the Basting Threads out of Serenity. One Young Girl so May-Blossomy fresh and new that Everybody Instinctively Changes the Subject When She Comes into the Room . . . . And Rollins!
To be indeed absolutely explicit experience has proved, with an almost chemical accuracy, that, quite regardless of "age, sex, or previous condition of servitude," this particular combination of