"Annie, what are you doing? Polishing the ramekins? Oh, that's right. Did the extra ramekins come from Mrs. Brown? Didn't! Then as soon as the children come back I'll send for them; I wish you'd remind me. Did Mrs. Binney come? and Lizzie? Oh, that's good. Where are they? Down in the cellar! Oh, did the extra ice come? Will you find out, Annie? Those can wait. If it didn't, the mousse is ruined, that's all! No, wait, Annie, I'll go out and see Celia myself."
Little Mrs. George Carew, flushed and excited, crossed the pantry as she spoke, and pushed open the swinging door that connected it with the kitchen. She was a pretty woman, even now when her hair, already dressed, was hidden under snugly pinned veils and her trim little figure lost under a flying kimono. Mrs. Carew was expecting the twenty-eight members of the Santa Paloma Bridge Club on this particular evening, and now, at three o'clock on a beautiful April afternoon, she was almost frantic with fatigue and nervousness. The house had been cleaned thoroughly the day before, rugs shaken, mirrors polished, floors oiled; the grand piano had been closed, and pushed against the wall; the reading-table had been cleared, and wheeled out under the turn of the stairway; the pretty drawing-room and square big entrance hall had been emptied to make room for the seven little card-tables that were already set up, and for the twenty-eight straight-back chairs that Mrs. Carew had collected from the dining-room, the bedrooms, the halls, and even the nursery, for the occasion. All this had been done the day before, and Mrs. Carew, awakening early in the morning to uneasy anticipations of a full day, had yet felt that the main work of preparation was out of the way.
But now, in mid-afternoon, nothing seemed done. There were flowers still to arrange; there was the mild punch that Santa Paloma affected at card parties to be finished; there was candy to be put about on the tables, in little silver dishes; and new packs of cards, and pencils and score-cards to be scattered about. And in the kitchen—But Mrs. Carew's heart failed at the thought. True, her own two maids were being helped out to-day by Mrs. Binney from the village, a tower of strength in an emergency, and by Lizzie Binney, a worthy daughter of her mother; but there had been so many stupid delays. And plates, and glasses, and punch-cups, and silver, and napkins for twenty-eight meant such a lot of counting and sorting and polishing! And somehow George and the children must have dinner, and the Binneys and Celia and Annie must eat, too.
"Well," thought Mrs. Carew, with a desperate glance at the kitchen clock, "it will all be over pretty soon, thank goodness!"
A pleasant stir of preparation pervaded the kitchen. Mrs. Binney, enormous, good-natured, capable, was opening crabs at one end of the table, her sleeves rolled up, and her gingham dress, in the last stage of age and thinness, protected by a new stiff white apron; Celia, Mrs. Carew's cook, was sitting opposite her, dismembering two cold roasted fowls; Lizzie Binney, as trim and pretty as her mother was shapeless and plain, was filling silver bonbon-dishes with salted nuts....