There was a rough stone age and a smooth stone age and a bronze age, and many years afterward a cut-glass age. In the cut-glass age, when young ladies had persuaded young men with long, curly mustaches to marry them, they sat down several months afterward and wrote thank-you notes for all sorts of cut-glass presents – punch-bowls, finger-bowls, dinner-glasses, wine-glasses, ice-cream dishes, bonbon dishes, decanters, and vases – for, though cut glass was nothing new in the nineties, it was then especially busy reflecting the dazzling light of fashion from the Back Bay to the fastnesses of the Middle West.
After the wedding the punch-bowls were arranged in the sideboard with the big bowl in the centre; the glasses were set up in the china-closet; the candlesticks were put at both ends of things – and then the struggle for existence began. The bonbon dish lost its little handle and became a pin-tray upstairs; a promenading cat knocked the little bowl off
the sideboard, and the hired girl chipped the middle-sized one with the sugar-dish; then the wine-glasses succumbed to leg fractures, and even the dinner-glasses disappeared one by one like the ten little niggers, the last one ending up, scarred and maimed as a tooth-brush holder among other shabby genteels on the bathroom shelf. But by the time all this had happened the cut-glass age was over, anyway.
It was well past its first glory on the day the curious Mrs. Roger Fairboalt came to see the beautiful Mrs. Harold Piper.
“My dear,” said the curious Mrs. Roger Fairboalt, “I LOVE your house. I think it’s QUITE artistic.”
“I’m SO glad,” said the beautiful Mrs. Harold Piper, lights appearing in her young, dark eyes; “and you MUST come often. I’m almost ALWAYS alone in the afternoon.”
Mrs. Fairboalt would have liked to remark that she didn’t believe this at all and couldn’t see how she’d be expected to – it was all over town that Mr. Freddy Gedney had been dropping in on Mrs. Piper five afternoons a week for the past six months. Mrs. Fairboalt was at that ripe age where she distrusted all beautiful women – –
“I love the dining-room MOST,” she said, “all that MARVELLOUS china, and that HUGE cut-glass bowl.”
Mrs. Piper laughed, so prettily that Mrs. Fairboalt’s lingering reservations about the Freddy Gedney story quite vanished.
“Oh, that big bowl!” Mrs. Piper’s mouth forming the words was a vivid rose petal. “There’s a story about that bowl – -“
“Oh – -“
“You remember young Carleton Canby? Well, he was very attentive at one time, and the night I told him I was going to marry Harold, seven years ago in ninety-two, he drew himself way up and said: ‘Evylyn, I’m going to give a present that’s as hard as you are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through.’ He frightened me a little – his eyes were so black. I thought he was going to deed me a haunted house or something that would explode when you opened it. That bowl came, and of course it’s beautiful. Its diameter or circumference or something is two and a half feet – or perhaps it’s three and a half. Anyway, the sideboard is really too small for it; it sticks way out.”
“My DEAR, wasn’t that ODD! And he left town about then didn’t he?” Mrs. Fairboalt was scribbling italicized notes on her memory – “hard, beautiful, empty, and easy to see through.”
“Yes, he went West – or South – or somewhere,” answered Mrs. Piper, radiating that divine vagueness that helps to lift beauty out of time.