Mrs. Skinner liked to be in good time. She was already dressed, in black silk as befitted her age and the mourning she wore for her son-in-law, and now she put on her toque. She was a little uncertain about it, since the egrets’ feathers which adorned it might very well arouse in some of the friends she would certainly meet at the party acid expostulations; and of course it was shocking to kill those beautiful white birds, in the mating season too, for the sake of their feathers; but there they were, so pretty and stylish, and it would have been silly to refuse them, and it would have hurt her son-in-law’s feelings. He had brought them all the way from Borneo and he expected her to be so pleased with them. Kathleen had made herself rather unpleasant about them, she must wish she hadn’t now, after what had happened, but Kathleen had never really liked Harold. Mrs. Skinner, standing at her dressing-table, placed the toque on her head, it was after all the only nice hat she had, and put in a pin with a large jet knob. If anybody spoke to her about the ospreys she had her answer.
“I know it’s dreadful,” she would say, “and I wouldn’t dream of buying them, but my poor son-in-law brought them back the last time he was home on leave.”
That would explain her possession of them and excuse their use. Every one had been very kind. Mrs. Skinner took a clean handkerchief from a drawer and sprinkled a little Eau de Cologne on it. She never used scent, and she had always thought it rather fast, but Eau de Cologne was so refreshing. She was very nearly ready now and her eyes wandered out of the window behind her looking-glass. Canon Heywood had a beautiful day for his garden-party. It was warm and the sky was blue; the trees had not yet lost the fresh green of the spring. She smiled as she saw her little granddaughter in the strip of garden behind the house busily raking her very own flower-bed. Mrs. Skinner wished
Joan were not quite so pale, it was a mistake to have kept her so long in the tropics; and she was so grave for her age, you never saw her run about; she played quiet games of her own invention and watered her garden. Mrs. Skinner gave the front of her dress a little pat, took up her gloves, and went down-stairs.
Kathleen was at the writing-table in the window busy with lists she was making, for she was honorary secretary of the Ladies’ Golf Club and when there were competitions had a good deal to do. But she too was ready for the party.
“I see you’ve put on your jumper after all,” said Mrs. Skinner.
They had discussed at luncheon whether Kathleen should wear her jumper or her black chiffon. The jumper was black and white, and Kathleen thought it rather smart, but it was hardly mourning. Millicent, however, was in favour of it.
“There’s no reason why we should all look as if we’d just come from a funeral,” she said. “Harold’s been dead eight months.”
To Mrs. Skinner it seemed rather unfeeling to talk like that. Millicent was strange since her return from Borneo.
“You’re not going to leave off your weeds yet, darling?” she asked.
Millicent did not give a direct answer.
“People don’t wear mourning in the way they used,” she said. She paused a little and when she went on there was a tone in her voice which Mrs. Skinner thought quite peculiar. It was plain that Kathleen noticed it too, for she gave her sister a curious look. “I’m sure Harold wouldn’t wish me to wear mourning for him indefinitely.”
“I dressed early because I wanted to say something to Millicent,” said Kathleen in reply to her mother’s observation.