Party Time

by Cynthia Costain

Father and Mother were having a very special dinner party.  The Cotton Growers Association had awarded Grandsable the First Prize and Silver Medal for producing the best cotton grown on the Island.  Father was delighted that cotton was doing so well on this estate, as it was a new venture, and not only was it doing well but the staple was exceptionally long and fine.  [The staple was the measurement of cotton fibre: later known as Sea Island Cotton.].  To celebrate, he had invited all his friends in the Government and the Association to come to dinner, and the household was in a state of excited turmoil.

By 8 o’clock, the guests and older members of the family were congregated on the verandah and Willie, Doris, Fred and Carol were hiding on the little balcony at the end of the house, invisible in the darkness but enjoying a fine view of the sparkling lamplit scene below.

“Doesn’t Muriel look beautiful in her blue dress?” whispered Carol.  Muriel was not long home from school in Canada and had fashionable new clothes.

“I don’t think Muriel is really beautiful,’ said Doris, “her nose turns up too much but she has nice blue eyes.”

“Well, perhaps so.  Ettie is really the prettiest and look how Mr. Cameron is flirting with her!”

“That old fellow,” said Fred.  “Ettie wouldn’t flirt with him.”

“He’s the Administrator,” said Doris. “And everyone has to be polite to him.”

“And he has a big fat wife,” added Willie.  “but she’s too busy talking to old Popham Lobb to notice.”

I don’t think old ladies should wear bright flowered dresses like that, “said Doris.  “Mother always wears black and looks lovely.”

The girls continued to whisper about the ladies’ dresses but the boys were interested in watching Leo, Dad’s man, acting as bartender.  He was mixing and shaking the new American cocktails in a big silver shaker and filling the little crystal glasses with lovely frothy pink liquid.

“I wonder what it tastes like?” whispered Willie.

“It looks so pretty,” said Carol.  “And it must taste good- see how often Leo goes around and fills the glasses.”

The lamps glowed on the ladies’ soft silk dresses and the white jackets of the men, while the talk and laughter mingled with the fragrance of the jasmine climbing up the railing.  At last dinner was announced and they all drifted into the big dining room at the end of the hall.

The children could see no more, but Fred and Willie were still curious about the pink cocktail.  The maids were busy serving dinner and the glasses on the tables remained in plain view.

“Come on, Fred,” said Willie quietly.  “If we go downstairs and walk along underneath, we can get onto the verandah with no one seeing us.”

“We’re coming too,” said Carol and Doris.

The four of them crept quietly down the steps, through the garden, and up onto the abandoned verandah.  Still shining in the lamplight was the cocktail shaker and all the pretty glasses- some empty, but many still holding the remains of that delightful froth.

“Look,” said Willie.  “Aunt Min didn’t finish hers,” and picking up the glass he took a careful sip. “M-m-m.  It’s good,” and with no hesitation he drank the rest.

“Let me try,” said Fred, picking up a glass, and before long, the girls joined in and they were all draining the glasses and giggling as the grenadine-sweet liquor disappeared.

Suddenly they heard Father’s voice calling to Leo to bring more wine, and afraid he would come to the verandah they all rushed to the steps and tumbled down.  At least Doris tumbled over Willie and landed in a heap at the bottom.  She was too scared to yell, but she whimpered, “Oh my nose, my nose,” as Carol and the boys dragged her into the house and they scuttled along the passage to bed.

Next morning was Sunday and because of the party, things were not as calm and organized as usual.  The children had breakfast alone and so it was not until the family gathered for Church that anyone noticed Doris’s nose.  That normally unobtrusive feature was twice its usual size and a bright red.

“My goodness, child,” said Blanche, “what have you done to your nose?”

“Oh, Dolly tripped on the stairs last night and banged it on the bannister,” said Willie quickly.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Doris,” said Mother.  “It is too late now, but this afternoon you must lie down.  You really look a sight.”

Doris glared at Willie, and Carol felt rather pleased.  Doris was always the pretty one and had a blue sash and ribbons, and she always had to wear that awful pink which she hated. 

The whole family took up two pews at the front of the Cathedral and the service was very long.  Carol looked at the flowers on the altar which her sisters did every week- white spider lilies with blue jacaranda and pink ixora today- it was hard to fill the vases when it was so dry.  She looked at the memorial tablets on the wall and read over the names and tried to remember if they were great-great or great grandparents, until she felt a sudden poke and a muttered “Wake up!”  She certainly had slept soundly last night and maybe she was still feeling sleepy.  She tried to listen to the sermon but Archdeacon Turpin was very boring.

The girls drove home with Mother in the carriage, and they all rested on the verandah, restored to its usual everyday appearance.  The boys soon arrived, hot and sweaty after climbing the hill, and Doris grabbed Willie in a corner.  

“I’m going to tell.  I’m going to tell Mother,” she muttered.  “It was bad to drink that pink stuff.”

“If you tell,” said Willie, “I’ll say you fell downstairs because you were DRUNK!” as they all went into the dining room for lunch.

Doris spent the afternoon lying down with a cold compress on her nose.  But she didn’t tell.

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