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young and pretty and well, and she ought to be happy. Dear me, if she doesn't get a little gayety now, when will she ever get it? Besides, she won't know anybody. "Coming out' is the way they meet
‘ the young men
"Young men !" I interrupted sarcastically. “There won't be any young men-worth meeting."
“Oh, yes there will !” she answered. “There will be plenty who haven't gone to the war yet, but who, of course, are going. And there are a lot who are too young to go."
“And too old !” I interjected.
Helen looked at me suspiciously. I had always been a cynic, but I had never realized how deeply the idea of bringing Margery out had sunk into my wife's soul.
From the time that Margery had first been put into short dresses my wife had made elaborate plans for the dénouement which was only due fifteen years later. I had no quarrel with bringing girls out in society. I suppose that essentially my quarrel was with society itself. A girl has got to leave the nursery some time. But I had always wanted to register a protest against the lavishness and expenditure that was made incidental to this perfectly natural transition from the schoolroom to the drawing-room. Wasn't it calculated to make any young girl, no matter how simple or sensible theretofore, put a false value on mere money? How could it be otherwise when practically
every mother felt obliged to make her daughter's
coming-out” ball a grand affair, similar in every respect to the entertainments given by other mothers whose incomes knew no limit?
All this parade of luxury and wealth tended to frighten off the serious-minded young fellows who otherwise might have become interested. The very efforts of the mother to marry off her daughter tended to defeat her object, surrounding her, as she did, with a veneered wall of wealth and a barrier of false fashion. Indeed, most of the men at whose heads she threw her were not those from among whom she would want her to marry or who themselves had any idea of getting married. More often than not they were either jaded popinjays and “pet cats” who year by year got a social living by dancing with the débutantes and making themselves useful to the mothers, or featureless “dancing-men” who had nothing better to do than go to balls.
Only last year a friend of mine who wished to give an evening-party called up the best known restaurateur on Fifth Avenue, and asked whether he could secure a private dining-room for some night in January, February, or March. Although it was then early in October, he was told that every room in the establishment was already engaged for every night during the three months! The reason was that practically every mother of every daughter who was about to make her début into society had entered upon a campaign to give her child one of those “good times.”
Of these introductions to society the majority might be ordinary enough affairs without any particular display, to which the girl invited all her friends of the dancing age, and where the guests enjoyed themselves in a simple and reasonable way. But in a minority of instances-yet in a sufficient number to tinge the débutante horizon with a faint yellow glow of cynicism --these dances had a sordid and mercenary aspect. In the larger American cities parents who didn't know the ropes or weren't quite sure of their place even availed themselves of press agencies and professional social steerers, who dictated to the girl the names of those whom she must ask (whether she knew them or not) if she expected to be received as one of the elect. The
coming-out” ball was not given in the home of the parents, ostensibly because the house would have been too small, but really because, as the whole affair was nothing but a fake, it was easier to induce the "right" young people to go to a restaurant. The snobbish young sycophant who might have shied at going to a house the owners of which he did not know could be more safely lured to a hired hall !
Here in one of half a dozen similar rooms, in which half a dozen similar entertainments were going on at the same time, the girl and her mother stood in a “gazabo” of potted palms, and received several hun
dred properly accredited persons. Many of these were their friends, but some, at least, were total strangers --young men carried on the lists as eligible because their families were in The Social Radiator and girls whom the débutante ought to have known even if she didn't. For six or seven hours this curiously impersonal mob danced, ate, and drank by virtue of the débutante's father's check-book, and she was whirled breathlessly about the room by sleek-haired, sap-headed young “desirables” who "cut in” on each other with shrewd calculation, while the utility man in the orchestra yelled, whistled, and uttered all the noises in the zoological gamut from the cry of a baby to the more appropriate bray of a donkey. At half after four or five the exhausted guests departed, insisting vociferously that they had had a “perfectly wonderful time.” The bewildered victim of this barbaric sacrifice was hustled home, put instantly to bed, and the house maintained in absolute silence for eight or ten hours in order that she might recover sufficiently to go to another jamboree given in the same room in the same restaurant the following night; for, having given one of these delightful entertainments herself she became thereby privileged to attend all the others given by similar unfortunates.
"No, Helen," I repeated, "you can thank your stars that you and Margery have escaped from it all. You don't see the side of it that I do. You're too good and kind. But I'm glad it's all over for everybody.”
“Do you really think it is all over?” she asked. “Dost think, John, that because thou art virtuous the young shall have no more cakes and ale?”
“Cakes and non-alcoholic beverages-yes," I answered. “But no more petit-fours and champagnecup. Look here, Helen. Hasn't it ever occurred to you to ask yourself why the daughters of the rich should assume that they had a monopoly of amusement? Why should you sentimentalize about this particular class of girls when the youth of the whole nation has got to suffer? Don't you suppose it's going to hit 'em all about the same?”
“I hadn't really thought much about it,” she admitted frankly. “I suppose you're right. But what are we going to do about Margery?”
Had we only known it we need not have concerned ourselves particularly about that young lady. After the first rush of getting the house started (during which my daughter made up in initiative and enthusiasm what. she lacked in knowledge and technic) she had relapsed into the period of quasi-inactivity that had excited the solicitude of her mother. Then she unexpectedly announced one evening out of a clear sky that she wanted to go to work.