3. Chapter III.
It invariably happened in the same way.
Mrs. Julius Beaufort, on the night of her annual
ball, never failed to appear at the Opera; indeed, she
always gave her ball on an Opera night in order to
emphasise her complete superiority to household cares,
and her possession of a staff of servants competent to
organise every detail of the entertainment in her absence.
The Beauforts' house was one of the few in New
York that possessed a ball-room (it antedated even
Mrs. Manson Mingott's and the Headly Chiverses');
and at a time when it was beginning to be thought
"provincial" to put a "crash" over the drawing-room
floor and move the furniture upstairs, the possession of
a ball-room that was used for no other purpose, and left
for three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year to
shuttered darkness, with its gilt chairs stacked in a
corner and its chandelier in a bag; this undoubted
superiority was felt to compensate for whatever was
regrettable in the Beaufort past.
Mrs. Archer, who was fond of coining her social
philosophy into axioms, had once said: "We all have
our pet common people--" and though the phrase was
a daring one, its truth was secretly admitted in many
an exclusive bosom. But the Beauforts were not exactly
common; some people said they were even worse. Mrs.
Beaufort belonged indeed to one of America's most
honoured families; she had been the lovely Regina Dallas
(of the South Carolina branch), a penniless beauty
introduced to New York society by her cousin, the
imprudent Medora Manson, who was always doing the
wrong thing from the right motive. When one was
related to the Mansons and the Rushworths one had a
"droit de cite" (as Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who had
frequented the Tuileries, called it) in New York society;
but did one not forfeit it in marrying Julius Beaufort?
The question was: who was Beaufort? He passed for
an Englishman, was agreeable, handsome, ill-tempered,
hospitable and witty. He had come to America with
letters of recommendation from old Mrs. Manson
Mingott's English son-in-law, the banker, and had speedily
made himself an important position in the world of
affairs; but his habits were dissipated, his tongue was
bitter, his antecedents were mysterious; and when
Medora Manson announced her cousin's engagement
to him it was felt to be one more act of folly in poor
Medora's long record of imprudences.