from the Book:
Mobile Bay, the late October afternoons are golden and still,
long and summery.
The group of ladies had finished their tea under the pecan trees
and had fallen into a cozy silence, watching ants going off
through the grass struggling with crumbs of kumquat cake. They
would have preferred some music, although no one thought of it
or mentioned it. The silence remained oddly unbroken and at last
began to weigh on them.
Mrs. Warden had the habit of lowering her voice when she had
something to impart which she considered serious and worthy of
total attention. She lowered it now, as far as it would go, so
the other ladies recalled their shimmering minds and willingly
gave her the floor, or rather, the lawn.
She said: “The masculine sense of humor is basically very
frivolous, very primitive and, above all, cruel.”
“Oh, men never grow up,” sighed Mrs. Cantwell, rubbing her eyes
and sitting up straight.
. . .” said Mrs. Warden, coming back up to an easier
conversational tone, “well, you just take what happened at
Bessie de Banfield’s last week. If my husband had behaved like
that, to me, after all that happened, I swear I’d’a shot him.”
“What did Tom do?” asked Mrs. Cantwell, mildly.
“What happened, what was all that happened?” asked the old
dressmaker, Miss Grenier, who hadn’t been listening. But she
pricked up her ears at Mrs. Warden’s last words. Men, she
conceded, but husbands were her natural enemies. After all, they
were slow to pay her neatly written bills and somehow didn’t
seem to notice her, tapeline about her shoulders, mouth full of
pins, even in their very own houses.
Mrs. Warden turned to her. “Honey, where have you been? Up on
some mousseline cloud?”
Miss Grenier almost blushed. “Well, I’ve been so busy. . . .”
She kicked a pecan leaf with a pointed white kid toe. “I sewed
three thousand and four hundred bugle beads on Emily Baxter’s
train for the Leinkauf School coronation. It’s a full time
occupation. My eyes get too tired to read the papers.”
“Oops!” whooped Mrs. Warden. “You’d never read about
in the papers. You mean you didn’t hear about Bessie’s party for
the Modern Idea Club?”
“She founded it . . .” murmured Mrs. Cantwell, in a there-there
“I wasn’t there, I had those bugle beads. . . .”
“Lord!” sighed Mrs. Cantwell. “Neither was I. Billy had fever. I
wish I’d gone anyway.”
“Tell me. . .” said Miss Grenier.
“Lord yes!” chimed Mrs. Cantwell. “I could hear it over a dozen
times. Cissie embroiders a new detail each time she tells it.”
raged Mrs. Warden. “My memory flickers, that’s all.”
“Come on, hon, flicker for us now,” begged Mrs. Cantwell.
Mrs. Warden only laughed. “I tell you what, ladies, let’s stow
away these tea things and fetch that bottle of Jim Beam which is
sitting right on the icebox beckoning to us. I need a nip if I’m
gonna do a number.” They all giggled contentedly and rearranged
the scene. Cups were whisked away and in no time ice tinkled in
the long glasses.
Then came Mrs. Warden’s voice in the prologue, down again to its
“Well, Bessie de Banfield has this big party every year for the
Modern Idea Club. . . .”
“Which she founded and which she runs. . . .” said Mrs. Cantwell
“Indeed. She thought we should put our minds on the problems of
the day. Every week a different problem, then at Christmas and
every Mardi Gras she gives a fun party, sometimes with a
idea of fun,” put in Mrs. Cantwell softly.
“Her mother was the first Mobile lady to smoke publicly,”
explained Miss Grenier.
“She does come up with some clever ideas, that’s the Lord’s
truth. It was her idea to make the friendship garden on Hall’s
Mill Road, and if she hadn’t taken the initiative they never
would have saved those stone squirrels on the roof of the
D’Olive house. She led the march of tree lovers to City Hall
that time. . . .”
“I wasn’t there . . .” said Miss Grenier.
“Cissie, you are going to get the details in the wrong order
again,” admonished Mrs. Cantwell. “Tell about the