A COCKTAIL PARTYCategory: Leisure
After a week or two at Miss Faulkener’s was beginning to get a bit more efficient, and, therefore, less tired. I was still pretty exhausted by the end of the evening, and it sent me into such an immediate and deep slumber that I felt quite fresh again by the time the alarm clock lifted its voice. I liked the familiarity of my little kitchen and the cooking gave me enourmous pleasure. I wasn’t so keen on the house-work part though I liked polishing the parquet. I devoted most of my time to it, and it shone with a rare blue gleam. Unfortunately it didn’t take Miss Faulkener’s attention off other things. Mrs Baker had been right about the finger along the shelves. Life was a wordless and unacknowledged battle of wits between us, with her keeping a sharp look-out for signs of dirt and neglect and me trying to disguise my slovenliness by subterfuge.
I became an adept at sweeping dust under the bed, and always used the same few pieces of silver, so that I didn’t have to keep polishing the rest. Sometimes, if she was in the room while I was making the bed, she would say:
“How about turning the mattress?” She didn’t seem to get suspicious of my always answering: “I turned it only yesterday madam,” so somehow I don’t think the thing was turned all the time I was there. It was much too heavy anyway.
Miss Faulkener seemed to have a great many friends, and she often went to lunch and coctail parties. Her evenings were mostly dedicated to Major Nixon. When he didn’t come to dinner at the flat they would go out together — she with gay orchids and glamorously scented.
I was becoming such a familiar piece of furniture about the place by this time that they didn’t always bother to address their remarks in French when I was in the room.
One day, while I was handing them some rather choice grilled kidneys, she said: “Darling, I think we ought to give a cocktail party.”
“Why, my sweet, we don’t want a whole lot of frightful people all over the place.”
“No, but I think we ought. I owe a lot of people, and it would be rather fun. Monica could make us some attractive things to eat couldn’t you, Monica?”
“Certainly, Madam .
“Let’s fix a date.”
“Must we, darling?” I tell you I don’t like the idea of people barging around our dear little flat — I like to have you to myself here.
He laid a tender hand on her arm.
“Pas devant la bonne, cherie.”
I didn’t always slide tactfully out of the room when I wasn’t going to let on that I knew French, because they said sometimes entertaining things which they thought I didn’t understand.
The party date was fixed and I was given piles of half-penny stamped envelopes to post on my way home. It was going to be rather a crush, if everyone accepted, even with most of the furniture turned out of the double room.
Looking through the names, I discovered to my horror that she had invited a couple I knew. Even if I warned them beforehand, they were a most indiscreet pair and would be sure to embarrass me horribly. .
I had to search through the letters on her desk every day when she wasn’t looking to see if they had accepted. I was greatly relieved when I discovered a letter saying that they were away and would be unable to come. I just got the letter back in time to be dusting busily as she came into the room.
I spent nearly all the day of the party making cheese straws, sausage rolls sandwiches, and other oddments, and thought it a good excuse not to do any more housework than the bare essentials. Major Nixon arrived at tea-time, and the pair of them came into the kitchen to make the cocktails. We were all very merry, and they had their tea sitting on the kitchen table, feeling as if they were doing a bit of slumming. I regaled them with imaginary anecdotes of other employers, and they did a lot of tasting the cocktails; by the time they had finished they were so mellow that they gave me one.
They went off, giggling like a couple of schoolchildren. I think they thought I would get drunk on it.
She went to get dressed, and I spread out the food and drink in tasteful array, while Major Nixon was out getting cigarettes. I didn’t much care for the idea of being alone in a room with him. I had a new apron for the occasion and a coy ribbon in the hair. The guests would be too taken up with the impression they were going to create to notice me when I opened the door, but still, one has one’s pride.
The hostess, suitably enough, wore what is known as a “Hostess Gown”. A lovely clinging dress of cherry red which made her look almost frighteningly sophisticated. The host wore a red carnation and his most debonair manner. The porter of the flats was “obliging” in a smart white coat. He was to hand the drinks, and I had to open the door, take coats and hats, offer the ladies the bedroom, and announce the names. This was quite a business as, after the first trickle of people, everybody seemed to arrive at once, and I went back and forth like a shuttle between the front door and the drawingroom. Some of the guests had the most extraordinary sounding names, or else I didn’t hear properly — people do mumble so, and you can’t very well ask them to repeat themselves more than once. I had a shot at them all, but some of them sounded even more extraordinary when announced by me in loud but refined accents.
The party seemed to be going very well. Major Nixon helped the porter with handing the drinks and I must say the pair of them were very efficient. Everyone got all they wanted and more, and the noise rose to great height. Miss Faulkener did her stuff well, following from one person to another, introducting people, and having a word here and there with everyone. “My dear, how lovely to see you again. How are you? And John too?”
“I adore your hat, Alice, — Paris? It looks like it — Basil, you simply must meet a most attractive girl I’ve asked specially for you.” And so on, after the same manner of all cocktail parties. Once I looked in from the hall, and she was talking to someone rather asbstractedly, and shooting irritable glances to where Major Nixon was being at his most fascinating in conversation with a glamorous red-head. When people started to go I got a bit muddled up with the coats and tried to palm off hats on them that were much too small, but they didn’t seem to mind, so it didn’t really matter. One woman was a bit annoyed because I had put her gloves in the wrong coat pocket, and someone else had gone off with them, but luckily her husband got tired of waiting while she made a fus and hustled her off.
At last even the hangers-on had been almost pushed out by the hostess, who was looking forward to a tete-artete celebration at a restaurant that she and Major Nixon had planned. He was rather loath to let the red-head go, but Miss Faulkener manoeuvered her safely away. When everybody had gone she vented a slight irritation
on him by cursing him for keeping her waiting when whe was ready to go, thanked the porter and me, and swept out with him escorting her sulkily1 several yards in the rear.
(From One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens)