"WHY, they've got the carpets on the wall," said Mary the moment they were seated. They, meaning Jack and Mary and Tom and Harriet, had just returned from an afternoon reception at Uncle Henry's house not far from New Rochelle, and were dining informally at the luxurious new Knickerbocker Hotel, on Tom's invitation.
Jack looked amused and Tom perplexed, while Harriet, who had not noticed the mischievous expression on Mary's face, said, with an air of conscious superiority: "Why, Mary, those are not carpets, they're tapestries. What do you mean?"
"Oh," answered Mary, "I was just thinking of a story Jack and I heard the other day. It was about John R. McLean, of Cincinnati, who has a magnificent residence in Washington, with especially fine tapestries on the walls of the dining-room, and the floor tiled in marble. It appears that an Ohio politician from the rural districts, who was visiting the National Capital, was invited to dinner one evening by Mr. McLean. The dinner was rich, the wines rare, and the service exquisite. But all through the dinner the rural politician looked glum as if preyed upon by some secret sorrow. When he reached home he told why. "I've always thought that John R. McLean was a wise old guy," said he, "but it's a mistake. He's as crazy as a loon. He took me in to dinner in a room where there was absolutely nothing on the floor, and all the carpets were hanging on the walls."
Tom laughed uproariously and even Harriet joined in the mirth. "I'll wager," said Tom, "that a good many people come here who feel the same way. But these are really splendid tapestries. If I were not so rusty on my Latin, I'd try to read the inscriptions and tell you what they are all about."
"I see Caesar's name on the cartouche of that one," remarked Jack, indicating by his glance which he meant.
"Enough of tapestries," interrupted Tom, who was a bit of a gourmet, and had ordered well but not lavishly. "The oyster cocktails are here."
"Uncle Henry has some fine tapestries," said Mary, with a smiling glance of defiance at Tom.
"Yes," commented Harriet, but as they're not in the drawing-room, we can't talk about them to-night."
"Yes, we must stick to the subject," assented Mary. "But somehow when anything funny comes into my head, it will out of my mouth before I know it."
"And right glad of it we all are," remarked Tom, glass in hand. "Here's to the most interesting talker I have ever known."
Mary flushed prettily and Harriet drank the toast bravely, but not without a suspicion of hesitation.
"Uncle Henry's drawing-room makes me envious. It is so exquisite and yet so simple and so delicate in color. It suggests Greece and the Parthenon and Pompeii and the Boscoreale frescoes at the Metropolitan Museum. I wish we had been able to afford a house grand enough to have a drawing-room."
"Never mind, dear," said Jack. "Our next house shall have one." And he looked more than he said.
"The room illustrates the value of the services of the professional decorator," remarked Tom. "He understands how to avoid overcrowding; at least the one did who made this room for Uncle Henry."
"I think it's too bare," said Harriet. "There is nothing cozy or homelike about it. And the colors are so light they must soil very easily. No maid I've ever had would keep the furniture properly polished, and the walls free from dust."
"Well, it isn't a living-room, you know," said Tom.
"Uncle Henry said it was in the Adam style," recounted Mary, "and that the furniture was Hepplewhite."
"Who was Adam?" asked Harriet.
"First among architects," responded Tom, "just as the original Adam was first among men. His name was Robert Adam, and he was a Scotchman with three brothers who came to London in the last half of the eighteenth century, winning fame and fortune there. He studied in Italy, made a book about Diocletian's palace at Spalatro, and another huge book entitled 'The Architectural Works of Robert and James Adam.' I've been reading up, you see," added Tom, with a sidelong glance at Mary, who was so busy with a turkey wing that she appeared not to have heard what he said. "And then I met Uncle Henry's decorator, who certainly knows his business."
Uncle Henry's Drawing Room.
"Did the decorator do the whole house?" inquired Mary, looking up abruptly.
"Yes," answered Tom, "he took it with bare walls and turned it over to Uncle Henry ready to live in, for a lump sum. Uncle Henry didn't have to do any figuring at all. The decorator studied the house, talked with Uncle Henry and Aunt Emeline in order to study them, and submitted plans and estimates that amounted to more than Uncle Henry was willing to pay. So they cut down here and cut out there, and finally reached an agreement."
"I think I would rather do the choosing and selecting myself," said Harriet with firmness. "I don't want any decorator to do it for me. I want my house to reflect my personality. I don't see any point in furnishing a house in a manner that may please me in five or ten years. I want a home that I like now."
"It didn't take Uncle Henry long to learn to like his new house," said Jack reflectively, having made good use of the time during which others were monopolizing the conversation. "He swears that his library is the most comfortable in America. And in spite of his great weight, he doesn't seem afraid of the Hepple-white furniture in the drawing-room."
"Perhaps not," said Harriet, "but he always sits on the large sofa, so Aunt Emeline says, and never by any chance trusts himself to the small sofa or the chairs."
"That's right," commented Mary; "the large seats for the large persons and the small seats for the small ones. Don't you think Uncle Henry's drawing-room is a perfect background for Aunt Emeline?"