“I require,” said an elderly woman dressed in black, wearing an oversized hat with artificial fruit on it, and accompanied by a female dwarf who carried her purchases, “I require a dozen unadorned silk handkerchiefs, no longer monogrammed with my husband’s initials. He will not be needing them where he is. As you can see,” she added, directing her gaze at her mourning clothes. “It is to be charged to my account.”
“Certainly, madam. And what account would that be?”
The widow glared. She rapped the glass counter with the ivory-handled umbrella she carried. “You do not know who I am?” Her voice cracked with incredulity.
“No, ma’am.” A pause, perhaps deliberate; perhaps not. “Should I?”
The question could have been innocent. Its tone was not insolent, but the customer chose to interpret it as intentionally provocative. There was a sharp intake of breath.
“What impertinence! Clara, tell this…person who I am.”
The dwarf obliged. “Lady Emmeline Cawthrop-Wade, wife of the late Brigadier Sir Angus Cawthrop-Wade, ma’am, ” she chirped.
“Now call Mr. Ormiston. This is… altogether—“
There was no need. Mr. Ormiston himself emerged from behind a curtain where he had been undressing a mannequin, a tape measure still around his neck. He had heard the exchange, and was effusively eager to placate an outraged customer.
“My dear madam,” he puffed. “Please excuse Miss Porringer. She is new. She is—ah—merely an apprentice,” he added, rubbing his hands in agitation. “She has yet to learn our ways. I will of course personally attend to your request immediately. Delivery will follow on Wednesday, if that is agreeable to you. Yes? Of course, madam. Please accept our apologies. It will not happen again, I assure you.”
As obsequious as Uriah Heep, thought Gracie.
“See that it does not. I am mightily offended. Impertinence must be addressed, Mr. Ormiston. This young woman needs instruction in her station in life. Please see that she gets it. Good day.” She stalked off, the little dwarf trailing along behind her.
Mr. Ormiston’s reprimand was mild, but then he was a mild-mannered man. Gracie listened attentively, without protest. as she was corrected. The rest of the afternoon passed without incident. In the early evening after supper, however, as she was lying on her bed listening to a Mozart concerto on the ‘wireless’ in the dormitory, one of the other girls abruptly switched stations to one playing popular music. “You’re such a snob, Gracie,” she smiled ingratiatingly, “but we forgive you.”
“Oh, leave her alone, Bridey,” said Polly, entering the room. “We all have different interests.”
“Hers are more different than anyone else’s,” came the caustic rejoinder.
“Don’t listen to her, Gracie. I came to tell you that you have a visitor in the kitchen. He says he’s your dad. I thought you said you were an orphan.”
“I am a maternal orphan. An orphan has lost one or more parents. You’ll see if you look it up in the dictionary. Thanks for telling me. He’s come a long way.”