“We’re home, Mama!”
Violet slammed the door and dropped her packages on the hall table. They cascaded onto the floor, one little box tumbling across the marble entryway to land at Mrs. Sutton’s feet.
Lily sighed. “Violet, dear, when will you learn to be more careful? Honestly!” She picked up the little box and placed it carefully on the table. Violet grumbled to herself as she retrieved the scattered packages.
“Good afternoon, Marion,” said Lily cheerily, ignoring Violet. “It looks like you both had a successful shopping trip! It’s beastly hot today—please come and have some lemonade to cool off after your long walk downtown. Your mother is here, too.”
Marion and Violet followed Lily to the back porch, where lemonade and cookies were arranged on a silver tray. Agnes Craig, Marion’s mother, was settled in a white wicker chair, fanning herself. The two mothers, friends since childhood, had remained close after they married. Their daughters had grown up together, and Violet’s older brother Charles, now in college in St. Louis, worked summers in the Craigs’ mining company office.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Craig,” said Violet politely, sitting down and carefully arranging her skirt. “I hope Mr. Craig is feeling better?”
“Good afternoon, Violet,” replied Agnes, amused. Violet was acting so grown up! “Yes, he’s feeling much better, thank you. It was just a cold.”
“That’s very lucky, isn’t it?” Violet smoothed her skirt again, stirred her lemonade, and stuck out her pinky finger. Marion stifled a laugh.
“Do uncross your legs, Violet dear,” said Lily patiently. “Polite ladies never cross their legs.”
Marion sipped her lemonade and changed the subject. “Mother, we couldn’t get everything on Miss Mercer’s packing list today. We still have lots more to buy. I hope I can fit it all in my trunks.”
“Yes, dear, don’t worry. But Mrs. Sutton and I would like to discuss something other than clothes right now.”
The two girls glanced at each other, set down their glasses, and looked expectantly at their mothers.
“We are both proud of the way you two have grown up,” Agnes began. “You’ve done well in school, and you are both very kind, polite young ladies. We have always been able to trust you to behave properly, and you haven’t disappointed us, even when you have been on your own, without our supervision.”
Marion and Violet squirmed a little.
“So now that you are both high school graduates,” Agnes continued, “we feel you’re mature enough to travel to Europe with Miss Mercer as your chaperone. This trip will complete your education.”
“But,” warned Lily, “Europe is very, very different from Denver. You cannot and will not have the same freedoms there as you do here.”
“Miss Mercer has been to Europe several times, so she knows what to expect,” added Agnes.
Lily nodded. “You girls must listen to Miss Mercer’s advice and follow her instructions at all times. We don’t want you wandering off on your own in a strange city. Who knows what could happen to a young woman alone?”
“That’s right,” agreed Agnes. “We’ve heard the stories about Willie Halladay’s trip.”
Silence. Marion fingered her sash nervously as Violet searched for her handkerchief. The two mothers smiled at the girls’ guilty looks. Oh, that Willie Halladay!
Lily’s calm voice rose just enough to let Violet and Marion know she meant business. “You girls mustn’t forget, the rules for young ladies are quite different from the rules for young gentlemen. You may not like it, but that’s the way things are. Don’t go anywhere without Miss Mercer, and don’t mix with other people unless she approves. Do you both understand?”
Violet patted her mother’s hand. “Well, of course, Mama! We would never cause trouble for Miss Mercer. We wouldn’t do anything to ruin this trip.”
Agnes leaned back in her chair as Lily served lemonade and passed around the cookies. “Good! Now, let’s get to the fun! What else do we need to buy for your voyage?”
After their lemonade, Marion and Violet began climbing the stairs to Violet’s bedroom. Violet took Marion’s arm.
“Don’t go out without Miss Mercer. Don’t mix with other people unless she approves. Don’t—”
Marion joined in. “Don’t explore the city. Don’t speak to strange men.”
“Yes, too shocking!” cried Violet. “Don’t cross your legs. Don’t laugh too loudly—especially at your own jokes.”
“Don’t make jokes at all!” corrected Marion. “Ladies never make jokes in the company of gentlemen.”
“It’s pretty simple,” said Violet. “Ladies don’t have any fun!”
Both girls laughed. Then Marion continued in a serious voice, “But when you come back, find a wealthy husband as soon as you can. Be the wine of his life, smoothing and sweetening everything he does. Serve him . . .”
And with that, Marion stopped on the carpeted landing. Raising her arms like a graceful ballerina, she pantomimed pouring a glass of wine and handing it to Violet.
Violet accepted the make-believe glass. “Thank you, darling Marion. I know all about that silly wine of life. Mama never stops talking about it. Ugh.”
Marion poured herself some pretend wine, and the girls clinked glasses. Raising her glass again, Marion toasted her friend: “Remember, you must develop your talents to please your husband and to entertain your guests. Never mind what your own wishes are.”
Violet took a pretend swallow. “Marion, what are your wishes?”
“I’m not sure, Vi . . . What are yours?”
Violet thought of her love for fashion, and her father’s store. She smiled.