Ladies Must Live

Alice Duer Miller
Ladies Must Live

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Title: Ladies Must Live
Author: Alice Duer Miller
Release Date: June 30, 2004 [eBook #12789]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
E-text prepared by Mary Meehan and the Project Gutenberg Online
Distributed Proofreading Team

Author of "Come Out of the Kitchen," etc.

Mrs. Ussher was having a small house party in the country over New
Year's Day. This is equivalent to saying that the half dozen most
fashionable people in New York were out of town.
Certain human beings are admitted to have a genius for discrimination
in such matters as objects of art, pigs or stocks. Mrs. Ussher had this

same instinct in regard to fashion, especially where fashions in people
were concerned. She turned toward hidden social availability very
much as the douser's hazel wand turns toward the hidden spring. When
she crossed the room to speak to some woman after dinner, whatever
that woman's social position might formerly have been, you could be
sure that at present she was on the upward wing. When Mrs. Ussher
discovered extraordinary qualities of mind and sympathy in some
hitherto impossible man, you might be certain it was time to begin to
book him in advance.
Not that Mrs. Ussher was a kingmaker; she herself had no more power
over the situation than the barometer has over the weather. She merely
was able to foretell; she had the sense of approaching social success.
She was unaware of her own powers, and really supposed that her
sudden and usually ephemeral friendships were based on mutual
attraction. The fact that for years her friends had been the small group
of the momentarily fashionable required, in her eyes, no explanation.
So simple was her creed that she believed people were fashionable for
the same reason that they were her friends, because "they were so
During the short period of their existence, Mrs. Ussher gave to these
friendships the utmost loyalty and devotion. She agonized over the
financial, domestic and romantic troubles of her friends; she sat up till
the small hours, talking to them like a schoolgirl; during the height of
their careers she organized plots for their assistance; and even when
their stars were plainly on the decline, she would often ask them to
lunch, if she happened to be alone.
Many people, we know, are prone to make friends with the rich and
great. Mrs. Ussher's genius consisted in having made friends with them
before they were either. When you hurried to her with some account of
a newly discovered treasure--a beauty or a conversable young man--she
would always say: "Oh, yes, I crossed with her two years ago," or "Isn't
he a dear?--he was once in Jack's office." The strange thing was these
statements were always true; the subjects of them confessed with tears
that "dear Mrs. Ussher" or "darling Laura" was the kindest friend they

had ever had.
Her house party was therefore likely to be notable.
First, there was of course Mrs. Almar--of course without her husband.
There is only one thing, or perhaps two, to be said for Nancy
Almar--that she was very handsome and that she was not a hypocrite,
no more than a pirate is a hypocrite who comes aboard with his cutlass
in his teeth. Mrs. Almar's cutlass was always in her teeth, when it was
not in somebody's vitals.
She had smooth, jet-black hair, done close to her pretty head, a clear
white-and-vermilion complexion, and a good figure, not too tall. She
said little, but everything she did say, she most poignantly meant. If,
while you were talking to her, she suddenly cried out: "Ah, that's really
good!" there was no doubt you had had the good fortune to amuse her;
while if she yawned and left you in the midst of a sentence there was no
question that she was bored.
She hated her husband--not for the conventional reason that she had
married him. She hated him because he was a hypocrite, because he
was always placating and temporizing.
For instance, he had said to her as she was about to start for the
"I hope you'll explain to them why I could not come."
There had never been the least question of Mr. Almar's coming, and she
turned slowly and looked at him as she asked:
"You mean that
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