Letters from Lucy Gilding to her cousin Rosalie Wellborn in Chicago.
September 23, 1921
It was too delightful having you here over the summer. I can hardly believe it’s only been three weeks since you left; it feels like so much longer! How time crawls when we’re away from our loved ones!
But no matter; let time do what it will. I promised you that I would keep you abreast of all the latest happenings in New York, and so I shall. We have two notable additions to New York society for the season, and I know at least one of them will make you regret leaving us so soon. Mrs. Oldname has a guest from England staying with her, someone her son befriended overseas during the war. His name is Lord Peter Wimsey, his brother is the Duke of Denver, and he’s quite charming and frightfully well read. I’m almost afraid to talk to him, for he frequently quotes books I’ve never heard of, but he’s quite amusing when he wants to be and I’ve no doubt he’ll liven things up considerably.
The other new addition is Mrs. Town’s niece Helen Bold, who arrived a fortnight ago from Detroit. Mrs. Town held a very nice tea for her a few days after she arrived. She’s a very friendly girl and plays a decent game of bridge, so I think she’ll fit in nicely. She’s also, or so Pauline Town tells me, declared herself quite taken with Clubwin Doe. While I certainly understand the appeal—he really is too handsome for words—I’m afraid that particular course can only end in disappointment. Clubwin is as confirmed a bachelor as they come—more so, even, than the aptly-named Mr. Bachelor. In all the years I’ve known him—and he must be at least 30—I’ve never seen Clubwin pay especial interest to any woman beyond the usual courtesies. But perhaps Helen Bold will yet prove to be the force able to move the immovable. Her face isn’t quite a match for her namesake, whose beauty “launched a thousand ships,” but it isn’t so far off either.
Speaking of Clubwin, I have a funny story to tell you. The other night, Mrs. Worldly invited us to join her at the opera. We met Clubwin outside the opera house, along with his friend Paul Wells, of San Francisco. I don’t think you’ve met Paul, but he comes to stay with Clubwin twice a year or so. The two of them were there as guests of Mrs. Worldly as well, of course, and the four of us were chatting when I noticed that Clubwin had forgotten his white gloves! Can you imagine? Fortunately, Bobo had an extra pair with him, so we were able to spare Clubwin the embarrassment of facing down Mrs. Worldly gloveless. Paul very prettily took the blame, explaining that he’d distracted Clubwin on their way out with some question or another, but I still intend to tease him about it—privately, of course, and I know I can trust you, dear Rosalie, not to breathe a word to anyone else. I don’t want to embarrass him too terribly much, but there is something awfully funny about the memory of Clubwin, who’s always so perfectly put together, showing up at the opera without gloves.
What else can I tell you? Preparations for Jim and Mary’s wedding continue apace. The date has been set for November 1st; the invitations have gone out; and the gifts have started to arrive. Mary has already received six sauceboats and I’ve warned her to expect more. I think I had ten or so by the end. People do love giving sauceboats to new brides. If only one could coordinate! But of course, one can hardly issue orders like a schoolteacher: you purchase the tray and you the pepper pot and you the serving dish. I’ve consoled Mary with the thought that she can at least exchange her duplicates after the wedding.
I think that’s all the news I have to share, dearest Rosalie. Bobo and I are both well, as are our families. But of course, you’d have already heard if it were otherwise. All our love to you and your parents and your sister, and I hope you’ll be able to return to us soon. New York and Chicago aren’t so far apart, are they?
Your devoted cousin,
October 14, 1921
You must tell me more about this young man! What you said sounds very promising, but you gave me so little detail to work with. Where did you meet him? What does he do? What do your parents think? It’s all too exciting.
Things are much the same here. Lord Peter continues to delight everyone despite all the French and is now the most sought-after guest for all social events this season. Do you know he told me that he thought that New York society had the most curiously apt names he’d ever encountered? Yet when I pressed him, he had to admit that his own name is just as apt as any of ours, and truly, I don’t think I’ve ever met a man as driven by whimsy as he is.
Bobo’s parents held a dinner last week, which gave me a chance to show off my new dinner dress—the flame-colored one with the Georgette inserts that I had made just before you left. I’ve been dying to wear it and it looked as well as I thought it would. I fear sometimes that I’m rather frightfully vain, but Bobo merely laughs when I preen. To make up for it, I made a point of complimenting Constance Styles on her new dress, which was jade green and looked too divine on her.
The dinner itself was as beautifully done as you’d expect. The oysters with mignonette sauce were too delicious and the fillet of beef was meltingly tender. It was almost enough to make me want to try to lure their cook away from them. Only, can you imagine the family strife that would create? Bobo’s mother would never forgive me! The sherbet was orange-pineapple and quite good as well. I might see if my cook can replicate it.
Lord Peter was there, of course, and wasn’t Mrs. Social-Leader furious when she learned that he’d accepted the Gildings’ invitation rather than hers? He and I were partners at bridge after dinner and thoroughly trounced our opponents. All in all, an excellent night. Truly, he’s the most exciting addition we’ve had in ages, and just when I was beginning to think that I was doomed to an endless cycle of repetition!
Oh, I did have one thing of interest to tell you, but you must swear never to tell another soul. Pauline Town confided in me that Helen has been sneaking out of the house at night! Can you imagine? That girl’s reputation will be ruined forever if anyone catches her at it. I can’t imagine what she’s doing with herself. I would think she was going out to meet a man, but by all accounts, her attention is still fixed on Clubwin—though I’ve seen no signs she’s made any progress there—and we all know he would never countenance such behavior. Perhaps she’s going to see the cabaret?
I must go; Bobo will be home soon and then we’re off to the Russian ballet with the Eminents. All our love to you and your family. I’ll write again soon.
October 16, 1921
I will never again complain about being bored with the sameness of our little social world. We’ve finally had some excitement, and it’s of the most horrid kind. Someone tried to kill Jim Smartlington! I can hardly believe it happened even as I write the words. Poor Jim! And poor Mary!
It happened last night. Jim had been at the club with Clubwin, Donald and Lord Peter, and decided to walk home to enjoy the autumn evening. He was just nearing the Worldlys’ house when someone came up and struck him over the head from behind! Fortunately, the blow didn’t kill him, though the doctors say it easily could have. His attacker, whoever it was—Jim has no idea—left him on the edge of the Worldlys’ property where Hastings, their butler, discovered him while doing a sweep later that evening. It’s fortunate he was found, for it was unseasonably cold last night, and between that and the loss of blood from his injury, the doctors say he wouldn’t have survived the whole night.
The Worldlys are just beside themselves, of course, and poor Mary is distraught. She can barely stand to leave his side. The timing it just too awful, with the wedding only two weeks away. It looks like Jim will be spending most of the next fortnight in bed, though the doctors say he should be well enough to stand and be married on the 1st.
The police have no notion of who may have done this. Nothing of Jim’s was taken, as you might expect if it had been a robbery, but Jim is so well-liked that no one can conceive of any other reason for such an attack. We’re all upset, as you can imagine. I’ve asked Bobo to take the car from now on rather than walking, at least until they catch whoever did this, and I know Celia Lovejoy has asked Donald to take taxis. Bobo laughed, but he’s agreed to do as I ask. I just hope the attacker doesn’t decide to move on to attacking people in their own homes, for as you know, we haven’t so much as a single footman to defend us, and one can hardly expect the maids to deal with such a thing.
Take care of yourself, Rosalie. You never know in this world when things might suddenly go awry.
All my love,
November 5, 1921
I’m happy to report that the wedding went off beautifully. Mary looked too sweet and Jim was deliriously happy. You could hardly even tell that he’d been injured. The bridesmaids wore violet satin with faded yellow sashes and blue hats, while the matron of honor wore blue with a violet sash and faded yellow hat. It was all too pretty and, of course, made me think of my own “happiest day.”
The wedding breakfast was delicious: caviar and soft-shelled crab and squab and veal aspic and the most wonderful ices and cakes, devil food and angel food both. The toast was made with white grape juice and ginger ale, sweetened with sugar and mint. That’s the third time I’ve had that at a wedding, so I think we may soon declare it the new style, though it’s still not quite the same as champagne.
The two of them are off to Boston for a week for a short honeymoon, with plans for a longer trip to Europe in the spring. I truly hope they’ll be as happy together as Bobo and I are. (For the record, the final total was eight sauceboats for the happy bride and not a single pepper pot in sight.)
There’s been progress into the investigation of what happened to Jim, but oh, I fear they’re going in completely the wrong direction, for now the police are now looking at Clubwin! They say they found a bloody rock in his garden—though I’ve no idea why it occurred to anyone to even look—and also a letter which they describe as “compromising.” The theory, as I understand it, is that he’s secretly been in love with Mary all these years, and with the wedding coming up, he panicked and tried to rid himself of his competition. Personally, I think it all sounds ridiculous. Clubwin’s never shown more attention to Mary than to any other lady and I feel sure that if his affections had fallen on her, he would have spoken up long before she and Jim were engaged. Nonetheless, the police have been at his house several times and don’t seem to be looking further for a new suspect.
He’s taking it quite hard, of course. He even offered to withdraw from the wedding—he was an usher, you know—but Jim and Mary both told him not to be silly. I’m happy that he at least has his friend Paul, who has extended his stay while things get sorted out. Everyone else has rallied around him as well. I feel sure that he’ll soon be exonerated.
Lord Peter has taken quite an interest in the whole affair. He’s been popping up everywhere and talking to everyone, much to Mrs. Oldname’s consternation. I think she’d rather everyone pretend that such an event could never happen in New York. Nor is she the only one—now that Jim has recovered, everyone is carrying on as usual. The men are back to walking the streets and invitations are flying. I think we’re all hoping that it was an anomaly and that whoever did it has moved on.
The one bright spot in all of this is that Helen Bold has apparently lost all interest in Clubwin, whether because of the accusation or because of the suggestion that he was taken with another woman. Pauline tells me that Helen has also stopped creeping out of the house at night, so perhaps her nighttime adventures were related to Clubwin after all, though I still can’t believe he would have had anything to do with such activities. Or perhaps there’s a darker explanation, for I saw her the other day when visiting Mrs. Norman and she seemed rather subdued. If I can get her alone, I might pry a bit.
Speaking of prying, thank you for fulfilling my curiosity about your young men. He does sound divine. If things continue on, I may have to contrive a visit to Chicago to meet him. But right now, I’m off. I have a million things to do before Great-Aunt Jane’s tea. Take care, best of cousins, and write to me soon.
December 3, 1921
Can you believe that the holiday season is nearly upon us? I know I said once that the days crawled without you and they do, but while the days crawl, the months fly. It seems like only yesterday that the two of us were gathering roses in the garden. Has your young man been bringing you flowers? Has he found your special favorites yet?
I’m delighted to report that Clubwin has officially been cleared of suspicion in the attack on Jim Smartlington. The police haven’t supplied much detail on why they’ve changed their minds, apart from saying that they misinterpreted the so-called “compromising” letter, but it’s a great relief to all of us, though none more than Clubwin himself, of course. We who know him never doubted him, but it was hard on him, especially after it reached the papers. His friend Paul has been a particularly staunch supporter, and has declared that he’s going to stay a little longer to see Clubwin completely settled and recovered before returning to San Francisco. Any man who can earn such a loyal friend clearly couldn’t have tried to kill another of his friends.
Between you and me, I suspect Lord Peter may have had something to do with clearing Clubwin’s name, for he’s been spending a great deal of time talking to the police, and he made it clear that he, too, thought it was utterly ridiculous to suspect poor Clubwin. One point he raised that I thought made sense—and that he may have shared with the police—was that the motive made no sense, for if Clubwin—or anyone else—had truly meant to kill Jim, it would have been easy enough to land a second blow and thus ensure his death, or at least to leave him somewhere where he was less likely to be found. There are, Lord Peter said, a great many nearby places where bushes and trees could have served as cover and yet the attacker used none of them. (Now I know why he and his valet took so many walks around the edge of the Worldlys’ property! Mrs. Worldly was terribly curious, especially as no one’s gardens show to their best advantage in dull and dreary November.)
Unfortunately, while Clubwin has been cleared, we still have no idea whom the guilty party is. Even worse, since it now looks like Jim may not have been the target--if indeed there was an intended target-- all my fears for Bobo have returned in force.
We were discussing events with the Kindharts and the Lovejoys at dinner a few days ago. The Kindharts, being the generous souls they are, are hopeful that the person in question has realized the evil of their ways and so reformed on their own. I rather fear the person really has moved on and the police will never identify them. It wouldn’t be so bad if the Kindharts were right and one could be sure they’d never hurt anyone else, but what if they’re simply biding their time, waiting for another opportunity? It would be too awful if something were to happen to Bobo, or to any of our other men for that matter. I really thought with the war over, we could finally relax and know that our men are safe, and then to have something like this happen!
You asked about Helen. I never did get a chance to talk to her, but no matter: she seems to have cheered up considerably since then and she has a new suitor! Or so it would appear, though she denies all knowledge. Still, someone has been sending those flowers and baubles. I hope this proves a happier course for her than her last.
When not discussing who might have attacked Jim, everyone is now occupied with preparing for the Worldlys’ Christmas ball, which is sure to be one of the highlights of the season. I’m having a new dress made in navy silk with the most beautiful gold beadwork. It will suit me terribly well. One year, my dear, you must come to New York for the ball. Can you imagine spending Christmas together? What a joy that would be!
Take care, dearest Rosalie, and I’ll write to you again soon.
Your loving cousin,
December 22, 1921
Merry Christmas to you, for the day will surely be close when you read this!
The Christmas ball went off splendidly, with one exception that I’ll get to in a moment. Everyone was resplendent in their Christmas finery, the orchestras were divine, and dinner exceeded Mrs. Worldly’s usual standards of perfection: perfectly seasoned bouillon and creamy lobster Newburg and croquettes and the most wonderful salad, along with ices and cakes. We also had the most delicious hot chocolate before leaving, which was the perfect thing to warm us up before the trip home. Is anything better than hot chocolate on a cold night? Except, perhaps, curling up in front of a roaring fire and then slipping into a bed that’s been warmed with a hot water bottle! And the decorations! You’d have to have seen them to believe them, but just picture the most perfect Christmas scene you can imagine, and you’ll be halfway there. I’ve never seen a tree of such size and magnificence, nor such cunning decorations hanging from it!
But the highlight at the ball, without question, was the unmasking of Jim Smartlington’s attacker by Lord Peter! I had no idea that he’d continued to investigate after Clubwin was exonerated, but apparently he did. But let me start at the beginning. It was a continuous supper, of course, and around two in the morning I started to get hungry, so I went in along with Bobo and the Lovejoys and Helen. Lord Peter followed shortly afterward, and the six of us sat together. The waiter had just brought the bouillon when I saw Helen go terribly pale. I leaned closer to ask if she was feeling ill, but before I had time to get the words out, Lord Peter sprang up and raced across the restaurant toward one of the waiters. His valet, Bunter, appeared from nowhere and two of them managed to catch the man, who’d turned to run as soon as he saw Lord Peter coming. The Worldlys came in a moment later, and Lord Peter asked them to contact the police.
It turns out that the man, Oscar Green, had been a suitor of Helen’s back in Detroit. Her parents disapproved and so she quite properly cut ties with him and came to New York for a fresh start. Only Mr. Green didn’t take it well and resolved to follow her. The attack on Jim Smartlington was indeed a case of mistaken identity. Jim and Clubwin are about the same height and build, and in the dark, Mr. Green apparently became confused over which he was following. The police say Mr. Green apparently been watching Helen for some time, and had seen enough to suspect her particular interest in Clubwin, though not enough to notice the lack of reciprocation. Afterwards, when he realized he’d attacked the wrong man, he resolved to frame Clubwin to achieve the same effect, which is how the rock ended up in Clubwin’s garden.
Mr. Green was also the one sending Helen flowers. He didn’t dare sign them for fear Mrs. Town would see recognize his name, but he said he thought Helen would know who they were from, though she says otherwise. And when she failed to respond, he snuck into the ball disguised as a servant hired for the night in the hopes of speaking to her without attracting attention.
Poor Mrs. Worldly was completely scandalized by such happenings at her ball, though I don’t think more than half a dozen of her guests realized what was going on, as the police were very discreet. Anyway, all’s well that ends well, and I no longer need to fear the days when Bobo decides to take a walk. Poor Helen was frightfully upset when she realized that she had contributed indirectly to Jim’s misfortune. With Oscar out of the way, I think she’s planning on returning to her parents in Detroit, and I hope she has better luck in the future.
I’ve heard that Lord Peter is also leaving us in the New Year, which is likely to leave the rest of the season very quiet. I’m counting on you, dear cousin, to keep me entertained with your letters, for I don’t dare wish for any new excitement here!
I must go. Once again, all our love to you and your family, and best wishes to all of you for a happy New Year. May 1922 bring us all that we could desire and deserve!