"Some of these good people surely enjoy their party-giving; and, from my own experience of one or two houses of this sort, I can assure you the food is quite respectable. The great imperfection seems to lie in the utter want of consideration in the choice of guests. A certain number of people and a certain quantity of food shot into a room, that is their notion of a dinner-party."
"Of course we understand that the success of a dinner depends much more on the character of the guests than on the character of the food," said Mrs. Sinclair; "and most of us, I take it, are able to fill our tables with pleasant friends; but what of the dull people who know none but dull people? What gain will they get by taking counsel how they shall fill their tables?"
"More, perhaps, than you think, dear Mrs. Sinclair," said Sir John. "Dull people often enjoy themselves immensely when they meet dull people only. The frost comes when the host unwisely mixes in one or two guests of another sort--people who give themselves airs of finding more pleasure in reading Stevenson than the sixpenny magazines, and who don't know where Hurlingham is. Then the sheep begin to segregate themselves from the goats, and the feast is manque."
"Considering what a trouble and anxiety a dinner-party must be to the hostess, even under the most favouring conditions, I am always at a loss to discover why so many women take so much pains, and spend a considerable sum of money as well, over details which are unessential, or even noxious," said Mrs. Wilding. "A few flowers on the table are all very well--one bowl in the centre is enough-- but in many houses the cost of the flowers equals, if it does not outrun, the cost of all the rest of the entertainment. A few roses or chrysanthemums are perfect as accessories, but to load a table with flowers of heavy or pungent scent is an outrage. Lilies of the valley are lovely in proper surroundings, but on a dinner-table they are anathema. And then the mass of paper monstrosities which crowd every corner. Swans, nautilus shells, and even wild boars are used to hold up the menu. Once my menu was printed on a satin flag, and during the war the universal khaki invaded the dinner table. Ices are served in frilled baskets of paper, which have a tendency to dissolve and amalgamate with the sweet. The only paper on the table should be the menu, writ plain on a handsome card."
"No one can complain of papery ices here," said the Marchesa. "Ices may be innocuous, but I don't favour them, and no one seems to have felt the want of them; at least, to adopt the phrase of the London shopkeeper, 'I have had no complaints.' And even the ice, the very emblem of purity, has not escaped the touch of the dinner- table decorator. Only a few days ago I helped myself with my fingers to what looked like a lovely peach, and let it flop down into the lap of a bishop who was sitting next to me. This was the hostess's pretty taste in ices."
"They are generally made in the shape of camelias this season," said Van der Roet. "I knew a man who took one and stuck it in his buttonhole."
"I must say I enjoy an ice at dinner," said Lady Considine. "I know the doctors abuse them, but I notice they always eat them when they get the chance."
"Ah, that is merely human inconsistency," said Sir John. "I am inclined to agree with the Marchesa that ice at dinner is an incongruity, and may well be dispensed with. I think I am correct, Marchesa, in assuming that Italy, which has showered so many boons upon us, gave us also the taste for ices."
"I fear I must agree," said the Marchesa. "I now feel what a blessing it would have been for you English if you had learnt from us instead the art of cooking the admirable vegetables your gardens produce. How is it that English cookery has never found any better treatment for vegetables than to boil them quite plain? French beans so treated are tender, and of a pleasant texture on the palate, but I have never been able to find any taste in them.