The Elsingham Portrait - By Elizabeth Chater


Kathryn Hendrix entered the fashionable restaurant at exactly noon. Donald had said “about twelve,” but she had a horror of being late for a treat which had been drilled into her during her lonely childhood at boarding school. She went directly to the Ladies’ Lounge, aware of the eyes of the cloakroom attendant and the maître d’ staring after her, assessing the value of her four-year-old tweed suit and the matching coat from which she had removed the matted fur collar.

In the scented warmth of the lounge Kathryn checked her general appearance and her make-up. She looked neat but not striking, she decided; both her training and her own preference made her conservative.

“This is what he will see across the table in a few minutes,” she thought anxiously. A tall girl, thin, with good bones; the face narrow—well-bred but not beautiful. She frowned. The new hat she had recklessly purchased yesterday, to be worn for this luncheon, suddenly seemed wrong with the tweed coat—too bright, too frivolous. It had been an extravagance, but she had been sure that Don was going to make a formal proposal today, and Kathryn felt she could not bear to be proposed to in a brown felt hat that was two years old. So what if she had to do without desserts for a while? How often does a girl get an offer of marriage? She rallied her courage as she pulled the silly hat further to one side of her heavy knot of hair. Don was always telling her to get it cut, but she had a secret image of it covered by a soft white veil, and, later, of its shining dark length falling richly over a satin negligee. . . . No, she really didn’t want to cut it. It was her one beauty.

She felt a thrill at the thought of marrying Don. She’d met him at a large party given by one of her old school friends. When he heard her name, he had seemed interested. That evening, he had asked her to go to an art show with him. In the next few weeks they had several dates, usually for concerts or opening nights of Broadway shows where they’d be sure to see “the right people.” Don often explained to Kathryn how important it was for him to meet the right people.

He’d talked about marriage several times, but never definitely asked her. Kathryn understood that many young men didn’t make formal declarations—just took it for granted that the woman of their choice would be willing. Donald had mentioned how valuable a prudent marriage to a woman of good connections could be for a man. Kathryn, incurably honest, warned him that her father’s cousins had never paid much attention to her. In fact, since the death of both her parents in a car accident, she had hardly seen the wealthy, socially prominent branch of the Hendrix family. Don laughed and told her that what she really needed was someone with finesse to teach her how to get on in the world. He was always talking about ways to get on in the world. It made her a little embarrassed sometimes. Still, perhaps he was right. He had certainly made an unusual success of his own work. Kathryn knew nothing about the brokerage business, but Don’s salary was many times what she herself earned in her secure, if unexciting, job in the library.

She glanced at her watch, then, startled, looked again. She’d been in the lounge fifteen minutes! She hurried out into the lobby, hastily checking the people who were standing waiting for a table. Only a few people had braved the cold, blustery November day. Don wasn’t among them.

At twelve-thirty, Kathryn was the only person left standing in the lobby. The maîtré d’ approached her. “You are waiting for someone, madame?”

“Mr. Donald Madson,” Kathryn tried to put confidence in her voice. “Obviously he’s been delayed. Has he reserved a table?”

He hadn’t. “Perhaps madame would care to be seated until her escort arrives?”

“Oh, yes,” said Kathryn thankfully.

He led her to a small table near the wall. It occurred to Kathryn that perhaps he just wanted her shabby coat out of his elegant lobby. She tried to concentrate on the menu, but her eyes kept straying to the entrance in the hope of seeing Don’s trim figure. Twice a waiter came to take her order. The second time there was something in his manner which Kathryn found offensive. She had noticed a phone jack