The Invisible Hand: Inimical (episode eleven)
The interior of the house was done in greens and whites, Impressionist landscapes selected for a tonal uniformity of lilac and sand, occupying the lower two-thirds of the walls, flocked damask paper in ivory covering the upper third. Lilac and sand were the colors of the Aubusson; blue and white Chinese urns, focally placed in corners, echoing mantelpiece ginger jars, were filled with forced hothouse daffodils. White daffodils. He located Stauber, whose voice tended to carry. Mrs. Branstadt was there, wearing an afternoon dress of taupe silk noil, high-necked, highly respectable. He did not see Greta. This Peace League event’s speakers had done their day’s work, a great relief to Malcolm-Webb.
The atmosphere was informal. A catered buffet had been laid on three long tables in an adjoining room, one perhaps used as a ballroom in less prosaic days, spanned by a black and white tiled floor, its 12-foot ceilings capping rows of arched windows.
Nathan, who’d launched Malcolm-Webb into the throng with a forceful pat on the shoulder, had told him not to miss the buffet. “When they throw one of their shindigs, Taggart’s worst enemies angle for an invitation.”
“What are these?” Malcolm-Webb asked Mrs. Branstadt, meeting her at the dessert table.
“Hmm…yes. And what are those?”
“Mud Hen Squares.”
“Ah. I lean towards the pralines.”
“They’re all southern dishes. Eleanore Taggart is a Daughter of the Confederacy. She’s introducing the Peace League to her heritage.”
“And what does a Daughter of the Confederacy do?”
“Celebrates her heritage, I would think. The political position is a little untenable at this stage.”
“Do they mesh well with the Peace League, these daughters?”
“Well, both groups do tend to hark back to old times.”
“I have to confess this milieu is alien to me. I’m afraid I’d manage badly as a guest. Fortunately, being a member of the press, I have license to offend.”
“Politics in America isn’t like England. There’s no House of Lords. We don’t have fixtures, unless you count the Supreme Court. It’s hard for anyone to put too much stock in protocol, because half the people are always new.”
“But Mrs. Taggart is something of a famous hostess?”
She eyed him. “When you say famous, are you being funny? I saw you come in with Senator Nathan.”
“I did hear she has a good Sisley.”
“Well, her husband is here somewhere, so be quiet.”
They crossed the room to join Stauber, who was speaking with Eleanore Taggart. She proved a toothy woman, a hand-grabber, tall and elaborately chignoned.
“I cannot stay in America for many more days,” Stauber was saying. “I very much hope, while I am here, that I can find at least some news of these relatives.”
(2014, 2018, Stephanie Foster)