The woman in the spangled black dress left the rest of the party, and made room on the sofa for the sunburned young man with the quiet eyes.
"You just sit yourself right down here this minute," she said. "And give me an account of yourself. The idea! Running away for nearly two years, and not even a post-card out of you! Aren't you ashamed? Answer Muvver. Izzun you tebble shame you'self?"
"I'm rotten about writing letters," he said. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm hopeless. I always mean to write, and I never get around to it. It isn't because I don't think of people. It's just I'm terrible about writing letters."
"Where have you been, anyway?" she said. "Nearly two years! Where dat bad boy been teepin' himself?"
"Well, I was in Arabia, mostly," he said.
"You're crazy," she said. "Just simply crazy. What on earth did you want to go to a place like that for?"
"I don't know," he said. "I just sort of thought I'd like to see it."
"Oh I know," she said. "You don't have to tell me. I'm just like you. I love traveling. Freddy always says, just give me a couple of trunks and a letter of credit, and I'm all right. Well, you ask Freddy. It's the funniest thing, but I was saying to him only last night at dinner--we were all alone, the Allens were coming, but their baby was sick at the last minute, the poor little thing, it's so delicate it would scare you to death to see it, oh, my God, I must call up Kate Allen and find out how it is, I told Freddy to remind me--I was telling him, 'One of these fine days,' I said, "you won't see me sitting here,' I said, 'I'm going to just pack up a toothbrush and an extra pair of stockings,' I said, 'and the next you'll hear of me, I'll be in Egypt or India or somewhere,' I said. Oh, I'm a born traveler!"
"Really?" he said.
"Arabia!" she said. "Well just imagine that. Tell me all about it. How did you like it, anyway?"
"Why, I had a good time," he said.
"Imagine," she said. "Way off there. Well, I've often wondered about Arabia. Tell me some more about it. Isn't there an awful lot of sand and everything?"
"Well, there is," he said. "But, you see--"
"Sand!" she said, "Donít sand me! After this summer down at Dune Harbour, Iíve had enough of sand, thank you. I could write a book about sand. Always in your shoes, no matter what you did, and the children tracking it into the house till I thought Iíd go crazy. Ever been to Dune Harbour?"
"No," he said. "No, I haven't."
"Well, donít," she said. "Nothing but sand, sand, sand. You can get all the sand you want right there, without going off to any Arabia."
"Well, you see," he said. "The way it is in Arabia--"
"And Freddy on that beach!" she said. "Youíd have died. The first day he got down there he just lay out there, and lay out there, and the first thing you knew, his shoulders! I thought about you, right away. I said if you could have seen those shoulders of his, you just simply would have died."
"It must have been awfully funny," he said. "You see, what I was going to say, in Arabia--"
"That's right," she said. "That's just exactly what I want you to do. Tell me about your trip. I want to hear every single thing. What was it like? What are the people like? Are they all Arabs and everything?"
"Well, of course," he said, "there's a lot of--"
"Imagine!" she said. "Arabs! Isn't it exactly like something in a book? Oh, it must be just the way I pictured it. Tell me about all these Arabs. What are they like, anyway?"
"Why, they're pretty much like everybody else," he said. "Some of them are great, and some of them are not so good. Most of them are pretty--"
"You know," she said. "Iíve always been sure I could get along with people like that. Arabs and everything. Iím so interested in people, they just seem to know, and they let me see their inside selves. Oh, Iím always making friends with the darndest people! You just ask Freddy. 'Well,' he said to me, 'nobody could ever call you a snob,' he said. And you know, I took it for a compliment. Arabs! Oh, Iíd love anything like that. Well, go on, tell me about it. Where did you stay?"
"Why, a lot of the time," he said, "I lived right with the natives. You see I wanted to--"
"Imagine! Right with them!" she said. "But wasn't it terribly uncomfortable and everything?"
"They were darn decent to me," he said. "And as soon as you got used to it, you--"
"Oh, I could do it," she said. "I could do it in a minute. I donít care what I have to put up with, just as long as Iím travelling and seeing new things. When we were in Milan, three years ago, we went to this little hotel--the place was so crowded, there was nothing but Americans, wherever you went. I used to say to Freddy, 'You'd think some of them would have the sense enough to stay home.' So we stayed at this little hotel, and you know what we got? Well, I'll tell you, because you're an old friend, but if you ever--! We got fleas. Absolutely. Fleas. Freddy was nearly crazy, you know how he is, but I just said to him, 'Well, that's the kind of thing you've got to expect when you're travelling.' Oh, that's the way I am. Nothing fazes me. But look, these Arabs. Donít they all have a lot of wives or something?"
"Why, lots of them have more than one wife," he said. "You see, the way they look at it, it's a question of--"
"Arenít they terrible?" she said. "Imagine more that one wife! Isn't that the Oriental of it, for you? They're terrrible. And don't they all pretend to be terribly religious or something?"
"Their religion seems to mean a lot to them." he said. "No matter how poor a man is, or no matter where he goes, he always has his little mat, to--"
"Yes I know," she said. "Prayer rugs. Thatís what they call them. Prayer rugs. Iíll never forget, before I was married, we had this perfectly beautiful prayer rug in the living-room, right in front of the piano. We girls used to have a regular joke about it. We used to keep teasing Father, which one of us he was going to give it to--oh, he thought the world and all of that prayer rug! So then Father got married again, and of course, he kept the prayer rug right there. Oh, we often have a good laugh about that prayer rug!"
"Is that so?" he said.
Oh, yes," she said. "My, that prayer rug! Oh, it was a beautiful thing, to anybody that appreciated it. Blue and yellow and I don't know what all colors. And everything in the design meant something. Oh, they're awfully clever that way, those Arabs. They make some really lovely things. I suppose you've seen a lot of them."
"Yes," he said. "Yes, I have."
"Iím crazy about their work," she said. "Iíd love to see them doing it. Iíve often thought, what Iíd like to do, I'd like to-- Oh, thereís Freddy, over in the door. He wants to go home. Isn't he just the old stick-in-the-mud? Always wants to go home at half-past eleven. I say to him, 'You're as good as a clock,' I tell him, 'Whenever we're out at a party I can always tell when it's half-past eleven.' Honestly. I just tease the life out of him. But he never minds what I say. He just laughs. Well, I'm pretty dead, myself. Been shopping all day--it just kills me. I just put it off till the last minute, I hate it so. Now, listen, you've got to come and see us. We're pretty hurt, the way you've acted. Will you come soon? Please? Please?"
"Thank you very much," he said.
"And it was simply too wonderful," she said, "to hear all about Arabia. My, youíve made me feel as if I was in an awful rut, just living here. But Iím going to do it some day. I warn you. One of these fine days you'll wake up and I'll be way off the other side of the world. That's the way I am--I've just got to do it, sooner or later. Will you look at Freddy scowling! He probably thinks you and I are fixing up a plan to elope, sitting here so long. Oh, he knows what you travelers are! Now you are coming soon, aren't you? There's heaps more things I want to ask you about. You needn't think your're done with Arabia yet, by any manner of means. You come soon! Now you mind Muvver! Don't be bad, naughty, wicked, tebble boy ever adain. You hear me?"
"Thank you very much," he said.
"Nighty-ni'," she said. "S'eet d'eams."
"Good-night," he said.
She went on away to Freddy.