Night had fallen. It was raining relatively hard by that point, and thus visibility was low. The visitor had stepped well away from the door, perhaps convinced no one was going to open it.
Neville had no trouble whatsoever seeing his new visitor. He’d had plenty of experience locating young ladies in the dark, before.
The visitor was a woman, a young woman, of a slender frame and short, bobbed red hair partly covered by a bell-shaped cloche hat. She wore a sage-colored dress that hung on her like a sack—a very wet sack—and a strand of pearls looped around and around her neck, apparently so it wouldn’t drag on the ground.
She was laughing so hard she was nearly doubled over. As Neville first observed her she kicked at the puddles between the patches of yellow grass that made up the lawn.
She was singing to herself. She was barefoot, and had a pair of dancing shoes clutched in one tiny hand.
Future generations would be unable to see such a woman without immediately imagining her holding either a Thompson submachine gun, or a long ebony cigarette holder, or both. Future generations of dictionary editors, when composing the entry that would go under the word FLAPPER, n., might well simply set down the words: SEE her.
“Are you alright out there?” he asked, because despite the weather and the December chill and her lack of appropriate clothing, she’d didn’t seem in any particular hurry to get inside to the warm and dry.
“A little cut up, maybe,” she told him. So as not to suggest she was suffering from lacerations, she clarified: “Actually, if we’re dropping the phonus balonus, I’m posilutely splifficated. Canned. Fried to the hat.”
She stopped what she was doing and started walking to the door, her head sagging a little as if it were too heavy to hold up. When she reached the shelter of the doorway, which was kept from the worst of the rain by a marble portico, she stopped and dropped her shoes. The effort of struggling into them while remaining standing proved to be too much and she stumbled forward.
Neville caught her, because he was no kind of cad, and felt how warm she was despite being drenched. How soft, too. She looked up at him with big eyes, their size amplified by the kohl which had melted in the rain and given her the aspect of a raccoon that had been weeping copiously. She batted her eyelashes at him and then her small mouth twisted up as if she were trying to resist smiling. In this she failed, and soon she was laughing uproariously. “Hiya,” she said. “I’m Babs. Can we blouse?” she asked. “I need to iron my shoelaces.”
Which was, for Neville at least, transparently clear. He took her inside and found Mrs. Patavatsky standing there with a bathrobe and a towel. “Could you make up a room for our new guest?” he asked the housekeeper. She nodded and hurried off without so much as calling him a plutocrat. He led the flapper to the downstairs bathroom, where he handed her the towel, then said, “When you’re done, perhaps we can put some food in you. Or would you rather just have a lie-down?”
She laughed again, though it didn’t leave her quite as discombobulated as before. “You don’t make a girl cut herself a piece of cake, do you?” she asked him, through the half-open bathroom door. “Wha’da’ya think I am, some kind of bearcat?” She closed the door and Neville stood there for a moment, wondering if his kindly intentions had been misunderstood.
Then he heard the soft whisper of a rayon dress falling to a tile floor and he forgot what he’d been thinking, that he had failed to ask of yet what she was doing at Grimbly Hall.
We should probably make something clear at this point. If Neville could be said to have a “type”, Babs would be fourteen point, bolded and italicized.
Which might explain why he remained there, standing like a sentinel outside the bathroom door with a dreamy air, for far too long. Long enough to hear the sound of a young woman violently vomiting into a porcelain toilet. It was only then he hurried away. He was a gentleman, after all.