short story from the collection The Lost Chapel Picnic
story published 1969
collection published 1973
As the girl in the leopard-skin pants, wearing her leopard-skin pants, entered the dining-room, every masculine eye lifted. So did many a wifely eye, to see how the head-waiter would deal with her. At dinner, at that nice hotel on an island half-an-hour’s flight from Athens, the rule was skirts.
It was a very nice hotel indeed. Nice, academic couples from Cambridge, Mass., and Oxford, England, reciprocally recommended it…. There wasn’t a single guest incapable of picking up Keatsian and Homeric references – unless it was the girl in the leopard-skin pants.
They weren’t of course actual pelt, but printed fabric. Stretch. Moulding with extreme neatness and accuracy her small, neat behind. On her upper half, over a minute brassiere printed to match, she had at least the grace to add a yellow silk shirt – or was it because at sunset the temperature dropped? In any case, she was still in pants, and though the rule against them wasn’t actually written up… it was universally respected.
‘Mademoiselle – Signorina – Miss,’ apologized the head waiter, ‘in the restaurant, at dinner, the management prefers a skirt…’
‘I haven’t got one,’ said the girl simply.
commentary: The collection containing this story is the one mentioned by Lissa Evans, the one that single-handedly provoked my recent post about the importance of libraries in our youth. Lost Chapel Picnic was the book that Lissa borrowed over and over from her local. Obviously I – already a fan of Sharp - had to obtain the book immediately, and then enjoy the fact that there was a story with this title, knowing before I even read it that it would give me a blog entry.
It’s a lovely book – full of the kind of stories that were easily found in magazines of the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps not so much now, and all with that wonderful Margery Sharp twist. They are, on the whole ‘romantic’ stories, ‘women’s magazine’ stories – though a couple are much darker. But they are funny and clever: Sharp has a kindness for humanity linked with an absolute unblinking clear-sightedness. She knows the worst humans can do, but she can forgive them and see the bright side.
The Leopardskin girl story is light and romantic, but also has its message about people and class. The Lost Chapel tells a wonderful story in a most unexpected way. There are love stories, and stories about crime and death. If there is a theme, it’s that given the right moment – a lucky chance, an unexpected 15 minutes – all kinds of good things can happen. (There is also a rather more materialistic theme of men in Rolls Royces carrying off willing young women.) I enjoyed the whole lot immensely, and will certainly read the book again, without having to go to the library to borrow it. Thanks – again – to Lissa.
Readers are lucky that I have decided not to use a picture of Clothes in Books in a pair of leopardskin pants, but I do assure you that I own such a garment. Last used (very recently) when I went to a fancy-dress party as Bet Lynch (former trash queen of the soap opera Coronation St, for my American readers).