Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time

by Peter Taylor

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time" is a short story by Peter Taylor about an elderly eccentric couple called Alfred and Louisa Dorset, who hold a dance party every year for the young teenagers of West Vesey.

In the affluent town of West Vesey, the residents view the Dorsets as odd. People are even offended by the brother and sister's strange but harmless habits. For example, Alfred Dorset likes to clean his car in his driveway and not in the garage, and Louisa Dorset like to clean her home in the nude (or so the rumors go). The town tolerates them because they are elderly and place importance on things other than money.

Once a year, Alfred and Louisa Dorset like to hold a dance party for the town's teenagers. It is an event that fills the parents and teenagers with dread. For months afterwards the party is said to give the girls nightmares and drive the boys to secrecy. Yet somehow the parents have come to view the party as some kind of rite of passage or badge of honor, and they don't want their children to have to explain why they didn't go.

On this particular dance party, Ned and Emily Meriwether decide to play a trick on the Dorsets. While waiting for Alfred to pick them up in his car, and with their parents out of view, Ned swaps places with the uninvited Tom Bascomb, the town's paperboy. As Alfred drives Tom and Emily to the party, Ned walks over to the Dorset's house by himself and slips in with the crowd.

At first the party goes as always. The Dorsets give the children a tour of their house and tell them about their upbringing—how they are orphans and don't get on with their other relatives. As the party moves into the drawing room for the dance, Ned sees his sister and Tom kissing. It is more than he can bear, and with everyone looking, he shouts out that Tom and Emily are brother and sister. Everyone laughs except for the Alfred and Louisa Dorset, who presume he is an intruder and lock him in their bathroom. Meanwhile Tom, telling Louisa that he is phoning the police, calls Ned and Emily's parents to tell them what has happened.

The Meriwethers arrive at the party, asking where their son Ned is. The Dorsets think he is with the other children, but of course he is locked up in their bathroom. They have mistaken him for Tom. When the Dorsets realize their mistake, they are horrified. They didn't think for minute that they could ever mistake a West Vesey boy for a paperboy.

Oh, we wouldn't make a mistake of that kind! People are different. It isn't something you can put your finger on, but it isn't the money.

At the end of the story, the reader learns that the Dorsets never gave another one of their parties again.

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