How hard it is to know what will please.

In the British magazine, The Spectator, editor Alexander Chancellor comments in the visitors' book:

"I was surprised by how many people were obsessed with the church's smell; I sniffed around but could not find nothing unusual. However, I read several entries saying things like 'Smells lovely,' 'Smells beautiful,' before coming across the reason for all this excitement; 'Smells of Pledge.'"

Things that smell good are better than things that do not, and though it never would have occurred to me that people might wax ecstatic about lemon-scented Pledge, parties do benefit from the use of common scents.

We are not talking about the kind of scent that makes people shout from across the street, "What perfume are you wearing?" but gentle orders that barely make themselves known.

Bowls of potpourri are like that. Stir up their faint fragance just before guests arrive, or burn a cone of incense or put scented soaps in all the bathrooms.

Flowers, too, though hybridizing has left too many of them with no smell at all. Regardless of the season, the florist usually can provide carnations or, if you're rich and extravagant, roses, or bowls of narcissi forced from bulbs. And there are candles that give off wisps of bayberry or cinnamon or vanilla.

An ordinary woodfire smells wonderful (assuming you have not lit it with the draft closed), but you also can toss in wood chips of apple or cedar.

And then, overall, there is the smell of dinner.

Or perhaps there is not. One woman too busy to do more than feed people wine and cheese, provides the smells she associates with proper entertaining by throwing a handful of cloves and cinnamon sticks into a pot of boiling water on the back of the stove. Enough wine and her friends depart, hugging their bellies, convinced they have had wine, cheese and raisin cookies, or wine, cheese and apple pie.

In similar deceptive fashion, a friend who can't bake buys frozen loaves at the supermarket and lets them rise endlessly in her oven. Too tasteless to eat, they nevertheless fill the house with the rich smell of homemade bread while her guests eat bakery loaves.

Making a room smell good may not seem worth such trouble, and I confess to being obsessive on the subject. I once absentmindedly fed every plant in the house a large dose of fish fertilizer on a day when a great many people were coming for dinner.

The party was notable for a number of reasons guests offered for having to leave early.