Dear Miss Manners:

I mistakenly left my front door unlocked one Saturday afternoon when my older children were out for a few hours, the younger ones were napping, and my husband and I were enjoying some rare time alone with each other.

I heard the doorbell ring and decided not to get it because our time was important. Imagine my horror when I heard a friend walk right into my house after about one minute on the porch and begin calling for me.

I ended up going downstairs to have a visit for about one hour until my children came home. My husband says I did the only thing I could do in this situation, but I find myself feeling very angry with my friend for her rudeness in walking right in and not calling first. I am also angry with myself for allowing her to ruin my precious time alone with my husband and allowing her to dictate my time, home and privacy.

Shy of coming down the stairs naked and flushed, how does one handle this without being equally as rude?

Can't you tell these people that if you and your husband wanted to abandon all hope of privacy and have people wandering around your house whenever they like, you would have had children?

Oops, you did have children. A number of them, Miss Manners gathers. And went to a lot of trouble to get them properly occupied, only to have a nonresident grown-up making herself at home and clamoring for Mother to drop what she's doing and pay attention to her.

Politeness does not require you to comply. It was self-sacrificing (not to mention husband-sacrificing) of you to do so, but it sets a bad example. Having made your friend welcome as a drop-in guest, you had better make certain that you never again leave the door unlocked.

What you could have done when caught was to call down in an alarmed voice, "Oh, it's you! I thought a stranger had broken into the house. What's wrong? Is it an emergency?"

This makes the point that her visit constitutes housebreaking, and that the only excuse would have been to warn you that the house was on fire. You need not even have gone downstairs, garbed or ungarbed. A quick "Sorry, I'm busy--can you let yourself out and phone me later?" would be a proper response to an improper action.

Miss Manners is glad you resisted the temptation to embarrass the intruder by making clear what she had interrupted. When people are as cheeky as your visitor, you can't be sure that they wouldn't enjoy the drama and drop by again for another show.

Dear Miss Manners:

When invited for coffee, do you bring cake? When invited for dinner, do you bring dessert? Wine? Cake?

A friend of mine brings cake or dessert only when invited for dinner. I bring it when I'm invited to either. Please clear up the proper thing for us to do.

The proper thing is to eat what your hosts have to offer, and to offer them refreshment in your own home at a later date.

Showing up with an unannounced dessert is a rare instance of generosity's actually being impolite. You don't save your hosts any trouble because they've already had to make a dessert, and you embarrass them into thinking that they must substitute or add yours, although they don't.

Now, now. Miss Manners doesn't want to chastise you for trying to be nice. You can certainly offer in advance to bring something if you know the hosts well and understand that this is no substitute for reciprocating their hospitality, and you can always bring a present suitable for them to enjoy after you are gone.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.