« НазадПродовжити »
By Edith Wharton
The question of that lady's reception had
for a month past profoundly moved the WEEKERS. BALLINGER is one of members of the Lunch Club. It was not
the ladies who pursue Cul- that they felt themselves unequal to the ture in bands, as though it task, but that their sense of the opportunity were dangerous to meet plunged them into the agreeable unceralone. To this end she had tainty of the lady who weighs the alterna
founded the Lunch Club, an tives of a well-stocked wardrobe. If such association composed of herself and several subsidiary members as Mrs. Leveret were other indomitable huntresses of erudition. fluttered by the thought of exchanging ideas The Lunch Club, after three or four winters with the author of “The Wings of Death," of lunching and debate, had acquired such no forebodings of the kind disturbed the local distinction that the entertainment of conscious adequacy of Mrs. Plinth, Mrs. distinguished strangers became one of its Ballinger and Miss Van Vluyck. “The accepted functions; in recognition of which Wings of Death" had, in fact, at Miss Van it duly extended to the celebrated “Osric Vluyck's suggestion, been chosen as the Dane," on the day of her arrival in Hill- subject of discussion at the last club meetbridge, an invitation to be present at the ing, and each member had thus been ennext meeting.
abled to express her own opinion or to The Club was to meet at Mrs. Ballinger's. appropriate whatever seemed most likely to The other members, behind her back, were be of use in the comments of the others. of one voice in deploring her unwillingness Mrs. Roby alone had abstained from profitto cede her rights in favor of Mrs. Plinth, ing by the opportunity thus offered; but it whose house made a more impressive set was now openly recognised that, as a memting for the entertainment of celebrities; ber of the Lunch Club, Mrs. Roby was while, as Mrs. Leveret observed, there was a failure. “It all comes," as Miss Van always the picture gallery to fall back on. Vluyck put it, “of accepting a woman on a
Mrs. Plinth made no secret of sharing man's estimation.” Mrs. Roby, returning this view. She had always regarded it as to Hillbridge from a prolonged sojourn in one of her obligations to entertain the exotic regions—the other ladies no longer Lunch Club's distinguished guests. Mrs. took the trouble to remember where—had Plinth was almost as proud of her obliga- been emphatically commended by the distions as she was of her picture-gallery; she tinguished biologist, Professor Foreland, was in fact fond of implying that the one as the most agreeable woman he had ever possession implied the other, and that only met; and the members of the Lunch Club, a woman of her wealth could afford to live awed by an encomium that carried the up to a standard as high as that which she weight of a diploma, and rashly assumhad set herself. An all-round sense of duty, ing that the Professor's social sympathies roughly adaptable to various ends, was, in would follow the line of his scientific bent, her opinion, all that Providence exacted of had seized the chance of annexing a biothe more humbly stationed; but the power logical member. Their disillusionment which had predestined Mrs. Plinth to keep was complete. At Miss Van Vluyck's footmen clearly intended her to maintain an first off-hand mention of the pterodactyl equally specialized staff of responsibilities. Mrs. Roby had confusedly murmured: “I It was the more to be regretted that Mrs. know so little about metres—” and after Ballinger, whose obligations to society were that painful betrayal of incompetence she bounded by the narrow scope of two parlour- had prudently withdrawn from farther maids, should have been so tenacious of the participation in the mental gymnastics of right to entertain Osric Dane.
· "I suppose she flattered him," Miss Van “He amuses me.” Vluyck summed up—"or else it's the way. “Amusement,” said Mrs. Plinth sentenshe does her hair."
i tiously, “is hardly what I look for in my The dimensions of Miss Van Vluyck's choice of books.” dining-room having restricted the member-' “Oh, certainly, ‘The Wings of Death' ship of the club to six, the non-conductive- is not amusing," ventured Mrs. Leveret, ness of one member was a serious obstacle whose manner of putting forth an opinion to the exchange of ideas, and some wonder was like that of an obliging salesman with had already been expressed that Mrs. Roby a variety of other styles to submit if his first should care to live, as it were, on the in- selection does not suit. .. tellectual bounty of the others. This “Was it meant to be?” enquired Mrs. feeling was augmented by the discovery Plinth, who was fond, of asking questions that she had not yet read “The Wings of that she permitted, no one but herself to Death.” She owned to having heard the answer. “Assuredly not.” . . name of Osric Dane; but that—incredi- “Assuredly not—that is what I was goble as it appeared—was the extent of her ing to say," assented Mrs. Leveret, hastily acquaintance with the celebrated novelist. rolling up her opinion and reaching for anThe ladies could not conceal their surprise, other. “It was meant to-to elevate.” but Mrs. Ballinger, whose pride in the club Miss Van Vluyck adjusted her spectacles made her wish to put even Mrs. Roby in as though they were the black cap of the best possible light, gently insinuated condemnation. “I hardly see," she interthat, though she had not had time to ac- posed,“how a book steeped in the bitterest quaint herself with “The Wings of Death,” pessimism can be said to elevate, however she must at least be familiar with its equally much it may instruct." remarkable predecessor, “The Supreme “I meant, of course, to instruct,” said Instant."
Mrs. Leveret, flurried by the unexpected Mrs. Roby wrinkled her sunny brows in distinction between two terms which she a conscientious effort of memory, as a had supposed to be synonymous. Mrs. result of which she recalled that, oh, yes, Leveret's enjoyment of the Lunch Club she had seen the book at her brother's, was frequently marred by such surprises; when she was staying with him in Brazil, and not knowing her own value to the other and had even carried it off to read one day ladies as a mirror for their mental comon a boating party; but they had all got placency she was sometimes troubled by a to shying things at each other in the boat, doubt of her worthiness to join in their deand the book had gone overboard, so she bates. It was only the fact of having a had never had the chance
dull sister who thought her clever that saved The picture evoked by this anecdote did her from a sense of hopeless inferiority. not advance Mrs. Roby's credit with the “Do they get married in the end?” Mrs. club, and there was a painful pause, which Roby interposed. was broken by Mrs. Plinth's remarking: “They—who?” the Lunch Club collec“I can understand that, with all your other tively exclaimed. pursuits, you should not find much time “Why, the girl and man. It's a novel, for reading; but I should have thought you isn't it? I always think that's the one might at least have got up ‘The Wings of thing that matters. If they're parted it Death' before Osric Dane's arrival.” spoils my dinner.”
Mrs. Roby took this rebuke good- Mrs. Plinth and Mrs. Ballinger exhumouredly. She had meant, she owned, changed scandalised glances, and the to glance through the book; but she had latter said: “I should hardly advise you to been so absorbed in a novel of Trollope's read “The Wings of Death, in that spirit. that
For my part, when there are so many books “No one reads Trollope now," Mrs. Bal- that one has to read, I wonder how any linger interrupted impatiently.
one can find time for those that are merely Mrs. Roby looked pained. “I'm only amusing.” just beginning,” she confessed.
“The beautiful part of it,” Laura Glyde "And does he interest you?” Mrs. Plinth murmured, “is surely just this—that no one enquired.
can tell how "The Wings of Death ends. Vol. L.-64
Osric Dane, overcome by the dread signifi- It was the kind of question that might be cance of her own meaning, has mercifully termed out of order, and the ladies glanced veiled it-perhaps even from herself—as at each other as though disclaiming any Apelles, in representing the sacrifice of share in such a breach of discipline. They Iphigenia, veiled the face of Agamemnon." all knew that there was nothing Mrs. Plinth
“What's that? Is it poetry?” whispered so much disliked as being asked her opinion Mrs. Leveret nervously to Mrs. Plinth, of a book. Books were written to read; if who, disdaining a definite reply, said coldly: one read them what more could be ex“You should look it up. I always make it pected? To be questioned in detail rea point to look things up." Her tone added garding the contents of a volume seemed
-"though I might easily have it done for to her as great an outrage as being searched me by the footman."
for smuggled laces at the Custom House. “I was about to say,” Miss Van Vluyck The club had always respected this idioresumed, "that it must always be a ques- syncrasy of Mrs. Plinth's. Such opinions tion whether a book can instruct unless it as she had were imposing and substantial: elevates.”
her mind, like her house, was furnished "Oh-" murmured Mrs. Leveret, now with monumental “pieces" that were not feeling herself hopelessly astray.
meant to be suddenly disarranged; and it “I don't know," said Mrs. Ballinger, was one of the unwritten rules of the scenting in Miss Van Vluyck's tone a ten- Lunch Club that, within her own province, dency to depreciate the coveted distinction each member's habits of thought should be of entertaining Osric Dane; “I don't know respected. The meeting therefore closed that such a question can seriously be raised with an increased sense, on the part of the as to a book which has attracted more at- other ladies, of Mrs. Roby's hopeless untention among thoughtful people than any fitness to be one of them. novel since Robert Elsmere.'” “Oh, but don't you see,” exclaimed .
II Laura Glyde, “that it's just the dark hopelessness of it all—the wonderful tone- Mrs. LEVERET, on the eventful day, had scheme of black on black—that makes it arrived early at Mrs. Ballinger's, her such an artistic achievement? It reminded volume of Appropriate Allusions in her me so when I read it of Prince Rupert's pocket. manière noire ... the book is etched, not It always flustered Mrs. Leveret to be late painted, yet one feels the colour-values so at the Lunch Club: she liked to collect her intensely ..."
thoughts and gather a hint, as the others “Who is he?” Mrs. Leveret whispered assembled, of the turn the conversation to her neighbour. “Some one she's met was likely to take. To-day, however, she abroad?”
felt herself completely at a loss; and even "The wonderful part of the book,” Mrs. the familiar contact of Appropriate AlluBallinger conceded, “is that it may be sions, which stuck into her as she sat looked at from so many points of view. I down, failed to give her any reassurance. hear that as a study of determinism Pro- It was an admirable little volume, comfessor Lupton ranks it with ‘The Data of piled to meet all the social emergencies; so Ethics.' "
that, whether on the occasion of Anniver“I'm told that Osric Dane spent ten saries, joyful or melancholy (as the classifiyears in preparatory studies before begin- cation ran), of Banquets, social or municining to write it,” said Mrs. Plinth. “She pal, or of Baptisms, Church of England or looks up everything—verifies everything. sectarian, its student need never be at a It has always been my principle, as you loss for a pertinent reference. Mrs. Leveret, know. Nothing would induce me, now, though she had for years devoutly conned to put aside a book before I'd finished it, its pages, valued it, however, rather for its just because I can buy as many more as I moral support than for its practical serwant."
vices; for though in the privacy of her own “And what do you think of 'The Wings room she commanded an army of quotaof Death'?” Mrs. Roby abruptly asked tions, these invariably deserted her at the
critical moment, and the only line she retained-Canst thou draw out leviathan with ocean steamer who is told that there is no a hook ?—was one she had never yet found immediate danger, but that she had better the occasion to apply.
put on her life-belt. To-day she felt that even the complete It was a relief to be roused from these mastery of the volume would hardly have forebodings by Miss Van Vluyck's arrival. insured her self-possession; for she thought “Well, my dear,” the new-comer briskly it probable that, even if she did, in some asked her hostess, “what subjects are we to miraculous way, remember an Allusion, it discuss to-day?" would be only to find that Osric Dane used Mrs. Ballinger was furtively replacing a a different volume (Mrs. Leveret was con- volume of Wordsworth by a copy of Vervinced that literary people always carried laine. “I hardly know,” she said somewhat them), and would consequently not recog- nervously. “Perhaps we had better leave nise her quotations.
that to circumstances.” Mrs. Leveret's sense of being adrift “Circumstances ?” said Miss Van Vluyck was intensified by the appearance of Mrs. drily. “That means, I suppose, that Ballinger's drawing-room. To a careless Laura Glyde will take the floor as usual, eye its aspect was unchanged; but those and we shall be deluged with literature.” acquainted with Mrs. Ballinger's way of Philanthropy and statistics were Miss arranging her books would instantly have Van Vluyck's province, and she naturally detected the marks of recent perturbation. resented any tendency to divert their Mrs. Ballinger's province, as a member of guest's attention from these topics. the Lunch Club, was the Book of the Day. Mrs. Plinth at this moment appeared. On that, whatever it was, from a novel “Literature?” she protested in a tone of to a treatise on experimental psychology, remonstrance. “But this is perfectly unshe was confidently, authoritatively “up." expected. I understood we were to talk What became of last year's books, or last of Osric Dane's novel.” week's even; what she did with the "sub- Mrs. Ballinger winced at the discrimijects” she had previously professed with nation, but let it pass. “We can hardly equal authority; no one had ever yet dis- make that our chief subject—at least not covered. Her mind was an hotel where too intentionally," she suggested. “Of facts came and went like transient lodgers, course we can let our talk drift in that diwithout leaving their address behind, and rection; but we ought to have some other frequently without paying for their board. topic as an introduction, and that is what I It was Mrs. Ballinger's boast that she was wanted to consult you about. The fact is, “abreast with the Thought of the Day,” we know so little of Osric Dane's tastes and and her pride that this advanced posi- interests that it is difficult to make any tion should be expressed by the books on special preparation.” her drawing-room table. These volumes, “It may be difficult," said Mrs. Plinth frequently renewed, and almost always with decision, “but it is absolutely necesdamp from the press, bore names gener- sary. I know what that happy-go-lucky ally unfamiliar to Mrs. Leveret, and giving principle leads to. As I told one of my her, as she furtively scanned them, a dis- nieces the other day, there are certain emerheartening glimpse of new fields of knowl- gencies for which a lady should always be edge to be breathlessly traversed in Mrs. prepared. It's in shocking taste to wear Ballinger's wake. But to-day a number colours when one pays a visit of condolence, of maturer-looking volumes were adroitly or a last year's dress when there are reports mingled with the primeurs of the press that one's husband is on the wrong side of Karl Marx jostled Professor Bergson, and the market; and so it is with conversation. the “Confessions of St. Augustine” lay All I ask is that I should know beforehand beside the last work on “Mendelism"; so what is to be talked about; then I feel sure that even to Mrs. Leveret's fluttered per- of being able to say the proper thing." ceptions it was clear that Mrs. Ballinger “I quite agree with you,” Mrs. Ballinger didn't in the least know what Osric Dane anxiously assented; "but— ". was likely to talk about, and had taken And at that instant, heralded by the flutmeasures to be prepared for anything. tered parlour-maid, Osric Dane appeared Mrs. Leveret felt like a passenger on an upon the threshold.
Mrs. Leveret told her sister afterward Mrs. Plinth's constitutional dislike to that she had known at a glance what was being questioned was intensified by her coming. She saw that Osric Dane was not sense of unpreparedness; and her regoing to meet them half way. That dis- proachful glance passed the question on to tinguished personage had indeed entered Mrs. Ballinger. with an air of compulsion not calculated “Why," said that lady, glancing in turn to promote the easy exercise of hospitality. at the other members, “as a community I She looked as though she were about to hope it is not too much to say that we stand be photographed for a new edition of her for culture.” books.
“For art—" Miss Glyde eagerly interThe desire to propitiate a divinity is gen- jected. erally in inverse ratio to its responsiveness, “For art and literature,” Mrs. Ballinger and the sense of discouragement produced emended. by Osric Dane's entrance visibly increased “And for sociology, I trust,” snapped the Lunch Club's eagerness to please her. Miss Van Vluyck. Any lingering idea that she might con- “We have a standard,” said Mrs. Plinth, sider herself under an obligation to her feeling herself suddenly secure on the vast entertainers was at once dispelled by her expanse of a generalisation: and Mrs. manner: as Mrs. Leveret said afterward Leveret, thinking there must be room for to her sister, she had a way of looking at more than one on so broad a statement, you that made you feel as if there was took courage to murmur: “Oh, certainly; something wrong with your hat. This we have a standard." evidence of greatness produced such an “The object of our little club,” Mrs. immediate impression on the ladies that a Ballinger continued, “is to concentrate the shudder of awe ran through them when highest tendencies of Hillbridge—to cenMrs. Roby, as their hostess led the great tralise and focus its complex intellectual personage into the dining-room, turned effort." back to whisper to the others: “What a This was felt to be so happy that the brute she is!”
ladies drew an almost audible breath of The hour about the table did not tend relief. to correct this verdict. It was passed by “We aspire,” the President went on, "to Osric Dane in the silent deglutition of Mrs. stand for what is highest in art, literature Ballinger's menu, and by the members of and ethics." the Club in the emission of tentative plati- Osric Dane again turned to her. “What tudes which their guest seemed to swallow ethics?” she asked. as perfunctorily as the successive courses A tremor of apprehension encircled the of the luncheon.
room. None of the ladies required any Mrs. Ballinger's deplorable delay in fix- preparation to pronounce on a question of ing a topic had thrown the Club into a men- morals; but when they were called ethics tal disarray which increased with the return it was different. The club, when fresh to the drawing-room, where the actual busi- from the “Encyclopædia Britannica,” the ness of discussion was to open. Each lady“Reader's Handbook" or Smith's “Classwaited for the other to speak; and there ical Dictionary,” could deal confidently was a general shock of disappointment with any subject; but when taken unwhen their hostess opened the conversation awares it had been known to define agnosby the painfully commonplace inquiry: ticism as a heresy of the Early Church and “Is this your first visit to Hillbridge?” Professor Froude as a distinguished his
Even Mrs. Leveret was conscious that tologist; and such minor members as Mrs. this was a bad beginning; and a vague Leveret still secretly regarded ethics as impulse of deprecation made Miss Glyde something vaguely pagan. interject: “It is a very small place indeed.” Even to Mrs. Ballinger, Osric Dane's
Mrs. Plinth bristled. “We have a great question was unsettling, and there was a many representative people,” she said, in general sense of gratitude when Laura the tone of one who speaks for her order. Glyde leaned forward to say, with her most
Osric Dane turned to her thoughtfully. sympathetic accent: “You must excuse us, “What do they represent?" she asked. Mrs. Dane, for not being able, just at