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Title: Xingu - 1916
Author: Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Xingu - 1916" ***

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By Edith Wharton

Copyright, 1916, By Charles Scribner's Sons


Mrs. Ballinger is one of the ladies who pursue Culture in bands, as
though it were dangerous to meet alone. To this end she had founded
the Lunch Club, an association composed of herself and several other
indomitable huntresses of erudition. The Lunch Club, after three or four
winters of lunching and debate, had acquired such local distinction that
the entertainment of distinguished strangers became one of its accepted
functions; in recognition of which it duly extended to the celebrated
"Osric Dane," on the day of her arrival in Hillbridge, an invitation to
be present at the next meeting.

The club was to meet at Mrs. Bellinger's. The other members, behind
her back, were of one voice in deploring her unwillingness to cede
her rights in favor of Mrs. Plinth, whose house made a more impressive
setting for the entertainment of celebrities; while, as Mrs. Leveret
observed, there was always the picture-gallery to fall back on.

Mrs. Plinth made no secret of sharing this view. She had always regarded
it as one of her obligations to entertain the Lunch Club's distinguished
guests. Mrs. Plinth was almost as proud of her obligations as she was
of her picture-gallery; she was in fact fond of implying that the one
possession implied the other, and that only a woman of her wealth
could afford to live up to a standard as high as that which she had set
herself. An all-round sense of duty, roughly adaptable to various ends,
was, in her opinion, all that Providence exacted of the more humbly
stationed; but the power which had predestined Mrs. Plinth to keep a
footman clearly intended her to maintain an equally specialized staff of
responsibilities. It was the more to be regretted that Mrs. Ballinger,
whose obligations to society were bounded by the narrow scope of two
parlour-maids, should have been so tenacious of the right to entertain
Osric Dane.

The question of that lady's reception had for a month past profoundly
moved the members of the Lunch Club. It was not that they felt
themselves unequal to the task, but that their sense of the opportunity
plunged them into the agreeable uncertainty of the lady who weighs the
alternatives of a well-stocked wardrobe. If such subsidiary members as
Mrs. Leveret were fluttered by the thought of exchanging ideas with the
author of "The Wings of Death," no forebodings disturbed the conscious
adequacy of Mrs. Plinth, Mrs. Ballinger and Miss Van Vluyck. "The Wings
of Death" had, in fact, at Miss Van Vluyck's suggestion, been chosen as
the subject of discussion at the last club meeting, and each member had
thus been enabled to express her own opinion or to appropriate whatever
sounded well in the comments of the others.

Mrs. Roby alone had abstained from profiting by the opportunity; but it
was now openly recognised that, as a member of the Lunch Club, Mrs. Roby
was a failure. "It all comes," as Miss Van Vluyck put it, "of accepting
a woman on a man's estimation." Mrs. Roby, returning to Hillbridge from
a prolonged sojourn in exotic lands--the other ladies no longer took
the trouble to remember where--had been heralded by the distinguished
biologist, Professor Foreland, as the most agreeable woman he had ever
met; and the members of the Lunch Club, impressed by an encomium
that carried the weight of a diploma, and rashly assuming that the
Professor's social sympathies would follow the line of his professional
bent, had seized the chance of annexing a biological member. Their
disillusionment was complete. At Miss Van Vluyck's first off-hand
mention of the pterodactyl Mrs. Roby had confusedly murmured: "I know so
little about metres--" and after that painful betrayal of incompetence
she had prudently withdrawn from farther participation in the mental
gymnastics of the club.

"I suppose she flattered him," Miss Van Vluyck summed up--"or else it's
the way she does her hair."

The dimensions of Miss Van Vluyck's dining-room having restricted the
membership of the club to six, the nonconductiveness of one member was
a serious obstacle to the exchange of ideas, and some wonder had already
been expressed that Mrs. Roby should care to live, as it were, on the
intellectual bounty of the others. This feeling was increased by the
discovery that she had not yet read "The Wings of Death." She owned
to having heard the name of Osric Dane; but that--incredible as it
appeared--was the extent of her acquaintance with the celebrated
novelist. The ladies could not conceal their surprise; but Mrs.
Ballinger, whose pride in the club made her wish to put even Mrs. Roby
in the best possible light, gently insinuated that, though she had not
had time to acquaint herself with "The Wings of Death," she must at
least be familiar with its equally remarkable predecessor, "The Supreme

Mrs. Roby wrinkled her sunny brows in a conscientious effort of memory,
as a result of which she recalled that, oh, yes, she _had_ seen the book
at her brother's, when she was staying with him in Brazil, and had even
carried it off to read one day on a boating party; but they had all
got to shying things at each other in the boat, and the book had gone
overboard, so she had never had the chance--

The picture evoked by this anecdote did not increase Mrs. Roby's credit
with the club, and there was a painful pause, which was broken by Mrs.
Plinth's remarking:

"I can understand that, with all your other pursuits, you should not
find much time for reading; but I should have thought you might at least
have _got up_ 'The Wings of Death' before Osric Dane's arrival."

Mrs. Roby took this rebuke good-humouredly. She had meant, she owned,
to glance through the book; but she had been so absorbed in a novel of
Trollope's that--

"No one reads Trollope now," Mrs. Ballinger interrupted.

Mrs. Roby looked pained. "I'm only just beginning," she confessed.

"And does he interest you?" Mrs. Plinth enquired.

"He amuses me."

"Amusement," said Mrs. Plinth, "is hardly what I look for in my choice
of books."

"Oh, certainly, 'The Wings of Death' is not amusing," ventured Mrs.
Leveret, whose manner of putting forth an opinion was like that of an
obliging salesman with a variety of other styles to submit if his first
selection does not suit.

"Was it _meant_ to be?" enquired Mrs. Plinth, who was fond of asking
questions that she permitted no one but herself to answer. "Assuredly

"Assuredly not--that is what I was going to say," assented Mrs. Leveret,
hastily rolling up her opinion and reaching for another. "It was meant
to--to elevate."

Miss Van Vluyck adjusted her spectacles as though they were the black
cap of condemnation. "I hardly see," she interposed, "how a book steeped
in the bitterest pessimism can be said to elevate however much it may

"I meant, of course, to instruct," said Mrs. Leveret, flurried by the
unexpected distinction between two terms which she had supposed to be
synonymous. Mrs. Leveret's enjoyment of the Lunch Club was frequently
marred by such surprises; and not knowing her own value to the other
ladies as a mirror for their mental complacency she was sometimes
troubled by a doubt of her worthiness to join in their debates. It was
only the fact of having a dull sister who thought her clever that saved
her, from a sense of hopeless inferiority.

"Do they get married in the end?" Mrs. Roby interposed.

"They--who?" the Lunch Club collectively exclaimed.

"Why, the girl and man. It's a novel, isn't it? I always think that's
the one thing that matters. If they're parted it spoils my dinner."

Mrs. Plinth and Mrs. Ballinger exchanged scandalised glances, and the
latter said: "I should hardly advise you to read 'The Wings of Death'
in that spirit. For my part, when there are so many books one _has_
to read; I wonder how any one can find time for those that are merely

"The beautiful part of it," Laura Glyde murmured, "is surely just
this--that no one can tell how 'The Wings of Death' ends. Osric Dane,
overcome by the awful significance of her own meaning, has mercifully
veiled it--perhaps even from herself--as Apelles, in representing the
sacrifice of Iphigenia, veiled the face or Agamemnon."

"What's that? Is it poetry?" whispered Mrs. Leveret to Mrs. Plinth,
who, disdaining a definite reply, said coldly: "You should look it up.
I always make it a point to look things up." Her tone added--"though I
might easily have it done for me by the footman."

"I was about to say," Miss Van Vluyck resumed, "that it must always be a
question whether a book _can_ instruct unless it elevates."

"Oh--" murmured Mrs. Leveret, now feeling herself hopelessly astray.

"I don't know," said Mrs. Ballinger, scenting in Miss Van Vluyck's tone
a tendency to depreciate the coveted distinction of entertaining Osric
Dane; "I don't know that such a question can seriously be raised as to a
book which has attracted more attention among thoughtful people than any
novel since 'Robert Elsmere.'"

"Oh, but don't you see," exclaimed Laura Glyde, "that it's just the
dark hopelessness of it all--the wonderful tone-scheme of black on
black--that makes it such an artistic achievement? It reminded me when
I read it of Prince Rupert's _manière noire_...the book is etched, not
painted, yet one feels the colour-values so intensely...."

"Who is he?" Mrs. Leveret whispered to her neighbour. "Some one she's
met abroad?"

"The wonderful part of the book," Mrs. Bellinger conceded, "is that it
may be looked at from so many points of view. I hear that as a study of
determinism Professor Lupton ranks it with 'The Data of Ethics.'"

"I'm told that Osric Dane spent ten years in preparatory studies
before beginning to write it," said Mrs. Plinth. "She looks up
everything--verifies everything. It has always been my principle, as
you know. Nothing would induce me, now, to put aside a book before I'd
finished it, just because I can buy as many more as I want."

"And what do _you_ think of 'The Wings of Death'?" Mrs. Roby abruptly
asked her.

It was the kind of question that might be termed out of order, and the
ladies glanced at each other as though disclaiming any share in such
a breach of discipline. They all knew there was nothing Mrs. Plinth so
much disliked as being asked her opinion of a book. Books were written
to read; if one read them what more could be expected? To be questioned
in detail regarding the contents of a volume seemed to her as great an
outrage as being searched for smuggled laces at the Custom House. The
club had always respected this idiosyncrasy of Mrs. Plinth's. Such
opinions as she had were imposing and substantial: her mind, like her
house, was furnished with monumental "pieces" that were not meant to
be disarranged; and it was one of the unwritten rules of the Lunch Club
that, within her own province, each member's habits of thought should be
respected. The meeting therefore closed with an increased sense, on the
part of the other ladies, of Mrs. Roby's hopeless unfitness to be one of


Mrs. Leveret, on the eventful day, arrived early at Mrs. Ballinger's,
her volume of Appropriate Allusions in her pocket.

It always flustered Mrs. Leveret to be late at the Lunch Club: she liked
to collect her thoughts and gather a hint, as the others assembled, of
the turn the conversation was likely to take. To-day, however, she
felt herself completely at a loss; and even the familiar contact of
Appropriate Allusions, which stuck into her as she sat down, failed to
give her any reassurance. It was an admirable little volume, compiled
to meet all the social emergencies; so that, whether on the occasion
of Anniversaries, joyful or melancholy (as the classification ran),
of Banquets, social or municipal, or of Baptisms, Church of England
or sectarian, its student need never be at a loss for a pertinent
reference. Mrs. Leveret, though she had for years devoutly conned its
pages, valued it, however, rather for its moral support than for its
practical services; for though in the privacy of her own room she
commanded an army of quotations, these invariably deserted her at the
critical moment, and the only phrase she retained--_Canst thou draw out
leviathan with a hook_?--was one she had never yet found occasion to

To-day she felt that even the complete mastery of the volume would
hardly have insured her self-possession; for she thought it probable
that, even if she _did_, in some miraculous way, remember an Allusion,
it would be only to find that Osric Dane used a different volume (Mrs.
Leveret was convinced that literary people always carried them), and
would consequently not recognise her quotations.

Mrs. Leveret's sense of being adrift was intensified by the appearance
of Mrs. Ballinger's drawing-room. To a careless eye its aspect was
unchanged; but those acquainted with Mrs. Ballinger's way of
arranging her books would instantly have detected the marks of recent
perturbation. Mrs. Ballinger's province, as a member of the Lunch Club,
was the Book of the Day. On that, whatever it was, from a novel to
a treatise on experimental psychology, she was confidently,
authoritatively "up." What became of last year's books, or last week's
even; what she did with the "subjects" she had previously professed with
equal authority; no one had ever yet discovered. 'Her mind was an hotel
where facts came and went like transient lodgers, without leaving their
address behind, and frequently without paying for their board. It was
Mrs. Ballinger's boast that she was "abreast with the Thought of the
Day," and her pride that this advanced position should be expressed by
the books on her table. These volumes, frequently renewed, and almost
always damp from the press, bore names generally unfamiliar to Mrs.
Leveret, and giving her, as she furtively scanned them, a disheartening
glimpse of new fields of knowledge to be breathlessly traversed in Mrs.
Ballinger's wake. But to-day a number of maturer-looking volumes were
adroitly mingled with the _primeurs_ of the press--Karl Marx jostled
Professor Bergson, and the "Confessions of St. Augustine" lay beside
the last work on "Mendelism"; so that even to Mrs. Leveret's fluttered
perceptions it was clear that Mrs. Ballinger didn't in the least know
what Osric Dane was likely to talk about, and had taken measures to be
prepared for anything. Mrs. Leveret felt like a passenger on an ocean
steamer who is told that there is no immediate danger, but that she had
better put on her life-belt.

It was a relief to be roused from these forebodings by Miss Van Vluyck's

"Well, my dear," the new-comer briskly asked her hostess, "what subjects
are we to discuss to-day?"

Mrs. Ballinger was furtively replacing a volume of Wordsworth by a copy
of Verlaine. "I hardly know," she said, somewhat nervously. "Perhaps we
had better leave that to circumstances."

"Circumstances?" said Miss Van Vluyck drily. "That means, I suppose,
that Laura Glyde will take the floor as usual, and we shall be deluged
with literature."

Philanthropy and statistics were Miss Van Vluyck's province, and she
resented any tendency to divert their guest's attention from these

Mrs. Plinth at this moment appeared.

"Literature?" she protested in a tone of remonstrance. "But this is
perfectly unexpected. I understood we were to talk of Osric Dane's

Mrs. Ballinger winced at the discrimination, but let it pass. "We can
hardly make that our chief subject--at least not _too_ intentionally,"
she suggested. "Of course we can let our talk _drift_ in that direction;
but we ought to have some other topic as an introduction, and that is
what I wanted to consult you about. The fact is, we know so little
of Osric Dane's tastes and interests that it is difficult to make any
special preparation."

"It may be difficult," said Mrs. Plinth with decision, "but it is
necessary. I know what that happy-go-lucky principle leads to. As I told
one of my nieces the other day, there are certain emergencies for which
a lady should always be prepared. It's in shocking taste to wear colours
when one pays a visit of condolence, or a last year's dress when there
are reports that one's husband is on the wrong side of the market; and
so it is with conversation. All I ask is that I should know beforehand
what is to be talked about; then I feel sure of being able to say the
proper thing."

"I quite agree with you," Mrs. Ballinger assented; "but--"

And at that instant, heralded by the fluttered parlourmaid, Osric Dane
appeared upon the threshold.

Mrs. Leveret told her sister afterward that she had known at a glance
what was coming. She saw that Osric Dane was not going to meet them
half way. That distinguished personage had indeed entered with an air of
compulsion not calculated to promote the easy exercise of hospitality.
She looked as though she were about to be photographed for a new edition
of her books.

The desire to propitiate a divinity is generally in inverse ratio to its
responsiveness, and the sense of discouragement produced by Osric Dane's
entrance visibly increased the Lunch Club's eagerness to please her. Any
lingering idea that she might consider herself under an obligation to
her entertainers was at once dispelled by her manner: as Mrs. Leveret
said afterward to her sister, she had a way of looking at you that made
you feel as if there was something wrong with your hat. This evidence
of greatness produced such an immediate impression on the ladies that a
shudder of awe ran through them when Mrs. Roby, as their hostess led
the great personage into the dining-room, turned back to whisper to the
others: "What a brute she is!"

The hour about the table did not tend to revise this verdict. It was
passed by Osric Dane in the silent deglutition of Mrs. Bollinger's menu,
and by the members of the club in the emission of tentative platitudes
which their guest seemed to swallow as perfunctorily as the successive
courses of the luncheon.

Mrs. Ballinger's reluctance to fix a topic had thrown the club into a
mental disarray which increased with the return to the drawing-room,
where the actual business of discussion was to open. Each lady waited
for the other to speak; and there was a general shock of disappointment
when their hostess opened the conversation by the painfully commonplace
enquiry. "Is this your first visit to Hillbridge?"

Even Mrs. Leveret was conscious that this was a bad beginning; and a
vague impulse of deprecation made Miss Glyde interject: "It is a very
small place indeed."

Mrs. Plinth bristled. "We have a great many representative people," she
said, in the tone of one who speaks for her order.

Osric Dane turned to her. "What do they represent?" she asked.

Mrs. Plinth's constitutional dislike to being questioned was intensified
by her sense of unpreparedness; and her reproachful glance passed the
question on to Mrs. Ballinger.

"Why," said that lady, glancing in turn at the other members, "as a
community I hope it is not too much to say that we stand for culture."

"For art--" Miss Glyde interjected.

"For art and literature," Mrs. Ballinger emended.

"And for sociology, I trust," snapped Miss Van Vluyck.

"We have a standard," said Mrs. Plinth, feeling herself suddenly secure
on the vast expanse of a generalisation; and Mrs. Leveret, thinking
there must be room for more than one on so broad a statement, took
courage to murmur: "Oh, certainly; we have a standard."

"The object of our little club," Mrs. Ballinger continued, "is to
concentrate the highest tendencies of Hillbridge--to centralise and
focus its intellectual effort."

This was felt to be so happy that the ladies drew an almost audible
breath of relief.

"We aspire," the President went on, "to be in touch with whatever is
highest in art, literature and ethics."

Osric Dane again turned to her. "What ethics?" she asked.

A tremor of apprehension encircled the room. None of the ladies required
any preparation to pronounce on a question of morals; but when they
were called ethics it was different. The club, when fresh from
the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," the "Reader's Handbook" or Smith's
"Classical Dictionary," could deal confidently with any subject; but
when taken unawares it had been known to define agnosticism as a heresy
of the Early Church and Professor Froude as a distinguished histologist;
and such minor members as Mrs. Leveret still secretly regarded ethics as
something vaguely pagan.

Even to Mrs. Ballinger, Osric Dane's question was unsettling, and there
was a general sense of gratitude when Laura Glyde leaned forward to say,
with her most sympathetic accent: "You must excuse us, Mrs. Dane, for
not being able, just at present, to talk of anything but 'The Wings of

"Yes," said Miss Van Vluyck, with a sudden resolve to carry the war into
the enemy's camp. "We are so anxious to know the exact purpose you had
in mind in writing your wonderful book."

"You will find," Mrs. Plinth interposed, "that we are not superficial

"We are eager to hear from you," Miss Van Vluyck continued, "if
the pessimistic tendency of the book is an expression of your own
convictions or--"

"Or merely," Miss Glyde thrust in, "a sombre background brushed in
to throw your figures into more vivid relief. _Are_ you not primarily

"I have always maintained," Mrs. Ballinger interposed, "that you
represent the purely objective method--"

Osric Dane helped herself critically to coffee. "How do you define
objective?" she then enquired.

There was a flurried pause before Laura Glyde intensely murmured: "In
reading _you_ we don't define, we feel."

Otsric Dane smiled. "The cerebellum," she remarked, "is not infrequently
the seat of the literary emotions." And she took a second lump of sugar.

The sting that this remark was vaguely felt to conceal was almost
neutralised by the satisfaction of being addressed in such technical

"Ah, the cerebellum," said Miss Van Vluyck complacently. "The club took
a course in psychology last winter."

"Which psychology?" asked Osric Dane.

There was an agonising pause, during which each member of the club
secretly deplored the distressing inefficiency of the others. Only Mrs.
Roby went on placidly sipping her chartreuse. At last Mrs. Ballinger
said, with an attempt at a high tone: "Well, really, you know, it was
last year that we took psychology, and this winter we have been so
absorbed in--"

She broke off, nervously trying to recall some of the club's
discussions; but her faculties seemed to be paralysed by the petrifying
stare of Osric Dane. What _had_ the club been absorbed in? Mrs.
Ballinger, with a vague purpose of gaining time, repeated slowly: "We've
been so intensely absorbed in--"

Mrs. Roby put down her liqueur glass and drew near the group with a

"In Xingu?" she gently prompted.

A thrill ran through the other members. They exchanged confused
glances, and then, with one accord, turned a gaze of mingled relief
and interrogation on their rescuer. The expression of each denoted
a different phase of the same emotion. Mrs. Plinth was the first to
compose her features to an air of reassurance: after a moment's hasty
adjustment her look almost implied that it was she who had given the
word to Mrs. Ballinger.

"Xingu, of course!" exclaimed the latter with her accustomed promptness,
while Miss Van Vluyck and Laura Glyde seemed to be plumbing the depths
of memory, and Mrs. Leveret, feeling apprehensively for Appropriate
Allusions, was somehow reassured by the uncomfortable pressure of its
bulk against her person.

Osric Dane's change of countenance was no less striking than that of
her entertainers. She too put down her coffee-cup, but with a look of
distinct annoyance; she too wore, for a brief moment, what Mrs. Roby
afterward described as the look of feeling for something in the back
of her head; and before she could dissemble these momentary signs of
weakness, Mrs. Roby, turning to her with a deferential smile, had said:
"And we've been so hoping that to-day you would tell us just what you
think of it."

Osric Dane received the homage of the smile as a matter of course; but
the accompanying question obviously embarrassed her, and it became clear
to her observers that she was not quick at shifting her facial scenery.
It was as though her countenance had so long been set in an expression
of unchallenged superiority that the muscles had stiffened, and refused
to obey her orders.

"Xingu--" she said, as if seeking in her turn to gain time.

Mrs. Roby continued to press her. "Knowing how engrossing the subject
is, you will understand how it happens that the club has let everything
else go to the wall for the moment. Since we took up Xingu I might
almost say--were it not for your books--that nothing else seems to us
worth remembering."

Osric Dane's stern features were darkened rather than lit up by an
uneasy smile. "I am glad to hear that you make one exception," she gave
out between narrowed lips.

"Oh, of course," Mrs. Roby said prettily; "but as you have shown us
that--so very naturally!--you don't care to talk of your own things, we
really can't let you off from telling us exactly what you think about
Xingu; especially," she added, with a still more persuasive smile, "as
some people say that one of your last books was saturated with it."

It was an _it_, then--the assurance sped like fire through the parched
minds of the other members. In their eagerness to gain the least
little clue to Xingu they almost forgot the joy of assisting at the
discomfiture of Mrs. Dane.

The latter reddened nervously under her antagonist's challenge. "May I
ask," she faltered out, "to which of my books you refer?"

Mrs. Roby did not falter. "That's just what I want you to tell us;
because, though I was present, I didn't actually take part."

"Present at what?" Mrs. Dane took her up; and for an instant the
trembling members of the Lunch Club thought that the champion Providence
had raised up for them had lost a point. But Mrs. Roby explained herself
gaily: "At the discussion, of course. And so we're dreadfully anxious to
know just how it was that you went into the Xingu."

There was a portentous pause, a silence so big with incalculable dangers
that the members with one accord checked the words on their lips, like
soldiers dropping their arms to watch a single combat between their
leaders. Then Mrs. Dane gave expression to their inmost dread by saying
sharply: "Ah--you say _the_ Xingu, do you?"

Mrs. Roby smiled undauntedly. "It is a shade pedantic, isn't it?
Personally, I always drop the article; but I don't know how the other
members feel about it."

The other members looked as though they would willingly have dispensed
with this appeal to their opinion, and Mrs. Roby, after a bright glance
about the group, went on: "They probably think, as I do, that nothing
really matters except the thing itself--except Xingu."

No immediate reply seemed to occur to Mrs. Dane, and Mrs. Ballinger
gathered courage to say: "Surely every one must feel that about Xingu."

Mrs. Plinth came to her support with a heavy murmur of assent, and Laura
Glyde sighed out emotionally: "I have known cases where it has changed a
whole life."

"It has done me worlds of good," Mrs. Leveret interjected, seeming to
herself to remember that she had either taken it or read it the winter

"Of course," Mrs. Roby admitted, "the difficulty is that one must give
up so much time to it. It's very long."

"I can't imagine," said Miss Van Vluyck, "grudging the time given to
such a subject."

"And deep in places," Mrs. Roby pursued; (so then it was a book!) "And
it isn't easy to skip."

"I never skip," said Mrs. Plinth dogmatically.

"Ah, it's dangerous to, in Xingu. Even at the start there are places
where one can't. One must just wade through."

"I should hardly call it _wading_," said Mrs. Ballinger sarcastically.

Mrs. Roby sent her a look of interest. "Ah--you always found it went

Mrs. Ballinger hesitated. "Of course there are difficult passages," she

"Yes; some are not at all clear--even," Mrs. Roby added, "if one is
familiar with the original."

"As I suppose you are?" Osric Dane interposed, suddenly fixing her with
a look of challenge.

Mrs. Roby met it by a deprecating gesture. "Oh, it's really not
difficult up to a certain point; though some of the branches are very
little known, and it's almost impossible to get at the source."

"Have you ever tried?" Mrs. Plinth enquired, still distrustful of Mrs.
Roby's thoroughness.

Mrs. Roby was silent for a moment; then she replied with lowered lids:
"No--but a friend of mine did; a very brilliant man; and he told me it
was best for women--not to...."

A shudder ran around the room. Mrs. Leveret coughed so that the
parlour-maid, who was handing the cigarettes, should not hear; Miss Van
Vluyck's face took on a nauseated expression, and Mrs. Plinth looked as
if she were passing some one she did not care to bow to. But the most
remarkable result of Mrs. Roby's words was the effect they produced on
the Lunch Club's distinguished guest. Osric Dane's impassive features
suddenly softened to an expression of the warmest human sympathy, and
edging her chair toward Mrs. Roby's she asked: "Did he really? And--did
you find he was right?"

Mrs. Ballinger, in whom annoyance at Mrs. Roby's unwonted assumption
of prominence was beginning to displace gratitude for the aid she had
rendered, could not consent to her being allowed, by such dubious means,
to monopolise the attention of their guest. If Osric Dane had not enough
self-respect to resent Mrs. Roby's flippancy, at least the Lunch Club
would do so in the person of its President.

Mrs. Ballinger laid her hand on Mrs. Roby's arm. "We must not forget,"
she said with a frigid amiability, "that absorbing as Xingu is to _us_,
it may be less interesting to--"

"Oh, no, on the contrary, I assure you," Osric Dane intervened.

"--to others," Mrs. Ballinger finished firmly; "and we must not allow
our little meeting to end without persuading Mrs. Dane to say a few
words to us on a subject which, to-day, is much more present in all our
thoughts. I refer, of course, to 'The Wings of Death.'"

The other members, animated by various degrees of the same sentiment,
and encouraged by the humanised mien of their redoubtable guest,
repeated after Mrs. Ballinger: "Oh, yes, you really _must_ talk to us a
little about your book."

Osric Dane's expression became as bored, though not as haughty, as when
her work had been previously mentioned. But before she could respond
to Mrs. Ballinger's request, Mrs. Roby had risen from her seat, and was
pulling down her veil over her frivolous nose.

"I'm so sorry," she said, advancing toward her hostess with outstretched
hand, "but before Mrs. Dane begins I think I'd better run away.
Unluckily, as you know, I haven't read her books, so I should be at a
terrible disadvantage among you all, and besides, I've an engagement to
play bridge."

If Mrs. Roby had simply pleaded her ignorance of Osric Dane's works as
a reason for withdrawing, the Lunch Club, in view of her recent prowess,
might have approved such evidence of discretion; but to couple this
excuse with the brazen announcement that she was foregoing the privilege
for the purpose of joining a bridge-party was only one more instance of
her deplorable lack of discrimination.

The ladies were disposed, however, to feel that her departure--now
that she had performed the sole service she was ever likely to render
them--would probably make for greater order and dignity in the impending
discussion, besides relieving them of the sense of self-distrust which
her presence always mysteriously produced. Mrs. Ballinger therefore
restricted herself to a formal murmur of regret, and the other members
were just grouping themselves comfortably about Osric Dane when the
latter, to their dismay, started up from the sofa on which she had been

"Oh wait--do wait, and I'll go with you!" she called out to Mrs. Roby;
and, seizing the hands of the disconcerted members, she administered
a series of farewell pressures with the mechanical haste of a
railway-conductor punching tickets.

"I'm so sorry--I'd quite forgotten--" she flung back at them from the
threshold; and as she joined Mrs. Roby, who had turned in surprise at
her appeal, the other ladies had the mortification of hearing her say,
in a voice which she did not take the pains to lower: "If you'll let
me walk a little way with you, I should so like to ask you a few more
questions about Xingu...."


The incident had been so rapid that the door closed on the departing
pair before the other members had time to understand what was
happening. Then a sense of the indignity put upon them by Osric Dane's
unceremonious desertion began to contend with the confused feeling that
they had been cheated out of their due without exactly knowing how or

There was a silence, during which Mrs. Ballinger, with a perfunctory
hand, rearranged the skilfully grouped literature at which her
distinguished guest had not so much as glanced; then Miss Van Vluyck
tartly pronounced: "Well, I can't say that I consider Osric Dane's
departure a great loss."

This confession crystallised the resentment of the other members, and
Mrs. Leveret exclaimed: "I do believe she came on purpose to be nasty!"

It was Mrs. Plinth's private opinion that Osric Dane's attitude toward
the Lunch Club might have been very different had it welcomed her in the
majestic setting of the Plinth drawing-rooms; but not liking to reflect
on the inadequacy of Mrs. Ballinger's establishment she sought a
roundabout satisfaction in depreciating her lack of foresight.

"I said from the first that we ought to have had a subject ready. It's
what always happens when you're unprepared. Now if we'd only got up

The slowness of Mrs. Plinth's mental processes was always allowed for
by the club; but this instance of it was too much for Mrs. Ballinger's

"Xingu!" she scoffed. "Why, it was the fact of our knowing so much more
about it than she did--unprepared though we were--that made Osric Dane
so furious. I should have thought that was plain enough to everybody!"

This retort impressed even Mrs. Plinth, and Laura Glyde, moved by an
impulse of generosity, said: "Yes, we really ought to be grateful
to Mrs. Roby for introducing the topic. It may have made Osric Dane
furious, but at least it made her civil."

"I am glad we were able to show her," added Miss Van Vluyck, "that a
broad and up-to-date culture is not confined to the great intellectual

This increased the satisfaction of the other members, and they began
to forget their wrath against Osric Dane in the pleasure of having
contributed to her discomfiture.

Miss Van Vluyck thoughtfully rubbed her spectacles. "What surprised me
most," she continued, "was that Fanny Roby should be so up on Xingu."

This remark threw a slight chill on the company, but Mrs. Ballinger
said with an air of indulgent irony: "Mrs. Roby always has the knack of
making a little go a long way; still, we certainly owe her a debt for
happening to remember that she'd heard of Xingu." And this was felt by
the other members to be a graceful way of cancelling once for all the
club's obligation to Mrs. Roby.

Even Mrs. Leveret took courage to speed a timid shaft of irony. "I fancy
Osric Dane hardly expected to take a lesson in Xingu at Hillbridge!"

Mrs. Ballinger smiled. "When she asked me what we represented--do you
remember?--I wish I'd simply said we represented Xingu!"

All the ladies laughed appreciatively at this sally, except Mrs. Plinth,
who said, after a moment's deliberation: "I'm not sure it would have
been wise to do so."

Mrs. Ballinger, who was already beginning to feel as if she had
launched at Osric Dane the retort which had just occurred to her, turned
ironically on Mrs. Plinth. "May I ask why?" she enquired.

Mrs. Plinth looked grave. "Surely," she said, "I understood from Mrs.
Roby herself that the subject was one it was as well not to go into too

Miss Van Vluyck rejoined with precision: "I think that applied only to
an investigation of the origin of the--of the--"; and suddenly she found
that her usually accurate memory had failed her. "It's a part of the
subject I never studied myself/," she concluded.

"Nor I," said Mrs. Ballinger.

Laura Glyde bent toward them with widened eyes. "And yet it
seems--doesn't it?--the part that is fullest of an esoteric

"I don't know on what you base that," said Miss Van Vluyck

"Well, didn't you notice how intensely interested Osric Dane became as
soon as she heard what the brilliant foreigner--he _was_ a foreigner,
wasn't he?--had told Mrs. Roby about the origin--the origin of the
rite--or whatever you call it?"

Mrs. Plinth looked disapproving, and Mrs. Ballinger visibly wavered.
Then she said: "It may not be desirable to touch on the--on that part
of the subject in general conversation; but, from the importance it
evidently has to a woman of Osric Dane's distinction, I feel as if
we ought not to be afraid to discuss it among ourselves--without
gloves--though with closed doors, if necessary."

"I'm quite of your opinion," Miss Van Vluyck came briskly to her
support; "on condition, that is, that all grossness of language is

"Oh, I'm sure we shall understand without that," Mrs. Leveret tittered;
and Laura Glyde added significantly: "I fancy we can read between the
lines," while Mrs. Ballinger rose to assure herself that the doors
were really closed.

Mrs. Plinth had not yet given her adhesion. "I hardly see," she
began, "what benefit is to be derived from investigating such peculiar

But Mrs. Ballinger's patience had reached the extreme limit of tension.
"This at least," she returned; "that we shall not be placed again in the
humiliating position of finding ourselves less up on our own subjects
than Fanny Roby!"

Even to Mrs. Plinth this argument was conclusive. She peered furtively
about the room and lowered her commanding tones to ask: "Have you got a

"A--a copy?" stammered Mrs. Ballinger. She was aware that the other
members were looking at her expectantly, and that this answer was
inadequate, so she supported it by asking another question. "A copy of

Her companions bent their expectant gaze on Mrs. Plinth, who, in turn,
appeared less sure of herself than usual. "Why, of--of--the book," she

"What book?" snapped Miss Van Vluyck, almost as sharply as Osric Dane.

Mrs. Ballinger looked at Laura Glyde, whose eyes were interrogatively
fixed on Mrs. Leveret. The fact of being deferred to was so new to
the latter that it filled her with an insane temerity. "Why, Xingu, of
course!" she exclaimed.

A profound silence followed this challenge to the resources of Mrs.
Ballinger's library, and the latter, after glancing nervously toward the
Books of the Day, returned with dignity: "It's not a thing one cares to
leave about."

"I should think not!" exclaimed Mrs. Plinth.

"It _is_ a book, then?" said Miss Van Vluyck.

This again threw the company into disarray, and Mrs. Ballinger, with an
impatient sigh, rejoined: "Why--there _is_ a book--naturally...."

"Then why did Miss Glyde call it a religion?"

Laura Glyde started up. "A religion? I never--"

"Yes, you did," Miss Van Vluyck insisted; "you spoke of rites; and Mrs.
Plinth said it was a custom."

Miss Glyde was evidently making a desperate effort to recall her
statement; but accuracy of detail was not her strongest point. At length
she began in a deep murmur: "Surely they used to do something of the
kind at the Eleusinian mysteries--"

"Oh--" said Miss Van Vluyck, on the verge of disapproval; and Mrs.
Plinth protested: "I understood there was to be no indelicacy!"

Mrs. Ballinger could not control her irritation. "Really, it is too
bad that we should not be able to talk the matter over quietly among
ourselves. Personally, I think that if one goes into Xingu at all--"

"Oh, so do I!" cried Miss Glyde.

"And I don't see how one can avoid doing so, if one wishes to keep up
with the Thought of the Day--"

Mrs. Leveret uttered an exclamation of relief. "There--that's it!" she

"What's it?" the President took her up.

"Why--it's a--a Thought: I mean a philosophy."

This seemed to bring a certain relief to Mrs. Ballinger and Laura Glyde,
but Miss Van Vluyck said: "Excuse me if I tell you that you're all
mistaken. Xingu happens to be a language."

"A language!" the Lunch Club cried.

"Certainly. Don't you remember Fanny Roby's saying that there were
several branches, and that some were hard to trace? What could that
apply to but dialects?"

Mrs. Ballinger could no longer restrain a contemptuous laugh. "Really,
if the Lunch Club has reached such a pass that it has to go to Fanny
Roby for instruction on a subject like Xingu, it had almost better cease
to exist!"

"It's really her fault for not being clearer," Laura Glyde put in.

"Oh, clearness and Fanny Roby!" Mrs. Ballinger shrugged. "I daresay we
shall find she was mistaken on almost every point."

"Why not look it up?" said Mrs. Plinth.

As a rule this recurrent suggestion of Mrs. Plinth's was ignored in the
heat of discussion, and only resorted to afterward in the privacy of
each member's home. But on the present occasion the desire to ascribe
their own confusion of thought to the vague and contradictory nature of
Mrs. Roby's statements caused the members of the Lunch Club to utter a
collective demand for a book of reference.

At this point the production of her treasured volume gave Mrs. Leveret,
for a moment, the unusual experience of occupying the centre front; but
she was not able to hold it long, for Appropriate Allusions contained no
mention of Xingu.

"Oh, that's not the kind of thing we want!" exclaimed Miss Van Vluyck.
She cast a disparaging glance over Mrs. Ballinger's assortment of
literature, and added impatiently: "Haven't you any useful books?"

"Of course I have," replied Mrs. Ballinger indignantly; "I keep them in
my husband's dressing-room."

From this region, after some difficulty and delay, the parlour-maid
produced the W-Z volume of an Encyclopaedia and, in deference to the
fact that the demand for it had come from Miss Van Vluyck, laid the
ponderous tome before her.

There was a moment of painful suspense while Miss Van Vluyck rubbed her
spectacles, adjusted them, and turned to Z; and a murmur of surprise
when she said: "It isn't here."

"I suppose," said Mrs. Plinth, "it's not fit to be put in a book of

"Oh, nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Ballinger. "Try X."

Miss Van Vluyck turned back through the volume, peering short-sightedly
up and down the pages, till she came to a stop and remained motionless,
like a dog on a point.

"Well, have you found it?" Mrs. Ballinger enquired after a considerable

"Yes. I've found it," said Miss Van Vluyck in a queer voice.

Mrs. Plinth hastily interposed: "I beg you won't read it aloud if
there's anything offensive."

Miss Van Vluyck, without answering, continued her silent scrutiny.

"Well, what _is_ it?" exclaimed Laura Glyde excitedly.

"_Do_ tell us!" urged Mrs. Leveret, feeling that she would have
something awful to tell her sister.

Miss Van Vluyck pushed the volume aside and turned slowly toward the
expectant group.

"It's a river."

"A _river?_"

"Yes: in Brazil. Isn't that where she's been living?"

"Who? Fanny Roby? Oh, but you must be mistaken. You've been reading the
wrong thing," Mrs. Ballinger exclaimed, leaning over her to seize the

"It's the only Xingu in the Encyclopaedia; and she _has_ been living in
Brazil," Miss Van Vluyck persisted.

"Yes: her brother has a consulship there," Mrs. Leveret interposed.

"But it's too ridiculous! I--we--why we _all_ remember studying Xingu
last year--or the year before last," Mrs. Ballinger stammered.

"I thought I did when _you_ said so," Laura Glyde avowed.

"I said so?" cried Mrs. Ballinger.

"Yes. You said it had crowded everything else out of your mind."

"Well _you_ said it had changed your whole life!"

"For that matter. Miss Van Vluyck said she had never grudged the time
she'd given it."

Mrs. Plinth interposed: "I made it clear that I knew nothing whatever of
the original."

Mrs. Ballinger broke off the dispute with a groan. "Oh, what does it
all matter if she's been making fools of us? I believe Miss Van Vluyck's
right--she was talking of the river all the while!"

"How could she? It's too preposterous," Miss Glyde exclaimed.

"Listen." Miss Van Vluyck had repossessed herself of the Encyclopaedia,
and restored her spectacles to a nose reddened by excitement. "'The
Xingu, one of the principal rivers of Brazil, rises on the plateau of
Mato Grosso, and flows in a northerly direction for a length of no less
than one thousand one hundred and eighteen miles, entering the Amazon
near the mouth of the latter river. The upper course of the Xingu is
auriferous and fed by numerous branches. Its source was first discovered
in 1884 by the German explorer von den Steinen, after a difficult and
dangerous expedition through a region inhabited by tribes still in the
Stone Age of culture.'"

The ladies received this communication in a state of stupefied silence
from which Mrs. Leveret was the first to rally. "She certainly _did_
speak of its having branches."

The word seemed to snap the last thread of their incredulity. "And of
its great length," gasped Mrs. Ballinger.

"She said it was awfully deep, and you couldn't skip--you just had to
wade through," Miss Glyde added.

The idea worked its way more slowly through Mrs. Plinth's compact
resistances. "How could there be anything improper about a river?" she


"Why, what she said about the source--that it was corrupt?"

"Not corrupt, but hard to get at," Laura Glyde corrected. "Some
one who'd been there had told her so. I daresay it was the explorer
himself--doesn't it say the expedition was dangerous?"

"'Difficult and dangerous,'" read Miss Van Vluyck.

Mrs. Ballinger pressed her hands to her throbbing temples. "There's
nothing she said that wouldn't apply to a river--to this river!" She
swung about excitedly to the other members. "Why, do you remember her
telling us that she hadn't read 'The Supreme Instant' because she'd
taken it on a boating party while she was staying with her brother,
and some one had 'shied' it overboard--'shied' of course was her own

The ladies breathlessly signified that the expression had not escaped

"Well--and then didn't she tell Osric Dane that one of her books was
simply saturated with Xingu? Of course it was, if one of Mrs. Roby's
rowdy friends had thrown it into the river!"

This surprising reconstruction of the scene in which they had just
participated left the members of the Lunch Club inarticulate. At length,
Mrs. Plinth, after visibly labouring with the problem, said in a heavy
tone: "Osric Dane was taken in too."

Mrs. Leveret took courage at this. "Perhaps that's what Mrs. Roby did
it for. She said Osric Dane was a brute, and she may have wanted to give
her a lesson."

Miss Van Vluyck frowned. "It was hardly worth while to do it at our

"At least," said Miss Glyde with a touch of bitterness, "she succeeded
in interesting her, which was more than we did."

"What chance had we?" rejoined Mrs. Ballinger.

"Mrs. Roby monopolised her from the first. And _that_, I've no doubt,
was her purpose--to give Osric Dane a false impression of her own
standing in the club. She would hesitate at nothing to attract
attention: we all know how she took in poor Professor Foreland."

"She actually makes him give bridge-teas every Thursday," Mrs. Leveret
piped up.

Laura Glyde struck her hands together. "Why, this is Thursday, and it's
_there_ she's gone, of course; and taken Osric with her!"

"And they're shrieking over us at this moment," said Mrs. Ballinger
between her teeth.

This possibility seemed too preposterous to be admitted. "She would
hardly dare," said Miss Van Vluyck, "confess the imposture to Osric

"I'm not so sure: I thought I saw her make a sign as she left. If she
hadn't made a sign, why should Osric Dane have rushed out after her?"

"Well, you know, we'd all been telling her how wonderful Xingu was, and
she said she wanted to find out more about it," Mrs. Leveret said, with
a tardy impulse of justice to the absent.

This reminder, far from mitigating the wrath of the other members, gave
it a stronger impetus.

"Yes--and that's exactly what they're both laughing over now," said
Laura Glyde ironically.

Mrs. Plinth stood up and gathered her expensive furs about her
monumental form. "I have no wish to criticise," she said; "but unless
the Lunch Club can protect its members against the recurrence of
such--such unbecoming scenes, I for one--"

"Oh, so do I!" agreed Miss Glyde, rising also.

Miss Van Vluyck closed the Encyclopaedia and proceeded to button herself
into her jacket "My time is really too valuable--" she began.

"I fancy we are all of one mind," said Mrs. Ballinger, looking
searchingly at Mrs. Leveret, who looked at the others.

"I always deprecate anything like a scandal--" Mrs. Plinth continued.

"She has been the cause of one to-day!" exclaimed Miss Glyde.

Mrs. Leveret moaned: "I don't see how she _could!_" and Miss Van Vluyck
said, picking up her note-book: "Some women stop at nothing."

"--but if," Mrs. Plinth took up her argument impressively, "anything
of the kind had happened in _my_ house" (it never would have, her tone
implied), "I should have felt that I owed it to myself either to ask for
Mrs. Roby's resignation--or to offer mine."

"Oh, Mrs. Plinth--" gasped the Lunch Club.

"Fortunately for me," Mrs. Plinth continued with an awful magnanimity,
"the matter was taken out of my hands by our President's decision that
the right to entertain distinguished guests was a privilege vested in
her office; and I think the other members will agree that, as she was
alone in this opinion, she ought to be alone in deciding on the best way
of effacing its--its really deplorable consequences."

A deep silence followed this outbreak of Mrs. Plinth's long-stored

"I don't see why I should be expected to ask her to resign--" Mrs.
Ballinger at length began; but Laura Glyde turned back to remind her:
"You know she made you say that you'd got on swimmingly in Xingu."

An ill-timed giggle escaped from Mrs. Leveret, and Mrs. Ballinger
energetically continued "--but you needn't think for a moment that I'm
afraid to!"

The door of the drawing-room closed on the retreating backs of the
Lunch Club, and the President of that distinguished association, seating
herself at her writing-table, and pushing away a copy of "The Wings of
Death" to make room for her elbow, drew forth a sheet of the club's
note-paper, on which she began to write: "My dear Mrs. Roby--"

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Xingu - 1916" ***

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