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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIII
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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIII Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :Edith Wharton Date :July 2011 Read :2870

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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIII

BOOK IV: CHAPTER XXIII

The next day was Darrow's last at Givre and, foreseeing that
the afternoon and evening would have to be given to the
family, he had asked Anna to devote an early hour to the
final consideration of their plans. He was to meet her in
the brown sitting-room at ten, and they were to walk down to
the river and talk over their future in the little pavilion
abutting on the wall of the park.

It was just a week since his arrival at Givre, and Anna
wished, before he left, to return to the place where they
had sat on their first afternoon together. Her
sensitiveness to the appeal of inanimate things, to the
colour and texture of whatever wove itself into the
substance of her emotion, made her want to hear Darrow's
voice, and to feel his eyes on her, in the spot where bliss
had first flowed into her heart.

That bliss, in the interval, had wound itself into every
fold of her being. Passing, in the first days, from a high
shy tenderness to the rush of a secret surrender, it had
gradually widened and deepened, to flow on in redoubled
beauty. She thought she now knew exactly how and why she
loved Darrow, and she could see her whole sky reflected in
the deep and tranquil current of her love.

Early the next day, in her sitting-room, she was glancing
through the letters which it was Effie's morning privilege
to carry up to her. Effie meanwhile circled inquisitively
about the room, where there was always something new to
engage her infant fancy; and Anna, looking up, saw her
suddenly arrested before a photograph of Darrow which, the
day before, had taken its place on the writing-table.

Anna held out her arms with a faint blush. "You do like
him, don't you, dear?"

"Oh, most awfully, dearest," Effie, against her breast,
leaned back to assure her with a limpid look. "And so do
Granny and Owen--and I DO think Sophy does too," she
added, after a moment's earnest pondering.

"I hope so," Anna laughed. She checked the impulse to
continue: "Has she talked to you about him, that you're so
sure?" She did not know what had made the question spring to
her lips, but she was glad she had closed them before
pronouncing it. Nothing could have been more distasteful to
her than to clear up such obscurities by turning on them the
tiny flame of her daughter's observation. And what, after
all, now that Owen's happiness was secured, did it matter if
there were certain reserves in Darrow's approval of his
marriage?

A knock on the door made Anna glance at the clock. "There's
Nurse to carry you off."

"It's Sophy's knock," the little girl answered, jumping down
to open the door; and Miss Viner in fact stood on the
threshold.

"Come in," Anna said with a smile, instantly remarking how
pale she looked.

"May Effie go out for a turn with Nurse?" the girl asked.
"I should like to speak to you a moment."

"Of course. This ought to be YOUR holiday, as yesterday
was Effie's. Run off, dear," she added, stooping to kiss
the little girl.

When the door had closed she turned back to Sophy Viner with
a look that sought her confidence. "I'm so glad you came,
my dear. We've got so many things to talk about, just you
and I together."

The confused intercourse of the last days had, in fact, left
little time for any speech with Sophy but such as related to
her marriage and the means of overcoming Madame de
Chantelle's opposition to it. Anna had exacted of Owen that
no one, not even Sophy Viner, should be given a hint of her
own projects till all contingent questions had been disposed
of. She had felt, from the outset, a secret reluctance to
intrude her securer happiness on the doubts and fears of the
young pair.

From the sofa-corner to which she had dropped back she
pointed to Darrow's chair. "Come and sit by me, dear. I
wanted to see you alone. There's so much to say that I
hardly know where to begin."

She leaned forward, her hands clasped on the arms of the
sofa, her eyes bent smilingly on Sophy's. As she did so,
she noticed that the girl's unusual pallour was partly due
to the slight veil of powder on her face. The discovery was
distinctly disagreeable. Anna had never before noticed, on
Sophy's part, any recourse to cosmetics, and, much as she
wished to think herself exempt from old-fashioned
prejudices, she suddenly became aware that she did not like
her daughter's governess to have a powdered face. Then she
reflected that the girl who sat opposite her was no longer
Effie's governess, but her own future daughter-in-law; and
she wondered whether Miss Viner had chosen this odd way of
celebrating her independence, and whether, as Mrs. Owen
Leath, she would present to the world a bedizened
countenance. This idea was scarcely less distasteful than
the other, and for a moment Anna continued to consider her
without speaking. Then, in a flash, the truth came to her:
Miss Viner had powdered her face because Miss Viner had been
crying.

Anna leaned forward impulsively. "My dear child, what's the
matter?" She saw the girl's blood rush up under the white
mask, and hastened on: "Please don't be afraid to tell me.
I do so want you to feel that you can trust me as Owen does.
And you know you mustn't mind if, just at first, Madame de
Chantelle occasionally relapses."

She spoke eagerly, persuasively, almost on a note of
pleading. She had, in truth, so many reasons for wanting
Sophy to like her: her love for Owen, her solicitude for
Effie, and her own sense of the girl's fine mettle. She had
always felt a romantic and almost humble admiration for
those members of her sex who, from force of will, or the
constraint of circumstances, had plunged into the conflict
from which fate had so persistently excluded her. There
were even moments when she fancied herself vaguely to blame
for her immunity, and felt that she ought somehow to have
affronted the perils and hardships which refused to come to
her. And now, as she sat looking at Sophy Viner, so small,
so slight, so visibly defenceless and undone, she still
felt, through all the superiority of her worldly advantages
and her seeming maturity, the same odd sense of ignorance
and inexperience. She could not have said what there was in
the girl's manner and expression to give her this feeling,
but she was reminded, as she looked at Sophy Viner, of the
other girls she had known in her youth, the girls who seemed
possessed of a secret she had missed. Yes, Sophy Viner had
their look--almost the obscurely menacing look of Kitty
Mayne...Anna, with an inward smile, brushed aside the image
of this forgotten rival. But she had felt, deep down, a
twinge of the old pain, and she was sorry that, even for the
flash of a thought, Owen's betrothed should have reminded
her of so different a woman...

She laid her hand on the girl's. "When his grandmother sees
how happy Owen is she'll be quite happy herself. If it's
only that, don't be distressed. Just trust to Owen--and the
future."

Sophy Viner, with an almost imperceptible recoil of her
whole slight person, had drawn her hand from under the palm
enclosing it.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about--the future."

"Of course! We've all so many plans to make--and to fit into
each other's. Please let's begin with yours."

The girl paused a moment, her hands clasped on the arms of
her chair, her lids dropped under Anna's gaze; then she
said: "I should like to make no plans at all...just yet..."

"No plans?"

"No--I should like to go away...my friends the Farlows would
let me go to them..." Her voice grew firmer and she lifted
her eyes to add: "I should like to leave today, if you don't
mind."

Anna listened with a rising wonder.

"You want to leave Givre at once?" She gave the idea a
moment's swift consideration. "You prefer to be with your
friends till your marriage? I understand that--but surely
you needn't rush off today? There are so many details to
discuss; and before long, you know, I shall be going away
too."

"Yes, I know." The girl was evidently trying to steady her
voice. "But I should like to wait a few days--to have a
little more time to myself."

Anna continued to consider her kindly. It was evident that
she did not care to say why she wished to leave Givre so
suddenly, but her disturbed face and shaken voice betrayed a
more pressing motive than the natural desire to spend the
weeks before her marriage under her old friends' roof.
Since she had made no response to the allusion to Madame de
Chantelle, Anna could but conjecture that she had had a
passing disagreement with Owen; and if this were so, random
interference might do more harm than good.

"My dear child, if you really want to go at once I sha'n't,
of course, urge you to stay. I suppose you have spoken to
Owen?"

"No. Not yet..."

Anna threw an astonished glance at her. "You mean to say
you haven't told him?"

"I wanted to tell you first. I thought I ought to, on
account of Effie." Her look cleared as she put forth this
reason.

"Oh, Effie!--" Anna's smile brushed away the scruple. "Owen
has a right to ask that you should consider him before you
think of his sister...Of course you shall do just as you
wish," she went on, after another thoughtful interval.

"Oh, thank you," Sophy Viner murmured and rose to her feet.

Anna rose also, vaguely seeking for some word that should
break down the girl's resistance. "You'll tell Owen at
once?" she finally asked.

Miss Viner, instead of replying, stood before her in
manifest uncertainty, and as she did so there was a light
tap on the door, and Owen Leath walked into the room.

Anna's first glance told her that his face was unclouded.
He met her greeting with his happiest smile and turned to
lift Sophy's hand to his lips. The perception that he was
utterly unconscious of any cause for Miss Viner's agitation
came to his step-mother with a sharp thrill of surprise.

"Darrow's looking for you," he said to her. "He asked me to
remind you that you'd promised to go for a walk with him."

Anna glanced at the clock. "I'll go down presently." She
waited and looked again at Sophy Viner, whose troubled eyes
seemed to commit their message to her. "You'd better tell
Owen, my dear."

Owen's look also turned on the girl. "Tell me what? Why,
what's happened?"

Anna summoned a laugh to ease the vague tension of the
moment. "Don't look so startled! Nothing, except that Sophy
proposes to desert us for a while for the Farlows."

Owen's brow cleared. "I was afraid she'd run off before
long." He glanced at Anna. "Do please keep her here as long
as you can!"

Sophy intervened: "Mrs. Leath's already given me leave to
go."

"Already? To go when?"

"Today," said Sophy in a low tone, her eyes on Anna's.

"Today? Why on earth should you go today?" Owen dropped back
a step or two, flushing and paling under his bewildered
frown. His eyes seemed to search the girl more closely.
"Something's happened." He too looked at his step-mother.
"I suppose she must have told you what it is?"

Anna was struck by the suddenness and vehemence of his
appeal. It was as though some smouldering apprehension had
lain close under the surface of his security.

"She's told me nothing except that she wishes to be with her
friends. It's quite natural that she should want to go to
them."

Owen visibly controlled himself. "Of course--quite
natural." He spoke to Sophy. "But why didn't you tell me
so? Why did you come first to my step-mother?"

Anna intervened with her calm smile. "That seems to me
quite natural, too. Sophy was considerate enough to tell me
first because of Effie."

He weighed it. "Very well, then: that's quite natural, as
you say. And of course she must do exactly as she pleases."
He still kept his eyes on the girl. "Tomorrow," he abruptly
announced, "I shall go up to Paris to see you."

"Oh, no--no!" she protested.

Owen turned back to Anna. "NOW do you say that
nothing's happened?"

Under the influence of his agitation Anna felt a vague
tightening of the heart. She seemed to herself like some
one in a dark room about whom unseen presences are groping.

"If it's anything that Sophy wishes to tell you, no doubt
she'll do so. I'm going down now, and I'll leave you here
to talk it over by yourselves."

As she moved to the door the girl caught up with her. "But
there's nothing to tell: why should there be? I've explained
that I simply want to be quiet." Her look seemed to detain
Mrs. Leath.

Owen broke in: "Is that why I mayn't go up tomorrow?"

"Not tomorrow!"

"Then when may I?"

"Later...in a little while...a few days..."

"In how many days?"
"Owen!" his step-mother interposed; but he seemed no longer
aware of her. "If you go away today, the day that our
engagement's made known, it's only fair," he persisted,
"that you should tell me when I am to see you."

Sophy's eyes wavered between the two and dropped down
wearily. "It's you who are not fair--when I've said I
wanted to be quiet."

"But why should my coming disturb you? I'm not asking now to
come tomorrow. I only ask you not to leave without telling
me when I'm to see you."

"Owen, I don't understand you!" his step-mother exclaimed.

"You don't understand my asking for some explanation, some
assurance, when I'm left in this way, without a word,
without a sign? All I ask her to tell me is when she'll see
me."

Anna turned back to Sophy Viner, who stood straight and
tremulous between the two.

"After all, my dear, he's not unreasonable!"

"I'll write--I'll write," the girl repeated.

"WHAT will you write?" he pressed her vehemently.

"Owen," Anna exclaimed, "you are unreasonable!"

He turned from Sophy to his step-mother. "I only want her
to say what she means: that she's going to write to break
off our engagement. Isn't that what you're going away for?"

Anna felt the contagion of his excitement. She looked at
Sophy, who stood motionless, her lips set, her whole face
drawn to a silent fixity of resistance.

"You ought to speak, my dear--you ought to answer him."

"I only ask him to wait----"

"Yes," Owen, broke in, "and you won't say how long!"

Both instinctively addressed themselves to Anna, who stood,
nearly as shaken as themselves, between the double shock of
their struggle. She looked again from Sophy's inscrutable
eyes to Owen's stormy features; then she said: "What can I
do, when there's clearly something between you that I don't
know about?"

"Oh, if it WERE between us! Can't you see it's outside
of us--outside of her, dragging at her, dragging her away
from me?" Owen wheeled round again upon his step-mother.

Anna turned from him to the girl. "Is it true that you want
to break your engagement? If you do, you ought to tell him
now."

Owen burst into a laugh. "She doesn't dare to--she's afraid
I'll guess the reason!"

A faint sound escaped from Sophy's lips, but she kept them
close on whatever answer she had ready.

"If she doesn't wish to marry you, why should she be afraid
to have you know the reason?"

"She's afraid to have YOU know it--not me!"

"To have ME know it?"

He laughed again, and Anna, at his laugh, felt a sudden rush
of indignation.

"Owen, you must explain what you mean!"

He looked at her hard before answering; then: "Ask Darrow!"
he said.

"Owen--Owen!" Sophy Viner murmured.

Content of BOOK IV: CHAPTER XXIII (Edith Wharton's novel: The Reef)

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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIV The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIV

The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIV
BOOK IV: CHAPTER XXIVAnna stood looking from one to the other. It had becomeapparent to her in a flash that Owen's retort, though itstartled Sophy, did not take her by surprise; and thediscovery shot its light along dark distances of fear.The immediate inference was that Owen had guessed the reasonof Darrow's disapproval of his marriage, or that, at least,he suspected Sophy Viner of knowing and dreading it. Thisconfirmation of her own obscure doubt sent a tremor of alarmthrough Anna. For a moment she felt like exclaiming: "Allthis is really no business of mine, and I refuse to have
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The Reef - BOOK III - Chapter XXII The Reef - BOOK III - Chapter XXII

The Reef - BOOK III - Chapter XXII
BOOK III: CHAPTER XXIIIt was not until late that afternoon that Darrow could claimhis postponed hour with Anna. When at last he found heralone in her sitting-room it was with a sense of liberationso great that he sought no logical justification of it. Hesimply felt that all their destinies were in Miss Painter'sgrasp, and that, resistance being useless, he could onlyenjoy the sweets of surrender.Anna herself seemed as happy, and for more explicablereasons. She had assisted, after luncheon, at anotherdebate between Madame de Chantelle and her confidant, andhad surmised, when she withdrew from it, that victory waspermanently perched
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