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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reef - BOOK II - Chapter XIII
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The Reef - BOOK II - Chapter XIII Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :Edith Wharton Date :July 2011 Read :1269

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The Reef - BOOK II - Chapter XIII

BOOK II: CHAPTER XIII

Darrow, late that evening, threw himself into an armchair
before his fire and mused.

The room was propitious to meditation. The red-veiled lamp,
the corners of shadow, the splashes of firelight on the
curves of old full-bodied wardrobes and cabinets, gave it an
air of intimacy increased by its faded hangings, its
slightly frayed and threadbare rugs. Everything in it was
harmoniously shabby, with a subtle sought-for shabbiness in
which Darrow fancied he discerned the touch of Fraser Leath.
But Fraser Leath had grown so unimportant a factor in the
scheme of things that these marks of his presence caused the
young man no emotion beyond that of a faint retrospective
amusement.

The afternoon and evening had been perfect.

After a moment of concern over her step-son's departure,
Anna had surrendered herself to her happiness with an
impetuosity that Darrow had never suspected in her. Early
in the afternoon they had gone out in the motor, traversing
miles of sober-tinted landscape in which, here and there, a
scarlet vineyard flamed, clattering through the streets of
stony villages, coming out on low slopes above the river, or
winding through the pale gold of narrow wood-roads with the
blue of clear-cut hills at their end. Over everything lay a
faint sunshine that seemed dissolved in the still air, and
the smell of wet roots and decaying leaves was merged in the
pungent scent of burning underbrush. Once, at the turn of a
wall, they stopped the motor before a ruined gateway and,
stumbling along a road full of ruts, stood before a little
old deserted house, fantastically carved and chimneyed,
which lay in a moat under the shade of ancient trees. They
paced the paths between the trees, found a mouldy Temple of
Love on an islet among reeds and plantains, and, sitting on
a bench in the stable-yard, watched the pigeons circling
against the sunset over their cot of patterned brick. Then
the motor flew on into the dusk...

When they came in they sat beside the fire in the oak
drawing-room, and Darrow noticed how delicately her head
stood out against the sombre panelling, and mused on the
enjoyment there would always be in the mere fact of watching
her hands as they moved about among the tea-things...

They dined late, and facing her across the table, with its
low lights and flowers, he felt an extraordinary pleasure in
seeing her again in evening dress, and in letting his eyes
dwell on the proud shy set of her head, the way her dark
hair clasped it, and the girlish thinness of her neck above
the slight swell of the breast. His imagination was struck
by the quality of reticence in her beauty. She suggested a
fine portrait kept down to a few tones, or a Greek vase on
which the play of light is the only pattern.

After dinner they went out on the terrace for a look at the
moon-misted park. Through the crepuscular whiteness the
trees hung in blotted masses. Below the terrace, the garden
drew its dark diagrams between statues that stood like
muffled conspirators on the edge of the shadow. Farther
off, the meadows unrolled a silver-shot tissue to the
mantling of mist above the river; and the autumn stars
trembled overhead like their own reflections seen in dim
water.

He lit his cigar, and they walked slowly up and down the
flags in the languid air, till he put an arm about her,
saying: "You mustn't stay till you're chilled"; then they
went back into the room and drew up their chairs to the
fire.

It seemed only a moment later that she said: "It must be
after eleven," and stood up and looked down on him, smiling
faintly. He sat still, absorbing the look, and thinking:
"There'll be evenings and evenings"--till she came nearer,
bent over him, and with a hand on his shoulder said: "Good
night."

He got to his feet and put his arms about her.

"Good night," he answered, and held her fast; and they gave
each other a long kiss of promise and communion.

The memory of it glowed in him still as he sat over his
crumbling fire; but beneath his physical exultation he felt
a certain gravity of mood. His happiness was in some sort
the rallying-point of many scattered purposes. He summed it
up vaguely by saying to himself that to be loved by a woman
like that made "all the difference"...He was a little tired
of experimenting on life; he wanted to "take a line", to
follow things up, to centralize and concentrate, and produce
results. Two or three more years of diplomacy--with her
beside him!--and then their real life would begin: study,
travel and book-making for him, and for her--well, the joy,
at any rate, of getting out of an atmosphere of bric-a-brac
and card-leaving into the open air of competing activities.

The desire for change had for some time been latent in him,
and his meeting with Mrs. Leath the previous spring had
given it a definite direction. With such a comrade to focus
and stimulate his energies he felt modestly but agreeably
sure of "doing something". And under this assurance was the
lurking sense that he was somehow worthy of his opportunity.
His life, on the whole, had been a creditable affair. Out
of modest chances and middling talents he had built himself
a fairly marked personality, known some exceptional people,
done a number of interesting and a few rather difficult
things, and found himself, at thirty-seven, possessed of an
intellectual ambition sufficient to occupy the passage to a
robust and energetic old age. As for the private and
personal side of his life, it had come up to the current
standards, and if it had dropped, now and then, below a more
ideal measure, even these declines had been brief,
parenthetic, incidental. In the recognized essentials he
had always remained strictly within the limit of his
scruples.

From this reassuring survey of his case he came back to the
contemplation of its crowning felicity. His mind turned
again to his first meeting with Anna Summers and took up one
by one the threads of their faintly sketched romance. He
dwelt with pardonable pride on the fact that fate had so
early marked him for the high privilege of possessing her:
it seemed to mean that they had really, in the truest sense
of the ill-used phrase, been made for each other.

Deeper still than all these satisfactions was the mere
elemental sense of well-being in her presence. That, after
all, was what proved her to be the woman for him: the
pleasure he took in the set of her head, the way her hair
grew on her forehead and at the nape, her steady gaze when
he spoke, the grave freedom of her gait and gestures. He
recalled every detail of her face, the fine veinings of the
temples, the bluish-brown shadows in her upper lids, and the
way the reflections of two stars seemed to form and break up
in her eyes when he held her close to him...

If he had had any doubt as to the nature of her feeling for
him those dissolving stars would have allayed it. She was
reserved, she was shy even, was what the shallow and
effusive would call "cold". She was like a picture so hung
that it can be seen only at a certain angle: an angle known
to no one but its possessor. The thought flattered his
sense of possessorship...He felt that the smile on his lips
would have been fatuous had it had a witness. He was
thinking of her look when she had questioned him about his
meeting with Owen at the theatre: less of her words than of
her look, and of the effort the question cost her: the
reddening of her cheek, the deepening of the strained line
between her brows, the way her eyes sought shelter and then
turned and drew on him. Pride and passion were in the
conflict--magnificent qualities in a wife! The sight almost
made up for his momentary embarrassment at the rousing of a
memory which had no place in his present picture of himself.

Yes! It was worth a good deal to watch that fight between
her instinct and her intelligence, and know one's self the
object of the struggle...

Mingled with these sensations were considerations of another
order. He reflected with satisfaction that she was the kind
of woman with whom one would like to be seen in public. It
would be distinctly agreeable to follow her into drawing-
rooms, to walk after her down the aisle of a theatre, to get
in and out of trains with her, to say "my wife" of her to
all sorts of people. He draped these details in the
handsome phrase "She's a woman to be proud of", and felt
that this fact somehow justified and ennobled his
instinctive boyish satisfaction in loving her.

He stood up, rambled across the room and leaned out for a
while into the starry night. Then he dropped again into his
armchair with a sigh of deep content.

"Oh, hang it," he suddenly exclaimed, "it's the best thing
that's ever happened to me, anyhow!"


The next day was even better. He felt, and knew she felt,
that they had reached a clearer understanding of each other.
It was as if, after a swim through bright opposing waves,
with a dazzle of sun in their eyes, they had gained an inlet
in the shades of a cliff, where they could float on the
still surface and gaze far down into the depths.

Now and then, as they walked and talked, he felt a thrill of
youthful wonder at the coincidence of their views and their
experiences, at the way their minds leapt to the same point
in the same instant.

"The old delusion, I suppose," he smiled to himself. "Will
Nature never tire of the trick?"

But he knew it was more than that. There were moments in
their talk when he felt, distinctly and unmistakably, the
solid ground of friendship underneath the whirling dance of
his sensations. "How I should like her if I didn't love
her!" he summed it up, wondering at the miracle of such a
union.

In the course of the morning a telegram had come from Owen
Leath, announcing that he, his grandmother and Effie would
arrive from Dijon that afternoon at four. The station of the
main line was eight or ten miles from Givre, and Anna, soon
after three, left in the motor to meet the travellers.

When she had gone Darrow started for a walk, planning to get
back late, in order that the reunited family might have the
end of the afternoon to themselves. He roamed the country-
side till long after dark, and the stable-clock of Givre was
striking seven as he walked up the avenue to the court.

In the hall, coming down the stairs, he encountered Anna.
Her face was serene, and his first glance showed him that
Owen had kept his word and that none of her forebodings had
been fulfilled.

She had just come down from the school-room, where Effie and
the governess were having supper; the little girl, she told
him, looked immensely better for her Swiss holiday, but was
dropping with sleep after the journey, and too tired to make
her habitual appearance in the drawing-room before being put
to bed. Madame de Chantelle was resting, but would be down
for dinner; and as for Owen, Anna supposed he was off
somewhere in the park--he had a passion for prowling about
the park at nightfall...

Darrow followed her into the brown room, where the tea-table
had been left for him. He declined her offer of tea, but
she lingered a moment to tell him that Owen had in fact kept
his word, and that Madame de Chantelle had come back in the
best of humours, and unsuspicious of the blow about to fall.

"She has enjoyed her month at Ouchy, and it has given her a
lot to talk about--her symptoms, and the rival doctors, and
the people at the hotel. It seems she met your Ambassadress
there, and Lady Wantley, and some other London friends of
yours, and she's heard what she calls 'delightful things'
about you: she told me to tell you so. She attaches great
importance to the fact that your grandmother was an Everard
of Albany. She's prepared to open her arms to you. I don't
know whether it won't make it harder for poor Owen...the
contrast, I mean...There are no Ambassadresses or Everards
to vouch for HIS choice! But you'll help me, won't you?
You'll help me to help him? To-morrow I'll tell you the
rest. Now I must rush up and tuck in Effie..."

"Oh, you'll see, we'll pull it off for him!" he assured her;
"together, we can't fail to pull it off."

He stood and watched her with a smile as she fled down the
half-lit vista to the hall.

Content of BOOK II: CHAPTER XIII (Edith Wharton's novel: The Reef)

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The Reef - BOOK II - Chapter XIV
BOOK II: CHAPTER XIVIf Darrow, on entering the drawing-room before dinner,examined its new occupant with unusual interest, it was moreon Owen Leath's account than his own.Anna's hints had roused his interest in the lad's loveaffair, and he wondered what manner of girl the heroine ofthe coming conflict might be. He had guessed that Owen'srebellion symbolized for his step-mother her own longstruggle against the Leath conventions, and he understoodthat if Anna so passionately abetted him it was partlybecause, as she owned, she wanted his liberation to coincidewith hers.The lady who was to represent, in the impending struggle,the forces of order and
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BOOK II: CHAPTER XIIIt was in the natural order of things that, on the way backto the house, their talk should have turned to the future.Anna was not eager to define it. She had an extraordinarysensitiveness to the impalpable elements of happiness, andas she walked at Darrow's side her imagination flew back andforth, spinning luminous webs of feeling between herself andthe scene about her. Every heightening of emotion producedfor her a new effusion of beauty in visible things, and withit the sense that such moments should be lingered over andabsorbed like some unrenewable miracle. She understoodDarrow's impatience to see
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