Xingu, of course…

From Edith Wharton’s Xingu, as a reading circle of society women host a fashionable author for a lunch talk:

 “You must excuse us, Mrs. Dane, for not being able, just at present, to talk of anything but [your book] ‘The Wings of Death.”’

“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 readers.”

“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 plastic?”

“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 language.

“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 smile.

“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.

The full 25ish page story is here.  I do not believe it is a coincidence the clever one is the only one sipping Chartreuse…

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