Twilight Sleep(Illustrated) - Edith Wharton - E-Book

Twilight Sleep(Illustrated) E-Book

Edith Wharton

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  •  Illustrated Edition: Dive into the world of "Twilight Sleep" with 20 exquisite illustrations bringing the Jazz Age to life.
  •  Detailed Summary: Get a concise overview of the novel's captivating storyline.
  •  Character List: Familiarize yourself with the rich tapestry of characters and their intertwining relationships.
  •  Author Biography: Delve deep into the life of Edith Wharton, one of America's most celebrated authors.
In the vibrant heartbeat of Jazz Age New York, Edith Wharton unravels a tale teeming with the complexities of societal facades, familial ties, and the relentless pursuit of superficial contentment. "Twilight Sleep" beckons readers into the world of the Manford family. At its core is Pauline Manford, a woman of the modern era, constantly in search of the next big trend—from spiritualism to social reform. However, beneath the sheen of perfection lies a web of secrets, desires, and silent yearnings.
As Wharton masterfully depicts the opulence and inner turmoils of the 1920s, she poses profound questions about identity, happiness, and the price of relentless modernity. With its detailed portrayals and razor-sharp social critique, "Twilight Sleep" stands as a timeless reflection of an era defined by its contrasts.
Experience Wharton's genius in this special illustrated edition, enriched with visual artistry, character insights, and a deep dive into the author's legacy. A literary gem, reimagined for both the longtime Wharton enthusiast and the first-time explorer.

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Edith Wharton: From Gilded Cages to Lyrical Labyrinths
In the mosaic of American literature, Edith Wharton stands as a pivotal figure, whose tales are tinged with both the opulence of the Gilded Age and the fervent desire for freedom. This biography delves into the life of a woman who, amidst the glittering confines of high society, found her true calling in the labyrinthine world of words.
The Wharton Mansion - An Origin Tale
Born in a brownstone, the echoes of her privileged upbringing in New York City were evident from the very beginning. But the child born to George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Rhinelander wasn't just any heiress; she was a dreamer with a voracious appetite for books.
European Elegance and Enlightenment
As was customary for families of their stature, the Jones family embarked on a European tour. The art-filled halls of France, the historic landmarks of Italy, and the quaint countryside of England left an indelible mark on young Edith. Europe was not just a destination; it became a muse.
Marital Chains and Secret Dreams
Back in America, societal expectations weighed heavy. Her marriage to Edward Robbins Wharton seemed a fitting alliance on paper, but it was fraught with emotional and mental turbulence. Amidst the storm, Edith began penning her thoughts, birthing stories that mirrored her own yearnings.
The Birth of a Writer
Wharton's pen flowed with narratives from the chambers of her Newport mansion to her estate, The Mount, in Massachusetts. "The Age of Innocence," "Ethan Frome," as well as "The House of Mirth" are just a few of her classics that demonstrate her keen awareness of social standards and the human psychology.
War and Words
While World War I raged, Wharton was far from a silent observer. She committed herself to the war effort in France, establishing workshops for unemployed women and advocating for refugees. Her literary efforts during this time, including the poignant "Fighting France," chronicle her firsthand experiences and deep-rooted empathy.
The Lure of the Lost Generation
Paris in the 1920s was a melting pot of artistic talents. Wharton's friendships with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway placed her at the epicenter of the "Lost Generation." These interactions not only influenced her later works but also cemented her place in literary history.
Final Words, Lasting Legacy
Wharton’s later years, characterized by honors such as the Pulitzer Prize, were not devoid of personal battles. But through it all, she remained true to her craft. Her demise in 1937 marked the end of an era, but her legacy as a trailblazing female author remains unfettered.
From the gilded cages of New York to the lyrical labyrinths of her novels, Edith Wharton's life was a testament to the power of resilience, talent, and determination. Her biography is not just a recounting of events; it's an exploration of a mind that defied conventions and redefined American literature.
Twilight Sleep: The Dance of Dreams and Desires in Jazz Age New York
In the heart of Jazz Age New York, Edith Wharton weaves a tale of desires, facades, and societal escapism in "Twilight Sleep." At the epicenter is the glamorous Pauline Manford, an ambitious woman determined to juggle her frenetic social life, family, and personal pursuits. Driven by her need for modern efficiency, she relies on "twilight sleep," a controversial sedation method for childbirth, as a metaphorical tool to navigate the challenges and pains of her life.
But beneath the surface, Wharton unveils the complexities of the Manford family: a distant husband, a resentful daughter, a son caught in a turbulent relationship, and a spiritual guru with mysterious intentions. As tensions rise, the seemingly perfect world of the Manfords threatens to crumble.
Wharton's razor-sharp wit and intricate characterization expose the contradictions of the roaring twenties, where spirituality meets materialism, and inner desires clash with societal expectations. "Twilight Sleep" is not merely a novel; it's a deep dive into the human psyche amidst a rapidly changing world.
Pauline Manford - The central character of the novel. A seemingly energetic and modern woman, she is perpetually engaged in various pursuits from spiritualism to social work, all while maintaining her high societal status. Pauline epitomizes the frantic pace of life in the 1920s and the quest for superficial fulfillment.
Dexter Manford - Pauline's husband, a successful lawyer. He is somewhat removed from his wife's whirlwind of activities and has his secrets.
Nona Manford - Pauline's daughter from her first marriage. Nona is the voice of reason in the family and is critical of her mother's relentless search for novelty and diversion.
Jimmie Manford - Pauline and Dexter's son. He finds himself embroiled in a complicated romantic relationship, reflecting the era's changing attitudes towards love and commitment.
Lita (Mrs. Rushworth) - A beautiful, young woman married to an older man. She becomes involved with Jimmie Manford and embodies the flapper spirit of the era.
Mrs. Warburt - Pauline's spiritual advisor, who has a significant influence on her.
Mr. Warburt - Mrs. Warburt's husband and a silent observer of the unfolding drama.
Cedric Rushworth - Lita's wealthy older husband. He is depicted as somewhat out of touch with the younger generation.
Agrippa - A mysterious spiritual leader who begins to play an increasingly important role in Pauline's life as the story unfolds.
Elton Echo - A journalist who becomes involved with Nona.
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 1
Miss Bruss, the perfect secretary, received Nona Manford at the door of her mother's boudoir ("the office," Mrs. Manford's children called it) with a gesture of the kindliest denial.
"She wants to, you know, dear--your mother always wants to see you," pleaded Maisie Bruss, in a voice which seemed to be thinned and sharpened by continuous telephoning. Miss Bruss, attached to Mrs. Manford's service since shortly after the latter's second marriage, had known Nona from her childhood, and was privileged, even now that she was "out," to treat her with a certain benevolent familiarity--benevolence being the note of the Manford household.
"But look at her list--just for this morning!" the secretary continued, handing over a tall morocco-framed tablet, on which was inscribed, in the colourless secretarial hand: "7.30 Mental uplift. 7.45 Breakfast. 8. Psycho-analysis. 8.15 See cook. 8.30 Silent Meditation. 8.45 Facial massage. 9. Man with Persian miniatures. 9.15 Correspondence. 9.30 Manicure. 9.45 Eurythmic exercises. 10. Hair waved. 10.15 Sit for bust. 10.30 Receive Mothers' Day deputation. 11. Dancing lesson. 11.30 Birth Control committee at Mrs.--"
"The manicure is there now, late as usual. That's what martyrizes your mother; everybody's being so unpunctual. This New York life is killing her."
"I'm not unpunctual," said Nona Manford, leaning in the doorway.
"No; and a miracle, too! The way you girls keep up your dancing all night. You and Lita--what times you two do have!" Miss Bruss was becoming almost maternal. "But just run your eye down that list--. You see your mother didn't expect to see you before lunch; now did she?"
Nona shook her head. "No; but you might perhaps squeeze me in."
It was said in a friendly, a reasonable tone; on both sides the matter was being examined with an evident desire for impartiality and good-will. Nona was used to her mother's engagements; used to being squeezed in between faith-healers, art-dealers, social service workers and manicures. When Mrs. Manford did see her children she was perfect to them; but in this killing New York life, with its ever-multiplying duties and responsibilities, if her family had been allowed to tumble in at all hours and devour her time, her nervous system simply couldn't have stood it--and how many duties would have been left undone!
Mrs. Manford's motto had always been: "There's a time for everything." But there were moments when this optimistic view failed her, and she began to think there wasn't. This morning, for instance, as Miss Bruss pointed out, she had had to tell the new French sculptor who had been all the rage in New York for the last month that she wouldn't be able to sit to him for more than fifteen minutes, on account of the Birth Control committee meeting at 11.30 at Mrs.--
Nona seldom assisted at these meetings, her own time being--through force of habit rather than real inclination--so fully taken up with exercise, athletics and the ceaseless rush from thrill to thrill which was supposed to be the happy privilege of youth. But she had had glimpses enough of the scene: of the audience of bright elderly women, with snowy hair, eurythmic movements, and finely-wrinkled over-massaged faces on which a smile of glassy benevolence sat like their rimless pince-nez. They were all inexorably earnest, aimlessly kind and fathomlessly pure; and all rather too well-dressed, except the "prominent woman" of the occasion, who usually wore dowdy clothes, and had steel-rimmed spectacles and straggling wisps of hair. Whatever the question dealt with, these ladies always seemed to be the same, and always advocated with equal zeal Birth Control and unlimited maternity, free love or the return to the traditions of the American home; and neither they nor Mrs. Manford seemed aware that there was anything contradictory in these doctrines. All they knew was that they were determined to force certain persons to do things that those persons preferred not to do. Nona, glancing down the serried list, recalled a saying of her mother's former husband, Arthur Wyant: "Your mother and her friends would like to teach the whole world how to say its prayers and brush its teeth."
The girl had laughed, as she could never help laughing at Wyant's sallies; but in reality she admired her mother's zeal, though she sometimes wondered if it were not a little too promiscuous. Nona was the daughter of Mrs. Manford's second marriage, and her own father, Dexter Manford, who had had to make his way in the world, had taught her to revere activity as a virtue in itself; his tone in speaking of Pauline's zeal was very different from Wyant's. He had been brought up to think there was a virtue in work per se, even if it served no more useful purpose than the revolving of a squirrel in a wheel. "Perhaps your mother tries to cover too much ground; but it's very fine of her, you know--she never spares herself."
"Nor us!" Nona sometimes felt tempted to add; but Manford's admiration was contagious. Yes; Nona did admire her mother's altruistic energy; but she knew well enough that neither she nor her brother's wife Lita would ever follow such an example--she no more than Lita. They belonged to another generation: to the bewildered disenchanted young people who had grown up since the Great War, whose energies were more spasmodic and less definitely directed, and who, above all, wanted a more personal outlet for them. "Bother earthquakes in Bolivia!" Lita had once whispered to Nona, when Mrs. Manford had convoked the bright elderly women to deal with a seismic disaster at the other end of the world, the repetition of which these ladies somehow felt could be avoided if they sent out a commission immediately to teach the Bolivians to do something they didn't want to do--not to believe in earthquakes, for instance.
The young people certainly felt no corresponding desire to set the houses of others in order. Why shouldn't the Bolivians have earthquakes if they chose to live in Bolivia? And why must Pauline Manford lie awake over it in New York, and have to learn a new set of Mahatma exercises to dispel the resulting wrinkles? "I suppose if we feel like that it's really because we're too lazy to care," Nona reflected, with her incorrigible honesty.
She turned from Miss Bruss with a slight shrug. "Oh, well," she murmured.
"You know, pet," Miss Bruss volunteered, "things always get worse as the season goes on; and the last fortnight in February is the worst of all, especially with Easter coming as early as it does this year. I never could see why they picked out such an awkward date for Easter: perhaps those Florida hotel people did it. Why, your poor mother wasn't even able to see your father this morning before he went down town, though she thinks it's all wrong to let him go off to his office like that, without finding time for a quiet little chat first. . . Just a cheery word to put him in the right mood for the day. . . Oh, by the way, my dear, I wonder if you happen to have heard him say if he's dining at home tonight? Because you know he never does remember to leave word about his plans, and if he hasn't, I'd better telephone to the office to remind him that it's the night of the big dinner for the Marchesa---"
"Well, I don't think father's dining at home," said the girl indifferently.
"Not--not--not? Oh, my gracious!" clucked Miss Bruss, dashing across the room to the telephone on her own private desk.
The engagement-list had slipped from her hands, and Nona Manford, picking it up, ran her glance over it. She read: "4 P.M. See A.--4.30 P.M. Musical: Torfried Lobb."
"4 P.M. See A." Nona had been almost sure it was Mrs. Manford's day for going to see her divorced husband, Arthur Wyant, the effaced mysterious person always designated on Mrs. Manford's lists as "A," and hence known to her children as "Exhibit A." It was rather a bore, for Nona had meant to go and see him herself at about that hour, and she always timed her visits so that they should not clash with Mrs. Manford's, not because the latter disapproved of Nona's friendship with Arthur Wyant (she thought it "beautiful" of the girl to show him so much kindness), but because Wyant and Nona were agreed that on these occasions the presence of the former Mrs. Wyant spoilt their fun. But there was nothing to do about it. Mrs. Manford's plans were unchangeable. Even illness and death barely caused a ripple in them. One might as well have tried to bring down one of the Pyramids by poking it with a parasol as attempt to disarrange the close mosaic of Mrs. Manford's engagement-list. Mrs. Manford herself couldn't have done it; not with the best will in the world; and Mrs. Manford's will, as her children and all her household knew, was the best in the world.
Nona Manford moved away with a final shrug. She had wanted to speak to her mother about something rather important; something she had caught a startled glimpse of, the evening before, in the queer little half-formed mind of her sister-in-law Lita, the wife of her half-brother Jim Wyant--the Lita with whom, as Miss Bruss remarked, she, Nona, danced away the nights. There was nobody on earth as dear to Nona as that same Jim, her elder by six or seven years, and who had been brother, comrade, guardian, almost father to her--her own father, Dexter Manford, who was so clever, capable and kind, being almost always too busy at the office, or too firmly requisitioned by Mrs. Manford, when he was at home, to be able to spare much time for his daughter.
Jim, bless him, always had time; no doubt that was what his mother meant when she called him lazy--as lazy as his father, she had once added, with one of her rare flashes of impatience. Nothing so conduced to impatience in Mrs. Manford as the thought of anybody's having the least fraction of unapportioned time and not immediately planning to do something with it. If only they could have given it to her! And Jim, who loved and admired her (as all her family did) was always conscientiously trying to fill his days, or to conceal from her their occasional vacuity. But he had a way of not being in a hurry, and this had been all to the good for little Nona, who could always count on him to ride or walk with her, to slip off with her to a concert or a "movie," or, more pleasantly still, just to be there--idling in the big untenanted library of Cedarledge, the place in the country, or in his untidy study on the third floor of the town house, and ready to answer questions, help her to look up hard words in dictionaries, mend her golf-sticks, or get a thorn out of her Sealyham's paw. Jim was wonderful with his hands: he could repair clocks, start up mechanical toys, make fascinating models of houses or gardens, apply a tourniquet, scramble eggs, mimic his mother's visitors--preferably the "earnest" ones who held forth about "causes" or "messages" in her gilded drawing-rooms--and make delicious coloured maps of imaginary continents, concerning which Nona wrote interminable stories. And of all these gifts he had, alas, made no particular use as yet--except to enchant his little half-sister.
It had been just the same, Nona knew, with his father: poor useless "Exhibit A"! Mrs. Manford said it was their "old New York blood"--she spoke of them with mingled contempt and pride, as if they were the last of the Capetians, exhausted by a thousand years of sovereignty. Her own red corpuscles were tinged with a more plebeian dye. Her progenitors had mined in Pennsylvania and made bicycles at Exploit, and now gave their name to one of the most popular automobiles in the United States. Not that other ingredients were lacking in her hereditary make-up: her mother was said to have contributed southern gentility by being a Pascal of Tallahassee. Mrs. Manford, in certain moods, spoke of "The Pascals of Tallahassee" as if they accounted for all that was noblest in her; but when she was exhorting Jim to action it was her father's blood that she invoked. "After all, in spite of the Pascal tradition, there is no shame in being in trade. My father's father came over from Scotland with two sixpences in his pocket . . ." and Mrs. Manford would glance with pardonable pride at the glorious Gainsborough over the dining-room mantelpiece (which she sometimes almost mistook for an ancestral portrait), and at her healthy handsome family sitting about the dinner-table laden with Georgian silver and orchids from her own hot-houses.
From the threshold, Nona called back to Miss Bruss: "Please tell mother I shall probably be lunching with Jim and Lita--" but Miss Bruss was passionately saying to an unseen interlocutor: "Oh, but Mr. Rigley, but you must make Mr. Manford understand that Mrs. Manford counts on him for dinner this evening. . . The dinner-dance for the Marchesa, you know. . ."
The marriage of her half-brother had been Nona Manford's first real sorrow. Not that she had disapproved of his choice: how could any one take that funny irresponsible little Lita Cliffe seriously enough to disapprove of her? The sisters-in-law were soon the best of friends; if Nona had a fault to find with Lita, it was that she didn't worship the incomparable Jim as blindly as his sister did. But then Lita was made to be worshipped, not to worship; that was manifest in the calm gaze of her long narrow nut-coloured eyes, in the hieratic fixity of her lovely smile, in the very shape of her hands, so slim yet dimpled, hands which had never grown up, and which drooped from her wrists as if listlessly waiting to be kissed, or lay like rare shells or upcurved magnolia-petals on the cushions luxuriously piled about her indolent body.
The Jim Wyants had been married for nearly two years now; the baby was six months old; the pair were beginning to be regarded as one of the "old couples" of their set, one of the settled landmarks in the matrimonial quicksands of New York. Nona's love for her brother was too disinterested for her not to rejoice in this: above all things she wanted her old Jim to be happy, and happy she was sure he was--or had been until lately. The mere getting away from Mrs. Manford's iron rule had been a greater relief than he himself perhaps guessed. And then he was still the foremost of Lita's worshippers; still enchanted by the childish whims, the unpunctuality, the irresponsibility, which made life with her such a thrillingly unsettled business after the clock-work routine of his mother's perfect establishment.
All this Nona rejoiced in; but she ached at times with the loneliness of the perfect establishment, now that Jim, its one disturbing element, had left. Jim guessed her loneliness, she was sure: it was he who encouraged the growing intimacy between his wife and his half-sister, and tried to make the latter feel that his house was another home to her.
Lita had always been amiably disposed toward Nona. The two, though so fundamentally different, were nearly of an age, and united by the prevailing passion for every form of sport. Lita, in spite of her soft curled-up attitudes, was not only a tireless dancer but a brilliant if uncertain tennis-player, and an adventurous rider to hounds. Between her hours of lolling, and smoking amber-scented cigarettes, every moment of her life was crammed with dancing, riding or games. During the two or three months before the baby's birth, when Lita had been reduced to partial inactivity, Nona had rather feared that her perpetual craving for new "thrills" might lead to some insidious form of time-killing--some of the drinking or drugging that went on among the young women of their set; but Lita had sunk into a state of smiling animal patience, as if the mysterious work going on in her tender young body had a sacred significance for her, and it was enough to lie still and let it happen. All she asked was that nothing should "hurt" her: she had the blind dread of physical pain common also to most of the young women of her set. But all that was so easily managed nowadays: Mrs. Manford (who took charge of the business, Lita being an orphan) of course knew the most perfect "Twilight Sleep" establishment in the country, installed Lita in its most luxurious suite, and filled her rooms with spring flowers, hot-house fruits, new novels and all the latest picture-papers--and Lita drifted into motherhood as lightly and unperceivingly as if the wax doll which suddenly appeared in the cradle at her bedside had been brought there in one of the big bunches of hot-house roses that she found every morning on her pillow.
"Of course there ought to be no Pain . . . nothing but Beauty. . . It ought to be one of the loveliest, most poetic things in the world to have a baby," Mrs. Manford declared, in that bright efficient voice which made loveliness and poetry sound like the attributes of an advanced industrialism, and babies something to be turned out in series like Fords. And Jim's joy in his son had been unbounded; and Lita really hadn't minded in the least.
Chapter 2
The Marchesa was something which happened at irregular but inevitable moments in Mrs. Manford's life.
Most people would have regarded the Marchesa as a disturbance; some as a distinct inconvenience; the pessimistic as a misfortune. It was a matter of conscious pride to Mrs. Manford that, while recognizing these elements in the case, she had always contrived to make out of it something not only showy but even enviable.
For, after all, if your husband (even an ex-husband) has a first cousin called Amalasuntha degli Duchi di Lucera, who has married the Marchese Venturino di San Fedele, of one of the great Neapolitan families, it seems stupid and wasteful not to make some use of such a conjunction of names and situations, and to remember only (as the Wyants did) that when Amalasuntha came to New York it was always to get money, or to get her dreadful son out of a new scrape, or to consult the family lawyers as to some new way of guarding the remains of her fortune against Venturino's systematic depredations.
Mrs. Manford knew in advance the hopelessness of these quests--all of them, that is, except that which consisted in borrowing money from herself. She always lent Amalasuntha two or three thousand dollars (and put it down to the profit-and-loss column of her carefully-kept private accounts); she even gave the Marchesa her own last year's clothes, cleverly retouched; and in return she expected Amalasuntha to shed on the Manford entertainments that exotic lustre which the near relative of a Duke who is also a grandee of Spain and a great dignitary of the Papal Court trails with her through the dustiest by-ways, even if her mother has been a mere Mary Wyant of Albany.
Mrs. Manford had been successful. The Marchesa, without taking thought, fell naturally into the part assigned to her. In her stormy and uncertain life, New York, where her rich relations lived, and from which she always came back with a few thousand dollars, and clothes that could be made to last a year, and good advice about putting the screws on Venturino, was like a foretaste of heaven. "Live there? Carina, no! It is too--too uneventful. As heaven must be. But everybody is celestially kind . . . and Venturino has learnt that there are certain things my American relations will not tolerate. . ." Such was Amalasuntha's version of her visits to New York, when she recounted them in the drawing-rooms of Rome, Naples or St. Moritz; whereas in New York, quite carelessly and unthinkingly--for no one was simpler at heart than Amalasuntha--she pronounced names, and raised suggestions, which cast a romantic glow of unreality over a world bounded by Wall Street on the south and Long Island in most other directions; and in this glow Pauline Manford was always eager to sun her other guests.
"My husband's cousin" (become, since the divorce from Wyant "my son's cousin") was still, after twenty-seven years, a useful social card. The Marchesa di San Fedele, now a woman of fifty, was still, in Pauline's set, a pretext for dinners, a means of paying off social scores, a small but steady luminary in the uncertain New York heavens. Pauline could never see her rather forlorn wisp of a figure, always clothed in careless unnoticeable black (even when she wore Mrs. Manford's old dresses), without a vision of echoing Roman staircases, of the torchlit arrival of Cardinals at the Lucera receptions, of a great fresco-like background of Popes, princes, dilapidated palaces, cypress-guarded villas, scandals, tragedies, and interminable feuds about inheritances.
"It's all so dreadful--the wicked lives those great Roman families lead. After all, poor Amalasuntha has good American blood in her--her mother was a Wyant; yes--Mary Wyant married Prince Ottaviano di Lago Negro, the Duke of Lucera's son, who used to be at the Italian Legation in Washington; but what is Amalasuntha to do, in a country where there's no divorce, and a woman just has to put up with everything? The Pope has been most kind; he sides entirely with Amalasuntha. But Venturino's people are very powerful too--a great Neapolitan family--yes, Cardinal Ravello is Venturino's uncle . . . so that altogether it's been dreadful for Amalasuntha . . . and such an oasis to her, coming back to her own people. . ."
Pauline Manford was quite sincere in believing that it was dreadful for Amalasuntha. Pauline herself could conceive of nothing more shocking than a social organization which did not recognize divorce, and let all kinds of domestic evils fester undisturbed, instead of having people's lives disinfected and whitewashed at regular intervals, like the cellar. But while Mrs. Manford thought all this--in fact, in the very act of thinking it--she remembered that Cardinal Ravello, Venturino's uncle, had been mentioned as one of the probable delegates to the Roman Catholic Congress which was to meet at Baltimore that winter, and wondered whether an evening party for his Eminence could not be organized with Amalasuntha's help; even got as far as considering the effect of torch-bearing footmen (in silk stockings) lining the Manford staircase--which was of marble, thank goodness!--and of Dexter Manford and Jim receiving the Prince of the Church on the doorstep, and walking upstairs backward carrying silver candelabra; though Pauline wasn't sure she could persuade them to go as far as that.
Pauline felt no more inconsistency in this double train of thought than she did in shuddering at the crimes of the Roman Church and longing to receive one of its dignitaries with all the proper ceremonial. She was used to such rapid adjustments, and proud of the fact that whole categories of contradictory opinions lay down together in her mind as peacefully as the Happy Families exhibited by strolling circuses. And of course, if the Cardinal did come to her house, she would show her American independence by inviting also the Bishop of New York--her own Episcopal Bishop--and possibly the Chief Rabbi (also a friend of hers), and certainly that wonderful much-slandered "Mahatma" in whom she still so thoroughly believed. . .
But the word pulled her up short. Yes; certainly she believed in the "Mahatma." She had every reason to. Standing before the tall threefold mirror in her dressing-room, she glanced into the huge bathroom beyond--which looked like a biological laboratory, with its white tiles, polished pipes, weighing machines, mysterious appliances for douches, gymnastics and "physical culture"--and recalled with gratitude that it was certainly those eurythmic exercises of the Mahatma's ("holy ecstasy," he called them) which had reduced her hips after everything else had failed. And this gratitude for the reduction of her hips was exactly on the same plane, in her neat card-catalogued mind, with her enthusiastic faith in his wonderful mystical teachings about Self-Annihilation, Anterior Existence and Astral Affinities . . . all so incomprehensible and so pure. . . Yes; she would certainly ask the Mahatma. It would do the Cardinal good to have a talk with him. She could almost hear his Eminence saying, in a voice shaken by emotion: "Mrs. Manford, I want to thank you for making me know that Wonderful Man. If it hadn't been for you--"
Ah, she did like people who said to her: "If it hadn't been for you--!"
The telephone on her dressing-table rang. Miss Bruss had switched on from the boudoir. Mrs. Manford, as she unhooked the receiver, cast a nervous glance at the clock. She was already seven minutes late for her Marcel-waving, and--
Ah: it was Dexter's voice! Automatically she composed her face to a wifely smile, and her voice to a corresponding intonation. "Yes? Pauline, dear. Oh--about dinner tonight? Why, you know, Amalasuntha. . . You say you're going to the theatre with Jim and Lita? But, Dexter, you can't! They're dining here--Jim and Lita are. But of course. . . Yes, it must have been a mistake; Lita's so flighty. . . I know. . ." (The smile grew a little pinched; the voice echoed it. Then, patiently): "Yes; what else? . . . Oh. . . oh, Dexter. . . what do you mean? . . . The Mahatma? What? I don't understand!"
But she did. She was conscious of turning white under her discreet cosmetics. Somewhere in the depths of her there had lurked for the last weeks an unexpressed fear of this very thing: a fear that the people who were opposed to the teaching of the Hindu sage--New York's great "spiritual uplift" of the last two years--were gaining power and beginning to be a menace. And here was Dexter Manford actually saying something about having been asked to conduct an investigation into the state of things at the Mahatma's "School of Oriental Thought," in which all sorts of unpleasantness might be involved. Of course Dexter never said much about professional matters on the telephone; he did not, to his wife's thinking, say enough about them when he got home. But what little she now gathered made her feel positively ill.
"Oh, Dexter, but I must see you about this! At once! You couldn't come back to lunch, I suppose? Not possibly? No--this evening there'll be no chance. Why, the dinner for Amalasuntha--oh, please don't forget it again!"
With one hand on the receiver, she reached with the other for her engagement-list (the duplicate of Miss Bruss's), and ran a nervous unseeing eye over it. A scandal--another scandal! It mustn't be. She loathed scandals. And besides, she did believe in the Mahatma. He had "vision." From the moment when she had picked up that word in a magazine article she had felt she had a complete answer about him. . .
"But I must see you before this evening, Dexter. Wait! I'm looking over my engagements." She came to "4 p.m. See A. 4.30 Musical--Torfried Lobb." No; she couldn't give up Torfried Lobb: she was one of the fifty or sixty ladies who had "discovered" him the previous winter, and she knew he counted on her presence at his recital. Well, then--for once "A" must be sacrificed.
"Listen, Dexter; if I were to come to the office at 4? Yes; sharp. Is that right? And don't do anything till I see you--promise!"
She hung up with a sigh of relief. She would try to readjust things so as tosee "A" the next day; though readjusting her list in the height of the season was as exhausting as a major operation.
In her momentary irritation she was almost inclined to feel as if it were Arthur's fault for figuring on that day's list, and thus unsettling all her arrangements. Poor Arthur--from the first he had been one of her failures. She had a little cemetery of them--a very small one--planted over with quick-growing things, so that you might have walked all through her life and not noticed there were any graves in it. To the inexperienced Pauline of thirty years ago, fresh from the factory-smoke of Exploit, Arthur Wyant had symbolized the tempting contrast between a city absorbed in making money and a society bent on enjoying it. Such a brilliant figure--and nothing to show for it! She didn't know exactly what she had expected, her own ideal of manly achievement being at that time solely based on the power of getting rich faster than your neighbours--which Arthur would certainly never do. His father-in-law at Exploit had seen at a glance that it was no use taking him into the motor-business, and had remarked philosophically to Pauline: "Better just regard him as a piece of jewellery: I guess we can afford it."
But jewellery must at least be brilliant; and Arthur had somehow--faded. At one time she had hoped he might play a part in state politics--with Washington and its enticing diplomatic society at the end of the vista--but he shrugged that away as contemptuously as what he called "trade." At Cedarledge he farmed a little, fussed over the accounts, and muddled away her money till she replaced him by a trained superintendent; and in town he spent hours playing bridge at his club, took an intermittent interest in racing, and went and sat every afternoon with his mother, old Mrs. Wyant, in the dreary house near Stuyvesant Square which had never been "done over," and was still lit by Carcel lamps.
An obstacle and a disappointment; that was what he had always been. Still, she would have borne with his inadequacy, his resultless planning, dreaming and dawdling, even his growing tendency to drink, as the wives of her generation were taught to bear with such failings, had it not been for the discovery that he was also "immoral." Immorality no high-minded woman could condone; and when, on her return from a rest-cure in California, she found that he had drifted into a furtive love affair with the dependent cousin who lived with his mother, every law of self-respect known to Pauline decreed his repudiation. Old Mrs. Wyant, horror-struck, banished the cousin and pleaded for her son: Pauline was adamant. She addressed herself to the rising divorce-lawyer, Dexter Manford, and in his capable hands the affair was settled rapidly, discreetly, without scandal, wrangling or recrimination. Wyant withdrew to his mother's house, and Pauline went to Europe, a free woman.
In the early days of the new century divorce had not become a social institution in New York, and the blow to Wyant's pride was deeper than Pauline had foreseen. He lived in complete retirement at his mother's, saw his boy at the dates prescribed by the court, and sank into a sort of premature old age which contrasted painfully--even to Pauline herself--with her own recovered youth and elasticity. The contrast caused her a retrospective pang, and gradually, after her second marriage, and old Mrs. Wyant's death, she came to regard poor Arthur not as a grievance but as a responsibility. She prided herself on never neglecting her responsibilities, and therefore felt a not unnatural vexation with Arthur for having figured among her engagements that day, and thus obliged her to postpone him.
Moving back to the dressing-table she caught her reflection in the tall triple glass. Again those fine wrinkles about lids and lips, those vertical lines between the eyes! She would not permit it; no, not for a moment. She commanded herself: "Now, Pauline, stop worrying. You know perfectly well there's no such thing as worry; it's only dyspepsia or want of exercise, and everything's really all right--" in the insincere tone of a mother soothing a bruised baby.
She looked again, and fancied the wrinkles were really fainter, the vertical lines less deep. Once more she saw before her an erect athletic woman, with all her hair and all her teeth, and just a hint of rouge (because "people did it") brightening a still fresh complexion; saw her small symmetrical features, the black brows drawn with a light stroke over handsome directly-gazing gray eyes, the abundant whitening hair which still responded so crisply to the waver's wand, the firmly planted feet with arched insteps rising to slim ankles.
How absurd, how unlike herself, to be upset by that foolish news! She would look in on Dexter and settle the Mahatma business in five minutes. If there was to be a scandal she wasn't going to have Dexter mixed up in it--above all not against the Mahatma. She could never forget that it was the Mahatma who had first told her she was psychic.
The maid opened an inner door an inch or two to say rebukingly: "Madam, the hair-dresser; and Miss Bruss asked me to remind you--"
"Yes, yes, yes," Mrs. Manford responded hastily; repeating below her breath, as she flung herself into her kimono and settled down before her toilet-table: "Now, I forbid you to let yourself feel hurried! You know there's no such thing as hurry."
But her eye again turned anxiously to the little clock among her scent-bottles, and she wondered if she might not save time by dictating to Maisie Bruss while she was being waved and manicured. She envied women who had no sense of responsibility--like Jim's little Lita. As for herself, the only world she knew rested on her shoulders.
Chapter 3
At a quarter past one, when Nona arrived at her half-brother's house, she was told that Mrs. Wyant was not yet down.
"And Mr. Wyant not yet up, I suppose? From his office, I mean," she added, as the young butler looked his surprise.
Pauline Manford had been very generous at the time of her son's marriage. She was relieved at his settling down, and at his seeming to understand that marriage connoted the choice of a profession, and the adoption of what people called regular habits. Not that Jim's irregularities had ever been such as the phrase habitually suggests. They had chiefly consisted in his not being able to make up his mind what to do with his life (so like his poor father, that!), in his always forgetting what time it was, or what engagements his mother had made for him, in his wanting a chemical laboratory fitted up for him at Cedarledge, and then, when it was all done, using it first as a kennel for breeding fox-terriers and then as a quiet place to practise the violin.
Nona knew how sorely these vacillations had tried her mother, and how reassured Mrs. Manford had been when the young man, in the heat of his infatuation for Lita, had vowed that if she would have him he would turn to and grind in an office like all the other husbands.
Lita have him! Lita Cliffe, a portionless orphan, with no one to guide her in the world but a harum-scarum and somewhat blown-upon aunt, the "impossible" Mrs. Percy Landish! Mrs. Manford smiled at her son's modesty while she applauded his good resolutions. "This experience has made a man of dear Jim," she said, mildly triumphing in the latest confirmation of her optimism. "If only it lasts--!" she added, relapsing into human uncertainty.
"Oh, it will, mother; you'll see; as long as Lita doesn't get tired of him," Nona had assured her.
"As long--? But, my dear child, why should Lita ever get tired of him? You seem to forget what a miracle it was that a girl like Lita, with no one but poor Kitty Landish to look after her, should ever have got such a husband!"
Nona held her ground. "Well--just look about you, mother! Don't they almost all get tired of each other? And when they do, will anything ever stop their having another try? Think of your big dinners! Doesn't Maisie always have to make out a list of previous marriages as long as a cross-word puzzle, to prevent your calling people by the wrong names?"
Mrs. Manford waved away the challenge. "Jim and Lita are not like that; and I don't like your way of speaking of divorce, Nona," she had added, rather weakly for her--since, as Nona might have reminded her, her own way of speaking of divorce varied disconcertingly with the time, the place and the divorce.
The young girl had leisure to recall this discussion while she sat and waited for her brother and his wife. In the freshly decorated and studiously empty house there seemed to be no one to welcome her. The baby (whom she had first enquired for) was asleep, his mother hardly awake, and the head of the house still "at the office." Nona looked about the drawing-room and wondered--the habit was growing on her.