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|Book I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 3 of 6||
He raised his head irritably when his sister Janey entered, and then quickly bent over his book (Swinburne's "Chastelard"--just out) as if he had not seen her. She glanced at the writing-table heaped with books, opened a volume of the "Contes Drolatiques," made a wry face over the archaic French, and sighed: "What learned things you read!"
"Well--?" he asked, as she hovered Cassandra-like before him.
"Mother's very angry."
"Angry? With whom? About what?"
"Miss Sophy Jackson has just been here. She brought word that her brother would come in after dinner: she couldn't say very much, because he forbade her to: he wishes to give all the details himself. He's with cousin Louisa van der Luyden now."
"For heaven's sake, my dear girl, try a fresh start. It would take an omniscient Deity to know what you're talking about."
"It's not a time to be profane, Newland. . . . Mother feels badly enough about your not going to church . . ."
With a groan he plunged back into his book.
"NEWLAND! Do listen. Your friend Madame Olenska was at Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's party last night: she went there with the Duke and Mr. Beaufort."
At the last clause of this announcement a senseless anger swelled the young man's breast. To smother it he laughed. "Well, what of it? I knew she meant to."
Janey paled and her eyes began to project. "You knew she meant to--and you didn't try to stop her? To warn her?"
"Stop her? Warn her?" He laughed again. "I'm not engaged to be married to the Countess Olenska!" The words had a fantastic sound in his own ears.
"You're marrying into her family."
"Oh, family--family!" he jeered.
"Newland--don't you care about Family?"
"Not a brass farthing."
"Nor about what cousin Louisa van der Luyden will think?"
"Not the half of one--if she thinks such old maid's rubbish."
"Mother is not an old maid," said his virgin sister with pinched lips.
He felt like shouting back: "Yes, she is, and so are the van der Luydens, and so we all are, when it comes to being so much as brushed by the wing-tip of Reality." But he saw her long gentle face puckering into tears, and felt ashamed of the useless pain he was inflicting.
"Hang Countess Olenska! Don't be a goose, Janey-- I'm not her keeper."
"No; but you DID ask the Wellands to announce your engagement sooner so that we might all back her up; and if it hadn't been for that cousin Louisa would never have invited her to the dinner for the Duke."
"Well--what harm was there in inviting her? She was the best-looking woman in the room; she made the dinner a little less funereal than the usual van der Luyden banquet."
"You know cousin Henry asked her to please you: he persuaded cousin Louisa. And now they're so upset that they're going back to Skuytercliff tomorrow. I think, Newland, you'd better come down. You don't seem to understand how mother feels."
In the drawing-room Newland found his mother. She raised a troubled brow from her needlework to ask: "Has Janey told you?"
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