The Gods Arrive, by Edith Wharton

XV

Halo, after Vance’s return from Fontainebleau, felt the reaction that follows on a period of inward distress. When she recalled the desperate paths her imagination had travelled she shivered; but looking back at them from safety made the future seem more radiant.

How unworthy, she thought, for the lover and comrade of an artist to yield to such fears — and a comrade was what she most wanted to be. Women who cast in their lot with great men, with geniuses, even with the brilliant dreamers whose dreams never take shape, should be armed against emotional storms and terrors. Over and over again she told herself that her joys were worth the pain, that the pain was part of the rapture; but such theories shrivelled to nothing in the terror that had threatened her very life. If she were going to lose her lover — if she had already lost him — she could only tremble and suffer like other women. Everybody was reduced to the same abject level by the big primitive passions, love and jealousy and hunger; the delicate distinctions and differences with which security adorned them vanished in the storm of their approach.

Then Vance came back; and as soon as he appeared her fear was lifted. He had not been with another woman; he had gone off to think over his book. Her first look in his eyes convinced her that he had not deceived her; and instantly she swore to herself that never again, by word or glance, would she betray resentment or curiosity concerning his comings and goings. Whenever he wanted to get away she would accept his disappearance without surprise. Her yoke should be so light, her nearness so pleasant, that when he came back it should never be because he felt obliged to, but because he was happier with her than elsewhere. New strength and cunning seemed to grow in her as she held him in her arms that night.

The morning after Lorry’s banquet Vance went out early; he had already left the house when Halo woke. She was not sorry to be alone; she had not yet finished typing the manuscript he had brought back from Fontainebleau, and as soon as she had dressed, and given the bonne the orders for the day, she returned to her task. The hours passed in a flash, and she was still trying to unravel the tangled manuscript when she heard his latchkey.

“What — lunch already?” she exclaimed, without lifting her head. He made no answer, and when she stopped typing and looked up at him she was startled by the change in his face.

“Why, Vance, how tired you look — aren’t you well?” she exclaimed. And instantly the little serpent of jealousy reared its sharp head again in her breast. Through her sleep, in the small hours, she had heard Vance unlock the door, coming back from Lorry’s feast, as she supposed; but after all, how did she know? It was nearly daylight when the sound of his latchkey had waked her. What more likely than that one of the women at Lorry’s had taken him home with her after the party? Would there never again be any peace for her heart, Halo wondered?

Vance stood silently looking down on her. At length he came up and laid his arm over her shoulder. “Look here, Halo — ” he said in a constrained voice.

“Yes?” she questioned, her own voice sounding to her as odd and uncertain as his. “NOW—!” she thought with a tremor of apprehension. . .

Vance continued to look at her. “I know why you sent me alone to Lorry’s last night. It was because you knew those New York women would be rude to you. Wasn’t that it?”

She returned his look in surprise; then the weight slipped from her heart, and she almost laughed. “Why, darling, how absurd! I’ve always hated big dinners . . . and I’m so fed up with that crowd at Lorry’s.”

“Yes; so am I.”

“Well, then, you can’t blame me for not going.”

“I blame you for not telling me why you wouldn’t go. Lorry told me. He said Mrs. Glaisher didn’t want to meet you because you’ve left your husband and are living with me.”

Halo drew back from his arm to smile up at him. “Why, you ridiculous boy! I daresay he’s right. Mrs. Glaisher cut me the other day when I met her at Lorry’s door. Oh, deliberately — it was such a funny sensation! It amused me so much that I meant to tell you; but I forgot all about it.”

“It doesn’t amuse me,” said Vance with lowering forehead. “Do you suppose I want to associate with people who think you’re not good enough for them? She asked if she could come here to tea with some of her precious friends, and when I told her you were with me she had the impudence to say she hadn’t known, and of course in that case she couldn’t come. Before I left I told Lorry what I thought about his asking me without you.”

Halo was still laughing and looking up into his eyes. “But, Vanny, it was I who urged Lorry to ask you, because he said the Glaisher and Lady Pevensey were dying to meet the author of ‘The Puritan in Spain’; and I thought if he got you to come it might induce Mrs. Glaisher to help him with his ballet.”

“I don’t care a damn about Lorry’s ballet — ”

“Well, I do; and I’m very sorry you didn’t invite Mrs. Glaisher here. Think what fun for me to hide behind the curtains, and hear what fashionable ladies say to a rising novelist! I begin to think you’ve lost your sense of humour. . .”

But she saw that such pleasantries only perplexed him. For a long while he had not understood her sensitiveness about her position; but now that some one had taken advantage of it to slight her he was ablaze with resentment. She put her hand over his. “Vance — as if anything mattered but you and me!”

“Everything matters to me that’s about you. I should think you’d see how I feel.” He walked up and down the room with agitated steps. “I don’t understand your being so offended about that old woman in Granada whom you’d never seen; and now, when your own brother, and people you used to know, behave as if it was a disgrace to meet you, you just sit and laugh.”

Her eyes followed him tenderly. “But don’t you see that it’s simply because being with you has made everything else seem of no consequence?”

He came back and sat down by her, his brow still gloomy. “That’s it . . . that’s why it makes my blood boil to think that when people treat you like that I have to sit by and hold my tongue. I thought of course we should have been married by this time. And I want you to know I’ve done all I could.”

Halo felt a tremor of joy rush through her. “But I know, darling . . . of course I know. . .”

“I went to see Tarrant last night — ” Vance continued.

She interrupted him with an exclamation of astonishment. “Lewis? Do you mean to say Lewis is in Paris?”

“Yes. I thought perhaps you knew. That Glaisher woman told me. And she said he’d never let you have a divorce; he didn’t approve of divorce, she said. I didn’t believe her, because you’d always told me he wanted to get married himself, and I thought she just said it to spite me. But I was bound I’d get at the truth, and so I hunted him down at his hotel last night, and made him listen to me.”

“Last night? You mean to say you were with Lewis last night?”

He nodded silently, and the unexpectedness of the announcement struck Halo silent also. She had not heard that Lewis Tarrant was in Paris, or indeed in Europe; and the shock of learning that he was in the same place as herself, and that only a few hours earlier, all unsuspected by her, her husband and her lover had been talking her over, silenced every other emotion. The vision of that scene — which, a moment ago, would have appeared too improbable to call up any definite picture — seized painfully on her imagination. It seemed to her that she was gazing at herself stripped and exposed, between these two men who were disputing for her possession.

“See here, Halo — you’re not angry with me, are you? I couldn’t help trying to see him,” she heard Vance pleading; and dropping the hands she had raised to her face she turned to him.

“Vanny! Angry? How could I be? Only I don’t see . . . what in the world made you think. . .”

“I don’t believe I did think. I felt I had to see him.” Her eyes filled, and he hurried on nervously: “Yes, but it was no good. I suppose I ought to have known it wouldn’t be. He and I never could talk to each other long without one of us getting mad, or both.”

She looked up in alarm. “You don’t mean to say you had a quarrel?”

“Oh, no; that isn’t his way. We just kept on getting politer and politer.”

“Ah — ” she breathed, and covered her eyes again. If only the pressure of her hands could blot out the vision he called up, the vision of Tarrant rigid and sneering, of Vance bewildered, passionate and helpless! She thought: “My darling — he’s wrecked my last chance of freedom . . . and how I love him for it!”

But in a moment she recovered her self-control. “You must tell me just what happened, dear.” She drew him down to the chair beside her, and quietly, her hand in his, listened to what he told her, weighing every phrase, every syllable, the meaning of which she knew he had only half-guessed, while to her it lay bare to the roots. She had seen at once that any influence she might still have had over Tarrant must have been forfeited by Vance’s rash intervention. Tarrant would never believe that she had not known of it, and his disgust at a proceeding so tactless and indelicate would be aggravated by the idea that she had connived at it, perhaps even prompted it. She could hear him say, with the lift of the nostril that marked his strongest disapproval: “Things aren’t done in that way between civilized people.” It was his final form of condemnation.

She knew that Tarrant never forgave any one who wounded his vanity and tortured his nerves by forcing from him a definite statement on a question he was tacitly determined to ignore, and when Vance ended she sat silent, overcome by the probable consequences of his blunder. But she felt that he might misinterpret her silence, and she faltered out: “I suppose of course he thought I’d sent you.”

“Well, he did at first; but I told him you didn’t know anything about my coming.”

She gave a nervous laugh. “Naturally he didn’t believe that.”

“Why shouldn’t he believe it?”

Her impulse was to say: “Because he wanted a better reason for hating me — ” but she suppressed the retort. “When he’s angry he never listens to what any one says,” she answered vaguely.

“But why is he so angry? He wouldn’t answer me when I asked him that.”

“You asked him —?”

“I reminded him that it was he who originally wanted you to divorce him.”

“Ah — but there’s nothing he hates so much as to be reminded of things he’s finished with!”

Vance, who had stood looking down on her with gathering perplexity, turned away, and began to wander up and down the room. “I see you think I’ve made a colossal blunder,” he said at length. She could not think of anything to say, and he went on: “I ought to have consulted you first, I suppose.”

She took his hand. “If you had I certainly wouldn’t have let you expose yourself to anything so painful.”

“And so useless? I know what you’re thinking. There might have been a chance of his coming round if I’d let things alone . . . and now there’s none. That’s it, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so. For the present, at any rate. But what does it matter? Do you mind, dearest — our not being married?” she asked suddenly, laying her hands beseechingly on his shoulders.

“Yes; I hate it — I hate it every minute!” he burst out. “At first I didn’t see what it meant for you — it was enough for me that you and I were together. But now I wouldn’t for the world have you go through again what you’ve had to endure this last year.”

She drew back, wrinkling up her eyes in the way she knew he liked, and smiling up into his face. “How do you know, dearest, that all I’ve endured hasn’t been a part of our happiness?”

“Not mine — not mine!” he exclaimed impatiently. “It’s poisoned everything for me; and last night that woman made me wild. That’s why I couldn’t wait another minute. And now I see my doing what I did was all a monstrous mistake.” He turned away and resumed his agitated pacing of the room. She wondered if he still had something on his mind, and what it could be; but after the shock of what he had told her she had no heart to question him further. After all, she knew the worst now, and must try to come to terms with that first. . .

Presently he came and sat down beside her. “Halo — there’s one thing I’ve got to ask you. You’ll hate it, maybe; but I want you to give me a straight answer. Tarrant says you’ve known all along about his having refused to get a divorce. Is that so?”

She made a sign of assent, and he went on: “Then — then; this is what I want you to tell me. Hasn’t he refused because he’s trying to get you back?”

She gave a start of surprise, and the blood rushed to her forehead. “Why, Vance, what an idea! You must be crazy. . .”

“Why not? I thought of it the minute I’d left him. The man was in agony; I could see that. He couldn’t have hated me so if he hadn’t still been in love with you.”

“But, darling, I swear to you — ”

He gave a shrug. “Oh, I daresay he hasn’t said anything yet. He’s feeling his way . . . trying to think of some dodge that’ll save his face . . . But I’m sure of it, Halo, I’m sure of it!”

She smiled at his boyish violence. “Well — and what of it?”

“What of it? Nothing, of course. Unless — Look here, Halo, we’ve been together over a year now. When we went away I thought we’d be married in a few months; I wouldn’t have dared to urge you to come if I hadn’t been sure of it. And now there seems no hope of your being free; and I see what a bad turn I did you, persuading you to go off before things were settled. It’s too late to mend that; the harm’s done. But what I want to say is this — ”

Halo sprang up, a new apprehension catching at her heart. “Yes . . . yes . . . you want to say . . .?”

“I want to say that you’re free . . . free as air. . .”

She gave him a long look, and then broke into a little laugh. “Free to go back to Lewis if he’ll have me? Is that what you mean? I’m much obliged to you!”

His head drooped, and he looked away from her. “I mean, of course, free to do what you like.”

There was a silence, during which neither looked at the other.

“If it comes to that, we’re both free,” Halo said at last, in a low voice. Vance was still silent, and she repeated insistently: “We’re both free. Is that what you’re trying to tell me? I’ve always understood it, I assure you!” The words were hardly spoken when she saw how they betrayed the dread she had determined to hide from him; but already she was being swept away on its current. “Ah, you make me too unhappy — too unhappy!” she burst out, and suddenly her hard anguish was loosened, and she fell with long sobs on his breast. “Vanny, Vanny . . . I’ve never loved you as I do now!” she heard herself crying; and felt far off, through the streaming flood of her fears, his hand quietly pushing back her hair.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wharton/edith/gods_arrive/chapter15.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30