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Short stories: The Twilight of the God by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton-2

The Twilight of the God
by Edith Wharton

 

I

A Newport drawing-room. Tapestries, flowers, bric-a-brac. Through the windows, a geranium-edged lawn, the cliffs and the sea. Isabel Warland sits reading. Lucius Warland enters in flannels and a yachting-cap.

Isabel. Back already?

Warland. The wind dropped–it turned into a drifting race. Langham took me off the yacht on his launch. What time is it? Two o’clock? Where’s Mrs. Raynor?

Isabel. On her way to New York.

Warland. To New York?

Isabel. Precisely. The boat must be just leaving; she started an hour ago and took Laura with her. In fact I’m alone in the house–that is, until this evening. Some people are coming then.

Warland. But what in the world–

Isabel. Her aunt, Mrs. Griscom, has had a fit. She has them constantly. They’re not serious–at least they wouldn’t be, if Mrs. Griscom were not so rich–and childless. Naturally, under the circumstances, Marian feels a peculiar sympathy for her; her position is such a sad one; there’s positively no one to care whether she lives or dies–except her heirs. Of course they all rush to Newburgh whenever she has a fit. It’s hard on Marian, for she lives the farthest away; but she has come to an understanding with the housekeeper, who always telegraphs her first, so that she gets a start of several hours. She will be at Newburgh to-night at ten, and she has calculated that the others can’t possibly arrive before midnight.

Warland. You have a delightful way of putting things. I suppose you’d talk of me like that.

Isabel. Oh, no. It’s too humiliating to doubt one’s husband’s disinterestedness.

Warland. I wish I had a rich aunt who had fits.

Isabel. If I were wishing I should choose heart-disease.

Warland. There’s no doing anything without money or influence.

Isabel (picking up her book). Have you heard from Washington?

Warland. Yes. That’s what I was going to speak of when I asked for Mrs. Raynor. I wanted to bid her good-bye.

Isabel. You’re going?

Warland. By the five train. Fagott has just wired me that the Ambassador will be in Washington on Monday. He hasn’t named his secretaries yet, but there isn’t much hope for me. He has a nephew–

Isabel. They always have. Like the Popes.

Warland. Well, I’m going all the same. You’ll explain to Mrs. Raynor if she gets back before I do? Are there to be people at dinner? I don’t suppose it matters. You can always pick up an extra man on a Saturday.

Isabel. By the way, that reminds me that Marian left me a list of the people who are arriving this afternoon. My novel is so absorbing that I forgot to look at it. Where can it be? Ah, here–Let me see: the Jack Merringtons, Adelaide Clinton, Ned Lender–all from New York, by seven P.M. train. Lewis Darley to-night, by Fall River boat. John Oberville, from Boston at five P.M. Why, I didn’t know–

Warland (excitedly). John Oberville? John Oberville? Here? To-day at five o’clock? Let me see–let me look at the list. Are you sure you’re not mistaken? Why, she never said a word! Why the deuce didn’t you tell me?

Isabel. I didn’t know.

Warland. Oberville–Oberville–!

Isabel. Why, what difference does it make?

Warland. What difference? What difference? Don’t look at me as if you didn’t understand English! Why, if Oberville’s coming–(a pause) Look here, Isabel, didn’t you know him very well at one time?

Isabel. Very well–yes.

Warland. I thought so–of course–I remember now; I heard all about it before I met you. Let me see–didn’t you and your mother spend a winter in Washington when he was Under-secretary of State?

Isabel. That was before the deluge.

Warland. I remember–it all comes back to me. I used to hear it said that he admired you tremendously; there was a report that you were engaged. Don’t you remember? Why, it was in all the papers. By Jove, Isabel, what a match that would have been!

Isabel. You are disinterested!

Warland. Well, I can’t help thinking–

Isabel. That I paid you a handsome compliment?

Warland (preoccupied). Eh?–Ah, yes–exactly. What was I saying? Oh– about the report of your engagement. (Playfully.) He was awfully gone on you, wasn’t he?

Isabel. It’s not for me to diminish your triumph.

Warland. By Jove, I can’t think why Mrs. Raynor didn’t tell me he was coming. A man like that–one doesn’t take him for granted, like the piano- tuner! I wonder I didn’t see it in the papers.

Isabel. Is he grown such a great man?

Warland. Oberville? Great? John Oberville? I’ll tell you what he is–the power behind the throne, the black Pope, the King-maker and all the rest of it. Don’t you read the papers? Of course I’ll never get on if you won’t interest yourself in politics. And to think you might have married that man!

Isabel. And got you your secretaryship!

Warland. Oberville has them all in the hollow of his hand.

Isabel. Well, you’ll see him at five o’clock.

Warland. I don’t suppose he’s ever heard of me. worse luck! (A silence.) Isabel, look here. I never ask questions, do I? But it was so long ago–and Oberville almost belongs to history–he will one of these days at any rate. Just tell me–did he want to marry you?

Isabel. Since you answer for his immortality–(after a pause. I was