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Produced by Charles Aldarondo. HTML version by Al Haines.









MADAME DE TREYMES


BY

EDITH WHARTON




MADAME DE TREYMES




I


John Durham, while he waited for Madame de Malrive to draw on her
gloves, stood in the hotel doorway looking out across the Rue de
Rivoli at the afternoon brightness of the Tuileries gardens.

His European visits were infrequent enough to have kept unimpaired
the freshness of his eye, and he was always struck anew by the vast
and consummately ordered spectacle of Paris: by its look of having
been boldly and deliberately planned as a background for the
enjoyment of life, instead of being forced into grudging concessions
to the festive instincts, or barricading itself against them in
unenlightened ugliness, like his own lamentable New York.

But to-day, if the scene had never presented itself more alluringly,
in that moist spring bloom between showers, when the horse-chestnuts
dome themselves in unreal green against a gauzy sky, and the very
dust of the pavement seems the fragrance of lilac made visible - to-day
for the first time the sense of a personal stake in it all, of having
to reckon individually with its effects and influences, kept Durham
from an unrestrained yielding to the spell. Paris might still be - to
the unimplicated it doubtless still was - the most beautiful city in
the world; but whether it were the most lovable or the most detestable
depended for him, in the last analysis, on the buttoning of the white
glove over which Fanny de Malrive still lingered.

The mere fact of her having forgotten to draw on her gloves as they
were descending in the hotel lift from his mother's drawing-room
was, in this connection, charged with significance to Durham. She
was the kind of woman who always presents herself to the mind's eye
as completely equipped, as made up of exquisitely cared for and
finely-related details; and that the heat of her parting with his
family should have left her unconscious that she was emerging
gloveless into Paris, seemed, on the whole, to speak hopefully for
Durham's future opinion of the city.

Even now, he could detect a certain confusion, a desire to draw
breath and catch up with life, in the way she dawdled over the last
buttons in the dimness of the porte-cochere, while her footman,
outside, hung on her retarded signal.

When at length they emerged, it was to learn from that functionary
that Madame la Marquise's carriage had been obliged to yield its
place at the door, but was at the moment in the act of regaining it.
Madame de Malrive cut the explanation short. "I shall walk home. The
carriage this evening at eight."

As the footman turned away, she raised her eyes for the first time
to Durham's.

"Will you walk with me? Let us cross the Tuileries. I should like to
sit a moment on the terrace."

She spoke quite easily and naturally, as if it were the most
commonplace thing in the world for them to be straying afoot
together over Paris; but even his vague knowledge of the world she
lived in - a knowledge mainly acquired through the perusal of
yellow-backed fiction - gave a thrilling significance to her
naturalness. Durham, indeed, was beginning to find that one of the
charms of a sophisticated society is that it lends point and
perspective to the slightest contact between the sexes. If, in the
old unrestricted New York days, Fanny Frisbee, from a brown stone
door-step, had proposed that they should take a walk in the Park,
the idea would have presented itself to her companion as agreeable
but unimportant; whereas Fanny de Malrive's suggestion that they
should stroll across the Tuileries was obviously fraught with
unspecified possibilities.

He was so throbbing with the sense of these possibilities that he
walked beside her without speaking down the length of the wide alley
which follows the line of the Rue de Rivoli, suffering her even,
when they reached its farthest end, to direct him in silence up the
steps to the terrace of the Feuillants. For, after all, the
possibilities were double-faced, and her bold departure from custom
might simply mean that what she had to say was so dreadful that it
needed all the tenderest mitigation of circumstance.

There was apparently nothing embarrassing to her in his silence: it
was a part of her long European discipline that she had learned to
manage pauses with ease. In her Frisbee days she might have packed
this one with a random fluency; now she was content to let it widen
slowly before them like the spacious prospect opening at their feet.
The complicated beauty of this prospect, as they moved toward it
between the symmetrically clipped limes of the lateral terrace,
touched him anew through her nearness, as with the hint of some vast
impersonal power, controlling and regulating her life in ways he
could not guess, putting between himself and her the whole width of
the civilization into which her marriage had absorbed her. And there
was such fear in the thought - he read such derision of what he had
to offer in the splendour of the great avenues tapering upward to
the sunset glories of the Arch - that all he had meant to say when he
finally spoke compressed itself at last into an abrupt unmitigated:
"Well?"

She answered at once - as though she had only awaited the call of the
national interrogation - "I don't know when I have been so happy."

"So happy?" The suddenness of his joy flushed up through his fair
skin.

"As I was just now - taking tea with your mother and sisters."

Durham's "Oh!" of surprise betrayed also a note of disillusionment,
which she met only by the reconciling murmur: "Shall we sit down?"

He found two of the springy yellow chairs indigenous to the spot,
and placed them under the tree near which they had paused, saying
reluctantly, as he did so: "Of course it was an immense pleasure to
_them_ to see you again."

"Oh, not in the same way. I mean - " she paused, sinking into the
chair, and betraying, for the first time, a momentary inability to
deal becomingly with the situation. "I mean," she resumed smiling,
"that it was not an event for them, as it was for me."

"An event?" he caught her up again, eagerly; for what, in the
language of any civilization, could that word mean but just the one
thing he most wished it to?

"To be with dear, good, sweet, simple, real Americans again!" she
burst out, heaping up her epithets with reckless prodigality.

Durham's smile once more faded to impersonality, as he rejoined,
just a shade on the defensive: "If it's merely our Americanism you
enjoyed - I've no doubt we can give you all you want in that line."

"Yes, it's just that! But if you knew what the word means to me! It
means - it means - " she paused as if to assure herself that they were
sufficiently isolated from the desultory groups beneath the other
trees - "it means that I'm _safe_ with them: as safe as in a bank!"

Durham felt a sudden warmth behind his eyes and in his throat. "I
think I do know - "

"No, you don't, really; you can't know how dear and strange and
familiar it all sounded: the old New York names that kept coming up
in your mother's talk, and her charming quaint ideas about
Europe - their all regarding it as a great big innocent pleasure
ground and shop for Americans; and your mother's missing the
home-made bread and preferring the American asparagus - I'm so tired
of Americans who despise even their own asparagus! And then your
married sister's spending her summers at - where is it? - the
Kittawittany House on Lake Pohunk - "

A vision of earnest women in Shetland shawls, with spectacles and
thin knobs of hair, eating blueberry pie at unwholesome hours in a
shingled dining-room on a bare New England hill-top, rose pallidly
between Durham and the verdant brightness of the Champs Elysees, and
he protested with a slight smile: "Oh, but my married sister is the
black sheep of the family - the rest of us never sank as low as
that."

"Low? I think it's beautiful - fresh and innocent and simple. I
remember going to such a place once. They have early dinner - rather
late - and go off in buckboards over terrible roads, and bring back
golden rod and autumn leaves, and read nature books aloud on the
piazza; and there is always one shy young man in flannels - only
one - who has come to see the prettiest girl (though how he can
choose among so many!) and who takes her off in a buggy for hours
and hours - " She paused and summed up with a long sigh: "It is
fifteen years since I was in America."

"And you're still so good an American."

"Oh, a better and better one every day!"

He hesitated. "Then why did you never come back?"

Her face altered instantly, exchanging its retrospective light for
the look of slightly shadowed watchfulness which he had known as
most habitual to it.

"It was impossible - it has always been so. My husband would not go;
and since - since our separation - there have been family reasons."

Durham sighed impatiently. "Why do you talk of reasons? The truth
is, you have made your life here. You could never give all this up!"
He made a discouraged gesture in the direction of the Place de la
Concorde.

"Give it up! I would go tomorrow! But it could never, now, be for
more than a visit. I must live in France on account of my boy."

Durham's heart gave a quick beat. At last the talk had neared the
point toward which his whole mind was straining, and he began to
feel a personal application in her words. But that made him all the
more cautious about choosing his own.

"It is an agreement - about the boy?" he ventured.

"I gave my word. They knew that was enough," she said proudly;
adding, as if to put him in full possession of her reasons: "It
would have been much more difficult for me to obtain complete
control of my son if it had not been understood that I was to live
in France."

"That seems fair," Durham assented after a moment's reflection: it
was his instinct, even in the heat of personal endeavour, to pause a
moment on the question of "fairness." The personal claim reasserted
itself as he added tentatively: "But when he _is_ brought up - when
he's grown up: then you would feel freer?"

She received this with a start, as a possibility too remote to have
entered into her view of the future. "He is only eight years old!"
she objected.

"Ah, of course it would be a long way off?"

"A long way off, thank heaven! French mothers part late with their
sons, and in that one respect I mean to be a French mother."

"Of course - naturally - since he has only you," Durham again
assented.

He was eager to show how fully he took her point of view, if only to
dispose her to the reciprocal fairness of taking his when the time
came to present it. And he began to think that the time had now
come; that their walk would not have thus resolved itself, without
excuse or pretext, into a tranquil session beneath the trees, for
any purpose less important than that of giving him his opportunity.

He took it, characteristically, without seeking a transition. "When
I spoke to you, the other day, about myself - about what I felt for
you - I said nothing of the future, because, for the moment, my mind
refused to travel beyond its immediate hope of happiness. But I
felt, of course, even then, that the hope involved various
difficulties - that we can't, as we might once have done, come
together without any thought but for ourselves; and whatever your
answer is to be, I want to tell you now that I am ready to accept my
share of the difficulties." He paused, and then added explicitly:
"If there's the least chance of your listening to me, I'm willing to
live over here as long as you can keep your boy with you."




II


Whatever Madame de Malrive's answer was to be, there could be no
doubt as to her readiness to listen. She received Durham's words
without sign of resistance, and took time to ponder them gently
before she answered in a voice touched by emotion: "You are very
generous - very unselfish; but when you fix a limit - no matter how
remote - to my remaining here, I see how wrong it is to let myself
consider for a moment such possibilities as we have been talking
of."

"Wrong? Why should it be wrong?"

"Because I shall want to keep my boy always! Not, of course, in the
sense of living with him, or even forming an important part of his
life; I am not deluded enough to think that possible. But I do
believe it possible never to pass wholly out of his life; and while
there is a hope of that, how can I leave him?" She paused, and
turned on him a new face, a face in which the past of which he was
still so ignorant showed itself like a shadow suddenly darkening a
clear pane. "How can I make you understand?" she went on urgently.
"It is not only because of my love for him - not only, I mean,
because of my own happiness in being with him; that I can't, in
imagination, surrender even the remotest hour of his future; it is
because, the moment he passes out of my influence, he passes under
that other - the influence I have been fighting against every hour
since he was born! - I don't mean, you know," she added, as Durham,
with bent head, continued to offer the silent fixity of his
attention, "I don't mean the special personal influence - except
inasmuch as it represents something wider, more general, something
that encloses and circulates through the whole world in which he
belongs. That is what I meant when I said you could never
understand! There is nothing in your experience - in any American
experience - to correspond with that far-reaching family
organization, which is itself a part of the larger system, and which
encloses a young man of my son's position in a network of accepted
prejudices and opinions. Everything is prepared in advance - his
political and religious convictions, his judgments of people, his
sense of honour, his ideas of women, his whole view of life. He is
taught to see vileness and corruption in every one not of his own
way of thinking, and in every idea that does not directly serve the
religious and political purposes of his class. The truth isn't a
fixed thing: it's not used to test actions by, it's tested by them,
and made to fit in with them. And this forming of the mind begins
with the child's first consciousness; it's in his nursery stories,
his baby prayers, his very games with his playmates! Already he is
only half mine, because the Church has the other half, and will be
reaching out for my share as soon as his education begins. But that
other half is still mine, and I mean to make it the strongest and
most living half of the two, so that, when the inevitable conflict
begins, the energy and the truth and the endurance shall be on my
side and not on theirs!"

She paused, flushing with the repressed fervour of her utterance,
though her voice had not been raised beyond its usual discreet
modulations; and Durham felt himself tingling with the transmitted
force of her resolve. Whatever shock her words brought to his
personal hope, he was grateful to her for speaking them so clearly,
for having so sure a grasp of her purpose.

Her decision strengthened his own, and after a pause of deliberation
he said quietly: "There might be a good deal to urge on the other
side - the ineffectualness of your sacrifice, the probability that
when your son marries he will inevitably be absorbed back into the
life of his class and his people; but I can't look at it in that
way, because if I were in your place I believe I should feel just as
you do about it. As long as there was a fighting chance I should
want to keep hold of my half, no matter how much the struggle cost
me. And one reason why I understand your feeling about your boy is
that I have the same feeling about _you:_ as long as there's a
fighting chance of keeping my half of you - the half he is willing to
spare me - I don't see how I can ever give it up." He waited again,
and then brought out firmly: "If you'll marry me, I'll agree to live
out here as long as you want, and we'll be two instead of one to
keep hold of your half of him."

He raised his eyes as he ended, and saw that hers met them through a
quick clouding of tears.

"Ah, I am glad to have had this said to me! But I could never accept
such an offer."

He caught instantly at the distinction. "That doesn't mean that you
could never accept _me?_"

"Under such conditions - "

"But if I am satisfied with the conditions? Don't think I am
speaking rashly, under the influence of the moment. I have expected
something of this sort, and I have thought out my side of the case.
As far as material circumstances go, I have worked long enough and
successfully enough to take my ease and take it where I choose. I
mention that because the life I offer you is offered to your boy as
well." He let this sink into her mind before summing up gravely:
"The offer I make is made deliberately, and at least I have a right
to a direct answer."

She was silent again, and then lifted a cleared gaze to his. "My
direct answer then is: if I were still Fanny Frisbee I would marry
you."

He bent toward her persuasively. "But you will be - when the divorce
is pronounced."

"Ah, the divorce - " She flushed deeply, with an instinctive
shrinking back of her whole person which made him straighten himself
in his chair.

"Do you so dislike the idea?"

"The idea of divorce? No - not in my case. I should like anything
that would do away with the past - obliterate it all - make everything
new in my life!"

"Then what - ?" he began again, waiting with the patience of a wooer
on the uneasy circling of her tormented mind.

"Oh, don't ask me; I don't know; I am frightened."

Durham gave a deep sigh of discouragement. "I thought your coming
here with me today - and above all your going with me just now to see
my mother - was a sign that you were _not_ frightened!"

"Well, I was not when I was with your mother. She made everything
seem easy and natural. She took me back into that clear American air
where there are no obscurities, no mysteries - "

"What obscurities, what mysteries, are you afraid of?"

She looked about her with a faint shiver. "I am afraid of
everything!" she said.

"That's because you are alone; because you've no one to turn to.
I'll clear the air for you fast enough if you'll let me."

He looked forth defiantly, as if flinging his challenge at the great
city which had come to typify the powers contending with him for her
possession.

"You say that so easily! But you don't know; none of you know."

"Know what?"

"The difficulties - "

"I told you I was ready to take my share of the difficulties - and my
share naturally includes yours. You know Americans are great hands
at getting over difficulties." He drew himself up confidently. "Just
leave that to me - only tell me exactly what you're afraid of."

She paused again, and then said: "The divorce, to begin with - they
will never consent to it."

He noticed that she spoke as though the interests of the whole clan,
rather than her husband's individual claim, were to be considered;
and the use of the plural pronoun shocked his free individualism
like a glimpse of some dark feudal survival.

"But you are absolutely certain of your divorce! I've consulted - of
course without mentioning names - "

She interrupted him, with a melancholy smile: "Ah, so have I. The
divorce would be easy enough to get, if they ever let it come into
the courts."

"How on earth can they prevent that?"

"I don't know; my never knowing how they will do things is one of
the secrets of their power."

"Their power? What power?" he broke in with irrepressible contempt.
"Who are these bogeys whose machinations are going to arrest the
course of justice in a - comparatively - civilized country? You've
told me yourself that Monsieur de Malrive is the least likely to
give you trouble; and the others are his uncle the abbe, his mother
and sister. That kind of a syndicate doesn't scare me much. A priest
and two women _contra mundum!_"

She shook her head. "Not _contra mundum_, but with it, their whole
world is behind them. It's that mysterious solidarity that you can't
understand. One doesn't know how far they may reach, or in how many
directions. I have never known. They have always cropped up where I
least expected them."

Before this persistency of negation Durham's buoyancy began to flag,
but his determination grew the more fixed.

"Well, then, supposing them to possess these supernatural powers; do
you think it's to people of that kind that I'll ever consent to give
you up?"

She raised a half-smiling glance of protest. "Oh, they're not
wantonly wicked. They'll leave me alone as long as - "

"As I do?" he interrupted. "Do you want me to leave you alone? Was
that what you brought me here to tell me?"

The directness of the challenge seemed to gather up the scattered
strands of her hesitation, and lifting her head she turned on him a
look in which, but for its underlying shadow, he might have
recovered the full free beam of Fanny Frisbee's gaze.

"I don't know why I brought you here," she said gently, "except from
the wish to prolong a little the illusion of being once more an
American among Americans. Just now, sitting there with your mother
and Katy and Nannie, the difficulties seemed to vanish; the problems
grew as trivial to me as they are to you. And I wanted them to
remain so a little longer; I wanted to put off going back to them.
But it was of no use - they were waiting for me here. They are over
there now in that house across the river." She indicated the grey
sky-line of the Faubourg, shining in the splintered radiance of the
sunset beyond the long sweep of the quays. "They are a part of me - I
belong to them. I must go back to them!" she sighed.

She rose slowly to her feet, as though her metaphor had expressed an
actual fact and she felt herself bodily drawn from his side by the
influences of which she spoke.

Durham had risen too. "Then I go back with you!" he exclaimed
energetically; and as she paused, wavering a little under the shock
of his resolve: "I don't mean into your house - but into your life!"
he said.

She suffered him, at any rate, to accompany her to the door of the
house, and allowed their debate to prolong itself through the almost
monastic quiet of the quarter which led thither. On the way, he
succeeded in wresting from her the confession that, if it were
possible to ascertain in advance that her husband's family would not
oppose her action, she might decide to apply for a divorce. Short of
a positive assurance on this point, she made it clear that she would
never move in the matter; there must be no scandal, no _retentissement_,
nothing which her boy, necessarily brought up in the French tradition
of scrupulously preserved appearances, could afterward regard as the
faintest blur on his much-quartered escutcheon. But even this partial
concession again raised fresh obstacles; for there seemed to be no
one to whom she could entrust so delicate an investigation, and to
apply directly to the Marquis de Malrive or his relatives appeared,
in the light of her past experience, the last way of learning their
intentions.

"But," Durham objected, beginning to suspect a morbid fixity of idea
in her perpetual attitude of distrust - "but surely you have told me
that your husband's sister - what is her name? Madame de
Treymes? - was the most powerful member of the group, and that she
has always been on your side."

She hesitated. "Yes, Christiane has been on my side. She dislikes
her brother. But it would not do to ask her."

"But could no one else ask her? Who are her friends?"

"She has a great many; and some, of course, are mine. But in a case
like this they would be all hers; they wouldn't hesitate a moment
between us."

"Why should it be necessary to hesitate between you? Suppose Madame
de Treymes sees the reasonableness of what you ask; suppose, at any
rate, she sees the hopelessness of opposing you? Why should she make
a mystery of your opinion?"

"It's not that; it is that, if I went to her friends, I should never
get her real opinion from them. At least I should never know if it
is _was_ her real opinion; and therefore I should be no farther
advanced. Don't you see?"

Durham struggled between the sentimental impulse to soothe her, and
the practical instinct that it was a moment for unmitigated
frankness.

"I'm not sure that I do; but if you can't find out what Madame de
Treymes thinks, I'll see what I can do myself."

"Oh - _you_!" broke from her in mingled terror and admiration; and
pausing on her doorstep to lay her hand in his before she touched


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