December, 1911

Mrs. Ballinger is one of the ladies who pursue Culture in bands,

as though it were dangerous to meet alone. To this end she had

founded the Lunch Club, an association composed of herself and

several other indomitable huntresses of erudition. The Lunch

Club, after three or four winters of lunching and debate, had

acquired such local distinction that the entertainment of

distinguished strangers became one of its accepted functions; in

recognition of which it duly extended to the celebrated "Osric

Dane," on the day of her arrival in Hillbridge, an invitation to

be present at the next meeting.

The Club was to meet at Mrs. Ballinger's. The other members,

behind her back, were of one voice in deploring her unwillingness

to cede her rights in favor of Mrs. Plinth, whose house made a

more impressive setting for the entertainment of celebrities;

while, as Mrs. Leveret observed, there was always the picture-

gallery to fall back on.

Mrs. Plinth made no secret of sharing this view. She had always

regarded it as one of her obligations to entertain the Lunch

Club's distinguished guests. Mrs. Plinth was almost as proud of

her obligations as she was of her picture-gallery; she was in

fact fond of implying that the one possession implied the other,

and that only a woman of her wealth could afford to live up to a

standard as high as that which she had set herself. An all-round

sense of duty, roughly adaptable to various ends, was, in her

opinion, all that Providence exacted of the more humbly

stationed; but the power which had predestined Mrs. Plinth to

keep footmen clearly intended her to maintain an equally

specialized staff of responsibilities. It was the more to be

regretted that Mrs. Ballinger, whose obligations to society were

bounded by the narrow scope of two parlour-maids, should have

been so tenacious of the right to entertain Osric Dane.

The question of that lady's reception had for a month past

profoundly moved the members of the Lunch Club. It was not that

they felt themselves unequal to the task, but that their sense of

the opportunity plunged them into the agreeable uncertainty of

the lady who weighs the alternatives of a well-stocked wardrobe.

If such subsidiary members as Mrs. Leveret were fluttered by the

thought of exchanging ideas with the author of "The Wings of

Death," no forebodings of the kind disturbed the conscious

adequacy of Mrs. Plinth, Mrs. Ballinger and Miss Van Vluyck.

"The Wings of Death" had, in fact, at Miss Van Vluyck's

suggestion, been chosen as the subject of discussion at the last

club meeting, and each member had thus been enabled to express

her own opinion or to appropriate whatever seemed most likely to

be of use in the comments of the others. Mrs. Roby alone had

abstained from profiting by the opportunity thus offered; but it

was now openly recognised that, as a member of the Lunch Club,

Mrs. Roby was a failure. "It all comes," as Miss Van Vluyck put

it, "of accepting a woman on a man's estimation." Mrs. Roby,

returning to Hillbridge from a prolonged sojourn in exotic

regions--the other ladies no longer took the trouble to remember

where--had been emphatically commended by the distinguished

biologist, Professor Foreland, as the most agreeable woman he had

ever met; and the members of the Lunch Club, awed by an encomium

that carried the weight of a diploma, and rashly assuming that

the Professor's social sympathies would follow the line of his

scientific bent, had seized the chance of annexing a biological

member. Their disillusionment was complete. At Miss Van

Vluyck's first off-hand mention of the pterodactyl Mrs. Roby had

confusedly murmured: "I know so little about metres--" and after

that painful betrayal of incompetence she had prudently withdrawn

from farther participation in the mental gymnastics of the club.

"I suppose she flattered him," Miss Van Vluyck summed up--"or

else it's the way she does her hair."

The dimensions of Miss Van Vluyck's dining-room having restricted

the membership of the club to six, the non-conductiveness of one

member was a serious obstacle to the exchange of ideas, and some

wonder had already been expressed that Mrs. Roby should care to

live, as it were, on the intellectual bounty of the others. This

feeling was augmented by the discovery that she had not yet read

"The Wings of Death." She owned to having heard the name of

Osric Dane; but that--incredible as it appeared--was the extent

of her acquaintance with the celebrated novelist. The ladies

could not conceal their surprise, but Mrs. Ballinger, whose pride

in the club made her wish to put even Mrs. Roby in the best

possible light, gently insinuated that, though she had not had

time to acquaint herself with "The Wings of Death," she must at

least be familiar with its equally remarkable predecessor, "The

Supreme Instant."

Mrs. Roby wrinkled her sunny brows in a conscientious effort of

memory, as a result of which she recalled that, oh, yes, she HAD

seen the book at her brother's, when she was staying with him in

Brazil, and had even carried it off to read one day on a boating

party; but they had all got to shying things at each other in the

boat, and the book had gone overboard, so she had never had the


The picture evoked by this anecdote did not advance Mrs. Roby's

credit with the club, and there was a painful pause, which was

broken by Mrs. Plinth's remarking: "I can understand that, with

all your other pursuits, you should not find much time for

reading; but I should have thought you might at least have GOT UP

'The Wings of Death' before Osric Dane's arrival."

Mrs. Roby took this rebuke good-humouredly. She had meant, she

owned to glance through the book; but she had been so absorbed in

a novel of Trollope's that--

"No one reads Trollope now," Mrs. Ballinger interrupted


Mrs. Roby looked pained. "I'm only just beginning," she


"And does he interest you?" Mrs. Plinth inquired.

"He amuses me."

"Amusement," said Mrs. Plinth sententiously, "is hardly what I

look for in my choice of books."

"Oh, certainly, 'The Wings of Death' is not amusing," ventured

Mrs. Leveret, whose manner of putting forth an opinion was like

that of an obliging salesman with a variety of other styles to

submit if his first selection does not suit.

"Was it MEANT to be?" enquired Mrs. Plinth, who was fond of

asking questions that she permitted no one but herself to answer.

"Assuredly not."

"Assuredly not--that is what I was going to say," assented Mrs.

Leveret, hastily rolling up her opinion and reaching for another.

"It was meant to--to elevate."

Miss Van Vluyck adjusted her spectacles as though they were the

black cap of condemnation. "I hardly see," she interposed, "how

a book steeped in the bitterest pessimism can be said to elevate,

however much it may instruct."

"I meant, of course, to instruct," said Mrs. Leveret, flurried by

the unexpected distinction between two terms which she had

supposed to be synonymous. Mrs. Leveret's enjoyment of the Lunch

Club was frequently marred by such surprises; and not knowing her

own value to the other ladies as a mirror for their mental

complacency she was sometimes troubled by a doubt of her

worthiness to join in their debates. It was only the fact of

having a dull sister who thought her clever that saved her from a

sense of hopeless inferiority.

"Do they get married in the end?" Mrs. Roby interposed.

"They--who?" the Lunch Club collectively exclaimed.

"Why, the girl and man. It's a novel, isn't it? I always think

that's the one thing that matters. If they're parted it spoils

my dinner."

Mrs. Plinth and Mrs. Ballinger exchanged scandalised glances, and

the latter said: "I should hardly advise you to read 'The Wings

of Death,' in that spirit. For my part, when there are so many

books that one HAS to read, I wonder how any one can find time

for those that are merely amusing."

"The beautiful part of it," Laura Glyde murmured, "is surely just

this--that no one can tell HOW 'The Wings of Death' ends. Osric

Dane, overcome by the dread significance of her own meaning, has

mercifully veiled it--perhaps even from herself--as Apelles, in

representing the sacrifice of Iphigenia, veiled the face of


"What's that? Is it poetry?" whispered Mrs. Leveret nervously to

Mrs. Plinth, who, disdaining a definite reply, said coldly: "You

should look it up. I always make it a point to look things up."

Her tone added--"though I might easily have it done for me by the


"I was about to say," Miss Van Vluyck resumed, "that it must

always be a question whether a book CAN instruct unless it


"Oh--" murmured Mrs. Leveret, now feeling herself hopelessly


"I don't know," said Mrs. Ballinger, scenting in Miss Van

Vluyck's tone a tendency to depreciate the coveted distinction of

entertaining Osric Dane; "I don't know that such a question can

seriously be raised as to a book which has attracted more

attention among thoughtful people than any novel since 'Robert


"Oh, but don't you see," exclaimed Laura Glyde, "that it's just

the dark hopelessness of it all--the wonderful tone-scheme of

black on black--that makes it such an artistic achievement? It

reminded me so when I read it of Prince Rupert's maniere noire . . .

the book is etched, not painted, yet one feels the colour

values so intensely . . ."

"Who is HE?" Mrs. Leveret whispered to her neighbour. "Some one

she's met abroad?"

"The wonderful part of the book," Mrs. Ballinger conceded, "is

that it may be looked at from so many points of view. I hear

that as a study of determinism Professor Lupton ranks it with

'The Data of Ethics.'"

"I'm told that Osric Dane spent ten years in preparatory studies

before beginning to write it," said Mrs. Plinth. "She looks up

everything--verifies everything. It has always been my

principle, as you know. Nothing would induce me, now, to put

aside a book before I'd finished it, just because I can buy as

many more as I want."

"And what do YOU think of 'The Wings of Death'?" Mrs. Roby

abruptly asked her.

It was the kind of question that might be termed out of order,

and the ladies glanced at each other as though disclaiming any

share in such a breach of discipline. They all knew that there

was nothing Mrs. Plinth so much disliked as being asked her

opinion of a book. Books were written to read; if one read them

what more could be expected? To be questioned in detail

regarding the contents of a volume seemed to her as great an

outrage as being searched for smuggled laces at the Custom House.

The club had always respected this idiosyncrasy of Mrs. Plinth's.

Such opinions as she had were imposing and substantial: her mind,

like her house, was furnished with monumental "pieces" that were

not meant to be suddenly disarranged; and it was one of the

unwritten rules of the Lunch Club that, within her own province,

each member's habits of thought should be respected. The meeting

therefore closed with an increased sense, on the part of the

other ladies, of Mrs. Roby's hopeless unfitness to be one of



Mrs. Leveret, on the eventful day, had arrived early at Mrs.

Ballinger's, her volume of Appropriate Allusions in her pocket.

It always flustered Mrs. Leveret to be late at the Lunch Club:

she liked to collect her thoughts and gather a hint, as the

others assembled, of the turn the conversation was likely to

take. To-day, however, she felt herself completely at a loss;

and even the familiar contact of Appropriate Allusions, which

stuck into her as she sat down, failed to give her any

reassurance. It was an admirable little volume, compiled to meet

all the social emergencies; so that, whether on the occasion of

Anniversaries, joyful or melancholy (as the classification ran),

of Banquets, social or municipal, or of Baptisms, Church of

England or sectarian, its student need never be at a loss for a

pertinent reference. Mrs. Leveret, though she had for years

devoutly conned its pages, valued it, however, rather for its

moral support than for its practical services; for though in the

privacy of her own room she commanded an army of quotations,

these invariably deserted her at the critical moment, and the

only line she retained--CANST THOU DRAW OUT LEVIATHAN WITH A

HOOK?--was one she had never yet found the occasion to apply.

To-day she felt that even the complete mastery of the volume

would hardly have insured her self-possession; for she thought it

probable, even if she DID, in some miraculous way, remember an

Allusion, it would be only to find that Osric Dane used a

different volume (Mrs. Leveret was convinced that literary people

always carried them), and would consequently not recognise her


Mrs. Leveret's sense of being adrift was intensified by the

appearance of Mrs. Ballinger's drawing-room. To a careless eye

its aspect was unchanged; but those acquainted with Mrs.

Ballinger's way of arranging her books would instantly have

detected the marks of recent perturbation. Mrs. Ballinger's

province, as a member of the Lunch Club, was the Book of the Day.

On that, whatever it was, from a novel to a treatise on

experimental psychology, she was confidently, authoritatively

"up." What became of last year's books, or last week's even;

what she did with the "subjects" she had previously professed

with equal authority; no one had ever yet discovered. Her mind

was an hotel where facts came and went like transient lodgers,

without leaving their address behind, and frequently without

paying for their board. It was Mrs. Ballinger's boast that she

was "abreast with the Thought of the Day," and her pride that

this advanced position should be expressed by the books on her

drawing-room table. These volumes, frequently renewed, and

almost always damp from the press, bore names generally

unfamiliar to Mrs. Leveret, and giving her, as she furtively

scanned them, a disheartening glimpse of new fields of knowledge

to be breathlessly traversed in Mrs. Ballinger's wake. But to-

day a number of maturer-looking volumes were adroitly mingled

with the primeurs of the press--Karl Marx jostled Professor

Bergson, and the "Confessions of St. Augustine" lay beside the

last work on "Mendelism"; so that even to Mrs. Leveret's

fluttered perceptions it was clear that Mrs. Ballinger didn't in

the least know what Osric Dane was likely to talk about, and had

taken measures to be prepared for anything. Mrs. Leveret felt

like a passenger on an ocean steamer who is told that there is no

immediate danger, but that she had better put on her life-belt.

It was a relief to be roused from these forebodings by Miss Van

Vluyck's arrival.

"Well, my dear," the new-comer briskly asked her hostess, "what

subjects are we to discuss to-day?"

Mrs. Ballinger was furtively replacing a volume of Wordsworth by

a copy of Verlaine. "I hardly know," she said somewhat

nervously. "Perhaps we had better leave that to circumstances."

"Circumstances?" said Miss Van Vluyck drily. "That means, I

suppose, that Laura Glyde will take the floor as usual, and we

shall be deluged with literature."

Philanthropy and statistics were Miss Van Vluyck's province, and

she naturally resented any tendency to divert their guest's

attention from these topics.

Mrs. Plinth at this moment appeared.

"Literature?" she protested in a tone of remonstrance. "But this

is perfectly unexpected. I understood we were to talk of Osric

Dane's novel."

Mrs. Ballinger winced at the discrimination, but let it pass.

"We can hardly make that our chief subject--at least not TOO

intentionally," she suggested. "Of course we can let our talk

DRIFT in that direction; but we ought to have some other topic as

an introduction, and that is what I wanted to consult you about.

The fact is, we know so little of Osric Dane's tastes and

interests that it is difficult to make any special preparation."

"It may be difficult," said Mrs. Plinth with decision, "but it is

absolutely necessary. I know what that happy-go-lucky principle

leads to. As I told one of my nieces the other day, there are

certain emergencies for which a lady should always be prepared.

It's in shocking taste to wear colours when one pays a visit of

condolence, or a last year's dress when there are reports that

one's husband is on the wrong side of the market; and so it is

with conversation. All I ask is that I should know beforehand

what is to be talked about; then I feel sure of being able to say

the proper thing."

"I quite agree with you," Mrs. Ballinger anxiously assented;


And at that instant, heralded by the fluttered parlour-maid,

Osric Dane appeared upon the threshold.

Mrs. Leveret told her sister afterward that she had known at a

glance what was coming. She saw that Osric Dane was not going to

meet them half way. That distinguished personage had indeed

entered with an air of compulsion not calculated to promote the

easy exercise of hospitality. She looked as though she were

about to be photographed for a new edition of her books.

The desire to propitiate a divinity is generally in inverse ratio

to its responsiveness, and the sense of discouragement produced

by Osric Dane's entrance visibly increased the Lunch Club's

eagerness to please her. Any lingering idea that she might

consider herself under an obligation to her entertainers was at

once dispelled by her manner: as Mrs. Leveret said afterward to

her sister, she had a way of looking at you that made you feel as

if there was something wrong with your hat. This evidence of

greatness produced such an immediate impression on the ladies

that a shudder of awe ran through them when Mrs. Roby, as their

hostess led the great personage into the dining-room, turned back

to whisper to the others: "What a brute she is!"

The hour about the table did not tend to correct this verdict.

It was passed by Osric Dane in the silent deglutition of Mrs.

Ballinger's menu, and by the members of the Club in the emission

of tentative platitudes which their guest seemed to swallow as

perfunctorily as the successive courses of the luncheon.

Mrs. Ballinger's deplorable delay in fixing a topic had thrown

the Club into a mental disarray which increased with the return

to the drawing-room, where the actual business of discussion was

to open. Each lady waited for the other to speak; and there was

a general shock of disappointment when their hostess opened the

conversation by the painfully commonplace inquiry: "Is this your

first visit to Hillbridge?"

Even Mrs. Leveret was conscious that this was a bad beginning;

and a vague impulse of deprecation made Miss Glyde interject: "It

is a very small place indeed."

Mrs. Plinth bristled. "We have a great many representative

people," she said, in the tone of one who speaks for her order.

Osric Dane turned to her thoughtfully. "What do they represent?"

she asked.

Mrs. Plinth's constitutional dislike to being questioned was

intensified by her sense of unpreparedness; and her reproachful

glance passed the question on to Mrs. Ballinger.

"Why," said that lady, glancing in turn at the other members, "as

a community I hope it is not too much to say that we stand for


"For art--" Miss Glyde eagerly interjected.

"For art and literature," Mrs. Ballinger emended.

"And for sociology, I trust," snapped Miss Van Vluyck.

"We have a standard," said Mrs. Plinth, feeling herself suddenly

secure on the vast expanse of a generalisation: and Mrs. Leveret,

thinking there must be room for more than one on so broad a

statement, took courage to murmur: "Oh, certainly; we have a


"The object of our little club," Mrs. Ballinger continued, "is to

concentrate the highest tendencies of Hillbridge--to centralise

and focus its complex intellectual effort."

This was felt to be so happy that the ladies drew an almost

audible breath of relief.

"We aspire," the President went on, "to stand for what is highest

in art, literature and ethics."

Osric Dane again turned to her. "What ethics?" she asked.

A tremor of apprehension encircled the room. None of the ladies

required any preparation to pronounce on a question of morals;

but when they were called ethics it was different. The club,

when fresh from the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," the "Reader's

Handbook" or Smith's "Classical Dictionary," could deal

confidently with any subject; but when taken unawares it had been

known to define agnosticism as a heresy of the Early Church and

Professor Froude as a distinguished histologist; and such minor

members as Mrs. Leveret still secretly regarded ethics as

something vaguely pagan.

Even to Mrs. Ballinger, Osric Dane's question was unsettling, and

there was a general sense of gratitude when Laura Glyde leaned

forward to say, with her most sympathetic accent: "You must

excuse us, Mrs. Dane, for not being able, just at present, to

talk of anything but 'The Wings of Death.'"

"Yes," said Miss Van Vluyck, with a sudden resolve to carry the

war into the enemy's camp. "We are so anxious to know the exact

purpose you had in mind in writing your wonderful book."

"You will find," Mrs. Plinth interposed, "that we are not

superficial readers."

"We are eager to hear from you," Miss Van Vluyck continued, "if

the pessimistic tendency of the book is an expression of your own

convictions or--"

"Or merely," Miss Glyde hastily thrust in, "a sombre background

brushed in to throw your figures into more vivid relief. ARE you

not primarily plastic?"

"I have always maintained," Mrs. Ballinger interposed, "that you

represent the purely objective method--"

Osric Dane helped herself critically to coffee. "How do you

define objective?" she then inquired.

There was a flurried pause before Laura Glyde intensely murmured:

"In reading YOU we don't define, we feel."

Osric Dane smiled. "The cerebellum," she remarked, "is not

infrequently the seat of the literary emotions." And she took a

second lump of sugar.

The sting that this remark was vaguely felt to conceal was almost

neutralised by the satisfaction of being addressed in such

technical language.

"Ah, the cerebellum," said Miss Van Vluyck complacently. "The

Club took a course in psychology last winter."

"Which psychology?" asked Osric Dane.

There was an agonising pause, during which each member of the

Club secretly deplored the distressing inefficiency of the

others. Only Mrs. Roby went on placidly sipping her chartreuse.

At last Mrs. Ballinger said, with an attempt at a high tone:

"Well, really, you know, it was last year that we took

psychology, and this winter we have been so absorbed in--"

She broke off, nervously trying to recall some of the Club's

discussions; but her faculties seemed to be paralysed by the

petrifying stare of Osric Dane. What HAD the club been absorbed

in lately? Mrs. Ballinger, with a vague purpose of gaining time,

repeated slowly: "We've been so intensely absorbed in--"

Mrs. Roby put down her liqueur glass and drew near the group with

a smile.

"In Xingu?" she gently prompted.

A thrill ran through the other members. They exchanged confused

glances, and then, with one accord, turned a gaze of mingled

relief and interrogation on their unexpected rescuer. The

expression of each denoted a different phase of the same emotion.

Mrs. Plinth was the first to compose her features to an air of

reassurance: after a moment's hasty adjustment her look almost

implied that it was she who had given the word to Mrs. Ballinger.

"Xingu, of course!" exclaimed the latter with her accustomed

promptness, while Miss Van Vluyck and Laura Glyde seemed to be

plumbing the depths of memory, and Mrs. Leveret, feeling

apprehensively for Appropriate Allusions, was somehow reassured

by the uncomfortable pressure of its bulk against her person.

Osric Dane's change of countenance was no less striking than that

of her entertainers. She too put down her coffee-cup, but with a

look of distinct annoyance: she too wore, for a brief moment,

what Mrs. Roby afterward described as the look of feeling for

something in the back of her head; and before she could dissemble

these momentary signs of weakness, Mrs. Roby, turning to her with

a deferential smile, had said: "And we've been so hoping that

to-day you would tell us just what you think of it."

Osric Dane received the homage of the smile as a matter of

course; but the accompanying question obviously embarrassed her,

and it became clear to her observers that she was not quick at

shifting her facial scenery. It was as though her countenance

had so long been set in an expression of unchallenged superiority

that the muscles had stiffened, and refused to obey her orders.

"Xingu--" she murmured, as if seeking in her turn to gain time.

Mrs. Roby continued to press her. "Knowing how engrossing the

subject is, you will understand how it happens that the Club has

let everything else go to the wall for the moment. Since we took

up Xingu I might almost say--were it not for your books--that

nothing else seems to us worth remembering."

Osric Dane's stern features were darkened rather than lit up by

an uneasy smile. "I am glad to hear there is one exception," she

gave out between narrowed lips.

"Oh, of course," Mrs. Roby said prettily; "but as you have shown

us that--so very naturally!--you don't care to talk about your

own things, we really can't let you off from telling us exactly

what you think about Xingu; especially," she added, with a

persuasive smile, "as some people say that one of your last books

was simply saturated with it."

It was an IT, then--the assurance sped like fire through the

parched minds of the other members. In their eagerness to gain

the least little clue to Xingu they almost forgot the joy of

assisting at the discomfiture of Mrs. Dane.

The latter reddened nervously under her antagonist's direct

assault. "May I ask," she faltered out in an embarrassed tone,

"to which of my books you refer?"

Mrs. Roby did not falter. "That's just what I want you to tell

us; because, though I was present, I didn't actually take part."

"Present at what?" Mrs. Dane took her up; and for an instant the

trembling members of the Lunch Club thought that the champion

Providence had raised up for them had lost a point. But Mrs.

Roby explained herself gaily: "At the discussion, of course. And

so we're dreadfully anxious to know just how it was that you went

into the Xingu."

There was a portentous pause, a silence so big with incalculable

dangers that the members with one accord checked the words on

their lips, like soldiers dropping their arms to watch a single

combat between their leaders. Then Mrs. Dane gave expression to

their inmost dread by saying sharply: "Ah--you say THE Xingu, do


Mrs. Roby smiled undauntedly. "It IS a shade pedantic, isn't it?

Personally, I always drop the article; but I don't know how the

other members feel about it."

The other members looked as though they would willingly have

dispensed with this deferential appeal to their opinion, and Mrs.

Roby, after a bright glance about the group, went on: "They

probably think, as I do, that nothing really matters except the

thing itself--except Xingu."

No immediate reply seemed to occur to Mrs. Dane, and Mrs.

Ballinger gathered courage to say: "Surely every one must feel

that about Xingu."

Mrs. Plinth came to her support with a heavy murmur of assent,

and Laura Glyde breathed emotionally: "I have known cases where

it has changed a whole life."

"It has done me worlds of good," Mrs. Leveret interjected,

seeming to herself to remember that she had either taken it or

read it in the winter before.

"Of course," Mrs. Roby admitted, "the difficulty is that one must

give up so much time to it. It's very long."

"I can't imagine," said Miss Van Vluyck tartly, "grudging the

time given to such a subject."

"And deep in places," Mrs. Roby pursued; (so then it was a book!)

"And it isn't easy to skip."

"I never skip," said Mrs. Plinth dogmatically.

"Ah, it's dangerous to, in Xingu. Even at the start there are

places where one can't. One must just wade through."

"I should hardly call it WADING," said Mrs. Ballinger


Mrs. Roby sent her a look of interest. "Ah--you always found it

went swimmingly?"

Mrs. Ballinger hesitated. "Of course there are difficult

passages," she conceded modestly.

"Yes; some are not at all clear--even," Mrs. Roby added, "if one

is familiar with the original."

"As I suppose you are?" Osric Dane interposed, suddenly fixing

her with a look of challenge.

Mrs. Roby met it by a deprecating smile. "Oh, it's really not

difficult up to a certain point; though some of the branches are

very little known, and it's almost impossible to get at the


"Have you ever tried?" Mrs. Plinth enquired, still distrustful of

Mrs. Roby's thoroughness.

Mrs. Roby was silent for a moment; then she replied with lowered

lids: "No--but a friend of mine did; a very brilliant man; and he

told me it was best for women--not to . . ."

A shudder ran around the room. Mrs. Leveret coughed so that the

parlour-maid, who was handing the cigarettes, should not hear;

Miss Van Vluyck's face took on a nauseated expression, and Mrs.

Plinth looked as if she were passing some one she did not care to

bow to. But the most remarkable result of Mrs. Roby's words was

the effect they produced on the Lunch Club's distinguished guest.

Osric Dane's impassive features suddenly melted to an expression

of the warmest human sympathy, and edging her chair toward Mrs.

Roby's she asked: "Did he really? And--did you find he was


Mrs. Ballinger, in whom annoyance at Mrs. Roby's unwonted

assumption of prominence was beginning to displace gratitude for

the aid she had rendered, could not consent to her being allowed,

by such dubious means, to monopolise the attention of their

guest. If Osric Dane had not enough self-respect to resent Mrs.

Roby's flippancy, at least the Lunch Club would do so in the

person of its President.

Mrs. Ballinger laid her hand on Mrs. Roby's arm. "We must not

forget," she said with a frigid amiability, "that absorbing as

Xingu is to US, it may be less interesting to--"

"Oh, no, on the contrary, I assure you," Osric Dane energetically


"--to others," Mrs. Ballinger finished firmly; "and we must not

allow our little meeting to end without persuading Mrs. Dane to

say a few words to us on a subject which, to-day, is much more

present in all our thoughts. I refer, of course, to 'The Wings

of Death.'"

The other members, animated by various degrees of the same

sentiment, and encouraged by the humanised mien of their

redoubtable guest, repeated after Mrs. Ballinger: "Oh, yes, you

really MUST talk to us a little about your book."

Osric Dane's expression became as bored, though not as haughty,

as when her work had been previously mentioned. But before she

could respond to Mrs. Ballinger's request, Mrs. Roby had risen

from her seat, and was pulling her veil down over her frivolous


"I'm so sorry," she said, advancing toward her hostess with

outstretched hand, "but before Mrs. Dane begins I think I'd

better run away. Unluckily, as you know, I haven't read her

books, so I should be at a terrible disadvantage among you all;

and besides, I've an engagement to play bridge."

If Mrs. Roby had simply pleaded her ignorance of Osric Dane's

works as a reason for withdrawing, the Lunch Club, in view of her

recent prowess, might have approved such evidence of discretion;

but to couple this excuse with the brazen announcement that she

was foregoing the privilege for the purpose of joining a bridge-

party, was only one more instance of her deplorable lack of


The ladies were disposed, however, to feel that her departure--

now that she had performed the sole service she was ever likely

to render them--would probably make for greater order and dignity

in the impending discussion, besides relieving them of the sense

of self-distrust which her presence always mysteriously produced.

Mrs. Ballinger therefore restricted herself to a formal murmur of

regret, and the other members were just grouping themselves

comfortably about Osric Dane when the latter, to their dismay,

started up from the sofa on which she had been deferentially


"Oh wait--do wait, and I'll go with you!" she called out to Mrs.

Roby; and, seizing the hands of the disconcerted members, she

administered a series of farewell pressures with the mechanical

haste of a railway-conductor punching tickets.

"I'm so sorry--I'd quite forgotten--" she flung back at them from

the threshold; and as she joined Mrs. Roby, who had turned in

surprise at her appeal, the other ladies had the mortification of

hearing her say, in a voice which she did not take the pains to

lower: "If you'll let me walk a little way with you, I should so

like to ask you a few more questions about Xingu . . ."


The incident had been so rapid that the door closed on the

departing pair before the other members had had time to

understand what was happening. Then a sense of the indignity put

upon them by Osric Dane's unceremonious desertion began to

contend with the confused feeling that they had been cheated out

of their due without exactly knowing how or why.

There was an awkward silence, during which Mrs. Ballinger, with a

perfunctory hand, rearranged the skilfully grouped literature at

which her distinguished guest had not so much as glanced; then

Miss Van Vluyck tartly pronounced: "Well, I can't say that I

consider Osric Dane's departure a great loss."

This confession crystallised the fluid resentment of the other

members, and Mrs. Leveret exclaimed: "I do believe she came on

purpose to be nasty!"

It was Mrs. Plinth's private opinion that Osric Dane's attitude

toward the Lunch Club might have been very different had it

welcomed her in the majestic setting of the Plinth drawing-rooms;

but not liking to reflect on the inadequacy of Mrs. Ballinger's

establishment she sought a round-about satisfaction in

depreciating her savoir faire.

"I said from the first that we ought to have had a subject ready.

It's what always happens when you're unprepared. Now if we'd

only got up Xingu--"

The slowness of Mrs. Plinth's mental processes was always allowed

for by the Club; but this instance of it was too much for Mrs.

Ballinger's equanimity.

"Xingu!" she scoffed. "Why, it was the fact of our knowing so

much more about it than she did--unprepared though we were--that

made Osric Dane so furious. I should have thought that was plain

enough to everybody!"

This retort impressed even Mrs. Plinth, and Laura Glyde, moved by

an impulse of generosity, said: "Yes, we really ought to be

grateful to Mrs. Roby for introducing the topic. It may have

made Osric Dane furious, but at least it made her civil."

"I am glad we were able to show her," added Miss Van Vluyck,

"that a broad and up-to-date culture is not confined to the great

intellectual centres."

This increased the satisfaction of the other members, and they

began to forget their wrath against Osric Dane in the pleasure of

having contributed to her defeat.

Miss Van Vluyck thoughtfully rubbed her spectacles. "What

surprised me most," she continued, "was that Fanny Roby should be

so up on Xingu."

This frank admission threw a slight chill on the company, but

Mrs. Ballinger said with an air of indulgent irony: "Mrs. Roby

always has the knack of making a little go a long way; still, we

certainly owe her a debt for happening to remember that she'd

heard of Xingu." And this was felt by the other members to be a

graceful way of cancelling once for all the Club's obligation to

Mrs. Roby.

Even Mrs. Leveret took courage to speed a timid shaft of irony:

"I fancy Osric Dane hardly expected to take a lesson in Xingu at


Mrs. Ballinger smiled. "When she asked me what we represented--

do you remember?--I wish I'd simply said we represented Xingu!"

All the ladies laughed appreciatively at this sally, except Mrs.

Plinth, who said, after a moment's deliberation: "I'm not sure it

would have been wise to do so."

Mrs. Ballinger, who was already beginning to feel as if she had

launched at Osric Dane the retort which had just occurred to her,

looked ironically at Mrs. Plinth. "May I ask why?" she enquired.

Mrs. Plinth looked grave. "Surely," she said, "I understood from

Mrs. Roby herself that the subject was one it was as well not to

go into too deeply?"

Miss Van Vluyck rejoined with precision: "I think that applied

only to an investigation of the origin of the--of the--"; and

suddenly she found that her usually accurate memory had failed

her. "It's a part of the subject I never studied myself," she

concluded lamely.

"Nor I," said Mrs. Ballinger.

Laura Glyde bent toward them with widened eyes. "And yet it

seems--doesn't it?--the part that is fullest of an esoteric


"I don't know on what you base that," said Miss Van Vluyck


"Well, didn't you notice how intensely interested Osric Dane

became as soon as she heard what the brilliant foreigner--he WAS

a foreigner, wasn't he?--had told Mrs. Roby about the origin--the

origin of the rite--or whatever you call it?"

Mrs. Plinth looked disapproving, and Mrs. Ballinger visibly

wavered. Then she said in a decisive tone: "It may not be

desirable to touch on the--on that part of the subject in general

conversation; but, from the importance it evidently has to a

woman of Osric Dane's distinction, I feel as if we ought not to

be afraid to discuss it among ourselves--without gloves--though

with closed doors, if necessary."

"I'm quite of your opinion," Miss Van Vluyck came briskly to her

support; "on condition, that is, that all grossness of language

is avoided."

"Oh, I'm sure we shall understand without that," Mrs. Leveret

tittered; and Laura Glyde added significantly: "I fancy we can

read between the lines," while Mrs. Ballinger rose to assure

herself that the doors were really closed.

Mrs. Plinth had not yet given her adhesion. "I hardly see," she

began, "what benefit is to be derived from investigating such

peculiar customs--"

But Mrs. Ballinger's patience had reached the extreme limit of

tension. "This at least," she returned; "that we shall not be

placed again in the humiliating position of finding ourselves

less up on our own subjects than Fanny Roby!"

Even to Mrs. Plinth this argument was conclusive. She peered

furtively about the room and lowered her commanding tones to ask:

"Have you got a copy?"

"A--a copy?" stammered Mrs. Ballinger. She was aware that the

other members were looking at her expectantly, and that this

answer was inadequate, so she supported it by asking another

question. "A copy of what?"

Her companions bent their expectant gaze on Mrs. Plinth, who, in

turn, appeared less sure of herself than usual. "Why, of--of--

the book," she explained.

"What book?" snapped Miss Van Vluyck, almost as sharply as Osric


Mrs. Ballinger looked at Laura Glyde, whose eyes were

interrogatively fixed on Mrs. Leveret. The fact of being

deferred to was so new to the latter that it filled her with an

insane temerity. "Why, Xingu, of course!" she exclaimed.

A profound silence followed this direct challenge to the

resources of Mrs. Ballinger's library, and the latter, after

glancing nervously toward the Books of the Day, returned in a

deprecating voice: "It's not a thing one cares to leave about."

"I should think NOT!" exclaimed Mrs. Plinth.

"It IS a book, then?" said Miss Van Vluyck.

This again threw the company into disarray, and Mrs. Ballinger,

with an impatient sigh, rejoined: "Why--there IS a book--

naturally . . ."

"Then why did Miss Glyde call it a religion?"

Laura Glyde started up. "A religion? I never--"

"Yes, you did," Miss Van Vluyck insisted; "you spoke of rites;

and Mrs. Plinth said it was a custom."

Miss Glyde was evidently making a desperate effort to reinforce

her statement; but accuracy of detail was not her strongest

point. At length she began in a deep murmur: "Surely they used

to do something of the kind at the Eleusinian mysteries--"

"Oh--" said Miss Van Vluyck, on the verge of disapproval; and

Mrs. Plinth protested: "I understood there was to be no


Mrs. Ballinger could not control her irritation. "Really, it is

too bad that we should not be able to talk the matter over

quietly among ourselves. Personally, I think that if one goes

into Xingu at all--"

"Oh, so do I!" cried Miss Glyde.

"And I don't see how one can avoid doing so, if one wishes to

keep up with the Thought of the Day--"

Mrs. Leveret uttered an exclamation of relief. "There--that's

it!" she interposed.

"What's it?" the President curtly took her up.

"Why--it's a--a Thought: I mean a philosophy."

This seemed to bring a certain relief to Mrs. Ballinger and Laura

Glyde, but Miss Van Vluyck said dogmatically: "Excuse me if I

tell you that you're all mistaken. Xingu happens to be a


"A language!" the Lunch Club cried.

"Certainly. Don't you remember Fanny Roby's saying that there

were several branches, and that some were hard to trace? What

could that apply to but dialects?"

Mrs. Ballinger could no longer restrain a contemptuous laugh.

"Really, if the Lunch Club has reached such a pass that it has to

go to Fanny Roby for instruction on a subject like Xingu, it had

almost better cease to exist!"

"It's really her fault for not being clearer," Laura Glyde put


"Oh, clearness and Fanny Roby!" Mrs. Ballinger shrugged. "I

daresay we shall find she was mistaken on almost every point."

"Why not look it up?" said Mrs. Plinth.

As a rule this recurrent suggestion of Mrs. Plinth's was ignored

in the heat of discussion, and only resorted to afterward in the

privacy of each member's home. But on the present occasion the

desire to ascribe their own confusion of thought to the vague and

contradictory nature of Mrs. Roby's statements caused the members

of the Lunch Club to utter a collective demand for a book of


At this point the production of her treasured volume gave Mrs.

Leveret, for a moment, the unusual experience of occupying the

centre front; but she was not able to hold it long, for

Appropriate Allusions contained no mention of Xingu.

"Oh, that's not the kind of thing we want!" exclaimed Miss Van

Vluyck. She cast a disparaging glance over Mrs. Ballinger's

assortment of literature, and added impatiently: "Haven't you any

useful books?"

"Of course I have," replied Mrs. Ballinger indignantly; "but I

keep them in my husband's dressing-room."

From this region, after some difficulty and delay, the parlour-

maid produced the W-Z volume of an Encyclopaedia and, in

deference to the fact that the demand for it had come from Miss

Van Vluyck, laid the ponderous tome before her.

There was a moment of painful suspense while Miss Van Vluyck

rubbed her spectacles, adjusted them, and turned to Z; and a

murmur of surprise when she said: "It isn't here."

"I suppose," said Mrs. Plinth, "it's not fit to be put in a book

of reference."

"Oh, nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Ballinger. "Try X."

Miss Van Vluyck turned back through the volume, peering short-

sightedly up and down the pages, till she came to a stop and

remained motionless, like a dog on a point.

"Well, have you found it?" Mrs. Ballinger enquired, after a

considerable delay.

"Yes. I've found it," said Miss Van Vluyck in a queer voice.

Mrs. Plinth hastily interposed: "I beg you won't read it aloud if

there's anything offensive."

Miss Van Vluyck, without answering, continued her silent


"Well, what IS it?" exclaimed Laura Glyde excitedly.

"DO tell us!" urged Mrs. Leveret, feeling that she would have

something awful to tell her sister.

Miss Van Vluyck pushed the volume aside and turned slowly toward

the expectant group.

"It's a river."


"Yes: in Brazil. Isn't that where she's been living?"

"Who? Fanny Roby? Oh, but you must be mistaken. You've been

reading the wrong thing," Mrs. Ballinger exclaimed, leaning over

her to seize the volume.

"It's the only XINGU in the Encyclopaedia; and she HAS been

living in Brazil," Miss Van Vluyck persisted.

"Yes: her brother has a consulship there," Mrs. Leveret eagerly


"But it's too ridiculous! I--we--why we ALL remember studying

Xingu last year--or the year before last," Mrs. Ballinger


"I thought I did when YOU said so," Laura Glyde avowed.

"I said so?" cried Mrs. Ballinger.

"Yes. You said it had crowded everything else out of your mind."

"Well, YOU said it had changed your whole life!"

"For that matter, Miss Van Vluyck said she had never grudged the

time she'd given it."

Mrs. Plinth interposed: "I made it clear that I knew nothing

whatever of the original."

Mrs. Ballinger broke off the dispute with a groan. "Oh, what

does it all matter if she's been making fools of us? I believe

Miss Van Vluyck's right--she was talking of the river all the


"How could she? It's too preposterous," Miss Glyde exclaimed.

"Listen." Miss Van Vluyck had repossessed herself of the

Encyclopaedia, and restored her spectacles to a nose reddened by

excitement. "'The Xingu, one of the principal rivers of Brazil,

rises on the plateau of Mato Grosso, and flows in a northerly

direction for a length of no less than one thousand one hundred

and eighteen miles, entering the Amazon near the mouth of the

latter river. The upper course of the Xingu is auriferous and

fed by numerous branches. Its source was first discovered in

1884 by the German explorer von den Steinen, after a difficult

and dangerous expedition through a region inhabited by tribes

still in the Stone Age of culture.'"

The ladies received this communication in a state of stupefied

silence from which Mrs. Leveret was the first to rally. "She

certainly DID speak of its having branches."

The word seemed to snap the last thread of their incredulity.

"And of its great length," gasped Mrs. Ballinger.

"She said it was awfully deep, and you couldn't skip--you just

had to wade through," Miss Glyde subjoined.

The idea worked its way more slowly through Mrs. Plinth's compact

resistances. "How could there be anything improper about a

river?" she inquired.


"Why, what she said about the source--that it was corrupt?"

"Not corrupt, but hard to get at," Laura Glyde corrected. "Some

one who'd been there had told her so. I daresay it was the

explorer himself--doesn't it say the expedition was dangerous?"

"'Difficult and dangerous,'" read Miss Van Vluyck.

Mrs. Ballinger pressed her hands to her throbbing temples.

"There's nothing she said that wouldn't apply to a river--to this

river!" She swung about excitedly to the other members. "Why,

do you remember her telling us that she hadn't read 'The Supreme

Instant' because she'd taken it on a boating party while she was

staying with her brother, and some one had 'shied' it overboard--

'shied' of course was her own expression?"

The ladies breathlessly signified that the expression had not

escaped them.

"Well--and then didn't she tell Osric Dane that one of her books

was simply saturated with Xingu? Of course it was, if some of

Mrs. Roby's rowdy friends had thrown it into the river!"

This surprising reconstruction of the scene in which they had

just participated left the members of the Lunch Club

inarticulate. At length Mrs. Plinth, after visibly labouring

with the problem, said in a heavy tone: "Osric Dane was taken in


Mrs. Leveret took courage at this. "Perhaps that's what Mrs.

Roby did it for. She said Osric Dane was a brute, and she may

have wanted to give her a lesson."

Miss Van Vluyck frowned. "It was hardly worth while to do it at

our expense."

"At least," said Miss Glyde with a touch of bitterness, "she

succeeded in interesting her, which was more than we did."

"What chance had we?" rejoined Mrs. Ballinger. "Mrs. Roby

monopolised her from the first. And THAT, I've no doubt, was her

purpose--to give Osric Dane a false impression of her own

standing in the Club. She would hesitate at nothing to attract

attention: we all know how she took in poor Professor Foreland."

"She actually makes him give bridge-teas every Thursday," Mrs.

Leveret piped up.

Laura Glyde struck her hands together. "Why, this is Thursday,

and it's THERE she's gone, of course; and taken Osric with her!"

"And they're shrieking over us at this moment," said Mrs.

Ballinger between her teeth.

This possibility seemed too preposterous to be admitted. "She

would hardly dare," said Miss Van Vluyck, "confess the imposture

to Osric Dane."

"I'm not so sure: I thought I saw her make a sign as she left.

If she hadn't made a sign, why should Osric Dane have rushed out

after her?"

"Well, you know, we'd all been telling her how wonderful Xingu

was, and she said she wanted to find out more about it," Mrs.

Leveret said, with a tardy impulse of justice to the absent.

This reminder, far from mitigating the wrath of the other

members, gave it a stronger impetus.

"Yes--and that's exactly what they're both laughing over now,"

said Laura Glyde ironically.

Mrs. Plinth stood up and gathered her expensive furs about her

monumental form. "I have no wish to criticise," she said; "but

unless the Lunch Club can protect its members against the

recurrence of such--such unbecoming scenes, I for one--"

"Oh, so do I!" agreed Miss Glyde, rising also.

Miss Van Vluyck closed the Encyclopaedia and proceeded to button

herself into her jacket. "My time is really too valuable--" she


"I fancy we are all of one mind," said Mrs. Ballinger, looking

searchingly at Mrs. Leveret, who looked at the others.

"I always deprecate anything like a scandal--" Mrs. Plinth


"She has been the cause of one to-day!" exclaimed Miss Glyde.

Mrs. Leveret moaned: "I don't see how she COULD!" and Miss Van

Vluyck said, picking up her note-book: "Some women stop at


"--but if," Mrs. Plinth took up her argument impressively,

"anything of the kind had happened in MY house" (it never would

have, her tone implied), "I should have felt that I owed it to

myself either to ask for Mrs. Roby's resignation--or to offer


"Oh, Mrs. Plinth--" gasped the Lunch Club.

"Fortunately for me," Mrs. Plinth continued with an awful

magnanimity, "the matter was taken out of my hands by our

President's decision that the right to entertain distinguished

guests was a privilege vested in her office; and I think the

other members will agree that, as she was alone in this opinion,

she ought to be alone in deciding on the best way of effacing

its--its really deplorable consequences."

A deep silence followed this unexpected outbreak of Mrs. Plinth's

long-stored resentment.

"I don't see why I should be expected to ask her to resign--"

Mrs. Ballinger at length began; but Laura Glyde turned back to

remind her: "You know she made you say that you'd got on

swimmingly in Xingu."

An ill-timed giggle escaped from Mrs. Leveret, and Mrs. Ballinger

energetically continued "--but you needn't think for a moment

that I'm afraid to!"

The door of the drawing-room closed on the retreating backs of

the Lunch Club, and the President of that distinguished

association, seating herself at her writing-table, and pushing

away a copy of "The Wings of Death" to make room for her elbow,

drew forth a sheet of the club's note-paper, on which she began

to write: "My dear Mrs. Roby--"

The End of Xingu


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