Read Edith Wharton - Novel 15 Online

Authors: Old New York (v2.1)

Edith Wharton - Novel 15

BOOK: Edith Wharton - Novel 15
7.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub









False Dawn.

The ’Forties.


Part I.

verbena and mignonette scented the languid July day. Large strawberries,
crimsoning through sprigs of mint, floated in a bowl of pale yellow cup on the
verandah table: an old Georgian bowl, with complex reflections on polygonal
flanks, engraved with the Raycie arms between lions’ heads. Now and again the
gentlemen, warned by a menacing hum, slapped their cheeks, their brows or their
bald crowns; but they did so as furtively as possible, for Mr. Halston Raycie,
on whose verandah they sat, would not admit that there were mosquitoes at
High Point

strawberries came from Mr. Raycie’s kitchen garden; the Georgian bowl came from
his great-grandfather (father of the Signer); the verandah was that of his
country-house, which stood on a height above the Sound, at a convenient driving
distance from his town house in
Canal Street

glass, Commodore,” said Mr. Raycie, shaking out a cambric handkerchief the size
of a table-cloth, and applying a corner of it to his steaming brow.

Jameson Ledgely smiled and took another glass. He was known as “the Commodore”
among his intimates because of having been in the Navy in his youth, and having
taken part, as a midshipman under Admiral Porter, in the war of 1812. This
jolly sunburnt bachelor, whose face resembled that of one of the bronze idols
he might have brought back with him, had kept his naval air, though long
retired from the service; and his white duck trousers, his gold-braided cap and
shining teeth, still made him look as if he might be in command of a frigate.
Instead of that, he had just sailed over a party of friends from his own place
on the
Long Island
shore; and his trim white sloop was now
lying in the bay below the point.

Halston Raycie house overlooked a lawn sloping to the Sound. The lawn was Mr.
Raycie’s pride: it was mown with a scythe once a fortnight, and rolled in the
spring by an old white horse specially shod for the purpose. Below the verandah
the turf was broken by three round beds of rose-geranium, heliotrope and
roses, which Mrs. Raycie tended in gauntlet
gloves, under a small hinged sunshade that folded back on its carved ivory
handle. The house, remodelled and enlarged by Mr. Raycie on his marriage, had
played a part in the Revolutionary war as the settler’s
Benedict Arnold had had his headquarters. A contemporary print of
it hung in Mr. Raycie’s study; but no one could have detected the humble
outline of the old house in the majestic stone-coloured dwelling built of
tongued-and-grooved boards, with an angle tower, tall narrow windows, and a
verandah on chamfered posts, that figured so confidently as a “Tuscan Villa” in
Downing’s “Landscape Gardening in
.” There was the same difference between the
rude lithograph of the earlier house and the fine steel engraving of its
successor (with a “specimen” weeping beech on the lawn) as between the
buildings themselves. Mr. Raycie had reason to think well of his architect.

thought well of most things related to himself by ties of blood or interest. No
one had ever been quite sure that he made Mrs. Raycie happy, but he was known
to have the highest opinion of her. So it was with his daughters, Sarah Anne
and Mary Adeline, fresher replicas of the lymphatic Mrs. Raycie; no one would
have sworn that they were quite at ease with their genial parent, yet every one
knew how loud he was in their praises. But the most remarkable object within
the range of Mr. Raycie’s self-approval was his son Lewis. And yet, as Jameson
Ledgely, who was given to speaking his mind, had once observed, you wouldn’t
have supposed young Lewis was exactly the kind of craft Halston would have
turned out if he’d had the designing of his son and heir.

Raycie was a monumental man. His extent in height, width and thickness was so
nearly the same that whichever way he was turned one had an almost equally
broad view of him; and every inch of that mighty circumference was so
exquisitely cared for that to a farmer’s eye he might have suggested a great
agricultural estate of which not an acre is untilled. Even his baldness, which
was in proportion to the rest, looked as if it received a special daily polish;
and on a hot day his whole person was like some wonderful example of the
costliest irrigation. There was so much of him, and he had so many planes, that
it was fascinating to watch each runnel of moisture follow its own particular
watershed. Even on his large fresh-looking hands the drops divided, trickling
in different ways from the ridges of the fingers; and as for his forehead and
temples, and the raised cushion of cheek beneath each of his lower lids, every
one of these slopes had its own particular stream, its hollow pools and sudden
cataracts; and the sight was never unpleasant, because his whole vast bubbling
surface was of such a clean and hearty pink, and the exuding moisture so
perceptibly flavoured with expensive eau de Cologne and the best French soap.

Raycie, though built on a less heroic scale, had a pale amplitude which, when
she put on her best watered silk (the kind that stood alone), and framed her
countenance in the innumerable blonde lace ruffles and clustered purple grapes
of her newest Paris cap, almost balanced her husband’s bulk. Yet from this
full-rigged pair, as the Commodore would have put it, had issued the lean
little runt of a Lewis, a shrimp of a baby, a shaver of a boy, and now a youth
as scant as an ordinary man’s

these things, Lewis himself mused, dangling his legs from the verandah rail,
were undoubtedly passing through the minds of the four gentlemen grouped about
his father’s bowl of cup.

Robert Huzzard, the banker, a tall broad man, who looked big in any company but
Mr. Raycie’s, leaned back, lifted his glass, and bowed to Lewis.

to the Grand Tour!”

perch on that rail like a sparrow, my boy,” Mr. Raycie said reprovingly; and
Lewis dropped to his feet, and returned Mr. Huzzard’s bow.

wasn’t thinking,” he stammered. It was his too frequent excuse.

Ambrose Huzzard, the banker’s younger brother, Mr. Ledgely and Mr. Donaldson
, all raised their glasses and cheerily
echoed: “The Grand Tour!”

bowed again, and put his lips to the glass he had forgotten. In reality, he had
eyes only for Mr. Donaldson Kent, his father’s cousin, a silent man with a lean
hawk-like profile, who looked like a retired Revolutionary hero, and lived in
daily fear of the most trifling risk or responsibility.

this prudent and circumspect citizen had come, some years earlier, the
unexpected and altogether inexcusable demand that he should look after the
daughter of his only brother, Julius Kent. Julius had died in
—well, that was his own business, if he
chose to live there. But to let his wife die before him, and to leave a minor
daughter, and a will entrusting her to the guardianship of his esteemed elder
brother, Donaldson Kent Esquire, of Kent’s Point, Long Island, and Great Jones
Street, New York—well, as Mr. Kent himself said, and as his wife said for him,
there had never been anything, anything whatever, in Mr. Kent’s attitude or
behaviour, to justify the ungrateful Julius (whose debts he had more than once
paid) in laying on him this final burden.

girl came. She was fourteen, she was considered plain,
was small and black and skinny. Her name was Beatrice, which was bad enough,
and made worse by the fact that it had been shortened by ignorant foreigners to
Treeshy. But she was eager, serviceable, and good-tempered, and as Mr. and Mrs.
’s friends pointed out, her plainness made
everything easy. There were two
boys growing up, Bill and Donald; and if
this penniless cousin had been compounded of cream and roses—well, she would
have taken more watching, and might have rewarded the kindness of her uncle and
aunt by some act of wicked ingratitude. But this risk being obviated by her
appearance, they could be goodnatured to her without afterthought, and to be
goodnatured was natural to them. So as the years passed, she gradually became
the guardian of her guardians; since it was equally natural to Mr. and Mrs.
Kent to throw
in helpless reliance on every
one whom they did not nervously fear or mistrust.

he’s off on Monday,” Mr. Raycie said, nodding sharply at Lewis, who had set
down his glass after one sip. “Empty it, you shirk!” the nod commanded; and
Lewis, throwing back his head, gulped down the draught, though it almost stuck
in his lean throat. He had already had to take two glasses, and even this scant
conviviality was too much for him, and likely to result in a mood of excited
volubility, followed by a morose evening and a head the next morning. And he
wanted to keep his mind clear that day, and to think steadily and lucidly of

course he couldn’t marry her—yet. He was twenty-one that very day, and still
entirely dependent on his father. And he wasn’t altogether sorry to be going
first on this Grand Tour. It was what he had always dreamed of, pined for, from
the moment when his infant eyes had first been drawn to the prints of the
European cities in the long upper passage that smelt of matting. And all that
Treeshy had told him about
had confirmed and intensified the longing.
Oh, to have been going there with her—with her as his guide, his Beatrice! (For
she had given him a little Dante of her father’s, with a steel-engraved
frontispiece of Beatrice; and his sister Mary Adeline, who had been taught
Italian by one of the romantic Milanese exiles, had helped her brother out with
the grammar.)

thought of going to Italy with Treeshy was only a dream; but later, as man and
wife, they would return there, and by that time, perhaps, it was Lewis who
would be her guide, and reveal to her the historic marvels of her birthplace,
of which after all she knew so little, except in minor domestic ways that were
quaint but unimportant.

prospect swelled her suitor’s bosom, and reconciled him to the idea of their
separation. After all, he secretly felt himself to be still a boy, and it was
as a man that he would return: he meant to tell her that when they met the next
day. When he came back his character would be formed, his knowledge of life
(which he already thought considerable) would be complete; and then no one
could keep them apart. He smiled in advance to think how little his father’s
shouting and booming would impress a man on his return from the Grand Tour…

gentlemen were telling anecdotes about their own early experiences in
. None of them—not even Mr. Raycie—had
travelled as extensively as it was intended that Lewis should; but the two
Huzzards had been twice to
on banking matters, and Commodore Ledgely,
a bold man, to
as well—not to speak of his early experiences in the
Far East
. All three had kept a vivid and amused
recollection slightly tinged with disapprobation, of what they had seen—“Oh,
those French wenches,” the Commodore chuckled through his white teeth—but poor
Mr. Kent, who had gone abroad on his honeymoon, had been caught in Paris by the
revolution of 1830, had had the fever in Florence, and had nearly been arrested
as a spy in Vienna; and the only satisfactory episode in this disastrous, and
never repeated, adventure, had been the fact of his having been mistaken for
the Duke of Wellington (as he was trying to slip out of a Viennese hotel in his
courier’s blue surtout) by a crowd who had been—“Well, very gratifying in their
enthusiasm,” Mr. Kent admitted.

BOOK: Edith Wharton - Novel 15
7.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Journey's End by Josephine Cox
Two To The Fifth by Anthony, Piers
Omega Pathogen: Mayhem by Hicks Jr, J.G.
Wild Lilly by Ann Mayburn
Rondo Allegro by Sherwood Smith
Faith Revisited by Ford, Madelyn
Death Of A Hollow Man by Caroline Graham
The Butterfly Conspiracy by James Nelson