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S. 1, Ep. 6: Xingu by Edith Wharton

Hillbridge, 1916: The ladies of the local lunch club have invited the celebrated novelist of their latest read to be their guest. However, their own internal competition and inferiority complexes send the meticulously planned afternoon of literary discussion wildly off the rails... Read More

49 mins



Hillbridge, 1916: The ladies of the local lunch club have invited the celebrated novelist of their latest read to be their guest. However, their own internal competition and inferiority complexes send the meticulously planned afternoon of literary discussion wildly off the rails.

Cast (in speaking order):

HARRIET HARRIS as The Narrator



BLAIR BROWN as Mrs. Plinth

CHARLES BUSCH as Mrs. Ballinger


KATHRYN GRODY as Laura Glyde


with SAM TSOUTSOUVAS, the voice of RPR

Piano excerpts performed by JOSEPH THALKEN



By Edith Wharton


NARRATOR. 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; 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, was, in her opinion, all that providence exacted of the more humbly stationed; but the power which had predestined Mrs. Plinth to keep a footman 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.

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 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 sounded well in the comments of the others. Mrs. Roby alone had abstained from profiting by the opportunity; but it was now openly recognized that, as a member of the Lunch Club, Mrs. Roby was a failure.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. It all comes,

NARRATOR. …as Miss Van Vluyck put it,

MISS VAN VLUYCK. …of accepting a woman on a man’s estimation.

NARRATOR. Mrs. Roby, returning to Hillbridge from a prolonged sojourn in exotic lands— the other ladies no longer took the trouble to remember where— had been heralded by the distinguished biologist, Professor Foreland, as the most agreeable woman he had ever met; and the members of the Lunch Club, rashly assuming that the Professor’s social sympathies would follow the line of his professional 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:

MRS. ROBY. I know so little about metres.

NARRATOR. …and after that painful betrayal of incompetence she had prudently withdrawn from farther participation in the mental gymnastics of the club.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. I suppose she flattered him; or else it’s the way she does her hair.

NARRATOR. The nonconductiveness 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 increased 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, 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 chance. The picture evoked by this anecdote did not increase Mrs. Roby’s credit with the club, and there was a painful pause, which was broken by Mrs. Plinth’s remarking:

MRS. PLINTH. 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.

NARRATOR. Mrs. Roby took this rebuke good-humoredly. She had meant, she owned, to glance through the book; but she had been so absorbed in a novel of Trollope’s that—

MRS. BALLINGER. —No one reads Trollope now. MRS. ROBY. I’m only just beginning.

MRS. PLINTH. And does he interest you?

MRS. ROBY. He amuses me.

MRS. PLINTH. Amusement is hardly what I look for in my choice of books.

MRS. LEVERET. Oh, certainly ‘The Wings of Death’ is not amusing.

NARRATOR. …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.

MRS. PLINTH. “Was it meant to be?”

NARRATOR. …enquired Mrs. Plinth, who was fond of asking questions that she permitted no one but herself to answer.

MRS. PLINTH. “Assuredly not.”

MRS. LEVERET. Assuredly not. That is what I was going to say. It was meant to… to elevate.

NARRATOR. Mrs. Van Vluyck adjusted her spectacles as though they were the black cap of condemnation.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. I hardly see how a book steeped in the bitterest pessimism can be said to elevate however much it may instruct.

MRS. LEVERET. I meant of course, to instruct.

NARRATOR. …said Mrs. Leveret, flurried by the unexpected distinction between two terms which she had supposed to be synonymous. Not knowing her own value to the other ladies, Mrs. Leveret 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. MRS. ROBY. Do they get married in the end?

NARRATOR. …Mrs. Roby interposed.

THE LUNCH CLUB. They… who?

MRS. ROBY. 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.

NARRATOR. Mrs. Plinth and Mrs. Ballinger exchanged scandalized glances, and the latter said:

MRS. BALLINGER. I should hardly advise you to read ‘The Wings of Death’ in that spirit. For my part, when there are so many books one has to read; I wonder how anyone can find time for those that are merely “amusing”.

MISS GLYDE. The beautiful part of it,

NARRATOR. Laura Glyde murmured,

MISS GLYDE. …is surely just this: that no one can tell how ‘The Wings of Death’ ends. Osric Dane, overcome by the awful 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 Agamemnon.

MRS. LEVERET. What’s that? Is it poetry?

MRS. PLINTH. You should look it up. I always make it a point to look things up. Though I might easily have it done for me by the footman.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. I was about to say, that it must always be a question whether a book can instruct unless it elevates.


NARRATOR. …murmured Mrs. Leveret, now feeling herself hopelessly astray.

MRS. BALLINGER. I don’t know. 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 Elsmere’.

MISS GLYDE. Oh, but don’t you see, 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 when I read it of Prince Rupert’s “Manière Noire”... the book is etched, not painted, yet one feels the color-values so intensely...

MRS. LEVERET. Who is he? Someone she’s met abroad?


MRS. BALLINGER. The wonderful part of the book 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.’

MRS. PLINTH. I’m told that Osric Dane spent ten years in preparatory studies before beginning to write it. 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.

MRS. ROBY. And what do you think of ‘The Wings of Death’?

NARRATOR. …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 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? 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 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 them.


NARRATOR. Mrs. Leveret, on the eventful day, 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. Today, 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 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 phrase she retained: “Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook?” was one she had never yet found occasion to apply. Today she felt that even the complete mastery of the volume would hardly have insured her self-possession; for she thought it probable that, 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 recognize her quotations.

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 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 seas of knowledge to be breathlessly traversed in Mrs. Ballinger’s wake.

But today, 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.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Well, my dear, what subjects are we to discuss today?

MRS. BALLINGER. I hardly know. Perhaps we had better leave that to circumstances.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Circumstances? That means, I suppose, that Laura Glyde will take the floor as usual, and we shall be deluged with literature.

NARRATOR. Mrs. Plinth, at this moment appeared.

MRS. PLINTH. Literature? But this is perfectly unexpected. I understood we were to talk of Osric Dane’s novel.

MRS. BALLINGER. We can hardly make that our chief subject--at least not too intentionally. 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.

MRS. PLINTH. It may be difficult, but it is 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.

MRS. BALLINGER. I quite agree with you, but--

NARRATOR. --And at that instant, heralded by the fluttered parlourmaid, 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. As Mrs. Leveret said afterward to her sister:

MRS. LEVERET. She had a way of looking at you that made you feel as if there was something wrong with your hat.

NARRATOR. 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: 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:

MRS. ROBY. What a brute she is!

NARRATOR. The hour about the table did not tend to revise 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 reluctance to fix 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 enquiry.

MRS. BALLINGER. Is this your first visit to Hillbridge? MISS GLYDE. It is a very small place indeed. NARRATOR. Mrs. Plinth bristled at this.

MRS. PLINTH. We have a great many representative people. NARRATOR. Osric Dane turned to her.

OSRIC DANE. What do they represent?

NARRATOR. 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.

MRS. BALLINGER. Why, as a community I hope it is not too much to say that we stand for culture.

MISS GLYDE. For art--

MRS. BALLINGER. For art and literature--

MISS VAN VLUYCK. And for sociology, I trust. MRS. PLINTH. We have a standard.

NARRATOR. …said Mrs. Plinth, feeling herself suddenly secure on the vast expanse of a generalization; and Mrs. Leveret, thinking there must be room for more than one on so broad a statement, took courage to murmur:

MRS. LEVERET. Oh, certainly; we have a standard.

MRS. BALLINGER. The object of our little club is to concentrate the highest tendencies of Hillbridge-- to centralize and focus its intellectual effort. We aspire to be in touch with whatever is highest in art, literature, and ethics.

OSRIC DANE. What ethics?

NARRATOR. 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. 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:

MISS GLYDE. You must excuse us, Mrs. Dane, for not being able, just at present, to talk of anything but ‘The Wings of Death’.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Yes, we are so anxious to know the exact purpose you had in mind in writing your wonderful book.

MRS. PLINTH. You will find that we are not superficial readers.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. We are eager to hear from you, if the pessimistic tendency of the book is an expression of your own convictions or--

MISS GLYDE. --Or merely a somber background brushed in to throw your figures into more vivid relief. Are you not primarily plastic?

MRS. BALLINGER. I have always maintained, that you represent the purely objective method--

NARRATOR. --Osric Dane helped herself critically to coffee.

OSRIC DANE. How do you define objective?

MISS GLYDE. In reading you we don’t define, we feel. NARRATOR. Osric Dane smiled.

OSRIC DANE. The cerebellum is not infrequently the seat of the literary emotions.

NARRATOR. And she took a second lump of sugar.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Ah, the cerebellum. The club took a course in psychology last winter.

OSRIC DANE. Which psychology?

NARRATOR. There was an agonizing 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:

MRS. BALLINGER. Well, really, you know, it was last year that we took psychology, and this winter we have been so absorbed in--

NARRATOR. She broke off. Her faculties seemed to be paralyzed by the petrifying stare of Osric Dane. Mrs. Ballinger, with a vague purpose of gaining time, repeated slowly:

MRS. BALLINGER. We’ve been so intensely absorbed in--

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

MRS. ROBY. In Xingu?

NARRATOR. 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 rescuer. Mrs. Plinth, after a moment’s hasty adjustment, almost implied that it was she who had given the word to Mrs. Ballinger.

MRS. BALLINGER. Xingu, of course!

NARRATOR. …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, said:

MRS. ROBY. And we’ve been so hoping that today you would tell us just what you think of it.

NARRATOR. 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.


NARRATOR. Mrs. Roby continued to press her.

MRS. ROBY. 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. I am glad to hear that you make one exception.

MRS. ROBY. Oh, of course, but as you have shown us that so very naturally, you don’t care to talk of your own things, we really can’t let you off from telling us exactly what you think about Xingu; especially as some people say that one of your last books was saturated with it.

NARRATOR. 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 challenge.

OSRIC DANE. May I ask,

NARRATOR. ...she faltered,

OSRIC DANE. ...to which of my books you refer? NARRATOR. Mrs. Roby did not falter.

MRS. ROBY. That’s just what I want you to tell us; because, though I was present, I didn’t actually take part.

OSRIC DANE. Present at what?

MRS. ROBY. At the discussion, of course. And so we’re dreadfully anxious to know just how it was that you went into the Xingu.

OSRIC DANE. Ah… you say the Xingu, do you?

MRS. ROBY. 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. They probably think, as I do, that nothing really matters except the thing itself--

except Xingu.

MRS. BALLINGER. Surely everyone must feel that about Xingu.

MISS GLYDE. I have known cases where it has changed a whole life.

MRS. LEVERET. It has done me worlds of good.

NARRATOR. …Said Mrs. Leveret, seeming to remember that she had either taken it… or read it the winter before.

MRS. ROBY. Of course, the difficulty is that one must give up so much time to it. It’s very long.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. I can’t imagine grudging the time given to such a subject.

MRS. ROBY. And deep in places.

NARRATOR. …Mrs. Roby pursued. (So then it was a book!) MRS. ROBY. And it isn’t easy to skip.

MRS. PLINTH. I never skip,

MRS. ROBY. Ah, it’s dangerous to, in Xingu. Even at the start there are places where one can’t. One must just wade through.

MRS. BALLINGER. I should hardly call it wading. MRS. ROBY. Ah-- you always found it went swimmingly? MRS. BALLINGER. …Of course there are difficult passages…

MRS. ROBY. Yes; some are not at all clear, even if one is familiar with the original.

OSRIC DANE. As I suppose you are?

MRS. ROBY. 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 source.

MRS. PLINTH. Have you ever tried?

MRS. ROBY. No. But a friend of mine did; a very brilliant man; and he told me it was best for women… not to…


NARRATOR. A shudder ran around the room. Mrs. Leveret coughed so that the parlor-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 someone 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 softened to an expression of the warmest human sympathy, and edging her chair toward Mrs. Roby’s she asked:

OSRIC DANE. Did he really? And-- did you find he was right?

NARRATOR. Mrs. Ballinger could not consent to Mrs. Roby being allowed by such dubious means, to monopolize 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.

MRS. BALLINGER. We must not forget that absorbing as Xingu is to us, it may be less interesting to--

OSRIC DANE. --Oh, no, on the contrary, I assure you.

MRS. BALLINGER. --to others 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, today, is much more present in all our thoughts. I refer, of course, to ‘The Wings of Death’.

THE LUNCH CLUB. Oh, yes, you really must talk to us a little about your book.

NARRATOR. Mrs. Roby had risen from her seat, and was pulling down her veil over her frivolous nose.

MRS. ROBY. I’m so sorry, 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.

NARRATOR. 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 discrimination. 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 seated.

OSRIC DANE. Oh wait-- do wait, and I’ll go with you!

NARRATOR. ...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.

OSRIC DANE. I’m so sorry-- I’d quite forgotten--

NARRATOR. …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:

OSRIC DANE. If you’ll let me walk a little way with you, I should so like to ask you a few more questions about Xingu....


NARRATOR. The incident had been so rapid that the door closed on the departing pair before the other members 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 a silence, during which Mrs. Ballinger, with a perfunctory hand, rearranged the skillfully grouped literature at

which her distinguished guest had not so much as glanced; then Miss Van Vluyck tartly pronounced:

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Well, I can’t say that I consider Osric Dane’s departure a great loss.

MRS. LEVERET. I do believe she came on purpose to be nasty!

MRS. PLINTH. 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--

MRS. BALLINGER. Xingu! 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!

MISS GLYDE. 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.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. I am glad we were able to show her that a broad and up-to-date culture is not confined to the great intellectual centers. What surprised me most was that Fanny Roby should be so up on Xingu.

MRS. BALLINGER. 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.

NARRATOR. 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.

MRS. LEVERET. I fancy Osric Dane hardly expected to take a lesson in Xingu at Hillbridge!

MRS. BALLINGER. When she asked me what we represented-- do you remember?-- I wish I’d simply said we represented Xingu!

MRS. PLINTH. I’m not sure it would have been wise to do so.

MRS. BALLINGER. May I ask why?

MRS. PLINTH. Surely, I understood from Mrs. Roby herself that the subject was one it was as well not to go into too deeply?

MISS VAN VLUYCK. I think that applied only to an investigation of the origin of the… of the… It’s a part of the subject I never studied myself.


MISS GLYDE. And yet it seems, doesn’t it? …the part that is fullest of an esoteric fascination?

MISS VAN VLUYCK. I don’t know on what you base that.

MISS GLYDE. 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. 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.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. I’m quite of your opinion, on condition, that is, that all grossness of language is avoided.

MRS. LEVERET. Oh, I’m sure we shall understand without that.

MISS GLYDE. I fancy we can read between the lines.

NARRATOR. Mrs. Ballinger rose to assure herself that the doors were really closed.

MRS. PLINTH. I hardly see what benefit is to be derived from investigating such peculiar customs--

MRS. BALLINGER. --This at least, that we shall not be placed again in the humiliating position of finding ourselves less up on our own subjects than Fanny Roby!

NARRATOR. Even to Mrs. Plinth this argument was conclusive. She peered furtively about the room and lowered her commanding tones to ask:

MRS. PLINTH. Have you got a copy?

MRS. BALLINGER. A… a copy? A copy of what?

MRS. PLINTH. Why, of… of the book.


MRS. LEVERET. Why, Xingu, of course!

NARRATOR. A profound silence followed this challenge to the resources of Mrs. Ballinger’s library, and the latter, after glancing nervously toward the Books of the Day, returned with dignity:

MRS. BALLINGER. It’s not a thing one cares to leave about.

MRS. PLINTH. I should think not!

MISS VAN VLUYCK. It is a book, then?

NARRATOR. This again threw the company into disarray, and Mrs. Ballinger, with an impatient sigh, rejoined:

MRS. BALLINGER. Why… there is a book. Naturally…

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Then why did Miss Glyde call it a religion?

MISS GLYDE. A religion? I never--

MISS VAN VLUYCK. --Yes, you did. You spoke of rites; and Mrs. Plinth said it was a custom.

MISS GLYDE. Surely, they used to do something of the kind at the Eleusinian mysteries--

MRS. PLINTH. I understood there was to be no indelicacy!

MRS. BALLINGER. 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—

MISS GLYDE. --Oh, so do I!

MRS. BALLINGER. --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. There-- that’s it!

MRS. BALLINGER. What’s it?

MRS. LEVERET. Why-- it’s a… a thought: I mean a philosophy.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Excuse me if I tell you that you’re all mistaken. Xingu happens to be a language.

THE LUNCH CLUB. A language!

MISS VAN VLUYCK. 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. 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!

MISS GLYDE. It’s really her fault for not being clearer.

MRS. BALLINGER. Oh, clearness and Fanny Roby! I daresay we shall find she was mistaken on almost every point.

MRS. PLINTH. Why not look it up?

NARRATOR. At this point the production of her treasured volume gave Mrs. Leveret, for a moment, the unusual experience of occupying the center front; but she was not able to hold it long, for Appropriate Allusions contained no mention of Xingu.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Oh, that’s not the kind of thing we want! Haven’t you any useful books?

MRS. BALLINGER. I keep them in my husband’s dressing room.

NARRATOR. From this region, after some difficulty and delay, the parlour-maid produced the W through Z volume of an Encyclopedia 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:

Mrs. Van Vluyck. It isn’t here.

MRS. PLINTH. I suppose it’s not fit to be put in a book of reference.

MRS. BALLINGER. Oh, nonsense! Try X.

NARRATOR. Miss Van Vluyck turned back through the volume, peering shortsightedly up and down the pages, till she came to a stop and remained motionless, like a dog on a point.

MRS. BALLINGER. Well, have you found it?

Mrs. Van Vluyck. Yes. I’ve found it.

MRS. PLINTH. I beg you won’t read it aloud if there’s anything offensive.

NARRATOR. Miss Van Vluyck, without answering, continued her silent scrutiny.

MISS GLYDE. Well, what is it?

MRS. LEVERET. Do tell us!

NARRATOR. Miss Van Vluyck pushed the volume aside and turned slowly toward the expectant group.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. It’s a river.


MISS VAN VLUYCK. Yes. In Brazil. Isn’t that where she’s been living?

MRS. BALLINGER. Who? Fanny Roby? Oh, but you must be mistaken. You’ve been reading the wrong thing.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. It’s the only Xingu in the Encyclopedia; and she has been living in Brazil.

MRS. LEVERET. Yes, her brother has a consulship there.

MRS. BALLINGER. But it’s too ridiculous! I-- we-- why we all remember studying Xingu last year… or the year before last.

MISS GLYDE. I thought I did when you said so. MRS. BALLINGER. I said so?

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

MRS. BALLINGER. Well you said it had changed your whole life!

MISS GLYDE. For that matter, Miss Van Vluyck said she had never grudged the time she’d given it.

MRS. PLINTH. I made it clear that I knew nothing whatever of the original.

MRS. BALLINGER. 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 while!

MISS GLYDE. How could she? It’s too preposterous.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Listen: ‘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.’

MRS. LEVERET. She certainly did speak of its having branches.

MRS. BALLINGER. And of its great length.

MISS GLYDE. She said it was awfully deep, and you couldn’t skip… you just had to wade through.

MRS. PLINTH. How could there be anything improper about a river?

MISS GLYDE. Improper?

MRS. PLINTH. Why, what she said about the source-- that it was corrupt?

MISS GLYDE. Not corrupt, but hard to get at. Someone who’d been there had told her so. I daresay it was the explorer himself-- doesn’t it say the expedition was dangerous?

MISS VAN VLUYCK. ‘Difficult and dangerous.’

MRS. BALLINGER. There’s nothing she said that wouldn’t apply to a river-- to this river! 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 someone had ‘shied’ it overboard-- ‘shied’ of course was her own expression. Well, and then didn’t she tell Osric Dane that one of her books was simply saturated with Xingu? Of course it was, if one of Mrs. Roby’s rowdy friends had thrown it into the river!

NARRATOR. 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 laboring with the problem, said in a heavy tone:

MRS. PLINTH. Osric Dane was taken in too.

MRS. LEVERET. 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. It was hardly worthwhile to do it at our expense.

MISS GLYDE. At least she succeeded in interesting her, which was more than we did.

MRS. BALLINGER. What chance had we?

MISS GLYDE. Mrs. Roby monopolized 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.

MRS. LEVERET. She actually makes him give bridge-teas every Thursday

MISS GLYDE. Why, this is Thursday, and it’s there she’s gone, of course; and taken Osric with her!

MRS. BALLINGER. And they’re shrieking over us at this moment.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. She would hardly dare confess the imposture to Osric Dane.

MRS. LEVERET. Well, you know, we’d all been telling her how wonderful Xingu was, and she said she wanted to find out more about it.

MISS GLYDE. Yes, and that’s exactly what they’re both laughing over now.

NARRATOR. Mrs. Plinth stood up and gathered her expensive furs about her monumental form.

MRS. PLINTH. I have no wish to criticize, but unless the Lunch Club can protect its members against the recurrence of such… such unbecoming scenes, I for one--

MISS GLYDE. --Oh, so do I!

NARRATOR. Miss Van Vluyck closed the Encyclopedia and proceeded to button herself into her jacket.

MISS VAN VLUYCK. My time is really too valuable-- MRS. BALLINGER. --I fancy we are all of one mind. MRS. PLINTH. I always deprecate anything like a scandal. MISS GLYDE. She has been the cause of one today! MRS. LEVERET. I don’t see how she could!

MISS VAN VLUYCK. Some women stop at nothing.

MRS. PLINTH. If anything of the kind had happened in my house, I should have felt that I owed it to myself either to ask for Mrs. Roby’s resignation… or to offer mine. Fortunately for me, 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.

NARRATOR. A deep silence followed this outbreak of Mrs. Plinth’s long-stored resentment.

MRS. BALLINGER. I don’t see why I should be expected to ask her to resign—

MISS GLYDE. You know she made you say that you’d got on swimmingly in Xingu.

MRS. BALLINGER. --but you needn’t think for a moment that I’m afraid to!

NARRATOR. 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:

MRS. BALLINGER. My dear Mrs. Roby...

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