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Like a lot of effete old-money snobs, Chapter 7 of Book 1 tells us, Andrew still lived in the family home on Twentieth Street with his mother, and they stayed out of each other's way so well that it wasn't that bad of an arrangement for either of them. Andrew had converted the third floor of the family home into a swinging bachelor pad!...if you define “swinging” as “smoking and reading a lot when you're not traveling.” If you leave out the smoking and traveling, that means I'm a swinger. And that's not right! So let's drop the whole thing before it makes me any more depressed.

As we follow Tompson to his Club, let's follow the leaky logic that led Tompson to assume nothing but the worst: There are rumors of “marital discontent” and “moral irregularities” (that's on top of the “strange manipulations” on the stock market), and also a story of a divorcĂ©e who had made her fortune solely from Westmore's tender attentions. Add to that his ownership of the paper where Helen worked, and the obvious result is that Helen is giving Westmore “special friendship” status that she refused Tompson. Friendship with benefits. And since this is all strictly genteel, we can assume thebenefits include a solid dental plan.

And here I call authorial shenanigans: Let's forget for a moment that he's making a loose morals call on a woman he's known for years, who married a man he's known even longer. For that matter, let's forget that he's somehow forgotten everything he's ever known about her personal character, because that's probably the only way to make this scenario work. Regardless, he has pledged himself, under the weight his wounded rich boy vanity, to revenge, which at least is plausible.

After two irrelevant (there's that word again) pages of out-of-nowhere “New York is better than Paris” talk, he arrives on his errand, to seek out George Clayton, a man who he never seeks without a bit of favor-asking in mind. The man knows everyone's stories and is always willing to share, which is why Tompson decided to prime his pump for some noise about the Westmores.

Tompson now joined the group gathered about Clayton, who was telling in his best manner the last misdemeanor on the part of a prominent married woman, who, having lived quietly and contentedly for ten years as a model wife and mother, had lately surprised society by breaking her bonds and plunging into the wildest gaieties. As a rule Clayton's stories were received only with approbation. This evening, however, one young man, evidently more simply constructed than the rest of the listeners, dared to raise a protesting voice against what seemed to him outrageous conduct on the part of the lady in question.

“Why, it is the plainest thing in the world!” insisted Clayton. “You could expect nothing else. The woman was bored to death. A perfectly adoring husband—perfectly arranged house—perfectly charming children! Far too easy and monotonous an existence for a woman of any spirit. Take my word for it, boys, the best way to lose your wife is by being too good to her!” The narrator's face wore a radiant expression as he gave out this warning, undoubtedly convinced that he had solved the whole problem of marital infelicity.

“You are an advocate, Mr. Clayton, are you not, of the old theory—a woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be?” asked Tompson.

“Not quite so bad as that, Mr. Tompson, not quite so bad!” protested Clayton midly, evidently pleased at having attracted the newcomer's attention. Tompson represented the most exclusive set in the Club, and a man like Clayton, who went everywhere and knew everybody, appreciated the distinction which attached to being admitted to anything like the intimacy with that set.

“We all recognize the fact, though, I think,” continued Clayton, “that the best woman in the world will break away from a dead monotony when it becomes tolerable to her—and this, it seems to me, is a satisfactory explanation of our friend's conduct.” (pp. 136-7)

This new line of talk had the desired effect on Tompson's part of driving away Clayton's audience, and once he had the older man to himself (Clayton is 60, as if that makes any difference), Tompson cut straight to the day's business, which was to ask for an introduction to the Westmore household. Clayton, thinking the younger man had an eye for one of the Westmore daughters (and marrying into their money), readily agreed.

Once they hit the Westmore house—“very massive and pretentious”—the aesthetic snob in Tompson wasted little time in silently passing judgement on the “impossible” Mrs. Westmore, “red of face, coarse of body,” extremely unrefined, but with a generous heart that Tompson chose to ignore in his calculations. It turns out that while they had grown apart in many ways, Mr. and Mrs. Westmore were still united in making sure their daughters received a satisfactory dose of life's opportunities. To that effect, the eldest married well (“well” in this case meaning “sensible with the money that Mr. Westmore supplied him with,” and not a family embarassment), and the second in line wound up with an aspiring young clergyman who was expected to make bishop someday. Daughter Number 3 is the supposed object of Tompson's entry into the house, a girl as physically plain as her mother, but a warmth that won her a large circle of friends. Too bad they're hot friends, since our lad's penchant for pretty things overrules his desire to stick to the frickin' script, and soon he's chatting up a different young lady instead. Don't think the Missus doesn't notice this, as soon she is tapping the shoulder of a young man whom she believes will know the score on this new punk.

“Now tell me, Mr. Anderson, who is that Mr. Tompson?” The young man addressed turned suddenly about as Mrs. Westmore administered her harmless, if familiar, tap to his shoulder. Placing his hand discreetly over his lip he replied:

“That man is Andrew Tompson. Quite exclusive, you know—belongs to the old set—prides himself, I believe, on his aristocratic blood and his culture, and thinks himself privileged to snub most people unmercifully when he chooses to do so.” Evidently this young man had received no favors at Tompson's hands.

“Well, I declare!” exclaimed Mrs. Westmore. “Now, that's too bad! He seems so quiet and nice.” She looked across the room regretfully at Tompson, and in her honest, genuine heart she felt truly sorry for him.”

“There you are mistaken, Mrs. Westmore,” replied the young man. “It is just the kind of thing most people like immensely—they feel so flattered, you know, when he condescends to them.”

“Well, I declare!” again exclaimed Mrs. Westmore. “You don't mean to tell me that such a quiet little man as he is feels himself that superior!” After which Mrs. Westmore, inspired by perfect simplicity of purpose, put her glass to her eye and deliberately inspected her guest from tip to toe. This act on the part of his hostess did not escape Tompson, though he continued to converse with the pretty girl who had delivered him from Miss Westmore. No doubt he would have been somewhat shaken had he known the impression he was making upon the robust lady who seemed so vulgar and material to him. He was a vain man who thought a great deal of his personal appearance, and he liked to appear well even before people who were of little consequence to him.

“He's rather fragile, I should say,” remarked Mrs. Westmore to Mr. Anderson, “but I can see that he is a true aristocrat; but a man with those delicate hands isn't likely to be much else.” Mrs. Westmore at times made some surprisingly just distinctions. For a few minutes she continued to survey Tompson through her glass, then rising, crossed the room to where he sat. Her thought as she did so was—

“That young man is ill and run down!” What she said was the same thought put in another form.

“Come, my dear,” speaking to the dark, handsome girl by Tompson's side, “take Mr. Tompson into the other room, and give him some punch. I am sure he is tired out.” Tompson looked up at Mrs. Westmore with surprise expressed upon his face. He was not accustomed to be taken on such familiar terms upon so short an acquaintance. (pp. 142-3)

Obviously Mrs. Westmore is a good judge of long as it's pointed out to her first. And if it's not her husband, I suppose...but I'm sure we'll hit that point eventually.

And speak of the devil, not long after he was escorted away from the main crowd, Tompson lays eyes on the master of the house himself, fresh off of the street. They pass a few idle words before Westmore leaves for his private rooms. Showing what kind of quick study he is, Mr.Westmore says to himself “That young man is deep! But he has a wily old fox to outwit this time!” And then he started thinking back to Helen Galbraith...maybe he even fantasized about seeing her ankle.

Having accomplished the superficial recon mission he set out to do, Tompson made a motion to leave. Being on his own again, he began once again to add up what he had discovered during the day, and as with his previous social arithmetic, Tompson's abacus is missing a few beads.

Certainly he had satisfied himself of one thing: her association with Westomre was, beyond doubt, a personal one. The manner in which Westmore had taken possession of her that afternoon at the gallery and carried her off settled this point for Tompson convincingly. As he thought of it, another thing too was now settled for him. He perfectly understood how the pursuit of pretty women had, as the world said, become a fixed passion with Westmore. No man who possessed a taste for the dignified niceties of life—and Tompson took it for granted that Westmore did possess some taste for these things—could be expected to submit quietly, without compensation of some kind, to the vulgarities expressed in the person and manner of Mrs. Westmore. To a man of Andrew Tompson's fastidious nature Westmore's life seemed nothing less than a daily torture, a continual crucifixion of every ideal. Himself under the spell of Helen Galbraith's charms, he understood, even while he resented it fiercely, how Westmore might turn to her simply to feed his soul and aesthetic sense upon. She was far away from him, far away indeed, Tompson knew now, but as he thought of her his ordinarily cold heart leaped with the warmth and throb of passion. Never had she seemed to him so desirable! The less approachable he found her the more he longed to make her his own! These thoughts almost maddened him. He was violently angry with himself that he had no power to resist this spell which was upon him; he was tenfold more angry with Helen, who had so innocently produced it. As he walked nervously down the avenue, some unrelenting demon seemed to reveal to him in the clearest outlines the situation just as it was. Helen Galbraith would ever remain unattainable to him—even in the event of Galbraith's death. There was no power in him which could ever awaken her emotions. He was convinced that for her he would ever continue an insufficient person, unequal to any of the greater demands of her life.

He knew that these things were true—true and unalterable. He had always been a cold, self-possessed man, one exercising absolute control over the conditions of his own life. This storm of passion which now shook him he would subdue, would make subservient to his purposes, as he had made other things! Yes, he too would play his cards, and by all the powers of Heaven and Hell, he would play them effectually! If Helen Galbraith felt him to be insufficient for her needs and scorned his love, he would by his own methods undermine the very ground on which she stood, and convince her, against all odds, that there was force of some kind in him! (pp. 145-6)

Convincing himself that when the time came to pay the piper, she wasn't going to short him a farthing, he continued on to do an Evil Thing, and the author does yet another evil thing to me: “It is useless, and would be degrading, even if not uninteresting, to follow Andrew Tompson into this house, and to listen to the exact conversation which he held there with one who should not, under any conditions, ever have touched his life.” I can't help but marvel at the concentrated gall, because the “degrading” conversation was with a private detective whom Andrew hires to shadow Helen, and whom we can assume doesn't give a damn whose life he ruins as long as the money's good. It would be exciting and add to the atmosphere, and in the process also satisfy the 21st century lit wonks who make “show, don't tell” a mantra for our times. So of course, I wouldn't be interested in that conversation at all, but this high-minded treacle will make a dandy replacement:

Alas! for such a nature there are no possible exaltations in life—no loveliness of the spirit. The Vision and the Splendor and the Glory too, which may belong to Love, are not for such as Andrew Tompson. That charmed life, that life of Love out of which are evoked “the nobler harmonies,” had no meaning for this man, whose sensitiveness was pure, unadulterated selfishness, and who recognized no higher quality in life than that of personal happiness. (p. 148)

Oh yes, that's much better. Who wants to go out for a big, juicy steak when there's a dessicated hunk of beef jerky right in front of you?

Next: The beginning of the end of Alex Galbraith, and the end of the beginning of Waters That Pass Away. But for us, only the halfway mark. Excuse me while I drive this nail into my forehead...


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