(Essentials of European Literature)

Mrs. Van Lowe was preparing for her usual Sunday family get-together. On this Sunday her daughter Constance was returning to Holland after a scandal that had kept her away for twenty years. After several respectable and loveless years with De Staffelaer, the Dutch envoy at Rome, Constance had had an affair with a young diplomat, Henri van der Welcke. When Constance divorced De Staffelaer and married Henri, the marriage proved the ruin of her new husband’s political career, and they were now finally returning to their homeland. Everyone assured Constance that it was good to have her back, but she felt alien to her relatives; in the past twenty years her father had died, and she had visited her mother only twice, briefly, at Brussels.

Some time later, Constance, Henri, and their son Adriaan, whom they called Addie, went to visit Henri’s parents. This invitation was significant because it was the first time since the scandal that Henri’s parents had paid any attention to Constance or even acknowledged Addie as their grandson. The interview was formal and oppressive. Constance was annoyed to see Henri’s mother treating thirteen-year-old Addie as a child; he was, in fact, very mature and serious for his age, and he always managed to reconcile his parents when they had an argument.

For the most part, Constance felt happier all the time. She saw her mother daily; she had had an intimate talk with her sister Bertha; and she got along well with her brother Gerrit. Also, Constance was determined to like her sister Adolphine, despite her petty enviousness. Of all her brothers and sisters, however, she saw Paul most often because he got along well with Henri and Addie.

One day the Van der Welckes gave a quiet but decorous dinner for Paul and Van Vreeswijck, a friend of Henri’s who was a chamberlain extraordinary to the queen regent. Adolphine, who knew that Constance was giving a dinner, pretended to be just dropping by, for she wanted to see what the dinner was like. When she saw the candles and flowers, she became very envious. The next day Adolphine had a visit from Cateau, her brother Karel’s wife, and she belittled Constance’s dinner, saying that they had invited Van Vreeswijck in order to push themselves into higher social circles.

That summer Constance was happy because she thought that her family had forgiven her. One day, on Henri’s thirty-ninth birthday, they had an unexpected visit from Henri’s mother. When she arrived, she was surprised to meet Constance’s mother, who also happened to be there. Without resorting to words, the two old women sought each other’s forgiveness for the misdeeds of their children.

In The Hague, the gossip of the old scandal had been revived, although Constance never heard of it. One day, however, Addie had gone bicycling with Adolphine’s children, one of whom, Jaap, called Addie an “Italian” and said that Addie was not...

(The entire section is 1199 words.)