Chapter 15 Summary
In Laura Fairford’s home, there is a birthday cake sitting on the table, but all the guests have either retired or gone home. Ralph arrives late from the office. He has been “forced,” Laura had told one of her guests, to take a job due to Undine’s extravagant manner of living. Ralph now works in a real estate office, a position that does not suit his personality.
Ralph apologizes for being so tardy as he searches the family home for his son. Laura finally insists that Ralph sit down and drink some tea as she tells him what happened. Undine was scheduled to bring their son to the home, but she never showed up, Laura tells him. As Ralph is about to leave, his cousin Clare shows up with a present for Paul. She pretends she put no thought or sentiment into buying the present; she teases that all she thought of was how much could she spend. The present, however, is a family heirloom, and she has put a lot of thought and feeling into giving it. Afterward, Clare offers to drive Ralph home in her car, which is ironic because Clare’s husband, Peter, is driving Undine home.
When Ralph arrives home, his son’s nursemaid informs him that the child has finally gone to bed. The boy suffered from fits of crying all afternoon because of his disappointment at missing his birthday celebration. The nursemaid begs Ralph not to disturb the boy because she just recently managed to get him to sleep.
Ralph reflects on his marriage. He realizes that his affections for his wife have greatly decreased. He knows when the turning point came: when Undine lied about having her engagement ring reset. Ralph had given her a family heirloom, a ring handed down for many generations in its old-fashioned setting, appreciated by most for its history. Undine not only lied about having it put in a more modern setting but also was completely insensitive to the assault she caused on the family’s history. This gave Ralph a clue to the true nature of his wife’s personality. Undine was, Ralph realized, completely unconscious of feelings on which most of his own inner life depended.
Hours later, as Ralph is standing at the front window, looking out at the empty streets, he sees Peter Van Degen’s car pull up to the curb. Undine jumps out and enters the home. She tells Ralph that Peter was at the art studio, so he offered her a ride home. Ralph had noticed, however, that the car arrived at the house from the opposite direction of the studio.