Chapter 19 Summary
Charles Bowen, Laura Fairford’s friend, is in Paris and is dining with an acquaintance, the Comte Raymond de Chelles. Chelles comes from a comfortably rich, French family. For most of the year, Chelles lives on his father’s estate in Burgundy, but he comes to Paris for the summer to study “human nature.” Bowen finds the man charming and intelligent. Currently, Chelles tells Bowen, his family is pressuring him to marry. Just as he says this, Chelles notices a woman walk into the room and asks Bowen her name. Bowen recognizes her as Undine. She is about to seat herself at a table that includes Peter Van Degen and several other people from New York. Once Undine sits down, she sees Bowen and smiles. Bowen notices that her dress and her beauty appear more natural and, to him, more appealing.
When Bowen refers to Undine as Mrs. Marvell, Chelles is surprised that Undine is married. To him, she looks so young and so “unmarried.” To this, Bowen comments that many women in this day are both married and unmarried due to the popularity of divorce. Chelles’s spirits pick up when he hears this. He wants to know if this woman is divorced. However, Bowen assures him that this is not true in Undine’s case. She is happily married, Bowen says. Chelles cannot believe that a husband would allow such a beautiful wife to travel on her own.
Bowen watches the expressions on Chelles’s face as his friend examines Undine from afar. Bowen also sees that Undine has noticed the attention she is receiving. She has positioned herself in such a way that she both communicates with the people at her table but and sends subtle, expressive messages to Chelles.
Bowen is surprised that Undine is in Van Degen’s presence. He believes she would rather not have him know this fact because he might report it back to Laura. However, when Bowen stands to leave the room, he hears Van Degen call to him, suggesting that he stop by their table. Van Degen tells Bowen that Undine is “dying for the latest news” of the people back at home. Undine asks when Bowen was last in New York and then lists several questions to him, seeking information about her son, her husband, and Laura. As Bowen answers her, he watches Undine’s attention move between him and Chelles, who is still seated at the other table. When all her questions are answered, Undine stands to take coffee in the garden section of the restaurant and suggests that Bowen invite his friend. This amuses Bowen; to himself, he praises Undine for her “arts.” Bowen also notes that when Undine’s party is seated, she manages to leave Van Degen at one table while she sits with Chelles at an adjacent table. Undine’s maneuvering irritates Van Degen.