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|Book II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 2 of 6||
He started to walk across the Common; and on the first bench, under a tree, he saw her sitting. She had a grey silk sunshade over her head--how could he ever have imagined her with a pink one? As he approached he was struck by her listless attitude: she sat there as if she had nothing else to do. He saw her drooping profile, and the knot of hair fastened low in the neck under her dark hat, and the long wrinkled glove on the hand that held the sunshade. He came a step or two nearer, and she turned and looked at him.
"Oh"--she said; and for the first time he noticed a startled look on her face; but in another moment it gave way to a slow smile of wonder and contentment.
"Oh"--she murmured again, on a different note, as he stood looking down at her; and without rising she made a place for him on the bench.
"I'm here on business--just got here," Archer explained; and, without knowing why, he suddenly began to feign astonishment at seeing her. "But what on earth are you doing in this wilderness?" He had really no idea what he was saying: he felt as if he were shouting at her across endless distances, and she might vanish again before he could overtake her.
"I? Oh, I'm here on business too," she answered, turning her head toward him so that they were face to face. The words hardly reached him: he was aware only of her voice, and of the startling fact that not an echo of it had remained in his memory. He had not even remembered that it was low-pitched, with a faint roughness on the consonants.
"You do your hair differently," he said, his heart beating as if he had uttered something irrevocable.
"Differently? No--it's only that I do it as best I can when I'm without Nastasia."
"Nastasia; but isn't she with you?"
"No; I'm alone. For two days it was not worth while to bring her."
"You're alone--at the Parker House?"
She looked at him with a flash of her old malice. "Does it strike you as dangerous?"
"No; not dangerous--"
"But unconventional? I see; I suppose it is." She considered a moment. "I hadn't thought of it, because I've just done something so much more unconventional." The faint tinge of irony lingered in her eyes. "I've just refused to take back a sum of money--that belonged to me."
Archer sprang up and moved a step or two away. She had furled her parasol and sat absently drawing patterns on the gravel. Presently he came back and stood before her.
"Some one--has come here to meet you?"
"With this offer?"
"And you refused--because of the conditions?"
"I refused," she said after a moment.
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