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|Book I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 7||
"How delicious! May I think it over, and write to you tomorrow morning?"
She spoke amiably, yet with the least hint of dismissal in her voice. Beaufort evidently felt it, and being unused to dismissals, stood staring at her with an obstinate line between his eyes.
"Why not now?"
"It's too serious a question to decide at this late hour."
"Do you call it late?"
She returned his glance coolly. "Yes; because I have still to talk business with Mr. Archer for a little while."
"Ah," Beaufort snapped. There was no appeal from her tone, and with a slight shrug he recovered his composure, took her hand, which he kissed with a practised air, and calling out from the threshold: "I say, Newland, if you can persuade the Countess to stop in town of course you're included in the supper," left the room with his heavy important step.
For a moment Archer fancied that Mr. Letterblair must have told her of his coming; but the irrelevance of her next remark made him change his mind.
"You know painters, then? You live in their milieu?" she asked, her eyes full of interest.
"Oh, not exactly. I don't know that the arts have a milieu here, any of them; they're more like a very thinly settled outskirt."
"But you care for such things?"
"Immensely. When I'm in Paris or London I never miss an exhibition. I try to keep up."
She looked down at the tip of the little satin boot that peeped from her long draperies.
"I used to care immensely too: my life was full of such things. But now I want to try not to."
"You want to try not to?"
"Yes: I want to cast off all my old life, to become just like everybody else here."
Archer reddened. "You'll never be like everybody else," he said.
She raised her straight eyebrows a little. "Ah, don't say that. If you knew how I hate to be different!"
Her face had grown as sombre as a tragic mask. She leaned forward, clasping her knee in her thin hands, and looking away from him into remote dark distances.
"I want to get away from it all," she insisted.
He waited a moment and cleared his throat. "I know. Mr. Letterblair has told me."
"That's the reason I've come. He asked me to--you see I'm in the firm."
She looked slightly surprised, and then her eyes brightened. "You mean you can manage it for me? I can talk to you instead of Mr. Letterblair? Oh, that will be so much easier!"
Her tone touched him, and his confidence grew with his self-satisfaction. He perceived that she had spoken of business to Beaufort simply to get rid of him; and to have routed Beaufort was something of a triumph.
"I am here to talk about it," he repeated.
She sat silent, her head still propped by the arm that rested on the back of the sofa. Her face looked pale and extinguished, as if dimmed by the rich red of her dress. She struck Archer, of a sudden, as a pathetic and even pitiful figure.
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