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|Part II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 5||
He looked at her as helplessly. He could not say: "Ask yourself--ask your parents." Her next word would sweep away such frail hypocrisies. Her "What shall I do?" meant "What are you going to do?" and he knew it, and knew that she knew it.
"I'm a bad person to give any one matrimonial advice," he began, with a strained smile; "but I had such a different vision for you."
"What kind of a vision?" She was merciless.
"Merely what people call happiness, dear."
"'People call'--you see you don't believe in it yourself! Well, neither do I--in that form, at any rate. "
He considered. "I believe in trying for it--even if the trying's the best of it."
"Well, I've tried, and failed. And I'm twenty-two, and I never was young. I suppose I haven't enough imagination." She drew a deep breath. "Now I want something different." She appeared to search for the word. "I want to be--prominent," she declared.
She reddened swarthily. "Oh, you smile--you think it's ridiculous: it doesn't seem worth while to you. That's because you've always had all those things. But I haven't. I know what father pushed up from, and I want to push up as high again-- higher. No, I haven't got much imagination. I've always liked Facts. And I find I shall like the fact of being a Princess-- choosing the people I associate with, and being up above all these European grandees that father and mother bow down to, though they think they despise them. You can be up above these people by just being yourself; you know how. But I need a platform--a sky-scraper. Father and mother slaved to give me my education. They thought education was the important thing; but, since we've all three of us got mediocre minds, it has just landed us among mediocre people. Don't you suppose I see through all the sham science and sham art and sham everything we're surrounded with? That's why I want to buy a place at the very top, where I shall be powerful enough to get about me the people I want, the big people, the right people, and to help them I want to promote culture, like those Renaissance women you're always talking about. I want to do it for Apex City; do you understand? And for father and mother too. I want all those titles carved on my tombstone. They're facts, anyhow! Don't laugh at me ...." She broke off with one of her clumsy smiles, and moved away from him to the other end of the room.
He sat looking at her with a curious feeling of admiration. Her harsh positivism was like a tonic to his disenchanted mood, and he thought: "What a pity!"
Aloud he said: "I don't feel like laughing at you. You're a great woman."
"Then I shall be a great Princess."
"Oh--but you might have been something so much greater!"
Her face flamed again. "Don't say that!"
He stood up involuntarily, and drew near her.
"Because you're the only man with whom I can imagine the other kind of greatness."
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