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|Part I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 3 of 4||
"Only fancy--she very nearly decided to stop over for Nelson's arrival next week, so that he might bring her two or three more trunkfuls from Paris. But mercifully I've managed to persuade her that it would be foolish to wait."
Susy felt a hardly perceptible shifting of her husband's lounging body, and was aware, through all her watchful tentacles, of a widening of his half-closed lids.
"You 'managed'--?" She fancied he paused on the word ironically. "But why?"
"Why on earth should you try to prevent Ellie's waiting for Nelson, if for once in her life she wants to?"
Susy, conscious of reddening suddenly, drew back as though the leap of her tell-tale heart might have penetrated the blue flannel shoulder against which she leaned.
"Really, dearest--!" she murmured; but with a sudden doggedness he renewed his "Why?"
"Because she's in such a fever to get to St. Moritz--and in such a funk lest the hotel shouldn't keep her rooms," Susy somewhat breathlessly produced.
"Ah--I see." Nick paused again. "You're a devoted friend, aren't you!"
"What an odd question! There's hardly anyone I've reason to be more devoted to than Ellie," his wife answered; and she felt his contrite clasp on her hand.
"Darling! No; nor I--. Or more grateful to for leaving us alone in this heaven."
Dimness had fallen on the waters, and her lifted lips met his bending ones.
Trailing late into dinner that evening, Ellie announced that, after all, she had decided it was safest to wait for Nelson.
"I should simply worry myself ill if I weren't sure of getting my things," she said, in the tone of tender solicitude with which she always discussed her own difficulties. "After all, people who deny themselves everything do get warped and bitter, don't they?" she argued plaintively, her lovely eyes wandering from one to the other of her assembled friends.
Strefford remarked gravely that it was the complaint which had fatally undermined his own health; and in the laugh that followed the party drifted into the great vaulted dining-room.
"Oh, I don't mind your laughing at me, Streffy darling," his hostess retorted, pressing his arm against her own; and Susy, receiving the shock of their rapidly exchanged glance, said to herself, with a sharp twinge of apprehension: "Of course Streffy knows everything; he showed no surprise at finding Ellie away when he arrived. And if he knows, what's to prevent Nelson's finding out?" For Strefford, in a mood of mischief, was no more to be trusted than a malicious child.
Susy instantly resolved to risk speaking to him, if need be even betraying to him the secret of the letters. Only by revealing the depth of her own danger could she hope to secure his silence.
On the balcony, late in the evening, while the others were listening indoors to the low modulations of a young composer who had embroidered his fancies on Browning's "Toccata," Susy found her chance. Strefford, unsummoned, had followed her out, and stood silently smoking at her side.
"You see, Streff--oh, why should you and I make mysteries to each other?" she suddenly began.
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