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|Part I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 3 of 6||
Susy smiled. "Apparently she didn't think that enough."
"What a doting mother! It shows the store she sets upon her child."
"Well, don't you set store upon Clarissa?"
"Clarissa is exquisite; but her mother didn't mention her in offering me this recompense."
Susy lifted her head again. "Whom did she mention?"
"Vanderlyn," said Lansing.
"Yes--and some letters ... something about letters .... What is it, my dear, that you and I have been hired to hide from Vanderlyn? Because I should like to know," Nick broke out savagely, "if we've been adequately paid."
Susy was silent: she needed time to reckon up her forces, and study her next move; and her brain was in such a whirl of fear that she could at last only retort: "What is it that Ellie said to you?"
Lansing laughed again. "That's just what you'd like to find out--isn't it?--in order to know the line to take in making your explanation."
The sneer had an effect that he could not have foreseen, and that Susy herself had not expected.
"Oh, don't--don't let us speak to each other like that!" she cried; and sinking down by the dressing-table she hid her face in her hands.
It seemed to her, now, that nothing mattered except that their love for each other, their faith in each other, should be saved from some unhealable hurt. She was willing to tell Nick everything--she wanted to tell him everything--if only she could be sure of reaching a responsive chord in him. But the scene of the cigars came back to her, and benumbed her. If only she could make him see that nothing was of any account as long as they continued to love each other!
His touch fell compassionately on her shoulder. "Poor child-- don't," he said.
Their eyes met, but his expression checked the smile breaking through her tears. "Don't you see," he continued, "that we've got to have this thing out?"
She continued to stare at him through a prism of tears. "I can't--while you stand up like that," she stammered, childishly.
She had cowered down again into a corner of the lounge; but Lansing did not seat himself at her side. He took a chair facing her, like a caller on the farther side of a stately tea-tray. "Will that do?" he asked with a stiff smile, as if to humour her.
"Nothing will do--as long as you're not you!"
She shook her head wearily. "What's the use? You accept things theoretically--and then when they happen ...."
"What things? What has happened!"
A sudden impatience mastered her. What did he suppose, after all--? "But you know all about Ellie. We used to talk about her often enough in old times," she said.
"Ellie and young Davenant?"
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