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|Part I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 6||
"Young Davenant; or the others ...."
"Or the others. But what business was it of ours?"
"Ah, that's just what I think!" she cried, springing up with an explosion of relief. Lansing stood up also, but there was no answering light in his face.
"We're outside of all that; we've nothing to do with it, have we?" he pursued.
"Then what on earth is the meaning of Ellie's gratitude? Gratitude for what we've done about some letters--and about Vanderlyn?"
"Oh, not you," Susy cried, involuntarily.
"Not I? Then you?" He came close and took her by the wrist. "Answer me. Have you been mixed up in some dirty business of Ellie's?"
There was a pause. She found it impossible to speak, with that burning grasp on the wrist where the bangle had been. At length he let her go and moved away. "Answer," he repeated.
"I've told you it was my business and not yours."
He received this in silence; then he questioned: "You've been sending letters for her, I suppose? To whom?"
"Oh, why do you torment me? Nelson was not supposed to know that she'd been away. She left me the letters to post to him once a week. I found them here the night we arrived .... It was the price--for this. Oh, Nick, say it's been worth it-say at least that it's been worth it!" she implored him.
He stood motionless, unresponding. One hand drummed on the corner of her dressing-table, making the jewelled bangle dance.
"How many letters?"
"I don't know ... four ... five ... What does it matter?"
"And once a week, for six weeks--?"
"And you took it all as a matter of course?"
"No: I hated it. But what could I do?"
"What could you do?"
"When our being together depended on it? Oh, Nick, how could you think I'd give you up?"
"Give me up?" he echoed.
"Well--doesn't our being together depend on--on what we can get out of people? And hasn't there always got to be some give-and-take? Did you ever in your life get anything for nothing?" she cried with sudden exasperation. "You've lived among these people as long as I have; I suppose it's not the first time--"
"By God, but it is," he exclaimed, flushing. "And that's the difference--the fundamental difference."
"Between you and me. I've never in my life done people's dirty work for them--least of all for favours in return. I suppose you guessed it, or you wouldn't have hidden this beastly business from me."
The blood rose to Susy's temples also. Yes, she had guessed it; instinctively, from the day she had first visited him in his bare lodgings, she had been aware of his stricter standard. But how could she tell him that under his influence her standard had become stricter too, and that it was as much to hide her humiliation from herself as to escape his anger that she had held her tongue?
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