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|Book II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 3 of 3||
But after a moment the sense of waste and ruin overcame him. There they were, close together and safe and shut in; yet so chained to their separate destinies that they might as well have been half the world apart.
"What's the use--when you will go back?" he broke out, a great hopeless HOW ON EARTH CAN I KEEP YOU? crying out to her beneath his words.
She sat motionless, with lowered lids. "Oh--I shan't go yet!"
"Not yet? Some time, then? Some time that you already foresee?"
At that she raised her clearest eyes. "I promise you: not as long as you hold out. Not as long as we can look straight at each other like this."
He dropped into his chair. What her answer really said was: "If you lift a finger you'll drive me back: back to all the abominations you know of, and all the temptations you half guess." He understood it as clearly as if she had uttered the words, and the thought kept him anchored to his side of the table in a kind of moved and sacred submission.
"What a life for you!--" he groaned.
"Oh--as long as it's a part of yours."
"And mine a part of yours?"
"And that's to be all--for either of us?"
"Well; it IS all, isn't it?"
At that he sprang up, forgetting everything but the sweetness of her face. She rose too, not as if to meet him or to flee from him, but quietly, as though the worst of the task were done and she had only to wait; so quietly that, as he came close, her outstretched hands acted not as a check but as a guide to him. They fell into his, while her arms, extended but not rigid, kept him far enough off to let her surrendered face say the rest.
They may have stood in that way for a long time, or only for a few moments; but it was long enough for her silence to communicate all she had to say, and for him to feel that only one thing mattered. He must do nothing to make this meeting their last; he must leave their future in her care, asking only that she should keep fast hold of it.
"Don't--don't be unhappy," she said, with a break in her voice, as she drew her hands away; and he answered: "You won't go back--you won't go back?" as if it were the one possibility he could not bear.
"I won't go back," she said; and turning away she opened the door and led the way into the public dining-room.
The strident school-teachers were gathering up their possessions preparatory to a straggling flight to the wharf; across the beach lay the white steam-boat at the pier; and over the sunlit waters Boston loomed in a line of haze.
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