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|Book II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 2 of 5||
"Do you know--I hardly remembered you?"
"Hardly remembered me?"
"I mean: how shall I explain? I--it's always so. EACH TIME YOU HAPPEN TO ME ALL OVER AGAIN."
"Oh, yes: I know! I know!"
"Does it--do I too: to you?" he insisted.
She nodded, looking out of the window.
She made no answer, and he sat in silence, watching her profile grow indistinct against the snow-streaked dusk beyond the window. What had she been doing in all those four long months, he wondered? How little they knew of each other, after all! The precious moments were slipping away, but he had forgotten everything that he had meant to say to her and could only helplessly brood on the mystery of their remoteness and their proximity, which seemed to be symbolised by the fact of their sitting so close to each other, and yet being unable to see each other's faces.
"What a pretty carriage! Is it May's?" she asked, suddenly turning her face from the window.
"It was May who sent you to fetch me, then? How kind of her!"
He made no answer for a moment; then he said explosively: "Your husband's secretary came to see me the day after we met in Boston."
In his brief letter to her he had made no allusion to M. Riviere's visit, and his intention had been to bury the incident in his bosom. But her reminder that they were in his wife's carriage provoked him to an impulse of retaliation. He would see if she liked his reference to Riviere any better than he liked hers to May! As on certain other occasions when he had expected to shake her out of her usual composure, she betrayed no sign of surprise: and at once he concluded: "He writes to her, then."
"M. Riviere went to see you?"
"Yes: didn't you know?"
"No," she answered simply.
"And you're not surprised?"
She hesitated. "Why should I be? He told me in Boston that he knew you; that he'd met you in England I think."
"Ellen--I must ask you one thing."
"I wanted to ask it after I saw him, but I couldn't put it in a letter. It was Riviere who helped you to get away--when you left your husband?"
His heart was beating suffocatingly. Would she meet this question with the same composure?
"Yes: I owe him a great debt," she answered, without the least tremor in her quiet voice.
Her tone was so natural, so almost indifferent, that Archer's turmoil subsided. Once more she had managed, by her sheer simplicity, to make him feel stupidly conventional just when he thought he was flinging convention to the winds.
"I think you're the most honest woman I ever met!" he exclaimed.
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