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|Book II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 7 of 10||
Archer continued to stare at him. "You told her I was here?"
"Of course--why not?" Dallas's eye brows went up whimsically. Then, getting no answer, he slipped his arm through his father's with a confidential pressure.
"I say, father: what was she like?"
Archer felt his colour rise under his son's unabashed gaze. "Come, own up: you and she were great pals, weren't you? Wasn't she most awfully lovely?"
"Lovely? I don't know. She was different."
"Ah--there you have it! That's what it always comes to, doesn't it? When she comes, SHE'S DIFFERENT--and one doesn't know why. It's exactly what I feel about Fanny."
His father drew back a step, releasing his arm. "About Fanny? But, my dear fellow--I should hope so! Only I don't see--"
"Dash it, Dad, don't be prehistoric! Wasn't she-- once--your Fanny?"
Dallas belonged body and soul to the new generation. He was the first-born of Newland and May Archer, yet it had never been possible to inculcate in him even the rudiments of reserve. "What's the use of making mysteries? It only makes people want to nose 'em out," he always objected when enjoined to discretion. But Archer, meeting his eyes, saw the filial light under their banter.
"Well, the woman you'd have chucked everything for: only you didn't," continued his surprising son.
"I didn't," echoed Archer with a kind of solemnity.
"No: you date, you see, dear old boy. But mother said--"
"Yes: the day before she died. It was when she sent for me alone--you remember? She said she knew we were safe with you, and always would be, because once, when she asked you to, you'd given up the thing you most wanted."
Archer received this strange communication in silence. His eyes remained unseeingly fixed on the thronged sunlit square below the window. At length he said in a low voice: "She never asked me."
"No. I forgot. You never did ask each other anything, did you? And you never told each other anything. You just sat and watched each other, and guessed at what was going on underneath. A deaf-and-dumb asylum, in fact! Well, I back your generation for knowing more about each other's private thoughts than we ever have time to find out about our own.--I say, Dad," Dallas broke off, "you're not angry with me? If you are, let's make it up and go and lunch at Henri's. I've got to rush out to Versailles afterward."
Archer did not accompany his son to Versailles. He preferred to spend the afternoon in solitary roamings through Paris. He had to deal all at once with the packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime.
After a little while he did not regret Dallas's indiscretion. It seemed to take an iron band from his heart to know that, after all, some one had guessed and pitied. . . . And that it should have been his wife moved him indescribably. Dallas, for all his affectionate insight, would not have understood that. To the boy, no doubt, the episode was only a pathetic instance of vain frustration, of wasted forces. But was it really no more? For a long time Archer sat on a bench in the Champs Elysees and wondered, while the stream of life rolled by. . . .
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