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|Book II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 5 of 7||
She hesitated. "And you still think this--worse?"
"A thousand times!" He paused. "It would be easy to lie to you; but the truth is I think it detestable."
"Oh, so do I!" she cried with a deep breath of relief.
He sprang up impatiently. "Well, then--it's my turn to ask: what is it, in God's name, that you think better?"
She hung her head and continued to clasp and unclasp her hands in her muff. The step drew nearer, and a guardian in a braided cap walked listlessly through the room like a ghost stalking through a necropolis. They fixed their eyes simultaneously on the case opposite them, and when the official figure had vanished down a vista of mummies and sarcophagi Archer spoke again.
"What do you think better?"
Instead of answering she murmured: "I promised Granny to stay with her because it seemed to me that here I should be safer."
She bent her head slightly, without looking at him.
"Safer from loving me?"
Her profile did not stir, but he saw a tear overflow on her lashes and hang in a mesh of her veil.
"Safer from doing irreparable harm. Don't let us be like all the others!" she protested.
"What others? I don't profess to be different from my kind. I'm consumed by the same wants and the same longings."
She glanced at him with a kind of terror, and he saw a faint colour steal into her cheeks.
"Shall I--once come to you; and then go home?" she suddenly hazarded in a low clear voice.
The blood rushed to the young man's forehead. "Dearest!" he said, without moving. It seemed as if he held his heart in his hands, like a full cup that the least motion might overbrim.
Then her last phrase struck his ear and his face clouded. "Go home? What do you mean by going home?"
"Home to my husband."
"And you expect me to say yes to that?"
She raised her troubled eyes to his. "What else is there? I can't stay here and lie to the people who've been good to me."
"But that's the very reason why I ask you to come away!"
"And destroy their lives, when they've helped me to remake mine?"
Archer sprang to his feet and stood looking down on her in inarticulate despair. It would have been easy to say: "Yes, come; come once." He knew the power she would put in his hands if she consented; there would be no difficulty then in persuading her not to go back to her husband.
But something silenced the word on his lips. A sort of passionate honesty in her made it inconceivable that he should try to draw her into that familiar trap. "If I were to let her come," he said to himself, "I should have to let her go again." And that was not to be imagined.
But he saw the shadow of the lashes on her wet cheek, and wavered.
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|The Age of Innocence
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