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Part III Edith Wharton

Chapter XXVIII

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HER husband's note had briefly said:

"To-day at four o'clock. N.L."

All day she pored over the words in an agony of longing, trying to read into them regret, emotion, memories, some echo of the tumult in her own bosom. But she had signed "Susy," and he signed "N.L." That seemed to put an abyss between them. After all, she was free and he was not. Perhaps, in view of his situation, she had only increased the distance between them by her unconventional request for a meeting.

She sat in the little drawing-room, and the cast-bronze clock ticked out the minutes. She would not look out of the window: it might bring bad luck to watch for him. And it seemed to her that a thousand invisible spirits, hidden demons of good and evil, pressed about her, spying out her thoughts, counting her heart-beats, ready to pounce upon the least symptom of over-confidence and turn it deftly to derision. Oh, for an altar on which to pour out propitiatory offerings! But what sweeter could they have than her smothered heart-beats, her choked-back tears?

The bell rang, and she stood up as if a spring had jerked her to her feet. In the mirror between the dried grasses her face looked long pale inanimate. Ah, if he should find her too changed--! If there were but time to dash upstairs and put on a touch of red ....

The door opened; it shut on him; he was there.

He said: "You wanted to see me?"

She answered: "Yes." And her heart seemed to stop beating.

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At first she could not make out what mysterious change had come over him, and why it was that in looking at him she seemed to be looking at a stranger; then she perceived that his voice sounded as it used to sound when he was talking to other people; and she said to herself, with a sick shiver of understanding, that she had become an "other person" to him.

There was a deathly pause; then she faltered out, not knowing what she said: "Nick--you'll sit down?"

He said: "Thanks," but did not seem to have heard her, for he continued to stand motionless, half the room between them. And slowly the uselessness, the hopelessness of his being there overcame her. A wall of granite seemed to have built itself up between them. She felt as if it hid her from him, as if with those remote new eyes of his he were staring into the wall and not at her. Suddenly she said to herself: "He's suffering more than I am, because he pities me, and is afraid to tell me that he is going to be married."

The thought stung her pride, and she lifted her head and met his eyes with a smile.

"Don't you think," she said, "it's more sensible-with everything so changed in our lives--that we should meet as friends, in this way? I wanted to tell you that you needn't feel--feel in the least unhappy about me."

A deep flush rose to his forehead. "Oh, I know--I know that--" he declared hastily; and added, with a factitious animation: "But thank you for telling me."

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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