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|Part III||Edith Wharton|
|Page 2 of 5||
"There's nothing, is there," she continued, "to make our meeting in this way in the least embarrassing or painful to either of us, when both have found ...." She broke off, and held her hand out to him. "I've heard about you and Coral," she ended.
He just touched her hand with cold fingers, and let it drop. "Thank you," he said for the third time.
"You won't sit down?"
He sat down.
"Don't you think," she continued, "that the new way of ... of meeting as friends ... and talking things over without ill-will ... is much pleasanter and more sensible, after all?"
He smiled. "It's immensely kind of you to feel that."
"Oh, I do feel it!" She stopped short, and wondered what on earth she had meant to say next, and why she had so abruptly lost the thread of her discourse.
In the pause she heard him cough slightly and clear his throat. "Let me say, then," he began, "that I'm glad too--immensely glad that your own future is so satisfactorily settled."
She lifted her glance again to his walled face, in which not a muscle stirred.
"Yes: it--it makes everything easier for you, doesn't it?"
"For you too, I hope." He paused, and then went on: "I want also to tell you that I perfectly understand--"
"Oh," she interrupted, "so do I; your point of view, I mean."
They were again silent.
"Nick, why can't we be friends real friends? Won't it be easier?" she broke out at last with twitching lips.
"I mean, about talking things over--arrangements. There are arrangements to be made, I suppose?"
"I suppose so." He hesitated. "I'm doing what I'm told-simply following out instructions. The business is easy enough, apparently. I'm taking the necessary steps--"
She reddened a little, and drew a gasping breath. "The necessary steps: what are they? Everything the lawyers tell one is so confusing .... I don't yet understand--how it's done."
"My share, you mean? Oh, it's very simple." He paused, and added in a tone of laboured ease: "I'm going down to Fontainebleau to-morrow--"
She stared, not understanding. "To Fontainebleau--?"
Her bewilderment drew from him his first frank smile. "Well-- I chose Fontainebleau--I don't know why ... except that we've never been there together."
At that she suddenly understood, and the blood rushed to her forehead. She stood up without knowing what she was doing, her heart in her throat. "How grotesque--how utterly disgusting!"
He gave a slight shrug. "I didn't make the laws ...."
"But isn't it too stupid and degrading that such things should be necessary when two people want to part--?" She broke off again, silenced by the echo of that fatal "want to part." ...
He seemed to prefer not to dwell farther on the legal obligations involved.
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