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|Part II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 3 of 5||
Strefford received this in silence. "Well--it was your bargain, wasn't it?" he said at length.
"Exactly: I always told you so. You weren't ready to have him go yet--that's all."
She flushed to the forehead. "Oh, Streff--is it really all?"
"A question of time? If you doubt it, I'd like to see you try, for a while, in those two rooms without a servant; and then let me hear from you. Why, my dear, it's only a question of time in a palace, with a steam yacht lying off the door-step, and a flock of motors in the garage; look around you and see. And did you ever imagine that you and Nick, of all people, were going to escape the common doom, and survive like Mr. and Mrs. Tithonus, while all about you the eternal passions were crumbling to pieces, and your native Divorce-states piling up their revenues?"
She sat with bent head, the weight of the long years to come pressing like a leaden load on her shoulders.
"But I'm so young ... life's so long. What does last, then?"
"Ah, you're too young to believe me, if I were to tell you; though you're intelligent enough to understand."
"What does, then?"
"Why, the hold of the things we all think we could do without. Habits--they outstand the Pyramids. Comforts, luxuries, the atmosphere of ease ... above all, the power to get away from dulness and monotony, from constraints and uglinesses. You chose that power, instinctively, before you were even grown up; and so did Nick. And the only difference between you is that he's had the sense to see sooner than you that those are the things that last, the prime necessities."
"I don't believe it!"
"Of course you don't: at your age one doesn't reason one's materialism. And besides you're mortally hurt that Nick has found out sooner than you, and hasn't disguised his discovery under any hypocritical phrases."
"But surely there are people--"
"Yes--saints and geniuses and heroes: all the fanatics! To which of their categories do you suppose we soft people belong? And the heroes and the geniuses--haven't they their enormous frailties and their giant appetites? And how should we escape being the victims of our little ones?"
She sat for a while without speaking. "But, Streff, how can you say such things, when I know you care: care for me, for instance!"
"Care?" He put his hand on hers. "But, my dear, it's just the fugitiveness of mortal caring that makes it so exquisite! It's because we know we can't hold fast to it, or to each other, or to anything ...."
"Yes ... yes ... but hush, please! Oh, don't say it!" She stood up, the tears in her throat, and he rose also.
"Come along, then; where do we lunch?" he said with a smile, slipping his hand through her arm.
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