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|Part II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 5||
"Oh, I don't know. Nowhere. I think I'm going back to Versailles."
"Because I've disgusted you so deeply? Just my luck--when I came over to ask you to marry me!"
She laughed, but he had become suddenly grave. "Upon my soul, I did."
"Dear Streff! As if--now--"
"Oh, not now--I know. I'm aware that even with your accelerated divorce methods--"
"It's not that. I told you it was no use, Streff--I told you long ago, in Venice."
He shrugged ironically. "It's not Streff who's asking you now. Streff was not a marrying man: he was only trifling with you. The present offer comes from an elderly peer of independent means. Think it over, my dear: as many days out as you like, and five footmen kept. There's not the least hurry, of course; but I rather think Nick himself would advise it."
She flushed to the temples, remembering that Nick had; and the remembrance made Strefford's sneering philosophy seem less unbearable. Why should she not lunch with him, after all? In the first days of his mourning he had come to Paris expressly to see her, and to offer her one of the oldest names and one of the greatest fortunes in England. She thought of Ursula Gillow, Ellie Vanderlyn, Violet Melrose, of their condescending kindnesses, their last year's dresses, their Christmas cheques, and all the careless bounties that were so easy to bestow and so hard to accept. "I should rather enjoy paying them back," something in her maliciously murmured.
She did not mean to marry Strefford--she had not even got as far as contemplating the possibility of a divorce but it was undeniable that this sudden prospect of wealth and freedom was like fresh air in her lungs. She laughed again, but now without bitterness.
"Very good, then; we'll lunch together. But it's Streff I want to lunch with to-day."
"Ah, well," her companion agreed, "I rather think that for a tete-a-tete he's better company."
During their repast in a little restaurant over the Seine, where she insisted on the cheapest dishes because she was lunching with "Streff," he became again his old whimsical companionable self. Once or twice she tried to turn the talk to his altered future, and the obligations and interests that lay before him; but he shrugged away from the subject, questioning her instead about the motley company at Violet Melrose's, and fitting a droll or malicious anecdote to each of the people she named.
It was not till they had finished their coffee, and she was glancing at her watch with a vague notion of taking the next train, that he asked abruptly: "But what are you going to do? You can't stay forever at Violet's."
"Oh, no!" she cried with a shiver.
"Well, then--you've got some plan, I suppose?"
"Have I?" she wondered, jerked back into grim reality from the soothing interlude of their hour together.
"You can't drift indefinitely, can you? Unless you mean to go back to the old sort of life once for all."
She reddened and her eyes filled. "I can't do that, Streff--I know I can't!"
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