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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XIX

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"How I do bore you!" Susy heard Strefford exclaim. She became aware that she had not been listening: stray echoes of names of places and people--Violet Melrose, Ursula, Prince Altineri, others of their group and persuasion--had vainly knocked at her barricaded brain; what had he been telling her about them? She turned to him and their eyes met; his were full of a melancholy irony.

"Susy, old girl, what's wrong?"

She pulled herself together. "I was thinking, Streff, just now--when I said I hated the very sound of pearls and chinchilla--how impossible it was that you should believe me; in fact, what a blunder I'd made in saying it."

He smiled. "Because it was what so many other women might be likely to say so awfully unoriginal, in fact?"

She laughed for sheer joy at his insight. "It's going to be easier than I imagined," she thought. Aloud she rejoined: "Oh, Streff--how you're always going to find me out! Where on earth shall I ever hide from you?"

"Where?" He echoed her laugh, laying his hand lightly on hers. "In my heart, I'm afraid."

In spite of the laugh his accent shook her: something about it took all the mockery from his retort, checked on her lips the: "What? A valentine!" and made her suddenly feel that, if he were afraid, so was she. Yet she was touched also, and wondered half exultingly if any other woman had ever caught that particular deep inflexion of his shrill voice. She had never liked him as much as at that moment; and she said to herself, with an odd sense of detachment, as if she had been rather breathlessly observing the vacillations of someone whom she longed to persuade but dared not: "Now--NOW, if he speaks, I shall say yes!"

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He did not speak; but abruptly, and as startlingly to her as if she had just dropped from a sphere whose inhabitants had other methods of expressing their sympathy, he slipped his arm around her and bent his keen ugly melting face to hers ....

It was the lightest touch--in an instant she was free again. But something within her gasped and resisted long after his arm and his lips were gone, and he was proceeding, with a too-studied ease, to light a cigarette and sweeten his coffee.

He had kissed her .... Well, naturally: why not? It was not the first time she had been kissed. It was true that one didn't habitually associate Streff with such demonstrations; but she had not that excuse for surprise, for even in Venice she had begun to notice that he looked at her differently, and avoided her hand when he used to seek it.

No--she ought not to have been surprised; nor ought a kiss to have been so disturbing. Such incidents had punctuated the career of Susy Branch: there had been, in particular, in far-off discarded times, Fred Gillow's large but artless embraces. Well--nothing of that kind had seemed of any more account than the click of a leaf in a woodland walk. It had all been merely epidermal, ephemeral, part of the trivial accepted "business" of the social comedy. But this kiss of Strefford's was what Nick's had been, under the New Hampshire pines, on the day that had decided their fate. It was a kiss with a future in it: like a ring slipped upon her soul. And now, in the dreadful pause that followed--while Strefford fidgeted with his cigarette-case and rattled the spoon in his cup, Susy remembered what she had seen through the circle of Nick's kiss: that blue illimitable distance which was at once the landscape at their feet and the future in their souls ....

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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