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  Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XXII

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STREFFORD was leaving for England.

Once assured that Susy had taken the first step toward freeing herself, he frankly regarded her as his affianced wife, and could see no reason for further mystery. She understood his impatience to have their plans settled; it would protect him from the formidable menace of the marriageable, and cause people, as he said, to stop meddling. Now that the novelty of his situation was wearing off, his natural indolence reasserted itself, and there was nothing he dreaded more than having to be on his guard against the innumerable plans that his well-wishers were perpetually making for him. Sometimes Susy fancied he was marrying her because to do so was to follow the line of least resistance.

"To marry me is the easiest way of not marrying all the others," she laughed, as he stood before her one day in a quiet alley of the Bois de Boulogne, insisting on the settlement of various preliminaries. "I believe I'm only a protection to you."

An odd gleam passed behind his eyes, and she instantly guessed that he was thinking: "And what else am I to you?"

She changed colour, and he rejoined, laughing also: "Well, you're that at any rate, thank the Lord!"

She pondered, and then questioned: "But in the interval-how are you going to defend yourself for another year?"

"Ah, you've got to see to that; you've got to take a little house in London. You've got to look after me, you know."

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It was on the tip of her tongue to flash back: "Oh, if that's all you care--!" But caring was exactly the factor she wanted, as much as possible, to keep out of their talk and their thoughts. She could not ask him how much he cared without laying herself open to the same question; and that way terror lay. As a matter of fact, though Strefford was not an ardent wooer--perhaps from tact, perhaps from temperament, perhaps merely from the long habit of belittling and disintegrating every sentiment and every conviction--yet she knew he did care for her as much as he was capable of caring for anyone. If the element of habit entered largely into the feeling--if he liked her, above all, because he was used to her, knew her views, her indulgences, her allowances, knew he was never likely to be bored, and almost certain to be amused, by her; why, such ingredients though not of the fieriest, were perhaps those most likely to keep his feeling for her at a pleasant temperature. She had had a taste of the tropics, and wanted more equable weather; but the idea of having to fan his flame gently for a year was unspeakably depressing to her. Yet all this was precisely what she could not say. The long period of probation, during which, as she knew, she would have to amuse him, to guard him, to hold him, and to keep off the other women, was a necessary part of their situation. She was sure that, as little Breckenridge would have said, she could "pull it off"; but she did not want to think about it. What she would have preferred would have been to go away--no matter where and not see Strefford again till they were married. But she dared not tell him that either.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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