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|Part II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 3 of 6||
"Ellie--at your villa? What do you mean? Was it Ellie and Bockheimer who--?"
Strefford still stared. "You mean to say you didn't know?"
"Who came after Nick and me...?" she insisted.
"Why, do you suppose I'd have turned you out otherwise? That beastly Bockheimer simply smothered me with gold. Ah, well, there's one good thing: I shall never have to let the villa again! I rather like the little place myself, and I daresay once in a while we might go there for a day or two .... Susy, what's the matter?" he exclaimed.
She returned his stare, but without seeing him. Everything swam and danced before her eyes.
"Then she was there while I was posting all those letters for her--?"
"Letters--what letters? What makes you look so frightfully upset?"
She pursued her thought as if he had not spoken. "She and Algie Bockheimer arrived there the very day that Nick and I left?"
"I suppose so. I thought she'd told you. Ellie always tells everybody everything."
"She would have told me, I daresay--but I wouldn't let her."
"Well, my dear, that was hardly my fault, was it? Though I really don't see--"
But Susy, still blind to everything but the dance of dizzy sparks before her eyes, pressed on as if she had not heard him. "It was their motor, then, that took us to Milan! It was Algie Bockheimer's motor!" She did not know why, but this seemed to her the most humiliating incident in the whole hateful business. She remembered Nick's reluctance to use the motor-she remembered his look when she had boasted of her "managing." The nausea mounted to her throat.
Strefford burst out laughing. "I say--you borrowed their motor? And you didn't know whose it was?"
"How could I know? I persuaded the chauffeur ... for a little tip .... It was to save our railway fares to Milan ... extra luggage costs so frightfully in Italy ...."
"Good old Susy! Well done! I can see you doing it--"
"Oh, how horrible--how horrible!" she groaned.
"Horrible? What's horrible?"
"Why, your not seeing ... not feeling ..." she began impetuously; and then stopped. How could she explain to him that what revolted her was not so much the fact of his having given the little house, as soon as she and Nick had left it, to those two people of all others--though the vision of them in the sweet secret house, and under the plane-trees of the terrace, drew such a trail of slime across her golden hours? No, it was not that from which she most recoiled, but from the fact that Strefford, living in luxury in Nelson Vanderlyn's house, should at the same time have secretly abetted Ellie Vanderlyn's love-affairs, and allowed her--for a handsome price--to shelter them under his own roof. The reproach trembled on her lip--but she remembered her own part in the wretched business, and the impossibility of avowing it to Strefford, and of revealing to him that Nick had left her for that very reason. She was not afraid that the discovery would diminish her in Strefford's eyes: he was untroubled by moral problems, and would laugh away her avowal, with a sneer at Nick in his new part of moralist. But that was just what she could not bear: that anyone should cast a doubt on the genuineness of Nick's standards, or should know how far below them she had fallen.
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