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|Part II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 5||
"I thought nowadays ... if people preferred to live apart ... it could always be managed," she stammered, wondering at her own ignorance, after the many conjugal ruptures she had assisted at.
The young lawyer smiled, and coloured slightly. His lovely client evidently intimidated him by her grace, and still more by her inexperience.
"It can be--generally," he admitted; "and especially so if ... as I gather is the case ... your husband is equally anxious ...."
"Oh, quite!" she exclaimed, suddenly humiliated by having to admit it.
"Well, then--may I suggest that, to bring matters to a point, the best way would be for you to write to him?"
She recoiled slightly. It had never occurred to her that the lawyers would not "manage it" without her intervention.
"Write to him ... but what about?"
"Well, expressing your wish ... to recover your freedom .... The rest, I assume," said the young lawyer, "may be left to Mr. Lansing."
She did not know exactly what he meant, and was too much perturbed by the idea of having to communicate with Nick to follow any other train of thought. How could she write such a letter? And yet how could she confess to the lawyer that she had not the courage to do so? He would, of course, tell her to go home and be reconciled. She hesitated perplexedly.
"Wouldn't it be better," she suggested, "if the letter were to come from--from your office?"
He considered this politely. "On the whole: no. If, as I take it, an amicable arrangement is necessary--to secure the requisite evidence then a line from you, suggesting an interview, seems to me more advisable."
"An interview? Is an interview necessary?" She was ashamed to show her agitation to this cautiously smiling young man, who must wonder at her childish lack of understanding; but the break in her voice was uncontrollable.
"Oh, please write to him--I can't! And I can't see him! Oh, can't you arrange it for me?" she pleaded.
She saw now that her idea of a divorce had been that it was something one went out--or sent out--to buy in a shop: something concrete and portable, that Strefford's money could pay for, and that it required no personal participation to obtain. What a fool the lawyer must think her! Stiffening herself, she rose from her seat.
"My husband and I don't wish to see each other again .... I'm sure it would be useless ... and very painful."
"You are the best judge, of course. But in any case, a letter from you, a friendly letter, seems wiser ... considering the apparent lack of evidence ...."
"Very well, then; I'll write," she agreed, and hurried away, scarcely hearing his parting injunction that she should take a copy of her letter.
That night she wrote. At the last moment it might have been impossible, if at the theatre little Breckenridge had not bobbed into her box. He was just back from Rome, where he had dined with the Hickses ("a bang-up show--they're really lances-you wouldn't know them!"), and had met there Lansing, whom he reported as intending to marry Coral "as soon as things were settled". "You were dead right, weren't you, Susy," he snickered, "that night in Venice last summer, when we all thought you were joking about their engagement? Pity now you chucked our surprise visit to the Hickses, and sent Streff up to drag us back just as we were breaking in! You remember?"
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