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|Part I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 5 of 6||
"You knew I wouldn't have stayed here another day if I'd known," he continued.
"Yes: and then where in the world should we have gone?"
"You mean that--in one way or another--what you call give-and-take is the price of our remaining together?"
"Well--isn't it," she faltered.
"Then we'd better part, hadn't we?"
He spoke in a low tone, thoughtfully and deliberately, as if this had been the inevitable conclusion to which their passionate argument had led.
Susy made no answer. For a moment she ceased to be conscious of the causes of what had happened; the thing itself seemed to have smothered her under its ruins.
Nick wandered away from the dressing-table and stood gazing out of the window at the darkening canal flecked with lights. She looked at his back, and wondered what would happen if she were to go up to him and fling her arms about him. But even if her touch could have broken the spell, she was not sure she would have chosen that way of breaking it. Beneath her speechless anguish there burned the half-conscious sense of having been unfairly treated. When they had entered into their queer compact, Nick had known as well as she on what compromises and concessions the life they were to live together must be based. That he should have forgotten it seemed so unbelievable that she wondered, with a new leap of fear, if he were using the wretched Ellie's indiscretion as a means of escape from a tie already wearied of. Suddenly she raised her head with a laugh.
"After all--you were right when you wanted me to be your mistress."
He turned on her with an astonished stare. "You--my mistress?"
Through all her pain she thrilled with pride at the discovery that such a possibility had long since become unthinkable to him. But she insisted. "That day at the Fulmers'--have you forgotten? When you said it would be sheer madness for us to marry."
Lansing stood leaning in the embrasure of the window, his eyes fixed on the mosaic volutes of the floor.
"I was right enough when I said it would be sheer madness for us to marry," he rejoined at length.
She sprang up trembling. "Well, that's easily settled. Our compact--"
"Oh, that compact--" he interrupted her with an impatient laugh.
"Aren't you asking me to carry it out now?"
"Because I said we'd better part?" He paused. "But the compact--I'd almost forgotten it--was to the effect, wasn't it, that we were to give each other a helping hand if either of us had a better chance? The thing was absurd, of course; a mere joke; from my point of view, at least. I shall never want any better chance ... any other chance ...."
"Oh, Nick, oh, Nick ... but then ...." She was close to him, his face looming down through her tears; but he put her back.
"It would have been easy enough, wouldn't it," he rejoined, "if we'd been as detachable as all that? As it is, it's going to hurt horribly. But talking it over won't help. You were right just now when you asked how else we were going to live. We're born parasites, both, I suppose, or we'd have found out some way long ago. But I find there are things I might put up with for myself, at a pinch--and should, probably, in time that I can't let you put up with for me ... ever .... Those cigars at Como: do you suppose I didn't know it was for me? And this too? Well, it won't do ... it won't do ...."
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