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The Touchstone Edith Wharton

Chapter IV

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"Ah, you're at my manuscript shelf. I've been going in for that sort of thing lately." Flamel came up and looked over his shoulders. "That's a bit of Stendhal--one of the Italian stories-- and here are some letters of Balzac to Madame Commanville."

Glennard took the book with sudden eagerness. "Who was Madame Commanville?"

"His sister." He was conscious that Flamel was looking at him with the smile that was like an interrogation point. "I didn't know you cared for this kind of thing."

"I don't--at least I've never had the chance. Have you many collections of letters?"

"Lord, no--very few. I'm just beginning, and most of the interesting ones are out of my reach. Here's a queer little collection, though--the rarest thing I've got--half a dozen of Shelley's letters to Harriet Westbrook. I had a devil of a time getting them--a lot of collectors were after them."

Glennard, taking the volume from his hand, glanced with a kind of repugnance at the interleaving of yellow cris-crossed sheets. "She was the one who drowned herself, wasn't she?"

Flamel nodded. "I suppose that little episode adds about fifty per cent. to their value," he said, meditatively.

Glennard laid the book down. He wondered why he had joined Flamel. He was in no humor to be amused by the older man's talk, and a recrudescence of personal misery rose about him like an icy tide.

"I believe I must take myself off," he said. "I'd forgotten an engagement."

He turned to go; but almost at the same moment he was conscious of a duality of intention wherein his apparent wish to leave revealed itself as a last effort of the will against the overmastering desire to stay and unbosom himself to Flamel.

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The older man, as though divining the conflict, laid a detaining pressure on his arm.

"Won't the engagement keep? Sit down and try one of these cigars. I don't often have the luck of seeing you here."

"I'm rather driven just now," said Glennard, vaguely. He found himself seated again, and Flamel had pushed to his side a low stand holding a bottle of Apollinaris and a decanter of cognac.

Flamel, thrown back in his capacious arm-chair, surveyed him through a cloud of smoke with the comfortable tolerance of the man to whom no inconsistencies need be explained. Connivance was implicit in the air. It was the kind of atmosphere in which the outrageous loses its edge. Glennard felt a gradual relaxing of his nerves.

"I suppose one has to pay a lot for letters like that?" he heard himself asking, with a glance in the direction of the volume he had laid aside.

"Oh, so-do--depends on circumstances." Flamel viewed him thoughtfully. "Are you thinking of collecting?"

Glennard laughed. "Lord, no. The other way round."


"Oh, I hardly know. I was thinking of a poor chap--"

Flamel filled the pause with a nod of interest.

"A poor chap I used to know--who died--he died last year--and who left me a lot of letters, letters he thought a great deal of--he was fond of me and left 'em to me outright, with the idea, I suppose, that they might benefit me somehow--I don't know--I'm not much up on such things--" he reached his hand to the tall glass his host had filled.

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The Touchstone
Edith Wharton

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