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The Touchstone Edith Wharton

Chapter IV

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"A collection of autograph letters, eh? Any big names?"

"Oh, only one name. They're all letters written to him--by one person, you understand; a woman, in fact--"

"Oh, a woman," said Flamel, negligently.

Glennard was nettled by his obvious loss of interest. "I rather think they'd attract a good deal of notice if they were published."

Flamel still looked uninterested. "Love-letters, I suppose?"

"Oh, just--the letters a woman would write to a man she knew well. They were tremendous friends, he and she."

"And she wrote a clever letter?"

"Clever? It was Margaret Aubyn."

A great silence filled the room. It seemed to Glennard that the words had burst from him as blood gushes from a wound.

"Great Scott!" said Flamel, sitting up. "A collection of Margaret Aubyn's letters? Did you say YOU had them?"

"They were left me--by my friend."

"I see. Was he--well, no matter. You're to be congratulated, at any rate. What are you going to do with them?"

Glennard stood up with a sense of weariness in all his bones. "Oh, I don't know. I haven't thought much about it. I just happened to see that some fellow was writing her life--"

"Joslin; yes. You didn't think of giving them to him?"

Glennard had lounged across the room and stood staring up at a bronze Bacchus who drooped his garlanded head above the pediment of an Italian cabinet. "What ought I to do? You're just the fellow to advise me." He felt the blood in his cheek as he spoke.

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Flamel sat with meditative eye. "What do you WANT to do with them?" he asked.

"I want to publish them," said Glennard, swinging round with sudden energy--"If I can--"

"If you can? They're yours, you say?"

"They're mine fast enough. There's no one to prevent--I mean there are no restrictions--" he was arrested by the sense that these accumulated proofs of impunity might precisely stand as the strongest check on his action.

"And Mrs. Aubyn had no family, I believe?"


"Then I don't see who's to interfere," said Flamel, studying his cigar-tip.

Glennard had turned his unseeing stare on an ecstatic Saint Catherine framed in tarnished gilding.

"It's just this way," he began again, with an effort. "When letters are as personal as--as these of my friend's. . . . Well, I don't mind telling you that the cash would make a heap of difference to me; such a lot that it rather obscures my judgment-- the fact is if I could lay my hand on a few thousands now I could get into a big thing, and without appreciable risk; and I'd like to know whether you think I'd be justified--under the circumstances. . . ." He paused, with a dry throat. It seemed to him at the moment that it would be impossible for him ever to sink lower in his own estimation. He was in truth less ashamed of weighing the temptation than of submitting his scruples to a man like Flamel, and affecting to appeal to sentiments of delicacy on the absence of which he had consciously reckoned. But he had reached a point where each word seemed to compel another, as each wave in a stream is forced forward by the pressure behind it; and before Flamel could speak he had faltered out--"You don't think people could say . . . could criticise the man. . . ."

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The Touchstone
Edith Wharton

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