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The Touchstone Edith Wharton

Chapter IX

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HE rose next morning with the resolve to know what Alexa thought of him. It was not anchoring in a haven, but lying to in a storm-- he felt the need of a temporary lull in the turmoil of his sensations.

He came home late, for they were dining alone and he knew that they would have the evening together. When he followed her to the drawing-room after dinner he thought himself on the point of speaking; but as she handed him his coffee he said, involuntarily: "I shall have to carry this off to the study, I've got a lot of work to-night."

Alone in the study he cursed his cowardice. What was it that had withheld him? A certain bright unapproachableness seemed to keep him at arm's length. She was not the kind of woman whose compassion could be circumvented; there was no chance of slipping past the outposts; he would never take her by surprise. Well--why not face her, then? What he shrank from could be no worse than what he was enduring. He had pushed back his chair and turned to go upstairs when a new expedient presented itself. What if, instead of telling her, he were to let her find out for herself and watch the effect of the discovery before speaking? In this way he made over to chance the burden of the revelation.

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The idea had been suggested by the sight of the formula enclosing the publisher's check. He had deposited the money, but the notice accompanying it dropped from his note-case as he cleared his table for work. It was the formula usual in such cases and revealed clearly enough that he was the recipient of a royalty on Margaret Aubyn's letters. It would be impossible for Alexa to read it without understanding at once that the letters had been written to him and that he had sold them. . . .

He sat downstairs till he heard her ring for the parlor-maid to put out the lights; then he went up to the drawing-room with a bundle of papers in his hand. Alexa was just rising from her seat and the lamplight fell on the deep roll of hair that overhung her brow like the eaves of a temple. Her face had often the high secluded look of a shrine; and it was this touch of awe in her beauty that now made him feel himself on the brink of sacrilege.

Lest the feeling should dominate him, he spoke at once. "I've brought you a piece of work--a lot of old bills and things that I want you to sort for me. Some are not worth keeping--but you'll be able to judge of that. There may be a letter or two among them--nothing of much account, but I don't like to throw away the whole lot without having them looked over and I haven't time to do it myself."

He held out the papers and she took them with a smile that seemed to recognize in the service he asked the tacit intention of making amends for the incident of the previous day.

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The Touchstone
Edith Wharton

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