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The Touchstone Edith Wharton

Chapter VIII

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"Oh, go on, go on," young Hartly rapturously groaned; and Mrs. Armiger met Glennard's inquiry with the deprecating cry that really she didn't see what there was to laugh at. "I'm sure I feel more like crying. I don't know what I should have done if Alexa hadn't been home to give me a cup of tea. My nerves are in shreds--yes, another, dear, please--" and as Glennard looked his perplexity, she went on, after pondering on the selection of a second lump of sugar, "Why, I've just come from the reading, you know--the reading at the Waldorf."

"I haven't been in town long enough to know anything," said Glennard, taking the cup his wife handed him. "Who has been reading what?"

"That lovely girl from the South--Georgie--Georgie what's her name--Mrs. Dresham's protegee--unless she's YOURS, Mr. Dresham! Why, the big ball-room was PACKED, and all the women were crying like idiots--it was the most harrowing thing I ever heard--"

"What DID you hear?" Glennard asked; and his wife interposed: "Won't you have another bit of cake, Julia? Or, Stephen, ring for some hot toast, please." Her tone betrayed a polite satiety of the topic under discussion. Glennard turned to the bell, but Mrs. Armiger pursued him with her lovely amazement.

"Why, the "Aubyn Letters"--didn't you know about it? The girl read them so beautifully that it was quite horrible--I should have fainted if there'd been a man near enough to carry me out."

Hartly's glee redoubled, and Dresham said, jovially, "How like you women to raise a shriek over the book and then do all you can to encourage the blatant publicity of the readings!"

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Mrs. Armiger met him more than half-way on a torrent of self-accusal. "It WAS horrid; it was disgraceful. I told your wife we ought all to be ashamed of ourselves for going, and I think Alexa was quite right to refuse to take any tickets--even if it was for a charity."

"Oh," her hostess murmured, indifferently, "with me charity begins at home. I can't afford emotional luxuries."

"A charity? A charity?" Hartly exulted. "I hadn't seized the full beauty of it. Reading poor Margaret Aubyn's love-letters at the Waldorf before five hundred people for a charity! WHAT charity, dear Mrs. Armiger?"

"Why, the Home for Friendless Women--"

"It was well chosen," Dresham commented; and Hartly buried his mirth in the sofa-cushions.

When they were alone Glennard, still holding his untouched cup of tea, turned to his wife, who sat silently behind the kettle. "Who asked you to take a ticket for that reading?"

"I don't know, really--Kate Dresham, I fancy. It was she who got it up."

"It's just the sort of damnable vulgarity she's capable of! It's loathsome--it's monstrous--"

His wife, without looking up, answered gravely, "I thought so too. It was for that reason I didn't go. But you must remember that very few people feel about Mrs. Aubyn as you do--"

Glennard managed to set down his cup with a steady hand, but the room swung round with him and he dropped into the nearest chair. "As I do?" he repeated.

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The Touchstone
Edith Wharton

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