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0100_005E The Touchstone Edith Wharton

Chapter VI

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Glennard, leaning back with his head against the rail and a slit of fugitive blue between his half-closed lids, vaguely wished she wouldn't spoil the afternoon by making people talk; though he reduced his annoyance to the minimum by not listening to what was said, there remained a latent irritation against the general futility of words.

His wife's gift of silence seemed to him the most vivid commentary on the clumsiness of speech as a means of intercourse, and his eyes had turned to her in renewed appreciation of this finer faculty when Mrs. Armiger's voice abruptly brought home to him the underrated potentialities of language.

"You've read them, of course, Mrs. Glennard?" he heard her ask; and, in reply to Alexa's vague interrogation--"Why, the 'Aubyn Letters'--it's the only book people are talking of this week."

Mrs. Dresham immediately saw her advantage. "You HAVEN'T read them? How very extraordinary! As Mrs. Armiger says, the book's in the air; one breathes it in like the influenza."

Glennard sat motionless, watching his wife.

"Perhaps it hasn't reached the suburbs yet," she said, with her unruffled smile.

"Oh, DO let me come to you, then!" Mrs. Touchett cried; "anything for a change of air! I'm positively sick of the book and I can't put it down. Can't you sail us beyond its reach, Mr. Flamel?"

Flamel shook his head. "Not even with this breeze. Literature travels faster than steam nowadays. And the worst of it is that we can't any of us give up reading; it's as insidious as a vice and as tiresome as a virtue."

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"I believe it IS a vice, almost, to read such a book as the 'Letters,'" said Mrs. Touchett. "It's the woman's soul, absolutely torn up by the roots--her whole self laid bare; and to a man who evidently didn't care; who couldn't have cared. I don't mean to read another line; it's too much like listening at a keyhole."

"But if she wanted it published?"

"Wanted it? How do we know she did?"

"Why, I heard she'd left the letters to the man--whoever he is-- with directions that they should be published after his death--"

"I don't believe it," Mrs. Touchett declared.

"He's dead then, is he?" one of the men asked.

"Why, you don't suppose if he were alive he could ever hold up his head again, with these letters being read by everybody?" Mrs. Touchett protested. "It must have been horrible enough to know they'd been written to him; but to publish them! No man could have done it and no woman could have told him to--"

"Oh, come, come," Dresham judicially interposed; "after all, they're not love-letters."

"No--that's the worst of it; they're unloved letters," Mrs. Touchett retorted.

"Then, obviously, she needn't have written them; whereas the man, poor devil, could hardly help receiving them."

"Perhaps he counted on the public to save him the trouble of reading them," said young Hartly, who was in the cynical stage.

Mrs. Armiger turned her reproachful loveliness to Dresham. "From the way you defend him, I believe you know who he is."

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The Touchstone
Edith Wharton

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