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The Touchstone Edith Wharton

Chapter XIV

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She received this without outward movement, but he saw that the depths were stirred. At length she returned, in a hesitating tone, "Why do you call it a false impression? I did know."

"Yes, but I implied you didn't care."


He still stood looking down on her. "Don't you want me to set that right?" he tentatively pursued.

She lifted her head and fixed him bravely. "It isn't necessary," she said.

Glennard flushed with the shock of the retort; then, with a gesture of comprehension, "No," he said, "with you it couldn't be; but I might still set myself right."

She looked at him gently. "Don't I," she murmured, "do that?"

"In being yourself merely? Alas, the rehabilitation's too complete! You make me seem--to myself even--what I'm not; what I can never be. I can't, at times, defend myself from the delusion; but I can at least enlighten others."

The flood was loosened, and kneeling by her he caught her hands. "Don't you see that it's become an obsession with me? That if I could strip myself down to the last lie--only there'd always be another one left under it!--and do penance naked in the marketplace, I should at least have the relief of easing one anguish by another? Don't you see that the worst of my torture is the impossibility of such amends?"

Her hands lay in his without returning pressure. "Ah, poor woman, poor woman," he heard her sigh.

"Don't pity her, pity me! What have I done to her or to you, after all? You're both inaccessible! It was myself I sold."

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He took an abrupt turn away from her; then halted before her again. "How much longer," he burst out, "do you suppose you can stand it? You've been magnificent, you've been inspired, but what's the use? You can't wipe out the ignominy of it. It's miserable for you and it does HER no good!"

She lifted a vivid face. "That's the thought I can't bear!" she cried.

"What thought?"

"That it does her no good--all you're feeling, all you're suffering. Can it be that it makes no difference?"

He avoided her challenging glance. "What's done is done," he muttered.

"Is it ever, quite, I wonder?" she mused. He made no answer and they lapsed into one of the pauses that are a subterranean channel of communication.

It was she who, after awhile, began to speak with a new suffusing diffidence that made him turn a roused eye on her.

"Don't they say," she asked, feeling her way as in a kind of tender apprehensiveness, "that the early Christians, instead of pulling down the heathen temples--the temples of the unclean gods-- purified them by turning them to their own uses? I've always thought one might do that with one's actions--the actions one loathes but can't undo. One can make, I mean, a wrong the door to other wrongs or an impassable wall against them. . . ." Her voice wavered on the word. "We can't always tear down the temples we've built to the unclean gods, but we can put good spirits in the house of evil--the spirits of mercy and shame and understanding, that might never have come to us if we hadn't been in such great need. . . ."

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The Touchstone
Edith Wharton

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