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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXV
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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXV Post by :ozzieoscar Category :Long Stories Author :Edith Wharton Date :July 2011 Read :2339

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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXV

BOOK IV: CHAPTER XXV

Anna stood in the middle of the room, her eyes on the door.
Darrow's questioning gaze was still on her, and she said to
herself with a quick-drawn breath: "If only he doesn't come
near me!"

It seemed to her that she had been suddenly endowed with the
fatal gift of reading the secret sense of every seemingly
spontaneous look and movement, and that in his least gesture
of affection she would detect a cold design.

For a moment longer he continued to look at her enquiringly;
then he turned away and took up his habitual stand by the
mantel-piece. She drew a deep breath of relief .

"Won't you please explain?" he said.

"I can't explain: I don't know. I didn't even know--till
she told you--that she really meant to break her engagement.
All I know is that she came to me just now and said she
wished to leave Givre today; and that Owen, when he heard of
it--for she hadn't told him--at once accused her of going
away with the secret intention of throwing him over."

"And you think it's a definite break?" She perceived, as she
spoke, that his brow had cleared.

"How should I know? Perhaps you can tell me."

"I?" She fancied his face clouded again, but he did not move
from his tranquil attitude.

"As I told you," she went on, "Owen has worked himself up to
imagining that for some mysterious reason you've influenced
Sophy against him."

Darrow still visibly wondered. "It must indeed be a
mysterious reason! He knows how slightly I know Miss Viner.
Why should he imagine anything so wildly improbable?"

"I don't know that either."

"But he must have hinted at some reason."

"No: he admits he doesn't know your reason. He simply says
that Sophy's manner to him has changed since she came back
to Givre and that he's seen you together several times--in
the park, the spring-house, I don't know where--talking
alone in a way that seemed confidential--almost secret; and
he draws the preposterous conclusion that you've used your
influence to turn her against him."

"My influence? What kind of influence?"

"He doesn't say."

Darrow again seemed to turn over the facts she gave him.
His face remained grave, but without the least trace of
discomposure. "And what does Miss Viner say?"

"She says it's perfectly natural that she should
occasionally talk to my friends when she's under my roof--
and refuses to give him any other explanation."

"That at least is perfectly natural!"

Anna felt her cheeks flush as she answered: "Yes--but there
is something----"

"Something----?"

"Some reason for her sudden decision to break her
engagement. I can understand Owen's feeling, sorry as I am
for his way of showing it. The girl owes him some sort of
explanation, and as long as she refuses to give it his
imagination is sure to run wild."

"She would have given it, no doubt, if he d asked it in a
different tone."

"I don't defend Owen's tone--but she knew what it was before
she accepted him. She knows he's excitable and
undisciplined."

"Well, she's been disciplining him a little--probably the
best thing that could happen. Why not let the matter rest
there?"

"Leave Owen with the idea that you HAVE been the cause
of the break?"

He met the question with his easy smile. "Oh, as to that--
leave him with any idea of me he chooses! But leave him, at
any rate, free."

"Free?" she echoed in surprise.

"Simply let things be. You've surely done all you could for
him and Miss Viner. If they don't hit it off it's their own
affair. What possible motive can you have for trying to
interfere now?"

Her gaze widened to a deeper wonder. "Why--naturally, what
he says of you!"

"I don't care a straw what he says of me! In such a
situation a boy in love will snatch at the most far-fetched
reason rather than face the mortifying fact that the lady
may simply be tired of him."

"You don t quite understand Owen. Things go deep with him,
and last long. It took him a long time to recover from his
other unlucky love affair. He's romantic and extravagant:
he can't live on the interest of his feelings. He worships
Sophy and she seemed to be fond of him. If she's changed
it's been very sudden. And if they part like this, angrily
and inarticulately, it will hurt him horribly--hurt his very
soul. But that, as you say, is between the two. What
concerns me is his associating you with their quarrel.
Owen's like my own son--if you'd seen him when I first came
here you'd know why. We were like two prisoners who talk to
each other by tapping on the wall. He's never forgotten it,
nor I. Whether he breaks with Sophy, or whether they make
it up, I can't let him think you had anything to do with
it."

She raised her eyes entreatingly to Darrow's, and read in
them the forbearance of the man resigned to the discussion
of non-existent problems.

"I'll do whatever you want me to," he said; "but I don't yet
know what it is."

His smile seemed to charge her with inconsequence, and the
prick to her pride made her continue: "After all, it's not
so unnatural that Owen, knowing you and Sophy to be almost
strangers, should wonder what you were saying to each other
when he saw you talking together."

She felt a warning tremor as she spoke, as though some
instinct deeper than reason surged up in defense of its
treasure. But Darrow's face was unstirred save by the flit
of his half-amused smile.

"Well, my dear--and couldn't you have told him?"
"I?" she faltered out through her blush.

"You seem to forget, one and all of you, the position you
put me in when I came down here: your appeal to me to see
Owen through, your assurance to him that I would, Madame de
Chantelle's attempt to win me over; and most of all, my own
sense of the fact you've just recalled to me: the
importance, for both of us, that Owen should like me. It
seemed to me that the first thing to do was to get as much
light as I could on the whole situation; and the obvious way
of doing it was to try to know Miss Viner better. Of course
I've talked with her alone--I've talked with her as often as
I could. I've tried my best to find out if you were right
in encouraging Owen to marry her."

She listened with a growing sense of reassurance, struggling
to separate the abstract sense of his words from the
persuasion in which his eyes and voice enveloped them.

"I see--I do see," she murmured.

"You must see, also, that I could hardly say this to Owen
without offending him still more, and perhaps increasing the
breach between Miss Viner and himself. What sort of figure
should I cut if I told him I'd been trying to find out if
he'd made a proper choice? In any case, it's none of my
business to offer an explanation of what she justly says
doesn't need one. If she declines to speak, it's obviously
on the ground that Owen's insinuations are absurd; and that
surely pledges me to silence."

"Yes, yes! I see," Anna repeated. "But I don't want you to
explain anything to Owen."

"You haven't yet told me what you do want."

She hesitated, conscious of the difficulty of justifying her
request; then: "I want you to speak to Sophy," she said.

Darrow broke into an incredulous laugh. "Considering what
my previous attempts have resulted in----!"

She raised her eyes quickly. "They haven't, at least,
resulted in your liking her less, in your thinking less well
of her than you've told me?"

She fancied he frowned a little. "I wonder why you go back
to that?"

"I want to be sure--I owe it to Owen. Won't you tell me the
exact impression she's produced on you?"

"I have told you--I like Miss Viner."

"Do you still believe she's in love with Owen?"

"There was nothing in our short talks to throw any
particular light on that."

"You still believe, though, that there's no reason why he
shouldn't marry her?"

Again he betrayed a restrained impatience. "How can I
answer that without knowing her reasons for breaking with
him?"

"That's just what I want you to find out from her."

"And why in the world should she tell me?"

"Because, whatever grievance she has against Owen, she can
certainly have none against me. She can't want to have Owen
connect me in his mind with this wretched quarrel; and she
must see that he will until he's convinced you've had no
share in it."

Darrow's elbow dropped from the mantel-piece and he took a
restless step or two across the room. Then he halted before
her.

"Why can't you tell her this yourself?"

"Don't you see?"

He eyed her intently, and she pressed on: "You must have
guessed that Owen's jealous of you."

"Jealous of me?" The blood flew up under his brown skin.

"Blind with it--what else would drive him to this folly? And
I can't have her think me jealous too! I've said all I
could, short of making her think so; and she's refused a
word more to either of us. Our only chance now is that she
should listen to you--that you should make her see the harm
her silence may do."

Darrow uttered a protesting exclamation. "It's all too
preposterous--what you suggest! I can't, at any rate, appeal
to her on such a ground as that!"

Anna laid her hand on his arm. "Appeal to her on the ground
that I'm almost Owen's mother, and that any estrangement
between you and him would kill me. She knows what he is--
she'll understand. Tell her to say anything, do anything,
she wishes; but not to go away without speaking, not to
leave THAT between us when she goes!"

She drew back a step and lifted her face to his, trying to
look into his eyes more deeply than she had ever looked; but
before she could discern what they expressed he had taken
hold of her hands and bent his head to kiss them.

"You'll see her? You'll see her?" she entreated; and he
answered: "I'll do anything in the world you want me to."

Content of BOOK IV: CHAPTER XXV (Edith Wharton's novel: The Reef)

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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVI
BOOK IV: CHAPTER XXVIDarrow waited alone in the sitting-room.No place could have been more distasteful as the scene ofthe talk that lay before him; but he had acceded to Anna'ssuggestion that it would seem more natural for her to summonSophy Viner than for him to go in search of her. As histroubled pacings carried him back and forth a relentlesshand seemed to be tearing away all the tender fibres ofassociation that bound him to the peaceful room. Here, inthis very place, he had drunk his deepest draughts ofhappiness, had had his lips at the fountain-head of itsoverflowing rivers; but
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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIV The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIV

The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXIV
BOOK IV: CHAPTER XXIVAnna stood looking from one to the other. It had becomeapparent to her in a flash that Owen's retort, though itstartled Sophy, did not take her by surprise; and thediscovery shot its light along dark distances of fear.The immediate inference was that Owen had guessed the reasonof Darrow's disapproval of his marriage, or that, at least,he suspected Sophy Viner of knowing and dreading it. Thisconfirmation of her own obscure doubt sent a tremor of alarmthrough Anna. For a moment she felt like exclaiming: "Allthis is really no business of mine, and I refuse to have
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