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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVII
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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVII Post by :iwanthewarrior Category :Long Stories Author :Edith Wharton Date :July 2011 Read :2953

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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVII


Darrow had no idea how long he had sat there when he heard
Anna's hand on the door. The effort of rising, and of
composing his face to meet her, gave him a factitious sense
of self-control. He said to himself: "I must decide on
something----" and that lifted him a hair's breadth above
the whirling waters.

She came in with a lighter step, and he instantly perceived
that something unforeseen and reassuring had happened.

"She's been with me. She came and found me on the terrace.
We've had a long talk and she's explained everything. I
feel as if I'd never known her before!"

Her voice was so moved and tender that it checked his start
of apprehension.

"She's explained----?"

"It's natural, isn't it, that she should have felt a little
sore at the kind of inspection she's been subjected to? Oh,
not from you--I don't mean that! But Madame de Chantelle's
opposition--and her sending for Adelaide Painter! She told
me frankly she didn't care to owe her husband to Adelaide
Painter...She thinks now that her annoyance at feeling
herself so talked over and scrutinized may have shown itself
in her manner to Owen, and set him imagining the insane
things he did...I understand all she must have felt, and I
agree with her that it's best she should go away for a
while. She's made me," Anna summed up, "feel as if I'd been
dreadfully thick-skinned and obtuse!"


"Yes. As if I'd treated her like the bric-a-brac that used
to be sent down here 'on approval,' to see if it would look
well with the other pieces." She added, with a sudden flush
of enthusiasm: "I'm glad she's got it in her to make one
feel like that!"

She seemed to wait for Darrow to agree with her, or to put
some other question, and he finally found voice to ask:
"Then you think it's not a final break?"

"I hope not--I've never hoped it more! I had a word with
Owen, too, after I left her, and I think he understands that
he must let her go without insisting on any positive
promise. She's excited...he must let her calm down..."

Again she waited, and Darrow said: "Surely you can make him
see that."

"She'll help me to--she's to see him, of course, before she
goes. She starts immediately, by the way, with Adelaide
Painter, who is motoring over to Francheuil to catch the one
o'clock express--and who, of course, knows nothing of all
this, and is simply to be told that Sophy has been sent for
by the Farlows."

Darrow mutely signed his comprehension, and she went on:
"Owen is particularly anxious that neither Adelaide nor his
grandmother should have the least inkling of what's
happened. The need of shielding Sophy will help him to
control himself. He's coming to his senses, poor boy; he's
ashamed of his wild talk already. He asked me to tell you
so; no doubt he'll tell you so himself."

Darrow made a movement of protest. "Oh, as to that--the
thing's not worth another word."

"Or another thought, either?" She brightened. "Promise me
you won't even think of it--promise me you won't be hard on

He was finding it easier to smile back at her. "Why should
you think it necessary to ask my indulgence for Owen?"

She hesitated a moment, her eyes wandering from him. Then
they came back with a smile. "Perhaps because I need it for

"For yourself?"

"I mean, because I understand better how one can torture
one's self over unrealities."

As Darrow listened, the tension of his nerves began to
relax. Her gaze, so grave and yet so sweet, was like a deep
pool into which he could plunge and hide himself from the
hard glare of his misery. As this ecstatic sense enveloped
him he found it more and more difficult to follow her words
and to frame an answer; but what did anything matter, except
that her voice should go on, and the syllables fall like
soft touches on his tortured brain?

"Don't you know," she continued, "the bliss of waking from a
bad dream in one's own quiet room, and going slowly over all
the horror without being afraid of it any more? That's what
I'm doing now. And that's why I understand Owen..." She
broke off, and he felt her touch on his arm. "BECAUSE

He understood her then, and stammered: "You?"

"Forgive me! And let me tell you!...It will help you to
understand Owen...There WERE little things...little
signs...once I had begun to watch for them: your reluctance
to speak about her...her reserve with you...a sort of
constraint we'd never seen in her before..."

She laughed up at him, and with her hands in his he
contrived to say: "NOW you understand why?"

"Oh, I understand; of course I understand; and I want you to
laugh at me--with me! Because there were other things
too...crazier things still...There was even--last night on
the terrace--her pink cloak..."

"Her pink cloak?" Now he honestly wondered, and as she saw
it she blushed.

"You've forgotten about the cloak? The pink cloak that Owen
saw you with at the play in Paris? Yes...yes...I was mad
enough for that!...It does me good to laugh about it now!
But you ought to know that I'm going to be a jealous
woman...a ridiculously jealous woman...you ought to be
warned of it in time..."

He had dropped her hands, and she leaned close and lifted
her arms to his neck with one of her rare gestures of

"I don't know why it is; but it makes me happier now to have
been so foolish!"

Her lips were parted in a noiseless laugh and the tremor of
her lashes made their shadow move on her cheek. He looked
at her through a mist of pain and saw all her offered beauty
held up like a cup to his lips; but as he stooped to it a
darkness seemed to fall between them, her arms slipped from
his shoulders and she drew away from him abruptly.

"But she WAS with you, then?" she exclaimed; and then,
as he stared at her: "Oh, don't say no! Only go and look at
your eyes!"

He stood speechless, and she pressed on: "Don't deny it--oh,
don't deny it! What will be left for me to imagine if you
do? Don't you see how every single thing cries it out? Owen
sees it--he saw it again just now! When I told him she'd
relented, and would see him, he said: 'Is that Darrow's
doing too?'"

Darrow took the onslaught in silence. He might have spoken,
have summoned up the usual phrases of banter and denial; he
was not even certain that they might not, for the moment,
have served their purpose if he could have uttered them
without being seen. But he was as conscious of what had
happened to his face as if he had obeyed Anna's bidding and
looked at himself in the glass. He knew he could no more
hide from her what was written there than he could efface
from his soul the fiery record of what he had just lived
through. There before him, staring him in the eyes, and
reflecting itself in all his lineaments, was the
overwhelming fact of Sophy Viner's passion and of the act by
which she had attested it.

Anna was talking again, hurriedly, feverishly, and his soul
was wrung by the anguish in her voice. "Do speak at last--
you must speak! I don't want to ask you to harm the girl;
but you must see that your silence is doing her more harm
than your answering my questions could. You're leaving me
only the worst things to think of her...she'd see that
herself if she were here. What worse injury can you do her
than to make me hate her--to make me feel she's plotted with
you to deceive us?"

"Oh, not that!" Darrow heard his own voice before he was
aware that he meant to speak. "Yes; I did see her in
Paris," he went on after a pause; "but I was bound to
respect her reason for not wanting it known."

Anna paled. "It was she at the theatre that night?"

"I was with her at the theatre one night."

"Why should she have asked you not to say so?"

"She didn't wish it known that I'd met her."

"Why shouldn't she have wished it known?"

"She had quarrelled with Mrs. Murrett and come over suddenly
to Paris, and she didn't want the Farlows to hear of it. I
came across her by accident, and she asked me not to speak
of having seen her."

"Because of her quarrel? Because she was ashamed of her part
in it?"

"Oh, no. There was nothing for her to be ashamed of. But
the Farlows had found the place for her, and she didn't want
them to know how suddenly she'd had to leave, and how badly
Mrs. Murrett had behaved. She was in a terrible plight--the
woman had even kept back her month's salary. She knew the
Farlows would be awfully upset, and she wanted more time to
prepare them."

Darrow heard himself speak as though the words had proceeded
from other lips. His explanation sounded plausible enough,
and he half-fancied Anna's look grew lighter. She waited a
moment, as though to be sure he had no more to add; then she
said: "But the Farlows DID know; they told me all about
it when they sent her to me."

He flushed as if she had laid a deliberate trap for him.
"They may know NOW; they didn't then----"

"That's no reason for her continuing now to make a mystery
of having met you."

"It's the only reason I can give you."

"Then I'll go and ask her for one myself." She turned and
took a few steps toward the door.

"Anna!" He started to follow her, and then checked himself.
"Don't do that!"

"Why not?"

"It's not like you...not generous..."

She stood before him straight and pale, but under her rigid
face he saw the tumult of her doubt and misery.

"I don't want to be ungenerous; I don't want to pry into her
secrets. But things can't be left like this. Wouldn't it be
better for me to go to her? Surely she'll understand--she'll
explain...It may be some mere trifle she's concealing:
something that would horrify the Farlows, but that I
shouldn't see any harm in..." She paused, her eyes
searching his face. "A love affair, I suppose...that's it?
You met her with some man at the theatre--and she was
frightened and begged you to fib about it? Those poor young
things that have to go about among us like machines--oh, if
you knew how I pity them!"

"If you pity her, why not let her go?"

She stared. "Let her go--go for good, you mean? Is that the
best you can say for her?"

"Let things take their course. After all, it's between
herself and Owen."

"And you and me--and Effie, if Owen marries her, and I leave
my child with them! Don't you see the impossibility of what
you're asking? We're all bound together in this coil."

Darrow turned away with a groan. "Oh, let her go--let her

"Then there IS something--something really bad? She
WAS with some one when you met her? Some one with whom she
was----" She broke off, and he saw her struggling with new
thoughts. "If it's THAT, of course...Oh, don't you
see," she desperately appealed to him, "that I must find
out, and that it's too late now for you not to speak? Don't
be afraid that I'll betray you...I'll never, never let a
soul suspect. But I must know the truth, and surely it's
best for her that I should find it out from you."

Darrow waited a moment; then he said slowly: "What you
imagine's mere madness. She was at the theatre with me."

"With you?" He saw a tremor pass through her, but she
controlled it instantly and faced him straight and
motionless as a wounded creature in the moment before it
feels its wound. "Why should you both have made a mystery
of that?"

"I've told you the idea was not mine." He cast about. "She
may have been afraid that Owen----"

"But that was not a reason for her asking you to tell me
that you hardly knew her--that you hadn't even seen her for
years." She broke off and the blood rose to her face and
forehead. "Even if SHE had other reasons, there could
be only one reason for your obeying her----"
Silence fell between them, a silence in which the room
seemed to become suddenly resonant with voices. Darrow's
gaze wandered to the window and he noticed that the gale of
two days before had nearly stripped the tops of the lime-
trees in the court. Anna had moved away and was resting her
elbows against the mantel-piece, her head in her hands. As
she stood there he took in with a new intensity of vision
little details of her appearance that his eyes had often
cherished: the branching blue veins in the backs of her
hands, the warm shadow that her hair cast on her ear, and
the colour of the hair itself, dull black with a tawny
under-surface, like the wings of certain birds. He felt it
to be useless to speak.

After a while she lifted her head and said: "I shall not see
her again before she goes."

He made no answer, and turning to him she added: "That is
why she's going, I suppose? Because she loves you and won't
give you up?"

Darrow waited. The paltriness of conventional denial was so
apparent to him that even if it could have delayed discovery
he could no longer have resorted to it. Under all his other
fears was the dread of dishonouring the hour.

"She HAS given me up," he said at last.

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

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The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVIII The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVIII

The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVIII
BOOK IV: CHAPTER XXVIIIWhen he had gone out of the room Anna stood where he hadleft her. "I must believe him! I must believe him!" shesaid.A moment before, at the moment when she had lifted her armsto his neck, she had been wrapped in a sense of completesecurity. All the spirits of doubt had been exorcised, andher love was once more the clear habitation in which everythought and feeling could move in blissful freedom. Andthen, as she raised her face to Darrow's and met his eyes,she had seemed to look into the very ruins of his soul.That

The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVI The Reef - BOOK IV - Chapter XXVI

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