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The House of Mirth


"What luck!" she repeated. "How nice of you to come to my rescue!"
He responded joyfully that to do so was his mission in life, and asked
what form the rescue was to take.
"Oh, almost anyÑeven to sitting on a bench and talking to me. One
sits out a cotillionÑwhy not sit out a train? It isn't a bit hotter here than
in Mrs. Van Osburgh's conservatoryÑand some of the women are not a
bit uglier." She broke off, laughing, to explain that she had come up to
town from Tuxedo, on her way to the Gus Trenors' at Bellomont, and
had missed the three-fifteen train to Rhinebeck. "And there isn't another
till half-past five." She consulted the little jewelled watch among her
laces. "Just two hours to wait. And I don't know what to do with myself.
My maid came up this morning to do some shopping for me, and was to
go on to Bellomont at one o'clock, and my aunt's house is closed, and I
don't know a soul in town." She glanced plaintively about the station. "It
IS hotter than Mrs. Van Osburgh's, after all. If you can spare the time, do
take me somewhere for a breath of air."
He declared himself entirely at her disposal: the adventure struck him
as diverting. As a spectator, he had always enjoyed Lily Bart; and his
course lay so far out of her orbit that it amused him to be drawn for a
moment into the sudden intimacy which her proposal implied.
"Shall we go over to Sherry's for a cup of tea?"
She smiled assentingly, and then made a slight grimace.
"So many people come up to town on a MondayÑone is sure to meet a
lot of bores. I'm as old as the hills, of course, and it ought not to make
any difference; but if I'M old enough, you're not," she objected gaily. "I'm
dying for teaÑbut isn't there a quieter place?"
He answered her smile, which rested on him vividly. Her discretions
interested him almost as much as her imprudences: he was so sure that
both were part of the same carefully-elaborated plan. In judging Miss
Bart, he had always made use of the "argument from design."
"The resources of New York are rather meagre," he said; "but I'll find a
hansom first, and then we'll invent something." He led her through the
throng of returning holiday-makers, past sallow-faced girls in preposter-
ous hats, and flat-chested women struggling with paper bundles and
palm-leaf fans. Was it possible that she belonged to the same race? The
dinginess, the crudity of this average section of womanhood made him
feel how highly specialized she was.
A rapid shower had cooled the air, and clouds still hung refreshingly
over the moist street.
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