A few words



And like other new husbands of whom he had heard and at whose expense he had at one time or another made jokes

they seemed to themselves far removed from the run of humanity and its pursuits.

they saw each other anew.

as if in a last mute gesture of love and contempt for a world that had betrayed him so profoundly that he could not endure in

Stoner who wept when the casket was lowered, as if that weeping might reduce the loneliness of the last descent. Whether he wept for himself, for the part of his history and youth that went down to the earth, or whether for the poor thin figure that once kept the man he had loved, he did not know.

By the end of the week, the time of the party, the cold weather had lifted, so that there was only a chill in the air; but the trees were leafless, the grass was beginning to brown, and there was a general bareness that presaged a hard winter. By the chill weather outside, by the stripped poplars and elms that stood starkly in their yard, and by the warmth and the ranked implements of the impending party inside, William Stoner was reminded of another day. For some time he could not decide what he was trying to remember—then he realized that it was on such a day, almost seven years before, that he had gone to Josiah Claremont’s house and had seen Edith for the first time. It seemed far away to him, and long ago; he could not reckon the changes that these few years had wrought.

and commented upon the superiority of such older houses as this over the new, flimsier structures going up here and there on the outskirts of town.

Then, as if on a quiet impulse, he bent a little and touched his lips to hers; Edith’s hand came up lightly to his hair, and they remained so for several moments while the others looked on. It was the chastest kiss Stoner had ever seen, and it seemed perfectly natural.

He felt a distant pity and reluctant friendship and familiar respect; and he felt also a weary sadness, for he knew that no longer could the sight of her bring upon him the agony of desire that he had once known, and knew that he would never again be moved as he had once been moved by her presence.

So it was himself that he was attempting to define as he worked on his study. As he sanded the old boards for his bookcases, and saw the surface roughnesses disappear, the gray weathering flake away to the essential wood and finally to a rich purity of grain and texture—as he repaired his furniture and arranged it in the room, it was himself that he was slowly shaping, it was himself that he was putting into a kind of order, it was himself that he was making possible.

They sat most of the day before the small tree, talked, and watched the lights twinkle on the ornaments and the tinsel wink from the dark green fir like buried fire.

The love of literature, of language, of the mystery of the mind and heart showing themselves in the minute, strange, and unexpected combinations of letters and words, in the blackest and coldest print—the love which he had hidden as if it were illicit and dangerous, he began to display, tentatively at first, and then boldly, and then proudly.

A hasty wash of shame and guilt came over him.

and after a few weeks he spoke not at all but sat with a stony indignation and an air of outraged integrity as the seminar surged around him. It would, Stoner thought, have been amusing had there not been something so naked in Walker’s outrage and resentment.

He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember.

He found himself trembling; as awkwardly as a boy he went around the coffee table and sat beside her. Tentatively, clumsily, their hands went out to each other; they clasped each other in an awkward, strained embrace; and for a long time they sat together without moving, as if any movement might let escape from them the strange and terrible thing that they held between them in a single grasp.

“Bill, if we never have anything else, we will have had this week. Does that sound like a girlish thing to say?”

“Because in the long run,” Stoner said, “it isn’t Edith or even Grace, or the certainty of losing Grace, that keeps me here; it isn’t the scandal or the hurt to you or me; it isn’t the hardship we would have to go through, or even the loss of love we might have to face. It’s simply the destruction of ourselves, of what we do.”

she left him no final note to say what could not be said.

it was as if he wore, for an obscure reason, an outrageous disguise, as if he could, if he wished, strip away the bushy white eyebrows, the rumpled white hair, the flesh that sagged around the sharp bones, the deep lines that pretended age.

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