A Platonic Entanglement

Clark Ashton Smith

They were sitting a fairly proper distance apart, on their favorite moss-grown boulder, at the end of the leaf-strewn autumn trail they had taken so often.

"Do you know that people are talking about us?" Her voice was hardly more than a whisper, failing on a mournful cadence almost unaudible, and he moved nearer, to catch the faint silver of its tones . As always, he found something vaguely pleasurable in the nearness of the plump olive neck under its coil of unbobbed hair, and the tender oval cheek that was exquisitely innocent of rouge.

"We have been seen together too often," she continued, with trouble and sadness in the droop of her eyelids, in the fall of her voice. "This town is full of cats, like all villages, and they are all the more willing to tear me in shreds because I am living apart from my husband. I am sorry, Geoffry... because our friendship has meant so much to me."

"It has meant much to me, too, Anita," he responded. He felt disturbed and even a little conscience-striken. It had been very pleasant, in his loneliness, to call upon her with increasing frequency throughout the summer, and to take these little walks in the autumn woods, now that the air was cooling and the leaves were aflame with saffron and crimson. It had all been so harmless and platonic, he assured himself — the natural drifting together of two lonely people with certain tastes in common. But assuredly he was not in love with her nor she with him: his attitude toward her had always been rather shy and respectful, and it was she who had somehow increased the familiarity of their friendship by subtle and imperceptible degrees. Indeed, had she not urged him, he would never have had the boldness to call her by her first name. She was a little the older and much the maturer of the two.

"Those horrid tattle-cats!" she went on, raising her voice in a silver burst of indignation. "If they would only be content to do their ripping and rending and clawing behind my back! But some of them must always come and tell me about it — 'My dear, I think you ought to know what people are saying!'" She made an exquisite little moue of disgust. He reflected, not for the first time, that her mouth was eminently kissable; but, being a somewhat shy and modest young man, and not at all in love with her, he put the thought away as speedily as he could.

"What will your husband do if he hears the gossip?" he queried cautiously.

"Oh, George wouldn't care." Her tone was reckless, with an undertone of contempt. "As long as I leave him alone, he will leave me alone. · .. He wouldn't have the decency to give me a divorce; but, on the other hand, he is too indifferent to make trouble. George doesn't matter, one way or the other: what I hate and dread is this dirty small-town gossip; I feel as if unclean hands were pawing me all the time."

Shuddering a little, she pressed against him, ever so gently . Her mournful eyelids fluttered, and she gave him a brief and almost furtive glance, in which he could read nothing but sadness. She lowered her eyes hastily, as tears crept out and hung on the thick lashes.

"Oh! it is hateful hateful!" There was a melodious break in her voice. "I don't know what to do .... But I can't give up seeing you, Geoffry; and you don't want to give me up, do you?"

"Of course not," he hastened to reassure her. "But I can't see what all the excitement is about. We are good friends, of course, but — " He broke off, for she was sobbing openly, seeming not to hear him. Somehow — he never quite knew how it all happened — her head fell on his shoulder, and her white arms, clinging forlornly and tenaciously, were about his neck. Slightly terrified, in a turmoil of sensations that were by no means unpleasant, he returned the embrace and kissed her. It seemed to be the thing to do.

Afterwards, as she rearranged the coil of her disordered hair, she murmured:

"I have always loved you, Geoffry .... It simply had to happen, I suppose .... Do you love me?"

"Of course I love you." He put the correct period to his reply with another kiss. After all, what else could he say or do?

^xxx^ xxx was added by Smith.
[xxx] xxx was deleted by Smith.
{early title: "How the Trouble Began"}

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