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|Part I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 6||
"Oh, I guessed as much: it happened very quietly, and I was remiss about announcing it, even to old friends."
Lansing frowned. His thoughts had wandered away to the evening when he had found Mrs. Hicks's letter in the mail awaiting him at Venice. The day was associated in his mind with the ridiculous and mortifying episode of the cigars--the expensive cigars that Susy had wanted to carry away from Strefford's villa. Their brief exchange of views on the subject had left the first blur on the perfect surface of his happiness, and he still felt an uncomfortable heat at the remembrance. For a few hours the prospect of life with Susy had seemed unendurable; and it was just at that moment that he had found the letter from Mrs. Hicks, with its almost irresistible invitation. If only her daughter had known how nearly he had accepted it!
"It was a dreadful temptation," he said, smiling.
"To go with us? Then why--?"
"Oh, everything's different now: I've got to stick to my writing."
Miss Hicks still bent on him the same unblinking scrutiny. "Does that mean that you're going to give up your real work?"
"My real work--archaeology?" He smiled again to hide a twitch of regret. "Why, I'm afraid it hardly produces a living wage; and I've got to think of that." He coloured suddenly, as if suspecting that Miss Hicks might consider the avowal an opening for he hardly knew what ponderous offer of aid. The Hicks munificence was too uncalculating not to be occasionally oppressive. But looking at her again he saw that her eyes were full of tears.
"I thought it was your vocation," she said.
"So did I. But life comes along, and upsets things."
"Oh, I understand. There may be things--worth giving up all other things for."
"There are!" cried Nick with beaming emphasis.
He was conscious that Miss Hicks's eyes demanded of him even more than this sweeping affirmation.
"But your novel may fail," she said with her odd harshness.
"It may--it probably will," he agreed. "But if one stopped to consider such possibilities--"
"Don't you have to, with a wife?"
"Oh, my dear Coral--how old are you? Not twenty?" he questioned, laying a brotherly hand on hers.
She stared at him a moment, and sprang up clumsily from her chair. "I was never young ... if that's what you mean. It's lucky, isn't it, that my parents gave me such a grand education? Because, you see, art's a wonderful resource." (She pronounced it RE-source.)
He continued to look at her kindly. "You won't need it--or any other--when you grow young, as you will some day," he assured her.
"Do you mean, when I fall in love? But I am in love--Oh, there's Eldorada and Mr. Beck!" She broke off with a jerk, signalling with her field-glass to the pair who had just appeared at the farther end of the nave. "I told them that if they'd meet me here to-day I'd try to make them understand Tiepolo. Because, you see, at home we never really have understood Tiepolo; and Mr. Beck and Eldorada are the only ones to realize it. Mr. Buttles simply won't." She turned to Lansing and held out her hand. "I am in love," she repeated earnestly, "and that's the reason why I find art such a RE source."
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