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Part III Edith Wharton

Chapter XXVII

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SUSY and Lord Altringham sat in the little drawing-room, divided from each other by a table carrying a smoky lamp and heaped with tattered school-books.

In another half hour the bonne, despatched to fetch the children from their classes, would be back with her flock; and at any moment Geordie's imperious cries might summon his slave up to the nursery. In the scant time allotted them, the two sat, and visibly wondered what to say.

Strefford, on entering, had glanced about the dreary room, with its piano laden with tattered music, the children's toys littering the lame sofa, the bunches of dyed grass and impaled butterflies flanking the cast-bronze clock. Then he had turned to Susy and asked simply: "Why on earth are you here?"

She had not tried to explain; from the first, she had understood the impossibility of doing so. And she would not betray her secret longing to return to Nick, now that she knew that Nick had taken definite steps for his release. In dread lest Strefford should have heard of this, and should announce it to her, coupling it with the news of Nick's projected marriage, and lest, hearing her fears thus substantiated, she should lose her self-control, she had preferred to say, in a voice that she tried to make indifferent: "The 'proceedings,' or whatever the lawyers call them, have begun. While they're going on I like to stay quite by myself .... I don't know why ...."

Strefford, at that, had looked at her keenly. "Ah," he murmured; and his lips were twisted into their old mocking smile. "Speaking of proceedings," he went on carelessly, "what stage have Ellie's reached, I wonder? I saw her and Vanderlyn and Bockheimer all lunching cheerfully together to-day at Larue's."

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The blood rushed to Susy's forehead. She remembered her tragic evening with Nelson Vanderlyn, only two months earlier, and thought to herself. "In time, then, I suppose, Nick and I ....

Aloud she said: "I can't imagine how Nelson and Ellie can ever want to see each other again. And in a restaurant, of all places!"

Strefford continued to smile. "My dear, you're incorrigibly old-fashioned. Why should two people who've done each other the best turn they could by getting out of each other's way at the right moment behave like sworn enemies ever afterward? It's too absurd; the humbug's too flagrant. Whatever our generation has failed to do, it's got rid of humbug; and that's enough to immortalize it. I daresay Nelson and Ellie never liked each other better than they do to-day. Twenty years ago, they'd have been afraid to confess it; but why shouldn't they now?"

Susy looked at Strefford, conscious that under his words was the ache of the disappointment she had caused him; and yet conscious also that that very ache was not the overwhelming penetrating emotion he perhaps wished it to be, but a pang on a par with a dozen others; and that even while he felt it he foresaw the day when he should cease to feel it. And she thought to herself that this certainty of oblivion must be bitterer than any certainty of pain.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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