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  Part III Edith Wharton

Chapter XXVI

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NICK Lansing arrived in Paris two days after his lawyer had announced his coming to Mr. Spearman.

He had left Rome with the definite purpose of freeing himself and Susy; and though he was not pledged to Coral Hicks he had not concealed from her the object of his journey. In vain had he tried to rouse in himself any sense of interest in his own future. Beyond the need of reaching a definite point in his relation to Susy his imagination could not travel. But he had been moved by Coral's confession, and his reason told him that he and she would probably be happy together, with the temperate happiness based on a community of tastes and an enlargement of opportunities. He meant, on his return to Rome, to ask her to marry him; and he knew that she knew it. Indeed, if he had not spoken before leaving it was with no idea of evading his fate, or keeping her longer in suspense, but simply because of the strange apathy that had fallen on him since he had received Susy's letter. In his incessant self-communings he dressed up this apathy as a discretion which forbade his engaging Coral's future till his own was assured. But in truth he knew that Coral's future was already engaged, and his with it: in Rome the fact had seemed natural and even inevitable.

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In Paris, it instantly became the thinnest of unrealities. Not because Paris was not Rome, nor because it was Paris; but because hidden away somewhere in that vast unheeding labyrinth was the half-forgotten part of himself that was Susy .... For weeks, for months past, his mind had been saturated with Susy: she had never seemed more insistently near him than as their separation lengthened, and the chance of reunion became less probable. It was as if a sickness long smouldering in him had broken out and become acute, enveloping him in the Nessus-shirt of his memories. There were moments when, to his memory, their actual embraces seemed perfunctory, accidental, compared with this deep deliberate imprint of her soul on his.

Yet now it had become suddenly different. Now that he was in the same place with her, and might at any moment run across her, meet her eyes, hear her voice, avoid her hand--now that penetrating ghost of her with which he had been living was sucked back into the shadows, and he seemed, for the first time since their parting, to be again in her actual presence. He woke to the fact on the morning of his arrival, staring down from his hotel window on a street she would perhaps walk through that very day, and over a limitless huddle of roofs, one of which covered her at that hour. The abruptness of the transition startled him; he had not known that her mere geographical nearness would take him by the throat in that way. What would it be, then, if she were to walk into the room?

Thank heaven that need never happen! He was sufficiently informed as to French divorce proceedings to know that they would not necessitate a confrontation with his wife; and with ordinary luck, and some precautions, he might escape even a distant glimpse of her. He did not mean to remain in Paris more than a few days; and during that time it would be easy--knowing, as he did, her tastes and Altringham's--to avoid the places where she was likely to be met. He did not know where she was living, but imagined her to be staying with Mrs. Melrose, or some other rich friend, or else lodged, in prospective affluence, at the Nouveau Luxe, or in a pretty flat of her own. Trust Susy--ah, the pang of it--to "manage"!

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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