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Part III Edith Wharton

Chapter XXV

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Thereupon she had unfolded her idea. If Susy was at a loose end, and hard up, why shouldn't she take charge of the children while their parents were in Italy? For three months at most-Grace could promise it shouldn't be longer. They couldn't pay her much, of course, but at least she would be lodged and fed. "And, you know, it will end by interesting you--I'm sure it will," the mother concluded, her irrepressible hopefulness rising even to this height, while Susy stood before her with a hesitating smile.

Take care of five Fulmers for three months! The prospect cowed her. If there had been only Junie and Geordie, the oldest and youngest of the band, she might have felt less hesitation. But there was Nat, the second in age, whose motor-horn had driven her and Nick out to the hill-side on their fatal day at the Fulmers' and there were the twins, Jack and Peggy, of whom she had kept memories almost equally disquieting. To rule this uproarious tribe would be a sterner business than trying to beguile Clarissa Vanderlyn's ladylike leisure; and she would have refused on the spot, as she had refused once before, if the only possible alternatives had not come to seem so much less bearable, and if Junie, called in for advice, and standing there, small, plain and competent, had not said in her quiet grown-up voice: "Oh, yes, I'm sure Mrs. Lansing and I can manage while you're away--especially if she reads aloud well."

Reads aloud well! The stipulation had enchanted Susy. She had never before known children who cared to be read aloud to; she remembered with a shiver her attempts to interest Clarissa in anything but gossip and the fashions, and the tone in which the child had said, showing Strefford's trinket to her father: "Because I said I'd rather have it than a book."

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And here were children who consented to be left for three months by their parents, but on condition that a good reader was provided for them!

"Very well--I will! But what shall I be expected to read to you?" she had gaily questioned; and Junie had answered, after one of her sober pauses of reflection: "The little ones like nearly everything; but Nat and I want poetry particularly, because if we read it to ourselves we so often pronounce the puzzling words wrong, and then it sounds so horrid."

"Oh, I hope I shall pronounce them right," Susy murmured, stricken with self-distrust and humility.

Apparently she did; for her reading was a success, and even the twins and Geordie, once they had grown used to her, seemed to prefer a ringing page of Henry V, or the fairy scenes from the Midsummer Night's Dream, to their own more specialized literature, though that had also at times to be provided.

There were, in fact, no lulls in her life with the Fulmers; but its commotions seemed to Susy less meaningless, and therefore less fatiguing, than those that punctuated the existence of people like Altringham, Ursula Gillow, Ellie Vanderlyn and their train; and the noisy uncomfortable little house at Passy was beginning to greet her with the eyes of home when she returned there after her tramps to and from the children's classes. At any rate she had the sense of doing something useful and even necessary, and of earning her own keep, though on so modest a scale; and when the children were in their quiet mood, and demanded books or music (or, even, on one occasion, at the surprising Junie's instigation, a collective visit to the Louvre, where they recognized the most unlikely pictures, and the two elders emitted startling technical judgments, and called their companion's attention to details she had not observed); on these occasions, Susy had a surprised sense of being drawn back into her brief life with Nick, or even still farther and deeper, into those visions of Nick's own childhood on which the trivial later years had heaped their dust.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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