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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XIII

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WHEN Violet Melrose had said to Susy Branch, the winter before in New York: "But why on earth don't you and Nick go to my little place at Versailles for the honeymoon? I'm off to China, and you could have it to yourselves all summer," the offer had been tempting enough to make the lovers waver.

It was such an artless ingenuous little house, so full of the demoralizing simplicity of great wealth, that it seemed to Susy just the kind of place in which to take the first steps in renunciation. But Nick had objected that Paris, at that time of year, would be swarming with acquaintances who would hunt them down at all hours; and Susy's own experience had led her to remark that there was nothing the very rich enjoyed more than taking pot-luck with the very poor. They therefore gave Strefford's villa the preference, with an inward proviso (on Susy's part) that Violet's house might very conveniently serve their purpose at another season.

These thoughts were in her mind as she drove up to Mrs. Melrose's door on a rainy afternoon late in August, her boxes piled high on the roof of the cab she had taken at the station. She had travelled straight through from Venice, stopping in Milan just long enough to pick up a reply to the telegram she had despatched to the perfect housekeeper whose permanent presence enabled Mrs. Melrose to say: "Oh, when I'm sick of everything I just rush off without warning to my little shanty at Versailles, and live there all alone on scrambled eggs."

The perfect house-keeper had replied to Susy's enquiry: "Am sure Mrs. Melrose most happy"; and Susy, without further thought, had jumped into a Versailles train, and now stood in the thin rain before the sphinx-guarded threshold of the pavilion.

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The revolving year had brought around the season at which Mrs. Melrose's house might be convenient: no visitors were to be feared at Versailles at the end of August, and though Susy's reasons for seeking solitude were so remote from those she had once prefigured, they were none the less cogent. To be alone-- alone! After those first exposed days when, in the persistent presence of Fred Gillow and his satellites, and in the mocking radiance of late summer on the lagoons, she had fumed and turned about in her agony like a trapped animal in a cramping cage, to be alone had seemed the only respite, the one craving: to be alone somewhere in a setting as unlike as possible to the sensual splendours of Venice, under skies as unlike its azure roof. If she could have chosen she would have crawled away into a dingy inn in a rainy northern town, where she had never been and no one knew her. Failing that unobtainable luxury, here she was on the threshold of an empty house, in a deserted place, under lowering skies. She had shaken off Fred Gillow, sulkily departing for his moor (where she had half-promised to join him in September); the Prince, young Breckenridge, and the few remaining survivors of the Venetian group, had dispersed in the direction of the Engadine or Biarritz; and now she could at least collect her wits, take stock of herself, and prepare the countenance with which she was to face the next stage in her career. Thank God it was raining at Versailles!

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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