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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XIII

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The door opened, she heard voices in the drawing-room, and a slender languishing figure appeared on the threshold.

"Darling!" Violet Melrose cried in an embrace, drawing her into the dusky perfumed room.

"But I thought you were in China!" Susy stammered.

"In China ... in China," Mrs. Melrose stared with dreamy eyes, and Susy remembered her drifting disorganised life, a life more planless, more inexplicable than that of any of the other ephemeral beings blown about upon the same winds of pleasure.

"Well, Madam, I thought so myself till I got a wire from Mrs. Melrose last evening," remarked the perfect house-keeper, following with Susy's handbag.

Mrs. Melrose clutched her cavernous temples in her attenuated hands. "Of course, of course! I had meant to go to China--no, India .... But I've discovered a genius ... and Genius, you know ...." Unable to complete her thought, she sank down upon a pillowy divan, stretched out an arm, cried: "Fulmer! Fulmer!" and, while Susy Lansing stood in the middle of the room with widening eyes, a man emerged from the more deeply cushioned and scented twilight of some inner apartment, and she saw with surprise Nat Fulmer, the good Nat Fulmer of the New Hampshire bungalow and the ubiquitous progeny, standing before her in lordly ease, his hands in his pockets, a cigarette between his lips, his feet solidly planted in the insidious depths of one of Violet Melrose's white leopard skins.

"Susy!" he shouted with open arms; and Mrs. Melrose murmured: "You didn't know, then? You hadn't heard of his masterpieces?"

In spite of herself, Susy burst into a laugh. "Is Nat your genius?"

Mrs. Melrose looked at her reproachfully.

Fulmer laughed. "No; I'm Grace's. But Mrs. Melrose has been our Providence, and ...."

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"Providence?" his hostess interrupted. "Don't talk as if you were at a prayer-meeting! He had an exhibition in New York ... it was the most fabulous success. He's come abroad to make studies for the decoration of my music-room in New York. Ursula Gillow has given him her garden-house at Roslyn to do. And Mrs. Bockheimer's ball-room--oh, Fulmer, where are the cartoons?" She sprang up, tossed about some fashion-papers heaped on a lacquer table, and sank back exhausted by the effort. "I'd got as far as Brindisi. I've travelled day and night to be here to meet him," she declared. "But, you darling," and she held out a caressing hand to Susy, "I'm forgetting to ask if you've had tea?"

An hour later, over the tea-table, Susy already felt herself mysteriously reabsorbed into what had so long been her native element. Ellie Vanderlyn had brought a breath of it to Venice; but Susy was then nourished on another air, the air of Nick's presence and personality; now that she was abandoned, left again to her own devices, she felt herself suddenly at the mercy of the influences from which she thought she had escaped.

In the queer social whirligig from which she had so lately fled, it seemed natural enough that a shake of the box should have tossed Nat Fulmer into celebrity, and sent Violet Melrose chasing back from the ends of the earth to bask in his success. Susy knew that Mrs. Melrose belonged to the class of moral parasites; for in that strange world the parts were sometimes reversed, and the wealthy preyed upon the pauper. Wherever there was a reputation to batten on, there poor Violet appeared, a harmless vampire in pearls who sought only to feed on the notoriety which all her millions could not create for her. Any one less versed than Susy in the shallow mysteries of her little world would have seen in Violet Melrose a baleful enchantress, in Nat Fulmer her helpless victim. Susy knew better. Violet, poor Violet, was not even that. The insignificant Ellie Vanderlyn, with her brief trivial passions, her artless mixture of amorous and social interests, was a woman with a purpose, a creature who fulfilled herself; but Violet was only a drifting interrogation.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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