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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XIII

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It was just a week since Nick had left her. During that week, crammed with people, questions, packing, explaining, evading, she had believed that in solitude lay her salvation. Now she understood that there was nothing she was so unprepared for, so unfitted for. When, in all her life, had she ever been alone? And how was she to bear it now, with all these ravening memories besetting her!

Dinner not till nine? What on earth was she to do till nine o'clock? She knelt before her boxes, and feverishly began to unpack.

Gradually, imperceptibly, the subtle influences of her old life were stealing into her. As she pulled out her tossed and crumpled dresses she remembered Violet's emphatic warning: "Don't believe the people who tell you that skirts are going to be wider." Were hers, perhaps, too wide as it was? She looked at her limp raiment, piling itself up on bed and sofa, and understood that, according to Violet's standards, and that of all her set, those dresses, which Nick had thought so original and exquisite, were already commonplace and dowdy, fit only to be passed on to poor relations or given to one's maid. And Susy would have to go on wearing them till they fell to bits-or else .... Well, or else begin the old life again in some new form ....

She laughed aloud at the turn of her thoughts. Dresses? How little they had mattered a few short weeks ago! And now, perhaps, they would again be one of the foremost considerations in her life. How could it be otherwise, if she were to return again to her old dependence on Ellie Vanderlyn, Ursula Gillow, Violet Melrose? And beyond that, only the Bockheimers and their kind awaited her ....

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A knock on the door--what a relief! It was Mrs. Match again, with a telegram. To whom had Susy given her new address? With a throbbing heart she tore open the envelope and read:

"Shall be in Paris Friday for twenty-four hours where can I see you write Nouveau Luxe."

Ah, yes--she remembered now: she had written to Strefford! And this was his answer: he was coming. She dropped into a chair, and tried to think. What on earth had she said in her letter? It had been mainly, of course, one of condolence; but now she remembered having added, in a precipitate postscript: "I can't give your message to Nick, for he's gone off with the Hickses-I don't know where, or for how long. It's all right, of course: it was in our bargain."

She had not meant to put in that last phrase; but as she sealed her letter to Strefford her eye had fallen on Nick's missive, which lay beside it. Nothing in her husband's brief lines had embittered her as much as the allusion to Strefford. It seemed to imply that Nick's own plans were made, that his own future was secure, and that he could therefore freely and handsomely take thought for hers, and give her a pointer in the right direction. Sudden rage had possessed her at the thought: where she had at first read jealousy she now saw only a cold providence, and in a blur of tears she had scrawled her postscript to Strefford. She remembered that she had not even asked him to keep her secret. Well--after all, what would it matter if people should already know that Nick had left her? Their parting could not long remain a mystery, and the fact that it was known might help her to keep up a presence of indifference.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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