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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XIV

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THE next day a lot of people turned up unannounced for luncheon. They were not of the far-fetched and the exotic, in whom Mrs. Melrose now specialized, but merely commonplace fashionable people belonging to Susy's own group, people familiar with the amusing romance of her penniless marriage, and to whom she had to explain (though none of them really listened to the explanation) that Nick was not with her just now but had gone off cruising ... cruising in the AEgean with friends ... getting up material for his book (this detail had occurred to her in the night).

It was the kind of encounter she had most dreaded; but it proved, after all, easy enough to go through compared with those endless hours of turning to and fro, the night before, in the cage of her lonely room. Anything, anything, but to be alone ....

Gradually, from the force of habit, she found herself actually in tune with the talk of the luncheon table, interested in the references to absent friends, the light allusions to last year's loves and quarrels, scandals and absurdities. The women, in their pale summer dresses, were so graceful, indolent and sure of themselves, the men so easy and good-humoured! Perhaps, after all, Susy reflected, it was the world she was meant for, since the other, the brief Paradise of her dreams, had already shut its golden doors upon her. And then, as they sat on the terrace after luncheon, looking across at the yellow tree-tops of the park, one of the women said something--made just an allusion--that Susy would have let pass unnoticed in the old days, but that now filled her with a sudden deep disgust .... She stood up and wandered away, away from them all through the fading garden.

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Two days later Susy and Strefford sat on the terrace of the Tuileries above the Seine. She had asked him to meet her there, with the desire to avoid the crowded halls and drawing-room of the Nouveau Luxe where, even at that supposedly "dead" season, people one knew were always drifting to and fro; and they sat on a bench in the pale sunlight, the discoloured leaves heaped at their feet, and no one to share their solitude but a lame working-man and a haggard woman who were lunching together mournfully at the other end of the majestic vista.

Strefford, in his new mourning, looked unnaturally prosperous and well-valeted; but his ugly untidy features remained as undisciplined, his smile as whimsical, as of old. He had been on cool though friendly terms with the pompous uncle and the poor sickly cousin whose joint disappearance had so abruptly transformed his future; and it was his way to understate his feelings rather than to pretend more than he felt. Nevertheless, beneath his habitual bantering tone Susy discerned a change. The disaster had shocked him profoundly; already, in his brief sojourn among his people and among the great possessions so tragically acquired, old instincts had awakened, forgotten associations had spoken in him. Susy listened to him wistfully, silenced by her imaginative perception of the distance that these things had put between them.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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