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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XIX

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JUST such a revolt as she had felt as a girl, such a disgusted recoil from the standards and ideals of everybody about her as had flung her into her mad marriage with Nick, now flamed in Susy Lansing's bosom.

How could she ever go back into that world again? How echo its appraisals of life and bow down to its judgments? Alas, it was only by marrying according to its standards that she could escape such subjection. Perhaps the same thought had actuated Nick: perhaps he had understood sooner than she that to attain moral freedom they must both be above material cares. Perhaps ...

Her talk with Ellie Vanderlyn had left Susy so oppressed and humiliated that she almost shrank from her meeting with Altringham the next day. She knew that he was coming to Paris for his final answer; he would wait as long as was necessary if only she would consent to take immediate steps for a divorce. She was staying at a modest hotel in the Faubourg St. Germain, and had once more refused his suggestion that they should lunch at the Nouveau Luxe, or at some fashionable restaurant of the Boulevards. As before, she insisted on going to an out-of-the-way place near the Luxembourg, where the prices were moderate enough for her own purse.

"I can't understand," Strefford objected, as they turned from her hotel door toward this obscure retreat, "why you insist on giving me bad food, and depriving me of the satisfaction of being seen with you. Why must we be so dreadfully clandestine? Don't people know by this time that we're to be married?"

Susy winced a little: she wondered if the word would always sound so unnatural on his lips.

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"No," she said, with a laugh, "they simply think, for the present, that you're giving me pearls and chinchilla cloaks."

He wrinkled his brows good-humouredly. "Well, so I would, with joy--at this particular minute. Don't you think perhaps you'd better take advantage of it? I don't wish to insist--but I foresee that I'm much too rich not to become stingy."

She gave a slight shrug. "At present there's nothing I loathe more than pearls and chinchilla, or anything else in the world that's expensive and enviable ...."

Suddenly she broke off, colouring with the consciousness that she had said exactly the kind of thing that all the women who were trying for him (except the very cleverest) would be sure to say; and that he would certainly suspect her of attempting the conventional comedy of disinterestedness, than which nothing was less likely to deceive or to flatter him.

His twinkling eyes played curiously over her face, and she went on, meeting them with a smile: "But don't imagine, all the same, that if I should ... decide ... it would be altogether for your beaux yeux ...."

He laughed, she thought, rather drily. "No," he said, "I don't suppose that's ever likely to happen to me again."

"Oh, Streff--" she faltered with compunction. It was odd-once upon a time she had known exactly what to say to the man of the moment, whoever he was, and whatever kind of talk he required; she had even, in the difficult days before her marriage, reeled off glibly enough the sort of lime-light sentimentality that plunged poor Fred Gillow into such speechless beatitude. But since then she had spoken the language of real love, looked with its eyes, embraced with its hands; and now the other trumpery art had failed her, and she was conscious of bungling and groping like a beginner under Strefford's ironic scrutiny.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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