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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XIX

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They had reached their obscure destination and he opened the door and glanced in.

"It's jammed--not a table. And stifling! Where shall we go? Perhaps they could give us a room to ourselves--" he suggested.

She assented, and they were led up a cork-screw staircase to a squat-ceilinged closet lit by the arched top of a high window, the lower panes of which served for the floor below. Strefford opened the window, and Susy, throwing her cloak on the divan, leaned on the balcony while he ordered luncheon.

On the whole she was glad they were to be alone. Just because she felt so sure of Strefford it seemed ungenerous to keep him longer in suspense. The moment had come when they must have a decisive talk, and in the crowded rooms below it would have been impossible.

Strefford, when the waiter had brought the first course and left them to themselves, made no effort to revert to personal matters. He turned instead to the topic always most congenial to him: the humours and ironies of the human comedy, as presented by his own particular group. His malicious commentary on life had always amused Susy because of the shrewd flashes of philosophy he shed on the social antics they had so often watched together. He was in fact the one person she knew (excepting Nick) who was in the show and yet outside of it; and she was surprised, as the talk proceeded, to find herself so little interested in his scraps of gossip, and so little amused by his comments on them.

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With an inward shrug of discouragement she said to herself that probably nothing would ever really amuse her again; then, as she listened, she began to understand that her disappointment arose from the fact that Strefford, in reality, could not live without these people whom he saw through and satirized, and that the rather commonplace scandals he narrated interested him as much as his own racy considerations on them; and she was filled with terror at the thought that the inmost core of the richly-decorated life of the Countess of Altringham would be just as poor and low-ceilinged a place as the little room in which he and she now sat, elbow to elbow yet so unapproachably apart.

If Strefford could not live without these people, neither could she and Nick; but for reasons how different! And if his opportunities had been theirs, what a world they would have created for themselves! Such imaginings were vain, and she shrank back from them into the present. After all, as Lady Altringham she would have the power to create that world which she and Nick had dreamed ... only she must create it alone. Well, that was probably the law of things. All human happiness was thus conditioned and circumscribed, and hers, no doubt, must always be of the lonely kind, since material things did not suffice for it, even though it depended on them as Grace Fulmer's, for instance, never had. Yet even Grace Fulmer had succumbed to Ursula's offer, and had arrived at Ruan the day before Susy left, instead of going to Spain with her husband and Violet Melrose. But then Grace was making the sacrifice for her children, and somehow one had the feeling that in giving up her liberty she was not surrendering a tittle of herself. All the difference was there ....

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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