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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XVII

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SUSY had decided to wait for Strefford in London.

The new Lord Altringham was with his family in the north, and though she found a telegram on arriving, saying that he would join her in town the following week, she had still an interval of several days to fill.

London was a desert; the rain fell without ceasing, and alone in the shabby family hotel which, even out of season, was the best she could afford, she sat at last face to face with herself.

>From the moment when Violet Melrose had failed to carry out her plan for the Fulmer children her interest in Susy had visibly waned. Often before, in the old days, Susy Branch had felt the same abrupt change of temperature in the manner of the hostess of the moment; and often--how often--had yielded, and performed the required service, rather than risk the consequences of estrangement. To that, at least, thank heaven, she need never stoop again.

But as she hurriedly packed her trunks at Versailles, scraped together an adequate tip for Mrs. Match, and bade good-bye to Violet (grown suddenly fond and demonstrative as she saw her visitor safely headed for the station)--as Susy went through the old familiar mummery of the enforced leave-taking, there rose in her so deep a disgust for the life of makeshifts and accommodations, that if at that moment Nick had reappeared and held out his arms to her, she was not sure she would have had the courage to return to them.

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In her London solitude the thirst for independence grew fiercer. Independence with ease, of course. Oh, her hateful useless love of beauty ... the curse it had always been to her, the blessing it might have been if only she had had the material means to gratify and to express it! And instead, it only gave her a morbid loathing of that hideous hotel bedroom drowned in yellow rain-light, of the smell of soot and cabbage through the window, the blistered wall-paper, the dusty wax bouquets under glass globes, and the electric lighting so contrived that as you turned on the feeble globe hanging from the middle of the ceiling the feebler one beside the bed went out!

What a sham world she and Nick had lived in during their few months together! What right had either of them to those exquisite settings of the life of leisure: the long white house hidden in camellias and cypresses above the lake, or the great rooms on the Giudecca with the shimmer of the canal always playing over their frescoed ceilings! Yet she had come to imagine that these places really belonged to them, that they would always go on living, fondly and irreproachably, in the frame of other people's wealth .... That, again, was the curse of her love of beauty, the way she always took to it as if it belonged to her!

Well, the awakening was bound to come, and it was perhaps better that it should have come so soon. At any rate there was no use in letting her thoughts wander back to that shattered fool's paradise of theirs. Only, as she sat there and reckoned up the days till Strefford arrived, what else in the world was there to think of?

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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