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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XVII

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Table Of Contents: The Glimpses of the Moon

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Her future and his?

But she knew that future by heart already! She had not spent her life among the rich and fashionable without having learned every detail of the trappings of a rich and fashionable marriage. She had calculated long ago just how many dinner-dresses, how many tea-gowns and how much lacy lingerie would go to make up the outfit of the future Countess of Altringham. She had even decided to which dressmaker she would go for her chinchilla cloak-for she meant to have one, and down to her feet, and softer and more voluminous and more extravagantly sumptuous than Violet's or Ursula's ... not to speak of silver foxes and sables ... nor yet of the Altringham jewels.

She knew all this by heart; had always known it. It all belonged to the make-up of the life of elegance: there was nothing new about it. What had been new to her was just that short interval with Nick--a life unreal indeed in its setting, but so real in its essentials: the one reality she had ever known. As she looked back on it she saw how much it had given her besides the golden flush of her happiness, the sudden flowering of sensuous joy in heart and body. Yes--there had been the flowering too, in pain like birth-pangs, of something graver, stronger, fuller of future power, something she had hardly heeded in her first light rapture, but that always came back and possessed her stilled soul when the rapture sank: the deep disquieting sense of something that Nick and love had taught her, but that reached out even beyond love and beyond Nick.

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Her nerves were racked by the ceaseless swish, swish of the rain on the dirty panes and the smell of cabbage and coal that came in under the door when she shut the window. This nauseating foretaste of the luncheon she must presently go down to was more than she could bear. It brought with it a vision of the dank coffee-room below, the sooty Smyrna rug, the rain on the skylight, the listless waitresses handing about food that tasted as if it had been rained on too. There was really no reason why she should let such material miseries add to her depression ....

She sprang up, put on her hat and jacket, and calling for a taxi drove to the London branch of the Nouveau Luxe hotel. It was just one o'clock and she was sure to pick up a luncheon, for though London was empty that great establishment was not. It never was. Along those sultry velvet-carpeted halls, in that great flowered and scented dining-room, there was always a come-and-go of rich aimless people, the busy people who, having nothing to do, perpetually pursue their inexorable task from one end of the earth to the other.

Oh, the monotony of those faces--the faces one always knew, whether one knew the people they belonged to or not! A fresh disgust seized her at the sight of them: she wavered, and then turned and fled. But on the threshold a still more familiar figure met her: that of a lady in exaggerated pearls and sables, descending from an exaggerated motor, like the motors in magazine advertisements, the huge arks in which jewelled beauties and slender youths pause to gaze at snowpeaks from an Alpine summit.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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