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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XVI

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STRETCHED out under an awning on the deck of the Ibis, Nick Lansing looked up for a moment at the vanishing cliffs of Malta and then plunged again into his book.

He had had nearly three weeks of drug-taking on the Ibis. The drugs he had absorbed were of two kinds: visions of fleeing landscapes, looming up from the blue sea to vanish into it again, and visions of study absorbed from the volumes piled up day and night at his elbow. For the first time in months he was in reach of a real library, just the kind of scholarly yet miscellaneous library, that his restless and impatient spirit craved. He was aware that the books he read, like the fugitive scenes on which he gazed, were merely a form of anesthetic: he swallowed them with the careless greed of the sufferer who seeks only to still pain and deaden memory. But they were beginning to produce in him a moral languor that was not disagreeable, that, indeed, compared with the fierce pain of the first days, was almost pleasurable. It was exactly the kind of drug that he needed.

There is probably no point on which the average man has more definite views than on the uselessness of writing a letter that is hard to write. In the line he had sent to Susy from Genoa Nick had told her that she would hear from him again in a few days; but when the few days had passed, and he began to consider setting himself to the task, he found fifty reasons for postponing it.

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Had there been any practical questions to write about it would have been different; he could not have borne for twenty-four hours the idea that she was in uncertainty as to money. But that had all been settled long ago. From the first she had had the administering of their modest fortune. On their marriage Nick's own meagre income, paid in, none too regularly, by the agent who had managed for years the dwindling family properties, had been transferred to her: it was the only wedding present he could make. And the wedding cheques had of course all been deposited in her name. There were therefore no "business" reasons for communicating with her; and when it came to reasons of another order the mere thought of them benumbed him.

For the first few days he reproached himself for his inertia; then he began to seek reasons for justifying it. After all, for both their sakes a waiting policy might be the wisest he could pursue. He had left Susy because he could not tolerate the conditions on which he had discovered their life together to be based; and he had told her so. What more was there to say?

Nothing was changed in their respective situations; if they came together it could be only to resume the same life; and that, as the days went by, seemed to him more and more impossible. He had not yet reached the point of facing a definite separation; but whenever his thoughts travelled back over their past life he recoiled from any attempt to return to it. As long as this state of mind continued there seemed nothing to add to the letter he had already written, except indeed the statement that he was cruising with the Hickses. And he saw no pressing reason for communicating that.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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