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0105_001E Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XVI

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To the Hickses he had given no hint of his situation. When Coral Hicks, a fortnight earlier, had picked him up in the broiling streets of Genoa, and carried him off to the Ibis, he had thought only of a cool dinner and perhaps a moonlight sail. Then, in reply to their friendly urging, he had confessed that he had not been well--had indeed gone off hurriedly for a few days' change of air--and that left him without defence against the immediate proposal that he should take his change of air on the Ibis. They were just off to Corsica and Sardinia, and from there to Sicily: he could rejoin the railway at Naples, and be back at Venice in ten days.

Ten days of respite--the temptation was irresistible. And he really liked the kind uncomplicated Hickses. A wholesome honesty and simplicity breathed through all their opulence, as if the rich trappings of their present life still exhaled the fragrance of their native prairies. The mere fact of being with such people was like a purifying bath. When the yacht touched at Naples he agreed since they were so awfully kind--to go on to Sicily. And when the chief steward, going ashore at Naples for the last time before they got up steam, said: "Any letters for the post, sir?" he answered, as he had answered at each previous halt: "No, thank you: none."

Now they were heading for Rhodes and Crete--Crete, where he had never been, where he had so often longed to go. In spite of the lateness of the season the weather was still miraculously fine: the short waves danced ahead under a sky without a cloud, and the strong bows of the Ibis hardly swayed as she flew forward over the flying crests.

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Only his hosts and their daughter were on the yacht-of course with Eldorada Tooker and Mr. Beck in attendance. An eminent archaeologist, who was to have joined them at Naples, had telegraphed an excuse at the last moment; and Nick noticed that, while Mrs. Hicks was perpetually apologizing for the great man's absence, Coral merely smiled and said nothing.

As a matter of fact, Mr. and Mrs. Hicks were never as pleasant as when one had them to one's self. In company, Mr. Hicks ran the risk of appearing over-hospitable, and Mrs. Hicks confused dates and names in the desire to embrace all culture in her conversation. But alone with Nick, their old travelling-companion, they shone out in their native simplicity, and Mr. Hicks talked soundly of investments, and Mrs. Hicks recalled her early married days in Apex City, when, on being brought home to her new house in Aeschylus Avenue, her first thought had been: "How on earth shall I get all those windows washed?"

The loss of Mr. Buttles had been as serious to them as Nick had supposed: Mr. Beck could never hope to replace him. Apart from his mysterious gift of languages, and his almost superhuman faculty for knowing how to address letters to eminent people, and in what terms to conclude them, he had a smattering of archaeology and general culture on which Mrs. Hicks had learned to depend--her own memory being, alas, so inadequate to the range of her interests.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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