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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XV

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THAT hour with Strefford had altered her whole perspective. Instead of possible dependence, an enforced return to the old life of connivances and concessions, she saw before her-- whenever she chose to take them--freedom, power and dignity. Dignity! It was odd what weight that word had come to have for her. She had dimly felt its significance, felt the need of its presence in her inmost soul, even in the young thoughtless days when she had seemed to sacrifice so little to the austere divinities. And since she had been Nick Lansing's wife she had consciously acknowledged it, had suffered and agonized when she fell beneath its standard. Yes: to marry Strefford would give her that sense of self-respect which, in such a world as theirs, only wealth and position could ensure. If she had not the mental or moral training to attain independence in any other way, was she to blame for seeking it on such terms?

Of course there was always the chance that Nick would come back, would find life without her as intolerable as she was finding it without him. If that happened--ah, if that happened! Then she would cease to strain her eyes into the future, would seize upon the present moment and plunge into it to the very bottom of oblivion. Nothing on earth would matter then--money or freedom or pride, or her precious moral dignity, if only she were in Nick's arms again!

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But there was Nick's icy letter, there was Coral Hicks's insolent post-card, to show how little chance there was of such a solution. Susy understood that, even before the discovery of her transaction with Ellie Vanderlyn, Nick had secretly wearied, if not of his wife, at least of the life that their marriage compelled him to lead. His passion was not strong enough-had never been strong enough--to outweigh his prejudices, scruples, principles, or whatever one chose to call them. Susy's dignity might go up like tinder in the blaze of her love; but his was made of a less combustible substance. She had felt, in their last talk together, that she had forever destroyed the inner harmony between them.

Well--there it was, and the fault was doubtless neither hers nor his, but that of the world they had grown up in, of their own moral contempt for it and physical dependence on it, of his half-talents and her half-principles, of the something in them both that was not stout enough to resist nor yet pliant enough to yield. She stared at the fact on the journey back to Versailles, and all that sleepless night in her room; and the next morning, when the housemaid came in with her breakfast tray, she felt the factitious energy that comes from having decided, however half-heartedly, on a definite course.

She had said to herself: "If there's no letter from Nick this time next week I'll write to Streff--" and the week had passed, and there was no letter.

It was now three weeks since he had left her, and she had had no word but his note from Genoa. She had concluded that, foreseeing the probability of her leaving Venice, he would write to her in care of their Paris bank. But though she had immediately notified the bank of her change of address no communication from Nick had reached her; and she smiled with a touch of bitterness at the difficulty he was doubtless finding in the composition of the promised letter. Her own scrap-basket, for the first days, had been heaped with the fragments of the letters she had begun; and she told herself that, since they both found it so hard to write, it was probably because they had nothing left to say to each other.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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