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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XXIII

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At the corner of the Place de la Concorde she stopped, recognizing a man in evening dress who was hailing a taxi. Their eyes met, and Nelson Vanderlyn came forward. He was the last person she cared to run across, and she shrank back involuntarily. What did he know, what had he guessed, of her complicity in his wife's affairs? No doubt Ellie had blabbed it all out by this time; she was just as likely to confide her love-affairs to Nelson as to anyone else, now that the Bockheimer prize was landed.

"Well--well--well--so I've caught you at it! Glad to see you, Susy, my dear." She found her hand cordially clasped in Vanderlyn's, and his round pink face bent on her with all its old urbanity. Did nothing matter, then, in this world she was fleeing from, did no one love or hate or remember?

"No idea you were in Paris--just got here myself," Vanderlyn continued, visibly delighted at the meeting. "Look here, don't suppose you're out of a job this evening by any chance, and would come and cheer up a lone bachelor, eh? No? You are? Well, that's luck for once! I say, where shall we go? One of the places where they dance, I suppose? Yes, I twirl the light fantastic once in a while myself. Got to keep up with the times! Hold on, taxi! Here--I'll drive you home first, and wait while you jump into your toggery. Lots of time." As he steered her toward the carriage she noticed that he had a gouty limp, and pulled himself in after her with difficulty.

"Mayn't I come as I am, Nelson, I don't feel like dancing. Let's go and dine in one of those nice smoky little restaurants by the Place de la Bourse."

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He seemed surprised but relieved at the suggestion, and they rolled off together. In a corner at Bauge's they found a quiet table, screened from the other diners, and while Vanderlyn adjusted his eyeglasses to study the carte Susy stole a long look at him. He was dressed with even more than his usual formal trimness, and she detected, in an ultra-flat wrist-watch and discreetly expensive waistcoat buttons, an attempt at smartness altogether new. His face had undergone the same change: its familiar look of worn optimism had been, as it were, done up to match his clothes, as though a sort of moral cosmetic had made him pinker, shinier and sprightlier without really rejuvenating him. A thin veil of high spirits had merely been drawn over his face, as the shining strands of hair were skilfully brushed over his baldness.

"Here! Carte des vins, waiter! What champagne, Susy?" He chose, fastidiously, the best the cellar could produce, grumbling a little at the bourgeois character of the dishes. "Capital food of its kind, no doubt, but coarsish, don't you think? Well, I don't mind ... it's rather a jolly change from the Luxe cooking. A new sensation--I'm all for new sensations, ain't you, my dear?" He re-filled their champagne glasses, flung an arm sideways over his chair, and smiled at her with a foggy benevolence.

As the champagne flowed his confidences flowed with it.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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