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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XXIII

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He interrupted her quickly. "Thought I'd cut up a rumpus-do some shooting? I know--people did." He twisted his moustache, evidently proud of his reputation. "Well, maybe I did see red for a day or two--but I'm a philosopher, first and last. Before I went into banking I'd made and lost two fortunes out West. Well, how did I build 'em up again? Not by shooting anybody even myself. By just buckling to, and beginning all over again. That's how ... and that's what I am doing now. Beginning all over again. " His voice dropped from boastfulness to a note of wistful melancholy, the look of strained jauntiness fell from his face like a mask, and for an instant she saw the real man, old, ruined, lonely. Yes, that was it: he was lonely, desperately lonely, foundering in such deep seas of solitude that any presence out of the past was like a spar to which he clung. Whatever he knew or guessed of the part she had played in his disaster, it was not callousness that had made him greet her with such forgiving warmth, but the same sense of smallness, insignificance and isolation which perpetually hung like a cold fog on her own horizon. Suddenly she too felt old--old and unspeakably tired.

"It's been nice seeing you, Nelson. But now I must be getting home."

He offered no objection, but asked for the bill, resumed his jaunty air while he scattered largesse among the waiters, and sauntered out behind her after calling for a taxi.

They drove off in silence. Susy was thinking: "And Clarissa?" but dared not ask. Vanderlyn lit a cigarette, hummed a dance-tune, and stared out of the window. Suddenly she felt his hand on hers.

"Susy--do you ever see her?"


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He nodded, without turning toward her.

"Not often ... sometimes ...."

"If you do, for God's sake tell her I'm happy ... happy as a king ... tell her you could see for yourself that I was ...." His voice broke in a little gasp. "I ... I'll be damned if ... if she shall ever be unhappy about me ... if I can help it ...." The cigarette dropped from his fingers, and with a sob he covered his face.

"Oh, poor Nelson--poor Nelson, " Susy breathed. While their cab rattled across the Place du Carrousel, and over the bridge, he continued to sit beside her with hidden face. At last he pulled out a scented handkerchief, rubbed his eyes with it, and groped for another cigarette.

"I'm all right! Tell her that, will you, Susy? There are some of our old times I don't suppose I shall ever forget; but they make me feel kindly to her, and not angry. I didn't know it would be so, beforehand--but it is .... And now the thing's settled I'm as right as a trivet, and you can tell her so .... Look here, Susy ..." he caught her by the arm as the taxi drew up at her hotel .... "Tell her I understand, will you? I'd rather like her to know that .... "

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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