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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XXIV

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NICK LANSING had walked out a long way into the Campagna. His hours were seldom his own, for both Mr. and Mrs. Hicks were becoming more and more addicted to sudden and somewhat imperious demands upon his time; but on this occasion he had simply slipped away after luncheon, and taking the tram to the Porta Salaria, had wandered on thence in the direction of the Ponte Nomentano.

He wanted to get away and think; but now that he had done it the business proved as unfruitful as everything he had put his hand to since he had left Venice. Think--think about what? His future seemed to him a negligible matter since he had received, two months earlier, the few lines in which Susy had asked him for her freedom.

The letter had been a shock--though he had fancied himself so prepared for it--yet it had also, in another sense, been a relief, since, now that at last circumstances compelled him to write to her, they also told him what to say. And he had said it as briefly and simply as possible, telling her that he would put no obstacle in the way of her release, that he held himself at her lawyer's disposal to answer any further communication--and that he would never forget their days together, or cease to bless her for them.

That was all. He gave his Roman banker's address, and waited for another letter; but none came. Probably the "formalities," whatever they were, took longer than he had supposed; and being in no haste to recover his own liberty, he did not try to learn the cause of the delay. From that moment, however, he considered himself virtually free, and ceased, by the same token, to take any interest in his own future. His life seemed as flat as a convalescent's first days after the fever has dropped.

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The only thing he was sure of was that he was not going to remain in the Hickses' employ: when they left Rome for Central Asia he had no intention of accompanying them. The part of Mr. Buttles' successor was becoming daily more intolerable to him, for the very reasons that had probably made it most gratifying to Mr. Buttles. To be treated by Mr. and Mrs. Hicks as a paid oracle, a paraded and petted piece of property, was a good deal more distasteful than he could have imagined any relation with these kindly people could be. And since their aspirations had become frankly social he found his task, if easier, yet far less congenial than during his first months with them. He preferred patiently explaining to Mrs. Hicks, for the hundredth time, that Sassanian and Saracenic were not interchangeable terms, to unravelling for her the genealogies of her titled guests, and reminding her, when she "seated" her dinner-parties, that Dukes ranked higher than Princes. No--the job was decidedly intolerable; and he would have to look out for another means of earning his living. But that was not what he had really got away to think about. He knew he should never starve; he had even begun to believe again in his book. What he wanted to think of was Susy--or rather, it was Susy that he could not help thinking of, on whatever train of thought he set out.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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