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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XXI

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Table Of Contents: The Glimpses of the Moon

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It amused him inexhaustibly, for instance, to be made up to by all the people who had always disapproved of him, and to unite at the same table persons who had to dissemble their annoyance at being invited together lest they should not be invited at all. Equally exhilarating was the capricious favouring of the dull and dowdy on occasions when the brilliant and disreputable expected his notice. It enchanted him, for example, to ask the old Duchess of Dunes and Violet Melrose to dine with the Vicar of Altringham, on his way to Switzerland for a month's holiday, and to watch the face of the Vicar's wife while the Duchess narrated her last difficulties with book-makers and money-lenders, and Violet proclaimed the rights of Love and Genius to all that had once been supposed to belong exclusively to Respectability and Dulness.

Susy had to confess that her own amusements were hardly of a higher order; but then she put up with them for lack of better, whereas Strefford, who might have had what he pleased, was completely satisfied with such triumphs.

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Somehow, in spite of his honours and his opportunities, he seemed to have shrunk. The old Strefford had certainly been a larger person, and she wondered if material prosperity were always a beginning of ossification. Strefford had been much more fun when he lived by his wits. Sometimes, now, when he tried to talk of politics, or assert himself on some question of public interest, she was startled by his limitations. Formerly, when he was not sure of his ground, it had been his way to turn the difficulty by glib nonsense or easy irony; now he was actually dull, at times almost pompous. She noticed too, for the first time, that he did not always hear clearly when several people were talking at once, or when he was at the theatre; and he developed a habit of saying over and over again: "Does so-and-so speak indistinctly? Or am I getting deaf, I wonder?" which wore on her nerves by its suggestion of a corresponding mental infirmity.

These thoughts did not always trouble her. The current of idle activity on which they were both gliding was her native element as well as his; and never had its tide been as swift, its waves as buoyant. In his relation to her, too, he was full of tact and consideration. She saw that he still remembered their frightened exchange of glances after their first kiss; and the sense of this little hidden spring of imagination in him was sometimes enough for her thirst.

She had always had a rather masculine punctuality in keeping her word, and after she had promised Strefford to take steps toward a divorce she had promptly set about doing it. A sudden reluctance prevented her asking the advice of friends like Ellie Vanderlyn, whom she knew to be in the thick of the same negotiations, and all she could think of was to consult a young American lawyer practicing in Paris, with whom she felt she could talk the more easily because he was not from New York, and probably unacquainted with her history.

She was so ignorant of the procedure in such matters that she was surprised and relieved at his asking few personal questions; but it was a shock to learn that a divorce could not be obtained, either in New York or Paris, merely on the ground of desertion or incompatibility.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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