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Part II Edith Wharton

Chapter XX

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Table Of Contents: The Glimpses of the Moon

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Mrs. Hicks, at first, had hopelessly lost her way in this labyrinth of subterranean scandals, rivalries and jealousies; and finding Lansing's hand within reach she clung to it with pathetic tenacity. But if the young man's value had risen in the eyes of his employers it had deteriorated in his own. He was condemned to play a part he had not bargained for, and it seemed to him more degrading when paid in bank-notes than if his retribution had consisted merely in good dinners and luxurious lodgings. The first time the smiling aide-de-camp had caught his eye over a verbal slip of Mrs. Hicks's, Nick had flushed to the forehead and gone to bed swearing that he would chuck his job the next day.

Two months had passed since then, and he was still the paid secretary. He had contrived to let the aide-de-camp feel that he was too deficient in humour to be worth exchanging glances with; but even this had not restored his self-respect, and on the evening in question, as he looked about the long table, he said to himself for the hundredth time that he would give up his position on the morrow.

Only--what was the alternative? The alternative, apparently, was Coral Hicks. He glanced down the line of diners, beginning with the tall lean countenance of the Princess Mother, with its small inquisitive eyes perched as high as attic windows under a frizzled thatch of hair and a pediment of uncleaned diamonds; passed on to the vacuous and overfed or fashionably haggard masks of the ladies next in rank; and finally caught, between branching orchids, a distant glimpse of Miss Hicks.

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In contrast with the others, he thought, she looked surprisingly noble. Her large grave features made her appear like an old monument in a street of Palace Hotels; and he marvelled at the mysterious law which had brought this archaic face out of Apex City, and given to the oldest society of Europe a look of such mixed modernity.

Lansing perceived that the aide-de-camp, who was his neighbour, was also looking at Miss Hicks. His expression was serious, and even thoughtful; but as his eyes met Lansing's he readjusted his official smile.

"I was admiring our hostess's daughter. Her absence of jewels is--er--an inspiration," he remarked in the confidential tone which Lansing had come to dread.

"Oh, Miss Hicks is full of inspirations," he returned curtly, and the aide-de-camp bowed with an admiring air, as if inspirations were rarer than pearls, as in his milieu they undoubtedly were. "She is the equal of any situation, I am sure," he replied; and then abandoned the subject with one of his automatic transitions.

After dinner, in the embrasure of a drawing-room window, he surprised Nick by returning to the same topic, and this time without thinking it needful to readjust his smile. His face remained serious, though his manner was studiously informal.

"I was admiring, at dinner, Miss Hicks's invariable sense of appropriateness. It must permit her friends to foresee for her almost any future, however exalted."

Lansing hesitated, and controlled his annoyance. Decidedly he wanted to know what was in his companion's mind.

"What do you mean by exalted?" he asked, with a smile of faint amusement.

"Well--equal to her marvellous capacity for shining in the public eye."

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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