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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter IV

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CHARLIE STREFFORD'S villa was like a nest in a rose-bush; the Nelson Vanderlyns' palace called for loftier analogies.

Its vastness and splendour seemed, in comparison, oppressive to Susy. Their landing, after dark, at the foot of the great shadowy staircase, their dinner at a dimly-lit table under a ceiling weighed down with Olympians, their chilly evening in a corner of a drawing room where minuets should have been danced before a throne, contrasted with the happy intimacies of Como as their sudden sense of disaccord contrasted with the mutual confidence of the day before.

The journey had been particularly jolly: both Susy and Lansing had had too long a discipline in the art of smoothing things over not to make a special effort to hide from each other the ravages of their first disagreement. But, deep down and invisible, the disagreement remained; and compunction for having been its cause gnawed at Susy's bosom as she sat in her tapestried and vaulted bedroom, brushing her hair before a tarnished mirror.

"I thought I liked grandeur; but this place is really out of scale," she mused, watching the reflection of a pale hand move back and forward in the dim recesses of the mirror. "And yet," she continued, "Ellie Vanderlyn's hardly half an inch taller than I am; and she certainly isn't a bit more dignified .... I wonder if it's because I feel so horribly small to-night that the place seems so horribly big."

She loved luxury: splendid things always made her feel handsome and high ceilings arrogant; she did not remember having ever before been oppressed by the evidences of wealth.

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She laid down the brush and leaned her chin on her clasped hands .... Even now she could not understand what had made her take the cigars. She had always been alive to the value of her inherited scruples: her reasoned opinions were unusually free, but with regard to the things one couldn't reason about she was oddly tenacious. And yet she had taken Streffy's cigars! She had taken them--yes, that was the point--she had taken them for Nick, because the desire to please him, to make the smallest details of his life easy and agreeable and luxurious, had become her absorbing preoccupation. She had committed, for him, precisely the kind of little baseness she would most have scorned to commit for herself; and, since he hadn't instantly felt the difference, she would never be able to explain it to him.

She stood up with a sigh, shook out her loosened hair, and glanced around the great frescoed room. The maid-servant had said something about the Signora's having left a letter for her; and there it lay on the writing-table, with her mail and Nick's; a thick envelope addressed in Ellie's childish scrawl, with a glaring "Private" dashed across the corner.

"What on earth can she have to say, when she hates writing so," Susy mused.

She broke open the envelope, and four or five stamped and sealed letters fell from it. All were addressed, in Ellie's hand, to Nelson Vanderlyn Esqre; and in the corner of each was faintly pencilled a number and a date: one, two, three, four--with a week's interval between the dates.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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