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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter VII

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OF some new ferment at work in him Nick Lansing himself was equally aware. He was a better judge of the book he was trying to write than either Susy or Strefford; he knew its weaknesses, its treacheries, its tendency to slip through his fingers just as he thought his grasp tightest; but he knew also that at the very moment when it seemed to have failed him it would suddenly be back, beating its loud wings in his face.

He had no delusions as to its commercial value, and had winced more than he triumphed when Susy produced her allusion to Marius. His book was to be called The Pageant of Alexander. His imagination had been enchanted by the idea of picturing the young conqueror's advance through the fabulous landscapes of Asia: he liked writing descriptions, and vaguely felt that under the guise of fiction he could develop his theory of Oriental influences in Western art at the expense of less learning than if he had tried to put his ideas into an essay. He knew enough of his subject to know that he did not know enough to write about it; but he consoled himself by remembering that Wilhelm Meister has survived many weighty volumes on aesthetics; and between his moments of self-disgust he took himself at Susy's valuation, and found an unmixed joy in his task.

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Never--no, never!--had he been so boundlessly, so confidently happy. His hack-work had given him the habit of application, and now habit wore the glow of inspiration. His previous literary ventures had been timid and tentative: if this one was growing and strengthening on his hands, it must be because the conditions were so different. He was at ease, he was secure, he was satisfied; and he had also, for the first time since his early youth, before his mother's death, the sense of having some one to look after, some one who was his own particular care, and to whom he was answerable for himself and his actions, as he had never felt himself answerable to the hurried and indifferent people among whom he had chosen to live.

Susy had the same standards as these people: she spoke their language, though she understood others, she required their pleasures if she did not revere their gods. But from the moment that she had become his property he had built up in himself a conception of her answering to some deep-seated need of veneration. She was his, he had chosen her, she had taken her place in the long line of Lansing women who had been loved, honoured, and probably deceived, by bygone Lansing men. He didn't pretend to understand the logic of it; but the fact that she was his wife gave purpose and continuity to his scattered impulses, and a mysterious glow of consecration to his task.

Once or twice, in the first days of his marriage, he had asked himself with a slight shiver what would happen if Susy should begin to bore him. The thing had happened to him with other women as to whom his first emotions had not differed in intensity from those she inspired. The part he had played in his previous love-affairs might indeed have been summed up in the memorable line: "I am the hunter and the prey," for he had invariably ceased to be the first only to regard himself as the second. This experience had never ceased to cause him the liveliest pain, since his sympathy for his pursuer was only less keen than his commiseration for himself; but as he was always a little sorrier for himself, he had always ended by distancing the pursuer.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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