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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter VII

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He had flattered himself that Susy would share this feeling; but he perceived with annoyance that the arrival of their friends heightened her animation. It was as if the inward glow which had given her a new beauty were now refracted upon her by the presence of the very people they had come to Venice to avoid.

Lansing was vaguely irritated; and when he asked her how she liked being with their old crowd again his irritation was increased by her answering with a laugh that she only hoped the poor dears didn't see too plainly how they bored her. The patent insincerity of the reply was a shock to Lansing. He knew that Susy was not really bored, and he understood that she had simply guessed his feelings and instinctively adopted them: that henceforth she was always going to think as he thought. To confirm this fear he said carelessly: "Oh, all the same, it's rather jolly knocking about with them again for a bit;" and she answered at once, and with equal conviction: "Yes, isn't it? The old darlings--all the same!"

A fear of the future again laid its cold touch on Lansing. Susy's independence and self-sufficiency had been among her chief attractions; if she were to turn into an echo their delicious duet ran the risk of becoming the dullest of monologues. He forgot that five minutes earlier he had resented her being glad to see their friends, and for a moment he found himself leaning dizzily over that insoluble riddle of the sentimental life: that to be differed with is exasperating, and to be agreed with monotonous.

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Once more he began to wonder if he were not fundamentally unfitted for the married state; and was saved from despair only by remembering that Susy's subjection to his moods was not likely to last. But even then it never occurred to him to reflect that his apprehensions were superfluous, since their tie was avowedly a temporary one. Of the special understanding on which their marriage had been based not a trace remained in his thoughts of her; the idea that he or she might ever renounce each other for their mutual good had long since dwindled to the ghost of an old joke.

It was borne in on him, after a week or two of unbroken sociability, that of all his old friends it was the Mortimer Hickses who bored him the least. The Hickses had left the Ibis for an apartment in a vast dilapidated palace near the Canareggio. They had hired the apartment from a painter (one of their newest discoveries), and they put up philosophically with the absence of modern conveniences in order to secure the inestimable advantage of "atmosphere." In this privileged air they gathered about them their usual mixed company of quiet studious people and noisy exponents of new theories, themselves totally unconscious of the disparity between their different guests, and beamingly convinced that at last they were seated at the source of wisdom.

In old days Lansing would have got half an hour's amusement, followed by a long evening of boredom, from the sight of Mrs. Hicks, vast and jewelled, seated between a quiet-looking professor of archaeology and a large-browed composer, or the high priest of a new dance-step, while Mr. Hicks, beaming above his vast white waistcoat, saw to it that the champagne flowed more abundantly than the talk, and the bright young secretaries industriously "kept up" with the dizzy cross-current of prophecy and erudition. But a change had come over Lansing. Hitherto it was in contrast to his own friends that the Hickses had seemed most insufferable; now it was as an escape from these same friends that they had become not only sympathetic but even interesting. It was something, after all, to be with people who did not regard Venice simply as affording exceptional opportunities for bathing and adultery, but who were reverently if confusedly aware that they were in the presence of something unique and ineffable, and determined to make the utmost of their privilege.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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