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0100_005E Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter VI

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She communicated her apprehensions to Strefford. "I don't trust that green-eyed nurse. She's forever with the younger gondolier; and Clarissa's so awfully sharp. I don't see why Ellie hasn't come: she was due last Monday."

Her companion laughed, and something in the sound of his laugh suggested that he probably knew as much of Ellie's movements as she did, if not more. The sense of disgust which the subject always roused in her made her look away quickly from his tolerant smile. She would have given the world, at that moment, to have been free to tell Nick what she had learned on the night of their arrival, and then to have gone away with him, no matter where. But there was Clarissa--!

To fortify herself against the temptation, she resolutely fixed her thoughts on her husband. Of Nick's beatitude there could be no doubt. He adored her, he revelled in Venice, he rejoiced in his work; and concerning the quality of that work her judgment was as confident as her heart. She still doubted if he would ever earn a living by what he wrote, but she no longer doubted that he would write something remarkable. The mere fact that he was engaged on a philosophic romance, and not a mere novel, seemed the proof of an intrinsic superiority. And if she had mistrusted her impartiality Strefford's approval would have reassured her. Among their friends Strefford passed as an authority on such matters: in summing him up his eulogists always added: "And you know he writes." As a matter of fact, the paying public had remained cold to his few published pages; but he lived among the kind of people who confuse taste with talent, and are impressed by the most artless attempts at literary expression; and though he affected to disdain their judgment, and his own efforts, Susy knew he was not sorry to have it said of him: "Oh, if only Streffy had chosen--!"

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Strefford's approval of the philosophic romance convinced her that it had been worth while staying in Venice for Nick's sake; and if only Ellie would come back, and carry off Clarissa to St. Moritz or Deauville, the disagreeable episode on which their happiness was based would vanish like a cloud, and leave them to complete enjoyment.

Ellie did not come; but the Mortimer Hickses did, and Nick Lansing was assailed by the scruples his wife had foreseen. Strefford, coming back one evening from the Lido, reported having recognized the huge outline of the Ibis among the pleasure craft of the outer harbour; and the very next evening, as the guests of Palazzo Vanderlyn were sipping their ices at Florian's, the Hickses loomed up across the Piazza.

Susy pleaded in vain with her husband in defence of his privacy. "Remember you're here to write, dearest; it's your duty not to let any one interfere with that. Why shouldn't we tell them we're just leaving!"

"Because it's no use: we're sure to be always meeting them. And besides, I'll be hanged if I'm going to shirk the Hickses. I spent five whole months on the Ibis, and if they bored me occasionally, India didn't."

"We'll make them take us to Aquileia anyhow," said Strefford philosophically; and the next moment the Hickses were bearing down on the defenceless trio.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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