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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter VI

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They presented a formidable front, not only because of their mere physical bulk--Mr. and Mrs. Hicks were equally and majestically three-dimensional--but because they never moved abroad without the escort of two private secretaries (one for the foreign languages), Mr. Hicks's doctor, a maiden lady known as Eldoradder Tooker, who was Mrs. Hicks's cousin and stenographer, and finally their daughter, Coral Hicks.

Coral Hicks, when Susy had last encountered the party, had been a fat spectacled school-girl, always lagging behind her parents, with a reluctant poodle in her wake. Now the poodle had gone, and his mistress led the procession. The fat school-girl had changed into a young lady of compact if not graceful outline; a long-handled eyeglass had replaced the spectacles, and through it, instead of a sullen glare, Miss Coral Hicks projected on the world a glance at once confident and critical. She looked so strong and so assured that Susy, taking her measure in a flash, saw that her position at the head of the procession was not fortuitous, and murmured inwardly: "Thank goodness she's not pretty too!"

If she was not pretty, she was well-dressed; and if she was overeducated, she seemed capable, as Strefford had suggested, of carrying off even this crowning disadvantage. At any rate, she was above disguising it; and before the whole party had been seated five minutes in front of a fresh supply of ices (with Eldorada and the secretaries at a table slightly in the background) she had taken up with Nick the question of exploration in Mesopotamia.

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"Queer child, Coral," he said to Susy that night as they smoked a last cigarette on their balcony. "She told me this afternoon that she'd remembered lots of things she heard me say in India. I thought at the time that she cared only for caramels and picture-puzzles, but it seems she was listening to everything, and reading all the books she could lay her hands on; and she got so bitten with Oriental archaeology that she took a course last year at Bryn Mawr. She means to go to Bagdad next spring, and back by the Persian plateau and Turkestan."

Susy laughed luxuriously: she was sitting with her hand in Nick's, while the late moon--theirs again--rounded its orange-coloured glory above the belfry of San Giorgio.

"Poor Coral! How dreary--" Susy murmured

"Dreary? Why? A trip like that is about as well worth doing as anything I know."

"Oh, I meant: dreary to do it without you or me, she laughed, getting up lazily to go indoors. A broad band of moonlight, dividing her room onto two shadowy halves, lay on the painted Venetian bed with its folded-back sheet, its old damask coverlet and lace-edged pillows. She felt the warmth of Nick's enfolding arm and lifted her face to his.

The Hickses retained the most tender memory of Nick's sojourn on the Ibis, and Susy, moved by their artless pleasure in meeting him again, was glad he had not followed her advice and tried to elude them. She had always admired Strefford's ruthless talent for using and discarding the human material in his path, but now she began to hope that Nick would not remember her suggestion that he should mete out that measure to the Hickses. Even if it had been less pleasant to have a big yacht at their door during the long golden days and the nights of silver fire, the Hickses' admiration for Nick would have made Susy suffer them gladly. She even began to be aware of a growing liking for them, a liking inspired by the very characteristics that would once have provoked her disapproval. Susy had had plenty of training in liking common people with big purses; in such cases her stock of allowances and extenuations was inexhaustible. But they had to be successful common people; and the trouble was that the Hickses, judged by her standards, were failures. It was not only that they were ridiculous; so, heaven knew, were many of their rivals. But the Hickses were both ridiculous and unsuccessful. They had consistently resisted the efforts of the experienced advisers who had first descried them on the horizon and tried to help them upward. They were always taking up the wrong people, giving the wrong kind of party, and spending millions on things that nobody who mattered cared about. They all believed passionately in "movements" and "causes" and "ideals," and were always attended by the exponents of their latest beliefs, always asking you to hear lectures by haggard women in peplums, and having their portraits painted by wild people who never turned out to be the fashion.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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