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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter V

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As he shambled up the stairs with her, arm in arm, she was thinking of this quality with a new appreciation of its value. Even she and Lansing, in spite of their unmixed Americanism, their substantial background of old-fashioned cousinships in New York and Philadelphia, were as mentally detached, as universally at home, as touts at an International Exhibition. If they were usually recognized as Americans it was only because they spoke French so well, and because Nick was too fair to be "foreign," and too sharp-featured to be English. But Charlie Strefford was English with all the strength of an inveterate habit; and something in Susy was slowly waking to a sense of the beauty of habit.

Lounging on the balcony, whither he had followed her without pausing to remove the stains of travel, Strefford showed himself immensely interested in the last chapter of her history, greatly pleased at its having been enacted under his roof, and hugely and flippantly amused at the firmness with which she refused to let him see Nick till the latter's daily task was over.

"Writing? Rot! What's he writing? He's breaking you in, my dear; that's what he's doing: establishing an alibi. What'll you bet he's just sitting there smoking and reading Le Rire? Let's go and see."

But Susy was firm. "He's read me his first chapter: it's wonderful. It's a philosophic romance--rather like Marius, you know."

"Oh, yes--I do!" said Strefford, with a laugh that she thought idiotic.

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She flushed up like a child. "You're stupid, Streffy. You forget that Nick and I don't need alibis. We've got rid of all that hyprocrisy by agreeing that each will give the other a hand up when either of us wants a change. We've not married to spy and lie, and nag each other; we've formed a partnership for our mutual advantage."

"I see; that's capital. But how can you be sure that, when Nick wants a change, you'll consider it for his advantage to have one?"

It was the point that had always secretly tormented Susy; she often wondered if it equally tormented Nick.

"I hope I shall have enough common sense--" she began.

"Oh, of course: common sense is what you're both bound to base your argument on, whichever way you argue."

This flash of insight disconcerted her, and she said, a little irritably: "What should you do then, if you married?--Hush, Streffy! I forbid you to shout like that--all the gondolas are stopping to look!"

"How can I help it?" He rocked backward and forward in his chair. "'If you marry,' she says: 'Streffy, what have you decided to do if you suddenly become a raving maniac?'"

"I said no such thing. If your uncle and your cousin died, you'd marry to-morrow; you know you would."

"Oh, now you're talking business." He folded his long arms and leaned over the balcony, looking down at the dusky ripples streaked with fire. "In that case I should say: 'Susan, my dear--Susan--now that by the merciful intervention of Providence you have become Countess of Altringham in the peerage of Great Britain, and Baroness Dunsterville and d'Amblay in the peerages of Ireland and Scotland, I'll thank you to remember that you are a member of one of the most ancient houses in the United Kingdom--and not to get found out.'"

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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