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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter XII

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"Really," Nick smiled, and then ventured: "I hope it's not owing to conscientious objections to Tiepolo?"

Mr. Buttles's blush became a smouldering agony. "Ah, Miss Hicks mentioned to you ... told you ...? No, Mr. Lansing. I am principled against the effete art of Tiepolo, and of all his contemporaries, I confess; but if Miss Hicks chooses to surrender herself momentarily to the unwholesome spell of the Italian decadence it is not for me to protest or to criticize. Her intellectual and aesthetic range so far exceeds my humble capacity that it would be ridiculous, unbecoming ...."

He broke off, and once more wiped a faint moisture from his eyeglasses. It was evident that he was suffering from a distress which he longed and yet dreaded to communicate. But Nick made no farther effort to bridge the gulf of his own preoccupations; and Mr. Buttles, after an expectant pause, went on: "If you see me here to-day it is only because, after a somewhat abrupt departure, I find myself unable to take leave of our friends without a last look at the Ibis--the scene of so many stimulating hours. But I must beg you," he added earnestly, "should you see Miss Hicks--or any other member of the party--to make no allusion to my presence in Genoa. I wish," said Mr. Buttles with simplicity, "to preserve the strictest incognito."

Lansing glanced at him kindly. "Oh, but--isn't that a little unfriendly?"

"No other course is possible, Mr. Lansing," said the ex-secretary, "and I commit myself to your discretion. The truth is, if I am here it is not to look once more at the Ibis, but at Miss Hicks: once only. You will understand me, and appreciate what I am suffering."

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He bowed again, and trotted away on his small, tightly-booted feet; pausing on the threshold to say: "From the first it was hopeless," before he disappeared through the glass doors.

A gleam of commiseration flashed through Nick's mind: there was something quaintly poignant in the sight of the brisk and efficient Mr. Buttles reduced to a limp image of unrequited passion. And what a painful surprise to the Hickses to be thus suddenly deprived of the secretary who possessed "the foreign languages"! Mr. Beck kept the accounts and settled with the hotel-keepers; but it was Mr. Buttles's loftier task to entertain in their own tongues the unknown geniuses who flocked about the Hickses, and Nick could imagine how disconcerting his departure must be on the eve of their Grecian cruise which Mrs. Hicks would certainly call an Odyssey.

The next moment the vision of Coral's hopeless suitor had faded, and Nick was once more spinning around on the wheel of his own woes. The night before, when he had sent his note to Susy, from a little restaurant close to Palazzo Vanderlyn that they often patronized, he had done so with the firm intention of going away for a day or two in order to collect his wits and think over the situation. But after his letter had been entrusted to the landlord's little son, who was a particular friend of Susy's, Nick had decided to await the lad's return. The messenger had not been bidden to ask for an answer; but Nick, knowing the friendly and inquisitive Italian mind, was almost sure that the boy, in the hope of catching a glimpse of Susy, would linger about while the letter was carried up. And he pictured the maid knocking at his wife's darkened room, and Susy dashing some powder on her tear-stained face before she turned on the light-- poor foolish child!

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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