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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter XII

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The boy had returned rather sooner than Nick expected, and he had brought no answer, but merely the statement that the signora was out: that everybody was out.


"The signora and the four gentlemen who were dining at the palace. They all went out together on foot soon after dinner. There was no one to whom I could give the note but the gondolier on the landing, for the signora had said she would be very late, and had sent the maid to bed; and the maid had, of course, gone out immediately with her innamorato."

"Ah--" said Nick, slipping his reward into the boy's hand, and walking out of the restaurant.

Susy had gone out--gone out with their usual band, as she did every night in these sultry summer weeks, gone out after her talk with Nick, as if nothing had happened, as if his whole world and hers had not crashed in ruins at their feet. Ah, poor Susy! After all, she had merely obeyed the instinct of self preservation, the old hard habit of keeping up, going ahead and hiding her troubles; unless indeed the habit had already engendered indifference, and it had become as easy for her as for most of her friends to pass from drama to dancing, from sorrow to the cinema. What of soul was left, he wondered--?

His train did not start till midnight, and after leaving the restaurant Nick tramped the sultry by-ways till his tired legs brought him to a standstill under the vine-covered pergola of a gondolier's wine-shop at a landing close to the Piazzetta. There he could absorb cooling drinks until it was time to go to the station.

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It was after eleven, and he was beginning to look about for a boat, when a black prow pushed up to the steps, and with much chaff and laughter a party of young people in evening dress jumped out. Nick, from under the darkness of the vine, saw that there was only one lady among them, and it did not need the lamp above the landing to reveal her identity. Susy, bareheaded and laughing, a light scarf slipping from her bare shoulders, a cigarette between her fingers, took Strefford's arm and turned in the direction of Florian's, with Gillow, the Prince and young Breckenridge in her wake ....

Nick had relived this rapid scene hundreds of times during his hours in the train and his aimless trampings through the streets of Genoa. In that squirrel-wheel of a world of his and Susy's you had to keep going or drop out--and Susy, it was evident, had chosen to keep going. Under the lamp-flare on the landing he had had a good look at her face, and had seen that the mask of paint and powder was carefully enough adjusted to hide any ravages the scene between them might have left. He even fancied that she had dropped a little atropine into her eyes ....

There was no time to spare if he meant to catch the midnight train, and no gondola in sight but that which his wife had just left. He sprang into it, and bade the gondolier carry him to the station. The cushions, as he leaned back, gave out a breath of her scent; and in the glare of electric light at the station he saw at his feet a rose which had fallen from her dress. He ground his heel into it as he got out.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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