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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter XII

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Table Of Contents: The Glimpses of the Moon

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He decided to write. If they were to part he could not trust himself to see her. He called a waiter, asked for pen and paper, and pushed aside a pile of unread newspapers on the corner of the table where his coffee had been served. As he did so, his eye lit on a Daily Mail of two days before. As a pretext for postponing his letter, he took up the paper and glanced down the first page. He read:

"Tragic Yachting Accident in the Solent. The Earl of Altringham and his son Viscount d'Amblay drowned in midnight collision. Both bodies recovered."

He read on. He grasped the fact that the disaster had happened the night before he had left Venice and that, as the result of a fog in the Solent, their old friend Strefford was now Earl of Altringham, and possessor of one of the largest private fortunes in England. It was vertiginous to think of their old impecunious Streff as the hero of such an adventure. And what irony in that double turn of the wheel which, in one day, had plunged him, Nick Lansing, into nethermost misery, while it tossed the other to the stars!

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With an intenser precision he saw again Susy's descent from the gondola at the calle steps, the sound of her laughter and of Strefford's chaff, the way she had caught his arm and clung to it, sweeping the other men on in her train. Strefford--Susy and Strefford! ... More than once, Nick had noticed the softer inflections of his friend's voice when he spoke to Susy, the brooding look in his lazy eyes when they rested on her. In the security of his wedded bliss Nick had made light of those signs. The only real jealousy he had felt had been of Fred Gillow, because of his unlimited power to satisfy a woman's whims. Yet Nick knew that such material advantages would never again suffice for Susy. With Strefford it was different. She had delighted in his society while he was notoriously ineligible; might not she find him irresistible now?

The forgotten terms of their bridal compact came back to Nick: the absurd agreement on which he and Susy had solemnly pledged their faith. But was it so absurd, after all? It had been Susy's suggestion (not his, thank God!); and perhaps in making it she had been more serious than he imagined. Perhaps, even if their rupture had not occurred, Strefford's sudden honours might have caused her to ask for her freedom ....

Money, luxury, fashion, pleasure: those were the four cornerstones of her existence. He had always known it--she herself had always acknowledged it, even in their last dreadful talk together; and once he had gloried in her frankness. How could he ever have imagined that, to have her fill of these things, she would not in time stoop lower than she had yet stooped? Perhaps in giving her up to Strefford he might be saving her. At any rate, the taste of the past was now so bitter to him that he was moved to thank whatever gods there were for pushing that mortuary paragraph under his eye ....

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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