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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter XI

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BUT there were necessary accommodations, there always had been; Nick in old times, had been the first to own it .... How they had laughed at the Perpendicular People, the people who went by on the other side (since you couldn't be a good Samaritan without stooping over and poking into heaps of you didn't know what)! And now Nick had suddenly become perpendicular ....

Susy, that evening, at the head of the dinner table, saw--in the breaks between her scudding thoughts--the nauseatingly familiar faces of the people she called her friends: Strefford, Fred Gillow, a giggling fool of a young Breckenridge, of their New York group, who had arrived that day, and Prince Nerone Altineri, Ursula's Prince, who, in Ursula's absence at a tiresome cure, had, quite simply and naturally, preferred to join her husband at Venice. Susy looked from one to the other of them, as if with newly-opened eyes, and wondered what life would be like with no faces but such as theirs to furnish it ....

Ah, Nick had become perpendicular! .... After all, most people went through life making a given set of gestures, like dance-steps learned in advance. If your dancing manual told you at a given time to be perpendicular, you had to be, automatically-- and that was Nick!

"But what on earth, Susy," Gillow's puzzled voice suddenly came to her as from immeasurable distances, "Are you going to do in this beastly stifling hole for the rest of the summer?"

"Ask Nick, my dear fellow," Strefford answered for her; and: "By the way, where is Nick--if one may ask?" young Breckenridge interposed, glancing up to take belated note of his host's absence.

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"Dining out," said Susy glibly. "People turned up: blighting bores that I wouldn't have dared to inflict on you." How easily the old familiar fibbing came to her !

"The kind to whom you say, 'Now mind you look me up'; and then spend the rest of your life dodging-like our good Hickses," Strefford amplified.

The Hickses--but, of course, Nick was with the Hickses! It went through Susy like a knife, and the dinner she had so lightly fibbed became a hateful truth. She said to herself feverishly: "I'll call him up there after dinner--and then he will feel silly"--but only to remember that the Hickses, in their mediaeval setting, had of course sternly denied themselves a telephone.

The fact of Nick's temporary inaccessibility--since she was now convinced that he was really at the Hickses'--turned her distress to a mocking irritation. Ah, that was where he carried his principles, his standards, or whatever he called the new set of rules he had suddenly begun to apply to the old game! It was stupid of her not to have guessed it at once.

"Oh, the Hickses--Nick adores them, you know. He's going to marry Coral next," she laughed out, flashing the joke around the table with all her practiced flippancy.

"Lord!" grasped Gillow, inarticulate: while the Prince displayed the unsurprised smile which Susy accused him of practicing every morning with his Mueller exercises.

Suddenly Susy felt Strefford's eyes upon her.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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