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Part I Edith Wharton

Chapter XI

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The gondolier dozing on the landing roused himself to receive her, and to proffer two envelopes. The upper one was a telegram for Strefford: she threw it down again and paused under the lantern hanging from the painted vault, the other envelope in her hand. The address it bore was in Nick's writing. "When did the signore leave this for me? Has he gone out again?"

Gone out again? But the signore had not come in since dinner: of that the gondolier was positive, as he had been on duty all the evening. A boy had brought the letter--an unknown boy: he had left it without waiting. It must have been about half an hour after the signora had herself gone out with her guests.

Susy, hardly hearing him, fled on to her own room, and there, beside the very lamp which, two months before, had illuminated Ellie Vanderlyn's fatal letter, she opened Nick's.

"Don't think me hard on you, dear; but I've got to work this thing out by myself. The sooner the better-don't you agree? So I'm taking the express to Milan presently. You'll get a proper letter in a day or two. I wish I could think, now, of something to say that would show you I'm not a brute--but I can't. N. L. "

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There was not much of the night left in which to sleep, even had a semblance of sleep been achievable. The letter fell from Susy's hands, and she crept out onto the balcony and cowered there, her forehead pressed against the balustrade, the dawn wind stirring in her thin laces. Through her closed eyelids and the tightly-clenched fingers pressed against them, she felt the penetration of the growing light, the relentless advance of another day--a day without purpose and without meaning--a day without Nick. At length she dropped her hands, and staring from dry lids saw a rim of fire above the roofs across the Grand Canal. She sprang up, ran back into her room, and dragging the heavy curtains shut across the windows, stumbled over in the darkness to the lounge and fell among its pillows-face downward--groping, delving for a deeper night ....

She started up, stiff and aching, to see a golden wedge of sun on the floor at her feet. She had slept, then--was it possible?--it must be eight or nine o'clock already! She had slept--slept like a drunkard--with that letter on the table at her elbow! Ah, now she remembered--she had dreamed that the letter was a dream! But there, inexorably, it lay; and she picked it up, and slowly, painfully re-read it. Then she tore it into shreds hunted for a match, and kneeling before the empty hearth, as though she were accomplishing some funeral rite, she burnt every shred of it to ashes. Nick would thank her for that some day!

After a bath and a hurried toilet she began to be aware of feeling younger and more hopeful. After all, Nick had merely said that he was going away for "a day or two." And the letter was not cruel: there were tender things in it, showing through the curt words. She smiled at herself a little stiffly in the glass, put a dash of red on her colourless lips, and rang for the maid.

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The Glimpses of the Moon
Edith Wharton

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