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Chapter 30


XXX

IT took two brimming taxi-cabs to carry the Nicholas Lansings to
the station on their second honey-moon.  In the first were Nick,
Susy and the luggage of the whole party (little Nat's motor horn
included, as a last concession, and because he had hitherto
forborne to play on it); and in the second, the five Fulmers,
the bonne, who at the eleventh hour had refused to be left, a
cage-full of canaries, and a foundling kitten who had murderous
designs on them; all of which had to be taken because, if the
bonne came, there would be nobody left to look after them.

At the corner Susy tore herself from Nick's arms and held up the
procession while she ran back to the second taxi to make sure
that the bonne had brought the house-key.  It was found of
course that she hadn't but that Junie had; whereupon the caravan
got under way again, and reached the station just as the train
was starting; and there, by some miracle of good nature on the
part of the guard, they were all packed together into an empty
compartment--no doubt, as Susy remarked, because train officials
never failed to spot a newly-married couple, and treat them
kindly.

The children, sentinelled by Junie, at first gave promise of
superhuman goodness; but presently their feelings overflowed,
and they were not to be quieted till it had been agreed that Nat
should blow his motor-horn at each halt, while the twins called
out the names of the stations, and Geordie, with the canaries
and kitten, affected to change trains.

Luckily the halts were few; but the excitement of travel,
combined with over-indulgence in the chocolates imprudently
provided by Nick, overwhelmed Geordie with a sudden melancholy
that could be appeased only by Susy's telling him stories till
they arrived at Fontainebleau.

The day was soft, with mild gleams of sunlight on decaying
foliage; and after luggage and livestock had been dropped at the
pension Susy confessed that she had promised the children a
scamper in the forest, and buns in a tea-shop afterward.  Nick
placidly agreed, and darkness had long fallen, and a great many
buns been consumed, when at length the procession turned down
the street toward the pension, headed by Nick with the sleeping
Geordie on his shoulder, while the others, speechless with
fatigue and food, hung heavily on Susy.

It had been decided that, as the bonne was of the party, the
children might be entrusted to her for the night, and Nick and
Susy establish themselves in an adjacent hotel.  Nick had
flattered himself that they might remove their possessions there
when they returned from the tea-room; but Susy, manifestly
surprised at the idea, reminded him that her charges must first
be given their supper and put to bed.  She suggested that he
should meanwhile take the bags to the hotel, and promised to
join him as soon as Geordie was asleep.

She was a long time coming, but waiting for her was sweet, even
in a deserted hotel reading-room insufficiently heated by a
sulky stove; and after he had glanced through his morning's
mail, hurriedly thrust into his pocket as he left Paris, he sank
into a state of drowsy beatitude.  It was all the maddest
business in the world, yet it did not give him the sense of
unreality that had made their first adventure a mere golden
dream; and he sat and waited with the security of one in whom
dear habits have struck deep roots.  In this mood of
acquiescence even the presence of the five Fulmers seemed a
natural and necessary consequence of all the rest; and when Susy
at length appeared, a little pale and tired, with the brooding
inward look that busy mothers bring from the nursery, that too
seemed natural and necessary, and part of the new order of
things.

They had wandered out to a cheap restaurant for dinner; now, in
the damp December night, they were walking back to the hotel
under a sky full of rain-clouds.  They seemed to have said
everything to each other, and yet barely to have begun what they
had to tell; and at each step they took, their heavy feet
dragged a great load of bliss.

In the hotel almost all the lights were already out; and they
groped their way to the third floor room which was the only one
that Susy had found cheap enough.  A ray from a street-lamp
struck up through the unshuttered windows; and after Nick had
revived the fire they drew their chairs close to it, and sat
quietly for a while in the dark.

Their silence was so sweet that Nick could not make up his mind
to break it; not to do so gave his tossing spirit such a sense
of permanence, of having at last unlimited time before him in
which to taste his joy and let its sweetness stream through him.
But at length he roused himself to say:  "It's queer how things
coincide.  I've had a little bit of good news in one of the
letters I got this morning."

Susy took the announcement serenely.  "Well, you would, you
know," she commented, as if the day had been too obviously
designed for bliss to escape the notice of its dispensers.

"Yes," he continued with a thrill of pardonable pride.  "During
the cruise I did a couple of articles on Crete--oh, just travel-
impressions, of course; they couldn't be more.  But the editor
of the New Review has accepted them, and asks for others.  And
here's his cheque, if you please!  So you see you might have let
me take the jolly room downstairs with the pink curtains.  And
it makes me awfully hopeful about my book."

He had expected a rapturous outburst, and perhaps some
reassertion of wifely faith in the glorious future that awaited
The Pageant of Alexander; and deep down under the lover's well-
being the author felt a faint twinge of mortified vanity when
Susy, leaping to her feet, cried out, ravenously and without
preamble:  "Oh, Nick, Nick--let me see how much they've given
you!"

He flourished the cheque before her in the firelight.  "A couple
of hundred, you mercenary wretch!"

"Oh, oh--" she gasped, as if the good news had been almost too
much for her tense nerves; and then surprised him by dropping to
the ground, and burying her face against his knees.

"Susy, my Susy," he whispered, his hand on her shaking shoulder.
"Why, dear, what is it?  You're not crying?"

"Oh, Nick, Nick--two hundred?  Two hundred dollars?  Then I've
got to tell you--oh now, at once!"

A faint chill ran over him, and involuntarily his hand drew back
from her bowed figure.

"Now?  Oh, why now?" he protested.  "What on earth does it
matter now--whatever it is?"

"But it does matter--it matters more than you can think!"

She straightened herself, still kneeling before him, and lifted
her head so that the firelight behind her turned her hair into a
ruddy halo.  "Oh, Nick, the bracelet--Ellie's bracelet ....
I've never returned it to her," she faltered out.

He felt himself recoiling under the hands with which she
clutched his knees.  For an instant he did not remember what she
alluded to; it was the mere mention of Ellie Vanderlyn's name
that had fallen between them like an icy shadow.  What an
incorrigible fool he had been to think they could ever shake off
such memories, or cease to be the slaves of such a past!

"The bracelet?--Oh, yes," he said, suddenly understanding, and
feeling the chill mount slowly to his lips.

"Yes, the bracelet ... Oh, Nick, I meant to give it back at
once; I did--I did; but the day you went away I forgot
everything else.  And when I found the thing, in the bottom of
my bag, weeks afterward, I thought everything was over between
you and me, and I had begun to see Ellie again, and she was kind
to me and how could I?"  To save his life he could have found no
answer, and she pressed on:  "And so this morning, when I saw
you were frightened by the expense of bringing all the children
with us, and when I felt I couldn't leave them, and couldn't
leave you either, I remembered the bracelet; and I sent you off
to telephone while I rushed round the corner to a little
jeweller's where I'd been before, and pawned it so that you
shouldn't have to pay for the children ....  But now, darling,
you see, if you've got all that money, I can get it out of pawn
at once, can't I, and send it back to her?"

She flung her arms about him, and he held her fast, wondering if
the tears he felt were hers or his.  Still he did not speak; but
as he clasped her close she added, with an irrepressible flash
of her old irony:  "Not that Ellie will understand why I've done
it.  She's never yet been able to make out why you returned her
scarf-pin."

For a long time she continued to lean against him, her head on
his knees, as she had done on the terrace of Como on the last
night of their honeymoon.  She had ceased to talk, and he sat
silent also, passing his hand quietly to and fro over her hair.
The first rapture had been succeeded by soberer feelings.  Her
confession had broken up the frozen pride about his heart, and
humbled him to the earth; but it had also roused forgotten
things, memories and scruples swept aside in the first rush of
their reunion.  He and she belonged to each other for always:
he understood that now.  The impulse which had first drawn them
together again, in spite of reason, in spite of themselves
almost, that deep-seated instinctive need that each had of the
other, would never again wholly let them go.  Yet as he sat
there he thought of Strefford, he thought of Coral Hicks.  He
had been a coward in regard to Coral, and Susy had been sincere
and courageous in regard to Strefford.  Yet his mind dwelt on
Coral with tenderness, with compunction, with remorse; and he
was almost sure that Susy had already put Strefford utterly out
of her mind.

It was the old contrast between the two ways of loving, the
man's way and the woman's; and after a moment it seemed to Nick
natural enough that Susy, from the very moment of finding him
again, should feel neither pity nor regret, and that Strefford
should already be to her as if he had never been.  After all,
there was something Providential in such arrangements.

He stooped closer, pressed her dreaming head between his hands,
and whispered:  "Wake up; it's bedtime."

She rose; but as she moved away to turn on the light he caught
her hand and drew her to the window.  They leaned on the sill in
the darkness, and through the clouds, from which a few drops
were already falling, the moon, labouring upward, swam into a
space of sky, cast her troubled glory on them, and was again
hidden.


Edith Wharton

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