The Glimpses of the Moon, by Edith Wharton

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.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30