The Glimpses of the Moon eBook: Page1

Edith Wharton (1998)




  Produced by Dean Gilley

  THE GLIMPSES OF THE MOON

  By Edith Wharton

  PART I

  I

  IT rose for them--their honey-moon--over the waters of a lake so famedas the scene of romantic raptures that they were rather proud of nothaving been afraid to choose it as the setting of their own.

  "It required a total lack of humour, or as great a gift for it as ours,to risk the experiment," Susy Lansing opined, as they hung over theinevitable marble balustrade and watched their tutelary orb roll itsmagic carpet across the waters to their feet.

  "Yes--or the loan of Strefford's villa," her husband emended, glancingupward through the branches at a long low patch of paleness to which themoonlight was beginning to give the form of a white house-front.

  "Oh, come when we'd five to choose from. At least if you count theChicago flat."

  "So we had--you wonder!" He laid his hand on hers, and his touch renewedthe sense of marvelling exultation which the deliberate survey of theiradventure always roused in her.... It was characteristic that she merelyadded, in her steady laughing tone: "Or, not counting the flat--forI hate to brag--just consider the others: Violet Melrose's place atVersailles, your aunt's villa at Monte Carlo--and a moor!"

  She was conscious of throwing in the moor tentatively, and yet witha somewhat exaggerated emphasis, as if to make sure that he shouldn'taccuse her of slurring it over. But he seemed to have no desire todo so. "Poor old Fred!" he merely remarked; and she breathed outcarelessly: "Oh, well--"

  His hand still lay on hers, and for a long interval, while they stoodsilent in the enveloping loveliness of the night, she was aware only ofthe warm current running from palm to palm, as the moonlight below themdrew its line of magic from shore to shore.

  Nick Lansing spoke at last. "Versailles in May would have beenimpossible: all our Paris crowd would have run us down withintwenty-four hours. And Monte Carlo is ruled out because it's exactlythe kind of place everybody expected us to go. So--with all respect toyou--it wasn't much of a mental strain to decide on Como."

  His wife instantly challenged this belittling of her capacity. "It tooka good deal of argument to convince you that we could face the ridiculeof Como!"

  "Well, I should have preferred something in a lower key; at least Ithought I should till we got here. Now I see that this place is idioticunless one is perfectly happy; and that then it's-as good as any other."

  She sighed out a blissful assent. "And I must say that Streffy has donethings to a turn. Even the cigars--who do you suppose gave him thosecigars?" She added thoughtfully: "You'll miss them when we have to go."

  "Oh, I say, don't let's talk to-night about going. Aren't we outside oftime and space...? Smell that guinea-a-bottle stuff over there: what isit? Stephanotis?"

  "Y-yes.... I suppose so. Or gardenias.... Oh, the fire-flies! Look...there, against that splash of moonlight on the water. Apples of silverin a net-work of gold...." They leaned together, one flesh from shoulderto finger-tips, their eyes held by the snared glitter of the ripples.

  "I could bear," Lansing remarked, "even a nightingale at thismoment...."

  A faint gurgle shook the magnolias behind them, and a long liquidwhisper answered it from the thicket of laurel above their heads.

  "It's a little late in the year for them: they're ending just as webegin."

  Susy laughed. "I hope when our turn comes we shall say good-bye to eachother as sweetly."

  It was in her husband's mind to answer: "They're not saying good-bye,but only settling down to family cares." But as this did not happen tobe in his plan, or in Susy's, he merely echoed her laugh and pressed hercloser.

  The spring night drew them into its deepening embrace. The ripples ofthe lake had gradually widened and faded into a silken smoothness, andhigh above the mountains the moon was turning from gold to white ina sky powdered with vanishing stars. Across the lake the lights of alittle town went out, one after another, and the distant shore became afloating blackness. A breeze that rose and sank brushed their faces withthe scents of the garden; once it blew out over the water a great whitemoth like a drifting magnolia petal. The nightingales had paused and thetrickle of the fountain behind the house grew suddenly insistent.

  When Susy spoke it was in a voice languid with visions. "I have beenthinking," she said, "that we ought to be able to make it last at leasta year longer."

  Her husband received the remark without any sign of surprise ordisapprobation; his answer showed that he not only understood her, buthad been inwardly following the same train of thought.

  "You mean," he enquired after a pause, "without counting yourgrandmother's pearls?"

  "Yes--without the pearls."

  He pondered a while, and then rejoined in a tender whisper: "Tell meagain just how."

  "Let's sit down, then. No, I like the cushions best." He stretchedhimself in a long willow chair, and she curled up on a heap ofboat-cushions and leaned her head against his knee. Just above her,when she lifted her lids, she saw bits of moon-flooded sky incrustedlike silver in a sharp black patterning of plane-boughs. All about thembreathed of peace and beauty and stability, and her happiness was soacute that it was almost a relief to remember the stormy background ofbills and borrowing against which its frail structure had been reared."People with a balance can't be as happy as all this," Susy mused,letting the moonlight filter through her lazy lashes.

  People with a balance had always been Susy Branch's bugbear; they werestill, and more dangerously, to be Susy Lansing's. She detested them,detested them doubly, as the natural enemies of mankind and as thepeople one always had to put one's self out for. The greater part of herlife having been passed among them, she knew nearly all that there wasto know about them, and judged them with the contemptuous lucidityof nearly twenty years of dependence. But at the present moment heranimosity was diminished not only by the softening effect of love butby the fact that she had got out of those very people more--yes, ever somuch more--than she and Nick, in their hours of most reckless planning,had ever dared to hope for.

  "After all, we owe them this!" she mused.

  Her husband, lost in the drowsy beatitude of the hour, had not repeatedhis question; but she was still on the trail of the thought he hadstarted. A year--yes, she was sure now that with a little managementthey could have a whole year of it! "It" was their marriage, their beingtogether, and away from bores and bothers, in a comradeship of whichboth of them had long ago guessed the immediate pleasure, but she atleast had never imagined the deeper harmony.

  It was at one of their earliest meetings--at one of the heterogeneousdinners that the Fred Gillows tried to think "literary"--that the youngman who chanced to sit next to her, and of whom it was vaguely rumouredthat he had "written," had presented himself to her imagination as thesort of luxury to which Susy Branch, heiress, might conceivably havetreated herself as a crowning folly. Susy Branch, pauper, was fond ofpicturing how this fancied double would employ her millions: it was oneof her chief grievances against her rich friends that they disposed oftheirs so unimaginatively.

  "I'd rather have a husband like that than a steam-yacht!" she hadthought at the end of her talk with the young man who had written, andas to whom it had at once been clear to her that nothing his pen hadproduced, or might hereafter set down, would put him in a position tooffer his wife anything more costly than a row-boat.

  "His wife! As if he could ever have one! For he's not the kind to marryfor a yacht either." In spite of her past, Susy had preserved enoughinner independence to detect the latent signs of it in others, and alsoto ascribe it impulsively to those of the opposite sex who happened tointerest her. She had a natural contempt for people who gloried in whatthey need only have e
ndured. She herself meant eventually to marry,because one couldn't forever hang on to rich people; but she was goingto wait till she found some one who combined the maximum of wealth withat least a minimum of companionableness.

  She had at once perceived young Lansing's case to be exactly theopposite: he was as poor as he could be, and as companionable as it waspossible to imagine. She therefore decided to see as much of him as herhurried and entangled life permitted; and this, thanks to a series ofadroit adjustments, turned out to be a good deal. They met frequentlyall the rest of that winter; so frequently that Mrs. Fred Gillow oneday abruptly and sharply gave Susy to understand that she was "makingherself ridiculous."

  "Ah--" said Susy with a long breath, looking her friend and patronessstraight in the painted eyes.

  "Yes," cried Ursula Gillow in a sob, "before you interfered Nick likedme awfully... and, of course, I don't want to reproach you... but when Ithink...."

  Susy made no answer. How could she, when she thought? The dress she hadon had been given her by Ursula; Ursula's motor had carried her to thefeast from which they were both returning. She counted on spending thefollowing August with the Gillows at Newport... and the only alternativewas to go to California with the Bockheimers, whom she had hithertorefused even to dine with.

  "Of course, what you fancy is perfect nonsense, Ursula; and as to myinterfering--" Susy hesitated, and then murmured: "But if it will makeyou any happier I'll arrange to see him less often...." She sounded thelowest depths of subservience in returning Ursula's tearful kiss....

  Susy Branch had a masculine respect for her word; and the next day sheput on her most becoming hat and sought out young Mr. Lansing in hislodgings. She was determined to keep her promise to Ursula; but shemeant to look her best when she did it.

  She knew at what time the young man was likely to be found, for he wasdoing a dreary job on a popular encyclopaedia (V to X), and had told herwhat hours were dedicated to the hateful task. "Oh, if only it were anovel!" she thought as she mounted his dingy stairs; but immediatelyreflected that, if it were the kind that she could bear to read, itprobably wouldn't bring him in much more than his encyclopaedia. MissBranch had her standards in literature....

  The apartment to which Mr. Lansing admitted her was a good deal cleaner,but hardly less dingy, than his staircase. Susy, knowing him to beaddicted to Oriental archaeology, had pictured him in a bare roomadorned by a single Chinese bronze of flawless shape, or by someprecious fragment of Asiatic pottery. But such redeeming features wereconspicuously absent, and no attempt had been made to disguise thedecent indigence of the bed-sitting-room.

  Lansing welcomed his visitor with every sign of pleasure, and withapparent indifference as to what she thought of his furniture. He seemedto be conscious only of his luck in seeing her on a day when they hadnot expected to meet. This made Susy all the sorrier to execute herpromise, and the gladder that she had put on her prettiest hat; and fora moment or two she looked at him in silence from under its connivingbrim.

  Warm as their mutual liking was, Lansing had never said a word of loveto her; but this was no deterrent to his visitor, whose habit it wasto speak her meaning clearly when there were no reasons, worldly orpecuniary, for its concealment. After a moment, therefore, she told himwhy she had come; it was a nuisance, of course, but he would understand.Ursula Gillow was jealous, and they would have to give up seeing eachother.

  The young man's burst of laughter was music to her; for, after all, shehad been rather afraid that being devoted to Ursula might be as much inhis day's work as doing the encyclopaedia.

  "But I give you my word it's a raving-mad mistake! And I don't believeshe ever meant me, to begin with--" he protested; but Susy, hercommon-sense returning with her reassurance, promptly cut short hisdenial.

  "You can trust Ursula to make herself clear on such occasions. And itdoesn't make any difference what you think. All that matters is what shebelieves."

  "Oh, come! I've got a word to say about that too, haven't I?"

  Susy looked slowly and consideringly about the room. There was nothingin it, absolutely nothing, to show that he had ever possessed a sparedollar--or accepted a present.

  "Not as far as I'm concerned," she finally pronounced.

  "How do you mean? If I'm as free as air--?"

  "I'm not."

  He grew thoughtful. "Oh, then, of course--. It only seems a little odd,"he added drily, "that in that case, the protest should have come fromMrs. Gillow."

  "Instead of coming from my millionaire bridegroom, Oh, I haven't any; inthat respect I'm as free as you."

  "Well, then--? Haven't we only got to stay free?"

  Susy drew her brows together anxiously. It was going to be rather moredifficult than she had supposed.

  "I said I was as free in that respect. I'm not going to marry--and Idon't suppose you are?"

  "God, no!" he ejaculated fervently.

  "But that doesn't always imply complete freedom...."

  He stood just above her, leaning his elbow against the hideous blackmarble arch that framed his fireless grate. As she glanced up she sawhis face harden, and the colour flew to hers.

  "Was that what you came to tell me?" he asked.

  "Oh, you don't understand--and I don't see why you don't, since we'veknocked about so long among exactly the same kind of people." She stoodup impulsively and laid her hand on his arm. "I do wish you'd helpme--!"

  He remained motionless, letting the hand lie untouched.

  "Help you to tell me that poor Ursula was a pretext, but that there ISsomeone who--for one reason or another--really has a right to object toyour seeing me too often?"

  Susy laughed impatiently. "You talk like the hero of a novel--the kindmy governess used to read. In the first place I should never recognizethat kind of right, as you call it--never!"

  "Then what kind do you?" he asked with a clearing brow.

  "Why--the kind I suppose you recognize on the part of your publisher."This evoked a hollow laugh from him. "A business claim, call it," shepursued. "Ursula does a lot for me: I live on her for half the year.This dress I've got on now is one she gave me. Her motor is going totake me to a dinner to-night. I'm going to spend next summer with herat Newport.... If I don't, I've got to go to California with theBockheimers-so good-bye."

  Suddenly in tears, she was out of the door and down his steep threeflights before he could stop her--though, in thinking it over, shedidn't even remember if he had tried to. She only recalled having stooda long time on the corner of Fifth Avenue, in the harsh winter radiance,waiting till a break in the torrent of motors laden with fashionablewomen should let her cross, and saying to herself: "After all, I mighthave promised Ursula... and kept on seeing him...."

  Instead of which, when Lansing wrote the next day entreating a word withher, she had sent back a friendly but firm refusal; and had managed soonafterward to get taken to Canada for a fortnight's ski-ing, and then toFlorida for six weeks in a house-boat....

  As she reached this point in her retrospect the remembrance of Floridacalled up a vision of moonlit waters, magnolia fragrance and balmy airs;merging with the circumambient sweetness, it laid a drowsy spell uponher lids. Yes, there had been a bad moment: but it was over; and she washere, safe and blissful, and with Nick; and this was his knee her headrested on, and they had a year ahead of them... a whole year.... "Notcounting the pearls," she murmured, shutting her eyes....