vorhänge für wohnzimmertür
the age of innocence by edith whartonchapter xxiii. the next morning, when archer got out ofthe fall river train, he emerged upon a steaming midsummer boston. the streets near the station were full ofthe smell of beer and coffee and decaying fruit and a shirt-sleeved populace movedthrough them with the intimate abandon of boarders going down the passage to thebathroom. archer found a cab and drove to thesomerset club for breakfast. even the fashionable quarters had the airof untidy domesticity to which no excess of heat ever degrades the european cities.
care-takers in calico lounged on the door-steps of the wealthy, and the common looked like a pleasure-ground on the morrow of amasonic picnic. if archer had tried to imagine ellenolenska in improbable scenes he could not have called up any into which it was moredifficult to fit her than this heat- prostrated and deserted boston. he breakfasted with appetite and method,beginning with a slice of melon, and studying a morning paper while he waitedfor his toast and scrambled eggs. a new sense of energy and activity hadpossessed him ever since he had announced to may the night before that he hadbusiness in boston, and should take the
fall river boat that night and go on to newyork the following evening. it had always been understood that he wouldreturn to town early in the week, and when he got back from his expedition toportsmouth a letter from the office, which fate had conspicuously placed on a corner of the hall table, sufficed to justify hissudden change of plan. he was even ashamed of the ease with whichthe whole thing had been done: it reminded him, for an uncomfortable moment, oflawrence lefferts's masterly contrivances for securing his freedom. but this did not long trouble him, for hewas not in an analytic mood.
after breakfast he smoked a cigarette andglanced over the commercial advertiser. while he was thus engaged two or three menhe knew came in, and the usual greetings were exchanged: it was the same world afterall, though he had such a queer sense of having slipped through the meshes of timeand space. he looked at his watch, and finding that itwas half-past nine got up and went into the writing-room. there he wrote a few lines, and ordered amessenger to take a cab to the parker house and wait for the answer. he then sat down behind another newspaperand tried to calculate how long it would
take a cab to get to the parker house. "the lady was out, sir," he suddenly hearda waiter's voice at his elbow; and he stammered: "out?--" as if it were a wordin a strange language. he got up and went into the hall. it must be a mistake: she could not be outat that hour. he flushed with anger at his own stupidity:why had he not sent the note as soon as he arrived? he found his hat and stick and went forthinto the street. the city had suddenly become as strange andvast and empty as if he were a traveller
from distant lands. for a moment he stood on the door-stephesitating; then he decided to go to the parker house.what if the messenger had been misinformed, and she were still there? he started to walk across the common; andon the first bench, under a tree, he saw her sitting. she had a grey silk sunshade over her head--how could he ever have imagined her with a pink one? as he approached he was struck by herlistless attitude: she sat there as if she
had nothing else to do. he saw her drooping profile, and the knotof hair fastened low in the neck under her dark hat, and the long wrinkled glove onthe hand that held the sunshade. he came a step or two nearer, and sheturned and looked at him. "oh"--she said; and for the first time henoticed a startled look on her face; but in another moment it gave way to a slow smileof wonder and contentment. "oh"--she murmured again, on a differentnote, as he stood looking down at her; and without rising she made a place for him onthe bench. "i'm here on business--just got here,"archer explained; and, without knowing why,
he suddenly began to feign astonishment atseeing her. "but what on earth are you doing in thiswilderness?" he had really no idea what he was saying:he felt as if he were shouting at her across endless distances, and she mightvanish again before he could overtake her. "i? oh, i'm here on business too," sheanswered, turning her head toward him so that they were face to face. the words hardly reached him: he was awareonly of her voice, and of the startling fact that not an echo of it had remained inhis memory.
he had not even remembered that it was low-pitched, with a faint roughness on the consonants. "you do your hair differently," he said,his heart beating as if he had uttered something irrevocable."differently? no--it's only that i do it as best i canwhen i'm without nastasia." "nastasia; but isn't she with you?""no; i'm alone. for two days it was not worth while tobring her." "you're alone--at the parker house?"she looked at him with a flash of her old malice.
"does it strike you as dangerous?""no; not dangerous--" "but unconventional?i see; i suppose it is." she considered a moment. "i hadn't thought of it, because i've justdone something so much more unconventional."the faint tinge of irony lingered in her eyes. "i've just refused to take back a sum ofmoney--that belonged to me." archer sprang up and moved a step or twoaway. she had furled her parasol and sat absentlydrawing patterns on the gravel.
presently he came back and stood beforeher. "some one--has come here to meet you?" "yes.""with this offer?" she nodded."and you refused--because of the conditions?" "i refused," she said after a moment.he sat down by her again. "what were the conditions?""oh, they were not onerous: just to sit at the head of his table now and then." there was another interval of silence.archer's heart had slammed itself shut in
the queer way it had, and he sat vainlygroping for a word. "he wants you back--at any price?" "well--a considerable price.at least the sum is considerable for me." he paused again, beating about the questionhe felt he must put. "it was to meet him here that you came?" she stared, and then burst into a laugh."meet him--my husband? here?at this season he's always at cowes or baden." "he sent some one?""yes."
"with a letter?"she shook her head. "no; just a message. he never writes.i don't think i've had more than one letter from him." the allusion brought the colour to hercheek, and it reflected itself in archer's vivid blush."why does he never write?" "why should he? what does one have secretaries for?"the young man's blush deepened. she had pronounced the word as if it had nomore significance than any other in her
vocabulary. for a moment it was on the tip of histongue to ask: "did he send his secretary, then?"but the remembrance of count olenski's only letter to his wife was too present to him. he paused again, and then took anotherplunge. "and the person?"--"the emissary? the emissary," madame olenska rejoined,still smiling, "might, for all i care, have left already; but he has insisted onwaiting till this evening...in case...on the chance..."
"and you came out here to think the chanceover?" "i came out to get a breath of air.the hotel's too stifling. i'm taking the afternoon train back toportsmouth." they sat silent, not looking at each other,but straight ahead at the people passing along the path. finally she turned her eyes again to hisface and said: "you're not changed." he felt like answering: "i was, till i sawyou again;" but instead he stood up abruptly and glanced about him at theuntidy sweltering park. "this is horrible.
why shouldn't we go out a little on thebay? there's a breeze, and it will be cooler.we might take the steamboat down to point arley." she glanced up at him hesitatingly and hewent on: "on a monday morning there won't be anybody on the boat.my train doesn't leave till evening: i'm going back to new york. why shouldn't we?" he insisted, lookingdown at her; and suddenly he broke out: "haven't we done all we could?""oh"--she murmured again. she stood up and reopened her sunshade,glancing about her as if to take counsel of
the scene, and assure herself of theimpossibility of remaining in it. then her eyes returned to his face. "you mustn't say things like that to me,"she said. "i'll say anything you like; or nothing.i won't open my mouth unless you tell me to. what harm can it do to anybody?all i want is to listen to you," he stammered.she drew out a little gold-faced watch on an enamelled chain. "oh, don't calculate," he broke out; "giveme the day!
i want to get you away from that man.at what time was he coming?" her colour rose again. "at eleven.""then you must come at once." "you needn't be afraid--if i don't come.""nor you either--if you do. i swear i only want to hear about you, toknow what you've been doing. it's a hundred years since we've met--itmay be another hundred before we meet again." she still wavered, her anxious eyes on hisface. "why didn't you come down to the beach tofetch me, the day i was at granny's?" she
asked. "because you didn't look round--because youdidn't know i was there. i swore i wouldn't unless you lookedround." he laughed as the childishness of theconfession struck him. "but i didn't look round on purpose.""on purpose?" "i knew you were there; when you drove in irecognised the ponies. so i went down to the beach.""to get away from me as far as you could?" she repeated in a low voice: "to get awayfrom you as far as i could." he laughed out again, this time in boyishsatisfaction.
"well, you see it's no use. i may as well tell you," he added, "thatthe business i came here for was just to find you.but, look here, we must start or we shall miss our boat." "our boat?"she frowned perplexedly, and then smiled. "oh, but i must go back to the hotel first:i must leave a note--" "as many notes as you please. you can write here."he drew out a note-case and one of the new stylographic pens."i've even got an envelope--you see how
everything's predestined! there--steady the thing on your knee, andi'll get the pen going in a second. they have to be humoured; wait--" hebanged the hand that held the pen against the back of the bench. "it's like jerking down the mercury in athermometer: just a trick. now try--" she laughed, and bending over the sheet ofpaper which he had laid on his note-case, began to write. archer walked away a few steps, staringwith radiant unseeing eyes at the
passersby, who, in their turn, paused tostare at the unwonted sight of a fashionably-dressed lady writing a note onher knee on a bench in the common. madame olenska slipped the sheet into theenvelope, wrote a name on it, and put it into her pocket. then she too stood up. they walked back toward beacon street, andnear the club archer caught sight of the plush-lined "herdic" which had carried hisnote to the parker house, and whose driver was reposing from this effort by bathinghis brow at the corner hydrant. "i told you everything was predestined!here's a cab for us.
you see!" they laughed, astonished at the miracle ofpicking up a public conveyance at that hour, and in that unlikely spot, in a citywhere cab-stands were still a "foreign" novelty. archer, looking at his watch, saw thatthere was time to drive to the parker house before going to the steamboat landing.they rattled through the hot streets and drew up at the door of the hotel. archer held out his hand for the letter."shall i take it in?" he asked; but madame olenska, shaking her head, sprang out anddisappeared through the glazed doors.
it was barely half-past ten; but what ifthe emissary, impatient for her reply, and not knowing how else to employ his time,were already seated among the travellers with cooling drinks at their elbows of whomarcher had caught a glimpse as she went in? he waited, pacing up and down before theherdic. a sicilian youth with eyes like nastasia'soffered to shine his boots, and an irish matron to sell him peaches; and every fewmoments the doors opened to let out hot men with straw hats tilted far back, whoglanced at him as they went by. he marvelled that the door should open sooften, and that all the people it let out should look so like each other, and so likeall the other hot men who, at that hour,
through the length and breadth of the land, were passing continuously in and out of theswinging doors of hotels. and then, suddenly, came a face that hecould not relate to the other faces. he caught but a flash of it, for hispacings had carried him to the farthest point of his beat, and it was in turningback to the hotel that he saw, in a group of typical countenances--the lank and weary, the round and surprised, thelantern-jawed and mild--this other face that was so many more things at once, andthings so different. it was that of a young man, pale too, andhalf-extinguished by the heat, or worry, or
both, but somehow, quicker, vivider, moreconscious; or perhaps seeming so because he was so different. archer hung a moment on a thin thread ofmemory, but it snapped and floated off with the disappearing face--apparently that ofsome foreign business man, looking doubly foreign in such a setting. he vanished in the stream of passersby, andarcher resumed his patrol. he did not care to be seen watch in handwithin view of the hotel, and his unaided reckoning of the lapse of time led him toconclude that, if madame olenska was so long in reappearing, it could only be
because she had met the emissary and beenwaylaid by him. at the thought archer's apprehension roseto anguish. "if she doesn't come soon i'll go in andfind her," he said. the doors swung open again and she was athis side. they got into the herdic, and as it droveoff he took out his watch and saw that she had been absent just three minutes. in the clatter of loose windows that madetalk impossible they bumped over the disjointed cobblestones to the wharf. seated side by side on a bench of the half-empty boat they found that they had hardly
anything to say to each other, or ratherthat what they had to say communicated itself best in the blessed silence of theirrelease and their isolation. as the paddle-wheels began to turn, andwharves and shipping to recede through the veil of heat, it seemed to archer thateverything in the old familiar world of habit was receding also. he longed to ask madame olenska if she didnot have the same feeling: the feeling that they were starting on some long voyage fromwhich they might never return. but he was afraid to say it, or anythingelse that might disturb the delicate balance of her trust in him.in reality he had no wish to betray that
trust. there had been days and nights when thememory of their kiss had burned and burned on his lips; the day before even, on thedrive to portsmouth, the thought of her had run through him like fire; but now that she was beside him, and they were driftingforth into this unknown world, they seemed to have reached the kind of deeper nearnessthat a touch may sunder. as the boat left the harbour and turnedseaward a breeze stirred about them and the bay broke up into long oily undulations,then into ripples tipped with spray. the fog of sultriness still hung over thecity, but ahead lay a fresh world of
ruffled waters, and distant promontorieswith light-houses in the sun. madame olenska, leaning back against theboat-rail, drank in the coolness between parted lips. she had wound a long veil about her hat,but it left her face uncovered, and archer was struck by the tranquil gaiety of herexpression. she seemed to take their adventure as amatter of course, and to be neither in fear of unexpected encounters, nor (what wasworse) unduly elated by their possibility. in the bare dining-room of the inn, whichhe had hoped they would have to themselves, they found a strident party of innocent-looking young men and women--school-
teachers on a holiday, the landlord told them--and archer's heart sank at the ideaof having to talk through their noise. "this is hopeless--i'll ask for a privateroom," he said; and madame olenska, without offering any objection, waited while hewent in search of it. the room opened on a long wooden verandah,with the sea coming in at the windows. it was bare and cool, with a table coveredwith a coarse checkered cloth and adorned by a bottle of pickles and a blueberry pieunder a cage. no more guileless-looking cabinetparticulier ever offered its shelter to a clandestine couple: archer fancied he sawthe sense of its reassurance in the faintly
amused smile with which madame olenska satdown opposite to him. a woman who had run away from her husband--and reputedly with another man--was likely to have mastered the art of taking thingsfor granted; but something in the quality of her composure took the edge from hisirony. by being so quiet, so unsurprised and sosimple she had managed to brush away the conventions and make him feel that to seekto be alone was the natural thing for two old friends who had so much to say to eachother.... > the age of innocence by edith whartonchapter xxiv.
they lunched slowly and meditatively, withmute intervals between rushes of talk; for, the spell once broken, they had much tosay, and yet moments when saying became the mere accompaniment to long duologues ofsilence. archer kept the talk from his own affairs,not with conscious intention but because he did not want to miss a word of her history;and leaning on the table, her chin resting on her clasped hands, she talked to him ofthe year and a half since they had met. she had grown tired of what people called"society"; new york was kind, it was almost oppressively hospitable; she should neverforget the way in which it had welcomed her back; but after the first flush of novelty
she had found herself, as she phrased it,too "different" to care for the things it cared about--and so she had decided to trywashington, where one was supposed to meet more varieties of people and of opinion. and on the whole she should probably settledown in washington, and make a home there for poor medora, who had worn out thepatience of all her other relations just at the time when she most needed looking afterand protecting from matrimonial perils. "but dr. carver--aren't you afraid of dr.carver? i hear he's been staying with you at theblenkers'." she smiled."oh, the carver danger is over.
dr. carver is a very clever man. he wants a rich wife to finance his plans,and medora is simply a good advertisement as a convert.""a convert to what?" "to all sorts of new and crazy socialschemes. but, do you know, they interest me morethan the blind conformity to tradition-- somebody else's tradition--that i see amongour own friends. it seems stupid to have discovered americaonly to make it into a copy of another country."she smiled across the table. "do you suppose christopher columbus wouldhave taken all that trouble just to go to
the opera with the selfridge merrys?"archer changed colour. "and beaufort--do you say these things tobeaufort?" he asked abruptly. "i haven't seen him for a long time.but i used to; and he understands." "ah, it's what i've always told you; youdon't like us. and you like beaufort because he's sounlike us." he looked about the bare room and out atthe bare beach and the row of stark white village houses strung along the shore."we're damnably dull. we've no character, no colour, no variety.--i wonder," he broke out, "why you don't go back?"her eyes darkened, and he expected an
indignant rejoinder. but she sat silent, as if thinking overwhat he had said, and he grew frightened lest she should answer that she wonderedtoo. at length she said: "i believe it'sbecause of you." it was impossible to make the confessionmore dispassionately, or in a tone less encouraging to the vanity of the personaddressed. archer reddened to the temples, but darednot move or speak: it was as if her words had been some rare butterfly that the leastmotion might drive off on startled wings, but that might gather a flock about it ifit were left undisturbed.
"at least," she continued, "it was you whomade me understand that under the dullness there are things so fine and sensitive anddelicate that even those i most cared for in my other life look cheap in comparison. i don't know how to explain myself"--shedrew together her troubled brows--"but it seems as if i'd never before understoodwith how much that is hard and shabby and base the most exquisite pleasures may bepaid." "exquisite pleasures--it's something tohave had them!" he felt like retorting; but the appeal in her eyes kept him silent. "i want," she went on, "to be perfectlyhonest with you--and with myself.
for a long time i've hoped this chancewould come: that i might tell you how you've helped me, what you've made of me--" archer sat staring beneath frowning brows.he interrupted her with a laugh. "and what do you make out that you've madeof me?" she paled a little. "of you?""yes: for i'm of your making much more than you ever were of mine.i'm the man who married one woman because another one told him to." her paleness turned to a fugitive flush."i thought--you promised--you were not to
say such things today.""ah--how like a woman! none of you will ever see a bad businessthrough!" she lowered her voice."is it a bad business--for may?" he stood in the window, drumming againstthe raised sash, and feeling in every fibre the wistful tenderness with which she hadspoken her cousin's name. "for that's the thing we've always got tothink of--haven't we--by your own showing?" she insisted."my own showing?" he echoed, his blank eyes still on the sea. "or if not," she continued, pursuing herown thought with a painful application, "if
it's not worth while to have given up, tohave missed things, so that others may be saved from disillusionment and misery--then everything i came home for, everything thatmade my other life seem by contrast so bare and so poor because no one there tookaccount of them--all these things are a sham or a dream--" he turned around without moving from hisplace. "and in that case there's no reason onearth why you shouldn't go back?" he concluded for her. her eyes were clinging to him desperately."oh, is there no reason?"
"not if you staked your all on the successof my marriage. my marriage," he said savagely, "isn'tgoing to be a sight to keep you here." she made no answer, and he went on:"what's the use? you gave me my first glimpse of a reallife, and at the same moment you asked me to go on with a sham one.it's beyond human enduring--that's all." "oh, don't say that; when i'm enduring it!"she burst out, her eyes filling. her arms had dropped along the table, andshe sat with her face abandoned to his gaze as if in the recklessness of a desperateperil. the face exposed her as much as if it hadbeen her whole person, with the soul behind
it: archer stood dumb, overwhelmed by whatit suddenly told him. "you too--oh, all this time, you too?" for answer, she let the tears on her lidsoverflow and run slowly downward. half the width of the room was stillbetween them, and neither made any show of moving. archer was conscious of a curiousindifference to her bodily presence: he would hardly have been aware of it if oneof the hands she had flung out on the table had not drawn his gaze as on the occasion when, in the little twenty-third streethouse, he had kept his eye on it in order
not to look at her face. now his imagination spun about the hand asabout the edge of a vortex; but still he made no effort to draw nearer. he had known the love that is fed oncaresses and feeds them; but this passion that was closer than his bones was not tobe superficially satisfied. his one terror was to do anything whichmight efface the sound and impression of her words; his one thought, that he shouldnever again feel quite alone. but after a moment the sense of waste andruin overcame him. there they were, close together and safeand shut in; yet so chained to their
separate destinies that they might as wellhave been half the world apart. "what's the use--when you will go back?" hebroke out, a great hopeless how on earth can i keep you? crying out to her beneathhis words. she sat motionless, with lowered lids. "oh--i shan't go yet!""not yet? some time, then?some time that you already foresee?" at that she raised her clearest eyes. "i promise you: not as long as you holdout. not as long as we can look straight at eachother like this."
he dropped into his chair. what her answer really said was: "if youlift a finger you'll drive me back: back to all the abominations you know of, and allthe temptations you half guess." he understood it as clearly as if she haduttered the words, and the thought kept him anchored to his side of the table in a kindof moved and sacred submission. "what a life for you!--" he groaned. "oh--as long as it's a part of yours.""and mine a part of yours?" she nodded."and that's to be all--for either of us?" "well; it is all, isn't it?"
at that he sprang up, forgetting everythingbut the sweetness of her face. she rose too, not as if to meet him or toflee from him, but quietly, as though the worst of the task were done and she hadonly to wait; so quietly that, as he came close, her outstretched hands acted not asa check but as a guide to him. they fell into his, while her arms,extended but not rigid, kept him far enough off to let her surrendered face say therest. they may have stood in that way for a longtime, or only for a few moments; but it was long enough for her silence to communicateall she had to say, and for him to feel that only one thing mattered.
he must do nothing to make this meetingtheir last; he must leave their future in her care, asking only that she should keepfast hold of it. "don't--don't be unhappy," she said, with abreak in her voice, as she drew her hands away; and he answered: "you won't go back--you won't go back?" as if it were the one possibility he could not bear. "i won't go back," she said; and turningaway she opened the door and led the way into the public dining-room. the strident school-teachers were gatheringup their possessions preparatory to a straggling flight to the wharf; across thebeach lay the white steam-boat at the pier;
and over the sunlit waters boston loomed ina line of haze. the age of innocence by edith whartonchapter xxv. once more on the boat, and in the presenceof others, archer felt a tranquillity of spirit that surprised as much as itsustained him. the day, according to any currentvaluation, had been a rather ridiculous failure; he had not so much as touchedmadame olenska's hand with his lips, or extracted one word from her that gavepromise of farther opportunities. nevertheless, for a man sick withunsatisfied love, and parting for an indefinite period from the object of hispassion, he felt himself almost
humiliatingly calm and comforted. it was the perfect balance she had heldbetween their loyalty to others and their honesty to themselves that had so stirredand yet tranquillized him; a balance not artfully calculated, as her tears and her falterings showed, but resulting naturallyfrom her unabashed sincerity. it filled him with a tender awe, now thedanger was over, and made him thank the fates that no personal vanity, no sense ofplaying a part before sophisticated witnesses, had tempted him to tempt her. even after they had clasped hands for good-bye at the fall river station, and he had
turned away alone, the conviction remainedwith him of having saved out of their meeting much more than he had sacrificed. he wandered back to the club, and went andsat alone in the deserted library, turning and turning over in his thoughts everyseparate second of their hours together. it was clear to him, and it grew more clearunder closer scrutiny, that if she should finally decide on returning to europe--returning to her husband--it would not be because her old life tempted her, even onthe new terms offered. no: she would go only if she felt herselfbecoming a temptation to archer, a temptation to fall away from the standardthey had both set up.
her choice would be to stay near him aslong as he did not ask her to come nearer; and it depended on himself to keep her justthere, safe but secluded. in the train these thoughts were still withhim. they enclosed him in a kind of golden haze,through which the faces about him looked remote and indistinct: he had a feelingthat if he spoke to his fellow-travellers they would not understand what he wassaying. in this state of abstraction he foundhimself, the following morning, waking to the reality of a stifling september day innew york. the heat-withered faces in the long trainstreamed past him, and he continued to
stare at them through the same golden blur;but suddenly, as he left the station, one of the faces detached itself, came closerand forced itself upon his consciousness. it was, as he instantly recalled, the faceof the young man he had seen, the day before, passing out of the parker house,and had noted as not conforming to type, as not having an american hotel face. the same thing struck him now; and again hebecame aware of a dim stir of former associations. the young man stood looking about him withthe dazed air of the foreigner flung upon the harsh mercies of american travel; thenhe advanced toward archer, lifted his hat,
and said in english: "surely, monsieur, wemet in london?" "ah, to be sure: in london!"archer grasped his hand with curiosity and sympathy. "so you did get here, after all?" heexclaimed, casting a wondering eye on the astute and haggard little countenance ofyoung carfry's french tutor. "oh, i got here--yes," m. riviere smiledwith drawn lips. "but not for long; i return the day aftertomorrow." he stood grasping his light valise in oneneatly gloved hand, and gazing anxiously, perplexedly, almost appealingly, intoarcher's face.
"i wonder, monsieur, since i've had thegood luck to run across you, if i might--" "i was just going to suggest it: come toluncheon, won't you? down town, i mean: if you'll look me up inmy office i'll take you to a very decent restaurant in that quarter."m. riviere was visibly touched and surprised. "you're too kind.but i was only going to ask if you would tell me how to reach some sort ofconveyance. there are no porters, and no one here seemsto listen--" "i know: our american stations mustsurprise you.
when you ask for a porter they give youchewing-gum. but if you'll come along i'll extricateyou; and you must really lunch with me, you know." the young man, after a just perceptiblehesitation, replied, with profuse thanks, and in a tone that did not carry completeconviction, that he was already engaged; but when they had reached the comparative reassurance of the street he asked if hemight call that afternoon. archer, at ease in the midsummer leisure ofthe office, fixed an hour and scribbled his address, which the frenchman pocketed withreiterated thanks and a wide flourish of
his hat. a horse-car received him, and archer walkedaway. punctually at the hour m. riviere appeared,shaved, smoothed-out, but still unmistakably drawn and serious. archer was alone in his office, and theyoung man, before accepting the seat he proffered, began abruptly: "i believe i sawyou, sir, yesterday in boston." the statement was insignificant enough, andarcher was about to frame an assent when his words were checked by somethingmysterious yet illuminating in his visitor's insistent gaze.
"it is extraordinary, very extraordinary,"m. riviere continued, "that we should have met in the circumstances in which i findmyself." "what circumstances?" archer asked, wondering a little crudely ifhe needed money. m. riviere continued to study him withtentative eyes. "i have come, not to look for employment,as i spoke of doing when we last met, but on a special mission--""ah--!" archer exclaimed. in a flash the two meetings had connectedthemselves in his mind.
he paused to take in the situation thussuddenly lighted up for him, and m. riviere also remained silent, as if aware that whathe had said was enough. "a special mission," archer at lengthrepeated. the young frenchman, opening his palms,raised them slightly, and the two men continued to look at each other across theoffice-desk till archer roused himself to say: "do sit down"; whereupon m. riviere bowed, took a distant chair, and againwaited. "it was about this mission that you wantedto consult me?" archer finally asked.
m. riviere bent his head."not in my own behalf: on that score i--i have fully dealt with myself.i should like--if i may--to speak to you about the countess olenska." archer had known for the last few minutesthat the words were coming; but when they came they sent the blood rushing to histemples as if he had been caught by a bent- back branch in a thicket. "and on whose behalf," he said, "do youwish to do this?" m. riviere met the question sturdily."well--i might say hers, if it did not sound like a liberty.
shall i say instead: on behalf of abstractjustice?" archer considered him ironically."in other words: you are count olenski's messenger?" he saw his blush more darkly reflected inm. riviere's sallow countenance. "not to you, monsieur.if i come to you, it is on quite other grounds." "what right have you, in the circumstances,to be on any other ground?" archer retorted."if you're an emissary you're an emissary." the young man considered.
"my mission is over: as far as the countessolenska goes, it has failed." "i can't help that," archer rejoined on thesame note of irony. "no: but you can help--" m. rivierepaused, turned his hat about in his still carefully gloved hands, looked into itslining and then back at archer's face. "you can help, monsieur, i am convinced, tomake it equally a failure with her family." archer pushed back his chair and stood up."well--and by god i will!" he exclaimed. he stood with his hands in his pockets,staring down wrathfully at the little frenchman, whose face, though he too hadrisen, was still an inch or two below the line of archer's eyes.
m. riviere paled to his normal hue: palerthan that his complexion could hardly turn. "why the devil," archer explosivelycontinued, "should you have thought--since i suppose you're appealing to me on theground of my relationship to madame olenska--that i should take a view contraryto the rest of her family?" the change of expression in m. riviere'sface was for a time his only answer. his look passed from timidity to absolutedistress: for a young man of his usually resourceful mien it would have beendifficult to appear more disarmed and defenceless. "oh, monsieur--"
"i can't imagine," archer continued, "whyyou should have come to me when there are others so much nearer to the countess;still less why you thought i should be more accessible to the arguments i suppose youwere sent over with." m. riviere took this onslaught with adisconcerting humility. "the arguments i want to present to you,monsieur, are my own and not those i was sent over with.""then i see still less reason for listening to them." m. riviere again looked into his hat, as ifconsidering whether these last words were not a sufficiently broad hint to put it onand be gone.
then he spoke with sudden decision. "monsieur--will you tell me one thing?is it my right to be here that you question?or do you perhaps believe the whole matter to be already closed?" his quiet insistence made archer feel theclumsiness of his own bluster. m. riviere had succeeded in imposinghimself: archer, reddening slightly, dropped into his chair again, and signed tothe young man to be seated. "i beg your pardon: but why isn't thematter closed?" m. riviere gazed back at him with anguish.
"you do, then, agree with the rest of thefamily that, in face of the new proposals i have brought, it is hardly possible formadame olenska not to return to her husband?" "good god!"archer exclaimed; and his visitor gave out a low murmur of confirmation. "before seeing her, i saw--at countolenski's request--mr. lovell mingott, with whom i had several talks before going toboston. i understand that he represents hismother's view; and that mrs. manson mingott's influence is great throughout herfamily."
archer sat silent, with the sense ofclinging to the edge of a sliding precipice. the discovery that he had been excludedfrom a share in these negotiations, and even from the knowledge that they were onfoot, caused him a surprise hardly dulled by the acuter wonder of what he waslearning. he saw in a flash that if the family hadceased to consult him it was because some deep tribal instinct warned them that hewas no longer on their side; and he recalled, with a start of comprehension, a remark of may's during their drive homefrom mrs. manson mingott's on the day of
the archery meeting: "perhaps, after all,ellen would be happier with her husband." even in the tumult of new discoveriesarcher remembered his indignant exclamation, and the fact that since thenhis wife had never named madame olenska to him. her careless allusion had no doubt been thestraw held up to see which way the wind blew; the result had been reported to thefamily, and thereafter archer had been tacitly omitted from their counsels. he admired the tribal discipline which mademay bow to this decision. she would not have done so, he knew, hadher conscience protested; but she probably
shared the family view that madame olenskawould be better off as an unhappy wife than as a separated one, and that there was no use in discussing the case with newland,who had an awkward way of suddenly not seeming to take the most fundamental thingsfor granted. archer looked up and met his visitor'sanxious gaze. "don't you know, monsieur--is it possibleyou don't know--that the family begin to doubt if they have the right to advise thecountess to refuse her husband's last proposals?" "the proposals you brought?""the proposals i brought."
it was on archer's lips to exclaim thatwhatever he knew or did not know was no concern of m. riviere's; but something inthe humble and yet courageous tenacity of m. riviere's gaze made him reject this conclusion, and he met the young man'squestion with another. "what is your object in speaking to me ofthis?" he had not to wait a moment for the answer. "to beg you, monsieur--to beg you with allthe force i'm capable of--not to let her go back.--oh, don't let her!"m. riviere exclaimed. archer looked at him with increasingastonishment.
there was no mistaking the sincerity of hisdistress or the strength of his determination: he had evidently resolved tolet everything go by the board but the supreme need of thus putting himself onrecord. archer considered. "may i ask," he said at length, "if this isthe line you took with the countess olenska?"m. riviere reddened, but his eyes did not falter. "no, monsieur: i accepted my mission ingood faith. i really believed--for reasons i need nottrouble you with--that it would be better
for madame olenska to recover hersituation, her fortune, the social consideration that her husband's standinggives her." "so i supposed: you could hardly haveaccepted such a mission otherwise." "i should not have accepted it." "well, then--?"archer paused again, and their eyes met in another protracted scrutiny. "ah, monsieur, after i had seen her, afteri had listened to her, i knew she was better off here.""you knew--?" "monsieur, i discharged my missionfaithfully: i put the count's arguments, i
stated his offers, without adding anycomment of my own. the countess was good enough to listenpatiently; she carried her goodness so far as to see me twice; she consideredimpartially all i had come to say. and it was in the course of these two talksthat i changed my mind, that i came to see things differently.""may i ask what led to this change?" "simply seeing the change in her," m.riviere replied. "the change in her?then you knew her before?" the young man's colour again rose. "i used to see her in her husband's house.i have known count olenski for many years.
you can imagine that he would not have senta stranger on such a mission." archer's gaze, wandering away to the blankwalls of the office, rested on a hanging calendar surmounted by the rugged featuresof the president of the united states. that such a conversation should be going onanywhere within the millions of square miles subject to his rule seemed as strangeas anything that the imagination could invent. "the change--what sort of a change?""ah, monsieur, if i could tell you!" m. riviere paused. "tenez--the discovery, i suppose, of whati'd never thought of before: that she's an
american. and that if you're an american of her kind--of your kind--things that are accepted in certain other societies, or at least put upwith as part of a general convenient give- and-take--become unthinkable, simplyunthinkable. if madame olenska's relations understoodwhat these things were, their opposition to her returning would no doubt be asunconditional as her own; but they seem to regard her husband's wish to have her back as proof of an irresistible longing fordomestic life." m. riviere paused, and then added:"whereas it's far from being as simple as
that." archer looked back to the president of theunited states, and then down at his desk and at the papers scattered on it.for a second or two he could not trust himself to speak. during this interval he heard m. riviere'schair pushed back, and was aware that the young man had risen.when he glanced up again he saw that his visitor was as moved as himself. "thank you," archer said simply."there's nothing to thank me for, monsieur: it is i, rather--" m. riviere broke off,as if speech for him too were difficult.
"i should like, though," he continued in afirmer voice, "to add one thing. you asked me if i was in count olenski'semploy. i am at this moment: i returned to him, afew months ago, for reasons of private necessity such as may happen to any one whohas persons, ill and older persons, dependent on him. but from the moment that i have taken thestep of coming here to say these things to you i consider myself discharged, and ishall tell him so on my return, and give him the reasons. that's all, monsieur."m. riviere bowed and drew back a step.
"thank you," archer said again, as theirhands met. the age of innocence by edith whartonchapter xxvi. every year on the fifteenth of octoberfifth avenue opened its shutters, unrolled its carpets and hung up its triple layer ofwindow-curtains. by the first of november this householdritual was over, and society had begun to look about and take stock of itself. by the fifteenth the season was in fullblast, opera and theatres were putting forth their new attractions, dinner-engagements were accumulating, and dates for dances being fixed.
and punctually at about this time mrs.archer always said that new york was very much changed. observing it from the lofty stand-point ofa non-participant, she was able, with the help of mr. sillerton jackson and misssophy, to trace each new crack in its surface, and all the strange weeds pushing up between the ordered rows of socialvegetables. it had been one of the amusements ofarcher's youth to wait for this annual pronouncement of his mother's, and to hearher enumerate the minute signs of disintegration that his careless gaze hadoverlooked.
for new york, to mrs. archer's mind, neverchanged without changing for the worse; and in this view miss sophy jackson heartilyconcurred. mr. sillerton jackson, as became a man ofthe world, suspended his judgment and listened with an amused impartiality to thelamentations of the ladies. but even he never denied that new york hadchanged; and newland archer, in the winter of the second year of his marriage, washimself obliged to admit that if it had not actually changed it was certainly changing. these points had been raised, as usual, atmrs. archer's thanksgiving dinner. at the date when she was officiallyenjoined to give thanks for the blessings
of the year it was her habit to take amournful though not embittered stock of her world, and wonder what there was to bethankful for. at any rate, not the state of society;society, if it could be said to exist, was rather a spectacle on which to call downbiblical imprecations--and in fact, every one knew what the reverend dr. ashmore meant when he chose a text from jeremiah(chap. ii., verse 25) for his thanksgiving sermon. dr. ashmore, the new rector of st.matthew's, had been chosen because he was very "advanced": his sermons wereconsidered bold in thought and novel in
language. when he fulminated against fashionablesociety he always spoke of its "trend"; and to mrs. archer it was terrifying and yetfascinating to feel herself part of a community that was trending. "there's no doubt that dr. ashmore isright: there is a marked trend," she said, as if it were something visible andmeasurable, like a crack in a house. "it was odd, though, to preach about it onthanksgiving," miss jackson opined; and her hostess drily rejoined: "oh, he means usto give thanks for what's left." archer had been wont to smile at theseannual vaticinations of his mother's; but
this year even he was obliged toacknowledge, as he listened to an enumeration of the changes, that the"trend" was visible. "the extravagance in dress--" miss jacksonbegan. "sillerton took me to the first night ofthe opera, and i can only tell you that jane merry's dress was the only one irecognised from last year; and even that had had the front panel changed. yet i know she got it out from worth onlytwo years ago, because my seamstress always goes in to make over her paris dressesbefore she wears them." "ah, jane merry is one of us," said mrs.archer sighing, as if it were not such an
enviable thing to be in an age when ladieswere beginning to flaunt abroad their paris dresses as soon as they were out of the custom house, instead of letting themmellow under lock and key, in the manner of mrs. archer's contemporaries."yes; she's one of the few. in my youth," miss jackson rejoined, "itwas considered vulgar to dress in the newest fashions; and amy sillerton hasalways told me that in boston the rule was to put away one's paris dresses for twoyears. old mrs. baxter pennilow, who dideverything handsomely, used to import twelve a year, two velvet, two satin, twosilk, and the other six of poplin and the
finest cashmere. it was a standing order, and as she was illfor two years before she died they found forty-eight worth dresses that had neverbeen taken out of tissue paper; and when the girls left off their mourning they were able to wear the first lot at the symphonyconcerts without looking in advance of the fashion." "ah, well, boston is more conservative thannew york; but i always think it's a safe rule for a lady to lay aside her frenchdresses for one season," mrs. archer conceded.
"it was beaufort who started the newfashion by making his wife clap her new clothes on her back as soon as theyarrived: i must say at times it takes all regina's distinction not to looklike...like..." miss jackson glanced around the table,caught janey's bulging gaze, and took refuge in an unintelligible murmur. "like her rivals," said mr. sillertonjackson, with the air of producing an epigram. "oh,--" the ladies murmured; and mrs.archer added, partly to distract her daughter's attention from forbidden topics:"poor regina!
her thanksgiving hasn't been a verycheerful one, i'm afraid. have you heard the rumours about beaufort'sspeculations, sillerton?" mr. jackson nodded carelessly. every one had heard the rumours inquestion, and he scorned to confirm a tale that was already common property.a gloomy silence fell upon the party. no one really liked beaufort, and it wasnot wholly unpleasant to think the worst of his private life; but the idea of hishaving brought financial dishonour on his wife's family was too shocking to beenjoyed even by his enemies. archer's new york tolerated hypocrisy inprivate relations; but in business matters
it exacted a limpid and impeccable honesty. it was a long time since any well-knownbanker had failed discreditably; but every one remembered the social extinctionvisited on the heads of the firm when the last event of the kind had happened. it would be the same with the beauforts, inspite of his power and her popularity; not all the leagued strength of the dallasconnection would save poor regina if there were any truth in the reports of herhusband's unlawful speculations. the talk took refuge in less ominoustopics; but everything they touched on seemed to confirm mrs. archer's sense of anaccelerated trend.
"of course, newland, i know you let dearmay go to mrs. struthers's sunday evenings- -" she began; and may interposed gaily:"oh, you know, everybody goes to mrs. struthers's now; and she was invited togranny's last reception." it was thus, archer reflected, that newyork managed its transitions: conspiring to ignore them till they were well over, andthen, in all good faith, imagining that they had taken place in a preceding age. there was always a traitor in the citadel;and after he (or generally she) had surrendered the keys, what was the use ofpretending that it was impregnable? once people had tasted of mrs. struthers'seasy sunday hospitality they were not
likely to sit at home remembering that herchampagne was transmuted shoe-polish. "i know, dear, i know," mrs. archer sighed. "such things have to be, i suppose, as longas amusement is what people go out for; but i've never quite forgiven your cousinmadame olenska for being the first person to countenance mrs. struthers." a sudden blush rose to young mrs. archer'sface; it surprised her husband as much as the other guests about the table. "oh, ellen--" she murmured, much in thesame accusing and yet deprecating tone in which her parents might have said: "oh,the blenkers--."
it was the note which the family had takento sounding on the mention of the countess olenska's name, since she had surprised andinconvenienced them by remaining obdurate to her husband's advances; but on may's lips it gave food for thought, and archerlooked at her with the sense of strangeness that sometimes came over him when she wasmost in the tone of her environment. his mother, with less than her usualsensitiveness to atmosphere, still insisted: "i've always thought that peoplelike the countess olenska, who have lived in aristocratic societies, ought to help us to keep up our social distinctions, insteadof ignoring them."
may's blush remained permanently vivid: itseemed to have a significance beyond that implied by the recognition of madameolenska's social bad faith. "i've no doubt we all seem alike toforeigners," said miss jackson tartly. "i don't think ellen cares for society; butnobody knows exactly what she does care for," may continued, as if she had beengroping for something noncommittal. "ah, well--" mrs. archer sighed again. everybody knew that the countess olenskawas no longer in the good graces of her family. even her devoted champion, old mrs. mansonmingott, had been unable to defend her
refusal to return to her husband. the mingotts had not proclaimed theirdisapproval aloud: their sense of solidarity was too strong. they had simply, as mrs. welland said, "letpoor ellen find her own level"--and that, mortifyingly and incomprehensibly, was inthe dim depths where the blenkers prevailed, and "people who wrote"celebrated their untidy rites. it was incredible, but it was a fact, thatellen, in spite of all her opportunities and her privileges, had become simply"bohemian." the fact enforced the contention that shehad made a fatal mistake in not returning
to count olenski. after all, a young woman's place was underher husband's roof, especially when she had left it in circumstances that...well...ifone had cared to look into them... "madame olenska is a great favourite withthe gentlemen," said miss sophy, with her air of wishing to put forth somethingconciliatory when she knew that she was planting a dart. "ah, that's the danger that a young womanlike madame olenska is always exposed to," mrs. archer mournfully agreed; and theladies, on this conclusion, gathered up their trains to seek the carcel globes of
the drawing-room, while archer and mr.sillerton jackson withdrew to the gothic library. once established before the grate, andconsoling himself for the inadequacy of the dinner by the perfection of his cigar, mr.jackson became portentous and communicable. "if the beaufort smash comes," heannounced, "there are going to be disclosures." archer raised his head quickly: he couldnever hear the name without the sharp vision of beaufort's heavy figure,opulently furred and shod, advancing through the snow at skuytercliff.
"there's bound to be," mr. jacksoncontinued, "the nastiest kind of a cleaning up.he hasn't spent all his money on regina." "oh, well--that's discounted, isn't it? my belief is he'll pull out yet," said theyoung man, wanting to change the subject. "perhaps--perhaps.i know he was to see some of the influential people today. of course," mr. jackson reluctantlyconceded, "it's to be hoped they can tide him over--this time anyhow. i shouldn't like to think of poor regina'sspending the rest of her life in some
shabby foreign watering-place forbankrupts." archer said nothing. it seemed to him so natural--howevertragic--that money ill-gotten should be cruelly expiated, that his mind, hardlylingering over mrs. beaufort's doom, wandered back to closer questions. what was the meaning of may's blush whenthe countess olenska had been mentioned? four months had passed since the midsummerday that he and madame olenska had spent together; and since then he had not seenher. he knew that she had returned towashington, to the little house which she
and medora manson had taken there: he hadwritten to her once--a few words, asking when they were to meet again--and she hadeven more briefly replied: "not yet." since then there had been no farthercommunication between them, and he had built up within himself a kind of sanctuaryin which she throned among his secret thoughts and longings. little by little it became the scene of hisreal life, of his only rational activities; thither he brought the books he read, theideas and feelings which nourished him, his judgments and his visions. outside it, in the scene of his actuallife, he moved with a growing sense of
unreality and insufficiency, blunderingagainst familiar prejudices and traditional points of view as an absent-minded man goes on bumping into the furniture of his ownroom. absent--that was what he was: so absentfrom everything most densely real and near to those about him that it sometimesstartled him to find they still imagined he was there. he became aware that mr. jackson wasclearing his throat preparatory to farther revelations. "i don't know, of course, how far yourwife's family are aware of what people say
about--well, about madame olenska's refusalto accept her husband's latest offer." archer was silent, and mr. jacksonobliquely continued: "it's a pity--it's certainly a pity--that she refused it.""a pity? in god's name, why?" mr. jackson looked down his leg to theunwrinkled sock that joined it to a glossy pump."well--to put it on the lowest ground-- what's she going to live on now?" "now--?""if beaufort--" archer sprang up, his fist banging down onthe black walnut-edge of the writing-table.
the wells of the brass double-inkstanddanced in their sockets. "what the devil do you mean, sir?" mr. jackson, shifting himself slightly inhis chair, turned a tranquil gaze on the young man's burning face. "well--i have it on pretty good authority--in fact, on old catherine's herself--that the family reduced countess olenska'sallowance considerably when she definitely refused to go back to her husband; and as, by this refusal, she also forfeits themoney settled on her when she married-- which olenski was ready to make over to herif she returned--why, what the devil do you
mean, my dear boy, by asking me what imean?" mr. jackson good-humouredly retorted. archer moved toward the mantelpiece andbent over to knock his ashes into the grate. "i don't know anything of madame olenska'sprivate affairs; but i don't need to, to be certain that what you insinuate--""oh, i don't: it's lefferts, for one," mr. jackson interposed. "lefferts--who made love to her and gotsnubbed for it!" archer broke out contemptuously.
"ah--did he?" snapped the other, as if thiswere exactly the fact he had been laying a trap for. he still sat sideways from the fire, sothat his hard old gaze held archer's face as if in a spring of steel."well, well: it's a pity she didn't go back before beaufort's cropper," he repeated. "if she goes now, and if he fails, it willonly confirm the general impression: which isn't by any means peculiar to lefferts, bythe way." "oh, she won't go back now: less thanever!" archer had no sooner said it than he hadonce more the feeling that it was exactly
what mr. jackson had been waiting for. the old gentleman considered himattentively. "that's your opinion, eh?well, no doubt you know. but everybody will tell you that the fewpennies medora manson has left are all in beaufort's hands; and how the two women areto keep their heads above water unless he does, i can't imagine. of course, madame olenska may still softenold catherine, who's been the most inexorably opposed to her staying; and oldcatherine could make her any allowance she chooses.
but we all know that she hates parting withgood money; and the rest of the family have no particular interest in keeping madameolenska here." archer was burning with unavailing wrath:he was exactly in the state when a man is sure to do something stupid, knowing allthe while that he is doing it. he saw that mr. jackson had been instantlystruck by the fact that madame olenska's differences with her grandmother and herother relations were not known to him, and that the old gentleman had drawn his own conclusions as to the reasons for archer'sexclusion from the family councils. this fact warned archer to go warily; butthe insinuations about beaufort made him
reckless. he was mindful, however, if not of his owndanger, at least of the fact that mr. jackson was under his mother's roof, andconsequently his guest. old new york scrupulously observed theetiquette of hospitality, and no discussion with a guest was ever allowed to degenerateinto a disagreement. "shall we go up and join my mother?" hesuggested curtly, as mr. jackson's last cone of ashes dropped into the brassashtray at his elbow. on the drive homeward may remained oddlysilent; through the darkness, he still felt her enveloped in her menacing blush.
what its menace meant he could not guess:but he was sufficiently warned by the fact that madame olenska's name had evoked it.they went upstairs, and he turned into the she usually followed him; but he heard herpassing down the passage to her bedroom. "may!" he called out impatiently; and shecame back, with a slight glance of surprise at his tone. "this lamp is smoking again; i should thinkthe servants might see that it's kept properly trimmed," he grumbled nervously. "i'm so sorry: it shan't happen again," sheanswered, in the firm bright tone she had learned from her mother; and it exasperatedarcher to feel that she was already
beginning to humour him like a younger mr.welland. she bent over to lower the wick, and as thelight struck up on her white shoulders and the clear curves of her face he thought:"how young she is! for what endless years this life will haveto go on!" he felt, with a kind of horror, his ownstrong youth and the bounding blood in his veins. "look here," he said suddenly, "i may haveto go to washington for a few days--soon; next week perhaps."her hand remained on the key of the lamp as she turned to him slowly.
the heat from its flame had brought back aglow to her face, but it paled as she looked up. "on business?" she asked, in a tone whichimplied that there could be no other conceivable reason, and that she had putthe question automatically, as if merely to finish his own sentence. "on business, naturally. there's a patent case coming up before thesupreme court--" he gave the name of the inventor, and went on furnishing detailswith all lawrence lefferts's practised glibness, while she listened attentively,saying at intervals: "yes, i see."
"the change will do you good," she saidsimply, when he had finished; "and you must be sure to go and see ellen," she added,looking him straight in the eyes with her cloudless smile, and speaking in the tone she might have employed in urging him notto neglect some irksome family duty. it was the only word that passed betweenthem on the subject; but in the code in which they had both been trained it meant:"of course you understand that i know all that people have been saying about ellen, and heartily sympathise with my family intheir effort to get her to return to her husband.
i also know that, for some reason you havenot chosen to tell me, you have advised her against this course, which all the oldermen of the family, as well as our grandmother, agree in approving; and that it is owing to your encouragement thatellen defies us all, and exposes herself to the kind of criticism of which mr.sillerton jackson probably gave you, this evening, the hint that has made you soirritable.... hints have indeed not been wanting; butsince you appear unwilling to take them from others, i offer you this one myself,in the only form in which well-bred people of our kind can communicate unpleasant
things to each other: by letting youunderstand that i know you mean to see ellen when you are in washington, and areperhaps going there expressly for that purpose; and that, since you are sure to see her, i wish you to do so with my fulland explicit approval--and to take the opportunity of letting her know what thecourse of conduct you have encouraged her in is likely to lead to." her hand was still on the key of the lampwhen the last word of this mute message reached him.she turned the wick down, lifted off the globe, and breathed on the sulky flame.
"they smell less if one blows them out,"she explained, with her bright housekeeping air.on the threshold she turned and paused for his kiss. the age of innocence by edith whartonchapter xxvii. wall street, the next day, had morereassuring reports of beaufort's situation. they were not definite, but they werehopeful. it was generally understood that he couldcall on powerful influences in case of emergency, and that he had done so withsuccess; and that evening, when mrs. beaufort appeared at the opera wearing her
old smile and a new emerald necklace,society drew a breath of relief. new york was inexorable in its condemnationof business irregularities. so far there had been no exception to itstacit rule that those who broke the law of probity must pay; and every one was awarethat even beaufort and beaufort's wife would be offered up unflinchingly to thisprinciple. but to be obliged to offer them up would benot only painful but inconvenient. the disappearance of the beauforts wouldleave a considerable void in their compact little circle; and those who were tooignorant or too careless to shudder at the moral catastrophe bewailed in advance theloss of the best ball-room in new york.
archer had definitely made up his mind togo to washington. he was waiting only for the opening of thelaw-suit of which he had spoken to may, so that its date might coincide with that ofhis visit; but on the following tuesday he learned from mr. letterblair that the casemight be postponed for several weeks. nevertheless, he went home that afternoondetermined in any event to leave the next evening. the chances were that may, who knew nothingof his professional life, and had never shown any interest in it, would not learnof the postponement, should it take place, nor remember the names of the litigants if
they were mentioned before her; and at anyrate he could no longer put off seeing madame olenska.there were too many things that he must say to her. on the wednesday morning, when he reachedhis office, mr. letterblair met him with a troubled face. beaufort, after all, had not managed to"tide over"; but by setting afloat the rumour that he had done so he had reassuredhis depositors, and heavy payments had poured into the bank till the previous evening, when disturbing reports againbegan to predominate.
in consequence, a run on the bank hadbegun, and its doors were likely to close before the day was over. the ugliest things were being said ofbeaufort's dastardly manoeuvre, and his failure promised to be one of the mostdiscreditable in the history of wall street. the extent of the calamity left mr.letterblair white and incapacitated. "i've seen bad things in my time; butnothing as bad as this. everybody we know will be hit, one way oranother. and what will be done about mrs. beaufort?what can be done about her?
i pity mrs. manson mingott as much asanybody: coming at her age, there's no knowing what effect this affair may have onher. she always believed in beaufort--she made afriend of him! and there's the whole dallas connection:poor mrs. beaufort is related to every one of you. her only chance would be to leave herhusband--yet how can any one tell her so? her duty is at his side; and luckily sheseems always to have been blind to his private weaknesses." there was a knock, and mr. letterblairturned his head sharply.
"what is it?i can't be disturbed." a clerk brought in a letter for archer andwithdrew. recognising his wife's hand, the young manopened the envelope and read: "won't you please come up town as early as you can? granny had a slight stroke last night.in some mysterious way she found out before any one else this awful news about thebank. uncle lovell is away shooting, and the ideaof the disgrace has made poor papa so nervous that he has a temperature and can'tleave his room. mamma needs you dreadfully, and i do hopeyou can get away at once and go straight to
granny's." archer handed the note to his seniorpartner, and a few minutes later was crawling northward in a crowded horse-car,which he exchanged at fourteenth street for one of the high staggering omnibuses of thefifth avenue line. it was after twelve o'clock when thislaborious vehicle dropped him at old catherine's. the sitting-room window on the groundfloor, where she usually throned, was tenanted by the inadequate figure of herdaughter, mrs. welland, who signed a haggard welcome as she caught sight ofarcher; and at the door he was met by may.
the hall wore the unnatural appearancepeculiar to well-kept houses suddenly invaded by illness: wraps and furs lay inheaps on the chairs, a doctor's bag and overcoat were on the table, and beside them letters and cards had already piled upunheeded. may looked pale but smiling: dr. bencomb,who had just come for the second time, took a more hopeful view, and mrs. mingott'sdauntless determination to live and get well was already having an effect on herfamily. may led archer into the old lady's sitting-room, where the sliding doors opening into the bedroom had been drawn shut, and theheavy yellow damask portieres dropped over
them; and here mrs. welland communicated to him in horrified undertones the details ofthe catastrophe. it appeared that the evening beforesomething dreadful and mysterious had happened. at about eight o'clock, just after mrs.mingott had finished the game of solitaire that she always played after dinner, thedoor-bell had rung, and a lady so thickly veiled that the servants did not immediately recognise her had asked to bereceived. the butler, hearing a familiar voice, hadthrown open the sitting-room door,
announcing: "mrs. julius beaufort"--andhad then closed it again on the two ladies. they must have been together, he thought,about an hour. when mrs. mingott's bell rang mrs. beauforthad already slipped away unseen, and the old lady, white and vast and terrible, satalone in her great chair, and signed to the butler to help her into her room. she seemed, at that time, though obviouslydistressed, in complete control of her body and brain. the mulatto maid put her to bed, broughther a cup of tea as usual, laid everything straight in the room, and went away; but atthree in the morning the bell rang again,
and the two servants, hastening in at this unwonted summons (for old catherine usuallyslept like a baby), had found their mistress sitting up against her pillowswith a crooked smile on her face and one little hand hanging limp from its huge arm. the stroke had clearly been a slight one,for she was able to articulate and to make her wishes known; and soon after thedoctor's first visit she had begun to regain control of her facial muscles. but the alarm had been great; andproportionately great was the indignation when it was gathered from mrs. mingott'sfragmentary phrases that regina beaufort
had come to ask her--incredible effrontery!--to back up her husband, seethem through--not to "desert" them, as she called it--in fact to induce the wholefamily to cover and condone their monstrous dishonour. "i said to her: 'honour's always beenhonour, and honesty honesty, in manson mingott's house, and will be till i'mcarried out of it feet first,'" the old woman had stammered into her daughter's ear, in the thick voice of the partlyparalysed. "and when she said: 'but my name, auntie--my name's regina dallas,' i said: 'it was
beaufort when he covered you with jewels,and it's got to stay beaufort now that he's covered you with shame.'" so much, with tears and gasps of horror,mrs. welland imparted, blanched and demolished by the unwonted obligation ofhaving at last to fix her eyes on the unpleasant and the discreditable. "if only i could keep it from your father-in-law: he always says: 'augusta, for pity's sake, don't destroy my lastillusions'--and how am i to prevent his knowing these horrors?" the poor ladywailed. "after all, mamma, he won't have seenthem," her daughter suggested; and mrs.
welland sighed: "ah, no; thank heaven he'ssafe in bed. and dr. bencomb has promised to keep himthere till poor mamma is better, and regina has been got away somewhere." archer had seated himself near the windowand was gazing out blankly at the deserted thoroughfare. it was evident that he had been summonedrather for the moral support of the stricken ladies than because of anyspecific aid that he could render. mr. lovell mingott had been telegraphedfor, and messages were being despatched by hand to the members of the family living innew york; and meanwhile there was nothing
to do but to discuss in hushed tones the consequences of beaufort's dishonour and ofhis wife's unjustifiable action. mrs. lovell mingott, who had been inanother room writing notes, presently reappeared, and added her voice to thediscussion. in their day, the elder ladies agreed, thewife of a man who had done anything disgraceful in business had only one idea:to efface herself, to disappear with him. "there was the case of poor grandmammaspicer; your great-grandmother, may. of course," mrs. welland hastened to add,"your great-grandfather's money difficulties were private--losses at cards,or signing a note for somebody--i never
quite knew, because mamma would never speakof it. but she was brought up in the countrybecause her mother had to leave new york after the disgrace, whatever it was: theylived up the hudson alone, winter and summer, till mamma was sixteen. it would never have occurred to grandmammaspicer to ask the family to 'countenance' her, as i understand regina calls it;though a private disgrace is nothing compared to the scandal of ruining hundredsof innocent people." "yes, it would be more becoming in reginato hide her own countenance than to talk about other people's," mrs. lovell mingottagreed.
"i understand that the emerald necklace shewore at the opera last friday had been sent on approval from ball and black's in theafternoon. i wonder if they'll ever get it back?" archer listened unmoved to the relentlesschorus. the idea of absolute financial probity asthe first law of a gentleman's code was too deeply ingrained in him for sentimentalconsiderations to weaken it. an adventurer like lemuel struthers mightbuild up the millions of his shoe polish on any number of shady dealings; butunblemished honesty was the noblesse oblige of old financial new york.
nor did mrs. beaufort's fate greatly movearcher. he felt, no doubt, more sorry for her thanher indignant relatives; but it seemed to him that the tie between husband and wife,even if breakable in prosperity, should be indissoluble in misfortune. as mr. letterblair had said, a wife's placewas at her husband's side when he was in trouble; but society's place was not at hisside, and mrs. beaufort's cool assumption that it was seemed almost to make her hisaccomplice. the mere idea of a woman's appealing to herfamily to screen her husband's business dishonour was inadmissible, since it wasthe one thing that the family, as an
institution, could not do. the mulatto maid called mrs. lovell mingottinto the hall, and the latter came back in a moment with a frowning brow."she wants me to telegraph for ellen olenska. i had written to ellen, of course, and tomedora; but now it seems that's not enough. i'm to telegraph to her immediately, and totell her that she's to come alone." the announcement was received in silence. mrs. welland sighed resignedly, and mayrose from her seat and went to gather up some newspapers that had been scattered onthe floor.
"i suppose it must be done," mrs. lovellmingott continued, as if hoping to be contradicted; and may turned back towardthe middle of the room. "of course it must be done," she said. "granny knows what she wants, and we mustcarry out all her wishes. shall i write the telegram for you, auntie?if it goes at once ellen can probably catch tomorrow morning's train." she pronounced the syllables of the namewith a peculiar clearness, as if she had tapped on two silver bells."well, it can't go at once. jasper and the pantry-boy are both out withnotes and telegrams."
may turned to her husband with a smile."but here's newland, ready to do anything. will you take the telegram, newland? there'll be just time before luncheon."archer rose with a murmur of readiness, and she seated herself at old catherine'srosewood "bonheur du jour," and wrote out the message in her large immature hand. when it was written she blotted it neatlyand handed it to archer. "what a pity," she said, "that you andellen will cross each other on the way!-- newland," she added, turning to her motherand aunt, "is obliged to go to washington about a patent law-suit that is coming upbefore the supreme court.
i suppose uncle lovell will be back bytomorrow night, and with granny improving so much it doesn't seem right to asknewland to give up an important engagement for the firm--does it?" she paused, as if for an answer, and mrs.welland hastily declared: "oh, of course not, darling.your granny would be the last person to wish it." as archer left the room with the telegram,he heard his mother-in-law add, presumably to mrs. lovell mingott: "but why on earthshe should make you telegraph for ellen olenska--" and may's clear voice rejoin:
"perhaps it's to urge on her again thatafter all her duty is with her husband." the outer door closed on archer and hewalked hastily away toward the telegraph office. the age of innocence by edith whartonchapter xxviii. "ol-ol--howjer spell it, anyhow?" asked thetart young lady to whom archer had pushed his wife's telegram across the brass ledgeof the western union office. "olenska--o-len-ska," he repeated, drawingback the message in order to print out the foreign syllables above may's ramblingscript. "it's an unlikely name for a new yorktelegraph office; at least in this
quarter," an unexpected voice observed; andturning around archer saw lawrence lefferts at his elbow, pulling an imperturbable moustache and affecting not to glance atthe message. "hallo, newland: thought i'd catch youhere. i've just heard of old mrs. mingott'sstroke; and as i was on my way to the house i saw you turning down this street andnipped after you. i suppose you've come from there?" archer nodded, and pushed his telegramunder the lattice. "very bad, eh?"lefferts continued.
"wiring to the family, i suppose. i gather it is bad, if you're includingcountess olenska." archer's lips stiffened; he felt a savageimpulse to dash his fist into the long vain handsome face at his side. "why?" he questioned.lefferts, who was known to shrink from discussion, raised his eye-brows with anironic grimace that warned the other of the watching damsel behind the lattice. nothing could be worse "form" the lookreminded archer, than any display of temper in a public place.
archer had never been more indifferent tothe requirements of form; but his impulse to do lawrence lefferts a physical injurywas only momentary. the idea of bandying ellen olenska's namewith him at such a time, and on whatsoever provocation, was unthinkable.he paid for his telegram, and the two young men went out together into the street. there archer, having regained his self-control, went on: "mrs. mingott is much better: the doctor feels no anxietywhatever"; and lefferts, with profuse expressions of relief, asked him if he had heard that there were beastly bad rumoursagain about beaufort....
that afternoon the announcement of thebeaufort failure was in all the papers. it overshadowed the report of mrs. mansonmingott's stroke, and only the few who had heard of the mysterious connection betweenthe two events thought of ascribing old catherine's illness to anything but theaccumulation of flesh and years. the whole of new york was darkened by thetale of beaufort's dishonour. there had never, as mr. letterblair said,been a worse case in his memory, nor, for that matter, in the memory of the far-offletterblair who had given his name to the firm. the bank had continued to take in money fora whole day after its failure was
inevitable; and as many of its clientsbelonged to one or another of the ruling clans, beaufort's duplicity seemed doublycynical. if mrs. beaufort had not taken the tonethat such misfortunes (the word was her own) were "the test of friendship,"compassion for her might have tempered the general indignation against her husband. as it was--and especially after the objectof her nocturnal visit to mrs. manson mingott had become known--her cynicism washeld to exceed his; and she had not the excuse--nor her detractors the satisfaction--of pleading that she was "aforeigner."
it was some comfort (to those whosesecurities were not in jeopardy) to be able to remind themselves that beaufort was;but, after all, if a dallas of south carolina took his view of the case, and glibly talked of his soon being "on hisfeet again," the argument lost its edge, and there was nothing to do but to acceptthis awful evidence of the indissolubility of marriage. society must manage to get on without thebeauforts, and there was an end of it-- except indeed for such hapless victims ofthe disaster as medora manson, the poor old miss lannings, and certain other misguided
ladies of good family who, if only they hadlistened to mr. henry van der luyden... "the best thing the beauforts can do," saidmrs. archer, summing it up as if she were pronouncing a diagnosis and prescribing acourse of treatment, "is to go and live at regina's little place in north carolina. beaufort has always kept a racing stable,and he had better breed trotting horses. i should say he had all the qualities of asuccessful horsedealer." every one agreed with her, but no onecondescended to enquire what the beauforts really meant to do. the next day mrs. manson mingott was muchbetter: she recovered her voice
sufficiently to give orders that no oneshould mention the beauforts to her again, and asked--when dr. bencomb appeared--what in the world her family meant by makingsuch a fuss about her health. "if people of my age will eat chicken-saladin the evening what are they to expect?" she enquired; and, the doctor havingopportunely modified her dietary, the stroke was transformed into an attack ofindigestion. but in spite of her firm tone old catherinedid not wholly recover her former attitude toward life. the growing remoteness of old age, thoughit had not diminished her curiosity about
her neighbours, had blunted her never verylively compassion for their troubles; and she seemed to have no difficulty in puttingthe beaufort disaster out of her mind. but for the first time she became absorbedin her own symptoms, and began to take a sentimental interest in certain members ofher family to whom she had hitherto been contemptuously indifferent. mr. welland, in particular, had theprivilege of attracting her notice. of her sons-in-law he was the one she hadmost consistently ignored; and all his wife's efforts to represent him as a man offorceful character and marked intellectual ability (if he had only "chosen") had beenmet with a derisive chuckle.
but his eminence as a valetudinarian nowmade him an object of engrossing interest, and mrs. mingott issued an imperial summonsto him to come and compare diets as soon as his temperature permitted; for old catherine was now the first to recognisethat one could not be too careful about temperatures. twenty-four hours after madame olenska'ssummons a telegram announced that she would arrive from washington on the evening ofthe following day. at the wellands', where the newland archerschanced to be lunching, the question as to who should meet her at jersey city wasimmediately raised; and the material
difficulties amid which the welland household struggled as if it had been afrontier outpost, lent animation to the debate. it was agreed that mrs. welland could notpossibly go to jersey city because she was to accompany her husband to old catherine'sthat afternoon, and the brougham could not be spared, since, if mr. welland were "upset" by seeing his mother-in-law for thefirst time after her attack, he might have to be taken home at a moment's notice. the welland sons would of course be "downtown," mr. lovell mingott would be just
hurrying back from his shooting, and themingott carriage engaged in meeting him; and one could not ask may, at the close of a winter afternoon, to go alone across theferry to jersey city, even in her own carriage. nevertheless, it might appear inhospitable--and contrary to old catherine's express wishes--if madame olenska were allowed toarrive without any of the family being at the station to receive her. it was just like ellen, mrs. welland'stired voice implied, to place the family in such a dilemma.
"it's always one thing after another," thepoor lady grieved, in one of her rare revolts against fate; "the only thing thatmakes me think mamma must be less well than dr. bencomb will admit is this morbid desire to have ellen come at once, howeverinconvenient it is to meet her." the words had been thoughtless, as theutterances of impatience often are; and mr. welland was upon them with a pounce. "augusta," he said, turning pale and layingdown his fork, "have you any other reason for thinking that bencomb is less to berelied on than he was? have you noticed that he has been lessconscientious than usual in following up my
case or your mother's?" it was mrs. welland's turn to grow pale asthe endless consequences of her blunder unrolled themselves before her; but shemanaged to laugh, and take a second helping of scalloped oysters, before she said, struggling back into her old armour ofcheerfulness: "my dear, how could you imagine such a thing? i only meant that, after the decided standmamma took about its being ellen's duty to go back to her husband, it seems strangethat she should be seized with this sudden whim to see her, when there are half a
dozen other grandchildren that she mighthave asked for. but we must never forget that mamma, inspite of her wonderful vitality, is a very old woman." mr. welland's brow remained clouded, and itwas evident that his perturbed imagination had fastened at once on this last remark. "yes: your mother's a very old woman; andfor all we know bencomb may not be as successful with very old people. as you say, my dear, it's always one thingafter another; and in another ten or fifteen years i suppose i shall have thepleasing duty of looking about for a new
doctor. it's always better to make such a changebefore it's absolutely necessary." and having arrived at this spartan decisionmr. welland firmly took up his fork. "but all the while," mrs. welland beganagain, as she rose from the luncheon-table, and led the way into the wilderness ofpurple satin and malachite known as the back drawing-room, "i don't see how ellen's to be got here tomorrow evening; and i dolike to have things settled for at least twenty-four hours ahead." archer turned from the fascinatedcontemplation of a small painting
representing two cardinals carousing, in anoctagonal ebony frame set with medallions of onyx. "shall i fetch her?" he proposed."i can easily get away from the office in time to meet the brougham at the ferry, ifmay will send it there." his heart was beating excitedly as hespoke. mrs. welland heaved a sigh of gratitude,and may, who had moved away to the window, turned to shed on him a beam of approval. "so you see, mamma, everything will besettled twenty-four hours in advance," she said, stooping over to kiss her mother'stroubled forehead.
may's brougham awaited her at the door, andshe was to drive archer to union square, where he could pick up a broadway car tocarry him to the office. as she settled herself in her corner shesaid: "i didn't want to worry mamma by raising fresh obstacles; but how can youmeet ellen tomorrow, and bring her back to new york, when you're going to washington?" "oh, i'm not going," archer answered."not going? why, what's happened?"her voice was as clear as a bell, and full of wifely solicitude. "the case is off--postponed.""postponed?
how odd! i saw a note this morning from mr.letterblair to mamma saying that he was going to washington tomorrow for the bigpatent case that he was to argue before the supreme court. you said it was a patent case, didn't you?""well--that's it: the whole office can't go.letterblair decided to go this morning." "then it's not postponed?" she continued,with an insistence so unlike her that he felt the blood rising to his face, as if hewere blushing for her unwonted lapse from all the traditional delicacies.
"no: but my going is," he answered, cursingthe unnecessary explanations that he had given when he had announced his intentionof going to washington, and wondering where he had read that clever liars give details,but that the cleverest do not. it did not hurt him half as much to tellmay an untruth as to see her trying to pretend that she had not detected him. "i'm not going till later on: luckily forthe convenience of your family," he continued, taking base refuge in sarcasm. as he spoke he felt that she was looking athim, and he turned his eyes to hers in order not to appear to be avoiding them.
their glances met for a second, and perhapslet them into each other's meanings more deeply than either cared to go. "yes; it is awfully convenient," maybrightly agreed, "that you should be able to meet ellen after all; you saw how muchmamma appreciated your offering to do it." "oh, i'm delighted to do it." the carriage stopped, and as he jumped outshe leaned to him and laid her hand on his. "good-bye, dearest," she said, her eyes soblue that he wondered afterward if they had shone on him through tears. he turned away and hurried across unionsquare, repeating to himself, in a sort of
inward chant: "it's all of two hours fromjersey city to old catherine's. it's all of two hours--and it may be more." the age of innocence by edith whartonchapter xxix. his wife's dark blue brougham (with thewedding varnish still on it) met archer at the ferry, and conveyed him luxuriously tothe pennsylvania terminus in jersey city. it was a sombre snowy afternoon, and thegas-lamps were lit in the big reverberating station. as he paced the platform, waiting for thewashington express, he remembered that there were people who thought there wouldone day be a tunnel under the hudson
through which the trains of the pennsylvania railway would run straightinto new york. they were of the brotherhood of visionarieswho likewise predicted the building of ships that would cross the atlantic in fivedays, the invention of a flying machine, lighting by electricity, telephonic communication without wires, and otherarabian night marvels. "i don't care which of their visions comestrue," archer mused, "as long as the tunnel isn't built yet." in his senseless school-boy happiness hepictured madame olenska's descent from the
train, his discovery of her a long way off,among the throngs of meaningless faces, her clinging to his arm as he guided her to the carriage, their slow approach to the wharfamong slipping horses, laden carts, vociferating teamsters, and then thestartling quiet of the ferry-boat, where they would sit side by side under the snow, in the motionless carriage, while the earthseemed to glide away under them, rolling to the other side of the sun. it was incredible, the number of things hehad to say to her, and in what eloquent order they were forming themselves on hislips...
the clanging and groaning of the train camenearer, and it staggered slowly into the station like a prey-laden monster into itslair. archer pushed forward, elbowing through thecrowd, and staring blindly into window after window of the high-hung carriages. and then, suddenly, he saw madame olenska'spale and surprised face close at hand, and had again the mortified sensation of havingforgotten what she looked like. they reached each other, their hands met,and he drew her arm through his. "this way--i have the carriage," he said.after that it all happened as he had dreamed.
he helped her into the brougham with herbags, and had afterward the vague recollection of having properly reassuredher about her grandmother and given her a summary of the beaufort situation (he was struck by the softness of her: "poorregina!"). meanwhile the carriage had worked its wayout of the coil about the station, and they were crawling down the slippery incline tothe wharf, menaced by swaying coal-carts, bewildered horses, dishevelled express- wagons, and an empty hearse--ah, thathearse! she shut her eyes as it passed, andclutched at archer's hand.
"if only it doesn't mean--poor granny!""oh, no, no--she's much better--she's all right, really.there--we've passed it!" he exclaimed, as if that made all the difference. her hand remained in his, and as thecarriage lurched across the gang-plank onto the ferry he bent over, unbuttoned hertight brown glove, and kissed her palm as if he had kissed a relic. she disengaged herself with a faint smile,and he said: "you didn't expect me today?" "oh, no.""i meant to go to washington to see you. i'd made all my arrangements--i very nearlycrossed you in the train."
"oh--" she exclaimed, as if terrified bythe narrowness of their escape. "do you know--i hardly remembered you?" "hardly remembered me?""i mean: how shall i explain? i--it's always so.each time you happen to me all over again." "oh, yes: i know! i know!""does it--do i too: to you?" he insisted. she nodded, looking out of the window."ellen--ellen--ellen!" she made no answer, and he sat in silence,watching her profile grow indistinct against the snow-streaked dusk beyond thewindow.
what had she been doing in all those fourlong months, he wondered? how little they knew of each other, afterall! the precious moments were slipping away,but he had forgotten everything that he had meant to say to her and could onlyhelplessly brood on the mystery of their remoteness and their proximity, which seemed to be symbolised by the fact oftheir sitting so close to each other, and yet being unable to see each other's faces."what a pretty carriage! is it may's?" she asked, suddenly turningher face from the window. "yes.""it was may who sent you to fetch me, then?
how kind of her!" he made no answer for a moment; then hesaid explosively: "your husband's secretary came to see me the day after wemet in boston." in his brief letter to her he had made noallusion to m. riviere's visit, and his intention had been to bury the incident inhis bosom. but her reminder that they were in hiswife's carriage provoked him to an impulse of retaliation. he would see if she liked his reference toriviere any better than he liked hers to may!
as on certain other occasions when he hadexpected to shake her out of her usual composure, she betrayed no sign ofsurprise: and at once he concluded: "he writes to her, then." "m. riviere went to see you?""yes: didn't you know?" "no," she answered simply."and you're not surprised?" she hesitated. "why should i be?he told me in boston that he knew you; that he'd met you in england i think.""ellen--i must ask you one thing." "yes."
"i wanted to ask it after i saw him, but icouldn't put it in a letter. it was riviere who helped you to get away--when you left your husband?" his heart was beating suffocatingly. would she meet this question with the samecomposure? "yes: i owe him a great debt," sheanswered, without the least tremor in her quiet voice. her tone was so natural, so almostindifferent, that archer's turmoil subsided. once more she had managed, by her sheersimplicity, to make him feel stupidly
conventional just when he thought he wasflinging convention to the winds. "i think you're the most honest woman iever met!" he exclaimed. "oh, no--but probably one of the leastfussy," she answered, a smile in her voice. "call it what you like: you look at thingsas they are." "ah--i've had to.i've had to look at the gorgon." "well--it hasn't blinded you! you've seen that she's just an old bogeylike all the others." "she doesn't blind one; but she dries upone's tears." the answer checked the pleading on archer'slips: it seemed to come from depths of
experience beyond his reach. the slow advance of the ferry-boat hadceased, and her bows bumped against the piles of the slip with a violence that madethe brougham stagger, and flung archer and madame olenska against each other. the young man, trembling, felt the pressureof her shoulder, and passed his arm about her."if you're not blind, then, you must see that this can't last." "what can't?""our being together--and not together." "no. you ought not to have come today," shesaid in an altered voice; and suddenly she
turned, flung her arms about him andpressed her lips to his. at the same moment the carriage began tomove, and a gas-lamp at the head of the slip flashed its light into the window. she drew away, and they sat silent andmotionless while the brougham struggled through the congestion of carriages aboutthe ferry-landing. as they gained the street archer began tospeak hurriedly. "don't be afraid of me: you needn't squeezeyourself back into your corner like that. a stolen kiss isn't what i want. look: i'm not even trying to touch thesleeve of your jacket.
don't suppose that i don't understand yourreasons for not wanting to let this feeling between us dwindle into an ordinary hole-and-corner love-affair. i couldn't have spoken like this yesterday,because when we've been apart, and i'm looking forward to seeing you, everythought is burnt up in a great flame. but then you come; and you're so much morethan i remembered, and what i want of you is so much more than an hour or two everynow and then, with wastes of thirsty waiting between, that i can sit perfectly still beside you, like this, with thatother vision in my mind, just quietly trusting to it to come true."
for a moment she made no reply; then sheasked, hardly above a whisper: "what do you mean by trusting to it to come true?""why--you know it will, don't you?" "your vision of you and me together?" she burst into a sudden hard laugh."you choose your place well to put it to me!""do you mean because we're in my wife's brougham? shall we get out and walk, then?i don't suppose you mind a little snow?" she laughed again, more gently. "no; i shan't get out and walk, because mybusiness is to get to granny's as quickly
as i can.and you'll sit beside me, and we'll look, not at visions, but at realities." "i don't know what you mean by realities.the only reality to me is this." she met the words with a long silence,during which the carriage rolled down an obscure side-street and then turned intothe searching illumination of fifth avenue. "is it your idea, then, that i should livewith you as your mistress--since i can't be your wife?" she asked. the crudeness of the question startled him:the word was one that women of his class fought shy of, even when their talk flittedclosest about the topic.
he noticed that madame olenska pronouncedit as if it had a recognised place in her vocabulary, and he wondered if it had beenused familiarly in her presence in the horrible life she had fled from. her question pulled him up with a jerk, andhe floundered. "i want--i want somehow to get away withyou into a world where words like that-- categories like that--won't exist. where we shall be simply two human beingswho love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else onearth will matter." she drew a deep sigh that ended in anotherlaugh.
"oh, my dear--where is that country? have you ever been there?" she asked; andas he remained sullenly dumb she went on: "i know so many who've tried to find it;and, believe me, they all got out by mistake at wayside stations: at places like boulogne, or pisa, or monte carlo--and itwasn't at all different from the old world they'd left, but only rather smaller anddingier and more promiscuous." he had never heard her speak in such atone, and he remembered the phrase she had used a little while before."yes, the gorgon has dried your tears," he said.
"well, she opened my eyes too; it's adelusion to say that she blinds people. what she does is just the contrary--shefastens their eyelids open, so that they're never again in the blessed darkness. isn't there a chinese torture like that?there ought to be. ah, believe me, it's a miserable littlecountry!" the carriage had crossed forty-secondstreet: may's sturdy brougham-horse was carrying them northward as if he had been akentucky trotter. archer choked with the sense of wastedminutes and vain words. "then what, exactly, is your plan for us?"he asked.
"for us? but there's no us in that sense!we're near each other only if we stay far from each other.then we can be ourselves. otherwise we're only newland archer, thehusband of ellen olenska's cousin, and ellen olenska, the cousin of newlandarcher's wife, trying to be happy behind the backs of the people who trust them." "ah, i'm beyond that," he groaned."no, you're not! you've never been beyond.and i have," she said, in a strange voice, "and i know what it looks like there."
he sat silent, dazed with inarticulatepain. then he groped in the darkness of thecarriage for the little bell that signalled orders to the coachman. he remembered that may rang twice when shewished to stop. he pressed the bell, and the carriage drewup beside the curbstone. "why are we stopping? this is not granny's," madame olenskaexclaimed. "no: i shall get out here," he stammered,opening the door and jumping to the pavement.
by the light of a street-lamp he saw herstartled face, and the instinctive motion she made to detain him.he closed the door, and leaned for a moment in the window. "you're right: i ought not to have cometoday," he said, lowering his voice so that the coachman should not hear. she bent forward, and seemed about tospeak; but he had already called out the order to drive on, and the carriage rolledaway while he stood on the corner. the snow was over, and a tingling wind hadsprung up, that lashed his face as he stood gazing.
suddenly he felt something stiff and coldon his lashes, and perceived that he had been crying, and that the wind had frozenhis tears. he thrust his hands in his pockets, andwalked at a sharp pace down fifth avenue to his own house. the age of innocence by edith whartonchapter xxx. that evening when archer came down beforedinner he found the drawing-room empty. he and may were dining alone, all thefamily engagements having been postponed since mrs. manson mingott's illness; and asmay was the more punctual of the two he was surprised that she had not preceded him.
he knew that she was at home, for while hedressed he had heard her moving about in her room; and he wondered what had delayedher. he had fallen into the way of dwelling onsuch conjectures as a means of tying his thoughts fast to reality. sometimes he felt as if he had found theclue to his father-in-law's absorption in trifles; perhaps even mr. welland, longago, had had escapes and visions, and had conjured up all the hosts of domesticity todefend himself against them. when may appeared he thought she lookedtired. she had put on the low-necked and tightly-laced dinner-dress which the mingott
ceremonial exacted on the most informaloccasions, and had built her fair hair into its usual accumulated coils; and her face,in contrast, was wan and almost faded. but she shone on him with her usualtenderness, and her eyes had kept the blue dazzle of the day before. "what became of you, dear?" she asked."i was waiting at granny's, and ellen came alone, and said she had dropped you on theway because you had to rush off on business. there's nothing wrong?""only some letters i'd forgotten, and wanted to get off before dinner."
"ah--" she said; and a moment afterward:"i'm sorry you didn't come to granny's-- unless the letters were urgent.""they were," he rejoined, surprised at her insistence. "besides, i don't see why i should havegone to your grandmother's. i didn't know you were there."she turned and moved to the looking-glass above the mantel-piece. as she stood there, lifting her long arm tofasten a puff that had slipped from its place in her intricate hair, archer wasstruck by something languid and inelastic in her attitude, and wondered if the deadly
monotony of their lives had laid its weighton her also. then he remembered that, as he had left thehouse that morning, she had called over the stairs that she would meet him at hergrandmother's so that they might drive home together. he had called back a cheery "yes!" andthen, absorbed in other visions, had forgotten his promise. now he was smitten with compunction, yetirritated that so trifling an omission should be stored up against him afternearly two years of marriage. he was weary of living in a perpetual tepidhoneymoon, without the temperature of
passion yet with all its exactions. if may had spoken out her grievances (hesuspected her of many) he might have laughed them away; but she was trained toconceal imaginary wounds under a spartan smile. to disguise his own annoyance he asked howher grandmother was, and she answered that mrs. mingott was still improving, but hadbeen rather disturbed by the last news about the beauforts. "what news?""it seems they're going to stay in new york.i believe he's going into an insurance
business, or something. they're looking about for a small house."the preposterousness of the case was beyond discussion, and they went in to dinner. during dinner their talk moved in its usuallimited circle; but archer noticed that his wife made no allusion to madame olenska,nor to old catherine's reception of her. he was thankful for the fact, yet felt itto be vaguely ominous. they went up to the library for coffee, andarcher lit a cigar and took down a volume of michelet. he had taken to history in the eveningssince may had shown a tendency to ask him
to read aloud whenever she saw him with avolume of poetry: not that he disliked the sound of his own voice, but because he could always foresee her comments on whathe read. in the days of their engagement she hadsimply (as he now perceived) echoed what he told her; but since he had ceased toprovide her with opinions she had begun to hazard her own, with results destructive tohis enjoyment of the works commented on. seeing that he had chosen history shefetched her workbasket, drew up an arm- chair to the green-shaded student lamp, anduncovered a cushion she was embroidering for his sofa.
she was not a clever needle-woman; herlarge capable hands were made for riding, rowing and open-air activities; but sinceother wives embroidered cushions for their husbands she did not wish to omit this lastlink in her devotion. she was so placed that archer, by merelyraising his eyes, could see her bent above her work-frame, her ruffled elbow-sleevesslipping back from her firm round arms, the betrothal sapphire shining on her left hand above her broad gold wedding-ring, and theright hand slowly and laboriously stabbing the canvas. as she sat thus, the lamplight full on herclear brow, he said to himself with a
secret dismay that he would always know thethoughts behind it, that never, in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea, a weakness,a cruelty or an emotion. she had spent her poetry and romance ontheir short courting: the function was exhausted because the need was past. now she was simply ripening into a copy ofher mother, and mysteriously, by the very process, trying to turn him into a mr.welland. he laid down his book and stood upimpatiently; and at once she raised her head."what's the matter?"
"the room is stifling: i want a littleair." he had insisted that the library curtainsshould draw backward and forward on a rod, so that they might be closed in theevening, instead of remaining nailed to a gilt cornice, and immovably looped up over layers of lace, as in the drawing-room; andhe pulled them back and pushed up the sash, leaning out into the icy night. the mere fact of not looking at may, seatedbeside his table, under his lamp, the fact of seeing other houses, roofs, chimneys, ofgetting the sense of other lives outside his own, other cities beyond new york, and
a whole world beyond his world, cleared hisbrain and made it easier to breathe. after he had leaned out into the darknessfor a few minutes he heard her say: "newland! do shut the window.you'll catch your death." he pulled the sash down and turned back."catch my death!" he echoed; and he felt like adding: "but i've caught it already. i am dead--i've been dead for months andmonths." and suddenly the play of the word flashedup a wild suggestion. what if it were she who was dead!
if she were going to die--to die soon--andleave him free! the sensation of standing there, in thatwarm familiar room, and looking at her, and wishing her dead, was so strange, sofascinating and overmastering, that its enormity did not immediately strike him. he simply felt that chance had given him anew possibility to which his sick soul might cling. yes, may might die--people did: youngpeople, healthy people like herself: she might die, and set him suddenly free. she glanced up, and he saw by her wideningeyes that there must be something strange
in his own."newland! are you ill?" he shook his head and turned toward hisarm-chair. she bent over her work-frame, and as hepassed he laid his hand on her hair. "poor may!" he said. "poor?why poor?" she echoed with a strained laugh. "because i shall never be able to open awindow without worrying you," he rejoined, laughing also.
for a moment she was silent; then she saidvery low, her head bowed over her work: "i shall never worry if you're happy.""ah, my dear; and i shall never be happy unless i can open the windows!" "in this weather?" she remonstrated; andwith a sigh he buried his head in his book. six or seven days passed. archer heard nothing from madame olenska,and became aware that her name would not be mentioned in his presence by any member ofthe family. he did not try to see her; to do so whileshe was at old catherine's guarded bedside would have been almost impossible.
in the uncertainty of the situation he lethimself drift, conscious, somewhere below the surface of his thoughts, of a resolvewhich had come to him when he had leaned out from his library window into the icynight. the strength of that resolve made it easyto wait and make no sign. then one day may told him that mrs. mansonmingott had asked to see him. there was nothing surprising in therequest, for the old lady was steadily recovering, and she had always openlydeclared that she preferred archer to any of her other grandsons-in-law. may gave the message with evident pleasure:she was proud of old catherine's
appreciation of her husband. there was a moment's pause, and then archerfelt it incumbent on him to say: "all right.shall we go together this afternoon?" his wife's face brightened, but sheinstantly answered: "oh, you'd much better go alone.it bores granny to see the same people too often." archer's heart was beating violently whenhe rang old mrs. mingott's bell. he had wanted above all things to go alone,for he felt sure the visit would give him the chance of saying a word in private tothe countess olenska.
he had determined to wait till the chancepresented itself naturally; and here it was, and here he was on the doorstep. behind the door, behind the curtains of theyellow damask room next to the hall, she was surely awaiting him; in another momenthe should see her, and be able to speak to her before she led him to the sick-room. he wanted only to put one question: afterthat his course would be clear. what he wished to ask was simply the dateof her return to washington; and that question she could hardly refuse to answer. but in the yellow sitting-room it was themulatto maid who waited.
her white teeth shining like a keyboard,she pushed back the sliding doors and ushered him into old catherine's presence. the old woman sat in a vast throne-likearm-chair near her bed. beside her was a mahogany stand bearing acast bronze lamp with an engraved globe, over which a green paper shade had beenbalanced. there was not a book or a newspaper inreach, nor any evidence of feminine employment: conversation had always beenmrs. mingott's sole pursuit, and she would have scorned to feign an interest infancywork. archer saw no trace of the slightdistortion left by her stroke.
she merely looked paler, with darkershadows in the folds and recesses of her obesity; and, in the fluted mob-cap tied bya starched bow between her first two chins, and the muslin kerchief crossed over her billowing purple dressing-gown, she seemedlike some shrewd and kindly ancestress of her own who might have yielded too freelyto the pleasures of the table. she held out one of the little hands thatnestled in a hollow of her huge lap like pet animals, and called to the maid:"don't let in any one else. if my daughters call, say i'm asleep." the maid disappeared, and the old ladyturned to her grandson.
"my dear, am i perfectly hideous?" sheasked gaily, launching out one hand in search of the folds of muslin on herinaccessible bosom. "my daughters tell me it doesn't matter atmy age--as if hideousness didn't matter all the more the harder it gets to conceal!""my dear, you're handsomer than ever!" archer rejoined in the same tone; and shethrew back her head and laughed. "ah, but not as handsome as ellen!" shejerked out, twinkling at him maliciously; and before he could answer she added: "wasshe so awfully handsome the day you drove her up from the ferry?" he laughed, and she continued: "was itbecause you told her so that she had to put
you out on the way?in my youth young men didn't desert pretty women unless they were made to!" she gave another chuckle, and interruptedit to say almost querulously: "it's a pity she didn't marry you; i always told her so.it would have spared me all this worry. but who ever thought of sparing theirgrandmother worry?" archer wondered if her illness had blurredher faculties; but suddenly she broke out: "well, it's settled, anyhow: she's going tostay with me, whatever the rest of the family say! she hadn't been here five minutes beforei'd have gone down on my knees to keep her-
-if only, for the last twenty years, i'dbeen able to see where the floor was!" archer listened in silence, and she wenton: "they'd talked me over, as no doubt you know: persuaded me, lovell, andletterblair, and augusta welland, and all the rest of them, that i must hold out and cut off her allowance, till she was made tosee that it was her duty to go back to olenski. they thought they'd convinced me when thesecretary, or whatever he was, came out with the last proposals: handsome proposalsi confess they were. after all, marriage is marriage, andmoney's money--both useful things in their
way...and i didn't know what to answer--"she broke off and drew a long breath, as if speaking had become an effort. "but the minute i laid eyes on her, i said:'you sweet bird, you! shut you up in that cage again?never!' and now it's settled that she's to stayhere and nurse her granny as long as there's a granny to nurse. it's not a gay prospect, but she doesn'tmind; and of course i've told letterblair that she's to be given her properallowance." the young man heard her with veins aglow;but in his confusion of mind he hardly knew
whether her news brought joy or pain. he had so definitely decided on the coursehe meant to pursue that for the moment he could not readjust his thoughts. but gradually there stole over him thedelicious sense of difficulties deferred and opportunities miraculously provided. if ellen had consented to come and livewith her grandmother it must surely be because she had recognised theimpossibility of giving him up. this was her answer to his final appeal ofthe other day: if she would not take the extreme step he had urged, she had at lastyielded to half-measures.
he sank back into the thought with theinvoluntary relief of a man who has been ready to risk everything, and suddenlytastes the dangerous sweetness of security. "she couldn't have gone back--it wasimpossible!" he exclaimed. "ah, my dear, i always knew you were on herside; and that's why i sent for you today, and why i said to your pretty wife, whenshe proposed to come with you: 'no, my dear, i'm pining to see newland, and i don't want anybody to share ourtransports.' for you see, my dear--" she drew her headback as far as its tethering chins permitted, and looked him full in the eyes--"you see, we shall have a fight yet.
the family don't want her here, and they'llsay it's because i've been ill, because i'm a weak old woman, that she's persuaded me.i'm not well enough yet to fight them one by one, and you've got to do it for me." "i?" he stammered."you. why not?" she jerked back at him, her round eyes suddenly as sharp as pen-knives. her hand fluttered from its chair-arm andlit on his with a clutch of little pale nails like bird-claws."why not?" she searchingly repeated. archer, under the exposure of her gaze, hadrecovered his self-possession. "oh, i don't count--i'm too insignificant.""well, you're letterblair's partner, ain't
you? you've got to get at them throughletterblair. unless you've got a reason," she insisted. "oh, my dear, i back you to hold your ownagainst them all without my help; but you shall have it if you need it," he reassuredher. "then we're safe!" she sighed; and smilingon him with all her ancient cunning she added, as she settled her head among thecushions: "i always knew you'd back us up, because they never quote you when they talkabout its being her duty to go home." he winced a little at her terrifyingperspicacity, and longed to ask: "and may--
do they quote her?" but he judged it safer to turn thequestion. "and madame olenska?when am i to see her?" he said. the old lady chuckled, crumpled her lids,and went through the pantomime of archness. "not today.one at a time, please. madame olenska's gone out." he flushed with disappointment, and shewent on: "she's gone out, my child: gone in my carriage to see regina beaufort."she paused for this announcement to produce its effect.
"that's what she's reduced me to already.the day after she got here she put on her best bonnet, and told me, as cool as acucumber, that she was going to call on regina beaufort. 'i don't know her; who is she?' says i.'she's your grand-niece, and a most unhappy woman,' she says.'she's the wife of a scoundrel,' i answered. 'well,' she says, 'and so am i, and yet allmy family want me to go back to him.' well, that floored me, and i let her go;and finally one day she said it was raining too hard to go out on foot, and she wantedme to lend her my carriage.
'what for?' i asked her; and she said: 'to go and seecousin regina'--cousin! now, my dear, i looked out of the window,and saw it wasn't raining a drop; but i understood her, and i let her have thecarriage.... after all, regina's a brave woman, and sois she; and i've always liked courage above everything."archer bent down and pressed his lips on the little hand that still lay on his. "eh--eh--eh! whose hand did you think you were kissing,young man--your wife's, i hope?" the old
lady snapped out with her mocking cackle;and as he rose to go she called out after him: "give her her granny's love; but you'd better not say anything about ourtalk."