Part 3 out of 8
unused to dismissals, stood staring at her with an obstinate
line between his eyes.
"Why not now?"
"It's too serious a question to decide at this late
"Do you call it late?"
She returned his glance coolly. "Yes; because I have
still to talk business with Mr. Archer for a little while."
"Ah," Beaufort snapped. There was no appeal from
her tone, and with a slight shrug he recovered his
composure, took her hand, which he kissed with a
practised air, and calling out from the threshold: "I
say, Newland, if you can persuade the Countess to stop
in town of course you're included in the supper," left
the room with his heavy important step.
For a moment Archer fancied that Mr. Letterblair
must have told her of his coming; but the irrelevance of
her next remark made him change his mind.
"You know painters, then? You live in their milieu?"
she asked, her eyes full of interest.
"Oh, not exactly. I don't know that the arts have a
milieu here, any of them; they're more like a very
thinly settled outskirt."
"But you care for such things?"
"Immensely. When I'm in Paris or London I never
miss an exhibition. I try to keep up."
She looked down at the tip of the little satin boot
that peeped from her long draperies.
"I used to care immensely too: my life was full of
such things. But now I want to try not to."
"You want to try not to?"
"Yes: I want to cast off all my old life, to become
just like everybody else here."
Archer reddened. "You'll never be like everybody
else," he said.
She raised her straight eyebrows a little. "Ah, don't
say that. If you knew how I hate to be different!"
Her face had grown as sombre as a tragic mask. She
leaned forward, clasping her knee in her thin hands,
and looking away from him into remote dark distances.
"I want to get away from it all," she insisted.
He waited a moment and cleared his throat. "I know.
Mr. Letterblair has told me."
"That's the reason I've come. He asked me to--you
see I'm in the firm."
She looked slightly surprised, and then her eyes brightened.
"You mean you can manage it for me? I can talk
to you instead of Mr. Letterblair? Oh, that will be so
Her tone touched him, and his confidence grew with
his self-satisfaction. He perceived that she had spoken
of business to Beaufort simply to get rid of him; and to
have routed Beaufort was something of a triumph.
"I am here to talk about it," he repeated.
She sat silent, her head still propped by the arm that
rested on the back of the sofa. Her face looked pale
and extinguished, as if dimmed by the rich red of her
dress. She struck Archer, of a sudden, as a pathetic and
even pitiful figure.
"Now we're coming to hard facts," he thought,
conscious in himself of the same instinctive recoil that he
had so often criticised in his mother and her contemporaries.
How little practice he had had in dealing with
unusual situations! Their very vocabulary was unfamiliar
to him, and seemed to belong to fiction and the
stage. In face of what was coming he felt as awkward
and embarrassed as a boy.
After a pause Madame Olenska broke out with
unexpected vehemence: "I want to be free; I want to wipe
out all the past."
"I understand that."
Her face warmed. "Then you'll help me?"
"First--" he hesitated--"perhaps I ought to know a
She seemed surprised. "You know about my husband--
my life with him?"
He made a sign of assent.
"Well--then--what more is there? In this country
are such things tolerated? I'm a Protestant--our church
does not forbid divorce in such cases."
They were both silent again, and Archer felt the
spectre of Count Olenski's letter grimacing hideously
between them. The letter filled only half a page, and
was just what he had described it to be in speaking of it
to Mr. Letterblair: the vague charge of an angry
blackguard. But how much truth was behind it? Only Count
Olenski's wife could tell.
"I've looked through the papers you gave to Mr.
Letterblair," he said at length.
"Well--can there be anything more abominable?"
She changed her position slightly, screening her eyes
with her lifted hand.
"Of course you know," Archer continued, "that if
your husband chooses to fight the case--as he threatens to--"
"He can say things--things that might be unpl--might
be disagreeable to you: say them publicly, so that they
would get about, and harm you even if--"
"I mean: no matter how unfounded they were."
She paused for a long interval; so long that, not
wishing to keep his eyes on her shaded face, he had
time to imprint on his mind the exact shape of her
other hand, the one on her knee, and every detail of the
three rings on her fourth and fifth fingers; among which,
he noticed, a wedding ring did not appear.
"What harm could such accusations, even if he made
them publicly, do me here?"
It was on his lips to exclaim: "My poor child--far
more harm than anywhere else!" Instead, he answered,
in a voice that sounded in his ears like Mr. Letterblair's:
"New York society is a very small world compared
with the one you've lived in. And it's ruled, in spite of
appearances, by a few people with--well, rather old-
She said nothing, and he continued: "Our ideas about
marriage and divorce are particularly old-fashioned.
Our legislation favours divorce--our social customs
"Well--not if the woman, however injured, however
irreproachable, has appearances in the least degree
against her, has exposed herself by any unconventional
action to--to offensive insinuations--"
She drooped her head a little lower, and he waited
again, intensely hoping for a flash of indignation, or at
least a brief cry of denial. None came.
A little travelling clock ticked purringly at her elbow,
and a log broke in two and sent up a shower of sparks.
The whole hushed and brooding room seemed to be
waiting silently with Archer.
"Yes," she murmured at length, "that's what my
family tell me."
He winced a little. "It's not unnatural--"
"OUR family," she corrected herself; and Archer
coloured. "For you'll be my cousin soon," she continued
"I hope so."
"And you take their view?"
He stood up at this, wandered across the room,
stared with void eyes at one of the pictures against the
old red damask, and came back irresolutely to her side.
How could he say: "Yes, if what your husband hints is
true, or if you've no way of disproving it?"
"Sincerely--" she interjected, as he was about to
He looked down into the fire. "Sincerely, then--what
should you gain that would compensate for the possibility--
the certainty--of a lot of beastly talk?"
"But my freedom--is that nothing?"
It flashed across him at that instant that the charge
in the letter was true, and that she hoped to marry the
partner of her guilt. How was he to tell her that, if she
really cherished such a plan, the laws of the State were
inexorably opposed to it? The mere suspicion that the
thought was in her mind made him feel harshly and
impatiently toward her. "But aren't you as free as air
as it is?" he returned. "Who can touch you? Mr.
Letterblair tells me the financial question has been
"Oh, yes," she said indifferently.
"Well, then: is it worth while to risk what may be
infinitely disagreeable and painful? Think of the
newspapers--their vileness! It's all stupid and narrow and
unjust--but one can't make over society."
"No," she acquiesced; and her tone was so faint and
desolate that he felt a sudden remorse for his own hard
"The individual, in such cases, is nearly always
sacrificed to what is supposed to be the collective interest:
people cling to any convention that keeps the family
together--protects the children, if there are any," he
rambled on, pouring out all the stock phrases that rose
to his lips in his intense desire to cover over the ugly
reality which her silence seemed to have laid bare.
Since she would not or could not say the one word that
would have cleared the air, his wish was not to let her
feel that he was trying to probe into her secret. Better
keep on the surface, in the prudent old New York way,
than risk uncovering a wound he could not heal.
"It's my business, you know," he went on, "to help
you to see these things as the people who are fondest of
you see them. The Mingotts, the Wellands, the van der
Luydens, all your friends and relations: if I didn't show
you honestly how they judge such questions, it wouldn't
be fair of me, would it?" He spoke insistently, almost
pleading with her in his eagerness to cover up that
She said slowly: "No; it wouldn't be fair."
The fire had crumbled down to greyness, and one of
the lamps made a gurgling appeal for attention. Madame
Olenska rose, wound it up and returned to the
fire, but without resuming her seat.
Her remaining on her feet seemed to signify that
there was nothing more for either of them to say, and
Archer stood up also.
"Very well; I will do what you wish," she said
abruptly. The blood rushed to his forehead; and, taken
aback by the suddenness of her surrender, he caught
her two hands awkwardly in his.
"I--I do want to help you," he said.
"You do help me. Good night, my cousin."
He bent and laid his lips on her hands, which were
cold and lifeless. She drew them away, and he turned
to the door, found his coat and hat under the faint
gas-light of the hall, and plunged out into the winter
night bursting with the belated eloquence of the inarticulate.
It was a crowded night at Wallack's theatre.
The play was "The Shaughraun," with Dion
Boucicault in the title role and Harry Montague and
Ada Dyas as the lovers. The popularity of the admirable
English company was at its height, and the Shaughraun
always packed the house. In the galleries the enthusiasm
was unreserved; in the stalls and boxes, people
smiled a little at the hackneyed sentiments and clap-
trap situations, and enjoyed the play as much as the
There was one episode, in particular, that held the
house from floor to ceiling. It was that in which Harry
Montague, after a sad, almost monosyllabic scene of
parting with Miss Dyas, bade her good-bye, and turned
to go. The actress, who was standing near the mantelpiece
and looking down into the fire, wore a gray
cashmere dress without fashionable loopings or trimmings,
moulded to her tall figure and flowing in long
lines about her feet. Around her neck was a narrow
black velvet ribbon with the ends falling down her
When her wooer turned from her she rested her arms
against the mantel-shelf and bowed her face in her
hands. On the threshold he paused to look at her; then
he stole back, lifted one of the ends of velvet ribbon,
kissed it, and left the room without her hearing him or
changing her attitude. And on this silent parting the
It was always for the sake of that particular scene
that Newland Archer went to see "The Shaughraun."
He thought the adieux of Montague and Ada Dyas as
fine as anything he had ever seen Croisette and Bressant
do in Paris, or Madge Robertson and Kendal in London;
in its reticence, its dumb sorrow, it moved him
more than the most famous histrionic outpourings.
On the evening in question the little scene acquired
an added poignancy by reminding him--he could not
have said why--of his leave-taking from Madame
Olenska after their confidential talk a week or ten days
It would have been as difficult to discover any
resemblance between the two situations as between the
appearance of the persons concerned. Newland Archer
could not pretend to anything approaching the young
English actor's romantic good looks, and Miss Dyas
was a tall red-haired woman of monumental build
whose pale and pleasantly ugly face was utterly unlike
Ellen Olenska's vivid countenance. Nor were Archer
and Madame Olenska two lovers parting in heart-broken
silence; they were client and lawyer separating
after a talk which had given the lawyer the worst
possible impression of the client's case. Wherein, then,
lay the resemblance that made the young man's heart
beat with a kind of retrospective excitement? It seemed
to be in Madame Olenska's mysterious faculty of
suggesting tragic and moving possibilities outside the daily
run of experience. She had hardly ever said a word to
him to produce this impression, but it was a part of
her, either a projection of her mysterious and outlandish
background or of something inherently dramatic,
passionate and unusual in herself. Archer had always
been inclined to think that chance and circumstance
played a small part in shaping people's lots compared
with their innate tendency to have things happen to
them. This tendency he had felt from the first in
Madame Olenska. The quiet, almost passive young woman
struck him as exactly the kind of person to whom
things were bound to happen, no matter how much she
shrank from them and went out of her way to avoid
them. The exciting fact was her having lived in an
atmosphere so thick with drama that her own tendency
to provoke it had apparently passed unperceived. It
was precisely the odd absence of surprise in her that
gave him the sense of her having been plucked out of a
very maelstrom: the things she took for granted gave
the measure of those she had rebelled against.
Archer had left her with the conviction that Count
Olenski's accusation was not unfounded. The mysterious
person who figured in his wife's past as "the secretary"
had probably not been unrewarded for his share
in her escape. The conditions from which she had fled
were intolerable, past speaking of, past believing: she
was young, she was frightened, she was desperate--
what more natural than that she should be grateful to
her rescuer? The pity was that her gratitude put her, in
the law's eyes and the world's, on a par with her
abominable husband. Archer had made her understand
this, as he was bound to do; he had also made her
understand that simplehearted kindly New York, on
whose larger charity she had apparently counted, was
precisely the place where she could least hope for
To have to make this fact plain to her--and to
witness her resigned acceptance of it--had been intolerably
painful to him. He felt himself drawn to her by
obscure feelings of jealousy and pity, as if her dumbly-
confessed error had put her at his mercy, humbling yet
endearing her. He was glad it was to him she had
revealed her secret, rather than to the cold scrutiny of
Mr. Letterblair, or the embarrassed gaze of her family.
He immediately took it upon himself to assure them
both that she had given up her idea of seeking a
divorce, basing her decision on the fact that she had
understood the uselessness of the proceeding; and with
infinite relief they had all turned their eyes from the
"unpleasantness" she had spared them.
"I was sure Newland would manage it," Mrs. Welland
had said proudly of her future son-in-law; and old
Mrs. Mingott, who had summoned him for a confidential
interview, had congratulated him on his cleverness,
and added impatiently: "Silly goose! I told her myself
what nonsense it was. Wanting to pass herself off as
Ellen Mingott and an old maid, when she has the luck
to be a married woman and a Countess!"
These incidents had made the memory of his last talk
with Madame Olenska so vivid to the young man that
as the curtain fell on the parting of the two actors his
eyes filled with tears, and he stood up to leave the
In doing so, he turned to the side of the house behind
him, and saw the lady of whom he was thinking seated
in a box with the Beauforts, Lawrence Lefferts and one
or two other men. He had not spoken with her alone
since their evening together, and had tried to avoid
being with her in company; but now their eyes met,
and as Mrs. Beaufort recognised him at the same time,
and made her languid little gesture of invitation, it was
impossible not to go into the box.
Beaufort and Lefferts made way for him, and after a
few words with Mrs. Beaufort, who always preferred
to look beautiful and not have to talk, Archer seated
himself behind Madame Olenska. There was no one
else in the box but Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who was
telling Mrs. Beaufort in a confidential undertone about
Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's last Sunday reception (where
some people reported that there had been dancing).
Under cover of this circumstantial narrative, to which
Mrs. Beaufort listened with her perfect smile, and her
head at just the right angle to be seen in profile from
the stalls, Madame Olenska turned and spoke in a low
"Do you think," she asked, glancing toward the
stage, "he will send her a bunch of yellow roses tomorrow
Archer reddened, and his heart gave a leap of
surprise. He had called only twice on Madame Olenska,
and each time he had sent her a box of yellow roses,
and each time without a card. She had never before
made any allusion to the flowers, and he supposed she
had never thought of him as the sender. Now her
sudden recognition of the gift, and her associating it
with the tender leave-taking on the stage, filled him
with an agitated pleasure.
"I was thinking of that too--I was going to leave the
theatre in order to take the picture away with me," he
To his surprise her colour rose, reluctantly and duskily.
She looked down at the mother-of-pearl opera-glass
in her smoothly gloved hands, and said, after a pause:
"What do you do while May is away?"
"I stick to my work," he answered, faintly annoyed
by the question.
In obedience to a long-established habit, the Wellands
had left the previous week for St. Augustine,
where, out of regard for the supposed susceptibility of
Mr. Welland's bronchial tubes, they always spent the
latter part of the winter. Mr. Welland was a mild and
silent man, with no opinions but with many habits.
With these habits none might interfere; and one of
them demanded that his wife and daughter should always
go with him on his annual journey to the south.
To preserve an unbroken domesticity was essential to
his peace of mind; he would not have known where his
hair-brushes were, or how to provide stamps for his
letters, if Mrs. Welland had not been there to tell him.
As all the members of the family adored each other,
and as Mr. Welland was the central object of their
idolatry, it never occurred to his wife and May to let
him go to St. Augustine alone; and his sons, who were
both in the law, and could not leave New York during
the winter, always joined him for Easter and travelled
back with him.
It was impossible for Archer to discuss the necessity
of May's accompanying her father. The reputation of
the Mingotts' family physician was largely based on the
attack of pneumonia which Mr. Welland had never
had; and his insistence on St. Augustine was therefore
inflexible. Originally, it had been intended that May's
engagement should not be announced till her return
from Florida, and the fact that it had been made known
sooner could not be expected to alter Mr. Welland's
plans. Archer would have liked to join the travellers
and have a few weeks of sunshine and boating with his
betrothed; but he too was bound by custom and
conventions. Little arduous as his professional duties were,
he would have been convicted of frivolity by the whole
Mingott clan if he had suggested asking for a holiday
in mid-winter; and he accepted May's departure with
the resignation which he perceived would have to be
one of the principal constituents of married life.
He was conscious that Madame Olenska was looking
at him under lowered lids. "I have done what you
wished--what you advised," she said abruptly.
"Ah--I'm glad," he returned, embarrassed by her
broaching the subject at such a moment.
"I understand--that you were right," she went on a
little breathlessly; "but sometimes life is difficult . . .
perplexing. . ."
"And I wanted to tell you that I DO feel you were
right; and that I'm grateful to you," she ended, lifting
her opera-glass quickly to her eyes as the door of the
box opened and Beaufort's resonant voice broke in on
Archer stood up, and left the box and the theatre.
Only the day before he had received a letter from
May Welland in which, with characteristic candour,
she had asked him to "be kind to Ellen" in their
absence. "She likes you and admires you so much--and
you know, though she doesn't show it, she's still very
lonely and unhappy. I don't think Granny understands
her, or uncle Lovell Mingott either; they really think
she's much worldlier and fonder of society than she is.
And I can quite see that New York must seem dull to
her, though the family won't admit it. I think she's
been used to lots of things we haven't got; wonderful
music, and picture shows, and celebrities--artists and
authors and all the clever people you admire. Granny
can't understand her wanting anything but lots of dinners
and clothes--but I can see that you're almost the
only person in New York who can talk to her about
what she really cares for."
His wise May--how he had loved her for that letter!
But he had not meant to act on it; he was too busy, to
begin with, and he did not care, as an engaged man, to
play too conspicuously the part of Madame Olenska's
champion. He had an idea that she knew how to take
care of herself a good deal better than the ingenuous
May imagined. She had Beaufort at her feet, Mr. van
der Luyden hovering above her like a protecting deity,
and any number of candidates (Lawrence Lefferts among
them) waiting their opportunity in the middle distance.
Yet he never saw her, or exchanged a word with her,
without feeling that, after all, May's ingenuousness
almost amounted to a gift of divination. Ellen Olenska
was lonely and she was unhappy.
As he came out into the lobby Archer ran across his
friend Ned Winsett, the only one among what
Janey called his "clever people" with whom he cared to
probe into things a little deeper than the average level
of club and chop-house banter.
He had caught sight, across the house, of Winsett's
shabby round-shouldered back, and had once noticed
his eyes turned toward the Beaufort box. The two men
shook hands, and Winsett proposed a bock at a little
German restaurant around the corner. Archer, who
was not in the mood for the kind of talk they were
likely to get there, declined on the plea that he had
work to do at home; and Winsett said: "Oh, well so
have I for that matter, and I'll be the Industrious
They strolled along together, and presently Winsett
said: "Look here, what I'm really after is the name of
the dark lady in that swell box of yours--with the
Beauforts, wasn't she? The one your friend Lefferts
seems so smitten by."
Archer, he could not have said why, was slightly
annoyed. What the devil did Ned Winsett want with
Ellen Olenska's name? And above all, why did he couple
it with Lefferts's? It was unlike Winsett to manifest
such curiosity; but after all, Archer remembered, he
was a journalist.
"It's not for an interview, I hope?" he laughed.
"Well--not for the press; just for myself," Winsett
rejoined. "The fact is she's a neighbour of mine--queer
quarter for such a beauty to settle in--and she's been
awfully kind to my little boy, who fell down her area
chasing his kitten, and gave himself a nasty cut. She
rushed in bareheaded, carrying him in her arms, with
his knee all beautifully bandaged, and was so sympathetic
and beautiful that my wife was too dazzled to
ask her name."
A pleasant glow dilated Archer's heart. There was
nothing extraordinary in the tale: any woman would
have done as much for a neighbour's child. But it was
just like Ellen, he felt, to have rushed in bareheaded,
carrying the boy in her arms, and to have dazzled poor
Mrs. Winsett into forgetting to ask who she was.
"That is the Countess Olenska--a granddaughter of
old Mrs. Mingott's."
"Whew--a Countess!" whistled Ned Winsett. "Well,
I didn't know Countesses were so neighbourly. Mingotts
"They would be, if you'd let them."
"Ah, well--" It was their old interminable argument
as to the obstinate unwillingness of the "clever people"
to frequent the fashionable, and both men knew that
there was no use in prolonging it.
"I wonder," Winsett broke off, "how a Countess
happens to live in our slum?"
"Because she doesn't care a hang about where she
lives--or about any of our little social sign-posts," said
Archer, with a secret pride in his own picture of her.
"H'm--been in bigger places, I suppose," the other
commented. "Well, here's my corner."
He slouched off across Broadway, and Archer stood
looking after him and musing on his last words.
Ned Winsett had those flashes of penetration; they
were the most interesting thing about him, and always
made Archer wonder why they had allowed him to
accept failure so stolidly at an age when most men are
Archer had known that Winsett had a wife and
child, but he had never seen them. The two men always
met at the Century, or at some haunt of journalists and
theatrical people, such as the restaurant where Winsett
had proposed to go for a bock. He had given Archer to
understand that his wife was an invalid; which might
be true of the poor lady, or might merely mean that she
was lacking in social gifts or in evening clothes, or in
both. Winsett himself had a savage abhorrence of social
observances: Archer, who dressed in the evening
because he thought it cleaner and more comfortable to
do so, and who had never stopped to consider that
cleanliness and comfort are two of the costliest items in
a modest budget, regarded Winsett's attitude as part of
the boring "Bohemian" pose that always made fashionable
people, who changed their clothes without talking
about it, and were not forever harping on the number
of servants one kept, seem so much simpler and less
self-conscious than the others. Nevertheless, he was
always stimulated by Winsett, and whenever he caught
sight of the journalist's lean bearded face and melancholy
eyes he would rout him out of his corner and
carry him off for a long talk.
Winsett was not a journalist by choice. He was a
pure man of letters, untimely born in a world that had
no need of letters; but after publishing one volume of
brief and exquisite literary appreciations, of which one
hundred and twenty copies were sold, thirty given away,
and the balance eventually destroyed by the publishers
(as per contract) to make room for more marketable
material, he had abandoned his real calling, and taken
a sub-editorial job on a women's weekly, where fashion-
plates and paper patterns alternated with New England
love-stories and advertisements of temperance drinks.
On the subject of "Hearth-fires" (as the paper was
called) he was inexhaustibly entertaining; but beneath
his fun lurked the sterile bitterness of the still young
man who has tried and given up. His conversation
always made Archer take the measure of his own life,
and feel how little it contained; but Winsett's, after all,
contained still less, and though their common fund of
intellectual interests and curiosities made their talks
exhilarating, their exchange of views usually remained
within the limits of a pensive dilettantism.
"The fact is, life isn't much a fit for either of us,"
Winsett had once said. "I'm down and out; nothing to
be done about it. I've got only one ware to produce,
and there's no market for it here, and won't be in my
time. But you're free and you're well-off. Why don't
you get into touch? There's only one way to do it: to
go into politics."
Archer threw his head back and laughed. There one
saw at a flash the unbridgeable difference between men
like Winsett and the others--Archer's kind. Every one
in polite circles knew that, in America, "a gentleman
couldn't go into politics." But, since he could hardly
put it in that way to Winsett, he answered evasively:
"Look at the career of the honest man in American
politics! They don't want us."
"Who's `they'? Why don't you all get together and
be `they' yourselves?"
Archer's laugh lingered on his lips in a slightly
condescending smile. It was useless to prolong the
discussion: everybody knew the melancholy fate of the
few gentlemen who had risked their clean linen in
municipal or state politics in New York. The day was
past when that sort of thing was possible: the country
was in possession of the bosses and the emigrant, and
decent people had to fall back on sport or culture.
"Culture! Yes--if we had it! But there are just a few
little local patches, dying out here and there for lack
of--well, hoeing and cross-fertilising: the last remnants
of the old European tradition that your forebears brought
with them. But you're in a pitiful little minority: you've
got no centre, no competition, no audience. You're like
the pictures on the walls of a deserted house: `The
Portrait of a Gentleman.' You'll never amount to anything,
any of you, till you roll up your sleeves and get
right down into the muck. That, or emigrate . . . God!
If I could emigrate . . ."
Archer mentally shrugged his shoulders and turned
the conversation back to books, where Winsett, if
uncertain, was always interesting. Emigrate! As if a
gentleman could abandon his own country! One could no
more do that than one could roll up one's sleeves and
go down into the muck. A gentleman simply stayed at
home and abstained. But you couldn't make a man like
Winsett see that; and that was why the New York of
literary clubs and exotic restaurants, though a first
shake made it seem more of a kaleidoscope, turned out,
in the end, to be a smaller box, with a more monotonous
pattern, than the assembled atoms of Fifth Avenue.
The next morning Archer scoured the town in vain for
more yellow roses. In consequence of this search he
arrived late at the office, perceived that his doing so
made no difference whatever to any one, and was filled
with sudden exasperation at the elaborate futility of his
life. Why should he not be, at that moment, on the
sands of St. Augustine with May Welland? No one was
deceived by his pretense of professional activity. In
old-fashioned legal firms like that of which Mr. Letterblair
was the head, and which were mainly engaged in
the management of large estates and "conservative"
investments, there were always two or three young
men, fairly well-off, and without professional ambition,
who, for a certain number of hours of each day, sat at
their desks accomplishing trivial tasks, or simply reading
the newspapers. Though it was supposed to be
proper for them to have an occupation, the crude fact
of money-making was still regarded as derogatory, and
the law, being a profession, was accounted a more
gentlemanly pursuit than business. But none of these
young men had much hope of really advancing in his
profession, or any earnest desire to do so; and over
many of them the green mould of the perfunctory was
already perceptibly spreading.
It made Archer shiver to think that it might be spreading
over him too. He had, to be sure, other tastes and
interests; he spent his vacations in European travel,
cultivated the "clever people" May spoke of, and
generally tried to "keep up," as he had somewhat wistfully
put it to Madame Olenska. But once he was married,
what would become of this narrow margin of life in
which his real experiences were lived? He had seen
enough of other young men who had dreamed his
dream, though perhaps less ardently, and who had
gradually sunk into the placid and luxurious routine of
From the office he sent a note by messenger to Madame
Olenska, asking if he might call that afternoon,
and begging her to let him find a reply at his club; but
at the club he found nothing, nor did he receive any
letter the following day. This unexpected silence mortified
him beyond reason, and though the next morning
he saw a glorious cluster of yellow roses behind a
florist's window-pane, he left it there. It was only on
the third morning that he received a line by post from
the Countess Olenska. To his surprise it was dated
from Skuytercliff, whither the van der Luydens had
promptly retreated after putting the Duke on board his
"I ran away," the writer began abruptly (without the
usual preliminaries), "the day after I saw you at the
play, and these kind friends have taken me in. I wanted
to be quiet, and think things over. You were right in
telling me how kind they were; I feel myself so safe
here. I wish that you were with us." She ended with a
conventional "Yours sincerely," and without any allusion
to the date of her return.
The tone of the note surprised the young man. What
was Madame Olenska running away from, and why
did she feel the need to be safe? His first thought was
of some dark menace from abroad; then he reflected
that he did not know her epistolary style, and that it
might run to picturesque exaggeration. Women always
exaggerated; and moreover she was not wholly at her
ease in English, which she often spoke as if she were
translating from the French. "Je me suis evadee--" put
in that way, the opening sentence immediately suggested
that she might merely have wanted to escape
from a boring round of engagements; which was very
likely true, for he judged her to be capricious, and
easily wearied of the pleasure of the moment.
It amused him to think of the van der Luydens'
having carried her off to Skuytercliff on a second visit,
and this time for an indefinite period. The doors of
Skuytercliff were rarely and grudgingly opened to visitors,
and a chilly week-end was the most ever offered
to the few thus privileged. But Archer had seen, on his
last visit to Paris, the delicious play of Labiche, "Le
Voyage de M. Perrichon," and he remembered M.
Perrichon's dogged and undiscouraged attachment to
the young man whom he had pulled out of the glacier.
The van der Luydens had rescued Madame Olenska
from a doom almost as icy; and though there were
many other reasons for being attracted to her, Archer
knew that beneath them all lay the gentle and obstinate
determination to go on rescuing her.
He felt a distinct disappointment on learning that she
was away; and almost immediately remembered that,
only the day before, he had refused an invitation to
spend the following Sunday with the Reggie Chiverses
at their house on the Hudson, a few miles below
He had had his fill long ago of the noisy friendly
parties at Highbank, with coasting, ice-boating, sleighing,
long tramps in the snow, and a general flavour of
mild flirting and milder practical jokes. He had just
received a box of new books from his London book-
seller, and had preferred the prospect of a quiet Sunday
at home with his spoils. But he now went into the club
writing-room, wrote a hurried telegram, and told the
servant to send it immediately. He knew that Mrs.
Reggie didn't object to her visitors' suddenly changing
their minds, and that there was always a room to spare
in her elastic house.
Newland Archer arrived at the Chiverses' on Friday
evening, and on Saturday went conscientiously
through all the rites appertaining to a week-end at
In the morning he had a spin in the ice-boat with his
hostess and a few of the hardier guests; in the afternoon
he "went over the farm" with Reggie, and listened,
in the elaborately appointed stables, to long and
impressive disquisitions on the horse; after tea he talked
in a corner of the firelit hall with a young lady who
had professed herself broken-hearted when his engagement
was announced, but was now eager to tell him of
her own matrimonial hopes; and finally, about midnight,
he assisted in putting a gold-fish in one visitor's
bed, dressed up a burglar in the bath-room of a nervous
aunt, and saw in the small hours by joining in a
pillow-fight that ranged from the nurseries to the
basement. But on Sunday after luncheon he borrowed a
cutter, and drove over to Skuytercliff.
People had always been told that the house at
Skuytercliff was an Italian villa. Those who had never
been to Italy believed it; so did some who had. The
house had been built by Mr. van der Luyden in his
youth, on his return from the "grand tour," and in
anticipation of his approaching marriage with Miss
Louisa Dagonet. It was a large square wooden structure,
with tongued and grooved walls painted pale
green and white, a Corinthian portico, and fluted
pilasters between the windows. From the high ground on
which it stood a series of terraces bordered by balustrades
and urns descended in the steel-engraving style
to a small irregular lake with an asphalt edge overhung
by rare weeping conifers. To the right and left, the
famous weedless lawns studded with "specimen" trees
(each of a different variety) rolled away to long ranges
of grass crested with elaborate cast-iron ornaments;
and below, in a hollow, lay the four-roomed stone
house which the first Patroon had built on the land
granted him in 1612.
Against the uniform sheet of snow and the greyish
winter sky the Italian villa loomed up rather grimly;
even in summer it kept its distance, and the boldest
coleus bed had never ventured nearer than thirty feet
from its awful front. Now, as Archer rang the bell, the
long tinkle seemed to echo through a mausoleum; and
the surprise of the butler who at length responded to
the call was as great as though he had been summoned
from his final sleep.
Happily Archer was of the family, and therefore,
irregular though his arrival was, entitled to be informed
that the Countess Olenska was out, having driven to
afternoon service with Mrs. van der Luyden exactly
three quarters of an hour earlier.
"Mr. van der Luyden," the butler continued, "is
in, sir; but my impression is that he is either finishing
his nap or else reading yesterday's Evening Post. I
heard him say, sir, on his return from church this
morning, that he intended to look through the Evening
Post after luncheon; if you like, sir, I might go to the
library door and listen--"
But Archer, thanking him, said that he would go and
meet the ladies; and the butler, obviously relieved, closed
the door on him majestically.
A groom took the cutter to the stables, and Archer
struck through the park to the high-road. The village of
Skuytercliff was only a mile and a half away, but he
knew that Mrs. van der Luyden never walked, and that
he must keep to the road to meet the carriage. Presently,
however, coming down a foot-path that crossed
the highway, he caught sight of a slight figure in a red
cloak, with a big dog running ahead. He hurried forward,
and Madame Olenska stopped short with a smile
"Ah, you've come!" she said, and drew her hand
from her muff.
The red cloak made her look gay and vivid, like the
Ellen Mingott of old days; and he laughed as he took
her hand, and answered: "I came to see what you were
running away from."
Her face clouded over, but she answered: "Ah, well--
you will see, presently."
The answer puzzled him. "Why--do you mean that
you've been overtaken?"
She shrugged her shoulders, with a little movement
like Nastasia's, and rejoined in a lighter tone: "Shall
we walk on? I'm so cold after the sermon. And what
does it matter, now you're here to protect me?"
The blood rose to his temples and he caught a fold of
her cloak. "Ellen--what is it? You must tell me."
"Oh, presently--let's run a race first: my feet are
freezing to the ground," she cried; and gathering up the
cloak she fled away across the snow, the dog leaping
about her with challenging barks. For a moment Archer
stood watching, his gaze delighted by the flash of the
red meteor against the snow; then he started after her,
and they met, panting and laughing, at a wicket that
led into the park.
She looked up at him and smiled. "I knew you'd
"That shows you wanted me to," he returned, with a
disproportionate joy in their nonsense. The white glitter
of the trees filled the air with its own mysterious
brightness, and as they walked on over the snow the
ground seemed to sing under their feet.
"Where did you come from?" Madame Olenska asked.
He told her, and added: "It was because I got your
After a pause she said, with a just perceptible chill in
her voice: "May asked you to take care of me."
"I didn't need any asking."
"You mean--I'm so evidently helpless and defenceless?
What a poor thing you must all think me! But women
here seem not--seem never to feel the need: any more
than the blessed in heaven."
He lowered his voice to ask: "What sort of a need?"
"Ah, don't ask me! I don't speak your language,"
she retorted petulantly.
The answer smote him like a blow, and he stood still
in the path, looking down at her.
"What did I come for, if I don't speak yours?"
"Oh, my friend--!" She laid her hand lightly on his
arm, and he pleaded earnestly: "Ellen--why won't you
tell me what's happened?"
She shrugged again. "Does anything ever happen in
He was silent, and they walked on a few yards
without exchanging a word. Finally she said: "I will
tell you--but where, where, where? One can't be alone
for a minute in that great seminary of a house, with all
the doors wide open, and always a servant bringing
tea, or a log for the fire, or the newspaper! Is there
nowhere in an American house where one may be by
one's self? You're so shy, and yet you're so public. I
always feel as if I were in the convent again--or on the
stage, before a dreadfully polite audience that never
"Ah, you don't like us!" Archer exclaimed.
They were walking past the house of the old
Patroon, with its squat walls and small square windows
compactly grouped about a central chimney. The shutters
stood wide, and through one of the newly-washed
windows Archer caught the light of a fire.
"Why--the house is open!" he said.
She stood still. "No; only for today, at least. I wanted
to see it, and Mr. van der Luyden had the fire lit and
the windows opened, so that we might stop there on
the way back from church this morning." She ran up
the steps and tried the door. "It's still unlocked--what
luck! Come in and we can have a quiet talk. Mrs. van
der Luyden has driven over to see her old aunts at
Rhinebeck and we shan't be missed at the house for
He followed her into the narrow passage. His spirits,
which had dropped at her last words, rose with an
irrational leap. The homely little house stood there, its
panels and brasses shining in the firelight, as if magically
created to receive them. A big bed of embers still
gleamed in the kitchen chimney, under an iron pot
hung from an ancient crane. Rush-bottomed arm-chairs
faced each other across the tiled hearth, and rows of
Delft plates stood on shelves against the walls. Archer
stooped over and threw a log upon the embers.
Madame Olenska, dropping her cloak, sat down in
one of the chairs. Archer leaned against the chimney
and looked at her.
"You're laughing now; but when you wrote me you
were unhappy," he said.
"Yes." She paused. "But I can't feel unhappy when
"I sha'n't be here long," he rejoined, his lips stiffening
with the effort to say just so much and no more.
"No; I know. But I'm improvident: I live in the
moment when I'm happy."
The words stole through him like a temptation, and
to close his senses to it he moved away from the hearth
and stood gazing out at the black tree-boles against the
snow. But it was as if she too had shifted her place, and
he still saw her, between himself and the trees, drooping
over the fire with her indolent smile. Archer's heart
was beating insubordinately. What if it were from him
that she had been running away, and if she had waited
to tell him so till they were here alone together in this
"Ellen, if I'm really a help to you--if you really
wanted me to come--tell me what's wrong, tell me
what it is you're running away from," he insisted.
He spoke without shifting his position, without even
turning to look at her: if the thing was to happen, it
was to happen in this way, with the whole width of the
room between them, and his eyes still fixed on the
For a long moment she was silent; and in that moment
Archer imagined her, almost heard her, stealing
up behind him to throw her light arms about his neck.
While he waited, soul and body throbbing with the
miracle to come, his eyes mechanically received the
image of a heavily-coated man with his fur collar turned
up who was advancing along the path to the house.
The man was Julius Beaufort.
"Ah--!" Archer cried, bursting into a laugh.
Madame Olenska had sprung up and moved to his
side, slipping her hand into his; but after a glance
through the window her face paled and she shrank
"So that was it?" Archer said derisively.
"I didn't know he was here," Madame Olenska
murmured. Her hand still clung to Archer's; but he drew
away from her, and walking out into the passage threw
open the door of the house.
"Hallo, Beaufort--this way! Madame Olenska was
expecting you," he said.
During his journey back to New York the next morning,
Archer relived with a fatiguing vividness his last
moments at Skuytercliff.
Beaufort, though clearly annoyed at finding him with
Madame Olenska, had, as usual, carried off the situation
high-handedly. His way of ignoring people whose
presence inconvenienced him actually gave them, if they
were sensitive to it, a feeling of invisibility, of
nonexistence. Archer, as the three strolled back through
the park, was aware of this odd sense of disembodiment;
and humbling as it was to his vanity it gave him the
ghostly advantage of observing unobserved.
Beaufort had entered the little house with his usual
easy assurance; but he could not smile away the vertical
line between his eyes. It was fairly clear that Madame
Olenska had not known that he was coming,
though her words to Archer had hinted at the possibility;
at any rate, she had evidently not told him where
she was going when she left New York, and her unexplained
departure had exasperated him. The ostensible
reason of his appearance was the discovery, the very
night before, of a "perfect little house," not in the
market, which was really just the thing for her, but
would be snapped up instantly if she didn't take it; and
he was loud in mock-reproaches for the dance she had
led him in running away just as he had found it.
"If only this new dodge for talking along a wire had
been a little bit nearer perfection I might have told you
all this from town, and been toasting my toes before
the club fire at this minute, instead of tramping after
you through the snow," he grumbled, disguising a real
irritation under the pretence of it; and at this opening
Madame Olenska twisted the talk away to the fantastic
possibility that they might one day actually converse
with each other from street to street, or even--
incredible dream!--from one town to another. This struck
from all three allusions to Edgar Poe and Jules Verne,
and such platitudes as naturally rise to the lips of the
most intelligent when they are talking against time, and
dealing with a new invention in which it would seem
ingenuous to believe too soon; and the question of the
telephone carried them safely back to the big house.
Mrs. van der Luyden had not yet returned; and
Archer took his leave and walked off to fetch the
cutter, while Beaufort followed the Countess Olenska
indoors. It was probable that, little as the van der
Luydens encouraged unannounced visits, he could count
on being asked to dine, and sent back to the station to
catch the nine o'clock train; but more than that he
would certainly not get, for it would be inconceivable
to his hosts that a gentleman travelling without luggage
should wish to spend the night, and distasteful to them
to propose it to a person with whom they were on
terms of such limited cordiality as Beaufort.
Beaufort knew all this, and must have foreseen it;
and his taking the long journey for so small a reward
gave the measure of his impatience. He was undeniably
in pursuit of the Countess Olenska; and Beaufort had
only one object in view in his pursuit of pretty women.
His dull and childless home had long since palled on
him; and in addition to more permanent consolations
he was always in quest of amorous adventures in his
own set. This was the man from whom Madame Olenska
was avowedly flying: the question was whether she had
fled because his importunities displeased her, or
because she did not wholly trust herself to resist them;
unless, indeed, all her talk of flight had been a blind,
and her departure no more than a manoeuvre.
Archer did not really believe this. Little as he had
actually seen of Madame Olenska, he was beginning to
think that he could read her face, and if not her face,
her voice; and both had betrayed annoyance, and even
dismay, at Beaufort's sudden appearance. But, after all,
if this were the case, was it not worse than if she had
left New York for the express purpose of meeting him?
If she had done that, she ceased to be an object of
interest, she threw in her lot with the vulgarest of
dissemblers: a woman engaged in a love affair with
Beaufort "classed" herself irretrievably.
No, it was worse a thousand times if, judging
Beaufort, and probably despising him, she was yet drawn to
him by all that gave him an advantage over the other
men about her: his habit of two continents and two
societies, his familiar association with artists and actors
and people generally in the world's eye, and his careless
contempt for local prejudices. Beaufort was vulgar, he
was uneducated, he was purse-proud; but the circumstances
of his life, and a certain native shrewdness,
made him better worth talking to than many men,
morally and socially his betters, whose horizon was
bounded by the Battery and the Central Park. How
should any one coming from a wider world not feel the
difference and be attracted by it?
Madame Olenska, in a burst of irritation, had said to
Archer that he and she did not talk the same language;
and the young man knew that in some respects this was
true. But Beaufort understood every turn of her dialect,
and spoke it fluently: his view of life, his tone, his
attitude, were merely a coarser reflection of those
revealed in Count Olenski's letter. This might seem to be
to his disadvantage with Count Olenski's wife; but
Archer was too intelligent to think that a young woman
like Ellen Olenska would necessarily recoil from everything
that reminded her of her past. She might believe
herself wholly in revolt against it; but what had charmed
her in it would still charm her, even though it were
against her will.
Thus, with a painful impartiality, did the young man
make out the case for Beaufort, and for Beaufort's
victim. A longing to enlighten her was strong in him;
and there were moments when he imagined that all she
asked was to be enlightened.
That evening he unpacked his books from London.
The box was full of things he had been waiting for
impatiently; a new volume of Herbert Spencer, another
collection of the prolific Alphonse Daudet's brilliant
tales, and a novel called "Middlemarch," as to which
there had lately been interesting things said in the
reviews. He had declined three dinner invitations in
favour of this feast; but though he turned the pages with
the sensuous joy of the book-lover, he did not know
what he was reading, and one book after another
dropped from his hand. Suddenly, among them, he lit
on a small volume of verse which he had ordered
because the name had attracted him: "The House of
Life." He took it up, and found himself plunged in an
atmosphere unlike any he had ever breathed in books;
so warm, so rich, and yet so ineffably tender, that it
gave a new and haunting beauty to the most elementary
of human passions. All through the night he pursued
through those enchanted pages the vision of a
woman who had the face of Ellen Olenska; but when
he woke the next morning, and looked out at the
brownstone houses across the street, and thought of his
desk in Mr. Letterblair's office, and the family pew in
Grace Church, his hour in the park of Skuytercliff
became as far outside the pale of probability as the
visions of the night.
"Mercy, how pale you look, Newland!" Janey
commented over the coffee-cups at breakfast; and his mother
added: "Newland, dear, I've noticed lately that you've
been coughing; I do hope you're not letting yourself be
overworked?" For it was the conviction of both ladies
that, under the iron despotism of his senior partners,
the young man's life was spent in the most exhausting
professional labours--and he had never thought it
necessary to undeceive them.
The next two or three days dragged by heavily. The
taste of the usual was like cinders in his mouth, and
there were moments when he felt as if he were being
buried alive under his future. He heard nothing of the
Countess Olenska, or of the perfect little house, and
though he met Beaufort at the club they merely nodded
at each other across the whist-tables. It was not till the
fourth evening that he found a note awaiting him on
his return home. "Come late tomorrow: I must explain
to you. Ellen." These were the only words it contained.
The young man, who was dining out, thrust the note
into his pocket, smiling a little at the Frenchness of the
"to you." After dinner he went to a play; and it was
not until his return home, after midnight, that he drew
Madame Olenska's missive out again and re-read it
slowly a number of times. There were several ways of
answering it, and he gave considerable thought to each
one during the watches of an agitated night. That on
which, when morning came, he finally decided was to
pitch some clothes into a portmanteau and jump on
board a boat that was leaving that very afternoon for
When Archer walked down the sandy main street
of St. Augustine to the house which had been
pointed out to him as Mr. Welland's, and saw May
Welland standing under a magnolia with the sun in her
hair, he wondered why he had waited so long to come.
Here was the truth, here was reality, here was the life
that belonged to him; and he, who fancied himself so
scornful of arbitrary restraints, had been afraid to break
away from his desk because of what people might
think of his stealing a holiday!
Her first exclamation was: "Newland--has anything
happened?" and it occurred to him that it would have
been more "feminine" if she had instantly read in his
eyes why he had come. But when he answered: "Yes--I
found I had to see you," her happy blushes took the
chill from her surprise, and he saw how easily he
would be forgiven, and how soon even Mr. Letterblair's
mild disapproval would be smiled away by a tolerant
Early as it was, the main street was no place for any
but formal greetings, and Archer longed to be alone
with May, and to pour out all his tenderness and his
impatience. It still lacked an hour to the late Welland
breakfast-time, and instead of asking him to come in
she proposed that they should walk out to an old
orange-garden beyond the town. She had just been for
a row on the river, and the sun that netted the little
waves with gold seemed to have caught her in its
meshes. Across the warm brown of her cheek her blown
hair glittered like silver wire; and her eyes too looked
lighter, almost pale in their youthful limpidity. As she
walked beside Archer with her long swinging gait her
face wore the vacant serenity of a young marble athlete.
To Archer's strained nerves the vision was as soothing
as the sight of the blue sky and the lazy river. They
sat down on a bench under the orange-trees and he put
his arm about her and kissed her. It was like drinking
at a cold spring with the sun on it; but his pressure
may have been more vehement than he had intended,
for the blood rose to her face and she drew back as if
he had startled her.
"What is it?" he asked, smiling; and she looked at
him with surprise, and answered: "Nothing."
A slight embarrassment fell on them, and her hand
slipped out of his. It was the only time that he had
kissed her on the lips except for their fugitive embrace
in the Beaufort conservatory, and he saw that she was
disturbed, and shaken out of her cool boyish composure.
"Tell me what you do all day," he said, crossing his
arms under his tilted-back head, and pushing his hat
forward to screen the sun-dazzle. To let her talk about
familiar and simple things was the easiest way of carrying
on his own independent train of thought; and he
sat listening to her simple chronicle of swimming, sailing
and riding, varied by an occasional dance at the
primitive inn when a man-of-war came in. A few pleasant
people from Philadelphia and Baltimore were
picknicking at the inn, and the Selfridge Merrys had
come down for three weeks because Kate Merry had
had bronchitis. They were planning to lay out a lawn
tennis court on the sands; but no one but Kate and
May had racquets, and most of the people had not
even heard of the game.
All this kept her very busy, and she had not had time
to do more than look at the little vellum book that
Archer had sent her the week before (the "Sonnets
from the Portuguese"); but she was learning by heart
"How they brought the Good News from Ghent to
Aix," because it was one of the first things he had ever
read to her; and it amused her to be able to tell him
that Kate Merry had never even heard of a poet called
Presently she started up, exclaiming that they would
be late for breakfast; and they hurried back to the
tumble-down house with its pointless porch and unpruned
hedge of plumbago and pink geraniums where
the Wellands were installed for the winter. Mr.
Welland's sensitive domesticity shrank from the discomforts
of the slovenly southern hotel, and at immense
expense, and in face of almost insuperable difficulties,
Mrs. Welland was obliged, year after year, to improvise
an establishment partly made up of discontented
New York servants and partly drawn from the local
"The doctors want my husband to feel that he is in
his own home; otherwise he would be so wretched that
the climate would not do him any good," she
explained, winter after winter, to the sympathising
Philadelphians and Baltimoreans; and Mr. Welland, beaming
across a breakfast table miraculously supplied with the
most varied delicacies, was presently saying to Archer:
"You see, my dear fellow, we camp--we literally camp.
I tell my wife and May that I want to teach them how
to rough it."
Mr. and Mrs. Welland had been as much surprised
as their daughter by the young man's sudden arrival;
but it had occurred to him to explain that he had felt
himself on the verge of a nasty cold, and this seemed to
Mr. Welland an all-sufficient reason for abandoning
"You can't be too careful, especially toward spring,"
he said, heaping his plate with straw-coloured griddle-
cakes and drowning them in golden syrup. "If I'd only
been as prudent at your age May would have been
dancing at the Assemblies now, instead of spending her
winters in a wilderness with an old invalid."
"Oh, but I love it here, Papa; you know I do. If only
Newland could stay I should like it a thousand times
better than New York."
"Newland must stay till he has quite thrown off his
cold," said Mrs. Welland indulgently; and the young
man laughed, and said he supposed there was such a
thing as one's profession.
He managed, however, after an exchange of telegrams
with the firm, to make his cold last a week; and
it shed an ironic light on the situation to know that
Mr. Letterblair's indulgence was partly due to the
satisfactory way in which his brilliant young junior partner
had settled the troublesome matter of the Olenski
divorce. Mr. Letterblair had let Mrs. Welland know that
Mr. Archer had "rendered an invaluable service" to the
whole family, and that old Mrs. Manson Mingott had
been particularly pleased; and one day when May had
gone for a drive with her father in the only vehicle the
place produced Mrs. Welland took occasion to touch
on a topic which she always avoided in her daughter's
"I'm afraid Ellen's ideas are not at all like ours. She
was barely eighteen when Medora Manson took her
back to Europe--you remember the excitement when
she appeared in black at her coming-out ball? Another
of Medora's fads--really this time it was almost
prophetic! That must have been at least twelve years ago;
and since then Ellen has never been to America. No
wonder she is completely Europeanised."
"But European society is not given to divorce: Countess
Olenska thought she would be conforming to American
ideas in asking for her freedom." It was the first
time that the young man had pronounced her name
since he had left Skuytercliff, and he felt the colour rise
to his cheek.
Mrs. Welland smiled compassionately. "That is just
like the extraordinary things that foreigners invent about
us. They think we dine at two o'clock and countenance
divorce! That is why it seems to me so foolish to
entertain them when they come to New York. They
accept our hospitality, and then they go home and
repeat the same stupid stories."
Archer made no comment on this, and Mrs. Welland
continued: "But we do most thoroughly appreciate your
persuading Ellen to give up the idea. Her grandmother
and her uncle Lovell could do nothing with her; both
of them have written that her changing her mind was
entirely due to your influence--in fact she said so to
her grandmother. She has an unbounded admiration
for you. Poor Ellen--she was always a wayward child.
I wonder what her fate will be?"
"What we've all contrived to make it," he felt like
answering. "if you'd all of you rather she should be
Beaufort's mistress than some decent fellow's wife you've
certainly gone the right way about it."
He wondered what Mrs. Welland would have said if
he had uttered the words instead of merely thinking
them. He could picture the sudden decomposure of her
firm placid features, to which a lifelong mastery over
trifles had given an air of factitious authority. Traces
still lingered on them of a fresh beauty like her daughter's;
and he asked himself if May's face was doomed
to thicken into the same middle-aged image of invincible
Ah, no, he did not want May to have that kind of
innocence, the innocence that seals the mind against
imagination and the heart against experience!
"I verily believe," Mrs. Welland continued, "that if
the horrible business had come out in the newspapers it
would have been my husband's death-blow. I don't
know any of the details; I only ask not to, as I told
poor Ellen when she tried to talk to me about it.
Having an invalid to care for, I have to keep my mind
bright and happy. But Mr. Welland was terribly upset;
he had a slight temperature every morning while we
were waiting to hear what had been decided. It was the
horror of his girl's learning that such things were
possible--but of course, dear Newland, you felt that
too. We all knew that you were thinking of May."
"I'm always thinking of May," the young man
rejoined, rising to cut short the conversation.
He had meant to seize the opportunity of his private
talk with Mrs. Welland to urge her to advance the date
of his marriage. But he could think of no arguments
that would move her, and with a sense of relief he saw
Mr. Welland and May driving up to the door.
His only hope was to plead again with May, and on
the day before his departure he walked with her to the
ruinous garden of the Spanish Mission. The background
lent itself to allusions to European scenes; and May,
who was looking her loveliest under a wide-brimmed
hat that cast a shadow of mystery over her too-clear
eyes, kindled into eagerness as he spoke of Granada
and the Alhambra.
"We might be seeing it all this spring--even the
Easter ceremonies at Seville," he urged, exaggerating
his demands in the hope of a larger concession.
"Easter in Seville? And it will be Lent next week!"
"Why shouldn't we be married in Lent?" he
rejoined; but she looked so shocked that he saw his
"Of course I didn't mean that, dearest; but soon
after Easter--so that we could sail at the end of April. I
know I could arrange it at the office."
She smiled dreamily upon the possibility; but he
perceived that to dream of it sufficed her. It was like
hearing him read aloud out of his poetry books the
beautiful things that could not possibly happen in real
"Oh, do go on, Newland; I do love your descriptions."
"But why should they be only descriptions? Why
shouldn't we make them real?"
"We shall, dearest, of course; next year." Her voice
lingered over it.
"Don't you want them to be real sooner? Can't I
persuade you to break away now?"
She bowed her head, vanishing from him under her
"Why should we dream away another year? Look at
me, dear! Don't you understand how I want you for
For a moment she remained motionless; then she
raised on him eyes of such despairing dearness that he
half-released her waist from his hold. But suddenly her
look changed and deepened inscrutably. "I'm not sure
if I DO understand," she said. "Is it--is it because
you're not certain of continuing to care for me?"
Archer sprang up from his seat. "My God--perhaps--I
don't know," he broke out angrily.
May Welland rose also; as they faced each other she
seemed to grow in womanly stature and dignity. Both
were silent for a moment, as if dismayed by the unforeseen
trend of their words: then she said in a low voice:
"If that is it--is there some one else?"
"Some one else--between you and me?" He echoed
her words slowly, as though they were only half-
intelligible and he wanted time to repeat the question
to himself. She seemed to catch the uncertainty of his
voice, for she went on in a deepening tone: "Let us
talk frankly, Newland. Sometimes I've felt a difference
in you; especially since our engagement has been
"Dear--what madness!" he recovered himself to
She met his protest with a faint smile. "If it is, it
won't hurt us to talk about it." She paused, and added,
lifting her head with one of her noble movements: "Or
even if it's true: why shouldn't we speak of it? You
might so easily have made a mistake."
He lowered his head, staring at the black leaf-pattern
on the sunny path at their feet. "Mistakes are always
easy to make; but if I had made one of the kind you
suggest, is it likely that I should be imploring you to
hasten our marriage?"
She looked downward too, disturbing the pattern
with the point of her sunshade while she struggled for
expression. "Yes," she said at length. "You might want--
once for all--to settle the question: it's one way."
Her quiet lucidity startled him, but did not mislead
him into thinking her insensible. Under her hat-brim he
saw the pallor of her profile, and a slight tremor of the
nostril above her resolutely steadied lips.
"Well--?" he questioned, sitting down on the bench,
and looking up at her with a frown that he tried to
She dropped back into her seat and went on: "You
mustn't think that a girl knows as little as her parents
imagine. One hears and one notices--one has one's
feelings and ideas. And of course, long before you told
me that you cared for me, I'd known that there was
some one else you were interested in; every one was
talking about it two years ago at Newport. And once I
saw you sitting together on the verandah at a dance--
and when she came back into the house her face was
sad, and I felt sorry for her; I remembered it afterward,
when we were engaged."
Her voice had sunk almost to a whisper, and she sat
clasping and unclasping her hands about the handle of
her sunshade. The young man laid his upon them with
a gentle pressure; his heart dilated with an inexpressible relief.
"My dear child--was THAT it? If you only knew the
She raised her head quickly. "Then there is a truth I
He kept his hand over hers. "I meant, the truth
about the old story you speak of."
"But that's what I want to know, Newland--what I
ought to know. I couldn't have my happiness made out
of a wrong--an unfairness--to somebody else. And I
want to believe that it would be the same with you.
What sort of a life could we build on such foundations?"
Her face had taken on a look of such tragic courage
that he felt like bowing himself down at her feet. "I've
wanted to say this for a long time," she went on. "I've
wanted to tell you that, when two people really love
each other, I understand that there may be situations
which make it right that they should--should go against
public opinion. And if you feel yourself in any way
pledged . . . pledged to the person we've spoken of . . .
and if there is any way . . . any way in which you can
fulfill your pledge . . . even by her getting a divorce
. . . Newland, don't give her up because of me!"
His surprise at discovering that her fears had
fastened upon an episode so remote and so completely of
the past as his love-affair with Mrs. Thorley Rushworth
gave way to wonder at the generosity of her view.
There was something superhuman in an attitude so
recklessly unorthodox, and if other problems had not
pressed on him he would have been lost in wonder at
the prodigy of the Wellands' daughter urging him to
marry his former mistress. But he was still dizzy with
the glimpse of the precipice they had skirted, and full
of a new awe at the mystery of young-girlhood.
For a moment he could not speak; then he said:
"There is no pledge--no obligation whatever--of the
kind you think. Such cases don't always--present themselves
quite as simply as . . . But that's no matter . . . I
love your generosity, because I feel as you do about
those things . . . I feel that each case must be judged
individually, on its own merits . . . irrespective of stupid
conventionalities . . . I mean, each woman's right
to her liberty--" He pulled himself up, startled by the
turn his thoughts had taken, and went on, looking at
her with a smile: "Since you understand so many things,
dearest, can't you go a little farther, and understand
the uselessness of our submitting to another form of
the same foolish conventionalities? If there's no one
and nothing between us, isn't that an argument for
marrying quickly, rather than for more delay?"
She flushed with joy and lifted her face to his; as he
bent to it he saw that her eyes were full of happy tears.
But in another moment she seemed to have descended
from her womanly eminence to helpless and timorous
girlhood; and he understood that her courage and
initiative were all for others, and that she had none for
herself. It was evident that the effort of speaking had
been much greater than her studied composure betrayed,
and that at his first word of reassurance she had dropped
back into the usual, as a too-adventurous child takes
refuge in its mother's arms.
Archer had no heart to go on pleading with her; he
was too much disappointed at the vanishing of the new
being who had cast that one deep look at him from her
transparent eyes. May seemed to be aware of his
disappointment, but without knowing how to alleviate it;
and they stood up and walked silently home.
Your cousin the Countess called on mother while
you were away," Janey Archer announced to her
brother on the evening of his return.
The young man, who was dining alone with his
mother and sister, glanced up in surprise and saw Mrs.
Archer's gaze demurely bent on her plate. Mrs. Archer
did not regard her seclusion from the world as a reason
for being forgotten by it; and Newland guessed that
she was slightly annoyed that he should be surprised by
Madame Olenska's visit.
"She had on a black velvet polonaise with jet
buttons, and a tiny green monkey muff; I never saw her so
stylishly dressed," Janey continued. "She came alone,
early on Sunday afternoon; luckily the fire was lit in
the drawing-room. She had one of those new card-
cases. She said she wanted to know us because you'd
been so good to her."
Newland laughed. "Madame Olenska always takes
that tone about her friends. She's very happy at being
among her own people again."
"Yes, so she told us," said Mrs. Archer. "I must say
she seems thankful to be here."
"I hope you liked her, mother."
Mrs. Archer drew her lips together. "She certainly
lays herself out to please, even when she is calling on
an old lady."
"Mother doesn't think her simple," Janey interjected,
her eyes screwed upon her brother's face.
"It's just my old-fashioned feeling; dear May is my
ideal," said Mrs. Archer.
"Ah," said her son, "they're not alike."
Archer had left St. Augustine charged with many
messages for old Mrs. Mingott; and a day or two after his
return to town he called on her.
The old lady received him with unusual warmth; she
was grateful to him for persuading the Countess Olenska
to give up the idea of a divorce; and when he told her
that he had deserted the office without leave, and rushed
down to St. Augustine simply because he wanted to see
May, she gave an adipose chuckle and patted his knee
with her puff-ball hand.
"Ah, ah--so you kicked over the traces, did you?
And I suppose Augusta and Welland pulled long faces,
and behaved as if the end of the world had come? But
little May--she knew better, I'll be bound?"
"I hoped she did; but after all she wouldn't agree to
what I'd gone down to ask for."
"Wouldn't she indeed? And what was that?"
"I wanted to get her to promise that we should be
married in April. What's the use of our wasting another year?"
Mrs. Manson Mingott screwed up her little mouth
into a grimace of mimic prudery and twinkled at him
through malicious lids. "`Ask Mamma,' I suppose--
the usual story. Ah, these Mingotts--all alike! Born in
a rut, and you can't root 'em out of it. When I built
this house you'd have thought I was moving to California!
Nobody ever HAD built above Fortieth Street--no,
says I, nor above the Battery either, before Christopher
Columbus discovered America. No, no; not one of
them wants to be different; they're as scared of it as the
small-pox. Ah, my dear Mr. Archer, I thank my stars
I'm nothing but a vulgar Spicer; but there's not one of
my own children that takes after me but my little
Ellen." She broke off, still twinkling at him, and asked,
with the casual irrelevance of old age: "Now, why in
the world didn't you marry my little Ellen?"
Archer laughed. "For one thing, she wasn't there to
"No--to be sure; more's the pity. And now it's too
late; her life is finished." She spoke with the cold-
blooded complacency of the aged throwing earth into
the grave of young hopes. The young man's heart grew
chill, and he said hurriedly: "Can't I persuade you to
use your influence with the Wellands, Mrs. Mingott? I
wasn't made for long engagements."
Old Catherine beamed on him approvingly. "No; I
can see that. You've got a quick eye. When you were a
little boy I've no doubt you liked to be helped first."
She threw back her head with a laugh that made her
chins ripple like little waves. "Ah, here's my Ellen
now!" she exclaimed, as the portieres parted behind
Madame Olenska came forward with a smile. Her
face looked vivid and happy, and she held out her hand
gaily to Archer while she stooped to her grandmother's
"I was just saying to him, my dear: `Now, why
didn't you marry my little Ellen?'"
Madame Olenska looked at Archer, still smiling. "And
what did he answer?"
"Oh, my darling, I leave you to find that out! He's
been down to Florida to see his sweetheart."
"Yes, I know." She still looked at him. "I went to see
your mother, to ask where you'd gone. I sent a note
that you never answered, and I was afraid you were
He muttered something about leaving unexpectedly,
in a great hurry, and having intended to write to her
from St. Augustine.
"And of course once you were there you never thought
of me again!" She continued to beam on him with a
gaiety that might have been a studied assumption of
"If she still needs me, she's determined not to let me
see it," he thought, stung by her manner. He wanted to
thank her for having been to see his mother, but under
the ancestress's malicious eye he felt himself tongue-
tied and constrained.
"Look at him--in such hot haste to get married that
he took French leave and rushed down to implore the
silly girl on his knees! That's something like a lover--
that's the way handsome Bob Spicer carried off my
poor mother; and then got tired of her before I was
weaned--though they only had to wait eight months
for me! But there--you're not a Spicer, young man;
luckily for you and for May. It's only my poor Ellen
that has kept any of their wicked blood; the rest of
them are all model Mingotts," cried the old lady
Archer was aware that Madame Olenska, who had
seated herself at her grandmother's side, was still
thoughtfully scrutinising him. The gaiety had faded
from her eyes, and she said with great gentleness: "Surely,
Granny, we can persuade them between us to do as he
Archer rose to go, and as his hand met Madame
Olenska's he felt that she was waiting for him to make
some allusion to her unanswered letter.
"When can I see you?" he asked, as she walked with
him to the door of the room.
"Whenever you like; but it must be soon if you want
to see the little house again. I am moving next week."
A pang shot through him at the memory of his
lamplit hours in the low-studded drawing-room. Few
as they had been, they were thick with memories.
She nodded. "Tomorrow; yes; but early. I'm going
The next day was a Sunday, and if she were "going
out" on a Sunday evening it could, of course, be only
to Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's. He felt a slight movement
of annoyance, not so much at her going there (for he
rather liked her going where she pleased in spite of the
van der Luydens), but because it was the kind of house
at which she was sure to meet Beaufort, where she
must have known beforehand that she would meet
him--and where she was probably going for that
"Very well; tomorrow evening," he repeated, inwardly
resolved that he would not go early, and that by reaching
her door late he would either prevent her from
going to Mrs. Struthers's, or else arrive after she had
started--which, all things considered, would no doubt
be the simplest solution.
It was only half-past eight, after all, when he rang the
bell under the wisteria; not as late as he had intended
by half an hour--but a singular restlessness had driven
him to her door. He reflected, however, that Mrs.
Struthers's Sunday evenings were not like a ball, and
that her guests, as if to minimise their delinquency,
usually went early.
The one thing he had not counted on, in entering
Madame Olenska's hall, was to find hats and overcoats
there. Why had she bidden him to come early if she
was having people to dine? On a closer inspection of
the garments besides which Nastasia was laying his
own, his resentment gave way to curiosity. The overcoats
were in fact the very strangest he had ever seen
under a polite roof; and it took but a glance to assure
himself that neither of them belonged to Julius Beaufort.
One was a shaggy yellow ulster of "reach-me-
down" cut, the other a very old and rusty cloak with a
cape--something like what the French called a "Macfarlane."
This garment, which appeared to be made for
a person of prodigious size, had evidently seen long
and hard wear, and its greenish-black folds gave out a
moist sawdusty smell suggestive of prolonged sessions
against bar-room walls. On it lay a ragged grey scarf
and an odd felt hat of semiclerical shape.
Archer raised his eyebrows enquiringly at Nastasia,
who raised hers in return with a fatalistic "Gia!" as
she threw open the drawing-room door.
The young man saw at once that his hostess was not
in the room; then, with surprise, he discovered another
lady standing by the fire. This lady, who was long, lean
and loosely put together, was clad in raiment intricately
looped and fringed, with plaids and stripes and
bands of plain colour disposed in a design to which the
clue seemed missing. Her hair, which had tried to turn
white and only succeeded in fading, was surmounted
by a Spanish comb and black lace scarf, and silk mittens,
visibly darned, covered her rheumatic hands.
Beside her, in a cloud of cigar-smoke, stood the
owners of the two overcoats, both in morning clothes
that they had evidently not taken off since morning. In
one of the two, Archer, to his surprise, recognised Ned
Winsett; the other and older, who was unknown to
him, and whose gigantic frame declared him to be the
wearer of the "Macfarlane," had a feebly leonine head
with crumpled grey hair, and moved his arms with
large pawing gestures, as though he were distributing
lay blessings to a kneeling multitude.
These three persons stood together on the hearth-
rug, their eyes fixed on an extraordinarily large bouquet
of crimson roses, with a knot of purple pansies at
their base, that lay on the sofa where Madame Olenska
"What they must have cost at this season--though of
course it's the sentiment one cares about!" the lady was
saying in a sighing staccato as Archer came in.
The three turned with surprise at his appearance,
and the lady, advancing, held out her hand.
"Dear Mr. Archer--almost my cousin Newland!"
she said. "I am the Marchioness Manson."
Archer bowed, and she continued: "My Ellen has
taken me in for a few days. I came from Cuba, where I
have been spending the winter with Spanish friends--
such delightful distinguished people: the highest nobility
of old Castile--how I wish you could know them!