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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Part 6 out of 8

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himself for the inadequacy of the dinner by the perfection
of his cigar, Mr. Jackson became portentous and

"If the Beaufort smash comes," he announced, "there
are going to be disclosures."

Archer raised his head quickly: he could never 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. Jackson continued, "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 the young man, wanting to
change the subject.

"Perhaps--perhaps. I know he was to see some of
the influential people today. Of course," Mr. Jackson
reluctantly conceded, "it's to be hoped they can tide
him over--this time anyhow. I shouldn't like to think
of poor Regina's spending the rest of her life in some
shabby foreign watering-place for bankrupts."

Archer said nothing. It seemed to him so natural--
however tragic--that money ill-gotten should be cruelly
expiated, that his mind, hardly lingering over Mrs.
Beaufort's doom, wandered back to closer questions.
What was the meaning of May's blush when the Countess
Olenska had been mentioned?

Four months had passed since the midsummer day
that he and Madame Olenska had spent together; and
since then he had not seen her. He knew that she had
returned to Washington, to the little house which she
and Medora Manson had taken there: he had written
to her once--a few words, asking when they were to
meet again--and she had even more briefly replied:
"Not yet."

Since then there had been no farther communication
between them, and he had built up within himself a
kind of sanctuary in which she throned among his
secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became
the scene of his real life, of his only rational activities;
thither he brought the books he read, the ideas and
feelings which nourished him, his judgments and his
visions. Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he
moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency,
blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional
points of view as an absent-minded man goes
on bumping into the furniture of his own room.
Absent--that was what he was: so absent from everything
most densely real and near to those about him
that it sometimes startled him to find they still
imagined he was there.

He became aware that Mr. Jackson was clearing his
throat preparatory to farther revelations.

"I don't know, of course, how far your wife's family
are aware of what people say about--well, about Madame
Olenska's refusal to accept her husband's latest

Archer was silent, and Mr. Jackson obliquely continued:
"It's a pity--it's certainly a pity--that she refused

"A pity? In God's name, why?"

Mr. Jackson looked down his leg to the unwrinkled
sock that joined it to a glossy pump.

"Well--to put it on the lowest ground--what's she
going to live on now?"


"If Beaufort--"

Archer sprang up, his fist banging down on the black
walnut-edge of the writing-table. The wells of the brass
double-inkstand danced in their sockets.

"What the devil do you mean, sir?"

Mr. Jackson, shifting himself slightly in his chair,
turned a tranquil gaze on the young man's burning

"Well--I have it on pretty good authority--in fact,
on old Catherine's herself--that the family reduced
Countess Olenska's allowance considerably when she
definitely refused to go back to her husband; and as, by
this refusal, she also forfeits the money settled on her
when she married--which Olenski was ready to make
over to her if she returned--why, what the devil do YOU
mean, my dear boy, by asking me what I mean?" Mr.
Jackson good-humouredly retorted.

Archer moved toward the mantelpiece and bent over
to knock his ashes into the grate.

"I don't know anything of Madame Olenska's private
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

"Lefferts--who made love to her and got snubbed
for it!" Archer broke out contemptuously.

"Ah--DID he?" snapped the other, as if this were
exactly the fact he had been laying a trap for. He still
sat sideways from the fire, so that 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 will only confirm the general impression:
which isn't by any means peculiar to Lefferts, by the

"Oh, she won't go back now: less than ever!" Archer
had no sooner said it than he had once more the feeling
that it was exactly what Mr. Jackson had been waiting

The old gentleman considered him attentively. "That's
your opinion, eh? Well, no doubt you know. But everybody
will tell you that the few pennies Medora Manson
has left are all in Beaufort's hands; and how the
two women are to keep their heads above water unless
he does, I can't imagine. Of course, Madame Olenska
may still soften old Catherine, who's been the most
inexorably opposed to her staying; and old Catherine
could make her any allowance she chooses. But we all
know that she hates parting with good money; and the
rest of the family have no particular interest in keeping
Madame Olenska here."

Archer was burning with unavailing wrath: he was
exactly in the state when a man is sure to do something
stupid, knowing all the while that he is doing it.

He saw that Mr. Jackson had been instantly struck
by the fact that Madame Olenska's differences with her
grandmother and her other relations were not known
to him, and that the old gentleman had drawn his own
conclusions as to the reasons for Archer's exclusion
from the family councils. This fact warned Archer to
go warily; but the insinuations about Beaufort made
him reckless. He was mindful, however, if not of his
own danger, at least of the fact that Mr. Jackson was
under his mother's roof, and consequently his guest.
Old New York scrupulously observed the etiquette of
hospitality, and no discussion with a guest was ever
allowed to degenerate into a disagreement.

"Shall we go up and join my mother?" he suggested
curtly, as Mr. Jackson's last cone of ashes dropped into
the brass ashtray at his elbow.

On the drive homeward May remained oddly silent;
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 library.
She usually followed him; but he heard her passing
down the passage to her bedroom.

"May!" he called out impatiently; and she came
back, with a slight glance of surprise at his tone.

"This lamp is smoking again; I should think the
servants might see that it's kept properly trimmed," he
grumbled nervously.

"I'm so sorry: it shan't happen again," she answered,
in the firm bright tone she had learned from her mother;
and it exasperated Archer to feel that she was already
beginning to humour him like a younger Mr. Welland.
She bent over to lower the wick, and as the light 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 have to go on!"

He felt, with a kind of horror, his own strong youth
and the bounding blood in his veins. "Look here," he
said suddenly, "I may have to 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 a glow to her face, but it paled as she
looked up.

"On business?" she asked, in a tone which implied
that there could be no other conceivable reason, and
that she had put the question automatically, as if merely
to finish his own sentence.

"On business, naturally. There's a patent case coming
up before the Supreme Court--" He gave the name
of the inventor, and went on furnishing details with all
Lawrence Lefferts's practised glibness, while she listened
attentively, saying at intervals: "Yes, I see."

"The change will do you good," she said simply,
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 not to neglect some
irksome family duty.

It was the only word that passed between them 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 in their effort
to get her to return to her husband. I also know that,
for some reason you have not chosen to tell me, you
have advised her against this course, which all the older
men of the family, as well as our grandmother, agree in
approving; and that it is owing to your encouragement
that Ellen 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 so
irritable. . . . Hints have indeed not been wanting; but
since 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 you understand
that I know you mean to see Ellen when you are in
Washington, and are perhaps going there expressly for
that purpose; and that, since you are sure to see her, I
wish you to do so with my full and explicit approval--
and to take the opportunity of letting her know what
the course of conduct you have encouraged her in is
likely to lead to."

Her hand was still on the key of the lamp when 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.


Wall Street, the next day, had more reassuring
reports of Beaufort's situation. They were not
definite, but they were hopeful. It was generally understood
that he could call on powerful influences in case
of emergency, and that he had done so with success;
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 condemnation of
business irregularities. So far there had been no exception
to its tacit rule that those who broke the law of
probity must pay; and every one was aware that even
Beaufort and Beaufort's wife would be offered up
unflinchingly to this principle. But to be obliged to offer
them up would be not only painful but inconvenient.
The disappearance of the Beauforts would leave a
considerable void in their compact little circle; and those
who were too ignorant or too careless to shudder at the
moral catastrophe bewailed in advance the loss of the
best ball-room in New York.

Archer had definitely made up his mind to go to
Washington. He was waiting only for the opening of
the law-suit of which he had spoken to May, so that its
date might coincide with that of his visit; but on the
following Tuesday he learned from Mr. Letterblair that
the case might be postponed for several weeks. Nevertheless,
he went home that afternoon determined in any
event to leave the next evening. The chances were that
May, who knew nothing of his professional life, and
had never shown any interest in it, would not learn of
the postponement, should it take place, nor remember
the names of the litigants if they were mentioned before
her; and at any rate 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 reached his
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 reassured his depositors, and heavy payments had
poured into the bank till the previous evening, when
disturbing reports again began to predominate. In
consequence, a run on the bank had begun, and its doors
were likely to close before the day was over. The ugliest
things were being said of Beaufort's dastardly
manoeuvre, and his failure promised to be one of the
most discreditable 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;
but nothing as bad as this. Everybody we know will be
hit, one way or another. And what will be done about
Mrs. Beaufort? What CAN be done about her? I pity
Mrs. Manson Mingott as much as anybody: coming at
her age, there's no knowing what effect this affair may
have on her. She always believed in Beaufort--she made
a friend 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 her husband--yet
how can any one tell her so? Her duty is at his side;
and luckily she seems always to have been blind to his
private weaknesses."

There was a knock, and Mr. Letterblair turned his
head sharply. "What is it? I can't be disturbed."

A clerk brought in a letter for Archer and withdrew.
Recognising his wife's hand, the young man opened
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 the bank.
Uncle Lovell is away shooting, and the idea of the
disgrace has made poor Papa so nervous that he has a
temperature and can't leave his room. Mamma needs
you dreadfully, and I do hope you can get away at once
and go straight to Granny's."

Archer handed the note to his senior partner, 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 the Fifth Avenue
line. It was after twelve o'clock when this laborious
vehicle dropped him at old Catherine's. The
sitting-room window on the ground floor, where she
usually throned, was tenanted by the inadequate figure
of her daughter, Mrs. Welland, who signed a haggard
welcome as she caught sight of Archer; and at the door
he was met by May. The hall wore the unnatural
appearance peculiar to well-kept houses suddenly
invaded by illness: wraps and furs lay in heaps on the
chairs, a doctor's bag and overcoat were on the table,
and beside them letters and cards had already piled up

May looked pale but smiling: Dr. Bencomb, who
had just come for the second time, took a more hopeful
view, and Mrs. Mingott's dauntless determination to
live and get well was already having an effect on her
family. May led Archer into the old lady's sitting-room,
where the sliding doors opening into the bedroom had
been drawn shut, and the heavy yellow damask portieres
dropped over them; and here Mrs. Welland communicated
to him in horrified undertones the details of
the catastrophe. It appeared that the evening before
something 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, the door-bell had rung, and a lady so thickly
veiled that the servants did not immediately recognise
her had asked to be received.

The butler, hearing a familiar voice, had thrown
open the sitting-room door, announcing: "Mrs. Julius
Beaufort"--and had 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. Beaufort
had already slipped away unseen, and the old lady,
white and vast and terrible, sat alone in her great chair,
and signed to the butler to help her into her room. She
seemed, at that time, though obviously distressed, in
complete control of her body and brain. The mulatto
maid put her to bed, brought her a cup of tea as usual,
laid everything straight in the room, and went away;
but at three in the morning the bell rang again, and the
two servants, hastening in at this unwonted summons
(for old Catherine usually slept like a baby), had found
their mistress sitting up against her pillows with 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 the doctor's first visit she had begun to
regain control of her facial muscles. But the alarm had
been great; and proportionately great was the indignation
when it was gathered from Mrs. Mingott's fragmentary
phrases that Regina Beaufort had come to ask
her--incredible effrontery!--to back up her husband,
see them through--not to "desert" them, as she called
it--in fact to induce the whole family to cover and
condone their monstrous dishonour.

"I said to her: "Honour's always been honour, and
honesty honesty, in Manson Mingott's house, and will
be till I'm carried out of it feet first,'" the old woman
had stammered into her daughter's ear, in the thick
voice of the partly paralysed. "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

So much, with tears and gasps of horror, Mrs. Welland
imparted, blanched and demolished by the unwonted
obligation of having 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 last illusions'
--and how am I to prevent his knowing these horrors?"
the poor lady wailed.

"After all, Mamma, he won't have SEEN them," her
daughter suggested; and Mrs. Welland sighed: "Ah,
no; thank heaven he's safe in bed. And Dr. Bencomb
has promised to keep him there till poor Mamma is
better, and Regina has been got away somewhere."

Archer had seated himself near the window and was
gazing out blankly at the deserted thoroughfare. It was
evident that he had been summoned rather for the
moral support of the stricken ladies than because of
any specific aid that he could render. Mr. Lovell Mingott
had been telegraphed for, and messages were being
despatched by hand to the members of the family living
in New York; and meanwhile there was nothing to do
but to discuss in hushed tones the consequences of
Beaufort's dishonour and of his wife's unjustifiable

Mrs. Lovell Mingott, who had been in another room
writing notes, presently reappeared, and added her voice
to the discussion. In THEIR day, the elder ladies agreed,
the wife 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 Grandmamma
Spicer; 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 speak of it. But
she was brought up in the country because her mother
had to leave New York after the disgrace, whatever it
was: they lived up the Hudson alone, winter and summer,
till Mamma was sixteen. It would never have
occurred to Grandmamma Spicer 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 hundreds of innocent people."

"Yes, it would be more becoming in Regina to hide
her own countenance than to talk about other people's,"
Mrs. Lovell Mingott agreed. "I understand that
the emerald necklace she wore at the Opera last Friday
had been sent on approval from Ball and Black's in the
afternoon. I wonder if they'll ever get it back?"

Archer listened unmoved to the relentless chorus.
The idea of absolute financial probity as the first law of
a gentleman's code was too deeply ingrained in him for
sentimental considerations to weaken it. An adventurer
like Lemuel Struthers might build up the millions of his
Shoe Polish on any number of shady dealings; but
unblemished honesty was the noblesse oblige of old
financial New York. Nor did Mrs. Beaufort's fate greatly
move Archer. He felt, no doubt, more sorry for her
than her 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 place was at her
husband's side when he was in trouble; but society's
place was not at his side, and Mrs. Beaufort's cool
assumption that it was seemed almost to make her his
accomplice. The mere idea of a woman's appealing to
her family to screen her husband's business dishonour
was inadmissible, since it was the one thing that the
Family, as an institution, could not do.

The mulatto maid called Mrs. Lovell Mingott into
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 to Medora; but now it
seems that's not enough. I'm to telegraph to her
immediately, and to tell her that she's to come alone."

The announcement was received in silence. Mrs.
Welland sighed resignedly, and May rose from her seat and
went to gather up some newspapers that had been
scattered on the floor.

"I suppose it must be done," Mrs. Lovell Mingott
continued, as if hoping to be contradicted; and May
turned back toward the middle of the room.

"Of course it must be done," she said. "Granny
knows what she wants, and we must carry 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 name
with 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 with notes 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's rosewood "Bonheur
du Jour," and wrote out the message in her large
immature hand. When it was written she blotted it
neatly and handed it to Archer.

"What a pity," she said, "that you and Ellen will
cross each other on the way!--Newland," she added,
turning to her mother and aunt, "is obliged to go to
Washington about a patent law-suit that is coming up
before the Supreme Court. I suppose Uncle Lovell will
be back by tomorrow night, and with Granny improving
so much it doesn't seem right to ask Newland to
give up an important engagement for the firm--does

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 earth she should make you telegraph for Ellen
Olenska--" and May's clear voice rejoin: "Perhaps it's
to urge on her again that after all her duty is with her

The outer door closed on Archer and he walked
hastily away toward the telegraph office.


Ol-ol--howjer spell it, anyhow?" asked the tart
young lady to whom Archer had pushed his wife's
telegram across the brass ledge of the Western Union

"Olenska--O-len-ska," he repeated, drawing back
the message in order to print out the foreign syllables
above May's rambling script.

"It's an unlikely name for a New York telegraph
office; at least in this quarter," an unexpected voice
observed; and turning around Archer saw Lawrence
Lefferts at his elbow, pulling an imperturbable moustache
and affecting not to glance at the message.

"Hallo, Newland: thought I'd catch you here. I've
just heard of old Mrs. Mingott's stroke; and as I was
on my way to the house I saw you turning down this
street and nipped after you. I suppose you've come
from there?"

Archer nodded, and pushed his telegram under the

"Very bad, eh?" Lefferts continued. "Wiring to the
family, I suppose. I gather it IS bad, if you're including
Countess Olenska."

Archer's lips stiffened; he felt a savage impulse 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 an ironic grimace that warned
the other of the watching damsel behind the lattice.
Nothing could be worse "form" the look reminded
Archer, than any display of temper in a public place.

Archer had never been more indifferent to the
requirements of form; but his impulse to do Lawrence
Lefferts a physical injury was only momentary. The
idea of bandying Ellen Olenska's name with 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 anxiety whatever";
and Lefferts, with profuse expressions of relief,
asked him if he had heard that there were beastly bad
rumours again about Beaufort. . . .

That afternoon the announcement of the Beaufort failure
was in all the papers. It overshadowed the report of
Mrs. Manson Mingott's stroke, and only the few who
had heard of the mysterious connection between the
two events thought of ascribing old Catherine's illness
to anything but the accumulation of flesh and years.

The whole of New York was darkened by the tale 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-off Letterblair who
had given his name to the firm. The bank had continued
to take in money for a whole day after its failure
was inevitable; and as many of its clients belonged to
one or another of the ruling clans, Beaufort's duplicity
seemed doubly cynical. If Mrs. Beaufort had not taken
the tone that 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 object of her
nocturnal visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott had become
known--her cynicism was held to exceed his; and she
had not the excuse--nor her detractors the satisfaction--
of pleading that she was "a foreigner." It was some
comfort (to those whose securities 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 his feet again," the argument lost its edge, and
there was nothing to do but to accept this awful evidence
of the indissolubility of marriage. Society must
manage to get on without the Beauforts, and there was
an end of it--except indeed for such hapless victims of
the disaster as Medora Manson, the poor old Miss
Lannings, and certain other misguided ladies of good
family who, if only they had listened to Mr. Henry van
der Luyden . . .

"The best thing the Beauforts can do," said Mrs.
Archer, summing it up as if she were pronouncing a
diagnosis and prescribing a course 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 a successful horsedealer." Every one agreed
with her, but no one condescended to enquire what the
Beauforts really meant to do.

The next day Mrs. Manson Mingott was much better:
she recovered her voice sufficiently to give orders
that no one should mention the Beauforts to her again,
and asked--when Dr. Bencomb appeared--what in the
world her family meant by making such a fuss about
her health.

"If people of my age WILL eat chicken-salad in the
evening what are they to expect?" she enquired; and,
the doctor having opportunely modified her dietary,
the stroke was transformed into an attack of indigestion.
But in spite of her firm tone old Catherine did not
wholly recover her former attitude toward life. The
growing remoteness of old age, though it had not
diminished her curiosity about her neighbours, had blunted
her never very lively compassion for their troubles; and
she seemed to have no difficulty in putting the Beaufort
disaster out of her mind. But for the first time she
became absorbed in her own symptoms, and began to
take a sentimental interest in certain members of her
family to whom she had hitherto been contemptuously

Mr. Welland, in particular, had the privilege of
attracting her notice. Of her sons-in-law he was the one
she had most consistently ignored; and all his wife's
efforts to represent him as a man of forceful character
and marked intellectual ability (if he had only "chosen")
had been met with a derisive chuckle. But his
eminence as a valetudinarian now made him an object
of engrossing interest, and Mrs. Mingott issued an
imperial summons to him to come and compare diets
as soon as his temperature permitted; for old Catherine
was now the first to recognise that one could not be
too careful about temperatures.

Twenty-four hours after Madame Olenska's summons
a telegram announced that she would arrive from Washington
on the evening of the following day. At the
Wellands', where the Newland Archers chanced to be
lunching, the question as to who should meet her at
Jersey City was immediately raised; and the material
difficulties amid which the Welland household struggled
as if it had been a frontier outpost, lent animation
to the debate. It was agreed that Mrs. Welland could
not possibly go to Jersey City because she was to
accompany her husband to old Catherine's that afternoon,
and the brougham could not be spared, since, if
Mr. Welland were "upset" by seeing his mother-in-law
for the first time after her attack, he might have to be
taken home at a moment's notice. The Welland sons
would of course be "down town," Mr. Lovell Mingott
would be just hurrying back from his shooting, and the
Mingott carriage engaged in meeting him; and one
could not ask May, at the close of a winter afternoon,
to go alone across the ferry 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 to arrive without any
of the family being at the station to receive her. It was
just like Ellen, Mrs. Welland's tired voice implied, to
place the family in such a dilemma. "It's always one
thing after another," the poor lady grieved, in one of
her rare revolts against fate; "the only thing that makes
me think Mamma must be less well than Dr. Bencomb
will admit is this morbid desire to have Ellen come at
once, however inconvenient it is to meet her."

The words had been thoughtless, as the utterances of
impatience often are; and Mr. Welland was upon them
with a pounce.

"Augusta," he said, turning pale and laying down his
fork, "have you any other reason for thinking that
Bencomb is less to be relied on than he was? Have you
noticed that he has been less conscientious than usual
in following up my case or your mother's?"

It was Mrs. Welland's turn to grow pale as the
endless consequences of her blunder unrolled themselves
before her; but she managed to laugh, and take a
second helping of scalloped oysters, before she said,
struggling back into her old armour of cheerfulness:
"My dear, how could you imagine such a thing? I only
meant that, after the decided stand Mamma took about
its being Ellen's duty to go back to her husband, it
seems strange that she should be seized with this sudden
whim to see her, when there are half a dozen other
grandchildren that she might have asked for. But we
must never forget that Mamma, in spite of her wonderful
vitality, is a very old woman."

Mr. Welland's brow remained clouded, and it was
evident that his perturbed imagination had fastened at
once on this last remark. "Yes: your mother's a very
old woman; and for all we know Bencomb may not be
as successful with very old people. As you say, my
dear, it's always one thing after another; and in
another ten or fifteen years I suppose I shall have the
pleasing duty of looking about for a new doctor. It's
always better to make such a change before it's absolutely
necessary." And having arrived at this Spartan
decision Mr. Welland firmly took up his fork.

"But all the while," Mrs. Welland began again, as
she rose from the luncheon-table, and led the way into
the wilderness of purple satin and malachite known as
the back drawing-room, "I don't see how Ellen's to be
got here tomorrow evening; and I do like to have
things settled for at least twenty-four hours ahead."

Archer turned from the fascinated contemplation of
a small painting representing two Cardinals carousing,
in an octagonal 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, if May will send it there." His heart was
beating excitedly as he spoke.

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 be settled twenty-four hours in advance," she said,
stooping over to kiss her mother's troubled forehead.

May's brougham awaited her at the door, and she was
to drive Archer to Union Square, where he could pick
up a Broadway car to carry him to the office. As she
settled herself in her corner she said: "I didn't want to
worry Mamma by raising fresh obstacles; but how can
you meet 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 big patent 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 he were blushing for her unwonted lapse
from all the traditional delicacies.

"No: but my going is," he answered, cursing the
unnecessary explanations that he had given when he
had announced his intention of 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 tell May an untruth as to see her
trying to pretend that she had not detected him.

"I'm not going till later on: luckily for the
convenience of your family," he continued, taking base
refuge in sarcasm. As he spoke he felt that she was looking
at him, and he turned his eyes to hers in order not to
appear to be avoiding them. Their glances met for a
second, and perhaps let them into each other's meanings
more deeply than either cared to go.

"Yes; it IS awfully convenient," May brightly agreed,
"that you should be able to meet Ellen after all; you
saw how much Mamma appreciated your offering to
do it."

"Oh, I'm delighted to do it." The carriage stopped,
and as he jumped out she leaned to him and laid her
hand on his. "Good-bye, dearest," she said, her eyes so
blue that he wondered afterward if they had shone on
him through tears.

He turned away and hurried across Union Square,
repeating to himself, in a sort of inward chant: "It's all
of two hours from Jersey City to old Catherine's. It's
all of two hours--and it may be more."


His wife's dark blue brougham (with the wedding
varnish still on it) met Archer at the ferry, and
conveyed him luxuriously to the Pennsylvania terminus
in Jersey City.

It was a sombre snowy afternoon, and the gas-lamps
were lit in the big reverberating station. As he paced
the platform, waiting for the Washington express, he
remembered that there were people who thought there
would one day be a tunnel under the Hudson through
which the trains of the Pennsylvania railway would run
straight into New York. They were of the brotherhood
of visionaries who likewise predicted the building of
ships that would cross the Atlantic in five days, the
invention of a flying machine, lighting by electricity,
telephonic communication without wires, and other
Arabian Night marvels.

"I don't care which of their visions comes true,"
Archer mused, "as long as the tunnel isn't built yet." In
his senseless school-boy happiness he pictured 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 wharf among slipping horses,
laden carts, vociferating teamsters, and then the startling
quiet of the ferry-boat, where they would sit side
by side under the snow, in the motionless carriage,
while the earth seemed to glide away under them,
rolling to the other side of the sun. It was incredible,
the number of things he had to say to her, and in what
eloquent order they were forming themselves on his
lips . . .

The clanging and groaning of the train came nearer,
and it staggered slowly into the station like a prey-
laden monster into its lair. Archer pushed forward,
elbowing through the crowd, and staring blindly into
window after window of the high-hung carriages. And
then, suddenly, he saw Madame Olenska's pale and
surprised face close at hand, and had again the mortified
sensation of having forgotten 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 her bags, and had
afterward the vague recollection of having properly
reassured her about her grandmother and given her a
summary of the Beaufort situation (he was struck by
the softness of her: "Poor Regina!"). Meanwhile the
carriage had worked its way out of the coil about the
station, and they were crawling down the slippery
incline to the wharf, menaced by swaying coal-carts,
bewildered horses, dishevelled express-wagons, and an
empty hearse--ah, that hearse! She shut her eyes as it
passed, and clutched 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 the carriage lurched across the gang-plank onto the
ferry he bent over, unbuttoned her tight 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 nearly crossed you in the

"Oh--" she exclaimed, as if terrified by the 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

"Oh, yes: I know! I know!"

"Does it--do I too: to you?" he insisted.

She nodded, looking out of the window.


She made no answer, and he sat in silence, watching
her profile grow indistinct against the snow-streaked
dusk beyond the window. What had she been doing in
all those four long months, he wondered? How little
they knew of each other, after all! The precious moments
were slipping away, but he had forgotten everything
that he had meant to say to her and could only
helplessly brood on the mystery of their remoteness
and their proximity, which seemed to be symbolised by
the fact of their 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 turning her face from the window.


"It was May who sent you to fetch me, then? How
kind of her!"

He made no answer for a moment; then he said
explosively: "Your husband's secretary came to see me
the day after we met in Boston."

In his brief letter to her he had made no allusion to
M. Riviere's visit, and his intention had been to bury
the incident in his bosom. But her reminder that they
were in his wife's carriage provoked him to an impulse
of retaliation. He would see if she liked his reference to
Riviere any better than he liked hers to May! As on
certain other occasions when he had expected to shake
her out of her usual composure, she betrayed no sign of
surprise: and at once he concluded: "He writes to her,

"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."


"I wanted to ask it after I saw him, but I couldn'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 same composure?

"Yes: I owe him a great debt," she answered, without
the least tremor in her quiet voice.

Her tone was so natural, so almost indifferent, that
Archer's turmoil subsided. Once more she had managed,
by her sheer simplicity, to make him feel stupidly
conventional just when he thought he was flinging
convention to the winds.

"I think you're the most honest woman I ever met!"
he exclaimed.

"Oh, no--but probably one of the least fussy," she
answered, a smile in her voice.

"Call it what you like: you look at things as they

"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 bogey like all the others."

"She doesn't blind one; but she dries up one's tears."

The answer checked the pleading on Archer's lips: it
seemed to come from depths of experience beyond his
reach. The slow advance of the ferry-boat had ceased,
and her bows bumped against the piles of the slip with
a violence that made the brougham stagger, and flung
Archer and Madame Olenska against each other. The
young man, trembling, felt the pressure of 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," she said
in an altered voice; and suddenly she turned, flung her
arms about him and pressed her lips to his. At the same
moment the carriage began to move, and a gas-lamp at
the head of the slip flashed its light into the window.
She drew away, and they sat silent and motionless
while the brougham struggled through the congestion
of carriages about the ferry-landing. As they gained the
street Archer began to speak hurriedly.

"Don't be afraid of me: you needn't squeeze yourself
back into your corner like that. A stolen kiss isn't what
I want. Look: I'm not even trying to touch the sleeve of
your jacket. Don't suppose that I don't understand
your reasons 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, every thought is burnt up in a great flame. But
then you come; and you're so much more than I
remembered, and what I want of you is so much more
than an hour or two every now and then, with wastes
of thirsty waiting between, that I can sit perfectly still
beside you, like this, with that other vision in my mind,
just quietly trusting to it to come true."

For a moment she made no reply; then she asked,
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 my business 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 into the searching illumination of Fifth

"Is it your idea, then, that I should live with 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 flitted closest about the topic. He
noticed that Madame Olenska pronounced it as if it had a
recognised place in her vocabulary, and he wondered if
it had been used familiarly in her presence in the horrible
life she had fled from. Her question pulled him up
with a jerk, and he floundered.

"I want--I want somehow to get away with you into
a world where words like that--categories like that--
won't exist. Where we shall be simply two human
beings who love each other, who are the whole of life
to each other; and nothing else on earth will matter."

She drew a deep sigh that ended in another laugh.
"Oh, my dear--where is that country? Have you ever
been there?" she asked; and as 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 it wasn't at all different from the
old world they'd left, but only rather smaller and dingier
and more promiscuous."

He had never heard her speak in such a tone, and he
remembered the phrase she had used a little while

"Yes, the Gorgon HAS dried your tears," he said.

"Well, she opened my eyes too; it's a delusion to say
that she blinds people. What she does is just the
contrary--she fastens 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 little country!"

The carriage had crossed Forty-second Street: May's
sturdy brougham-horse was carrying them northward
as if he had been a Kentucky trotter. Archer choked
with the sense of wasted minutes 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,
the husband of Ellen Olenska's cousin, and Ellen
Olenska, the cousin of Newland Archer's wife, trying
to be happy behind the backs of the people who trust

"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 inarticulate pain. Then he
groped in the darkness of the carriage for the little bell
that signalled orders to the coachman. He remembered
that May rang twice when she wished to stop. He
pressed the bell, and the carriage drew up beside the

"Why are we stopping? This is not Granny's," Madame
Olenska exclaimed.

"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 her startled 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 come today," he
said, lowering his voice so that the coachman should
not hear. She bent forward, and seemed about to speak;
but he had already called out the order to drive on, and
the carriage rolled away while he stood on the corner.
The snow was over, and a tingling wind had sprung
up, that lashed his face as he stood gazing. Suddenly he
felt something stiff and cold on his lashes, and perceived
that he had been crying, and that the wind had
frozen his tears.

He thrust his hands in his pockets, and walked at a
sharp pace down Fifth Avenue to his own house.


That evening when Archer came down before dinner
he found the drawing-room empty.

He and May were dining alone, all the family
engagements having been postponed since Mrs. Manson
Mingott's illness; and as May 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 he
dressed he had heard her moving about in her room;
and he wondered what had delayed her.

He had fallen into the way of dwelling on such
conjectures as a means of tying his thoughts fast to
reality. Sometimes he felt as if he had found the clue to
his father-in-law's absorption in trifles; perhaps even
Mr. Welland, long ago, had had escapes and visions,
and had conjured up all the hosts of domesticity to
defend himself against them.

When May appeared he thought she looked tired.
She had put on the low-necked and tightly-laced dinner-
dress which the Mingott ceremonial exacted on the
most informal occasions, 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 usual tenderness, 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 the way 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 have gone 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 to
fasten a puff that had slipped from its place in her
intricate hair, Archer was struck by something languid
and inelastic in her attitude, and wondered if the deadly
monotony of their lives had laid its weight on her also.
Then he remembered that, as he had left the house that
morning, she had called over the stairs that she would
meet him at her grandmother's so that they might drive
home together. He had called back a cheery "Yes!"
and then, absorbed in other visions, had forgotten his
promise. Now he was smitten with compunction, yet
irritated that so trifling an omission should be stored
up against him after nearly two years of marriage. He
was weary of living in a perpetual tepid honeymoon,
without the temperature of passion yet with all its
exactions. If May had spoken out her grievances (he
suspected her of many) he might have laughed them
away; but she was trained to conceal imaginary wounds
under a Spartan smile.

To disguise his own annoyance he asked how her
grandmother was, and she answered that Mrs. Mingott
was still improving, but had been 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 usual limited 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 it to be vaguely ominous.

They went up to the library for coffee, and Archer
lit a cigar and took down a volume of Michelet. He
had taken to history in the evenings since May had
shown a tendency to ask him to read aloud whenever
she saw him with a volume of poetry: not that he
disliked the sound of his own voice, but because he
could always foresee her comments on what he read. In
the days of their engagement she had simply (as he now
perceived) echoed what he told her; but since he had
ceased to provide her with opinions she had begun to
hazard her own, with results destructive to his enjoyment
of the works commented on.

Seeing that he had chosen history she fetched her
workbasket, drew up an arm-chair to the green-shaded
student lamp, and uncovered a cushion she was
embroidering for his sofa. She was not a clever needle-
woman; her large capable hands were made for riding,
rowing and open-air activities; but since other wives
embroidered cushions for their husbands she did not
wish to omit this last link in her devotion.

She was so placed that Archer, by merely raising his
eyes, could see her bent above her work-frame, her
ruffled elbow-sleeves slipping back from her firm round
arms, the betrothal sapphire shining on her left hand
above her broad gold wedding-ring, and the right hand
slowly and laboriously stabbing the canvas. As she sat
thus, the lamplight full on her clear brow, he said to
himself with a secret dismay that he would always
know the thoughts 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 on
their short courting: the function was exhausted
because the need was past. Now she was simply ripening
into a copy of her mother, and mysteriously, by the
very process, trying to turn him into a Mr. Welland.
He laid down his book and stood up impatiently; and
at once she raised her head.

"What's the matter?"

"The room is stifling: I want a little air."

He had insisted that the library curtains should draw
backward and forward on a rod, so that they might be
closed in the evening, instead of remaining nailed to a
gilt cornice, and immovably looped up over layers of
lace, as in the drawing-room; and he pulled them back
and pushed up the sash, leaning out into the icy night.
The mere fact of not looking at May, seated beside his
table, under his lamp, the fact of seeing other houses,
roofs, chimneys, of getting the sense of other lives
outside his own, other cities beyond New York, and a
whole world beyond his world, cleared his brain and
made it easier to breathe.

After he had leaned out into the darkness for 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 and months."

And suddenly the play of the word flashed up a wild
suggestion. What if it were SHE who was dead! If she
were going to die--to die soon--and leave him free!
The sensation of standing there, in that warm familiar
room, and looking at her, and wishing her dead, was
so strange, so fascinating and overmastering, that its
enormity did not immediately strike him. He simply
felt that chance had given him a new possibility to
which his sick soul might cling. Yes, May might die--
people did: young people, healthy people like herself:
she might die, and set him suddenly free.

She glanced up, and he saw by her widening eyes
that there must be something strange in his own.

"Newland! Are you ill?"

He shook his head and turned toward his arm-chair.
She bent over her work-frame, and as he passed 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 a window
without worrying you," he rejoined, laughing also.

For a moment she was silent; then she said very 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; and with 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
of the family. He did not try to see her; to do so
while she was at old Catherine's guarded bedside would
have been almost impossible. In the uncertainty of the
situation he let himself drift, conscious, somewhere
below the surface of his thoughts, of a resolve which
had come to him when he had leaned out from his
library window into the icy night. The strength of that
resolve made it easy to wait and make no sign.

Then one day May told him that Mrs. Manson
Mingott had asked to see him. There was nothing
surprising in the request, for the old lady was steadily
recovering, and she had always openly declared 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

There was a moment's pause, and then Archer felt it
incumbent on him to say: "All right. Shall we go
together this afternoon?"

His wife's face brightened, but she instantly answered:
"Oh, you'd much better go alone. It bores Granny to
see the same people too often."

Archer's heart was beating violently when he 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 to the
Countess Olenska. He had determined to wait till the
chance presented itself naturally; and here it was, and
here he was on the doorstep. Behind the door, behind
the curtains of the yellow damask room next to the
hall, she was surely awaiting him; in another moment
he 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: after that his
course would be clear. What he wished to ask was
simply the date of her return to Washington; and that
question she could hardly refuse to answer.

But in the yellow sitting-room it was the mulatto
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-like arm-chair
near her bed. Beside her was a mahogany stand bearing
a cast bronze lamp with an engraved globe, over which
a green paper shade had been balanced. There was not
a book or a newspaper in reach, nor any evidence of
feminine employment: conversation had always been
Mrs. Mingott's sole pursuit, and she would have scorned
to feign an interest in fancywork.

Archer saw no trace of the slight distortion left by
her stroke. She merely looked paler, with darker shadows
in the folds and recesses of her obesity; and, in the
fluted mob-cap tied by a starched bow between her
first two chins, and the muslin kerchief crossed over
her billowing purple dressing-gown, she seemed like
some shrewd and kindly ancestress of her own who
might have yielded too freely to the pleasures of the

She held out one of the little hands that nestled 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 lady turned to
her grandson.

"My dear, am I perfectly hideous?" she asked gaily,
launching out one hand in search of the folds of muslin
on her inaccessible bosom. "My daughters tell me it
doesn't matter at my 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 she threw back her head
and laughed.

"Ah, but not as handsome as Ellen!" she jerked out,
twinkling at him maliciously; and before he could answer
she added: "Was she so awfully handsome the
day you drove her up from the ferry?"

He laughed, and she continued: "Was it because 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
interrupted it 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 their grandmother worry?"

Archer wondered if her illness had blurred her faculties;
but suddenly she broke out: "Well, it's settled,
anyhow: she's going to stay with me, whatever the rest
of the family say! She hadn't been here five minutes
before I'd have gone down on my knees to keep her--if
only, for the last twenty years, I'd been able to see
where the floor was!"

Archer listened in silence, and she went on: "They'd
talked me over, as no doubt you know: persuaded me,
Lovell, and Letterblair, and Augusta Welland, and all
the rest of them, that I must hold out and cut off her
allowance, till she was made to see that it was her duty
to go back to Olenski. They thought they'd convinced
me when the secretary, or whatever he was, came out
with the last proposals: handsome proposals I confess
they were. After all, marriage is marriage, and money'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 stay here and nurse her Granny
as long as there's a Granny to nurse. It's not a gay
prospect, but she doesn't mind; and of course I've told
Letterblair that she's to be given her proper allowance."

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 course he meant to pursue that for the moment
he could not readjust his thoughts. But gradually there
stole over him the delicious sense of difficulties
deferred and opportunities miraculously provided. If
Ellen had consented to come and live with her grandmother
it must surely be because she had recognised the
impossibility of giving him up. This was her answer to his
final appeal of the other day: if she would not take the
extreme step he had urged, she had at last yielded to
half-measures. He sank back into the thought with the
involuntary relief of a man who has been ready to risk
everything, and suddenly tastes the dangerous sweetness
of security.

"She couldn't have gone back--it was impossible!"
he exclaimed.

"Ah, my dear, I always knew you were on her side;
and that's why I sent for you today, and why I said to
your pretty wife, when she proposed to come with you:
`No, my dear, I'm pining to see Newland, and I don't
want anybody to share our transports.' For you see, my
dear--" she drew her head back 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'll say 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 and lit on his with a clutch of
little pale nails like bird-claws. "Why not?" she
searchingly repeated.

Archer, under the exposure of her gaze, had recovered
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 through Letterblair. Unless you've
got a reason," she insisted.

"Oh, my dear, I back you to hold your own against
them all without my help; but you shall have it if you
need it," he reassured her.

"Then we're safe!" she sighed; and smiling on him
with all her ancient cunning she added, as she settled
her head among the cushions: "I always knew you'd
back us up, because they never quote you when they
talk about its being her duty to go home."

He winced a little at her terrifying perspicacity, and
longed to ask: "And May--do they quote her?" But he
judged it safer to turn the question.

"And Madame Olenska? When am I to see her?" he

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 she went 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 a cucumber, 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
all my 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
wanted me to lend her my carriage. `What for?' I asked
her; and she said: `To go and see cousin 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 the carriage. . . . After all, Regina's a brave
woman, and so is 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 our talk."


Archer had been stunned by old Catherine's news.
It was only natural that Madame Olenska should
have hastened from Washington in response to her
grandmother's summons; but that she should have decided
to remain under her roof--especially now that
Mrs. Mingott had almost regained her health--was less
easy to explain.

Archer was sure that Madame Olenska's decision
had not been influenced by the change in her financial
situation. He knew the exact figure of the small income
which her husband had allowed her at their separation.
Without the addition of her grandmother's allowance it
was hardly enough to live on, in any sense known to
the Mingott vocabulary; and now that Medora Manson,
who shared her life, had been ruined, such a
pittance would barely keep the two women clothed and
fed. Yet Archer was convinced that Madame Olenska
had not accepted her grandmother's offer from interested

She had the heedless generosity and the spasmodic
extravagance of persons used to large fortunes, and
indifferent to money; but she could go without many
things which her relations considered indispensable,
and Mrs. Lovell Mingott and Mrs. Welland had often
been heard to deplore that any one who had enjoyed
the cosmopolitan luxuries of Count Olenski's establishments
should care so little about "how things were
done." Moreover, as Archer knew, several months had
passed since her allowance had been cut off; yet in the
interval she had made no effort to regain her grand-
mother's favour. Therefore if she had changed her course
it must be for a different reason.

He did not have far to seek for that reason. On the
way from the ferry she had told him that he and she
must remain apart; but she had said it with her head
on his breast. He knew that there was no calculated
coquetry in her words; she was fighting her fate as he
had fought his, and clinging desperately to her resolve
that they should not break faith with the people who
trusted them. But during the ten days which had elapsed
since her return to New York she had perhaps guessed
from his silence, and from the fact of his making no
attempt to see her, that he was meditating a decisive
step, a step from which there was no turning back. At
the thought, a sudden fear of her own weakness might
have seized her, and she might have felt that, after all,
it was better to accept the compromise usual in such
cases, and follow the line of least resistance.

An hour earlier, when he had rung Mrs. Mingott's
bell, Archer had fancied that his path was clear before
him. He had meant to have a word alone with Madame
Olenska, and failing that, to learn from her
grandmother on what day, and by which train, she was
returning to Washington. In that train he intended to
join her, and travel with her to Washington, or as
much farther as she was willing to go. His own fancy
inclined to Japan. At any rate she would understand at
once that, wherever she went, he was going. He meant
to leave a note for May that should cut off any other

He had fancied himself not only nerved for this
plunge but eager to take it; yet his first feeling on
hearing that the course of events was changed had been
one of relief. Now, however, as he walked home from
Mrs. Mingott's, he was conscious of a growing distaste
for what lay before him. There was nothing unknown
or unfamiliar in the path he was presumably to tread;
but when he had trodden it before it was as a free man,
who was accountable to no one for his actions, and
could lend himself with an amused detachment to the
game of precautions and prevarications, concealments
and compliances, that the part required. This procedure
was called "protecting a woman's honour"; and
the best fiction, combined with the after-dinner talk of
his elders, had long since initiated him into every detail
of its code.

Now he saw the matter in a new light, and his part
in it seemed singularly diminished. It was, in fact, that
which, with a secret fatuity, he had watched Mrs.
Thorley Rushworth play toward a fond and unperceiving
husband: a smiling, bantering, humouring, watchful
and incessant lie. A lie by day, a lie by night, a lie in
every touch and every look; a lie in every caress and
every quarrel; a lie in every word and in every silence.

It was easier, and less dastardly on the whole, for a
wife to play such a part toward her husband. A woman's
standard of truthfulness was tacitly held to be
lower: she was the subject creature, and versed in the
arts of the enslaved. Then she could always plead moods
and nerves, and the right not to be held too strictly to
account; and even in the most strait-laced societies the
laugh was always against the husband.

But in Archer's little world no one laughed at a wife
deceived, and a certain measure of contempt was
attached to men who continued their philandering after
marriage. In the rotation of crops there was a recognised
season for wild oats; but they were not to be sown
more than once.

Archer had always shared this view: in his heart he
thought Lefferts despicable. But to love Ellen Olenska
was not to become a man like Lefferts: for the first
time Archer found himself face to face with the dread
argument of the individual case. Ellen Olenska was like
no other woman, he was like no other man: their
situation, therefore, resembled no one else's, and they
were answerable to no tribunal but that of their own

Yes, but in ten minutes more he would be mounting
his own doorstep; and there were May, and habit, and
honour, and all the old decencies that he and his people
had always believed in . . .

At his corner he hesitated, and then walked on down
Fifth Avenue.

Ahead of him, in the winter night, loomed a big unlit
house. As he drew near he thought how often he had
seen it blazing with lights, its steps awninged and carpeted,
and carriages waiting in double line to draw up
at the curbstone. It was in the conservatory that stretched
its dead-black bulk down the side street that he had
taken his first kiss from May; it was under the myriad
candles of the ball-room that he had seen her appear,
tall and silver-shining as a young Diana.

Now the house was as dark as the grave, except for a
faint flare of gas in the basement, and a light in one
upstairs room where the blind had not been lowered.
As Archer reached the corner he saw that the carriage
standing at the door was Mrs. Manson Mingott's. What
an opportunity for Sillerton Jackson, if he should chance
to pass! Archer had been greatly moved by old Catherine's
account of Madame Olenska's attitude toward
Mrs. Beaufort; it made the righteous reprobation of
New York seem like a passing by on the other side. But
he knew well enough what construction the clubs and
drawing-rooms would put on Ellen Olenska's visits to
her cousin.

He paused and looked up at the lighted window. No
doubt the two women were sitting together in that
room: Beaufort had probably sought consolation elsewhere.
There were even rumours that he had left New
York with Fanny Ring; but Mrs. Beaufort's attitude
made the report seem improbable.

Archer had the nocturnal perspective of Fifth Avenue
almost to himself. At that hour most people were
indoors, dressing for dinner; and he was secretly glad
that Ellen's exit was likely to be unobserved. As the
thought passed through his mind the door opened, and
she came out. Behind her was a faint light, such as
might have been carried down the stairs to show her
the way. She turned to say a word to some one; then
the door closed, and she came down the steps.

"Ellen," he said in a low voice, as she reached the

She stopped with a slight start, and just then he saw
two young men of fashionable cut approaching. There
was a familiar air about their overcoats and the way
their smart silk mufflers were folded over their white
ties; and he wondered how youths of their quality
happened to be dining out so early. Then he remembered
that the Reggie Chiverses, whose house was a
few doors above, were taking a large party that evening
to see Adelaide Neilson in Romeo and Juliet, and guessed
that the two were of the number. They passed under a
lamp, and he recognised Lawrence Lefferts and a young

A mean desire not to have Madame Olenska seen at
the Beauforts' door vanished as he felt the penetrating
warmth of her hand.

"I shall see you now--we shall be together," he
broke out, hardly knowing what he said.

"Ah," she answered, "Granny has told you?"

While he watched her he was aware that Lefferts and
Chivers, on reaching the farther side of the street corner,
had discreetly struck away across Fifth Avenue. It
was the kind of masculine solidarity that he himself
often practised; now he sickened at their connivance.
Did she really imagine that he and she could live like
this? And if not, what else did she imagine?

"Tomorrow I must see you--somewhere where we
can be alone," he said, in a voice that sounded almost
angry to his own ears.

She wavered, and moved toward the carriage.

"But I shall be at Granny's--for the present that is,"
she added, as if conscious that her change of plans
required some explanation.

"Somewhere where we can be alone," he insisted.

She gave a faint laugh that grated on him.

"In New York? But there are no churches . . . no

"There's the Art Museum--in the Park," he explained,
as she looked puzzled. "At half-past two. I shall be at
the door . . ."

She turned away without answering and got quickly
into the carriage. As it drove off she leaned forward,
and he thought she waved her hand in the obscurity.
He stared after her in a turmoil of contradictory feelings.
It seemed to him that he had been speaking not to
the woman he loved but to another, a woman he was
indebted to for pleasures already wearied of: it was
hateful to find himself the prisoner of this hackneyed

"She'll come!" he said to himself, almost contemptuously.

Avoiding the popular "Wolfe collection," whose anecdotic
canvases filled one of the main galleries of the queer
wilderness of cast-iron and encaustic tiles known as the
Metropolitan Museum, they had wandered down a
passage to the room where the "Cesnola antiquities"
mouldered in unvisited loneliness.

They had this melancholy retreat to themselves, and
seated on the divan enclosing the central steam-radiator,
they were staring silently at the glass cabinets mounted
in ebonised wood which contained the recovered fragments
of Ilium.

"It's odd," Madame Olenska said, "I never came
here before."

"Ah, well--. Some day, I suppose, it will be a great

"Yes," she assented absently.

She stood up and wandered across the room. Archer,
remaining seated, watched the light movements of her
figure, so girlish even under its heavy furs, the cleverly
planted heron wing in her fur cap, and the way a dark
curl lay like a flattened vine spiral on each cheek above
the ear. His mind, as always when they first met, was
wholly absorbed in the delicious details that made her
herself and no other. Presently he rose and approached
the case before which she stood. Its glass shelves were
crowded with small broken objects--hardly recognisable
domestic utensils, ornaments and personal trifles--made
of glass, of clay, of discoloured bronze and other time-
blurred substances.

"It seems cruel," she said, "that after a while nothing
matters . . . any more than these little things, that used
to be necessary and important to forgotten people, and
now have to be guessed at under a magnifying glass
and labelled: `Use unknown.'"

"Yes; but meanwhile--"

"Ah, meanwhile--"

As she stood there, in her long sealskin coat, her
hands thrust in a small round muff, her veil drawn
down like a transparent mask to the tip of her nose,
and the bunch of violets he had brought her stirring
with her quickly-taken breath, it seemed incredible that
this pure harmony of line and colour should ever suffer
the stupid law of change.

"Meanwhile everything matters--that concerns you,"
he said.

She looked at him thoughtfully, and turned back to
the divan. He sat down beside her and waited; but
suddenly he heard a step echoing far off down the
empty rooms, and felt the pressure of the minutes.

"What is it you wanted to tell me?" she asked, as if
she had received the same warning.

"What I wanted to tell you?" he rejoined. "Why,
that I believe you came to New York because you were


"Of my coming to Washington."

She looked down at her muff, and he saw her hands
stir in it uneasily.


"Well--yes," she said.

"You WERE afraid? You knew--?"

"Yes: I knew . . ."

"Well, then?" he insisted.

"Well, then: this is better, isn't it?" she returned with
a long questioning sigh.


"We shall hurt others less. Isn't it, after all, what you
always wanted?"

"To have you here, you mean--in reach and yet out
of reach? To meet you in this way, on the sly? It's the
very reverse of what I want. I told you the other day
what I wanted."

She hesitated. "And you still think this--worse?"

"A thousand times!" He paused. "It would be easy
to lie to you; but the truth is I think it detestable."

"Oh, so do I!" she cried with a deep breath of relief.

He sprang up impatiently. "Well, then--it's my turn
to ask: what is it, in God's name, that you think

She hung her head and continued to clasp and unclasp
her hands in her muff. The step drew nearer, and
a guardian in a braided cap walked listlessly through
the room like a ghost stalking through a necropolis.
They fixed their eyes simultaneously on the case opposite
them, and when the official figure had vanished
down a vista of mummies and sarcophagi Archer spoke

"What do you think better?"

Instead of answering she murmured: "I promised
Granny to stay with her because it seemed to me that
here I should be safer."

"From me?"

She bent her head slightly, without looking at him.

"Safer from loving me?"

Her profile did not stir, but he saw a tear overflow
on her lashes and hang in a mesh of her veil.

"Safer from doing irreparable harm. Don't let us be
like all the others!" she protested.

"What others? I don't profess to be different from
my kind. I'm consumed by the same wants and the
same longings."

She glanced at him with a kind of terror, and he saw
a faint colour steal into her cheeks.

"Shall I--once come to you; and then go home?" she
suddenly hazarded in a low clear voice.

The blood rushed to the young man's forehead.
"Dearest!" he said, without moving. It seemed as if he
held his heart in his hands, like a full cup that the least
motion might overbrim.

Then her last phrase struck his ear and his face
clouded. "Go home? What do you mean by going

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