He had caught sight, across the house, of Winsett'sshabby round-shouldered back, and had once noticedhis eyes turned toward the Beaufort box. The two menshook hands, and Winsett proposed a bock at a littleGerman restaurant around the corner. Archer, whowas not in the mood for the kind of talk they werelikely to get there, declined on the plea that he hadwork to do at home; and Winsett said: "Oh, well sohave I for that matter, and I'll be the IndustriousApprentice too."
They strolled along together, and presently Winsettsaid: "Look here, what I'm really after is the name ofthe dark lady in that swell box of yours--with theBeauforts, wasn't she? The one your friend Leffertsseems so smitten by."
Archer, he could not have said why, was slightlyannoyed. What the devil did Ned Winsett want withEllen Olenska's name? And above all, why did he coupleit with Lefferts's? It was unlike Winsett to manifestsuch curiosity; but after all, Archer remembered, hewas a journalist.
"It's not for an interview, I hope?" he laughed.
"Well--not for the press; just for myself," Winsettrejoined. "The fact is she's a neighbour of mine--queerquarter for such a beauty to settle in--and she's beenawfully kind to my little boy, who fell down her areachasing his kitten, and gave himself a nasty cut. Sherushed in bareheaded, carrying him in her arms, withhis knee all beautifully bandaged, and was so sympatheticand beautiful that my wife was too dazzled toask her name."
A pleasant glow dilated Archer's heart. There wasnothing extraordinary in the tale: any woman wouldhave done as much for a neighbour's child. But it wasjust like Ellen, he felt, to have rushed in bareheaded,carrying the boy in her arms, and to have dazzled poorMrs. Winsett into forgetting to ask who she was.
"That is the Countess Olenska--a granddaughter ofold Mrs. Mingott's."
"Whew--a Countess!" whistled Ned Winsett. "Well,I didn't know Countesses were so neighbourly. Mingottsain't."
"They would be, if you'd let them."
"Ah, well--" It was their old interminable argumentas to the obstinate unwillingness of the "clever people"to frequent the fashionable, and both men knew thatthere was no use in prolonging it.
"I wonder," Winsett broke off, "how a Countesshappens to live in our slum?"
"Because she doesn't care a hang about where shelives--or about any of our little social sign-posts," saidArcher, with a secret pride in his own picture of her.
"H'm--been in bigger places, I suppose," the othercommented. "Well, here's my corner."
He slouched off across Broadway, and Archer stoodlooking after him and musing on his last words.
Ned Winsett had those flashes of penetration; theywere the most interesting thing about him, and alwaysmade Archer wonder why they had allowed him toaccept failure so stolidly at an age when most men arestill struggling.
Archer had known that Winsett had a wife andchild, but he had never seen them. The two men alwaysmet at the Century, or at some haunt of journalists andtheatrical people, such as the restaurant where Winsetthad proposed to go for a bock. He had given Archer tounderstand that his wife was an invalid; which mightbe true of the poor lady, or might merely mean that shewas lacking in social gifts or in evening clothes, or inboth. Winsett himself had a savage abhorrence of socialobservances: Archer, who dressed in the eveningbecause he thought it cleaner and more comfortable todo so, and who had never stopped to consider thatcleanliness and comfort are two of the costliest items ina modest budget, regarded Winsett's attitude as part ofthe boring "Bohemian" pose that always made fashionablepeople, who changed their clothes without talkingabout it, and were not forever harping on the numberof servants one kept, seem so much simpler and lessself-conscious than the others. Nevertheless, he wasalways stimulated by Winsett, and whenever he caughtsight of the journalist's lean bearded face and melancholyeyes he would rout him out of his corner andcarry him off for a long talk.
Winsett was not a journalist by choice. He was apure man of letters, untimely born in a world that hadno need of letters; but after publishing one volume ofbrief and exquisite literary appreciations, of which onehundred and twenty copies were sold, thirty given away,and the balance eventually destroyed by the publishers(as per contract) to make room for more marketablematerial, he had abandoned his real calling, and takena sub-editorial job on a women's weekly, where fashion-plates and paper patterns alternated with New Englandlove-stories and advertisements of temperance drinks.
温塞特做记者并非出于自己的选择。他是个纯文学家，却生不逢时，来到一个不需要文学的世界上；他出版了一卷短小优美的文学鉴赏集之后——此书卖出 120 本，赠送了30本，其余被出版商（按合同）销毁，以便为更适销的东西让位——便放弃了自己的初衷，担任了一份妇女周报的助理编辑，该报交替发表时装样片。裁剪纸样与新英格兰爱情故事和不含酒精的饮料的广告。
On the subject of "Hearth-fires" (as the paper wascalled) he was inexhaustibly entertaining; but beneathhis fun lurked the sterile bitterness of the still youngman who has tried and given up. His conversationalways 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 ofintellectual interests and curiosities made their talksexhilarating, their exchange of views usually remainedwithin 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 tobe done about it. I've got only one ware to produce,and there's no market for it here, and won't be in mytime. But you're free and you're well-off. Why don'tyou get into touch? There's only one way to do it: togo into politics."
Archer threw his head back and laughed. There onesaw at a flash the unbridgeable difference between menlike Winsett and the others--Archer's kind. Every onein polite circles knew that, in America, "a gentlemancouldn't go into politics." But, since he could hardlyput it in that way to Winsett, he answered evasively:"Look at the career of the honest man in Americanpolitics! They don't want us."
"Who's `they'? Why don't you all get together andbe `they' yourselves?"
Archer's laugh lingered on his lips in a slightlycondescending smile. It was useless to prolong thediscussion: everybody knew the melancholy fate of thefew gentlemen who had risked their clean linen inmunicipal or state politics in New York. The day waspast when that sort of thing was possible: the countrywas in possession of the bosses and the emigrant, anddecent people had to fall back on sport or culture.
"Culture! Yes--if we had it! But there are just a fewlittle local patches, dying out here and there for lackof--well, hoeing and cross-fertilising: the last remnantsof the old European tradition that your forebears broughtwith them. But you're in a pitiful little minority: you'vegot no centre, no competition, no audience. You're likethe pictures on the walls of a deserted house: `ThePortrait of a Gentleman.' You'll never amount to anything,any of you, till you roll up your sleeves and getright down into the muck. That, or emigrate . . . God!If I could emigrate . . ."
Archer mentally shrugged his shoulders and turnedthe conversation back to books, where Winsett, ifuncertain, was always interesting. Emigrate! As if agentleman could abandon his own country! One could nomore do that than one could roll up one's sleeves andgo down into the muck. A gentleman simply stayed athome and abstained. But you couldn't make a man likeWinsett see that; and that was why the New York ofliterary clubs and exotic restaurants, though a firstshake made it seem more of a kaleidoscope, turned out,in the end, to be a smaller box, with a more monotonouspattern, than the assembled atoms of Fifth Avenue.
The next morning Archer scoured the town in vain formore yellow roses. In consequence of this search hearrived late at the office, perceived that his doing somade no difference whatever to any one, and was filledwith sudden exasperation at the elaborate futility of hislife. Why should he not be, at that moment, on thesands of St. Augustine with May Welland? No one wasdeceived by his pretense of professional activity. Inold-fashioned legal firms like that of which Mr. Letterblairwas the head, and which were mainly engaged inthe management of large estates and "conservative"investments, there were always two or three youngmen, fairly well-off, and without professional ambition,who, for a certain number of hours of each day, sat attheir desks accomplishing trivial tasks, or simply readingthe newspapers. Though it was supposed to beproper for them to have an occupation, the crude factof money-making was still regarded as derogatory, andthe law, being a profession, was accounted a moregentlemanly pursuit than business. But none of theseyoung men had much hope of really advancing in hisprofession, or any earnest desire to do so; and overmany of them the green mould of the perfunctory wasalready perceptibly spreading.
It made Archer shiver to think that it might be spreadingover him too. He had, to be sure, other tastes andinterests; he spent his vacations in European travel,cultivated the "clever people" May spoke of, andgenerally tried to "keep up," as he had somewhat wistfullyput it to Madame Olenska. But once he was married,what would become of this narrow margin of life inwhich his real experiences were lived? He had seenenough of other young men who had dreamed hisdream, though perhaps less ardently, and who hadgradually sunk into the placid and luxurious routine oftheir elders.
From the office he sent a note by messenger to MadameOlenska, asking if he might call that afternoon,and begging her to let him find a reply at his club; butat the club he found nothing, nor did he receive anyletter the following day. This unexpected silence mortifiedhim beyond reason, and though the next morninghe saw a glorious cluster of yellow roses behind aflorist's window-pane, he left it there. It was only onthe third morning that he received a line by post fromthe Countess Olenska. To his surprise it was datedfrom Skuytercliff, whither the van der Luydens hadpromptly retreated after putting the Duke on board hissteamer.
"I ran away," the writer began abruptly (without theusual preliminaries), "the day after I saw you at theplay, and these kind friends have taken me in. I wantedto be quiet, and think things over. You were right intelling me how kind they were; I feel myself so safehere. I wish that you were with us." She ended with aconventional "Yours sincerely," and without any allusionto the date of her return.
The tone of the note surprised the young man. Whatwas Madame Olenska running away from, and whydid she feel the need to be safe? His first thought wasof some dark menace from abroad; then he reflectedthat he did not know her epistolary style, and that itmight run to picturesque exaggeration. Women alwaysexaggerated; and moreover she was not wholly at herease in English, which she often spoke as if she weretranslating from the French. "Je me suis evadee--" putin that way, the opening sentence immediately suggestedthat she might merely have wanted to escapefrom a boring round of engagements; which was verylikely true, for he judged her to be capricious, andeasily 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 ofSkuytercliff were rarely and grudgingly opened to visitors,and a chilly week-end was the most ever offeredto the few thus privileged. But Archer had seen, on hislast visit to Paris, the delicious play of Labiche, "LeVoyage de M. Perrichon," and he remembered M.Perrichon's dogged and undiscouraged attachment tothe young man whom he had pulled out of the glacier.The van der Luydens had rescued Madame Olenskafrom a doom almost as icy; and though there weremany other reasons for being attracted to her, Archerknew that beneath them all lay the gentle and obstinatedetermination to go on rescuing her.
He felt a distinct disappointment on learning that shewas away; and almost immediately remembered that,only the day before, he had refused an invitation tospend the following Sunday with the Reggie Chiversesat their house on the Hudson, a few miles belowSkuytercliff.
He had had his fill long ago of the noisy friendlyparties at Highbank, with coasting, ice-boating, sleighing,long tramps in the snow, and a general flavour ofmild flirting and milder practical jokes. He had justreceived a box of new books from his London book-seller, and had preferred the prospect of a quiet Sundayat home with his spoils. But he now went into the clubwriting-room, wrote a hurried telegram, and told theservant to send it immediately. He knew that Mrs.Reggie didn't object to her visitors' suddenly changingtheir minds, and that there was always a room to sparein her elastic house.