The young man, who was dining alone with hismother and sister, glanced up in surprise and saw Mrs.Archer's gaze demurely bent on her plate. Mrs. Archerdid not regard her seclusion from the world as a reasonfor being forgotten by it; and Newland guessed thatshe was slightly annoyed that he should be surprised byMadame Olenska's visit.
"She had on a black velvet polonaise with jetbuttons, and a tiny green monkey muff; I never saw her sostylishly dressed," Janey continued. "She came alone,early on Sunday afternoon; luckily the fire was lit inthe drawing-room. She had one of those new card-cases. She said she wanted to know us because you'dbeen so good to her."
Newland laughed. "Madame Olenska always takesthat tone about her friends. She's very happy at beingamong her own people again."
"Yes, so she told us," said Mrs. Archer. "I must sayshe seems thankful to be here."
"I hope you liked her, mother."
Mrs. Archer drew her lips together. "She certainlylays herself out to please, even when she is calling onan old lady."
"Mother doesn't think her simple," Janey interjected,her eyes screwed upon her brother's face.
"It's just my old-fashioned feeling; dear May is myideal," said Mrs. Archer.
"Ah," said her son, "they're not alike."
Archer had left St. Augustine charged with manymessages for old Mrs. Mingott; and a day or two after hisreturn to town he called on her.
The old lady received him with unusual warmth; shewas grateful to him for persuading the Countess Olenskato give up the idea of a divorce; and when he told herthat he had deserted the office without leave, and rusheddown to St. Augustine simply because he wanted to seeMay, she gave an adipose chuckle and patted his kneewith her puff-ball hand.
"Ah, ah--so you kicked over the traces, did you?And I suppose Augusta and Welland pulled long faces,and behaved as if the end of the world had come? Butlittle May--she knew better, I'll be bound?"
"I hoped she did; but after all she wouldn't agree towhat I'd gone down to ask for."
"Wouldn't she indeed? And what was that?"
"I wanted to get her to promise that we should bemarried in April. What's the use of our wasting another year?"
Mrs. Manson Mingott screwed up her little mouthinto a grimace of mimic prudery and twinkled at himthrough malicious lids. "`Ask Mamma,' I suppose--the usual story. Ah, these Mingotts--all alike! Born ina rut, and you can't root 'em out of it. When I builtthis house you'd have thought I was moving to California!Nobody ever HAD built above Fortieth Street--no,says I, nor above the Battery either, before ChristopherColumbus discovered America. No, no; not one ofthem wants to be different; they're as scared of it as thesmall-pox. Ah, my dear Mr. Archer, I thank my starsI'm nothing but a vulgar Spicer; but there's not one ofmy own children that takes after me but my littleEllen." She broke off, still twinkling at him, and asked,with the casual irrelevance of old age: "Now, why inthe world didn't you marry my little Ellen?"
Archer laughed. "For one thing, she wasn't there tobe married."
"No--to be sure; more's the pity. And now it's toolate; her life is finished." She spoke with the cold-blooded complacency of the aged throwing earth intothe grave of young hopes. The young man's heart grewchill, and he said hurriedly: "Can't I persuade you touse your influence with the Wellands, Mrs. Mingott? Iwasn't made for long engagements."
Old Catherine beamed on him approvingly. "No; Ican see that. You've got a quick eye. When you were alittle boy I've no doubt you liked to be helped first."She threw back her head with a laugh that made herchins ripple like little waves. "Ah, here's my Ellennow!" she exclaimed, as the portieres parted behindher.
Madame Olenska came forward with a smile. Herface looked vivid and happy, and she held out her handgaily to Archer while she stooped to her grandmother'skiss.
"I was just saying to him, my dear: `Now, whydidn't you marry my little Ellen?'"
Madame Olenska looked at Archer, still smiling. "Andwhat did he answer?"
"Oh, my darling, I leave you to find that out! He'sbeen down to Florida to see his sweetheart."
"Yes, I know." She still looked at him. "I went to seeyour mother, to ask where you'd gone. I sent a notethat you never answered, and I was afraid you wereill."
He muttered something about leaving unexpectedly,in a great hurry, and having intended to write to herfrom St. Augustine.
"And of course once you were there you never thoughtof me again!" She continued to beam on him with agaiety that might have been a studied assumption ofindifference.
"If she still needs me, she's determined not to let mesee it," he thought, stung by her manner. He wanted tothank her for having been to see his mother, but underthe ancestress's malicious eye he felt himself tongue-tied and constrained.
"Look at him--in such hot haste to get married thathe took French leave and rushed down to implore thesilly girl on his knees! That's something like a lover--that's the way handsome Bob Spicer carried off mypoor mother; and then got tired of her before I wasweaned--though they only had to wait eight monthsfor me! But there--you're not a Spicer, young man;luckily for you and for May. It's only my poor Ellenthat has kept any of their wicked blood; the rest ofthem are all model Mingotts," cried the old ladyscornfully.
Archer was aware that Madame Olenska, who hadseated herself at her grandmother's side, was stillthoughtfully scrutinising him. The gaiety had fadedfrom her eyes, and she said with great gentleness: "Surely,Granny, we can persuade them between us to do as hewishes."
Archer rose to go, and as his hand met MadameOlenska's he felt that she was waiting for him to makesome allusion to her unanswered letter.
"When can I see you?" he asked, as she walked withhim to the door of the room.
"Whenever you like; but it must be soon if you wantto see the little house again. I am moving next week."
A pang shot through him at the memory of hislamplit hours in the low-studded drawing-room. Fewas they had been, they were thick with memories.
She nodded. "Tomorrow; yes; but early. I'm goingout."
The next day was a Sunday, and if she were "goingout" on a Sunday evening it could, of course, be onlyto Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's. He felt a slight movementof annoyance, not so much at her going there (for herather liked her going where she pleased in spite of thevan der Luydens), but because it was the kind of houseat which she was sure to meet Beaufort, where shemust have known beforehand that she would meethim--and where she was probably going for thatpurpose.
"Very well; tomorrow evening," he repeated, inwardlyresolved that he would not go early, and that by reachingher door late he would either prevent her fromgoing to Mrs. Struthers's, or else arrive after she hadstarted--which, all things considered, would no doubtbe the simplest solution.
It was only half-past eight, after all, when he rang thebell under the wisteria; not as late as he had intendedby half an hour--but a singular restlessness had drivenhim to her door. He reflected, however, that Mrs.Struthers's Sunday evenings were not like a ball, andthat her guests, as if to minimise their delinquency,usually went early.
The one thing he had not counted on, in enteringMadame Olenska's hall, was to find hats and overcoatsthere. Why had she bidden him to come early if shewas having people to dine? On a closer inspection ofthe garments besides which Nastasia was laying hisown, his resentment gave way to curiosity. The overcoatswere in fact the very strangest he had ever seenunder a polite roof; and it took but a glance to assurehimself that neither of them belonged to Julius Beaufort.One was a shaggy yellow ulster of "reach-me-down" cut, the other a very old and rusty cloak with acape--something like what the French called a "Macfarlane."This garment, which appeared to be made fora person of prodigious size, had evidently seen longand hard wear, and its greenish-black folds gave out amoist sawdusty smell suggestive of prolonged sessionsagainst bar-room walls. On it lay a ragged grey scarfand an odd felt hat of semiclerical shape.
Archer raised his eyebrows enquiringly at Nastasia,who raised hers in return with a fatalistic "Gia!" asshe threw open the drawing-room door.
The young man saw at once that his hostess was notin the room; then, with surprise, he discovered anotherlady standing by the fire. This lady, who was long, leanand loosely put together, was clad in raiment intricatelylooped and fringed, with plaids and stripes andbands of plain colour disposed in a design to which theclue seemed missing. Her hair, which had tried to turnwhite and only succeeded in fading, was surmountedby a Spanish comb and black lace scarf, and silk mittens,visibly darned, covered her rheumatic hands.
Beside her, in a cloud of cigar-smoke, stood theowners of the two overcoats, both in morning clothesthat they had evidently not taken off since morning. Inone of the two, Archer, to his surprise, recognised NedWinsett; the other and older, who was unknown tohim, and whose gigantic frame declared him to be thewearer of the "Macfarlane," had a feebly leonine headwith crumpled grey hair, and moved his arms withlarge pawing gestures, as though he were distributinglay blessings to a kneeling multitude.
These three persons stood together on the hearth-rug, their eyes fixed on an extraordinarily large bouquetof crimson roses, with a knot of purple pansies attheir base, that lay on the sofa where Madame Olenskausually sat.
"What they must have cost at this season--though ofcourse it's the sentiment one cares about!" the lady wassaying in a sighing staccato as Archer came in.
The three turned with surprise at his appearance,and the lady, advancing, held out her hand.
"Dear Mr. Archer--almost my cousin Newland!"she said. "I am the Marchioness Manson."
Archer bowed, and she continued: "My Ellen hastaken me in for a few days. I came from Cuba, where Ihave been spending the winter with Spanish friends--such delightful distinguished people: the highest nobilityof old Castile--how I wish you could know them!But I was called away by our dear great friend here,Dr. Carver. You don't know Dr. Agathon Carver,founder of the Valley of Love Community?"
Dr. Carver inclined his leonine head, and theMarchioness continued: "Ah, New York--New York--howlittle the life of the spirit has reached it! But I see youdo know Mr. Winsett."
"Oh, yes--I reached him some time ago; but not bythat route," Winsett said with his dry smile.
The Marchioness shook her head reprovingly. "Howdo you know, Mr. Winsett? The spirit bloweth where itlisteth."
"List--oh, list!" interjected Dr. Carver in a stentorianmurmur.
"But do sit down, Mr. Archer. We four have beenhaving a delightful little dinner together, and my childhas gone up to dress. She expects you; she will bedown in a moment. We were just admiring these marvellousflowers, which will surprise her when shereappears."
Winsett remained on his feet. "I'm afraid I must beoff. Please tell Madame Olenska that we shall all feellost when she abandons our street. This house has beenan oasis."
"Ah, but she won't abandon YOU. Poetry and art arethe breath of life to her. It IS poetry you write, Mr.Winsett?"
"Well, no; but I sometimes read it," said Winsett,including the group in a general nod and slipping outof the room.
"A caustic spirit--un peu sauvage. But so witty; Dr.Carver, you DO think him witty?"
"I never think of wit," said Dr. Carver severely.
"Ah--ah--you never think of wit! How merciless heis to us weak mortals, Mr. Archer! But he lives only inthe life of the spirit; and tonight he is mentally preparingthe lecture he is to deliver presently at Mrs. Blenker's.Dr. Carver, would there be time, before you start forthe Blenkers' to explain to Mr. Archer your illuminatingdiscovery of the Direct Contact? But no; I see it isnearly nine o'clock, and we have no right to detain youwhile so many are waiting for your message."
Dr. Carver looked slightly disappointed at thisconclusion, but, having compared his ponderous gold time-piece with Madame Olenska's little travelling-clock, hereluctantly gathered up his mighty limbs for departure.
"I shall see you later, dear friend?" he suggested tothe Marchioness, who replied with a smile: "As soonas Ellen's carriage comes I will join you; I do hope thelecture won't have begun."
Dr. Carver looked thoughtfully at Archer. "Perhaps,if this young gentleman is interested in my experiences,Mrs. Blenker might allow you to bring him with you?"
"Oh, dear friend, if it were possible--I am sure shewould be too happy. But I fear my Ellen counts on Mr.Archer herself."
"That," said Dr. Carver, "is unfortunate--but hereis my card." He handed it to Archer, who read on it, inGothic characters:
|---------------------------|| Agathon Carter || The Valley of Love || Kittasquattamy, N. Y. ||---------------------------|
Dr. Carver bowed himself out, and Mrs. Manson,with a sigh that might have been either of regret orrelief, again waved Archer to a seat.
"Ellen will be down in a moment; and before shecomes, I am so glad of this quiet moment with you."
Archer murmured his pleasure at their meeting, andthe Marchioness continued, in her low sighing accents:"I know everything, dear Mr. Archer--my child hastold me all you have done for her. Your wise advice:your courageous firmness--thank heaven it was nottoo late!"
The young man listened with considerableembarrassment. Was there any one, he wondered, to whomMadame Olenska had not proclaimed his interventionin her private affairs?
"Madame Olenska exaggerates; I simply gave her alegal opinion, as she asked me to."
"Ah, but in doing it--in doing it you were theunconscious instrument of--of--what word have we modernsfor Providence, Mr. Archer?" cried the lady, tiltingher head on one side and drooping her lids mysteriously."Little did you know that at that very moment Iwas being appealed to: being approached, in fact--fromthe other side of the Atlantic!"
She glanced over her shoulder, as though fearful ofbeing overheard, and then, drawing her chair nearer,and raising a tiny ivory fan to her lips, breathed behindit: "By the Count himself--my poor, mad, foolishOlenski; who asks only to take her back on her ownterms."
"Good God!" Archer exclaimed, springing up.
"You are horrified? Yes, of course; I understand. Idon't defend poor Stanislas, though he has always calledme his best friend. He does not defend himself--hecasts himself at her feet: in my person." She tapped heremaciated bosom. "I have his letter here."
"A letter?--Has Madame Olenska seen it?" Archerstammered, his brain whirling with the shock of theannouncement.
The Marchioness Manson shook her head softly."Time--time; I must have time. I know my Ellen--haughty, intractable; shall I say, just a shadeunforgiving?"
"But, good heavens, to forgive is one thing; to goback into that hell--"
"Ah, yes," the Marchioness acquiesced. "So shedescribes it--my sensitive child! But on the material side,Mr. Archer, if one may stoop to consider such things;do you know what she is giving up? Those roses thereon the sofa--acres like them, under glass and in theopen, in his matchless terraced gardens at Nice! Jewels--historic pearls: the Sobieski emeralds--sables,--but shecares nothing for all these! Art and beauty, those shedoes care for, she lives for, as I always have; and thosealso surrounded her. Pictures, priceless furniture, music,brilliant conversation--ah, that, my dear youngman, if you'll excuse me, is what you've no conceptionof here! And she had it all; and the homage of thegreatest. She tells me she is not thought handsome inNew York--good heavens! Her portrait has been paintednine times; the greatest artists in Europe have beggedfor the privilege. Are these things nothing? And theremorse of an adoring husband?"
As the Marchioness Manson rose to her climax herface assumed an expression of ecstatic retrospectionwhich would have moved Archer's mirth had he notbeen numb with amazement.
He would have laughed if any one had foretold tohim that his first sight of poor Medora Manson wouldhave been in the guise of a messenger of Satan; but hewas in no mood for laughing now, and she seemed tohim to come straight out of the hell from which EllenOlenska had just escaped.
“啊，对，”侯爵夫人赞同地说。“她也这样讲——我那敏感的孩子！不过，在物质方面，阿切尔先生，如果你可以屈尊考虑一下，你知道她打算放弃的是什么吗？瞧沙发上那些玫瑰——在他那无与伦比的尼斯台地花园里有几英亩这样的花，种在暖房里和露天里。还有珠宝——有历史价值的珍珠：索比埃斯基国王的祖母绿—— 紫貂皮——但她对这些东西一点都不在意！艺术和美，这才是她喜欢的，她活着就为了这，就像我一贯那样；而这些东西也一直包围着她。绘画、价值连城的家具、音乐、聪敏的谈话——啊，请原谅，亲爱的年轻人——这些东西你们这儿根本不懂！而她却全都拥有，并得到最崇高的敬意。她对我讲，在纽约人们认为她不漂亮 ——老天爷！她的像被画过9次，欧洲最伟大的画家恳求她赐给他们这种恩惠。难道这些事情都无足轻重吗？还有崇拜她的那位丈夫的悔恨呢？”
"She knows nothing yet--of all this?" he askedabruptly.
Mrs. Manson laid a purple finger on her lips."Nothing directly--but does she suspect? Who can tell? Thetruth is, Mr. Archer, I have been waiting to see you.From the moment I heard of the firm stand you hadtaken, and of your influence over her, I hoped it mightbe possible to count on your support--to convinceyou . . ."
"That she ought to go back? I would rather see herdead!" cried the young man violently.
"Ah," the Marchioness murmured, without visibleresentment. For a while she sat in her arm-chair, openingand shutting the absurd ivory fan between hermittened fingers; but suddenly she lifted her head andlistened.
"Here she comes," she said in a rapid whisper; andthen, pointing to the bouquet on the sofa: "Am I tounderstand that you prefer THAT, Mr. Archer? After all,marriage is marriage . . . and my niece is still a wife. . .