The turf was hemmed with an edge of scarlet geraniumand coleus, and cast-iron vases painted in chocolatecolour, standing at intervals along the windingpath that led to the sea, looped their garlands ofpetunia and ivy geranium above the neatly raked gravel.
Half way between the edge of the cliff and the squarewooden house (which was also chocolate-coloured, butwith the tin roof of the verandah striped in yellow andbrown to represent an awning) two large targets hadbeen placed against a background of shrubbery. On theother side of the lawn, facing the targets, was pitched areal tent, with benches and garden-seats about it. Anumber of ladies in summer dresses and gentlemen ingrey frock-coats and tall hats stood on the lawn or satupon the benches; and every now and then a slendergirl in starched muslin would step from the tent,bow in hand, and speed her shaft at one of the targets,while the spectators interrupted their talk to watchthe result.
Newland Archer, standing on the verandah of thehouse, looked curiously down upon this scene. On eachside of the shiny painted steps was a large blue chinaflower-pot on a bright yellow china stand. A spikygreen plant filled each pot, and below the verandah rana wide border of blue hydrangeas edged with more redgeraniums. Behind him, the French windows of thedrawing-rooms through which he had passed gaveglimpses, between swaying lace curtains, of glassy parquetfloors islanded with chintz poufs, dwarf armchairs,and velvet tables covered with trifles in silver.
The Newport Archery Club always held its Augustmeeting at the Beauforts'. The sport, which had hithertoknown no rival but croquet, was beginning to bediscarded in favour of lawn-tennis; but the latter gamewas still considered too rough and inelegant for socialoccasions, and as an opportunity to show off prettydresses and graceful attitudes the bow and arrow heldtheir own.
Archer looked down with wonder at the familiarspectacle. It surprised him that life should be going onin the old way when his own reactions to it had socompletely changed. It was Newport that had firstbrought home to him the extent of the change. In NewYork, during the previous winter, after he and Mayhad settled down in the new greenish-yellow housewith the bow-window and the Pompeian vestibule, hehad dropped back with relief into the old routine of theoffice, and the renewal of this daily activity had servedas a link with his former self. Then there had been thepleasurable excitement of choosing a showy grey stepperfor May's brougham (the Wellands had given thecarriage), and the abiding occupation and interest ofarranging his new library, which, in spite of familydoubts and disapprovals, had been carried out as hehad dreamed, with a dark embossed paper, Eastlakebook-cases and "sincere" arm-chairs and tables. At theCentury he had found Winsett again, and at the Knickerbockerthe fashionable young men of his own set;and what with the hours dedicated to the law andthose given to dining out or entertaining friends athome, with an occasional evening at the Opera or theplay, the life he was living had still seemed a fairly realand inevitable sort of business.
But Newport represented the escape from duty intoan atmosphere of unmitigated holiday-making. Archerhad tried to persuade May to spend the summer on aremote island off the coast of Maine (called, appropriatelyenough, Mount Desert), where a few hardy Bostoniansand Philadelphians were camping in "native"cottages, and whence came reports of enchantingscenery and a wild, almost trapper-like existence amidwoods and waters.
But the Wellands always went to Newport, wherethey owned one of the square boxes on the cliffs, andtheir son-in-law could adduce no good reason why heand May should not join them there. As Mrs. Wellandrather tartly pointed out, it was hardly worth while forMay to have worn herself out trying on summer clothesin Paris if she was not to be allowed to wear them; andthis argument was of a kind to which Archer had as yetfound no answer.
May herself could not understand his obscurereluctance to fall in with so reasonable and pleasant a wayof spending the summer. She reminded him that he hadalways liked Newport in his bachelor days, and as thiswas indisputable he could only profess that he was surehe was going to like it better than ever now that theywere to be there together. But as he stood on theBeaufort verandah and looked out on the brightly peopledlawn it came home to him with a shiver that hewas not going to like it at all.
It was not May's fault, poor dear. If, now and then,during their travels, they had fallen slightly out of step,harmony had been restored by their return to theconditions she was used to. He had always foreseen thatshe would not disappoint him; and he had been right.He had married (as most young men did) because hehad met a perfectly charming girl at the moment whena series of rather aimless sentimental adventures wereending in premature disgust; and she had representedpeace, stability, comradeship, and the steadying senseof an unescapable duty.
He could not say that he had been mistaken in hischoice, for she had fulfilled all that he had expected. Itwas undoubtedly gratifying to be the husband of one ofthe handsomest and most popular young married womenin New York, especially when she was also one of thesweetest-tempered and most reasonable of wives; andArcher had never been insensible to such advantages.As for the momentary madness which had fallen uponhim on the eve of his marriage, he had trained himselfto regard it as the last of his discarded experiments.The idea that he could ever, in his senses, have dreamedof marrying the Countess Olenska had become almostunthinkable, and she remained in his memory simply asthe most plaintive and poignant of a line of ghosts.
But all these abstractions and eliminations madeof his mind a rather empty and echoing place, and hesupposed that was one of the reasons why the busyanimated people on the Beaufort lawn shocked him asif they had been children playing in a grave-yard.
He heard a murmur of skirts beside him, and theMarchioness Manson fluttered out of the drawing-roomwindow. As usual, she was extraordinarily festoonedand bedizened, with a limp Leghorn hat anchored toher head by many windings of faded gauze, and a littleblack velvet parasol on a carved ivory handle absurdlybalanced over her much larger hatbrim.
"My dear Newland, I had no idea that you and Mayhad arrived! You yourself came only yesterday, yousay? Ah, business--business--professional duties . . . Iunderstand. Many husbands, I know, find it impossibleto join their wives here except for the week-end." Shecocked her head on one side and languished at himthrough screwed-up eyes. "But marriage is one longsacrifice, as I used often to remind my Ellen--"
Archer's heart stopped with the queer jerk which ithad given once before, and which seemed suddenly toslam a door between himself and the outer world; butthis break of continuity must have been of the briefest,for he presently heard Medora answering a question hehad apparently found voice to put.
"No, I am not staying here, but with the Blenkers, intheir delicious solitude at Portsmouth. Beaufort waskind enough to send his famous trotters for me thismorning, so that I might have at least a glimpse of oneof Regina's garden-parties; but this evening I go backto rural life. The Blenkers, dear original beings, havehired a primitive old farm-house at Portsmouth wherethey gather about them representative people . . ." Shedrooped slightly beneath her protecting brim, and addedwith a faint blush: "This week Dr. Agathon Carver isholding a series of Inner Thought meetings there. Acontrast indeed to this gay scene of worldly pleasure--but then I have always lived on contrasts! To me theonly death is monotony. I always say to Ellen: Bewareof monotony; it's the mother of all the deadly sins. Butmy poor child is going through a phase of exaltation,of abhorrence of the world. You know, I suppose, thatshe has declined all invitations to stay at Newport,even with her grandmother Mingott? I could hardlypersuade her to come with me to the Blenkers', if youwill believe it! The life she leads is morbid, unnatural.Ah, if she had only listened to me when it was stillpossible . . . When the door was still open . . . Butshall we go down and watch this absorbing match? Ihear your May is one of the competitors."
Strolling toward them from the tent Beaufortadvanced over the lawn, tall, heavy, too tightly buttonedinto a London frock-coat, with one of his own orchidsin its buttonhole. Archer, who had not seen him fortwo or three months, was struck by the change in hisappearance. In the hot summer light his floridness seemedheavy and bloated, and but for his erect square-shouldered walk he would have looked like an over-fedand over-dressed old man.
There were all sorts of rumours afloat aboutBeaufort. In the spring he had gone off on a long cruise tothe West Indies in his new steam-yacht, and it wasreported that, at various points where he had touched,a lady resembling Miss Fanny Ring had been seen inhis company. The steam-yacht, built in the Clyde, andfitted with tiled bath-rooms and other unheard-of luxuries,was said to have cost him half a million; and thepearl necklace which he had presented to his wife onhis return was as magnificent as such expiatory offeringsare apt to be. Beaufort's fortune was substantialenough to stand the strain; and yet the disquietingrumours persisted, not only in Fifth Avenue but in WallStreet. Some people said he had speculated unfortunatelyin railways, others that he was being bled by oneof the most insatiable members of her profession; andto every report of threatened insolvency Beaufortreplied by a fresh extravagance: the building of a newrow of orchid-houses, the purchase of a new string ofrace-horses, or the addition of a new Meissonnier orCabanel to his picture-gallery.
He advanced toward the Marchioness and Newlandwith his usual half-sneering smile. "Hullo, Medora!Did the trotters do their business? Forty minutes, eh?. . . Well, that's not so bad, considering your nerveshad to be spared." He shook hands with Archer, andthen, turning back with them, placed himself on Mrs.Manson's other side, and said, in a low voice, a fewwords which their companion did not catch.
The Marchioness replied by one of her queer foreignjerks, and a "Que voulez-vous?" which deepened Beaufort'sfrown; but he produced a good semblance of acongratulatory smile as he glanced at Archer to say:"You know May's going to carry off the first prize."
"Ah, then it remains in the family," Medora rippled;and at that moment they reached the tent and Mrs.Beaufort met them in a girlish cloud of mauve muslinand floating veils.
May Welland was just coming out of the tent. In herwhite dress, with a pale green ribbon about the waistand a wreath of ivy on her hat, she had the sameDiana-like aloofness as when she had entered the Beaufortball-room on the night of her engagement. In theinterval not a thought seemed to have passed behindher eyes or a feeling through her heart; and though herhusband knew that she had the capacity for both hemarvelled afresh at the way in which experience droppedaway from her.
She had her bow and arrow in her hand, and placingherself on the chalk-mark traced on the turf she liftedthe bow to her shoulder and took aim. The attitudewas so full of a classic grace that a murmur of appreciationfollowed her appearance, and Archer felt theglow of proprietorship that so often cheated him intomomentary well-being. Her rivals--Mrs. Reggie Chivers,the Merry girls, and divers rosy Thorleys, Dagonetsand Mingotts, stood behind her in a lovely anxiousgroup, brown heads and golden bent above the scores,and pale muslins and flower-wreathed hats mingled ina tender rainbow. All were young and pretty, andbathed in summer bloom; but not one had the nymph-like ease of his wife, when, with tense muscles andhappy frown, she bent her soul upon some feat ofstrength.
"Gad," Archer heard Lawrence Lefferts say, "notone of the lot holds the bow as she does"; and Beaufortretorted: "Yes; but that's the only kind of target she'llever hit."
Archer felt irrationally angry. His host's contemptuoustribute to May's "niceness" was just what a husbandshould have wished to hear said of his wife. Thefact that a coarseminded man found her lacking inattraction was simply another proof of her quality; yetthe words sent a faint shiver through his heart. What if"niceness" carried to that supreme degree were only anegation, the curtain dropped before an emptiness? Ashe looked at May, returning flushed and calm from herfinal bull's-eye, he had the feeling that he had never yetlifted that curtain.
She took the congratulations of her rivals and of therest of the company with the simplicity that was hercrowning grace. No one could ever be jealous of hertriumphs because she managed to give the feeling thatshe would have been just as serene if she had missedthem. But when her eyes met her husband's her faceglowed with the pleasure she saw in his.
Mrs. Welland's basket-work pony-carriage was waitingfor them, and they drove off among the dispersingcarriages, May handling the reins and Archer sitting ather side.
The afternoon sunlight still lingered upon the brightlawns and shrubberies, and up and down Bellevue Avenuerolled a double line of victorias, dog-carts, landausand "vis-a-vis," carrying well-dressed ladies andgentlemen away from the Beaufort garden-party, or homewardfrom their daily afternoon turn along the OceanDrive.
"Shall we go to see Granny?" May suddenlyproposed. "I should like to tell her myself that I've wonthe prize. There's lots of time before dinner."
Archer acquiesced, and she turned the ponies downNarragansett Avenue, crossed Spring Street and droveout toward the rocky moorland beyond. In this unfashionableregion Catherine the Great, always indifferentto precedent and thrifty of purse, had built herself inher youth a many-peaked and cross-beamed cottage-orne on a bit of cheap land overlooking the bay. Here,in a thicket of stunted oaks, her verandahs spreadthemselves above the island-dotted waters. A windingdrive led up between iron stags and blue glass ballsembedded in mounds of geraniums to a front door ofhighly-varnished walnut under a striped verandah-roof;and behind it ran a narrow hall with a black andyellow star-patterned parquet floor, upon which openedfour small square rooms with heavy flock-papers underceilings on which an Italian house-painter had lavishedall the divinities of Olympus. One of these rooms hadbeen turned into a bedroom by Mrs. Mingott when theburden of flesh descended on her, and in the adjoiningone she spent her days, enthroned in a large armchairbetween the open door and window, and perpetuallywaving a palm-leaf fan which the prodigious projectionof her bosom kept so far from the rest of her personthat the air it set in motion stirred only the fringe of theanti-macassars on the chair-arms.
Since she had been the means of hastening his marriageold Catherine had shown to Archer the cordialitywhich a service rendered excites toward the personserved. She was persuaded that irrepressible passionwas the cause of his impatience; and being an ardentadmirer of impulsiveness (when it did not lead to thespending of money) she always received him with agenial twinkle of complicity and a play of allusion towhich May seemed fortunately impervious.
She examined and appraised with much interest thediamond-tipped arrow which had been pinned on May'sbosom at the conclusion of the match, remarking thatin her day a filigree brooch would have been thoughtenough, but that there was no denying that Beaufortdid things handsomely.
"Quite an heirloom, in fact, my dear," the old ladychuckled. "You must leave it in fee to your eldest girl."She pinched May's white arm and watched the colourflood her face. "Well, well, what have I said to makeyou shake out the red flag? Ain't there going to be anydaughters--only boys, eh? Good gracious, look at herblushing again all over her blushes! What--can't I saythat either? Mercy me--when my children beg me tohave all those gods and goddesses painted out overheadI always say I'm too thankful to have somebody aboutme that NOTHING can shock!"
Archer burst into a laugh, and May echoed it, crimsonto the eyes.
"Well, now tell me all about the party, please, mydears, for I shall never get a straight word about it outof that silly Medora," the ancestress continued; and, asMay exclaimed: "Cousin Medora? But I thought shewas going back to Portsmouth?" she answered placidly:"So she is--but she's got to come here first to pickup Ellen. Ah--you didn't know Ellen had come tospend the day with me? Such fol-de-rol, her not comingfor the summer; but I gave up arguing with youngpeople about fifty years ago. Ellen--ELLEN!" she cried inher shrill old voice, trying to bend forward far enoughto catch a glimpse of the lawn beyond the verandah.
There was no answer, and Mrs. Mingott rappedimpatiently with her stick on the shiny floor. A mulattomaid-servant in a bright turban, replying to the summons,informed her mistress that she had seen "MissEllen" going down the path to the shore; and Mrs.Mingott turned to Archer.
"Run down and fetch her, like a good grandson; thispretty lady will describe the party to me," she said; andArcher stood up as if in a dream.
He had heard the Countess Olenska's name pronouncedoften enough during the year and a half sincethey had last met, and was even familiar with the mainincidents of her life in the interval. He knew that shehad spent the previous summer at Newport, where sheappeared to have gone a great deal into society, butthat in the autumn she had suddenly sub-let the "perfecthouse" which Beaufort had been at such pains tofind for her, and decided to establish herself inWashington. There, during the winter, he had heard of her(as one always heard of pretty women in Washington)as shining in the "brilliant diplomatic society" that wassupposed to make up for the social short-comings ofthe Administration. He had listened to these accounts,and to various contradictory reports on her appearance,her conversation, her point of view and her choiceof friends, with the detachment with which one listensto reminiscences of some one long since dead; not tillMedora suddenly spoke her name at the archery matchhad Ellen Olenska become a living presence to himagain. The Marchioness's foolish lisp had called up avision of the little fire-lit drawing-room and the soundof the carriage-wheels returning down the deserted street.He thought of a story he had read, of some peasantchildren in Tuscany lighting a bunch of straw in awayside cavern, and revealing old silent images in theirpainted tomb . . .
The way to the shore descended from the bank onwhich the house was perched to a walk above thewater planted with weeping willows. Through their veilArcher caught the glint of the Lime Rock, with itswhite-washed turret and the tiny house in which theheroic light-house keeper, Ida Lewis, was living her lastvenerable years. Beyond it lay the flat reaches and uglygovernment chimneys of Goat Island, the bay spreadingnorthward in a shimmer of gold to Prudence Islandwith its low growth of oaks, and the shores of Conanicutfaint in the sunset haze.
From the willow walk projected a slight wooden pierending in a sort of pagoda-like summer-house; and inthe pagoda a lady stood, leaning against the rail, herback to the shore. Archer stopped at the sight as if hehad waked from sleep. That vision of the past was adream, and the reality was what awaited him in thehouse on the bank overhead: was Mrs. Welland's pony-carriage circling around and around the oval at thedoor, was May sitting under the shameless Olympiansand glowing with secret hopes, was the Welland villa atthe far end of Bellevue Avenue, and Mr. Welland,already dressed for dinner, and pacing the drawing-room floor, watch in hand, with dyspeptic impatience--for it was one of the houses in which one always knewexactly what is happening at a given hour.
"What am I? A son-in-law--" Archer thought.
The figure at the end of the pier had not moved. Fora long moment the young man stood half way downthe bank, gazing at the bay furrowed with the comingand going of sailboats, yacht-launches, fishing-craft andthe trailing black coal-barges hauled by noisy tugs. Thelady in the summer-house seemed to be held by thesame sight. Beyond the grey bastions of Fort Adams along-drawn sunset was splintering up into a thousandfires, and the radiance caught the sail of a catboat as itbeat out through the channel between the Lime Rockand the shore. Archer, as he watched, remembered thescene in the Shaughraun, and Montague lifting AdaDyas's ribbon to his lips without her knowing that hewas in the room.
"She doesn't know--she hasn't guessed. Shouldn't Iknow if she came up behind me, I wonder?" he mused;and suddenly he said to himself: "If she doesn't turnbefore that sail crosses the Lime Rock light I'll goback."
The boat was gliding out on the receding tide. It slidbefore the Lime Rock, blotted out Ida Lewis's littlehouse, and passed across the turret in which the lightwas hung. Archer waited till a wide space of watersparkled between the last reef of the island and thestern of the boat; but still the figure in the summer-house did not move.
He turned and walked up the hill.
"I'm sorry you didn't find Ellen--I should have likedto see her again," May said as they drove home throughthe dusk. "But perhaps she wouldn't have cared--sheseems so changed."
"Changed?" echoed her husband in a colourless voice,his eyes fixed on the ponies' twitching ears.
"So indifferent to her friends, I mean; giving up NewYork and her house, and spending her time with suchqueer people. Fancy how hideously uncomfortable shemust be at the Blenkers'! She says she does it to keepcousin Medora out of mischief: to prevent her marryingdreadful people. But I sometimes think we've alwaysbored her."
Archer made no answer, and she continued, with atinge of hardness that he had never before noticed inher frank fresh voice: "After all, I wonder if she wouldn'tbe happier with her husband."
He burst into a laugh. "Sancta simplicitas!" heexclaimed; and as she turned a puzzled frown on him headded: "I don't think I ever heard you say a cruel thingbefore."
"Well--watching the contortions of the damned issupposed to be a favourite sport of the angels; but Ibelieve even they don't think people happier in hell."
"It's a pity she ever married abroad then," said May,in the placid tone with which her mother met Mr.Welland's vagaries; and Archer felt himself gently relegatedto the category of unreasonable husbands.
They drove down Bellevue Avenue and turned inbetween the chamfered wooden gate-posts surmountedby cast-iron lamps which marked the approach to theWelland villa. Lights were already shining through itswindows, and Archer, as the carriage stopped, caught aglimpse of his father-in-law, exactly as he had picturedhim, pacing the drawing-room, watch in hand andwearing the pained expression that he had long sincefound to be much more efficacious than anger.
The young man, as he followed his wife into the hall,was conscious of a curious reversal of mood. Therewas something about the luxury of the Welland houseand the density of the Welland atmosphere, so chargedwith minute observances and exactions, that alwaysstole into his system like a narcotic. The heavy carpets,the watchful servants, the perpetually reminding tick ofdisciplined clocks, the perpetually renewed stack ofcards and invitations on the hall table, the whole chainof tyrannical trifles binding one hour to the next, andeach member of the household to all the others, madeany less systematised and affluent existence seem unrealand precarious. But now it was the Welland house,and the life he was expected to lead in it, that hadbecome unreal and irrelevant, and the brief scene onthe shore, when he had stood irresolute, halfway downthe bank, was as close to him as the blood in his veins.
All night he lay awake in the big chintz bedroom atMay's side, watching the moonlight slant along thecarpet, and thinking of Ellen Olenska driving homeacross the gleaming beaches behind Beaufort's trotters.