Archer found a cab and drove to the Somerset Clubfor breakfast. Even the fashionable quarters had the airof untidy domesticity to which no excess of heat everdegrades the European cities. Care-takers in calicolounged on the door-steps of the wealthy, and theCommon looked like a pleasure-ground on the morrowof a Masonic picnic. If Archer had tried to imagineEllen Olenska in improbable scenes he could not havecalled up any into which it was more difficult to fit herthan this heat-prostrated and deserted Boston.
He breakfasted with appetite and method, beginningwith a slice of melon, and studying a morning paperwhile he waited for his toast and scrambled eggs. Anew sense of energy and activity had possessed himever since he had announced to May the night beforethat he had business in Boston, and should take theFall River boat that night and go on to New York thefollowing evening. It had always been understood thathe would return to town early in the week, and whenhe got back from his expedition to Portsmouth a letterfrom the office, which fate had conspicuously placedon a corner of the hall table, sufficed to justify hissudden change of plan. He was even ashamed of theease with which the whole thing had been done: itreminded him, for an uncomfortable moment, of LawrenceLefferts's masterly contrivances for securing hisfreedom. But this did not long trouble him, for he wasnot in an analytic mood.
After breakfast he smoked a cigarette and glancedover the Commercial Advertiser. While he was thusengaged two or three men he knew came in, and theusual greetings were exchanged: it was the same worldafter all, though he had such a queer sense of havingslipped through the meshes of time and space.
He looked at his watch, and finding that it washalf-past nine got up and went into the writing-room.There he wrote a few lines, and ordered a messenger totake a cab to the Parker House and wait for theanswer. He then sat down behind another newspaper andtried to calculate how long it would take a cab to get tothe Parker House.
"The lady was out, sir," he suddenly heard a waiter'svoice at his elbow; and he stammered: "Out?--" as ifit were a word in a strange language.
He got up and went into the hall. It must be amistake: she could not be out at that hour. He flushedwith anger at his own stupidity: why had he not sentthe note as soon as he arrived?
He found his hat and stick and went forth into thestreet. The city had suddenly become as strange andvast and empty as if he were a traveller from distantlands. For a moment he stood on the door-step hesitating;then he decided to go to the Parker House. What ifthe messenger had been misinformed, and she were stillthere?
He started to walk across the Common; and on thefirst bench, under a tree, he saw her sitting. She had agrey silk sunshade over her head--how could he everhave imagined her with a pink one? As he approachedhe was struck by her listless attitude: she sat there as ifshe had nothing else to do. He saw her drooping profile,and the knot of hair fastened low in the neckunder her dark hat, and the long wrinkled glove on thehand that held the sunshade. He came a step or twonearer, and she turned and looked at him.
"Oh"--she said; and for the first time he noticed astartled look on her face; but in another moment itgave way to a slow smile of wonder and contentment.
"Oh"--she murmured again, on a different note, ashe stood looking down at her; and without rising shemade a place for him on the bench.
"I'm here on business--just got here," Archerexplained; and, without knowing why, he suddenly beganto feign astonishment at seeing her. "But what on earthare you doing in this wilderness?" He had really noidea what he was saying: he felt as if he were shoutingat her across endless distances, and she might vanishagain before he could overtake her.
"I? Oh, I'm here on business too," she answered,turning her head toward him so that they were face toface. The words hardly reached him: he was awareonly of her voice, and of the startling fact that not anecho of it had remained in his memory. He had noteven remembered that it was low-pitched, with a faintroughness on the consonants.
"You do your hair differently," he said, his heartbeating as if he had uttered something irrevocable.
"Differently? No--it's only that I do it as best I canwhen I'm without Nastasia."
"Nastasia; but isn't she with you?"
"No; I'm alone. For two days it was not worth whileto bring her."
"You're alone--at the Parker House?"
She looked at him with a flash of her old malice."Does it strike you as dangerous?"
"No; not dangerous--"
"But unconventional? I see; I suppose it is." Sheconsidered a moment. "I hadn't thought of it, becauseI've just done something so much more unconventional."The faint tinge of irony lingered in her eyes. "I've justrefused to take back a sum of money--that belonged tome."
Archer sprang up and moved a step or two away.She had furled her parasol and sat absently drawingpatterns on the gravel. Presently he came back andstood before her.
"Some one--has come here to meet you?"
"With this offer?"
"And you refused--because of the conditions?"
"I refused," she said after a moment.
He sat down by her again. "What were the conditions?"
"Oh, they were not onerous: just to sit at the head ofhis table now and then."
There was another interval of silence. Archer's hearthad slammed itself shut in the queer way it had, and hesat vainly groping for a word.
"He wants you back--at any price?"
"Well--a considerable price. At least the sum isconsiderable for me."
He paused again, beating about the question he felthe must put.
"It was to meet him here that you came?"
She stared, and then burst into a laugh. "Meethim--my husband? HERE? At this season he's always atCowes or Baden."
"He sent some one?"
"With a letter?"
She shook her head. "No; just a message. He neverwrites. I don't think I've had more than one letter fromhim." The allusion brought the colour to her cheek,and it reflected itself in Archer's vivid blush.
"Why does he never write?"
"Why should he? What does one have secretariesfor?"
The young man's blush deepened. She had pronouncedthe word as if it had no more significance than anyother in her vocabulary. For a moment it was on thetip of his tongue to ask: "Did he send his secretary,then?" But the remembrance of Count Olenski's onlyletter to his wife was too present to him. He pausedagain, and then took another plunge.
"And the person?"--
"The emissary? The emissary," Madame Olenskarejoined, still smiling, "might, for all I care, have leftalready; but he has insisted on waiting till this evening. . . in case . . . on the chance . . ."
"And you came out here to think the chance over?"
"I came out to get a breath of air. The hotel's toostifling. I'm taking the afternoon train back to Portsmouth."
They sat silent, not looking at each other, but straightahead at the people passing along the path. Finally sheturned her eyes again to his face and said: "You're notchanged."
He felt like answering: "I was, till I saw you again;"but instead he stood up abruptly and glanced abouthim at the untidy sweltering park.
"This is horrible. Why shouldn't we go out a little onthe bay? There's a breeze, and it will be cooler. Wemight take the steamboat down to Point Arley." Sheglanced up at him hesitatingly and he went on: "On aMonday morning there won't be anybody on the boat.My train doesn't leave till evening: I'm going back toNew York. Why shouldn't we?" he insisted, lookingdown at her; and suddenly he broke out: "Haven't wedone all we could?"
"Oh"--she murmured again. She stood up andreopened her sunshade, glancing about her as if to takecounsel of the scene, and assure herself of the impossibilityof remaining in it. Then her eyes returned to hisface. "You mustn't say things like that to me," shesaid.
"I'll say anything you like; or nothing. I won't openmy mouth unless you tell me to. What harm can it doto anybody? All I want is to listen to you," hestammered.
She drew out a little gold-faced watch on anenamelled chain. "Oh, don't calculate," he broke out; "giveme the day! I want to get you away from that man. Atwhat time was he coming?"
Her colour rose again. "At eleven."
"Then you must come at once."
"You needn't be afraid--if I don't come."
"Nor you either--if you do. I swear I only want tohear about you, to know what you've been doing. It's ahundred years since we've met--it may be anotherhundred before we meet again."
She still wavered, her anxious eyes on his face. "Whydidn't you come down to the beach to fetch me, theday I was at Granny's?" she asked.
"Because you didn't look round--because you didn'tknow I was there. I swore I wouldn't unless you lookedround." He laughed as the childishness of the confessionstruck him.
"But I didn't look round on purpose."
"I knew you were there; when you drove in Irecognised the ponies. So I went down to the beach."
"To get away from me as far as you could?"
She repeated in a low voice: "To get away from youas far as I could."
He laughed out again, this time in boyish satisfaction."Well, you see it's no use. I may as well tell you,"he added, "that the business I came here for was just tofind you. But, look here, we must start or we shall missour boat."
"Our boat?" She frowned perplexedly, and thensmiled. "Oh, but I must go back to the hotel first: Imust leave a note--"
"As many notes as you please. You can write here."He drew out a note-case and one of the new stylographicpens. "I've even got an envelope--you see howeverything's predestined! There--steady the thing onyour knee, and I'll get the pen going in a second. Theyhave to be humoured; wait--" He banged the handthat held the pen against the back of the bench. "It'slike jerking down the mercury in a thermometer: just atrick. Now try--"
She laughed, and bending over the sheet of paperwhich he had laid on his note-case, began to write.Archer walked away a few steps, staring with radiantunseeing eyes at the passersby, who, in their turn,paused to stare at the unwonted sight of a fashionably-dressed lady writing a note on her knee on a bench inthe Common.
Madame Olenska slipped the sheet into the envelope,wrote a name on it, and put it into her pocket. Thenshe too stood up.
They walked back toward Beacon Street, and nearthe club Archer caught sight of the plush-lined "herdic"which had carried his note to the Parker House,and whose driver was reposing from this effort bybathing his brow at the corner hydrant.
"I told you everything was predestined! Here's a cabfor us. You see!" They laughed, astonished at the miracleof picking up a public conveyance at that hour, andin that unlikely spot, in a city where cab-stands werestill a "foreign" novelty.
Archer, looking at his watch, saw that there wastime to drive to the Parker House before going to thesteamboat landing. They rattled through the hot streetsand drew up at the door of the hotel.
Archer held out his hand for the letter. "Shall I takeit in?" he asked; but Madame Olenska, shaking herhead, sprang out and disappeared through the glazeddoors. It was barely half-past ten; but what if theemissary, impatient for her reply, and not knowing howelse to employ his time, were already seated among thetravellers with cooling drinks at their elbows of whomArcher had caught a glimpse as she went in?
He waited, pacing up and down before the herdic. ASicilian youth with eyes like Nastasia's offered to shinehis boots, and an Irish matron to sell him peaches; andevery few moments the doors opened to let out hotmen with straw hats tilted far back, who glanced athim as they went by. He marvelled that the door shouldopen so often, and that all the people it let out shouldlook so like each other, and so like all the other hotmen who, at that hour, through the length and breadthof the land, were passing continuously in and out ofthe swinging doors of hotels.
And then, suddenly, came a face that he could notrelate to the other faces. He caught but a flash of it, forhis pacings had carried him to the farthest point of hisbeat, and it was in turning back to the hotel that hesaw, in a group of typical countenances--the lank andweary, the round and surprised, the lantern-jawed andmild--this other face that was so many more things atonce, and things so different. It was that of a youngman, pale too, and half-extinguished by the heat, orworry, or both, but somehow, quicker, vivider, moreconscious; or perhaps seeming so because he was sodifferent. Archer hung a moment on a thin thread ofmemory, but it snapped and floated off with the disappearingface--apparently that of some foreign businessman, looking doubly foreign in such a setting. Hevanished in the stream of passersby, and Archerresumed his patrol.
He did not care to be seen watch in hand withinview of the hotel, and his unaided reckoning of thelapse of time led him to conclude that, if MadameOlenska was so long in reappearing, it could only bebecause she had met the emissary and been waylaid byhim. At the thought Archer's apprehension rose toanguish.
"If she doesn't come soon I'll go in and find her," hesaid.
The doors swung open again and she was at his side.They got into the herdic, and as it drove off he tookout his watch and saw that she had been absent justthree minutes. In the clatter of loose windows thatmade talk impossible they bumped over the disjointedcobblestones to the wharf.
Seated side by side on a bench of the half-empty boatthey found that they had hardly anything to say to eachother, or rather that what they had to say communicateditself best in the blessed silence of their releaseand their isolation.
As the paddle-wheels began to turn, and wharvesand shipping to recede through the veil of heat, itseemed to Archer that everything in the old familiarworld of habit was receding also. He longed to askMadame Olenska if she did not have the same feeling:the feeling that they were starting on some long voyagefrom which they might never return. But he was afraidto say it, or anything else that might disturb the delicatebalance of her trust in him. In reality he had nowish to betray that trust. There had been days andnights when the memory of their kiss had burned andburned on his lips; the day before even, on the drive toPortsmouth, the thought of her had run through himlike fire; but now that she was beside him, and theywere drifting forth into this unknown world, they seemedto have reached the kind of deeper nearness that atouch may sunder.
As the boat left the harbour and turned seaward abreeze stirred about them and the bay broke up intolong oily undulations, then into ripples tipped withspray. The fog of sultriness still hung over the city, butahead lay a fresh world of ruffled waters, and distantpromontories with light-houses in the sun. MadameOlenska, leaning back against the boat-rail, drank inthe coolness between parted lips. She had wound along veil about her hat, but it left her face uncovered,and Archer was struck by the tranquil gaiety of herexpression. She seemed to take their adventure as amatter of course, and to be neither in fear of unexpectedencounters, nor (what was worse) unduly elatedby their possibility.
In the bare dining-room of the inn, which he hadhoped they would have to themselves, they found astrident party of innocent-looking young men andwomen--school-teachers on a holiday, the landlord toldthem--and Archer's heart sank at the idea of having totalk through their noise.
"This is hopeless--I'll ask for a private room," hesaid; and Madame Olenska, without offering any objection,waited while he went in search of it. The roomopened on a long wooden verandah, with the sea comingin at the windows. It was bare and cool, with atable covered with a coarse checkered cloth and adornedby a bottle of pickles and a blueberry pie under a cage.No more guileless-looking cabinet particulier everoffered its shelter to a clandestine couple: Archer fanciedhe saw the sense of its reassurance in the faintly amusedsmile with which Madame Olenska sat down oppositeto him. A woman who had run away from her husband--and reputedly with another man--was likely to havemastered the art of taking things for granted; butsomething in the quality of her composure took the edgefrom his irony. By being so quiet, so unsurprised andso simple she had managed to brush away the conventionsand make him feel that to seek to be alone wasthe natural thing for two old friends who had so muchto say to each other. . . .
They lunched slowly and meditatively, with muteintervals between rushes of talk; for, the spell oncebroken, they had much to say, and yet moments whensaying became the mere accompaniment to long duologuesof silence. Archer kept the talk from his ownaffairs, not with conscious intention but because he didnot want to miss a word of her history; and leaning onthe table, her chin resting on her clasped hands, shetalked to him of the year and a half since they had met.
She had grown tired of what people called "society";New York was kind, it was almost oppressivelyhospitable; she should never forget the way in which it hadwelcomed her back; but after the first flush of noveltyshe had found herself, as she phrased it, too "different"to care for the things it cared about--and so she haddecided to try Washington, where one was supposed tomeet more varieties of people and of opinion. And onthe whole she should probably settle down in Washington,and make a home there for poor Medora, whohad worn out the patience of all her other relations justat the time when she most needed looking after andprotecting from matrimonial perils.
"But Dr. Carver--aren't you afraid of Dr. Carver? Ihear he's been staying with you at the Blenkers'."
She smiled. "Oh, the Carver danger is over. Dr.Carver is a very clever man. He wants a rich wife tofinance his plans, and Medora is simply a goodadvertisement as a convert."
"A convert to what?"
"To all sorts of new and crazy social schemes. But,do you know, they interest me more than the blindconformity to tradition--somebody else's tradition--thatI see among our own friends. It seems stupid to havediscovered America only to make it into a copy of anothercountry." She smiled across the table. "Do you supposeChristopher Columbus would have taken all that troublejust to go to the Opera with the Selfridge Merrys?"
Archer changed colour. "And Beaufort--do you saythese things to Beaufort?" he asked abruptly.
"I haven't seen him for a long time. But I used to;and he understands."
"Ah, it's what I've always told you; you don't likeus. And you like Beaufort because he's so unlike us."He looked about the bare room and out at the barebeach and the row of stark white village houses strungalong the shore. "We're damnably dull. We've nocharacter, no colour, no variety.--I wonder," he broke out,"why you don't go back?"
Her eyes darkened, and he expected an indignantrejoinder. But she sat silent, as if thinking over what hehad said, and he grew frightened lest she should answerthat she wondered too.
At length she said: "I believe it's because of you."
It was impossible to make the confession moredispassionately, or in a tone less encouraging to thevanity of the person addressed. Archer reddened to thetemples, but dared not move or speak: it was as if herwords had been some rare butterfly that the least motionmight drive off on startled wings, but that mightgather a flock about it if it were left undisturbed.
"At least," she continued, "it was you who made meunderstand that under the dullness there are things sofine and sensitive and delicate that even those I mostcared for in my other life look cheap in comparison. Idon't know how to explain myself"--she drew togetherher troubled brows-- "but it seems as if I'dnever before understood with how much that is hardand shabby and base the most exquisite pleasures maybe paid."
"Exquisite pleasures--it's something to have hadthem!" he felt like retorting; but the appeal in her eyeskept him silent.
"I want," she went on, "to be perfectly honest withyou--and with myself. For a long time I've hoped thischance would come: that I might tell you how you'vehelped me, what you've made of me--"
Archer sat staring beneath frowning brows. Heinterrupted her with a laugh. "And what do you make outthat you've made of me?"
She paled a little. "Of you?"
"Yes: for I'm of your making much more than youever were of mine. I'm the man who married onewoman because another one told him to."
Her paleness turned to a fugitive flush. "I thought--you promised--you were not to say such things today."
"Ah--how like a woman! None of you will ever seea bad business through!"
She lowered her voice. "IS it a bad business--forMay?"
He stood in the window, drumming against the raisedsash, and feeling in every fibre the wistful tendernesswith which she had spoken her cousin's name.
"For that's the thing we've always got to think of--haven't we--by your own showing?" she insisted.
"My own showing?" he echoed, his blank eyes stillon the sea.
"Or if not," she continued, pursuing her own thoughtwith a painful application, "if it's not worth while tohave given up, to have missed things, so that othersmay be saved from disillusionment and misery--theneverything I came home for, everything that made myother life seem by contrast so bare and so poor becauseno one there took account of them--all these things area sham or a dream--"
He turned around without moving from his place."And in that case there's no reason on earth why youshouldn't go back?" he concluded for her.
Her eyes were clinging to him desperately. "Oh, ISthere no reason?"
"Not if you staked your all on the success of mymarriage. My marriage," he said savagely, "isn't goingto be a sight to keep you here." She made no answer,and he went on: "What's the use? You gave me myfirst glimpse of a real life, and at the same moment youasked me to go on with a sham one. It's beyond humanenduring--that's all."
"Oh, don't say that; when I'm enduring it!" sheburst out, her eyes filling.
Her arms had dropped along the table, and she satwith her face abandoned to his gaze as if in therecklessness of a desperate peril. The face exposed her asmuch as if it had been her whole person, with the soulbehind it: Archer stood dumb, overwhelmed by what itsuddenly told him.
"You too--oh, all this time, you too?"
For answer, she let the tears on her lids overflow andrun slowly downward.
Half the width of the room was still between them,and neither made any show of moving. Archer wasconscious of a curious indifference to her bodily presence:he would hardly have been aware of it if one ofthe hands she had flung out on the table had not drawnhis gaze as on the occasion when, in the little Twenty-third Street house, he had kept his eye on it in ordernot to look at her face. Now his imagination spunabout the hand as about the edge of a vortex; but stillhe made no effort to draw nearer. He had known thelove that is fed on caresses and feeds them; but thispassion that was closer than his bones was not to besuperficially satisfied. His one terror was to do anythingwhich might efface the sound and impression ofher words; his one thought, that he should never againfeel quite alone.
But after a moment the sense of waste and ruinovercame him. There they were, close together and safeand shut in; yet so chained to their separate destiniesthat they might as well have been half the world apart.
"What's the use--when you will go back?" he brokeout, a great hopeless HOW ON EARTH CAN I KEEP YOU?crying out to her beneath his words.
She sat motionless, with lowered lids. "Oh--I shan'tgo yet!"
"Not yet? Some time, then? Some time that youalready foresee?"
At that she raised her clearest eyes. "I promise you:not as long as you hold out. Not as long as we canlook straight at each other like this."
He dropped into his chair. What her answer reallysaid was: "If you lift a finger you'll drive me back:back to all the abominations you know of, and all thetemptations you half guess." He understood it as clearlyas if she had uttered the words, and the thought kepthim anchored to his side of the table in a kind ofmoved and sacred submission.
"What a life for you!--" he groaned.
"Oh--as long as it's a part of yours."
"And mine a part of yours?"
"And that's to be all--for either of us?"
"Well; it IS all, isn't it?"
At that he sprang up, forgetting everything but thesweetness of her face. She rose too, not as if to meethim or to flee from him, but quietly, as though theworst of the task were done and she had only to wait;so quietly that, as he came close, her outstretched handsacted not as a check but as a guide to him. They fellinto his, while her arms, extended but not rigid, kepthim far enough off to let her surrendered face say therest.
They may have stood in that way for a long time, oronly for a few moments; but it was long enough for hersilence to communicate all she had to say, and for himto feel that only one thing mattered. He must do nothingto make this meeting their last; he must leave theirfuture in her care, asking only that she should keep fasthold of it.
"Don't--don't be unhappy," she said, with a breakin her voice, as she drew her hands away; and heanswered: "You won't go back--you won't go back?"as if it were the one possibility he could not bear.
"I won't go back," she said; and turning away sheopened the door and led the way into the publicdining-room.
The strident school-teachers were gathering up theirpossessions preparatory to a straggling flight to the wharf;across the beach lay the white steam-boat at the pier;and over the sunlit waters Boston loomed in a line of haze.