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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    XVII.

    Your cousin the Countess called on mother while
    you were away," Janey Archer announced to her
    brother on the evening of his return.

    The young man, who was dining alone with his
    mother and sister, glanced up in surprise and saw Mrs.
    Archer's gaze demurely bent on her plate. Mrs. Archer
    did not regard her seclusion from the world as a reason
    for being forgotten by it; and Newland guessed that
    she was slightly annoyed that he should be surprised by
    Madame Olenska's visit.

    "She had on a black velvet polonaise with jet
    buttons, and a tiny green monkey muff; I never saw her so
    stylishly dressed," Janey continued. "She came alone,
    early on Sunday afternoon; luckily the fire was lit in
    the drawing-room. She had one of those new card-
    cases. She said she wanted to know us because you'd
    been so good to her."

    Newland laughed. "Madame Olenska always takes
    that tone about her friends. She's very happy at being
    among her own people again."

    "Yes, so she told us," said Mrs. Archer. "I must say
    she seems thankful to be here."

    "I hope you liked her, mother."

    Mrs. Archer drew her lips together. "She certainly
    lays herself out to please, even when she is calling on
    an 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 my
    ideal," said Mrs. Archer.

    "Ah," said her son, "they're not alike."

    Archer had left St. Augustine charged with many
    messages for old Mrs. Mingott; and a day or two after his
    return to town he called on her.

    The old lady received him with unusual warmth; she
    was grateful to him for persuading the Countess Olenska
    to give up the idea of a divorce; and when he told her
    that he had deserted the office without leave, and rushed
    down to St. Augustine simply because he wanted to see
    May, she gave an adipose chuckle and patted his knee
    with 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? But
    little May--she knew better, I'll be bound?"

    "I hoped she did; but after all she wouldn't agree to
    what 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 be
    married in April. What's the use of our wasting another year?"

    Mrs. Manson Mingott screwed up her little mouth
    into a grimace of mimic prudery and twinkled at him
    through malicious lids. "'Ask Mamma,' I suppose--
    the usual story. Ah, these Mingotts--all alike! Born in
    a rut, and you can't root 'em out of it. When I built
    this 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 Christopher
    Columbus discovered America. No, no; not one of
    them wants to be different; they're as scared of it as the
    small-pox. Ah, my dear Mr. Archer, I thank my stars
    I'm nothing but a vulgar Spicer; but there's not one of
    my own children that takes after me but my little
    Ellen." She broke off, still twinkling at him, and asked,
    with the casual irrelevance of old age: "Now, why in
    the world didn't you marry my little Ellen?"

    Archer laughed. "For one thing, she wasn't there to
    be married."

    "No--to be sure; more's the pity. And now it's too
    late; her life is finished." She spoke with the cold-
    blooded complacency of the aged throwing earth into
    the grave of young hopes. The young man's heart grew
    chill, and he said hurriedly: "Can't I persuade you to
    use your influence with the Wellands, Mrs. Mingott? I
    wasn't made for long engagements."

    Old Catherine beamed on him approvingly. "No; I
    can see that. You've got a quick eye. When you were a
    little boy I've no doubt you liked to be helped first."
    She threw back her head with a laugh that made her
    chins ripple like little waves. "Ah, here's my Ellen
    now!" she exclaimed, as the portieres parted behind
    her.

    Madame Olenska came forward with a smile. Her
    face looked vivid and happy, and she held out her hand
    gaily to Archer while she stooped to her grandmother's
    kiss.

    "I was just saying to him, my dear: 'Now, why
    didn't you marry my little Ellen?'"

    Madame Olenska looked at Archer, still smiling. "And
    what did he answer?"

    "Oh, my darling, I leave you to find that out! He's
    been down to Florida to see his sweetheart."

    "Yes, I know." She still looked at him. "I went to see
    your mother, to ask where you'd gone. I sent a note
    that you never answered, and I was afraid you were
    ill."

    He muttered something about leaving unexpectedly,
    in a great hurry, and having intended to write to her
    from St. Augustine.

    "And of course once you were there you never thought
    of me again!" She continued to beam on him with a
    gaiety that might have been a studied assumption of
    indifference.

    "If she still needs me, she's determined not to let me
    see it," he thought, stung by her manner. He wanted to
    thank her for having been to see his mother, but under
    the ancestress's malicious eye he felt himself tongue-
    tied and constrained.

    "Look at him--in such hot haste to get married that
    he took French leave and rushed down to implore the
    silly girl on his knees! That's something like a lover--
    that's the way handsome Bob Spicer carried off my
    poor mother; and then got tired of her before I was
    weaned--though they only had to wait eight months
    for me! But there--you're not a Spicer, young man;
    luckily for you and for May. It's only my poor Ellen
    that has kept any of their wicked blood; the rest of
    them are all model Mingotts," cried the old lady
    scornfully.

    Archer was aware that Madame Olenska, who had
    seated herself at her grandmother's side, was still
    thoughtfully scrutinising him. The gaiety had faded
    from her eyes, and she said with great gentleness: "Surely,
    Granny, we can persuade them between us to do as he
    wishes."

    Archer rose to go, and as his hand met Madame
    Olenska's he felt that she was waiting for him to make
    some allusion to her unanswered letter.

    "When can I see you?" he asked, as she walked with
    him to the door of the room.

    "Whenever you like; but it must be soon if you want
    to see the little house again. I am moving next week."

    A pang shot through him at the memory of his
    lamplit hours in the low-studded drawing-room. Few
    as they had been, they were thick with memories.

    "Tomorrow evening?"

    She nodded. "Tomorrow; yes; but early. I'm going
    out."

    The next day was a Sunday, and if she were "going
    out" on a Sunday evening it could, of course, be only
    to Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's. He felt a slight movement
    of annoyance, not so much at her going there (for he
    rather liked her going where she pleased in spite of the
    van der Luydens), but because it was the kind of house
    at which she was sure to meet Beaufort, where she
    must have known beforehand that she would meet
    him--and where she was probably going for that
    purpose.

    "Very well; tomorrow evening," he repeated, inwardly
    resolved that he would not go early, and that by reaching
    her door late he would either prevent her from
    going to Mrs. Struthers's, or else arrive after she had
    started--which, all things considered, would no doubt
    be the simplest solution.

    It was only half-past eight, after all, when he rang the
    bell under the wisteria; not as late as he had intended
    by half an hour--but a singular restlessness had driven
    him to her door. He reflected, however, that Mrs.
    Struthers's Sunday evenings were not like a ball, and
    that her guests, as if to minimise their delinquency,
    usually went early.

    The one thing he had not counted on, in entering
    Madame Olenska's hall, was to find hats and overcoats
    there. Why had she bidden him to come early if she
    was having people to dine? On a closer inspection of
    the garments besides which Nastasia was laying his
    own, his resentment gave way to curiosity. The overcoats
    were in fact the very strangest he had ever seen
    under a polite roof; and it took but a glance to assure
    himself 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 a
    cape--something like what the French called a "Macfarlane."
    This garment, which appeared to be made for
    a person of prodigious size, had evidently seen long
    and hard wear, and its greenish-black folds gave out a
    moist sawdusty smell suggestive of prolonged sessions
    against bar-room walls. On it lay a ragged grey scarf
    and an odd felt hat of semiclerical shape.

    Archer raised his eyebrows enquiringly at Nastasia,
    who raised hers in return with a fatalistic "Gia!" as
    she threw open the drawing-room door.

    The young man saw at once that his hostess was not
    in the room; then, with surprise, he discovered another
    lady standing by the fire. This lady, who was long, lean
    and loosely put together, was clad in raiment intricately
    looped and fringed, with plaids and stripes and
    bands of plain colour disposed in a design to which the
    clue seemed missing. Her hair, which had tried to turn
    white and only succeeded in fading, was surmounted
    by 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 the
    owners of the two overcoats, both in morning clothes
    that they had evidently not taken off since morning. In
    one of the two, Archer, to his surprise, recognised Ned
    Winsett; the other and older, who was unknown to
    him, and whose gigantic frame declared him to be the
    wearer of the "Macfarlane," had a feebly leonine head
    with crumpled grey hair, and moved his arms with
    large pawing gestures, as though he were distributing
    lay blessings to a kneeling multitude.

    These three persons stood together on the hearth-
    rug, their eyes fixed on an extraordinarily large bouquet
    of crimson roses, with a knot of purple pansies at
    their base, that lay on the sofa where Madame Olenska
    usually sat.

    "What they must have cost at this season--though of
    course it's the sentiment one cares about!" the lady was
    saying 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 has
    taken me in for a few days. I came from Cuba, where I
    have been spending the winter with Spanish friends--
    such delightful distinguished people: the highest nobility
    of 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 the
    Marchioness continued: "Ah, New York--New York--how
    little the life of the spirit has reached it! But I see you
    do know Mr. Winsett."

    "Oh, yes--I reached him some time ago; but not by
    that route," Winsett said with his dry smile.

    The Marchioness shook her head reprovingly. "How
    do you know, Mr. Winsett? The spirit bloweth where it
    listeth."

    "List--oh, list!" interjected Dr. Carver in a stentorian
    murmur.

    "But do sit down, Mr. Archer. We four have been
    having a delightful little dinner together, and my child
    has gone up to dress. She expects you; she will be
    down in a moment. We were just admiring these marvellous
    flowers, which will surprise her when she
    reappears."

    Winsett remained on his feet. "I'm afraid I must be
    off. Please tell Madame Olenska that we shall all feel
    lost when she abandons our street. This house has been
    an oasis."

    "Ah, but she won't abandon YOU. Poetry and art are
    the 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 out
    of 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 he
    is to us weak mortals, Mr. Archer! But he lives only in
    the life of the spirit; and tonight he is mentally preparing
    the lecture he is to deliver presently at Mrs. Blenker's.
    Dr. Carver, would there be time, before you start for
    the Blenkers' to explain to Mr. Archer your illuminating
    discovery of the Direct Contact? But no; I see it is
    nearly nine o'clock, and we have no right to detain you
    while so many are waiting for your message."

    Dr. Carver looked slightly disappointed at this
    conclusion, but, having compared his ponderous gold time-
    piece with Madame Olenska's little travelling-clock, he
    reluctantly gathered up his mighty limbs for departure.

    "I shall see you later, dear friend?" he suggested to
    the Marchioness, who replied with a smile: "As soon
    as Ellen's carriage comes I will join you; I do hope the
    lecture 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 she
    would be too happy. But I fear my Ellen counts on Mr.
    Archer herself."

    "That," said Dr. Carver, "is unfortunate--but here
    is my card." He handed it to Archer, who read on it, in
    Gothic 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 or
    relief, again waved Archer to a seat.

    "Ellen will be down in a moment; and before she
    comes, I am so glad of this quiet moment with you."

    Archer murmured his pleasure at their meeting, and
    the Marchioness continued, in her low sighing accents:
    "I know everything, dear Mr. Archer--my child has
    told me all you have done for her. Your wise advice:
    your courageous firmness--thank heaven it was not
    too late!"

    The young man listened with considerable
    embarrassment. Was there any one, he wondered, to whom
    Madame Olenska had not proclaimed his intervention
    in her private affairs?

    "Madame Olenska exaggerates; I simply gave her a
    legal opinion, as she asked me to."

    "Ah, but in doing it--in doing it you were the
    unconscious instrument of--of--what word have we moderns
    for Providence, Mr. Archer?" cried the lady, tilting
    her head on one side and drooping her lids mysteriously.
    "Little did you know that at that very moment I
    was being appealed to: being approached, in fact--from
    the other side of the Atlantic!"

    She glanced over her shoulder, as though fearful of
    being overheard, and then, drawing her chair nearer,
    and raising a tiny ivory fan to her lips, breathed behind
    it: "By the Count himself--my poor, mad, foolish
    Olenski; who asks only to take her back on her own
    terms."

    "Good God!" Archer exclaimed, springing up.

    "You are horrified? Yes, of course; I understand. I
    don't defend poor Stanislas, though he has always called
    me his best friend. He does not defend himself--he
    casts himself at her feet: in my person." She tapped her
    emaciated bosom. "I have his letter here."

    "A letter?--Has Madame Olenska seen it?" Archer
    stammered, his brain whirling with the shock of the
    announcement.

    The Marchioness Manson shook her head softly.
    "Time--time; I must have time. I know my Ellen--
    haughty, intractable; shall I say, just a shade
    unforgiving?"

    "But, good heavens, to forgive is one thing; to go
    back into that hell--"

    "Ah, yes," the Marchioness acquiesced. "So she
    describes 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 there
    on the sofa--acres like them, under glass and in the
    open, in his matchless terraced gardens at Nice! Jewels--
    historic pearls: the Sobieski emeralds--sables,--but she
    cares nothing for all these! Art and beauty, those she
    does care for, she lives for, as I always have; and those
    also surrounded her. Pictures, priceless furniture, music,
    brilliant conversation--ah, that, my dear young
    man, if you'll excuse me, is what you've no conception
    of here! And she had it all; and the homage of the
    greatest. She tells me she is not thought handsome in
    New York--good heavens! Her portrait has been painted
    nine times; the greatest artists in Europe have begged
    for the privilege. Are these things nothing? And the
    remorse of an adoring husband?"

    As the Marchioness Manson rose to her climax her
    face assumed an expression of ecstatic retrospection
    which would have moved Archer's mirth had he not
    been numb with amazement.

    He would have laughed if any one had foretold to
    him that his first sight of poor Medora Manson would
    have been in the guise of a messenger of Satan; but he
    was in no mood for laughing now, and she seemed to
    him to come straight out of the hell from which Ellen
    Olenska had just escaped.

    "She knows nothing yet--of all this?" he asked
    abruptly.

    Mrs. Manson laid a purple finger on her lips.
    "Nothing directly--but does she suspect? Who can tell? The
    truth is, Mr. Archer, I have been waiting to see you.
    From the moment I heard of the firm stand you had
    taken, and of your influence over her, I hoped it might
    be possible to count on your support--to convince
    you . . ."

    "That she ought to go back? I would rather see her
    dead!" cried the young man violently.

    "Ah," the Marchioness murmured, without visible
    resentment. For a while she sat in her arm-chair, opening
    and shutting the absurd ivory fan between her
    mittened fingers; but suddenly she lifted her head and
    listened.

    "Here she comes," she said in a rapid whisper; and
    then, pointing to the bouquet on the sofa: "Am I to
    understand that you prefer THAT, Mr. Archer? After all,
    marriage is marriage . . . and my niece is still a wife. . .
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 17
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