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    Chapter 23

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    Chapter 23
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    XXIII.

    The next morning, when Archer got out of the Fall
    River train, he emerged upon a steaming midsummer
    Boston. The streets near the station were full of the
    smell of beer and coffee and decaying fruit and a shirt-
    sleeved populace moved through them with the intimate
    abandon of boarders going down the passage to
    the bathroom.

    Archer found a cab and drove to the Somerset Club
    for breakfast. Even the fashionable quarters had the air
    of untidy domesticity to which no excess of heat ever
    degrades the European cities. Care-takers in calico
    lounged on the door-steps of the wealthy, and the
    Common looked like a pleasure-ground on the morrow
    of a Masonic picnic. If Archer had tried to imagine
    Ellen Olenska in improbable scenes he could not have
    called up any into which it was more difficult to fit her
    than this heat-prostrated and deserted Boston.

    He breakfasted with appetite and method, beginning
    with a slice of melon, and studying a morning paper
    while he waited for his toast and scrambled eggs. A
    new sense of energy and activity had possessed him
    ever since he had announced to May the night before
    that he had business in Boston, and should take the
    Fall River boat that night and go on to New York the
    following evening. It had always been understood that
    he would return to town early in the week, and when
    he got back from his expedition to Portsmouth a letter
    from the office, which fate had conspicuously placed
    on a corner of the hall table, sufficed to justify his
    sudden change of plan. He was even ashamed of the
    ease with which the whole thing had been done: it
    reminded him, for an uncomfortable moment, of Lawrence
    Lefferts's masterly contrivances for securing his
    freedom. But this did not long trouble him, for he was
    not in an analytic mood.

    After breakfast he smoked a cigarette and glanced
    over the Commercial Advertiser. While he was thus
    engaged two or three men he knew came in, and the
    usual greetings were exchanged: it was the same world
    after all, though he had such a queer sense of having
    slipped through the meshes of time and space.

    He looked at his watch, and finding that it was
    half-past nine got up and went into the writing-room.
    There he wrote a few lines, and ordered a messenger to
    take a cab to the Parker House and wait for the
    answer. He then sat down behind another newspaper and
    tried to calculate how long it would take a cab to get to
    the Parker House.

    "The lady was out, sir," he suddenly heard a waiter's
    voice at his elbow; and he stammered: "Out?--" as if
    it were a word in a strange language.

    He got up and went into the hall. It must be a
    mistake: she could not be out at that hour. He flushed
    with anger at his own stupidity: why had he not sent
    the note as soon as he arrived?

    He found his hat and stick and went forth into the
    street. The city had suddenly become as strange and
    vast and empty as if he were a traveller from distant
    lands. For a moment he stood on the door-step hesitating;
    then he decided to go to the Parker House. What if
    the messenger had been misinformed, and she were still
    there?

    He started to walk across the Common; and on the
    first bench, under a tree, he saw her sitting. She had a
    grey silk sunshade over her head--how could he ever
    have imagined her with a pink one? As he approached
    he was struck by her listless attitude: she sat there as if
    she had nothing else to do. He saw her drooping profile,
    and the knot of hair fastened low in the neck
    under her dark hat, and the long wrinkled glove on the
    hand that held the sunshade. He came a step or two
    nearer, and she turned and looked at him.

    "Oh"--she said; and for the first time he noticed a
    startled look on her face; but in another moment it
    gave way to a slow smile of wonder and contentment.

    "Oh"--she murmured again, on a different note, as
    he stood looking down at her; and without rising she
    made a place for him on the bench.

    "I'm here on business--just got here," Archer
    explained; and, without knowing why, he suddenly began
    to feign astonishment at seeing her. "But what on earth
    are you doing in this wilderness?" He had really no
    idea what he was saying: he felt as if he were shouting
    at her across endless distances, and she might vanish
    again 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 to
    face. The words hardly reached him: he was aware
    only of her voice, and of the startling fact that not an
    echo of it had remained in his memory. He had not
    even remembered that it was low-pitched, with a faint
    roughness on the consonants.

    "You do your hair differently," he said, his heart
    beating as if he had uttered something irrevocable.

    "Differently? No--it's only that I do it as best I can
    when I'm without Nastasia."

    "Nastasia; but isn't she with you?"

    "No; I'm alone. For two days it was not worth while
    to 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." She
    considered a moment. "I hadn't thought of it, because
    I've just done something so much more unconventional."
    The faint tinge of irony lingered in her eyes. "I've just
    refused to take back a sum of money--that belonged to
    me."

    Archer sprang up and moved a step or two away.
    She had furled her parasol and sat absently drawing
    patterns on the gravel. Presently he came back and
    stood before her.

    "Some one--has come here to meet you?"

    "Yes."

    "With this offer?"

    She nodded.

    "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 of
    his table now and then."

    There was another interval of silence. Archer's heart
    had slammed itself shut in the queer way it had, and he
    sat vainly groping for a word.

    "He wants you back--at any price?"

    "Well--a considerable price. At least the sum is
    considerable for me."

    He paused again, beating about the question he felt
    he must put.

    "It was to meet him here that you came?"

    She stared, and then burst into a laugh. "Meet
    him--my husband? HERE? At this season he's always at
    Cowes or Baden."

    "He sent some one?"

    "Yes."

    "With a letter?"

    She shook her head. "No; just a message. He never
    writes. I don't think I've had more than one letter from
    him." 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 secretaries
    for?"

    The young man's blush deepened. She had pronounced
    the word as if it had no more significance than any
    other in her vocabulary. For a moment it was on the
    tip of his tongue to ask: "Did he send his secretary,
    then?" But the remembrance of Count Olenski's only
    letter to his wife was too present to him. He paused
    again, and then took another plunge.

    "And the person?"--

    "The emissary? The emissary," Madame Olenska
    rejoined, still smiling, "might, for all I care, have left
    already; 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 too
    stifling. I'm taking the afternoon train back to Portsmouth."

    They sat silent, not looking at each other, but straight
    ahead at the people passing along the path. Finally she
    turned her eyes again to his face and said: "You're not
    changed."

    He felt like answering: "I was, till I saw you again;"
    but instead he stood up abruptly and glanced about
    him at the untidy sweltering park.

    "This is horrible. Why shouldn't we go out a little on
    the bay? There's a breeze, and it will be cooler. We
    might take the steamboat down to Point Arley." She
    glanced up at him hesitatingly and he went on: "On a
    Monday morning there won't be anybody on the boat.
    My train doesn't leave till evening: I'm going back to
    New York. Why shouldn't we?" he insisted, looking
    down at her; and suddenly he broke out: "Haven't we
    done all we could?"

    "Oh"--she murmured again. She stood up and
    reopened her sunshade, glancing about her as if to take
    counsel of the scene, and assure herself of the impossibility
    of remaining in it. Then her eyes returned to his
    face. "You mustn't say things like that to me," she
    said.

    "I'll say anything you like; or nothing. I won't open
    my mouth unless you tell me to. What harm can it do
    to anybody? All I want is to listen to you," he
    stammered.

    She drew out a little gold-faced watch on an
    enamelled chain. "Oh, don't calculate," he broke out; "give
    me the day! I want to get you away from that man. At
    what 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 to
    hear about you, to know what you've been doing. It's a
    hundred years since we've met--it may be another
    hundred before we meet again."

    She still wavered, her anxious eyes on his face. "Why
    didn't you come down to the beach to fetch me, the
    day I was at Granny's?" she asked.

    "Because you didn't look round--because you didn't
    know I was there. I swore I wouldn't unless you looked
    round." He laughed as the childishness of the confession
    struck him.

    "But I didn't look round on purpose."

    "On purpose?"

    "I knew you were there; when you drove in I
    recognised 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 you
    as 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 to
    find you. But, look here, we must start or we shall miss
    our boat."

    "Our boat?" She frowned perplexedly, and then
    smiled. "Oh, but I must go back to the hotel first: I
    must leave a note--"

    "As many notes as you please. You can write here."
    He drew out a note-case and one of the new stylographic
    pens. "I've even got an envelope--you see how
    everything's predestined! There--steady the thing on
    your knee, and I'll get the pen going in a second. They
    have to be humoured; wait--" He banged the hand
    that held the pen against the back of the bench. "It's
    like jerking down the mercury in a thermometer: just a
    trick. Now try--"

    She laughed, and bending over the sheet of paper
    which he had laid on his note-case, began to write.
    Archer walked away a few steps, staring with radiant
    unseeing 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 in
    the Common.

    Madame Olenska slipped the sheet into the envelope,
    wrote a name on it, and put it into her pocket. Then
    she too stood up.

    They walked back toward Beacon Street, and near
    the 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 by
    bathing his brow at the corner hydrant.

    "I told you everything was predestined! Here's a cab
    for us. You see!" They laughed, astonished at the miracle
    of picking up a public conveyance at that hour, and
    in that unlikely spot, in a city where cab-stands were
    still a "foreign" novelty.

    Archer, looking at his watch, saw that there was
    time to drive to the Parker House before going to the
    steamboat landing. They rattled through the hot streets
    and drew up at the door of the hotel.

    Archer held out his hand for the letter. "Shall I take
    it in?" he asked; but Madame Olenska, shaking her
    head, sprang out and disappeared through the glazed
    doors. It was barely half-past ten; but what if the
    emissary, impatient for her reply, and not knowing how
    else to employ his time, were already seated among the
    travellers with cooling drinks at their elbows of whom
    Archer had caught a glimpse as she went in?

    He waited, pacing up and down before the herdic. A
    Sicilian youth with eyes like Nastasia's offered to shine
    his boots, and an Irish matron to sell him peaches; and
    every few moments the doors opened to let out hot
    men with straw hats tilted far back, who glanced at
    him as they went by. He marvelled that the door should
    open so often, and that all the people it let out should
    look so like each other, and so like all the other hot
    men who, at that hour, through the length and breadth
    of the land, were passing continuously in and out of
    the swinging doors of hotels.

    And then, suddenly, came a face that he could not
    relate to the other faces. He caught but a flash of it, for
    his pacings had carried him to the farthest point of his
    beat, and it was in turning back to the hotel that he
    saw, in a group of typical countenances--the lank and
    weary, the round and surprised, the lantern-jawed and
    mild--this other face that was so many more things at
    once, and things so different. It was that of a young
    man, pale too, and half-extinguished by the heat, or
    worry, or both, but somehow, quicker, vivider, more
    conscious; or perhaps seeming so because he was so
    different. Archer hung a moment on a thin thread of
    memory, but it snapped and floated off with the disappearing
    face--apparently that of some foreign business
    man, looking doubly foreign in such a setting. He
    vanished in the stream of passersby, and Archer
    resumed his patrol.

    He did not care to be seen watch in hand within
    view of the hotel, and his unaided reckoning of the
    lapse of time led him to conclude that, if Madame
    Olenska was so long in reappearing, it could only be
    because she had met the emissary and been waylaid by
    him. At the thought Archer's apprehension rose to
    anguish.

    "If she doesn't come soon I'll go in and find her," he
    said.

    The doors swung open again and she was at his side.
    They got into the herdic, and as it drove off he took
    out his watch and saw that she had been absent just
    three minutes. In the clatter of loose windows that
    made talk impossible they bumped over the disjointed
    cobblestones to the wharf.

    Seated side by side on a bench of the half-empty boat
    they found that they had hardly anything to say to each
    other, or rather that what they had to say communicated
    itself best in the blessed silence of their release
    and their isolation.

    As the paddle-wheels began to turn, and wharves
    and shipping to recede through the veil of heat, it
    seemed to Archer that everything in the old familiar
    world of habit was receding also. He longed to ask
    Madame Olenska if she did not have the same feeling:
    the feeling that they were starting on some long voyage
    from which they might never return. But he was afraid
    to say it, or anything else that might disturb the delicate
    balance of her trust in him. In reality he had no
    wish to betray that trust. There had been days and
    nights when the memory of their kiss had burned and
    burned on his lips; the day before even, on the drive to
    Portsmouth, the thought of her had run through him
    like fire; but now that she was beside him, and they
    were drifting forth into this unknown world, they seemed
    to have reached the kind of deeper nearness that a
    touch may sunder.

    As the boat left the harbour and turned seaward a
    breeze stirred about them and the bay broke up into
    long oily undulations, then into ripples tipped with
    spray. The fog of sultriness still hung over the city, but
    ahead lay a fresh world of ruffled waters, and distant
    promontories with light-houses in the sun. Madame
    Olenska, leaning back against the boat-rail, drank in
    the coolness between parted lips. She had wound a
    long veil about her hat, but it left her face uncovered,
    and Archer was struck by the tranquil gaiety of her
    expression. She seemed to take their adventure as a
    matter of course, and to be neither in fear of unexpected
    encounters, nor (what was worse) unduly elated
    by their possibility.

    In the bare dining-room of the inn, which he had
    hoped they would have to themselves, they found a
    strident party of innocent-looking young men and
    women--school-teachers on a holiday, the landlord told
    them--and Archer's heart sank at the idea of having to
    talk through their noise.

    "This is hopeless--I'll ask for a private room," he
    said; and Madame Olenska, without offering any objection,
    waited while he went in search of it. The room
    opened on a long wooden verandah, with the sea coming
    in at the windows. It was bare and cool, with a
    table covered with a coarse checkered cloth and adorned
    by a bottle of pickles and a blueberry pie under a cage.
    No more guileless-looking cabinet particulier ever
    offered its shelter to a clandestine couple: Archer fancied
    he saw the sense of its reassurance in the faintly amused
    smile with which Madame Olenska sat down opposite
    to him. A woman who had run away from her husband--
    and reputedly with another man--was likely to have
    mastered the art of taking things for granted; but
    something in the quality of her composure took the edge
    from his irony. By being so quiet, so unsurprised and
    so simple she had managed to brush away the conventions
    and make him feel that to seek to be alone was
    the natural thing for two old friends who had so much
    to say to each other. . . .
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    Chapter 23
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