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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 25
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    XXV.

    Once more on the boat, and in the presence of others,
    Archer felt a tranquillity of spirit that surprised as
    much as it sustained him.

    The day, according to any current valuation, had
    been a rather ridiculous failure; he had not so much as
    touched Madame Olenska's hand with his lips, or
    extracted one word from her that gave promise of farther
    opportunities. Nevertheless, for a man sick with
    unsatisfied love, and parting for an indefinite period from
    the object of his passion, he felt himself almost
    humiliatingly calm and comforted. It was the perfect balance
    she had held between their loyalty to others and their
    honesty to themselves that had so stirred and yet
    tranquillized him; a balance not artfully calculated, as her
    tears and her falterings showed, but resulting naturally
    from her unabashed sincerity. It filled him with a tender
    awe, now the danger was over, and made him
    thank the fates that no personal vanity, no sense of
    playing a part before sophisticated witnesses, had
    tempted him to tempt her. Even after they had clasped
    hands for good-bye at the Fall River station, and he
    had turned away alone, the conviction remained with
    him of having saved out of their meeting much more
    than he had sacrificed.

    He wandered back to the club, and went and sat
    alone in the deserted library, turning and turning over
    in his thoughts every separate second of their hours
    together. It was clear to him, and it grew more clear
    under closer scrutiny, that if she should finally decide
    on returning to Europe--returning to her husband--it
    would not be because her old life tempted her, even on
    the new terms offered. No: she would go only if she
    felt herself becoming a temptation to Archer, a
    temptation to fall away from the standard they had both set
    up. Her choice would be to stay near him as long as he
    did not ask her to come nearer; and it depended on
    himself to keep her just there, safe but secluded.

    In the train these thoughts were still with him. They
    enclosed him in a kind of golden haze, through which
    the faces about him looked remote and indistinct: he
    had a feeling that if he spoke to his fellow-travellers
    they would not understand what he was saying. In this
    state of abstraction he found himself, the following
    morning, waking to the reality of a stifling September
    day in New York. The heat-withered faces in the long
    train streamed past him, and he continued to stare at
    them through the same golden blur; but suddenly, as
    he left the station, one of the faces detached itself, came
    closer and forced itself upon his consciousness. It was,
    as he instantly recalled, the face of the young man he
    had seen, the day before, passing out of the Parker
    House, and had noted as not conforming to type, as
    not having an American hotel face.

    The same thing struck him now; and again he became
    aware of a dim stir of former associations. The
    young man stood looking about him with the dazed air
    of the foreigner flung upon the harsh mercies of American
    travel; then he advanced toward Archer, lifted his
    hat, and said in English: "Surely, Monsieur, we met in
    London?"

    "Ah, to be sure: in London!" Archer grasped his
    hand with curiosity and sympathy. "So you DID get
    here, after all?" he exclaimed, casting a wondering eye
    on the astute and haggard little countenance of young
    Carfry's French tutor.

    "Oh, I got here--yes," M. Riviere smiled with drawn
    lips. "But not for long; I return the day after tomorrow."
    He stood grasping his light valise in one neatly
    gloved hand, and gazing anxiously, perplexedly, almost
    appealingly, into Archer's face.

    "I wonder, Monsieur, since I've had the good luck to
    run across you, if I might--"

    "I was just going to suggest it: come to luncheon,
    won't you? Down town, I mean: if you'll look me up in
    my office I'll take you to a very decent restaurant in
    that quarter."

    M. Riviere was visibly touched and surprised. "You're
    too kind. But I was only going to ask if you would tell
    me how to reach some sort of conveyance. There are
    no porters, and no one here seems to listen--"

    "I know: our American stations must surprise you.
    When you ask for a porter they give you chewing-gum.
    But if you'll come along I'll extricate you; and you
    must really lunch with me, you know."

    The young man, after a just perceptible hesitation,
    replied, with profuse thanks, and in a tone that did not
    carry complete conviction, that he was already engaged;
    but when they had reached the comparative
    reassurance of the street he asked if he might call that
    afternoon.

    Archer, at ease in the midsummer leisure of the
    office, fixed an hour and scribbled his address, which the
    Frenchman pocketed with reiterated thanks and a wide
    flourish of his hat. A horse-car received him, and Archer
    walked away.

    Punctually at the hour M. Riviere appeared, shaved,
    smoothed-out, but still unmistakably drawn and serious.
    Archer was alone in his office, and the young man,
    before accepting the seat he proffered, began abruptly:
    "I believe I saw you, sir, yesterday in Boston."

    The statement was insignificant enough, and Archer
    was about to frame an assent when his words were
    checked by something mysterious yet illuminating in
    his visitor's insistent gaze.

    "It is extraordinary, very extraordinary," M. Riviere
    continued, "that we should have met in the circumstances
    in which I find myself."

    "What circumstances?" Archer asked, wondering a
    little crudely if he needed money.

    M. Riviere continued to study him with tentative
    eyes. "I have come, not to look for employment, as I
    spoke of doing when we last met, but on a special
    mission--"

    "Ah--!" Archer exclaimed. In a flash the two
    meetings had connected themselves in his mind. He paused
    to take in the situation thus suddenly lighted up for
    him, and M. Riviere also remained silent, as if aware
    that what he had said was enough.

    "A special mission," Archer at length repeated.

    The young Frenchman, opening his palms, raised
    them slightly, and the two men continued to look at
    each other across the office-desk till Archer roused
    himself to say: "Do sit down"; whereupon M. Riviere
    bowed, took a distant chair, and again waited.

    "It was about this mission that you wanted to
    consult me?" Archer finally asked.

    M. Riviere bent his head. "Not in my own behalf:
    on that score I--I have fully dealt with myself. I should
    like--if I may--to speak to you about the Countess
    Olenska."

    Archer had known for the last few minutes that the
    words were coming; but when they came they sent the
    blood rushing to his temples as if he had been caught
    by a bent-back branch in a thicket.

    "And on whose behalf," he said, "do you wish to do
    this?"

    M. Riviere met the question sturdily. "Well--I might
    say HERS, if it did not sound like a liberty. Shall I say
    instead: on behalf of abstract justice?"

    Archer considered him ironically. "In other words:
    you are Count Olenski's messenger?"

    He saw his blush more darkly reflected in M. Riviere's
    sallow countenance. "Not to YOU, Monsieur. If I come
    to you, it is on quite other grounds."

    "What right have you, in the circumstances, to BE on
    any other ground?" Archer retorted. "If you're an
    emissary you're an emissary."

    The young man considered. "My mission is over: as
    far as the Countess Olenska goes, it has failed."

    "I can't help that," Archer rejoined on the same note
    of irony.

    "No: but you can help--" M. Riviere paused, turned
    his hat about in his still carefully gloved hands, looked
    into its lining and then back at Archer's face. "You can
    help, Monsieur, I am convinced, to make it equally a
    failure with her family."

    Archer pushed back his chair and stood up. "Well--
    and by God I will!" he exclaimed. He stood with his
    hands in his pockets, staring down wrathfully at the
    little Frenchman, whose face, though he too had risen,
    was still an inch or two below the line of Archer's eyes.

    M. Riviere paled to his normal hue: paler than that
    his complexion could hardly turn.

    "Why the devil," Archer explosively continued,
    "should you have thought--since I suppose you're
    appealing to me on the ground of my relationship to
    Madame Olenska--that I should take a view contrary
    to the rest of her family?"

    The change of expression in M. Riviere's face was
    for a time his only answer. His look passed from timidity
    to absolute distress: for a young man of his usually
    resourceful mien it would have been difficult to appear
    more disarmed and defenceless. "Oh, Monsieur--"

    "I can't imagine," Archer continued, "why you should
    have come to me when there are others so much nearer
    to the Countess; still less why you thought I should be
    more accessible to the arguments I suppose you were
    sent over with."

    M. Riviere took this onslaught with a disconcerting
    humility. "The arguments I want to present to you,
    Monsieur, are my own and not those I was sent over
    with."

    "Then I see still less reason for listening to them."

    M. Riviere again looked into his hat, as if considering
    whether these last words were not a sufficiently
    broad hint to put it on and be gone. Then he spoke
    with sudden decision. "Monsieur--will you tell me one
    thing? Is it my right to be here that you question? Or
    do you perhaps believe the whole matter to be already
    closed?"

    His quiet insistence made Archer feel the clumsiness
    of his own bluster. M. Riviere had succeeded in imposing
    himself: Archer, reddening slightly, dropped into
    his chair again, and signed to the young man to be
    seated.

    "I beg your pardon: but why isn't the matter closed?"

    M. Riviere gazed back at him with anguish. "You
    do, then, agree with the rest of the family that, in face
    of the new proposals I have brought, it is hardly possible
    for Madame Olenska not to return to her husband?"

    "Good God!" Archer exclaimed; and his visitor gave
    out a low murmur of confirmation.

    "Before seeing her, I saw--at Count Olenski's
    request--Mr. Lovell Mingott, with whom I had several
    talks before going to Boston. I understand that he
    represents his mother's view; and that Mrs. Manson
    Mingott's influence is great throughout her family."

    Archer sat silent, with the sense of clinging to the
    edge of a sliding precipice. The discovery that he had
    been excluded from a share in these negotiations, and
    even from the knowledge that they were on foot, caused
    him a surprise hardly dulled by the acuter wonder of
    what he was learning. He saw in a flash that if the
    family had ceased to consult him it was because some
    deep tribal instinct warned them that he was no longer
    on their side; and he recalled, with a start of comprehension,
    a remark of May's during their drive home
    from Mrs. Manson Mingott's on the day of the Archery
    Meeting: "Perhaps, after all, Ellen would be happier
    with her husband."

    Even in the tumult of new discoveries Archer remembered
    his indignant exclamation, and the fact that since
    then his wife had never named Madame Olenska to
    him. Her careless allusion had no doubt been the straw
    held up to see which way the wind blew; the result had
    been reported to the family, and thereafter Archer had
    been tacitly omitted from their counsels. He admired
    the tribal discipline which made May bow to this decision.
    She would not have done so, he knew, had her
    conscience protested; but she probably shared the family
    view that Madame Olenska would be better off as
    an unhappy wife than as a separated one, and that
    there was no use in discussing the case with Newland,
    who had an awkward way of suddenly not seeming to
    take the most fundamental things for granted.

    Archer looked up and met his visitor's anxious gaze.
    "Don't you know, Monsieur--is it possible you don't
    know--that the family begin to doubt if they have the
    right to advise the Countess to refuse her husband's
    last proposals?"

    "The proposals you brought?"

    "The proposals I brought."

    It was on Archer's lips to exclaim that whatever he
    knew or did not know was no concern of M. Riviere's;
    but something in the humble and yet courageous tenacity
    of M. Riviere's gaze made him reject this conclusion,
    and he met the young man's question with another.
    "What is your object in speaking to me of this?"

    He had not to wait a moment for the answer. "To
    beg you, Monsieur--to beg you with all the force I'm
    capable of--not to let her go back.--Oh, don't let
    her!" M. Riviere exclaimed.

    Archer looked at him with increasing astonishment.
    There was no mistaking the sincerity of his distress or
    the strength of his determination: he had evidently
    resolved to let everything go by the board but the
    supreme need of thus putting himself on record. Archer
    considered.

    "May I ask," he said at length, "if this is the line you
    took with the Countess Olenska?"

    M. Riviere reddened, but his eyes did not falter.
    "No, Monsieur: I accepted my mission in good faith. I
    really believed--for reasons I need not trouble you
    with--that it would be better for Madame Olenska to
    recover her situation, her fortune, the social consideration
    that her husband's standing gives her."

    "So I supposed: you could hardly have accepted such
    a mission otherwise."

    "I should not have accepted it."

    "Well, then--?" Archer paused again, and their eyes
    met in another protracted scrutiny.

    "Ah, Monsieur, after I had seen her, after I had
    listened to her, I knew she was better off here."

    "You knew--?"

    "Monsieur, I discharged my mission faithfully: I put
    the Count's arguments, I stated his offers, without adding
    any comment of my own. The Countess was good
    enough to listen patiently; she carried her goodness so
    far as to see me twice; she considered impartially all I
    had come to say. And it was in the course of these two
    talks that I changed my mind, that I came to see things
    differently."

    "May I ask what led to this change?"

    "Simply seeing the change in HER," M. Riviere replied.

    "The change in her? Then you knew her before?"

    The young man's colour again rose. "I used to see
    her in her husband's house. I have known Count Olenski
    for many years. You can imagine that he would not
    have sent a stranger on such a mission."

    Archer's gaze, wandering away to the blank walls of
    the office, rested on a hanging calendar surmounted by
    the rugged features of the President of the United States.
    That such a conversation should be going on anywhere
    within the millions of square miles subject to his rule
    seemed as strange as anything that the imagination
    could invent.

    "The change--what sort of a change?"

    "Ah, Monsieur, if I could tell you!" M. Riviere paused.
    "Tenez--the discovery, I suppose, of what I'd never
    thought of before: that she's an American. And that if
    you're an American of HER kind--of your kind--things
    that are accepted in certain other societies, or at least
    put up with as part of a general convenient give-and-
    take--become unthinkable, simply unthinkable. If
    Madame Olenska's relations understood what these things
    were, their opposition to her returning would no doubt
    be as unconditional as her own; but they seem to
    regard her husband's wish to have her back as proof of
    an irresistible longing for domestic life." M. Riviere
    paused, and then added: "Whereas it's far from being
    as simple as that."

    Archer looked back to the President of the United
    States, and then down at his desk and at the papers
    scattered on it. For a second or two he could not trust
    himself to speak. During this interval he heard M.
    Riviere's chair pushed back, and was aware that the
    young man had risen. When he glanced up again he
    saw that his visitor was as moved as himself.

    "Thank you," Archer said simply.

    "There's nothing to thank me for, Monsieur: it is I,
    rather--" M. Riviere broke off, as if speech for him
    too were difficult. "I should like, though," he continued
    in a firmer voice, "to add one thing. You asked me
    if I was in Count Olenski's employ. I am at this moment:
    I returned to him, a few months ago, for reasons
    of private necessity such as may happen to any one
    who has persons, ill and older persons, dependent on
    him. But from the moment that I have taken the step of
    coming here to say these things to you I consider myself
    discharged, and I shall tell him so on my return,
    and give him the reasons. That's all, Monsieur."

    M. Riviere bowed and drew back a step.

    "Thank you," Archer said again, as their hands met.
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    Chapter 25
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