Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Don't let us make imaginary evils, when you know we have so many real ones to encounter."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 27

    • Rate it:
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 27
    Previous Chapter
    XXVII.

    Wall Street, the next day, had more reassuring
    reports of Beaufort's situation. They were not
    definite, but they were hopeful. It was generally understood
    that he could call on powerful influences in case
    of emergency, and that he had done so with success;
    and that evening, when Mrs. Beaufort appeared at the
    Opera wearing her old smile and a new emerald necklace,
    society drew a breath of relief.

    New York was inexorable in its condemnation of
    business irregularities. So far there had been no exception
    to its tacit rule that those who broke the law of
    probity must pay; and every one was aware that even
    Beaufort and Beaufort's wife would be offered up
    unflinchingly to this principle. But to be obliged to offer
    them up would be not only painful but inconvenient.
    The disappearance of the Beauforts would leave a
    considerable void in their compact little circle; and those
    who were too ignorant or too careless to shudder at the
    moral catastrophe bewailed in advance the loss of the
    best ball-room in New York.

    Archer had definitely made up his mind to go to
    Washington. He was waiting only for the opening of
    the law-suit of which he had spoken to May, so that its
    date might coincide with that of his visit; but on the
    following Tuesday he learned from Mr. Letterblair that
    the case might be postponed for several weeks. Nevertheless,
    he went home that afternoon determined in any
    event to leave the next evening. The chances were that
    May, who knew nothing of his professional life, and
    had never shown any interest in it, would not learn of
    the postponement, should it take place, nor remember
    the names of the litigants if they were mentioned before
    her; and at any rate he could no longer put off seeing
    Madame Olenska. There were too many things that he
    must say to her.

    On the Wednesday morning, when he reached his
    office, Mr. Letterblair met him with a troubled face.
    Beaufort, after all, had not managed to "tide over";
    but by setting afloat the rumour that he had done so he
    had reassured his depositors, and heavy payments had
    poured into the bank till the previous evening, when
    disturbing reports again began to predominate. In
    consequence, a run on the bank had begun, and its doors
    were likely to close before the day was over. The ugliest
    things were being said of Beaufort's dastardly
    manoeuvre, and his failure promised to be one of the
    most discreditable in the history of Wall Street.

    The extent of the calamity left Mr. Letterblair white
    and incapacitated. "I've seen bad things in my time;
    but nothing as bad as this. Everybody we know will be
    hit, one way or another. And what will be done about
    Mrs. Beaufort? What CAN be done about her? I pity
    Mrs. Manson Mingott as much as anybody: coming at
    her age, there's no knowing what effect this affair may
    have on her. She always believed in Beaufort--she made
    a friend of him! And there's the whole Dallas connection:
    poor Mrs. Beaufort is related to every one of you.
    Her only chance would be to leave her husband--yet
    how can any one tell her so? Her duty is at his side;
    and luckily she seems always to have been blind to his
    private weaknesses."

    There was a knock, and Mr. Letterblair turned his
    head sharply. "What is it? I can't be disturbed."

    A clerk brought in a letter for Archer and withdrew.
    Recognising his wife's hand, the young man opened
    the envelope and read: "Won't you please come up
    town as early as you can? Granny had a slight stroke
    last night. In some mysterious way she found out before
    any one else this awful news about the bank.
    Uncle Lovell is away shooting, and the idea of the
    disgrace has made poor Papa so nervous that he has a
    temperature and can't leave his room. Mamma needs
    you dreadfully, and I do hope you can get away at once
    and go straight to Granny's."

    Archer handed the note to his senior partner, and a
    few minutes later was crawling northward in a crowded
    horse-car, which he exchanged at Fourteenth Street for
    one of the high staggering omnibuses of the Fifth Avenue
    line. It was after twelve o'clock when this laborious
    vehicle dropped him at old Catherine's. The
    sitting-room window on the ground floor, where she
    usually throned, was tenanted by the inadequate figure
    of her daughter, Mrs. Welland, who signed a haggard
    welcome as she caught sight of Archer; and at the door
    he was met by May. The hall wore the unnatural
    appearance peculiar to well-kept houses suddenly
    invaded by illness: wraps and furs lay in heaps on the
    chairs, a doctor's bag and overcoat were on the table,
    and beside them letters and cards had already piled up
    unheeded.

    May looked pale but smiling: Dr. Bencomb, who
    had just come for the second time, took a more hopeful
    view, and Mrs. Mingott's dauntless determination to
    live and get well was already having an effect on her
    family. May led Archer into the old lady's sitting-room,
    where the sliding doors opening into the bedroom had
    been drawn shut, and the heavy yellow damask portieres
    dropped over them; and here Mrs. Welland communicated
    to him in horrified undertones the details of
    the catastrophe. It appeared that the evening before
    something dreadful and mysterious had happened. At
    about eight o'clock, just after Mrs. Mingott had finished
    the game of solitaire that she always played after
    dinner, the door-bell had rung, and a lady so thickly
    veiled that the servants did not immediately recognise
    her had asked to be received.

    The butler, hearing a familiar voice, had thrown
    open the sitting-room door, announcing: "Mrs. Julius
    Beaufort"--and had then closed it again on the two
    ladies. They must have been together, he thought, about
    an hour. When Mrs. Mingott's bell rang Mrs. Beaufort
    had already slipped away unseen, and the old lady,
    white and vast and terrible, sat alone in her great chair,
    and signed to the butler to help her into her room. She
    seemed, at that time, though obviously distressed, in
    complete control of her body and brain. The mulatto
    maid put her to bed, brought her a cup of tea as usual,
    laid everything straight in the room, and went away;
    but at three in the morning the bell rang again, and the
    two servants, hastening in at this unwonted summons
    (for old Catherine usually slept like a baby), had found
    their mistress sitting up against her pillows with a
    crooked smile on her face and one little hand hanging
    limp from its huge arm.

    The stroke had clearly been a slight one, for she was
    able to articulate and to make her wishes known; and
    soon after the doctor's first visit she had begun to
    regain control of her facial muscles. But the alarm had
    been great; and proportionately great was the indignation
    when it was gathered from Mrs. Mingott's fragmentary
    phrases that Regina Beaufort had come to ask
    her--incredible effrontery!--to back up her husband,
    see them through--not to "desert" them, as she called
    it--in fact to induce the whole family to cover and
    condone their monstrous dishonour.

    "I said to her: "Honour's always been honour, and
    honesty honesty, in Manson Mingott's house, and will
    be till I'm carried out of it feet first,'" the old woman
    had stammered into her daughter's ear, in the thick
    voice of the partly paralysed. "And when she said: 'But
    my name, Auntie--my name's Regina Dallas,' I said: 'It
    was Beaufort when he covered you with jewels, and it's
    got to stay Beaufort now that he's covered you with
    shame.'"

    So much, with tears and gasps of horror, Mrs. Welland
    imparted, blanched and demolished by the unwonted
    obligation of having at last to fix her eyes on
    the unpleasant and the discreditable. "If only I could
    keep it from your father-in-law: he always says:
    'Augusta, for pity's sake, don't destroy my last illusions'
    --and how am I to prevent his knowing these horrors?"
    the poor lady wailed.

    "After all, Mamma, he won't have SEEN them," her
    daughter suggested; and Mrs. Welland sighed: "Ah,
    no; thank heaven he's safe in bed. And Dr. Bencomb
    has promised to keep him there till poor Mamma is
    better, and Regina has been got away somewhere."

    Archer had seated himself near the window and was
    gazing out blankly at the deserted thoroughfare. It was
    evident that he had been summoned rather for the
    moral support of the stricken ladies than because of
    any specific aid that he could render. Mr. Lovell Mingott
    had been telegraphed for, and messages were being
    despatched by hand to the members of the family living
    in New York; and meanwhile there was nothing to do
    but to discuss in hushed tones the consequences of
    Beaufort's dishonour and of his wife's unjustifiable
    action.

    Mrs. Lovell Mingott, who had been in another room
    writing notes, presently reappeared, and added her voice
    to the discussion. In THEIR day, the elder ladies agreed,
    the wife of a man who had done anything disgraceful
    in business had only one idea: to efface herself, to
    disappear with him. "There was the case of poor Grandmamma
    Spicer; your great-grandmother, May. Of
    course," Mrs. Welland hastened to add, "your great-
    grandfather's money difficulties were private--losses
    at cards, or signing a note for somebody--I never quite
    knew, because Mamma would never speak of it. But
    she was brought up in the country because her mother
    had to leave New York after the disgrace, whatever it
    was: they lived up the Hudson alone, winter and sum-
    met, till Mamma was sixteen. It would never have
    occurred to Grandmamma Spicer to ask the family to
    'countenance' her, as I understand Regina calls it; though
    a private disgrace is nothing compared to the scandal
    of ruining hundreds of innocent people."

    "Yes, it would be more becoming in Regina to hide
    her own countenance than to talk about other people's,"
    Mrs. Lovell Mingott agreed. "I understand that
    the emerald necklace she wore at the Opera last Friday
    had been sent on approval from Ball and Black's in the
    afternoon. I wonder if they'll ever get it back?"

    Archer listened unmoved to the relentless chorus.
    The idea of absolute financial probity as the first law of
    a gentleman's code was too deeply ingrained in him for
    sentimental considerations to weaken it. An adventurer
    like Lemuel Struthers might build up the millions of his
    Shoe Polish on any number of shady dealings; but
    unblemished honesty was the noblesse oblige of old
    financial New York. Nor did Mrs. Beaufort's fate greatly
    move Archer. He felt, no doubt, more sorry for her
    than her indignant relatives; but it seemed to him that
    the tie between husband and wife, even if breakable in
    prosperity, should be indissoluble in misfortune. As
    Mr. Letterblair had said, a wife's place was at her
    husband's side when he was in trouble; but society's
    place was not at his side, and Mrs. Beaufort's cool
    assumption that it was seemed almost to make her his
    accomplice. The mere idea of a woman's appealing to
    her family to screen her husband's business dishonour
    was inadmissible, since it was the one thing that the
    Family, as an institution, could not do.

    The mulatto maid called Mrs. Lovell Mingott into
    the hall, and the latter came back in a moment with a
    frowning brow.

    "She wants me to telegraph for Ellen Olenska. I had
    written to Ellen, of course, and to Medora; but now it
    seems that's not enough. I'm to telegraph to her
    immediately, and to tell her that she's to come alone."

    The announcement was received in silence. Mrs.
    Welland sighed resignedly, and May rose from her seat and
    went to gather up some newspapers that had been
    scattered on the floor.

    "I suppose it must be done," Mrs. Lovell Mingott
    continued, as if hoping to be contradicted; and May
    turned back toward the middle of the room.

    "Of course it must be done," she said. "Granny
    knows what she wants, and we must carry out all her
    wishes. Shall I write the telegram for you, Auntie? If it
    goes at once Ellen can probably catch tomorrow morning's
    train." She pronounced the syllables of the name
    with a peculiar clearness, as if she had tapped on two
    silver bells.

    "Well, it can't go at once. Jasper and the pantry-boy
    are both out with notes and telegrams."

    May turned to her husband with a smile. "But here's
    Newland, ready to do anything. Will you take the
    telegram, Newland? There'll be just time before luncheon."

    Archer rose with a murmur of readiness, and she
    seated herself at old Catherine's rosewood "Bonheur
    du Jour," and wrote out the message in her large
    immature hand. When it was written she blotted it
    neatly and handed it to Archer.

    "What a pity," she said, "that you and Ellen will
    cross each other on the way!--Newland," she added,
    turning to her mother and aunt, "is obliged to go to
    Washington about a patent law-suit that is coming up
    before the Supreme Court. I suppose Uncle Lovell will
    be back by tomorrow night, and with Granny improving
    so much it doesn't seem right to ask Newland to
    give up an important engagement for the firm--does
    it?"

    She paused, as if for an answer, and Mrs. Welland
    hastily declared: "Oh, of course not, darling. Your
    Granny would be the last person to wish it." As Archer
    left the room with the telegram, he heard his mother-in-
    law add, presumably to Mrs. Lovell Mingott: "But
    why on earth she should make you telegraph for Ellen
    Olenska--" and May's clear voice rejoin: "Perhaps it's
    to urge on her again that after all her duty is with her
    husband."

    The outer door closed on Archer and he walked
    hastily away toward the telegraph office.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 27
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Edith Wharton essay and need some advice, post your Edith Wharton essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?