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    Chapter 28

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    Chapter 28
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    XXVIII.

    Ol-ol--howjer spell it, anyhow?" asked the tart
    young lady to whom Archer had pushed his wife's
    telegram across the brass ledge of the Western Union
    office.

    "Olenska--O-len-ska," he repeated, drawing back
    the message in order to print out the foreign syllables
    above May's rambling script.

    "It's an unlikely name for a New York telegraph
    office; at least in this quarter," an unexpected voice
    observed; and turning around Archer saw Lawrence
    Lefferts at his elbow, pulling an imperturbable moustache
    and affecting not to glance at the message.

    "Hallo, Newland: thought I'd catch you here. I've
    just heard of old Mrs. Mingott's stroke; and as I was
    on my way to the house I saw you turning down this
    street and nipped after you. I suppose you've come
    from there?"

    Archer nodded, and pushed his telegram under the
    lattice.

    "Very bad, eh?" Lefferts continued. "Wiring to the
    family, I suppose. I gather it IS bad, if you're including
    Countess Olenska."

    Archer's lips stiffened; he felt a savage impulse to
    dash his fist into the long vain handsome face at his side.

    "Why?" he questioned.

    Lefferts, who was known to shrink from discussion,
    raised his eye-brows with an ironic grimace that warned
    the other of the watching damsel behind the lattice.
    Nothing could be worse "form" the look reminded
    Archer, than any display of temper in a public place.

    Archer had never been more indifferent to the
    requirements of form; but his impulse to do Lawrence
    Lefferts a physical injury was only momentary. The
    idea of bandying Ellen Olenska's name with him at
    such a time, and on whatsoever provocation, was
    unthinkable. He paid for his telegram, and the two young
    men went out together into the street. There Archer,
    having regained his self-control, went on: "Mrs. Mingott
    is much better: the doctor feels no anxiety whatever";
    and Lefferts, with profuse expressions of relief,
    asked him if he had heard that there were beastly bad
    rumours again about Beaufort. . . .

    That afternoon the announcement of the Beaufort failure
    was in all the papers. It overshadowed the report of
    Mrs. Manson Mingott's stroke, and only the few who
    had heard of the mysterious connection between the
    two events thought of ascribing old Catherine's illness
    to anything but the accumulation of flesh and years.

    The whole of New York was darkened by the tale of
    Beaufort's dishonour. There had never, as Mr. Letterblair
    said, been a worse case in his memory, nor, for that
    matter, in the memory of the far-off Letterblair who
    had given his name to the firm. The bank had continued
    to take in money for a whole day after its failure
    was inevitable; and as many of its clients belonged to
    one or another of the ruling clans, Beaufort's duplicity
    seemed doubly cynical. If Mrs. Beaufort had not taken
    the tone that such misfortunes (the word was her own)
    were "the test of friendship," compassion for her might
    have tempered the general indignation against her husband.
    As it was--and especially after the object of her
    nocturnal visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott had become
    known--her cynicism was held to exceed his; and she
    had not the excuse--nor her detractors the satisfaction--
    of pleading that she was "a foreigner." It was some
    comfort (to those whose securities were not in jeopardy)
    to be able to remind themselves that Beaufort
    WAS; but, after all, if a Dallas of South Carolina took
    his view of the case, and glibly talked of his soon being
    "on his feet again," the argument lost its edge, and
    there was nothing to do but to accept this awful evidence
    of the indissolubility of marriage. Society must
    manage to get on without the Beauforts, and there was
    an end of it--except indeed for such hapless victims of
    the disaster as Medora Manson, the poor old Miss
    Lannings, and certain other misguided ladies of good
    family who, if only they had listened to Mr. Henry van
    der Luyden . . .

    "The best thing the Beauforts can do," said Mrs.
    Archer, summing it up as if she were pronouncing a
    diagnosis and prescribing a course of treatment, "is to
    go and live at Regina's little place in North Carolina.
    Beaufort has always kept a racing stable, and he had
    better breed trotting horses. I should say he had all the
    qualities of a successful horsedealer." Every one agreed
    with her, but no one condescended to enquire what the
    Beauforts really meant to do.

    The next day Mrs. Manson Mingott was much better:
    she recovered her voice sufficiently to give orders
    that no one should mention the Beauforts to her again,
    and asked--when Dr. Bencomb appeared--what in the
    world her family meant by making such a fuss about
    her health.

    "If people of my age WILL eat chicken-salad in the
    evening what are they to expect?" she enquired; and,
    the doctor having opportunely modified her dietary,
    the stroke was transformed into an attack of indigestion.
    But in spite of her firm tone old Catherine did not
    wholly recover her former attitude toward life. The
    growing remoteness of old age, though it had not
    diminished her curiosity about her neighbours, had blunted
    her never very lively compassion for their troubles; and
    she seemed to have no difficulty in putting the Beaufort
    disaster out of her mind. But for the first time she
    became absorbed in her own symptoms, and began to
    take a sentimental interest in certain members of her
    family to whom she had hitherto been contemptuously
    indifferent.

    Mr. Welland, in particular, had the privilege of
    attracting her notice. Of her sons-in-law he was the one
    she had most consistently ignored; and all his wife's
    efforts to represent him as a man of forceful character
    and marked intellectual ability (if he had only "chosen")
    had been met with a derisive chuckle. But his
    eminence as a valetudinarian now made him an object
    of engrossing interest, and Mrs. Mingott issued an
    imperial summons to him to come and compare diets
    as soon as his temperature permitted; for old Catherine
    was now the first to recognise that one could not be
    too careful about temperatures.

    Twenty-four hours after Madame Olenska's summons
    a telegram announced that she would arrive from Washington
    on the evening of the following day. At the
    Wellands', where the Newland Archers chanced to be
    lunching, the question as to who should meet her at
    Jersey City was immediately raised; and the material
    difficulties amid which the Welland household struggled
    as if it had been a frontier outpost, lent animation
    to the debate. It was agreed that Mrs. Welland could
    not possibly go to Jersey City because she was to
    accompany her husband to old Catherine's that afternoon,
    and the brougham could not be spared, since, if
    Mr. Welland were "upset" by seeing his mother-in-law
    for the first time after her attack, he might have to be
    taken home at a moment's notice. The Welland sons
    would of course be "down town," Mr. Lovell Mingott
    would be just hurrying back from his shooting, and the
    Mingott carriage engaged in meeting him; and one
    could not ask May, at the close of a winter afternoon,
    to go alone across the ferry to Jersey City, even in her
    own carriage. Nevertheless, it might appear inhospitable
    --and contrary to old Catherine's express wishes--if
    Madame Olenska were allowed to arrive without any
    of the family being at the station to receive her. It was
    just like Ellen, Mrs. Welland's tired voice implied, to
    place the family in such a dilemma. "It's always one
    thing after another," the poor lady grieved, in one of
    her rare revolts against fate; "the only thing that makes
    me think Mamma must be less well than Dr. Bencomb
    will admit is this morbid desire to have Ellen come at
    once, however inconvenient it is to meet her."

    The words had been thoughtless, as the utterances of
    impatience often are; and Mr. Welland was upon them
    with a pounce.

    "Augusta," he said, turning pale and laying down his
    fork, "have you any other reason for thinking that
    Bencomb is less to be relied on than he was? Have you
    noticed that he has been less conscientious than usual
    in following up my case or your mother's?"

    It was Mrs. Welland's turn to grow pale as the
    endless consequences of her blunder unrolled themselves
    before her; but she managed to laugh, and take a
    second helping of scalloped oysters, before she said,
    struggling back into her old armour of cheerfulness:
    "My dear, how could you imagine such a thing? I only
    meant that, after the decided stand Mamma took about
    its being Ellen's duty to go back to her husband, it
    seems strange that she should be seized with this sudden
    whim to see her, when there are half a dozen other
    grandchildren that she might have asked for. But we
    must never forget that Mamma, in spite of her wonderful
    vitality, is a very old woman."

    Mr. Welland's brow remained clouded, and it was
    evident that his perturbed imagination had fastened at
    once on this last remark. "Yes: your mother's a very
    old woman; and for all we know Bencomb may not be
    as successful with very old people. As you say, my
    dear, it's always one thing after another; and in
    another ten or fifteen years I suppose I shall have the
    pleasing duty of looking about for a new doctor. It's
    always better to make such a change before it's absolutely
    necessary." And having arrived at this Spartan
    decision Mr. Welland firmly took up his fork.

    "But all the while," Mrs. Welland began again, as
    she rose from the luncheon-table, and led the way into
    the wilderness of purple satin and malachite known as
    the back drawing-room, "I don't see how Ellen's to be
    got here tomorrow evening; and I do like to have
    things settled for at least twenty-four hours ahead."

    Archer turned from the fascinated contemplation of
    a small painting representing two Cardinals carousing,
    in an octagonal ebony frame set with medallions of onyx.

    "Shall I fetch her?" he proposed. "I can easily get
    away from the office in time to meet the brougham at
    the ferry, if May will send it there." His heart was
    beating excitedly as he spoke.

    Mrs. Welland heaved a sigh of gratitude, and May, who
    had moved away to the window, turned to shed on him
    a beam of approval. "So you see, Mamma, everything
    WILL be settled twenty-four hours in advance," she said,
    stooping over to kiss her mother's troubled forehead.

    May's brougham awaited her at the door, and she was
    to drive Archer to Union Square, where he could pick
    up a Broadway car to carry him to the office. As she
    settled herself in her corner she said: "I didn't want to
    worry Mamma by raising fresh obstacles; but how can
    you meet Ellen tomorrow, and bring her back to New
    York, when you're going to Washington?"

    "Oh, I'm not going," Archer answered.

    "Not going? Why, what's happened?" Her voice was
    as clear as a bell, and full of wifely solicitude.

    "The case is off--postponed."

    "Postponed? How odd! I saw a note this morning
    from Mr. Letterblair to Mamma saying that he was
    going to Washington tomorrow for the big patent case
    that he was to argue before the Supreme Court. You
    said it was a patent case, didn't you?"

    "Well--that's it: the whole office can't go. Letterblair
    decided to go this morning."

    "Then it's NOT postponed?" she continued, with an
    insistence so unlike her that he felt the blood rising to
    his face, as if he were blushing for her unwonted lapse
    from all the traditional delicacies.

    "No: but my going is," he answered, cursing the
    unnecessary explanations that he had given when he
    had announced his intention of going to Washington,
    and wondering where he had read that clever liars give
    details, but that the cleverest do not. It did not hurt
    him half as much to tell May an untruth as to see her
    trying to pretend that she had not detected him.

    "I'm not going till later on: luckily for the
    convenience of your family," he continued, taking base
    refuge in sarcasm. As he spoke he felt that she was looking
    at him, and he turned his eyes to hers in order not to
    appear to be avoiding them. Their glances met for a
    second, and perhaps let them into each other's meanings
    more deeply than either cared to go.

    "Yes; it IS awfully convenient," May brightly agreed,
    "that you should be able to meet Ellen after all; you
    saw how much Mamma appreciated your offering to
    do it."

    "Oh, I'm delighted to do it." The carriage stopped,
    and as he jumped out she leaned to him and laid her
    hand on his. "Good-bye, dearest," she said, her eyes so
    blue that he wondered afterward if they had shone on
    him through tears.

    He turned away and hurried across Union Square,
    repeating to himself, in a sort of inward chant: "It's all
    of two hours from Jersey City to old Catherine's. It's
    all of two hours--and it may be more."
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