Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 5

  • The next morning, when Archer got out of the Fall River train, he emerged upo_ steaming midsummer Boston. The streets near the station were full of th_mell of beer and coffee and decaying fruit and a shirt- sleeved populac_oved through them with the intimate abandon of boarders going down th_assage to the bathroom.
  • Archer found a cab and drove to the Somerset Club for breakfast. Even th_ashionable quarters had the air of untidy domesticity to which no excess o_eat ever degrades the European cities. Care-takers in calico lounged on th_oor-steps of the wealthy, and the Common looked like a pleasure-ground on th_orrow of a Masonic picnic. If Archer had tried to imagine Ellen Olenska i_mprobable scenes he could not have called up any into which it was mor_ifficult to fit her than this heat-prostrated and deserted Boston.
  • He breakfasted with appetite and method, beginning with a slice of melon, an_tudying a morning paper while he waited for his toast and scrambled eggs. _ew sense of energy and activity had possessed him ever since he had announce_o May the night before that he had business in Boston, and should take th_all River boat that night and go on to New York the following evening. It ha_lways been understood that he would return to town early in the week, an_hen 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 t_ustify his sudden change of plan. He was even ashamed of the ease with whic_he whole thing had been done: it reminded him, for an uncomfortable moment, of Lawrence Lefferts's masterly contrivances for securing his freedom. Bu_his did not long trouble him, for he was not in an analytic mood.
  • After breakfast he smoked a cigarette and glanced over the Commercia_dvertiser. While he was thus engaged two or three men he knew came in, an_he usual greetings were exchanged: it was the same world after all, though h_ad 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 wen_nto the writing-room. There he wrote a few lines, and ordered a messenger t_ake a cab to the Parker House and wait for the answer. He then sat dow_ehind another newspaper and tried to calculate how long it would take a ca_o get to the Parker House.
  • "The lady was out, sir," he suddenly heard a waiter's voice at his elbow; an_e 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 ou_t that hour. He flushed with anger at his own stupidity: why had he not sen_he note as soon as he arrived?
  • He found his hat and stick and went forth into the street. The city ha_uddenly become as strange and vast and empty as if he were a traveller fro_istant lands. For a moment he stood on the door-step hesitating; then h_ecided 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, h_aw her sitting. She had a grey silk sunshade over her head—how could he eve_ave imagined her with a pink one? As he approached he was struck by he_istless attitude: she sat there as if she had nothing else to do. He saw he_rooping profile, and the knot of hair fastened low in the neck under her dar_at, and the long wrinkled glove on the hand that held the sunshade. He came _tep 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 knowin_hy, he suddenly began to feign astonishment at seeing her. "But what on eart_re 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 migh_anish again before he could overtake her.
  • "I? Oh, I'm here on business too," she answered, turning her head toward hi_o that they were face to face. The words hardly reached him: he was awar_nly of her voice, and of the startling fact that not an echo of it ha_emained 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 ha_ttered something irrevocable.
  • "Differently? No—it's only that I do it as best I can when I'm withou_astasia."
  • "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 a_angerous?"
  • "No; not dangerous—"
  • "But unconventional? I see; I suppose it is." She considered a moment. "_adn't thought of it, because I've just done something so much mor_nconventional." The faint tinge of irony lingered in her eyes. "I've jus_efused 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 an_at absently drawing patterns on the gravel. Presently he came back and stoo_efore 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 an_hen."
  • There was another interval of silence. Archer's heart had slammed itself shu_n 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 thi_eason 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'v_ad more than one letter from him." The allusion brought the colour to he_heek, 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 n_ore significance than any other in her vocabulary. For a moment it was on th_ip of his tongue to ask: "Did he send his secretary, then?" But th_emembrance 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 thi_vening … 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 th_fternoon train back to Portsmouth."
  • They sat silent, not looking at each other, but straight ahead at the peopl_assing along the path. Finally she turned her eyes again to his face an_aid: "You're not changed."
  • He felt like answering: "I was, till I saw you again;" but instead he stood u_bruptly 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 _reeze, and it will be cooler. We might take the steamboat down to Poin_rley." She glanced up at him hesitatingly and he went on: "On a Monda_orning there won't be anybody on the boat. My train doesn't leave til_vening: I'm going back to New York. Why shouldn't we?" he insisted, lookin_own 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, glancin_bout her as if to take counsel of the scene, and assure herself of th_mpossibility of remaining in it. Then her eyes returned to his face. "Yo_ustn'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 tel_e to. What harm can it do to anybody? All I want is to listen to you," h_tammered.
  • She drew out a little gold-faced watch on an enamelled chain. "Oh, don'_alculate," he broke out; "give me the day! I want to get you away from tha_an. 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 wha_ou've been doing. It's a hundred years since we've met—it may be anothe_undred before we meet again."
  • She still wavered, her anxious eyes on his face. "Why didn't you come down t_he 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 _ouldn't unless you looked round." He laughed as the childishness of th_onfession 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 wen_own 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 n_se. I may as well tell you," he added, "that the business I came here for wa_ust 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 bac_o the hotel first: I must leave a note—"
  • "As many notes as you please. You can write here." He drew out a note-case an_ne of the new stylographic pens. "I've even got an envelope—you see ho_verything's predestined! There—steady the thing on your knee, and I'll ge_he pen going in a second. They have to be humoured; wait—" He banged the han_hat held the pen against the back of the bench. "It's like jerking down th_ercury in a thermometer: just a trick. Now try—"
  • She laughed, and bending over the sheet of paper which he had laid on hi_ote-case, began to write. Archer walked away a few steps, staring wit_adiant unseeing eyes at the passersby, who, in their turn, paused to stare a_he unwonted sight of a fashionably- dressed lady writing a note on her kne_n a bench in the Common.
  • Madame Olenska slipped the sheet into the envelope, wrote a name on it, an_ut it into her pocket. Then she too stood up.
  • They walked back toward Beacon Street, and near the club Archer caught sigh_f 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 th_orner hydrant.
  • "I told you everything was predestined! Here's a cab for us. You see!" The_aughed, astonished at the miracle of picking up a public conveyance at tha_our, 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 Parke_ouse before going to the steamboat landing. They rattled through the ho_treets and drew up at the door of the hotel.
  • Archer held out his hand for the letter. "Shall I take it in?" he asked; bu_adame Olenska, shaking her head, sprang out and disappeared through th_lazed doors. It was barely half-past ten; but what if the emissary, impatien_or her reply, and not knowing how else to employ his time, were alread_eated among the travellers with cooling drinks at their elbows of whom Arche_ad caught a glimpse as she went in?
  • He waited, pacing up and down before the herdic. A Sicilian youth with eye_ike Nastasia's offered to shine his boots, and an Irish matron to sell hi_eaches; and every few moments the doors opened to let out hot men with stra_ats tilted far back, who glanced at him as they went by. He marvelled tha_he door should open so often, and that all the people it let out should loo_o 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 an_ut 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 farthes_oint of his beat, and it was in turning back to the hotel that he saw, in _roup of typical countenances—the lank and weary, the round and surprised, th_antern-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 hun_ moment on a thin thread of memory, but it snapped and floated off with th_isappearing face—apparently that of some foreign business man, looking doubl_oreign in such a setting. He vanished in the stream of passersby, and Arche_esumed his patrol.
  • He did not care to be seen watch in hand within view of the hotel, and hi_naided reckoning of the lapse of time led him to conclude that, if Madam_lenska was so long in reappearing, it could only be because she had met th_missary and been waylaid by him. At the thought Archer's apprehension rose t_nguish.
  • "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 absen_ust three minutes. In the clatter of loose windows that made talk impossibl_hey bumped over the disjointed cobblestones to the wharf.
  • Seated side by side on a bench of the half-empty boat they found that they ha_ardly anything to say to each other, or rather that what they had to sa_ommunicated itself best in the blessed silence of their release and thei_solation.
  • As the paddle-wheels began to turn, and wharves and shipping to recede throug_he veil of heat, it seemed to Archer that everything in the old familia_orld of habit was receding also. He longed to ask Madame Olenska if she di_ot have the same feeling: the feeling that they were starting on some lon_oyage from which they might never return. But he was afraid to say it, o_nything else that might disturb the delicate balance of her trust in him. I_eality he had no wish to betray that trust. There had been days and night_hen the memory of their kiss had burned and burned on his lips; the da_efore even, on the drive to Portsmouth, the thought of her had run throug_im like fire; but now that she was beside him, and they were drifting fort_nto this unknown world, they seemed to have reached the kind of deepe_earness that a touch may sunder.
  • As the boat left the harbour and turned seaward a breeze stirred about the_nd the bay broke up into long oily undulations, then into ripples tipped wit_pray. The fog of sultriness still hung over the city, but ahead lay a fres_orld of ruffled waters, and distant promontories with light-houses in th_un. Madame Olenska, leaning back against the boat-rail, drank in the coolnes_etween parted lips. She had wound a long veil about her hat, but it left he_ace uncovered, and Archer was struck by the tranquil gaiety of he_xpression. She seemed to take their adventure as a matter of course, and t_e neither in fear of unexpected encounters, nor (what was worse) undul_lated by their possibility.
  • In the bare dining-room of the inn, which he had hoped they would have t_hemselves, they found a strident party of innocent-looking young men an_omen—school-teachers on a holiday, the landlord told them—and Archer's hear_ank 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 roo_pened on a long wooden verandah, with the sea coming in at the windows. I_as bare and cool, with a table covered with a coarse checkered cloth an_dorned by a bottle of pickles and a blueberry pie under a cage. No mor_uileless-looking cabinet particulier ever offered its shelter to _landestine couple: Archer fancied he saw the sense of its reassurance in th_aintly amused smile with which Madame Olenska sat down opposite to him. _oman who had run away from her husband— and reputedly with another man—wa_ikely to have mastered the art of taking things for granted; but something i_he 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 an_ake him feel that to seek to be alone was the natural thing for two ol_riends who had so much to say to each other… .