Once more on the boat, and in the presence of others, Archer felt _ranquillity of spirit that surprised as much as it sustained him.
The day, according to any current valuation, had been a rather ridiculou_ailure; he had not so much as touched Madame Olenska's hand with his lips, o_xtracted one word from her that gave promise of farther opportunities.
Nevertheless, for a man sick with unsatisfied love, and parting for a_ndefinite period from the object of his passion, he felt himself almos_umiliatingly calm and comforted. It was the perfect balance she had hel_etween their loyalty to others and their honesty to themselves that had s_tirred and yet tranquillized him; a balance not artfully calculated, as he_ears and her falterings showed, but resulting naturally from her unabashe_incerity. It filled him with a tender awe, now the danger was over, and mad_im thank the fates that no personal vanity, no sense of playing a part befor_ophisticated witnesses, had tempted him to tempt her. Even after they ha_lasped hands for good-bye at the Fall River station, and he had turned awa_lone, the conviction remained with him of having saved out of their meetin_uch 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 hour_ogether. 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 he_usband—it would not be because her old life tempted her, even on the ne_erms offered. No: she would go only if she felt herself becoming a temptatio_o 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 com_earer; 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 kin_f golden haze, through which the faces about him looked remote an_ndistinct: he had a feeling that if he spoke to his fellow-travellers the_ould not understand what he was saying. In this state of abstraction he foun_imself, the following morning, waking to the reality of a stifling Septembe_ay 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 an_orced itself upon his consciousness. It was, as he instantly recalled, th_ace of the young man he had seen, the day before, passing out of the Parke_ouse, and had noted as not conforming to type, as not having an America_otel face.
The same thing struck him now; and again he became aware of a dim stir o_ormer associations. The young man stood looking about him with the dazed ai_f the foreigner flung upon the harsh mercies of American travel; then h_dvanced 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 an_ympathy. "So you DID get here, after all?" he exclaimed, casting a wonderin_ye on the astute and haggard little countenance of young Carfry's Frenc_utor.
"Oh, I got here—yes," M. Riviere smiled with drawn lips. "But not for long; _eturn the day after tomorrow." He stood grasping his light valise in on_eatly 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 _ight—"
"I was just going to suggest it: come to luncheon, won't you? Down town, _ean: if you'll look me up in my office I'll take you to a very decen_estaurant in that quarter."
M. Riviere was visibly touched and surprised. "You're too kind. But I was onl_oing to ask if you would tell me how to reach some sort of conveyance. Ther_re no porters, and no one here seems to listen—"
"I know: our American stations must surprise you. When you ask for a porte_hey give you chewing-gum. But if you'll come along I'll extricate you; an_ou must really lunch with me, you know."
The young man, after a just perceptible hesitation, replied, with profus_hanks, and in a tone that did not carry complete conviction, that he wa_lready engaged; but when they had reached the comparative reassurance of th_treet he asked if he might call that afternoon.
Archer, at ease in the midsummer leisure of the office, fixed an hour an_cribbled his address, which the Frenchman pocketed with reiterated thanks an_ 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 stil_nmistakably drawn and serious. Archer was alone in his office, and the youn_an, before accepting the seat he proffered, began abruptly: "I believe I sa_ou, sir, yesterday in Boston."
The statement was insignificant enough, and Archer was about to frame a_ssent when his words were checked by something mysterious yet illuminating i_is visitor's insistent gaze.
"It is extraordinary, very extraordinary," M. Riviere continued, "that w_hould have met in the circumstances in which I find myself."
"What circumstances?" Archer asked, wondering a little crudely if he neede_oney.
M. Riviere continued to study him with tentative eyes. "I have come, not t_ook for employment, as I spoke of doing when we last met, but on a specia_ission—"
"Ah—!" Archer exclaimed. In a flash the two meetings had connected themselve_n his mind. He paused to take in the situation thus suddenly lighted up fo_im, and M. Riviere also remained silent, as if aware that what he had sai_as enough.
"A special mission," Archer at length repeated.
The young Frenchman, opening his palms, raised them slightly, and the two me_ontinued to look at each other across the office-desk till Archer rouse_imself to say: "Do sit down"; whereupon M. Riviere bowed, took a distan_hair, and again waited.
"It was about this mission that you wanted to consult me?" Archer finall_sked.
M. Riviere bent his head. "Not in my own behalf: on that score I—I have full_ealt with myself. I should like—if I may—to speak to you about the Countes_lenska."
Archer had known for the last few minutes that the words were coming; but whe_hey came they sent the blood rushing to his temples as if he had been caugh_y 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 no_ound like a liberty. Shall I say instead: on behalf of abstract justice?"
Archer considered him ironically. "In other words: you are Count Olenski'_essenger?"
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?" Arche_etorted. "If you're an emissary you're an emissary."
The young man considered. "My mission is over: as far as the Countess Olensk_oes, 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 stil_arefully 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 he_amily."
Archer pushed back his chair and stood up. "Well— and by God I will!" h_xclaimed. He stood with his hands in his pockets, staring down wrathfully a_he little Frenchman, whose face, though he too had risen, was still an inc_r two below the line of Archer's eyes.
M. Riviere paled to his normal hue: paler than that his complexion coul_ardly turn.
"Why the devil," Archer explosively continued, "should you have thought—sinc_ suppose you're appealing to me on the ground of my relationship to Madam_lenska—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 hi_sually resourceful mien it would have been difficult to appear more disarme_nd defenceless. "Oh, Monsieur—"
"I can't imagine," Archer continued, "why you should have come to me whe_here are others so much nearer to the Countess; still less why you thought _hould be more accessible to the arguments I suppose you were sent over with."
M. Riviere took this onslaught with a disconcerting humility. "The arguments _ant to present to you, Monsieur, are my own and not those I was sent ove_ith."
"Then I see still less reason for listening to them."
M. Riviere again looked into his hat, as if considering whether these las_ords were not a sufficiently broad hint to put it on and be gone. Then h_poke with sudden decision. "Monsieur—will you tell me one thing? Is it m_ight to be here that you question? Or do you perhaps believe the whole matte_o 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, droppe_nto 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 res_f the family that, in face of the new proposals I have brought, it is hardl_ossible for Madame Olenska not to return to her husband?"
"Good God!" Archer exclaimed; and his visitor gave out a low murmur o_onfirmation.
"Before seeing her, I saw—at Count Olenski's request—Mr. Lovell Mingott, wit_hom I had several talks before going to Boston. I understand that h_epresents his mother's view; and that Mrs. Manson Mingott's influence i_reat throughout her family."
Archer sat silent, with the sense of clinging to the edge of a slidin_recipice. The discovery that he had been excluded from a share in thes_egotiations, and even from the knowledge that they were on foot, caused him _urprise hardly dulled by the acuter wonder of what he was learning. He saw i_ flash that if the family had ceased to consult him it was because some dee_ribal instinct warned them that he was no longer on their side; and h_ecalled, with a start of comprehension, a remark of May's during their driv_ome 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 indignan_xclamation, and the fact that since then his wife had never named Madam_lenska to him. Her careless allusion had no doubt been the straw held up t_ee which way the wind blew; the result had been reported to the family, an_hereafter Archer had been tacitly omitted from their counsels. He admired th_ribal discipline which made May bow to this decision. She would not have don_o, he knew, had her conscience protested; but she probably shared the famil_iew that Madame Olenska would be better off as an unhappy wife than as _eparated 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 fundamenta_hings 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 the_ave 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 wa_o concern of M. Riviere's; but something in the humble and yet courageou_enacity of M. Riviere's gaze made him reject this conclusion, and he met th_oung man's question with another. "What is your object in speaking to me o_his?"
He had not to wait a moment for the answer. "To beg you, Monsieur—to beg yo_ith 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 th_incerity of his distress or the strength of his determination: he ha_vidently resolved to let everything go by the board but the supreme need o_hus putting himself on record. Archer considered.
"May I ask," he said at length, "if this is the line you took with th_ountess Olenska?"
M. Riviere reddened, but his eyes did not falter. "No, Monsieur: I accepted m_ission in good faith. I really believed—for reasons I need not trouble yo_ith—that it would be better for Madame Olenska to recover her situation, he_ortune, 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 protracte_crutiny.
"Ah, Monsieur, after I had seen her, after I had listened to her, I knew sh_as better off here."
"Monsieur, I discharged my mission faithfully: I put the Count's arguments, _tated his offers, without adding any comment of my own. The Countess was goo_nough to listen patiently; she carried her goodness so far as to see m_wice; she considered impartially all I had come to say. And it was in th_ourse of these two talks that I changed my mind, that I came to see thing_ifferently."
"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 no_ave sent a stranger on such a mission."
Archer's gaze, wandering away to the blank walls of the office, rested on _anging calendar surmounted by the rugged features of the President of th_nited States. That such a conversation should be going on anywhere within th_illions of square miles subject to his rule seemed as strange as anythin_hat 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. An_hat if you're an American of HER kind—of your kind—things that are accepte_n certain other societies, or at least put up with as part of a genera_onvenient give-and- take—become unthinkable, simply unthinkable. If Madam_lenska's relations understood what these things were, their opposition to he_eturning would no doubt be as unconditional as her own; but they seem t_egard her husband's wish to have her back as proof of an irresistible longin_or domestic life." M. Riviere paused, and then added: "Whereas it's far fro_eing as simple as that."
Archer looked back to the President of the United States, and then down at hi_esk and at the papers scattered on it. For a second or two he could not trus_imself to speak. During this interval he heard M. Riviere's chair pushe_ack, and was aware that the young man had risen. When he glanced up again h_aw 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 brok_ff, as if speech for him too were difficult. "I should like, though," h_ontinued in a firmer voice, "to add one thing. You asked me if I was in Coun_lenski'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 ha_ersons, ill and older persons, dependent on him. But from the moment that _ave taken the step of coming here to say these things to you I conside_yself discharged, and I shall tell him so on my return, and give him th_easons. That's all, Monsieur."
M. Riviere bowed and drew back a step.
"Thank you," Archer said again, as their hands met.