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Chapter 7

  • 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."
  • "You knew—?"
  • "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.