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Chapter 13


XIII.

It was a crowded night at Wallack's theatre.

The play was "The Shaughraun," with Dion
Boucicault in the title role and Harry Montague and
Ada Dyas as the lovers.  The popularity of the admirable
English company was at its height, and the Shaughraun
always packed the house.  In the galleries the enthusiasm
was unreserved; in the stalls and boxes, people
smiled a little at the hackneyed sentiments and clap-
trap situations, and enjoyed the play as much as the
galleries did.

There was one episode, in particular, that held the
house from floor to ceiling.  It was that in which Harry
Montague, after a sad, almost monosyllabic scene of
parting with Miss Dyas, bade her good-bye, and turned
to go.  The actress, who was standing near the mantelpiece
and looking down into the fire, wore a gray
cashmere dress without fashionable loopings or trimmings,
moulded to her tall figure and flowing in long
lines about her feet.  Around her neck was a narrow
black velvet ribbon with the ends falling down her
back.

When her wooer turned from her she rested her arms
against the mantel-shelf and bowed her face in her
hands.  On the threshold he paused to look at her; then
he stole back, lifted one of the ends of velvet ribbon,
kissed it, and left the room without her hearing him or
changing her attitude.  And on this silent parting the
curtain fell.

It was always for the sake of that particular scene
that Newland Archer went to see "The Shaughraun."
He thought the adieux of Montague and Ada Dyas as
fine as anything he had ever seen Croisette and Bressant
do in Paris, or Madge Robertson and Kendal in London;
in its reticence, its dumb sorrow, it moved him
more than the most famous histrionic outpourings.

On the evening in question the little scene acquired
an added poignancy by reminding him--he could not
have said why--of his leave-taking from Madame
Olenska after their confidential talk a week or ten days
earlier.

It would have been as difficult to discover any
resemblance between the two situations as between the
appearance of the persons concerned.  Newland Archer
could not pretend to anything approaching the young
English actor's romantic good looks, and Miss Dyas
was a tall red-haired woman of monumental build
whose pale and pleasantly ugly face was utterly unlike
Ellen Olenska's vivid countenance.  Nor were Archer
and Madame Olenska two lovers parting in heart-broken
silence; they were client and lawyer separating
after a talk which had given the lawyer the worst
possible impression of the client's case.  Wherein, then,
lay the resemblance that made the young man's heart
beat with a kind of retrospective excitement?  It seemed
to be in Madame Olenska's mysterious faculty of
suggesting tragic and moving possibilities outside the daily
run of experience.  She had hardly ever said a word to
him to produce this impression, but it was a part of
her, either a projection of her mysterious and outlandish
background or of something inherently dramatic,
passionate and unusual in herself.  Archer had always
been inclined to think that chance and circumstance
played a small part in shaping people's lots compared
with their innate tendency to have things happen to
them.  This tendency he had felt from the first in
Madame Olenska.  The quiet, almost passive young woman
struck him as exactly the kind of person to whom
things were bound to happen, no matter how much she
shrank from them and went out of her way to avoid
them.  The exciting fact was her having lived in an
atmosphere so thick with drama that her own tendency
to provoke it had apparently passed unperceived.  It
was precisely the odd absence of surprise in her that
gave him the sense of her having been plucked out of a
very maelstrom: the things she took for granted gave
the measure of those she had rebelled against.

Archer had left her with the conviction that Count
Olenski's accusation was not unfounded.  The mysterious
person who figured in his wife's past as "the secretary"
had probably not been unrewarded for his share
in her escape.  The conditions from which she had fled
were intolerable, past speaking of, past believing: she
was young, she was frightened, she was desperate--
what more natural than that she should be grateful to
her rescuer?  The pity was that her gratitude put her, in
the law's eyes and the world's, on a par with her
abominable husband.  Archer had made her understand
this, as he was bound to do; he had also made her
understand that simplehearted kindly New York, on
whose larger charity she had apparently counted, was
precisely the place where she could least hope for
indulgence.

To have to make this fact plain to her--and to
witness her resigned acceptance of it--had been intolerably
painful to him.  He felt himself drawn to her by
obscure feelings of jealousy and pity, as if her dumbly-
confessed error had put her at his mercy, humbling yet
endearing her.  He was glad it was to him she had
revealed her secret, rather than to the cold scrutiny of
Mr. Letterblair, or the embarrassed gaze of her family.
He immediately took it upon himself to assure them
both that she had given up her idea of seeking a
divorce, basing her decision on the fact that she had
understood the uselessness of the proceeding; and with
infinite relief they had all turned their eyes from the
"unpleasantness" she had spared them.

"I was sure Newland would manage it," Mrs. Welland
had said proudly of her future son-in-law; and old
Mrs. Mingott, who had summoned him for a confidential
interview, had congratulated him on his cleverness,
and added impatiently:  "Silly goose!  I told her myself
what nonsense it was.  Wanting to pass herself off as
Ellen Mingott and an old maid, when she has the luck
to be a married woman and a Countess!"

These incidents had made the memory of his last talk
with Madame Olenska so vivid to the young man that
as the curtain fell on the parting of the two actors his
eyes filled with tears, and he stood up to leave the
theatre.

In doing so, he turned to the side of the house behind
him, and saw the lady of whom he was thinking seated
in a box with the Beauforts, Lawrence Lefferts and one
or two other men.  He had not spoken with her alone
since their evening together, and had tried to avoid
being with her in company; but now their eyes met,
and as Mrs. Beaufort recognised him at the same time,
and made her languid little gesture of invitation, it was
impossible not to go into the box.

Beaufort and Lefferts made way for him, and after a
few words with Mrs. Beaufort, who always preferred
to look beautiful and not have to talk, Archer seated
himself behind Madame Olenska.  There was no one
else in the box but Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who was
telling Mrs. Beaufort in a confidential undertone about
Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's last Sunday reception (where
some people reported that there had been dancing).
Under cover of this circumstantial narrative, to which
Mrs. Beaufort listened with her perfect smile, and her
head at just the right angle to be seen in profile from
the stalls, Madame Olenska turned and spoke in a low
voice.

"Do you think," she asked, glancing toward the
stage, "he will send her a bunch of yellow roses tomorrow
morning?"

Archer reddened, and his heart gave a leap of
surprise.  He had called only twice on Madame Olenska,
and each time he had sent her a box of yellow roses,
and each time without a card.  She had never before
made any allusion to the flowers, and he supposed she
had never thought of him as the sender.  Now her
sudden recognition of the gift, and her associating it
with the tender leave-taking on the stage, filled him
with an agitated pleasure.

"I was thinking of that too--I was going to leave the
theatre in order to take the picture away with me," he
said.

To his surprise her colour rose, reluctantly and duskily.
She looked down at the mother-of-pearl opera-glass
in her smoothly gloved hands, and said, after a pause:
"What do you do while May is away?"

"I stick to my work," he answered, faintly annoyed
by the question.

In obedience to a long-established habit, the Wellands
had left the previous week for St. Augustine,
where, out of regard for the supposed susceptibility of
Mr. Welland's bronchial tubes, they always spent the
latter part of the winter.  Mr. Welland was a mild and
silent man, with no opinions but with many habits.
With these habits none might interfere; and one of
them demanded that his wife and daughter should always
go with him on his annual journey to the south.
To preserve an unbroken domesticity was essential to
his peace of mind; he would not have known where his
hair-brushes were, or how to provide stamps for his
letters, if Mrs. Welland had not been there to tell him.

As all the members of the family adored each other,
and as Mr. Welland was the central object of their
idolatry, it never occurred to his wife and May to let
him go to St. Augustine alone; and his sons, who were
both in the law, and could not leave New York during
the winter, always joined him for Easter and travelled
back with him.

It was impossible for Archer to discuss the necessity
of May's accompanying her father.  The reputation of
the Mingotts' family physician was largely based on the
attack of pneumonia which Mr. Welland had never
had; and his insistence on St. Augustine was therefore
inflexible.  Originally, it had been intended that May's
engagement should not be announced till her return
from Florida, and the fact that it had been made known
sooner could not be expected to alter Mr. Welland's
plans.  Archer would have liked to join the travellers
and have a few weeks of sunshine and boating with his
betrothed; but he too was bound by custom and
conventions.  Little arduous as his professional duties were,
he would have been convicted of frivolity by the whole
Mingott clan if he had suggested asking for a holiday
in mid-winter; and he accepted May's departure with
the resignation which he perceived would have to be
one of the principal constituents of married life.

He was conscious that Madame Olenska was looking
at him under lowered lids.  "I have done what you
wished--what you advised," she said abruptly.

"Ah--I'm glad," he returned, embarrassed by her
broaching the subject at such a moment.

"I understand--that you were right," she went on a
little breathlessly; "but sometimes life is difficult . . .
perplexing. . ."

"I know."

"And I wanted to tell you that I DO feel you were
right; and that I'm grateful to you," she ended, lifting
her opera-glass quickly to her eyes as the door of the
box opened and Beaufort's resonant voice broke in on
them.

Archer stood up, and left the box and the theatre.

Only the day before he had received a letter from
May Welland in which, with characteristic candour,
she had asked him to "be kind to Ellen" in their
absence.  "She likes you and admires you so much--and
you know, though she doesn't show it, she's still very
lonely and unhappy.  I don't think Granny understands
her, or uncle Lovell Mingott either; they really think
she's much worldlier and fonder of society than she is.
And I can quite see that New York must seem dull to
her, though the family won't admit it.  I think she's
been used to lots of things we haven't got; wonderful
music, and picture shows, and celebrities--artists and
authors and all the clever people you admire.  Granny
can't understand her wanting anything but lots of dinners
and clothes--but I can see that you're almost the
only person in New York who can talk to her about
what she really cares for."

His wise May--how he had loved her for that letter!
But he had not meant to act on it; he was too busy, to
begin with, and he did not care, as an engaged man, to
play too conspicuously the part of Madame Olenska's
champion.  He had an idea that she knew how to take
care of herself a good deal better than the ingenuous
May imagined.  She had Beaufort at her feet, Mr. van
der Luyden hovering above her like a protecting deity,
and any number of candidates (Lawrence Lefferts among
them) waiting their opportunity in the middle distance.
Yet he never saw her, or exchanged a word with her,
without feeling that, after all, May's ingenuousness
almost amounted to a gift of divination.  Ellen Olenska
was lonely and she was unhappy.


Edith Wharton