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|Book II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 7||
"Ah, that's the danger that a young woman like Madame Olenska is always exposed to," Mrs. Archer mournfully agreed; and the ladies, on this conclusion, gathered up their trains to seek the carcel globes of the drawing-room, while Archer and Mr. Sillerton Jackson withdrew to the Gothic library.
Once established before the grate, and consoling himself for the inadequacy of the dinner by the perfection of his cigar, Mr. Jackson became portentous and communicable.
"If the Beaufort smash comes," he announced, "there are going to be disclosures."
Archer raised his head quickly: he could never hear the name without the sharp vision of Beaufort's heavy figure, opulently furred and shod, advancing through the snow at Skuytercliff.
"There's bound to be," Mr. Jackson continued, "the nastiest kind of a cleaning up. He hasn't spent all his money on Regina."
"Oh, well--that's discounted, isn't it? My belief is he'll pull out yet," said the young man, wanting to change the subject.
"Perhaps--perhaps. I know he was to see some of the influential people today. Of course," Mr. Jackson reluctantly conceded, "it's to be hoped they can tide him over--this time anyhow. I shouldn't like to think of poor Regina's spending the rest of her life in some shabby foreign watering-place for bankrupts."
Archer said nothing. It seemed to him so natural-- however tragic--that money ill-gotten should be cruelly expiated, that his mind, hardly lingering over Mrs. Beaufort's doom, wandered back to closer questions. What was the meaning of May's blush when the Countess Olenska had been mentioned?
Four months had passed since the midsummer day that he and Madame Olenska had spent together; and since then he had not seen her. He knew that she had returned to Washington, to the little house which she and Medora Manson had taken there: he had written to her once--a few words, asking when they were to meet again--and she had even more briefly replied: "Not yet."
Since then there had been no farther communication between them, and he had built up within himself a kind of sanctuary in which she throned among his secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became the scene of his real life, of his only rational activities; thither he brought the books he read, the ideas and feelings which nourished him, his judgments and his visions. Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency, blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional points of view as an absent-minded man goes on bumping into the furniture of his own room. Absent--that was what he was: so absent from everything most densely real and near to those about him that it sometimes startled him to find they still imagined he was there.
He became aware that Mr. Jackson was clearing his throat preparatory to farther revelations.
"I don't know, of course, how far your wife's family are aware of what people say about--well, about Madame Olenska's refusal to accept her husband's latest offer."
Archer was silent, and Mr. Jackson obliquely continued: "It's a pity--it's certainly a pity--that she refused it."
"A pity? In God's name, why?"
Mr. Jackson looked down his leg to the unwrinkled sock that joined it to a glossy pump.
"Well--to put it on the lowest ground--what's she going to live on now?"
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