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|Book I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 5 of 6||
Dr. Carver looked slightly disappointed at this conclusion, but, having compared his ponderous gold time-piece with Madame Olenska's little travelling-clock, he reluctantly gathered up his mighty limbs for departure.
"I shall see you later, dear friend?" he suggested to the Marchioness, who replied with a smile: "As soon as Ellen's carriage comes I will join you; I do hope the lecture won't have begun."
Dr. Carver looked thoughtfully at Archer. "Perhaps, if this young gentleman is interested in my experiences, Mrs. Blenker might allow you to bring him with you?"
"Oh, dear friend, if it were possible--I am sure she would be too happy. But I fear my Ellen counts on Mr. Archer herself."
"That," said Dr. Carver, "is unfortunate--but here is my card." He handed it to Archer, who read on it, in Gothic characters:
|---------------------------| | Agathon Carter | | The Valley of Love | | Kittasquattamy, N. Y. | |---------------------------|
Dr. Carver bowed himself out, and Mrs. Manson, with a sigh that might have been either of regret or relief, again waved Archer to a seat.
"Ellen will be down in a moment; and before she comes, I am so glad of this quiet moment with you."
Archer murmured his pleasure at their meeting, and the Marchioness continued, in her low sighing accents: "I know everything, dear Mr. Archer--my child has told me all you have done for her. Your wise advice: your courageous firmness--thank heaven it was not too late!"
The young man listened with considerable embarrassment. Was there any one, he wondered, to whom Madame Olenska had not proclaimed his intervention in her private affairs?
"Madame Olenska exaggerates; I simply gave her a legal opinion, as she asked me to."
"Ah, but in doing it--in doing it you were the unconscious instrument of--of--what word have we moderns for Providence, Mr. Archer?" cried the lady, tilting her head on one side and drooping her lids mysteriously. "Little did you know that at that very moment I was being appealed to: being approached, in fact--from the other side of the Atlantic!"
She glanced over her shoulder, as though fearful of being overheard, and then, drawing her chair nearer, and raising a tiny ivory fan to her lips, breathed behind it: "By the Count himself--my poor, mad, foolish Olenski; who asks only to take her back on her own terms."
"Good God!" Archer exclaimed, springing up.
"You are horrified? Yes, of course; I understand. I don't defend poor Stanislas, though he has always called me his best friend. He does not defend himself--he casts himself at her feet: in my person." She tapped her emaciated bosom. "I have his letter here."
"A letter?--Has Madame Olenska seen it?" Archer stammered, his brain whirling with the shock of the announcement.
The Marchioness Manson shook her head softly. "Time--time; I must have time. I know my Ellen-- haughty, intractable; shall I say, just a shade unforgiving?"
"But, good heavens, to forgive is one thing; to go back into that hell--"
"Ah, yes," the Marchioness acquiesced. "So she describes it--my sensitive child! But on the material side, Mr. Archer, if one may stoop to consider such things; do you know what she is giving up? Those roses there on the sofa--acres like them, under glass and in the open, in his matchless terraced gardens at Nice! Jewels-- historic pearls: the Sobieski emeralds--sables,--but she cares nothing for all these! Art and beauty, those she does care for, she lives for, as I always have; and those also surrounded her. Pictures, priceless furniture, music, brilliant conversation--ah, that, my dear young man, if you'll excuse me, is what you've no conception of here! And she had it all; and the homage of the greatest. She tells me she is not thought handsome in New York--good heavens! Her portrait has been painted nine times; the greatest artists in Europe have begged for the privilege. Are these things nothing? And the remorse of an adoring husband?"
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