Archer laughed. For one thing, she wasnt there to be married.
Noto be sure; mores the pity. And now its too late; her life is finished. She spoke with the cold- blooded complacency of the aged throwing earth into the grave of young hopes. The young mans heart grew chill, and he said hurriedly: Cant I persuade you to use your influence with the Wellands, Mrs. Mingott? I wasnt made for long engagements.
Old Catherine beamed on him approvingly. No; I can see that. Youve got a quick eye. When you were a little boy Ive no doubt you liked to be helped first. She threw back her head with a laugh that made her chins ripple like little waves. Ah, heres my Ellen now! she exclaimed, as the portières parted behind her.
Madame Olenska came forward with a smile. Her face looked vivid and happy, and she held out her hand gaily to Archer while she stooped to her grandmothers kiss.
I was just saying to him, my dear: Now, why didnt you marry my little Ellen?
Madame Olenska looked at Archer, still smiling. And what did he answer?
Oh, my darling, I leave you to find that out! Hes been down to Florida to see his sweetheart.
Yes, I know. She still looked at him. I went to see your mother, to ask where youd gone. I sent a note that you never answered, and I was afraid you were ill.
He muttered something about leaving unexpectedly, in a great hurry, and having intended to write to her from St. Augustine.
And of course once you were there you never thought of me again! She continued to beam on him with a gaiety that might have been a studied assumption of indifference.
If she still needs me, shes determined not to let me see it, he thought, stung by her manner. He wanted to thank her for having been to see his mother, but under the ancestresss malicious eye he felt himself tongue- tied and constrained.
Look at himin such hot haste to get married that he took French leave and rushed down to implore the silly girl on his knees! Thats something like a lover thats the way handsome Bob Spicer carried off my poor mother; and then got tired of her before I was weanedthough they only had to wait eight months for me! But thereyoure not a Spicer, young man; luckily for you and for May. Its only my poor Ellen that has kept any of their wicked blood; the rest of them are all model Mingotts, cried the old lady scornfully.
Archer was aware that Madame Olenska, who had seated herself at her grandmothers side, was still thoughtfully scrutinising him. The gaiety had faded from her eyes, and she said with great gentleness: Surely, Granny, we can persuade them between us to do as he wishes.
Archer rose to go, and as his hand met Madame Olenskas he felt that she was waiting for him to make some allusion to her unanswered letter.
When can I see you? he asked, as she walked with him to the door of the room.
Whenever you like; but it must be soon if you want to see the little house again. I am moving next week.
A pang shot through him at the memory of his lamplit hours in the low-studded drawing-room. Few as they had been, they were thick with memories.