The Age of Innocence
What are you two plotting together, aunt Medora?" Madame Olenska cried as
she came into the room.
She was dressed as if for a ball. Everything about her shimmered and glimmered
softly, as if her dress had been woven out of candle-beams; and she carried her
head high, like a pretty woman challenging a roomful of rivals.
"We were saying, my dear, that here was something beautiful to surprise you
with," Mrs. Manson rejoined, rising to her feet and pointing archly to the flowers.
Madame Olenska stopped short and looked at the bouquet. Her colour did not
change, but a sort of white radiance of anger ran over her like summer lightning.
"Ah," she exclaimed, in a shrill voice that the young man had never heard, "who
is ridiculous enough to send me a bouquet? Why a bouquet? And why tonight of
all nights? I am not going to a ball; I am not a girl engaged to be married. But
some people are always ridiculous."
She turned back to the door, opened it, and called out: "Nastasia!"
The ubiquitous handmaiden promptly appeared, and Archer heard Madame
Olenska say, in an Italian that she seemed to pronounce with intentional
deliberateness in order that he might follow it: "Here--throw this into the dustbin!"
and then, as Nastasia stared protestingly: "But no--it's not the fault of the poor
flowers. Tell the boy to carry them to the house three doors away, the house of
Mr. Winsett, the dark gentleman who dined here. His wife is ill--they may give her
pleasure . . . The boy is out, you say? Then, my dear one, run yourself; here, put
my cloak over you and fly. I want the thing out of the house immediately! And, as
you live, don't say they come from me!"
She flung her velvet opera cloak over the maid's shoulders and turned back into
the drawing-room, shutting the door sharply. Her bosom was rising high under its
lace, and for a moment Archer thought she was about to cry; but she burst into a
laugh instead, and looking from the Marchioness to Archer, asked abruptly: "And
you two--have you made friends!"
"It's for Mr. Archer to say, darling; he has waited patiently while you were
"Yes--I gave you time enough: my hair wouldn't go," Madame Olenska said,
raising her hand to the heaped-up curls of her chignon. "But that reminds me: I
see Dr. Carver is gone, and you'll be late at the Blenkers'. Mr. Archer, will you put
my aunt in the carriage?"