The Age of Innocence
Wall Street, the next day, had more reassuring reports of Beaufort's situation.
They were not definite, but they were hopeful. It was generally understood that
he could call on powerful influences in case of emergency, and that he had done
so with success; and that evening, when Mrs. Beaufort appeared at the Opera
wearing her old smile and a new emerald necklace, society drew a breath of
New York was inexorable in its condemnation of business irregularities. So far
there had been no exception to its tacit rule that those who broke the law of
probity must pay; and every one was aware that even Beaufort and Beaufort's
wife would be offered up unflinchingly to this principle. But to be obliged to offer
them up would be not only painful but inconvenient. The disappearance of the
Beauforts would leave a considerable void in their compact little circle; and those
who were too ignorant or too careless to shudder at the moral catastrophe
bewailed in advance the loss of the best ball-room in New York.
Archer had definitely made up his mind to go to Washington. He was waiting only
for the opening of the law-suit of which he had spoken to May, so that its date
might coincide with that of his visit; but on the following Tuesday he learned from
Mr. Letterblair that the case might be postponed for several weeks. Nevertheless,
he went home that afternoon determined in any event to leave the next evening.
The chances were that May, who knew nothing of his professional life, and had
never shown any interest in it, would not learn of the postponement, should it
take place, nor remember the names of the litigants if they were mentioned
before her; and at any rate he could no longer put off seeing Madame Olenska.
There were too many things that he must say to her.
On the Wednesday morning, when he reached his office, Mr. Letterblair met him
with a troubled face. Beaufort, after all, had not managed to "tide over"; but by
setting afloat the rumour that he had done so he had reassured his depositors,
and heavy payments had poured into the bank till the previous evening, when
disturbing reports again began to predominate. In consequence, a run on the
bank had begun, and its doors were likely to close before the day was over. The
ugliest things were being said of Beaufort's dastardly manoeuvre, and his failure
promised to be one of the most discreditable in the history of Wall Street.
The extent of the calamity left Mr. Letterblair white and incapacitated. "I've seen
bad things in my time; but nothing as bad as this. Everybody we know will be hit,
one way or another. And what will be done about Mrs. Beaufort? What CAN be
done about her? I pity Mrs. Manson Mingott as much as anybody: coming at her
age, there's no knowing what effect this affair may have on her. She always
believed in Beaufort--she made a friend of him! And there's the whole Dallas
connection: poor Mrs. Beaufort is related to every one of you. Her only chance