The Age of Innocence
As he came out into the lobby Archer ran across his friend Ned Winsett, the only
one among what Janey called his "clever people" with whom he cared to probe
into things a little deeper than the average level of club and chop-house banter.
He had caught sight, across the house, of Winsett's shabby round-shouldered
back, and had once noticed his eyes turned toward the Beaufort box. The two
men shook hands, and Winsett proposed a bock at a little German restaurant
around the corner. Archer, who was not in the mood for the kind of talk they were
likely to get there, declined on the plea that he had work to do at home; and
Winsett said: "Oh, well so have I for that matter, and I'll be the Industrious
They strolled along together, and presently Winsett said: "Look here, what I'm
really after is the name of the dark lady in that swell box of yours--with the
Beauforts, wasn't she? The one your friend Lefferts seems so smitten by."
Archer, he could not have said why, was slightly annoyed. What the devil did Ned
Winsett want with Ellen Olenska's name? And above all, why did he couple it with
Lefferts's? It was unlike Winsett to manifest such curiosity; but after all, Archer
remembered, he was a journalist.
"It's not for an interview, I hope?" he laughed.
"Well--not for the press; just for myself," Winsett rejoined. "The fact is she's a
neighbour of mine--queer quarter for such a beauty to settle in--and she's been
awfully kind to my little boy, who fell down her area chasing his kitten, and gave
himself a nasty cut. She rushed in bareheaded, carrying him in her arms, with his
knee all beautifully bandaged, and was so sympathetic and beautiful that my wife
was too dazzled to ask her name."
A pleasant glow dilated Archer's heart. There was nothing extraordinary in the
tale: any woman would have done as much for a neighbour's child. But it was just
like Ellen, he felt, to have rushed in bareheaded, carrying the boy in her arms,
and to have dazzled poor Mrs. Winsett into forgetting to ask who she was.
"That is the Countess Olenska--a granddaughter of old Mrs. Mingott's."
"Whew--a Countess!" whistled Ned Winsett. "Well, I didn't know Countesses
were so neighbourly. Mingotts ain't."
"They would be, if you'd let them."