The Age of Innocence HTML version

Chapter 23
The next morning, when Archer got out of the Fall River train, he emerged upon
a steaming midsummer Boston. The streets near the station were full of the smell
of beer and coffee and decaying fruit and a shirt- sleeved populace moved
through them with the intimate abandon of boarders going down the passage to
the bathroom.
Archer found a cab and drove to the Somerset Club for breakfast. Even the
fashionable quarters had the air of untidy domesticity to which no excess of heat
ever degrades the European cities. Care-takers in calico lounged on the door-
steps of the wealthy, and the Common looked like a pleasure-ground on the
morrow of a Masonic picnic. If Archer had tried to imagine Ellen Olenska in
improbable scenes he could not have called up any into which it was more
difficult to fit her than this heat-prostrated and deserted Boston.
He breakfasted with appetite and method, beginning with a slice of melon, and
studying a morning paper while he waited for his toast and scrambled eggs. A
new sense of energy and activity had possessed him ever since he had
announced to May the night before that he had business in Boston, and should
take the Fall River boat that night and go on to New York the following evening. It
had always been understood that he would return to town early in the week, and
when he got back from his expedition to Portsmouth a letter from the office,
which fate had conspicuously placed on a corner of the hall table, sufficed to
justify his sudden change of plan. He was even ashamed of the ease with which
the whole thing had been done: it reminded him, for an uncomfortable moment,
of Lawrence Lefferts's masterly contrivances for securing his freedom. But this
did not long trouble him, for he was not in an analytic mood.
After breakfast he smoked a cigarette and glanced over the Commercial
Advertiser. While he was thus engaged two or three men he knew came in, and
the usual greetings were exchanged: it was the same world after all, though he
had such a queer sense of having slipped through the meshes of time and
He looked at his watch, and finding that it was half-past nine got up and went into
the writing-room. There he wrote a few lines, and ordered a messenger to take a
cab to the Parker House and wait for the answer. He then sat down behind
another newspaper and tried to calculate how long it would take a cab to get to
the Parker House.
"The lady was out, sir," he suddenly heard a waiter's voice at his elbow; and he
stammered: "Out?--" as if it were a word in a strange language.