The Age of Innocence HTML version
Once more on the boat, and in the presence of others, Archer felt a tranquillity of
spirit that surprised as much as it sustained him.
The day, according to any current valuation, had been a rather ridiculous failure;
he had not so much as touched Madame Olenska's hand with his lips, or
extracted one word from her that gave promise of farther opportunities.
Nevertheless, for a man sick with unsatisfied love, and parting for an indefinite
period from the object of his passion, he felt himself almost humiliatingly calm
and comforted. It was the perfect balance she had held between their loyalty to
others and their honesty to themselves that had so stirred and yet tranquillized
him; a balance not artfully calculated, as her tears and her falterings showed, but
resulting naturally from her unabashed sincerity. It filled him with a tender awe,
now the danger was over, and made him thank the fates that no personal vanity,
no sense of playing a part before sophisticated witnesses, had tempted him to
tempt her. Even after they had clasped hands for good-bye at the Fall River
station, and he had turned away alone, the conviction remained with him of
having saved out of their meeting much more than he had sacrificed.
He wandered back to the club, and went and sat alone in the deserted library,
turning and turning over in his thoughts every separate second of their hours
together. It was clear to him, and it grew more clear under closer scrutiny, that if
she should finally decide on returning to Europe--returning to her husband--it
would not be because her old life tempted her, even on the new terms offered.
No: she would go only if she felt herself becoming a temptation to Archer, a
temptation to fall away from the standard they had both set up. Her choice would
be to stay near him as long as he did not ask her to come nearer; and it
depended on himself to keep her just there, safe but secluded.
In the train these thoughts were still with him. They enclosed him in a kind of
golden haze, through which the faces about him looked remote and indistinct: he
had a feeling that if he spoke to his fellow-travellers they would not understand
what he was saying. In this state of abstraction he found himself, the following
morning, waking to the reality of a stifling September day in New York. The heat-
withered faces in the long train streamed past him, and he continued to stare at
them through the same golden blur; but suddenly, as he left the station, one of
the faces detached itself, came closer and forced itself upon his consciousness.
It was, as he instantly recalled, the face of the young man he had seen, the day
before, passing out of the Parker House, and had noted as not conforming to
type, as not having an American hotel face.
The same thing struck him now; and again he became aware of a dim stir of
former associations. The young man stood looking about him with the dazed air