The Age of Innocence HTML version

Chapter 31
Archer had been stunned by old Catherine's news. It was only natural that
Madame Olenska should have hastened from Washington in response to her
grandmother's summons; but that she should have decided to remain under her
roof--especially now that Mrs. Mingott had almost regained her health--was less
easy to explain.
Archer was sure that Madame Olenska's decision had not been influenced by the
change in her financial situation. He knew the exact figure of the small income
which her husband had allowed her at their separation. Without the addition of
her grandmother's allowance it was hardly enough to live on, in any sense known
to the Mingott vocabulary; and now that Medora Manson, who shared her life,
had been ruined, such a pittance would barely keep the two women clothed and
fed. Yet Archer was convinced that Madame Olenska had not accepted her
grandmother's offer from interested motives.
She had the heedless generosity and the spasmodic extravagance of persons
used to large fortunes, and indifferent to money; but she could go without many
things which her relations considered indispensable, and Mrs. Lovell Mingott and
Mrs. Welland had often been heard to deplore that any one who had enjoyed the
cosmopolitan luxuries of Count Olenski's establishments should care so little
about "how things were done." Moreover, as Archer knew, several months had
passed since her allowance had been cut off; yet in the interval she had made no
effort to regain her grand- mother's favour. Therefore if she had changed her
course it must be for a different reason.
He did not have far to seek for that reason. On the way from the ferry she had
told him that he and she must remain apart; but she had said it with her head on
his breast. He knew that there was no calculated coquetry in her words; she was
fighting her fate as he had fought his, and clinging desperately to her resolve that
they should not break faith with the people who trusted them. But during the ten
days which had elapsed since her return to New York she had perhaps guessed
from his silence, and from the fact of his making no attempt to see her, that he
was meditating a decisive step, a step from which there was no turning back. At
the thought, a sudden fear of her own weakness might have seized her, and she
might have felt that, after all, it was better to accept the compromise usual in
such cases, and follow the line of least resistance.
An hour earlier, when he had rung Mrs. Mingott's bell, Archer had fancied that his
path was clear before him. He had meant to have a word alone with Madame
Olenska, and failing that, to learn from her grandmother on what day, and by
which train, she was returning to Washington. In that train he intended to join her,
and travel with her to Washington, or as much farther as she was willing to go.