What are you two plotting together, aunt Medora? Madame Olenska cried as she came into the room.
She was dressed as if for a ball. Everything about her shimmered and glimmered softly, as if her dress had been woven out of candle-beams; and she carried her head high, like a pretty woman challenging a roomful of rivals.
We were saying, my dear, that here was something beautiful to surprise you with, Mrs. Manson rejoined, rising to her feet and pointing archly to the flowers.
Madame Olenska stopped short and looked at the bouquet. Her colour did not change, but a sort of white radiance of anger ran over her like summer lightning. Ah, she exclaimed, in a shrill voice that the young man had never heard, who is ridiculous enough to send me a bouquet? Why a bouquet? And why tonight of all nights? I am not going to a ball; I am not a girl engaged to be married. But some people are always ridiculous.
She turned back to the door, opened it, and called out: Nastasia!
The ubiquitous handmaiden promptly appeared, and Archer heard Madame Olenska say, in an Italian that she seemed to pronounce with intentional deliberateness in order that he might follow it: Herethrow this into the dustbin! and then, as Nastasia stared protestingly: But noits not the fault of the poor flowers. Tell the boy to carry them to the house three doors away, the house of Mr. Winsett, the dark gentleman who dined here. His wife is illthey may give her pleasure . . . The boy is out, you say? Then, my dear one, run yourself; here, put my cloak over you and fly. I want the thing out of the house immediately! And, as you live, dont say they come from me!
She flung her velvet opera cloak over the maids shoulders and turned back into the drawing-room, shutting the door sharply. Her bosom was rising high under its lace, and for a moment Archer thought she was about to cry; but she burst into a laugh instead, and looking from the Marchioness to Archer, asked abruptly: And you twohave you made friends!
Its for Mr. Archer to say, darling; he has waited patiently while you were dressing.
YesI gave you time enough: my hair wouldnt go, Madame Olenska said, raising her hand to the heaped- up curls of her chignon. But that reminds me: I see Dr. Carver is gone, and youll be late at the Blenkers. Mr. Archer, will you put my aunt in the carriage?
She followed the Marchioness into the hall, saw her fitted into a miscellaneous heap of overshoes, shawls and tippets, and called from the doorstep: Mind, the carriage is to be back for me at ten! Then she returned to the drawing-room, where Archer, on re-entering it, found her standing by the mantelpiece, examining herself in the mirror. It was not usual, in New York society, for a lady to address her parlour- maid as my dear one, and send her out on an errand wrapped in her own opera-cloak; and Archer, through all his deeper feelings, tasted the pleasurable excitement of being in a world where action followed on emotion with such Olympian speed.
Madame Olenska did not move when he came up behind her, and for a second their eyes met in the mirror; then she turned, threw herself into her sofa- corner, and sighed out: Theres time for a cigarette.
He handed her the box and lit a spill for her; and as the flame flashed up into her face she glanced at him with laughing eyes and said: What do you think of me in a temper?
Archer paused a moment; then he answered with sudden resolution: It makes me understand what your aunt has been saying about you.
I knew shed been talking about me. Well?
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