“She doesn’t know—she hasn’t guessed. Shouldn’t I know if she came up behind me, I wonder?” he mused; and suddenly he said to himself: “If she doesn’t turn before that sail crosses the Lime Rock light I’ll go back.”
The boat was gliding out on the receding tide. It slid before the Lime Rock, blotted out Ida Lewis’s little house, and passed across the turret in which the light was hung. Archer waited till a wide space of water sparkled between the last reef of the island and the stern of the boat; but still the figure in the summer-house did not move.
He turned and walked up the hill.
“I’m sorry you didn’t find Ellen—I should have liked to see her again,” May said as they drove home through the dusk. “But perhaps she wouldn’t have cared—she seems so changed.”
“Changed?” echoed her husband in a colourless voice, his eyes fixed on the ponies’ twitching ears.
“So indifferent to her friends, I mean; giving up New York and her house, and spending her time with such queer people. Fancy how hideously uncomfortable she must be at the Blenkers’! She says she does it to keep cousin Medora out of mischief: to prevent her marrying dreadful people. But I sometimes think we’ve always bored her.”
Archer made no answer, and she continued, with a tinge of hardness that he had never before noticed in her frank fresh voice: “After all, I wonder if she wouldn’t be happier with her husband.”
He burst into a laugh. “Sancta simplicitas!” he exclaimed; and as she turned a puzzled frown on him he added: “I don’t think I ever heard you say a cruel thing before.”
“Well—watching the contortions of the damned is supposed to be a favourite sport of the angels; but I believe even they don’t think people happier in hell.”
“It’s a pity she ever married abroad then,” said May, in the placid tone with which her mother met Mr. Welland’s vagaries; and Archer felt himself gently relegated to the category of unreasonable husbands.
They drove down Bellevue Avenue and turned in between the chamfered wooden gate-posts surmounted by cast-iron lamps which marked the approach to the Welland villa. Lights were already shining through its windows, and Archer, as the carriage stopped, caught a glimpse of his father-in-law, exactly as he had pictured him, pacing the drawing-room, watch in hand and wearing the pained expression that he had long since found to be much more efficacious than anger.
The young man, as he followed his wife into the hall, was conscious of a curious reversal of mood. There was something about the luxury of the Welland house and the density of the Welland atmosphere, so charged with minute observances and exactions, that always stole into his system like a narcotic. The heavy carpets, the watchful servants, the perpetually reminding tick of disciplined clocks, the perpetually renewed stack of cards and invitations on the hall