“Differently? No—it’s only that I do it as best I can when I’m without Nastasia.”
“Nastasia; but isn’t she with you?”
“No; I’m alone. For two days it was not worth while to bring her.”
“You’re alone—at the Parker House?”
She looked at him with a flash of her old malice. “Does it strike you as dangerous?”
“No; not dangerous—”
“But unconventional? I see; I suppose it is.” She considered a moment. “I hadn’t thought of it, because I’ve just done something so much more unconventional.” The faint tinge of irony lingered in her eyes. “I’ve just refused to take back a sum of money—that belonged to me.”
Archer sprang up and moved a step or two away. She had furled her parasol and sat absently drawing patterns on the gravel. Presently he came back and stood before her.
“Some one—has come here to meet you?”
“With this offer?”
“And you refused—because of the conditions?”
“I refused,” she said after a moment.
He sat down by her again. “What were the conditions?”
“Oh, they were not onerous: just to sit at the head of his table now and then.”
There was another interval of silence. Archer’s heart had slammed itself shut in the queer way it had, and he sat vainly groping for a word.
“He wants you back—at any price?”
“Well—a considerable price. At least the sum is considerable for me.”
He paused again, beating about the question he felt he must put.
“It was to meet him here that you came?”
She stared, and then burst into a laugh. “Meet him—my husband? Here? At this season he’s always at Cowes or Baden.”
“He sent some one?”
“With a letter?”
She shook her head. “No; just a message. He never writes. I don’t think I’ve had more than one letter from him.” The allusion brought the colour to her cheek, and it reflected itself in Archer’s vivid blush.
“Why does he never write?”
“Why should he? What does one have secretaries for?”
The young man’s blush deepened. She had pronounced the word as if it had no more significance than any other in her vocabulary. For a moment it was on the tip of his tongue to ask: “Did he send his secretary, then?” But the remembrance of Count Olenski’s only letter to his wife was too present to him. He paused again, and then took another plunge.
“And the person?”—
“The emissary? The emissary,” Madame Olenska rejoined, still smiling, “might, for all I care, have left already; but he has insisted on waiting till this evening . . . in case . . . on the chance . . .”
“And you came out here to think the chance over?”
“I came out to get a breath of air. The hotel’s too stifling. I’m taking the afternoon train back to Portsmouth.”