“May!” he called out impatiently; and she came back, with a slight glance of surprise at his tone.
“This lamp is smoking again; I should think the servants might see that it’s kept properly trimmed,” he grumbled nervously.
“I’m so sorry: it shan’t happen again,” she answered, in the firm bright tone she had learned from her mother; and it exasperated Archer to feel that she was already beginning to humour him like a younger Mr. Welland. She bent over to lower the wick, and as the light struck up on her white shoulders and the clear curves of her face he thought: “How young she is! For what endless years this life will have to go on!”
He felt, with a kind of horror, his own strong youth and the bounding blood in his veins. “Look here,” he said suddenly, “I may have to go to Washington for a few days—soon; next week perhaps.”
Her hand remained on the key of the lamp as she turned to him slowly. The heat from its flame had brought back a glow to her face, but it paled as she looked up.
“On business?” she asked, in a tone which implied that there could be no other conceivable reason, and that she had put the question automatically, as if merely to finish his own sentence.
“On business, naturally. There’s a patent case coming up before the Supreme Court—” He gave the name of the inventor, and went on furnishing details with all Lawrence Lefferts’s practised glibness, while she listened attentively, saying at intervals: “Yes, I see.”
“The change will do you good,” she said simply, when he had finished; “and you must be sure to go and see Ellen,” she added, looking him straight in the eyes with her cloudless smile, and speaking in the tone she might have employed in urging him not to neglect some irksome family duty.
It was the only word that passed between them on the subject; but in the code in which they had both been trained it meant: “Of course you understand that I know all that people have been saying about Ellen, and heartily sympathise with my family in their effort to get her to return to her husband. I also know that, for some reason you have not chosen to tell me, you have advised her against this course, which all the older men of the family, as well as our grandmother, agree in approving; and that it is owing to your encouragement that Ellen defies us all, and exposes herself to the kind of criticism of which Mr. Sillerton Jackson probably gave you, this evening, the hint that has made you so irritable. . . . Hints have indeed not been wanting; but since you appear unwilling to take them from others, I offer you this one myself, in the only form in which well-bred people of our kind can communicate unpleasant things to each other: by letting you understand that I know you mean to see Ellen when you are in Washington, and are perhaps going there expressly for that purpose; and that, since you are sure to see her, I wish you to do so with my full and explicit approval— and to take the opportunity of letting her know what the course of conduct you have encouraged her in is likely to lead to.”