Mrs. Lovell Mingott, who had been in another room writing notes, presently reappeared, and added her voice to the discussion. In their day, the elder ladies agreed, the wife of a man who had done anything disgraceful in business had only one idea: to efface herself, to disappear with him. “There was the case of poor Grandmamma Spicer; your great-grandmother, May. Of course,” Mrs. Welland hastened to add, “your great-grandfather’s money difficulties were private—losses at cards, or signing a note for somebody—I never quite knew, because Mamma would never speak of it. But she was brought up in the country because her mother had to leave New York after the disgrace, whatever it was: they lived up the Hudson alone, winter and summer, till Mamma was sixteen. It would never have occurred to Grandmamma Spicer to ask the family to `countenance’ her, as I understand Regina calls it; though a private disgrace is nothing compared to the scandal of ruining hundreds of innocent people.”
“Yes, it would be more becoming in Regina to hide her own countenance than to talk about other people’s,” Mrs. Lovell Mingott agreed. “I understand that the emerald necklace she wore at the Opera last Friday had been sent on approval from Ball and Black’s in the afternoon. I wonder if they’ll ever get it back?”
Archer listened unmoved to the relentless chorus. The idea of absolute financial probity as the first law of a gentleman’s code was too deeply ingrained in him for sentimental considerations to weaken it. An adventurer like Lemuel Struthers might build up the millions of his Shoe Polish on any number of shady dealings; but unblemished honesty was the noblesse oblige of old financial New York. Nor did Mrs. Beaufort’s fate greatly move Archer. He felt, no doubt, more sorry for her than her indignant relatives; but it seemed to him that the tie between husband and wife, even if breakable in prosperity, should be indissoluble in misfortune. As Mr. Letterblair had said, a wife’s place was at her husband’s side when he was in trouble; but society’s place was not at his side, and Mrs. Beaufort’s cool assumption that it was seemed almost to make her his accomplice. The mere idea of a woman’s appealing to her family to screen her husband’s business dishonour was inadmissible, since it was the one thing that the Family, as an institution, could not do.
The mulatto maid called Mrs. Lovell Mingott into the hall, and the latter came back in a moment with a frowning brow.
“She wants me to telegraph for Ellen Olenska. I had written to Ellen, of course, and to Medora; but now it seems that’s not enough. I’m to telegraph to her immediately, and to tell her that she’s to come alone.”
The announcement was received in silence. Mrs. Welland sighed resignedly, and May rose from her seat and went to gather up some newspapers that had been scattered on the floor.
“I suppose it must be done,” Mrs. Lovell Mingott continued, as if hoping to be contradicted; and May turned back toward the middle of the room.