Now, across the Skuytercliff carnations and the massive plate, she struck him as pale and languid; but her eyes shone, and she talked with exaggerated animation.
The subject which had called forth Mr. Sillerton Jackson’s favourite allusion had been brought up (Archer fancied not without intention) by their hostess. The Beaufort failure, or rather the Beaufort attitude since the failure, was still a fruitful theme for the drawing-room moralist; and after it had been thoroughly examined and condemned Mrs. van der Luyden had turned her scrupulous eyes on May Archer.
“Is it possible, dear, that what I hear is true? I was told your grandmother Mingott’s carriage was seen standing at Mrs. Beaufort’s door.” It was noticeable that she no longer called the offending lady by her Christian name.
May’s colour rose, and Mrs. Archer put in hastily: “If it was, I’m convinced it was there without Mrs. Mingott’s knowledge.”
“Ah, you think—?” Mrs. van der Luyden paused, sighed, and glanced at her husband.
“I’m afraid,” Mr. van der Luyden said, “that Madame Olenska’s kind heart may have led her into the imprudence of calling on Mrs. Beaufort.”
“Or her taste for peculiar people,” put in Mrs. Archer in a dry tone, while her eyes dwelt innocently on her son’s.
“I’m sorry to think it of Madame Olenska,”
Mrs. van der Luyden; and Mrs. Archer murmured:
“Ah, my dear—and after you’d had her twice at
It was at this point that Mr. Jackson seized the chance to place his favourite allusion.
“At the Tuileries,” he repeated, seeing the eyes of the company expectantly turned on him, “the standard was excessively lax in some respects; and if you’d asked where Morny’s money came from—! Or who paid the debts of some of the Court beauties . . .”
“I hope, dear Sillerton,” said Mrs. Archer, “you are not suggesting that we should adopt such standards?”
“I never suggest,” returned Mr. Jackson imperturbably. “But Madame Olenska’s foreign bringing-up may make her less particular—”
“Ah,” the two elder ladies sighed.
“Still, to have kept her grandmother’s carriage at a defaulter’s door!” Mr. van der Luyden protested; and Archer guessed that he was remembering, and resenting, the hampers of carnations he had sent to the little house in Twenty-third Street.
“Of course I’ve always said that she looks at things quite differently,” Mrs. Archer summed up.
A flush rose to May’s forehead. She looked across the table at her husband, and said precipitately: “I’m sure Ellen meant it kindly.”
“Imprudent people are often kind,” said Mrs. Archer, as if the fact were scarcely an extenuation; and Mrs. van der Luyden murmured: “If only she had consulted some one—”
“Ah, that she never did!” Mrs. Archer rejoined.
At this point Mr. van der Luyden glanced at his wife, who bent her head slightly in the direction of Mrs. Archer; and the glimmering trains of the three ladies swept out of the door while the gentlemen settled down to their cigars. Mr. van der Luyden supplied short ones on Opera nights; but they were so good that they made his guests deplore his inexorable punctuality.