Mr. Jackson gave a faint sip, as if he had been tasting invisible Madeira. “Mrs. Beaufort may not—but Beaufort certainly does, for she was seen walking up Fifth Avenue this afternoon with him by the whole of New York.”
“Mercy—” moaned Mrs. Archer, evidently perceiving the uselessness of trying to ascribe the actions of foreigners to a sense of delicacy.
“I wonder if she wears a round hat or a bonnet in the afternoon,” Janey speculated. “At the Opera I know she had on dark blue velvet, perfectly plain and flat— like a night-gown.”
“Janey!” said her mother; and Miss Archer blushed and tried to look audacious.
“It was, at any rate, in better taste not to go to the ball,” Mrs. Archer continued.
A spirit of perversity moved her son to rejoin: “I don’t think it was a question of taste with her. May said she meant to go, and then decided that the dress in question wasn’t smart enough.”
Mrs. Archer smiled at this confirmation of her inference. “Poor Ellen,” she simply remarked; adding compassionately: “We must always bear in mind what an eccentric bringing-up Medora Manson gave her. What can you expect of a girl who was allowed to wear black satin at her coming-out ball?”
“Ah—don’t I remember her in it!” said Mr. Jackson; adding: “Poor girl!” in the tone of one who, while enjoying the memory, had fully understood at the time what the sight portended.
“It’s odd,” Janey remarked, “that she should have kept such an ugly name as Ellen. I should have changed it to Elaine.” She glanced about the table to see the effect of this.
Her brother laughed. “Why Elaine?”
“I don’t know; it sounds more—more Polish,” said Janey, blushing.
“It sounds more conspicuous; and that can hardly be what she wishes,” said Mrs. Archer distantly.
“Why not?” broke in her son, growing suddenly argumentative. “Why shouldn’t she be conspicuous if she chooses? Why should she slink about as if it were she who had disgraced herself? She’s `poor Ellen’ certainly, because she had the bad luck to make a wretched marriage; but I don’t see that that’s a reason for hiding her head as if she were the culprit.”
“That, I suppose,” said Mr. Jackson, speculatively, “is the line the Mingotts mean to take.”
The young man reddened. “I didn’t have to wait for their cue, if that’s what you mean, sir. Madame Olenska has had an unhappy life: that doesn’t make her an outcast.”
“There are rumours,” began Mr. Jackson, glancing at Janey.
“Oh, I know: the secretary,” the young man took him up. “Nonsense, mother; Janey’s grown-up. They say, don’t they,” he went on, “that the secretary helped her to get away from her brute of a husband, who kept her practically a prisoner? Well, what if he did? I hope there isn’t a man among us who wouldn’t have done the same in such a case.”