Mr. Jackson glanced over his shoulder to say to the sad butler: “Perhaps . . . that sauce . . . just a little, after all—“; then, having helped himself, he remarked: “I’m told she’s looking for a house. She means to live here.”
“I hear she means to get a divorce,” said Janey boldly.
“I hope she will!” Archer exclaimed.
The word had fallen like a bombshell in the pure and tranquil atmosphere of the Archer dining-room. Mrs. Archer raised her delicate eye-brows in the particular curve that signified: “The butler—” and the young man, himself mindful of the bad taste of discussing such intimate matters in public, hastily branched off into an account of his visit to old Mrs. Mingott.
After dinner, according to immemorial custom, Mrs. Archer and Janey trailed their long silk draperies up to the drawing-room, where, while the gentlemen smoked below stairs, they sat beside a Carcel lamp with an engraved globe, facing each other across a rosewood work-table with a green silk bag under it, and stitched at the two ends of a tapestry band of field-flowers destined to adorn an “occasional” chair in the drawing-room of young Mrs. Newland Archer.
While this rite was in progress in the drawing-room, Archer settled Mr. Jackson in an armchair near the fire in the Gothic library and handed him a cigar. Mr. Jackson sank into the armchair with satisfaction, lit his cigar with perfect confidence (it was Newland who bought them), and stretching his thin old ankles to the coals, said: “You say the secretary merely helped her to get away, my dear fellow? Well, he was still helping her a year later, then; for somebody met ’em living at Lausanne together.”
Newland reddened. “Living together? Well, why not? Who had the right to make her life over if she hadn’t? I’m sick of the hypocrisy that would bury alive a woman of her age if her husband prefers to live with harlots.”
He stopped and turned away angrily to light his cigar. “Women ought to be free—as free as we are,” he declared, making a discovery of which he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences.
Mr. Sillerton Jackson stretched his ankles nearer the coals and emitted a sardonic whistle.
“Well,” he said after a pause, “apparently Count Olenski takes your view; for I never heard of his having lifted a finger to get his wife back.”
That evening, after Mr. Jackson had taken himself away, and the ladies had retired to their chintz-curtained bedroom, Newland Archer mounted thoughtfully to his own study. A vigilant hand had, as usual, kept the fire alive and the lamp trimmed; and the room, with its rows and rows of books, its bronze and steel statuettes of “The Fencers” on the mantelpiece and its many photographs of famous pictures, looked singularly home-like and welcoming.