They strolled along together, and presently Winsett said: “Look here, what I’m really after is the name of the dark lady in that swell box of yours—with the Beauforts, wasn’t she? The one your friend Lefferts seems so smitten by.”
Archer, he could not have said why, was slightly annoyed. What the devil did Ned Winsett want with Ellen Olenska’s name? And above all, why did he couple it with Lefferts’s? It was unlike Winsett to manifest such curiosity; but after all, Archer remembered, he was a journalist.
“It’s not for an interview, I hope?” he laughed.
“Well—not for the press; just for myself,” Winsett rejoined. “The fact is she’s a neighbour of mine—queer quarter for such a beauty to settle in—and she’s been awfully kind to my little boy, who fell down her area chasing his kitten, and gave himself a nasty cut. She rushed in bareheaded, carrying him in her arms, with his knee all beautifully bandaged, and was so sympathetic and beautiful that my wife was too dazzled to ask her name.”
A pleasant glow dilated Archer’s heart. There was nothing extraordinary in the tale: any woman would have done as much for a neighbour’s child. But it was just like Ellen, he felt, to have rushed in bareheaded, carrying the boy in her arms, and to have dazzled poor Mrs. Winsett into forgetting to ask who she was.
“That is the Countess Olenska—a granddaughter of old Mrs. Mingott’s.”
“Whew—a Countess!” whistled Ned Winsett. “Well, I didn’t know Countesses were so neighbourly. Mingotts ain’t.”
“They would be, if you’d let them.”
“Ah, well—” It was their old interminable argument as to the obstinate unwillingness of the “clever people” to frequent the fashionable, and both men knew that there was no use in prolonging it.
“I wonder,” Winsett broke off, “how a Countess happens to live in our slum?”
“Because she doesn’t care a hang about where she lives—or about any of our little social sign-posts,” said Archer, with a secret pride in his own picture of her.
“H’m—been in bigger places, I suppose,” the other commented. “Well, here’s my corner.”
He slouched off across Broadway, and Archer stood looking after him and musing on his last words.
Ned Winsett had those flashes of penetration; they were the most interesting thing about him, and always made Archer wonder why they had allowed him to accept failure so stolidly at an age when most men are still struggling.
Archer had known that Winsett had a wife and child, but he had never seen them. The two men always met at the Century, or at some haunt of journalists and theatrical people, such as the restaurant where Winsett had proposed to go for a bock. He had given Archer to understand that his wife was an invalid; which might be true of the poor lady, or might merely mean that she was lacking in social gifts or in evening