فصل 08

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فصل 08

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Snow

It was a dark, snowy afternoon. When Ellen got off the train, Newland was startled by her pale face. She looked at him in surprise.

“Come,” he said. “I have a carriage waiting.”

He hurried her into the carriage and sat down beside her. He told her all about her grandmother’s illness and Beaufort’s ruin. “Poor Regina!” she said softly.

“Were you surprised to see me at the station?” he asked then.

“Yes!” she replied with a smile.

“So was I,” said Newland. “When I saw you, I was surprised. I hardly remembered you.”

“Hardly remembered me?” she repeated in amazement.

“I mean - how can I say it? - each time I see you, you happen to me all over again.”

“Oh, yes. I know!” she said.

“Is it the same for you?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, looking out of the window.

“Ellen, Ellen, Ellen!”

She didn’t reply, so he sat in silence, watching her profile against the snowy window. The precious moments were slipping away, and he’d forgotten everything he’d planned to say to her.

“What a pretty carriage!” she said after a while. “Is it May’s?”

“Yes.”

“Did May send you to meet me? How kind of her!”

With a jolt, the carriage went over a bump in the road, and she was thrown against him. He put his arm around her and said, “We can’t go on like this, Ellen. We can’t be together and not be together.”

“You shouldn’t have come today!” she cried. Suddenly, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him; then she turned away and looked out of the window, trying to keep as far away from him as possible.

“Don’t be afraid of me,” he said. “I know you don’t want a squalid affair, and neither do I. I want us to be together - really together - not just for an hour in secret with days of longing in between.”

“You chose a good place to tell me that!” she said, laughing.

“Why? Because this is my wife’s carriage? All right. Let’s get out and walk. I’m sure you’re not afraid of a little snow.”

“No. I won’t get out and walk, because I must go to Granny’s. That’s what I’m here for. And you’ll sit beside me and talk to me, not about visions but about realities.”

“This is the only reality,” he said.

She sat silent as the carriage turned into Fifth Avenue.

“Do you want me to live with you as your mistress, since I can’t be your wife?” she asked.

The crudeness of the question startled him. Women in New York high society never used that word, even when they were talking about Fanny Ring. Ellen spoke it clearly and simply as if it were a normal word in her vocabulary.

“I want to go away with you to a world where words like that - ideas like that - don’t exist, a world where we’ll just be two human beings who love each other.”

She laughed again. “Oh, my dear - where is that country?” she said. “Have you ever been there?”

The carriage had crossed Forty-Second Street. May’s excellent horses were pulling them quickly to the end of their journey. Soon the precious two hours would be over. “So what is your plan for us?” asked Newland.

“For us? There is no ‘us’, in that sense. We’re near each other only if we stay far from each other. Then we can be ourselves. Otherwise, we’re only Newland Archer, the husband of Ellen Olenska’s cousin, and Ellen Olenska, the cousin of Newland Archer’s wife, trying to be happy behind the backs of the people who trusted them.”

“I’m beyond that,” said Newland.

“No you’re not!” cried Ellen. “You’ve never been beyond. But I have! And it isn’t a place you and I want to be.”

He sat in silence, full of pain. Then he called to the driver and asked him to stop the carriage.

“Why are we stopping? This isn’t Granny’s!” said Ellen in surprise.

“No, but I’ll get out here,” he replied, opening the door and stepping out into the snow. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have come to meet you,” he whispered to her, then he called to the driver, “Drive on!”


That evening, May returned from Mrs Mingott’s house just before dinner. Newland and May dined alone. “Why didn’t you come back to Granny’s?” asked May, as the servant filled her wine glass.

“I had some letters to write. Besides, I didn’t know you were staying there. I thought you’d be at home.”

She didn’t reply, and he noticed that she looked tired and sad. For the first time, Newland thought that perhaps the monotony of their life together caused her pain too. Then he remembered that, as he was leaving Mrs Mingott’s house to go to Jersey City, she’d said to him. ‘I’ll see you back here, then.” He’d replied, “Yes,” but he’d immediately forgotten about it. He had had other things to think of. Now he felt slightly irritated that she should be offended by so trivial an omission after two years of marriage.

After dinner they went to the library for coffee. He sat down to read a history book. When they were engaged, he used to read poetry aloud to her, but after their marriage he’d stopped doing that: her comments on the poems were too depressing. Now he preferred to read history in peace. May took out her embroidery and started working on it. She wasn’t very good at embroidering, but all the other wives embroidered cushion-covers for their husbands, so May did it too. Every time he looked up from his book, there she was. Her sapphire engagement ring and gold wedding ring gleamed in the lamp light. “She’ll always be the same”, thought Newland. “In all the years to come, she’ll never surprise me with a new idea or emotion.” She was maturing into a copy of her mother. He put down his book, went to the window, opened it, and leaned out into the icy air. The snow was still falling; big soft flakes of it were blowing in the wind.

“Newland!” said May. “What are you doing?”

“I want some fresh air. It’s stifling in here.”

“Please shut the window. You’ll catch your death!”

He shut the window and turned to her. “Catch my death!” he repeated in a sarcastic voice. He wanted to say, “I’ve caught my death already! I’ve been dead for months and months!” But then he had another thought: “What if May dies? Young healthy people like May sometimes get ill and die. What if that happened to May? Then I would be free!”

She looked up at him in surprise. “Newland, are you all right? Are you feeling ill?”

“No,” he said, returning to his chair, and as he passed by her he put his hand on her hair. “Poor May!”

“Poor? Why poor?” she said with a nervous laugh.

“Because I’ll never be able to open a window without worrying you,” he replied.

For a moment she was silent and then she said, “I’ll never worry if you’re happy.”

“Ah, my dear! I’ll never be happy unless I can open windows!”

“In this weather?” she cried.

Newland sighed and returned to his book.

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