Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Age of Innocence (Alternate Jamesian Ending)

“Of course so accomplished a mistress of the art would not, without deliberate intention, have given the tale so curiously conventional a treatment. Though indeed, in the given case, no treatment but the conventional was possible, which might conceivably, my dear lady, on further consideration, have led you to reject your subject as-er-in itself a totally unsuitable one.”—Henry James

Archer and his teenage son Dallas knew that Madame Olenska lived in a square near one of the avenues radiating from the Invalides; he'd pictured the quarter as quiet and almost obscure, forgetting the central splendor that lit it up. Now, by some queer process of association, that golden light became for him the pervading illumination in which she lived. For nearly thirty years, her life—of which he knew so strangely little—had been spent in this rich atmosphere that he already felt to be too dense and yet too stimulating for his lungs. He thought of the theatres she must have been to, the pictures she must have looked at…They had crossed the Place des Invalides, and were walking down one of the thoroughfares flanking the building. It was a quiet quarter, after all, in spite of its splendor and its history; and the fact gave one an idea of the riches Paris had to draw on, since such scenes as this were left to the few and the indifferent. The day was fading into a soft sun-shot haze, pricked here and there by a yellow electric light, and passers were rare in the little square into which they had turned. Dallas stopped again, and looked up. "I wonder which floor—?" Dallas asked and moving toward the porte-cochere he put his head into the porter's lodge, and came back to say: "The fifth. It must be the one with the awnings." The father glanced away at an empty bench under the trees. "I believe I'll sit there a moment," he said. "Why—aren't you well?" his son exclaimed. "Oh, perfectly. But I should like you, please, to go up without me." Dallas looked at him again, and then, with an incredulous gesture, passed out of sight under the vaulted doorway. Archer sat down on the bench and continued to gaze at the awninged balcony. Dallas took the lift to the fifth floor, rang the bell, was admitted to the hall, and then ushered into the drawing-room. He entered the room with his quick assured step and his delightful smile. Madame Olenska had been waiting for him, noticing how much the boy "took after his father." Ellen was sitting in a sofa-corner near the fire, with azaleas banked behind her on a table. She was a dark lady, pale and dark, who took her time, half rising, and holding out a long thin hand with three rings on it. . . . "It's more real to me here than if I were there," Newland quietly heard himself say; and he enjoyed sitting there as the minutes succeeded each other, thinking of his son up there with Madame Olenska… He sat for a long time on the bench in the thickening dusk, his eyes never turning from the balcony. At length a nude boy walked past the windows, and a moment later a man-servant came out on the balcony, drew up the awnings, and closed the shutters. At that, as if it had been the signal he waited for, Newland Archer got up slowly and walked back alone to his hotel.

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