sorry not sorry. one where Newland actually chooses Ellen. I wrote this when I hadn’t even finished the novel (but could sense the tragic end,) so it might be slightly off.
Where the Lambs Cannot Wander
Her charm takes him by surprise, and he isn’t altogether sure it was there in the first place. The slink of her dress against the ground, and the desperate way she brings her lips together before she speaks, not to mention her always arched back that epitomizes womanly grace, are all qualities that threaten to bring him to his bony knees, every time he delights in her acquaintance.
Newland Archer isn’t sure when Countess Olenska became more than a societal peril to him, and he isn’t sure when that something more began to seep out of his mind and into his actions—buying golden roses for her on a whim, brushing the back of her neck on some cheap excuse, or bringing her away from the Duke’s party without so much as a warning.
He suppose it’s fitting that a woman so vivacious deserves a suitor so capricious as himself, but he wonders when danger began to throw itself to the winds. When had he stopped caring to turn his betrothed’s eyes to the wide, wide, wicked world, and instead decided in finding himself an equal, or even a superior who had traversed it all before with miserable speed?
She doesn’t hesitate to pick up on his changing winds, knowing the contents even before his thoughts emerge from the shaft of creation. Neither does she keep it from him, as embarrassing as he believes the knowledge could be to a lesser, more bandaged woman.
After all, the betrothed had long ago become the married, and the married had become the pregnant and worried. At any day May Welland, no, May Archer, would deliver her child, and at any day, Newland thought he would collapse in convulsions of passion, that throbbed his being more than any chaste love for the lamb could ever.
All this is nothing to the dear Countess, who continues to thrill herself with visits from Beaufort and the Duke. Where else, Archer ponders wryly, can she find her kindred, the open and completely willing audience? And when Archer calls on her, well, what be it if she returns his smothering gaze and taps her feathered fan further down where no woman of her position should go? All but a trifle, Archer says, as he stares out his yellow-green stone monstrosity, watching the rain pelt away at the cobble, as if the former could ever extinguish the other, through sheer will alone.
Archer thinks, under all his multi-faceted layers, that he is, at heart, still a decent man. And such a character could not let the situation at hand continue without delivering some honor to both women involved.
Still, his mother will be paying a visit tomorrow to see his wife. And Countess Olenska has already reached such notoriety that even the mention of her name is followed by a slight raise of the eyebrows, those expressive bones.
Honor would do the Countess no favors, Archer knows. It would only satisfy him at the heart of it, because it would solidify and justify these deep-rooted longings and pangs.
May would absolutely melt, maybe crawl up a hole somewhere and wither away. He had, for all his training, not managed to bring one eye open without closing the next. She knew that Botticelli was good, but not a thing about Bronte. What good was one without the other?
She would never understand that he could love and yearn at the same time for different people, while being completely honest with himself. Ellen understood; the matter had already been worked through her quick mind before Archer could picture it.
So was it for May that he hesitated?
That too, could not be truest fact, for he did not kid himself that ignorance was bliss. A betrayal stung, all the more for the longer one was kept in the dark.
At once, he drew himself from the lounging chair. He knew that it was both for himself that he considered revealing the hard secret to May and keeping it in the shutters further. Neither would be any service to her, for since the beginning, the matter was only the realization of a wife’s worst nightmares, and nor would they serve Ellen, who did not register these things as her concern. The Countess had, for a time that he could not fathom, probably due to her past, abandoned the popular morality for some deeper truths that crushed the veneer of New York without question. This, Archer had finally understood.
Weighing it all, while flipping through a Dante with distracted fingers, Archer returned to the bedroom where his wife rested.
“Dear beloved,” He began, only to falter at the terrible dissonance caused by those first words.
“May,” He says, “I regret to say that I’ve been calling upon your cousin on a frequent basis.”
The lamb giggles. “Whatever for, darling? I’m sure the situation with the engagement news is long in the past.”
He took a moment to reflect on the thorough ignorance that greeted him, shaking his head a little at the doings of countless aunts and mothers.
“I’ve been conducting an elaborate affair, I’m afraid. An affair of—of romance. Her qualities, which have drawn New York to opposition lines, have drawn me all the more to her, and unfortunately the situation cannot last without the truth being outed. So here I present it to you.”
“What—what?” May says, tears already dripping down her soft heart-shaped face.
“Oh, poor dear, don’t cry!” He gasps, although he had imagined her doing so a thousand times over. “It is for the best that we separate.”
“Oh! Oh! But the baby—Newland, dear, how can you?” May wails and he is brought to mind of what Ellen’s reaction would have been to her husband’s betrayal. Was it waterworks all over? Somehow the image would not appear in his mind, and he realized that she rarely cried, unless it was to convey her grand loneliness.
Women, women should be free like us! And so, indeed, Ellen expressed her emotions and kept them bound like a man should. In this way, equality was more than achieved.
“May, May,” he consoles, impatient. When will she muster the courage to shove him out the door?
“At least, at least, be by my side for the baby’s sake? If-if you don’t love me anymore that is…”
There it was. She had played that card, had she?
“I absolutely cannot,” He says, being firm for her and him enough. “It is inappropriate to stay with a infidelous husband. I shall go find your cousin at once and leave you be. The nurses hired from both our families shall look over your baby and yourself; do not fret.”
The words are cold and cutting and he can see the pain in her eyes, but he looks away, knowing the image has been captured and stored for repeats in his twisted memory. Retrieving his suitcase, he flees the house, where a carriage awaits him only a street away. The driver has been instructed to the respectable street, as is their weekly ritual, but lately the week has drawn longer and longer and his yearnings deeper and deeper that his love for May has buried itself, a dying ember in his chest.
The streets draw closer and still it is not quick enough. He tumbles out of the carriage, all thoughts of propriety and taste out the door, with Ellen on his mind.
“Ellen!” He bursts in, past the Italian maid.
She is soaked in her own fabrics, laying on the floor as only the most cosmopolitan can. The heaving of her breast quickens as she spies him and crooking a finger, she draws him near, like a cat feasting at last.