I have, of late, had the sometime pleasure of the company of a young American woman of my acquaintance at luncheon. While the venues, cuisines, and surroundings of our après-midi repast were variable and dependent upon the circumstances and opportunities available to us, they have always been of the greatest pleasure and entertainment to me.
Miss Archer is at once a very determined young lady, but one also tinged with the streak of independence set firmly in the ground of a graceful and enhancing naiveté, which conduces to my enjoyment of our conversational aperitifs.
I've grown somewhat concerned because whereas her talk was mostly of the many men who saw her and implored her favors while she remained on the Touchett family estate, more and more I am hearing of a person of interest who seems to have netted our pretty little bird without her own knowledge. And the more I hear of Osmond, the more concerned I become, because it occurs to me that there is some information circulating about him that does not redound to his credit. While one can never take seriously what circulates on the street or even in the salon, it has been my distinct displeasure to make the acquaintance of another member of the pretty scene that Miss Archer has laid before me.
Miss Archer never fails of speak of Madame Merle in anything but the most glowing terms, expressing only admiration for this widow, who, as Mr. Touchett has observed on occasion lacks any blot whatsoever on her record. One must wonder about such a record--how recent it must be and what must have been, with some great aplomb, expunged from that on-going document. My own sense of Madame Merle is not nearly so flattering to that personage. There is something about her that is, perhaps subtle is the word, but I think wily is closer to the sense. She seems to fashion les tableaux to fit the needs of the moment, and one cannot help but wonder what those needs might be. Mr. Touchett himself has confided to me that she is a woman of great and unrealized ambitions—and perhaps that view has colored my own of her character. For all I know she may be as spotless as she appears to the casual observer.