The Age of Innocence

 

by

 

Edith Wharton

 

 

JTABLE 6 18 1

 

JTABLE 6 16 19

 

Book I

 

I.

 

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was

singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

 

Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan

distances "above the Forties," of a new Opera House which should

compete in costliness and splendour with those of the great European

capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every

winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy.

Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus

keeping out the "new people" whom New York was beginning to dread and

yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic

associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so

problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music.

 

It was Madame Nilsson's first appearance that winter, and what the

daily press had already learned to describe as "an exceptionally

brilliant audience" had gathered to hear her, transported through the

slippery, snowy streets in private broughams, in the spacious family

landau, or in the humbler but more convenient "Brown coupe." To come to

the Opera in a Brown coupe was almost as honourable a way of arriving

as in one's own carriage; and departure by the same means had the

immense advantage of enabling one (with a playful allusion to

democratic principles) to scramble into the first Brown conveyance in

the line, instead of waiting till the cold-and-gin congested nose of

one's own coachman gleamed under the portico of the Academy.  It was

one of the great livery-stableman's most masterly intuitions to have

discovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even more

quickly than they want to get to it.

 

When Newland Archer opened the door at the back of the club box the

curtain had just gone up on the garden scene.  There was no reason why

the young man should not have come earlier, for he had dined at seven,

alone with his mother and sister, and had lingered afterward over a

cigar in the Gothic library with glazed black-walnut bookcases and

finial-topped chairs which was the only room in the house where Mrs.

Archer allowed smoking.  But, in the first place, New York was a

metropolis, and perfectly aware that in metropolises it was "not the

thing" to arrive early at the opera; and what was or was not "the

thing" played a part as important in Newland Archer's New York as the

inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his

forefathers thousands of years ago.

 

The second reason for his delay was a personal one.  He had dawdled

over his cigar because he was at heart a dilettante, and thinking over

a pleasure to come often gave him a subtler satisfaction than its

realisation.  This was especially the case when the pleasure was a

delicate one, as his pleasures mostly were; and on this occasion the

moment he looked forward to was so rare and exquisite in quality

that--well, if he had timed his arrival in accord with the prima

donna's stage-manager he could not have entered the Academy at a more

significant moment than just as she was singing:  "He loves me--he

loves me not--HE LOVES ME!--" and sprinkling the falling daisy petals

with notes as clear as dew.

 

She sang, of course, "M'ama!" and not "he loves me," since an

unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the

German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be

translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of

English-speaking audiences.  This seemed as natural to Newland Archer

as all the other conventions on which his life was moulded: such as the

duty of using two silver-backed brushes with his monogram in blue

enamel to part his hair, and of never appearing in society without a

flower (preferably a gardenia) in his buttonhole.

 

"M'ama ... non m'ama ..." the prima donna sang, and "M'ama!", with a

final burst of love triumphant, as she pressed the dishevelled daisy to

her lips and lifted her large eyes to the sophisticated countenance of

the little brown Faust-Capoul, who was vainly trying, in a tight purple

velvet doublet and plumed cap, to look as pure and true as his artless

victim.

 

Newland Archer, leaning against the wall at the back of the club box,

turned his eyes from the stage and scanned the opposite side of the

house.  Directly facing him was the box of old Mrs. Manson Mingott,

whose monstrous obesity had long since made it impossible for her to

attend the Opera, but who was always represented on fashionable nights

by some of the younger members of the family.  On this occasion, the

front of the box was filled by her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Lovell

Mingott, and her daughter, Mrs. Welland; and slightly withdrawn behind

these brocaded matrons sat a young girl in white with eyes ecstatically

fixed on the stagelovers.  As Madame Nilsson's "M'ama!" thrilled out

above the silent house (the boxes always stopped talking during the

Daisy Song) a warm pink mounted to the girl's cheek, mantled her brow

to the roots of her fair braids, and suffused the young slope of her

breast to the line where it met a modest tulle tucker fastened with a

single gardenia.  She dropped her eyes to the immense bouquet of

lilies-of-the-valley on her knee, and Newland Archer saw her

white-gloved finger-tips touch the flowers softly.  He drew a breath of

satisfied vanity and his eyes returned to the stage.

 

No expense had been spared on the setting, which was acknowledged to be

very beautiful even by people who shared his acquaintance with the

Opera houses of Paris and Vienna.  The foreground, to the footlights,

was covered with emerald green cloth.  In the middle distance

symmetrical mounds of woolly green moss bounded by croquet hoops formed

the base of shrubs shaped like orange-trees but studded with large pink

and red roses.  Gigantic pansies, considerably larger than the roses,

and closely resembling the floral pen-wipers made by female

parishioners for fashionable clergymen, sprang from the moss beneath

the rose-trees; and here and there a daisy grafted on a rose-branch

flowered with a luxuriance prophetic of Mr. Luther Burbank's far-off

prodigies.

 

In the centre of this enchanted garden Madame Nilsson, in white

cashmere slashed with pale blue satin, a reticule dangling from a blue

girdle, and large yellow braids carefully disposed on each side of her

muslin chemisette, listened with downcast eyes to M. Capoul's

impassioned wooing, and affected a guileless incomprehension of his

designs whenever, by word or glance, he persuasively indicated the

ground floor window of the neat brick villa projecting obliquely from

the right wing.

 

"The darling!" thought Newland Archer, his glance flitting back to the

young girl with the lilies-of-the-valley.  "She doesn't even guess what

it's all about." And he contemplated her absorbed young face with a

thrill of possessorship in which pride in his own masculine initiation

was mingled with a tender reverence for her abysmal purity.  "We'll

read Faust together ... by the Italian lakes ..." he thought, somewhat

hazily confusing the scene of his projected honey-moon with the

masterpieces of literature which it would be his manly privilege to

reveal to his bride.  It was only that afternoon that May Welland had

let him guess that she "cared" (New York's consecrated phrase of maiden

avowal), and already his imagination, leaping ahead of the engagement

ring, the betrothal kiss and the march from Lohengrin, pictured her at

his side in some scene of old European witchery.

 

He did not in the least wish the future Mrs. Newland Archer to be a

simpleton.  He meant her (thanks to his enlightening companionship) to

develop a social tact and readiness of wit enabling her to hold her own

with the most popular married women of the "younger set," in which it

was the recognised custom to attract masculine homage while playfully

discouraging it.  If he had probed to the bottom of his vanity (as he

sometimes nearly did) he would have found there the wish that his wife

should be as worldly-wise and as eager to please as the married lady

whose charms had held his fancy through two mildly agitated years;

without, of course, any hint of the frailty which had so nearly marred

that unhappy being's life, and had disarranged his own plans for a

whole winter.

 

How this miracle of fire and ice was to be created, and to sustain

itself in a harsh world, he had never taken the time to think out; but

he was content to hold his view without analysing it, since he knew it

was that of all the carefully-brushed, white-waistcoated,

button-hole-flowered gentlemen who succeeded each other in the club

box, exchanged friendly greetings with him, and turned their

opera-glasses critically on the circle of ladies who were the product

of the system.  In matters intellectual and artistic Newland Archer

felt himself distinctly the superior of these chosen specimens of old

New York gentility; he had probably read more, thought more, and even

seen a good deal more of the world, than any other man of the number.

Singly they betrayed their inferiority; but grouped together they

represented "New York," and the habit of masculine solidarity made him

accept their doctrine on all the issues called moral.  He instinctively

felt that in this respect it would be troublesome--and also rather bad

form--to strike out for himself.

 

"Well--upon my soul!" exclaimed Lawrence Lefferts, turning his

opera-glass abruptly away from the stage.  Lawrence Lefferts was, on

the whole, the foremost authority on "form" in New York.  He had

probably devoted more time than any one else to the study of this

intricate and fascinating question; but study alone could not account

for his complete and easy competence.  One had only to look at him,

from the slant of his bald forehead and the curve of his beautiful fair

moustache to the long patent-leather feet at the other end of his lean

and elegant person, to feel that the knowledge of "form" must be

congenital in any one who knew how to wear such good clothes so

carelessly and carry such height with so much lounging grace.  As a

young admirer had once said of him:  "If anybody can tell a fellow just

when to wear a black tie with evening clothes and when not to, it's

Larry Lefferts."  And on the question of pumps versus patent-leather

"Oxfords" his authority had never been disputed.

 

"My God!" he said; and silently handed his glass to old Sillerton

Jackson.

 

Newland Archer, following Lefferts's glance, saw with surprise that his

exclamation had been occasioned by the entry of a new figure into old

Mrs. Mingott's box.  It was that of a slim young woman, a little less

tall than May Welland, with brown hair growing in close curls about her

temples and held in place by a narrow band of diamonds.  The suggestion

of this headdress, which gave her what was then called a "Josephine

look," was carried out in the cut of the dark blue velvet gown rather

theatrically caught up under her bosom by a girdle with a large

old-fashioned clasp.  The wearer of this unusual dress, who seemed

quite unconscious of the attention it was attracting, stood a moment in

the centre of the box, discussing with Mrs. Welland the propriety of

taking the latter's place in the front right-hand corner; then she

yielded with a slight smile, and seated herself in line with Mrs.

Welland's sister-in-law, Mrs. Lovell Mingott, who was installed in the

opposite corner.

 

Mr. Sillerton Jackson had returned the opera-glass to Lawrence

Lefferts.  The whole of the club turned instinctively, waiting to hear

what the old man had to say; for old Mr. Jackson was as great an

authority on "family" as Lawrence Lefferts was on "form."  He knew all

the ramifications of New York's cousinships; and could not only

elucidate such complicated questions as that of the connection between

the Mingotts (through the Thorleys) with the Dallases of South

Carolina, and that of the relationship of the elder branch of

Philadelphia Thorleys to the Albany Chiverses (on no account to be

confused with the Manson Chiverses of University Place), but could also

enumerate the leading characteristics of each family: as, for instance,

the fabulous stinginess of the younger lines of Leffertses (the Long

Island ones); or the fatal tendency of the Rushworths to make foolish

matches; or the insanity recurring in every second generation of the

Albany Chiverses, with whom their New York cousins had always refused

to intermarry--with the disastrous exception of poor Medora Manson,

who, as everybody knew ... but then her mother was a Rushworth.

 

In addition to this forest of family trees, Mr. Sillerton Jackson

carried between his narrow hollow temples, and under his soft thatch of

silver hair, a register of most of the scandals and mysteries that had

smouldered under the unruffled surface of New York society within the

last fifty years.  So far indeed did his information extend, and so

acutely retentive was his memory, that he was supposed to be the only

man who could have told you who Julius Beaufort, the banker, really

was, and what had become of handsome Bob Spicer, old Mrs. Manson

Mingott's father, who had disappeared so mysteriously (with a large sum

of trust money) less than a year after his marriage, on the very day

that a beautiful Spanish dancer who had been delighting thronged

audiences in the old Opera-house on the Battery had taken ship for

Cuba.  But these mysteries, and many others, were closely locked in Mr.

Jackson's breast; for not only did his keen sense of honour forbid his

repeating anything privately imparted, but he was fully aware that his

reputation for discretion increased his opportunities of finding out

what he wanted to know.

 

The club box, therefore, waited in visible suspense while Mr. Sillerton

Jackson handed back Lawrence Lefferts's opera-glass.  For a moment he

silently scrutinised the attentive group out of his filmy blue eyes

overhung by old veined lids; then he gave his moustache a thoughtful

twist, and said simply:  "I didn't think the Mingotts would have tried

it on."

 

 

 

II.

 

Newland Archer, during this brief episode, had been thrown into a

strange state of embarrassment.

 

It was annoying that the box which was thus attracting the undivided

attention of masculine New York should be that in which his betrothed

was seated between her mother and aunt; and for a moment he could not

identify the lady in the Empire dress, nor imagine why her presence

created such excitement among the initiated.  Then light dawned on him,

and with it came a momentary rush of indignation.  No, indeed; no one

would have thought the Mingotts would have tried it on!

 

But they had; they undoubtedly had; for the low-toned comments behind

him left no doubt in Archer's mind that the young woman was May

Welland's cousin, the cousin always referred to in the family as "poor

Ellen Olenska."  Archer knew that she had suddenly arrived from Europe

a day or two previously; he had even heard from Miss Welland (not

disapprovingly) that she had been to see poor Ellen, who was staying

with old Mrs. Mingott.  Archer entirely approved of family solidarity,

and one of the qualities he most admired in the Mingotts was their

resolute championship of the few black sheep that their blameless stock

had produced.  There was nothing mean or ungenerous in the young man's

heart, and he was glad that his future wife should not be restrained by

false prudery from being kind (in private) to her unhappy cousin; but

to receive Countess Olenska in the family circle was a different thing

from producing her in public, at the Opera of all places, and in the

very box with the young girl whose engagement to him, Newland Archer,

was to be announced within a few weeks.  No, he felt as old Sillerton

Jackson felt; he did not think the Mingotts would have tried it on!

 

He knew, of course, that whatever man dared (within Fifth Avenue's

limits) that old Mrs. Manson Mingott, the Matriarch of the line, would

dare.  He had always admired the high and mighty old lady, who, in

spite of having been only Catherine Spicer of Staten Island, with a

father mysteriously discredited, and neither money nor position enough

to make people forget it, had allied herself with the head of the

wealthy Mingott line, married two of her daughters to "foreigners" (an

Italian marquis and an English banker), and put the crowning touch to

her audacities by building a large house of pale cream-coloured stone

(when brown sandstone seemed as much the only wear as a frock-coat in

the afternoon) in an inaccessible wilderness near the Central Park.

 

Old Mrs. Mingott's foreign daughters had become a legend.  They never

came back to see their mother, and the latter being, like many persons

of active mind and dominating will, sedentary and corpulent in her

habit, had philosophically remained at home.  But the cream-coloured

house (supposed to be modelled on the private hotels of the Parisian

aristocracy) was there as a visible proof of her moral courage; and she

throned in it, among pre-Revolutionary furniture and souvenirs of the

Tuileries of Louis Napoleon (where she had shone in her middle age), as

placidly as if there were nothing peculiar in living above

Thirty-fourth Street, or in having French windows that opened like

doors instead of sashes that pushed up.

 

Every one (including Mr. Sillerton Jackson) was agreed that old

Catherine had never had beauty--a gift which, in the eyes of New York,

justified every success, and excused a certain number of failings.

Unkind people said that, like her Imperial namesake, she had won her

way to success by strength of will and hardness of heart, and a kind of

haughty effrontery that was somehow justified by the extreme decency

and dignity of her private life.  Mr. Manson Mingott had died when she

was only twenty-eight, and had "tied up" the money with an additional

caution born of the general distrust of the Spicers; but his bold young

widow went her way fearlessly, mingled freely in foreign society,

married her daughters in heaven knew what corrupt and fashionable

circles, hobnobbed with Dukes and Ambassadors, associated familiarly

with Papists, entertained Opera singers, and was the intimate friend of

Mme. Taglioni; and all the while (as Sillerton Jackson was the first to

proclaim) there had never been a breath on her reputation; the only

respect, he always added, in which she differed from the earlier

Catherine.

 

Mrs. Manson Mingott had long since succeeded in untying her husband's

fortune, and had lived in affluence for half a century; but memories of

her early straits had made her excessively thrifty, and though, when

she bought a dress or a piece of furniture, she took care that it

should be of the best, she could not bring herself to spend much on the

transient pleasures of the table.  Therefore, for totally different

reasons, her food was as poor as Mrs. Archer's, and her wines did

nothing to redeem it.  Her relatives considered that the penury of her

table discredited the Mingott name, which had always been associated

with good living; but people continued to come to her in spite of the

"made dishes" and flat champagne, and in reply to the remonstrances of

her son Lovell (who tried to retrieve the family credit by having the

best chef in New York) she used to say laughingly:  "What's the use of

two good cooks in one family, now that I've married the girls and can't

eat sauces?"

 

Newland Archer, as he mused on these things, had once more turned his

eyes toward the Mingott box.  He saw that Mrs. Welland and her

sister-in-law were facing their semicircle of critics with the

Mingottian APLOMB which old Catherine had inculcated in all her tribe,

and that only May Welland betrayed, by a heightened colour (perhaps due

to the knowledge that he was watching her) a sense of the gravity of

the situation.  As for the cause of the commotion, she sat gracefully

in her corner of the box, her eyes fixed on the stage, and revealing,

as she leaned forward, a little more shoulder and bosom than New York

was accustomed to seeing, at least in ladies who had reasons for

wishing to pass unnoticed.

 

Few things seemed to Newland Archer more awful than an offence against

"Taste," that far-off divinity of whom "Form" was the mere visible

representative and vicegerent.  Madame Olenska's pale and serious face

appealed to his fancy as suited to the occasion and to her unhappy

situation; but the way her dress (which had no tucker) sloped away from

her thin shoulders shocked and troubled him.  He hated to think of May

Welland's being exposed to the influence of a young woman so careless

of the dictates of Taste.

 

"After all," he heard one of the younger men begin behind him

(everybody talked through the Mephistopheles-and-Martha scenes), "after

all, just WHAT happened?"

 

"Well--she left him; nobody attempts to deny that."

 

"He's an awful brute, isn't he?" continued the young enquirer, a candid

Thorley, who was evidently preparing to enter the lists as the lady's

champion.

 

"The very worst; I knew him at Nice," said Lawrence Lefferts with

authority.  "A half-paralysed white sneering fellow--rather handsome

head, but eyes with a lot of lashes.  Well, I'll tell you the sort:

when he wasn't with women he was collecting china.  Paying any price

for both, I understand."

 

There was a general laugh, and the young champion said:  "Well,

then----?"

 

"Well, then; she bolted with his secretary."

 

"Oh, I see."  The champion's face fell.

 

"It didn't last long, though: I heard of her a few months later living

alone in Venice.  I believe Lovell Mingott went out to get her.  He

said she was desperately unhappy.  That's all right--but this parading

her at the Opera's another thing."

 

"Perhaps," young Thorley hazarded, "she's too unhappy to be left at

home."

 

This was greeted with an irreverent laugh, and the youth blushed

deeply, and tried to look as if he had meant to insinuate what knowing

people called a "double entendre."

 

"Well--it's queer to have brought Miss Welland, anyhow," some one said

in a low tone, with a side-glance at Archer.

 

"Oh, that's part of the campaign: Granny's orders, no doubt," Lefferts

laughed.  "When the old lady does a thing she does it thoroughly."

 

The act was ending, and there was a general stir in the box.  Suddenly

Newland Archer felt himself impelled to decisive action.  The desire to

be the first man to enter Mrs. Mingott's box, to proclaim to the

waiting world his engagement to May Welland, and to see her through

whatever difficulties her cousin's anomalous situation might involve

her in; this impulse had abruptly overruled all scruples and

hesitations, and sent him hurrying through the red corridors to the

farther side of the house.

 

As he entered the box his eyes met Miss Welland's, and he saw that she

had instantly understood his motive, though the family dignity which

both considered so high a virtue would not permit her to tell him so.

The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications

and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each other

without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any

explanation would have done.  Her eyes said:  "You see why Mamma

brought me," and his answered:  "I would not for the world have had you

stay away."

 

"You know my niece Countess Olenska?" Mrs. Welland enquired as she

shook hands with her future son-in-law.  Archer bowed without extending

his hand, as was the custom on being introduced to a lady; and Ellen

Olenska bent her head slightly, keeping her own pale-gloved hands

clasped on her huge fan of eagle feathers.  Having greeted Mrs. Lovell

Mingott, a large blonde lady in creaking satin, he sat down beside his

betrothed, and said in a low tone:  "I hope you've told Madame Olenska

that we're engaged?  I want everybody to know--I want you to let me

announce it this evening at the ball."

 

Miss Welland's face grew rosy as the dawn, and she looked at him with

radiant eyes.  "If you can persuade Mamma," she said; "but why should

we change what is already settled?"  He made no answer but that which

his eyes returned, and she added, still more confidently smiling:

"Tell my cousin yourself: I give you leave.  She says she used to play

with you when you were children."

 

She made way for him by pushing back her chair, and promptly, and a

little ostentatiously, with the desire that the whole house should see

what he was doing, Archer seated himself at the Countess Olenska's side.

 

"We DID use to play together, didn't we?" she asked, turning her grave

eyes to his.  "You were a horrid boy, and kissed me once behind a door;

but it was your cousin Vandie Newland, who never looked at me, that I

was in love with."  Her glance swept the horse-shoe curve of boxes.

"Ah, how this brings it all back to me--I see everybody here in

knickerbockers and pantalettes," she said, with her trailing slightly

foreign accent, her eyes returning to his face.

 

Agreeable as their expression was, the young man was shocked that they

should reflect so unseemly a picture of the august tribunal before

which, at that very moment, her case was being tried.  Nothing could be

in worse taste than misplaced flippancy; and he answered somewhat

stiffly:  "Yes, you have been away a very long time."

 

"Oh, centuries and centuries; so long," she said, "that I'm sure I'm

dead and buried, and this dear old place is heaven;" which, for reasons

he could not define, struck Newland Archer as an even more

disrespectful way of describing New York society.

 

 

 

III.

 

It invariably happened in the same way.

 

Mrs. Julius Beaufort, on the night of her annual ball, never failed to

appear at the Opera; indeed, she always gave her ball on an Opera night

in order to emphasise her complete superiority to household cares, and

her possession of a staff of servants competent to organise every

detail of the entertainment in her absence.

 

The Beauforts' house was one of the few in New York that possessed a

ball-room (it antedated even Mrs. Manson Mingott's and the Headly

Chiverses'); and at a time when it was beginning to be thought

"provincial" to put a "crash" over the drawing-room floor and move the

furniture upstairs, the possession of a ball-room that was used for no

other purpose, and left for three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the

year to shuttered darkness, with its gilt chairs stacked in a corner

and its chandelier in a bag; this undoubted superiority was felt to

compensate for whatever was regrettable in the Beaufort past.

 

Mrs. Archer, who was fond of coining her social philosophy into axioms,

had once said:  "We all have our pet common people--" and though the

phrase was a daring one, its truth was secretly admitted in many an

exclusive bosom.  But the Beauforts were not exactly common; some

people said they were even worse.  Mrs. Beaufort belonged indeed to one

of America's most honoured families; she had been the lovely Regina

Dallas (of the South Carolina branch), a penniless beauty introduced to

New York society by her cousin, the imprudent Medora Manson, who was

always doing the wrong thing from the right motive.  When one was

related to the Mansons and the Rushworths one had a "droit de cite" (as

Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who had frequented the Tuileries, called it) in

New York society; but did one not forfeit it in marrying Julius

Beaufort?

 

The question was: who was Beaufort?  He passed for an Englishman, was

agreeable, handsome, ill-tempered, hospitable and witty.  He had come

to America with letters of recommendation from old Mrs. Manson

Mingott's English son-in-law, the banker, and had speedily made himself

an important position in the world of affairs; but his habits were

dissipated, his tongue was bitter, his antecedents were mysterious; and

when Medora Manson announced her cousin's engagement to him it was felt

to be one more act of folly in poor Medora's long record of imprudences.

 

But folly is as often justified of her children as wisdom, and two

years after young Mrs. Beaufort's marriage it was admitted that she had

the most distinguished house in New York.  No one knew exactly how the

miracle was accomplished.  She was indolent, passive, the caustic even

called her dull; but dressed like an idol, hung with pearls, growing

younger and blonder and more beautiful each year, she throned in Mr.

Beaufort's heavy brown-stone palace, and drew all the world there

without lifting her jewelled little finger.  The knowing people said it

was Beaufort himself who trained the servants, taught the chef new

dishes, told the gardeners what hot-house flowers to grow for the

dinner-table and the drawing-rooms, selected the guests, brewed the

after-dinner punch and dictated the little notes his wife wrote to her

friends.  If he did, these domestic activities were privately

performed, and he presented to the world the appearance of a careless

and hospitable millionaire strolling into his own drawing-room with the

detachment of an invited guest, and saying:  "My wife's gloxinias are a

marvel, aren't they?  I believe she gets them out from Kew."

 

Mr. Beaufort's secret, people were agreed, was the way he carried

things off.  It was all very well to whisper that he had been "helped"

to leave England by the international banking-house in which he had

been employed; he carried off that rumour as easily as the rest--though

New York's business conscience was no less sensitive than its moral

standard--he carried everything before him, and all New York into his

drawing-rooms, and for over twenty years now people had said they were

"going to the Beauforts'" with the same tone of security as if they had

said they were going to Mrs. Manson Mingott's, and with the added

satisfaction of knowing they would get hot canvas-back ducks and

vintage wines, instead of tepid Veuve Clicquot without a year and

warmed-up croquettes from Philadelphia.

 

Mrs. Beaufort, then, had as usual appeared in her box just before the

Jewel Song; and when, again as usual, she rose at the end of the third

act, drew her opera cloak about her lovely shoulders, and disappeared,

New York knew that meant that half an hour later the ball would begin.

 

The Beaufort house was one that New Yorkers were proud to show to

foreigners, especially on the night of the annual ball.  The Beauforts

had been among the first people in New York to own their own red velvet

carpet and have it rolled down the steps by their own footmen, under

their own awning, instead of hiring it with the supper and the

ball-room chairs.  They had also inaugurated the custom of letting the

ladies take their cloaks off in the hall, instead of shuffling up to

the hostess's bedroom and recurling their hair with the aid of the

gas-burner; Beaufort was understood to have said that he supposed all

his wife's friends had maids who saw to it that they were properly

coiffees when they left home.

 

Then the house had been boldly planned with a ball-room, so that,

instead of squeezing through a narrow passage to get to it (as at the

Chiverses') one marched solemnly down a vista of enfiladed

drawing-rooms (the sea-green, the crimson and the bouton d'or), seeing

from afar the many-candled lustres reflected in the polished parquetry,

and beyond that the depths of a conservatory where camellias and

tree-ferns arched their costly foliage over seats of black and gold

bamboo.

 

Newland Archer, as became a young man of his position, strolled in

somewhat late.  He had left his overcoat with the silk-stockinged

footmen (the stockings were one of Beaufort's few fatuities), had

dawdled a while in the library hung with Spanish leather and furnished

with Buhl and malachite, where a few men were chatting and putting on

their dancing-gloves, and had finally joined the line of guests whom

Mrs. Beaufort was receiving on the threshold of the crimson

drawing-room.

 

Archer was distinctly nervous.  He had not gone back to his club after

the Opera (as the young bloods usually did), but, the night being fine,

had walked for some distance up Fifth Avenue before turning back in the

direction of the Beauforts' house.  He was definitely afraid that the

Mingotts might be going too far; that, in fact, they might have Granny

Mingott's orders to bring the Countess Olenska to the ball.

 

From the tone of the club box he had perceived how grave a mistake that

would be; and, though he was more than ever determined to "see the

thing through," he felt less chivalrously eager to champion his

betrothed's cousin than before their brief talk at the Opera.

 

Wandering on to the bouton d'or drawing-room (where Beaufort had had

the audacity to hang "Love Victorious," the much-discussed nude of

Bouguereau) Archer found Mrs. Welland and her daughter standing near

the ball-room door.  Couples were already gliding over the floor

beyond: the light of the wax candles fell on revolving tulle skirts, on

girlish heads wreathed with modest blossoms, on the dashing aigrettes

and ornaments of the young married women's coiffures, and on the

glitter of highly glazed shirt-fronts and fresh glace gloves.

 

Miss Welland, evidently about to join the dancers, hung on the

threshold, her lilies-of-the-valley in her hand (she carried no other

bouquet), her face a little pale, her eyes burning with a candid

excitement.  A group of young men and girls were gathered about her,

and there was much hand-clasping, laughing and pleasantry on which Mrs.

Welland, standing slightly apart, shed the beam of a qualified

approval.  It was evident that Miss Welland was in the act of

announcing her engagement, while her mother affected the air of

parental reluctance considered suitable to the occasion.

 

Archer paused a moment.  It was at his express wish that the

announcement had been made, and yet it was not thus that he would have

wished to have his happiness known.  To proclaim it in the heat and

noise of a crowded ball-room was to rob it of the fine bloom of privacy

which should belong to things nearest the heart.  His joy was so deep

that this blurring of the surface left its essence untouched; but he

would have liked to keep the surface pure too.  It was something of a

satisfaction to find that May Welland shared this feeling.  Her eyes

fled to his beseechingly, and their look said:  "Remember, we're doing

this because it's right."

 

No appeal could have found a more immediate response in Archer's

breast; but he wished that the necessity of their action had been

represented by some ideal reason, and not simply by poor Ellen Olenska.

The group about Miss Welland made way for him with significant smiles,

and after taking his share of the felicitations he drew his betrothed

into the middle of the ball-room floor and put his arm about her waist.

 

"Now we shan't have to talk," he said, smiling into her candid eyes, as

they floated away on the soft waves of the Blue Danube.

 

She made no answer.  Her lips trembled into a smile, but the eyes

remained distant and serious, as if bent on some ineffable vision.

"Dear," Archer whispered, pressing her to him: it was borne in on him

that the first hours of being engaged, even if spent in a ball-room,

had in them something grave and sacramental.  What a new life it was

going to be, with this whiteness, radiance, goodness at one's side!

 

The dance over, the two, as became an affianced couple, wandered into

the conservatory; and sitting behind a tall screen of tree-ferns and

camellias Newland pressed her gloved hand to his lips.

 

"You see I did as you asked me to," she said.

 

"Yes: I couldn't wait," he answered smiling.  After a moment he added:

"Only I wish it hadn't had to be at a ball."

 

"Yes, I know."  She met his glance comprehendingly.  "But after

all--even here we're alone together, aren't we?"

 

"Oh, dearest--always!" Archer cried.

 

Evidently she was always going to understand; she was always going to

say the right thing.  The discovery made the cup of his bliss overflow,

and he went on gaily:  "The worst of it is that I want to kiss you and

I can't."  As he spoke he took a swift glance about the conservatory,

assured himself of their momentary privacy, and catching her to him

laid a fugitive pressure on her lips.  To counteract the audacity of

this proceeding he led her to a bamboo sofa in a less secluded part of

the conservatory, and sitting down beside her broke a

lily-of-the-valley from her bouquet.  She sat silent, and the world lay

like a sunlit valley at their feet.

 

"Did you tell my cousin Ellen?" she asked presently, as if she spoke

through a dream.

 

He roused himself, and remembered that he had not done so.  Some

invincible repugnance to speak of such things to the strange foreign

woman had checked the words on his lips.

 

"No--I hadn't the chance after all," he said, fibbing hastily.

 

"Ah."  She looked disappointed, but gently resolved on gaining her

point.  "You must, then, for I didn't either; and I shouldn't like her

to think--"

 

"Of course not.  But aren't you, after all, the person to do it?"

 

She pondered on this.  "If I'd done it at the right time, yes: but now

that there's been a delay I think you must explain that I'd asked you

to tell her at the Opera, before our speaking about it to everybody

here.  Otherwise she might think I had forgotten her.  You see, she's

one of the family, and she's been away so long that she's

rather--sensitive."

 

Archer looked at her glowingly.  "Dear and great angel!  Of course I'll

tell her."  He glanced a trifle apprehensively toward the crowded

ball-room.  "But I haven't seen her yet.  Has she come?"

 

"No; at the last minute she decided not to."

 

"At the last minute?" he echoed, betraying his surprise that she should

ever have considered the alternative possible.

 

"Yes.  She's awfully fond of dancing," the young girl answered simply.

"But suddenly she made up her mind that her dress wasn't smart enough

for a ball, though we thought it so lovely; and so my aunt had to take

her home."

 

"Oh, well--" said Archer with happy indifference.  Nothing about his

betrothed pleased him more than her resolute determination to carry to

its utmost limit that ritual of ignoring the "unpleasant" in which they

had both been brought up.

 

"She knows as well as I do," he reflected, "the real reason of her

cousin's staying away; but I shall never let her see by the least sign

that I am conscious of there being a shadow of a shade on poor Ellen

Olenska's reputation."

 

 

 

IV.

 

In the course of the next day the first of the usual betrothal visits

were exchanged.  The New York ritual was precise and inflexible in such

matters; and in conformity with it Newland Archer first went with his

mother and sister to call on Mrs. Welland, after which he and Mrs.

Welland and May drove out to old Mrs. Manson Mingott's to receive that

venerable ancestress's blessing.

 

A visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott was always an amusing episode to the

young man.  The house in itself was already an historic document,

though not, of course, as venerable as certain other old family houses

in University Place and lower Fifth Avenue.  Those were of the purest

1830, with a grim harmony of cabbage-rose-garlanded carpets, rosewood

consoles, round-arched fire-places with black marble mantels, and

immense glazed book-cases of mahogany; whereas old Mrs. Mingott, who

had built her house later, had bodily cast out the massive furniture of

her prime, and mingled with the Mingott heirlooms the frivolous

upholstery of the Second Empire.  It was her habit to sit in a window

of her sitting-room on the ground floor, as if watching calmly for life

and fashion to flow northward to her solitary doors.  She seemed in no

hurry to have them come, for her patience was equalled by her

confidence.  She was sure that presently the hoardings, the quarries,

the one-story saloons, the wooden green-houses in ragged gardens, and

the rocks from which goats surveyed the scene, would vanish before the

advance of residences as stately as her own--perhaps (for she was an

impartial woman) even statelier; and that the cobble-stones over which

the old clattering omnibuses bumped would be replaced by smooth

asphalt, such as people reported having seen in Paris.  Meanwhile, as

every one she cared to see came to HER (and she could fill her rooms as

easily as the Beauforts, and without adding a single item to the menu

of her suppers), she did not suffer from her geographic isolation.

 

The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle

life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump

active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something

as vast and august as a natural phenomenon.  She had accepted this

submergence as philosophically as all her other trials, and now, in

extreme old age, was rewarded by presenting to her mirror an almost

unwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the centre of which

the traces of a small face survived as if awaiting excavation.  A

flight of smooth double chins led down to the dizzy depths of a

still-snowy bosom veiled in snowy muslins that were held in place by a

miniature portrait of the late Mr. Mingott; and around and below, wave

after wave of black silk surged away over the edges of a capacious

armchair, with two tiny white hands poised like gulls on the surface of

the billows.

 

The burden of Mrs. Manson Mingott's flesh had long since made it

impossible for her to go up and down stairs, and with characteristic

independence she had made her reception rooms upstairs and established

herself (in flagrant violation of all the New York proprieties) on the

ground floor of her house; so that, as you sat in her sitting-room

window with her, you caught (through a door that was always open, and a

looped-back yellow damask portiere) the unexpected vista of a bedroom

with a huge low bed upholstered like a sofa, and a toilet-table with

frivolous lace flounces and a gilt-framed mirror.

 

Her visitors were startled and fascinated by the foreignness of this

arrangement, which recalled scenes in French fiction, and architectural

incentives to immorality such as the simple American had never dreamed

of.  That was how women with lovers lived in the wicked old societies,

in apartments with all the rooms on one floor, and all the indecent

propinquities that their novels described.  It amused Newland Archer

(who had secretly situated the love-scenes of "Monsieur de Camors" in

Mrs. Mingott's bedroom) to picture her blameless life led in the

stage-setting of adultery; but he said to himself, with considerable

admiration, that if a lover had been what she wanted, the intrepid

woman would have had him too.

 

To the general relief the Countess Olenska was not present in her

grandmother's drawing-room during the visit of the betrothed couple.

Mrs. Mingott said she had gone out; which, on a day of such glaring

sunlight, and at the "shopping hour," seemed in itself an indelicate

thing for a compromised woman to do.  But at any rate it spared them

the embarrassment of her presence, and the faint shadow that her

unhappy past might seem to shed on their radiant future.  The visit

went off successfully, as was to have been expected.  Old Mrs. Mingott

was delighted with the engagement, which, being long foreseen by

watchful relatives, had been carefully passed upon in family council;

and the engagement ring, a large thick sapphire set in invisible claws,

met with her unqualified admiration.

 

"It's the new setting: of course it shows the stone beautifully, but it

looks a little bare to old-fashioned eyes," Mrs. Welland had explained,

with a conciliatory side-glance at her future son-in-law.

 

"Old-fashioned eyes?  I hope you don't mean mine, my dear?  I like all

the novelties," said the ancestress, lifting the stone to her small

bright orbs, which no glasses had ever disfigured.  "Very handsome,"

she added, returning the jewel; "very liberal.  In my time a cameo set

in pearls was thought sufficient.  But it's the hand that sets off the

ring, isn't it, my dear Mr. Archer?" and she waved one of her tiny

hands, with small pointed nails and rolls of aged fat encircling the

wrist like ivory bracelets.  "Mine was modelled in Rome by the great

Ferrigiani.  You should have May's done: no doubt he'll have it done,

my child.  Her hand is large--it's these modern sports that spread the

joints--but the skin is white.--And when's the wedding to be?" she

broke off, fixing her eyes on Archer's face.

 

"Oh--" Mrs. Welland murmured, while the young man, smiling at his

betrothed, replied:  "As soon as ever it can, if only you'll back me

up, Mrs. Mingott."

 

"We must give them time to get to know each other a little better,

mamma," Mrs. Welland interposed, with the proper affectation of

reluctance; to which the ancestress rejoined:  "Know each other?

Fiddlesticks!  Everybody in New York has always known everybody.  Let

the young man have his way, my dear; don't wait till the bubble's off

the wine.  Marry them before Lent; I may catch pneumonia any winter

now, and I want to give the wedding-breakfast."

 

These successive statements were received with the proper expressions

of amusement, incredulity and gratitude; and the visit was breaking up

in a vein of mild pleasantry when the door opened to admit the Countess

Olenska, who entered in bonnet and mantle followed by the unexpected

figure of Julius Beaufort.

 

There was a cousinly murmur of pleasure between the ladies, and Mrs.

Mingott held out Ferrigiani's model to the banker.  "Ha!  Beaufort,

this is a rare favour!" (She had an odd foreign way of addressing men

by their surnames.)

 

"Thanks.  I wish it might happen oftener," said the visitor in his easy

arrogant way.  "I'm generally so tied down; but I met the Countess

Ellen in Madison Square, and she was good enough to let me walk home

with her."

 

"Ah--I hope the house will be gayer, now that Ellen's here!" cried Mrs.

Mingott with a glorious effrontery.  "Sit down--sit down, Beaufort:

push up the yellow armchair; now I've got you I want a good gossip.  I

hear your ball was magnificent; and I understand you invited Mrs.

Lemuel Struthers?  Well--I've a curiosity to see the woman myself."

 

She had forgotten her relatives, who were drifting out into the hall

under Ellen Olenska's guidance.  Old Mrs. Mingott had always professed

a great admiration for Julius Beaufort, and there was a kind of kinship

in their cool domineering way and their short-cuts through the

conventions.  Now she was eagerly curious to know what had decided the

Beauforts to invite (for the first time) Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, the

widow of Struthers's Shoe-polish, who had returned the previous year

from a long initiatory sojourn in Europe to lay siege to the tight

little citadel of New York.  "Of course if you and Regina invite her

the thing is settled.  Well, we need new blood and new money--and I

hear she's still very good-looking," the carnivorous old lady declared.

 

In the hall, while Mrs. Welland and May drew on their furs, Archer saw

that the Countess Olenska was looking at him with a faintly questioning

smile.

 

"Of course you know already--about May and me," he said, answering her

look with a shy laugh.  "She scolded me for not giving you the news

last night at the Opera: I had her orders to tell you that we were

engaged--but I couldn't, in that crowd."

 

The smile passed from Countess Olenska's eyes to her lips: she looked

younger, more like the bold brown Ellen Mingott of his boyhood.  "Of

course I know; yes.  And I'm so glad.  But one doesn't tell such things

first in a crowd."  The ladies were on the threshold and she held out

her hand.

 

"Good-bye; come and see me some day," she said, still looking at Archer.

 

In the carriage, on the way down Fifth Avenue, they talked pointedly of

Mrs. Mingott, of her age, her spirit, and all her wonderful attributes.

No one alluded to Ellen Olenska; but Archer knew that Mrs. Welland was

thinking:  "It's a mistake for Ellen to be seen, the very day after her

arrival, parading up Fifth Avenue at the crowded hour with Julius

Beaufort--" and the young man himself mentally added:  "And she ought

to know that a man who's just engaged doesn't spend his time calling on

married women.  But I daresay in the set she's lived in they do--they

never do anything else." And, in spite of the cosmopolitan views on

which he prided himself, he thanked heaven that he was a New Yorker,

and about to ally himself with one of his own kind.

 

 

 

V.

 

The next evening old Mr. Sillerton Jackson came to dine with the

Archers.

 

Mrs. Archer was a shy woman and shrank from society; but she liked to

be well-informed as to its doings.  Her old friend Mr. Sillerton

Jackson applied to the investigation of his friends' affairs the

patience of a collector and the science of a naturalist; and his

sister, Miss Sophy Jackson, who lived with him, and was entertained by

all the people who could not secure her much-sought-after brother,

brought home bits of minor gossip that filled out usefully the gaps in

his picture.

 

Therefore, whenever anything happened that Mrs. Archer wanted to know

about, she asked Mr. Jackson to dine; and as she honoured few people

with her invitations, and as she and her daughter Janey were an

excellent audience, Mr. Jackson usually came himself instead of sending

his sister.  If he could have dictated all the conditions, he would

have chosen the evenings when Newland was out; not because the young

man was uncongenial to him (the two got on capitally at their club) but

because the old anecdotist sometimes felt, on Newland's part, a

tendency to weigh his evidence that the ladies of the family never

showed.

 

Mr. Jackson, if perfection had been attainable on earth, would also

have asked that Mrs. Archer's food should be a little better.  But then

New York, as far back as the mind of man could travel, had been divided

into the two great fundamental groups of the Mingotts and Mansons and

all their clan, who cared about eating and clothes and money, and the

Archer-Newland-van-der-Luyden tribe, who were devoted to travel,

horticulture and the best fiction, and looked down on the grosser forms

of pleasure.

 

You couldn't have everything, after all.  If you dined with the Lovell

Mingotts you got canvas-back and terrapin and vintage wines; at Adeline

Archer's you could talk about Alpine scenery and "The Marble Faun"; and

luckily the Archer Madeira had gone round the Cape.  Therefore when a

friendly summons came from Mrs. Archer, Mr. Jackson, who was a true

eclectic, would usually say to his sister:  "I've been a little gouty

since my last dinner at the Lovell Mingotts'--it will do me good to

diet at Adeline's."

 

Mrs. Archer, who had long been a widow, lived with her son and daughter

in West Twenty-eighth Street.  An upper floor was dedicated to Newland,

and the two women squeezed themselves into narrower quarters below.  In

an unclouded harmony of tastes and interests they cultivated ferns in

Wardian cases, made macrame lace and wool embroidery on linen,

collected American revolutionary glazed ware, subscribed to "Good

Words," and read Ouida's novels for the sake of the Italian atmosphere.

(They preferred those about peasant life, because of the descriptions

of scenery and the pleasanter sentiments, though in general they liked

novels about people in society, whose motives and habits were more

comprehensible, spoke severely of Dickens, who "had never drawn a

gentleman," and considered Thackeray less at home in the great world

than Bulwer--who, however, was beginning to be thought old-fashioned.)

Mrs. and Miss Archer were both great lovers of scenery.  It was what

they principally sought and admired on their occasional travels abroad;

considering architecture and painting as subjects for men, and chiefly

for learned persons who read Ruskin.  Mrs. Archer had been born a

Newland, and mother and daughter, who were as like as sisters, were

both, as people said, "true Newlands"; tall, pale, and slightly

round-shouldered, with long noses, sweet smiles and a kind of drooping

distinction like that in certain faded Reynolds portraits.  Their

physical resemblance would have been complete if an elderly embonpoint

had not stretched Mrs. Archer's black brocade, while Miss Archer's

brown and purple poplins hung, as the years went on, more and more

slackly on her virgin frame.

 

Mentally, the likeness between them, as Newland was aware, was less

complete than their identical mannerisms often made it appear.  The

long habit of living together in mutually dependent intimacy had given

them the same vocabulary, and the same habit of beginning their phrases

"Mother thinks" or "Janey thinks," according as one or the other wished

to advance an opinion of her own; but in reality, while Mrs. Archer's

serene unimaginativeness rested easily in the accepted and familiar,

Janey was subject to starts and aberrations of fancy welling up from

springs of suppressed romance.

 

Mother and daughter adored each other and revered their son and

brother; and Archer loved them with a tenderness made compunctious and

uncritical by the sense of their exaggerated admiration, and by his

secret satisfaction in it.  After all, he thought it a good thing for a

man to have his authority respected in his own house, even if his sense

of humour sometimes made him question the force of his mandate.

 

On this occasion the young man was very sure that Mr. Jackson would

rather have had him dine out; but he had his own reasons for not doing

so.

 

Of course old Jackson wanted to talk about Ellen Olenska, and of course

Mrs. Archer and Janey wanted to hear what he had to tell.  All three

would be slightly embarrassed by Newland's presence, now that his

prospective relation to the Mingott clan had been made known; and the

young man waited with an amused curiosity to see how they would turn

the difficulty.

 

They began, obliquely, by talking about Mrs. Lemuel Struthers.

 

"It's a pity the Beauforts asked her," Mrs. Archer said gently.  "But

then Regina always does what he tells her; and BEAUFORT--"

 

"Certain nuances escape Beaufort," said Mr. Jackson, cautiously

inspecting the broiled shad, and wondering for the thousandth time why

Mrs. Archer's cook always burnt the roe to a cinder. (Newland, who had

long shared his wonder, could always detect it in the older man's

expression of melancholy disapproval.)

 

"Oh, necessarily; Beaufort is a vulgar man," said Mrs. Archer.  "My

grandfather Newland always used to say to my mother:  'Whatever you do,

don't let that fellow Beaufort be introduced to the girls.'  But at

least he's had the advantage of associating with gentlemen; in England

too, they say.  It's all very mysterious--" She glanced at Janey and

paused.  She and Janey knew every fold of the Beaufort mystery, but in

public Mrs. Archer continued to assume that the subject was not one for

the unmarried.

 

"But this Mrs. Struthers," Mrs. Archer continued; "what did you say SHE

was, Sillerton?"

 

"Out of a mine: or rather out of the saloon at the head of the pit.

Then with Living Wax-Works, touring New England.  After the police

broke THAT up, they say she lived--"  Mr. Jackson in his turn glanced

at Janey, whose eyes began to bulge from under her prominent lids.

There were still hiatuses for her in Mrs. Struthers's past.

 

"Then," Mr. Jackson continued (and Archer saw he was wondering why no

one had told the butler never to slice cucumbers with a steel knife),

"then Lemuel Struthers came along.  They say his advertiser used the

girl's head for the shoe-polish posters; her hair's intensely black,

you know--the Egyptian style.  Anyhow, he--eventually--married her."

There were volumes of innuendo in the way the "eventually" was spaced,

and each syllable given its due stress.

 

"Oh, well--at the pass we've come to nowadays, it doesn't matter," said

Mrs. Archer indifferently.  The ladies were not really interested in

Mrs. Struthers just then; the subject of Ellen Olenska was too fresh

and too absorbing to them.  Indeed, Mrs. Struthers's name had been

introduced by Mrs. Archer only that she might presently be able to say:

"And Newland's new cousin--Countess Olenska?  Was SHE at the ball too?"

 

There was a faint touch of sarcasm in the reference to her son, and

Archer knew it and had expected it.  Even Mrs. Archer, who was seldom

unduly pleased with human events, had been altogether glad of her son's

engagement. ("Especially after that silly business with Mrs.

Rushworth," as she had remarked to Janey, alluding to what had once

seemed to Newland a tragedy of which his soul would always bear the

scar.)

 

There was no better match in New York than May Welland, look at the

question from whatever point you chose.  Of course such a marriage was

only what Newland was entitled to; but young men are so foolish and

incalculable--and some women so ensnaring and unscrupulous--that it was

nothing short of a miracle to see one's only son safe past the Siren

Isle and in the haven of a blameless domesticity.

 

All this Mrs. Archer felt, and her son knew she felt; but he knew also

that she had been perturbed by the premature announcement of his

engagement, or rather by its cause; and it was for that reason--because

on the whole he was a tender and indulgent master--that he had stayed

at home that evening.  "It's not that I don't approve of the Mingotts'

esprit de corps; but why Newland's engagement should be mixed up with

that Olenska woman's comings and goings I don't see," Mrs. Archer

grumbled to Janey, the only witness of her slight lapses from perfect

sweetness.

 

She had behaved beautifully--and in beautiful behaviour she was

unsurpassed--during the call on Mrs. Welland; but Newland knew (and his

betrothed doubtless guessed) that all through the visit she and Janey

were nervously on the watch for Madame Olenska's possible intrusion;

and when they left the house together she had permitted herself to say

to her son:  "I'm thankful that Augusta Welland received us alone."

 

These indications of inward disturbance moved Archer the more that he

too felt that the Mingotts had gone a little too far.  But, as it was

against all the rules of their code that the mother and son should ever

allude to what was uppermost in their thoughts, he simply replied: "Oh,

well, there's always a phase of family parties to be gone through when

one gets engaged, and the sooner it's over the better."  At which his

mother merely pursed her lips under the lace veil that hung down from

her grey velvet bonnet trimmed with frosted grapes.

 

Her revenge, he felt--her lawful revenge--would be to "draw" Mr.

Jackson that evening on the Countess Olenska; and, having publicly done

his duty as a future member of the Mingott clan, the young man had no

objection to hearing the lady discussed in private--except that the

subject was already beginning to bore him.

 

Mr. Jackson had helped himself to a slice of the tepid filet which the

mournful butler had handed him with a look as sceptical as his own, and

had rejected the mushroom sauce after a scarcely perceptible sniff.  He

looked baffled and hungry, and Archer reflected that he would probably

finish his meal on Ellen Olenska.

 

Mr. Jackson leaned back in his chair, and glanced up at the candlelit

Archers, Newlands and van der Luydens hanging in dark frames on the

dark walls.

 

"Ah, how your grandfather Archer loved a good dinner, my dear Newland!"

he said, his eyes on the portrait of a plump full-chested young man in

a stock and a blue coat, with a view of a white-columned country-house

behind him.  "Well--well--well ... I wonder what he would have said to

all these foreign marriages!"

 

Mrs. Archer ignored the allusion to the ancestral cuisine and Mr.

Jackson continued with deliberation: "No, she was NOT at the ball."

 

"Ah--" Mrs. Archer murmured, in a tone that implied:  "She had that

decency."

 

"Perhaps the Beauforts don't know her," Janey suggested, with her

artless malice.

 

Mr. Jackson gave a faint sip, as if he had been tasting invisible

Madeira.  "Mrs. Beaufort may not--but Beaufort certainly does, for she

was seen walking up Fifth Avenue this afternoon with him by the whole

of New York."

 

"Mercy--" moaned Mrs. Archer, evidently perceiving the uselessness of

trying to ascribe the actions of foreigners to a sense of delicacy.

 

"I wonder if she wears a round hat or a bonnet in the afternoon," Janey

speculated.  "At the Opera I know she had on dark blue velvet,

perfectly plain and flat--like a night-gown."

 

"Janey!" said her mother; and Miss Archer blushed and tried to look

audacious.

 

"It was, at any rate, in better taste not to go to the ball," Mrs.

Archer continued.

 

A spirit of perversity moved her son to rejoin:  "I don't think it was

a question of taste with her.  May said she meant to go, and then

decided that the dress in question wasn't smart enough."

 

Mrs. Archer smiled at this confirmation of her inference.  "Poor

Ellen," she simply remarked; adding compassionately:  "We must always

bear in mind what an eccentric bringing-up Medora Manson gave her.

What can you expect of a girl who was allowed to wear black satin at

her coming-out ball?"

 

"Ah--don't I remember her in it!" said Mr. Jackson; adding:  "Poor

girl!" in the tone of one who, while enjoying the memory, had fully

understood at the time what the sight portended.

 

"It's odd," Janey remarked, "that she should have kept such an ugly

name as Ellen.  I should have changed it to Elaine."  She glanced about

the table to see the effect of this.

 

Her brother laughed.  "Why Elaine?"

 

"I don't know; it sounds more--more Polish," said Janey, blushing.

 

"It sounds more conspicuous; and that can hardly be what she wishes,"

said Mrs. Archer distantly.

 

"Why not?" broke in her son, growing suddenly argumentative.  "Why

shouldn't she be conspicuous if she chooses?  Why should she slink

about as if it were she who had disgraced herself?  She's 'poor Ellen'

certainly, because she had the bad luck to make a wretched marriage;

but I don't see that that's a reason for hiding her head as if she were

the culprit."

 

"That, I suppose," said Mr. Jackson, speculatively, "is the line the

Mingotts mean to take."

 

The young man reddened.  "I didn't have to wait for their cue, if

that's what you mean, sir.  Madame Olenska has had an unhappy life:

that doesn't make her an outcast."

 

"There are rumours," began Mr. Jackson, glancing at Janey.

 

"Oh, I know: the secretary," the young man took him up.  "Nonsense,

mother; Janey's grown-up.  They say, don't they," he went on, "that the

secretary helped her to get away from her brute of a husband, who kept

her practically a prisoner?  Well, what if he did?  I hope there isn't

a man among us who wouldn't have done the same in such a case."

 

Mr. Jackson glanced over his shoulder to say to the sad butler:

"Perhaps ... that sauce ... just a little, after all--"; then, having

helped himself, he remarked: "I'm told she's looking for a house.  She

means to live here."

 

"I hear she means to get a divorce," said Janey boldly.

 

"I hope she will!" Archer exclaimed.

 

The word had fallen like a bombshell in the pure and tranquil

atmosphere of the Archer dining-room.  Mrs. Archer raised her delicate

eye-brows in the particular curve that signified:  "The butler--" and

the young man, himself mindful of the bad taste of discussing such

intimate matters in public, hastily branched off into an account of his

visit to old Mrs. Mingott.

 

After dinner, according to immemorial custom, Mrs. Archer and Janey

trailed their long silk draperies up to the drawing-room, where, while

the gentlemen smoked below stairs, they sat beside a Carcel lamp with

an engraved globe, facing each other across a rosewood work-table with

a green silk bag under it, and stitched at the two ends of a tapestry

band of field-flowers destined to adorn an "occasional" chair in the

drawing-room of young Mrs. Newland Archer.

 

While this rite was in progress in the drawing-room, Archer settled Mr.

Jackson in an armchair near the fire in the Gothic library and handed

him a cigar.  Mr. Jackson sank into the armchair with satisfaction, lit

his cigar with perfect confidence (it was Newland who bought them), and

stretching his thin old ankles to the coals, said:  "You say the

secretary merely helped her to get away, my dear fellow?  Well, he was

still helping her a year later, then; for somebody met 'em living at

Lausanne together."

 

Newland reddened.  "Living together?  Well, why not?  Who had the right

to make her life over if she hadn't?  I'm sick of the hypocrisy that

would bury alive a woman of her age if her husband prefers to live with

harlots."

 

He stopped and turned away angrily to light his cigar.  "Women ought to

be free--as free as we are," he declared, making a discovery of which

he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences.

 

Mr. Sillerton Jackson stretched his ankles nearer the coals and emitted

a sardonic whistle.

 

"Well," he said after a pause, "apparently Count Olenski takes your

view; for I never heard of his having lifted a finger to get his wife

back."

 

 

 

VI.

 

That evening, after Mr. Jackson had taken himself away, and the ladies

had retired to their chintz-curtained bedroom, Newland Archer mounted

thoughtfully to his own study.  A vigilant hand had, as usual, kept the

fire alive and the lamp trimmed; and the room, with its rows and rows

of books, its bronze and steel statuettes of "The Fencers" on the

mantelpiece and its many photographs of famous pictures, looked

singularly home-like and welcoming.

 

As he dropped into his armchair near the fire his eyes rested on a

large photograph of May Welland, which the young girl had given him in

the first days of their romance, and which had now displaced all the

other portraits on the table.  With a new sense of awe he looked at the

frank forehead, serious eyes and gay innocent mouth of the young

creature whose soul's custodian he was to be.  That terrifying product

of the social system he belonged to and believed in, the young girl who

knew nothing and expected everything, looked back at him like a

stranger through May Welland's familiar features; and once more it was

borne in on him that marriage was not the safe anchorage he had been

taught to think, but a voyage on uncharted seas.

 

The case of the Countess Olenska had stirred up old settled convictions

and set them drifting dangerously through his mind.  His own

exclamation:  "Women should be free--as free as we are," struck to the

root of a problem that it was agreed in his world to regard as

non-existent.  "Nice" women, however wronged, would never claim the

kind of freedom he meant, and generous-minded men like himself were

therefore--in the heat of argument--the more chivalrously ready to

concede it to them.  Such verbal generosities were in fact only a

humbugging disguise of the inexorable conventions that tied things

together and bound people down to the old pattern.  But here he was

pledged to defend, on the part of his betrothed's cousin, conduct that,

on his own wife's part, would justify him in calling down on her all

the thunders of Church and State.  Of course the dilemma was purely

hypothetical; since he wasn't a blackguard Polish nobleman, it was

absurd to speculate what his wife's rights would be if he WERE.  But

Newland Archer was too imaginative not to feel that, in his case and

May's, the tie might gall for reasons far less gross and palpable.

What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty,

as a "decent" fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a

marriageable girl, to have no past to conceal?  What if, for some one

of the subtler reasons that would tell with both of them, they should

tire of each other, misunderstand or irritate each other?  He reviewed

his friends' marriages--the supposedly happy ones--and saw none that

answered, even remotely, to the passionate and tender comradeship which

he pictured as his permanent relation with May Welland.  He perceived

that such a picture presupposed, on her part, the experience, the

versatility, the freedom of judgment, which she had been carefully

trained not to possess; and with a shiver of foreboding he saw his

marriage becoming what most of the other marriages about him were: a

dull association of material and social interests held together by

ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.  Lawrence

Lefferts occurred to him as the husband who had most completely

realised this enviable ideal.  As became the high-priest of form, he

had formed a wife so completely to his own convenience that, in the

most conspicuous moments of his frequent love-affairs with other men's

wives, she went about in smiling unconsciousness, saying that "Lawrence

was so frightfully strict"; and had been known to blush indignantly,

and avert her gaze, when some one alluded in her presence to the fact

that Julius Beaufort (as became a "foreigner" of doubtful origin) had

what was known in New York as "another establishment."

 

Archer tried to console himself with the thought that he was not quite

such an ass as Larry Lefferts, nor May such a simpleton as poor

Gertrude; but the difference was after all one of intelligence and not

of standards.  In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic

world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but

only represented by a set of arbitrary signs; as when Mrs. Welland, who

knew exactly why Archer had pressed her to announce her daughter's

engagement at the Beaufort ball (and had indeed expected him to do no

less), yet felt obliged to simulate reluctance, and the air of having

had her hand forced, quite as, in the books on Primitive Man that

people of advanced culture were beginning to read, the savage bride is

dragged with shrieks from her parents' tent.

 

The result, of course, was that the young girl who was the centre of

this elaborate system of mystification remained the more inscrutable

for her very frankness and assurance.  She was frank, poor darling,

because she had nothing to conceal, assured because she knew of nothing

to be on her guard against; and with no better preparation than this,

she was to be plunged overnight into what people evasively called "the

facts of life."

 

The young man was sincerely but placidly in love.  He delighted in the

radiant good looks of his betrothed, in her health, her horsemanship,

her grace and quickness at games, and the shy interest in books and

ideas that she was beginning to develop under his guidance.  (She had

advanced far enough to join him in ridiculing the Idyls of the King,

but not to feel the beauty of Ulysses and the Lotus Eaters.) She was

straightforward, loyal and brave; she had a sense of humour (chiefly

proved by her laughing at HIS jokes); and he suspected, in the depths

of her innocently-gazing soul, a glow of feeling that it would be a joy

to waken.  But when he had gone the brief round of her he returned

discouraged by the thought that all this frankness and innocence were

only an artificial product.  Untrained human nature was not frank and

innocent; it was full of the twists and defences of an instinctive

guile.  And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious

purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts

and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was supposed to

be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might

exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow.

 

There was a certain triteness in these reflections: they were those

habitual to young men on the approach of their wedding day.  But they

were generally accompanied by a sense of compunction and self-abasement

of which Newland Archer felt no trace.  He could not deplore (as

Thackeray's heroes so often exasperated him by doing) that he had not a

blank page to offer his bride in exchange for the unblemished one she

was to give to him.  He could not get away from the fact that if he had

been brought up as she had they would have been no more fit to find

their way about than the Babes in the Wood; nor could he, for all his

anxious cogitations, see any honest reason (any, that is, unconnected

with his own momentary pleasure, and the passion of masculine vanity)

why his bride should not have been allowed the same freedom of

experience as himself.

 

Such questions, at such an hour, were bound to drift through his mind;

but he was conscious that their uncomfortable persistence and precision

were due to the inopportune arrival of the Countess Olenska.  Here he

was, at the very moment of his betrothal--a moment for pure thoughts

and cloudless hopes--pitchforked into a coil of scandal which raised

all the special problems he would have preferred to let lie.  "Hang

Ellen Olenska!" he grumbled, as he covered his fire and began to

undress.  He could not really see why her fate should have the least

bearing on his; yet he dimly felt that he had only just begun to

measure the risks of the championship which his engagement had forced

upon him.

 

 

A few days later the bolt fell.

 

The Lovell Mingotts had sent out cards for what was known as "a formal

dinner" (that is, three extra footmen, two dishes for each course, and

a Roman punch in the middle), and had headed their invitations with the

words "To meet the Countess Olenska," in accordance with the hospitable

American fashion, which treats strangers as if they were royalties, or

at least as their ambassadors.

 

The guests had been selected with a boldness and discrimination in

which the initiated recognised the firm hand of Catherine the Great.

Associated with such immemorial standbys as the Selfridge Merrys, who

were asked everywhere because they always had been, the Beauforts, on

whom there was a claim of relationship, and Mr. Sillerton Jackson and

his sister Sophy (who went wherever her brother told her to), were some

of the most fashionable and yet most irreproachable of the dominant

"young married" set; the Lawrence Leffertses, Mrs. Lefferts Rushworth

(the lovely widow), the Harry Thorleys, the Reggie Chiverses and young

Morris Dagonet and his wife (who was a van der Luyden).  The company

indeed was perfectly assorted, since all the members belonged to the

little inner group of people who, during the long New York season,

disported themselves together daily and nightly with apparently

undiminished zest.

 

Forty-eight hours later the unbelievable had happened; every one had

refused the Mingotts' invitation except the Beauforts and old Mr.

Jackson and his sister.  The intended slight was emphasised by the fact

that even the Reggie Chiverses, who were of the Mingott clan, were

among those inflicting it; and by the uniform wording of the notes, in

all of which the writers "regretted that they were unable to accept,"

without the mitigating plea of a "previous engagement" that ordinary

courtesy prescribed.

 

New York society was, in those days, far too small, and too scant in

its resources, for every one in it (including livery-stable-keepers,

butlers and cooks) not to know exactly on which evenings people were

free; and it was thus possible for the recipients of Mrs. Lovell

Mingott's invitations to make cruelly clear their determination not to

meet the Countess Olenska.

 

The blow was unexpected; but the Mingotts, as their way was, met it

gallantly.  Mrs. Lovell Mingott confided the case to Mrs. Welland, who

confided it to Newland Archer; who, aflame at the outrage, appealed

passionately and authoritatively to his mother; who, after a painful

period of inward resistance and outward temporising, succumbed to his

instances (as she always did), and immediately embracing his cause with

an energy redoubled by her previous hesitations, put on her grey velvet

bonnet and said:  "I'll go and see Louisa van der Luyden."

 

The New York of Newland Archer's day was a small and slippery pyramid,

in which, as yet, hardly a fissure had been made or a foothold gained.

At its base was a firm foundation of what Mrs. Archer called "plain

people"; an honourable but obscure majority of respectable families who

(as in the case of the Spicers or the Leffertses or the Jacksons) had

been raised above their level by marriage with one of the ruling clans.

People, Mrs. Archer always said, were not as particular as they used to

be; and with old Catherine Spicer ruling one end of Fifth Avenue, and

Julius Beaufort the other, you couldn't expect the old traditions to

last much longer.

 

Firmly narrowing upward from this wealthy but inconspicuous substratum

was the compact and dominant group which the Mingotts, Newlands,

Chiverses and Mansons so actively represented.  Most people imagined

them to be the very apex of the pyramid; but they themselves (at least

those of Mrs. Archer's generation) were aware that, in the eyes of the

professional genealogist, only a still smaller number of families could

lay claim to that eminence.

 

"Don't tell me," Mrs. Archer would say to her children, "all this

modern newspaper rubbish about a New York aristocracy.  If there is

one, neither the Mingotts nor the Mansons belong to it; no, nor the

Newlands or the Chiverses either.  Our grandfathers and

great-grandfathers were just respectable English or Dutch merchants,

who came to the colonies to make their fortune, and stayed here because

they did so well.  One of your great-grandfathers signed the

Declaration, and another was a general on Washington's staff, and

received General Burgoyne's sword after the battle of Saratoga.  These

are things to be proud of, but they have nothing to do with rank or

class.  New York has always been a commercial community, and there are

not more than three families in it who can claim an aristocratic origin

in the real sense of the word."

 

Mrs. Archer and her son and daughter, like every one else in New York,

knew who these privileged beings were: the Dagonets of Washington

Square, who came of an old English county family allied with the Pitts

and Foxes; the Lannings, who had intermarried with the descendants of

Count de Grasse, and the van der Luydens, direct descendants of the

first Dutch governor of Manhattan, and related by pre-revolutionary

marriages to several members of the French and British aristocracy.

 

The Lannings survived only in the person of two very old but lively

Miss Lannings, who lived cheerfully and reminiscently among family

portraits and Chippendale; the Dagonets were a considerable clan,

allied to the best names in Baltimore and Philadelphia; but the van der

Luydens, who stood above all of them, had faded into a kind of

super-terrestrial twilight, from which only two figures impressively

emerged; those of Mr. and Mrs. Henry van der Luyden.

 

Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had been Louisa Dagonet, and her mother had

been the granddaughter of Colonel du Lac, of an old Channel Island

family, who had fought under Cornwallis and had settled in Maryland,

after the war, with his bride, Lady Angelica Trevenna, fifth daughter

of the Earl of St. Austrey.  The tie between the Dagonets, the du Lacs

of Maryland, and their aristocratic Cornish kinsfolk, the Trevennas,

had always remained close and cordial.  Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden had

more than once paid long visits to the present head of the house of

Trevenna, the Duke of St.  Austrey, at his country-seat in Cornwall and

at St.  Austrey in Gloucestershire; and his Grace had frequently

announced his intention of some day returning their visit (without the

Duchess, who feared the Atlantic).

 

Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden divided their time between Trevenna, their

place in Maryland, and Skuytercliff, the great estate on the Hudson

which had been one of the colonial grants of the Dutch government to

the famous first Governor, and of which Mr. van der Luyden was still

"Patroon."  Their large solemn house in Madison Avenue was seldom

opened, and when they came to town they received in it only their most

intimate friends.

 

"I wish you would go with me, Newland," his mother said, suddenly

pausing at the door of the Brown coupe.  "Louisa is fond of you; and of

course it's on account of dear May that I'm taking this step--and also

because, if we don't all stand together, there'll be no such thing as

Society left."

 

 

 

VII.

 

Mrs. Henry van der Luyden listened in silence to her cousin Mrs.

Archer's narrative.

 

It was all very well to tell yourself in advance that Mrs. van der

Luyden was always silent, and that, though non-committal by nature and

training, she was very kind to the people she really liked.  Even

personal experience of these facts was not always a protection from the

chill that descended on one in the high-ceilinged white-walled Madison

Avenue drawing-room, with the pale brocaded armchairs so obviously

uncovered for the occasion, and the gauze still veiling the ormolu

mantel ornaments and the beautiful old carved frame of Gainsborough's

"Lady Angelica du Lac."

 

Mrs. van der Luyden's portrait by Huntington (in black velvet and

Venetian point) faced that of her lovely ancestress.  It was generally

considered "as fine as a Cabanel," and, though twenty years had elapsed

since its execution, was still "a perfect likeness." Indeed the Mrs.

van der Luyden who sat beneath it listening to Mrs. Archer might have

been the twin-sister of the fair and still youngish woman drooping

against a gilt armchair before a green rep curtain.  Mrs. van der

Luyden still wore black velvet and Venetian point when she went into

society--or rather (since she never dined out) when she threw open her

own doors to receive it.  Her fair hair, which had faded without

turning grey, was still parted in flat overlapping points on her

forehead, and the straight nose that divided her pale blue eyes was

only a little more pinched about the nostrils than when the portrait

had been painted.  She always, indeed, struck Newland Archer as having

been rather gruesomely preserved in the airless atmosphere of a

perfectly irreproachable existence, as bodies caught in glaciers keep

for years a rosy life-in-death.

 

Like all his family, he esteemed and admired Mrs. van der Luyden; but

he found her gentle bending sweetness less approachable than the

grimness of some of his mother's old aunts, fierce spinsters who said

"No" on principle before they knew what they were going to be asked.

 

Mrs. van der Luyden's attitude said neither yes nor no, but always

appeared to incline to clemency till her thin lips, wavering into the

shadow of a smile, made the almost invariable reply:  "I shall first

have to talk this over with my husband."

 

She and Mr. van der Luyden were so exactly alike that Archer often

wondered how, after forty years of the closest conjugality, two such

merged identities ever separated themselves enough for anything as

controversial as a talking-over.  But as neither had ever reached a

decision without prefacing it by this mysterious conclave, Mrs. Archer

and her son, having set forth their case, waited resignedly for the

familiar phrase.

 

Mrs. van der Luyden, however, who had seldom surprised any one, now

surprised them by reaching her long hand toward the bell-rope.

 

"I think," she said, "I should like Henry to hear what you have told

me."

 

A footman appeared, to whom she gravely added: "If Mr. van der Luyden

has finished reading the newspaper, please ask him to be kind enough to

come."

 

She said "reading the newspaper" in the tone in which a Minister's wife

might have said:  "Presiding at a Cabinet meeting"--not from any

arrogance of mind, but because the habit of a life-time, and the

attitude of her friends and relations, had led her to consider Mr. van

der Luyden's least gesture as having an almost sacerdotal importance.

 

Her promptness of action showed that she considered the case as

pressing as Mrs. Archer; but, lest she should be thought to have

committed herself in advance, she added, with the sweetest look:

"Henry always enjoys seeing you, dear Adeline; and he will wish to

congratulate Newland."

 

The double doors had solemnly reopened and between them appeared Mr.

Henry van der Luyden, tall, spare and frock-coated, with faded fair

hair, a straight nose like his wife's and the same look of frozen

gentleness in eyes that were merely pale grey instead of pale blue.

 

Mr. van der Luyden greeted Mrs. Archer with cousinly affability,

proffered to Newland low-voiced congratulations couched in the same

language as his wife's, and seated himself in one of the brocade

armchairs with the simplicity of a reigning sovereign.

 

"I had just finished reading the Times," he said, laying his long

finger-tips together.  "In town my mornings are so much occupied that I

find it more convenient to read the newspapers after luncheon."

 

"Ah, there's a great deal to be said for that plan--indeed I think my

uncle Egmont used to say he found it less agitating not to read the

morning papers till after dinner," said Mrs. Archer responsively.

 

"Yes: my good father abhorred hurry.  But now we live in a constant

rush," said Mr. van der Luyden in measured tones, looking with pleasant

deliberation about the large shrouded room which to Archer was so

complete an image of its owners.

 

"But I hope you HAD finished your reading, Henry?" his wife interposed.

 

"Quite--quite," he reassured her.

 

"Then I should like Adeline to tell you--"

 

"Oh, it's really Newland's story," said his mother smiling; and

proceeded to rehearse once more the monstrous tale of the affront

inflicted on Mrs. Lovell Mingott.

 

"Of course," she ended, "Augusta Welland and Mary Mingott both felt

that, especially in view of Newland's engagement, you and Henry OUGHT

TO KNOW."

 

"Ah--" said Mr. van der Luyden, drawing a deep breath.

 

There was a silence during which the tick of the monumental ormolu

clock on the white marble mantelpiece grew as loud as the boom of a

minute-gun.  Archer contemplated with awe the two slender faded

figures, seated side by side in a kind of viceregal rigidity,

mouthpieces of some remote ancestral authority which fate compelled

them to wield, when they would so much rather have lived in simplicity

and seclusion, digging invisible weeds out of the perfect lawns of

Skuytercliff, and playing Patience together in the evenings.

 

Mr. van der Luyden was the first to speak.

 

"You really think this is due to some--some intentional interference of

Lawrence Lefferts's?" he enquired, turning to Archer.

 

"I'm certain of it, sir.  Larry has been going it rather harder than

usual lately--if cousin Louisa won't mind my mentioning it--having

rather a stiff affair with the postmaster's wife in their village, or

some one of that sort; and whenever poor Gertrude Lefferts begins to

suspect anything, and he's afraid of trouble, he gets up a fuss of this

kind, to show how awfully moral he is, and talks at the top of his

voice about the impertinence of inviting his wife to meet people he

doesn't wish her to know.  He's simply using Madame Olenska as a

lightning-rod; I've seen him try the same thing often before."

 

"The LEFFERTSES!--" said Mrs. van der Luyden.

 

"The LEFFERTSES!--" echoed Mrs. Archer.  "What would uncle Egmont have

said of Lawrence Lefferts's pronouncing on anybody's social position?

It shows what Society has come to."

 

"We'll hope it has not quite come to that," said Mr. van der Luyden

firmly.

 

"Ah, if only you and Louisa went out more!" sighed Mrs. Archer.

 

But instantly she became aware of her mistake.  The van der Luydens

were morbidly sensitive to any criticism of their secluded existence.

They were the arbiters of fashion, the Court of last Appeal, and they

knew it, and bowed to their fate.  But being shy and retiring persons,

with no natural inclination for their part, they lived as much as

possible in the sylvan solitude of Skuytercliff, and when they came to

town, declined all invitations on the plea of Mrs. van der Luyden's

health.

 

Newland Archer came to his mother's rescue.  "Everybody in New York

knows what you and cousin Louisa represent.  That's why Mrs. Mingott

felt she ought not to allow this slight on Countess Olenska to pass

without consulting you."

 

Mrs. van der Luyden glanced at her husband, who glanced back at her.

 

"It is the principle that I dislike," said Mr. van der Luyden.  "As

long as a member of a well-known family is backed up by that family it

should be considered--final."

 

"It seems so to me," said his wife, as if she were producing a new

thought.

 

"I had no idea," Mr. van der Luyden continued, "that things had come to

such a pass."  He paused, and looked at his wife again.  "It occurs to

me, my dear, that the Countess Olenska is already a sort of

relation--through Medora Manson's first husband.  At any rate, she will

be when Newland marries."  He turned toward the young man.  "Have you

read this morning's Times, Newland?"

 

"Why, yes, sir," said Archer, who usually tossed off half a dozen

papers with his morning coffee.

 

Husband and wife looked at each other again.  Their pale eyes clung

together in prolonged and serious consultation; then a faint smile

fluttered over Mrs. van der Luyden's face.  She had evidently guessed

and approved.

 

Mr. van der Luyden turned to Mrs. Archer.  "If Louisa's health allowed

her to dine out--I wish you would say to Mrs. Lovell Mingott--she and I

would have been happy to--er--fill the places of the Lawrence

Leffertses at her dinner."  He paused to let the irony of this sink in.

"As you know, this is impossible."  Mrs. Archer sounded a sympathetic

assent.  "But Newland tells me he has read this morning's Times;

therefore he has probably seen that Louisa's relative, the Duke of St.

Austrey, arrives next week on the Russia.  He is coming to enter his

new sloop, the Guinevere, in next summer's International Cup Race; and

also to have a little canvasback shooting at Trevenna."  Mr. van der

Luyden paused again, and continued with increasing benevolence:

"Before taking him down to Maryland we are inviting a few friends to

meet him here--only a little dinner--with a reception afterward.  I am

sure Louisa will be as glad as I am if Countess Olenska will let us

include her among our guests."  He got up, bent his long body with a

stiff friendliness toward his cousin, and added:  "I think I have

Louisa's authority for saying that she will herself leave the

invitation to dine when she drives out presently: with our cards--of

course with our cards."

 

Mrs. Archer, who knew this to be a hint that the seventeen-hand

chestnuts which were never kept waiting were at the door, rose with a

hurried murmur of thanks.  Mrs. van der Luyden beamed on her with the

smile of Esther interceding with Ahasuerus; but her husband raised a

protesting hand.

 

"There is nothing to thank me for, dear Adeline; nothing whatever.

This kind of thing must not happen in New York; it shall not, as long

as I can help it," he pronounced with sovereign gentleness as he

steered his cousins to the door.

 

Two hours later, every one knew that the great C-spring barouche in

which Mrs. van der Luyden took the air at all seasons had been seen at

old Mrs. Mingott's door, where a large square envelope was handed in;

and that evening at the Opera Mr. Sillerton Jackson was able to state

that the envelope contained a card inviting the Countess Olenska to the

dinner which the van der Luydens were giving the following week for

their cousin, the Duke of St. Austrey.

 

Some of the younger men in the club box exchanged a smile at this

announcement, and glanced sideways at Lawrence Lefferts, who sat

carelessly in the front of the box, pulling his long fair moustache,

and who remarked with authority, as the soprano paused:  "No one but

Patti ought to attempt the Sonnambula."

 

 

 

VIII.

 

It was generally agreed in New York that the Countess Olenska had "lost

her looks."

 

She had appeared there first, in Newland Archer's boyhood, as a

brilliantly pretty little girl of nine or ten, of whom people said that

she "ought to be painted." Her parents had been continental wanderers,

and after a roaming babyhood she had lost them both, and been taken in

charge by her aunt, Medora Manson, also a wanderer, who was herself

returning to New York to "settle down."

 

Poor Medora, repeatedly widowed, was always coming home to settle down

(each time in a less expensive house), and bringing with her a new

husband or an adopted child; but after a few months she invariably

parted from her husband or quarrelled with her ward, and, having got

rid of her house at a loss, set out again on her wanderings.  As her

mother had been a Rushworth, and her last unhappy marriage had linked

her to one of the crazy Chiverses, New York looked indulgently on her

eccentricities; but when she returned with her little orphaned niece,

whose parents had been popular in spite of their regrettable taste for

travel, people thought it a pity that the pretty child should be in

such hands.

 

Every one was disposed to be kind to little Ellen Mingott, though her

dusky red cheeks and tight curls gave her an air of gaiety that seemed

unsuitable in a child who should still have been in black for her

parents.  It was one of the misguided Medora's many peculiarities to

flout the unalterable rules that regulated American mourning, and when

she stepped from the steamer her family were scandalised to see that

the crape veil she wore for her own brother was seven inches shorter

than those of her sisters-in-law, while little Ellen was in crimson

merino and amber beads, like a gipsy foundling.

 

But New York had so long resigned itself to Medora that only a few old

ladies shook their heads over Ellen's gaudy clothes, while her other

relations fell under the charm of her high colour and high spirits.

She was a fearless and familiar little thing, who asked disconcerting

questions, made precocious comments, and possessed outlandish arts,

such as dancing a Spanish shawl dance and singing Neapolitan love-songs

to a guitar.  Under the direction of her aunt (whose real name was Mrs.

Thorley Chivers, but who, having received a Papal title, had resumed

her first husband's patronymic, and called herself the Marchioness

Manson, because in Italy she could turn it into Manzoni) the little

girl received an expensive but incoherent education, which included

"drawing from the model," a thing never dreamed of before, and playing

the piano in quintets with professional musicians.

 

Of course no good could come of this; and when, a few years later, poor

Chivers finally died in a madhouse, his widow (draped in strange weeds)

again pulled up stakes and departed with Ellen, who had grown into a

tall bony girl with conspicuous eyes.  For some time no more was heard

of them; then news came of Ellen's marriage to an immensely rich Polish

nobleman of legendary fame, whom she had met at a ball at the

Tuileries, and who was said to have princely establishments in Paris,

Nice and Florence, a yacht at Cowes, and many square miles of shooting

in Transylvania.  She disappeared in a kind of sulphurous apotheosis,

and when a few years later Medora again came back to New York, subdued,

impoverished, mourning a third husband, and in quest of a still smaller

house, people wondered that her rich niece had not been able to do

something for her.  Then came the news that Ellen's own marriage had

ended in disaster, and that she was herself returning home to seek rest

and oblivion among her kinsfolk.

 

These things passed through Newland Archer's mind a week later as he

watched the Countess Olenska enter the van der Luyden drawing-room on

the evening of the momentous dinner.  The occasion was a solemn one,

and he wondered a little nervously how she would carry it off.  She

came rather late, one hand still ungloved, and fastening a bracelet

about her wrist; yet she entered without any appearance of haste or

embarrassment the drawing-room in which New York's most chosen company

was somewhat awfully assembled.

 

In the middle of the room she paused, looking about her with a grave

mouth and smiling eyes; and in that instant Newland Archer rejected the

general verdict on her looks.  It was true that her early radiance was

gone.  The red cheeks had paled; she was thin, worn, a little

older-looking than her age, which must have been nearly thirty.  But

there was about her the mysterious authority of beauty, a sureness in

the carriage of the head, the movement of the eyes, which, without

being in the least theatrical, struck his as highly trained and full of

a conscious power.  At the same time she was simpler in manner than

most of the ladies present, and many people (as he heard afterward from

Janey) were disappointed that her appearance was not more

"stylish"--for stylishness was what New York most valued.  It was,

perhaps, Archer reflected, because her early vivacity had disappeared;

because she was so quiet--quiet in her movements, her voice, and the

tones of her low-pitched voice.  New York had expected something a good

deal more reasonant in a young woman with such a history.

 

The dinner was a somewhat formidable business.  Dining with the van der

Luydens was at best no light matter, and dining there with a Duke who

was their cousin was almost a religious solemnity.  It pleased Archer

to think that only an old New Yorker could perceive the shade of

difference (to New York) between being merely a Duke and being the van

der Luydens' Duke.  New York took stray noblemen calmly, and even

(except in the Struthers set) with a certain distrustful hauteur; but

when they presented such credentials as these they were received with

an old-fashioned cordiality that they would have been greatly mistaken

in ascribing solely to their standing in Debrett.  It was for just such

distinctions that the young man cherished his old New York even while

he smiled at it.

 

The van der Luydens had done their best to emphasise the importance of

the occasion.  The du Lac Sevres and the Trevenna George II plate were

out; so was the van der Luyden "Lowestoft" (East India Company) and the

Dagonet Crown Derby.  Mrs. van der Luyden looked more than ever like a

Cabanel, and Mrs. Archer, in her grandmother's seed-pearls and

emeralds, reminded her son of an Isabey miniature.  All the ladies had

on their handsomest jewels, but it was characteristic of the house and

the occasion that these were mostly in rather heavy old-fashioned

settings; and old Miss Lanning, who had been persuaded to come,

actually wore her mother's cameos and a Spanish blonde shawl.

 

The Countess Olenska was the only young woman at the dinner; yet, as

Archer scanned the smooth plump elderly faces between their diamond

necklaces and towering ostrich feathers, they struck him as curiously

immature compared with hers.  It frightened him to think what must have

gone to the making of her eyes.

 

The Duke of St. Austrey, who sat at his hostess's right, was naturally

the chief figure of the evening.  But if the Countess Olenska was less

conspicuous than had been hoped, the Duke was almost invisible.  Being

a well-bred man he had not (like another recent ducal visitor) come to

the dinner in a shooting-jacket; but his evening clothes were so shabby

and baggy, and he wore them with such an air of their being homespun,

that (with his stooping way of sitting, and the vast beard spreading

over his shirt-front) he hardly gave the appearance of being in dinner

attire.  He was short, round-shouldered, sunburnt, with a thick nose,

small eyes and a sociable smile; but he seldom spoke, and when he did

it was in such low tones that, despite the frequent silences of

expectation about the table, his remarks were lost to all but his

neighbours.

 

When the men joined the ladies after dinner the Duke went straight up

to the Countess Olenska, and they sat down in a corner and plunged into

animated talk.  Neither seemed aware that the Duke should first have

paid his respects to Mrs. Lovell Mingott and Mrs. Headly Chivers, and

the Countess have conversed with that amiable hypochondriac, Mr. Urban

Dagonet of Washington Square, who, in order to have the pleasure of

meeting her, had broken through his fixed rule of not dining out

between January and April.  The two chatted together for nearly twenty

minutes; then the Countess rose and, walking alone across the wide

drawing-room, sat down at Newland Archer's side.

 

It was not the custom in New York drawing-rooms for a lady to get up

and walk away from one gentleman in order to seek the company of

another.  Etiquette required that she should wait, immovable as an

idol, while the men who wished to converse with her succeeded each

other at her side.  But the Countess was apparently unaware of having

broken any rule; she sat at perfect ease in a corner of the sofa beside

Archer, and looked at him with the kindest eyes.

 

"I want you to talk to me about May," she said.

 

Instead of answering her he asked:  "You knew the Duke before?"

 

"Oh, yes--we used to see him every winter at Nice.  He's very fond of

gambling--he used to come to the house a great deal."  She said it in

the simplest manner, as if she had said:  "He's fond of wild-flowers";

and after a moment she added candidly:  "I think he's the dullest man I

ever met."

 

This pleased her companion so much that he forgot the slight shock her

previous remark had caused him.  It was undeniably exciting to meet a

lady who found the van der Luydens' Duke dull, and dared to utter the

opinion.  He longed to question her, to hear more about the life of

which her careless words had given him so illuminating a glimpse; but

he feared to touch on distressing memories, and before he could think

of anything to say she had strayed back to her original subject.

 

"May is a darling; I've seen no young girl in New York so handsome and

so intelligent.  Are you very much in love with her?"

 

Newland Archer reddened and laughed.  "As much as a man can be."

 

She continued to consider him thoughtfully, as if not to miss any shade

of meaning in what he said, "Do you think, then, there is a limit?"

 

"To being in love?  If there is, I haven't found it!"

 

She glowed with sympathy.  "Ah--it's really and truly a romance?"

 

"The most romantic of romances!"

 

"How delightful!  And you found it all out for yourselves--it was not

in the least arranged for you?"

 

Archer looked at her incredulously.  "Have you forgotten," he asked

with a smile, "that in our country we don't allow our marriages to be

arranged for us?"

 

A dusky blush rose to her cheek, and he instantly regretted his words.

 

"Yes," she answered, "I'd forgotten.  You must forgive me if I

sometimes make these mistakes.  I don't always remember that everything

here is good that was--that was bad where I've come from."  She looked

down at her Viennese fan of eagle feathers, and he saw that her lips

trembled.

 

"I'm so sorry," he said impulsively; "but you ARE among friends here,

you know."

 

"Yes--I know.  Wherever I go I have that feeling.  That's why I came

home.  I want to forget everything else, to become a complete American

again, like the Mingotts and Wellands, and you and your delightful

mother, and all the other good people here tonight.  Ah, here's May

arriving, and you will want to hurry away to her," she added, but

without moving; and her eyes turned back from the door to rest on the

young man's face.

 

The drawing-rooms were beginning to fill up with after-dinner guests,

and following Madame Olenska's glance Archer saw May Welland entering

with her mother.  In her dress of white and silver, with a wreath of

silver blossoms in her hair, the tall girl looked like a Diana just

alight from the chase.

 

"Oh," said Archer, "I have so many rivals; you see she's already

surrounded.  There's the Duke being introduced."

 

"Then stay with me a little longer," Madame Olenska said in a low tone,

just touching his knee with her plumed fan.  It was the lightest touch,

but it thrilled him like a caress.

 

"Yes, let me stay," he answered in the same tone, hardly knowing what

he said; but just then Mr. van der Luyden came up, followed by old Mr.

Urban Dagonet.  The Countess greeted them with her grave smile, and

Archer, feeling his host's admonitory glance on him, rose and

surrendered his seat.

 

Madame Olenska held out her hand as if to bid him goodbye.

 

"Tomorrow, then, after five--I shall expect you," she said; and then

turned back to make room for Mr. Dagonet.

 

"Tomorrow--" Archer heard himself repeating, though there had been no

engagement, and during their talk she had given him no hint that she

wished to see him again.

 

As he moved away he saw Lawrence Lefferts, tall and resplendent,

leading his wife up to be introduced; and heard Gertrude Lefferts say,

as she beamed on the Countess with her large unperceiving smile:  "But

I think we used to go to dancing-school together when we were

children--."  Behind her, waiting their turn to name themselves to the

Countess, Archer noticed a number of the recalcitrant couples who had

declined to meet her at Mrs. Lovell Mingott's.  As Mrs. Archer

remarked: when the van der Luydens chose, they knew how to give a

lesson.  The wonder was that they chose so seldom.

 

The young man felt a touch on his arm and saw Mrs. van der Luyden

looking down on him from the pure eminence of black velvet and the

family diamonds.  "It was good of you, dear Newland, to devote yourself

so unselfishly to Madame Olenska.  I told your cousin Henry he must

really come to the rescue."

 

He was aware of smiling at her vaguely, and she added, as if

condescending to his natural shyness:  "I've never seen May looking

lovelier.  The Duke thinks her the handsomest girl in the room."

 

 

 

IX.

 

The Countess Olenska had said "after five"; and at half after the hour

Newland Archer rang the bell of the peeling stucco house with a giant

wisteria throttling its feeble cast-iron balcony, which she had hired,

far down West Twenty-third Street, from the vagabond Medora.

 

It was certainly a strange quarter to have settled in.  Small

dress-makers, bird-stuffers and "people who wrote" were her nearest

neighbours; and further down the dishevelled street Archer recognised a

dilapidated wooden house, at the end of a paved path, in which a writer

and journalist called Winsett, whom he used to come across now and

then, had mentioned that he lived.  Winsett did not invite people to

his house; but he had once pointed it out to Archer in the course of a

nocturnal stroll, and the latter had asked himself, with a little

shiver, if the humanities were so meanly housed in other capitals.

 

Madame Olenska's own dwelling was redeemed from the same appearance

only by a little more paint about the window-frames; and as Archer

mustered its modest front he said to himself that the Polish Count must

have robbed her of her fortune as well as of her illusions.

 

The young man had spent an unsatisfactory day.  He had lunched with the

Wellands, hoping afterward to carry off May for a walk in the Park.  He

wanted to have her to himself, to tell her how enchanting she had

looked the night before, and how proud he was of her, and to press her

to hasten their marriage.  But Mrs. Welland had firmly reminded him

that the round of family visits was not half over, and, when he hinted

at advancing the date of the wedding, had raised reproachful eye-brows

and sighed out:  "Twelve dozen of everything--hand-embroidered--"

 

Packed in the family landau they rolled from one tribal doorstep to

another, and Archer, when the afternoon's round was over, parted from

his betrothed with the feeling that he had been shown off like a wild

animal cunningly trapped.  He supposed that his readings in

anthropology caused him to take such a coarse view of what was after

all a simple and natural demonstration of family feeling; but when he

remembered that the Wellands did not expect the wedding to take place

till the following autumn, and pictured what his life would be till

then, a dampness fell upon his spirit.

 

"Tomorrow," Mrs. Welland called after him, "we'll do the Chiverses and

the Dallases"; and he perceived that she was going through their two

families alphabetically, and that they were only in the first quarter

of the alphabet.

 

He had meant to tell May of the Countess Olenska's request--her

command, rather--that he should call on her that afternoon; but in the

brief moments when they were alone he had had more pressing things to

say.  Besides, it struck him as a little absurd to allude to the

matter.  He knew that May most particularly wanted him to be kind to

her cousin; was it not that wish which had hastened the announcement of

their engagement?  It gave him an odd sensation to reflect that, but

for the Countess's arrival, he might have been, if not still a free

man, at least a man less irrevocably pledged.  But May had willed it

so, and he felt himself somehow relieved of further responsibility--and

therefore at liberty, if he chose, to call on her cousin without

telling her.

 

As he stood on Madame Olenska's threshold curiosity was his uppermost

feeling.  He was puzzled by the tone in which she had summoned him; he

concluded that she was less simple than she seemed.

 

The door was opened by a swarthy foreign-looking maid, with a prominent

bosom under a gay neckerchief, whom he vaguely fancied to be Sicilian.

She welcomed him with all her white teeth, and answering his enquiries

by a head-shake of incomprehension led him through the narrow hall into

a low firelit drawing-room.  The room was empty, and she left him, for

an appreciable time, to wonder whether she had gone to find her

mistress, or whether she had not understood what he was there for, and

thought it might be to wind the clock--of which he perceived that the

only visible specimen had stopped.  He knew that the southern races

communicated with each other in the language of pantomime, and was

mortified to find her shrugs and smiles so unintelligible.  At length

she returned with a lamp; and Archer, having meanwhile put together a

phrase out of Dante and Petrarch, evoked the answer: "La signora e

fuori; ma verra subito"; which he took to mean:  "She's out--but you'll

soon see."

 

What he saw, meanwhile, with the help of the lamp, was the faded

shadowy charm of a room unlike any room he had known.  He knew that the

Countess Olenska had brought some of her possessions with her--bits of

wreckage, she called them--and these, he supposed, were represented by

some small slender tables of dark wood, a delicate little Greek bronze

on the chimney-piece, and a stretch of red damask nailed on the

discoloured wallpaper behind a couple of Italian-looking pictures in

old frames.

 

Newland Archer prided himself on his knowledge of Italian art.  His

boyhood had been saturated with Ruskin, and he had read all the latest

books: John Addington Symonds, Vernon Lee's "Euphorion," the essays of

P. G. Hamerton, and a wonderful new volume called "The Renaissance" by

Walter Pater.  He talked easily of Botticelli, and spoke of Fra

Angelico with a faint condescension.  But these pictures bewildered

him, for they were like nothing that he was accustomed to look at (and

therefore able to see) when he travelled in Italy; and perhaps, also,

his powers of observation were impaired by the oddness of finding

himself in this strange empty house, where apparently no one expected

him.  He was sorry that he had not told May Welland of Countess

Olenska's request, and a little disturbed by the thought that his

betrothed might come in to see her cousin.  What would she think if she

found him sitting there with the air of intimacy implied by waiting

alone in the dusk at a lady's fireside?

 

But since he had come he meant to wait; and he sank into a chair and

stretched his feet to the logs.

 

It was odd to have summoned him in that way, and then forgotten him;

but Archer felt more curious than mortified.  The atmosphere of the

room was so different from any he had ever breathed that

self-consciousness vanished in the sense of adventure.  He had been

before in drawing-rooms hung with red damask, with pictures "of the

Italian school"; what struck him was the way in which Medora Manson's

shabby hired house, with its blighted background of pampas grass and

Rogers statuettes, had, by a turn of the hand, and the skilful use of a

few properties, been transformed into something intimate, "foreign,"

subtly suggestive of old romantic scenes and sentiments.  He tried to

analyse the trick, to find a clue to it in the way the chairs and

tables were grouped, in the fact that only two Jacqueminot roses (of

which nobody ever bought less than a dozen) had been placed in the

slender vase at his elbow, and in the vague pervading perfume that was

not what one put on handkerchiefs, but rather like the scent of some

far-off bazaar, a smell made up of Turkish coffee and ambergris and

dried roses.

 

His mind wandered away to the question of what May's drawing-room would

look like.  He knew that Mr. Welland, who was behaving "very

handsomely," already had his eye on a newly built house in East

Thirty-ninth Street.  The neighbourhood was thought remote, and the

house was built in a ghastly greenish-yellow stone that the younger

architects were beginning to employ as a protest against the brownstone

of which the uniform hue coated New York like a cold chocolate sauce;

but the plumbing was perfect.  Archer would have liked to travel, to

put off the housing question; but, though the Wellands approved of an

extended European honeymoon (perhaps even a winter in Egypt), they were

firm as to the need of a house for the returning couple.  The young man

felt that his fate was sealed: for the rest of his life he would go up

every evening between the cast-iron railings of that greenish-yellow

doorstep, and pass through a Pompeian vestibule into a hall with a

wainscoting of varnished yellow wood.  But beyond that his imagination

could not travel.  He knew the drawing-room above had a bay window, but

he could not fancy how May would deal with it.  She submitted

cheerfully to the purple satin and yellow tuftings of the Welland

drawing-room, to its sham Buhl tables and gilt vitrines full of modern

Saxe.  He saw no reason to suppose that she would want anything

different in her own house; and his only comfort was to reflect that

she would probably let him arrange his library as he pleased--which

would be, of course, with "sincere" Eastlake furniture, and the plain

new bookcases without glass doors.

 

The round-bosomed maid came in, drew the curtains, pushed back a log,

and said consolingly: "Verra--verra."  When she had gone Archer stood

up and began to wander about.  Should he wait any longer?  His position

was becoming rather foolish.  Perhaps he had misunderstood Madame

Olenska--perhaps she had not invited him after all.

 

Down the cobblestones of the quiet street came the ring of a stepper's

hoofs; they stopped before the house, and he caught the opening of a

carriage door.  Parting the curtains he looked out into the early dusk.

A street-lamp faced him, and in its light he saw Julius Beaufort's

compact English brougham, drawn by a big roan, and the banker

descending from it, and helping out Madame Olenska.

 

Beaufort stood, hat in hand, saying something which his companion

seemed to negative; then they shook hands, and he jumped into his

carriage while she mounted the steps.

 

When she entered the room she showed no surprise at seeing Archer

there; surprise seemed the emotion that she was least addicted to.

 

"How do you like my funny house?" she asked.  "To me it's like heaven."

 

As she spoke she untied her little velvet bonnet and tossing it away

with her long cloak stood looking at him with meditative eyes.

 

"You've arranged it delightfully," he rejoined, alive to the flatness

of the words, but imprisoned in the conventional by his consuming

desire to be simple and striking.

 

"Oh, it's a poor little place.  My relations despise it.  But at any

rate it's less gloomy than the van der Luydens'."

 

The words gave him an electric shock, for few were the rebellious

spirits who would have dared to call the stately home of the van der

Luydens gloomy.  Those privileged to enter it shivered there, and spoke

of it as "handsome."  But suddenly he was glad that she had given voice

to the general shiver.

 

"It's delicious--what you've done here," he repeated.

 

"I like the little house," she admitted; "but I suppose what I like is

the blessedness of its being here, in my own country and my own town;

and then, of being alone in it."  She spoke so low that he hardly heard

the last phrase; but in his awkwardness he took it up.

 

"You like so much to be alone?"

 

"Yes; as long as my friends keep me from feeling lonely."  She sat down

near the fire, said:  "Nastasia will bring the tea presently," and

signed to him to return to his armchair, adding:  "I see you've already

chosen your corner."

 

Leaning back, she folded her arms behind her head, and looked at the

fire under drooping lids.

 

"This is the hour I like best--don't you?"

 

A proper sense of his dignity caused him to answer: "I was afraid you'd

forgotten the hour.  Beaufort must have been very engrossing."

 

She looked amused.  "Why--have you waited long?  Mr. Beaufort took me

to see a number of houses--since it seems I'm not to be allowed to stay

in this one."  She appeared to dismiss both Beaufort and himself from

her mind, and went on:  "I've never been in a city where there seems to

be such a feeling against living in des quartiers excentriques.  What

does it matter where one lives?  I'm told this street is respectable."

 

"It's not fashionable."

 

"Fashionable!  Do you all think so much of that?  Why not make one's

own fashions?  But I suppose I've lived too independently; at any rate,

I want to do what you all do--I want to feel cared for and safe."

 

He was touched, as he had been the evening before when she spoke of her

need of guidance.

 

"That's what your friends want you to feel.  New York's an awfully safe

place," he added with a flash of sarcasm.

 

"Yes, isn't it?  One feels that," she cried, missing the mockery.

"Being here is like--like--being taken on a holiday when one has been a

good little girl and done all one's lessons."

 

The analogy was well meant, but did not altogether please him.  He did

not mind being flippant about New York, but disliked to hear any one

else take the same tone.  He wondered if she did not begin to see what

a powerful engine it was, and how nearly it had crushed her.  The

Lovell Mingotts' dinner, patched up in extremis out of all sorts of

social odds and ends, ought to have taught her the narrowness of her

escape; but either she had been all along unaware of having skirted

disaster, or else she had lost sight of it in the triumph of the van

der Luyden evening.  Archer inclined to the former theory; he fancied

that her New York was still completely undifferentiated, and the

conjecture nettled him.

 

"Last night," he said, "New York laid itself out for you.  The van der

Luydens do nothing by halves."

 

"No: how kind they are!  It was such a nice party.  Every one seems to

have such an esteem for them."

 

The terms were hardly adequate; she might have spoken in that way of a

tea-party at the dear old Miss Lannings'.

 

"The van der Luydens," said Archer, feeling himself pompous as he

spoke, "are the most powerful influence in New York society.

Unfortunately--owing to her health--they receive very seldom."

 

She unclasped her hands from behind her head, and looked at him

meditatively.

 

"Isn't that perhaps the reason?"

 

"The reason--?"

 

"For their great influence; that they make themselves so rare."

 

He coloured a little, stared at her--and suddenly felt the penetration

of the remark.  At a stroke she had pricked the van der Luydens and

they collapsed.  He laughed, and sacrificed them.

 

Nastasia brought the tea, with handleless Japanese cups and little

covered dishes, placing the tray on a low table.

 

"But you'll explain these things to me--you'll tell me all I ought to

know," Madame Olenska continued, leaning forward to hand him his cup.

 

"It's you who are telling me; opening my eyes to things I'd looked at

so long that I'd ceased to see them."

 

She detached a small gold cigarette-case from one of her bracelets,

held it out to him, and took a cigarette herself.  On the chimney were

long spills for lighting them.

 

"Ah, then we can both help each other.  But I want help so much more.

You must tell me just what to do."

 

It was on the tip of his tongue to reply:  "Don't be seen driving about

the streets with Beaufort--" but he was being too deeply drawn into the

atmosphere of the room, which was her atmosphere, and to give advice of

that sort would have been like telling some one who was bargaining for

attar-of-roses in Samarkand that one should always be provided with

arctics for a New York winter.  New York seemed much farther off than

Samarkand, and if they were indeed to help each other she was rendering

what might prove the first of their mutual services by making him look

at his native city objectively.  Viewed thus, as through the wrong end

of a telescope, it looked disconcertingly small and distant; but then

from Samarkand it would.

 

A flame darted from the logs and she bent over the fire, stretching her

thin hands so close to it that a faint halo shone about the oval nails.

The light touched to russet the rings of dark hair escaping from her

braids, and made her pale face paler.

 

"There are plenty of people to tell you what to do," Archer rejoined,

obscurely envious of them.

 

"Oh--all my aunts?  And my dear old Granny?"  She considered the idea

impartially.  "They're all a little vexed with me for setting up for

myself--poor Granny especially.  She wanted to keep me with her; but I

had to be free--"  He was impressed by this light way of speaking of

the formidable Catherine, and moved by the thought of what must have

given Madame Olenska this thirst for even the loneliest kind of

freedom.  But the idea of Beaufort gnawed him.

 

"I think I understand how you feel," he said.  "Still, your family can

advise you; explain differences; show you the way."

 

She lifted her thin black eyebrows.  "Is New York such a labyrinth?  I

thought it so straight up and down--like Fifth Avenue.  And with all

the cross streets numbered!"  She seemed to guess his faint disapproval

of this, and added, with the rare smile that enchanted her whole face:

"If you knew how I like it for just THAT--the straight-up-and-downness,

and the big honest labels on everything!"

 

He saw his chance.  "Everything may be labelled--but everybody is not."

 

"Perhaps.  I may simplify too much--but you'll warn me if I do."  She

turned from the fire to look at him.  "There are only two people here

who make me feel as if they understood what I mean and could explain

things to me: you and Mr. Beaufort."

 

Archer winced at the joining of the names, and then, with a quick

readjustment, understood, sympathised and pitied.  So close to the

powers of evil she must have lived that she still breathed more freely

in their air.  But since she felt that he understood her also, his

business would be to make her see Beaufort as he really was, with all

he represented--and abhor it.

 

He answered gently:  "I understand.  But just at first don't let go of

your old friends' hands: I mean the older women, your Granny Mingott,

Mrs. Welland, Mrs. van der Luyden.  They like and admire you--they want

to help you."

 

She shook her head and sighed.  "Oh, I know--I know!  But on condition

that they don't hear anything unpleasant.  Aunt Welland put it in those

very words when I tried....  Does no one want to know the truth here,

Mr. Archer?  The real loneliness is living among all these kind people

who only ask one to pretend!" She lifted her hands to her face, and he

saw her thin shoulders shaken by a sob.

 

"Madame Olenska!--Oh, don't, Ellen," he cried, starting up and bending

over her.  He drew down one of her hands, clasping and chafing it like

a child's while he murmured reassuring words; but in a moment she freed

herself, and looked up at him with wet lashes.

 

"Does no one cry here, either?  I suppose there's no need to, in

heaven," she said, straightening her loosened braids with a laugh, and

bending over the tea-kettle.  It was burnt into his consciousness that

he had called her "Ellen"--called her so twice; and that she had not

noticed it.  Far down the inverted telescope he saw the faint white

figure of May Welland--in New York.

 

Suddenly Nastasia put her head in to say something in her rich Italian.

 

Madame Olenska, again with a hand at her hair, uttered an exclamation

of assent--a flashing "Gia--gia"--and the Duke of St. Austrey entered,

piloting a tremendous blackwigged and red-plumed lady in overflowing

furs.

 

"My dear Countess, I've brought an old friend of mine to see you--Mrs.

Struthers.  She wasn't asked to the party last night, and she wants to

know you."

 

The Duke beamed on the group, and Madame Olenska advanced with a murmur

of welcome toward the queer couple.  She seemed to have no idea how

oddly matched they were, nor what a liberty the Duke had taken in

bringing his companion--and to do him justice, as Archer perceived, the

Duke seemed as unaware of it himself.

 

"Of course I want to know you, my dear," cried Mrs. Struthers in a

round rolling voice that matched her bold feathers and her brazen wig.

"I want to know everybody who's young and interesting and charming.

And the Duke tells me you like music--didn't you, Duke?  You're a

pianist yourself, I believe?  Well, do you want to hear Sarasate play

tomorrow evening at my house?  You know I've something going on every

Sunday evening--it's the day when New York doesn't know what to do with

itself, and so I say to it:  'Come and be amused.'  And the Duke

thought you'd be tempted by Sarasate.  You'll find a number of your

friends."

 

Madame Olenska's face grew brilliant with pleasure.  "How kind!  How

good of the Duke to think of me!" She pushed a chair up to the

tea-table and Mrs. Struthers sank into it delectably.  "Of course I

shall be too happy to come."

 

"That's all right, my dear.  And bring your young gentleman with you."

Mrs. Struthers extended a hail-fellow hand to Archer.  "I can't put a

name to you--but I'm sure I've met you--I've met everybody, here, or in

Paris or London.  Aren't you in diplomacy?  All the diplomatists come

to me.  You like music too?  Duke, you must be sure to bring him."

 

The Duke said "Rather" from the depths of his beard, and Archer

withdrew with a stiffly circular bow that made him feel as full of

spine as a self-conscious school-boy among careless and unnoticing

elders.

 

He was not sorry for the denouement of his visit: he only wished it had

come sooner, and spared him a certain waste of emotion.  As he went out

into the wintry night, New York again became vast and imminent, and May

Welland the loveliest woman in it.  He turned into his florist's to

send her the daily box of lilies-of-the-valley which, to his confusion,

he found he had forgotten that morning.

 

As he wrote a word on his card and waited for an envelope he glanced

about the embowered shop, and his eye lit on a cluster of yellow roses.

He had never seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse was

to send them to May instead of the lilies.  But they did not look like

her--there was something too rich, too strong, in their fiery beauty.

In a sudden revulsion of mood, and almost without knowing what he did,

he signed to the florist to lay the roses in another long box, and

slipped his card into a second envelope, on which he wrote the name of

the Countess Olenska; then, just as he was turning away, he drew the

card out again, and left the empty envelope on the box.

 

"They'll go at once?" he enquired, pointing to the roses.

 

The florist assured him that they would.

 

 

 

X.

 

The next day he persuaded May to escape for a walk in the Park after

luncheon.  As was the custom in old-fashioned Episcopalian New York,

she usually accompanied her parents to church on Sunday afternoons; but

Mrs. Welland condoned her truancy, having that very morning won her

over to the necessity of a long engagement, with time to prepare a

hand-embroidered trousseau containing the proper number of dozens.

 

The day was delectable.  The bare vaulting of trees along the Mall was

ceiled with lapis lazuli, and arched above snow that shone like

splintered crystals.  It was the weather to call out May's radiance,

and she burned like a young maple in the frost.  Archer was proud of

the glances turned on her, and the simple joy of possessorship cleared

away his underlying perplexities.

 

"It's so delicious--waking every morning to smell lilies-of-the-valley

in one's room!" she said.

 

"Yesterday they came late.  I hadn't time in the morning--"

 

"But your remembering each day to send them makes me love them so much

more than if you'd given a standing order, and they came every morning

on the minute, like one's music-teacher--as I know Gertrude Lefferts's

did, for instance, when she and Lawrence were engaged."

 

"Ah--they would!" laughed Archer, amused at her keenness.  He looked

sideways at her fruit-like cheek and felt rich and secure enough to

add:  "When I sent your lilies yesterday afternoon I saw some rather

gorgeous yellow roses and packed them off to Madame Olenska.  Was that

right?"

 

"How dear of you!  Anything of that kind delights her.  It's odd she

didn't mention it: she lunched with us today, and spoke of Mr.

Beaufort's having sent her wonderful orchids, and cousin Henry van der

Luyden a whole hamper of carnations from Skuytercliff.  She seems so

surprised to receive flowers.  Don't people send them in Europe?  She

thinks it such a pretty custom."

 

"Oh, well, no wonder mine were overshadowed by Beaufort's," said Archer

irritably.  Then he remembered that he had not put a card with the

roses, and was vexed at having spoken of them.  He wanted to say:  "I

called on your cousin yesterday," but hesitated.  If Madame Olenska had

not spoken of his visit it might seem awkward that he should.  Yet not

to do so gave the affair an air of mystery that he disliked.  To shake

off the question he began to talk of their own plans, their future, and

Mrs. Welland's insistence on a long engagement.

 

"If you call it long!  Isabel Chivers and Reggie were engaged for two

years: Grace and Thorley for nearly a year and a half.  Why aren't we

very well off as we are?"

 

It was the traditional maidenly interrogation, and he felt ashamed of

himself for finding it singularly childish.  No doubt she simply echoed

what was said for her; but she was nearing her twenty-second birthday,

and he wondered at what age "nice" women began to speak for themselves.

 

"Never, if we won't let them, I suppose," he mused, and recalled his

mad outburst to Mr. Sillerton Jackson: "Women ought to be as free as we

are--"

 

It would presently be his task to take the bandage from this young

woman's eyes, and bid her look forth on the world.  But how many

generations of the women who had gone to her making had descended

bandaged to the family vault?  He shivered a little, remembering some

of the new ideas in his scientific books, and the much-cited instance

of the Kentucky cave-fish, which had ceased to develop eyes because

they had no use for them.  What if, when he had bidden May Welland to

open hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?

 

"We might be much better off.  We might be altogether together--we

might travel."

 

Her face lit up.  "That would be lovely," she owned: she would love to

travel.  But her mother would not understand their wanting to do things

so differently.

 

"As if the mere 'differently' didn't account for it!" the wooer

insisted.

 

"Newland!  You're so original!" she exulted.

 

His heart sank, for he saw that he was saying all the things that young

men in the same situation were expected to say, and that she was making

the answers that instinct and tradition taught her to make--even to the

point of calling him original.

 

"Original!  We're all as like each other as those dolls cut out of the

same folded paper.  We're like patterns stencilled on a wall.  Can't

you and I strike out for ourselves, May?"

 

He had stopped and faced her in the excitement of their discussion, and

her eyes rested on him with a bright unclouded admiration.

 

"Mercy--shall we elope?" she laughed.

 

"If you would--"

 

"You DO love me, Newland!  I'm so happy."

 

"But then--why not be happier?"

 

"We can't behave like people in novels, though, can we?"

 

"Why not--why not--why not?"

 

She looked a little bored by his insistence.  She knew very well that

they couldn't, but it was troublesome to have to produce a reason.

"I'm not clever enough to argue with you.  But that kind of thing is

rather--vulgar, isn't it?" she suggested, relieved to have hit on a

word that would assuredly extinguish the whole subject.

 

"Are you so much afraid, then, of being vulgar?"

 

She was evidently staggered by this.  "Of course I should hate it--so

would you," she rejoined, a trifle irritably.

 

He stood silent, beating his stick nervously against his boot-top; and

feeling that she had indeed found the right way of closing the

discussion, she went on light-heartedly: "Oh, did I tell you that I

showed Ellen my ring?  She thinks it the most beautiful setting she

ever saw.  There's nothing like it in the rue de la Paix, she said.  I

do love you, Newland, for being so artistic!"

 

 

The next afternoon, as Archer, before dinner, sat smoking sullenly in

his study, Janey wandered in on him.  He had failed to stop at his club

on the way up from the office where he exercised the profession of the

law in the leisurely manner common to well-to-do New Yorkers of his

class.  He was out of spirits and slightly out of temper, and a

haunting horror of doing the same thing every day at the same hour

besieged his brain.

 

"Sameness--sameness!" he muttered, the word running through his head

like a persecuting tune as he saw the familiar tall-hatted figures

lounging behind the plate-glass; and because he usually dropped in at

the club at that hour he had gone home instead.  He knew not only what

they were likely to be talking about, but the part each one would take

in the discussion.  The Duke of course would be their principal theme;

though the appearance in Fifth Avenue of a golden-haired lady in a

small canary-coloured brougham with a pair of black cobs (for which

Beaufort was generally thought responsible) would also doubtless be

thoroughly gone into.  Such "women" (as they were called) were few in

New York, those driving their own carriages still fewer, and the

appearance of Miss Fanny Ring in Fifth Avenue at the fashionable hour

had profoundly agitated society.  Only the day before, her carriage had

passed Mrs. Lovell Mingott's, and the latter had instantly rung the

little bell at her elbow and ordered the coachman to drive her home.

"What if it had happened to Mrs. van der Luyden?" people asked each

other with a shudder.  Archer could hear Lawrence Lefferts, at that

very hour, holding forth on the disintegration of society.

 

He raised his head irritably when his sister Janey entered, and then

quickly bent over his book (Swinburne's "Chastelard"--just out) as if

he had not seen her.  She glanced at the writing-table heaped with

books, opened a volume of the "Contes Drolatiques," made a wry face

over the archaic French, and sighed:  "What learned things you read!"

 

"Well--?" he asked, as she hovered Cassandra-like before him.

 

"Mother's very angry."

 

"Angry?  With whom?  About what?"

 

"Miss Sophy Jackson has just been here.  She brought word that her

brother would come in after dinner: she couldn't say very much, because

he forbade her to: he wishes to give all the details himself.  He's

with cousin Louisa van der Luyden now."

 

"For heaven's sake, my dear girl, try a fresh start.  It would take an

omniscient Deity to know what you're talking about."

 

"It's not a time to be profane, Newland....  Mother feels badly enough

about your not going to church ..."

 

With a groan he plunged back into his book.

 

"NEWLAND!  Do listen.  Your friend Madame Olenska was at Mrs. Lemuel

Struthers's party last night: she went there with the Duke and Mr.

Beaufort."

 

At the last clause of this announcement a senseless anger swelled the

young man's breast.  To smother it he laughed.  "Well, what of it?  I

knew she meant to."

 

Janey paled and her eyes began to project.  "You knew she meant to--and

you didn't try to stop her?  To warn her?"

 

"Stop her?  Warn her?"  He laughed again.  "I'm not engaged to be

married to the Countess Olenska!"  The words had a fantastic sound in

his own ears.

 

"You're marrying into her family."

 

"Oh, family--family!" he jeered.

 

"Newland--don't you care about Family?"

 

"Not a brass farthing."

 

"Nor about what cousin Louisa van der Luyden will think?"

 

"Not the half of one--if she thinks such old maid's rubbish."

 

"Mother is not an old maid," said his virgin sister with pinched lips.

 

He felt like shouting back:  "Yes, she is, and so are the van der

Luydens, and so we all are, when it comes to being so much as brushed

by the wing-tip of Reality." But he saw her long gentle face puckering

into tears, and felt ashamed of the useless pain he was inflicting.

 

"Hang Countess Olenska!  Don't be a goose, Janey--I'm not her keeper."

 

"No; but you DID ask the Wellands to announce your engagement sooner so

that we might all back her up; and if it hadn't been for that cousin

Louisa would never have invited her to the dinner for the Duke."

 

"Well--what harm was there in inviting her?  She was the best-looking

woman in the room; she made the dinner a little less funereal than the

usual van der Luyden banquet."

 

"You know cousin Henry asked her to please you: he persuaded cousin

Louisa.  And now they're so upset that they're going back to

Skuytercliff tomorrow.  I think, Newland, you'd better come down.  You

don't seem to understand how mother feels."

 

In the drawing-room Newland found his mother.  She raised a troubled

brow from her needlework to ask: "Has Janey told you?"

 

"Yes."  He tried to keep his tone as measured as her own.  "But I can't

take it very seriously."

 

"Not the fact of having offended cousin Louisa and cousin Henry?"

 

"The fact that they can be offended by such a trifle as Countess

Olenska's going to the house of a woman they consider common."

 

"Consider--!"

 

"Well, who is; but who has good music, and amuses people on Sunday

evenings, when the whole of New York is dying of inanition."

 

"Good music?  All I know is, there was a woman who got up on a table

and sang the things they sing at the places you go to in Paris.  There

was smoking and champagne."

 

"Well--that kind of thing happens in other places, and the world still

goes on."

 

"I don't suppose, dear, you're really defending the French Sunday?"

 

"I've heard you often enough, mother, grumble at the English Sunday

when we've been in London."

 

"New York is neither Paris nor London."

 

"Oh, no, it's not!" her son groaned.

 

"You mean, I suppose, that society here is not as brilliant?  You're

right, I daresay; but we belong here, and people should respect our

ways when they come among us.  Ellen Olenska especially: she came back

to get away from the kind of life people lead in brilliant societies."

 

Newland made no answer, and after a moment his mother ventured:  "I was

going to put on my bonnet and ask you to take me to see cousin Louisa

for a moment before dinner."  He frowned, and she continued: "I thought

you might explain to her what you've just said: that society abroad is

different ... that people are not as particular, and that Madame

Olenska may not have realised how we feel about such things.  It would

be, you know, dear," she added with an innocent adroitness, "in Madame

Olenska's interest if you did."

 

"Dearest mother, I really don't see how we're concerned in the matter.

The Duke took Madame Olenska to Mrs. Struthers's--in fact he brought

Mrs. Struthers to call on her.  I was there when they came.  If the van

der Luydens want to quarrel with anybody, the real culprit is under

their own roof."

 

"Quarrel?  Newland, did you ever know of cousin Henry's quarrelling?

Besides, the Duke's his guest; and a stranger too.  Strangers don't

discriminate: how should they?  Countess Olenska is a New Yorker, and

should have respected the feelings of New York."

 

"Well, then, if they must have a victim, you have my leave to throw

Madame Olenska to them," cried her son, exasperated.  "I don't see

myself--or you either--offering ourselves up to expiate her crimes."

 

"Oh, of course you see only the Mingott side," his mother answered, in

the sensitive tone that was her nearest approach to anger.

 

The sad butler drew back the drawing-room portieres and announced:

"Mr. Henry van der Luyden."

 

Mrs. Archer dropped her needle and pushed her chair back with an

agitated hand.

 

"Another lamp," she cried to the retreating servant, while Janey bent

over to straighten her mother's cap.

 

Mr. van der Luyden's figure loomed on the threshold, and Newland Archer

went forward to greet his cousin.

 

"We were just talking about you, sir," he said.

 

Mr. van der Luyden seemed overwhelmed by the announcement.  He drew off

his glove to shake hands with the ladies, and smoothed his tall hat

shyly, while Janey pushed an arm-chair forward, and Archer continued:

"And the Countess Olenska."

 

Mrs. Archer paled.

 

"Ah--a charming woman.  I have just been to see her," said Mr. van der

Luyden, complacency restored to his brow.  He sank into the chair, laid

his hat and gloves on the floor beside him in the old-fashioned way,

and went on:  "She has a real gift for arranging flowers.  I had sent

her a few carnations from Skuytercliff, and I was astonished.  Instead

of massing them in big bunches as our head-gardener does, she had

scattered them about loosely, here and there ... I can't say how.  The

Duke had told me: he said:  'Go and see how cleverly she's arranged her

drawing-room.'  And she has.  I should really like to take Louisa to

see her, if the neighbourhood were not so--unpleasant."

 

A dead silence greeted this unusual flow of words from Mr. van der

Luyden.  Mrs. Archer drew her embroidery out of the basket into which

she had nervously tumbled it, and Newland, leaning against the

chimney-place and twisting a humming-bird-feather screen in his hand,

saw Janey's gaping countenance lit up by the coming of the second lamp.

 

"The fact is," Mr. van der Luyden continued, stroking his long grey leg

with a bloodless hand weighed down by the Patroon's great signet-ring,

"the fact is, I dropped in to thank her for the very pretty note she

wrote me about my flowers; and also--but this is between ourselves, of

course--to give her a friendly warning about allowing the Duke to carry

her off to parties with him.  I don't know if you've heard--"

 

Mrs. Archer produced an indulgent smile.  "Has the Duke been carrying

her off to parties?"

 

"You know what these English grandees are.  They're all alike.  Louisa

and I are very fond of our cousin--but it's hopeless to expect people

who are accustomed to the European courts to trouble themselves about

our little republican distinctions.  The Duke goes where he's amused."

Mr. van der Luyden paused, but no one spoke.  "Yes--it seems he took

her with him last night to Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's.  Sillerton Jackson

has just been to us with the foolish story, and Louisa was rather

troubled.  So I thought the shortest way was to go straight to Countess

Olenska and explain--by the merest hint, you know--how we feel in New

York about certain things.  I felt I might, without indelicacy, because

the evening she dined with us she rather suggested ... rather let me

see that she would be grateful for guidance.  And she WAS."

 

Mr. van der Luyden looked about the room with what would have been

self-satisfaction on features less purged of the vulgar passions.  On

his face it became a mild benevolence which Mrs. Archer's countenance

dutifully reflected.

 

"How kind you both are, dear Henry--always!  Newland will particularly

appreciate what you have done because of dear May and his new

relations."

 

She shot an admonitory glance at her son, who said: "Immensely, sir.

But I was sure you'd like Madame Olenska."

 

Mr. van der Luyden looked at him with extreme gentleness.  "I never ask

to my house, my dear Newland," he said, "any one whom I do not like.

And so I have just told Sillerton Jackson."  With a glance at the clock

he rose and added:  "But Louisa will be waiting.  We are dining early,

to take the Duke to the Opera."

 

After the portieres had solemnly closed behind their visitor a silence

fell upon the Archer family.

 

"Gracious--how romantic!" at last broke explosively from Janey.  No one

knew exactly what inspired her elliptic comments, and her relations had

long since given up trying to interpret them.

 

Mrs. Archer shook her head with a sigh.  "Provided it all turns out for

the best," she said, in the tone of one who knows how surely it will

not.  "Newland, you must stay and see Sillerton Jackson when he comes

this evening: I really shan't know what to say to him."

 

"Poor mother!  But he won't come--" her son laughed, stooping to kiss

away her frown.

 

 

 

XI.

 

Some two weeks later, Newland Archer, sitting in abstracted idleness in

his private compartment of the office of Letterblair, Lamson and Low,

attorneys at law, was summoned by the head of the firm.

 

Old Mr. Letterblair, the accredited legal adviser of three generations

of New York gentility, throned behind his mahogany desk in evident

perplexity.  As he stroked his closeclipped white whiskers and ran his

hand through the rumpled grey locks above his jutting brows, his

disrespectful junior partner thought how much he looked like the Family

Physician annoyed with a patient whose symptoms refuse to be classified.

 

"My dear sir--" he always addressed Archer as "sir"--"I have sent for

you to go into a little matter; a matter which, for the moment, I

prefer not to mention either to Mr. Skipworth or Mr. Redwood."  The

gentlemen he spoke of were the other senior partners of the firm; for,

as was always the case with legal associations of old standing in New

York, all the partners named on the office letter-head were long since

dead; and Mr. Letterblair, for example, was, professionally speaking,

his own grandson.

 

He leaned back in his chair with a furrowed brow.  "For family

reasons--" he continued.

 

Archer looked up.

 

"The Mingott family," said Mr. Letterblair with an explanatory smile

and bow.  "Mrs. Manson Mingott sent for me yesterday.  Her

grand-daughter the Countess Olenska wishes to sue her husband for

divorce.  Certain papers have been placed in my hands."  He paused and

drummed on his desk.  "In view of your prospective alliance with the

family I should like to consult you--to consider the case with

you--before taking any farther steps."

 

Archer felt the blood in his temples.  He had seen the Countess Olenska

only once since his visit to her, and then at the Opera, in the Mingott

box.  During this interval she had become a less vivid and importunate

image, receding from his foreground as May Welland resumed her rightful

place in it.  He had not heard her divorce spoken of since Janey's

first random allusion to it, and had dismissed the tale as unfounded

gossip.  Theoretically, the idea of divorce was almost as distasteful

to him as to his mother; and he was annoyed that Mr. Letterblair (no

doubt prompted by old Catherine Mingott) should be so evidently

planning to draw him into the affair.  After all, there were plenty of

Mingott men for such jobs, and as yet he was not even a Mingott by

marriage.

 

He waited for the senior partner to continue.  Mr. Letterblair unlocked

a drawer and drew out a packet.  "If you will run your eye over these

papers--"

 

Archer frowned.  "I beg your pardon, sir; but just because of the

prospective relationship, I should prefer your consulting Mr. Skipworth

or Mr. Redwood."

 

Mr. Letterblair looked surprised and slightly offended.  It was unusual

for a junior to reject such an opening.

 

He bowed.  "I respect your scruple, sir; but in this case I believe

true delicacy requires you to do as I ask.  Indeed, the suggestion is

not mine but Mrs. Manson Mingott's and her son's.  I have seen Lovell

Mingott; and also Mr. Welland.  They all named you."

 

Archer felt his temper rising.  He had been somewhat languidly drifting

with events for the last fortnight, and letting May's fair looks and

radiant nature obliterate the rather importunate pressure of the

Mingott claims.  But this behest of old Mrs. Mingott's roused him to a

sense of what the clan thought they had the right to exact from a

prospective son-in-law; and he chafed at the role.

 

"Her uncles ought to deal with this," he said.

 

"They have.  The matter has been gone into by the family.  They are

opposed to the Countess's idea; but she is firm, and insists on a legal

opinion."

 

The young man was silent: he had not opened the packet in his hand.

 

"Does she want to marry again?"

 

"I believe it is suggested; but she denies it."

 

"Then--"

 

"Will you oblige me, Mr. Archer, by first looking through these papers?

Afterward, when we have talked the case over, I will give you my

opinion."

 

Archer withdrew reluctantly with the unwelcome documents.  Since their

last meeting he had half-unconsciously collaborated with events in

ridding himself of the burden of Madame Olenska.  His hour alone with

her by the firelight had drawn them into a momentary intimacy on which

the Duke of St. Austrey's intrusion with Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, and the

Countess's joyous greeting of them, had rather providentially broken.

Two days later Archer had assisted at the comedy of her reinstatement

in the van der Luydens' favour, and had said to himself, with a touch

of tartness, that a lady who knew how to thank all-powerful elderly

gentlemen to such good purpose for a bunch of flowers did not need

either the private consolations or the public championship of a young

man of his small compass.  To look at the matter in this light

simplified his own case and surprisingly furbished up all the dim

domestic virtues.  He could not picture May Welland, in whatever

conceivable emergency, hawking about her private difficulties and

lavishing her confidences on strange men; and she had never seemed to

him finer or fairer than in the week that followed.  He had even

yielded to her wish for a long engagement, since she had found the one

disarming answer to his plea for haste.

 

"You know, when it comes to the point, your parents have always let you

have your way ever since you were a little girl," he argued; and she

had answered, with her clearest look:  "Yes; and that's what makes it

so hard to refuse the very last thing they'll ever ask of me as a

little girl."

 

That was the old New York note; that was the kind of answer he would

like always to be sure of his wife's making.  If one had habitually

breathed the New York air there were times when anything less

crystalline seemed stifling.

 

 

The papers he had retired to read did not tell him much in fact; but

they plunged him into an atmosphere in which he choked and spluttered.

They consisted mainly of an exchange of letters between Count Olenski's

solicitors and a French legal firm to whom the Countess had applied for

the settlement of her financial situation.  There was also a short

letter from the Count to his wife: after reading it, Newland Archer

rose, jammed the papers back into their envelope, and reentered Mr.

Letterblair's office.

 

"Here are the letters, sir.  If you wish, I'll see Madame Olenska," he

said in a constrained voice.

 

"Thank you--thank you, Mr. Archer.  Come and dine with me tonight if

you're free, and we'll go into the matter afterward: in case you wish

to call on our client tomorrow."

 

Newland Archer walked straight home again that afternoon.  It was a

winter evening of transparent clearness, with an innocent young moon

above the house-tops; and he wanted to fill his soul's lungs with the

pure radiance, and not exchange a word with any one till he and Mr.

Letterblair were closeted together after dinner.  It was impossible to

decide otherwise than he had done: he must see Madame Olenska himself

rather than let her secrets be bared to other eyes.  A great wave of

compassion had swept away his indifference and impatience: she stood

before him as an exposed and pitiful figure, to be saved at all costs

from farther wounding herself in her mad plunges against fate.

 

He remembered what she had told him of Mrs. Welland's request to be

spared whatever was "unpleasant" in her history, and winced at the

thought that it was perhaps this attitude of mind which kept the New

York air so pure.  "Are we only Pharisees after all?" he wondered,

puzzled by the effort to reconcile his instinctive disgust at human

vileness with his equally instinctive pity for human frailty.

 

For the first time he perceived how elementary his own principles had

always been.  He passed for a young man who had not been afraid of

risks, and he knew that his secret love-affair with poor silly Mrs.

Thorley Rushworth had not been too secret to invest him with a becoming

air of adventure.  But Mrs. Rushworth was "that kind of woman";

foolish, vain, clandestine by nature, and far more attracted by the

secrecy and peril of the affair than by such charms and qualities as he

possessed.  When the fact dawned on him it nearly broke his heart, but

now it seemed the redeeming feature of the case.  The affair, in short,

had been of the kind that most of the young men of his age had been

through, and emerged from with calm consciences and an undisturbed

belief in the abysmal distinction between the women one loved and

respected and those one enjoyed--and pitied.  In this view they were

sedulously abetted by their mothers, aunts and other elderly female

relatives, who all shared Mrs. Archer's belief that when "such things

happened" it was undoubtedly foolish of the man, but somehow always

criminal of the woman.  All the elderly ladies whom Archer knew

regarded any woman who loved imprudently as necessarily unscrupulous

and designing, and mere simple-minded man as powerless in her clutches.

The only thing to do was to persuade him, as early as possible, to

marry a nice girl, and then trust to her to look after him.

 

In the complicated old European communities, Archer began to guess,

love-problems might be less simple and less easily classified.  Rich

and idle and ornamental societies must produce many more such

situations; and there might even be one in which a woman naturally

sensitive and aloof would yet, from the force of circumstances, from

sheer defencelessness and loneliness, be drawn into a tie inexcusable

by conventional standards.

 

On reaching home he wrote a line to the Countess Olenska, asking at

what hour of the next day she could receive him, and despatched it by a

messenger-boy, who returned presently with a word to the effect that

she was going to Skuytercliff the next morning to stay over Sunday with

the van der Luydens, but that he would find her alone that evening

after dinner.  The note was written on a rather untidy half-sheet,

without date or address, but her hand was firm and free.  He was amused

at the idea of her week-ending in the stately solitude of Skuytercliff,

but immediately afterward felt that there, of all places, she would

most feel the chill of minds rigorously averted from the "unpleasant."

 

 

He was at Mr. Letterblair's punctually at seven, glad of the pretext

for excusing himself soon after dinner.  He had formed his own opinion

from the papers entrusted to him, and did not especially want to go

into the matter with his senior partner.  Mr. Letterblair was a

widower, and they dined alone, copiously and slowly, in a dark shabby

room hung with yellowing prints of "The Death of Chatham" and "The

Coronation of Napoleon."  On the sideboard, between fluted Sheraton

knife-cases, stood a decanter of Haut Brion, and another of the old

Lanning port (the gift of a client), which the wastrel Tom Lanning had

sold off a year or two before his mysterious and discreditable death in

San Francisco--an incident less publicly humiliating to the family than

the sale of the cellar.

 

After a velvety oyster soup came shad and cucumbers, then a young

broiled turkey with corn fritters, followed by a canvas-back with

currant jelly and a celery mayonnaise.  Mr. Letterblair, who lunched on

a sandwich and tea, dined deliberately and deeply, and insisted on his

guest's doing the same.  Finally, when the closing rites had been

accomplished, the cloth was removed, cigars were lit, and Mr.

Letterblair, leaning back in his chair and pushing the port westward,

said, spreading his back agreeably to the coal fire behind him:  "The

whole family are against a divorce.  And I think rightly."

 

Archer instantly felt himself on the other side of the argument.  "But

why, sir?  If there ever was a case--"

 

"Well--what's the use?  SHE'S here--he's there; the Atlantic's between

them.  She'll never get back a dollar more of her money than what he's

voluntarily returned to her: their damned heathen marriage settlements

take precious good care of that.  As things go over there, Olenski's

acted generously: he might have turned her out without a penny."

 

The young man knew this and was silent.

 

"I understand, though," Mr. Letterblair continued, "that she attaches

no importance to the money.  Therefore, as the family say, why not let

well enough alone?"

 

Archer had gone to the house an hour earlier in full agreement with Mr.

Letterblair's view; but put into words by this selfish, well-fed and

supremely indifferent old man it suddenly became the Pharisaic voice of

a society wholly absorbed in barricading itself against the unpleasant.

 

"I think that's for her to decide."

 

"H'm--have you considered the consequences if she decides for divorce?"

 

"You mean the threat in her husband's letter?  What weight would that

carry?  It's no more than the vague charge of an angry blackguard."

 

"Yes; but it might make some unpleasant talk if he really defends the

suit."

 

"Unpleasant--!" said Archer explosively.

 

Mr. Letterblair looked at him from under enquiring eyebrows, and the

young man, aware of the uselessness of trying to explain what was in

his mind, bowed acquiescently while his senior continued:  "Divorce is

always unpleasant."

 

"You agree with me?" Mr. Letterblair resumed, after a waiting silence.

 

"Naturally," said Archer.

 

"Well, then, I may count on you; the Mingotts may count on you; to use

your influence against the idea?"

 

Archer hesitated.  "I can't pledge myself till I've seen the Countess

Olenska," he said at length.

 

"Mr. Archer, I don't understand you.  Do you want to marry into a

family with a scandalous divorce-suit hanging over it?"

 

"I don't think that has anything to do with the case."

 

Mr. Letterblair put down his glass of port and fixed on his young

partner a cautious and apprehensive gaze.

 

Archer understood that he ran the risk of having his mandate withdrawn,

and for some obscure reason he disliked the prospect.  Now that the job

had been thrust on him he did not propose to relinquish it; and, to

guard against the possibility, he saw that he must reassure the

unimaginative old man who was the legal conscience of the Mingotts.

 

"You may be sure, sir, that I shan't commit myself till I've reported

to you; what I meant was that I'd rather not give an opinion till I've

heard what Madame Olenska has to say."

 

Mr. Letterblair nodded approvingly at an excess of caution worthy of

the best New York tradition, and the young man, glancing at his watch,

pleaded an engagement and took leave.

 

 

 

XII.

 

Old-fashioned New York dined at seven, and the habit of after-dinner

calls, though derided in Archer's set, still generally prevailed.  As

the young man strolled up Fifth Avenue from Waverley Place, the long

thoroughfare was deserted but for a group of carriages standing before

the Reggie Chiverses' (where there was a dinner for the Duke), and the

occasional figure of an elderly gentleman in heavy overcoat and muffler

ascending a brownstone doorstep and disappearing into a gas-lit hall.

Thus, as Archer crossed Washington Square, he remarked that old Mr. du

Lac was calling on his cousins the Dagonets, and turning down the

corner of West Tenth Street he saw Mr. Skipworth, of his own firm,

obviously bound on a visit to the Miss Lannings.  A little farther up

Fifth Avenue, Beaufort appeared on his doorstep, darkly projected

against a blaze of light, descended to his private brougham, and rolled

away to a mysterious and probably unmentionable destination.  It was

not an Opera night, and no one was giving a party, so that Beaufort's

outing was undoubtedly of a clandestine nature.  Archer connected it in

his mind with a little house beyond Lexington Avenue in which

beribboned window curtains and flower-boxes had recently appeared, and

before whose newly painted door the canary-coloured brougham of Miss

Fanny Ring was frequently seen to wait.

 

Beyond the small and slippery pyramid which composed Mrs. Archer's

world lay the almost unmapped quarter inhabited by artists, musicians

and "people who wrote."  These scattered fragments of humanity had

never shown any desire to be amalgamated with the social structure.  In

spite of odd ways they were said to be, for the most part, quite

respectable; but they preferred to keep to themselves.  Medora Manson,

in her prosperous days, had inaugurated a "literary salon"; but it had

soon died out owing to the reluctance of the literary to frequent it.

 

Others had made the same attempt, and there was a household of

Blenkers--an intense and voluble mother, and three blowsy daughters who

imitated her--where one met Edwin Booth and Patti and William Winter,

and the new Shakespearian actor George Rignold, and some of the

magazine editors and musical and literary critics.

 

Mrs. Archer and her group felt a certain timidity concerning these

persons.  They were odd, they were uncertain, they had things one

didn't know about in the background of their lives and minds.

Literature and art were deeply respected in the Archer set, and Mrs.

Archer was always at pains to tell her children how much more agreeable

and cultivated society had been when it included such figures as

Washington Irving, Fitz-Greene Halleck and the poet of "The Culprit

Fay." The most celebrated authors of that generation had been

"gentlemen"; perhaps the unknown persons who succeeded them had

gentlemanly sentiments, but their origin, their appearance, their hair,

their intimacy with the stage and the Opera, made any old New York

criterion inapplicable to them.

 

"When I was a girl," Mrs. Archer used to say, "we knew everybody

between the Battery and Canal Street; and only the people one knew had

carriages.  It was perfectly easy to place any one then; now one can't

tell, and I prefer not to try."

 

Only old Catherine Mingott, with her absence of moral prejudices and

almost parvenu indifference to the subtler distinctions, might have

bridged the abyss; but she had never opened a book or looked at a

picture, and cared for music only because it reminded her of gala

nights at the Italiens, in the days of her triumph at the Tuileries.

Possibly Beaufort, who was her match in daring, would have succeeded in

bringing about a fusion; but his grand house and silk-stockinged

footmen were an obstacle to informal sociability.  Moreover, he was as

illiterate as old Mrs. Mingott, and considered "fellows who wrote" as

the mere paid purveyors of rich men's pleasures; and no one rich enough

to influence his opinion had ever questioned it.

 

Newland Archer had been aware of these things ever since he could

remember, and had accepted them as part of the structure of his

universe.  He knew that there were societies where painters and poets

and novelists and men of science, and even great actors, were as sought

after as Dukes; he had often pictured to himself what it would have

been to live in the intimacy of drawing-rooms dominated by the talk of

Merimee (whose "Lettres a une Inconnue" was one of his inseparables),

of Thackeray, Browning or William Morris.  But such things were

inconceivable in New York, and unsettling to think of.  Archer knew

most of the "fellows who wrote," the musicians and the painters: he met

them at the Century, or at the little musical and theatrical clubs that

were beginning to come into existence.  He enjoyed them there, and was

bored with them at the Blenkers', where they were mingled with fervid

and dowdy women who passed them about like captured curiosities; and

even after his most exciting talks with Ned Winsett he always came away

with the feeling that if his world was small, so was theirs, and that

the only way to enlarge either was to reach a stage of manners where

they would naturally merge.

 

He was reminded of this by trying to picture the society in which the

Countess Olenska had lived and suffered, and also--perhaps--tasted

mysterious joys.  He remembered with what amusement she had told him

that her grandmother Mingott and the Wellands objected to her living in

a "Bohemian" quarter given over to "people who wrote."  It was not the

peril but the poverty that her family disliked; but that shade escaped

her, and she supposed they considered literature compromising.

 

She herself had no fears of it, and the books scattered about her

drawing-room (a part of the house in which books were usually supposed

to be "out of place"), though chiefly works of fiction, had whetted

Archer's interest with such new names as those of Paul Bourget,

Huysmans, and the Goncourt brothers.  Ruminating on these things as he

approached her door, he was once more conscious of the curious way in

which she reversed his values, and of the need of thinking himself into

conditions incredibly different from any that he knew if he were to be

of use in her present difficulty.

 

 

Nastasia opened the door, smiling mysteriously.  On the bench in the

hall lay a sable-lined overcoat, a folded opera hat of dull silk with a

gold J. B. on the lining, and a white silk muffler: there was no

mistaking the fact that these costly articles were the property of

Julius Beaufort.

 

Archer was angry: so angry that he came near scribbling a word on his

card and going away; then he remembered that in writing to Madame

Olenska he had been kept by excess of discretion from saying that he

wished to see her privately.  He had therefore no one but himself to

blame if she had opened her doors to other visitors; and he entered the

drawing-room with the dogged determination to make Beaufort feel

himself in the way, and to outstay him.

 

The banker stood leaning against the mantelshelf, which was draped with

an old embroidery held in place by brass candelabra containing church

candies of yellowish wax.  He had thrust his chest out, supporting his

shoulders against the mantel and resting his weight on one large

patent-leather foot.  As Archer entered he was smiling and looking down

on his hostess, who sat on a sofa placed at right angles to the

chimney.  A table banked with flowers formed a screen behind it, and

against the orchids and azaleas which the young man recognised as

tributes from the Beaufort hot-houses, Madame Olenska sat

half-reclined, her head propped on a hand and her wide sleeve leaving

the arm bare to the elbow.

 

It was usual for ladies who received in the evenings to wear what were

called "simple dinner dresses": a close-fitting armour of whale-boned

silk, slightly open in the neck, with lace ruffles filling in the

crack, and tight sleeves with a flounce uncovering just enough wrist to

show an Etruscan gold bracelet or a velvet band.  But Madame Olenska,

heedless of tradition, was attired in a long robe of red velvet

bordered about the chin and down the front with glossy black fur.

Archer remembered, on his last visit to Paris, seeing a portrait by the

new painter, Carolus Duran, whose pictures were the sensation of the

Salon, in which the lady wore one of these bold sheath-like robes with

her chin nestling in fur.  There was something perverse and provocative

in the notion of fur worn in the evening in a heated drawing-room, and

in the combination of a muffled throat and bare arms; but the effect

was undeniably pleasing.

 

"Lord love us--three whole days at Skuytercliff!" Beaufort was saying

in his loud sneering voice as Archer entered.  "You'd better take all

your furs, and a hot-water-bottle."

 

"Why?  Is the house so cold?" she asked, holding out her left hand to

Archer in a way mysteriously suggesting that she expected him to kiss

it.

 

"No; but the missus is," said Beaufort, nodding carelessly to the young

man.

 

"But I thought her so kind.  She came herself to invite me. Granny says

I must certainly go."

 

"Granny would, of course.  And I say it's a shame you're going to miss

the little oyster supper I'd planned for you at Delmonico's next

Sunday, with Campanini and Scalchi and a lot of jolly people."

 

She looked doubtfully from the banker to Archer.

 

"Ah--that does tempt me!  Except the other evening at Mrs. Struthers's

I've not met a single artist since I've been here."

 

"What kind of artists?  I know one or two painters, very good fellows,

that I could bring to see you if you'd allow me," said Archer boldly.

 

"Painters?  Are there painters in New York?" asked Beaufort, in a tone

implying that there could be none since he did not buy their pictures;

and Madame Olenska said to Archer, with her grave smile:  "That would

be charming.  But I was really thinking of dramatic artists, singers,

actors, musicians.  My husband's house was always full of them."

 

She said the words "my husband" as if no sinister associations were

connected with them, and in a tone that seemed almost to sigh over the

lost delights of her married life.  Archer looked at her perplexedly,

wondering if it were lightness or dissimulation that enabled her to

touch so easily on the past at the very moment when she was risking her

reputation in order to break with it.

 

"I do think," she went on, addressing both men, "that the imprevu adds

to one's enjoyment.  It's perhaps a mistake to see the same people

every day."

 

"It's confoundedly dull, anyhow; New York is dying of dullness,"

Beaufort grumbled.  "And when I try to liven it up for you, you go back

on me.  Come--think better of it!  Sunday is your last chance, for

Campanini leaves next week for Baltimore and Philadelphia; and I've a

private room, and a Steinway, and they'll sing all night for me."

 

"How delicious!  May I think it over, and write to you tomorrow

morning?"

 

She spoke amiably, yet with the least hint of dismissal in her voice.

Beaufort evidently felt it, and being unused to dismissals, stood

staring at her with an obstinate line between his eyes.

 

"Why not now?"

 

"It's too serious a question to decide at this late hour."

 

"Do you call it late?"

 

She returned his glance coolly.  "Yes; because I have still to talk

business with Mr. Archer for a little while."

 

"Ah," Beaufort snapped.  There was no appeal from her tone, and with a

slight shrug he recovered his composure, took her hand, which he kissed

with a practised air, and calling out from the threshold:  "I say,

Newland, if you can persuade the Countess to stop in town of course

you're included in the supper," left the room with his heavy important

step.

 

For a moment Archer fancied that Mr. Letterblair must have told her of

his coming; but the irrelevance of her next remark made him change his

mind.

 

"You know painters, then?  You live in their milieu?" she asked, her

eyes full of interest.

 

"Oh, not exactly.  I don't know that the arts have a milieu here, any

of them; they're more like a very thinly settled outskirt."

 

"But you care for such things?"

 

"Immensely.  When I'm in Paris or London I never miss an exhibition.  I

try to keep up."

 

She looked down at the tip of the little satin boot that peeped from

her long draperies.

 

"I used to care immensely too: my life was full of such things.  But

now I want to try not to."

 

"You want to try not to?"

 

"Yes: I want to cast off all my old life, to become just like everybody

else here."

 

Archer reddened.  "You'll never be like everybody else," he said.

 

She raised her straight eyebrows a little.  "Ah, don't say that.  If

you knew how I hate to be different!"

 

Her face had grown as sombre as a tragic mask.  She leaned forward,

clasping her knee in her thin hands, and looking away from him into

remote dark distances.

 

"I want to get away from it all," she insisted.

 

He waited a moment and cleared his throat.  "I know.  Mr. Letterblair

has told me."

 

"Ah?"

 

"That's the reason I've come.  He asked me to--you see I'm in the firm."

 

She looked slightly surprised, and then her eyes brightened.  "You mean

you can manage it for me?  I can talk to you instead of Mr.

Letterblair?  Oh, that will be so much easier!"

 

Her tone touched him, and his confidence grew with his

self-satisfaction.  He perceived that she had spoken of business to

Beaufort simply to get rid of him; and to have routed Beaufort was

something of a triumph.

 

"I am here to talk about it," he repeated.

 

She sat silent, her head still propped by the arm that rested on the

back of the sofa.  Her face looked pale and extinguished, as if dimmed

by the rich red of her dress.  She struck Archer, of a sudden, as a

pathetic and even pitiful figure.

 

"Now we're coming to hard facts," he thought, conscious in himself of

the same instinctive recoil that he had so often criticised in his

mother and her contemporaries.  How little practice he had had in

dealing with unusual situations!  Their very vocabulary was unfamiliar

to him, and seemed to belong to fiction and the stage.  In face of what

was coming he felt as awkward and embarrassed as a boy.

 

After a pause Madame Olenska broke out with unexpected vehemence:  "I

want to be free; I want to wipe out all the past."

 

"I understand that."

 

Her face warmed.  "Then you'll help me?"

 

"First--" he hesitated--"perhaps I ought to know a little more."

 

She seemed surprised.  "You know about my husband--my life with him?"

 

He made a sign of assent.

 

"Well--then--what more is there?  In this country are such things

tolerated?  I'm a Protestant--our church does not forbid divorce in

such cases."

 

"Certainly not."

 

They were both silent again, and Archer felt the spectre of Count

Olenski's letter grimacing hideously between them.  The letter filled

only half a page, and was just what he had described it to be in

speaking of it to Mr. Letterblair: the vague charge of an angry

blackguard.  But how much truth was behind it?  Only Count Olenski's

wife could tell.

 

"I've looked through the papers you gave to Mr. Letterblair," he said

at length.

 

"Well--can there be anything more abominable?"

 

"No."

 

She changed her position slightly, screening her eyes with her lifted

hand.

 

"Of course you know," Archer continued, "that if your husband chooses

to fight the case--as he threatens to--"

 

"Yes--?"

 

"He can say things--things that might be unpl--might be disagreeable to

you: say them publicly, so that they would get about, and harm you even

if--"

 

"If--?"

 

"I mean: no matter how unfounded they were."

 

She paused for a long interval; so long that, not wishing to keep his

eyes on her shaded face, he had time to imprint on his mind the exact

shape of her other hand, the one on her knee, and every detail of the

three rings on her fourth and fifth fingers; among which, he noticed, a

wedding ring did not appear.

 

"What harm could such accusations, even if he made them publicly, do me

here?"

 

It was on his lips to exclaim:  "My poor child--far more harm than

anywhere else!"  Instead, he answered, in a voice that sounded in his

ears like Mr. Letterblair's: "New York society is a very small world

compared with the one you've lived in.  And it's ruled, in spite of

appearances, by a few people with--well, rather old-fashioned ideas."

 

She said nothing, and he continued:  "Our ideas about marriage and

divorce are particularly old-fashioned.  Our legislation favours

divorce--our social customs don't."

 

"Never?"

 

"Well--not if the woman, however injured, however irreproachable, has

appearances in the least degree against her, has exposed herself by any

unconventional action to--to offensive insinuations--"

 

She drooped her head a little lower, and he waited again, intensely

hoping for a flash of indignation, or at least a brief cry of denial.

None came.

 

A little travelling clock ticked purringly at her elbow, and a log

broke in two and sent up a shower of sparks.  The whole hushed and

brooding room seemed to be waiting silently with Archer.

 

"Yes," she murmured at length, "that's what my family tell me."

 

He winced a little.  "It's not unnatural--"

 

"OUR family," she corrected herself; and Archer coloured.  "For you'll

be my cousin soon," she continued gently.

 

"I hope so."

 

"And you take their view?"

 

He stood up at this, wandered across the room, stared with void eyes at

one of the pictures against the old red damask, and came back

irresolutely to her side.  How could he say:  "Yes, if what your

husband hints is true, or if you've no way of disproving it?"

 

"Sincerely--" she interjected, as he was about to speak.

 

He looked down into the fire.  "Sincerely, then--what should you gain

that would compensate for the possibility--the certainty--of a lot of

beastly talk?"

 

"But my freedom--is that nothing?"

 

It flashed across him at that instant that the charge in the letter was

true, and that she hoped to marry the partner of her guilt.  How was he

to tell her that, if she really cherished such a plan, the laws of the

State were inexorably opposed to it?  The mere suspicion that the

thought was in her mind made him feel harshly and impatiently toward

her.  "But aren't you as free as air as it is?" he returned.  "Who can

touch you?  Mr. Letterblair tells me the financial question has been

settled--"

 

"Oh, yes," she said indifferently.

 

"Well, then: is it worth while to risk what may be infinitely

disagreeable and painful?  Think of the newspapers--their vileness!

It's all stupid and narrow and unjust--but one can't make over society."

 

"No," she acquiesced; and her tone was so faint and desolate that he

felt a sudden remorse for his own hard thoughts.

 

"The individual, in such cases, is nearly always sacrificed to what is

supposed to be the collective interest: people cling to any convention

that keeps the family together--protects the children, if there are

any," he rambled on, pouring out all the stock phrases that rose to his

lips in his intense desire to cover over the ugly reality which her

silence seemed to have laid bare.  Since she would not or could not say

the one word that would have cleared the air, his wish was not to let

her feel that he was trying to probe into her secret.  Better keep on

the surface, in the prudent old New York way, than risk uncovering a

wound he could not heal.

 

"It's my business, you know," he went on, "to help you to see these

things as the people who are fondest of you see them.  The Mingotts,

the Wellands, the van der Luydens, all your friends and relations: if I

didn't show you honestly how they judge such questions, it wouldn't be

fair of me, would it?"  He spoke insistently, almost pleading with her

in his eagerness to cover up that yawning silence.

 

She said slowly:  "No; it wouldn't be fair."

 

The fire had crumbled down to greyness, and one of the lamps made a

gurgling appeal for attention.  Madame Olenska rose, wound it up and

returned to the fire, but without resuming her seat.

 

Her remaining on her feet seemed to signify that there was nothing more

for either of them to say, and Archer stood up also.

 

"Very well; I will do what you wish," she said abruptly.  The blood

rushed to his forehead; and, taken aback by the suddenness of her

surrender, he caught her two hands awkwardly in his.

 

"I--I do want to help you," he said.

 

"You do help me.  Good night, my cousin."

 

He bent and laid his lips on her hands, which were cold and lifeless.

She drew them away, and he turned to the door, found his coat and hat

under the faint gas-light of the hall, and plunged out into the winter

night bursting with the belated eloquence of the inarticulate.

 

 

 

XIII.

 

It was a crowded night at Wallack's theatre.

 

The play was "The Shaughraun," with Dion Boucicault in the title role

and Harry Montague and Ada Dyas as the lovers.  The popularity of the

admirable English company was at its height, and the Shaughraun always

packed the house.  In the galleries the enthusiasm was unreserved; in

the stalls and boxes, people smiled a little at the hackneyed

sentiments and clap-trap situations, and enjoyed the play as much as

the galleries did.

 

There was one episode, in particular, that held the house from floor to

ceiling.  It was that in which Harry Montague, after a sad, almost

monosyllabic scene of parting with Miss Dyas, bade her good-bye, and

turned to go.  The actress, who was standing near the mantelpiece and

looking down into the fire, wore a gray cashmere dress without

fashionable loopings or trimmings, moulded to her tall figure and

flowing in long lines about her feet.  Around her neck was a narrow

black velvet ribbon with the ends falling down her back.

 

When her wooer turned from her she rested her arms against the

mantel-shelf and bowed her face in her hands.  On the threshold he

paused to look at her; then he stole back, lifted one of the ends of

velvet ribbon, kissed it, and left the room without her hearing him or

changing her attitude.  And on this silent parting the curtain fell.

 

It was always for the sake of that particular scene that Newland Archer

went to see "The Shaughraun." He thought the adieux of Montague and Ada

Dyas as fine as anything he had ever seen Croisette and Bressant do in

Paris, or Madge Robertson and Kendal in London; in its reticence, its

dumb sorrow, it moved him more than the most famous histrionic

outpourings.

 

On the evening in question the little scene acquired an added poignancy

by reminding him--he could not have said why--of his leave-taking from

Madame Olenska after their confidential talk a week or ten days earlier.

 

It would have been as difficult to discover any resemblance between the

two situations as between the appearance of the persons concerned.

Newland Archer could not pretend to anything approaching the young

English actor's romantic good looks, and Miss Dyas was a tall

red-haired woman of monumental build whose pale and pleasantly ugly

face was utterly unlike Ellen Olenska's vivid countenance.  Nor were

Archer and Madame Olenska two lovers parting in heart-broken silence;

they were client and lawyer separating after a talk which had given the

lawyer the worst possible impression of the client's case.  Wherein,

then, lay the resemblance that made the young man's heart beat with a

kind of retrospective excitement?  It seemed to be in Madame Olenska's

mysterious faculty of suggesting tragic and moving possibilities

outside the daily run of experience.  She had hardly ever said a word

to him to produce this impression, but it was a part of her, either a

projection of her mysterious and outlandish background or of something

inherently dramatic, passionate and unusual in herself.  Archer had

always been inclined to think that chance and circumstance played a

small part in shaping people's lots compared with their innate tendency

to have things happen to them.  This tendency he had felt from the

first in Madame Olenska.  The quiet, almost passive young woman struck

him as exactly the kind of person to whom things were bound to happen,

no matter how much she shrank from them and went out of her way to

avoid them.  The exciting fact was her having lived in an atmosphere so

thick with drama that her own tendency to provoke it had apparently

passed unperceived.  It was precisely the odd absence of surprise in

her that gave him the sense of her having been plucked out of a very

maelstrom: the things she took for granted gave the measure of those

she had rebelled against.

 

Archer had left her with the conviction that Count Olenski's accusation

was not unfounded.  The mysterious person who figured in his wife's

past as "the secretary" had probably not been unrewarded for his share

in her escape.  The conditions from which she had fled were

intolerable, past speaking of, past believing: she was young, she was

frightened, she was desperate--what more natural than that she should

be grateful to her rescuer?  The pity was that her gratitude put her,

in the law's eyes and the world's, on a par with her abominable

husband.  Archer had made her understand this, as he was bound to do;

he had also made her understand that simplehearted kindly New York, on

whose larger charity she had apparently counted, was precisely the

place where she could least hope for indulgence.

 

To have to make this fact plain to her--and to witness her resigned

acceptance of it--had been intolerably painful to him.  He felt himself

drawn to her by obscure feelings of jealousy and pity, as if her

dumbly-confessed error had put her at his mercy, humbling yet endearing

her.  He was glad it was to him she had revealed her secret, rather

than to the cold scrutiny of Mr. Letterblair, or the embarrassed gaze

of her family.  He immediately took it upon himself to assure them both

that she had given up her idea of seeking a divorce, basing her

decision on the fact that she had understood the uselessness of the

proceeding; and with infinite relief they had all turned their eyes

from the "unpleasantness" she had spared them.

 

"I was sure Newland would manage it," Mrs. Welland had said proudly of

her future son-in-law; and old Mrs. Mingott, who had summoned him for a

confidential interview, had congratulated him on his cleverness, and

added impatiently:  "Silly goose!  I told her myself what nonsense it

was.  Wanting to pass herself off as Ellen Mingott and an old maid,

when she has the luck to be a married woman and a Countess!"

 

These incidents had made the memory of his last talk with Madame

Olenska so vivid to the young man that as the curtain fell on the

parting of the two actors his eyes filled with tears, and he stood up

to leave the theatre.

 

In doing so, he turned to the side of the house behind him, and saw the

lady of whom he was thinking seated in a box with the Beauforts,

Lawrence Lefferts and one or two other men.  He had not spoken with her

alone since their evening together, and had tried to avoid being with

her in company; but now their eyes met, and as Mrs. Beaufort recognised

him at the same time, and made her languid little gesture of

invitation, it was impossible not to go into the box.

 

Beaufort and Lefferts made way for him, and after a few words with Mrs.

Beaufort, who always preferred to look beautiful and not have to talk,

Archer seated himself behind Madame Olenska.  There was no one else in

the box but Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who was telling Mrs. Beaufort in a

confidential undertone about Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's last Sunday

reception (where some people reported that there had been dancing).

Under cover of this circumstantial narrative, to which Mrs. Beaufort

listened with her perfect smile, and her head at just the right angle

to be seen in profile from the stalls, Madame Olenska turned and spoke

in a low voice.

 

"Do you think," she asked, glancing toward the stage, "he will send her

a bunch of yellow roses tomorrow morning?"

 

Archer reddened, and his heart gave a leap of surprise.  He had called

only twice on Madame Olenska, and each time he had sent her a box of

yellow roses, and each time without a card.  She had never before made

any allusion to the flowers, and he supposed she had never thought of

him as the sender.  Now her sudden recognition of the gift, and her

associating it with the tender leave-taking on the stage, filled him

with an agitated pleasure.

 

"I was thinking of that too--I was going to leave the theatre in order

to take the picture away with me," he said.

 

To his surprise her colour rose, reluctantly and duskily.  She looked

down at the mother-of-pearl opera-glass in her smoothly gloved hands,

and said, after a pause: "What do you do while May is away?"

 

"I stick to my work," he answered, faintly annoyed by the question.

 

In obedience to a long-established habit, the Wellands had left the

previous week for St. Augustine, where, out of regard for the supposed

susceptibility of Mr. Welland's bronchial tubes, they always spent the

latter part of the winter.  Mr. Welland was a mild and silent man, with

no opinions but with many habits.  With these habits none might

interfere; and one of them demanded that his wife and daughter should

always go with him on his annual journey to the south.  To preserve an

unbroken domesticity was essential to his peace of mind; he would not

have known where his hair-brushes were, or how to provide stamps for

his letters, if Mrs. Welland had not been there to tell him.

 

As all the members of the family adored each other, and as Mr. Welland

was the central object of their idolatry, it never occurred to his wife

and May to let him go to St. Augustine alone; and his sons, who were

both in the law, and could not leave New York during the winter, always

joined him for Easter and travelled back with him.

 

It was impossible for Archer to discuss the necessity of May's

accompanying her father.  The reputation of the Mingotts' family

physician was largely based on the attack of pneumonia which Mr.

Welland had never had; and his insistence on St. Augustine was

therefore inflexible.  Originally, it had been intended that May's

engagement should not be announced till her return from Florida, and

the fact that it had been made known sooner could not be expected to

alter Mr. Welland's plans.  Archer would have liked to join the

travellers and have a few weeks of sunshine and boating with his

betrothed; but he too was bound by custom and conventions.  Little

arduous as his professional duties were, he would have been convicted

of frivolity by the whole Mingott clan if he had suggested asking for a

holiday in mid-winter; and he accepted May's departure with the

resignation which he perceived would have to be one of the principal

constituents of married life.

 

He was conscious that Madame Olenska was looking at him under lowered

lids.  "I have done what you wished--what you advised," she said

abruptly.

 

"Ah--I'm glad," he returned, embarrassed by her broaching the subject

at such a moment.

 

"I understand--that you were right," she went on a little breathlessly;

"but sometimes life is difficult ...  perplexing..."

 

"I know."

 

"And I wanted to tell you that I DO feel you were right; and that I'm

grateful to you," she ended, lifting her opera-glass quickly to her

eyes as the door of the box opened and Beaufort's resonant voice broke

in on them.

 

Archer stood up, and left the box and the theatre.

 

Only the day before he had received a letter from May Welland in which,

with characteristic candour, she had asked him to "be kind to Ellen" in

their absence.  "She likes you and admires you so much--and you know,

though she doesn't show it, she's still very lonely and unhappy.  I

don't think Granny understands her, or uncle Lovell Mingott either;

they really think she's much worldlier and fonder of society than she

is.  And I can quite see that New York must seem dull to her, though

the family won't admit it.  I think she's been used to lots of things

we haven't got; wonderful music, and picture shows, and

celebrities--artists and authors and all the clever people you admire.

Granny can't understand her wanting anything but lots of dinners and

clothes--but I can see that you're almost the only person in New York

who can talk to her about what she really cares for."

 

His wise May--how he had loved her for that letter!  But he had not

meant to act on it; he was too busy, to begin with, and he did not

care, as an engaged man, to play too conspicuously the part of Madame

Olenska's champion.  He had an idea that she knew how to take care of

herself a good deal better than the ingenuous May imagined.  She had

Beaufort at her feet, Mr. van der Luyden hovering above her like a

protecting deity, and any number of candidates (Lawrence Lefferts among

them) waiting their opportunity in the middle distance.  Yet he never

saw her, or exchanged a word with her, without feeling that, after all,

May's ingenuousness almost amounted to a gift of divination.  Ellen

Olenska was lonely and she was unhappy.

 

 

 

XIV.

 

As he came out into the lobby Archer ran across his friend Ned Winsett,

the only one among what Janey called his "clever people" with whom he

cared to probe into things a little deeper than the average level of

club and chop-house banter.

 

He had caught sight, across the house, of Winsett's shabby

round-shouldered back, and had once noticed his eyes turned toward the

Beaufort box.  The two men shook hands, and Winsett proposed a bock at

a little German restaurant around the corner.  Archer, who was not in

the mood for the kind of talk they were likely to get there, declined

on the plea that he had work to do at home; and Winsett said:  "Oh,

well so have I for that matter, and I'll be the Industrious Apprentice

too."

 

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 clothes,

or in both.  Winsett himself had a savage abhorrence of social

observances: Archer, who dressed in the evening because he thought it

cleaner and more comfortable to do so, and who had never stopped to

consider that cleanliness and comfort are two of the costliest items in

a modest budget, regarded Winsett's attitude as part of the boring

"Bohemian" pose that always made fashionable people, who changed their

clothes without talking about it, and were not forever harping on the

number of servants one kept, seem so much simpler and less

self-conscious than the others.  Nevertheless, he was always stimulated

by Winsett, and whenever he caught sight of the journalist's lean

bearded face and melancholy eyes he would rout him out of his corner

and carry him off for a long talk.

 

Winsett was not a journalist by choice.  He was a pure man of letters,

untimely born in a world that had no need of letters; but after

publishing one volume of brief and exquisite literary appreciations, of

which one hundred and twenty copies were sold, thirty given away, and

the balance eventually destroyed by the publishers (as per contract) to

make room for more marketable material, he had abandoned his real

calling, and taken a sub-editorial job on a women's weekly, where

fashion-plates and paper patterns alternated with New England

love-stories and advertisements of temperance drinks.

 

On the subject of "Hearth-fires" (as the paper was called) he was

inexhaustibly entertaining; but beneath his fun lurked the sterile

bitterness of the still young man who has tried and given up.  His

conversation always made Archer take the measure of his own life, and

feel how little it contained; but Winsett's, after all, contained still

less, and though their common fund of intellectual interests and

curiosities made their talks exhilarating, their exchange of views

usually remained within the limits of a pensive dilettantism.

 

"The fact is, life isn't much a fit for either of us," Winsett had once

said.  "I'm down and out; nothing to be done about it.  I've got only

one ware to produce, and there's no market for it here, and won't be in

my time.  But you're free and you're well-off.  Why don't you get into

touch?  There's only one way to do it: to go into politics."

 

Archer threw his head back and laughed.  There one saw at a flash the

unbridgeable difference between men like Winsett and the

others--Archer's kind.  Every one in polite circles knew that, in

America, "a gentleman couldn't go into politics."  But, since he could

hardly put it in that way to Winsett, he answered evasively: "Look at

the career of the honest man in American politics!  They don't want us."

 

"Who's 'they'?  Why don't you all get together and be 'they'

yourselves?"

 

Archer's laugh lingered on his lips in a slightly condescending smile.

It was useless to prolong the discussion: everybody knew the melancholy

fate of the few gentlemen who had risked their clean linen in municipal

or state politics in New York.  The day was past when that sort of

thing was possible: the country was in possession of the bosses and the

emigrant, and decent people had to fall back on sport or culture.

 

"Culture!  Yes--if we had it!  But there are just a few little local

patches, dying out here and there for lack of--well, hoeing and

cross-fertilising: the last remnants of the old European tradition that

your forebears brought with them.  But you're in a pitiful little

minority: you've got no centre, no competition, no audience.  You're

like the pictures on the walls of a deserted house:  'The Portrait of a

Gentleman.'  You'll never amount to anything, any of you, till you roll

up your sleeves and get right down into the muck.  That, or emigrate

... God!  If I could emigrate ..."

 

Archer mentally shrugged his shoulders and turned the conversation back

to books, where Winsett, if uncertain, was always interesting.

Emigrate!  As if a gentleman could abandon his own country!  One could

no more do that than one could roll up one's sleeves and go down into

the muck.  A gentleman simply stayed at home and abstained.  But you

couldn't make a man like Winsett see that; and that was why the New

York of literary clubs and exotic restaurants, though a first shake

made it seem more of a kaleidoscope, turned out, in the end, to be a

smaller box, with a more monotonous pattern, than the assembled atoms

of Fifth Avenue.

 

 

The next morning Archer scoured the town in vain for more yellow roses.

In consequence of this search he arrived late at the office, perceived

that his doing so made no difference whatever to any one, and was

filled with sudden exasperation at the elaborate futility of his life.

Why should he not be, at that moment, on the sands of St. Augustine

with May Welland?  No one was deceived by his pretense of professional

activity.  In old-fashioned legal firms like that of which Mr.

Letterblair was the head, and which were mainly engaged in the

management of large estates and "conservative" investments, there were

always two or three young men, fairly well-off, and without

professional ambition, who, for a certain number of hours of each day,

sat at their desks accomplishing trivial tasks, or simply reading the

newspapers.  Though it was supposed to be proper for them to have an

occupation, the crude fact of money-making was still regarded as

derogatory, and the law, being a profession, was accounted a more

gentlemanly pursuit than business.  But none of these young men had

much hope of really advancing in his profession, or any earnest desire

to do so; and over many of them the green mould of the perfunctory was

already perceptibly spreading.

 

It made Archer shiver to think that it might be spreading over him too.

He had, to be sure, other tastes and interests; he spent his vacations

in European travel, cultivated the "clever people" May spoke of, and

generally tried to "keep up," as he had somewhat wistfully put it to

Madame Olenska.  But once he was married, what would become of this

narrow margin of life in which his real experiences were lived?  He had

seen enough of other young men who had dreamed his dream, though

perhaps less ardently, and who had gradually sunk into the placid and

luxurious routine of their elders.

 

From the office he sent a note by messenger to Madame Olenska, asking

if he might call that afternoon, and begging her to let him find a

reply at his club; but at the club he found nothing, nor did he receive

any letter the following day.  This unexpected silence mortified him

beyond reason, and though the next morning he saw a glorious cluster of

yellow roses behind a florist's window-pane, he left it there.  It was

only on the third morning that he received a line by post from the

Countess Olenska.  To his surprise it was dated from Skuytercliff,

whither the van der Luydens had promptly retreated after putting the

Duke on board his steamer.

 

"I ran away," the writer began abruptly (without the usual

preliminaries), "the day after I saw you at the play, and these kind

friends have taken me in.  I wanted to be quiet, and think things over.

You were right in telling me how kind they were; I feel myself so safe

here.  I wish that you were with us."  She ended with a conventional

"Yours sincerely," and without any allusion to the date of her return.

 

The tone of the note surprised the young man.  What was Madame Olenska

running away from, and why did she feel the need to be safe?  His first

thought was of some dark menace from abroad; then he reflected that he

did not know her epistolary style, and that it might run to picturesque

exaggeration.  Women always exaggerated; and moreover she was not

wholly at her ease in English, which she often spoke as if she were

translating from the French.  "Je me suis evadee--" put in that way,

the opening sentence immediately suggested that she might merely have

wanted to escape from a boring round of engagements; which was very

likely true, for he judged her to be capricious, and easily wearied of

the pleasure of the moment.

 

It amused him to think of the van der Luydens' having carried her off

to Skuytercliff on a second visit, and this time for an indefinite

period.  The doors of Skuytercliff were rarely and grudgingly opened to

visitors, and a chilly week-end was the most ever offered to the few

thus privileged.  But Archer had seen, on his last visit to Paris, the

delicious play of Labiche, "Le Voyage de M. Perrichon," and he

remembered M.  Perrichon's dogged and undiscouraged attachment to the

young man whom he had pulled out of the glacier.  The van der Luydens

had rescued Madame Olenska from a doom almost as icy; and though there

were many other reasons for being attracted to her, Archer knew that

beneath them all lay the gentle and obstinate determination to go on

rescuing her.

 

He felt a distinct disappointment on learning that she was away; and

almost immediately remembered that, only the day before, he had refused

an invitation to spend the following Sunday with the Reggie Chiverses

at their house on the Hudson, a few miles below Skuytercliff.

 

He had had his fill long ago of the noisy friendly parties at Highbank,

with coasting, ice-boating, sleighing, long tramps in the snow, and a

general flavour of mild flirting and milder practical jokes.  He had

just received a box of new books from his London book-seller, and had

preferred the prospect of a quiet Sunday at home with his spoils.  But

he now went into the club writing-room, wrote a hurried telegram, and

told the servant to send it immediately.  He knew that Mrs. Reggie

didn't object to her visitors' suddenly changing their minds, and that

there was always a room to spare in her elastic house.

 

 

 

XV.

 

Newland Archer arrived at the Chiverses' on Friday evening, and on

Saturday went conscientiously through all the rites appertaining to a

week-end at Highbank.

 

In the morning he had a spin in the ice-boat with his hostess and a few

of the hardier guests; in the afternoon he "went over the farm" with

Reggie, and listened, in the elaborately appointed stables, to long and

impressive disquisitions on the horse; after tea he talked in a corner

of the firelit hall with a young lady who had professed herself

broken-hearted when his engagement was announced, but was now eager to

tell him of her own matrimonial hopes; and finally, about midnight, he

assisted in putting a gold-fish in one visitor's bed, dressed up a

burglar in the bath-room of a nervous aunt, and saw in the small hours

by joining in a pillow-fight that ranged from the nurseries to the

basement.  But on Sunday after luncheon he borrowed a cutter, and drove

over to Skuytercliff.

 

People had always been told that the house at Skuytercliff was an

Italian villa.  Those who had never been to Italy believed it; so did

some who had.  The house had been built by Mr. van der Luyden in his

youth, on his return from the "grand tour," and in anticipation of his

approaching marriage with Miss Louisa Dagonet.  It was a large square

wooden structure, with tongued and grooved walls painted pale green and

white, a Corinthian portico, and fluted pilasters between the windows.

From the high ground on which it stood a series of terraces bordered by

balustrades and urns descended in the steel-engraving style to a small

irregular lake with an asphalt edge overhung by rare weeping conifers.

To the right and left, the famous weedless lawns studded with

"specimen" trees (each of a different variety) rolled away to long

ranges of grass crested with elaborate cast-iron ornaments; and below,

in a hollow, lay the four-roomed stone house which the first Patroon

had built on the land granted him in 1612.

 

Against the uniform sheet of snow and the greyish winter sky the

Italian villa loomed up rather grimly; even in summer it kept its

distance, and the boldest coleus bed had never ventured nearer than

thirty feet from its awful front.  Now, as Archer rang the bell, the

long tinkle seemed to echo through a mausoleum; and the surprise of the

butler who at length responded to the call was as great as though he

had been summoned from his final sleep.

 

Happily Archer was of the family, and therefore, irregular though his

arrival was, entitled to be informed that the Countess Olenska was out,

having driven to afternoon service with Mrs. van der Luyden exactly

three quarters of an hour earlier.

 

"Mr. van der Luyden," the butler continued, "is in, sir; but my

impression is that he is either finishing his nap or else reading

yesterday's Evening Post.  I heard him say, sir, on his return from

church this morning, that he intended to look through the Evening Post

after luncheon; if you like, sir, I might go to the library door and

listen--"

 

But Archer, thanking him, said that he would go and meet the ladies;

and the butler, obviously relieved, closed the door on him majestically.

 

A groom took the cutter to the stables, and Archer struck through the

park to the high-road.  The village of Skuytercliff was only a mile and

a half away, but he knew that Mrs. van der Luyden never walked, and

that he must keep to the road to meet the carriage.  Presently,

however, coming down a foot-path that crossed the highway, he caught

sight of a slight figure in a red cloak, with a big dog running ahead.

He hurried forward, and Madame Olenska stopped short with a smile of

welcome.

 

"Ah, you've come!" she said, and drew her hand from her muff.

 

The red cloak made her look gay and vivid, like the Ellen Mingott of

old days; and he laughed as he took her hand, and answered:  "I came to

see what you were running away from."

 

Her face clouded over, but she answered:  "Ah, well--you will see,

presently."

 

The answer puzzled him.  "Why--do you mean that you've been overtaken?"

 

She shrugged her shoulders, with a little movement like Nastasia's, and

rejoined in a lighter tone:  "Shall we walk on?  I'm so cold after the

sermon.  And what does it matter, now you're here to protect me?"

 

The blood rose to his temples and he caught a fold of her cloak.

"Ellen--what is it?  You must tell me."

 

"Oh, presently--let's run a race first: my feet are freezing to the

ground," she cried; and gathering up the cloak she fled away across the

snow, the dog leaping about her with challenging barks.  For a moment

Archer stood watching, his gaze delighted by the flash of the red

meteor against the snow; then he started after her, and they met,

panting and laughing, at a wicket that led into the park.

 

She looked up at him and smiled.  "I knew you'd come!"

 

"That shows you wanted me to," he returned, with a disproportionate joy

in their nonsense.  The white glitter of the trees filled the air with

its own mysterious brightness, and as they walked on over the snow the

ground seemed to sing under their feet.

 

"Where did you come from?" Madame Olenska asked.

 

He told her, and added:  "It was because I got your note."

 

After a pause she said, with a just perceptible chill in her voice:

"May asked you to take care of me."

 

"I didn't need any asking."

 

"You mean--I'm so evidently helpless and defenceless?  What a poor

thing you must all think me!  But women here seem not--seem never to

feel the need: any more than the blessed in heaven."

 

He lowered his voice to ask:  "What sort of a need?"

 

"Ah, don't ask me!  I don't speak your language," she retorted

petulantly.

 

The answer smote him like a blow, and he stood still in the path,

looking down at her.

 

"What did I come for, if I don't speak yours?"

 

"Oh, my friend--!"  She laid her hand lightly on his arm, and he

pleaded earnestly:  "Ellen--why won't you tell me what's happened?"

 

She shrugged again.  "Does anything ever happen in heaven?"

 

He was silent, and they walked on a few yards without exchanging a

word.  Finally she said:  "I will tell you--but where, where, where?

One can't be alone for a minute in that great seminary of a house, with

all the doors wide open, and always a servant bringing tea, or a log

for the fire, or the newspaper!  Is there nowhere in an American house

where one may be by one's self?  You're so shy, and yet you're so

public.  I always feel as if I were in the convent again--or on the

stage, before a dreadfully polite audience that never applauds."

 

"Ah, you don't like us!" Archer exclaimed.

 

They were walking past the house of the old Patroon, with its squat

walls and small square windows compactly grouped about a central

chimney.  The shutters stood wide, and through one of the newly-washed

windows Archer caught the light of a fire.

 

"Why--the house is open!" he said.

 

She stood still.  "No; only for today, at least.  I wanted to see it,

and Mr. van der Luyden had the fire lit and the windows opened, so that

we might stop there on the way back from church this morning."  She ran

up the steps and tried the door.  "It's still unlocked--what luck!

Come in and we can have a quiet talk.  Mrs. van der Luyden has driven

over to see her old aunts at Rhinebeck and we shan't be missed at the

house for another hour."

 

He followed her into the narrow passage.  His spirits, which had

dropped at her last words, rose with an irrational leap.  The homely

little house stood there, its panels and brasses shining in the

firelight, as if magically created to receive them.  A big bed of

embers still gleamed in the kitchen chimney, under an iron pot hung

from an ancient crane.  Rush-bottomed arm-chairs faced each other

across the tiled hearth, and rows of Delft plates stood on shelves

against the walls.  Archer stooped over and threw a log upon the embers.

 

Madame Olenska, dropping her cloak, sat down in one of the chairs.

Archer leaned against the chimney and looked at her.

 

"You're laughing now; but when you wrote me you were unhappy," he said.

 

"Yes."  She paused.  "But I can't feel unhappy when you're here."

 

"I sha'n't be here long," he rejoined, his lips stiffening with the

effort to say just so much and no more.

 

"No; I know.  But I'm improvident: I live in the moment when I'm happy."

 

The words stole through him like a temptation, and to close his senses

to it he moved away from the hearth and stood gazing out at the black

tree-boles against the snow.  But it was as if she too had shifted her

place, and he still saw her, between himself and the trees, drooping

over the fire with her indolent smile.  Archer's heart was beating

insubordinately.  What if it were from him that she had been running

away, and if she had waited to tell him so till they were here alone

together in this secret room?

 

"Ellen, if I'm really a help to you--if you really wanted me to

come--tell me what's wrong, tell me what it is you're running away

from," he insisted.

 

He spoke without shifting his position, without even turning to look at

her: if the thing was to happen, it was to happen in this way, with the

whole width of the room between them, and his eyes still fixed on the

outer snow.

 

For a long moment she was silent; and in that moment Archer imagined

her, almost heard her, stealing up behind him to throw her light arms

about his neck.  While he waited, soul and body throbbing with the

miracle to come, his eyes mechanically received the image of a

heavily-coated man with his fur collar turned up who was advancing

along the path to the house.  The man was Julius Beaufort.

 

"Ah--!" Archer cried, bursting into a laugh.

 

Madame Olenska had sprung up and moved to his side, slipping her hand

into his; but after a glance through the window her face paled and she

shrank back.

 

"So that was it?" Archer said derisively.

 

"I didn't know he was here," Madame Olenska murmured.  Her hand still

clung to Archer's; but he drew away from her, and walking out into the

passage threw open the door of the house.

 

"Hallo, Beaufort--this way!  Madame Olenska was expecting you," he said.

 

 

During his journey back to New York the next morning, Archer relived

with a fatiguing vividness his last moments at Skuytercliff.

 

Beaufort, though clearly annoyed at finding him with Madame Olenska,

had, as usual, carried off the situation high-handedly.  His way of

ignoring people whose presence inconvenienced him actually gave them,

if they were sensitive to it, a feeling of invisibility, of

nonexistence.  Archer, as the three strolled back through the park, was

aware of this odd sense of disembodiment; and humbling as it was to his

vanity it gave him the ghostly advantage of observing unobserved.

 

Beaufort had entered the little house with his usual easy assurance;

but he could not smile away the vertical line between his eyes.  It was

fairly clear that Madame Olenska had not known that he was coming,

though her words to Archer had hinted at the possibility; at any rate,

she had evidently not told him where she was going when she left New

York, and her unexplained departure had exasperated him.  The

ostensible reason of his appearance was the discovery, the very night

before, of a "perfect little house," not in the market, which was

really just the thing for her, but would be snapped up instantly if she

didn't take it; and he was loud in mock-reproaches for the dance she

had led him in running away just as he had found it.

 

"If only this new dodge for talking along a wire had been a little bit

nearer perfection I might have told you all this from town, and been

toasting my toes before the club fire at this minute, instead of

tramping after you through the snow," he grumbled, disguising a real

irritation under the pretence of it; and at this opening Madame Olenska

twisted the talk away to the fantastic possibility that they might one

day actually converse with each other from street to street, or

even--incredible dream!--from one town to another.  This struck from

all three allusions to Edgar Poe and Jules Verne, and such platitudes

as naturally rise to the lips of the most intelligent when they are

talking against time, and dealing with a new invention in which it

would seem ingenuous to believe too soon; and the question of the

telephone carried them safely back to the big house.

 

Mrs. van der Luyden had not yet returned; and Archer took his leave and

walked off to fetch the cutter, while Beaufort followed the Countess

Olenska indoors.  It was probable that, little as the van der Luydens

encouraged unannounced visits, he could count on being asked to dine,

and sent back to the station to catch the nine o'clock train; but more

than that he would certainly not get, for it would be inconceivable to

his hosts that a gentleman travelling without luggage should wish to

spend the night, and distasteful to them to propose it to a person with

whom they were on terms of such limited cordiality as Beaufort.

 

Beaufort knew all this, and must have foreseen it; and his taking the

long journey for so small a reward gave the measure of his impatience.

He was undeniably in pursuit of the Countess Olenska; and Beaufort had

only one object in view in his pursuit of pretty women.  His dull and

childless home had long since palled on him; and in addition to more

permanent consolations he was always in quest of amorous adventures in

his own set.  This was the man from whom Madame Olenska was avowedly

flying: the question was whether she had fled because his importunities

displeased her, or because she did not wholly trust herself to resist

them; unless, indeed, all her talk of flight had been a blind, and her

departure no more than a manoeuvre.

 

Archer did not really believe this.  Little as he had actually seen of

Madame Olenska, he was beginning to think that he could read her face,

and if not her face, her voice; and both had betrayed annoyance, and

even dismay, at Beaufort's sudden appearance.  But, after all, if this

were the case, was it not worse than if she had left New York for the

express purpose of meeting him?  If she had done that, she ceased to be

an object of interest, she threw in her lot with the vulgarest of

dissemblers: a woman engaged in a love affair with Beaufort "classed"

herself irretrievably.

 

No, it was worse a thousand times if, judging Beaufort, and probably

despising him, she was yet drawn to him by all that gave him an

advantage over the other men about her: his habit of two continents and

two societies, his familiar association with artists and actors and

people generally in the world's eye, and his careless contempt for

local prejudices.  Beaufort was vulgar, he was uneducated, he was

purse-proud; but the circumstances of his life, and a certain native

shrewdness, made him better worth talking to than many men, morally and

socially his betters, whose horizon was bounded by the Battery and the

Central Park.  How should any one coming from a wider world not feel

the difference and be attracted by it?

 

Madame Olenska, in a burst of irritation, had said to Archer that he

and she did not talk the same language; and the young man knew that in

some respects this was true.  But Beaufort understood every turn of her

dialect, and spoke it fluently: his view of life, his tone, his

attitude, were merely a coarser reflection of those revealed in Count

Olenski's letter.  This might seem to be to his disadvantage with Count

Olenski's wife; but Archer was too intelligent to think that a young

woman like Ellen Olenska would necessarily recoil from everything that

reminded her of her past.  She might believe herself wholly in revolt

against it; but what had charmed her in it would still charm her, even

though it were against her will.

 

Thus, with a painful impartiality, did the young man make out the case

for Beaufort, and for Beaufort's victim.  A longing to enlighten her

was strong in him; and there were moments when he imagined that all she

asked was to be enlightened.

 

That evening he unpacked his books from London.  The box was full of

things he had been waiting for impatiently; a new volume of Herbert

Spencer, another collection of the prolific Alphonse Daudet's brilliant

tales, and a novel called "Middlemarch," as to which there had lately

been interesting things said in the reviews.  He had declined three

dinner invitations in favour of this feast; but though he turned the

pages with the sensuous joy of the book-lover, he did not know what he

was reading, and one book after another dropped from his hand.

Suddenly, among them, he lit on a small volume of verse which he had

ordered because the name had attracted him:  "The House of Life."  He

took it up, and found himself plunged in an atmosphere unlike any he

had ever breathed in books; so warm, so rich, and yet so ineffably

tender, that it gave a new and haunting beauty to the most elementary

of human passions.  All through the night he pursued through those

enchanted pages the vision of a woman who had the face of Ellen

Olenska; but when he woke the next morning, and looked out at the

brownstone houses across the street, and thought of his desk in Mr.

Letterblair's office, and the family pew in Grace Church, his hour in

the park of Skuytercliff became as far outside the pale of probability

as the visions of the night.

 

"Mercy, how pale you look, Newland!" Janey commented over the

coffee-cups at breakfast; and his mother added:  "Newland, dear, I've

noticed lately that you've been coughing; I do hope you're not letting

yourself be overworked?"  For it was the conviction of both ladies

that, under the iron despotism of his senior partners, the young man's

life was spent in the most exhausting professional labours--and he had

never thought it necessary to undeceive them.

 

The next two or three days dragged by heavily.  The taste of the usual

was like cinders in his mouth, and there were moments when he felt as

if he were being buried alive under his future.  He heard nothing of

the Countess Olenska, or of the perfect little house, and though he met

Beaufort at the club they merely nodded at each other across the

whist-tables.  It was not till the fourth evening that he found a note

awaiting him on his return home.  "Come late tomorrow: I must explain

to you.  Ellen."  These were the only words it contained.

 

The young man, who was dining out, thrust the note into his pocket,

smiling a little at the Frenchness of the "to you."  After dinner he

went to a play; and it was not until his return h