The Age of Innocence
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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,
"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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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 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
"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
"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
"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.
The next evening old Mr. Sillerton Jackson came to dine with the
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
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
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
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
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
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
"But this Mrs. Struthers," Mrs. Archer continued; "what did you say SHE
"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
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
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
"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
"Perhaps the Beauforts don't know her," Janey suggested, with her
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
"It was, at any rate, in better taste not to go to the ball," Mrs.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Mrs. Henry van der Luyden listened in silence to her cousin Mrs.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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."
It was generally agreed in New York that the Countess Olenska had "lost
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
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
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
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
"I'm so sorry," he said impulsively; "but you ARE among friends here,
"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."
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
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
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
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
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
"Isn't that perhaps 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
"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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
"As if the mere 'differently' didn't account for it!" the wooer
"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.
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."
"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
"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
"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
"How kind you both are, dear Henry--always! Newland will particularly
appreciate what you have done because of dear May and his new
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.
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
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
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
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."
"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
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
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.
"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
"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
"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.
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
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
"No; but the missus is," said Beaufort, nodding carelessly to the young
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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."
"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
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
"Well--can there be anything more abominable?"
She changed her position slightly, screening her eyes with her lifted
"Of course you know," Archer continued, "that if your husband chooses
to fight the case--as he threatens to--"
"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
"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
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."
"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.
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
"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
"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.
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
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
"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..."
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
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'
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
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.
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
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
"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,
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
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
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
"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"
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 home, after midnight,
that he drew Madame Olenska's missive out again and re-read it slowly a