Part 1 out of 8
Etext prepared by JudithBoss, proofed by Charles Keller.
The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
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
She sang, of course, "M'ama!" and not "he loves
me," since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the
musical world required that the German text of French
operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated
into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-
speaking audiences. This seemed as natural to Newland
Archer as all the other conventions on which his life
was moulded: such as the duty of using two silver-
backed brushes with his monogram in blue enamel to
part his hair, and of never appearing in society without
a flower (preferably a gardenia) in his buttonhole.
"M'ama . . . non m'ama . . . " the prima donna sang,
and "M'ama!", with a final burst of love triumphant,
as she pressed the dishevelled daisy to her lips and
lifted her large eyes to the sophisticated countenance of
the little brown Faust-Capoul, who was vainly trying,
in a tight purple velvet doublet and plumed cap, to
look as pure and true as his artless victim.
Newland Archer, leaning against the wall at the back
of the club box, turned his eyes from the stage and
scanned the opposite side of the house. Directly facing
him was the box of old Mrs. Manson Mingott, whose
monstrous obesity had long since made it impossible
for her to attend the Opera, but who was always
represented on fashionable nights by some of the younger
members of the family. On this occasion, the front
of the box was filled by her daughter-in-law, Mrs.
Lovell Mingott, and her daughter, Mrs. Welland; and
slightly withdrawn behind these brocaded matrons sat
a young girl in white with eyes ecstatically fixed on the
stagelovers. As Madame Nilsson's "M'ama!" thrilled
out above the silent house (the boxes always stopped
talking during the Daisy Song) a warm pink mounted
to the girl's cheek, mantled her brow to the roots of her
fair braids, and suffused the young slope of her breast
to the line where it met a modest tulle tucker fastened
with a single gardenia. She dropped her eyes to the
immense bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on her knee,
and Newland Archer saw her white-gloved finger-tips
touch the flowers softly. He drew a breath of satisfied
vanity and his eyes returned to the stage.
No expense had been spared on the setting, which
was acknowledged to be very beautiful even by people
who shared his acquaintance with the Opera houses of
Paris and Vienna. The foreground, to the footlights,
was covered with emerald green cloth. In the middle
distance symmetrical mounds of woolly green moss
bounded by croquet hoops formed the base of shrubs
shaped like orange-trees but studded with large pink
and red roses. Gigantic pansies, considerably larger
than the roses, and closely resembling the floral pen-
wipers made by female parishioners for fashionable
clergymen, sprang from the moss beneath the rose-
trees; and here and there a daisy grafted on a rose-
branch flowered with a luxuriance prophetic of Mr.
Luther Burbank's far-off prodigies.
In the centre of this enchanted garden Madame
Nilsson, in white cashmere slashed with pale blue satin,
a reticule dangling from a blue girdle, and large yellow
braids carefully disposed on each side of her muslin
chemisette, listened with downcast eyes to M. Capoul's
impassioned wooing, and affected a guileless incomprehension
of his designs whenever, by word or glance, he
persuasively indicated the ground floor window of the
neat brick villa projecting obliquely from the right wing.
"The darling!" thought Newland Archer, his glance
flitting back to the young girl with the lilies-of-the-
valley. "She doesn't even guess what it's all about."
And he contemplated her absorbed young face with a
thrill of possessorship in which pride in his own masculine
initiation was mingled with a tender reverence for
her abysmal purity. "We'll read Faust together . . . by
the Italian lakes . . ." he thought, somewhat hazily
confusing the scene of his projected honey-moon with
the masterpieces of literature which it would be his
manly privilege to reveal to his bride. It was only that
afternoon that May Welland had let him guess that she
"cared" (New York's consecrated phrase of maiden
avowal), and already his imagination, leaping ahead of
the engagement ring, the betrothal kiss and the march
from Lohengrin, pictured her at his side in some scene
of old European witchery.
He did not in the least wish the future Mrs. Newland
Archer to be a simpleton. He meant her (thanks to his
enlightening companionship) to develop a social tact
and readiness of wit enabling her to hold her own with
the most popular married women of the "younger set,"
in which it was the recognised custom to attract masculine
homage while playfully discouraging it. If he had
probed to the bottom of his vanity (as he sometimes
nearly did) he would have found there the wish that his
wife should be as worldly-wise and as eager to please
as the married lady whose charms had held his fancy
through two mildly agitated years; without, of course,
any hint of the frailty which had so nearly marred that
unhappy being's life, and had disarranged his own
plans for a whole winter.
How this miracle of fire and ice was to be created,
and to sustain itself in a harsh world, he had never
taken the time to think out; but he was content to hold
his view without analysing it, since he knew it was that
of all the carefully-brushed, white-waistcoated, button-
hole-flowered gentlemen who succeeded each other in
the club box, exchanged friendly greetings with him,
and turned their opera-glasses critically on the circle of
ladies who were the product of the system. In matters
intellectual and artistic Newland Archer felt himself
distinctly the superior of these chosen specimens of old
New York gentility; he had probably read more, thought
more, and even seen a good deal more of the world,
than any other man of the number. Singly they betrayed
their inferiority; but grouped together they represented
"New York," and the habit of masculine solidarity
made him accept their doctrine on all the issues called
moral. He instinctively felt that in this respect it would
be troublesome--and also rather bad form--to strike
out for himself.
"Well--upon my soul!" exclaimed Lawrence Lefferts,
turning his opera-glass abruptly away from the stage.
Lawrence Lefferts was, on the whole, the foremost
authority on "form" in New York. He had probably
devoted more time than any one else to the study of
this intricate and fascinating question; but study alone
could not account for his complete and easy competence.
One had only to look at him, from the slant of
his bald forehead and the curve of his beautiful fair
moustache to the long patent-leather feet at the other
end of his lean and elegant person, to feel that the
knowledge of "form" must be congenital in any one
who knew how to wear such good clothes so carelessly
and carry such height with so much lounging grace. As
a young admirer had once said of him: "If anybody can
tell a fellow just when to wear a black tie with evening
clothes and when not to, it's Larry Lefferts." And on
the question of pumps versus patent-leather "Oxfords"
his authority had never been disputed.
"My God!" he said; and silently handed his glass to
old Sillerton Jackson.
Newland Archer, following Lefferts's glance, saw with
surprise that his exclamation had been occasioned by
the entry of a new figure into old Mrs. Mingott's box.
It was that of a slim young woman, a little less tall than
May Welland, with brown hair growing in close curls
about her temples and held in place by a narrow band
of diamonds. The suggestion of this headdress, which
gave her what was then called a "Josephine look," was
carried out in the cut of the dark blue velvet gown
rather theatrically caught up under her bosom by a
girdle with a large old-fashioned clasp. The wearer of
this unusual dress, who seemed quite unconscious of
the attention it was attracting, stood a moment in the
centre of the box, discussing with Mrs. Welland the
propriety of taking the latter's place in the front right-
hand corner; then she yielded with a slight smile, and
seated herself in line with Mrs. Welland's sister-in-law,
Mrs. Lovell Mingott, who was installed in the opposite
Mr. Sillerton Jackson had returned the opera-glass to
Lawrence Lefferts. The whole of the club turned
instinctively, waiting to hear what the old man had to
say; for old Mr. Jackson was as great an authority on
"family" as Lawrence Lefferts was on "form." He knew
all the ramifications of New York's cousinships; and
could not only elucidate such complicated questions as
that of the connection between the Mingotts (through
the Thorleys) with the Dallases of South Carolina, and
that of the relationship of the elder branch of Philadelphia
Thorleys to the Albany Chiverses (on no account
to be confused with the Manson Chiverses of University
Place), but could also enumerate the leading characteristics
of each family: as, for instance, the fabulous
stinginess of the younger lines of Leffertses (the Long
Island ones); or the fatal tendency of the Rushworths
to make foolish matches; or the insanity recurring in
every second generation of the Albany Chiverses, with
whom their New York cousins had always refused to
intermarry--with the disastrous exception of poor
Medora Manson, who, as everybody knew . . . but
then her mother was a Rushworth.
In addition to this forest of family trees, Mr. Sillerton
Jackson carried between his narrow hollow temples,
and under his soft thatch of silver hair, a register of
most of the scandals and mysteries that had smouldered
under the unruffled surface of New York society
within the last fifty years. So far indeed did his
information extend, and so acutely retentive was his
memory, that he was supposed to be the only man who
could have told you who Julius Beaufort, the banker,
really was, and what had become of handsome Bob
Spicer, old Mrs. Manson Mingott's father, who had
disappeared so mysteriously (with a large sum of trust
money) less than a year after his marriage, on the very
day that a beautiful Spanish dancer who had been
delighting thronged audiences in the old Opera-house
on the Battery had taken ship for Cuba. But these
mysteries, and many others, were closely locked in Mr.
Jackson's breast; for not only did his keen sense of
honour forbid his repeating anything privately imparted,
but he was fully aware that his reputation for discretion
increased his opportunities of finding out what he
wanted to know.
The club box, therefore, waited in visible suspense
while Mr. Sillerton Jackson handed back Lawrence
Lefferts's opera-glass. For a moment he silently scrutinised
the attentive group out of his filmy blue eyes
overhung by old veined lids; then he gave his moustache
a thoughtful twist, and said simply: "I didn't
think the Mingotts would have tried it on."
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
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
Old Mrs. Mingott's foreign daughters had become a
legend. They never came back to see their mother, and
the latter being, like many persons of active mind and
dominating will, sedentary and corpulent in her habit,
had philosophically remained at home. But the cream-
coloured house (supposed to be modelled on the private
hotels of the Parisian aristocracy) was there as a
visible proof of her moral courage; and she throned in
it, among pre-Revolutionary furniture and souvenirs of
the Tuileries of Louis Napoleon (where she had shone
in her middle age), as placidly as if there were nothing
peculiar in living above Thirty-fourth Street, or in having
French windows that opened like doors instead of
sashes that pushed up.
Every one (including Mr. Sillerton Jackson) was agreed
that old Catherine had never had beauty--a gift which,
in the eyes of New York, justified every success, and
excused a certain number of failings. Unkind people
said that, like her Imperial namesake, she had won her
way to success by strength of will and hardness of
heart, and a kind of haughty effrontery that was somehow
justified by the extreme decency and dignity of her
private life. Mr. Manson Mingott had died when she
was only twenty-eight, and had "tied up" the money
with an additional caution born of the general distrust
of the Spicers; but his bold young widow went her way
fearlessly, mingled freely in foreign society, married her
daughters in heaven knew what corrupt and fashionable
circles, hobnobbed with Dukes and Ambassadors,
associated familiarly with Papists, entertained Opera
singers, and was the intimate friend of Mme. Taglioni;
and all the while (as Sillerton Jackson was the first to
proclaim) there had never been a breath on her reputation;
the only respect, he always added, in which she
differed from the earlier Catherine.
Mrs. Manson Mingott had long since succeeded in
untying her husband's fortune, and had lived in affluence
for half a century; but memories of her early
straits had made her excessively thrifty, and though,
when she bought a dress or a piece of furniture, she
took care that it should be of the best, she could not
bring herself to spend much on the transient pleasures
of the table. Therefore, for totally different reasons, her
food was as poor as Mrs. Archer's, and her wines did
nothing to redeem it. Her relatives considered that the
penury of her table discredited the Mingott name, which
had always been associated with good living; but people
continued to come to her in spite of the "made
dishes" and flat champagne, and in reply to the
remonstrances of her son Lovell (who tried to retrieve the
family credit by having the best chef in New York) she
used to say laughingly: "What's the use of two good
cooks in one family, now that I've married the girls and
can't eat sauces?"
Newland Archer, as he mused on these things, had
once more turned his eyes toward the Mingott box. He
saw that Mrs. Welland and her sister-in-law were facing
their semicircle of critics with the Mingottian APLOMB
which old Catherine had inculcated in all her tribe, and
that only May Welland betrayed, by a heightened colour
(perhaps due to the knowledge that he was watching
her) a sense of the gravity of the situation. As for
the cause of the commotion, she sat gracefully in her
corner of the box, her eyes fixed on the stage, and
revealing, as she leaned forward, a little more shoulder
and bosom than New York was accustomed to seeing,
at least in ladies who had reasons for wishing to pass
Few things seemed to Newland Archer more awful
than an offence against "Taste," that far-off divinity of
whom "Form" was the mere visible representative and
vicegerent. Madame Olenska's pale and serious face
appealed to his fancy as suited to the occasion and to
her unhappy situation; but the way her dress (which
had no tucker) sloped away from her thin shoulders
shocked and troubled him. He hated to think of May
Welland's being exposed to the influence of a young
woman so careless of the dictates of Taste.
"After all," he heard one of the younger men begin
behind him (everybody talked through the Mephistopheles-
and-Martha scenes), "after all, just WHAT happened?"
"Well--she left him; nobody attempts to deny that."
"He's an awful brute, isn't he?" continued the young
enquirer, a candid Thorley, who was evidently preparing
to enter the lists as the lady's champion.
"The very worst; I knew him at Nice," said
Lawrence Lefferts with authority. "A half-paralysed white
sneering fellow--rather handsome head, but eyes with
a lot of lashes. Well, I'll tell you the sort: when he
wasn't with women he was collecting china. Paying any
price for both, I understand."
There was a general laugh, and the young champion
said: "Well, then----?"
"Well, then; she bolted with his secretary."
"Oh, I see." The champion's face fell.
"It didn't last long, though: I heard of her a few
months later living alone in Venice. I believe Lovell
Mingott went out to get her. He said she was desperately
unhappy. That's all right--but this parading her
at the Opera's another thing."
"Perhaps," young Thorley hazarded, "she's too
unhappy to be left at home."
This was greeted with an irreverent laugh, and the
youth blushed deeply, and tried to look as if he had
meant to insinuate what knowing people called a "double
"Well--it's queer to have brought Miss Welland,
anyhow," some one said in a low tone, with a side-
glance at Archer.
"Oh, that's part of the campaign: Granny's orders,
no doubt," Lefferts laughed. "When the old lady does
a thing she does it thoroughly."
The act was ending, and there was a general stir in
the box. Suddenly Newland Archer felt himself
impelled to decisive action. The desire to be the first man
to enter Mrs. Mingott's box, to proclaim to the waiting
world his engagement to May Welland, and to see her
through whatever difficulties her cousin's anomalous
situation might involve her in; this impulse had abruptly
overruled all scruples and hesitations, and sent him
hurrying through the red corridors to the farther side
of the house.
As he entered the box his eyes met Miss Welland's,
and he saw that she had instantly understood his motive,
though the family dignity which both considered
so high a virtue would not permit her to tell him so.
The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of
faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that
he and she understood each other without a word
seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than
any explanation would have done. Her eyes said: "You
see why Mamma brought me," and his answered: "I
would not for the world have had you stay away."
"You know my niece Countess Olenska?" Mrs. Welland
enquired as she shook hands with her future son-
in-law. Archer bowed without extending his hand, as
was the custom on being introduced to a lady; and
Ellen Olenska bent her head slightly, keeping her own
pale-gloved hands clasped on her huge fan of eagle
feathers. Having greeted Mrs. Lovell Mingott, a large
blonde lady in creaking satin, he sat down beside his
betrothed, and said in a low tone: "I hope you've told
Madame Olenska that we're engaged? I want everybody
to know--I want you to let me announce it this
evening at the ball."
Miss Welland's face grew rosy as the dawn, and she
looked at him with radiant eyes. "If you can persuade
Mamma," she said; "but why should we change what
is already settled?" He made no answer but that which
his eyes returned, and she added, still more confidently
smiling: "Tell my cousin yourself: I give you leave. She
says she used to play with you when you were children."
She made way for him by pushing back her chair,
and promptly, and a little ostentatiously, with the
desire that the whole house should see what he was
doing, Archer seated himself at the Countess Olenska's
"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
"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 Beaufort?
The question was: who was Beaufort? He passed for
an Englishman, was agreeable, handsome, ill-tempered,
hospitable and witty. He had come to America with
letters of recommendation from old Mrs. Manson
Mingott's English son-in-law, the banker, and had speedily
made himself an important position in the world of
affairs; but his habits were dissipated, his tongue was
bitter, his antecedents were mysterious; and when
Medora Manson announced her cousin's engagement
to him it was felt to be one more act of folly in poor
Medora's long record of imprudences.
But folly is as often justified of her children as
wisdom, and two years after young Mrs. Beaufort's marriage
it was admitted that she had the most distinguished
house in New York. No one knew exactly how the
miracle was accomplished. She was indolent, passive,
the caustic even called her dull; but dressed like an
idol, hung with pearls, growing younger and blonder
and more beautiful each year, she throned in Mr. Beaufort's
heavy brown-stone palace, and drew all the world
there without lifting her jewelled little finger. The knowing
people said it was Beaufort himself who trained the
servants, taught the chef new dishes, told the gardeners
what hot-house flowers to grow for the dinner-table
and the drawing-rooms, selected the guests, brewed the
after-dinner punch and dictated the little notes his wife
wrote to her friends. If he did, these domestic activities
were privately performed, and he presented to the world
the appearance of a careless and hospitable millionaire
strolling into his own drawing-room with the detachment
of an invited guest, and saying: "My wife's gloxinias
are a marvel, aren't they? I believe she gets them
out from Kew."
Mr. Beaufort's secret, people were agreed, was the
way he carried things off. It was all very well to whisper
that he had been "helped" to leave England by the
international banking-house in which he had been
employed; he carried off that rumour as easily as the
rest--though New York's business conscience was no
less sensitive than its moral standard--he carried
everything before him, and all New York into his drawing-
rooms, and for over twenty years now people had said
they were "going to the Beauforts'" with the same
tone of security as if they had said they were going to
Mrs. Manson Mingott's, and with the added satisfaction
of knowing they would get hot canvas-back ducks
and vintage wines, instead of tepid Veuve Clicquot
without a year and warmed-up croquettes from Philadelphia.
Mrs. Beaufort, then, had as usual appeared in her
box just before the Jewel Song; and when, again as
usual, she rose at the end of the third act, drew her
opera cloak about her lovely shoulders, and disappeared,
New York knew that meant that half an hour
later the ball would begin.
The Beaufort house was one that New Yorkers were
proud to show to foreigners, especially on the night of
the annual ball. The Beauforts had been among the
first people in New York to own their own red velvet
carpet and have it rolled down the steps by their own
footmen, under their own awning, instead of hiring it
with the supper and the ball-room chairs. They had
also inaugurated the custom of letting the ladies take
their cloaks off in the hall, instead of shuffling up to
the hostess's bedroom and recurling their hair with the
aid of the gas-burner; Beaufort was understood to have
said that he supposed all his wife's friends had maids
who saw to it that they were properly coiffees when
they left home.
Then the house had been boldly planned with a
ball-room, so that, instead of squeezing through a narrow
passage to get to it (as at the Chiverses') one
marched solemnly down a vista of enfiladed drawing-
rooms (the sea-green, the crimson and the bouton d'or),
seeing from afar the many-candled lustres reflected in
the polished parquetry, and beyond that the depths of a
conservatory where camellias and tree-ferns arched their
costly foliage over seats of black and gold bamboo.
Newland Archer, as became a young man of his
position, strolled in somewhat late. He had left his
overcoat with the silk-stockinged footmen (the stockings
were one of Beaufort's few fatuities), had dawdled
a while in the library hung with Spanish leather and
furnished with Buhl and malachite, where a few men
were chatting and putting on their dancing-gloves, and
had finally joined the line of guests whom Mrs. Beaufort
was receiving on the threshold of the crimson
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
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
"Yes, I know." She met his glance comprehendingly.
"But after all--even here we're alone together, aren't
"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
"Ah." She looked disappointed, but gently resolved
on gaining her point. "You must, then, for I didn't
either; and I shouldn't like her to think--"
"Of course not. But aren't you, after all, the person
to do it?"
She pondered on this. "If I'd done it at the right
time, yes: but now that there's been a delay I think you
must explain that I'd asked you to tell her at the
Opera, before our speaking about it to everybody here.
Otherwise she might think I had forgotten her. You
see, she's one of the family, and she's been away so
long that she's rather--sensitive."
Archer looked at her glowingly. "Dear and great
angel! Of course I'll tell her." He glanced a trifle
apprehensively toward the crowded ball-room. "But I haven't
seen her yet. Has she come?"
"No; at the last minute she decided not to."
"At the last minute?" he echoed, betraying his
surprise that she should ever have considered the alternative
"Yes. She's awfully fond of dancing," the young girl
answered simply. "But suddenly she made up her mind
that her dress wasn't smart enough for a ball, though
we thought it so lovely; and so my aunt had to take her
"Oh, well--" said Archer with happy indifference.
Nothing about his betrothed pleased him more than
her resolute determination to carry to its utmost limit
that ritual of ignoring the "unpleasant" in which they
had both been brought up.
"She knows as well as I do," he reflected, "the real
reason of her cousin's staying away; but I shall never
let her see by the least sign that I am conscious of there
being a shadow of a shade on poor Ellen Olenska's
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
A visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott was always an
amusing episode to the young man. The house in itself
was already an historic document, though not, of course,
as venerable as certain other old family houses in
University Place and lower Fifth Avenue. Those were of
the purest 1830, with a grim harmony of cabbage-
rose-garlanded carpets, rosewood consoles, round-arched
fire-places with black marble mantels, and immense
glazed book-cases of mahogany; whereas old Mrs.
Mingott, who had built her house later, had bodily cast
out the massive furniture of her prime, and mingled
with the Mingott heirlooms the frivolous upholstery of
the Second Empire. It was her habit to sit in a window
of her sitting-room on the ground floor, as if watching
calmly for life and fashion to flow northward to her
solitary doors. She seemed in no hurry to have them
come, for her patience was equalled by her confidence.
She was sure that presently the hoardings, the quarries,
the one-story saloons, the wooden green-houses in ragged
gardens, and the rocks from which goats surveyed
the scene, would vanish before the advance of residences
as stately as her own--perhaps (for she was an
impartial woman) even statelier; and that the cobble-
stones over which the old clattering omnibuses bumped
would be replaced by smooth asphalt, such as people
reported having seen in Paris. Meanwhile, as every one
she cared to see came to HER (and she could fill her
rooms as easily as the Beauforts, and without adding a
single item to the menu of her suppers), she did not
suffer from her geographic isolation.
The immense accretion of flesh which had descended
on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed
city had changed her from a plump active little woman
with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as
vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She had
accepted this submergence as philosophically as all her
other trials, and now, in extreme old age, was rewarded
by presenting to her mirror an almost unwrinkled
expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the
centre of which the traces of a small face survived as if
awaiting excavation. A flight of smooth double chins led
down to the dizzy depths of a still-snowy bosom veiled
in snowy muslins that were held in place by a miniature
portrait of the late Mr. Mingott; and around and below,
wave after wave of black silk surged away over the edges
of a capacious armchair, with two tiny white hands poised
like gulls on the surface of the billows.
The burden of Mrs. Manson Mingott's flesh had
long since made it impossible for her to go up and
down stairs, and with characteristic independence she
had made her reception rooms upstairs and established
herself (in flagrant violation of all the New York
proprieties) on the ground floor of her house; so that, as
you sat in her sitting-room window with her, you caught
(through a door that was always open, and a looped-
back yellow damask portiere) the unexpected vista of a
bedroom with a huge low bed upholstered like a sofa,
and a toilet-table with frivolous lace flounces and a
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
"Thanks. I wish it might happen oftener," said the
visitor in his easy arrogant way. "I'm generally so tied
down; but I met the Countess Ellen in Madison Square,
and she was good enough to let me walk home with
"Ah--I hope the house will be gayer, now that
Ellen's here!" cried Mrs. Mingott with a glorious
effrontery. "Sit down--sit down, Beaufort: push up the yellow
armchair; now I've got you I want a good gossip. I
hear your ball was magnificent; and I understand you
invited Mrs. Lemuel Struthers? Well--I've a curiosity
to see the woman myself."
She had forgotten her relatives, who were drifting
out into the hall under Ellen Olenska's guidance. Old
Mrs. Mingott had always professed a great admiration
for Julius Beaufort, and there was a kind of kinship in
their cool domineering way and their short-cuts through
the conventions. Now she was eagerly curious to know
what had decided the Beauforts to invite (for the first
time) Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, the widow of Struthers's
Shoe-polish, who had returned the previous year from
a long initiatory sojourn in Europe to lay siege to the
tight little citadel of New York. "Of course if you and
Regina invite her the thing is settled. Well, we need
new blood and new money--and I hear she's still very
good-looking," the carnivorous old lady declared.
In the hall, while Mrs. Welland and May drew on
their furs, Archer saw that the Countess Olenska was
looking at him with a faintly questioning smile.
"Of course you know already--about May and me,"
he said, answering her look with a shy laugh. "She
scolded me for not giving you the news last night at the
Opera: I had her orders to tell you that we were
engaged--but I couldn't, in that crowd."
The smile passed from Countess Olenska's eyes to
her lips: she looked younger, more like the bold brown
Ellen Mingott of his boyhood. "Of course I know; yes.
And I'm so glad. But one doesn't tell such things first in
a crowd." The ladies were on the threshold and she
held out her hand.
"Good-bye; come and see me some day," she said,
still looking at Archer.
In the carriage, on the way down Fifth Avenue, they
talked pointedly of Mrs. Mingott, of her age, her spirit,
and all her wonderful attributes. No one alluded to
Ellen Olenska; but Archer knew that Mrs. Welland
was thinking: "It's a mistake for Ellen to be seen, the
very day after her arrival, parading up Fifth Avenue at
the crowded hour with Julius Beaufort--" and the young
man himself mentally added: "And she ought to know
that a man who's just engaged doesn't spend his time
calling on married women. But I daresay in the set
she's lived in they do--they never do anything else."
And, in spite of the cosmopolitan views on which he
prided himself, he thanked heaven that he was a New
Yorker, and about to ally himself with one of his own
The next evening old Mr. Sillerton Jackson came to
dine with the Archers.
Mrs. Archer was a shy woman and shrank from
society; but she liked to be well-informed as to its
doings. Her old friend Mr. Sillerton Jackson applied to
the investigation of his friends' affairs the patience of a
collector and the science of a naturalist; and his sister,
Miss Sophy Jackson, who lived with him, and was
entertained by all the people who could not secure her
much-sought-after brother, brought home bits of minor
gossip that filled out usefully the gaps in his picture.
Therefore, whenever anything happened that Mrs.
Archer wanted to know about, she asked Mr. Jackson
to dine; and as she honoured few people with her
invitations, and as she and her daughter Janey were an
excellent audience, Mr. Jackson usually came himself
instead of sending his sister. If he could have dictated
all the conditions, he would have chosen the evenings
when Newland was out; not because the young man
was uncongenial to him (the two got on capitally at
their club) but because the old anecdotist sometimes
felt, on Newland's part, a tendency to weigh his
evidence that the ladies of the family never showed.
Mr. Jackson, if perfection had been attainable on
earth, would also have asked that Mrs. Archer's food
should be a little better. But then New York, as far
back as the mind of man could travel, had been divided
into the two great fundamental groups of the Mingotts
and Mansons and all their clan, who cared about eating
and clothes and money, and the Archer-Newland-
van-der-Luyden tribe, who were devoted to travel,
horticulture and the best fiction, and looked down on
the grosser forms of pleasure.
You couldn't have everything, after all. If you dined
with the Lovell Mingotts you got canvas-back and
terrapin and vintage wines; at Adeline Archer's you
could talk about Alpine scenery and "The Marble Faun";
and luckily the Archer Madeira had gone round the
Cape. Therefore when a friendly summons came from
Mrs. Archer, Mr. Jackson, who was a true eclectic,
would usually say to his sister: "I've been a little gouty
since my last dinner at the Lovell Mingotts'--it will do
me good to diet at Adeline's."
Mrs. Archer, who had long been a widow, lived with
her son and daughter in West Twenty-eighth Street. An
upper floor was dedicated to Newland, and the two
women squeezed themselves into narrower quarters
below. In an unclouded harmony of tastes and interests
they cultivated ferns in Wardian cases, made macrame
lace and wool embroidery on linen, collected American
revolutionary glazed ware, subscribed to "Good Words,"
and read Ouida's novels for the sake of the Italian
atmosphere. (They preferred those about peasant life,
because of the descriptions of scenery and the pleasanter
sentiments, though in general they liked novels about
people in society, whose motives and habits were more
comprehensible, spoke severely of Dickens, who "had
never drawn a gentleman," and considered Thackeray
less at home in the great world than Bulwer--who,
however, was beginning to be thought old-fashioned.)
Mrs. and Miss Archer were both great lovers of
scenery. It was what they principally sought and admired
on their occasional travels abroad; considering
architecture and painting as subjects for men, and chiefly
for learned persons who read Ruskin. Mrs. Archer had
been born a Newland, and mother and daughter, who
were as like as sisters, were both, as people said, "true
Newlands"; tall, pale, and slightly round-shouldered,
with long noses, sweet smiles and a kind of drooping
distinction like that in certain faded Reynolds portraits.
Their physical resemblance would have been complete
if an elderly embonpoint had not stretched Mrs. Archer's
black brocade, while Miss Archer's brown and
purple poplins hung, as the years went on, more and
more slackly on her virgin frame.
Mentally, the likeness between them, as Newland
was aware, was less complete than their identical
mannerisms often made it appear. The long habit of living
together in mutually dependent intimacy had given them
the same vocabulary, and the same habit of beginning
their phrases "Mother thinks" or "Janey thinks,"
according as one or the other wished to advance an
opinion of her own; but in reality, while Mrs. Archer's
serene unimaginativeness rested easily in the accepted
and familiar, Janey was subject to starts and aberrations
of fancy welling up from springs of suppressed
Mother and daughter adored each other and revered
their son and brother; and Archer loved them with a
tenderness made compunctious and uncritical by the
sense of their exaggerated admiration, and by his secret
satisfaction in it. After all, he thought it a good thing
for a man to have his authority respected in his own
house, even if his sense of humour sometimes made
him question the force of his mandate.
On this occasion the young man was very sure that
Mr. Jackson would rather have had him dine out; but
he had his own reasons for not doing so.
Of course old Jackson wanted to talk about Ellen
Olenska, and of course Mrs. Archer and Janey wanted
to hear what he had to tell. All three would be slightly
embarrassed by Newland's presence, now that his
prospective relation to the Mingott clan had been made
known; and the young man waited with an amused
curiosity to see how they would turn the difficulty.
They began, obliquely, by talking about Mrs. Lemuel
"It's a pity the Beauforts asked her," Mrs. Archer
said gently. "But then Regina always does what he tells
her; and BEAUFORT--"
"Certain nuances escape Beaufort," said Mr. Jackson,
cautiously inspecting the broiled shad, and wondering
for the thousandth time why Mrs. Archer's cook
always burnt the roe to a cinder. (Newland, who had
long shared his wonder, could always detect it in the
older man's expression of melancholy disapproval.)
"Oh, necessarily; Beaufort is a vulgar man," said
Mrs. Archer. "My grandfather Newland always used
to say to my mother: `Whatever you do, don't let that
fellow Beaufort be introduced to the girls.' But at least
he's had the advantage of associating with gentlemen;
in England too, they say. It's all very mysterious--"
She glanced at Janey and paused. She and Janey knew
every fold of the Beaufort mystery, but in public Mrs.
Archer continued to assume that the subject was not
one for the unmarried.
"But this Mrs. Struthers," Mrs. Archer continued;
"what did you say SHE was, Sillerton?"
"Out of a mine: or rather out of the saloon at the
head of the pit. Then with Living Wax-Works, touring
New England. After the police broke THAT up, they say
she lived--" Mr. Jackson in his turn glanced at Janey,
whose eyes began to bulge from under her prominent
lids. There were still hiatuses for her in Mrs. Struthers's
"Then," Mr. Jackson continued (and Archer saw he
was wondering why no one had told the butler never to
slice cucumbers with a steel knife), "then Lemuel Struthers
came along. They say his advertiser used the girl's
head for the shoe-polish posters; her hair's intensely
black, you know--the Egyptian style. Anyhow, he--
eventually--married her." There were volumes of
innuendo in the way the "eventually" was spaced, and
each syllable given its due stress.
"Oh, well--at the pass we've come to nowadays, it
doesn't matter," said Mrs. Archer indifferently. The
ladies were not really interested in Mrs. Struthers
just then; the subject of Ellen Olenska was too fresh
and too absorbing to them. Indeed, Mrs. Struthers's
name had been introduced by Mrs. Archer only that
she might presently be able to say: "And Newland's
new cousin--Countess Olenska? Was SHE at the ball too?"
There was a faint touch of sarcasm in the reference
to her son, and Archer knew it and had expected it.
Even Mrs. Archer, who was seldom unduly pleased
with human events, had been altogether glad of her
son's engagement. ("Especially after that silly business
with Mrs. Rushworth," as she had remarked to Janey,
alluding to what had once seemed to Newland a tragedy
of which his soul would always bear the scar.)
There was no better match in New York than May
Welland, look at the question from whatever point you
chose. Of course such a marriage was only what
Newland was entitled to; but young men are so foolish
and incalculable--and some women so ensnaring and
unscrupulous--that it was nothing short of a miracle to
see one's only son safe past the Siren Isle and in the
haven of a blameless domesticity.
All this Mrs. Archer felt, and her son knew she felt;
but he knew also that she had been perturbed by the
premature announcement of his engagement, or rather
by its cause; and it was for that reason--because on the
whole he was a tender and indulgent master--that he
had stayed at home that evening. "It's not that I don't
approve of the Mingotts' esprit de corps; but why
Newland's engagement should be mixed up with that
Olenska woman's comings and goings I don't see,"
Mrs. Archer grumbled to Janey, the only witness of her
slight lapses from perfect sweetness.
She had behaved beautifully--and in beautiful
behaviour she was unsurpassed--during the call on Mrs.
Welland; but Newland knew (and his betrothed doubtless
guessed) that all through the visit she and Janey
were nervously on the watch for Madame Olenska's
possible intrusion; and when they left the house
together she had permitted herself to say to her son: "I'm
thankful that Augusta Welland received us alone."
These indications of inward disturbance moved Archer
the more that he too felt that the Mingotts had gone a
little too far. But, as it was against all the rules of their
code that the mother and son should ever allude to
what was uppermost in their thoughts, he simply replied:
"Oh, well, there's always a phase of family parties
to be gone through when one gets engaged, and the
sooner it's over the better." At which his mother merely
pursed her lips under the lace veil that hung down from
her grey velvet bonnet trimmed with frosted grapes.
Her revenge, he felt--her lawful revenge--would be
to "draw" Mr. Jackson that evening on the Countess
Olenska; and, having publicly done his duty as a future
member of the Mingott clan, the young man had no
objection to hearing the lady discussed in private--except
that the subject was already beginning to bore him.
Mr. Jackson had helped himself to a slice of the tepid
filet which the mournful butler had handed him with a
look as sceptical as his own, and had rejected the
mushroom sauce after a scarcely perceptible sniff. He
looked baffled and hungry, and Archer reflected that
he would probably finish his meal on Ellen Olenska.
Mr. Jackson leaned back in his chair, and glanced up
at the candlelit Archers, Newlands and van der Luydens
hanging in dark frames on the dark walls.
"Ah, how your grandfather Archer loved a good
dinner, my dear Newland!" he said, his eyes on the
portrait of a plump full-chested young man in a stock
and a blue coat, with a view of a white-columned
country-house behind him. "Well--well--well . . . I
wonder what he would have said to all these foreign
Mrs. Archer ignored the allusion to the ancestral
cuisine and Mr. Jackson continued with deliberation:
"No, she was NOT at the ball."
"Ah--" Mrs. Archer murmured, in a tone that
implied: "She had that decency."
"Perhaps the Beauforts don't know her," Janey
suggested, with her artless malice.
Mr. Jackson gave a faint sip, as if he had been
tasting invisible Madeira. "Mrs. Beaufort may not--but
Beaufort certainly does, for she was seen walking up
Fifth Avenue this afternoon with him by the whole of
"Mercy--" moaned Mrs. Archer, evidently perceiving
the uselessness of trying to ascribe the actions of
foreigners to a sense of delicacy.
"I wonder if she wears a round hat or a bonnet in
the afternoon," Janey speculated. "At the Opera I know
she had on dark blue velvet, perfectly plain and flat--
like a night-gown."
"Janey!" said her mother; and Miss Archer blushed
and tried to look audacious.
"It was, at any rate, in better taste not to go to the
ball," Mrs. Archer continued.
A spirit of perversity moved her son to rejoin: "I
don't think it was a question of taste with her. May
said she meant to go, and then decided that the dress in
question wasn't smart enough."
Mrs. Archer smiled at this confirmation of her
inference. "Poor Ellen," she simply remarked; adding
compassionately: "We must always bear in mind what an
eccentric bringing-up Medora Manson gave her. What
can you expect of a girl who was allowed to wear
black satin at her coming-out ball?"
"Ah--don't I remember her in it!" said Mr. Jackson;
adding: "Poor girl!" in the tone of one who, while
enjoying the memory, had fully understood at the time
what the sight portended.
"It's odd," Janey remarked, "that she should have
kept such an ugly name as Ellen. I should have changed
it to Elaine." She glanced about the table to see the
effect of this.
Her brother laughed. "Why Elaine?"
"I don't know; it sounds more--more Polish," said
"It sounds more conspicuous; and that can hardly be
what she wishes," said Mrs. Archer distantly.
"Why not?" broke in her son, growing suddenly
argumentative. "Why shouldn't she be conspicuous if
she chooses? Why should she slink about as if it were
she who had disgraced herself? She's `poor Ellen'
certainly, because she had the bad luck to make a wretched
marriage; but I don't see that that's a reason for hiding
her head as if she were the culprit."
"That, I suppose," said Mr. Jackson, speculatively,
"is the line the Mingotts mean to take."
The young man reddened. "I didn't have to wait for
their cue, if that's what you mean, sir. Madame Olenska
has had an unhappy life: that doesn't make her an
"There are rumours," began Mr. Jackson, glancing
"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
"I hear she means to get a divorce," said Janey
"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 harlots."
He stopped and turned away angrily to light his
cigar. "Women ought to be free--as free as we are," he
declared, making a discovery of which he was too
irritated to measure the terrific consequences.
Mr. Sillerton Jackson stretched his ankles nearer the
coals and emitted a sardonic whistle.
"Well," he said after a pause, "apparently Count
Olenski takes your view; for I never heard of his having
lifted a finger to get his wife back."
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
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
There was a certain triteness in these reflections: they
were those habitual to young men on the approach of
their wedding day. But they were generally accompanied
by a sense of compunction and self-abasement of
which Newland Archer felt no trace. He could not
deplore (as Thackeray's heroes so often exasperated
him by doing) that he had not a blank page to offer his
bride in exchange for the unblemished one she was to
give to him. He could not get away from the fact that if
he had been brought up as she had they would have
been no more fit to find their way about than the Babes
in the Wood; nor could he, for all his anxious cogitations,
see any honest reason (any, that is, unconnected
with his own momentary pleasure, and the passion of
masculine vanity) why his bride should not have been
allowed the same freedom of experience as himself.
Such questions, at such an hour, were bound to drift
through his mind; but he was conscious that their
uncomfortable persistence and precision were due to
the inopportune arrival of the Countess Olenska. Here
he was, at the very moment of his betrothal--a moment
for pure thoughts and cloudless hopes--pitchforked
into a coil of scandal which raised all the special problems
he would have preferred to let lie. "Hang Ellen
Olenska!" he grumbled, as he covered his fire and
began to undress. He could not really see why her fate
should have the least bearing on his; yet he dimly felt
that he had only just begun to measure the risks of the
championship which his engagement had forced upon
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
The guests had been selected with a boldness and
discrimination in which the initiated recognised the
firm hand of Catherine the Great. Associated with such
immemorial standbys as the Selfridge Merrys, who were
asked everywhere because they always had been, the
Beauforts, on whom there was a claim of relationship,
and Mr. Sillerton Jackson and his sister Sophy (who
went wherever her brother told her to), were some of
the most fashionable and yet most irreproachable of
the dominant "young married" set; the Lawrence
Leffertses, Mrs. Lefferts Rushworth (the lovely widow),
the Harry Thorleys, the Reggie Chiverses and young
Morris Dagonet and his wife (who was a van der
Luyden). The company indeed was perfectly assorted,
since all the members belonged to the little inner group
of people who, during the long New York season,
disported themselves together daily and nightly with
apparently undiminished zest.
Forty-eight hours later the unbelievable had
happened; every one had refused the Mingotts' invitation
except the Beauforts and old Mr. Jackson and his sister.
The intended slight was emphasised by the fact that
even the Reggie Chiverses, who were of the Mingott
clan, were among those inflicting it; and by the
uniform wording of the notes, in all of which the writers
"regretted that they were unable to accept," without
the mitigating plea of a "previous engagement" that
ordinary courtesy prescribed.
New York society was, in those days, far too small,
and too scant in its resources, for every one in it
(including livery-stable-keepers, butlers and cooks) not
to know exactly on which evenings people were free;
and it was thus possible for the recipients of Mrs.
Lovell Mingott's invitations to make cruelly clear their
determination not to meet the Countess Olenska.
The blow was unexpected; but the Mingotts, as their
way was, met it gallantly. Mrs. Lovell Mingott
confided the case to Mrs. Welland, who confided it to
Newland Archer; who, aflame at the outrage, appealed
passionately and authoritatively to his mother; who,
after a painful period of inward resistance and outward
temporising, succumbed to his instances (as she always
did), and immediately embracing his cause with an
energy redoubled by her previous hesitations, put on
her grey velvet bonnet and said: "I'll go and see Louisa
van der Luyden."
The New York of Newland Archer's day was a small
and slippery pyramid, in which, as yet, hardly a fissure
had been made or a foothold gained. At its base was a
firm foundation of what Mrs. Archer called "plain
people"; an honourable but obscure majority of
respectable families who (as in the case of the Spicers or
the Leffertses or the Jacksons) had been raised above
their level by marriage with one of the ruling clans.
People, Mrs. Archer always said, were not as particular
as they used to be; and with old Catherine Spicer ruling
one end of Fifth Avenue, and Julius Beaufort the other,
you couldn't expect the old traditions to last much
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
The Lannings survived only in the person of two
very old but lively Miss Lannings, who lived cheerfully
and reminiscently among family portraits and Chippendale;
the Dagonets were a considerable clan, allied to
the best names in Baltimore and Philadelphia; but the
van der Luydens, who stood above all of them, had
faded into a kind of super-terrestrial twilight, from
which only two figures impressively emerged; those of
Mr. and Mrs. Henry van der Luyden.
Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had been Louisa Dagonet,
and her mother had been the granddaughter of Colonel
du Lac, of an old Channel Island family, who had
fought under Cornwallis and had settled in Maryland,
after the war, with his bride, Lady Angelica Trevenna,
fifth daughter of the Earl of St. Austrey. The tie
between the Dagonets, the du Lacs of Maryland, and
their aristocratic Cornish kinsfolk, the Trevennas, had
always remained close and cordial. Mr. and Mrs. van
der Luyden had more than once paid long visits to the
present head of the house of Trevenna, the Duke of St.
Austrey, at his country-seat in Cornwall and at St.
Austrey in Gloucestershire; and his Grace had frequently
announced his intention of some day returning their
visit (without the Duchess, who feared the Atlantic).
Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden divided their time
between Trevenna, their place in Maryland, and Skuytercliff,
the great estate on the Hudson which had been one
of the colonial grants of the Dutch government to the
famous first Governor, and of which Mr. van der Luyden
was still "Patroon." Their large solemn house in Madison
Avenue was seldom opened, and when they came to town
they received in it only their most intimate friends.
"I wish you would go with me, Newland," his mother
said, suddenly pausing at the door of the Brown
coupe. "Louisa is fond of you; and of course it's on
account of dear May that I'm taking this step--and
also because, if we don't all stand together, there'll be
no such thing as Society left."
Mrs. Henry van der Luyden listened in silence to
her cousin Mrs. Archer's narrative.
It was all very well to tell yourself in advance that
Mrs. van der Luyden was always silent, and that, though
non-committal by nature and training, she was very
kind to the people she really liked. Even personal
experience of these facts was not always a protection from
the chill that descended on one in the high-ceilinged
white-walled Madison Avenue drawing-room, with the
pale brocaded armchairs so obviously uncovered for
the occasion, and the gauze still veiling the ormolu
mantel ornaments and the beautiful old carved frame
of Gainsborough's "Lady Angelica du Lac."
Mrs. van der Luyden's portrait by Huntington (in
black velvet and Venetian point) faced that of her
lovely ancestress. It was generally considered "as fine
as a Cabanel," and, though twenty years had elapsed
since its execution, was still "a perfect likeness."
Indeed the Mrs. van der Luyden who sat beneath it
listening to Mrs. Archer might have been the twin-sister
of the fair and still youngish woman drooping against a
gilt armchair before a green rep curtain. Mrs. van der
Luyden still wore black velvet and Venetian point when
she went into society--or rather (since she never dined
out) when she threw open her own doors to receive it.
Her fair hair, which had faded without turning grey,
was still parted in flat overlapping points on her forehead,
and the straight nose that divided her pale blue
eyes was only a little more pinched about the nostrils
than when the portrait had been painted. She always,
indeed, struck Newland Archer as having been rather
gruesomely preserved in the airless atmosphere of a
perfectly irreproachable existence, as bodies caught in
glaciers keep for years a rosy life-in-death.
Like all his family, he esteemed and admired Mrs.
van der Luyden; but he found her gentle bending sweetness
less approachable than the grimness of some of his
mother's old aunts, fierce spinsters who said "No" on
principle before they knew what they were going to be
Mrs. van der Luyden's attitude said neither yes nor
no, but always appeared to incline to clemency till her
thin lips, wavering into the shadow of a smile, made
the almost invariable reply: "I shall first have to talk
this over with my husband."
She and Mr. van der Luyden were so exactly alike
that Archer often wondered how, after forty years of
the closest conjugality, two such merged identities ever
separated themselves enough for anything as controversial
as a talking-over. But as neither had ever reached a
decision without prefacing it by this mysterious
conclave, Mrs. Archer and her son, having set forth their
case, waited resignedly for the familiar phrase.
Mrs. van der Luyden, however, who had seldom
surprised any one, now surprised them by reaching her
long hand toward the bell-rope.
"I think," she said, "I should like Henry to hear
what you have told me."
A footman appeared, to whom she gravely added:
"If Mr. van der Luyden has finished reading the
newspaper, please ask him to be kind enough to come."
She said "reading the newspaper" in the tone in
which a Minister's wife might have said: "Presiding at
a Cabinet meeting"--not from any arrogance of mind,
but because the habit of a life-time, and the attitude of
her friends and relations, had led her to consider Mr.
van der Luyden's least gesture as having an almost
Her promptness of action showed that she considered
the case as pressing as Mrs. Archer; but, lest she
should be thought to have committed herself in advance,
she added, with the sweetest look: "Henry always
enjoys seeing you, dear Adeline; and he will wish
to congratulate Newland."
The double doors had solemnly reopened and between
them appeared Mr. Henry van der Luyden, tall,
spare and frock-coated, with faded fair hair, a straight
nose like his wife's and the same look of frozen gentleness
in eyes that were merely pale grey instead of pale
Mr. van der Luyden greeted Mrs. Archer with cousinly
affability, proffered to Newland low-voiced
congratulations couched in the same language as his wife's,
and seated himself in one of the brocade armchairs
with the simplicity of a reigning sovereign.
"I had just finished reading the Times," he said,
laying his long finger-tips together. "In town my mornings
are so much occupied that I find it more convenient
to read the newspapers after luncheon."
"Ah, there's a great deal to be said for that plan--
indeed I think my uncle Egmont used to say he found it
less agitating not to read the morning papers till after
dinner," said Mrs. Archer responsively.
"Yes: my good father abhorred hurry. But now we
live in a constant rush," said Mr. van der Luyden in
measured tones, looking with pleasant deliberation about
the large shrouded room which to Archer was so complete
an image of its owners.
"But I hope you HAD finished your reading, Henry?"
his wife interposed.
"Quite--quite," he reassured her.
"Then I should like Adeline to tell you--"
"Oh, it's really Newland's story," said his mother
smiling; and proceeded to rehearse once more the monstrous
tale of the affront inflicted on Mrs. Lovell Mingott.
"Of course," she ended, "Augusta Welland and Mary
Mingott both felt that, especially in view of Newland's
engagement, you and Henry OUGHT TO KNOW."
"Ah--" said Mr. van der Luyden, drawing a deep
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
"The LEFFERTSES!--" said Mrs. van der Luyden.
"The LEFFERTSES!--" echoed Mrs. Archer. "What would
uncle Egmont have said of Lawrence Lefferts's
pronouncing on anybody's social position? It shows what
Society has come to."
"We'll hope it has not quite come to that," said Mr.
van der Luyden firmly.
"Ah, if only you and Louisa went out more!" sighed
But instantly she became aware of her mistake. The
van der Luydens were morbidly sensitive to any criticism
of their secluded existence. They were the arbiters
of fashion, the Court of last Appeal, and they knew it,
and bowed to their fate. But being shy and retiring
persons, with no natural inclination for their part, they
lived as much as possible in the sylvan solitude of
Skuytercliff, and when they came to town, declined all
invitations on the plea of Mrs. van der Luyden's health.
Newland Archer came to his mother's rescue.
"Everybody in New York knows what you and cousin
Louisa represent. That's why Mrs. Mingott felt she
ought not to allow this slight on Countess Olenska to