Part 2 out of 8
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--
"It seems so to me," said his wife, as if she were
producing a new thought.
"I had no idea," Mr. van der Luyden continued,
"that things had come to such a pass." He paused, and
looked at his wife again. "It occurs to me, my dear,
that the Countess Olenska is already a sort of relation--
through Medora Manson's first husband. At any rate,
she will be when Newland marries." He turned toward
the young man. "Have you read this morning's Times,
"Why, yes, sir," said Archer, who usually tossed off
half a dozen papers with his morning coffee.
Husband and wife looked at each other again. Their
pale eyes clung together in prolonged and serious
consultation; then a faint smile fluttered over Mrs. van der
Luyden's face. She had evidently guessed and approved.
Mr. van der Luyden turned to Mrs. Archer. "If Louisa's
health allowed her to dine out--I wish you would
say to Mrs. Lovell Mingott--she and I would have
been happy to--er--fill the places of the Lawrence
Leffertses at her dinner." He paused to let the irony of
this sink in. "As you know, this is impossible." Mrs.
Archer sounded a sympathetic assent. "But Newland
tells me he has read this morning's Times; therefore he
has probably seen that Louisa's relative, the Duke of
St. Austrey, arrives next week on the Russia. He is
coming to enter his new sloop, the Guinevere, in next
summer's International Cup Race; and also to have a
little canvasback shooting at Trevenna." Mr. van der
Luyden paused again, and continued with increasing
benevolence: "Before taking him down to Maryland
we are inviting a few friends to meet him here--only a
little dinner--with a reception afterward. I am sure
Louisa will be as glad as I am if Countess Olenska will
let us include her among our guests." He got up, bent
his long body with a stiff friendliness toward his cousin,
and added: "I think I have Louisa's authority for saying
that she will herself leave the invitation to dine
when she drives out presently: with our cards--of course
with our cards."
Mrs. Archer, who knew this to be a hint that the
seventeen-hand chestnuts which were never kept waiting
were at the door, rose with a hurried murmur of
thanks. Mrs. van der Luyden beamed on her with the
smile of Esther interceding with Ahasuerus; but her
husband raised a protesting hand.
"There is nothing to thank me for, dear Adeline;
nothing whatever. This kind of thing must not happen
in New York; it shall not, as long as I can help it," he
pronounced with sovereign gentleness as he steered his
cousins to the door.
Two hours later, every one knew that the great
C-spring barouche in which Mrs. van der Luyden
took the air at all seasons had been seen at old
Mrs. Mingott's door, where a large square envelope
was handed in; and that evening at the Opera Mr.
Sillerton Jackson was able to state that the envelope
contained a card inviting the Countess Olenska
to the dinner which the van der Luydens were giving
the following week for their cousin, the Duke
of St. Austrey.
Some of the younger men in the club box exchanged
a smile at this announcement, and glanced sideways at
Lawrence Lefferts, who sat carelessly in the front of the
box, pulling his long fair moustache, and who remarked
with authority, as the soprano paused: "No one but
Patti ought to attempt the Sonnambula."
It was generally agreed in New York that the Countess
Olenska had "lost her looks."
She had appeared there first, in Newland Archer's
boyhood, as a brilliantly pretty little girl of nine or ten,
of whom people said that she "ought to be painted."
Her parents had been continental wanderers, and after
a roaming babyhood she had lost them both, and been
taken in charge by her aunt, Medora Manson, also a
wanderer, who was herself returning to New York to
Poor Medora, repeatedly widowed, was always coming
home to settle down (each time in a less expensive
house), and bringing with her a new husband or an
adopted child; but after a few months she invariably
parted from her husband or quarrelled with her ward,
and, having got rid of her house at a loss, set out again
on her wanderings. As her mother had been a Rushworth,
and her last unhappy marriage had linked her
to one of the crazy Chiverses, New York looked indulgently
on her eccentricities; but when she returned with
her little orphaned niece, whose parents had been popular
in spite of their regrettable taste for travel, people thought
it a pity that the pretty child should be in such hands.
Every one was disposed to be kind to little Ellen
Mingott, though her dusky red cheeks and tight curls
gave her an air of gaiety that seemed unsuitable in a
child who should still have been in black for her
parents. It was one of the misguided Medora's many
peculiarities to flout the unalterable rules that regulated
American mourning, and when she stepped from the
steamer her family were scandalised to see that the
crape veil she wore for her own brother was seven
inches shorter than those of her sisters-in-law, while
little Ellen was in crimson merino and amber beads,
like a gipsy foundling.
But New York had so long resigned itself to Medora
that only a few old ladies shook their heads over Ellen's
gaudy clothes, while her other relations fell under
the charm of her high colour and high spirits. She was
a fearless and familiar little thing, who asked disconcerting
questions, made precocious comments, and possessed
outlandish arts, such as dancing a Spanish shawl
dance and singing Neapolitan love-songs to a guitar.
Under the direction of her aunt (whose real name was
Mrs. Thorley Chivers, but who, having received a Papal
title, had resumed her first husband's patronymic,
and called herself the Marchioness Manson, because in
Italy she could turn it into Manzoni) the little girl
received an expensive but incoherent education, which
included "drawing from the model," a thing never
dreamed of before, and playing the piano in quintets
with professional musicians.
Of course no good could come of this; and when, a
few years later, poor Chivers finally died in a mad-
house, 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
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
The dinner was a somewhat formidable business.
Dining with the van der Luydens was at best no light
matter, and dining there with a Duke who was their
cousin was almost a religious solemnity. It pleased
Archer to think that only an old New Yorker could
perceive the shade of difference (to New York) between
being merely a Duke and being the van der Luydens'
Duke. New York took stray noblemen calmly, and
even (except in the Struthers set) with a certain distrustful
hauteur; but when they presented such credentials
as these they were received with an old-fashioned
cordiality that they would have been greatly mistaken in
ascribing solely to their standing in Debrett. It was for
just such distinctions that the young man cherished his
old New York even while he smiled at it.
The van der Luydens had done their best to emphasise
the importance of the occasion. The du Lac Sevres
and the Trevenna George II plate were out; so was the
van der Luyden "Lowestoft" (East India Company)
and the Dagonet Crown Derby. Mrs. van der Luyden
looked more than ever like a Cabanel, and Mrs. Archer,
in her grandmother's seed-pearls and emeralds, reminded
her son of an Isabey miniature. All the ladies had on
their handsomest jewels, but it was characteristic of the
house and the occasion that these were mostly in rather
heavy old-fashioned settings; and old Miss Lanning,
who had been persuaded to come, actually wore her
mother's cameos and a Spanish blonde shawl.
The Countess Olenska was the only young woman at
the dinner; yet, as Archer scanned the smooth plump
elderly faces between their diamond necklaces and
towering ostrich feathers, they struck him as curiously
immature compared with hers. It frightened him to
think what must have gone to the making of her eyes.
The Duke of St. Austrey, who sat at his hostess's
right, was naturally the chief figure of the evening. But
if the Countess Olenska was less conspicuous than had
been hoped, the Duke was almost invisible. Being a
well-bred man he had not (like another recent ducal
visitor) come to the dinner in a shooting-jacket; but his
evening clothes were so shabby and baggy, and he
wore them with such an air of their being homespun,
that (with his stooping way of sitting, and the vast
beard spreading over his shirt-front) he hardly gave the
appearance of being in dinner attire. He was short,
round-shouldered, sunburnt, with a thick nose, small
eyes and a sociable smile; but he seldom spoke, and
when he did it was in such low tones that, despite the
frequent silences of expectation about the table, his
remarks were lost to all but his neighbours.
When the men joined the ladies after dinner the
Duke went straight up to the Countess Olenska, and
they sat down in a corner and plunged into animated
talk. Neither seemed aware that the Duke should first
have paid his respects to Mrs. Lovell Mingott and Mrs. Headly
Chivers, and the Countess have conversed with
that amiable hypochondriac, Mr. Urban Dagonet of
Washington Square, who, in order to have the pleasure
of meeting her, had broken through his fixed rule of
not dining out between January and April. The two
chatted together for nearly twenty minutes; then the
Countess rose and, walking alone across the wide
drawing-room, sat down at Newland Archer's side.
It was not the custom in New York drawing-rooms
for a lady to get up and walk away from one gentleman
in order to seek the company of another. Etiquette
required that she should wait, immovable as an idol,
while the men who wished to converse with her succeeded
each other at her side. But the Countess was
apparently unaware of having broken any rule; she sat
at perfect ease in a corner of the sofa beside Archer,
and looked at him with the kindest eyes.
"I want you to talk to me about May," she said.
Instead of answering her he asked: "You knew the
"Oh, yes--we used to see him every winter at Nice.
He's very fond of gambling--he used to come to the
house a great deal." She said it in the simplest manner,
as if she had said: "He's fond of wild-flowers"; and
after a moment she added candidly: "I think he's the
dullest man I ever met."
This pleased her companion so much that he forgot
the slight shock her previous remark had caused him. It
was undeniably exciting to meet a lady who found the
van der Luydens' Duke dull, and dared to utter the
opinion. He longed to question her, to hear more about
the life of which her careless words had given him so
illuminating a glimpse; but he feared to touch on
distressing memories, and before he could think of
anything to say she had strayed back to her original subject.
"May is a darling; I've seen no young girl in New
York so handsome and so intelligent. Are you very
much in love with her?"
Newland Archer reddened and laughed. "As much as
a man can be."
She continued to consider him thoughtfully, as if not
to miss any shade of meaning in what he said, "Do you
think, then, there is a limit?"
"To being in love? If there is, I haven't found it!"
She glowed with sympathy. "Ah--it's really and truly
"The most romantic of romances!"
"How delightful! And you found it all out for
yourselves--it was not in the least arranged for you?"
Archer looked at her incredulously. "Have you
forgotten," he asked with a smile, "that in our country we
don't allow our marriages to be arranged for us?"
A dusky blush rose to her cheek, and he instantly
regretted his words.
"Yes," she answered, "I'd forgotten. You must
forgive me if I sometimes make these mistakes. I don't
always remember that everything here is good that
was--that was bad where I've come from." She looked
down at her Viennese fan of eagle feathers, and he saw
that her lips trembled.
"I'm so sorry," he said impulsively; "but you ARE
among friends here, you know."
"Yes--I know. Wherever I go I have that feeling.
That's why I came home. I want to forget everything
else, to become a complete American again, like the
Mingotts and Wellands, and you and your delightful
mother, and all the other good people here tonight. Ah,
here's May arriving, and you will want to hurry away
to her," she added, but without moving; and her eyes
turned back from the door to rest on the young man's
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
"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
"Tomorrow, then, after five--I shall expect you,"
she said; and then turned back to make room for Mr.
"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
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
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
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
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
He had meant to tell May of the Countess Olenska's
request--her command, rather--that he should call on
her that afternoon; but in the brief moments when they
were alone he had had more pressing things to say.
Besides, it struck him as a little absurd to allude to the
matter. He knew that May most particularly wanted
him to be kind to her cousin; was it not that wish
which had hastened the announcement of their engagement?
It gave him an odd sensation to reflect that, but
for the Countess's arrival, he might have been, if not
still a free man, at least a man less irrevocably pledged.
But May had willed it so, and he felt himself somehow
relieved of further responsibility--and therefore at liberty,
if he chose, to call on her cousin without telling
As he stood on Madame Olenska's threshold curiosity
was his uppermost feeling. He was puzzled by the
tone in which she had summoned him; he concluded
that she was less simple than she seemed.
The door was opened by a swarthy foreign-looking
maid, with a prominent bosom under a gay neckerchief,
whom he vaguely fancied to be Sicilian. She
welcomed him with all her white teeth, and answering
his enquiries by a head-shake of incomprehension led
him through the narrow hall into a low firelit drawing-
room. The room was empty, and she left him, for an
appreciable time, to wonder whether she had gone to
find her mistress, or whether she had not understood
what he was there for, and thought it might be to wind
the clock--of which he perceived that the only visible
specimen had stopped. He knew that the southern races
communicated with each other in the language of
pantomime, and was mortified to find her shrugs and
smiles so unintelligible. At length she returned with a
lamp; and Archer, having meanwhile put together a
phrase out of Dante and Petrarch, evoked the answer:
"La signora e fuori; ma verra subito"; which he took
to mean: "She's out--but you'll soon see."
What he saw, meanwhile, with the help of the lamp,
was the faded shadowy charm of a room unlike any
room he had known. He knew that the Countess Olenska
had brought some of her possessions with her--bits of
wreckage, she called them--and these, he supposed,
were represented by some small slender tables of dark
wood, a delicate little Greek bronze on the chimney-
piece, and a stretch of red damask nailed on the
discoloured wallpaper behind a couple of Italian-looking
pictures in old frames.
Newland Archer prided himself on his knowledge of
Italian art. His boyhood had been saturated with
Ruskin, and he had read all the latest books: John Addington
Symonds, Vernon Lee's "Euphorion," the essays of P.
G. Hamerton, and a wonderful new volume called
"The Renaissance" by Walter Pater. He talked easily of
Botticelli, and spoke of Fra Angelico with a faint
condescension. But these pictures bewildered him, for they
were like nothing that he was accustomed to look at
(and therefore able to see) when he travelled in Italy;
and perhaps, also, his powers of observation were
impaired by the oddness of finding himself in this strange
empty house, where apparently no one expected him.
He was sorry that he had not told May Welland of
Countess Olenska's request, and a little disturbed by
the thought that his betrothed might come in to see her
cousin. What would she think if she found him sitting
there with the air of intimacy implied by waiting alone
in the dusk at a lady's fireside?
But since he had come he meant to wait; and he sank
into a chair and stretched his feet to the logs.
It was odd to have summoned him in that way, and
then forgotten him; but Archer felt more curious than
mortified. The atmosphere of the room was so different
from any he had ever breathed that self-consciousness
vanished in the sense of adventure. He had been before
in drawing-rooms hung with red damask, with pictures
"of the Italian school"; what struck him was the way
in which Medora Manson's shabby hired house, with
its blighted background of pampas grass and Rogers
statuettes, had, by a turn of the hand, and the skilful
use of a few properties, been transformed into something
intimate, "foreign," subtly suggestive of old
romantic scenes and sentiments. He tried to analyse the
trick, to find a clue to it in the way the chairs and
tables were grouped, in the fact that only two Jacqueminot
roses (of which nobody ever bought less than a
dozen) had been placed in the slender vase at his elbow,
and in the vague pervading perfume that was not
what one put on handkerchiefs, but rather like the
scent of some far-off bazaar, a smell made up of Turkish
coffee and ambergris and dried roses.
His mind wandered away to the question of what
May's drawing-room would look like. He knew that
Mr. Welland, who was behaving "very handsomely,"
already had his eye on a newly built house in East
Thirty-ninth Street. The neighbourhood was thought
remote, and the house was built in a ghastly greenish-
yellow stone that the younger architects were beginning
to employ as a protest against the brownstone of which
the uniform hue coated New York like a cold chocolate
sauce; but the plumbing was perfect. Archer would
have liked to travel, to put off the housing question;
but, though the Wellands approved of an extended
European honeymoon (perhaps even a winter in Egypt),
they were firm as to the need of a house for the
returning couple. The young man felt that his fate was
sealed: for the rest of his life he would go up every
evening between the cast-iron railings of that greenish-
yellow doorstep, and pass through a Pompeian vestibule
into a hall with a wainscoting of varnished yellow
wood. But beyond that his imagination could not travel.
He knew the drawing-room above had a bay window,
but he could not fancy how May would deal with it.
She submitted cheerfully to the purple satin and yellow
tuftings of the Welland drawing-room, to its sham Buhl
tables and gilt vitrines full of modern Saxe. He saw no
reason to suppose that she would want anything different
in her own house; and his only comfort was to
reflect that she would probably let him arrange his
library as he pleased--which would be, of course, with
"sincere" Eastlake furniture, and the plain new bookcases
without glass doors.
The round-bosomed maid came in, drew the
curtains, pushed back a log, and said consolingly:
"Verra--verra." When she had gone Archer stood up
and began to wander about. Should he wait any longer?
His position was becoming rather foolish. Perhaps he
had misunderstood Madame Olenska--perhaps she had
not invited him after all.
Down the cobblestones of the quiet street came the
ring of a stepper's hoofs; they stopped before the house,
and he caught the opening of a carriage door. Parting
the curtains he looked out into the early dusk. A street-
lamp faced him, and in its light he saw Julius Beaufort's
compact English brougham, drawn by a big roan,
and the banker descending from it, and helping out
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
"Oh, it's a poor little place. My relations despise it.
But at any rate it's less gloomy than the van der
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
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
"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
"The van der Luydens," said Archer, feeling himself
pompous as he spoke, "are the most powerful influence
in New York society. Unfortunately--owing to her
health--they receive very seldom."
She unclasped her hands from behind her head, and
looked at him meditatively.
"Isn't that perhaps the reason?"
"For their great influence; that they make themselves
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
"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
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
"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
Suddenly Nastasia put her head in to say something
in her rich Italian.
Madame Olenska, again with a hand at her hair,
uttered an exclamation of assent--a flashing "Gia--
gia"--and the Duke of St. Austrey entered, piloting
a tremendous blackwigged and red-plumed lady in overflowing furs.
"My dear Countess, I've brought an old friend of
mine to see you--Mrs. Struthers. She wasn't asked to
the party last night, and she wants to know you."
The Duke beamed on the group, and Madame Olenska
advanced with a murmur of welcome toward the queer
couple. She seemed to have no idea how oddly matched
they were, nor what a liberty the Duke had taken in
bringing his companion--and to do him justice, as
Archer perceived, the Duke seemed as unaware of it
"Of course I want to know you, my dear," cried
Mrs. Struthers in a round rolling voice that matched
her bold feathers and her brazen wig. "I want to know
everybody who's young and interesting and charming.
And the Duke tells me you like music--didn't you,
Duke? You're a pianist yourself, I believe? Well, do
you want to hear Sarasate play tomorrow evening at
my house? You know I've something going on every
Sunday evening--it's the day when New York doesn't
know what to do with itself, and so I say to it: `Come
and be amused.' And the Duke thought you'd be tempted
by Sarasate. You'll find a number of your friends."
Madame Olenska's face grew brilliant with pleasure.
"How kind! How good of the Duke to think of me!"
She pushed a chair up to the tea-table and Mrs. Struthers
sank into it delectably. "Of course I shall be too
happy to come."
"That's all right, my dear. And bring your young
gentleman with you." Mrs. Struthers extended a hail-
fellow hand to Archer. "I can't put a name to you--but
I'm sure I've met you--I've met everybody, here, or in
Paris or London. Aren't you in diplomacy? All the
diplomatists come to me. You like music too? Duke,
you must be sure to bring him."
The Duke said "Rather" from the depths of his
beard, and Archer withdrew with a stiffly circular bow
that made him feel as full of spine as a self-conscious
school-boy among careless and unnoticing elders.
He was not sorry for the denouement of his visit:
he only wished it had come sooner, and spared him a
certain waste of emotion. As he went out into the
wintry night, New York again became vast and imminent,
and May Welland the loveliest woman in it. He
turned into his florist's to send her the daily box of
lilies-of-the-valley which, to his confusion, he found he
had forgotten that morning.
As he wrote a word on his card and waited for an
envelope he glanced about the embowered shop, and
his eye lit on a cluster of yellow roses. He had never
seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse
was to send them to May instead of the lilies. But they
did not look like her--there was something too rich,
too strong, in their fiery beauty. In a sudden revulsion
of mood, and almost without knowing what he did, he
signed to the florist to lay the roses in another long
box, and slipped his card into a second envelope, on
which he wrote the name of the Countess Olenska;
then, just as he was turning away, he drew the card out
again, and left the empty envelope on the box.
"They'll go at once?" he enquired, pointing to the
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
"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
"Ah--they would!" laughed Archer, amused at her
keenness. He looked sideways at her fruit-like cheek
and felt rich and secure enough to add: "When I sent
your lilies yesterday afternoon I saw some rather
gorgeous yellow roses and packed them off to Madame
Olenska. Was that right?"
"How dear of you! Anything of that kind delights
her. It's odd she didn't mention it: she lunched with us
today, and spoke of Mr. Beaufort's having sent her
wonderful orchids, and cousin Henry van der Luyden a
whole hamper of carnations from Skuytercliff. She seems
so surprised to receive flowers. Don't people send them
in Europe? She thinks it such a pretty custom."
"Oh, well, no wonder mine were overshadowed by
Beaufort's," said Archer irritably. Then he remembered
that he had not put a card with the roses, and
was vexed at having spoken of them. He wanted to
say: "I called on your cousin yesterday," but hesitated.
If Madame Olenska had not spoken of his visit it might
seem awkward that he should. Yet not to do so gave
the affair an air of mystery that he disliked. To shake
off the question he began to talk of their own plans,
their future, and Mrs. Welland's insistence on a long
"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
It was the traditional maidenly interrogation, and he
felt ashamed of himself for finding it singularly childish.
No doubt she simply echoed what was said for her;
but she was nearing her twenty-second birthday, and
he wondered at what age "nice" women began to
speak for themselves.
"Never, if we won't let them, I suppose," he mused,
and recalled his mad outburst to Mr. Sillerton Jackson:
"Women ought to be as free as we are--"
It would presently be his task to take the bandage
from this young woman's eyes, and bid her look forth
on the world. But how many generations of the women
who had gone to her making had descended bandaged
to the family vault? He shivered a little, remembering
some of the new ideas in his scientific books, and the
much-cited instance of the Kentucky cave-fish, which
had ceased to develop eyes because they had no use for
them. What if, when he had bidden May Welland to
open hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?
"We might be much better off. We might be
altogether together--we might travel."
Her face lit up. "That would be lovely," she owned:
she would love to travel. But her mother would not
understand their wanting to do things so differently.
"As if the mere `differently' didn't account for it!"
the wooer insisted.
"Newland! You're so original!" she exulted.
His heart sank, for he saw that he was saying all the
things that young men in the same situation were
expected to say, and that she was making the answers
that instinct and tradition taught her to make--even to
the point of calling him original.
"Original! We're all as like each other as those dolls
cut out of the same folded paper. We're like patterns
stencilled on a wall. Can't you and I strike out for
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
"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
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
"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
"It's not a time to be profane, Newland. . . . Mother
feels badly enough about your not going to church . . ."
With a groan he plunged back into his book.
"NEWLAND! Do listen. Your friend Madame Olenska
was at Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's party last night: she
went there with the Duke and Mr. Beaufort."
At the last clause of this announcement a senseless
anger swelled the young man's breast. To smother it he
laughed. "Well, what of it? I knew she meant to."
Janey paled and her eyes began to project. "You
knew she meant to--and you didn't try to stop her? To
"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
"Not the half of one--if she thinks such old maid's
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Well--that kind of thing happens in other places,
and the world still goes on."
"I don't suppose, dear, you're really defending the
"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
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
"Dearest mother, I really don't see how we're
concerned in the matter. The Duke took Madame Olenska
to Mrs. Struthers's--in fact he brought Mrs. Struthers
to call on her. I was there when they came. If the van
der Luydens want to quarrel with anybody, the real
culprit is under their own roof."
"Quarrel? Newland, did you ever know of cousin
Henry's quarrelling? Besides, the Duke's his guest; and
a stranger too. Strangers don't discriminate: how should
they? Countess Olenska is a New Yorker, and should
have respected the feelings of New York."
"Well, then, if they must have a victim, you have my
leave to throw Madame Olenska to them," cried her
son, exasperated. "I don't see myself--or you either--
offering ourselves up to expiate her crimes."
"Oh, of course you see only the Mingott side," his
mother answered, in the sensitive tone that was her
nearest approach to anger.
The sad butler drew back the drawing-room
portieres and announced: "Mr. Henry van der Luyden."
Mrs. Archer dropped her needle and pushed her
chair back with an agitated hand.
"Another lamp," she cried to the retreating servant,
while Janey bent over to straighten her mother's cap.
Mr. van der Luyden's figure loomed on the threshold,
and Newland Archer went forward to greet his
"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 relations."
She shot an admonitory glance at her son, who said:
"Immensely, sir. But I was sure you'd like Madame
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 marriage.
He waited for the senior partner to continue. Mr.
Letterblair unlocked a drawer and drew out a packet.
"If you will run your eye over these papers--"
Archer frowned. "I beg your pardon, sir; but just
because of the prospective relationship, I should prefer
your consulting Mr. Skipworth or Mr. Redwood."
Mr. Letterblair looked surprised and slightly offended.
It was unusual for a junior to reject such an opening.
He bowed. "I respect your scruple, sir; but in this
case I believe true delicacy requires you to do as I ask.
Indeed, the suggestion is not mine but Mrs. Manson
Mingott's and her son's. I have seen Lovell Mingott;
and also Mr. Welland. They all named you."
Archer felt his temper rising. He had been somewhat
languidly drifting with events for the last fortnight, and
letting May's fair looks and radiant nature obliterate
the rather importunate pressure of the Mingott claims.
But this behest of old Mrs. Mingott's roused him to a
sense of what the clan thought they had the right to
exact from a prospective son-in-law; and he chafed at
"Her uncles ought to deal with this," he said.
"They have. The matter has been gone into by the
family. They are opposed to the Countess's idea; but
she is firm, and insists on a legal opinion."
The young man was silent: he had not opened the
packet in his hand.
"Does she want to marry again?"
"I believe it is suggested; but she denies it."
"Will you oblige me, Mr. Archer, by first looking
through these papers? Afterward, when we have talked
the case over, I will give you my opinion."
Archer withdrew reluctantly with the unwelcome
documents. Since their last meeting he had half-unconsciously
collaborated with events in ridding himself of the burden
of Madame Olenska. His hour alone with her by
the firelight had drawn them into a momentary intimacy
on which the Duke of St. Austrey's intrusion with
Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, and the Countess's joyous greeting
of them, had rather providentially broken. Two
days later Archer had assisted at the comedy of her
reinstatement in the van der Luydens' favour, and had
said to himself, with a touch of tartness, that a lady
who knew how to thank all-powerful elderly gentlemen
to such good purpose for a bunch of flowers did not
need either the private consolations or the public
championship of a young man of his small compass. To look
at the matter in this light simplified his own case and
surprisingly furbished up all the dim domestic virtues.
He could not picture May Welland, in whatever
conceivable emergency, hawking about her private difficulties
and lavishing her confidences on strange men; and
she had never seemed to him finer or fairer than in the
week that followed. He had even yielded to her wish
for a long engagement, since she had found the one
disarming answer to his plea for haste.
"You know, when it comes to the point, your parents
have always let you have your way ever since you
were a little girl," he argued; and she had answered,
with her clearest look: "Yes; and that's what makes it
so hard to refuse the very last thing they'll ever ask of
me as a little girl."
That was the old New York note; that was the kind
of answer he would like always to be sure of his wife's
making. If one had habitually breathed the New York
air there were times when anything less crystalline seemed
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
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
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
"I think that's for her to decide."
"H'm--have you considered the consequences if she
decides for divorce?"
"You mean the threat in her husband's letter? What
weight would that carry? It's no more than the vague
charge of an angry blackguard."
"Yes; but it might make some unpleasant talk if he
really defends the suit."
"Unpleasant--!" said Archer explosively.
Mr. Letterblair looked at him from under enquiring
eyebrows, and the young man, aware of the uselessness
of trying to explain what was in his mind, bowed
acquiescently while his senior continued: "Divorce is
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"Why? Is the house so cold?" she asked, holding out
her left hand to Archer in a way mysteriously suggesting
that she expected him to kiss it.
"No; but the missus is," said Beaufort, nodding
carelessly to the young man.
"But I thought her so kind. She came herself to invite
me. Granny says I must certainly go."
"Granny would, of course. And I say it's a shame
you're going to miss the little oyster supper I'd planned
for you at Delmonico's next Sunday, with Campanini
and Scalchi and a lot of jolly people."
She looked doubtfully from the banker to Archer.
"Ah--that does tempt me! Except the other evening
at Mrs. Struthers's I've not met a single artist since I've
"What kind of artists? I know one or two painters,
very good fellows, that I could bring to see you if you'd
allow me," said Archer boldly.
"Painters? Are there painters in New York?" asked
Beaufort, in a tone implying that there could be none
since he did not buy their pictures; and Madame Olenska
said to Archer, with her grave smile: "That would be
charming. But I was really thinking of dramatic artists,
singers, actors, musicians. My husband's house was
always full of them."
She said the words "my husband" as if no sinister
associations were connected with them, and in a tone
that seemed almost to sigh over the lost delights of her
married life. Archer looked at her perplexedly, wondering
if it were lightness or dissimulation that enabled her
to touch so easily on the past at the very moment when
she was risking her reputation in order to break with it.
"I do think," she went on, addressing both men,
that the imprevu adds to one's enjoyment. It's perhaps
a mistake to see the same people every day."
"It's confoundedly dull, anyhow; New York is dying
of dullness," Beaufort grumbled. "And when I try to
liven it up for you, you go back on me. Come--think
better of it! Sunday is your last chance, for Campanini
leaves next week for Baltimore and Philadelphia; and
I've a private room, and a Steinway, and they'll sing all
night for me."
"How delicious! May I think it over, and write to
you tomorrow morning?"
She spoke amiably, yet with the least hint of
dismissal in her voice. Beaufort evidently felt it, and being