Part 7 out of 8
"Home to my husband."
"And you expect me to say yes to that?"
She raised her troubled eyes to his. "What else is
there? I can't stay here and lie to the people who've
been good to me."
"But that's the very reason why I ask you to come
"And destroy their lives, when they've helped me to
Archer sprang to his feet and stood looking down on
her in inarticulate despair. It would have been easy to
say: "Yes, come; come once." He knew the power she
would put in his hands if she consented; there would
be no difficulty then in persuading her not to go back
to her husband.
But something silenced the word on his lips. A sort
of passionate honesty in her made it inconceivable that
he should try to draw her into that familiar trap. "If I
were to let her come," he said to himself, "I should
have to let her go again." And that was not to be
But he saw the shadow of the lashes on her wet
cheek, and wavered.
"After all," he began again, "we have lives of our
own. . . . There's no use attempting the impossible.
You're so unprejudiced about some things, so used, as
you say, to looking at the Gorgon, that I don't know
why you're afraid to face our case, and see it as it
really is--unless you think the sacrifice is not worth
She stood up also, her lips tightening under a rapid
"Call it that, then--I must go," she said, drawing her
little watch from her bosom.
She turned away, and he followed and caught her by
the wrist. "Well, then: come to me once," he said, his
head turning suddenly at the thought of losing her; and
for a second or two they looked at each other almost
"When?" he insisted. "Tomorrow?"
She hesitated. "The day after."
"Dearest--!" he said again.
She had disengaged her wrist; but for a moment they
continued to hold each other's eyes, and he saw that
her face, which had grown very pale, was flooded with
a deep inner radiance. His heart beat with awe: he felt
that he had never before beheld love visible.
"Oh, I shall be late--good-bye. No, don't come any
farther than this," she cried, walking hurriedly away
down the long room, as if the reflected radiance in his
eyes had frightened her. When she reached the door she
turned for a moment to wave a quick farewell.
Archer walked home alone. Darkness was falling when
he let himself into his house, and he looked about at
the familiar objects in the hall as if he viewed them
from the other side of the grave.
The parlour-maid, hearing his step, ran up the stairs
to light the gas on the upper landing.
"Is Mrs. Archer in?"
"No, sir; Mrs. Archer went out in the carriage after
luncheon, and hasn't come back."
With a sense of relief he entered the library and flung
himself down in his armchair. The parlour-maid followed,
bringing the student lamp and shaking some
coals onto the dying fire. When she left he continued to
sit motionless, his elbows on his knees, his chin on his
clasped hands, his eyes fixed on the red grate.
He sat there without conscious thoughts, without
sense of the lapse of time, in a deep and grave amazement
that seemed to suspend life rather than quicken it.
"This was what had to be, then . . . this was what had
to be," he kept repeating to himself, as if he hung in
the clutch of doom. What he had dreamed of had been
so different that there was a mortal chill in his rapture.
The door opened and May came in.
"I'm dreadfully late--you weren't worried, were you?"
she asked, laying her hand on his shoulder with one of
her rare caresses.
He looked up astonished. "Is it late?"
"After seven. I believe you've been asleep!" She
laughed, and drawing out her hat pins tossed her velvet
hat on the sofa. She looked paler than usual, but sparkling
with an unwonted animation.
"I went to see Granny, and just as I was going away
Ellen came in from a walk; so I stayed and had a long
talk with her. It was ages since we'd had a real talk. . . ."
She had dropped into her usual armchair, facing his,
and was running her fingers through her rumpled hair.
He fancied she expected him to speak.
"A really good talk," she went on, smiling with what
seemed to Archer an unnatural vividness. "She was so
dear--just like the old Ellen. I'm afraid I haven't been
fair to her lately. I've sometimes thought--"
Archer stood up and leaned against the mantelpiece,
out of the radius of the lamp.
"Yes, you've thought--?" he echoed as she paused.
"Well, perhaps I haven't judged her fairly. She's so
different--at least on the surface. She takes up such
odd people--she seems to like to make herself conspicuous.
I suppose it's the life she's led in that fast European
society; no doubt we seem dreadfully dull to her.
But I don't want to judge her unfairly."
She paused again, a little breathless with the
unwonted length of her speech, and sat with her lips
slightly parted and a deep blush on her cheeks.
Archer, as he looked at her, was reminded of the
glow which had suffused her face in the Mission Garden
at St. Augustine. He became aware of the same
obscure effort in her, the same reaching out toward
something beyond the usual range of her vision.
"She hates Ellen," he thought, "and she's trying to
overcome the feeling, and to get me to help her to
The thought moved him, and for a moment he was
on the point of breaking the silence between them, and
throwing himself on her mercy.
"You understand, don't you," she went on, "why
the family have sometimes been annoyed? We all did
what we could for her at first; but she never seemed to
understand. And now this idea of going to see Mrs.
Beaufort, of going there in Granny's carriage! I'm afraid
she's quite alienated the van der Luydens . . ."
"Ah," said Archer with an impatient laugh. The
open door had closed between them again.
"It's time to dress; we're dining out, aren't we?" he
asked, moving from the fire.
She rose also, but lingered near the hearth. As he
walked past her she moved forward impulsively, as
though to detain him: their eyes met, and he saw that
hers were of the same swimming blue as when he had
left her to drive to Jersey City.
She flung her arms about his neck and pressed her
cheek to his.
"You haven't kissed me today," she said in a whisper;
and he felt her tremble in his arms.
At the court of the Tuileries," said Mr. Sillerton
Jackson with his reminiscent smile, "such things
were pretty openly tolerated."
The scene was the van der Luydens' black walnut
dining-room in Madison Avenue, and the time the evening
after Newland Archer's visit to the Museum of
Art. Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden had come to town
for a few days from Skuytercliff, whither they had
precipitately fled at the announcement of Beaufort's
failure. It had been represented to them that the disarray
into which society had been thrown by this deplorable
affair made their presence in town more necessary
than ever. It was one of the occasions when, as Mrs.
Archer put it, they "owed it to society" to show themselves
at the Opera, and even to open their own doors.
"It will never do, my dear Louisa, to let people like
Mrs. Lemuel Struthers think they can step into Regina's
shoes. It is just at such times that new people push
in and get a footing. It was owing to the epidemic of
chicken-pox in New York the winter Mrs. Struthers
first appeared that the married men slipped away to
her house while their wives were in the nursery. You
and dear Henry, Louisa, must stand in the breach as
you always have."
Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden could not remain deaf
to such a call, and reluctantly but heroically they had
come to town, unmuffled the house, and sent out
invitations for two dinners and an evening reception.
On this particular evening they had invited Sillerton
Jackson, Mrs. Archer and Newland and his wife to go
with them to the Opera, where Faust was being sung
for the first time that winter. Nothing was done without
ceremony under the van der Luyden roof, and
though there were but four guests the repast had begun
at seven punctually, so that the proper sequence of
courses might be served without haste before the gentlemen
settled down to their cigars.
Archer had not seen his wife since the evening
before. He had left early for the office, where he had
plunged into an accumulation of unimportant business.
In the afternoon one of the senior partners had made
an unexpected call on his time; and he had reached
home so late that May had preceded him to the van der
Luydens', and sent back the carriage.
Now, across the Skuytercliff carnations and the massive
plate, she struck him as pale and languid; but her
eyes shone, and she talked with exaggerated animation.
The subject which had called forth Mr. Sillerton
Jackson's favourite allusion had been brought up (Archer
fancied not without intention) by their hostess. The
Beaufort failure, or rather the Beaufort attitude since
the failure, was still a fruitful theme for the drawing-
room moralist; and after it had been thoroughly examined
and condemned Mrs. van der Luyden had turned
her scrupulous eyes on May Archer.
"Is it possible, dear, that what I hear is true? I was
told your grandmother Mingott's carriage was seen
standing at Mrs. Beaufort's door." It was noticeable
that she no longer called the offending lady by her
May's colour rose, and Mrs. Archer put in hastily:
"If it was, I'm convinced it was there without Mrs.
"Ah, you think--?" Mrs. van der Luyden paused,
sighed, and glanced at her husband.
"I'm afraid," Mr. van der Luyden said, "that Madame
Olenska's kind heart may have led her into the
imprudence of calling on Mrs. Beaufort."
"Or her taste for peculiar people," put in Mrs. Archer
in a dry tone, while her eyes dwelt innocently on her
"I'm sorry to think it of Madame Olenska," said
Mrs. van der Luyden; and Mrs. Archer murmured:
"Ah, my dear--and after you'd had her twice at
It was at this point that Mr. Jackson seized the
chance to place his favourite allusion.
"At the Tuileries," he repeated, seeing the eyes of the
company expectantly turned on him, "the standard
was excessively lax in some respects; and if you'd asked
where Morny's money came from--! Or who paid the
debts of some of the Court beauties . . ."
"I hope, dear Sillerton," said Mrs. Archer, "you are
not suggesting that we should adopt such standards?"
"I never suggest," returned Mr. Jackson imperturbably.
"But Madame Olenska's foreign bringing-up may
make her less particular--"
"Ah," the two elder ladies sighed.
"Still, to have kept her grandmother's carriage at a
defaulter's door!" Mr. van der Luyden protested; and
Archer guessed that he was remembering, and resenting,
the hampers of carnations he had sent to the little
house in Twenty-third Street.
"Of course I've always said that she looks at things
quite differently," Mrs. Archer summed up.
A flush rose to May's forehead. She looked across
the table at her husband, and said precipitately: "I'm
sure Ellen meant it kindly."
"Imprudent people are often kind," said Mrs. Archer,
as if the fact were scarcely an extenuation; and Mrs.
van der Luyden murmured: "If only she had consulted
"Ah, that she never did!" Mrs. Archer rejoined.
At this point Mr. van der Luyden glanced at his wife,
who bent her head slightly in the direction of Mrs.
Archer; and the glimmering trains of the three ladies
swept out of the door while the gentlemen settled down
to their cigars. Mr. van der Luyden supplied short ones
on Opera nights; but they were so good that they made
his guests deplore his inexorable punctuality.
Archer, after the first act, had detached himself from
the party and made his way to the back of the club
box. From there he watched, over various Chivers,
Mingott and Rushworth shoulders, the same scene that
he had looked at, two years previously, on the night of
his first meeting with Ellen Olenska. He had half-
expected her to appear again in old Mrs. Mingott's
box, but it remained empty; and he sat motionless, his
eyes fastened on it, till suddenly Madame Nilsson's
pure soprano broke out into "M'ama, non m'ama . . . "
Archer turned to the stage, where, in the familiar
setting of giant roses and pen-wiper pansies, the same
large blonde victim was succumbing to the same small
From the stage his eyes wandered to the point of the
horseshoe where May sat between two older ladies,
just as, on that former evening, she had sat between
Mrs. Lovell Mingott and her newly-arrived "foreign"
cousin. As on that evening, she was all in white; and
Archer, who had not noticed what she wore, recognised
the blue-white satin and old lace of her wedding dress.
It was the custom, in old New York, for brides to
appear in this costly garment during the first year or
two of marriage: his mother, he knew, kept hers in
tissue paper in the hope that Janey might some day
wear it, though poor Janey was reaching the age when
pearl grey poplin and no bridesmaids would be thought
It struck Archer that May, since their return from
Europe, had seldom worn her bridal satin, and the
surprise of seeing her in it made him compare her
appearance with that of the young girl he had watched
with such blissful anticipations two years earlier.
Though May's outline was slightly heavier, as her
goddesslike build had foretold, her athletic erectness of
carriage, and the girlish transparency of her expression,
remained unchanged: but for the slight languor that
Archer had lately noticed in her she would have been
the exact image of the girl playing with the bouquet of
lilies-of-the-valley on her betrothal evening. The fact
seemed an additional appeal to his pity: such innocence
was as moving as the trustful clasp of a child. Then he
remembered the passionate generosity latent under that
incurious calm. He recalled her glance of understanding
when he had urged that their engagement should be
announced at the Beaufort ball; he heard the voice in
which she had said, in the Mission garden: "I couldn't
have my happiness made out of a wrong--a wrong to
some one else;" and an uncontrollable longing seized
him to tell her the truth, to throw himself on her
generosity, and ask for the freedom he had once refused.
Newland Archer was a quiet and self-controlled young
man. Conformity to the discipline of a small society
had become almost his second nature. It was deeply
distasteful to him to do anything melodramatic and
conspicuous, anything Mr. van der Luyden would have
deprecated and the club box condemned as bad form.
But he had become suddenly unconscious of the club
box, of Mr. van der Luyden, of all that had so long
enclosed him in the warm shelter of habit. He walked
along the semi-circular passage at the back of the house,
and opened the door of Mrs. van der Luyden's box as
if it had been a gate into the unknown.
"M'ama!" thrilled out the triumphant Marguerite;
and the occupants of the box looked up in surprise at
Archer's entrance. He had already broken one of the
rules of his world, which forbade the entering of a box
during a solo.
Slipping between Mr. van der Luyden and Sillerton
Jackson, he leaned over his wife.
"I've got a beastly headache; don't tell any one, but
come home, won't you?" he whispered.
May gave him a glance of comprehension, and he
saw her whisper to his mother, who nodded sympathetically;
then she murmured an excuse to Mrs. van
der Luyden, and rose from her seat just as Marguerite
fell into Faust's arms. Archer, while he helped her on
with her Opera cloak, noticed the exchange of a significant
smile between the older ladies.
As they drove away May laid her hand shyly on
his. "I'm so sorry you don't feel well. I'm afraid they've
been overworking you again at the office."
"No--it's not that: do you mind if I open the
window?" he returned confusedly, letting down the pane
on his side. He sat staring out into the street, feeling his
wife beside him as a silent watchful interrogation, and
keeping his eyes steadily fixed on the passing houses.
At their door she caught her skirt in the step of the
carriage, and fell against him.
"Did you hurt yourself?" he asked, steadying her
with his arm.
"No; but my poor dress--see how I've torn it!" she
exclaimed. She bent to gather up a mud-stained breadth,
and followed him up the steps into the hall. The servants
had not expected them so early, and there was
only a glimmer of gas on the upper landing.
Archer mounted the stairs, turned up the light, and
put a match to the brackets on each side of the library
mantelpiece. The curtains were drawn, and the warm
friendly aspect of the room smote him like that of a
familiar face met during an unavowable errand.
He noticed that his wife was very pale, and asked if
he should get her some brandy.
"Oh, no," she exclaimed with a momentary flush, as
she took off her cloak. "But hadn't you better go to
bed at once?" she added, as he opened a silver box on
the table and took out a cigarette.
Archer threw down the cigarette and walked to his
usual place by the fire.
"No; my head is not as bad as that." He paused.
"And there's something I want to say; something
important--that I must tell you at once."
She had dropped into an armchair, and raised her
head as he spoke. "Yes, dear?" she rejoined, so gently
that he wondered at the lack of wonder with which she
received this preamble.
"May--" he began, standing a few feet from her
chair, and looking over at her as if the slight distance
between them were an unbridgeable abyss. The sound
of his voice echoed uncannily through the homelike
hush, and he repeated: "There is something I've got to
tell you . . . about myself . . ."
She sat silent, without a movement or a tremor of
her lashes. She was still extremely pale, but her face
had a curious tranquillity of expression that seemed
drawn from some secret inner source.
Archer checked the conventional phrases of self-accusal
that were crowding to his lips. He was determined to
put the case baldly, without vain recrimination or excuse.
"Madame Olenska--" he said; but at the name his
wife raised her hand as if to silence him. As she did so
the gaslight struck on the gold of her wedding-ring,
"Oh, why should we talk about Ellen tonight?" she
asked, with a slight pout of impatience.
"Because I ought to have spoken before."
Her face remained calm. "Is it really worth while,
dear? I know I've been unfair to her at times--perhaps
we all have. You've understood her, no doubt, better
than we did: you've always been kind to her. But what
does it matter, now it's all over?"
Archer looked at her blankly. Could it be possible
that the sense of unreality in which he felt himself
imprisoned had communicated itself to his wife?
"All over--what do you mean?" he asked in an
May still looked at him with transparent eyes. "Why--
since she's going back to Europe so soon; since Granny
approves and understands, and has arranged to make
her independent of her husband--"
She broke off, and Archer, grasping the corner of the
mantelpiece in one convulsed hand, and steadying himself
against it, made a vain effort to extend the same
control to his reeling thoughts.
"I supposed," he heard his wife's even voice go on,
"that you had been kept at the office this evening
about the business arrangements. It was settled this
morning, I believe." She lowered her eyes under his
unseeing stare, and another fugitive flush passed over
He understood that his own eyes must be unbearable,
and turning away, rested his elbows on the mantel-
shelf and covered his face. Something drummed and
clanged furiously in his ears; he could not tell if it were
the blood in his veins, or the tick of the clock on the
May sat without moving or speaking while the clock
slowly measured out five minutes. A lump of coal fell
forward in the grate, and hearing her rise to push it
back, Archer at length turned and faced her.
"It's impossible," he exclaimed.
"How do you know--what you've just told me?"
"I saw Ellen yesterday--I told you I'd seen her at
"It wasn't then that she told you?"
"No; I had a note from her this afternoon.--Do you
want to see it?"
He could not find his voice, and she went out of the
room, and came back almost immediately.
"I thought you knew," she said simply.
She laid a sheet of paper on the table, and Archer put
out his hand and took it up. The letter contained only a
"May dear, I have at last made Granny understand
that my visit to her could be no more than a visit; and
she has been as kind and generous as ever. She sees
now that if I return to Europe I must live by myself, or
rather with poor Aunt Medora, who is coming with
me. I am hurrying back to Washington to pack up, and
we sail next week. You must be very good to Granny
when I'm gone--as good as you've always been to me.
"If any of my friends wish to urge me to change my
mind, please tell them it would be utterly useless."
Archer read the letter over two or three times; then
he flung it down and burst out laughing.
The sound of his laugh startled him. It recalled Janey's
midnight fright when she had caught him rocking with
incomprehensible mirth over May's telegram announcing
that the date of their marriage had been advanced.
"Why did she write this?" he asked, checking his
laugh with a supreme effort.
May met the question with her unshaken candour. "I
suppose because we talked things over yesterday--"
"I told her I was afraid I hadn't been fair to her--
hadn't always understood how hard it must have been
for her here, alone among so many people who were
relations and yet strangers; who felt the right to criticise,
and yet didn't always know the circumstances."
She paused. "I knew you'd been the one friend she
could always count on; and I wanted her to know that
you and I were the same--in all our feelings."
She hesitated, as if waiting for him to speak, and
then added slowly: "She understood my wishing to tell
her this. I think she understands everything."
She went up to Archer, and taking one of his cold
hands pressed it quickly against her cheek.
"My head aches too; good-night, dear," she said,
and turned to the door, her torn and muddy wedding-
dress dragging after her across the room.
It was, as Mrs. Archer smilingly said to Mrs. Welland,
a great event for a young couple to give their first
The Newland Archers, since they had set up their
household, had received a good deal of company in an
informal way. Archer was fond of having three or four
friends to dine, and May welcomed them with the
beaming readiness of which her mother had set her the
example in conjugal affairs. Her husband questioned
whether, if left to herself, she would ever have asked
any one to the house; but he had long given up trying
to disengage her real self from the shape into which
tradition and training had moulded her. It was
expected that well-off young couples in New York should
do a good deal of informal entertaining, and a Welland
married to an Archer was doubly pledged to the
But a big dinner, with a hired chef and two
borrowed footmen, with Roman punch, roses from
Henderson's, and menus on gilt-edged cards, was a different
affair, and not to be lightly undertaken. As Mrs. Archer
remarked, the Roman punch made all the difference;
not in itself but by its manifold implications--since it
signified either canvas-backs or terrapin, two soups, a
hot and a cold sweet, full decolletage with short sleeves,
and guests of a proportionate importance.
It was always an interesting occasion when a young
pair launched their first invitations in the third person,
and their summons was seldom refused even by the
seasoned and sought-after. Still, it was admittedly a
triumph that the van der Luydens, at May's request,
should have stayed over in order to be present at her
farewell dinner for the Countess Olenska.
The two mothers-in-law sat in May's drawing-room
on the afternoon of the great day, Mrs. Archer writing
out the menus on Tiffany's thickest gilt-edged bristol,
while Mrs. Welland superintended the placing of the
palms and standard lamps.
Archer, arriving late from his office, found them still
there. Mrs. Archer had turned her attention to the
name-cards for the table, and Mrs. Welland was
considering the effect of bringing forward the large gilt
sofa, so that another "corner" might be created
between the piano and the window.
May, they told him, was in the dining-room inspecting
the mound of Jacqueminot roses and maidenhair in
the centre of the long table, and the placing of the
Maillard bonbons in openwork silver baskets between
the candelabra. On the piano stood a large basket of
orchids which Mr. van der Luyden had had sent from
Skuytercliff. Everything was, in short, as it should be
on the approach of so considerable an event.
Mrs. Archer ran thoughtfully over the list, checking
off each name with her sharp gold pen.
"Henry van der Luyden--Louisa--the Lovell Mingotts
--the Reggie Chiverses--Lawrence Lefferts and
Gertrude--(yes, I suppose May was right to have
them)--the Selfridge Merrys, Sillerton Jackson, Van
Newland and his wife. (How time passes! It seems only
yesterday that he was your best man, Newland)--and
Countess Olenska--yes, I think that's all. . . ."
Mrs. Welland surveyed her son-in-law affectionately.
"No one can say, Newland, that you and May are not
giving Ellen a handsome send-off."
"Ah, well," said Mrs. Archer, "I understand May's
wanting her cousin to tell people abroad that we're not
"I'm sure Ellen will appreciate it. She was to arrive
this morning, I believe. It will make a most charming
last impression. The evening before sailing is usually so
dreary," Mrs. Welland cheerfully continued.
Archer turned toward the door, and his mother-in-
law called to him: "Do go in and have a peep at the
table. And don't let May tire herself too much." But he
affected not to hear, and sprang up the stairs to his
library. The room looked at him like an alien countenance
composed into a polite grimace; and he perceived
that it had been ruthlessly "tidied," and prepared,
by a judicious distribution of ash-trays and cedar-wood
boxes, for the gentlemen to smoke in.
"Ah, well," he thought, "it's not for long--" and he
went on to his dressing-room.
Ten days had passed since Madame Olenska's departure
from New York. During those ten days Archer
had had no sign from her but that conveyed by the
return of a key wrapped in tissue paper, and sent to his
office in a sealed envelope addressed in her hand. This
retort to his last appeal might have been interpreted as
a classic move in a familiar game; but the young man
chose to give it a different meaning. She was still fighting
against her fate; but she was going to Europe, and
she was not returning to her husband. Nothing, therefore,
was to prevent his following her; and once he had
taken the irrevocable step, and had proved to her that
it was irrevocable, he believed she would not send him
This confidence in the future had steadied him to
play his part in the present. It had kept him from
writing to her, or betraying, by any sign or act, his
misery and mortification. It seemed to him that in the
deadly silent game between them the trumps were still
in his hands; and he waited.
There had been, nevertheless, moments sufficiently
difficult to pass; as when Mr. Letterblair, the day after
Madame Olenska's departure, had sent for him to go
over the details of the trust which Mrs. Manson Mingott
wished to create for her granddaughter. For a couple of
hours Archer had examined the terms of the deed with
his senior, all the while obscurely feeling that if he had
been consulted it was for some reason other than the
obvious one of his cousinship; and that the close of the
conference would reveal it.
"Well, the lady can't deny that it's a handsome
arrangement," Mr. Letterblair had summed up, after
mumbling over a summary of the settlement. "In fact
I'm bound to say she's been treated pretty handsomely
"All round?" Archer echoed with a touch of
derision. "Do you refer to her husband's proposal to give
her back her own money?"
Mr. Letterblair's bushy eyebrows went up a fraction
of an inch. "My dear sir, the law's the law; and your
wife's cousin was married under the French law. It's to
be presumed she knew what that meant."
"Even if she did, what happened subsequently--."
But Archer paused. Mr. Letterblair had laid his pen-
handle against his big corrugated nose, and was looking
down it with the expression assumed by virtuous
elderly gentlemen when they wish their youngers to
understand that virtue is not synonymous with ignorance.
"My dear sir, I've no wish to extenuate the Count's
transgressions; but--but on the other side . . . I wouldn't
put my hand in the fire . . . well, that there hadn't been
tit for tat . . . with the young champion. . . ." Mr.
Letterblair unlocked a drawer and pushed a folded
paper toward Archer. "This report, the result of discreet
enquiries . . ." And then, as Archer made no
effort to glance at the paper or to repudiate the suggestion,
the lawyer somewhat flatly continued: "I don't
say it's conclusive, you observe; far from it. But straws
show . . . and on the whole it's eminently satisfactory
for all parties that this dignified solution has been
"Oh, eminently," Archer assented, pushing back the
A day or two later, on responding to a summons
from Mrs. Manson Mingott, his soul had been more
He had found the old lady depressed and querulous.
"You know she's deserted me?" she began at once;
and without waiting for his reply: "Oh, don't ask me
why! She gave so many reasons that I've forgotten
them all. My private belief is that she couldn't face the
boredom. At any rate that's what Augusta and my
daughters-in-law think. And I don't know that I
altogether blame her. Olenski's a finished scoundrel; but
life with him must have been a good deal gayer than it
is in Fifth Avenue. Not that the family would admit
that: they think Fifth Avenue is Heaven with the rue de
la Paix thrown in. And poor Ellen, of course, has no
idea of going back to her husband. She held out as
firmly as ever against that. So she's to settle down in
Paris with that fool Medora. . . . Well, Paris is Paris;
and you can keep a carriage there on next to nothing.
But she was as gay as a bird, and I shall miss her."
Two tears, the parched tears of the old, rolled down
her puffy cheeks and vanished in the abysses of her
"All I ask is," she concluded, "that they shouldn't
bother me any more. I must really be allowed to digest
my gruel. . . ." And she twinkled a little wistfully at
It was that evening, on his return home, that May
announced her intention of giving a farewell dinner to
her cousin. Madame Olenska's name had not been
pronounced between them since the night of her flight
to Washington; and Archer looked at his wife with
"A dinner--why?" he interrogated.
Her colour rose. "But you like Ellen--I thought you'd
"It's awfully nice--your putting it in that way. But I
really don't see--"
"I mean to do it, Newland," she said, quietly rising
and going to her desk. "Here are the invitations all
written. Mother helped me--she agrees that we ought
to." She paused, embarrassed and yet smiling, and
Archer suddenly saw before him the embodied image
of the Family.
"Oh, all right," he said, staring with unseeing eyes at
the list of guests that she had put in his hand.
When he entered the drawing-room before dinner May
was stooping over the fire and trying to coax the logs
to burn in their unaccustomed setting of immaculate
The tall lamps were all lit, and Mr. van der Luyden's
orchids had been conspicuously disposed in various
receptacles of modern porcelain and knobby silver. Mrs.
Newland Archer's drawing-room was generally thought
a great success. A gilt bamboo jardiniere, in which
the primulas and cinerarias were punctually renewed,
blocked the access to the bay window (where the old-
fashioned would have preferred a bronze reduction of
the Venus of Milo); the sofas and arm-chairs of pale
brocade were cleverly grouped about little plush tables
densely covered with silver toys, porcelain animals and
efflorescent photograph frames; and tall rosy-shaded
lamps shot up like tropical flowers among the palms.
"I don't think Ellen has ever seen this room lighted
up," said May, rising flushed from her struggle, and
sending about her a glance of pardonable pride. The
brass tongs which she had propped against the side of
the chimney fell with a crash that drowned her husband's
answer; and before he could restore them Mr.
and Mrs. van der Luyden were announced.
The other guests quickly followed, for it was known
that the van der Luydens liked to dine punctually. The
room was nearly full, and Archer was engaged in showing
to Mrs. Selfridge Merry a small highly-varnished
Verbeckhoven "Study of Sheep," which Mr. Welland
had given May for Christmas, when he found Madame
Olenska at his side.
She was excessively pale, and her pallor made her
dark hair seem denser and heavier than ever. Perhaps
that, or the fact that she had wound several rows of
amber beads about her neck, reminded him suddenly of
the little Ellen Mingott he had danced with at children's
parties, when Medora Manson had first brought
her to New York.
The amber beads were trying to her complexion, or
her dress was perhaps unbecoming: her face looked
lustreless and almost ugly, and he had never loved it as
he did at that minute. Their hands met, and he thought
he heard her say: "Yes, we're sailing tomorrow in the
Russia--"; then there was an unmeaning noise of opening
doors, and after an interval May's voice: "Newland!
Dinner's been announced. Won't you please take Ellen
Madame Olenska put her hand on his arm, and he
noticed that the hand was ungloved, and remembered
how he had kept his eyes fixed on it the evening that he
had sat with her in the little Twenty-third Street drawing-
room. All the beauty that had forsaken her face seemed
to have taken refuge in the long pale fingers and faintly
dimpled knuckles on his sleeve, and he said to himself:
"If it were only to see her hand again I should have to
It was only at an entertainment ostensibly offered to
a "foreign visitor" that Mrs. van der Luyden could
suffer the diminution of being placed on her host's left.
The fact of Madame Olenska's "foreignness" could
hardly have been more adroitly emphasised than by
this farewell tribute; and Mrs. van der Luyden accepted
her displacement with an affability which left no doubt
as to her approval. There were certain things that had
to be done, and if done at all, done handsomely and
thoroughly; and one of these, in the old New York
code, was the tribal rally around a kinswoman about
to be eliminated from the tribe. There was nothing on
earth that the Wellands and Mingotts would not have
done to proclaim their unalterable affection for the
Countess Olenska now that her passage for Europe
was engaged; and Archer, at the head of his table, sat
marvelling at the silent untiring activity with which her
popularity had been retrieved, grievances against her
silenced, her past countenanced, and her present irradiated
by the family approval. Mrs. van der Luyden
shone on her with the dim benevolence which was her
nearest approach to cordiality, and Mr. van der Luyden,
from his seat at May's right, cast down the table glances
plainly intended to justify all the carnations he had sent
Archer, who seemed to be assisting at the scene in a
state of odd imponderability, as if he floated somewhere
between chandelier and ceiling, wondered at
nothing so much as his own share in the proceedings.
As his glance travelled from one placid well-fed face to
another he saw all the harmless-looking people engaged
upon May's canvas-backs as a band of dumb conspirators,
and himself and the pale woman on his right as
the centre of their conspiracy. And then it came over
him, in a vast flash made up of many broken gleams,
that to all of them he and Madame Olenska were
lovers, lovers in the extreme sense peculiar to "foreign"
vocabularies. He guessed himself to have been, for
months, the centre of countless silently observing eyes
and patiently listening ears, he understood that, by
means as yet unknown to him, the separation between
himself and the partner of his guilt had been achieved,
and that now the whole tribe had rallied about his wife
on the tacit assumption that nobody knew anything, or
had ever imagined anything, and that the occasion of
the entertainment was simply May Archer's natural
desire to take an affectionate leave of her friend and
It was the old New York way of taking life "without
effusion of blood": the way of people who dreaded
scandal more than disease, who placed decency above
courage, and who considered that nothing was more
ill-bred than "scenes," except the behaviour of those
who gave rise to them.
As these thoughts succeeded each other in his mind
Archer felt like a prisoner in the centre of an armed
camp. He looked about the table, and guessed at the
inexorableness of his captors from the tone in which,
over the asparagus from Florida, they were dealing
with Beaufort and his wife. "It's to show me," he
thought, "what would happen to ME--" and a deathly
sense of the superiority of implication and analogy over
direct action, and of silence over rash words, closed in
on him like the doors of the family vault.
He laughed, and met Mrs. van der Luyden's startled
"You think it laughable?" she said with a pinched
smile. "Of course poor Regina's idea of remaining in
New York has its ridiculous side, I suppose;" and
Archer muttered: "Of course."
At this point, he became conscious that Madame
Olenska's other neighbour had been engaged for some
time with the lady on his right. At the same moment he
saw that May, serenely enthroned between Mr. van der
Luyden and Mr. Selfridge Merry, had cast a quick
glance down the table. It was evident that the host and
the lady on his right could not sit through the whole
meal in silence. He turned to Madame Olenska, and
her pale smile met him. "Oh, do let's see it through," it
seemed to say.
"Did you find the journey tiring?" he asked in a
voice that surprised him by its naturalness; and she
answered that, on the contrary, she had seldom travelled
with fewer discomforts.
"Except, you know, the dreadful heat in the train,"
she added; and he remarked that she would not suffer
from that particular hardship in the country she was
"I never," he declared with intensity, "was more
nearly frozen than once, in April, in the train between
Calais and Paris."
She said she did not wonder, but remarked that,
after all, one could always carry an extra rug, and that
every form of travel had its hardships; to which he
abruptly returned that he thought them all of no account
compared with the blessedness of getting away.
She changed colour, and he added, his voice suddenly
rising in pitch: "I mean to do a lot of travelling myself
before long." A tremor crossed her face, and leaning
over to Reggie Chivers, he cried out: "I say, Reggie,
what do you say to a trip round the world: now, next
month, I mean? I'm game if you are--" at which Mrs.
Reggie piped up that she could not think of letting
Reggie go till after the Martha Washington Ball she
was getting up for the Blind Asylum in Easter week;
and her husband placidly observed that by that time he
would have to be practising for the International Polo
But Mr. Selfridge Merry had caught the phrase "round
the world," and having once circled the globe in his
steam-yacht, he seized the opportunity to send down
the table several striking items concerning the shallowness
of the Mediterranean ports. Though, after all, he
added, it didn't matter; for when you'd seen Athens
and Smyrna and Constantinople, what else was there?
And Mrs. Merry said she could never be too grateful to
Dr. Bencomb for having made them promise not to go
to Naples on account of the fever.
"But you must have three weeks to do India properly,"
her husband conceded, anxious to have it understood
that he was no frivolous globe-trotter.
And at this point the ladies went up to the drawing-
In the library, in spite of weightier presences, Lawrence
The talk, as usual, had veered around to the Beauforts,
and even Mr. van der Luyden and Mr. Selfridge
Merry, installed in the honorary arm-chairs tacitly
reserved for them, paused to listen to the younger man's
Never had Lefferts so abounded in the sentiments
that adorn Christian manhood and exalt the sanctity of
the home. Indignation lent him a scathing eloquence,
and it was clear that if others had followed his example,
and acted as he talked, society would never have
been weak enough to receive a foreign upstart like
Beaufort--no, sir, not even if he'd married a van der
Luyden or a Lanning instead of a Dallas. And what
chance would there have been, Lefferts wrathfully
questioned, of his marrying into such a family as the Dallases,
if he had not already wormed his way into certain
houses, as people like Mrs. Lemuel Struthers had managed
to worm theirs in his wake? If society chose to
open its doors to vulgar women the harm was not
great, though the gain was doubtful; but once it got in
the way of tolerating men of obscure origin and tainted
wealth the end was total disintegration--and at no
"If things go on at this pace," Lefferts thundered,
looking like a young prophet dressed by Poole, and
who had not yet been stoned, "we shall see our children
fighting for invitations to swindlers' houses, and
marrying Beaufort's bastards."
"Oh, I say--draw it mild!" Reggie Chivers and young
Newland protested, while Mr. Selfridge Merry looked
genuinely alarmed, and an expression of pain and disgust
settled on Mr. van der Luyden's sensitive face.
"Has he got any?" cried Mr. Sillerton Jackson,
pricking up his ears; and while Lefferts tried to turn the
question with a laugh, the old gentleman twittered into
Archer's ear: "Queer, those fellows who are always
wanting to set things right. The people who have the
worst cooks are always telling you they're poisoned
when they dine out. But I hear there are pressing reasons
for our friend Lawrence's diatribe:--typewriter
this time, I understand. . . ."
The talk swept past Archer like some senseless river
running and running because it did not know enough
to stop. He saw, on the faces about him, expressions of
interest, amusement and even mirth. He listened to the
younger men's laughter, and to the praise of the Archer
Madeira, which Mr. van der Luyden and Mr. Merry
were thoughtfully celebrating. Through it all he was
dimly aware of a general attitude of friendliness toward
himself, as if the guard of the prisoner he felt himself to
be were trying to soften his captivity; and the perception
increased his passionate determination to be free.
In the drawing-room, where they presently joined the
ladies, he met May's triumphant eyes, and read in them
the conviction that everything had "gone off" beautifully.
She rose from Madame Olenska's side, and immediately
Mrs. van der Luyden beckoned the latter to a
seat on the gilt sofa where she throned. Mrs. Selfridge
Merry bore across the room to join them, and it became
clear to Archer that here also a conspiracy of
rehabilitation and obliteration was going on. The silent
organisation which held his little world together was
determined to put itself on record as never for a moment
having questioned the propriety of Madame Olenska's
conduct, or the completeness of Archer's domestic
felicity. All these amiable and inexorable persons were
resolutely engaged in pretending to each other that they
had never heard of, suspected, or even conceived possible,
the least hint to the contrary; and from this tissue
of elaborate mutual dissimulation Archer once more
disengaged the fact that New York believed him to be
Madame Olenska's lover. He caught the glitter of victory
in his wife's eyes, and for the first time understood
that she shared the belief. The discovery roused a laughter
of inner devils that reverberated through all his
efforts to discuss the Martha Washington ball with
Mrs. Reggie Chivers and little Mrs. Newland; and so
the evening swept on, running and running like a senseless
river that did not know how to stop.
At length he saw that Madame Olenska had risen
and was saying good-bye. He understood that in a
moment she would be gone, and tried to remember
what he had said to her at dinner; but he could not
recall a single word they had exchanged.
She went up to May, the rest of the company making
a circle about her as she advanced. The two young
women clasped hands; then May bent forward and
kissed her cousin.
"Certainly our hostess is much the handsomer of the
two," Archer heard Reggie Chivers say in an undertone
to young Mrs. Newland; and he remembered Beaufort's
coarse sneer at May's ineffectual beauty.
A moment later he was in the hall, putting Madame
Olenska's cloak about her shoulders.
Through all his confusion of mind he had held fast
to the resolve to say nothing that might startle or
disturb her. Convinced that no power could now turn
him from his purpose he had found strength to let
events shape themselves as they would. But as he
followed Madame Olenska into the hall he thought with a
sudden hunger of being for a moment alone with her at
the door of her carriage.
"Is your carriage here?" he asked; and at that
moment Mrs. van der Luyden, who was being majestically
inserted into her sables, said gently: "We are driving
dear Ellen home."
Archer's heart gave a jerk, and Madame Olenska,
clasping her cloak and fan with one hand, held out the
other to him. "Good-bye," she said.
"Good-bye--but I shall see you soon in Paris," he
answered aloud--it seemed to him that he had shouted
"Oh," she murmured, "if you and May could
Mr. van der Luyden advanced to give her his arm,
and Archer turned to Mrs. van der Luyden. For a
moment, in the billowy darkness inside the big landau,
he caught the dim oval of a face, eyes shining steadily--
and she was gone.
As he went up the steps he crossed Lawrence Lefferts
coming down with his wife. Lefferts caught his host by
the sleeve, drawing back to let Gertrude pass.
"I say, old chap: do you mind just letting it be
understood that I'm dining with you at the club tomorrow
night? Thanks so much, you old brick! Good-night."
"It DID go off beautifully, didn't it?" May questioned
from the threshold of the library.
Archer roused himself with a start. As soon as the
last carriage had driven away, he had come up to the
library and shut himself in, with the hope that his wife,
who still lingered below, would go straight to her room.
But there she stood, pale and drawn, yet radiating the
factitious energy of one who has passed beyond fatigue.
"May I come and talk it over?" she asked.
"Of course, if you like. But you must be awfully
"No, I'm not sleepy. I should like to sit with you a
"Very well," he said, pushing her chair near the fire.
She sat down and he resumed his seat; but neither
spoke for a long time. At length Archer began abruptly:
"Since you're not tired, and want to talk, there's something
I must tell you. I tried to the other night--."
She looked at him quickly. "Yes, dear. Something
"About myself. You say you're not tired: well, I am.
Horribly tired . . ."
In an instant she was all tender anxiety. "Oh, I've
seen it coming on, Newland! You've been so wickedly
"Perhaps it's that. Anyhow, I want to make a break--"
"A break? To give up the law?"
"To go away, at any rate--at once. On a long trip,
ever so far off--away from everything--"
He paused, conscious that he had failed in his attempt
to speak with the indifference of a man who
longs for a change, and is yet too weary to welcome it.
Do what he would, the chord of eagerness vibrated.
"Away from everything--" he repeated.
"Ever so far? Where, for instance?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't know. India--or Japan."
She stood up, and as he sat with bent head, his chin
propped on his hands, he felt her warmly and fragrantly
hovering over him.
"As far as that? But I'm afraid you can't, dear . . ."
she said in an unsteady voice. "Not unless you'll take
me with you." And then, as he was silent, she went on,
in tones so clear and evenly-pitched that each separate
syllable tapped like a little hammer on his brain: "That
is, if the doctors will let me go . . . but I'm afraid they
won't. For you see, Newland, I've been sure since this
morning of something I've been so longing and hoping
He looked up at her with a sick stare, and she sank
down, all dew and roses, and hid her face against his
"Oh, my dear," he said, holding her to him while his
cold hand stroked her hair.
There was a long pause, which the inner devils filled
with strident laughter; then May freed herself from his
arms and stood up.
"You didn't guess--?"
"Yes--I; no. That is, of course I hoped--"
They looked at each other for an instant and again
fell silent; then, turning his eyes from hers, he asked
abruptly: "Have you told any one else?"
"Only Mamma and your mother." She paused, and
then added hurriedly, the blood flushing up to her
forehead: "That is--and Ellen. You know I told you
we'd had a long talk one afternoon--and how dear she
was to me."
"Ah--" said Archer, his heart stopping.
He felt that his wife was watching him intently. "Did
you MIND my telling her first, Newland?"
"Mind? Why should I?" He made a last effort to
collect himself. "But that was a fortnight ago, wasn't
it? I thought you said you weren't sure till today."
Her colour burned deeper, but she held his gaze.
"No; I wasn't sure then--but I told her I was. And you
see I was right!" she exclaimed, her blue eyes wet with
Newland Archer sat at the writing-table in his library
in East Thirty-ninth Street.
He had just got back from a big official reception for
the inauguration of the new galleries at the Metropolitan
Museum, and the spectacle of those great spaces
crowded with the spoils of the ages, where the throng
of fashion circulated through a series of scientifically
catalogued treasures, had suddenly pressed on a rusted
spring of memory.
"Why, this used to be one of the old Cesnola rooms,"
he heard some one say; and instantly everything about
him vanished, and he was sitting alone on a hard
leather divan against a radiator, while a slight figure in
a long sealskin cloak moved away down the meagrely-
fitted vista of the old Museum.
The vision had roused a host of other associations,
and he sat looking with new eyes at the library which,
for over thirty years, had been the scene of his solitary
musings and of all the family confabulations.
It was the room in which most of the real things of
his life had happened. There his wife, nearly twenty-six
years ago, had broken to him, with a blushing
circumlocution that would have caused the young women of
the new generation to smile, the news that she was to
have a child; and there their eldest boy, Dallas, too
delicate to be taken to church in midwinter, had been
christened by their old friend the Bishop of New York,
the ample magnificent irreplaceable Bishop, so long the
pride and ornament of his diocese. There Dallas had
first staggered across the floor shouting "Dad," while
May and the nurse laughed behind the door; there their
second child, Mary (who was so like her mother), had
announced her engagement to the dullest and most
reliable of Reggie Chivers's many sons; and there Archer
had kissed her through her wedding veil before they
went down to the motor which was to carry them to
Grace Church--for in a world where all else had reeled
on its foundations the "Grace Church wedding"
remained an unchanged institution.
It was in the library that he and May had always
discussed the future of the children: the studies of
Dallas and his young brother Bill, Mary's incurable
indifference to "accomplishments," and passion for
sport and philanthropy, and the vague leanings toward
"art" which had finally landed the restless and curious
Dallas in the office of a rising New York architect.
The young men nowadays were emancipating
themselves from the law and business and taking up all sorts
of new things. If they were not absorbed in state politics
or municipal reform, the chances were that they
were going in for Central American archaeology, for
architecture or landscape-engineering; taking a keen
and learned interest in the prerevolutionary buildings
of their own country, studying and adapting Georgian
types, and protesting at the meaningless use of the
word "Colonial." Nobody nowadays had "Colonial"
houses except the millionaire grocers of the suburbs.
But above all--sometimes Archer put it above all--it
was in that library that the Governor of New York,
coming down from Albany one evening to dine and
spend the night, had turned to his host, and said,
banging his clenched fist on the table and gnashing his
eye-glasses: "Hang the professional politician! You're
the kind of man the country wants, Archer. If the
stable's ever to be cleaned out, men like you have got
to lend a hand in the cleaning."
"Men like you--" how Archer had glowed at the
phrase! How eagerly he had risen up at the call! It was
an echo of Ned Winsett's old appeal to roll his sleeves
up and get down into the muck; but spoken by a man
who set the example of the gesture, and whose summons
to follow him was irresistible.
Archer, as he looked back, was not sure that men
like himself WERE what his country needed, at least in
the active service to which Theodore Roosevelt had
pointed; in fact, there was reason to think it did not,
for after a year in the State Assembly he had not been
re-elected, and had dropped back thankfully into
obscure if useful municipal work, and from that again to
the writing of occasional articles in one of the
reforming weeklies that were trying to shake the country
out of its apathy. It was little enough to look back on;
but when he remembered to what the young men of his
generation and his set had looked forward--the narrow
groove of money-making, sport and society to
which their vision had been limited--even his small
contribution to the new state of things seemed to count,
as each brick counts in a well-built wall. He had done
little in public life; he would always be by nature a
contemplative and a dilettante; but he had had high
things to contemplate, great things to delight in; and
one great man's friendship to be his strength and pride.
He had been, in short, what people were beginning
to call "a good citizen." In New York, for many years
past, every new movement, philanthropic, municipal or
artistic, had taken account of his opinion and wanted
his name. People said: "Ask Archer" when there was a
question of starting the first school for crippled children,
reorganising the Museum of Art, founding the
Grolier Club, inaugurating the new Library, or getting
up a new society of chamber music. His days were full,
and they were filled decently. He supposed it was all a
man ought to ask.
Something he knew he had missed: the flower of life.
But he thought of it now as a thing so unattainable
and improbable that to have repined would have been
like despairing because one had not drawn the first prize
in a lottery. There were a hundred million tickets in HIS
lottery, and there was only one prize; the chances had
been too decidedly against him. When he thought of Ellen
Olenska it was abstractly, serenely, as one might think
of some imaginary beloved in a book or a picture: she
had become the composite vision of all that he had
missed. That vision, faint and tenuous as it was, had kept
him from thinking of other women. He had been what
was called a faithful husband; and when May had
suddenly died--carried off by the infectious pneumonia
through which she had nursed their youngest child--he
had honestly mourned her. Their long years together had
shown him that it did not so much matter if marriage was
a dull duty, as long as it kept the dignity of a duty: lapsing
from that, it became a mere battle of ugly appetites.
Looking about him, he honoured his own past, and
mourned for it. After all, there was good in the old ways.
His eyes, making the round of the room--done over
by Dallas with English mezzotints, Chippendale cabinets,
bits of chosen blue-and-white and pleasantly shaded
electric lamps--came back to the old Eastlake writing-
table that he had never been willing to banish, and to
his first photograph of May, which still kept its place
beside his inkstand.
There she was, tall, round-bosomed and willowy, in
her starched muslin and flapping Leghorn, as he had
seen her under the orange-trees in the Mission garden.
And as he had seen her that day, so she had remained;
never quite at the same height, yet never far below it:
generous, faithful, unwearied; but so lacking in
imagination, so incapable of growth, that the world of her
youth had fallen into pieces and rebuilt itself without
her ever being conscious of the change. This hard bright
blindness had kept her immediate horizon apparently
unaltered. Her incapacity to recognise change made her
children conceal their views from her as Archer concealed
his; there had been, from the first, a joint pretence
of sameness, a kind of innocent family hypocrisy,
in which father and children had unconsciously
collaborated. And she had died thinking the world a good
place, full of loving and harmonious households like
her own, and resigned to leave it because she was
convinced that, whatever happened, Newland would
continue to inculcate in Dallas the same principles and
prejudices which had shaped his parents' lives, and that
Dallas in turn (when Newland followed her) would
transmit the sacred trust to little Bill. And of Mary she
was sure as of her own self. So, having snatched little
Bill from the grave, and given her life in the effort, she
went contentedly to her place in the Archer vault in St.
Mark's, where Mrs. Archer already lay safe from the
terrifying "trend" which her daughter-in-law had never
even become aware of.
Opposite May's portrait stood one of her daughter.
Mary Chivers was as tall and fair as her mother, but
large-waisted, flat-chested and slightly slouching, as the
altered fashion required. Mary Chivers's mighty feats
of athleticism could not have been performed with the
twenty-inch waist that May Archer's azure sash so
easily spanned. And the difference seemed symbolic;
the mother's life had been as closely girt as her figure.
Mary, who was no less conventional, and no more
intelligent, yet led a larger life and held more tolerant
views. There was good in the new order too.
The telephone clicked, and Archer, turning from the
photographs, unhooked the transmitter at his elbow.
How far they were from the days when the legs of the
brass-buttoned messenger boy had been New York's
only means of quick communication!
"Chicago wants you."
Ah--it must be a long-distance from Dallas, who
had been sent to Chicago by his firm to talk over the
plan of the Lakeside palace they were to build for a
young millionaire with ideas. The firm always sent
Dallas on such errands.
"Hallo, Dad--Yes: Dallas. I say--how do you feel
about sailing on Wednesday? Mauretania: Yes, next
Wednesday as ever is. Our client wants me to look at
some Italian gardens before we settle anything, and has
asked me to nip over on the next boat. I've got to be
back on the first of June--" the voice broke into a
joyful conscious laugh--"so we must look alive. I say,
Dad, I want your help: do come."
Dallas seemed to be speaking in the room: the voice
was as near by and natural as if he had been lounging
in his favourite arm-chair by the fire. The fact would
not ordinarily have surprised Archer, for long-distance
telephoning had become as much a matter of course as
electric lighting and five-day Atlantic voyages. But the
laugh did startle him; it still seemed wonderful that
across all those miles and miles of country--forest,
river, mountain, prairie, roaring cities and busy indifferent
millions--Dallas's laugh should be able to say:
"Of course, whatever happens, I must get back on the
first, because Fanny Beaufort and I are to be married
on the fifth."
The voice began again: "Think it over? No, sir: not a
minute. You've got to say yes now. Why not, I'd like to
know? If you can allege a single reason--No; I knew it.
Then it's a go, eh? Because I count on you to ring up
the Cunard office first thing tomorrow; and you'd better
book a return on a boat from Marseilles. I say,
Dad; it'll be our last time together, in this kind of
way--. Oh, good! I knew you would."
Chicago rang off, and Archer rose and began to pace
up and down the room.
It would be their last time together in this kind of
way: the boy was right. They would have lots of other
"times" after Dallas's marriage, his father was sure; for
the two were born comrades, and Fanny Beaufort,
whatever one might think of her, did not seem likely to
interfere with their intimacy. On the contrary, from
what he had seen of her, he thought she would be
naturally included in it. Still, change was change, and
differences were differences, and much as he felt himself
drawn toward his future daughter-in-law, it was
tempting to seize this last chance of being alone with
There was no reason why he should not seize it,
except the profound one that he had lost the habit of
travel. May had disliked to move except for valid reasons,
such as taking the children to the sea or in the
mountains: she could imagine no other motive for leaving
the house in Thirty-ninth Street or their comfortable
quarters at the Wellands' in Newport. After Dallas
had taken his degree she had thought it her duty to
travel for six months; and the whole family had made
the old-fashioned tour through England, Switzerland
and Italy. Their time being limited (no one knew why)
they had omitted France. Archer remembered Dallas's
wrath at being asked to contemplate Mont Blanc
instead of Rheims and Chartres. But Mary and Bill wanted
mountain-climbing, and had already yawned their way
in Dallas's wake through the English cathedrals; and
May, always fair to her children, had insisted on holding
the balance evenly between their athletic and artistic
proclivities. She had indeed proposed that her husband
should go to Paris for a fortnight, and join them on the
Italian lakes after they had "done" Switzerland; but
Archer had declined. "We'll stick together," he said;
and May's face had brightened at his setting such a
good example to Dallas.
Since her death, nearly two years before, there had
been no reason for his continuing in the same routine.
His children had urged him to travel: Mary Chivers
had felt sure it would do him good to go abroad and
"see the galleries." The very mysteriousness of such a
cure made her the more confident of its efficacy. But
Archer had found himself held fast by habit, by memories,
by a sudden startled shrinking from new things.
Now, as he reviewed his past, he saw into what a
deep rut he had sunk. The worst of doing one's duty
was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything
else. At least that was the view that the men of his
generation had taken. The trenchant divisions between
right and wrong, honest and dishonest, respectable and
the reverse, had left so little scope for the unforeseen.
There are moments when a man's imagination, so easily
subdued to what it lives in, suddenly rises above its
daily level, and surveys the long windings of destiny.
Archer hung there and wondered. . . .
What was left of the little world he had grown up in,
and whose standards had bent and bound him? He
remembered a sneering prophecy of poor Lawrence
Lefferts's, uttered years ago in that very room: "If
things go on at this rate, our children will be marrying
It was just what Archer's eldest son, the pride of his
life, was doing; and nobody wondered or reproved.
Even the boy's Aunt Janey, who still looked so exactly
as she used to in her elderly youth, had taken her
mother's emeralds and seed-pearls out of their pink
cotton-wool, and carried them with her own twitching
hands to the future bride; and Fanny Beaufort, instead
of looking disappointed at not receiving a "set" from a
Paris jeweller, had exclaimed at their old-fashioned
beauty, and declared that when she wore them she
should feel like an Isabey miniature.
Fanny Beaufort, who had appeared in New York at
eighteen, after the death of her parents, had won its
heart much as Madame Olenska had won it thirty
years earlier; only instead of being distrustful and afraid
of her, society took her joyfully for granted. She was
pretty, amusing and accomplished: what more did any
one want? Nobody was narrow-minded enough to rake
up against her the half-forgotten facts of her father's
past and her own origin. Only the older people remembered
so obscure an incident in the business life of New
York as Beaufort's failure, or the fact that after his
wife's death he had been quietly married to the notorious
Fanny Ring, and had left the country with his new
wife, and a little girl who inherited her beauty. He was
subsequently heard of in Constantinople, then in Russia;
and a dozen years later American travellers were
handsomely entertained by him in Buenos Ayres, where
he represented a large insurance agency. He and his
wife died there in the odour of prosperity; and one day
their orphaned daughter had appeared in New York in
charge of May Archer's sister-in-law, Mrs. Jack Welland,
whose husband had been appointed the girl's
guardian. The fact threw her into almost cousinly
relationship with Newland Archer's children, and nobody
was surprised when Dallas's engagement was announced.
Nothing could more dearly give the measure of the
distance that the world had travelled. People nowadays
were too busy--busy with reforms and "movements,"
with fads and fetishes and frivolities--to bother much
about their neighbours. And of what account was anybody's
past, in the huge kaleidoscope where all the
social atoms spun around on the same plane?
Newland Archer, looking out of his hotel window at
the stately gaiety of the Paris streets, felt his heart
beating with the confusion and eagerness of youth.
It was long since it had thus plunged and reared
under his widening waistcoat, leaving him, the next
minute, with an empty breast and hot temples. He
wondered if it was thus that his son's conducted itself
in the presence of Miss Fanny Beaufort--and decided
that it was not. "It functions as actively, no doubt, but
the rhythm is different," he reflected, recalling the cool
composure with which the young man had announced
his engagement, and taken for granted that his family
"The difference is that these young people take it for
granted that they're going to get whatever they want,
and that we almost always took it for granted that we
shouldn't. Only, I wonder--the thing one's so certain
of in advance: can it ever make one's heart beat as
It was the day after their arrival in Paris, and the
spring sunshine held Archer in his open window, above
the wide silvery prospect of the Place Vendome. One
of the things he had stipulated--almost the only one--
when he had agreed to come abroad with Dallas, was
that, in Paris, he shouldn't be made to go to one of the
"Oh, all right--of course," Dallas good-naturedly
agreed. "I'll take you to some jolly old-fashioned place--
the Bristol say--" leaving his father speechless at hearing
that the century-long home of kings and emperors
was now spoken of as an old-fashioned inn, where one
went for its quaint inconveniences and lingering local
Archer had pictured often enough, in the first impatient
years, the scene of his return to Paris; then the
personal vision had faded, and he had simply tried to
see the city as the setting of Madame Olenska's life.
Sitting alone at night in his library, after the household
had gone to bed, he had evoked the radiant outbreak
of spring down the avenues of horse-chestnuts, the flowers
and statues in the public gardens, the whiff of lilacs
from the flower-carts, the majestic roll of the river
under the great bridges, and the life of art and study
and pleasure that filled each mighty artery to bursting.
Now the spectacle was before him in its glory, and as
he looked out on it he felt shy, old-fashioned, inadequate:
a mere grey speck of a man compared with the
ruthless magnificent fellow he had dreamed of being. . . .
Dallas's hand came down cheerily on his shoulder.
"Hullo, father: this is something like, isn't it?" They
stood for a while looking out in silence, and then the
young man continued: "By the way, I've got a message
for you: the Countess Olenska expects us both at half-
He said it lightly, carelessly, as he might have
imparted any casual item of information, such as the hour
at which their train was to leave for Florence the next
evening. Archer looked at him, and thought he saw in
his gay young eyes a gleam of his great-grandmother
"Oh, didn't I tell you?" Dallas pursued. "Fanny made
me swear to do three things while I was in Paris: get
her the score of the last Debussy songs, go to the
Grand-Guignol and see Madame Olenska. You know
she was awfully good to Fanny when Mr. Beaufort sent
her over from Buenos Ayres to the Assomption. Fanny
hadn't any friends in Paris, and Madame Olenska used
to be kind to her and trot her about on holidays. I
believe she was a great friend of the first Mrs. Beaufort's.
And she's our cousin, of course. So I rang her up
this morning, before I went out, and told her you and I
were here for two days and wanted to see her."
Archer continued to stare at him. "You told her I
"Of course--why not?" Dallas's eye brows went up
whimsically. Then, getting no answer, he slipped his
arm through his father's with a confidential pressure.
"I say, father: what was she like?"
Archer felt his colour rise under his son's unabashed
gaze. "Come, own up: you and she were great pals,
weren't you? Wasn't she most awfully lovely?"
"Lovely? I don't know. She was different."
"Ah--there you have it! That's what it always comes
to, doesn't it? When she comes, SHE'S DIFFERENT--and
one doesn't know why. It's exactly what I feel about
His father drew back a step, releasing his arm. "About
Fanny? But, my dear fellow--I should hope so! Only I
"Dash it, Dad, don't be prehistoric! Wasn't she--
Dallas belonged body and soul to the new generation.
He was the first-born of Newland and May Archer,
yet it had never been possible to inculcate in him even
the rudiments of reserve. "What's the use of making
mysteries? It only makes people want to nose 'em out,"
he always objected when enjoined to discretion. But
Archer, meeting his eyes, saw the filial light under their
"Well, the woman you'd have chucked everything
for: only you didn't," continued his surprising son.
"I didn't," echoed Archer with a kind of solemnity.
"No: you date, you see, dear old boy. But mother
"Yes: the day before she died. It was when she sent
for me alone--you remember? She said she knew we
were safe with you, and always would be, because
once, when she asked you to, you'd given up the thing
you most wanted."
Archer received this strange communication in silence.
His eyes remained unseeingly fixed on the thronged
sunlit square below the window. At length he said in a
low voice: "She never asked me."
"No. I forgot. You never did ask each other
anything, did you? And you never told each other
anything. You just sat and watched each other, and guessed
at what was going on underneath. A deaf-and-dumb
asylum, in fact! Well, I back your generation for knowing
more about each other's private thoughts than we
ever have time to find out about our own.--I say,
Dad," Dallas broke off, "you're not angry with me? If
you are, let's make it up and go and lunch at Henri's.
I've got to rush out to Versailles afterward."
Archer did not accompany his son to Versailles. He
preferred to spend the afternoon in solitary roamings
through Paris. He had to deal all at once with the
packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate
After a little while he did not regret Dallas's
indiscretion. It seemed to take an iron band from his heart
to know that, after all, some one had guessed and
pitied. . . . And that it should have been his wife moved
him indescribably. Dallas, for all his affectionate
insight, would not have understood that. To the boy, no
doubt, the episode was only a pathetic instance of vain
frustration, of wasted forces. But was it really no more?
For a long time Archer sat on a bench in the Champs
Elysees and wondered, while the stream of life rolled
by. . . .
A few streets away, a few hours away, Ellen Olenska
waited. She had never gone back to her husband, and
when he had died, some years before, she had made no
change in her way of living. There was nothing now to
keep her and Archer apart--and that afternoon he was
to see her.
He got up and walked across the Place de la Concorde
and the Tuileries gardens to the Louvre. She had
once told him that she often went there, and he had a
fancy to spend the intervening time in a place where he
could think of her as perhaps having lately been. For
an hour or more he wandered from gallery to gallery
through the dazzle of afternoon light, and one by one
the pictures burst on him in their half-forgotten splendour,
filling his soul with the long echoes of beauty.
After all, his life had been too starved. . . .
Suddenly, before an effulgent Titian, he found himself
saying: "But I'm only fifty-seven--" and then he
turned away. For such summer dreams it was too late;
but surely not for a quiet harvest of friendship, of
comradeship, in the blessed hush of her nearness.
He went back to the hotel, where he and Dallas were
to meet; and together they walked again across the
Place de la Concorde and over the bridge that leads to
the Chamber of Deputies.
Dallas, unconscious of what was going on in his
father's mind, was talking excitedly and abundantly of
Versailles. He had had but one previous glimpse of it,
during a holiday trip in which he had tried to pack all
the sights he had been deprived of when he had had to
go with the family to Switzerland; and tumultuous
enthusiasm and cock-sure criticism tripped each other
up on his lips.
As Archer listened, his sense of inadequacy and
inexpressiveness increased. The boy was not insensitive,
he knew; but he had the facility and self-confidence
that came of looking at fate not as a master but as an
equal. "That's it: they feel equal to things--they know
their way about," he mused, thinking of his son as the
spokesman of the new generation which had swept
away all the old landmarks, and with them the sign-
posts and the danger-signal.
Suddenly Dallas stopped short, grasping his father's
arm. "Oh, by Jove," he exclaimed.
They had come out into the great tree-planted space
before the Invalides. The dome of Mansart floated
ethereally above the budding trees and the long grey
front of the building: drawing up into itself all the rays
of afternoon light, it hung there like the visible symbol
of the race's glory.
Archer knew that Madame Olenska lived in a square
near one of the avenues radiating from the Invalides;
and he had pictured the quarter as quiet and almost
obscure, forgetting the central splendour that lit it up.
Now, by some queer process of association, that golden
light became for him the pervading illumination in
which she lived. For nearly thirty years, her life--of
which he knew so strangely little--had been spent in
this rich atmosphere that he already felt to be too dense
and yet too stimulating for his lungs. He thought of the
theatres she must have been to, the pictures she must
have looked at, the sober and splendid old houses she
must have frequented, the people she must have talked
with, the incessant stir of ideas, curiosities, images and
associations thrown out by an intensely social race in a
setting of immemorial manners; and suddenly he
remembered the young Frenchman who had once said to
him: "Ah, good conversation--there is nothing like it,
Archer had not seen M. Riviere, or heard of him,
for nearly thirty years; and that fact gave the measure
of his ignorance of Madame Olenska's existence. More
than half a lifetime divided them, and she had spent the
long interval among people he did not know, in a
society he but faintly guessed at, in conditions he would
never wholly understand. During that time he had been
living with his youthful memory of her; but she had
doubtless had other and more tangible companionship.
Perhaps she too had kept her memory of him as something
apart; but if she had, it must have been like a
relic in a small dim chapel, where there was not time to
pray every day. . . .
They had crossed the Place des Invalides, and were
walking down one of the thoroughfares flanking the
building. It was a quiet quarter, after all, in spite of its
splendour and its history; and the fact gave one an idea
of the riches Paris had to draw on, since such scenes as
this were left to the few and the indifferent.
The day was fading into a soft sun-shot haze, pricked
here and there by a yellow electric light, and passers
were rare in the little square into which they had turned.
Dallas stopped again, and looked up.
"It must be here," he said, slipping his arm through
his father's with a movement from which Archer's shyness
did not shrink; and they stood together looking up
at the house.
It was a modern building, without distinctive character,
but many-windowed, and pleasantly balconied up
its wide cream-coloured front. On one of the upper
balconies, which hung well above the rounded tops of
the horse-chestnuts in the square, the awnings were still
lowered, as though the sun had just left it.
"I wonder which floor--?" Dallas conjectured; and
moving toward the porte-cochere he put his head into
the porter's lodge, and came back to say: "The fifth. It
must be the one with the awnings."
Archer remained motionless, gazing at the upper windows
as if the end of their pilgrimage had been attained.
"I say, you know, it's nearly six," his son at length
The father glanced away at an empty bench under
"I believe I'll sit there a moment," he said.
"Why--aren't you well?" his son exclaimed.
"Oh, perfectly. But I should like you, please, to go
up without me."
Dallas paused before him, visibly bewildered. "But, I
say, Dad: do you mean you won't come up at all?"
"I don't know," said Archer slowly.
"If you don't she won't understand."
"Go, my boy; perhaps I shall follow you."
Dallas gave him a long look through the twilight.
"But what on earth shall I say?"
"My dear fellow, don't you always know what to
say?" his father rejoined with a smile.
"Very well. I shall say you're old-fashioned, and
prefer walking up the five flights because you don't like
His father smiled again. "Say I'm old-fashioned: that's
Dallas looked at him again, and then, with an
incredulous gesture, passed out of sight under the vaulted
Archer sat down on the bench and continued to gaze
at the awninged balcony. He calculated the time it
would take his son to be carried up in the lift to the
fifth floor, to ring the bell, and be admitted to the hall,
and then ushered into the drawing-room. He pictured
Dallas entering that room with his quick assured step
and his delightful smile, and wondered if the people
were right who said that his boy "took after him."
Then he tried to see the persons already in the
room--for probably at that sociable hour there would
be more than one--and among them a dark lady, pale
and dark, who would look up quickly, half rise, and
hold out a long thin hand with three rings on it. . . . He
thought she would be sitting in a sofa-corner near the
fire, with azaleas banked behind her on a table.
"It's more real to me here than if I went up," he
suddenly heard himself say; and the fear lest that last
shadow of reality should lose its edge kept him rooted
to his seat as the minutes succeeded each other.
He sat for a long time on the bench in the thickening
dusk, his eyes never turning from the balcony. At length
a light shone through the windows, and a moment later
a man-servant came out on the balcony, drew up the
awnings, and closed the shutters.
At that, as if it had been the signal he waited for,
Newland Archer got up slowly and walked back alone
to his hotel.
A Note on the Text
The Age of Innocence first appeared in four large
installments in The Pictorial Review, from July to
October 1920. It was published that same year in book