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Chapter X

The next day he persuaded May to escape for a walk
in the Park after luncheon. As was the custom in
old-fashioned Episcopalian New York, she usually
accompanied her parents to church on Sunday afternoons;
but Mrs. Welland condoned her truancy, having that
very morning won her over to the necessity of a long
engagement, with time to prepare a hand-embroidered
trousseau containing the proper number of dozens.

The day was delectable. The bare vaulting of trees
along the Mall was ceiled with lapis lazuli, and arched
above snow that shone like splintered crystals. It was
the weather to call out May's radiance, and she burned
like a young maple in the frost. Archer was proud of
the glances turned on her, and the simple joy of
possessorship cleared away his underlying perplexities.

"It's so delicious--waking every morning to smell
lilies-of-the-valley in one's room!" she said.

"Yesterday they came late. I hadn't time in the

"But your remembering each day to send them makes
me love them so much more than if you'd given a
standing order, and they came every morning on the
minute, like one's music-teacher--as I know Gertrude
Lefferts's did, for instance, when she and Lawrence
were engaged."

"Ah--they would!" laughed Archer, amused at her
keenness. He looked sideways at her fruit-like cheek
and felt rich and secure enough to add: "When I sent
your lilies yesterday afternoon I saw some rather
gorgeous yellow roses and packed them off to Madame
Olenska. Was that right?"

"How dear of you! Anything of that kind delights
her. It's odd she didn't mention it: she lunched with us
today, and spoke of Mr. Beaufort's having sent her
wonderful orchids, and cousin Henry van der Luyden a
whole hamper of carnations from Skuytercliff. She seems
so surprised to receive flowers. Don't people send them
in Europe? She thinks it such a pretty custom."

"Oh, well, no wonder mine were overshadowed by
Beaufort's," said Archer irritably. Then he remembered
that he had not put a card with the roses, and
was vexed at having spoken of them. He wanted to
say: "I called on your cousin yesterday," but hesitated.
If Madame Olenska had not spoken of his visit it might
seem awkward that he should. Yet not to do so gave
the affair an air of mystery that he disliked. To shake
off the question he began to talk of their own plans,
their future, and Mrs. Welland's insistence on a long

"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
ourselves, May?"

He had stopped and faced her in the excitement of
their discussion, and her eyes rested on him with a
bright unclouded admiration.

"Mercy--shall we elope?" she laughed.

"If you would--"

"You DO love me, Newland! I'm so happy."

"But then--why not be happier?"

"We can't behave like people in novels, though, can

"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
before him.

"Mother's very angry."

"Angry? With whom? About what?"

"Miss Sophy Jackson has just been here. She brought
word that her brother would come in after dinner: she
couldn't say very much, because he forbade her to: he
wishes to give all the details himself. He's with cousin
Louisa van der Luyden now."

"For heaven's sake, my dear girl, try a fresh start. It
would take an omniscient Deity to know what you're
talking about."

"It's not a time to be profane, Newland. . . . Mother
feels badly enough about your not going to church . . ."

With a groan he plunged back into his book.

"NEWLAND! Do listen. Your friend Madame Olenska
was at Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's party last night: she
went there with the Duke and Mr. Beaufort."

At the last clause of this announcement a senseless
anger swelled the young man's breast. To smother it he
laughed. "Well, what of it? I knew she meant to."

Janey paled and her eyes began to project. "You
knew she meant to--and you didn't try to stop her? To
warn her?"

"Stop her? Warn her?" He laughed again. "I'm not
engaged to be married to the Countess Olenska!" The
words had a fantastic sound in his own ears.

"You're marrying into her family."

"Oh, family--family!" he jeered.

"Newland--don't you care about Family?"

"Not a brass farthing."

"Nor about what cousin Louisa van der Luyden will

"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
Luyden banquet."

"You know cousin Henry asked her to please you:
he persuaded cousin Louisa. And now they're so upset
that they're going back to Skuytercliff tomorrow. I
think, Newland, you'd better come down. You don't
seem to understand how mother feels."

In the drawing-room Newland found his mother. She
raised a troubled brow from her needlework to ask:
"Has Janey told you?"

"Yes." He tried to keep his tone as measured as her
own. "But I can't take it very seriously."

"Not the fact of having offended cousin Louisa and
cousin Henry?"

"The fact that they can be offended by such a trifle
as Countess Olenska's going to the house of a woman
they consider common."


"Well, who is; but who has good music, and amuses
people on Sunday evenings, when the whole of New
York is dying of inanition."

"Good music? All I know is, there was a woman
who got up on a table and sang the things they sing at
the places you go to in Paris. There was smoking and

"Well--that kind of thing happens in other places,
and the world still goes on."

"I don't suppose, dear, you're really defending the
French Sunday?"

"I've heard you often enough, mother, grumble at
the English Sunday when we've been in London."

"New York is neither Paris nor London."

"Oh, no, it's not!" her son groaned.

"You mean, I suppose, that society here is not as
brilliant? You're right, I daresay; but we belong here,
and people should respect our ways when they come
among us. Ellen Olenska especially: she came back to
get away from the kind of life people lead in brilliant

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
dutifully reflected.

"How kind you both are, dear Henry--always!
Newland will particularly appreciate what you have
done because of dear May and his new relations."

She shot an admonitory glance at her son, who said:
"Immensely, sir. But I was sure you'd like Madame

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.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
General Fiction
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