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Chapter XXI

The small bright lawn stretched away smoothly to
the big bright sea.

The turf was hemmed with an edge of scarlet geranium
and coleus, and cast-iron vases painted in chocolate
colour, standing at intervals along the winding
path that led to the sea, looped their garlands of
petunia and ivy geranium above the neatly raked gravel.

Half way between the edge of the cliff and the square
wooden house (which was also chocolate-coloured, but
with the tin roof of the verandah striped in yellow and
brown to represent an awning) two large targets had
been placed against a background of shrubbery. On the
other side of the lawn, facing the targets, was pitched a
real tent, with benches and garden-seats about it. A
number of ladies in summer dresses and gentlemen in
grey frock-coats and tall hats stood on the lawn or sat
upon the benches; and every now and then a slender
girl in starched muslin would step from the tent,
bow in hand, and speed her shaft at one of the targets,
while the spectators interrupted their talk to watch
the result.

Newland Archer, standing on the verandah of the
house, looked curiously down upon this scene. On each
side of the shiny painted steps was a large blue china
flower-pot on a bright yellow china stand. A spiky
green plant filled each pot, and below the verandah ran
a wide border of blue hydrangeas edged with more red
geraniums. Behind him, the French windows of the
drawing-rooms through which he had passed gave
glimpses, between swaying lace curtains, of glassy parquet
floors islanded with chintz poufs, dwarf armchairs,
and velvet tables covered with trifles in silver.

The Newport Archery Club always held its August
meeting at the Beauforts'. The sport, which had hitherto
known no rival but croquet, was beginning to be
discarded in favour of lawn-tennis; but the latter game
was still considered too rough and inelegant for social
occasions, and as an opportunity to show off pretty
dresses and graceful attitudes the bow and arrow held
their own.

Archer looked down with wonder at the familiar
spectacle. It surprised him that life should be going on
in the old way when his own reactions to it had so
completely changed. It was Newport that had first
brought home to him the extent of the change. In New
York, during the previous winter, after he and May
had settled down in the new greenish-yellow house
with the bow-window and the Pompeian vestibule, he
had dropped back with relief into the old routine of the
office, and the renewal of this daily activity had served
as a link with his former self. Then there had been the
pleasurable excitement of choosing a showy grey stepper
for May's brougham (the Wellands had given the
carriage), and the abiding occupation and interest of
arranging his new library, which, in spite of family
doubts and disapprovals, had been carried out as he
had dreamed, with a dark embossed paper, Eastlake
book-cases and "sincere" arm-chairs and tables. At the
Century he had found Winsett again, and at the Knickerbocker
the fashionable young men of his own set;
and what with the hours dedicated to the law and
those given to dining out or entertaining friends at
home, with an occasional evening at the Opera or the
play, the life he was living had still seemed a fairly real
and inevitable sort of business.

But Newport represented the escape from duty into
an atmosphere of unmitigated holiday-making. Archer
had tried to persuade May to spend the summer on a
remote island off the coast of Maine (called, appropriately
enough, Mount Desert), where a few hardy Bostonians
and Philadelphians were camping in "native"
cottages, and whence came reports of enchanting
scenery and a wild, almost trapper-like existence amid
woods and waters.

But the Wellands always went to Newport, where
they owned one of the square boxes on the cliffs, and
their son-in-law could adduce no good reason why he
and May should not join them there. As Mrs. Welland
rather tartly pointed out, it was hardly worth while for
May to have worn herself out trying on summer clothes
in Paris if she was not to be allowed to wear them; and
this argument was of a kind to which Archer had as yet
found no answer.

May herself could not understand his obscure
reluctance to fall in with so reasonable and pleasant a way
of spending the summer. She reminded him that he had
always liked Newport in his bachelor days, and as this
was indisputable he could only profess that he was sure
he was going to like it better than ever now that they
were to be there together. But as he stood on the
Beaufort verandah and looked out on the brightly peopled
lawn it came home to him with a shiver that he
was not going to like it at all.

It was not May's fault, poor dear. If, now and then,
during their travels, they had fallen slightly out of step,
harmony had been restored by their return to the
conditions she was used to. He had always foreseen that
she would not disappoint him; and he had been right.
He had married (as most young men did) because he
had met a perfectly charming girl at the moment when
a series of rather aimless sentimental adventures were
ending in premature disgust; and she had represented
peace, stability, comradeship, and the steadying sense
of an unescapable duty.

He could not say that he had been mistaken in his
choice, for she had fulfilled all that he had expected. It
was undoubtedly gratifying to be the husband of one of
the handsomest and most popular young married women
in New York, especially when she was also one of the
sweetest-tempered and most reasonable of wives; and
Archer had never been insensible to such advantages.
As for the momentary madness which had fallen upon
him on the eve of his marriage, he had trained himself
to regard it as the last of his discarded experiments.
The idea that he could ever, in his senses, have dreamed
of marrying the Countess Olenska had become almost
unthinkable, and she remained in his memory simply as
the most plaintive and poignant of a line of ghosts.

But all these abstractions and eliminations made
of his mind a rather empty and echoing place, and he
supposed that was one of the reasons why the busy
animated people on the Beaufort lawn shocked him as
if they had been children playing in a grave-yard.

He heard a murmur of skirts beside him, and the
Marchioness Manson fluttered out of the drawing-room
window. As usual, she was extraordinarily festooned
and bedizened, with a limp Leghorn hat anchored to
her head by many windings of faded gauze, and a little
black velvet parasol on a carved ivory handle absurdly
balanced over her much larger hatbrim.

"My dear Newland, I had no idea that you and May
had arrived! You yourself came only yesterday, you
say? Ah, business--business--professional duties . . . I
understand. Many husbands, I know, find it impossible
to join their wives here except for the week-end." She
cocked her head on one side and languished at him
through screwed-up eyes. "But marriage is one long
sacrifice, as I used often to remind my Ellen--"

Archer's heart stopped with the queer jerk which it
had given once before, and which seemed suddenly to
slam a door between himself and the outer world; but
this break of continuity must have been of the briefest,
for he presently heard Medora answering a question he
had apparently found voice to put.

"No, I am not staying here, but with the Blenkers, in
their delicious solitude at Portsmouth. Beaufort was
kind enough to send his famous trotters for me this
morning, so that I might have at least a glimpse of one
of Regina's garden-parties; but this evening I go back
to rural life. The Blenkers, dear original beings, have
hired a primitive old farm-house at Portsmouth where
they gather about them representative people . . ." She
drooped slightly beneath her protecting brim, and added
with a faint blush: "This week Dr. Agathon Carver is
holding a series of Inner Thought meetings there. A
contrast indeed to this gay scene of worldly pleasure--
but then I have always lived on contrasts! To me the
only death is monotony. I always say to Ellen: Beware
of monotony; it's the mother of all the deadly sins. But
my poor child is going through a phase of exaltation,
of abhorrence of the world. You know, I suppose, that
she has declined all invitations to stay at Newport,
even with her grandmother Mingott? I could hardly
persuade her to come with me to the Blenkers', if you
will believe it! The life she leads is morbid, unnatural.
Ah, if she had only listened to me when it was still
possible . . . When the door was still open . . . But
shall we go down and watch this absorbing match? I
hear your May is one of the competitors."

Strolling toward them from the tent Beaufort
advanced over the lawn, tall, heavy, too tightly buttoned
into a London frock-coat, with one of his own orchids
in its buttonhole. Archer, who had not seen him for
two or three months, was struck by the change in his
appearance. In the hot summer light his floridness seemed
heavy and bloated, and but for his erect square-
shouldered walk he would have looked like an over-fed
and over-dressed old man.

There were all sorts of rumours afloat about
Beaufort. In the spring he had gone off on a long cruise to
the West Indies in his new steam-yacht, and it was
reported that, at various points where he had touched,
a lady resembling Miss Fanny Ring had been seen in
his company. The steam-yacht, built in the Clyde, and
fitted with tiled bath-rooms and other unheard-of luxuries,
was said to have cost him half a million; and the
pearl necklace which he had presented to his wife on
his return was as magnificent as such expiatory offerings
are apt to be. Beaufort's fortune was substantial
enough to stand the strain; and yet the disquieting
rumours persisted, not only in Fifth Avenue but in Wall
Street. Some people said he had speculated unfortunately
in railways, others that he was being bled by one
of the most insatiable members of her profession; and
to every report of threatened insolvency Beaufort
replied by a fresh extravagance: the building of a new
row of orchid-houses, the purchase of a new string of
race-horses, or the addition of a new Meissonnier or
Cabanel to his picture-gallery.

He advanced toward the Marchioness and Newland
with his usual half-sneering smile. "Hullo, Medora!
Did the trotters do their business? Forty minutes, eh?
. . . Well, that's not so bad, considering your nerves
had to be spared." He shook hands with Archer, and
then, turning back with them, placed himself on Mrs.
Manson's other side, and said, in a low voice, a few
words which their companion did not catch.

The Marchioness replied by one of her queer foreign
jerks, and a "Que voulez-vous?" which deepened Beaufort's
frown; but he produced a good semblance of a
congratulatory smile as he glanced at Archer to say:
"You know May's going to carry off the first prize."

"Ah, then it remains in the family," Medora rippled;
and at that moment they reached the tent and Mrs.
Beaufort met them in a girlish cloud of mauve muslin
and floating veils.

May Welland was just coming out of the tent. In her
white dress, with a pale green ribbon about the waist
and a wreath of ivy on her hat, she had the same
Diana-like aloofness as when she had entered the Beaufort
ball-room on the night of her engagement. In the
interval not a thought seemed to have passed behind
her eyes or a feeling through her heart; and though her
husband knew that she had the capacity for both he
marvelled afresh at the way in which experience dropped
away from her.

She had her bow and arrow in her hand, and placing
herself on the chalk-mark traced on the turf she lifted
the bow to her shoulder and took aim. The attitude
was so full of a classic grace that a murmur of appreciation
followed her appearance, and Archer felt the
glow of proprietorship that so often cheated him into
momentary well-being. Her rivals--Mrs. Reggie Chivers,
the Merry girls, and divers rosy Thorleys, Dagonets
and Mingotts, stood behind her in a lovely anxious
group, brown heads and golden bent above the scores,
and pale muslins and flower-wreathed hats mingled in
a tender rainbow. All were young and pretty, and
bathed in summer bloom; but not one had the nymph-
like ease of his wife, when, with tense muscles and
happy frown, she bent her soul upon some feat of

"Gad," Archer heard Lawrence Lefferts say, "not
one of the lot holds the bow as she does"; and Beaufort
retorted: "Yes; but that's the only kind of target she'll
ever hit."

Archer felt irrationally angry. His host's contemptuous
tribute to May's "niceness" was just what a husband
should have wished to hear said of his wife. The
fact that a coarseminded man found her lacking in
attraction was simply another proof of her quality; yet
the words sent a faint shiver through his heart. What if
"niceness" carried to that supreme degree were only a
negation, the curtain dropped before an emptiness? As
he looked at May, returning flushed and calm from her
final bull's-eye, he had the feeling that he had never yet
lifted that curtain.

She took the congratulations of her rivals and of the
rest of the company with the simplicity that was her
crowning grace. No one could ever be jealous of her
triumphs because she managed to give the feeling that
she would have been just as serene if she had missed
them. But when her eyes met her husband's her face
glowed with the pleasure she saw in his.

Mrs. Welland's basket-work pony-carriage was waiting
for them, and they drove off among the dispersing
carriages, May handling the reins and Archer sitting at
her side.

The afternoon sunlight still lingered upon the bright
lawns and shrubberies, and up and down Bellevue Avenue
rolled a double line of victorias, dog-carts, landaus
and "vis-a-vis," carrying well-dressed ladies and
gentlemen away from the Beaufort garden-party, or homeward
from their daily afternoon turn along the Ocean

"Shall we go to see Granny?" May suddenly
proposed. "I should like to tell her myself that I've won
the prize. There's lots of time before dinner."

Archer acquiesced, and she turned the ponies down
Narragansett Avenue, crossed Spring Street and drove
out toward the rocky moorland beyond. In this unfashionable
region Catherine the Great, always indifferent
to precedent and thrifty of purse, had built herself in
her youth a many-peaked and cross-beamed cottage-
orne on a bit of cheap land overlooking the bay. Here,
in a thicket of stunted oaks, her verandahs spread
themselves above the island-dotted waters. A winding
drive led up between iron stags and blue glass balls
embedded in mounds of geraniums to a front door of
highly-varnished walnut under a striped verandah-roof;
and behind it ran a narrow hall with a black and
yellow star-patterned parquet floor, upon which opened
four small square rooms with heavy flock-papers under
ceilings on which an Italian house-painter had lavished
all the divinities of Olympus. One of these rooms had
been turned into a bedroom by Mrs. Mingott when the
burden of flesh descended on her, and in the adjoining
one she spent her days, enthroned in a large armchair
between the open door and window, and perpetually
waving a palm-leaf fan which the prodigious projection
of her bosom kept so far from the rest of her person
that the air it set in motion stirred only the fringe of the
anti-macassars on the chair-arms.

Since she had been the means of hastening his marriage
old Catherine had shown to Archer the cordiality
which a service rendered excites toward the person
served. She was persuaded that irrepressible passion
was the cause of his impatience; and being an ardent
admirer of impulsiveness (when it did not lead to the
spending of money) she always received him with a
genial twinkle of complicity and a play of allusion to
which May seemed fortunately impervious.

She examined and appraised with much interest the
diamond-tipped arrow which had been pinned on May's
bosom at the conclusion of the match, remarking that
in her day a filigree brooch would have been thought
enough, but that there was no denying that Beaufort
did things handsomely.

"Quite an heirloom, in fact, my dear," the old lady
chuckled. "You must leave it in fee to your eldest girl."
She pinched May's white arm and watched the colour
flood her face. "Well, well, what have I said to make
you shake out the red flag? Ain't there going to be any
daughters--only boys, eh? Good gracious, look at her
blushing again all over her blushes! What--can't I say
that either? Mercy me--when my children beg me to
have all those gods and goddesses painted out overhead
I always say I'm too thankful to have somebody about
me that NOTHING can shock!"

Archer burst into a laugh, and May echoed it, crimson
to the eyes.

"Well, now tell me all about the party, please, my
dears, for I shall never get a straight word about it out
of that silly Medora," the ancestress continued; and, as
May exclaimed: "Cousin Medora? But I thought she
was going back to Portsmouth?" she answered placidly:
"So she is--but she's got to come here first to pick
up Ellen. Ah--you didn't know Ellen had come to
spend the day with me? Such fol-de-rol, her not coming
for the summer; but I gave up arguing with young
people about fifty years ago. Ellen--ELLEN!" she cried in
her shrill old voice, trying to bend forward far enough
to catch a glimpse of the lawn beyond the verandah.

There was no answer, and Mrs. Mingott rapped
impatiently with her stick on the shiny floor. A mulatto
maid-servant in a bright turban, replying to the summons,
informed her mistress that she had seen "Miss
Ellen" going down the path to the shore; and Mrs.
Mingott turned to Archer.

"Run down and fetch her, like a good grandson; this
pretty lady will describe the party to me," she said; and
Archer stood up as if in a dream.

He had heard the Countess Olenska's name pronounced
often enough during the year and a half since
they had last met, and was even familiar with the main
incidents of her life in the interval. He knew that she
had spent the previous summer at Newport, where she
appeared to have gone a great deal into society, but
that in the autumn she had suddenly sub-let the "perfect
house" which Beaufort had been at such pains to
find for her, and decided to establish herself in
Washington. There, during the winter, he had heard of her
(as one always heard of pretty women in Washington)
as shining in the "brilliant diplomatic society" that was
supposed to make up for the social short-comings of
the Administration. He had listened to these accounts,
and to various contradictory reports on her appearance,
her conversation, her point of view and her choice
of friends, with the detachment with which one listens
to reminiscences of some one long since dead; not till
Medora suddenly spoke her name at the archery match
had Ellen Olenska become a living presence to him
again. The Marchioness's foolish lisp had called up a
vision of the little fire-lit drawing-room and the sound
of the carriage-wheels returning down the deserted street.
He thought of a story he had read, of some peasant
children in Tuscany lighting a bunch of straw in a
wayside cavern, and revealing old silent images in their
painted tomb . . .

The way to the shore descended from the bank on
which the house was perched to a walk above the
water planted with weeping willows. Through their veil
Archer caught the glint of the Lime Rock, with its
white-washed turret and the tiny house in which the
heroic light-house keeper, Ida Lewis, was living her last
venerable years. Beyond it lay the flat reaches and ugly
government chimneys of Goat Island, the bay spreading
northward in a shimmer of gold to Prudence Island
with its low growth of oaks, and the shores of Conanicut
faint in the sunset haze.

From the willow walk projected a slight wooden pier
ending in a sort of pagoda-like summer-house; and in
the pagoda a lady stood, leaning against the rail, her
back to the shore. Archer stopped at the sight as if he
had waked from sleep. That vision of the past was a
dream, and the reality was what awaited him in the
house on the bank overhead: was Mrs. Welland's pony-
carriage circling around and around the oval at the
door, was May sitting under the shameless Olympians
and glowing with secret hopes, was the Welland villa at
the far end of Bellevue Avenue, and Mr. Welland,
already dressed for dinner, and pacing the drawing-
room floor, watch in hand, with dyspeptic impatience--
for it was one of the houses in which one always knew
exactly what is happening at a given hour.

"What am I? A son-in-law--" Archer thought.

The figure at the end of the pier had not moved. For
a long moment the young man stood half way down
the bank, gazing at the bay furrowed with the coming
and going of sailboats, yacht-launches, fishing-craft and
the trailing black coal-barges hauled by noisy tugs. The
lady in the summer-house seemed to be held by the
same sight. Beyond the grey bastions of Fort Adams a
long-drawn sunset was splintering up into a thousand
fires, and the radiance caught the sail of a catboat as it
beat out through the channel between the Lime Rock
and the shore. Archer, as he watched, remembered the
scene in the Shaughraun, and Montague lifting Ada
Dyas's ribbon to his lips without her knowing that he
was in the room.

"She doesn't know--she hasn't guessed. Shouldn't I
know if she came up behind me, I wonder?" he mused;
and suddenly he said to himself: "If she doesn't turn
before that sail crosses the Lime Rock light I'll go

The boat was gliding out on the receding tide. It slid
before the Lime Rock, blotted out Ida Lewis's little
house, and passed across the turret in which the light
was hung. Archer waited till a wide space of water
sparkled between the last reef of the island and the
stern of the boat; but still the figure in the summer-
house did not move.

He turned and walked up the hill.

"I'm sorry you didn't find Ellen--I should have liked
to see her again," May said as they drove home through
the dusk. "But perhaps she wouldn't have cared--she
seems so changed."

"Changed?" echoed her husband in a colourless voice,
his eyes fixed on the ponies' twitching ears.

"So indifferent to her friends, I mean; giving up New
York and her house, and spending her time with such
queer people. Fancy how hideously uncomfortable she
must be at the Blenkers'! She says she does it to keep
cousin Medora out of mischief: to prevent her marrying
dreadful people. But I sometimes think we've always
bored her."

Archer made no answer, and she continued, with a
tinge of hardness that he had never before noticed in
her frank fresh voice: "After all, I wonder if she wouldn't
be happier with her husband."

He burst into a laugh. "Sancta simplicitas!" he
exclaimed; and as she turned a puzzled frown on him he
added: "I don't think I ever heard you say a cruel thing


"Well--watching the contortions of the damned is
supposed to be a favourite sport of the angels; but I
believe even they don't think people happier in hell."

"It's a pity she ever married abroad then," said May,
in the placid tone with which her mother met Mr.
Welland's vagaries; and Archer felt himself gently relegated
to the category of unreasonable husbands.

They drove down Bellevue Avenue and turned in
between the chamfered wooden gate-posts surmounted
by cast-iron lamps which marked the approach to the
Welland villa. Lights were already shining through its
windows, and Archer, as the carriage stopped, caught a
glimpse of his father-in-law, exactly as he had pictured
him, pacing the drawing-room, watch in hand and
wearing the pained expression that he had long since
found to be much more efficacious than anger.

The young man, as he followed his wife into the hall,
was conscious of a curious reversal of mood. There
was something about the luxury of the Welland house
and the density of the Welland atmosphere, so charged
with minute observances and exactions, that always
stole into his system like a narcotic. The heavy carpets,
the watchful servants, the perpetually reminding tick of
disciplined clocks, the perpetually renewed stack of
cards and invitations on the hall table, the whole chain
of tyrannical trifles binding one hour to the next, and
each member of the household to all the others, made
any less systematised and affluent existence seem unreal
and precarious. But now it was the Welland house,
and the life he was expected to lead in it, that had
become unreal and irrelevant, and the brief scene on
the shore, when he had stood irresolute, halfway down
the bank, was as close to him as the blood in his veins.

All night he lay awake in the big chintz bedroom at
May's side, watching the moonlight slant along the
carpet, and thinking of Ellen Olenska driving home
across the gleaming beaches behind Beaufort's trotters.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
General Fiction
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