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Chapter V

The next evening old Mr. Sillerton Jackson came to
dine with the Archers.

Mrs. Archer was a shy woman and shrank from
society; but she liked to be well-informed as to its
doings. Her old friend Mr. Sillerton Jackson applied to
the investigation of his friends' affairs the patience of a
collector and the science of a naturalist; and his sister,
Miss Sophy Jackson, who lived with him, and was
entertained by all the people who could not secure her
much-sought-after brother, brought home bits of minor
gossip that filled out usefully the gaps in his picture.

Therefore, whenever anything happened that Mrs.
Archer wanted to know about, she asked Mr. Jackson
to dine; and as she honoured few people with her
invitations, and as she and her daughter Janey were an
excellent audience, Mr. Jackson usually came himself
instead of sending his sister. If he could have dictated
all the conditions, he would have chosen the evenings
when Newland was out; not because the young man
was uncongenial to him (the two got on capitally at
their club) but because the old anecdotist sometimes
felt, on Newland's part, a tendency to weigh his
evidence that the ladies of the family never showed.

Mr. Jackson, if perfection had been attainable on
earth, would also have asked that Mrs. Archer's food
should be a little better. But then New York, as far
back as the mind of man could travel, had been divided
into the two great fundamental groups of the Mingotts
and Mansons and all their clan, who cared about eating
and clothes and money, and the Archer-Newland-
van-der-Luyden tribe, who were devoted to travel,
horticulture and the best fiction, and looked down on
the grosser forms of pleasure.

You couldn't have everything, after all. If you dined
with the Lovell Mingotts you got canvas-back and
terrapin and vintage wines; at Adeline Archer's you
could talk about Alpine scenery and "The Marble Faun";
and luckily the Archer Madeira had gone round the
Cape. Therefore when a friendly summons came from
Mrs. Archer, Mr. Jackson, who was a true eclectic,
would usually say to his sister: "I've been a little gouty
since my last dinner at the Lovell Mingotts'--it will do
me good to diet at Adeline's."

Mrs. Archer, who had long been a widow, lived with
her son and daughter in West Twenty-eighth Street. An
upper floor was dedicated to Newland, and the two
women squeezed themselves into narrower quarters
below. In an unclouded harmony of tastes and interests
they cultivated ferns in Wardian cases, made macrame
lace and wool embroidery on linen, collected American
revolutionary glazed ware, subscribed to "Good Words,"
and read Ouida's novels for the sake of the Italian
atmosphere. (They preferred those about peasant life,
because of the descriptions of scenery and the pleasanter
sentiments, though in general they liked novels about
people in society, whose motives and habits were more
comprehensible, spoke severely of Dickens, who "had
never drawn a gentleman," and considered Thackeray
less at home in the great world than Bulwer--who,
however, was beginning to be thought old-fashioned.)
Mrs. and Miss Archer were both great lovers of
scenery. It was what they principally sought and admired
on their occasional travels abroad; considering
architecture and painting as subjects for men, and chiefly
for learned persons who read Ruskin. Mrs. Archer had
been born a Newland, and mother and daughter, who
were as like as sisters, were both, as people said, "true
Newlands"; tall, pale, and slightly round-shouldered,
with long noses, sweet smiles and a kind of drooping
distinction like that in certain faded Reynolds portraits.
Their physical resemblance would have been complete
if an elderly embonpoint had not stretched Mrs. Archer's
black brocade, while Miss Archer's brown and
purple poplins hung, as the years went on, more and
more slackly on her virgin frame.

Mentally, the likeness between them, as Newland
was aware, was less complete than their identical
mannerisms often made it appear. The long habit of living
together in mutually dependent intimacy had given them
the same vocabulary, and the same habit of beginning
their phrases "Mother thinks" or "Janey thinks,"
according as one or the other wished to advance an
opinion of her own; but in reality, while Mrs. Archer's
serene unimaginativeness rested easily in the accepted
and familiar, Janey was subject to starts and aberrations
of fancy welling up from springs of suppressed

Mother and daughter adored each other and revered
their son and brother; and Archer loved them with a
tenderness made compunctious and uncritical by the
sense of their exaggerated admiration, and by his secret
satisfaction in it. After all, he thought it a good thing
for a man to have his authority respected in his own
house, even if his sense of humour sometimes made
him question the force of his mandate.

On this occasion the young man was very sure that
Mr. Jackson would rather have had him dine out; but
he had his own reasons for not doing so.

Of course old Jackson wanted to talk about Ellen
Olenska, and of course Mrs. Archer and Janey wanted
to hear what he had to tell. All three would be slightly
embarrassed by Newland's presence, now that his
prospective relation to the Mingott clan had been made
known; and the young man waited with an amused
curiosity to see how they would turn the difficulty.

They began, obliquely, by talking about Mrs. Lemuel

"It's a pity the Beauforts asked her," Mrs. Archer
said gently. "But then Regina always does what he tells
her; and BEAUFORT--"

"Certain nuances escape Beaufort," said Mr. Jackson,
cautiously inspecting the broiled shad, and wondering
for the thousandth time why Mrs. Archer's cook
always burnt the roe to a cinder. (Newland, who had
long shared his wonder, could always detect it in the
older man's expression of melancholy disapproval.)

"Oh, necessarily; Beaufort is a vulgar man," said
Mrs. Archer. "My grandfather Newland always used
to say to my mother: `Whatever you do, don't let that
fellow Beaufort be introduced to the girls.' But at least
he's had the advantage of associating with gentlemen;
in England too, they say. It's all very mysterious--"
She glanced at Janey and paused. She and Janey knew
every fold of the Beaufort mystery, but in public Mrs.
Archer continued to assume that the subject was not
one for the unmarried.

"But this Mrs. Struthers," Mrs. Archer continued;
"what did you say SHE was, Sillerton?"

"Out of a mine: or rather out of the saloon at the
head of the pit. Then with Living Wax-Works, touring
New England. After the police broke THAT up, they say
she lived--" Mr. Jackson in his turn glanced at Janey,
whose eyes began to bulge from under her prominent
lids. There were still hiatuses for her in Mrs. Struthers's

"Then," Mr. Jackson continued (and Archer saw he
was wondering why no one had told the butler never to
slice cucumbers with a steel knife), "then Lemuel Struthers
came along. They say his advertiser used the girl's
head for the shoe-polish posters; her hair's intensely
black, you know--the Egyptian style. Anyhow, he--
eventually--married her." There were volumes of
innuendo in the way the "eventually" was spaced, and
each syllable given its due stress.

"Oh, well--at the pass we've come to nowadays, it
doesn't matter," said Mrs. Archer indifferently. The
ladies were not really interested in Mrs. Struthers
just then; the subject of Ellen Olenska was too fresh
and too absorbing to them. Indeed, Mrs. Struthers's
name had been introduced by Mrs. Archer only that
she might presently be able to say: "And Newland's
new cousin--Countess Olenska? Was SHE at the ball too?"

There was a faint touch of sarcasm in the reference
to her son, and Archer knew it and had expected it.
Even Mrs. Archer, who was seldom unduly pleased
with human events, had been altogether glad of her
son's engagement. ("Especially after that silly business
with Mrs. Rushworth," as she had remarked to Janey,
alluding to what had once seemed to Newland a tragedy
of which his soul would always bear the scar.)

There was no better match in New York than May
Welland, look at the question from whatever point you
chose. Of course such a marriage was only what
Newland was entitled to; but young men are so foolish
and incalculable--and some women so ensnaring and
unscrupulous--that it was nothing short of a miracle to
see one's only son safe past the Siren Isle and in the
haven of a blameless domesticity.

All this Mrs. Archer felt, and her son knew she felt;
but he knew also that she had been perturbed by the
premature announcement of his engagement, or rather
by its cause; and it was for that reason--because on the
whole he was a tender and indulgent master--that he
had stayed at home that evening. "It's not that I don't
approve of the Mingotts' esprit de corps; but why
Newland's engagement should be mixed up with that
Olenska woman's comings and goings I don't see,"
Mrs. Archer grumbled to Janey, the only witness of her
slight lapses from perfect sweetness.

She had behaved beautifully--and in beautiful
behaviour she was unsurpassed--during the call on Mrs.
Welland; but Newland knew (and his betrothed doubtless
guessed) that all through the visit she and Janey
were nervously on the watch for Madame Olenska's
possible intrusion; and when they left the house
together she had permitted herself to say to her son: "I'm
thankful that Augusta Welland received us alone."

These indications of inward disturbance moved Archer
the more that he too felt that the Mingotts had gone a
little too far. But, as it was against all the rules of their
code that the mother and son should ever allude to
what was uppermost in their thoughts, he simply replied:
"Oh, well, there's always a phase of family parties
to be gone through when one gets engaged, and the
sooner it's over the better." At which his mother merely
pursed her lips under the lace veil that hung down from
her grey velvet bonnet trimmed with frosted grapes.

Her revenge, he felt--her lawful revenge--would be
to "draw" Mr. Jackson that evening on the Countess
Olenska; and, having publicly done his duty as a future
member of the Mingott clan, the young man had no
objection to hearing the lady discussed in private--except
that the subject was already beginning to bore him.

Mr. Jackson had helped himself to a slice of the tepid
filet which the mournful butler had handed him with a
look as sceptical as his own, and had rejected the
mushroom sauce after a scarcely perceptible sniff. He
looked baffled and hungry, and Archer reflected that
he would probably finish his meal on Ellen Olenska.

Mr. Jackson leaned back in his chair, and glanced up
at the candlelit Archers, Newlands and van der Luydens
hanging in dark frames on the dark walls.

"Ah, how your grandfather Archer loved a good
dinner, my dear Newland!" he said, his eyes on the
portrait of a plump full-chested young man in a stock
and a blue coat, with a view of a white-columned
country-house behind him. "Well--well--well . . . I
wonder what he would have said to all these foreign

Mrs. Archer ignored the allusion to the ancestral
cuisine and Mr. Jackson continued with deliberation:
"No, she was NOT at the ball."

"Ah--" Mrs. Archer murmured, in a tone that
implied: "She had that decency."

"Perhaps the Beauforts don't know her," Janey
suggested, with her artless malice.

Mr. Jackson gave a faint sip, as if he had been
tasting invisible Madeira. "Mrs. Beaufort may not--but
Beaufort certainly does, for she was seen walking up
Fifth Avenue this afternoon with him by the whole of
New York."

"Mercy--" moaned Mrs. Archer, evidently perceiving
the uselessness of trying to ascribe the actions of
foreigners to a sense of delicacy.

"I wonder if she wears a round hat or a bonnet in
the afternoon," Janey speculated. "At the Opera I know
she had on dark blue velvet, perfectly plain and flat--
like a night-gown."

"Janey!" said her mother; and Miss Archer blushed
and tried to look audacious.

"It was, at any rate, in better taste not to go to the
ball," Mrs. Archer continued.

A spirit of perversity moved her son to rejoin: "I
don't think it was a question of taste with her. May
said she meant to go, and then decided that the dress in
question wasn't smart enough."

Mrs. Archer smiled at this confirmation of her
inference. "Poor Ellen," she simply remarked; adding
compassionately: "We must always bear in mind what an
eccentric bringing-up Medora Manson gave her. What
can you expect of a girl who was allowed to wear
black satin at her coming-out ball?"

"Ah--don't I remember her in it!" said Mr. Jackson;
adding: "Poor girl!" in the tone of one who, while
enjoying the memory, had fully understood at the time
what the sight portended.

"It's odd," Janey remarked, "that she should have
kept such an ugly name as Ellen. I should have changed
it to Elaine." She glanced about the table to see the
effect of this.

Her brother laughed. "Why Elaine?"

"I don't know; it sounds more--more Polish," said
Janey, blushing.

"It sounds more conspicuous; and that can hardly be
what she wishes," said Mrs. Archer distantly.

"Why not?" broke in her son, growing suddenly
argumentative. "Why shouldn't she be conspicuous if
she chooses? Why should she slink about as if it were
she who had disgraced herself? She's `poor Ellen'
certainly, because she had the bad luck to make a wretched
marriage; but I don't see that that's a reason for hiding
her head as if she were the culprit."

"That, I suppose," said Mr. Jackson, speculatively,
"is the line the Mingotts mean to take."

The young man reddened. "I didn't have to wait for
their cue, if that's what you mean, sir. Madame Olenska
has had an unhappy life: that doesn't make her an

"There are rumours," began Mr. Jackson, glancing
at Janey.

"Oh, I know: the secretary," the young man took
him up. "Nonsense, mother; Janey's grown-up. They
say, don't they," he went on, "that the secretary helped
her to get away from her brute of a husband, who kept
her practically a prisoner? Well, what if he did? I hope
there isn't a man among us who wouldn't have done
the same in such a case."

Mr. Jackson glanced over his shoulder to say to the
sad butler: "Perhaps . . . that sauce . . . just a little,
after all--"; then, having helped himself, he remarked:
"I'm told she's looking for a house. She means to live

"I hear she means to get a divorce," said Janey

"I hope she will!" Archer exclaimed.

The word had fallen like a bombshell in the pure and
tranquil atmosphere of the Archer dining-room. Mrs.
Archer raised her delicate eye-brows in the particular
curve that signified: "The butler--" and the young
man, himself mindful of the bad taste of discussing
such intimate matters in public, hastily branched off
into an account of his visit to old Mrs. Mingott.

After dinner, according to immemorial custom, Mrs.
Archer and Janey trailed their long silk draperies up to
the drawing-room, where, while the gentlemen smoked
below stairs, they sat beside a Carcel lamp with an
engraved globe, facing each other across a rosewood
work-table with a green silk bag under it, and stitched
at the two ends of a tapestry band of field-flowers
destined to adorn an "occasional" chair in the drawing-
room of young Mrs. Newland Archer.

While this rite was in progress in the drawing-room,
Archer settled Mr. Jackson in an armchair near the fire
in the Gothic library and handed him a cigar. Mr.
Jackson sank into the armchair with satisfaction, lit his
cigar with perfect confidence (it was Newland who
bought them), and stretching his thin old ankles to the
coals, said: "You say the secretary merely helped her to
get away, my dear fellow? Well, he was still helping her
a year later, then; for somebody met 'em living at
Lausanne together."

Newland reddened. "Living together? Well, why not?
Who had the right to make her life over if she hadn't?
I'm sick of the hypocrisy that would bury alive a woman
of her age if her husband prefers to live with harlots."

He stopped and turned away angrily to light his
cigar. "Women ought to be free--as free as we are," he
declared, making a discovery of which he was too
irritated to measure the terrific consequences.

Mr. Sillerton Jackson stretched his ankles nearer the
coals and emitted a sardonic whistle.

"Well," he said after a pause, "apparently Count
Olenski takes your view; for I never heard of his having
lifted a finger to get his wife back."

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
General Fiction
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