The Project Gutenberg E-text of The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton (2023)

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Age of Innocence, by Edith WhartonThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.orgTitle: The Age of InnocenceAuthor: Edith WhartonPosting Date: August 12, 2008 [EBook #541]Release Date: May, 1996Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-8859-1*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE AGE OF INNOCENCE ***Produced by Judith Boss and Charles Keller. HTML version by Al Haines.

by

Edith Wharton

CONTENTS

Book I

CHAPTER ICHAPTER IICHAPTER IIICHAPTER IVCHAPTER V
CHAPTER VICHAPTER VIICHAPTER VIIICHAPTER IXCHAPTER X
CHAPTER XICHAPTER XIICHAPTER XIIICHAPTER XIVCHAPTER XV
CHAPTER XVICHAPTER XVIICHAPTER XVIII

Book II

CHAPTER XIXCHAPTER XXCHAPTER XXICHAPTER XXIICHAPTER XXIII
CHAPTER XXIVCHAPTER XXVCHAPTER XXVICHAPTER XXVIICHAPTER XXVIII
CHAPTER XXIXCHAPTER XXXCHAPTER XXXICHAPTER XXXIICHAPTER XXXIII
CHAPTER XXXIVA Note on the Text

Book I


I.

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson wassinging in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitandistances "above the Forties," of a new Opera House which shouldcompete in costliness and splendour with those of the great Europeancapitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble everywinter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy.Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thuskeeping out the "new people" whom New York was beginning to dread andyet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historicassociations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always soproblematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music.

It was Madame Nilsson's first appearance that winter, and what thedaily press had already learned to describe as "an exceptionallybrilliant audience" had gathered to hear her, transported through theslippery, snowy streets in private broughams, in the spacious familylandau, or in the humbler but more convenient "Brown coupe." To come tothe Opera in a Brown coupe was almost as honourable a way of arrivingas in one's own carriage; and departure by the same means had theimmense advantage of enabling one (with a playful allusion todemocratic principles) to scramble into the first Brown conveyance inthe line, instead of waiting till the cold-and-gin congested nose ofone's own coachman gleamed under the portico of the Academy. It wasone of the great livery-stableman's most masterly intuitions to havediscovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even morequickly than they want to get to it.

When Newland Archer opened the door at the back of the club box thecurtain had just gone up on the garden scene. There was no reason whythe young man should not have come earlier, for he had dined at seven,alone with his mother and sister, and had lingered afterward over acigar in the Gothic library with glazed black-walnut bookcases andfinial-topped chairs which was the only room in the house where Mrs.Archer allowed smoking. But, in the first place, New York was ametropolis, and perfectly aware that in metropolises it was "not thething" to arrive early at the opera; and what was or was not "thething" played a part as important in Newland Archer's New York as theinscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of hisforefathers thousands of years ago.

The second reason for his delay was a personal one. He had dawdledover his cigar because he was at heart a dilettante, and thinking overa pleasure to come often gave him a subtler satisfaction than itsrealisation. This was especially the case when the pleasure was adelicate one, as his pleasures mostly were; and on this occasion themoment he looked forward to was so rare and exquisite in qualitythat—well, if he had timed his arrival in accord with the primadonna's stage-manager he could not have entered the Academy at a moresignificant moment than just as she was singing: "He loves me—heloves me not—HE LOVES ME!—" and sprinkling the falling daisy petalswith notes as clear as dew.

She sang, of course, "M'ama!" and not "he loves me," since anunalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that theGerman text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should betranslated into Italian for the clearer understanding ofEnglish-speaking audiences. This seemed as natural to Newland Archeras all the other conventions on which his life was moulded: such as theduty of using two silver-backed brushes with his monogram in blueenamel to part his hair, and of never appearing in society without aflower (preferably a gardenia) in his buttonhole.

"M'ama ... non m'ama ..." the prima donna sang, and "M'ama!", with afinal burst of love triumphant, as she pressed the dishevelled daisy toher lips and lifted her large eyes to the sophisticated countenance ofthe little brown Faust-Capoul, who was vainly trying, in a tight purplevelvet doublet and plumed cap, to look as pure and true as his artlessvictim.

Newland Archer, leaning against the wall at the back of the club box,turned his eyes from the stage and scanned the opposite side of thehouse. Directly facing him was the box of old Mrs. Manson Mingott,whose monstrous obesity had long since made it impossible for her toattend the Opera, but who was always represented on fashionable nightsby some of the younger members of the family. On this occasion, thefront of the box was filled by her daughter-in-law, Mrs. LovellMingott, and her daughter, Mrs. Welland; and slightly withdrawn behindthese brocaded matrons sat a young girl in white with eyes ecstaticallyfixed on the stagelovers. As Madame Nilsson's "M'ama!" thrilled outabove the silent house (the boxes always stopped talking during theDaisy Song) a warm pink mounted to the girl's cheek, mantled her browto the roots of her fair braids, and suffused the young slope of herbreast to the line where it met a modest tulle tucker fastened with asingle gardenia. She dropped her eyes to the immense bouquet oflilies-of-the-valley on her knee, and Newland Archer saw herwhite-gloved finger-tips touch the flowers softly. He drew a breath ofsatisfied vanity and his eyes returned to the stage.

No expense had been spared on the setting, which was acknowledged to bevery beautiful even by people who shared his acquaintance with theOpera houses of Paris and Vienna. The foreground, to the footlights,was covered with emerald green cloth. In the middle distancesymmetrical mounds of woolly green moss bounded by croquet hoops formedthe base of shrubs shaped like orange-trees but studded with large pinkand red roses. Gigantic pansies, considerably larger than the roses,and closely resembling the floral pen-wipers made by femaleparishioners for fashionable clergymen, sprang from the moss beneaththe rose-trees; and here and there a daisy grafted on a rose-branchflowered with a luxuriance prophetic of Mr. Luther Burbank's far-offprodigies.

In the centre of this enchanted garden Madame Nilsson, in whitecashmere slashed with pale blue satin, a reticule dangling from a bluegirdle, and large yellow braids carefully disposed on each side of hermuslin chemisette, listened with downcast eyes to M. Capoul'simpassioned wooing, and affected a guileless incomprehension of hisdesigns whenever, by word or glance, he persuasively indicated theground floor window of the neat brick villa projecting obliquely fromthe right wing.

"The darling!" thought Newland Archer, his glance flitting back to theyoung girl with the lilies-of-the-valley. "She doesn't even guess whatit's all about." And he contemplated her absorbed young face with athrill of possessorship in which pride in his own masculine initiationwas mingled with a tender reverence for her abysmal purity. "We'llread Faust together ... by the Italian lakes ..." he thought, somewhathazily confusing the scene of his projected honey-moon with themasterpieces of literature which it would be his manly privilege toreveal to his bride. It was only that afternoon that May Welland hadlet him guess that she "cared" (New York's consecrated phrase of maidenavowal), and already his imagination, leaping ahead of the engagementring, the betrothal kiss and the march from Lohengrin, pictured her athis side in some scene of old European witchery.

He did not in the least wish the future Mrs. Newland Archer to be asimpleton. He meant her (thanks to his enlightening companionship) todevelop a social tact and readiness of wit enabling her to hold her ownwith the most popular married women of the "younger set," in which itwas the recognised custom to attract masculine homage while playfullydiscouraging it. If he had probed to the bottom of his vanity (as hesometimes nearly did) he would have found there the wish that his wifeshould be as worldly-wise and as eager to please as the married ladywhose charms had held his fancy through two mildly agitated years;without, of course, any hint of the frailty which had so nearly marredthat unhappy being's life, and had disarranged his own plans for awhole winter.

How this miracle of fire and ice was to be created, and to sustainitself in a harsh world, he had never taken the time to think out; buthe was content to hold his view without analysing it, since he knew itwas that of all the carefully-brushed, white-waistcoated,button-hole-flowered gentlemen who succeeded each other in the clubbox, exchanged friendly greetings with him, and turned theiropera-glasses critically on the circle of ladies who were the productof the system. In matters intellectual and artistic Newland Archerfelt himself distinctly the superior of these chosen specimens of oldNew York gentility; he had probably read more, thought more, and evenseen a good deal more of the world, than any other man of the number.Singly they betrayed their inferiority; but grouped together theyrepresented "New York," and the habit of masculine solidarity made himaccept their doctrine on all the issues called moral. He instinctivelyfelt that in this respect it would be troublesome—and also rather badform—to strike out for himself.

"Well—upon my soul!" exclaimed Lawrence Lefferts, turning hisopera-glass abruptly away from the stage. Lawrence Lefferts was, onthe whole, the foremost authority on "form" in New York. He hadprobably devoted more time than any one else to the study of thisintricate and fascinating question; but study alone could not accountfor his complete and easy competence. One had only to look at him,from the slant of his bald forehead and the curve of his beautiful fairmoustache to the long patent-leather feet at the other end of his leanand elegant person, to feel that the knowledge of "form" must becongenital in any one who knew how to wear such good clothes socarelessly and carry such height with so much lounging grace. As ayoung admirer had once said of him: "If anybody can tell a fellow justwhen to wear a black tie with evening clothes and when not to, it'sLarry Lefferts." And on the question of pumps versus patent-leather"Oxfords" his authority had never been disputed.

"My God!" he said; and silently handed his glass to old SillertonJackson.

Newland Archer, following Lefferts's glance, saw with surprise that hisexclamation had been occasioned by the entry of a new figure into oldMrs. Mingott's box. It was that of a slim young woman, a little lesstall than May Welland, with brown hair growing in close curls about hertemples and held in place by a narrow band of diamonds. The suggestionof this headdress, which gave her what was then called a "Josephinelook," was carried out in the cut of the dark blue velvet gown rathertheatrically caught up under her bosom by a girdle with a largeold-fashioned clasp. The wearer of this unusual dress, who seemedquite unconscious of the attention it was attracting, stood a moment inthe centre of the box, discussing with Mrs. Welland the propriety oftaking the latter's place in the front right-hand corner; then sheyielded with a slight smile, and seated herself in line with Mrs.Welland's sister-in-law, Mrs. Lovell Mingott, who was installed in theopposite corner.

Mr. Sillerton Jackson had returned the opera-glass to LawrenceLefferts. The whole of the club turned instinctively, waiting to hearwhat the old man had to say; for old Mr. Jackson was as great anauthority on "family" as Lawrence Lefferts was on "form." He knew allthe ramifications of New York's cousinships; and could not onlyelucidate such complicated questions as that of the connection betweenthe Mingotts (through the Thorleys) with the Dallases of SouthCarolina, and that of the relationship of the elder branch ofPhiladelphia Thorleys to the Albany Chiverses (on no account to beconfused with the Manson Chiverses of University Place), but could alsoenumerate the leading characteristics of each family: as, for instance,the fabulous stinginess of the younger lines of Leffertses (the LongIsland ones); or the fatal tendency of the Rushworths to make foolishmatches; or the insanity recurring in every second generation of theAlbany Chiverses, with whom their New York cousins had always refusedto intermarry—with the disastrous exception of poor Medora Manson,who, as everybody knew ... but then her mother was a Rushworth.

In addition to this forest of family trees, Mr. Sillerton Jacksoncarried between his narrow hollow temples, and under his soft thatch ofsilver hair, a register of most of the scandals and mysteries that hadsmouldered under the unruffled surface of New York society within thelast fifty years. So far indeed did his information extend, and soacutely retentive was his memory, that he was supposed to be the onlyman who could have told you who Julius Beaufort, the banker, reallywas, and what had become of handsome Bob Spicer, old Mrs. MansonMingott's father, who had disappeared so mysteriously (with a large sumof trust money) less than a year after his marriage, on the very daythat a beautiful Spanish dancer who had been delighting throngedaudiences in the old Opera-house on the Battery had taken ship forCuba. But these mysteries, and many others, were closely locked in Mr.Jackson's breast; for not only did his keen sense of honour forbid hisrepeating anything privately imparted, but he was fully aware that hisreputation for discretion increased his opportunities of finding outwhat he wanted to know.

The club box, therefore, waited in visible suspense while Mr. SillertonJackson handed back Lawrence Lefferts's opera-glass. For a moment hesilently scrutinised the attentive group out of his filmy blue eyesoverhung by old veined lids; then he gave his moustache a thoughtfultwist, and said simply: "I didn't think the Mingotts would have triedit on."

II.

Newland Archer, during this brief episode, had been thrown into astrange state of embarrassment.

It was annoying that the box which was thus attracting the undividedattention of masculine New York should be that in which his betrothedwas seated between her mother and aunt; and for a moment he could notidentify the lady in the Empire dress, nor imagine why her presencecreated such excitement among the initiated. Then light dawned on him,and with it came a momentary rush of indignation. No, indeed; no onewould have thought the Mingotts would have tried it on!

But they had; they undoubtedly had; for the low-toned comments behindhim left no doubt in Archer's mind that the young woman was MayWelland's cousin, the cousin always referred to in the family as "poorEllen Olenska." Archer knew that she had suddenly arrived from Europea day or two previously; he had even heard from Miss Welland (notdisapprovingly) that she had been to see poor Ellen, who was stayingwith old Mrs. Mingott. Archer entirely approved of family solidarity,and one of the qualities he most admired in the Mingotts was theirresolute championship of the few black sheep that their blameless stockhad produced. There was nothing mean or ungenerous in the young man'sheart, and he was glad that his future wife should not be restrained byfalse prudery from being kind (in private) to her unhappy cousin; butto receive Countess Olenska in the family circle was a different thingfrom producing her in public, at the Opera of all places, and in thevery box with the young girl whose engagement to him, Newland Archer,was to be announced within a few weeks. No, he felt as old SillertonJackson felt; he did not think the Mingotts would have tried it on!

He knew, of course, that whatever man dared (within Fifth Avenue'slimits) that old Mrs. Manson Mingott, the Matriarch of the line, woulddare. He had always admired the high and mighty old lady, who, inspite of having been only Catherine Spicer of Staten Island, with afather mysteriously discredited, and neither money nor position enoughto make people forget it, had allied herself with the head of thewealthy Mingott line, married two of her daughters to "foreigners" (anItalian marquis and an English banker), and put the crowning touch toher audacities by building a large house of pale cream-coloured stone(when brown sandstone seemed as much the only wear as a frock-coat inthe afternoon) in an inaccessible wilderness near the Central Park.

Old Mrs. Mingott's foreign daughters had become a legend. They nevercame back to see their mother, and the latter being, like many personsof active mind and dominating will, sedentary and corpulent in herhabit, had philosophically remained at home. But the cream-colouredhouse (supposed to be modelled on the private hotels of the Parisianaristocracy) was there as a visible proof of her moral courage; and shethroned in it, among pre-Revolutionary furniture and souvenirs of theTuileries of Louis Napoleon (where she had shone in her middle age), asplacidly as if there were nothing peculiar in living aboveThirty-fourth Street, or in having French windows that opened likedoors instead of sashes that pushed up.

Every one (including Mr. Sillerton Jackson) was agreed that oldCatherine had never had beauty—a gift which, in the eyes of New York,justified every success, and excused a certain number of failings.Unkind people said that, like her Imperial namesake, she had won herway to success by strength of will and hardness of heart, and a kind ofhaughty effrontery that was somehow justified by the extreme decencyand dignity of her private life. Mr. Manson Mingott had died when shewas only twenty-eight, and had "tied up" the money with an additionalcaution born of the general distrust of the Spicers; but his bold youngwidow went her way fearlessly, mingled freely in foreign society,married her daughters in heaven knew what corrupt and fashionablecircles, hobnobbed with Dukes and Ambassadors, associated familiarlywith Papists, entertained Opera singers, and was the intimate friend ofMme. Taglioni; and all the while (as Sillerton Jackson was the first toproclaim) there had never been a breath on her reputation; the onlyrespect, he always added, in which she differed from the earlierCatherine.

Mrs. Manson Mingott had long since succeeded in untying her husband'sfortune, and had lived in affluence for half a century; but memories ofher early straits had made her excessively thrifty, and though, whenshe bought a dress or a piece of furniture, she took care that itshould be of the best, she could not bring herself to spend much on thetransient pleasures of the table. Therefore, for totally differentreasons, her food was as poor as Mrs. Archer's, and her wines didnothing to redeem it. Her relatives considered that the penury of hertable discredited the Mingott name, which had always been associatedwith good living; but people continued to come to her in spite of the"made dishes" and flat champagne, and in reply to the remonstrances ofher son Lovell (who tried to retrieve the family credit by having thebest chef in New York) she used to say laughingly: "What's the use oftwo good cooks in one family, now that I've married the girls and can'teat sauces?"

Newland Archer, as he mused on these things, had once more turned hiseyes toward the Mingott box. He saw that Mrs. Welland and hersister-in-law were facing their semicircle of critics with theMingottian APLOMB which old Catherine had inculcated in all her tribe,and that only May Welland betrayed, by a heightened colour (perhaps dueto the knowledge that he was watching her) a sense of the gravity ofthe situation. As for the cause of the commotion, she sat gracefullyin her corner of the box, her eyes fixed on the stage, and revealing,as she leaned forward, a little more shoulder and bosom than New Yorkwas accustomed to seeing, at least in ladies who had reasons forwishing to pass unnoticed.

Few things seemed to Newland Archer more awful than an offence against"Taste," that far-off divinity of whom "Form" was the mere visiblerepresentative and vicegerent. Madame Olenska's pale and serious faceappealed to his fancy as suited to the occasion and to her unhappysituation; but the way her dress (which had no tucker) sloped away fromher thin shoulders shocked and troubled him. He hated to think of MayWelland's being exposed to the influence of a young woman so carelessof the dictates of Taste.

"After all," he heard one of the younger men begin behind him(everybody talked through the Mephistopheles-and-Martha scenes), "afterall, just WHAT happened?"

"Well—she left him; nobody attempts to deny that."

"He's an awful brute, isn't he?" continued the young enquirer, a candidThorley, who was evidently preparing to enter the lists as the lady'schampion.

"The very worst; I knew him at Nice," said Lawrence Lefferts withauthority. "A half-paralysed white sneering fellow—rather handsomehead, but eyes with a lot of lashes. Well, I'll tell you the sort:when he wasn't with women he was collecting china. Paying any pricefor both, I understand."

There was a general laugh, and the young champion said: "Well,then——?"

"Well, then; she bolted with his secretary."

"Oh, I see." The champion's face fell.

"It didn't last long, though: I heard of her a few months later livingalone in Venice. I believe Lovell Mingott went out to get her. Hesaid she was desperately unhappy. That's all right—but this paradingher at the Opera's another thing."

"Perhaps," young Thorley hazarded, "she's too unhappy to be left athome."

This was greeted with an irreverent laugh, and the youth blusheddeeply, and tried to look as if he had meant to insinuate what knowingpeople called a "double entendre."

"Well—it's queer to have brought Miss Welland, anyhow," some one saidin a low tone, with a side-glance at Archer.

"Oh, that's part of the campaign: Granny's orders, no doubt," Leffertslaughed. "When the old lady does a thing she does it thoroughly."

The act was ending, and there was a general stir in the box. SuddenlyNewland Archer felt himself impelled to decisive action. The desire tobe the first man to enter Mrs. Mingott's box, to proclaim to thewaiting world his engagement to May Welland, and to see her throughwhatever difficulties her cousin's anomalous situation might involveher in; this impulse had abruptly overruled all scruples andhesitations, and sent him hurrying through the red corridors to thefarther side of the house.

As he entered the box his eyes met Miss Welland's, and he saw that shehad instantly understood his motive, though the family dignity whichboth considered so high a virtue would not permit her to tell him so.The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implicationsand pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each otherwithout a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than anyexplanation would have done. Her eyes said: "You see why Mammabrought me," and his answered: "I would not for the world have had youstay away."

"You know my niece Countess Olenska?" Mrs. Welland enquired as sheshook hands with her future son-in-law. Archer bowed without extendinghis hand, as was the custom on being introduced to a lady; and EllenOlenska bent her head slightly, keeping her own pale-gloved handsclasped on her huge fan of eagle feathers. Having greeted Mrs. LovellMingott, a large blonde lady in creaking satin, he sat down beside hisbetrothed, and said in a low tone: "I hope you've told Madame Olenskathat we're engaged? I want everybody to know—I want you to let meannounce it this evening at the ball."

Miss Welland's face grew rosy as the dawn, and she looked at him withradiant eyes. "If you can persuade Mamma," she said; "but why shouldwe change what is already settled?" He made no answer but that whichhis eyes returned, and she added, still more confidently smiling:"Tell my cousin yourself: I give you leave. She says she used to playwith you when you were children."

She made way for him by pushing back her chair, and promptly, and alittle ostentatiously, with the desire that the whole house should seewhat he was doing, Archer seated himself at the Countess Olenska's side.

"We DID use to play together, didn't we?" she asked, turning her graveeyes to his. "You were a horrid boy, and kissed me once behind a door;but it was your cousin Vandie Newland, who never looked at me, that Iwas in love with." Her glance swept the horse-shoe curve of boxes."Ah, how this brings it all back to me—I see everybody here inknickerbockers and pantalettes," she said, with her trailing slightlyforeign accent, her eyes returning to his face.

Agreeable as their expression was, the young man was shocked that theyshould reflect so unseemly a picture of the august tribunal beforewhich, at that very moment, her case was being tried. Nothing could bein worse taste than misplaced flippancy; and he answered somewhatstiffly: "Yes, you have been away a very long time."

"Oh, centuries and centuries; so long," she said, "that I'm sure I'mdead and buried, and this dear old place is heaven;" which, for reasonshe could not define, struck Newland Archer as an even moredisrespectful way of describing New York society.

III.

It invariably happened in the same way.

Mrs. Julius Beaufort, on the night of her annual ball, never failed toappear at the Opera; indeed, she always gave her ball on an Opera nightin order to emphasise her complete superiority to household cares, andher possession of a staff of servants competent to organise everydetail of the entertainment in her absence.

The Beauforts' house was one of the few in New York that possessed aball-room (it antedated even Mrs. Manson Mingott's and the HeadlyChiverses'); and at a time when it was beginning to be thought"provincial" to put a "crash" over the drawing-room floor and move thefurniture upstairs, the possession of a ball-room that was used for noother purpose, and left for three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of theyear to shuttered darkness, with its gilt chairs stacked in a cornerand its chandelier in a bag; this undoubted superiority was felt tocompensate for whatever was regrettable in the Beaufort past.

Mrs. Archer, who was fond of coining her social philosophy into axioms,had once said: "We all have our pet common people—" and though thephrase was a daring one, its truth was secretly admitted in many anexclusive bosom. But the Beauforts were not exactly common; somepeople said they were even worse. Mrs. Beaufort belonged indeed to oneof America's most honoured families; she had been the lovely ReginaDallas (of the South Carolina branch), a penniless beauty introduced toNew York society by her cousin, the imprudent Medora Manson, who wasalways doing the wrong thing from the right motive. When one wasrelated to the Mansons and the Rushworths one had a "droit de cite" (asMr. Sillerton Jackson, who had frequented the Tuileries, called it) inNew York society; but did one not forfeit it in marrying JuliusBeaufort?

The question was: who was Beaufort? He passed for an Englishman, wasagreeable, handsome, ill-tempered, hospitable and witty. He had cometo America with letters of recommendation from old Mrs. MansonMingott's English son-in-law, the banker, and had speedily made himselfan important position in the world of affairs; but his habits weredissipated, his tongue was bitter, his antecedents were mysterious; andwhen Medora Manson announced her cousin's engagement to him it was feltto be one more act of folly in poor Medora's long record of imprudences.

But folly is as often justified of her children as wisdom, and twoyears after young Mrs. Beaufort's marriage it was admitted that she hadthe most distinguished house in New York. No one knew exactly how themiracle was accomplished. She was indolent, passive, the caustic evencalled her dull; but dressed like an idol, hung with pearls, growingyounger and blonder and more beautiful each year, she throned in Mr.Beaufort's heavy brown-stone palace, and drew all the world therewithout lifting her jewelled little finger. The knowing people said itwas Beaufort himself who trained the servants, taught the chef newdishes, told the gardeners what hot-house flowers to grow for thedinner-table and the drawing-rooms, selected the guests, brewed theafter-dinner punch and dictated the little notes his wife wrote to herfriends. If he did, these domestic activities were privatelyperformed, and he presented to the world the appearance of a carelessand hospitable millionaire strolling into his own drawing-room with thedetachment of an invited guest, and saying: "My wife's gloxinias are amarvel, aren't they? I believe she gets them out from Kew."

Mr. Beaufort's secret, people were agreed, was the way he carriedthings off. It was all very well to whisper that he had been "helped"to leave England by the international banking-house in which he hadbeen employed; he carried off that rumour as easily as the rest—thoughNew York's business conscience was no less sensitive than its moralstandard—he carried everything before him, and all New York into hisdrawing-rooms, and for over twenty years now people had said they were"going to the Beauforts'" with the same tone of security as if they hadsaid they were going to Mrs. Manson Mingott's, and with the addedsatisfaction of knowing they would get hot canvas-back ducks andvintage wines, instead of tepid Veuve Clicquot without a year andwarmed-up croquettes from Philadelphia.

Mrs. Beaufort, then, had as usual appeared in her box just before theJewel Song; and when, again as usual, she rose at the end of the thirdact, drew her opera cloak about her lovely shoulders, and disappeared,New York knew that meant that half an hour later the ball would begin.

The Beaufort house was one that New Yorkers were proud to show toforeigners, especially on the night of the annual ball. The Beaufortshad been among the first people in New York to own their own red velvetcarpet and have it rolled down the steps by their own footmen, undertheir own awning, instead of hiring it with the supper and theball-room chairs. They had also inaugurated the custom of letting theladies take their cloaks off in the hall, instead of shuffling up tothe hostess's bedroom and recurling their hair with the aid of thegas-burner; Beaufort was understood to have said that he supposed allhis wife's friends had maids who saw to it that they were properlycoiffees when they left home.

Then the house had been boldly planned with a ball-room, so that,instead of squeezing through a narrow passage to get to it (as at theChiverses') one marched solemnly down a vista of enfiladeddrawing-rooms (the sea-green, the crimson and the bouton d'or), seeingfrom afar the many-candled lustres reflected in the polished parquetry,and beyond that the depths of a conservatory where camellias andtree-ferns arched their costly foliage over seats of black and goldbamboo.

Newland Archer, as became a young man of his position, strolled insomewhat late. He had left his overcoat with the silk-stockingedfootmen (the stockings were one of Beaufort's few fatuities), haddawdled a while in the library hung with Spanish leather and furnishedwith Buhl and malachite, where a few men were chatting and putting ontheir dancing-gloves, and had finally joined the line of guests whomMrs. Beaufort was receiving on the threshold of the crimsondrawing-room.

Archer was distinctly nervous. He had not gone back to his club afterthe Opera (as the young bloods usually did), but, the night being fine,had walked for some distance up Fifth Avenue before turning back in thedirection of the Beauforts' house. He was definitely afraid that theMingotts might be going too far; that, in fact, they might have GrannyMingott's orders to bring the Countess Olenska to the ball.

From the tone of the club box he had perceived how grave a mistake thatwould be; and, though he was more than ever determined to "see thething through," he felt less chivalrously eager to champion hisbetrothed's cousin than before their brief talk at the Opera.

Wandering on to the bouton d'or drawing-room (where Beaufort had hadthe audacity to hang "Love Victorious," the much-discussed nude ofBouguereau) Archer found Mrs. Welland and her daughter standing nearthe ball-room door. Couples were already gliding over the floorbeyond: the light of the wax candles fell on revolving tulle skirts, ongirlish heads wreathed with modest blossoms, on the dashing aigrettesand ornaments of the young married women's coiffures, and on theglitter of highly glazed shirt-fronts and fresh glace gloves.

Miss Welland, evidently about to join the dancers, hung on thethreshold, her lilies-of-the-valley in her hand (she carried no otherbouquet), her face a little pale, her eyes burning with a candidexcitement. A group of young men and girls were gathered about her,and there was much hand-clasping, laughing and pleasantry on which Mrs.Welland, standing slightly apart, shed the beam of a qualifiedapproval. It was evident that Miss Welland was in the act ofannouncing her engagement, while her mother affected the air ofparental reluctance considered suitable to the occasion.

Archer paused a moment. It was at his express wish that theannouncement had been made, and yet it was not thus that he would havewished to have his happiness known. To proclaim it in the heat andnoise of a crowded ball-room was to rob it of the fine bloom of privacywhich should belong to things nearest the heart. His joy was so deepthat this blurring of the surface left its essence untouched; but hewould have liked to keep the surface pure too. It was something of asatisfaction to find that May Welland shared this feeling. Her eyesfled to his beseechingly, and their look said: "Remember, we're doingthis because it's right."

No appeal could have found a more immediate response in Archer'sbreast; but he wished that the necessity of their action had beenrepresented by some ideal reason, and not simply by poor Ellen Olenska.The group about Miss Welland made way for him with significant smiles,and after taking his share of the felicitations he drew his betrothedinto the middle of the ball-room floor and put his arm about her waist.

"Now we shan't have to talk," he said, smiling into her candid eyes, asthey floated away on the soft waves of the Blue Danube.

She made no answer. Her lips trembled into a smile, but the eyesremained distant and serious, as if bent on some ineffable vision."Dear," Archer whispered, pressing her to him: it was borne in on himthat the first hours of being engaged, even if spent in a ball-room,had in them something grave and sacramental. What a new life it wasgoing to be, with this whiteness, radiance, goodness at one's side!

The dance over, the two, as became an affianced couple, wandered intothe conservatory; and sitting behind a tall screen of tree-ferns andcamellias Newland pressed her gloved hand to his lips.

"You see I did as you asked me to," she said.

"Yes: I couldn't wait," he answered smiling. After a moment he added:"Only I wish it hadn't had to be at a ball."

"Yes, I know." She met his glance comprehendingly. "But afterall—even here we're alone together, aren't we?"

"Oh, dearest—always!" Archer cried.

Evidently she was always going to understand; she was always going tosay the right thing. The discovery made the cup of his bliss overflow,and he went on gaily: "The worst of it is that I want to kiss you andI can't." As he spoke he took a swift glance about the conservatory,assured himself of their momentary privacy, and catching her to himlaid a fugitive pressure on her lips. To counteract the audacity ofthis proceeding he led her to a bamboo sofa in a less secluded part ofthe conservatory, and sitting down beside her broke alily-of-the-valley from her bouquet. She sat silent, and the world laylike a sunlit valley at their feet.

"Did you tell my cousin Ellen?" she asked presently, as if she spokethrough a dream.

He roused himself, and remembered that he had not done so. Someinvincible repugnance to speak of such things to the strange foreignwoman had checked the words on his lips.

"No—I hadn't the chance after all," he said, fibbing hastily.

"Ah." She looked disappointed, but gently resolved on gaining herpoint. "You must, then, for I didn't either; and I shouldn't like herto think—"

"Of course not. But aren't you, after all, the person to do it?"

She pondered on this. "If I'd done it at the right time, yes: but nowthat there's been a delay I think you must explain that I'd asked youto tell her at the Opera, before our speaking about it to everybodyhere. Otherwise she might think I had forgotten her. You see, she'sone of the family, and she's been away so long that she'srather—sensitive."

Archer looked at her glowingly. "Dear and great angel! Of course I'lltell her." He glanced a trifle apprehensively toward the crowdedball-room. "But I haven't seen her yet. Has she come?"

"No; at the last minute she decided not to."

"At the last minute?" he echoed, betraying his surprise that she shouldever have considered the alternative possible.

"Yes. She's awfully fond of dancing," the young girl answered simply."But suddenly she made up her mind that her dress wasn't smart enoughfor a ball, though we thought it so lovely; and so my aunt had to takeher home."

"Oh, well—" said Archer with happy indifference. Nothing about hisbetrothed pleased him more than her resolute determination to carry toits utmost limit that ritual of ignoring the "unpleasant" in which theyhad both been brought up.

"She knows as well as I do," he reflected, "the real reason of hercousin's staying away; but I shall never let her see by the least signthat I am conscious of there being a shadow of a shade on poor EllenOlenska's reputation."

IV.

In the course of the next day the first of the usual betrothal visitswere exchanged. The New York ritual was precise and inflexible in suchmatters; and in conformity with it Newland Archer first went with hismother and sister to call on Mrs. Welland, after which he and Mrs.Welland and May drove out to old Mrs. Manson Mingott's to receive thatvenerable ancestress's blessing.

A visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott was always an amusing episode to theyoung man. The house in itself was already an historic document,though not, of course, as venerable as certain other old family housesin University Place and lower Fifth Avenue. Those were of the purest1830, with a grim harmony of cabbage-rose-garlanded carpets, rosewoodconsoles, round-arched fire-places with black marble mantels, andimmense glazed book-cases of mahogany; whereas old Mrs. Mingott, whohad built her house later, had bodily cast out the massive furniture ofher prime, and mingled with the Mingott heirlooms the frivolousupholstery of the Second Empire. It was her habit to sit in a windowof her sitting-room on the ground floor, as if watching calmly for lifeand fashion to flow northward to her solitary doors. She seemed in nohurry to have them come, for her patience was equalled by herconfidence. She was sure that presently the hoardings, the quarries,the one-story saloons, the wooden green-houses in ragged gardens, andthe rocks from which goats surveyed the scene, would vanish before theadvance of residences as stately as her own—perhaps (for she was animpartial woman) even statelier; and that the cobble-stones over whichthe old clattering omnibuses bumped would be replaced by smoothasphalt, such as people reported having seen in Paris. Meanwhile, asevery one she cared to see came to HER (and she could fill her rooms aseasily as the Beauforts, and without adding a single item to the menuof her suppers), she did not suffer from her geographic isolation.

The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middlelife like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plumpactive little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into somethingas vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She had accepted thissubmergence as philosophically as all her other trials, and now, inextreme old age, was rewarded by presenting to her mirror an almostunwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the centre of whichthe traces of a small face survived as if awaiting excavation. Aflight of smooth double chins led down to the dizzy depths of astill-snowy bosom veiled in snowy muslins that were held in place by aminiature portrait of the late Mr. Mingott; and around and below, waveafter wave of black silk surged away over the edges of a capaciousarmchair, with two tiny white hands poised like gulls on the surface ofthe billows.

The burden of Mrs. Manson Mingott's flesh had long since made itimpossible for her to go up and down stairs, and with characteristicindependence she had made her reception rooms upstairs and establishedherself (in flagrant violation of all the New York proprieties) on theground floor of her house; so that, as you sat in her sitting-roomwindow with her, you caught (through a door that was always open, and alooped-back yellow damask portiere) the unexpected vista of a bedroomwith a huge low bed upholstered like a sofa, and a toilet-table withfrivolous lace flounces and a gilt-framed mirror.

Her visitors were startled and fascinated by the foreignness of thisarrangement, which recalled scenes in French fiction, and architecturalincentives to immorality such as the simple American had never dreamedof. That was how women with lovers lived in the wicked old societies,in apartments with all the rooms on one floor, and all the indecentpropinquities that their novels described. It amused Newland Archer(who had secretly situated the love-scenes of "Monsieur de Camors" inMrs. Mingott's bedroom) to picture her blameless life led in thestage-setting of adultery; but he said to himself, with considerableadmiration, that if a lover had been what she wanted, the intrepidwoman would have had him too.

To the general relief the Countess Olenska was not present in hergrandmother's drawing-room during the visit of the betrothed couple.Mrs. Mingott said she had gone out; which, on a day of such glaringsunlight, and at the "shopping hour," seemed in itself an indelicatething for a compromised woman to do. But at any rate it spared themthe embarrassment of her presence, and the faint shadow that herunhappy past might seem to shed on their radiant future. The visitwent off successfully, as was to have been expected. Old Mrs. Mingottwas delighted with the engagement, which, being long foreseen bywatchful relatives, had been carefully passed upon in family council;and the engagement ring, a large thick sapphire set in invisible claws,met with her unqualified admiration.

"It's the new setting: of course it shows the stone beautifully, but itlooks a little bare to old-fashioned eyes," Mrs. Welland had explained,with a conciliatory side-glance at her future son-in-law.

"Old-fashioned eyes? I hope you don't mean mine, my dear? I like allthe novelties," said the ancestress, lifting the stone to her smallbright orbs, which no glasses had ever disfigured. "Very handsome,"she added, returning the jewel; "very liberal. In my time a cameo setin pearls was thought sufficient. But it's the hand that sets off thering, isn't it, my dear Mr. Archer?" and she waved one of her tinyhands, with small pointed nails and rolls of aged fat encircling thewrist like ivory bracelets. "Mine was modelled in Rome by the greatFerrigiani. You should have May's done: no doubt he'll have it done,my child. Her hand is large—it's these modern sports that spread thejoints—but the skin is white.—And when's the wedding to be?" shebroke off, fixing her eyes on Archer's face.

"Oh—" Mrs. Welland murmured, while the young man, smiling at hisbetrothed, replied: "As soon as ever it can, if only you'll back meup, Mrs. Mingott."

"We must give them time to get to know each other a little better,mamma," Mrs. Welland interposed, with the proper affectation ofreluctance; to which the ancestress rejoined: "Know each other?Fiddlesticks! Everybody in New York has always known everybody. Letthe young man have his way, my dear; don't wait till the bubble's offthe wine. Marry them before Lent; I may catch pneumonia any winternow, and I want to give the wedding-breakfast."

These successive statements were received with the proper expressionsof amusement, incredulity and gratitude; and the visit was breaking upin a vein of mild pleasantry when the door opened to admit the CountessOlenska, who entered in bonnet and mantle followed by the unexpectedfigure of Julius Beaufort.

There was a cousinly murmur of pleasure between the ladies, and Mrs.Mingott held out Ferrigiani's model to the banker. "Ha! Beaufort,this is a rare favour!" (She had an odd foreign way of addressing menby their surnames.)

"Thanks. I wish it might happen oftener," said the visitor in his easyarrogant way. "I'm generally so tied down; but I met the CountessEllen in Madison Square, and she was good enough to let me walk homewith her."

"Ah—I hope the house will be gayer, now that Ellen's here!" cried Mrs.Mingott with a glorious effrontery. "Sit down—sit down, Beaufort:push up the yellow armchair; now I've got you I want a good gossip. Ihear your ball was magnificent; and I understand you invited Mrs.Lemuel Struthers? Well—I've a curiosity to see the woman myself."

She had forgotten her relatives, who were drifting out into the hallunder Ellen Olenska's guidance. Old Mrs. Mingott had always professeda great admiration for Julius Beaufort, and there was a kind of kinshipin their cool domineering way and their short-cuts through theconventions. Now she was eagerly curious to know what had decided theBeauforts to invite (for the first time) Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, thewidow of Struthers's Shoe-polish, who had returned the previous yearfrom a long initiatory sojourn in Europe to lay siege to the tightlittle citadel of New York. "Of course if you and Regina invite herthe thing is settled. Well, we need new blood and new money—and Ihear she's still very good-looking," the carnivorous old lady declared.

In the hall, while Mrs. Welland and May drew on their furs, Archer sawthat the Countess Olenska was looking at him with a faintly questioningsmile.

"Of course you know already—about May and me," he said, answering herlook with a shy laugh. "She scolded me for not giving you the newslast night at the Opera: I had her orders to tell you that we wereengaged—but I couldn't, in that crowd."

The smile passed from Countess Olenska's eyes to her lips: she lookedyounger, more like the bold brown Ellen Mingott of his boyhood. "Ofcourse I know; yes. And I'm so glad. But one doesn't tell such thingsfirst in a crowd." The ladies were on the threshold and she held outher hand.

"Good-bye; come and see me some day," she said, still looking at Archer.

In the carriage, on the way down Fifth Avenue, they talked pointedly ofMrs. Mingott, of her age, her spirit, and all her wonderful attributes.No one alluded to Ellen Olenska; but Archer knew that Mrs. Welland wasthinking: "It's a mistake for Ellen to be seen, the very day after herarrival, parading up Fifth Avenue at the crowded hour with JuliusBeaufort—" and the young man himself mentally added: "And she oughtto know that a man who's just engaged doesn't spend his time calling onmarried women. But I daresay in the set she's lived in they do—theynever do anything else." And, in spite of the cosmopolitan views onwhich he prided himself, he thanked heaven that he was a New Yorker,and about to ally himself with one of his own kind.

V.

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

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

Therefore, whenever anything happened that Mrs. Archer wanted to knowabout, she asked Mr. Jackson to dine; and as she honoured few peoplewith her invitations, and as she and her daughter Janey were anexcellent audience, Mr. Jackson usually came himself instead of sendinghis sister. If he could have dictated all the conditions, he wouldhave chosen the evenings when Newland was out; not because the youngman was uncongenial to him (the two got on capitally at their club) butbecause the old anecdotist sometimes felt, on Newland's part, atendency to weigh his evidence that the ladies of the family nevershowed.

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

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

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

Mentally, the likeness between them, as Newland was aware, was lesscomplete than their identical mannerisms often made it appear. Thelong habit of living together in mutually dependent intimacy had giventhem the same vocabulary, and the same habit of beginning their phrases"Mother thinks" or "Janey thinks," according as one or the other wishedto advance an opinion of her own; but in reality, while Mrs. Archer'sserene unimaginativeness rested easily in the accepted and familiar,Janey was subject to starts and aberrations of fancy welling up fromsprings of suppressed romance.

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

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

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

They began, obliquely, by talking about Mrs. Lemuel Struthers.

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

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

"Oh, necessarily; Beaufort is a vulgar man," said Mrs. Archer. "Mygrandfather Newland always used to say to my mother: 'Whatever you do,don't let that fellow Beaufort be introduced to the girls.' But atleast he's had the advantage of associating with gentlemen; in Englandtoo, they say. It's all very mysterious—" She glanced at Janey andpaused. She and Janey knew every fold of the Beaufort mystery, but inpublic Mrs. Archer continued to assume that the subject was not one forthe unmarried.

"But this Mrs. Struthers," Mrs. Archer continued; "what did you say SHEwas, 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 policebroke THAT up, they say she lived—" Mr. Jackson in his turn glancedat Janey, whose eyes began to bulge from under her prominent lids.There were still hiatuses for her in Mrs. Struthers's past.

"Then," Mr. Jackson continued (and Archer saw he was wondering why noone had told the butler never to slice cucumbers with a steel knife),"then Lemuel Struthers came along. They say his advertiser used thegirl'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," saidMrs. Archer indifferently. The ladies were not really interested inMrs. Struthers just then; the subject of Ellen Olenska was too freshand too absorbing to them. Indeed, Mrs. Struthers's name had beenintroduced 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, andArcher knew it and had expected it. Even Mrs. Archer, who was seldomunduly pleased with human events, had been altogether glad of her son'sengagement. ("Especially after that silly business with Mrs.Rushworth," as she had remarked to Janey, alluding to what had onceseemed to Newland a tragedy of which his soul would always bear thescar.)

There was no better match in New York than May Welland, look at thequestion from whatever point you chose. Of course such a marriage wasonly what Newland was entitled to; but young men are so foolish andincalculable—and some women so ensnaring and unscrupulous—that it wasnothing short of a miracle to see one's only son safe past the SirenIsle and in the haven of a blameless domesticity.

All this Mrs. Archer felt, and her son knew she felt; but he knew alsothat she had been perturbed by the premature announcement of hisengagement, or rather by its cause; and it was for that reason—becauseon the whole he was a tender and indulgent master—that he had stayedat 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 withthat Olenska woman's comings and goings I don't see," Mrs. Archergrumbled to Janey, the only witness of her slight lapses from perfectsweetness.

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

These indications of inward disturbance moved Archer the more that hetoo felt that the Mingotts had gone a little too far. But, as it wasagainst all the rules of their code that the mother and son should everallude to what was uppermost in their thoughts, he simply replied: "Oh,well, there's always a phase of family parties to be gone through whenone gets engaged, and the sooner it's over the better." At which hismother merely pursed her lips under the lace veil that hung down fromher 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 donehis duty as a future member of the Mingott clan, the young man had noobjection to hearing the lady discussed in private—except that thesubject was already beginning to bore him.

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

Mr. Jackson leaned back in his chair, and glanced up at the candlelitArchers, Newlands and van der Luydens hanging in dark frames on thedark 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 ina stock and a blue coat, with a view of a white-columned country-housebehind him. "Well—well—well ... I wonder what he would have said toall these foreign marriages!"

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 thatdecency."

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

Mr. Jackson gave a faint sip, as if he had been tasting invisibleMadeira. "Mrs. Beaufort may not—but Beaufort certainly does, for shewas seen walking up Fifth Avenue this afternoon with him by the wholeof New York."

"Mercy—" moaned Mrs. Archer, evidently perceiving the uselessness oftrying 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," Janeyspeculated. "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 lookaudacious.

"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 wasa question of taste with her. May said she meant to go, and thendecided that the dress in question wasn't smart enough."

Mrs. Archer smiled at this confirmation of her inference. "PoorEllen," she simply remarked; adding compassionately: "We must alwaysbear 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 ather coming-out ball?"

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

"It's odd," Janey remarked, "that she should have kept such an uglyname as Ellen. I should have changed it to Elaine." She glanced aboutthe 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. "Whyshouldn't she be conspicuous if she chooses? Why should she slinkabout 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 werethe culprit."

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

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

"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 thesecretary helped her to get away from her brute of a husband, who kepther practically a prisoner? Well, what if he did? I hope there isn'ta 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, havinghelped himself, he remarked: "I'm told she's looking for a house. Shemeans to live here."

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

"I hope she will!" Archer exclaimed.

The word had fallen like a bombshell in the pure and tranquilatmosphere of the Archer dining-room. Mrs. Archer raised her delicateeye-brows in the particular curve that signified: "The butler—" andthe young man, himself mindful of the bad taste of discussing suchintimate matters in public, hastily branched off into an account of hisvisit to old Mrs. Mingott.

After dinner, according to immemorial custom, Mrs. Archer and Janeytrailed their long silk draperies up to the drawing-room, where, whilethe gentlemen smoked below stairs, they sat beside a Carcel lamp withan engraved globe, facing each other across a rosewood work-table witha green silk bag under it, and stitched at the two ends of a tapestryband of field-flowers destined to adorn an "occasional" chair in thedrawing-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 handedhim a cigar. Mr. Jackson sank into the armchair with satisfaction, lithis cigar with perfect confidence (it was Newland who bought them), andstretching his thin old ankles to the coals, said: "You say thesecretary merely helped her to get away, my dear fellow? Well, he wasstill helping her a year later, then; for somebody met 'em living atLausanne together."

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

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

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

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

VI.

That evening, after Mr. Jackson had taken himself away, and the ladieshad retired to their chintz-curtained bedroom, Newland Archer mountedthoughtfully to his own study. A vigilant hand had, as usual, kept thefire alive and the lamp trimmed; and the room, with its rows and rowsof books, its bronze and steel statuettes of "The Fencers" on themantelpiece and its many photographs of famous pictures, lookedsingularly home-like and welcoming.

As he dropped into his armchair near the fire his eyes rested on alarge photograph of May Welland, which the young girl had given him inthe first days of their romance, and which had now displaced all theother portraits on the table. With a new sense of awe he looked at thefrank forehead, serious eyes and gay innocent mouth of the youngcreature whose soul's custodian he was to be. That terrifying productof the social system he belonged to and believed in, the young girl whoknew nothing and expected everything, looked back at him like astranger through May Welland's familiar features; and once more it wasborne in on him that marriage was not the safe anchorage he had beentaught to think, but a voyage on uncharted seas.

The case of the Countess Olenska had stirred up old settled convictionsand set them drifting dangerously through his mind. His ownexclamation: "Women should be free—as free as we are," struck to theroot of a problem that it was agreed in his world to regard asnon-existent. "Nice" women, however wronged, would never claim thekind of freedom he meant, and generous-minded men like himself weretherefore—in the heat of argument—the more chivalrously ready toconcede it to them. Such verbal generosities were in fact only ahumbugging disguise of the inexorable conventions that tied thingstogether and bound people down to the old pattern. But here he waspledged to defend, on the part of his betrothed's cousin, conduct that,on his own wife's part, would justify him in calling down on her allthe thunders of Church and State. Of course the dilemma was purelyhypothetical; since he wasn't a blackguard Polish nobleman, it wasabsurd to speculate what his wife's rights would be if he WERE. ButNewland Archer was too imaginative not to feel that, in his case andMay's, the tie might gall for reasons far less gross and palpable.What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty,as a "decent" fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as amarriageable girl, to have no past to conceal? What if, for some oneof the subtler reasons that would tell with both of them, they shouldtire of each other, misunderstand or irritate each other? He reviewedhis friends' marriages—the supposedly happy ones—and saw none thatanswered, even remotely, to the passionate and tender comradeship whichhe pictured as his permanent relation with May Welland. He perceivedthat such a picture presupposed, on her part, the experience, theversatility, the freedom of judgment, which she had been carefullytrained not to possess; and with a shiver of foreboding he saw hismarriage becoming what most of the other marriages about him were: adull association of material and social interests held together byignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other. LawrenceLefferts occurred to him as the husband who had most completelyrealised this enviable ideal. As became the high-priest of form, hehad formed a wife so completely to his own convenience that, in themost conspicuous moments of his frequent love-affairs with other men'swives, she went about in smiling unconsciousness, saying that "Lawrencewas so frightfully strict"; and had been known to blush indignantly,and avert her gaze, when some one alluded in her presence to the factthat Julius Beaufort (as became a "foreigner" of doubtful origin) hadwhat was known in New York as "another establishment."

Archer tried to console himself with the thought that he was not quitesuch an ass as Larry Lefferts, nor May such a simpleton as poorGertrude; but the difference was after all one of intelligence and notof standards. In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphicworld, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, butonly represented by a set of arbitrary signs; as when Mrs. Welland, whoknew exactly why Archer had pressed her to announce her daughter'sengagement at the Beaufort ball (and had indeed expected him to do noless), yet felt obliged to simulate reluctance, and the air of havinghad her hand forced, quite as, in the books on Primitive Man thatpeople of advanced culture were beginning to read, the savage bride isdragged with shrieks from her parents' tent.

The result, of course, was that the young girl who was the centre ofthis elaborate system of mystification remained the more inscrutablefor her very frankness and assurance. She was frank, poor darling,because she had nothing to conceal, assured because she knew of nothingto be on her guard against; and with no better preparation than this,she was to be plunged overnight into what people evasively called "thefacts of life."

The young man was sincerely but placidly in love. He delighted in theradiant good looks of his betrothed, in her health, her horsemanship,her grace and quickness at games, and the shy interest in books andideas that she was beginning to develop under his guidance. (She hadadvanced far enough to join him in ridiculing the Idyls of the King,but not to feel the beauty of Ulysses and the Lotus Eaters.) She wasstraightforward, loyal and brave; she had a sense of humour (chieflyproved by her laughing at HIS jokes); and he suspected, in the depthsof her innocently-gazing soul, a glow of feeling that it would be a joyto waken. But when he had gone the brief round of her he returneddiscouraged by the thought that all this frankness and innocence wereonly an artificial product. Untrained human nature was not frank andinnocent; it was full of the twists and defences of an instinctiveguile. And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitiouspurity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and auntsand grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was supposed tobe what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he mightexercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow.

There was a certain triteness in these reflections: they were thosehabitual to young men on the approach of their wedding day. But theywere generally accompanied by a sense of compunction and self-abasementof which Newland Archer felt no trace. He could not deplore (asThackeray's heroes so often exasperated him by doing) that he had not ablank page to offer his bride in exchange for the unblemished one shewas to give to him. He could not get away from the fact that if he hadbeen brought up as she had they would have been no more fit to findtheir way about than the Babes in the Wood; nor could he, for all hisanxious cogitations, see any honest reason (any, that is, unconnectedwith his own momentary pleasure, and the passion of masculine vanity)why his bride should not have been allowed the same freedom ofexperience as himself.

Such questions, at such an hour, were bound to drift through his mind;but he was conscious that their uncomfortable persistence and precisionwere due to the inopportune arrival of the Countess Olenska. Here hewas, at the very moment of his betrothal—a moment for pure thoughtsand cloudless hopes—pitchforked into a coil of scandal which raisedall the special problems he would have preferred to let lie. "HangEllen Olenska!" he grumbled, as he covered his fire and began toundress. He could not really see why her fate should have the leastbearing on his; yet he dimly felt that he had only just begun tomeasure the risks of the championship which his engagement had forcedupon him.


A few days later the bolt fell.

The Lovell Mingotts had sent out cards for what was known as "a formaldinner" (that is, three extra footmen, two dishes for each course, anda Roman punch in the middle), and had headed their invitations with thewords "To meet the Countess Olenska," in accordance with the hospitableAmerican fashion, which treats strangers as if they were royalties, orat least as their ambassadors.

The guests had been selected with a boldness and discrimination inwhich the initiated recognised the firm hand of Catherine the Great.Associated with such immemorial standbys as the Selfridge Merrys, whowere asked everywhere because they always had been, the Beauforts, onwhom there was a claim of relationship, and Mr. Sillerton Jackson andhis sister Sophy (who went wherever her brother told her to), were someof the most fashionable and yet most irreproachable of the dominant"young married" set; the Lawrence Leffertses, Mrs. Lefferts Rushworth(the lovely widow), the Harry Thorleys, the Reggie Chiverses and youngMorris Dagonet and his wife (who was a van der Luyden). The companyindeed was perfectly assorted, since all the members belonged to thelittle inner group of people who, during the long New York season,disported themselves together daily and nightly with apparentlyundiminished zest.

Forty-eight hours later the unbelievable had happened; every one hadrefused the Mingotts' invitation except the Beauforts and old Mr.Jackson and his sister. The intended slight was emphasised by the factthat even the Reggie Chiverses, who were of the Mingott clan, wereamong those inflicting it; and by the uniform wording of the notes, inall of which the writers "regretted that they were unable to accept,"without the mitigating plea of a "previous engagement" that ordinarycourtesy prescribed.

New York society was, in those days, far too small, and too scant inits resources, for every one in it (including livery-stable-keepers,butlers and cooks) not to know exactly on which evenings people werefree; and it was thus possible for the recipients of Mrs. LovellMingott's invitations to make cruelly clear their determination not tomeet the Countess Olenska.

The blow was unexpected; but the Mingotts, as their way was, met itgallantly. Mrs. Lovell Mingott confided the case to Mrs. Welland, whoconfided it to Newland Archer; who, aflame at the outrage, appealedpassionately and authoritatively to his mother; who, after a painfulperiod of inward resistance and outward temporising, succumbed to hisinstances (as she always did), and immediately embracing his cause withan energy redoubled by her previous hesitations, put on her grey velvetbonnet and said: "I'll go and see Louisa van der Luyden."

The New York of Newland Archer's day was a small and slippery pyramid,in which, as yet, hardly a fissure had been made or a foothold gained.At its base was a firm foundation of what Mrs. Archer called "plainpeople"; an honourable but obscure majority of respectable families who(as in the case of the Spicers or the Leffertses or the Jacksons) hadbeen raised above their level by marriage with one of the ruling clans.People, Mrs. Archer always said, were not as particular as they used tobe; and with old Catherine Spicer ruling one end of Fifth Avenue, andJulius Beaufort the other, you couldn't expect the old traditions tolast much longer.

Firmly narrowing upward from this wealthy but inconspicuous substratumwas the compact and dominant group which the Mingotts, Newlands,Chiverses and Mansons so actively represented. Most people imaginedthem to be the very apex of the pyramid; but they themselves (at leastthose of Mrs. Archer's generation) were aware that, in the eyes of theprofessional genealogist, only a still smaller number of families couldlay claim to that eminence.

"Don't tell me," Mrs. Archer would say to her children, "all thismodern newspaper rubbish about a New York aristocracy. If there isone, neither the Mingotts nor the Mansons belong to it; no, nor theNewlands or the Chiverses either. Our grandfathers andgreat-grandfathers were just respectable English or Dutch merchants,who came to the colonies to make their fortune, and stayed here becausethey did so well. One of your great-grandfathers signed theDeclaration, and another was a general on Washington's staff, andreceived General Burgoyne's sword after the battle of Saratoga. Theseare things to be proud of, but they have nothing to do with rank orclass. New York has always been a commercial community, and there arenot more than three families in it who can claim an aristocratic originin the real sense of the word."

Mrs. Archer and her son and daughter, like every one else in New York,knew who these privileged beings were: the Dagonets of WashingtonSquare, who came of an old English county family allied with the Pittsand Foxes; the Lannings, who had intermarried with the descendants ofCount de Grasse, and the van der Luydens, direct descendants of thefirst Dutch governor of Manhattan, and related by pre-revolutionarymarriages to several members of the French and British aristocracy.

The Lannings survived only in the person of two very old but livelyMiss Lannings, who lived cheerfully and reminiscently among familyportraits and Chippendale; the Dagonets were a considerable clan,allied to the best names in Baltimore and Philadelphia; but the van derLuydens, who stood above all of them, had faded into a kind ofsuper-terrestrial twilight, from which only two figures impressivelyemerged; those of Mr. and Mrs. Henry van der Luyden.

Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had been Louisa Dagonet, and her mother hadbeen the granddaughter of Colonel du Lac, of an old Channel Islandfamily, who had fought under Cornwallis and had settled in Maryland,after the war, with his bride, Lady Angelica Trevenna, fifth daughterof the Earl of St. Austrey. The tie between the Dagonets, the du Lacsof Maryland, and their aristocratic Cornish kinsfolk, the Trevennas,had always remained close and cordial. Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden hadmore than once paid long visits to the present head of the house ofTrevenna, the Duke of St. Austrey, at his country-seat in Cornwall andat St. Austrey in Gloucestershire; and his Grace had frequentlyannounced his intention of some day returning their visit (without theDuchess, who feared the Atlantic).

Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden divided their time between Trevenna, theirplace in Maryland, and Skuytercliff, the great estate on the Hudsonwhich had been one of the colonial grants of the Dutch government tothe famous first Governor, and of which Mr. van der Luyden was still"Patroon." Their large solemn house in Madison Avenue was seldomopened, and when they came to town they received in it only their mostintimate friends.

"I wish you would go with me, Newland," his mother said, suddenlypausing at the door of the Brown coupe. "Louisa is fond of you; and ofcourse it's on account of dear May that I'm taking this step—and alsobecause, if we don't all stand together, there'll be no such thing asSociety left."

VII.

Mrs. Henry van der Luyden listened in silence to her cousin Mrs.Archer's narrative.

It was all very well to tell yourself in advance that Mrs. van derLuyden was always silent, and that, though non-committal by nature andtraining, she was very kind to the people she really liked. Evenpersonal experience of these facts was not always a protection from thechill that descended on one in the high-ceilinged white-walled MadisonAvenue drawing-room, with the pale brocaded armchairs so obviouslyuncovered for the occasion, and the gauze still veiling the ormolumantel ornaments and the beautiful old carved frame of Gainsborough's"Lady Angelica du Lac."

Mrs. van der Luyden's portrait by Huntington (in black velvet andVenetian point) faced that of her lovely ancestress. It was generallyconsidered "as fine as a Cabanel," and, though twenty years had elapsedsince its execution, was still "a perfect likeness." Indeed the Mrs.van der Luyden who sat beneath it listening to Mrs. Archer might havebeen the twin-sister of the fair and still youngish woman droopingagainst a gilt armchair before a green rep curtain. Mrs. van derLuyden still wore black velvet and Venetian point when she went intosociety—or rather (since she never dined out) when she threw open herown doors to receive it. Her fair hair, which had faded withoutturning grey, was still parted in flat overlapping points on herforehead, and the straight nose that divided her pale blue eyes wasonly a little more pinched about the nostrils than when the portraithad been painted. She always, indeed, struck Newland Archer as havingbeen rather gruesomely preserved in the airless atmosphere of aperfectly irreproachable existence, as bodies caught in glaciers keepfor years a rosy life-in-death.

Like all his family, he esteemed and admired Mrs. van der Luyden; buthe found her gentle bending sweetness less approachable than thegrimness of some of his mother's old aunts, fierce spinsters who said"No" on principle before they knew what they were going to be asked.

Mrs. van der Luyden's attitude said neither yes nor no, but alwaysappeared to incline to clemency till her thin lips, wavering into theshadow of a smile, made the almost invariable reply: "I shall firsthave to talk this over with my husband."

She and Mr. van der Luyden were so exactly alike that Archer oftenwondered how, after forty years of the closest conjugality, two suchmerged identities ever separated themselves enough for anything ascontroversial as a talking-over. But as neither had ever reached adecision without prefacing it by this mysterious conclave, Mrs. Archerand her son, having set forth their case, waited resignedly for thefamiliar phrase.

Mrs. van der Luyden, however, who had seldom surprised any one, nowsurprised them by reaching her long hand toward the bell-rope.

"I think," she said, "I should like Henry to hear what you have toldme."

A footman appeared, to whom she gravely added: "If Mr. van der Luydenhas finished reading the newspaper, please ask him to be kind enough tocome."

She said "reading the newspaper" in the tone in which a Minister's wifemight have said: "Presiding at a Cabinet meeting"—not from anyarrogance of mind, but because the habit of a life-time, and theattitude of her friends and relations, had led her to consider Mr. vander Luyden's least gesture as having an almost sacerdotal importance.

Her promptness of action showed that she considered the case aspressing as Mrs. Archer; but, lest she should be thought to havecommitted herself in advance, she added, with the sweetest look:"Henry always enjoys seeing you, dear Adeline; and he will wish tocongratulate Newland."

The double doors had solemnly reopened and between them appeared Mr.Henry van der Luyden, tall, spare and frock-coated, with faded fairhair, a straight nose like his wife's and the same look of frozengentleness in eyes that were merely pale grey instead of pale blue.

Mr. van der Luyden greeted Mrs. Archer with cousinly affability,proffered to Newland low-voiced congratulations couched in the samelanguage as his wife's, and seated himself in one of the brocadearmchairs with the simplicity of a reigning sovereign.

"I had just finished reading the Times," he said, laying his longfinger-tips together. "In town my mornings are so much occupied that Ifind it more convenient to read the newspapers after luncheon."

"Ah, there's a great deal to be said for that plan—indeed I think myuncle Egmont used to say he found it less agitating not to read themorning papers till after dinner," said Mrs. Archer responsively.

"Yes: my good father abhorred hurry. But now we live in a constantrush," said Mr. van der Luyden in measured tones, looking with pleasantdeliberation about the large shrouded room which to Archer was socomplete an image of its owners.

"But I hope you HAD finished your reading, Henry?" his wife interposed.

"Quite—quite," he reassured her.

"Then I should like Adeline to tell you—"

"Oh, it's really Newland's story," said his mother smiling; andproceeded to rehearse once more the monstrous tale of the affrontinflicted on Mrs. Lovell Mingott.

"Of course," she ended, "Augusta Welland and Mary Mingott both feltthat, especially in view of Newland's engagement, you and Henry OUGHTTO KNOW."

"Ah—" said Mr. van der Luyden, drawing a deep breath.

There was a silence during which the tick of the monumental ormoluclock on the white marble mantelpiece grew as loud as the boom of aminute-gun. Archer contemplated with awe the two slender fadedfigures, seated side by side in a kind of viceregal rigidity,mouthpieces of some remote ancestral authority which fate compelledthem to wield, when they would so much rather have lived in simplicityand seclusion, digging invisible weeds out of the perfect lawns ofSkuytercliff, and playing Patience together in the evenings.

Mr. van der Luyden was the first to speak.

"You really think this is due to some—some intentional interference ofLawrence Lefferts's?" he enquired, turning to Archer.

"I'm certain of it, sir. Larry has been going it rather harder thanusual lately—if cousin Louisa won't mind my mentioning it—havingrather a stiff affair with the postmaster's wife in their village, orsome one of that sort; and whenever poor Gertrude Lefferts begins tosuspect anything, and he's afraid of trouble, he gets up a fuss of thiskind, to show how awfully moral he is, and talks at the top of hisvoice about the impertinence of inviting his wife to meet people hedoesn't wish her to know. He's simply using Madame Olenska as alightning-rod; I've seen him try the same thing often before."

"The LEFFERTSES!—" said Mrs. van der Luyden.

"The LEFFERTSES!—" echoed Mrs. Archer. "What would uncle Egmont havesaid of Lawrence Lefferts's pronouncing on anybody's social position?It shows what Society has come to."

"We'll hope it has not quite come to that," said Mr. van der Luydenfirmly.

"Ah, if only you and Louisa went out more!" sighed Mrs. Archer.

But instantly she became aware of her mistake. The van der Luydenswere morbidly sensitive to any criticism of their secluded existence.They were the arbiters of fashion, the Court of last Appeal, and theyknew it, and bowed to their fate. But being shy and retiring persons,with no natural inclination for their part, they lived as much aspossible in the sylvan solitude of Skuytercliff, and when they came totown, declined all invitations on the plea of Mrs. van der Luyden'shealth.

Newland Archer came to his mother's rescue. "Everybody in New Yorkknows what you and cousin Louisa represent. That's why Mrs. Mingottfelt she ought not to allow this slight on Countess Olenska to passwithout consulting you."

Mrs. van der Luyden glanced at her husband, who glanced back at her.

"It is the principle that I dislike," said Mr. van der Luyden. "Aslong as a member of a well-known family is backed up by that family itshould be considered—final."

"It seems so to me," said his wife, as if she were producing a newthought.

"I had no idea," Mr. van der Luyden continued, "that things had come tosuch a pass." He paused, and looked at his wife again. "It occurs tome, my dear, that the Countess Olenska is already a sort ofrelation—through Medora Manson's first husband. At any rate, she willbe when Newland marries." He turned toward the young man. "Have youread this morning's Times, Newland?"

"Why, yes, sir," said Archer, who usually tossed off half a dozenpapers with his morning coffee.

Husband and wife looked at each other again. Their pale eyes clungtogether in prolonged and serious consultation; then a faint smilefluttered over Mrs. van der Luyden's face. She had evidently guessedand approved.

Mr. van der Luyden turned to Mrs. Archer. "If Louisa's health allowedher to dine out—I wish you would say to Mrs. Lovell Mingott—she and Iwould have been happy to—er—fill the places of the LawrenceLeffertses at her dinner." He paused to let the irony of this sink in."As you know, this is impossible." Mrs. Archer sounded a sympatheticassent. "But Newland tells me he has read this morning's Times;therefore he has probably seen that Louisa's relative, the Duke of St.Austrey, arrives next week on the Russia. He is coming to enter hisnew sloop, the Guinevere, in next summer's International Cup Race; andalso to have a little canvasback shooting at Trevenna." Mr. van derLuyden paused again, and continued with increasing benevolence:"Before taking him down to Maryland we are inviting a few friends tomeet him here—only a little dinner—with a reception afterward. I amsure Louisa will be as glad as I am if Countess Olenska will let usinclude her among our guests." He got up, bent his long body with astiff friendliness toward his cousin, and added: "I think I haveLouisa's authority for saying that she will herself leave theinvitation to dine when she drives out presently: with our cards—ofcourse with our cards."

Mrs. Archer, who knew this to be a hint that the seventeen-handchestnuts which were never kept waiting were at the door, rose with ahurried murmur of thanks. Mrs. van der Luyden beamed on her with thesmile of Esther interceding with Ahasuerus; but her husband raised aprotesting hand.

"There is nothing to thank me for, dear Adeline; nothing whatever.This kind of thing must not happen in New York; it shall not, as longas I can help it," he pronounced with sovereign gentleness as hesteered his cousins to the door.

Two hours later, every one knew that the great C-spring barouche inwhich Mrs. van der Luyden took the air at all seasons had been seen atold Mrs. Mingott's door, where a large square envelope was handed in;and that evening at the Opera Mr. Sillerton Jackson was able to statethat the envelope contained a card inviting the Countess Olenska to thedinner which the van der Luydens were giving the following week fortheir cousin, the Duke of St. Austrey.

Some of the younger men in the club box exchanged a smile at thisannouncement, and glanced sideways at Lawrence Lefferts, who satcarelessly in the front of the box, pulling his long fair moustache,and who remarked with authority, as the soprano paused: "No one butPatti ought to attempt the Sonnambula."

VIII.

It was generally agreed in New York that the Countess Olenska had "losther looks."

She had appeared there first, in Newland Archer's boyhood, as abrilliantly pretty little girl of nine or ten, of whom people said thatshe "ought to be painted." Her parents had been continental wanderers,and after a roaming babyhood she had lost them both, and been taken incharge by her aunt, Medora Manson, also a wanderer, who was herselfreturning to New York to "settle down."

Poor Medora, repeatedly widowed, was always coming home to settle down(each time in a less expensive house), and bringing with her a newhusband or an adopted child; but after a few months she invariablyparted from her husband or quarrelled with her ward, and, having gotrid of her house at a loss, set out again on her wanderings. As hermother had been a Rushworth, and her last unhappy marriage had linkedher to one of the crazy Chiverses, New York looked indulgently on hereccentricities; but when she returned with her little orphaned niece,whose parents had been popular in spite of their regrettable taste fortravel, people thought it a pity that the pretty child should be insuch hands.

Every one was disposed to be kind to little Ellen Mingott, though herdusky red cheeks and tight curls gave her an air of gaiety that seemedunsuitable in a child who should still have been in black for herparents. It was one of the misguided Medora's many peculiarities toflout the unalterable rules that regulated American mourning, and whenshe stepped from the steamer her family were scandalised to see thatthe crape veil she wore for her own brother was seven inches shorterthan those of her sisters-in-law, while little Ellen was in crimsonmerino and amber beads, like a gipsy foundling.

But New York had so long resigned itself to Medora that only a few oldladies shook their heads over Ellen's gaudy clothes, while her otherrelations fell under the charm of her high colour and high spirits.She was a fearless and familiar little thing, who asked disconcertingquestions, made precocious comments, and possessed outlandish arts,such as dancing a Spanish shawl dance and singing Neapolitan love-songsto a guitar. Under the direction of her aunt (whose real name was Mrs.Thorley Chivers, but who, having received a Papal title, had resumedher first husband's patronymic, and called herself the MarchionessManson, because in Italy she could turn it into Manzoni) the littlegirl received an expensive but incoherent education, which included"drawing from the model," a thing never dreamed of before, and playingthe piano in quintets with professional musicians.

Of course no good could come of this; and when, a few years later, poorChivers finally died in a madhouse, his widow (draped in strange weeds)again pulled up stakes and departed with Ellen, who had grown into atall bony girl with conspicuous eyes. For some time no more was heardof them; then news came of Ellen's marriage to an immensely rich Polishnobleman of legendary fame, whom she had met at a ball at theTuileries, and who was said to have princely establishments in Paris,Nice and Florence, a yacht at Cowes, and many square miles of shootingin Transylvania. She disappeared in a kind of sulphurous apotheosis,and when a few years later Medora again came back to New York, subdued,impoverished, mourning a third husband, and in quest of a still smallerhouse, people wondered that her rich niece had not been able to dosomething for her. Then came the news that Ellen's own marriage hadended in disaster, and that she was herself returning home to seek restand oblivion among her kinsfolk.

These things passed through Newland Archer's mind a week later as hewatched the Countess Olenska enter the van der Luyden drawing-room onthe evening of the momentous dinner. The occasion was a solemn one,and he wondered a little nervously how she would carry it off. Shecame rather late, one hand still ungloved, and fastening a braceletabout her wrist; yet she entered without any appearance of haste orembarrassment the drawing-room in which New York's most chosen companywas somewhat awfully assembled.

In the middle of the room she paused, looking about her with a gravemouth and smiling eyes; and in that instant Newland Archer rejected thegeneral verdict on her looks. It was true that her early radiance wasgone. The red cheeks had paled; she was thin, worn, a littleolder-looking than her age, which must have been nearly thirty. Butthere was about her the mysterious authority of beauty, a sureness inthe carriage of the head, the movement of the eyes, which, withoutbeing in the least theatrical, struck his as highly trained and full ofa conscious power. At the same time she was simpler in manner thanmost of the ladies present, and many people (as he heard afterward fromJaney) were disappointed that her appearance was not more"stylish"—for stylishness was what New York most valued. It was,perhaps, Archer reflected, because her early vivacity had disappeared;because she was so quiet—quiet in her movements, her voice, and thetones of her low-pitched voice. New York had expected something a gooddeal more reasonant in a young woman with such a history.

The dinner was a somewhat formidable business. Dining with the van derLuydens was at best no light matter, and dining there with a Duke whowas their cousin was almost a religious solemnity. It pleased Archerto think that only an old New Yorker could perceive the shade ofdifference (to New York) between being merely a Duke and being the vander Luydens' Duke. New York took stray noblemen calmly, and even(except in the Struthers set) with a certain distrustful hauteur; butwhen they presented such credentials as these they were received withan old-fashioned cordiality that they would have been greatly mistakenin ascribing solely to their standing in Debrett. It was for just suchdistinctions that the young man cherished his old New York even whilehe smiled at it.

The van der Luydens had done their best to emphasise the importance ofthe occasion. The du Lac Sevres and the Trevenna George II plate wereout; so was the van der Luyden "Lowestoft" (East India Company) and theDagonet Crown Derby. Mrs. van der Luyden looked more than ever like aCabanel, and Mrs. Archer, in her grandmother's seed-pearls andemeralds, reminded her son of an Isabey miniature. All the ladies hadon their handsomest jewels, but it was characteristic of the house andthe occasion that these were mostly in rather heavy old-fashionedsettings; and old Miss Lanning, who had been persuaded to come,actually wore her mother's cameos and a Spanish blonde shawl.

The Countess Olenska was the only young woman at the dinner; yet, asArcher scanned the smooth plump elderly faces between their diamondnecklaces and towering ostrich feathers, they struck him as curiouslyimmature compared with hers. It frightened him to think what must havegone to the making of her eyes.

The Duke of St. Austrey, who sat at his hostess's right, was naturallythe chief figure of the evening. But if the Countess Olenska was lessconspicuous than had been hoped, the Duke was almost invisible. Beinga well-bred man he had not (like another recent ducal visitor) come tothe dinner in a shooting-jacket; but his evening clothes were so shabbyand baggy, and he wore them with such an air of their being homespun,that (with his stooping way of sitting, and the vast beard spreadingover his shirt-front) he hardly gave the appearance of being in dinnerattire. He was short, round-shouldered, sunburnt, with a thick nose,small eyes and a sociable smile; but he seldom spoke, and when he didit was in such low tones that, despite the frequent silences ofexpectation about the table, his remarks were lost to all but hisneighbours.

When the men joined the ladies after dinner the Duke went straight upto the Countess Olenska, and they sat down in a corner and plunged intoanimated talk. Neither seemed aware that the Duke should first havepaid his respects to Mrs. Lovell Mingott and Mrs. Headly Chivers, andthe Countess have conversed with that amiable hypochondriac, Mr. UrbanDagonet of Washington Square, who, in order to have the pleasure ofmeeting her, had broken through his fixed rule of not dining outbetween January and April. The two chatted together for nearly twentyminutes; then the Countess rose and, walking alone across the widedrawing-room, sat down at Newland Archer's side.

It was not the custom in New York drawing-rooms for a lady to get upand walk away from one gentleman in order to seek the company ofanother. Etiquette required that she should wait, immovable as anidol, while the men who wished to converse with her succeeded eachother at her side. But the Countess was apparently unaware of havingbroken any rule; she sat at perfect ease in a corner of the sofa besideArcher, and looked at him with the kindest eyes.

"I want you to talk to me about May," she said.

Instead of answering her he asked: "You knew the Duke before?"

"Oh, yes—we used to see him every winter at Nice. He's very fond ofgambling—he used to come to the house a great deal." She said it inthe simplest manner, as if she had said: "He's fond of wild-flowers";and after a moment she added candidly: "I think he's the dullest man Iever met."

This pleased her companion so much that he forgot the slight shock herprevious remark had caused him. It was undeniably exciting to meet alady who found the van der Luydens' Duke dull, and dared to utter theopinion. He longed to question her, to hear more about the life ofwhich her careless words had given him so illuminating a glimpse; buthe feared to touch on distressing memories, and before he could thinkof anything to say she had strayed back to her original subject.

"May is a darling; I've seen no young girl in New York so handsome andso intelligent. Are you very much in love with her?"

Newland Archer reddened and laughed. "As much as a man can be."

She continued to consider him thoughtfully, as if not to miss any shadeof meaning in what he said, "Do you think, then, there is a limit?"

"To being in love? If there is, I haven't found it!"

She glowed with sympathy. "Ah—it's really and truly a romance?"

"The most romantic of romances!"

"How delightful! And you found it all out for yourselves—it was notin the least arranged for you?"

Archer looked at her incredulously. "Have you forgotten," he askedwith a smile, "that in our country we don't allow our marriages to bearranged for us?"

A dusky blush rose to her cheek, and he instantly regretted his words.

"Yes," she answered, "I'd forgotten. You must forgive me if Isometimes make these mistakes. I don't always remember that everythinghere is good that was—that was bad where I've come from." She lookeddown at her Viennese fan of eagle feathers, and he saw that her lipstrembled.

"I'm so sorry," he said impulsively; "but you ARE among friends here,you know."

"Yes—I know. Wherever I go I have that feeling. That's why I camehome. I want to forget everything else, to become a complete Americanagain, like the Mingotts and Wellands, and you and your delightfulmother, and all the other good people here tonight. Ah, here's Mayarriving, and you will want to hurry away to her," she added, butwithout moving; and her eyes turned back from the door to rest on theyoung man's face.

The drawing-rooms were beginning to fill up with after-dinner guests,and following Madame Olenska's glance Archer saw May Welland enteringwith her mother. In her dress of white and silver, with a wreath ofsilver blossoms in her hair, the tall girl looked like a Diana justalight from the chase.

"Oh," said Archer, "I have so many rivals; you see she's alreadysurrounded. There's the Duke being introduced."

"Then stay with me a little longer," Madame Olenska said in a low tone,just touching his knee with her plumed fan. It was the lightest touch,but it thrilled him like a caress.

"Yes, let me stay," he answered in the same tone, hardly knowing whathe said; but just then Mr. van der Luyden came up, followed by old Mr.Urban Dagonet. The Countess greeted them with her grave smile, andArcher, feeling his host's admonitory glance on him, rose andsurrendered his seat.

Madame Olenska held out her hand as if to bid him goodbye.

"Tomorrow, then, after five—I shall expect you," she said; and thenturned back to make room for Mr. Dagonet.

"Tomorrow—" Archer heard himself repeating, though there had been noengagement, and during their talk she had given him no hint that shewished to see him again.

As he moved away he saw Lawrence Lefferts, tall and resplendent,leading his wife up to be introduced; and heard Gertrude Lefferts say,as she beamed on the Countess with her large unperceiving smile: "ButI think we used to go to dancing-school together when we werechildren—." Behind her, waiting their turn to name themselves to theCountess, Archer noticed a number of the recalcitrant couples who haddeclined to meet her at Mrs. Lovell Mingott's. As Mrs. Archerremarked: when the van der Luydens chose, they knew how to give alesson. The wonder was that they chose so seldom.

The young man felt a touch on his arm and saw Mrs. van der Luydenlooking down on him from the pure eminence of black velvet and thefamily diamonds. "It was good of you, dear Newland, to devote yourselfso unselfishly to Madame Olenska. I told your cousin Henry he mustreally come to the rescue."

He was aware of smiling at her vaguely, and she added, as ifcondescending to his natural shyness: "I've never seen May lookinglovelier. The Duke thinks her the handsomest girl in the room."

IX.

The Countess Olenska had said "after five"; and at half after the hourNewland Archer rang the bell of the peeling stucco house with a giantwisteria throttling its feeble cast-iron balcony, which she had hired,far down West Twenty-third Street, from the vagabond Medora.

It was certainly a strange quarter to have settled in. Smalldress-makers, bird-stuffers and "people who wrote" were her nearestneighbours; and further down the dishevelled street Archer recognised adilapidated wooden house, at the end of a paved path, in which a writerand journalist called Winsett, whom he used to come across now andthen, had mentioned that he lived. Winsett did not invite people tohis house; but he had once pointed it out to Archer in the course of anocturnal stroll, and the latter had asked himself, with a littleshiver, if the humanities were so meanly housed in other capitals.

Madame Olenska's own dwelling was redeemed from the same appearanceonly by a little more paint about the window-frames; and as Archermustered its modest front he said to himself that the Polish Count musthave robbed her of her fortune as well as of her illusions.

The young man had spent an unsatisfactory day. He had lunched with theWellands, hoping afterward to carry off May for a walk in the Park. Hewanted to have her to himself, to tell her how enchanting she hadlooked the night before, and how proud he was of her, and to press herto hasten their marriage. But Mrs. Welland had firmly reminded himthat the round of family visits was not half over, and, when he hintedat advancing the date of the wedding, had raised reproachful eye-browsand sighed out: "Twelve dozen of everything—hand-embroidered—"

Packed in the family landau they rolled from one tribal doorstep toanother, and Archer, when the afternoon's round was over, parted fromhis betrothed with the feeling that he had been shown off like a wildanimal cunningly trapped. He supposed that his readings inanthropology caused him to take such a coarse view of what was afterall a simple and natural demonstration of family feeling; but when heremembered that the Wellands did not expect the wedding to take placetill the following autumn, and pictured what his life would be tillthen, a dampness fell upon his spirit.

"Tomorrow," Mrs. Welland called after him, "we'll do the Chiverses andthe Dallases"; and he perceived that she was going through their twofamilies alphabetically, and that they were only in the first quarterof the alphabet.

He had meant to tell May of the Countess Olenska's request—hercommand, rather—that he should call on her that afternoon; but in thebrief moments when they were alone he had had more pressing things tosay. Besides, it struck him as a little absurd to allude to thematter. He knew that May most particularly wanted him to be kind toher cousin; was it not that wish which had hastened the announcement oftheir engagement? It gave him an odd sensation to reflect that, butfor the Countess's arrival, he might have been, if not still a freeman, at least a man less irrevocably pledged. But May had willed itso, and he felt himself somehow relieved of further responsibility—andtherefore at liberty, if he chose, to call on her cousin withouttelling her.

As he stood on Madame Olenska's threshold curiosity was his uppermostfeeling. He was puzzled by the tone in which she had summoned him; heconcluded that she was less simple than she seemed.

The door was opened by a swarthy foreign-looking maid, with a prominentbosom under a gay neckerchief, whom he vaguely fancied to be Sicilian.She welcomed him with all her white teeth, and answering his enquiriesby a head-shake of incomprehension led him through the narrow hall intoa low firelit drawing-room. The room was empty, and she left him, foran appreciable time, to wonder whether she had gone to find hermistress, or whether she had not understood what he was there for, andthought it might be to wind the clock—of which he perceived that theonly visible specimen had stopped. He knew that the southern racescommunicated with each other in the language of pantomime, and wasmortified to find her shrugs and smiles so unintelligible. At lengthshe returned with a lamp; and Archer, having meanwhile put together aphrase out of Dante and Petrarch, evoked the answer: "La signora efuori; ma verra subito"; which he took to mean: "She's out—but you'llsoon see."

What he saw, meanwhile, with the help of the lamp, was the fadedshadowy charm of a room unlike any room he had known. He knew that theCountess Olenska had brought some of her possessions with her—bits ofwreckage, she called them—and these, he supposed, were represented bysome small slender tables of dark wood, a delicate little Greek bronzeon the chimney-piece, and a stretch of red damask nailed on thediscoloured wallpaper behind a couple of Italian-looking pictures inold frames.

Newland Archer prided himself on his knowledge of Italian art. Hisboyhood had been saturated with Ruskin, and he had read all the latestbooks: John Addington Symonds, Vernon Lee's "Euphorion," the essays ofP. G. Hamerton, and a wonderful new volume called "The Renaissance" byWalter Pater. He talked easily of Botticelli, and spoke of FraAngelico with a faint condescension. But these pictures bewilderedhim, for they were like nothing that he was accustomed to look at (andtherefore able to see) when he travelled in Italy; and perhaps, also,his powers of observation were impaired by the oddness of findinghimself in this strange empty house, where apparently no one expectedhim. He was sorry that he had not told May Welland of CountessOlenska's request, and a little disturbed by the thought that hisbetrothed might come in to see her cousin. What would she think if shefound him sitting there with the air of intimacy implied by waitingalone in the dusk at a lady's fireside?

But since he had come he meant to wait; and he sank into a chair andstretched his feet to the logs.

It was odd to have summoned him in that way, and then forgotten him;but Archer felt more curious than mortified. The atmosphere of theroom was so different from any he had ever breathed thatself-consciousness vanished in the sense of adventure. He had beenbefore in drawing-rooms hung with red damask, with pictures "of theItalian school"; what struck him was the way in which Medora Manson'sshabby hired house, with its blighted background of pampas grass andRogers statuettes, had, by a turn of the hand, and the skilful use of afew properties, been transformed into something intimate, "foreign,"subtly suggestive of old romantic scenes and sentiments. He tried toanalyse the trick, to find a clue to it in the way the chairs andtables were grouped, in the fact that only two Jacqueminot roses (ofwhich nobody ever bought less than a dozen) had been placed in theslender vase at his elbow, and in the vague pervading perfume that wasnot what one put on handkerchiefs, but rather like the scent of somefar-off bazaar, a smell made up of Turkish coffee and ambergris anddried roses.

His mind wandered away to the question of what May's drawing-room wouldlook like. He knew that Mr. Welland, who was behaving "veryhandsomely," already had his eye on a newly built house in EastThirty-ninth Street. The neighbourhood was thought remote, and thehouse was built in a ghastly greenish-yellow stone that the youngerarchitects were beginning to employ as a protest against the brownstoneof which the uniform hue coated New York like a cold chocolate sauce;but the plumbing was perfect. Archer would have liked to travel, toput off the housing question; but, though the Wellands approved of anextended European honeymoon (perhaps even a winter in Egypt), they werefirm as to the need of a house for the returning couple. The young manfelt that his fate was sealed: for the rest of his life he would go upevery evening between the cast-iron railings of that greenish-yellowdoorstep, and pass through a Pompeian vestibule into a hall with awainscoting of varnished yellow wood. But beyond that his imaginationcould not travel. He knew the drawing-room above had a bay window, buthe could not fancy how May would deal with it. She submittedcheerfully to the purple satin and yellow tuftings of the Wellanddrawing-room, to its sham Buhl tables and gilt vitrines full of modernSaxe. He saw no reason to suppose that she would want anythingdifferent in her own house; and his only comfort was to reflect thatshe would probably let him arrange his library as he pleased—whichwould be, of course, with "sincere" Eastlake furniture, and the plainnew bookcases without glass doors.

The round-bosomed maid came in, drew the curtains, pushed back a log,and said consolingly: "Verra—verra." When she had gone Archer stoodup and began to wander about. Should he wait any longer? His positionwas becoming rather foolish. Perhaps he had misunderstood MadameOlenska—perhaps she had not invited him after all.

Down the cobblestones of the quiet street came the ring of a stepper'shoofs; they stopped before the house, and he caught the opening of acarriage door. Parting the curtains he looked out into the early dusk.A street-lamp faced him, and in its light he saw Julius Beaufort'scompact English brougham, drawn by a big roan, and the bankerdescending from it, and helping out Madame Olenska.

Beaufort stood, hat in hand, saying something which his companionseemed to negative; then they shook hands, and he jumped into hiscarriage while she mounted the steps.

When she entered the room she showed no surprise at seeing Archerthere; surprise seemed the emotion that she was least addicted to.

"How do you like my funny house?" she asked. "To me it's like heaven."

As she spoke she untied her little velvet bonnet and tossing it awaywith her long cloak stood looking at him with meditative eyes.

"You've arranged it delightfully," he rejoined, alive to the flatnessof the words, but imprisoned in the conventional by his consumingdesire to be simple and striking.

"Oh, it's a poor little place. My relations despise it. But at anyrate it's less gloomy than the van der Luydens'."

The words gave him an electric shock, for few were the rebelliousspirits who would have dared to call the stately home of the van derLuydens gloomy. Those privileged to enter it shivered there, and spokeof it as "handsome." But suddenly he was glad that she had given voiceto the general shiver.

"It's delicious—what you've done here," he repeated.

"I like the little house," she admitted; "but I suppose what I like isthe blessedness of its being here, in my own country and my own town;and then, of being alone in it." She spoke so low that he hardly heardthe last phrase; but in his awkwardness he took it up.

"You like so much to be alone?"

"Yes; as long as my friends keep me from feeling lonely." She sat downnear the fire, said: "Nastasia will bring the tea presently," andsigned to him to return to his armchair, adding: "I see you've alreadychosen your corner."

Leaning back, she folded her arms behind her head, and looked at thefire under drooping lids.

"This is the hour I like best—don't you?"

A proper sense of his dignity caused him to answer: "I was afraid you'dforgotten the hour. Beaufort must have been very engrossing."

She looked amused. "Why—have you waited long? Mr. Beaufort took meto see a number of houses—since it seems I'm not to be allowed to stayin this one." She appeared to dismiss both Beaufort and himself fromher mind, and went on: "I've never been in a city where there seems tobe such a feeling against living in des quartiers excentriques. Whatdoes it matter where one lives? I'm told this street is respectable."

"It's not fashionable."

"Fashionable! Do you all think so much of that? Why not make one'sown fashions? But I suppose I've lived too independently; at any rate,I want to do what you all do—I want to feel cared for and safe."

He was touched, as he had been the evening before when she spoke of herneed of guidance.

"That's what your friends want you to feel. New York's an awfully safeplace," he added with a flash of sarcasm.

"Yes, isn't it? One feels that," she cried, missing the mockery."Being here is like—like—being taken on a holiday when one has been agood little girl and done all one's lessons."

The analogy was well meant, but did not altogether please him. He didnot mind being flippant about New York, but disliked to hear any oneelse take the same tone. He wondered if she did not begin to see whata powerful engine it was, and how nearly it had crushed her. TheLovell Mingotts' dinner, patched up in extremis out of all sorts ofsocial odds and ends, ought to have taught her the narrowness of herescape; but either she had been all along unaware of having skirteddisaster, or else she had lost sight of it in the triumph of the vander Luyden evening. Archer inclined to the former theory; he fanciedthat her New York was still completely undifferentiated, and theconjecture nettled him.

"Last night," he said, "New York laid itself out for you. The van derLuydens do nothing by halves."

"No: how kind they are! It was such a nice party. Every one seems tohave such an esteem for them."

The terms were hardly adequate; she might have spoken in that way of atea-party at the dear old Miss Lannings'.

"The van der Luydens," said Archer, feeling himself pompous as hespoke, "are the most powerful influence in New York society.Unfortunately—owing to her health—they receive very seldom."

She unclasped her hands from behind her head, and looked at himmeditatively.

"Isn't that perhaps the reason?"

"The reason—?"

"For their great influence; that they make themselves so rare."

He coloured a little, stared at her—and suddenly felt the penetrationof the remark. At a stroke she had pricked the van der Luydens andthey collapsed. He laughed, and sacrificed them.

Nastasia brought the tea, with handleless Japanese cups and littlecovered dishes, placing the tray on a low table.

"But you'll explain these things to me—you'll tell me all I ought toknow," Madame Olenska continued, leaning forward to hand him his cup.

"It's you who are telling me; opening my eyes to things I'd looked atso long that I'd ceased to see them."

She detached a small gold cigarette-case from one of her bracelets,held it out to him, and took a cigarette herself. On the chimney werelong spills for lighting them.

"Ah, then we can both help each other. But I want help so much more.You must tell me just what to do."

It was on the tip of his tongue to reply: "Don't be seen driving aboutthe streets with Beaufort—" but he was being too deeply drawn into theatmosphere of the room, which was her atmosphere, and to give advice ofthat sort would have been like telling some one who was bargaining forattar-of-roses in Samarkand that one should always be provided witharctics for a New York winter. New York seemed much farther off thanSamarkand, and if they were indeed to help each other she was renderingwhat might prove the first of their mutual services by making him lookat his native city objectively. Viewed thus, as through the wrong endof a telescope, it looked disconcertingly small and distant; but thenfrom Samarkand it would.

A flame darted from the logs and she bent over the fire, stretching herthin hands so close to it that a faint halo shone about the oval nails.The light touched to russet the rings of dark hair escaping from herbraids, and made her pale face paler.

"There are plenty of people to tell you what to do," Archer rejoined,obscurely envious of them.

"Oh—all my aunts? And my dear old Granny?" She considered the ideaimpartially. "They're all a little vexed with me for setting up formyself—poor Granny especially. She wanted to keep me with her; but Ihad to be free—" He was impressed by this light way of speaking ofthe formidable Catherine, and moved by the thought of what must havegiven Madame Olenska this thirst for even the loneliest kind offreedom. But the idea of Beaufort gnawed him.

"I think I understand how you feel," he said. "Still, your family canadvise you; explain differences; show you the way."

She lifted her thin black eyebrows. "Is New York such a labyrinth? Ithought it so straight up and down—like Fifth Avenue. And with allthe cross streets numbered!" She seemed to guess his faint disapprovalof this, and added, with the rare smile that enchanted her whole face:"If you knew how I like it for just THAT—the straight-up-and-downness,and the big honest labels on everything!"

He saw his chance. "Everything may be labelled—but everybody is not."

"Perhaps. I may simplify too much—but you'll warn me if I do." Sheturned from the fire to look at him. "There are only two people herewho make me feel as if they understood what I mean and could explainthings to me: you and Mr. Beaufort."

Archer winced at the joining of the names, and then, with a quickreadjustment, understood, sympathised and pitied. So close to thepowers of evil she must have lived that she still breathed more freelyin their air. But since she felt that he understood her also, hisbusiness would be to make her see Beaufort as he really was, with allhe represented—and abhor it.

He answered gently: "I understand. But just at first don't let go ofyour old friends' hands: I mean the older women, your Granny Mingott,Mrs. Welland, Mrs. van der Luyden. They like and admire you—they wantto help you."

She shook her head and sighed. "Oh, I know—I know! But on conditionthat they don't hear anything unpleasant. Aunt Welland put it in thosevery words when I tried.... Does no one want to know the truth here,Mr. Archer? The real loneliness is living among all these kind peoplewho only ask one to pretend!" She lifted her hands to her face, and hesaw her thin shoulders shaken by a sob.

"Madame Olenska!—Oh, don't, Ellen," he cried, starting up and bendingover her. He drew down one of her hands, clasping and chafing it likea child's while he murmured reassuring words; but in a moment she freedherself, and looked up at him with wet lashes.

"Does no one cry here, either? I suppose there's no need to, inheaven," she said, straightening her loosened braids with a laugh, andbending over the tea-kettle. It was burnt into his consciousness thathe had called her "Ellen"—called her so twice; and that she had notnoticed it. Far down the inverted telescope he saw the faint whitefigure of May Welland—in New York.

Suddenly Nastasia put her head in to say something in her rich Italian.

Madame Olenska, again with a hand at her hair, uttered an exclamationof assent—a flashing "Gia—gia"—and the Duke of St. Austrey entered,piloting a tremendous blackwigged and red-plumed lady in overflowingfurs.

"My dear Countess, I've brought an old friend of mine to see you—Mrs.Struthers. She wasn't asked to the party last night, and she wants toknow you."

The Duke beamed on the group, and Madame Olenska advanced with a murmurof welcome toward the queer couple. She seemed to have no idea howoddly matched they were, nor what a liberty the Duke had taken inbringing his companion—and to do him justice, as Archer perceived, theDuke seemed as unaware of it himself.

"Of course I want to know you, my dear," cried Mrs. Struthers in around rolling voice that matched her bold feathers and her brazen wig."I want to know everybody who's young and interesting and charming.And the Duke tells me you like music—didn't you, Duke? You're apianist yourself, I believe? Well, do you want to hear Sarasate playtomorrow evening at my house? You know I've something going on everySunday evening—it's the day when New York doesn't know what to do withitself, and so I say to it: 'Come and be amused.' And the Dukethought you'd be tempted by Sarasate. You'll find a number of yourfriends."

Madame Olenska's face grew brilliant with pleasure. "How kind! Howgood of the Duke to think of me!" She pushed a chair up to thetea-table and Mrs. Struthers sank into it delectably. "Of course Ishall be too happy to come."

"That's all right, my dear. And bring your young gentleman with you."Mrs. Struthers extended a hail-fellow hand to Archer. "I can't put aname to you—but I'm sure I've met you—I've met everybody, here, or inParis or London. Aren't you in diplomacy? All the diplomatists cometo me. You like music too? Duke, you must be sure to bring him."

The Duke said "Rather" from the depths of his beard, and Archerwithdrew with a stiffly circular bow that made him feel as full ofspine as a self-conscious school-boy among careless and unnoticingelders.

He was not sorry for the denouement of his visit: he only wished it hadcome sooner, and spared him a certain waste of emotion. As he went outinto the wintry night, New York again became vast and imminent, and MayWelland the loveliest woman in it. He turned into his florist's tosend her the daily box of lilies-of-the-valley which, to his confusion,he found he had forgotten that morning.

As he wrote a word on his card and waited for an envelope he glancedabout the embowered shop, and his eye lit on a cluster of yellow roses.He had never seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse wasto send them to May instead of the lilies. But they did not look likeher—there was something too rich, too strong, in their fiery beauty.In a sudden revulsion of mood, and almost without knowing what he did,he signed to the florist to lay the roses in another long box, andslipped his card into a second envelope, on which he wrote the name ofthe Countess Olenska; then, just as he was turning away, he drew thecard out again, and left the empty envelope on the box.

"They'll go at once?" he enquired, pointing to the roses.

The florist assured him that they would.

X.

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

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

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

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

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

"Ah—they would!" laughed Archer, amused at her keenness. He lookedsideways at her fruit-like cheek and felt rich and secure enough toadd: "When I sent your lilies yesterday afternoon I saw some rathergorgeous yellow roses and packed them off to Madame Olenska. Was thatright?"

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

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

"If you call it long! Isabel Chivers and Reggie were engaged for twoyears: Grace and Thorley for nearly a year and a half. Why aren't wevery well off as we are?"

It was the traditional maidenly interrogation, and he felt ashamed ofhimself for finding it singularly childish. No doubt she simply echoedwhat 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 hismad outburst to Mr. Sillerton Jackson: "Women ought to be as free as weare—"

It would presently be his task to take the bandage from this youngwoman's eyes, and bid her look forth on the world. But how manygenerations of the women who had gone to her making had descendedbandaged to the family vault? He shivered a little, remembering someof the new ideas in his scientific books, and the much-cited instanceof the Kentucky cave-fish, which had ceased to develop eyes becausethey had no use for them. What if, when he had bidden May Welland toopen hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?

"We might be much better off. We might be altogether together—wemight travel."

Her face lit up. "That would be lovely," she owned: she would love totravel. But her mother would not understand their wanting to do thingsso differently.

"As if the mere 'differently' didn't account for it!" the wooerinsisted.

"Newland! You're so original!" she exulted.

His heart sank, for he saw that he was saying all the things that youngmen in the same situation were expected to say, and that she was makingthe answers that instinct and tradition taught her to make—even to thepoint of calling him original.

"Original! We're all as like each other as those dolls cut out of thesame folded paper. We're like patterns stencilled on a wall. Can'tyou and I strike out for ourselves, May?"

He had stopped and faced her in the excitement of their discussion, andher 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 we?"

"Why not—why not—why not?"

She looked a little bored by his insistence. She knew very well thatthey 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 israther—vulgar, isn't it?" she suggested, relieved to have hit on aword 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—sowould you," she rejoined, a trifle irritably.

He stood silent, beating his stick nervously against his boot-top; andfeeling that she had indeed found the right way of closing thediscussion, she went on light-heartedly: "Oh, did I tell you that Ishowed Ellen my ring? She thinks it the most beautiful setting sheever saw. There's nothing like it in the rue de la Paix, she said. Ido love you, Newland, for being so artistic!"


The next afternoon, as Archer, before dinner, sat smoking sullenly inhis study, Janey wandered in on him. He had failed to stop at his clubon the way up from the office where he exercised the profession of thelaw in the leisurely manner common to well-to-do New Yorkers of hisclass. He was out of spirits and slightly out of temper, and ahaunting horror of doing the same thing every day at the same hourbesieged his brain.

"Sameness—sameness!" he muttered, the word running through his headlike a persecuting tune as he saw the familiar tall-hatted figureslounging behind the plate-glass; and because he usually dropped in atthe club at that hour he had gone home instead. He knew not only whatthey were likely to be talking about, but the part each one would takein the discussion. The Duke of course would be their principal theme;though the appearance in Fifth Avenue of a golden-haired lady in asmall canary-coloured brougham with a pair of black cobs (for whichBeaufort was generally thought responsible) would also doubtless bethoroughly gone into. Such "women" (as they were called) were few inNew York, those driving their own carriages still fewer, and theappearance of Miss Fanny Ring in Fifth Avenue at the fashionable hourhad profoundly agitated society. Only the day before, her carriage hadpassed Mrs. Lovell Mingott's, and the latter had instantly rung thelittle bell at her elbow and ordered the coachman to drive her home."What if it had happened to Mrs. van der Luyden?" people asked eachother with a shudder. Archer could hear Lawrence Lefferts, at thatvery hour, holding forth on the disintegration of society.

He raised his head irritably when his sister Janey entered, and thenquickly bent over his book (Swinburne's "Chastelard"—just out) as ifhe had not seen her. She glanced at the writing-table heaped withbooks, opened a volume of the "Contes Drolatiques," made a wry faceover 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 herbrother would come in after dinner: she couldn't say very much, becausehe forbade her to: he wishes to give all the details himself. He'swith cousin Louisa van der Luyden now."

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

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

With a groan he plunged back into his book.

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

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

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

"Stop her? Warn her?" He laughed again. "I'm not engaged to bemarried to the Countess Olenska!" The words had a fantastic sound inhis 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 think?"

"Not the half of one—if she thinks such old maid's rubbish."

"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 derLuydens, and so we all are, when it comes to being so much as brushedby the wing-tip of Reality." But he saw her long gentle face puckeringinto tears, and felt ashamed of the useless pain he was inflicting.

"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 sothat we might all back her up; and if it hadn't been for that cousinLouisa would never have invited her to the dinner for the Duke."

"Well—what harm was there in inviting her? She was the best-lookingwoman in the room; she made the dinner a little less funereal than theusual van der Luyden banquet."

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

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

"Yes." He tried to keep his tone as measured as her own. "But I can'ttake 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 CountessOlenska's going to the house of a woman they consider common."

"Consider—!"

"Well, who is; but who has good music, and amuses people on Sundayevenings, 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 tableand sang the things they sing at the places you go to in Paris. Therewas smoking and champagne."

"Well—that kind of thing happens in other places, and the world stillgoes on."

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

"I've heard you often enough, mother, grumble at the English Sundaywhen 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'reright, I daresay; but we belong here, and people should respect ourways when they come among us. Ellen Olenska especially: she came backto get away from the kind of life people lead in brilliant societies."

Newland made no answer, and after a moment his mother ventured: "I wasgoing to put on my bonnet and ask you to take me to see cousin Louisafor a moment before dinner." He frowned, and she continued: "I thoughtyou might explain to her what you've just said: that society abroad isdifferent ... that people are not as particular, and that MadameOlenska may not have realised how we feel about such things. It wouldbe, you know, dear," she added with an innocent adroitness, "in MadameOlenska's interest if you did."

"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 broughtMrs. Struthers to call on her. I was there when they came. If the vander Luydens want to quarrel with anybody, the real culprit is undertheir 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'tdiscriminate: how should they? Countess Olenska is a New Yorker, andshould have respected the feelings of New York."

(Video) Part 3 - The Age of Innocence Audiobook by Edith Wharton (Chs 17-22)

"Well, then, if they must have a victim, you have my leave to throwMadame Olenska to them," cried her son, exasperated. "I don't seemyself—or you either—offering ourselves up to expiate her crimes."

"Oh, of course you see only the Mingott side," his mother answered, inthe 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 anagitated hand.

"Another lamp," she cried to the retreating servant, while Janey bentover to straighten her mother's cap.

Mr. van der Luyden's figure loomed on the threshold, and Newland Archerwent forward to greet his cousin.

"We were just talking about you, sir," he said.

Mr. van der Luyden seemed overwhelmed by the announcement. He drew offhis glove to shake hands with the ladies, and smoothed his tall hatshyly, 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 derLuyden, complacency restored to his brow. He sank into the chair, laidhis 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 senther a few carnations from Skuytercliff, and I was astonished. Insteadof massing them in big bunches as our head-gardener does, she hadscattered them about loosely, here and there ... I can't say how. TheDuke had told me: he said: 'Go and see how cleverly she's arranged herdrawing-room.' And she has. I should really like to take Louisa tosee her, if the neighbourhood were not so—unpleasant."

A dead silence greeted this unusual flow of words from Mr. van derLuyden. Mrs. Archer drew her embroidery out of the basket into whichshe had nervously tumbled it, and Newland, leaning against thechimney-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 legwith 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 shewrote me about my flowers; and also—but this is between ourselves, ofcourse—to give her a friendly warning about allowing the Duke to carryher off to parties with him. I don't know if you've heard—"

Mrs. Archer produced an indulgent smile. "Has the Duke been carryingher off to parties?"

"You know what these English grandees are. They're all alike. Louisaand I are very fond of our cousin—but it's hopeless to expect peoplewho are accustomed to the European courts to trouble themselves aboutour little republican distinctions. The Duke goes where he's amused."Mr. van der Luyden paused, but no one spoke. "Yes—it seems he tookher with him last night to Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's. Sillerton Jacksonhas just been to us with the foolish story, and Louisa was rathertroubled. So I thought the shortest way was to go straight to CountessOlenska and explain—by the merest hint, you know—how we feel in NewYork about certain things. I felt I might, without indelicacy, becausethe evening she dined with us she rather suggested ... rather let mesee that she would be grateful for guidance. And she WAS."

Mr. van der Luyden looked about the room with what would have beenself-satisfaction on features less purged of the vulgar passions. Onhis face it became a mild benevolence which Mrs. Archer's countenancedutifully reflected.

"How kind you both are, dear Henry—always! Newland will particularlyappreciate what you have done because of dear May and his newrelations."

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

Mr. van der Luyden looked at him with extreme gentleness. "I never askto 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 clockhe 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 silencefell upon the Archer family.

"Gracious—how romantic!" at last broke explosively from Janey. No oneknew exactly what inspired her elliptic comments, and her relations hadlong since given up trying to interpret them.

Mrs. Archer shook her head with a sigh. "Provided it all turns out forthe best," she said, in the tone of one who knows how surely it willnot. "Newland, you must stay and see Sillerton Jackson when he comesthis evening: I really shan't know what to say to him."

"Poor mother! But he won't come—" her son laughed, stooping to kissaway her frown.

XI.

Some two weeks later, Newland Archer, sitting in abstracted idleness inhis private compartment of the office of Letterblair, Lamson and Low,attorneys at law, was summoned by the head of the firm.

Old Mr. Letterblair, the accredited legal adviser of three generationsof New York gentility, throned behind his mahogany desk in evidentperplexity. As he stroked his closeclipped white whiskers and ran hishand through the rumpled grey locks above his jutting brows, hisdisrespectful junior partner thought how much he looked like the FamilyPhysician annoyed with a patient whose symptoms refuse to be classified.

"My dear sir—" he always addressed Archer as "sir"—"I have sent foryou to go into a little matter; a matter which, for the moment, Iprefer not to mention either to Mr. Skipworth or Mr. Redwood." Thegentlemen he spoke of were the other senior partners of the firm; for,as was always the case with legal associations of old standing in NewYork, all the partners named on the office letter-head were long sincedead; and Mr. Letterblair, for example, was, professionally speaking,his own grandson.

He leaned back in his chair with a furrowed brow. "For familyreasons—" he continued.

Archer looked up.

"The Mingott family," said Mr. Letterblair with an explanatory smileand bow. "Mrs. Manson Mingott sent for me yesterday. Hergrand-daughter the Countess Olenska wishes to sue her husband fordivorce. Certain papers have been placed in my hands." He paused anddrummed on his desk. "In view of your prospective alliance with thefamily I should like to consult you—to consider the case withyou—before taking any farther steps."

Archer felt the blood in his temples. He had seen the Countess Olenskaonly once since his visit to her, and then at the Opera, in the Mingottbox. During this interval she had become a less vivid and importunateimage, receding from his foreground as May Welland resumed her rightfulplace in it. He had not heard her divorce spoken of since Janey'sfirst random allusion to it, and had dismissed the tale as unfoundedgossip. Theoretically, the idea of divorce was almost as distastefulto him as to his mother; and he was annoyed that Mr. Letterblair (nodoubt prompted by old Catherine Mingott) should be so evidentlyplanning to draw him into the affair. After all, there were plenty ofMingott men for such jobs, and as yet he was not even a Mingott bymarriage.

He waited for the senior partner to continue. Mr. Letterblair unlockeda drawer and drew out a packet. "If you will run your eye over thesepapers—"

Archer frowned. "I beg your pardon, sir; but just because of theprospective relationship, I should prefer your consulting Mr. Skipworthor Mr. Redwood."

Mr. Letterblair looked surprised and slightly offended. It was unusualfor a junior to reject such an opening.

He bowed. "I respect your scruple, sir; but in this case I believetrue delicacy requires you to do as I ask. Indeed, the suggestion isnot mine but Mrs. Manson Mingott's and her son's. I have seen LovellMingott; and also Mr. Welland. They all named you."

Archer felt his temper rising. He had been somewhat languidly driftingwith events for the last fortnight, and letting May's fair looks andradiant nature obliterate the rather importunate pressure of theMingott claims. But this behest of old Mrs. Mingott's roused him to asense of what the clan thought they had the right to exact from aprospective son-in-law; and he chafed at the role.

"Her uncles ought to deal with this," he said.

"They have. The matter has been gone into by the family. They areopposed to the Countess's idea; but she is firm, and insists on a legalopinion."

The young man was silent: he had not opened the packet in his hand.

"Does she want to marry again?"

"I believe it is suggested; but she denies it."

"Then—"

"Will you oblige me, Mr. Archer, by first looking through these papers?Afterward, when we have talked the case over, I will give you myopinion."

Archer withdrew reluctantly with the unwelcome documents. Since theirlast meeting he had half-unconsciously collaborated with events inridding himself of the burden of Madame Olenska. His hour alone withher by the firelight had drawn them into a momentary intimacy on whichthe Duke of St. Austrey's intrusion with Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, and theCountess's joyous greeting of them, had rather providentially broken.Two days later Archer had assisted at the comedy of her reinstatementin the van der Luydens' favour, and had said to himself, with a touchof tartness, that a lady who knew how to thank all-powerful elderlygentlemen to such good purpose for a bunch of flowers did not needeither the private consolations or the public championship of a youngman of his small compass. To look at the matter in this lightsimplified his own case and surprisingly furbished up all the dimdomestic virtues. He could not picture May Welland, in whateverconceivable emergency, hawking about her private difficulties andlavishing her confidences on strange men; and she had never seemed tohim finer or fairer than in the week that followed. He had evenyielded to her wish for a long engagement, since she had found the onedisarming answer to his plea for haste.

"You know, when it comes to the point, your parents have always let youhave your way ever since you were a little girl," he argued; and shehad answered, with her clearest look: "Yes; and that's what makes itso hard to refuse the very last thing they'll ever ask of me as alittle girl."

That was the old New York note; that was the kind of answer he wouldlike always to be sure of his wife's making. If one had habituallybreathed the New York air there were times when anything lesscrystalline seemed stifling.


The papers he had retired to read did not tell him much in fact; butthey plunged him into an atmosphere in which he choked and spluttered.They consisted mainly of an exchange of letters between Count Olenski'ssolicitors and a French legal firm to whom the Countess had applied forthe settlement of her financial situation. There was also a shortletter from the Count to his wife: after reading it, Newland Archerrose, jammed the papers back into their envelope, and reentered Mr.Letterblair's office.

"Here are the letters, sir. If you wish, I'll see Madame Olenska," hesaid in a constrained voice.

"Thank you—thank you, Mr. Archer. Come and dine with me tonight ifyou're free, and we'll go into the matter afterward: in case you wishto call on our client tomorrow."

Newland Archer walked straight home again that afternoon. It was awinter evening of transparent clearness, with an innocent young moonabove the house-tops; and he wanted to fill his soul's lungs with thepure radiance, and not exchange a word with any one till he and Mr.Letterblair were closeted together after dinner. It was impossible todecide otherwise than he had done: he must see Madame Olenska himselfrather than let her secrets be bared to other eyes. A great wave ofcompassion had swept away his indifference and impatience: she stoodbefore him as an exposed and pitiful figure, to be saved at all costsfrom farther wounding herself in her mad plunges against fate.

He remembered what she had told him of Mrs. Welland's request to bespared whatever was "unpleasant" in her history, and winced at thethought that it was perhaps this attitude of mind which kept the NewYork air so pure. "Are we only Pharisees after all?" he wondered,puzzled by the effort to reconcile his instinctive disgust at humanvileness with his equally instinctive pity for human frailty.

For the first time he perceived how elementary his own principles hadalways been. He passed for a young man who had not been afraid ofrisks, and he knew that his secret love-affair with poor silly Mrs.Thorley Rushworth had not been too secret to invest him with a becomingair of adventure. But Mrs. Rushworth was "that kind of woman";foolish, vain, clandestine by nature, and far more attracted by thesecrecy and peril of the affair than by such charms and qualities as hepossessed. When the fact dawned on him it nearly broke his heart, butnow it seemed the redeeming feature of the case. The affair, in short,had been of the kind that most of the young men of his age had beenthrough, and emerged from with calm consciences and an undisturbedbelief in the abysmal distinction between the women one loved andrespected and those one enjoyed—and pitied. In this view they weresedulously abetted by their mothers, aunts and other elderly femalerelatives, who all shared Mrs. Archer's belief that when "such thingshappened" it was undoubtedly foolish of the man, but somehow alwayscriminal of the woman. All the elderly ladies whom Archer knewregarded any woman who loved imprudently as necessarily unscrupulousand designing, and mere simple-minded man as powerless in her clutches.The only thing to do was to persuade him, as early as possible, tomarry a nice girl, and then trust to her to look after him.

In the complicated old European communities, Archer began to guess,love-problems might be less simple and less easily classified. Richand idle and ornamental societies must produce many more suchsituations; and there might even be one in which a woman naturallysensitive and aloof would yet, from the force of circumstances, fromsheer defencelessness and loneliness, be drawn into a tie inexcusableby conventional standards.

On reaching home he wrote a line to the Countess Olenska, asking atwhat hour of the next day she could receive him, and despatched it by amessenger-boy, who returned presently with a word to the effect thatshe was going to Skuytercliff the next morning to stay over Sunday withthe van der Luydens, but that he would find her alone that eveningafter dinner. The note was written on a rather untidy half-sheet,without date or address, but her hand was firm and free. He was amusedat the idea of her week-ending in the stately solitude of Skuytercliff,but immediately afterward felt that there, of all places, she wouldmost feel the chill of minds rigorously averted from the "unpleasant."


He was at Mr. Letterblair's punctually at seven, glad of the pretextfor excusing himself soon after dinner. He had formed his own opinionfrom the papers entrusted to him, and did not especially want to gointo the matter with his senior partner. Mr. Letterblair was awidower, and they dined alone, copiously and slowly, in a dark shabbyroom hung with yellowing prints of "The Death of Chatham" and "TheCoronation of Napoleon." On the sideboard, between fluted Sheratonknife-cases, stood a decanter of Haut Brion, and another of the oldLanning port (the gift of a client), which the wastrel Tom Lanning hadsold off a year or two before his mysterious and discreditable death inSan Francisco—an incident less publicly humiliating to the family thanthe sale of the cellar.

After a velvety oyster soup came shad and cucumbers, then a youngbroiled turkey with corn fritters, followed by a canvas-back withcurrant jelly and a celery mayonnaise. Mr. Letterblair, who lunched ona sandwich and tea, dined deliberately and deeply, and insisted on hisguest's doing the same. Finally, when the closing rites had beenaccomplished, the cloth was removed, cigars were lit, and Mr.Letterblair, leaning back in his chair and pushing the port westward,said, spreading his back agreeably to the coal fire behind him: "Thewhole family are against a divorce. And I think rightly."

Archer instantly felt himself on the other side of the argument. "Butwhy, sir? If there ever was a case—"

"Well—what's the use? SHE'S here—he's there; the Atlantic's betweenthem. She'll never get back a dollar more of her money than what he'svoluntarily returned to her: their damned heathen marriage settlementstake precious good care of that. As things go over there, Olenski'sacted generously: he might have turned her out without a penny."

The young man knew this and was silent.

"I understand, though," Mr. Letterblair continued, "that she attachesno importance to the money. Therefore, as the family say, why not letwell enough alone?"

Archer had gone to the house an hour earlier in full agreement with Mr.Letterblair's view; but put into words by this selfish, well-fed andsupremely indifferent old man it suddenly became the Pharisaic voice ofa society wholly absorbed in barricading itself against the unpleasant.

"I think that's for her to decide."

"H'm—have you considered the consequences if she decides for divorce?"

"You mean the threat in her husband's letter? What weight would thatcarry? It's no more than the vague charge of an angry blackguard."

"Yes; but it might make some unpleasant talk if he really defends thesuit."

"Unpleasant—!" said Archer explosively.

Mr. Letterblair looked at him from under enquiring eyebrows, and theyoung man, aware of the uselessness of trying to explain what was inhis mind, bowed acquiescently while his senior continued: "Divorce isalways unpleasant."

"You agree with me?" Mr. Letterblair resumed, after a waiting silence.

"Naturally," said Archer.

"Well, then, I may count on you; the Mingotts may count on you; to useyour influence against the idea?"

Archer hesitated. "I can't pledge myself till I've seen the CountessOlenska," he said at length.

"Mr. Archer, I don't understand you. Do you want to marry into afamily with a scandalous divorce-suit hanging over it?"

"I don't think that has anything to do with the case."

Mr. Letterblair put down his glass of port and fixed on his youngpartner a cautious and apprehensive gaze.

Archer understood that he ran the risk of having his mandate withdrawn,and for some obscure reason he disliked the prospect. Now that the jobhad been thrust on him he did not propose to relinquish it; and, toguard against the possibility, he saw that he must reassure theunimaginative old man who was the legal conscience of the Mingotts.

"You may be sure, sir, that I shan't commit myself till I've reportedto you; what I meant was that I'd rather not give an opinion till I'veheard what Madame Olenska has to say."

Mr. Letterblair nodded approvingly at an excess of caution worthy ofthe best New York tradition, and the young man, glancing at his watch,pleaded an engagement and took leave.

XII.

Old-fashioned New York dined at seven, and the habit of after-dinnercalls, though derided in Archer's set, still generally prevailed. Asthe young man strolled up Fifth Avenue from Waverley Place, the longthoroughfare was deserted but for a group of carriages standing beforethe Reggie Chiverses' (where there was a dinner for the Duke), and theoccasional figure of an elderly gentleman in heavy overcoat and mufflerascending a brownstone doorstep and disappearing into a gas-lit hall.Thus, as Archer crossed Washington Square, he remarked that old Mr. duLac was calling on his cousins the Dagonets, and turning down thecorner of West Tenth Street he saw Mr. Skipworth, of his own firm,obviously bound on a visit to the Miss Lannings. A little farther upFifth Avenue, Beaufort appeared on his doorstep, darkly projectedagainst a blaze of light, descended to his private brougham, and rolledaway to a mysterious and probably unmentionable destination. It wasnot an Opera night, and no one was giving a party, so that Beaufort'souting was undoubtedly of a clandestine nature. Archer connected it inhis mind with a little house beyond Lexington Avenue in whichberibboned window curtains and flower-boxes had recently appeared, andbefore whose newly painted door the canary-coloured brougham of MissFanny Ring was frequently seen to wait.

Beyond the small and slippery pyramid which composed Mrs. Archer'sworld lay the almost unmapped quarter inhabited by artists, musiciansand "people who wrote." These scattered fragments of humanity hadnever shown any desire to be amalgamated with the social structure. Inspite of odd ways they were said to be, for the most part, quiterespectable; but they preferred to keep to themselves. Medora Manson,in her prosperous days, had inaugurated a "literary salon"; but it hadsoon died out owing to the reluctance of the literary to frequent it.

Others had made the same attempt, and there was a household ofBlenkers—an intense and voluble mother, and three blowsy daughters whoimitated her—where one met Edwin Booth and Patti and William Winter,and the new Shakespearian actor George Rignold, and some of themagazine editors and musical and literary critics.

Mrs. Archer and her group felt a certain timidity concerning thesepersons. They were odd, they were uncertain, they had things onedidn't know about in the background of their lives and minds.Literature and art were deeply respected in the Archer set, and Mrs.Archer was always at pains to tell her children how much more agreeableand cultivated society had been when it included such figures asWashington Irving, Fitz-Greene Halleck and the poet of "The CulpritFay." The most celebrated authors of that generation had been"gentlemen"; perhaps the unknown persons who succeeded them hadgentlemanly sentiments, but their origin, their appearance, their hair,their intimacy with the stage and the Opera, made any old New Yorkcriterion inapplicable to them.

"When I was a girl," Mrs. Archer used to say, "we knew everybodybetween the Battery and Canal Street; and only the people one knew hadcarriages. It was perfectly easy to place any one then; now one can'ttell, and I prefer not to try."

Only old Catherine Mingott, with her absence of moral prejudices andalmost parvenu indifference to the subtler distinctions, might havebridged the abyss; but she had never opened a book or looked at apicture, and cared for music only because it reminded her of galanights at the Italiens, in the days of her triumph at the Tuileries.Possibly Beaufort, who was her match in daring, would have succeeded inbringing about a fusion; but his grand house and silk-stockingedfootmen were an obstacle to informal sociability. Moreover, he was asilliterate as old Mrs. Mingott, and considered "fellows who wrote" asthe mere paid purveyors of rich men's pleasures; and no one rich enoughto influence his opinion had ever questioned it.

Newland Archer had been aware of these things ever since he couldremember, and had accepted them as part of the structure of hisuniverse. He knew that there were societies where painters and poetsand novelists and men of science, and even great actors, were as soughtafter as Dukes; he had often pictured to himself what it would havebeen to live in the intimacy of drawing-rooms dominated by the talk ofMerimee (whose "Lettres a une Inconnue" was one of his inseparables),of Thackeray, Browning or William Morris. But such things wereinconceivable in New York, and unsettling to think of. Archer knewmost of the "fellows who wrote," the musicians and the painters: he metthem at the Century, or at the little musical and theatrical clubs thatwere beginning to come into existence. He enjoyed them there, and wasbored with them at the Blenkers', where they were mingled with fervidand dowdy women who passed them about like captured curiosities; andeven after his most exciting talks with Ned Winsett he always came awaywith the feeling that if his world was small, so was theirs, and thatthe only way to enlarge either was to reach a stage of manners wherethey would naturally merge.

He was reminded of this by trying to picture the society in which theCountess Olenska had lived and suffered, and also—perhaps—tastedmysterious joys. He remembered with what amusement she had told himthat her grandmother Mingott and the Wellands objected to her living ina "Bohemian" quarter given over to "people who wrote." It was not theperil but the poverty that her family disliked; but that shade escapedher, and she supposed they considered literature compromising.

She herself had no fears of it, and the books scattered about herdrawing-room (a part of the house in which books were usually supposedto be "out of place"), though chiefly works of fiction, had whettedArcher's interest with such new names as those of Paul Bourget,Huysmans, and the Goncourt brothers. Ruminating on these things as heapproached her door, he was once more conscious of the curious way inwhich she reversed his values, and of the need of thinking himself intoconditions incredibly different from any that he knew if he were to beof use in her present difficulty.


Nastasia opened the door, smiling mysteriously. On the bench in thehall lay a sable-lined overcoat, a folded opera hat of dull silk with agold J. B. on the lining, and a white silk muffler: there was nomistaking the fact that these costly articles were the property ofJulius Beaufort.

Archer was angry: so angry that he came near scribbling a word on hiscard and going away; then he remembered that in writing to MadameOlenska he had been kept by excess of discretion from saying that hewished to see her privately. He had therefore no one but himself toblame if she had opened her doors to other visitors; and he entered thedrawing-room with the dogged determination to make Beaufort feelhimself in the way, and to outstay him.

The banker stood leaning against the mantelshelf, which was draped withan old embroidery held in place by brass candelabra containing churchcandles of yellowish wax. He had thrust his chest out, supporting hisshoulders against the mantel and resting his weight on one largepatent-leather foot. As Archer entered he was smiling and looking downon his hostess, who sat on a sofa placed at right angles to thechimney. A table banked with flowers formed a screen behind it, andagainst the orchids and azaleas which the young man recognised astributes from the Beaufort hot-houses, Madame Olenska sathalf-reclined, her head propped on a hand and her wide sleeve leavingthe arm bare to the elbow.

It was usual for ladies who received in the evenings to wear what werecalled "simple dinner dresses": a close-fitting armour of whale-bonedsilk, slightly open in the neck, with lace ruffles filling in thecrack, and tight sleeves with a flounce uncovering just enough wrist toshow an Etruscan gold bracelet or a velvet band. But Madame Olenska,heedless of tradition, was attired in a long robe of red velvetbordered about the chin and down the front with glossy black fur.Archer remembered, on his last visit to Paris, seeing a portrait by thenew painter, Carolus Duran, whose pictures were the sensation of theSalon, in which the lady wore one of these bold sheath-like robes withher chin nestling in fur. There was something perverse and provocativein the notion of fur worn in the evening in a heated drawing-room, andin the combination of a muffled throat and bare arms; but the effectwas undeniably pleasing.

"Lord love us—three whole days at Skuytercliff!" Beaufort was sayingin his loud sneering voice as Archer entered. "You'd better take allyour furs, and a hot-water-bottle."

"Why? Is the house so cold?" she asked, holding out her left hand toArcher in a way mysteriously suggesting that she expected him to kissit.

"No; but the missus is," said Beaufort, nodding carelessly to the youngman.

"But I thought her so kind. She came herself to invite me. Granny saysI must certainly go."

"Granny would, of course. And I say it's a shame you're going to missthe little oyster supper I'd planned for you at Delmonico's nextSunday, with Campanini and Scalchi and a lot of jolly people."

She looked doubtfully from the banker to Archer.

"Ah—that does tempt me! Except the other evening at Mrs. Struthers'sI've not met a single artist since I've been here."

"What kind of artists? I know one or two painters, very good fellows,that I could bring to see you if you'd allow me," said Archer boldly.

"Painters? Are there painters in New York?" asked Beaufort, in a toneimplying that there could be none since he did not buy their pictures;and Madame Olenska said to Archer, with her grave smile: "That wouldbe charming. But I was really thinking of dramatic artists, singers,actors, musicians. My husband's house was always full of them."

She said the words "my husband" as if no sinister associations wereconnected with them, and in a tone that seemed almost to sigh over thelost delights of her married life. Archer looked at her perplexedly,wondering if it were lightness or dissimulation that enabled her totouch so easily on the past at the very moment when she was risking herreputation in order to break with it.

"I do think," she went on, addressing both men, "that the imprevu addsto one's enjoyment. It's perhaps a mistake to see the same peopleevery day."

"It's confoundedly dull, anyhow; New York is dying of dullness,"Beaufort grumbled. "And when I try to liven it up for you, you go backon me. Come—think better of it! Sunday is your last chance, forCampanini leaves next week for Baltimore and Philadelphia; and I've aprivate room, and a Steinway, and they'll sing all night for me."

"How delicious! May I think it over, and write to you tomorrowmorning?"

She spoke amiably, yet with the least hint of dismissal in her voice.Beaufort evidently felt it, and being unused to dismissals, stoodstaring at her with an obstinate line between his eyes.

"Why not now?"

"It's too serious a question to decide at this late hour."

"Do you call it late?"

She returned his glance coolly. "Yes; because I have still to talkbusiness with Mr. Archer for a little while."

"Ah," Beaufort snapped. There was no appeal from her tone, and with aslight shrug he recovered his composure, took her hand, which he kissedwith a practised air, and calling out from the threshold: "I say,Newland, if you can persuade the Countess to stop in town of courseyou're included in the supper," left the room with his heavy importantstep.

For a moment Archer fancied that Mr. Letterblair must have told her ofhis coming; but the irrelevance of her next remark made him change hismind.

"You know painters, then? You live in their milieu?" she asked, hereyes full of interest.

"Oh, not exactly. I don't know that the arts have a milieu here, anyof them; they're more like a very thinly settled outskirt."

"But you care for such things?"

"Immensely. When I'm in Paris or London I never miss an exhibition. Itry to keep up."

She looked down at the tip of the little satin boot that peeped fromher long draperies.

"I used to care immensely too: my life was full of such things. Butnow I want to try not to."

"You want to try not to?"

"Yes: I want to cast off all my old life, to become just like everybodyelse here."

Archer reddened. "You'll never be like everybody else," he said.

She raised her straight eyebrows a little. "Ah, don't say that. Ifyou knew how I hate to be different!"

Her face had grown as sombre as a tragic mask. She leaned forward,clasping her knee in her thin hands, and looking away from him intoremote dark distances.

"I want to get away from it all," she insisted.

He waited a moment and cleared his throat. "I know. Mr. Letterblairhas told me."

"Ah?"

"That's the reason I've come. He asked me to—you see I'm in the firm."

She looked slightly surprised, and then her eyes brightened. "You meanyou can manage it for me? I can talk to you instead of Mr.Letterblair? Oh, that will be so much easier!"

Her tone touched him, and his confidence grew with hisself-satisfaction. He perceived that she had spoken of business toBeaufort simply to get rid of him; and to have routed Beaufort wassomething of a triumph.

"I am here to talk about it," he repeated.

She sat silent, her head still propped by the arm that rested on theback of the sofa. Her face looked pale and extinguished, as if dimmedby the rich red of her dress. She struck Archer, of a sudden, as apathetic and even pitiful figure.

"Now we're coming to hard facts," he thought, conscious in himself ofthe same instinctive recoil that he had so often criticised in hismother and her contemporaries. How little practice he had had indealing with unusual situations! Their very vocabulary was unfamiliarto him, and seemed to belong to fiction and the stage. In face of whatwas coming he felt as awkward and embarrassed as a boy.

After a pause Madame Olenska broke out with unexpected vehemence: "Iwant to be free; I want to wipe out all the past."

"I understand that."

Her face warmed. "Then you'll help me?"

"First—" he hesitated—"perhaps I ought to know a little more."

She seemed surprised. "You know about my husband—my life with him?"

He made a sign of assent.

"Well—then—what more is there? In this country are such thingstolerated? I'm a Protestant—our church does not forbid divorce insuch cases."

"Certainly not."

They were both silent again, and Archer felt the spectre of CountOlenski's letter grimacing hideously between them. The letter filledonly half a page, and was just what he had described it to be inspeaking of it to Mr. Letterblair: the vague charge of an angryblackguard. But how much truth was behind it? Only Count Olenski'swife could tell.

"I've looked through the papers you gave to Mr. Letterblair," he saidat length.

"Well—can there be anything more abominable?"

"No."

She changed her position slightly, screening her eyes with her liftedhand.

"Of course you know," Archer continued, "that if your husband choosesto fight the case—as he threatens to—"

"Yes—?"

"He can say things—things that might be unpl—might be disagreeable toyou: say them publicly, so that they would get about, and harm you evenif—"

"If—?"

"I mean: no matter how unfounded they were."

She paused for a long interval; so long that, not wishing to keep hiseyes on her shaded face, he had time to imprint on his mind the exactshape of her other hand, the one on her knee, and every detail of thethree rings on her fourth and fifth fingers; among which, he noticed, awedding ring did not appear.

"What harm could such accusations, even if he made them publicly, do mehere?"

It was on his lips to exclaim: "My poor child—far more harm thananywhere else!" Instead, he answered, in a voice that sounded in hisears like Mr. Letterblair's: "New York society is a very small worldcompared with the one you've lived in. And it's ruled, in spite ofappearances, by a few people with—well, rather old-fashioned ideas."

She said nothing, and he continued: "Our ideas about marriage anddivorce are particularly old-fashioned. Our legislation favoursdivorce—our social customs don't."

"Never?"

"Well—not if the woman, however injured, however irreproachable, hasappearances in the least degree against her, has exposed herself by anyunconventional action to—to offensive insinuations—"

She drooped her head a little lower, and he waited again, intenselyhoping for a flash of indignation, or at least a brief cry of denial.None came.

A little travelling clock ticked purringly at her elbow, and a logbroke in two and sent up a shower of sparks. The whole hushed andbrooding room seemed to be waiting silently with Archer.

"Yes," she murmured at length, "that's what my family tell me."

He winced a little. "It's not unnatural—"

"OUR family," she corrected herself; and Archer coloured. "For you'llbe my cousin soon," she continued gently.

"I hope so."

"And you take their view?"

He stood up at this, wandered across the room, stared with void eyes atone of the pictures against the old red damask, and came backirresolutely to her side. How could he say: "Yes, if what yourhusband hints is true, or if you've no way of disproving it?"

"Sincerely—" she interjected, as he was about to speak.

He looked down into the fire. "Sincerely, then—what should you gainthat would compensate for the possibility—the certainty—of a lot ofbeastly talk?"

"But my freedom—is that nothing?"

It flashed across him at that instant that the charge in the letter wastrue, and that she hoped to marry the partner of her guilt. How was heto tell her that, if she really cherished such a plan, the laws of theState were inexorably opposed to it? The mere suspicion that thethought was in her mind made him feel harshly and impatiently towardher. "But aren't you as free as air as it is?" he returned. "Who cantouch you? Mr. Letterblair tells me the financial question has beensettled—"

"Oh, yes," she said indifferently.

"Well, then: is it worth while to risk what may be infinitelydisagreeable and painful? Think of the newspapers—their vileness!It's all stupid and narrow and unjust—but one can't make over society."

"No," she acquiesced; and her tone was so faint and desolate that hefelt a sudden remorse for his own hard thoughts.

"The individual, in such cases, is nearly always sacrificed to what issupposed to be the collective interest: people cling to any conventionthat keeps the family together—protects the children, if there areany," he rambled on, pouring out all the stock phrases that rose to hislips in his intense desire to cover over the ugly reality which hersilence seemed to have laid bare. Since she would not or could not saythe one word that would have cleared the air, his wish was not to lether feel that he was trying to probe into her secret. Better keep onthe surface, in the prudent old New York way, than risk uncovering awound he could not heal.

"It's my business, you know," he went on, "to help you to see thesethings as the people who are fondest of you see them. The Mingotts,the Wellands, the van der Luydens, all your friends and relations: if Ididn't show you honestly how they judge such questions, it wouldn't befair of me, would it?" He spoke insistently, almost pleading with herin his eagerness to cover up that yawning silence.

She said slowly: "No; it wouldn't be fair."

The fire had crumbled down to greyness, and one of the lamps made agurgling appeal for attention. Madame Olenska rose, wound it up andreturned to the fire, but without resuming her seat.

Her remaining on her feet seemed to signify that there was nothing morefor either of them to say, and Archer stood up also.

"Very well; I will do what you wish," she said abruptly. The bloodrushed to his forehead; and, taken aback by the suddenness of hersurrender, he caught her two hands awkwardly in his.

"I—I do want to help you," he said.

"You do help me. Good night, my cousin."

He bent and laid his lips on her hands, which were cold and lifeless.She drew them away, and he turned to the door, found his coat and hatunder the faint gas-light of the hall, and plunged out into the winternight bursting with the belated eloquence of the inarticulate.

XIII.

It was a crowded night at Wallack's theatre.

The play was "The Shaughraun," with Dion Boucicault in the title roleand Harry Montague and Ada Dyas as the lovers. The popularity of theadmirable English company was at its height, and the Shaughraun alwayspacked the house. In the galleries the enthusiasm was unreserved; inthe stalls and boxes, people smiled a little at the hackneyedsentiments and clap-trap situations, and enjoyed the play as much asthe galleries did.

There was one episode, in particular, that held the house from floor toceiling. It was that in which Harry Montague, after a sad, almostmonosyllabic scene of parting with Miss Dyas, bade her good-bye, andturned to go. The actress, who was standing near the mantelpiece andlooking down into the fire, wore a gray cashmere dress withoutfashionable loopings or trimmings, moulded to her tall figure andflowing in long lines about her feet. Around her neck was a narrowblack velvet ribbon with the ends falling down her back.

When her wooer turned from her she rested her arms against themantel-shelf and bowed her face in her hands. On the threshold hepaused to look at her; then he stole back, lifted one of the ends ofvelvet ribbon, kissed it, and left the room without her hearing him orchanging her attitude. And on this silent parting the curtain fell.

It was always for the sake of that particular scene that Newland Archerwent to see "The Shaughraun." He thought the adieux of Montague and AdaDyas as fine as anything he had ever seen Croisette and Bressant do inParis, or Madge Robertson and Kendal in London; in its reticence, itsdumb sorrow, it moved him more than the most famous histrionicoutpourings.

On the evening in question the little scene acquired an added poignancyby reminding him—he could not have said why—of his leave-taking fromMadame Olenska after their confidential talk a week or ten days earlier.

It would have been as difficult to discover any resemblance between thetwo situations as between the appearance of the persons concerned.Newland Archer could not pretend to anything approaching the youngEnglish actor's romantic good looks, and Miss Dyas was a tallred-haired woman of monumental build whose pale and pleasantly uglyface was utterly unlike Ellen Olenska's vivid countenance. Nor wereArcher and Madame Olenska two lovers parting in heart-broken silence;they were client and lawyer separating after a talk which had given thelawyer the worst possible impression of the client's case. Wherein,then, lay the resemblance that made the young man's heart beat with akind of retrospective excitement? It seemed to be in Madame Olenska'smysterious faculty of suggesting tragic and moving possibilitiesoutside the daily run of experience. She had hardly ever said a wordto him to produce this impression, but it was a part of her, either aprojection of her mysterious and outlandish background or of somethinginherently dramatic, passionate and unusual in herself. Archer hadalways been inclined to think that chance and circumstance played asmall part in shaping people's lots compared with their innate tendencyto have things happen to them. This tendency he had felt from thefirst in Madame Olenska. The quiet, almost passive young woman struckhim as exactly the kind of person to whom things were bound to happen,no matter how much she shrank from them and went out of her way toavoid them. The exciting fact was her having lived in an atmosphere sothick with drama that her own tendency to provoke it had apparentlypassed unperceived. It was precisely the odd absence of surprise inher that gave him the sense of her having been plucked out of a verymaelstrom: the things she took for granted gave the measure of thoseshe had rebelled against.

Archer had left her with the conviction that Count Olenski's accusationwas not unfounded. The mysterious person who figured in his wife'spast as "the secretary" had probably not been unrewarded for his sharein her escape. The conditions from which she had fled wereintolerable, past speaking of, past believing: she was young, she wasfrightened, she was desperate—what more natural than that she shouldbe grateful to her rescuer? The pity was that her gratitude put her,in the law's eyes and the world's, on a par with her abominablehusband. Archer had made her understand this, as he was bound to do;he had also made her understand that simplehearted kindly New York, onwhose larger charity she had apparently counted, was precisely theplace where she could least hope for indulgence.

To have to make this fact plain to her—and to witness her resignedacceptance of it—had been intolerably painful to him. He felt himselfdrawn to her by obscure feelings of jealousy and pity, as if herdumbly-confessed error had put her at his mercy, humbling yet endearingher. He was glad it was to him she had revealed her secret, ratherthan to the cold scrutiny of Mr. Letterblair, or the embarrassed gazeof her family. He immediately took it upon himself to assure them boththat she had given up her idea of seeking a divorce, basing herdecision on the fact that she had understood the uselessness of theproceeding; and with infinite relief they had all turned their eyesfrom the "unpleasantness" she had spared them.

"I was sure Newland would manage it," Mrs. Welland had said proudly ofher future son-in-law; and old Mrs. Mingott, who had summoned him for aconfidential interview, had congratulated him on his cleverness, andadded impatiently: "Silly goose! I told her myself what nonsense itwas. Wanting to pass herself off as Ellen Mingott and an old maid,when she has the luck to be a married woman and a Countess!"

These incidents had made the memory of his last talk with MadameOlenska so vivid to the young man that as the curtain fell on theparting of the two actors his eyes filled with tears, and he stood upto leave the theatre.

In doing so, he turned to the side of the house behind him, and saw thelady of whom he was thinking seated in a box with the Beauforts,Lawrence Lefferts and one or two other men. He had not spoken with heralone since their evening together, and had tried to avoid being withher in company; but now their eyes met, and as Mrs. Beaufort recognisedhim at the same time, and made her languid little gesture ofinvitation, it was impossible not to go into the box.

Beaufort and Lefferts made way for him, and after a few words with Mrs.Beaufort, who always preferred to look beautiful and not have to talk,Archer seated himself behind Madame Olenska. There was no one else inthe box but Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who was telling Mrs. Beaufort in aconfidential undertone about Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's last Sundayreception (where some people reported that there had been dancing).Under cover of this circumstantial narrative, to which Mrs. Beaufortlistened with her perfect smile, and her head at just the right angleto be seen in profile from the stalls, Madame Olenska turned and spokein a low voice.

"Do you think," she asked, glancing toward the stage, "he will send hera bunch of yellow roses tomorrow morning?"

Archer reddened, and his heart gave a leap of surprise. He had calledonly twice on Madame Olenska, and each time he had sent her a box ofyellow roses, and each time without a card. She had never before madeany allusion to the flowers, and he supposed she had never thought ofhim as the sender. Now her sudden recognition of the gift, and herassociating it with the tender leave-taking on the stage, filled himwith an agitated pleasure.

"I was thinking of that too—I was going to leave the theatre in orderto take the picture away with me," he said.

To his surprise her colour rose, reluctantly and duskily. She lookeddown at the mother-of-pearl opera-glass in her smoothly gloved hands,and said, after a pause: "What do you do while May is away?"

"I stick to my work," he answered, faintly annoyed by the question.

In obedience to a long-established habit, the Wellands had left theprevious week for St. Augustine, where, out of regard for the supposedsusceptibility of Mr. Welland's bronchial tubes, they always spent thelatter part of the winter. Mr. Welland was a mild and silent man, withno opinions but with many habits. With these habits none mightinterfere; and one of them demanded that his wife and daughter shouldalways go with him on his annual journey to the south. To preserve anunbroken domesticity was essential to his peace of mind; he would nothave known where his hair-brushes were, or how to provide stamps forhis letters, if Mrs. Welland had not been there to tell him.

As all the members of the family adored each other, and as Mr. Wellandwas the central object of their idolatry, it never occurred to his wifeand May to let him go to St. Augustine alone; and his sons, who wereboth in the law, and could not leave New York during the winter, alwaysjoined him for Easter and travelled back with him.

It was impossible for Archer to discuss the necessity of May'saccompanying her father. The reputation of the Mingotts' familyphysician was largely based on the attack of pneumonia which Mr.Welland had never had; and his insistence on St. Augustine wastherefore inflexible. Originally, it had been intended that May'sengagement should not be announced till her return from Florida, andthe fact that it had been made known sooner could not be expected toalter Mr. Welland's plans. Archer would have liked to join thetravellers and have a few weeks of sunshine and boating with hisbetrothed; but he too was bound by custom and conventions. Littlearduous as his professional duties were, he would have been convictedof frivolity by the whole Mingott clan if he had suggested asking for aholiday in mid-winter; and he accepted May's departure with theresignation which he perceived would have to be one of the principalconstituents of married life.

He was conscious that Madame Olenska was looking at him under loweredlids. "I have done what you wished—what you advised," she saidabruptly.

"Ah—I'm glad," he returned, embarrassed by her broaching the subjectat such a moment.

"I understand—that you were right," she went on a little breathlessly;"but sometimes life is difficult ... perplexing..."

"I know."

"And I wanted to tell you that I DO feel you were right; and that I'mgrateful to you," she ended, lifting her opera-glass quickly to hereyes as the door of the box opened and Beaufort's resonant voice brokein on them.

Archer stood up, and left the box and the theatre.

Only the day before he had received a letter from May Welland in which,with characteristic candour, she had asked him to "be kind to Ellen" intheir absence. "She likes you and admires you so much—and you know,though she doesn't show it, she's still very lonely and unhappy. Idon't think Granny understands her, or uncle Lovell Mingott either;they really think she's much worldlier and fonder of society than sheis. And I can quite see that New York must seem dull to her, thoughthe family won't admit it. I think she's been used to lots of thingswe haven't got; wonderful music, and picture shows, andcelebrities—artists and authors and all the clever people you admire.Granny can't understand her wanting anything but lots of dinners andclothes—but I can see that you're almost the only person in New Yorkwho can talk to her about what she really cares for."

His wise May—how he had loved her for that letter! But he had notmeant to act on it; he was too busy, to begin with, and he did notcare, as an engaged man, to play too conspicuously the part of MadameOlenska's champion. He had an idea that she knew how to take care ofherself a good deal better than the ingenuous May imagined. She hadBeaufort at her feet, Mr. van der Luyden hovering above her like aprotecting deity, and any number of candidates (Lawrence Lefferts amongthem) waiting their opportunity in the middle distance. Yet he neversaw her, or exchanged a word with her, without feeling that, after all,May's ingenuousness almost amounted to a gift of divination. EllenOlenska was lonely and she was unhappy.

XIV.

As he came out into the lobby Archer ran across his friend Ned Winsett,the only one among what Janey called his "clever people" with whom hecared to probe into things a little deeper than the average level ofclub and chop-house banter.

He had caught sight, across the house, of Winsett's shabbyround-shouldered back, and had once noticed his eyes turned toward theBeaufort box. The two men shook hands, and Winsett proposed a bock ata little German restaurant around the corner. Archer, who was not inthe mood for the kind of talk they were likely to get there, declinedon the plea that he had work to do at home; and Winsett said: "Oh,well so have I for that matter, and I'll be the Industrious Apprenticetoo."

They strolled along together, and presently Winsett said: "Look here,what I'm really after is the name of the dark lady in that swell box ofyours—with the Beauforts, wasn't she? The one your friend Leffertsseems so smitten by."

Archer, he could not have said why, was slightly annoyed. What thedevil did Ned Winsett want with Ellen Olenska's name? And above all,why did he couple it with Lefferts's? It was unlike Winsett tomanifest such curiosity; but after all, Archer remembered, he was ajournalist.

"It's not for an interview, I hope?" he laughed.

"Well—not for the press; just for myself," Winsett rejoined. "Thefact is she's a neighbour of mine—queer quarter for such a beauty tosettle in—and she's been awfully kind to my little boy, who fell downher area chasing his kitten, and gave himself a nasty cut. She rushedin bareheaded, carrying him in her arms, with his knee all beautifullybandaged, and was so sympathetic and beautiful that my wife was toodazzled to ask her name."

A pleasant glow dilated Archer's heart. There was nothingextraordinary in the tale: any woman would have done as much for aneighbour's child. But it was just like Ellen, he felt, to have rushedin bareheaded, carrying the boy in her arms, and to have dazzled poorMrs. Winsett into forgetting to ask who she was.

"That is the Countess Olenska—a granddaughter of old Mrs. Mingott's."

"Whew—a Countess!" whistled Ned Winsett. "Well, I didn't knowCountesses were so neighbourly. Mingotts ain't."

"They would be, if you'd let them."

"Ah, well—" It was their old interminable argument as to theobstinate unwillingness of the "clever people" to frequent thefashionable, and both men knew that there was no use in prolonging it.

"I wonder," Winsett broke off, "how a Countess happens to live in ourslum?"

"Because she doesn't care a hang about where she lives—or about any ofour little social sign-posts," said Archer, with a secret pride in hisown picture of her.

"H'm—been in bigger places, I suppose," the other commented. "Well,here's my corner."

He slouched off across Broadway, and Archer stood looking after him andmusing on his last words.

Ned Winsett had those flashes of penetration; they were the mostinteresting thing about him, and always made Archer wonder why they hadallowed him to accept failure so stolidly at an age when most men arestill struggling.

Archer had known that Winsett had a wife and child, but he had neverseen them. The two men always met at the Century, or at some haunt ofjournalists and theatrical people, such as the restaurant where Winsetthad proposed to go for a bock. He had given Archer to understand thathis wife was an invalid; which might be true of the poor lady, or mightmerely mean that she was lacking in social gifts or in evening clothes,or in both. Winsett himself had a savage abhorrence of socialobservances: Archer, who dressed in the evening because he thought itcleaner and more comfortable to do so, and who had never stopped toconsider that cleanliness and comfort are two of the costliest items ina modest budget, regarded Winsett's attitude as part of the boring"Bohemian" pose that always made fashionable people, who changed theirclothes without talking about it, and were not forever harping on thenumber of servants one kept, seem so much simpler and lessself-conscious than the others. Nevertheless, he was always stimulatedby Winsett, and whenever he caught sight of the journalist's leanbearded face and melancholy eyes he would rout him out of his cornerand carry him off for a long talk.

Winsett was not a journalist by choice. He was a pure man of letters,untimely born in a world that had no need of letters; but afterpublishing one volume of brief and exquisite literary appreciations, ofwhich one hundred and twenty copies were sold, thirty given away, andthe balance eventually destroyed by the publishers (as per contract) tomake room for more marketable material, he had abandoned his realcalling, and taken a sub-editorial job on a women's weekly, wherefashion-plates and paper patterns alternated with New Englandlove-stories and advertisements of temperance drinks.

On the subject of "Hearth-fires" (as the paper was called) he wasinexhaustibly entertaining; but beneath his fun lurked the sterilebitterness of the still young man who has tried and given up. Hisconversation always made Archer take the measure of his own life, andfeel how little it contained; but Winsett's, after all, contained stillless, and though their common fund of intellectual interests andcuriosities made their talks exhilarating, their exchange of viewsusually remained within the limits of a pensive dilettantism.

"The fact is, life isn't much a fit for either of us," Winsett had oncesaid. "I'm down and out; nothing to be done about it. I've got onlyone ware to produce, and there's no market for it here, and won't be inmy time. But you're free and you're well-off. Why don't you get intotouch? There's only one way to do it: to go into politics."

Archer threw his head back and laughed. There one saw at a flash theunbridgeable difference between men like Winsett and theothers—Archer's kind. Every one in polite circles knew that, inAmerica, "a gentleman couldn't go into politics." But, since he couldhardly put it in that way to Winsett, he answered evasively: "Look atthe career of the honest man in American politics! They don't want us."

"Who's 'they'? Why don't you all get together and be 'they'yourselves?"

Archer's laugh lingered on his lips in a slightly condescending smile.It was useless to prolong the discussion: everybody knew the melancholyfate of the few gentlemen who had risked their clean linen in municipalor state politics in New York. The day was past when that sort ofthing was possible: the country was in possession of the bosses and theemigrant, and decent people had to fall back on sport or culture.

"Culture! Yes—if we had it! But there are just a few little localpatches, dying out here and there for lack of—well, hoeing andcross-fertilising: the last remnants of the old European tradition thatyour forebears brought with them. But you're in a pitiful littleminority: you've got no centre, no competition, no audience. You'relike the pictures on the walls of a deserted house: 'The Portrait of aGentleman.' You'll never amount to anything, any of you, till you rollup your sleeves and get right down into the muck. That, or emigrate... God! If I could emigrate ..."

Archer mentally shrugged his shoulders and turned the conversation backto books, where Winsett, if uncertain, was always interesting.Emigrate! As if a gentleman could abandon his own country! One couldno more do that than one could roll up one's sleeves and go down intothe muck. A gentleman simply stayed at home and abstained. But youcouldn't make a man like Winsett see that; and that was why the NewYork of literary clubs and exotic restaurants, though a first shakemade it seem more of a kaleidoscope, turned out, in the end, to be asmaller box, with a more monotonous pattern, than the assembled atomsof Fifth Avenue.


The next morning Archer scoured the town in vain for more yellow roses.In consequence of this search he arrived late at the office, perceivedthat his doing so made no difference whatever to any one, and wasfilled with sudden exasperation at the elaborate futility of his life.Why should he not be, at that moment, on the sands of St. Augustinewith May Welland? No one was deceived by his pretense of professionalactivity. In old-fashioned legal firms like that of which Mr.Letterblair was the head, and which were mainly engaged in themanagement of large estates and "conservative" investments, there werealways two or three young men, fairly well-off, and withoutprofessional ambition, who, for a certain number of hours of each day,sat at their desks accomplishing trivial tasks, or simply reading thenewspapers. Though it was supposed to be proper for them to have anoccupation, the crude fact of money-making was still regarded asderogatory, and the law, being a profession, was accounted a moregentlemanly pursuit than business. But none of these young men hadmuch hope of really advancing in his profession, or any earnest desireto do so; and over many of them the green mould of the perfunctory wasalready perceptibly spreading.

It made Archer shiver to think that it might be spreading over him too.He had, to be sure, other tastes and interests; he spent his vacationsin European travel, cultivated the "clever people" May spoke of, andgenerally tried to "keep up," as he had somewhat wistfully put it toMadame Olenska. But once he was married, what would become of thisnarrow margin of life in which his real experiences were lived? He hadseen enough of other young men who had dreamed his dream, thoughperhaps less ardently, and who had gradually sunk into the placid andluxurious routine of their elders.

From the office he sent a note by messenger to Madame Olenska, askingif he might call that afternoon, and begging her to let him find areply at his club; but at the club he found nothing, nor did he receiveany letter the following day. This unexpected silence mortified himbeyond reason, and though the next morning he saw a glorious cluster ofyellow roses behind a florist's window-pane, he left it there. It wasonly on the third morning that he received a line by post from theCountess Olenska. To his surprise it was dated from Skuytercliff,whither the van der Luydens had promptly retreated after putting theDuke on board his steamer.

"I ran away," the writer began abruptly (without the usualpreliminaries), "the day after I saw you at the play, and these kindfriends have taken me in. I wanted to be quiet, and think things over.You were right in telling me how kind they were; I feel myself so safehere. I wish that you were with us." She ended with a conventional"Yours sincerely," and without any allusion to the date of her return.

The tone of the note surprised the young man. What was Madame Olenskarunning away from, and why did she feel the need to be safe? His firstthought was of some dark menace from abroad; then he reflected that hedid not know her epistolary style, and that it might run to picturesqueexaggeration. Women always exaggerated; and moreover she was notwholly at her ease in English, which she often spoke as if she weretranslating from the French. "Je me suis evadee—" put in that way,the opening sentence immediately suggested that she might merely havewanted to escape from a boring round of engagements; which was verylikely true, for he judged her to be capricious, and easily wearied ofthe pleasure of the moment.

It amused him to think of the van der Luydens' having carried her offto Skuytercliff on a second visit, and this time for an indefiniteperiod. The doors of Skuytercliff were rarely and grudgingly opened tovisitors, and a chilly week-end was the most ever offered to the fewthus privileged. But Archer had seen, on his last visit to Paris, thedelicious play of Labiche, "Le Voyage de M. Perrichon," and heremembered M. Perrichon's dogged and undiscouraged attachment to theyoung man whom he had pulled out of the glacier. The van der Luydenshad rescued Madame Olenska from a doom almost as icy; and though therewere many other reasons for being attracted to her, Archer knew thatbeneath them all lay the gentle and obstinate determination to go onrescuing her.

He felt a distinct disappointment on learning that she was away; andalmost immediately remembered that, only the day before, he had refusedan invitation to spend the following Sunday with the Reggie Chiversesat their house on the Hudson, a few miles below Skuytercliff.

He had had his fill long ago of the noisy friendly parties at Highbank,with coasting, ice-boating, sleighing, long tramps in the snow, and ageneral flavour of mild flirting and milder practical jokes. He hadjust received a box of new books from his London book-seller, and hadpreferred the prospect of a quiet Sunday at home with his spoils. Buthe now went into the club writing-room, wrote a hurried telegram, andtold the servant to send it immediately. He knew that Mrs. Reggiedidn't object to her visitors' suddenly changing their minds, and thatthere was always a room to spare in her elastic house.

XV.

Newland Archer arrived at the Chiverses' on Friday evening, and onSaturday went conscientiously through all the rites appertaining to aweek-end at Highbank.

In the morning he had a spin in the ice-boat with his hostess and a fewof the hardier guests; in the afternoon he "went over the farm" withReggie, and listened, in the elaborately appointed stables, to long andimpressive disquisitions on the horse; after tea he talked in a cornerof the firelit hall with a young lady who had professed herselfbroken-hearted when his engagement was announced, but was now eager totell him of her own matrimonial hopes; and finally, about midnight, heassisted in putting a gold-fish in one visitor's bed, dressed up aburglar in the bath-room of a nervous aunt, and saw in the small hoursby joining in a pillow-fight that ranged from the nurseries to thebasement. But on Sunday after luncheon he borrowed a cutter, and droveover to Skuytercliff.

People had always been told that the house at Skuytercliff was anItalian villa. Those who had never been to Italy believed it; so didsome who had. The house had been built by Mr. van der Luyden in hisyouth, on his return from the "grand tour," and in anticipation of hisapproaching marriage with Miss Louisa Dagonet. It was a large squarewooden structure, with tongued and grooved walls painted pale green andwhite, a Corinthian portico, and fluted pilasters between the windows.From the high ground on which it stood a series of terraces bordered bybalustrades and urns descended in the steel-engraving style to a smallirregular lake with an asphalt edge overhung by rare weeping conifers.To the right and left, the famous weedless lawns studded with"specimen" trees (each of a different variety) rolled away to longranges of grass crested with elaborate cast-iron ornaments; and below,in a hollow, lay the four-roomed stone house which the first Patroonhad built on the land granted him in 1612.

Against the uniform sheet of snow and the greyish winter sky theItalian villa loomed up rather grimly; even in summer it kept itsdistance, and the boldest coleus bed had never ventured nearer thanthirty feet from its awful front. Now, as Archer rang the bell, thelong tinkle seemed to echo through a mausoleum; and the surprise of thebutler who at length responded to the call was as great as though hehad been summoned from his final sleep.

Happily Archer was of the family, and therefore, irregular though hisarrival was, entitled to be informed that the Countess Olenska was out,having driven to afternoon service with Mrs. van der Luyden exactlythree quarters of an hour earlier.

"Mr. van der Luyden," the butler continued, "is in, sir; but myimpression is that he is either finishing his nap or else readingyesterday's Evening Post. I heard him say, sir, on his return fromchurch this morning, that he intended to look through the Evening Postafter luncheon; if you like, sir, I might go to the library door andlisten—"

But Archer, thanking him, said that he would go and meet the ladies;and the butler, obviously relieved, closed the door on him majestically.

A groom took the cutter to the stables, and Archer struck through thepark to the high-road. The village of Skuytercliff was only a mile anda half away, but he knew that Mrs. van der Luyden never walked, andthat he must keep to the road to meet the carriage. Presently,however, coming down a foot-path that crossed the highway, he caughtsight of a slight figure in a red cloak, with a big dog running ahead.He hurried forward, and Madame Olenska stopped short with a smile ofwelcome.

"Ah, you've come!" she said, and drew her hand from her muff.

The red cloak made her look gay and vivid, like the Ellen Mingott ofold days; and he laughed as he took her hand, and answered: "I came tosee what you were running away from."

Her face clouded over, but she answered: "Ah, well—you will see,presently."

The answer puzzled him. "Why—do you mean that you've been overtaken?"

She shrugged her shoulders, with a little movement like Nastasia's, andrejoined in a lighter tone: "Shall we walk on? I'm so cold after thesermon. And what does it matter, now you're here to protect me?"

The blood rose to his temples and he caught a fold of her cloak."Ellen—what is it? You must tell me."

"Oh, presently—let's run a race first: my feet are freezing to theground," she cried; and gathering up the cloak she fled away across thesnow, the dog leaping about her with challenging barks. For a momentArcher stood watching, his gaze delighted by the flash of the redmeteor against the snow; then he started after her, and they met,panting and laughing, at a wicket that led into the park.

She looked up at him and smiled. "I knew you'd come!"

"That shows you wanted me to," he returned, with a disproportionate joyin their nonsense. The white glitter of the trees filled the air withits own mysterious brightness, and as they walked on over the snow theground seemed to sing under their feet.

"Where did you come from?" Madame Olenska asked.

He told her, and added: "It was because I got your note."

After a pause she said, with a just perceptible chill in her voice:"May asked you to take care of me."

"I didn't need any asking."

"You mean—I'm so evidently helpless and defenceless? What a poorthing you must all think me! But women here seem not—seem never tofeel the need: any more than the blessed in heaven."

He lowered his voice to ask: "What sort of a need?"

"Ah, don't ask me! I don't speak your language," she retortedpetulantly.

The answer smote him like a blow, and he stood still in the path,looking down at her.

"What did I come for, if I don't speak yours?"

"Oh, my friend—!" She laid her hand lightly on his arm, and hepleaded earnestly: "Ellen—why won't you tell me what's happened?"

She shrugged again. "Does anything ever happen in heaven?"

He was silent, and they walked on a few yards without exchanging aword. Finally she said: "I will tell you—but where, where, where?One can't be alone for a minute in that great seminary of a house, withall the doors wide open, and always a servant bringing tea, or a logfor the fire, or the newspaper! Is there nowhere in an American housewhere one may be by one's self? You're so shy, and yet you're sopublic. I always feel as if I were in the convent again—or on thestage, before a dreadfully polite audience that never applauds."

"Ah, you don't like us!" Archer exclaimed.

They were walking past the house of the old Patroon, with its squatwalls and small square windows compactly grouped about a centralchimney. The shutters stood wide, and through one of the newly-washedwindows Archer caught the light of a fire.

"Why—the house is open!" he said.

She stood still. "No; only for today, at least. I wanted to see it,and Mr. van der Luyden had the fire lit and the windows opened, so thatwe might stop there on the way back from church this morning." She ranup the steps and tried the door. "It's still unlocked—what luck!Come in and we can have a quiet talk. Mrs. van der Luyden has drivenover to see her old aunts at Rhinebeck and we shan't be missed at thehouse for another hour."

He followed her into the narrow passage. His spirits, which haddropped at her last words, rose with an irrational leap. The homelylittle house stood there, its panels and brasses shining in thefirelight, as if magically created to receive them. A big bed ofembers still gleamed in the kitchen chimney, under an iron pot hungfrom an ancient crane. Rush-bottomed arm-chairs faced each otheracross the tiled hearth, and rows of Delft plates stood on shelvesagainst the walls. Archer stooped over and threw a log upon the embers.

Madame Olenska, dropping her cloak, sat down in one of the chairs.Archer leaned against the chimney and looked at her.

"You're laughing now; but when you wrote me you were unhappy," he said.

"Yes." She paused. "But I can't feel unhappy when you're here."

"I sha'n't be here long," he rejoined, his lips stiffening with theeffort to say just so much and no more.

"No; I know. But I'm improvident: I live in the moment when I'm happy."

The words stole through him like a temptation, and to close his sensesto it he moved away from the hearth and stood gazing out at the blacktree-boles against the snow. But it was as if she too had shifted herplace, and he still saw her, between himself and the trees, droopingover the fire with her indolent smile. Archer's heart was beatinginsubordinately. What if it were from him that she had been runningaway, and if she had waited to tell him so till they were here alonetogether in this secret room?

"Ellen, if I'm really a help to you—if you really wanted me tocome—tell me what's wrong, tell me what it is you're running awayfrom," he insisted.

He spoke without shifting his position, without even turning to look ather: if the thing was to happen, it was to happen in this way, with thewhole width of the room between them, and his eyes still fixed on theouter snow.

For a long moment she was silent; and in that moment Archer imaginedher, almost heard her, stealing up behind him to throw her light armsabout his neck. While he waited, soul and body throbbing with themiracle to come, his eyes mechanically received the image of aheavily-coated man with his fur collar turned up who was advancingalong the path to the house. The man was Julius Beaufort.

"Ah—!" Archer cried, bursting into a laugh.

Madame Olenska had sprung up and moved to his side, slipping her handinto his; but after a glance through the window her face paled and sheshrank back.

"So that was it?" Archer said derisively.

"I didn't know he was here," Madame Olenska murmured. Her hand stillclung to Archer's; but he drew away from her, and walking out into thepassage threw open the door of the house.

"Hallo, Beaufort—this way! Madame Olenska was expecting you," he said.


During his journey back to New York the next morning, Archer relivedwith a fatiguing vividness his last moments at Skuytercliff.

Beaufort, though clearly annoyed at finding him with Madame Olenska,had, as usual, carried off the situation high-handedly. His way ofignoring people whose presence inconvenienced him actually gave them,if they were sensitive to it, a feeling of invisibility, ofnonexistence. Archer, as the three strolled back through the park, wasaware of this odd sense of disembodiment; and humbling as it was to hisvanity it gave him the ghostly advantage of observing unobserved.

Beaufort had entered the little house with his usual easy assurance;but he could not smile away the vertical line between his eyes. It wasfairly clear that Madame Olenska had not known that he was coming,though her words to Archer had hinted at the possibility; at any rate,she had evidently not told him where she was going when she left NewYork, and her unexplained departure had exasperated him. Theostensible reason of his appearance was the discovery, the very nightbefore, of a "perfect little house," not in the market, which wasreally just the thing for her, but would be snapped up instantly if shedidn't take it; and he was loud in mock-reproaches for the dance shehad led him in running away just as he had found it.

"If only this new dodge for talking along a wire had been a little bitnearer perfection I might have told you all this from town, and beentoasting my toes before the club fire at this minute, instead oftramping after you through the snow," he grumbled, disguising a realirritation under the pretence of it; and at this opening Madame Olenskatwisted the talk away to the fantastic possibility that they might oneday actually converse with each other from street to street, oreven—incredible dream!—from one town to another. This struck fromall three allusions to Edgar Poe and Jules Verne, and such platitudesas naturally rise to the lips of the most intelligent when they aretalking against time, and dealing with a new invention in which itwould seem ingenuous to believe too soon; and the question of thetelephone carried them safely back to the big house.

Mrs. van der Luyden had not yet returned; and Archer took his leave andwalked off to fetch the cutter, while Beaufort followed the CountessOlenska indoors. It was probable that, little as the van der Luydensencouraged unannounced visits, he could count on being asked to dine,and sent back to the station to catch the nine o'clock train; but morethan that he would certainly not get, for it would be inconceivable tohis hosts that a gentleman travelling without luggage should wish tospend the night, and distasteful to them to propose it to a person withwhom they were on terms of such limited cordiality as Beaufort.

Beaufort knew all this, and must have foreseen it; and his taking thelong journey for so small a reward gave the measure of his impatience.He was undeniably in pursuit of the Countess Olenska; and Beaufort hadonly one object in view in his pursuit of pretty women. His dull andchildless home had long since palled on him; and in addition to morepermanent consolations he was always in quest of amorous adventures inhis own set. This was the man from whom Madame Olenska was avowedlyflying: the question was whether she had fled because his importunitiesdispleased her, or because she did not wholly trust herself to resistthem; unless, indeed, all her talk of flight had been a blind, and herdeparture no more than a manoeuvre.

Archer did not really believe this. Little as he had actually seen ofMadame Olenska, he was beginning to think that he could read her face,and if not her face, her voice; and both had betrayed annoyance, andeven dismay, at Beaufort's sudden appearance. But, after all, if thiswere the case, was it not worse than if she had left New York for theexpress purpose of meeting him? If she had done that, she ceased to bean object of interest, she threw in her lot with the vulgarest ofdissemblers: a woman engaged in a love affair with Beaufort "classed"herself irretrievably.

No, it was worse a thousand times if, judging Beaufort, and probablydespising him, she was yet drawn to him by all that gave him anadvantage over the other men about her: his habit of two continents andtwo societies, his familiar association with artists and actors andpeople generally in the world's eye, and his careless contempt forlocal prejudices. Beaufort was vulgar, he was uneducated, he waspurse-proud; but the circumstances of his life, and a certain nativeshrewdness, made him better worth talking to than many men, morally andsocially his betters, whose horizon was bounded by the Battery and theCentral Park. How should any one coming from a wider world not feelthe difference and be attracted by it?

Madame Olenska, in a burst of irritation, had said to Archer that heand she did not talk the same language; and the young man knew that insome respects this was true. But Beaufort understood every turn of herdialect, and spoke it fluently: his view of life, his tone, hisattitude, were merely a coarser reflection of those revealed in CountOlenski's letter. This might seem to be to his disadvantage with CountOlenski's wife; but Archer was too intelligent to think that a youngwoman like Ellen Olenska would necessarily recoil from everything thatreminded her of her past. She might believe herself wholly in revoltagainst it; but what had charmed her in it would still charm her, eventhough it were against her will.

Thus, with a painful impartiality, did the young man make out the casefor Beaufort, and for Beaufort's victim. A longing to enlighten herwas strong in him; and there were moments when he imagined that all sheasked was to be enlightened.

That evening he unpacked his books from London. The box was full ofthings he had been waiting for impatiently; a new volume of HerbertSpencer, another collection of the prolific Alphonse Daudet's brillianttales, and a novel called "Middlemarch," as to which there had latelybeen interesting things said in the reviews. He had declined threedinner invitations in favour of this feast; but though he turned thepages with the sensuous joy of the book-lover, he did not know what hewas reading, and one book after another dropped from his hand.Suddenly, among them, he lit on a small volume of verse which he hadordered because the name had attracted him: "The House of Life." Hetook it up, and found himself plunged in an atmosphere unlike any hehad ever breathed in books; so warm, so rich, and yet so ineffablytender, that it gave a new and haunting beauty to the most elementaryof human passions. All through the night he pursued through thoseenchanted pages the vision of a woman who had the face of EllenOlenska; but when he woke the next morning, and looked out at thebrownstone houses across the street, and thought of his desk in Mr.Letterblair's office, and the family pew in Grace Church, his hour inthe park of Skuytercliff became as far outside the pale of probabilityas the visions of the night.

"Mercy, how pale you look, Newland!" Janey commented over thecoffee-cups at breakfast; and his mother added: "Newland, dear, I'venoticed lately that you've been coughing; I do hope you're not lettingyourself be overworked?" For it was the conviction of both ladiesthat, under the iron despotism of his senior partners, the young man'slife was spent in the most exhausting professional labours—and he hadnever thought it necessary to undeceive them.

The next two or three days dragged by heavily. The taste of the usualwas like cinders in his mouth, and there were moments when he felt asif he were being buried alive under his future. He heard nothing ofthe Countess Olenska, or of the perfect little house, and though he metBeaufort at the club they merely nodded at each other across thewhist-tables. It was not till the fourth evening that he found a noteawaiting him on his return home. "Come late tomorrow: I must explainto you. Ellen." These were the only words it contained.

The young man, who was dining out, thrust the note into his pocket,smiling a little at the Frenchness of the "to you." After dinner hewent to a play; and it was not until his return home, after midnight,that he drew Madame Olenska's missive out again and re-read it slowly anumber of times. There were several ways of answering it, and he gaveconsiderable thought to each one during the watches of an agitatednight. That on which, when morning came, he finally decided was topitch some clothes into a portmanteau and jump on board a boat that wasleaving that very afternoon for St. Augustine.

XVI.

When Archer walked down the sandy main street of St. Augustine to thehouse which had been pointed out to him as Mr. Welland's, and saw MayWelland standing under a magnolia with the sun in her hair, he wonderedwhy he had waited so long to come.

Here was the truth, here was reality, here was the life that belongedto him; and he, who fancied himself so scornful of arbitraryrestraints, had been afraid to break away from his desk because of whatpeople might think of his stealing a holiday!

Her first exclamation was: "Newland—has anything happened?" and itoccurred to him that it would have been more "feminine" if she hadinstantly read in his eyes why he had come. But when he answered:"Yes—I found I had to see you," her happy blushes took the chill fromher surprise, and he saw how easily he would be forgiven, and how sooneven Mr. Letterblair's mild disapproval would be smiled away by atolerant family.

Early as it was, the main street was no place for any but formalgreetings, and Archer longed to be alone with May, and to pour out allhis tenderness and his impatience. It still lacked an hour to the lateWelland breakfast-time, and instead of asking him to come in sheproposed that they should walk out to an old orange-garden beyond thetown. She had just been for a row on the river, and the sun thatnetted the little waves with gold seemed to have caught her in itsmeshes. Across the warm brown of her cheek her blown hair glitteredlike silver wire; and her eyes too looked lighter, almost pale in theiryouthful limpidity. As she walked beside Archer with her long swinginggait her face wore the vacant serenity of a young marble athlete.

To Archer's strained nerves the vision was as soothing as the sight ofthe blue sky and the lazy river. They sat down on a bench under theorange-trees and he put his arm about her and kissed her. It was likedrinking at a cold spring with the sun on it; but his pressure may havebeen more vehement than he had intended, for the blood rose to her faceand she drew back as if he had startled her.

"What is it?" he asked, smiling; and she looked at him with surprise,and answered: "Nothing."

A slight embarrassment fell on them, and her hand slipped out of his.It was the only time that he had kissed her on the lips except fortheir fugitive embrace in the Beaufort conservatory, and he saw thatshe was disturbed, and shaken out of her cool boyish composure.

"Tell me what you do all day," he said, crossing his arms under histilted-back head, and pushing his hat forward to screen the sun-dazzle.To let her talk about familiar and simple things was the easiest way ofcarrying on his own independent train of thought; and he sat listeningto her simple chronicle of swimming, sailing and riding, varied by anoccasional dance at the primitive inn when a man-of-war came in. A fewpleasant people from Philadelphia and Baltimore were picknicking at theinn, and the Selfridge Merrys had come down for three weeks becauseKate Merry had had bronchitis. They were planning to lay out a lawntennis court on the sands; but no one but Kate and May had racquets,and most of the people had not even heard of the game.

All this kept her very busy, and she had not had time to do more thanlook at the little vellum book that Archer had sent her the week before(the "Sonnets from the Portuguese"); but she was learning by heart "Howthey brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix," because it was one ofthe first things he had ever read to her; and it amused her to be ableto tell him that Kate Merry had never even heard of a poet calledRobert Browning.

Presently she started up, exclaiming that they would be late forbreakfast; and they hurried back to the tumble-down house with itspointless porch and unpruned hedge of plumbago and pink geraniums wherethe Wellands were installed for the winter. Mr. Welland's sensitivedomesticity shrank from the discomforts of the slovenly southern hotel,and at immense expense, and in face of almost insuperable difficulties,Mrs. Welland was obliged, year after year, to improvise anestablishment partly made up of discontented New York servants andpartly drawn from the local African supply.

"The doctors want my husband to feel that he is in his own home;otherwise he would be so wretched that the climate would not do him anygood," she explained, winter after winter, to the sympathisingPhiladelphians and Baltimoreans; and Mr. Welland, beaming across abreakfast table miraculously supplied with the most varied delicacies,was presently saying to Archer: "You see, my dear fellow, we camp—weliterally camp. I tell my wife and May that I want to teach them howto rough it."

Mr. and Mrs. Welland had been as much surprised as their daughter bythe young man's sudden arrival; but it had occurred to him to explainthat he had felt himself on the verge of a nasty cold, and this seemedto Mr. Welland an all-sufficient reason for abandoning any duty.

"You can't be too careful, especially toward spring," he said, heapinghis plate with straw-coloured griddle-cakes and drowning them in goldensyrup. "If I'd only been as prudent at your age May would have beendancing at the Assemblies now, instead of spending her winters in awilderness with an old invalid."

"Oh, but I love it here, Papa; you know I do. If only Newland couldstay I should like it a thousand times better than New York."

"Newland must stay till he has quite thrown off his cold," said Mrs.Welland indulgently; and the young man laughed, and said he supposedthere was such a thing as one's profession.

He managed, however, after an exchange of telegrams with the firm, tomake his cold last a week; and it shed an ironic light on the situationto know that Mr. Letterblair's indulgence was partly due to thesatisfactory way in which his brilliant young junior partner hadsettled the troublesome matter of the Olenski divorce. Mr. Letterblairhad let Mrs. Welland know that Mr. Archer had "rendered an invaluableservice" to the whole family, and that old Mrs. Manson Mingott had beenparticularly pleased; and one day when May had gone for a drive withher father in the only vehicle the place produced Mrs. Welland tookoccasion to touch on a topic which she always avoided in her daughter'spresence.

"I'm afraid Ellen's ideas are not at all like ours. She was barelyeighteen when Medora Manson took her back to Europe—you remember theexcitement when she appeared in black at her coming-out ball? Anotherof Medora's fads—really this time it was almost prophetic! That musthave been at least twelve years ago; and since then Ellen has neverbeen to America. No wonder she is completely Europeanised."

"But European society is not given to divorce: Countess Olenska thoughtshe would be conforming to American ideas in asking for her freedom."It was the first time that the young man had pronounced her name sincehe had left Skuytercliff, and he felt the colour rise to his cheek.

Mrs. Welland smiled compassionately. "That is just like theextraordinary things that foreigners invent about us. They think wedine at two o'clock and countenance divorce! That is why it seems tome so foolish to entertain them when they come to New York. Theyaccept our hospitality, and then they go home and repeat the samestupid stories."

Archer made no comment on this, and Mrs. Welland continued: "But we domost thoroughly appreciate your persuading Ellen to give up the idea.Her grandmother and her uncle Lovell could do nothing with her; both ofthem have written that her changing her mind was entirely due to yourinfluence—in fact she said so to her grandmother. She has anunbounded admiration for you. Poor Ellen—she was always a waywardchild. I wonder what her fate will be?"

"What we've all contrived to make it," he felt like answering. "Ifyou'd all of you rather she should be Beaufort's mistress than somedecent fellow's wife you've certainly gone the right way about it."

He wondered what Mrs. Welland would have said if he had uttered thewords instead of merely thinking them. He could picture the suddendecomposure of her firm placid features, to which a lifelong masteryover trifles had given an air of factitious authority. Traces stilllingered on them of a fresh beauty like her daughter's; and he askedhimself if May's face was doomed to thicken into the same middle-agedimage of invincible innocence.

Ah, no, he did not want May to have that kind of innocence, theinnocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart againstexperience!

"I verily believe," Mrs. Welland continued, "that if the horriblebusiness had come out in the newspapers it would have been my husband'sdeath-blow. I don't know any of the details; I only ask not to, as Itold poor Ellen when she tried to talk to me about it. Having aninvalid to care for, I have to keep my mind bright and happy. But Mr.Welland was terribly upset; he had a slight temperature every morningwhile we were waiting to hear what had been decided. It was the horrorof his girl's learning that such things were possible—but of course,dear Newland, you felt that too. We all knew that you were thinking ofMay."

"I'm always thinking of May," the young man rejoined, rising to cutshort the conversation.

He had meant to seize the opportunity of his private talk with Mrs.Welland to urge her to advance the date of his marriage. But he couldthink of no arguments that would move her, and with a sense of reliefhe saw Mr. Welland and May driving up to the door.

His only hope was to plead again with May, and on the day before hisdeparture he walked with her to the ruinous garden of the SpanishMission. The background lent itself to allusions to European scenes;and May, who was looking her loveliest under a wide-brimmed hat thatcast a shadow of mystery over her too-clear eyes, kindled intoeagerness as he spoke of Granada and the Alhambra.

"We might be seeing it all this spring—even the Easter ceremonies atSeville," he urged, exaggerating his demands in the hope of a largerconcession.

"Easter in Seville? And it will be Lent next week!" she laughed.

"Why shouldn't we be married in Lent?" he rejoined; but she looked soshocked that he saw his mistake.

"Of course I didn't mean that, dearest; but soon after Easter—so thatwe could sail at the end of April. I know I could arrange it at theoffice."

She smiled dreamily upon the possibility; but he perceived that todream of it sufficed her. It was like hearing him read aloud out ofhis poetry books the beautiful things that could not possibly happen inreal life.

"Oh, do go on, Newland; I do love your descriptions."

"But why should they be only descriptions? Why shouldn't we make themreal?"

"We shall, dearest, of course; next year." Her voice lingered over it.

"Don't you want them to be real sooner? Can't I persuade you to breakaway now?"

She bowed her head, vanishing from him under her conniving hat-brim.

"Why should we dream away another year? Look at me, dear! Don't youunderstand how I want you for my wife?"

For a moment she remained motionless; then she raised on him eyes ofsuch despairing dearness that he half-released her waist from his hold.But suddenly her look changed and deepened inscrutably. "I'm not sureif I DO understand," she said. "Is it—is it because you're notcertain of continuing to care for me?"

Archer sprang up from his seat. "My God—perhaps—I don't know," hebroke out angrily.

May Welland rose also; as they faced each other she seemed to grow inwomanly stature and dignity. Both were silent for a moment, as ifdismayed by the unforeseen trend of their words: then she said in a lowvoice: "If that is it—is there some one else?"

"Some one else—between you and me?" He echoed her words slowly, asthough they were only half-intelligible and he wanted time to repeatthe question to himself. She seemed to catch the uncertainty of hisvoice, for she went on in a deepening tone: "Let us talk frankly,Newland. Sometimes I've felt a difference in you; especially since ourengagement has been announced."

"Dear—what madness!" he recovered himself to exclaim.

She met his protest with a faint smile. "If it is, it won't hurt us totalk about it." She paused, and added, lifting her head with one ofher noble movements: "Or even if it's true: why shouldn't we speak ofit? You might so easily have made a mistake."

He lowered his head, staring at the black leaf-pattern on the sunnypath at their feet. "Mistakes are always easy to make; but if I hadmade one of the kind you suggest, is it likely that I should beimploring you to hasten our marriage?"

She looked downward too, disturbing the pattern with the point of hersunshade while she struggled for expression. "Yes," she said atlength. "You might want—once for all—to settle the question: it'sone way."

Her quiet lucidity startled him, but did not mislead him into thinkingher insensible. Under her hat-brim he saw the pallor of her profile,and a slight tremor of the nostril above her resolutely steadied lips.

"Well—?" he questioned, sitting down on the bench, and looking up ather with a frown that he tried to make playful.

She dropped back into her seat and went on: "You mustn't think that agirl knows as little as her parents imagine. One hears and onenotices—one has one's feelings and ideas. And of course, long beforeyou told me that you cared for me, I'd known that there was some oneelse you were interested in; every one was talking about it two yearsago at Newport. And once I saw you sitting together on the verandah ata dance—and when she came back into the house her face was sad, and Ifelt sorry for her; I remembered it afterward, when we were engaged."

Her voice had sunk almost to a whisper, and she sat clasping andunclasping her hands about the handle of her sunshade. The young manlaid his upon them with a gentle pressure; his heart dilated with aninexpressible relief.

"My dear child—was THAT it? If you only knew the truth!"

She raised her head quickly. "Then there is a truth I don't know?"

He kept his hand over hers. "I meant, the truth about the old storyyou speak of."

"But that's what I want to know, Newland—what I ought to know. Icouldn't have my happiness made out of a wrong—an unfairness—tosomebody else. And I want to believe that it would be the same withyou. What sort of a life could we build on such foundations?"

Her face had taken on a look of such tragic courage that he felt likebowing himself down at her feet. "I've wanted to say this for a longtime," she went on. "I've wanted to tell you that, when two peoplereally love each other, I understand that there may be situations whichmake it right that they should—should go against public opinion. Andif you feel yourself in any way pledged ... pledged to the person we'vespoken of ... and if there is any way ... any way in which you canfulfill your pledge ... even by her getting a divorce ... Newland,don't give her up because of me!"

His surprise at discovering that her fears had fastened upon an episodeso remote and so completely of the past as his love-affair with Mrs.Thorley Rushworth gave way to wonder at the generosity of her view.There was something superhuman in an attitude so recklessly unorthodox,and if other problems had not pressed on him he would have been lost inwonder at the prodigy of the Wellands' daughter urging him to marry hisformer mistress. But he was still dizzy with the glimpse of theprecipice they had skirted, and full of a new awe at the mystery ofyoung-girlhood.

For a moment he could not speak; then he said: "There is no pledge—noobligation whatever—of the kind you think. Such cases don'talways—present themselves quite as simply as ... But that's no matter... I love your generosity, because I feel as you do about those things... I feel that each case must be judged individually, on its ownmerits ... irrespective of stupid conventionalities ... I mean, eachwoman's right to her liberty—" He pulled himself up, startled by theturn his thoughts had taken, and went on, looking at her with a smile:"Since you understand so many things, dearest, can't you go a littlefarther, and understand the uselessness of our submitting to anotherform of the same foolish conventionalities? If there's no one andnothing between us, isn't that an argument for marrying quickly, ratherthan for more delay?"

She flushed with joy and lifted her face to his; as he bent to it hesaw that her eyes were full of happy tears. But in another moment sheseemed to have descended from her womanly eminence to helpless andtimorous girlhood; and he understood that her courage and initiativewere all for others, and that she had none for herself. It was evidentthat the effort of speaking had been much greater than her studiedcomposure betrayed, and that at his first word of reassurance she haddropped back into the usual, as a too-adventurous child takes refuge inits mother's arms.

Archer had no heart to go on pleading with her; he was too muchdisappointed at the vanishing of the new being who had cast that onedeep look at him from her transparent eyes. May seemed to be aware ofhis disappointment, but without knowing how to alleviate it; and theystood up and walked silently home.

XVII.

"Your cousin the Countess called on mother while you were away," JaneyArcher announced to her brother on the evening of his return.

The young man, who was dining alone with his mother and sister, glancedup in surprise and saw Mrs. Archer's gaze demurely bent on her plate.Mrs. Archer did not regard her seclusion from the world as a reason forbeing forgotten by it; and Newland guessed that she was slightlyannoyed that he should be surprised by Madame Olenska's visit.

"She had on a black velvet polonaise with jet buttons, and a tiny greenmonkey muff; I never saw her so stylishly dressed," Janey continued."She came alone, early on Sunday afternoon; luckily the fire was lit inthe drawing-room. She had one of those new card-cases. She said shewanted to know us because you'd been so good to her."

Newland laughed. "Madame Olenska always takes that tone about herfriends. She's very happy at being among her own people again."

"Yes, so she told us," said Mrs. Archer. "I must say she seemsthankful to be here."

"I hope you liked her, mother."

Mrs. Archer drew her lips together. "She certainly lays herself out toplease, even when she is calling on an old lady."

"Mother doesn't think her simple," Janey interjected, her eyes screwedupon her brother's face.

"It's just my old-fashioned feeling; dear May is my ideal," said Mrs.Archer.

"Ah," said her son, "they're not alike."


Archer had left St. Augustine charged with many messages for old Mrs.Mingott; and a day or two after his return to town he called on her.

The old lady received him with unusual warmth; she was grateful to himfor persuading the Countess Olenska to give up the idea of a divorce;and when he told her that he had deserted the office without leave, andrushed down to St. Augustine simply because he wanted to see May, shegave an adipose chuckle and patted his knee with her puff-ball hand.

"Ah, ah—so you kicked over the traces, did you? And I suppose Augustaand Welland pulled long faces, and behaved as if the end of the worldhad come? But little May—she knew better, I'll be bound?"

"I hoped she did; but after all she wouldn't agree to what I'd gonedown to ask for."

"Wouldn't she indeed? And what was that?"

"I wanted to get her to promise that we should be married in April.What's the use of our wasting another year?"

Mrs. Manson Mingott screwed up her little mouth into a grimace of mimicprudery and twinkled at him through malicious lids. "'Ask Mamma,' Isuppose—the usual story. Ah, these Mingotts—all alike! Born in arut, and you can't root 'em out of it. When I built this house you'dhave thought I was moving to California! Nobody ever HAD built aboveFortieth Street—no, says I, nor above the Battery either, beforeChristopher Columbus discovered America. No, no; not one of them wantsto be different; they're as scared of it as the small-pox. Ah, my dearMr. Archer, I thank my stars I'm nothing but a vulgar Spicer; butthere's not one of my own children that takes after me but my littleEllen." She broke off, still twinkling at him, and asked, with thecasual irrelevance of old age: "Now, why in the world didn't you marrymy little Ellen?"

Archer laughed. "For one thing, she wasn't there to be married."

"No—to be sure; more's the pity. And now it's too late; her life isfinished." She spoke with the cold-blooded complacency of the agedthrowing earth into the grave of young hopes. The young man's heartgrew chill, and he said hurriedly: "Can't I persuade you to use yourinfluence with the Wellands, Mrs. Mingott? I wasn't made for longengagements."

Old Catherine beamed on him approvingly. "No; I can see that. You'vegot a quick eye. When you were a little boy I've no doubt you liked tobe helped first." She threw back her head with a laugh that made herchins ripple like little waves. "Ah, here's my Ellen now!" sheexclaimed, as the portieres parted behind her.

Madame Olenska came forward with a smile. Her face looked vivid andhappy, and she held out her hand gaily to Archer while she stooped toher grandmother's kiss.

"I was just saying to him, my dear: 'Now, why didn't you marry mylittle Ellen?'"

Madame Olenska looked at Archer, still smiling. "And what did heanswer?"

"Oh, my darling, I leave you to find that out! He's been down toFlorida to see his sweetheart."

"Yes, I know." She still looked at him. "I went to see your mother,to ask where you'd gone. I sent a note that you never answered, and Iwas afraid you were ill."

He muttered something about leaving unexpectedly, in a great hurry, andhaving intended to write to her from St. Augustine.

"And of course once you were there you never thought of me again!" Shecontinued to beam on him with a gaiety that might have been a studiedassumption of indifference.

"If she still needs me, she's determined not to let me see it," hethought, stung by her manner. He wanted to thank her for having beento see his mother, but under the ancestress's malicious eye he felthimself tongue-tied and constrained.

"Look at him—in such hot haste to get married that he took Frenchleave and rushed down to implore the silly girl on his knees! That'ssomething like a lover—that's the way handsome Bob Spicer carried offmy poor mother; and then got tired of her before I was weaned—thoughthey only had to wait eight months for me! But there—you're not aSpicer, young man; luckily for you and for May. It's only my poorEllen that has kept any of their wicked blood; the rest of them are allmodel Mingotts," cried the old lady scornfully.

Archer was aware that Madame Olenska, who had seated herself at hergrandmother's side, was still thoughtfully scrutinising him. Thegaiety had faded from her eyes, and she said with great gentleness:"Surely, Granny, we can persuade them between us to do as he wishes."

Archer rose to go, and as his hand met Madame Olenska's he felt thatshe was waiting for him to make some allusion to her unanswered letter.

"When can I see you?" he asked, as she walked with him to the door ofthe room.

"Whenever you like; but it must be soon if you want to see the littlehouse again. I am moving next week."

A pang shot through him at the memory of his lamplit hours in thelow-studded drawing-room. Few as they had been, they were thick withmemories.

"Tomorrow evening?"

She nodded. "Tomorrow; yes; but early. I'm going out."

The next day was a Sunday, and if she were "going out" on a Sundayevening it could, of course, be only to Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's. Hefelt a slight movement of annoyance, not so much at her going there(for he rather liked her going where she pleased in spite of the vander Luydens), but because it was the kind of house at which she wassure to meet Beaufort, where she must have known beforehand that shewould meet him—and where she was probably going for that purpose.

"Very well; tomorrow evening," he repeated, inwardly resolved that hewould not go early, and that by reaching her door late he would eitherprevent her from going to Mrs. Struthers's, or else arrive after shehad started—which, all things considered, would no doubt be thesimplest solution.


It was only half-past eight, after all, when he rang the bell under thewisteria; not as late as he had intended by half an hour—but asingular restlessness had driven him to her door. He reflected,however, that Mrs. Struthers's Sunday evenings were not like a ball,and that her guests, as if to minimise their delinquency, usually wentearly.

The one thing he had not counted on, in entering Madame Olenska's hall,was to find hats and overcoats there. Why had she bidden him to comeearly if she was having people to dine? On a closer inspection of thegarments besides which Nastasia was laying his own, his resentment gaveway to curiosity. The overcoats were in fact the very strangest he hadever seen under a polite roof; and it took but a glance to assurehimself that neither of them belonged to Julius Beaufort. One was ashaggy yellow ulster of "reach-me-down" cut, the other a very old andrusty cloak with a cape—something like what the French called a"Macfarlane." This garment, which appeared to be made for a person ofprodigious size, had evidently seen long and hard wear, and itsgreenish-black folds gave out a moist sawdusty smell suggestive ofprolonged sessions against bar-room walls. On it lay a ragged greyscarf and an odd felt hat of semiclerical shape.

Archer raised his eyebrows enquiringly at Nastasia, who raised hers inreturn with a fatalistic "Gia!" as she threw open the drawing-room door.

The young man saw at once that his hostess was not in the room; then,with surprise, he discovered another lady standing by the fire. Thislady, who was long, lean and loosely put together, was clad in raimentintricately looped and fringed, with plaids and stripes and bands ofplain colour disposed in a design to which the clue seemed missing.Her hair, which had tried to turn white and only succeeded in fading,was surmounted by a Spanish comb and black lace scarf, and silkmittens, visibly darned, covered her rheumatic hands.

Beside her, in a cloud of cigar-smoke, stood the owners of the twoovercoats, both in morning clothes that they had evidently not takenoff since morning. In one of the two, Archer, to his surprise,recognised Ned Winsett; the other and older, who was unknown to him,and whose gigantic frame declared him to be the wearer of the"Macfarlane," had a feebly leonine head with crumpled grey hair, andmoved his arms with large pawing gestures, as though he weredistributing lay blessings to a kneeling multitude.

These three persons stood together on the hearth-rug, their eyes fixedon an extraordinarily large bouquet of crimson roses, with a knot ofpurple pansies at their base, that lay on the sofa where Madame Olenskausually sat.

"What they must have cost at this season—though of course it's thesentiment one cares about!" the lady was saying in a sighing staccatoas Archer came in.

The three turned with surprise at his appearance, and the lady,advancing, held out her hand.

"Dear Mr. Archer—almost my cousin Newland!" she said. "I am theMarchioness Manson."

Archer bowed, and she continued: "My Ellen has taken me in for a fewdays. I came from Cuba, where I have been spending the winter withSpanish friends—such delightful distinguished people: the highestnobility of old Castile—how I wish you could know them! But I wascalled away by our dear great friend here, Dr. Carver. You don't knowDr. Agathon Carver, founder of the Valley of Love Community?"

Dr. Carver inclined his leonine head, and the Marchioness continued:"Ah, New York—New York—how little the life of the spirit has reachedit! But I see you do know Mr. Winsett."

"Oh, yes—I reached him some time ago; but not by that route," Winsettsaid with his dry smile.

The Marchioness shook her head reprovingly. "How do you know, Mr.Winsett? The spirit bloweth where it listeth."

"List—oh, list!" interjected Dr. Carver in a stentorian murmur.

"But do sit down, Mr. Archer. We four have been having a delightfullittle dinner together, and my child has gone up to dress. She expectsyou; she will be down in a moment. We were just admiring thesemarvellous flowers, which will surprise her when she reappears."

Winsett remained on his feet. "I'm afraid I must be off. Please tellMadame Olenska that we shall all feel lost when she abandons ourstreet. This house has been an oasis."

"Ah, but she won't abandon YOU. Poetry and art are the breath of lifeto her. It IS poetry you write, Mr. Winsett?"

(Video) The Novel and Psychology: Edith Wharton's 'Age of Innocence'

"Well, no; but I sometimes read it," said Winsett, including the groupin a general nod and slipping out of the room.

"A caustic spirit—un peu sauvage. But so witty; Dr. Carver, you DOthink him witty?"

"I never think of wit," said Dr. Carver severely.

"Ah—ah—you never think of wit! How merciless he is to us weakmortals, Mr. Archer! But he lives only in the life of the spirit; andtonight he is mentally preparing the lecture he is to deliver presentlyat Mrs. Blenker's. Dr. Carver, would there be time, before you startfor the Blenkers' to explain to Mr. Archer your illuminating discoveryof the Direct Contact? But no; I see it is nearly nine o'clock, and wehave no right to detain you while so many are waiting for your message."

Dr. Carver looked slightly disappointed at this conclusion, but, havingcompared his ponderous gold time-piece with Madame Olenska's littletravelling-clock, he reluctantly gathered up his mighty limbs fordeparture.

"I shall see you later, dear friend?" he suggested to the Marchioness,who replied with a smile: "As soon as Ellen's carriage comes I willjoin you; I do hope the lecture won't have begun."

Dr. Carver looked thoughtfully at Archer. "Perhaps, if this younggentleman is interested in my experiences, Mrs. Blenker might allow youto bring him with you?"

"Oh, dear friend, if it were possible—I am sure she would be toohappy. But I fear my Ellen counts on Mr. Archer herself."

"That," said Dr. Carver, "is unfortunate—but here is my card." Hehanded it to Archer, who read on it, in Gothic characters:

 +—————————————-+ | Agathon Carver | | The Valley of Love | | Kittasquattamy, N. Y. | +—————————————-+

Dr. Carver bowed himself out, and Mrs. Manson, with a sigh that mighthave been either of regret or relief, again waved Archer to a seat.

"Ellen will be down in a moment; and before she comes, I am so glad ofthis quiet moment with you."

Archer murmured his pleasure at their meeting, and the Marchionesscontinued, in her low sighing accents: "I know everything, dear Mr.Archer—my child has told me all you have done for her. Your wiseadvice: your courageous firmness—thank heaven it was not too late!"

The young man listened with considerable embarrassment. Was there anyone, he wondered, to whom Madame Olenska had not proclaimed hisintervention in her private affairs?

"Madame Olenska exaggerates; I simply gave her a legal opinion, as sheasked me to."

"Ah, but in doing it—in doing it you were the unconscious instrumentof—of—what word have we moderns for Providence, Mr. Archer?" criedthe lady, tilting her head on one side and drooping her lidsmysteriously. "Little did you know that at that very moment I wasbeing appealed to: being approached, in fact—from the other side ofthe Atlantic!"

She glanced over her shoulder, as though fearful of being overheard,and then, drawing her chair nearer, and raising a tiny ivory fan to herlips, breathed behind it: "By the Count himself—my poor, mad, foolishOlenski; who asks only to take her back on her own terms."

"Good God!" Archer exclaimed, springing up.

"You are horrified? Yes, of course; I understand. I don't defend poorStanislas, though he has always called me his best friend. He does notdefend himself—he casts himself at her feet: in my person." Shetapped her emaciated bosom. "I have his letter here."

"A letter?—Has Madame Olenska seen it?" Archer stammered, his brainwhirling with the shock of the announcement.

The Marchioness Manson shook her head softly. "Time—time; I must havetime. I know my Ellen—haughty, intractable; shall I say, just a shadeunforgiving?"

"But, good heavens, to forgive is one thing; to go back into thathell—"

"Ah, yes," the Marchioness acquiesced. "So she describes it—mysensitive child! But on the material side, Mr. Archer, if one maystoop to consider such things; do you know what she is giving up?Those roses there on the sofa—acres like them, under glass and in theopen, in his matchless terraced gardens at Nice! Jewels—historicpearls: the Sobieski emeralds—sables,—but she cares nothing for allthese! Art and beauty, those she does care for, she lives for, as Ialways have; and those also surrounded her. Pictures, pricelessfurniture, music, brilliant conversation—ah, that, my dear young man,if you'll excuse me, is what you've no conception of here! And she hadit all; and the homage of the greatest. She tells me she is notthought handsome in New York—good heavens! Her portrait has beenpainted nine times; the greatest artists in Europe have begged for theprivilege. Are these things nothing? And the remorse of an adoringhusband?"

As the Marchioness Manson rose to her climax her face assumed anexpression of ecstatic retrospection which would have moved Archer'smirth had he not been numb with amazement.

He would have laughed if any one had foretold to him that his firstsight of poor Medora Manson would have been in the guise of a messengerof Satan; but he was in no mood for laughing now, and she seemed to himto come straight out of the hell from which Ellen Olenska had justescaped.

"She knows nothing yet—of all this?" he asked abruptly.

Mrs. Manson laid a purple finger on her lips. "Nothing directly—butdoes she suspect? Who can tell? The truth is, Mr. Archer, I have beenwaiting to see you. From the moment I heard of the firm stand you hadtaken, and of your influence over her, I hoped it might be possible tocount on your support—to convince you ..."

"That she ought to go back? I would rather see her dead!" cried theyoung man violently.

"Ah," the Marchioness murmured, without visible resentment. For awhile she sat in her arm-chair, opening and shutting the absurd ivoryfan between her mittened fingers; but suddenly she lifted her head andlistened.

"Here she comes," she said in a rapid whisper; and then, pointing tothe bouquet on the sofa: "Am I to understand that you prefer THAT, Mr.Archer? After all, marriage is marriage ... and my niece is still awife..."

XVIII.

"What are you two plotting together, aunt Medora?" Madame Olenska criedas she came into the room.

She was dressed as if for a ball. Everything about her shimmered andglimmered softly, as if her dress had been woven out of candle-beams;and she carried her head high, like a pretty woman challenging aroomful of rivals.

"We were saying, my dear, that here was something beautiful to surpriseyou with," Mrs. Manson rejoined, rising to her feet and pointing archlyto the flowers.

Madame Olenska stopped short and looked at the bouquet. Her colour didnot change, but a sort of white radiance of anger ran over her likesummer lightning. "Ah," she exclaimed, in a shrill voice that theyoung man had never heard, "who is ridiculous enough to send me abouquet? Why a bouquet? And why tonight of all nights? I am notgoing to a ball; I am not a girl engaged to be married. But somepeople are always ridiculous."

She turned back to the door, opened it, and called out: "Nastasia!"

The ubiquitous handmaiden promptly appeared, and Archer heard MadameOlenska say, in an Italian that she seemed to pronounce withintentional deliberateness in order that he might follow it:"Here—throw this into the dustbin!" and then, as Nastasia staredprotestingly: "But no—it's not the fault of the poor flowers. Tellthe boy to carry them to the house three doors away, the house of Mr.Winsett, the dark gentleman who dined here. His wife is ill—they maygive her pleasure ... The boy is out, you say? Then, my dear one, runyourself; here, put my cloak over you and fly. I want the thing out ofthe house immediately! And, as you live, don't say they come from me!"

She flung her velvet opera cloak over the maid's shoulders and turnedback into the drawing-room, shutting the door sharply. Her bosom wasrising high under its lace, and for a moment Archer thought she wasabout to cry; but she burst into a laugh instead, and looking from theMarchioness to Archer, asked abruptly: "And you two—have you madefriends!"

"It's for Mr. Archer to say, darling; he has waited patiently while youwere dressing."

"Yes—I gave you time enough: my hair wouldn't go," Madame Olenskasaid, raising her hand to the heaped-up curls of her chignon. "Butthat reminds me: I see Dr. Carver is gone, and you'll be late at theBlenkers'. Mr. Archer, will you put my aunt in the carriage?"

She followed the Marchioness into the hall, saw her fitted into amiscellaneous heap of overshoes, shawls and tippets, and called fromthe doorstep: "Mind, the carriage is to be back for me at ten!" Thenshe returned to the drawing-room, where Archer, on re-entering it,found her standing by the mantelpiece, examining herself in the mirror.It was not usual, in New York society, for a lady to address herparlour-maid as "my dear one," and send her out on an errand wrapped inher own opera-cloak; and Archer, through all his deeper feelings,tasted the pleasurable excitement of being in a world where actionfollowed on emotion with such Olympian speed.

Madame Olenska did not move when he came up behind her, and for asecond their eyes met in the mirror; then she turned, threw herselfinto her sofa-corner, and sighed out: "There's time for a cigarette."

He handed her the box and lit a spill for her; and as the flame flashedup into her face she glanced at him with laughing eyes and said: "Whatdo you think of me in a temper?"

Archer paused a moment; then he answered with sudden resolution: "Itmakes me understand what your aunt has been saying about you."

"I knew she'd been talking about me. Well?"

"She said you were used to all kinds of things—splendours andamusements and excitements—that we could never hope to give you here."

Madame Olenska smiled faintly into the circle of smoke about her lips.

"Medora is incorrigibly romantic. It has made up to her for so manythings!"

Archer hesitated again, and again took his risk. "Is your aunt'sromanticism always consistent with accuracy?"

"You mean: does she speak the truth?" Her niece considered. "Well,I'll tell you: in almost everything she says, there's something trueand something untrue. But why do you ask? What has she been tellingyou?"

He looked away into the fire, and then back at her shining presence.His heart tightened with the thought that this was their last eveningby that fireside, and that in a moment the carriage would come to carryher away.

"She says—she pretends that Count Olenski has asked her to persuadeyou to go back to him."

Madame Olenska made no answer. She sat motionless, holding hercigarette in her half-lifted hand. The expression of her face had notchanged; and Archer remembered that he had before noticed her apparentincapacity for surprise.

"You knew, then?" he broke out.

She was silent for so long that the ash dropped from her cigarette.She brushed it to the floor. "She has hinted about a letter: poordarling! Medora's hints—"

"Is it at your husband's request that she has arrived here suddenly?"

Madame Olenska seemed to consider this question also. "There again:one can't tell. She told me she had had a 'spiritual summons,'whatever that is, from Dr. Carver. I'm afraid she's going to marry Dr.Carver ... poor Medora, there's always some one she wants to marry.But perhaps the people in Cuba just got tired of her! I think she waswith them as a sort of paid companion. Really, I don't know why shecame."

"But you do believe she has a letter from your husband?"

Again Madame Olenska brooded silently; then she said: "After all, itwas to be expected."

The young man rose and went to lean against the fireplace. A suddenrestlessness possessed him, and he was tongue-tied by the sense thattheir minutes were numbered, and that at any moment he might hear thewheels of the returning carriage.

"You know that your aunt believes you will go back?"

Madame Olenska raised her head quickly. A deep blush rose to her faceand spread over her neck and shoulders. She blushed seldom andpainfully, as if it hurt her like a burn.

"Many cruel things have been believed of me," she said.

"Oh, Ellen—forgive me; I'm a fool and a brute!"

She smiled a little. "You are horribly nervous; you have your owntroubles. I know you think the Wellands are unreasonable about yourmarriage, and of course I agree with you. In Europe people don'tunderstand our long American engagements; I suppose they are not ascalm as we are." She pronounced the "we" with a faint emphasis thatgave it an ironic sound.

Archer felt the irony but did not dare to take it up. After all, shehad perhaps purposely deflected the conversation from her own affairs,and after the pain his last words had evidently caused her he felt thatall he could do was to follow her lead. But the sense of the waninghour made him desperate: he could not bear the thought that a barrierof words should drop between them again.

"Yes," he said abruptly; "I went south to ask May to marry me afterEaster. There's no reason why we shouldn't be married then."

"And May adores you—and yet you couldn't convince her? I thought hertoo intelligent to be the slave of such absurd superstitions."

"She IS too intelligent—she's not their slave."

Madame Olenska looked at him. "Well, then—I don't understand."

Archer reddened, and hurried on with a rush. "We had a franktalk—almost the first. She thinks my impatience a bad sign."

"Merciful heavens—a bad sign?"

"She thinks it means that I can't trust myself to go on caring for her.She thinks, in short, I want to marry her at once to get away from someone that I—care for more."

Madame Olenska examined this curiously. "But if she thinks that—whyisn't she in a hurry too?"

"Because she's not like that: she's so much nobler. She insists allthe more on the long engagement, to give me time—"

"Time to give her up for the other woman?"

"If I want to."

Madame Olenska leaned toward the fire and gazed into it with fixedeyes. Down the quiet street Archer heard the approaching trot of herhorses.

"That IS noble," she said, with a slight break in her voice.

"Yes. But it's ridiculous."

"Ridiculous? Because you don't care for any one else?"

"Because I don't mean to marry any one else."

"Ah." There was another long interval. At length she looked up at himand asked: "This other woman—does she love you?"

"Oh, there's no other woman; I mean, the person that May was thinkingof is—was never—"

"Then, why, after all, are you in such haste?"

"There's your carriage," said Archer.

She half-rose and looked about her with absent eyes. Her fan andgloves lay on the sofa beside her and she picked them up mechanically.

"Yes; I suppose I must be going."

"You're going to Mrs. Struthers's?"

"Yes." She smiled and added: "I must go where I am invited, or Ishould be too lonely. Why not come with me?"

Archer felt that at any cost he must keep her beside him, must make hergive him the rest of her evening. Ignoring her question, he continuedto lean against the chimney-piece, his eyes fixed on the hand in whichshe held her gloves and fan, as if watching to see if he had the powerto make her drop them.

"May guessed the truth," he said. "There is another woman—but not theone she thinks."

Ellen Olenska made no answer, and did not move. After a moment he satdown beside her, and, taking her hand, softly unclasped it, so that thegloves and fan fell on the sofa between them.

She started up, and freeing herself from him moved away to the otherside of the hearth. "Ah, don't make love to me! Too many people havedone that," she said, frowning.

Archer, changing colour, stood up also: it was the bitterest rebuke shecould have given him. "I have never made love to you," he said, "and Inever shall. But you are the woman I would have married if it had beenpossible for either of us."

"Possible for either of us?" She looked at him with unfeignedastonishment. "And you say that—when it's you who've made itimpossible?"

He stared at her, groping in a blackness through which a single arrowof light tore its blinding way.

"I'VE made it impossible—?"

"You, you, YOU!" she cried, her lip trembling like a child's on theverge of tears. "Isn't it you who made me give up divorcing—give itup because you showed me how selfish and wicked it was, how one mustsacrifice one's self to preserve the dignity of marriage ... and tospare one's family the publicity, the scandal? And because my familywas going to be your family—for May's sake and for yours—I did whatyou told me, what you proved to me that I ought to do. Ah," she brokeout with a sudden laugh, "I've made no secret of having done it foryou!"

She sank down on the sofa again, crouching among the festive ripples ofher dress like a stricken masquerader; and the young man stood by thefireplace and continued to gaze at her without moving.

"Good God," he groaned. "When I thought—"

"You thought?"

"Ah, don't ask me what I thought!"

Still looking at her, he saw the same burning flush creep up her neckto her face. She sat upright, facing him with a rigid dignity.

"I do ask you."

"Well, then: there were things in that letter you asked me to read—"

"My husband's letter?"

"Yes."

"I had nothing to fear from that letter: absolutely nothing! All Ifeared was to bring notoriety, scandal, on the family—on you and May."

"Good God," he groaned again, bowing his face in his hands.

The silence that followed lay on them with the weight of things finaland irrevocable. It seemed to Archer to be crushing him down like hisown grave-stone; in all the wide future he saw nothing that would everlift that load from his heart. He did not move from his place, orraise his head from his hands; his hidden eyeballs went on staring intoutter darkness.

"At least I loved you—" he brought out.

On the other side of the hearth, from the sofa-corner where he supposedthat she still crouched, he heard a faint stifled crying like achild's. He started up and came to her side.

"Ellen! What madness! Why are you crying? Nothing's done that can'tbe undone. I'm still free, and you're going to be." He had her in hisarms, her face like a wet flower at his lips, and all their vainterrors shrivelling up like ghosts at sunrise. The one thing thatastonished him now was that he should have stood for five minutesarguing with her across the width of the room, when just touching hermade everything so simple.

She gave him back all his kiss, but after a moment he felt herstiffening in his arms, and she put him aside and stood up.

"Ah, my poor Newland—I suppose this had to be. But it doesn't in theleast alter things," she said, looking down at him in her turn from thehearth.

"It alters the whole of life for me."

"No, no—it mustn't, it can't. You're engaged to May Welland; and I'mmarried."

He stood up too, flushed and resolute. "Nonsense! It's too late forthat sort of thing. We've no right to lie to other people or toourselves. We won't talk of your marriage; but do you see me marryingMay after this?"

She stood silent, resting her thin elbows on the mantelpiece, herprofile reflected in the glass behind her. One of the locks of herchignon had become loosened and hung on her neck; she looked haggardand almost old.

"I don't see you," she said at length, "putting that question to May.Do you?"

He gave a reckless shrug. "It's too late to do anything else."

"You say that because it's the easiest thing to say at this moment—notbecause it's true. In reality it's too late to do anything but whatwe'd both decided on."

"Ah, I don't understand you!"

She forced a pitiful smile that pinched her face instead of smoothingit. "You don't understand because you haven't yet guessed how you'vechanged things for me: oh, from the first—long before I knew all you'ddone."

"All I'd done?"

"Yes. I was perfectly unconscious at first that people here were shyof me—that they thought I was a dreadful sort of person. It seemsthey had even refused to meet me at dinner. I found that outafterward; and how you'd made your mother go with you to the van derLuydens'; and how you'd insisted on announcing your engagement at theBeaufort ball, so that I might have two families to stand by me insteadof one—"

At that he broke into a laugh.

"Just imagine," she said, "how stupid and unobservant I was! I knewnothing of all this till Granny blurted it out one day. New Yorksimply meant peace and freedom to me: it was coming home. And I was sohappy at being among my own people that every one I met seemed kind andgood, and glad to see me. But from the very beginning," she continued,"I felt there was no one as kind as you; no one who gave me reasonsthat I understood for doing what at first seemed so hardand—unnecessary. The very good people didn't convince me; I feltthey'd never been tempted. But you knew; you understood; you had feltthe world outside tugging at one with all its golden hands—and yet youhated the things it asks of one; you hated happiness bought bydisloyalty and cruelty and indifference. That was what I'd never knownbefore—and it's better than anything I've known."

She spoke in a low even voice, without tears or visible agitation; andeach word, as it dropped from her, fell into his breast like burninglead. He sat bowed over, his head between his hands, staring at thehearthrug, and at the tip of the satin shoe that showed under herdress. Suddenly he knelt down and kissed the shoe.

She bent over him, laying her hands on his shoulders, and looking athim with eyes so deep that he remained motionless under her gaze.

"Ah, don't let us undo what you've done!" she cried. "I can't go backnow to that other way of thinking. I can't love you unless I give youup."

His arms were yearning up to her; but she drew away, and they remainedfacing each other, divided by the distance that her words had created.Then, abruptly, his anger overflowed.

"And Beaufort? Is he to replace me?"

As the words sprang out he was prepared for an answering flare ofanger; and he would have welcomed it as fuel for his own. But MadameOlenska only grew a shade paler, and stood with her arms hanging downbefore her, and her head slightly bent, as her way was when shepondered a question.

"He's waiting for you now at Mrs. Struthers's; why don't you go tohim?" Archer sneered.

She turned to ring the bell. "I shall not go out this evening; tellthe carriage to go and fetch the Signora Marchesa," she said when themaid came.

After the door had closed again Archer continued to look at her withbitter eyes. "Why this sacrifice? Since you tell me that you'relonely I've no right to keep you from your friends."

She smiled a little under her wet lashes. "I shan't be lonely now. IWAS lonely; I WAS afraid. But the emptiness and the darkness are gone;when I turn back into myself now I'm like a child going at night into aroom where there's always a light."

Her tone and her look still enveloped her in a soft inaccessibility,and Archer groaned out again: "I don't understand you!"

"Yet you understand May!"

He reddened under the retort, but kept his eyes on her. "May is readyto give me up."

"What! Three days after you've entreated her on your knees to hastenyour marriage?"

"She's refused; that gives me the right—"

"Ah, you've taught me what an ugly word that is," she said.

He turned away with a sense of utter weariness. He felt as though hehad been struggling for hours up the face of a steep precipice, andnow, just as he had fought his way to the top, his hold had given wayand he was pitching down headlong into darkness.

If he could have got her in his arms again he might have swept away herarguments; but she still held him at a distance by somethinginscrutably aloof in her look and attitude, and by his own awed senseof her sincerity. At length he began to plead again.

"If we do this now it will be worse afterward—worse for every one—"

"No—no—no!" she almost screamed, as if he frightened her.

At that moment the bell sent a long tinkle through the house. They hadheard no carriage stopping at the door, and they stood motionless,looking at each other with startled eyes.

Outside, Nastasia's step crossed the hall, the outer door opened, and amoment later she came in carrying a telegram which she handed to theCountess Olenska.

"The lady was very happy at the flowers," Nastasia said, smoothing herapron. "She thought it was her signor marito who had sent them, andshe cried a little and said it was a folly."

Her mistress smiled and took the yellow envelope. She tore it open andcarried it to the lamp; then, when the door had closed again, shehanded the telegram to Archer.

It was dated from St. Augustine, and addressed to the Countess Olenska.In it he read: "Granny's telegram successful. Papa and Mamma agreemarriage after Easter. Am telegraphing Newland. Am too happy forwords and love you dearly. Your grateful May."


Half an hour later, when Archer unlocked his own front-door, he found asimilar envelope on the hall-table on top of his pile of notes andletters. The message inside the envelope was also from May Welland,and ran as follows: "Parents consent wedding Tuesday after Easter attwelve Grace Church eight bridesmaids please see Rector so happy loveMay."

Archer crumpled up the yellow sheet as if the gesture could annihilatethe news it contained. Then he pulled out a small pocket-diary andturned over the pages with trembling fingers; but he did not find whathe wanted, and cramming the telegram into his pocket he mounted thestairs.

A light was shining through the door of the little hall-room whichserved Janey as a dressing-room and boudoir, and her brother rappedimpatiently on the panel. The door opened, and his sister stood beforehim in her immemorial purple flannel dressing-gown, with her hair "onpins." Her face looked pale and apprehensive.

"Newland! I hope there's no bad news in that telegram? I waited onpurpose, in case—" (No item of his correspondence was safe fromJaney.)

He took no notice of her question. "Look here—what day is Easter thisyear?"

She looked shocked at such unchristian ignorance. "Easter? Newland!Why, of course, the first week in April. Why?"

"The first week?" He turned again to the pages of his diary,calculating rapidly under his breath. "The first week, did you say?"He threw back his head with a long laugh.

"For mercy's sake what's the matter?"

"Nothing's the matter, except that I'm going to be married in a month."

Janey fell upon his neck and pressed him to her purple flannel breast."Oh Newland, how wonderful! I'm so glad! But, dearest, why do youkeep on laughing? Do hush, or you'll wake Mamma."

Book II

XIX.

The day was fresh, with a lively spring wind full of dust. All the oldladies in both families had got out their faded sables and yellowingermines, and the smell of camphor from the front pews almost smotheredthe faint spring scent of the lilies banking the altar.

Newland Archer, at a signal from the sexton, had come out of the vestryand placed himself with his best man on the chancel step of GraceChurch.

The signal meant that the brougham bearing the bride and her father wasin sight; but there was sure to be a considerable interval ofadjustment and consultation in the lobby, where the bridesmaids werealready hovering like a cluster of Easter blossoms. During thisunavoidable lapse of time the bridegroom, in proof of his eagerness,was expected to expose himself alone to the gaze of the assembledcompany; and Archer had gone through this formality as resignedly asthrough all the others which made of a nineteenth century New Yorkwedding a rite that seemed to belong to the dawn of history.Everything was equally easy—or equally painful, as one chose to putit—in the path he was committed to tread, and he had obeyed theflurried injunctions of his best man as piously as other bridegroomshad obeyed his own, in the days when he had guided them through thesame labyrinth.

So far he was reasonably sure of having fulfilled all his obligations.The bridesmaids' eight bouquets of white lilac and lilies-of-the-valleyhad been sent in due time, as well as the gold and sapphiresleeve-links of the eight ushers and the best man's cat's-eyescarf-pin; Archer had sat up half the night trying to vary the wordingof his thanks for the last batch of presents from men friends andex-lady-loves; the fees for the Bishop and the Rector were safely inthe pocket of his best man; his own luggage was already at Mrs. MansonMingott's, where the wedding-breakfast was to take place, and so werethe travelling clothes into which he was to change; and a privatecompartment had been engaged in the train that was to carry the youngcouple to their unknown destination—concealment of the spot in whichthe bridal night was to be spent being one of the most sacred taboos ofthe prehistoric ritual.

"Got the ring all right?" whispered young van der Luyden Newland, whowas inexperienced in the duties of a best man, and awed by the weightof his responsibility.

Archer made the gesture which he had seen so many bridegrooms make:with his ungloved right hand he felt in the pocket of his dark greywaistcoat, and assured himself that the little gold circlet (engravedinside: Newland to May, April —-, 187-) was in its place; then,resuming his former attitude, his tall hat and pearl-grey gloves withblack stitchings grasped in his left hand, he stood looking at the doorof the church.

Overhead, Handel's March swelled pompously through the imitation stonevaulting, carrying on its waves the faded drift of the many weddings atwhich, with cheerful indifference, he had stood on the same chancelstep watching other brides float up the nave toward other bridegrooms.

"How like a first night at the Opera!" he thought, recognising all thesame faces in the same boxes (no, pews), and wondering if, when theLast Trump sounded, Mrs. Selfridge Merry would be there with the sametowering ostrich feathers in her bonnet, and Mrs. Beaufort with thesame diamond earrings and the same smile—and whether suitableproscenium seats were already prepared for them in another world.

After that there was still time to review, one by one, the familiarcountenances in the first rows; the women's sharp with curiosity andexcitement, the men's sulky with the obligation of having to put ontheir frock-coats before luncheon, and fight for food at thewedding-breakfast.

"Too bad the breakfast is at old Catherine's," the bridegroom couldfancy Reggie Chivers saying. "But I'm told that Lovell Mingottinsisted on its being cooked by his own chef, so it ought to be good ifone can only get at it." And he could imagine Sillerton Jackson addingwith authority: "My dear fellow, haven't you heard? It's to be servedat small tables, in the new English fashion."

Archer's eyes lingered a moment on the left-hand pew, where his mother,who had entered the church on Mr. Henry van der Luyden's arm, satweeping softly under her Chantilly veil, her hands in her grandmother'sermine muff.

"Poor Janey!" he thought, looking at his sister, "even by screwing herhead around she can see only the people in the few front pews; andthey're mostly dowdy Newlands and Dagonets."

On the hither side of the white ribbon dividing off the seats reservedfor the families he saw Beaufort, tall and redfaced, scrutinising thewomen with his arrogant stare. Beside him sat his wife, all silverychinchilla and violets; and on the far side of the ribbon, LawrenceLefferts's sleekly brushed head seemed to mount guard over theinvisible deity of "Good Form" who presided at the ceremony.

Archer wondered how many flaws Lefferts's keen eyes would discover inthe ritual of his divinity; then he suddenly recalled that he too hadonce thought such questions important. The things that had filled hisdays seemed now like a nursery parody of life, or like the wrangles ofmediaeval schoolmen over metaphysical terms that nobody had everunderstood. A stormy discussion as to whether the wedding presentsshould be "shown" had darkened the last hours before the wedding; andit seemed inconceivable to Archer that grown-up people should workthemselves into a state of agitation over such trifles, and that thematter should have been decided (in the negative) by Mrs. Welland'ssaying, with indignant tears: "I should as soon turn the reportersloose in my house." Yet there was a time when Archer had had definiteand rather aggressive opinions on all such problems, and wheneverything concerning the manners and customs of his little tribe hadseemed to him fraught with world-wide significance.

"And all the while, I suppose," he thought, "real people were livingsomewhere, and real things happening to them ..."

"THERE THEY COME!" breathed the best man excitedly; but the bridegroomknew better.

The cautious opening of the door of the church meant only that Mr.Brown the livery-stable keeper (gowned in black in his intermittentcharacter of sexton) was taking a preliminary survey of the scenebefore marshalling his forces. The door was softly shut again; thenafter another interval it swung majestically open, and a murmur ranthrough the church: "The family!"

Mrs. Welland came first, on the arm of her eldest son. Her large pinkface was appropriately solemn, and her plum-coloured satin with paleblue side-panels, and blue ostrich plumes in a small satin bonnet, metwith general approval; but before she had settled herself with astately rustle in the pew opposite Mrs. Archer's the spectators werecraning their necks to see who was coming after her. Wild rumours hadbeen abroad the day before to the effect that Mrs. Manson Mingott, inspite of her physical disabilities, had resolved on being present atthe ceremony; and the idea was so much in keeping with her sportingcharacter that bets ran high at the clubs as to her being able to walkup the nave and squeeze into a seat. It was known that she hadinsisted on sending her own carpenter to look into the possibility oftaking down the end panel of the front pew, and to measure the spacebetween the seat and the front; but the result had been discouraging,and for one anxious day her family had watched her dallying with theplan of being wheeled up the nave in her enormous Bath chair andsitting enthroned in it at the foot of the chancel.

The idea of this monstrous exposure of her person was so painful to herrelations that they could have covered with gold the ingenious personwho suddenly discovered that the chair was too wide to pass between theiron uprights of the awning which extended from the church door to thecurbstone. The idea of doing away with this awning, and revealing thebride to the mob of dressmakers and newspaper reporters who stoodoutside fighting to get near the joints of the canvas, exceeded evenold Catherine's courage, though for a moment she had weighed thepossibility. "Why, they might take a photograph of my child AND PUT ITIN THE PAPERS!" Mrs. Welland exclaimed when her mother's last plan washinted to her; and from this unthinkable indecency the clan recoiledwith a collective shudder. The ancestress had had to give in; but herconcession was bought only by the promise that the wedding-breakfastshould take place under her roof, though (as the Washington Squareconnection said) with the Wellands' house in easy reach it was hard tohave to make a special price with Brown to drive one to the other endof nowhere.

Though all these transactions had been widely reported by the Jacksonsa sporting minority still clung to the belief that old Catherine wouldappear in church, and there was a distinct lowering of the temperaturewhen she was found to have been replaced by her daughter-in-law. Mrs.Lovell Mingott had the high colour and glassy stare induced in ladiesof her age and habit by the effort of getting into a new dress; butonce the disappointment occasioned by her mother-in-law'snon-appearance had subsided, it was agreed that her black Chantillyover lilac satin, with a bonnet of Parma violets, formed the happiestcontrast to Mrs. Welland's blue and plum-colour. Far different was theimpression produced by the gaunt and mincing lady who followed on Mr.Mingott's arm, in a wild dishevelment of stripes and fringes andfloating scarves; and as this last apparition glided into view Archer'sheart contracted and stopped beating.

He had taken it for granted that the Marchioness Manson was still inWashington, where she had gone some four weeks previously with herniece, Madame Olenska. It was generally understood that their abruptdeparture was due to Madame Olenska's desire to remove her aunt fromthe baleful eloquence of Dr. Agathon Carver, who had nearly succeededin enlisting her as a recruit for the Valley of Love; and in thecircumstances no one had expected either of the ladies to return forthe wedding. For a moment Archer stood with his eyes fixed on Medora'sfantastic figure, straining to see who came behind her; but the littleprocession was at an end, for all the lesser members of the family hadtaken their seats, and the eight tall ushers, gathering themselvestogether like birds or insects preparing for some migratory manoeuvre,were already slipping through the side doors into the lobby.

"Newland—I say: SHE'S HERE!" the best man whispered.

Archer roused himself with a start.

A long time had apparently passed since his heart had stopped beating,for the white and rosy procession was in fact half way up the nave, theBishop, the Rector and two white-winged assistants were hovering aboutthe flower-banked altar, and the first chords of the Spohr symphonywere strewing their flower-like notes before the bride.

Archer opened his eyes (but could they really have been shut, as heimagined?), and felt his heart beginning to resume its usual task. Themusic, the scent of the lilies on the altar, the vision of the cloud oftulle and orange-blossoms floating nearer and nearer, the sight of Mrs.Archer's face suddenly convulsed with happy sobs, the low benedictorymurmur of the Rector's voice, the ordered evolutions of the eight pinkbridesmaids and the eight black ushers: all these sights, sounds andsensations, so familiar in themselves, so unutterably strange andmeaningless in his new relation to them, were confusedly mingled in hisbrain.

"My God," he thought, "HAVE I got the ring?"—and once more he wentthrough the bridegroom's convulsive gesture.

Then, in a moment, May was beside him, such radiance streaming from herthat it sent a faint warmth through his numbness, and he straightenedhimself and smiled into her eyes.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here," the Rector began ...

The ring was on her hand, the Bishop's benediction had been given, thebridesmaids were a-poise to resume their place in the procession, andthe organ was showing preliminary symptoms of breaking out into theMendelssohn March, without which no newly-wedded couple had everemerged upon New York.

"Your arm—I SAY, GIVE HER YOUR ARM!" young Newland nervously hissed;and once more Archer became aware of having been adrift far off in theunknown. What was it that had sent him there, he wondered? Perhapsthe glimpse, among the anonymous spectators in the transept, of a darkcoil of hair under a hat which, a moment later, revealed itself asbelonging to an unknown lady with a long nose, so laughably unlike theperson whose image she had evoked that he asked himself if he werebecoming subject to hallucinations.

And now he and his wife were pacing slowly down the nave, carriedforward on the light Mendelssohn ripples, the spring day beckoning tothem through widely opened doors, and Mrs. Welland's chestnuts, withbig white favours on their frontlets, curvetting and showing off at thefar end of the canvas tunnel.

The footman, who had a still bigger white favour on his lapel, wrappedMay's white cloak about her, and Archer jumped into the brougham at herside. She turned to him with a triumphant smile and their handsclasped under her veil.

"Darling!" Archer said—and suddenly the same black abyss yawned beforehim and he felt himself sinking into it, deeper and deeper, while hisvoice rambled on smoothly and cheerfully: "Yes, of course I thoughtI'd lost the ring; no wedding would be complete if the poor devil of abridegroom didn't go through that. But you DID keep me waiting, youknow! I had time to think of every horror that might possibly happen."

She surprised him by turning, in full Fifth Avenue, and flinging herarms about his neck. "But none ever CAN happen now, can it, Newland,as long as we two are together?"


Every detail of the day had been so carefully thought out that theyoung couple, after the wedding-breakfast, had ample time to put ontheir travelling-clothes, descend the wide Mingott stairs betweenlaughing bridesmaids and weeping parents, and get into the broughamunder the traditional shower of rice and satin slippers; and there wasstill half an hour left in which to drive to the station, buy the lastweeklies at the bookstall with the air of seasoned travellers, andsettle themselves in the reserved compartment in which May's maid hadalready placed her dove-coloured travelling cloak and glaringly newdressing-bag from London.

The old du Lac aunts at Rhinebeck had put their house at the disposalof the bridal couple, with a readiness inspired by the prospect ofspending a week in New York with Mrs. Archer; and Archer, glad toescape the usual "bridal suite" in a Philadelphia or Baltimore hotel,had accepted with an equal alacrity.

May was enchanted at the idea of going to the country, and childishlyamused at the vain efforts of the eight bridesmaids to discover wheretheir mysterious retreat was situated. It was thought "very English"to have a country-house lent to one, and the fact gave a last touch ofdistinction to what was generally conceded to be the most brilliantwedding of the year; but where the house was no one was permitted toknow, except the parents of bride and groom, who, when taxed with theknowledge, pursed their lips and said mysteriously: "Ah, they didn'ttell us—" which was manifestly true, since there was no need to.

Once they were settled in their compartment, and the train, shaking offthe endless wooden suburbs, had pushed out into the pale landscape ofspring, talk became easier than Archer had expected. May was still, inlook and tone, the simple girl of yesterday, eager to compare noteswith him as to the incidents of the wedding, and discussing them asimpartially as a bridesmaid talking it all over with an usher. Atfirst Archer had fancied that this detachment was the disguise of aninward tremor; but her clear eyes revealed only the most tranquilunawareness. She was alone for the first time with her husband; buther husband was only the charming comrade of yesterday. There was noone whom she liked as much, no one whom she trusted as completely, andthe culminating "lark" of the whole delightful adventure of engagementand marriage was to be off with him alone on a journey, like a grownupperson, like a "married woman," in fact.

It was wonderful that—as he had learned in the Mission garden at St.Augustine—such depths of feeling could coexist with such absence ofimagination. But he remembered how, even then, she had surprised himby dropping back to inexpressive girlishness as soon as her consciencehad been eased of its burden; and he saw that she would probably gothrough life dealing to the best of her ability with each experience asit came, but never anticipating any by so much as a stolen glance.

Perhaps that faculty of unawareness was what gave her eyes theirtransparency, and her face the look of representing a type rather thana person; as if she might have been chosen to pose for a Civic Virtueor a Greek goddess. The blood that ran so close to her fair skin mighthave been a preserving fluid rather than a ravaging element; yet herlook of indestructible youthfulness made her seem neither hard nordull, but only primitive and pure. In the thick of this meditationArcher suddenly felt himself looking at her with the startled gaze of astranger, and plunged into a reminiscence of the wedding-breakfast andof Granny Mingott's immense and triumphant pervasion of it.

May settled down to frank enjoyment of the subject. "I was surprised,though—weren't you?—that aunt Medora came after all. Ellen wrotethat they were neither of them well enough to take the journey; I dowish it had been she who had recovered! Did you see the exquisite oldlace she sent me?"

He had known that the moment must come sooner or later, but he hadsomewhat imagined that by force of willing he might hold it at bay.

"Yes—I—no: yes, it was beautiful," he said, looking at her blindly,and wondering if, whenever he heard those two syllables, all hiscarefully built-up world would tumble about him like a house of cards.

"Aren't you tired? It will be good to have some tea when wearrive—I'm sure the aunts have got everything beautifully ready," herattled on, taking her hand in his; and her mind rushed away instantlyto the magnificent tea and coffee service of Baltimore silver which theBeauforts had sent, and which "went" so perfectly with uncle LovellMingott's trays and side-dishes.

In the spring twilight the train stopped at the Rhinebeck station, andthey walked along the platform to the waiting carriage.

"Ah, how awfully kind of the van der Luydens—they've sent their manover from Skuytercliff to meet us," Archer exclaimed, as a sedateperson out of livery approached them and relieved the maid of her bags.

"I'm extremely sorry, sir," said this emissary, "that a little accidenthas occurred at the Miss du Lacs': a leak in the water-tank. Ithappened yesterday, and Mr. van der Luyden, who heard of it thismorning, sent a housemaid up by the early train to get the Patroon'shouse ready. It will be quite comfortable, I think you'll find, sir;and the Miss du Lacs have sent their cook over, so that it will beexactly the same as if you'd been at Rhinebeck."

Archer stared at the speaker so blankly that he repeated in still moreapologetic accents: "It'll be exactly the same, sir, I do assureyou—" and May's eager voice broke out, covering the embarrassedsilence: "The same as Rhinebeck? The Patroon's house? But it will bea hundred thousand times better—won't it, Newland? It's too dear andkind of Mr. van der Luyden to have thought of it."

And as they drove off, with the maid beside the coachman, and theirshining bridal bags on the seat before them, she went on excitedly:"Only fancy, I've never been inside it—have you? The van der Luydensshow it to so few people. But they opened it for Ellen, it seems, andshe told me what a darling little place it was: she says it's the onlyhouse she's seen in America that she could imagine being perfectlyhappy in."

"Well—that's what we're going to be, isn't it?" cried her husbandgaily; and she answered with her boyish smile: "Ah, it's just our luckbeginning—the wonderful luck we're always going to have together!"

XX.

"Of course we must dine with Mrs. Carfry, dearest," Archer said; andhis wife looked at him with an anxious frown across the monumentalBritannia ware of their lodging house breakfast-table.

In all the rainy desert of autumnal London there were only two peoplewhom the Newland Archers knew; and these two they had sedulouslyavoided, in conformity with the old New York tradition that it was not"dignified" to force one's self on the notice of one's acquaintances inforeign countries.

Mrs. Archer and Janey, in the course of their visits to Europe, had sounflinchingly lived up to this principle, and met the friendly advancesof their fellow-travellers with an air of such impenetrable reserve,that they had almost achieved the record of never having exchanged aword with a "foreigner" other than those employed in hotels andrailway-stations. Their own compatriots—save those previously knownor properly accredited—they treated with an even more pronounceddisdain; so that, unless they ran across a Chivers, a Dagonet or aMingott, their months abroad were spent in an unbroken tete-a-tete.But the utmost precautions are sometimes unavailing; and one night atBotzen one of the two English ladies in the room across the passage(whose names, dress and social situation were already intimately knownto Janey) had knocked on the door and asked if Mrs. Archer had a bottleof liniment. The other lady—the intruder's sister, Mrs. Carfry—hadbeen seized with a sudden attack of bronchitis; and Mrs. Archer, whonever travelled without a complete family pharmacy, was fortunatelyable to produce the required remedy.

Mrs. Carfry was very ill, and as she and her sister Miss Harle weretravelling alone they were profoundly grateful to the Archer ladies,who supplied them with ingenious comforts and whose efficient maidhelped to nurse the invalid back to health.

When the Archers left Botzen they had no idea of ever seeing Mrs.Carfry and Miss Harle again. Nothing, to Mrs. Archer's mind, wouldhave been more "undignified" than to force one's self on the notice ofa "foreigner" to whom one had happened to render an accidental service.But Mrs. Carfry and her sister, to whom this point of view was unknown,and who would have found it utterly incomprehensible, felt themselveslinked by an eternal gratitude to the "delightful Americans" who hadbeen so kind at Botzen. With touching fidelity they seized everychance of meeting Mrs. Archer and Janey in the course of theircontinental travels, and displayed a supernatural acuteness in findingout when they were to pass through London on their way to or from theStates. The intimacy became indissoluble, and Mrs. Archer and Janey,whenever they alighted at Brown's Hotel, found themselves awaited bytwo affectionate friends who, like themselves, cultivated ferns inWardian cases, made macrame lace, read the memoirs of the BaronessBunsen and had views about the occupants of the leading London pulpits.As Mrs. Archer said, it made "another thing of London" to know Mrs.Carfry and Miss Harle; and by the time that Newland became engaged thetie between the families was so firmly established that it was thought"only right" to send a wedding invitation to the two English ladies,who sent, in return, a pretty bouquet of pressed Alpine flowers underglass. And on the dock, when Newland and his wife sailed for England,Mrs. Archer's last word had been: "You must take May to see Mrs.Carfry."

Newland and his wife had had no idea of obeying this injunction; butMrs. Carfry, with her usual acuteness, had run them down and sent theman invitation to dine; and it was over this invitation that May Archerwas wrinkling her brows across the tea and muffins.

"It's all very well for you, Newland; you KNOW them. But I shall feelso shy among a lot of people I've never met. And what shall I wear?"

Newland leaned back in his chair and smiled at her. She lookedhandsomer and more Diana-like than ever. The moist English air seemedto have deepened the bloom of her cheeks and softened the slighthardness of her virginal features; or else it was simply the inner glowof happiness, shining through like a light under ice.

"Wear, dearest? I thought a trunkful of things had come from Parislast week."

"Yes, of course. I meant to say that I shan't know WHICH to wear."She pouted a little. "I've never dined out in London; and I don't wantto be ridiculous."

He tried to enter into her perplexity. "But don't Englishwomen dressjust like everybody else in the evening?"

"Newland! How can you ask such funny questions? When they go to thetheatre in old ball-dresses and bare heads."

"Well, perhaps they wear new ball-dresses at home; but at any rate Mrs.Carfry and Miss Harle won't. They'll wear caps like my mother's—andshawls; very soft shawls."

"Yes; but how will the other women be dressed?"

"Not as well as you, dear," he rejoined, wondering what had suddenlydeveloped in her Janey's morbid interest in clothes.

She pushed back her chair with a sigh. "That's dear of you, Newland;but it doesn't help me much."

He had an inspiration. "Why not wear your wedding-dress? That can'tbe wrong, can it?"

"Oh, dearest! If I only had it here! But it's gone to Paris to bemade over for next winter, and Worth hasn't sent it back."

"Oh, well—" said Archer, getting up. "Look here—the fog's lifting.If we made a dash for the National Gallery we might manage to catch aglimpse of the pictures."


The Newland Archers were on their way home, after a three months'wedding-tour which May, in writing to her girl friends, vaguelysummarised as "blissful."

They had not gone to the Italian Lakes: on reflection, Archer had notbeen able to picture his wife in that particular setting. Her owninclination (after a month with the Paris dressmakers) was formountaineering in July and swimming in August. This plan theypunctually fulfilled, spending July at Interlaken and Grindelwald, andAugust at a little place called Etretat, on the Normandy coast, whichsome one had recommended as quaint and quiet. Once or twice, in themountains, Archer had pointed southward and said: "There's Italy"; andMay, her feet in a gentian-bed, had smiled cheerfully, and replied:"It would be lovely to go there next winter, if only you didn't have tobe in New York."

But in reality travelling interested her even less than he hadexpected. She regarded it (once her clothes were ordered) as merely anenlarged opportunity for walking, riding, swimming, and trying her handat the fascinating new game of lawn tennis; and when they finally gotback to London (where they were to spend a fortnight while he orderedHIS clothes) she no longer concealed the eagerness with which shelooked forward to sailing.

In London nothing interested her but the theatres and the shops; andshe found the theatres less exciting than the Paris cafes chantantswhere, under the blossoming horse-chestnuts of the Champs Elysees, shehad had the novel experience of looking down from the restaurantterrace on an audience of "cocottes," and having her husband interpretto her as much of the songs as he thought suitable for bridal ears.

Archer had reverted to all his old inherited ideas about marriage. Itwas less trouble to conform with the tradition and treat May exactly asall his friends treated their wives than to try to put into practicethe theories with which his untrammelled bachelorhood had dallied.There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmestnotion that she was not free; and he had long since discovered thatMay's only use of the liberty she supposed herself to possess would beto lay it on the altar of her wifely adoration. Her innate dignitywould always keep her from making the gift abjectly; and a day mighteven come (as it once had) when she would find strength to take italtogether back if she thought she were doing it for his own good. Butwith a conception of marriage so uncomplicated and incurious as herssuch a crisis could be brought about only by something visiblyoutrageous in his own conduct; and the fineness of her feeling for himmade that unthinkable. Whatever happened, he knew, she would always beloyal, gallant and unresentful; and that pledged him to the practice ofthe same virtues.

All this tended to draw him back into his old habits of mind. If hersimplicity had been the simplicity of pettiness he would have chafedand rebelled; but since the lines of her character, though so few, wereon the same fine mould as her face, she became the tutelary divinity ofall his old traditions and reverences.

Such qualities were scarcely of the kind to enliven foreign travel,though they made her so easy and pleasant a companion; but he saw atonce how they would fall into place in their proper setting. He had nofear of being oppressed by them, for his artistic and intellectual lifewould go on, as it always had, outside the domestic circle; and withinit there would be nothing small and stifling—coming back to his wifewould never be like entering a stuffy room after a tramp in the open.And when they had children the vacant corners in both their lives wouldbe filled.

All these things went through his mind during their long slow drivefrom Mayfair to South Kensington, where Mrs. Carfry and her sisterlived. Archer too would have preferred to escape their friends'hospitality: in conformity with the family tradition he had alwaystravelled as a sight-seer and looker-on, affecting a haughtyunconsciousness of the presence of his fellow-beings. Once only, justafter Harvard, he had spent a few gay weeks at Florence with a band ofqueer Europeanised Americans, dancing all night with titled ladies inpalaces, and gambling half the day with the rakes and dandies of thefashionable club; but it had all seemed to him, though the greatest funin the world, as unreal as a carnival. These queer cosmopolitan women,deep in complicated love-affairs which they appeared to feel the needof retailing to every one they met, and the magnificent young officersand elderly dyed wits who were the subjects or the recipients of theirconfidences, were too different from the people Archer had grown upamong, too much like expensive and rather malodorous hot-house exotics,to detain his imagination long. To introduce his wife into such asociety was out of the question; and in the course of his travels noother had shown any marked eagerness for his company.

Not long after their arrival in London he had run across the Duke ofSt. Austrey, and the Duke, instantly and cordially recognising him, hadsaid: "Look me up, won't you?"—but no proper-spirited American wouldhave considered that a suggestion to be acted on, and the meeting waswithout a sequel. They had even managed to avoid May's English aunt,the banker's wife, who was still in Yorkshire; in fact, they hadpurposely postponed going to London till the autumn in order that theirarrival during the season might not appear pushing and snobbish tothese unknown relatives.

"Probably there'll be nobody at Mrs. Carfry's—London's a desert atthis season, and you've made yourself much too beautiful," Archer saidto May, who sat at his side in the hansom so spotlessly splendid in hersky-blue cloak edged with swansdown that it seemed wicked to expose herto the London grime.

"I don't want them to think that we dress like savages," she replied,with a scorn that Pocahontas might have resented; and he was struckagain by the religious reverence of even the most unworldly Americanwomen for the social advantages of dress.

"It's their armour," he thought, "their defence against the unknown,and their defiance of it." And he understood for the first time theearnestness with which May, who was incapable of tying a ribbon in herhair to charm him, had gone through the solemn rite of selecting andordering her extensive wardrobe.

He had been right in expecting the party at Mrs. Carfry's to be a smallone. Besides their hostess and her sister, they found, in the longchilly drawing-room, only another shawled lady, a genial Vicar who washer husband, a silent lad whom Mrs. Carfry named as her nephew, and asmall dark gentleman with lively eyes whom she introduced as his tutor,pronouncing a French name as she did so.

Into this dimly-lit and dim-featured group May Archer floated like aswan with the sunset on her: she seemed larger, fairer, morevoluminously rustling than her husband had ever seen her; and heperceived that the rosiness and rustlingness were the tokens of anextreme and infantile shyness.

"What on earth will they expect me to talk about?" her helpless eyesimplored him, at the very moment that her dazzling apparition wascalling forth the same anxiety in their own bosoms. But beauty, evenwhen distrustful of itself, awakens confidence in the manly heart; andthe Vicar and the French-named tutor were soon manifesting to May theirdesire to put her at her ease.

In spite of their best efforts, however, the dinner was a languishingaffair. Archer noticed that his wife's way of showing herself at herease with foreigners was to become more uncompromisingly local in herreferences, so that, though her loveliness was an encouragement toadmiration, her conversation was a chill to repartee. The Vicar soonabandoned the struggle; but the tutor, who spoke the most fluent andaccomplished English, gallantly continued to pour it out to her untilthe ladies, to the manifest relief of all concerned, went up to thedrawing-room.

The Vicar, after a glass of port, was obliged to hurry away to ameeting, and the shy nephew, who appeared to be an invalid, was packedoff to bed. But Archer and the tutor continued to sit over their wine,and suddenly Archer found himself talking as he had not done since hislast symposium with Ned Winsett. The Carfry nephew, it turned out, hadbeen threatened with consumption, and had had to leave Harrow forSwitzerland, where he had spent two years in the milder air of LakeLeman. Being a bookish youth, he had been entrusted to M. Riviere, whohad brought him back to England, and was to remain with him till hewent up to Oxford the following spring; and M. Riviere added withsimplicity that he should then have to look out for another job.

It seemed impossible, Archer thought, that he should be long withoutone, so varied were his interests and so many his gifts. He was a manof about thirty, with a thin ugly face (May would certainly have calledhim common-looking) to which the play of his ideas gave an intenseexpressiveness; but there was nothing frivolous or cheap in hisanimation.

His father, who had died young, had filled a small diplomatic post, andit had been intended that the son should follow the same career; but aninsatiable taste for letters had thrown the young man into journalism,then into authorship (apparently unsuccessful), and at length—afterother experiments and vicissitudes which he spared his listener—intotutoring English youths in Switzerland. Before that, however, he hadlived much in Paris, frequented the Goncourt grenier, been advised byMaupassant not to attempt to write (even that seemed to Archer adazzling honour!), and had often talked with Merimee in his mother'shouse. He had obviously always been desperately poor and anxious(having a mother and an unmarried sister to provide for), and it wasapparent that his literary ambitions had failed. His situation, infact, seemed, materially speaking, no more brilliant than NedWinsett's; but he had lived in a world in which, as he said, no one wholoved ideas need hunger mentally. As it was precisely of that lovethat poor Winsett was starving to death, Archer looked with a sort ofvicarious envy at this eager impecunious young man who had fared sorichly in his poverty.

"You see, Monsieur, it's worth everything, isn't it, to keep one'sintellectual liberty, not to enslave one's powers of appreciation,one's critical independence? It was because of that that I abandonedjournalism, and took to so much duller work: tutoring and privatesecretaryship. There is a good deal of drudgery, of course; but onepreserves one's moral freedom, what we call in French one's quant asoi. And when one hears good talk one can join in it withoutcompromising any opinions but one's own; or one can listen, and answerit inwardly. Ah, good conversation—there's nothing like it, is there?The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing. And so I have neverregretted giving up either diplomacy or journalism—two different formsof the same self-abdication." He fixed his vivid eyes on Archer as helit another cigarette. "Voyez-vous, Monsieur, to be able to look lifein the face: that's worth living in a garret for, isn't it? But, afterall, one must earn enough to pay for the garret; and I confess that togrow old as a private tutor—or a 'private' anything—is almost aschilling to the imagination as a second secretaryship at Bucharest.Sometimes I feel I must make a plunge: an immense plunge. Do yousuppose, for instance, there would be any opening for me in America—inNew York?"

Archer looked at him with startled eyes. New York, for a young man whohad frequented the Goncourts and Flaubert, and who thought the life ofideas the only one worth living! He continued to stare at M. Riviereperplexedly, wondering how to tell him that his very superiorities andadvantages would be the surest hindrance to success.

"New York—New York—but must it be especially New York?" he stammered,utterly unable to imagine what lucrative opening his native city couldoffer to a young man to whom good conversation appeared to be the onlynecessity.

A sudden flush rose under M. Riviere's sallow skin. "I—I thought ityour metropolis: is not the intellectual life more active there?" herejoined; then, as if fearing to give his hearer the impression ofhaving asked a favour, he went on hastily: "One throws out randomsuggestions—more to one's self than to others. In reality, I see noimmediate prospect—" and rising from his seat he added, without atrace of constraint: "But Mrs. Carfry will think that I ought to betaking you upstairs."

During the homeward drive Archer pondered deeply on this episode. Hishour with M. Riviere had put new air into his lungs, and his firstimpulse had been to invite him to dine the next day; but he wasbeginning to understand why married men did not always immediatelyyield to their first impulses.

"That young tutor is an interesting fellow: we had some awfully goodtalk after dinner about books and things," he threw out tentatively inthe hansom.

May roused herself from one of the dreamy silences into which he hadread so many meanings before six months of marriage had given him thekey to them.

"The little Frenchman? Wasn't he dreadfully common?" she questionedcoldly; and he guessed that she nursed a secret disappointment athaving been invited out in London to meet a clergyman and a Frenchtutor. The disappointment was not occasioned by the sentimentordinarily defined as snobbishness, but by old New York's sense of whatwas due to it when it risked its dignity in foreign lands. If May'sparents had entertained the Carfrys in Fifth Avenue they would haveoffered them something more substantial than a parson and aschoolmaster.

But Archer was on edge, and took her up.

"Common—common WHERE?" he queried; and she returned with unusualreadiness: "Why, I should say anywhere but in his school-room. Thosepeople are always awkward in society. But then," she addeddisarmingly, "I suppose I shouldn't have known if he was clever."

Archer disliked her use of the word "clever" almost as much as her useof the word "common"; but he was beginning to fear his tendency todwell on the things he disliked in her. After all, her point of viewhad always been the same. It was that of all the people he had grownup among, and he had always regarded it as necessary but negligible.Until a few months ago he had never known a "nice" woman who looked atlife differently; and if a man married it must necessarily be among thenice.

"Ah—then I won't ask him to dine!" he concluded with a laugh; and Mayechoed, bewildered: "Goodness—ask the Carfrys' tutor?"

"Well, not on the same day with the Carfrys, if you prefer I shouldn't.But I did rather want another talk with him. He's looking for a job inNew York."

Her surprise increased with her indifference: he almost fancied thatshe suspected him of being tainted with "foreignness."

"A job in New York? What sort of a job? People don't have Frenchtutors: what does he want to do?"

"Chiefly to enjoy good conversation, I understand," her husbandretorted perversely; and she broke into an appreciative laugh. "Oh,Newland, how funny! Isn't that FRENCH?"

On the whole, he was glad to have the matter settled for him by herrefusing to take seriously his wish to invite M. Riviere. Anotherafter-dinner talk would have made it difficult to avoid the question ofNew York; and the more Archer considered it the less he was able to fitM. Riviere into any conceivable picture of New York as he knew it.

He perceived with a flash of chilling insight that in future manyproblems would be thus negatively solved for him; but as he paid thehansom and followed his wife's long train into the house he took refugein the comforting platitude that the first six months were always themost difficult in marriage. "After that I suppose we shall have prettynearly finished rubbing off each other's angles," he reflected; but theworst of it was that May's pressure was already bearing on the veryangles whose sharpness he most wanted to keep.

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, andcast-iron vases painted in chocolate colour, standing at intervalsalong the winding path that led to the sea, looped their garlands ofpetunia 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 theverandah striped in yellow and brown to represent an awning) two largetargets had been placed against a background of shrubbery. On theother side of the lawn, facing the targets, was pitched a real tent,with benches and garden-seats about it. A number of ladies in summerdresses and gentlemen in grey frock-coats and tall hats stood on thelawn or sat upon the benches; and every now and then a slender girl instarched muslin would step from the tent, bow in hand, and speed hershaft at one of the targets, while the spectators interrupted theirtalk to watch the result.

Newland Archer, standing on the verandah of the house, looked curiouslydown upon this scene. On each side of the shiny painted steps was alarge blue china flower-pot on a bright yellow china stand. A spikygreen plant filled each pot, and below the verandah ran a wide borderof blue hydrangeas edged with more red geraniums. Behind him, theFrench windows of the drawing-rooms through which he had passed gaveglimpses, between swaying lace curtains, of glassy parquet floorsislanded with chintz poufs, dwarf armchairs, and velvet tables coveredwith trifles in silver.

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

Archer looked down with wonder at the familiar spectacle. It surprisedhim that life should be going on in the old way when his own reactionsto it had so completely changed. It was Newport that had first broughthome to him the extent of the change. In New York, during the previouswinter, after he and May had settled down in the new greenish-yellowhouse with the bow-window and the Pompeian vestibule, he had droppedback with relief into the old routine of the office, and the renewal ofthis daily activity had served as a link with his former self. Thenthere had been the pleasurable excitement of choosing a showy greystepper for May's brougham (the Wellands had given the carriage), andthe abiding occupation and interest of arranging his new library,which, in spite of family doubts and disapprovals, had been carried outas he had dreamed, with a dark embossed paper, Eastlake book-cases and"sincere" arm-chairs and tables. At the Century he had found Winsettagain, and at the Knickerbocker the fashionable young men of his ownset; and what with the hours dedicated to the law and those given todining out or entertaining friends at home, with an occasional eveningat the Opera or the play, the life he was living had still seemed afairly real and inevitable sort of business.

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

But the Wellands always went to Newport, where they owned one of thesquare boxes on the cliffs, and their son-in-law could adduce no goodreason why he and May should not join them there. As Mrs. Wellandrather tartly pointed out, it was hardly worth while for May to haveworn herself out trying on summer clothes in Paris if she was not to beallowed to wear them; and this argument was of a kind to which Archerhad as yet found no answer.

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

It was not May's fault, poor dear. If, now and then, during theirtravels, they had fallen slightly out of step, harmony had beenrestored by their return to the conditions she was used to. He hadalways foreseen that she would not disappoint him; and he had beenright. He had married (as most young men did) because he had met aperfectly charming girl at the moment when a series of rather aimlesssentimental adventures were ending in premature disgust; and she hadrepresented peace, stability, comradeship, and the steadying sense ofan unescapable duty.

He could not say that he had been mistaken in his choice, for she hadfulfilled all that he had expected. It was undoubtedly gratifying tobe the husband of one of the handsomest and most popular young marriedwomen in New York, especially when she was also one of thesweetest-tempered and most reasonable of wives; and Archer had neverbeen insensible to such advantages. As for the momentary madness whichhad fallen upon him on the eve of his marriage, he had trained himselfto regard it as the last of his discarded experiments. The idea thathe could ever, in his senses, have dreamed of marrying the CountessOlenska had become almost unthinkable, and she remained in his memorysimply as the most plaintive and poignant of a line of ghosts.

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

He heard a murmur of skirts beside him, and the Marchioness Mansonfluttered out of the drawing-room window. As usual, she wasextraordinarily festooned and bedizened, with a limp Leghorn hatanchored to her head by many windings of faded gauze, and a littleblack velvet parasol on a carved ivory handle absurdly balanced overher much larger hatbrim.

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

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

"No, I am not staying here, but with the Blenkers, in their delicioussolitude at Portsmouth. Beaufort was kind enough to send his famoustrotters for me this morning, so that I might have at least a glimpseof one of Regina's garden-parties; but this evening I go back to rurallife. The Blenkers, dear original beings, have hired a primitive oldfarm-house at Portsmouth where they gather about them representativepeople ..." She drooped slightly beneath her protecting brim, andadded with a faint blush: "This week Dr. Agathon Carver is holding aseries of Inner Thought meetings there. A contrast indeed to this gayscene of worldly pleasure—but then I have always lived on contrasts!To me the only death is monotony. I always say to Ellen: Beware ofmonotony; it's the mother of all the deadly sins. But my poor child isgoing through a phase of exaltation, of abhorrence of the world. Youknow, I suppose, that she has declined all invitations to stay atNewport, even with her grandmother Mingott? I could hardly persuadeher to come with me to the Blenkers', if you will believe it! The lifeshe leads is morbid, unnatural. Ah, if she had only listened to mewhen it was still possible ... When the door was still open ... Butshall we go down and watch this absorbing match? I hear your May isone 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 ofhis own orchids in its buttonhole. Archer, who had not seen him fortwo or three months, was struck by the change in his appearance. Inthe hot summer light his floridness seemed heavy and bloated, and butfor his erect square-shouldered walk he would have looked like anover-fed and over-dressed old man.

There were all sorts of rumours afloat about Beaufort. In the springhe had gone off on a long cruise to the West Indies in his newsteam-yacht, and it was reported that, at various points where he hadtouched, a lady resembling Miss Fanny Ring had been seen in hiscompany. The steam-yacht, built in the Clyde, and fitted with tiledbath-rooms and other unheard-of luxuries, was said to have cost himhalf a million; and the pearl necklace which he had presented to hiswife on his return was as magnificent as such expiatory offerings areapt to be. Beaufort's fortune was substantial enough to stand thestrain; and yet the disquieting rumours persisted, not only in FifthAvenue but in Wall Street. Some people said he had speculatedunfortunately in railways, others that he was being bled by one of themost insatiable members of her profession; and to every report ofthreatened insolvency Beaufort replied by a fresh extravagance: thebuilding of a new row of orchid-houses, the purchase of a new string ofrace-horses, or the addition of a new Meissonnier or Cabanel to hispicture-gallery.

He advanced toward the Marchioness and Newland with his usualhalf-sneering smile. "Hullo, Medora! Did the trotters do theirbusiness? 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 otherside, and said, in a low voice, a few words which their companion didnot catch.

The Marchioness replied by one of her queer foreign jerks, and a "Quevoulez-vous?" which deepened Beaufort's frown; but he produced a goodsemblance 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 momentthey reached the tent and Mrs. Beaufort met them in a girlish cloud ofmauve muslin and floating veils.

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

She had her bow and arrow in her hand, and placing herself on thechalk-mark traced on the turf she lifted the bow to her shoulder andtook aim. The attitude was so full of a classic grace that a murmur ofappreciation followed her appearance, and Archer felt the glow ofproprietorship that so often cheated him into momentary well-being.Her rivals—Mrs. Reggie Chivers, the Merry girls, and divers rosyThorleys, Dagonets and Mingotts, stood behind her in a lovely anxiousgroup, brown heads and golden bent above the scores, and pale muslinsand flower-wreathed hats mingled in a tender rainbow. All were youngand pretty, and bathed in summer bloom; but not one had the nymph-likeease of his wife, when, with tense muscles and happy frown, she benther soul upon some feat of strength.

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

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

She took the congratulations of her rivals and of the rest of thecompany with the simplicity that was her crowning grace. No one couldever be jealous of her triumphs because she managed to give the feelingthat she would have been just as serene if she had missed them. Butwhen her eyes met her husband's her face glowed with the pleasure shesaw in his.

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

The afternoon sunlight still lingered upon the bright lawns andshrubberies, and up and down Bellevue Avenue rolled a double line ofvictorias, dog-carts, landaus and "vis-a-vis," carrying well-dressedladies and gentlemen away from the Beaufort garden-party, or homewardfrom their daily afternoon turn along the Ocean Drive.

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

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 toprecedent and thrifty of purse, had built herself in her youth amany-peaked and cross-beamed cottage-orne on a bit of cheap landoverlooking the bay. Here, in a thicket of stunted oaks, her verandahsspread themselves above the island-dotted waters. A winding drive ledup between iron stags and blue glass balls embedded in mounds ofgeraniums to a front door of highly-varnished walnut under a stripedverandah-roof; and behind it ran a narrow hall with a black and yellowstar-patterned parquet floor, upon which opened four small square roomswith heavy flock-papers under ceilings on which an Italianhouse-painter had lavished all the divinities of Olympus. One of theserooms had been turned into a bedroom by Mrs. Mingott when the burden offlesh descended on her, and in the adjoining one she spent her days,enthroned in a large armchair between the open door and window, andperpetually waving a palm-leaf fan which the prodigious projection ofher bosom kept so far from the rest of her person that the air it setin motion stirred only the fringe of the anti-macassars on thechair-arms.

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

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

"Quite an heirloom, in fact, my dear," the old lady chuckled. "Youmust leave it in fee to your eldest girl." She pinched May's white armand watched the colour flood her face. "Well, well, what have I saidto make you shake out the red flag? Ain't there going to be anydaughters—only boys, eh? Good gracious, look at her blushing againall over her blushes! What—can't I say that either? Mercy me—whenmy children beg me to have all those gods and goddesses painted outoverhead I always say I'm too thankful to have somebody about me thatNOTHING 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 shallnever get a straight word about it out of that silly Medora," theancestress continued; and, as May exclaimed: "Cousin Medora? But Ithought she was going back to Portsmouth?" she answered placidly: "Soshe is—but she's got to come here first to pick up Ellen. Ah—youdidn'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 peopleabout fifty years ago. Ellen—ELLEN!" she cried in her shrill oldvoice, trying to bend forward far enough to catch a glimpse of the lawnbeyond the verandah.

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

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

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

The way to the shore descended from the bank on which the house wasperched to a walk above the water planted with weeping willows.Through their veil Archer caught the glint of the Lime Rock, with itswhite-washed turret and the tiny house in which the heroic light-housekeeper, Ida Lewis, was living her last venerable years. Beyond it laythe flat reaches and ugly government chimneys of Goat Island, the bayspreading northward in a shimmer of gold to Prudence Island with itslow growth of oaks, and the shores of Conanicut faint in the sunsethaze.

From the willow walk projected a slight wooden pier ending in a sort ofpagoda-like summer-house; and in the pagoda a lady stood, leaningagainst the rail, her back to the shore. Archer stopped at the sightas 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 atthe door, was May sitting under the shameless Olympians and glowingwith secret hopes, was the Welland villa at the far end of BellevueAvenue, and Mr. Welland, already dressed for dinner, and pacing thedrawing-room floor, watch in hand, with dyspeptic impatience—for itwas one of the houses in which one always knew exactly what ishappening 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 theyoung man stood half way down the bank, gazing at the bay furrowed withthe coming and going of sailboats, yacht-launches, fishing-craft andthe trailing black coal-barges hauled by noisy tugs. The lady in thesummer-house seemed to be held by the same sight. Beyond the greybastions of Fort Adams a long-drawn sunset was splintering up into athousand fires, and the radiance caught the sail of a catboat as itbeat out through the channel between the Lime Rock and the shore.Archer, as he watched, remembered the scene in the Shaughraun, andMontague lifting Ada Dyas's ribbon to his lips without her knowing thathe was in the room.

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

The boat was gliding out on the receding tide. It slid before the LimeRock, blotted out Ida Lewis's little house, and passed across theturret in which the light was hung. Archer waited till a wide space ofwater sparkled between the last reef of the island and the stern of theboat; 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 heragain," May said as they drove home through the dusk. "But perhaps shewouldn't have cared—she seems so changed."

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

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

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

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

"Cruel?"

"Well—watching the contortions of the damned is supposed to be afavourite sport of the angels; but I believe even they don't thinkpeople happier in hell."

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

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

The young man, as he followed his wife into the hall, was conscious ofa curious reversal of mood. There was something about the luxury ofthe Welland house and the density of the Welland atmosphere, so chargedwith minute observances and exactions, that always stole into hissystem like a narcotic. The heavy carpets, the watchful servants, theperpetually reminding tick of disciplined clocks, the perpetuallyrenewed stack of cards and invitations on the hall table, the wholechain of tyrannical trifles binding one hour to the next, and eachmember of the household to all the others, made any less systematisedand affluent existence seem unreal and precarious. But now it was theWelland house, and the life he was expected to lead in it, that hadbecome unreal and irrelevant, and the brief scene on the shore, when hehad stood irresolute, halfway down the bank, was as close to him as theblood 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 EllenOlenska driving home across the gleaming beaches behind Beaufort'strotters.

XXII.

"A party for the Blenkers—the Blenkers?"

Mr. Welland laid down his knife and fork and looked anxiously andincredulously across the luncheon-table at his wife, who, adjusting hergold eye-glasses, read aloud, in the tone of high comedy:

"Professor and Mrs. Emerson Sillerton request the pleasure of Mr. andMrs. Welland's company at the meeting of the Wednesday Afternoon Clubon August 25th at 3 o'clock punctually. To meet Mrs. and the MissesBlenker.

"Red Gables, Catherine Street. R. S. V. P."


"Good gracious—" Mr. Welland gasped, as if a second reading had beennecessary to bring the monstrous absurdity of the thing home to him.

"Poor Amy Sillerton—you never can tell what her husband will do next,"Mrs. Welland sighed. "I suppose he's just discovered the Blenkers."

Professor Emerson Sillerton was a thorn in the side of Newport society;and a thorn that could not be plucked out, for it grew on a venerableand venerated family tree. He was, as people said, a man who had had"every advantage." His father was Sillerton Jackson's uncle, hismother a Pennilow of Boston; on each side there was wealth andposition, and mutual suitability. Nothing—as Mrs. Welland had oftenremarked—nothing on earth obliged Emerson Sillerton to be anarchaeologist, or indeed a Professor of any sort, or to live in Newportin winter, or do any of the other revolutionary things that he did.But at least, if he was going to break with tradition and flout societyin the face, he need not have married poor Amy Dagonet, who had a rightto expect "something different," and money enough to keep her owncarriage.

No one in the Mingott set could understand why Amy Sillerton hadsubmitted so tamely to the eccentricities of a husband who filled thehouse with long-haired men and short-haired women, and, when hetravelled, took her to explore tombs in Yucatan instead of going toParis or Italy. But there they were, set in their ways, and apparentlyunaware that they were different from other people; and when they gaveone of their dreary annual garden-parties every family on the Cliffs,because of the Sillerton-Pennilow-Dagonet connection, had to draw lotsand send an unwilling representative.

"It's a wonder," Mrs. Welland remarked, "that they didn't choose theCup Race day! Do you remember, two years ago, their giving a party fora black man on the day of Julia Mingott's the dansant? Luckily thistime there's nothing else going on that I know of—for of course someof us will have to go."

Mr. Welland sighed nervously. "'Some of us,' my dear—more than one?Three o'clock is such a very awkward hour. I have to be here athalf-past three to take my drops: it's really no use trying to followBencomb's new treatment if I don't do it systematically; and if I joinyou later, of course I shall miss my drive." At the thought he laiddown his knife and fork again, and a flush of anxiety rose to hisfinely-wrinkled cheek.

"There's no reason why you should go at all, my dear," his wifeanswered with a cheerfulness that had become automatic. "I have somecards to leave at the other end of Bellevue Avenue, and I'll drop in atabout half-past three and stay long enough to make poor Amy feel thatshe hasn't been slighted." She glanced hesitatingly at her daughter."And if Newland's afternoon is provided for perhaps May can drive youout with the ponies, and try their new russet harness."

It was a principle in the Welland family that people's days and hoursshould be what Mrs. Welland called "provided for." The melancholypossibility of having to "kill time" (especially for those who did notcare for whist or solitaire) was a vision that haunted her as thespectre of the unemployed haunts the philanthropist. Another of herprinciples was that parents should never (at least visibly) interferewith the plans of their married children; and the difficulty ofadjusting this respect for May's independence with the exigency of Mr.Welland's claims could be overcome only by the exercise of an ingenuitywhich left not a second of Mrs. Welland's own time unprovided for.

"Of course I'll drive with Papa—I'm sure Newland will find somethingto do," May said, in a tone that gently reminded her husband of hislack of response. It was a cause of constant distress to Mrs. Wellandthat her son-in-law showed so little foresight in planning his days.Often already, during the fortnight that he had passed under her roof,when she enquired how he meant to spend his afternoon, he had answeredparadoxically: "Oh, I think for a change I'll just save it instead ofspending it—" and once, when she and May had had to go on along-postponed round of afternoon calls, he had confessed to havinglain all the afternoon under a rock on the beach below the house.

"Newland never seems to look ahead," Mrs. Welland once ventured tocomplain to her daughter; and May answered serenely: "No; but you seeit doesn't matter, because when there's nothing particular to do hereads a book."

"Ah, yes—like his father!" Mrs. Welland agreed, as if allowing for aninherited oddity; and after that the question of Newland's unemploymentwas tacitly dropped.

Nevertheless, as the day for the Sillerton reception approached, Maybegan to show a natural solicitude for his welfare, and to suggest atennis match at the Chiverses', or a sail on Julius Beaufort's cutter,as a means of atoning for her temporary desertion. "I shall be back bysix, you know, dear: Papa never drives later than that—" and she wasnot reassured till Archer said that he thought of hiring a run-aboutand driving up the island to a stud-farm to look at a second horse forher brougham. They had been looking for this horse for some time, andthe suggestion was so acceptable that May glanced at her mother as ifto say: "You see he knows how to plan out his time as well as any ofus."

The idea of the stud-farm and the brougham horse had germinated inArcher's mind on the very day when the Emerson Sillerton invitation hadfirst been mentioned; but he had kept it to himself as if there weresomething clandestine in the plan, and discovery might prevent itsexecution. He had, however, taken the precaution to engage in advancea runabout with a pair of old livery-stable trotters that could stilldo their eighteen miles on level roads; and at two o'clock, hastilydeserting the luncheon-table, he sprang into the light carriage anddrove off.

The day was perfect. A breeze from the north drove little puffs ofwhite cloud across an ultramarine sky, with a bright sea running underit. Bellevue Avenue was empty at that hour, and after dropping thestable-lad at the corner of Mill Street Archer turned down the OldBeach Road and drove across Eastman's Beach.

He had the feeling of unexplained excitement with which, onhalf-holidays at school, he used to start off into the unknown. Takinghis pair at an easy gait, he counted on reaching the stud-farm, whichwas not far beyond Paradise Rocks, before three o'clock; so that, afterlooking over the horse (and trying him if he seemed promising) he wouldstill have four golden hours to dispose of.

As soon as he heard of the Sillerton's party he had said to himselfthat the Marchioness Manson would certainly come to Newport with theBlenkers, and that Madame Olenska might again take the opportunity ofspending the day with her grandmother. At any rate, the Blenkerhabitation would probably be deserted, and he would be able, withoutindiscretion, to satisfy a vague curiosity concerning it. He was notsure that he wanted to see the Countess Olenska again; but ever sincehe had looked at her from the path above the bay he had wanted,irrationally and indescribably, to see the place she was living in, andto follow the movements of her imagined figure as he had watched thereal one in the summer-house. The longing was with him day and night,an incessant undefinable craving, like the sudden whim of a sick manfor food or drink once tasted and long since forgotten. He could notsee beyond the craving, or picture what it might lead to, for he wasnot conscious of any wish to speak to Madame Olenska or to hear hervoice. He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of thespot of earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea enclosed it,the rest of the world might seem less empty.

When he reached the stud-farm a glance showed him that the horse wasnot what he wanted; nevertheless he took a turn behind it in order toprove to himself that he was not in a hurry. But at three o'clock heshook out the reins over the trotters and turned into the by-roadsleading to Portsmouth. The wind had dropped and a faint haze on thehorizon showed that a fog was waiting to steal up the Saconnet on theturn of the tide; but all about him fields and woods were steeped ingolden light.

He drove past grey-shingled farm-houses in orchards, past hay-fieldsand groves of oak, past villages with white steeples rising sharplyinto the fading sky; and at last, after stopping to ask the way of somemen at work in a field, he turned down a lane between high banks ofgoldenrod and brambles. At the end of the lane was the blue glimmer ofthe river; to the left, standing in front of a clump of oaks andmaples, he saw a long tumble-down house with white paint peeling fromits clapboards.

On the road-side facing the gateway stood one of the open sheds inwhich the New Englander shelters his farming implements and visitors"hitch" their "teams." Archer, jumping down, led his pair into theshed, and after tying them to a post turned toward the house. Thepatch of lawn before it had relapsed into a hay-field; but to the leftan overgrown box-garden full of dahlias and rusty rose-bushes encircleda ghostly summer-house of trellis-work that had once been white,surmounted by a wooden Cupid who had lost his bow and arrow butcontinued to take ineffectual aim.

Archer leaned for a while against the gate. No one was in sight, andnot a sound came from the open windows of the house: a grizzledNewfoundland dozing before the door seemed as ineffectual a guardian asthe arrowless Cupid. It was strange to think that this place ofsilence and decay was the home of the turbulent Blenkers; yet Archerwas sure that he was not mistaken.

For a long time he stood there, content to take in the scene, andgradually falling under its drowsy spell; but at length he rousedhimself to the sense of the passing time. Should he look his fill andthen drive away? He stood irresolute, wishing suddenly to see theinside of the house, so that he might picture the room that MadameOlenska sat in. There was nothing to prevent his walking up to thedoor and ringing the bell; if, as he supposed, she was away with therest of the party, he could easily give his name, and ask permission togo into the sitting-room to write a message.

But instead, he crossed the lawn and turned toward the box-garden. Ashe entered it he caught sight of something bright-coloured in thesummer-house, and presently made it out to be a pink parasol. Theparasol drew him like a magnet: he was sure it was hers. He went intothe summer-house, and sitting down on the rickety seat picked up thesilken thing and looked at its carved handle, which was made of somerare wood that gave out an aromatic scent. Archer lifted the handle tohis lips.

He heard a rustle of skirts against the box, and sat motionless,leaning on the parasol handle with clasped hands, and letting therustle come nearer without lifting his eyes. He had always known thatthis must happen ...

"Oh, Mr. Archer!" exclaimed a loud young voice; and looking up he sawbefore him the youngest and largest of the Blenker girls, blonde andblowsy, in bedraggled muslin. A red blotch on one of her cheeks seemedto show that it had recently been pressed against a pillow, and herhalf-awakened eyes stared at him hospitably but confusedly.

"Gracious—where did you drop from? I must have been sound asleep inthe hammock. Everybody else has gone to Newport. Did you ring?" sheincoherently enquired.

Archer's confusion was greater than hers. "I—no—that is, I was justgoing to. I had to come up the island to see about a horse, and Idrove over on a chance of finding Mrs. Blenker and your visitors. Butthe house seemed empty—so I sat down to wait."

Miss Blenker, shaking off the fumes of sleep, looked at him withincreasing interest. "The house IS empty. Mother's not here, or theMarchioness—or anybody but me." Her glance became faintlyreproachful. "Didn't you know that Professor and Mrs. Sillerton aregiving a garden-party for mother and all of us this afternoon? It wastoo unlucky that I couldn't go; but I've had a sore throat, and motherwas afraid of the drive home this evening. Did you ever know anythingso disappointing? Of course," she added gaily, "I shouldn't haveminded half as much if I'd known you were coming."

Symptoms of a lumbering coquetry became visible in her, and Archerfound the strength to break in: "But Madame Olenska—has she gone toNewport too?"

Miss Blenker looked at him with surprise. "Madame Olenska—didn't youknow she'd been called away?"

"Called away?—"

"Oh, my best parasol! I lent it to that goose of a Katie, because itmatched her ribbons, and the careless thing must have dropped it here.We Blenkers are all like that ... real Bohemians!" Recovering thesunshade with a powerful hand she unfurled it and suspended its rosydome above her head. "Yes, Ellen was called away yesterday: she letsus call her Ellen, you know. A telegram came from Boston: she said shemight be gone for two days. I do LOVE the way she does her hair, don'tyou?" Miss Blenker rambled on.

Archer continued to stare through her as though she had beentransparent. All he saw was the trumpery parasol that arched itspinkness above her giggling head.

After a moment he ventured: "You don't happen to know why MadameOlenska went to Boston? I hope it was not on account of bad news?"

Miss Blenker took this with a cheerful incredulity. "Oh, I don'tbelieve so. She didn't tell us what was in the telegram. I think shedidn't want the Marchioness to know. She's so romantic-looking, isn'tshe? Doesn't she remind you of Mrs. Scott-Siddons when she reads 'LadyGeraldine's Courtship'? Did you never hear her?"

Archer was dealing hurriedly with crowding thoughts. His whole futureseemed suddenly to be unrolled before him; and passing down its endlessemptiness he saw the dwindling figure of a man to whom nothing was everto happen. He glanced about him at the unpruned garden, thetumble-down house, and the oak-grove under which the dusk wasgathering. It had seemed so exactly the place in which he ought tohave found Madame Olenska; and she was far away, and even the pinksunshade was not hers ...

He frowned and hesitated. "You don't know, I suppose—I shall be inBoston tomorrow. If I could manage to see her—"

He felt that Miss Blenker was losing interest in him, though her smilepersisted. "Oh, of course; how lovely of you! She's staying at theParker House; it must be horrible there in this weather."

After that Archer was but intermittently aware of the remarks theyexchanged. He could only remember stoutly resisting her entreaty thathe should await the returning family and have high tea with them beforehe drove home. At length, with his hostess still at his side, hepassed out of range of the wooden Cupid, unfastened his horses anddrove off. At the turn of the lane he saw Miss Blenker standing at thegate and waving the pink parasol.

XXIII.

The next morning, when Archer got out of the Fall River train, heemerged upon a steaming midsummer Boston. The streets near the stationwere full of the smell of beer and coffee and decaying fruit and ashirt-sleeved populace moved through them with the intimate abandon ofboarders going down the passage to the bathroom.

Archer found a cab and drove to the Somerset Club for breakfast. Eventhe fashionable quarters had the air of untidy domesticity to which noexcess of heat ever degrades the European cities. Care-takers incalico lounged on the door-steps of the wealthy, and the Common lookedlike a pleasure-ground on the morrow of a Masonic picnic. If Archerhad tried to imagine Ellen Olenska in improbable scenes he could nothave called up any into which it was more difficult to fit her thanthis heat-prostrated and deserted Boston.

He breakfasted with appetite and method, beginning with a slice ofmelon, and studying a morning paper while he waited for his toast andscrambled eggs. A new sense of energy and activity had possessed himever since he had announced to May the night before that he hadbusiness in Boston, and should take the Fall River boat that night andgo on to New York the following evening. It had always been understoodthat he would return to town early in the week, and when he got backfrom his expedition to Portsmouth a letter from the office, which fatehad conspicuously placed on a corner of the hall table, sufficed tojustify his sudden change of plan. He was even ashamed of the easewith which the whole thing had been done: it reminded him, for anuncomfortable moment, of Lawrence Lefferts's masterly contrivances forsecuring his freedom. But this did not long trouble him, for he wasnot in an analytic mood.

After breakfast he smoked a cigarette and glanced over the CommercialAdvertiser. While he was thus engaged two or three men he knew camein, and the usual greetings were exchanged: it was the same world afterall, though he had such a queer sense of having slipped through themeshes of time and space.

He looked at his watch, and finding that it was half-past nine got upand went into the writing-room. There he wrote a few lines, andordered a messenger to take a cab to the Parker House and wait for theanswer. He then sat down behind another newspaper and tried tocalculate how long it would take a cab to get to the Parker House.

"The lady was out, sir," he suddenly heard a waiter's voice at hiselbow; and he stammered: "Out?—" as if it were a word in a strangelanguage.

He got up and went into the hall. It must be a mistake: she could notbe out at that hour. He flushed with anger at his own stupidity: whyhad he not sent the note as soon as he arrived?

He found his hat and stick and went forth into the street. The cityhad suddenly become as strange and vast and empty as if he were atraveller from distant lands. For a moment he stood on the door-stephesitating; then he decided to go to the Parker House. What if themessenger had been misinformed, and she were still there?

He started to walk across the Common; and on the first bench, under atree, he saw her sitting. She had a grey silk sunshade over herhead—how could he ever have imagined her with a pink one? As heapproached he was struck by her listless attitude: she sat there as ifshe had nothing else to do. He saw her drooping profile, and the knotof hair fastened low in the neck under her dark hat, and the longwrinkled glove on the hand that held the sunshade. He came a step ortwo nearer, and she turned and looked at him.

"Oh"—she said; and for the first time he noticed a startled look onher face; but in another moment it gave way to a slow smile of wonderand contentment.

"Oh"—she murmured again, on a different note, as he stood looking downat her; and without rising she made a place for him on the bench.

"I'm here on business—just got here," Archer explained; and, withoutknowing why, he suddenly began to feign astonishment at seeing her."But what on earth are you doing in this wilderness?" He had really noidea what he was saying: he felt as if he were shouting at her acrossendless distances, and she might vanish again before he could overtakeher.

"I? Oh, I'm here on business too," she answered, turning her headtoward him so that they were face to face. The words hardly reachedhim: he was aware only of her voice, and of the startling fact that notan echo of it had remained in his memory. He had not even rememberedthat it was low-pitched, with a faint roughness on the consonants.

"You do your hair differently," he said, his heart beating as if he haduttered something irrevocable.

"Differently? No—it's only that I do it as best I can when I'mwithout Nastasia."

"Nastasia; but isn't she with you?"

"No; I'm alone. For two days it was not worth while to bring her."

"You're alone—at the Parker House?"

She looked at him with a flash of her old malice. "Does it strike youas dangerous?"

"No; not dangerous—"

"But unconventional? I see; I suppose it is." She considered amoment. "I hadn't thought of it, because I've just done something somuch more unconventional." The faint tinge of irony lingered in hereyes. "I've just refused to take back a sum of money—that belonged tome."

Archer sprang up and moved a step or two away. She had furled herparasol and sat absently drawing patterns on the gravel. Presently hecame back and stood before her.

"Some one—has come here to meet you?"

"Yes."

"With this offer?"

She nodded.

"And you refused—because of the conditions?"

"I refused," she said after a moment.

He sat down by her again. "What were the conditions?"

"Oh, they were not onerous: just to sit at the head of his table nowand then."

There was another interval of silence. Archer's heart had slammeditself shut in the queer way it had, and he sat vainly groping for aword.

"He wants you back—at any price?"

"Well—a considerable price. At least the sum is considerable for me."

He paused again, beating about the question he felt he must put.

"It was to meet him here that you came?"

She stared, and then burst into a laugh. "Meet him—my husband? HERE?At this season he's always at Cowes or Baden."

"He sent some one?"

"Yes."

"With a letter?"

She shook her head. "No; just a message. He never writes. I don'tthink I've had more than one letter from him." The allusion broughtthe colour to her cheek, and it reflected itself in Archer's vividblush.

"Why does he never write?"

"Why should he? What does one have secretaries for?"

The young man's blush deepened. She had pronounced the word as if ithad no more significance than any other in her vocabulary. For amoment it was on the tip of his tongue to ask: "Did he send hissecretary, then?" But the remembrance of Count Olenski's only letterto his wife was too present to him. He paused again, and then tookanother plunge.

"And the person?"—

"The emissary? The emissary," Madame Olenska rejoined, still smiling,"might, for all I care, have left already; but he has insisted onwaiting till this evening ... in case ... on the chance ..."

"And you came out here to think the chance over?"

"I came out to get a breath of air. The hotel's too stifling. I'mtaking the afternoon train back to Portsmouth."

They sat silent, not looking at each other, but straight ahead at thepeople passing along the path. Finally she turned her eyes again tohis face and said: "You're not changed."

(Video) Part 2 - The Age of Innocence Audiobook by Edith Wharton (Chs 10-16)

He felt like answering: "I was, till I saw you again;" but instead hestood up abruptly and glanced about him at the untidy sweltering park.

"This is horrible. Why shouldn't we go out a little on the bay?There's a breeze, and it will be cooler. We might take the steamboatdown to Point Arley." She glanced up at him hesitatingly and he wenton: "On a Monday morning there won't be anybody on the boat. My traindoesn't leave till evening: I'm going back to New York. Why shouldn'twe?" he insisted, looking down at her; and suddenly he broke out:"Haven't we done all we could?"

"Oh"—she murmured again. She stood up and reopened her sunshade,glancing about her as if to take counsel of the scene, and assureherself of the impossibility of remaining in it. Then her eyesreturned to his face. "You mustn't say things like that to me," shesaid.

"I'll say anything you like; or nothing. I won't open my mouth unlessyou tell me to. What harm can it do to anybody? All I want is tolisten to you," he stammered.

She drew out a little gold-faced watch on an enamelled chain. "Oh,don't calculate," he broke out; "give me the day! I want to get youaway from that man. At what time was he coming?"

Her colour rose again. "At eleven."

"Then you must come at once."

"You needn't be afraid—if I don't come."

"Nor you either—if you do. I swear I only want to hear about you, toknow what you've been doing. It's a hundred years since we've met—itmay be another hundred before we meet again."

She still wavered, her anxious eyes on his face. "Why didn't you comedown to the beach to fetch me, the day I was at Granny's?" she asked.

"Because you didn't look round—because you didn't know I was there. Iswore I wouldn't unless you looked round." He laughed as thechildishness of the confession struck him.

"But I didn't look round on purpose."

"On purpose?"

"I knew you were there; when you drove in I recognised the ponies. SoI went down to the beach."

"To get away from me as far as you could?"

She repeated in a low voice: "To get away from you as far as I could."

He laughed out again, this time in boyish satisfaction. "Well, you seeit's no use. I may as well tell you," he added, "that the business Icame here for was just to find you. But, look here, we must start orwe shall miss our boat."

"Our boat?" She frowned perplexedly, and then smiled. "Oh, but I mustgo back to the hotel first: I must leave a note—"

"As many notes as you please. You can write here." He drew out anote-case and one of the new stylographic pens. "I've even got anenvelope—you see how everything's predestined! There—steady thething on your knee, and I'll get the pen going in a second. They haveto be humoured; wait—" He banged the hand that held the pen againstthe back of the bench. "It's like jerking down the mercury in athermometer: just a trick. Now try—"

She laughed, and bending over the sheet of paper which he had laid onhis note-case, began to write. Archer walked away a few steps, staringwith radiant unseeing eyes at the passersby, who, in their turn, pausedto stare at the unwonted sight of a fashionably-dressed lady writing anote on her knee on a bench in the Common.

Madame Olenska slipped the sheet into the envelope, wrote a name on it,and put it into her pocket. Then she too stood up.

They walked back toward Beacon Street, and near the club Archer caughtsight of the plush-lined "herdic" which had carried his note to theParker House, and whose driver was reposing from this effort by bathinghis brow at the corner hydrant.

"I told you everything was predestined! Here's a cab for us. Yousee!" They laughed, astonished at the miracle of picking up a publicconveyance at that hour, and in that unlikely spot, in a city wherecab-stands were still a "foreign" novelty.

Archer, looking at his watch, saw that there was time to drive to theParker House before going to the steamboat landing. They rattledthrough the hot streets and drew up at the door of the hotel.

Archer held out his hand for the letter. "Shall I take it in?" heasked; but Madame Olenska, shaking her head, sprang out and disappearedthrough the glazed doors. It was barely half-past ten; but what if theemissary, impatient for her reply, and not knowing how else to employhis time, were already seated among the travellers with cooling drinksat their elbows of whom Archer had caught a glimpse as she went in?

He waited, pacing up and down before the herdic. A Sicilian youth witheyes like Nastasia's offered to shine his boots, and an Irish matron tosell him peaches; and every few moments the doors opened to let out hotmen with straw hats tilted far back, who glanced at him as they wentby. He marvelled that the door should open so often, and that all thepeople it let out should look so like each other, and so like all theother hot men who, at that hour, through the length and breadth of theland, were passing continuously in and out of the swinging doors ofhotels.

And then, suddenly, came a face that he could not relate to the otherfaces. He caught but a flash of it, for his pacings had carried him tothe farthest point of his beat, and it was in turning back to the hotelthat he saw, in a group of typical countenances—the lank and weary,the round and surprised, the lantern-jawed and mild—this other facethat was so many more things at once, and things so different. It wasthat of a young man, pale too, and half-extinguished by the heat, orworry, or both, but somehow, quicker, vivider, more conscious; orperhaps seeming so because he was so different. Archer hung a momenton a thin thread of memory, but it snapped and floated off with thedisappearing face—apparently that of some foreign business man,looking doubly foreign in such a setting. He vanished in the stream ofpassersby, and Archer resumed his patrol.

He did not care to be seen watch in hand within view of the hotel, andhis unaided reckoning of the lapse of time led him to conclude that, ifMadame Olenska was so long in reappearing, it could only be because shehad met the emissary and been waylaid by him. At the thought Archer'sapprehension rose to anguish.

"If she doesn't come soon I'll go in and find her," he said.

The doors swung open again and she was at his side. They got into theherdic, and as it drove off he took out his watch and saw that she hadbeen absent just three minutes. In the clatter of loose windows thatmade talk impossible they bumped over the disjointed cobblestones tothe wharf.


Seated side by side on a bench of the half-empty boat they found thatthey had hardly anything to say to each other, or rather that what theyhad to say communicated itself best in the blessed silence of theirrelease and their isolation.

As the paddle-wheels began to turn, and wharves and shipping to recedethrough the veil of heat, it seemed to Archer that everything in theold familiar world of habit was receding also. He longed to ask MadameOlenska if she did not have the same feeling: the feeling that theywere starting on some long voyage from which they might never return.But he was afraid to say it, or anything else that might disturb thedelicate balance of her trust in him. In reality he had no wish tobetray that trust. There had been days and nights when the memory oftheir kiss had burned and burned on his lips; the day before even, onthe drive to Portsmouth, the thought of her had run through him likefire; but now that she was beside him, and they were drifting forthinto this unknown world, they seemed to have reached the kind of deepernearness that a touch may sunder.

As the boat left the harbour and turned seaward a breeze stirred aboutthem and the bay broke up into long oily undulations, then into ripplestipped with spray. The fog of sultriness still hung over the city, butahead lay a fresh world of ruffled waters, and distant promontorieswith light-houses in the sun. Madame Olenska, leaning back against theboat-rail, drank in the coolness between parted lips. She had wound along veil about her hat, but it left her face uncovered, and Archer wasstruck by the tranquil gaiety of her expression. She seemed to taketheir adventure as a matter of course, and to be neither in fear ofunexpected encounters, nor (what was worse) unduly elated by theirpossibility.

In the bare dining-room of the inn, which he had hoped they would haveto themselves, they found a strident party of innocent-looking youngmen and women—school-teachers on a holiday, the landlord toldthem—and Archer's heart sank at the idea of having to talk throughtheir noise.

"This is hopeless—I'll ask for a private room," he said; and MadameOlenska, without offering any objection, waited while he went in searchof it. The room opened on a long wooden verandah, with the sea comingin at the windows. It was bare and cool, with a table covered with acoarse checkered cloth and adorned by a bottle of pickles and ablueberry pie under a cage. No more guileless-looking cabinetparticulier ever offered its shelter to a clandestine couple: Archerfancied he saw the sense of its reassurance in the faintly amused smilewith which Madame Olenska sat down opposite to him. A woman who hadrun away from her husband—and reputedly with another man—was likelyto have mastered the art of taking things for granted; but something inthe quality of her composure took the edge from his irony. By being soquiet, so unsurprised and so simple she had managed to brush away theconventions and make him feel that to seek to be alone was the naturalthing for two old friends who had so much to say to each other....

XXIV.

They lunched slowly and meditatively, with mute intervals betweenrushes of talk; for, the spell once broken, they had much to say, andyet moments when saying became the mere accompaniment to long duologuesof silence. Archer kept the talk from his own affairs, not withconscious intention but because he did not want to miss a word of herhistory; and leaning on the table, her chin resting on her claspedhands, she talked to him of the year and a half since they had met.

She had grown tired of what people called "society"; New York was kind,it was almost oppressively hospitable; she should never forget the wayin which it had welcomed her back; but after the first flush of noveltyshe had found herself, as she phrased it, too "different" to care forthe things it cared about—and so she had decided to try Washington,where one was supposed to meet more varieties of people and of opinion.And on the whole she should probably settle down in Washington, andmake a home there for poor Medora, who had worn out the patience of allher other relations just at the time when she most needed looking afterand protecting from matrimonial perils.

"But Dr. Carver—aren't you afraid of Dr. Carver? I hear he's beenstaying with you at the Blenkers'."

She smiled. "Oh, the Carver danger is over. Dr. Carver is a veryclever man. He wants a rich wife to finance his plans, and Medora issimply a good advertisement as a convert."

"A convert to what?"

"To all sorts of new and crazy social schemes. But, do you know, theyinterest me more than the blind conformity to tradition—somebodyelse's tradition—that I see among our own friends. It seems stupid tohave discovered America only to make it into a copy of anothercountry." She smiled across the table. "Do you suppose ChristopherColumbus would have taken all that trouble just to go to the Opera withthe Selfridge Merrys?"

Archer changed colour. "And Beaufort—do you say these things toBeaufort?" he asked abruptly.

"I haven't seen him for a long time. But I used to; and heunderstands."

"Ah, it's what I've always told you; you don't like us. And you likeBeaufort because he's so unlike us." He looked about the bare room andout at the bare beach and the row of stark white village houses strungalong the shore. "We're damnably dull. We've no character, no colour,no variety.—I wonder," he broke out, "why you don't go back?"

Her eyes darkened, and he expected an indignant rejoinder. But she satsilent, as if thinking over what he had said, and he grew frightenedlest she should answer that she wondered too.

At length she said: "I believe it's because of you."

It was impossible to make the confession more dispassionately, or in atone less encouraging to the vanity of the person addressed. Archerreddened to the temples, but dared not move or speak: it was as if herwords had been some rare butterfly that the least motion might driveoff on startled wings, but that might gather a flock about it if itwere left undisturbed.

"At least," she continued, "it was you who made me understand thatunder the dullness there are things so fine and sensitive and delicatethat even those I most cared for in my other life look cheap incomparison. I don't know how to explain myself"—she drew together hertroubled brows—"but it seems as if I'd never before understood withhow much that is hard and shabby and base the most exquisite pleasuresmay be paid."

"Exquisite pleasures—it's something to have had them!" he felt likeretorting; but the appeal in her eyes kept him silent.

"I want," she went on, "to be perfectly honest with you—and withmyself. For a long time I've hoped this chance would come: that Imight tell you how you've helped me, what you've made of me—"

Archer sat staring beneath frowning brows. He interrupted her with alaugh. "And what do you make out that you've made of me?"

She paled a little. "Of you?"

"Yes: for I'm of your making much more than you ever were of mine. I'mthe man who married one woman because another one told him to."

Her paleness turned to a fugitive flush. "I thought—you promised—youwere not to say such things today."

"Ah—how like a woman! None of you will ever see a bad businessthrough!"

She lowered her voice. "IS it a bad business—for May?"

He stood in the window, drumming against the raised sash, and feelingin every fibre the wistful tenderness with which she had spoken hercousin's name.

"For that's the thing we've always got to think of—haven't we—by yourown showing?" she insisted.

"My own showing?" he echoed, his blank eyes still on the sea.

"Or if not," she continued, pursuing her own thought with a painfulapplication, "if it's not worth while to have given up, to have missedthings, so that others may be saved from disillusionment andmisery—then everything I came home for, everything that made my otherlife seem by contrast so bare and so poor because no one there tookaccount of them—all these things are a sham or a dream—"

He turned around without moving from his place. "And in that casethere's no reason on earth why you shouldn't go back?" he concluded forher.

Her eyes were clinging to him desperately. "Oh, IS there no reason?"

"Not if you staked your all on the success of my marriage. Mymarriage," he said savagely, "isn't going to be a sight to keep youhere." She made no answer, and he went on: "What's the use? You gaveme my first glimpse of a real life, and at the same moment you asked meto go on with a sham one. It's beyond human enduring—that's all."

"Oh, don't say that; when I'm enduring it!" she burst out, her eyesfilling.

Her arms had dropped along the table, and she sat with her faceabandoned to his gaze as if in the recklessness of a desperate peril.The face exposed her as much as if it had been her whole person, withthe soul behind it: Archer stood dumb, overwhelmed by what it suddenlytold him.

"You too—oh, all this time, you too?"

For answer, she let the tears on her lids overflow and run slowlydownward.

Half the width of the room was still between them, and neither made anyshow of moving. Archer was conscious of a curious indifference to herbodily presence: he would hardly have been aware of it if one of thehands she had flung out on the table had not drawn his gaze as on theoccasion when, in the little Twenty-third Street house, he had kept hiseye on it in order not to look at her face. Now his imagination spunabout the hand as about the edge of a vortex; but still he made noeffort to draw nearer. He had known the love that is fed on caressesand feeds them; but this passion that was closer than his bones was notto be superficially satisfied. His one terror was to do anything whichmight efface the sound and impression of her words; his one thought,that he should never again feel quite alone.

But after a moment the sense of waste and ruin overcame him. Therethey were, close together and safe and shut in; yet so chained to theirseparate destinies that they might as well have been half the worldapart.

"What's the use—when you will go back?" he broke out, a great hopelessHOW ON EARTH CAN I KEEP YOU? crying out to her beneath his words.

She sat motionless, with lowered lids. "Oh—I shan't go yet!"

"Not yet? Some time, then? Some time that you already foresee?"

At that she raised her clearest eyes. "I promise you: not as long asyou hold out. Not as long as we can look straight at each other likethis."

He dropped into his chair. What her answer really said was: "If youlift a finger you'll drive me back: back to all the abominations youknow of, and all the temptations you half guess." He understood it asclearly as if she had uttered the words, and the thought kept himanchored to his side of the table in a kind of moved and sacredsubmission.

"What a life for you!—" he groaned.

"Oh—as long as it's a part of yours."

"And mine a part of yours?"

She nodded.

"And that's to be all—for either of us?"

"Well; it IS all, isn't it?"

At that he sprang up, forgetting everything but the sweetness of herface. She rose too, not as if to meet him or to flee from him, butquietly, as though the worst of the task were done and she had only towait; so quietly that, as he came close, her outstretched hands actednot as a check but as a guide to him. They fell into his, while herarms, extended but not rigid, kept him far enough off to let hersurrendered face say the rest.

They may have stood in that way for a long time, or only for a fewmoments; but it was long enough for her silence to communicate all shehad to say, and for him to feel that only one thing mattered. He mustdo nothing to make this meeting their last; he must leave their futurein her care, asking only that she should keep fast hold of it.

"Don't—don't be unhappy," she said, with a break in her voice, as shedrew her hands away; and he answered: "You won't go back—you won't goback?" as if it were the one possibility he could not bear.

"I won't go back," she said; and turning away she opened the door andled the way into the public dining-room.

The strident school-teachers were gathering up their possessionspreparatory to a straggling flight to the wharf; across the beach laythe white steam-boat at the pier; and over the sunlit waters Bostonloomed in a line of haze.

XXV.

Once more on the boat, and in the presence of others, Archer felt atranquillity of spirit that surprised as much as it sustained him.

The day, according to any current valuation, had been a ratherridiculous failure; he had not so much as touched Madame Olenska's handwith his lips, or extracted one word from her that gave promise offarther opportunities. Nevertheless, for a man sick with unsatisfiedlove, and parting for an indefinite period from the object of hispassion, he felt himself almost humiliatingly calm and comforted. Itwas the perfect balance she had held between their loyalty to othersand their honesty to themselves that had so stirred and yettranquillized him; a balance not artfully calculated, as her tears andher falterings showed, but resulting naturally from her unabashedsincerity. It filled him with a tender awe, now the danger was over,and made him thank the fates that no personal vanity, no sense ofplaying a part before sophisticated witnesses, had tempted him to tempther. Even after they had clasped hands for good-bye at the Fall Riverstation, and he had turned away alone, the conviction remained with himof having saved out of their meeting much more than he had sacrificed.

He wandered back to the club, and went and sat alone in the desertedlibrary, turning and turning over in his thoughts every separate secondof their hours together. It was clear to him, and it grew more clearunder closer scrutiny, that if she should finally decide on returningto Europe—returning to her husband—it would not be because her oldlife tempted her, even on the new terms offered. No: she would go onlyif she felt herself becoming a temptation to Archer, a temptation tofall away from the standard they had both set up. Her choice would beto stay near him as long as he did not ask her to come nearer; and itdepended on himself to keep her just there, safe but secluded.

In the train these thoughts were still with him. They enclosed him ina kind of golden haze, through which the faces about him looked remoteand indistinct: he had a feeling that if he spoke to hisfellow-travellers they would not understand what he was saying. Inthis state of abstraction he found himself, the following morning,waking to the reality of a stifling September day in New York. Theheat-withered faces in the long train streamed past him, and hecontinued to stare at them through the same golden blur; but suddenly,as he left the station, one of the faces detached itself, came closerand forced itself upon his consciousness. It was, as he instantlyrecalled, the face of the young man he had seen, the day before,passing out of the Parker House, and had noted as not conforming totype, as not having an American hotel face.

The same thing struck him now; and again he became aware of a dim stirof former associations. The young man stood looking about him with thedazed air of the foreigner flung upon the harsh mercies of Americantravel; then he advanced toward Archer, lifted his hat, and said inEnglish: "Surely, Monsieur, we met in London?"

"Ah, to be sure: in London!" Archer grasped his hand with curiosityand sympathy. "So you DID get here, after all?" he exclaimed, castinga wondering eye on the astute and haggard little countenance of youngCarfry's French tutor.

"Oh, I got here—yes," M. Riviere smiled with drawn lips. "But not forlong; I return the day after tomorrow." He stood grasping his lightvalise in one neatly gloved hand, and gazing anxiously, perplexedly,almost appealingly, into Archer's face.

"I wonder, Monsieur, since I've had the good luck to run across you, ifI might—"

"I was just going to suggest it: come to luncheon, won't you? Downtown, I mean: if you'll look me up in my office I'll take you to a verydecent restaurant in that quarter."

M. Riviere was visibly touched and surprised. "You're too kind. But Iwas only going to ask if you would tell me how to reach some sort ofconveyance. There are no porters, and no one here seems to listen—"

"I know: our American stations must surprise you. When you ask for aporter they give you chewing-gum. But if you'll come along I'llextricate you; and you must really lunch with me, you know."

The young man, after a just perceptible hesitation, replied, withprofuse thanks, and in a tone that did not carry complete conviction,that he was already engaged; but when they had reached the comparativereassurance of the street he asked if he might call that afternoon.

Archer, at ease in the midsummer leisure of the office, fixed an hourand scribbled his address, which the Frenchman pocketed with reiteratedthanks and a wide flourish of his hat. A horse-car received him, andArcher walked away.

Punctually at the hour M. Riviere appeared, shaved, smoothed-out, butstill unmistakably drawn and serious. Archer was alone in his office,and the young man, before accepting the seat he proffered, beganabruptly: "I believe I saw you, sir, yesterday in Boston."

The statement was insignificant enough, and Archer was about to framean assent when his words were checked by something mysterious yetilluminating in his visitor's insistent gaze.

"It is extraordinary, very extraordinary," M. Riviere continued, "thatwe should have met in the circumstances in which I find myself."

"What circumstances?" Archer asked, wondering a little crudely if heneeded money.

M. Riviere continued to study him with tentative eyes. "I have come,not to look for employment, as I spoke of doing when we last met, buton a special mission—"

"Ah—!" Archer exclaimed. In a flash the two meetings had connectedthemselves in his mind. He paused to take in the situation thussuddenly lighted up for him, and M. Riviere also remained silent, as ifaware that what he had said was enough.

"A special mission," Archer at length repeated.

The young Frenchman, opening his palms, raised them slightly, and thetwo men continued to look at each other across the office-desk tillArcher roused himself to say: "Do sit down"; whereupon M. Rivierebowed, took a distant chair, and again waited.

"It was about this mission that you wanted to consult me?" Archerfinally asked.

M. Riviere bent his head. "Not in my own behalf: on that score I—Ihave fully dealt with myself. I should like—if I may—to speak to youabout the Countess Olenska."

Archer had known for the last few minutes that the words were coming;but when they came they sent the blood rushing to his temples as if hehad been caught by a bent-back branch in a thicket.

"And on whose behalf," he said, "do you wish to do this?"

M. Riviere met the question sturdily. "Well—I might say HERS, if itdid not sound like a liberty. Shall I say instead: on behalf ofabstract justice?"

Archer considered him ironically. "In other words: you are CountOlenski's messenger?"

He saw his blush more darkly reflected in M. Riviere's sallowcountenance. "Not to YOU, Monsieur. If I come to you, it is on quiteother grounds."

"What right have you, in the circumstances, to BE on any other ground?"Archer retorted. "If you're an emissary you're an emissary."

The young man considered. "My mission is over: as far as the CountessOlenska goes, it has failed."

"I can't help that," Archer rejoined on the same note of irony.

"No: but you can help—" M. Riviere paused, turned his hat about inhis still carefully gloved hands, looked into its lining and then backat Archer's face. "You can help, Monsieur, I am convinced, to make itequally a failure with her family."

Archer pushed back his chair and stood up. "Well—and by God I will!"he exclaimed. He stood with his hands in his pockets, staring downwrathfully at the little Frenchman, whose face, though he too hadrisen, was still an inch or two below the line of Archer's eyes.

M. Riviere paled to his normal hue: paler than that his complexioncould hardly turn.

"Why the devil," Archer explosively continued, "should you havethought—since I suppose you're appealing to me on the ground of myrelationship to Madame Olenska—that I should take a view contrary tothe rest of her family?"

The change of expression in M. Riviere's face was for a time his onlyanswer. His look passed from timidity to absolute distress: for ayoung man of his usually resourceful mien it would have been difficultto appear more disarmed and defenceless. "Oh, Monsieur—"

"I can't imagine," Archer continued, "why you should have come to mewhen there are others so much nearer to the Countess; still less whyyou thought I should be more accessible to the arguments I suppose youwere sent over with."

M. Riviere took this onslaught with a disconcerting humility. "Thearguments I want to present to you, Monsieur, are my own and not thoseI was sent over with."

"Then I see still less reason for listening to them."

M. Riviere again looked into his hat, as if considering whether theselast words were not a sufficiently broad hint to put it on and be gone.Then he spoke with sudden decision. "Monsieur—will you tell me onething? Is it my right to be here that you question? Or do you perhapsbelieve the whole matter to be already closed?"

His quiet insistence made Archer feel the clumsiness of his ownbluster. M. Riviere had succeeded in imposing himself: Archer,reddening slightly, dropped into his chair again, and signed to theyoung man to be seated.

"I beg your pardon: but why isn't the matter closed?"

M. Riviere gazed back at him with anguish. "You do, then, agree withthe rest of the family that, in face of the new proposals I havebrought, it is hardly possible for Madame Olenska not to return to herhusband?"

"Good God!" Archer exclaimed; and his visitor gave out a low murmur ofconfirmation.

"Before seeing her, I saw—at Count Olenski's request—Mr. LovellMingott, with whom I had several talks before going to Boston. Iunderstand that he represents his mother's view; and that Mrs. MansonMingott's influence is great throughout her family."

Archer sat silent, with the sense of clinging to the edge of a slidingprecipice. The discovery that he had been excluded from a share inthese negotiations, and even from the knowledge that they were on foot,caused him a surprise hardly dulled by the acuter wonder of what he waslearning. He saw in a flash that if the family had ceased to consulthim it was because some deep tribal instinct warned them that he was nolonger on their side; and he recalled, with a start of comprehension, aremark of May's during their drive home from Mrs. Manson Mingott's onthe day of the Archery Meeting: "Perhaps, after all, Ellen would behappier with her husband."

Even in the tumult of new discoveries Archer remembered his indignantexclamation, and the fact that since then his wife had never namedMadame Olenska to him. Her careless allusion had no doubt been thestraw held up to see which way the wind blew; the result had beenreported to the family, and thereafter Archer had been tacitly omittedfrom their counsels. He admired the tribal discipline which made Maybow to this decision. She would not have done so, he knew, had herconscience protested; but she probably shared the family view thatMadame Olenska would be better off as an unhappy wife than as aseparated one, and that there was no use in discussing the case withNewland, who had an awkward way of suddenly not seeming to take themost fundamental things for granted.

Archer looked up and met his visitor's anxious gaze. "Don't you know,Monsieur—is it possible you don't know—that the family begin to doubtif they have the right to advise the Countess to refuse her husband'slast proposals?"

"The proposals you brought?"

"The proposals I brought."

It was on Archer's lips to exclaim that whatever he knew or did notknow was no concern of M. Riviere's; but something in the humble andyet courageous tenacity of M. Riviere's gaze made him reject thisconclusion, and he met the young man's question with another. "What isyour object in speaking to me of this?"

He had not to wait a moment for the answer. "To beg you, Monsieur—tobeg you with all the force I'm capable of—not to let her go back.—Oh,don't let her!" M. Riviere exclaimed.

Archer looked at him with increasing astonishment. There was nomistaking the sincerity of his distress or the strength of hisdetermination: he had evidently resolved to let everything go by theboard but the supreme need of thus putting himself on record. Archerconsidered.

"May I ask," he said at length, "if this is the line you took with theCountess Olenska?"

M. Riviere reddened, but his eyes did not falter. "No, Monsieur: Iaccepted my mission in good faith. I really believed—for reasons Ineed not trouble you with—that it would be better for Madame Olenskato recover her situation, her fortune, the social consideration thather husband's standing gives her."

"So I supposed: you could hardly have accepted such a missionotherwise."

"I should not have accepted it."

"Well, then—?" Archer paused again, and their eyes met in anotherprotracted scrutiny.

"Ah, Monsieur, after I had seen her, after I had listened to her, Iknew she was better off here."

"You knew—?"

"Monsieur, I discharged my mission faithfully: I put the Count'sarguments, I stated his offers, without adding any comment of my own.The Countess was good enough to listen patiently; she carried hergoodness so far as to see me twice; she considered impartially all Ihad come to say. And it was in the course of these two talks that Ichanged my mind, that I came to see things differently."

"May I ask what led to this change?"

"Simply seeing the change in HER," M. Riviere replied.

"The change in her? Then you knew her before?"

The young man's colour again rose. "I used to see her in her husband'shouse. I have known Count Olenski for many years. You can imaginethat he would not have sent a stranger on such a mission."

Archer's gaze, wandering away to the blank walls of the office, restedon a hanging calendar surmounted by the rugged features of thePresident of the United States. That such a conversation should begoing on anywhere within the millions of square miles subject to hisrule seemed as strange as anything that the imagination could invent.

"The change—what sort of a change?"

"Ah, Monsieur, if I could tell you!" M. Riviere paused. "Tenez—thediscovery, I suppose, of what I'd never thought of before: that she'san American. And that if you're an American of HER kind—of yourkind—things that are accepted in certain other societies, or at leastput up with as part of a general convenient give-and-take—becomeunthinkable, simply unthinkable. If Madame Olenska's relationsunderstood what these things were, their opposition to her returningwould no doubt be as unconditional as her own; but they seem to regardher husband's wish to have her back as proof of an irresistible longingfor domestic life." M. Riviere paused, and then added: "Whereas it'sfar from being as simple as that."

Archer looked back to the President of the United States, and then downat his desk and at the papers scattered on it. For a second or two hecould not trust himself to speak. During this interval he heard M.Riviere's chair pushed back, and was aware that the young man hadrisen. When he glanced up again he saw that his visitor was as movedas himself.

"Thank you," Archer said simply.

"There's nothing to thank me for, Monsieur: it is I, rather—" M.Riviere broke off, as if speech for him too were difficult. "I shouldlike, though," he continued in a firmer voice, "to add one thing. Youasked me if I was in Count Olenski's employ. I am at this moment: Ireturned to him, a few months ago, for reasons of private necessitysuch as may happen to any one who has persons, ill and older persons,dependent on him. But from the moment that I have taken the step ofcoming here to say these things to you I consider myself discharged,and I shall tell him so on my return, and give him the reasons. That'sall, Monsieur."

M. Riviere bowed and drew back a step.

"Thank you," Archer said again, as their hands met.

XXVI.

Every year on the fifteenth of October Fifth Avenue opened itsshutters, unrolled its carpets and hung up its triple layer ofwindow-curtains.

By the first of November this household ritual was over, and societyhad begun to look about and take stock of itself. By the fifteenth theseason was in full blast, Opera and theatres were putting forth theirnew attractions, dinner-engagements were accumulating, and dates fordances being fixed. And punctually at about this time Mrs. Archeralways said that New York was very much changed.

Observing it from the lofty stand-point of a non-participant, she wasable, with the help of Mr. Sillerton Jackson and Miss Sophy, to traceeach new crack in its surface, and all the strange weeds pushing upbetween the ordered rows of social vegetables. It had been one of theamusements of Archer's youth to wait for this annual pronouncement ofhis mother's, and to hear her enumerate the minute signs ofdisintegration that his careless gaze had overlooked. For New York, toMrs. Archer's mind, never changed without changing for the worse; andin this view Miss Sophy Jackson heartily concurred.

Mr. Sillerton Jackson, as became a man of the world, suspended hisjudgment and listened with an amused impartiality to the lamentationsof the ladies. But even he never denied that New York had changed; andNewland Archer, in the winter of the second year of his marriage, washimself obliged to admit that if it had not actually changed it wascertainly changing.

These points had been raised, as usual, at Mrs. Archer's Thanksgivingdinner. At the date when she was officially enjoined to give thanksfor the blessings of the year it was her habit to take a mournfulthough not embittered stock of her world, and wonder what there was tobe thankful for. At any rate, not the state of society; society, if itcould be said to exist, was rather a spectacle on which to call downBiblical imprecations—and in fact, every one knew what the ReverendDr. Ashmore meant when he chose a text from Jeremiah (chap. ii., verse25) for his Thanksgiving sermon. Dr. Ashmore, the new Rector of St.Matthew's, had been chosen because he was very "advanced": his sermonswere considered bold in thought and novel in language. When hefulminated against fashionable society he always spoke of its "trend";and to Mrs. Archer it was terrifying and yet fascinating to feelherself part of a community that was trending.

"There's no doubt that Dr. Ashmore is right: there IS a marked trend,"she said, as if it were something visible and measurable, like a crackin a house.

"It was odd, though, to preach about it on Thanksgiving," Miss Jacksonopined; and her hostess drily rejoined: "Oh, he means us to givethanks for what's left."

Archer had been wont to smile at these annual vaticinations of hismother's; but this year even he was obliged to acknowledge, as helistened to an enumeration of the changes, that the "trend" was visible.

"The extravagance in dress—" Miss Jackson began. "Sillerton took meto the first night of the Opera, and I can only tell you that JaneMerry's dress was the only one I recognised from last year; and eventhat had had the front panel changed. Yet I know she got it out fromWorth only two years ago, because my seamstress always goes in to makeover her Paris dresses before she wears them."

"Ah, Jane Merry is one of US," said Mrs. Archer sighing, as if it werenot such an enviable thing to be in an age when ladies were beginningto flaunt abroad their Paris dresses as soon as they were out of theCustom House, instead of letting them mellow under lock and key, in themanner of Mrs. Archer's contemporaries.

"Yes; she's one of the few. In my youth," Miss Jackson rejoined, "itwas considered vulgar to dress in the newest fashions; and AmySillerton has always told me that in Boston the rule was to put awayone's Paris dresses for two years. Old Mrs. Baxter Pennilow, who dideverything handsomely, used to import twelve a year, two velvet, twosatin, two silk, and the other six of poplin and the finest cashmere.It was a standing order, and as she was ill for two years before shedied they found forty-eight Worth dresses that had never been taken outof tissue paper; and when the girls left off their mourning they wereable to wear the first lot at the Symphony concerts without looking inadvance of the fashion."

"Ah, well, Boston is more conservative than New York; but I alwaysthink it's a safe rule for a lady to lay aside her French dresses forone season," Mrs. Archer conceded.

"It was Beaufort who started the new fashion by making his wife clapher new clothes on her back as soon as they arrived: I must say attimes it takes all Regina's distinction not to look like ... like ..."Miss Jackson glanced around the table, caught Janey's bulging gaze, andtook refuge in an unintelligible murmur.

"Like her rivals," said Mr. Sillerton Jackson, with the air ofproducing an epigram.

"Oh,—" the ladies murmured; and Mrs. Archer added, partly to distracther daughter's attention from forbidden topics: "Poor Regina! HerThanksgiving hasn't been a very cheerful one, I'm afraid. Have youheard the rumours about Beaufort's speculations, Sillerton?"

Mr. Jackson nodded carelessly. Every one had heard the rumours inquestion, and he scorned to confirm a tale that was already commonproperty.

A gloomy silence fell upon the party. No one really liked Beaufort,and it was not wholly unpleasant to think the worst of his privatelife; but the idea of his having brought financial dishonour on hiswife's family was too shocking to be enjoyed even by his enemies.Archer's New York tolerated hypocrisy in private relations; but inbusiness matters it exacted a limpid and impeccable honesty. It was along time since any well-known banker had failed discreditably; butevery one remembered the social extinction visited on the heads of thefirm when the last event of the kind had happened. It would be thesame with the Beauforts, in spite of his power and her popularity; notall the leagued strength of the Dallas connection would save poorRegina if there were any truth in the reports of her husband's unlawfulspeculations.

The talk took refuge in less ominous topics; but everything theytouched on seemed to confirm Mrs. Archer's sense of an acceleratedtrend.

"Of course, Newland, I know you let dear May go to Mrs. Struthers'sSunday evenings—" she began; and May interposed gaily: "Oh, you know,everybody goes to Mrs. Struthers's now; and she was invited to Granny'slast reception."

It was thus, Archer reflected, that New York managed its transitions:conspiring to ignore them till they were well over, and then, in allgood faith, imagining that they had taken place in a preceding age.There was always a traitor in the citadel; and after he (or generallyshe) had surrendered the keys, what was the use of pretending that itwas impregnable? Once people had tasted of Mrs. Struthers's easySunday hospitality they were not likely to sit at home remembering thather champagne was transmuted Shoe-Polish.

"I know, dear, I know," Mrs. Archer sighed. "Such things have to be, Isuppose, as long as AMUSEMENT is what people go out for; but I've neverquite forgiven your cousin Madame Olenska for being the first person tocountenance Mrs. Struthers."

A sudden blush rose to young Mrs. Archer's face; it surprised herhusband as much as the other guests about the table. "Oh, ELLEN—" shemurmured, much in the same accusing and yet deprecating tone in whichher parents might have said: "Oh, THE BLENKERS—."

It was the note which the family had taken to sounding on the mentionof the Countess Olenska's name, since she had surprised andinconvenienced them by remaining obdurate to her husband's advances;but on May's lips it gave food for thought, and Archer looked at herwith the sense of strangeness that sometimes came over him when she wasmost in the tone of her environment.

His mother, with less than her usual sensitiveness to atmosphere, stillinsisted: "I've always thought that people like the Countess Olenska,who have lived in aristocratic societies, ought to help us to keep upour social distinctions, instead of ignoring them."

May's blush remained permanently vivid: it seemed to have asignificance beyond that implied by the recognition of Madame Olenska'ssocial bad faith.

"I've no doubt we all seem alike to foreigners," said Miss Jacksontartly.

"I don't think Ellen cares for society; but nobody knows exactly whatshe does care for," May continued, as if she had been groping forsomething noncommittal.

"Ah, well—" Mrs. Archer sighed again.

Everybody knew that the Countess Olenska was no longer in the goodgraces of her family. Even her devoted champion, old Mrs. MansonMingott, had been unable to defend her refusal to return to herhusband. The Mingotts had not proclaimed their disapproval aloud:their sense of solidarity was too strong. They had simply, as Mrs.Welland said, "let poor Ellen find her own level"—and that,mortifyingly and incomprehensibly, was in the dim depths where theBlenkers prevailed, and "people who wrote" celebrated their untidyrites. It was incredible, but it was a fact, that Ellen, in spite ofall her opportunities and her privileges, had become simply "Bohemian."The fact enforced the contention that she had made a fatal mistake innot returning to Count Olenski. After all, a young woman's place wasunder her husband's roof, especially when she had left it incircumstances that ... well ... if one had cared to look into them ...

"Madame Olenska is a great favourite with the gentlemen," said MissSophy, with her air of wishing to put forth something conciliatory whenshe knew that she was planting a dart.

"Ah, that's the danger that a young woman like Madame Olenska is alwaysexposed to," Mrs. Archer mournfully agreed; and the ladies, on thisconclusion, gathered up their trains to seek the carcel globes of thedrawing-room, while Archer and Mr. Sillerton Jackson withdrew to theGothic library.

Once established before the grate, and consoling himself for theinadequacy of the dinner by the perfection of his cigar, Mr. Jacksonbecame portentous and communicable.

"If the Beaufort smash comes," he announced, "there are going to bedisclosures."

Archer raised his head quickly: he could never hear the name withoutthe sharp vision of Beaufort's heavy figure, opulently furred and shod,advancing through the snow at Skuytercliff.

"There's bound to be," Mr. Jackson continued, "the nastiest kind of acleaning up. He hasn't spent all his money on Regina."

"Oh, well—that's discounted, isn't it? My belief is he'll pull outyet," said the young man, wanting to change the subject.

"Perhaps—perhaps. I know he was to see some of the influential peopletoday. Of course," Mr. Jackson reluctantly conceded, "it's to be hopedthey can tide him over—this time anyhow. I shouldn't like to think ofpoor Regina's spending the rest of her life in some shabby foreignwatering-place for bankrupts."

Archer said nothing. It seemed to him so natural—however tragic—thatmoney ill-gotten should be cruelly expiated, that his mind, hardlylingering over Mrs. Beaufort's doom, wandered back to closer questions.What was the meaning of May's blush when the Countess Olenska had beenmentioned?

Four months had passed since the midsummer day that he and MadameOlenska had spent together; and since then he had not seen her. Heknew that she had returned to Washington, to the little house which sheand Medora Manson had taken there: he had written to her once—a fewwords, asking when they were to meet again—and she had even morebriefly replied: "Not yet."

Since then there had been no farther communication between them, and hehad built up within himself a kind of sanctuary in which she thronedamong his secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became thescene of his real life, of his only rational activities; thither hebrought the books he read, the ideas and feelings which nourished him,his judgments and his visions. Outside it, in the scene of his actuallife, he moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency,blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional points of viewas an absent-minded man goes on bumping into the furniture of his ownroom. Absent—that was what he was: so absent from everything mostdensely real and near to those about him that it sometimes startled himto find they still imagined he was there.

He became aware that Mr. Jackson was clearing his throat preparatory tofarther revelations.

"I don't know, of course, how far your wife's family are aware of whatpeople say about—well, about Madame Olenska's refusal to accept herhusband's latest offer."

Archer was silent, and Mr. Jackson obliquely continued: "It's apity—it's certainly a pity—that she refused it."

"A pity? In God's name, why?"

Mr. Jackson looked down his leg to the unwrinkled sock that joined itto a glossy pump.

"Well—to put it on the lowest ground—what's she going to live on now?"

"Now—?"

"If Beaufort—"

Archer sprang up, his fist banging down on the black walnut-edge of thewriting-table. The wells of the brass double-inkstand danced in theirsockets.

"What the devil do you mean, sir?"

Mr. Jackson, shifting himself slightly in his chair, turned a tranquilgaze on the young man's burning face.

"Well—I have it on pretty good authority—in fact, on old Catherine'sherself—that the family reduced Countess Olenska's allowanceconsiderably when she definitely refused to go back to her husband; andas, by this refusal, she also forfeits the money settled on her whenshe married—which Olenski was ready to make over to her if shereturned—why, what the devil do YOU mean, my dear boy, by asking mewhat I mean?" Mr. Jackson good-humouredly retorted.

Archer moved toward the mantelpiece and bent over to knock his ashesinto the grate.

"I don't know anything of Madame Olenska's private affairs; but I don'tneed to, to be certain that what you insinuate—"

"Oh, I don't: it's Lefferts, for one," Mr. Jackson interposed.

"Lefferts—who made love to her and got snubbed for it!" Archer brokeout contemptuously.

"Ah—DID he?" snapped the other, as if this were exactly the fact hehad been laying a trap for. He still sat sideways from the fire, sothat his hard old gaze held Archer's face as if in a spring of steel.

"Well, well: it's a pity she didn't go back before Beaufort's cropper,"he repeated. "If she goes NOW, and if he fails, it will only confirmthe general impression: which isn't by any means peculiar to Lefferts,by the way."

"Oh, she won't go back now: less than ever!" Archer had no sooner saidit than he had once more the feeling that it was exactly what Mr.Jackson had been waiting for.

The old gentleman considered him attentively. "That's your opinion,eh? Well, no doubt you know. But everybody will tell you that the fewpennies Medora Manson has left are all in Beaufort's hands; and how thetwo women are to keep their heads above water unless he does, I can'timagine. Of course, Madame Olenska may still soften old Catherine,who's been the most inexorably opposed to her staying; and oldCatherine could make her any allowance she chooses. But we all knowthat she hates parting with good money; and the rest of the family haveno particular interest in keeping Madame Olenska here."

Archer was burning with unavailing wrath: he was exactly in the statewhen a man is sure to do something stupid, knowing all the while thathe is doing it.

He saw that Mr. Jackson had been instantly struck by the fact thatMadame Olenska's differences with her grandmother and her otherrelations were not known to him, and that the old gentleman had drawnhis own conclusions as to the reasons for Archer's exclusion from thefamily councils. This fact warned Archer to go warily; but theinsinuations about Beaufort made him reckless. He was mindful,however, if not of his own danger, at least of the fact that Mr.Jackson was under his mother's roof, and consequently his guest. OldNew York scrupulously observed the etiquette of hospitality, and nodiscussion with a guest was ever allowed to degenerate into adisagreement.

"Shall we go up and join my mother?" he suggested curtly, as Mr.Jackson's last cone of ashes dropped into the brass ashtray at hiselbow.

On the drive homeward May remained oddly silent; through the darkness,he still felt her enveloped in her menacing blush. What its menacemeant he could not guess: but he was sufficiently warned by the factthat Madame Olenska's name had evoked it.

They went upstairs, and he turned into the library. She usuallyfollowed him; but he heard her passing down the passage to her bedroom.

"May!" he called out impatiently; and she came back, with a slightglance of surprise at his tone.

"This lamp is smoking again; I should think the servants might see thatit's kept properly trimmed," he grumbled nervously.

"I'm so sorry: it shan't happen again," she answered, in the firmbright tone she had learned from her mother; and it exasperated Archerto feel that she was already beginning to humour him like a younger Mr.Welland. She bent over to lower the wick, and as the light struck upon her white shoulders and the clear curves of her face he thought:"How young she is! For what endless years this life will have to goon!"

He felt, with a kind of horror, his own strong youth and the boundingblood in his veins. "Look here," he said suddenly, "I may have to goto Washington for a few days—soon; next week perhaps."

Her hand remained on the key of the lamp as she turned to him slowly.The heat from its flame had brought back a glow to her face, but itpaled as she looked up.

"On business?" she asked, in a tone which implied that there could beno other conceivable reason, and that she had put the questionautomatically, as if merely to finish his own sentence.

"On business, naturally. There's a patent case coming up before theSupreme Court—" He gave the name of the inventor, and went onfurnishing details with all Lawrence Lefferts's practised glibness,while she listened attentively, saying at intervals: "Yes, I see."

"The change will do you good," she said simply, when he had finished;"and you must be sure to go and see Ellen," she added, looking himstraight in the eyes with her cloudless smile, and speaking in the toneshe might have employed in urging him not to neglect some irksomefamily duty.

It was the only word that passed between them on the subject; but inthe code in which they had both been trained it meant: "Of course youunderstand that I know all that people have been saying about Ellen,and heartily sympathise with my family in their effort to get her toreturn to her husband. I also know that, for some reason you have notchosen to tell me, you have advised her against this course, which allthe older men of the family, as well as our grandmother, agree inapproving; and that it is owing to your encouragement that Ellen defiesus all, and exposes herself to the kind of criticism of which Mr.Sillerton Jackson probably gave you, this evening, the hint that hasmade you so irritable.... Hints have indeed not been wanting; butsince you appear unwilling to take them from others, I offer you thisone myself, in the only form in which well-bred people of our kind cancommunicate unpleasant things to each other: by letting you understandthat I know you mean to see Ellen when you are in Washington, and areperhaps going there expressly for that purpose; and that, since you aresure to see her, I wish you to do so with my full and explicitapproval—and to take the opportunity of letting her know what thecourse of conduct you have encouraged her in is likely to lead to."

Her hand was still on the key of the lamp when the last word of thismute message reached him. She turned the wick down, lifted off theglobe, and breathed on the sulky flame.

"They smell less if one blows them out," she explained, with her brighthousekeeping air. On the threshold she turned and paused for his kiss.

XXVII.

Wall Street, the next day, had more reassuring reports of Beaufort'ssituation. They were not definite, but they were hopeful. It wasgenerally understood that he could call on powerful influences in caseof emergency, and that he had done so with success; and that evening,when Mrs. Beaufort appeared at the Opera wearing her old smile and anew emerald necklace, society drew a breath of relief.

New York was inexorable in its condemnation of business irregularities.So far there had been no exception to its tacit rule that those whobroke the law of probity must pay; and every one was aware that evenBeaufort and Beaufort's wife would be offered up unflinchingly to thisprinciple. But to be obliged to offer them up would be not onlypainful but inconvenient. The disappearance of the Beauforts wouldleave a considerable void in their compact little circle; and those whowere too ignorant or too careless to shudder at the moral catastrophebewailed in advance the loss of the best ball-room in New York.

Archer had definitely made up his mind to go to Washington. He waswaiting only for the opening of the law-suit of which he had spoken toMay, so that its date might coincide with that of his visit; but on thefollowing Tuesday he learned from Mr. Letterblair that the case mightbe postponed for several weeks. Nevertheless, he went home thatafternoon determined in any event to leave the next evening. Thechances were that May, who knew nothing of his professional life, andhad never shown any interest in it, would not learn of thepostponement, should it take place, nor remember the names of thelitigants if they were mentioned before her; and at any rate he couldno longer put off seeing Madame Olenska. There were too many thingsthat he must say to her.

On the Wednesday morning, when he reached his office, Mr. Letterblairmet him with a troubled face. Beaufort, after all, had not managed to"tide over"; but by setting afloat the rumour that he had done so hehad reassured his depositors, and heavy payments had poured into thebank till the previous evening, when disturbing reports again began topredominate. In consequence, a run on the bank had begun, and itsdoors were likely to close before the day was over. The ugliest thingswere being said of Beaufort's dastardly manoeuvre, and his failurepromised to be one of the most discreditable in the history of WallStreet.

The extent of the calamity left Mr. Letterblair white andincapacitated. "I've seen bad things in my time; but nothing as bad asthis. Everybody we know will be hit, one way or another. And whatwill be done about Mrs. Beaufort? What CAN be done about her? I pityMrs. Manson Mingott as much as anybody: coming at her age, there's noknowing what effect this affair may have on her. She always believedin Beaufort—she made a friend of him! And there's the whole Dallasconnection: poor Mrs. Beaufort is related to every one of you. Heronly chance would be to leave her husband—yet how can any one tell herso? Her duty is at his side; and luckily she seems always to have beenblind to his private weaknesses."

There was a knock, and Mr. Letterblair turned his head sharply. "Whatis it? I can't be disturbed."

A clerk brought in a letter for Archer and withdrew. Recognising hiswife's hand, the young man opened the envelope and read: "Won't youplease come up town as early as you can? Granny had a slight strokelast night. In some mysterious way she found out before any one elsethis awful news about the bank. Uncle Lovell is away shooting, and theidea of the disgrace has made poor Papa so nervous that he has atemperature and can't leave his room. Mamma needs you dreadfully, andI do hope you can get away at once and go straight to Granny's."

Archer handed the note to his senior partner, and a few minutes laterwas crawling northward in a crowded horse-car, which he exchanged atFourteenth Street for one of the high staggering omnibuses of the FifthAvenue line. It was after twelve o'clock when this laborious vehicledropped him at old Catherine's. The sitting-room window on the groundfloor, where she usually throned, was tenanted by the inadequate figureof her daughter, Mrs. Welland, who signed a haggard welcome as shecaught sight of Archer; and at the door he was met by May. The hallwore the unnatural appearance peculiar to well-kept houses suddenlyinvaded by illness: wraps and furs lay in heaps on the chairs, adoctor's bag and overcoat were on the table, and beside them lettersand cards had already piled up unheeded.

May looked pale but smiling: Dr. Bencomb, who had just come for thesecond time, took a more hopeful view, and Mrs. Mingott's dauntlessdetermination to live and get well was already having an effect on herfamily. May led Archer into the old lady's sitting-room, where thesliding doors opening into the bedroom had been drawn shut, and theheavy yellow damask portieres dropped over them; and here Mrs. Wellandcommunicated to him in horrified undertones the details of thecatastrophe. It appeared that the evening before something dreadfuland mysterious had happened. At about eight o'clock, just after Mrs.Mingott had finished the game of solitaire that she always played afterdinner, the door-bell had rung, and a lady so thickly veiled that theservants did not immediately recognise her had asked to be received.

The butler, hearing a familiar voice, had thrown open the sitting-roomdoor, announcing: "Mrs. Julius Beaufort"—and had then closed it againon the two ladies. They must have been together, he thought, about anhour. When Mrs. Mingott's bell rang Mrs. Beaufort had already slippedaway unseen, and the old lady, white and vast and terrible, sat alonein her great chair, and signed to the butler to help her into her room.She seemed, at that time, though obviously distressed, in completecontrol of her body and brain. The mulatto maid put her to bed,brought her a cup of tea as usual, laid everything straight in theroom, and went away; but at three in the morning the bell rang again,and the two servants, hastening in at this unwonted summons (for oldCatherine usually slept like a baby), had found their mistress sittingup against her pillows with a crooked smile on her face and one littlehand hanging limp from its huge arm.

The stroke had clearly been a slight one, for she was able toarticulate and to make her wishes known; and soon after the doctor'sfirst visit she had begun to regain control of her facial muscles. Butthe alarm had been great; and proportionately great was the indignationwhen it was gathered from Mrs. Mingott's fragmentary phrases thatRegina Beaufort had come to ask her—incredible effrontery!—to back upher husband, see them through—not to "desert" them, as she calledit—in fact to induce the whole family to cover and condone theirmonstrous dishonour.

"I said to her: 'Honour's always been honour, and honesty honesty, inManson Mingott's house, and will be till I'm carried out of it feetfirst,'" the old woman had stammered into her daughter's ear, in thethick voice of the partly paralysed. "And when she said: 'But myname, Auntie—my name's Regina Dallas,' I said: 'It was Beaufort whenhe covered you with jewels, and it's got to stay Beaufort now that he'scovered you with shame.'"

So much, with tears and gasps of horror, Mrs. Welland imparted,blanched and demolished by the unwonted obligation of having at last tofix her eyes on the unpleasant and the discreditable. "If only I couldkeep it from your father-in-law: he always says: 'Augusta, for pity'ssake, don't destroy my last illusions'—and how am I to prevent hisknowing these horrors?" the poor lady wailed.

"After all, Mamma, he won't have SEEN them," her daughter suggested;and Mrs. Welland sighed: "Ah, no; thank heaven he's safe in bed. AndDr. Bencomb has promised to keep him there till poor Mamma is better,and Regina has been got away somewhere."

Archer had seated himself near the window and was gazing out blankly atthe deserted thoroughfare. It was evident that he had been summonedrather for the moral support of the stricken ladies than because of anyspecific aid that he could render. Mr. Lovell Mingott had beentelegraphed for, and messages were being despatched by hand to themembers of the family living in New York; and meanwhile there wasnothing to do but to discuss in hushed tones the consequences ofBeaufort's dishonour and of his wife's unjustifiable action.

Mrs. Lovell Mingott, who had been in another room writing notes,presently reappeared, and added her voice to the discussion. In THEIRday, the elder ladies agreed, the wife of a man who had done anythingdisgraceful in business had only one idea: to efface herself, todisappear with him. "There was the case of poor Grandmamma Spicer;your great-grandmother, May. Of course," Mrs. Welland hastened to add,"your great-grandfather's money difficulties were private—losses atcards, or signing a note for somebody—I never quite knew, becauseMamma would never speak of it. But she was brought up in the countrybecause her mother had to leave New York after the disgrace, whateverit was: they lived up the Hudson alone, winter and summer, till Mammawas sixteen. It would never have occurred to Grandmamma Spicer to askthe family to 'countenance' her, as I understand Regina calls it;though a private disgrace is nothing compared to the scandal of ruininghundreds of innocent people."

"Yes, it would be more becoming in Regina to hide her own countenancethan to talk about other people's," Mrs. Lovell Mingott agreed. "Iunderstand that the emerald necklace she wore at the Opera last Fridayhad been sent on approval from Ball and Black's in the afternoon. Iwonder if they'll ever get it back?"

Archer listened unmoved to the relentless chorus. The idea of absolutefinancial probity as the first law of a gentleman's code was too deeplyingrained in him for sentimental considerations to weaken it. Anadventurer like Lemuel Struthers might build up the millions of hisShoe Polish on any number of shady dealings; but unblemished honestywas the noblesse oblige of old financial New York. Nor did Mrs.Beaufort's fate greatly move Archer. He felt, no doubt, more sorry forher than her indignant relatives; but it seemed to him that the tiebetween husband and wife, even if breakable in prosperity, should beindissoluble in misfortune. As Mr. Letterblair had said, a wife'splace was at her husband's side when he was in trouble; but society'splace was not at his side, and Mrs. Beaufort's cool assumption that itwas seemed almost to make her his accomplice. The mere idea of awoman's appealing to her family to screen her husband's businessdishonour was inadmissible, since it was the one thing that the Family,as an institution, could not do.

The mulatto maid called Mrs. Lovell Mingott into the hall, and thelatter came back in a moment with a frowning brow.

"She wants me to telegraph for Ellen Olenska. I had written to Ellen,of course, and to Medora; but now it seems that's not enough. I'm totelegraph to her immediately, and to tell her that she's to come alone."

The announcement was received in silence. Mrs. Welland sighedresignedly, and May rose from her seat and went to gather up somenewspapers that had been scattered on the floor.

"I suppose it must be done," Mrs. Lovell Mingott continued, as ifhoping to be contradicted; and May turned back toward the middle of theroom.

"Of course it must be done," she said. "Granny knows what she wants,and we must carry out all her wishes. Shall I write the telegram foryou, Auntie? If it goes at once Ellen can probably catch tomorrowmorning's train." She pronounced the syllables of the name with apeculiar clearness, as if she had tapped on two silver bells.

"Well, it can't go at once. Jasper and the pantry-boy are both outwith notes and telegrams."

May turned to her husband with a smile. "But here's Newland, ready todo anything. Will you take the telegram, Newland? There'll be justtime before luncheon."

Archer rose with a murmur of readiness, and she seated herself at oldCatherine's rosewood "Bonheur du Jour," and wrote out the message inher large immature hand. When it was written she blotted it neatly andhanded it to Archer.

"What a pity," she said, "that you and Ellen will cross each other onthe way!—Newland," she added, turning to her mother and aunt, "isobliged to go to Washington about a patent law-suit that is coming upbefore the Supreme Court. I suppose Uncle Lovell will be back bytomorrow night, and with Granny improving so much it doesn't seem rightto ask Newland to give up an important engagement for the firm—doesit?"

She paused, as if for an answer, and Mrs. Welland hastily declared:"Oh, of course not, darling. Your Granny would be the last person towish it." As Archer left the room with the telegram, he heard hismother-in-law add, presumably to Mrs. Lovell Mingott: "But why onearth she should make you telegraph for Ellen Olenska—" and May'sclear voice rejoin: "Perhaps it's to urge on her again that after allher duty is with her husband."

The outer door closed on Archer and he walked hastily away toward thetelegraph office.

XXVIII.

"Ol-ol—howjer spell it, anyhow?" asked the tart young lady to whomArcher had pushed his wife's telegram across the brass ledge of theWestern Union office.

"Olenska—O-len-ska," he repeated, drawing back the message in order toprint out the foreign syllables above May's rambling script.

"It's an unlikely name for a New York telegraph office; at least inthis quarter," an unexpected voice observed; and turning around Archersaw Lawrence Lefferts at his elbow, pulling an imperturbable moustacheand affecting not to glance at the message.

"Hallo, Newland: thought I'd catch you here. I've just heard of oldMrs. Mingott's stroke; and as I was on my way to the house I saw youturning down this street and nipped after you. I suppose you've comefrom there?"

Archer nodded, and pushed his telegram under the lattice.

"Very bad, eh?" Lefferts continued. "Wiring to the family, I suppose.I gather it IS bad, if you're including Countess Olenska."

Archer's lips stiffened; he felt a savage impulse to dash his fist intothe long vain handsome face at his side.

"Why?" he questioned.

Lefferts, who was known to shrink from discussion, raised his eye-browswith an ironic grimace that warned the other of the watching damselbehind the lattice. Nothing could be worse "form" the look remindedArcher, than any display of temper in a public place.

Archer had never been more indifferent to the requirements of form; buthis impulse to do Lawrence Lefferts a physical injury was onlymomentary. The idea of bandying Ellen Olenska's name with him at sucha time, and on whatsoever provocation, was unthinkable. He paid forhis telegram, and the two young men went out together into the street.There Archer, having regained his self-control, went on: "Mrs. Mingottis much better: the doctor feels no anxiety whatever"; and Lefferts,with profuse expressions of relief, asked him if he had heard thatthere were beastly bad rumours again about Beaufort....

That afternoon the announcement of the Beaufort failure was in all thepapers. It overshadowed the report of Mrs. Manson Mingott's stroke,and only the few who had heard of the mysterious connection between thetwo events thought of ascribing old Catherine's illness to anything butthe accumulation of flesh and years.

The whole of New York was darkened by the tale of Beaufort's dishonour.There had never, as Mr. Letterblair said, been a worse case in hismemory, nor, for that matter, in the memory of the far-off Letterblairwho had given his name to the firm. The bank had continued to take inmoney for a whole day after its failure was inevitable; and as many ofits clients belonged to one or another of the ruling clans, Beaufort'sduplicity seemed doubly cynical. If Mrs. Beaufort had not taken thetone that such misfortunes (the word was her own) were "the test offriendship," compassion for her might have tempered the generalindignation against her husband. As it was—and especially after theobject of her nocturnal visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott had becomeknown—her cynicism was held to exceed his; and she had not theexcuse—nor her detractors the satisfaction—of pleading that she was"a foreigner." It was some comfort (to those whose securities were notin jeopardy) to be able to remind themselves that Beaufort WAS; but,after all, if a Dallas of South Carolina took his view of the case, andglibly talked of his soon being "on his feet again," the argument lostits edge, and there was nothing to do but to accept this awful evidenceof the indissolubility of marriage. Society must manage to get onwithout the Beauforts, and there was an end of it—except indeed forsuch hapless victims of the disaster as Medora Manson, the poor oldMiss Lannings, and certain other misguided ladies of good family who,if only they had listened to Mr. Henry van der Luyden ...

"The best thing the Beauforts can do," said Mrs. Archer, summing it upas if she were pronouncing a diagnosis and prescribing a course oftreatment, "is to go and live at Regina's little place in NorthCarolina. Beaufort has always kept a racing stable, and he had betterbreed trotting horses. I should say he had all the qualities of asuccessful horsedealer." Every one agreed with her, but no onecondescended to enquire what the Beauforts really meant to do.

The next day Mrs. Manson Mingott was much better: she recovered hervoice sufficiently to give orders that no one should mention theBeauforts to her again, and asked—when Dr. Bencomb appeared—what inthe world her family meant by making such a fuss about her health.

"If people of my age WILL eat chicken-salad in the evening what arethey to expect?" she enquired; and, the doctor having opportunelymodified her dietary, the stroke was transformed into an attack ofindigestion. But in spite of her firm tone old Catherine did notwholly recover her former attitude toward life. The growing remotenessof old age, though it had not diminished her curiosity about herneighbours, had blunted her never very lively compassion for theirtroubles; and she seemed to have no difficulty in putting the Beaufortdisaster out of her mind. But for the first time she became absorbedin her own symptoms, and began to take a sentimental interest incertain members of her family to whom she had hitherto beencontemptuously indifferent.

Mr. Welland, in particular, had the privilege of attracting her notice.Of her sons-in-law he was the one she had most consistently ignored;and all his wife's efforts to represent him as a man of forcefulcharacter and marked intellectual ability (if he had only "chosen") hadbeen met with a derisive chuckle. But his eminence as a valetudinariannow made him an object of engrossing interest, and Mrs. Mingott issuedan imperial summons to him to come and compare diets as soon as histemperature permitted; for old Catherine was now the first to recognisethat one could not be too careful about temperatures.

Twenty-four hours after Madame Olenska's summons a telegram announcedthat she would arrive from Washington on the evening of the followingday. At the Wellands', where the Newland Archers chanced to belunching, the question as to who should meet her at Jersey City wasimmediately raised; and the material difficulties amid which theWelland household struggled as if it had been a frontier outpost, lentanimation to the debate. It was agreed that Mrs. Welland could notpossibly go to Jersey City because she was to accompany her husband toold Catherine's that afternoon, and the brougham could not be spared,since, if Mr. Welland were "upset" by seeing his mother-in-law for thefirst time after her attack, he might have to be taken home at amoment's notice. The Welland sons would of course be "down town," Mr.Lovell Mingott would be just hurrying back from his shooting, and theMingott carriage engaged in meeting him; and one could not ask May, atthe close of a winter afternoon, to go alone across the ferry to JerseyCity, even in her own carriage. Nevertheless, it might appearinhospitable—and contrary to old Catherine's express wishes—if MadameOlenska were allowed to arrive without any of the family being at thestation to receive her. It was just like Ellen, Mrs. Welland's tiredvoice implied, to place the family in such a dilemma. "It's always onething after another," the poor lady grieved, in one of her rare revoltsagainst fate; "the only thing that makes me think Mamma must be lesswell than Dr. Bencomb will admit is this morbid desire to have Ellencome at once, however inconvenient it is to meet her."

The words had been thoughtless, as the utterances of impatience oftenare; and Mr. Welland was upon them with a pounce.

"Augusta," he said, turning pale and laying down his fork, "have youany other reason for thinking that Bencomb is less to be relied on thanhe was? Have you noticed that he has been less conscientious thanusual in following up my case or your mother's?"

It was Mrs. Welland's turn to grow pale as the endless consequences ofher blunder unrolled themselves before her; but she managed to laugh,and take a second helping of scalloped oysters, before she said,struggling back into her old armour of cheerfulness: "My dear, howcould you imagine such a thing? I only meant that, after the decidedstand Mamma took about its being Ellen's duty to go back to herhusband, it seems strange that she should be seized with this suddenwhim to see her, when there are half a dozen other grandchildren thatshe might have asked for. But we must never forget that Mamma, inspite of her wonderful vitality, is a very old woman."

Mr. Welland's brow remained clouded, and it was evident that hisperturbed imagination had fastened at once on this last remark. "Yes:your mother's a very old woman; and for all we know Bencomb may not beas successful with very old people. As you say, my dear, it's alwaysone thing after another; and in another ten or fifteen years I supposeI shall have the pleasing duty of looking about for a new doctor. It'salways better to make such a change before it's absolutely necessary."And having arrived at this Spartan decision Mr. Welland firmly took uphis fork.

"But all the while," Mrs. Welland began again, as she rose from theluncheon-table, and led the way into the wilderness of purple satin andmalachite known as the back drawing-room, "I don't see how Ellen's tobe got here tomorrow evening; and I do like to have things settled forat least twenty-four hours ahead."

Archer turned from the fascinated contemplation of a small paintingrepresenting two Cardinals carousing, in an octagonal ebony frame setwith medallions of onyx.

"Shall I fetch her?" he proposed. "I can easily get away from theoffice in time to meet the brougham at the ferry, if May will send itthere." His heart was beating excitedly as he spoke.

Mrs. Welland heaved a sigh of gratitude, and May, who had moved away tothe window, turned to shed on him a beam of approval. "So you see,Mamma, everything WILL be settled twenty-four hours in advance," shesaid, stooping over to kiss her mother's troubled forehead.

May's brougham awaited her at the door, and she was to drive Archer toUnion Square, where he could pick up a Broadway car to carry him to theoffice. As she settled herself in her corner she said: "I didn't wantto worry Mamma by raising fresh obstacles; but how can you meet Ellentomorrow, and bring her back to New York, when you're going toWashington?"

"Oh, I'm not going," Archer answered.

"Not going? Why, what's happened?" Her voice was as clear as a bell,and full of wifely solicitude.

"The case is off—postponed."

"Postponed? How odd! I saw a note this morning from Mr. Letterblairto Mamma saying that he was going to Washington tomorrow for the bigpatent case that he was to argue before the Supreme Court. You said itwas a patent case, didn't you?"

"Well—that's it: the whole office can't go. Letterblair decided to gothis morning."

"Then it's NOT postponed?" she continued, with an insistence so unlikeher that he felt the blood rising to his face, as if he were blushingfor her unwonted lapse from all the traditional delicacies.

"No: but my going is," he answered, cursing the unnecessaryexplanations that he had given when he had announced his intention ofgoing to Washington, and wondering where he had read that clever liarsgive details, but that the cleverest do not. It did not hurt him halfas much to tell May an untruth as to see her trying to pretend that shehad not detected him.

"I'm not going till later on: luckily for the convenience of yourfamily," he continued, taking base refuge in sarcasm. As he spoke hefelt that she was looking at him, and he turned his eyes to hers inorder not to appear to be avoiding them. Their glances met for asecond, and perhaps let them into each other's meanings more deeplythan either cared to go.

"Yes; it IS awfully convenient," May brightly agreed, "that you shouldbe able to meet Ellen after all; you saw how much Mamma appreciatedyour offering to do it."

"Oh, I'm delighted to do it." The carriage stopped, and as he jumpedout she leaned to him and laid her hand on his. "Good-bye, dearest,"she said, her eyes so blue that he wondered afterward if they had shoneon him through tears.

He turned away and hurried across Union Square, repeating to himself,in a sort of inward chant: "It's all of two hours from Jersey City toold Catherine's. It's all of two hours—and it may be more."

XXIX.

His wife's dark blue brougham (with the wedding varnish still on it)met Archer at the ferry, and conveyed him luxuriously to thePennsylvania terminus in Jersey City.

It was a sombre snowy afternoon, and the gas-lamps were lit in the bigreverberating station. As he paced the platform, waiting for theWashington express, he remembered that there were people who thoughtthere would one day be a tunnel under the Hudson through which thetrains of the Pennsylvania railway would run straight into New York.They were of the brotherhood of visionaries who likewise predicted thebuilding of ships that would cross the Atlantic in five days, theinvention of a flying machine, lighting by electricity, telephoniccommunication without wires, and other Arabian Night marvels.

"I don't care which of their visions comes true," Archer mused, "aslong as the tunnel isn't built yet." In his senseless school-boyhappiness he pictured Madame Olenska's descent from the train, hisdiscovery of her a long way off, among the throngs of meaninglessfaces, her clinging to his arm as he guided her to the carriage, theirslow approach to the wharf among slipping horses, laden carts,vociferating teamsters, and then the startling quiet of the ferry-boat,where they would sit side by side under the snow, in the motionlesscarriage, while the earth seemed to glide away under them, rolling tothe other side of the sun. It was incredible, the number of things hehad to say to her, and in what eloquent order they were formingthemselves on his lips ...

The clanging and groaning of the train came nearer, and it staggeredslowly into the station like a prey-laden monster into its lair.Archer pushed forward, elbowing through the crowd, and staring blindlyinto window after window of the high-hung carriages. And then,suddenly, he saw Madame Olenska's pale and surprised face close athand, and had again the mortified sensation of having forgotten whatshe looked like.

They reached each other, their hands met, and he drew her arm throughhis. "This way—I have the carriage," he said.

After that it all happened as he had dreamed. He helped her into thebrougham with her bags, and had afterward the vague recollection ofhaving properly reassured her about her grandmother and given her asummary of the Beaufort situation (he was struck by the softness ofher: "Poor Regina!"). Meanwhile the carriage had worked its way outof the coil about the station, and they were crawling down the slipperyincline to the wharf, menaced by swaying coal-carts, bewildered horses,dishevelled express-wagons, and an empty hearse—ah, that hearse! Sheshut her eyes as it passed, and clutched at Archer's hand.

"If only it doesn't mean—poor Granny!"

"Oh, no, no—she's much better—she's all right, really. There—we'vepassed it!" he exclaimed, as if that made all the difference. Her handremained in his, and as the carriage lurched across the gang-plank ontothe ferry he bent over, unbuttoned her tight brown glove, and kissedher palm as if he had kissed a relic. She disengaged herself with afaint smile, and he said: "You didn't expect me today?"

"Oh, no."

"I meant to go to Washington to see you. I'd made all myarrangements—I very nearly crossed you in the train."

"Oh—" she exclaimed, as if terrified by the narrowness of their escape.

"Do you know—I hardly remembered you?"

"Hardly remembered me?"

"I mean: how shall I explain? I—it's always so. EACH TIME YOU HAPPENTO ME ALL OVER AGAIN."

"Oh, yes: I know! I know!"

"Does it—do I too: to you?" he insisted.

She nodded, looking out of the window.

"Ellen—Ellen—Ellen!"

She made no answer, and he sat in silence, watching her profile growindistinct against the snow-streaked dusk beyond the window. What hadshe been doing in all those four long months, he wondered? How littlethey knew of each other, after all! The precious moments were slippingaway, but he had forgotten everything that he had meant to say to herand could only helplessly brood on the mystery of their remoteness andtheir proximity, which seemed to be symbolised by the fact of theirsitting so close to each other, and yet being unable to see eachother's faces.

"What a pretty carriage! Is it May's?" she asked, suddenly turning herface from the window.

"Yes."

"It was May who sent you to fetch me, then? How kind of her!"

He made no answer for a moment; then he said explosively: "Yourhusband's secretary came to see me the day after we met in Boston."

In his brief letter to her he had made no allusion to M. Riviere'svisit, and his intention had been to bury the incident in his bosom.But her reminder that they were in his wife's carriage provoked him toan impulse of retaliation. He would see if she liked his reference toRiviere any better than he liked hers to May! As on certain otheroccasions when he had expected to shake her out of her usual composure,she betrayed no sign of surprise: and at once he concluded: "He writesto her, then."

"M. Riviere went to see you?"

"Yes: didn't you know?"

"No," she answered simply.

"And you're not surprised?"

She hesitated. "Why should I be? He told me in Boston that he knewyou; that he'd met you in England I think."

"Ellen—I must ask you one thing."

"Yes."

"I wanted to ask it after I saw him, but I couldn't put it in a letter.It was Riviere who helped you to get away—when you left your husband?"

His heart was beating suffocatingly. Would she meet this question withthe same composure?

"Yes: I owe him a great debt," she answered, without the least tremorin her quiet voice.

Her tone was so natural, so almost indifferent, that Archer's turmoilsubsided. Once more she had managed, by her sheer simplicity, to makehim feel stupidly conventional just when he thought he was flingingconvention to the winds.

"I think you're the most honest woman I ever met!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, no—but probably one of the least fussy," she answered, a smile inher voice.

"Call it what you like: you look at things as they are."

"Ah—I've had to. I've had to look at the Gorgon."

"Well—it hasn't blinded you! You've seen that she's just an old bogeylike all the others."

"She doesn't blind one; but she dries up one's tears."

The answer checked the pleading on Archer's lips: it seemed to comefrom depths of experience beyond his reach. The slow advance of theferry-boat had ceased, and her bows bumped against the piles of theslip with a violence that made the brougham stagger, and flung Archerand Madame Olenska against each other. The young man, trembling, feltthe pressure of her shoulder, and passed his arm about her.

"If you're not blind, then, you must see that this can't last."

"What can't?"

"Our being together—and not together."

"No. You ought not to have come today," she said in an altered voice;and suddenly she turned, flung her arms about him and pressed her lipsto his. At the same moment the carriage began to move, and a gas-lampat the head of the slip flashed its light into the window. She drewaway, and they sat silent and motionless while the brougham struggledthrough the congestion of carriages about the ferry-landing. As theygained the street Archer began to speak hurriedly.

"Don't be afraid of me: you needn't squeeze yourself back into yourcorner like that. A stolen kiss isn't what I want. Look: I'm not eventrying to touch the sleeve of your jacket. Don't suppose that I don'tunderstand your reasons for not wanting to let this feeling between usdwindle into an ordinary hole-and-corner love-affair. I couldn't havespoken like this yesterday, because when we've been apart, and I'mlooking forward to seeing you, every thought is burnt up in a greatflame. But then you come; and you're so much more than I remembered,and what I want of you is so much more than an hour or two every nowand then, with wastes of thirsty waiting between, that I can sitperfectly still beside you, like this, with that other vision in mymind, just quietly trusting to it to come true."

For a moment she made no reply; then she asked, hardly above a whisper:"What do you mean by trusting to it to come true?"

"Why—you know it will, don't you?"

"Your vision of you and me together?" She burst into a sudden hardlaugh. "You choose your place well to put it to me!"

"Do you mean because we're in my wife's brougham? Shall we get out andwalk, then? I don't suppose you mind a little snow?"

She laughed again, more gently. "No; I shan't get out and walk,because my business is to get to Granny's as quickly as I can. Andyou'll sit beside me, and we'll look, not at visions, but at realities."

"I don't know what you mean by realities. The only reality to me isthis."

She met the words with a long silence, during which the carriage rolleddown an obscure side-street and then turned into the searchingillumination of Fifth Avenue.

"Is it your idea, then, that I should live with you as yourmistress—since I can't be your wife?" she asked.

The crudeness of the question startled him: the word was one that womenof his class fought shy of, even when their talk flitted closest aboutthe topic. He noticed that Madame Olenska pronounced it as if it had arecognised place in her vocabulary, and he wondered if it had been usedfamiliarly in her presence in the horrible life she had fled from. Herquestion pulled him up with a jerk, and he floundered.

"I want—I want somehow to get away with you into a world where wordslike that—categories like that—won't exist. Where we shall be simplytwo human beings who love each other, who are the whole of life to eachother; and nothing else on earth will matter."

She drew a deep sigh that ended in another laugh. "Oh, my dear—whereis that country? Have you ever been there?" she asked; and as heremained sullenly dumb she went on: "I know so many who've tried tofind it; and, believe me, they all got out by mistake at waysidestations: at places like Boulogne, or Pisa, or Monte Carlo—and itwasn't at all different from the old world they'd left, but only rathersmaller and dingier and more promiscuous."

He had never heard her speak in such a tone, and he remembered thephrase she had used a little while before.

"Yes, the Gorgon HAS dried your tears," he said.

"Well, she opened my eyes too; it's a delusion to say that she blindspeople. What she does is just the contrary—she fastens their eyelidsopen, so that they're never again in the blessed darkness. Isn't therea Chinese torture like that? There ought to be. Ah, believe me, it'sa miserable little country!"

The carriage had crossed Forty-second Street: May's sturdybrougham-horse was carrying them northward as if he had been a Kentuckytrotter. Archer choked with the sense of wasted minutes and vain words.

"Then what, exactly, is your plan for us?" he asked.

"For US? But there's no US in that sense! We're near each other onlyif we stay far from each other. Then we can be ourselves. Otherwisewe're only Newland Archer, the husband of Ellen Olenska's cousin, andEllen Olenska, the cousin of Newland Archer's wife, trying to be happybehind the backs of the people who trust them."

"Ah, I'm beyond that," he groaned.

"No, you're not! You've never been beyond. And I have," she said, ina strange voice, "and I know what it looks like there."

He sat silent, dazed with inarticulate pain. Then he groped in thedarkness of the carriage for the little bell that signalled orders tothe coachman. He remembered that May rang twice when she wished tostop. He pressed the bell, and the carriage drew up beside thecurbstone.

"Why are we stopping? This is not Granny's," Madame Olenska exclaimed.

"No: I shall get out here," he stammered, opening the door and jumpingto the pavement. By the light of a street-lamp he saw her startledface, and the instinctive motion she made to detain him. He closed thedoor, and leaned for a moment in the window.

"You're right: I ought not to have come today," he said, lowering hisvoice so that the coachman should not hear. She bent forward, andseemed about to speak; but he had already called out the order to driveon, and the carriage rolled away while he stood on the corner. Thesnow was over, and a tingling wind had sprung up, that lashed his faceas he stood gazing. Suddenly he felt something stiff and cold on hislashes, and perceived that he had been crying, and that the wind hadfrozen his tears.

He thrust his hands in his pockets, and walked at a sharp pace downFifth Avenue to his own house.

XXX.

That evening when Archer came down before dinner he found thedrawing-room empty.

He and May were dining alone, all the family engagements having beenpostponed since Mrs. Manson Mingott's illness; and as May was the morepunctual of the two he was surprised that she had not preceded him. Heknew that she was at home, for while he dressed he had heard her movingabout in her room; and he wondered what had delayed her.

He had fallen into the way of dwelling on such conjectures as a meansof tying his thoughts fast to reality. Sometimes he felt as if he hadfound the clue to his father-in-law's absorption in trifles; perhapseven Mr. Welland, long ago, had had escapes and visions, and hadconjured up all the hosts of domesticity to defend himself against them.

When May appeared he thought she looked tired. She had put on thelow-necked and tightly-laced dinner-dress which the Mingott ceremonialexacted on the most informal occasions, and had built her fair hairinto its usual accumulated coils; and her face, in contrast, was wanand almost faded. But she shone on him with her usual tenderness, andher eyes had kept the blue dazzle of the day before.

"What became of you, dear?" she asked. "I was waiting at Granny's, andEllen came alone, and said she had dropped you on the way because youhad to rush off on business. There's nothing wrong?"

"Only some letters I'd forgotten, and wanted to get off before dinner."

"Ah—" she said; and a moment afterward: "I'm sorry you didn't come toGranny's—unless the letters were urgent."

"They were," he rejoined, surprised at her insistence. "Besides, Idon't see why I should have gone to your grandmother's. I didn't knowyou were there."

She turned and moved to the looking-glass above the mantel-piece. Asshe stood there, lifting her long arm to fasten a puff that had slippedfrom its place in her intricate hair, Archer was struck by somethinglanguid and inelastic in her attitude, and wondered if the deadlymonotony of their lives had laid its weight on her also. Then heremembered that, as he had left the house that morning, she had calledover the stairs that she would meet him at her grandmother's so thatthey might drive home together. He had called back a cheery "Yes!" andthen, absorbed in other visions, had forgotten his promise. Now he wassmitten with compunction, yet irritated that so trifling an omissionshould be stored up against him after nearly two years of marriage. Hewas weary of living in a perpetual tepid honeymoon, without thetemperature of passion yet with all its exactions. If May had spokenout her grievances (he suspected her of many) he might have laughedthem away; but she was trained to conceal imaginary wounds under aSpartan smile.

To disguise his own annoyance he asked how her grandmother was, and sheanswered that Mrs. Mingott was still improving, but had been ratherdisturbed by the last news about the Beauforts.

"What news?"

"It seems they're going to stay in New York. I believe he's going intoan insurance business, or something. They're looking about for a smallhouse."

The preposterousness of the case was beyond discussion, and they wentin to dinner. During dinner their talk moved in its usual limitedcircle; but Archer noticed that his wife made no allusion to MadameOlenska, nor to old Catherine's reception of her. He was thankful forthe fact, yet felt it to be vaguely ominous.

They went up to the library for coffee, and Archer lit a cigar and tookdown a volume of Michelet. He had taken to history in the eveningssince May had shown a tendency to ask him to read aloud whenever shesaw him with a volume of poetry: not that he disliked the sound of hisown voice, but because he could always foresee her comments on what heread. In the days of their engagement she had simply (as he nowperceived) echoed what he told her; but since he had ceased to provideher with opinions she had begun to hazard her own, with resultsdestructive to his enjoyment of the works commented on.

Seeing that he had chosen history she fetched her workbasket, drew upan arm-chair to the green-shaded student lamp, and uncovered a cushionshe was embroidering for his sofa. She was not a clever needle-woman;her large capable hands were made for riding, rowing and open-airactivities; but since other wives embroidered cushions for theirhusbands she did not wish to omit this last link in her devotion.

She was so placed that Archer, by merely raising his eyes, could seeher bent above her work-frame, her ruffled elbow-sleeves slipping backfrom her firm round arms, the betrothal sapphire shining on her lefthand above her broad gold wedding-ring, and the right hand slowly andlaboriously stabbing the canvas. As she sat thus, the lamplight fullon her clear brow, he said to himself with a secret dismay that hewould always know the thoughts behind it, that never, in all the yearsto come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea, aweakness, a cruelty or an emotion. She had spent her poetry andromance on their short courting: the function was exhausted because theneed was past. Now she was simply ripening into a copy of her mother,and mysteriously, by the very process, trying to turn him into a Mr.Welland. He laid down his book and stood up impatiently; and at onceshe raised her head.

"What's the matter?"

"The room is stifling: I want a little air."

He had insisted that the library curtains should draw backward andforward on a rod, so that they might be closed in the evening, insteadof remaining nailed to a gilt cornice, and immovably looped up overlayers of lace, as in the drawing-room; and he pulled them back andpushed up the sash, leaning out into the icy night. The mere fact ofnot looking at May, seated beside his table, under his lamp, the factof seeing other houses, roofs, chimneys, of getting the sense of otherlives outside his own, other cities beyond New York, and a whole worldbeyond his world, cleared his brain and made it easier to breathe.

After he had leaned out into the darkness for a few minutes he heardher say: "Newland! Do shut the window. You'll catch your death."

He pulled the sash down and turned back. "Catch my death!" he echoed;and he felt like adding: "But I've caught it already. I AM dead—I'vebeen dead for months and months."

And suddenly the play of the word flashed up a wild suggestion. Whatif it were SHE who was dead! If she were going to die—to diesoon—and leave him free! The sensation of standing there, in thatwarm familiar room, and looking at her, and wishing her dead, was sostrange, so fascinating and overmastering, that its enormity did notimmediately strike him. He simply felt that chance had given him a newpossibility to which his sick soul might cling. Yes, May mightdie—people did: young people, healthy people like herself: she mightdie, and set him suddenly free.

She glanced up, and he saw by her widening eyes that there must besomething strange in his own.

"Newland! Are you ill?"

He shook his head and turned toward his arm-chair. She bent over herwork-frame, and as he passed he laid his hand on her hair. "Poor May!"he said.

"Poor? Why poor?" she echoed with a strained laugh.

"Because I shall never be able to open a window without worrying you,"he rejoined, laughing also.

For a moment she was silent; then she said very low, her head bowedover her work: "I shall never worry if you're happy."

"Ah, my dear; and I shall never be happy unless I can open the windows!"

"In THIS weather?" she remonstrated; and with a sigh he buried his headin his book.

Six or seven days passed. Archer heard nothing from Madame Olenska,and became aware that her name would not be mentioned in his presenceby any member of the family. He did not try to see her; to do so whileshe was at old Catherine's guarded bedside would have been almostimpossible. In the uncertainty of the situation he let himself drift,conscious, somewhere below the surface of his thoughts, of a resolvewhich had come to him when he had leaned out from his library windowinto the icy night. The strength of that resolve made it easy to waitand make no sign.

Then one day May told him that Mrs. Manson Mingott had asked to seehim. There was nothing surprising in the request, for the old lady wassteadily recovering, and she had always openly declared that shepreferred Archer to any of her other grandsons-in-law. May gave themessage with evident pleasure: she was proud of old Catherine'sappreciation of her husband.

There was a moment's pause, and then Archer felt it incumbent on him tosay: "All right. Shall we go together this afternoon?"

His wife's face brightened, but she instantly answered: "Oh, you'd muchbetter go alone. It bores Granny to see the same people too often."

Archer's heart was beating violently when he rang old Mrs. Mingott'sbell. He had wanted above all things to go alone, for he felt sure thevisit would give him the chance of saying a word in private to theCountess Olenska. He had determined to wait till the chance presenteditself naturally; and here it was, and here he was on the doorstep.Behind the door, behind the curtains of the yellow damask room next tothe hall, she was surely awaiting him; in another moment he should seeher, and be able to speak to her before she led him to the sick-room.

He wanted only to put one question: after that his course would beclear. What he wished to ask was simply the date of her return toWashington; and that question she could hardly refuse to answer.

But in the yellow sitting-room it was the mulatto maid who waited. Herwhite teeth shining like a keyboard, she pushed back the sliding doorsand ushered him into old Catherine's presence.

The old woman sat in a vast throne-like arm-chair near her bed. Besideher was a mahogany stand bearing a cast bronze lamp with an engravedglobe, over which a green paper shade had been balanced. There was nota book or a newspaper in reach, nor any evidence of feminineemployment: conversation had always been Mrs. Mingott's sole pursuit,and she would have scorned to feign an interest in fancywork.

Archer saw no trace of the slight distortion left by her stroke. Shemerely looked paler, with darker shadows in the folds and recesses ofher obesity; and, in the fluted mob-cap tied by a starched bow betweenher first two chins, and the muslin kerchief crossed over her billowingpurple dressing-gown, she seemed like some shrewd and kindly ancestressof her own who might have yielded too freely to the pleasures of thetable.

She held out one of the little hands that nestled in a hollow of herhuge lap like pet animals, and called to the maid: "Don't let in anyone else. If my daughters call, say I'm asleep."

The maid disappeared, and the old lady turned to her grandson.

"My dear, am I perfectly hideous?" she asked gaily, launching out onehand in search of the folds of muslin on her inaccessible bosom. "Mydaughters tell me it doesn't matter at my age—as if hideousness didn'tmatter all the more the harder it gets to conceal!"

"My dear, you're handsomer than ever!" Archer rejoined in the sametone; and she threw back her head and laughed.

(Video) Martin Scorsese interview on "The Age of Innocence" (1993)

"Ah, but not as handsome as Ellen!" she jerked out, twinkling at himmaliciously; and before he could answer she added: "Was she so awfullyhandsome the day you drove her up from the ferry?"

He laughed, and she continued: "Was it because you told her so thatshe had to put you out on the way? In my youth young men didn't desertpretty women unless they were made to!" She gave another chuckle, andinterrupted it to say almost querulously: "It's a pity she didn'tmarry you; I always told her so. It would have spared me all thisworry. But who ever thought of sparing their grandmother worry?"

Archer wondered if her illness had blurred her faculties; but suddenlyshe broke out: "Well, it's settled, anyhow: she's going to stay withme, whatever the rest of the family say! She hadn't been here fiveminutes before I'd have gone down on my knees to keep her—if only, forthe last twenty years, I'd been able to see where the floor was!"

Archer listened in silence, and she went on: "They'd talked me over,as no doubt you know: persuaded me, Lovell, and Letterblair, andAugusta Welland, and all the rest of them, that I must hold out and cutoff her allowance, till she was made to see that it was her duty to goback to Olenski. They thought they'd convinced me when the secretary,or whatever he was, came out with the last proposals: handsomeproposals I confess they were. After all, marriage is marriage, andmoney's money—both useful things in their way ... and I didn't knowwhat to answer—" She broke off and drew a long breath, as if speakinghad become an effort. "But the minute I laid eyes on her, I said:'You sweet bird, you! Shut you up in that cage again? Never!' Andnow it's settled that she's to stay here and nurse her Granny as longas there's a Granny to nurse. It's not a gay prospect, but she doesn'tmind; and of course I've told Letterblair that she's to be given herproper allowance."

The young man heard her with veins aglow; but in his confusion of mindhe hardly knew whether her news brought joy or pain. He had sodefinitely decided on the course he meant to pursue that for the momenthe could not readjust his thoughts. But gradually there stole over himthe delicious sense of difficulties deferred and opportunitiesmiraculously provided. If Ellen had consented to come and live withher grandmother it must surely be because she had recognised theimpossibility of giving him up. This was her answer to his finalappeal of the other day: if she would not take the extreme step he hadurged, she had at last yielded to half-measures. He sank back into thethought with the involuntary relief of a man who has been ready to riskeverything, and suddenly tastes the dangerous sweetness of security.

"She couldn't have gone back—it was impossible!" he exclaimed.

"Ah, my dear, I always knew you were on her side; and that's why I sentfor you today, and why I said to your pretty wife, when she proposed tocome with you: 'No, my dear, I'm pining to see Newland, and I don'twant anybody to share our transports.' For you see, my dear—" shedrew her head back as far as its tethering chins permitted, and lookedhim full in the eyes—"you see, we shall have a fight yet. The familydon't want her here, and they'll say it's because I've been ill,because I'm a weak old woman, that she's persuaded me. I'm not wellenough yet to fight them one by one, and you've got to do it for me."

"I?" he stammered.

"You. Why not?" she jerked back at him, her round eyes suddenly assharp as pen-knives. Her hand fluttered from its chair-arm and lit onhis with a clutch of little pale nails like bird-claws. "Why not?" shesearchingly repeated.

Archer, under the exposure of her gaze, had recovered hisself-possession.

"Oh, I don't count—I'm too insignificant."

"Well, you're Letterblair's partner, ain't you? You've got to get atthem through Letterblair. Unless you've got a reason," she insisted.

"Oh, my dear, I back you to hold your own against them all without myhelp; but you shall have it if you need it," he reassured her.

"Then we're safe!" she sighed; and smiling on him with all her ancientcunning she added, as she settled her head among the cushions: "Ialways knew you'd back us up, because they never quote you when theytalk about its being her duty to go home."

He winced a little at her terrifying perspicacity, and longed to ask:"And May—do they quote her?" But he judged it safer to turn thequestion.

"And Madame Olenska? When am I to see her?" he said.

The old lady chuckled, crumpled her lids, and went through thepantomime of archness. "Not today. One at a time, please. MadameOlenska's gone out."

He flushed with disappointment, and she went on: "She's gone out, mychild: gone in my carriage to see Regina Beaufort."

She paused for this announcement to produce its effect. "That's whatshe's reduced me to already. The day after she got here she put on herbest bonnet, and told me, as cool as a cucumber, that she was going tocall on Regina Beaufort. 'I don't know her; who is she?' says I.'She's your grand-niece, and a most unhappy woman,' she says. 'She'sthe wife of a scoundrel,' I answered. 'Well,' she says, 'and so am I,and yet all my family want me to go back to him.' Well, that flooredme, and I let her go; and finally one day she said it was raining toohard to go out on foot, and she wanted me to lend her my carriage.'What for?' I asked her; and she said: 'To go and see cousinRegina'—COUSIN! Now, my dear, I looked out of the window, and saw itwasn't raining a drop; but I understood her, and I let her have thecarriage.... After all, Regina's a brave woman, and so is she; andI've always liked courage above everything."

Archer bent down and pressed his lips on the little hand that still layon his.

"Eh—eh—eh! Whose hand did you think you were kissing, youngman—your wife's, I hope?" the old lady snapped out with her mockingcackle; and as he rose to go she called out after him: "Give her herGranny's love; but you'd better not say anything about our talk."

XXXI.

Archer had been stunned by old Catherine's news. It was only naturalthat Madame Olenska should have hastened from Washington in response toher grandmother's summons; but that she should have decided to remainunder her roof—especially now that Mrs. Mingott had almost regainedher health—was less easy to explain.

Archer was sure that Madame Olenska's decision had not been influencedby the change in her financial situation. He knew the exact figure ofthe small income which her husband had allowed her at their separation.Without the addition of her grandmother's allowance it was hardlyenough to live on, in any sense known to the Mingott vocabulary; andnow that Medora Manson, who shared her life, had been ruined, such apittance would barely keep the two women clothed and fed. Yet Archerwas convinced that Madame Olenska had not accepted her grandmother'soffer from interested motives.

She had the heedless generosity and the spasmodic extravagance ofpersons used to large fortunes, and indifferent to money; but she couldgo without many things which her relations considered indispensable,and Mrs. Lovell Mingott and Mrs. Welland had often been heard todeplore that any one who had enjoyed the cosmopolitan luxuries of CountOlenski's establishments should care so little about "how things weredone." Moreover, as Archer knew, several months had passed since herallowance had been cut off; yet in the interval she had made no effortto regain her grandmother's favour. Therefore if she had changed hercourse it must be for a different reason.

He did not have far to seek for that reason. On the way from the ferryshe had told him that he and she must remain apart; but she had said itwith her head on his breast. He knew that there was no calculatedcoquetry in her words; she was fighting her fate as he had fought his,and clinging desperately to her resolve that they should not breakfaith with the people who trusted them. But during the ten days whichhad elapsed since her return to New York she had perhaps guessed fromhis silence, and from the fact of his making no attempt to see her,that he was meditating a decisive step, a step from which there was noturning back. At the thought, a sudden fear of her own weakness mighthave seized her, and she might have felt that, after all, it was betterto accept the compromise usual in such cases, and follow the line ofleast resistance.

An hour earlier, when he had rung Mrs. Mingott's bell, Archer hadfancied that his path was clear before him. He had meant to have aword alone with Madame Olenska, and failing that, to learn from hergrandmother on what day, and by which train, she was returning toWashington. In that train he intended to join her, and travel with herto Washington, or as much farther as she was willing to go. His ownfancy inclined to Japan. At any rate she would understand at oncethat, wherever she went, he was going. He meant to leave a note forMay that should cut off any other alternative.

He had fancied himself not only nerved for this plunge but eager totake it; yet his first feeling on hearing that the course of events waschanged had been one of relief. Now, however, as he walked home fromMrs. Mingott's, he was conscious of a growing distaste for what laybefore him. There was nothing unknown or unfamiliar in the path he waspresumably to tread; but when he had trodden it before it was as a freeman, who was accountable to no one for his actions, and could lendhimself with an amused detachment to the game of precautions andprevarications, concealments and compliances, that the part required.This procedure was called "protecting a woman's honour"; and the bestfiction, combined with the after-dinner talk of his elders, had longsince initiated him into every detail of its code.

Now he saw the matter in a new light, and his part in it seemedsingularly diminished. It was, in fact, that which, with a secretfatuity, he had watched Mrs. Thorley Rushworth play toward a fond andunperceiving husband: a smiling, bantering, humouring, watchful andincessant lie. A lie by day, a lie by night, a lie in every touch andevery look; a lie in every caress and every quarrel; a lie in everyword and in every silence.

It was easier, and less dastardly on the whole, for a wife to play sucha part toward her husband. A woman's standard of truthfulness wastacitly held to be lower: she was the subject creature, and versed inthe arts of the enslaved. Then she could always plead moods andnerves, and the right not to be held too strictly to account; and evenin the most strait-laced societies the laugh was always against thehusband.

But in Archer's little world no one laughed at a wife deceived, and acertain measure of contempt was attached to men who continued theirphilandering after marriage. In the rotation of crops there was arecognised season for wild oats; but they were not to be sown more thanonce.

Archer had always shared this view: in his heart he thought Leffertsdespicable. But to love Ellen Olenska was not to become a man likeLefferts: for the first time Archer found himself face to face with thedread argument of the individual case. Ellen Olenska was like no otherwoman, he was like no other man: their situation, therefore, resembledno one else's, and they were answerable to no tribunal but that oftheir own judgment.

Yes, but in ten minutes more he would be mounting his own doorstep; andthere were May, and habit, and honour, and all the old decencies thathe and his people had always believed in ...

At his corner he hesitated, and then walked on down Fifth Avenue.

Ahead of him, in the winter night, loomed a big unlit house. As hedrew near he thought how often he had seen it blazing with lights, itssteps awninged and carpeted, and carriages waiting in double line todraw up at the curbstone. It was in the conservatory that stretchedits dead-black bulk down the side street that he had taken his firstkiss from May; it was under the myriad candles of the ball-room that hehad seen her appear, tall and silver-shining as a young Diana.

Now the house was as dark as the grave, except for a faint flare of gasin the basement, and a light in one upstairs room where the blind hadnot been lowered. As Archer reached the corner he saw that thecarriage standing at the door was Mrs. Manson Mingott's. What anopportunity for Sillerton Jackson, if he should chance to pass! Archerhad been greatly moved by old Catherine's account of Madame Olenska'sattitude toward Mrs. Beaufort; it made the righteous reprobation of NewYork seem like a passing by on the other side. But he knew well enoughwhat construction the clubs and drawing-rooms would put on EllenOlenska's visits to her cousin.

He paused and looked up at the lighted window. No doubt the two womenwere sitting together in that room: Beaufort had probably soughtconsolation elsewhere. There were even rumours that he had left NewYork with Fanny Ring; but Mrs. Beaufort's attitude made the report seemimprobable.

Archer had the nocturnal perspective of Fifth Avenue almost to himself.At that hour most people were indoors, dressing for dinner; and he wassecretly glad that Ellen's exit was likely to be unobserved. As thethought passed through his mind the door opened, and she came out.Behind her was a faint light, such as might have been carried down thestairs to show her the way. She turned to say a word to some one; thenthe door closed, and she came down the steps.

"Ellen," he said in a low voice, as she reached the pavement.

She stopped with a slight start, and just then he saw two young men offashionable cut approaching. There was a familiar air about theirovercoats and the way their smart silk mufflers were folded over theirwhite ties; and he wondered how youths of their quality happened to bedining out so early. Then he remembered that the Reggie Chiverses,whose house was a few doors above, were taking a large party thatevening to see Adelaide Neilson in Romeo and Juliet, and guessed thatthe two were of the number. They passed under a lamp, and herecognised Lawrence Lefferts and a young Chivers.

A mean desire not to have Madame Olenska seen at the Beauforts' doorvanished as he felt the penetrating warmth of her hand.

"I shall see you now—we shall be together," he broke out, hardlyknowing what he said.

"Ah," she answered, "Granny has told you?"

While he watched her he was aware that Lefferts and Chivers, onreaching the farther side of the street corner, had discreetly struckaway across Fifth Avenue. It was the kind of masculine solidarity thathe himself often practised; now he sickened at their connivance. Didshe really imagine that he and she could live like this? And if not,what else did she imagine?

"Tomorrow I must see you—somewhere where we can be alone," he said, ina voice that sounded almost angry to his own ears.

She wavered, and moved toward the carriage.

"But I shall be at Granny's—for the present that is," she added, as ifconscious that her change of plans required some explanation.

"Somewhere where we can be alone," he insisted.

She gave a faint laugh that grated on him.

"In New York? But there are no churches ... no monuments."

"There's the Art Museum—in the Park," he explained, as she lookedpuzzled. "At half-past two. I shall be at the door ..."

She turned away without answering and got quickly into the carriage.As it drove off she leaned forward, and he thought she waved her handin the obscurity. He stared after her in a turmoil of contradictoryfeelings. It seemed to him that he had been speaking not to the womanhe loved but to another, a woman he was indebted to for pleasuresalready wearied of: it was hateful to find himself the prisoner of thishackneyed vocabulary.

"She'll come!" he said to himself, almost contemptuously.

Avoiding the popular "Wolfe collection," whose anecdotic canvasesfilled one of the main galleries of the queer wilderness of cast-ironand encaustic tiles known as the Metropolitan Museum, they had wandereddown a passage to the room where the "Cesnola antiquities" mouldered inunvisited loneliness.

They had this melancholy retreat to themselves, and seated on the divanenclosing the central steam-radiator, they were staring silently at theglass cabinets mounted in ebonised wood which contained the recoveredfragments of Ilium.

"It's odd," Madame Olenska said, "I never came here before."

"Ah, well—. Some day, I suppose, it will be a great Museum."

"Yes," she assented absently.

She stood up and wandered across the room. Archer, remaining seated,watched the light movements of her figure, so girlish even under itsheavy furs, the cleverly planted heron wing in her fur cap, and the waya dark curl lay like a flattened vine spiral on each cheek above theear. His mind, as always when they first met, was wholly absorbed inthe delicious details that made her herself and no other. Presently herose and approached the case before which she stood. Its glass shelveswere crowded with small broken objects—hardly recognisable domesticutensils, ornaments and personal trifles—made of glass, of clay, ofdiscoloured bronze and other time-blurred substances.

"It seems cruel," she said, "that after a while nothing matters ... anymore than these little things, that used to be necessary and importantto forgotten people, and now have to be guessed at under a magnifyingglass and labelled: 'Use unknown.'"

"Yes; but meanwhile—"

"Ah, meanwhile—"

As she stood there, in her long sealskin coat, her hands thrust in asmall round muff, her veil drawn down like a transparent mask to thetip of her nose, and the bunch of violets he had brought her stirringwith her quickly-taken breath, it seemed incredible that this pureharmony of line and colour should ever suffer the stupid law of change.

"Meanwhile everything matters—that concerns you," he said.

She looked at him thoughtfully, and turned back to the divan. He satdown beside her and waited; but suddenly he heard a step echoing faroff down the empty rooms, and felt the pressure of the minutes.

"What is it you wanted to tell me?" she asked, as if she had receivedthe same warning.

"What I wanted to tell you?" he rejoined. "Why, that I believe youcame to New York because you were afraid."

"Afraid?"

"Of my coming to Washington."

She looked down at her muff, and he saw her hands stir in it uneasily.

"Well—?"

"Well—yes," she said.

"You WERE afraid? You knew—?"

"Yes: I knew ..."

"Well, then?" he insisted.

"Well, then: this is better, isn't it?" she returned with a longquestioning sigh.

"Better—?"

"We shall hurt others less. Isn't it, after all, what you alwayswanted?"

"To have you here, you mean—in reach and yet out of reach? To meetyou in this way, on the sly? It's the very reverse of what I want. Itold you the other day what I wanted."

She hesitated. "And you still think this—worse?"

"A thousand times!" He paused. "It would be easy to lie to you; butthe truth is I think it detestable."

"Oh, so do I!" she cried with a deep breath of relief.

He sprang up impatiently. "Well, then—it's my turn to ask: what isit, in God's name, that you think better?"

She hung her head and continued to clasp and unclasp her hands in hermuff. The step drew nearer, and a guardian in a braided cap walkedlistlessly through the room like a ghost stalking through a necropolis.They fixed their eyes simultaneously on the case opposite them, andwhen the official figure had vanished down a vista of mummies andsarcophagi Archer spoke again.

"What do you think better?"

Instead of answering she murmured: "I promised Granny to stay with herbecause it seemed to me that here I should be safer."

"From me?"

She bent her head slightly, without looking at him.

"Safer from loving me?"

Her profile did not stir, but he saw a tear overflow on her lashes andhang in a mesh of her veil.

"Safer from doing irreparable harm. Don't let us be like all theothers!" she protested.

"What others? I don't profess to be different from my kind. I'mconsumed by the same wants and the same longings."

She glanced at him with a kind of terror, and he saw a faint coloursteal into her cheeks.

"Shall I—once come to you; and then go home?" she suddenly hazarded ina low clear voice.

The blood rushed to the young man's forehead. "Dearest!" he said,without moving. It seemed as if he held his heart in his hands, like afull cup that the least motion might overbrim.

Then her last phrase struck his ear and his face clouded. "Go home?What do you mean by going home?"

"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'tstay here and lie to the people who've been good to me."

"But that's the very reason why I ask you to come away!"

"And destroy their lives, when they've helped me to remake mine?"

Archer sprang to his feet and stood looking down on her in inarticulatedespair. It would have been easy to say: "Yes, come; come once." Heknew the power she would put in his hands if she consented; there wouldbe no difficulty then in persuading her not to go back to her husband.

But something silenced the word on his lips. A sort of passionatehonesty in her made it inconceivable that he should try to draw herinto that familiar trap. "If I were to let her come," he said tohimself, "I should have to let her go again." And that was not to beimagined.

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 nouse attempting the impossible. You're so unprejudiced about somethings, so used, as you say, to looking at the Gorgon, that I don'tknow why you're afraid to face our case, and see it as it reallyis—unless you think the sacrifice is not worth making."

She stood up also, her lips tightening under a rapid frown.

"Call it that, then—I must go," she said, drawing her little watchfrom 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 thethought of losing her; and for a second or two they looked at eachother almost like enemies.

"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 holdeach 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: hefelt 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 thereflected radiance in his eyes had frightened her. When she reachedthe door she turned for a moment to wave a quick farewell.

Archer walked home alone. Darkness was falling when he let himselfinto his house, and he looked about at the familiar objects in the hallas if he viewed them from the other side of the grave.

The parlour-maid, hearing his step, ran up the stairs to light the gason the upper landing.

"Is Mrs. Archer in?"

"No, sir; Mrs. Archer went out in the carriage after luncheon, andhasn't come back."

With a sense of relief he entered the library and flung himself down inhis armchair. The parlour-maid followed, bringing the student lamp andshaking some coals onto the dying fire. When she left he continued tosit 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 oftime, in a deep and grave amazement that seemed to suspend life ratherthan quicken it. "This was what had to be, then ... this was what hadto be," he kept repeating to himself, as if he hung in the clutch ofdoom. What he had dreamed of had been so different that there was amortal chill in his rapture.

The door opened and May came in.

"I'm dreadfully late—you weren't worried, were you?" she asked, layingher 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 drawingout her hat pins tossed her velvet hat on the sofa. She looked palerthan usual, but sparkling with an unwonted animation.

"I went to see Granny, and just as I was going away Ellen came in froma walk; so I stayed and had a long talk with her. It was ages sincewe'd had a real talk...." She had dropped into her usual armchair,facing his, and was running her fingers through her rumpled hair. Hefancied she expected him to speak.

"A really good talk," she went on, smiling with what seemed to Archeran 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 radiusof the lamp.

"Yes, you've thought—?" he echoed as she paused.

"Well, perhaps I haven't judged her fairly. She's so different—atleast on the surface. She takes up such odd people—she seems to liketo make herself conspicuous. I suppose it's the life she's led in thatfast European society; no doubt we seem dreadfully dull to her. But Idon't want to judge her unfairly."

She paused again, a little breathless with the unwonted length of herspeech, and sat with her lips slightly parted and a deep blush on hercheeks.

Archer, as he looked at her, was reminded of the glow which hadsuffused her face in the Mission Garden at St. Augustine. He becameaware of the same obscure effort in her, the same reaching out towardsomething beyond the usual range of her vision.

"She hates Ellen," he thought, "and she's trying to overcome thefeeling, and to get me to help her to overcome it."

The thought moved him, and for a moment he was on the point of breakingthe silence between them, and throwing himself on her mercy.

"You understand, don't you," she went on, "why the family havesometimes been annoyed? We all did what we could for her at first; butshe 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 quitealienated the van der Luydens ..."

"Ah," said Archer with an impatient laugh. The open door had closedbetween them again.

"It's time to dress; we're dining out, aren't we?" he asked, movingfrom the fire.

She rose also, but lingered near the hearth. As he walked past her shemoved forward impulsively, as though to detain him: their eyes met, andhe saw that hers were of the same swimming blue as when he had left herto 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 hertremble in his arms.

XXXII.

"At the court of the Tuileries," said Mr. Sillerton Jackson with hisreminiscent smile, "such things were pretty openly tolerated."

The scene was the van der Luydens' black walnut dining-room in MadisonAvenue, and the time the evening after Newland Archer's visit to theMuseum of Art. Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden had come to town for a fewdays from Skuytercliff, whither they had precipitately fled at theannouncement of Beaufort's failure. It had been represented to themthat the disarray into which society had been thrown by this deplorableaffair made their presence in town more necessary than ever. It wasone of the occasions when, as Mrs. Archer put it, they "owed it tosociety" to show themselves at the Opera, and even to open their owndoors.

"It will never do, my dear Louisa, to let people like Mrs. LemuelStruthers think they can step into Regina's shoes. It is just at suchtimes that new people push in and get a footing. It was owing to theepidemic of chicken-pox in New York the winter Mrs. Struthers firstappeared that the married men slipped away to her house while theirwives were in the nursery. You and dear Henry, Louisa, must stand inthe breach as you always have."

Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden could not remain deaf to such a call, andreluctantly 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, whereFaust was being sung for the first time that winter. Nothing was donewithout ceremony under the van der Luyden roof, and though there werebut four guests the repast had begun at seven punctually, so that theproper sequence of courses might be served without haste before thegentlemen settled down to their cigars.

Archer had not seen his wife since the evening before. He had leftearly for the office, where he had plunged into an accumulation ofunimportant business. In the afternoon one of the senior partners hadmade an unexpected call on his time; and he had reached home so latethat May had preceded him to the van der Luydens', and sent back thecarriage.

Now, across the Skuytercliff carnations and the massive plate, shestruck him as pale and languid; but her eyes shone, and she talked withexaggerated animation.

The subject which had called forth Mr. Sillerton Jackson's favouriteallusion had been brought up (Archer fancied not without intention) bytheir hostess. The Beaufort failure, or rather the Beaufort attitudesince the failure, was still a fruitful theme for the drawing-roommoralist; 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 yourgrandmother Mingott's carriage was seen standing at Mrs. Beaufort'sdoor." It was noticeable that she no longer called the offending ladyby her Christian name.

May's colour rose, and Mrs. Archer put in hastily: "If it was, I'mconvinced it was there without Mrs. Mingott's knowledge."

"Ah, you think—?" Mrs. van der Luyden paused, sighed, and glanced ather husband.

"I'm afraid," Mr. van der Luyden said, "that Madame Olenska's kindheart 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 son's.

"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 twiceat Skuytercliff!"

It was at this point that Mr. Jackson seized the chance to place hisfavourite allusion.

"At the Tuileries," he repeated, seeing the eyes of the companyexpectantly turned on him, "the standard was excessively lax in somerespects; and if you'd asked where Morny's money came from—! Or whopaid the debts of some of the Court beauties ..."

"I hope, dear Sillerton," said Mrs. Archer, "you are not suggestingthat we should adopt such standards?"

"I never suggest," returned Mr. Jackson imperturbably. "But MadameOlenska'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 wasremembering, and resenting, the hampers of carnations he had sent tothe little house in Twenty-third Street.

"Of course I've always said that she looks at things quitedifferently," Mrs. Archer summed up.

A flush rose to May's forehead. She looked across the table at herhusband, and said precipitately: "I'm sure Ellen meant it kindly."

"Imprudent people are often kind," said Mrs. Archer, as if the factwere scarcely an extenuation; and Mrs. van der Luyden murmured: "Ifonly she had consulted some one—"

"Ah, that she never did!" Mrs. Archer rejoined.

At this point Mr. van der Luyden glanced at his wife, who bent her headslightly in the direction of Mrs. Archer; and the glimmering trains ofthe three ladies swept out of the door while the gentlemen settled downto their cigars. Mr. van der Luyden supplied short ones on Operanights; but they were so good that they made his guests deplore hisinexorable punctuality.

Archer, after the first act, had detached himself from the party andmade his way to the back of the club box. From there he watched, overvarious Chivers, Mingott and Rushworth shoulders, the same scene thathe had looked at, two years previously, on the night of his firstmeeting with Ellen Olenska. He had half-expected her to appear againin old Mrs. Mingott's box, but it remained empty; and he satmotionless, his eyes fastened on it, till suddenly Madame Nilsson'spure soprano broke out into "M'ama, non m'ama ..."

Archer turned to the stage, where, in the familiar setting of giantroses and pen-wiper pansies, the same large blonde victim wassuccumbing to the same small brown seducer.

From the stage his eyes wandered to the point of the horseshoe whereMay sat between two older ladies, just as, on that former evening, shehad sat between Mrs. Lovell Mingott and her newly-arrived "foreign"cousin. As on that evening, she was all in white; and Archer, who hadnot noticed what she wore, recognised the blue-white satin and old laceof her wedding dress.

It was the custom, in old New York, for brides to appear in this costlygarment 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 wearit, though poor Janey was reaching the age when pearl grey poplin andno bridesmaids would be thought more "appropriate."

It struck Archer that May, since their return from Europe, had seldomworn her bridal satin, and the surprise of seeing her in it made himcompare her appearance with that of the young girl he had watched withsuch blissful anticipations two years earlier.

Though May's outline was slightly heavier, as her goddesslike build hadforetold, her athletic erectness of carriage, and the girlishtransparency of her expression, remained unchanged: but for the slightlanguor that Archer had lately noticed in her she would have been theexact image of the girl playing with the bouquet oflilies-of-the-valley on her betrothal evening. The fact seemed anadditional appeal to his pity: such innocence was as moving as thetrustful clasp of a child. Then he remembered the passionategenerosity latent under that incurious calm. He recalled her glance ofunderstanding when he had urged that their engagement should beannounced at the Beaufort ball; he heard the voice in which she hadsaid, in the Mission garden: "I couldn't have my happiness made out ofa wrong—a wrong to some one else;" and an uncontrollable longingseized 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. Conformityto the discipline of a small society had become almost his secondnature. It was deeply distasteful to him to do anything melodramaticand conspicuous, anything Mr. van der Luyden would have deprecated andthe club box condemned as bad form. But he had become suddenlyunconscious of the club box, of Mr. van der Luyden, of all that had solong enclosed him in the warm shelter of habit. He walked along thesemi-circular passage at the back of the house, and opened the door ofMrs. 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 ofthe box looked up in surprise at Archer's entrance. He had alreadybroken one of the rules of his world, which forbade the entering of abox during a solo.

Slipping between Mr. van der Luyden and Sillerton Jackson, he leanedover his wife.

"I've got a beastly headache; don't tell any one, but come home, won'tyou?" he whispered.

May gave him a glance of comprehension, and he saw her whisper to hismother, who nodded sympathetically; then she murmured an excuse to Mrs.van der Luyden, and rose from her seat just as Marguerite fell intoFaust'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 youdon't feel well. I'm afraid they've been overworking you again at theoffice."

"No—it's not that: do you mind if I open the window?" he returnedconfusedly, letting down the pane on his side. He sat staring out intothe street, feeling his wife beside him as a silent watchfulinterrogation, and keeping his eyes steadily fixed on the passinghouses. At their door she caught her skirt in the step of thecarriage, 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 bentto gather up a mud-stained breadth, and followed him up the steps intothe hall. The servants had not expected them so early, and there wasonly a glimmer of gas on the upper landing.

Archer mounted the stairs, turned up the light, and put a match to thebrackets on each side of the library mantelpiece. The curtains weredrawn, and the warm friendly aspect of the room smote him like that ofa familiar face met during an unavowable errand.

He noticed that his wife was very pale, and asked if he should get hersome brandy.

"Oh, no," she exclaimed with a momentary flush, as she took off hercloak. "But hadn't you better go to bed at once?" she added, as heopened a silver box on the table and took out a cigarette.

Archer threw down the cigarette and walked to his usual place by thefire.

"No; my head is not as bad as that." He paused. "And there'ssomething I want to say; something important—that I must tell you atonce."

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 ofwonder with which she received this preamble.

"May—" he began, standing a few feet from her chair, and looking overat her as if the slight distance between them were an unbridgeableabyss. The sound of his voice echoed uncannily through the homelikehush, 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 wasstill extremely pale, but her face had a curious tranquillity ofexpression that seemed drawn from some secret inner source.

Archer checked the conventional phrases of self-accusal that werecrowding 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 asif to silence him. As she did so the gaslight struck on the gold ofher wedding-ring.

"Oh, why should we talk about Ellen tonight?" she asked, with a slightpout of impatience.

"Because I ought to have spoken before."

Her face remained calm. "Is it really worth while, dear? I know I'vebeen unfair to her at times—perhaps we all have. You've understoodher, no doubt, better than we did: you've always been kind to her. Butwhat does it matter, now it's all over?"

Archer looked at her blankly. Could it be possible that the sense ofunreality in which he felt himself imprisoned had communicated itselfto his wife?

"All over—what do you mean?" he asked in an indistinct stammer.

May still looked at him with transparent eyes. "Why—since she's goingback to Europe so soon; since Granny approves and understands, and hasarranged to make her independent of her husband—"

She broke off, and Archer, grasping the corner of the mantelpiece inone convulsed hand, and steadying himself against it, made a vaineffort to extend the same control to his reeling thoughts.

"I supposed," he heard his wife's even voice go on, "that you had beenkept at the office this evening about the business arrangements. Itwas settled this morning, I believe." She lowered her eyes under hisunseeing stare, and another fugitive flush passed over her face.

He understood that his own eyes must be unbearable, and turning away,rested his elbows on the mantel-shelf and covered his face. Somethingdrummed and clanged furiously in his ears; he could not tell if it werethe blood in his veins, or the tick of the clock on the mantel.

May sat without moving or speaking while the clock slowly measured outfive minutes. A lump of coal fell forward in the grate, and hearingher rise to push it back, Archer at length turned and faced her.

"It's impossible," he exclaimed.

"Impossible—?"

"How do you know—what you've just told me?"

"I saw Ellen yesterday—I told you I'd seen her at Granny's."

"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 cameback almost immediately.

"I thought you knew," she said simply.

She laid a sheet of paper on the table, and Archer put out his hand andtook it up. The letter contained only a few lines.

"May dear, I have at last made Granny understand that my visit to hercould be no more than a visit; and she has been as kind and generous asever. 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 hurryingback to Washington to pack up, and we sail next week. You must be verygood to Granny when I'm gone—as good as you've always been to me.Ellen.

"If any of my friends wish to urge me to change my mind, please tellthem it would be utterly useless."

Archer read the letter over two or three times; then he flung it downand burst out laughing.

The sound of his laugh startled him. It recalled Janey's midnightfright when she had caught him rocking with incomprehensible mirth overMay's telegram announcing that the date of their marriage had beenadvanced.

"Why did she write this?" he asked, checking his laugh with a supremeeffort.

May met the question with her unshaken candour. "I suppose because wetalked things over yesterday—"

"What things?"

"I told her I was afraid I hadn't been fair to her—hadn't alwaysunderstood how hard it must have been for her here, alone among so manypeople who were relations and yet strangers; who felt the right tocriticise, and yet didn't always know the circumstances." She paused."I knew you'd been the one friend she could always count on; and Iwanted 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 understandseverything."

She went up to Archer, and taking one of his cold hands pressed itquickly against her cheek.

"My head aches too; good-night, dear," she said, and turned to thedoor, her torn and muddy wedding-dress dragging after her across theroom.

XXXIII.

It was, as Mrs. Archer smilingly said to Mrs. Welland, a great eventfor a young couple to give their first big dinner.

The Newland Archers, since they had set up their household, hadreceived a good deal of company in an informal way. Archer was fond ofhaving three or four friends to dine, and May welcomed them with thebeaming readiness of which her mother had set her the example inconjugal affairs. Her husband questioned whether, if left to herself,she would ever have asked any one to the house; but he had long givenup trying to disengage her real self from the shape into whichtradition and training had moulded her. It was expected that well-offyoung couples in New York should do a good deal of informalentertaining, and a Welland married to an Archer was doubly pledged tothe tradition.

But a big dinner, with a hired chef and two borrowed footmen, withRoman punch, roses from Henderson's, and menus on gilt-edged cards, wasa different affair, and not to be lightly undertaken. As Mrs. Archerremarked, the Roman punch made all the difference; not in itself but byits manifold implications—since it signified either canvas-backs orterrapin, two soups, a hot and a cold sweet, full decolletage withshort sleeves, and guests of a proportionate importance.

It was always an interesting occasion when a young pair launched theirfirst invitations in the third person, and their summons was seldomrefused even by the seasoned and sought-after. Still, it wasadmittedly a triumph that the van der Luydens, at May's request, shouldhave stayed over in order to be present at her farewell dinner for theCountess Olenska.

The two mothers-in-law sat in May's drawing-room on the afternoon ofthe great day, Mrs. Archer writing out the menus on Tiffany's thickestgilt-edged bristol, while Mrs. Welland superintended the placing of thepalms 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, andMrs. Welland was considering the effect of bringing forward the largegilt sofa, so that another "corner" might be created between the pianoand the window.

May, they told him, was in the dining-room inspecting the mound ofJacqueminot roses and maidenhair in the centre of the long table, andthe placing of the Maillard bonbons in openwork silver baskets betweenthe candelabra. On the piano stood a large basket of orchids which Mr.van der Luyden had had sent from Skuytercliff. Everything was, inshort, as it should be on the approach of so considerable an event.

Mrs. Archer ran thoughtfully over the list, checking off each name withher sharp gold pen.

"Henry van der Luyden—Louisa—the Lovell Mingotts—the ReggieChiverses—Lawrence Lefferts and Gertrude—(yes, I suppose May wasright to have them)—the Selfridge Merrys, Sillerton Jackson, VanNewland and his wife. (How time passes! It seems only yesterday thathe was your best man, Newland)—and Countess Olenska—yes, I thinkthat'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 totell people abroad that we're not quite barbarians."

"I'm sure Ellen will appreciate it. She was to arrive this morning, Ibelieve. It will make a most charming last impression. The eveningbefore 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 herselftoo much." But he affected not to hear, and sprang up the stairs tohis library. The room looked at him like an alien countenance composedinto a polite grimace; and he perceived that it had been ruthlessly"tidied," and prepared, by a judicious distribution of ash-trays andcedar-wood boxes, for the gentlemen to smoke in.

"Ah, well," he thought, "it's not for long—" and he went on to hisdressing-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 conveyedby the return of a key wrapped in tissue paper, and sent to his officein a sealed envelope addressed in her hand. This retort to his lastappeal might have been interpreted as a classic move in a familiargame; but the young man chose to give it a different meaning. She wasstill fighting against her fate; but she was going to Europe, and shewas not returning to her husband. Nothing, therefore, was to preventhis following her; and once he had taken the irrevocable step, and hadproved to her that it was irrevocable, he believed she would not sendhim away.

This confidence in the future had steadied him to play his part in thepresent. It had kept him from writing to her, or betraying, by anysign or act, his misery and mortification. It seemed to him that inthe 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, hadsent for him to go over the details of the trust which Mrs. MansonMingott wished to create for her granddaughter. For a couple of hoursArcher had examined the terms of the deed with his senior, all thewhile obscurely feeling that if he had been consulted it was for somereason other than the obvious one of his cousinship; and that the closeof 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 thesettlement. "In fact I'm bound to say she's been treated prettyhandsomely all round."

"All round?" Archer echoed with a touch of derision. "Do you refer toher husband's proposal to give her back her own money?"

Mr. Letterblair's bushy eyebrows went up a fraction of an inch. "Mydear sir, the law's the law; and your wife's cousin was married underthe 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 corrugatednose, and was looking down it with the expression assumed by virtuouselderly gentlemen when they wish their youngers to understand thatvirtue 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 youngchampion...." Mr. Letterblair unlocked a drawer and pushed a foldedpaper toward Archer. "This report, the result of discreet enquiries..." And then, as Archer made no effort to glance at the paper or torepudiate the suggestion, the lawyer somewhat flatly continued: "Idon't say it's conclusive, you observe; far from it. But straws show... and on the whole it's eminently satisfactory for all parties thatthis dignified solution has been reached."

"Oh, eminently," Archer assented, pushing back the paper.

A day or two later, on responding to a summons from Mrs. MansonMingott, his soul had been more deeply tried.

He had found the old lady depressed and querulous.

"You know she's deserted me?" she began at once; and without waitingfor his reply: "Oh, don't ask me why! She gave so many reasons thatI've forgotten them all. My private belief is that she couldn't facethe boredom. At any rate that's what Augusta and my daughters-in-lawthink. And I don't know that I altogether blame her. Olenski's afinished scoundrel; but life with him must have been a good deal gayerthan it is in Fifth Avenue. Not that the family would admit that: theythink Fifth Avenue is Heaven with the rue de la Paix thrown in. Andpoor Ellen, of course, has no idea of going back to her husband. Sheheld out as firmly as ever against that. So she's to settle down inParis with that fool Medora.... Well, Paris is Paris; and you can keepa carriage there on next to nothing. But she was as gay as a bird, andI shall miss her." Two tears, the parched tears of the old, rolled downher puffy cheeks and vanished in the abysses of her bosom.

"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 alittle wistfully at Archer.

It was that evening, on his return home, that May announced herintention of giving a farewell dinner to her cousin. Madame Olenska'sname had not been pronounced between them since the night of her flightto Washington; and Archer looked at his wife with surprise.

"A dinner—why?" he interrogated.

Her colour rose. "But you like Ellen—I thought you'd be pleased."

"It's awfully nice—your putting it in that way. But I really don'tsee—"

"I mean to do it, Newland," she said, quietly rising and going to herdesk. "Here are the invitations all written. Mother helped me—sheagrees that we ought to." She paused, embarrassed and yet smiling, andArcher suddenly saw before him the embodied image of the Family.

"Oh, all right," he said, staring with unseeing eyes at the list ofguests that she had put in his hand.

When he entered the drawing-room before dinner May was stooping overthe fire and trying to coax the logs to burn in their unaccustomedsetting of immaculate tiles.

The tall lamps were all lit, and Mr. van der Luyden's orchids had beenconspicuously disposed in various receptacles of modern porcelain andknobby silver. Mrs. Newland Archer's drawing-room was generallythought a great success. A gilt bamboo jardiniere, in which theprimulas and cinerarias were punctually renewed, blocked the access tothe bay window (where the old-fashioned would have preferred a bronzereduction of the Venus of Milo); the sofas and arm-chairs of palebrocade were cleverly grouped about little plush tables densely coveredwith silver toys, porcelain animals and efflorescent photograph frames;and tall rosy-shaded lamps shot up like tropical flowers among thepalms.

"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 ofpardonable pride. The brass tongs which she had propped against theside of the chimney fell with a crash that drowned her husband'sanswer; and before he could restore them Mr. and Mrs. van der Luydenwere announced.

The other guests quickly followed, for it was known that the van derLuydens liked to dine punctually. The room was nearly full, and Archerwas engaged in showing to Mrs. Selfridge Merry a small highly-varnishedVerbeckhoven "Study of Sheep," which Mr. Welland had given May forChristmas, when he found Madame Olenska at his side.

She was excessively pale, and her pallor made her dark hair seem denserand heavier than ever. Perhaps that, or the fact that she had woundseveral rows of amber beads about her neck, reminded him suddenly ofthe little Ellen Mingott he had danced with at children's parties, whenMedora Manson had first brought her to New York.

The amber beads were trying to her complexion, or her dress was perhapsunbecoming: her face looked lustreless and almost ugly, and he hadnever loved it as he did at that minute. Their hands met, and hethought he heard her say: "Yes, we're sailing tomorrow in theRussia—"; then there was an unmeaning noise of opening doors, andafter an interval May's voice: "Newland! Dinner's been announced.Won't you please take Ellen in?"

Madame Olenska put her hand on his arm, and he noticed that the handwas ungloved, and remembered how he had kept his eyes fixed on it theevening that he had sat with her in the little Twenty-third Streetdrawing-room. All the beauty that had forsaken her face seemed to havetaken refuge in the long pale fingers and faintly dimpled knuckles onhis sleeve, and he said to himself: "If it were only to see her handagain I should have to follow her—."

It was only at an entertainment ostensibly offered to a "foreignvisitor" that Mrs. van der Luyden could suffer the diminution of beingplaced on her host's left. The fact of Madame Olenska's "foreignness"could hardly have been more adroitly emphasised than by this farewelltribute; and Mrs. van der Luyden accepted her displacement with anaffability which left no doubt as to her approval. There were certainthings that had to be done, and if done at all, done handsomely andthoroughly; and one of these, in the old New York code, was the tribalrally around a kinswoman about to be eliminated from the tribe. Therewas nothing on earth that the Wellands and Mingotts would not have doneto proclaim their unalterable affection for the Countess Olenska nowthat her passage for Europe was engaged; and Archer, at the head of histable, sat marvelling at the silent untiring activity with which herpopularity had been retrieved, grievances against her silenced, herpast countenanced, and her present irradiated by the family approval.Mrs. van der Luyden shone on her with the dim benevolence which was hernearest approach to cordiality, and Mr. van der Luyden, from his seatat May's right, cast down the table glances plainly intended to justifyall the carnations he had sent from Skuytercliff.

Archer, who seemed to be assisting at the scene in a state of oddimponderability, as if he floated somewhere between chandelier andceiling, wondered at nothing so much as his own share in theproceedings. As his glance travelled from one placid well-fed face toanother he saw all the harmless-looking people engaged upon May'scanvas-backs as a band of dumb conspirators, and himself and the palewoman on his right as the centre of their conspiracy. And then it cameover him, in a vast flash made up of many broken gleams, that to all ofthem he and Madame Olenska were lovers, lovers in the extreme sensepeculiar to "foreign" vocabularies. He guessed himself to have been,for months, the centre of countless silently observing eyes andpatiently listening ears; he understood that, by means as yet unknownto him, the separation between himself and the partner of his guilt hadbeen achieved, and that now the whole tribe had rallied about his wifeon the tacit assumption that nobody knew anything, or had ever imaginedanything, and that the occasion of the entertainment was simply MayArcher's natural desire to take an affectionate leave of her friend andcousin.

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 placeddecency above courage, and who considered that nothing was moreill-bred than "scenes," except the behaviour of those who gave rise tothem.

As these thoughts succeeded each other in his mind Archer felt like aprisoner in the centre of an armed camp. He looked about the table,and guessed at the inexorableness of his captors from the tone inwhich, over the asparagus from Florida, they were dealing with Beaufortand his wife. "It's to show me," he thought, "what would happen toME—" and a deathly sense of the superiority of implication and analogyover direct action, and of silence over rash words, closed in on himlike the doors of the family vault.

He laughed, and met Mrs. van der Luyden's startled eyes.

"You think it laughable?" she said with a pinched smile. "Of coursepoor Regina's idea of remaining in New York has its ridiculous side, Isuppose;" and Archer muttered: "Of course."

At this point, he became conscious that Madame Olenska's otherneighbour had been engaged for some time with the lady on his right.At the same moment he saw that May, serenely enthroned between Mr. vander Luyden and Mr. Selfridge Merry, had cast a quick glance down thetable. It was evident that the host and the lady on his right couldnot sit through the whole meal in silence. He turned to MadameOlenska, and her pale smile met him. "Oh, do let's see it through," itseemed to say.

"Did you find the journey tiring?" he asked in a voice that surprisedhim by its naturalness; and she answered that, on the contrary, she hadseldom travelled with fewer discomforts.

"Except, you know, the dreadful heat in the train," she added; and heremarked that she would not suffer from that particular hardship in thecountry she was going to.

"I never," he declared with intensity, "was more nearly frozen thanonce, in April, in the train between Calais and Paris."

She said she did not wonder, but remarked that, after all, one couldalways carry an extra rug, and that every form of travel had itshardships; to which he abruptly returned that he thought them all of noaccount compared with the blessedness of getting away. She changedcolour, and he added, his voice suddenly rising in pitch: "I mean todo a lot of travelling myself before long." A tremor crossed her face,and leaning over to Reggie Chivers, he cried out: "I say, Reggie, whatdo you say to a trip round the world: now, next month, I mean? I'mgame if you are—" at which Mrs. Reggie piped up that she could notthink of letting Reggie go till after the Martha Washington Ball shewas getting up for the Blind Asylum in Easter week; and her husbandplacidly observed that by that time he would have to be practising forthe International Polo match.

But Mr. Selfridge Merry had caught the phrase "round the world," andhaving once circled the globe in his steam-yacht, he seized theopportunity to send down the table several striking items concerningthe shallowness of the Mediterranean ports. Though, after all, headded, it didn't matter; for when you'd seen Athens and Smyrna andConstantinople, what else was there? And Mrs. Merry said she couldnever be too grateful to Dr. Bencomb for having made them promise notto go to Naples on account of the fever.

"But you must have three weeks to do India properly," her husbandconceded, anxious to have it understood that he was no frivolousglobe-trotter.

And at this point the ladies went up to the drawing-room.

In the library, in spite of weightier presences, Lawrence Leffertspredominated.

The talk, as usual, had veered around to the Beauforts, and even Mr.van der Luyden and Mr. Selfridge Merry, installed in the honoraryarm-chairs tacitly reserved for them, paused to listen to the youngerman's philippic.

Never had Lefferts so abounded in the sentiments that adorn Christianmanhood and exalt the sanctity of the home. Indignation lent him ascathing eloquence, and it was clear that if others had followed hisexample, and acted as he talked, society would never have been weakenough to receive a foreign upstart like Beaufort—no, sir, not even ifhe'd married a van der Luyden or a Lanning instead of a Dallas. Andwhat chance would there have been, Lefferts wrathfully questioned, ofhis marrying into such a family as the Dallases, if he had not alreadywormed his way into certain houses, as people like Mrs. LemuelStruthers had managed to worm theirs in his wake? If society chose toopen its doors to vulgar women the harm was not great, though the gainwas doubtful; but once it got in the way of tolerating men of obscureorigin and tainted wealth the end was total disintegration—and at nodistant date.

"If things go on at this pace," Lefferts thundered, looking like ayoung prophet dressed by Poole, and who had not yet been stoned, "weshall 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 expressionof 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 oldgentleman twittered into Archer's ear: "Queer, those fellows who arealways wanting to set things right. The people who have the worstcooks are always telling you they're poisoned when they dine out. ButI hear there are pressing reasons for our friend Lawrence'sdiatribe:—typewriter this time, I understand...."

The talk swept past Archer like some senseless river running andrunning because it did not know enough to stop. He saw, on the facesabout him, expressions of interest, amusement and even mirth. Helistened to the younger men's laughter, and to the praise of the ArcherMadeira, which Mr. van der Luyden and Mr. Merry were thoughtfullycelebrating. Through it all he was dimly aware of a general attitudeof friendliness toward himself, as if the guard of the prisoner he felthimself to be were trying to soften his captivity; and the perceptionincreased his passionate determination to be free.

In the drawing-room, where they presently joined the ladies, he metMay's triumphant eyes, and read in them the conviction that everythinghad "gone off" beautifully. She rose from Madame Olenska's side, andimmediately Mrs. van der Luyden beckoned the latter to a seat on thegilt sofa where she throned. Mrs. Selfridge Merry bore across the roomto join them, and it became clear to Archer that here also a conspiracyof rehabilitation and obliteration was going on. The silentorganisation which held his little world together was determined to putitself on record as never for a moment having questioned the proprietyof Madame Olenska's conduct, or the completeness of Archer's domesticfelicity. All these amiable and inexorable persons were resolutelyengaged 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 moredisengaged the fact that New York believed him to be Madame Olenska'slover. He caught the glitter of victory in his wife's eyes, and forthe first time understood that she shared the belief. The discoveryroused a laughter of inner devils that reverberated through all hisefforts to discuss the Martha Washington ball with Mrs. Reggie Chiversand little Mrs. Newland; and so the evening swept on, running andrunning 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 rememberwhat he had said to her at dinner; but he could not recall a singleword they had exchanged.

She went up to May, the rest of the company making a circle about heras she advanced. The two young women clasped hands; then May bentforward and kissed her cousin.

"Certainly our hostess is much the handsomer of the two," Archer heardReggie Chivers say in an undertone to young Mrs. Newland; and heremembered Beaufort's coarse sneer at May's ineffectual beauty.

A moment later he was in the hall, putting Madame Olenska's cloak abouther shoulders.

Through all his confusion of mind he had held fast to the resolve tosay nothing that might startle or disturb her. Convinced that no powercould now turn him from his purpose he had found strength to let eventsshape themselves as they would. But as he followed Madame Olenska intothe hall he thought with a sudden hunger of being for a moment alonewith her at the door of her carriage.

"Is your carriage here?" he asked; and at that moment Mrs. van derLuyden, who was being majestically inserted into her sables, saidgently: "We are driving dear Ellen home."

Archer's heart gave a jerk, and Madame Olenska, clasping her cloak andfan 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—itseemed to him that he had shouted it.

"Oh," she murmured, "if you and May could come—!"

Mr. van der Luyden advanced to give her his arm, and Archer turned toMrs. van der Luyden. For a moment, in the billowy darkness inside thebig landau, he caught the dim oval of a face, eyes shiningsteadily—and she was gone.

As he went up the steps he crossed Lawrence Lefferts coming down withhis wife. Lefferts caught his host by the sleeve, drawing back to letGertrude pass.

"I say, old chap: do you mind just letting it be understood that I'mdining with you at the club tomorrow night? Thanks so much, you oldbrick! Good-night."

"It DID go off beautifully, didn't it?" May questioned from thethreshold of the library.

Archer roused himself with a start. As soon as the last carriage haddriven away, he had come up to the library and shut himself in, withthe hope that his wife, who still lingered below, would go straight toher room. But there she stood, pale and drawn, yet radiating thefactitious 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 sleepy—"

"No, I'm not sleepy. I should like to sit with you a little."

"Very well," he said, pushing her chair near the fire.

She sat down and he resumed his seat; but neither spoke for a longtime. At length Archer began abruptly: "Since you're not tired, andwant to talk, there's something I must tell you. I tried to the othernight—."

She looked at him quickly. "Yes, dear. Something about yourself?"

"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 overworked—"

"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 faroff—away from everything—"

He paused, conscious that he had failed in his attempt to speak withthe indifference of a man who longs for a change, and is yet too wearyto 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 hishands, he felt her warmly and fragrantly hovering over him.

"As far as that? But I'm afraid you can't, dear ..." she said in anunsteady voice. "Not unless you'll take me with you." And then, as hewas silent, she went on, in tones so clear and evenly-pitched that eachseparate 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 yousee, Newland, I've been sure since this morning of something I've beenso longing and hoping for—"

He looked up at her with a sick stare, and she sank down, all dew androses, and hid her face against his knee.

"Oh, my dear," he said, holding her to him while his cold hand strokedher hair.

There was a long pause, which the inner devils filled with stridentlaughter; 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 oneelse?"

"Only Mamma and your mother." She paused, and then added hurriedly,the blood flushing up to her forehead: "That is—and Ellen. You knowI told you we'd had a long talk one afternoon—and how dear she was tome."

"Ah—" said Archer, his heart stopping.

He felt that his wife was watching him intently. "Did you MIND mytelling her first, Newland?"

"Mind? Why should I?" He made a last effort to collect himself. "Butthat was a fortnight ago, wasn't it? I thought you said you weren'tsure till today."

Her colour burned deeper, but she held his gaze. "No; I wasn't surethen—but I told her I was. And you see I was right!" she exclaimed,her blue eyes wet with victory.

XXXIV.

Newland Archer sat at the writing-table in his library in EastThirty-ninth Street.

He had just got back from a big official reception for the inaugurationof the new galleries at the Metropolitan Museum, and the spectacle ofthose great spaces crowded with the spoils of the ages, where thethrong of fashion circulated through a series of scientificallycatalogued treasures, had suddenly pressed on a rusted spring of memory.

"Why, this used to be one of the old Cesnola rooms," he heard some onesay; and instantly everything about him vanished, and he was sittingalone on a hard leather divan against a radiator, while a slight figurein a long sealskin cloak moved away down the meagrely-fitted vista ofthe old Museum.

The vision had roused a host of other associations, and he sat lookingwith new eyes at the library which, for over thirty years, had been thescene of his solitary musings and of all the family confabulations.

It was the room in which most of the real things of his life hadhappened. There his wife, nearly twenty-six years ago, had broken tohim, with a blushing circumlocution that would have caused the youngwomen of the new generation to smile, the news that she was to have achild; and there their eldest boy, Dallas, too delicate to be taken tochurch in midwinter, had been christened by their old friend the Bishopof New York, the ample magnificent irreplaceable Bishop, so long thepride and ornament of his diocese. There Dallas had first staggeredacross the floor shouting "Dad," while May and the nurse laughed behindthe door; there their second child, Mary (who was so like her mother),had announced her engagement to the dullest and most reliable of ReggieChivers's many sons; and there Archer had kissed her through herwedding veil before they went down to the motor which was to carry themto Grace Church—for in a world where all else had reeled on itsfoundations the "Grace Church wedding" remained an unchangedinstitution.

It was in the library that he and May had always discussed the futureof the children: the studies of Dallas and his young brother Bill,Mary's incurable indifference to "accomplishments," and passion forsport and philanthropy, and the vague leanings toward "art" which hadfinally landed the restless and curious Dallas in the office of arising New York architect.

The young men nowadays were emancipating themselves from the law andbusiness and taking up all sorts of new things. If they were notabsorbed in state politics or municipal reform, the chances were thatthey were going in for Central American archaeology, for architectureor landscape-engineering; taking a keen and learned interest in theprerevolutionary buildings of their own country, studying and adaptingGeorgian types, and protesting at the meaningless use of the word"Colonial." Nobody nowadays had "Colonial" houses except themillionaire grocers of the suburbs.

But above all—sometimes Archer put it above all—it was in thatlibrary that the Governor of New York, coming down from Albany oneevening 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 countrywants, Archer. If the stable's ever to be cleaned out, men like youhave got to lend a hand in the cleaning."

"Men like you—" how Archer had glowed at the phrase! How eagerly hehad risen up at the call! It was an echo of Ned Winsett's old appealto roll his sleeves up and get down into the muck; but spoken by a manwho set the example of the gesture, and whose summons to follow him wasirresistible.

Archer, as he looked back, was not sure that men like himself WERE whathis country needed, at least in the active service to which TheodoreRoosevelt 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, andhad dropped back thankfully into obscure if useful municipal work, andfrom that again to the writing of occasional articles in one of thereforming weeklies that were trying to shake the country out of itsapathy. It was little enough to look back on; but when he rememberedto what the young men of his generation and his set had lookedforward—the narrow groove of money-making, sport and society to whichtheir vision had been limited—even his small contribution to the newstate of things seemed to count, as each brick counts in a well-builtwall. He had done little in public life; he would always be by naturea contemplative and a dilettante; but he had had high things tocontemplate, great things to delight in; and one great man's friendshipto be his strength and pride.

He had been, in short, what people were beginning to call "a goodcitizen." In New York, for many years past, every new movement,philanthropic, municipal or artistic, had taken account of his opinionand wanted his name. People said: "Ask Archer" when there was aquestion of starting the first school for crippled children,reorganising the Museum of Art, founding the Grolier Club, inauguratingthe new Library, or getting up a new society of chamber music. Hisdays were full, and they were filled decently. He supposed it was alla man ought to ask.

Something he knew he had missed: the flower of life. But he thought ofit now as a thing so unattainable and improbable that to have repinedwould have been like despairing because one had not drawn the firstprize in a lottery. There were a hundred million tickets in HISlottery, and there was only one prize; the chances had been toodecidedly against him. When he thought of Ellen Olenska it wasabstractly, serenely, as one might think of some imaginary beloved in abook or a picture: she had become the composite vision of all that hehad missed. That vision, faint and tenuous as it was, had kept himfrom thinking of other women. He had been what was called a faithfulhusband; and when May had suddenly died—carried off by the infectiouspneumonia through which she had nursed their youngest child—he hadhonestly mourned her. Their long years together had shown him that itdid not so much matter if marriage was a dull duty, as long as it keptthe dignity of a duty: lapsing from that, it became a mere battle ofugly appetites. Looking about him, he honoured his own past, andmourned for it. After all, there was good in the old ways.

His eyes, making the round of the room—done over by Dallas withEnglish mezzotints, Chippendale cabinets, bits of chosen blue-and-whiteand pleasantly shaded electric lamps—came back to the old Eastlakewriting-table that he had never been willing to banish, and to hisfirst photograph of May, which still kept its place beside his inkstand.

There she was, tall, round-bosomed and willowy, in her starched muslinand flapping Leghorn, as he had seen her under the orange-trees in theMission 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 ofgrowth, that the world of her youth had fallen into pieces and rebuiltitself without her ever being conscious of the change. This hardbright blindness had kept her immediate horizon apparently unaltered.Her incapacity to recognise change made her children conceal theirviews from her as Archer concealed his; there had been, from the first,a joint pretence of sameness, a kind of innocent family hypocrisy, inwhich father and children had unconsciously collaborated. And she haddied thinking the world a good place, full of loving and harmonioushouseholds like her own, and resigned to leave it because she wasconvinced that, whatever happened, Newland would continue to inculcatein Dallas the same principles and prejudices which had shaped hisparents' lives, and that Dallas in turn (when Newland followed her)would transmit the sacred trust to little Bill. And of Mary she wassure as of her own self. So, having snatched little Bill from thegrave, and given her life in the effort, she went contentedly to herplace in the Archer vault in St. Mark's, where Mrs. Archer already laysafe from the terrifying "trend" which her daughter-in-law had nevereven become aware of.

Opposite May's portrait stood one of her daughter. Mary Chivers was astall and fair as her mother, but large-waisted, flat-chested andslightly slouching, as the altered fashion required. Mary Chivers'smighty feats of athleticism could not have been performed with thetwenty-inch waist that May Archer's azure sash so easily spanned. Andthe difference seemed symbolic; the mother's life had been as closelygirt as her figure. Mary, who was no less conventional, and no moreintelligent, yet led a larger life and held more tolerant views. Therewas 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 dayswhen the legs of the brass-buttoned messenger boy had been New York'sonly means of quick communication!

"Chicago wants you."

Ah—it must be a long-distance from Dallas, who had been sent toChicago by his firm to talk over the plan of the Lakeside palace theywere to build for a young millionaire with ideas. The firm always sentDallas on such errands.

"Hallo, Dad—Yes: Dallas. I say—how do you feel about sailing onWednesday? Mauretania: Yes, next Wednesday as ever is. Our clientwants me to look at some Italian gardens before we settle anything, andhas asked me to nip over on the next boat. I've got to be back on thefirst of June—" the voice broke into a joyful conscious laugh—"so wemust 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 andnatural as if he had been lounging in his favourite arm-chair by thefire. The fact would not ordinarily have surprised Archer, forlong-distance telephoning had become as much a matter of course aselectric lighting and five-day Atlantic voyages. But the laugh didstartle him; it still seemed wonderful that across all those miles andmiles of country—forest, river, mountain, prairie, roaring cities andbusy indifferent millions—Dallas's laugh should be able to say: "Ofcourse, whatever happens, I must get back on the first, because FannyBeaufort and I are to be married on the fifth."

The voice began again: "Think it over? No, sir: not a minute. You'vegot to say yes now. Why not, I'd like to know? If you can allege asingle reason—No; I knew it. Then it's a go, eh? Because I count onyou to ring up the Cunard office first thing tomorrow; and you'd betterbook a return on a boat from Marseilles. I say, Dad; it'll be our lasttime 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 theroom.

It would be their last time together in this kind of way: the boy wasright. They would have lots of other "times" after Dallas's marriage,his father was sure; for the two were born comrades, and FannyBeaufort, whatever one might think of her, did not seem likely tointerfere with their intimacy. On the contrary, from what he had seenof her, he thought she would be naturally included in it. Still,change was change, and differences were differences, and much as hefelt himself drawn toward his future daughter-in-law, it was temptingto seize this last chance of being alone with his boy.

There was no reason why he should not seize it, except the profound onethat he had lost the habit of travel. May had disliked to move exceptfor valid reasons, such as taking the children to the sea or in themountains: she could imagine no other motive for leaving the house inThirty-ninth Street or their comfortable quarters at the Wellands' inNewport. After Dallas had taken his degree she had thought it her dutyto travel for six months; and the whole family had made theold-fashioned tour through England, Switzerland and Italy. Their timebeing limited (no one knew why) they had omitted France. Archerremembered Dallas's wrath at being asked to contemplate Mont Blancinstead of Rheims and Chartres. But Mary and Bill wantedmountain-climbing, and had already yawned their way in Dallas's wakethrough the English cathedrals; and May, always fair to her children,had insisted on holding the balance evenly between their athletic andartistic proclivities. She had indeed proposed that her husband shouldgo to Paris for a fortnight, and join them on the Italian lakes afterthey had "done" Switzerland; but Archer had declined. "We'll sticktogether," he said; and May's face had brightened at his setting such agood example to Dallas.

Since her death, nearly two years before, there had been no reason forhis continuing in the same routine. His children had urged him totravel: Mary Chivers had felt sure it would do him good to go abroadand "see the galleries." The very mysteriousness of such a cure madeher the more confident of its efficacy. But Archer had found himselfheld fast by habit, by memories, by a sudden startled shrinking fromnew 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 fordoing anything else. At least that was the view that the men of hisgeneration had taken. The trenchant divisions between right and wrong,honest and dishonest, respectable and the reverse, had left so littlescope for the unforeseen. There are moments when a man's imagination,so easily subdued to what it lives in, suddenly rises above its dailylevel, and surveys the long windings of destiny. Archer hung there andwondered....

What was left of the little world he had grown up in, and whosestandards had bent and bound him? He remembered a sneering prophecy ofpoor Lawrence Lefferts's, uttered years ago in that very room: "Ifthings go on at this rate, our children will be marrying Beaufort'sbastards."

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 stilllooked so exactly as she used to in her elderly youth, had taken hermother's emeralds and seed-pearls out of their pink cotton-wool, andcarried them with her own twitching hands to the future bride; andFanny Beaufort, instead of looking disappointed at not receiving a"set" from a Paris jeweller, had exclaimed at their old-fashionedbeauty, and declared that when she wore them she should feel like anIsabey miniature.

Fanny Beaufort, who had appeared in New York at eighteen, after thedeath of her parents, had won its heart much as Madame Olenska had wonit thirty years earlier; only instead of being distrustful and afraidof her, society took her joyfully for granted. She was pretty, amusingand accomplished: what more did any one want? Nobody was narrow-mindedenough to rake up against her the half-forgotten facts of her father'spast and her own origin. Only the older people remembered so obscurean incident in the business life of New York as Beaufort's failure, orthe fact that after his wife's death he had been quietly married to thenotorious Fanny Ring, and had left the country with his new wife, and alittle girl who inherited her beauty. He was subsequently heard of inConstantinople, then in Russia; and a dozen years later Americantravellers were handsomely entertained by him in Buenos Ayres, where herepresented a large insurance agency. He and his wife died there inthe odour of prosperity; and one day their orphaned daughter hadappeared in New York in charge of May Archer's sister-in-law, Mrs. JackWelland, whose husband had been appointed the girl's guardian. Thefact threw her into almost cousinly relationship with Newland Archer'schildren, and nobody was surprised when Dallas's engagement wasannounced.

Nothing could more dearly give the measure of the distance that theworld had travelled. People nowadays were too busy—busy with reformsand "movements," with fads and fetishes and frivolities—to bother muchabout their neighbours. And of what account was anybody's past, in thehuge kaleidoscope where all the social atoms spun around on the sameplane?

Newland Archer, looking out of his hotel window at the stately gaietyof the Paris streets, felt his heart beating with the confusion andeagerness of youth.

It was long since it had thus plunged and reared under his wideningwaistcoat, leaving him, the next minute, with an empty breast and hottemples. He wondered if it was thus that his son's conducted itself inthe presence of Miss Fanny Beaufort—and decided that it was not. "Itfunctions as actively, no doubt, but the rhythm is different," hereflected, recalling the cool composure with which the young man hadannounced his engagement, and taken for granted that his family wouldapprove.

"The difference is that these young people take it for granted thatthey're going to get whatever they want, and that we almost always tookit for granted that we shouldn't. Only, I wonder—the thing one's socertain of in advance: can it ever make one's heart beat as wildly?"

It was the day after their arrival in Paris, and the spring sunshineheld Archer in his open window, above the wide silvery prospect of thePlace Vendome. One of the things he had stipulated—almost the onlyone—when he had agreed to come abroad with Dallas, was that, in Paris,he shouldn't be made to go to one of the newfangled "palaces."

"Oh, all right—of course," Dallas good-naturedly agreed. "I'll takeyou to some jolly old-fashioned place—the Bristol say—" leaving hisfather speechless at hearing that the century-long home of kings andemperors was now spoken of as an old-fashioned inn, where one went forits quaint inconveniences and lingering local colour.

Archer had pictured often enough, in the first impatient years, thescene of his return to Paris; then the personal vision had faded, andhe had simply tried to see the city as the setting of Madame Olenska'slife. Sitting alone at night in his library, after the household hadgone to bed, he had evoked the radiant outbreak of spring down theavenues of horse-chestnuts, the flowers and statues in the publicgardens, the whiff of lilacs from the flower-carts, the majestic rollof the river under the great bridges, and the life of art and study andpleasure that filled each mighty artery to bursting. Now the spectaclewas 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 theruthless magnificent fellow he had dreamed of being....

Dallas's hand came down cheerily on his shoulder. "Hullo, father: thisis something like, isn't it?" They stood for a while looking out insilence, and then the young man continued: "By the way, I've got amessage for you: the Countess Olenska expects us both at half-pastfive."

He said it lightly, carelessly, as he might have imparted any casualitem of information, such as the hour at which their train was to leavefor Florence the next evening. Archer looked at him, and thought hesaw in his gay young eyes a gleam of his great-grandmother Mingott'smalice.

"Oh, didn't I tell you?" Dallas pursued. "Fanny made me swear to dothree things while I was in Paris: get her the score of the lastDebussy songs, go to the Grand-Guignol and see Madame Olenska. Youknow she was awfully good to Fanny when Mr. Beaufort sent her over fromBuenos Ayres to the Assomption. Fanny hadn't any friends in Paris, andMadame 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. Andshe's our cousin, of course. So I rang her up this morning, before Iwent out, and told her you and I were here for two days and wanted tosee her."

Archer continued to stare at him. "You told her I was here?"

"Of course—why not?" Dallas's eye brows went up whimsically. Then,getting no answer, he slipped his arm through his father's with aconfidential pressure.

"I say, father: what was she like?"

Archer felt his colour rise under his son's unabashed gaze. "Come, ownup: you and she were great pals, weren't you? Wasn't she most awfullylovely?"

"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'sexactly what I feel about Fanny."

His father drew back a step, releasing his arm. "About Fanny? But, mydear fellow—I should hope so! Only I don't see—"

"Dash it, Dad, don't be prehistoric! Wasn't she—once—your Fanny?"

Dallas belonged body and soul to the new generation. He was thefirst-born of Newland and May Archer, yet it had never been possible toinculcate in him even the rudiments of reserve. "What's the use ofmaking mysteries? It only makes people want to nose 'em out," healways objected when enjoined to discretion. But Archer, meeting hiseyes, saw the filial light under their banter.

"My Fanny?"

"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 said—"

"Your mother?"

"Yes: the day before she died. It was when she sent for me alone—youremember? She said she knew we were safe with you, and always wouldbe, because once, when she asked you to, you'd given up the thing youmost wanted."

Archer received this strange communication in silence. His eyesremained unseeingly fixed on the thronged sunlit square below thewindow. At length he said in a low voice: "She never asked me."

"No. I forgot. You never did ask each other anything, did you? Andyou never told each other anything. You just sat and watched eachother, and guessed at what was going on underneath. A deaf-and-dumbasylum, in fact! Well, I back your generation for knowing more abouteach other's private thoughts than we ever have time to find out aboutour own.—I say, Dad," Dallas broke off, "you're not angry with me? Ifyou are, let's make it up and go and lunch at Henri's. I've got torush out to Versailles afterward."

Archer did not accompany his son to Versailles. He preferred to spendthe afternoon in solitary roamings through Paris. He had to deal allat once with the packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulatelifetime.

After a little while he did not regret Dallas's indiscretion. Itseemed 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 hiswife moved him indescribably. Dallas, for all his affectionateinsight, would not have understood that. To the boy, no doubt, theepisode was only a pathetic instance of vain frustration, of wastedforces. But was it really no more? For a long time Archer sat on abench in the Champs Elysees and wondered, while the stream of liferolled by....

A few streets away, a few hours away, Ellen Olenska waited. She hadnever gone back to her husband, and when he had died, some yearsbefore, she had made no change in her way of living. There was nothingnow 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 Tuileriesgardens to the Louvre. She had once told him that she often wentthere, and he had a fancy to spend the intervening time in a placewhere he could think of her as perhaps having lately been. For an houror more he wandered from gallery to gallery through the dazzle ofafternoon light, and one by one the pictures burst on him in theirhalf-forgotten splendour, filling his soul with the long echoes ofbeauty. After all, his life had been too starved....

Suddenly, before an effulgent Titian, he found himself saying: "ButI'm only fifty-seven—" and then he turned away. For such summerdreams it was too late; but surely not for a quiet harvest offriendship, of comradeship, in the blessed hush of her nearness.

He went back to the hotel, where he and Dallas were to meet; andtogether they walked again across the Place de la Concorde and over thebridge that leads to the Chamber of Deputies.

Dallas, unconscious of what was going on in his father's mind, wastalking excitedly and abundantly of Versailles. He had had but oneprevious glimpse of it, during a holiday trip in which he had tried topack all the sights he had been deprived of when he had had to go withthe family to Switzerland; and tumultuous enthusiasm and cock-surecriticism tripped each other up on his lips.

As Archer listened, his sense of inadequacy and inexpressivenessincreased. The boy was not insensitive, he knew; but he had thefacility and self-confidence that came of looking at fate not as amaster but as an equal. "That's it: they feel equal to things—theyknow their way about," he mused, thinking of his son as the spokesmanof the new generation which had swept away all the old landmarks, andwith them the sign-posts and the danger-signal.

Suddenly Dallas stopped short, grasping his father's arm. "Oh, byJove," he exclaimed.

They had come out into the great tree-planted space before theInvalides. The dome of Mansart floated ethereally above the buddingtrees and the long grey front of the building: drawing up into itselfall the rays of afternoon light, it hung there like the visible symbolof the race's glory.

Archer knew that Madame Olenska lived in a square near one of theavenues radiating from the Invalides; and he had pictured the quarteras quiet and almost obscure, forgetting the central splendour that litit up. Now, by some queer process of association, that golden lightbecame for him the pervading illumination in which she lived. Fornearly thirty years, her life—of which he knew so strangelylittle—had been spent in this rich atmosphere that he already felt tobe too dense and yet too stimulating for his lungs. He thought of thetheatres she must have been to, the pictures she must have looked at,the sober and splendid old houses she must have frequented, the peopleshe must have talked with, the incessant stir of ideas, curiosities,images and associations thrown out by an intensely social race in asetting of immemorial manners; and suddenly he remembered the youngFrenchman who had once said to him: "Ah, good conversation—there isnothing like it, is there?"

Archer had not seen M. Riviere, or heard of him, for nearly thirtyyears; and that fact gave the measure of his ignorance of MadameOlenska's existence. More than half a lifetime divided them, and shehad spent the long interval among people he did not know, in a societyhe but faintly guessed at, in conditions he would never whollyunderstand. During that time he had been living with his youthfulmemory of her; but she had doubtless had other and more tangiblecompanionship. Perhaps she too had kept her memory of him as somethingapart; but if she had, it must have been like a relic in a small dimchapel, where there was not time to pray every day....

They had crossed the Place des Invalides, and were walking down one ofthe thoroughfares flanking the building. It was a quiet quarter, afterall, in spite of its splendour and its history; and the fact gave onean idea of the riches Paris had to draw on, since such scenes as thiswere left to the few and the indifferent.

The day was fading into a soft sun-shot haze, pricked here and there bya yellow electric light, and passers were rare in the little squareinto which they had turned. Dallas stopped again, and looked up.

"It must be here," he said, slipping his arm through his father's witha movement from which Archer's shyness did not shrink; and they stoodtogether looking up at the house.

It was a modern building, without distinctive character, butmany-windowed, and pleasantly balconied up its wide cream-colouredfront. On one of the upper balconies, which hung well above therounded tops of the horse-chestnuts in the square, the awnings werestill lowered, as though the sun had just left it.

"I wonder which floor—?" Dallas conjectured; and moving toward theporte-cochere he put his head into the porter's lodge, and came back tosay: "The fifth. It must be the one with the awnings."

Archer remained motionless, gazing at the upper windows as if the endof their pilgrimage had been attained.

"I say, you know, it's nearly six," his son at length reminded him.

The father glanced away at an empty bench under the trees.

"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 youmean 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 fatherrejoined with a smile.

"Very well. I shall say you're old-fashioned, and prefer walking upthe five flights because you don't like lifts."

His father smiled again. "Say I'm old-fashioned: that's enough."

Dallas looked at him again, and then, with an incredulous gesture,passed out of sight under the vaulted doorway.

Archer sat down on the bench and continued to gaze at the awningedbalcony. He calculated the time it would take his son to be carried upin the lift to the fifth floor, to ring the bell, and be admitted tothe hall, and then ushered into the drawing-room. He pictured Dallasentering that room with his quick assured step and his delightfulsmile, 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 atthat sociable hour there would be more than one—and among them a darklady, pale and dark, who would look up quickly, half rise, and hold outa long thin hand with three rings on it.... He thought she would besitting in a sofa-corner near the fire, with azaleas banked behind heron a table.

"It's more real to me here than if I went up," he suddenly heardhimself say; and the fear lest that last shadow of reality should loseits edge kept him rooted to his seat as the minutes succeeded eachother.

He sat for a long time on the bench in the thickening dusk, his eyesnever turning from the balcony. At length a light shone through thewindows, and a moment later a man-servant came out on the balcony, drewup the awnings, and closed the shutters.

At that, as if it had been the signal he waited for, Newland Archer gotup slowly and walked back alone to his hotel.

(Video) Ethan Frome Chapter 1 Audiobook by Edith Wharton: Read Aloud With Text on Screen, American Classic

A Note on the Text

The Age of Innocence first appeared in four large installments in ThePictorial Review, from July to October 1920. It was published thatsame year in book form by D. Appleton and Company in New York and inLondon. Wharton made extensive stylistic, punctuation, and spellingchanges and revisions between the serial and book publication, and morethan thirty subsequent changes were made after the second impression ofthe book edition had been run off. This authoritative text isreprinted from the Library of America edition of Novels by EdithWharton, and is based on the sixth impression of the first edition,which incorporates the last set of extensive revisions that areobviously authorial.

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FAQs

What is the main idea of The Age of Innocence? ›

One of the themes central to The Age of Innocence is the struggle between the individual and the group. Newland Archer has been raised into a world where manners and moral codes dictate how the individual will act, and in some cases, even think.

Why did Edith Wharton write The Age of Innocence? ›

In her autobiography, Wharton wrote of The Age of Innocence that it had allowed her to find "a momentary escape in going back to my childish memories of a long-vanished America... it was growing more and more evident that the world I had grown up in and been formed by had been destroyed in 1914." Scholars and readers ...

What is the conflict in The Age of Innocence? ›

The protagonist Archer defends Ellen—who is a childhood friend and his fiancée's cousin. This turning point introduces both aspects of the main conflict—Archer's attachment to Ellen and society's resistance to her.

Is The Age of Innocence a feminist book? ›

While The Age of Innocence is not overtly feminist, Wharton does an excellent job in expressing her own thoughts on the suffocating world of the upper class in the Gilded Age.

What is the meaning of the end of The Age of Innocence? ›

By the film's end, when Newland is granted a second chance of sorts to reconnect with Ellen in Paris after May's death, he seems to have accepted the insurmountable distance between his idyllic image of Ellen and the possibly disillusioning reality of what it would take to forge an honest relationship with her.

Who is the main character in The Age of Innocence? ›

The Age of Innocence

Is Age of Innocence an easy read? ›

The Age of Innocenceis an easy story to follow, written in the kind of urbane, intelligent, humorous prose you would expect for the voice-over of a Jane Austen movie. But, like the voice-over to a Jane Austen movie, the prose can be a tad stuffy, and the content can be bewilderingly outdated.

What is considered Edith Wharton's best book? ›

First published in 1913, The Custom of the Country is considered by many of Edith Wharton's fans to be her masterpiece.

Who is the antagonist in The Age of Innocence? ›

The antagonist in Age of Innocence, written by Edith Wharton, is May Welland. May Welland is married to a wealthy young lawyer named Newland Archer, the novels' protagonist. Newland, though married to May, is in fact in love with May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska.

What is the relationship between Mrs Mingott and Mrs Welland? ›

Welland Character Analysis. May's mother and Mrs. Mingott's daughter.

Why did Ellen Olenska leave her husband? ›

A clandestine affair with him means no honor, no principles, and no happiness. As she explains, "I can't love you unless I give you up." Unselfish in doing exactly that, she realizes they are "chained to their destinies" and she leaves because an unconventional life cannot survive in 1870s New York.

Is The Age of Innocence sad? ›

The Age of Innocence is a brutal and elegiac novel with an ending that hurts, but pleasantly so, like a pressed bruise. For all of its emotional heft, when it was first published The Age of Innocence was marketed as a nostalgic, escapist story.

How long does it take to read Age of Innocence? ›

The average reader, reading at a speed of 300 WPM, would take 6 hours and 11 minutes to read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. As an Amazon Associate, How Long to Read earns from qualifying purchases.

What does Ellen represent in The Age of Innocence? ›

Countess Ellen Olenska represents the major female character in The Age of Innocence . She is considered a perfect example of women's agony. Wharton presents Ellen Olenska as the sophisticate, a woman who has been lived amid the aristocracy of Europe and has seen the different world.

Is Age of Innocence satire? ›

The novel The Age of Innocence written by Edith Wharton presents a critical or even satirical description of the social norms and values adopted in the upper-class society of New York at the end of the nineteenth century.

Why did Newland walk away at the end of age of innocence? ›

He lived a life of “dull duty” instead of experiencing “the flower of life.” But that was okay, even good. In the end, the clan was more important for him than the woman. And, so, he walked away.

What is olenska's scandal? ›

She married the fabulously wealthy Count Olenska, a Polish nobleman, at which point she should have lived happily ever after. But she did not— the Count turned out to be a boor, and rumor has it that she ran off with his secretary and lived with the secretary for a year before finding her way back to New York City.

What happens to May in The Age of Innocence? ›

She marries Newland and her slim intellectual abilities never vary, but her wisdom in manipulating Newland grows immensely.

Is Edith Wharton a feminist? ›

Deeply conservative in her politics, she was opposed to women's suffrage and described herself as a “rabid imperialist” during her late-life exile in France, where she lived in a Parisian apartment formerly owned by George Vanderbilt II.

Is The Age of Innocence on Netflix? ›

New York aristocrat Newland Archer strains the intransigent mores of Gilded Age society when he falls for his fiancée's scandalous cousin. Watch all you want.

What influenced The Age of Innocence? ›

There, she began work on her most celebrated work, The Age of Innocence, perhaps inspired from nostalgia for an era erased by war and a reflection on the country of her birth. For her work, Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921, becoming the first woman to win the award.

Is The Age of Innocence a hard read? ›

The Age of Innocenceis an easy story to follow, written in the kind of urbane, intelligent, humorous prose you would expect for the voice-over of a Jane Austen movie. But, like the voice-over to a Jane Austen movie, the prose can be a tad stuffy, and the content can be bewilderingly outdated.

Is The Age of Innocence satire? ›

The Age of Innocence contains both satire and nostalgia for for early twentieth-century New York society.

What literary period is The Age of Innocence from? ›

The Age of Innocence, novel by Edith Wharton, published in 1920. The work presents a picture of upper-class New York society in the late 19th century. The story is presented as a kind of anthropological study of this society through references to the families and their activities as tribal.

What is considered Edith Wharton's best book? ›

First published in 1913, The Custom of the Country is considered by many of Edith Wharton's fans to be her masterpiece.

Who is the antagonist in The Age of Innocence? ›

The antagonist in Age of Innocence, written by Edith Wharton, is May Welland. May Welland is married to a wealthy young lawyer named Newland Archer, the novels' protagonist. Newland, though married to May, is in fact in love with May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska.

Is The Age of Innocence sad? ›

The Age of Innocence is a brutal and elegiac novel with an ending that hurts, but pleasantly so, like a pressed bruise. For all of its emotional heft, when it was first published The Age of Innocence was marketed as a nostalgic, escapist story.

Is The Age of Innocence on Netflix? ›

New York aristocrat Newland Archer strains the intransigent mores of Gilded Age society when he falls for his fiancée's scandalous cousin. Watch all you want.

Why is Edith Wharton important? ›

Wharton broke through these strictures to become one of America's greatest writers. Author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, she wrote over 40 books in 40 years, including authoritative works on architecture, gardens, interior design, and travel.

Is Age of Innocence modernist? ›

Despite the majority of The Age of Innocence taking place in a pre- Modern world, Wharton manages to infuse her characters and their world with aspects of Modernism. Each character subverts society's expectations of them and uses these perceptions to create a space within the power structure.

Is Age of Innocence realism? ›

The Age of Innocence comes out of the former realization and the latter inability. It is a realist novel that stages its own obsolescence, a belated novel of manners that dramatizes the disappearance of the culture that had made its own genre possible.

Who narrated The Age of Innocence? ›

Although there have been exceptions, negative judgments were not rare, especially when the movie was released: 'As recently as 1993, Martin Scorsese and his screenwriter Jay Cocks were criticized for using Joanne Woodward's voice-over to narrate certain moments in their adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of ...

How long is the movie Age of Innocence? ›

When was The Age of Innocence made? ›

The Age of Innocence is a 1993 American historical romantic drama film directed by Martin Scorsese. The screenplay, an adaptation of the 1920 novel The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, was written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks.

Is Edith Wharton a feminist? ›

Deeply conservative in her politics, she was opposed to women's suffrage and described herself as a “rabid imperialist” during her late-life exile in France, where she lived in a Parisian apartment formerly owned by George Vanderbilt II.

Who painted Age of Innocence? ›

The Age of Innocence is an oil on canvas painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, created in either 1785 or 1788 and measuring 765 x 638 mm.

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