The next day he persuaded May to escape for a walk in the Park after luncheon.
As was the custom in old-fashioned Episcopalian New York, she usuall_ccompanied her parents to church on Sunday afternoons; but Mrs. Wellan_ondoned her truancy, having that very morning won her over to the necessit_f a long engagement, with time to prepare a hand-embroidered troussea_ontaining the proper number of dozens.
The day was delectable. The bare vaulting of trees along the Mall was ceile_ith lapis lazuli, and arched above snow that shone like splintered crystals.
It was the weather to call out May's radiance, and she burned like a youn_aple in the frost. Archer was proud of the glances turned on her, and th_imple joy of possessorship cleared away his underlying perplexities.
"It's so delicious—waking every morning to smell lilies-of-the-valley in one'_oom!" 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 much mor_han if you'd given a standing order, and they came every morning on th_inute, like one's music-teacher—as I know Gertrude Lefferts's did, fo_nstance, when she and Lawrence were engaged."
"Ah—they would!" laughed Archer, amused at her keenness. He looked sideways a_er fruit-like cheek and felt rich and secure enough to add: "When I sent you_ilies yesterday afternoon I saw some rather gorgeous yellow roses and packe_hem off to Madame Olenska. Was that right?"
"How dear of you! Anything of that kind delights her. It's odd she didn'_ention it: she lunched with us today, and spoke of Mr. Beaufort's having sen_er wonderful orchids, and cousin Henry van der Luyden a whole hamper o_arnations from Skuytercliff. She seems so surprised to receive flowers. Don'_eople send them in Europe? She thinks it such a pretty custom."
"Oh, well, no wonder mine were overshadowed by Beaufort's," said Arche_rritably. Then he remembered that he had not put a card with the roses, an_as vexed at having spoken of them. He wanted to say: "I called on your cousi_esterday," but hesitated. If Madame Olenska had not spoken of his visit i_ight seem awkward that he should. Yet not to do so gave the affair an air o_ystery that he disliked. To shake off the question he began to talk of thei_wn plans, their future, and Mrs. Welland's insistence on a long engagement.
"If you call it long! Isabel Chivers and Reggie were engaged for two years: Grace and Thorley for nearly a year and a half. Why aren't we very well off a_e are?"
It was the traditional maidenly interrogation, and he felt ashamed of himsel_or finding it singularly childish. No doubt she simply echoed what was sai_or her; but she was nearing her twenty-second birthday, and he wondered a_hat age "nice" women began to speak for themselves.
"Never, if we won't let them, I suppose," he mused, and recalled his ma_utburst to Mr. Sillerton Jackson: "Women ought to be as free as we are—"
It would presently be his task to take the bandage from this young woman'_yes, and bid her look forth on the world. But how many generations of th_omen who had gone to her making had descended bandaged to the family vault?
He shivered a little, remembering some of the new ideas in his scientifi_ooks, and the much-cited instance of the Kentucky cave-fish, which had cease_o develop eyes because they had no use for them. What if, when he had bidde_ay Welland to open hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?
"We might be much better off. We might be altogether together—we migh_ravel."
Her face lit up. "That would be lovely," she owned: she would love to travel.
But her mother would not understand their wanting to do things so differently.
"As if the mere `differently' didn't account for it!" the wooer insisted.
"Newland! You're so original!" she exulted.
His heart sank, for he saw that he was saying all the things that young men i_he same situation were expected to say, and that she was making the answer_hat instinct and tradition taught her to make—even to the point of callin_im original.
"Original! We're all as like each other as those dolls cut out of the sam_olded paper. We're like patterns stencilled on a wall. Can't you and I strik_ut for ourselves, May?"
He had stopped and faced her in the excitement of their discussion, and he_yes 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 that the_ouldn't, but it was troublesome to have to produce a reason. "I'm not cleve_nough to argue with you. But that kind of thing is rather—vulgar, isn't it?"
she suggested, relieved to have hit on a word that would assuredly extinguis_he whole subject.
"Are you so much afraid, then, of being vulgar?"
She was evidently staggered by this. "Of course I should hate it—so woul_ou," she rejoined, a trifle irritably.
He stood silent, beating his stick nervously against his boot-top; and feelin_hat she had indeed found the right way of closing the discussion, she went o_ight- heartedly: "Oh, did I tell you that I showed Ellen my ring? She think_t the most beautiful setting she ever saw. There's nothing like it in the ru_e la Paix, she said. I do love you, Newland, for being so artistic!"
The next afternoon, as Archer, before dinner, sat smoking sullenly in hi_tudy, Janey wandered in on him. He had failed to stop at his club on the wa_p from the office where he exercised the profession of the law in th_eisurely manner common to well-to-do New Yorkers of his class. He was out o_pirits and slightly out of temper, and a haunting horror of doing the sam_hing every day at the same hour besieged his brain.
"Sameness—sameness!" he muttered, the word running through his head like _ersecuting tune as he saw the familiar tall-hatted figures lounging behin_he plate- glass; and because he usually dropped in at the club at that hou_e had gone home instead. He knew not only what they were likely to be talkin_bout, but the part each one would take in the discussion. The Duke of cours_ould be their principal theme; though the appearance in Fifth Avenue of _olden-haired lady in a small canary-coloured brougham with a pair of blac_obs (for which Beaufort was generally thought responsible) would als_oubtless be thoroughly gone into. Such "women" (as they were called) were fe_n New York, those driving their own carriages still fewer, and the appearanc_f Miss Fanny Ring in Fifth Avenue at the fashionable hour had profoundl_gitated society. Only the day before, her carriage had passed Mrs. Lovel_ingott's, and the latter had instantly rung the little bell at her elbow an_rdered the coachman to drive her home. "What if it had happened to Mrs. va_er Luyden?" people asked each other with a shudder. Archer could hea_awrence Lefferts, at that very hour, holding forth on the disintegration o_ociety.
He raised his head irritably when his sister Janey entered, and then quickl_ent over his book (Swinburne's "Chastelard"—just out) as if he had not see_er. She glanced at the writing-table heaped with books, opened a volume o_he "Contes Drolatiques," made a wry face over the archaic French, and sighed:
"What learned things you read!"
"Well—?" he asked, as she hovered Cassandra-like before him.
"Mother's very angry."
"Angry? With whom? About what?"
"Miss Sophy Jackson has just been here. She brought word that her brothe_ould come in after dinner: she couldn't say very much, because he forbade he_o: he wishes to give all the details himself. He's with cousin Louisa van de_uyden now."
"For heaven's sake, my dear girl, try a fresh start. It would take a_mniscient Deity to know what you're talking about."
"It's not a time to be profane, Newland… . Mother feels badly enough abou_our not going to church … "
With a groan he plunged back into his book.
"NEWLAND! Do listen. Your friend Madame Olenska was at Mrs. Lemuel Struthers'_arty last night: she went there with the Duke and Mr. Beaufort."
At the last clause of this announcement a senseless anger swelled the youn_an's breast. To smother it he laughed. "Well, what of it? I knew she mean_o."
Janey paled and her eyes began to project. "You knew she meant to—and yo_idn't try to stop her? To warn her?"
"Stop her? Warn her?" He laughed again. "I'm not engaged to be married to th_ountess Olenska!" The words had a fantastic sound in his own ears.
"You're marrying into her family."
"Oh, family—family!" he jeered.
"Newland—don't you care about Family?"
"Not a brass farthing."
"Nor about what cousin Louisa van der Luyden will 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 der Luydens, an_o we all are, when it comes to being so much as brushed by the wing-tip o_eality." But he saw her long gentle face puckering into tears, and fel_shamed 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 so tha_e might all back her up; and if it hadn't been for that cousin Louisa woul_ever have invited her to the dinner for the Duke."
"Well—what harm was there in inviting her? She was the best-looking woman i_he room; she made the dinner a little less funereal than the usual van de_uyden banquet."
"You know cousin Henry asked her to please you: he persuaded cousin Louisa.
And now they're so upset that they're going back to Skuytercliff tomorrow. _hink, Newland, you'd better come down. You don't seem to understand ho_other feels."
In the drawing-room Newland found his mother. She raised a troubled brow fro_er needlework to ask: "Has Janey told you?"
"Yes." He tried to keep his tone as measured as her own. "But I can't take i_ery seriously."
"Not the fact of having offended cousin Louisa and cousin Henry?"
"The fact that they can be offended by such a trifle as Countess Olenska'_oing to the house of a woman they consider common."
"Well, who is; but who has good music, and amuses people on Sunday evenings, when the whole of New York is dying of inanition."
"Good music? All I know is, there was a woman who got up on a table and san_he things they sing at the places you go to in Paris. There was smoking an_hampagne."
"Well—that kind of thing happens in other places, and the world still goe_n."
"I don't suppose, dear, you're really defending the French Sunday?"
"I've heard you often enough, mother, grumble at the English Sunday when we'v_een in London."
"New York is neither Paris nor London."
"Oh, no, it's not!" her son groaned.
"You mean, I suppose, that society here is not as brilliant? You're right, _aresay; but we belong here, and people should respect our ways when they com_mong us. Ellen Olenska especially: she came back to get away from the kind o_ife people lead in brilliant societies."
Newland made no answer, and after a moment his mother ventured: "I was goin_o put on my bonnet and ask you to take me to see cousin Louisa for a momen_efore dinner." He frowned, and she continued: "I thought you might explain t_er what you've just said: that society abroad is different … that people ar_ot as particular, and that Madame Olenska may not have realised how we fee_bout such things. It would be, you know, dear," she added with an innocen_droitness, "in Madame Olenska's interest if you did."
"Dearest mother, I really don't see how we're concerned in the matter. Th_uke took Madame Olenska to Mrs. Struthers's—in fact he brought Mrs. Struther_o call on her. I was there when they came. If the van der Luydens want t_uarrel with anybody, the real culprit is under their own roof."
"Quarrel? Newland, did you ever know of cousin Henry's quarrelling? Besides, the Duke's his guest; and a stranger too. Strangers don't discriminate: ho_hould they? Countess Olenska is a New Yorker, and should have respected th_eelings of New York."
"Well, then, if they must have a victim, you have my leave to throw Madam_lenska to them," cried her son, exasperated. "I don't see myself—or yo_ither— offering ourselves up to expiate her crimes."
"Oh, of course you see only the Mingott side," his mother answered, in th_ensitive tone that was her nearest approach to anger.
The sad butler drew back the drawing-room portieres and announced: "Mr. Henr_an der Luyden."
Mrs. Archer dropped her needle and pushed her chair back with an agitate_and.
"Another lamp," she cried to the retreating servant, while Janey bent over t_traighten her mother's cap.
Mr. van der Luyden's figure loomed on the threshold, and Newland Archer wen_orward to greet his cousin.
"We were just talking about you, sir," he said.
Mr. van der Luyden seemed overwhelmed by the announcement. He drew off hi_love to shake hands with the ladies, and smoothed his tall hat shyly, whil_aney pushed an arm-chair forward, and Archer continued: "And the Countes_lenska."
Mrs. Archer paled.
"Ah—a charming woman. I have just been to see her," said Mr. van der Luyden, complacency restored to his brow. He sank into the chair, laid his hat an_loves on the floor beside him in the old-fashioned way, and went on: "She ha_ real gift for arranging flowers. I had sent her a few carnations fro_kuytercliff, and I was astonished. Instead of massing them in big bunches a_ur head-gardener does, she had scattered them about loosely, here and there … I can't say how. The Duke had told me: he said: `Go and see how cleverly she'_rranged her drawing-room.' And she has. I should really like to take Louis_o see her, if the neighbourhood were not so—unpleasant."
A dead silence greeted this unusual flow of words from Mr. van der Luyden.
Mrs. Archer drew her embroidery out of the basket into which she had nervousl_umbled it, and Newland, leaning against the chimney-place and twisting _umming-bird-feather screen in his hand, saw Janey's gaping countenance lit u_y the coming of the second lamp.
"The fact is," Mr. van der Luyden continued, stroking his long grey leg with _loodless hand weighed down by the Patroon's great signet-ring, "the fact is, I dropped in to thank her for the very pretty note she wrote me about m_lowers; and also—but this is between ourselves, of course—to give her _riendly warning about allowing the Duke to carry her off to parties with him.
I don't know if you've heard—"
Mrs. Archer produced an indulgent smile. "Has the Duke been carrying her of_o parties?"
"You know what these English grandees are. They're all alike. Louisa and I ar_ery fond of our cousin—but it's hopeless to expect people who are accustome_o the European courts to trouble themselves about our little republica_istinctions. The Duke goes where he's amused." Mr. van der Luyden paused, bu_o one spoke. "Yes—it seems he took her with him last night to Mrs. Lemue_truthers's. Sillerton Jackson has just been to us with the foolish story, an_ouisa was rather troubled. So I thought the shortest way was to go straigh_o Countess Olenska and explain—by the merest hint, you know—how we feel i_ew York about certain things. I felt I might, without indelicacy, because th_vening she dined with us she rather suggested … rather let me see that sh_ould be grateful for guidance. And she WAS."
Mr. van der Luyden looked about the room with what would have been self- satisfaction on features less purged of the vulgar passions. On his face i_ecame a mild benevolence which Mrs. Archer's countenance dutifully reflected.
"How kind you both are, dear Henry—always! Newland will particularl_ppreciate what you have done because of dear May and his new relations."
She shot an admonitory glance at her son, who said: "Immensely, sir. But I wa_ure you'd like Madame Olenska."
Mr. van der Luyden looked at him with extreme gentleness. "I never ask to m_ouse, my dear Newland," he said, "any one whom I do not like. And so I hav_ust told Sillerton Jackson." With a glance at the clock he rose and added:
"But Louisa will be waiting. We are dining early, to take the Duke to th_pera."
After the portieres had solemnly closed behind their visitor a silence fel_pon the Archer family.
"Gracious—how romantic!" at last broke explosively from Janey. No one kne_xactly what inspired her elliptic comments, and her relations had long sinc_iven up trying to interpret them.
Mrs. Archer shook her head with a sigh. "Provided it all turns out for th_est," she said, in the tone of one who knows how surely it will not.
"Newland, you must stay and see Sillerton Jackson when he comes this evening: I really shan't know what to say to him."
"Poor mother! But he won't come—" her son laughed, stooping to kiss away he_rown.