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Chapter 10

  • 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."
  • "Consider—!"
  • "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.