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Chapter 14

  • "At the court of the Tuileries," said Mr. Sillerton Jackson with hi_eminiscent smile, "such things were pretty openly tolerated."
  • The scene was the van der Luydens' black walnut dining-room in Madison Avenue, and the time the evening after Newland Archer's visit to the Museum of Art.
  • Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden had come to town for a few days from Skuytercliff, whither they had precipitately fled at the announcement of Beaufort's failure.
  • It had been represented to them that the disarray into which society had bee_hrown by this deplorable affair made their presence in town more necessar_han ever. It was one of the occasions when, as Mrs. Archer put it, they "owe_t to society" to show themselves at the Opera, and even to open their ow_oors.
  • "It will never do, my dear Louisa, to let people like Mrs. Lemuel Struther_hink they can step into Regina's shoes. It is just at such times that ne_eople push in and get a footing. It was owing to the epidemic of chicken-po_n New York the winter Mrs. Struthers first appeared that the married me_lipped away to her house while their wives were in the nursery. You and dea_enry, Louisa, must stand in the breach as you always have."
  • Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden could not remain deaf to such a call, an_eluctantly but heroically they had come to town, unmuffled the house, an_ent out invitations for two dinners and an evening reception.
  • On this particular evening they had invited Sillerton Jackson, Mrs. Archer an_ewland and his wife to go with them to the Opera, where Faust was being sun_or the first time that winter. Nothing was done without ceremony under th_an der Luyden roof, and though there were but four guests the repast ha_egun at seven punctually, so that the proper sequence of courses might b_erved without haste before the gentlemen settled down to their cigars.
  • Archer had not seen his wife since the evening before. He had left early fo_he office, where he had plunged into an accumulation of unimportant business.
  • In the afternoon one of the senior partners had made an unexpected call on hi_ime; and he had reached home so late that May had preceded him to the van de_uydens', and sent back the carriage.
  • Now, across the Skuytercliff carnations and the massive plate, she struck hi_s pale and languid; but her eyes shone, and she talked with exaggerate_nimation.
  • The subject which had called forth Mr. Sillerton Jackson's favourite allusio_ad been brought up (Archer fancied not without intention) by their hostess.
  • The Beaufort failure, or rather the Beaufort attitude since the failure, wa_till a fruitful theme for the drawing- room moralist; and after it had bee_horoughly examined and condemned Mrs. van der Luyden had turned he_crupulous eyes on May Archer.
  • "Is it possible, dear, that what I hear is true? I was told your grandmothe_ingott's carriage was seen standing at Mrs. Beaufort's door." It wa_oticeable that she no longer called the offending lady by her Christian name.
  • May's colour rose, and Mrs. Archer put in hastily: "If it was, I'm convince_t was there without Mrs. Mingott's knowledge."
  • "Ah, you think—?" Mrs. van der Luyden paused, sighed, and glanced at he_usband.
  • "I'm afraid," Mr. van der Luyden said, "that Madame Olenska's kind heart ma_ave led her into the imprudence of calling on Mrs. Beaufort."
  • "Or her taste for peculiar people," put in Mrs. Archer in a dry tone, whil_er 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 twice at Skuytercliff!"
  • It was at this point that Mr. Jackson seized the chance to place his favourit_llusion.
  • "At the Tuileries," he repeated, seeing the eyes of the company expectantl_urned on him, "the standard was excessively lax in some respects; and i_ou'd asked where Morny's money came from—! Or who paid the debts of some o_he Court beauties … "
  • "I hope, dear Sillerton," said Mrs. Archer, "you are not suggesting that w_hould adopt such standards?"
  • "I never suggest," returned Mr. Jackson imperturbably. "But Madame Olenska'_oreign 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 was remembering, an_esenting, the hampers of carnations he had sent to the little house i_wenty-third Street.
  • "Of course I've always said that she looks at things quite differently," Mrs.
  • Archer summed up.
  • A flush rose to May's forehead. She looked across the table at her husband, and said precipitately: "I'm sure Ellen meant it kindly."
  • "Imprudent people are often kind," said Mrs. Archer, as if the fact wer_carcely an extenuation; and Mrs. van der Luyden murmured: "If only she ha_onsulted some one—"
  • "Ah, that she never did!" Mrs. Archer rejoined.
  • At this point Mr. van der Luyden glanced at his wife, who bent her hea_lightly in the direction of Mrs. Archer; and the glimmering trains of th_hree ladies swept out of the door while the gentlemen settled down to thei_igars. Mr. van der Luyden supplied short ones on Opera nights; but they wer_o good that they made his guests deplore his inexorable punctuality.
  • Archer, after the first act, had detached himself from the party and made hi_ay to the back of the club box. From there he watched, over various Chivers, Mingott and Rushworth shoulders, the same scene that he had looked at, tw_ears previously, on the night of his first meeting with Ellen Olenska. He ha_alf- expected her to appear again in old Mrs. Mingott's box, but it remaine_mpty; and he sat motionless, his eyes fastened on it, till suddenly Madam_ilsson's pure soprano broke out into "M'ama, non m'ama … "
  • Archer turned to the stage, where, in the familiar setting of giant roses an_en-wiper pansies, the same large blonde victim was succumbing to the sam_mall brown seducer.
  • From the stage his eyes wandered to the point of the horseshoe where May sa_etween two older ladies, just as, on that former evening, she had sat betwee_rs. Lovell Mingott and her newly-arrived "foreign" cousin. As on tha_vening, she was all in white; and Archer, who had not noticed what she wore, recognised the blue-white satin and old lace of her wedding dress.
  • It was the custom, in old New York, for brides to appear in this costl_arment during the first year or two of marriage: his mother, he knew, kep_ers in tissue paper in the hope that Janey might some day wear it, thoug_oor Janey was reaching the age when pearl grey poplin and no bridesmaid_ould be thought more "appropriate."
  • It struck Archer that May, since their return from Europe, had seldom worn he_ridal satin, and the surprise of seeing her in it made him compare he_ppearance with that of the young girl he had watched with such blissfu_nticipations two years earlier.
  • Though May's outline was slightly heavier, as her goddesslike build ha_oretold, her athletic erectness of carriage, and the girlish transparency o_er expression, remained unchanged: but for the slight languor that Archer ha_ately noticed in her she would have been the exact image of the girl playin_ith the bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on her betrothal evening. The fac_eemed an additional appeal to his pity: such innocence was as moving as th_rustful clasp of a child. Then he remembered the passionate generosity laten_nder that incurious calm. He recalled her glance of understanding when he ha_rged that their engagement should be announced at the Beaufort ball; he hear_he voice in which she had said, in the Mission garden: "I couldn't have m_appiness made out of a wrong—a wrong to some one else;" and an uncontrollabl_onging seized 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. Conformity to th_iscipline of a small society had become almost his second nature. It wa_eeply distasteful to him to do anything melodramatic and conspicuous, anything Mr. van der Luyden would have deprecated and the club box condemne_s bad form. But he had become suddenly unconscious of the club box, of Mr.
  • van der Luyden, of all that had so long enclosed him in the warm shelter o_abit. He walked along the semi-circular passage at the back of the house, an_pened the door of Mrs. van der Luyden's box as if it had been a gate into th_nknown.
  • "M'ama!" thrilled out the triumphant Marguerite; and the occupants of the bo_ooked up in surprise at Archer's entrance. He had already broken one of th_ules of his world, which forbade the entering of a box during a solo.
  • Slipping between Mr. van der Luyden and Sillerton Jackson, he leaned over hi_ife.
  • "I've got a beastly headache; don't tell any one, but come home, won't you?"
  • he whispered.
  • May gave him a glance of comprehension, and he saw her whisper to his mother, who nodded sympathetically; then she murmured an excuse to Mrs. van de_uyden, and rose from her seat just as Marguerite fell into Faust's arms.
  • Archer, while he helped her on with her Opera cloak, noticed the exchange of _ignificant smile between the older ladies.
  • As they drove away May laid her hand shyly on his. "I'm so sorry you don'_eel well. I'm afraid they've been overworking you again at the office."
  • "No—it's not that: do you mind if I open the window?" he returned confusedly, letting down the pane on his side. He sat staring out into the street, feelin_is wife beside him as a silent watchful interrogation, and keeping his eye_teadily fixed on the passing houses. At their door she caught her skirt i_he step of the carriage, 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 bent t_ather up a mud-stained breadth, and followed him up the steps into the hall.
  • The servants had not expected them so early, and there was only a glimmer o_as on the upper landing.
  • Archer mounted the stairs, turned up the light, and put a match to th_rackets on each side of the library mantelpiece. The curtains were drawn, an_he warm friendly aspect of the room smote him like that of a familiar fac_et during an unavowable errand.
  • He noticed that his wife was very pale, and asked if he should get her som_randy.
  • "Oh, no," she exclaimed with a momentary flush, as she took off her cloak.
  • "But hadn't you better go to bed at once?" she added, as he opened a silve_ox on the table and took out a cigarette.
  • Archer threw down the cigarette and walked to his usual place by the fire.
  • "No; my head is not as bad as that." He paused. "And there's something I wan_o say; something important—that I must tell you at once."
  • 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 of wonder wit_hich she received this preamble.
  • "May—" he began, standing a few feet from her chair, and looking over at he_s if the slight distance between them were an unbridgeable abyss. The soun_f his voice echoed uncannily through the homelike hush, 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 was stil_xtremely pale, but her face had a curious tranquillity of expression tha_eemed drawn from some secret inner source.
  • Archer checked the conventional phrases of self-accusal that were crowding t_is lips. He was determined to put the case baldly, without vain recriminatio_r excuse.
  • "Madame Olenska—" he said; but at the name his wife raised her hand as if t_ilence him. As she did so the gaslight struck on the gold of her wedding- ring.
  • "Oh, why should we talk about Ellen tonight?" she asked, with a slight pout o_mpatience.
  • "Because I ought to have spoken before."
  • Her face remained calm. "Is it really worth while, dear? I know I've bee_nfair to her at times—perhaps we all have. You've understood her, no doubt, better than we did: you've always been kind to her. But what does it matter, now it's all over?"
  • Archer looked at her blankly. Could it be possible that the sense of unrealit_n which he felt himself imprisoned had communicated itself to 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 going back t_urope so soon; since Granny approves and understands, and has arranged t_ake her independent of her husband—"
  • She broke off, and Archer, grasping the corner of the mantelpiece in on_onvulsed hand, and steadying himself against it, made a vain effort to exten_he same control to his reeling thoughts.
  • "I supposed," he heard his wife's even voice go on, "that you had been kept a_he office this evening about the business arrangements. It was settled thi_orning, I believe." She lowered her eyes under his unseeing stare, an_nother fugitive flush passed over her face.
  • He understood that his own eyes must be unbearable, and turning away, reste_is elbows on the mantel- shelf and covered his face. Something drummed an_langed furiously in his ears; he could not tell if it were the blood in hi_eins, or the tick of the clock on the mantel.
  • May sat without moving or speaking while the clock slowly measured out fiv_inutes. A lump of coal fell forward in the grate, and hearing her rise t_ush 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 came bac_lmost immediately.
  • "I thought you knew," she said simply.
  • She laid a sheet of paper on the table, and Archer put out his hand and too_t up. The letter contained only a few lines.
  • "May dear, I have at last made Granny understand that my visit to her could b_o more than a visit; and she has been as kind and generous as ever. She see_ow that if I return to Europe I must live by myself, or rather with poor Aun_edora, who is coming with me. I am hurrying back to Washington to pack up, and we sail next week. You must be very good to Granny when I'm gone—as goo_s you've always been to me. Ellen.
  • "If any of my friends wish to urge me to change my mind, please tell them i_ould be utterly useless."
  • Archer read the letter over two or three times; then he flung it down an_urst out laughing.
  • The sound of his laugh startled him. It recalled Janey's midnight fright whe_he had caught him rocking with incomprehensible mirth over May's telegra_nnouncing that the date of their marriage had been advanced.
  • "Why did she write this?" he asked, checking his laugh with a supreme effort.
  • May met the question with her unshaken candour. "I suppose because we talke_hings over yesterday—"
  • "What things?"
  • "I told her I was afraid I hadn't been fair to her— hadn't always understoo_ow hard it must have been for her here, alone among so many people who wer_elations and yet strangers; who felt the right to criticise, and yet didn'_lways know the circumstances." She paused. "I knew you'd been the one frien_he could always count on; and I wanted her to know that you and I were th_ame—in all our feelings."
  • She hesitated, as if waiting for him to speak, and then added slowly: "Sh_nderstood my wishing to tell her this. I think she understands everything."
  • She went up to Archer, and taking one of his cold hands pressed it quickl_gainst her cheek.
  • "My head aches too; good-night, dear," she said, and turned to the door, he_orn and muddy wedding- dress dragging after her across the room.