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Chapter 15

  • It was, as Mrs. Archer smilingly said to Mrs. Welland, a great event for _oung couple to give their first big dinner.
  • The Newland Archers, since they had set up their household, had received _ood deal of company in an informal way. Archer was fond of having three o_our friends to dine, and May welcomed them with the beaming readiness o_hich her mother had set her the example in conjugal affairs. Her husban_uestioned whether, if left to herself, she would ever have asked any one t_he house; but he had long given up trying to disengage her real self from th_hape into which tradition and training had moulded her. It was expected tha_ell-off young couples in New York should do a good deal of informa_ntertaining, and a Welland married to an Archer was doubly pledged to th_radition.
  • But a big dinner, with a hired chef and two borrowed footmen, with Roma_unch, roses from Henderson's, and menus on gilt-edged cards, was a differen_ffair, and not to be lightly undertaken. As Mrs. Archer remarked, the Roma_unch made all the difference; not in itself but by its manifol_mplications—since it signified either canvas-backs or terrapin, two soups, _ot and a cold sweet, full decolletage with short sleeves, and guests of _roportionate importance.
  • It was always an interesting occasion when a young pair launched their firs_nvitations in the third person, and their summons was seldom refused even b_he seasoned and sought-after. Still, it was admittedly a triumph that the va_er Luydens, at May's request, should have stayed over in order to be presen_t her farewell dinner for the Countess Olenska.
  • The two mothers-in-law sat in May's drawing-room on the afternoon of the grea_ay, Mrs. Archer writing out the menus on Tiffany's thickest gilt-edge_ristol, while Mrs. Welland superintended the placing of the palms an_tandard lamps.
  • Archer, arriving late from his office, found them still there. Mrs. Archer ha_urned her attention to the name-cards for the table, and Mrs. Welland wa_onsidering the effect of bringing forward the large gilt sofa, so tha_nother "corner" might be created between the piano and the window.
  • May, they told him, was in the dining-room inspecting the mound of Jacquemino_oses and maidenhair in the centre of the long table, and the placing of th_aillard bonbons in openwork silver baskets between the candelabra. On th_iano stood a large basket of orchids which Mr. van der Luyden had had sen_rom Skuytercliff. Everything was, in short, as it should be on the approac_f so considerable an event.
  • Mrs. Archer ran thoughtfully over the list, checking off each name with he_harp gold pen.
  • "Henry van der Luyden—Louisa—the Lovell Mingotts —the Reggi_hiverses—Lawrence Lefferts and Gertrude—(yes, I suppose May was right to hav_hem)—the Selfridge Merrys, Sillerton Jackson, Van Newland and his wife. (Ho_ime passes! It seems only yesterday that he was your best man, Newland)—an_ountess Olenska—yes, I think that'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 to tel_eople abroad that we're not quite barbarians."
  • "I'm sure Ellen will appreciate it. She was to arrive this morning, I believe.
  • It will make a most charming last impression. The evening before sailing i_sually so dreary," Mrs. Welland cheerfully continued.
  • Archer turned toward the door, and his mother-in- law called to him: "Do go i_nd have a peep at the table. And don't let May tire herself too much." But h_ffected not to hear, and sprang up the stairs to his library. The room looke_t him like an alien countenance composed into a polite grimace; and h_erceived that it had been ruthlessly "tidied," and prepared, by a judiciou_istribution of ash-trays and cedar-wood boxes, for the gentlemen to smoke in.
  • "Ah, well," he thought, "it's not for long—" and he went on to his dressing- room.
  • Ten days had passed since Madame Olenska's departure from New York. Durin_hose ten days Archer had had no sign from her but that conveyed by the retur_f a key wrapped in tissue paper, and sent to his office in a sealed envelop_ddressed in her hand. This retort to his last appeal might have bee_nterpreted as a classic move in a familiar game; but the young man chose t_ive it a different meaning. She was still fighting against her fate; but sh_as going to Europe, and she was not returning to her husband. Nothing, therefore, was to prevent his following her; and once he had taken th_rrevocable step, and had proved to her that it was irrevocable, he believe_he would not send him away.
  • This confidence in the future had steadied him to play his part in th_resent. It had kept him from writing to her, or betraying, by any sign o_ct, his misery and mortification. It seemed to him that in the deadly silen_ame between them the trumps were still in his hands; and he waited.
  • There had been, nevertheless, moments sufficiently difficult to pass; as whe_r. Letterblair, the day after Madame Olenska's departure, had sent for him t_o over the details of the trust which Mrs. Manson Mingott wished to creat_or her granddaughter. For a couple of hours Archer had examined the terms o_he deed with his senior, all the while obscurely feeling that if he had bee_onsulted it was for some reason other than the obvious one of his cousinship; and that the close of the conference would reveal it.
  • "Well, the lady can't deny that it's a handsome arrangement," Mr. Letterblai_ad summed up, after mumbling over a summary of the settlement. "In fact I'_ound to say she's been treated pretty handsomely all round."
  • "All round?" Archer echoed with a touch of derision. "Do you refer to he_usband's proposal to give her back her own money?"
  • Mr. Letterblair's bushy eyebrows went up a fraction of an inch. "My dear sir, the law's the law; and your wife's cousin was married under the 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 corrugated nose, and wa_ooking down it with the expression assumed by virtuous elderly gentlemen whe_hey wish their youngers to understand that virtue is not synonymous wit_gnorance.
  • "My dear sir, I've no wish to extenuate the Count's transgressions; but—but o_he other side … I wouldn't put my hand in the fire … well, that there hadn'_een tit for tat … with the young champion… ." Mr. Letterblair unlocked _rawer and pushed a folded paper toward Archer. "This report, the result o_iscreet enquiries … " And then, as Archer made no effort to glance at th_aper or to repudiate the suggestion, the lawyer somewhat flatly continued: "_on't say it's conclusive, you observe; far from it. But straws show … and o_he whole it's eminently satisfactory for all parties that this dignifie_olution has been reached."
  • "Oh, eminently," Archer assented, pushing back the paper.
  • A day or two later, on responding to a summons from Mrs. Manson Mingott, hi_oul 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 waiting for hi_eply: "Oh, don't ask me why! She gave so many reasons that I've forgotte_hem all. My private belief is that she couldn't face the boredom. At any rat_hat's what Augusta and my daughters-in-law think. And I don't know that _ltogether blame her. Olenski's a finished scoundrel; but life with him mus_ave been a good deal gayer than it is in Fifth Avenue. Not that the famil_ould admit that: they think Fifth Avenue is Heaven with the rue de la Pai_hrown in. And poor Ellen, of course, has no idea of going back to he_usband. She held out as firmly as ever against that. So she's to settle dow_n Paris with that fool Medora… . Well, Paris is Paris; and you can keep _arriage there on next to nothing. But she was as gay as a bird, and I shal_iss her." Two tears, the parched tears of the old, rolled down her puff_heeks and vanished in the abysses of her bosom.
  • "All I ask is," she concluded, "that they shouldn't bother me any more. I mus_eally be allowed to digest my gruel… ." And she twinkled a little wistfull_t Archer.
  • It was that evening, on his return home, that May announced her intention o_iving a farewell dinner to her cousin. Madame Olenska's name had not bee_ronounced between them since the night of her flight to Washington; an_rcher 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't see—"
  • "I mean to do it, Newland," she said, quietly rising and going to her desk.
  • "Here are the invitations all written. Mother helped me—she agrees that w_ught to." She paused, embarrassed and yet smiling, and Archer suddenly sa_efore him the embodied image of the Family.
  • "Oh, all right," he said, staring with unseeing eyes at the list of guest_hat she had put in his hand.
  • When he entered the drawing-room before dinner May was stooping over the fir_nd trying to coax the logs to burn in their unaccustomed setting o_mmaculate tiles.
  • The tall lamps were all lit, and Mr. van der Luyden's orchids had bee_onspicuously disposed in various receptacles of modern porcelain and knobb_ilver. Mrs. Newland Archer's drawing-room was generally thought a grea_uccess. A gilt bamboo jardiniere, in which the primulas and cinerarias wer_unctually renewed, blocked the access to the bay window (where the old- fashioned would have preferred a bronze reduction of the Venus of Milo); th_ofas and arm-chairs of pale brocade were cleverly grouped about little plus_ables densely covered with silver toys, porcelain animals and efflorescen_hotograph frames; and tall rosy-shaded lamps shot up like tropical flower_mong the palms.
  • "I don't think Ellen has ever seen this room lighted up," said May, risin_lushed from her struggle, and sending about her a glance of pardonable pride.
  • The brass tongs which she had propped against the side of the chimney fel_ith a crash that drowned her husband's answer; and before he could restor_hem Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden were announced.
  • The other guests quickly followed, for it was known that the van der Luyden_iked to dine punctually. The room was nearly full, and Archer was engaged i_howing to Mrs. Selfridge Merry a small highly-varnished Verbeckhoven "Stud_f Sheep," which Mr. Welland had given May for Christmas, when he found Madam_lenska at his side.
  • She was excessively pale, and her pallor made her dark hair seem denser an_eavier than ever. Perhaps that, or the fact that she had wound several row_f amber beads about her neck, reminded him suddenly of the little Elle_ingott he had danced with at children's parties, when Medora Manson had firs_rought her to New York.
  • The amber beads were trying to her complexion, or her dress was perhap_nbecoming: her face looked lustreless and almost ugly, and he had never love_t as he did at that minute. Their hands met, and he thought he heard her say:
  • "Yes, we're sailing tomorrow in the Russia—"; then there was an unmeanin_oise of opening doors, and after an interval May's voice: "Newland! Dinner'_een announced. Won't you please take Ellen in?"
  • Madame Olenska put her hand on his arm, and he noticed that the hand wa_ngloved, and remembered how he had kept his eyes fixed on it the evening tha_e had sat with her in the little Twenty-third Street drawing- room. All th_eauty that had forsaken her face seemed to have taken refuge in the long pal_ingers and faintly dimpled knuckles on his sleeve, and he said to himself:
  • "If it were only to see her hand again I should have to follow her—."
  • It was only at an entertainment ostensibly offered to a "foreign visitor" tha_rs. van der Luyden could suffer the diminution of being placed on her host'_eft. The fact of Madame Olenska's "foreignness" could hardly have been mor_droitly emphasised than by this farewell tribute; and Mrs. van der Luyde_ccepted her displacement with an affability which left no doubt as to he_pproval. There were certain things that had to be done, and if done at all, done handsomely and thoroughly; and one of these, in the old New York code, was the tribal rally around a kinswoman about to be eliminated from the tribe.
  • There was nothing on earth that the Wellands and Mingotts would not have don_o proclaim their unalterable affection for the Countess Olenska now that he_assage for Europe was engaged; and Archer, at the head of his table, sa_arvelling at the silent untiring activity with which her popularity had bee_etrieved, grievances against her silenced, her past countenanced, and he_resent irradiated by the family approval. Mrs. van der Luyden shone on he_ith the dim benevolence which was her nearest approach to cordiality, and Mr.
  • van der Luyden, from his seat at May's right, cast down the table glance_lainly intended to justify all the carnations he had sent from Skuytercliff.
  • Archer, who seemed to be assisting at the scene in a state of od_mponderability, as if he floated somewhere between chandelier and ceiling, wondered at nothing so much as his own share in the proceedings. As his glanc_ravelled from one placid well-fed face to another he saw all the harmless- looking people engaged upon May's canvas-backs as a band of dumb conspirators, and himself and the pale woman on his right as the centre of their conspiracy.
  • And then it came over him, in a vast flash made up of many broken gleams, tha_o all of them he and Madame Olenska were lovers, lovers in the extreme sens_eculiar to "foreign" vocabularies. He guessed himself to have been, fo_onths, the centre of countless silently observing eyes and patientl_istening ears; he understood that, by means as yet unknown to him, th_eparation between himself and the partner of his guilt had been achieved, an_hat now the whole tribe had rallied about his wife on the tacit assumptio_hat nobody knew anything, or had ever imagined anything, and that th_ccasion of the entertainment was simply May Archer's natural desire to tak_n affectionate leave of her friend and cousin.
  • It was the old New York way of taking life "without effusion of blood": th_ay of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency abov_ourage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than "scenes,"
  • except the behaviour of those who gave rise to them.
  • As these thoughts succeeded each other in his mind Archer felt like a prisone_n the centre of an armed camp. He looked about the table, and guessed at th_nexorableness of his captors from the tone in which, over the asparagus fro_lorida, they were dealing with Beaufort and his wife. "It's to show me," h_hought, "what would happen to ME—" and a deathly sense of the superiority o_mplication and analogy over direct action, and of silence over rash words, closed in on him like 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 course poo_egina's idea of remaining in New York has its ridiculous side, I suppose;"
  • and Archer muttered: "Of course."
  • At this point, he became conscious that Madame Olenska's other neighbour ha_een engaged for some time with the lady on his right. At the same moment h_aw that May, serenely enthroned between Mr. van der Luyden and Mr. Selfridg_erry, had cast a quick glance down the table. It was evident that the hos_nd the lady on his right could not sit through the whole meal in silence. H_urned to Madame Olenska, and her pale smile met him. "Oh, do let's see i_hrough," it seemed to say.
  • "Did you find the journey tiring?" he asked in a voice that surprised him b_ts naturalness; and she answered that, on the contrary, she had seldo_ravelled with fewer discomforts.
  • "Except, you know, the dreadful heat in the train," she added; and he remarke_hat she would not suffer from that particular hardship in the country she wa_oing to.
  • "I never," he declared with intensity, "was more nearly frozen than once, i_pril, in the train between Calais and Paris."
  • She said she did not wonder, but remarked that, after all, one could alway_arry an extra rug, and that every form of travel had its hardships; to whic_e abruptly returned that he thought them all of no account compared with th_lessedness of getting away. She changed colour, and he added, his voic_uddenly rising in pitch: "I mean to do a lot of travelling myself befor_ong." A tremor crossed her face, and leaning over to Reggie Chivers, he crie_ut: "I say, Reggie, what do you say to a trip round the world: now, nex_onth, I mean? I'm game if you are—" at which Mrs. Reggie piped up that sh_ould not think of letting Reggie go till after the Martha Washington Ball sh_as getting up for the Blind Asylum in Easter week; and her husband placidl_bserved that by that time he would have to be practising for th_nternational Polo match.
  • But Mr. Selfridge Merry had caught the phrase "round the world," and havin_nce circled the globe in his steam-yacht, he seized the opportunity to sen_own the table several striking items concerning the shallowness of th_editerranean ports. Though, after all, he added, it didn't matter; for whe_ou'd seen Athens and Smyrna and Constantinople, what else was there? And Mrs.
  • Merry said she could never be too grateful to Dr. Bencomb for having made the_romise not to go to Naples on account of the fever.
  • "But you must have three weeks to do India properly," her husband conceded, anxious to have it understood that he was no frivolous globe-trotter.
  • And at this point the ladies went up to the drawing- room.
  • In the library, in spite of weightier presences, Lawrence Leffert_redominated.
  • The talk, as usual, had veered around to the Beauforts, and even Mr. van de_uyden and Mr. Selfridge Merry, installed in the honorary arm-chairs tacitl_eserved for them, paused to listen to the younger man's philippic.
  • Never had Lefferts so abounded in the sentiments that adorn Christian manhoo_nd exalt the sanctity of the home. Indignation lent him a scathing eloquence, and it was clear that if others had followed his example, and acted as h_alked, society would never have been weak enough to receive a foreign upstar_ike Beaufort—no, sir, not even if he'd married a van der Luyden or a Lannin_nstead of a Dallas. And what chance would there have been, Leffert_rathfully questioned, of his marrying into such a family as the Dallases, i_e had not already wormed his way into certain houses, as people like Mrs.
  • Lemuel Struthers had managed to worm theirs in his wake? If society chose t_pen its doors to vulgar women the harm was not great, though the gain wa_oubtful; but once it got in the way of tolerating men of obscure origin an_ainted wealth the end was total disintegration—and at no distant date.
  • "If things go on at this pace," Lefferts thundered, looking like a youn_rophet dressed by Poole, and who had not yet been stoned, "we shall see ou_hildren fighting for invitations to swindlers' houses, and marryin_eaufort's bastards."
  • "Oh, I say—draw it mild!" Reggie Chivers and young Newland protested, whil_r. Selfridge Merry looked genuinely alarmed, and an expression of pain an_isgust settled on Mr. van der Luyden's sensitive face.
  • "Has he got any?" cried Mr. Sillerton Jackson, pricking up his ears; and whil_efferts tried to turn the question with a laugh, the old gentleman twittere_nto Archer's ear: "Queer, those fellows who are always wanting to set thing_ight. The people who have the worst cooks are always telling you they'r_oisoned when they dine out. But I hear there are pressing reasons for ou_riend Lawrence's diatribe:—typewriter this time, I understand… ."
  • The talk swept past Archer like some senseless river running and runnin_ecause it did not know enough to stop. He saw, on the faces about him, expressions of interest, amusement and even mirth. He listened to the younge_en's laughter, and to the praise of the Archer Madeira, which Mr. van de_uyden and Mr. Merry were thoughtfully celebrating. Through it all he wa_imly aware of a general attitude of friendliness toward himself, as if th_uard of the prisoner he felt himself to be were trying to soften hi_aptivity; and the perception increased his passionate determination to b_ree.
  • In the drawing-room, where they presently joined the ladies, he met May'_riumphant eyes, and read in them the conviction that everything had "gon_ff" beautifully. She rose from Madame Olenska's side, and immediately Mrs.
  • van der Luyden beckoned the latter to a seat on the gilt sofa where sh_hroned. Mrs. Selfridge Merry bore across the room to join them, and it becam_lear to Archer that here also a conspiracy of rehabilitation and obliteratio_as going on. The silent organisation which held his little world together wa_etermined to put itself on record as never for a moment having questioned th_ropriety of Madame Olenska's conduct, or the completeness of Archer'_omestic felicity. All these amiable and inexorable persons were resolutel_ngaged in pretending to each other that they had never heard of, suspected, or even conceived possible, the least hint to the contrary; and from thi_issue of elaborate mutual dissimulation Archer once more disengaged the fac_hat New York believed him to be Madame Olenska's lover. He caught the glitte_f victory in his wife's eyes, and for the first time understood that sh_hared the belief. The discovery roused a laughter of inner devils tha_everberated through all his efforts to discuss the Martha Washington bal_ith Mrs. Reggie Chivers and little Mrs. Newland; and so the evening swept on, running and running 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. H_nderstood that in a moment she would be gone, and tried to remember what h_ad said to her at dinner; but he could not recall a single word they ha_xchanged.
  • She went up to May, the rest of the company making a circle about her as sh_dvanced. The two young women clasped hands; then May bent forward and kisse_er cousin.
  • "Certainly our hostess is much the handsomer of the two," Archer heard Reggi_hivers say in an undertone to young Mrs. Newland; and he remembere_eaufort's coarse sneer at May's ineffectual beauty.
  • A moment later he was in the hall, putting Madame Olenska's cloak about he_houlders.
  • Through all his confusion of mind he had held fast to the resolve to sa_othing that might startle or disturb her. Convinced that no power could no_urn him from his purpose he had found strength to let events shape themselve_s they would. But as he followed Madame Olenska into the hall he thought wit_ sudden hunger of being for a moment alone with her at the door of he_arriage.
  • "Is your carriage here?" he asked; and at that moment Mrs. van der Luyden, wh_as being majestically inserted into her sables, said gently: "We are drivin_ear Ellen home."
  • Archer's heart gave a jerk, and Madame Olenska, clasping her cloak and fa_ith 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—it seemed t_im 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 to Mrs. va_er Luyden. For a moment, in the billowy darkness inside the big landau, h_aught the dim oval of a face, eyes shining steadily— and she was gone.
  • As he went up the steps he crossed Lawrence Lefferts coming down with hi_ife. Lefferts caught his host by the sleeve, drawing back to let Gertrud_ass.
  • "I say, old chap: do you mind just letting it be understood that I'm dinin_ith you at the club tomorrow night? Thanks so much, you old brick! Good- night."
  • "It DID go off beautifully, didn't it?" May questioned from the threshold o_he library.
  • Archer roused himself with a start. As soon as the last carriage had drive_way, he had come up to the library and shut himself in, with the hope tha_is wife, who still lingered below, would go straight to her room. But ther_he stood, pale and drawn, yet radiating the factitious energy of one who ha_assed 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 long time. A_ength Archer began abruptly: "Since you're not tired, and want to talk, there's something I must tell you. I tried to the other night—."
  • 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 far off—away fro_verything—"
  • He paused, conscious that he had failed in his attempt to speak with th_ndifference of a man who longs for a change, and is yet too weary to welcom_t. 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 his hands, h_elt her warmly and fragrantly hovering over him.
  • "As far as that? But I'm afraid you can't, dear … " she said in an unstead_oice. "Not unless you'll take me with you." And then, as he was silent, sh_ent on, in tones so clear and evenly-pitched that each separate syllabl_apped like a little hammer on his brain: "That is, if the doctors will let m_o … but I'm afraid they won't. For you see, Newland, I've been sure sinc_his morning of something I've been so longing and hoping for—"
  • He looked up at her with a sick stare, and she sank down, all dew and roses, and hid her face against his knee.
  • "Oh, my dear," he said, holding her to him while his cold hand stroked he_air.
  • There was a long pause, which the inner devils filled with strident laughter; 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, turnin_is eyes from hers, he asked abruptly: "Have you told any one else?"
  • "Only Mamma and your mother." She paused, and then added hurriedly, the bloo_lushing up to her forehead: "That is—and Ellen. You know I told you we'd ha_ long talk one afternoon—and how dear she was to me."
  • "Ah—" said Archer, his heart stopping.
  • He felt that his wife was watching him intently. "Did you MIND my telling he_irst, Newland?"
  • "Mind? Why should I?" He made a last effort to collect himself. "But that wa_ fortnight ago, wasn't it? I thought you said you weren't sure till today."
  • Her colour burned deeper, but she held his gaze. "No; I wasn't sure then—but _old her I was. And you see I was right!" she exclaimed, her blue eyes we_ith victory.