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Chapter 8

  • It was generally agreed in New York that the Countess Olenska had "lost he_ooks."
  • She had appeared there first, in Newland Archer's boyhood, as a brilliantl_retty little girl of nine or ten, of whom people said that she "ought to b_ainted." Her parents had been continental wanderers, and after a roamin_abyhood she had lost them both, and been taken in charge by her aunt, Medor_anson, also a wanderer, who was herself returning to New York to "settl_own."
  • Poor Medora, repeatedly widowed, was always coming home to settle down (eac_ime in a less expensive house), and bringing with her a new husband or a_dopted child; but after a few months she invariably parted from her husban_r quarrelled with her ward, and, having got rid of her house at a loss, se_ut again on her wanderings. As her mother had been a Rushworth, and her las_nhappy marriage had linked her to one of the crazy Chiverses, New York looke_ndulgently on her eccentricities; but when she returned with her littl_rphaned niece, whose parents had been popular in spite of their regrettabl_aste for travel, people thought it a pity that the pretty child should be i_uch hands.
  • Every one was disposed to be kind to little Ellen Mingott, though her dusk_ed cheeks and tight curls gave her an air of gaiety that seemed unsuitable i_ child who should still have been in black for her parents. It was one of th_isguided Medora's many peculiarities to flout the unalterable rules tha_egulated American mourning, and when she stepped from the steamer her famil_ere scandalised to see that the crape veil she wore for her own brother wa_even inches shorter than those of her sisters-in-law, while little Ellen wa_n crimson merino and amber beads, like a gipsy foundling.
  • But New York had so long resigned itself to Medora that only a few old ladie_hook their heads over Ellen's gaudy clothes, while her other relations fel_nder the charm of her high colour and high spirits. She was a fearless an_amiliar little thing, who asked disconcerting questions, made precociou_omments, and possessed outlandish arts, such as dancing a Spanish shawl danc_nd singing Neapolitan love-songs to a guitar. Under the direction of her aunt
  • (whose real name was Mrs. Thorley Chivers, but who, having received a Papa_itle, had resumed her first husband's patronymic, and called herself th_archioness Manson, because in Italy she could turn it into Manzoni) th_ittle girl received an expensive but incoherent education, which included
  • "drawing from the model," a thing never dreamed of before, and playing th_iano in quintets with professional musicians.
  • Of course no good could come of this; and when, a few years later, poo_hivers finally died in a mad- house, his widow (draped in strange weeds)
  • again pulled up stakes and departed with Ellen, who had grown into a tall bon_irl with conspicuous eyes. For some time no more was heard of them; then new_ame of Ellen's marriage to an immensely rich Polish nobleman of legendar_ame, whom she had met at a ball at the Tuileries, and who was said to hav_rincely establishments in Paris, Nice and Florence, a yacht at Cowes, an_any square miles of shooting in Transylvania. She disappeared in a kind o_ulphurous apotheosis, and when a few years later Medora again came back t_ew York, subdued, impoverished, mourning a third husband, and in quest of _till smaller house, people wondered that her rich niece had not been able t_o something for her. Then came the news that Ellen's own marriage had ende_n disaster, and that she was herself returning home to seek rest and oblivio_mong her kinsfolk.
  • These things passed through Newland Archer's mind a week later as he watche_he Countess Olenska enter the van der Luyden drawing-room on the evening o_he momentous dinner. The occasion was a solemn one, and he wondered a littl_ervously how she would carry it off. She came rather late, one hand stil_ngloved, and fastening a bracelet about her wrist; yet she entered withou_ny appearance of haste or embarrassment the drawing-room in which New York'_ost chosen company was somewhat awfully assembled.
  • In the middle of the room she paused, looking about her with a grave mouth an_miling eyes; and in that instant Newland Archer rejected the general verdic_n her looks. It was true that her early radiance was gone. The red cheeks ha_aled; she was thin, worn, a little older-looking than her age, which mus_ave been nearly thirty. But there was about her the mysterious authority o_eauty, a sureness in the carriage of the head, the movement of the eyes,
  • which, without being in the least theatrical, struck his as highly trained an_ull of a conscious power. At the same time she was simpler in manner tha_ost of the ladies present, and many people (as he heard afterward from Janey)
  • were disappointed that her appearance was not more "stylish" —for stylishnes_as what New York most valued. It was, perhaps, Archer reflected, because he_arly vivacity had disappeared; because she was so quiet—quiet in he_ovements, her voice, and the tones of her low- pitched voice. New York ha_xpected something a good deal more reasonant in a young woman with such _istory.
  • The dinner was a somewhat formidable business. Dining with the van der Luyden_as at best no light matter, and dining there with a Duke who was their cousi_as almost a religious solemnity. It pleased Archer to think that only an ol_ew Yorker could perceive the shade of difference (to New York) between bein_erely a Duke and being the van der Luydens' Duke. New York took stra_oblemen calmly, and even (except in the Struthers set) with a certai_istrustful hauteur; but when they presented such credentials as these the_ere received with an old-fashioned cordiality that they would have bee_reatly mistaken in ascribing solely to their standing in Debrett. It was fo_ust such distinctions that the young man cherished his old New York eve_hile he smiled at it.
  • The van der Luydens had done their best to emphasise the importance of th_ccasion. The du Lac Sevres and the Trevenna George II plate were out; so wa_he van der Luyden "Lowestoft" (East India Company) and the Dagonet Crow_erby. Mrs. van der Luyden looked more than ever like a Cabanel, and Mrs.
  • Archer, in her grandmother's seed-pearls and emeralds, reminded her son of a_sabey miniature. All the ladies had on their handsomest jewels, but it wa_haracteristic of the house and the occasion that these were mostly in rathe_eavy old-fashioned settings; and old Miss Lanning, who had been persuaded t_ome, actually wore her mother's cameos and a Spanish blonde shawl.
  • The Countess Olenska was the only young woman at the dinner; yet, as Arche_canned the smooth plump elderly faces between their diamond necklaces an_owering ostrich feathers, they struck him as curiously immature compared wit_ers. It frightened him to think what must have gone to the making of he_yes.
  • The Duke of St. Austrey, who sat at his hostess's right, was naturally th_hief figure of the evening. But if the Countess Olenska was less conspicuou_han had been hoped, the Duke was almost invisible. Being a well-bred man h_ad not (like another recent ducal visitor) come to the dinner in a shooting-
  • jacket; but his evening clothes were so shabby and baggy, and he wore the_ith such an air of their being homespun, that (with his stooping way o_itting, and the vast beard spreading over his shirt-front) he hardly gave th_ppearance of being in dinner attire. He was short, round-shouldered,
  • sunburnt, with a thick nose, small eyes and a sociable smile; but he seldo_poke, and when he did it was in such low tones that, despite the frequen_ilences of expectation about the table, his remarks were lost to all but hi_eighbours.
  • When the men joined the ladies after dinner the Duke went straight up to th_ountess Olenska, and they sat down in a corner and plunged into animate_alk. Neither seemed aware that the Duke should first have paid his respect_o Mrs. Lovell Mingott and Mrs. Headly Chivers, and the Countess hav_onversed with that amiable hypochondriac, Mr. Urban Dagonet of Washingto_quare, who, in order to have the pleasure of meeting her, had broken throug_is fixed rule of not dining out between January and April. The two chatte_ogether for nearly twenty minutes; then the Countess rose and, walking alon_cross the wide drawing-room, sat down at Newland Archer's side.
  • It was not the custom in New York drawing-rooms for a lady to get up and wal_way from one gentleman in order to seek the company of another. Etiquett_equired that she should wait, immovable as an idol, while the men who wishe_o converse with her succeeded each other at her side. But the Countess wa_pparently unaware of having broken any rule; she sat at perfect ease in _orner of the sofa beside Archer, 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 o_ambling—he used to come to the house a great deal." She said it in th_implest manner, as if she had said: "He's fond of wild-flowers"; and after _oment she added candidly: "I think he's the dullest man I ever met."
  • This pleased her companion so much that he forgot the slight shock he_revious remark had caused him. It was undeniably exciting to meet a lady wh_ound the van der Luydens' Duke dull, and dared to utter the opinion. H_onged to question her, to hear more about the life of which her careles_ords had given him so illuminating a glimpse; but he feared to touch o_istressing memories, and before he could think of anything to say she ha_trayed back to her original subject.
  • "May is a darling; I've seen no young girl in New York so handsome and s_ntelligent. 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 shade o_eaning 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 not in th_east arranged for you?"
  • Archer looked at her incredulously. "Have you forgotten," he asked with _mile, "that in our country we don't allow our marriages to be arranged fo_s?"
  • A dusky blush rose to her cheek, and he instantly regretted his words.
  • "Yes," she answered, "I'd forgotten. You must forgive me if I sometimes mak_hese mistakes. I don't always remember that everything here is good tha_as—that was bad where I've come from." She looked down at her Viennese fan o_agle feathers, and he saw that her lips trembled.
  • "I'm so sorry," he said impulsively; "but you ARE among friends here, yo_now."
  • "Yes—I know. Wherever I go I have that feeling. That's why I came home. I wan_o forget everything else, to become a complete American again, like th_ingotts and Wellands, and you and your delightful mother, and all the othe_ood people here tonight. Ah, here's May arriving, and you will want to hurr_way to her," she added, but without moving; and her eyes turned back from th_oor to rest on the young man's face.
  • The drawing-rooms were beginning to fill up with after-dinner guests, an_ollowing Madame Olenska's glance Archer saw May Welland entering with he_other. In her dress of white and silver, with a wreath of silver blossoms i_er hair, the tall girl looked like a Diana just alight from the chase.
  • "Oh," said Archer, "I have so many rivals; you see she's already surrounded.
  • There's the Duke being introduced."
  • "Then stay with me a little longer," Madame Olenska said in a low tone, jus_ouching his knee with her plumed fan. It was the lightest touch, but i_hrilled him like a caress.
  • "Yes, let me stay," he answered in the same tone, hardly knowing what he said;
  • but just then Mr. van der Luyden came up, followed by old Mr. Urban Dagonet.
  • The Countess greeted them with her grave smile, and Archer, feeling his host'_dmonitory glance on him, rose and surrendered 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 then turne_ack to make room for Mr. Dagonet.
  • "Tomorrow—" Archer heard himself repeating, though there had been n_ngagement, and during their talk she had given him no hint that she wished t_ee him again.
  • As he moved away he saw Lawrence Lefferts, tall and resplendent, leading hi_ife up to be introduced; and heard Gertrude Lefferts say, as she beamed o_he Countess with her large unperceiving smile: "But I think we used to go t_ancing-school together when we were children—." Behind her, waiting thei_urn to name themselves to the Countess, Archer noticed a number of th_ecalcitrant couples who had declined to meet her at Mrs. Lovell Mingott's. A_rs. Archer remarked: when the van der Luydens chose, they knew how to give _esson. The wonder was that they chose so seldom.
  • The young man felt a touch on his arm and saw Mrs. van der Luyden looking dow_n him from the pure eminence of black velvet and the family diamonds. "It wa_ood of you, dear Newland, to devote yourself so unselfishly to Madam_lenska. I told your cousin Henry he must really come to the rescue."
  • He was aware of smiling at her vaguely, and she added, as if condescending t_is natural shyness: "I've never seen May looking lovelier. The Duke think_er the handsomest girl in the room."