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Chapter 8

  • Every year on the fifteenth of October Fifth Avenue opened its shutters, unrolled its carpets and hung up its triple layer of window-curtains.
  • By the first of November this household ritual was over, and society had begu_o look about and take stock of itself. By the fifteenth the season was i_ull blast, Opera and theatres were putting forth their new attractions, dinner-engagements were accumulating, and dates for dances being fixed. An_unctually at about this time Mrs. Archer always said that New York was ver_uch changed.
  • Observing it from the lofty stand-point of a non- participant, she was able, with the help of Mr. Sillerton Jackson and Miss Sophy, to trace each new crac_n its surface, and all the strange weeds pushing up between the ordered row_f social vegetables. It had been one of the amusements of Archer's youth t_ait for this annual pronouncement of his mother's, and to hear her enumerat_he minute signs of disintegration that his careless gaze had overlooked. Fo_ew York, to Mrs. Archer's mind, never changed without changing for the worse; and in this view Miss Sophy Jackson heartily concurred.
  • Mr. Sillerton Jackson, as became a man of the world, suspended his judgmen_nd listened with an amused impartiality to the lamentations of the ladies.
  • But even he never denied that New York had changed; and Newland Archer, in th_inter of the second year of his marriage, was himself obliged to admit tha_f it had not actually changed it was certainly changing.
  • These points had been raised, as usual, at Mrs. Archer's Thanksgiving dinner.
  • At the date when she was officially enjoined to give thanks for the blessing_f the year it was her habit to take a mournful though not embittered stock o_er world, and wonder what there was to be thankful for. At any rate, not th_tate of society; society, if it could be said to exist, was rather _pectacle on which to call down Biblical imprecations— and in fact, every on_new what the Reverend Dr. Ashmore meant when he chose a text from Jeremiah (chap. ii., verse 25) for his Thanksgiving sermon. Dr. Ashmore, the new Recto_f St. Matthew's, had been chosen because he was very "advanced": his sermon_ere considered bold in thought and novel in language. When he fulminate_gainst fashionable society he always spoke of its "trend"; and to Mrs. Arche_t was terrifying and yet fascinating to feel herself part of a community tha_as trending.
  • "There's no doubt that Dr. Ashmore is right: there IS a marked trend," sh_aid, as if it were something visible and measurable, like a crack in a house.
  • "It was odd, though, to preach about it on Thanksgiving," Miss Jackson opined; and her hostess drily rejoined: "Oh, he means us to give thanks for what'_eft."
  • Archer had been wont to smile at these annual vaticinations of his mother's; but this year even he was obliged to acknowledge, as he listened to a_numeration of the changes, that the "trend" was visible.
  • "The extravagance in dress—" Miss Jackson began. "Sillerton took me to th_irst night of the Opera, and I can only tell you that Jane Merry's dress wa_he only one I recognised from last year; and even that had had the fron_anel changed. Yet I know she got it out from Worth only two years ago, because my seamstress always goes in to make over her Paris dresses before sh_ears them."
  • "Ah, Jane Merry is one of US," said Mrs. Archer sighing, as if it were no_uch an enviable thing to be in an age when ladies were beginning to flaun_broad their Paris dresses as soon as they were out of the Custom House, instead of letting them mellow under lock and key, in the manner of Mrs.
  • Archer's contemporaries.
  • "Yes; she's one of the few. In my youth," Miss Jackson rejoined, "it wa_onsidered vulgar to dress in the newest fashions; and Amy Sillerton ha_lways told me that in Boston the rule was to put away one's Paris dresses fo_wo years. Old Mrs. Baxter Pennilow, who did everything handsomely, used t_mport twelve a year, two velvet, two satin, two silk, and the other six o_oplin and the finest cashmere. It was a standing order, and as she was il_or two years before she died they found forty-eight Worth dresses that ha_ever been taken out of tissue paper; and when the girls left off thei_ourning they were able to wear the first lot at the Symphony concerts withou_ooking in advance of the fashion."
  • "Ah, well, Boston is more conservative than New York; but I always think it'_ safe rule for a lady to lay aside her French dresses for one season," Mrs.
  • Archer conceded.
  • "It was Beaufort who started the new fashion by making his wife clap her ne_lothes on her back as soon as they arrived: I must say at times it takes al_egina's distinction not to look like … like … " Miss Jackson glanced aroun_he table, caught Janey's bulging gaze, and took refuge in an unintelligibl_urmur.
  • "Like her rivals," said Mr. Sillerton Jackson, with the air of producing a_pigram.
  • "Oh,—" the ladies murmured; and Mrs. Archer added, partly to distract he_aughter's attention from forbidden topics: "Poor Regina! Her Thanksgivin_asn't been a very cheerful one, I'm afraid. Have you heard the rumours abou_eaufort's speculations, Sillerton?"
  • Mr. Jackson nodded carelessly. Every one had heard the rumours in question, and he scorned to confirm a tale that was already common property.
  • A gloomy silence fell upon the party. No one really liked Beaufort, and it wa_ot wholly unpleasant to think the worst of his private life; but the idea o_is having brought financial dishonour on his wife's family was too shockin_o be enjoyed even by his enemies. Archer's New York tolerated hypocrisy i_rivate relations; but in business matters it exacted a limpid and impeccabl_onesty. It was a long time since any well- known banker had faile_iscreditably; but every one remembered the social extinction visited on th_eads of the firm when the last event of the kind had happened. It would b_he same with the Beauforts, in spite of his power and her popularity; not al_he leagued strength of the Dallas connection would save poor Regina if ther_ere any truth in the reports of her husband's unlawful speculations.
  • The talk took refuge in less ominous topics; but everything they touched o_eemed to confirm Mrs. Archer's sense of an accelerated trend.
  • "Of course, Newland, I know you let dear May go to Mrs. Struthers's Sunda_venings—" she began; and May interposed gaily: "Oh, you know, everybody goe_o Mrs. Struthers's now; and she was invited to Granny's last reception."
  • It was thus, Archer reflected, that New York managed its transitions: conspiring to ignore them till they were well over, and then, in all goo_aith, imagining that they had taken place in a preceding age. There wa_lways a traitor in the citadel; and after he (or generally she) ha_urrendered the keys, what was the use of pretending that it was impregnable?
  • Once people had tasted of Mrs. Struthers's easy Sunday hospitality they wer_ot likely to sit at home remembering that her champagne was transmuted Shoe- Polish.
  • "I know, dear, I know," Mrs. Archer sighed. "Such things have to be, _uppose, as long as AMUSEMENT is what people go out for; but I've never quit_orgiven your cousin Madame Olenska for being the first person to countenanc_rs. Struthers."
  • A sudden blush rose to young Mrs. Archer's face; it surprised her husband a_uch as the other guests about the table. "Oh, ELLEN—" she murmured, much i_he same accusing and yet deprecating tone in which her parents might hav_aid: "Oh, THE BLENKERS—."
  • It was the note which the family had taken to sounding on the mention of th_ountess Olenska's name, since she had surprised and inconvenienced them b_emaining obdurate to her husband's advances; but on May's lips it gave foo_or thought, and Archer looked at her with the sense of strangeness tha_ometimes came over him when she was most in the tone of her environment.
  • His mother, with less than her usual sensitiveness to atmosphere, stil_nsisted: "I've always thought that people like the Countess Olenska, who hav_ived in aristocratic societies, ought to help us to keep up our socia_istinctions, instead of ignoring them."
  • May's blush remained permanently vivid: it seemed to have a significanc_eyond that implied by the recognition of Madame Olenska's social bad faith.
  • "I've no doubt we all seem alike to foreigners," said Miss Jackson tartly.
  • "I don't think Ellen cares for society; but nobody knows exactly what she doe_are for," May continued, as if she had been groping for somethin_oncommittal.
  • "Ah, well—" Mrs. Archer sighed again.
  • Everybody knew that the Countess Olenska was no longer in the good graces o_er family. Even her devoted champion, old Mrs. Manson Mingott, had bee_nable to defend her refusal to return to her husband. The Mingotts had no_roclaimed their disapproval aloud: their sense of solidarity was too strong.
  • They had simply, as Mrs. Welland said, "let poor Ellen find her own level"—an_hat, mortifyingly and incomprehensibly, was in the dim depths where th_lenkers prevailed, and "people who wrote" celebrated their untidy rites. I_as incredible, but it was a fact, that Ellen, in spite of all he_pportunities and her privileges, had become simply "Bohemian." The fac_nforced the contention that she had made a fatal mistake in not returning t_ount Olenski. After all, a young woman's place was under her husband's roof, especially when she had left it in circumstances that … well … if one ha_ared to look into them …
  • "Madame Olenska is a great favourite with the gentlemen," said Miss Sophy, with her air of wishing to put forth something conciliatory when she knew tha_he was planting a dart.
  • "Ah, that's the danger that a young woman like Madame Olenska is alway_xposed to," Mrs. Archer mournfully agreed; and the ladies, on thi_onclusion, gathered up their trains to seek the carcel globes of the drawing- room, while Archer and Mr. Sillerton Jackson withdrew to the Gothic library.
  • Once established before the grate, and consoling himself for the inadequacy o_he dinner by the perfection of his cigar, Mr. Jackson became portentous an_ommunicable.
  • "If the Beaufort smash comes," he announced, "there are going to b_isclosures."
  • Archer raised his head quickly: he could never hear the name without the shar_ision of Beaufort's heavy figure, opulently furred and shod, advancin_hrough the snow at Skuytercliff.
  • "There's bound to be," Mr. Jackson continued, "the nastiest kind of a cleanin_p. He hasn't spent all his money on Regina."
  • "Oh, well—that's discounted, isn't it? My belief is he'll pull out yet," sai_he young man, wanting to change the subject.
  • "Perhaps—perhaps. I know he was to see some of the influential people today.
  • Of course," Mr. Jackson reluctantly conceded, "it's to be hoped they can tid_im over—this time anyhow. I shouldn't like to think of poor Regina's spendin_he rest of her life in some shabby foreign watering-place for bankrupts."
  • Archer said nothing. It seemed to him so natural— however tragic—that mone_ll-gotten should be cruelly expiated, that his mind, hardly lingering ove_rs. Beaufort's doom, wandered back to closer questions. What was the meanin_f May's blush when the Countess Olenska had been mentioned?
  • Four months had passed since the midsummer day that he and Madame Olenska ha_pent together; and since then he had not seen her. He knew that she ha_eturned to Washington, to the little house which she and Medora Manson ha_aken there: he had written to her once—a few words, asking when they were t_eet again—and she had even more briefly replied: "Not yet."
  • Since then there had been no farther communication between them, and he ha_uilt up within himself a kind of sanctuary in which she throned among hi_ecret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became the scene of his rea_ife, of his only rational activities; thither he brought the books he read, the ideas and feelings which nourished him, his judgments and his visions.
  • Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he moved with a growing sense o_nreality and insufficiency, blundering against familiar prejudices an_raditional points of view as an absent-minded man goes on bumping into th_urniture of his own room. Absent—that was what he was: so absent fro_verything most densely real and near to those about him that it sometime_tartled him to find they still imagined he was there.
  • He became aware that Mr. Jackson was clearing his throat preparatory t_arther revelations.
  • "I don't know, of course, how far your wife's family are aware of what peopl_ay about—well, about Madame Olenska's refusal to accept her husband's lates_ffer."
  • Archer was silent, and Mr. Jackson obliquely continued: "It's a pity—it'_ertainly a pity—that she refused it."
  • "A pity? In God's name, why?"
  • Mr. Jackson looked down his leg to the unwrinkled sock that joined it to _lossy pump.
  • "Well—to put it on the lowest ground—what's she going to live on now?"
  • "Now—?"
  • "If Beaufort—"
  • Archer sprang up, his fist banging down on the black walnut-edge of th_riting-table. The wells of the brass double-inkstand danced in their sockets.
  • "What the devil do you mean, sir?"
  • Mr. Jackson, shifting himself slightly in his chair, turned a tranquil gaze o_he young man's burning face.
  • "Well—I have it on pretty good authority—in fact, on old Catherine'_erself—that the family reduced Countess Olenska's allowance considerably whe_he definitely refused to go back to her husband; and as, by this refusal, sh_lso forfeits the money settled on her when she married—which Olenski wa_eady to make over to her if she returned—why, what the devil do YOU mean, m_ear boy, by asking me what I mean?" Mr. Jackson good-humouredly retorted.
  • Archer moved toward the mantelpiece and bent over to knock his ashes into th_rate.
  • "I don't know anything of Madame Olenska's private affairs; but I don't nee_o, to be certain that what you insinuate—"
  • "Oh, I don't: it's Lefferts, for one," Mr. Jackson interposed.
  • "Lefferts—who made love to her and got snubbed for it!" Archer broke ou_ontemptuously.
  • "Ah—DID he?" snapped the other, as if this were exactly the fact he had bee_aying a trap for. He still sat sideways from the fire, so that his hard ol_aze held Archer's face as if in a spring of steel.
  • "Well, well: it's a pity she didn't go back before Beaufort's cropper," h_epeated. "If she goes NOW, and if he fails, it will only confirm the genera_mpression: which isn't by any means peculiar to Lefferts, by the way."
  • "Oh, she won't go back now: less than ever!" Archer had no sooner said it tha_e had once more the feeling that it was exactly what Mr. Jackson had bee_aiting for.
  • The old gentleman considered him attentively. "That's your opinion, eh? Well, no doubt you know. But everybody will tell you that the few pennies Medor_anson has left are all in Beaufort's hands; and how the two women are to kee_heir heads above water unless he does, I can't imagine. Of course, Madam_lenska may still soften old Catherine, who's been the most inexorably oppose_o her staying; and old Catherine could make her any allowance she chooses.
  • But we all know that she hates parting with good money; and the rest of th_amily have no particular interest in keeping Madame Olenska here."
  • Archer was burning with unavailing wrath: he was exactly in the state when _an is sure to do something stupid, knowing all the while that he is doing it.
  • He saw that Mr. Jackson had been instantly struck by the fact that Madam_lenska's differences with her grandmother and her other relations were no_nown to him, and that the old gentleman had drawn his own conclusions as t_he reasons for Archer's exclusion from the family councils. This fact warne_rcher to go warily; but the insinuations about Beaufort made him reckless. H_as mindful, however, if not of his own danger, at least of the fact that Mr.
  • Jackson was under his mother's roof, and consequently his guest. Old New Yor_crupulously observed the etiquette of hospitality, and no discussion with _uest was ever allowed to degenerate into a disagreement.
  • "Shall we go up and join my mother?" he suggested curtly, as Mr. Jackson'_ast cone of ashes dropped into the brass ashtray at his elbow.
  • On the drive homeward May remained oddly silent; through the darkness, h_till felt her enveloped in her menacing blush. What its menace meant he coul_ot guess: but he was sufficiently warned by the fact that Madame Olenska'_ame had evoked it.
  • They went upstairs, and he turned into the library. She usually followed him; but he heard her passing down the passage to her bedroom.
  • "May!" he called out impatiently; and she came back, with a slight glance o_urprise at his tone.
  • "This lamp is smoking again; I should think the servants might see that it'_ept properly trimmed," he grumbled nervously.
  • "I'm so sorry: it shan't happen again," she answered, in the firm bright ton_he had learned from her mother; and it exasperated Archer to feel that sh_as already beginning to humour him like a younger Mr. Welland. She bent ove_o lower the wick, and as the light struck up on her white shoulders and th_lear curves of her face he thought: "How young she is! For what endless year_his life will have to go on!"
  • He felt, with a kind of horror, his own strong youth and the bounding blood i_is veins. "Look here," he said suddenly, "I may have to go to Washington fo_ few days—soon; next week perhaps."
  • Her hand remained on the key of the lamp as she turned to him slowly. The hea_rom its flame had brought back a glow to her face, but it paled as she looke_p.
  • "On business?" she asked, in a tone which implied that there could be no othe_onceivable reason, and that she had put the question automatically, as i_erely to finish his own sentence.
  • "On business, naturally. There's a patent case coming up before the Suprem_ourt—" He gave the name of the inventor, and went on furnishing details wit_ll Lawrence Lefferts's practised glibness, while she listened attentively, saying at intervals: "Yes, I see."
  • "The change will do you good," she said simply, when he had finished; "and yo_ust be sure to go and see Ellen," she added, looking him straight in the eye_ith her cloudless smile, and speaking in the tone she might have employed i_rging him not to neglect some irksome family duty.
  • It was the only word that passed between them on the subject; but in the cod_n which they had both been trained it meant: "Of course you understand that _now all that people have been saying about Ellen, and heartily sympathis_ith my family in their effort to get her to return to her husband. I als_now that, for some reason you have not chosen to tell me, you have advise_er against this course, which all the older men of the family, as well as ou_randmother, agree in approving; and that it is owing to your encouragemen_hat Ellen defies us all, and exposes herself to the kind of criticism o_hich Mr. Sillerton Jackson probably gave you, this evening, the hint that ha_ade you so irritable… . Hints have indeed not been wanting; but since yo_ppear unwilling to take them from others, I offer you this one myself, in th_nly form in which well-bred people of our kind can communicate unpleasan_hings to each other: by letting you understand that I know you mean to se_llen when you are in Washington, and are perhaps going there expressly fo_hat purpose; and that, since you are sure to see her, I wish you to do s_ith my full and explicit approval— and to take the opportunity of letting he_now what the course of conduct you have encouraged her in is likely to lea_o."
  • Her hand was still on the key of the lamp when the last word of this mut_essage reached him. She turned the wick down, lifted off the globe, an_reathed on the sulky flame.
  • "They smell less if one blows them out," she explained, with her brigh_ousekeeping air. On the threshold she turned and paused for his kiss.