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The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
cousin the Countess called on mother while you were away," Janey
Archer announced to her brother on the evening of his return.
young man, who was dining alone with his mother and sister, glanced up in
surprise and saw Mrs. Archer's gaze demurely bent on her plate.
Mrs. Archer did not regard her seclusion from the world as a reason
for being forgotten by it; and Newland guessed that she was slightly
annoyed that he should be surprised by Madame Olenska's visit.
had on a black velvet polonaise with jet buttons, and a tiny green monkey
muff; I never saw her so stylishly dressed," Janey continued.
"She came alone, early on Sunday afternoon; luckily the fire
was lit in the drawing-room. She
had one of those new card- cases. She
said she wanted to know us because you'd been so good to her."
laughed. "Madame Olenska
always takes that tone about her friends.
She's very happy at being among her own people again."
so she told us," said Mrs. Archer.
"I must say she seems thankful to be here."
hope you liked her, mother."
Archer drew her lips together. "She
certainly lays herself out to please, even when she is calling on an old
doesn't think her simple," Janey interjected, her eyes screwed upon her
just my old-fashioned feeling; dear May is my ideal," said Mrs. Archer.
said her son, "they're not alike."
had left St. Augustine charged with many messages for old Mrs. Mingott; and
a day or two after his return to town he called on her.
old lady received him with unusual warmth; she was grateful to him for
persuading the Countess Olenska to give up the idea of a divorce; and when
he told her that he had deserted the office without leave, and rushed down
to St. Augustine simply because he wanted to see May, she gave an adipose
chuckle and patted his knee with her puff-ball hand.
ah--so you kicked over the traces, did you? And I suppose Augusta and
Welland pulled long faces, and behaved as if the end of the world had come?
But little May--she knew better, I'll be bound?"
hoped she did; but after all she wouldn't agree to what I'd gone down to ask
she indeed? And what was
wanted to get her to promise that we should be married in April.
What's the use of our wasting another year?"
Manson Mingott screwed up her little mouth into a grimace of mimic prudery
and twinkled at him through malicious lids.
"`Ask Mamma,' I suppose-- the usual story.
Ah, these Mingotts--all alike! Born
in a rut, and you can't root 'em out of it.
When I built this house you'd have thought I was moving to
California! Nobody ever HAD built above Fortieth Street--no, says I, nor
above the Battery either, before Christopher Columbus discovered America.
No, no; not one of them wants to be different; they're as scared of
it as the small-pox. Ah, my
dear Mr. Archer, I thank my stars I'm nothing but a vulgar Spicer; but
there's not one of my own children that takes after me but my little
Ellen." She broke off,
still twinkling at him, and asked, with the casual irrelevance of old age:
"Now, why in the world didn't you marry my little Ellen?"
laughed. "For one thing,
she wasn't there to be married."
be sure; more's the pity. And
now it's too late; her life is finished."
She spoke with the cold- blooded complacency of the aged throwing
earth into the grave of young hopes. The
young man's heart grew chill, and he said hurriedly: "Can't I persuade you to use your influence with the
Wellands, Mrs. Mingott? I
wasn't made for long engagements."
Catherine beamed on him approvingly. "No;
I can see that. You've got a
quick eye. When you were a
little boy I've no doubt you liked to be helped first." She threw back
her head with a laugh that made her chins ripple like little waves.
"Ah, here's my Ellen now!" she exclaimed, as the portieres
parted behind her.
Olenska came forward with a smile. Her
face looked vivid and happy, and she held out her hand gaily to Archer while
she stooped to her grandmother's kiss.
was just saying to him, my dear: `Now,
why didn't you marry my little Ellen?'"
Olenska looked at Archer, still smiling.
"And what did he answer?"
my darling, I leave you to find that out!
He's been down to Florida to see his sweetheart."
I know." She still looked
at him. "I went to see
your mother, to ask where you'd gone. I
sent a note that you never answered, and I was afraid you were ill."
muttered something about leaving unexpectedly, in a great hurry, and having
intended to write to her from St. Augustine.
of course once you were there you never thought of me again!"
She continued to beam on him with a gaiety that might have been a
studied assumption of indifference.
she still needs me, she's determined not to let me see it," he thought,
stung by her manner. He wanted
to thank her for having been to see his mother, but under the ancestress's
malicious eye he felt himself tongue- tied and constrained.
at him--in such hot haste to get married that he took French leave and
rushed down to implore the silly girl on his knees!
That's something like a lover-- that's the way handsome Bob Spicer
carried off my poor mother; and then got tired of her before I was
weaned--though they only had to wait eight months for me!
But there--you're not a Spicer, young man; luckily for you and for
May. It's only my poor Ellen
that has kept any of their wicked blood; the rest of them are all model
Mingotts," cried the old lady scornfully.
was aware that Madame Olenska, who had seated herself at her grandmother's
side, was still thoughtfully scrutinising him.
The gaiety had faded from her eyes, and she said with great
Granny, we can persuade them between us to do as he wishes."
rose to go, and as his hand met Madame Olenska's he felt that she was
waiting for him to make some allusion to her unanswered letter.
can I see you?" he asked, as she walked with him to the door of the
you like; but it must be soon if you want to see the little house again.
I am moving next week."
pang shot through him at the memory of his lamplit hours in the low-studded
drawing-room. Few as they had
been, they were thick with memories.
nodded. "Tomorrow; yes;
but early. I'm going out."
next day was a Sunday, and if she were "going out" on a Sunday
evening it could, of course, be only to Mrs. Lemuel Struthers's.
He felt a slight movement of annoyance, not so much at her going
there (for he rather liked her going where she pleased in spite of the van
der Luydens), but because it was the kind of house at which she was sure to
meet Beaufort, where she must have known beforehand that she would meet
him--and where she was probably going for that purpose.
well; tomorrow evening," he repeated, inwardly resolved that he would
not go early, and that by reaching her door late he would either prevent her
from going to Mrs. Struthers's, or else arrive after she had started--which,
all things considered, would no doubt be the simplest solution.
was only half-past eight, after all, when he rang the bell under the
wisteria; not as late as he had intended by half an hour--but a singular
restlessness had driven him to her door.
He reflected, however, that Mrs. Struthers's Sunday evenings were not
like a ball, and that her guests, as if to minimise their delinquency,
usually went early.
one thing he had not counted on, in entering Madame Olenska's hall, was to
find hats and overcoats there. Why
had she bidden him to come early if she was having people to dine?
On a closer inspection of the garments besides which Nastasia was
laying his own, his resentment gave way to curiosity.
The overcoats were in fact the very strangest he had ever seen under
a polite roof; and it took but a glance to assure himself that neither of
them belonged to Julius Beaufort. One was a shaggy yellow ulster of
"reach-me- down" cut, the other a very old and rusty cloak with a
cape--something like what the French called a "Macfarlane." This
garment, which appeared to be made for a person of prodigious size, had
evidently seen long and hard wear, and its greenish-black folds gave out a
moist sawdusty smell suggestive of prolonged sessions against bar-room
walls. On it lay a ragged grey
scarf and an odd felt hat of semiclerical shape.
raised his eyebrows enquiringly at Nastasia, who raised hers in return with
a fatalistic "Gia!" as she threw open the drawing-room door.
young man saw at once that his hostess was not in the room; then, with
surprise, he discovered another lady standing by the fire.
This lady, who was long, lean and loosely put together, was clad in
raiment intricately looped and fringed, with plaids and stripes and bands of
plain colour disposed in a design to which the clue seemed missing.
Her hair, which had tried to turn white and only succeeded in fading,
was surmounted by a Spanish comb and black lace scarf, and silk mittens,
visibly darned, covered her rheumatic hands.
her, in a cloud of cigar-smoke, stood the owners of the two overcoats, both
in morning clothes that they had evidently not taken off since morning.
In one of the two, Archer, to his surprise, recognised Ned Winsett;
the other and older, who was unknown to him, and whose gigantic frame
declared him to be the wearer of the "Macfarlane," had a feebly
leonine head with crumpled grey hair, and moved his arms with large pawing
gestures, as though he were distributing lay blessings to a kneeling
three persons stood together on the hearth- rug, their eyes fixed on an
extraordinarily large bouquet of crimson roses, with a knot of purple
pansies at their base, that lay on the sofa where Madame Olenska usually
they must have cost at this season--though of course it's the sentiment one
cares about!" the lady was saying in a sighing staccato as Archer came
three turned with surprise at his appearance, and the lady, advancing, held
out her hand.
Mr. Archer--almost my cousin Newland!" she said. "I am the Marchioness Manson."
bowed, and she continued: "My
Ellen has taken me in for a few days. I
came from Cuba, where I have been spending the winter with Spanish friends--
such delightful distinguished people: the highest nobility of old
Castile--how I wish you could know them! But I was called away by our dear
great friend here, Dr. Carver. You
don't know Dr. Agathon Carver, founder of the Valley of Love
Carver inclined his leonine head, and the Marchioness continued:
"Ah, New York--New York--how little the life of the spirit has
reached it! But I see you do
know Mr. Winsett."
yes--I reached him some time ago; but not by that route," Winsett said
with his dry smile.
Marchioness shook her head reprovingly.
"How do you know, Mr. Winsett?
The spirit bloweth where it listeth."
list!" interjected Dr. Carver in a stentorian murmur.
do sit down, Mr. Archer. We
four have been having a delightful little dinner together, and my child has
gone up to dress. She expects
you; she will be down in a moment. We
were just admiring these marvellous flowers, which will surprise her when
remained on his feet. "I'm
afraid I must be off. Please
tell Madame Olenska that we shall all feel lost when she abandons our
street. This house has been an
but she won't abandon YOU. Poetry
and art are the breath of life to her.
It IS poetry you write, Mr. Winsett?"
no; but I sometimes read it," said Winsett, including the group in a
general nod and slipping out of the room.
caustic spirit--un peu sauvage. But
so witty; Dr. Carver, you DO think him witty?"
never think of wit," said Dr. Carver severely.
never think of wit! How
merciless he is to us weak mortals, Mr. Archer!
But he lives only in the life of the spirit; and tonight he is
mentally preparing the lecture he is to deliver presently at Mrs. Blenker's.
Dr. Carver, would there be time, before you start for the Blenkers' to
explain to Mr. Archer your illuminating discovery of the Direct Contact?
But no; I see it is nearly nine o'clock, and we have no right to
detain you while so many are waiting for your message."
Carver looked slightly disappointed at this conclusion, but, having compared
his ponderous gold time- piece with Madame Olenska's little travelling-clock,
he reluctantly gathered up his mighty limbs for departure.
shall see you later, dear friend?" he suggested to the Marchioness, who
replied with a smile: "As
soon as Ellen's carriage comes I will join you; I do hope the lecture won't
Carver looked thoughtfully at Archer. "Perhaps,
if this young gentleman is interested in my experiences, Mrs. Blenker might
allow you to bring him with you?"
dear friend, if it were possible--I am sure she would be too happy.
But I fear my Ellen counts on Mr. Archer herself."
said Dr. Carver, "is unfortunate--but here is my card."
He handed it to Archer, who read on it, in Gothic characters:
Carter | |
The Valley of Love | |
Kittasquattamy, N. Y. |
Carver bowed himself out, and Mrs. Manson, with a sigh that might have been
either of regret or relief, again waved Archer to a seat.
will be down in a moment; and before she comes, I am so glad of this quiet
moment with you."
murmured his pleasure at their meeting, and the Marchioness continued, in
her low sighing accents: "I know everything, dear Mr. Archer--my child
has told me all you have done for her.
Your wise advice: your courageous firmness--thank heaven it was not
young man listened with considerable embarrassment. Was there any one, he wondered, to whom Madame Olenska had
not proclaimed his intervention in her private affairs?
Olenska exaggerates; I simply gave her a legal opinion, as she asked me
but in doing it--in doing it you were the unconscious instrument
of--of--what word have we moderns for Providence, Mr. Archer?" cried
the lady, tilting her head on one side and drooping her lids mysteriously.
"Little did you know that at that very moment I was being appealed to:
being approached, in fact--from the other side of the Atlantic!"
glanced over her shoulder, as though fearful of being overheard, and then,
drawing her chair nearer, and raising a tiny ivory fan to her lips, breathed
behind it: "By the Count
himself--my poor, mad, foolish Olenski; who asks only to take her back on
her own terms."
God!" Archer exclaimed, springing up.
are horrified? Yes, of course;
I understand. I don't defend
poor Stanislas, though he has always called me his best friend.
He does not defend himself--he casts himself at her feet: in my
person." She tapped her
emaciated bosom. "I have
his letter here."
letter?--Has Madame Olenska seen it?" Archer stammered, his brain
whirling with the shock of the announcement.
Marchioness Manson shook her head softly. "Time--time; I must have
time. I know my Ellen--
haughty, intractable; shall I say, just a shade unforgiving?"
good heavens, to forgive is one thing; to go back into that hell--"
yes," the Marchioness acquiesced.
"So she describes it--my sensitive child! But on the material side, Mr. Archer, if one may stoop to
consider such things; do you know what she is giving up?
Those roses there on the sofa--acres like them, under glass and in
the open, in his matchless terraced gardens at Nice!
Jewels-- historic pearls: the Sobieski emeralds--sables,--but she
cares nothing for all these! Art
and beauty, those she does care for, she lives for, as I always have; and
those also surrounded her. Pictures,
priceless furniture, music, brilliant conversation--ah, that, my dear young
man, if you'll excuse me, is what you've no conception of here!
And she had it all; and the homage of the greatest. She tells me she is not thought handsome in New York--good
heavens! Her portrait has been
painted nine times; the greatest artists in Europe have begged for the
privilege. Are these things
nothing? And the remorse of an
the Marchioness Manson rose to her climax her face assumed an expression of
ecstatic retrospection which would have moved Archer's mirth had he not been
numb with amazement.
would have laughed if any one had foretold to him that his first sight of
poor Medora Manson would have been in the guise of a messenger of Satan; but
he was in no mood for laughing now, and she seemed to him to come straight
out of the hell from which Ellen Olenska had just escaped.
knows nothing yet--of all this?" he asked abruptly.
Manson laid a purple finger on her lips. "Nothing directly--but does
she suspect? Who can tell?
The truth is, Mr. Archer, I have been waiting to see you. From the
moment I heard of the firm stand you had taken, and of your influence over
her, I hoped it might be possible to count on your support--to convince you
. . ."
she ought to go back? I would
rather see her dead!" cried the young man violently.
the Marchioness murmured, without visible resentment. For a while she sat in her arm-chair, opening and shutting
the absurd ivory fan between her mittened fingers; but suddenly she lifted
her head and listened.
she comes," she said in a rapid whisper; and then, pointing to the
bouquet on the sofa: "Am I
to understand that you prefer THAT, Mr. Archer?
After all, marriage is marriage . . . and my niece is still a wife. .
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