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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    II.

    Newland Archer, during this brief episode, had
    been thrown into a strange state of embarrassment.

    It was annoying that the box which was thus attracting
    the undivided attention of masculine New York
    should be that in which his betrothed was seated
    between her mother and aunt; and for a moment he
    could not identify the lady in the Empire dress, nor
    imagine why her presence created such excitement among
    the initiated. Then light dawned on him, and with it
    came a momentary rush of indignation. No, indeed; no
    one would have thought the Mingotts would have tried
    it on!

    But they had; they undoubtedly had; for the low-
    toned comments behind him left no doubt in Archer's
    mind that the young woman was May Welland's cousin,
    the cousin always referred to in the family as "poor
    Ellen Olenska." Archer knew that she had suddenly
    arrived from Europe a day or two previously; he had
    even heard from Miss Welland (not disapprovingly)
    that she had been to see poor Ellen, who was staying
    with old Mrs. Mingott. Archer entirely approved of
    family solidarity, and one of the qualities he most
    admired in the Mingotts was their resolute championship
    of the few black sheep that their blameless stock
    had produced. There was nothing mean or ungenerous
    in the young man's heart, and he was glad that his
    future wife should not be restrained by false prudery
    from being kind (in private) to her unhappy cousin; but
    to receive Countess Olenska in the family circle was a
    different thing from producing her in public, at the
    Opera of all places, and in the very box with the young
    girl whose engagement to him, Newland Archer, was
    to be announced within a few weeks. No, he felt as old
    Sillerton Jackson felt; he did not think the Mingotts
    would have tried it on!

    He knew, of course, that whatever man dared (within
    Fifth Avenue's limits) that old Mrs. Manson Mingott,
    the Matriarch of the line, would dare. He had always
    admired the high and mighty old lady, who, in spite of
    having been only Catherine Spicer of Staten Island,
    with a father mysteriously discredited, and neither money
    nor position enough to make people forget it, had
    allied herself with the head of the wealthy Mingott line,
    married two of her daughters to "foreigners" (an Italian
    marquis and an English banker), and put the crowning
    touch to her audacities by building a large house of
    pale cream-coloured stone (when brown sandstone
    seemed as much the only wear as a frock-coat in the
    afternoon) in an inaccessible wilderness near the
    Central Park.

    Old Mrs. Mingott's foreign daughters had become a
    legend. They never came back to see their mother, and
    the latter being, like many persons of active mind and
    dominating will, sedentary and corpulent in her habit,
    had philosophically remained at home. But the cream-
    coloured house (supposed to be modelled on the private
    hotels of the Parisian aristocracy) was there as a
    visible proof of her moral courage; and she throned in
    it, among pre-Revolutionary furniture and souvenirs of
    the Tuileries of Louis Napoleon (where she had shone
    in her middle age), as placidly as if there were nothing
    peculiar in living above Thirty-fourth Street, or in having
    French windows that opened like doors instead of
    sashes that pushed up.

    Every one (including Mr. Sillerton Jackson) was agreed
    that old Catherine had never had beauty--a gift which,
    in the eyes of New York, justified every success, and
    excused a certain number of failings. Unkind people
    said that, like her Imperial namesake, she had won her
    way to success by strength of will and hardness of
    heart, and a kind of haughty effrontery that was somehow
    justified by the extreme decency and dignity of her
    private life. Mr. Manson Mingott had died when she
    was only twenty-eight, and had "tied up" the money
    with an additional caution born of the general distrust
    of the Spicers; but his bold young widow went her way
    fearlessly, mingled freely in foreign society, married her
    daughters in heaven knew what corrupt and fashionable
    circles, hobnobbed with Dukes and Ambassadors,
    associated familiarly with Papists, entertained Opera
    singers, and was the intimate friend of Mme. Taglioni;
    and all the while (as Sillerton Jackson was the first to
    proclaim) there had never been a breath on her reputation;
    the only respect, he always added, in which she
    differed from the earlier Catherine.

    Mrs. Manson Mingott had long since succeeded in
    untying her husband's fortune, and had lived in affluence
    for half a century; but memories of her early
    straits had made her excessively thrifty, and though,
    when she bought a dress or a piece of furniture, she
    took care that it should be of the best, she could not
    bring herself to spend much on the transient pleasures
    of the table. Therefore, for totally different reasons, her
    food was as poor as Mrs. Archer's, and her wines did
    nothing to redeem it. Her relatives considered that the
    penury of her table discredited the Mingott name, which
    had always been associated with good living; but people
    continued to come to her in spite of the "made
    dishes" and flat champagne, and in reply to the
    remonstrances of her son Lovell (who tried to retrieve the
    family credit by having the best chef in New York) she
    used to say laughingly: "What's the use of two good
    cooks in one family, now that I've married the girls and
    can't eat sauces?"

    Newland Archer, as he mused on these things, had
    once more turned his eyes toward the Mingott box. He
    saw that Mrs. Welland and her sister-in-law were facing
    their semicircle of critics with the Mingottian APLOMB
    which old Catherine had inculcated in all her tribe, and
    that only May Welland betrayed, by a heightened colour
    (perhaps due to the knowledge that he was watching
    her) a sense of the gravity of the situation. As for
    the cause of the commotion, she sat gracefully in her
    corner of the box, her eyes fixed on the stage, and
    revealing, as she leaned forward, a little more shoulder
    and bosom than New York was accustomed to seeing,
    at least in ladies who had reasons for wishing to pass
    unnoticed.

    Few things seemed to Newland Archer more awful
    than an offence against "Taste," that far-off divinity of
    whom "Form" was the mere visible representative and
    vicegerent. Madame Olenska's pale and serious face
    appealed to his fancy as suited to the occasion and to
    her unhappy situation; but the way her dress (which
    had no tucker) sloped away from her thin shoulders
    shocked and troubled him. He hated to think of May
    Welland's being exposed to the influence of a young
    woman so careless of the dictates of Taste.

    "After all," he heard one of the younger men begin
    behind him (everybody talked through the Mephistopheles-
    and-Martha scenes), "after all, just WHAT happened?"

    "Well--she left him; nobody attempts to deny that."

    "He's an awful brute, isn't he?" continued the young
    enquirer, a candid Thorley, who was evidently preparing
    to enter the lists as the lady's champion.

    "The very worst; I knew him at Nice," said
    Lawrence Lefferts with authority. "A half-paralysed white
    sneering fellow--rather handsome head, but eyes with
    a lot of lashes. Well, I'll tell you the sort: when he
    wasn't with women he was collecting china. Paying any
    price for both, I understand."

    There was a general laugh, and the young champion
    said: "Well, then----?"

    "Well, then; she bolted with his secretary."

    "Oh, I see." The champion's face fell.

    "It didn't last long, though: I heard of her a few
    months later living alone in Venice. I believe Lovell
    Mingott went out to get her. He said she was desperately
    unhappy. That's all right--but this parading her
    at the Opera's another thing."

    "Perhaps," young Thorley hazarded, "she's too
    unhappy to be left at home."

    This was greeted with an irreverent laugh, and the
    youth blushed deeply, and tried to look as if he had
    meant to insinuate what knowing people called a "double
    entendre."

    "Well--it's queer to have brought Miss Welland,
    anyhow," some one said in a low tone, with a side-
    glance at Archer.

    "Oh, that's part of the campaign: Granny's orders,
    no doubt," Lefferts laughed. "When the old lady does
    a thing she does it thoroughly."

    The act was ending, and there was a general stir in
    the box. Suddenly Newland Archer felt himself
    impelled to decisive action. The desire to be the first man
    to enter Mrs. Mingott's box, to proclaim to the waiting
    world his engagement to May Welland, and to see her
    through whatever difficulties her cousin's anomalous
    situation might involve her in; this impulse had abruptly
    overruled all scruples and hesitations, and sent him
    hurrying through the red corridors to the farther side
    of the house.

    As he entered the box his eyes met Miss Welland's,
    and he saw that she had instantly understood his motive,
    though the family dignity which both considered
    so high a virtue would not permit her to tell him so.
    The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of
    faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that
    he and she understood each other without a word
    seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than
    any explanation would have done. Her eyes said: "You
    see why Mamma brought me," and his answered: "I
    would not for the world have had you stay away."

    "You know my niece Countess Olenska?" Mrs. Welland
    enquired as she shook hands with her future son-
    in-law. Archer bowed without extending his hand, as
    was the custom on being introduced to a lady; and
    Ellen Olenska bent her head slightly, keeping her own
    pale-gloved hands clasped on her huge fan of eagle
    feathers. Having greeted Mrs. Lovell Mingott, a large
    blonde lady in creaking satin, he sat down beside his
    betrothed, and said in a low tone: "I hope you've told
    Madame Olenska that we're engaged? I want everybody
    to know--I want you to let me announce it this
    evening at the ball."

    Miss Welland's face grew rosy as the dawn, and she
    looked at him with radiant eyes. "If you can persuade
    Mamma," she said; "but why should we change what
    is already settled?" He made no answer but that which
    his eyes returned, and she added, still more confidently
    smiling: "Tell my cousin yourself: I give you leave. She
    says she used to play with you when you were children."

    She made way for him by pushing back her chair,
    and promptly, and a little ostentatiously, with the
    desire that the whole house should see what he was
    doing, Archer seated himself at the Countess Olenska's
    side.

    "We DID use to play together, didn't we?" she asked,
    turning her grave eyes to his. "You were a horrid boy,
    and kissed me once behind a door; but it was your
    cousin Vandie Newland, who never looked at me, that
    I was in love with." Her glance swept the horse-shoe
    curve of boxes. "Ah, how this brings it all back to
    me--I see everybody here in knickerbockers and pantalettes,"
    she said, with her trailing slightly foreign accent,
    her eyes returning to his face.

    Agreeable as their expression was, the young man
    was shocked that they should reflect so unseemly a
    picture of the august tribunal before which, at that very
    moment, her case was being tried. Nothing could be in
    worse taste than misplaced flippancy; and he answered
    somewhat stiffly: "Yes, you have been away a very
    long time."

    "Oh, centuries and centuries; so long," she said,
    "that I'm sure I'm dead and buried, and this dear old
    place is heaven;" which, for reasons he could not
    define, struck Newland Archer as an even more
    disrespectful way of describing New York society.
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