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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    IV.

    In the course of the next day the first of the usual
    betrothal visits were exchanged. The New York
    ritual was precise and inflexible in such matters; and in
    conformity with it Newland Archer first went with his
    mother and sister to call on Mrs. Welland, after which
    he and Mrs. Welland and May drove out to old Mrs.
    Manson Mingott's to receive that venerable ancestress's
    blessing.

    A visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott was always an
    amusing episode to the young man. The house in itself
    was already an historic document, though not, of course,
    as venerable as certain other old family houses in
    University Place and lower Fifth Avenue. Those were of
    the purest 1830, with a grim harmony of cabbage-
    rose-garlanded carpets, rosewood consoles, round-arched
    fire-places with black marble mantels, and immense
    glazed book-cases of mahogany; whereas old Mrs.
    Mingott, who had built her house later, had bodily cast
    out the massive furniture of her prime, and mingled
    with the Mingott heirlooms the frivolous upholstery of
    the Second Empire. It was her habit to sit in a window
    of her sitting-room on the ground floor, as if watching
    calmly for life and fashion to flow northward to her
    solitary doors. She seemed in no hurry to have them
    come, for her patience was equalled by her confidence.
    She was sure that presently the hoardings, the quarries,
    the one-story saloons, the wooden green-houses in ragged
    gardens, and the rocks from which goats surveyed
    the scene, would vanish before the advance of residences
    as stately as her own--perhaps (for she was an
    impartial woman) even statelier; and that the cobble-
    stones over which the old clattering omnibuses bumped
    would be replaced by smooth asphalt, such as people
    reported having seen in Paris. Meanwhile, as every one
    she cared to see came to HER (and she could fill her
    rooms as easily as the Beauforts, and without adding a
    single item to the menu of her suppers), she did not
    suffer from her geographic isolation.

    The immense accretion of flesh which had descended
    on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed
    city had changed her from a plump active little woman
    with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as
    vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She had
    accepted this submergence as philosophically as all her
    other trials, and now, in extreme old age, was rewarded
    by presenting to her mirror an almost unwrinkled
    expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the
    centre of which the traces of a small face survived as if
    awaiting excavation. A flight of smooth double chins led
    down to the dizzy depths of a still-snowy bosom veiled
    in snowy muslins that were held in place by a miniature
    portrait of the late Mr. Mingott; and around and below,
    wave after wave of black silk surged away over the edges
    of a capacious armchair, with two tiny white hands poised
    like gulls on the surface of the billows.

    The burden of Mrs. Manson Mingott's flesh had
    long since made it impossible for her to go up and
    down stairs, and with characteristic independence she
    had made her reception rooms upstairs and established
    herself (in flagrant violation of all the New York
    proprieties) on the ground floor of her house; so that, as
    you sat in her sitting-room window with her, you caught
    (through a door that was always open, and a looped-
    back yellow damask portiere) the unexpected vista of a
    bedroom with a huge low bed upholstered like a sofa,
    and a toilet-table with frivolous lace flounces and a
    gilt-framed mirror.

    Her visitors were startled and fascinated by the
    foreignness of this arrangement, which recalled scenes in
    French fiction, and architectural incentives to immorality
    such as the simple American had never dreamed of.
    That was how women with lovers lived in the wicked
    old societies, in apartments with all the rooms on one
    floor, and all the indecent propinquities that their
    novels described. It amused Newland Archer (who had
    secretly situated the love-scenes of "Monsieur de
    Camors" in Mrs. Mingott's bedroom) to picture her
    blameless life led in the stage-setting of adultery; but he
    said to himself, with considerable admiration, that if a
    lover had been what she wanted, the intrepid woman
    would have had him too.

    To the general relief the Countess Olenska was not
    present in her grandmother's drawing-room during the
    visit of the betrothed couple. Mrs. Mingott said she
    had gone out; which, on a day of such glaring sunlight,
    and at the "shopping hour," seemed in itself an indelicate
    thing for a compromised woman to do. But at any
    rate it spared them the embarrassment of her presence,
    and the faint shadow that her unhappy past might
    seem to shed on their radiant future. The visit went off
    successfully, as was to have been expected. Old Mrs.
    Mingott was delighted with the engagement, which,
    being long foreseen by watchful relatives, had been
    carefully passed upon in family council; and the
    engagement ring, a large thick sapphire set in invisible
    claws, met with her unqualified admiration.

    "It's the new setting: of course it shows the stone
    beautifully, but it looks a little bare to old-fashioned
    eyes," Mrs. Welland had explained, with a conciliatory
    side-glance at her future son-in-law.

    "Old-fashioned eyes? I hope you don't mean mine,
    my dear? I like all the novelties," said the ancestress,
    lifting the stone to her small bright orbs, which no
    glasses had ever disfigured. "Very handsome," she added,
    returning the jewel; "very liberal. In my time a cameo
    set in pearls was thought sufficient. But it's the hand
    that sets off the ring, isn't it, my dear Mr. Archer?"
    and she waved one of her tiny hands, with small pointed
    nails and rolls of aged fat encircling the wrist like ivory
    bracelets. "Mine was modelled in Rome by the great
    Ferrigiani. You should have May's done: no doubt he'll
    have it done, my child. Her hand is large--it's these
    modern sports that spread the joints--but the skin is
    white.--And when's the wedding to be?" she broke off,
    fixing her eyes on Archer's face.

    "Oh--" Mrs. Welland murmured, while the young
    man, smiling at his betrothed, replied: "As soon as ever
    it can, if only you'll back me up, Mrs. Mingott."

    "We must give them time to get to know each other
    a little better, mamma," Mrs. Welland interposed, with
    the proper affectation of reluctance; to which the
    ancestress rejoined: "Know each other? Fiddlesticks!
    Everybody in New York has always known everybody.
    Let the young man have his way, my dear; don't wait
    till the bubble's off the wine. Marry them before Lent;
    I may catch pneumonia any winter now, and I want to
    give the wedding-breakfast."

    These successive statements were received with the
    proper expressions of amusement, incredulity and gratitude;
    and the visit was breaking up in a vein of mild
    pleasantry when the door opened to admit the Countess
    Olenska, who entered in bonnet and mantle followed
    by the unexpected figure of Julius Beaufort.

    There was a cousinly murmur of pleasure between
    the ladies, and Mrs. Mingott held out Ferrigiani's model
    to the banker. "Ha! Beaufort, this is a rare favour!"
    (She had an odd foreign way of addressing men by
    their surnames.)

    "Thanks. I wish it might happen oftener," said the
    visitor in his easy arrogant way. "I'm generally so tied
    down; but I met the Countess Ellen in Madison Square,
    and she was good enough to let me walk home with
    her."

    "Ah--I hope the house will be gayer, now that
    Ellen's here!" cried Mrs. Mingott with a glorious
    effrontery. "Sit down--sit down, Beaufort: push up the yellow
    armchair; now I've got you I want a good gossip. I
    hear your ball was magnificent; and I understand you
    invited Mrs. Lemuel Struthers? Well--I've a curiosity
    to see the woman myself."

    She had forgotten her relatives, who were drifting
    out into the hall under Ellen Olenska's guidance. Old
    Mrs. Mingott had always professed a great admiration
    for Julius Beaufort, and there was a kind of kinship in
    their cool domineering way and their short-cuts through
    the conventions. Now she was eagerly curious to know
    what had decided the Beauforts to invite (for the first
    time) Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, the widow of Struthers's
    Shoe-polish, who had returned the previous year from
    a long initiatory sojourn in Europe to lay siege to the
    tight little citadel of New York. "Of course if you and
    Regina invite her the thing is settled. Well, we need
    new blood and new money--and I hear she's still very
    good-looking," the carnivorous old lady declared.

    In the hall, while Mrs. Welland and May drew on
    their furs, Archer saw that the Countess Olenska was
    looking at him with a faintly questioning smile.

    "Of course you know already--about May and me,"
    he said, answering her look with a shy laugh. "She
    scolded me for not giving you the news last night at the
    Opera: I had her orders to tell you that we were
    engaged--but I couldn't, in that crowd."

    The smile passed from Countess Olenska's eyes to
    her lips: she looked younger, more like the bold brown
    Ellen Mingott of his boyhood. "Of course I know; yes.
    And I'm so glad. But one doesn't tell such things first in
    a crowd." The ladies were on the threshold and she
    held out her hand.

    "Good-bye; come and see me some day," she said,
    still looking at Archer.

    In the carriage, on the way down Fifth Avenue, they
    talked pointedly of Mrs. Mingott, of her age, her spirit,
    and all her wonderful attributes. No one alluded to
    Ellen Olenska; but Archer knew that Mrs. Welland
    was thinking: "It's a mistake for Ellen to be seen, the
    very day after her arrival, parading up Fifth Avenue at
    the crowded hour with Julius Beaufort--" and the young
    man himself mentally added: "And she ought to know
    that a man who's just engaged doesn't spend his time
    calling on married women. But I daresay in the set
    she's lived in they do--they never do anything else."
    And, in spite of the cosmopolitan views on which he
    prided himself, he thanked heaven that he was a New
    Yorker, and about to ally himself with one of his own
    kind.
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