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    Chapter 6

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    Chapter 6
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    VI.

    That evening, after Mr. Jackson had taken himself
    away, and the ladies had retired to their chintz-
    curtained bedroom, Newland Archer mounted thoughtfully
    to his own study. A vigilant hand had, as usual,
    kept the fire alive and the lamp trimmed; and the
    room, with its rows and rows of books, its bronze and
    steel statuettes of "The Fencers" on the mantelpiece
    and its many photographs of famous pictures, looked
    singularly home-like and welcoming.

    As he dropped into his armchair near the fire his eyes
    rested on a large photograph of May Welland, which
    the young girl had given him in the first days of their
    romance, and which had now displaced all the other
    portraits on the table. With a new sense of awe he
    looked at the frank forehead, serious eyes and gay
    innocent mouth of the young creature whose soul's
    custodian he was to be. That terrifying product of the
    social system he belonged to and believed in, the young
    girl who knew nothing and expected everything, looked
    back at him like a stranger through May Welland's
    familiar features; and once more it was borne in on
    him that marriage was not the safe anchorage he had
    been taught to think, but a voyage on uncharted seas.

    The case of the Countess Olenska had stirred up old
    settled convictions and set them drifting dangerously
    through his mind. His own exclamation: "Women should
    be free--as free as we are," struck to the root of a
    problem that it was agreed in his world to regard as
    non-existent. "Nice" women, however wronged, would
    never claim the kind of freedom he meant, and generous-
    minded men like himself were therefore--in the heat of
    argument--the more chivalrously ready to concede it
    to them. Such verbal generosities were in fact only a
    humbugging disguise of the inexorable conventions that
    tied things together and bound people down to the old
    pattern. But here he was pledged to defend, on the part
    of his betrothed's cousin, conduct that, on his own
    wife's part, would justify him in calling down on her
    all the thunders of Church and State. Of course the
    dilemma was purely hypothetical; since he wasn't a
    blackguard Polish nobleman, it was absurd to speculate
    what his wife's rights would be if he WERE. But Newland
    Archer was too imaginative not to feel that, in his case
    and May's, the tie might gall for reasons far less gross
    and palpable. What could he and she really know of
    each other, since it was his duty, as a "decent" fellow,
    to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a marriageable
    girl, to have no past to conceal? What if, for some
    one of the subtler reasons that would tell with both of
    them, they should tire of each other, misunderstand or
    irritate each other? He reviewed his friends' marriages--
    the supposedly happy ones--and saw none that
    answered, even remotely, to the passionate and tender
    comradeship which he pictured as his permanent relation
    with May Welland. He perceived that such a picture
    presupposed, on her part, the experience, the
    versatility, the freedom of judgment, which she had
    been carefully trained not to possess; and with a shiver
    of foreboding he saw his marriage becoming what most
    of the other marriages about him were: a dull association
    of material and social interests held together by
    ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.
    Lawrence Lefferts occurred to him as the husband who
    had most completely realised this enviable ideal. As
    became the high-priest of form, he had formed a wife
    so completely to his own convenience that, in the most
    conspicuous moments of his frequent love-affairs with
    other men's wives, she went about in smiling
    unconsciousness, saying that "Lawrence was so frightfully
    strict"; and had been known to blush indignantly, and
    avert her gaze, when some one alluded in her presence
    to the fact that Julius Beaufort (as became a "foreigner"
    of doubtful origin) had what was known in
    New York as "another establishment."

    Archer tried to console himself with the thought that
    he was not quite such an ass as Larry Lefferts, nor May
    such a simpleton as poor Gertrude; but the difference
    was after all one of intelligence and not of standards.
    In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world,
    where the real thing was never said or done or even
    thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary
    signs; as when Mrs. Welland, who knew exactly why
    Archer had pressed her to announce her daughter's
    engagement at the Beaufort ball (and had indeed
    expected him to do no less), yet felt obliged to simulate
    reluctance, and the air of having had her hand forced,
    quite as, in the books on Primitive Man that people of
    advanced culture were beginning to read, the savage
    bride is dragged with shrieks from her parents' tent.

    The result, of course, was that the young girl who
    was the centre of this elaborate system of mystification
    remained the more inscrutable for her very frankness
    and assurance. She was frank, poor darling, because
    she had nothing to conceal, assured because she knew
    of nothing to be on her guard against; and with no
    better preparation than this, she was to be plunged
    overnight into what people evasively called "the facts
    of life."

    The young man was sincerely but placidly in love.
    He delighted in the radiant good looks of his betrothed,
    in her health, her horsemanship, her grace and quickness
    at games, and the shy interest in books and ideas
    that she was beginning to develop under his guidance.
    (She had advanced far enough to join him in ridiculing
    the Idyls of the King, but not to feel the beauty of
    Ulysses and the Lotus Eaters.) She was straightforward,
    loyal and brave; she had a sense of humour (chiefly
    proved by her laughing at HIS jokes); and he suspected,
    in the depths of her innocently-gazing soul, a glow of
    feeling that it would be a joy to waken. But when he
    had gone the brief round of her he returned discouraged
    by the thought that all this frankness and innocence
    were only an artificial product. Untrained human
    nature was not frank and innocent; it was full of the
    twists and defences of an instinctive guile. And he felt
    himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity,
    so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers
    and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses,
    because it was supposed to be what he wanted, what
    he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his
    lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of
    snow.

    There was a certain triteness in these reflections: they
    were those habitual to young men on the approach of
    their wedding day. But they were generally accompanied
    by a sense of compunction and self-abasement of
    which Newland Archer felt no trace. He could not
    deplore (as Thackeray's heroes so often exasperated
    him by doing) that he had not a blank page to offer his
    bride in exchange for the unblemished one she was to
    give to him. He could not get away from the fact that if
    he had been brought up as she had they would have
    been no more fit to find their way about than the Babes
    in the Wood; nor could he, for all his anxious cogitations,
    see any honest reason (any, that is, unconnected
    with his own momentary pleasure, and the passion of
    masculine vanity) why his bride should not have been
    allowed the same freedom of experience as himself.

    Such questions, at such an hour, were bound to drift
    through his mind; but he was conscious that their
    uncomfortable persistence and precision were due to
    the inopportune arrival of the Countess Olenska. Here
    he was, at the very moment of his betrothal--a moment
    for pure thoughts and cloudless hopes--pitchforked
    into a coil of scandal which raised all the special problems
    he would have preferred to let lie. "Hang Ellen
    Olenska!" he grumbled, as he covered his fire and
    began to undress. He could not really see why her fate
    should have the least bearing on his; yet he dimly felt
    that he had only just begun to measure the risks of the
    championship which his engagement had forced upon
    him.

    A few days later the bolt fell.

    The Lovell Mingotts had sent out cards for what was
    known as "a formal dinner" (that is, three extra footmen,
    two dishes for each course, and a Roman punch
    in the middle), and had headed their invitations with
    the words "To meet the Countess Olenska," in accordance
    with the hospitable American fashion, which
    treats strangers as if they were royalties, or at least as
    their ambassadors.

    The guests had been selected with a boldness and
    discrimination in which the initiated recognised the
    firm hand of Catherine the Great. Associated with such
    immemorial standbys as the Selfridge Merrys, who were
    asked everywhere because they always had been, the
    Beauforts, on whom there was a claim of relationship,
    and Mr. Sillerton Jackson and his sister Sophy (who
    went wherever her brother told her to), were some of
    the most fashionable and yet most irreproachable of
    the dominant "young married" set; the Lawrence
    Leffertses, Mrs. Lefferts Rushworth (the lovely widow),
    the Harry Thorleys, the Reggie Chiverses and young
    Morris Dagonet and his wife (who was a van der
    Luyden). The company indeed was perfectly assorted,
    since all the members belonged to the little inner group
    of people who, during the long New York season,
    disported themselves together daily and nightly with
    apparently undiminished zest.

    Forty-eight hours later the unbelievable had
    happened; every one had refused the Mingotts' invitation
    except the Beauforts and old Mr. Jackson and his sister.
    The intended slight was emphasised by the fact that
    even the Reggie Chiverses, who were of the Mingott
    clan, were among those inflicting it; and by the
    uniform wording of the notes, in all of which the writers
    "regretted that they were unable to accept," without
    the mitigating plea of a "previous engagement" that
    ordinary courtesy prescribed.

    New York society was, in those days, far too small,
    and too scant in its resources, for every one in it
    (including livery-stable-keepers, butlers and cooks) not
    to know exactly on which evenings people were free;
    and it was thus possible for the recipients of Mrs.
    Lovell Mingott's invitations to make cruelly clear their
    determination not to meet the Countess Olenska.

    The blow was unexpected; but the Mingotts, as their
    way was, met it gallantly. Mrs. Lovell Mingott
    confided the case to Mrs. Welland, who confided it to
    Newland Archer; who, aflame at the outrage, appealed
    passionately and authoritatively to his mother; who,
    after a painful period of inward resistance and outward
    temporising, succumbed to his instances (as she always
    did), and immediately embracing his cause with an
    energy redoubled by her previous hesitations, put on
    her grey velvet bonnet and said: "I'll go and see Louisa
    van der Luyden."

    The New York of Newland Archer's day was a small
    and slippery pyramid, in which, as yet, hardly a fissure
    had been made or a foothold gained. At its base was a
    firm foundation of what Mrs. Archer called "plain
    people"; an honourable but obscure majority of
    respectable families who (as in the case of the Spicers or
    the Leffertses or the Jacksons) had been raised above
    their level by marriage with one of the ruling clans.
    People, Mrs. Archer always said, were not as particular
    as they used to be; and with old Catherine Spicer ruling
    one end of Fifth Avenue, and Julius Beaufort the other,
    you couldn't expect the old traditions to last much
    longer.

    Firmly narrowing upward from this wealthy but
    inconspicuous substratum was the compact and dominant
    group which the Mingotts, Newlands, Chiverses
    and Mansons so actively represented. Most people imagined
    them to be the very apex of the pyramid; but they
    themselves (at least those of Mrs. Archer's generation)
    were aware that, in the eyes of the professional genealogist,
    only a still smaller number of families could lay
    claim to that eminence.

    "Don't tell me," Mrs. Archer would say to her
    children, "all this modern newspaper rubbish about a New
    York aristocracy. If there is one, neither the Mingotts
    nor the Mansons belong to it; no, nor the Newlands or
    the Chiverses either. Our grandfathers and great-
    grandfathers were just respectable English or Dutch
    merchants, who came to the colonies to make their
    fortune, and stayed here because they did so well. One
    of your great-grandfathers signed the Declaration, and
    another was a general on Washington's staff, and
    received General Burgoyne's sword after the battle of
    Saratoga. These are things to be proud of, but they
    have nothing to do with rank or class. New York has
    always been a commercial community, and there are
    not more than three families in it who can claim an
    aristocratic origin in the real sense of the word."

    Mrs. Archer and her son and daughter, like every
    one else in New York, knew who these privileged beings
    were: the Dagonets of Washington Square, who came
    of an old English county family allied with the Pitts
    and Foxes; the Lannings, who had intermarried with
    the descendants of Count de Grasse, and the van der
    Luydens, direct descendants of the first Dutch governor
    of Manhattan, and related by pre-revolutionary
    marriages to several members of the French and British
    aristocracy.

    The Lannings survived only in the person of two
    very old but lively Miss Lannings, who lived cheerfully
    and reminiscently among family portraits and Chippendale;
    the Dagonets were a considerable clan, allied to
    the best names in Baltimore and Philadelphia; but the
    van der Luydens, who stood above all of them, had
    faded into a kind of super-terrestrial twilight, from
    which only two figures impressively emerged; those of
    Mr. and Mrs. Henry van der Luyden.

    Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had been Louisa Dagonet,
    and her mother had been the granddaughter of Colonel
    du Lac, of an old Channel Island family, who had
    fought under Cornwallis and had settled in Maryland,
    after the war, with his bride, Lady Angelica Trevenna,
    fifth daughter of the Earl of St. Austrey. The tie
    between the Dagonets, the du Lacs of Maryland, and
    their aristocratic Cornish kinsfolk, the Trevennas, had
    always remained close and cordial. Mr. and Mrs. van
    der Luyden had more than once paid long visits to the
    present head of the house of Trevenna, the Duke of St.
    Austrey, at his country-seat in Cornwall and at St.
    Austrey in Gloucestershire; and his Grace had frequently
    announced his intention of some day returning their
    visit (without the Duchess, who feared the Atlantic).

    Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden divided their time
    between Trevenna, their place in Maryland, and Skuytercliff,
    the great estate on the Hudson which had been one
    of the colonial grants of the Dutch government to the
    famous first Governor, and of which Mr. van der Luyden
    was still "Patroon." Their large solemn house in Madison
    Avenue was seldom opened, and when they came to town
    they received in it only their most intimate friends.

    "I wish you would go with me, Newland," his mother
    said, suddenly pausing at the door of the Brown
    coupe. "Louisa is fond of you; and of course it's on
    account of dear May that I'm taking this step--and
    also because, if we don't all stand together, there'll be
    no such thing as Society left."
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