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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    VII.

    Mrs. Henry van der Luyden listened in silence to
    her cousin Mrs. Archer's narrative.

    It was all very well to tell yourself in advance that
    Mrs. van der Luyden was always silent, and that, though
    non-committal by nature and training, she was very
    kind to the people she really liked. Even personal
    experience of these facts was not always a protection from
    the chill that descended on one in the high-ceilinged
    white-walled Madison Avenue drawing-room, with the
    pale brocaded armchairs so obviously uncovered for
    the occasion, and the gauze still veiling the ormolu
    mantel ornaments and the beautiful old carved frame
    of Gainsborough's "Lady Angelica du Lac."

    Mrs. van der Luyden's portrait by Huntington (in
    black velvet and Venetian point) faced that of her
    lovely ancestress. It was generally considered "as fine
    as a Cabanel," and, though twenty years had elapsed
    since its execution, was still "a perfect likeness."
    Indeed the Mrs. van der Luyden who sat beneath it
    listening to Mrs. Archer might have been the twin-sister
    of the fair and still youngish woman drooping against a
    gilt armchair before a green rep curtain. Mrs. van der
    Luyden still wore black velvet and Venetian point when
    she went into society--or rather (since she never dined
    out) when she threw open her own doors to receive it.
    Her fair hair, which had faded without turning grey,
    was still parted in flat overlapping points on her forehead,
    and the straight nose that divided her pale blue
    eyes was only a little more pinched about the nostrils
    than when the portrait had been painted. She always,
    indeed, struck Newland Archer as having been rather
    gruesomely preserved in the airless atmosphere of a
    perfectly irreproachable existence, as bodies caught in
    glaciers keep for years a rosy life-in-death.

    Like all his family, he esteemed and admired Mrs.
    van der Luyden; but he found her gentle bending sweetness
    less approachable than the grimness of some of his
    mother's old aunts, fierce spinsters who said "No" on
    principle before they knew what they were going to be
    asked.

    Mrs. van der Luyden's attitude said neither yes nor
    no, but always appeared to incline to clemency till her
    thin lips, wavering into the shadow of a smile, made
    the almost invariable reply: "I shall first have to talk
    this over with my husband."

    She and Mr. van der Luyden were so exactly alike
    that Archer often wondered how, after forty years of
    the closest conjugality, two such merged identities ever
    separated themselves enough for anything as controversial
    as a talking-over. But as neither had ever reached a
    decision without prefacing it by this mysterious
    conclave, Mrs. Archer and her son, having set forth their
    case, waited resignedly for the familiar phrase.

    Mrs. van der Luyden, however, who had seldom
    surprised any one, now surprised them by reaching her
    long hand toward the bell-rope.

    "I think," she said, "I should like Henry to hear
    what you have told me."

    A footman appeared, to whom she gravely added:
    "If Mr. van der Luyden has finished reading the
    newspaper, please ask him to be kind enough to come."

    She said "reading the newspaper" in the tone in
    which a Minister's wife might have said: "Presiding at
    a Cabinet meeting"--not from any arrogance of mind,
    but because the habit of a life-time, and the attitude of
    her friends and relations, had led her to consider Mr.
    van der Luyden's least gesture as having an almost
    sacerdotal importance.

    Her promptness of action showed that she considered
    the case as pressing as Mrs. Archer; but, lest she
    should be thought to have committed herself in advance,
    she added, with the sweetest look: "Henry always
    enjoys seeing you, dear Adeline; and he will wish
    to congratulate Newland."

    The double doors had solemnly reopened and between
    them appeared Mr. Henry van der Luyden, tall,
    spare and frock-coated, with faded fair hair, a straight
    nose like his wife's and the same look of frozen gentleness
    in eyes that were merely pale grey instead of pale
    blue.

    Mr. van der Luyden greeted Mrs. Archer with cousinly
    affability, proffered to Newland low-voiced
    congratulations couched in the same language as his wife's,
    and seated himself in one of the brocade armchairs
    with the simplicity of a reigning sovereign.

    "I had just finished reading the Times," he said,
    laying his long finger-tips together. "In town my mornings
    are so much occupied that I find it more convenient
    to read the newspapers after luncheon."

    "Ah, there's a great deal to be said for that plan--
    indeed I think my uncle Egmont used to say he found it
    less agitating not to read the morning papers till after
    dinner," said Mrs. Archer responsively.

    "Yes: my good father abhorred hurry. But now we
    live in a constant rush," said Mr. van der Luyden in
    measured tones, looking with pleasant deliberation about
    the large shrouded room which to Archer was so complete
    an image of its owners.

    "But I hope you HAD finished your reading, Henry?"
    his wife interposed.

    "Quite--quite," he reassured her.

    "Then I should like Adeline to tell you--"

    "Oh, it's really Newland's story," said his mother
    smiling; and proceeded to rehearse once more the monstrous
    tale of the affront inflicted on Mrs. Lovell Mingott.

    "Of course," she ended, "Augusta Welland and Mary
    Mingott both felt that, especially in view of Newland's
    engagement, you and Henry OUGHT TO KNOW."

    "Ah--" said Mr. van der Luyden, drawing a deep
    breath.

    There was a silence during which the tick of the
    monumental ormolu clock on the white marble mantelpiece
    grew as loud as the boom of a minute-gun. Archer
    contemplated with awe the two slender faded figures,
    seated side by side in a kind of viceregal rigidity,
    mouthpieces of some remote ancestral authority which fate
    compelled them to wield, when they would so much
    rather have lived in simplicity and seclusion, digging
    invisible weeds out of the perfect lawns of Skuytercliff,
    and playing Patience together in the evenings.

    Mr. van der Luyden was the first to speak.

    "You really think this is due to some--some
    intentional interference of Lawrence Lefferts's?" he enquired,
    turning to Archer.

    "I'm certain of it, sir. Larry has been going it rather
    harder than usual lately--if cousin Louisa won't mind
    my mentioning it--having rather a stiff affair with the
    postmaster's wife in their village, or some one of that
    sort; and whenever poor Gertrude Lefferts begins to
    suspect anything, and he's afraid of trouble, he gets up
    a fuss of this kind, to show how awfully moral he is,
    and talks at the top of his voice about the impertinence
    of inviting his wife to meet people he doesn't wish her
    to know. He's simply using Madame Olenska as a
    lightning-rod; I've seen him try the same thing often
    before."

    "The LEFFERTSES!--" said Mrs. van der Luyden.

    "The LEFFERTSES!--" echoed Mrs. Archer. "What would
    uncle Egmont have said of Lawrence Lefferts's
    pronouncing on anybody's social position? It shows what
    Society has come to."

    "We'll hope it has not quite come to that," said Mr.
    van der Luyden firmly.

    "Ah, if only you and Louisa went out more!" sighed
    Mrs. Archer.

    But instantly she became aware of her mistake. The
    van der Luydens were morbidly sensitive to any criticism
    of their secluded existence. They were the arbiters
    of fashion, the Court of last Appeal, and they knew it,
    and bowed to their fate. But being shy and retiring
    persons, with no natural inclination for their part, they
    lived as much as possible in the sylvan solitude of
    Skuytercliff, and when they came to town, declined all
    invitations on the plea of Mrs. van der Luyden's health.

    Newland Archer came to his mother's rescue.
    "Everybody in New York knows what you and cousin
    Louisa represent. That's why Mrs. Mingott felt she
    ought not to allow this slight on Countess Olenska to
    pass without consulting you."

    Mrs. van der Luyden glanced at her husband, who
    glanced back at her.

    "It is the principle that I dislike," said Mr. van der
    Luyden. "As long as a member of a well-known family
    is backed up by that family it should be considered--
    final."

    "It seems so to me," said his wife, as if she were
    producing a new thought.

    "I had no idea," Mr. van der Luyden continued,
    "that things had come to such a pass." He paused, and
    looked at his wife again. "It occurs to me, my dear,
    that the Countess Olenska is already a sort of relation--
    through Medora Manson's first husband. At any rate,
    she will be when Newland marries." He turned toward
    the young man. "Have you read this morning's Times,
    Newland?"

    "Why, yes, sir," said Archer, who usually tossed off
    half a dozen papers with his morning coffee.

    Husband and wife looked at each other again. Their
    pale eyes clung together in prolonged and serious
    consultation; then a faint smile fluttered over Mrs. van der
    Luyden's face. She had evidently guessed and approved.

    Mr. van der Luyden turned to Mrs. Archer. "If Louisa's
    health allowed her to dine out--I wish you would
    say to Mrs. Lovell Mingott--she and I would have
    been happy to--er--fill the places of the Lawrence
    Leffertses at her dinner." He paused to let the irony of
    this sink in. "As you know, this is impossible." Mrs.
    Archer sounded a sympathetic assent. "But Newland
    tells me he has read this morning's Times; therefore he
    has probably seen that Louisa's relative, the Duke of
    St. Austrey, arrives next week on the Russia. He is
    coming to enter his new sloop, the Guinevere, in next
    summer's International Cup Race; and also to have a
    little canvasback shooting at Trevenna." Mr. van der
    Luyden paused again, and continued with increasing
    benevolence: "Before taking him down to Maryland
    we are inviting a few friends to meet him here--only a
    little dinner--with a reception afterward. I am sure
    Louisa will be as glad as I am if Countess Olenska will
    let us include her among our guests." He got up, bent
    his long body with a stiff friendliness toward his cousin,
    and added: "I think I have Louisa's authority for saying
    that she will herself leave the invitation to dine
    when she drives out presently: with our cards--of course
    with our cards."

    Mrs. Archer, who knew this to be a hint that the
    seventeen-hand chestnuts which were never kept waiting
    were at the door, rose with a hurried murmur of
    thanks. Mrs. van der Luyden beamed on her with the
    smile of Esther interceding with Ahasuerus; but her
    husband raised a protesting hand.

    "There is nothing to thank me for, dear Adeline;
    nothing whatever. This kind of thing must not happen
    in New York; it shall not, as long as I can help it," he
    pronounced with sovereign gentleness as he steered his
    cousins to the door.

    Two hours later, every one knew that the great
    C-spring barouche in which Mrs. van der Luyden
    took the air at all seasons had been seen at old
    Mrs. Mingott's door, where a large square envelope
    was handed in; and that evening at the Opera Mr.
    Sillerton Jackson was able to state that the envelope
    contained a card inviting the Countess Olenska
    to the dinner which the van der Luydens were giving
    the following week for their cousin, the Duke
    of St. Austrey.

    Some of the younger men in the club box exchanged
    a smile at this announcement, and glanced sideways at
    Lawrence Lefferts, who sat carelessly in the front of the
    box, pulling his long fair moustache, and who remarked
    with authority, as the soprano paused: "No one but
    Patti ought to attempt the Sonnambula."
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