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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 9
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    IX.

    The Countess Olenska had said "after five"; and at
    half after the hour Newland Archer rang the bell
    of the peeling stucco house with a giant wisteria throttling
    its feeble cast-iron balcony, which she had hired,
    far down West Twenty-third Street, from the vagabond
    Medora.

    It was certainly a strange quarter to have settled in.
    Small dress-makers, bird-stuffers and "people who
    wrote" were her nearest neighbours; and further down
    the dishevelled street Archer recognised a dilapidated
    wooden house, at the end of a paved path, in which a
    writer and journalist called Winsett, whom he used to
    come across now and then, had mentioned that he
    lived. Winsett did not invite people to his house; but he
    had once pointed it out to Archer in the course of a
    nocturnal stroll, and the latter had asked himself, with
    a little shiver, if the humanities were so meanly housed
    in other capitals.

    Madame Olenska's own dwelling was redeemed from
    the same appearance only by a little more paint about
    the window-frames; and as Archer mustered its modest
    front he said to himself that the Polish Count must
    have robbed her of her fortune as well as of her illusions.

    The young man had spent an unsatisfactory day. He
    had lunched with the Wellands, hoping afterward to
    carry off May for a walk in the Park. He wanted to
    have her to himself, to tell her how enchanting she had
    looked the night before, and how proud he was of her,
    and to press her to hasten their marriage. But Mrs.
    Welland had firmly reminded him that the round of
    family visits was not half over, and, when he hinted at
    advancing the date of the wedding, had raised reproachful
    eye-brows and sighed out: "Twelve dozen of
    everything--hand-embroidered--"

    Packed in the family landau they rolled from one
    tribal doorstep to another, and Archer, when the afternoon's
    round was over, parted from his betrothed with
    the feeling that he had been shown off like a wild
    animal cunningly trapped. He supposed that his readings
    in anthropology caused him to take such a coarse
    view of what was after all a simple and natural
    demonstration of family feeling; but when he remembered
    that the Wellands did not expect the wedding to take
    place till the following autumn, and pictured what his
    life would be till then, a dampness fell upon his spirit.

    "Tomorrow," Mrs. Welland called after him, "we'll
    do the Chiverses and the Dallases"; and he perceived
    that she was going through their two families alphabetically,
    and that they were only in the first quarter of the
    alphabet.

    He had meant to tell May of the Countess Olenska's
    request--her command, rather--that he should call on
    her that afternoon; but in the brief moments when they
    were alone he had had more pressing things to say.
    Besides, it struck him as a little absurd to allude to the
    matter. He knew that May most particularly wanted
    him to be kind to her cousin; was it not that wish
    which had hastened the announcement of their engagement?
    It gave him an odd sensation to reflect that, but
    for the Countess's arrival, he might have been, if not
    still a free man, at least a man less irrevocably pledged.
    But May had willed it so, and he felt himself somehow
    relieved of further responsibility--and therefore at liberty,
    if he chose, to call on her cousin without telling
    her.

    As he stood on Madame Olenska's threshold curiosity
    was his uppermost feeling. He was puzzled by the
    tone in which she had summoned him; he concluded
    that she was less simple than she seemed.

    The door was opened by a swarthy foreign-looking
    maid, with a prominent bosom under a gay neckerchief,
    whom he vaguely fancied to be Sicilian. She
    welcomed him with all her white teeth, and answering
    his enquiries by a head-shake of incomprehension led
    him through the narrow hall into a low firelit drawing-
    room. The room was empty, and she left him, for an
    appreciable time, to wonder whether she had gone to
    find her mistress, or whether she had not understood
    what he was there for, and thought it might be to wind
    the clock--of which he perceived that the only visible
    specimen had stopped. He knew that the southern races
    communicated with each other in the language of
    pantomime, and was mortified to find her shrugs and
    smiles so unintelligible. At length she returned with a
    lamp; and Archer, having meanwhile put together a
    phrase out of Dante and Petrarch, evoked the answer:
    "La signora e fuori; ma verra subito"; which he took
    to mean: "She's out--but you'll soon see."

    What he saw, meanwhile, with the help of the lamp,
    was the faded shadowy charm of a room unlike any
    room he had known. He knew that the Countess Olenska
    had brought some of her possessions with her--bits of
    wreckage, she called them--and these, he supposed,
    were represented by some small slender tables of dark
    wood, a delicate little Greek bronze on the chimney-
    piece, and a stretch of red damask nailed on the
    discoloured wallpaper behind a couple of Italian-looking
    pictures in old frames.

    Newland Archer prided himself on his knowledge of
    Italian art. His boyhood had been saturated with
    Ruskin, and he had read all the latest books: John Addington
    Symonds, Vernon Lee's "Euphorion," the essays of P.
    G. Hamerton, and a wonderful new volume called
    "The Renaissance" by Walter Pater. He talked easily of
    Botticelli, and spoke of Fra Angelico with a faint
    condescension. But these pictures bewildered him, for they
    were like nothing that he was accustomed to look at
    (and therefore able to see) when he travelled in Italy;
    and perhaps, also, his powers of observation were
    impaired by the oddness of finding himself in this strange
    empty house, where apparently no one expected him.
    He was sorry that he had not told May Welland of
    Countess Olenska's request, and a little disturbed by
    the thought that his betrothed might come in to see her
    cousin. What would she think if she found him sitting
    there with the air of intimacy implied by waiting alone
    in the dusk at a lady's fireside?

    But since he had come he meant to wait; and he sank
    into a chair and stretched his feet to the logs.

    It was odd to have summoned him in that way, and
    then forgotten him; but Archer felt more curious than
    mortified. The atmosphere of the room was so different
    from any he had ever breathed that self-consciousness
    vanished in the sense of adventure. He had been before
    in drawing-rooms hung with red damask, with pictures
    "of the Italian school"; what struck him was the way
    in which Medora Manson's shabby hired house, with
    its blighted background of pampas grass and Rogers
    statuettes, had, by a turn of the hand, and the skilful
    use of a few properties, been transformed into something
    intimate, "foreign," subtly suggestive of old
    romantic scenes and sentiments. He tried to analyse the
    trick, to find a clue to it in the way the chairs and
    tables were grouped, in the fact that only two Jacqueminot
    roses (of which nobody ever bought less than a
    dozen) had been placed in the slender vase at his elbow,
    and in the vague pervading perfume that was not
    what one put on handkerchiefs, but rather like the
    scent of some far-off bazaar, a smell made up of Turkish
    coffee and ambergris and dried roses.

    His mind wandered away to the question of what
    May's drawing-room would look like. He knew that
    Mr. Welland, who was behaving "very handsomely,"
    already had his eye on a newly built house in East
    Thirty-ninth Street. The neighbourhood was thought
    remote, and the house was built in a ghastly greenish-
    yellow stone that the younger architects were beginning
    to employ as a protest against the brownstone of which
    the uniform hue coated New York like a cold chocolate
    sauce; but the plumbing was perfect. Archer would
    have liked to travel, to put off the housing question;
    but, though the Wellands approved of an extended
    European honeymoon (perhaps even a winter in Egypt),
    they were firm as to the need of a house for the
    returning couple. The young man felt that his fate was
    sealed: for the rest of his life he would go up every
    evening between the cast-iron railings of that greenish-
    yellow doorstep, and pass through a Pompeian vestibule
    into a hall with a wainscoting of varnished yellow
    wood. But beyond that his imagination could not travel.
    He knew the drawing-room above had a bay window,
    but he could not fancy how May would deal with it.
    She submitted cheerfully to the purple satin and yellow
    tuftings of the Welland drawing-room, to its sham Buhl
    tables and gilt vitrines full of modern Saxe. He saw no
    reason to suppose that she would want anything different
    in her own house; and his only comfort was to
    reflect that she would probably let him arrange his
    library as he pleased--which would be, of course, with
    "sincere" Eastlake furniture, and the plain new bookcases
    without glass doors.

    The round-bosomed maid came in, drew the
    curtains, pushed back a log, and said consolingly:
    "Verra--verra." When she had gone Archer stood up
    and began to wander about. Should he wait any longer?
    His position was becoming rather foolish. Perhaps he
    had misunderstood Madame Olenska--perhaps she had
    not invited him after all.

    Down the cobblestones of the quiet street came the
    ring of a stepper's hoofs; they stopped before the house,
    and he caught the opening of a carriage door. Parting
    the curtains he looked out into the early dusk. A street-
    lamp faced him, and in its light he saw Julius Beaufort's
    compact English brougham, drawn by a big roan,
    and the banker descending from it, and helping out
    Madame Olenska.

    Beaufort stood, hat in hand, saying something which
    his companion seemed to negative; then they shook
    hands, and he jumped into his carriage while she
    mounted the steps.

    When she entered the room she showed no surprise
    at seeing Archer there; surprise seemed the emotion
    that she was least addicted to.

    "How do you like my funny house?" she asked. "To
    me it's like heaven."

    As she spoke she untied her little velvet bonnet and
    tossing it away with her long cloak stood looking at
    him with meditative eyes.

    "You've arranged it delightfully," he rejoined, alive
    to the flatness of the words, but imprisoned in the
    conventional by his consuming desire to be simple and
    striking.

    "Oh, it's a poor little place. My relations despise it.
    But at any rate it's less gloomy than the van der
    Luydens'."

    The words gave him an electric shock, for few were
    the rebellious spirits who would have dared to call the
    stately home of the van der Luydens gloomy. Those
    privileged to enter it shivered there, and spoke of it as
    "handsome." But suddenly he was glad that she had
    given voice to the general shiver.

    "It's delicious--what you've done here," he repeated.

    "I like the little house," she admitted; "but I suppose
    what I like is the blessedness of its being here, in my
    own country and my own town; and then, of being
    alone in it." She spoke so low that he hardly heard the
    last phrase; but in his awkwardness he took it up.

    "You like so much to be alone?"

    "Yes; as long as my friends keep me from feeling
    lonely." She sat down near the fire, said: "Nastasia will
    bring the tea presently," and signed to him to return to
    his armchair, adding: "I see you've already chosen your
    corner."

    Leaning back, she folded her arms behind her head,
    and looked at the fire under drooping lids.

    "This is the hour I like best--don't you?"

    A proper sense of his dignity caused him to answer:
    "I was afraid you'd forgotten the hour. Beaufort must
    have been very engrossing."

    She looked amused. "Why--have you waited long?
    Mr. Beaufort took me to see a number of houses--
    since it seems I'm not to be allowed to stay in this
    one." She appeared to dismiss both Beaufort and himself
    from her mind, and went on: "I've never been in a
    city where there seems to be such a feeling against
    living in des quartiers excentriques. What does it
    matter where one lives? I'm told this street is respectable."

    "It's not fashionable."

    "Fashionable! Do you all think so much of that?
    Why not make one's own fashions? But I suppose I've
    lived too independently; at any rate, I want to do what
    you all do--I want to feel cared for and safe."

    He was touched, as he had been the evening before
    when she spoke of her need of guidance.

    "That's what your friends want you to feel. New
    York's an awfully safe place," he added with a flash of
    sarcasm.

    "Yes, isn't it? One feels that," she cried, missing the
    mockery. "Being here is like--like--being taken on a
    holiday when one has been a good little girl and done
    all one's lessons."

    The analogy was well meant, but did not altogether
    please him. He did not mind being flippant about New
    York, but disliked to hear any one else take the same
    tone. He wondered if she did not begin to see what a
    powerful engine it was, and how nearly it had crushed
    her. The Lovell Mingotts' dinner, patched up in extremis
    out of all sorts of social odds and ends, ought to have
    taught her the narrowness of her escape; but either she
    had been all along unaware of having skirted disaster,
    or else she had lost sight of it in the triumph of the van
    der Luyden evening. Archer inclined to the former theory;
    he fancied that her New York was still completely
    undifferentiated, and the conjecture nettled him.

    "Last night," he said, "New York laid itself out for
    you. The van der Luydens do nothing by halves."

    "No: how kind they are! It was such a nice party.
    Every one seems to have such an esteem for them."

    The terms were hardly adequate; she might have
    spoken in that way of a tea-party at the dear old Miss
    Lannings'.

    "The van der Luydens," said Archer, feeling himself
    pompous as he spoke, "are the most powerful influence
    in New York society. Unfortunately--owing to her
    health--they receive very seldom."

    She unclasped her hands from behind her head, and
    looked at him meditatively.

    "Isn't that perhaps the reason?"

    "The reason--?"

    "For their great influence; that they make themselves
    so rare."

    He coloured a little, stared at her--and suddenly felt
    the penetration of the remark. At a stroke she had
    pricked the van der Luydens and they collapsed. He
    laughed, and sacrificed them.

    Nastasia brought the tea, with handleless Japanese
    cups and little covered dishes, placing the tray on a low
    table.

    "But you'll explain these things to me--you'll tell me
    all I ought to know," Madame Olenska continued,
    leaning forward to hand him his cup.

    "It's you who are telling me; opening my eyes to
    things I'd looked at so long that I'd ceased to see
    them."

    She detached a small gold cigarette-case from one of
    her bracelets, held it out to him, and took a cigarette
    herself. On the chimney were long spills for lighting
    them.

    "Ah, then we can both help each other. But I want
    help so much more. You must tell me just what to do."

    It was on the tip of his tongue to reply: "Don't be
    seen driving about the streets with Beaufort--" but he
    was being too deeply drawn into the atmosphere of the
    room, which was her atmosphere, and to give advice of
    that sort would have been like telling some one who
    was bargaining for attar-of-roses in Samarkand that one
    should always be provided with arctics for a New York
    winter. New York seemed much farther off than
    Samarkand, and if they were indeed to help each other
    she was rendering what might prove the first of their
    mutual services by making him look at his native city
    objectively. Viewed thus, as through the wrong end of
    a telescope, it looked disconcertingly small and distant;
    but then from Samarkand it would.

    A flame darted from the logs and she bent over the
    fire, stretching her thin hands so close to it that a faint
    halo shone about the oval nails. The light touched to
    russet the rings of dark hair escaping from her braids,
    and made her pale face paler.

    "There are plenty of people to tell you what to do,"
    Archer rejoined, obscurely envious of them.

    "Oh--all my aunts? And my dear old Granny?" She
    considered the idea impartially. "They're all a little
    vexed with me for setting up for myself--poor Granny
    especially. She wanted to keep me with her; but I had
    to be free--" He was impressed by this light way of
    speaking of the formidable Catherine, and moved by
    the thought of what must have given Madame Olenska
    this thirst for even the loneliest kind of freedom. But
    the idea of Beaufort gnawed him.

    "I think I understand how you feel," he said. "Still,
    your family can advise you; explain differences; show
    you the way."

    She lifted her thin black eyebrows. "Is New York
    such a labyrinth? I thought it so straight up and down--
    like Fifth Avenue. And with all the cross streets
    numbered!" She seemed to guess his faint disapproval of
    this, and added, with the rare smile that enchanted her
    whole face: "If you knew how I like it for just THAT--
    the straight-up-and-downness, and the big honest labels on everything!"

    He saw his chance. "Everything may be labelled--
    but everybody is not."

    "Perhaps. I may simplify too much--but you'll warn
    me if I do." She turned from the fire to look at him.
    "There are only two people here who make me feel as
    if they understood what I mean and could explain
    things to me: you and Mr. Beaufort."

    Archer winced at the joining of the names, and then,
    with a quick readjustment, understood, sympathised
    and pitied. So close to the powers of evil she must have
    lived that she still breathed more freely in their air. But
    since she felt that he understood her also, his business
    would be to make her see Beaufort as he really was,
    with all he represented--and abhor it.

    He answered gently: "I understand. But just at first
    don't let go of your old friends' hands: I mean the
    older women, your Granny Mingott, Mrs. Welland,
    Mrs. van der Luyden. They like and admire you--they
    want to help you."

    She shook her head and sighed. "Oh, I know--I
    know! But on condition that they don't hear anything
    unpleasant. Aunt Welland put it in those very words
    when I tried. . . . Does no one want to know the truth
    here, Mr. Archer? The real loneliness is living among
    all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!"
    She lifted her hands to her face, and he saw her thin
    shoulders shaken by a sob.

    "Madame Olenska!--Oh, don't, Ellen," he cried, starting
    up and bending over her. He drew down one of her
    hands, clasping and chafing it like a child's while he
    murmured reassuring words; but in a moment she freed
    herself, and looked up at him with wet lashes.

    "Does no one cry here, either? I suppose there's no
    need to, in heaven," she said, straightening her loosened
    braids with a laugh, and bending over the tea-
    kettle. It was burnt into his consciousness that he had
    called her "Ellen"--called her so twice; and that she
    had not noticed it. Far down the inverted telescope he
    saw the faint white figure of May Welland--in New
    York.

    Suddenly Nastasia put her head in to say something
    in her rich Italian.

    Madame Olenska, again with a hand at her hair,
    uttered an exclamation of assent--a flashing "Gia--
    gia"--and the Duke of St. Austrey entered, piloting
    a tremendous blackwigged and red-plumed lady in overflowing furs.

    "My dear Countess, I've brought an old friend of
    mine to see you--Mrs. Struthers. She wasn't asked to
    the party last night, and she wants to know you."

    The Duke beamed on the group, and Madame Olenska
    advanced with a murmur of welcome toward the queer
    couple. She seemed to have no idea how oddly matched
    they were, nor what a liberty the Duke had taken in
    bringing his companion--and to do him justice, as
    Archer perceived, the Duke seemed as unaware of it
    himself.

    "Of course I want to know you, my dear," cried
    Mrs. Struthers in a round rolling voice that matched
    her bold feathers and her brazen wig. "I want to know
    everybody who's young and interesting and charming.
    And the Duke tells me you like music--didn't you,
    Duke? You're a pianist yourself, I believe? Well, do
    you want to hear Sarasate play tomorrow evening at
    my house? You know I've something going on every
    Sunday evening--it's the day when New York doesn't
    know what to do with itself, and so I say to it: 'Come
    and be amused.' And the Duke thought you'd be tempted
    by Sarasate. You'll find a number of your friends."

    Madame Olenska's face grew brilliant with pleasure.
    "How kind! How good of the Duke to think of me!"
    She pushed a chair up to the tea-table and Mrs. Struthers
    sank into it delectably. "Of course I shall be too
    happy to come."

    "That's all right, my dear. And bring your young
    gentleman with you." Mrs. Struthers extended a hail-
    fellow hand to Archer. "I can't put a name to you--but
    I'm sure I've met you--I've met everybody, here, or in
    Paris or London. Aren't you in diplomacy? All the
    diplomatists come to me. You like music too? Duke,
    you must be sure to bring him."

    The Duke said "Rather" from the depths of his
    beard, and Archer withdrew with a stiffly circular bow
    that made him feel as full of spine as a self-conscious
    school-boy among careless and unnoticing elders.

    He was not sorry for the denouement of his visit:
    he only wished it had come sooner, and spared him a
    certain waste of emotion. As he went out into the
    wintry night, New York again became vast and imminent,
    and May Welland the loveliest woman in it. He
    turned into his florist's to send her the daily box of
    lilies-of-the-valley which, to his confusion, he found he
    had forgotten that morning.

    As he wrote a word on his card and waited for an
    envelope he glanced about the embowered shop, and
    his eye lit on a cluster of yellow roses. He had never
    seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse
    was to send them to May instead of the lilies. But they
    did not look like her--there was something too rich,
    too strong, in their fiery beauty. In a sudden revulsion
    of mood, and almost without knowing what he did, he
    signed to the florist to lay the roses in another long
    box, and slipped his card into a second envelope, on
    which he wrote the name of the Countess Olenska;
    then, just as he was turning away, he drew the card out
    again, and left the empty envelope on the box.

    "They'll go at once?" he enquired, pointing to the
    roses.

    The florist assured him that they would.
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    Chapter 9
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