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    Chapter 26

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    Chapter 26
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    XXVI.

    Every year on the fifteenth of October Fifth Avenue
    opened its shutters, unrolled its carpets and hung
    up its triple layer of window-curtains.

    By the first of November this household ritual was
    over, and society had begun to look about and take
    stock of itself. By the fifteenth the season was in full
    blast, Opera and theatres were putting forth their new
    attractions, dinner-engagements were accumulating, and
    dates for dances being fixed. And punctually at about
    this time Mrs. Archer always said that New York was
    very much changed.

    Observing it from the lofty stand-point of a non-
    participant, she was able, with the help of Mr. Sillerton
    Jackson and Miss Sophy, to trace each new crack in its
    surface, and all the strange weeds pushing up between
    the ordered rows of social vegetables. It had been one
    of the amusements of Archer's youth to wait for this
    annual pronouncement of his mother's, and to hear her
    enumerate the minute signs of disintegration that his
    careless gaze had overlooked. For New York, to Mrs.
    Archer's mind, never changed without changing for the
    worse; and in this view Miss Sophy Jackson heartily
    concurred.

    Mr. Sillerton Jackson, as became a man of the world,
    suspended his judgment and listened with an amused
    impartiality to the lamentations of the ladies. But even
    he never denied that New York had changed; and
    Newland Archer, in the winter of the second year of his
    marriage, was himself obliged to admit that if it had
    not actually changed it was certainly changing.

    These points had been raised, as usual, at Mrs.
    Archer's Thanksgiving dinner. At the date when she was
    officially enjoined to give thanks for the blessings of
    the year it was her habit to take a mournful though not
    embittered stock of her world, and wonder what there
    was to be thankful for. At any rate, not the state of
    society; society, if it could be said to exist, was rather a
    spectacle on which to call down Biblical imprecations--
    and in fact, every one knew what the Reverend Dr.
    Ashmore meant when he chose a text from Jeremiah
    (chap. ii., verse 25) for his Thanksgiving sermon.
    Dr. Ashmore, the new Rector of St. Matthew's, had
    been chosen because he was very "advanced": his
    sermons were considered bold in thought and novel in
    language. When he fulminated against fashionable society
    he always spoke of its "trend"; and to Mrs. Archer
    it was terrifying and yet fascinating to feel herself part
    of a community that was trending.

    "There's no doubt that Dr. Ashmore is right: there IS
    a marked trend," she said, as if it were something
    visible and measurable, like a crack in a house.

    "It was odd, though, to preach about it on Thanksgiving,"
    Miss Jackson opined; and her hostess drily
    rejoined: "Oh, he means us to give thanks for what's
    left."

    Archer had been wont to smile at these annual
    vaticinations of his mother's; but this year even he was
    obliged to acknowledge, as he listened to an enumeration
    of the changes, that the "trend" was visible.

    "The extravagance in dress--" Miss Jackson began.
    "Sillerton took me to the first night of the Opera, and I
    can only tell you that Jane Merry's dress was the only
    one I recognised from last year; and even that had had
    the front panel changed. Yet I know she got it out from
    Worth only two years ago, because my seamstress always
    goes in to make over her Paris dresses before she
    wears them."

    "Ah, Jane Merry is one of US," said Mrs. Archer
    sighing, as if it were not such an enviable thing to be in
    an age when ladies were beginning to flaunt abroad
    their Paris dresses as soon as they were out of the
    Custom House, instead of letting them mellow under
    lock and key, in the manner of Mrs. Archer's contemporaries.

    "Yes; she's one of the few. In my youth," Miss
    Jackson rejoined, "it was considered vulgar to dress in
    the newest fashions; and Amy Sillerton has always told
    me that in Boston the rule was to put away one's Paris
    dresses for two years. Old Mrs. Baxter Pennilow, who
    did everything handsomely, used to import twelve a
    year, two velvet, two satin, two silk, and the other six
    of poplin and the finest cashmere. It was a standing
    order, and as she was ill for two years before she died
    they found forty-eight Worth dresses that had never
    been taken out of tissue paper; and when the girls left
    off their mourning they were able to wear the first lot
    at the Symphony concerts without looking in advance
    of the fashion."

    "Ah, well, Boston is more conservative than New
    York; but I always think it's a safe rule for a lady to
    lay aside her French dresses for one season," Mrs.
    Archer conceded.

    "It was Beaufort who started the new fashion by
    making his wife clap her new clothes on her back as
    soon as they arrived: I must say at times it takes all
    Regina's distinction not to look like . . . like . . ." Miss
    Jackson glanced around the table, caught Janey's bulging
    gaze, and took refuge in an unintelligible murmur.

    "Like her rivals," said Mr. Sillerton Jackson, with
    the air of producing an epigram.

    "Oh,--" the ladies murmured; and Mrs. Archer added,
    partly to distract her daughter's attention from forbidden
    topics: "Poor Regina! Her Thanksgiving hasn't
    been a very cheerful one, I'm afraid. Have you heard
    the rumours about Beaufort's speculations, Sillerton?"

    Mr. Jackson nodded carelessly. Every one had heard
    the rumours in question, and he scorned to confirm a
    tale that was already common property.

    A gloomy silence fell upon the party. No one really
    liked Beaufort, and it was not wholly unpleasant to
    think the worst of his private life; but the idea of his
    having brought financial dishonour on his wife's family
    was too shocking to be enjoyed even by his enemies.
    Archer's New York tolerated hypocrisy in private relations;
    but in business matters it exacted a limpid and
    impeccable honesty. It was a long time since any well-
    known banker had failed discreditably; but every one
    remembered the social extinction visited on the heads
    of the firm when the last event of the kind had
    happened. It would be the same with the Beauforts, in spite
    of his power and her popularity; not all the leagued
    strength of the Dallas connection would save poor
    Regina if there were any truth in the reports of her
    husband's unlawful speculations.

    The talk took refuge in less ominous topics; but
    everything they touched on seemed to confirm Mrs.
    Archer's sense of an accelerated trend.

    "Of course, Newland, I know you let dear May go
    to Mrs. Struthers's Sunday evenings--" she began; and
    May interposed gaily: "Oh, you know, everybody goes
    to Mrs. Struthers's now; and she was invited to Granny's
    last reception."

    It was thus, Archer reflected, that New York
    managed its transitions: conspiring to ignore them till they
    were well over, and then, in all good faith, imagining
    that they had taken place in a preceding age. There was
    always a traitor in the citadel; and after he (or generally
    she) had surrendered the keys, what was the use of
    pretending that it was impregnable? Once people had
    tasted of Mrs. Struthers's easy Sunday hospitality they
    were not likely to sit at home remembering that her
    champagne was transmuted Shoe-Polish.

    "I know, dear, I know," Mrs. Archer sighed. "Such
    things have to be, I suppose, as long as AMUSEMENT is
    what people go out for; but I've never quite forgiven
    your cousin Madame Olenska for being the first person
    to countenance Mrs. Struthers."

    A sudden blush rose to young Mrs. Archer's face; it
    surprised her husband as much as the other guests
    about the table. "Oh, ELLEN--" she murmured, much in
    the same accusing and yet deprecating tone in which
    her parents might have said: "Oh, THE BLENKERS--."

    It was the note which the family had taken to sounding
    on the mention of the Countess Olenska's name,
    since she had surprised and inconvenienced them by
    remaining obdurate to her husband's advances; but on
    May's lips it gave food for thought, and Archer looked
    at her with the sense of strangeness that sometimes
    came over him when she was most in the tone of her
    environment.

    His mother, with less than her usual sensitiveness to
    atmosphere, still insisted: "I've always thought that
    people like the Countess Olenska, who have lived in
    aristocratic societies, ought to help us to keep up our
    social distinctions, instead of ignoring them."

    May's blush remained permanently vivid: it seemed
    to have a significance beyond that implied by the
    recognition of Madame Olenska's social bad faith.

    "I've no doubt we all seem alike to foreigners," said
    Miss Jackson tartly.

    "I don't think Ellen cares for society; but nobody
    knows exactly what she does care for," May continued,
    as if she had been groping for something noncommittal.

    "Ah, well--" Mrs. Archer sighed again.

    Everybody knew that the Countess Olenska was no
    longer in the good graces of her family. Even her
    devoted champion, old Mrs. Manson Mingott, had been
    unable to defend her refusal to return to her husband.
    The Mingotts had not proclaimed their disapproval
    aloud: their sense of solidarity was too strong. They
    had simply, as Mrs. Welland said, "let poor Ellen find
    her own level"--and that, mortifyingly and
    incomprehensibly, was in the dim depths where the Blenkers
    prevailed, and "people who wrote" celebrated their
    untidy rites. It was incredible, but it was a fact, that
    Ellen, in spite of all her opportunities and her privileges,
    had become simply "Bohemian." The fact enforced
    the contention that she had made a fatal mistake
    in not returning to Count Olenski. After all, a young
    woman's place was under her husband's roof, especially
    when she had left it in circumstances that . . .
    well . . . if one had cared to look into them . . .

    "Madame Olenska is a great favourite with the
    gentlemen," said Miss Sophy, with her air of wishing to
    put forth something conciliatory when she knew that
    she was planting a dart.

    "Ah, that's the danger that a young woman like
    Madame Olenska is always exposed to," Mrs. Archer
    mournfully agreed; and the ladies, on this conclusion,
    gathered up their trains to seek the carcel globes of the
    drawing-room, while Archer and Mr. Sillerton Jackson
    withdrew to the Gothic library.

    Once established before the grate, and consoling
    himself for the inadequacy of the dinner by the perfection
    of his cigar, Mr. Jackson became portentous and
    communicable.

    "If the Beaufort smash comes," he announced, "there
    are going to be disclosures."

    Archer raised his head quickly: he could never hear
    the name without the sharp vision of Beaufort's heavy
    figure, opulently furred and shod, advancing through
    the snow at Skuytercliff.

    "There's bound to be," Mr. Jackson continued, "the
    nastiest kind of a cleaning up. He hasn't spent all his
    money on Regina."

    "Oh, well--that's discounted, isn't it? My belief is
    he'll pull out yet," said the young man, wanting to
    change the subject.

    "Perhaps--perhaps. I know he was to see some of
    the influential people today. Of course," Mr. Jackson
    reluctantly conceded, "it's to be hoped they can tide
    him over--this time anyhow. I shouldn't like to think
    of poor Regina's spending the rest of her life in some
    shabby foreign watering-place for bankrupts."

    Archer said nothing. It seemed to him so natural--
    however tragic--that money ill-gotten should be cruelly
    expiated, that his mind, hardly lingering over Mrs.
    Beaufort's doom, wandered back to closer questions.
    What was the meaning of May's blush when the Countess
    Olenska had been mentioned?

    Four months had passed since the midsummer day
    that he and Madame Olenska had spent together; and
    since then he had not seen her. He knew that she had
    returned to Washington, to the little house which she
    and Medora Manson had taken there: he had written
    to her once--a few words, asking when they were to
    meet again--and she had even more briefly replied:
    "Not yet."

    Since then there had been no farther communication
    between them, and he had built up within himself a
    kind of sanctuary in which she throned among his
    secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became
    the scene of his real life, of his only rational activities;
    thither he brought the books he read, the ideas and
    feelings which nourished him, his judgments and his
    visions. Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he
    moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency,
    blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional
    points of view as an absent-minded man goes
    on bumping into the furniture of his own room.
    Absent--that was what he was: so absent from everything
    most densely real and near to those about him
    that it sometimes startled him to find they still
    imagined he was there.

    He became aware that Mr. Jackson was clearing his
    throat preparatory to farther revelations.

    "I don't know, of course, how far your wife's family
    are aware of what people say about--well, about Madame
    Olenska's refusal to accept her husband's latest
    offer."

    Archer was silent, and Mr. Jackson obliquely continued:
    "It's a pity--it's certainly a pity--that she refused
    it."

    "A pity? In God's name, why?"

    Mr. Jackson looked down his leg to the unwrinkled
    sock that joined it to a glossy pump.

    "Well--to put it on the lowest ground--what's she
    going to live on now?"

    "Now--?"

    "If Beaufort--"

    Archer sprang up, his fist banging down on the black
    walnut-edge of the writing-table. The wells of the brass
    double-inkstand danced in their sockets.

    "What the devil do you mean, sir?"

    Mr. Jackson, shifting himself slightly in his chair,
    turned a tranquil gaze on the young man's burning
    face.

    "Well--I have it on pretty good authority--in fact,
    on old Catherine's herself--that the family reduced
    Countess Olenska's allowance considerably when she
    definitely refused to go back to her husband; and as, by
    this refusal, she also forfeits the money settled on her
    when she married--which Olenski was ready to make
    over to her if she returned--why, what the devil do YOU
    mean, my dear boy, by asking me what I mean?" Mr.
    Jackson good-humouredly retorted.

    Archer moved toward the mantelpiece and bent over
    to knock his ashes into the grate.

    "I don't know anything of Madame Olenska's private
    affairs; but I don't need to, to be certain that what
    you insinuate--"

    "Oh, I don't: it's Lefferts, for one," Mr. Jackson
    interposed.

    "Lefferts--who made love to her and got snubbed
    for it!" Archer broke out contemptuously.

    "Ah--DID he?" snapped the other, as if this were
    exactly the fact he had been laying a trap for. He still
    sat sideways from the fire, so that his hard old gaze
    held Archer's face as if in a spring of steel.

    "Well, well: it's a pity she didn't go back before
    Beaufort's cropper," he repeated. "If she goes NOW, and
    if he fails, it will only confirm the general impression:
    which isn't by any means peculiar to Lefferts, by the
    way.

    "Oh, she won't go back now: less than ever!" Archer
    had no sooner said it than he had once more the feeling
    that it was exactly what Mr. Jackson had been waiting
    for.

    The old gentleman considered him attentively. "That's
    your opinion, eh? Well, no doubt you know. But everybody
    will tell you that the few pennies Medora Manson
    has left are all in Beaufort's hands; and how the
    two women are to keep their heads above water unless
    he does, I can't imagine. Of course, Madame Olenska
    may still soften old Catherine, who's been the most
    inexorably opposed to her staying; and old Catherine
    could make her any allowance she chooses. But we all
    know that she hates parting with good money; and the
    rest of the family have no particular interest in keeping
    Madame Olenska here."

    Archer was burning with unavailing wrath: he was
    exactly in the state when a man is sure to do something
    stupid, knowing all the while that he is doing it.

    He saw that Mr. Jackson had been instantly struck
    by the fact that Madame Olenska's differences with her
    grandmother and her other relations were not known
    to him, and that the old gentleman had drawn his own
    conclusions as to the reasons for Archer's exclusion
    from the family councils. This fact warned Archer to
    go warily; but the insinuations about Beaufort made
    him reckless. He was mindful, however, if not of his
    own danger, at least of the fact that Mr. Jackson was
    under his mother's roof, and consequently his guest.
    Old New York scrupulously observed the etiquette of
    hospitality, and no discussion with a guest was ever
    allowed to degenerate into a disagreement.

    "Shall we go up and join my mother?" he suggested
    curtly, as Mr. Jackson's last cone of ashes dropped into
    the brass ashtray at his elbow.

    On the drive homeward May remained oddly silent;
    through the darkness, he still felt her enveloped in her
    menacing blush. What its menace meant he could not
    guess: but he was sufficiently warned by the fact that
    Madame Olenska's name had evoked it.

    They went upstairs, and he turned into the library.
    She usually followed him; but he heard her passing
    down the passage to her bedroom.

    "May!" he called out impatiently; and she came
    back, with a slight glance of surprise at his tone.

    "This lamp is smoking again; I should think the
    servants might see that it's kept properly trimmed," he
    grumbled nervously.

    "I'm so sorry: it shan't happen again," she answered,
    in the firm bright tone she had learned from her mother;
    and it exasperated Archer to feel that she was already
    beginning to humour him like a younger Mr. Welland.
    She bent over to lower the wick, and as the light struck
    up on her white shoulders and the clear curves of her
    face he thought: "How young she is! For what endless
    years this life will have to go on!"

    He felt, with a kind of horror, his own strong youth
    and the bounding blood in his veins. "Look here," he
    said suddenly, "I may have to go to Washington for a
    few days--soon; next week perhaps."

    Her hand remained on the key of the lamp as she
    turned to him slowly. The heat from its flame had
    brought back a glow to her face, but it paled as she
    looked up.

    "On business?" she asked, in a tone which implied
    that there could be no other conceivable reason, and
    that she had put the question automatically, as if merely
    to finish his own sentence.

    "On business, naturally. There's a patent case coming
    up before the Supreme Court--" He gave the name
    of the inventor, and went on furnishing details with all
    Lawrence Lefferts's practised glibness, while she listened
    attentively, saying at intervals: "Yes, I see."

    "The change will do you good," she said simply,
    when he had finished; "and you must be sure to go and
    see Ellen," she added, looking him straight in the eyes
    with her cloudless smile, and speaking in the tone she
    might have employed in urging him not to neglect some
    irksome family duty.

    It was the only word that passed between them on
    the subject; but in the code in which they had both
    been trained it meant: "Of course you understand that
    I know all that people have been saying about Ellen,
    and heartily sympathise with my family in their effort
    to get her to return to her husband. I also know that,
    for some reason you have not chosen to tell me, you
    have advised her against this course, which all the older
    men of the family, as well as our grandmother, agree in
    approving; and that it is owing to your encouragement
    that Ellen defies us all, and exposes herself to the kind
    of criticism of which Mr. Sillerton Jackson probably
    gave you, this evening, the hint that has made you so
    irritable. . . . Hints have indeed not been wanting; but
    since you appear unwilling to take them from others, I
    offer you this one myself, in the only form in which
    well-bred people of our kind can communicate
    unpleasant things to each other: by letting you understand
    that I know you mean to see Ellen when you are in
    Washington, and are perhaps going there expressly for
    that purpose; and that, since you are sure to see her, I
    wish you to do so with my full and explicit approval--
    and to take the opportunity of letting her know what
    the course of conduct you have encouraged her in is
    likely to lead to."

    Her hand was still on the key of the lamp when the
    last word of this mute message reached him. She turned
    the wick down, lifted off the globe, and breathed on
    the sulky flame.

    "They smell less if one blows them out," she explained,
    with her bright housekeeping air. On the threshold
    she turned and paused for his kiss.
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