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|Book I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 1 of 6||
Your cousin the Countess called on mother while you were away," Janey Archer announced to her brother on the evening of his return.
The young man, who was dining alone with his mother and sister, glanced up in surprise and saw Mrs. Archer's gaze demurely bent on her plate. Mrs. Archer did not regard her seclusion from the world as a reason for being forgotten by it; and Newland guessed that she was slightly annoyed that he should be surprised by Madame Olenska's visit.
"She had on a black velvet polonaise with jet buttons, and a tiny green monkey muff; I never saw her so stylishly dressed," Janey continued. "She came alone, early on Sunday afternoon; luckily the fire was lit in the drawing-room. She had one of those new card-cases. She said she wanted to know us because you'd been so good to her."
Newland laughed. "Madame Olenska always takes that tone about her friends. She's very happy at being among her own people again."
"Yes, so she told us," said Mrs. Archer. "I must say she seems thankful to be here."
"I hope you liked her, mother."
Mrs. Archer drew her lips together. "She certainly lays herself out to please, even when she is calling on an old lady."
"Mother doesn't think her simple," Janey interjected, her eyes screwed upon her brother's face.
"It's just my old-fashioned feeling; dear May is my ideal," said Mrs. Archer.
"Ah," said her son, "they're not alike."
Archer had left St. Augustine charged with many messages for old Mrs. Mingott; and a day or two after his return to town he called on her.
The old lady received him with unusual warmth; she was grateful to him for persuading the Countess Olenska to give up the idea of a divorce; and when he told her that he had deserted the office without leave, and rushed down to St. Augustine simply because he wanted to see May, she gave an adipose chuckle and patted his knee with her puff-ball hand.
"Ah, ah--so you kicked over the traces, did you? And I suppose Augusta and Welland pulled long faces, and behaved as if the end of the world had come? But little May--she knew better, I'll be bound?"
"I hoped she did; but after all she wouldn't agree to what I'd gone down to ask for."
"Wouldn't she indeed? And what was that?"
"I wanted to get her to promise that we should be married in April. What's the use of our wasting another year?"
Mrs. Manson Mingott screwed up her little mouth into a grimace of mimic prudery and twinkled at him through malicious lids. "`Ask Mamma,' I suppose-- the usual story. Ah, these Mingotts--all alike! Born in a rut, and you can't root 'em out of it. When I built this house you'd have thought I was moving to California! Nobody ever HAD built above Fortieth Street--no, says I, nor above the Battery either, before Christopher Columbus discovered America. No, no; not one of them wants to be different; they're as scared of it as the small-pox. Ah, my dear Mr. Archer, I thank my stars I'm nothing but a vulgar Spicer; but there's not one of my own children that takes after me but my little Ellen." She broke off, still twinkling at him, and asked, with the casual irrelevance of old age: "Now, why in the world didn't you marry my little Ellen?"
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