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The Age of Innocence

Chapter 3
It invariably happened in the same way.
Mrs. Julius Beaufort, on the night of her annual ball, never failed to appear at the
Opera; indeed, she always gave her ball on an Opera night in order to
emphasise her complete superiority to household cares, and her possession of a
staff of servants competent to organise every detail of the entertainment in her
absence.
The Beauforts' house was one of the few in New York that possessed a ball-
room (it antedated even Mrs. Manson Mingott's and the Headly Chiverses'); and
at a time when it was beginning to be thought "provincial" to put a "crash" over
the drawing-room floor and move the furniture upstairs, the possession of a ball-
room that was used for no other purpose, and left for three-hundred-and-sixty-
four days of the year to shuttered darkness, with its gilt chairs stacked in a corner
and its chandelier in a bag; this undoubted superiority was felt to compensate for
whatever was regrettable in the Beaufort past.
Mrs. Archer, who was fond of coining her social philosophy into axioms, had
once said: "We all have our pet common people--" and though the phrase was a
daring one, its truth was secretly admitted in many an exclusive bosom. But the
Beauforts were not exactly common; some people said they were even worse.
Mrs. Beaufort belonged indeed to one of America's most honoured families; she
had been the lovely Regina Dallas (of the South Carolina branch), a penniless
beauty introduced to New York society by her cousin, the imprudent Medora
Manson, who was always doing the wrong thing from the right motive. When one
was related to the Mansons and the Rushworths one had a "droit de cite" (as Mr.
Sillerton Jackson, who had frequented the Tuileries, called it) in New York
society; but did one not forfeit it in marrying Julius Beaufort?
The question was: who was Beaufort? He passed for an Englishman, was
agreeable, handsome, ill-tempered, hospitable and witty. He had come to
America with letters of recommendation from old Mrs. Manson Mingott's English
son-in-law, the banker, and had speedily made himself an important position in
the world of affairs; but his habits were dissipated, his tongue was bitter, his
antecedents were mysterious; and when Medora Manson announced her
cousin's engagement to him it was felt to be one more act of folly in poor
Medora's long record of imprudences.
But folly is as often justified of her children as wisdom, and two years after young
Mrs. Beaufort's marriage it was admitted that she had the most distinguished
house in New York. No one knew exactly how the miracle was accomplished.
She was indolent, passive, the caustic even called her dull; but dressed like an
 
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