The Age of Innocence
That evening when Archer came down before dinner he found the drawing-room
He and May were dining alone, all the family engagements having been
postponed since Mrs. Manson Mingott's illness; and as May was the more
punctual of the two he was surprised that she had not preceded him. He knew
that she was at home, for while he dressed he had heard her moving about in her
room; and he wondered what had delayed her.
He had fallen into the way of dwelling on such conjectures as a means of tying
his thoughts fast to reality. Sometimes he felt as if he had found the clue to his
father-in-law's absorption in trifles; perhaps even Mr. Welland, long ago, had had
escapes and visions, and had conjured up all the hosts of domesticity to defend
himself against them.
When May appeared he thought she looked tired. She had put on the low-necked
and tightly-laced dinner- dress which the Mingott ceremonial exacted on the most
informal occasions, and had built her fair hair into its usual accumulated coils;
and her face, in contrast, was wan and almost faded. But she shone on him with
her usual tenderness, and her eyes had kept the blue dazzle of the day before.
"What became of you, dear?" she asked. "I was waiting at Granny's, and Ellen
came alone, and said she had dropped you on the way because you had to rush
off on business. There's nothing wrong?"
"Only some letters I'd forgotten, and wanted to get off before dinner."
"Ah--" she said; and a moment afterward: "I'm sorry you didn't come to Granny's--
unless the letters were urgent."
"They were," he rejoined, surprised at her insistence. "Besides, I don't see why I
should have gone to your grandmother's. I didn't know you were there."
She turned and moved to the looking-glass above the mantel-piece. As she
stood there, lifting her long arm to fasten a puff that had slipped from its place in
her intricate hair, Archer was struck by something languid and inelastic in her
attitude, and wondered if the deadly monotony of their lives had laid its weight on
her also. Then he remembered that, as he had left the house that morning, she
had called over the stairs that she would meet him at her grandmother's so that
they might drive home together. He had called back a cheery "Yes!" and then,
absorbed in other visions, had forgotten his promise. Now he was smitten with
compunction, yet irritated that so trifling an omission should be stored up against
him after nearly two years of marriage. He was weary of living in a perpetual