The Age of Innocence
Newland Archer sat at the writing-table in his library in East Thirty-ninth Street.
He had just got back from a big official reception for the inauguration of the new
galleries at the Metropolitan Museum, and the spectacle of those great spaces
crowded with the spoils of the ages, where the throng of fashion circulated
through a series of scientifically catalogued treasures, had suddenly pressed on
a rusted spring of memory.
"Why, this used to be one of the old Cesnola rooms," he heard some one say;
and instantly everything about him vanished, and he was sitting alone on a hard
leather divan against a radiator, while a slight figure in a long sealskin cloak
moved away down the meagrely- fitted vista of the old Museum.
The vision had roused a host of other associations, and he sat looking with new
eyes at the library which, for over thirty years, had been the scene of his solitary
musings and of all the family confabulations.
It was the room in which most of the real things of his life had happened. There
his wife, nearly twenty-six years ago, had broken to him, with a blushing
circumlocution that would have caused the young women of the new generation
to smile, the news that she was to have a child; and there their eldest boy,
Dallas, too delicate to be taken to church in midwinter, had been christened by
their old friend the Bishop of New York, the ample magnificent irreplaceable
Bishop, so long the pride and ornament of his diocese. There Dallas had first
staggered across the floor shouting "Dad," while May and the nurse laughed
behind the door; there their second child, Mary (who was so like her mother), had
announced her engagement to the dullest and most reliable of Reggie Chivers's
many sons; and there Archer had kissed her through her wedding veil before
they went down to the motor which was to carry them to Grace Church--for in a
world where all else had reeled on its foundations the "Grace Church wedding"
remained an unchanged institution.
It was in the library that he and May had always discussed the future of the
children: the studies of Dallas and his young brother Bill, Mary's incurable
indifference to "accomplishments," and passion for sport and philanthropy, and
the vague leanings toward "art" which had finally landed the restless and curious
Dallas in the office of a rising New York architect.
The young men nowadays were emancipating themselves from the law and
business and taking up all sorts of new things. If they were not absorbed in state
politics or municipal reform, the chances were that they were going in for Central
American archaeology, for architecture or landscape-engineering; taking a keen
and learned interest in the prerevolutionary buildings of their own country,