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The Age of Innocence

Chapter 8
It was generally agreed in New York that the Countess Olenska had "lost her
looks."
She had appeared there first, in Newland Archer's boyhood, as a brilliantly pretty
little girl of nine or ten, of whom people said that she "ought to be painted." Her
parents had been continental wanderers, and after a roaming babyhood she had
lost them both, and been taken in charge by her aunt, Medora Manson, also a
wanderer, who was herself returning to New York to "settle down."
Poor Medora, repeatedly widowed, was always coming home to settle down
(each time in a less expensive house), and bringing with her a new husband or
an adopted child; but after a few months she invariably parted from her husband
or quarrelled with her ward, and, having got rid of her house at a loss, set out
again on her wanderings. As her mother had been a Rushworth, and her last
unhappy marriage had linked her to one of the crazy Chiverses, New York looked
indulgently on her eccentricities; but when she returned with her little orphaned
niece, whose parents had been popular in spite of their regrettable taste for
travel, people thought it a pity that the pretty child should be in such hands.
Every one was disposed to be kind to little Ellen Mingott, though her dusky red
cheeks and tight curls gave her an air of gaiety that seemed unsuitable in a child
who should still have been in black for her parents. It was one of the misguided
Medora's many peculiarities to flout the unalterable rules that regulated American
mourning, and when she stepped from the steamer her family were scandalised
to see that the crape veil she wore for her own brother was seven inches shorter
than those of her sisters-in-law, while little Ellen was in crimson merino and
amber beads, like a gipsy foundling.
But New York had so long resigned itself to Medora that only a few old ladies
shook their heads over Ellen's gaudy clothes, while her other relations fell under
the charm of her high colour and high spirits. She was a fearless and familiar little
thing, who asked disconcerting questions, made precocious comments, and
possessed outlandish arts, such as dancing a Spanish shawl dance and singing
Neapolitan love-songs to a guitar. Under the direction of her aunt (whose real
name was Mrs. Thorley Chivers, but who, having received a Papal title, had
resumed her first husband's patronymic, and called herself the Marchioness
Manson, because in Italy she could turn it into Manzoni) the little girl received an
expensive but incoherent education, which included "drawing from the model," a
thing never dreamed of before, and playing the piano in quintets with
professional musicians.
 
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