The Age of Innocence
The Countess Olenska had said "after five"; and at half after the hour Newland
Archer rang the bell of the peeling stucco house with a giant wisteria throttling its
feeble cast-iron balcony, which she had hired, far down West Twenty-third Street,
from the vagabond Medora.
It was certainly a strange quarter to have settled in. Small dress-makers, bird-
stuffers and "people who wrote" were her nearest neighbours; and further down
the dishevelled street Archer recognised a dilapidated wooden house, at the end
of a paved path, in which a writer and journalist called Winsett, whom he used to
come across now and then, had mentioned that he lived. Winsett did not invite
people to his house; but he had once pointed it out to Archer in the course of a
nocturnal stroll, and the latter had asked himself, with a little shiver, if the
humanities were so meanly housed in other capitals.
Madame Olenska's own dwelling was redeemed from the same appearance only
by a little more paint about the window-frames; and as Archer mustered its
modest front he said to himself that the Polish Count must have robbed her of
her fortune as well as of her illusions.
The young man had spent an unsatisfactory day. He had lunched with the
Wellands, hoping afterward to carry off May for a walk in the Park. He wanted to
have her to himself, to tell her how enchanting she had looked the night before,
and how proud he was of her, and to press her to hasten their marriage. But Mrs.
Welland had firmly reminded him that the round of family visits was not half over,
and, when he hinted at advancing the date of the wedding, had raised
reproachful eye-brows and sighed out: "Twelve dozen of everything--hand-
Packed in the family landau they rolled from one tribal doorstep to another, and
Archer, when the afternoon's round was over, parted from his betrothed with the
feeling that he had been shown off like a wild animal cunningly trapped. He
supposed that his readings in anthropology caused him to take such a coarse
view of what was after all a simple and natural demonstration of family feeling;
but when he remembered that the Wellands did not expect the wedding to take
place till the following autumn, and pictured what his life would be till then, a
dampness fell upon his spirit.
"Tomorrow," Mrs. Welland called after him, "we'll do the Chiverses and the
Dallases"; and he perceived that she was going through their two families
alphabetically, and that they were only in the first quarter of the alphabet.