The Age of Innocence
The next day he persuaded May to escape for a walk in the Park after luncheon.
As was the custom in old-fashioned Episcopalian New York, she usually
accompanied her parents to church on Sunday afternoons; but Mrs. Welland
condoned her truancy, having that very morning won her over to the necessity of
a long engagement, with time to prepare a hand-embroidered trousseau
containing the proper number of dozens.
The day was delectable. The bare vaulting of trees along the Mall was ceiled with
lapis lazuli, and arched above snow that shone like splintered crystals. It was the
weather to call out May's radiance, and she burned like a young maple in the
frost. Archer was proud of the glances turned on her, and the simple joy of
possessorship cleared away his underlying perplexities.
"It's so delicious--waking every morning to smell lilies-of-the-valley in one's
room!" she said.
"Yesterday they came late. I hadn't time in the morning--"
"But your remembering each day to send them makes me love them so much
more than if you'd given a standing order, and they came every morning on the
minute, like one's music-teacher--as I know Gertrude Lefferts's did, for instance,
when she and Lawrence were engaged."
"Ah--they would!" laughed Archer, amused at her keenness. He looked sideways
at her fruit-like cheek and felt rich and secure enough to add: "When I sent your
lilies yesterday afternoon I saw some rather gorgeous yellow roses and packed
them off to Madame Olenska. Was that right?"
"How dear of you! Anything of that kind delights her. It's odd she didn't mention it:
she lunched with us today, and spoke of Mr. Beaufort's having sent her wonderful
orchids, and cousin Henry van der Luyden a whole hamper of carnations from
Skuytercliff. She seems so surprised to receive flowers. Don't people send them
in Europe? She thinks it such a pretty custom."
"Oh, well, no wonder mine were overshadowed by Beaufort's," said Archer
irritably. Then he remembered that he had not put a card with the roses, and was
vexed at having spoken of them. He wanted to say: "I called on your cousin
yesterday," but hesitated. If Madame Olenska had not spoken of his visit it might
seem awkward that he should. Yet not to do so gave the affair an air of mystery
that he disliked. To shake off the question he began to talk of their own plans,
their future, and Mrs. Welland's insistence on a long engagement.