The Age of Innocence
Some two weeks later, Newland Archer, sitting in abstracted idleness in his
private compartment of the office of Letterblair, Lamson and Low, attorneys at
law, was summoned by the head of the firm.
Old Mr. Letterblair, the accredited legal adviser of three generations of New York
gentility, throned behind his mahogany desk in evident perplexity. As he stroked
his closeclipped white whiskers and ran his hand through the rumpled grey locks
above his jutting brows, his disrespectful junior partner thought how much he
looked like the Family Physician annoyed with a patient whose symptoms refuse
to be classified.
"My dear sir--" he always addressed Archer as "sir"--"I have sent for you to go
into a little matter; a matter which, for the moment, I prefer not to mention either
to Mr. Skipworth or Mr. Redwood." The gentlemen he spoke of were the other
senior partners of the firm; for, as was always the case with legal associations of
old standing in New York, all the partners named on the office letter-head were
long since dead; and Mr. Letterblair, for example, was, professionally speaking,
his own grandson.
He leaned back in his chair with a furrowed brow. "For family reasons--" he
Archer looked up.
"The Mingott family," said Mr. Letterblair with an explanatory smile and bow.
"Mrs. Manson Mingott sent for me yesterday. Her grand-daughter the Countess
Olenska wishes to sue her husband for divorce. Certain papers have been
placed in my hands." He paused and drummed on his desk. "In view of your
prospective alliance with the family I should like to consult you--to consider the
case with you--before taking any farther steps."
Archer felt the blood in his temples. He had seen the Countess Olenska only
once since his visit to her, and then at the Opera, in the Mingott box. During this
interval she had become a less vivid and importunate image, receding from his
foreground as May Welland resumed her rightful place in it. He had not heard her
divorce spoken of since Janey's first random allusion to it, and had dismissed the
tale as unfounded gossip. Theoretically, the idea of divorce was almost as
distasteful to him as to his mother; and he was annoyed that Mr. Letterblair (no
doubt prompted by old Catherine Mingott) should be so evidently planning to
draw him into the affair. After all, there were plenty of Mingott men for such jobs,
and as yet he was not even a Mingott by marriage.