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The Age of Innocence

Chapter 2
Newland Archer, during this brief episode, had been thrown into a strange state
of embarrassment.
It was annoying that the box which was thus attracting the undivided attention of
masculine New York should be that in which his betrothed was seated between
her mother and aunt; and for a moment he could not identify the lady in the
Empire dress, nor imagine why her presence created such excitement among the
initiated. Then light dawned on him, and with it came a momentary rush of
indignation. No, indeed; no one would have thought the Mingotts would have
tried it on!
But they had; they undoubtedly had; for the low- toned comments behind him left
no doubt in Archer's mind that the young woman was May Welland's cousin, the
cousin always referred to in the family as "poor Ellen Olenska." Archer knew that
she had suddenly arrived from Europe a day or two previously; he had even
heard from Miss Welland (not disapprovingly) that she had been to see poor
Ellen, who was staying with old Mrs. Mingott. Archer entirely approved of family
solidarity, and one of the qualities he most admired in the Mingotts was their
resolute championship of the few black sheep that their blameless stock had
produced. There was nothing mean or ungenerous in the young man's heart, and
he was glad that his future wife should not be restrained by false prudery from
being kind (in private) to her unhappy cousin; but to receive Countess Olenska in
the family circle was a different thing from producing her in public, at the Opera of
all places, and in the very box with the young girl whose engagement to him,
Newland Archer, was to be announced within a few weeks. No, he felt as old
Sillerton Jackson felt; he did not think the Mingotts would have tried it on!
He knew, of course, that whatever man dared (within Fifth Avenue's limits) that
old Mrs. Manson Mingott, the Matriarch of the line, would dare. He had always
admired the high and mighty old lady, who, in spite of having been only
Catherine Spicer of Staten Island, with a father mysteriously discredited, and
neither money nor position enough to make people forget it, had allied herself
with the head of the wealthy Mingott line, married two of her daughters to
"foreigners" (an Italian marquis and an English banker), and put the crowning
touch to her audacities by building a large house of pale cream-coloured stone
(when brown sandstone seemed as much the only wear as a frock-coat in the
afternoon) in an inaccessible wilderness near the Central Park.
Old Mrs. Mingott's foreign daughters had become a legend. They never came
back to see their mother, and the latter being, like many persons of active mind
and dominating will, sedentary and corpulent in her habit, had philosophically
remained at home. But the cream- coloured house (supposed to be modelled on