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The Age of Innocence

Chapter 15
Newland Archer arrived at the Chiverses' on Friday evening, and on Saturday
went conscientiously through all the rites appertaining to a week-end at
Highbank.
In the morning he had a spin in the ice-boat with his hostess and a few of the
hardier guests; in the afternoon he "went over the farm" with Reggie, and
listened, in the elaborately appointed stables, to long and impressive
disquisitions on the horse; after tea he talked in a corner of the firelit hall with a
young lady who had professed herself broken-hearted when his engagement
was announced, but was now eager to tell him of her own matrimonial hopes;
and finally, about midnight, he assisted in putting a gold-fish in one visitor's bed,
dressed up a burglar in the bath-room of a nervous aunt, and saw in the small
hours by joining in a pillow-fight that ranged from the nurseries to the basement.
But on Sunday after luncheon he borrowed a cutter, and drove over to
Skuytercliff.
People had always been told that the house at Skuytercliff was an Italian villa.
Those who had never been to Italy believed it; so did some who had. The house
had been built by Mr. van der Luyden in his youth, on his return from the "grand
tour," and in anticipation of his approaching marriage with Miss Louisa Dagonet.
It was a large square wooden structure, with tongued and grooved walls painted
pale green and white, a Corinthian portico, and fluted pilasters between the
windows. From the high ground on which it stood a series of terraces bordered
by balustrades and urns descended in the steel-engraving style to a small
irregular lake with an asphalt edge overhung by rare weeping conifers. To the
right and left, the famous weedless lawns studded with "specimen" trees (each of
a different variety) rolled away to long ranges of grass crested with elaborate
cast-iron ornaments; and below, in a hollow, lay the four-roomed stone house
which the first Patroon had built on the land granted him in 1612.
Against the uniform sheet of snow and the greyish winter sky the Italian villa
loomed up rather grimly; even in summer it kept its distance, and the boldest
coleus bed had never ventured nearer than thirty feet from its awful front. Now,
as Archer rang the bell, the long tinkle seemed to echo through a mausoleum;
and the surprise of the butler who at length responded to the call was as great as
though he had been summoned from his final sleep.
Happily Archer was of the family, and therefore, irregular though his arrival was,
entitled to be informed that the Countess Olenska was out, having driven to
afternoon service with Mrs. van der Luyden exactly three quarters of an hour
earlier.
 
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