The Age of Innocence HTML version

Chapter 33
It was, as Mrs. Archer smilingly said to Mrs. Welland, a great event for a young
couple to give their first big dinner.
The Newland Archers, since they had set up their household, had received a
good deal of company in an informal way. Archer was fond of having three or
four friends to dine, and May welcomed them with the beaming readiness of
which her mother had set her the example in conjugal affairs. Her husband
questioned whether, if left to herself, she would ever have asked any one to the
house; but he had long given up trying to disengage her real self from the shape
into which tradition and training had moulded her. It was expected that well-off
young couples in New York should do a good deal of informal entertaining, and a
Welland married to an Archer was doubly pledged to the tradition.
But a big dinner, with a hired chef and two borrowed footmen, with Roman
punch, roses from Henderson's, and menus on gilt-edged cards, was a different
affair, and not to be lightly undertaken. As Mrs. Archer remarked, the Roman
punch made all the difference; not in itself but by its manifold implications--since
it signified either canvas-backs or terrapin, two soups, a hot and a cold sweet, full
decolletage with short sleeves, and guests of a proportionate importance.
It was always an interesting occasion when a young pair launched their first
invitations in the third person, and their summons was seldom refused even by
the seasoned and sought-after. Still, it was admittedly a triumph that the van der
Luydens, at May's request, should have stayed over in order to be present at her
farewell dinner for the Countess Olenska.
The two mothers-in-law sat in May's drawing-room on the afternoon of the great
day, Mrs. Archer writing out the menus on Tiffany's thickest gilt-edged bristol,
while Mrs. Welland superintended the placing of the palms and standard lamps.
Archer, arriving late from his office, found them still there. Mrs. Archer had turned
her attention to the name-cards for the table, and Mrs. Welland was considering
the effect of bringing forward the large gilt sofa, so that another "corner" might be
created between the piano and the window.
May, they told him, was in the dining-room inspecting the mound of Jacqueminot
roses and maidenhair in the centre of the long table, and the placing of the
Maillard bonbons in openwork silver baskets between the candelabra. On the
piano stood a large basket of orchids which Mr. van der Luyden had had sent
from Skuytercliff. Everything was, in short, as it should be on the approach of so
considerable an event.