The Age of Innocence HTML version
Mrs. Henry van der Luyden listened in silence to her cousin Mrs. Archer's
It was all very well to tell yourself in advance that Mrs. van der Luyden was
always silent, and that, though non-committal by nature and training, she was
very kind to the people she really liked. Even personal experience of these facts
was not always a protection from the chill that descended on one in the high-
ceilinged white-walled Madison Avenue drawing-room, with the pale brocaded
armchairs so obviously uncovered for the occasion, and the gauze still veiling the
ormolu mantel ornaments and the beautiful old carved frame of Gainsborough's
"Lady Angelica du Lac."
Mrs. van der Luyden's portrait by Huntington (in black velvet and Venetian point)
faced that of her lovely ancestress. It was generally considered "as fine as a
Cabanel," and, though twenty years had elapsed since its execution, was still "a
perfect likeness." Indeed the Mrs. van der Luyden who sat beneath it listening to
Mrs. Archer might have been the twin-sister of the fair and still youngish woman
drooping against a gilt armchair before a green rep curtain. Mrs. van der Luyden
still wore black velvet and Venetian point when she went into society--or rather
(since she never dined out) when she threw open her own doors to receive it.
Her fair hair, which had faded without turning grey, was still parted in flat
overlapping points on her forehead, and the straight nose that divided her pale
blue eyes was only a little more pinched about the nostrils than when the portrait
had been painted. She always, indeed, struck Newland Archer as having been
rather gruesomely preserved in the airless atmosphere of a perfectly
irreproachable existence, as bodies caught in glaciers keep for years a rosy life-
Like all his family, he esteemed and admired Mrs. van der Luyden; but he found
her gentle bending sweetness less approachable than the grimness of some of
his mother's old aunts, fierce spinsters who said "No" on principle before they
knew what they were going to be asked.
Mrs. van der Luyden's attitude said neither yes nor no, but always appeared to
incline to clemency till her thin lips, wavering into the shadow of a smile, made
the almost invariable reply: "I shall first have to talk this over with my husband."
She and Mr. van der Luyden were so exactly alike that Archer often wondered
how, after forty years of the closest conjugality, two such merged identities ever
separated themselves enough for anything as controversial as a talking-over. But
as neither had ever reached a decision without prefacing it by this mysterious
conclave, Mrs. Archer and her son, having set forth their case, waited resignedly
for the familiar phrase.