The Age of Innocence HTML version
Old-fashioned New York dined at seven, and the habit of after-dinner calls,
though derided in Archer's set, still generally prevailed. As the young man
strolled up Fifth Avenue from Waverley Place, the long thoroughfare was
deserted but for a group of carriages standing before the Reggie Chiverses'
(where there was a dinner for the Duke), and the occasional figure of an elderly
gentleman in heavy overcoat and muffler ascending a brownstone doorstep and
disappearing into a gas-lit hall. Thus, as Archer crossed Washington Square, he
remarked that old Mr. du Lac was calling on his cousins the Dagonets, and
turning down the corner of West Tenth Street he saw Mr. Skipworth, of his own
firm, obviously bound on a visit to the Miss Lannings. A little farther up Fifth
Avenue, Beaufort appeared on his doorstep, darkly projected against a blaze of
light, descended to his private brougham, and rolled away to a mysterious and
probably unmentionable destination. It was not an Opera night, and no one was
giving a party, so that Beaufort's outing was undoubtedly of a clandestine nature.
Archer connected it in his mind with a little house beyond Lexington Avenue in
which beribboned window curtains and flower-boxes had recently appeared, and
before whose newly painted door the canary-coloured brougham of Miss Fanny
Ring was frequently seen to wait.
Beyond the small and slippery pyramid which composed Mrs. Archer's world lay
the almost unmapped quarter inhabited by artists, musicians and "people who
wrote." These scattered fragments of humanity had never shown any desire to be
amalgamated with the social structure. In spite of odd ways they were said to be,
for the most part, quite respectable; but they preferred to keep to themselves.
Medora Manson, in her prosperous days, had inaugurated a "literary salon"; but it
had soon died out owing to the reluctance of the literary to frequent it.
Others had made the same attempt, and there was a household of Blenkers--an
intense and voluble mother, and three blowsy daughters who imitated her--where
one met Edwin Booth and Patti and William Winter, and the new Shakespearian
actor George Rignold, and some of the magazine editors and musical and literary
Mrs. Archer and her group felt a certain timidity concerning these persons. They
were odd, they were uncertain, they had things one didn't know about in the
background of their lives and minds. Literature and art were deeply respected in
the Archer set, and Mrs. Archer was always at pains to tell her children how
much more agreeable and cultivated society had been when it included such
figures as Washington Irving, Fitz-Greene Halleck and the poet of "The Culprit
Fay." The most celebrated authors of that generation had been "gentlemen";
perhaps the unknown persons who succeeded them had gentlemanly