The Age of Innocence HTML version

Chapter 16
When Archer walked down the sandy main street of St. Augustine to the house
which had been pointed out to him as Mr. Welland's, and saw May Welland
standing under a magnolia with the sun in her hair, he wondered why he had
waited so long to come.
Here was the truth, here was reality, here was the life that belonged to him; and
he, who fancied himself so scornful of arbitrary restraints, had been afraid to
break away from his desk because of what people might think of his stealing a
Her first exclamation was: "Newland--has anything happened?" and it occurred to
him that it would have been more "feminine" if she had instantly read in his eyes
why he had come. But when he answered: "Yes--I found I had to see you," her
happy blushes took the chill from her surprise, and he saw how easily he would
be forgiven, and how soon even Mr. Letterblair's mild disapproval would be
smiled away by a tolerant family.
Early as it was, the main street was no place for any but formal greetings, and
Archer longed to be alone with May, and to pour out all his tenderness and his
impatience. It still lacked an hour to the late Welland breakfast-time, and instead
of asking him to come in she proposed that they should walk out to an old
orange-garden beyond the town. She had just been for a row on the river, and
the sun that netted the little waves with gold seemed to have caught her in its
meshes. Across the warm brown of her cheek her blown hair glittered like silver
wire; and her eyes too looked lighter, almost pale in their youthful limpidity. As
she walked beside Archer with her long swinging gait her face wore the vacant
serenity of a young marble athlete.
To Archer's strained nerves the vision was as soothing as the sight of the blue
sky and the lazy river. They sat down on a bench under the orange-trees and he
put his arm about her and kissed her. It was like drinking at a cold spring with the
sun on it; but his pressure may have been more vehement than he had intended,
for the blood rose to her face and she drew back as if he had startled her.
"What is it?" he asked, smiling; and she looked at him with surprise, and
answered: "Nothing."
A slight embarrassment fell on them, and her hand slipped out of his. It was the
only time that he had kissed her on the lips except for their fugitive embrace in
the Beaufort conservatory, and he saw that she was disturbed, and shaken out of
her cool boyish composure.