“The Leffertses!—” said Mrs. van der Luyden.
“The Leffertses!—” echoed Mrs. Archer. “What would uncle Egmont have said of Lawrence Lefferts’s pronouncing on anybody’s social position? It shows what Society has come to.”
“We’ll hope it has not quite come to that,” said Mr. van der Luyden firmly.
“Ah, if only you and Louisa went out more!” sighed Mrs. Archer.
But instantly she became aware of her mistake. The van der Luydens were morbidly sensitive to any criticism of their secluded existence. They were the arbiters of fashion, the Court of last Appeal, and they knew it, and bowed to their fate. But being shy and retiring persons, with no natural inclination for their part, they lived as much as possible in the sylvan solitude of Skuytercliff, and when they came to town, declined all invitations on the plea of Mrs. van der Luyden’s health.
Newland Archer came to his mother’s rescue. “Everybody in New York knows what you and cousin Louisa represent. That’s why Mrs. Mingott felt she ought not to allow this slight on Countess Olenska to pass without consulting you.”
Mrs. van der Luyden glanced at her husband, who glanced back at her.
“It is the principle that I dislike,” said Mr. van der Luyden. “As long as a member of a well-known family is backed up by that family it should be considered— final.”
“It seems so to me,” said his wife, as if she were producing a new thought.
“I had no idea,” Mr. van der Luyden continued, “that things had come to such a pass.” He paused, and looked at his wife again. “It occurs to me, my dear, that the Countess Olenska is already a sort of relation— through Medora Manson’s first husband. At any rate, she will be when Newland marries.” He turned toward the young man. “Have you read this morning’s Times, Newland?”
“Why, yes, sir,” said Archer, who usually tossed off half a dozen papers with his morning coffee.
Husband and wife looked at each other again. Their pale eyes clung together in prolonged and serious consultation; then a faint smile fluttered over Mrs. van der Luyden’s face. She had evidently guessed and approved.
Mr. van der Luyden turned to Mrs. Archer. “If Louisa’s health allowed her to dine out—I wish you would say to Mrs. Lovell Mingott—she and I would have been happy to—er—fill the places of the Lawrence Leffertses at her dinner.” He paused to let the irony of this sink in. “As you know, this is impossible.” Mrs. Archer sounded a sympathetic assent. “But Newland tells me he has read this morning’s Times; therefore he has probably seen that Louisa’s relative, the Duke of St. Austrey, arrives next week on the Russia. He is coming to enter his new sloop, the Guinevere, in next summer’s International Cup Race; and also to have a little canvasback shooting at Trevenna.” Mr. van der Luyden paused again, and continued with increasing benevolence: