“Oh, family—family!” he jeered.
“Newland—don’t you care about Family?”
“Not a brass farthing.”
“Nor about what cousin Louisa van der Luyden will think?”
“Not the half of one—if she thinks such old maid’s rubbish.”
“Mother is not an old maid,” said his virgin sister with pinched lips.
He felt like shouting back: “Yes, she is, and so are the van der Luydens, and so we all are, when it comes to being so much as brushed by the wing-tip of Reality.” But he saw her long gentle face puckering into tears, and felt ashamed of the useless pain he was inflicting.
“Hang Countess Olenska! Don’t be a goose, Janey— I’m not her keeper.”
“No; but you did ask the Wellands to announce your engagement sooner so that we might all back her up; and if it hadn’t been for that cousin Louisa would never have invited her to the dinner for the Duke.”
“Well—what harm was there in inviting her? She was the best-looking woman in the room; she made the dinner a little less funereal than the usual van der Luyden banquet.”
“You know cousin Henry asked her to please you: he persuaded cousin Louisa. And now they’re so upset that they’re going back to Skuytercliff tomorrow. I think, Newland, you’d better come down. You don’t seem to understand how mother feels.”
In the drawing-room Newland found his mother. She raised a troubled brow from her needlework to ask: “Has Janey told you?”
“Yes.” He tried to keep his tone as measured as her own. “But I can’t take it very seriously.”
“Not the fact of having offended cousin Louisa and cousin Henry?”
“The fact that they can be offended by such a trifle as Countess Olenska’s going to the house of a woman they consider common.”
“Well, who is; but who has good music, and amuses people on Sunday evenings, when the whole of New York is dying of inanition.”
“Good music? All I know is, there was a woman who got up on a table and sang the things they sing at the places you go to in Paris. There was smoking and champagne.”
“Well—that kind of thing happens in other places, and the world still goes on.”
“I don’t suppose, dear, you’re really defending the French Sunday?”
“I’ve heard you often enough, mother, grumble at the English Sunday when we’ve been in London.”
“New York is neither Paris nor London.”
“Oh, no, it’s not!” her son groaned.
“You mean, I suppose, that society here is not as brilliant? You’re right, I daresay; but we belong here, and people should respect our ways when they come among us. Ellen Olenska especially: she came back to get away from the kind of life people lead in brilliant societies.”
Newland made no answer, and after a moment his mother ventured: “I was going to put on my bonnet and ask you to take me to see cousin Louisa for a moment before dinner.” He frowned, and she continued: “I thought you might explain to her what you’ve just said: that society abroad is different . . . that people are not as particular, and that Madame Olenska may not have realised how we feel about such things. It would be, you know, dear,” she added with an innocent adroitness, “in Madame Olenska’s interest if you did.”