“Dearest mother, I really don’t see how we’re concerned in the matter. The Duke took Madame Olenska to Mrs. Struthers’s—in fact he brought Mrs. Struthers to call on her. I was there when they came. If the van der Luydens want to quarrel with anybody, the real culprit is under their own roof.”
“Quarrel? Newland, did you ever know of cousin Henry’s quarrelling? Besides, the Duke’s his guest; and a stranger too. Strangers don’t discriminate: how should they? Countess Olenska is a New Yorker, and should have respected the feelings of New York.”
“Well, then, if they must have a victim, you have my leave to throw Madame Olenska to them,” cried her son, exasperated. “I don’t see myself—or you either— offering ourselves up to expiate her crimes.”
“Oh, of course you see only the Mingott side,” his mother answered, in the sensitive tone that was her nearest approach to anger.
The sad butler drew back the drawing-room portieres and announced: “Mr. Henry van der Luyden.”
Mrs. Archer dropped her needle and pushed her chair back with an agitated hand.
“Another lamp,” she cried to the retreating servant, while Janey bent over to straighten her mother’s cap.
Mr. van der Luyden’s figure loomed on the threshold, and Newland Archer went forward to greet his cousin.
“We were just talking about you, sir,” he said.
Mr. van der Luyden seemed overwhelmed by the announcement. He drew off his glove to shake hands with the ladies, and smoothed his tall hat shyly, while Janey pushed an arm-chair forward, and Archer continued: “And the Countess Olenska.”
Mrs. Archer paled.
“Ah—a charming woman. I have just been to see her,” said Mr. van der Luyden, complacency restored to his brow. He sank into the chair, laid his hat and gloves on the floor beside him in the old-fashioned way, and went on: “She has a real gift for arranging flowers. I had sent her a few carnations from Skuytercliff, and I was astonished. Instead of massing them in big bunches as our head-gardener does, she had scattered them about loosely, here and there . . . I can’t say how. The Duke had told me: he said: `Go and see how cleverly she’s arranged her drawing-room.’ And she has. I should really like to take Louisa to see her, if the neighbourhood were not so—unpleasant.”
A dead silence greeted this unusual flow of words from Mr. van der Luyden. Mrs. Archer drew her embroidery out of the basket into which she had nervously tumbled it, and Newland, leaning against the chimney-place and twisting a humming-bird-feather screen in his hand, saw Janey’s gaping countenance lit up by the coming of the second lamp.
“The fact is,” Mr. van der Luyden continued, stroking his long grey leg with a bloodless hand weighed down by the Patroon’s great signet-ring, “the fact is, I dropped in to thank her for the very pretty note she wrote me about my flowers; and also—but this is between ourselves, of course—to give her a friendly warning about allowing the Duke to carry her off to parties with him. I don’t know if you’ve heard—”