In all the rainy desert of autumnal London therewere only two people whom the Newland Archersknew; and these two they had sedulously avoided, inconformity with the old New York tradition that it wasnot "dignified" to force one's self on the notice of one'sacquaintances in foreign countries.
Mrs. Archer and Janey, in the course of their visits toEurope, had so unflinchingly lived up to this principle,and met the friendly advances of their fellow-travellerswith an air of such impenetrable reserve, that they hadalmost achieved the record of never having exchangeda word with a "foreigner" other than those employedin hotels and railway-stations. Their own compatriots--save those previously known or properly accredited--they treated with an even more pronounced disdain; sothat, unless they ran across a Chivers, a Dagonet or aMingott, their months abroad were spent in an unbrokentete-a-tete. But the utmost precautions are sometimesunavailing; and one night at Botzen one of thetwo English ladies in the room across the passage (whosenames, dress and social situation were already intimatelyknown to Janey) had knocked on the door andasked if Mrs. Archer had a bottle of liniment. Theother lady--the intruder's sister, Mrs. Carfry--had beenseized with a sudden attack of bronchitis; and Mrs.Archer, who never travelled without a complete familypharmacy, was fortunately able to produce the requiredremedy.
Mrs. Carfry was very ill, and as she and her sisterMiss Harle were travelling alone they were profoundlygrateful to the Archer ladies, who supplied them withingenious comforts and whose efficient maid helped tonurse the invalid back to health.
When the Archers left Botzen they had no idea ofever seeing Mrs. Carfry and Miss Harle again. Nothing,to Mrs. Archer's mind, would have been more"undignified" than to force one's self on the notice of a"foreigner" to whom one had happened to render anaccidental service. But Mrs. Carfry and her sister, towhom this point of view was unknown, and who wouldhave found it utterly incomprehensible, felt themselveslinked by an eternal gratitude to the "delightful Americans"who had been so kind at Botzen. With touchingfidelity they seized every chance of meeting Mrs. Archerand Janey in the course of their continental travels, anddisplayed a supernatural acuteness in finding out whenthey were to pass through London on their way to orfrom the States. The intimacy became indissoluble, andMrs. Archer and Janey, whenever they alighted atBrown's Hotel, found themselves awaited by two affectionatefriends who, like themselves, cultivated ferns inWardian cases, made macrame lace, read the memoirsof the Baroness Bunsen and had views about theoccupants of the leading London pulpits. As Mrs. Archersaid, it made "another thing of London" to know Mrs.Carfry and Miss Harle; and by the time that Newlandbecame engaged the tie between the families was sofirmly established that it was thought "only right" tosend a wedding invitation to the two English ladies,who sent, in return, a pretty bouquet of pressed Alpineflowers under glass. And on the dock, when Newlandand his wife sailed for England, Mrs. Archer's lastword had been: "You must take May to see Mrs.Carfry."
Newland and his wife had had no idea of obeyingthis injunction; but Mrs. Carfry, with her usual acuteness,had run them down and sent them an invitationto dine; and it was over this invitation that May Archerwas wrinkling her brows across the tea and muffins.
"It's all very well for you, Newland; you KNOW them.But I shall feel so shy among a lot of people I've nevermet. And what shall I wear?"
Newland leaned back in his chair and smiled at her.She looked handsomer and more Diana-like than ever.The moist English air seemed to have deepened thebloom of her cheeks and softened the slight hardness ofher virginal features; or else it was simply the innerglow of happiness, shining through like a light underice.
"Wear, dearest? I thought a trunkful of things hadcome from Paris last week."
"Yes, of course. I meant to say that I shan't knowWHICH to wear." She pouted a little. "I've never dinedout in London; and I don't want to be ridiculous."
He tried to enter into her perplexity. "But don'tEnglishwomen dress just like everybody else in theevening?"
"Newland! How can you ask such funny questions?When they go to the theatre in old ball-dresses andbare heads."
"Well, perhaps they wear new ball-dresses at home;but at any rate Mrs. Carfry and Miss Harle won't.They'll wear caps like my mother's--and shawls; verysoft shawls."
"Yes; but how will the other women be dressed?"
"Not as well as you, dear," he rejoined, wonderingwhat had suddenly developed in her Janey's morbidinterest in clothes.
She pushed back her chair with a sigh. "That's dearof you, Newland; but it doesn't help me much."
He had an inspiration. "Why not wear your wedding-dress? That can't be wrong, can it?"
"Oh, dearest! If I only had it here! But it's gone toParis to be made over for next winter, and Worthhasn't sent it back."
"Oh, well--" said Archer, getting up. "Look here--the fog's lifting. If we made a dash for the NationalGallery we might manage to catch a glimpse of thepictures."
The Newland Archers were on their way home, aftera three months' wedding-tour which May, in writing toher girl friends, vaguely summarised as "blissful."
They had not gone to the Italian Lakes: on reflection,Archer had not been able to picture his wife inthat particular setting. Her own inclination (after amonth with the Paris dressmakers) was for mountaineeringin July and swimming in August. This plan theypunctually fulfilled, spending July at Interlaken andGrindelwald, and August at a little place called Etretat,on the Normandy coast, which some one had recommendedas quaint and quiet. Once or twice, in themountains, Archer had pointed southward and said:"There's Italy"; and May, her feet in a gentian-bed,had smiled cheerfully, and replied: "It would be lovelyto go there next winter, if only you didn't have to be inNew York."
But in reality travelling interested her even less thanhe had expected. She regarded it (once her clothes wereordered) as merely an enlarged opportunity for walking,riding, swimming, and trying her hand at the fascinatingnew game of lawn tennis; and when they finallygot back to London (where they were to spend a fortnightwhile he ordered HIS clothes) she no longer concealedthe eagerness with which she looked forward tosailing.
In London nothing interested her but the theatresand the shops; and she found the theatres less excitingthan the Paris cafes chantants where, under the blossominghorse-chestnuts of the Champs Elysees, she hadhad the novel experience of looking down from therestaurant terrace on an audience of "cocottes," andhaving her husband interpret to her as much of thesongs as he thought suitable for bridal ears.
Archer had reverted to all his old inherited ideasabout marriage. It was less trouble to conform with thetradition and treat May exactly as all his friends treatedtheir wives than to try to put into practice the theorieswith which his untrammelled bachelorhood had dallied.There was no use in trying to emancipate a wifewho had not the dimmest notion that she was not free;and he had long since discovered that May's only useof the liberty she supposed herself to possess would beto lay it on the altar of her wifely adoration. Her innatedignity would always keep her from making the giftabjectly; and a day might even come (as it once had)when she would find strength to take it altogether backif she thought she were doing it for his own good. Butwith a conception of marriage so uncomplicated andincurious as hers such a crisis could be brought aboutonly by something visibly outrageous in his own conduct;and the fineness of her feeling for him made thatunthinkable. Whatever happened, he knew, she wouldalways be loyal, gallant and unresentful; and that pledgedhim to the practice of the same virtues.
All this tended to draw him back into his old habitsof mind. If her simplicity had been the simplicity ofpettiness he would have chafed and rebelled; but sincethe lines of her character, though so few, were on thesame fine mould as her face, she became the tutelarydivinity of all his old traditions and reverences.
Such qualities were scarcely of the kind to enlivenforeign travel, though they made her so easy and pleasanta companion; but he saw at once how they wouldfall into place in their proper setting. He had no fear ofbeing oppressed by them, for his artistic and intellectuallife would go on, as it always had, outside thedomestic circle; and within it there would be nothingsmall and stifling--coming back to his wife would neverbe like entering a stuffy room after a tramp in theopen. And when they had children the vacant cornersin both their lives would be filled.
All these things went through his mind during theirlong slow drive from Mayfair to South Kensington,where Mrs. Carfry and her sister lived. Archer toowould have preferred to escape their friends' hospitality:in conformity with the family tradition he hadalways travelled as a sight-seer and looker-on, affectinga haughty unconsciousness of the presence of his fellow-beings. Once only, just after Harvard, he had spent afew gay weeks at Florence with a band of queerEuropeanised Americans, dancing all night with titledladies in palaces, and gambling half the day with therakes and dandies of the fashionable club; but it had allseemed to him, though the greatest fun in the world, asunreal as a carnival. These queer cosmopolitan women,deep in complicated love-affairs which they appeared tofeel the need of retailing to every one they met, and themagnificent young officers and elderly dyed wits whowere the subjects or the recipients of their confidences,were too different from the people Archer had grownup among, too much like expensive and rather malodoroushot-house exotics, to detain his imaginationlong. To introduce his wife into such a society was outof the question; and in the course of his travels noother had shown any marked eagerness for his company.
Not long after their arrival in London he had runacross the Duke of St. Austrey, and the Duke, instantlyand cordially recognising him, had said: "Look me up,won't you?"--but no proper-spirited American wouldhave considered that a suggestion to be acted on, andthe meeting was without a sequel. They had even managedto avoid May's English aunt, the banker's wife,who was still in Yorkshire; in fact, they had purposelypostponed going to London till the autumn in orderthat their arrival during the season might not appearpushing and snobbish to these unknown relatives.
"Probably there'll be nobody at Mrs. Carfry's--London'sa desert at this season, and you've made yourselfmuch too beautiful," Archer said to May, who sat athis side in the hansom so spotlessly splendid in hersky-blue cloak edged with swansdown that it seemedwicked to expose her to the London grime.
"I don't want them to think that we dress likesavages," she replied, with a scorn that Pocahontas mighthave resented; and he was struck again by the religiousreverence of even the most unworldly American womenfor the social advantages of dress.
"It's their armour," he thought, "their defence againstthe unknown, and their defiance of it." And he understoodfor the first time the earnestness with whichMay, who was incapable of tying a ribbon in her hairto charm him, had gone through the solemn rite ofselecting and ordering her extensive wardrobe.
He had been right in expecting the party at Mrs.Carfry's to be a small one. Besides their hostess and hersister, they found, in the long chilly drawing-room,only another shawled lady, a genial Vicar who was herhusband, a silent lad whom Mrs. Carfry named as hernephew, and a small dark gentleman with lively eyeswhom she introduced as his tutor, pronouncing a Frenchname as she did so.
Into this dimly-lit and dim-featured group May Archerfloated like a swan with the sunset on her: she seemedlarger, fairer, more voluminously rustling than herhusband had ever seen her; and he perceived that therosiness and rustlingness were the tokens of an extremeand infantile shyness.
"What on earth will they expect me to talk about?"her helpless eyes implored him, at the very momentthat her dazzling apparition was calling forth the sameanxiety in their own bosoms. But beauty, even whendistrustful of itself, awakens confidence in the manlyheart; and the Vicar and the French-named tutor weresoon manifesting to May their desire to put her at herease.
In spite of their best efforts, however, the dinner wasa languishing affair. Archer noticed that his wife's wayof showing herself at her ease with foreigners was tobecome more uncompromisingly local in her references,so that, though her loveliness was an encouragement toadmiration, her conversation was a chill to repartee.The Vicar soon abandoned the struggle; but the tutor,who spoke the most fluent and accomplished English,gallantly continued to pour it out to her until theladies, to the manifest relief of all concerned, went upto the drawing-room.
The Vicar, after a glass of port, was obliged to hurryaway to a meeting, and the shy nephew, who appearedto be an invalid, was packed off to bed. But Archer andthe tutor continued to sit over their wine, and suddenlyArcher found himself talking as he had not done sincehis last symposium with Ned Winsett. The Carfrynephew, it turned out, had been threatened withconsumption, and had had to leave Harrow for Switzerland,where he had spent two years in the milder air ofLake Leman. Being a bookish youth, he had beenentrusted to M. Riviere, who had brought him back toEngland, and was to remain with him till he went up toOxford the following spring; and M. Riviere addedwith simplicity that he should then have to look out foranother job.
It seemed impossible, Archer thought, that he shouldbe long without one, so varied were his interests and somany his gifts. He was a man of about thirty, with athin ugly face (May would certainly have called himcommon-looking) to which the play of his ideas gavean intense expressiveness; but there was nothing frivolousor cheap in his animation.
His father, who had died young, had filled a smalldiplomatic post, and it had been intended that the sonshould follow the same career; but an insatiable tastefor letters had thrown the young man into journalism,then into authorship (apparently unsuccessful), and atlength--after other experiments and vicissitudes whichhe spared his listener--into tutoring English youths inSwitzerland. Before that, however, he had lived muchin Paris, frequented the Goncourt grenier, been advisedby Maupassant not to attempt to write (even that seemedto Archer a dazzling honour!), and had often talkedwith Merimee in his mother's house. He had obviouslyalways been desperately poor and anxious (having amother and an unmarried sister to provide for), and itwas apparent that his literary ambitions had failed. Hissituation, in fact, seemed, materially speaking, no morebrilliant than Ned Winsett's; but he had lived in aworld in which, as he said, no one who loved ideasneed hunger mentally. As it was precisely of that lovethat poor Winsett was starving to death, Archer lookedwith a sort of vicarious envy at this eager impecuniousyoung man who had fared so richly in his poverty.
"You see, Monsieur, it's worth everything, isn't it, tokeep one's intellectual liberty, not to enslave one's powersof appreciation, one's critical independence? It wasbecause of that that I abandoned journalism, and tookto so much duller work: tutoring and private secretaryship.There is a good deal of drudgery, of course; butone preserves one's moral freedom, what we call inFrench one's quant a soi. And when one hears goodtalk one can join in it without compromising any opinionsbut one's own; or one can listen, and answer itinwardly. Ah, good conversation--there's nothing likeit, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worthbreathing. And so I have never regretted giving upeither diplomacy or journalism--two different forms ofthe same self-abdication." He fixed his vivid eyes onArcher as he lit another cigarette. "Voyez-vous,Monsieur, to be able to look life in the face: that's worthliving in a garret for, isn't it? But, after all, one mustearn enough to pay for the garret; and I confess that togrow old as a private tutor--or a `private' anything--isalmost as chilling to the imagination as a secondsecretaryship at Bucharest. Sometimes I feel I must make aplunge: an immense plunge. Do you suppose, for instance,there would be any opening for me in America--in New York?"
“您知道，先生，为了保持心智的自由，不使自己的鉴赏力和批判个性受压抑，是可以不惜代价的，对吗？正是为了这个原因，我才离开了新闻界，干起了更枯燥的差事：家庭教师和私人秘书。这种工作当然非常单调辛苦，但却可以保持精神上的自由——在法语里我们叫做 ‘自重’。当你听到高雅的谈论时，你可以参加进去，发表自己的意见而不必折衷；或者只是倾听，在心里默默抗辩。啊——高雅的言论——那真是无与伦比啊，对吗？精神食粮才是我们的惟一需要。所以我从不为放弃外交和新闻而后悔——那只是放弃自我的两种不同形式罢了。”当阿切尔点燃又一支烟时，里维埃目光炯炯地盯着他说：“您瞧，先生，为了能够正视生活，即使住在阁楼也值得，对吗？可话又说回来，毕竟你要挣钱付阁楼的房租；我承认干一辈子私人教师——或者别的 ‘私人’什么——几乎跟在布加勒斯特做二等秘书一样令人寒心。有时候，我觉得必须去冒险：去冒大险。比如，在美国，你看有没有适合我的机会呢——在纽约？”
Archer looked at him with startled eyes. New York,for a young man who had frequented the Goncourtsand Flaubert, and who thought the life of ideas theonly one worth living! He continued to stare at M.Riviere perplexedly, wondering how to tell him thathis very superiorities and advantages would be thesurest hindrance to success.
"New York--New York--but must it be especiallyNew York?" he stammered, utterly unable to imaginewhat lucrative opening his native city could offer to ayoung man to whom good conversation appeared to bethe only necessity.
A sudden flush rose under M. Riviere's sallow skin."I--I thought it your metropolis: is not the intellectuallife more active there?" he rejoined; then, as if fearingto give his hearer the impression of having asked afavour, he went on hastily: "One throws out randomsuggestions--more to one's self than to others. In reality,I see no immediate prospect--" and rising from hisseat he added, without a trace of constraint: "ButMrs. Carfry will think that I ought to be taking youupstairs."
During the homeward drive Archer pondered deeplyon this episode. His hour with M. Riviere had putnew air into his lungs, and his first impulse had been toinvite him to dine the next day; but he was beginningto understand why married men did not always immediatelyyield to their first impulses.
"That young tutor is an interesting fellow: we hadsome awfully good talk after dinner about books andthings," he threw out tentatively in the hansom.
May roused herself from one of the dreamy silencesinto which he had read so many meanings before sixmonths of marriage had given him the key to them.
"The little Frenchman? Wasn't he dreadfullycommon?" she questioned coldly; and he guessed that shenursed a secret disappointment at having been invitedout in London to meet a clergyman and a French tutor.The disappointment was not occasioned by the sentimentordinarily defined as snobbishness, but by oldNew York's sense of what was due to it when it riskedits dignity in foreign lands. If May's parents hadentertained the Carfrys in Fifth Avenue they would haveoffered them something more substantial than a parsonand a schoolmaster.
But Archer was on edge, and took her up.
"Common--common WHERE?" he queried; and shereturned with unusual readiness: "Why, I should sayanywhere but in his school-room. Those people arealways awkward in society. But then," she addeddisarmingly, "I suppose I shouldn't have known if he wasclever."
Archer disliked her use of the word "clever" almostas much as her use of the word "common"; but he wasbeginning to fear his tendency to dwell on the things hedisliked in her. After all, her point of view had alwaysbeen the same. It was that of all the people he hadgrown up among, and he had always regarded it asnecessary but negligible. Until a few months ago he hadnever known a "nice" woman who looked at lifedifferently; and if a man married it must necessarily beamong the nice.
"Ah--then I won't ask him to dine!" he concludedwith a laugh; and May echoed, bewildered: "Goodness--ask the Carfrys' tutor?"
"Well, not on the same day with the Carfrys, if youprefer I shouldn't. But I did rather want another talkwith him. He's looking for a job in New York."
Her surprise increased with her indifference: healmost fancied that she suspected him of being taintedwith "foreignness."
"A job in New York? What sort of a job? Peopledon't have French tutors: what does he want to do?"
"Chiefly to enjoy good conversation, I understand,"her husband retorted perversely; and she broke into anappreciative laugh. "Oh, Newland, how funny! Isn'tthat FRENCH?"
On the whole, he was glad to have the matter settledfor him by her refusing to take seriously his wish toinvite M. Riviere. Another after-dinner talk would havemade it difficult to avoid the question of New York;and the more Archer considered it the less he was ableto fit M. Riviere into any conceivable picture of NewYork as he knew it.
He perceived with a flash of chilling insight that infuture many problems would be thus negatively solvedfor him; but as he paid the hansom and followed hiswife's long train into the house he took refuge in thecomforting platitude that the first six months werealways the most difficult in marriage. "After that Isuppose we shall have pretty nearly finished rubbingoff each other's angles," he reflected; but the worst ofit was that May's pressure was already bearing on thevery angles whose sharpness he most wanted to keep.