The next day he persuaded May to escape for a walk in the Park after luncheon. As was the custom in old-fashioned Episcopalian New York, she usually accompanied her parents to church on Sunday afternoons; but Mrs. Welland condoned her truancy, having that very morning won her over to the necessity of a long engagement, with time to prepare a hand-embroidered trousseau containing the proper number of dozens.
The day was delectable. The bare vaulting of trees along the Mall was ceiled with lapis lazuli, and arched above snow that shone like splintered crystals. It was the weather to call out Mays radiance, and she burned like a young maple in the frost. Archer was proud of the glances turned on her, and the simple joy of possessorship cleared away his underlying perplexities.
Its so deliciouswaking every morning to smell lilies-of-the-valley in ones room! she said.
Yesterday they came late. I hadnt time in the morning
But your remembering each day to send them makes me love them so much more than if youd given a standing order, and they came every morning on the minute, like ones music-teacheras I know Gertrude Leffertss did, for instance, when she and Lawrence were engaged.
Ahthey would! laughed Archer, amused at her keenness. He looked sideways at her fruit-like cheek and felt rich and secure enough to add: When I sent your lilies yesterday afternoon I saw some rather gorgeous yellow roses and packed them off to Madame Olenska. Was that right?
How dear of you! Anything of that kind delights her. Its odd she didnt mention it: she lunched with us today, and spoke of Mr. Beauforts having sent her wonderful orchids, and cousin Henry van der Luyden a whole hamper of carnations from Skuytercliff. She seems so surprised to receive flowers. Dont people send them in Europe? She thinks it such a pretty custom.
Oh, well, no wonder mine were overshadowed by Beauforts, said Archer irritably. Then he remembered that he had not put a card with the roses, and was vexed at having spoken of them. He wanted to say: I called on your cousin yesterday, but hesitated. If Madame Olenska had not spoken of his visit it might seem awkward that he should. Yet not to do so gave the affair an air of mystery that he disliked. To shake off the
question he began to talk of their own plans, their future, and Mrs. Wellands insistence on a long engagement.
If you call it long! Isabel Chivers and Reggie were engaged for two years: Grace and Thorley for nearly a year and a half. Why arent we very well off as we are?
It was the traditional maidenly interrogation, and he felt ashamed of himself for finding it singularly childish. No doubt she simply echoed what was said for her; but she was nearing her twenty-second birthday, and he wondered at what age nice women began to speak for themselves.
Never, if we wont let them, I suppose, he mused, and recalled his mad outburst to Mr. Sillerton Jackson: Women ought to be as free as we are
It would presently be his task to take the bandage from this young womans eyes, and bid her look forth on the world. But how many generations of the women who had gone to her making had descended bandaged to the family vault? He shivered a little, remembering some of the new ideas in his scientific books, and the much-cited instance of the Kentucky cave-fish, which had ceased to develop eyes because they had no use for them. What if, when he had bidden May Welland to open hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?
We might be much better off. We might be altogether togetherwe might travel.
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