Some two weeks later, Newland Archer, sitting in abstracted idleness in his private compartment of the office of Letterblair, Lamson and Low, attorneys at law, was summoned by the head of the firm.
Old Mr. Letterblair, the accredited legal adviser of three generations of New York gentility, throned behind his mahogany desk in evident perplexity. As he stroked his close-clipped white whiskers and ran his hand through the rumpled grey locks above his jutting brows, his disrespectful junior partner thought how much he looked like the Family Physician annoyed with a patient whose symptoms refuse to be classified.
My dear sir he always addressed Archer as sirI have sent for you to go into a little matter; a matter which, for the moment, I prefer not to mention either to Mr. Skipworth or Mr. Redwood. The gentlemen he spoke of were the other senior partners of the firm; for, as was always the case with legal associations of old standing in New York, all the partners named on the office letter-head were long since dead; and Mr. Letterblair, for example, was, professionally speaking, his own grandson.
He leaned back in his chair with a furrowed brow. For family reasons he continued.
Archer looked up.
The Mingott family, said Mr. Letterblair with an explanatory smile and bow. Mrs. Manson Mingott sent for me yesterday. Her grand-daughter the Countess Olenska wishes to sue her husband for divorce. Certain papers have been placed in my hands. He paused and drummed on his desk. In view of your prospective alliance with the family I should like to consult youto consider the case with youbefore taking any farther steps.
Archer felt the blood in his temples. He had seen the Countess Olenska only once since his visit to her, and then at the Opera, in the Mingott box. During this interval she had become a less vivid and importunate image, receding from his foreground as May Welland resumed her rightful place in it. He had not heard her divorce spoken of since Janeys first random allusion to it, and had dismissed the tale as unfounded gossip. Theoretically, the idea of divorce was almost as distasteful to him as to his mother; and he was annoyed that Mr. Letterblair (no doubt prompted by old Catherine Mingott) should be so evidently planning to draw him into the affair. After all, there were plenty of Mingott men for such jobs, and as yet he was not even a Mingott by marriage.
He waited for the senior partner to continue. Mr. Letterblair unlocked a drawer and drew out a packet. If you will run your eye over these papers
Archer frowned. I beg your pardon, sir; but just because of the prospective relationship, I should prefer your consulting Mr. Skipworth or Mr. Redwood.
Mr. Letterblair looked surprised and slightly offended. It was unusual for a junior to reject such an opening.
He bowed. I respect your scruple, sir; but in this case I believe true delicacy requires you to do as I ask. Indeed, the suggestion is not mine but Mrs. Manson Mingotts and her sons. I have seen Lovell Mingott; and also Mr. Welland. They all named you.
Archer felt his temper rising. He had been somewhat languidly drifting with events for the last fortnight, and letting Mays fair looks and radiant nature obliterate the rather importunate pressure of the Mingott claims. But this behest of old Mrs. Mingotts roused him to a sense of what the clan thought they had the right to exact from a prospective son-in-law; and he chafed at the role.
Her uncles ought to deal with this, he said.
They have. The matter has been gone into by the family. They are opposed to the Countesss idea; but she is firm, and insists on a legal opinion.
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