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Chapter 8

It was generally agreed in New York that the Countess Olenska had "lost her looks."

She had appeared there first, in Newland Archer's boyhood, as a brilliantly pretty little girl of nine or ten, of whom people said that she "ought to be painted." Her parents had been continental wanderers, and after a roaming babyhood she had lost them both, and been taken in charge by her aunt, Medora Manson, also a wanderer, who was herself returning to New York to "settle down."

Poor Medora, repeatedly widowed, was always coming home to settle down (each time in a less expensive house), and bringing with her a new husband or an adopted child; but after a few months she invariably parted from her husband or quarrelled with her ward, and, having got rid of her house at a loss, set out again on her wanderings. As her mother had been a Rushworth, and her last unhappy marriage had linked her to one of the crazy Chiverses, New York looked indulgently on her eccentricities; but when she returned with her little orphaned niece, whose parents had been popular in spite of their regrettable taste for travel, people thought it a pity that the pretty child should be in such hands.

Every one was disposed to be kind to little Ellen Mingott, though her dusky red cheeks and tight curls gave her an air of gaiety that seemed unsuitable in a child who should still have been in black for her parents. It was one of the misguided Medora's many peculiarities to flout the unalterable rules that regulated American mourning, and when she stepped from the steamer her family were scandalised to see that the crape veil she wore for her own brother was seven inches shorter than those of her sisters-in-law, while little Ellen was in crimson merino and amber beads, like a gipsy foundling.

But New York had so long resigned itself to Medora that only a few old ladies shook their heads over Ellen's gaudy clothes, while her other relations fell under the charm of her high colour and high spirits. She was a fearless and familiar little thing, who asked disconcerting questions, made precocious comments, and possessed outlandish arts, such as dancing a Spanish shawl dance and singing Neapolitan love-songs to a guitar. Under the direction of her aunt (whose real name was Mrs. Thorley Chivers, but who, having received a Papal title, had resumed her first husband's patronymic, and called herself the Marchioness Manson, because in Italy she could turn it into Manzoni) the little girl received an expensive but incoherent education, which included "drawing from the model," a thing never dreamed of before, and playing the piano in quintets with professional musicians.

Of course no good could come of this; and when, a few years later, poor Chivers finally died in a mad- house, his widow (draped in strange weeds) again pulled up stakes and departed with Ellen, who had grown into a tall bony girl with conspicuous eyes. For some time no more was heard of them; then news came of Ellen's marriage to an immensely rich Polish nobleman of legendary fame, whom she had met at a ball at the Tuileries, and who was said to have princely establishments in Paris, Nice and Florence, a yacht at Cowes, and many square miles of shooting in Transylvania. She disappeared in a kind of sulphurous apotheosis, and when a few years later Medora again came back to New York, subdued, impoverished, mourning a third husband, and in quest of a still smaller house, people wondered that her rich niece had not been able to do something for her. Then came the news that Ellen's own marriage had ended in disaster, and that she was herself returning home to seek rest and oblivion among her kinsfolk.

These things passed through Newland Archer's mind a week later as he watched the Countess Olenska enter the van der Luyden drawing-room on the evening of the momentous dinner. The occasion was a solemn one, and he wondered a little nervously how she would carry it off. She came rather late, one hand still ungloved, and fastening a bracelet about her wrist; yet she entered without any appearance of haste or embarrassment the drawing-room in which New York's most chosen company was somewhat awfully assembled.

In the middle of the room she paused, looking about her with a grave mouth and smiling eyes; and in that instant Newland Archer rejected the general verdict on her looks. It was true that her early radiance was gone. The red cheeks had paled; she was thin, worn, a little older-looking than her age, which must have been nearly thirty. But there was about her the mysterious authority of beauty, a sureness in the carriage of the head, the movement of the eyes, which, without being in the least theatrical, struck his as highly trained and full of a conscious power. At the same time she was simpler in manner than most of the ladies present, and many people (as he heard afterward from Janey) were disappointed that her appearance was not more "stylish" --for stylishness was what New York most valued. It was, perhaps, Archer reflected, because her early vivacity had disappeared; because she was so quiet--quiet in her movements, her voice, and the tones of her low- pitched voice. New York had expected something a good deal more reasonant in a young woman with such a history.

The dinner was a somewhat formidable business. Dining with the van der Luydens was at best no light matter, and dining there with a Duke who was their cousin was almost a religious solemnity. It pleased Archer to think that only an old New Yorker could perceive the shade of difference (to New York) between being merely a Duke and being the van der Luydens' Duke. New York took stray noblemen calmly, and even (except in the Struthers set) with a certain distrustful hauteur; but when they presented such credentials as these they were received with an old-fashioned cordiality that they would have been greatly mistaken in ascribing solely to their standing in Debrett. It was for just such distinctions that the young man cherished his old New York even while he smiled at it.

The van der Luydens had done their best to emphasise the importance of the occasion. The du Lac Sevres and the Trevenna George II plate were out; so was the van der Luyden "Lowestoft" (East India Company) and the Dagonet Crown Derby. Mrs. van der Luyden looked more than ever like a Cabanel, and Mrs. Archer, in her grandmother's seed-pearls and emeralds, reminded her son of an Isabey miniature. All the ladies had on their handsomest jewels, but it was characteristic of the house and the occasion that these were mostly in rather heavy old-fashioned settings; and old Miss Lanning, who had been persuaded to come, actually wore her mother's cameos and a Spanish blonde shawl.

The Countess Olenska was the only young woman at the dinner; yet, as Archer scanned the smooth plump elderly faces between their diamond necklaces and towering ostrich feathers, they struck him as curiously immature compared with hers. It frightened him to think what must have gone to the making of her eyes.

The Duke of St. Austrey, who sat at his hostess's right, was naturally the chief figure of the evening. But if the Countess Olenska was less conspicuous than had been hoped, the Duke was almost invisible. Being a well-bred man he had not (like another recent ducal visitor) come to the dinner in a shooting-jacket; but his evening clothes were so shabby and baggy, and he wore them with such an air of their being homespun, that (with his stooping way of sitting, and the vast beard spreading over his shirt-front) he hardly gave the appearance of being in dinner attire. He was short, round-shouldered, sunburnt, with a thick nose, small eyes and a sociable smile; but he seldom spoke, and when he did it was in such low tones that, despite the frequent silences of expectation about the table, his remarks were lost to all but his neighbours.

When the men joined the ladies after dinner the Duke went straight up to the Countess Olenska, and they sat down in a corner and plunged into animated talk. Neither seemed aware that the Duke should first have paid his respects to Mrs. Lovell Mingott and Mrs. Headly Chivers, and the Countess have conversed with that amiable hypochondriac, Mr. Urban Dagonet of Washington Square, who, in order to have the pleasure of meeting her, had broken through his fixed rule of not dining out between January and April. The two chatted together for nearly twenty minutes; then the Countess rose and, walking alone across the wide drawing-room, sat down at Newland Archer's side.

It was not the custom in New York drawing-rooms for a lady to get up and walk away from one gentleman in order to seek the company of another. Etiquette required that she should wait, immovable as an idol, while the men who wished to converse with her succeeded each other at her side. But the Countess was apparently unaware of having broken any rule; she sat at perfect ease in a corner of the sofa beside Archer, and looked at him with the kindest eyes.

"I want you to talk to me about May," she said.

Instead of answering her he asked: "You knew the Duke before?"

"Oh, yes--we used to see him every winter at Nice. He's very fond of gambling--he used to come to the house a great deal." She said it in the simplest manner, as if she had said: "He's fond of wild-flowers"; and after a moment she added candidly: "I think he's the dullest man I ever met."

This pleased her companion so much that he forgot the slight shock her previous remark had caused him. It was undeniably exciting to meet a lady who found the van der Luydens' Duke dull, and dared to utter the opinion. He longed to question her, to hear more about the life of which her careless words had given him so illuminating a glimpse; but he feared to touch on distressing memories, and before he could think of anything to say she had strayed back to her original subject.

"May is a darling; I've seen no young girl in New York so handsome and so intelligent. Are you very much in love with her?"

Newland Archer reddened and laughed. "As much as a man can be."

She continued to consider him thoughtfully, as if not to miss any shade of meaning in what he said, "Do you think, then, there is a limit?"

"To being in love? If there is, I haven't found it!"

She glowed with sympathy. "Ah--it's really and truly a romance?"

"The most romantic of romances!"

"How delightful! And you found it all out for yourselves--it was not in the least arranged for you?"

Archer looked at her incredulously. "Have you forgotten," he asked with a smile, "that in our country we don't allow our marriages to be arranged for us?"

A dusky blush rose to her cheek, and he instantly regretted his words.

"Yes," she answered, "I'd forgotten. You must forgive me if I sometimes make these mistakes. I don't always remember that everything here is good that was--that was bad where I've come from." She looked down at her Viennese fan of eagle feathers, and he saw that her lips trembled.

"I'm so sorry," he said impulsively; "but you ARE among friends here, you know."

"Yes--I know. Wherever I go I have that feeling. That's why I came home. I want to forget everything else, to become a complete American again, like the Mingotts and Wellands, and you and your delightful mother, and all the other good people here tonight. Ah, here's May arriving, and you will want to hurry away to her," she added, but without moving; and her eyes turned back from the door to rest on the young man's face.

The drawing-rooms were beginning to fill up with after-dinner guests, and following Madame Olenska's glance Archer saw May Welland entering with her mother. In her dress of white and silver, with a wreath of silver blossoms in her hair, the tall girl looked like a Diana just alight from the chase.

"Oh," said Archer, "I have so many rivals; you see she's already surrounded. There's the Duke being introduced."

"Then stay with me a little longer," Madame Olenska said in a low tone, just touching his knee with her plumed fan. It was the lightest touch, but it thrilled him like a caress.

"Yes, let me stay," he answered in the same tone, hardly knowing what he said; but just then Mr. van der Luyden came up, followed by old Mr. Urban Dagonet. The Countess greeted them with her grave smile, and Archer, feeling his host's admonitory glance on him, rose and surrendered his seat.

Madame Olenska held out her hand as if to bid him goodbye.

"Tomorrow, then, after five--I shall expect you," she said; and then turned back to make room for Mr. Dagonet.

"Tomorrow--" Archer heard himself repeating, though there had been no engagement, and during their talk she had given him no hint that she wished to see him again.

As he moved away he saw Lawrence Lefferts, tall and resplendent, leading his wife up to be introduced; and heard Gertrude Lefferts say, as she beamed on the Countess with her large unperceiving smile: "But I think we used to go to dancing-school together when we were children--." Behind her, waiting their turn to name themselves to the Countess, Archer noticed a number of the recalcitrant couples who had declined to meet her at Mrs. Lovell Mingott's. As Mrs. Archer remarked: when the van der Luydens chose, they knew how to give a lesson. The wonder was that they chose so seldom.

The young man felt a touch on his arm and saw Mrs. van der Luyden looking down on him from the pure eminence of black velvet and the family diamonds. "It was good of you, dear Newland, to devote yourself so unselfishly to Madame Olenska. I told your cousin Henry he must really come to the rescue."

He was aware of smiling at her vaguely, and she added, as if condescending to his natural shyness: "I've never seen May looking lovelier. The Duke thinks her the handsomest girl in the room."

 

在纽约,人们普遍认为奥兰斯卡伯爵夫人“红颜已衰”。

她在纽兰·阿切尔童年时期第一次在这里露面,那时她是个光彩照人的漂亮小姑娘,9到10岁的样子。人们说她“应该让人画像”。她的父母是欧洲大陆的漫游客,经过幼年的漂泊之后,她失去了双亲,被姑妈梅多拉·曼森收养。她也是位漫游客,刚刚要回纽约“定居”。

可怜的梅多拉一再成为寡妇,经常回来定居(每一次回来住房的档次都要降低一点),并带着一位新丈夫或者新收养的孩子。然而几个月之后,她又总是与丈夫分道扬镰或者与被监护人闹翻,赔本卖掉房子,又动身出去漫游。由于她母亲原姓拉什沃斯,而最后一次的不幸婚姻又把她与疯癫的奇弗斯家族的一个成员联在一起,所以纽约人都十分宽容地看待她的偏执行为。不过,当她带着成了孤儿的小侄女回来的时候,人们还是觉得把那个美丽的小姑娘托付给这样的人很可惜。孩子的父母尽管因爱好旅游令人遗憾,生前却颇有人望。

人人都对小埃伦·明戈特怀有善意,尽管她那黑黝黝的红脸蛋与密实的髭发使她显得神情愉快,看起来与一个仍在为父母服丧的孩子很不相称。轻视美国人哀悼活动的那些不容改变的规矩,是梅多拉错误的怪癖之一。当她从轮船上出来的时候,家人们见她为其兄戴的黑纱比嫂嫂的短了7英寸,而小埃伦居然穿着深红色美利奴呢,戴着琥珀色珍珠项链,像个吉卜赛弃儿一样,大家都极为震惊。

然而纽约早已对梅多拉听之任之,只有几位老夫人对埃伦花哨俗气的穿着摇摇头,而另外的亲属却被她红扑扑的脸色与勃勃生气征服了。她是个大胆的、无拘无束的小姑娘,爱问些不相宜的问题,发表早熟的议论,且掌握一些域外的艺术形式,比如跳西班牙披肩舞,伴着吉他唱那不勒斯情歌。在姑妈(她的真名是索利·奇弗斯太太,但她接受教皇所授爵位后恢复了第一任丈夫的姓,自称曼森侯爵夫人,因为在意大利这个姓可以改为曼佐尼)指导下,小姑娘接受的教育虽开支昂贵却很不连贯,其中包括以前做梦都想不到的“照模特的样子画像”,与职业乐师一起弹钢琴五重奏。

这样的教育当然是无益的。几年之后,可怜的奇弗斯终于死在疯人院里,他的遗孀(穿着奇特的丧服)又一次收摊搬家,带着埃伦走了。这时埃伦已长成一个又高又瘦的大姑娘,两只眼睛分外引人注意。有一段时间她们音讯全无,后来消息传来,说埃伦嫁给了在杜伊勒利宫舞会上认识的一位富有传奇色彩的波兰贵族富翁,据说他在巴黎、尼斯和佛罗伦萨都拥有豪华住宅,在考斯有一艘游艇,在特兰西瓦尼亚还有许多平方英里的猎场。正当人们说得沸沸扬扬之时,她却突然销声匿迹了。又过了几年,梅多拉为第三位丈夫服着丧,又一次穷困潦倒地回到纽约,寻找一所更小的房子。这时,人们不禁纳闷,她那富有的侄女怎么不伸出手来帮帮她。后来又传来了埃伦本人婚姻不幸终结的消息,她自己也要回家,到亲属中求得安息与忘却。

一周之后,在那次重大宴会的晚上,纽兰·阿切尔看着奥兰斯卡伯爵夫人走进范德卢顿太太的客厅时,想起了这些往事。这是个难得见的场合,他心情有点紧张,担心她将怎样应付。她到得很晚,一只手还未戴手套,正在扣着腕上的手镯,然而她走进汇集了纽约大多数精英的客厅时,并没有流露丝毫的匆忙与窘迫。

她在客厅中间停住脚步,抿着嘴,两眼含笑地打量着四周。就在这一瞬间,纽兰·阿切尔否定了有关她的容貌的普遍看法。不错,她早年的那种光彩的确已经不见了,那红扑扑的面颊已变成苍白色。她瘦削、憔。淬,看上去比她的年龄稍显老相——她一定快30岁了。然而她身上却散发着一种美的神秘力量,在她毫无做作的举目顾盼之间有一种自信,他觉得那是经过高度训练养成的,并且充满一种自觉的力量。同时,她的举止比在场的大多数夫人小姐都纯朴,许多人(他事后听詹尼说)对她打扮得不够“时新”感到失望——因为 “时新”是纽约人最看重的东西。阿切尔沉思,也许是因为她早年的活力已经消失了,她才这样异常地沉静——她的动作、声音、低声细气的语调都异常沉静。纽约人本指望有着这样一段历史的年轻女子声音会是十分洪亮的。

宴会有点令人提心吊胆。和范德卢顿夫妇一起用餐,本来就不是件轻松事,而与他们一位公爵表亲一起用餐,更不啻是履行一种宗教仪式了。阿切尔愉快地想道,只有一个老纽约,才能看出一位普通公爵与范德卢顿家的公爵之间的细微差异(对纽约而言)。纽约人根本不把到处飘泊的贵族放在眼里,对他们甚至还带有几分不信任的傲慢(斯特拉瑟斯那伙人除外);但是,当他们证明自己和范德卢顿这样的家族有某种关系之后,便能受到老式的真诚热情的接待,这往往使他们大错特错地把这种接待完全归功于自己在《德布利特贵族年鉴》中的地位。正是由于这种差别,年轻人即使在嘲笑他的老纽约的时候依然怀念它。

范德卢顿夫妇竭尽全力突出这次宴会的重要性。他们把杜拉克·塞沃尔与特利文纳·乔治二世的镀金餐具拿了出来。范德卢顿太太看起来比任何时候都更像一幅卡巴内尔的画像,而阿切尔太太佩戴着她祖母的米珠项链和绿宝石,让她儿子不由得想起了伊莎贝的微型画像。所有的夫人小姐都戴着她们最漂亮的首饰,不过她们的首饰大部分镶嵌得特别老式,成了这所住宅与这一场合独有的特点;被劝来的拉宁小姐戴的是她母亲的浮雕玉,还披了件亚麻色的西班牙披肩。

奥兰斯卡伯爵夫人是宴会上惟一的年轻女子,然而在阿切尔细细端详那些钻石项链与高耸的驼鸟翎毛中间光滑丰满的老年人的脸庞时,令他感到奇怪的是,她们竞显得不及她成熟。想到造就她那副眼神所付的代价,他不觉有些惊恐。

坐在女主人有首的圣奥斯特雷公爵自然是今晚的首要人物。然而,如果说奥兰斯卡伯爵夫人没有人们预期的那样突出,那么这位公爵就更不引人注目了。作为一个有教养的人,他并没有(像最近另一位公爵客人那样)穿着猎装来出席宴会,但是他穿的晚礼服是那样蹩脚,那样寒酸,他那副尊容益发显出衣着的粗陋(躬腰坐着,一把大胡子技散在衬衫前),让人很难看出是出席宴会的打扮。他身材矮小,弯腰曲背,晒得黝黑的皮肤,肥厚的鼻子,小小的眼睛,脸上挂着不变的微笑。他少言寡语,讲话的时候语调特别低,尽管餐桌上的人不时静下来等待聆听他的高见,但除了邻座,他的话谁也听不见。

餐后男士与女士汇合的时候,公爵径直朝奥兰斯卡伯爵夫人走去。他们在角落里刚一坐下,便热烈交谈起来。两个人似乎谁也没有意识到,公爵应该先向洛弗尔·明戈特太太与黑德利·奇弗斯太太致意,而伯爵夫人则应该与那位和蔼的癔症患者、华盛顿广场的厄本·达戈内特交谈。他为了能与她幸会,甚至不惜打破了1至4月份不外出用餐的常规。两个人一起聊了将近20分钟,然后伯爵夫人站了起来,独自走过宽敞的客厅,在纽兰·阿切尔身边坐了下来。

一位女士起身离开一位绅士,去找另一位绅士作伴,这在纽约的客厅里是不合常规的。按照礼节,她应该像木偶似地坐在那儿等待,让希望与她交谈的男士一个接一个地到她身边来。但伯爵夫人显然没有意识到违背了任何规矩,她悠然自得地坐在阿切尔身旁沙发的角落里,用最亲切的目光看着他。

“我想让你对我讲讲梅的事,”她说。

他没有回答,反而问道:“你以前认识公爵吗?”

“唔,是的——过去在尼斯时我们每年冬天都和他见面。他很爱赌博——他是我们家的常客。”她直言不讳地说,仿佛在讲:“他喜欢拈花惹草。”过了一会儿她又坦然地补充道:“我觉得他是我见过的最蠢的男人了。”

这句话令她的同伴异常快活,竟使他忘记了她前一句话使他产生的微震惊。不可否认,会见一位认为范德卢顿家的公爵愚蠢、并敢于发表这一见解的女士,的确令人兴奋。他很想问问她,多听一听她的生活情况——她漫不经心的话语已经很有启发地让他窥见了一斑;然而他又担心触动她伤心的回忆。还没等他想出说什么,她已经转回到她最初的话题上了。

“梅非常可爱,我发现纽约没有哪个年轻姑娘像她那样漂亮、聪明。你很爱她吧?”

纽兰·阿切尔红了脸,笑道:“男人对女人的爱能有多深,我对她的爱就有多深。”

她继续着有所思地打量着他,仿佛不想漏掉他话中的任何一点含义似的。“这么说,你认为还有个极限?”

“你是说爱的极限?假如有的话,我现在还没有发现呢!”

她深受感动地说:“啊——那一定是真实的。忠诚的爱情了?”

“是最最热烈的爱情!”

“太好了!这爱完全是由你们自己找到的——丝毫不是别人为你们安排的吧?”

阿切尔奇怪地看着她,面带笑容地问:“难道你忘了——在我们国家,婚姻是不允许由别人安排的?”

一片潮红升上她的面颊,他立即懊悔自己说过的话。

“是的,”她回答说,“我忘了。如果有时候我犯了这样的错误,你一定得原谅我。在这儿人们看作是好的事情,在我来的那地方却被当成坏事,可我有时候会忘记这一点。”她低头看着那把羽毛扇,他发现她的双唇在颤抖。

“非常抱歉,”他冲动地说。“可你知道,你现在是在朋友中间了。”

“是的——我知道。我走到哪里都有这种感觉。这正是我回家来的原因。我想把其他的事全部忘掉,重新变成一个彻底的美国人,就像明戈特家和韦兰家的人一样,像你和你令人愉快的母亲,以及今晚在这里的所有其他的好人一样。叮,梅来了,你一定是想立即赶到她身边去了,”她又说,但没有动弹,她的目光从门口转回来,落到年轻人的脸上。

餐后的客人渐渐地挤满了客厅。顺着奥兰斯卡夫人的目光,阿切尔看到梅·韦兰正和母亲一起走进门。身穿银白色服装,头上戴着银白色花朵的花环,那位身材高挑的姑娘看起来就像刚狩猎归来的狄安娜女神。

“啊,”阿切尔说,“我的竞争者可真多呀;你瞧她已经被包围住了。那边正在介绍那位公爵呢。”

“那就跟我多呆一会儿吧,”奥兰斯卡夫人低声说,并用她的羽毛扇轻轻碰了一下他的膝盖。虽然只是极轻的一碰,但却如爱抚一般令他震颤。

“好的,我留下,”他用同样的语气说,几乎不知自己在讲什么。但正在这时,范德卢顿先生过来了,后面跟着老厄本·达戈内特先生。伯爵夫人以庄重的微笑与他们招呼,阿切尔觉察到主人对他责备的目光,便起身让出了他的座位。

奥兰斯卡夫人伸出一只手,仿佛向他告别。

“那么,明天,5点钟以后——我等你,”她说,然后转身为达戈内特先生让出位置。

“明天——”阿切尔听见自己重复说,尽管事先没有约定,他们交谈时她也没向他暗示想再见他。

他走开的时候,看见身材高大、神采奕奕的劳伦斯·莱弗茨,正领着妻子走来准备被引荐给伯爵夫人。他还听见格特鲁德·莱弗茨满脸堆着茫然的笑容高兴地对伯爵夫人说:“我想我们小时候经常一起去舞蹈学校——”在她身后,等着向伯爵夫人通报姓名的人中间,阿切尔注意到还有几对拒绝在洛弗尔·明戈特太太家欢迎她的倔强夫妇。正如阿切尔太太所说的:范德卢顿夫妇只要乐意,他们知道如何教训人。奇怪的是他们乐意的时候却太少了。

年轻人觉得胳膊被碰了一下。他发现范德卢顿太太穿一身名贵的黑丝绒,戴着家族的钻石首饰,正居高临下地看着他。“亲爱的纽兰,你毫无私心地关照奥兰斯卡夫人,真是太好了。我告诉你表舅亨利,他一定要过来帮忙。”

他发觉自己茫然微笑着望着她,她仿佛俯就他腼腆的天性似地又补充说:“我从没见过梅像今天这么可爱,公爵认为她是客厅里最漂亮的姑娘。”



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