7. Chapter VII.
Mrs. Henry van der Luyden listened in silence to
her cousin Mrs. Archer's narrative.
It was all very well to tell yourself in advance that
Mrs. van der Luyden was always silent, and that, though
non-committal by nature and training, she was very
kind to the people she really liked. Even personal
experience of these facts was not always a protection from
the chill that descended on one in the high-ceilinged
white-walled Madison Avenue drawing-room, with the
pale brocaded armchairs so obviously uncovered for
the occasion, and the gauze still veiling the ormolu
mantel ornaments and the beautiful old carved frame
of Gainsborough's "Lady Angelica du Lac."
Mrs. van der Luyden's portrait by Huntington (in
black velvet and Venetian point) faced that of her
lovely ancestress. It was generally considered "as fine
as a Cabanel," and, though twenty years had elapsed
since its execution, was still "a perfect likeness."
Indeed the Mrs. van der Luyden who sat beneath it
listening to Mrs. Archer might have been the twin-sister
of the fair and still youngish woman drooping against a
gilt armchair before a green rep curtain. Mrs. van der
Luyden still wore black velvet and Venetian point when
she went into society--or rather (since she never dined
out) when she threw open her own doors to receive it.
Her fair hair, which had faded without turning grey,
was still parted in flat overlapping points on her forehead,
and the straight nose that divided her pale blue
eyes was only a little more pinched about the nostrils
than when the portrait had been painted. She always,
indeed, struck Newland Archer as having been rather
gruesomely preserved in the airless atmosphere of a
perfectly irreproachable existence, as bodies caught in
glaciers keep for years a rosy life-in-death.
Like all his family, he esteemed and admired Mrs.
van der Luyden; but he found her gentle bending sweetness
less approachable than the grimness of some of his
mother's old aunts, fierce spinsters who said "No" on
principle before they knew what they were going to be
Mrs. van der Luyden's attitude said neither yes nor
no, but always appeared to incline to clemency till her
thin lips, wavering into the shadow of a smile, made
the almost invariable reply: "I shall first have to talk
this over with my husband."