8. Chapter VIII.
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
"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.