8. Chapter VIII.
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.