26. Chapter XXVI.
Every year on the fifteenth of October Fifth Avenue
opened its shutters, unrolled its carpets and hung
up its triple layer of window-curtains.
By the first of November this household ritual was
over, and society had begun to look about and take
stock of itself. By the fifteenth the season was in full
blast, Opera and theatres were putting forth their new
attractions, dinner-engagements were accumulating, and
dates for dances being fixed. And punctually at about
this time Mrs. Archer always said that New York was
very much changed.
Observing it from the lofty stand-point of a non-participant, she was able, with the help of Mr. Sillerton
Jackson and Miss Sophy, to trace each new crack in its
surface, and all the strange weeds pushing up between
the ordered rows of social vegetables. It had been one
of the amusements of Archer's youth to wait for this
annual pronouncement of his mother's, and to hear her
enumerate the minute signs of disintegration that his
careless gaze had overlooked. For New York, to Mrs.
Archer's mind, never changed without changing for the
worse; and in this view Miss Sophy Jackson heartily
Mr. Sillerton Jackson, as became a man of the world,
suspended his judgment and listened with an amused
impartiality to the lamentations of the ladies. But even
he never denied that New York had changed; and
Newland Archer, in the winter of the second year of his
marriage, was himself obliged to admit that if it had
not actually changed it was certainly changing.
These points had been raised, as usual, at Mrs.
Archer's Thanksgiving dinner. At the date when she was
officially enjoined to give thanks for the blessings of
the year it was her habit to take a mournful though not
embittered stock of her world, and wonder what there
was to be thankful for. At any rate, not the state of
society; society, if it could be said to exist, was rather a
spectacle on which to call down Biblical imprecations--
and in fact, every one knew what the Reverend Dr.
Ashmore meant when he chose a text from Jeremiah
(chap. ii., verse 25) for his Thanksgiving sermon.
Dr. Ashmore, the new Rector of St. Matthew's, had
been chosen because he was very "advanced": his
sermons were considered bold in thought and novel in
language. When he fulminated against fashionable society
he always spoke of its "trend"; and to Mrs. Archer
it was terrifying and yet fascinating to feel herself part
of a community that was trending.