8. Chapter VIII.
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
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.