11. Chapter XI.
Some two weeks later, Newland Archer, sitting in
abstracted idleness in his private compartment of
the office of Letterblair, Lamson and Low, attorneys at
law, was summoned by the head of the firm.
Old Mr. Letterblair, the accredited legal adviser of
three generations of New York gentility, throned behind
his mahogany desk in evident perplexity. As he
stroked his closeclipped white whiskers and ran his
hand through the rumpled grey locks above his jutting
brows, his disrespectful junior partner thought how
much he looked like the Family Physician annoyed
with a patient whose symptoms refuse to be classified.
"My dear sir--" he always addressed Archer as
"sir"--"I have sent for you to go into a little matter; a
matter which, for the moment, I prefer not to mention
either to Mr. Skipworth or Mr. Redwood." The gentlemen
he spoke of were the other senior partners of the
firm; for, as was always the case with legal associations
of old standing in New York, all the partners named
on the office letter-head were long since dead; and Mr.
Letterblair, for example, was, professionally speaking,
his own grandson.
He leaned back in his chair with a furrowed brow.
"For family reasons--" he continued.
Archer looked up.
"The Mingott family," said Mr. Letterblair with an
explanatory smile and bow. "Mrs. Manson Mingott
sent for me yesterday. Her grand-daughter the Countess
Olenska wishes to sue her husband for divorce.
Certain papers have been placed in my hands." He
paused and drummed on his desk. "In view of your
prospective alliance with the family I should like to
consult you--to consider the case with you--before
taking any farther steps."
Archer felt the blood in his temples. He had seen the
Countess Olenska only once since his visit to her, and
then at the Opera, in the Mingott box. During this
interval she had become a less vivid and importunate
image, receding from his foreground as May Welland
resumed her rightful place in it. He had not heard her
divorce spoken of since Janey's first random allusion to
it, and had dismissed the tale as unfounded gossip.
Theoretically, the idea of divorce was almost as
distasteful to him as to his mother; and he was annoyed
that Mr. Letterblair (no doubt prompted by old Catherine
Mingott) should be so evidently planning to draw
him into the affair. After all, there were plenty of
Mingott men for such jobs, and as yet he was not even
a Mingott by marriage.