No. 13 Washington Square

#Fiction #Classics
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Excerpt CHAPTER I THE GREAT MRS. DE PEYSTER It was a raw, ill-humored afternoon, yet too late in the spring for the ministration of steam heat, so the unseasonable May chill was banished from Mrs. De Peyster's sitting-room by a wood fire that crackled in the grate; crackled most decorously, be it added, for Mrs. De Peyster's fire would no more have forgotten itself and shown a boisterous enthusiasm than would one of her admirably trained servants. Beside a small steel safe, whose outer shell of exquisite cabinet-work transformed that fortress against burglarious desire into an article of furniture that harmonized with the comfortable elegance of a lady's boudoir, sat Mrs. De Peyster herself—she was born a De Peyster—carefully transferring her jewels from the trays of the safe to leathern cases. She looked quite as Mrs. De Peyster should have looked: with an aura of high dignity that a sixty-year-old dowager of the first water could not surpass, yet with a freshness of person that (had it not been for her dignity) might have made her early forties seem a blossomy thirty-five. Before the well-bred fire sat a lady whose tears had long since dried that she had shed when she had bid good-bye to thirty. She was—begging the lady's pardon—a trifle spare, and a trifle pale, and though in a manner well enough dressed her clothes had an air of bewilderment, of general irresolution, as though each article was uncertain in its mind as to whether it purposed to remain where it had been put, or casually wander away on blind and timorous adventures. A dozen years before, Mrs. De Peyster, then in the fifth year of her widowhood, had graciously undertaken to manage and underwrite the début of her second cousin (not of the main line, be it said) and had tried to discharge her duty in the important matter of securing her a husband. But her efforts had been futile, and to say that Mrs. De Peyster had not succeeded was to admit that poor Olivetta Harmon was indeed a failure. She had lacked the fortune to attract the conservative investor who is looking for a sound business proposition in her he promises to support; she had lacked the good looks to lure on the lover who throws himself romantically away upon a penniless pretty face; and she had not been clever enough to attract the man so irrationally bold as to set sail upon the sea of matrimony with a woman of brains. And so, her brief summer at an end, she had receded to those remote and undiscovered shores on which dwell the poor relations of the Four Hundred; whereon she had lived respectably, as a lady (for that she should ever appear a lady was due the position of Mrs. De Peyster), upon an almost microscopic income; and from which bleak and distant land of second-cousindom she came in glad and proud obedience to fill an occasional vacant place at one of Mrs. De Peyster's second-best dinner parties. She had arrived but the moment before to bid her exalted cousin adieu and wish her bon-voyage, and was now silently gazing in unenvious admiration at the jewels Mrs....
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