The House of Mirth

 

BY

 

EDITH WHARTON

 

 

 

 

                          BOOK ONE

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Selden paused in surprise. In the afternoon rush of the Grand Central

Station his eyes had been refreshed by the sight of Miss Lily Bart.

 

It was a Monday in early September, and he was returning to his work from

a hurried dip into the country; but what was Miss Bart doing in town at

that season? If she had appeared to be catching a train, he might have

inferred that he had come on her in the act of transition between one and

another of the country-houses which disputed her presence after the close

of the Newport season; but her desultory air perplexed him. She stood

apart from the crowd, letting it drift by her to the platform or the

street, and wearing an air of irresolution which might, as he surmised,

be the mask of a very definite purpose. It struck him at once that she

was waiting for some one, but he hardly knew why the idea arrested him.

There was nothing new about Lily Bart, yet he could never see her without

a faint movement of interest: it was characteristic of her that she

always roused speculation, that her simplest acts seemed the result of

far-reaching intentions.

 

An impulse of curiosity made him turn out of his direct line to the door,

and stroll past her. He knew that if she did not wish to be seen she

would contrive to elude him; and it amused him to think of putting her

skill to the test.

 

"Mr. Selden--what good luck!"

 

She came forward smiling, eager almost, in her resolve to intercept him.

One or two persons, in brushing past them, lingered to look; for Miss

Bart was a figure to arrest even the suburban traveller rushing to his

last train.

 

Selden had never seen her more radiant. Her vivid head, relieved against

the dull tints of the crowd, made her more conspicuous than in a

ball-room, and under her dark hat and veil she regained the girlish

smoothness, the purity of tint, that she was beginning to lose after

eleven years of late hours and indefatigable dancing. Was it really

eleven years, Selden found himself wondering, and had she indeed reached

the nine-and-twentieth birthday with which her rivals credited her?

 

"What luck!" she repeated. "How nice of you to come to my rescue!"

 

He responded joyfully that to do so was his mission in life, and asked

what form the rescue was to take.

 

"Oh, almost any--even to sitting on a bench and talking to me.  One sits

out a cotillion--why not sit out a train? It isn't a bit hotter here than

in Mrs. Van Osburgh's conservatory--and some of the women are not a bit

uglier."  She broke off, laughing, to explain that she had come up to

town from Tuxedo, on her way to the Gus Trenors' at Bellomont, and had

missed the three-fifteen train to Rhinebeck.  "And there isn't another

till half-past five." She consulted the little jewelled watch among her

laces.  "Just two hours to wait. And I don't know what to do with myself.

My maid came up this morning to do some shopping for me, and was to go on

to Bellomont at one o'clock, and my aunt's house is closed, and I don't

know a soul in town." She glanced plaintively about the station. "It IS

hotter than Mrs. Van Osburgh's, after all. If you can spare the time, do

take me somewhere for a breath of air."

 

He declared himself entirely at her disposal: the adventure struck him as

diverting. As a spectator, he had always enjoyed Lily Bart; and his

course lay so far out of her orbit that it amused him to be drawn for a

moment into the sudden intimacy which her proposal implied.

 

"Shall we go over to Sherry's for a cup of tea?"

 

She smiled assentingly, and then made a slight grimace.

 

"So many people come up to town on a Monday--one is sure to meet a lot of

bores. I'm as old as the hills, of course, and it ought not to make any

difference; but if I'M old enough, you're not," she objected gaily.  "I'm

dying for tea--but isn't there a quieter place?"

 

He answered her smile, which rested on him vividly. Her discretions

interested him almost as much as her imprudences: he was so sure that

both were part of the same carefully-elaborated plan. In judging Miss

Bart, he had always made use of the "argument from design."

 

"The resources of New York are rather meagre," he said; "but I'll find a

hansom first, and then we'll invent something." He led her through the

throng of returning holiday-makers, past sallow-faced girls in

preposterous hats, and flat-chested women struggling with paper bundles

and palm-leaf fans. Was it possible that she belonged to the same race?

The dinginess, the crudity of this average section of womanhood made him

feel how highly specialized she was.

 

A rapid shower had cooled the air, and clouds still hung refreshingly

over the moist street.

 

"How delicious! Let us walk a little," she said as they emerged from the

station.

 

They turned into Madison Avenue and began to stroll northward. As she

moved beside him, with her long light step, Selden was conscious of

taking a luxurious pleasure in her nearness: in the modelling of her

little ear, the crisp upward wave of her hair--was it ever so slightly

brightened by art?--and the thick planting of her straight black lashes.

Everything about her was at once vigorous and exquisite, at once strong

and fine. He had a confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to

make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious

way, have been sacrificed to produce her. He was aware that the qualities

distinguishing her from the herd of her sex were chiefly external: as

though a fine glaze of beauty and fastidiousness had been applied to

vulgar clay. Yet the analogy left him unsatisfied, for a coarse texture

will not take a high finish; and was it not possible that the material

was fine, but that circumstance had fashioned it into a futile shape?

 

As he reached this point in his speculations the sun came out, and her

lifted parasol cut off his enjoyment. A moment or two later she paused

with a sigh.

 

"Oh, dear, I'm so hot and thirsty--and what a hideous place New York is!"

She looked despairingly up and down the dreary thoroughfare.  "Other

cities put on their best clothes in summer, but New York seems to sit in

its shirtsleeves." Her eyes wandered down one of the side-streets.

"Someone has had the humanity to plant a few trees over there. Let us go

into the shade."

 

"I am glad my street meets with your approval," said Selden as they

turned the corner.

 

"Your street? Do you live here?"

 

She glanced with interest along the new brick and limestone house-fronts,

fantastically varied in obedience to the American craving for novelty,

but fresh and inviting with their awnings and flower-boxes.

 

"Ah, yes--to be sure: THE BENEDICK. What a nice-looking building!  I

don't think I've ever seen it before." She looked across at the

flat-house with its marble porch and pseudo-Georgian facade.  "Which are

your windows? Those with the awnings down?"

 

"On the top floor--yes."

 

"And that nice little balcony is yours? How cool it looks up there!"

 

He paused a moment. "Come up and see," he suggested. "I can give you a

cup of tea in no time--and you won't meet any bores."

 

Her colour deepened--she still had the art of blushing at the right

time--but she took the suggestion as lightly as it was made.

 

"Why not? It's too tempting--I'll take the risk," she declared.

 

"Oh, I'm not dangerous," he said in the same key. In truth, he had never

liked her as well as at that moment. He knew she had accepted without

afterthought: he could never be a factor in her calculations, and there

was a surprise, a refreshment almost, in the spontaneity of her consent.

 

On the threshold he paused a moment, feeling for his latchkey.

 

"There's no one here; but I have a servant who is supposed to come in the

mornings, and it's just possible he may have put out the tea-things and

provided some cake."

 

He ushered her into a slip of a hall hung with old prints. She noticed

the letters and notes heaped on the table among his gloves and sticks;

then she found herself in a small library, dark but cheerful, with its

walls of books, a pleasantly faded Turkey rug, a littered desk and, as he

had foretold, a tea-tray on a low table near the window. A breeze had

sprung up, swaying inward the muslin curtains, and bringing a fresh scent

of mignonette and petunias from the flower-box on the balcony.

 

Lily sank with a sigh into one of the shabby leather chairs.

 

"How delicious to have a place like this all to one's self! What a

miserable thing it is to be a woman." She leaned back in a luxury of

discontent.

 

Selden was rummaging in a cupboard for the cake.

 

"Even women," he said, "have been known to enjoy the privileges of a

flat."

 

"Oh, governesses--or widows. But not girls--not poor, miserable,

marriageable girls!"

 

"I even know a girl who lives in a flat."

 

She sat up in surprise. "You do?"

 

"I do," he assured her, emerging from the cupboard with the sought-for

cake.

 

"Oh, I know--you mean Gerty Farish." She smiled a little unkindly. "But I

said MARRIAGEABLE--and besides, she has a horrid little place, and no

maid, and such queer things to eat. Her cook does the washing and the

food tastes of soap. I should hate that, you know."

 

"You shouldn't dine with her on wash-days," said Selden, cutting the cake.

 

They both laughed, and he knelt by the table to light the lamp under the

kettle, while she measured out the tea into a little tea-pot of green

glaze. As he watched her hand, polished as a bit of old ivory, with its

slender pink nails, and the sapphire bracelet slipping over her wrist, he

was struck with the irony of suggesting to her such a life as his cousin

Gertrude Farish had chosen. She was so evidently the victim of the

civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet

seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.

 

She seemed to read his thought. "It was horrid of me to say that of

Gerty," she said with charming compunction. "I forgot she was your

cousin. But we're so different, you know: she likes being good, and I

like being happy. And besides, she is free and I am not. If I were, I

daresay I could manage to be happy even in her flat. It must be pure

bliss to arrange the furniture just as one likes, and give all the

horrors to the ash-man. If I could only do over my aunt's drawing-room I

know I should be a better woman."

 

"Is it so very bad?" he asked sympathetically.

 

She smiled at him across the tea-pot which she was holding up to be

filled.

 

"That shows how seldom you come there. Why don't you come oftener?"

 

"When I do come, it's not to look at Mrs. Peniston's furniture."

 

"Nonsense," she said. "You don't come at all--and yet we get on so well

when we meet."

 

"Perhaps that's the reason," he answered promptly. "I'm afraid I haven't

any cream, you know--shall you mind a slice of lemon instead?"

 

"I shall like it better." She waited while he cut the lemon and dropped a

thin disk into her cup. "But that is not the reason," she insisted.

 

"The reason for what?"

 

"For your never coming." She leaned forward with a shade of perplexity in

her charming eyes. "I wish I knew--I wish I could make you out. Of course

I know there are men who don't like me--one can tell that at a glance.

And there are others who are afraid of me: they think I want to marry

them." She smiled up at him frankly. "But I don't think you dislike

me--and you can't possibly think I want to marry you."

 

"No--I absolve you of that," he agreed.

 

"Well, then----?"

 

He had carried his cup to the fireplace, and stood leaning against the

chimney-piece and looking down on her with an air of indolent amusement.

The provocation in her eyes increased his amusement--he had not supposed

she would waste her powder on such small game; but perhaps she was only

keeping her hand in; or perhaps a girl of her type had no conversation

but of the personal kind. At any rate, she was amazingly pretty, and he

had asked her to tea and must live up to his obligations.

 

"Well, then," he said with a plunge, "perhaps THAT'S the reason."

 

"What?"

 

"The fact that you don't want to marry me. Perhaps I don't regard it as

such a strong inducement to go and see you." He felt a slight shiver down

his spine as he ventured this, but her laugh reassured him.

 

"Dear Mr. Selden, that wasn't worthy of you. It's stupid of you to make

love to me, and it isn't like you to be stupid." She leaned back, sipping

her tea with an air so enchantingly judicial that, if they had been in

her aunt's drawing-room, he might almost have tried to disprove her

deduction.

 

"Don't you see," she continued, "that there are men enough to say

pleasant things to me, and that what I want is a friend who won't be

afraid to say disagreeable ones when I need them? Sometimes I have

fancied you might be that friend--I don't know why, except that you are

neither a prig nor a bounder, and that I shouldn't have to pretend with

you or be on my guard against you." Her voice had dropped to a note of

seriousness, and she sat gazing up at him with the troubled gravity of a

child.

 

"You don't know how much I need such a friend," she said. "My aunt is

full of copy-book axioms, but they were all meant to apply to conduct in

the early fifties. I always feel that to live up to them would include

wearing book-muslin with gigot sleeves.  And the other women--my best

friends--well, they use me or abuse me; but they don't care a straw what

happens to me. I've been about too long--people are getting tired of me;

they are beginning to say I ought to marry."

 

There was a moment's pause, during which Selden meditated one or two

replies calculated to add a momentary zest to the situation; but he

rejected them in favour of the simple question: "Well, why don't you?"

 

She coloured and laughed. "Ah, I see you ARE a friend after all, and that

is one of the disagreeable things I was asking for."

 

"It wasn't meant to be disagreeable," he returned amicably.  "Isn't

marriage your vocation? Isn't it what you're all brought up for?"

 

She sighed. "I suppose so. What else is there?"

 

"Exactly. And so why not take the plunge and have it over?"

 

She shrugged her shoulders. "You speak as if I ought to marry the first

man who came along."

 

"I didn't mean to imply that you are as hard put to it as that. But there

must be some one with the requisite qualifications."

 

She shook her head wearily. "I threw away one or two good chances when I

first came out--I suppose every girl does; and you know I am horribly

poor--and very expensive. I must have a great deal of money."

 

Selden had turned to reach for a cigarette-box on the mantelpiece.

 

"What's become of Dillworth?" he asked.

 

"Oh, his mother was frightened--she was afraid I should have all the

family jewels reset. And she wanted me to promise that I wouldn't do over

the drawing-room."

 

"The very thing you are marrying for!"

 

"Exactly. So she packed him off to India."

 

"Hard luck--but you can do better than Dillworth."

 

He offered the box, and she took out three or four cigarettes, putting

one between her lips and slipping the others into a little gold case

attached to her long pearl chain.

 

"Have I time? Just a whiff, then." She leaned forward, holding the tip of

her cigarette to his. As she did so, he noted, with a purely impersonal

enjoyment, how evenly the black lashes were set in her smooth white lids,

and how the purplish shade beneath them melted into the pure pallour of

the cheek.

 

She began to saunter about the room, examining the bookshelves between

the puffs of her cigarette-smoke. Some of the volumes had the ripe tints

of good tooling and old morocco, and her eyes lingered on them

caressingly, not with the appreciation of the expert, but with the

pleasure in agreeable tones and textures that was one of her inmost

susceptibilities. Suddenly her expression changed from desultory

enjoyment to active conjecture, and she turned to Selden with a question.

 

"You collect, don't you--you know about first editions and things?"

 

"As much as a man may who has no money to spend. Now and then I pick up

something in the rubbish heap; and I go and look on at the big sales."

 

She had again addressed herself to the shelves, but her eyes now swept

them inattentively, and he saw that she was preoccupied with a new idea.

 

"And Americana--do you collect Americana?"

 

Selden stared and laughed.

 

"No, that's rather out of my line. I'm not really a collector, you see; I

simply like to have good editions of the books I am fond of."

 

She made a slight grimace. "And Americana are horribly dull, I suppose?"

 

"I should fancy so--except to the historian. But your real collector

values a thing for its rarity. I don't suppose the buyers of Americana

sit up reading them all night--old Jefferson Gryce certainly didn't."

 

She was listening with keen attention. "And yet they fetch fabulous

prices, don't they? It seems so odd to want to pay a lot for an ugly

badly-printed book that one is never going to read!  And I suppose most

of the owners of Americana are not historians either?"

 

"No; very few of the historians can afford to buy them. They have to use

those in the public libraries or in private collections.  It seems to be

the mere rarity that attracts the average collector."

 

He had seated himself on an arm of the chair near which she was standing,

and she continued to question him, asking which were the rarest volumes,

whether the Jefferson Gryce collection was really considered the finest

in the world, and what was the largest price ever fetched by a single

volume.

 

It was so pleasant to sit there looking up at her, as she lifted now one

book and then another from the shelves, fluttering the pages between her

fingers, while her drooping profile was outlined against the warm

background of old bindings, that he talked on without pausing to wonder

at her sudden interest in so unsuggestive a subject. But he could never

be long with her without trying to find a reason for what she was doing,

and as she replaced his first edition of La Bruyere and turned away from

the bookcases, he began to ask himself what she had been driving at. Her

next question was not of a nature to enlighten him. She paused before him

with a smile which seemed at once designed to admit him to her

familiarity, and to remind him of the restrictions it imposed.

 

"Don't you ever mind," she asked suddenly, "not being rich enough to buy

all the books you want?"

 

He followed her glance about the room, with its worn furniture and shabby

walls.

 

"Don't I just? Do you take me for a saint on a pillar?"

 

"And having to work--do you mind that?"

 

"Oh, the work itself is not so bad--I'm rather fond of the law."

 

"No; but the being tied down: the routine--don't you ever want to get

away, to see new places and people?"

 

"Horribly--especially when I see all my friends rushing to the steamer."

 

She drew a sympathetic breath. "But do you mind enough--to marry to get

out of it?"

 

Selden broke into a laugh. "God forbid!" he declared.

 

She rose with a sigh, tossing her cigarette into the grate.

 

"Ah, there's the difference--a girl must, a man may if he chooses." She

surveyed him critically. "Your coat's a little shabby--but who cares?  It

doesn't keep people from asking you to dine. If I were shabby no one

would have me: a woman is asked out as much for her clothes as for

herself. The clothes are the background, the frame, if you like: they

don't make success, but they are a part of it. Who wants a dingy woman?

We are expected to be pretty and well-dressed till we drop--and if we

can't keep it up alone, we have to go into partnership."

 

Selden glanced at her with amusement: it was impossible, even with her

lovely eyes imploring him, to take a sentimental view of her case.

 

"Ah, well, there must be plenty of capital on the look-out for such an

investment. Perhaps you'll meet your fate tonight at the Trenors'."

 

She returned his look interrogatively.

 

"I thought you might be going there--oh, not in that capacity!  But there

are to be a lot of your set--Gwen Van Osburgh, the Wetheralls, Lady

Cressida Raith--and the George Dorsets."

 

She paused a moment before the last name, and shot a query through her

lashes; but he remained imperturbable.

 

"Mrs. Trenor asked me; but I can't get away till the end of the week; and

those big parties bore me."

 

"Ah, so they do me," she exclaimed.

 

"Then why go?"

 

"It's part of the business--you forget! And besides, if I didn't, I

should be playing bezique with my aunt at Richfield Springs."

 

"That's almost as bad as marrying Dillworth," he agreed, and they both

laughed for pure pleasure in their sudden intimacy.

 

She glanced at the clock.

 

"Dear me! I must be off. It's after five."

 

She paused before the mantelpiece, studying herself in the mirror while

she adjusted her veil. The attitude revealed the long slope of her

slender sides, which gave a kind of wild-wood grace to her outline--as

though she were a captured dryad subdued to the conventions of the

drawing-room; and Selden reflected that it was the same streak of sylvan

freedom in her nature that lent such savour to her artificiality.

 

He followed her across the room to the entrance-hall; but on the

threshold she held out her hand with a gesture of leave-taking.

 

"It's been delightful; and now you will have to return my visit."

 

"But don't you want me to see you to the station?"

 

"No; good bye here, please."

 

She let her hand lie in his a moment, smiling up at him adorably.

 

"Good bye, then--and good luck at Bellomont!" he said, opening the door

for her.

 

On the landing she paused to look about her. There were a thousand

chances to one against her meeting anybody, but one could never tell, and

she always paid for her rare indiscretions by a violent reaction of

prudence. There was no one in sight, however, but a char-woman who was

scrubbing the stairs. Her own stout person and its surrounding implements

took up so much room that Lily, to pass her, had to gather up her skirts

and brush against the wall. As she did so, the woman paused in her work

and looked up curiously, resting her clenched red fists on the wet cloth

she had just drawn from her pail. She had a broad sallow face, slightly

pitted with small-pox, and thin straw-coloured hair through which her

scalp shone unpleasantly.

 

"I beg your pardon," said Lily, intending by her politeness to convey a

criticism of the other's manner.

 

The woman, without answering, pushed her pail aside, and continued to

stare as Miss Bart swept by with a murmur of silken linings. Lily felt

herself flushing under the look. What did the creature suppose? Could one

never do the simplest, the most harmless thing, without subjecting one's

self to some odious conjecture? Half way down the next flight, she smiled

to think that a char-woman's stare should so perturb her.  The poor thing

was probably dazzled by such an unwonted apparition. But WERE such

apparitions unwonted on Selden's stairs? Miss Bart was not familiar with

the moral code of bachelors' flat-houses, and her colour rose again as it

occurred to her that the woman's persistent gaze implied a groping among

past associations. But she put aside the thought with a smile at her own

fears, and hastened downward, wondering if she should find a cab short of

Fifth Avenue.

 

Under the Georgian porch she paused again, scanning the street for a

hansom. None was in sight, but as she reached the sidewalk she ran

against a small glossy-looking man with a gardenia in his coat, who

raised his hat with a surprised exclamation.

 

"Miss Bart? Well--of all people! This IS luck," he declared; and she

caught a twinkle of amused curiosity between his screwed-up lids.

 

"Oh, Mr. Rosedale--how are you?" she said, perceiving that the

irrepressible annoyance on her face was reflected in the sudden intimacy

of his smile.

 

Mr. Rosedale stood scanning her with interest and approval. He was a

plump rosy man of the blond Jewish type, with smart London clothes

fitting him like upholstery, and small sidelong eyes which gave him the

air of appraising people as if they were bric-a-brac. He glanced up

interrogatively at the porch of the Benedick.

 

"Been up to town for a little shopping, I suppose?" he said, in a tone

which had the familiarity of a touch.

 

Miss Bart shrank from it slightly, and then flung herself into

precipitate explanations.

 

"Yes--I came up to see my dress-maker. I am just on my way to catch the

train to the Trenors'."

 

"Ah--your dress-maker; just so," he said blandly. "I didn't know there

were any dress-makers in the Benedick."

 

"The Benedick?" She looked gently puzzled. "Is that the name of this

building?"

 

"Yes, that's the name: I believe it's an old word for bachelor, isn't it?

I happen to own the building--that's the way I know." His smile deepened

as he added with increasing assurance: "But you must let me take you to

the station. The Trenors are at Bellomont, of course?  You've barely time

to catch the five-forty.  The dress-maker kept you waiting, I suppose."

 

Lily stiffened under the pleasantry.

 

"Oh, thanks," she stammered; and at that moment her eye caught a hansom

drifting down Madison Avenue, and she hailed it with a desperate gesture.

 

"You're very kind; but I couldn't think of troubling you," she said,

extending her hand to Mr. Rosedale; and heedless of his protestations,

she sprang into the rescuing vehicle, and called out a breathless order

to the driver.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

In the hansom she leaned back with a sigh. Why must a girl pay so dearly

for her least escape from routine? Why could one never do a natural thing

without having to screen it behind a structure of artifice? She had

yielded to a passing impulse in going to Lawrence Selden's rooms, and it

was so seldom that she could allow herself the luxury of an impulse! This

one, at any rate, was going to cost her rather more than she could

afford. She was vexed to see that, in spite of so many years of

vigilance, she had blundered twice within five minutes. That stupid story

about her dress-maker was bad enough--it would have been so simple to

tell Rosedale that she had been taking tea with Selden! The mere

statement of the fact would have rendered it innocuous. But, after having

let herself be surprised in a falsehood, it was doubly stupid to snub the

witness of her discomfiture. If she had had the presence of mind to let

Rosedale drive her to the station, the concession might have purchased

his silence. He had his race's accuracy in the appraisal of values, and

to be seen walking down the platform at the crowded afternoon hour in the

company of Miss Lily Bart would have been money in his pocket, as he

might himself have phrased it. He knew, of course, that there would be a

large house-party at Bellomont, and the possibility of being taken for

one of Mrs. Trenor's guests was doubtless included in his calculations.

Mr. Rosedale was still at a stage in his social ascent when it was of

importance to produce such impressions.

 

The provoking part was that Lily knew all this--knew how easy it would

have been to silence him on the spot, and how difficult it might be to do

so afterward. Mr. Simon Rosedale was a man who made it his business to

know everything about every one, whose idea of showing himself to be at

home in society was to display an inconvenient familiarity with the

habits of those with whom he wished to be thought intimate. Lily was sure

that within twenty-four hours the story of her visiting her dress-maker

at the Benedick would be in active circulation among Mr. Rosedale's

acquaintances. The worst of it was that she had always snubbed and

ignored him. On his first appearance--when her improvident cousin, Jack

Stepney, had obtained for him (in return for favours too easily guessed)

a card to one of the vast impersonal Van Osburgh "crushes"--Rosedale,

with that mixture of artistic sensibility and business astuteness which

characterizes his race, had instantly gravitated toward Miss Bart. She

understood his motives, for her own course was guided by as nice

calculations. Training and experience had taught her to be hospitable to

newcomers, since the most unpromising might be useful later on, and there

were plenty of available OUBLIETTES to swallow them if they were not. But

some intuitive repugnance, getting the better of years of social

discipline, had made her push Mr. Rosedale into his OUBLIETTE without a

trial. He had left behind only the ripple of amusement which his speedy

despatch had caused among her friends; and though later (to shift the

metaphor) he reappeared lower down the stream, it was only in fleeting

glimpses, with long submergences between.

 

Hitherto Lily had been undisturbed by scruples. In her little set Mr.

Rosedale had been pronounced "impossible," and Jack Stepney roundly

snubbed for his attempt to pay his debts in dinner invitations. Even Mrs.

Trenor, whose taste for variety had led her into some hazardous

experiments, resisted Jack's attempts to disguise Mr. Rosedale as a

novelty, and declared that he was the same little Jew who had been served

up and rejected at the social board a dozen times within her memory; and

while Judy Trenor was obdurate there was small chance of Mr. Rosedale's

penetrating beyond the outer limbo of the Van Osburgh crushes. Jack gave

up the contest with a laughing "You'll see," and, sticking manfully to

his guns, showed himself with Rosedale at the fashionable restaurants, in

company with the personally vivid if socially obscure ladies who are

available for such purposes. But the attempt had hitherto been vain, and

as Rosedale undoubtedly paid for the dinners, the laugh remained with his

debtor.

 

Mr. Rosedale, it will be seen, was thus far not a factor to be

feared--unless one put one's self in his power. And this was precisely

what Miss Bart had done. Her clumsy fib had let him see that she had

something to conceal; and she was sure he had a score to settle with her.

Something in his smile told her he had not forgotten. She turned from the

thought with a little shiver, but it hung on her all the way to the

station, and dogged her down the platform with the persistency of Mr.

Rosedale himself.

 

She had just time to take her seat before the train started; but having

arranged herself in her corner with the instinctive feeling for effect

which never forsook her, she glanced about in the hope of seeing some

other member of the Trenors' party. She wanted to get away from herself,

and conversation was the only means of escape that she knew.

 

Her search was rewarded by the discovery of a very blond young man with a

soft reddish beard, who, at the other end of the carriage, appeared to be

dissembling himself behind an unfolded newspaper. Lily's eye brightened,

and a faint smile relaxed the drawn lines of her mouth. She had known

that Mr. Percy Gryce was to be at Bellomont, but she had not counted on

the luck of having him to herself in the train; and the fact banished all

perturbing thoughts of Mr. Rosedale. Perhaps, after all, the day was to

end more favourably than it had begun.

 

She began to cut the pages of a novel, tranquilly studying her prey

through downcast lashes while she organized a method of attack.

Something in his attitude of conscious absorption told her that he was

aware of her presence: no one had ever been quite so engrossed in an

evening paper! She guessed that he was too shy to come up to her, and

that she would have to devise some means of approach which should not

appear to be an advance on her part.  It amused her to think that any one

as rich as Mr. Percy Gryce should be shy; but she was gifted with

treasures of indulgence for such idiosyncrasies, and besides, his

timidity might serve her purpose better than too much assurance. She had

the art of giving self-confidence to the embarrassed, but she was not

equally sure of being able to embarrass the self-confident.

 

She waited till the train had emerged from the tunnel and was racing

between the ragged edges of the northern suburbs. Then, as it lowered its

speed near Yonkers, she rose from her seat and drifted slowly down the

carriage. As she passed Mr. Gryce, the train gave a lurch, and he was

aware of a slender hand gripping the back of his chair. He rose with a

start, his ingenuous face looking as though it had been dipped in

crimson: even the reddish tint in his beard seemed to deepen. The train

swayed again, almost flinging Miss Bart into his arms.

 

She steadied herself with a laugh and drew back; but he was enveloped in

the scent of her dress, and his shoulder had felt her fugitive touch.

 

"Oh, Mr. Gryce, is it you? I'm so sorry--I was trying to find the porter

and get some tea."

 

She held out her hand as the train resumed its level rush, and they stood

exchanging a few words in the aisle. Yes--he was going to Bellomont. He

had heard she was to be of the party--he blushed again as he admitted it.

And was he to be there for a whole week?  How delightful!

 

But at this point one or two belated passengers from the last station

forced their way into the carriage, and Lily had to retreat to her seat.

 

"The chair next to mine is empty--do take it," she said over her

shoulder; and Mr. Gryce, with considerable embarrassment, succeeded in

effecting an exchange which enabled him to transport himself and his bags

to her side.

 

"Ah--and here is the porter, and perhaps we can have some tea."

 

She signalled to that official, and in a moment, with the ease that

seemed to attend the fulfilment of all her wishes, a little table had

been set up between the seats, and she had helped Mr. Gryce to bestow his

encumbering properties beneath it.

 

When the tea came he watched her in silent fascination while her hands

flitted above the tray, looking miraculously fine and slender in contrast

to the coarse china and lumpy bread. It seemed wonderful to him that any

one should perform with such careless ease the difficult task of making

tea in public in a lurching train. He would never have dared to order it

for himself, lest he should attract the notice of his fellow-passengers;

but, secure in the shelter of her conspicuousness, he sipped the inky

draught with a delicious sense of exhilaration.

 

Lily, with the flavour of Selden's caravan tea on her lips, had no great

fancy to drown it in the railway brew which seemed such nectar to her

companion; but, rightly judging that one of the charms of tea is the fact

of drinking it together, she proceeded to give the last touch to Mr.

Gryce's enjoyment by smiling at him across her lifted cup.

 

"Is it quite right--I haven't made it too strong?" she asked

solicitously; and he replied with conviction that he had never tasted

better tea.

 

"I daresay it is true," she reflected; and her imagination was fired by

the thought that Mr. Gryce, who might have sounded the depths of the most

complex self-indulgence, was perhaps actually taking his first journey

alone with a pretty woman.

 

It struck her as providential that she should be the instrument of his

initiation. Some girls would not have known how to manage him. They would

have over-emphasized the novelty of the adventure, trying to make him

feel in it the zest of an escapade.  But Lily's methods were more

delicate. She remembered that her cousin Jack Stepney had once defined

Mr. Gryce as the young man who had promised his mother never to go out in

the rain without his overshoes; and acting on this hint, she resolved to

impart a gently domestic air to the scene, in the hope that her

companion, instead of feeling that he was doing something reckless or

unusual, would merely be led to dwell on the advantage of always having a

companion to make one's tea in the train.

 

But in spite of her efforts, conversation flagged after the tray had been

removed, and she was driven to take a fresh measurement of Mr. Gryce's

limitations. It was not, after all, opportunity but imagination that he

lacked: he had a mental palate which would never learn to distinguish

between railway tea and nectar.  There was, however, one topic she could

rely on: one spring that she had only to touch to set his simple

machinery in motion. She had refrained from touching it because it was a

last resource, and she had relied on other arts to stimulate other

sensations; but as a settled look of dulness began to creep over his

candid features, she saw that extreme measures were necessary.

 

"And how," she said, leaning forward, "are you getting on with your

Americana?"

 

His eye became a degree less opaque: it was as though an incipient film

had been removed from it, and she felt the pride of a skilful operator.

 

"I've got a few new things," he said, suffused with pleasure, but

lowering his voice as though he feared his fellow-passengers might be in

league to despoil him.

 

She returned a sympathetic enquiry, and gradually he was drawn on to talk

of his latest purchases. It was the one subject which enabled him to

forget himself, or allowed him, rather, to remember himself without

constraint, because he was at home in it, and could assert a superiority

that there were few to dispute. Hardly any of his acquaintances cared for

Americana, or knew anything about them; and the consciousness of this

ignorance threw Mr. Gryce's knowledge into agreeable relief. The only

difficulty was to introduce the topic and to keep it to the front; most

people showed no desire to have their ignorance dispelled, and Mr. Gryce

was like a merchant whose warehouses are crammed with an unmarketable

commodity.

 

But Miss Bart, it appeared, really did want to know about Americana; and

moreover, she was already sufficiently informed to make the task of

farther instruction as easy as it was agreeable.  She questioned him

intelligently, she heard him submissively; and, prepared for the look of

lassitude which usually crept over his listeners' faces, he grew eloquent

under her receptive gaze.  The "points" she had had the presence of mind

to glean from Selden, in anticipation of this very contingency, were

serving her to such good purpose that she began to think her visit to him

had been the luckiest incident of the day. She had once more shown her

talent for profiting by the unexpected, and dangerous theories as to the

advisability of yielding to impulse were germinating under the surface of

smiling attention which she continued to present to her companion.

 

Mr. Gryce's sensations, if less definite, were equally agreeable.  He

felt the confused titillation with which the lower organisms welcome the

gratification of their needs, and all his senses floundered in a vague

well-being, through which Miss Bart's personality was dimly but

pleasantly perceptible.

 

Mr. Gryce's interest in Americana had not originated with himself: it was

impossible to think of him as evolving any taste of his own. An uncle had

left him a collection already noted among bibliophiles; the existence of

the collection was the only fact that had ever shed glory on the name of

Gryce, and the nephew took as much pride in his inheritance as though it

had been his own work. Indeed, he gradually came to regard it as such,

and to feel a sense of personal complacency when he chanced on any

reference to the Gryce Americana. Anxious as he was to avoid personal

notice, he took, in the printed mention of his name, a pleasure so

exquisite and excessive that it seemed a compensation for his shrinking

from publicity.

 

To enjoy the sensation as often as possible, he subscribed to all the

reviews dealing with book-collecting in general, and American history in

particular, and as allusions to his library abounded in the pages of

these journals, which formed his only reading, he came to regard himself

as figuring prominently in the public eye, and to enjoy the thought of

the interest which would be excited if the persons he met in the street,

or sat among in travelling, were suddenly to be told that he was the

possessor of the Gryce Americana.

 

Most timidities have such secret compensations, and Miss Bart was

discerning enough to know that the inner vanity is generally in

proportion to the outer self-depreciation. With a more confident person

she would not have dared to dwell so long on one topic, or to show such

exaggerated interest in it; but she had rightly guessed that Mr. Gryce's

egoism was a thirsty soil, requiring constant nurture from without. Miss

Bart had the gift of following an undercurrent of thought while she

appeared to be sailing on the surface of conversation; and in this case

her mental excursion took the form of a rapid survey of Mr. Percy Gryce's

future as combined with her own. The Gryces were from Albany, and but

lately introduced to the metropolis, where the mother and son had come,

after old Jefferson Gryce's death, to take possession of his house in

Madison Avenue--an appalling house, all brown stone without and black

walnut within, with the Gryce library in a fire-proof annex that looked

like a mausoleum.  Lily, however, knew all about them: young Mr. Gryce's

arrival had fluttered the maternal breasts of New York, and when a girl

has no mother to palpitate for her she must needs be on the alert for

herself. Lily, therefore, had not only contrived to put herself in the

young man's way, but had made the acquaintance of Mrs. Gryce, a

monumental woman with the voice of a pulpit orator and a mind preoccupied

with the iniquities of her servants, who came sometimes to sit with Mrs.

Peniston and learn from that lady how she managed to prevent the

kitchen-maid's smuggling groceries out of the house. Mrs. Gryce had a

kind of impersonal benevolence: cases of individual need she regarded

with suspicion, but she subscribed to Institutions when their annual

reports showed an impressive surplus. Her domestic duties were manifold,

for they extended from furtive inspections of the servants' bedrooms to

unannounced descents to the cellar; but she had never allowed herself

many pleasures. Once, however, she had had a special edition of the Sarum

Rule printed in rubric and presented to every clergyman in the diocese;

and the gilt album in which their letters of thanks were pasted formed

the chief ornament of her drawing-room table.

 

Percy had been brought up in the principles which so excellent a woman

was sure to inculcate. Every form of prudence and suspicion had been

grafted on a nature originally reluctant and cautious, with the result

that it would have seemed hardly needful for Mrs. Gryce to extract his

promise about the overshoes, so little likely was he to hazard himself

abroad in the rain. After attaining his majority, and coming into the

fortune which the late Mr. Gryce had made out of a patent device for

excluding fresh air from hotels, the young man continued to live with his

mother in Albany; but on Jefferson Gryce's death, when another large

property passed into her son's hands, Mrs. Gryce thought that what she

called his "interests" demanded his presence in New York. She accordingly

installed herself in the Madison Avenue house, and Percy, whose sense of

duty was not inferior to his mother's, spent all his week days in the

handsome Broad Street office where a batch of pale men on small salaries

had grown grey in the management of the Gryce estate, and where he was

initiated with becoming reverence into every detail of the art of

accumulation.

 

As far as Lily could learn, this had hitherto been Mr. Gryce's only

occupation, and she might have been pardoned for thinking it not too hard

a task to interest a young man who had been kept on such low diet.  At

any rate, she felt herself so completely in command of the situation that

she yielded to a sense of security in which all fear of Mr. Rosedale, and

of the difficulties on which that fear was contingent, vanished beyond

the edge of thought.

 

The stopping of the train at Garrisons would not have distracted her from

these thoughts, had she not caught a sudden look of distress in her

companion's eye. His seat faced toward the door, and she guessed that he

had been perturbed by the approach of an acquaintance; a fact confirmed

by the turning of heads and general sense of commotion which her own

entrance into a railway-carriage was apt to produce.

 

She knew the symptoms at once, and was not surprised to be hailed by the

high notes of a pretty woman, who entered the train accompanied by a

maid, a bull-terrier, and a footman staggering under a load of bags and

dressing-cases.

 

"Oh, Lily--are you going to Bellomont? Then you can't let me have your

seat, I suppose? But I MUST have a seat in this carriage--porter, you

must find me a place at once. Can't some one be put somewhere else? I

want to be with my friends. Oh, how do you do, Mr. Gryce? Do please make

him understand that I must have a seat next to you and Lily."

 

Mrs. George Dorset, regardless of the mild efforts of a traveller with a

carpet-bag, who was doing his best to make room for her by getting out of

the train, stood in the middle of the aisle, diffusing about her that

general sense of exasperation which a pretty woman on her travels not

infrequently creates.

 

She was smaller and thinner than Lily Bart, with a restless pliability of

pose, as if she could have been crumpled up and run through a ring, like

the sinuous draperies she affected. Her small pale face seemed the mere

setting of a pair of dark exaggerated eyes, of which the visionary gaze

contrasted curiously with her self-assertive tone and gestures; so that,

as one of her friends observed, she was like a disembodied spirit who

took up a great deal of room.

 

Having finally discovered that the seat adjoining Miss Bart's was at her

disposal, she possessed herself of it with a farther displacement of her

surroundings, explaining meanwhile that she had come across from Mount

Kisco in her motor-car that morning, and had been kicking her heels for

an hour at Garrisons, without even the alleviation of a cigarette, her

brute of a husband having neglected to replenish her case before they

parted that morning.

 

"And at this hour of the day I don't suppose you've a single one left,

have you, Lily?" she plaintively concluded.

 

Miss Bart caught the startled glance of Mr. Percy Gryce, whose own lips

were never defiled by tobacco.

 

"What an absurd question, Bertha!" she exclaimed, blushing at the thought

of the store she had laid in at Lawrence Selden's.

 

"Why, don't you smoke? Since when have you given it up? What--you

never---- And you don't either, Mr. Gryce? Ah, of course--how stupid of

me--I understand."

 

And Mrs. Dorset leaned back against her travelling cushions with a smile

which made Lily wish there had been no vacant seat beside her own.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Bridge at Bellomont usually lasted till the small hours; and when Lily

went to bed that night she had played too long for her own good.

 

Feeling no desire for the self-communion which awaited her in her room,

she lingered on the broad stairway, looking down into the hall below,

where the last card-players were grouped about the tray of tall glasses

and silver-collared decanters which the butler had just placed on a low

table near the fire.

 

The hall was arcaded, with a gallery supported on columns of pale yellow

marble. Tall clumps of flowering plants were grouped against a background

of dark foliage in the angles of the walls.  On the crimson carpet a

deer-hound and two or three spaniels dozed luxuriously before the fire,

and the light from the great central lantern overhead shed a brightness

on the women's hair and struck sparks from their jewels as they moved.

 

There were moments when such scenes delighted Lily, when they gratified

her sense of beauty and her craving for the external finish of life;

there were others when they gave a sharper edge to the meagreness of her

own opportunities. This was one of the moments when the sense of contrast

was uppermost, and she turned away impatiently as Mrs. George Dorset,

glittering in serpentine spangles, drew Percy Gryce in her wake to a

confidential nook beneath the gallery.

 

It was not that Miss Bart was afraid of losing her newly-acquired hold

over Mr. Gryce. Mrs. Dorset might startle or dazzle him, but she had

neither the skill nor the patience to effect his capture.  She was too

self-engrossed to penetrate the recesses of his shyness, and besides, why

should she care to give herself the trouble? At most it might amuse her

to make sport of his simplicity for an evening--after that he would be

merely a burden to her, and knowing this, she was far too experienced to

encourage him. But the mere thought of that other woman, who could take a

man up and toss him aside as she willed, without having to regard him as

a possible factor in her plans, filled Lily Bart with envy. She had been

bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce--the mere thought seemed to waken

an echo of his droning voice--but she could not ignore him on the morrow,

she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be

ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare

chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her

for life.

 

It was a hateful fate--but how escape from it? What choice had she? To be

herself, or a Gerty Farish. As she entered her bedroom, with its

softly-shaded lights, her lace dressing-gown lying across the silken

bedspread, her little embroidered slippers before the fire, a vase of

carnations filling the air with perfume, and the last novels and

magazines lying uncut on a table beside the reading-lamp, she had a

vision of Miss Farish's cramped flat, with its cheap conveniences and

hideous wall-papers. No; she was not made for mean and shabby

surroundings, for the squalid compromises of poverty. Her whole being

dilated in an atmosphere of luxury; it was the background she required,

the only climate she could breathe in. But the luxury of others was not

what she wanted. A few years ago it had sufficed her: she had taken her

daily meed of pleasure without caring who provided it. Now she was

beginning to chafe at the obligations it imposed, to feel herself a mere

pensioner on the splendour which had once seemed to belong to her.  There

were even moments when she was conscious of having to pay her way.

 

For a long time she had refused to play bridge. She knew she could not

afford it, and she was afraid of acquiring so expensive a taste. She had

seen the danger exemplified in more than one of her associates--in young

Ned Silverton, for instance, the charming fair boy now seated in abject

rapture at the elbow of Mrs. Fisher, a striking divorcee with eyes and

gowns as emphatic as the head-lines of her "case." Lily could remember

when young Silverton had stumbled into their circle, with the air of a

strayed Arcadian who has published chamung [Updater's note: charming?]

sonnets in his college journal. Since then he had developed a taste for

Mrs. Fisher and bridge, and the latter at least had involved him in

expenses from which he had been more than once rescued by harassed maiden

sisters, who treasured the sonnets, and went without sugar in their tea

to keep their darling afloat. Ned's case was familiar to Lily: she had

seen his charming eyes--which had a good deal more poetry in them than

the sonnets--change from surprise to amusement, and from amusement to

anxiety, as he passed under the spell of the terrible god of chance; and

she was afraid of discovering the same symptoms in her own case.

 

For in the last year she had found that her hostesses expected her to

take a place at the card-table. It was one of the taxes she had to pay

for their prolonged hospitality, and for the dresses and trinkets which

occasionally replenished her insufficient wardrobe. And since she had

played regularly the passion had grown on her. Once or twice of late she

had won a large sum, and instead of keeping it against future losses, had

spent it in dress or jewelry; and the desire to atone for this

imprudence, combined with the increasing exhilaration of the game, drove

her to risk higher stakes at each fresh venture. She tried to excuse

herself on the plea that, in the Trenor set, if one played at all one

must either play high or be set down as priggish or stingy; but she knew

that the gambling passion was upon her, and that in her present

surroundings there was small hope of resisting it.

 

Tonight the luck had been persistently bad, and the little gold purse

which hung among her trinkets was almost empty when she returned to her

room. She unlocked the wardrobe, and taking out her jewel-case, looked

under the tray for the roll of bills from which she had replenished the

purse before going down to dinner.  Only twenty dollars were left: the

discovery was so startling that for a moment she fancied she must have

been robbed. Then she took paper and pencil, and seating herself at the

writing-table, tried to reckon up what she had spent during the day.  Her

head was throbbing with fatigue, and she had to go over the figures again

and again; but at last it became clear to her that she had lost three

hundred dollars at cards. She took out her cheque-book to see if her

balance was larger than she remembered, but found she had erred in the

other direction. Then she returned to her calculations; but figure as she

would, she could not conjure back the vanished three hundred dollars. It

was the sum she had set aside to pacify her dress-maker--unless she

should decide to use it as a sop to the jeweller. At any rate, she had so

many uses for it that its very insufficiency had caused her to play high

in the hope of doubling it.  But of course she had lost--she who needed

every penny, while Bertha Dorset, whose husband showered money on her,

must have pocketed at least five hundred, and Judy Trenor, who could have

afforded to lose a thousand a night, had left the table clutching such a

heap of bills that she had been unable to shake hands with her guests

when they bade her good night.

 

A world in which such things could be seemed a miserable place to Lily

Bart; but then she had never been able to understand the laws of a

universe which was so ready to leave her out of its calculations.

 

She began to undress without ringing for her maid, whom she had sent to

bed. She had been long enough in bondage to other people's pleasure to be

considerate of those who depended on hers, and in her bitter moods it

sometimes struck her that she and her maid were in the same position,

except that the latter received her wages more regularly.

 

As she sat before the mirror brushing her hair, her face looked hollow

and pale, and she was frightened by two little lines near her mouth,

faint flaws in the smooth curve of the cheek.

 

"Oh, I must stop worrying!" she exclaimed. "Unless it's the electric

light----" she reflected, springing up from her seat and lighting the

candles on the dressing-table.

 

She turned out the wall-lights, and peered at herself between the

candle-flames. The white oval of her face swam out waveringly from a

background of shadows, the uncertain light blurring it like a haze; but

the two lines about the mouth remained.

 

Lily rose and undressed in haste.

 

"It is only because I am tired and have such odious things to think

about," she kept repeating; and it seemed an added injustice that petty

cares should leave a trace on the beauty which was her only defence

against them.

 

But the odious things were there, and remained with her. She returned

wearily to the thought of Percy Gryce, as a wayfarer picks up a heavy

load and toils on after a brief rest. She was almost sure she had

"landed" him: a few days' work and she would win her reward. But the

reward itself seemed unpalatable just then: she could get no zest from

the thought of victory. It would be a rest from worry, no more--and how

little that would have seemed to her a few years earlier! Her ambitions

had shrunk gradually in the desiccating air of failure. But why had she

failed? Was it her own fault or that of destiny?

 

She remembered how her mother, after they had lost their money, used to

say to her with a kind of fierce vindictiveness: "But you'll get it all

back--you'll get it all back, with your face." . . . The remembrance

roused a whole train of association, and she lay in the darkness

reconstructing the past out of which her present had grown.

 

A house in which no one ever dined at home unless there was "company"; a

door-bell perpetually ringing; a hall-table showered with square

envelopes which were opened in haste, and oblong envelopes which were

allowed to gather dust in the depths of a bronze jar; a series of French

and English maids giving warning amid a chaos of hurriedly-ransacked

wardrobes and dress-closets; an equally changing dynasty of nurses and

footmen; quarrels in the pantry, the kitchen and the drawing-room;

precipitate trips to Europe, and returns with gorged trunks and days of

interminable unpacking; semi-annual discussions as to where the summer

should be spent, grey interludes of economy and brilliant reactions of

expense--such was the setting of Lily Bart's first memories.

 

Ruling the turbulent element called home was the vigorous and determined

figure of a mother still young enough to dance her ball-dresses to rags,

while the hazy outline of a neutral-tinted father filled an intermediate

space between the butler and the man who came to wind the clocks. Even to

the eyes of infancy, Mrs. Hudson Bart had appeared young; but Lily could

not recall the time when her father had not been bald and slightly

stooping, with streaks of grey in his hair, and a tired walk. It was a

shock to her to learn afterward that he was but two years older than her

mother.

 

Lily seldom saw her father by daylight. All day he was "down town"; and

in winter it was long after nightfall when she heard his fagged step on

the stairs and his hand on the school-room door. He would kiss her in

silence, and ask one or two questions of the nurse or the governess; then

Mrs. Bart's maid would come to remind him that he was dining out, and he

would hurry away with a nod to Lily. In summer, when he joined them for a

Sunday at Newport or Southampton, he was even more effaced and silent

than in winter. It seemed to tire him to rest, and he would sit for hours

staring at the sea-line from a quiet corner of the verandah, while the

clatter of his wife's existence went on unheeded a few feet off.

Generally, however, Mrs. Bart and Lily went to Europe for the summer, and

before the steamer was half way over Mr. Bart had dipped below the

horizon. Sometimes his daughter heard him denounced for having neglected

to forward Mrs. Bart's remittances; but for the most part he was never

mentioned or thought of till his patient stooping figure presented itself

on the New York dock as a buffer between the magnitude of his wife's

luggage and the restrictions of the American custom-house.

 

In this desultory yet agitated fashion life went on through Lily's teens:

a zig-zag broken course down which the family craft glided on a rapid

current of amusement, tugged at by the underflow of a perpetual need--the

need of more money. Lily could not recall the time when there had been

money enough, and in some vague way her father seemed always to blame for

the deficiency.  It could certainly not be the fault of Mrs. Bart, who

was spoken of by her friends as a "wonderful manager." Mrs. Bart was

famous for the unlimited effect she produced on limited means; and to the

lady and her acquaintances there was something heroic in living as though

one were much richer than one's bank-book denoted.

 

Lily was naturally proud of her mother's aptitude in this line: she had

been brought up in the faith that, whatever it cost, one must have a good

cook, and be what Mrs. Bart called "decently dressed." Mrs. Bart's worst

reproach to her husband was to ask him if he expected her to "live like a

pig"; and his replying in the negative was always regarded as a

justification for cabling to Paris for an extra dress or two, and

telephoning to the jeweller that he might, after all, send home the

turquoise bracelet which Mrs. Bart had looked at that morning.

 

Lily knew people who "lived like pigs," and their appearance and

surroundings justified her mother's repugnance to that form of existence.

They were mostly cousins, who inhabited dingy houses with engravings from

Cole's Voyage of Life on the drawing-room walls, and slatternly

parlour-maids who said "I'll go and see" to visitors calling at an hour

when all right-minded persons are conventionally if not actually out. The

disgusting part of it was that many of these cousins were rich, so that

Lily imbibed the idea that if people lived like pigs it was from choice,

and through the lack of any proper standard of conduct.  This gave her a

sense of reflected superiority, and she did not need Mrs. Bart's comments

on the family frumps and misers to foster her naturally lively taste for

splendour.

 

Lily was nineteen when circumstances caused her to revise her view of the

universe.

 

The previous year she had made a dazzling debut fringed by a heavy

thunder-cloud of bills. The light of the debut still lingered on the

horizon, but the cloud had thickened; and suddenly it broke. The

suddenness added to the horror; and there were still times when Lily

relived with painful vividness every detail of the day on which the blow

fell. She and her mother had been seated at the luncheon-table, over the

CHAUFROIX and cold salmon of the previous night's dinner: it was one of

Mrs. Bart's few economies to consume in private the expensive remnants of

her hospitality. Lily was feeling the pleasant languor which is youth's

penalty for dancing till dawn; but her mother, in spite of a few lines

about the mouth, and under the yellow waves on her temples, was as alert,

determined and high in colour as if she had risen from an untroubled

sleep.

 

In the centre of the table, between the melting MARRONS GLACES and

candied cherries, a pyramid of American Beauties lifted their vigorous

stems; they held their heads as high as Mrs. Bart, but their rose-colour

had turned to a dissipated purple, and Lily's sense of fitness was

disturbed by their reappearance on the luncheon-table.

 

"I really think, mother," she said reproachfully, "we might afford a few

fresh flowers for luncheon. Just some jonquils or lilies-of-the-valley--"

 

Mrs. Bart stared. Her own fastidiousness had its eye fixed on the world,

and she did not care how the luncheon-table looked when there was no one

present at it but the family. But she smiled at her daughter's innocence.

 

"Lilies-of-the-valley," she said calmly, "cost two dollars a dozen at

this season."

 

Lily was not impressed. She knew very little of the value of money.

 

"It would not take more than six dozen to fill that bowl," she argued.

 

"Six dozen what?" asked her father's voice in the doorway.

 

The two women looked up in surprise; though it was a Saturday, the sight

of Mr. Bart at luncheon was an unwonted one. But neither his wife nor his

daughter was sufficiently interested to ask an explanation.

 

Mr. Bart dropped into a chair, and sat gazing absently at the fragment of

jellied salmon which the butler had placed before him.

 

"I was only saying," Lily began, "that I hate to see faded flowers at

luncheon; and mother says a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley would not cost

more than twelve dollars. Mayn't I tell the florist to send a few every

day?"

 

She leaned confidently toward her father: he seldom refused her anything,

and Mrs. Bart had taught her to plead with him when her own entreaties

failed.

 

Mr. Bart sat motionless, his gaze still fixed on the salmon, and his

lower jaw dropped; he looked even paler than usual, and his thin hair lay

in untidy streaks on his forehead. Suddenly he looked at his daughter and

laughed. The laugh was so strange that Lily coloured under it: she

disliked being ridiculed, and her father seemed to see something

ridiculous in the request. Perhaps he thought it foolish that she should

trouble him about such a trifle.

 

"Twelve dollars--twelve dollars a day for flowers? Oh, certainly, my

dear--give him an order for twelve hundred." He continued to laugh.

 

Mrs. Bart gave him a quick glance.

 

"You needn't wait, Poleworth--I will ring for you," she said to the

butler.

 

The butler withdrew with an air of silent disapproval, leaving the

remains of the CHAUFROIX on the sideboard.

 

"What is the matter, Hudson? Are you ill?" said Mrs. Bart severely.

 

She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making, and it

was odious to her that her husband should make a show of himself before

the servants.

 

"Are you ill?" she repeated.

 

"Ill?---- No, I'm ruined," he said.

 

Lily made a frightened sound, and Mrs. Bart rose to her feet.

 

"Ruined----?" she cried; but controlling herself instantly, she turned a

calm face to Lily.

 

"Shut the pantry door," she said.

 

Lily obeyed, and when she turned back into the room her father was

sitting with both elbows on the table, the plate of salmon between them,

and his head bowed on his hands.

 

Mrs. Bart stood over him with a white face which made her hair

unnaturally yellow. She looked at Lily as the latter approached: her look

was terrible, but her voice was modulated to a ghastly cheerfulness.

 

"Your father is not well--he doesn't know what he is saying. It is

nothing--but you had better go upstairs; and don't talk to the servants,"

she added.

 

Lily obeyed; she always obeyed when her mother spoke in that voice. She

had not been deceived by Mrs. Bart's words: she knew at once that they

were ruined. In the dark hours which followed, that awful fact

overshadowed even her father's slow and difficult dying. To his wife he

no longer counted: he had become extinct when he ceased to fulfil his

purpose, and she sat at his side with the provisional air of a traveller

who waits for a belated train to start. Lily's feelings were softer: she

pitied him in a frightened ineffectual way. But the fact that he was for

the most part unconscious, and that his attention, when she stole into

the room, drifted away from her after a moment, made him even more of a

stranger than in the nursery days when he had never come home till after

dark. She seemed always to have seen him through a blur--first of

sleepiness, then of distance and indifference--and now the fog had

thickened till he was almost indistinguishable. If she could have

performed any little services for him, or have exchanged with him a few

of those affecting words which an extensive perusal of fiction had led

her to connect with such occasions, the filial instinct might have

stirred in her; but her pity, finding no active expression, remained in a

state of spectatorship, overshadowed by her mother's grim unflagging

resentment. Every look and act of Mrs. Bart's seemed to say: "You are

sorry for him now--but you will feel differently when you see what he has

done to us."

 

It was a relief to Lily when her father died.

 

Then a long winter set in. There was a little money left, but to Mrs.

Bart it seemed worse than nothing--the mere mockery of what she was

entitled to. What was the use of living if one had to live like a pig?

She sank into a kind of furious apathy, a state of inert anger against

fate. Her faculty for "managing" deserted her, or she no longer took

sufficient pride in it to exert it. It was well enough to "manage" when

by so doing one could keep one's own carriage; but when one's best

contrivance did not conceal the fact that one had to go on foot, the

effort was no longer worth making.

 

Lily and her mother wandered from place to place, now paying long visits

to relations whose house-keeping Mrs. Bart criticized, and who deplored

the fact that she let Lily breakfast in bed when the girl had no

prospects before her, and now vegetating in cheap continental refuges,

where Mrs. Bart held herself fiercely aloof from the frugal tea-tables of

her companions in misfortune. She was especially careful to avoid her old

friends and the scenes of her former successes. To be poor seemed to her

such a confession of failure that it amounted to disgrace; and she

detected a note of condescension in the friendliest advances.

 

Only one thought consoled her, and that was the contemplation of Lily's

beauty. She studied it with a kind of passion, as though it were some

weapon she had slowly fashioned for her vengeance.  It was the last asset

in their fortunes, the nucleus around which their life was to be rebuilt.

She watched it jealously, as though it were her own property and Lily its

mere custodian; and she tried to instil into the latter a sense of the

responsibility that such a charge involved. She followed in imagination

the career of other beauties, pointing out to her daughter what might be

achieved through such a gift, and dwelling on the awful warning of those

who, in spite of it, had failed to get what they wanted: to Mrs. Bart,

only stupidity could explain the lamentable denouement of some of her

examples. She was not above the inconsistency of charging fate, rather

than herself, with her own misfortunes; but she inveighed so

acrimoniously against love-matches that Lily would have fancied her own

marriage had been of that nature, had not Mrs. Bart frequently assured

her that she had been "talked into it"--by whom, she never made clear.

 

Lily was duly impressed by the magnitude of her opportunities.  The

dinginess of her present life threw into enchanting relief the existence

to which she felt herself entitled. To a less illuminated intelligence

Mrs. Bart's counsels might have been dangerous; but Lily understood that

beauty is only the raw material of conquest, and that to convert it into

success other arts are required. She knew that to betray any sense of

superiority was a subtler form of the stupidity her mother denounced, and

it did not take her long to learn that a beauty needs more tact than the

possessor of an average set of features.

 

Her ambitions were not as crude as Mrs. Bart's. It had been among that

lady's grievances that her husband--in the early days, before he was too

tired--had wasted his evenings in what she vaguely described as "reading

poetry"; and among the effects packed off to auction after his death were

a score or two of dingy volumes which had struggled for existence among

the boots and medicine bottles of his dressing-room shelves. There was in

Lily a vein of sentiment, perhaps transmitted from this source, which

gave an idealizing touch to her most prosaic purposes. She liked to think

of her beauty as a power for good, as giving her the opportunity to

attain a position where she should make her influence felt in the vague

diffusion of refinement and good taste.  She was fond of pictures and

flowers, and of sentimental fiction, and she could not help thinking that

the possession of such tastes ennobled her desire for worldly advantages.

She would not indeed have cared to marry a man who was merely rich: she

was secretly ashamed of her mother's crude passion for money.  Lily's

preference would have been for an English nobleman with political

ambitions and vast estates; or, for second choice, an Italian prince with

a castle in the Apennines and an hereditary office in the Vatican. Lost

causes had a romantic charm for her, and she liked to picture herself as

standing aloof from the vulgar press of the Quirinal, and sacrificing her

pleasure to the claims of an immemorial tradition. . . .

 

How long ago and how far off it all seemed! Those ambitions were hardly

more futile and childish than the earlier ones which had centred about

the possession of a French jointed doll with real hair. Was it only ten

years since she had wavered in imagination between the English earl and

the Italian prince? Relentlessly her mind travelled on over the dreary

interval. . . .

 

After two years of hungry roaming Mrs. Bart had died----died of a deep

disgust. She had hated dinginess, and it was her fate to be dingy. Her

visions of a brilliant marriage for Lily had faded after the first year.

 

"People can't marry you if they don't see you--and how can they see you

in these holes where we're stuck?" That was the burden of her lament; and

her last adjuration to her daughter was to escape from dinginess if she

could.

 

"Don't let it creep up on you and drag you down. Fight your way out of it

somehow--you're young and can do it," she insisted.

 

She had died during one of their brief visits to New York, and there Lily

at once became the centre of a family council composed of the wealthy

relatives whom she had been taught to despise for living like pigs. It

may be that they had an inkling of the sentiments in which she had been

brought up, for none of them manifested a very lively desire for her

company; indeed, the question threatened to remain unsolved till Mrs.

Peniston with a sigh announced: "I'll try her for a year."

 

Every one was surprised, but one and all concealed their surprise, lest

Mrs. Peniston should be alarmed by it into reconsidering her decision.

 

Mrs. Peniston was Mr. Bart's widowed sister, and if she was by no means

the richest of the family group, its other members nevertheless abounded

in reasons why she was clearly destined by Providence to assume the

charge of Lily. In the first place she was alone, and it would be

charming for her to have a young companion. Then she sometimes travelled,

and Lily's familiarity with foreign customs--deplored as a misfortune by

her more conservative relatives--would at least enable her to act as a

kind of courier. But as a matter of fact Mrs. Peniston had not been

affected by these considerations. She had taken the girl simply because

no one else would have her, and because she had the kind of moral

MAUVAISE HONTE which makes the public display of selfishness difficult,

though it does not interfere with its private indulgence. It would have

been impossible for Mrs. Peniston to be heroic on a desert island, but

with the eyes of her little world upon her she took a certain pleasure in

her act.

 

She reaped the reward to which disinterestedness is entitled, and found

an agreeable companion in her niece. She had expected to find Lily

headstrong, critical and "foreign"--for even Mrs. Peniston, though she

occasionally went abroad, had the family dread of foreignness--but the

girl showed a pliancy, which, to a more penetrating mind than her aunt's,

might have been less reassuring than the open selfishness of youth.

Misfortune had made Lily supple instead of hardening her, and a pliable

substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.

 

Mrs. Peniston, however, did not suffer from her niece's adaptability.

Lily had no intention of taking advantage of her aunt's good nature.  She

was in truth grateful for the refuge offered her: Mrs. Peniston's opulent

interior was at least not externally dingy. But dinginess is a quality

which assumes all manner of disguises; and Lily soon found that it was as

latent in the expensive routine of her aunt's life as in the makeshift

existence of a continental pension.

 

Mrs. Peniston was one of the episodical persons who form the padding of

life. It was impossible to believe that she had herself ever been a focus

of activities. The most vivid thing about her was the fact that her

grandmother had been a Van Alstyne. This connection with the well-fed and

industrious stock of early New York revealed itself in the glacial

neatness of Mrs. Peniston's drawing-room and in the excellence of her

cuisine. She belonged to the class of old New Yorkers who have always

lived well, dressed expensively, and done little else; and to these

inherited obligations Mrs. Peniston faithfully conformed.  She had always

been a looker-on at life, and her mind resembled one of those little

mirrors which her Dutch ancestors were accustomed to affix to their upper

windows, so that from the depths of an impenetrable domesticity they

might see what was happening in the street.

 

Mrs. Peniston was the owner of a country-place in New Jersey, but she had

never lived there since her husband's death--a remote event, which

appeared to dwell in her memory chiefly as a dividing point in the

personal reminiscences that formed the staple of her conversation. She

was a woman who remembered dates with intensity, and could tell at a

moment's notice whether the drawing-room curtains had been renewed before

or after Mr. Peniston's last illness.

 

Mrs. Peniston thought the country lonely and trees damp, and cherished a

vague fear of meeting a bull. To guard against such contingencies she

frequented the more populous watering-places, where she installed herself

impersonally in a hired house and looked on at life through the matting

screen of her verandah. In the care of such a guardian, it soon became

clear to Lily that she was to enjoy only the material advantages of good

food and expensive clothing; and, though far from underrating these, she

would gladly have exchanged them for what Mrs. Bart had taught her to

regard as opportunities. She sighed to think what her mother's fierce

energies would have accomplished, had they been coupled with Mrs.

Peniston's resources. Lily had abundant energy of her own, but it was

restricted by the necessity of adapting herself to her aunt's habits. She

saw that at all costs she must keep Mrs. Peniston's favour till, as Mrs.

Bart would have phrased it, she could stand on her own legs. Lily had no

mind for the vagabond life of the poor relation, and to adapt herself to

Mrs. Peniston she had, to some degree, to assume that lady's passive

attitude. She had fancied at first that it would be easy to draw her aunt

into the whirl of her own activities, but there was a static force in

Mrs. Peniston against which her niece's efforts spent themselves in vain.

To attempt to bring her into active relation with life was like tugging

at a piece of furniture which has been screwed to the floor. She did not,

indeed, expect Lily to remain equally immovable: she had all the American

guardian's indulgence for the volatility of youth.

 

She had indulgence also for certain other habits of her niece's.  It

seemed to her natural that Lily should spend all her money on dress, and

she supplemented the girl's scanty income by occasional "handsome

presents" meant to be applied to the same purpose. Lily, who was

intensely practical, would have preferred a fixed allowance; but Mrs.

Peniston liked the periodical recurrence of gratitude evoked by

unexpected cheques, and was perhaps shrewd enough to perceive that such a

method of giving kept alive in her niece a salutary sense of dependence.

 

Beyond this, Mrs. Peniston had not felt called upon to do anything for

her charge: she had simply stood aside and let her take the field. Lily

had taken it, at first with the confidence of assured possessorship, then

with gradually narrowing demands, till now she found herself actually

struggling for a foothold on the broad space which had once seemed her

own for the asking. How it happened she did not yet know.  Sometimes she

thought it was because Mrs. Peniston had been too passive, and again she

feared it was because she herself had not been passive enough. Had she

shown an undue eagerness for victory? Had she lacked patience, pliancy

and dissimulation? Whether she charged herself with these faults or

absolved herself from them, made no difference in the sum-total of her

failure. Younger and plainer girls had been married off by dozens, and

she was nine-and-twenty, and still Miss Bart.

 

She was beginning to have fits of angry rebellion against fate, when she

longed to drop out of the race and make an independent life for herself.

But what manner of life would it be? She had barely enough money to pay

her dress-makers' bills and her gambling debts; and none of the desultory

interests which she dignified with the name of tastes was pronounced

enough to enable her to live contentedly in obscurity.  Ah, no--she was

too intelligent not to be honest with herself. She knew that she hated

dinginess as much as her mother had hated it, and to her last breath she

meant to fight against it, dragging herself up again and again above its

flood till she gained the bright pinnacles of success which presented

such a slippery surface to her clutch.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

The next morning, on her breakfast tray, Miss Bart found a note from her

hostess.

 

"Dearest Lily," it ran, "if it is not too much of a bore to be down by

ten, will you come to my sitting-room to help me with some tiresome

things?"

 

Lily tossed aside the note and subsided on her pillows with a sigh. It

WAS a bore to be down by ten--an hour regarded at Bellomont as vaguely

synchronous with sunrise--and she knew too well the nature of the

tiresome things in question. Miss Pragg, the secretary, had been called

away, and there would be notes and dinner-cards to write, lost addresses

to hunt up, and other social drudgery to perform. It was understood that

Miss Bart should fill the gap in such emergencies, and she usually

recognized the obligation without a murmur.

 

Today, however, it renewed the sense of servitude which the previous

night's review of her cheque-book had produced.  Everything in her

surroundings ministered to feelings of ease and amenity. The windows

stood open to the sparkling freshness of the September morning, and

between the yellow boughs she caught a perspective of hedges and

parterres leading by degrees of lessening formality to the free

undulations of the park. Her maid had kindled a little fire on the

hearth, and it contended cheerfully with the sunlight which slanted

across the moss-green carpet and caressed the curved sides of an old

marquetry desk.  Near the bed stood a table holding her breakfast tray,

with its harmonious porcelain and silver, a handful of violets in a

slender glass, and the morning paper folded beneath her letters.  There

was nothing new to Lily in these tokens of a studied luxury; but, though

they formed a part of her atmosphere, she never lost her sensitiveness to

their charm. Mere display left her with a sense of superior distinction;

but she felt an affinity to all the subtler manifestations of wealth.

 

Mrs. Trenor's summons, however, suddenly recalled her state of

dependence, and she rose and dressed in a mood of irritability that she

was usually too prudent to indulge. She knew that such emotions leave

lines on the face as well as in the character, and she had meant to take

warning by the little creases which her midnight survey had revealed.

 

The matter-of-course tone of Mrs. Trenor's greeting deepened her

irritation. If one did drag one's self out of bed at such an hour, and

come down fresh and radiant to the monotony of note-writing, some special

recognition of the sacrifice seemed fitting. But Mrs. Trenor's tone

showed no consciousness of the fact.

 

"Oh, Lily, that's nice of you," she merely sighed across the chaos of

letters, bills and other domestic documents which gave an incongruously

commercial touch to the slender elegance of her writing-table.

 

"There are such lots of horrors this morning," she added, clearing a

space in the centre of the confusion and rising to yield her seat to Miss

Bart.

 

Mrs. Trenor was a tall fair woman, whose height just saved her from

redundancy. Her rosy blondness had survived some forty years of futile

activity without showing much trace of ill-usage except in a diminished

play of feature. It was difficult to define her beyond saying that she

seemed to exist only as a hostess, not so much from any exaggerated

instinct of hospitality as because she could not sustain life except in a

crowd. The collective nature of her interests exempted her from the

ordinary rivalries of her sex, and she knew no more personal emotion than

that of hatred for the woman who presumed to give bigger dinners or have

more amusing house-parties than herself. As her social talents, backed by

Mr. Trenor's bank-account, almost always assured her ultimate triumph in

such competitions, success had developed in her an unscrupulous good

nature toward the rest of her sex, and in Miss Bart's utilitarian

classification of her friends, Mrs. Trenor ranked as the woman who was

least likely to "go back" on her.

 

"It was simply inhuman of Pragg to go off now," Mrs. Trenor declared, as

her friend seated herself at the desk. "She says her sister is going to

have a baby--as if that were anything to having a house-party! I'm sure I

shall get most horribly mixed up and there will be some awful rows. When

I was down at Tuxedo I asked a lot of people for next week, and I've

mislaid the list and can't remember who is coming. And this week is going

to be a horrid failure too--and Gwen Van Osburgh will go back and tell

her mother how bored people were. I did mean to ask the Wetheralls--that

was a blunder of Gus's. They disapprove of Carry Fisher, you know. As if

one could help having Carry Fisher! It WAS foolish of her to get that

second divorce--Carry always overdoes things--but she said the only way

to get a penny out of Fisher was to divorce him and make him pay alimony.

And poor Carry has to consider every dollar. It's really absurd of Alice

Wetherall to make such a fuss about meeting her, when one thinks of what

society is coming to. Some one said the other day that there was a

divorce and a case of appendicitis in every family one knows. Besides,

Carry is the only person who can keep Gus in a good humour when we have

bores in the house. Have you noticed that ALL the husbands like her? All,

I mean, except her own. It's rather clever of her to have made a

specialty of devoting herself to dull people--the field is such a large

one, and she has it practically to herself. She finds compensations, no

doubt--I know she borrows money of Gus--but then I'd PAY her to keep him

in a good humour, so I can't complain, after all."

 

Mrs. Trenor paused to enjoy the spectacle of Miss Bart's efforts to

unravel her tangled correspondence.

 

"But it is only the Wetheralls and Carry," she resumed, with a fresh note

of lament. "The truth is, I'm awfully disappointed in Lady Cressida

Raith."

 

"Disappointed? Had you known her before?"

 

"Mercy, no--never saw her till yesterday. Lady Skiddaw sent her over with

letters to the Van Osburghs, and I heard that Maria Van Osburgh was

asking a big party to meet her this week, so I thought it would be fun to

get her away, and Jack Stepney, who knew her in India, managed it for me.

Maria was furious, and actually had the impudence to make Gwen invite

herself here, so that they shouldn't be QUITE out of it--if I'd known

what Lady Cressida was like, they could have had her and welcome! But I

thought any friend of the Skiddaws' was sure to be amusing. You remember

what fun Lady Skiddaw was? There were times when I simply had to send the

girls out of the room. Besides, Lady Cressida is the Duchess of

Beltshire's sister, and I naturally supposed she was the same sort; but

you never can tell in those English families. They are so big that

there's room for all kinds, and it turns out that Lady Cressida is the

moral one--married a clergy-man and does missionary work in the East End.

Think of my taking such a lot of trouble about a clergyman's wife, who

wears Indian jewelry and botanizes! She made Gus take her all through the

glass-houses yesterday, and bothered him to death by asking him the names

of the plants. Fancy treating Gus as if he were the gardener!"

 

Mrs. Trenor brought this out in a CRESCENDO of indignation.

 

"Oh, well, perhaps Lady Cressida will reconcile the Wetheralls to meeting

Carry Fisher," said Miss Bart pacifically.

 

"I'm sure I hope so! But she is boring all the men horribly, and if she

takes to distributing tracts, as I hear she does, it will be too

depressing. The worst of it is that she would have been so useful at the

right time. You know we have to have the Bishop once a year, and she

would have given just the right tone to things. I always have horrid luck

about the Bishop's visits," added Mrs. Trenor, whose present misery was

being fed by a rapidly rising tide of reminiscence; "last year, when he

came, Gus forgot all about his being here, and brought home the Ned

Wintons and the Farleys--five divorces and six sets of children between

them!"

 

"When is Lady Cressida going?" Lily enquired.

 

Mrs. Trenor cast up her eyes in despair. "My dear, if one only knew! I

was in such a hurry to get her away from Maria that I actually forgot to

name a date, and Gus says she told some one she meant to stop here all

winter."

 

"To stop here? In this house?"

 

"Don't be silly--in America. But if no one else asks her--you know they

NEVER go to hotels."

 

"Perhaps Gus only said it to frighten you."

 

"No--I heard her tell Bertha Dorset that she had six months to put in

while her husband was taking the cure in the Engadine. You should have

seen Bertha look vacant! But it's no joke, you know--if she stays here

all the autumn she'll spoil everything, and Maria Van Osburgh will simply

exult."

 

At this affecting vision Mrs. Trenor's voice trembled with self-pity.

 

"Oh, Judy--as if any one were ever bored at Bellomont!" Miss Bart

tactfully protested. "You know perfectly well that, if Mrs. Van Osburgh

were to get all the right people and leave you with all the wrong ones,

you'd manage to make things go off, and she wouldn't."

 

Such an assurance would usually have restored Mrs. Trenor's complacency;

but on this occasion it did not chase the cloud from her brow.

 

"It isn't only Lady Cressida," she lamented. "Everything has gone wrong

this week. I can see that Bertha Dorset is furious with me."

 

"Furious with you? Why?"

 

"Because I told her that Lawrence Selden was coming; but he wouldn't,

after all, and she's quite unreasonable enough to think it's my fault."

 

Miss Bart put down her pen and sat absently gazing at the note she had

begun.

 

"I thought that was all over," she said.

 

"So it is, on his side. And of course Bertha has been idle since.  But I

fancy she's out of a job just at present--and some one gave me a hint

that I had better ask Lawrence. Well, I DID ask him--but I couldn't make

him come; and now I suppose she'll take it out of me by being perfectly

nasty to every one else."

 

"Oh, she may take it out of HIM by being perfectly charming--to some one

else."

 

Mrs. Trenor shook her head dolefully. "She knows he wouldn't mind. And

who else is there? Alice Wetherall won't let Lucius out of her sight.

Ned Silverton can't take his eyes off Carry Fisher--poor boy! Gus is

bored by Bertha, Jack Stepney knows her too well--and--well, to be sure,

there's Percy Gryce!"

 

She sat up smiling at the thought.

 

Miss Bart's countenance did not reflect the smile.

 

"Oh, she and Mr. Gryce would not be likely to hit it off."

 

"You mean that she'd shock him and he'd bore her? Well, that's not such a

bad beginning, you know. But I hope she won't take it into her head to be

nice to him, for I asked him here on purpose for you."

 

Lily laughed. "MERCI DU COMPLIMENT! I should certainly have no show

against Bertha."

 

"Do you think I am uncomplimentary? I'm not really, you know.  Every one

knows you're a thousand times handsomer and cleverer than Bertha; but

then you're not nasty. And for always getting what she wants in the long

run, commend me to a nasty woman."

 

Miss Bart stared in affected reproval. "I thought you were so fond of

Bertha."

 

"Oh, I am--it's much safer to be fond of dangerous people. But she IS

dangerous--and if I ever saw her up to mischief it's now.  I can tell by

poor George's manner. That man is a perfect barometer--he always knows

when Bertha is going to----"

 

"To fall?" Miss Bart suggested.

 

"Don't be shocking! You know he believes in her still. And of course I

don't say there's any real harm in Bertha. Only she delights in making

people miserable, and especially poor George."

 

"Well, he seems cut out for the part--I don't wonder she likes more

cheerful companionship."

 

"Oh, George is not as dismal as you think. If Bertha did worry him he

would be quite different. Or if she'd leave him alone, and let him

arrange his life as he pleases. But she doesn't dare lose her hold of him

on account of the money, and so when HE isn't jealous she pretends to be."

 

Miss Bart went on writing in silence, and her hostess sat following her

train of thought with frowning intensity.

 

"Do you know," she exclaimed after a long pause, "I believe I'll call up

Lawrence on the telephone and tell him he simply MUST come?"

 

"Oh, don't," said Lily, with a quick suffusion of colour. The blush

surprised her almost as much as it did her hostess, who, though not

commonly observant of facial changes, sat staring at her with puzzled

eyes.

 

"Good gracious, Lily, how handsome you are! Why? Do you dislike him so

much?"

 

"Not at all; I like him. But if you are actuated by the benevolent

intention of protecting me from Bertha--I don't think I need your

protection."

 

Mrs. Trenor sat up with an exclamation. "Lily!----PERCY? Do you mean to

say you've actually done it?"

 

Miss Bart smiled. "I only mean to say that Mr. Gryce and I are getting to

be very good friends."

 

"H'm--I see." Mrs. Trenor fixed a rapt eye upon her. "You know they say

he has eight hundred thousand a year--and spends nothing, except on some

rubbishy old books. And his mother has heart-disease and will leave him a

lot more. OH, LILY, DO GO SLOWLY," her friend adjured her.

 

Miss Bart continued to smile without annoyance. "I shouldn't, for

instance," she remarked, "be in any haste to tell him that he had a lot

of rubbishy old books."

 

"No, of course not; I know you're wonderful about getting up people's

subjects. But he's horribly shy, and easily shocked, and--and----"

 

"Why don't you say it, Judy? I have the reputation of being on the hunt

for a rich husband?"

 

"Oh, I don't mean that; he wouldn't believe it of you--at first," said

Mrs. Trenor, with candid shrewdness. "But you know things are rather

lively here at times--I must give Jack and Gus a hint--and if he thought

you were what his mother would call fast--oh, well, you know what I mean.

Don't wear your scarlet CREPE-DE-CHINE for dinner, and don't smoke if you

can help it, Lily dear!"

 

Lily pushed aside her finished work with a dry smile. "You're very kind,

Judy: I'll lock up my cigarettes and wear that last year's dress you sent

me this morning. And if you are really interested in my career, perhaps

you'll be kind enough not to ask me to play bridge again this evening."

 

"Bridge? Does he mind bridge, too? Oh, Lily, what an awful life you'll

lead! But of course I won't--why didn't you give me a hint last night?

There's nothing I wouldn't do, you poor duck, to see you happy!"

 

And Mrs. Trenor, glowing with her sex's eagerness to smooth the course of

true love, enveloped Lily in a long embrace.

 

"You're quite sure," she added solicitously, as the latter extricated

herself, "that you wouldn't like me to telephone for Lawrence Selden?"

 

"Quite sure," said Lily.

 

 

 

The next three days demonstrated to her own complete satisfaction Miss

Bart's ability to manage her affairs without extraneous aid.

 

As she sat, on the Saturday afternoon, on the terrace at Bellomont, she

smiled at Mrs. Trenor's fear that she might go too fast. If such a

warning had ever been needful, the years had taught her a salutary

lesson, and she flattered herself that she now knew how to adapt her pace

to the object of pursuit. In the case of Mr. Gryce she had found it well

to flutter ahead, losing herself elusively and luring him on from depth

to depth of unconscious intimacy. The surrounding atmosphere was

propitious to this scheme of courtship. Mrs. Trenor, true to her word,

had shown no signs of expecting Lily at the bridge-table, and had even

hinted to the other card-players that they were to betray no surprise at

her unwonted defection. In consequence of this hint, Lily found herself

the centre of that feminine solicitude which envelops a young woman in

the mating season. A solitude was tacitly created for her in the crowded

existence of Bellomont, and her friends could not have shown a greater

readiness for self-effacement had her wooing been adorned with all the

attributes of romance. In Lily's set this conduct implied a sympathetic

comprehension of her motives, and Mr. Gryce rose in her esteem as she saw

the consideration he inspired.

 

The terrace at Bellomont on a September afternoon was a spot propitious

to sentimental musings, and as Miss Bart stood leaning against the

balustrade above the sunken garden, at a little distance from the

animated group about the tea-table, she might have been lost in the mazes

of an inarticulate happiness. In reality, her thoughts were finding

definite utterance in the tranquil recapitulation of the blessings in

store for her. From where she stood she could see them embodied in the

form of Mr. Gryce, who, in a light overcoat and muffler, sat somewhat

nervously on the edge of his chair, while Carry Fisher, with all the

energy of eye and gesture with which nature and art had combined to endow

her, pressed on him the duty of taking part in the task of municipal

reform.

 

Mrs. Fisher's latest hobby was municipal reform. It had been preceded by

an equal zeal for socialism, which had in turn replaced an energetic

advocacy of Christian Science. Mrs. Fisher was small, fiery and dramatic;

and her hands and eyes were admirable instruments in the service of

whatever causes he happened to espouse. She had, however, the fault

common to enthusiasts of ignoring any slackness of response on the part

of her hearers, and Lily was amused by her unconsciousness of the

resistance displayed in every angle of Mr. Gryce's attitude.  Lily

herself knew that his mind was divided between the dread of catching cold

if he remained out of doors too long at that hour, and the fear that, if

he retreated to the house, Mrs. Fisher might follow him up with a paper

to be signed. Mr. Gryce had a constitutional dislike to what he called

"committing himself," and tenderly as he cherished his health, he

evidently concluded that it was safer to stay out of reach of pen and ink

till chance released him from Mrs. Fisher's toils. Meanwhile he cast

agonized glances in the direction of Miss Bart, whose only response was

to sink into an attitude of more graceful abstraction. She had learned

the value of contrast in throwing her charms into relief, and was fully

aware of the extent to which Mrs. Fisher's volubility was enhancing her

own repose.

 

She was roused from her musings by the approach of her cousin Jack

Stepney who, at Gwen Van Osburgh's side, was returning across the garden

from the tennis court.

 

The couple in question were engaged in the same kind of romance in which

Lily figured, and the latter felt a certain annoyance in contemplating

what seemed to her a caricature of her own situation.  Miss Van Osburgh

was a large girl with flat surfaces and no high lights: Jack Stepney had

once said of her that she was as reliable as roast mutton. His own taste

was in the line of less solid and more highly-seasoned diet; but hunger

makes any fare palatable, and there had been times when Mr. Stepney had

been reduced to a crust.

 

Lily considered with interest the expression of their faces: the girl's

turned toward her companion's like an empty plate held up to be filled,

while the man lounging at her side already betrayed the encroaching

boredom which would presently crack the thin veneer of his smile.

 

"How impatient men are!" Lily reflected. "All Jack has to do to get

everything he wants is to keep quiet and let that girl marry him; whereas

I have to calculate and contrive, and retreat and advance, as if I were

going through an intricate dance, where one misstep would throw me

hopelessly out of time."

 

As they drew nearer she was whimsically struck by a kind of family

likeness between Miss Van Osburgh and Percy Gryce. There was no

resemblance of feature. Gryce was handsome in a didactic way--he looked

like a clever pupil's drawing from a plaster-cast--while Gwen's

countenance had no more modelling than a face painted on a toy balloon.

But the deeper affinity was unmistakable: the two had the same prejudices

and ideals, and the same quality of making other standards non-existent

by ignoring them. This attribute was common to most of Lily's set: they

had a force of negation which eliminated everything beyond their own

range of perception. Gryce and Miss Van Osburgh were, in short, made for

each other by every law of moral and physical correspondence----"Yet they

wouldn't look at each other," Lily mused, "they never do. Each of them

wants a creature of a different race, of Jack's race and mine, with all

sorts of intuitions, sensations and perceptions that they don't even

guess the existence of. And they always get what they want."

 

She stood talking with her cousin and Miss Van Osburgh, till a slight

cloud on the latter's brow advised her that even cousinly amenities were

subject to suspicion, and Miss Bart, mindful of the necessity of not

exciting enmities at this crucial point of her career, dropped aside

while the happy couple proceeded toward the tea-table.

 

Seating herself on the upper step of the terrace, Lily leaned her head

against the honeysuckles wreathing the balustrade. The fragrance of the

late blossoms seemed an emanation of the tranquil scene, a landscape

tutored to the last degree of rural elegance. In the foreground glowed

the warm tints of the gardens.  Beyond the lawn, with its pyramidal

pale-gold maples and velvety firs, sloped pastures dotted with cattle;

and through a long glade the river widened like a lake under the silver

light of September. Lily did not want to join the circle about the

tea-table. They represented the future she had chosen, and she was

content with it, but in no haste to anticipate its joys. The certainty

that she could marry Percy Gryce when she pleased had lifted a heavy load

from her mind, and her money troubles were too recent for their removal

not to leave a sense of relief which a less discerning intelligence might

have taken for happiness. Her vulgar cares were at an end. She would be

able to arrange her life as she pleased, to soar into that empyrean of

security where creditors cannot penetrate. She would have smarter gowns

than Judy Trenor, and far, far more jewels than Bertha Dorset. She would

be free forever from the shifts, the expedients, the humiliations of the

relatively poor. Instead of having to flatter, she would be flattered;

instead of being grateful, she would receive thanks. There were old

scores she could pay off as well as old benefits she could return. And

she had no doubts as to the extent of her power. She knew that Mr. Gryce

was of the small chary type most inaccessible to impulses and emotions.

He had the kind of character in which prudence is a vice, and good advice

the most dangerous nourishment. But Lily had known the species before:

she was aware that such a guarded nature must find one huge outlet of

egoism, and she determined to be to him what his Americana had hitherto

been: the one possession in which he took sufficient pride to spend money

on it. She knew that this generosity to self is one of the forms of

meanness, and she resolved so to identify herself with her husband's

vanity that to gratify her wishes would be to him the most exquisite form

of self-indulgence. The system might at first necessitate a resort to

some of the very shifts and expedients from which she intended it should

free her; but she felt sure that in a short time she would be able to

play the game in her own way. How should she have distrusted her powers?

Her beauty itself was not the mere ephemeral possession it might have

been in the hands of inexperience: her skill in enhancing it, the care

she took of it, the use she made of it, seemed to give it a kind of

permanence. She felt she could trust it to carry her through to the end.

 

And the end, on the whole, was worthwhile. Life was not the mockery she

had thought it three days ago. There was room for her, after all, in this

crowded selfish world of pleasure whence, so short a time since, her

poverty had seemed to exclude her.  These people whom she had ridiculed

and yet envied were glad to make a place for her in the charmed circle

about which all her desires revolved. They were not as brutal and

self-engrossed as she had fancied--or rather, since it would no longer be

necessary to flatter and humour them, that side of their nature became

less conspicuous. Society is a revolving body which is apt to be judged

according to its place in each man's heaven; and at present it was

turning its illuminated face to Lily.

 

In the rosy glow it diffused her companions seemed full of amiable

qualities. She liked their elegance, their lightness, their lack of

emphasis: even the self-assurance which at times was so like obtuseness

now seemed the natural sign of social ascendency. They were lords of the

only world she cared for, and they were ready to admit her to their ranks

and let her lord it with them. Already she felt within her a stealing

allegiance to their standards, an acceptance of their limitations, a

disbelief in the things they did not believe in, a contemptuous pity for

the people who were not able to live as they lived.

 

The early sunset was slanting across the park. Through the boughs of the

long avenue beyond the gardens she caught the flash of wheels, and

divined that more visitors were approaching. There was a movement behind

her, a scattering of steps and voices: it was evident that the party

about the tea-table was breaking up.  Presently she heard a tread behind

her on the terrace. She supposed that Mr. Gryce had at last found means

to escape from his predicament, and she smiled at the significance of his

coming to join her instead of beating an instant retreat to the fire-side.

 

She turned to give him the welcome which such gallantry deserved; but her

greeting wavered into a blush of wonder, for the man who had approached

her was Lawrence Selden.

 

"You see I came after all," he said; but before she had time to answer,

Mrs. Dorset, breaking away from a lifeless colloquy with her host, had

stepped between them with a little gesture of appropriation.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

The observance of Sunday at Bellomont was chiefly marked by the punctual

appearance of the smart omnibus destined to convey the household to the

little church at the gates. Whether any one got into the omnibus or not

was a matter of secondary importance, since by standing there it not only

bore witness to the orthodox intentions of the family, but made Mrs.

Trenor feel, when she finally heard it drive away, that she had somehow

vicariously made use of it.

 

It was Mrs. Trenor's theory that her daughters actually did go to church

every Sunday; but their French governess's convictions calling her to the

rival fane, and the fatigues of the week keeping their mother in her room

till luncheon, there was seldom any one present to verify the fact. Now

and then, in a spasmodic burst of virtue--when the house had been too

uproarious over night--Gus Trenor forced his genial bulk into a tight

frock-coat and routed his daughters from their slumbers; but habitually,

as Lily explained to Mr. Gryce, this parental duty was forgotten till the

church bells were ringing across the park, and the omnibus had driven

away empty.

 

Lily had hinted to Mr. Gryce that this neglect of religious observances

was repugnant to her early traditions, and that during her visits to

Bellomont she regularly accompanied Muriel and Hilda to church. This

tallied with the assurance, also confidentially imparted, that, never

having played bridge before, she had been "dragged into it" on the night

of her arrival, and had lost an appalling amount of money in consequence

of her ignorance of the game and of the rules of betting.  Mr. Gryce was

undoubtedly enjoying Bellomont. He liked the ease and glitter of the

life, and the lustre conferred on him by being a member of this group of

rich and conspicuous people.  But he thought it a very materialistic

society; there were times when he was frightened by the talk of the men

and the looks of the ladies, and he was glad to find that Miss Bart, for

all her ease and self-possession, was not at home in so ambiguous an

atmosphere. For this reason he had been especially pleased to learn that

she would, as usual, attend the young Trenors to church on Sunday

morning; and as he paced the gravel sweep before the door, his light

overcoat on his arm and his prayer-book in one carefully-gloved hand, he

reflected agreeably on the strength of character which kept her true to

her early training in surroundings so subversive to religious principles.

 

For a long time Mr. Gryce and the omnibus had the gravel sweep to

themselves; but, far from regretting this deplorable indifference on the

part of the other guests, he found himself nourishing the hope that Miss

Bart might be unaccompanied. The precious minutes were flying, however;

the big chestnuts pawed the ground and flecked their impatient sides with

foam; the coachman seemed to be slowly petrifying on the box, and the

groom on the doorstep; and still the lady did not come.  Suddenly,

however, there was a sound of voices and a rustle of skirts in the

doorway, and Mr. Gryce, restoring his watch to his pocket, turned with a

nervous start; but it was only to find himself handing Mrs. Wetherall

into the carriage.

 

The Wetheralls always went to church. They belonged to the vast group of

human automata who go through life without neglecting to perform a single

one of the gestures executed by the surrounding puppets. It is true that

the Bellomont puppets did not go to church; but others equally important

did--and Mr. and Mrs. Wetherall's circle was so large that God was

included in their visiting-list. They appeared, therefore, punctual and

resigned, with the air of people bound for a dull "At Home," and after

them Hilda and Muriel straggled, yawning and pinning each other's veils

and ribbons as they came. They had promised Lily to go to church with

her, they declared, and Lily was such a dear old duck that they didn't

mind doing it to please her, though they couldn't fancy what had put the

idea in her head, and though for their own part they would much rather

have played lawn tennis with Jack and Gwen, if she hadn't told them she

was coming. The Misses Trenor were followed by Lady Cressida Raith, a

weather-beaten person in Liberty silk and ethnological trinkets, who, on

seeing the omnibus, expressed her surprise that they were not to walk

across the park; but at Mrs. Wetherall's horrified protest that the

church was a mile away, her ladyship, after a glance at the height of the

other's heels, acquiesced in the necessity of driving, and poor Mr. Gryce

found himself rolling off between four ladies for whose spiritual welfare

he felt not the least concern.

 

It might have afforded him some consolation could he have known that Miss

Bart had really meant to go to church. She had even risen earlier than

usual in the execution of her purpose. She had an idea that the sight of

her in a grey gown of devotional cut, with her famous lashes drooped

above a prayer-book, would put the finishing touch to Mr. Gryce's

subjugation, and render inevitable a certain incident which she had

resolved should form a part of the walk they were to take together after

luncheon. Her intentions in short had never been more definite; but poor

Lily, for all the hard glaze of her exterior, was inwardly as malleable

as wax. Her faculty for adapting herself, for entering into other

people's feelings, if it served her now and then in small contingencies,

hampered her in the decisive moments of life. She was like a water-plant

in the flux of the tides, and today the whole current of her mood was

carrying her toward Lawrence Selden. Why had he come? Was it to see

herself or Bertha Dorset?  It was the last question which, at that

moment, should have engaged her. She might better have contented herself

with thinking that he had simply responded to the despairing summons of

his hostess, anxious to interpose him between herself and the ill-humour

of Mrs. Dorset. But Lily had not rested till she learned from Mrs. Trenor

that Selden had come of his own accord.  "He didn't even wire me--he just

happened to find the trap at the station. Perhaps it's not over with

Bertha after all," Mrs. Trenor musingly concluded; and went away to

arrange her dinner-cards accordingly.

 

Perhaps it was not, Lily reflected; but it should be soon, unless she had

lost her cunning. If Selden had come at Mrs. Dorset's call, it was at her

own that he would stay. So much the previous evening had told her. Mrs.

Trenor, true to her simple principle of making her married friends happy,

had placed Selden and Mrs. Dorset next to each other at dinner; but, in

obedience to the time-honoured traditions of the match-maker, she had

separated Lily and Mr. Gryce, sending in the former with George Dorset,

while Mr. Gryce was coupled with Gwen Van Osburgh.

 

George Dorset's talk did not interfere with the range of his neighbour's

thoughts. He was a mournful dyspeptic, intent on finding out the

deleterious ingredients of every dish and diverted from this care only by

the sound of his wife's voice. On this occasion, however, Mrs. Dorset

took no part in the general conversation. She sat talking in low murmurs

with Selden, and turning a contemptuous and denuded shoulder toward her

host, who, far from resenting his exclusion, plunged into the excesses of

the MENU with the joyous irresponsibility of a free man. To Mr. Dorset,

however, his wife's attitude was a subject of such evident concern that,

when he was not scraping the sauce from his fish, or scooping the moist

bread-crumbs from the interior of his roll, he sat straining his thin

neck for a glimpse of her between the lights.

 

Mrs. Trenor, as it chanced, had placed the husband and wife on opposite

sides of the table, and Lily was therefore able to observe Mrs. Dorset

also, and by carrying her glance a few feet farther, to set up a rapid

comparison between Lawrence Selden and Mr. Gryce. It was that comparison

which was her undoing. Why else had she suddenly grown interested in

Selden? She had known him for eight years or more: ever since her return

to America he had formed a part of her background. She had always been

glad to sit next to him at dinner, had found him more agreeable than most

men, and had vaguely wished that he possessed the other qualities needful

to fix her attention; but till now she had been too busy with her own

affairs to regard him as more than one of the pleasant accessories of

life. Miss Bart was a keen reader of her own heart, and she saw that her

sudden preoccupation with Selden was due to the fact that his presence

shed a new light on her surroundings. Not that he was notably brilliant

or exceptional; in his own profession he was surpassed by more than one

man who had bored Lily through many a weary dinner. It was rather that he

had preserved a certain social detachment, a happy air of viewing the

show objectively, of having points of contact outside the great gilt cage

in which they were all huddled for the mob to gape at. How alluring the

world outside the cage appeared to Lily, as she heard its door clang on

her! In reality, as she knew, the door never clanged: it stood always

open; but most of the captives were like flies in a bottle, and having

once flown in, could never regain their freedom. It was Selden's

distinction that he had never forgotten the way out.

 

That was the secret of his way of readjusting her vision. Lily, turning

her eyes from him, found herself scanning her little world through his

retina: it was as though the pink lamps had been shut off and the dusty

daylight let in. She looked down the long table, studying its occupants

one by one, from Gus Trenor, with his heavy carnivorous head sunk between

his shoulders, as he preyed on a jellied plover, to his wife, at the

opposite end of the long bank of orchids, suggestive, with her glaring

good-looks, of a jeweller's window lit by electricity. And between the

two, what a long stretch of vacuity! How dreary and trivial these people

were! Lily reviewed them with a scornful impatience: Carry Fisher, with

her shoulders, her eyes, her divorces, her general air of embodying a

"spicy paragraph"; young Silverton, who had meant to live on

proof-reading and write an epic, and who now lived on his friends and had

become critical of truffles; Alice Wetherall, an animated visiting-list,

whose most fervid convictions turned on the wording of invitations and

the engraving of dinner-cards; Wetherall, with his perpetual nervous nod

of acquiescence, his air of agreeing with people before he knew what they

were saying; Jack Stepney, with his confident smile and anxious eyes,

half way between the sheriff and an heiress; Gwen Van Osburgh, with all

the guileless confidence of a young girl who has always been told that

there is no one richer than her father.

 

Lily smiled at her classification of her friends. How different they had

seemed to her a few hours ago! Then they had symbolized what she was

gaining, now they stood for what she was giving up.  That very afternoon

they had seemed full of brilliant qualities; now she saw that they were

merely dull in a loud way. Under the glitter of their opportunities she

saw the poverty of their achievement. It was not that she wanted them to

be more disinterested; but she would have liked them to be more

picturesque. And she had a shamed recollection of the way in which, a few

hours since, she had felt the centripetal force of their standards. She

closed her eyes an instant, and the vacuous routine of the life she had

chosen stretched before her like a long white road without dip or

turning: it was true she was to roll over it in a carriage instead of

trudging it on foot, but sometimes the pedestrian enjoys the diversion of

a short cut which is denied to those on wheels.

 

She was roused by a chuckle which Mr. Dorset seemed to eject from the

depths of his lean throat.

 

"I say, do look at her," he exclaimed, turning to Miss Bart with

lugubrious merriment--"I beg your pardon, but do just look at my wife

making a fool of that poor devil over there! One would really suppose she

was gone on him--and it's all the other way round, I assure you."

 

Thus adjured, Lily turned her eyes on the spectacle which was affording

Mr. Dorset such legitimate mirth. It certainly appeared, as he said, that

Mrs. Dorset was the more active participant in the scene: her neighbour

seemed to receive her advances with a temperate zest which did not

distract him from his dinner. The sight restored Lily's good humour, and

knowing the peculiar disguise which Mr. Dorset's marital fears assumed,

she asked gaily: "Aren't you horribly jealous of her?"

 

Dorset greeted the sally with delight. "Oh, abominably--you've just hit

it--keeps me awake at night. The doctors tell me that's what has knocked

my digestion out--being so infernally jealous of her.--I can't eat a

mouthful of this stuff, you know," he added suddenly, pushing back his

plate with a clouded countenance; and Lily, unfailingly adaptable,

accorded her radiant attention to his prolonged denunciation of other

people's cooks, with a supplementary tirade on the toxic qualities of

melted butter.

 

It was not often that he found so ready an ear; and, being a man as well

as a dyspeptic, it may be that as he poured his grievances into it he was

not insensible to its rosy symmetry. At any rate he engaged Lily so long

that the sweets were being handed when she caught a phrase on her other

side, where Miss Corby, the comic woman of the company, was bantering

Jack Stepney on his approaching engagement. Miss Corby's role was

jocularity: she always entered the conversation with a handspring.

 

"And of course you'll have Sim Rosedale as best man!" Lily heard her

fling out as the climax of her prognostications; and Stepney responded,

as if struck: "Jove, that's an idea. What a thumping present I'd get out

of him!"

 

SIM ROSEDALE! The name, made more odious by its diminutive, obtruded

itself on Lily's thoughts like a leer. It stood for one of the many hated

possibilities hovering on the edge of life. If she did not marry Percy

Gryce, the day might come when she would have to be civil to such men as

Rosedale. IF SHE DID NOT MARRY HIM? But she meant to marry him--she was

sure of him and sure of herself. She drew back with a shiver from the

pleasant paths in which her thoughts had been straying, and set her feet

once more in the middle of the long white road....  When she went

upstairs that night she found that the late post had brought her a fresh

batch of bills. Mrs. Peniston, who was a conscientious woman, had

forwarded them all to Bellomont.

 

Miss Bart, accordingly, rose the next morning with the most earnest

conviction that it was her duty to go to church. She tore herself betimes

from the lingering enjoyment of her breakfast-tray, rang to have her grey

gown laid out, and despatched her maid to borrow a prayer-book from Mrs.

Trenor.

 

But her course was too purely reasonable not to contain the germs of

rebellion. No sooner were her preparations made than they roused a

smothered sense of resistance. A small spark was enough to kindle Lily's

imagination, and the sight of the grey dress and the borrowed prayer-book

flashed a long light down the years. She would have to go to church with

Percy Gryce every Sunday. They would have a front pew in the most

expensive church in New York, and his name would figure handsomely in the

list of parish charities. In a few years, when he grew stouter, he would

be made a warden. Once in the winter the rector would come to dine, and

her husband would beg her to go over the list and see that no DIVORCEES

were included, except those who had showed signs of penitence by being

re-married to the very wealthy. There was nothing especially arduous in

this round of religious obligations; but it stood for a fraction of that

great bulk of boredom which loomed across her path. And who could consent

to be bored on such a morning?  Lily had slept well, and her bath had

filled her with a pleasant glow, which was becomingly reflected in the

clear curve of her cheek. No lines were visible this morning, or else the

glass was at a happier angle.

 

And the day was the accomplice of her mood: it was a day for impulse and

truancy. The light air seemed full of powdered gold; below the dewy bloom

of the lawns the woodlands blushed and smouldered, and the hills across

the river swam in molten blue.  Every drop of blood in Lily's veins

invited her to happiness.

 

The sound of wheels roused her from these musings, and leaning behind her

shutters she saw the omnibus take up its freight. She was too late,

then--but the fact did not alarm her. A glimpse of Mr. Gryce's

crestfallen face even suggested that she had done wisely in absenting

herself, since the disappointment he so candidly betrayed would surely

whet his appetite for the afternoon walk. That walk she did not mean to

miss; one glance at the bills on her writing-table was enough to recall

its necessity. But meanwhile she had the morning to herself, and could

muse pleasantly on the disposal of its hours. She was familiar enough

with the habits of Bellomont to know that she was likely to have a free

field till luncheon. She had seen the Wetheralls, the Trenor girls and

Lady Cressida packed safely into the omnibus; Judy Trenor was sure to be

having her hair shampooed; Carry Fisher had doubtless carried off her

host for a drive; Ned Silverton was probably smoking the cigarette of

young despair in his bedroom; and Kate Corby was certain to be playing

tennis with Jack Stepney and Miss Van Osburgh. Of the ladies, this left

only Mrs. Dorset unaccounted for, and Mrs. Dorset never came down till

luncheon: her doctors, she averred, had forbidden her to expose herself

to the crude air of the morning.

 

To the remaining members of the party Lily gave no special thought;

wherever they were, they were not likely to interfere with her plans.

These, for the moment, took the shape of assuming a dress somewhat more

rustic and summerlike in style than the garment she had first selected,

and rustling downstairs, sunshade in hand, with the disengaged air of a

lady in quest of exercise. The great hall was empty but for the knot of

dogs by the fire, who, taking in at a glance the outdoor aspect of Miss

Bart, were upon her at once with lavish offers of companionship.  She put

aside the ramming paws which conveyed these offers, and assuring the

joyous volunteers that she might presently have a use for their company,

sauntered on through the empty drawing-room to the library at the end of

the house. The library was almost the only surviving portion of the old

manor-house of Bellomont: a long spacious room, revealing the traditions

of the mother-country in its classically-cased doors, the Dutch tiles of

the chimney, and the elaborate hob-grate with its shining brass urns. A

few family portraits of lantern-jawed gentlemen in tie-wigs, and ladies

with large head-dresses and small bodies, hung between the shelves lined

with pleasantly-shabby books: books mostly contemporaneous with the

ancestors in question, and to which the subsequent Trenors had made no

perceptible additions. The library at Bellomont was in fact never used

for reading, though it had a certain popularity as a smoking-room or a

quiet retreat for flirtation. It had occurred to Lily, however, that it

might on this occasion have been resorted to by the only member of the

party in the least likely to put it to its original use. She advanced

noiselessly over the dense old rug scattered with easy-chairs, and before

she reached the middle of the room she saw that she had not been

mistaken. Lawrence Selden was in fact seated at its farther end; but

though a book lay on his knee, his attention was not engaged with it, but

directed to a lady whose lace-clad figure, as she leaned back in an

adjoining chair, detached itself with exaggerated slimness against the

dusky leather upholstery.

 

Lily paused as she caught sight of the group; for a moment she seemed

about to withdraw, but thinking better of this, she announced her

approach by a slight shake of her skirts which made the couple raise

their heads, Mrs. Dorset with a look of frank displeasure, and Selden

with his usual quiet smile. The sight of his composure had a disturbing

effect on Lily; but to be disturbed was in her case to make a more

brilliant effort at self-possession.

 

"Dear me, am I late?" she asked, putting a hand in his as he advanced to

greet her.

 

"Late for what?" enquired Mrs. Dorset tartly. "Not for luncheon,

certainly--but perhaps you had an earlier engagement?"

 

"Yes, I had," said Lily confidingly.

 

"Really? Perhaps I am in the way, then? But Mr. Selden is entirely at

your disposal." Mrs. Dorset was pale with temper, and her antagonist felt

a certain pleasure in prolonging her distress.

 

"Oh, dear, no--do stay," she said good-humouredly. "I don't in the least

want to drive you away."

 

"You're awfully good, dear, but I never interfere with Mr. Selden's

engagements."

 

The remark was uttered with a little air of proprietorship not lost on

its object, who concealed a faint blush of annoyance by stooping to pick

up the book he had dropped at Lily's approach.  The latter's eyes widened

charmingly and she broke into a light laugh.

 

"But I have no engagement with Mr. Selden! My engagement was to go to

church; and I'm afraid the omnibus has started without me.  HAS it

started, do you know?"

 

She turned to Selden, who replied that he had heard it drive away some

time since.

 

"Ah, then I shall have to walk; I promised Hilda and Muriel to go to

church with them. It's too late to walk there, you say? Well, I shall

have the credit of trying, at any rate--and the advantage of escaping

part of the service. I'm not so sorry for myself, after all!"

 

And with a bright nod to the couple on whom she had intruded, Miss Bart

strolled through the glass doors and carried her rustling grace down the

long perspective of the garden walk.

 

She was taking her way churchward, but at no very quick pace; a fact not

lost on one of her observers, who stood in the doorway looking after her

with an air of puzzled amusement. The truth is that she was conscious of

a somewhat keen shock of disappointment. All her plans for the day had

been built on the assumption that it was to see her that Selden had come

to Bellomont. She had expected, when she came downstairs, to find him on

the watch for her; and she had found him, instead, in a situation which

might well denote that he had been on the watch for another lady. Was it

possible, after all, that he had come for Bertha Dorset? The latter had

acted on the assumption to the extent of appearing at an hour when she

never showed herself to ordinary mortals, and Lily, for the moment, saw

no way of putting her in the wrong. It did not occur to her that Selden

might have been actuated merely by the desire to spend a Sunday out of

town: women never learn to dispense with the sentimental motive in their

judgments of men. But Lily was not easily disconcerted; competition put

her on her mettle, and she reflected that Selden's coming, if it did not

declare him to be still in Mrs. Dorset's toils, showed him to be so

completely free from them that he was not afraid of her proximity.

 

These thoughts so engaged her that she fell into a gait hardly likely to

carry her to church before the sermon, and at length, having passed from

the gardens to the wood-path beyond, so far forgot her intention as to

sink into a rustic seat at a bend of the walk. The spot was charming, and

Lily was not insensible to the charm, or to the fact that her presence

enhanced it; but she was not accustomed to taste the joys of solitude

except in company, and the combination of a handsome girl and a romantic

scene struck her as too good to be wasted. No one, however, appeared to

profit by the opportunity; and after a half hour of fruitless waiting she

rose and wandered on. She felt a stealing sense of fatigue as she walked;

the sparkle had died out of her, and the taste of life was stale on her

lips. She hardly knew what she had been seeking, or why the failure to

find it had so blotted the light from her sky: she was only aware of a

vague sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than the loneliness

about her.

 

Her footsteps flagged, and she stood gazing listlessly ahead, digging the

ferny edge of the path with the tip of her sunshade.  As she did so a

step sounded behind her, and she saw Selden at her side.

 

"How fast you walk!" he remarked. "I thought I should never catch up with

you."

 

She answered gaily: "You must be quite breathless! I've been sitting

under that tree for an hour."

 

"Waiting for me, I hope?" he rejoined; and she said with a vague laugh:

 

"Well--waiting to see if you would come."

 

"I seize the distinction, but I don't mind it, since doing the one

involved doing the other. But weren't you sure that I should come?"

 

"If I waited long enough--but you see I had only a limited time to give

to the experiment."

 

"Why limited? Limited by luncheon?"

 

"No; by my other engagement."

 

"Your engagement to go to church with Muriel and Hilda?"

 

"No; but to come home from church with another person."

 

"Ah, I see; I might have known you were fully provided with alternatives.

And is the other person coming home this way?"

 

Lily laughed again. "That's just what I don't know; and to find out, it

is my business to get to church before the service is over."

 

"Exactly; and it is my business to prevent your doing so; in which case

the other person, piqued by your absence, will form the desperate resolve

of driving back in the omnibus."

 

Lily received this with fresh appreciation; his nonsense was like the

bubbling of her inner mood. "Is that what you would do in such an

emergency?" she enquired.

 

Selden looked at her with solemnity. "I am here to prove to you," he

cried, "what I am capable of doing in an emergency!"

 

"Walking a mile in an hour--you must own that the omnibus would be

quicker!"

 

"Ah--but will he find you in the end? That's the only test of success."

 

They looked at each other with the same luxury of enjoyment that they had

felt in exchanging absurdities over his tea-table; but suddenly Lily's

face changed, and she said: "Well, if it is, he has succeeded."

 

Selden, following her glance, perceived a party of people advancing

toward them from the farther bend of the path. Lady Cressida had

evidently insisted on walking home, and the rest of the church-goers had

thought it their duty to accompany her. Lily's companion looked rapidly

from one to the other of the two men of the party; Wetherall walking

respectfully at Lady Cressida's side with his little sidelong look of

nervous attention, and Percy Gryce bringing up the rear with Mrs.

Wetherall and the Trenors.

 

"Ah--now I see why you were getting up your Americana!" Selden exclaimed

with a note of the freest admiration but the blush with which the sally

was received checked whatever amplifications he had meant to give it.

 

That Lily Bart should object to being bantered about her suitors, or even

about her means of attracting them, was so new to Selden that he had a

momentary flash of surprise, which lit up a number of possibilities; but

she rose gallantly to the defence of her confusion, by saying, as its

object approached: "That was why I was waiting for you--to thank you for

having given me so many points!"

 

"Ah, you can hardly do justice to the subject in such a short time," said

Selden, as the Trenor girls caught sight of Miss Bart; and while she

signalled a response to their boisterous greeting, he added quickly:

"Won't you devote your afternoon to it? You know I must be off tomorrow

morning. We'll take a walk, and you can thank me at your leisure."

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

The afternoon was perfect. A deeper stillness possessed the air, and the

glitter of the American autumn was tempered by a haze which diffused the

brightness without dulling it.

 

In the woody hollows of the park there was already a faint chill; but as

the ground rose the air grew lighter, and ascending the long slopes

beyond the high-road, Lily and her companion reached a zone of lingering

summer. The path wound across a meadow with scattered trees; then it

dipped into a lane plumed with asters and purpling sprays of bramble,

whence, through the light quiver of ash-leaves, the country unrolled

itself in pastoral distances.

 

Higher up, the lane showed thickening tufts of fern and of the creeping

glossy verdure of shaded slopes; trees began to overhang it, and the

shade deepened to the checkered dusk of a beech-grove. The boles of the

trees stood well apart, with only a light feathering of undergrowth; the

path wound along the edge of the wood, now and then looking out on a

sunlit pasture or on an orchard spangled with fruit.

 

Lily had no real intimacy with nature, but she had a passion for the

appropriate and could be keenly sensitive to a scene which was the

fitting background of her own sensations. The landscape outspread below

her seemed an enlargement of her present mood, and she found something of

herself in its calmness, its breadth, its long free reaches. On the

nearer slopes the sugar-maples wavered like pyres of light; lower down

was a massing of grey orchards, and here and there the lingering green of

an oak-grove.  Two or three red farm-houses dozed under the apple-trees,

and the white wooden spire of a village church showed beyond the shoulder

of the hill; while far below, in a haze of dust, the high-road ran

between the fields.

 

"Let us sit here," Selden suggested, as they reached an open ledge of

rock above which the beeches rose steeply between mossy boulders.

 

Lily dropped down on the rock, glowing with her long climb. She sat

quiet, her lips parted by the stress of the ascent, her eyes wandering

peacefully over the broken ranges of the landscape. Selden stretched

himself on the grass at her feet, tilting his hat against the level

sun-rays, and clasping his hands behind his head, which rested against

the side of the rock.  He had no wish to make her talk; her

quick-breathing silence seemed a part of the general hush and harmony of

things. In his own mind there was only a lazy sense of pleasure, veiling

the sharp edges of sensation as the September haze veiled the scene at

their feet. But Lily, though her attitude was as calm as his, was

throbbing inwardly with a rush of thoughts. There were in her at the

moment two beings, one drawing deep breaths of freedom and exhilaration,

the other gasping for air in a little black prison-house of fears. But

gradually the captive's gasps grew fainter, or the other paid less heed

to them: the horizon expanded, the air grew stronger, and the free spirit

quivered for flight.

 

She could not herself have explained the sense of buoyancy which seemed

to lift and swing her above the sun-suffused world at her feet. Was it

love, she wondered, or a mere fortuitous combination of happy thoughts

and sensations? How much of it was owing to the spell of the perfect

afternoon, the scent of the fading woods, the thought of the dulness she

had fled from? Lily had no definite experience by which to test the

quality of her feelings.  She had several times been in love with

fortunes or careers, but only once with a man. That was years ago, when

she first came out, and had been smitten with a romantic passion for a

young gentleman named Herbert Melson, who had blue eyes and a little wave

in his hair. Mr. Melson, who was possessed of no other negotiable

securities, had hastened to employ these in capturing the eldest Miss Van

Osburgh: since then he had grown stout and wheezy, and was given to

telling anecdotes about his children. If Lily recalled this early emotion

it was not to compare it with that which now possessed her; the only

point of comparison was the sense of lightness, of emancipation, which

she remembered feeling, in the whirl of a waltz or the seclusion of a

conservatory, during the brief course of her youthful romance.  She had

not known again till today that lightness, that glow of freedom; but now

it was something more than a blind groping of the blood. The peculiar

charm of her feeling for Selden was that she understood it; she could put

her finger on every link of the chain that was drawing them together.

Though his popularity was of the quiet kind, felt rather than actively

expressed among his friends, she had never mistaken his inconspicuousness

for obscurity. His reputed cultivation was generally regarded as a slight

obstacle to easy intercourse, but Lily, who prided herself on her

broad-minded recognition of literature, and always carried an Omar Khayam

in her travelling-bag, was attracted by this attribute, which she felt

would have had its distinction in an older society. It was, moreover, one

of his gifts to look his part; to have a height which lifted his head

above the crowd, and the keenly-modelled dark features which, in a land

of amorphous types, gave him the air of belonging to a more specialized

race, of carrying the impress of a concentrated past. Expansive persons

found him a little dry, and very young girls thought him sarcastic; but

this air of friendly aloofness, as far removed as possible from any

assertion of personal advantage, was the quality which piqued Lily's

interest.  Everything about him accorded with the fastidious element in

her taste, even to the light irony with which he surveyed what seemed to

her most sacred. She admired him most of all, perhaps, for being able to

convey as distinct a sense of superiority as the richest man she had ever

met.

 

It was the unconscious prolongation of this thought which led her to say

presently, with a laugh: "I have broken two engagements for you today.

How many have you broken for me?"

 

"None," said Selden calmly. "My only engagement at Bellomont was with

you."

 

She glanced down at him, faintly smiling.

 

"Did you really come to Bellomont to see me?"

 

"Of course I did."

 

Her look deepened meditatively. "Why?" she murmured, with an accent which

took all tinge of coquetry from the question.

 

"Because you're such a wonderful spectacle: I always like to see what you

are doing."

 

"How do you know what I should be doing if you were not here?"

 

Selden smiled. "I don't flatter myself that my coming has deflected your

course of action by a hair's breadth."

 

"That's absurd--since, if you were not here, I could obviously not be

taking a walk with you."

 

"No; but your taking a walk with me is only another way of making use of

your material. You are an artist and I happen to be the bit of colour you

are using today. It's a part of your cleverness to be able to produce

premeditated effects extemporaneously."

 

Lily smiled also: his words were too acute not to strike her sense of

humour. It was true that she meant to use the accident of his presence as

part of a very definite effect; or that, at least, was the secret pretext

she had found for breaking her promise to walk with Mr. Gryce.  She had

sometimes been accused of being too eager--even Judy Trenor had warned

her to go slowly.  Well, she would not be too eager in this case; she

would give her suitor a longer taste of suspense. Where duty and

inclination jumped together, it was not in Lily's nature to hold them

asunder. She had excused herself from the walk on the plea of a headache:

the horrid headache which, in the morning, had prevented her venturing to

church. Her appearance at luncheon justified the excuse.  She looked

languid, full of a suffering sweetness; she carried a scent-bottle in her

hand. Mr. Gryce was new to such manifestations; he wondered rather

nervously if she were delicate, having far-reaching fears about the

future of his progeny. But sympathy won the day, and he besought her not

to expose herself: he always connected the outer air with ideas of

exposure.

 

Lily had received his sympathy with languid gratitude, urging him, since

she should be such poor company, to join the rest of the party who, after

luncheon, were starting in automobiles on a visit to the Van Osburghs at

Peekskill. Mr. Gryce was touched by her disinterestedness, and, to escape

from the threatened vacuity of the afternoon, had taken her advice and

departed mournfully, in a dust-hood and goggles: as the motor-car plunged

down the avenue she smiled at his resemblance to a baffled beetle. Selden

had watched her manoeuvres with lazy amusement.  She had made no reply to

his suggestion that they should spend the afternoon together, but as her

plan unfolded itself he felt fairly confident of being included in it.

The house was empty when at length he heard her step on the stair and

strolled out of the billiard-room to join her.

 

She had on a hat and walking-dress, and the dogs were bounding at her

feet.

 

"I thought, after all, the air might do me good," she explained; and he

agreed that so simple a remedy was worth trying.

 

The excursionists would be gone at least four hours; Lily and Selden had

the whole afternoon before them, and the sense of leisure and safety gave

the last touch of lightness to her spirit. With so much time to talk, and

no definite object to be led up to, she could taste the rare joys of

mental vagrancy.

 

She felt so free from ulterior motives that she took up his charge with a

touch of resentment.

 

"I don't know," she said, "why you are always accusing me of

premeditation."

 

"I thought you confessed to it: you told me the other day that you had to

follow a certain line--and if one does a thing at all it is a merit to do

it thoroughly."

 

"If you mean that a girl who has no one to think for her is obliged to

think for herself, I am quite willing to accept the imputation. But you

must find me a dismal kind of person if you suppose that I never yield to

an impulse."

 

"Ah, but I don't suppose that: haven't I told you that your genius lies

in converting impulses into intentions?"

 

"My genius?" she echoed with a sudden note of weariness. "Is there any

final test of genius but success? And I certainly haven't succeeded."

 

Selden pushed his hat back and took a side-glance at her.  "Success--what

is success? I shall be interested to have your definition."

 

"Success?" She hesitated. "Why, to get as much as one can out of life, I

suppose. It's a relative quality, after all. Isn't that your idea of it?"

 

"My idea of it? God forbid!" He sat up with sudden energy, resting his

elbows on his knees and staring out upon the mellow fields. "My idea of

success," he said, "is personal freedom."

 

"Freedom? Freedom from worries?"

 

"From everything--from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from

all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of the

spirit--that's what I call success."

 

She leaned forward with a responsive flash. "I know--I know--it's

strange; but that's just what I've been feeling today."

 

He met her eyes with the latent sweetness of his. "Is the feeling so rare

with you?" he said.

 

She blushed a little under his gaze. "You think me horribly sordid, don't

you? But perhaps it's rather that I never had any choice. There was no

one, I mean, to tell me about the republic of the spirit."

 

"There never is--it's a country one has to find the way to one's self."

 

"But I should never have found my way there if you hadn't told me."

 

"Ah, there are sign-posts--but one has to know how to read them."

 

"Well, I have known, I have known!" she cried with a glow of eagerness.

"Whenever I see you, I find myself spelling out a letter of the sign--and

yesterday--last evening at dinner--I suddenly saw a little way into your

republic."

 

Selden was still looking at her, but with a changed eye. Hitherto he had

found, in her presence and her talk, the aesthetic amusement which a

reflective man is apt to seek in desultory intercourse with pretty women.

His attitude had been one of admiring spectatorship, and he would have

been almost sorry to detect in her any emotional weakness which should

interfere with the fulfilment of her aims. But now the hint of this

weakness had become the most interesting thing about her.  He had come on

her that morning in a moment of disarray; her face had been pale and

altered, and the diminution of her beauty had lent her a poignant charm.

THAT IS HOW SHE LOOKS WHEN SHE IS ALONE! had been his first thought; and

the second was to note in her the change which his coming produced. It

was the danger-point of their intercourse that he could not doubt the

spontaneity of her liking. From whatever angle he viewed their dawning

intimacy, he could not see it as part of her scheme of life; and to be

the unforeseen element in a career so accurately planned was stimulating

even to a man who had renounced sentimental experiments.

 

"Well," he said, "did it make you want to see more? Are you going to

become one of us?"

 

He had drawn out his cigarettes as he spoke, and she reached her hand

toward the case.

 

"Oh, do give me one--I haven't smoked for days!"

 

"Why such unnatural abstinence? Everybody smokes at Bellomont."

 

"Yes--but it is not considered becoming in a JEUNE FILLE A MARIER; and at

the present moment I am a JEUNE FILLE A MARIER."

 

"Ah, then I'm afraid we can't let you into the republic."

 

"Why not? Is it a celibate order?"

 

"Not in the least, though I'm bound to say there are not many married

people in it. But you will marry some one very rich, and it's as hard for

rich people to get into as the kingdom of heaven."

 

"That's unjust, I think, because, as I understand it, one of the

conditions of citizenship is not to think too much about money, and the

only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it."

 

"You might as well say that the only way not to think about air is to

have enough to breathe. That is true enough in a sense; but your lungs

are thinking about the air, if you are not. And so it is with your rich

people--they may not be thinking of money, but they're breathing it all

the while; take them into another element and see how they squirm and

gasp!"

 

Lily sat gazing absently through the blue rings of her cigarette-smoke.

 

"It seems to me," she said at length, "that you spend a good deal of your

time in the element you disapprove of."

 

Selden received this thrust without discomposure. "Yes; but I have tried

to remain amphibious: it's all right as long as one's lungs can work in

another air. The real alchemy consists in being able to turn gold back

again into something else; and that's the secret that most of your

friends have lost."

 

Lily mused. "Don't you think," she rejoined after a moment, "that the

people who find fault with society are too apt to regard it as an end and

not a means, just as the people who despise money speak as if its only

use were to be kept in bags and gloated over? Isn't it fairer to look at

them both as opportunities, which may be used either stupidly or

intelligently, according to the capacity of the user?"

 

"That is certainly the sane view; but the queer thing about society is

that the people who regard it as an end are those who are in it, and not

the critics on the fence. It's just the other way with most shows--the

audience may be under the illusion, but the actors know that real life is

on the other side of the footlights. The people who take society as an

escape from work are putting it to its proper use; but when it becomes

the thing worked for it distorts all the relations of life." Selden

raised himself on his elbow. "Good heavens!" he went on, "I don't

underrate the decorative side of life. It seems to me the sense of

splendour has justified itself by what it has produced. The worst of it

is that so much human nature is used up in the process. If we're all the

raw stuff of the cosmic effects, one would rather be the fire that

tempers a sword than the fish that dyes a purple cloak. And a society

like ours wastes such good material in producing its little patch of

purple! Look at a boy like Ned Silverton--he's really too good to be used

to refurbish anybody's social shabbiness. There's a lad just setting out

to discover the universe: isn't it a pity he should end by finding it in

Mrs. Fisher's drawing-room?"

 

"Ned is a dear boy, and I hope he will keep his illusions long enough to

write some nice poetry about them; but do you think it is only in society

that he is likely to lose them?"

 

Selden answered her with a shrug. "Why do we call all our generous ideas

illusions, and the mean ones truths? Isn't it a sufficient condemnation

of society to find one's self accepting such phraseology?  I very nearly

acquired the jargon at Silverton's age, and I know how names can alter

the colour of beliefs."

 

She had never heard him speak with such energy of affirmation.  His

habitual touch was that of the eclectic, who lightly turns over and

compares; and she was moved by this sudden glimpse into the laboratory

where his faiths were formed.

 

"Ah, you are as bad as the other sectarians," she exclaimed; "why do you

call your republic a republic? It is a closed corporation, and you create

arbitrary objections in order to keep people out."

 

"It is not MY republic; if it were, I should have a COUP D'ETAT and seat

you on the throne."

 

"Whereas, in reality, you think I can never even get my foot across the

threshold? Oh, I understand what you mean. You despise my ambitions--you

think them unworthy of me!"

 

Selden smiled, but not ironically. "Well, isn't that a tribute? I think

them quite worthy of most of the people who live by them."

 

She had turned to gaze on him gravely. "But isn't it possible that, if I

had the opportunities of these people, I might make a better use of them?

Money stands for all kinds of things--its purchasing quality isn't

limited to diamonds and motor-cars."

 

 

"Not in the least: you might expiate your enjoyment of them by founding a

hospital."

 

"But if you think they are what I should really enjoy, you must think my

ambitions are good enough for me."

 

Selden met this appeal with a laugh. "Ah, my dear Miss Bart, I am not

divine Providence, to guarantee your enjoying the things you are trying

to get!"

 

"Then the best you can say for me is, that after struggling to get them I

probably shan't like them?" She drew a deep breath.  "What a miserable

future you foresee for me!"

 

"Well--have you never foreseen it for yourself?" The slow colour rose to

her cheek, not a blush of excitement but drawn from the deep wells of

feeling; it was as if the effort of her spirit had produced it.

 

"Often and often," she said. "But it looks so much darker when you show

it to me!"

 

He made no answer to this exclamation, and for a while they sat silent,

while something throbbed between them in the wide quiet of the air.

 

But suddenly she turned on him with a kind of vehemence. "Why do you do

this to me?" she cried. "Why do you make the things I have chosen seem

hateful to me, if you have nothing to give me instead?"

 

The words roused Selden from the musing fit into which he had fallen.  He

himself did not know why he had led their talk along such lines; it was

the last use he would have imagined himself making of an afternoon's

solitude with Miss Bart. But it was one of those moments when neither

seemed to speak deliberately, when an indwelling voice in each called to

the other across unsounded depths of feeling.

 

"No, I have nothing to give you instead," he said, sitting up and turning

so that he faced her. "If I had, it should be yours, you know."

 

She received this abrupt declaration in a way even stranger than the

manner of its making: she dropped her face on her hands and he saw that

for a moment she wept.

 

It was for a moment only, however; for when he leaned nearer and drew

down her hands with a gesture less passionate than grave, she turned on

him a face softened but not disfigured by emotion, and he said to

himself, somewhat cruelly, that even her weeping was an art.

 

The reflection steadied his voice as he asked, between pity and irony:

"Isn't it natural that I should try to belittle all the things I can't

offer you?"

 

Her face brightened at this, but she drew her hand away, not with a

gesture of coquetry, but as though renouncing something to which she had

no claim.

 

"But you belittle ME, don't you," she returned gently, "in being so sure

they are the only things I care for?"

 

Selden felt an inner start; but it was only the last quiver of his

egoism. Almost at once he answered quite simply: "But you do care for

them, don't you? And no wishing of mine can alter that."

 

He had so completely ceased to consider how far this might carry him,

that he had a distinct sense of disappointment when she turned on him a

face sparkling with derision.

 

"Ah," she cried, "for all your fine phrases you're really as great a

coward as I am, for you wouldn't have made one of them if you hadn't been

so sure of my answer."

 

The shock of this retort had the effect of crystallizing Selden's

wavering intentions.

 

"I am not so sure of your answer," he said quietly. "And I do you the

justice to believe that you are not either."

 

It was her turn to look at him with surprise; and after a moment--"Do you

want to marry me?" she asked.

 

He broke into a laugh. "No, I don't want to--but perhaps I should if you

did!"

 

"That's what I told you--you're so sure of me that you can amuse yourself

with experiments." She drew back the hand he had regained, and sat

looking down on him sadly.

 

"I am not making experiments," he returned. "Or if I am, it is not on you

but on myself. I don't know what effect they are going to have on me--but

if marrying you is one of them, I will take the risk."

 

She smiled faintly. "It would be a great risk, certainly--I have never

concealed from you how great."

 

"Ah, it's you who are the coward!" he exclaimed.

 

She had risen, and he stood facing her with his eyes on hers. The soft

isolation of the falling day enveloped them: they seemed lifted into a

finer air. All the exquisite influences of the hour trembled in their

veins, and drew them to each other as the loosened leaves were drawn to

the earth.

 

"It's you who are the coward," he repeated, catching her hands in his.

 

She leaned on him for a moment, as if with a drop of tired wings: he felt

as though her heart were beating rather with the stress of a long flight

than the thrill of new distances. Then, drawing back with a little smile

of warning--"I shall look hideous in dowdy clothes; but I can trim my own

hats," she declared.

 

They stood silent for a while after this, smiling at each other like

adventurous children who have climbed to a forbidden height from which

they discover a new world. The actual world at their feet was veiling

itself in dimness, and across the valley a clear moon rose in the denser

blue.

 

Suddenly they heard a remote sound, like the hum of a giant insect, and

following the high-road, which wound whiter through the surrounding

twilight, a black object rushed across their vision.

 

Lily started from her attitude of absorption; her smile faded and she

began to move toward the lane.

 

"I had no idea it was so late! We shall not be back till after dark," she

said, almost impatiently.

 

Selden was looking at her with surprise: it took him a moment to regain

his usual view of her; then he said, with an uncontrollable note of

dryness: "That was not one of our party; the motor was going the other

way."

 

"I know--I know----" She paused, and he saw her redden through the

twilight. "But I told them I was not well--that I should not go out.  Let

us go down!" she murmured.

 

Selden continued to look at her; then he drew his cigarette-case from his

pocket and slowly lit a cigarette. It seemed to him necessary, at that

moment, to proclaim, by some habitual gesture of this sort, his recovered

hold on the actual: he had an almost puerile wish to let his companion

see that, their flight over, he had landed on his feet.

 

She waited while the spark flickered under his curved palm; then he held

out the cigarettes to her.

 

She took one with an unsteady hand, and putting it to her lips, leaned

forward to draw her light from his. In the indistinctness the little red

gleam lit up the lower part of her face, and he saw her mouth tremble

into a smile.

 

"Were you serious?" she asked, with an odd thrill of gaiety which she

might have caught up, in haste, from a heap of stock inflections, without

having time to select the just note.  Selden's voice was under better

control. "Why not?" he returned.  "You see I took no risks in being so."

And as she continued to stand before him, a little pale under the retort,

he added quickly: "Let us go down."

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

It spoke much for the depth of Mrs. Trenor's friendship that her voice,

in admonishing Miss Bart, took the same note of personal despair as if

she had been lamenting the collapse of a house-party.

 

"All I can say is, Lily, that I can't make you out!" She leaned back,

sighing, in the morning abandon of lace and muslin, turning an

indifferent shoulder to the heaped-up importunities of her desk, while

she considered, with the eye of a physician who has given up the case,

the erect exterior of the patient confronting her.

 

"If you hadn't told me you were going in for him seriously--but I'm sure

you made that plain enough from the beginning! Why else did you ask me to

let you off bridge, and to keep away Carry and Kate Corby? I don't

suppose you did it because he amused you; we could none of us imagine

your putting up with him for a moment unless you meant to marry him. And

I'm sure everybody played fair! They all wanted to help it along. Even

Bertha kept her hands off--I will say that--till Lawrence came down and

you dragged him away from her. After that she had a right to

retaliate--why on earth did you interfere with her? You've known Lawrence

Selden for years--why did you behave as if you had just discovered him?

If you had a grudge against Bertha it was a stupid time to show it--you

could have paid her back just as well after you were married! I told you

Bertha was dangerous. She was in an odious mood when she came here, but

Lawrence's turning up put her in a good humour, and if you'd only let her

think he came for HER it would have never occurred to her to play you

this trick. Oh, Lily, you'll never do anything if you're not serious!"

 

Miss Bart accepted this exhortation in a spirit of the purest

impartiality. Why should she have been angry? It was the voice of her own

conscience which spoke to her through Mrs. Trenor's reproachful accents.

But even to her own conscience she must trump up a semblance of defence.

"I only took a day off--I thought he meant to stay on all this week, and

I knew Mr. Selden was leaving this morning."

 

Mrs. Trenor brushed aside the plea with a gesture which laid bare its

weakness.

 

"He did mean to stay--that's the worst of it. It shows that he's run away

from you; that Bertha's done her work and poisoned him thoroughly."

 

Lily gave a slight laugh. "Oh, if he's running I'll overtake him!"

 

Her friend threw out an arresting hand. "Whatever you do, Lily, do

nothing!"

 

Miss Bart received the warning with a smile. "I don't mean, literally, to

take the next train. There are ways----" But she did not go on to specify

them.

 

Mrs. Trenor sharply corrected the tense. "There WERE ways--plenty of

them! I didn't suppose you needed to have them pointed out.  But don't

deceive yourself--he's thoroughly frightened. He has run straight home to

his mother, and she'll protect him!"

 

"Oh, to the death," Lily agreed, dimpling at the vision.

 

"How you can LAUGH----" her friend rebuked her; and she dropped back to a

soberer perception of things with the question: "What was it Bertha

really told him?"

 

"Don't ask me--horrors! She seemed to have raked up everything.  Oh, you

know what I mean--of course there isn't anything, REALLY; but I suppose

she brought in Prince Varigliano--and Lord Hubert--and there was some

story of your having borrowed money of old Ned Van Alstyne: did you ever?"

 

"He is my father's cousin," Miss Bart interposed.

 

"Well, of course she left THAT out. It seems Ned told Carry Fisher; and

she told Bertha, naturally. They're all alike, you know: they hold their

tongues for years, and you think you're safe, but when their opportunity

comes they remember everything."

 

Lily had grown pale: her voice had a harsh note in it. "It was some money

I lost at bridge at the Van Osburghs'. I repaid it, of course."

 

"Ah, well, they wouldn't remember that; besides, it was the idea of the

gambling debt that frightened Percy. Oh, Bertha knew her man--she knew

just what to tell him!"

 

In this strain Mrs. Trenor continued for nearly an hour to admonish her

friend. Miss Bart listened with admirable equanimity. Her naturally good

temper had been disciplined by years of enforced compliance, since she

had almost always had to attain her ends by the circuitous path of other

people's; and, being naturally inclined to face unpleasant facts as soon

as they presented themselves, she was not sorry to hear an impartial

statement of what her folly was likely to cost, the more so as her own

thoughts were still insisting on the other side of the case.  Presented

in the light of Mrs. Trenor's vigorous comments, the reckoning was

certainly a formidable one, and Lily, as she listened, found herself

gradually reverting to her friend's view of the situation. Mrs. Trenor's

words were moreover emphasized for her hearer by anxieties which she

herself could scarcely guess. Affluence, unless stimulated by a keen

imagination, forms but the vaguest notion of the practical strain of

poverty. Judy knew it must be "horrid" for poor Lily to have to stop to

consider whether she could afford real lace on her petticoats, and not to

have a motor-car and a steam-yacht at her orders; but the daily friction

of unpaid bills, the daily nibble of small temptations to expenditure,

were trials as far out of her experience as the domestic problems of the

char-woman. Mrs. Trenor's unconsciousness of the real stress of the

situation had the effect of making it more galling to Lily. While her

friend reproached her for missing the opportunity to eclipse her rivals,

she was once more battling in imagination with the mounting tide of

indebtedness from which she had so nearly escaped. What wind of folly had

driven her out again on those dark seas?

 

If anything was needed to put the last touch to her self-abasement it was

the sense of the way her old life was opening its ruts again to receive

her. Yesterday her fancy had fluttered free pinions above a choice of

occupations; now she had to drop to the level of the familiar routine, in

which moments of seeming brilliancy and freedom alternated with long

hours of subjection.

 

She laid a deprecating hand on her friend's. "Dear Judy! I'm sorry to

have been such a bore, and you are very good to me. But you must have

some letters for me to answer--let me at least be useful."

 

She settled herself at the desk, and Mrs. Trenor accepted her resumption

of the morning's task with a sigh which implied that, after all, she had

proved herself unfit for higher uses.

 

The luncheon table showed a depleted circle. All the men but Jack Stepney

and Dorset had returned to town (it seemed to Lily a last touch of irony

that Selden and Percy Gryce should have gone in the same train), and Lady

Cressida and the attendant Wetheralls had been despatched by motor to

lunch at a distant country-house.  At such moments of diminished interest

it was usual for Mrs. Dorset to keep her room till the afternoon; but on

this occasion she drifted in when luncheon was half over, hollowed-eyed

and drooping, but with an edge of malice under her indifference.

 

She raised her eyebrows as she looked about the table. "How few of us are

left! I do so enjoy the quiet--don't you, Lily? I wish the men would

always stop away--it's really much nicer without them. Oh, you don't

count, George: one doesn't have to talk to one's husband. But I thought

Mr. Gryce was to stay for the rest of the week?" she added enquiringly.

"Didn't he intend to, Judy?  He's such a nice boy--I wonder what drove

him away? He is rather shy, and I'm afraid we may have shocked him: he

has been brought up in such an old-fashioned way.  Do you know, Lily, he

told me he had never seen a girl play cards for money till he saw you

doing it the other night? And he lives on the interest of his income, and

always has a lot left over to invest!"

 

Mrs. Fisher leaned forward eagerly. "I do believe it is some one's duty

to educate that young man. It is shocking that he has never been made to

realize his duties as a citizen. Every wealthy man should be compelled to

study the laws of his country."

 

Mrs. Dorset glanced at her quietly. "I think he HAS studied the divorce

laws. He told me he had promised the Bishop to sign some kind of a

petition against divorce."

 

Mrs. Fisher reddened under her powder, and Stepney said with a laughing

glance at Miss Bart: "I suppose he is thinking of marriage, and wants to

tinker up the old ship before he goes aboard."

 

His betrothed looked shocked at the metaphor, and George Dorset exclaimed

with a sardonic growl: "Poor devil! It isn't the ship that will do for

him, it's the crew."

 

"Or the stowaways," said Miss Corby brightly. "If I contemplated a voyage

with him I should try to start with a friend in the hold."

 

Miss Van Osburgh's vague feeling of pique was struggling for appropriate

expression. "I'm sure I don't see why you laugh at him; I think he's very

nice," she exclaimed; "and, at any rate, a girl who married him would

always have enough to be comfortable."

 

She looked puzzled at the redoubled laughter which hailed her words, but

it might have consoled her to know how deeply they had sunk into the

breast of one of her hearers.

 

Comfortable! At that moment the word was more eloquent to Lily Bart than

any other in the language. She could not even pause to smile over the

heiress's view of a colossal fortune as a mere shelter against want: her

mind was filled with the vision of what that shelter might have been to

her. Mrs. Dorset's pin-pricks did not smart, for her own irony cut

deeper: no one could hurt her as much as she was hurting herself, for no

one else--not even Judy Trenor--knew the full magnitude of her folly.

 

She was roused from these unprofitable considerations by a whispered

request from her hostess, who drew her apart as they left the

luncheon-table.

 

"Lily, dear, if you've nothing special to do, may I tell Carry Fisher

that you intend to drive to the station and fetch Gus? He will be back at

four, and I know she has it in her mind to meet him. Of course I'm very

glad to have him amused, but I happen to know that she has bled him

rather severely since she's been here, and she is so keen about going to

fetch him that I fancy she must have got a lot more bills this morning.

It seems to me," Mrs. Trenor feelingly concluded, "that most of her

alimony is paid by other women's husbands!"

 

Miss Bart, on her way to the station, had leisure to muse over her

friend's words, and their peculiar application to herself.  Why should

she have to suffer for having once, for a few hours, borrowed money of an

elderly cousin, when a woman like Carry Fisher could make a living

unrebuked from the good-nature of her men friends and the tolerance of

their wives? It all turned on the tiresome distinction between what a

married woman might, and a girl might not, do. Of course it was shocking

for a married woman to borrow money--and Lily was expertly aware of the

implication involved--but still, it was the mere MALUM PROHIBITUM which

the world decries but condones, and which, though it may be punished by

private vengeance, does not provoke the collective disapprobation of

society. To Miss Bart, in short, no such opportunities were possible. She

could of course borrow from her women friends--a hundred here or there,

at the utmost--but they were more ready to give a gown or a trinket, and

looked a little askance when she hinted her preference for a cheque.

Women are not generous lenders, and those among whom her lot was cast

were either in the same case as herself, or else too far removed from it

to understand its necessities.  The result of her meditations was the

decision to join her aunt at Richfield. She could not remain at Bellomont

without playing bridge, and being involved in other expenses; and to

continue her usual series of autumn visits would merely prolong the same

difficulties. She had reached a point where abrupt retrenchment was

necessary, and the only cheap life was a dull life. She would start the

next morning for Richfield.

 

At the station she thought Gus Trenor seemed surprised, and not wholly

unrelieved, to see her. She yielded up the reins of the light runabout in

which she had driven over, and as he climbed heavily to her side,

crushing her into a scant third of the seat, he said: "Halloo! It isn't

often you honour me. You must have been uncommonly hard up for something

to do."

 

The afternoon was warm, and propinquity made her more than usually

conscious that he was red and massive, and that beads of moisture had

caused the dust of the train to adhere unpleasantly to the broad expanse

of cheek and neck which he turned to her; but she was aware also, from

the look in his small dull eyes, that the contact with her freshness and

slenderness was as agreeable to him as the sight of a cooling beverage.

 

The perception of this fact helped her to answer gaily: "It's not often I

have the chance. There are too many ladies to dispute the privilege with

me."

 

"The privilege of driving me home? Well, I'm glad you won the race,

anyhow. But I know what really happened--my wife sent you. Now didn't

she?"

 

He had the dull man's unexpected flashes of astuteness, and Lily could

not help joining in the laugh with which he had pounced on the truth.

 

"You see, Judy thinks I'm the safest person for you to be with; and she's

quite right," she rejoined.

 

"Oh, is she, though? If she is, it's because you wouldn't waste your time

on an old hulk like me. We married men have to put up with what we can

get: all the prizes are for the clever chaps who've kept a free foot. Let

me light a cigar, will you? I've had a beastly day of it."

 

He drew up in the shade of the village street, and passed the reins to

her while he held a match to his cigar. The little flame under his hand

cast a deeper crimson on his puffing face, and Lily averted her eyes with

a momentary feeling of repugnance. And yet some women thought him

handsome!

 

As she handed back the reins, she said sympathetically: "Did you have

such a lot of tiresome things to do?"

 

"I should say so--rather!" Trenor, who was seldom listened to, either by

his wife or her friends, settled down into the rare enjoyment of a

confidential talk. "You don't know how a fellow has to hustle to keep

this kind of thing going." He waved his whip in the direction of the

Bellomont acres, which lay outspread before them in opulent undulations.

"Judy has no idea of what she spends--not that there isn't plenty to keep

the thing going," he interrupted himself, "but a man has got to keep his

eyes open and pick up all the tips he can. My father and mother used to

live like fighting-cocks on their income, and put by a good bit of it

too--luckily for me--but at the pace we go now, I don't know where I

should be if it weren't for taking a flyer now and then.  The women all

think--I mean Judy thinks--I've nothing to do but to go down town once a

month and cut off coupons, but the truth is it takes a devilish lot of

hard work to keep the machinery running. Not that I ought to complain

to-day, though," he went on after a moment, "for I did a very neat stroke

of business, thanks to Stepney's friend Rosedale: by the way, Miss Lily,

I wish you'd try to persuade Judy to be decently civil to that chap. He's

going to be rich enough to buy us all out one of these days, and if she'd

only ask him to dine now and then I could get almost anything out of him.

The man is mad to know the people who don't want to know him, and when a

fellow's in that state there is nothing he won't do for the first woman

who takes him up."

 

Lily hesitated a moment. The first part of her companion's discourse had

started an interesting train of thought, which was rudely interrupted by

the mention of Mr. Rosedale's name. She uttered a faint protest.

 

"But you know Jack did try to take him about, and he was impossible."

 

"Oh, hang it--because he's fat and shiny, and has a sloppy manner!  Well,

all I can say is that the people who are clever enough to be civil to him

now will make a mighty good thing of it. A few years from now he'll be in

it whether we want him or not, and then he won't be giving away a

half-a-million tip for a dinner."

 

Lily's mind had reverted from the intrusive personality of Mr. Rosedale

to the train of thought set in motion by Trenor's first words. This vast

mysterious Wall Street world of "tips" and "deals"--might she not find in

it the means of escape from her dreary predicament? She had often heard

of women making money in this way through their friends: she had no more

notion than most of her sex of the exact nature of the transaction, and

its vagueness seemed to diminish its indelicacy. She could not, indeed,

imagine herself, in any extremity, stooping to extract a "tip" from Mr.

Rosedale; but at her side was a man in possession of that precious

commodity, and who, as the husband of her dearest friend, stood to her in

a relation of almost fraternal intimacy.

 

In her inmost heart Lily knew it was not by appealing to the fraternal

instinct that she was likely to move Gus Trenor; but this way of

explaining the situation helped to drape its crudity, and she was always

scrupulous about keeping up appearances to herself. Her personal

fastidiousness had a moral equivalent, and when she made a tour of

inspection in her own mind there were certain closed doors she did not

open.

 

As they reached the gates of Bellomont she turned to Trenor with a smile.

"The afternoon is so perfect--don't you want to drive me a little

farther? I've been rather out of spirits all day, and it's so restful to

be away from people, with some one who won't mind if I'm a little dull."

 

She looked so plaintively lovely as she proffered the request, so

trustfully sure of his sympathy and understanding, that Trenor felt

himself wishing that his wife could see how other women treated him--not

battered wire-pullers like Mrs. Fisher, but a girl that most men would

have given their boots to get such a look from.

 

"Out of spirits? Why on earth should you ever be out of spirits?  Is your

last box of Doucet dresses a failure, or did Judy rook you out of

everything at bridge last night?"

 

Lily shook her head with a sigh. "I have had to give up Doucet; and

bridge too--I can't afford it. In fact I can't afford any of the things

my friends do, and I am afraid Judy often thinks me a bore because I

don't play cards any longer, and because I am not as smartly dressed as

the other women. But you will think me a bore too if I talk to you about

my worries, and I only mention them because I want you to do me a

favour--the very greatest of favours."

 

Her eyes sought his once more, and she smiled inwardly at the tinge of

apprehension that she read in them.

 

"Why, of course--if it's anything I can manage----" He broke off, and she

guessed that his enjoyment was disturbed by the remembrance of Mrs.

Fisher's methods.

 

"The greatest of favours," she rejoined gently. "The fact is, Judy is

angry with me, and I want you to make my peace."

 

"Angry with you? Oh, come, nonsense----" his relief broke through in a

laugh. "Why, you know she's devoted to you."

 

"She is the best friend I have, and that is why I mind having to vex her.

But I daresay you know what she has wanted me to do. She has set her

heart--poor dear--on my marrying--marrying a great deal of money."

 

She paused with a slight falter of embarrassment, and Trenor, turning

abruptly, fixed on her a look of growing intelligence.

 

"A great deal of money? Oh, by Jove--you don't mean Gryce?  What--you do?

Oh, no, of course I won't mention it--you can trust me to keep my mouth

shut--but Gryce--good Lord, GRYCE! Did Judy really think you could bring

yourself to marry that portentous little ass? But you couldn't, eh? And

so you gave him the sack, and that's the reason why he lit out by the

first train this morning?" He leaned back, spreading himself farther

across the seat, as if dilated by the joyful sense of his own

discernment. "How on earth could Judy think you would do such a thing? I

could have told her you'd never put up with such a little milksop!"

 

Lily sighed more deeply. "I sometimes think," she murmured, "that men

understand a woman's motives better than other women do."

 

"Some men--I'm certain of it! I could have TOLD Judy," he repeated,

exulting in the implied superiority over his wife.

 

"I thought you would understand; that's why I wanted to speak to you,"

Miss Bart rejoined. "I can't make that kind of marriage; it's impossible.

But neither can I go on living as all the women in my set do. I am almost

entirely dependent on my aunt, and though she is very kind to me she

makes me no regular allowance, and lately I've lost money at cards, and I

don't dare tell her about it. I have paid my card debts, of course, but

there is hardly anything left for my other expenses, and if I go on with

my present life I shall be in horrible difficulties. I have a tiny income

of my own, but I'm afraid it's badly invested, for it seems to bring in

less every year, and I am so ignorant of money matters that I don't know

if my aunt's agent, who looks after it, is a good adviser." She paused a

moment, and added in a lighter tone: "I didn't mean to bore you with all

this, but I want your help in making Judy understand that I can't, at

present, go on living as one must live among you all. I am going away

tomorrow to join my aunt at Richfield, and I shall stay there for the

rest of the autumn, and dismiss my maid and learn how to mend my own

clothes."

 

At this picture of loveliness in distress, the pathos of which was

heightened by the light touch with which it was drawn, a murmur of

indignant sympathy broke from Trenor. Twenty-four hours earlier, if his

wife had consulted him on the subject of Miss Bart's future, he would

have said that a girl with extravagant tastes and no money had better

marry the first rich man she could get; but with the subject of

discussion at his side, turning to him for sympathy, making him feel that

he understood her better than her dearest friends, and confirming the

assurance by the appeal of her exquisite nearness, he was ready to swear

that such a marriage was a desecration, and that, as a man of honour, he

was bound to do all he could to protect her from the results of her

disinterestedness. This impulse was reinforced by the reflection that if

she had married Gryce she would have been surrounded by flattery and

approval, whereas, having refused to sacrifice herself to expediency, she

was left to bear the whole cost of her resistance. Hang it, if he could

find a way out of such difficulties for a professional sponge like Carry

Fisher, who was simply a mental habit corresponding to the physical

titillations of the cigarette or the cock-tail, he could surely do as

much for a girl who appealed to his highest sympathies, and who brought

her troubles to him with the trustfulness of a child.

 

Trenor and Miss Bart prolonged their drive till long after sunset; and

before it was over he had tried, with some show of success, to prove to

her that, if she would only trust him, he could make a handsome sum of

money for her without endangering the small amount she possessed. She was

too genuinely ignorant of the manipulations of the stock-market to

understand his technical explanations, or even perhaps to perceive that

certain points in them were slurred; the haziness enveloping the

transaction served as a veil for her embarrassment, and through the

general blur her hopes dilated like lamps in a fog. She understood only

that her modest investments were to be mysteriously multiplied without

risk to herself; and the assurance that this miracle would take place

within a short time, that there would be no tedious interval for suspense

and reaction, relieved her of her lingering scruples.

 

Again she felt the lightening of her load, and with it the release of

repressed activities. Her immediate worries conjured, it was easy to

resolve that she would never again find herself in such straits, and as

the need of economy and self-denial receded from her foreground she felt

herself ready to meet any other demand which life might make. Even the

immediate one of letting Trenor, as they drove homeward, lean a little

nearer and rest his hand reassuringly on hers, cost her only a momentary

shiver of reluctance. It was part of the game to make him feel that her

appeal had been an uncalculated impulse, provoked by the liking he

inspired; and the renewed sense of power in handling men, while it

consoled her wounded vanity, helped also to obscure the thought of the

claim at which his manner hinted. He was a coarse dull man who, under all

his show of authority, was a mere supernumerary in the costly show for

which his money paid: surely, to a clever girl, it would be easy to hold

him by his vanity, and so keep the obligation on his side.

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

The first thousand dollar cheque which Lily received with a blotted

scrawl from Gus Trenor strengthened her self-confidence in the exact

degree to which it effaced her debts.

 

The transaction had justified itself by its results: she saw now how

absurd it would have been to let any primitive scruple deprive her of

this easy means of appeasing her creditors. Lily felt really virtuous as

she dispensed the sum in sops to her tradesmen, and the fact that a fresh

order accompanied each payment did not lessen her sense of

disinterestedness. How many women, in her place, would have given the

orders without making the payment!

 

She had found it reassuringly easy to keep Trenor in a good humour. To

listen to his stories, to receive his confidences and laugh at his jokes,

seemed for the moment all that was required of her, and the complacency

with which her hostess regarded these attentions freed them of the least

hint of ambiguity. Mrs. Trenor evidently assumed that Lily's growing

intimacy with her husband was simply an indirect way of returning her own

kindness.

 

"I'm so glad you and Gus have become such good friends," she said

approvingly. "It's too delightful of you to be so nice to him, and put up

with all his tiresome stories. I know what they are, because I had to

listen to them when we were engaged--I'm sure he is telling the same ones

still. And now I shan't always have to be asking Carry Fisher here to

keep him in a good-humour. She's a perfect vulture, you know; and she

hasn't the least moral sense.  She is always getting Gus to speculate for

her, and I'm sure she never pays when she loses."

 

Miss Bart could shudder at this state of things without the embarrassment

of a personal application. Her own position was surely quite different.

There could be no question of her not paying when she lost, since Trenor

had assured her that she was certain not to lose. In sending her the

cheque he had explained that he had made five thousand for her out of

Rosedale's "tip," and had put four thousand back in the same venture, as

there was the promise of another "big rise"; she understood therefore

that he was now speculating with her own money, and that she consequently

owed him no more than the gratitude which such a trifling service

demanded. She vaguely supposed that, to raise the first sum, he had

borrowed on her securities; but this was a point over which her curiosity

did not linger. It was concentrated, for the moment, on the probable date

of the next "big rise."

 

The news of this event was received by her some weeks later, on the

occasion of Jack Stepney's marriage to Miss Van Osburgh. As a cousin of

the bridegroom, Miss Bart had been asked to act as bridesmaid; but she

had declined on the plea that, since she was much taller than the other

attendant virgins, her presence might mar the symmetry of the group.  The

truth was, she had attended too many brides to the altar: when next seen

there she meant to be the chief figure in the ceremony. She knew the

pleasantries made at the expense of young girls who have been too long

before the public, and she was resolved to avoid such assumptions of

youthfulness as might lead people to think her older than she really was.

 

The Van Osburgh marriage was celebrated in the village church near the

paternal estate on the Hudson. It was the "simple country wedding" to

which guests are convoyed in special trains, and from which the hordes of

the uninvited have to be fended off by the intervention of the police.

While these sylvan rites were taking place, in a church packed with

fashion and festooned with orchids, the representatives of the press were

threading their way, note-book in hand, through the labyrinth of wedding

presents, and the agent of a cinematograph syndicate was setting up his

apparatus at the church door. It was the kind of scene in which Lily had

often pictured herself as taking the principal part, and on this occasion

the fact that she was once more merely a casual spectator, instead of the

mystically veiled figure occupying the centre of attention, strengthened

her resolve to assume the latter part before the year was over. The fact

that her immediate anxieties were relieved did not blind her to a

possibility of their recurrence; it merely gave her enough buoyancy to

rise once more above her doubts and feel a renewed faith in her beauty,

her power, and her general fitness to attract a brilliant destiny. It

could not be that one conscious of such aptitudes for mastery and

enjoyment was doomed to a perpetuity of failure; and her mistakes looked

easily reparable in the light of her restored self-confidence.

 

A special appositeness was given to these reflections by the discovery,

in a neighbouring pew, of the serious profile and neatly-trimmed beard of

Mr. Percy Gryce. There was something almost bridal in his own aspect: his

large white gardenia had a symbolic air that struck Lily as a good omen.

After all, seen in an assemblage of his kind he was not

ridiculous-looking: a friendly critic might have called his heaviness

weighty, and he was at his best in the attitude of vacant passivity which

brings out the oddities of the restless. She fancied he was the kind of

man whose sentimental associations would be stirred by the conventional

imagery of a wedding, and she pictured herself, in the seclusion of the

Van Osburgh conservatories, playing skillfully upon sensibilities thus

prepared for her touch. In fact, when she looked at the other women about

her, and recalled the image she had brought away from her own glass, it

did not seem as though any special skill would be needed to repair her

blunder and bring him once more to her feet.

 

The sight of Selden's dark head, in a pew almost facing her, disturbed

for a moment the balance of her complacency. The rise of her blood as

their eyes met was succeeded by a contrary motion, a wave of resistance

and withdrawal. She did not wish to see him again, not because she feared

his influence, but because his presence always had the effect of

cheapening her aspirations, of throwing her whole world out of focus.

Besides, he was a living reminder of the worst mistake in her career, and

the fact that he had been its cause did not soften her feelings toward

him. She could still imagine an ideal state of existence in which, all

else being superadded, intercourse with Selden might be the last touch of

luxury; but in the world as it was, such a privilege was likely to cost

more than it was worth.

 

"Lily, dear, I never saw you look so lovely! You look as if something

delightful had just happened to you!"

 

The young lady who thus formulated her admiration of her brilliant friend

did not, in her own person, suggest such happy possibilities.  Miss

Gertrude Farish, in fact, typified the mediocre and the ineffectual. If

there were compensating qualities in her wide frank glance and the

freshness of her smile, these were qualities which only the sympathetic

observer would perceive before noticing that her eyes were of a workaday

grey and her lips without haunting curves. Lily's own view of her wavered

between pity for her limitations and impatience at her cheerful

acceptance of them. To Miss Bart, as to her mother, acquiescence in

dinginess was evidence of stupidity; and there were moments when, in the

consciousness of her own power to look and to be so exactly what the

occasion required, she almost felt that other girls were plain and

inferior from choice. Certainly no one need have confessed such

acquiescence in her lot as was revealed in the "useful" colour of Gerty

Farish's gown and the subdued lines of her hat: it is almost as stupid to

let your clothes betray that you know you are ugly as to have them

proclaim that you think you are beautiful.

 

Of course, being fatally poor and dingy, it was wise of Gerty to have

taken up philanthropy and symphony concerts; but there was something

irritating in her assumption that existence yielded no higher pleasures,

and that one might get as much interest and excitement out of life in a

cramped flat as in the splendours of the Van Osburgh establishment.

Today, however, her chirping enthusiasms did not irritate Lily. They

seemed only to throw her own exceptionalness into becoming relief, and

give a soaring vastness to her scheme of life.

 

"Do let us go and take a peep at the presents before everyone else leaves

the dining-room!" suggested Miss Farish, linking her arm in her friend's.

It was characteristic of her to take a sentimental and unenvious interest

in all the details of a wedding: she was the kind of person who always

kept her handkerchief out during the service, and departed clutching a

box of wedding-cake.

 

"Isn't everything beautifully done?" she pursued, as they entered the

distant drawing-room assigned to the display of Miss Van Osburgh's bridal

spoils. "I always say no one does things better than cousin Grace! Did

you ever taste anything more delicious than that MOUSSE of lobster with

champagne sauce? I made up my mind weeks ago that I wouldn't miss this

wedding, and just fancy how delightfully it all came about. When Lawrence

Selden heard I was coming, he insisted on fetching me himself and driving

me to the station, and when we go back this evening I am to dine with him

at Sherry's. I really feel as excited as if I were getting married

myself!"

 

Lily smiled: she knew that Selden had always been kind to his dull

cousin, and she had sometimes wondered why he wasted so much time in such

an unremunerative manner; but now the thought gave her a vague pleasure.

 

"Do you see him often?" she asked.

 

"Yes; he is very good about dropping in on Sundays. And now and then we

do a play together; but lately I haven't seen much of him. He doesn't

look well, and he seems nervous and unsettled.  The dear fellow! I do

wish he would marry some nice girl. I told him so today, but he said he

didn't care for the really nice ones, and the other kind didn't care for

him--but that was just his joke, of course. He could never marry a girl

who WASN'T nice.  Oh, my dear, did you ever see such pearls?"

 

They had paused before the table on which the bride's jewels were

displayed, and Lily's heart gave an envious throb as she caught the

refraction of light from their surfaces--the milky gleam of perfectly

matched pearls, the flash of rubies relieved against contrasting velvet,

the intense blue rays of sapphires kindled into light by surrounding

diamonds: all these precious tints enhanced and deepened by the varied

art of their setting. The glow of the stones warmed Lily's veins like

wine. More completely than any other expression of wealth they symbolized

the life she longed to lead, the life of fastidious aloofness and

refinement in which every detail should have the finish of a jewel, and

the whole form a harmonious setting to her own jewel-like rareness.

 

"Oh, Lily, do look at this diamond pendant--it's as big as a

dinner-plate! Who can have given it?" Miss Farish bent short-sightedly

over the accompanying card. "MR. SIMON ROSEDALE.  What, that horrid man?

Oh, yes--I remember he's a friend of Jack's, and I suppose cousin Grace

had to ask him here today; but she must rather hate having to let Gwen

accept such a present from him."

 

Lily smiled. She doubted Mrs. Van Osburgh's reluctance, but was aware of

Miss Farish's habit of ascribing her own delicacies of feeling to the

persons least likely to be encumbered by them.

 

"Well, if Gwen doesn't care to be seen wearing it she can always exchange

it for something else," she remarked.

 

"Ah, here is something so much prettier," Miss Farish continued.  "Do

look at this exquisite white sapphire. I'm sure the person who chose it

must have taken particular pains. What is the name?  Percy Gryce? Ah,

then I'm not surprised!" She smiled significantly as she replaced the

card. "Of course you've heard that he's perfectly devoted to Evie Van

Osburgh? Cousin Grace is so pleased about it--it's quite a romance! He

met her first at the George Dorsets', only about six weeks ago, and it's

just the nicest possible marriage for dear Evie. Oh, I don't mean the

money--of course she has plenty of her own--but she's such a quiet

stay-at-home kind of girl, and it seems he has just the same tastes; so

they are exactly suited to each other."

 

Lily stood staring vacantly at the white sapphire on its velvet bed.

Evie Van Osburgh and Percy Gryce? The names rang derisively through her

brain. EVIE VAN OSBURGH? The youngest, dumpiest, dullest of the four dull

and dumpy daughters whom Mrs. Van Osburgh, with unsurpassed astuteness,

had "placed" one by one in enviable niches of existence!  Ah, lucky girls

who grow up in the shelter of a mother's love--a mother who knows how to

contrive opportunities without conceding favours, how to take advantage

of propinquity without allowing appetite to be dulled by habit! The

cleverest girl may miscalculate where her own interests are concerned,

may yield too much at one moment and withdraw too far at the next: it

takes a mother's unerring vigilance and foresight to land her daughters

safely in the arms of wealth and suitability.

 

Lily's passing light-heartedness sank beneath a renewed sense of failure.

Life was too stupid, too blundering! Why should Percy Gryce's millions be

joined to another great fortune, why should this clumsy girl be put in

possession of powers she would never know how to use?

 

She was roused from these speculations by a familiar touch on her arm,

and turning saw Gus Trenor beside her. She felt a thrill of vexation:

what right had he to touch her? Luckily Gerty Farish had wandered off to

the next table, and they were alone.

 

Trenor, looking stouter than ever in his tight frock-coat, and

unbecomingly flushed by the bridal libations, gazed at her with

undisguised approval.

 

"By Jove, Lily, you do look a stunner!" He had slipped insensibly into

the use of her Christian name, and she had never found the right moment

to correct him. Besides, in her set all the men and women called each

other by their Christian names; it was only on Trenor's lips that the

familiar address had an unpleasant significance.

 

"Well," he continued, still jovially impervious to her annoyance, "have

you made up your mind which of these little trinkets you mean to

duplicate at Tiffany's tomorrow? I've got a cheque for you in my pocket

that will go a long way in that line!"

 

Lily gave him a startled look: his voice was louder than usual, and the

room was beginning to fill with people. But as her glance assured her

that they were still beyond ear-shot a sense of pleasure replaced her

apprehension.

 

"Another dividend?" she asked, smiling and drawing near him in the desire

not to be overheard.

 

"Well, not exactly: I sold out on the rise and I've pulled off four thou'

for you. Not so bad for a beginner, eh? I suppose you'll begin to think

you're a pretty knowing speculator. And perhaps you won't think poor old

Gus such an awful ass as some people do."

 

"I think you the kindest of friends; but I can't thank you properly now."

 

She let her eyes shine into his with a look that made up for the

hand-clasp he would have claimed if they had been alone--and how glad she

was that they were not! The news filled her with the glow produced by a

sudden cessation of physical pain. The world was not so stupid and

blundering after all: now and then a stroke of luck came to the

unluckiest. At the thought her spirits began to rise: it was

characteristic of her that one trifling piece of good fortune should give

wings to all her hopes. Instantly came the reflection that Percy Gryce

was not irretrievably lost; and she smiled to think of the excitement of

recapturing him from Evie Van Osburgh. What chance could such a simpleton

have against her if she chose to exert herself? She glanced about, hoping

to catch a glimpse of Gryce; but her eyes lit instead on the glossy

countenance of Mr. Rosedale, who was slipping through the crowd with an

air half obsequious, half obtrusive, as though, the moment his presence

was recognized, it would swell to the dimensions of the room.

 

Not wishing to be the means of effecting this enlargement, Lily quickly

transferred her glance to Trenor, to whom the expression of her gratitude

seemed not to have brought the complete gratification she had meant it to

give.

 

"Hang thanking me--I don't want to be thanked, but I SHOULD like the

chance to say two words to you now and then," he grumbled. "I thought you

were going to spend the whole autumn with us, and I've hardly laid eyes

on you for the last month. Why can't you come back to Bellomont this

evening? We're all alone, and Judy is as cross as two sticks. Do come and

cheer a fellow up. If you say yes I'll run you over in the motor, and you

can telephone your maid to bring your traps from town by the next train."

 

Lily shook her head with a charming semblance of regret. "I wish I

could--but it's quite impossible. My aunt has come back to town, and I

must be with her for the next few days."

 

"Well, I've seen a good deal less of you since we've got to be such pals

than I used to when you were Judy's friend," he continued with

unconscious penetration.

 

"When I was Judy's friend? Am I not her friend still? Really, you say the

most absurd things! If I were always at Bellomont you would tire of me

much sooner than Judy--but come and see me at my aunt's the next

afternoon you are in town; then we can have a nice quiet talk, and you

can tell me how I had better invest my fortune."

 

It was true that, during the last three or four weeks, she had absented

herself from Bellomont on the pretext of having other visits to pay; but

she now began to feel that the reckoning she had thus contrived to evade

had rolled up interest in the interval.

 

The prospect of the nice quiet talk did not appear as all-sufficing to

Trenor as she had hoped, and his brows continued to lower as he said:

"Oh, I don't know that I can promise you a fresh tip every day. But

there's one thing you might do for me; and that is, just to be a little

civil to Rosedale. Judy has promised to ask him to dine when we get to

town, but I can't induce her to have him at Bellomont, and if you would

let me bring him up now it would make a lot of difference. I don't

believe two women have spoken to him this afternoon, and I can tell you

he's a chap it pays to be decent to."

 

Miss Bart made an impatient movement, but suppressed the words which

seemed about to accompany it. After all, this was an unexpectedly easy

way of acquitting her debt; and had she not reasons of her own for

wishing to be civil to Mr. Rosedale?

 

"Oh, bring him by all means," she said smiling; "perhaps I can get a tip

out of him on my own account."

 

Trenor paused abruptly, and his eyes fixed themselves on hers with a look

which made her change colour.

 

"I say, you know--you'll please remember he's a blooming bounder," he

said; and with a slight laugh she turned toward the open window near

which they had been standing.

 

The throng in the room had increased, and she felt a desire for space and

fresh air. Both of these she found on the terrace, where only a few men

were lingering over cigarettes and liqueur, while scattered couples

strolled across the lawn to the autumn-tinted borders of the

flower-garden.

 

As she emerged, a man moved toward her from the knot of smokers, and she

found herself face to face with Selden. The stir of the pulses which his

nearness always caused was increased by a slight sense of constraint.

They had not met since their Sunday afternoon walk at Bellomont, and that

episode was still so vivid to her that she could hardly believe him to be

less conscious of it. But his greeting expressed no more than the

satisfaction which every pretty woman expects to see reflected in

masculine eyes; and the discovery, if distasteful to her vanity, was

reassuring to her nerves. Between the relief of her escape from Trenor,

and the vague apprehension of her meeting with Rosedale, it was pleasant

to rest a moment on the sense of complete understanding which Lawrence

Selden's manner always conveyed.

 

"This is luck," he said smiling. "I was wondering if I should be able to

have a word with you before the special snatches us away.  I came with

Gerty Farish, and promised not to let her miss the train, but I am sure

she is still extracting sentimental solace from the wedding presents. She

appears to regard their number and value as evidence of the disinterested

affection of the contracting parties."

 

There was not the least trace of embarrassment in his voice, and as he

spoke, leaning slightly against the jamb of the window, and letting his

eyes rest on her in the frank enjoyment of her grace, she felt with a

faint chill of regret that he had gone back without an effort to the

footing on which they had stood before their last talk together. Her

vanity was stung by the sight of his unscathed smile. She longed to be to

him something more than a piece of sentient prettiness, a passing

diversion to his eye and brain; and the longing betrayed itself in her

reply.

 

"Ah," she said, "I envy Gerty that power she has of dressing up with

romance all our ugly and prosaic arrangements! I have never recovered my

self-respect since you showed me how poor and unimportant my ambitions

were."

 

The words were hardly spoken when she realized their infelicity.  It

seemed to be her fate to appear at her worst to Selden.

 

"I thought, on the contrary," he returned lightly, "that I had been the

means of proving they were more important to you than anything else."

 

It was as if the eager current of her being had been checked by a sudden

obstacle which drove it back upon itself. She looked at him helplessly,

like a hurt or frightened child: this real self of hers, which he had the

faculty of drawing out of the depths, was so little accustomed to go

alone!

 

The appeal of her helplessness touched in him, as it always did, a latent

chord of inclination. It would have meant nothing to him to discover that

his nearness made her more brilliant, but this glimpse of a twilight mood

to which he alone had the clue seemed once more to set him in a world

apart with her.

 

"At least you can't think worse things of me than you say!" she exclaimed

with a trembling laugh; but before he could answer, the flow of

comprehension between them was abruptly stayed by the reappearance of Gus

Trenor, who advanced with Mr. Rosedale in his wake.

 

"Hang it, Lily, I thought you'd given me the slip: Rosedale and I have

been hunting all over for you!"

 

His voice had a note of conjugal familiarity: Miss Bart fancied she

detected in Rosedale's eye a twinkling perception of the fact, and the

idea turned her dislike of him to repugnance.

 

She returned his profound bow with a slight nod, made more disdainful by

the sense of Selden's surprise that she should number Rosedale among her

acquaintances. Trenor had turned away, and his companion continued to

stand before Miss Bart, alert and expectant, his lips parted in a smile

at whatever she might be about to say, and his very back conscious of the

privilege of being seen with her.

 

It was the moment for tact; for the quick bridging over of gaps; but

Selden still leaned against the window, a detached observer of the scene,

and under the spell of his observation Lily felt herself powerless to

exert her usual arts. The dread of Selden's suspecting that there was any

need for her to propitiate such a man as Rosedale checked the trivial

phrases of politeness.  Rosedale still stood before her in an expectant

attitude, and she continued to face him in silence, her glance just level

with his polished baldness. The look put the finishing touch to what her

silence implied.

 

He reddened slowly, shifting from one foot to the other, fingered the

plump black pearl in his tie, and gave a nervous twist to his moustache;

then, running his eye over her, he drew back, and said, with a

side-glance at Selden: "Upon my soul, I never saw a more ripping get-up.

Is that the last creation of the dress-maker you go to see at the

Benedick? If so, I wonder all the other women don't go to her too!"

 

The words were projected sharply against Lily's silence, and she saw in a

flash that her own act had given them their emphasis. In ordinary talk

they might have passed unheeded; but following on her prolonged pause

they acquired a special meaning. She felt, without looking, that Selden

had immediately seized it, and would inevitably connect the allusion with

her visit to himself. The consciousness increased her irritation against

Rosedale, but also her feeling that now, if ever, was the moment to

propitiate him, hateful as it was to do so in Selden's presence.

 

"How do you know the other women don't go to my dress-maker?" she

returned. "You see I'm not afraid to give her address to my friends!"

 

Her glance and accent so plainly included Rosedale in this privileged

circle that his small eyes puckered with gratification, and a knowing

smile drew up his moustache.

 

"By Jove, you needn't be!" he declared. "You could give 'em the whole

outfit and win at a canter!"

 

"Ah, that's nice of you; and it would be nicer still if you would carry

me off to a quiet corner, and get me a glass of lemonade or some innocent

drink before we all have to rush for the train."

 

She turned away as she spoke, letting him strut at her side through the

gathering groups on the terrace, while every nerve in her throbbed with

the consciousness of what Selden must have thought of the scene.

 

But under her angry sense of the perverseness of things, and the light

surface of her talk with Rosedale, a third idea persisted: she did not

mean to leave without an attempt to discover the truth about Percy Gryce.

Chance, or perhaps his own resolve, had kept them apart since his hasty

withdrawal from Bellomont; but Miss Bart was an expert in making the most

of the unexpected, and the distasteful incidents of the last few

minutes--the revelation to Selden of precisely that part of her life

which she most wished him to ignore--increased her longing for shelter,

for escape from such humiliating contingencies. Any definite situation

would be more tolerable than this buffeting of chances, which kept her in

an attitude of uneasy alertness toward every possibility of life.

 

Indoors there was a general sense of dispersal in the air, as of an

audience gathering itself up for departure after the principal actors had

left the stage; but among the remaining groups, Lily could discover

neither Gryce nor the youngest Miss Van Osburgh.  That both should be

missing struck her with foreboding; and she charmed Mr. Rosedale by

proposing that they should make their way to the conservatories at the

farther end of the house. There were just enough people left in the long

suite of rooms to make their progress conspicuous, and Lily was aware of

being followed by looks of amusement and interrogation, which glanced off

as harmlessly from her indifference as from her companion's

self-satisfaction. She cared very little at that moment about being seen

with Rosedale: all her thoughts were centred on the object of her search.

The latter, however, was not discoverable in the conservatories, and

Lily, oppressed by a sudden conviction of failure, was casting about for

a way to rid herself of her now superfluous companion, when they came

upon Mrs. Van Osburgh, flushed and exhausted, but beaming with the

consciousness of duty performed.

 

She glanced at them a moment with the benign but vacant eye of the tired

hostess, to whom her guests have become mere whirling spots in a

kaleidoscope of fatigue; then her attention became suddenly fixed, and

she seized on Miss Bart with a confidential gesture. "My dear Lily, I

haven't had time for a word with you, and now I suppose you are just off.

Have you seen Evie? She's been looking everywhere for you: she wanted to

tell you her little secret; but I daresay you have guessed it already.

The engagement is not to be announced till next week--but you are such a

friend of Mr. Gryce's that they both wished you to be the first to know

of their happiness."

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

In Mrs. Peniston's youth, fashion had returned to town in October;

therefore on the tenth day of the month the blinds of her Fifth Avenue

residence were drawn up, and the eyes of the Dying Gladiator in bronze

who occupied the drawing-room window resumed their survey of that

deserted thoroughfare.

 

The first two weeks after her return represented to Mrs. Peniston the

domestic equivalent of a religious retreat. She "went through" the linen

and blankets in the precise spirit of the penitent exploring the inner

folds of conscience; she sought for moths as the stricken soul seeks for

lurking infirmities. The topmost shelf of every closet was made to yield

up its secret, cellar and coal-bin were probed to their darkest depths

and, as a final stage in the lustral rites, the entire house was swathed

in penitential white and deluged with expiatory soapsuds.

 

It was on this phase of the proceedings that Miss Bart entered on the

afternoon of her return from the Van Osburgh wedding. The journey back to

town had not been calculated to soothe her nerves. Though Evie Van

Osburgh's engagement was still officially a secret, it was one of which

the innumerable intimate friends of the family were already possessed;

and the trainful of returning guests buzzed with allusions and

anticipations. Lily was acutely aware of her own part in this drama of

innuendo: she knew the exact quality of the amusement the situation

evoked. The crude forms in which her friends took their pleasure included

a loud enjoyment of such complications: the zest of surprising destiny in

the act of playing a practical joke. Lily knew well enough how to bear

herself in difficult situations. She had, to a shade, the exact manner

between victory and defeat: every insinuation was shed without an effort

by the bright indifference of her manner.  But she was beginning to feel

the strain of the attitude; the reaction was more rapid, and she lapsed

to a deeper self-disgust.

 

 

As was always the case with her, this moral repulsion found a physical

outlet in a quickened distaste for her surroundings.  She revolted from

the complacent ugliness of Mrs. Peniston's black walnut, from the

slippery gloss of the vestibule tiles, and the mingled odour of sapolio

and furniture-polish that met her at the door.

 

The stairs were still carpetless, and on the way up to her room she was

arrested on the landing by an encroaching tide of soapsuds. Gathering up

her skirts, she drew aside with an impatient gesture; and as she did so

she had the odd sensation of having already found herself in the same

situation but in different surroundings. It seemed to her that she was

again descending the staircase from Selden's rooms; and looking down to

remonstrate with the dispenser of the soapy flood, she found herself met

by a lifted stare which had once before confronted her under similar

circumstances. It was the char-woman of the Benedick who, resting on

crimson elbows, examined her with the same unflinching curiosity, the

same apparent reluctance to let her pass. On this occasion, however, Miss

Bart was on her own ground.

 

"Don't you see that I wish to go by? Please move your pail," she said

sharply.

 

The woman at first seemed not to hear; then, without a word of excuse,

she pushed back her pail and dragged a wet floor-cloth across the

landing, keeping her eyes fixed on Lily while the latter swept by. It was

insufferable that Mrs. Peniston should have such creatures about the

house; and Lily entered her room resolved that the woman should be

dismissed that evening.

 

Mrs. Peniston, however, was at the moment inaccessible to remonstrance:

since early morning she had been shut up with her maid, going over her

furs, a process which formed the culminating episode in the drama of

household renovation. In the evening also Lily found herself alone, for

her aunt, who rarely dined out, had responded to the summons of a Van

Alstyne cousin who was passing through town. The house, in its state of

unnatural immaculateness and order, was as dreary as a tomb, and as Lily,

turning from her brief repast between shrouded sideboards, wandered into

the newly-uncovered glare of the drawing-room she felt as though she were

buried alive in the stifling limits of Mrs. Peniston's existence.

 

She usually contrived to avoid being at home during the season of

domestic renewal. On the present occasion, however, a variety of reasons

had combined to bring her to town; and foremost among them was the fact

that she had fewer invitations than usual for the autumn. She had so long

been accustomed to pass from one country-house to another, till the close

of the holidays brought her friends to town, that the unfilled gaps of

time confronting her produced a sharp sense of waning popularity. It was

as she had said to Selden--people were tired of her.  They would welcome

her in a new character, but as Miss Bart they knew her by heart.  She

knew herself by heart too, and was sick of the old story.  There were

moments when she longed blindly for anything different, anything strange,

remote and untried; but the utmost reach of her imagination did not go

beyond picturing her usual life in a new setting. She could not figure

herself as anywhere but in a drawing-room, diffusing elegance as a flower

sheds perfume.

 

Meanwhile, as October advanced she had to face the alternative of

returning to the Trenors or joining her aunt in town. Even the desolating

dulness of New York in October, and the soapy discomforts of Mrs.

Peniston's interior, seemed preferable to what might await her at

Bellomont; and with an air of heroic devotion she announced her intention

of remaining with her aunt till the holidays.

 

Sacrifices of this nature are sometimes received with feelings as mixed

as those which actuate them; and Mrs. Peniston remarked to her

confidential maid that, if any of the family were to be with her at such

a crisis (though for forty years she had been thought competent to see to

the hanging of her own curtains), she would certainly have preferred Miss

Grace to Miss Lily. Grace Stepney was an obscure cousin, of adaptable

manners and vicarious interests, who "ran in" to sit with Mrs. Peniston

when Lily dined out too continuously; who played bezique, picked up

dropped stitches, read out the deaths from the Times, and sincerely

admired the purple satin drawing-room curtains, the Dying Gladiator in

the window, and the seven-by-five painting of Niagara which represented

the one artistic excess of Mr. Peniston's temperate career.

 

Mrs. Peniston, under ordinary circumstances, was as much bored by her

excellent cousin as the recipient of such services usually is by the

person who performs them. She greatly preferred the brilliant and

unreliable Lily, who did not know one end of a crochet-needle from the

other, and had frequently wounded her susceptibilities by suggesting that

the drawing-room should be "done over." But when it came to hunting for

missing napkins, or helping to decide whether the backstairs needed

re-carpeting, Grace's judgment was certainly sounder than Lily's: not to

mention the fact that the latter resented the smell of beeswax and brown

soap, and behaved as though she thought a house ought to keep clean of

itself, without extraneous assistance.

 

Seated under the cheerless blaze of the drawing-room chandelier--Mrs.

Peniston never lit the lamps unless there was "company"--Lily seemed to

watch her own figure retreating down vistas of neutral-tinted dulness to

a middle age like Grace Stepney's. When she ceased to amuse Judy Trenor

and her friends she would have to fall back on amusing Mrs. Peniston;

whichever way she looked she saw only a future of servitude to the whims

of others, never the possibility of asserting her own eager individuality.

 

A ring at the door-bell, sounding emphatically through the empty house,

roused her suddenly to the extent of her boredom. It was as though all

the weariness of the past months had culminated in the vacuity of that

interminable evening. If only the ring meant a summons from the outer

world--a token that she was still remembered and wanted!

 

After some delay a parlour-maid presented herself with the announcement

that there was a person outside who was asking to see Miss Bart; and on

Lily's pressing for a more specific description, she added:

 

"It's Mrs. Haffen, Miss; she won't say what she wants."

 

Lily, to whom the name conveyed nothing, opened the door upon a woman in

a battered bonnet, who stood firmly planted under the hall-light.  The

glare of the unshaded gas shone familiarly on her pock-marked face and

the reddish baldness visible through thin strands of straw-coloured hair.

Lily looked at the char-woman in surprise.

 

"Do you wish to see me?" she asked.

 

"I should like to say a word to you, Miss." The tone was neither

aggressive nor conciliatory: it revealed nothing of the speaker's errand.

Nevertheless, some precautionary instinct warned Lily to withdraw beyond

ear-shot of the hovering parlour-maid.

 

She signed to Mrs. Haffen to follow her into the drawing-room, and closed

the door when they had entered.

 

"What is it that you wish?" she enquired.

 

The char-woman, after the manner of her kind, stood with her arms folded

in her shawl. Unwinding the latter, she produced a small parcel wrapped

in dirty newspaper.

 

"I have something here that you might like to see, Miss Bart." She spoke

the name with an unpleasant emphasis, as though her knowing it made a

part of her reason for being there. To Lily the intonation sounded like a

threat.

 

"You have found something belonging to me?" she asked, extending her hand.

 

Mrs. Haffen drew back. "Well, if it comes to that, I guess it's mine as

much as anybody's," she returned.

 

Lily looked at her perplexedly. She was sure, now, that her visitor's

manner conveyed a threat; but, expert as she was in certain directions,

there was nothing in her experience to prepare her for the exact

significance of the present scene. She felt, however, that it must be

ended as promptly as possible.

 

"I don't understand; if this parcel is not mine, why have you asked for

me?"

 

The woman was unabashed by the question. She was evidently prepared to

answer it, but like all her class she had to go a long way back to make a

beginning, and it was only after a pause that she replied: "My husband

was janitor to the Benedick till the first of the month; since then he

can't get nothing to do."

 

Lily remained silent and she continued: "It wasn't no fault of our own,

neither: the agent had another man he wanted the place for, and we was

put out, bag and baggage, just to suit his fancy.  I had a long sickness

last winter, and an operation that ate up all we'd put by; and it's hard

for me and the children, Haffen being so long out of a job."

 

After all, then, she had come only to ask Miss Bart to find a place for

her husband; or, more probably, to seek the young lady's intervention

with Mrs. Peniston. Lily had such an air of always getting what she

wanted that she was used to being appealed to as an intermediary, and,

relieved of her vague apprehension, she took refuge in the conventional

formula.

 

"I am sorry you have been in trouble," she said.

 

"Oh, that we have, Miss, and it's on'y just beginning. If on'y we'd 'a

got another situation--but the agent, he's dead against us. It ain't no

fault of ours, neither, but----"

 

At this point Lily's impatience overcame her. "If you have anything to

say to me----" she interposed.

 

The woman's resentment of the rebuff seemed to spur her lagging ideas.

 

"Yes, Miss; I'm coming to that," she said. She paused again, with her

eyes on Lily, and then continued, in a tone of diffuse narrative: "When

we was at the Benedick I had charge of some of the gentlemen's rooms;

leastways, I swep' 'em out on Saturdays.  Some of the gentlemen got the

greatest sight of letters: I never saw the like of it. Their waste-paper

baskets 'd be fairly brimming, and papers falling over on the floor.

Maybe havin' so many is how they get so careless. Some of 'em is worse

than others. Mr. Selden, Mr. Lawrence Selden, he was always one of the

carefullest: burnt his letters in winter, and tore 'em in little bits in

summer. But sometimes he'd have so many he'd just bunch 'em together, the

way the others did, and tear the lot through once--like this."

 

While she spoke she had loosened the string from the parcel in her hand,

and now she drew forth a letter which she laid on the table between Miss

Bart and herself. As she had said, the letter was torn in two; but with a

rapid gesture she laid the torn edges together and smoothed out the page.

 

A wave of indignation swept over Lily. She felt herself in the presence

of something vile, as yet but dimly conjectured--the kind of vileness of

which people whispered, but which she had never thought of as touching

her own life. She drew back with a motion of disgust, but her withdrawal

was checked by a sudden discovery: under the glare of Mrs. Peniston's

chandelier she had recognized the hand-writing of the letter. It was a

large disjointed hand, with a flourish of masculinity which but slightly

disguised its rambling weakness, and the words, scrawled in heavy ink on

pale-tinted notepaper, smote on Lily's ear as though she had heard them

spoken.

 

At first she did not grasp the full import of the situation. She

understood only that before her lay a letter written by Bertha Dorset,

and addressed, presumably, to Lawrence Selden. There was no date, but the

blackness of the ink proved the writing to be comparatively recent.  The

packet in Mrs. Haffen's hand doubtless contained more letters of the same

kind--a dozen, Lily conjectured from its thickness. The letter before her

was short, but its few words, which had leapt into her brain before she

was conscious of reading them, told a long history--a history over which,

for the last four years, the friends of the writer had smiled and

shrugged, viewing it merely as one among the countless "good situations"

of the mundane comedy. Now the other side presented itself to Lily, the

volcanic nether side of the surface over which conjecture and innuendo

glide so lightly till the first fissure turns their whisper to a shriek.

Lily knew that there is nothing society resents so much as having given

its protection to those who have not known how to profit by it: it is for

having betrayed its connivance that the body social punishes the offender

who is found out. And in this case there was no doubt of the issue. The

code of Lily's world decreed that a woman's husband should be the only

judge of her conduct: she was technically above suspicion while she had

the shelter of his approval, or even of his indifference. But with a man

of George Dorset's temper there could be no thought of condonation--the

possessor of his wife's letters could overthrow with a touch the whole

structure of her existence. And into what hands Bertha Dorset's secret

had been delivered! For a moment the irony of the coincidence tinged

Lily's disgust with a confused sense of triumph. But the disgust

prevailed--all her instinctive resistances, of taste, of training, of

blind inherited scruples, rose against the other feeling. Her strongest

sense was one of personal contamination.

 

She moved away, as though to put as much distance as possible between

herself and her visitor. "I know nothing of these letters," she said; "I

have no idea why you have brought them here."

 

Mrs. Haffen faced her steadily. "I'll tell you why, Miss.  I brought 'em

to you to sell, because I ain't got no other way of raising money, and if

we don't pay our rent by tomorrow night we'll be put out. I never done

anythin' of the kind before, and if you'd speak to Mr. Selden or to Mr.

Rosedale about getting Haffen taken on again at the Benedick--I seen you

talking to Mr. Rosedale on the steps that day you come out of Mr.

Selden's rooms----"

 

The blood rushed to Lily's forehead. She understood now--Mrs. Haffen

supposed her to be the writer of the letters. In the first leap of her

anger she was about to ring and order the woman out; but an obscure

impulse restrained her. The mention of Selden's name had started a new

train of thought. Bertha Dorset's letters were nothing to her--they might

go where the current of chance carried them! But Selden was inextricably

involved in their fate.  Men do not, at worst, suffer much from such

exposure; and in this instance the flash of divination which had carried

the meaning of the letters to Lily's brain had revealed also that they

were appeals--repeated and therefore probably unanswered--for the renewal

of a tie which time had evidently relaxed.  Nevertheless, the fact that

the correspondence had been allowed to fall into strange hands would

convict Selden of negligence in a matter where the world holds it least

pardonable; and there were graver risks to consider where a man of

Dorset's ticklish balance was concerned.

 

If she weighed all these things it was unconsciously: she was aware only

of feeling that Selden would wish the letters rescued, and that therefore

she must obtain possession of them. Beyond that her mind did not travel.

She had, indeed, a quick vision of returning the packet to Bertha Dorset,

and of the opportunities the restitution offered; but this thought lit up

abysses from which she shrank back ashamed.

 

Meanwhile Mrs. Haffen, prompt to perceive her hesitation, had already

opened the packet and ranged its contents on the table.  All the letters

had been pieced together with strips of thin paper. Some were in small

fragments, the others merely torn in half. Though there were not many,

thus spread out they nearly covered the table. Lily's glance fell on a

word here and there--then she said in a low voice: "What do you wish me

to pay you?"

 

Mrs. Haffen's face reddened with satisfaction. It was clear that the

young lady was badly frightened, and Mrs. Haffen was the woman to make

the most of such fears. Anticipating an easier victory than she had

foreseen, she named an exorbitant sum.

 

But Miss Bart showed herself a less ready prey than might have been

expected from her imprudent opening. She refused to pay the price named,

and after a moment's hesitation, met it by a counter-offer of half the

amount.

 

Mrs. Haffen immediately stiffened. Her hand travelled toward the

outspread letters, and folding them slowly, she made as though to restore

them to their wrapping.

 

"I guess they're worth more to you than to me, Miss, but the poor has got

to live as well as the rich," she observed sententiously.

 

 

Lily was throbbing with fear, but the insinuation fortified her

resistance.

 

"You are mistaken," she said indifferently. "I have offered all I am

willing to give for the letters; but there may be other ways of getting

them."

 

Mrs. Haffen raised a suspicious glance: she was too experienced not to

know that the traffic she was engaged in had perils as great as its

rewards, and she had a vision of the elaborate machinery of revenge which

a word of this commanding young lady's might set in motion.

 

She applied the corner of her shawl to her eyes, and murmured through it

that no good came of bearing too hard on the poor, but that for her part

she had never been mixed up in such a business before, and that on her

honour as a Christian all she and Haffen had thought of was that the

letters mustn't go any farther.

 

Lily stood motionless, keeping between herself and the char-woman the

greatest distance compatible with the need of speaking in low tones.  The

idea of bargaining for the letters was intolerable to her, but she knew

that, if she appeared to weaken, Mrs. Haffen would at once increase her

original demand.

 

She could never afterward recall how long the duel lasted, or what was

the decisive stroke which finally, after a lapse of time recorded in

minutes by the clock, in hours by the precipitate beat of her pulses, put

her in possession of the letters; she knew only that the door had finally

closed, and that she stood alone with the packet in her hand.

 

She had no idea of reading the letters; even to unfold Mrs. Haffen's

dirty newspaper would have seemed degrading. But what did she intend to

do with its contents? The recipient of the letters had meant to destroy

them, and it was her duty to carry out his intention. She had no right to

keep them--to do so was to lessen whatever merit lay in having secured

their possession. But how destroy them so effectually that there should

be no second risk of their falling in such hands? Mrs. Peniston's icy

drawing-room grate shone with a forbidding lustre: the fire, like the

lamps, was never lit except when there was company.

 

Miss Bart was turning to carry the letters upstairs when she heard the

opening of the outer door, and her aunt entered the drawing-room. Mrs.

Peniston was a small plump woman, with a colourless skin lined with

trivial wrinkles. Her grey hair was arranged with precision, and her

clothes looked excessively new and yet slightly old-fashioned. They were

always black and tightly fitting, with an expensive glitter: she was the

kind of woman who wore jet at breakfast. Lily had never seen her when she

was not cuirassed in shining black, with small tight boots, and an air of

being packed and ready to start; yet she never started.

 

She looked about the drawing-room with an expression of minute scrutiny.

"I saw a streak of light under one of the blinds as I drove up: it's

extraordinary that I can never teach that woman to draw them down evenly."

 

Having corrected the irregularity, she seated herself on one of the

glossy purple arm-chairs; Mrs. Peniston always sat on a chair, never in

it.

 

Then she turned her glance to Miss Bart. "My dear, you look tired; I

suppose it's the excitement of the wedding. Cornelia Van Alstyne was full

of it: Molly was there, and Gerty Farish ran in for a minute to tell us

about it. I think it was odd, their serving melons before the CONSOMME: a

wedding breakfast should always begin with CONSOMME. Molly didn't care

for the bridesmaids' dresses. She had it straight from Julia Melson that

they cost three hundred dollars apiece at Celeste's, but she says they

didn't look it. I'm glad you decided not to be a bridesmaid; that shade

of salmon-pink wouldn't have suited you." Mrs. Peniston delighted in

discussing the minutest details of festivities in which she had not taken

part. Nothing would have induced her to undergo the exertion and fatigue

of attending the Van Osburgh wedding, but so great was her interest in

the event that, having heard two versions of it, she now prepared to

extract a third from her niece. Lily, however, had been deplorably

careless in noting the particulars of the entertainment. She had failed

to observe the colour of Mrs. Van Osburgh's gown, and could not even say

whether the old Van Osburgh Sevres had been used at the bride's table:

Mrs. Peniston, in short, found that she was of more service as a listener

than as a narrator.

 

"Really, Lily, I don't see why you took the trouble to go to the wedding,

if you don't remember what happened or whom you saw there.  When I was a

girl I used to keep the MENU of every dinner I went to, and write the

names of the people on the back; and I never threw away my cotillion

favours till after your uncle's death, when it seemed unsuitable to have

so many coloured things about the house. I had a whole closet-full, I

remember; and I can tell to this day what balls I got them at. Molly Van

Alstyne reminds me of what I was at that age; it's wonderful how she

notices. She was able to tell her mother exactly how the wedding-dress

was cut, and we knew at once, from the fold in the back, that it must

have come from Paquin."

 

Mrs. Peniston rose abruptly, and, advancing to the ormolu clock

surmounted by a helmeted Minerva, which throned on the chimney-piece

between two malachite vases, passed her lace handkerchief between the

helmet and its visor.

 

"I knew it--the parlour-maid never dusts there!" she exclaimed,

triumphantly displaying a minute spot on the handkerchief; then,

reseating herself, she went on: "Molly thought Mrs. Dorset the

best-dressed woman at the wedding. I've no doubt her dress DID cost more

than any one else's, but I can't quite like the idea--a combination of

sable and POINT DE MILAN. It seems she goes to a new man in Paris, who

won't take an order till his client has spent a day with him at his villa

at Neuilly. He says he must study his subject's home life--a most

peculiar arrangement, I should say! But Mrs. Dorset told Molly about it

herself: she said the villa was full of the most exquisite things and she

was really sorry to leave. Molly said she never saw her looking better;

she was in tremendous spirits, and said she had made a match between Evie

Van Osburgh and Percy Gryce. She really seems to have a very good

influence on young men. I hear she is interesting herself now in that

silly Silverton boy, who has had his head turned by Carry Fisher, and has

been gambling so dreadfully. Well, as I was saying, Evie is really

engaged: Mrs. Dorset had her to stay with Percy Gryce, and managed it

all, and Grace Van Osburgh is in the seventh heaven--she had almost

despaired of marrying Evie."

 

Mrs. Peniston again paused, but this time her scrutiny addressed itself,

not to the furniture, but to her niece.

 

"Cornelia Van Alstyne was so surprised: she had heard that you were to

marry young Gryce. She saw the Wetheralls just after they had stopped

with you at Bellomont, and Alice Wetherall was quite sure there was an

engagement. She said that when Mr. Gryce left unexpectedly one morning,

they all thought he had rushed to town for the ring."

 

Lily rose and moved toward the door.

 

"I believe I AM tired: I think I will go to bed," she said; and Mrs.

Peniston, suddenly distracted by the discovery that the easel sustaining

the late Mr. Peniston's crayon-portrait was not exactly in line with the

sofa in front of it, presented an absent-minded brow to her kiss.

 

In her own room Lily turned up the gas-jet and glanced toward the grate.

It was as brilliantly polished as the one below, but here at least she

could burn a few papers with less risk of incurring her aunt's

disapproval. She made no immediate motion to do so, however, but dropping

into a chair looked wearily about her. Her room was large and

comfortably-furnished--it was the envy and admiration of poor Grace

Stepney, who boarded; but, contrasted with the light tints and luxurious

appointments of the guest-rooms where so many weeks of Lily's existence

were spent, it seemed as dreary as a prison. The monumental wardrobe and

bedstead of black walnut had migrated from Mr. Peniston's bedroom, and

the magenta "flock" wall-paper, of a pattern dear to the early 'sixties,

was hung with large steel engravings of an anecdotic character. Lily had

tried to mitigate this charmless background by a few frivolous touches,

in the shape of a lace-decked toilet table and a little painted desk

surmounted by photographs; but the futility of the attempt struck her as

she looked about the room. What a contrast to the subtle elegance of the

setting she had pictured for herself--an apartment which should surpass

the complicated luxury of her friends' surroundings by the whole extent

of that artistic sensibility which made her feel herself their superior;

in which every tint and line should combine to enhance her beauty and

give distinction to her leisure! Once more the haunting sense of physical

ugliness was intensified by her mental depression, so that each piece of

the offending furniture seemed to thrust forth its most aggressive angle.

 

Her aunt's words had told her nothing new; but they had revived the

vision of Bertha Dorset, smiling, flattered, victorious, holding her up

to ridicule by insinuations intelligible to every member of their little

group. The thought of the ridicule struck deeper than any other

sensation: Lily knew every turn of the allusive jargon which could flay

its victims without the shedding of blood. Her cheek burned at the

recollection, and she rose and caught up the letters. She no longer meant

to destroy them: that intention had been effaced by the quick corrosion

of Mrs. Peniston's words.

 

Instead, she approached her desk, and lighting a taper, tied and sealed

the packet; then she opened the wardrobe, drew out a despatch-box, and

deposited the letters within it. As she did so, it struck her with a

flash of irony that she was indebted to Gus Trenor for the means of

buying them.

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

The autumn dragged on monotonously. Miss Bart had received one or two

notes from Judy Trenor, reproaching her for not returning to Bellomont;

but she replied evasively, alleging the obligation to remain with her

aunt. In truth, however, she was fast wearying of her solitary existence

with Mrs. Peniston, and only the excitement of spending her

newly-acquired money lightened the dulness of the days.

 

All her life Lily had seen money go out as quickly as it came in, and

whatever theories she cultivated as to the prudence of setting aside a

part of her gains, she had unhappily no saving vision of the risks of the

opposite course. It was a keen satisfaction to feel that, for a few

months at least, she would be independent of her friends' bounty, that

she could show herself abroad without wondering whether some penetrating

eye would detect in her dress the traces of Judy Trenor's refurbished

splendour. The fact that the money freed her temporarily from all minor

obligations obscured her sense of the greater one it represented, and

having never before known what it was to command so large a sum, she

lingered delectably over the amusement of spending it.

 

It was on one of these occasions that, leaving a shop where she had spent

an hour of deliberation over a dressing-case of the most complicated

elegance, she ran across Miss Farish, who had entered the same

establishment with the modest object of having her watch repaired.  Lily

was feeling unusually virtuous. She had decided to defer the purchase of

the dressing-case till she should receive the bill for her new