The House of Mirth
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
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
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
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
Selden was rummaging in a cupboard for the cake.
"Even women," he said, "have been known to enjoy the privileges of a
"Oh, governesses--or widows. But not girls--not poor, miserable,
"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
"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
"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.
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."
"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
"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
"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 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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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.
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Lily was nineteen when circumstances caused her to revise her view of the
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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,"
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
"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
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.
The next morning, on her breakfast tray, Miss Bart found a note from her
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"Good gracious, Lily, how handsome you are! Why? Do you dislike him so
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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."
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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."
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.
"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
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.
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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