Part 2 out of 8
even hinted to the other card-players that they were to betray no
surprise at her unwonted defection. In consequence of this hint,
Lily found herself the centre of that feminine solicitude which
envelops a young woman in the mating season. A solitude was
tacitly created for her in the crowded existence of Bellomont,
and her friends could not have shown a greater readiness for
self-effacement had her wooing been adorned with all the
attributes of romance. In Lily's set this conduct implied a
sympathetic comprehension of her motives, and Mr. Gryce rose in
her esteem as she saw the consideration he inspired.
The terrace at Bellomont on a September afternoon was a spot
propitious to sentimental musings, and as Miss Bart stood leaning
against the balustrade above the sunken garden, at a little
distance from the animated group about the tea-table, she might
have been lost in the mazes of an inarticulate happiness. In
reality, her thoughts were finding definite utterance in the
tranquil recapitulation of the blessings in store for her. From
where she stood she could see them embodied in the form of Mr.
Gryce, who, in a light overcoat and muffler, sat somewhat
nervously on the edge of his chair, while Carry Fisher, with all
the energy of eye and gesture with which nature and art had
combined to endow her, pressed on him the duty of taking part in
the task of municipal reform.
Mrs. Fisher's latest hobby was municipal reform. It had been
preceded by an equal zeal for socialism, which had in turn
replaced an energetic advocacy of Christian Science. Mrs. Fisher
was small, fiery and dramatic; and her hands and eyes were
admirable instruments in the service of whatever causes he
happened to espouse. She had, however, the fault common to
enthusiasts of ignoring any slackness of response on the part of
her hearers, and Lily was amused by her unconsciousness of the
resistance displayed in every angle of Mr. Gryce's attitude. Lily
herself knew that his mind was divided between the dread of
catching cold if he remained out of doors too long at that hour,
and the fear that, if he retreated to the house, Mrs. Fisher
might follow him up with a paper to be signed. Mr. Gryce had a
constitutional dislike to what he called "committing himself,"
and tenderly as he cherished his health, he evidently concluded
that it was safer to stay out of reach of pen and ink till chance
released him from Mrs. Fisher's toils. Meanwhile he cast agonized
glances in the direction of Miss Bart, whose only response was to
sink into an attitude of more graceful abstraction. She had
learned the value of contrast in throwing her charms into relief,
and was fully aware of the extent to which Mrs. Fisher's
volubility was enhancing her own repose.
She was roused from her musings by the approach of her cousin
Jack Stepney who, at Gwen Van Osburgh's side, was returning
across the garden from the tennis court.
The couple in question were engaged in the same kind of romance
in which Lily figured, and the latter felt a certain annoyance in
contemplating what seemed to her a caricature of her own
situation. Miss Van Osburgh was a large girl with flat surfaces
and no high lights: Jack Stepney had once said of her that she
was as reliable as roast mutton. His own taste was in the line of
less solid and more highly-seasoned diet; but hunger makes any
fare palatable, and there had been times when Mr. Stepney had
been reduced to a crust.
Lily considered with interest the expression of their faces: the
girl's turned toward her companion's like an empty plate held up
to be filled, while the man lounging at her side already betrayed
the encroaching boredom which would presently crack the thin
veneer of his smile.
"How impatient men are!" Lily reflected. "All Jack has to do to
get everything he wants is to keep quiet and let that girl marry
him; whereas I have to calculate and contrive, and retreat and
advance, as if I were going through an intricate dance,
where one misstep would throw me hopelessly out of time."
As they drew nearer she was whimsically struck by a kind of
family likeness between Miss Van Osburgh and Percy Gryce. There
was no resemblance of feature. Gryce was handsome in a didactic
way--he looked like a clever pupil's drawing from a
plaster-cast--while Gwen's countenance had no more modelling than
a face painted on a toy balloon. But the deeper affinity was
unmistakable: the two had the same prejudices and ideals, and the
same quality of making other standards non-existent by ignoring
them. This attribute was common to most of Lily's set: they had a
force of negation which eliminated everything beyond their own
range of perception. Gryce and Miss Van Osburgh were, in short,
made for each other by every law of moral and physical
correspondence---"Yet they wouldn't look at each other," Lily
mused, "they never do. Each of them wants a creature of a
different race, of Jack's race and mine, with all sorts of
intuitions, sensations and perceptions that they don't even guess
the existence of. And they always get what they want."
She stood talking with her cousin and Miss Van Osburgh, till a
slight cloud on the latter's brow advised her that even cousinly
amenities were subject to suspicion, and Miss Bart, mindful of
the necessity of not exciting enmities at this crucial point of
her career, dropped aside while the happy couple proceeded toward
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
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
The observance of Sunday at Bellomont was chiefly marked by the
punctual appearance of the smart omnibus destined to convey the
household to the little church at the gates. Whether any one got
into the omnibus or not was a matter of secondary importance,
since by standing there it not only bore witness to the orthodox
intentions of the family, but made Mrs. Trenor feel, when she
finally heard it drive away, that she had somehow vicariously
made use of it.
It was Mrs. Trenor's theory that her daughters actually did go to
church every Sunday; but their French governess's convictions
calling her to the rival fane, and the fatigues of the week
keeping their mother in her room till luncheon, there was seldom
any one present to verify the fact. Now and then, in a spasmodic
burst of virtue--when the house had been too uproarious over
night--Gus Trenor forced his genial bulk into a tight frock-coat
and routed his daughters from their slumbers; but habitually, as
Lily explained to Mr. Gryce, this parental duty was forgotten
till the church bells were ringing across the park, and the
omnibus had driven away empty.
Lily had hinted to Mr. Gryce that this neglect of religious
observances was repugnant to her early traditions, and that
during her visits to Bellomont she regularly accompanied Muriel
and Hilda to church. This tallied with the assurance, also
confidentially imparted, that, never having played bridge
before, she had been "dragged into it" on the night of her
arrival, and had lost an appalling amount of money in
consequence of her ignorance of the game and of the rules of
betting. Mr. Gryce was undoubtedly enjoying Bellomont. He liked
the ease and glitter of the life, and the lustre conferred on him
by being a member of this group of rich and conspicuous people.
But he thought it a very materialistic society; there were times
when he was frightened by the talk of the men and the looks of
the ladies, and he was glad to find that Miss Bart, for all her
ease and self-possession, was not at home in so ambiguous an
atmosphere. For this reason he had been especially pleased to
learn that she would, as usual, attend the young Trenors
to church on Sunday morning; and as he paced the gravel sweep
before the door, his light overcoat on his arm and his
prayer-book in one carefully-gloved hand, he reflected agreeably
on the strength of character which kept her true to her early
training in surroundings so subversive to religious principles.
For a long time Mr. Gryce and the omnibus had the gravel sweep to
themselves; but, far from regretting this deplorable indifference
on the part of the other guests, he found himself nourishing the
hope that Miss Bart might be unaccompanied. The precious minutes
were flying, however; the big chestnuts pawed the ground and
flecked their impatient sides with foam; the coachman seemed to
be slowly petrifying on the box, and the groom on the doorstep;
and still the lady did not come. Suddenly, however, there was a
sound of voices and a rustle of skirts in the doorway, and Mr.
Gryce, restoring his watch to his pocket, turned with a nervous
start; but it was only to find himself handing Mrs. Wetherall
into the carriage.
The Wetheralls always went to church. They belonged to the vast
group of human automata who go through life without neglecting to
perform a single one of the gestures executed by the surrounding
puppets. It is true that the Bellomont puppets did not go to
church; but others equally important did--and Mr. and Mrs.
Wetherall's circle was so large that God was included in their
visiting-list. They appeared, therefore, punctual and resigned,
with the air of people bound for a dull "At Home," and after them
Hilda and Muriel straggled, yawning and pinning each other's
veils and ribbons as they came. They had promised Lily to go to
church with her, they declared, and Lily was such a dear old duck
that they didn't mind doing it to please her, though they
couldn't fancy what had put the idea in her head, and though for
their own part they would much rather have played lawn tennis
with Jack and Gwen, if she hadn't told them she was coming. The
Misses Trenor were followed by Lady Cressida Raith, a
weather-beaten person in Liberty silk and ethnological trinkets,
who, on seeing the omnibus, expressed her surprise that they were
not to walk across the park; but at Mrs. Wetherall's horrified
protest that the church was a mile away, her ladyship,
after a glance at the height of the other's heels, acquiesced in
the necessity of driving, and poor Mr. Gryce found himself
rolling off between four ladies for whose spiritual welfare he
felt not the least concern.
It might have afforded him some consolation could he have known
that Miss Bart had really meant to go to church. She had even
risen earlier than usual in the execution of her purpose. She had
an idea that the sight of her in a grey gown of devotional cut,
with her famous lashes drooped above a prayer-book, would put the
finishing touch to Mr. Gryce's subjugation, and render inevitable
a certain incident which she had resolved should form a part of
the walk they were to take together after luncheon. Her
intentions in short had never been more definite; but poor Lily,
for all the hard glaze of her exterior, was inwardly as malleable
as wax. Her faculty for adapting herself, for entering into other
people's feelings, if it served her now and then in small
contingencies, hampered her in the decisive moments of life. She
was like a water-plant in the flux of the tides, and today the
whole current of her mood was carrying her toward Lawrence
Selden. Why had he come? Was it to see herself or Bertha Dorset?
It was the last question which, at that moment, should have
engaged her. She might better have contented herself with
thinking that he had simply responded to the despairing summons
of his hostess, anxious to interpose him between herself and the
ill-humour of Mrs. Dorset. But Lily had not rested till she
learned from Mrs. Trenor that Selden had come of his own accord.
"He didn't even wire me--he just happened to find the trap at the
station. Perhaps it's not over with Bertha after all," Mrs.
Trenor musingly concluded; and went away to arrange her
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
Mrs. Trenor, as it chanced, had placed the husband and wife on
opposite sides of the table, and Lily was therefore able to
observe Mrs. Dorset also, and by carrying her glance a few feet
farther, to set up a rapid comparison between Lawrence Selden and
Mr. Gryce. It was that comparison which was her undoing. Why else
had she suddenly grown interested in Selden? She had known him
for eight years or more: ever since her return to America he had
formed a part of her background. She had always been glad to sit
next to him at dinner, had found him more agreeable than most
men, and had vaguely wished that he possessed the other qualities
needful to fix her attention; but till now she had been too busy
with her own affairs to regard him as more than one of the
pleasant accessories of life. Miss Bart was a keen reader of her
own heart, and she saw that her sudden preoccupation with Selden
was due to the fact that his presence shed a new light on her
surroundings. Not that he was notably brilliant or exceptional;
in his own profession he was surpassed by more than one man who
had bored Lily through many a weary dinner. It was rather that he
had preserved a certain social detachment, a happy air of viewing
the show objectively, of having points of contact outside the
great gilt cage in which they were all huddled for the mob to
gape at. How alluring the world outside the cage appeared
to Lily, as she heard its door clang on her! In reality, as she
knew, the door never clanged: it stood always open; but most of
the captives were like flies in a bottle, and having once flown
in, could never regain their freedom. It was Selden's distinction
that he had never forgotten the way out.
That was the secret of his way of readjusting her vision. Lily,
turning her eyes from him, found herself scanning her little
world through his retina: it was as though the pink lamps had
been shut off and the dusty daylight let in. She looked down the
long table, studying its occupants one by one, from Gus Trenor,
with his heavy carnivorous head sunk between his shoulders, as he
preyed on a jellied plover, to his wife, at the opposite end of
the long bank of orchids, suggestive, with her glaring
good-looks, of a jeweller's window lit by electricity. And
between the two, what a long stretch of vacuity! How dreary and
trivial these people were! Lily reviewed them with a scornful
impatience: Carry Fisher, with her shoulders, her eyes, her
divorces, her general air of embodying a "spicy paragraph"; young
Silverton, who had meant to live on proof-reading and write an
epic, and who now lived on his friends and had become critical of
truffles; Alice Wetherall, an animated visiting-list, whose most
fervid convictions turned on the wording of invitations and the
engraving of dinner-cards; Wetherall, with his perpetual nervous
nod of acquiescence, his air of agreeing with people before he
knew what they were saying; Jack Stepney, with his confident
smile and anxious eyes, half way between the sheriff and an
heiress; Gwen Van Osburgh, with all the guileless confidence of a
young girl who has always been told that there is no one richer
than her father.
Lily smiled at her classification of her friends. How different
they had seemed to her a few hours ago! Then they had symbolized
what she was gaining, now they stood for what she was giving up.
That very afternoon they had seemed full of brilliant qualities;
now she saw that they were merely dull in a loud way. Under the
glitter of their opportunities she saw the poverty of their
achievement. It was not that she wanted them to be more
disinterested; but she would have liked them to be more
picturesque. And she had a shamed recollection of the way
in which, a few hours since, she had felt the centripetal force
of their standards. She closed her eyes an instant, and the
vacuous routine of the life she had chosen stretched before her
like a long white road without dip or turning: it was true she
was to roll over it in a carriage instead of trudging it on foot,
but sometimes the pedestrian enjoys the diversion of a short cut
which is denied to those on wheels.
She was roused by a chuckle which Mr. Dorset seemed to eject from
the depths of his lean throat.
"I say, do look at her," he exclaimed, turning to Miss Bart with
lugubrious merriment--"I beg your pardon, but do just look at my
wife making a fool of that poor devil over there! One would
really suppose she was gone on him--and it's all the other way
round, I assure you."
Thus adjured, Lily turned her eyes on the spectacle which was
affording Mr. Dorset such legitimate mirth. It certainly
appeared, as he said, that Mrs. Dorset was the more active
participant in the scene: her neighbour seemed to receive her
advances with a temperate zest which did not distract him from
his dinner. The sight restored Lily's good humour, and knowing
the peculiar disguise which Mr. Dorset's marital fears assumed,
she asked gaily: "Aren't you horribly jealous of her?"
Dorset greeted the sally with delight. "Oh, abominably--you've
just hit it--keeps me awake at night. The doctors tell me that's
what has knocked my digestion out--being so infernally jealous of
her.--I can't eat a mouthful of this stuff, you know," he added
suddenly, pushing back his plate with a clouded countenance; and
Lily, unfailingly adaptable, accorded her radiant attention to
his prolonged denunciation of other people's cooks, with a
supplementary tirade on the toxic qualities of melted butter.
It was not often that he found so ready an ear; and, being a man
as well as a dyspeptic, it may be that as he poured his
grievances into it he was not insensible to its rosy symmetry. At
any rate he engaged Lily so long that the sweets were being
handed when she caught a phrase on her other side, where Miss
Corby, the comic woman of the company, was bantering Jack Stepney
on his approaching engagement. Miss Corby's role was
jocularity: she always entered the conversation with a
"And of course you'll have Sim Rosedale as best man!" Lily heard
her fling out as the climax of her prognostications; and Stepney
responded, as if struck: "Jove, that's an idea. What a thumping
present I'd get out of him!"
SIM ROSEDALE! The name, made more odious by its diminutive,
obtruded itself on Lily's thoughts like a leer. It stood for one
of the many hated possibilities hovering on the edge of life. If
she did not marry Percy Gryce, the day might come when she would
have to be civil to such men as Rosedale. IF SHE DID NOT MARRY
HIM? But she meant to marry him--she was sure of him and sure of
herself. She drew back with a shiver from the pleasant paths in
which her thoughts had been straying, and set her feet once more
in the middle of the long white road.... When she went upstairs
that night she found that the late post had brought her a fresh
batch of bills. Mrs. Peniston, who was a conscientious woman, had
forwarded them all to Bellomont.
Miss Bart, accordingly, rose the next morning with the most
earnest conviction that it was her duty to go to church. She tore
herself betimes from the lingering enjoyment of her
breakfast-tray, rang to have her grey gown laid out, and
despatched her maid to borrow a prayer-book from Mrs. Trenor.
But her course was too purely reasonable not to contain the germs
of rebellion. No sooner were her preparations made than they
roused a smothered sense of resistance. A small spark was enough
to kindle Lily's imagination, and the sight of the grey dress and
the borrowed prayer-book flashed a long light down the years. She
would have to go to church with Percy Gryce every Sunday. They
would have a front pew in the most expensive church in New York,
and his name would figure handsomely in the list of parish
charities. In a few years, when he grew stouter, he would be made
a warden. Once in the winter the rector would come to dine, and
her husband would beg her to go over the list and see that no
DIVORCEES were included, except those who had showed signs of
penitence by being re-married to the very wealthy. There was
nothing especially arduous in this round of relgious
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-dad 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
"Dear me, am I late?" she asked, putting a hand in his as he
advanced to greet her.
"Late for what?" enquired Mrs. Dorset tartly. "Not for luncheon,
certainly--but perhaps you had an earlier engagement?"
"Yes, I had," said Lily confidingly.
"Really? Perhaps I am in the way, then? But Mr. Selden is
entirely at your disposal." Mrs. Dorset was pale with temper, and
her antagonist felt a certain pleasure in prolonging her
"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.
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
"But I have no engagement with Mr. Selden! My engagement was to
go to church; and I'm afraid the omnibus has started without me.
HAS it started, do you know?"
She turned to Selden, who replied that he had heard it drive away
some time since.
"Ah, then I shall have to walk; I promised Hilda and Muriel to go
to church with them. It's too late to walk there, you say? Well,
I shall have the credit of trying, at any rate--and the advantage
of escaping part of the service. I'm not so sorry for myself,
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 down
find him on the watch for her; and she had found him, instead, in
a situation which might well denote that he had been on the watch
for another lady. Was it possible, after all, that he had come
for Bertha Dorset? The latter had acted on the assumption to the
extent of appearing at an hour when she never showed herself to
ordinary mortals, and Lily, for the moment, saw no way of putting
her in the wrong. It did not occur to her that Selden might have
been actuated merely by the desire to spend a Sunday out of town:
women never learn to dispense with the sentimental motive in
their judgments of men. But Lily was not easily disconcerted;
competition put her on her mettle, and she reflected that
Selden's coming, if it did not declare him to be still in Mrs.
Dorset's toils, showed him to be so completely free from them
that he was not afraid of her proximity.
These thoughts so engaged her that she fell into a gait hardly
likely to carry her to church before the sermon, and at length,
having passed from the gardens to the wood-path beyond, so far
forgot her intention as to sink into a rustic seat at a bend of
the walk. The spot was charming, and Lily was not insensible to
the charm, or to the fact that her presence enhanced it; but she
was not accustomed to taste the joys of solitude except in
company, and the combination of a handsome girl and a romantic
scene struck her as too good to be wasted. No one, however,
appeared to profit by the opportunity; and after a half hour of
fruitless waiting she rose and wandered on. She felt a stealing
sense of fatigue as she walked; the sparkle had died out of her,
and the taste of life was stale on her lips. She hardly knew what
she had been seeking, or why the failure to find it had so
blotted the light from her sky: she was only aware of a vague
sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than the
loneliness about her.
Her footsteps flagged, and she stood gazing listlessly ahead,
digging the ferny edge of the path with the tip of her sunshade.
As she did so a step sounded behind her, and she saw Selden at
"How fast you walk!" he remarked. "I thought I should never catch
up with you."
She answered gaily: "You must be quite breathless! I've been
sitting under that tree for an hour."
"Waiting for me, I hope?" he rejoined; and she said with a vague
"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
"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
"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
"Ah--but will he find you in the end? That's the only test of
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
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
"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
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
She could not herself have explained the sense of buoyancy which
seemed to lift and swing her above the sun-suffused world at her
feet. Was it love, she wondered, or a mere fortuitous combination
of happy thoughts and sensations? How much of it was owing to the
spell of the perfect afternoon, the scent of the fading woods,
the thought of the dulness she had fled from? Lily had no
definite experience by which to test the quality of her feelings.
She had several times been in love with fortunes or careers, but
only once with a man. That was years ago, when she first came
out, and had been smitten with a romantic passion for a young
gentleman named Herbert Melson, who had blue eyes and a little
wave in his hair. Mr. Melson, who was possessed of no other
negotiable securities, had hastened to employ these in capturing
the eldest Miss Van Osburgh: since then he had grown stout and
wheezy, and was given to telling anecdotes about his children. If
Lily recalled this early emotion it was not to compare it with
that which now possessed her; the only point of comparison was
the sense of lightness, of emancipation, which she remembered
feeling, in the whirl of a waltz or the seclusion of a
conservatory, during the brief course of her youthful romance.
She had not known again till today that lightness, that glow of
freedom; but now it was something more than a blind groping of
the blood. The peculiar charm of her feeling for Selden
was that she understood it; she could put her finger on every
link of the chain that was drawing them together. Though his
popularity was of the quiet kind, felt rather than actively
expressed among his friends, she had never mistaken his
inconspicuousness for obscurity. His reputed cultivation was
generally regarded as a slight obstacle to easy intercourse, but
Lily, who prided herself on her broad-minded recognition of
literature, and always carried an Omar Khayam in her
travelling-bag, was attracted by this attribute, which she felt
would have had its distinction in an older society. It was,
moreover, one of his gifts to look his part; to have a height
which lifted his head above the crowd, and the keenly-modelled
dark features which, in a land of amorphous types, gave him the
air of belonging to a more specialized race, of carrying the
impress of a concentrated past. Expansive persons found him a
little dry, and very young girls thought him sarcastic; but this
air of friendly aloofness, as far removed as possible from any
assertion of personal advantage, was the quality which piqued
Lily's interest. Everything about him accorded with the
fastidious element in her taste, even to the light irony with
which he surveyed what seemed to her most sacred. She admired him
most of all, perhaps, for being able to convey as distinct a
sense of superiority as the richest man she had ever met.
It was the unconscious prolongation of this thought which led her
to say presently, with a laugh: "I have broken two engagements
for you today. How many have you broken for me?"
"None," said Selden calmly. "My only engagement at Bellomont was
She glanced down at him, faintly smiling.
"Did you really come to Bellomont to see me?"
"Of course I did."
Her look deepened meditatively. "Why?" she murmured, with an
accent which took all tinge of coquetry from the question.
"Because you're such a wonderful spectacle: I always like to see
what you are doing."
"How do you know what I should be doing if you were not here?"
Selden smiled. "I don't flatter myself that my coming has
deflected your course of action by a hair's breadth."
"That's absurd--since, if you were not here, I could obviously
not be taking a walk with you."
"No; but your taking a walk with me is only another way of making
use of your material. You are an artist and I happen to be the
bit of colour you are using today. It's a part of your cleverness
to be able to produce premeditated effects extemporaneously."
Lily smiled also: his words were too acute not to strike her
sense of humour. It was true that she meant to use the accident
of his presence as part of a very definite effect; or that, at
least, was the secret pretext she had found for breaking her
promise to walk with Mr. Gryce. She had sometimes been accused of
being too eager--even Judy Trenor had warned her to go slowly.
Well, she would not be too eager in this case; she would give her
suitor a longer taste of suspense. Where duty and inclination
jumped together, it was not in Lily's nature to hold them
asunder. She had excused herself from the walk on the plea of a
headache: the horrid headache which, in the morning, had
prevented her venturing to church. Her appearance at luncheon
justified the excuse. She looked languid, full of a suffering
sweetness; she carried a scent-bottle in her hand. Mr. Gryce was
new to such manifestations; he wondered rather nervously if she
were delicate, having far-reaching fears about the future of his
progeny. But sympathy won the day, and he besought her not to
expose herself: he always connected the outer air with ideas of
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
"I thought, after all, the air might do me good," she explained;
and he agreed that so simple a remedy was worth trying.
The excursionists would be gone at least four hours; Lily and
Selden had the whole afternoon before them, and the sense of
leisure and safety gave the last touch of lightness to her
spirit. With so much time to talk, and no definite object to be
led up to, she could taste the rare joys of mental vagrancy.
She felt so free from ulterior motives that she took up his
charge with a touch of resentment.
"I don't know," she said, "why you are always accusing me of
"I thought you confessed to it: you told me the other day that
you had to follow a certain line--and if one does a thing at all
it is a merit to do it thoroughly."
"If you mean that a girl who has no one to think for her is
obliged to think for herself, I am quite willing to accept the
imputation. But you must find me a dismal kind of person if you
suppose that I never yield to an impulse."
"Ah, but I don't suppose that: haven't I told you that your
genius lies in converting impulses into intentions?"
"My genius?" she echoed with a sudden note of weariness. "Is
there any final test of genius but success? And I certainly
Selden pushed his hat back and took a side-glance at her.
"Success--what is success? I shall be interested to have your
"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
"But I should never have found my way there if you hadn't told
"Ah, there are sign-posts--but one has to know how to read them."
"Well, I have known, I have known!" she cried with a glow of
eagerness. "Whenever I see you, I find myself spelling out a
letter of the sign--and yesterday--last evening at dinner--I
suddenly saw a little way into your republic."
Selden was still looking at her, but with a changed eye. Hitherto
he had found, in her presence and her talk, the aesthetic
amusement which a reflective man is apt to seek in desultory
intercourse with pretty women. His attitude had been one of
admiring spectatorship, and he would have been almost sorry to
detect in her any emotional weakness which should interfere with
the fulfilment of her aims. But now the hint of this weakness had
become the most interesting thing about her. He had come on her
that morning in a moment of disarray; her face had been pale and
altered, and the diminution of her beauty had lent her a poignant
charm. THAT IS HOW SHE LOOKS WHEN SHE IS ALONE! had been his
first thought; and the second was to note in her the change which
his coming produced. It was the danger-point of their intercourse
that he could not doubt the spontaneity of her liking. From
whatever angle he viewed their dawning intimacy, he could not see
it as part of her scheme of life; and to be the unforeseen
element in a career so accurately planned was stimulating
even to a man who had renounced sentimental experiments.
"Well," he said, "did it make you want to see more? Are you going
to become one of us?"
He had drawn out his cigarettes as he spoke, and she reached her
hand toward the case.
"Oh, do give me one--I haven't smoked for days!"
"Why such unnatural abstinence? Everybody smokes at Bellomont."
"Yes--but it is not considered becoming in a JEUNE FILLE A
MARIER; and at the present moment I am a JEUNE FILLE A MARIER.
"Ah, then I'm afraid we can't let you into the republic."
"Why not? Is it a celibate order?"
"Not in the least, though I'm bound to say there are not many
married people in it. But you will marry some one very rich, and
it's as hard for rich people to get into as the kingdom of
"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
"You might as well say that the only way not to think about air
is to have enough to breathe. That is true enough in a sense; but
your lungs are thinking about the air, if you are not. And so it
is with your rich people--they may not be thinking of money, but
they're breathing it all the while; take them into another
element and see how they squirm and gasp!"
Lily sat gazing absently through the blue rings of her
"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
She had never heard him speak with such energy of affirmation.
His habitual touch was that of the eclectic, who lightly turns
over and compares; and she was moved by this sudden glimpse into
the laboratory where his faiths were formed.
"Ah, you are as bad as the other sectarians," she exclaimed;
"why do you call your republic a republic? It is a closed corporation,
and you create arbitrary objections in order to keep people out."
"It is not MY republic; if it were, I should have a COUP D'ETAT
and seat you on the throne."
"Whereas, in reality, you think I can never even get my foot
across the threshold? Oh, I understand what you mean. You despise
my ambitions--you think them unworthy of me!"
Selden smiled, but not ironically. "Well, isn't that a tribute? I
think them quite worthy of most of the people who live by them."
She had turned to gaze on him gravely. "But isn't it possible
that, if I had the opportunities of these people, I might make a
better use of them? Money stands for all kinds of things--its
purchasing quality isn't limited to diamonds and motor-cars."
"Not in the least: you might expiate your enjoyment of them by
founding a hospital."
"But if you think they are what I should really enjoy, you must
think my ambitions are good enough for me."
Selden met this appeal with a laugh. "Ah, my dear Miss Bart, I am
not divine Providence, to guarantee your enjoying the things you
are trying to get!"
"Then the best you can say for me is, that after struggling to
get them I probably shan't like them?" She drew a deep breath.
"What a miserable future you foresee for me!"
"Well--have you never foreseen it for yourself?" The slow colour
rose to her cheek, not a blush of excitement but drawn from the
deep wells of feeling; it was as if the effort of her spirit had
"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
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
She received this abrupt declaration in a way even stranger than
the manner of its making: she dropped her face on her hands and
he saw that for a moment she wept.
It was for a moment only, however; for when he leaned nearer and
drew down her hands with a gesture less passionate than grave,
she turned on him a face softened but not disfigured by emotion,
and he said to himself, somewhat cruelly, that even her weeping
was an art.
The reflection steadied his voice as he asked, between pity and
irony: "Isn't it natural that I should try to belittle all the
things I can't offer you?"
Her face brightened at this, but she drew her hand away, not with
a gesture of coquetry, but as though renouncing something to
which she had no claim.
"But you belittle ME, don't you," she returned gently, "in being
so sure they are the only things I care for?"
Selden felt an inner start; but it was only the last quiver of
his egoism. Almost at once he answered quite simply: "But you do
care for them, don't you? And no wishing of mine can alter that."
He had so completely ceased to consider how far this might carry
him, that he had a distinct sense of disappointment when she
turned on him a face sparkling with derision.
"Ah," she cried, "for all your fine phrases you're really as
great a coward as I am, for you wouldn't have made one of them if
you hadn't been so sure of my answer."
The shock of this retort had the effect of crystallizing Selden's
"I am not so sure of your answer," he said quietly. "And I do you
the justice to believe that you are not either."
It was her turn to look at him with surprise; and after a
moment--"Do you want to marry me?" she asked.
He broke into a laugh. "No, I don't want to--but perhaps I should
if you did!"
"That's what I told you--you're so sure of me that you can amuse
yourself with experiments." She drew back the hand he had
regained, and sat looking down on him sadly.
"I am not making experiments," he returned. "Or if I am, it is
not on you but on myself. I don't know what effect they are going
to have on me--but if marrying you is one of them, I will take
She smiled faintly. "It would be a great risk, certainly--I have
never concealed from you how great."
"Ah, it's you who are the coward!" he exclaimed.
She had risen, and he stood facing her with his eyes on hers. The
soft isolation of the falling day enveloped them: they seemed
lifted into a finer air. All the exquisite influences of the hour
trembled in their veins, and drew them to each other as the
loosened leaves were drawn to the earth.
"It's you who are the coward," he repeated, catching her hands in
She leaned on him for a moment, as if with a drop of tired wings:
he felt as though her heart were beating rather with the stress
of a long flight than the thrill of new distances. Then, drawing
back with a little smile of warning--"I shall look hideous in
dowdy clothes; but I can trim my own hats," she declared.
They stood silent for a while after this, smiling at each other
like adventurous children who have climbed to a forbidden height
from which they discover a new world. The actual world at their
feet was veiling itself in dimness, and across the valley a clear
moon rose in the denser blue.
Suddenly they heard a remote sound, like the hum of a giant
insect, and following the high-road, which wound whiter through
the surrounding twilight, a black object rushed across their
Lily started from her attitude of absorption; her smile faded and
she began to move toward the lane.
"I had no idea it was so late! We shall not be back till after
dark," she said, almost impatiently.
Selden was looking at her with surprise: it took him a moment to
regain his usual view of her; then he said, with an
uncontrollable note of dryness: "That was not one of our party;
the motor was going the other way."
"I know--I know---" She paused, and he saw her redden through the
twilight. "But I told them I was not well--that I should not go
out. Let us go down!" she murmured.
Selden continued to look at her; then he drew his cigarette-case
from his pocket and slowly lit a cigarette. It seemed to him
necessary, at that moment, to proclaim, by some habitual gesture
of this sort, his recovered hold on the actual: he had an almost
puerile wish to let his companion see that, their flight over, he
had landed on his feet.
She waited while the spark flickered under his curved palm; then
he held out the cigarettes to her.
She took one with an unsteady hand, and putting it to her lips,
leaned forward to draw her light from his. In the indistinctness
the little red gleam lit up the lower part of her face, and he
saw her mouth tremble into a smile.
"Were you serious?" she asked, with an odd thrill of gaiety which
she might have caught up, in haste, from a heap of stock
inflections, without having time to select the just note.
Selden's voice was under better control. "Why not?" he returned.
"You see I took no risks in being so." And as she continued to
stand before him, a little pale under the retort, he added
quickly: "Let us go down."
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
"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
"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
"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
Lily gave a slight laugh. "Oh, if he's running I'll overtake
Her friend threw out an arresting hand. "Whatever you do, Lily,
Miss Bart received the warning with a smile. "I don't mean,
literally, to take the next train. There are ways---" But she did
not go on to specify them.
Mrs. Trenor sharply corrected the tense. "There WERE ways--plenty
of them! I didn't suppose you needed to have them pointed out.
But don't deceive yourself--he's thoroughly frightened. He has
run straight home to his mother, and she'll protect him!"
"Oh, to the death," Lily agreed, dimpling at the vision.
"How you can LAUGH---" her friend rebuked her; and she dropped
back to a soberer perception of things with the question: "What
was it Bertha really told him?"
"Don't ask me--horrors! She seemed to have raked up everything.
Oh, you know what I mean--of course there isn't anything, REALLY;
but I suppose she brought in Prince Varigliano--and Lord
Hubert--and there was some story of your having borrowed money of
old Ned Van Alstyne: did you ever?"
"He is my father's cousin," Miss Bart interposed.
"Well, of course she left THAT out. It seems Ned told Carry
Fisher; and she told Bertha, naturally. They're all alike, you
know: they hold their tongues for years, and you think you're
safe, but when their opportunity comes they remember everything."
Lily had grown pale: her voice had a harsh note in it. "It was
some money I lost at bridge at the Van Osburghs'. I repaid it, of
"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
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
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. ALI 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
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
Miss Van Osburgh's vague feeling of pique was struggling for
appropriate expression. "I'm sure I don't see why you laugh at
him; I think he's very nice," she exclaimed; "and, at any rate, a
girl who married him would always have enough to be comfortable."
She looked puzzled at the redoubled laughter which hailed her
words, but it might have consoled her to know how deeply they had
sunk into the breast of one of her hearers.
Comfortable! At that moment the word was more eloquent to Lily
Bart than any other in the language. She could not even pause to
smile over the heiress's view of a colossal fortune as a mere
shelter against want: her mind was filled with the vision of what
that shelter might have been to her. Mrs. Dorset's pin-pricks did
not smart, for her own irony cut deeper: no one could hurt her as
much as she was hurting herself, for no one else--not even Judy
Trenor--knew the full magnitude of her folly.
She was roused from these unprofitable considerations by a
whispered request from her hostess, who drew her apart as they
left the luncheon-table.
"Lily, dear, if you've nothing special to do, may I tell Carry
Fisher that you intend to drive to the station and fetch Gus? He
will be back at four, and I know she has it in her mind to meet
him. Of course I'm very glad to have him amused, but I happen to
know that she has bled him rather severely since she's been here,
and she is so keen about going to fetch him that I fancy she must
have got a lot more bills this morning. It seems to me," Mrs.
Trenor feelingly concluded, "that most of her alimony is paid by
other women's husbands!"
Miss Bart, on her way to the station, had leisure to muse over
her friend's words, and their peculiar application to herself.
Why should she have to suffer for having once, for a few hours,
borrowed money of an elderly cousin, when a woman like Carry
Fisher could make a living unrebuked from the good-nature of her
men friends and the tolerance of their wives? It all turned on
the tiresome distinction between what a married woman
might, and a girl might not, do. Of course it was shocking for a
married woman to borrow money--and Lily was expertly aware of the
implication involved--but still, it was the mere MALUM PROHIBITUM
which the world decries but condones, and which, though it may be
punished by private vengeance, does not provoke the collective
disapprobation of society. To Miss Bart, in short, no such
opportunities were possible. She could of course borrow from her
women friends--a hundred here or there, at the utmost--but they
were more ready to give a gown or a trinket, and looked a little
askance when she hinted her preference for a cheque. Women are
not generous lenders, and those among whom her lot was cast were
either in the same case as herself, or else too far removed from
it to understand its necessities. The result of her meditations
was the decision to join her aunt at Richfield. She could not
remain at Bellomont without playing bridge, and being involved in
other expenses; and to continue her usual series of autumn visits
would merely prolong the same difficulties. She had reached a
point where abrupt retrenchment was necessary, and the only cheap
life was a dull life. She would start the next morning for
At the station she thought Gus Trenor seemed surprised, and not
wholly unrelieved, to see her. She yielded up the reins of the
light runabout in which she had driven over, and as he climbed
heavily to her side, crushing her into a scant third of the seat,
he said: "Halloo! It isn't often you honour me. You must have
been uncommonly hard up for something to do."
The afternoon was warm, and propinquity made her more than
usually conscious that he was red and massive, and that beads of
moisture had caused the dust of the train to adhere unpleasantly
to the broad expanse of cheek and neck which he turned to her;
but she was aware also, from the look in his small dull eyes,
that the contact with her freshness and slenderness was as
agreeable to him as the sight of a cooling beverage.
The perception of this fact helped her to answer gaily: "It's not
often I have the chance. There are too many ladies to dispute the
privilege with me."
"The privilege of driving me home? Well, I'm glad you won
the race, anyhow. But I know what really happened--my wife sent
you. Now didn't she?"
He had the dull man's unexpected flashes of astuteness, and Lily
could not help joining in the laugh with which he had pounced on
"You see, Judy thinks I'm the safest person for you to be with;
and she's quite right," she rejoined.
"Oh, is she, though? If she is, it's because you wouldn't waste
your time on an old hulk like me. We married men have to put up
with what we can get: all the prizes are for the clever chaps
who've kept a free foot. Let me light a cigar, will you? I've had
a beastly day of it."
He drew up in the shade of the village street, and passed the
reins to her while he held a match to his cigar. The little flame
under his hand cast a deeper crimson on his puffing face, and
Lily averted her eyes with a momentary feeling of repugnance. And
yet some women thought him handsome!
As she handed back the reins, she said sympathetically: "Did you
have such a lot of tiresome things to do?"
"I should say so--rather!" Trenor, who was seldom listened to,
either by his wife or her friends, settled down into the rare
enjoyment of a confidential talk. "You don't know how a fellow
has to hustle to keep this kind of thing going." He waved his
whip in the direction of the Bellomont acres, which lay outspread
before them in opulent undulations. "Judy has no idea of what she
spends--not that there isn't plenty to keep the thing going," he
interrupted himself, "but a man has got to keep his eyes open and
pick up all the tips he can. My father and mother used to live
like fighting-cocks on their income, and put by a good bit of it
too--luckily for me--but at the pace we go now, I don't know
where I should be if it weren't for taking a flyer now and then.
The women all think--I mean Judy thinks--I've nothing to do but
to go down town once a month and cut off coupons, but the truth
is it takes a devilish lot of hard work to keep the machinery
running. Not that I ought to complain to-day, though," he went on
after a moment, "for I did a very neat stroke of business, thanks
to Stepney's friend Rosedale: by the way, Miss Lily, I wish you'd
try to persuade Judy to be decently civil to that chap. He's
going to be rich enough to buy us all out one of these
days, and if she'd only ask him to dine now and then I could get
almost anything out of him. The man is mad to know the people who
don't want to know him, and when a fellow's in that state there
is nothing he won't do for the first woman who takes him up."
Lily hesitated a moment. The first part of her companion's
discourse had started an interesting train of thought, which was
rudely interrupted by the mention of Mr. Rosedale's name. She
uttered a faint protest.
"But you know Jack did try to take him about, and he was
"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
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
In her inmost heart Lily knew it was not by appealing to the
fraternal instinct that she was likely to move Gus Trenor; but
this way of explaining the situation helped to drape its crudity,
and she was always scrupulous about keeping up appearances to
herself. Her personal fastidiousness had a moral equivalent, and
when she made a tour of inspection in her own mind there were
certain closed doors she did not open.
As they reached the gates of Bellomont she turned to Trenor with
a smile. "The afternoon is so perfect--don't you want to drive me
a little farther? I've been rather out of spirits all day,
and it's so restful to be away from people, with some one who
won't mind if I'm a little dull."
She looked so plaintively lovely as she proffered the request, so
trustfully sure of his sympathy and understanding, that Trenor
felt himself wishing that his wife could see how other women
treated him--not battered wire-pullers like Mrs. Fisher, but a
girl that most men would have given their boots to get such a
"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
Her eyes sought his once more, and she smiled inwardly at the
tinge of apprehension that she read in them.
"Why, of course--if it's anything I can manage---" He broke off,
and she guessed that his enjoyment was disturbed by the
remembrance of Mrs. Fisher's methods.
"The greatest of favours," she rejoined gently. "The fact is,
Judy is angry with me, and I want you to make my peace."
"Angry with you? Oh, come, nonsense---" his relief broke through
in a laugh. "Why, you know she's devoted to you."
"She is the best friend I have, and that is why I mind having to
vex her. But I daresay you know what she has wanted me to do. She
has set her heart--poor dear--on my marrying--marrying a great
deal of money."
She paused with a slight falter of embarrassment, and Trenor,
turning abruptly, fixed on her a look of growing intelligence.
"A great deal of money? Oh, by Jove--you don't mean Gryce?
What--you do? Oh, no, of course I won't mention it--you can trust
me to keep my mouth shut--but Gryce--
good Lord, GRYCE! Did
Judy really think you could bring yourself to marry that
portentous little ass? But you couldn't, eh? And so you gave him
the sack, and that's the reason why he lit out by the first train
this morning?" He leaned back, spreading himself farther across
the seat, as if dilated by the joyful sense of his own
discernment. "How on earth could Judy think you would do such a
thing? I could have told her you'd never put up with such a
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 dis
cussion 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
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
She had found it reassuringly easy to keep Trenor in a good
humour. To listen to his stories, to receive his confidences and
laugh at his jokes, seemed for the moment all that was required
of her, and the complacency with which her hostess regarded these
attentions freed them of the least hint of ambiguity. Mrs. Trenor
evidently assumed that Lily's growing intimacy with her husband
was simply an indirect way of returning her own kindness.
"I'm so glad you and Gus have become such good friends," she said
approvingly. "It's too delightful of you to be so nice to him,
and put up with all his tiresome stories. I know what they are,
because I had to listen to them when we were engaged--I'm sure he
is telling the same ones still. And now I shan't always have to
be asking Carry Fisher here to keep him in a good-humour. She's a
perfect vulture, you know; and she hasn't the least moral sense.
She is always getting Gus to speculate for her, and I'm sure she
never pays when she loses."
Miss Bart could shudder at this state of things without the
embarrassment of a personal application. Her own position was
surely quite different. There could be no question of her not
paying when she lost, since Trenor had assured her that she was
certain not to lose. In sending her the cheque he had explained
that he had made five thousand for her out of Rosedale's "tip,"
and had put four thousand back in the same venture, as
there was the promise of another "big rise"; she understood
therefore that he was now speculating with her own money, and
that she consequently owed him no more than the gratitude which
such a trifling service demanded. She vaguely supposed that, to
raise the first sum, he had borrowed on her securities; but this
was a point over which her curiosity did not linger. It was
concentrated, for the moment, on the probable date of the next
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
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
"Isn't everything beautifully done?" she pursued, as they entered
the distant drawing-room assigned to the display of Miss Van
Osburgh's bridal spoils. "I always say no one does things better
than cousin Grace! Did you ever taste anything more delicious
than that MOUSSE of lobster with champagne sauce? I made up my
mind weeks ago that I wouldn't miss this wedding, and just
fancy how delightfully it all came about. When Lawrence Selden
heard I was coming, he insisted on fetching me himself and
driving me to the station, and when we go back this evening I am
to dine with him at Sherry's. I really feel as excited as if I
were getting married myself!"
Lily smiled: she knew that Selden had always been kind to his
dull cousin, and she had sometimes wondered why he wasted so much
time in such an unremunerative manner; but now the thought gave
her a vague pleasure.
"Do you see him often?" she asked.
"Yes; he is very good about dropping in on Sundays. And now and
then we do a play together; but lately I haven't seen much of
him. He doesn't look well, and he seems nervous and unsettled.
The dear fellow! I do wish he would marry some nice girl. I told
him so today, but he said he didn't care for the really nice
ones, and the other kind didn't care for him--but that was just
his joke, of course. He could never marry a girl who WASN'T nice.
Oh, my dear, did you ever see such pearls?"
They had paused before the table on which the bride's jewels were
displayed, and Lily's heart gave an envious throb as she caught
the refraction of light from their surfaces--the milky gleam of
perfectly matched pearls, the flash of rubies relieved against
contrasting velvet, the intense blue rays of sapphires kindled
into light by surrounding diamonds: all these precious tints
enhanced and deepened by the varied art of their setting. The
glow of the stones warmed Lily's veins like wine. More completely
than any other expression of wealth they symbolized the life she
longed to lead, the life of fastidious aloofness and refinement
in which every detail should have the finish of a jewel, and the
whole form a harmonious setting to her own jewel-like rareness.
"Oh, Lily, do look at this diamond pendant--it's as big as a
dinner-plate! Who can have given it?" Miss Farish bent
short-sightedly over the accompanying card. "MR. SIMON ROSEDALE.
What, that horrid man? Oh, yes--I remember he's a friend of
Jack's, and I suppose cousin Grace had to ask him here today; but
she must rather hate having to let Gwen accept such a present
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
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