Part 4 out of 8
Suddenly she raised her eyes with the beseeching earnestness of a
child. "You never speak to me--you think hard things of me," she
"I think of you at any rate, God knows!" he said.
"Then why do we never see each other? Why can't we be friends?
You promised once to help me," she continued in the same tone, as
though the words were drawn from her unwillingly.
"The only way I can help you is by loving you," Selden said in a
She made no reply, but her face turned to him with the soft
motion of a flower. His own met it slowly, and their lips
touched. She drew back and rose from her seat. Selden rose too,
and they stood facing each other. Suddenly she caught his hand
and pressed it a moment against her cheek.
"Ah, love me, love me--but don't tell me so!" she sighed with her
eyes in his; and before he could speak she had turned and slipped
through the arch of boughs, disappearing in the brightness of the
Selden stood where she had left him. He knew too well the
transiency of exquisite moments to attempt to follow her; but
presently he reentered the house and made his way through the
deserted rooms to the door. A few sumptuously-cloaked ladies were
already gathered in the marble vestibule, and in the coat-room he
found Van Alstyne and Gus Trenor.
The former, at Selden's approach, paused in the careful selection
of a cigar from one of the silver boxes invitingly set out near
"Hallo, Selden, going too? You're an Epicurean like myself, I
see: you don't want to see all those goddesses gobbling terrapin.
Gad, what a show of good-looking women; but not one of
'em could touch that little cousin of mine. Talk of
jewels--what's a woman want with jewels when she's got herself to
show? The trouble is that all these fal-bals they wear cover up
their figures when they've got 'em. I never knew till tonight
what an outline Lily has."
"It's not her fault if everybody don't know it now," growled
Trenor, flushed with the struggle of getting into his fur-lined
coat. "Damned bad taste, I call it--no, no cigar for me. You
can't tell what you're smoking in one of these new houses--likely
as not the CHEF buys the cigars. Stay for supper? Not if I know
it! When people crowd their rooms so that you can't get near any
one you want to speak to, I'd as soon sup in the elevated at the
rush hour. My wife was dead right to stay away: she says life's
too short to spend it in breaking in new people."
Lily woke from happy dreams to find two notes at her bedside.
One was from Mrs. Trenor, who announced that she was coming to
town that afternoon for a flying visit, and hoped Miss Bart would
be able to dine with her. The other was from Selden. He wrote
briefly that an important case called him to Albany, whence he
would be unable to return till the evening, and asked Lily to let
him know at what hour on the following day she would see him.
Lily, leaning back among her pillows, gazed musingly at his
letter. The scene in the Brys' conservatory had been like a part
of her dreams; she had not expected to wake to such evidence of
its reality. Her first movement was one of annoyance: this
unforeseen act of Selden's added another complication to life. It
was so unlike him to yield to such an irrational impulse! Did he
really mean to ask her to marry him? She had once shown him the
impossibility of such a hope, and his subsequent behaviour seemed
to prove that he had accepted the situation with a reasonableness
somewhat mortifying to her vanity. It was all the more agreeable
to find that this reason ableness was maintained only at the cost
of not seeing her; but, though nothing in life was as sweet as
the sense of her power over him, she saw the danger of allowing
the episode of the previous night to have a sequel. Since she
could not marry him, it would be kinder to him, as well as easier
for herself, to write a line amicably evading his request to see
her: he was not the man to mistake such a hint, and when next
they met it would be on their usual friendly footing.
Lily sprang out of bed, and went straight to her desk. She wanted
to write at once, while she could trust to the strength of her
resolve. She was still languid from her brief sleep and the
exhilaration of the evening, and the sight of Selden's writing
brought back the culminating moment of her triumph: the moment
when she had read in his eyes that no philosophy was proof
against her power. It would be pleasant to have that sensation
again . . . no one else could give it to her in its fulness; and
she could not bear to mar her mood of luxu
retrospection by an act of definite refusal. She took up her pen
and wrote hastily: "TOMORROW AT FOUR;" murmuring to herself, as
she slipped the sheet into its envelope: "I can easily put him
off when tomorrow comes."
Judy Trenor's summons was very welcome to Lily. It was the first
time she had received a direct communication from Bellomont since
the close of her last visit there, and she was still visited by
the dread of having incurred Judy's displeasure. But this
characteristic command seemed to reestablish their former
relations; and Lily smiled at the thought that her friend had
probably summoned her in order to hear about the Brys'
entertainment. Mrs. Trenor had absented herself from the feast,
perhaps for the reason so frankly enunciated by her husband,
perhaps because, as Mrs. Fisher somewhat differently put it, she
"couldn't bear new people when she hadn't discovered them
herself." At any rate, though she remained haughtily at
Bellomont, Lily suspected in her a devouring eagerness to hear of
what she had missed, and to learn exactly in what measure Mrs.
Wellington Bry had surpassed all previous competitors for social
recognition. Lily was quite ready to gratify this curiosity, but
it happened that she was dining out. She determined, however, to
see Mrs. Trenor for a few moments, and ringing for her maid she
despatched a telegram to say that she would be with her friend
that evening at ten.
She was dining with Mrs. Fisher, who had gathered at an informal
feast a few of the performers of the previous evening. There was
to be plantation music in the studio after dinner-for Mrs.
Fisher, despairing of the republic, had taken up modelling, and
annexed to her small crowded house a spacious apartment, which,
whatever its uses in her hours of plastic inspiration, served at
other times for the exercise of an indefatigable hospitality.
Lily was reluctant to leave, for the dinner was amusing, and she
would have liked to lounge over a cigarette and hear a few songs;
but she could not break her engagement with Judy, and shortly
after ten she asked her hostess to ring for a hansom, and drove
up Fifth Avenue to the Trenors'.
She waited long enough on the doorstep to wonder that
Judy's presence in town was not signalized by a greater
promptness in admitting her; and her surprise was increased when,
instead of the expected footman, pushing his shoulders into a
tardy coat, a shabby care-taking person in calico let her into
the shrouded hall. Trenor, however, appeared at once on the
threshold of the drawing-room, welcoming her with unusual
volubility while he relieved her of her cloak and drew her into
"Come along to the den; it's the only comfortable place in the
house. Doesn't this room look as if it was waiting for the body
to be brought down? Can't see why Judy keeps the house wrapped up
in this awful slippery white stuff--it's enough to give a fellow
pneumonia to walk through these rooms on a cold day. You look a
little pinched yourself, by the way: it's rather a sharp night
out. I noticed it walking up from the club. Come along, and I'll
give you a nip of brandy, and you can toast yourself over the
fire and try some of my new Egyptians--that little Turkish chap
at the Embassy put me on to a brand that I want you to try, and
if you like 'em I'll get out a lot for you: they don't have 'em
here yet, but I'll cable."
He led her through the house to the large room at the back, where
Mrs. Trenor usually sat, and where, even in her absence, there
was an air of occupancy. Here, as usual, were flowers,
newspapers, a littered writing-table, and a general aspect of
lamp-lit familiarity, so that it was a surprise not to see Judy's
energetic figure start up from the arm-chair near the fire.
It was apparently Trenor himself who had been occupying the seat
in question, for it was overhung by a cloud of cigar smoke, and
near it stood one of those intricate folding tables which British
ingenuity has devised to facilitate the circulation of tobacco
and spirits. The sight of such appliances in a drawing-room was
not unusual in Lily's set, where smoking and drinking were
unrestricted by considerations of time and place, and her first
movement was to help herself to one of the cigarettes recommended
by Trenor, while she checked his loquacity by asking, with a
surprised glance: "Where's Judy?"
Trenor, a little heated by his unusual flow of words, and
perhaps by prolonged propinquity with the decanters, was bending
over the latter to decipher their silver labels.
"Here, now, Lily, just a drop of cognac in a little fizzy
water--you do look pinched, you know: I swear the end of your
nose is red. I'll take another glass to keep you
company--Judy?--Why, you see, Judy's got a devil of a head
ache--quite knocked out with it, poor thing--she asked me to
explain--make it all right, you know--Do come up to the fire,
though; you look dead-beat, really. Now do let me make you
comfortable, there's a good girl."
He had taken her hand, half-banteringly, and was drawing her
toward a low seat by the hearth; but she stopped and freed
"Do you mean to say that Judy's not well enough to see me?
Doesn't she want me to go upstairs?"
Trenor drained the glass he had filled for himself, and paused to
set it down before he answered.
"Why, no--the fact is, she's not up to seeing anybody. It came on
suddenly, you know, and she asked me to tell you how awfully
sorry she was--if she'd known where you were dining she'd have
sent you word."
"She did know where I was dining; I mentioned it in my telegram.
But it doesn't matter, of course. I suppose if she's so poorly
she won't go back to Bellomont in the morning, and I can come and
see her then."
"Yes: exactly--that's capital. I'll tell her you'll pop in to
morrow morning. And now do sit down a minute, there's a dear, and
let's have a nice quiet jaw together. You won't take a drop, just
for sociability? Tell me what you think of that cigarette. Why,
don't you like it? What are you chucking it away for?"
"I am chucking it away because I must go, if you'll have the
goodness to call a cab for me," Lily returned with a smile.
She did not like Trenor's unusual excitability, with its too
evident explanation, and the thought of being alone with him,
with her friend out of reach upstairs, at the other end of the
great empty house, did not conduce to a desire to prolong their
But Trenor, with a promptness which did not escape her, had moved
between herself and the door.
"Why must you go, I should like to know? If Judy'd been here
you'd have sat gossiping till all hours--and you can't even give
me five minutes! It's always the same story. Last night I
couldn't get near you--I went to that damned vulgar party just to
see you, and there was everybody talking about you, and asking me
if I'd ever seen anything so stunning, and when I tried to come
up and say a word, you never took any notice, but just went on
laughing and joking with a lot of asses who only wanted to be
able to swagger about afterward, and look knowing when you were
He paused, flushed by his diatribe, and fixing on her a look in
which resentment was the ingredient she least disliked. But she
had regained her presence of mind, and stood composedly in the
middle of the room, while her slight smile seemed to put an ever
increasing distance between herself and Trenor.
Across it she said: "Don't be absurd, Gus. It's past eleven, and
I must really ask you to ring for a cab."
He remained immovable, with the lowering forehead she had grown
"And supposing I won't ring for one--what'll you do then?"
"I shall go upstairs to Judy if you force me to disturb her."
Trenor drew a step nearer and laid his hand on her arm. "Look
here, Lily: won't you give me five minutes of your own accord?"
"Not tonight, Gus: you---"
"Very good, then: I'll take 'em. And as many more as I want." He
had squared himself on the threshold, his hands thrust deep in
his pockets. He nodded toward the chair on the hearth.
"Go and sit down there, please: I've got a word to say to you."
Lily's quick temper was getting the better of her fears. She drew
herself up and moved toward the door.
"If you have anything to say to me, you must say it another time.
I shall go up to Judy unless you call a cab for me at once."
He burst into a laugh. "Go upstairs and welcome, my dear; but you
won't find Judy. She ain't there."
Lily cast a startled look upon him. "Do you mean that Judy is not
in the house--not in town?" she exclaimed.
"That's just what I do mean," returned Trenor, his bluster
sinking to sullenness under her look.
"Nonsense--I don't believe you. I am going upstairs," she said
He drew unexpectedly aside, letting her reach the threshold
"Go up and welcome; but my wife is at Bellomont."
But Lily had a flash of reassurance. "If she hadn't come she
would have sent me word---"
"She did; she telephoned me this afternoon to let you know."
"I received no message."
"I didn't send any."
The two measured each other for a moment, but Lily still saw her
opponent through a blur of scorn that made all other
"I can't imagine your object in playing such a stupid trick on
me; but if you have fully gratified your peculiar sense of humour
I must again ask you to send for a cab."
It was the wrong note, and she knew it as she spoke. To be stung
by irony it is not necessary to understand it, and the angry
streaks on Trenor's face might have been raised by an actual
"Look here, Lily, don't take that high and mighty tone with me."
He had again moved toward the door, and in her instinctive
shrinking from him she let him regain command of the threshold.
"I DID play a trick on you; I own up to it; but if you think I'm
ashamed you're mistaken. Lord knows I've been patient
enough--I've hung round and looked like an ass. And all the while
you were letting a lot of other fellows make up to you . . .
letting 'em make fun of me, I daresay . . . I'm not sharp, and
can't dress my friends up to look funny, as you do . . . but I
can tell when it's being done to me . . . I can tell fast enough
when I'm made a fool of . . ."
"Ah, I shouldn't have thought that!" flashed from Lily; but her
laugh dropped to silence under his look.
"No; you wouldn't have thought it; but you'll know better
now. That's what you're here for tonight. I've been waiting for a
quiet time to talk things over, and now I've got it I mean to
make you hear me out."
His first rush of inarticulate resentment had been followed by a
steadiness and concentration of tone more disconcerting to Lily
than the excitement preceding it. For a moment her presence of
mind forsook her. She had more than once been in situations where
a quick sword-play of wit had been needful to cover her retreat;
but her frightened heart-throbs told her that here such skill
would not avail.
To gain time she repeated: "I don't understand what you want."
Trenor had pushed a chair between herself and the door. He threw
himself in it, and leaned back, looking up at her.
"I'll tell you what I want: I want to know just where you and I
stand. Hang it, the man who pays for the dinner is generally
allowed to have a seat at table."
She flamed with anger and abasement, and the sickening need of
having to conciliate where she longed to humble.
"I don't know what you mean--but you must see, Gus, that I can't
stay here talking to you at this hour---"
"Gad, you go to men's houses fast enough in broad day
light--strikes me you're not always so deuced careful of
The brutality of the thrust gave her the sense of dizziness that
follows on a physical blow. Rosedale had spoken then--this was
the way men talked of her--She felt suddenly weak and
defenceless: there was a throb of self-pity in her throat. But
all the while another self was sharpening her to vigilance,
whispering the terrified warning that every word and gesture must
"If you have brought me here to say insulting things---" she
Trenor laughed. "Don't talk stage-rot. I don't want to insult
you. But a man's got his feelings--and you've played with mine
too long. I didn't begin this business--kept out of the way, and
left the track clear for the other chaps, till you rummaged me
out and set to work to make an ass of me--and an easy job you had
of it, too. That's the trouble--it was too easy for
you--you got reckless--thought you could turn me inside out, and
chuck me in the gutter like an empty purse. But, by gad, that
ain't playing fair: that's dodging the rules of the game. Of
course I know now what you wanted--it wasn't my beautiful eyes
you were after--but I tell you what, Miss Lily, you've got to pay
up for making me think so---"
He rose, squaring his shoulders aggressively, and stepped toward
her with a reddening brow; but she held her footing, though every
nerve tore at her to retreat as he advanced.
"Pay up?" she faltered. "Do you mean that I owe you money?"
He laughed again. "Oh, I'm not asking for payment in kind. But
there's such a thing as fair play--and interest on one's
money--and hang me if I've had as much as a look from you---"
"Your money? What have I to do with your money? You advised me
how to invest mine . . . you must have seen I knew nothing of
business . . . you told me it was all right---"
"It WAS all right--it is, Lily: you're welcome to all of it, and
ten times more. I'm only asking for a word of thanks from you."
He was closer still, with a hand that grew formidable; and the
frightened self in her was dragging the other down.
"I HAVE thanked you; I've shown I was grateful. What more have
you done than any friend might do, or any one accept from a
Trenor caught her up with a sneer. "I don't doubt you've accepted
as much before--and chucked the other chaps as you'd like to
chuck me. I don't care how you settled your score with them--if
you fooled 'em I'm that much to the good. Don't stare at me like
that--I know I'm not talking the way a man is supposed to talk to
a girl--but, hang it, if you don't like it you can stop me quick
enough--you know I'm mad about you--damn the money, there's
plenty more of it--if THAT bothers you . . . I was a brute,
Lily--Lily!--just look at me---"
Over and over her the sea of humiliation broke--wave crashing on
wave so close that the moral shame was one with the physical
dread. It seemed to her that self-esteem would have made
her invulnerable--that it was her own dishonour which put a
fearful solitude about her.
His touch was a shock to her drowning consciousness. She drew
back from him with a desperate assumption of scorn.
"I've told you I don't understand--but if I owe you money you
shall be paid---"
Trenor's face darkened to rage: her recoil of abhorrence had
called out the primitive man.
"Ah--you'll borrow from Selden or Rosedale--and take your chances
of fooling them as you've fooled me! Unless--unless you've
settled your other scores already--and I'm the only one left out
in the cold!"
She stood silent, frozen to her place. The words--the words were
worse than the touch! Her heart was beating all over her body--in
her throat, her limbs, her helpless useless hands. Her eyes
travelled despairingly about the room--they lit on the bell, and
she remembered that help was in call. Yes, but scandal with it--a
hideous mustering of tongues. No, she must fight her way out
alone. It was enough that the servants knew her to be in the
house with Trenor--there must be nothing to excite conjecture in
her way of leaving it.
She raised her head, and achieved a last clear look at him.
"I am here alone with you," she said. "What more have you to
To her surprise, Trenor answered the look with a speechless
stare. With his last gust of words the flame had died out,
leaving him chill and humbled. It was as though a cold air had
dispersed the fumes of his libations, and the situation loomed
before him black and naked as the ruins of a fire. Old habits,
old restraints, the hand of inherited order, plucked back the
bewildered mind which passion had jolted from its ruts. Trenor's
eye had the haggard look of the sleep-walker waked on a deathly
"Go home! Go away from here"---he stammered, and turning his back
on her walked toward the hearth.
The sharp release from her fears restored Lily to immediate
lucidity. The collapse of Trenor's will left her in control, and
she heard herself, in a voice that was her own yet outside
herself, bidding him ring for the servant, bidding him give the
order for a hansom, directing him to put her in it when
it came. Whence the strength came to her she knew not; but an
insistent voice warned her that she must leave the house openly,
and nerved her, in the hall before the hovering care taker, to
exchange light words with Trenor, and charge him with the usual
messages for Judy, while all the while she shook with inward
loathing. On the doorstep, with the street before her, she felt a
mad throb of liberation, intoxicating as the prisoner's first
draught of free air; but the clearness of brain continued, and
she noted the mute aspect of Fifth Avenue, guessed at the
lateness of the hour, and even observed a man's figure--was there
something half-familiar in its outline?--which, as she entered
the hansom, turned from the opposite corner and vanished in the
obscurity of the side street.
But with the turn of the wheels reaction came, and shuddering
darkness closed on her. "I can't think--I can't think," she
moaned, and leaned her head against the rattling side of the cab.
She seemed a stranger to herself, or rather there were two selves
in her, the one she had always known, and a new abhorrent being
to which it found itself chained. She had once picked up, in a
house where she was staying, a translation of the EUMENIDES, and
her imagination had been seized by the high terror of the scene
where Orestes, in the cave of the oracle, finds his implacable
huntresses asleep, and snatches an hour's repose. Yes, the Furies
might sometimes sleep, but they were there, always there in the
dark corners, and now they were awake and the iron clang of their
wings was in her brain . . . She opened her eyes and saw the
streets passing--the familiar alien streets. All she looked on
was the same and yet changed. There was a great gulf fixed
between today and yesterday. Everything in the past seemed
simple, natural, full of daylight--and she was alone in a place
of darkness and pollution.--Alone! It was the loneliness that
frightened her. Her eyes fell on an illuminated clock at a street
corner, and she saw that the hands marked the half hour after
eleven. Only half-past eleven--there were hours and hours left of
the night! And she must spend them alone, shuddering sleepless on
her bed. Her soft nature recoiled from this ordeal, which had
none of the stimulus of conflict to goad her through it. Oh, the
slow cold drip of the minutes on her head! She had a
vision of herself lying on the black walnut bed--and the darkness
would frighten her, and if she left the light burning the dreary
details of the room would brand themselves forever on her brain.
She had always hated her room at Mrs. Peniston's--its ugliness,
its impersonality, the fact that nothing in it was really hers.
To a torn heart uncomforted by human nearness a room may open
almost human arms, and the being to whom no four walls mean more
than any others, is, at such hours, expatriate everywhere.
Lily had no heart to lean on. Her relation with her aunt was as
superficial as that of chance lodgers who pass on the stairs. But
even had the two been in closer contact, it was impossible to
think of Mrs. Peniston's mind as offering shelter or
comprehension to such misery as Lily's. As the pain that can be
told is but half a pain, so the pity that questions has little
healing in its touch. What Lily craved was the darkness made by
enfolding arms, the silence which is not solitude, but compassion
holding its breath.
She started up and looked forth on the passing streets.
Gerty!--they were nearing Gerty's corner. If only she could reach
there before this labouring anguish burst from her breast to her
lips--if only she could feel the hold of Gerty's arms while she
shook in the ague-fit of fear that was coming upon her! She
pushed up the door in the roof and called the address to the
driver. It was not so late--Gerty might still be waking. And even
if she were not, the sound of the bell would penetrate every
recess of her tiny apartment, and rouse her to answer her
Gerty Farish, the morning after the Wellington Brys'
entertainment, woke from dreams as happy as Lily's. If they were
less vivid in hue, more subdued to the half-tints of her
personality and her experience, they were for that very reason
better suited to her mental vision. Such flashes of joy as Lily
moved in would have blinded Miss Farish, who was accustomed, in
the way of happiness, to such scant light as shone through the
cracks of other people's lives.
Now she was the centre of a little illumination of her own: a
mild but unmistakable beam, compounded of Lawrence Selden's
growing kindness to herself and the discovery that he extended
his liking to Lily Bart. If these two factors seem incompatible
to the student of feminine psychology, it must be remembered that
Gerty had always been a parasite in the moral order, living on
the crumbs of other tables, and content to look through the
window at the banquet spread for her friends. Now that she was
enjoying a little private feast of her own, it would have seemed
incredibly selfish not to lay a plate for a friend; and there was
no one with whom she would rather have shared her enjoyment than
As to the nature of Selden's growing kindness, Gerty would no
more have dared to define it than she would have tried to learn a
butterfly's colours by knocking the dust from its wings. To seize
on the wonder would be to brush off its bloom, and perhaps see it
fade and stiffen in her hand: better the sense of beauty
palpitating out of reach, while she held her breath and watched
where it would alight. Yet Selden's manner at the Brys' had
brought the flutter of wings so close that they seemed to be
beating in her own heart. She had never seen him so alert, so
responsive, so attentive to what she had to say. His habitual
manner had an absent-minded kindliness which she accepted, and
was grateful for, as the liveliest sentiment her presence was
likely to inspire; but she was quick to feel in him a change
implying that for once she could give pleasure as well as receive
And it was so delightful that this higher degree of sympathy
should be reached through their interest in Lily Bart!
Gerty's affection for her friend--a sentiment that had learned to
keep itself alive on the scantiest diet--had grown to active
adoration since Lily's restless curiosity had drawn her into the
circle of Miss Farish's work. Lily's taste of beneficence had
wakened in her a momentary appetite for well-doing. Her visit to
the Girls' Club had first brought her in contact with the
dramatic contrasts of life. She had always accepted with
philosophic calm the fact that such existences as hers were
pedestalled on foundations of obscure humanity. The dreary limbo
of dinginess lay all around and beneath that little illuminated
circle in which life reached its finest efflorescence, as the mud
and sleet of a winter night enclose a hot-house filled with
tropical flowers. All this was in the natural order of things,
and the orchid basking in its artificially created atmosphere
could round the delicate curves of its petals undisturbed by the
ice on the panes.
But it is one thing to live comfortably with the abstract
conception of poverty, another to be brought in contact with its
human embodiments. Lily had never conceived of these victims of
fate otherwise than in the mass. That the mass was composed of
individual lives, innumerable separate centres of sensation, with
her own eager reachings for pleasure, her own fierce revulsions
from pain--that some of these bundles of feeling were clothed in
shapes not so unlike her own, with eyes meant to look on
gladness, and young lips shaped for love--this discovery gave
Lily one of those sudden shocks of pity that sometimes
decentralize a life. Lily's nature was incapable of such renewal:
she could feel other demands only through her own, and no pain
was long vivid which did not press on an answering nerve. But for
the moment she was drawn out of herself by the interest of her
direct relation with a world so unlike her own. She had
supplemented her first gift by personal assistance to one or two
of Miss Farish's most appealing subjects, and the admiration and
interest her presence excited among the tired workers at the club
ministered in a new form to her insatiable desire to please.
Gerty Farish was not a close enough reader of character to
disentangle the mixed threads of which Lily's philanthropy was
woven. She supposed her beautiful friend to be actuated by the
same motive as herself--that sharpening of the moral
vision which makes all human suffering so near and insistent that
the other aspects of life fade into remoteness. Gerty lived by
such simple formulas that she did not hesitate to class her
friend's state with the emotional "change of heart" to which her
dealings with the poor had accustomed her; and she rejoiced in
the thought that she had been the humble instrument of this
renewal. Now she had an answer to all criticisms of Lily's
conduct: as she had said, she knew "the real Lily," and the
discovery that Selden shared her knowledge raised her placid
acceptance of life to a dazzled sense of its possibilities--a
sense farther enlarged, in the course of the afternoon, by the
receipt of a telegram from Selden asking if he might dine with
her that evening.
While Gerty was lost in the happy bustle which this announcement
produced in her small household, Selden was at one with her in
thinking with intensity of Lily Bart. The case which had called
him to Albany was not complicated enough to absorb all his
attention, and he had the professional faculty of keeping a part
of his mind free when its services were not needed. This
part--which at the moment seemed dangerously like the whole--was
filled to the brim with the sensations of the previous evening.
Selden understood the symptoms: he recognized the fact that he
was paying up, as there had always been a chance of his having to
pay up, for the voluntary exclusions of his past. He had meant to
keep free from permanent ties, not from any poverty of feeling,
but because, in a different way, he was, as much as Lily, the
victim of his environment. There had been a germ of truth in his
declaration to Gerty Farish that he had never wanted to marry a
"nice" girl: the adjective connoting, in his cousin's vocabulary,
certain utilitarian qualities which are apt to preclude the
luxury of charm. Now it had been Selden's fate to have a charming
mother: her graceful portrait, all smiles and Cashmere, still
emitted a faded scent of the undefinable quality. His father was
the kind of man who delights in a charming woman: who quotes her,
stimulates her, and keeps her perennially charming. Neither one
of the couple cared for money, but their disdain of it took the
form of always spending a little more than was prudent. If their
house was shabby, it was exquisitely kept; if there were good
books on the shelves there were also good dishes on the
table. Selden senior had an eye for a picture, his wife an
understanding of old lace; and both were so conscious of
restraint and discrimination in buying that they never quite knew
how it was that the bills mounted up.
Though many of Selden's friends would have called his parents
poor, he had grown up in an atmosphere where restricted means
were felt only as a check on aimless profusion: where the few
possessions were so good that their rarity gave them a merited
relief, and abstinence was combined with elegance in a way
exemplified by Mrs. Selden's knack of wearing her old velvet as
if it were new. A man has the advantage of being delivered early
from the home point of view, and before Selden left college he
had learned that there are as many different ways of going
without money as of spending it. Unfortunately, he found no way
as agreeable as that practised at home; and his views of
womankind in especial were tinged by the remembrance of the one
woman who had given him his sense of "values." It was from her
that he inherited his detachment from the sumptuary side of life:
the stoic's carelessness of material things, combined with the
Epicurean's pleasure in them. Life shorn of either feeling
appeared to him a diminished thing; and nowhere was the blending
of the two ingredients so essential as in the character of a
It had always seemed to Selden that experience offered a great
deal besides the sentimental adventure, yet he could vividly
conceive of a love which should broaden and deepen till it became
the central fact of life. What he could not accept, in his own
case, was the makeshift alternative of a relation that should be
less than this: that should leave some portions of his nature
unsatisfied, while it put an undue strain on others. He would
not, in other words, yield to the growth of an affection which
might appeal to pity yet leave the understanding untouched:
sympathy should no more delude him than a trick of the eyes, the
grace of helplessness than a curve of the cheek.
But now--that little BUT passed like a sponge over all his vows.
His reasoned-out resistances seemed for the moment so much less
important than the question as to when Lily would receive his
note! He yielded himself to the charm of trivial
preoccupations, wondering at what hour her reply would be sent,
with what words it would begin. As to its import he had no
doubt--he was as sure of her surrender as of his own. And so he
had leisure to muse on all its exquisite details, as a hard
worker, on a holiday morning, might lie still and watch the beam
of light travel gradually across his room. But if the new light
dazzled, it did not blind him. He could still discern the outline
of facts, though his own relation to them had changed. He was no
less conscious than before of what was said of Lily Bart, but he
could separate the woman he knew from the vulgar estimate of her.
His mind turned to Gerty Farish's words, and the wisdom of the
world seemed a groping thing beside the insight of innocence.
BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART, FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD--even the
hidden god in their neighbour's breast! Selden was in the state
of impassioned self-absorption that the first surrender to love
produces. His craving was for the companionship of one whose
point of view should justify his own, who should confirm, by
deliberate observation, the truth to which his intuitions had
leaped. He could not wait for the midday recess, but seized a
moment's leisure in court to scribble his telegram to Gerty
Reaching town, he was driven direct to his club, where he hoped a
note from Miss Bart might await him. But his box contained only a
line of rapturous assent from Gerty, and he was turning away
disappointed when he was hailed by a voice from the smoking room.
"Hallo, Lawrence! Dining here? Take a bite with me-I've ordered a
He discovered Trenor, in his day clothes, sitting, with a tall
glass at his elbow, behind the folds of a sporting journal.
Selden thanked him, but pleaded an engagement.
"Hang it, I believe every man in town has an engagement tonight.
I shall have the dub to myself. You know how I'm living this
winter, rattling round in that empty house. My wife meant to come
to town today, but she's put it off again, and how is a fellow to
dine alone in a room with the looking-glasses covered, and
nothing but a bottle of Harvey sauce on the side-board? I say,
Lawrence, chuck your engagement and take pity on me--it gives me
the blue devils to dine alone, and there's nobody but
that canting ass Wetherall in the club."
"Sorry, Gus--I can't do it."
As Selden turned away, he noticed the dark flush on Trenor's
face, the unpleasant moisture of his intensely white forehead,
the way his jewelled rings were wedged in the creases of his fat
red fingers. Certainly the beast was predominating--the beast at
the bottom of the glass. And he had heard this man's name coupled
with Lily's! Bah--the thought sickened him; all the way back to
his rooms he was haunted by the sight of Trenor's fat creased
On his table lay the note: Lily had sent it to his rooms. He knew
what was in it before he broke the seal--a grey seal with BEYOND!
beneath a flying ship. Ah, he would take her beyond--beyond the
ugliness, the pettiness, the attrition and corrosion of the
Gerty's little sitting-room sparkled with welcome when Selden
entered it. Its modest "effects," compact of enamel paint and
ingenuity, spoke to him in the language just then sweetest to his
ear. It is surprising how little narrow walls and a low ceiling
matter, when the roof of the soul has suddenly been raised. Gerty
sparkled too; or at least shone with a tempered radiance. He had
never before noticed that she had "points"--really, some good
fellow might do worse . . . Over the little dinner (and here,
again, the effects were wonderful) he told her she ought to
marry--he was in a mood to pair off the whole world. She had made
the caramel custard with her own hands? It was sinful to keep
such gifts to herself. He reflected with a throb of pride that
Lily could trim her own hats--she had told him so the day of
their walk at Bellomont.
He did not speak of Lily till after dinner. During the little
repast he kept the talk on his hostess, who, fluttered at being
the centre of observation, shone as rosy as the candle-shades she
had manufactured for the occasion. Selden evinced an
extraordinary interest in her household arrangements:
complimented her on the ingenuity with which she had utilized
every inch of her small quarters, asked how her servant managed
about afternoons out, learned that one may improvise
delicious dinners in a chafing-dish, and uttered thoughtful
generalizations on the burden of a large establishment.
When they were in the sitting-room again, where they fitted as
snugly as bits in a puzzle, and she had brewed the coffee, and
poured it into her grandmother's egg-shell cups, his eye, as he
leaned back, basking in the warm fragrance, lighted on a recent
photograph of Miss Bart, and the desired transition was effected
without an effort. The photograph was well enough--but to catch
her as she had looked last night! Gerty agreed with him--never
had she been so radiant. But could photography capture that
light? There had been a new look in her face--something
different; yes, Selden agreed there had been something different.
The coffee was so exquisite that he asked for a second cup: such
a contrast to the watery stuff at the club! Ah, your poor
bachelor with his impersonal club fare, alternating with the
equally impersonal CUISINE of the dinner-party! A man who lived
in lodgings missed the best part of life--he pictured the
flavourless solitude of Trenor's repast, and felt a moment's
compassion for the man . . . But to return to Lily--and again and
again he returned, questioning, conjecturing, leading Gerty on,
draining her inmost thoughts of their stored tenderness for her
At first she poured herself out unstintingly, happy in this
perfect communion of their sympathies. His understanding of Lily
helped to confirm her own belief in her friend. They dwelt
together on the fact that Lily had had no chance. Gerty instanced
her generous impulses--her restlessness and discontent. The fact
that her life had never satisfied her proved that she was made
for better things. She might have married more than once--the
conventional rich marriage which she had been taught to consider
the sole end of existence--but when the opportunity came she had
always shrunk from it. Percy Gryce, for instance, had been in
love with her--every one at Bellomont had supposed them to be
engaged, and her dismissal of him was thought inexplicable. This
view of the Gryce incident chimed too well with Selden's mood not
to be instantly adopted by him, with a flash of retrospective
contempt for what had once seemed the obvious solution. If
rejection there had been--and he wondered now that he had
ever doubted it!--then he held the key to the secret, and the
hillsides of Bellomont were lit up, not with sunset, but with
dawn. It was he who had wavered and disowned the face of
opportunity--and the joy now warming his breast might have been a
familiar inmate if he had captured it in its first flight.
It was at this point, perhaps, that a joy just trying its wings
in Gerty's heart dropped to earth and lay still. She sat facing
Selden, repeating mechanically: "No, she has never been
understood---" and all the while she herself seemed to be sitting
in the centre of a great glare of comprehension. The little
confidential room, where a moment ago their thoughts had touched
elbows like their chairs, grew to unfriendly vastness, separating
her from Selden by all the length of her new vision of the
future--and that future stretched out interminably, with her
lonely figure toiling down it, a mere speck on the solitude.
"She is herself with a few people only; and you are one of them,"
she heard Selden saying. And again: "Be good to her, Gerty, won't
you?" and: "She has it in her to become whatever she is believed
to be--you'll help her by believing the best of her?"
The words beat on Gerty's brain like the sound of a language
which has seemed familiar at a distance, but on approaching is
found to be unintelligible. He had come to talk to her of
Lily--that was all! There had been a third at the feast she had
spread for him, and that third had taken her own place. She tried
to follow what he was saying, to cling to her own part in the
talk--but it was all as meaningless as the boom of waves in a
drowning head, and she felt, as the drowning may feel, that to
sink would be nothing beside the pain of struggling to keep up.
Selden rose, and she drew a deep breath, feeling that soon she
could yield to the blessed waves.
"Mrs. Fisher's? You say she was dining there? There's music
afterward; I believe I had a card from her." He glanced at the
foolish pink-faced clock that was drumming out this hideous
hour. "A quarter past ten? I might look in there now; the Fisher
evenings are amusing. I haven't kept you up too late, Gerty? You
look tired--I've rambled on and bored you." And in the
unwonted overflow of his feelings, he left a cousinly kiss upon
At Mrs. Fisher's, through the cigar-smoke of the studio, a dozen
voices greeted Selden. A song was pending as he entered, and he
dropped into a seat near his hostess, his eyes roaming in search
of Miss Bart. But she was not there, and the discovery gave him a
pang out of all proportion to its seriousness; since the note in
his breast-pocket assured him that at four the next day they
would meet. To his impatience it seemed immeasurably long to
wait, and half-ashamed of the impulse, he leaned to Mrs. Fisher
to ask, as the music ceased, if Miss Bart had not dined with her.
"Lily? She's just gone. She had to run off, I forget where.
Wasn't she wonderful last night?"
"Who's that? Lily?" asked Jack Stepney, from the depths of a
neighbouring arm-chair. "Really, you know, I'm no prude, but when
it comes to a girl standing there as if she was up at auction--I
thought seriously of speaking to cousin Julia."
"You didn't know Jack had become our social censor?" Mrs. Fisher
said to Selden with a laugh; and Stepney spluttered, amid the
general derision: "But she's a cousin, hang it, and when a man's
married--TOWN TALK was full of her this morning."
"Yes: lively reading that was," said Mr. Ned Van Alstyne,
stroking his moustache to hide the smile behind it. "Buy the
dirty sheet? No, of course not; some fellow showed it to me--but
I'd heard the stories before. When a girl's as good-looking as
that she'd better marry; then no questions are asked. In our
imperfectly organized society there is no provision as yet for
the young woman who claims the privileges of marriage without
assuming its obligations."
"Well, I understand Lily is about to assume them in the shape of
Mr. Rosedale," Mrs. Fisher said with a laugh.
"Rosedale--good heavens!" exclaimed Van Alstyne, dropping his
eye-glass. "Stepney, that's your fault for foisting the brute on
"Oh, confound it, you know, we don't MARRY Rosedale in our
family," Stepney languidly protested; but his wife, who
sat in oppressive bridal finery at the other side of the room,
quelled him with the judicial reflection: "In Lily's
circumstances it's a mistake to have too high a standard."
"I hear even Rosedale has been scared by the talk lately," Mrs.
Fisher rejoined; "but the sight of her last night sent him off
his head. What do you think he said to me after her TABLEAU?
'My God, Mrs. Fisher, if I could get Paul Morpeth to paint her
like that, the picture'd appreciate a hundred per cent in ten
"By Jove,--but isn't she about somewhere?" exclaimed Van Alstyne,
restoring his glass with an uneasy glance.
"No; she ran off while you were all mixing the punch down stairs.
Where was she going, by the way? What's on tonight? I hadn't
heard of anything."
"Oh, not a party, I think," said an inexperienced young Farish
who had arrived late. "I put her in her cab as I was coming in,
and she gave the driver the Trenors' address."
"The Trenors'?" exclaimed Mrs. Jack Stepney. "Why, the house is
closed--Judy telephoned me from Bellomont this evening."
"Did she? That's queer. I'm sure I'm not mistaken. Well, come
now, Trenor's there, anyhow--I--oh, well--the fact is, I've no
head for numbers," he broke off, admonished by the nudge of an
adjoining foot, and the smile that circled the room.
In its unpleasant light Selden had risen and was shaking hands
with his hostess. The air of the place stifled him, and he
wondered why he had stayed in it so long.
On the doorstep he stood still, remembering a phrase of Lily's:
"It seems to me you spend a good deal of time in the element you
Well--what had brought him there but the quest of her? It was her
element, not his. But he would lift her out of it, take her
beyond! That BEYOND! on her letter was like a cry for rescue. He
knew that Perseus's task is not done when he has loosed
Andromeda's chains, for her limbs are numb with bondage, and she
cannot rise and walk, but clings to him with dragging arms as he
beats back to land with his burden. Well, he had strength for
both--it was her weakness which had put the strength in him. It
was not, alas, a clean rush of waves they had to win
through, but a clogging morass of old associations and habits,
and for the moment its vapours were in his throat. But he would
see clearer, breathe freer in her presence: she was at once the
dead weight at his breast and the spar which should float them to
safety. He smiled at the whirl of metaphor with which he was
trying to build up a defence against the influences of the last
hour. It was pitiable that he, who knew the mixed motives on
which social judgments depend, should still feel himself so
swayed by them. How could he lift Lily to a freer vision of life,
if his own view of her was to be coloured by any mind in which he
saw her reflected?
The moral oppression had produced a physical craving for air, and
he strode on, opening his lungs to the reverberating coldness of
the night. At the corner of Fifth Avenue Van Alstyne hailed him
with an offer of company.
"Walking? A good thing to blow the smoke out of one's head. Now
that women have taken to tobacco we live in a bath of nicotine.
It would be a curious thing to study the effect of cigarettes on
the relation of the sexes. Smoke is almost as great a solvent as
divorce: both tend to obscure the moral issue."
Nothing could have been less consonant with Selden's mood than
Van Alstyne's after-dinner aphorisms, but as long as the latter
confined himself to generalities his listener's nerves were in
control. Happily Van Alstyne prided himself on his summing up of
social aspects, and with Selden for audience was eager to show
the sureness of his touch. Mrs. Fisher lived in an East side
street near the Park, and as the two men walked down Fifth Avenue
the new architectural developments of that versatile thoroughfare
invited Van Alstyne's comment.
"That Greiner house, now--a typical rung in the social ladder!
The man who built it came from a MILIEU where all the dishes are
put on the table at once. His facade is a complete architectural
meal; if he had omitted a style his friends might have thought
the money had given out. Not a bad purchase for Rosedale, though:
attracts attention, and awes the Western sight-seer. By and bye
he'll get out of that phase, and want something that the crowd
will pass and the few pause before. Especially if he marries my
Selden dashed in with the query: "And the Wellington Brys'?
Rather clever of its kind, don't you think?"
They were just beneath the wide white facade, with its rich
restraint of line, which suggested the clever corseting of a
"That's the next stage: the desire to imply that one has been to
Europe, and has a standard. I'm sure Mrs. Bry thinks her house a
copy of the TRIANON; in America every marble house with gilt
furniture is thought to be a copy of the TRIANON. What a clever
chap that architect is, though--how he takes his client's
measure! He has put the whole of Mrs. Bry in his use of the
composite order. Now for the Trenors, you remember, he chose the
Corinthian: exuberant, but based on the best precedent. The
Trenor house is one of his best things--doesn't look like a
banqueting-hall turned inside out. I hear Mrs. Trenor wants to
build out a new ball-room, and that divergence from Gus on that
point keeps her at Bellomont. The dimensions of the Brys'
ball-room must rankle: you may be sure she knows 'em as well as
if she'd been there last night with a yard-measure. Who said she
was in town, by the way? That Farish boy? She isn't, I know; Mrs.
Stepney was right; the house is dark, you see: I suppose Gus
lives in the back."
He had halted opposite the Trenors' comer, and Selden perforce
stayed his steps also. The house loomed obscure and uninhabited;
only an oblong gleam above the door spoke of provisional
"They've bought the house at the back: it gives them a hundred
and fifty feet in the side street. There's where the ball-room's
to be, with a gallery connecting it: billiard-room and so on
above. I suggested changing the entrance, and carrying the
drawing-room across the whole Fifth Avenue front; you see the
front door corresponds with the windows---"
The walking-stick which Van Alstyne swung in demonstration
dropped to a startled "Hallo!" as the door opened and two figures
were seen silhouetted against the hall-light. At the same moment
a hansom halted at the curb-stone, and one of the figures floated
down to it in a haze of evening draperies; while the other, black
and bulky, remained persistently projected against the light.
For an immeasurable second the two spectators of the incident
were silent; then the house-door closed, the hansom rolled off,
and the whole scene slipped by as if with the turn of a
Van Alstyne dropped his eye-glass with a low whistle.
"A--hem--nothing of this, eh, Selden? As one of the family, I
know I may count on you--appearances are deceptive--and Fifth
Avenue is so imperfectly lighted---"
"Goodnight," said Selden, turning sharply down the side street
without seeing the other's extended hand.
Alone with her cousin's kiss, Gerty stared upon her thoughts. He
had kissed her before--but not with another woman on his lips. If
he had spared her that she could have drowned quietly, welcoming
the dark flood as it submerged her. But now the flood was shot
through with glory, and it was harder to drown at sunrise than in
darkness. Gerty hid her face from the light, but it pierced to
the crannies of her soul. She had been so contented, life had
seemed so simple and sufficient--why had he come to trouble her
with new hopes? And Lily--Lily, her best friend! Woman-like, she
accused the woman. Perhaps, had it not been for Lily, her fond
imagining might have become truth. Selden had always liked
her--had understood and sympathized with the modest independence
of her life. He, who had the reputation of weighing all things in
the nice balance of fastidious perceptions, had been uncritical
and simple in his view of her: his cleverness had never overawed
her because she had felt at home in his heart. And now she was
thrust out, and the door barred against her by Lily's hand! Lily,
for whose admission there she herself had pleaded! The situation
was lighted up by a dreary flash of irony. She knew Selden--she
saw how the force of her faith in Lily must have helped to dispel
his hesitations. She remembered, too, how Lily had talked of
him-she saw herself bringing the two together, making them known
to each other. On Selden's part, no doubt, the wound inflicted
was inconscient; he had never guessed her foolish secret; but
Lily--Lily must have known! When, in such matters, are a woman's
perceptions at fault? And if she knew, then she had deliberately
despoiled her friend, and in mere wantonness of power,
since, even to Gerty's suddenly flaming jealousy, it seemed
incredible that Lily should wish to be Selden's wife. Lily might
be incapable of marrying for money, but she was equally incapable
of living without it, and Selden's eager investigations into the
small economies of house-keeping made him appear to Gerty as
tragically duped as herself.
She remained long in her sitting-room, where the embers were
crumbling to cold grey, and the lamp paled under its gay shade.
Just beneath it stood the photograph of Lily Bart, looking out
imperially on the cheap gim-cracks, the cramped furniture of the
little room. Could Selden picture her in such an interior? Gerty
felt the poverty, the insignificance of her surroundings: she
beheld her life as it must appear to Lily. And the cruelty of
Lily's judgments smote upon her memory. She saw that she had
dressed her idol with attributes of her own making. When had Lily
ever really felt, or pitied, or understood? All she wanted was
the taste of new experiences: she seemed like some cruel creature
experimenting in a laboratory.
The pink-faced clock drummed out another hour, and Gerty rose
with a start. She had an appointment early the next morning with
a district visitor on the East side. She put out her lamp,
covered the fire, and went into her bedroom to undress. In the
little glass above her dressing-table she saw her face reflected
against the shadows of the room, and tears blotted the
reflection. What right had she to dream the dreams of loveliness?
A dull face invited a dull fate. She cried quietly as she
undressed, laying aside her clothes with her habitual precision,
setting everything in order for the next day, when the old life
must be taken up as though there had been no break in its
routine. Her servant did not come till eight o'clock, and she
prepared her own tea-tray and placed it beside the bed. Then she
locked the door of the flat, extinguished her light and lay down.
But on her bed sleep would not come, and she lay face to face
with the fact that she hated Lily Bart. It closed with her in the
darkness like some formless evil to be blindly grappled with.
Reason, judgment, renunciation, all the sane daylight forces,
were beaten back in the sharp struggle for self-preservation. She
wanted it as fiercely and
unscrupulously as Lily did, but without Lily's power of obtaining
it. And in her conscious impotence she lay shivering, and hated
A ring at the door-bell caught her to her feet. She struck a
light and stood startled, listening. For a moment her heart beat
incoherently, then she felt the sobering touch of fact, and
remembered that such calls were not unknown in her charitable
work. She flung on her dressing-gown to answer the summons, and
unlocking her door, confronted the shining vision of Lily Bart.
Gerty's first movement was one of revulsion. She shrank back as
though Lily's presence flashed too sudden a light upon her
misery. Then she heard her name in a cry, had a glimpse of her
friend's face, and felt herself caught and clung to.
"Lily--what is it?" she exclaimed.
Miss Bart released her, and stood breathing brokenly, like one
who has gained shelter after a long flight.
"I was so cold--I couldn't go home. Have you a fire?"
Gerty's compassionate instincts, responding to the swift call of
habit, swept aside all her reluctances. Lily was simply some one
who needed help--for what reason, there was no time to pause and
conjecture: disciplined sympathy checked the wonder on Gerty's
lips, and made her draw her friend silently into the sitting-room
and seat her by the darkened hearth.
"There is kindling wood here: the fire will burn in a minute."
She knelt down, and the flame leapt under her rapid hands. It
flashed strangely through the tears which still blurred her eyes,
and smote on the white ruin of Lily's face. The girls looked at
each other in silence; then Lily repeated: "I couldn't go home."
"No--no--you came here, dear! You're cold and tired--sit quiet,
and I'll make you some tea."
Gerty had unconsciously adopted the soothing note of her trade:
all personal feeling was merged in the sense of ministry, and
experience had taught her that the bleeding must be stayed before
the wound is probed.
Lily sat quiet, leaning to the fire: the clatter of cups behind
her soothed her as familiar noises hush a child whom silence has
kept wakeful. But when Gerty stood at her side with the tea she
pushed it away, and turned an estranged eye on the familiar room.
"I came here because I couldn't bear to be alone," she said.
Gerty set down the cup and knelt beside her.
"Lily! Something has happened--can't you tell me?"
"I couldn't bear to lie awake in my room till morning. I hate my
room at Aunt Julia's--so I came here---"
She stirred suddenly, broke from her apathy, and dung to Gerty in
a fresh burst of fear.
"Oh, Gerty, the furies . . . you know the noise of their
wings--alone, at night, in the dark? But you don't know--there is
nothing to make the dark dreadful to you---"
The words, flashing back on Gerty's last hours, struck from her a
faint derisive murmur; but Lily, in the blaze of her own misery,
was blinded to everything outside it.
"You'll let me stay? I shan't mind when daylight comes--Is it
late? Is the night nearly over? It must be awful to be
sleepless--everything stands by the bed and stares---"
Miss Farish caught her straying hands. "Lily, look at me!
Something has happened--an accident? You have been
frightened--what has frightened you? Tell me if you can--a word
or two--so that I can help you."
Lily shook her head.
"I am not frightened: that's not the word. Can you imagine
looking into your glass some morning and seeing a
disfigurement--some hideous change that has come to you while you
slept? Well, I seem to myself like that--I can't bear to see
myself in my own thoughts--I hate ugliness, you know--I've always
turned from it--but I can't explain to you--you wouldn't
She lifted her head and her eyes fell on the clock.
"How long the night is! And I know I shan't sleep tomorrow. Some
one told me my father used to lie sleepless and think of horrors.
And he was not wicked, only unfortunate--and I see now how he
must have suffered, lying alone with his thoughts! But I am
bad--a bad girl--all my thoughts are bad--I have always had bad
people about me. Is that any excuse? I thought I could
manage my own life--I was proud--proud! but now I'm on their
Sobs shook her, and she bowed to them like a tree in a dry storm.
Gerty knelt beside her, waiting, with the patience born of
experience, till this gust of misery should loosen fresh speech.
She had first imagined some physical shock, some peril of the
crowded streets, since Lily was presumably on her way home from
Carry Fisher's; but she now saw that other nerve-centres were
smitten, and her mind trembled back from conjecture.
Lily's sobs ceased, and she lifted her head.
"There are bad girls in your slums. Tell me--do they ever pick
themselves up? Ever forget, and feel as they did before?"
"Lily! you mustn't speak so--you're dreaming."
"Don't they always go from bad to worse? There's no turning
back--your old self rejects you, and shuts you out."
She rose, stretching her arms as if in utter physical weariness.
"Go to bed, dear! You work hard and get up early. I'll watch here
by the fire, and you'll leave the light, and your door open. All
I want is to feel that you are near me." She laid both hands on
Gerty's shoulders, with a smile that was like sunrise on a sea
strewn with wreckage.
"I can't leave you, Lily. Come and lie on my bed. Your hands are
frozen--you must undress and be made warm." Gerty paused with
sudden compunction. "But Mrs. Peniston--it's past midnight! What
will she think?"
"She goes to bed. I have a latch-key. It doesn't matter--I can't
go back there."
"There's no need to: you shall stay here. But you must tell me
where you have been. Listen, Lily--it will help you to speak!"
She regained Miss Bart's hands, and pressed them against her.
"Try to tell me--it will clear your poor head. Listen--you were
dining at Carry Fisher's." Gerty paused and added with a flash of
heroism: "Lawrence Selden went from here to find you."
At the word, Lily's face melted from locked anguish to the open
misery of a child. Her lips trembled and her gaze widened with
"He went to find me? And I missed him! Oh, Gerty, he
tried to help me. He told me--he warned me long ago--he foresaw
that I should grow hateful to myself!"
The name, as Gerty saw with a clutch at the heart, had loosened
the springs of self-pity in her friend's dry breast, and tear by
tear Lily poured out the measure of her anguish. She had dropped
sideways in Gerty's big arm-chair, her head buried where lately
Selden's had leaned, in a beauty of abandonment that drove home
to Gerty's aching senses the inevitableness of her own defeat.
Ah, it needed no deliberate purpose on Lily's part to rob her of
her dream! To look on that prone loveliness was to see in it a
natural force, to recognize that love and power belong to such as
Lily, as renunciation and service are the lot of those they
despoil. But if Selden's infatuation seemed a fatal necessity,
the effect that his name produced shook Gerty's steadfastness
with a last pang. Men pass through such superhuman loves and
outlive them: they are the probation subduing the heart to human
joys. How gladly Gerty would have welcomed the ministry of
healing: how willingly have soothed the sufferer back to
tolerance of life! But Lily's self-betrayal took this last hope
from her. The mortal maid on the shore is helpless against the
siren who loves her prey: such victims are floated back dead
from their adventure.
Lily sprang up and caught her with strong hands. "Gerty, you know
him--you understand him--tell me; if I went to him, if I told
him everything--if I said: 'I am bad through and through--I want
admiration, I want excitement, I want money--' yes, MONEY!
That's my shame, Gerty--and it's known, it's said of me--it's
what men think of me--If I said it all to him--told him the
whole story--said plainly:'I've sunk lower than the lowest, for
I've taken what they take, and not paid as they pay'--oh, Gerty,
you know him, you can speak for him: if I told him everything
would he loathe me? Or would he pity me, and understand me, and
save me from loathing myself?"
Gerty stood cold and passive. She knew the hour of her probation
had come, and her poor heart beat wildly against its destiny. As
a dark river sweeps by under a lightning flash, she saw her
chance of happiness surge past under a flash of temptation. What
prevented her from saying: "He is like other men"? She
was not so sure of him, after all! But to do so would have been
like blaspheming her love. She could not put him before herself
in any light but the noblest: she must trust him to the height of
her own passion.
"Yes: I know him; he will help you," she said; and in a moment
Lily's passion was weeping itself out against her breast.
There was but one bed in the little flat, and the two girls lay
down on it side by side when Gerty had unlaced Lily's dress and
persuaded her to put her lips to the warm tea. The light
extinguished, they lay still in the darkness, Gerty shrinking to
the outer edge of the narrow couch to avoid contact with her
bed-fellow. Knowing that Lily disliked to be caressed, she had
long ago learned to check her demonstrative impulses toward her
friend. But tonight every fibre in her body shrank from Lily's
nearness: it was torture to listen to her breathing, and feel the
sheet stir with it. As Lily turned, and settled to completer
rest, a strand of her hair swept Gerty's cheek with its
fragrance. Everything about her was warm and soft and scented:
even the stains of her grief became her as rain-drops do the
beaten rose. But as Gerty lay with arms drawn down her side, in
the motionless narrowness of an effigy, she felt a stir of sobs
from the breathing warmth beside her, and Lily flung out her
hand, groped for her friend's, and held it fast.
"Hold me, Gerty, hold me, or I shall think of things," she
moaned; and Gerty silently slipped an arm under her, pillowing
her head in its hollow as a mother makes a nest for a tossing
child. In the warm hollow Lily lay still and her breathing grew
low and regular. Her hand still dung to Gerty's as if to ward off
evil dreams, but the hold of her fingers relaxed, her head sank
deeper into its shelter, and Gerty felt that she slept.
When lily woke she had the bed to herself, and the winter light
was in the room.
She sat up, bewildered by the strangeness of her surroundings;
then memory returned, and she looked about her with a shiver. In
the cold slant of light reflected from the back wall of a
neighbouring building, she saw her evening dress and opera cloak
lying in a tawdry heap on a chair. Finery laid off is as
unappetizing as the remains of a feast, and it occurred to Lily
that, at home, her maid's vigilance had always spared her the
sight of such incongruities. Her body ached with fatigue, and
with the constriction of her attitude in Gerty's bed. All through
her troubled sleep she had been conscious of having no space to
toss in, and the long effort to remain motionless made her feel
as if she had spent her night in a train.
This sense of physical discomfort was the first to assert itself;
then she perceived, beneath it, a corresponding mental
prostration, a languor of horror more insufferable than the first
rush of her disgust. The thought of having to wake every morning
with this weight on her breast roused her tired mind to fresh
effort. She must find some way out of the slough into which she
had stumbled: it was not so much compunction as the dread of her
morning thoughts that pressed on her the need of action. But she
was unutterably tired; it was weariness to think connectedly. She
lay back, looking about the poor slit of a room with a renewal of
physical distaste. The outer air, penned between high buildings,
brought no freshness through the window; steam-heat was beginning
to sing in a coil of dingy pipes, and a smell of cooking
penetrated the crack of the door.
The door opened, and Gerty, dressed and hatted, entered with a
cup of tea. Her face looked sallow and swollen in the dreary
light, and her dull hair shaded imperceptibly into the tones of
She glanced shyly at Lily, asking in an embarrassed tone how she
felt; Lily answered with the same constraint, and raised herself
up to drink the tea.
"I must have been over-tired last night; I think I had a
nervous attack in the carriage," she said, as the drink brought
clearness to her sluggish thoughts.
"You were not well; I am so glad you came here," Gerty returned.
"But how am I to get home? And Aunt Julia--?"
"She knows; I telephoned early, and your maid has brought your
things. But won't you eat something? I scrambled the eggs
Lily could not eat; but the tea strengthened her to rise and
dress under her maid's searching gaze. It was a relief to her
that Gerty was obliged to hasten away: the two kissed silently,
but without a trace of the previous night's emotion.
Lily found Mrs. Peniston in a state of agitation. She had sent
for Grace Stepney and was taking digitalis. Lily breasted the
storm of enquiries as best she could, explaining that she had had
an attack of faintness on her way back from Carry Fisher's; that,
fearing she would not have strength to reach home, she had gone
to Miss Farish's instead; but that a quiet night had restored
her, and that she had no need of a doctor.
This was a relief to Mrs. Peniston, who could give herself up to
her own symptoms, and Lily was advised to go and lie down, her
aunt's panacea for all physical and moral disorders. In the
solitude of her own room she was brought back to a sharp
contemplation of facts. Her daylight view of them necessarily
differed from the cloudy vision of the night. The winged furies
were now prowling gossips who dropped in on each other for tea.
But her fears seemed the uglier, thus shorn of their vagueness;
and besides, she had to act, not rave. For the first time she
forced herself to reckon up the exact amount of her debt to
Trenor; and the result of this hateful computation was the
discovery that she had, in all, received nine thousand dollars
from him. The flimsy pretext on which it had been given and
received shrivelled up in the blaze of her shame: she knew that
not a penny of it was her own, and that to restore her
self-respect she must at once repay the whole amount. The
inability thus to solace her outraged feelings gave her a
paralyzing sense of insignificance. She was realizing for the
first time that a woman's dignity may cost more to keep up than
her carriage; and that the maintenance of a moral
attribute should be dependent on dollars and cents, made the
world appear a more sordid place than she had conceived it.
After luncheon, when Grace Stepney's prying eyes had been
removed, Lily asked for a word with her aunt. The two ladies went
upstairs to the sitting-room, where Mrs. Peniston seated herself
in her black satin arm-chair tufted with yellow buttons, beside a
bead-work table bearing a bronze box with a miniature of Beatrice
Cenci in the lid. Lily felt for these objects the same distaste
which the prisoner may entertain for the fittings of the
court-room. It was here that her aunt received her rare
confidences, and the pink-eyed smirk of the turbaned Beatrice was
associated in her mind with the gradual fading of the smile from
Mrs. Peniston's lips. That lady's dread of a scene gave her an
inexorableness which the greatest strength of character could not
have produced, since it was independent of all considerations of
right or wrong; and knowing this, Lily seldom ventured to assail
it. She had never felt less like making the attempt than on the
present occasion; but she had sought in vain for any other means
of escape from an intolerable situation.
Mrs. Peniston examined her critically. "You're a bad colour,
Lily: this incessant rushing about is beginning to tell on you,"
Miss Bart saw an opening. "I don't think it's that, Aunt Julia;
I've had worries," she replied.
"Ah," said Mrs. Peniston, shutting her lips with the snap of a
purse closing against a beggar.
"I'm sorry to bother you with them," Lily continued, "but I
really believe my faintness last night was brought on partly by
"I should have said Carry Fisher's cook was enough to account for
it. She has a woman who was with Maria Melson in 1891--the spring
of the year we went to Aix--and I remember dining there two days
before we sailed, and feeling SURE the coppers hadn't been
"I don't think I ate much; I can't eat or sleep." Lily paused,
and then said abruptly: "The fact is, Aunt Julia, I owe some
Mrs. Peniston's face clouded perceptibly, but did not
express the astonishment her niece had expected. She was silent,
and Lily was forced to continue: "I have been foolish---"
"No doubt you have: extremely foolish," Mrs. Peniston interposed.
"I fail to see how any one with your income, and no expenses--not
to mention the handsome presents I've always given you---"
"Oh, you've been most generous, Aunt Julia; I shall never forget
your kindness. But perhaps you don't quite realize the expense a
girl is put to nowadays---"
"I don't realize that YOU are put to any expense except for your
clothes and your railway fares. I expect you to be handsomely
dressed; but I paid Celeste's bill for you last October."
Lily hesitated: her aunt's implacable memory had never been more
inconvenient. "You were as kind as possible; but I have had to
get a few things since---"
"What kind of things? Clothes? How much have you spent? Let me
see the bill--I daresay the woman is swindling you."
"Oh, no, I think not: clothes have grown so frightfully
expensive; and one needs so many different kinds, with country
visits, and golf and skating, and Aiken and Tuxedo---"
"Let me see the bill," Mrs. Peniston repeated.
Lily hesitated again. In the first place, Mme. Celeste had not
yet sent in her account, and secondly, the amount it represented
was only a fraction of the sum that Lily needed.
"She hasn't sent in the bill for my winter things, but I KNOW
it's large; and there are one or two other things; I've been
careless and imprudent--I'm frightened to think of what I owe---"
She raised the troubled loveliness of her face to Mrs. Peniston,
vainly hoping that a sight so moving to the other sex might not
be without effect upon her own. But the effect produced was that
of making Mrs. Peniston shrink back apprehensively.
"Really, Lily, you are old enough to manage your own affairs, and
after frightening me to death by your performance of last night
you might at least choose a better time to worry me with such
matters." Mrs. Peniston glanced at the clock, and swallowed a
tablet of digitalis. "If you owe Celeste another
thousand, she may send me her account," she added, as though to
end the discussion at any cost.
"I am very sorry, Aunt Julia; I hate to trouble you at such a
time; but I have really no choice--I ought to have spoken
sooner--I owe a great deal more than a thousand dollars."
"A great deal more? Do you owe two? She must have robbed you!"
"I told you it was not only Celeste. I--there are other
bills--more pressing--that must be settled."
"What on earth have you been buying? Jewelry? You must have gone
off your head," said Mrs. Peniston with asperity. "But if you
have run into debt, you must suffer the consequences, and put
aside your monthly income till your bills are paid. If you stay
quietly here until next spring, instead of racing about all over
the country, you will have no expenses at all, and surely in four
or five months you can settle the rest of your bills if I pay the
Lily was again silent. She knew she could not hope to extract
even a thousand dollars from Mrs. Peniston on the mere plea of
paying Celeste's bill: Mrs. Peniston would expect to go over the
dress-maker's account, and would make out the cheque to her and
not to Lily. And yet the money must be obtained before the day
"The debts I speak of are--different--not like tradesmen's
bills," she began confusedly; but Mrs. Peniston's look made her
almost afraid to continue. Could it be that her aunt suspected
anything? The idea precipitated Lily's avowal.
"The fact is, I've played cards a good deal--bridge; the women
all do it; girls too--it's expected. Sometimes I've won--won a
good deal--but lately I've been unlucky--and of course such debts
can't be paid off gradually---"
She paused: Mrs. Peniston's face seemed to be petrifying as she
"Cards--you've played cards for money? It's true, then: when I
was told so I wouldn't believe it. I won't ask if the other
horrors I was told were true too; I've heard enough for the state
of my nerves. When I think of the example you've had in this
house! But I suppose it's your foreign bringing-up--no one knew
where your mother picked up her friends. And her Sundays were a
scandal--that I know."
Mrs. Peniston wheeled round suddenly. "You play cards on Sunday?"
Lily flushed with the recollection of certain rainy Sundays at
Bellomont and with the Dorsets.
"You're hard on me, Aunt Julia: I have never really cared for
cards, but a girl hates to be thought priggish and superior, and
one drifts into doing what the others do. I've had a dreadful
lesson, and if you'll help me out this time I promise you--"
Mrs. Peniston raised her hand warningly. "You needn't make any
promises: it's unnecessary. When I offered you a home I didn't
undertake to pay your gambling debts."
"Aunt Julia! You don't mean that you won't help me?"
"I shall certainly not do anything to give the impression that I
countenance your behaviour. If you really owe your dress-maker, I
will settle with her--beyond that I recognize no obligation to
assume your debts."
Lily had risen, and stood pale and quivering before her aunt.
Pride stormed in her, but humiliation forced the cry from her
lips: "Aunt Julia, I shall be disgraced--I--" But she could go no
farther. If her aunt turned such a stony ear to the fiction of
the gambling debts, in what spirit would she receive the terrible
avowal of the truth?
"I consider that you ARE disgraced, Lily: disgraced by your
conduct far more than by its results. You say your friends have
persuaded you to play cards with them; well, they may as well
learn a lesson too. They can probably afford to lose a little
money--and at any rate, I am not going to waste any of mine in
paying them. And now I must ask you to leave me--this scene has
been extremely painful, and I have my own health to consider.
Draw down the blinds, please; and tell Jennings I will see no one
this afternoon but Grace Stepney."
Lily went up to her own room and bolted the door. She was
trembling with fear and anger--the rush of the furies' wings was
in her ears. She walked up and down the room with blind irregular
steps. The last door of escape was closed--she felt herself shut
in with her dishonour
Suddenly her wild pacing brought her before the clock on the
chimney-piece. Its hands stood at half-past three, and she
remembered that Selden was to come to her at four. She had
meant to put him off with a word--but now her heart leaped at the
thought of seeing him. Was there not a promise of rescue in his
love? As she had lain at Gerty's side the night before, she had
thought of his coming, and of the sweetness of weeping out her
pain upon his breast. Of course she had meant to clear herself of
its consequences before she met him--she had never really doubted
that Mrs. Peniston would come to her aid. And she had felt, even
in the full storm of her misery, that Selden's love could not be
her ultimate refuge; only it would be so sweet to take a moment's
shelter there, while she gathered fresh strength to go on.
But now his love was her only hope, and as she sat alone with her
wretchedness the thought of confiding in him became as seductive
as the river's flow to the suicide. The first plunge would be
terrible--but afterward, what blessedness might come! She
remembered Gerty's words: "I know him--he will help you"; and her
mind clung to them as a sick person might cling to a healing
relic. Oh, if he really understood--if he would help her to
gather up her broken life, and put it together in some new
semblance in which no trace of the past should remain! He had
always made her feel that she was worthy of better things, and
she had never been in greater need of such solace. Once and again
she shrank at the thought of imperilling his love by her
confession: for love was what she needed--it would take the glow
of passion to weld together the shattered fragments of her
self-esteem. But she recurred to Gerty's words and held fast to
them. She was sure that Gerty knew Selden's feeling for her, and
it had never dawned upon her blindness that Gerty's own judgment
of him was coloured by emotions far more ardent than her own.
Four o'clock found her in the drawing-room: she was sure that
Selden would be punctual. But the hour came and passed--it moved
on feverishly, measured by her impatient heart-beats. She had
time to take a fresh survey of her wretchedness, and to fluctuate
anew between the impulse to confide in Selden and the dread of
destroying his illusions. But as the minutes passed the need of
throwing herself on his comprehension became more urgent: she
could not bear the weight of her misery alone. There would be a
perilous moment, perhaps: but could she not trust to her
beauty to bridge it over, to land her safe in the shelter of his
But the hour sped on and Selden did not come. Doubtless he had
been detained, or had misread her hurriedly scrawled note, taking
the four for a five. The ringing of the door-bell a few minutes
after five confirmed this supposition, and made Lily hastily
resolve to write more legibly in future. The sound of steps in
the hall, and of the butler's voice preceding them, poured fresh
energy into her veins. She felt herself once more the alert and
competent moulder of emergencies, and the remembrance of her
power over Selden flushed her with sudden confidence. But when
the drawing-room door opened it was Rosedale who came in.
The reaction caused her a sharp pang, but after a passing
movement of irritation at the clumsiness of fate, and at her own
carelessness in not denying the door to all but Selden, she
controlled herself and greeted Rosedale amicably. It was annoying
that Selden, when he came, should find that particular visitor in
possession, but Lily was mistress of the art of ridding herself
of superfluous company, and to her present mood Rosedale seemed
His own view of the situation forced itself upon her after a few
moments' conversation. She had caught at the Brys' entertainment
as an easy impersonal subject, likely to tide them over the
interval till Selden appeared, but Mr. Rosedale, tenaciously
planted beside the tea-table, his hands in his pockets, his legs
a little too freely extended, at once gave the topic a personal
"Pretty well done--well, yes, I suppose it was: Welly Bry's got
his back up and don't mean to let go till he's got the hang of
the thing. Of course, there were things here and there--things
Mrs. Fisher couldn't be expected to see to--the champagne wasn't
cold, and the coats got mixed in the coat-room. I would have
spent more money on the music. But that's my character: if I want
a thing I'm willing to pay: I don't go up to the counter, and
then wonder if the article's worth the price. I wouldn't be
satisfied to entertain like the Welly Brys; I'd want something
that would look more easy and natural, more as if I took it in my
stride. And it takes just two things to do that, Miss
Bart: money, and the right woman to spend it."
He paused, and examined her attentively while she affected to
rearrange the tea-cups.
"I've got the money," he continued, clearing his throat, "and
what I want is the woman--and I mean to have her too."
He leaned forward a little, resting his hands on the head of his
walking-stick. He had seen men of Ned Van Alstyne's type bring
their hats and sticks into a drawing-room, and he thought it
added a touch of elegant familiarity to their appearance.
Lily was silent, smiling faintly, with her eyes absently resting
on his face. She was in reality reflecting that a declaration
would take some time to make, and that Selden must surely appear
before the moment of refusal had been reached. Her brooding look,
as of a mind withdrawn yet not averted, seemed to Mr. Rosedale
full of a subtle encouragement. He would not have liked any
evidence of eagerness.
"I mean to have her too," he repeated, with a laugh intended to
strengthen his self-assurance. "I generally HAVE got what I
wanted in life, Miss Bart. I wanted money, and I've got more than
I know how to invest; and now the money doesn't seem to be of any
account unless I can spend it on the right woman. That's what I
want to do with it: I want my wife to make all the other women
feel small. I'd never grudge a dollar that was spent on that. But
it isn't every woman can do it, no matter how much you spend on
her. There was a girl in some history book who wanted gold
shields, or something, and the fellows threw 'em at her, and she
was crushed under 'em: they killed her. Well, that's true enough:
some women looked buried under their jewelry. What I want is a
woman who'll hold her head higher the more diamonds I put on it.
And when I looked at you the other night at the Brys', in that
plain white dress, looking as if you had a crown on, I said to
myself:'By gad, if she had one she'd wear it as if it grew on
Still Lily did not speak, and he continued, warming with his
theme: "Tell you what it is, though, that kind of woman costs
more than all the rest of 'em put together. If a woman's
going to ignore her pearls, they want to be better than anybody
else's--and so it is with everything else. You know what I
mean--you know it's only the showy things that are cheap. Well, I
should want my wife to be able to take the earth for granted if
she wanted to. I know there's one thing vulgar about money, and
that's the thinking about it; and my wife would never have to
demean herself in that way." He paused, and then added, with an
unfortunate lapse to an earlier manner: "I guess you know the
lady I've got in view, Miss Bart."
Lily raised her head, brightening a little under the challenge.
Even through the dark tumult of her thoughts, the clink of Mr.
Rosedale's millions had a faintly seductive note. Oh, for enough
of them to cancel her one miserable debt! But the man behind them
grew increasingly repugnant in the light of Selden's expected
coming. The contrast was too grotesque: she could scarcely
suppress the smile it provoked. She decided that directness would
"If you mean me, Mr. Rosedale, I am very grateful--very much
flattered; but I don't know what I have ever done to make you
"Oh, if you mean you're not dead in love with me, I've got sense
enough left to see that. And I ain't talking to you as if you
were--I presume I know the kind of talk that's expected under
those circumstances. I'm confoundedly gone on you--that's about
the size of it--and I'm just giving you a plain business
statement of the consequences. You're not very fond of
me--YET--but you're fond of luxury, and style, and amusement, and
of not having to worry about cash. You like to have a good time,
and not have to settle for it; and what I propose to do is to
provide for the good time and do the settling."
He paused, and she returned with a chilling smile: "You are
mistaken in one point, Mr. Rosedale: whatever I enjoy I am
prepared to settle for."
She spoke with the intention of making him see that, if his words
implied a tentative allusion to her private affairs, she was
prepared to meet and repudiate it. But if he recognized her
meaning it failed to abash him, and he went on in the same tone:
"I didn't mean to give offence; excuse me if I've spoken too
plainly. But why ain't you straight with me--why do you
put up that kind of bluff? You know there've been times when you
were bothered--damned bothered--and as a girl gets older, and
things keep moving along, why, before she knows it, the things
she wants are liable to move past her and not come back. I don't
say it's anywhere near that with you yet; but you've had a taste
of bothers that a girl like yourself ought never to have known
about, and what I'm offering you is the chance to turn your back
on them once for all."
The colour burned in Lily's face as he ended; there was no
mistaking the point he meant to make, and to permit it to pass
unheeded was a fatal confession of weakness, while to resent it
too openly was to risk offending him at a perilous moment.
Indignation quivered on her lip; but it was quelled by the secret
voice which warned her that she must not quarrel with him. He
knew too much about her, and even at the moment when it was
essential that he should show himself at his best, he did not
scruple to let her see how much he knew. How then would he use
his power when her expression of contempt had dispelled his one
motive for restraint? Her whole future might hinge on her way
of answering him: she had to stop and consider that, in the
stress of her other anxieties, as a breathless fugitive may have
to pause at the cross-roads and try to decide coolly which turn
"You are quite right, Mr. Rosedale. I HAVE had bothers; and
I am grateful to you for wanting to relieve me of them. It is
not always easy to be quite independent and self-respecting
when one is poor and lives among rich people; I have been
careless about money, and have worried about my bills. But I
should be selfish and ungrateful if I made that a reason for
accepting all you offer, with no better return to make than
the desire to be free from my anxieties. You must give me
time--time to think of your kindness--and of what I could
give you in return for it---"
She held out her hand with a charming gesture in which
dismissal was shorn of its rigour. Its hint of future leniency
made Rosedale rise in obedience to it, a little flushed with his
unhoped-for success, and disciplined by the tradition of his
blood to accept what was conceded, without undue haste to
press for more. Something in his prompt acquiescence frightened
her; she felt behind it the stored force of a patience that
might subdue the strongest will. But at least they had parted
amicably, and he was out of the house without meeting
Selden--Selden, whose continued absence now smote her with
a new alarm. Rosedale had remained over an hour, and she
understood that it was now too late to hope for Selden. He
would write explaining his absence, of course; there would be
a note from him by the late post. But her confession would
have to be postponed; and the chill of the delay settled heavily
on her fagged spirit.
It lay heavier when the postman's last ring brought no note
for her, and she had to go upstairs to a lonely night--a night
as grim and sleepless as her tortured fancy had pictured it to
Gerty. She had never learned to live with her own thoughts,
and to be confronted with them through such hours of lucid
misery made the confused wretchedness of her previous vigil
seem easily bearable.
Daylight disbanded the phantom crew, and made it clear
to her that she would hear from Selden before noon; but the
day passed without his writing or coming. Lily remained at
home, lunching and dining alone with her aunt, who complained of
flutterings of the heart, and talked icily on general
topics. Mrs. Peniston went to bed early, and when she had
gone Lily sat down and wrote a note to Selden. She was
about to ring for a messenger to despatch it when her eye fell
on a paragraph in the evening paper which lay at her elbow:
"Mr. Lawrence Selden was among the passengers sailing this
afternoon for Havana and the West Indies on the Windward
She laid down the paper and sat motionless, staring at her
note. She understood now that he was never coming--that
he had gone away because he was afraid that he might come.
She rose, and walking across the floor stood gazing at herself
for a long time in the brightly-lit mirror above the mantel-
piece. The lines in her face came out terribly--she looked
old; and when a girl looks old to herself, how does she look
to other people? She moved away, and began to wander
aimlessly about the room, fitting her steps with mechanical
precision between the monstrous roses of Mrs. Peniston's
Axminster. Suddenly she noticed that the pen with which she
had written to Selden still rested against the uncovered
inkstand. She seated herself again, and taking out an envelope,
addressed it rapidly to Rosedale. Then she laid out a sheet of
paper, and sat over it with suspended pen. It had been easy
enough to write the date, and "Dear Mr. Rosedale"--but after that
her inspiration flagged. She meant to tell him to come
to her, but the words refused to shape themselves. At length
she began: "I have been thinking---" then she laid the pen
down, and sat with her elbows on the table and her face hidden in
Suddenly she started up at the sound of the door-bell. It
was not late--barely ten o'clock--and there might still be a
note from Selden, or a message--or he might be there himself, on
the other side of the door! The announcement of his
sailing might have been a mistake--it might be another Lawrence
Selden who had gone to Havana--all these possibilities
had time to flash through her mind, and build up the conviction
that she was after all to see or hear from him, before the
drawing-room door opened to admit a servant carrying a
Lily tore it open with shaking hands, and read Bertha Dorset's
name below the message: "Sailing unexpectedly tomorrow. Will you
join us on a cruise in Mediterranean?"
It came vividly to Selden on the Casino steps that Monte Carlo
had, more than any other place he knew, the gift of accommodating
itself to each man's humour. His own, at the moment, lent it a
festive readiness of welcome that might well, in a disenchanted
eye, have turned to paint and facility. So frank an appeal for
participation-so outspoken a recognition of the holiday vein in
human nature--struck refreshingly on a mind jaded by prolonged
hard work in surroundings made for the discipline of the senses.
As he surveyed the white square set in an exotic coquetry of
architecture, the studied tropicality of the gardens, the groups
loitering in the foreground against mauve mountains which
suggested a sublime stage-setting forgotten in a hurried shifting
of scenes--as he took in the whole outspread effect of light and
leisure, he felt a movement of revulsion from the last few months
of his life.
The New York winter had presented an interminable perspective of
snow-burdened days, reaching toward a spring of raw sunshine and
furious air, when the ugliness of things rasped the eye as the
gritty wind ground into the skin. Selden, immersed in his work,
had told himself that external conditions did not matter to a man
in his state, and that cold and ugliness were a good tonic for
relaxed sensibilities. When an urgent case summoned him abroad to
confer with a client in Paris, he broke reluctantly with the
routine of the office; and it was only now that, having
despatched his business, and slipped away for a week in the
south, he began to feel the renewed zest of spectatorship that is
the solace of those who take an objective interest in life.
The multiplicity of its appeals--the perpetual surprise of its
contrasts and resemblances! All these tricks and turns of the
show were upon him with a spring as he descended the Casino steps
and paused on the pavement at its doors. He had not been abroad
for seven years--and what changes the renewed contact produced!
If the central depths were untouched, hardly a pin-point of
surface remained the same. And this was the very place to
bring out the completeness of the renewal. The sublimities, the
perpetuities, might have left him as he was: but this tent
pitched for a day's revelry spread a roof of oblivion between
himself and his fixed sky.
It was mid-April, and one felt that the revelry had reached its
climax and that the desultory groups in the square and gardens
would soon dissolve and re-form in other scenes. Meanwhile the
last moments of the performance seemed to gain an added
brightness from the hovering threat of the curtain. The quality
of the air, the exuberance of the flowers, the blue intensity of
sea and sky, produced the effect of a closing TABLEAU, when all
the lights are turned on at once. This impression was presently
heightened by the way in which a consciously conspicuous group of
people advanced to the middle front, and stood before Selden with
the air of the chief performers gathered together by the
exigencies of the final effect. Their appearance confirmed the
impression that the show had been staged regardless of expense,
and emphasized its resemblance to one of those "costume-plays" in
which the protagonists walk through the passions without
displacing a drapery. The ladies stood in unrelated attitudes
calculated to isolate their effects, and the men hung about them
as irrelevantly as stage heroes whose tailors are named in the
programme. It was Selden himself who unwittingly fused the group
by arresting the attention of one of its members.
"Why, Mr. Selden!" Mrs. Fisher exclaimed in surprise; and with a
gesture toward Mrs. Jack Stepney and Mrs. Wellington Bry, she
added plaintively: "We're starving to death because we can't
decide where to lunch."
Welcomed into their group, and made the confidant of their
difficulty, Selden learned with amusement that there were several
places where one might miss something by not lunching, or forfeit
something by lunching; so that eating actually became a minor
consideration on the very spot consecrated to its rites.
"Of course one gets the best things at the TERRASSE--but that
looks as if one hadn't any other reason for being there: the
Americans who don't know any one always rush for the best food.
And the Duchess of Beltshire has taken up Becassin's lately,"
Mrs. Bry earnestly summed up.
Mrs. Bry, to Mrs. Fisher's despair, had not progressed beyond the
point of weighing her social alternatives in public. She could
not acquire the air of doing things because she wanted to, and
making her choice the final seal of their fitness.
Mr. Bry, a short pale man, with a business face and leisure
clothes, met the dilemma hilariously.
"I guess the Duchess goes where it's cheapest, unless she can get
her meal paid for. If you offered to blow her off at the TERRASSE
she'd turn up fast enough."
But Mrs. Jack Stepney interposed. "The Grand Dukes go to that
little place at the Condamine. Lord Hubert says it's the only
restaurant in Europe where they can cook peas."
Lord Hubert Dacey, a slender shabby-looking man, with a charming