House of Mirth
Part 1 out of 8
The House of Mirth
Selden paused in surprise. In the afternoon rush of the Grand
Central Station his eyes had been refreshed by the sight of Miss
It was a Monday in early September, and he was returning to his
work from a hurried dip into the country; but what was Miss Bart
doing in town at that season? If she had appeared to be catching
a train, he might have inferred that he had come on her in the
act of transition between one and another of the country-houses
which disputed her presence after the close of the Newport
season; but her desultory air perplexed him. She stood apart from
the crowd, letting it drift by her to the platform or the street,
and wearing an air of irresolution which might, as he surmised,
be the mask of a very definite purpose. It struck him at once
that she was waiting for some one, but he hardly knew why the
idea arrested him. There was nothing new about Lily Bart, yet he
could never see her without a faint movement of interest: it was
characteristic of her that she always roused speculation, that
her simplest acts seemed the result of far-reaching intentions.
An impulse of curiosity made him turn out of his direct line to
the door, and stroll past her. He knew that if she did not wish
to be seen she would contrive to elude him; and it amused him to
think of putting her skill to the test.
"Mr. Selden--what good luck!"
She came forward smiling, eager almost, in her resolve to
intercept him. One or two persons, in brushing past them,
lingered to look; for Miss Bart was a figure to arrest even the
suburban traveller rushing to his last train.
Selden had never seen her more radiant. Her vivid head, relieved
against the dull tints of the crowd, made her more conspicuous
than in a ball-room, and under her dark hat and veil she regained
the girlish smoothness, the purity of tint, that she was
beginning to lose after eleven years of late hours and
indefatigable dancing. Was it really eleven years, Selden found
himself wondering, and had she indeed reached the
nine-and-twentieth birthday with which her rivals credited her?
"What luck!" she repeated. "How nice of you to come to my
He responded joyfully that to do so was his mission in life, and
asked what form the rescue was to take.
"Oh, almost any--even to sitting on a bench and talking to me.
One sits out a cotillion--why not sit out a train? It isn't a bit
hotter here than in Mrs. Van Osburgh's conservatory--and some of
the women are not a bit uglier." She broke off, laughing, to
explain that she had come up to town from Tuxedo, on her way to
the Gus Trenors' at Bellomont, and had missed the three-fifteen
train to Rhinebeck. "And there isn't another till half-past
five." She consulted the little jewelled watch among her laces.
"Just two hours to wait. And I don't know what to do with myself.
My maid came up this morning to do some shopping for me, and was
to go on to Bellomont at one o'clock, and my aunt's house is
closed, and I don't know a soul in town." She glanced plaintively
about the station. "It IS hotter than Mrs. Van Osburgh's, after
all. If you can spare the time, do take me somewhere for a breath
He declared himself entirely at her disposal: the adventure
struck him as diverting. As a spectator, he had always enjoyed
Lily Bart; and his course lay so far out of her orbit that it
amused him to be drawn for a moment into the sudden intimacy
which her proposal implied.
"Shall we go over to Sherry's for a cup of tea?"
She smiled assentingly, and then made a slight grimace.
"So many people come up to town on a Monday--one is sure to meet
a lot of bores. I'm as old as the hills, of course, and it ought
not to make any difference; but if I'M old enough, you're not,"
she objected gaily. "I'm dying for tea--but isn't there a quieter
He answered her smile, which rested on him vividly. Her
discretions interested him almost as much as her imprudences: he
was so sure that both were part of the same carefully-elaborated
plan. In judging Miss Bart, he had always made use of the
"argument from design."
"The resources of New York are rather meagre," he said; "but I'll
find a hansom first, and then we'll invent something."He led her
through the throng of returning holiday-makers, past sallow-faced
girls in preposterous hats, and flat-chested women struggling
with paper bundles and palm-leaf fans. Was it possible that she
belonged to the same race? The dinginess, the crudity of this
average section of womanhood made him feel how highly
specialized she was.
A rapid shower had cooled the air, and clouds still hung
refreshingly over the moist street.
"How delicious! Let us walk a little," she said as they emerged
from the station.
They turned into Madison Avenue and began to stroll northward. As
she moved beside him, with her long light step, Selden was
conscious of taking a luxurious pleasure in her nearness: in the
modelling of her little ear, the crisp upward wave of her
hair--was it ever so slightly brightened by art?--and the thick
planting of her straight black lashes. Everything about her was
at once vigorous and exquisite, at once strong and fine. He had a
confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to make, that
a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way,
have been sacrificed to produce her. He was aware that the
qualities distinguishing her from the herd of her sex were
chiefly external: as though a fine glaze of beauty and
fastidiousness had been applied to vulgar clay. Yet the analogy
left him unsatisfied, for a coarse texture will not take a high
finish; and was it not possible that the material was fine, but
that circumstance had fashioned it into a futile shape?
As he reached this point in his speculations the sun came out,
and her lifted parasol cut off his enjoyment. A moment or two
later she paused with a sigh.
"Oh, dear, I'm so hot and thirsty--and what a hideous place New
York is!" She looked despairingly up and down the dreary
thoroughfare. "Other cities put on their best clothes in summer,
but New York seems to sit in its shirtsleeves." Her eyes wandered
down one of the side-streets. "Someone has had the humanity to
plant a few trees over there. Let us go into the shade."
"I am glad my street meets with your approval," said Selden as
they turned the corner.
"Your street? Do you live here?"
She glanced with interest along the new brick and limestone
house-fronts, fantastically varied in obedience to the American
craving for novelty, but fresh and inviting with their awnings
"Ah, yes--to be sure: THE BENEDICK. What a nice-looking building!
I don't think I've ever seen it before." She looked across at the
flat-house with its marble porch and pseudo-Georgian facade.
"Which are your windows? Those with the awnings down?"
"On the top floor--yes."
"And that nice little balcony is yours? How cool it looks up
He paused a moment. "Come up and see," he suggested. "I can give
you a cup of tea in no time--and you won't meet any bores."
Her colour deepened--she still had the art of blushing at the
right time--but she took the suggestion as lightly as it was
"Why not? It's too tempting--I'll take the risk," she declared.
"Oh, I'm not dangerous," he said in the same key. In truth, he
had never liked her as well as at that moment. He knew she had
accepted without afterthought: he could never be a factor in her
calculations, and there was a surprise, a refreshment almost, in
the spontaneity of her consent.
On the threshold he paused a moment, feeling for his latchkey.
"There's no one here; but I have a servant who is supposed to
come in the mornings, and it's just possible he may have put out
the tea-things and provided some cake."
He ushered her into a slip of a hall hung with old prints. She
noticed the letters and notes heaped on the table among his
gloves and sticks; then she found herself in a small library,
dark but cheerful, with its walls of books, a pleasantly faded
Turkey rug, a littered desk and, as he had foretold, a tea-tray
on a low table near the window. A breeze had sprung up, swaying
inward the muslin curtains, and bringing a fresh scent of
mignonette and petunias from the flower-box on the balcony.
Lily sank with a sigh into one of the shabby leather chairs.
"How delicious to have a place like this all to one's self! What
a miserable thing it is to be a woman." She leaned back in a
luxury of discontent.
Selden was rummaging in a cupboard for the cake.
"Even women," he said, "have been known to enjoy the privileges
of a flat."
"Oh, governesses--or widows. But not girls--not poor, miserable,
"I even know a girl who lives in a flat."
She sat up in surprise. "You do?"
"I do," he assured her, emerging from the cupboard with the
"Oh, I know--you mean Gerty Farish." She smiled a little
unkindly. "But I said MARRIAGEABLE--and besides, she has a horrid
little place, and no maid, and such queer things to eat. Her cook
does the washing and the food tastes of soap. I should hate that,
"You shouldn't dine with her on wash-days," said Selden, cutting
They both laughed, and he knelt by the table to light the lamp
under the kettle, while she measured out the tea into a little
tea-pot of green glaze. As he watched her hand, polished as a bit
of old ivory, with its slender pink nails, and the sapphire
bracelet slipping over her wrist, he was struck with the irony of
suggesting to her such a life as his cousin Gertrude Farish had
chosen. She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which
had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like
manacles chaining her to her fate.
She seemed to read his thought. "It was horrid of me to say that
of Gerty," she said with charming compunction. "I forgot she was
your cousin. But we're so different, you know: she likes being
good, and I like being happy. And besides, she is free and I am
not. If I were, I daresay I could manage to be happy even in her
flat. It must be pure bliss to arrange the furniture just as one
likes, and give all the horrors to the ash-man. If I could only
do over my aunt's drawing-room I know I should be a better
"Is it so very bad?" he asked sympathetically.
She smiled at him across the tea-pot which she was holding up to
"That shows how seldom you come there. Why don't you come
"When I do come, it's not to look at Mrs. Peniston's furniture."
"Nonsense," she said. "You don't come at all--and yet we get on
so well when we meet."
"Perhaps that's the reason," he answered promptly. "I'm afraid I
haven't any cream, you know--shall you mind a slice of lemon
"I shall like it better." She waited while he cut the lemon and
dropped a thin disk into her cup. "But that is not the reason,"
"The reason for what?"
"For your never coming." She leaned forward with a shade of
perplexity in her charming eyes. "I wish I knew--I wish I could
make you out. Of course I know there are men who don't like
me--one can tell that at a glance. And there are others who are
afraid of me: they think I want to marry them." She smiled up at
"But I don't think you dislike me--and you can't possibly think I
want to marry you."
"No--I absolve you of that," he agreed.
He had carried his cup to the fireplace, and stood leaning
against the chimney-piece and looking down on her with an air of
indolent amusement. The provocation in her eyes increased his
amusement--he had not supposed she would waste her powder on such
small game; but perhaps she was only keeping her hand in; or
perhaps a girl of her type had no conversation but of the
personal kind. At any rate, she was amazingly pretty, and he had
asked her to tea and must live up to his obligations.
"Well, then," he said with a plunge, "perhaps THAT'S the reason."
"The fact that you don't want to marry me. Perhaps I don't regard
it as such a strong inducement to go and see you." He felt
a slight shiver down his spine as he ventured this, but her laugh
"Dear Mr. Selden, that wasn't worthy of you. It's stupid of you
to make love to me, and it isn't like you to be stupid." She
leaned back, sipping her tea with an air so enchantingly judicial
that, if they had been in her aunt's drawing-room, he might
almost have tried to disprove her deduction.
"Don't you see," she continued, "that there are men enough to say
pleasant things to me, and that what I want is a friend who won't
be afraid to say disagreeable ones when I need them? Sometimes I
have fancied you might be that friend--I don't know why, except
that you are neither a prig nor a bounder, and that I shouldn't
have to pretend with you or be on my guard against you." Her
voice had dropped to a note of seriousness, and she sat gazing up
at him with the troubled gravity of a child.
"You don't know how much I need such a friend," she said. "My
aunt is full of copy-book axioms, but they were all meant to
apply to conduct in the early fifties. I always feel that to live
up to them would include wearing book-muslin with gigot sleeves.
And the other women--my best friends--well, they use me or abuse
me; but they don't care a straw what happens to me. I've been
about too long--people are getting tired of me; they are
beginning to say I ought to marry."
There was a moment's pause, during which Selden meditated one or
two replies calculated to add a momentary zest to the situation;
but he rejected them in favour of the simple question: "Well, why
She coloured and laughed. "Ah, I see you ARE a friend after all,
and that is one of the disagreeable things I was asking for."
"It wasn't meant to be disagreeable," he returned amicably.
"Isn't marriage your vocation? Isn't it what you're all brought
She sighed. "I suppose so. What else is there?"
"Exactly. And so why not take the plunge and have it over?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "You speak as if I ought to marry the
first man who came along."
"I didn't mean to imply that you are as hard put to it as
that. But there must be some one with the requisite
She shook her head wearily. "I threw away one or two good chances
when I first came out--I suppose every girl does; and you know I
am horribly poor--and very expensive. I must have a great deal of
Selden had turned to reach for a cigarette-box on the
"What's become of Dillworth?" he asked.
"Oh, his mother was frightened--she was afraid I should have all
the family jewels reset. And she wanted me to promise that I
wouldn't do over the drawing-room."
"The very thing you are marrying for!"
"Exactly. So she packed him off to India."
"Hard luck--but you can do better than Dillworth."
He offered the box, and she took out three or four cigarettes,
putting one between her lips and slipping the others into a
little gold case attached to her long pearl chain.
"Have I time? Just a whiff, then." She leaned forward, holding
the tip of her cigarette to his. As she did so, he noted, with a
purely impersonal enjoyment, how evenly the black lashes were set
in her smooth white lids, and how the purplish shade beneath them
melted into the pure pallour of the cheek.
She began to saunter about the room, examining the bookshelves
between the puffs of her cigarette-smoke. Some of the volumes had
the ripe tints of good tooling and old morocco, and her eyes
lingered on them caressingly, not with the appreciation of the
expert, but with the pleasure in agreeable tones and textures
that was one of her inmost susceptibilities. Suddenly her
expression changed from desultory enjoyment to active conjecture,
and she turned to Selden with a question.
"You collect, don't you--you know about first editions and
"As much as a man may who has no money to spend. Now and then I
pick up something in the rubbish heap; and I go and look on at
the big sales."
She had again addressed herself to the shelves, but her eyes now
swept them inattentively, and he saw that she was preoccupied
with a new idea.
"And Americana--do you collect Americana?"
Selden stared and laughed.
"No, that's rather out of my line. I'm not really a collector,
you see; I simply like to have good editions of the books I am
She made a slight grimace. "And Americana are horribly dull, I
"I should fancy so--except to the historian. But your real
collector values a thing for its rarity. I don't suppose the
buyers of Americana sit up reading them all night--old Jefferson
Gryce certainly didn't."
She was listening with keen attention. "And yet they fetch
fabulous prices, don't they? It seems so odd to want to pay a lot
for an ugly badly-printed book that one is never going to read!
And I suppose most of the owners of Americana are not historians
"No; very few of the historians can afford to buy them. They have
to use those in the public libraries or in private collections.
It seems to be the mere rarity that attracts the average
He had seated himself on an arm of the chair near which she was
standing, and she continued to question him, asking which were
the rarest volumes, whether the Jefferson Gryce collection was
really considered the finest in the world, and what was the
largest price ever fetched by a single volume.
It was so pleasant to sit there looking up at her, as she lifted
now one book and then another from the shelves, fluttering the
pages between her fingers, while her drooping profile was
outlined against the warm background of old bindings, that he
talked on without pausing to wonder at her sudden interest in so
unsuggestive a subject. But he could never be long with her
without trying to find a reason for what she was doing, and as
she replaced his first edition of La Bruyere and turned away from
the bookcases, he began to ask himself what she had been driving
at. Her next question was not of a nature to enlighten him. She
paused before him with a smile which seemed at once designed to
admit him to her familiarity, and to remind him of the
restrictions it imposed.
"Don't you ever mind," she asked suddenly, "not being rich enough
to buy all the books you want?"
He followed her glance about the room, with its worn furniture
and shabby walls.
"Don't I just? Do you take me for a saint on a pillar?"
"And having to work--do you mind that?"
"Oh, the work itself is not so bad--I'm rather fond of the law."
"No; but the being tied down: the routine--don't you ever want to
get away, to see new places and people?"
"Horribly--especially when I see all my friends rushing to the
She drew a sympathetic breath. "But do you mind enough--to marry
to get out of it?"
Selden broke into a laugh. "God forbid!" he declared.
She rose with a sigh, tossing her cigarette into the grate.
"Ah, there's the difference--a girl must, a man may if he
chooses." She surveyed him critically. "Your coat's a little
shabby--but who cares? It doesn't keep people from asking you to
dine. If I were shabby no one would have me: a woman is asked out
as much for her clothes as for herself. The clothes are the
background, the frame, if you like: they don't make success, but
they are a part of it. Who wants a dingy woman? We are expected
to be pretty and well-dressed till we drop--and if we can't keep
it up alone, we have to go into partnership."
Selden glanced at her with amusement: it was impossible, even
with her lovely eyes imploring him, to take a sentimental view of
"Ah, well, there must be plenty of capital on the look-out for
such an investment. Perhaps you'll meet your fate tonight at the
She returned his look interrogatively.
"I thought you might be going there--oh, not in that capacity!
But there are to be a lot of your set--Gwen Van Osburgh, the
Wetheralls, Lady Cressida Raith--and the George Dorsets."
She paused a moment before the last name, and shot a query
through her lashes; but he remained imperturbable.
"Mrs. Trenor asked me; but I can't get away till the end of the
week; and those big parties bore me."
"Ah, so they do me," she exclaimed.
"Then why go?"
"It's part of the business--you forget! And besides, if I didn't,
I should be playing bezique with my aunt at Richfield Springs."
"That's almost as bad as marrying Dillworth," he agreed, and they
both laughed for pure pleasure in their sudden intimacy.
She glanced at the clock.
"Dear me! I must be off. It's after five."
She paused before the mantelpiece, studying herself in the mirror
while she adjusted her veil. The attitude revealed the long slope
of her slender sides, which gave a kind of wild-wood grace to her
outline--as though she were a captured dryad subdued to the
conventions of the drawing-room; and Selden reflected that it was
the same streak of sylvan freedom in her nature that lent such
savour to her artificiality.
He followed her across the room to the entrance-hall; but on the
threshold she held out her hand with a gesture of leave-taking.
"It's been delightful; and now you will have to return my visit."
"But don't you want me to see you to the station?"
"No; good bye here, please."
She let her hand lie in his a moment, smiling up at him adorably.
"Good bye, then--and good luck at Bellomont!" he said, opening
the door for her.
On the landing she paused to look about her. There were a
thousand chances to one against her meeting anybody, but one
could never tell, and she always paid for her rare indiscretions
by a violent reaction of prudence. There was no one in sight,
however, but a char-woman who was scrubbing the stairs. Her own
stout person and its surrounding implements took up so much room
that Lily, to pass her, had to gather up her skirts and brush
against the wall. As she did so, the woman paused in her work and
looked up curiously, resting her clenched red fists on the
wet cloth she had just drawn from her pail. She had a broad
sallow face, slightly pitted with small-pox, and thin
straw-coloured hair through which her scalp shone unpleasantly.
"I beg your pardon," said Lily, intending by her politeness to
convey a criticism of the other's manner.
The woman, without answering, pushed her pail aside, and
continued to stare as Miss Bart swept by with a murmur of silken
linings. Lily felt herself flushing under the look. What did the
creature suppose? Could one never do the simplest, the most
harmless thing, without subjecting one's self to some odious
conjecture? Half way down the next flight, she smiled to think
that a char-woman's stare should so perturb her. The poor thing
was probably dazzled by such an unwonted apparition. But WERE
such apparitions unwonted on Selden's stairs? Miss Bart was not
familiar with the moral code of bachelors' flat-houses, and her
colour rose again as it occurred to her that the woman's
persistent gaze implied a groping among past associations. But
she put aside the thought with a smile at her own fears, and
hastened downward, wondering if she should find a cab short of
Under the Georgian porch she paused again, scanning the street
for a hansom. None was in sight, but as she reached the sidewalk
she ran against a small glossy-looking man with a gardenia in his
coat, who raised his hat with a surprised exclamation.
"Miss Bart? Well--of all people! This IS luck," he declared; and
she caught a twinkle of amused curiosity between his screwed-up
"Oh, Mr. Rosedale--how are you?" she said, perceiving that the
irrepressible annoyance on her face was reflected in the sudden
intimacy of his smile.
Mr. Rosedale stood scanning her with interest and approval. He
was a plump rosy man of the blond Jewish type, with smart London
clothes fitting him like upholstery, and small sidelong eyes
which gave him the air of appraising people as if they were
bric-a-brac. He glanced up interrogatively at the porch of the
"Been up to town for a little shopping, I suppose?" he said, in a
tone which had the familiarity of a touch.
Miss Bart shrank from it slightly, and then flung herself into
"Yes--I came up to see my dress-maker. I am just on my way to
catch the train to the Trenors'."
"Ah--your dress-maker; just so," he said blandly. "I didn't know
there were any dress-makers in the Benedick."
"The Benedick?" She looked gently puzzled. "Is that the name of
"Yes, that's the name: I believe it's an old word for bachelor,
isn't it? I happen to own the building--that's the way I know."
His smile deepened as he added with increasing assurance: "But
you must let me take you to the station. The Trenors are at
Bellomont, of course? You've barely time to catch the five-forty.
The dress-maker kept you waiting, I suppose."
Lily stiffened under the pleasantry.
"Oh, thanks," she stammered; and at that moment her eye caught a
hansom drifting down Madison Avenue, and she hailed it with a
"You're very kind; but I couldn't think of troubling you," she
said, extending her hand to Mr. Rosedale; and heedless of his
protestations, she sprang into the rescuing vehicle, and called
out a breathless order to the driver.
In the hansom she leaned back with a sigh. Why must a girl pay so
dearly for her least escape from routine? Why could one never do
a natural thing without having to screen it behind a structure of
artifice? She had yielded to a passing impulse in going to
Lawrence Selden's rooms, and it was so seldom that she could
allow herself the luxury of an impulse! This one, at any rate,
was going to cost her rather more than she could afford. She was
vexed to see that, in spite of so many years of vigilance, she
had blundered twice within five minutes. That stupid story about
her dress-maker was bad enough--it would have been so simple to
tell Rosedale that she had been taking tea with Selden! The mere
statement of the fact would have rendered it innocuous. But,
after having let herself be surprised in a falsehood, it was
doubly stupid to snub the witness of her discomfiture. If she had
had the presence of mind to let Rosedale drive her to the
station, the concession might have purchased his silence. He had
his race's accuracy in the appraisal of values, and to be seen
walking down the platform at the crowded afternoon hour in the
company of Miss Lily Bart would have been money in his pocket, as
he might himself have phrased it. He knew, of course, that there
would be a large house-party at Bellomont, and the possibility of
being taken for one of Mrs. Trenor's guests was doubtless
included in his calculations. Mr. Rosedale was still at a stage
in his social ascent when it was of importance to produce such
The provoking part was that Lily knew all this--knew how easy it
would have been to silence him on the spot, and how difficult it
might be to do so afterward. Mr. Simon Rosedale was a man who
made it his business to know everything about every one, whose
idea of showing himself to be at home in society was to display
an inconvenient familiarity with the habits of those with whom he
wished to be thought intimate. Lily was sure that within
twenty-four hours the story of her visiting her dress-maker at
the Benedick would be in active circulation among Mr. Rosedale's
acquaintances. The worst of it was that she had always snubbed
and ignored him. On his first appearance--when her
improvident cousin, Jack Stepney, had obtained for him (in return
for favours too easily guessed) a card to one of the vast
impersonal Van Osburgh "crushes"--Rosedale, with that mixture of
artistic sensibility and business astuteness which characterizes
his race, had instantly gravitated toward Miss Bart. She
understood his motives, for her own course was guided by as nice
calculations. Training and experience had taught her to be
hospitable to newcomers, since the most unpromising might be
useful later on, and there were plenty of available OUBLIETTES to
swallow them if they were not. But some intuitive repugnance,
getting the better of years of social discipline, had made her
push Mr. Rosedale into his OUBLIETTE without a trial. He had left
behind only the ripple of amusement which his speedy despatch had
caused among her friends; and though later (to shift the
metaphor) he reappeared lower down the stream, it was only in
fleeting glimpses, with long submergences between.
Hitherto Lily had been undisturbed by scruples. In her little set
Mr. Rosedale had been pronounced "impossible," and Jack Stepney
roundly snubbed for his attempt to pay his debts in dinner
invitations. Even Mrs. Trenor, whose taste for variety had led
her into some hazardous experiments, resisted Jack's attempts to
disguise Mr. Rosedale as a novelty, and declared that he was the
same little Jew who had been served up and rejected at the social
board a dozen times within her memory; and while Judy Trenor was
obdurate there was small chance of Mr. Rosedale's penetrating
beyond the outer limbo of the Van Osburgh crushes. Jack gave up
the contest with a laughing "You'll see," and, sticking manfully
to his guns, showed himself with Rosedale at the fashionable
restaurants, in company with the personally vivid if socially
obscure ladies who are available for such purposes. But the
attempt had hitherto been vain, and as Rosedale undoubtedly paid
for the dinners, the laugh remained with his debtor.
Mr. Rosedale, it will be seen, was thus far not a factor to be
feared--unless one put one's self in his power. And this was
precisely what Miss Bart had done. Her clumsy fib had let him see
that she had something to conceal; and she was sure he had a
score to settle with her. Something in his smile told her
he had not forgotten. She turned from the thought with a little
shiver, but it hung on her all the way to the station, and dogged
her down the platform with the persistency of Mr. Rosedale
She had just time to take her seat before the train started; but
having arranged herself in her corner with the instinctive
feeling for effect which never forsook her, she glanced about in
the hope of seeing some other member of the Trenors' party. She
wanted to get away from herself, and conversation was the only
means of escape that she knew.
Her search was rewarded by the discovery of a very blond young
man with a soft reddish beard, who, at the other end of the
carriage, appeared to be dissembling himself behind an unfolded
newspaper. Lily's eye brightened, and a faint smile relaxed the
drawn lines of her mouth. She had known that Mr. Percy Gryce was
to be at Bellomont, but she had not counted on the luck of having
him to herself in the train; and the fact banished all perturbing
thoughts of Mr. Rosedale. Perhaps, after all, the day was to end
more favourably than it had begun.
She began to cut the pages of a novel, tranquilly studying her
prey through downcast lashes while she organized a method of
attack. Something in his attitude of conscious absorption told
her that he was aware of her presence: no one had ever been quite
so engrossed in an evening paper! She guessed that he was too shy
to come up to her, and that she would have to devise some means
of approach which should not appear to be an advance on her part.
It amused her to think that any one as rich as Mr. Percy Gryce
should be shy; but she was gifted with treasures of indulgence
for such idiosyncrasies, and besides, his timidity might serve
her purpose better than too much assurance. She had the art of
giving self-confidence to the embarrassed, but she was not
equally sure of being able to embarrass the self-confident.
She waited till the train had emerged from the tunnel and was
racing between the ragged edges of the northern suburbs. Then, as
it lowered its speed near Yonkers, she rose from her seat and
drifted slowly down the carriage. As she passed Mr. Gryce, the
train gave a lurch, and he was aware of a slender hand gripping
the back of his chair. He rose with a start, his ingenuous
face looking as though it had been dipped in crimson: even the
reddish tint in his beard seemed to deepen. The train swayed
again, almost flinging Miss Bart into his arms.
She steadied herself with a laugh and drew back; but he was
enveloped in the scent of her dress, and his shoulder had felt
her fugitive touch.
"Oh, Mr. Gryce, is it you? I'm so sorry--I was trying to find the
porter and get some tea."
She held out her hand as the train resumed its level rush, and
they stood exchanging a few words in the aisle. Yes--he was going
to Bellomont. He had heard she was to be of the party--he blushed
again as he admitted it. And was he to be there for a whole week?
But at this point one or two belated passengers from the last
station forced their way into the carriage, and Lily had to
retreat to her seat.
"The chair next to mine is empty--do take it," she said over her
shoulder; and Mr. Gryce, with considerable embarrassment,
succeeded in effecting an exchange which enabled him to transport
himself and his bags to her side.
"Ah--and here is the porter, and perhaps we can have some tea."
She signalled to that official, and in a moment, with the ease
that seemed to attend the fulfilment of all her wishes, a little
table had been set up between the seats, and she had helped Mr.
Gryce to bestow his encumbering properties beneath it.
When the tea came he watched her in silent fascination while her
hands flitted above the tray, looking miraculously fine and
slender in contrast to the coarse china and lumpy bread. It
seemed wonderful to him that any one should perform with such
careless ease the difficult task of making tea in public in a
lurching train. He would never have dared to order it for
himself, lest he should attract the notice of his
fellow-passengers; but, secure in the shelter of her
conspicuousness, he sipped the inky draught with a delicious
sense of exhilaration.
Lily, with the flavour of Selden's caravan tea on her lips, had
no great fancy to drown it in the railway brew which seemed such
nectar to her companion; but, rightly judging that one of
the charms of tea is the fact of drinking it together, she
proceeded to give the last touch to Mr. Gryce's enjoyment by
smiling at him across her lifted cup.
"Is it quite right--I haven't made it too strong?" she asked
solicitously; and he replied with conviction that he had never
tasted better tea.
"I daresay it is true," she reflected; and her imagination was
fired by the thought that Mr. Gryce, who might have sounded the
depths of the most complex self-indulgence, was perhaps actually
taking his first journey alone with a pretty woman.
It struck her as providential that she should be the instrument
of his initiation. Some girls would not have known how to manage
him. They would have over-emphasized the novelty of the
adventure, trying to make him feel in it the zest of an escapade.
But Lily's methods were more delicate. She remembered that her
cousin Jack Stepney had once defined Mr. Gryce as the young man
who had promised his mother never to go out in the rain without
his overshoes; and acting on this hint, she resolved to impart a
gently domestic air to the scene, in the hope that her companion,
instead of feeling that he was doing something reckless or
unusual, would merely be led to dwell on the advantage of always
having a companion to make one's tea in the train.
But in spite of her efforts, conversation flagged after the tray
had been removed, and she was driven to take a fresh measurement
of Mr. Gryce's limitations. It was not, after all, opportunity
but imagination that he lacked: he had a mental palate which
would never learn to distinguish between railway tea and nectar.
There was, however, one topic she could rely on: one spring that
she had only to touch to set his simple machinery in motion. She
had refrained from touching it because it was a last resource,
and she had relied on other arts to stimulate other sensations;
but as a settled look of dulness began to creep over his candid
features, she saw that extreme measures were necessary.
"And how," she said, leaning forward, "are you getting on with
His eye became a degree less opaque: it was as though an
incipient film had been removed from it, and she felt the pride
of a skilful operator.
"I've got a few new things," he said, suffused with pleasure, but
lowering his voice as though he feared his fellow-passengers
might be in league to despoil him.
She returned a sympathetic enquiry, and gradually he was drawn on
to talk of his latest purchases. It was the one subject which
enabled him to forget himself, or allowed him, rather, to
remember himself without constraint, because he was at home in
it, and could assert a superiority that there were few to
dispute. Hardly any of his acquaintances cared for Americana, or
knew anything about them; and the consciousness of this ignorance
threw Mr. Gryce's knowledge into agreeable relief. The only
difficulty was to introduce the topic and to keep it to the
front; most people showed no desire to have their ignorance
dispelled, and Mr. Gryce was like a merchant whose warehouses are
crammed with an unmarketable commodity.
But Miss Bart, it appeared, really did want to know about
Americana; and moreover, she was already sufficiently informed to
make the task of farther instruction as easy as it was agreeable.
She questioned him intelligently, she heard him submissively;
and, prepared for the look of lassitude which usually crept over
his listeners' faces, he grew eloquent under her receptive gaze.
The "points" she had had the presence of mind to glean from
Selden, in anticipation of this very contingency, were serving
her to such good purpose that she began to think her visit to him
had been the luckiest incident of the day. She had once more
shown her talent for profiting by the unexpected, and dangerous
theories as to the advisability of yielding to impulse were
germinating under the surface of smiling attention which she
continued to present to her companion.
Mr. Gryce's sensations, if less definite, were equally agreeable.
He felt the confused titillation with which the lower organisms
welcome the gratification of their needs, and all his senses
floundered in a vague well-being, through which Miss Bart's
personality was dimly but pleasantly perceptible.
Mr. Gryce's interest in Americana had not originated with
himself: it was impossible to think of him as evolving any taste
of his own. An uncle had left him a collection already noted
among bibliophiles; the existence of the collection was
the only fact that had ever shed glory on the name of Gryce, and
the nephew took as much pride in his inheritance as though it had
been his own work. Indeed, he gradually came to regard it as
such, and to feel a sense of personal complacency when he chanced
on any reference to the Gryce Americana. Anxious as he was to
avoid personal notice, he took, in the printed mention of his
name, a pleasure so exquisite and excessive that it seemed a
compensation for his shrinking from publicity.
To enjoy the sensation as often as possible, he subscribed to all
the reviews dealing with book-collecting in general, and American
history in particular, and as allusions to his library abounded
in the pages of these journals, which formed his only reading, he
came to regard himself as figuring prominently in the public eye,
and to enjoy the thought of the interest which would be excited
if the persons he met in the street, or sat among in travelling,
were suddenly to be told that he was the possessor of the Gryce
Most timidities have such secret compensations, and Miss Bart was
discerning enough to know that the inner vanity is generally in
proportion to the outer self-depreciation. With a more confident
person she would not have dared to dwell so long on one topic, or
to show such exaggerated interest in it; but she had rightly
guessed that Mr. Gryce's egoism was a thirsty soil, requiring
constant nurture from without. Miss Bart had the gift of
following an undercurrent of thought while she appeared to be
sailing on the surface of conversation; and in this case her
mental excursion took the form of a rapid survey of Mr. Percy
Gryce's future as combined with her own. The Gryces were from
Albany, and but lately introduced to the metropolis, where the
mother and son had come, after old Jefferson Gryce's death, to
take possession of his house in Madison Avenue--an appalling
house, all brown stone without and black walnut within, with the
Gryce library in a fire-proof annex that looked like a mausoleum.
Lily, however, knew all about them: young Mr. Gryce's arrival had
fluttered the maternal breasts of New York, and when a girl has
no mother to palpitate for her she must needs be on the alert for
herself. Lily, therefore, had not only contrived to put herself
in the young man's way, but had made the acquaintance of
Mrs. Gryce, a monumental woman with the voice of a pulpit orator
and a mind preoccupied with the iniquities of her servants, who
came sometimes to sit with Mrs. Peniston and learn from that lady
how she managed to prevent the kitchen-maid's smuggling groceries
out of the house. Mrs. Gryce had a kind of impersonal
benevolence: cases of individual need she regarded with
suspicion, but she subscribed to Institutions when their annual
reports showed an impressive surplus. Her domestic duties were
manifold, for they extended from furtive inspections of the
servants' bedrooms to unannounced descents to the cellar; but she
had never allowed herself many pleasures. Once, however, she had
had a special edition of the Sarum Rule printed in rubric and
presented to every clergyman in the diocese; and the gilt album
in which their letters of thanks were pasted formed the chief
ornament of her drawing-room table.
Percy had been brought up in the principles which so excellent a
woman was sure to inculcate. Every form of prudence and suspicion
had been grafted on a nature originally reluctant and cautious,
with the result that it would have seemed hardly needful for Mrs.
Gryce to extract his promise about the overshoes, so little
likely was he to hazard himself abroad in the rain. After
attaining his majority, and coming into the fortune which the
late Mr. Gryce had made out of a patent device for excluding
fresh air from hotels, the young man continued to live with his
mother in Albany; but on Jefferson Gryce's death, when another
large property passed into her son's hands, Mrs. Gryce thought
that what she called his "interests" demanded his presence in New
York. She accordingly installed herself in the Madison Avenue
house, and Percy, whose sense of duty was not inferior to his
mother's, spent all his week days in the handsome Broad Street
office where a batch of pale men on small salaries had grown grey
in the management of the Gryce estate, and where he was initiated
with becoming reverence into every detail of the art of
As far as Lily could learn, this had hitherto been Mr. Gryce's
only occupation, and she might have been pardoned for thinking it
not too hard a task to interest a young man who had been kept on
such low diet. At any rate, she felt herself so completely
in command of the situation that she yielded to a sense of
security in which all fear of Mr. Rosedale, and of the
difficulties on which that fear was contingent, vanished beyond
the edge of thought.
The stopping of the train at Garrisons would not have distracted
her from these thoughts, had she not caught a sudden look of
distress in her companion's eye. His seat faced toward the door,
and she guessed that he had been perturbed by the approach of an
acquaintance; a fact confirmed by the turning of heads and
general sense of commotion which her own entrance into a
railway-carriage was apt to produce.
She knew the symptoms at once, and was not surprised to be hailed
by the high notes of a pretty woman, who entered the train
accompanied by a maid, a bull-terrier, and a footman staggering
under a load of bags and dressing-cases.
"Oh, Lily--are you going to Bellomont? Then you can't let me have
your seat, I suppose? But I MUST have a seat in this
carriage--porter, you must find me a place at once. Can't some
one be put somewhere else? I want to be with my friends. Oh, how
do you do, Mr. Gryce? Do please make him understand that I must
have a seat next to you and Lily."
Mrs. George Dorset, regardless of the mild efforts of a traveller
with a carpet-bag, who was doing his best to make room for her by
getting out of the train, stood in the middle of the aisle,
diffusing about her that general sense of exasperation which a
pretty woman on her travels not infrequently creates.
She was smaller and thinner than Lily Bart, with a restless
pliability of pose, as if she could have been crumpled up and run
through a ring, like the sinuous draperies she affected. Her
small pale face seemed the mere setting of a pair of dark
exaggerated eyes, of which the visionary gaze contrasted
curiously with her self-assertive tone and gestures; so that, as
one of her friends observed, she was like a disembodied spirit
who took up a great deal of room.
Having finally discovered that the seat adjoining Miss Bart's was
at her disposal, she possessed herself of it with a farther
displacement of her surroundings, explaining meanwhile that she
had come across from Mount Kisco in her motor-car that morning,
and had been kicking her heels for an hour at Garrisons, without
even the alleviation of a cigarette, her brute of a
husband having neglected to replenish her case before they parted
"And at this hour of the day I don't suppose you've a single one
left, have you, Lily?" she plaintively concluded.
Miss Bart caught the startled glance of Mr. Percy Gryce, whose
own lips were never defiled by tobacco.
"What an absurd question, Bertha!" she exclaimed, blushing at the
thought of the store she had laid in at Lawrence Selden's.
"Why, don't you smoke? Since when have you given it up? What--you
never---And you don't either, Mr. Gryce? Ah, of course--how
stupid of me--I understand."
And Mrs. Dorset leaned back against her travelling cushions with
a smile which made Lily wish there had been no vacant seat beside
Bridge at Bellomont usually lasted till the small hours; and when
Lily went to bed that night she had played too long for her own
Feeling no desire for the self-communion which awaited her in her
room, she lingered on the broad stairway, looking down into the
hall below, where the last card-players were grouped about the
tray of tall glasses and silver-collared decanters which the
butler had just placed on a low table near the fire.
The hall was arcaded, with a gallery supported on columns of pale
yellow marble. Tall clumps of flowering plants were grouped
against a background of dark foliage in the angles of the walls.
On the crimson carpet a deer-hound and two or three spaniels
dozed luxuriously before the fire, and the light from the great
central lantern overhead shed a brightness on the women's hair
and struck sparks from their jewels as they moved.
There were moments when such scenes delighted Lily, when they
gratified her sense of beauty and her craving for the external
finish of life; there were others when they gave a sharper edge
to the meagreness of her own opportunities. This was one of the
moments when the sense of contrast was uppermost, and she turned
away impatiently as Mrs. George Dorset, glittering in serpentine
spangles, drew Percy Gryce in her wake to a confidential nook
beneath the gallery.
It was not that Miss Bart was afraid of losing her newly-acquired
hold over Mr. Gryce. Mrs. Dorset might startle or dazzle him, but
she had neither the skill nor the patience to effect his capture.
She was too self-engrossed to penetrate the recesses of his
shyness, and besides, why should she care to give herself the
trouble? At most it might amuse her to make sport of his
simplicity for an evening--after that he would be merely a burden
to her, and knowing this, she was far too experienced to
encourage him. But the mere thought of that other woman, who
could take a man up and toss him aside as she willed, without
having to regard him as a possible factor in her plans, filled
Lily Bart with envy. She had been bored all the afternoon
by Percy Gryce--the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his
droning voice--but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she
must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be
ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the
bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour
of boring her for life.
It was a hateful fate--but how escape from it? What choice had
she? To be herself, or a Gerty Farish. As she entered her
bedroom, with its softly-shaded lights, her lace dressing-gown
lying across the silken bedspread, her little embroidered
slippers before the fire, a vase of carnations filling the air
with perfume, and the last novels and magazines lying uncut on a
table beside the reading-lamp, she had a vision of Miss Farish's
cramped flat, with its cheap conveniences and hideous
wall-papers. No; she was not made for mean and shabby
surroundings, for the squalid compromises of poverty. Her whole
being dilated in an atmosphere of luxury; it was the background
she required, the only climate she could breathe in. But the
luxury of others was not what she wanted. A few years ago it had
sufficed her: she had taken her daily meed of pleasure without
caring who provided it. Now she was beginning to chafe at the
obligations it imposed, to feel herself a mere pensioner on the
splendour which had once seemed to belong to her. There were even
moments when she was conscious of having to pay her way.
For a long time she had refused to play bridge. She knew she
could not afford it, and she was afraid of acquiring so expensive
a taste. She had seen the danger exemplified in more than one of
her associates--in young Ned Silverton, for instance, the
charming fair boy now seated in abject rapture at the elbow of
Mrs. Fisher, a striking divorcee with eyes and gowns as emphatic
as the head-lines of her "case." Lily could remember when young
Silverton had stumbled into their circle, with the air of a
strayed Arcadian who has published chamung sonnets in his college
journal. Since then he had developed a taste for Mrs. Fisher and
bridge, and the latter at least had involved him in expenses from
which he had been more than once rescued by harassed maiden
sisters, who treasured the sonnets, and went without sugar in
their tea to keep their darling afloat. Ned's case was
familiar to Lily: she had seen his charming eyes--which had a
good deal more poetry in them than the sonnets--change from
surprise to amusement, and from amusement to anxiety, as he
passed under the spell of the terrible god of chance; and she was
afraid of discovering the same symptoms in her own case.
For in the last year she had found that her hostesses expected
her to take a place at the card-table. It was one of the taxes
she had to pay for their prolonged hospitality, and for the
dresses and trinkets which occasionally replenished her
insufficient wardrobe. And since she had played regularly the
passion had grown on her. Once or twice of late she had won a
large sum, and instead of keeping it against future losses, had
spent it in dress or jewelry; and the desire to atone for this
imprudence, combined with the increasing exhilaration of the
game, drove her to risk higher stakes at each fresh venture. She
tried to excuse herself on the plea that, in the Trenor set, if
one played at all one must either play high or be set down as
priggish or stingy; but she knew that the gambling passion was
upon her, and that in her present surroundings there was small
hope of resisting it.
Tonight the luck had been persistently bad, and the little gold
purse which hung among her trinkets was almost empty when she
returned to her room. She unlocked the wardrobe, and taking out
her jewel-case, looked under the tray for the roll of bills from
which she had replenished the purse before going down to dinner.
Only twenty dollars were left: the discovery was so startling
that for a moment she fancied she must have been robbed. Then she
took paper and pencil, and seating herself at the writing-table,
tried to reckon up what she had spent during the day. Her head
was throbbing with fatigue, and she had to go over the figures
again and again; but at last it became clear to her that she had
lost three hundred dollars at cards. She took out her cheque-book
to see if her balance was larger than she remembered, but found
she had erred in the other direction. Then she returned to her
calculations; but figure as she would, she could not conjure back
the vanished three hundred dollars. It was the sum she had set
aside to pacify her dress-maker--unless she should decide to use
it as a sop to the jeweller. At any rate, she had so many
uses for it that its very insufficiency had caused her to play
high in the hope of doubling it. But of course she had lost--she
who needed every penny, while Bertha Dorset, whose husband
showered money on her, must have pocketed at least five hundred,
and Judy Trenor, who could have afforded to lose a thousand a
night, had left the table clutching such a heap of bills that she
had been unable to shake hands with her guests when they bade her
A world in which such things could be seemed a miserable place to
Lily Bart; but then she had never been able to understand the
laws of a universe which was so ready to leave her out of its
She began to undress without ringing for her maid, whom she had
sent to bed. She had been long enough in bondage to other
people's pleasure to be considerate of those who depended on
hers, and in her bitter moods it sometimes struck her that she
and her maid were in the same position, except that the latter
received her wages more regularly.
As she sat before the mirror brushing her hair, her face looked
hollow and pale, and she was frightened by two little lines near
her mouth, faint flaws in the smooth curve of the cheek.
"Oh, I must stop worrying!" she exclaimed. "Unless it's the
electric light---" she reflected, springing up from her seat and
lighting the candles on the dressing-table.
She turned out the wall-lights, and peered at herself between the
candle-flames. The white oval of her face swam out waveringly
from a background of shadows, the uncertain light blurring it
like a haze; but the two lines about the mouth remained.
Lily rose and undressed in haste.
"It is only because I am tired and have such odious things to
think about," she kept repeating; and it seemed an added
injustice that petty cares should leave a trace on the beauty
which was her only defence against them.
But the odious things were there, and remained with her. She
returned wearily to the thought of Percy Gryce, as a wayfarer
picks up a heavy load and toils on after a brief rest. She was
almost sure she had "landed" him: a few days' work and she would
win her reward. But the reward itself seemed upalatable
just then: she could get no zest from the thought of victory. It
would be a rest from worry, no more--and how little that would
have seemed to her a few years earlier! Her ambitions had shrunk
gradually in the desiccating air of failure. But why had she
failed? Was it her own fault or that of destiny?
She remembered how her mother, after they had lost their money,
used to say to her with a kind of fierce vindictiveness: "But
you'll get it all back--you'll get it all back, with your face."
. . . The remembrance roused a whole train of association, and
she lay in the darkness reconstructing the past out of which her
present had grown.
A house in which no one ever dined at home unless there was
"company"; a door-bell perpetually ringing; a hall-table showered
with square envelopes which were opened in haste, and oblong
envelopes which were allowed to gather dust in the depths of a
bronze jar; a series of French and English maids giving warning
amid a chaos of hurriedly-ransacked wardrobes and dress-closets;
an equally changing dynasty of nurses and footmen; quarrels in
the pantry, the kitchen and the drawing-room; precipitate trips
to Europe, and returns with gorged trunks and days of
interminable unpacking; semi-annual discussions as to where the
summer should be spent, grey interludes of economy and brilliant
reactions of expense--such was the setting of Lily Bart's first
Ruling the turbulent element called home was the vigorous and
determined figure of a mother still young enough to dance her
ball-dresses to rags, while the hazy outline of a neutral-tinted
father filled an intermediate space between the butler and the
man who came to wind the clocks. Even to the eyes of infancy,
Mrs. Hudson Bart had appeared young; but Lily could not recall
the time when her father had not been bald and slightly stooping,
with streaks of grey in his hair, and a tired walk. It was a
shock to her to learn afterward that he was but two years older
than her mother.
Lily seldom saw her father by daylight. All day he was "down
town"; and in winter it was long after nightfall when she heard
his fagged step on the stairs and his hand on the school-room
door. He would kiss her in silence, and ask one or two questions
of the nurse or the governess; then Mrs. Bart's maid would
come to remind him that he was dining out, and he would hurry
away with a nod to Lily. In summer, when he joined them for a
Sunday at Newport or Southampton, he was even more effaced and
silent than in winter. It seemed to tire him to rest, and he
would sit for hours staring at the sea-line from a quiet corner
of the verandah, while the clatter of his wife's existence went
on unheeded a few feet off. Generally, however, Mrs. Bart and
Lily went to Europe for the summer, and before the steamer was
half way over Mr. Bart had dipped below the horizon. Sometimes
his daughter heard him denounced for having neglected to forward
Mrs. Bart's remittances; but for the most part he was never
mentioned or thought of till his patient stooping figure
presented itself on the New York dock as a buffer between the
magnitude of his wife's luggage and the restrictions of the
In this desultory yet agitated fashion life went on through
Lily's teens: a zig-zag broken course down which the family craft
glided on a rapid current of amusement, tugged at by the
underflow of a perpetual need--the need of more money. Lily could
not recall the time when there had been money enough, and in some
vague way her father seemed always to blame for the deficiency.
It could certainly not be the fault of Mrs. Bart, who was spoken
of by her friends as a "wonderful manager." Mrs. Bart was famous
for the unlimited effect she produced on limited means; and to
the lady and her acquaintances there was something heroic in
living as though one were much richer than one's bank-book
Lily was naturally proud of her mother's aptitude in this line:
she had been brought up in the faith that, whatever it cost, one
must have a good cook, and be what Mrs. Bart called "decently
dressed." Mrs. Bart's worst reproach to her husband was to ask
him if he expected her to "live like a pig"; and his replying in
the negative was always regarded as a justification for cabling
to Paris for an extra dress or two, and telephoning to the
jeweller that he might, after all, send home the turquoise
bracelet which Mrs. Bart had looked at that morning.
Lily knew people who "lived like pigs," and their appearance and
surroundings justified her mother's repugnance to that
form of existence. They were mostly cousins, who inhabited dingy
houses with engravings from Cole's Voyage of Life on the
drawing-room walls, and slatternly parlour-maids who said "I'll
go and see" to visitors calling at an hour when all right-minded
persons are conventionally if not actually out. The disgusting
part of it was that many of these cousins were rich, so that Lily
imbibed the idea that if people lived like pigs it was from
choice, and through the lack of any proper standard of conduct.
This gave her a sense of reflected superiority, and she did not
need Mrs. Bart's comments on the family frumps and misers to
foster her naturally lively taste for splendour.
Lily was nineteen when circumstances caused her to revise her
view of the universe.
The previous year she had made a dazzling debut fringed by a
heavy thunder-cloud of bills. The light of the debut still
lingered on the horizon, but the cloud had thickened; and
suddenly it broke. The suddenness added to the horror; and there
were still times when Lily relived with painful vividness every
detail of the day on which the blow fell. She and her mother had
been seated at the luncheon-table, over the CHAUFROIX and cold
salmon of the previous night's dinner: it was one of Mrs. Bart's
few economies to consume in private the expensive remnants of her
hospitality. Lily was feeling the pleasant languor which is
youth's penalty for dancing till dawn; but her mother, in spite
of a few lines about the mouth, and under the yellow waves on her
temples, was as alert, determined and high in colour as if she
had risen from an untroubled sleep.
In the centre of the table, between the melting MARRONS GLACES
and candied cherries, a pyramid of American Beauties lifted their
vigorous stems; they held their heads as high as Mrs. Bart, but
their rose-colour had turned to a dissipated purple, and Lily's
sense of fitness was disturbed by their reappearance on the
"I really think, mother," she said reproachfully, "we might
afford a few fresh flowers for luncheon. Just some jonquils or
Mrs. Bart stared. Her own fastidiousness had its eye fixed on the
world, and she did not care how the luncheon-table looked
when there was no one present at it but the family. But she
smiled at her daughter's innocence.
"Lilies-of-the-valley," she said calmly, "cost two dollars a
dozen at this season."
Lily was not impressed. She knew very little of the value of
"It would not take more than six dozen to fill that bowl," she
"Six dozen what?" asked her father's voice in the doorway.
The two women looked up in surprise; though it was a Saturday,
the sight of Mr. Bart at luncheon was an unwonted one. But
neither his wife nor his daughter was sufficiently interested to
ask an explanation.
Mr. Bart dropped into a chair, and sat gazing absently at the
fragment of jellied salmon which the butler had placed before
"I was only saying," Lily began, "that I hate to see faded
flowers at luncheon; and mother says a bunch of lilies-of-the-
valley would not cost more than twelve dollars. Mayn't I tell the
florist to send a few every day?"
She leaned confidently toward her father: he seldom refused her
anything, and Mrs. Bart had taught her to plead with him when her
own entreaties failed.
Mr. Bart sat motionless, his gaze still fixed on the salmon, and
his lower jaw dropped; he looked even paler than usual, and his
thin hair lay in untidy streaks on his forehead. Suddenly he
looked at his daughter and laughed. The laugh was so strange that
Lily coloured under it: she disliked being ridiculed, and her
father seemed to see something ridiculous in the request. Perhaps
he thought it foolish that she should trouble him about such a
"Twelve dollars--twelve dollars a day for flowers? Oh, certainly,
my dear--give him an order for twelve hundred." He continued to
Mrs. Bart gave him a quick glance.
"You needn't wait, Poleworth--I will ring for you," she said to
The butler withdrew with an air of silent disapproval, leaving
the remains of the CHAUFROIX on the sideboard.
"What is the matter, Hudson? Are you ill?" said Mrs. Bart
She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making,
and it was odious to her that her husband should make a show of
himself before the servants.
"Are you ill?" she repeated.
"Ill?---No, I'm ruined," he said.
Lily made a frightened sound, and Mrs. Bart rose to her
"Ruined---?" she cried; but controlling herself instantly, she
turned a calm face to Lily.
"Shut the pantry door," she said.
Lily obeyed, and when she turned back into the room her father
was sitting with both elbows on the table, the plate of salmon
between them, and his head bowed on his hands.
Mrs. Bart stood over him with a white face which made her hair
unnaturally yellow. She looked at Lily as the latter approached:
her look was terrible, but her voice was modulated to a ghastly
"Your father is not well--he doesn't know what he is saying. It
is nothing--but you had better go upstairs; and don't talk to the
servants," she added.
Lily obeyed; she always obeyed when her mother spoke in that
voice. She had not been deceived by Mrs. Bart's words: she knew
at once that they were ruined. In the dark hours which followed,
that awful fact overshadowed even her father's slow and difficult
dying. To his wife he no longer counted: he had become extinct
when he ceased to fulfil his purpose, and she sat at his side
with the provisional air of a traveller who waits for a belated
train to start. Lily's feelings were softer: she pitied him in a
frightened ineffectual way. But the fact that he was for the most
part unconscious, and that his attention, when she stole into the
room, drifted away from her after a moment, made him even more of
a stranger than in the nursery days when he had never come home
till after dark. She seemed always to have seen him through a
blur--first of sleepiness, then of distance and indifference--
and now the fog had thickened till he was almost
indistinguishable. If she could have performed any little
services for him, or have exchanged with him a few of those
affecting words which an extensive perusal of fiction had
led her to connect with such occasions, the filial instinct might
have stirred in her; but her pity, finding no active expression,
remained in a state of spectatorship, overshadowed by her
mother's grim unflagging resentment. Every look and act of Mrs.
Bart's seemed to say: "You are sorry for him now--but you will
feel differently when you see what he has done to us."
It was a relief to Lily when her father died.
Then a long winter set in. There was a little money left, but to
Mrs. Bart it seemed worse than nothing--the mere mockery of what
she was entitled to. What was the use of living if one had to
live like a pig? She sank into a kind of furious apathy, a state
of inert anger against fate. Her faculty for "managing" deserted
her, or she no longer took sufficient pride in it to exert it. It
was well enough to "manage" when by so doing one could keep one's
own carriage; but when one's best contrivance did not conceal the
fact that one had to go on foot, the effort was no longer worth
Lily and her mother wandered from place to place, now paying long
visits to relations whose house-keeping Mrs. Bart criticized, and
who deplored the fact that she let Lily breakfast in bed when the
girl had no prospects before her, and now vegetating in cheap
continental refuges, where Mrs. Bart held herself fiercely aloof
from the frugal tea-tables of her companions in misfortune. She
was especially careful to avoid her old friends and the scenes of
her former successes. To be poor seemed to her such a confession
of failure that it amounted to disgrace; and she detected a note
of condescension in the friendliest advances.
Only one thought consoled her, and that was the contemplation of
Lily's beauty. She studied it with a kind of passion, as though
it were some weapon she had slowly fashioned for her vengeance.
It was the last asset in their fortunes, the nucleus around which
their life was to be rebuilt. She watched it jealously, as though
it were her own property and Lily its mere custodian; and she
tried to instil into the latter a sense of the responsibility
that such a charge involved. She followed in imagination the
career of other beauties, pointing out to her daughter what might
be achieved through such a gift, and dwelling on the awful
warning of those who, in spite of it, had failed to get what they
wanted: to Mrs. Bart, only stupidity could explain the lamentable
denouement of some of her examples. She was not above the
inconsistency of charging fate, rather than herself, with her own
misfortunes; but she inveighed so acrimoniously against
love-matches that Lily would have fancied her own marriage had
been of that nature, had not Mrs. Bart frequently assured her
that she had been "talked into it"--by whom, she never made
Lily was duly impressed by the magnitude of her opportunities.
The dinginess of her present life threw into enchanting relief
the existence to which she felt herself entitled. To a less
illuminated intelligence Mrs. Bart's counsels might have been
dangerous; but Lily understood that beauty is only the raw
material of conquest, and that to convert it into success other
arts are required. She knew that to betray any sense of
superiority was a subtler form of the stupidity her mother
denounced, and it did not take her long to learn that a beauty
needs more tact than the possessor of an average set of features.
Her ambitions were not as crude as Mrs. Bart's. It had been among
that lady's grievances that her husband--in the early days,
before he was too tired--had wasted his evenings in what she
vaguely described as "reading poetry"; and among the effects
packed off to auction after his death were a score or two of
dingy volumes which had struggled for existence among the boots
and medicine bottles of his dressing-room shelves. There was in
Lily a vein of sentiment, perhaps transmitted from this source,
which gave an idealizing touch to her most prosaic purposes. She
liked to think of her beauty as a power for good, as giving her
the opportunity to attain a position where she should make her
influence felt in the vague diffusion of refinement and good
taste. She was fond of pictures and flowers, and of sentimental
fiction, and she could not help thinking that the possession of
such tastes ennobled her desire for worldly advantages. She would
not indeed have cared to marry a man who was merely rich: she
was secretly ashamed of her mother's crude passion for money.
Lily's preference would have been for an English nobleman with
political ambitions and vast estates; or, for second
choice, an Italian prince with a castle in the Apennines and an
hereditary office in the Vatican. Lost causes had a romantic
charm for her, and she liked to picture herself as standing aloof
from the vulgar press of the Quirinal, and sacrificing her
pleasure to the claims of an immemorial tradition. . . .
How long ago and how far off it all seemed! Those ambitions were
hardly more futile and childish than the earlier ones which had
centred about the possession of a French jointed doll with real
hair. Was it only ten years since she had wavered in imagination
between the English earl and the Italian prince? Relentlessly her
mind travelled on over the dreary interval. . . .
After two years of hungry roaming Mrs. Bart had died---died of a
deep disgust. She had hated dinginess, and it was her fate to be
dingy. Her visions of a brilliant marriage for Lily had faded
after the first year.
"People can't marry you if they don't see you--and how can they
see you in these holes where we're stuck?" That was the burden of
her lament; and her last adjuration to her daughter was to escape
from dinginess if she could.
"Don't let it creep up on you and drag you down. Fight your way
out of it somehow--you're young and can do it," she insisted.
She had died during one of their brief visits to New York, and
there Lily at once became the centre of a family council composed
of the wealthy relatives whom she had been taught to despise for
living like pigs. It may be that they had an inkling of the
sentiments in which she had been brought up, for none of them
manifested a very lively desire for her company; indeed, the
question threatened to remain unsolved till Mrs. Peniston with a
sigh announced: "I'll try her for a year."
Every one was surprised, but one and all concealed their
surprise, lest Mrs. Peniston should be alarmed by it into
reconsidering her decision.
Mrs. Peniston was Mr. Bart's widowed sister, and if she was by no
means the richest of the family group, its other members
nevertheless abounded in reasons why she was clearly destined by
Providence to assume the charge of Lily. In the first place she
was alone, and it would be charming for her to have a
young companion. Then she sometimes travelled, and Lily's
familiarity with foreign customs--deplored as a misfortune by her
more conservative relatives--would at least enable her to act as
a kind of courier. But as a matter of fact Mrs. Peniston had not
been affected by these considerations. She had taken the girl
simply because no one else would have her, and because she had
the kind of moral MAUVAISE HONTE which makes the public display
of selfishness difficult, though it does not interfere with its
private indulgence. It would have been impossible for Mrs.
Peniston to be heroic on a desert island, but with the eyes of
her little world upon her she took a certain pleasure in her act.
She reaped the reward to which disinterestedness is entitled, and
found an agreeable companion in her niece. She had expected to
find Lily headstrong, critical and "foreign"--for even Mrs.
Peniston, though she occasionally went abroad, had the family
dread of foreignness--but the girl showed a pliancy, which, to a
more penetrating mind than her aunt's, might have been less
reassuring than the open selfishness of youth. Misfortune had
made Lily supple instead of hardening her, and a pliable
substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.
Mrs. Peniston, however, did not suffer from her niece's
adaptability. Lily had no intention of taking advantage of her
aunt's good nature. She was in truth grateful for the refuge
offered her: Mrs. Peniston's opulent interior was at least not
externally dingy. But dinginess is a quality which assumes all
manner of disguises; and Lily soon found that it was as latent in
the expensive routine of her aunt's life as in the makeshift
existence of a continental pension.
Mrs. Peniston was one of the episodical persons who form the
padding of life. It was impossible to believe that she had
herself ever been a focus of activities. The most vivid thing
about her was the fact that her grandmother had been a Van
Alstyne. This connection with the well-fed and industrious stock
of early New York revealed itself in the glacial neatness of Mrs.
Peniston's drawing-room and in the excellence of her cuisine. She
belonged to the class of old New Yorkers who have always lived
well, dressed expensively, and done little else; and to these
inherited obligations Mrs. Peniston faitfully conformed.
She had always been a looker-on at life, and her mind resembled
one of those little mirrors which her Dutch ancestors were
accustomed to affix to their upper windows, so that from the
depths of an impenetrable domesticity they might see what was
happening in the street.
Mrs. Peniston was the owner of a country-place in New Jersey, but
she had never lived there since her husband's death--a remote
event, which appeared to dwell in her memory chiefly as a
dividing point in the personal reminiscences that formed the
staple of her conversation. She was a woman who remembered dates
with intensity, and could tell at a moment's notice whether the
drawing-room curtains had been renewed before or after Mr.
Peniston's last illness.
Mrs. Peniston thought the country lonely and trees damp, and
cherished a vague fear of meeting a bull. To guard against such
contingencies she frequented the more populous watering-places,
where she installed herself impersonally in a hired house and
looked on at life through the matting screen of her verandah. In
the care of such a guardian, it soon became clear to Lily that
she was to enjoy only the material advantages of good food and
expensive clothing; and, though far from underrating these, she
would gladly have exchanged them for what Mrs. Bart had taught
her to regard as opportunities. She sighed to think what her
mother's fierce energies would have accomplished, had they been
coupled with Mrs. Peniston's resources. Lily had abundant energy
of her own, but it was restricted by the necessity of adapting
herself to her aunt's habits. She saw that at all costs she must
keep Mrs. Peniston's favour till, as Mrs. Bart would have phrased
it, she could stand on her own legs. Lily had no mind for the
vagabond life of the poor relation, and to adapt herself to Mrs.
Peniston she had, to some degree, to assume that lady's passive
attitude. She had fancied at first that it would be easy to draw
her aunt into the whirl of her own activities, but there was a
static force in Mrs. Peniston against which her niece's efforts
spent themselves in vain. To attempt to bring her into active
relation with life was like tugging at a piece of furniture which
has been screwed to the floor. She did not, indeed, expect Lily
to remain equally immovable: she had all the American guardian's
indulgence for the volatility of youth.
She had indulgence also for certain other habits of her niece's.
It seemed to her natural that Lily should spend all her money on
dress, and she supplemented the girl's scanty income by
occasional "handsome presents" meant to be applied to the same
purpose. Lily, who was intensely practical, would have preferred
a fixed allowance; but Mrs. Peniston liked the periodical
recurrence of gratitude evoked by unexpected cheques, and was
perhaps shrewd enough to perceive that such a method of giving
kept alive in her niece a salutary sense of dependence.
Beyond this, Mrs. Peniston had not felt called upon to do
anything for her charge: she had simply stood aside and let her
take the field. Lily had taken it, at first with the confidence
of assured possessorship, then with gradually narrowing demands,
till now she found herself actually struggling for a foothold on
the broad space which had once seemed her own for the asking. How
it happened she did not yet know. Sometimes she thought it was
because Mrs. Peniston had been too passive, and again she feared
it was because she herself had not been passive enough. Had she
shown an undue eagerness for victory? Had she lacked patience,
pliancy and dissimulation? Whether she charged herself with these
faults or absolved herself from them, made no difference in the
sum-total of her failure. Younger and plainer girls had been
married off by dozens, and she was nine-and-twenty, and still
She was beginning to have fits of angry rebellion against fate,
when she longed to drop out of the race and make an independent
life for herself. But what manner of life would it be? She had
barely enough money to pay her dress-makers' bills and her
gambling debts; and none of the desultory interests which she
dignified with the name of tastes was pronounced enough to enable
her to live contentedly in obscurity. Ah, no--she was too
intelligent not to be honest with herself. She knew that she
hated dinginess as much as her mother had hated it, and to her
last breath she meant to fight against it, dragging herself up
again and again above its flood till she gained the bright
pinnacles of success which presented such a slippery surface to
The next morning, on her breakfast tray, Miss Bart found a note
from her hostess.
"Dearest Lily," it ran, "if it is not too much of a bore to be
down by ten, will you come to my sitting-room to help me with
some tiresome things?"
Lily tossed aside the note and subsided on her pillows with a
sigh. It WAS a bore to be down by ten--an hour regarded at
Bellomont as vaguely synchronous with sunrise--and she knew too
well the nature of the tiresome things in question. Miss Pragg,
the secretary, had been called away, and there would be notes and
dinner-cards to write, lost addresses to hunt up, and other
social drudgery to perform. It was understood that Miss Bart
should fill the gap in such emergencies, and she usually
recognized the obligation without a murmur.
Today, however, it renewed the sense of servitude which the
previous night's review of her cheque-book had produced.
Everything in her surroundings ministered to feelings of ease and
amenity. The windows stood open to the sparkling freshness of the
September morning, and between the yellow boughs she caught a
perspective of hedges and parterres leading by degrees of
lessening formality to the free undulations of the park. Her maid
had kindled a little fire on the hearth, and it contended
cheerfully with the sunlight which slanted across the moss-green
carpet and caressed the curved sides of an old marquetry desk.
Near the bed stood a table holding her breakfast tray, with its
harmonious porcelain and silver, a handful of violets in a
slender glass, and the morning paper folded beneath her letters.
There was nothing new to Lily in these tokens of a studied
luxury; but, though they formed a part of her atmosphere, she
never lost her sensitiveness to their charm. Mere display left
her with a sense of superior distinction; but she felt an
affinity to all the subtler manifestations of wealth.
Mrs. Trenor's summons, however, suddenly recalled her state of
dependence, and she rose and dressed in a mood of irritability
that she was usually too prudent to indulge. She knew that such
emotions leave lines on the face as well as in the
character, and she had meant to take warning by the little
creases which her midnight survey had revealed.
The matter-of-course tone of Mrs. Trenor's greeting deepened her
irritation. If one did drag one's self out of bed at such an
hour, and come down fresh and radiant to the monotony of
note-writing, some special recognition of the sacrifice seemed
fitting. But Mrs. Trenor's tone showed no consciousness of the
"Oh, Lily, that's nice of you," she merely sighed across the
chaos of letters, bills and other domestic documents which gave
an incongruously commercial touch to the slender elegance of her
"There are such lots of horrors this morning," she added,
clearing a space in the centre of the confusion and rising to
yield her seat to Miss Bart.
Mrs. Trenor was a tall fair woman, whose height just saved her
from redundancy. Her rosy blondness had survived some forty years
of futile activity without showing much trace of ill-usage except
in a diminished play of feature. It was difficult to define her
beyond saying that she seemed to exist only as a hostess, not so
much from any exaggerated instinct of hospitality as because she
could not sustain life except in a crowd. The collective nature
of her interests exempted her from the ordinary rivalries of her
sex, and she knew no more personal emotion than that of hatred
for the woman who presumed to give bigger dinners or have more
amusing house-parties than herself. As her social talents, backed
by Mr. Trenor's bank-account, almost always assured her ultimate
triumph in such competitions, success had developed in her an
unscrupulous good nature toward the rest of her sex, and in Miss
Bart's utilitarian classification of her friends, Mrs. Trenor
ranked as the woman who was least likely to "go back" on her.
"It was simply inhuman of Pragg to go off now," Mrs. Trenor
declared, as her friend seated herself at the desk. "She says her
sister is going to have a baby--as if that were anything to
having a house-party! I'm sure I shall get most horribly mixed up
and there will be some awful rows. When I was down at Tuxedo I
asked a lot of people for next week, and I've mislaid the list
and can't remember who is coming. And this week is going to be a
horrid failure too--and Gwen Van Osburgh will go back and
tell her mother how bored people were. I did mean to ask the
Wetheralls--that was a blunder of Gus's. They disapprove of Carry
Fisher, you know. As if one could help having Carry Fisher! It
WAS foolish of her to get that second divorce--Carry always
overdoes things--but she said the only way to get a penny out of
Fisher was to divorce him and make him pay alimony. And poor
Carry has to consider every dollar. It's really absurd of Alice
Wetherall to make such a fuss about meeting her, when one thinks
of what society is coming to. Some one said the other day that
there was a divorce and a case of appendicitis in every family
one knows. Besides, Carry is the only person who can keep Gus in
a good humour when we have bores in the house. Have you noticed
that ALL the husbands like her? All, I mean, except her own. It's
rather clever of her to have made a specialty of devoting herself
to dull people--the field is such a large one, and she has it
practically to herself. She finds compensations, no doubt--I know
she borrows money of Gus--but then I'd PAY her to keep him in a
good humour, so I can't complain, after all.
"Mrs. Trenor paused to enjoy the spectacle of Miss Bart's efforts
to unravel her tangled correspondence.
"But it is only the Wetheralls and Carry," she resumed, with a
fresh note of lament. "The truth is, I'm awfully disappointed in
Lady Cressida Raith."
"Disappointed? Had you known her before?"
"Mercy, no--never saw her till yesterday. Lady Skiddaw sent her
over with letters to the Van Osburghs, and I heard that Maria Van
Osburgh was asking a big party to meet her this week, so I
thought it would be fun to get her away, and Jack Stepney, who
knew her in India, managed it for me. Maria was furious, and
actually had the impudence to make Gwen invite herself here, so
that they shouldn't be QUITE out of it--if I'd known what Lady
Cressida was like, they could have had her and welcome! But I
thought any friend of the Skiddaws' was sure to be amusing. You
remember what fun Lady Skiddaw was? There were times when I
simply had to send the girls out of the room. Besides, Lady
Cressida is the Duchess of Beltshire's sister, and I naturally
supposed she was the same sort; but you never can tell in those
English families. They are so big that there's room for
all kinds, and it turns out that Lady Cressida is the moral
one--married a clergy-man and does missionary work in the East
End. Think of my taking such a lot of trouble about a clergyman's
wife, who wears Indian jewelry and botanizes! She made Gus take
her all through the glass-houses yesterday, and bothered him to
death by asking him the names of the plants. Fancy treating Gus
as if he were the gardener!
"Mrs. Trenor brought this out in a CRESCENDO of indignation.
"Oh, well, perhaps Lady Cressida will reconcile the Wetheralls to
meeting Carry Fisher," said Miss Bart pacifically.
"I'm sure I hope so! But she is boring all the men horribly, and
if she takes to distributing tracts, as I hear she does, it will
be too depressing. The worst of it is that she would have been so
useful at the right time. You know we have to have the Bishop
once a year, and she would have given just the right tone to
things. I always have horrid luck about the Bishop's visits,"
added Mrs. Trenor, whose present misery was being fed by a
rapidly rising tide of reminiscence; "last year, when he came,
Gus forgot all about his being here, and brought home the Ned
Wintons and the Farleys--five divorces and six sets of children
"When is Lady Cressida going?" Lily enquired.
Mrs. Trenor cast up her eyes in despair. "My dear, if one only
knew! I was in such a hurry to get her away from Maria that I
actually forgot to name a date, and Gus says she told some one
she meant to stop here all winter."
"To stop here? In this house?"
"Don't be silly--in America. But if no one else asks her--you
know they NEVER go to hotels."
"Perhaps Gus only said it to frighten you."
"No--I heard her tell Bertha Dorset that she had six months to
put in while her husband was taking the cure in the Engadine. You
should have seen Bertha look vacant! But it's no joke, you
know--if she stays here all the autumn she'll spoil everything,
and Maria Van Osburgh will simply exult.
"At this affecting vision Mrs. Trenor's voice trembled with
self-pity."Oh, Judy--as if any one were ever bored at Bellomont!"
Miss Bart tactfully protested. "You know perfectly well that,
if Mrs. Van Osburgh were to get all the right people and leave you
with all the wrong ones, you'd manage to make things go off,
and she wouldn't."
Such an assurance would usually have restored Mrs. Trenor's complacency;
but on this occasion it did not chase the cloud from her brow.
"It isn't only Lady Cressida," she lamented. "Everything has gone
wrong this week. I can see that Bertha Dorset is furious with
"Furious with you? Why?"
"Because I told her that Lawrence Selden was coming; but he
wouldn't, after all, and she's quite unreasonable enough to think
it's my fault."
Miss Bart put down her pen and sat absently gazing at the note
she had begun.
"I thought that was all over," she said.
"So it is, on his side. And of course Bertha has been idle since.
But I fancy she's out of a job just at present--and some one gave
me a hint that I had better ask Lawrence. Well, I DID ask
him--but I couldn't make him come; and now I suppose she'll take
it out of me by being perfectly nasty to every one else."
"Oh, she may take it out of HIM by being perfectly charming--to
some one else.
"Mrs. Trenor shook her head dolefully. "She knows he wouldn't
mind. And who else is there? Alice Wetherall won't let Lucius out
of her sight. Ned Silverton can't take his eyes off Carry
Fisher--poor boy! Gus is bored by Bertha, Jack Stepney knows her
too well--and--well, to be sure, there's Percy Gryce!"
She sat up smiling at the thought.
Miss Bart's countenance did not reflect the smile.
"Oh, she and Mr. Gryce would not be likely to hit it off."
"You mean that she'd shock him and he'd bore her? Well, that's
not such a bad beginning, you know. But I hope she won't take it
into her head to be nice to him, for I asked him here on purpose
Lily laughed. "MERCI DU COMPLIMENT! I should certainly have no
show against Bertha."
"Do you think I am uncomplimentary? I'm not really, you know.
Every one knows you're a thousand times handsomer and cleverer
than Bertha; but then you're not nasty. And for always getting
what she wants in the long run, commend me to a nasty woman."
Miss Bart stared in affected reproval. "I thought you were so
fond of Bertha."
"Oh, I am--it's much safer to be fond of dangerous people. But
she IS dangerous--and if I ever saw her up to mischief it's now.
I can tell by poor George's manner. That man is a perfect
barometer--he always knows when Bertha is going to---"
"To fall?" Miss Bart suggested.
"Don't be shocking! You know he believes in her still. And of
course I don't say there's any real harm in Bertha. Only she
delights in making people miserable, and especially poor George."
"Well, he seems cut out for the part--I don't wonder she likes
more cheerful companionship."
"Oh, George is not as dismal as you think. If Bertha did worry
him he would be quite different. Or if she'd leave him alone, and
let him arrange his life as he pleases. But she doesn't dare lose
her hold of him on account of the money, and so when HE isn't
jealous she pretends to be."
Miss Bart went on writing in silence, and her hostess sat
following her train of thought with frowning intensity.
"Do you know," she exclaimed after a long pause, "I believe I'll
call up Lawrence on the telephone and tell him he simply MUST
"Oh, don't," said Lily, with a quick suffusion of colour. The
blush surprised her almost as much as it did her hostess, who,
though not commonly observant of facial changes, sat staring at
her with puzzled eyes.
"Good gracious, Lily, how handsome you are! Why? Do you dislike
him so much?"
"Not at all; I like him. But if you are actuated by the
benevolent intention of protecting me from Bertha--I don't think
I need your protection.
"Mrs. Trenor sat up with an exclamation. "Lily!---PERCY? Do you
mean to say you've actually done it?"
Miss Bart smiled. "I only mean to say that Mr. Gryce and I are
getting to be very good friends."
"H'm--I see." Mrs. Trenor fixed a rapt eye upon her. "You know
they say he has eight hundred thousand a year--and spends
nothing, except on some rubbishy old books. And his mother has
heart-disease and will leave him a lot more. OH, LILY, DO GO
SLOWLY," her friend adjured her.
Miss Bart continued to smile without annoyance. "I shouldn't, for
instance," she remarked, "be in any haste to tell him that he had
a lot of rubbishy old books."
"No, of course not; I know you're wonderful about getting up
people's subjects. But he's horribly shy, and easily shocked,
"Why don't you say it, Judy? I have the reputation of being on
the hunt for a rich husband?"
"Oh, I don't mean that; he wouldn't believe it of you--at first,"
said Mrs. Trenor, with candid shrewdness. "But you know things
are rather lively here at times--I must give Jack and Gus a
hint--and if he thought you were what his mother would call
fast--oh, well, you know what I mean. Don't wear your scarlet
CREPE-DE-CHINE for dinner, and don't smoke if you can help it,
Lily pushed aside her finished work with a dry smile."You're very
kind, Judy: I'll lock up my cigarettes and wear that last year's
dress you sent me this morning. And if you are really interested
in my career, perhaps you'll be kind enough not to ask me to play
bridge again this evening."
"Bridge? Does he mind bridge, too? Oh, Lily, what an awful life
you'll lead! But of course I won't--why didn't you give me a hint
last night? There's nothing I wouldn't do, you poor duck, to see
And Mrs. Trenor, glowing with her sex's eagerness to smooth the
course of true love, enveloped Lily in a long embrace.
"You're quite sure," she added solicitously, as the latter
extricated herself, "that you wouldn't like me to telephone for
"Quite sure," said Lily.
The next three days demonstrated to her own complete satifaction
Miss Bart's ability to manage her affairs without extraneous aid.
As she sat, on the Saturday afternoon, on the terrace at
Bellomont, she smiled at Mrs. Trenor's fear that she might go too
fast. If such a warning had ever been needful, the years had
taught her a salutary lesson, and she flattered herself that she
now knew how to adapt her pace to the object of pursuit. In the
case of Mr. Gryce she had found it well to flutter ahead, losing
herself elusively and luring him on from depth to depth of
unconscious intimacy. The surrounding atmosphere was propitious
to this scheme of courtship. Mrs. Trenor, true to her word, had
shown no signs of expecting Lily at the bridge-table, and had
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