House of Mirth
Part 5 out of 8
worn smile, and the air of having spent his best years in
piloting the wealthy to the right restaurant, assented with
gentle emphasis: "It's quite that."
"PEAS?" said Mr. Bry contemptuously. "Can they cook terrapin? It
just shows," he continued, "what these European markets are, when
a fellow can make a reputation cooking peas!"
Jack Stepney intervened with authority. "I don't know that I
quite agree with Dacey: there's a little hole in Paris, off the
Quai Voltaire--but in any case, I can't advise the Condamine
GARGOTE; at least not with ladies."
Stepney, since his marriage, had thickened and grown prudish, as
the Van Osburgh husbands were apt to do; but his wife, to his
surprise and discomfiture, had developed an earth-shaking
fastness of gait which left him trailing breathlessly in her
"That's where we'll go then!" she declared, with a heavy toss of
her plumage. "I'm so tired of the TERRASSE: it's as dull as one
of mother's dinners. And Lord Hubert has promised to tell us who
all the awful people are at the other place--hasn't he, Carry?
Now, Jack, don't look so solemn!"
"Well," said Mrs. Bry, "all I want to know is who their
"No doubt Dacey can tell you that too," remarked Stepney, with an
ironic intention which the other received with the light murmur,
"I can at least FIND OUT, my dear fellow"; and Mrs. Bry
having declared that she couldn't walk another step, the party
hailed two or three of the light phaetons which hover attentively
on the confines of the gardens, and rattled off in procession
toward the Condamine.
Their destination was one of the little restaurants overhanging
the boulevard which dips steeply down from Monte Carlo to the low
intermediate quarter along the quay. From the window in which
they presently found themselves installed, they overlooked the
intense blue curve of the harbour, set between the verdure of
twin promontories: to the right, the cliff of Monaco, topped by
the mediaeval silhouette of its church and castle, to the left
the terraces and pinnacles of the gambling-house. Between the
two, the waters of the bay were furrowed by a light coming and
going of pleasure-craft, through which, just at the culminating
moment of luncheon, the majestic advance of a great steam-yacht
drew the company's attention from the peas.
"By Jove, I believe that's the Dorsets back!" Stepney exclaimed;
and Lord Hubert, dropping his single eye-glass, corroborated:
"It's the Sabrina--yes."
"So soon? They were to spend a month in Sicily," Mrs. Fisher
"I guess they feel as if they had: there's only one up-to-date
hotel in the whole place," said Mr. Bry disparagingly.
"It was Ned Silverton's idea--but poor Dorset and Lily Bart must
have been horribly bored." Mrs. Fisher added in an undertone to
Selden: "I do hope there hasn't been a row."
"It's most awfully jolly having Miss Bart back," said Lord
Hubert, in his mild deliberate voice; and Mrs. Bry added
ingenuously: "I daresay the Duchess will dine with us, now that
"The Duchess admires her immensely: I'm sure she'd be charmed to
have it arranged," Lord Hubert agreed, with the professional
promptness of the man accustomed to draw his profit from
facilitating social contacts: Selden was struck by the
businesslike change in his manner.
"Lily has been a tremendous success here," Mrs. Fisher continued,
still addressing herself confidentially to Selden. "She looks ten
years younger--I never saw her so handsome. Lady Skiddaw took her
everywhere in Cannes, and the Crown Princess of Macedonia
had her to stop for a week at Cimiez. People say that was one
reason why Bertha whisked the yacht off to Sicily: the Crown
Princess didn't take much notice of her, and she couldn't bear to
look on at Lily's triumph."
Selden made no reply. He was vaguely aware that Miss Bart was
cruising in the Mediterranean with the Dorsets, but it had not
occurred to him that there was any chance of running across her
on the Riviera, where the season was virtually at an end. As he
leaned back, silently contemplating his filigree cup of Turkish
coffee, he was trying to put some order in his thoughts, to tell
himself how the news of her nearness was really affecting him. He
had a personal detachment enabling him, even in moments of
emotional high-pressure, to get a fairly clear view of his
feelings, and he was sincerely surprised by the disturbance which
the sight of the Sabrina had produced in him. He had reason to
think that his three months of engrossing professional work,
following on the sharp shock of his disillusionment, had cleared
his mind of its sentimental vapours. The feeling he had nourished
and given prominence to was one of thankfulness for his escape:
he was like a traveller so grateful for rescue from a dangerous
accident that at first he is hardly conscious of his bruises. Now
he suddenly felt the latent ache, and realized that after all he
had not come off unhurt.
An hour later, at Mrs. Fisher's side in the Casino gardens, he
was trying to find fresh reasons for forgetting the injury
received in the contemplation of the peril avoided. The party had
dispersed with the loitering indecision characteristic of social
movements at Monte Carlo, where the whole place, and the long
gilded hours of the day, seem to offer an infinity of ways of
being idle. Lord Hubert Dacey had finally gone off in quest of
the Duchess of Beltshire, charged by Mrs. Bry with the delicate
negotiation of securing that lady's presence at dinner, the
Stepneys had left for Nice in their motor-car, and Mr. Bry had
departed to take his place in the pigeon shooting match which was
at the moment engaging his high est faculties.
Mrs. Bry, who had a tendency to grow red and stertorous after
luncheon, had been judiciously prevailed upon by Carry
Fisher to withdraw to her hotel for an hour's repose; and Selden
and his companion were thus left to a stroll propitious to
confidences. The stroll soon resolved itself into a tranquil
session on a bench overhung with laurel and Banksian roses, from
which they caught a dazzle of blue sea between marble balusters,
and the fiery shafts of cactus-blossoms shooting meteor-like from
the rock. The soft shade of their niche, and the adjacent glitter
of the air, were conducive to an easy lounging mood, and to the
smoking of many cigarettes; and Selden, yielding to these
influences, suffered Mrs. Fisher to unfold to him the history of
her recent experiences. She had come abroad with the Welly Brys
at the moment when fashion flees the inclemency of the New York
spring. The Brys, intoxicated by their first success, already
thirsted for new kingdoms, and Mrs. Fisher, viewing the Riviera
as an easy introduction to London society, had guided their
course thither. She had affiliations of her own in every capital,
and a facility for picking them up again after long absences; and
the carefully disseminated rumour of the Brys' wealth had at once
gathered about them a group of cosmopolitan pleasure-seekers.
"But things are not going as well as I expected," Mrs. Fisher
frankly admitted. "It's all very well to say that every body with
money can get into society; but it would be truer to say that
NEARLY everybody can. And the London market is so glutted with
new Americans that, to succeed there now, they must be either
very clever or awfully queer. The Brys are neither. HE would get
on well enough if she'd let him alone; they like his slang and
his brag and his blunders. But Louisa spoils it all by trying to
repress him and put herself forward. If she'd be natural
herself--fat and vulgar and bouncing--it would be all right; but
as soon as she meets anybody smart she tries to be slender and
queenly. She tried it with the Duchess of Beltshire and Lady
Skiddaw, and they fled. I've done my best to make her see her
mistake--I've said to her again and again:'Just let yourself go,
Louisa'; but she keeps up the humbug even with me--I believe she
keeps on being queenly in her own room, with the door shut.
"The worst of it is," Mrs. Fisher went on, "that she thinks it's
all MY fault. When the Dorsets turned up here six weeks ago, and
everybody began to make a fuss about Lily Bart, I could
see Louisa thought that if she'd had Lily in tow instead of me
she would have been hob-nobbing with all the royalties by this
time. She doesn't realize that it's Lily's beauty that does it:
Lord Hubert tells me Lily is thought even handsomer than when he
knew her at Aix ten years ago. It seems she was tremendously
admired there. An Italian Prince, rich and the real thing, wanted
to marry her; but just at the critical moment a good-looking
step-son turned up, and Lily was silly enough to flirt with him
while her marriage-settlements with the step-father were being
drawn up. Some people said the young man did it on purpose. You
can fancy the scandal: there was an awful row between the men,
and people began to look at Lily so queerly that Mrs. Peniston
had to pack up and finish her cure elsewhere. Not that SHE ever
understood: to this day she thinks that Aix didn't suit her, and
mentions her having been sent there as proof of the incompetence
of French doctors. That's Lily all over, you know: she works like
a slave preparing the ground and sowing her seed; but the day she
ought to be reaping the harvest she over-sleeps herself or goes
off on a picnic."
Mrs. Fisher paused and looked reflectively at the deep shimmer of
sea between the cactus-flowers. "Sometimes," she added, "I think
it's just flightiness--and sometimes I think it's because, at
heart, she despises the things she's trying for. And it's the
difficulty of deciding that makes her such an interesting study."
She glanced tentatively at Selden's motion less profile, and
resumed with a slight sigh: "Well, all I can say is, I wish she'd
give ME some of her discarded opportunities. I wish we could
change places now, for instance. She could make a very good thing
out of the Brys if she managed them properly, and I should know
just how to look after George Dorset while Bertha is reading
Verlaine with Neddy Silverton."
She met Selden's sound of protest with a sharp derisive glance.
"Well, what's the use of mincing matters? We all know that's what
Bertha brought her abroad for. When Bertha wants to have a good
time she has to provide occupation for George. At first I thought
Lily was going to play her cards well THIS time, but there are
rumours that Bertha is jealous of her success here and at Cannes,
and I shouldn't be surprised if there were a break any
day. Lily's only safeguard is that Bertha needs her badly--oh,
very badly. The Silverton affair is in the acute stage: it's
necessary that George's attention should be pretty continuously
distracted. And I'm bound to say Lily DOES distract it: I believe
he'd marry her tomorrow if he found out there was anything wrong
with Bertha. But you know him--he's as blind as he's jealous; and
of course Lily's present business is to keep him blind. A clever
woman might know just the right moment to tear off the bandage:
but Lily isn't clever in that way, and when George does open his
eyes she'll probably contrive not to be in his line of vision."
Selden tossed away his cigarette. "By Jove--it's time for my
train," he exclaimed, with a glance at his watch; adding, in
reply to Mrs. Fisher's surprised comment--"Why, I thought of
course you were at Monte!"--a murmured word to the effect that he
was making Nice his head-quarters.
"The worst of it is, she snubs the Brys now," he heard
irrelevantly flung after him.
Ten minutes later, in the high-perched bedroom of an hotel
overlooking the Casino, he was tossing his effects into a couple
of gaping portmanteaux, while the porter waited outside to
transport them to the cab at the door. It took but a brief plunge
down the steep white road to the station to land him safely in
the afternoon express for Nice; and not till he was installed in
the corner of an empty carriage, did he exclaim to himself, with
a reaction of self-contempt: "What the deuce am I running away
The pertinence of the question checked Selden's fugitive impulse
before the train had started. It was ridiculous to be flying like
an emotional coward from an infatuation his reason had conquered.
He had instructed his bankers to forward some important business
letters to Nice, and at Nice he would quietly await them. He was
already annoyed with him self for having left Monte Carlo, where
he had intended to pass the week which remained to him before
sailing; but it would now be difficult to return on his steps
without an appearance of inconsistency from which his pride
recoiled. In his inmost heart he was not sorry to put himself
beyond the probability of meeting Miss Bart. Completely as he had
detached himself from her, he could not yet regard her
merely as a social instance; and viewed in a more personal way
she was not likely to be a reassuring object of study. Chance
encounters, or even the repeated mention of her name, would send
his thoughts back into grooves from which he had resolutely
detached them; whereas, if she could be entirely excluded from
his life, the pressure of new and varied impressions, with which
no thought of her was connected, would soon complete the work of
separation. Mrs. Fisher's conversation had, indeed, operated to
that end; but the treatment was too painful to be voluntarily
chosen while milder remedies were untried; and Selden thought he
could trust himself to return gradually to a reasonable view of
Miss Bart, if only he did not see her.
Having reached the station early, he had arrived at this point in
his reflections before the increasing throng on the platform
warned him that he could not hope to preserve his privacy; the
next moment there was a hand on the door, and he turned to
confront the very face he was fleeing.
Miss Bart, glowing with the haste of a precipitate descent upon
the train, headed a group composed of the Dorsets, young
Silverton and Lord Hubert Dacey, who had barely time to spring
into the carriage, and envelop Selden in ejaculations of surprise
and welcome, before the whistle of departure sounded. The party,
it appeared, were hastening to Nice in response to a sudden
summons to dine with the Duchess of Beltshire and to see the
water-fete in the bay; a plan evidently improvised--in spite of
Lord Hubert's protesting "Oh, I say, you know,"--for the express
purpose of defeating Mrs. Bry's endeavour to capture the Duchess.
During the laughing relation of this manoeuvre, Selden had time
for a rapid impression of Miss Bart, who had seated her self
opposite to him in the golden afternoon light. Scarcely three
months had elapsed since he had parted from her on the threshold
of the Brys' conservatory; but a subtle change had passed over
the quality of her beauty. Then it had had a transparency through
which the fluctuations of the spirit were sometimes tragically
visible; now its impenetrable surface suggested a process of
crystallization which had fused her whole being into one hard
brilliant substance. The change had struck Mrs. Fisher as
a rejuvenation: to Selden it seemed like that moment of pause and
arrest when the warm fluidity of youth is chilled into its final
He felt it in the way she smiled on him, and in the readiness and
competence with which, flung unexpectedly into his presence, she
took up the thread of their intercourse as though that thread had
not been snapped with a violence from which he still reeled. Such
facility sickened him--but he told himself that it was with the
pang which precedes recovery. Now he would really get well--would
eject the last drop of poison from his blood. Already he felt
himself calmer in her presence than he had learned to be in the
thought of her. Her assumptions and elisions, her short-cuts and
long DETOURS, the skill with which she contrived to meet him at a
point from which no inconvenient glimpses of the past were
visible, suggested what opportunities she had had for practising
such arts since their last meeting. He felt that she had at last
arrived at an understanding with herself: had made a pact with
her rebellious impulses, and achieved a uniform system of
self-government, under which all vagrant tendencies were either
held captive or forced into the service of the state.
And he saw other things too in her manner: saw how it had
adjusted itself to the hidden intricacies of a situation in
which, even after Mrs. Fisher's elucidating flashes, he still
felt himself agrope. Surely Mrs. Fisher could no longer charge
Miss Bart with neglecting her opportunities! To Selden's
exasperated observation she was only too completely alive to
them. She was "perfect" to every one: subservient to Bertha's
anxious predominance, good-naturedly watchful of Dorset's moods,
brightly companionable to Silverton and Dacey, the latter of whom
met her on an evident footing of old admiration, while young
Silverton, portentously self-absorbed, seemed conscious of her
only as of something vaguely obstructive. And suddenly, as Selden
noted the fine shades of manner by which she harmonized herself
with her surroundings, it flashed on him that, to need such
adroit handling, the situation must indeed be desperate. She was
on the edge of something--that was the impression left with him.
He seemed to see her poised on the brink of a chasm, with one
graceful foot advanced to assert her unconsciousness that
the ground was failing her.
On the Promenade des Anglais, where Ned Silverton hung on him for
the half hour before dinner, he received a deeper impression of
the general insecurity. Silverton was in a mood of Titanic
pessimism. How any one could come to such a damned hole as the
Riviera--any one with a grain of imagination--with the whole
Mediterranean to choose from: but then, if one's estimate of a
place depended on the way they broiled a spring chicken! Gad!
what a study might be made of the tyranny of the stomach--the way
a sluggish liver or insufficient gastric juices might affect the
whole course of the universe, overshadow everything in
reach--chronic dyspepsia ought to be among the "statutory
causes"; a woman's life might be ruined by a man's inability to
digest fresh bread. Grotesque? Yes--and tragic--like most
absurdities. There's nothing grimmer than the tragedy that wears
a comic mask.... Where was he? Oh--the reason they chucked Sicily
and rushed back? Well--partly, no doubt, Miss Bart's desire to
get back to bridge and smartness. Dead as a stone to art and
poetry--the light never WAS on sea or land for her! And of course
she persuaded Dorset that the Italian food was bad for him. Oh,
she could make him believe anything--ANYTHING! Mrs. Dorset was
aware of it--oh, perfectly: nothing SHE didn't see! But she could
hold her tongue--she'd had to, often enough. Miss Bart was an
intimate friend--she wouldn't hear a word against her. Only it
hurts a woman's pride--there are some things one doesn't get used
to . . . All this in confidence, of course? Ah--and there were
the ladies signalling from the balcony of the hotel.... He
plunged across the Promenade, leaving Selden to a meditative
The conclusions it led him to were fortified, later in the
evening, by some of those faint corroborative hints that generate
a light of their own in the dusk of a doubting mind. Selden,
stumbling on a chance acquaintance, had dined with him, and
adjourned, still in his company, to the brightly lit Promenade,
where a line of crowded stands commanded the glittering darkness
of the waters. The night was soft and per suasive. Overhead hung
a summer sky furrowed with the rush of rockets; and from
the east a late moon, pushing up beyond the lofty bend of the
coast, sent across the bay a shaft of brightness which paled to
ashes in the red glitter of the illuminated boats. Down the
lantern-hung Promenade, snatches of band-music floated above the
hum of the crowd and the soft tossing of boughs in dusky gardens;
and between these gardens and the backs of the stands there
flowed a stream of people in whom the vociferous carnival mood
seemed tempered by the growing languor of the season.
Selden and his companion, unable to get seats on one of the
stands facing the bay, had wandered for a while with the throng,
and then found a point of vantage on a high garden-parapet above
the Promenade. Thence they caught but a triangular glimpse of
the water, and of the flashing play of boats across its surface;
but the crowd in the street was under their immediate view, and
seemed to Selden, on the whole, of more interest than the show
itself. After a while, however, he wearied of his perch and,
dropping alone to the pavement, pushed his way to the first
corner and turned into the moonlit silence of a side street. Long
garden-walls overhung by trees made a dark boundary to the
pavement; an empty cab trailed along the deserted thoroughfare,
and presently Selden saw two persons emerge from the opposite
shadows, signal to the cab, and drive off in it toward the centre
of the town. The moonlight touched them as they paused to enter
the carriage, and he recognized Mrs. Dorset and young Silverton.
Beneath the nearest lamp-post he glanced at his watch and saw
that the time was close on eleven. He took another cross street,
and without breasting the throng on the Promenade, made his way
to the fashionable club which overlooks that thoroughfare. Here,
amid the blaze of crowded baccarat tables, he caught sight of
Lord Hubert Dacey, seated with his habitual worn smile behind a
rapidly dwindling heap of gold. The heap being in due course
wiped out, Lord Hubert rose with a shrug, and joining Selden,
adjourned with him to the deserted terrace of the club. It was
now past midnight, and the throng on the stands was dispersing,
while the long trails of red-lit boats scattered and faded
beneath a sky repossessed by the tranquil splendour of the moon.
Lord Hubert looked at his watch. "By Jove, I promised to
join the Duchess for supper at the LONDON HOUSE; but it's past
twelve, and I suppose they've all scattered. The fact is, I lost
them in the crowd soon after dinner, and took refuge here, for my
sins. They had seats on one of the stands, but of course they
couldn't stop quiet: the Duchess never can. She and Miss Bart
went off in quest of what they call adventures--gad, it ain't
their fault if they don't have some queer ones!" He added
tentatively, after pausing to grope for a cigarette: "Miss Bart's
an old friend of yours, I believe? So she told me.--Ah, thanks--I
don't seem to have one left." He lit Selden's proffered
cigarette, and continued, in his high-pitched drawling tone:
"None of my business, of course, but I didn't introduce her to
the Duchess. Charming woman, the Duchess, you understand; and a
very good friend of mine; but RATHER a liberal education."
Selden received this in silence, and after a few puffs Lord
Hubert broke out again: "Sort of thing one can't communicate to
the young lady--though young ladies nowadays are so competent to
judge for themselves; but in this case--I'm an old friend too,
you know . . . and there seemed no one else to speak to. The
whole situation's a little mixed, as I see it--but there used to
be an aunt somewhere, a diffuse and innocent person, who was
great at bridging over chasms she didn't see . . . Ah, in New
York, is she? Pity New York's such a long way off!"
Miss Bart, emerging late the next morning from her cabin, found
herself alone on the deck of the Sabrina. The cushioned chairs,
disposed expectantly under the wide awning, showed no signs of
recent occupancy, and she presently learned from a steward that
Mrs. Dorset had not yet appeared, and that the
gentlemen--separately--had gone ashore as soon as they had
breakfasted. Supplied with these facts, Lily leaned awhile over
the side, giving herself up to a leisurely enjoyment of the
spectacle before her. Unclouded sunlight enveloped sea and shore
in a bath of purest radiancy. The purpling waters drew a sharp
white line of foam at the base of the shore; against its
irregular eminences, hotels and villas flashed from the greyish
verdure of olive and eucalyptus; and the background of bare and
finely-pencilled mountains quivered in a pale intensity of light.
How beautiful it was--and how she loved beauty! She had always
felt that her sensibility in this direction made up for certain
obtusenesses of feeling of which she was less proud; and during
the last three months she had indulged it passionately. The
Dorsets' invitation to go abroad with them had come as an almost
miraculous release from crushing difficulties; and her faculty
for renewing herself in new scenes, and casting off problems of
conduct as easily as the surroundings in which they had arisen,
made the mere change from one place to another seem, not merely a
postponement, but a solution of her troubles. Moral complications
existed for her only in the environment that had produced them;
she did not mean to slight or ignore them, but they lost their
reality when they changed their background. She could not have
remained in New York without repaying the money she owed to
Trenor; to acquit herself of that odious debt she might even have
faced a marriage with Rosedale; but the accident of placing the
Atlantic between herself and her obligations made them dwindle
out of sight as if they had been milestones and she had travelled
Her two months on the Sabrina had been especially calculated to
aid this illusion of distance. She had been plunged into
new scenes, and had found in them a renewal of old hopes and
ambitions. The cruise itself charmed her as a romantic adventure.
She was vaguely touched by the names and scenes amid which she
moved, and had listened to Ned Silverton reading Theocritus by
moonlight, as the yacht rounded the Sicilian promontories, with a
thrill of the nerves that confirmed her belief in her
intellectual superiority. But the weeks at Cannes and Nice had
really given her more pleasure. The gratification of being
welcomed in high company, and of making her own ascendency felt
there, so that she found herself figuring once more as the
"beautiful Miss Bart"in the interesting journal devoted to
recording the least movements of her cosmopolitan companions--all
these experiences tended to throw into the extreme background of
memory the prosaic and sordid difficulties from which she had
If she was faintly aware of fresh difficulties ahead, she was
sure of her ability to meet them: it was characteristic of her to
feel that the only problems she could not solve were those with
which she was familiar. Meanwhile she could honestly be proud of
the skill with which she had adapted herself to somewhat delicate
conditions. She had reason to think that she had made herself
equally necessary to her host and hostess; and if only she had
seen any perfectly irreproachable means of drawing a financial
profit from the situation, there would have been no cloud on her
horizon. The truth was that her funds, as usual, were
inconveniently low; and to neither Dorset nor his wife could this
vulgar embarrassment be safely hinted. Still, the need was not a
pressing one; she could worry along, as she had so often done
before, with the hope of some happy change of fortune to sustain
her; and meanwhile life was gay and beautiful and easy, and she
was conscious of figuring not unworthily in such a setting.
She was engaged to breakfast that morning with the Duchess of
Beltshire, and at twelve o'clock she asked to be set ashore in
the gig. Before this she had sent her maid to enquire if she
might see Mrs. Dorset; but the reply came back that the latter
was tired, and trying to sleep. Lily thought she understood the
reason of the rebuff. Her hostess had not been included in the
Duchess's invitation, though she herself had made the
most loyal efforts in that direction. But her grace was
impervious to hints, and invited or omitted as she chose. It was
not Lily's fault if Mrs. Dorset's complicated attitudes did not
fall in with the Duchess's easy gait. The Duchess, who seldom
explained herself, had not formulated her objection beyond
saying: "She's rather a bore, you know. The only one of your
friends I like is that little Mr. Bry--HE'S funny--" but Lily
knew enough not to press the point, and was not altogether sorry
to be thus distinguished at her friend's expense. Bertha
certainly HAD grown tiresome since she had taken to poetry and
On the whole, it was a relief to break away now and then from the
Sabrina; and the Duchess's little breakfast, organized by Lord
Hubert with all his usual virtuosity, was the pleasanter to Lily
for not including her travelling-companions. Dorset, of late, had
grown more than usually morose and incalculable, and Ned
Silverton went about with an air that seemed to challenge the
universe. The freedom and lightness of the ducal intercourse made
an agreeable change from these complications, and Lily was
tempted, after luncheon, to adjourn in the wake of her companions
to the hectic atmosphere of the Casino. She did not mean to play;
her diminished pocket-money offered small scope for the
adventure; but it amused her to sit on a divan, under the
doubtful protection of the Duchess's back, while the latter hung
above her stakes at a neighbouring table.
The rooms were packed with the gazing throng which, in the
afternoon hours, trickles heavily between the tables, like the
Sunday crowd in a lion-house. In the stagnant flow of the mass,
identities were hardly distinguishable; but Lily presently saw
Mrs. Bry cleaving her determined way through the doors, and, in
the broad wake she left, the light figure of Mrs. Fisher bobbing
after her like a row-boat at the stern of a tug. Mrs. Bry pressed
on, evidently animated by the resolve to reach a certain point in
the rooms; but Mrs. Fisher, as she passed Lily, broke from her
towing-line, and let herself float to the girl's side.
"Lose her?" she echoed the latter's query, with an indifferent
glance at Mrs. Bry's retreating back. "I daresay--it doesn't
matter: I HAVE lost her already." And, as Lily ex
she added: "We had an awful row this morning. You know, of
course, that the Duchess chucked her at dinner last night, and
she thinks it was my fault--my want of management. The worst of
it is, the message--just a mere word by telephone--came so late
that the dinner HAD to be paid for; and Becassin HAD run it
up--it had been so drummed into him that the Duchess was coming!"
Mrs. Fisher indulged in a faint laugh at the remembrance. "Paying
for what she doesn't get rankles so dreadfully with Louisa: I
can't make her see that it's one of the preliminary steps to
getting what you haven't paid for--and as I was the nearest thing
to smash, she smashed me to atoms, poor dear!"
Lily murmured her commiseration. Impulses of sympathy came
naturally to her, and it was instinctive to proffer her help to
"If there's anything I can do--if it's only a question of meeting
the Duchess! I heard her say she thought Mr. Bry amusing---"
But Mrs. Fisher interposed with a decisive gesture. "My dear, I
have my pride: the pride of my trade. I couldn't manage the
Duchess, and I can't palm off your arts on Louisa Bry as mine.
I've taken the final step: I go to Paris tonight with the Sam
Gormers. THEY'RE still in the elementary stage; an Italian Prince
is a great deal more than a Prince to them, and they're always on
the brink of taking a courier for one. To save them from that is
my present mission." She laughed again at the picture. "But
before I go I want to make my last will and testament--I want to
leave you the Brys."
"Me?" Miss Bart joined in her amusement. "It's charming of you to
remember me, dear; but really---"
"You're already so well provided for?" Mrs. Fisher flashed a
sharp glance at her. "ARE you, though, Lily--to the point of
rejecting my offer?"
Miss Bart coloured slowly. "What I really meant was, that the
Brys wouldn't in the least care to be so disposed of."
Mrs. Fisher continued to probe her embarrassment with an
unflinching eye. "What you really meant was that you've snubbed
the Brys horribly; and you know that they know---"
"Oh, on certain sides Louisa bristles with perceptions. If you'd
even managed to have them asked once on the Sabrina--especially
when royalties were coming! But it's not too late," she ended
earnestly, "it's not too late for either of you."
Lily smiled. "Stay over, and I'll get the Duchess to dine with
"I shan't stay over--the Gormers have paid for my SALON-LIT,"
said Mrs. Fisher with simplicity. "But get the Duchess to dine
with them all the same."
Lily's smile again flowed into a slight laugh: her friend's
importunity was beginning to strike her as irrelevant. "I'm sorry
I have been negligent about the Brys---" she began.
"Oh, as to the Brys--it's you I'm thinking of," said Mrs. Fisher
abruptly. She paused, and then, bending forward, with a lowered
voice: "You know we all went on to Nice last night when the
Duchess chucked us. It was Louisa's idea--I told her what I
thought of it."
Miss Bart assented. "Yes--I caught sight of you on the way back,
at the station."
"Well, the man who was in the carriage with you and George
Dorset--that horrid little Dabham who does 'Society Notes from
the Riviera'--had been dining with us at Nice. And he's telling
everybody that you and Dorset came back alone after midnight."
"Alone--? When he was with us?" Lily laughed, but her laugh faded
into gravity under the prolonged implication of Mrs. Fisher's
look. "We DID come back alone--if that's so very dreadful! But
whose fault was it? The Duchess was spending the night at Cimiez
with the Crown Princess; Bertha got bored with the show, and went
off early, promising to meet us at the station. We turned up on
time, but she didn't--she didn't turn up at all!"
Miss Bart made this announcement in the tone of one who presents,
with careless assurance, a complete vindication; but Mrs. Fisher
received it in a manner almost inconsequent. She seemed to have
lost sight of her friend's part in the incident: her inward
vision had taken another slant.
"Bertha never turned up at all? Then how on earth did she get
"Oh, by the next train, I suppose; there were two extra ones for
the FETE. At any rate, I know she's safe on the yacht, though I
haven't yet seen her; but you see it was not my fault," Lily
"Not your fault that Bertha didn't turn up? My poor child, if
only you don't have to pay for it!" Mrs. Fisher rose--she had
seen Mrs. Bry surging back in her direction. "There's Louisa, and
I must be off--oh, we're on the best of terms externally; we're
lunching together; but at heart it's ME she's lunching on," she
explained; and with a last hand-clasp and a last look, she added:
"Remember, I leave her to you; she's hovering now, ready to take
"Lily carried the impression of Mrs. Fisher's leave-taking away
with her from the Casino doors. She had accomplished, before
leaving, the first step toward her reinstatement in Mrs. Bry's
good graces. An affable advance--a vague murmur that they must
see more of each other--an allusive glance to a near future that
was felt to include the Duchess as well as the Sabrina--how
easily it was all done, if one possessed the knack of doing it!
She wondered at herself, as she had so often wondered, that,
possessing the knack, she did not more consistently exercise it.
But sometimes she was forgetful--and sometimes, could it be that
she was proud? Today, at any rate, she had been vaguely conscious
of a reason for sinking her pride, had in fact even sunk it to
the point of suggesting to Lord Hubert Dacey, whom she ran across
on the Casino steps, that he might really get the Duchess to dine
with the Brys, if SHE undertook to have them asked on the
Sabrina. Lord Hubert had promised his help, with the readiness on
which she could always count: it was his only way of ever
reminding her that he had once been ready to do so much more for
her. Her path, in short, seemed to smooth itself before her as
she advanced; yet the faint stir of uneasiness persisted. Had it
been produced, she wondered, by her chance meeting with Selden?
She thought not--time and change seemed so completely to have
relegated him to his proper distance. The sudden and exquisite
reaction from her anxieties had had the effect of throwing the
recent past so far back that even Selden, as part of it, retained
a certain air of unreality. And he had made it so clear
that they were not to meet again; that he had merely dropped down
to Nice for a day or two, and had almost his foot on the next
steamer. No--that part of the past had merely surged up for a
moment on the fleeing surface of events; and now that it was
submerged again, the uncertainty, the apprehension persisted.
They grew to sudden acuteness as she caught sight of George
Dorset descending the steps of the Hotel de Paris and making for
her across the square. She had meant to drive down to the quay
and regain the yacht; but she now had the immediate impression
that something more was to happen first.
"Which way are you going? Shall we walk a bit?" he began, putting
the second question before the first was answered, and not
waiting for a reply to either before he directed her silently
toward the comparative seclusion of the lower gardens.
She detected in him at once all the signs of extreme nervous
tension. The skin was puffed out under his sunken eyes, and its
sallowness had paled to a leaden white against which his
irregular eyebrows and long reddish moustache were relieved with
a saturnine effect. His appearance, in short, presented an odd
mixture of the bedraggled and the ferocious.
He walked beside her in silence, with quick precipitate steps,
till they reached the embowered slopes to the east of the Casino;
then, pulling up abruptly, he said: "Have you seen Bertha?"
"No--when I left the yacht she was not yet up."
He received this with a laugh like the whirring sound in a
disabled clock. "Not yet up? Had she gone to bed? Do you know at
what time she came on board? This morning at seven!" he
"At seven?" Lily started. "What happened--an accident to the
He laughed again. "They missed the train--all the trains--they
had to drive back."
"Well---?" She hesitated, feeling at once how little even this
necessity accounted for the fatal lapse of hours.
"Well, they couldn't get a carriage at once--at that time of
night, you know--" the explanatory note made it almost
seem as though he were putting the case for his wife--"and when
they finally did, it was only a one-horse cab, and the horse was
"How tiresome! I see," she affirmed, with the more earnestness
because she was so nervously conscious that she did not; and
after a pause she added: "I'm so sorry--but ought we to have
"Waited for the one-horse cab? It would scarcely have carried the
four of us, do you think?"
She took this in what seemed the only possible way, with a laugh
intended to sink the question itself in his humorous treatment of
it. "Well, it would have been difficult; we should have had to
walk by turns. But it would have been jolly to see the sunrise."
"Yes: the sunrise WAS jolly," he agreed.
"Was it? You saw it, then?"
"I saw it, yes; from the deck. I waited up for them."
"Naturally--I suppose you were worried. Why didn't you call on me
to share your vigil?"
He stood still, dragging at his moustache with a lean weak hand.
"I don't think you would have cared for its DENOUEMENT," he said
with sudden grimness.
Again she was disconcerted by the abrupt change in his tone, and
as in one flash she saw the peril of the moment, and the need of
keeping her sense of it out of her eyes.
"DENOUEMENT--isn't that too big a word for such a small incident?
The worst of it, after all, is the fatigue which Bertha has
probably slept off by this time."
She clung to the note bravely, though its futility was now plain
to her in the glare of his miserable eyes.
"Don't--don't---!" he broke out, with the hurt cry of a child;
and while she tried to merge her sympathy, and her resolve to
ignore any cause for it, in one ambiguous murmur of deprecation,
he dropped down on the bench near which they had paused, and
poured out the wretchedness of his soul.
It was a dreadful hour--an hour from which she emerged shrinking
and seared, as though her lids had been scorched by its actual
glare. It was not that she had never had premonitory glimpses of
such an outbreak; but rather because, here and there
throughout the three months, the surface of life had shown such
ominous cracks and vapours that her fears had always been on the
alert for an upheaval. There had been moments when the situation
had presented itself under a homelier yet more vivid image--that
of a shaky vehicle, dashed by unbroken steeds over a bumping
road, while she cowered within, aware that the harness wanted
mending, and wondering what would give way first.
Well--everything had given way now; and the wonder was that the
crazy outfit had held together so long. Her sense of being
involved in the crash, instead of merely witnessing it from the
road, was intensified by the way in which Dorset, through his
furies of denunciation and wild reactions of self-contempt, made
her feel the need he had of her, the place she had taken in his
life. But for her, what ear would have been open to his cries?
And what hand but hers could drag him up again to a footing of
sanity and self-respect? All through the stress of the struggle
with him, she had been conscious of something faintly maternal in
her efforts to guide and uplift him. But for the present, if he
clung to her, it was not in order to be dragged up, but to feel
some one floundering in the depths with him: he wanted her to
suffer with him, not to help him to suffer less.
Happily for both, there was little physical strength to sustain
his frenzy. It left him, collapsed and breathing heavily, to an
apathy so deep and prolonged that Lily almost feared the
passers-by would think it the result of a seizure, and stop to
offer their aid. But Monte Carlo is, of all places, the one where
the human bond is least close, and odd sights are the least
arresting. If a glance or two lingered on the couple, no
intrusive sympathy disturbed them; and it was Lily herself who
broke the silence by rising from her seat. With the clearing of
her vision the sweep of peril had extended, and she saw that the
post of danger was no longer at Dorset's side.
"If you won't go back, I must--don't make me leave you!" she
But he remained mutely resistant, and she added: "What are you
going to do? You really can't sit here all night."
"I can go to an hotel. I can telegraph my lawyers." He sat up,
roused by a new thought. "By Jove, Selden's at Nice--I'll send
Lily, at this, reseated herself with a cry of alarm. "No, no, NO"
He swung round on her distrustfully. "Why not Selden? He's a
lawyer isn't he? One will do as well as another in a case like
"As badly as another, you mean. I thought you relied on ME to
"You do--by being so sweet and patient with me. If it hadn't been
for you I'd have ended the thing long ago. But now it's got to
end." He rose suddenly, straightening himself with an effort.
"You can't want to see me ridiculous."
She looked at him kindly. "That's just it." Then, after a
moment's pondering, almost to her own surprise she broke out with
a flash of inspiration: "Well, go over and see Mr. Selden. You'll
have time to do it before dinner."
"Oh, DINNER---" he mocked her; but she left him with the smiling
rejoinder: "Dinner on board, remember; we'll put it off till nine
if you like."
It was past four already; and when a cab had dropped her at the
quay, and she stood waiting for the gig to put off for her, she
began to wonder what had been happening on the yacht. Of
Silverton's whereabouts there had been no mention. Had he
returned to the Sabrina? Or could Bertha--the dread alternative
sprang on her suddenly--could Bertha, left to herself, have gone
ashore to rejoin him? Lily's heart stood still at the thought.
All her concern had hitherto been for young Silverton, not only
because, in such affairs, the woman's instinct is to side with
the man, but because his case made a peculiar appeal to her
sympathies. He was so desperately in earnest, poor youth, and his
earnestness was of so different a quality from Bertha's, though
hers too was desperate enough. The difference was that Bertha was
in earnest only about herself, while he was in earnest about her.
But now, at the actual crisis, this difference seemed to throw
the weight of destitution on Bertha's side, since at least he had
her to suffer for, and she had only herself. At any rate, viewed
less ideally, all the disadvantages of such a situation were for
the woman; and it was to Bertha that Lily's sympathies now went
out. She was not fond of Bertha Dorset, but neither was she
without a sense of obligation, the heavier for having so little
sonal liking to sustain it. Bertha had been kind to
her, they had lived together, during the last months, on terms of
easy friendship, and the sense of friction of which Lily had
recently become aware seemed to make it the more urgent that she
should work undividedly in her friend's interest.
It was in Bertha's interest, certainly, that she had despatched
Dorset to consult with Lawrence Selden. Once the grotesqueness of
the situation accepted, she had seen at a glance that it was the
safest in which Dorset could find himself. Who but Selden could
thus miraculously combine the skill to save Bertha with the
obligation of doing so? The consciousness that much skill would
be required made Lily rest thankfully in the greatness of the
obligation. Since he would HAVE to pull Bertha through she could
trust him to find a way; and she put the fulness of her trust in
the telegram she managed to send him on her way to the quay.
Thus far, then, Lily felt that she had done well; and the
conviction strengthened her for the task that remained. She and
Bertha had never been on confidential terms, but at such a crisis
the barriers of reserve must surely fall: Dorset's wild allusions
to the scene of the morning made Lily feel that they were down
already, and that any attempt to rebuild them would be beyond
Bertha's strength. She pictured the poor creature shivering
behind her fallen defences and awaiting with suspense the moment
when she could take refuge in the first shelter that offered. If
only that shelter had not already offered itself elsewhere! As
the gig traversed the short distance between the quay and the
yacht, Lily grew more than ever alarmed at the possible
consequences of her long absence. What if the wretched Bertha,
finding in all the long hours no soul to turn to--but by this
time Lily's eager foot was on the side-ladder, and her first step
on the Sabrina showed the worst of her apprehensions to be
unfounded; for there, in the luxurious shade of the after-deck,
the wretched Bertha, in full command of her usual attenuated
elegance, sat dispensing tea to the Duchess of Beltshire and Lord
The sight filled Lily with such surprise that she felt that
Bertha, at least, must read its meaning in her look, and she was
proportionately disconcerted by the blankness of the look
returned. But in an instant she saw that Mrs. Dorset had, of
necessity, to look blank before the others, and that, to mitigate
the effect of her own surprise, she must at once produce some
simple reason for it. The long habit of rapid transitions made it
easy for her to exclaim to the Duchess: "Why, I thought you'd
gone back to the Princess!" and this sufficed for the lady she
addressed, if it was hardly enough for Lord Hubert.
At least it opened the way to a lively explanation of how the
Duchess was, in fact, going back the next moment, but had first
rushed out to the yacht for a word with Mrs. Dorset on the
subject of tomorrow's dinner--the dinner with the Brys, to which
Lord Hubert had finally insisted on dragging them.
"To save my neck, you know!" he explained, with a glance that
appealed to Lily for some recognition of his promptness; and the
Duchess added, with her noble candour: "Mr. Bry has promised him
a tip, and he says if we go he'll pass it onto us."
This led to some final pleasantries, in which, as it seemed to
Lily, Mrs. Dorset bore her part with astounding bravery, and at
the close of which Lord Hubert, from half way down the
side-ladder, called back, with an air of numbering heads: "And of
course we may count on Dorset too?"
"Oh, count on him," his wife assented gaily. She was keeping up
well to the last--but as she turned back from waving her adieux
over the side, Lily said to herself that the mask must drop and
the soul of fear look out.
Mrs. Dorset turned back slowly; perhaps she wanted time to steady
her muscles; at any rate, they were still under perfect control
when, dropping once more into her seat behind the tea-table, she
remarked to Miss Bart with a faint touch of irony: "I suppose I
ought to say good morning."
If it was a cue, Lily was ready to take it, though with only the
vaguest sense of what was expected of her in return. There was
something unnerving in the contemplation of Mrs. Dorset's
composure, and she had to force the light tone in which she
answered: "I tried to see you this morning, but you were not yet
"No--I got to bed late. After we missed you at the station
I thought we ought to wait for you till the last train."
She spoke very gently, but with just the least tinge of reproach.
"You missed us? You waited for us at the station?" Now indeed
Lily was too far adrift in bewilderment to measure the other's
words or keep watch on her own. "But I thought you didn't get to
the station till after the last train had left!"
Mrs. Dorset, examining her between lowered lids, met this with
the immediate query: "Who told you that?"
"George--I saw him just now in the gardens."
"Ah, is that George's version? Poor George--he was in no state to
remember what I told him. He had one of his worst attacks this
morning, and I packed him off to see the doctor. Do you know if
he found him?"
Lily, still lost in conjecture, made no reply, and Mrs. Dorset
settled herself indolently in her seat. "He'll wait to see him;
he was horribly frightened about himself. It's very bad for him
to be worried, and whenever anything upsetting happens, it always
brings on an attack."
This time Lily felt sure that a cue was being pressed on her; but
it was put forth with such startling suddenness, and with so
incredible an air of ignoring what it led up to, that she could
only falter out doubtfully: "Anything upsetting?"
"Yes--such as having you so conspicuously on his hands in the
small hours. You know, my dear, you're rather a big
responsibility in such a scandalous place after midnight."
At that--at the complete unexpectedness and the inconceivable
audacity of it--Lily could not restrain the tribute of an
"Well, really--considering it was you who burdened him with the
Mrs. Dorset took this with an exquisite mildness. "By not having
the superhuman cleverness to discover you in that frightful rush
for the train? Or the imagination to believe that you'd take it
without us--you and he all alone--instead of waiting quietly in
the station till we DID manage to meet you?"
Lily's colour rose: it was growing clear to her that Bertha was
pursuing an object, following a line she had marked out for
herself. Only, with such a doom impending, why waste time in
these childish efforts to avert it? The puerility of the
attempt disarmed Lily's indignation: did it not prove how
horribly the poor creature was frightened?"
No; by our simply all keeping together at Nice," she returned.
"Keeping together? When it was you who seized the first
opportunity to rush off with the Duchess and her friends? My dear
Lily, you are not a child to be led by the hand!"
"No--nor to be lectured, Bertha, really; if that's what you are
doing to me now."
Mrs. Dorset smiled on her reproachfully. "Lecture you--I? Heaven
forbid! I was merely trying to give you a friendly hint. But it's
usually the other way round, isn't it? I'm expected to take
hints, not to give them: I've positively lived on them all these
"Hints--from me to you?" Lily repeated.
"Oh, negative ones merely--what not to be and to do and to see.
And I think I've taken them to admiration. Only, my dear, if
you'll let me say so, I didn't understand that one of my negative
duties was NOT to warn you when you carried your imprudence too
A chill of fear passed over Miss Bart: a sense of remembered
treachery that was like the gleam of a knife in the dusk. But
compassion, in a moment, got the better of her instinctive
recoil. What was this outpouring of senseless bitterness but the
tracked creature's attempt to cloud the medium through which it
was fleeing? It was on Lily's lips to exclaim: "You poor soul,
don't double and turn--come straight back to me, and we'll find a
way out!" But the words died under the impenetrable insolence of
Bertha's smile. Lily sat silent, taking the brunt of it quietly,
letting it spend itself on her to the last drop of its
accumulated falseness; then, without a word, she rose and went
down to her cabin.
Miss Bart's telegram caught Lawrence Selden at the door of his
hotel; and having read it, he turned back to wait for Dorset. The
message necessarily left large gaps for conjecture; but all that
he had recently heard and seen made these but too easy to fill
in. On the whole he was surprised; for though he had perceived
that the situation contained all the elements of an explosion, he
had often enough, in the range of his personal experience, seen
just such combinations subside into harmlessness. Still, Dorset's
spasmodic temper, and his wife's reckless disregard of
appearances, gave the situation a peculiar insecurity; and it was
less from the sense of any special relation to the case than from
a purely professional zeal, that Selden resolved to guide the
pair to safety. Whether, in the present instance, safety for
either lay in repairing so damaged a tie, it was no business of
his to consider: he had only, on general principles, to think of
averting a scandal, and his desire to avert it was increased by
his fear of its involving Miss Bart. There was nothing specific
in this apprehension; he merely wished to spare her the
embarrassment of being ever so remotely connected with the public
washing of the Dorset linen.
How exhaustive and unpleasant such a process would be, he saw
even more vividly after his two hours' talk with poor Dorset. If
anything came out at all, it would be such a vast unpacking of
accumulated moral rags as left him, after his visitor had gone,
with the feeling that he must fling open the windows and have his
room swept out. But nothing should come out; and happily for his
side of the case, the dirty rags, however pieced together, could
not, without considerable difficulty, be turned into a
homogeneous grievance. The torn edges did not always fit--there
were missing bits, there were disparities of size and colour, all
of which it was naturally Selden's business to make the most of
in putting them under his client's eye. But to a man in Dorset's
mood the completest demonstration could not carry conviction, and
Selden saw that for the moment all he could do was to soothe and
temporize, to offer sympathy and to counsel prudence. He let
Dorset depart charged to the brim with the sense that, till
their next meeting, he must maintain a strictly noncommittal
attitude; that, in short, his share in the game consisted for the
present in looking on. Selden knew, however, that he could not
long keep such violences in equilibrium; and he promised to meet
Dorset, the next morning, at an hotel in Monte Carlo. Meanwhile
he counted not a little on the reaction of weakness and
self-distrust that, in such natures, follows on every unwonted
expenditure of moral force; and his telegraphic reply to Miss
Bart consisted simply in the injunction: "Assume that everything
is as usual."
On this assumption, in fact, the early part of the following day
was lived through. Dorset, as if in obedience to Lily's
imperative bidding, had actually returned in time for a late
dinner on the yacht. The repast had been the most difficult
moment of the day. Dorset was sunk in one of the abysmal silences
which so commonly followed on what his wife called his "attacks"
that it was easy, before the servants, to refer it to this cause;
but Bertha herself seemed, perversely enough, little disposed to
make use of this obvious means of protection. She simply left the
brunt of the situation on her husband's hands, as if too absorbed
in a grievance of her own to suspect that she might be the object
of one herself. To Lily this attitude was the most ominous,
because the most perplexing, element in the situation. As she
tried to fan the weak flicker of talk, to build up, again and
again, the crumbling structure of "appearances," her own
attention was perpetually distracted by the question: "What on
earth can she be driving at?" There was something positively
exasperating in Bertha's attitude of isolated defiance. If only
she would have given her friend a hint they might still have
worked together successfully; but how could Lily be of use, while
she was thus obstinately shut out from participation? To be of
use was what she honestly wanted; and not for her own sake but
for the Dorsets'. She had not thought of her own situation at
all: she was simply engrossed in trying to put a little order in
theirs. But the close of the short dreary evening left her with a
sense of effort hopelessly wasted. She had not tried to see
Dorset alone: she had positively shrunk from a renewal of his
confidences. It was Bertha whose confidence she sought, and who
should as eagerly have invited her own; and Bertha, as if
in the infatuation of self-destruction, was actually pushing away
her rescuing hand.
Lily, going to bed early, had left the couple to themselves; and
it seemed part of the general mystery in which she moved that
more than an hour should elapse before she heard Bertha walk down
the silent passage and regain her room. The morrow, rising on an
apparent continuance of the same conditions, revealed nothing of
what had occurred between the confronted pair. One fact alone
outwardly proclaimed the change they were all conspiring to
ignore; and that was the non-appearance of Ned Silverton. No one
referred to it, and this tacit avoidance of the subject kept it
in the immediate foreground of consciousness. But there was
another change, perceptible only to Lily; and that was that
Dorset now avoided her almost as pointedly as his wife. Perhaps
he was repenting his rash outpourings of the previous day;
perhaps only trying, in his clumsy way, to conform to Selden's
counsel to behave "as usual." Such instructions no more make for
easiness of attitude than the photographer's behest to "look
natural"; and in a creature as unconscious as poor Dorset of the
appearance he habitually presented, the struggle to maintain a
pose was sure to result in queer contortions.
It resulted, at any rate, in throwing Lily strangely on her own
resources. She had learned, on leaving her room, that Mrs. Dorset
was still invisible, and that Dorset had left the yacht early;
and feeling too restless to remain alone, she too had herself
ferried ashore. Straying toward the Casino, she attached herself
to a group of acquaintances from Nice, with whom she lunched, and
in whose company she was returning to the rooms when she
encountered Selden crossing the square. She could not, at the
moment, separate herself definitely from her party, who had
hospitably assumed that she would remain with them till they took
their departure; but she found time for a momentary pause of
enquiry, to which he promptly returned: "I've seen him
again--he's just left me."
She waited before him anxiously. "Well? what has happened? What
"Nothing as yet--and nothing in the future, I think."
"It's over, then? It's settled? You're sure?"
He smiled. "Give me time. I'm not sure--but I'm a good deal
surer." And with that she had to content herself, and hasten on
to the expectant group on the steps.
Selden had in fact given her the utmost measure of his sureness,
had even stretched it a shade to meet the anxiety in her eyes.
And now, as he turned away, strolling down the hill toward the
station, that anxiety remained with him as the visible
justification of his own. It was not, indeed, anything specific
that he feared: there had been a literal truth in his declaration
that he did not think anything would happen. What troubled him
was that, though Dorset's attitude had perceptibly changed, the
change was not clearly to be accounted for. It had certainly not
been produced by Selden's arguments, or by the action of his own
soberer reason. Five minutes' talk sufficed to show that some
alien influence had been at work, and that it had not so much
subdued his resentment as weakened his will, so that he moved
under it in a state of apathy, like a dangerous lunatic who has
been drugged. Temporarily, no doubt, however exerted, it worked
for the general safety: the question was how long it would last,
and by what kind of reaction it was likely to be followed. On
these points Selden could gain no light; for he saw that one
effect of the transformation had been to shut him off from free
communion with Dorset. The latter, indeed, was still moved by the
irresistible desire to discuss his wrong; but, though he revolved
about it with the same forlorn tenacity, Selden was aware that
something always restrained him from full expression. His state
was one to produce first weariness and then impatience in his
hearer; and when their talk was over, Selden began to feel that
he had done his utmost, and might justifiably wash his hands of
It was in this mind that he had been making his way back to the
station when Miss Bart crossed his path; but though, after his
brief word with her, he kept mechanically on his course, he was
conscious of a gradual change in his purpose. The change had been
produced by the look in her eyes; and in his eagerness to define
the nature of that look, he dropped into a seat in the gardens,
and sat brooding upon the question. It was natural enough, in all
conscience, that she should appear anxious: a young woman
placed, in the close intimacy of a yachting-cruise, between a
couple on the verge of disaster, could hardly, aside from her
concern for her friends, be insensible to the awkwardness of her
own position. The worst of it was that, in interpreting Miss
Bart's state of mind, so many alternative readings were possible;
and one of these, in Selden's troubled mind, took the ugly form
suggested by Mrs. Fisher. If the girl was afraid, was she afraid
for herself or for her friends? And to what degree was her dread
of a catastrophe intensified by the sense of being fatally
involved in it? The burden of offence lying manifestly with Mrs.
Dorset, this conjecture seemed on the face of it gratuitously
unkind; but Selden knew that in the most one-sided matrimonial
quarrel there are generally counter-charges to be brought, and
that they are brought with the greater audacity where the
original grievance is so emphatic. Mrs. Fisher had not hesitated
to suggest the likelihood of Dorset's marrying Miss Bart if
"anything happened"; and though Mrs. Fisher's conclusions were
notoriously rash, she was shrewd enough in reading the signs from
which they were drawn. Dorset had apparently shown marked
interest in the girl, and this interest might be used to cruel
advantage in his wife's struggle for rehabilitation. Selden knew
that Bertha would fight to the last round of powder: the rashness
of her conduct was illogically combined with a cold determination
to escape its consequences. She could be as unscrupulous in
fighting for herself as she was reckless in courting danger, and
whatever came to her hand at such moments was likely to be used
as a defensive missile. He did not, as yet, see clearly just what
course she was likely to take, but his perplexity increased his
apprehension, and with it the sense that, before leaving, he must
speak again with Miss Bart. Whatever her share in the
situation--and he had always honestly tried to resist judging her
by her surroundings--however free she might be from any personal
connection with it, she would be better out of the way of a
possible crash; and since she had appealed to him for help, it
was clearly his business to tell her so.
This decision at last brought him to his feet, and carried him
back to the gambling rooms, within whose doors he had seen her
disappearing; but a prolonged exploration of the crowd
failed to put him on her traces. He saw instead, to his surprise,
Ned Silverton loitering somewhat ostentatiously about the tables;
and the discovery that this actor in the drama was not only
hovering in the wings, but actually inviting the exposure of the
footlights, though it might have seemed to imply that all peril
was over, served rather to deepen Selden's sense of foreboding.
Charged with this impression he returned to the square, hoping to
see Miss Bart move across it, as every one in Monte Carlo seemed
inevitably to do at least a dozen times a day; but here again he
waited vainly for a glimpse of her, and the conclusion was slowly
forced on him that she had gone back to the Sabrina. It would be
difficult to follow her there, and still more difficult, should
he do so, to contrive the opportunity for a private word; and he
had almost decided on the unsatisfactory alternative of writing,
when the ceaseless diorama of the square suddenly unrolled before
him the figures of Lord Hubert and Mrs. Bry.
Hailing them at once with his question, he learned from Lord
Hubert that Miss Bart had just returned to the Sabrina in
Dorset's company; an announcement so evidently disconcerting to
him that Mrs. Bry, after a glance from her companion, which
seemed to act like the pressure on a spring, brought forth the
prompt proposal that he should come and meet his friends at
dinner that evening--"At Becassin's--a little dinner to the
Duchess," she flashed out before Lord Hubert had time to remove
Selden's sense of the privilege of being included in such company
brought him early in the evening to the door of the restaurant,
where he paused to scan the ranks of diners approaching down the
brightly lit terrace. There, while the Brys hovered within over
the last agitating alternatives of the MENU, he kept watch for
the guests from the Sabrina, who at length rose on the horizon in
company with the Duchess, Lord and Lady Skiddaw and the Stepneys.
From this group it was easy for him to detach Miss Bart on the
pretext of a moment's glance into one of the brilliant shops
along the terrace, and to say to her, while they lingered
together in the white dazzle of a jeweller's window: "I stopped
over to see you--to beg of you to leave the yacht."
The eyes she turned on him showed a quick gleam of her former
fear. "To leave--? What do you mean? What has happened?"
"Nothing. But if anything should, why be in the way of it?"
The glare from the jeweller's window, deepening the pallour of
her face, gave to its delicate lines the sharpness of a tragic
mask. "Nothing will, I am sure; but while there's even a doubt
left, how can you think I would leave Bertha?"
The words rang out on a note of contempt--was it possibly of
contempt for himself? Well, he was willing to risk its renewal to
the extent of insisting, with an undeniable throb of added
interest: "You have yourself to think of, you know--" to which,
with a strange fall of sadness in her voice, she answered,
meeting his eyes: "If you knew how little difference that makes!"
"Oh, well, nothing WILL happen," he said, more for his own
reassurance than for hers; and "Nothing, nothing, of course!" she
valiantly assented, as they turned to overtake their companions.
In the thronged restaurant, taking their places about Mrs. Bry's
illuminated board, their confidence seemed to gain support from
the familiarity of their surroundings. Here were Dorset and his
wife once more presenting their customary faces to the world, she
engrossed in establishing her relation with an intensely new
gown, he shrinking with dyspeptic dread from the multiplied
solicitations of the MENU. The mere fact that they thus showed
themselves together, with the utmost openness the place afforded,
seemed to declare beyond a doubt that their differences were
composed. How this end had been attained was still matter for
wonder, but it was clear that for the moment Miss Bart rested
confidently in the result; and Selden tried to achieve the same
view by telling himself that her opportunities for observation
had been ampler than his own.
Meanwhile, as the dinner advanced through a labyrinth of courses,
in which it became clear that Mrs. Bry had occasionally broken
away from Lord Hubert's restraining hand, Selden's general
watchfulness began to lose itself in a particular study of Miss
Bart. It was one of the days when she was so handsome
that to be handsome was enough, and all the rest--her grace, her
quickness, her social felicities--seemed the overflow of a
bounteous nature. But what especially struck him was the way in
which she detached herself, by a hundred undefinable shades, from
the persons who most abounded in her own style. It was in just
such company, the fine flower and complete expression of the
state she aspired to, that the differences came out with special
poignancy, her grace cheapening the other women's smartness as
her finely-discriminated silences made their chatter dull. The
strain of the last hours had restored to her face the deeper
eloquence which Selden had lately missed in it, and the bravery
of her words to him still fluttered in her voice and eyes. Yes,
she was matchless--it was the one word for her; and he could give
his admiration the freer play because so little personal feeling
remained in it. His real detachment from her had taken place, not
at the lurid moment of disenchantment, but now, in the sober
after-light of discrimination, where he saw her definitely
divided from him by the crudeness of a choice which seemed to
deny the very differences he felt in her. It was before him again
in its completeness--the choice in which she was content to rest:
in the stupid costliness of the food and the showy dulness of the
talk, in the freedom of speech which never arrived at wit and the
freedom of act which never made for romance. The strident setting
of the restaurant, in which their table seemed set apart in a
special glare of publicity, and the presence at it of little
Dabham of the "Riviera Notes," emphasized the ideals of a world
where conspicuousness passed for distinction, and the society
column had become the roll of fame.
It was as the immortalizer of such occasions that little Dabham,
wedged in modest watchfulness between two brilliant neighbours,
suddenly became the centre of Selden's scrutiny. How much did he
know of what was going on, and how much, for his purpose, was
still worth finding out? His little eyes were like tentacles
thrown out to catch the floating intimations with which, to
Selden, the air at moments seemed thick; then again it cleared to
its normal emptiness, and he could see nothing in it for the
journalist but leisure to note the elegance of the ladies' gowns.
Mrs. Dorset's, in particular, challenged all the wealth
of Mr. Dabham's vocabulary: it had surprises and subtleties
worthy of what he would have called "the literary style." At
first, as Selden had noticed, it had been almost too preoccupying
to its wearer; but now she was in full command of it, and was
even producing her effects with unwonted freedom. Was she not,
indeed, too free, too fluent, for perfect naturalness? And was
not Dorset, to whom his glance had passed by a natural
transition, too jerkily wavering between the same extremes?
Dorset indeed was always jerky; but it seemed to Selden that
tonight each vibration swung him farther from his centre.
The dinner, meanwhile, was moving to its triumphant close, to the
evident satisfaction of Mrs. Bry, who, throned in apoplectic
majesty between Lord Skiddaw and Lord Hubert, seemed in spirit to
be calling on Mrs. Fisher to witness her achievement. Short of
Mrs. Fisher her audience might have been called complete; for the
restaurant was crowded with persons mainly gathered there for the
purpose of spectatorship, and accurately posted as to the names
and faces of the celebrities they had come to see. Mrs. Bry,
conscious that all her feminine guests came under that heading,
and that each one looked her part to admiration, shone on Lily
with all the pent-up gratitude that Mrs. Fisher had failed to
deserve. Selden, catching the glance, wondered what part Miss
Bart had played in organizing the entertainment. She did, at
least, a great deal to adorn it; and as he watched the bright
security with which she bore herself, he smiled to think that he
should have fancied her in need of help. Never had she appeared
more serenely mistress of the situation than when, at the moment
of dispersal, detaching herself a little from the group about the
table, she turned with a smile and a graceful slant of the
shoulders to receive her cloak from Dorset.
The dinner had been protracted over Mr. Bry's exceptional cigars
and a bewildering array of liqueurs, and many of the other tables
were empty; but a sufficient number of diners still lingered to
give relief to the leave-taking of Mrs. Bry's distinguished
guests. This ceremony was drawn out and complicated by the fact
that it involved, on the part of the Duchess and Lady Skiddaw,
definite farewells, and pledges of speedy reunion in Paris, where
they were to pause and re
plenish their wardrobes on the
way to England. The quality of Mrs. Bry's hospitality, and of the
tips her husband had presumably imparted, lent to the manner of
the English ladies a general effusiveness which shed the rosiest
light over their hostess's future. In its glow Mrs. Dorset and
the Stepneys were also visibly included, and the whole scene had
touches of intimacy worth their weight in gold to the watchful
pen of Mr. Dabham.
A glance at her watch caused the Duchess to exclaim to her sister
that they had just time to dash for their train, and the flurry
of this departure over, the Stepneys, who had their motor at the
door, offered to convey the Dorsets and Miss Bart to the quay.
The offer was accepted, and Mrs. Dorset moved away with her
husband in attendance. Miss Bart had lingered for a last word
with Lord Hubert, and Stepney, on whom Mr. Bry was pressing a
final, and still more expensive, cigar, called out: "Come on,
Lily, if you're going back to the yacht."
Lily turned to obey; but as she did so, Mrs. Dorset, who had
paused on her way out, moved a few steps back toward the table.
"Miss Bart is not going back to the yacht," she said in a voice
of singular distinctness.
A startled look ran from eye to eye; Mrs. Bry crimsoned to the
verge of congestion, Mrs. Stepney slipped nervously behind her
husband, and Selden, in the general turmoil of his sensations,
was mainly conscious of a longing to grip Dabham by the collar
and fling him out into the street.
Dorset, meanwhile, had stepped back to his wife's side. His face
was white, and he looked about him with cowed angry eyes.
"Bertha!--Miss Bart . . . this is some misunderstanding . . .
some mistake . . ."
"Miss Bart remains here," his wife rejoined incisively. "And, I
think, George, we had better not detain Mrs. Stepney any longer."
Miss Bart, during this brief exchange of words, remained in
admirable erectness, slightly isolated from the embarrassed group
about her. She had paled a little under the shock of the insult,
but the discomposure of the surrounding faces was not reflected
in her own. The faint disdain of her smile seemed to lift
her high above her antagonist's reach, and it was not till she
had given Mrs. Dorset the full measure of the distance between
them that she turned and extended her hand to her hostess.
"I am joining the Duchess tomorrow," she explained, "and it
seemed easier for me to remain on shore for the night."
She held firmly to Mrs. Bry's wavering eye while she gave this
explanation, but when it was over Selden saw her send a tentative
glance from one to another of the women's faces. She read their
incredulity in their averted looks, and in the mute wretchedness
of the men behind them, and for a miserable half-second he
thought she quivered on the brink of failure. Then, turning to
him with an easy gesture, and the pale bravery of her recovered
smile--"Dear Mr. Selden," she said, "you promised to see me to my
Outside, the sky was gusty and overcast, and as Lily and Selden
moved toward the deserted gardens below the restaurant, spurts of
warm rain blew fitfully against their faces. The fiction of the
cab had been tacitly abandoned; they walked on in silence, her
hand on his arm, till the deeper shade of the gardens received
them, and pausing beside a bench, he said: "Sit down a moment."
She dropped to the seat without answering, but the electric lamp
at the bend of the path shed a gleam on the struggling misery of
her face. Selden sat down beside her, waiting for her to speak,
fearful lest any word he chose should touch too roughly on her
wound, and kept also from free utterance by the wretched doubt
which had slowly renewed itself within him. What had brought her
to this pass? What weakness had placed her so abominably at her
enemy's mercy? And why should Bertha Dorset have turned into an
enemy at the very moment when she so obviously needed the support
of her sex? Even while his nerves raged at the subjection of husbands
to their wives, and at the cruelty of women to their kind,
reason obstinately harped on the proverbial relation between
smoke and fire. The memory of Mrs. Fisher's hints, and the
corroboration of his own impressions, while they deepened his pity
also increased his constraint, since, whichever way he sought a free
outlet for sympathy, it was blocked by the fear of committing a blunder.
Suddenly it struck him that his silence must seem almost as
accusatory as that of the men he had despised for turning from
her; but before he could find the fitting word she had cut him
short with a question.
"Do you know of a quiet hotel? I can send for my maid in the
"An hotel--HERE--that you can go to alone? It's not possible."
She met this with a pale gleam of her old playfulness. "What IS,
then? It's too wet to sleep in the gardens."
"But there must be some one---"
"Some one to whom I can go? Of course--any number--but at THIS
hour? You see my change of plan was rather sudden---"
"Good God--if you'd listened to me!" he cried, venting his
helplessness in a burst of anger.
She still held him off with the gentle mockery of her smile. "But
haven't I?" she rejoined. "You advised me to leave the yacht, and
I'm leaving it."
He saw then, with a pang of self-reproach, that she meant neither
to explain nor to defend herself; that by his miserable silence
he had forfeited all chance of helping her, and that the decisive
hour was past.
She had risen, and stood before him in a kind of clouded majesty,
like some deposed princess moving tranquilly to exile.
"Lily!" he exclaimed, with a note of despairing appeal; but--"Oh,
not now," she gently admonished him; and then, in all the
sweetness of her recovered composure: "Since I must find shelter
somewhere, and since you're so kindly here to help me---"
He gathered himself up at the challenge. "You will do as I tell
you? There's but one thing, then; you must go straight to your
cousins, the Stepneys."
"Oh--" broke from her with a movement of instinctive resistance;
but he insisted: "Come--it's late, and you must appear to have
gone there directly."
He had drawn her hand into his arm, but she held him back with a
last gesture of protest. "I can't--I can't--not that--you don't
know Gwen: you mustn't ask me!"
"I MUST ask you--you must obey me," he persisted, though infected
at heart by her own fear.
Her voice sank to a whisper: "And if she refuses?"--but, "Oh,
trust me--trust me!" he could only insist in return; and yielding
to his touch, she let him lead her back in silence to the edge of
In the cab they continued to remain silent through the brief
drive which carried them to the illuminated portals of the
Stepneys' hotel. Here he left her outside, in the darkness of the
raised hood, while his name was sent up to Stepney, and he paced
the showy hall, awaiting the latter's descent. Ten minutes later
the two men passed out together between the gold-laced custodians
of the threshold; but in the vestibule Stepney drew up with a
last flare of reluctance.
"It's understood, then?" he stipulated nervously, with his hand
on Selden's arm. "She leaves tomorrow by the early train--and my
wife's asleep, and can't be disturbed."
The blinds of Mrs. Peniston's drawing-room were drawn down
against the oppressive June sun, and in the sultry twilight the
faces of her assembled relatives took on a fitting shadow of
bereavement. They were all there: Van Alstynes, Stepneys and
Melsons--even a stray Peniston or two, indicating, by a greater
latitude in dress and manner, the fact of remoter relationship
and more settled hopes. The Peniston side was, in fact, secure in
the knowledge that the bulk of Mr. Peniston's property "went
back"; while the direct connection hung suspended on the disposal
of his widow's private fortune and on the uncertainty of its
extent. Jack Stepney, in his new character as the richest nephew,
tacitly took the lead, emphasizing his importance by the deeper
gloss of his mourning and the subdued authority of his manner;
while his wife's bored attitude and frivolous gown proclaimed the
heiress's disregard of the insignificant interests at stake. Old
Ned Van Alstyne, seated next to her in a coat that made
affliction dapper, twirled his white moustache to conceal the
eager twitch of his lips; and Grace Stepney, red-nosed and
smelling of crape, whispered emotionally to Mrs. Herbert Melson:
"I couldn't BEAR to see the Niagara anywhere else!"
A rustle of weeds and quick turning of heads hailed the opening
of the door, and Lily Bart appeared, tall and noble in her black
dress, with Gerty Farish at her side. The women's faces, as she
paused interrogatively on the threshold, were a study in
hesitation. One or two made faint motions of recognition, which
might have been subdued either by the solemnity of the scene, or
by the doubt as to how far the others meant to go; Mrs. Jack
Stepney gave a careless nod, and Grace Stepney, with a sepulchral
gesture, indicated a seat at her side. But Lily, ignoring the
invitation, as well as Jack Stepney's official attempt to direct
her, moved across the room with her smooth free gait, and seated
herself in a chair which seemed to have been purposely placed
apart from the others.
It was the first time that she had faced her family since her
return from Europe, two weeks earlier; but if she perceived
any uncertainty in their welcome, it served only to add a tinge
of irony to the usual composure of her bearing. The shock of
dismay with which, on the dock, she had heard from Gerty Farish
of Mrs. Peniston's sudden death, had been mitigated, almost at
once, by the irrepressible thought that now, at last, she would
be able to pay her debts. She had looked forward with
considerable uneasiness to her first encounter with her aunt.
Mrs. Peniston had vehemently opposed her niece's departure with
the Dorsets, and had marked her continued disapproval by not
writing during Lily's absence. The certainty that she had heard
of the rupture with the Dorsets made the prospect of the meeting
more formidable; and how should Lily have repressed a quick sense
of relief at the thought that, instead of undergoing the
anticipated ordeal, she had only to enter gracefully on a
long-assured inheritance? It had been, in the consecrated phrase,
"always understood" that Mrs. Peniston was to provide handsomely
for her niece; and in the latter's mind the understanding had
long since crystallized into fact.
"She gets everything, of course--I don't see what we're here
for," Mrs. Jack Stepney remarked with careless loudness to Ned
Van Alstyne; and the latter's deprecating murmur--"Julia was
always a just woman"--might have been interpreted as signifying
either acquiescence or doubt.
"Well, it's only about four hundred thousand," Mrs. Stepney
rejoined with a yawn; and Grace Stepney, in the silence produced
by the lawyer's preliminary cough, was heard to sob out: "They
won't find a towel missing--I went over them with her the very
Lily, oppressed by the close atmosphere, and the stifling odour
of fresh mourning, felt her attention straying as Mrs. Peniston's
lawyer, solemnly erect behind the Buhl table at the end of the
room, began to rattle through the preamble of the will.
"It's like being in church," she reflected, wondering vaguely
where Gwen Stepney had got such an awful hat. Then she noticed
how stout Jack had grown--he would soon be almost as plethoric as
Herbert Melson, who sat a few feet off, breathing puffily as he
leaned his black-gloved hands on his stick.
"I wonder why rich people always grow fat--I suppose it's because
there's nothing to worry them. If I inherit, I shall have to be
careful of my figure," she mused, while the lawyer droned on
through a labyrinth of legacies. The servants came first, then a
few charitable institutions, then several remoter Melsons and
Stepneys, who stirred consciously as their names rang out, and
then subsided into a state of impassiveness befitting the
solemnity of the occasion. Ned Van Alstyne, Jack Stepney, and a
cousin or two followed, each coupled with the mention of a few
thousands: Lily wondered that Grace Stepney was not among them.
Then she heard her own name--"to my niece Lily Bart ten thousand
dollars--" and after that the lawyer again lost himself in a coil
of unintelligible periods, from which the concluding phrase
flashed out with startling distinctness: "and the residue of my
estate to my dear cousin and name-sake, Grace Julia Stepney."
There was a subdued gasp of surprise, a rapid turning of heads,
and a surging of sable figures toward the corner in which Miss
Stepney wailed out her sense of unworthiness through the crumpled
ball of a black-edged handkerchief.
Lily stood apart from the general movement, feeling herself for
the first time utterly alone. No one looked at her, no one seemed
aware of her presence; she was probing the very depths of
insignificance. And under her sense of the collective
indifference came the acuter pang of hopes deceived.
Disinherited--she had been disinherited--and for Grace Stepney!
She met Gerty's lamentable eyes, fixed on her in a despairing
effort at consolation, and the look brought her to herself. There
was something to be done before she left the house: to be done
with all the nobility she knew how to put into such gestures. She
advanced to the group about Miss Stepney, and holding out her
hand said simply: "Dear Grace, I am so glad."
The other ladies had fallen back at her approach, and a space
created itself about her. It widened as she turned to go, and no
one advanced to fill it up. She paused a moment, glancing about
her, calmly taking the measure of her situation. She heard some
one ask a question about the date of the will; she caught a
fragment of the lawyer's answer--something about a sudden
summons, and an "earlier instru
ment." Then the tide of
dispersal began to drift past her; Mrs. Jack Stepney and Mrs.
Herbert Melson stood on the doorstep awaiting their motor; a
sympathizing group escorted Grace Stepney to the cab it was felt
to be fitting she should take, though she lived but a street or
two away; and Miss Bart and Gerty found themselves almost alone
in the purple drawing-room, which more than ever, in its stuffy
dimness, resembled a well-kept family vault, in which the last
corpse had just been decently deposited.
In Gerty Farish's sitting-room, whither a hansom had carried the
two friends, Lily dropped into a chair with a faint sound of
laughter: it struck her as a humorous coincidence that her aunt's
legacy should so nearly represent the amount of her debt to
Trenor. The need of discharging that debt had reasserted itself
with increased urgency since her return to America, and she spoke
her first thought in saying to the anxiously hovering Gerty: "I
wonder when the legacies will be paid."
But Miss Farish could not pause over the legacies; she broke into
a larger indignation. "Oh, Lily, it's unjust; it's cruel--Grace
Stepney must FEEL she has no right to all that money!"
"Any one who knew how to please Aunt Julia has a right to her
money," Miss Bart rejoined philosophically.
"But she was devoted to you--she led every one to think--" Gerty
checked herself in evident embarrassment, and Miss Bart turned to
her with a direct look. "Gerty, be honest: this will was made
only six weeks ago. She had heard of my break with the Dorsets?"
"Every one heard, of course, that there had been some
"Did she hear that Bertha turned me off the yacht?"
"That was what happened, you know. She said I was trying to marry
George Dorset. She did it to make him think she was jealous.
Isn't that what she told Gwen Stepney?"
"I don't know--I don't listen to such horrors."
"I MUST listen to them--I must know where I stand." She paused,
and again sounded a faint note of derision. "Did you
notice the women? They were afraid to snub me while they thought
I was going to get the money--afterward they scuttled off as if I
had the plague." Gerty remained silent, and she continued: "I
stayed on to see what would happen. They took their cue from Gwen
Stepney and Lulu Melson--I saw them watching to see what Gwen
would do.--Gerty, I must know just what is being said of me."
"I tell you I don't listen---"
"One hears such things without listening." She rose and laid her
resolute hands on Miss Farish's shoulders. "Gerty, are people
going to cut me?"
"Your FRIENDS, Lily--how can you think it?"
"Who are one's friends at such a time? Who, but you, you poor
trustful darling? And heaven knows what YOU suspect me of!" She
kissed Gerty with a whimsical murmur. "You'd never let it make
any difference--but then you're fond of criminals, Gerty! How
about the irreclaimable ones, though? For I'm absolutely
impenitent, you know."
She drew herself up to the full height of her slender majesty,
towering like some dark angel of defiance above the troubled
Gerty, who could only falter out: "Lily, Lily--how can you laugh
about such things?"
"So as not to weep, perhaps. But no--I'm not of the tearful
order. I discovered early that crying makes my nose red, and the
knowledge has helped me through several painful episodes." She
took a restless turn about the room, and then, reseating herself,
lifted the bright mockery of her eyes to Gerty's anxious
"I shouldn't have minded, you know, if I'd got the money--" and
at Miss Farish's protesting "Oh!" she repeated calmly: "Not a
straw, my dear; for, in the first place, they wouldn't have quite
dared to ignore me; and if they had, it wouldn't have mattered,
because I should have been independent of them. But now--!" The
irony faded from her eyes, and she bent a clouded face upon her
"How can you talk so, Lily? Of course the money ought to have
been yours, but after all that makes no difference. The important
thing---" Gerty paused, and then continued firmly: "The important
thing is that you should clear yourself--should tell your friends
the whole truth."
"The whole truth?" Miss Bart laughed. "What is truth? Where a
woman is concerned, it's the story that's easiest to believe. In
this case it's a great deal easier to believe Bertha Dorset's
story than mine, because she has a big house and an opera box,
and it's convenient to be on good terms with her."
Miss Farish still fixed her with an anxious gaze. "But what IS
your story, Lily? I don't believe any one knows it yet."
"My story?--I don't believe I know it myself. You see I never
thought of preparing a version in advance as Bertha did--and if I
had, I don't think I should take the trouble to use it now."
But Gerty continued with her quiet reasonableness: "I don't want
a version prepared in advance--but I want you to tell me exactly
what happened from the beginning."
"From the beginning?" Miss Bart gently mimicked her. "Dear Gerty,
how little imagination you good people have! Why, the beginning
was in my cradle, I suppose--in the way I was brought up, and the
things I was taught to care for. Or no--I won't blame anybody for
my faults: I'll say it was in my blood, that I got it from some
wicked pleasure-loving ancestress, who reacted against the homely
virtues of New Amsterdam, and wanted to be back at the court of
the Charleses!" And as Miss Farish continued to press her with
troubled eyes, she went on impatiently: "You asked me just now
for the truth--well, the truth about any girl is that once she's
talked about she's done for; and the more she explains her case
the worse it looks.--My good Gerty, you don't happen to have a
cigarette about you?"
In her stuffy room at the hotel to which she had gone on landing,
Lily Bart that evening reviewed her situation. It was the last
week in June, and none of her friends were in town. The few
relatives who had stayed on, or returned, for the reading of Mrs.
Peniston's will, had taken flight again that afternoon to Newport
or Long Island; and not one of them had made any proffer of
hospitality to Lily. For the first time in her life she found
herself utterly alone except for Gerty Farish. Even at the actual
moment of her break with the Dorsets she had not had so keen a
sense of its consequences, for the Duchess of Beltshire,
hearing of the catastrophe from Lord Hubert, had instantly
offered her protection, and under her sheltering wing Lily had
made an almost triumphant progress to London. There she had been
sorely tempted to linger on in a society which asked of her only
to amuse and charm it, without enquiring too curiously how she
had acquired her gift for doing so; but Selden, before they
parted, had pressed on her the urgent need of returning at once
to her aunt, and Lord Hubert, when he presently reappeared in
London, abounded in the same counsel. Lily did not need to be
told that the Duchess's championship was not the best road to
social rehabilitation, and as she was besides aware that her
noble defender might at any moment drop her in favour of a new
PROTEGEE, she reluctantly decided to return to America. But she
had not been ten minutes on her native shore before she realized
that she had delayed too long to regain it. The Dorsets, the
Stepneys, the Brys--all the actors and witnesses in the miserable
drama--had preceded her with their version of the case; and, even
had she seen the least chance of gaining a hearing for her own,
some obscure disdain and reluctance would have restrained her.
She knew it was not by explanations and counter-charges that she
could ever hope to recover her lost standing; but even had she
felt the least trust in their efficacy, she would still have been
held back by the feeling which had kept her from defending
herself to Gerty Farish--a feeling that was half pride and half
humiliation. For though she knew she had been ruthlessly
sacrificed to Bertha Dorset's determination to win back her
husband, and though her own relation to Dorset had been that of
the merest good-fellowship, yet she had been perfectly aware from
the outset that her part in the affair was, as Carry Fisher
brutally put it, to distract Dorset's attention from his wife.
That was what she was "there for": it was the price she had
chosen to pay for three months of luxury and freedom from care.
Her habit of resolutely facing the facts, in her rare moments of
introspection, did not now allow her to put any false gloss on
the situation. She had suffered for the very faithfulness with
which she had carried out her part of the tacit compact, but the
part was not a handsome one at best, and she saw it now in all
the ugliness of failure.
She saw, too, in the same uncompromising light, the train of
consequences resulting from that failure; and these became
clearer to her with every day of her weary lingering in town. She
stayed on partly for the comfort of Gerty Farish's nearness, and
partly for lack of knowing where to go. She understood well
enough the nature of the task before her. She must set out to
regain, little by little, the position she had lost; and the
first step in the tedious task was to find out, as soon as
possible, on how many of her friends she could count. Her hopes
were mainly centred on Mrs. Trenor, who had treasures of
easy-going tolerance for those who were amusing or useful to her,
and in the noisy rush of whose existence the still small voice of
detraction was slow to make itself heard. But Judy, though she
must have been apprised of Miss Bart's return, had not even
recognized it by the formal note of condolence which her friend's
bereavement demanded. Any advance on Lily's side might have been
perilous: there was nothing to do but to trust to the happy
chance of an accidental meeting, and Lily knew that, even so late
in the season, there was always a hope of running across her
friends in their frequent passages through town.
To this end she assiduously showed herself at the restaurants
they frequented, where, attended by the troubled Gerty, she
lunched luxuriously, as she said, on her expectations.
"My dear Gerty, you wouldn't have me let the head-waiter see that
I've nothing to live on but Aunt Julia's legacy? Think of Grace
Stepney's satisfaction if she came in and found us lunching on
cold mutton and tea! What sweet shall we have today, dear--COUPE
JACQUES or PECHES A LA MELBA?"
She dropped the MENU abruptly, with a quick heightening of
colour, and Gerty, following her glance, was aware of the
advance, from an inner room, of a party headed by Mrs. Trenor and
Carry Fisher. It was impossible for these ladies and their
companions--among whom Lily had at once distinguished both Trenor
and Rosedale--not to pass, in going out, the table at which the
two girls were seated; and Gerty's sense of the fact betrayed
itself in the helpless trepidation of her manner. Miss Bart, on
the contrary, borne forward on the wave of her buoyant grace, and
neither shrinking from her friends nor appearing to lie in wait
for them, gave to the encounter the touch of naturalness
which she could impart to the most strained situations. Such
embarrassment as was shown was on Mrs. Trenor's side, and
manifested itself in the mingling of exaggerated warmth with
imperceptible reservations. Her loudly affirmed pleasure at
seeing Miss Bart took the form of a nebulous generalization,
which included neither enquiries as to her future nor the
expression of a definite wish to see her again. Lily, well-versed
in the language of these omissions, knew that they were equally
intelligible to the other members of the party: even Rosedale,
flushed as he was with the importance of keeping such company, at
once took the temperature of Mrs. Trenor's cordiality, and
reflected it in his off-hand greeting of Miss Bart. Trenor, red
and uncomfortable, had cut short his salutations on the pretext
of a word to say to the head-waiter; and the rest of the group
soon melted away in Mrs. Trenor's wake.
It was over in a moment--the waiter, MENU in hand, still hung on
the result of the choice between COUPE JACQUES and PECHES A LA
MELBA--but Miss Bart, in the interval, had taken the measure of
her fate. Where Judy Trenor led, all the world would follow; and
Lily had the doomed sense of the castaway who has signalled in
vain to fleeing sails.
In a flash she remembered Mrs. Trenor's complaints of Carry
Fisher's rapacity, and saw that they denoted an unexpected
acquaintance with her husband's private affairs. In the large
tumultuous disorder of the life at Bellomont, where no one seemed
to have time to observe any one else, and private aims and
personal interests were swept along unheeded in the rush of
collective activities, Lily had fancied herself sheltered from
inconvenient scrutiny; but if Judy knew when Mrs. Fisher borrowed
money of her husband, was she likely to ignore the same
transaction on Lily's part? If she was careless of his affections
she was plainly jealous of his pocket; and in that fact Lily read
the explanation of her rebuff. The immediate result of these
conclusions was the passionate resolve to pay back her debt to
Trenor. That obligation discharged, she would have but a thousand
dollars of Mrs. Peniston's legacy left, and nothing to live on
but her own small income, which was considerably less than Gerty
Farish's wretched pittance; but this consideration gave way to
the imperative claim of her wounded pride. She must be
quits with the Trenors first; after that she would take thought
for the future.
In her ignorance of legal procrastinations she had supposed that
her legacy would be paid over within a few days of the reading of
her aunt's will; and after an interval of anxious suspense, she
wrote to enquire the cause of the delay. There was another
interval before Mrs. Peniston's lawyer, who was also one of the
executors, replied to the effect that, some questions having
arisen relative to the interpretation of the will, he and his
associates might not be in a position to pay the legacies till
the close of the twelvemonth legally allotted for their
settlement. Bewildered and indignant, Lily resolved to try the
effect of a personal appeal; but she returned from her expedition
with a sense of the powerlessness of beauty and charm against the
unfeeling processes of the law. It seemed intolerable to live on
for another year under the weight of her debt; and in her
extremity she decided to turn to Miss Stepney, who still lingered
in town, immersed in the delectable duty of "going over" her
benefactress's effects. It was bitter enough for Lily to ask a
favour of Grace Stepney, but the alternative was bitterer still;
and one morning she presented herself at Mrs. Peniston's, where
Grace, for the facilitation of her pious task, had taken up a
The strangeness of entering as a suppliant the house where she
had so long commanded, increased Lily's desire to shorten the
ordeal; and when Miss Stepney entered the darkened drawing-room,
rustling with the best quality of crape, her visitor went
straight to the point: would she be willing to advance the amount
of the expected legacy?
Grace, in reply, wept and wondered at the request, bemoaned the
inexorableness of the law, and was astonished that Lily had not
realized the exact similarity of their positions. Did she think
that only the payment of the legacies had been delayed? Why, Miss
Stepney herself had not received a penny of her inheritance, and
was paying rent--yes, actually!--for the privilege of living in a
house that belonged to her. She was sure it was not what poor
dear cousin Julia would have wished--she had told the executors
so to their faces; but they were inaccessible to reason, and
there was nothing to do but to wait. Let Lily take example by
her, and be patient--let them both remember how
beautifully patient cousin Julia had always been.
Lily made a movement which showed her imperfect assimilation of
this example. "But you will have everything, Grace--it would be
easy for you to borrow ten times the amount I am asking for."
"Borrow--easy for me to borrow?" Grace Stepney rose up before her
in sable wrath. "Do you imagine for a moment that I would raise
money on my expectations from cousin Julia, when I know so well
her unspeakable horror of every transaction of the sort? Why,
Lily, if you must know the truth, it was the idea of your being
in debt that brought on her illness--you remember she had a
slight attack before you sailed. Oh, I don't know the
particulars, of course--I don't WANT to know them--but there were
rumours about your affairs that made her most unhappy--no one
could be with her without seeing that. I can't help it if you are
offended by my telling you this now--if I can do anything to make
you realize the folly of your course, and how deeply SHE
disapproved of it, I shall feel it is the truest way of making up
to you for her loss.
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