House of Mirth
Edith Wharton

Part 6 out of 8

It seemed to Lily, as Mrs. Peniston's door closed on her, that
she was taking a final leave of her old life. The future
stretched before her dull and bare as the deserted length of
Fifth Avenue, and opportunities showed as meagrely as the few
cabs trailing in quest of fares that did not come. The
completeness of the analogy was, however, disturbed as she
reached the sidewalk by the rapid approach of a hansom which
pulled up at sight of her.

From beneath its luggage-laden top, she caught the wave of a
signalling hand; and the next moment Mrs. Fisher, springing to
the street, had folded her in a demonstrative embrace.

"My dear, you don't mean to say you're still in town? When I saw
you the other day at Sherry's I didn't have time to ask---" She
broke off, and added with a burst of frankness: "The truth is I
was HORRID, Lily, and I've wanted to tell you so ever since."

"Oh---" Miss Bart protested, drawing back from her penitent
clasp; but Mrs. Fisher went on with her usual directness: "Look
here, Lily, don't let's beat about the bush: half the trouble in
life is caused by pretending there isn't any. That's not my way,
and I can only say I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself for following
the other women's lead. But we'll talk of that by and bye--tell
me now where you're staying and what your plans are. I don't
suppose you're keeping house in there with Grace Stepney,
eh?--and it struck me you might be rather at loose ends."

In Lily's present mood there was no resisting the honest
friendliness of this appeal, and she said with a smile: "I am at
loose ends for the moment, but Gerty Farish is still in town, and
she's good enough to let me be with her whenever she can spare
the time."

Mrs. Fisher made a slight grimace. "H'm--that's a temperate joy.
Oh, I know--Gerty's a trump, and worth all the rest of us put
together; but A LA LONGUE you're used to a little higher
seasoning, aren't you, dear? And besides, I suppose she'll be off
herself before long--the first of August, you say? Well,
look here, you can't spend your summer in town; we'll talk of
that later too. But meanwhile, what do you say to putting a few
things in a trunk and coming down with me to the Sam Gormers'

And as Lily stared at the breathless suddenness of the
suggestion, she continued with her easy laugh: "You don't know
them and they don't know you; but that don't make a rap of
difference. They've taken the Van Alstyne place at Roslyn, and
I've got CARTE BLANCHE to bring my friends down there--the more
the merrier. They do things awfully well, and there's to be
rather a jolly party there this week---" she broke off, checked
by an undefinable change in Miss Bart's expression. "Oh, I don't
mean YOUR particular set, you know: rather a different crowd, but
very good fun. The fact is, the Gormers have struck out on a line
of their own: what they want is to have a good time, and to have
it in their own way. They gave the other thing a few months'
trial, under my distinguished auspices, and they were really
doing extremely well--getting on a good deal faster than the
Brys, just because they didn't care as much--but suddenly they
decided that the whole business bored them, and that what they
wanted was a crowd they could really feel at home with. Rather
original of them, don't you think so? Mattie Gormer HAS got
aspirations still; women always have; but she's awfully
easy-going, and Sam won't be bothered, and they both like to be
the most important people in sight, so they've started a sort of
continuous performance of their own, a kind of social Coney
Island, where everybody is welcome who can make noise enough and
doesn't put on airs. I think it's awfully good fun myself--some
of the artistic set, you know, any pretty actress that's going,
and so on. This week, for instance, they have Audrey Anstell, who
made such a hit last spring in 'The Winning of Winny'; and Paul
Morpeth--he's painting Mattie Gormer--and the Dick Bellingers,
and Kate Corby--well, every one you can think of who's jolly and
makes a row. Now don't stand there with your nose in the air, my
dear--it will be a good deal better than a broiling Sunday in
town, and you'll find clever people as well as noisy
ones--Morpeth, who admires Mattie enormously, always brings one
or two of his set."

Mrs. Fisher drew Lily toward the hansom with friendly authority.
"Jump in now, there's a dear, and we'll drive round to your hotel
and have your things packed, and then we'll have tea, and the two
maids can meet us at the train."

It was a good deal better than a broiling Sunday in town--of
that no doubt remained to Lily as, reclining in the shade of a
leafy verandah, she looked seaward across a stretch of greensward
picturesquely dotted with groups of ladies in lace raiment and
men in tennis flannels. The huge Van Alstyne house and its
rambling dependencies were packed to their fullest capacity with
the Gormers' week-end guests, who now, in the radiance of the
Sunday forenoon, were dispersing themselves over the grounds in
quest of the various distractions the place afforded:
distractions ranging from tennis-courts to shooting-galleries,
from bridge and whiskey within doors to motors and steam-launches
without. Lily had the odd sense of having been caught up into the
crowd as carelessly as a passenger is gathered in by an express
train. The blonde and genial Mrs. Gormer might, indeed, have
figured the conductor, calmly assigning seats to the rush of
travellers, while Carry Fisher represented the porter pushing
their bags into place, giving them their numbers for the
dining-car, and warning them when their station was at hand. The
train, meanwhile, had scarcely slackened speed--life whizzed on
with a deafening' rattle and roar, in which one traveller at
least found a welcome refuge from the sound of her own thoughts.
The Gormer MILIEU represented a social out-skirt which Lily had
always fastidiously avoided; but it struck her, now that she was
in it, as only a flamboyant copy of her own world, a caricature
approximating the real thing as the "society play" approaches the
manners of the drawing-room. The people about her were doing the
same things as the Trenors, the Van Osburghs and the Dorsets: the
difference lay in a hundred shades of aspect and manner, from the
pattern of the men's waistcoats to the inflexion of the women's
voices. Everything was pitched in a higher key, and there was
more of each thing: more noise, more colour, more champagne, more
familiarity--but also greater good-nature, less rivalry, and a
fresher capacity for enjoyment.

Miss Bart's arrival had been welcomed with an uncritical
friendliness that first irritated her pride and then brought her
to a sharp sense of her own situation--of the place in life
which, for the moment, she must accept and make the best of.
These people knew her story--of that her first long talk with
Carry Fisher had left no doubt: she was publicly branded as the
heroine of a "queer" episode--but instead of shrinking from her
as her own friends had done, they received her without question
into the easy promiscuity of their lives. They swallowed her past
as easily as they did Miss Anstell's, and with no apparent sense
of any difference in the size of the mouthful: all they asked was
that she should--in her own way, for they recognized a diversity
of gifts--contribute as much to the general amusement as that
graceful actress, whose talents, when off the stage, were of the
most varied order. Lily felt at once that any tendency to be
"stuck-up," to mark a sense of differences and distinctions,
would be fatal to her continuance in the Gormer set. To be taken
in on such terms--and into such a world!--was hard enough to the
lingering pride in her; but she realized, with a pang of
self-contempt, that to be excluded from it would, after all, be
harder still. For, almost at once, she had felt the insidious
charm of slipping back into a life where every material
difficulty was smoothed away. The sudden escape from a stifling
hotel in a dusty deserted city to the space and luxury of a great
country-house fanned by sea breezes, had produced a state of
moral lassitude agreeable enough after the nervous tension and
physical discomfort of the past weeks. For the moment she must
yield to the refreshment her senses craved--after that she would
reconsider her situation, and take counsel with her dignity. Her
enjoyment of her surroundings was, indeed, tinged by the
unpleasant consideration that she was accepting the hospitality
and courting the approval of people she had disdained under other
conditions. But she was growing less sensitive on such points: a
hard glaze of indifference was fast forming over her delicacies
and susceptibilities, and each concession to expediency hardened
the surface a little more.

On the Monday, when the party disbanded with uproarious adieux,
the return to town threw into stronger relief the charms of the
life she was leaving. The other guests were dis

persing to
take up the same existence in a different setting: some at
Newport, some at Bar Harbour, some in the elaborate rusticity of
an Adirondack camp. Even Gerty Farish, who welcomed Lily's return
with tender solicitude, would soon be preparing to join the aunt
with whom she spent her summers on Lake George: only Lily herself
remained without plan or purpose, stranded in a backwater of the
great current of pleasure. But Carry Fisher, who had insisted on
transporting her to her own house, where she herself was to perch
for a day or two on the way to the Brys' camp, came to the rescue
with a new suggestion.

"Look here, Lily--I'll tell you what it is: I want you to take my
place with Mattie Gormer this summer. They're taking a party out
to Alaska next month in their private car, and Mattie, who is the
laziest woman alive, wants me to go with them, and relieve her of
the bother of arranging things; but the Brys want me too--oh,
yes, we've made it up: didn't I tell you?--and, to put it
frankly, though I like the Gormers best, there's more profit for
me in the Brys. The fact is, they want to try Newport this
summer, and if I can make it a success for them they--well,
they'll make it a success for me." Mrs. Fisher clasped her hands
enthusiastically. "Do you know, Lily, the more I think of my idea
the better I like it--quite as much for you as for myself. The
Gormers have both taken a tremendous fancy to you, and the trip
to Alaska is--well--the very thing I should want for you just at

Miss Bart lifted her eyes with a keen glance. "To take me out of
my friends' way, you mean?" she said quietly; and Mrs. Fisher
responded with a deprecating kiss: "To keep you out of their
sight till they realize how much they miss you."

Miss Bart went with the Gormers to Alaska; and the expedition, if
it did not produce the effect anticipated by her friend, had at
least the negative advantage of removing her from the fiery
centre of criticism and discussion. Gerty Farish had opposed the
plan with all the energy of her somewhat inarticulate nature. She
had even offered to give up her visit to Lake George, and remain
in town with Miss Bart, if the latter would renounce her journey;
but Lily could disguise her real distaste for this plan under a
sufficiently valid reason.

"You dear innocent, don't you see," she protested, "that Carry is
quite right, and that I must take Up my usual life, and go about
among people as much as possible? If my old friends choose to
believe lies about me I shall have to make new ones, that's all;
and you know beggars mustn't be choosers. Not that I don't like
Mattie Gormer--I DO like her: she's kind and honest and
unaffected; and don't you suppose I feel grateful to her for
making me welcome at a time when, as you've yourself seen, my own
family have unanimously washed their hands of me?"

Gerty shook her head, mutely unconvinced. She felt not only that
Lily was cheapening herself by making use of an intimacy she
would never have cultivated from choice, but that, in drifting
back now to her former manner of life, she was forfeiting her
last chance of ever escaping from it. Gerty had but an obscure
conception of what Lily's actual experience had been: but its
consequences had established a lasting hold on her pity since the
memorable night when she had offered up her own secret hope to
her friend's extremity. To characters like Gerty's such a
sacrifice constitutes a moral claim on the part of the person in
whose behalf it has been made. Having once helped Lily, she must
continue to help her; and helping her, must believe in her,
because faith is the main-spring of such natures. But even if
Miss Bart, after her renewed taste of the amenities of life,
could have returned to the barrenness of a New York August,
mitigated only by poor Gerty's presence, her worldly wisdom would
have counselled her against such an act of abnegation. She knew
that Carry Fisher was right: that an opportune absence might be
the first step toward rehabilitation, and that, at any rate, to
linger on in town out of season was a fatal admission of defeat.
From the Gormers' tumultuous progress across their native
continent, she returned with an altered view of her situation.
The renewed habit of luxury--the daily waking to an assured
absence of care and presence of material ease--gradually blunted
her appreciation of these values, and left her more conscious of
the void they could not fill. Mattie Gormer's undiscriminating
good-nature, and the slap-dash sociability of her friends, who
treated Lily precisely as they treated each other--all these
characteristic notes of difference began to wear upon her
endurance; and the more she saw to criticize in her companions,
the less justification she found for making use of them. The
longing to get back to her former surroundings hardened to a
fixed idea; but with the strengthening of her purpose came the
inevitable perception that, to attain it, she must exact fresh
concessions from her pride. These, for the moment, took the
unpleasant form of continuing to cling to her hosts after their
return from Alaska. Little as she was in the key of their MILIEU,
her immense social facility, her long habit of adapting herself
to others without suffering her own outline to be blurred, the
skilled manipulation of all the polished implements of her craft,
had won for her an important place in the Gormer group. If their
resonant hilarity could never be hers, she contributed a note of
easy elegance more valuable to Mattie Gormer than the louder
passages of the band. Sam Gormer and his special cronies stood
indeed a little in awe of her; but Mattie's following, headed by
Paul Morpeth, made her feel that they prized her for the very
qualities they most conspicuously lacked. If Morpeth, whose
social indolence was as great as his artistic activity, had
abandoned himself to the easy current of the Gormer existence,
where the minor exactions of politeness were unknown or ignored,
and a man could either break his engagements, or keep them in a
painting-jacket and slippers, he still preserved his sense of
differences, and his appreciation of graces he had no time to
cultivate. During the preparations for the Brys' TABLEAUX he had
been immensely struck by Lily's plastic possibilities--"not the
face: too self-controlled for expression; but the rest of
her--gad, what a model she'd make!"--and though his abhorrence of
the world in which he had seen her was too great for him to think
of seeking her there, he was fully alive to the privilege of
having her to look at and listen to while he lounged in Mattie
Gormer's dishevelled drawing-room.

Lily had thus formed, in the tumult of her surroundings, a little
nucleus of friendly relations which mitigated the crudeness of
her course in lingering with the Gormers after their return. Nor
was she without pale glimpses of her own world, especially since
the breaking-up of the Newport season had set the social current
once more toward Long Island. Kate Corby, whose tastes
made her as promiscuous as Carry Fisher was rendered by her
necessities, occasionally descended on the Gormers, where, after
a first stare of surprise, she took Lily's presence almost too
much as a matter of course. Mrs. Fisher, too, appearing
frequently in the neighbourhood, drove over to impart her
experiences and give Lily what she called the latest report from
the weather-bureau; and the latter, who had never directly
invited her confidence, could yet talk with her more freely than
with Gerty Farish, in whose presence it was impossible even to
admit the existence of much that Mrs. Fisher conveniently took
for granted.

Mrs. Fisher, moreover, had no embarrassing curiosity. She did not
wish to probe the inwardness of Lily's situation, but simply to
view it from the outside, and draw her conclusions accordingly;
and these conclusions, at the end of a confidential talk, she
summed up to her friend in the succinct remark: "You must marry
as soon as you can."

Lily uttered a faint laugh--for once Mrs. Fisher lacked
originality. "Do you mean, like Gerty Farish, to recommend the
unfailing panacea of 'a good man's love'?"

"No--I don't think either of my candidates would answer to that
description," said Mrs. Fisher after a pause of reflection.

"Either? Are there actually two?"

"Well, perhaps I ought to say one and a half--for the moment."

Miss Bart received this with increasing amusement. "Other things
being equal, I think I should prefer a half-husband: who is he?"
"Don't fly out at me till you hear my reasons--George Dorset."

"Oh---" Lily murmured reproachfully; but Mrs. Fisher pressed on
unrebuffed. "Well, why not? They had a few weeks' honeymoon when
they first got back from Europe, but now things are going badly
with them again. Bertha has been behaving more than ever like a
madwoman, and George's powers of credulity are very nearly
exhausted. They're at their place here, you know, and I spent
last Sunday with them. It was a ghastly party--no one else but
poor Neddy Silverton, who looks like a galley-slave (they used to
talk of my making that poor boy unhappy!)--and after
luncheon George carried me off on a long walk, and told me the
end would have to come soon."

Miss Bart made an incredulous gesture. "As far as that goes, the
end will never come--Bertha will always know how to get him back
when she wants him."

Mrs. Fisher continued to observe her tentatively. "Not if he has
any one else to turn to! Yes--that's just what it comes to: the
poor creature can't stand alone. And I remember him such a good
fellow, full of life and enthusiasm." She paused, and went on,
dropping her glance from Lily's: "He wouldn't stay with her ten
minutes if he KNEW---"

"Knew---?" Miss Bart repeated.

"What YOU must, for instance--with the opportunities you've had!
If he had positive proof, I mean---"

Lily interrupted her with a deep blush of displeasure. "Please
let us drop the subject, Carry: it's too odious to me." And to
divert her companion's attention she added, with an attempt at
lightness: "And your second candidate? We must not forget him."

Mrs. Fisher echoed her laugh. "I wonder if you'll cry out just as
loud if I say--Sim Rosedale?"

Miss Bart did not cry out: she sat silent, gazing thoughtfully at
her friend. The suggestion, in truth, gave expression to a
possibility which, in the last weeks, had more than once recurred
to her; but after a moment she said carelessly: "Mr. Rosedale
wants a wife who can establish him in the bosom of the Van
Osburghs and Trenors."

Mrs. Fisher caught her up eagerly. "And so YOU could--with his
money! Don't you see how beautifully it would work out for you

"I don't see any way of making him see it," Lily returned, with a
laugh intended to dismiss the subject.

But in reality it lingered with her long after Mrs. Fisher had
taken leave. She had seen very little of Rosedale since her
annexation by the Gormers, for he was still steadily bent on
penetrating to the inner Paradise from which she was now
excluded; but once or twice, when nothing better offered, he had
turned up for a Sunday, and on these occasions he had left her in
no doubt as to his view of her situation. That he still
admired her was, more than ever, offensively evident; for in the
Gormer circle, where he expanded as in his native element, there
were no puzzling conventions to check the full expression of his
approval. But it was in the quality of his admiration that she
read his shrewd estimate of her case. He enjoyed letting the
Gormers see that he had known "Miss Lily"--she was "Miss Lily" to
him now--before they had had the faintest social existence:
enjoyed more especially impressing Paul Morpeth with the distance
to which their intimacy dated back. But he let it be felt that
that intimacy was a mere ripple on the surface of a rushing
social current, the kind of relaxation which a man of large
interests and manifold preoccupations permits himself in his
hours of ease.

The necessity of accepting this view of their past relation, and
of meeting it in the key of pleasantry prevalent among her new
friends, was deeply humiliating to Lily. But she dared less than
ever to quarrel with Rosedale. She suspected that her rejection
rankled among the most unforgettable of his rebuffs, and the fact
that he knew something of her wretched transaction with Trenor,
and was sure to put the basest construction on it, seemed to
place her hopelessly in his power. Yet at Carry Fisher's
suggestion a new hope had stirred in her. Much as she disliked
Rosedale, she no longer absolutely despised him. For he was
gradually attaining his object in life, and that, to Lily, was
always less despicable than to miss it. With the slow unalterable
persistency which she had always felt in him, he was making his
way through the dense mass of social antagonisms. Already his
wealth, and the masterly use he had made of it, were giving him
an enviable prominence in the world of affairs, and placing Wall
Street under obligations which only Fifth Avenue could repay. In
response to these claims, his name began to figure on municipal
committees and charitable boards; he appeared at banquets to
distinguished strangers, and his candidacy at one of the
fashionable clubs was discussed with diminishing opposition. He
had figured once or twice at the Trenor dinners, and had learned
to speak with just the right note of disdain of the big Van
Osburgh crushes; and all he now needed was a wife whose
affiliations would shorten the last tedious steps of his ascent.
It was with that object that, a year earlier, he had fixed
his affections on Miss Bart; but in the interval he had
mounted nearer to the goal, while she had lost the power to
abbreviate the remaining steps of the way. All this she saw with
the clearness of vision that came to her in moments of
despondency. It was success that dazzled her--she could
distinguish facts plainly enough in the twilight of failure. And
the twilight, as she now sought to pierce it, was gradually
lighted by a faint spark of reassurance. Under the utilitarian
motive of Rosedale's wooing she had felt, clearly enough, the
heat of personal inclination. She would not have detested him so
heartily had she not known that he dared to admire her. What,
then, if the passion persisted, though the other motive had
ceased to sustain it? She had never even tried to please him--he
had been drawn to her in spite of her manifest disdain. What if
she now chose to exert the power which, even in its passive
state, he had felt so strongly? What if she made him marry her
for love, now that he had no other reason for marrying her?

As became persons of their rising consequence, the Gormers were
engaged in building a country-house on Long Island; and it was a
part of Miss Bart's duty to attend her hostess on frequent visits
of inspection to the new estate. There, while Mrs. Gormer plunged
into problems of lighting and sanitation, Lily had leisure to
wander, in the bright autumn air, along the tree-fringed bay to
which the land declined. Little as she was addicted to solitude,
there had come to be moments when it seemed a welcome escape from
the empty noises of her life. She was weary of being swept
passively along a current of pleasure and business in which she
had no share; weary of seeing other people pursue amusement and
squander money, while she felt herself of no more account among
them than an expensive toy in the hands of a spoiled child.

It was in this frame of mind that, striking back from the shore
one morning into the windings of an unfamiliar lane, she came
suddenly upon the figure of George Dorset. The Dorset place was
in the immediate neighbourhood of the Gormers' newly-acquired
estate, and in her motor-flights thither with Mrs. Gormer, Lily
had caught one or two passing glimpses of the couple; but they
moved in so different an orbit that she had not considered the
possibility of a direct encounter.

Dorset, swinging along with bent head, in moody abstraction, did
not see Miss Bart till he was close upon her; but the sight,
instead of bringing him to a halt, as she had half-expected, sent
him toward her with an eagerness which found expression in his
opening words.

"Miss Bart!--You'll shake hands, won't you? I've been hoping to
meet you--I should have written to you if I'd dared." His face,
with its tossed red hair and straggling moustache, had a driven
uneasy look, as though life had become an unceasing race between
himself and the thoughts at his heels.

The look drew a word of compassionate greeting from Lily, and he
pressed on, as if encouraged by her tone: "I wanted to
apologize--to ask you to forgive me for the miserable part I

She checked him with a quick gesture. "Don't let us speak of it:
I was very sorry for you," she said, with a tinge of disdain
which, as she instantly perceived, was not lost on him.

He flushed to his haggard eyes, flushed so cruelly that she
repented the thrust. "You might well be; you don't know--you must
let me explain. I was deceived: abominably deceived---"

"I am still more sorry for you, then," she interposed, without
irony; "but you must see that I am not exactly the person with
whom the subject can be discussed."

He met this with a look of genuine wonder. "Why not? Isn't it to
you, of all people, that I owe an explanation---"

"No explanation is necessary: the situation was perfectly clear
to me."

"Ah---" he murmured, his head drooping again, and his irresolute
hand switching at the underbrush along the lane. But as Lily made
a movement to pass on, he broke out with fresh vehemence: "Miss
Bart, for God's sake don't turn from me! We used to be good
friends--you were always kind to me--and you don't know how I
need a friend now."

The lamentable weakness of the words roused a motion of pity in
Lily's breast. She too needed friends--she had tasted the pang of
loneliness; and her resentment of Bertha Dorset's cruelty
softened her heart to the poor wretch who was after all the chief
of Bertha's victims.

"I still wish to be kind; I feel no ill-will toward you," she
said. "But you must understand that after what has happened we
can't be friends again--we can't see each other."

"Ah, you ARE kind--you're merciful--you always were!" He fixed
his miserable gaze on her. "But why can't we be friends--why not,
when I've repented in dust and ashes? Isn't it hard that you
should condemn me to suffer for the falseness, the treachery of
others? I was punished enough at the time--is there to be no
respite for me?"

"I should have thought you had found complete respite in the
reconciliation which was effected at my expense," Lily began,
with renewed impatience; but he broke in imploringly: "Don't put
it in that way--when that's been the worst of my
punishment. My God! what could I do--wasn't I powerless? You were
singled out as a sacrifice: any word I might have said would have
been turned against you---"

"I have told you I don't blame you; all I ask you to understand
is that, after the use Bertha chose to make of me--after all that
her behaviour has since implied--it's impossible that you and I
should meet."

He continued to stand before her, in his dogged weakness. "Is
it--need it be? Mightn't there be circumstances---?" he checked
himself, slashing at the wayside weeds in a wider radius. Then he
began again: "Miss Bart, listen--give me a minute. If we're not
to meet again, at least let me have a hearing now. You say we
can't be friends after--after what has happened. But can't I at
least appeal to your pity? Can't I move you if I ask you to think
of me as a prisoner--a prisoner you alone can set free?"

Lily's inward start betrayed itself in a quick blush: was it
possible that this was really the sense of Carry Fisher's

"I can't see how I can possibly be of any help to you," she
murmured, drawing back a little from the mounting excitement of
his look.

Her tone seemed to sober him, as it had so often done in his
stormiest moments. The stubborn lines of his face relaxed, and he
said, with an abrupt drop to docility: "You WOULD see, if you'd
be as merciful as you used to be: and heaven knows I've never
needed it more!"

She paused a moment, moved in spite of herself by this reminder
of her influence over him. Her fibres had been softened by
suffering, and the sudden glimpse into his mocked and broken life
disarmed her contempt for his weakness.

"I am very sorry for you--I would help you willingly; but you
must have other friends, other advisers."

"I never had a friend like you," he answered simply. "And
besides--can't you see?--you're the only person"--his voice
dropped to a whisper--"the only person who knows."

Again she felt her colour change; again her heart rose in
precipitate throbs to meet what she felt was coming. He lifted
his eyes to her entreatingly. "You do see, don't you? You
understand? I'm desperate--I'm at the end of my tether. I
want to be free, and you can free me. I know you can. You don't
want to keep me bound fast in hell, do you? You can't want to
take such a vengeance as that. You were always kind--your eyes
are kind now. You say you're sorry for me. Well, it rests with
you to show it; and heaven knows there's nothing to keep you
back. You understand, of course--there wouldn't be a hint of
publicity--not a sound or a syllable to connect you with the
thing. It would never come to that, you know: all I need is to be
able to say definitely:'I know this--and this--and this'--and the
fight would drop, and the way be cleared, and the whole
abominable business swept out of sight in a second."

He spoke pantingly, like a tired runner, with breaks of
exhaustion between his words; and through the breaks she caught,
as through the shifting rents of a fog, great golden vistas of
peace and safety. For there was no mistaking the definite
intention behind his vague appeal; she could have filled up the
blanks without the help of Mrs. Fisher's insinuations. Here was a
man who turned to her in the extremity of his loneliness and his
humiliation: if she came to him at such a moment he would be hers
with all the force of his deluded faith. And the power to make
him so lay in her hand--lay there in a completeness he could not
even remotely conjecture. Revenge and rehabilitation might be
hers at a stroke--there was something dazzling in the
completeness of the opportunity.

She stood silent, gazing away from him down the autumnal stretch
of the deserted lane. And suddenly fear possessed her--fear of
herself, and of the terrible force of the temptation. All her
past weaknesses were like so many eager accomplices drawing her
toward the path their feet had already smoothed. She turned
quickly, and held out her hand to Dorset.

"Goodbye--I'm sorry; there's nothing in the world that I can do."

"Nothing? Ah, don't say that," he cried; "say what's true: that
you abandon me like the others. You, the only creature who could
have saved me!"

"Goodbye--goodbye," she repeated hurriedly; and as she
moved away she heard him cry out on a last note of entreaty: "At
least you'll let me see you once more?"

Lily, on regaining the Gormer grounds, struck rapidly across the
lawn toward the unfinished house, where she fancied that her
hostess might be speculating, not too resignedly, on the cause of
her delay; for, like many unpunctual persons, Mrs. Gormer
disliked to be kept waiting.

As Miss Bart reached the avenue, however, she saw a smart phaeton
with a high-stepping pair disappear behind the shrubbery in the
direction of the gate; and on the doorstep stood Mrs. Gormer,
with a glow of retrospective pleasure on her open countenance. At
sight of Lily the glow deepened to an embarrassed red, and she
said with a slight laugh: "Did you see my visitor? Oh, I thought
you came back by the avenue. It was Mrs. George Dorset--she said
she'd dropped in to make a neighbourly call."

Lily met the announcement with her usual composure, though her
experience of Bertha's idiosyncrasies would not have led her to
include the neighbourly instinct among them; and Mrs. Gormer,
relieved to see that she gave no sign of surprise, went on with a
deprecating laugh: "Of course what really brought her was
curiosity--she made me take her all over the house. But no one
could have been nicer--no airs, you know, and so good-natured: I
can quite see why people think her so fascinating."

This surprising event, coinciding too completely with her meeting
with Dorset to be regarded as contingent upon it, had yet
immediately struck Lily with a vague sense of foreboding. It was
not in Bertha's habits to be neighbourly, much less to make
advances to any one outside the immediate circle of her
affinities. She had always consistently ignored the world of
outer aspirants, or had recognized its individual members only
when prompted by motives of self-interest; and the very
capriciousness of her condescensions had, as Lily was aware,
given them special value in the eyes of the persons she
distinguished. Lily saw this now in Mrs. Gormer's unconcealable
complacency, and in the happy irrelevance with which, for the
next day or two, she quoted Bertha's opinions and
speculated on the origin of her gown. All the secret ambitions
which Mrs. Gormer's native indolence, and the attitude of her
companions, kept in habitual abeyance, were now germinating
afresh in the glow of Bertha's advances; and whatever the cause
of the latter, Lily saw that, if they were followed up, they were
likely to have a disturbing effect upon her own future.

She had arranged to break the length of her stay with her new
friends by one or two visits to other acquaintances as recent;
and on her return from this somewhat depressing excursion she was
immediately conscious that Mrs. Dorset's influence was still in
the air. There had been another exchange of visits, a tea at a
country-club, an encounter at a hunt ball; there was even a
rumour of an approaching dinner, which Mattie Gormer, with an
unnatural effort at discretion, tried to smuggle out of the
conversation whenever Miss Bart took part in it.

The latter had already planned to return to town after a farewell
Sunday with her friends; and, with Gerty Farish's aid, had
discovered a small private hotel where she might establish
herself for the winter. The hotel being on the edge of a
fashionable neighbourhood, the price of the few square feet she
was to occupy was considerably in excess of her means; but she
found a justification for her dislike of poorer quarters in the
argument that, at this particular juncture, it was of the utmost
importance to keep up a show of prosperity. In reality, it was
impossible for her, while she had the means to pay her way for a
week ahead, to lapse into a form of existence like Gerty
Farish's. She had never been so near the brink of insolvency; but
she could at least manage to meet her weekly hotel bill, and
having settled the heaviest of her previous debts out of the
money she had received from Trenor, she had a still fair margin
of credit to go upon. The situation, however, was not agreeable
enough to lull her to complete unconsciousness of its insecurity.
Her rooms, with their cramped outlook down a sallow vista of
brick walls and fire-escapes, her lonely meals in the dark
restaurant with its surcharged ceiling and haunting smell of
coffee--all these material discomforts, which were yet to be
accounted as so many privileges soon to be withdrawn, kept
constantly before her the disadvantages of her state; and
her mind reverted the more insistently to Mrs. Fisher's counsels.
Beat about the question as she would, she knew the outcome of it
was that she must try to marry Rosedale; and in this conviction
she was fortified by an unexpected visit from George Dorset.

She found him, on the first Sunday after her return to town,
pacing her narrow sitting-room to the imminent peril of the few
knick-knacks with which she had tried to disguise its plush
exuberances; but the sight of her seemed to quiet him, and he
said meekly that he hadn't come to bother her--that he asked
only to be allowed to sit for half an hour and talk of anything
she liked. In reality, as she knew, he had but one subject:
himself and his wretchedness; and it was the need of her sympathy
that had drawn him back. But he began with a pretence of
questioning her about herself, and as she replied, she saw that,
for the first time, a faint realization of her plight penetrated
the dense surface of his self-absorption. Was it possible that
her old beast of an aunt had actually cut her off? That she was
living alone like this because there was no one else for her to
go to, and that she really hadn't more than enough to keep alive
on till the wretched little legacy was paid? The fibres of
sympathy were nearly atrophied in him, but he was suffering so
intensely that he had a faint glimpse of what other sufferings
might mean--and, as she perceived, an almost simultaneous
perception of the way in which her particular misfortunes might
serve him.

When at length she dismissed him, on the pretext that she must
dress for dinner, he lingered entreatingly on the threshold to
blurt out: "It's been such a comfort--do say you'll let me see
you again--" But to this direct appeal it was impossible to give
an assent; and she said with friendly decisiveness: "I'm
sorry--but you know why I can't."

He coloured to the eyes, pushed the door shut, and stood before
her embarrassed but insistent. "I know how you might, if you
would--if things were different--and it lies with you to make
them so. It's just a word to say, and you put me out of my

Their eyes met, and for a second she trembled again with the
nearness of the temptation. "You're mistaken; I know nothing; I
saw nothing," she exclaimed, striving, by sheer force of
reiteration, to build a barrier between herself and her peril;
and as he turned away, groaning out "You sacrifice us both," she
continued to repeat, as if it were a charm: "I know
nothing--absolutely nothing."

Lily had seen little of Rosedale since her illuminating talk with
Mrs. Fisher, but on the two or three occasions when they had met
she was conscious of having distinctly advanced in his favour.
There could be no doubt that he admired her as much as ever, and
she believed it rested with herself to raise his admiration to
the point where it should bear down the lingering counsels of
expediency. The task was not an easy one; but neither was it
easy, in her long sleepless nights, to face the thought of what
George Dorset was so clearly ready to offer. Baseness for
baseness, she hated the other least: there were even moments when
a marriage with Rosedale seemed the only honourable solution of
her difficulties. She did not indeed let her imagination range
beyond the day of plighting: after that everything faded into a
haze of material well-being, in which the personality of her
benefactor remained mercifully vague. She had learned, in her
long vigils, that there were certain things not good to think of,
certain midnight images that must at any cost be exorcised--and
one of these was the image of herself as Rosedale's wife.

Carry Fisher, on the strength, as she frankly owned, of the Brys'
Newport success, had taken for the autumn months a small house at
Tuxedo; and thither Lily was bound on the Sunday after Dorset's
visit. Though it was nearly dinner-time when she arrived, her
hostess was still out, and the firelit quiet of the small silent
house descended on her spirit with a sense of peace and
familiarity. It may be doubted if such an emotion had ever before
been evoked by Carry Fisher's surroundings; but, contrasted to
the world in which Lily had lately lived, there was an air of
repose and stability in the very placing of the furniture, and in
the quiet competence of the parlour-maid who led her up to her
room. Mrs. Fisher's unconventionality was, after all, a merely
superficial divergence from an inherited social creed, while the
manners of the Gormer circle represented their first attempt to
formulate such a creed for themselves.

It was the first time since her return from Europe that Lily had
found herself in a congenial atmosphere, and the stirring of
familiar associations had almost prepared her, as she descended
the stairs before dinner, to enter upon a group of her old
acquaintances. But this expectation was instantly checked by the
reflection that the friends who remained loyal were precisely
those who would be least willing to expose her to such
encounters; and it was hardly with surprise that she found,
instead, Mr. Rosedale kneeling domestically on the drawing-room
hearth before his hostess's little girl.

Rosedale in the paternal role was hardly a figure to soften Lily;
yet she could not but notice a quality of homely goodness in his
advances to the child. They were not, at any rate, the
premeditated and perfunctory endearments of the guest under his
hostess's eye, for he and the little girl had the room to
themselves; and something in his attitude made him seem a simple
and kindly being compared to the small critical creature who
endured his homage. Yes, he would be kind--Lily, from the
threshold, had time to feel--kind in his gross, unscrupulous,
rapacious way, the way of the predatory creature with his mate.
She had but a moment in which to consider whether this glimpse of
the fireside man mitigated her repugnance, or gave it, rather, a
more concrete and intimate form; for at sight of her he was
immediately on his feet again, the florid and dominant Rosedale
of Mattie Gormer's drawing-room.

It was no surprise to Lily to find that he had been selected as
her only fellow-guest. Though she and her hostess had not met
since the latter's tentative discussion of her future, Lily knew
that the acuteness which enabled Mrs. Fisher to lay a safe and
pleasant course through a world of antagonistic forces was not
infrequently exercised for the benefit of her friends. It was, in
fact, characteristic of Carry that, while she actively gleaned
her own stores from the fields of affluence, her real sympathies
were on the other side--with the unlucky, the unpopular, the
unsuccessful, with all her hungry fellow-toilers in the shorn
stubble of success.

Mrs. Fisher's experience guarded her against the mistake of
exposing Lily, for the first evening, to the unmitigated
impression of Rosedale's personality. Kate Corby and two
or three men dropped in to dinner, and Lily, alive to every
detail of her friend's method, saw that such opportunities as had
been contrived for her were to be deferred till she had, as it
were, gained courage to make effectual use of them. She had a
sense of acquiescing in this plan with the passiveness of a
sufferer resigned to the surgeon's touch; and this feeling of
almost lethargic helplessness continued when, after the departure
of the guests, Mrs. Fisher followed her upstairs.

"May I come in and smoke a cigarette over your fire? If we talk
in my room we shall disturb the child." Mrs. Fisher looked about
her with the eye of the solicitous hostess. "I hope you've
managed to make yourself comfortable, dear? Isn't it a jolly
little house? It's such a blessing to have a few quiet weeks with
the baby."

Carry, in her rare moments of prosperity, became so expansively
maternal that Miss Bart sometimes wondered whether, if she could
ever get time and money enough, she would not end by devoting
them both to her daughter.

It's a well-earned rest: I'll say that for myself," she
continued, sinking down with a sigh of content on the pillowed
lounge near the fire. "Louisa Bry is a stern task-master: I often
used to wish myself back with the Gormers. Talk of love making
people jealous and suspicious--it's nothing to social ambition!
Louisa used to lie awake at night wondering whether the women who
called on us called on ME because I was with her, or on HER
because she was with me; and she was always laying traps to find
out what I thought. Of course I had to disown my oldest friends,
rather than let her suspect she owed me the chance of making a
single acquaintance--when, all the while, that was what she had
me there for, and what she wrote me a handsome cheque for when
the season was over!"

Mrs. Fisher was not a woman who talked of herself without cause,
and the practice of direct speech, far from precluding in her an
occasional resort to circuitous methods, served rather, at
crucial moments, the purpose of the juggler's chatter while he
shifts the contents of his sleeves. Through the haze of her
cigarette smoke she continued to gaze meditatively at Miss Bart,
who, having dismissed her maid, sat before the
toilet-table shaking out over her shoulders the loosened
undulations of her hair.

"Your hair's wonderful, Lily. Thinner--? What does that matter,
when it's so light and alive? So many women's worries seem to go
straight to their hair--but yours looks as if there had never
been an anxious thought under it. I never saw you look better
than you did this evening. Mattie Gormer told me that Morpeth
wanted to paint you--why don't you let him?"

Miss Bart's immediate answer was to address a critical glance to
the reflection of the countenance under discussion. Then she
said, with a slight touch of irritation: "I don't care to accept
a portrait from Paul Morpeth."

Mrs. Fisher mused. "N--no. And just now, especially--well, he
can do you after you're married." She waited a moment, and then
went on: "By the way, I had a visit from Mattie the other day.
She turned up here last Sunday--and with Bertha Dorset, of all
people in the world!"

She paused again to measure the effect of this announcement on
her hearer, but the brush in Miss Bart's lifted hand maintained
its unwavering stroke from brow to nape.

"I never was more astonished," Mrs. Fisher pursued. "I don't know
two women less predestined to intimacy--from Bertha's standpoint,
that is; for of course poor Mattie thinks it natural enough that
she should be singled out--I've no doubt the rabbit always thinks
it is fascinating the anaconda. Well, you know I've always told
you that Mattie secretly longed to bore herself with the really
fashionable; and now that the chance has come, I see that she's
capable of sacrificing all her old friends to it."

Lily laid aside her brush and turned a penetrating glance upon
her friend. "Including ME?" she suggested.

"Ah, my dear," murmured Mrs. Fisher, rising to push back a log
from the hearth.

"That's what Bertha means, isn't it?" Miss Bart went on steadily.
"For of course she always means something; and before I left Long
Island I saw that she was beginning to lay her toils for Mattie."

Mrs. Fisher sighed evasively. "She has her fast now, at any rate.
To think of that loud independence of Mattie's being only
a subtler form of snobbishness! Bertha can already make her
believe anything she pleases--and I'm afraid she's begun, my poor
child, by insinuating horrors about you."

Lily flushed under the shadow of her drooping hair. "The world is
too vile," she murmured, averting herself from Mrs. Fisher's
anxious scrutiny.

"It's not a pretty place; and the only way to keep a footing in
it is to fight it on its own terms--and above all, my dear, not
alone!" Mrs. Fisher gathered up her floating implications in a
resolute grasp. "You've told me so little that I can only guess
what has been happening; but in the rush we all live in there's
no time to keep on hating any one without a cause, and if Bertha
is still nasty enough to want to injure you with other people it
must be because she's still afraid of you. From her standpoint
there's only one reason for being afraid of you; and my own idea
is that, if you want to punish her, you hold the means in your
hand. I believe you can marry George Dorset tomorrow; but if you
don't care for that particular form of retaliation, the only
thing to save you from Bertha is to marry somebody else."

The light projected on the situation by Mrs. Fisher had the
cheerless distinctness of a winter dawn. It outlined the facts
with a cold precision unmodified by shade or colour, and
refracted, as it were, from the blank walls of the surrounding
limitations: she had opened windows from which no sky was ever
visible. But the idealist subdued to vulgar necessities must
employ vulgar minds to draw the inferences to which he cannot
stoop; and it was easier for Lily to let Mrs. Fisher formulate
her case than to put it plainly to herself. Once confronted with
it, however, she went the full length of its consequences; and
these had never been more clearly present to her than when, the
next afternoon, she set out for a walk with Rosedale.

It was one of those still November days when the air is haunted
with the light of summer, and something in the lines of the
landscape, and in the golden haze which bathed them, recalled to
Miss Bart the September afternoon when she had climbed the slopes
of Bellomont with Selden. The importunate memory was kept before
her by its ironic contrast to her present situation, since her
walk with Selden had represented an irresistible flight from just
such a climax as the present excursion was designed to bring
about. But other memories importuned her also; the recollection
of similar situations, as skillfully led up to, but through some
malice of fortune, or her own unsteadiness of purpose, always
failing of the intended result. Well, her purpose was steady
enough now. She saw that the whole weary work of rehabilitation
must begin again, and against far greater odds, if Bertha Dorset
should succeed in breaking up her friendship with the Gormers;
and her longing for shelter and security was intensified by the
passionate desire to triumph over Bertha, as only wealth and
predominance could triumph over her. As the wife of Rosedale--the
Rosedale she felt it in her power to create--she would at least
present an invulnerable front to her enemy.

She had to draw upon this thought, as upon some fiery stimulant,
to keep up her part in the scene toward which Rosedale
was too frankly tending. As she walked beside him, shrinking in
every nerve from the way in which his look and tone made free of
her, yet telling herself that this momentary endurance of his
mood was the price she must pay for her ultimate power over him,
she tried to calculate the exact point at which concession must
turn to resistance, and the price HE would have to pay be made
equally clear to him. But his dapper self-confidence seemed
impenetrable to such hints, and she had a sense of something hard
and self-contained behind the superficial warmth of his manner.

They had been seated for some time in the seclusion of a rocky
glen above the lake, when she suddenly cut short the culmination
of an impassioned period by turning upon him the grave loveliness
of her gaze.

"I DO believe what you say, Mr. Rosedale," she said quietly; "and
I am ready to marry you whenever you wish."

Rosedale, reddening to the roots of his glossy hair, received
this announcement with a recoil which carried him to his feet,
where he halted before her in an attitude of almost comic

"For I suppose that is what you do wish," she continued, in the
same quiet tone. "And, though I was unable to consent when you
spoke to me in this way before, I am ready, now that I know you
so much better, to trust my happiness to your hands."

She spoke with the noble directness which she could command on
such occasions, and which was like a large steady light thrown
across the tortuous darkness of the situation. In its
inconvenient brightness Rosedale seemed to waver a moment, as
though conscious that every avenue of escape was unpleasantly

Then he gave a short laugh, and drew out a gold cigarette-case,
in which, with plump jewelled fingers, he groped for a
gold-tipped cigarette. Selecting one, he paused to contemplate it
a moment before saying: "My dear Miss Lily, I'm sorry if there's
been any little misapprehension between us-but you made me feel
my suit was so hopeless that I had really no intention of
renewing it."

Lily's blood tingled with the grossness of the rebuff; but she checked
the first leap of her anger, and said in a tone of gentle dignity:
"I have no one but myself to blame if I gave you the impression
that my decision was final."

Her word-play was always too quick for him, and this reply held
him in puzzled silence while she extended her hand and added,
with the faintest inflection of sadness in her voice: "Before we
bid each other goodbye, I want at least to thank you for having
once thought of me as you did."

The touch of her hand, the moving softness of her look, thrilled
a vulnerable fibre in Rosedale. It was her exquisite
inaccessibleness, the sense of distance she could convey without
a hint of disdain, that made it most difficult for him to give
her up.

"Why do you talk of saying goodbye? Ain't we going to be good
friends all the same?" he urged, without releasing her hand.

She drew it away quietly. "What is your idea of being good
friends?" she returned with a slight smile. "Making love to me
without asking me to marry you?" Rosedale laughed with a
recovered sense of ease.

"Well, that's about the size of it, I suppose. I can't help
making love to you--I don't see how any man could; but I don't
mean to ask you to marry me as long as I can keep out of it."

She continued to smile. "I like your frankness; but I am afraid
our friendship can hardly continue on those terms." She turned
away, as though to mark that its final term had in fact been
reached, and he followed her for a few steps with a baffled sense
of her having after all kept the game in her own hands.

"Miss Lily---" he began impulsively; but she walked on without
seeming to hear him.

He overtook her in a few quick strides, and laid an entreating
hand on her arm. "Miss Lily--don't hurry away like that. You're
beastly hard on a fellow; but if you don't mind speaking the
truth I don't see why you shouldn't allow me to do the same."

She had paused a moment with raised brows, drawing away
instinctively from his touch, though she made no effort to evade
his words.

"I was under the impression," she rejoined, "that you had done so
without waiting for my permission."

"Well--why shouldn't you hear my reasons for doing it, then?
We're neither of us such new hands that a little plain speaking
is going to hurt us. I'm all broken up on you: there's nothing
new in that. I'm more in love with you than I was this time last
year; but I've got to face the fact that the situation is

She continued to confront him with the same air of ironic
composure. "You mean to say that I'm not as desirable a match as
you thought me?"

"Yes; that's what I do mean," he answered resolutely. "I won't go
into what's happened. I don't believe the stories about you--I
don't WANT to believe them. But they're there, and my not
believing them ain't going to alter the situation."

She flushed to her temples, but the extremity of her need checked
the retort on her lip and she continued to face him composedly.
"If they are not true," she said, "doesn't THAT alter the

He met this with a steady gaze of his small stock-taking eyes,
which made her feel herself no more than some superfine human
merchandise. "I believe it does in novels; but I'm certain it
don't in real life. You know that as well as I do: if we're
speaking the truth, let's speak the whole truth. Last year I was
wild to marry you, and you wouldn't look at me: this year--well,
you appear to be willing. Now, what has changed in the interval?
Your situation, that's all. Then you thought you could do better;

"You think you can?" broke from her ironically.

"Why, yes, I do: in one way, that is." He stood before her, his
hands in his pockets, his chest sturdily expanded under its vivid
waistcoat. "It's this way, you see: I've had a pretty steady
grind of it these last years, working up my social position.
Think it's funny I should say that? Why should I mind saying I
want to get into society? A man ain't ashamed to say he wants to
own a racing stable or a picture gallery. Well, a taste for
society's just another kind of hobby. Perhaps I want to get even
with some of the people who cold-shouldered me last year--put it
that way if it sounds better. Anyhow, I want to have the run of
the best houses; and I'm getting it too, little by little. But I
know the quickest way to queer yourself with the right
people is to be seen with the wrong ones; and that's the reason I
want to avoid mistakes."

Miss Bart continued to stand before him in a silence that might
have expressed either mockery or a half-reluctant respect for his
candour, and after a moment's pause he went on: "There it is, you
see. I'm more in love with you than ever, but if I married you
now I'd queer myself for good and all, and everything I've worked
for all these years would be wasted."

She received this with a look from which all tinge of resentment
had faded. After the tissue of social falsehoods in which she had
so long moved it was refreshing to step into the open daylight of
an avowed expediency.

"I understand you," she said. "A year ago I should have been of
use to you, and now I should be an encumbrance; and I like you
for telling me so quite honestly." She extended her hand with a

Again the gesture had a disturbing effect upon Mr. Rosedale's
self-command. "By George, you're a dead game sport, you are!" he
exclaimed; and as she began once more to move away, he broke out
suddenly--"Miss Lily--stop. You know I don't believe those
stories--I believe they were all got up by a woman who didn't
hesitate to sacrifice you to her own convenience---"

Lily drew away with a movement of quick disdain: it was easier to
endure his insolence than his commiseration.

"You are very kind; but I don't think we need discuss the matter

But Rosedale's natural imperviousness to hints made it easy for
him to brush such resistance aside. "I don't want to discuss
anything; I just want to put a plain case before you," he

She paused in spite of herself, held by the note of a new purpose
in his look and tone; and he went on, keeping his eyes firmly
upon her: "The wonder to me is that you've waited so long to get
square with that woman, when you've had the power in your hands."
She continued silent under the rush of astonishment that his
words produced, and he moved a step closer to ask with low-toned
directness: "Why don't you use those letters of hers you bought
last year?"

Lily stood speechless under the shock of the interrogation. In
the words preceding it she had conjectured, at most, an allusion
to her supposed influence over George Dorset; nor did the
astonishing indelicacy of the reference diminish the likelihood
of Rosedale's resorting to it. But now she saw how far short of
the mark she had fallen; and the surprise of learning that he had
discovered the secret of the letters left her, for the moment,
unconscious of the special use to which he was in the act of
putting his knowledge.

Her temporary loss of self-possession gave him time to press his
point; and he went on quickly, as though to secure completer
control of the situation: "You see I know where you stand--I know
how completely she's in your power. That sounds like stage-talk,
don't it?--but there's a lot of truth in some of those old gags;
and I don't suppose you bought those letters simply because
you're collecting autographs."

She continued to look at him with a deepening bewilderment: her
only clear impression resolved itself into a scared sense of his

"You're wondering how I found out about 'em?" he went on,
answering her look with a note of conscious pride. "Perhaps
you've forgotten that I'm the owner of the Benedick-but never
mind about that now. Getting on to things is a mighty useful
accomplishment in business, and I've simply extended it to my
private affairs. For this IS partly my affair, you see--at least,
it depends on you to make it so. Let's look the situation
straight in the eye. Mrs. Dorset, for reasons we needn't go into,
did you a beastly bad turn last spring. Everybody knows what Mrs.
Dorset is, and her best friends wouldn't believe her on oath
where their own interests were concerned; but as long as they're
out of the row it's much easier to follow her lead than to set
themselves against it, and you've simply been sacrificed to their
laziness and selfishness. Isn't that a pretty fair statement of
the case?--Well, some people say you've got the neatest kind of
an answer in your hands: that George Dorset would marry you
tomorrow, if you'd tell him all you know, and give him the chance
to show the lady the door. I daresay he would; but you don't seem
to care for that particular form of getting even, and,
taking a purely business view of the question, I think you're
right. In a deal like that, nobody comes out with perfectly clean
hands, and the only way for you to start fresh is to get Bertha
Dorset to back you up, instead of trying to fight her."

He paused long enough to draw breath, but not to give her time
for the expression of her gathering resistance; and as he pressed
on, expounding and elucidating his idea with the directness of
the man who has no doubts of his cause, she found the indignation
gradually freezing on her lip, found herself held fast in the
grasp of his argument by the mere cold strength of its
presentation. There was no time now to wonder how he had heard of
her obtaining the letters: all her world was dark outside the
monstrous glare of his scheme for using them. And it was not,
after the first moment, the horror of the idea that held her
spell-bound, subdued to his will; it was rather its subtle
affinity to her own inmost cravings. He would marry her tomorrow
if she could regain Bertha Dorset's friendship; and to induce the
open resumption of that friendship, and the tacit retractation of
all that had caused its withdrawal, she had only to put to the
lady the latent menace contained in the packet so miraculously
delivered into her hands. Lily saw in a flash the advantage of
this course over that which poor Dorset had pressed upon her. The
other plan depended for its success on the infliction of an open
injury, while this reduced the transaction to a private
understanding, of which no third person need have the remotest
hint. Put by Rosedale in terms of business-like give-and-take,
this understanding took on the harmless air of a mutual
accommodation, like a transfer of property or a revision of
boundary lines. It certainly simplified life to view it as a
perpetual adjustment, a play of party politics, in which every
concession had its recognized equivalent: Lily's tired mind was
fascinated by this escape from fluctuating ethical estimates into
a region of concrete weights and measures.

Rosedale, as she listened, seemed to read in her silence not only
a gradual acquiescence in his plan, but a dangerously far-
reaching perception of the chances it offered; for as she
continued to stand before him without speaking, he broke out,
with a quick return upon himself: "You see how simple it is,
don't you? Well, don't be carried away by the idea that it's TOO simple.
It isn't exactly as if you'd started in with a clean
bill of health. Now we're talking let's call things by
their right names, and clear the whole business up. You know well
enough that Bertha Dorset couldn't have touched you if there
hadn't been--well--questions asked before--little points of
interrogation, eh? Bound to happen to a good-looking girl with
stingy relatives, I suppose; anyhow, they DID happen, and she
found the ground prepared for her. Do you see where I'm coming
out? You don't want these little questions cropping up again.
It's one thing to get Bertha Dorset into line--but what you want
is to keep her there. You can frighten her fast enough--but how
are you going to keep her frightened? By showing her that you're
as powerful as she is. All the letters in the world won't do that
for you as you are now; but with a big backing behind you, you'll
keep her just where you want her to be. That's MY share in the
business--that's what I'm offering you. You can't put the thing
through without me--don't run away with any idea that you can. In
six months you'd be back again among your old worries, or worse
ones; and here I am, ready to lift you out of 'em tomorrow if you
say so. DO you say so, Miss Lily?" he added, moving suddenly

The words, and the movement which accompanied them, combined to
startle Lily out of the state of tranced subservience into which
she had insensibly slipped. Light comes in devious ways to the
groping consciousness, and it came to her now through the
disgusted perception that her would-be accomplice assumed, as a
matter of course, the likelihood of her distrusting him and
perhaps trying to cheat him of his share of the spoils. This
glimpse of his inner mind seemed to present the whole transaction
in a new aspect, and she saw that the essential baseness of the
act lay in its freedom from risk.

She drew back with a quick gesture of rejection, saying, in a
voice that was a surprise to her own ears: "You are
mistaken--quite mistaken--both in the facts and in what you infer
from them."

Rosedale stared a moment, puzzled by her sudden dash in a
direction so different from that toward which she had appeared to
be letting him guide her.

"Now what on earth does that mean? I thought we understood each
other!" he exclaimed; and to her murmur of "Ah, we do NOW," he
retorted with a sudden burst of violence: "I suppose it's because
the letters are to HIM, then? Well, I'll be damned if I see what
thanks you've got from him!"

The autumn days declined to winter. Once more the leisure world
was in transition between country and town, and Fifth Avenue,
still deserted at the week-end, showed from Monday to Friday a
broadening stream of carriages between house-fronts gradually
restored to consciousness.

The Horse Show, some two weeks earlier, had produced a passing
semblance of reanimation, filling the theatres and restaurants
with a human display of the same costly and high-stepping kind as
circled daily about its ring. In Miss Bart's world the Horse
Show, and the public it attracted, had ostensibly come to be
classed among the spectacles disdained of the elect; but, as the
feudal lord might sally forth to join in the dance on his village
green, so society, unofficially and incidentally, still
condescended to look in upon the scene. Mrs. Gormer, among the
rest, was not above seizing such an occasion for the display of
herself and her horses; and Lily was given one or two
opportunities of appearing at her friend's side in the most
conspicuous box the house afforded. But this lingering semblance
of intimacy made her only the more conscious of a change in the
relation between Mattie and herself, of a dawning discrimination,
a gradually formed social standard, emerging from Mrs. Gormer's
chaotic view of life. It was inevitable that Lily herself should
constitute the first sacrifice to this new ideal, and she knew
that, once the Gormers were established in town, the whole drift
of fashionable life would facilitate Mattie's detachment from
her. She had, in short, failed to make herself indispensable; or
rather, her at tempt to do so had been thwarted by an influence
stronger than any she could exert. That influence, in its last
analysis, was simply the power of money: Bertha Dorset's social
credit was based on an impregnable bank-account.

Lily knew that Rosedale had overstated neither the difficulty of
her own position nor the completeness of the vindication he
offered. once Bertha's match in material resources, her superior
gifts would make it easy for her to dominate her adversary. An
understanding of what such domination would mean, and of the
disadvantages accruing from her rejection of it, was
brought home to Lily with increasing clearness during the early
weeks of the winter. Hitherto, she had kept up a semblance of
movement outside the main flow of the social current; but with
the return to town, and the concentrating of scattered
activities, the mere fact of not slipping back naturally into her
old habits of life marked her as being unmistakably excluded from
them. If one were not a part of the season's fixed routine, one
swung unsphered in a void of social non-existence. Lily, for all
her dissatisfied dreaming, had never really conceived the
possibility of revolving about a different centre: it was easy
enough to despise the world, but decidedly difficult to find any
other habitable region. Her sense of irony never quite deserted
her, and she could still note, with self-directed derision, the
abnormal value suddenly acquired by the most tiresome and
insignificant details of her former life. Its very drudgeries had
a charm now that she was involuntarily released from them:
card-leaving, note-writing, enforced civilities to the dull and
elderly, and the smiling endurance of tedious dinners--how
pleasantly such obligations would have filled the emptiness of
her days! She did indeed leave cards in plenty; she kept herself,
with a smiling and valiant persistence, well in the eye of her
world; nor did she suffer any of those gross rebuffs which
sometimes produce a wholesome reaction of contempt in their
victim. Society did not turn away from her, it simply drifted by,
preoccupied and inattentive, letting her feel, to the full
measure of her humbled pride, how completely she had been the
creature of its favour.

She had rejected Rosedale's suggestion with a promptness of scorn
almost surprising to herself: she had not lost her capacity for
high flashes of indignation. But she could not breathe long on
the heights; there had been nothing in her training to develop
any continuity of moral strength: what she craved, and really
felt herself entitled to, was a situation in which the noblest
attitude should also be the easiest. Hitherto her intermittent
impulses of resistance had sufficed to maintain her self-respect.
If she slipped she recovered her footing, and it was only
afterward that she was aware of having recovered it each time on
a slightly lower level. She had rejected Rosedale's offer without
conscious effort; her whole being had risen against it;
and she did not yet perceive that, by the mere act of listening
to him, she had learned to live with ideas which would once have
been intolerable to her.

To Gerty Farish, keeping watch over her with a tenderer if less
discerning eye than Mrs. Fisher's, the results of the struggle
were already distinctly visible. She did not, indeed, know what
hostages Lily had already given to expediency; but she saw her
passionately and irretrievably pledged to the ruinous policy of
"keeping up." Gerty could smile now at her own early dream of her
friend's renovation through adversity: she understood clearly
enough that Lily was not of those to whom privation teaches the
unimportance of what they have lost. But this very fact, to
Gerty, made her friend the more piteously in want of aid, the
more exposed to the claims of a tenderness she was so little
conscious of needing.

Lily, since her return to town, had not often climbed Miss
Farish's stairs. There was something irritating to her in the
mute interrogation of Gerty's sympathy: she felt the real
difficulties of her situation to be incommunicable to any one
whose theory of values was so different from her own, and the
restrictions of Gerty's life, which had once had the charm of
contrast, now reminded her too painfully of the limits to which
her own existence was shrinking. When at length, one afternoon,
she put into execution the belated resolve to visit her friend,
this sense of shrunken opportunities possessed her with unusual
intensity. The walk up Fifth Avenue, unfolding before her, in the
brilliance of the hard winter sunlight, an interminable
procession of fastidiously-equipped carriages--giving her,
through the little squares of brougham-windows, peeps of familiar
profiles bent above visiting-lists, of hurried hands dispensing
notes and cards to attendant footmen--this glimpse of the
ever-revolving wheels of the great social machine made Lily more
than ever conscious of the steepness and narrowness of Gerty's
stairs, and of the cramped blind alley of life to which they led.
Dull stairs destined to be mounted by dull people: how many
thousands of insignificant figures were going up and down such
stairs all over the world at that very moment--figures as shabby
and uninteresting as that of the middle-aged lady in limp
black who descended Gerty's flight as Lily climbed to it!

"That was poor Miss Jane Silverton--she came to talk things over
with me: she and her sister want to do something to support
themselves," Gerty explained, as Lily followed her into the

"To support themselves? Are they so hard up?" Miss Bart asked
with a touch of irritation: she had not come to listen to the
woes of other people.

"I'm afraid they have nothing left: Ned's debts have swallowed up
everything. They had such hopes, you know, when he broke away
from Carry Fisher; they thought Bertha Dorset would be such a
good influence, because she doesn't care for cards, and--well,
she talked quite beautifully to poor Miss Jane about feeling as
if Ned were her younger brother, and wanting to carry him off on
the yacht, so that he might have a chance to drop cards and
racing, and take up his literary work again."

Miss Farish paused with a sigh which reflected the perplexity of
her departing visitor. "But that isn't all; it isn't even the
worst. It seems that Ned has quarrelled with the Dorsets; or at
least Bertha won't allow him to see her, and he is so unhappy
about it that he has taken to gambling again, and going about
with all sorts of queer people. And cousin Grace Van Osburgh
accuses him of having had a very bad influence on Freddy, who
left Harvard last spring, and has been a great deal with Ned ever
since. She sent for Miss Jane, and made a dreadful scene; and
Jack Stepney and Herbert Melson, who were there too, told Miss
Jane that Freddy was threatening to marry some dreadful woman to
whom Ned had introduced him, and that they could do nothing with
him because now he's of age he has his own money. You can fancy
how poor Miss Jane felt--she came to me at once, and seemed to
think that if I could get her something to do she could earn
enough to pay Ned's debts and send him away--I'm afraid she has
no idea how long it would take her to pay for one of his evenings
at bridge. And he was horribly in debt when he came back from the
cruise--I can't see why he should have spent so much more money
under Bertha's influence than Carry's: can you?"

Lily met this query with an impatient gesture. "My dear Gerty, I
always understand how people can spend much more money--never how
they can spend any less!"

She loosened her furs and settled herself in Gerty's easy-chair,
while her friend busied herself with the tea-cups.

"But what can they do--the Miss Silvertons? How do they mean to
support themselves?" she asked, conscious that the note of
irritation still persisted in her voice. It was the very last
topic she had meant to discuss--it really did not interest her in
the least--but she was seized by a sudden perverse curiosity to
know how the two colourless shrinking victims of young
Silverton's sentimental experiments meant to cope with the grim
necessity which lurked so close to her own threshold.

"I don't know--I am trying to find something for them. Miss Jane
reads aloud very nicely--but it's so hard to find any one who is
willing to be read to. And Miss Annie paints a little---"

"Oh, I know--apple-blossoms on blotting-paper; just the kind of
thing I shall be doing myself before long!" exclaimed Lily,
starting up with a vehemence of movement that threatened
destruction to Miss Farish's fragile tea-table.

Lily bent over to steady the cups; then she sank back into her
seat. "I'd forgotten there was no room to dash about in--how
beautifully one does have to behave in a small flat! Oh, Gerty, I
wasn't meant to be good," she sighed out incoherently.

Gerty lifted an apprehensive look to her pale face, in which the
eyes shone with a peculiar sleepless lustre.

"You look horribly tired, Lily; take your tea, and let me give
you this cushion to lean against."

Miss Bart accepted the cup of tea, but put back the cushion with
an impatient hand.

"Don't give me that! I don't want to lean back--I shall go to
sleep if I do."

"Well, why not, dear? I'll be as quiet as a mouse," Gerty urged

"No--no; don't be quiet; talk to me--keep me awake! I don't sleep
at night, and in the afternoon a dreadful drowsiness creeps over

"You don't sleep at night? Since when?"

"I don't know--I can't remember." She rose and put the empty cup
on the tea-tray. "Another, and stronger, please; if I don't keep
awake now I shall see horrors tonight--perfect horrors!"

"But they'll be worse if you drink too much tea."

"No, no--give it to me; and don't preach, please," Lily returned
imperiously. Her voice had a dangerous edge, and Gerty noticed
that her hand shook as she held it out to receive the second cup.

"But you look so tired: I'm sure you must be ill---"

Miss Bart set down her cup with a start. "Do I look ill? Does my
face show it?" She rose and walked quickly toward the little
mirror above the writing-table. "What a horrid
looking-glass--it's all blotched and discoloured. Any one would
look ghastly in it!" She turned back, fixing her plaintive eyes
on Gerty. "You stupid dear, why do you say such odious things to
me? It's enough to make one ill to be told one looks so! And
looking ill means looking ugly." She caught Gerty's wrists, and
drew her close to the window. "After all, I'd rather know the
truth. Look me straight in the face, Gerty, and tell me: am I
perfectly frightful?"

"You're perfectly beautiful now, Lily: your eyes are shining, and
your cheeks have grown so pink all of a sudden---"

"Ah, they WERE pale, then--ghastly pale, when I came in? Why
don't you tell me frankly that I'm a wreck? My eyes are bright
now because I'm so nervous--but in the mornings they look like
lead. And I can see the lines coming in my face--the lines of
worry and disappointment and failure! Every sleepless night
leaves a new one--and how can I sleep, when I have such dreadful
things to think about?"

"Dreadful things--what things?" asked Gerty, gently detaching her
wrists from her friend's feverish fingers.

"What things? Well, poverty, for one--and I don't know any that's
more dreadful." Lily turned away and sank with sudden weariness
into the easy-chair near the tea-table. "You asked me just now if
I could understand why Ned Silverton spent so much money. Of
course I understand--he spends it on living with the rich. You
think we live ON the rich, rather than with them: and so we do,
in a sense--but it's a privi

lege we have to pay for! We
eat their dinners, and drink their wine, and smoke their
cigarettes, and use their carriages and their opera-boxes and
their private cars--yes, but there's a tax to pay on every one of
those luxuries. The man pays it by big tips to the servants, by
playing cards beyond his means, by flowers and
presents--and--and--lots of other things that cost; the girl pays
it by tips and cards too--oh, yes, I've had to take up bridge
again--and by going to the best dress-makers, and having just the
right dress for every occasion, and always keeping herself fresh
and exquisite and amusing!"

She leaned back for a moment, closing her eyes, and as she sat
there, her pale lips slightly parted, and the lids dropped above
her fagged brilliant gaze, Gerty had a startled perception of the
change in her face--of the way in which an ashen daylight seemed
suddenly to extinguish its artificial brightness. She looked up,
and the vision vanished.

"It doesn't sound very amusing, does it? And it isn't--I'm sick
to death of it! And yet the thought of giving it all up nearly
kills me--it's what keeps me awake at night, and makes me so
crazy for your strong tea. For I can't go on in this way much
longer, you know--I'm nearly at the end of my tether. And then
what can I do--how on earth am I to keep myself alive? I see
myself reduced to the fate of that poor Silverton woman--slinking
about to employment agencies, and trying to sell painted
blotting-pads to Women's Exchanges! And there are thousands and
thousands of women trying to do the same thing already, and not
one of the number who has less idea how to earn a dollar than I

She rose again with a hurried glance at the clock. "It's late,
and I must be off--I have an appointment with Carry Fisher. Don't
look so worried, you dear thing--don't think too much about the
nonsense I've been talking." She was before the mirror again,
adjusting her hair with a light hand, drawing down her veil, and
giving a dexterous touch to her furs. "Of course, you know, it
hasn't come to the employment agencies and the painted
blotting-pads yet; but I'm rather hard-up just for the moment,
and if I could find something to do--notes to write and
visiting-lists to make up, or that kind of thing--it would tide
me over till the legacy is paid.

And Carry has promised to find somebody who wants a kind of
social secretary--you know she makes a specialty of the helpless

Miss Bart had not revealed to Gerty the full extent of her
anxiety. She was in fact in urgent and immediate need of money:
money to meet the vulgar weekly claims which could neither be
deferred nor evaded. To give up her apartment, and shrink to the
obscurity of a boarding-house, or the provisional hospitality of
a bed in Gerty Farish's sitting-room, was an expedient which
could only postpone the problem confronting her; and it seemed
wiser as well as more agreeable to remain where she was and find
some means of earning her living. The possibility of having to do
this was one which she had never before seriously considered, and
the discovery that, as a bread-winner, she was likely to prove as
helpless and ineffectual as poor Miss Silverton, was a severe
shock to her self-confidence.

Having been accustomed to take herself at the popular valuation,
as a person of energy and resource, naturally fitted to dominate
any situation in which she found herself, she vaguely imagined
that such gifts would be of value to seekers after social
guidance; but there was unfortunately no specific head under
which the art of saying and doing the right thing could be
offered in the market, and even Mrs. Fisher's resourcefulness
failed before the difficulty of discovering a workable vein in
the vague wealth of Lily's graces. Mrs. Fisher was full of
indirect expedients for enabling her friends to earn a living,
and could conscientiously assert that she had put several
opportunities of this kind before Lily; but more legitimate
methods of bread-winning were as much out of her line as they
were beyond the capacity of the sufferers she was generally
called upon to assist. Lily's failure to profit by the chances
already afforded her might, moreover, have justified the
abandonment of farther effort on her behalf; but Mrs. Fisher's
inexhaustible good-nature made her an adept at creating
artificial demands in response to an actual supply. In the
pursuance of this end she at once started on a voyage of
discovery in Miss Bart's behalf; and as the result of her

tions she now summoned the latter with the
announcement that she had "found something."

Left to herself, Gerty mused distressfully upon her friend's
plight, and her own inability to relieve it. It was clear to her
that Lily, for the present, had no wish for the kind of help she
could give. Miss Farish could see no hope for her friend but in a
life completely reorganized and detached from its old
associations; whereas all Lily's energies were centred in the
determined effort to hold fast to those associations, to keep
herself visibly identified with them, as long as the illusion
could be maintained. Pitiable as such an attitude seemed to
Gerty, she could not judge it as harshly as Selden, for instance,
might have done. She had not forgotten the night of emotion when
she and Lily had lain in each other's arms, and she had seemed to
feel her very heart's blood passing into her friend. The
sacrifice she had made had seemed unavailing enough; no trace
remained in Lily of the subduing influences of that hour; but
Gerty's tenderness, disciplined by long years of contact with
obscure and inarticulate suffering, could wait on its object with
a silent forbearance which took no account of time. She could
not, however, deny herself the solace of taking anxious counsel
with Lawrence Selden, with whom, since his return from Europe,
she had renewed her old relation of cousinly confidence.

Selden himself had never been aware of any change in their
relation. He found Gerty as he had left her, simple, undemanding
and devoted, but with a quickened intelligence of the heart which
he recognized without seeking to explain it. To Gerty herself it
would once have seemed impossible that she should ever again talk
freely with him of Lily Bart; but what had passed in the secrecy
of her own breast seemed to resolve itself, when the mist of the
struggle cleared, into a breaking down of the bounds of self, a
deflecting of the wasted personal emotion into the general
current of human understanding.

It was not till some two weeks after her visit from Lily that
Gerty had the opportunity of communicating her fears to Selden.
The latter, having presented himself on a Sunday afternoon, had
lingered on through the dowdy animation of his cousin's
tea-hour, conscious of something in her voice and eye which
solicited a word apart; and as soon as the last visitor was gone
Gerty opened her case by asking how lately he had seen Miss Bart.

Selden's perceptible pause gave her time for a slight stir of

"I haven't seen her at all--I've perpetually missed seeing her
since she came back."

This unexpected admission made Gerty pause too; and she was still
hesitating on the brink of her subject when he relieved her by
adding: "I've wanted to see her--but she seems to have been
absorbed by the Gormer set since her return from Europe."

"That's all the more reason: she's been very unhappy."

"Unhappy at being with the Gormers?"

"Oh, I don't defend her intimacy with the Gormers; but that too
is at an end now, I think. You know people have been very unkind
since Bertha Dorset quarrelled with her."

"Ah---" Selden exclaimed, rising abruptly to walk to the window,
where he remained with his eyes on the darkening street while his
cousin continued to explain: "Judy Trenor and her own family have
deserted her too--and all because Bertha Dorset has said such
horrible things. And she is very poor--you know Mrs. Peniston cut
her off with a small legacy, after giving her to understand that
she was to have everything."

"Yes--I know," Selden assented curtly, turning back into the
room, but only to stir about with restless steps in the
circumscribed space between door and window. "Yes--she's been
abominably treated; but it's unfortunately the precise thing that
a man who wants to show his sympathy can't say to her."

His words caused Gerty a slight chill of disappointment. "There
would be other ways of showing your sympathy," she suggested.

Selden, with a slight laugh, sat down beside her on the little
sofa which projected from the hearth. "What are you thinking of,
you incorrigible missionary?" he asked.

Gerty's colour rose, and her blush was for a moment her only
answer. Then she made it more explicit by saying: "I am
thinking of the fact that you and she used to be great
friends--that she used to care immensely for what you thought of
her--and that, if she takes your staying away as a sign of what
you think now, I can imagine its adding a great deal to her

"My dear child, don't add to it still more--at least to your
conception of it--by attributing to her all sorts of
susceptibilities of your own." Selden, for his life, could not
keep a note of dryness out of his voice; but he met Gerty's look
of perplexity by saying more mildly: "But, though you immensely
exaggerate the importance of anything I could do for Miss Bart,
you can't exaggerate my readiness to do it--if you ask me to." He
laid his hand for a moment on hers, and there passed between
them, on the current of the rare contact, one of those exchanges
of meaning which fill the hidden reservoirs of affection. Gerty
had the feeling that he measured the cost of her request as
plainly as she read the significance of his reply; and the sense
of all that was suddenly clear between them made her next words
easier to find.

"I do ask you, then; I ask you because she once told me that you
had been a help to her, and because she needs help now as she has
never needed it before. You know how dependent she has always
been on ease and luxury--how she has hated what was shabby and
ugly and uncomfortable. She can't help it--she was brought up
with those ideas, and has never been able to find her way out of
them. But now all the things she cared for have been taken from
her, and the people who taught her to care for them have
abandoned her too; and it seems to me that if some one could
reach out a hand and show her the other side--show her how much
is left in life and in herself---" Gerty broke off, abashed at
the sound of her own eloquence, and impeded by the difficulty of
giving precise expression to her vague yearning for her friend's
retrieval. "I can't help her myself: she's passed out of my
reach," she continued. "I think she's afraid of being a burden to
me. When she was last here, two weeks ago, she seemed dreadfully
worried about her future: she said Carry Fisher was trying to
find something for her to do. A few days later she wrote me that
she had taken a position as private secretary, and that I was not
to be anxious, for everything was all right, and she
would come in and tell me about it when she had time; but she has
never come, and I don't like to go to her, because I am afraid of
forcing myself on her when I'm not wanted. Once, when we were
children, and I had rushed up after a long separation, and thrown
my arms about her, she said:'Please don't kiss me unless I ask
you to, Gerty'--and she DID ask me, a minute later; but since
then I've always waited to be asked."

Selden had listened in silence, with the concentrated look which
his thin dark face could assume when he wished to guard it
against any involuntary change of expression. When his cousin
ended, he said with a slight smile: "Since you've learned the
wisdom of waiting, I don't see why you urge me to rush in_ n but
the troubled appeal of her eyes made him add, as he rose to take
leave: "Still, I'll do what you wish, and not hold you
responsible for my failure." Selden's avoidance of Miss Bart had
not been as unintentional as he had allowed his cousin to think.
At first, indeed, while the memory of their last hour at Monte
Carlo still held the full heat of his indignation, he had
anxiously watched for her return; but she had disappointed him by
lingering in England, and when she finally reappeared it happened
that business had called him to the West, whence he came back
only to learn that she was starting for Alaska with the Gormers.
The revelation of this suddenly-established intimacy effectually
chilled his desire to see her. If, at a moment when her whole
life seemed to be breaking up, she could cheerfully commit its
reconstruction to the Gormers, there was no reason why such
accidents should ever strike her as irreparable. Every step she
took seemed in fact to carry her farther from the region where,
once or twice, he and she had met for an illumined moment; and
the recognition of this fact, when its first pang had been
surmounted, produced in him a sense of negative relief. It was
much simpler for him to judge Miss Bart by her habitual conduct
than by the rare deviations from it which had thrown her so
disturbingly in his way; and every act of hers which made the
recurrence of such deviations more unlikely, confirmed the sense
of relief with which he returned to the conventional view of her.

But Gerty Farish's words had sufficed to make him see how
little this view was really his, and how impossible it was for
him to live quietly with the thought of Lily Bart. To hear that
she was in need of help--even such vague help as he could
offer--was to be at once repossessed by that thought; and by the
time he reached the street he had sufficiently convinced himself
of the urgency of his cousin's appeal to turn his steps directly
toward Lily's hotel.

There his zeal met a check in the unforeseen news that Miss Bart
had moved away; but, on his pressing his enquiries, the clerk
remembered that she had left an address, for which he presently
began to search through his books.

It was certainly strange that she should have taken this step
without letting Gerty Farish know of her decision; and Selden
waited with a vague sense of uneasiness while the address was
sought for. The process lasted long enough for uneasiness to turn
to apprehension; but when at length a slip of paper was handed
him, and he read on it: "Care of Mrs. Norma Hatch, Emporium
Hotel," his apprehension passed into an incredulous stare, and
this into the gesture of disgust with which he tore the paper in
two, and turned to walk quickly homeward.

When Lily woke on the morning after her translation to the
Emporium Hotel, her first feeling was one of purely physical
satisfaction. The force of contrast gave an added keenness to the
luxury of lying once more in a soft-pillowed bed, and looking
across a spacious sunlit room at a breakfast-table set invitingly
near the fire. Analysis and introspection might come later; but
for the moment she was not even troubled by the excesses of the
upholstery or the restless convolutions of the furniture. The
sense of being once more lapped and folded in ease, as in some
dense mild medium impenetrable to discomfort, effectually stilled
the faintest note of criticism.

When, the afternoon before, she had presented herself to the lady
to whom Carry Fisher had directed her, she had been conscious of
entering a new world. Carry's vague presentment of Mrs. Norma
Hatch (whose reversion to her Christian name was explained as the
result of her latest divorce), left her under the implication of
coming "from the West," with the not unusual extenuation of
having brought a great deal of money with her. She was, in short,
rich, helpless, unplaced: the very subject for Lily's hand. Mrs.
Fisher had not specified the line her friend was to take; she
owned herself unacquainted with Mrs. Hatch, whom she "knew about"
through Melville Stancy, a lawyer in his leisure moments, and the
Falstaff of a certain section of festive dub life. Socially, Mr.
Stancy might have been said to form a connecting link between the
Gormer world and the more dimly-lit region on which Miss Bart now
found herself entering. It was, however, only figuratively that
the illumination of Mrs. Hatch's world could be described as dim:
in actual fact, Lily found her seated in a blaze of electric
light, impartially projected from various ornamental excrescences
on a vast concavity of pink damask and gilding, from which she
rose like Venus from her shell. The analogy was justified by the
appearance of the lady, whose large-eyed prettiness had the
fixity of something impaled and shown under glass. This did not
preclude the immediate discovery that she was some years younger
than her visitor, and that under her showiness, her ease,
the aggression of her dress and voice, there persisted that
ineradicable innocence which, in ladies of her nationality, so
curiously coexists with startling extremes of experience.

The environment in which Lily found herself was as strange to her
as its inhabitants. She was unacquainted with the world of the
fashionable New York hotel--a world over-heated,
over-upholstered, and over-fitted with mechanical appliances for
the gratification of fantastic requirements, while the comforts
of a civilized life were as unattainable as in a desert. Through
this atmosphere of torrid splendour moved wan beings as richly
upholstered as the furniture, beings without definite pursuits or
permanent relations, who drifted on a languid tide of curiosity
from restaurant to concert-hall, from palm-garden to music-room,
from "art exhibit" to dress-maker's opening. High-stepping horses
or elaborately equipped motors waited to carry these ladies into
vague metropolitan distances, whence they returned, still more
wan from the weight of their sables, to be sucked back into the
stifling inertia of the hotel routine. Somewhere behind them, in
the background of their lives, there was doubtless a real past,
peopled by real human activities: they themselves were probably
the product of strong ambitions, persistent energies, diversified
contacts with the wholesome roughness of life; yet they had no
more real existence than the poet's shades in limbo.

Lily had not been long in this pallid world without discovering
that Mrs. Hatch was its most substantial figure. That lady,
though still floating in the void, showed faint symptoms of
developing an outline; and in this endeavour she was actively
seconded by Mr. Melville Stancy. It was Mr. Stancy, a man of
large resounding presence, suggestive of convivial occasions and
of a chivalry finding expression in "first-night" boxes and
thousand dollar bonbonnieres, who had transplanted Mrs. Hatch
from the scene of her first development to the higher stage of
hotel life in the metropolis. It was he who had selected the
horses with which she had taken the blue ribbon at the Show, had
introduced her to the photographer whose portraits of her formed
the recurring ornament of "Sunday Supplements," and had got
together the group which constituted her social world. It was a
small group still, with heterogeneous figures suspended
in large unpeopled spaces; but Lily did not take long to learn
that its regulation was no longer in Mr. Stancy's hands. As often
happens, the pupil had outstripped the teacher, and Mrs. Hatch
was already aware of heights of elegance as well as depths of
luxury beyond the world of the Emporium. This discovery at once
produced in her a craving for higher guidance, for the adroit
feminine hand which should give the right turn to her
correspondence, the right "look" to her hats, the right
succession to the items of her MENUS. It was, in short, as the
regulator of a germinating social life that Miss Bart's guidance
was required; her ostensible duties as secretary being restricted
by the fact that Mrs. Hatch, as yet, knew hardly any one to write

The daily details of Mrs. Hatch's existence were as strange to
Lily as its general tenor. The lady's habits were marked by an
Oriental indolence and disorder peculiarly trying to her
companion. Mrs. Hatch and her friends seemed to float together
outside the bounds of time and space. No definite hours were
kept; no fixed obligations existed: night and day flowed into one
another in a blur of confused and retarded engagements, so that
one had the impression of lunching at the tea-hour, while dinner
was often merged in the noisy after-theatre supper which
prolonged Mrs. Hatch's vigil till daylight.

Through this jumble of futile activities came and went a strange
throng of hangers-on--manicures, beauty-doctors, hair-dressers,
teachers of bridge, of French, of "physical development": figures
sometimes indistinguishable, by their appearance, or by Mrs.
Hatch's relation to them, from the visitors constituting her
recognized society. But strangest of all to Lily was the
encounter, in this latter group, of several of her acquaintances.
She had supposed, and not without relief, that she was passing,
for the moment, completely out of her own circle; but she found
that Mr. Stancy, one side of whose sprawling existence overlapped
the edge of Mrs. Fisher's world, had drawn several of its
brightest ornaments into the circle of the Emporium. To find Ned
Silverton among the habitual frequenters of Mrs. Hatch's
drawing-room was one of Lily's first astonishments; but she soon
discovered that he was not Mr. Stancy's most important
recruit. It was on little Freddy Van Osburgh, the small slim heir
of the Van Osburgh millions, that the attention of Mrs. Hatch's
group was centred. Freddy, barely out of college, had risen above
the horizon since Lily's eclipse, and she now saw with surprise
what an effulgence he shed on the outer twilight of Mrs. Hatch's
existence. This, then, was one of the things that young men "went
in" for when released from the official social routine; this
was the kind of "previous engagement" that so frequently caused
them to disappoint the hopes of anxious hostesses. Lily had an
odd sense of being behind the social tapestry, on the side where
the threads were knotted and the loose ends hung. For a moment
she found a certain amusement in the show, and in her own share
of it: the situation had an ease and unconventionality distinctly
refreshing after her experience of the irony of conventions. But
these flashes of amusement were but brief reactions from the long
disgust of her days. Compared with the vast gilded void of Mrs.
Hatch's existence, the life of Lily's former friends seemed
packed with ordered activities. Even the most irresponsible
pretty woman of her acquaintance had her inherited obligations,
her conventional benevolences, her share in the working of the
great civic machine; and all hung together in the solidarity of
these traditional functions. The performance of specific duties
would have simplified Miss Bart's position; but the vague
attendance on Mrs. Hatch was not without its perplexities.

It was not her employer who created these perplexities. Mrs.
Hatch showed from the first an almost touching desire for Lily's
approval. Far from asserting the superiority of wealth, her
beautiful eyes seemed to urge the plea of inexperience: she
wanted to do what was "nice," to be taught how to be "lovely."
The difficulty was to find any point of contact between her
ideals and Lily's.

Mrs. Hatch swam in a haze of indeterminate enthusiasms, of
aspirations culled from the stage, the newspapers, the fashion
journals, and a gaudy world of sport still more completely beyond
her companion's ken. To separate from these confused conceptions
those most likely to advance the lady on her way, was Lily's
obvious duty; but its performance was hampered by
rapidly-growing doubts. Lily was in fact becoming more and more
aware of a certain ambiguity in her situation. It was not that
she had, in the conventional sense, any doubt of Mrs. Hatch's
irreproachableness. The lady's offences were always against taste
rather than conduct; her divorce record seemed due to
geographical rather than ethical conditions; and her worst
laxities were likely to proceed from a wandering and extravagant
good-nature. But if Lily did not mind her detaining her manicure
for luncheon, or offering the "Beauty-Doctor" a seat in Freddy
Van Osburgh's box at the play, she was not equally at ease in
regard to some less apparent lapses from convention. Ned
Silverton's relation to Stancy seemed, for instance, closer and
less clear than any natural affinities would warrant; and both
appeared united in the effort to cultivate Freddy Van Osburgh's
growing taste for Mrs. Hatch. There was as yet nothing definable
in the situation, which might well resolve itself into a huge
joke on the part of the other two; but Lily had a vague sense
that the subject of their experiment was too young, too rich and
too credulous. Her embarrassment was increased by the fact that
Freddy seemed to regard her as cooperating with himself in the
social development of Mrs. Hatch: a view that suggested, on his
part, a permanent interest in the lady's future. There were
moments when Lily found an ironic amusement in this aspect of the
case. The thought of launching such a missile as Mrs. Hatch at
the perfidious bosom of society was not without its charm: Miss
Bart had even beguiled her leisure with visions of the fair Norma
introduced for the first time to a family banquet at the Van
Osburghs'. But the thought of being personally connected with the
transaction was less agreeable; and her momentary flashes of
amusement were followed by increasing periods of doubt.

The sense of these doubts was uppermost when, late one afternoon,
she was surprised by a visit from Lawrence Selden. He found her
alone in the wilderness of pink damask, for in Mrs. Hatch's world


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