hm home tischdecke
chapter 11 meanwhile the holidays had gone by and theseason was beginning. fifth avenue had become a nightly torrentof carriages surging upward to the fashionable quarters about the park, whereilluminated windows and outspread awnings betokened the usual routine of hospitality. other tributary currents crossed themainstream, bearing their freight to the theatres, restaurants or opera; and mrs.peniston, from the secluded watch-tower of her upper window, could tell to a nicety just when the chronic volume of sound wasincreased by the sudden influx setting
toward a van osburgh ball, or when themultiplication of wheels meant merely that the opera was over, or that there was a bigsupper at sherry's. mrs. peniston followed the rise andculmination of the season as keenly as the most active sharer in its gaieties; and, asa looker-on, she enjoyed opportunities of comparison and generalization such as thosewho take part must proverbially forego. no one could have kept a more accuraterecord of social fluctuations, or have put a more unerring finger on thedistinguishing features of each season: its dulness, its extravagance, its lack ofballs or excess of divorces. she had a special memory for thevicissitudes of the "new people" who rose
to the surface with each recurring tide,and were either submerged beneath its rush or landed triumphantly beyond the reach of envious breakers; and she was apt todisplay a remarkable retrospective insight into their ultimate fate, so that, whenthey had fulfilled their destiny, she was almost always able to say to grace stepney- -the recipient of her prophecies--that shehad known exactly what would happen. this particular season mrs. peniston wouldhave characterized as that in which everybody "felt poor" except the welly brysand mr. simon rosedale. it had been a bad autumn in wall street,where prices fell in accordance with that
peculiar law which proves railway stocksand bales of cotton to be more sensitive to the allotment of executive power than many estimable citizens trained to all theadvantages of self-government. even fortunes supposed to be independent ofthe market either betrayed a secret dependence on it, or suffered from asympathetic affection: fashion sulked in its country houses, or came to town incognito, general entertainments werediscountenanced, and informality and short dinners became the fashion. but society, amused for a while at playingcinderella, soon wearied of the hearthside
role, and welcomed the fairy godmother inthe shape of any magician powerful enough to turn the shrunken pumpkin back againinto the golden coach. the mere fact of growing richer at a timewhen most people's investments are shrinking, is calculated to attract enviousattention; and according to wall street rumours, welly bry and rosedale had foundthe secret of performing this miracle. rosedale, in particular, was said to havedoubled his fortune, and there was talk of his buying the newly-finished house of oneof the victims of the crash, who, in the space of twelve short months, had made the same number of millions, built a house infifth avenue, filled a picture-gallery with
old masters, entertained all new york init, and been smuggled out of the country between a trained nurse and a doctor, while his creditors mounted guard over the oldmasters, and his guests explained to each other that they had dined with him onlybecause they wanted to see the pictures. mr. rosedale meant to have a less meteoriccareer. he knew he should have to go slowly, andthe instincts of his race fitted him to suffer rebuffs and put up with delays. but he was prompt to perceive that thegeneral dulness of the season afforded him an unusual opportunity to shine, and he setabout with patient industry to form a
background for his growing glory. mrs. fisher was of immense service to himat this period. she had set off so many newcomers on thesocial stage that she was like one of those pieces of stock scenery which tell theexperienced spectator exactly what is going to take place. but mr. rosedale wanted, in the long run,a more individual environment. he was sensitive to shades of differencewhich miss bart would never have credited him with perceiving, because he had nocorresponding variations of manner; and it was becoming more and more clear to him
that miss bart herself possessed preciselythe complementary qualities needed to round off his social personality.such details did not fall within the range of mrs. peniston's vision. like many minds of panoramic sweep, herswas apt to overlook the minutiae of the foreground, and she was much more likely toknow where carry fisher had found the welly brys' chef for them, than what washappening to her own niece. she was not, however, without purveyors ofinformation ready to supplement her deficiencies. grace stepney's mind was like a kind ofmoral fly-paper, to which the buzzing items
of gossip were drawn by a fatal attraction,and where they hung fast in the toils of an inexorable memory. lily would have been surprised to know howmany trivial facts concerning herself were lodged in miss stepney's head. she was quite aware that she was ofinterest to dingy people, but she assumed that there is only one form of dinginess,and that admiration for brilliancy is the natural expression of its inferior state. she knew that gerty farish admired herblindly, and therefore supposed that she inspired the same sentiments in gracestepney, whom she classified as a gerty
farish without the saving traits of youthand enthusiasm. in reality, the two differed from eachother as much as they differed from the object of their mutual contemplation. miss farish's heart was a fountain oftender illusions, miss stepney's a precise register of facts as manifested in theirrelation to herself. she had sensibilities which, to lily, wouldhave seemed comic in a person with a freckled nose and red eyelids, who lived ina boarding-house and admired mrs. peniston's drawing-room; but poor grace's limitations gave them a more concentratedinner life, as poor soil starves certain
plants into intenser efflorescence. she had in truth no abstract propensity tomalice: she did not dislike lily because the latter was brilliant and predominant,but because she thought that lily disliked her. it is less mortifying to believe one's selfunpopular than insignificant, and vanity prefers to assume that indifference is alatent form of unfriendliness. even such scant civilities as lily accordedto mr. rosedale would have made miss stepney her friend for life; but how couldshe foresee that such a friend was worth cultivating?
how, moreover, can a young woman who hasnever been ignored measure the pang which this injury inflicts? and, lastly, how could lily, accustomed tochoose between a pressure of engagements, guess that she had mortally offended missstepney by causing her to be excluded from one of mrs. peniston's infrequent dinner-parties? mrs. peniston disliked giving dinners, butshe had a high sense of family obligation, and on the jack stepneys' return from theirhoneymoon she felt it incumbent upon her to light the drawing-room lamps and extract her best silver from the safe depositvaults.
mrs. peniston's rare entertainments werepreceded by days of heart-rending vacillation as to every detail of thefeast, from the seating of the guests to the pattern of the table-cloth, and in the course of one of these preliminarydiscussions she had imprudently suggested to her cousin grace that, as the dinner wasa family affair, she might be included in it. for a week the prospect had lighted up missstepney's colourless existence; then she had been given to understand that it wouldbe more convenient to have her another day. miss stepney knew exactly what hadhappened.
lily, to whom family reunions wereoccasions of unalloyed dulness, had persuaded her aunt that a dinner of "smart"people would be much more to the taste of the young couple, and mrs. peniston, who leaned helplessly on her niece in socialmatters, had been prevailed upon to pronounce grace's exile.after all, grace could come any other day; why should she mind being put off? it was precisely because miss stepney couldcome any other day--and because she knew her relations were in the secret of herunoccupied evenings--that this incident loomed gigantically on her horizon.
she was aware that she had lily to thankfor it; and dull resentment was turned to active animosity. mrs. peniston, on whom she had looked in aday or two after the dinner, laid down her crochet-work and turned abruptly from heroblique survey of fifth avenue. "gus trenor?--lily and gus trenor?" shesaid, growing so suddenly pale that her visitor was almost alarmed."oh, cousin julia...of course i don't mean ..." "i don't know what you do mean," said mrs.peniston, with a frightened quiver in her small fretful voice."such things were never heard of in my day.
and my own niece! i'm not sure i understand you.do people say he's in love with her?" mrs. peniston's horror was genuine. though she boasted an unequalledfamiliarity with the secret chronicles of society, she had the innocence of theschool-girl who regards wickedness as a part of "history," and to whom it never occurs that the scandals she reads of inlesson-hours may be repeating themselves in the next street.mrs. peniston had kept her imagination shrouded, like the drawing-room furniture.
she knew, of course, that society was "verymuch changed," and that many women her mother would have thought "peculiar" werenow in a position to be critical about their visiting-lists; she had discussed the perils of divorce with her rector, and hadfelt thankful at times that lily was still unmarried; but the idea that any scandalcould attach to a young girl's name, above all that it could be lightly coupled with that of a married man, was so new to herthat she was as much aghast as if she had been accused of leaving her carpets downall summer, or of violating any of the other cardinal laws of housekeeping.
miss stepney, when her first fright hadsubsided, began to feel the superiority that greater breadth of mind confers.it was really pitiable to be as ignorant of the world as mrs. peniston! she smiled at the latter's question."people always say unpleasant things--and certainly they're a great deal together. a friend of mine met them the otherafternoon in the park-quite late, after the lamps were lit.it's a pity lily makes herself so conspicuous." "conspicuous!" gasped mrs. peniston.she bent forward, lowering her voice to
mitigate the horror."what sort of things do they say? that he means to get a divorce and marryher?" grace stepney laughed outright."dear me, no! he would hardly do that. it--it's a flirtation--nothing more.""a flirtation? between my niece and a married man? do you mean to tell me that, with lily'slooks and advantages, she could find no better use for her time than to waste it ona fat stupid man almost old enough to be her father?"
this argument had such a convincing ringthat it gave mrs. peniston sufficient reassurance to pick up her work, while shewaited for grace stepney to rally her scattered forces. but miss stepney was on the spot in aninstant. "that's the worst of it--people say sheisn't wasting her time! every one knows, as you say, that lily istoo handsome and-and charming--to devote herself to a man like gus trenor unless--""unless?" echoed mrs. peniston. her visitor drew breath nervously. it was agreeable to shock mrs. peniston,but not to shock her to the verge of anger.
miss stepney was not sufficiently familiarwith the classic drama to have recalled in advance how bearers of bad tidings areproverbially received, but she now had a rapid vision of forfeited dinners and a reduced wardrobe as the possibleconsequence of her disinterestedness. to the honour of her sex, however, hatredof lily prevailed over more personal considerations. mrs. peniston had chosen the wrong momentto boast of her niece's charms. "unless," said grace, leaning forward tospeak with low-toned emphasis, "unless there are material advantages to be gainedby making herself agreeable to him."
she felt that the moment was tremendous,and remembered suddenly that mrs. peniston's black brocade, with the cut jetfringe, would have been hers at the end of the season. mrs. peniston put down her work again. another aspect of the same idea hadpresented itself to her, and she felt that it was beneath her dignity to have hernerves racked by a dependent relative who wore her old clothes. "if you take pleasure in annoying me bymysterious insinuations," she said coldly, "you might at least have chosen a moresuitable time than just as i am recovering
from the strain of giving a large dinner." the mention of the dinner dispelled missstepney's last scruples. "i don't know why i should be accused oftaking pleasure in telling you about lily. i was sure i shouldn't get any thanks forit," she returned with a flare of temper. "but i have some family feeling left, andas you are the only person who has any authority over lily, i thought you ought toknow what is being said of her." "well," said mrs. peniston, "what icomplain of is that you haven't told me yet what is being said.""i didn't suppose i should have to put it so plainly.
people say that gus trenor pays her bills.""pays her bills--her bills?" mrs. peniston broke into a laugh."i can't imagine where you can have picked up such rubbish. lily has her own income--and i provide forher very handsomely--" "oh, we all know that," interposed missstepney drily. "but lily wears a great many smart gowns--" "i like her to be well-dressed--it's onlysuitable!" "certainly; but then there are her gamblingdebts besides." miss stepney, in the beginning, had notmeant to bring up this point; but mrs.
peniston had only her own incredulity toblame. she was like the stiff-necked unbelieversof scripture, who must be annihilated to be convinced."gambling debts? lily?" mrs. peniston's voice shook with anger andbewilderment. she wondered whether grace stepney had goneout of her mind. "what do you mean by her gambling debts?" "simply that if one plays bridge for moneyin lily's set one is liable to lose a great deal--and i don't suppose lily alwayswins."
"who told you that my niece played cardsfor money?" "mercy, cousin julia, don't look at me asif i were trying to turn you against lily! everybody knows she is crazy about bridge. mrs. gryce told me herself that it was hergambling that frightened percy gryce--it seems he was really taken with her atfirst. but, of course, among lily's friends it'squite the custom for girls to play for money.in fact, people are inclined to excuse her on that account----" "to excuse her for what?""for being hard up--and accepting
attentions from men like gus trenor--andgeorge dorset----" mrs. peniston gave another cry. "george dorset?is there any one else? i should like to know the worst, if youplease." "don't put it in that way, cousin julia. lately lily has been a good deal with thedorsets, and he seems to admire her--but of course that's only natural. and i'm sure there is no truth in thehorrid things people say; but she has been spending a great deal of money this winter.
evie van osburgh was at celeste's orderingher trousseau the other day--yes, the marriage takes place next month--and shetold me that celeste showed her the most exquisite things she was just sending hometo lily. and people say that judy trenor hasquarrelled with her on account of gus; but i'm sure i'm sorry i spoke, though i onlymeant it as a kindness." mrs. peniston's genuine incredulity enabledher to dismiss miss stepney with a disdain which boded ill for that lady's prospect ofsucceeding to the black brocade; but minds impenetrable to reason have generally some crack through which suspicion filters, andher visitor's insinuations did not glide
off as easily as she had expected. mrs. peniston disliked scenes, and herdetermination to avoid them had always led her to hold herself aloof from the detailsof lily's life. in her youth, girls had not been supposedto require close supervision. they were generally assumed to be taken upwith the legitimate business of courtship and marriage, and interference in suchaffairs on the part of their natural guardians was considered as unwarrantable as a spectator's suddenly joining in agame. there had of course been "fast" girls evenin mrs. peniston's early experience; but
their fastness, at worst, was understood tobe a mere excess of animal spirits, against which there could be no graver charge thanthat of being "unladylike." the modern fastness appeared synonymouswith immorality, and the mere idea of immorality was as offensive to mrs.peniston as a smell of cooking in the drawing-room: it was one of the conceptionsher mind refused to admit. she had no immediate intention of repeatingto lily what she had heard, or even of trying to ascertain its truth by means ofdiscreet interrogation. to do so might be to provoke a scene; and ascene, in the shaken state of mrs. peniston's nerves, with the effects of herdinner not worn off, and her mind still
tremulous with new impressions, was a riskshe deemed it her duty to avoid. but there remained in her thoughts asettled deposit of resentment against her niece, all the denser because it was not tobe cleared by explanation or discussion. it was horrible of a young girl to letherself be talked about; however unfounded the charges against her, she must be toblame for their having been made. mrs. peniston felt as if there had been acontagious illness in the house, and she was doomed to sit shivering among hercontaminated furniture. > chapter 12
miss bart had in fact been treading adevious way, and none of her critics could have been more alive to the fact thanherself; but she had a fatalistic sense of being drawn from one wrong turning to another, without ever perceiving the rightroad till it was too late to take it. lily, who considered herself above narrowprejudices, had not imagined that the fact of letting gus trenor make a little moneyfor her would ever disturb her self- complacency. and the fact in itself still seemedharmless enough; only it was a fertile source of harmful complications.
as she exhausted the amusement of spendingthe money these complications became more pressing, and lily, whose mind could beseverely logical in tracing the causes of her ill-luck to others, justified herself by the thought that she owed all hertroubles to the enmity of bertha dorset. this enmity, however, had apparentlyexpired in a renewal of friendliness between the two women. lily's visit to the dorsets had resulted,for both, in the discovery that they could be of use to each other; and the civilizedinstinct finds a subtler pleasure in making use of its antagonist than in confoundinghim.
mrs. dorset was, in fact, engaged in a newsentimental experiment, of which mrs. fisher's late property, ned silverton, wasthe rosy victim; and at such moments, as judy trenor had once remarked, she felt a peculiar need of distracting her husband'sattention. dorset was as difficult to amuse as asavage; but even his self-engrossment was not proof against lily's arts, or ratherthese were especially adapted to soothe an uneasy egoism. her experience with percy gryce stood herin good stead in ministering to dorset's humours, and if the incentive to please wasless urgent, the difficulties of her
situation were teaching her to make much ofminor opportunities. intimacy with the dorsets was not likely tolessen such difficulties on the material side. mrs. dorset had none of judy trenor'slavish impulses, and dorset's admiration was not likely to express itself infinancial "tips," even had lily cared to renew her experiences in that line. what she required, for the moment, of thedorsets' friendship, was simply its social sanction. she knew that people were beginning to talkof her; but this fact did not alarm her as
it had alarmed mrs. peniston. in her set such gossip was not unusual, anda handsome girl who flirted with a married man was merely assumed to be pressing tothe limit of her opportunities. it was trenor himself who frightened her. their walk in the park had not been asuccess. trenor had married young, and since hismarriage his intercourse with women had not taken the form of the sentimental small-talk which doubles upon itself like the paths in a maze. he was first puzzled and then irritated tofind himself always led back to the same
starting-point, and lily felt that she wasgradually losing control of the situation. trenor was in truth in an unmanageablemood. in spite of his understanding with rosedalehe had been somewhat heavily "touched" by the fall in stocks; his household expensesweighed on him, and he seemed to be meeting, on all sides, a sullen opposition to his wishes, instead of the easy goodluck he had hitherto encountered. mrs. trenor was still at bellomont, keepingthe town-house open, and descending on it now and then for a taste of the world, butpreferring the recurrent excitement of week-end parties to the restrictions of adull season.
since the holidays she had not urged lilyto return to bellomont, and the first time they met in town lily fancied there was ashade of coldness in her manner. was it merely the expression of herdispleasure at miss bart's neglect, or had disquieting rumours reached her? the latter contingency seemed improbable,yet lily was not without a sense of uneasiness. if her roaming sympathies had struck rootanywhere, it was in her friendship with judy trenor. she believed in the sincerity of herfriend's affection, though it sometimes
showed itself in self-interested ways, andshe shrank with peculiar reluctance from any risk of estranging it. but, aside from this, she was keenlyconscious of the way in which such an estrangement would react on herself. the fact that gus trenor was judy's husbandwas at times lily's strongest reason for disliking him, and for resenting theobligation under which he had placed her. to set her doubts at rest, miss bart, soonafter the new year, "proposed" herself for a week-end at bellomont. she had learned in advance that thepresence of a large party would protect her
from too great assiduity on trenor's part,and his wife's telegraphic "come by all means" seemed to assure her of her usualwelcome. judy received her amicably. the cares of a large party always prevailedover personal feelings, and lily saw no change in her hostess's manner. nevertheless, she was soon aware that theexperiment of coming to bellomont was destined not to be successful. the party was made up of what mrs. trenorcalled "poky people"--her generic name for persons who did not play bridge--and, itbeing her habit to group all such
obstructionists in one class, she usually invited them together, regardless of theirother characteristics. the result was apt to be an irreduciblecombination of persons having no other quality in common than their abstinencefrom bridge, and the antagonisms developed in a group lacking the one taste which might have amalgamated them, were in thiscase aggravated by bad weather, and by the ill-concealed boredom of their host andhostess. in such emergencies, judy would usuallyhave turned to lily to fuse the discordant elements; and miss bart, assuming that sucha service was expected of her, threw
herself into it with her accustomed zeal. but at the outset she perceived a subtleresistance to her efforts. if mrs. trenor's manner toward her wasunchanged, there was certainly a faint coldness in that of the other ladies. an occasional caustic allusion to "yourfriends the wellington brys," or to "the little jew who has bought the greinerhouse--some one told us you knew him, miss bart,"--showed lily that she was in disfavour with that portion of societywhich, while contributing least to its amusement, has assumed the right to decidewhat forms that amusement shall take.
the indication was a slight one, and a yearago lily would have smiled at it, trusting to the charm of her personality to dispelany prejudice against her. but now she had grown more sensitive tocriticism and less confident in her power of disarming it. she knew, moreover, that if the ladies atbellomont permitted themselves to criticize her friends openly, it was a proof thatthey were not afraid of subjecting her to the same treatment behind her back. the nervous dread lest anything in trenor'smanner should seem to justify their disapproval made her seek every pretext foravoiding him, and she left bellomont
conscious of having failed in every purposewhich had taken her there. in town she returned to preoccupationswhich, for the moment, had the happy effect of banishing troublesome thoughts. the welly brys, after much debate, andanxious counsel with their newly acquired friends, had decided on the bold move ofgiving a general entertainment. to attack society collectively, when one'smeans of approach are limited to a few acquaintances, is like advancing into astrange country with an insufficient number of scouts; but such rash tactics have sometimes led to brilliant victories, andthe brys had determined to put their fate
to the touch. mrs. fisher, to whom they had entrusted theconduct of the affair, had decided that tableaux vivants and expensive music werethe two baits most likely to attract the desired prey, and after prolonged negotiations, and the kind of wire-pullingin which she was known to excel, she had induced a dozen fashionable women toexhibit themselves in a series of pictures which, by a farther miracle of persuasion, the distinguished portrait painter, paulmorpeth, had been prevailed upon to organize.lily was in her element on such occasions.
under morpeth's guidance her vivid plasticsense, hitherto nurtured on no higher food than dress-making and upholstery, foundeager expression in the disposal of draperies, the study of attitudes, theshifting of lights and shadows. her dramatic instinct was roused by thechoice of subjects, and the gorgeous reproductions of historic dress stirred animagination which only visual impressions could reach. but keenest of all was the exhilaration ofdisplaying her own beauty under a new aspect: of showing that her loveliness wasno mere fixed quality, but an element shaping all emotions to fresh forms ofgrace.
mrs. fisher's measures had been well-taken,and society, surprised in a dull moment, succumbed to the temptation of mrs. bry'shospitality. the protesting minority were forgotten inthe throng which abjured and came; and the audience was almost as brilliant as theshow. lawrence selden was among those who hadyielded to the proffered inducements. if he did not often act on the acceptedsocial axiom that a man may go where he pleases, it was because he had long sincelearned that his pleasures were mainly to be found in a small group of the like-minded. but he enjoyed spectacular effects, and wasnot insensible to the part money plays in
their production: all he asked was that thevery rich should live up to their calling as stage-managers, and not spend theirmoney in a dull way. this the brys could certainly not becharged with doing. their recently built house, whatever itmight lack as a frame for domesticity, was almost as well-designed for the display ofa festal assemblage as one of those airy pleasure-halls which the italian architects improvised to set off the hospitality ofprinces. the air of improvisation was in factstrikingly present: so recent, so rapidly- evoked was the whole mise-en-scene that onehad to touch the marble columns to learn
they were not of cardboard, to seat one's self in one of the damask-and-gold arm-chairs to be sure it was not painted against the wall. selden, who had put one of these seats tothe test, found himself, from an angle of the ball-room, surveying the scene withfrank enjoyment. the company, in obedience to the decorativeinstinct which calls for fine clothes in fine surroundings, had dressed rather withan eye to mrs. bry's background than to herself. the seated throng, filling the immense roomwithout undue crowding, presented a surface
of rich tissues and jewelled shoulders inharmony with the festooned and gilded walls, and the flushed splendours of thevenetian ceiling. at the farther end of the room a stage hadbeen constructed behind a proscenium arch curtained with folds of old damask; but inthe pause before the parting of the folds there was little thought of what they might reveal, for every woman who had acceptedmrs. bry's invitation was engaged in trying to find out how many of her friends haddone the same. gerty farish, seated next to selden, waslost in that indiscriminate and uncritical enjoyment so irritating to miss bart'sfiner perceptions.
it may be that selden's nearness hadsomething to do with the quality of his cousin's pleasure; but miss farish was solittle accustomed to refer her enjoyment of such scenes to her own share in them, that she was merely conscious of a deeper senseof contentment. "wasn't it dear of lily to get me aninvitation? of course it would never have occurred tocarry fisher to put me on the list, and i should have been so sorry to miss seeing itall--and especially lily herself. some one told me the ceiling was byveronese--you would know, of course, lawrence.i suppose it's very beautiful, but his
women are so dreadfully fat. goddesses?well, i can only say that if they'd been mortals and had to wear corsets, it wouldhave been better for them. i think our women are much handsomer. and this room is wonderfully becoming--every one looks so well! did you ever see such jewels? do look at mrs. george dorset's pearls--isuppose the smallest of them would pay the rent of our girls' club for a year. not that i ought to complain about theclub; every one has been so wonderfully
kind.did i tell you that lily had given us three hundred dollars? wasn't it splendid of her?and then she collected a lot of money from her friends--mrs. bry gave us five hundred,and mr. rosedale a thousand. i wish lily were not so nice to mr.rosedale, but she says it's no use being rude to him, because he doesn't see thedifference. she really can't bear to hurt people'sfeelings--it makes me so angry when i hear her called cold and conceited!the girls at the club don't call her that. do you know she has been there with metwice?--yes, lily!
and you should have seen their eyes!one of them said it was as good as a day in the country just to look at her. and she sat there, and laughed and talkedwith them--not a bit as if she were being charitable, you know, but as if she likedit as much as they did. they've been asking ever since when she'scoming back; and she's promised me----oh!" miss farish's confidences were cut short bythe parting of the curtain on the first tableau--a group of nymphs dancing acrossflower-strewn sward in the rhythmic postures of botticelli's spring. tableaux vivants depend for their effectnot only on the happy disposal of lights
and the delusive-interposition of layers ofgauze, but on a corresponding adjustment of the mental vision. to unfurnished minds they remain, in spiteof every enhancement of art, only a superior kind of wax-works; but to theresponsive fancy they may give magic glimpses of the boundary world between factand imagination. selden's mind was of this order: he couldyield to vision-making influences as completely as a child to the spell of afairy-tale. mrs. bry's tableaux wanted none of thequalities which go to the producing of such illusions, and under morpeth's organizinghand the pictures succeeded each other with
the rhythmic march of some splendid frieze, in which the fugitive curves of livingflesh and the wandering light of young eyes have been subdued to plastic harmonywithout losing the charm of life. the scenes were taken from old pictures,and the participators had been cleverly fitted with characters suited to theirtypes. no one, for instance, could have made amore typical goya than carry fisher, with her short dark-skinned face, theexaggerated glow of her eyes, the provocation of her frankly-painted smile. a brilliant miss smedden from brooklynshowed to perfection the sumptuous curves
of titian's daughter, lifting her goldsalver laden with grapes above the harmonizing gold of rippled hair and rich brocade, and a young mrs. van alstyne, whoshowed the frailer dutch type, with high blue-veined forehead and pale eyes andlashes, made a characteristic vandyck, in black satin, against a curtained archway. then there were kauffmann nymphs garlandingthe altar of love; a veronese supper, all sheeny textures, pearl-woven heads andmarble architecture; and a watteau group of lute-playing comedians, lounging by afountain in a sunlit glade. each evanescent picture touched the vision-building faculty in selden, leading him so
far down the vistas of fancy that evengerty farish's running commentary--"oh, how lovely lulu melson looks!" or: "that must be kate corby, to the right there, inpurple"--did not break the spell of the illusion. indeed, so skilfully had the personality ofthe actors been subdued to the scenes they figured in that even the least imaginativeof the audience must have felt a thrill of contrast when the curtain suddenly parted on a picture which was simply andundisguisedly the portrait of miss bart. here there could be no mistaking thepredominance of personality--the unanimous
"oh!" of the spectators was a tribute, notto the brush-work of reynolds's "mrs. lloyd" but to the flesh and bloodloveliness of lily bart. she had shown her artistic intelligence inselecting a type so like her own that she could embody the person represented withoutceasing to be herself. it was as though she had stepped, not outof, but into, reynolds's canvas, banishing the phantom of his dead beauty by the beamsof her living grace. the impulse to show herself in a splendidsetting--she had thought for a moment of representing tiepolo's cleopatra--hadyielded to the truer instinct of trusting to her unassisted beauty, and she had
purposely chosen a picture withoutdistracting accessories of dress or surroundings. her pale draperies, and the background offoliage against which she stood, served only to relieve the long dryad-like curvesthat swept upward from her poised foot to her lifted arm. the noble buoyancy of her attitude, itssuggestion of soaring grace, revealed the touch of poetry in her beauty that seldenalways felt in her presence, yet lost the sense of when he was not with her. its expression was now so vivid that forthe first time he seemed to see before him
the real lily bart, divested of thetrivialities of her little world, and catching for a moment a note of that eternal harmony of which her beauty was apart. "deuced bold thing to show herself in thatget-up; but, gad, there isn't a break in the lines anywhere, and i suppose shewanted us to know it!" these words, uttered by that experiencedconnoisseur, mr. ned van alstyne, whose scented white moustache had brushedselden's shoulder whenever the parting of the curtains presented any exceptional opportunity for the study of the femaleoutline, affected their hearer in an
unexpected way. it was not the first time that selden hadheard lily's beauty lightly remarked on, and hitherto the tone of the comments hadimperceptibly coloured his view of her. but now it woke only a motion of indignantcontempt. this was the world she lived in, these werethe standards by which she was fated to be measured! does one go to caliban for a judgment onmiranda? in the long moment before the curtain fell,he had time to feel the whole tragedy of her life.
it was as though her beauty, thus detachedfrom all that cheapened and vulgarized it, had held out suppliant hands to him fromthe world in which he and she had once met for a moment, and where he felt anovermastering longing to be with her again. he was roused by the pressure of ecstaticfingers. "wasn't she too beautiful, lawrence? don't you like her best in that simpledress? it makes her look like the real lily--thelily i know." he met gerty farish's brimming gaze. "the lily we know," he corrected; and hiscousin, beaming at the implied
understanding, exclaimed joyfully: "i'lltell her that! she always says you dislike her." the performance over, selden's firstimpulse was to seek miss bart. during the interlude of music whichsucceeded the tableaux, the actors had seated themselves here and there in theaudience, diversifying its conventional appearance by the varied picturesqueness oftheir dress. lily, however, was not among them, and herabsence served to protract the effect she had produced on selden: it would havebroken the spell to see her too soon in the surroundings from which accident had sohappily detached her.
they had not met since the day of the vanosburgh wedding, and on his side the avoidance had been intentional. tonight, however, he knew that, sooner orlater, he should find himself at her side; and though he let the dispersing crowddrift him whither it would, without making an immediate effort to reach her, his procrastination was not due to anylingering resistance, but to the desire to luxuriate a moment in the sense of completesurrender. lily had not an instant's doubt as to themeaning of the murmur greeting her appearance.
no other tableau had been received withthat precise note of approval: it had obviously been called forth by herself, andnot by the picture she impersonated. she had feared at the last moment that shewas risking too much in dispensing with the advantages of a more sumptuous setting, andthe completeness of her triumph gave her an intoxicating sense of recovered power. not caring to diminish the impression shehad produced, she held herself aloof from the audience till the movement of dispersalbefore supper, and thus had a second opportunity of showing herself to advantage, as the throng poured slowly intothe empty drawing-room where she was
standing. she was soon the centre of a group whichincreased and renewed itself as the circulation became general, and theindividual comments on her success were a delightful prolongation of the collectiveapplause. at such moments she lost something of hernatural fastidiousness, and cared less for the quality of the admiration received thanfor its quantity. differences of personality were merged in awarm atmosphere of praise, in which her beauty expanded like a flower in sunlight;and if selden had approached a moment or two sooner he would have seen her turning
on ned van alstyne and george dorset thelook he had dreamed of capturing for himself. fortune willed, however, that the hurriedapproach of mrs. fisher, as whose aide-de- camp van alstyne was acting, should breakup the group before selden reached the threshold of the room. one or two of the men wandered off insearch of their partners for supper, and the others, noticing selden's approach,gave way to him in accordance with the tacit freemasonry of the ball-room. lily was therefore standing alone when hereached her; and finding the expected look
in her eye, he had the satisfaction ofsupposing he had kindled it. the look did indeed deepen as it rested onhim, for even in that moment of self- intoxication lily felt the quicker beat oflife that his nearness always produced. she read, too, in his answering gaze thedelicious confirmation of her triumph, and for the moment it seemed to her that it wasfor him only she cared to be beautiful. selden had given her his arm withoutspeaking. she took it in silence, and they movedaway, not toward the supper-room, but against the tide which was setting thither. the faces about her flowed by like thestreaming images of sleep: she hardly
noticed where selden was leading her, tillthey passed through a glass doorway at the end of the long suite of rooms and stoodsuddenly in the fragrant hush of a garden. gravel grated beneath their feet, and aboutthem was the transparent dimness of a midsummer night. hanging lights made emerald caverns in thedepths of foliage, and whitened the spray of a fountain falling among lilies. the magic place was deserted: there was nosound but the splash of the water on the lily-pads, and a distant drift of musicthat might have been blown across a sleeping lake.
selden and lily stood still, accepting theunreality of the scene as a part of their own dream-like sensations. it would not have surprised them to feel asummer breeze on their faces, or to see the lights among the boughs reduplicated in thearch of a starry sky. the strange solitude about them was nostranger than the sweetness of being alone in it together. at length lily withdrew her hand, and movedaway a step, so that her white-robed slimness was outlined against the dusk ofthe branches. selden followed her, and still withoutspeaking they seated themselves on a bench
beside the fountain.suddenly she raised her eyes with the beseeching earnestness of a child. "you never speak to me--you think hardthings of me," she murmured. "i think of you at any rate, god knows!" hesaid. "then why do we never see each other? why can't we be friends?you promised once to help me," she continued in the same tone, as though thewords were drawn from her unwillingly. "the only way i can help you is by lovingyou," selden said in a low voice. she made no reply, but her face turned tohim with the soft motion of a flower.
his own met it slowly, and their lipstouched. she drew back and rose from her seat.selden rose too, and they stood facing each other. suddenly she caught his hand and pressed ita moment against her cheek. "ah, love me, love me--but don't tell meso!" she sighed with her eyes in his; and before he could speak she had turned andslipped through the arch of boughs, disappearing in the brightness of the roombeyond. selden stood where she had left him. he knew too well the transiency ofexquisite moments to attempt to follow her;
but presently he reentered the house andmade his way through the deserted rooms to the door. a few sumptuously-cloaked ladies werealready gathered in the marble vestibule, and in the coat-room he found van alstyneand gus trenor. the former, at selden's approach, paused inthe careful selection of a cigar from one of the silver boxes invitingly set out nearthe door. "hallo, selden, going too? you're an epicurean like myself, i see: youdon't want to see all those goddesses gobbling terrapin.
gad, what a show of good-looking women; butnot one of 'em could touch that little cousin of mine.talk of jewels--what's a woman want with jewels when she's got herself to show? the trouble is that all these fal-bals theywear cover up their figures when they've got 'em.i never knew till tonight what an outline lily has." "it's not her fault if everybody don't knowit now," growled trenor, flushed with the struggle of getting into his fur-linedcoat. "damned bad taste, i call it--no, no cigarfor me.
you can't tell what you're smoking in oneof these new houses--likely as not the chef buys the cigars. stay for supper?not if i know it! when people crowd their rooms so that youcan't get near any one you want to speak to, i'd as soon sup in the elevated at therush hour. my wife was dead right to stay away: shesays life's too short to spend it in breaking in new people." chapter 13 lily woke from happy dreams to find twonotes at her bedside.
one was from mrs. trenor, who announcedthat she was coming to town that afternoon for a flying visit, and hoped miss bartwould be able to dine with her. the other was from selden. he wrote briefly that an important casecalled him to albany, whence he would be unable to return till the evening, andasked lily to let him know at what hour on the following day she would see him. lily, leaning back among her pillows, gazedmusingly at his letter. the scene in the brys' conservatory hadbeen like a part of her dreams; she had not expected to wake to such evidence of itsreality.
her first movement was one of annoyance:this unforeseen act of selden's added another complication to life.it was so unlike him to yield to such an irrational impulse! did he really mean to ask her to marry him? she had once shown him the impossibility ofsuch a hope, and his subsequent behaviour seemed to prove that he had accepted thesituation with a reasonableness somewhat mortifying to her vanity. it was all the more agreeable to find thatthis reasonableness was maintained only at the cost of not seeing her; but, thoughnothing in life was as sweet as the sense
of her power over him, she saw the danger of allowing the episode of the previousnight to have a sequel. since she could not marry him, it would bekinder to him, as well as easier for herself, to write a line amicably evadinghis request to see her: he was not the man to mistake such a hint, and when next they met it would be on their usual friendlyfooting. lily sprang out of bed, and went straightto her desk. she wanted to write at once, while shecould trust to the strength of her resolve. she was still languid from her brief sleepand the exhilaration of the evening, and
the sight of selden's writing brought backthe culminating moment of her triumph: the moment when she had read in his eyes thatno philosophy was proof against her power. it would be pleasant to have that sensationagain...no one else could give it to her in its fulness; and she could not bear to marher mood of luxurious retrospection by an act of definite refusal. she took up her pen and wrote hastily:"tomorrow at four;" murmuring to herself, as she slipped the sheet into its envelope:"i can easily put him off when tomorrow comes." judy trenor's summons was very welcome tolily.
it was the first time she had received adirect communication from bellomont since the close of her last visit there, and shewas still visited by the dread of having incurred judy's displeasure. but this characteristic command seemed toreestablish their former relations; and lily smiled at the thought that her friendhad probably summoned her in order to hear about the brys' entertainment. mrs. trenor had absented herself from thefeast, perhaps for the reason so frankly enunciated by her husband, perhaps because,as mrs. fisher somewhat differently put it, she "couldn't bear new people when shehadn't discovered them herself."
at any rate, though she remained haughtilyat bellomont, lily suspected in her a devouring eagerness to hear of what she hadmissed, and to learn exactly in what measure mrs. wellington bry had surpassed all previous competitors for socialrecognition. lily was quite ready to gratify thiscuriosity, but it happened that she was dining out. she determined, however, to see mrs. trenorfor a few moments, and ringing for her maid she despatched a telegram to say that shewould be with her friend that evening at ten.
she was dining with mrs. fisher, who hadgathered at an informal feast a few of the performers of the previous evening. there was to be plantation music in thestudio after dinner--for mrs. fisher, despairing of the republic, had taken upmodelling, and annexed to her small crowded house a spacious apartment, which, whatever its uses in her hours of plasticinspiration, served at other times for the exercise of an indefatigable hospitality. lily was reluctant to leave, for the dinnerwas amusing, and she would have liked to lounge over a cigarette and hear a fewsongs; but she could not break her
engagement with judy, and shortly after ten she asked her hostess to ring for a hansom,and drove up fifth avenue to the trenors'. she waited long enough on the doorstep towonder that judy's presence in town was not signalized by a greater promptness inadmitting her; and her surprise was increased when, instead of the expected footman, pushing his shoulders into a tardycoat, a shabby care-taking person in calico let her into the shrouded hall. trenor, however, appeared at once on thethreshold of the drawing-room, welcoming her with unusual volubility while herelieved her of her cloak and drew her into
the room. "come along to the den; it's the onlycomfortable place in the house. doesn't this room look as if it was waitingfor the body to be brought down? can't see why judy keeps the house wrappedup in this awful slippery white stuff--it's enough to give a fellow pneumonia to walkthrough these rooms on a cold day. you look a little pinched yourself, by theway: it's rather a sharp night out. i noticed it walking up from the club. come along, and i'll give you a nip ofbrandy, and you can toast yourself over the fire and try some of my new egyptians--thatlittle turkish chap at the embassy put me
on to a brand that i want you to try, and if you like 'em i'll get out a lot for you:they don't have 'em here yet, but i'll cable." he led her through the house to the largeroom at the back, where mrs. trenor usually sat, and where, even in her absence, therewas an air of occupancy. here, as usual, were flowers, newspapers,a littered writing-table, and a general aspect of lamp-lit familiarity, so that itwas a surprise not to see judy's energetic figure start up from the arm-chair near thefire. it was apparently trenor himself who hadbeen occupying the seat in question, for it
was overhung by a cloud of cigar smoke, andnear it stood one of those intricate folding tables which british ingenuity has devised to facilitate the circulation oftobacco and spirits. the sight of such appliances in a drawing-room was not unusual in lily's set, where smoking and drinking were unrestricted byconsiderations of time and place, and her first movement was to help herself to one of the cigarettes recommended by trenor,while she checked his loquacity by asking, with a surprised glance: "where's judy?" trenor, a little heated by his unusual flowof words, and perhaps by prolonged
propinquity with the decanters, was bendingover the latter to decipher their silver labels. "here, now, lily, just a drop of cognac ina little fizzy water--you do look pinched, you know: i swear the end of your nose isred. i'll take another glass to keep youcompany--judy?--why, you see, judy's got a devil of a head ache--quite knocked outwith it, poor thing--she asked me to explain--make it all right, you know--do come up to the fire, though; you look dead-beat, really. now do let me make you comfortable, there'sa good girl."
he had taken her hand, half-banteringly,and was drawing her toward a low seat by the hearth; but she stopped and freedherself quietly. "do you mean to say that judy's not wellenough to see me? doesn't she want me to go upstairs?" trenor drained the glass he had filled forhimself, and paused to set it down before he answered."why, no--the fact is, she's not up to seeing anybody. it came on suddenly, you know, and sheasked me to tell you how awfully sorry she was--if she'd known where you were diningshe'd have sent you word."
"she did know where i was dining; imentioned it in my telegram. but it doesn't matter, of course. i suppose if she's so poorly she won't goback to bellomont in the morning, and i can come and see her then.""yes: exactly--that's capital. i'll tell her you'll pop in tomorrowmorning. and now do sit down a minute, there's adear, and let's have a nice quiet jaw together. you won't take a drop, just forsociability? tell me what you think of that cigarette.why, don't you like it?
what are you chucking it away for?" "i am chucking it away because i must go,if you'll have the goodness to call a cab for me," lily returned with a smile. she did not like trenor's unusualexcitability, with its too evident explanation, and the thought of being alonewith him, with her friend out of reach upstairs, at the other end of the great empty house, did not conduce to a desire toprolong their tete-a-tete. but trenor, with a promptness which did notescape her, had moved between herself and "why must you go, i should like to know?if judy'd been here you'd have sat
gossiping till all hours--and you can'teven give me five minutes! it's always the same story. last night i couldn't get near you--i wentto that damned vulgar party just to see you, and there was everybody talking aboutyou, and asking me if i'd ever seen anything so stunning, and when i tried to come up and say a word, you never took anynotice, but just went on laughing and joking with a lot of asses who only wantedto be able to swagger about afterward, and look knowing when you were mentioned." he paused, flushed by his diatribe, andfixing on her a look in which resentment
was the ingredient she least disliked. but she had regained her presence of mind,and stood composedly in the middle of the room, while her slight smile seemed to putan ever increasing distance between herself and trenor. across it she said: "don't be absurd, gus.it's past eleven, and i must really ask you to ring for a cab."he remained immovable, with the lowering forehead she had grown to detest. "and supposing i won't ring for one--what'll you do then?" "i shall go upstairs to judy if you forceme to disturb her."
trenor drew a step nearer and laid his handon her arm. "look here, lily: won't you give me fiveminutes of your own accord?" "not tonight, gus: you----" "very good, then: i'll take 'em.and as many more as i want." he had squared himself on the threshold,his hands thrust deep in his pockets. he nodded toward the chair on the hearth. "go and sit down there, please: i've got aword to say to you." lily's quick temper was getting the betterof her fears. she drew herself up and moved toward thedoor.
"if you have anything to say to me, youmust say it another time. i shall go up to judy unless you call a cabfor me at once." he burst into a laugh."go upstairs and welcome, my dear; but you won't find judy. she ain't there."lily cast a startled look upon him. "do you mean that judy is not in the house--not in town?" she exclaimed. "that's just what i do mean," returnedtrenor, his bluster sinking to sullenness under her look."nonsense--i don't believe you. i am going upstairs," she said impatiently.
he drew unexpectedly aside, letting herreach the threshold unimpeded. "go up and welcome; but my wife is atbellomont." but lily had a flash of reassurance. "if she hadn't come she would have sent meword----" "she did; she telephoned me this afternoonto let you know." "i received no message." "i didn't send any."the two measured each other for a moment, but lily still saw her opponent through ablur of scorn that made all other considerations indistinct.
"i can't imagine your object in playingsuch a stupid trick on me; but if you have fully gratified your peculiar sense ofhumour i must again ask you to send for a cab." it was the wrong note, and she knew it asshe spoke. to be stung by irony it is not necessary tounderstand it, and the angry streaks on trenor's face might have been raised by anactual lash. "look here, lily, don't take that high andmighty tone with me." he had again moved toward the door, and inher instinctive shrinking from him she let him regain command of the threshold.
"i did play a trick on you; i own up to it;but if you think i'm ashamed you're mistaken.lord knows i've been patient enough--i've hung round and looked like an ass. and all the while you were letting a lot ofother fellows make up to you...letting 'em make fun of me, i daresay...i'm not sharp,and can't dress my friends up to look funny, as you do...but i can tell when it's being done to me...i can tell fast enoughwhen i'm made a fool of ..." "ah, i shouldn't have thought that!"flashed from lily; but her laugh dropped to silence under his look.
"no; you wouldn't have thought it; butyou'll know better now. that's what you're here for tonight. i've been waiting for a quiet time to talkthings over, and now i've got it i mean to make you hear me out." his first rush of inarticulate resentmenthad been followed by a steadiness and concentration of tone more disconcerting tolily than the excitement preceding it. for a moment her presence of mind forsookher. she had more than once been in situationswhere a quick sword-play of wit had been needful to cover her retreat; but herfrightened heart-throbs told her that here
such skill would not avail. to gain time she repeated: "i don'tunderstand what you want." trenor had pushed a chair between herselfand the door. he threw himself in it, and leaned back,looking up at her. "i'll tell you what i want: i want to knowjust where you and i stand. hang it, the man who pays for the dinner isgenerally allowed to have a seat at table." she flamed with anger and abasement, andthe sickening need of having to conciliate where she longed to humble. "i don't know what you mean--but you mustsee, gus, that i can't stay here talking to
you at this hour----" "gad, you go to men's houses fast enough inbroad day light--strikes me you're not always so deuced careful of appearances." the brutality of the thrust gave her thesense of dizziness that follows on a physical blow. rosedale had spoken then--this was the waymen talked of her--she felt suddenly weak and defenceless: there was a throb of self-pity in her throat. but all the while another self wassharpening her to vigilance, whispering the terrified warning that every word andgesture must be measured.
"if you have brought me here to sayinsulting things----" she began. trenor laughed."don't talk stage-rot. i don't want to insult you. but a man's got his feelings--and you'veplayed with mine too long. i didn't begin this business--kept out ofthe way, and left the track clear for the other chaps, till you rummaged me out andset to work to make an ass of me--and an easy job you had of it, too. that's the trouble--it was too easy foryou--you got reckless--thought you could turn me inside out, and chuck me in thegutter like an empty purse.
but, by gad, that ain't playing fair:that's dodging the rules of the game. of course i know now what you wanted--itwasn't my beautiful eyes you were after-- but i tell you what, miss lily, you've gotto pay up for making me think so----" he rose, squaring his shouldersaggressively, and stepped toward her with a reddening brow; but she held her footing,though every nerve tore at her to retreat as he advanced. "pay up?" she faltered."do you mean that i owe you money?" he laughed again."oh, i'm not asking for payment in kind. but there's such a thing as fair play--andinterest on one's money--and hang me if
i've had as much as a look from you----""your money? what have i to do with your money? you advised me how to invest mine...youmust have seen i knew nothing of business ... you told me it was all right----""it was all right--it is, lily: you're welcome to all of it, and ten times more. i'm only asking for a word of thanks fromyou." he was closer still, with a hand that grewformidable; and the frightened self in her was dragging the other down. "i have thanked you; i've shown i wasgrateful.
what more have you done than any friendmight do, or any one accept from a friend?" trenor caught her up with a sneer. "i don't doubt you've accepted as muchbefore--and chucked the other chaps as you'd like to chuck me. i don't care how you settled your scorewith them--if you fooled 'em i'm that much to the good. don't stare at me like that--i know i'm nottalking the way a man is supposed to talk to a girl--but, hang it, if you don't likeit you can stop me quick enough--you know i'm mad about you--damn the money, there's
plenty more of it--if that bothers you...i was a brute, lily--lily!--just look at me----" over and over her the sea of humiliationbroke--wave crashing on wave so close that the moral shame was one with the physicaldread. it seemed to her that self-esteem wouldhave made her invulnerable--that it was her own dishonour which put a fearful solitudeabout her. his touch was a shock to her drowningconsciousness. she drew back from him with a desperateassumption of scorn. "i've told you i don't understand--but if iowe you money you shall be paid----"
trenor's face darkened to rage: her recoilof abhorrence had called out the primitive man. "ah--you'll borrow from selden or rosedale--and take your chances of fooling them as you've fooled me! unless--unless you've settled your otherscores already--and i'm the only one left out in the cold!"she stood silent, frozen to her place. the words--the words were worse than thetouch! her heart was beating all over her body--inher throat, her limbs, her helpless useless hands.
her eyes travelled despairingly about theroom--they lit on the bell, and she remembered that help was in call.yes, but scandal with it--a hideous mustering of tongues. no, she must fight her way out alone.it was enough that the servants knew her to be in the house with trenor--there must benothing to excite conjecture in her way of leaving it. she raised her head, and achieved a lastclear look at him. "i am here alone with you," she said."what more have you to say?" to her surprise, trenor answered the lookwith a speechless stare.
with his last gust of words the flame haddied out, leaving him chill and humbled. it was as though a cold air had dispersedthe fumes of his libations, and the situation loomed before him black and nakedas the ruins of a fire. old habits, old restraints, the hand ofinherited order, plucked back the bewildered mind which passion had joltedfrom its ruts. trenor's eye had the haggard look of thesleep-walker waked on a deathly ledge. "go home! go away from here"----he stammered, andturning his back on her walked toward the hearth.the sharp release from her fears restored
lily to immediate lucidity. the collapse of trenor's will left her incontrol, and she heard herself, in a voice that was her own yet outside herself,bidding him ring for the servant, bidding him give the order for a hansom, directinghim to put her in it when it came. whence the strength came to her she knewnot; but an insistent voice warned her that she must leave the house openly, and nervedher, in the hall before the hovering care taker, to exchange light words with trenor, and charge him with the usual messages forjudy, while all the while she shook with inward loathing.
on the doorstep, with the street beforeher, she felt a mad throb of liberation, intoxicating as the prisoner's firstdraught of free air; but the clearness of brain continued, and she noted the mute aspect of fifth avenue, guessed at thelateness of the hour, and even observed a man's figure--was there something half-familiar in its outline?--which, as she entered the hansom, turned from the opposite corner and vanished in theobscurity of the side street. but with the turn of the wheels reactioncame, and shuddering darkness closed on "i can't think--i can't think," she moaned,and leaned her head against the rattling
side of the cab. she seemed a stranger to herself, or ratherthere were two selves in her, the one she had always known, and a new abhorrent beingto which it found itself chained. she had once picked up, in a house whereshe was staying, a translation of the eumenides, and her imagination had beenseized by the high terror of the scene where orestes, in the cave of the oracle, finds his implacable huntresses asleep, andsnatches an hour's repose. yes, the furies might sometimes sleep, butthey were there, always there in the dark corners, and now they were awake and theiron clang of their wings was in her
brain...she opened her eyes and saw the streets passing--the familiar alienstreets. all she looked on was the same and yetchanged. there was a great gulf fixed between todayand yesterday. everything in the past seemed simple,natural, full of daylight--and she was alone in a place of darkness andpollution.--alone! it was the loneliness that frightened her. her eyes fell on an illuminated clock at astreet corner, and she saw that the hands marked the half hour after eleven.only half-past eleven--there were hours and
hours left of the night! and she must spend them alone, shudderingsleepless on her bed. her soft nature recoiled from this ordeal,which had none of the stimulus of conflict to goad her through it. oh, the slow cold drip of the minutes onher head! she had a vision of herself lying on theblack walnut bed--and the darkness would frighten her, and if she left the lightburning the dreary details of the room would brand themselves forever on herbrain. she had always hated her room at mrs.peniston's--its ugliness, its
impersonality, the fact that nothing in itwas really hers. to a torn heart uncomforted by humannearness a room may open almost human arms, and the being to whom no four walls meanmore than any others, is, at such hours, expatriate everywhere. lily had no heart to lean on.her relation with her aunt was as superficial as that of chance lodgers whopass on the stairs. but even had the two been in closercontact, it was impossible to think of mrs. peniston's mind as offering shelter orcomprehension to such misery as lily's. as the pain that can be told is but half apain, so the pity that questions has little
healing in its touch. what lily craved was the darkness made byenfolding arms, the silence which is not solitude, but compassion holding itsbreath. she started up and looked forth on thepassing streets. gerty!--they were nearing gerty's corner. if only she could reach there before thislabouring anguish burst from her breast to her lips--if only she could feel the holdof gerty's arms while she shook in the ague-fit of fear that was coming upon her! she pushed up the door in the roof andcalled the address to the driver.
it was not so late--gerty might still bewaking. and even if she were not, the sound of thebell would penetrate every recess of her tiny apartment, and rouse her to answer herfriend's call. chapter 14 gerty farish, the morning after thewellington brys' entertainment, woke from dreams as happy as lily's. if they were less vivid in hue, moresubdued to the half-tints of her personality and her experience, they werefor that very reason better suited to her mental vision.
such flashes of joy as lily moved in wouldhave blinded miss farish, who was accustomed, in the way of happiness, tosuch scant light as shone through the cracks of other people's lives. now she was the centre of a littleillumination of her own: a mild but unmistakable beam, compounded of lawrenceselden's growing kindness to herself and the discovery that he extended his likingto lily bart. if these two factors seem incompatible tothe student of feminine psychology, it must be remembered that gerty had always been aparasite in the moral order, living on the crumbs of other tables, and content to look
through the window at the banquet spreadfor her friends. now that she was enjoying a little privatefeast of her own, it would have seemed incredibly selfish not to lay a plate for afriend; and there was no one with whom she would rather have shared her enjoyment thanmiss bart. as to the nature of selden's growingkindness, gerty would no more have dared to define it than she would have tried tolearn a butterfly's colours by knocking the dust from its wings. to seize on the wonder would be to brushoff its bloom, and perhaps see it fade and stiffen in her hand: better the sense ofbeauty palpitating out of reach, while she
held her breath and watched where it wouldalight. yet selden's manner at the brys' hadbrought the flutter of wings so close that they seemed to be beating in her own heart. she had never seen him so alert, soresponsive, so attentive to what she had to say. his habitual manner had an absent-mindedkindliness which she accepted, and was grateful for, as the liveliest sentimenther presence was likely to inspire; but she was quick to feel in him a change implying that for once she could give pleasure aswell as receive it.
and it was so delightful that this higherdegree of sympathy should be reached through their interest in lily bart! gerty's affection for her friend--asentiment that had learned to keep itself alive on the scantiest diet--had grown toactive adoration since lily's restless curiosity had drawn her into the circle ofmiss farish's work. lily's taste of beneficence had wakened inher a momentary appetite for well-doing. her visit to the girls' club had firstbrought her in contact with the dramatic contrasts of life. she had always accepted with philosophiccalm the fact that such existences as hers
were pedestalled on foundations of obscurehumanity. the dreary limbo of dinginess lay allaround and beneath that little illuminated circle in which life reached its finestefflorescence, as the mud and sleet of a winter night enclose a hot-house filledwith tropical flowers. all this was in the natural order ofthings, and the orchid basking in its artificially created atmosphere could roundthe delicate curves of its petals undisturbed by the ice on the panes. but it is one thing to live comfortablywith the abstract conception of poverty, another to be brought in contact with itshuman embodiments.
lily had never conceived of these victimsof fate otherwise than in the mass. that the mass was composed of individuallives, innumerable separate centres of sensation, with her own eager reachings forpleasure, her own fierce revulsions from pain--that some of these bundles of feeling were clothed in shapes not so unlike herown, with eyes meant to look on gladness, and young lips shaped for love--thisdiscovery gave lily one of those sudden shocks of pity that sometimes decentralizea life. lily's nature was incapable of suchrenewal: she could feel other demands only through her own, and no pain was long vividwhich did not press on an answering nerve.
but for the moment she was drawn out ofherself by the interest of her direct relation with a world so unlike her own. she had supplemented her first gift bypersonal assistance to one or two of miss farish's most appealing subjects, and theadmiration and interest her presence excited among the tired workers at the club ministered in a new form to her insatiabledesire to please. gerty farish was not a close enough readerof character to disentangle the mixed threads of which lily's philanthropy waswoven. she supposed her beautiful friend to beactuated by the same motive as herself--
that sharpening of the moral vision whichmakes all human suffering so near and insistent that the other aspects of lifefade into remoteness. gerty lived by such simple formulas thatshe did not hesitate to class her friend's state with the emotional "change of heart"to which her dealings with the poor had accustomed her; and she rejoiced in the thought that she had been the humbleinstrument of this renewal. now she had an answer to all criticisms oflily's conduct: as she had said, she knew "the real lily," and the discovery thatselden shared her knowledge raised her placid acceptance of life to a dazzled
sense of its possibilities--a sense fartherenlarged, in the course of the afternoon, by the receipt of a telegram from seldenasking if he might dine with her that evening. while gerty was lost in the happy bustlewhich this announcement produced in her small household, selden was at one with herin thinking with intensity of lily bart. the case which had called him to albany wasnot complicated enough to absorb all his attention, and he had the professionalfaculty of keeping a part of his mind free when its services were not needed. this part--which at the moment seemeddangerously like the whole--was filled to
the brim with the sensations of theprevious evening. selden understood the symptoms: herecognized the fact that he was paying up, as there had always been a chance of hishaving to pay up, for the voluntary exclusions of his past. he had meant to keep free from permanentties, not from any poverty of feeling, but because, in a different way, he was, asmuch as lily, the victim of his environment. there had been a germ of truth in hisdeclaration to gerty farish that he had never wanted to marry a "nice" girl: theadjective connoting, in his cousin's
vocabulary, certain utilitarian qualities which are apt to preclude the luxury ofcharm. now it had been selden's fate to have acharming mother: her graceful portrait, all smiles and cashmere, still emitted a fadedscent of the undefinable quality. his father was the kind of man who delightsin a charming woman: who quotes her, stimulates her, and keeps her perenniallycharming. neither one of the couple cared for money,but their disdain of it took the form of always spending a little more than wasprudent. if their house was shabby, it wasexquisitely kept; if there were good books
on the shelves there were also good disheson the table. selden senior had an eye for a picture, hiswife an understanding of old lace; and both were so conscious of restraint anddiscrimination in buying that they never quite knew how it was that the billsmounted up. though many of selden's friends would havecalled his parents poor, he had grown up in an atmosphere where restricted means werefelt only as a check on aimless profusion: where the few possessions were so good that their rarity gave them a merited relief,and abstinence was combined with elegance in a way exemplified by mrs. selden's knackof wearing her old velvet as if it were
new. a man has the advantage of being deliveredearly from the home point of view, and before selden left college he had learnedthat there are as many different ways of going without money as of spending it. unfortunately, he found no way as agreeableas that practised at home; and his views of womankind in especial were tinged by theremembrance of the one woman who had given him his sense of "values." it was from her that he inherited hisdetachment from the sumptuary side of life: the stoic's carelessness of materialthings, combined with the epicurean's
pleasure in them. life shorn of either feeling appeared tohim a diminished thing; and nowhere was the blending of the two ingredients soessential as in the character of a pretty woman. it had always seemed to selden thatexperience offered a great deal besides the sentimental adventure, yet he could vividlyconceive of a love which should broaden and deepen till it became the central fact oflife. what he could not accept, in his own case,was the makeshift alternative of a relation that should be less than this: that shouldleave some portions of his nature
unsatisfied, while it put an undue strainon others. he would not, in other words, yield to thegrowth of an affection which might appeal to pity yet leave the understandinguntouched: sympathy should no more delude him than a trick of the eyes, the grace ofhelplessness than a curve of the cheek. but now--that little but passed like asponge over all his vows. his reasoned-out resistances seemed for themoment so much less important than the question as to when lily would receive hisnote! he yielded himself to the charm of trivialpreoccupations, wondering at what hour her reply would be sent, with what words itwould begin.
as to its import he had no doubt--he was assure of her surrender as of his own. and so he had leisure to muse on all itsexquisite details, as a hard worker, on a holiday morning, might lie still and watchthe beam of light travel gradually across his room. but if the new light dazzled, it did notblind him. he could still discern the outline offacts, though his own relation to them had changed. he was no less conscious than before ofwhat was said of lily bart, but he could separate the woman he knew from the vulgarestimate of her.
his mind turned to gerty farish's words,and the wisdom of the world seemed a groping thing beside the insight ofinnocence. blessed are the pure in heart, for theyshall see god--even the hidden god in their neighbour's breast! selden was in the state of impassionedself-absorption that the first surrender to love produces. his craving was for the companionship ofone whose point of view should justify his own, who should confirm, by deliberateobservation, the truth to which his intuitions had leaped.
he could not wait for the midday recess,but seized a moment's leisure in court to scribble his telegram to gerty farish. reaching town, he was driven direct to hisclub, where he hoped a note from miss bart might await him. but his box contained only a line ofrapturous assent from gerty, and he was turning away disappointed when he washailed by a voice from the smoking room. "hallo, lawrence! dining here?take a bite with me--i've ordered a canvas- back."
he discovered trenor, in his day clothes,sitting, with a tall glass at his elbow, behind the folds of a sporting journal.selden thanked him, but pleaded an engagement. "hang it, i believe every man in town hasan engagement tonight. i shall have the club to myself.you know how i'm living this winter, rattling round in that empty house. my wife meant to come to town today, butshe's put it off again, and how is a fellow to dine alone in a room with the looking-glasses covered, and nothing but a bottle of harvey sauce on the side-board?
i say, lawrence, chuck your engagement andtake pity on me--it gives me the blue devils to dine alone, and there's nobodybut that canting ass wetherall in the club." "sorry, gus--i can't do it." as selden turned away, he noticed the darkflush on trenor's face, the unpleasant moisture of his intensely white forehead,the way his jewelled rings were wedged in the creases of his fat red fingers. certainly the beast was predominating--thebeast at the bottom of the glass. and he had heard this man's name coupledwith lily's!
bah--the thought sickened him; all the wayback to his rooms he was haunted by the sight of trenor's fat creased hands----on his table lay the note: lily had sent it to his rooms. he knew what was in it before he broke theseal--a grey seal with beyond! beneath a flying ship. ah, he would take her beyond--beyond theugliness, the pettiness, the attrition and corrosion of the soul----gerty's little sitting-room sparkled with welcome when selden entered it. its modest "effects," compact of enamelpaint and ingenuity, spoke to him in the
language just then sweetest to his ear. it is surprising how little narrow wallsand a low ceiling matter, when the roof of the soul has suddenly been raised.gerty sparkled too; or at least shone with a tempered radiance. he had never before noticed that she had"points"--really, some good fellow might do worse...over the little dinner (and here,again, the effects were wonderful) he told her she ought to marry--he was in a mood topair off the whole world. she had made the caramel custard with herown hands? it was sinful to keep such gifts toherself.
he reflected with a throb of pride thatlily could trim her own hats--she had told him so the day of their walk at bellomont. he did not speak of lily till after dinner. during the little repast he kept the talkon his hostess, who, fluttered at being the centre of observation, shone as rosy as thecandle-shades she had manufactured for the occasion. selden evinced an extraordinary interest inher household arrangements: complimented her on the ingenuity with which she hadutilized every inch of her small quarters, asked how her servant managed about
afternoons out, learned that one mayimprovise delicious dinners in a chafing- dish, and uttered thoughtfulgeneralizations on the burden of a large establishment. when they were in the sitting-room again,where they fitted as snugly as bits in a puzzle, and she had brewed the coffee, andpoured it into her grandmother's egg-shell cups, his eye, as he leaned back, basking in the warm fragrance, lighted on a recentphotograph of miss bart, and the desired transition was effected without an effort.the photograph was well enough--but to catch her as she had looked last night!
gerty agreed with him--never had she beenso radiant. but could photography capture that light? there had been a new look in her face--something different; yes, selden agreed there had been something different. the coffee was so exquisite that he askedfor a second cup: such a contrast to the watery stuff at the club! ah, your poor bachelor with his impersonalclub fare, alternating with the equally impersonal cuisine of the dinner-party! a man who lived in lodgings missed the bestpart of life--he pictured the flavourless
solitude of trenor's repast, and felt amoment's compassion for the man...but to return to lily--and again and again he returned, questioning, conjecturing,leading gerty on, draining her inmost thoughts of their stored tenderness for herfriend. at first she poured herself outunstintingly, happy in this perfect communion of their sympathies.his understanding of lily helped to confirm her own belief in her friend. they dwelt together on the fact that lilyhad had no chance. gerty instanced her generous impulses--herrestlessness and discontent.
the fact that her life had never satisfiedher proved that she was made for better things. she might have married more than once--theconventional rich marriage which she had been taught to consider the sole end ofexistence--but when the opportunity came she had always shrunk from it. percy gryce, for instance, had been in lovewith her--every one at bellomont had supposed them to be engaged, and herdismissal of him was thought inexplicable. this view of the gryce incident chimed toowell with selden's mood not to be instantly adopted by him, with a flash ofretrospective contempt for what had once
seemed the obvious solution. if rejection there had been--and hewondered now that he had ever doubted it!-- then he held the key to the secret, and thehillsides of bellomont were lit up, not with sunset, but with dawn. it was he who had wavered and disowned theface of opportunity--and the joy now warming his breast might have been afamiliar inmate if he had captured it in its first flight. it was at this point, perhaps, that a joyjust trying its wings in gerty's heart dropped to earth and lay still.
she sat facing selden, repeatingmechanically: "no, she has never been understood----" and all the while sheherself seemed to be sitting in the centre of a great glare of comprehension. the little confidential room, where amoment ago their thoughts had touched elbows like their chairs, grew tounfriendly vastness, separating her from selden by all the length of her new vision of the future--and that future stretchedout interminably, with her lonely figure toiling down it, a mere speck on thesolitude. "she is herself with a few people only; andyou are one of them," she heard selden
saying. and again: "be good to her, gerty, won'tyou?" and: "she has it in her to become whatever she is believed to be--you'll helpher by believing the best of her?" the words beat on gerty's brain like thesound of a language which has seemed familiar at a distance, but on approachingis found to be unintelligible. he had come to talk to her of lily--thatwas all! there had been a third at the feast she hadspread for him, and that third had taken her own place. she tried to follow what he was saying, tocling to her own part in the talk--but it
was all as meaningless as the boom of wavesin a drowning head, and she felt, as the drowning may feel, that to sink would be nothing beside the pain of struggling tokeep up. selden rose, and she drew a deep breath,feeling that soon she could yield to the blessed waves. "mrs. fisher's?you say she was dining there? there's music afterward; i believe i had acard from her." he glanced at the foolish pink-faced clockthat was drumming out this hideous hour. "a quarter past ten?i might look in there now; the fisher
evenings are amusing. i haven't kept you up too late, gerty?you look tired--i've rambled on and bored you." and in the unwonted overflow of hisfeelings, he left a cousinly kiss upon her cheek. at mrs. fisher's, through the cigar-smokeof the studio, a dozen voices greeted selden. a song was pending as he entered, and hedropped into a seat near his hostess, his eyes roaming in search of miss bart.
but she was not there, and the discoverygave him a pang out of all proportion to its seriousness; since the note in hisbreast-pocket assured him that at four the next day they would meet. to his impatience it seemed immeasurablylong to wait, and half-ashamed of the impulse, he leaned to mrs. fisher to ask,as the music ceased, if miss bart had not dined with her. "lily?she's just gone. she had to run off, i forget where.wasn't she wonderful last night?" "who's that?
lily?" asked jack stepney, from the depthsof a neighbouring arm-chair. "really, you know, i'm no prude, but whenit comes to a girl standing there as if she was up at auction--i thought seriously ofspeaking to cousin julia." "you didn't know jack had become our socialcensor?" mrs. fisher said to selden with a laugh;and stepney spluttered, amid the general derision: "but she's a cousin, hang it, andwhen a man's married--town talk was full of her this morning." "yes: lively reading that was," said mr.ned van alstyne, stroking his moustache to hide the smile behind it."buy the dirty sheet?
no, of course not; some fellow showed it tome--but i'd heard the stories before. when a girl's as good-looking as that she'dbetter marry; then no questions are asked. in our imperfectly organized society thereis no provision as yet for the young woman who claims the privileges of marriagewithout assuming its obligations." "well, i understand lily is about to assumethem in the shape of mr. rosedale," mrs. fisher said with a laugh."rosedale--good heavens!" exclaimed van alstyne, dropping his eye-glass. "stepney, that's your fault for foistingthe brute on us." "oh, confound it, you know, we don't marryrosedale in our family," stepney languidly
protested; but his wife, who sat inoppressive bridal finery at the other side of the room, quelled him with the judicial reflection: "in lily's circumstances it's amistake to have too high a standard." "i hear even rosedale has been scared bythe talk lately," mrs. fisher rejoined; "but the sight of her last night sent himoff his head. what do you think he said to me after hertableau? 'my god, mrs. fisher, if i could get paulmorpeth to paint her like that, the picture'd appreciate a hundred per cent inten years.'" "by jove,--but isn't she about somewhere?"exclaimed van alstyne, restoring his glass
with an uneasy glance."no; she ran off while you were all mixing the punch down stairs. where was she going, by the way?what's on tonight? i hadn't heard of anything." "oh, not a party, i think," said aninexperienced young farish who had arrived late. "i put her in her cab as i was coming in,and she gave the driver the trenors' address.""the trenors'?" exclaimed mrs. jack stepney.
"why, the house is closed--judy telephonedme from bellomont this evening." "did she?that's queer. i'm sure i'm not mistaken. well, come now, trenor's there, anyhow--i--oh, well--the fact is, i've no head for numbers," he broke off, admonished by thenudge of an adjoining foot, and the smile that circled the room. in its unpleasant light selden had risenand was shaking hands with his hostess. the air of the place stifled him, and hewondered why he had stayed in it so long. on the doorstep he stood still, rememberinga phrase of lily's: "it seems to me you
spend a good deal of time in the elementyou disapprove of." well--what had brought him there but thequest of her? it was her element, not his.but he would lift her out of it, take her beyond! that beyond! on her letter was like a cryfor rescue. he knew that perseus's task is not donewhen he has loosed andromeda's chains, for her limbs are numb with bondage, and shecannot rise and walk, but clings to him with dragging arms as he beats back to landwith his burden. well, he had strength for both--it was herweakness which had put the strength in him.
it was not, alas, a clean rush of wavesthey had to win through, but a clogging morass of old associations and habits, andfor the moment its vapours were in his throat. but he would see clearer, breathe freer inher presence: she was at once the dead weight at his breast and the spar whichshould float them to safety. he smiled at the whirl of metaphor withwhich he was trying to build up a defence against the influences of the last hour. it was pitiable that he, who knew the mixedmotives on which social judgments depend, should still feel himself so swayed bythem.
how could he lift lily to a freer vision oflife, if his own view of her was to be coloured by any mind in which he saw herreflected? the moral oppression had produced aphysical craving for air, and he strode on, opening his lungs to the reverberatingcoldness of the night. at the corner of fifth avenue van alstynehailed him with an offer of company. "walking?a good thing to blow the smoke out of one's head. now that women have taken to tobacco welive in a bath of nicotine. it would be a curious thing to study theeffect of cigarettes on the relation of the
sexes. smoke is almost as great a solvent asdivorce: both tend to obscure the moral issue." nothing could have been less consonant withselden's mood than van alstyne's after- dinner aphorisms, but as long as the latterconfined himself to generalities his listener's nerves were in control. happily van alstyne prided himself on hissumming up of social aspects, and with selden for audience was eager to show thesureness of his touch. mrs. fisher lived in an east side streetnear the park, and as the two men walked
down fifth avenue the new architecturaldevelopments of that versatile thoroughfare invited van alstyne's comment. "that greiner house, now--a typical rung inthe social ladder! the man who built it came from a milieuwhere all the dishes are put on the table at once. his facade is a complete architecturalmeal; if he had omitted a style his friends might have thought the money had given out. not a bad purchase for rosedale, though:attracts attention, and awes the western sight-seer.
by and bye he'll get out of that phase, andwant something that the crowd will pass and the few pause before.especially if he marries my clever cousin-- --" selden dashed in with the query: "and thewellington brys'? rather clever of its kind, don't youthink?" they were just beneath the wide whitefacade, with its rich restraint of line, which suggested the clever corseting of aredundant figure. "that's the next stage: the desire to implythat one has been to europe, and has a standard.
i'm sure mrs. bry thinks her house a copyof the trianon; in america every marble house with gilt furniture is thought to bea copy of the trianon. what a clever chap that architect is,though--how he takes his client's measure! he has put the whole of mrs. bry in his useof the composite order. now for the trenors, you remember, he chosethe corinthian: exuberant, but based on the best precedent. the trenor house is one of his best things--doesn't look like a banqueting-hall turned inside out. i hear mrs. trenor wants to build out a newball-room, and that divergence from gus on
that point keeps her at bellomont. the dimensions of the brys' ball-room mustrankle: you may be sure she knows 'em as well as if she'd been there last night witha yard-measure. who said she was in town, by the way? that farish boy?she isn't, i know; mrs. stepney was right; the house is dark, you see: i suppose guslives in the back." he had halted opposite the trenors' corner,and selden perforce stayed his steps also. the house loomed obscure and uninhabited;only an oblong gleam above the door spoke of provisional occupancy.
"they've bought the house at the back: itgives them a hundred and fifty feet in the side street. there's where the ball-room's to be, with agallery connecting it: billiard-room and so on above. i suggested changing the entrance, andcarrying the drawing-room across the whole fifth avenue front; you see the front doorcorresponds with the windows----" the walking-stick which van alstyne swungin demonstration dropped to a startled "hallo!" as the door opened and two figureswere seen silhouetted against the hall- light.
at the same moment a hansom halted at thecurb-stone, and one of the figures floated down to it in a haze of evening draperies;while the other, black and bulky, remained persistently projected against the light. for an immeasurable second the twospectators of the incident were silent; then the house-door closed, the hansomrolled off, and the whole scene slipped by as if with the turn of a stereopticon. van alstyne dropped his eye-glass with alow whistle. "a--hem--nothing of this, eh, selden? as one of the family, i know i may count onyou--appearances are deceptive--and fifth
avenue is so imperfectly lighted----" "goodnight," said selden, turning sharplydown the side street without seeing the other's extended hand.alone with her cousin's kiss, gerty stared upon her thoughts. he had kissed her before--but not withanother woman on his lips. if he had spared her that she could havedrowned quietly, welcoming the dark flood as it submerged her. but now the flood was shot through withglory, and it was harder to drown at sunrise than in darkness.gerty hid her face from the light, but it
pierced to the crannies of her soul. she had been so contented, life had seemedso simple and sufficient--why had he come to trouble her with new hopes?and lily--lily, her best friend! woman-like, she accused the woman. perhaps, had it not been for lily, her fondimagining might have become truth. selden had always liked her--had understoodand sympathized with the modest independence of her life. he, who had the reputation of weighing allthings in the nice balance of fastidious perceptions, had been uncritical and simplein his view of her: his cleverness had
never overawed her because she had felt athome in his heart. and now she was thrust out, and the doorbarred against her by lily's hand! lily, for whose admission there she herselfhad pleaded! the situation was lighted up by a drearyflash of irony. she knew selden--she saw how the force ofher faith in lily must have helped to dispel his hesitations. she remembered, too, how lily had talked ofhim--she saw herself bringing the two together, making them known to each other. on selden's part, no doubt, the woundinflicted was inconscient; he had never
guessed her foolish secret; but lily--lilymust have known! when, in such matters, are a woman'sperceptions at fault? and if she knew, then she had deliberatelydespoiled her friend, and in mere wantonness of power, since, even to gerty'ssuddenly flaming jealousy, it seemed incredible that lily should wish to beselden's wife. lily might be incapable of marrying formoney, but she was equally incapable of living without it, and selden's eagerinvestigations into the small economies of house-keeping made him appear to gerty astragically duped as herself. she remained long in her sitting-room,where the embers were crumbling to cold
grey, and the lamp paled under its gayshade. just beneath it stood the photograph oflily bart, looking out imperially on the cheap gimcracks, the cramped furniture ofthe little room. could selden picture her in such aninterior? gerty felt the poverty, the insignificanceof her surroundings: she beheld her life as it must appear to lily. and the cruelty of lily's judgments smoteupon her memory. she saw that she had dressed her idol withattributes of her own making. when had lily ever really felt, or pitied,or understood?
all she wanted was the taste of newexperiences: she seemed like some cruel creature experimenting in a laboratory. the pink-faced clock drummed out anotherhour, and gerty rose with a start. she had an appointment early the nextmorning with a district visitor on the east she put out her lamp, covered the fire, andwent into her bedroom to undress. in the little glass above her dressing-table she saw her face reflected against the shadows of the room, and tears blottedthe reflection. what right had she to dream the dreams ofloveliness? a dull face invited a dull fate.
she cried quietly as she undressed, layingaside her clothes with her habitual precision, setting everything in order forthe next day, when the old life must be taken up as though there had been no breakin its routine. her servant did not come till eighto'clock, and she prepared her own tea-tray and placed it beside the bed. then she locked the door of the flat,extinguished her light and lay down. but on her bed sleep would not come, andshe lay face to face with the fact that she hated lily bart. it closed with her in the darkness likesome formless evil to be blindly grappled
with. reason, judgment, renunciation, all thesane daylight forces, were beaten back in the sharp struggle for self-preservation. she wanted happiness--wanted it as fiercelyand unscrupulously as lily did, but without lily's power of obtaining it.and in her conscious impotence she lay shivering, and hated her friend---- a ring at the door-bell caught her to herfeet. she struck a light and stood startled,listening. for a moment her heart beat incoherently,then she felt the sobering touch of fact,
and remembered that such calls were notunknown in her charitable work. she flung on her dressing-gown to answerthe summons, and unlocking her door, confronted the shining vision of lily bart.gerty's first movement was one of revulsion. she shrank back as though lily's presenceflashed too sudden a light upon her misery. then she heard her name in a cry, had aglimpse of her friend's face, and felt herself caught and clung to. "lily--what is it?" she exclaimed.miss bart released her, and stood breathing brokenly, like one who has gained shelterafter a long flight.
"i was so cold--i couldn't go home. have you a fire?"gerty's compassionate instincts, responding to the swift call of habit, swept aside allher reluctances. lily was simply some one who needed help--for what reason, there was no time to pause and conjecture: disciplined sympathychecked the wonder on gerty's lips, and made her draw her friend silently into the sitting-room and seat her by the darkenedhearth. "there is kindling wood here: the fire willburn in a minute." she knelt down, and the flame leapt underher rapid hands.
it flashed strangely through the tearswhich still blurred her eyes, and smote on the white ruin of lily's face. the girls looked at each other in silence;then lily repeated: "i couldn't go home." "no--no--you came here, dear!you're cold and tired--sit quiet, and i'll make you some tea." gerty had unconsciously adopted thesoothing note of her trade: all personal feeling was merged in the sense ofministry, and experience had taught her that the bleeding must be stayed before thewound is probed. lily sat quiet, leaning to the fire: theclatter of cups behind her soothed her as
familiar noises hush a child whom silencehas kept wakeful. but when gerty stood at her side with thetea she pushed it away, and turned an estranged eye on the familiar room."i came here because i couldn't bear to be alone," she said. gerty set down the cup and knelt besideher. "lily!something has happened--can't you tell me?" "i couldn't bear to lie awake in my roomtill morning. i hate my room at aunt julia's--so i camehere----" she stirred suddenly, broke from herapathy, and clung to gerty in a fresh burst
of fear. "oh, gerty, the furies...you know the noiseof their wings--alone, at night, in the dark?but you don't know--there is nothing to make the dark dreadful to you----" the words, flashing back on gerty's lasthours, struck from her a faint derisive murmur; but lily, in the blaze of her ownmisery, was blinded to everything outside "you'll let me stay?i shan't mind when daylight comes--is it late?is the night nearly over? it must be awful to be sleepless--everything stands by the bed and stares----
"miss farish caught her straying hands. "lily, look at me! something has happened--an accident?you have been frightened--what has frightened you?tell me if you can--a word or two--so that i can help you." lily shook her head."i am not frightened: that's not the word. can you imagine looking into your glasssome morning and seeing a disfigurement-- some hideous change that has come to youwhile you slept? well, i seem to myself like that--i can'tbear to see myself in my own thoughts--i
hate ugliness, you know--i've always turnedfrom it--but i can't explain to you--you wouldn't understand." she lifted her head and her eyes fell onthe clock. "how long the night is!and i know i shan't sleep tomorrow. some one told me my father used to liesleepless and think of horrors. and he was not wicked, only unfortunate--and i see now how he must have suffered, lying alone with his thoughts! but i am bad--a bad girl--all my thoughtsare bad--i have always had bad people about me.is that any excuse?
i thought i could manage my own life--i wasproud--proud! but now i'm on their level--- -"sobs shook her, and she bowed to them like a tree in a dry storm. gerty knelt beside her, waiting, with thepatience born of experience, till this gust of misery should loosen fresh speech. she had first imagined some physical shock,some peril of the crowded streets, since lily was presumably on her way home fromcarry fisher's; but she now saw that other nerve-centres were smitten, and her mindtrembled back from conjecture. lily's sobs ceased, and she lifted herhead.
"there are bad girls in your slums. tell me--do they ever pick themselves up?ever forget, and feel as they did before?" "lily! you mustn't speak so--you'redreaming." "don't they always go from bad to worse? there's no turning back--your old selfrejects you, and shuts you out." she rose, stretching her arms as if inutter physical weariness. "go to bed, dear! you work hard and get up early.i'll watch here by the fire, and you'll leave the light, and your door open.all i want is to feel that you are near
me." she laid both hands on gerty's shoulders,with a smile that was like sunrise on a sea strewn with wreckage."i can't leave you, lily. come and lie on my bed. your hands are frozen--you must undress andbe made warm." gerty paused with sudden compunction."but mrs. peniston--it's past midnight! what will she think?" "she goes to bed.i have a latch-key. it doesn't matter--i can't go back there.""there's no need to: you shall stay here.
but you must tell me where you have been. listen, lily--it will help you to speak!"she regained miss bart's hands, and pressed them against her."try to tell me--it will clear your poor listen--you were dining at carry fisher's."gerty paused and added with a flash of heroism: "lawrence selden went from here tofind you." at the word, lily's face melted from lockedanguish to the open misery of a child. her lips trembled and her gaze widened withtears. "he went to find me? and i missed him!oh, gerty, he tried to help me.
he told me--he warned me long ago--heforesaw that i should grow hateful to myself!" the name, as gerty saw with a clutch at theheart, had loosened the springs of self- pity in her friend's dry breast, and tearby tear lily poured out the measure of her anguish. she had dropped sideways in gerty's bigarm-chair, her head buried where lately selden's had leaned, in a beauty ofabandonment that drove home to gerty's aching senses the inevitableness of her owndefeat. ah, it needed no deliberate purpose onlily's part to rob her of her dream!
to look on that prone loveliness was to seein it a natural force, to recognize that love and power belong to such as lily, asrenunciation and service are the lot of those they despoil. but if selden's infatuation seemed a fatalnecessity, the effect that his name produced shook gerty's steadfastness with alast pang. men pass through such superhuman loves andoutlive them: they are the probation subduing the heart to human joys. how gladly gerty would have welcomed theministry of healing: how willingly have soothed the sufferer back to tolerance oflife!
but lily's self-betrayal took this lasthope from her. the mortal maid on the shore is helplessagainst the siren who loves her prey: such victims are floated back dead from theiradventure. lily sprang up and caught her with stronghands. "gerty, you know him--you understand him--tell me; if i went to him, if i told him everything--if i said: 'i am bad throughand through--i want admiration, i want excitement, i want money--' yes, money! that's my shame, gerty--and it's known,it's said of me--it's what men think of me- -if i said it all to him--told him thewhole story--said plainly: 'i've sunk lower
than the lowest, for i've taken what they take, and not paid as they pay'--oh, gerty,you know him, you can speak for him: if i told him everything would he loathe me?or would he pity me, and understand me, and save me from loathing myself?" gerty stood cold and passive.she knew the hour of her probation had come, and her poor heart beat wildlyagainst its destiny. as a dark river sweeps by under a lightningflash, she saw her chance of happiness surge past under a flash of temptation.what prevented her from saying: "he is like other men?"
she was not so sure of him, after all!but to do so would have been like blaspheming her love. she could not put him before herself in anylight but the noblest: she must trust him to the height of her own passion. "yes: i know him; he will help you," shesaid; and in a moment lily's passion was weeping itself out against her breast. there was but one bed in the little flat,and the two girls lay down on it side by side when gerty had unlaced lily's dressand persuaded her to put her lips to the warm tea.
the light extinguished, they lay still inthe darkness, gerty shrinking to the outer edge of the narrow couch to avoid contactwith her bed-fellow. knowing that lily disliked to be caressed,she had long ago learned to check her demonstrative impulses toward her friend. but tonight every fibre in her body shrankfrom lily's nearness: it was torture to listen to her breathing, and feel the sheetstir with it. as lily turned, and settled to completerrest, a strand of her hair swept gerty's cheek with its fragrance. everything about her was warm and soft andscented: even the stains of her grief
became her as rain-drops do the beatenrose. but as gerty lay with arms drawn down herside, in the motionless narrowness of an effigy, she felt a stir of sobs from thebreathing warmth beside her, and lily flung out her hand, groped for her friend's, andheld it fast. "hold me, gerty, hold me, or i shall thinkof things," she moaned; and gerty silently slipped an arm under her, pillowing herhead in its hollow as a mother makes a nest for a tossing child. in the warm hollow lily lay still and herbreathing grew low and regular. her hand still clung to gerty's as if toward off evil dreams, but the hold of her
fingers relaxed, her head sank deeper intoits shelter, and gerty felt that she slept. chapter 15 when lily woke she had the bed to herself,and the winter light was in the room. she sat up, bewildered by the strangenessof her surroundings; then memory returned, and she looked about her with a shiver. in the cold slant of light reflected fromthe back wall of a neighbouring building, she saw her evening dress and opera cloaklying in a tawdry heap on a chair. finery laid off is as unappetizing as theremains of a feast, and it occurred to lily that, at home, her maid's vigilance hadalways spared her the sight of such
incongruities. her body ached with fatigue, and with theconstriction of her attitude in gerty's bed. all through her troubled sleep she had beenconscious of having no space to toss in, and the long effort to remain motionlessmade her feel as if she had spent her night in a train. this sense of physical discomfort was thefirst to assert itself; then she perceived, beneath it, a corresponding mentalprostration, a languor of horror more insufferable than the first rush of herdisgust.
the thought of having to wake every morningwith this weight on her breast roused her tired mind to fresh effort. she must find some way out of the sloughinto which she had stumbled: it was not so much compunction as the dread of hermorning thoughts that pressed on her the need of action. but she was unutterably tired; it wasweariness to think connectedly. she lay back, looking about the poor slitof a room with a renewal of physical distaste. the outer air, penned between highbuildings, brought no freshness through the
window; steam-heat was beginning to sing ina coil of dingy pipes, and a smell of cooking penetrated the crack of the door. the door opened, and gerty, dressed andhatted, entered with a cup of tea. her face looked sallow and swollen in thedreary light, and her dull hair shaded imperceptibly into the tones of her skin. she glanced shyly at lily, asking in anembarrassed tone how she felt; lily answered with the same constraint, andraised herself up to drink the tea. "i must have been over-tired last night; ithink i had a nervous attack in the carriage," she said, as the drink broughtclearness to her sluggish thoughts.
"you were not well; i am so glad you camehere," gerty returned. "but how am i to get home?and aunt julia--?" "she knows; i telephoned early, and yourmaid has brought your things. but won't you eat something?i scrambled the eggs myself." lily could not eat; but the teastrengthened her to rise and dress under her maid's searching gaze. it was a relief to her that gerty wasobliged to hasten away: the two kissed silently, but without a trace of theprevious night's emotion. lily found mrs. peniston in a state ofagitation.
she had sent for grace stepney and wastaking digitalis. lily breasted the storm of enquiries asbest she could, explaining that she had had an attack of faintness on her way back fromcarry fisher's; that, fearing she would not have strength to reach home, she had gone to miss farish's instead; but that a quietnight had restored her, and that she had no need of a doctor. this was a relief to mrs. peniston, whocould give herself up to her own symptoms, and lily was advised to go and lie down,her aunt's panacea for all physical and moral disorders.
in the solitude of her own room she wasbrought back to a sharp contemplation of facts. her daylight view of them necessarilydiffered from the cloudy vision of the night.the winged furies were now prowling gossips who dropped in on each other for tea. but her fears seemed the uglier, thus shornof their vagueness; and besides, she had to act, not rave. for the first time she forced herself toreckon up the exact amount of her debt to trenor; and the result of this hatefulcomputation was the discovery that she had,
in all, received nine thousand dollars fromhim. the flimsy pretext on which it had beengiven and received shrivelled up in the blaze of her shame: she knew that not apenny of it was her own, and that to restore her self-respect she must at oncerepay the whole amount. the inability thus to solace her outragedfeelings gave her a paralyzing sense of insignificance. she was realizing for the first time that awoman's dignity may cost more to keep up than her carriage; and that the maintenanceof a moral attribute should be dependent on dollars and cents, made the world appear a
more sordid place than she had conceivedit. after luncheon, when grace stepney's pryingeyes had been removed, lily asked for a word with her aunt. the two ladies went upstairs to thesitting-room, where mrs. peniston seated herself in her black satin arm-chair tuftedwith yellow buttons, beside a bead-work table bearing a bronze box with a miniatureof beatrice cenci in the lid. lily felt for these objects the samedistaste which the prisoner may entertain for the fittings of the court-room. it was here that her aunt received her rareconfidences, and the pink-eyed smirk of the
turbaned beatrice was associated in hermind with the gradual fading of the smile from mrs. peniston's lips. that lady's dread of a scene gave her aninexorableness which the greatest strength of character could not have produced, sinceit was independent of all considerations of right or wrong; and knowing this, lilyseldom ventured to assail it. she had never felt less like making theattempt than on the present occasion; but she had sought in vain for any other meansof escape from an intolerable situation. mrs. peniston examined her critically. "you're a bad colour, lily: this incessantrushing about is beginning to tell on you,"
she said.miss bart saw an opening. "i don't think it's that, aunt julia; i'vehad worries," she replied. "ah," said mrs. peniston, shutting her lipswith the snap of a purse closing against a beggar. "i'm sorry to bother you with them," lilycontinued, "but i really believe my faintness last night was brought on partlyby anxious thoughts--" "i should have said carry fisher's cook wasenough to account for it. she has a woman who was with maria melsonin 1891--the spring of the year we went to aix--and i remember dining there two daysbefore we sailed, and feeling sure the
coppers hadn't been scoured." "i don't think i ate much; i can't eat orsleep." lily paused, and then said abruptly: "thefact is, aunt julia, i owe some money." mrs. peniston's face clouded perceptibly,but did not express the astonishment her niece had expected.she was silent, and lily was forced to continue: "i have been foolish----" "no doubt you have: extremely foolish,"mrs. peniston interposed. "i fail to see how any one with yourincome, and no expenses--not to mention the handsome presents i've always given you----"
"oh, you've been most generous, aunt julia;i shall never forget your kindness. but perhaps you don't quite realize theexpense a girl is put to nowadays----" "i don't realize that you are put to anyexpense except for your clothes and your railway fares. i expect you to be handsomely dressed; buti paid celeste's bill for you last october."lily hesitated: her aunt's implacable memory had never been more inconvenient. "you were as kind as possible; but i havehad to get a few things since----" "what kind of things?clothes?
how much have you spent? let me see the bill--i daresay the woman isswindling you." "oh, no, i think not: clothes have grown sofrightfully expensive; and one needs so many different kinds, with country visits,and golf and skating, and aiken and tuxedo- ---" "let me see the bill," mrs. penistonrepeated. lily hesitated again. in the first place, mme. celeste had notyet sent in her account, and secondly, the amount it represented was only a fractionof the sum that lily needed.
"she hasn't sent in the bill for my winterthings, but i know it's large; and there are one or two other things; i've beencareless and imprudent--i'm frightened to think of what i owe----" she raised the troubled loveliness of herface to mrs. peniston, vainly hoping that a sight so moving to the other sex might notbe without effect upon her own. but the effect produced was that of makingmrs. peniston shrink back apprehensively. "really, lily, you are old enough to manageyour own affairs, and after frightening me to death by your performance of last nightyou might at least choose a better time to worry me with such matters."
mrs. peniston glanced at the clock, andswallowed a tablet of digitalis. "if you owe celeste another thousand, shemay send me her account," she added, as though to end the discussion at any cost. "i am very sorry, aunt julia; i hate totrouble you at such a time; but i have really no choice--i ought to have spokensooner--i owe a great deal more than a thousand dollars." "a great deal more?do you owe two? she must have robbed you!""i told you it was not only celeste. i--there are other bills--more pressing--that must be settled."
"what on earth have you been buying?jewelry? you must have gone off your head," saidmrs. peniston with asperity. "but if you have run into debt, you mustsuffer the consequences, and put aside your monthly income till your bills are paid. if you stay quietly here until next spring,instead of racing about all over the country, you will have no expenses at all,and surely in four or five months you can settle the rest of your bills if i pay thedress-maker now." lily was again silent. she knew she could not hope to extract evena thousand dollars from mrs. peniston on
the mere plea of paying celeste's bill:mrs. peniston would expect to go over the dress-maker's account, and would make outthe cheque to her and not to lily. and yet the money must be obtained beforethe day was over! "the debts i speak of are--different--notlike tradesmen's bills," she began confusedly; but mrs. peniston's look madeher almost afraid to continue. could it be that her aunt suspectedanything? the idea precipitated lily's avowal. "the fact is, i've played cards a gooddeal--bridge; the women all do it; girls too--it's expected.
sometimes i've won--won a good deal--butlately i've been unlucky--and of course such debts can't be paid off gradually----"she paused: mrs. peniston's face seemed to be petrifying as she listened. "cards--you've played cards for money?it's true, then: when i was told so i wouldn't believe it. i won't ask if the other horrors i was toldwere true too; i've heard enough for the state of my nerves.when i think of the example you've had in this house! but i suppose it's your foreign bringing-up--no one knew where your mother picked up
her friends.and her sundays were a scandal--that i know." mrs. peniston wheeled round suddenly."you play cards on sunday?" lily flushed with the recollection ofcertain rainy sundays at bellomont and with the dorsets. "you're hard on me, aunt julia: i havenever really cared for cards, but a girl hates to be thought priggish and superior,and one drifts into doing what the others do. i've had a dreadful lesson, and if you'llhelp me out this time i promise you--"
mrs. peniston raised her hand warningly."you needn't make any promises: it's unnecessary. when i offered you a home i didn'tundertake to pay your gambling debts." "aunt julia!you don't mean that you won't help me?" "i shall certainly not do anything to givethe impression that i countenance your behaviour. if you really owe your dress-maker, i willsettle with her--beyond that i recognize no obligation to assume your debts."lily had risen, and stood pale and quivering before her aunt.
pride stormed in her, but humiliationforced the cry from her lips: "aunt julia, i shall be disgraced--i--" but she could gono farther. if her aunt turned such a stony ear to thefiction of the gambling debts, in what spirit would she receive the terribleavowal of the truth? "i consider that you are disgraced, lily:disgraced by your conduct far more than by its results. you say your friends have persuaded you toplay cards with them; well, they may as well learn a lesson too. they can probably afford to lose a littlemoney--and at any rate, i am not going to
waste any of mine in paying them. and now i must ask you to leave me--thisscene has been extremely painful, and i have my own health to consider. draw down the blinds, please; and telljennings i will see no one this afternoon but grace stepney."lily went up to her own room and bolted the door. she was trembling with fear and anger--therush of the furies' wings was in her ears. she walked up and down the room with blindirregular steps. the last door of escape was closed--shefelt herself shut in with her dishonour.
suddenly her wild pacing brought her beforethe clock on the chimney-piece. its hands stood at half-past three, and sheremembered that selden was to come to her at four. she had meant to put him off with a word--but now her heart leaped at the thought of seeing him.was there not a promise of rescue in his love? as she had lain at gerty's side the nightbefore, she had thought of his coming, and of the sweetness of weeping out her painupon his breast. of course she had meant to clear herself ofits consequences before she met him--she
had never really doubted that mrs. penistonwould come to her aid. and she had felt, even in the full storm ofher misery, that selden's love could not be her ultimate refuge; only it would be sosweet to take a moment's shelter there, while she gathered fresh strength to go on. but now his love was her only hope, and asshe sat alone with her wretchedness the thought of confiding in him became asseductive as the river's flow to the suicide. the first plunge would be terrible--butafterward, what blessedness might come! she remembered gerty's words: "i know him--he will help you"; and her mind clung to
them as a sick person might cling to ahealing relic. oh, if he really understood--if he wouldhelp her to gather up her broken life, and put it together in some new semblance inwhich no trace of the past should remain! he had always made her feel that she wasworthy of better things, and she had never been in greater need of such solace. once and again she shrank at the thought ofimperilling his love by her confession: for love was what she needed--it would take theglow of passion to weld together the shattered fragments of her self-esteem. but she recurred to gerty's words and heldfast to them.
she was sure that gerty knew selden'sfeeling for her, and it had never dawned upon her blindness that gerty's ownjudgment of him was coloured by emotions far more ardent than her own. four o'clock found her in the drawing-room:she was sure that selden would be punctual. but the hour came and passed--it moved onfeverishly, measured by her impatient heart-beats. she had time to take a fresh survey of herwretchedness, and to fluctuate anew between the impulse to confide in selden and thedread of destroying his illusions. but as the minutes passed the need ofthrowing herself on his comprehension
became more urgent: she could not bear theweight of her misery alone. there would be a perilous moment, perhaps:but could she not trust to her beauty to bridge it over, to land her safe in theshelter of his devotion? but the hour sped on and selden did notcome. doubtless he had been detained, or hadmisread her hurriedly scrawled note, taking the four for a five. the ringing of the door-bell a few minutesafter five confirmed this supposition, and made lily hastily resolve to write morelegibly in future. the sound of steps in the hall, and of thebutler's voice preceding them, poured fresh
energy into her veins. she felt herself once more the alert andcompetent moulder of emergencies, and the remembrance of her power over seldenflushed her with sudden confidence. but when the drawing-room door opened itwas rosedale who came in. the reaction caused her a sharp pang, butafter a passing movement of irritation at the clumsiness of fate, and at her owncarelessness in not denying the door to all but selden, she controlled herself andgreeted rosedale amicably. it was annoying that selden, when he came,should find that particular visitor in possession, but lily was mistress of theart of ridding herself of superfluous
company, and to her present mood rosedaleseemed distinctly negligible. his own view of the situation forced itselfupon her after a few moments' conversation. she had caught at the brys' entertainmentas an easy impersonal subject, likely to tide them over the interval till seldenappeared, but mr. rosedale, tenaciously planted beside the tea-table, his hands in his pockets, his legs a little too freelyextended, at once gave the topic a personal turn. "pretty well done--well, yes, i suppose itwas: welly bry's got his back up and don't mean to let go till he's got the hang ofthe thing.
of course, there were things here andthere--things mrs. fisher couldn't be expected to see to--the champagne wasn'tcold, and the coats got mixed in the coat- room. i would have spent more money on the music.but that's my character: if i want a thing i'm willing to pay: i don't go up to thecounter, and then wonder if the article's worth the price. i wouldn't be satisfied to entertain likethe welly brys; i'd want something that would look more easy and natural, more asif i took it in my stride. and it takes just two things to do that,miss bart: money, and the right woman to
spend it." he paused, and examined her attentivelywhile she affected to rearrange the tea- cups. "i've got the money," he continued,clearing his throat, "and what i want is the woman--and i mean to have her too."he leaned forward a little, resting his hands on the head of his walking-stick. he had seen men of ned van alstyne's typebring their hats and sticks into a drawing- room, and he thought it added a touch ofelegant familiarity to their appearance. lily was silent, smiling faintly, with hereyes absently resting on his face.
she was in reality reflecting that adeclaration would take some time to make, and that selden must surely appear beforethe moment of refusal had been reached. her brooding look, as of a mind withdrawnyet not averted, seemed to mr. rosedale full of a subtle encouragement.he would not have liked any evidence of eagerness. "i mean to have her too," he repeated, witha laugh intended to strengthen his self- assurance."i generally have got what i wanted in life, miss bart. i wanted money, and i've got more than iknow how to invest; and now the money
doesn't seem to be of any account unless ican spend it on the right woman. that's what i want to do with it: i want mywife to make all the other women feel small.i'd never grudge a dollar that was spent on that. but it isn't every woman can do it, nomatter how much you spend on her. there was a girl in some history book whowanted gold shields, or something, and the fellows threw 'em at her, and she wascrushed under 'em: they killed her. well, that's true enough: some women lookedburied under their jewelry. what i want is a woman who'll hold her headhigher the more diamonds i put on it.
and when i looked at you the other night atthe brys', in that plain white dress, looking as if you had a crown on, i said tomyself: 'by gad, if she had one she'd wear it as if it grew on her.'" still lily did not speak, and he continued,warming with his theme: "tell you what it is, though, that kind of woman costs morethan all the rest of 'em put together. if a woman's going to ignore her pearls,they want to be better than anybody else's- -and so it is with everything else.you know what i mean--you know it's only the showy things that are cheap. well, i should want my wife to be able totake the earth for granted if she wanted
to. i know there's one thing vulgar aboutmoney, and that's the thinking about it; and my wife would never have to demeanherself in that way." he paused, and then added, with anunfortunate lapse to an earlier manner: "i guess you know the lady i've got in view,miss bart." lily raised her head, brightening a littleunder the challenge. even through the dark tumult of herthoughts, the clink of mr. rosedale's millions had a faintly seductive note. oh, for enough of them to cancel her onemiserable debt!
but the man behind them grew increasinglyrepugnant in the light of selden's expected coming. the contrast was too grotesque: she couldscarcely suppress the smile it provoked. she decided that directness would be best. "if you mean me, mr. rosedale, i am verygrateful--very much flattered; but i don't know what i have ever done to make youthink--" "oh, if you mean you're not dead in lovewith me, i've got sense enough left to see and i ain't talking to you as if you were--i presume i know the kind of talk that's expected under those circumstances.
i'm confoundedly gone on you--that's aboutthe size of it--and i'm just giving you a plain business statement of theconsequences. you're not very fond of me--yet--but you'refond of luxury, and style, and amusement, and of not having to worry about cash. you like to have a good time, and not haveto settle for it; and what i propose to do is to provide for the good time and do thesettling." he paused, and she returned with a chillingsmile: "you are mistaken in one point, mr. rosedale: whatever i enjoy i am prepared tosettle for." she spoke with the intention of making himsee that, if his words implied a tentative
allusion to her private affairs, she wasprepared to meet and repudiate it. but if he recognized her meaning it failedto abash him, and he went on in the same tone: "i didn't mean to give offence;excuse me if i've spoken too plainly. but why ain't you straight with me--why doyou put up that kind of bluff? you know there've been times when you werebothered--damned bothered--and as a girl gets older, and things keep moving along,why, before she knows it, the things she wants are liable to move past her and notcome back. i don't say it's anywhere near that withyou yet; but you've had a taste of bothers that a girl like yourself ought never tohave known about, and what i'm offering you
is the chance to turn your back on themonce for all." the colour burned in lily's face as heended; there was no mistaking the point he meant to make, and to permit it to passunheeded was a fatal confession of weakness, while to resent it too openly wasto risk offending him at a perilous moment. indignation quivered on her lip; but it wasquelled by the secret voice which warned her that she must not quarrel with him. he knew too much about her, and even at themoment when it was essential that he should show himself at his best, he did notscruple to let her see how much he knew. how then would he use his power when herexpression of contempt had dispelled his
one motive for restraint? her whole future might hinge on her way ofanswering him: she had to stop and consider that, in the stress of her other anxieties,as a breathless fugitive may have to pause at the cross-roads and try to decide coollywhich turn to take. "you are quite right, mr. rosedale.i have had bothers; and i am grateful to you for wanting to relieve me of them. it is not always easy to be quiteindependent and self-respecting when one is poor and lives among rich people; i havebeen careless about money, and have worried about my bills.
but i should be selfish and ungrateful if imade that a reason for accepting all you offer, with no better return to make thanthe desire to be free from my anxieties. you must give me time--time to think ofyour kindness--and of what i could give you in return for it----" she held out her hand with a charminggesture in which dismissal was shorn of its rigour. its hint of future leniency made rosedalerise in obedience to it, a little flushed with his unhoped-for success, anddisciplined by the tradition of his blood to accept what was conceded, without unduehaste to press for more.
something in his prompt acquiescencefrightened her; she felt behind it the stored force of a patience that mightsubdue the strongest will. but at least they had parted amicably, andhe was out of the house without meeting selden--selden, whose continued absence nowsmote her with a new alarm. rosedale had remained over an hour, and sheunderstood that it was now too late to hope for selden. he would write explaining his absence, ofcourse; there would be a note from him by the late post. but her confession would have to bepostponed; and the chill of the delay
settled heavily on her fagged spirit. it lay heavier when the postman's last ringbrought no note for her, and she had to go upstairs to a lonely night--a night as grimand sleepless as her tortured fancy had pictured it to gerty. she had never learned to live with her ownthoughts, and to be confronted with them through such hours of lucid misery made theconfused wretchedness of her previous vigil seem easily bearable. daylight disbanded the phantom crew, andmade it clear to her that she would hear from selden before noon; but the day passedwithout his writing or coming.
lily remained at home, lunching and diningalone with her aunt, who complained of flutterings of the heart, and talked icilyon general topics. mrs. peniston went to bed early, and whenshe had gone lily sat down and wrote a note to selden. she was about to ring for a messenger todespatch it when her eye fell on a paragraph in the evening paper which lay ather elbow: "mr. lawrence selden was among the passengers sailing this afternoon for havana and the west indies on the windwardliner antilles." she laid down the paper and sat motionless,staring at her note.
she understood now that he was nevercoming--that he had gone away because he was afraid that he might come. she rose, and walking across the floorstood gazing at herself for a long time in the brightly-lit mirror above the mantel-piece. the lines in her face came out terribly--she looked old; and when a girl looks old to herself, how does she look to otherpeople? she moved away, and began to wanderaimlessly about the room, fitting her steps with mechanical precision between themonstrous roses of mrs. peniston's axminster.
suddenly she noticed that the pen withwhich she had written to selden still rested against the uncovered inkstand.she seated herself again, and taking out an envelope, addressed it rapidly to rosedale. then she laid out a sheet of paper, and satover it with suspended pen. it had been easy enough to write the date,and "dear mr. rosedale"--but after that her inspiration flagged. she meant to tell him to come to her, butthe words refused to shape themselves. at length she began: "i have been thinking----" then she laid the pen down, and sat with her elbows on the table and her facehidden in her hands.
suddenly she started up at the sound of thedoor-bell. it was not late--barely ten o'clock--andthere might still be a note from selden, or a message--or he might be there himself, onthe other side of the door! the announcement of his sailing might havebeen a mistake--it might be another lawrence selden who had gone to havana--allthese possibilities had time to flash through her mind, and build up the conviction that she was after all to see orhear from him, before the drawing-room door opened to admit a servant carrying atelegram. lily tore it open with shaking hands, andread bertha dorset's name below the
message: "sailing unexpectedly tomorrow.will you join us on a cruise in mediterranean?"