Bridge at Bellomont usually lasted till the small hours; and when Lily went t_ed that night she had played too long for her own good.
Feeling no desire for the self-communion which awaited her in her room, sh_ingered on the broad stairway, looking down into the hall below, where th_ast card-players were grouped about the tray of tall glasses and silver- collared decanters which the butler had just placed on a low table near th_ire.
The hall was arcaded, with a gallery supported on columns of pale yello_arble. Tall clumps of flowering plants were grouped against a background o_ark foliage in the angles of the walls. On the crimson carpet a deer-houn_nd two or three spaniels dozed luxuriously before the fire, and the ligh_rom the great central lantern overhead shed a brightness on the women's hai_nd struck sparks from their jewels as they moved.
There were moments when such scenes delighted Lily, when they gratified he_ense of beauty and her craving for the external finish of life; there wer_thers when they gave a sharper edge to the meagreness of her ow_pportunities. This was one of the moments when the sense of contrast wa_ppermost, and she turned away impatiently as Mrs. George Dorset, glitterin_n serpentine spangles, drew Percy Gryce in her wake to a confidential noo_eneath the gallery.
It was not that Miss Bart was afraid of losing her newly-acquired hold ove_r. Gryce. Mrs. Dorset might startle or dazzle him, but she had neither th_kill nor the patience to effect his capture. She was too self-engrossed t_enetrate the recesses of his shyness, and besides, why should she care t_ive herself the trouble? At most it might amuse her to make sport of hi_implicity for an evening—after that he would be merely a burden to her, an_nowing this, she was far too experienced to encourage him. But the mer_hought of that other woman, who could take a man up and toss him aside as sh_illed, without having to regard him as a possible factor in her plans, fille_ily Bart with envy. She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce—th_ere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice—but she could no_gnore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to mor_oredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all o_he bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of borin_er for life.
It was a hateful fate—but how escape from it? What choice had she? To b_erself, or a Gerty Farish. As she entered her bedroom, with its softly-shade_ights, her lace dressing-gown lying across the silken bedspread, her littl_mbroidered slippers before the fire, a vase of carnations filling the ai_ith perfume, and the last novels and magazines lying uncut on a table besid_he reading-lamp, she had a vision of Miss Farish's cramped flat, with it_heap conveniences and hideous wall-papers. No; she was not made for mean an_habby surroundings, for the squalid compromises of poverty. Her whole bein_ilated in an atmosphere of luxury; it was the background she required, th_nly climate she could breathe in. But the luxury of others was not what sh_anted. A few years ago it had sufficed her: she had taken her daily meed o_leasure without caring who provided it. Now she was beginning to chafe at th_bligations it imposed, to feel herself a mere pensioner on the splendou_hich had once seemed to belong to her. There were even moments when she wa_onscious of having to pay her way.
For a long time she had refused to play bridge. She knew she could not affor_t, and she was afraid of acquiring so expensive a taste. She had seen th_anger exemplified in more than one of her associates—in young Ned Silverton, for instance, the charming fair boy now seated in abject rapture at the elbo_f Mrs. Fisher, a striking divorcee with eyes and gowns as emphatic as th_ead-lines of her "case." Lily could remember when young Silverton ha_tumbled into their circle, with the air of a strayed Arcadian who ha_ublished chamung sonnets in his college journal. Since then he had develope_ taste for Mrs. Fisher and bridge, and the latter at least had involved hi_n expenses from which he had been more than once rescued by harassed maide_isters, who treasured the sonnets, and went without sugar in their tea t_eep their darling afloat. Ned's case was familiar to Lily: she had seen hi_harming eyes—which had a good deal more poetry in them than th_onnets—change from surprise to amusement, and from amusement to anxiety, a_e passed under the spell of the terrible god of chance; and she was afraid o_iscovering the same symptoms in her own case.
For in the last year she had found that her hostesses expected her to take _lace at the card-table. It was one of the taxes she had to pay for thei_rolonged hospitality, and for the dresses and trinkets which occasionall_eplenished her insufficient wardrobe. And since she had played regularly th_assion had grown on her. Once or twice of late she had won a large sum, an_nstead of keeping it against future losses, had spent it in dress or jewelry; and the desire to atone for this imprudence, combined with the increasin_xhilaration of the game, drove her to risk higher stakes at each fres_enture. She tried to excuse herself on the plea that, in the Trenor set, i_ne played at all one must either play high or be set down as priggish o_tingy; but she knew that the gambling passion was upon her, and that in he_resent surroundings there was small hope of resisting it.
Tonight the luck had been persistently bad, and the little gold purse whic_ung among her trinkets was almost empty when she returned to her room. Sh_nlocked the wardrobe, and taking out her jewel-case, looked under the tra_or the roll of bills from which she had replenished the purse before goin_own to dinner. Only twenty dollars were left: the discovery was so startlin_hat for a moment she fancied she must have been robbed. Then she took pape_nd pencil, and seating herself at the writing-table, tried to reckon up wha_he had spent during the day. Her head was throbbing with fatigue, and she ha_o go over the figures again and again; but at last it became clear to he_hat she had lost three hundred dollars at cards. She took out her cheque-boo_o see if her balance was larger than she remembered, but found she had erre_n the other direction. Then she returned to her calculations; but figure a_he would, she could not conjure back the vanished three hundred dollars. I_as the sum she had set aside to pacify her dress-maker—unless she shoul_ecide to use it as a sop to the jeweller. At any rate, she had so many use_or it that its very insufficiency had caused her to play high in the hope o_oubling it. But of course she had lost—she who needed every penny, whil_ertha Dorset, whose husband showered money on her, must have pocketed a_east five hundred, and Judy Trenor, who could have afforded to lose _housand a night, had left the table clutching such a heap of bills that sh_ad been unable to shake hands with her guests when they bade her good night.
A world in which such things could be seemed a miserable place to Lily Bart; but then she had never been able to understand the laws of a universe whic_as so ready to leave her out of its calculations.
She began to undress without ringing for her maid, whom she had sent to bed.
She had been long enough in bondage to other people's pleasure to b_onsiderate of those who depended on hers, and in her bitter moods i_ometimes struck her that she and her maid were in the same position, excep_hat the latter received her wages more regularly.
As she sat before the mirror brushing her hair, her face looked hollow an_ale, and she was frightened by two little lines near her mouth, faint flaw_n the smooth curve of the cheek.
"Oh, I must stop worrying!" she exclaimed. "Unless it's the electric light—"
she reflected, springing up from her seat and lighting the candles on th_ressing-table.
She turned out the wall-lights, and peered at herself between the candle- flames. The white oval of her face swam out waveringly from a background o_hadows, the uncertain light blurring it like a haze; but the two lines abou_he mouth remained.
Lily rose and undressed in haste.
"It is only because I am tired and have such odious things to think about,"
she kept repeating; and it seemed an added injustice that petty cares shoul_eave a trace on the beauty which was her only defence against them.
But the odious things were there, and remained with her. She returned wearil_o the thought of Percy Gryce, as a wayfarer picks up a heavy load and toil_n after a brief rest. She was almost sure she had "landed" him: a few days'
work and she would win her reward. But the reward itself seemed upalatabl_ust then: she could get no zest from the thought of victory. It would be _est from worry, no more—and how little that would have seemed to her a fe_ears earlier! Her ambitions had shrunk gradually in the desiccating air o_ailure. But why had she failed? Was it her own fault or that of destiny?
She remembered how her mother, after they had lost their money, used to say t_er with a kind of fierce vindictiveness: "But you'll get it all back—you'l_et it all back, with your face." … The remembrance roused a whole train o_ssociation, and she lay in the darkness reconstructing the past out of whic_er present had grown.
A house in which no one ever dined at home unless there was "company"; a door- bell perpetually ringing; a hall-table showered with square envelopes whic_ere opened in haste, and oblong envelopes which were allowed to gather dus_n the depths of a bronze jar; a series of French and English maids givin_arning amid a chaos of hurriedly-ransacked wardrobes and dress-closets; a_qually changing dynasty of nurses and footmen; quarrels in the pantry, th_itchen and the drawing-room; precipitate trips to Europe, and returns wit_orged trunks and days of interminable unpacking; semi-annual discussions a_o where the summer should be spent, grey interludes of economy and brillian_eactions of expense—such was the setting of Lily Bart's first memories.
Ruling the turbulent element called home was the vigorous and determine_igure of a mother still young enough to dance her ball-dresses to rags, whil_he hazy outline of a neutral-tinted father filled an intermediate spac_etween the butler and the man who came to wind the clocks. Even to the eye_f infancy, Mrs. Hudson Bart had appeared young; but Lily could not recall th_ime when her father had not been bald and slightly stooping, with streaks o_rey in his hair, and a tired walk. It was a shock to her to learn afterwar_hat he was but two years older than her mother.
Lily seldom saw her father by daylight. All day he was "down town"; and i_inter it was long after nightfall when she heard his fagged step on th_tairs and his hand on the school-room door. He would kiss her in silence, an_sk one or two questions of the nurse or the governess; then Mrs. Bart's mai_ould come to remind him that he was dining out, and he would hurry away wit_ nod to Lily. In summer, when he joined them for a Sunday at Newport o_outhampton, he was even more effaced and silent than in winter. It seemed t_ire him to rest, and he would sit for hours staring at the sea-line from _uiet corner of the verandah, while the clatter of his wife's existence wen_n unheeded a few feet off. Generally, however, Mrs. Bart and Lily went t_urope for the summer, and before the steamer was half way over Mr. Bart ha_ipped below the horizon. Sometimes his daughter heard him denounced fo_aving neglected to forward Mrs. Bart's remittances; but for the most part h_as never mentioned or thought of till his patient stooping figure presente_tself on the New York dock as a buffer between the magnitude of his wife'_uggage and the restrictions of the American custom-house.
In this desultory yet agitated fashion life went on through Lily's teens: _ig-zag broken course down which the family craft glided on a rapid current o_musement, tugged at by the underflow of a perpetual need—the need of mor_oney. Lily could not recall the time when there had been money enough, and i_ome vague way her father seemed always to blame for the deficiency. It coul_ertainly not be the fault of Mrs. Bart, who was spoken of by her friends as a
"wonderful manager." Mrs. Bart was famous for the unlimited effect sh_roduced on limited means; and to the lady and her acquaintances there wa_omething heroic in living as though one were much richer than one's bank-boo_enoted.
Lily was naturally proud of her mother's aptitude in this line: she had bee_rought up in the faith that, whatever it cost, one must have a good cook, an_e what Mrs. Bart called "decently dressed." Mrs. Bart's worst reproach to he_usband was to ask him if he expected her to "live like a pig"; and hi_eplying in the negative was always regarded as a justification for cabling t_aris for an extra dress or two, and telephoning to the jeweller that h_ight, after all, send home the turquoise bracelet which Mrs. Bart had looke_t that morning.
Lily knew people who "lived like pigs," and their appearance and surrounding_ustified her mother's repugnance to that form of existence. They were mostl_ousins, who inhabited dingy houses with engravings from Cole's Voyage of Lif_n the drawing-room walls, and slatternly parlour-maids who said "I'll go an_ee" to visitors calling at an hour when all right-minded persons ar_onventionally if not actually out. The disgusting part of it was that many o_hese cousins were rich, so that Lily imbibed the idea that if people live_ike pigs it was from choice, and through the lack of any proper standard o_onduct. This gave her a sense of reflected superiority, and she did not nee_rs. Bart's comments on the family frumps and misers to foster her naturall_ively taste for splendour.
Lily was nineteen when circumstances caused her to revise her view of th_niverse.
The previous year she had made a dazzling debut fringed by a heavy thunder- cloud of bills. The light of the debut still lingered on the horizon, but th_loud had thickened; and suddenly it broke. The suddenness added to th_orror; and there were still times when Lily relived with painful vividnes_very detail of the day on which the blow fell. She and her mother had bee_eated at the luncheon-table, over the CHAUFROIX and cold salmon of th_revious night's dinner: it was one of Mrs. Bart's few economies to consume i_rivate the expensive remnants of her hospitality. Lily was feeling th_leasant languor which is youth's penalty for dancing till dawn; but he_other, in spite of a few lines about the mouth, and under the yellow waves o_er temples, was as alert, determined and high in colour as if she had rise_rom an untroubled sleep.
In the centre of the table, between the melting MARRONS GLACES and candie_herries, a pyramid of American Beauties lifted their vigorous stems; the_eld their heads as high as Mrs. Bart, but their rose-colour had turned to _issipated purple, and Lily's sense of fitness was disturbed by thei_eappearance on the luncheon-table.
"I really think, mother," she said reproachfully, "we might afford a few fres_lowers for luncheon. Just some jonquils or lilies-of-the-valley—"
Mrs. Bart stared. Her own fastidiousness had its eye fixed on the world, an_he did not care how the luncheon-table looked when there was no one presen_t it but the family. But she smiled at her daughter's innocence.
"Lilies-of-the-valley," she said calmly, "cost two dollars a dozen at thi_eason."
Lily was not impressed. She knew very little of the value of money.
"It would not take more than six dozen to fill that bowl," she argued.
"Six dozen what?" asked her father's voice in the doorway.
The two women looked up in surprise; though it was a Saturday, the sight o_r. Bart at luncheon was an unwonted one. But neither his wife nor hi_aughter was sufficiently interested to ask an explanation.
Mr. Bart dropped into a chair, and sat gazing absently at the fragment o_ellied salmon which the butler had placed before him.
"I was only saying," Lily began, "that I hate to see faded flowers a_uncheon; and mother says a bunch of lilies-of-the- valley would not cost mor_han twelve dollars. Mayn't I tell the florist to send a few every day?"
She leaned confidently toward her father: he seldom refused her anything, an_rs. Bart had taught her to plead with him when her own entreaties failed.
Mr. Bart sat motionless, his gaze still fixed on the salmon, and his lower ja_ropped; he looked even paler than usual, and his thin hair lay in untid_treaks on his forehead. Suddenly he looked at his daughter and laughed. Th_augh was so strange that Lily coloured under it: she disliked bein_idiculed, and her father seemed to see something ridiculous in the request.
Perhaps he thought it foolish that she should trouble him about such a trifle.
"Twelve dollars—twelve dollars a day for flowers? Oh, certainly, my dear—giv_im an order for twelve hundred." He continued to laugh.
Mrs. Bart gave him a quick glance.
"You needn't wait, Poleworth—I will ring for you," she said to the butler.
The butler withdrew with an air of silent disapproval, leaving the remains o_he CHAUFROIX on the sideboard.
"What is the matter, Hudson? Are you ill?" said Mrs. Bart severely.
She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making, and it wa_dious to her that her husband should make a show of himself before th_ervants.
"Are you ill?" she repeated.
"Ill?—No, I'm ruined," he said.
Lily made a frightened sound, and Mrs. Bart rose to her feet.
"Ruined—?" she cried; but controlling herself instantly, she turned a cal_ace to Lily.
"Shut the pantry door," she said.
Lily obeyed, and when she turned back into the room her father was sittin_ith both elbows on the table, the plate of salmon between them, and his hea_owed on his hands.
Mrs. Bart stood over him with a white face which made her hair unnaturall_ellow. She looked at Lily as the latter approached: her look was terrible, but her voice was modulated to a ghastly cheerfulness.
"Your father is not well—he doesn't know what he is saying. It is nothing—bu_ou had better go upstairs; and don't talk to the servants," she added.
Lily obeyed; she always obeyed when her mother spoke in that voice. She ha_ot been deceived by Mrs. Bart's words: she knew at once that they wer_uined. In the dark hours which followed, that awful fact overshadowed eve_er father's slow and difficult dying. To his wife he no longer counted: h_ad become extinct when he ceased to fulfil his purpose, and she sat at hi_ide with the provisional air of a traveller who waits for a belated train t_tart. Lily's feelings were softer: she pitied him in a frightened ineffectua_ay. But the fact that he was for the most part unconscious, and that hi_ttention, when she stole into the room, drifted away from her after a moment, made him even more of a stranger than in the nursery days when he had neve_ome home till after dark. She seemed always to have seen him through _lur—first of sleepiness, then of distance and indifference— and now the fo_ad thickened till he was almost indistinguishable. If she could hav_erformed any little services for him, or have exchanged with him a few o_hose affecting words which an extensive perusal of fiction had led her t_onnect with such occasions, the filial instinct might have stirred in her; but her pity, finding no active expression, remained in a state o_pectatorship, overshadowed by her mother's grim unflagging resentment. Ever_ook and act of Mrs. Bart's seemed to say: "You are sorry for him now—but yo_ill feel differently when you see what he has done to us."
It was a relief to Lily when her father died.
Then a long winter set in. There was a little money left, but to Mrs. Bart i_eemed worse than nothing—the mere mockery of what she was entitled to. Wha_as the use of living if one had to live like a pig? She sank into a kind o_urious apathy, a state of inert anger against fate. Her faculty for
"managing" deserted her, or she no longer took sufficient pride in it to exer_t. It was well enough to "manage" when by so doing one could keep one's ow_arriage; but when one's best contrivance did not conceal the fact that on_ad to go on foot, the effort was no longer worth making.
Lily and her mother wandered from place to place, now paying long visits t_elations whose house-keeping Mrs. Bart criticized, and who deplored the fac_hat she let Lily breakfast in bed when the girl had no prospects before her, and now vegetating in cheap continental refuges, where Mrs. Bart held hersel_iercely aloof from the frugal tea-tables of her companions in misfortune. Sh_as especially careful to avoid her old friends and the scenes of her forme_uccesses. To be poor seemed to her such a confession of failure that i_mounted to disgrace; and she detected a note of condescension in th_riendliest advances.
Only one thought consoled her, and that was the contemplation of Lily'_eauty. She studied it with a kind of passion, as though it were some weapo_he had slowly fashioned for her vengeance. It was the last asset in thei_ortunes, the nucleus around which their life was to be rebuilt. She watche_t jealously, as though it were her own property and Lily its mere custodian; and she tried to instil into the latter a sense of the responsibility tha_uch a charge involved. She followed in imagination the career of othe_eauties, pointing out to her daughter what might be achieved through such _ift, and dwelling on the awful warning of those who, in spite of it, ha_ailed to get what they wanted: to Mrs. Bart, only stupidity could explain th_amentable denouement of some of her examples. She was not above th_nconsistency of charging fate, rather than herself, with her own misfortunes; but she inveighed so acrimoniously against love-matches that Lily would hav_ancied her own marriage had been of that nature, had not Mrs. Bart frequentl_ssured her that she had been "talked into it"—by whom, she never made clear.
Lily was duly impressed by the magnitude of her opportunities. The dingines_f her present life threw into enchanting relief the existence to which sh_elt herself entitled. To a less illuminated intelligence Mrs. Bart's counsel_ight have been dangerous; but Lily understood that beauty is only the ra_aterial of conquest, and that to convert it into success other arts ar_equired. She knew that to betray any sense of superiority was a subtler for_f the stupidity her mother denounced, and it did not take her long to lear_hat a beauty needs more tact than the possessor of an average set o_eatures.
Her ambitions were not as crude as Mrs. Bart's. It had been among that lady'_rievances that her husband—in the early days, before he was too tired—ha_asted his evenings in what she vaguely described as "reading poetry"; an_mong the effects packed off to auction after his death were a score or two o_ingy volumes which had struggled for existence among the boots and medicin_ottles of his dressing-room shelves. There was in Lily a vein of sentiment, perhaps transmitted from this source, which gave an idealizing touch to he_ost prosaic purposes. She liked to think of her beauty as a power for good, as giving her the opportunity to attain a position where she should make he_nfluence felt in the vague diffusion of refinement and good taste. She wa_ond of pictures and flowers, and of sentimental fiction, and she could no_elp thinking that the possession of such tastes ennobled her desire fo_orldly advantages. She would not indeed have cared to marry a man who wa_erely rich: she was secretly ashamed of her mother's crude passion for money.
Lily's preference would have been for an English nobleman with politica_mbitions and vast estates; or, for second choice, an Italian prince with _astle in the Apennines and an hereditary office in the Vatican. Lost cause_ad a romantic charm for her, and she liked to picture herself as standin_loof from the vulgar press of the Quirinal, and sacrificing her pleasure t_he claims of an immemorial tradition… .
How long ago and how far off it all seemed! Those ambitions were hardly mor_utile and childish than the earlier ones which had centred about th_ossession of a French jointed doll with real hair. Was it only ten year_ince she had wavered in imagination between the English earl and the Italia_rince? Relentlessly her mind travelled on over the dreary interval… .
After two years of hungry roaming Mrs. Bart had died—died of a deep disgust.
She had hated dinginess, and it was her fate to be dingy. Her visions of _rilliant marriage for Lily had faded after the first year.
"People can't marry you if they don't see you—and how can they see you i_hese holes where we're stuck?" That was the burden of her lament; and he_ast adjuration to her daughter was to escape from dinginess if she could.
"Don't let it creep up on you and drag you down. Fight your way out of i_omehow—you're young and can do it," she insisted.
She had died during one of their brief visits to New York, and there Lily a_nce became the centre of a family council composed of the wealthy relative_hom she had been taught to despise for living like pigs. It may be that the_ad an inkling of the sentiments in which she had been brought up, for none o_hem manifested a very lively desire for her company; indeed, the questio_hreatened to remain unsolved till Mrs. Peniston with a sigh announced: "I'l_ry her for a year."
Every one was surprised, but one and all concealed their surprise, lest Mrs.
Peniston should be alarmed by it into reconsidering her decision.
Mrs. Peniston was Mr. Bart's widowed sister, and if she was by no means th_ichest of the family group, its other members nevertheless abounded i_easons why she was clearly destined by Providence to assume the charge o_ily. In the first place she was alone, and it would be charming for her t_ave a young companion. Then she sometimes travelled, and Lily's familiarit_ith foreign customs—deplored as a misfortune by her more conservativ_elatives—would at least enable her to act as a kind of courier. But as _atter of fact Mrs. Peniston had not been affected by these considerations.
She had taken the girl simply because no one else would have her, and becaus_he had the kind of moral MAUVAISE HONTE which makes the public display o_elfishness difficult, though it does not interfere with its privat_ndulgence. It would have been impossible for Mrs. Peniston to be heroic on _esert island, but with the eyes of her little world upon her she took _ertain pleasure in her act.
She reaped the reward to which disinterestedness is entitled, and found a_greeable companion in her niece. She had expected to find Lily headstrong, critical and "foreign"—for even Mrs. Peniston, though she occasionally wen_broad, had the family dread of foreignness—but the girl showed a pliancy, which, to a more penetrating mind than her aunt's, might have been les_eassuring than the open selfishness of youth. Misfortune had made Lily suppl_nstead of hardening her, and a pliable substance is less easy to break than _tiff one.
Mrs. Peniston, however, did not suffer from her niece's adaptability. Lily ha_o intention of taking advantage of her aunt's good nature. She was in trut_rateful for the refuge offered her: Mrs. Peniston's opulent interior was a_east not externally dingy. But dinginess is a quality which assumes al_anner of disguises; and Lily soon found that it was as latent in th_xpensive routine of her aunt's life as in the makeshift existence of _ontinental pension.
Mrs. Peniston was one of the episodical persons who form the padding of life.
It was impossible to believe that she had herself ever been a focus o_ctivities. The most vivid thing about her was the fact that her grandmothe_ad been a Van Alstyne. This connection with the well-fed and industriou_tock of early New York revealed itself in the glacial neatness of Mrs.
Peniston's drawing-room and in the excellence of her cuisine. She belonged t_he class of old New Yorkers who have always lived well, dressed expensively, and done little else; and to these inherited obligations Mrs. Penisto_aitfully conformed. She had always been a looker-on at life, and her min_esembled one of those little mirrors which her Dutch ancestors wer_ccustomed to affix to their upper windows, so that from the depths of a_mpenetrable domesticity they might see what was happening in the street.
Mrs. Peniston was the owner of a country-place in New Jersey, but she ha_ever lived there since her husband's death—a remote event, which appeared t_well in her memory chiefly as a dividing point in the personal reminiscence_hat formed the staple of her conversation. She was a woman who remembere_ates with intensity, and could tell at a moment's notice whether the drawing- room curtains had been renewed before or after Mr. Peniston's last illness.
Mrs. Peniston thought the country lonely and trees damp, and cherished a vagu_ear of meeting a bull. To guard against such contingencies she frequented th_ore populous watering-places, where she installed herself impersonally in _ired house and looked on at life through the matting screen of her verandah.
In the care of such a guardian, it soon became clear to Lily that she was t_njoy only the material advantages of good food and expensive clothing; and, though far from underrating these, she would gladly have exchanged them fo_hat Mrs. Bart had taught her to regard as opportunities. She sighed to thin_hat her mother's fierce energies would have accomplished, had they bee_oupled with Mrs. Peniston's resources. Lily had abundant energy of her own, but it was restricted by the necessity of adapting herself to her aunt'_abits. She saw that at all costs she must keep Mrs. Peniston's favour till, as Mrs. Bart would have phrased it, she could stand on her own legs. Lily ha_o mind for the vagabond life of the poor relation, and to adapt herself t_rs. Peniston she had, to some degree, to assume that lady's passive attitude.
She had fancied at first that it would be easy to draw her aunt into the whir_f her own activities, but there was a static force in Mrs. Peniston agains_hich her niece's efforts spent themselves in vain. To attempt to bring he_nto active relation with life was like tugging at a piece of furniture whic_as been screwed to the floor. She did not, indeed, expect Lily to remai_qually immovable: she had all the American guardian's indulgence for th_olatility of youth.
She had indulgence also for certain other habits of her niece's. It seemed t_er natural that Lily should spend all her money on dress, and sh_upplemented the girl's scanty income by occasional "handsome presents" mean_o be applied to the same purpose. Lily, who was intensely practical, woul_ave preferred a fixed allowance; but Mrs. Peniston liked the periodica_ecurrence of gratitude evoked by unexpected cheques, and was perhaps shrew_nough to perceive that such a method of giving kept alive in her niece _alutary sense of dependence.
Beyond this, Mrs. Peniston had not felt called upon to do anything for he_harge: she had simply stood aside and let her take the field. Lily had take_t, at first with the confidence of assured possessorship, then with graduall_arrowing demands, till now she found herself actually struggling for _oothold on the broad space which had once seemed her own for the asking. Ho_t happened she did not yet know. Sometimes she thought it was because Mrs.
Peniston had been too passive, and again she feared it was because she hersel_ad not been passive enough. Had she shown an undue eagerness for victory? Ha_he lacked patience, pliancy and dissimulation? Whether she charged hersel_ith these faults or absolved herself from them, made no difference in th_um-total of her failure. Younger and plainer girls had been married off b_ozens, and she was nine-and-twenty, and still Miss Bart.
She was beginning to have fits of angry rebellion against fate, when sh_onged to drop out of the race and make an independent life for herself. Bu_hat manner of life would it be? She had barely enough money to pay her dress- makers' bills and her gambling debts; and none of the desultory interest_hich she dignified with the name of tastes was pronounced enough to enabl_er to live contentedly in obscurity. Ah, no—she was too intelligent not to b_onest with herself. She knew that she hated dinginess as much as her mothe_ad hated it, and to her last breath she meant to fight against it, draggin_erself up again and again above its flood till she gained the brigh_innacles of success which presented such a slippery surface to her clutch.