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Chapter 5

  • The observance of Sunday at Bellomont was chiefly marked by the punctua_ppearance of the smart omnibus destined to convey the household to the littl_hurch at the gates. Whether any one got into the omnibus or not was a matte_f secondary importance, since by standing there it not only bore witness t_he orthodox intentions of the family, but made Mrs. Trenor feel, when sh_inally heard it drive away, that she had somehow vicariously made use of it.
  • It was Mrs. Trenor's theory that her daughters actually did go to church ever_unday; but their French governess's convictions calling her to the riva_ane, and the fatigues of the week keeping their mother in her room til_uncheon, there was seldom any one present to verify the fact. Now and then, in a spasmodic burst of virtue—when the house had been too uproarious ove_ight—Gus Trenor forced his genial bulk into a tight frock-coat and routed hi_aughters from their slumbers; but habitually, as Lily explained to Mr. Gryce, this parental duty was forgotten till the church bells were ringing across th_ark, and the omnibus had driven away empty.
  • Lily had hinted to Mr. Gryce that this neglect of religious observances wa_epugnant to her early traditions, and that during her visits to Bellomont sh_egularly accompanied Muriel and Hilda to church. This tallied with th_ssurance, also confidentially imparted, that, never having played bridg_efore, she had been "dragged into it" on the night of her arrival, and ha_ost an appalling amount of money in consequence of her ignorance of the gam_nd of the rules of betting. Mr. Gryce was undoubtedly enjoying Bellomont. H_iked the ease and glitter of the life, and the lustre conferred on him b_eing a member of this group of rich and conspicuous people. But he thought i_ very materialistic society; there were times when he was frightened by th_alk of the men and the looks of the ladies, and he was glad to find that Mis_art, for all her ease and self-possession, was not at home in so ambiguous a_tmosphere. For this reason he had been especially pleased to learn that sh_ould, as usual, attend the young Trenors to church on Sunday morning; and a_e paced the gravel sweep before the door, his light overcoat on his arm an_is prayer-book in one carefully-gloved hand, he reflected agreeably on th_trength of character which kept her true to her early training i_urroundings so subversive to religious principles.
  • For a long time Mr. Gryce and the omnibus had the gravel sweep to themselves; but, far from regretting this deplorable indifference on the part of the othe_uests, he found himself nourishing the hope that Miss Bart might b_naccompanied. The precious minutes were flying, however; the big chestnut_awed the ground and flecked their impatient sides with foam; the coachma_eemed to be slowly petrifying on the box, and the groom on the doorstep; an_till the lady did not come. Suddenly, however, there was a sound of voice_nd a rustle of skirts in the doorway, and Mr. Gryce, restoring his watch t_is pocket, turned with a nervous start; but it was only to find himsel_anding Mrs. Wetherall into the carriage.
  • The Wetheralls always went to church. They belonged to the vast group of huma_utomata who go through life without neglecting to perform a single one of th_estures executed by the surrounding puppets. It is true that the Bellomon_uppets did not go to church; but others equally important did—and Mr. an_rs. Wetherall's circle was so large that God was included in their visiting- list. They appeared, therefore, punctual and resigned, with the air of peopl_ound for a dull "At Home," and after them Hilda and Muriel straggled, yawnin_nd pinning each other's veils and ribbons as they came. They had promise_ily to go to church with her, they declared, and Lily was such a dear ol_uck that they didn't mind doing it to please her, though they couldn't fanc_hat had put the idea in her head, and though for their own part they woul_uch rather have played lawn tennis with Jack and Gwen, if she hadn't tol_hem she was coming. The Misses Trenor were followed by Lady Cressida Raith, _eather-beaten person in Liberty silk and ethnological trinkets, who, o_eeing the omnibus, expressed her surprise that they were not to walk acros_he park; but at Mrs. Wetherall's horrified protest that the church was a mil_way, her ladyship, after a glance at the height of the other's heels, acquiesced in the necessity of driving, and poor Mr. Gryce found himsel_olling off between four ladies for whose spiritual welfare he felt not th_east concern.
  • It might have afforded him some consolation could he have known that Miss Bar_ad really meant to go to church. She had even risen earlier than usual in th_xecution of her purpose. She had an idea that the sight of her in a grey gow_f devotional cut, with her famous lashes drooped above a prayer-book, woul_ut the finishing touch to Mr. Gryce's subjugation, and render inevitable _ertain incident which she had resolved should form a part of the walk the_ere to take together after luncheon. Her intentions in short had never bee_ore definite; but poor Lily, for all the hard glaze of her exterior, wa_nwardly as malleable as wax. Her faculty for adapting herself, for enterin_nto other people's feelings, if it served her now and then in smal_ontingencies, hampered her in the decisive moments of life. She was like _ater-plant in the flux of the tides, and today the whole current of her moo_as carrying her toward Lawrence Selden. Why had he come? Was it to se_erself or Bertha Dorset? It was the last question which, at that moment, should have engaged her. She might better have contented herself with thinkin_hat he had simply responded to the despairing summons of his hostess, anxiou_o interpose him between herself and the ill-humour of Mrs. Dorset. But Lil_ad not rested till she learned from Mrs. Trenor that Selden had come of hi_wn accord. "He didn't even wire me—he just happened to find the trap at th_tation. Perhaps it's not over with Bertha after all," Mrs. Trenor musingl_oncluded; and went away to arrange her dinner-cards accordingly.
  • Perhaps it was not, Lily reflected; but it should be soon, unless she had los_er cunning. If Selden had come at Mrs. Dorset's call, it was at her own tha_e would stay. So much the previous evening had told her. Mrs. Trenor, true t_er simple principle of making her married friends happy, had placed Selde_nd Mrs. Dorset next to each other at dinner; but, in obedience to the time- honoured traditions of the match-maker, she had separated Lily and Mr. Gryce, sending in the former with George Dorset, while Mr. Gryce was coupled wit_wen Van Osburgh.
  • George Dorset's talk did not interfere with the range of his neighbour'_houghts. He was a mournful dyspeptic, intent on finding out the deleteriou_ngredients of every dish and diverted from this care only by the sound of hi_ife's voice. On this occasion, however, Mrs. Dorset took no part in th_eneral conversation. She sat talking in low murmurs with Selden, and turnin_ contemptuous and denuded shoulder toward her host, who, far from resentin_is exclusion, plunged into the excesses of the MENU with the joyou_rresponsibility of a free man. To Mr. Dorset, however, his wife's attitud_as a subject of such evident concern that, when he was not scraping the sauc_rom his fish, or scooping the moist bread-crumbs from the interior of hi_oll, he sat straining his thin neck for a glimpse of her between the lights.
  • Mrs. Trenor, as it chanced, had placed the husband and wife on opposite side_f the table, and Lily was therefore able to observe Mrs. Dorset also, and b_arrying her glance a few feet farther, to set up a rapid comparison betwee_awrence Selden and Mr. Gryce. It was that comparison which was her undoing.
  • Why else had she suddenly grown interested in Selden? She had known him fo_ight years or more: ever since her return to America he had formed a part o_er background. She had always been glad to sit next to him at dinner, ha_ound him more agreeable than most men, and had vaguely wished that h_ossessed the other qualities needful to fix her attention; but till now sh_ad been too busy with her own affairs to regard him as more than one of th_leasant accessories of life. Miss Bart was a keen reader of her own heart, and she saw that her sudden preoccupation with Selden was due to the fact tha_is presence shed a new light on her surroundings. Not that he was notabl_rilliant or exceptional; in his own profession he was surpassed by more tha_ne man who had bored Lily through many a weary dinner. It was rather that h_ad preserved a certain social detachment, a happy air of viewing the sho_bjectively, of having points of contact outside the great gilt cage in whic_hey were all huddled for the mob to gape at. How alluring the world outsid_he cage appeared to Lily, as she heard its door clang on her! In reality, a_he knew, the door never clanged: it stood always open; but most of th_aptives were like flies in a bottle, and having once flown in, could neve_egain their freedom. It was Selden's distinction that he had never forgotte_he way out.
  • That was the secret of his way of readjusting her vision. Lily, turning he_yes from him, found herself scanning her little world through his retina: i_as as though the pink lamps had been shut off and the dusty daylight let in.
  • She looked down the long table, studying its occupants one by one, from Gu_renor, with his heavy carnivorous head sunk between his shoulders, as h_reyed on a jellied plover, to his wife, at the opposite end of the long ban_f orchids, suggestive, with her glaring good-looks, of a jeweller's windo_it by electricity. And between the two, what a long stretch of vacuity! Ho_reary and trivial these people were! Lily reviewed them with a scornfu_mpatience: Carry Fisher, with her shoulders, her eyes, her divorces, he_eneral air of embodying a "spicy paragraph"; young Silverton, who had mean_o live on proof-reading and write an epic, and who now lived on his friend_nd had become critical of truffles; Alice Wetherall, an animated visiting- list, whose most fervid convictions turned on the wording of invitations an_he engraving of dinner-cards; Wetherall, with his perpetual nervous nod o_cquiescence, his air of agreeing with people before he knew what they wer_aying; Jack Stepney, with his confident smile and anxious eyes, half wa_etween the sheriff and an heiress; Gwen Van Osburgh, with all the guileles_onfidence of a young girl who has always been told that there is no on_icher than her father.
  • Lily smiled at her classification of her friends. How different they ha_eemed to her a few hours ago! Then they had symbolized what she was gaining, now they stood for what she was giving up. That very afternoon they had seeme_ull of brilliant qualities; now she saw that they were merely dull in a lou_ay. Under the glitter of their opportunities she saw the poverty of thei_chievement. It was not that she wanted them to be more disinterested; but sh_ould have liked them to be more picturesque. And she had a shame_ecollection of the way in which, a few hours since, she had felt th_entripetal force of their standards. She closed her eyes an instant, and th_acuous routine of the life she had chosen stretched before her like a lon_hite road without dip or turning: it was true she was to roll over it in _arriage instead of trudging it on foot, but sometimes the pedestrian enjoy_he diversion of a short cut which is denied to those on wheels.
  • She was roused by a chuckle which Mr. Dorset seemed to eject from the depth_f his lean throat.
  • "I say, do look at her," he exclaimed, turning to Miss Bart with lugubriou_erriment—"I beg your pardon, but do just look at my wife making a fool o_hat poor devil over there! One would really suppose she was gone on him—an_t's all the other way round, I assure you."
  • Thus adjured, Lily turned her eyes on the spectacle which was affording Mr.
  • Dorset such legitimate mirth. It certainly appeared, as he said, that Mrs.
  • Dorset was the more active participant in the scene: her neighbour seemed t_eceive her advances with a temperate zest which did not distract him from hi_inner. The sight restored Lily's good humour, and knowing the peculia_isguise which Mr. Dorset's marital fears assumed, she asked gaily: "Aren'_ou horribly jealous of her?"
  • Dorset greeted the sally with delight. "Oh, abominably—you've just hi_t—keeps me awake at night. The doctors tell me that's what has knocked m_igestion out—being so infernally jealous of her.—I can't eat a mouthful o_his stuff, you know," he added suddenly, pushing back his plate with _louded countenance; and Lily, unfailingly adaptable, accorded her radian_ttention to his prolonged denunciation of other people's cooks, with _upplementary tirade on the toxic qualities of melted butter.
  • It was not often that he found so ready an ear; and, being a man as well as _yspeptic, it may be that as he poured his grievances into it he was no_nsensible to its rosy symmetry. At any rate he engaged Lily so long that th_weets were being handed when she caught a phrase on her other side, wher_iss Corby, the comic woman of the company, was bantering Jack Stepney on hi_pproaching engagement. Miss Corby's role was jocularity: she always entere_he conversation with a handspring.
  • "And of course you'll have Sim Rosedale as best man!" Lily heard her fling ou_s the climax of her prognostications; and Stepney responded, as if struck:
  • "Jove, that's an idea. What a thumping present I'd get out of him!"
  • SIM ROSEDALE! The name, made more odious by its diminutive, obtruded itself o_ily's thoughts like a leer. It stood for one of the many hated possibilitie_overing on the edge of life. If she did not marry Percy Gryce, the day migh_ome when she would have to be civil to such men as Rosedale. IF SHE DID NO_ARRY HIM? But she meant to marry him—she was sure of him and sure of herself.
  • She drew back with a shiver from the pleasant paths in which her thoughts ha_een straying, and set her feet once more in the middle of the long whit_oad… . When she went upstairs that night she found that the late post ha_rought her a fresh batch of bills. Mrs. Peniston, who was a conscientiou_oman, had forwarded them all to Bellomont.
  • Miss Bart, accordingly, rose the next morning with the most earnest convictio_hat it was her duty to go to church. She tore herself betimes from th_ingering enjoyment of her breakfast-tray, rang to have her grey gown lai_ut, and despatched her maid to borrow a prayer-book from Mrs. Trenor.
  • But her course was too purely reasonable not to contain the germs o_ebellion. No sooner were her preparations made than they roused a smothere_ense of resistance. A small spark was enough to kindle Lily's imagination, and the sight of the grey dress and the borrowed prayer-book flashed a lon_ight down the years. She would have to go to church with Percy Gryce ever_unday. They would have a front pew in the most expensive church in New York, and his name would figure handsomely in the list of parish charities. In a fe_ears, when he grew stouter, he would be made a warden. Once in the winter th_ector would come to dine, and her husband would beg her to go over the lis_nd see that no DIVORCEES were included, except those who had showed signs o_enitence by being re-married to the very wealthy. There was nothin_specially arduous in this round of relgious obligations; but it stood for _raction of that great bulk of boredom which loomed across her path. And wh_ould consent to be bored on such a morning? Lily had slept well, and her bat_ad filled her with a pleasant glow, which was becomingly reflected in th_lear curve of her cheek. No lines were visible this morning, or else th_lass was at a happier angle.
  • And the day was the accomplice of her mood: it was a day for impulse an_ruancy. The light air seemed full of powdered gold; below the dewy bloom o_he lawns the woodlands blushed and smouldered, and the hills across the rive_wam in molten blue. Every drop of blood in Lily's veins invited her t_appiness.
  • The sound of wheels roused her from these musings, and leaning behind he_hutters she saw the omnibus take up its freight. She was too late, then—bu_he fact did not alarm her. A glimpse of Mr. Gryce's crestfallen face eve_uggested that she had done wisely in absenting herself, since th_isappointment he so candidly betrayed would surely whet his appetite for th_fternoon walk. That walk she did not mean to miss; one glance at the bills o_er writing-table was enough to recall its necessity. But meanwhile she ha_he morning to herself, and could muse pleasantly on the disposal of it_ours. She was familiar enough with the habits of Bellomont to know that sh_as likely to have a free field till luncheon. She had seen the Wetheralls, the Trenor girls and Lady Cressida packed safely into the omnibus; Judy Treno_as sure to be having her hair shampooed; Carry Fisher had doubtless carrie_ff her host for a drive; Ned Silverton was probably smoking the cigarette o_oung despair in his bedroom; and Kate Corby was certain to be playing tenni_ith Jack Stepney and Miss Van Osburgh. Of the ladies, this left only Mrs.
  • Dorset unaccounted for, and Mrs. Dorset never came down till luncheon: he_octors, she averred, had forbidden her to expose herself to the crude air o_he morning.
  • To the remaining members of the party Lily gave no special thought; whereve_hey were, they were not likely to interfere with her plans. These, for th_oment, took the shape of assuming a dress somewhat more rustic and summerlik_n style than the garment she had first selected, and rustling downstairs, sunshade in hand, with the disengaged air of a lady in quest of exercise. Th_reat hall was empty but for the knot of dogs by the fire, who, taking in at _lance the outdoor aspect of Miss Bart, were upon her at once with lavis_ffers of companionship. She put aside the ramming paws which conveyed thes_ffers, and assuring the joyous volunteers that she might presently have a us_or their company, sauntered on through the empty drawing-room to the librar_t the end of the house. The library was almost the only surviving portion o_he old manor-house of Bellomont: a long spacious room, revealing th_raditions of the mother-country in its classically-cased doors, the Dutc_iles of the chimney, and the elaborate hob-grate with its shining brass urns.
  • A few family portraits of lantern-jawed gentlemen in tie-wigs, and ladies wit_arge head-dresses and small bodies, hung between the shelves lined wit_leasantly-shabby books: books mostly contemporaneous with the ancestors i_uestion, and to which the subsequent Trenors had made no perceptibl_dditions. The library at Bellomont was in fact never used for reading, thoug_t had a certain popularity as a smoking-room or a quiet retreat fo_lirtation. It had occurred to Lily, however, that it might on this occasio_ave been resorted to by the only member of the party in the least likely t_ut it to its original use. She advanced noiselessly over the dense old ru_cattered with easy-chairs, and before she reached the middle of the room sh_aw that she had not been mistaken. Lawrence Selden was in fact seated at it_arther end; but though a book lay on his knee, his attention was not engage_ith it, but directed to a lady whose lace-clad figure, as she leaned back i_n adjoining chair, detached itself with exaggerated slimness against th_usky leather upholstery.
  • Lily paused as she caught sight of the group; for a moment she seemed about t_ithdraw, but thinking better of this, she announced her approach by a sligh_hake of her skirts which made the couple raise their heads, Mrs. Dorset wit_ look of frank displeasure, and Selden with his usual quiet smile. The sigh_f his composure had a disturbing effect on Lily; but to be disturbed was i_er case to make a more brilliant effort at self-possession.
  • "Dear me, am I late?" she asked, putting a hand in his as he advanced to gree_er.
  • "Late for what?" enquired Mrs. Dorset tartly. "Not for luncheon, certainly—bu_erhaps you had an earlier engagement?"
  • "Yes, I had," said Lily confidingly.
  • "Really? Perhaps I am in the way, then? But Mr. Selden is entirely at you_isposal." Mrs. Dorset was pale with temper, and her antagonist felt a certai_leasure in prolonging her distress.
  • "Oh, dear, no—do stay," she said good-humouredly. "I don't in the least wan_o drive you away."
  • "You're awfully good, dear, but I never interfere with Mr. Selden'_ngagements."
  • The remark was uttered with a little air of proprietorship not lost on it_bject, who concealed a faint blush of annoyance by stooping to pick up th_ook he had dropped at Lily's approach. The latter's eyes widened charmingl_nd she broke into a light laugh.
  • "But I have no engagement with Mr. Selden! My engagement was to go to church; and I'm afraid the omnibus has started without me. HAS it started, do yo_now?"
  • She turned to Selden, who replied that he had heard it drive away some tim_ince.
  • "Ah, then I shall have to walk; I promised Hilda and Muriel to go to churc_ith them. It's too late to walk there, you say? Well, I shall have the credi_f trying, at any rate—and the advantage of escaping part of the service. I'_ot so sorry for myself, after all!"
  • And with a bright nod to the couple on whom she had intruded, Miss Bar_trolled through the glass doors and carried her rustling grace down the lon_erspective of the garden walk.
  • She was taking her way churchward, but at no very quick pace; a fact not los_n one of her observers, who stood in the doorway looking after her with a_ir of puzzled amusement. The truth is that she was conscious of a somewha_een shock of disappointment. All her plans for the day had been built on th_ssumption that it was to see her that Selden had come to Bellomont. She ha_xpected, when she came downstairs, to find him on the watch for her; and sh_ad found him, instead, in a situation which might well denote that he ha_een on the watch for another lady. Was it possible, after all, that he ha_ome for Bertha Dorset? The latter had acted on the assumption to the exten_f appearing at an hour when she never showed herself to ordinary mortals, an_ily, for the moment, saw no way of putting her in the wrong. It did not occu_o her that Selden might have been actuated merely by the desire to spend _unday out of town: women never learn to dispense with the sentimental motiv_n their judgments of men. But Lily was not easily disconcerted; competitio_ut her on her mettle, and she reflected that Selden's coming, if it did no_eclare him to be still in Mrs. Dorset's toils, showed him to be so completel_ree from them that he was not afraid of her proximity.
  • These thoughts so engaged her that she fell into a gait hardly likely to carr_er to church before the sermon, and at length, having passed from the garden_o the wood-path beyond, so far forgot her intention as to sink into a rusti_eat at a bend of the walk. The spot was charming, and Lily was not insensibl_o the charm, or to the fact that her presence enhanced it; but she was no_ccustomed to taste the joys of solitude except in company, and th_ombination of a handsome girl and a romantic scene struck her as too good t_e wasted. No one, however, appeared to profit by the opportunity; and after _alf hour of fruitless waiting she rose and wandered on. She felt a stealin_ense of fatigue as she walked; the sparkle had died out of her, and the tast_f life was stale on her lips. She hardly knew what she had been seeking, o_hy the failure to find it had so blotted the light from her sky: she was onl_ware of a vague sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than th_oneliness about her.
  • Her footsteps flagged, and she stood gazing listlessly ahead, digging th_erny edge of the path with the tip of her sunshade. As she did so a ste_ounded behind her, and she saw Selden at her side.
  • "How fast you walk!" he remarked. "I thought I should never catch up wit_ou."
  • She answered gaily: "You must be quite breathless! I've been sitting unde_hat tree for an hour."
  • "Waiting for me, I hope?" he rejoined; and she said with a vague laugh:
  • "Well—waiting to see if you would come."
  • "I seize the distinction, but I don't mind it, since doing the one involve_oing the other. But weren't you sure that I should come?"
  • "If I waited long enough—but you see I had only a limited time to give to th_xperiment."
  • "Why limited? Limited by luncheon?"
  • "No; by my other engagement."
  • "Your engagement to go to church with Muriel and Hilda?"
  • "No; but to come home from church with another person."
  • "Ah, I see; I might have known you were fully provided with alternatives. An_s the other person coming home this way?"
  • Lily laughed again. "That's just what I don't know; and to find out, it is m_usiness to get to church before the service is over."
  • "Exactly; and it is my business to prevent your doing so; in which case th_ther person, piqued by your absence, will form the desperate resolve o_riving back in the omnibus."
  • Lily received this with fresh appreciation; his nonsense was like the bubblin_f her inner mood. "Is that what you would do in such an emergency?" sh_nquired.
  • Selden looked at her with solemnity. "I am here to prove to you," he cried,
  • "what I am capable of doing in an emergency!"
  • "Walking a mile in an hour—you must own that the omnibus would be quicker!"
  • "Ah—but will he find you in the end? That's the only test of success."
  • They looked at each other with the same luxury of enjoyment that they had fel_n exchanging absurdities over his tea-table; but suddenly Lily's fac_hanged, and she said: "Well, if it is, he has succeeded."
  • Selden, following her glance, perceived a party of people advancing towar_hem from the farther bend of the path. Lady Cressida had evidently insiste_n walking home, and the rest of the church-goers had thought it their duty t_ccompany her. Lily's companion looked rapidly from one to the other of th_wo men of the party; Wetherall walking respectfully at Lady Cressida's sid_ith his little sidelong look of nervous attention, and Percy Gryce bringin_p the rear with Mrs. Wetherall and the Trenors.
  • "Ah—now I see why you were getting up your Americana!" Selden exclaimed with _ote of the freest admiration but the blush with which the sally was receive_hecked whatever amplifications he had meant to give it.
  • That Lily Bart should object to being bantered about her suitors, or eve_bout her means of attracting them, was so new to Selden that he had _omentary flash of surprise, which lit up a number of possibilities; but sh_ose gallantly to the defence of her confusion, by saying, as its objec_pproached: "That was why I was waiting for you—to thank you for having give_e so many points!"
  • "Ah, you can hardly do justice to the subject in such a short time," sai_elden, as the Trenor girls caught sight of Miss Bart; and while she signalle_ response to their boisterous greeting, he added quickly: "Won't you devot_our afternoon to it? You know I must be off tomorrow morning. We'll take _alk, and you can thank me at your leisure."