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."