Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 9

  • When Lily woke on the morning after her translation to the Emporium Hotel, he_irst feeling was one of purely physical satisfaction. The force of contras_ave an added keenness to the luxury of lying once more in a soft-pillowe_ed, and looking across a spacious sunlit room at a breakfast-table se_nvitingly near the fire. Analysis and introspection might come later; but fo_he moment she was not even troubled by the excesses of the upholstery or th_estless convolutions of the furniture. The sense of being once more lappe_nd folded in ease, as in some dense mild medium impenetrable to discomfort, effectually stilled the faintest note of criticism.
  • When, the afternoon before, she had presented herself to the lady to who_arry Fisher had directed her, she had been conscious of entering a new world.
  • Carry's vague presentment of Mrs. Norma Hatch (whose reversion to he_hristian name was explained as the result of her latest divorce), left he_nder the implication of coming "from the West," with the not unusua_xtenuation of having brought a great deal of money with her. She was, i_hort, rich, helpless, unplaced: the very subject for Lily's hand. Mrs. Fishe_ad not specified the line her friend was to take; she owned hersel_nacquainted with Mrs. Hatch, whom she "knew about" through Melville Stancy, _awyer in his leisure moments, and the Falstaff of a certain section o_estive dub life. Socially, Mr. Stancy might have been said to form _onnecting link between the Gormer world and the more dimly-lit region o_hich Miss Bart now found herself entering. It was, however, only figurativel_hat the illumination of Mrs. Hatch's world could be described as dim: i_ctual fact, Lily found her seated in a blaze of electric light, impartiall_rojected from various ornamental excrescences on a vast concavity of pin_amask and gilding, from which she rose like Venus from her shell. The analog_as justified by the appearance of the lady, whose large-eyed prettiness ha_he fixity of something impaled and shown under glass. This did not preclud_he immediate discovery that she was some years younger than her visitor, an_hat under her showiness, her ease, the aggression of her dress and voice, there persisted that ineradicable innocence which, in ladies of he_ationality, so curiously coexists with startling extremes of experience.
  • The environment in which Lily found herself was as strange to her as it_nhabitants. She was unacquainted with the world of the fashionable New Yor_otel—a world over-heated, over-upholstered, and over-fitted with mechanica_ppliances for the gratification of fantastic requirements, while the comfort_f a civilized life were as unattainable as in a desert. Through thi_tmosphere of torrid splendour moved wan beings as richly upholstered as th_urniture, beings without definite pursuits or permanent relations, wh_rifted on a languid tide of curiosity from restaurant to concert-hall, fro_alm-garden to music-room, from "art exhibit" to dress-maker's opening. High- stepping horses or elaborately equipped motors waited to carry these ladie_nto vague metropolitan distances, whence they returned, still more wan fro_he weight of their sables, to be sucked back into the stifling inertia of th_otel routine. Somewhere behind them, in the background of their lives, ther_as doubtless a real past, peopled by real human activities: they themselve_ere probably the product of strong ambitions, persistent energies, diversified contacts with the wholesome roughness of life; yet they had n_ore real existence than the poet's shades in limbo.
  • Lily had not been long in this pallid world without discovering that Mrs.
  • Hatch was its most substantial figure. That lady, though still floating in th_oid, showed faint symptoms of developing an outline; and in this endeavou_he was actively seconded by Mr. Melville Stancy. It was Mr. Stancy, a man o_arge resounding presence, suggestive of convivial occasions and of a chivalr_inding expression in "first-night" boxes and thousand dollar bonbonnieres, who had transplanted Mrs. Hatch from the scene of her first development to th_igher stage of hotel life in the metropolis. It was he who had selected th_orses with which she had taken the blue ribbon at the Show, had introduce_er to the photographer whose portraits of her formed the recurring ornamen_f "Sunday Supplements," and had got together the group which constituted he_ocial world. It was a small group still, with heterogeneous figures suspende_n large unpeopled spaces; but Lily did not take long to learn that it_egulation was no longer in Mr. Stancy's hands. As often happens, the pupi_ad outstripped the teacher, and Mrs. Hatch was already aware of heights o_legance as well as depths of luxury beyond the world of the Emporium. Thi_iscovery at once produced in her a craving for higher guidance, for th_droit feminine hand which should give the right turn to her correspondence, the right "look" to her hats, the right succession to the items of her MENUS.
  • It was, in short, as the regulator of a germinating social life that Mis_art's guidance was required; her ostensible duties as secretary bein_estricted by the fact that Mrs. Hatch, as yet, knew hardly any one to writ_o.
  • The daily details of Mrs. Hatch's existence were as strange to Lily as it_eneral tenor. The lady's habits were marked by an Oriental indolence an_isorder peculiarly trying to her companion. Mrs. Hatch and her friends seeme_o float together outside the bounds of time and space. No definite hours wer_ept; no fixed obligations existed: night and day flowed into one another in _lur of confused and retarded engagements, so that one had the impression o_unching at the tea-hour, while dinner was often merged in the noisy after- theatre supper which prolonged Mrs. Hatch's vigil till daylight.
  • Through this jumble of futile activities came and went a strange throng o_angers-on—manicures, beauty-doctors, hair-dressers, teachers of bridge, o_rench, of "physical development": figures sometimes indistinguishable, b_heir appearance, or by Mrs. Hatch's relation to them, from the visitor_onstituting her recognized society. But strangest of all to Lily was th_ncounter, in this latter group, of several of her acquaintances. She ha_upposed, and not without relief, that she was passing, for the moment, completely out of her own circle; but she found that Mr. Stancy, one side o_hose sprawling existence overlapped the edge of Mrs. Fisher's world, ha_rawn several of its brightest ornaments into the circle of the Emporium. T_ind Ned Silverton among the habitual frequenters of Mrs. Hatch's drawing-roo_as one of Lily's first astonishments; but she soon discovered that he was no_r. Stancy's most important recruit. It was on little Freddy Van Osburgh, th_mall slim heir of the Van Osburgh millions, that the attention of Mrs.
  • Hatch's group was centred. Freddy, barely out of college, had risen above th_orizon since Lily's eclipse, and she now saw with surprise what an effulgenc_e shed on the outer twilight of Mrs. Hatch's existence. This, then, was on_f the things that young men "went in" for when released from the officia_ocial routine; this was the kind of "previous engagement" that so frequentl_aused them to disappoint the hopes of anxious hostesses. Lily had an od_ense of being behind the social tapestry, on the side where the threads wer_notted and the loose ends hung. For a moment she found a certain amusement i_he show, and in her own share of it: the situation had an ease an_nconventionality distinctly refreshing after her experience of the irony o_onventions. But these flashes of amusement were but brief reactions from th_ong disgust of her days. Compared with the vast gilded void of Mrs. Hatch'_xistence, the life of Lily's former friends seemed packed with ordere_ctivities. Even the most irresponsible pretty woman of her acquaintance ha_er inherited obligations, her conventional benevolences, her share in th_orking of the great civic machine; and all hung together in the solidarity o_hese traditional functions. The performance of specific duties would hav_implified Miss Bart's position; but the vague attendance on Mrs. Hatch wa_ot without its perplexities.
  • It was not her employer who created these perplexities. Mrs. Hatch showed fro_he first an almost touching desire for Lily's approval. Far from assertin_he superiority of wealth, her beautiful eyes seemed to urge the plea o_nexperience: she wanted to do what was "nice," to be taught how to be
  • "lovely." The difficulty was to find any point of contact between her ideal_nd Lily's.
  • Mrs. Hatch swam in a haze of indeterminate enthusiasms, of aspirations culle_rom the stage, the newspapers, the fashion journals, and a gaudy world o_port still more completely beyond her companion's ken. To separate from thes_onfused conceptions those most likely to advance the lady on her way, wa_ily's obvious duty; but its performance was hampered by rapidly-growin_oubts. Lily was in fact becoming more and more aware of a certain ambiguit_n her situation. It was not that she had, in the conventional sense, an_oubt of Mrs. Hatch's irreproachableness. The lady's offences were alway_gainst taste rather than conduct; her divorce record seemed due t_eographical rather than ethical conditions; and her worst laxities wer_ikely to proceed from a wandering and extravagant good-nature. But if Lil_id not mind her detaining her manicure for luncheon, or offering the "Beauty- Doctor" a seat in Freddy Van Osburgh's box at the play, she was not equally a_ase in regard to some less apparent lapses from convention. Ned Silverton'_elation to Stancy seemed, for instance, closer and less clear than an_atural affinities would warrant; and both appeared united in the effort t_ultivate Freddy Van Osburgh's growing taste for Mrs. Hatch. There was as ye_othing definable in the situation, which might well resolve itself into _uge joke on the part of the other two; but Lily had a vague sense that th_ubject of their experiment was too young, too rich and too credulous. He_mbarrassment was increased by the fact that Freddy seemed to regard her a_ooperating with himself in the social development of Mrs. Hatch: a view tha_uggested, on his part, a permanent interest in the lady's future. There wer_oments when Lily found an ironic amusement in this aspect of the case. Th_hought of launching such a missile as Mrs. Hatch at the perfidious bosom o_ociety was not without its charm: Miss Bart had even beguiled her leisur_ith visions of the fair Norma introduced for the first time to a famil_anquet at the Van Osburghs'. But the thought of being personally connecte_ith the transaction was less agreeable; and her momentary flashes o_musement were followed by increasing periods of doubt.
  • The sense of these doubts was uppermost when, late one afternoon, she wa_urprised by a visit from Lawrence Selden. He found her alone in th_ilderness of pink damask, for in Mrs. Hatch's world the tea-hour was no_edicated to social rites, and the lady was in the hands of her masseuse.
  • Selden's entrance had caused Lily an inward start of embarrassment; but hi_ir of constraint had the effect of restoring her self-possession, and sh_ook at once the tone of surprise and pleasure, wondering frankly that h_hould have traced her to so unlikely a place, and asking what had inspire_im to make the search.
  • Selden met this with an unusual seriousness: she had never seen him so littl_aster of the situation, so plainly at the mercy of any obstructions she migh_ut in his way. "I wanted to see you," he said; and she could not resis_bserving in reply that he had kept his wishes under remarkable control. Sh_ad in truth felt his long absence as one of the chief bitternesses of th_ast months: his desertion had wounded sensibilities far below the surface o_er pride.
  • Selden met the challenge with directness. "Why should I have come, unless _hought I could be of use to you? It is my only excuse for imagining you coul_ant me."
  • This struck her as a clumsy evasion, and the thought gave a flash of keennes_o her answer. "Then you have come now because you think you can be of use t_e?"
  • He hesitated again. "Yes: in the modest capacity of a person to talk thing_ver with."
  • For a clever man it was certainly a stupid beginning; and the idea that hi_wkwardness was due to the fear of her attaching a personal significance t_is visit, chilled her pleasure in seeing him. Even under the most advers_onditions, that pleasure always made itself felt: she might hate him, but sh_ad never been able to wish him out of the room. She was very near hating hi_ow; yet the sound of his voice, the way the light fell on his thin dark hair, the way he sat and moved and wore his clothes—she was conscious that eve_hese trivial things were inwoven with her deepest life. In his presence _udden stillness came upon her, and the turmoil of her spirit ceased; but a_mpulse of resistance to this stealing influence now prompted her to say:
  • "It's very good of you to present yourself in that capacity; but what make_ou think I have anything particular to talk about?"
  • Though she kept the even tone of light intercourse, the question was framed i_ way to remind him that his good offices were unsought; and for a momen_elden was checked by it. The situation between them was one which could hav_een cleared up only by a sudden explosion of feeling; and their whol_raining and habit of mind were against the chances of such an explosion.
  • Selden's calmness seemed rather to harden into resistance, and Miss Bart'_nto a surface of glittering irony, as they faced each other from the opposit_orners of one of Mrs. Hatch's elephantine sofas. The sofa in question, an_he apartment peopled by its monstrous mates, served at length to suggest th_urn of Selden's reply.
  • "Gerty told me that you were acting as Mrs. Hatch's secretary; and I knew sh_as anxious to hear how you were getting on."
  • Miss Bart received this explanation without perceptible softening. "Why didn'_he look me up herself, then?" she asked.
  • "Because, as you didn't send her your address, she was afraid of bein_mportunate." Selden continued with a smile: "You see no such scruple_estrained me; but then I haven't as much to risk if I incur you_ispleasure."
  • Lily answered his smile. "You haven't incurred it as yet; but I have an ide_hat you are going to."
  • "That rests with you, doesn't it? You see my initiative doesn't go beyon_utting myself at your disposal."
  • "But in what capacity? What am I to do with you?" she asked in the same ligh_one.
  • Selden again glanced about Mrs. Hatch's drawing-room; then he said, with _ecision which he seemed to have gathered from this final inspection: "You ar_o let me take you away from here."
  • Lily flushed at the suddenness of the attack; then she stiffened under it an_aid coldly: "And may I ask where you mean me to go?"
  • "Back to Gerty in the first place, if you will; the essential thing is that i_hould be away from here."
  • The unusual harshness of his tone might have shown her how much the words cos_im; but she was in no state to measure his feelings while her own were in _lame of revolt. To neglect her, perhaps even to avoid her, at a time when sh_ad most need of her friends, and then suddenly and unwarrantably to brea_nto her life with this strange assumption of authority, was to rouse in he_very instinct of pride and self-defence.
  • "I am very much obliged to you," she said, "for taking such an interest in m_lans; but I am quite contented where I am, and have no intention of leaving."
  • Selden had risen, and was standing before her in an attitude of uncontrollabl_xpectancy.
  • "That simply means that you don't know where you are!" he exclaimed.
  • Lily rose also, with a quick flash of anger. "If you have come here to sa_isagreeable things about Mrs. Hatch—"
  • "It is only with your relation to Mrs. Hatch that I am concerned."
  • "My relation to Mrs. Hatch is one I have no reason to be ashamed of. She ha_elped me to earn a living when my old friends were quite resigned to seein_e starve."
  • "Nonsense! Starvation is not the only alternative. You know you can alway_ind a home with Gerty till you are independent again."
  • "You show such an intimate acquaintance with my affairs that I suppose yo_ean—till my aunt's legacy is paid?"
  • "I do mean that; Gerty told me of it," Selden acknowledged withou_mbarrassment. He was too much in earnest now to feel any false constraint i_peaking his mind.
  • "But Gerty does not happen to know," Miss Bart rejoined, "that I owe ever_enny of that legacy."
  • "Good God!" Selden exclaimed, startled out of his composure by the abruptnes_f the statement.
  • "Every penny of it, and more too," Lily repeated; "and you now perhaps see wh_ prefer to remain with Mrs. Hatch rather than take advantage of Gerty'_indness. I have no money left, except my small income, and I must ear_omething more to keep myself alive."
  • Selden hesitated a moment; then he rejoined in a quieter tone: "But with you_ncome and Gerty's—since you allow me to go so far into the details of th_ituation—you and she could surely contrive a life together which would pu_ou beyond the need of having to support yourself. Gerty, I know, is eager t_ake such an arrangement, and would be quite happy in it—"
  • "But I should not," Miss Bart interposed. "There are many reasons why it woul_e neither kind to Gerty nor wise for myself." She paused a moment, and as h_eemed to await a farther explanation, added with a quick lift of her head:
  • "You will perhaps excuse me from giving you these reasons."
  • "I have no claim to know them," Selden answered, ignoring her tone; "no clai_o offer any comment or suggestion beyond the one I have already made. And m_ight to make that is simply the universal right of a man to enlighten a woma_hen he sees her unconsciously placed in a false position."
  • Lily smiled. "I suppose," she rejoined, "that by a false position you mean on_utside of what we call society; but you must remember that I had bee_xcluded from those sacred precincts long before I met Mrs. Hatch. As far as _an see, there is very little real difference in being inside or out, and _emember your once telling me that it was only those inside who took th_ifference seriously."
  • She had not been without intention in making this allusion to their memorabl_alk at Bellomont, and she waited with an odd tremor of the nerves to see wha_esponse it would bring; but the result of the experiment was disappointing.
  • Selden did not allow the allusion to deflect him from his point; he merel_aid with completer fulness of emphasis: "The question of being inside or ou_s, as you say, a small one, and it happens to have nothing to do with th_ase, except in so far as Mrs. Hatch's desire to be inside may put you in th_osition I call false."
  • In spite of the moderation of his tone, each word he spoke had the effect o_onfirming Lily's resistance. The very apprehensions he aroused hardened he_gainst him: she had been on the alert for the note of personal sympathy, fo_ny sign of recovered power over him; and his attitude of sober impartiality, the absence of all response to her appeal, turned her hurt pride to blin_esentment of his interference. The conviction that he had been sent by Gerty, and that, whatever straits he conceived her to be in, he would neve_oluntarily have come to her aid, strengthened her resolve not to admit him _air's breadth farther into her confidence. However doubtful she might fee_er situation to be, she would rather persist in darkness than owe he_nlightenment to Selden.
  • "I don't know," she said, when he had ceased to speak, "why you imagine me t_e situated as you describe; but as you have always told me that the sol_bject of a bringing-up like mine was to teach a girl to get what she wants, why not assume that that is precisely what I am doing?"
  • The smile with which she summed up her case was like a clear barrier raise_gainst farther confidences: its brightness held him at such a distance tha_e had a sense of being almost out of hearing as he rejoined: "I am not sur_hat I have ever called you a successful example of that kind of bringing-up."
  • Her colour rose a little at the implication, but she steeled herself with _ight laugh. "Ah, wait a little longer—give me a little more time before yo_ecide!" And as he wavered before her, still watching for a break in th_mpenetrable front she presented: "Don't give me up; I may still do credit t_y training!" she affirmed.