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.