Chapter 11 Summary
The winter season of balls, plays, and dinners is in full swing. Mrs. Peniston, who always watches these goings-on avidly, notices that this year’s season is not as flashy as the one last year. Most of New York’s wealthy families have lost a great deal of money on the stock market recently, and now they all feel poor. They are spending less money on big parties.
This year, the only people who have done well financially are Mr. Rosedale and Mr. Bry, both of whom are still having trouble making inroads into society. The Brys in particular are fighting hard against their general unpopularity. Recently they have befriended the divorcee Mrs. Fisher, who is helping them to make social connections.
Mrs. Peniston normally prefers not to take part in the social fray, but she feels obligated to hold a fancy dinner when her nephew, Jack Stepney, and his new wife return from their honeymoon. Lily helps with the dinner arrangements; arguing that the young couple would enjoy the company of exciting people, she casually omits Grace Stepney, another cousin, from the guest list. Lily does not give the matter a second thought, but being excluded infuriates Grace, an old maid who rarely gets invited to participate in social events.
In spite of her distance from the social scene, Grace Stepney always pays careful attention to gossip. To get revenge for being slighted by Lily, Grace tells Mrs. Peniston that people are talking about Lily and Mr. Trenor. Grace explains that the two have been seen walking and boating together in public and that it is widely speculated that Lily receives “material advantages” in exchange for her attentions.
Mrs. Peniston is a conservative lady who finds it shocking that Lily has been interacting, even in innocent ways, with a married man. However, Mrs. Peniston’s regard for her fashionable niece outweighs her shock. She orders Grace not to make such vague accusations. As Grace stammers in her own self-defense, she accidentally reveals that Lily also plays bridge for money.
The idea of a young woman gambling is totally foreign—and horrifying—to Mrs. Peniston. However, she decides against talking to Lily about it. The old woman abhors confrontation and avoids it at all costs. She reflects with resentment that girls should not become involved in scandals, even if they are only rumors. She is such a conservative and naïve old lady that she cannot believe any girls or women gamble at all. After thinking it over, Mrs. Peniston decides that Lily must be innocent.