Chapter 21 Summary
Lily continues to spend a great deal of time with the Gormers, but she is not content. She constantly feels that she is “of no more account among them than an expensive toy in the hands of a spoiled child.” During the fall, she often accompanies Mrs. Gormer to a country house she is having built on Long Island. On one of these occasions, Lily takes a walk alone and runs into Mr. Dorset on the road.
Mr. Dorset is obviously thrilled to see Lily. He apologizes for his role in her fall from society’s good graces. At first, she is unwilling to accept his apology, but ultimately she knows that he is as much a victim of Mrs. Dorset’s scheming as she is. He begs for help, hinting that he would immediately divorce his wife and marry Lily if he could. He is simply too weak to take a stand against his wife on his own. He needs someone else to provide evidence that Mrs. Dorset had an affair. Lily refuses to act as a witness for him. To her, the idea of publicly revealing Mrs. Dorset's secrets is simply too offensive to consider, especially for a reward such as marriage with Mr. Dorset. As she takes her leave, she tells him firmly that the two of them cannot be friends anymore.
When Lily returns to the Gormers’ country house, she sees Mrs. Dorset driving away. Mrs. Gormer, who normally pretends a lack of interest in high society, cannot disguise the fact that she is thrilled to have received a visit from a woman who features so strongly in the society column of the newspaper. Lily knows that Mrs. Dorset would never visit a person like Mrs. Gormer, who lacks both refinement and pedigree, without an ulterior motive. Uneasily, Lily wonders if the motive has anything to do with herself. If it does, and if Lily gets evicted from even the fringe circle where she has gained a foothold, there will be nowhere else for her to go. She begins to think that marriage to Mr. Rosedale is “the only honorable solution.” Such a marriage will place her in a position of power and make it easy to regain some of her old friendships.
In the following weeks, Lily makes a visit to Mrs. Fisher’s country home. Mrs. Fisher reinforces Lily’s instincts regarding her problems:
I believe you can marry Mr. Dorset tomorrow; but if you don’t care for that particular form of retaliation, the only thing to save you from Bertha [Dorset] is to marry somebody else.