After her mother's death, Lily is taken in by her aunt, Mrs. Peniston, a widowed sister of Mr. Bart whose wealth is overshadowed by other members of Lily's extended family. Mrs. Peniston takes in Lily because other family members shame her into it — she lives alone and cannot devise a legitimate excuse not to take charge of Lily.
Mrs. Peniston measures all time in terms of occurring prior or subsequent to her husband's death. According to the narrator, "She belonged to the class of old New Yorkers who have always lived well, dressed expensively, and done little else; and to these inherited obligations Mrs. Peniston faithfully conformed."
Mrs. Peniston's shortsightedness also allows her to be easily manipulated to reduce Lily's legacy. Knowing that Mrs. Peniston will disapprove of Lily's gambling, Grace reveals the truth about Lily's debts, thereby assuring that Grace will replace Lily in Mrs. Peniston's financial favor.