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Julia Bride

I

She had walked with her friend to the top of the wide steps of the
Museum, those that descended from the galleries of painting, and then,
after the young man had left her, smiling, looking back, waving all
gayly and expressively his hat and stick, had watched him, smiling
too, but with a different intensity--had kept him in sight till he
passed out of the great door. She might have been waiting to see if he
would turn there for a last demonstration; which was exactly what he
did, renewing his cordial gesture and with his look of glad devotion,
the radiance of his young face, reaching her across the great space,
as she felt, in undiminished truth. Yes, so she could feel, and she
remained a minute even after he was gone; she gazed at the empty air
as if he had filled it still, asking herself what more she wanted and
what, if it didn't signify glad devotion, his whole air could have
represented.

She was at present so anxious that she could wonder if he stepped and
smiled like that for mere relief at separation; yet if he desired in
that degree to break the spell and escape the danger why did he keep
coming back to her, and why, for that matter, had she felt safe
a moment before in letting him go? She felt safe, felt almost
reckless--that was the proof--so long as he was with her; but the
chill came as soon as he had gone, when she took the measure,
instantly, of all she yet missed. She might now have been taking it
afresh, by the testimony of her charming clouded eyes and of the
rigor that had already replaced her beautiful play of expression. Her
radiance, for the minute, had "carried" as far as his, travelling on
the light wings of her brilliant prettiness--he, on his side, not
being facially handsome, but only sensitive, clean and eager. Then,
with its extinction, the sustaining wings dropped and hung.

She wheeled about, however, full of a purpose; she passed back through
the pictured rooms, for it pleased her, this idea of a talk with Mr.
Pitman--as much, that is, as anything could please a young person so
troubled. It happened indeed that when she saw him rise at sight of
her from the settee where he had told her five minutes before that she
would find him, it was just with her nervousness that his presence
seemed, as through an odd suggestion of help, to connect itself.
Nothing truly would be quite so odd for her case as aid proceeding
from Mr. Pitman; unless perhaps the oddity would be even greater for
himself--the oddity of her having taken into her head an appeal to
him.

She had had to feel alone with a vengeance--inwardly alone and
miserably alarmed--to be ready to "meet," that way, at the first
sign from him, the successor to her dim father in her dim father's
lifetime, the second of her mother's two divorced husbands. It made a
queer relation for her; a relation that struck her at this moment as
less edifying, less natural and graceful than it would have been even
for her remarkable mother--and still in spite of this parent's third
marriage, her union with Mr. Connery, from whom she was informally
separated. It was at the back of Julia's head as she approached Mr.
Pitman, or it was at least somewhere deep within her soul, that if
this last of Mrs. Connery's withdrawals from the matrimonial yoke had
received the sanction of the court (Julia had always heard, from far
back, so much about the "Court") she herself, as after a fashion,
in that event, a party to it, would not have had the cheek to make
up--which was how she inwardly phrased what she was doing--to the
long, lean, loose, slightly cadaverous gentleman who was a memory, for
her, of the period from her twelfth to her seventeenth year. She had
got on with him, perversely, much better than her mother had, and the
bulging misfit of his duck waistcoat, with his trick of swinging his
eye-glass, at the end of an extraordinarily long string, far over
the scene, came back to her as positive features of the image of her
remoter youth. Her present age--for her later time had seen so many
things happen--gave her a perspective.

Fifty things came up as she stood there before him, some of them
floating in from the past, others hovering with freshness: how she
used to dodge the rotary movement made by his pince-nez while he
always awkwardly, and kindly, and often funnily, talked--it had
once hit her rather badly in the eye; how she used to pull down and
straighten his waistcoat, making it set a little better, a thing of
a sort her mother never did; how friendly and familiar she must have
been with him for that, or else a forward little minx; how she felt
almost capable of doing it again now, just to sound the right note,
and how sure she was of the way he would take it if she did; how much
nicer he had clearly been, all the while, poor dear man, than his wife
and the court had made it possible for him publicly to appear; how
much younger, too, he now looked, in spite of his rather melancholy,
his mildly jaundiced, humorously determined sallowness and his
careless assumption, everywhere, from his forehead to his exposed and
relaxed blue socks, almost sky-blue, as in past days, of creases and
folds and furrows that would have been perhaps tragic if they hadn't
seemed rather to show, like his whimsical black eyebrows, the vague,
interrogative arch.

Of course he wasn't wretched if he wasn't more sure of his
wretchedness than that! Julia Bride would have been sure--had she been
through what she supposed _he_ had! With his thick, loose black hair,
in any case, untouched by a thread of gray, and his kept gift of a
certain big-boyish awkwardness--that of his taking their encounter,
for instance, so amusedly, so crudely, though, as she was not unaware,
so eagerly too--he could by no means have been so little his wife's
junior as it had been that lady's habit, after the divorce, to
represent him. Julia had remembered him as old, since she had so
constantly thought of her mother as old; which Mrs. Connery was indeed
now--for her daughter--with her dozen years of actual seniority to
Mr. Pitman and her exquisite hair, the densest, the finest tangle
of arranged silver tendrils that had ever enhanced the effect of a
preserved complexion.

Something in the girl's vision of her quondam stepfather as still
comparatively young--with the confusion, the immense element of
rectification, not to say of rank disproof, that it introduced into
Mrs. Connery's favorite picture of her own injured past--all this
worked, even at the moment, to quicken once more the clearness and
harshness of judgment, the retrospective disgust, as she might have
called it, that had of late grown up in her, the sense of all the
folly and vanity and vulgarity, the lies, the perversities, the
falsification of all life in the interest of who could say what
wretched frivolity, what preposterous policy; amid which she had been
condemned so ignorantly, so pitifully to sit, to walk, to grope, to
flounder, from the very dawn of her consciousness. Didn't poor Mr.
Pitman just touch the sensitive nerve of it when, taking her in with
his facetious, cautious eyes, he spoke to her, right out, of the old,
old story, the everlasting little wonder of her beauty?

"Why, you know, you've grown up so lovely--you're the prettiest girl
I've ever seen!" Of course she was the prettiest girl he had ever
seen; she was the prettiest girl people much more privileged than he
had ever seen; since when hadn't she been passing for the prettiest
girl any one had ever seen? She had lived in that, from far back, from
year to year, from day to day and from hour to hour--she had lived
for it and literally _by_ it, as who should say; but Mr. Pitman was
somehow more illuminating than he knew, with the present lurid light
that he cast upon old dates, old pleas, old values, and old mysteries,
not to call them old abysses: it had rolled over her in a swift wave,
with the very sight of him, that her mother couldn't possibly have
been right about him--as about what in the world had she ever been
right?--so that in fact he was simply offered her there as one more of
Mrs. Connery's lies. She might have thought she knew them all by this
time; but he represented for her, coming in just as he did, a fresh
discovery, and it was this contribution of freshness that made her
somehow feel she liked him. It was she herself who, for so long,
with her retained impression, had been right about him; and the
rectification he represented had _all_ shone out of him, ten minutes
before, on his catching her eye while she moved through the room with
Mr. French. She had never doubted of his probable faults--which her
mother had vividly depicted as the basest of vices; since some of
them, and the most obvious (not the vices, but the faults) were
written on him as he stood there: notably, for instance, the
exasperating "business slackness" of which Mrs. Connery had, before
the tribunal, made so pathetically much. It might have been, for that
matter, the very business slackness that affected Julia as presenting
its friendly breast, in the form of a cool loose sociability, to her
own actual tension; though it was also true for her, after they had
exchanged fifty words, that he had as well his inward fever and that,
if he was perhaps wondering what was so particularly the matter with
her, she could make out not less that something was the matter
with _him_. It had been vague, yet it had been intense, the mute
reflection, "Yes, I'm going to like him, and he's going somehow to
help me!" that had directed her steps so straight to him. She was
sure even then of this, that he wouldn't put to her a query about his
former wife, that he took to-day no grain of interest in Mrs. Connery;
that his interest, such as it was--and he couldn't look _quite_ like
that, to Julia Bride's expert perception, without something in the
nature of a new one--would be a thousand times different.

It was as a value of _disproof_ that his worth meanwhile so rapidly
grew: the good sight of him, the good sound and sense of him, such
as they were, demolished at a stroke so blessedly much of the horrid
inconvenience of the past that she thought of him; she clutched at
him, for a _general_ saving use, an application as sanative, as
redemptive as some universal healing wash, precious even to the point
of perjury if perjury should be required. That was the terrible thing,
that had been the inward pang with which she watched Basil French
recede: perjury would have to come in somehow and somewhere--oh so
quite certainly!--before the so strange, so rare young man, truly
smitten though she believed him, could be made to rise to the
occasion, before her measureless prize could be assured. It was
present to her, it had been present a hundred times, that if there had
only been some one to (as it were) "deny everything" the situation
might yet be saved. She so needed some one to lie for her--ah, she so
need some one to lie! Her mother's version of everything, her mother's
version of anything, had been at the best, as they said, discounted;
and she herself could but show, of course, for an interested party,
however much she might claim to be none the less a decent girl--to
whatever point, that is, after all that had both remotely and recently
happened, presumptions of anything to be called decency could come in.

After what had recently happened--the two or three indirect but so
worrying questions Mr. French had put to her--it would only be some
thoroughly detached friend or witness who might effectively testify.
An odd form of detachment certainly would reside, for Mr. Pitman's
evidential character, in her mother's having so publicly and
so brilliantly--though, thank the powers, all off in North
Dakota!--severed their connection with him; and yet mightn't it do
_her_ some good, even if the harm it might do her mother were so
little ambiguous? The more her mother had got divorced--with her
dreadful cheap-and-easy second performance in that line and her
present extremity of alienation from Mr. Connery, which enfolded
beyond doubt the germ of a third petition on one side or the
other--the more her mother had distinguished herself in the field of
folly the worse for her own prospect with the Frenches, whose
minds she had guessed to be accessible, and with such an effect of
dissimulated suddenness, to some insidious poison.

It was very unmistakable, in other words, that the more dismissed and
detached Mr. Pitman should have come to appear, the more as divorced,
or at least as divorcing, his before-time wife would by the same
stroke figure--so that it was here poor Julia could but lose herself.
The crazy divorces only, or the half-dozen successive and still
crazier engagements only--gathered fruit, bitter fruit, of her own
incredibly allowed, her own insanely fostered frivolity--either of
these two groups of skeletons at the banquet might singly be dealt
with; but the combination, the fact of each party's having been so
mixed-up with whatever was least presentable for the other, the fact
of their having so shockingly amused themselves together, made all
present steering resemble the classic middle course between Scylla and
Charybdis.

It was not, however, that she felt wholly a fool in having obeyed this
impulse to pick up again her kind old friend. _She_ at least had never
divorced him, and her horrid little filial evidence in court had been
but the chatter of a parrakeet, of precocious plumage and croak,
repeating words earnestly taught her, and that she could scarce even
pronounce. Therefore, as far as steering went, he _must_ for the hour
take a hand. She might actually have wished in fact that he shouldn't
now have seemed so tremendously struck with her; since it was an
extraordinary situation for a girl, this crisis of her fortune, this
positive wrong that the flagrancy, what she would have been ready to
call the very vulgarity, of her good looks might do her at a moment
when it was vital she should hang as straight as a picture on the
wall. Had it ever yet befallen any young woman in the world to wish
with secret intensity that she might have been, for her convenience, a
shade less inordinately pretty? She had come to that, to this view of
the bane, the primal curse, of their lavish physical outfit, which had
included everything and as to which she lumped herself resentfully
with her mother. The only thing was that her mother was, thank
goodness, still so much prettier, still so assertively, so publicly,
so trashily, so ruinously pretty. Wonderful the small grimness with
which Julia Bride put off on this parent the middle-aged maximum of
their case and the responsibility of their defect. It cost her so
little to recognize in Mrs. Connery at forty-seven, and in spite, or
perhaps indeed just by reason, of the arranged silver tendrils which
were so like some rare bird's-nest in a morning frost, a facile
supremacy for the dazzling effect--it cost her so little that her view
even rather exaggerated the lustre of the different maternal items.
She would have put it _all_ off if possible, all off on other
shoulders and on other graces and other morals than her own, the
burden of physical charm that had made so easy a ground, such a native
favoring air, for the aberrations which, apparently inevitable and
without far consequences at the time, had yet at this juncture so much
better not have been.

She could have worked it out at her leisure, to the last link of the
chain, the way their prettiness had set them trap after trap, all
along--had foredoomed them to awful ineptitude. When you were as
pretty as that you could, by the whole idiotic consensus, be nothing
_but_ pretty; and when you were nothing "but" pretty you could get
into nothing but tight places, out of which you could then scramble by
nothing but masses of fibs. And there was no one, all the while, who
wasn't eager to egg you on, eager to make you pay to the last cent the
price of your beauty. What creature would ever for a moment help you
to behave as if something that dragged in its wake a bit less of a
lumbering train would, on the whole, have been better for you? The
consequences of being plain were only negative--you failed of this and
that; but the consequences of being as _they_ were, what were these
but endless? though indeed, as far as failing went, your beauty too
could let you in for enough of it. Who, at all events, would ever for
a moment credit you, in the luxuriance of that beauty, with the study,
on your own side, of such truths as these? Julia Bride could, at the
point she had reached, positively ask herself this even while lucidly
conscious of the inimitable, the triumphant and attested projection,
all round her, of her exquisite image. It was only Basil French who
had at last, in his doubtless dry, but all distinguished way--the
way surely, as it was borne in upon her, of all the blood of all the
Frenches--stepped out of the vulgar rank. It was only he who, by the
trouble she discerned in him, had made her see certain things. It was
only for him--and not a bit ridiculously, but just beautifully, almost
sublimely--that their being "nice," her mother and she between them,
had _not_ seemed to profit by their being so furiously handsome.

This had, ever so grossly and ever so tiresomely, satisfied every one
else; since every one had thrust upon them, had imposed upon them, as
by a great cruel conspiracy, their silliest possibilities; fencing
them in to these, and so not only shutting them out from others, but
mounting guard at the fence, walking round and round outside it, to
see they didn't escape, and admiring them, talking to them, through
the rails, in mere terms of chaff, terms of chucked cakes and
apples--as if they had been antelopes or zebras, or even some superior
sort of performing, of dancing, bear. It had been reserved for Basil
French to strike her as willing to let go, so to speak, a pound or two
of this fatal treasure if he might only have got in exchange for it
an ounce or so more of their so much less obvious and Jess published
personal history. Yes, it described him to say that, in addition to
all the rest of him, and of _his_ personal history, and of his family,
and of theirs, in addition to their social posture, as that of a
serried phalanx, and to their notoriously enormous wealth and crushing
respectability, she might have been ever so much less lovely for him
if she had been only--well, a little prepared to answer questions. And
it wasn't as if quiet, cultivated, earnest, public-spirited, brought
up in Germany, infinitely travelled, awfully like a high-caste
Englishman, and all the other pleasant things, it wasn't as if he
didn't love to be with her, to look at her, just as she was; for he
loved it exactly as much, so far as that footing simply went, as any
free and foolish youth who had ever made the last demonstration of
it. It was that marriage was, for him--and for them all, the serried
Frenches--a great matter, a goal to which a man of intelligence, a
real shy, beautiful man of the world, didn't hop on one foot, didn't
skip and jump, as if he were playing an urchins' game, but toward
which he proceeded with a deep and anxious, a noble and highly just
deliberation.

For it was one thing to stare at a girl till she was bored with it, it
was one thing to take her to the Horse Show and the Opera, and to
send her flowers by the stack, and chocolates by the ton, and "great"
novels, the very latest and greatest, by the dozen; but something
quite other to hold open for her, with eyes attached to eyes, the
gate, moving on such stiff silver hinges, of the grand square
forecourt of the palace of wedlock. The state of being "engaged"
represented to him the introduction to this precinct of some young
woman with whom his outside parley would have had the duration,
distinctly, of his own convenience. That might be cold-blooded if one
chose to think so; but nothing of another sort would equal the high
ceremony and dignity and decency, above all the grand gallantry and
finality, of their then passing in. Poor Julia could have blushed red,
before that view, with the memory of the way the forecourt, as she now
imagined it, had been dishonored by her younger romps. She had tumbled
over the wall with this, that, and the other raw playmate, and had
played "tag" and leap-frog, as she might say, from corner to corner.
That would be the "history" with which, in case of definite demand,
she should be able to supply Mr. French: that she had already, again
and again, any occasion offering, chattered and scuffled over ground
provided, according to his idea, for walking the gravest of minuets.
If that then had been all their _kind_ of history, hers and her
mother's, at least there was plenty of it: it was the superstructure
raised on the other group of facts, those of the order of their having
been always so perfectly pink and white, so perfectly possessed of
clothes, so perfectly splendid, so perfectly idiotic. These things had
been the "points" of antelope and zebra; putting Mrs. Connery for the
zebra, as the more remarkably striped or spotted. Such were the _data_
Basil French's inquiry would elicit: her own six engagements and her
mother's three nullified marriages--nine nice distinct little horrors
in all. What on earth was to be done about them?

It was notable, she was afterward to recognize, that there had been
nothing of the famous business slackness in the positive pounce with
which Mr. Pitman put it to her that, as soon as he had made her
out "for sure," identified her there as old Julia grown-up and
gallivanting with a new admirer, a smarter young fellow than ever yet,
he had had the inspiration of her being exactly the good girl to
help him. She certainly found him strike the hour again, with these
vulgarities of tone--forms of speech that her mother had anciently
described as by themselves, once he had opened the whole battery,
sufficient ground for putting him away. Full, however, of the use she
should have for him, she wasn't going to mind trifles. What she really
gasped at was that, so oddly, he was ahead of her at the start. "Yes,
I want something of you, Julia, and I want it right now: you can do me
a turn, and I'm blest if my luck--which has once or twice been
pretty good, you know--hasn't sent you to me." She knew the luck he
meant--that of her mother's having so enabled him to get rid of her;
but it was the nearest allusion of the merely invidious kind that he
would make. It had thus come to our young woman on the spot and by
divination: the service he desired of her matched with remarkable
closeness what she had so promptly taken into her head to name to
himself--to name in her own interest, though deterred as yet from
having brought it right out. She had been prevented by his speaking,
the first thing, in that way, as if he had known Mr. French--which
surprised her till he explained that every one in New York knew by
appearance a young man of his so-quoted wealth ("What did she take
them all in New York then _for_?") and of whose marked attention to
her he had moreover, for himself, round at clubs and places, lately
heard. This had accompanied the inevitable free question "Was she
engaged to _him_ now?"--which she had in fact almost welcomed as
holding out to her the perch of opportunity. She was waiting to deal
with it properly, but meanwhile he had gone on, and to such effect
that it took them but three minutes to turn out, on either side, like
a pair of pickpockets comparing, under shelter, their day's booty, the
treasures of design concealed about their persons.

"I want you to tell the truth for me--as you only can. I want you to
say that I was really all right--as right as you know; and that I
simply acted like an angel in a story-book, gave myself away to have
it over."

"Why, my dear man," Julia cried, "you take the wind straight out of my
sails! What I'm here to ask of _you_ is that you'll confess to having
been even a worse fiend than you were shown up for; to having made
it impossible mother should _not_ take proceedings." There!--she had
brought it out, and with the sense of their situation turning to high
excitement for her in the teeth of his droll stare, his strange grin,
his characteristic "Lordy, lordy! What good will that do you?" She
was prepared with her clear statement of reasons for her appeal, and
feared so he might have better ones for his own that all her story
came in a flash. "Well, Mr. Pitman, I want to get married this time,
by way of a change; but you see we've been such fools that, when
something really good at last comes up, it's too dreadfully awkward.
The fools we were capable of being--well, you know better than any
one: unless perhaps not quite so well as Mr. Connery. It has got to
be denied," said Julia ardently--"it has got to be denied flat. But I
can't get hold of Mr. Connery--Mr. Connery has gone to China. Besides,
if he were here," she had ruefully to confess, "he'd be no good--on
the contrary. He wouldn't deny anything--he'd only tell more. So thank
heaven he's away--there's _that_ amount of good! I'm not engaged yet,"
she went on--but he had already taken her up.

"You're not engaged to Mr. French?" It was all, clearly, a wondrous
show for him, but his immediate surprise, oddly, might have been
greatest for that.

"No, not to any one--for the seventh time!" She spoke as with her head
held well up both over the shame and the pride. "Yes, the next time
I'm engaged I want something to happen. But he's afraid; he's afraid
of what may be told him. He's dying to find out, and yet he'd die
if he did! He wants to be talked to, but he has got to be talked to
right. You could talk to him right, Mr. Pitman--if you only _would_!
He can't get over mother--that I feel: he loathes and scorns divorces,
and we've had first and last too many. So if he could hear from you
that you just made her life a hell--why," Julia concluded, "it would
be too lovely. If she _had_ to go in for another--after having
already, when I was little, divorced father--it would 'sort of' make,
don't you see? one less. You'd do the high-toned thing by her: you'd
say what a wretch you then were, and that she had had to save her
life. In that way he mayn't mind it. Don't you see, you sweet man?"
poor Julia pleaded. "Oh," she wound up as if his fancy lagged or his
scruple looked out, "of course I want you to _lie_ for me!"

It did indeed sufficiently stagger him. "It's a lovely idea for the
moment when I was just saying to myself--as soon as I saw you--that
you'd speak the truth for _me_!"

"Ah, what's the matter with 'you'?" Julia sighed with an impatience
not sensibly less sharp for her having so quickly scented some lion in
her path.

"Why, do you think there's no one in the world but you who has seen
the cup of promised affection, of something really to be depended on,
only, at the last moment, by the horrid jostle of your elbow, spilled
all over you? I want to provide for my future too as it happens; and
my good friend who's to help me to that--the most charming of women
this time--disapproves of divorce quite as much as Mr. French. Don't
you see," Mr. Pitman candidly asked, "what that by itself must have
done toward attaching me to her? _She_ has got to be talked to--to be
told how little I could help it."

"Oh, lordy, lordy!" the girl emulously groaned. It was such a
relieving cry. "Well, _I_ won't talk to her!" she declared.

"You _won't_, Julia?" he pitifully echoed. "And yet you ask of
_me_--!"

His pang, she felt, was sincere; and even more than she had guessed,
for the previous quarter of an hour he had been building up his hope,
building it with her aid for a foundation. Yet was he going to see how
their testimony, on each side, would, if offered, _have_ to conflict?
If he was to prove himself for her sake--or, more queerly still, for
that of Basil French's high conservatism--a person whom there had been
no other way of dealing with, how could she prove him, in this other
and so different interest, a mere gentle sacrifice to his wife's
perversity? She had, before him there, on the instant, all acutely, a
sense of rising sickness--a wan glimmer of foresight as to the end of
the fond dream. Everything else was against her, everything in her
dreadful past--just as if she had been a person represented by some
"emotional actress," some desperate erring lady "hunted down" in a
play; but was that going to be the case too with her own very decency,
the fierce little residuum deep within her, for which she was
counting, when she came to think, on so little glory or even credit?
Was this also going to turn against her and trip her up--just to show
she was really, under the touch and the test, as decent as any one;
and with no one but herself the wiser for it meanwhile, and no proof
to show but that, as a consequence, she should be unmarried to the
end? She put it to Mr. Pitman quite with resentment: "Do you mean to
say you're going to be married--?"

"Oh, my dear, I too must get engaged first!"--he spoke with his
inimitable grin. "But that, you see, is where you come in. I've told
her about you. She wants awfully to meet you. The way it happens is
too lovely--that I find you just in this place. She's coming," said
Mr. Pitman--and as in all the good faith of his eagerness now; "she's
coming in about three minutes."

"Coming here?"

"Yes, Julia--right here. It's where we usually meet"; and he was
wreathed again, this time as if for life, in his large slow smile.
"She loves this place--she's awfully keen on art. Like _you_, Julia,
if you haven't changed--I remember how you did love art." He looked
at her quite tenderly, as to keep her up to it. "You must still of
course--from the way you're here. Just let her _feel_ that," the poor
man fantastically urged. And then with his kind eyes on her and his
good ugly mouth stretched as for delicate emphasis from ear to ear:
"Every little helps!"

He made her wonder for him, ask herself, and with a certain intensity,
questions she yet hated the trouble of; as whether he were still as
moneyless as in the other time--which was certain indeed, for any
fortune he ever would have made. His slackness, on that ground, stuck
out of him almost as much as if he had been of rusty or "seedy"
aspect--which, luckily for him, he wasn't at all: he looked, in his
way, like some pleasant eccentric, ridiculous, but real gentleman,
whose taste might be of the queerest, but his credit with his tailor
none the less of the best. She wouldn't have been the least ashamed,
had their connection lasted, of going about with him: so that what
a fool, again, her mother had been--since Mr. Connery, sorry as one
might be for him, was irrepressibly vulgar. Julia's quickness was,
for the minute, charged with all this; but she had none the less her
feeling of the right thing to say and the right way to say it. If
he was after a future financially assured, even as she herself so
frantically was, she wouldn't cast the stone. But if he had talked
about her to strange women she couldn't be less than a little
majestic. "Who then is the person in question for you--?"

"Why, such a dear thing, Julia--Mrs. David E. Drack. Have you heard of
her?" he almost fluted.

New York was vast, and she had not had that advantage. "She's a
widow--?"

"Oh yes: she's not--" He caught himself up in time. "She's a real
one." It was as near as he came. But it was as if he had been looking
at her now so pathetically hard. "Julia, she has millions."

Hard, at any rate--whether pathetic or not--was the look she gave him
back. "Well, so has--or so _will_ have--Basil French. And more of them
than Mrs. Drack, I guess," Julia quavered.

"Oh, I know what _they've_ got!" He took it from her--with the effect
of a vague stir, in his long person, of unwelcome embarrassment. But
was she going to give up because he was embarrassed? He should know
at least what he was costing her. It came home to her own spirit more
than ever, but meanwhile he had found his footing. "I don't see how
your mother matters. It isn't a question of his marrying _her_."

"No; but, constantly together as we've always been, it's a question of
there being so disgustingly much to get over. If we had, for people
like them, but the one ugly spot and the one weak side; if we had
made, between us, but the one vulgar _kind_ of mistake: well, I don't
say!" She reflected with a wistfulness of note that was in itself a
touching eloquence. "To have our reward in this world we've had too
sweet a time. We've had it all right down here!" said Julia Bride. "I
should have taken the precaution to have about a dozen fewer lovers."

"Ah, my dear, 'lovers'--!" He ever so comically attenuated.

"Well they _were_!" She quite flared up. "When you've had a ring from
each (three diamonds, two pearls, and a rather bad sapphire: I've kept
them all, and they tell my story!) what are you to call them?"

"Oh, rings--!" Mr. Pitman didn't call rings anything. "I've given Mrs.
Drack a ring."

Julia stared. "Then aren't you her lover?"

"That, dear child," he humorously wailed, "is what I want you to find
out! But I'll handle your rings all right," he more lucidly added.

"You'll 'handle' them?"

"I'll fix your lovers. I'll lie about _them_, if that's all you want."

"Oh, about 'them'--!" She turned away with a sombre drop, seeing so
little in it. "That wouldn't count--from _you_!" She saw the great
shining room, with its mockery of art and "style" and security, all
the things she was vainly after, and its few scattered visitors who
had left them, Mr. Pitman and herself, in their ample corner, so
conveniently at ease. There was only a lady in one of the far
doorways, of whom she took vague note and who seemed to be looking at
them. "They'd have to lie for themselves!"

"Do you mean he's capable of putting it to them?"

Mr. Pitman's tone threw discredit on that possibility, but she knew
perfectly well what she meant. "Not of getting at them directly, not,
as mother says, of nosing round himself; but of listening--and small
blame to him!--to the horrible things other people say of me."

"But what other people?"

"Why, Mrs. George Maule, to begin with--who intensely loathes us, and
who talks to his sisters, so that they may talk to _him_: which they
do, all the while, I'm morally sure (hating me as they also must). But
it's she who's the real reason--I mean of his holding off. She poisons
the air he breathes."

"Oh well," said Mr. Pitman, with easy optimism, "if Mrs. George
Maule's a cat--!"

"If she's a cat she has kittens--four little spotlessly white ones,
among whom she'd give her head that Mr. French should make his pick.
He could do it with his eyes shut--you can't tell them apart. But she
has every name, every date, as you may say, for my dark 'record'--as
of course they all call it: she'll be able to give him, if he brings
himself to ask her, every fact in its order. And all the while, don't
you see? there's no one to speak _for_ me."

It would have touched a harder heart than her loose friend's to note
the final flush of clairvoyance witnessing this assertion and under
which her eyes shone as with the rush of quick tears. He stared at
her, and at what this did for the deep charm of her prettiness, as
in almost witless admiration. "But can't you--lovely as you are, you
beautiful thing!--speak for yourself?"

"Do you mean can't I tell the lies? No, then, I can't--and I wouldn't
if I could. I don't lie myself, you know--as it happens; and it could
represent to him then about the only thing, the only bad one, I don't
do. I _did_--'lovely as I am'!--have my regular time; I wasn't so
hideous that I couldn't! Besides, do you imagine he'd come and ask
me?"

"Gad, I wish he would, Julia!" said Mr. Pitman, with his kind eyes on
her.

"Well then, I'd tell him!" And she held her head again high. "But he
won't."

It fairly distressed her companion. "Doesn't he want, then, to
know--?"

"He wants _not_ to know. He wants to be told without asking--told,
I mean, that each of the stories, those that have come to him, is a
fraud and a libel. _Qui s'excuse s'accuse_, don't they say?--so that
do you see me breaking out to him, unprovoked, with four or five
what-do-you-call-'ems, the things mother used to have to prove in
court, a set of neat little 'alibis' in a row? How can I get hold of
so _many_ precious gentlemen, to turn them on? How can _they_ want
everything fished up?"

She paused for her climax, in the intensity of these considerations;
which gave Mr. Pitman a chance to express his honest faith. "Why, my
sweet child, they'd be just glad--!"

It determined in her loveliness almost a sudden glare. "Glad to swear
they never had anything to do with such a creature? Then _I'd_ be glad
to swear they had lots!"

His persuasive smile, though confessing to bewilderment, insisted.
"Why, my love, they've got to swear either one thing or the other."

"They've got to keep out of the way--that's _their_ view of it, I
guess," said Julia. "Where _are_ they, please--now that they _may_ be
wanted? If you'd like to hunt them up for me you're very welcome."
With which, for the moment, over the difficult case, they faced each
other helplessly enough. And she added to it now the sharpest ache of
her despair. "He knows about Murray Brush. The others"--and her pretty
white-gloved hands and charming pink shoulders gave them up--"may go
hang!"

"Murray Brush--?" It had opened Mr. Pitman's eyes.

"Yes--yes; I do mind _him_."

"Then what's the matter with his at least rallying--?"

"The matter is that, being ashamed of himself, as he well might, he
left the country as soon as he could and has stayed away. The matter
is that he's in Paris or somewhere, and that if you expect him to come
home for me--!" She had already dropped, however, as at Mr. Pitman's
look.

"Why, you foolish thing, Murray Brush is in New York!" It had quite
brightened him up.

"He has come back--?"

"Why, sure! I saw him--when was it? Tuesday!--on the Jersey boat." Mr.
Pitman rejoiced in his news. "_He's_ your man!"

Julia too had been affected by it; it had brought, in a rich wave, her
hot color back. But she gave the strangest dim smile. "He _was_!"

"Then get hold of him, and--if he's a gentleman--he'll prove for you,
to the hilt, that he wasn't."

It lighted in her face, the kindled train of this particular sudden
suggestion, a glow, a sharpness of interest, that had deepened the
next moment, while she gave a slow and sad head-shake, to a greater
strangeness yet. "He isn't a gentleman."

"Ah, lordy, lordy!" Mr. Pitman again sighed. He struggled out of it
but only into the vague. "Oh, then, if he's a pig--!"

"You see there are only a few gentlemen--not enough to go round--and
that makes them count so!" It had thrust the girl herself, for that
matter, into depths; but whether most of memory or of roused purpose
he had no time to judge--aware as he suddenly was of a shadow (since
he mightn't perhaps too quickly call it a light) across the heaving
surface of their question. It fell upon Julia's face, fell with the
sound of the voice he so well knew, but which could only be odd to her
for all it immediately assumed.

"There are indeed very few--and one mustn't try _them_ too much!"
Mrs. Drack, who had supervened while they talked, stood, in monstrous
magnitude--at least to Julia's reimpressed eyes--between them: she was
the lady our young woman had descried across the room, and she had
drawn near while the interest of their issue so held them. We have
seen the act of observation and that of reflection alike swift in
Julia--once her subject was within range--and she had now, with all
her perceptions at the acutest, taken in, by a single stare, the
strange presence to a happy connection with which Mr. Pitman aspired
and which had thus sailed, with placid majesty, into their troubled
waters. She was clearly not shy, Mrs. David E. Drack, yet neither was
she ominously bold; she was bland and "good," Julia made sure at a
glance, and of a large complacency, as the good and the bland are apt
to be--a large complacency, a large sentimentality, a large innocent,
elephantine archness: she fairly rioted in that dimension of size.
Habited in an extraordinary quantity of stiff and lustrous black
brocade, with enhancements, of every description, that twinkled
and tinkled, that rustled and rumbled with her least movement, she
presented a huge, hideous, pleasant face, a featureless desert in a
remote quarter of which the disproportionately small eyes might have
figured a pair of rash adventurers all but buried in the sand. They
reduced themselves when she smiled to barely discernible points--a
couple of mere tiny emergent heads--though the foreground of the
scene, as if to make up for it, gaped with a vast benevolence. In
a word Julia saw--and as if she had needed nothing more; saw Mr.
Pitman's opportunity, saw her own, saw the exact nature both of Mrs.
Drack's circumspection and of Mrs. Drack's sensibility, saw even,
glittering there in letters of gold and as a part of the whole
metallic coruscation, the large figure of her income, largest of all
her attributes, and (though perhaps a little more as a luminous blur
beside all this) the mingled ecstasy and agony of Mr. Pitman's hope
and Mr. Pitman's fear.

He was introducing them, with his pathetic belief in the virtue for
every occasion, in the solvent for every trouble, of an extravagant,
genial, professional humor; he was naming her to Mrs. Drack as the
charming young friend he had told her so much about and who had been
as an angel to him in a weary time; he was saying that the loveliest
chance in the world, this accident of a meeting in those promiscuous
halls, had placed within his reach the pleasure of bringing them
together. It didn't indeed matter, Julia felt, what he was saying: he
conveyed everything, as far as she was concerned, by a moral pressure
as unmistakable as if, for a symbol of it, he had thrown himself
on her neck. Above all, meanwhile, this high consciousness
prevailed--that the good lady herself, however huge she loomed, had
entered, by the end of a minute, into a condition as of suspended
weight and arrested mass, stilled to artless awe by the fact of her
vision. Julia had practised almost to lassitude the art of tracing in
the people who looked at her the impression promptly sequent; but it
was a striking point that if, in irritation, in depression, she felt
that the lightest eyes of men, stupid at their clearest, had given her
pretty well all she should ever care for, she could still gather a
freshness from the tribute of her own sex, still care to see her
reflection in the faces of women. Never, probably, never would that
sweet be tasteless--with such a straight grim spoon was it mostly
administered, and so flavored and strengthened by the competence of
their eyes. Women knew so much best _how_ a woman surpassed--how and
where and why, with no touch or torment of it lost on them; so that as
it produced mainly and primarily the instinct of aversion, the sense
of extracting the recognition, of gouging out the homage, was on the
whole the highest crown one's felicity could wear. Once in a way,
however, the grimness beautifully dropped, the jealousy failed: the
admiration was all there and the poor plain sister handsomely paid it.
It had never been so paid, she was presently certain, as by this great
generous object of Mr., Pitman's flame, who without optical aid, it
well might have seemed, nevertheless entirely grasped her--might in
fact, all benevolently, have been groping her over as by some huge
mild proboscis. She gave Mrs. Brack pleasure in short; and who could
say of what other pleasures the poor lady hadn't been cheated?

It was somehow a muddled world in which one of her conceivable joys,
at this time of day, would be to marry Mr. Pitman--to say nothing of a
state of things in which this gentleman's own fancy could invest such
a union with rapture. That, however, was their own mystery, and Julia,
with each instant, was more and more clear about hers: so remarkably
primed in fact, at the end of three minutes, that though her friend,
and though _his_ friend, were both saying things, many things and
perhaps quite wonderful things, she had no free attention for them
and was only rising and soaring. She was rising to her value, she was
soaring _with_ it--the value Mr. Pitman almost convulsively imputed
to her, the value that consisted for her of being so unmistakably the
most dazzling image Mrs. Brack had ever beheld. These were the uses,
for Julia, in fine, of adversity; the range of Mrs. Brack's experience
might have been as small as the measure of her presence was large:
Julia was at any rate herself in face of the occasion of her life,
and, after all her late repudiations and reactions, had perhaps never
yet known the quality of this moment's success. She hadn't an idea of
what, on either side, had been uttered--beyond Mr. Pitman's allusion
to her having befriended him of old: she simply held his companion
with her radiance and knew she might be, for her effect, as irrelevant
as she chose. It was relevant to do what he wanted--it was relevant to
dish herself. She did it now with a kind of passion, to say nothing of
her knowing, with it, that every word of it added to her beauty. She
gave him away in short, up to the hilt, for any use of her own, and
should have nothing to clutch at now but the possibility of Murray
Brush.

"He says I was good to him, Mrs. Drack; and I'm sure I hope I was,
since I should be ashamed to be anything else. If I could be good to
him now I should be glad--that's just what, a while ago, I rushed up
to him here, after so long, to give myself the pleasure of saying. I
saw him years ago very particularly, very miserably tried--and I saw
the way he took it. I did see it, you dear man," she sublimely went
on--"I saw it for all you may protest, for all you may hate me to talk
about you! I saw you behave like a gentleman--since Mrs. Drack agrees
with me, so charmingly, that there are not many to be met. I don't
know whether you care, Mrs. Drack"--she abounded, she revelled in
the name--"but I've always remembered it of him: that under the most
extraordinary provocation he was decent and patient and brave. No
appearance of anything different matters, for I speak of what I
_know_. Of course I'm nothing and nobody; I'm only a poor frivolous
girl, but I was very close to him at the time. That's all my little
story--if it _should_ interest you at all." She measured every beat of
her wing, she knew how high she was going and paused only when it was
quite vertiginous. Here she hung a moment as in the glare of the upper
blue; which was but the glare--what else could it be?--of the vast and
magnificent attention of both her auditors, hushed, on their side, in
the splendor she emitted. She had at last to steady herself, and
she scarce knew afterward at what rate or in what way she had still
inimitably come down--her own eyes fixed all the while on the very
figure of her achievement. She had sacrificed her mother on the
altar--proclaimed her as false and cruel: and if that didn't "fix" Mr.
Pitman, as he would have said--well, it was all she could do. But the
cost of her action already somehow came back to her with increase; the
dear gaunt man fairly wavered, to her sight, in the glory of it, as if
signalling at her, with wild gleeful arms, from some mount of safety,
while the massive lady just spread and spread like a rich fluid a bit
helplessly spilt. It was really the outflow of the poor woman's
honest response, into which she seemed to melt, and Julia scarce
distinguished the two apart even for her taking gracious leave of
each. "Good-bye, Mrs. Drack; I'm awfully happy to have met you"--like
as not it was for this she had grasped Mr. Pitman's hand. And then
to him or to her, it didn't matter which, "Good-bye, dear good Mr.
Pitman--hasn't it been nice after so long?"


II

Julia floated even to her own sense swan-like away--she left in her
wake their fairly stupefied submission: it was as if she had, by an
exquisite authority, now _placed_ them, each for each, and they would
have nothing to do but be happy together. Never had she so exulted
as on this ridiculous occasion in the noted items of her beauty. _Le
compte y était_, as they used to say in Paris--every one of them, for
her immediate employment, was there; and there was something in it
after all. It didn't necessarily, this sum of thumping little figures,
imply charm--especially for "refined" people: nobody knew better than
Julia that inexpressible charm and quotable "charms" (quotable
like prices, rates, shares, or whatever, the things they dealt in
down-town) are two distinct categories; the safest thing for the
latter being, on the whole, that it might include the former, and the
great strength of the former being that it might perfectly dispense
with the latter. Mrs. Drack was not refined, not the least little bit;
but what would be the case with Murray Brush now--after his three
years of Europe? He had done so what he liked with her--which
had seemed so then just the meaning, hadn't it? of their being
"engaged"--that he had made her not see, while the absurdity lasted
(the absurdity of their pretending to believe they could marry without
a cent), how little he was of metal without alloy: this had come up
for her, remarkably, but afterward--come up for her as she looked
back. Then she had drawn her conclusion, which was one of the many
that Basil French had made her draw. It was a queer service Basil was
going to have rendered her, this having made everything she had ever
done impossible, if he wasn't going to give her a new chance. If he
was it was doubtless right enough. On the other hand, Murray might
have improved, if such a quantity of alloy, as she called it, _were_,
in any man, reducible, and if Paris were the place all happily to
reduce it. She had her doubts--anxious and aching on the spot, and had
expressed them to Mr. Pitman: certainly, of old, he had been more open
to the quotable than to the inexpressible, to charms than to charm. If
she could try the quotable, however, and with such a grand result, on
Mrs. Drack, she couldn't now on Murray--in respect to whom everything
had changed. So that if he hadn't a sense for the subtler appeal, the
appeal appreciable by people _not_ vulgar, on which alone she could
depend, what on earth would become of her? She could but yearningly
hope, at any rate, as she made up her mind to write to him immediately
at his club. It was a question of the right sensibility in him.
Perhaps he would have acquired it in Europe.

Two days later indeed--for he had promptly and charmingly replied,
keeping with alacrity the appointment she had judged best to propose
for a morning hour in a sequestered alley of the Park--two days later
she was to be struck well-nigh to alarm by everything he had acquired:
so much it seemed to make that it threatened somehow a complication,
and her plan, so far as she had arrived at one, dwelt in the desire
above all to simplify. She wanted no grain more of extravagance or
excess of anything--risking as she had done, none the less, a recall
of ancient license in proposing to Murray such a place of meeting. She
had her reasons--she wished intensely to discriminate: Basil French
had several times waited on her at her mother's habitation, their
horrible flat which was so much too far up and too near the East Side;
he had dined there and lunched there and gone with her thence to other
places, notably to see pictures, and had in particular adjourned
with her twice to the Metropolitan Museum, in which he took a great
interest, in which she professed a delight, and their second visit
to which had wound up in her encounter with Mr. Pitman, after her
companion had yielded, at her urgent instance, to an exceptional
need of keeping a business engagement. She mightn't, in delicacy,
in decency, entertain Murray Brush where she had entertained Mr.
French--she was given over now to these exquisite perceptions and
proprieties and bent on devoutly observing them; and Mr. French, by
good-luck, had never been with her in the Park: partly because he had
never pressed it, and partly because she would have held off if he
had, so haunted were those devious paths and favoring shades by the
general echo of her untrammelled past. If he had never suggested their
taking a turn there this was because, quite divinably, he held it
would commit him further than he had yet gone; and if she on her side
had practised a like reserve it was because the place reeked for her,
as she inwardly said, with old associations. It reeked with nothing
so much perhaps as with the memories evoked by the young man who now
awaited her in the nook she had been so competent to indicate; but
in what corner of the town, should she look for them, wouldn't those
footsteps creak back into muffled life, and to what expedient would
she be reduced should she attempt to avoid all such tracks? The Museum
was full of tracks, tracks by the hundred--the way really she had
knocked about!--but she had to see people somewhere, and she couldn't
pretend to dodge every ghost.

All she could do was not to make confusion, make mixtures, of the
living; though she asked herself enough what mixture she mightn't find
herself to have prepared if Mr. French should, not so very impossibly,
for a restless, roaming man--_her_ effect on him!--happen to pass
while she sat there with the mustachioed personage round whose name
Mrs. Maule would probably have caused detrimental anecdote most
thickly to cluster. There existed, she was sure, a mass of luxuriant
legend about the "lengths" her engagement with Murray Brush had gone;
she could herself fairly feel them in the air, these streamers of
evil, black flags flown as in warning, the vast redundancy of so cheap
and so dingy social bunting, in fine, that flapped over the stations
she had successively moved away from and which were empty now, for
such an ado, even to grotesqueness. The vivacity of that conviction
was what had at present determined her, while it was the way he
listened after she had quickly broken ground, while it was the special
character of the interested look in his handsome face, handsomer than
ever yet, that represented for her the civilization he had somehow
taken on. Just so it was the quantity of that gain, in its turn, that
had at the end of ten minutes begun to affect her as holding up a
light to the wide reach of her step. "There was never anything the
least serious between us, not a sign or a scrap, do you mind? of
anything beyond the merest pleasant friendly acquaintance; and if
you're not ready to go to the stake on it for me you may as well know
in time what it is you'll probably cost me."

She had immediately plunged, measuring her effect and having thought
it well over; and what corresponded to her question of his having
become a better person to appeal to was the appearance of interest she
had so easily created in him. She felt on the spot the difference that
made--it was indeed his form of being more civilized: it was the
sense in which Europe in general and Paris in particular had made him
develop. By every calculation--and her calculations, based on the
intimacy of her knowledge, had been many and deep--he would help her
the better the more intelligent he should have become; yet she was to
recognize later on that the first chill of foreseen disaster had been
caught by her as, at a given moment, this greater refinement of his
attention seemed to exhale it. It was just what she had wanted--"if
I can only get him interested--!" so that, this proving quite vividly
possible, why did the light it lifted strike her as lurid? Was it
partly by reason of his inordinate romantic good looks, those of a
gallant, genial conqueror, but which, involving so glossy a brownness
of eye, so manly a crispness of curl, so red-lipped a radiance of
smile, so natural a bravery of port, prescribed to any response
he might facially, might expressively, make a sort of florid,
disproportionate amplitude? The explanation, in any case, didn't
matter; he was going to mean well--that she could feel, and also that
he had meant better in the past, presumably, than he had managed to
convince her of his doing at the time: the oddity she hadn't now
reckoned with was this fact that from the moment he did advertise an
interest it should show almost as what she would have called weird. It
made a change in him that didn't go with the rest--as if he had broken
his nose or put on spectacles, lost his handsome hair or sacrificed
his splendid mustache: her conception, her necessity, as she saw, had
been that something should be added to him for her use, but nothing
for his own alteration.

He had affirmed himself, and his character, and his temper, and his
health, and his appetite, and his ignorance, and his obstinacy, and
his whole charming, coarse, heartless personality, during their
engagement, by twenty forms of natural emphasis, but never by emphasis
of interest. How in fact could you feel interest unless you should
know, within you, some dim stir of imagination? There was nothing in
the world of which Murray Brush was less capable than of such a dim
stir, because you only began to imagine when you felt some approach to
a need to understand. _He_ had never felt it; for hadn't he been born,
to his personal vision, with that perfect intuition of everything
which reduces all the suggested preliminaries of judgment to the
impertinence--when it's a question of your entering your house--of
a dumpage of bricks at your door? He had had, in short, neither to
imagine nor to perceive, because he had, from the first pulse of his
intelligence, simply and supremely known: so that, at this hour,
face to face with him, it came over her that she had, in their old
relation, dispensed with any such convenience of comprehension on his
part even to a degree she had not measured at the time. What therefore
must he not have seemed to her as a form of life, a form of avidity
and activity, blatantly successful in its own conceit, that he could
have dazzled her so against the interest of her very faculties and
functions? Strangely and richly historic all that backward mystery,
and only leaving for her mind the wonder of such a mixture of
possession and detachment as they would clearly to-day both know.
For each to be so little at last to the other when, during months
together, the idea of all abundance, all quantity, had been, for
each, drawn from the other and addressed to the other--what was it
monstrously like but some fantastic act of getting rid of a person by
going to lock yourself up in the _sanctum sanctorum_ of that person's
house, amid every evidence of that person's habits and nature? What
was going to happen, at any rate, was that Murray would show himself
as beautifully and consciously understanding--and it would be
prodigious that Europe should have inoculated him with that delicacy.
Yes, he wouldn't claim to know now till she had told him--an aid to
performance he had surely never before waited for, or been indebted
to, from any one; and then, so knowing, he would charmingly endeavor
to "meet," to oblige and to gratify. He would find it, her case, ever
so worthy of his benevolence, and would be literally inspired to
reflect that he must hear about it first.

She let him hear then everything, in spite of feeling herself slip,
while she did so, to some doom as yet incalculable; she went on very
much as she had done for Mr. Pitman and Mrs. Drack, with the rage
of desperation and, as she was afterward to call it to herself, the
fascination of the abyss. She didn't know, couldn't have said at the
time, _why_ his projected benevolence should have had most so the
virtue to scare her: he would patronize her, as an effect of her
vividness, if not of her charm, and would do this with all high
intention, finding her case, or rather _their_ case, their funny old
case, taking on of a sudden such refreshing and edifying life, to
the last degree curious and even important; but there were gaps of
connection between this and the intensity of the perception here
overtaking her that she shouldn't be able to move in _any_ direction
without dishing herself. That she couldn't afford it where she had got
to--couldn't afford the deplorable vulgarity of having been so many
times informally affianced and contracted (putting it only at that, at
its being by the new lights and fashions so unpardonably vulgar): he
took this from her without turning, as she might have said, a hair;
except just to indicate, with his new superiority, that he felt the
distinguished appeal and notably the pathos of it. He still took
it from her that she hoped nothing, as it were, from any other
_alibi_--the people to drag into court being too many and too
scattered; but that, as it was with him, Murray Brush, she had been
_most_ vulgar, most everything she had better not have been, so she
depended on him for the innocence it was actually vital she should
establish. He flushed or frowned or winced no more at that than he did
when she once more fairly emptied her satchel and, quite as if they
had been Nancy and the Artful Dodger, or some nefarious pair of that
sort, talking things over in the manner of _Oliver Twist_, revealed
to him the fondness of her view that, could she but have produced a
cleaner slate, she might by this time have pulled it off with Mr.
French. Yes, he let her in that way sacrifice her honorable connection
with him--all the more honorable for being so completely at an end--to
the crudity of her plan for not missing another connection, so much
more brilliant than what he offered, and for bringing another man,
with whom she so invidiously and unflatteringly compared him, into her
greedy life.

There was only a moment during which, by a particular lustrous look
she had never had from him before, he just made her wonder which turn
he was going to take; she felt, however, as safe as was consistent
with her sense of having probably but added to her danger, when he
brought out, the next instant: "Don't you seem to take the ground that
we were guilty--that _you_ were ever guilty--of something we shouldn't
have been? What did we ever do that was secret, or underhand, or any
way not to be acknowledged? What did we do but exchange our young vows
with the best faith in the world--publicly, rejoicingly, with the full
assent of every one connected with us? I mean of course," he said with
his grave kind smile, "till we broke off so completely because we
found that--practically, financially, on the hard worldly basis--we
couldn't work it. What harm, in the sight of God or man, Julia," he
asked in his fine rich way, "did we ever do?"

She gave him back his look, turning pale. "Am I talking of _that_? Am
I talking of what _we_ know? I'm talking of what others feel--of what
they _have_ to feel; of what it's just enough for them to know not to
be able to get over it, once they do really know it. How do they know
what _didn't_ pass between us, with all the opportunities we had?
That's none of their business--if we were idiots enough, on the top of
everything! What you may or mayn't have done doesn't count, for _you_;
but there are people for whom it's loathsome that a girl should have
gone on like that from one person to another and still pretend to
be--well, all that a nice girl is supposed to be. It's as if we had
but just waked up, mother and I, to such a remarkable prejudice; and
now we have it--when we could do so well without it!--staring us
in the face. That mother should have insanely _let_ me, should so
vulgarly have taken it for my natural, my social career--_that's_ the
disgusting, humiliating thing: with the lovely account it gives of
both of us! But mother's view of a delicacy in things!" she went on
with scathing grimness; "mother's measure of anything, with her grand
'gained cases' (there'll be another yet, she finds them so easy!) of
which she's so publicly proud! You see I've no margin," said Julia;
letting him take it from her flushed face as much as he would that her
mother hadn't left her an inch. It was that he should make use of the
spade with her for the restoration of a bit of a margin just wide
enough to perch on till the tide of peril should have ebbed a little,
it was that he should give her _that_ lift--!

Well, it was all there from him after these last words; it was before
her that he really took hold. "Oh, my dear child, I can see! Of course
there are people--ideas change in our society so fast!--who are not in
sympathy with the old American freedom and who read, I dare say, all
sorts of uncanny things into it. Naturally you must take them as they
are--from the moment," said Murray Brush, who had lighted, by her
leave, a cigarette, "your life-path does, for weal or for woe, cross
with theirs." He had every now and then such an elegant phrase.
"Awfully interesting, certainly, your case. It's enough for me that it
_is_ yours--I make it my own. I put myself absolutely in your place;
you'll understand from me, without professions, won't you? that I do.
Command me in every way! What I do like is the sympathy with which
you've inspired _him_. I don't, I'm sorry to say, happen to know him
personally,"--he smoked away, looking off; "but of course one knows
all about him generally, and I'm sure he's right for you, I'm sure it
would be charming, if you yourself think so. Therefore trust me and
even--what shall I say?--leave it to me a little, won't you?" He had
been watching, as in his fumes, the fine growth of his possibilities;
and with this he turned on her the large warmth of his charity. It was
like a subscription of a half-a-million. "I'll take care of you."

She found herself for a moment looking up at him from as far below as
the point from which the school-child, with round eyes raised to the
wall, gazes at the parti-colored map of the world. Yes, it was a
warmth, it was a special benignity, that had never yet dropped on her
from any one; and she wouldn't for the first few moments have known
how to describe it or even quite what to do with it. Then, as it still
rested, his fine improved expression aiding, the sense of what had
happened came over her with a rush. She was being, yes, patronized;
and that was really as new to her--the freeborn American girl who
might, if she had wished, have got engaged and disengaged not six
times but sixty--as it would have been to be crowned or crucified. The
Frenches themselves didn't do it--the Frenches themselves didn't dare
it. It was as strange as one would: she recognized it when it came,
but anything might have come rather--and it was coming by (of all
people in the world) Murray Brush! It overwhelmed her; still she could
speak, with however faint a quaver and however sick a smile. "You'll
lie for me like a gentleman?"

"As far as that goes till I'm black in the face!" And then while he
glowed at her and she wondered if he would pointedly look his lies
that way, and if, in fine, his florid, gallant, knowing, almost
winking intelligence, _common_ as she had never seen the common
vivified, would represent his notion of "blackness": "See here, Julia;
I'll do more."

"'More'--?"

"Everything. I'll take it right in hand. I'll fling over you--"

"Fling over me--?" she continued to echo as he fascinatingly fixed
her.

"Well, the biggest _kind_ of rose-colored mantle!" And this time, oh,
he did wink: it _would_ be the way he was going to wink (and in the
grandest good faith in the world) when indignantly denying, under
inquisition, that there had been "a sign or a scrap" between them. But
there was more to come; he decided she should have it all. "Julia,
you've got to know now." He hung fire but an instant more. "Julia,
I'm going to be married." His "Julias" were somehow death to her; she
could feel that even _through_ all the rest. "Julia, I announce my
engagement."

"Oh, lordy, lordy!" she wailed: it might have been addressed to Mr.
Pitman.

The force of it had brought her to her feet, but he sat there smiling
up as at the natural tribute of her interest. "I tell you before any
one else; it's not to be 'out' for a day or two yet. But we want you
to know; _she_ said that as soon as I mentioned to her that I had
heard from you. I mention to her everything, you see!"--and he almost
simpered while, still in his seat, he held the end of his cigarette,
all delicately and as for a form of gentle emphasis, with the tips
of his fine fingers. "You've not met her, Mary Lindeck, I think: she
tells me she hasn't the pleasure of knowing you, but she desires it so
much--particularly longs for it. She'll take an interest too," he went
on; "you must let me immediately bring her to you. She has heard so
much about you and she really wants to see you."

"Oh mercy _me_!" poor Julia gasped again--so strangely did history
repeat itself and so did this appear the echo, on Murray Brush's lips,
and quite to drollery, of that sympathetic curiosity of Mrs. Drack's
which Mr. Pitman had, as they said, voiced. Well, there had played
before her the vision of a ledge of safety in face of a rising tide;
but this deepened quickly to a sense more forlorn, the cold swish of
waters already up to her waist and that would soon be up to her chin.
It came really but from the air of her friend, from the perfect
benevolence and high unconsciousness with which he kept his
posture--as if to show he could patronize her from below upward quite
as well as from above down. And as she took it all in, as it spread to
a flood, with the great lumps and masses of truth it was floating, she
knew inevitable submission, not to say submersion, as she had never
known it in her life; going down and down before it, not even putting
out her hands to resist or cling by the way, only reading into the
young man's very face an immense fatality and, for all his bright
nobleness his absence of rancor or of protesting pride, the great gray
blankness of her doom. It was as if the earnest Miss Lindeck, tall and
mild, high and lean, with eye-glasses and a big nose, but "marked" in
a noticeable way, elegant and distinguished and refined, as you could
see from a mile off, and as graceful, for common despair of imitation,
as the curves of the "copy" set of old by one's writing-master--it was
as if this stately well-wisher, whom indeed she had never exchanged
a word with, but whom she had recognized and placed and winced at
as soon as he spoke of her, figured there beside him now as also in
portentous charge of her case.

He had ushered her into it in that way as if his mere right word
sufficed; and Julia could see them throne together, beautifully at one
in all the interests they now shared, and regard her as an object of
almost tender solicitude. It was positively as if they had become
engaged for her good--in such a happy light as it shed. That was the
way people you had known, known a bit intimately, looked at you as
soon as they took on the high matrimonial propriety that sponged over
the more or less wild past to which you belonged, and of which, all of
a sudden, they were aware only through some suggestion it made them
for reminding you definitely that you still had a place. On her
having had a day or two before to meet Mrs. Drack and to rise to her
expectation she had seen and felt herself act, had above all admired
herself, and had at any rate known what she said, even though losing,
at her altitude, any distinctness in the others. She could have
repeated later on the detail of her performance--if she hadn't
preferred to keep it with her as a mere locked-up, a mere unhandled
treasure. At present, however, as everything was for her at first
deadened and vague, true to the general effect of sounds and motions
in water, she couldn't have said afterward what words she spoke, what
face she showed, what impression she made--at least till she had
pulled herself round to precautions. She only knew she had turned
away, and that this movement must have sooner or later determined
his rising to join her, his deciding to accept it, gracefully and
condoningly--condoningly in respect to her natural emotion, her
inevitable little pang--for an intimation that they would be better on
their feet.

They trod then afresh their ancient paths; and though it pressed upon
her hatefully that he must have taken her abruptness for a smothered
shock, the flare-up of her old feeling at the breath of his news, she
had still to see herself condemned to allow him this, condemned
really to encourage him in the mistake of believing her suspicious of
feminine spite and doubtful of Miss Lindeck's zeal. She was so far
from doubtful that she was but too appalled at it and at the officious
mass in which it loomed, and this instinct of dread, before their walk
was over, before she had guided him round to one of the smaller gates,
there to slip off again by herself, was positively to find on the
bosom of her flood a plank by the aid of which she kept in a manner
and for the time afloat. She took ten minutes to pant, to blow gently,
to paddle disguisedly, to accommodate herself, in a word, to the
elements she had let loose; but as a reward of her effort at least she
then saw how her determined vision accounted for everything. Beside
her friend on the bench she had truly felt all his cables cut, truly
swallowed down the fact that if he still perceived she was pretty--and
_how_ pretty!--it had ceased appreciably to matter to him. It had
lighted the folly of her preliminary fear, the fear of his even yet to
some effect of confusion or other inconvenience for her, proving
more alive to the quotable in her, as she had called it, than to the
inexpressible. She had reckoned with the awkwardness of that possible
failure of his measure of her charm, by which his renewed apprehension
of her grosser ornaments, those with which he had most affinity, might
too much profit; but she need have concerned herself as little for his
sensibility on one head as on the other. She had ceased personally,
ceased materially--in respect, as who should say, to any optical or
tactile advantage--to exist for him, and the whole office of his
manner had been the more piously and gallantly to dress the dead
presence with flowers. This was all to his credit and his honor, but
what it clearly certified was that their case was at last not even one
of spirit reaching out to spirit. _He_ had plenty of spirit--had all
the spirit required for his having engaged himself to Miss Lindeck,
into which result, once she had got her head well up again, she read,
as they proceeded, one sharp meaning after another. It was therefore
toward the subtler essence of that mature young woman alone that he
was occupied in stretching; what was definite to him about Julia
Bride being merely, being entirely--which was indeed thereby quite
enough--that she _might_ end by scaling her worldly height. They would
push, they would shove, they would "boost," they would arch both their
straight backs as pedestals for her tiptoe; and at the same time, by

some sweet prodigy of mechanics, she would pull them up and up with
her.

Wondrous things hovered before her in the course of this walk; her
consciousness had become, by an extraordinary turn, a music-box in
which, its lid well down, the most remarkable tunes were sounding. It
played for her ear alone, and the lid, as she might have figured, was
her firm plan of holding out till she got home, of not betraying--to
her companion at least--the extent to which she was demoralized. To
see him think her demoralized by mistrust of the sincerity of the
service to be meddlesomely rendered her by his future wife--she would
have hurled herself publicly into the lake there at their side, would
have splashed, in her beautiful clothes, among the frightened swans,
rather than invite him to that ineptitude. Oh, her sincerity, Mary
Lindeck's--she would be drenched with her sincerity, and she would
be drenched, yes, with _his_; so that, from inward convulsion to
convulsion, she had, before they reached their gate, pulled up in the
path. There was something her head had been full of these three or
four minutes, the intensest little tune of the music-box, and it made
its way to her lips now; belonging--for all the good it could do
her!--to the two or three sorts of solicitude she might properly
express.

"I hope _she_ has a fortune, if you don't mind my speaking of it:
I mean some of the money we didn't in _our_ time have--and that we
missed, after all, in our poor way and for what we then wanted of it,
so quite dreadfully."

She had been able to wreathe it in a grace quite equal to any he
himself had employed; and it was to be said for him also that he kept
up, on this, the standard. "Oh, she's not, thank goodness, at all
badly off, poor dear. We shall do very well. How sweet of you to have
thought of it! May I tell her that too?" he splendidly glared. Yes, he
glared--how couldn't he, with what his mind was really full of? But,
all the same, he came just here, by her vision, nearer than at any
other point to being a gentleman. He came quite within an ace of
it--with his taking from her thus the prescription of humility of
service, his consenting to act in the interest of her avidity, his
letting her mount that way, on his bowed shoulders, to the success in
which he could suppose she still believed. He couldn't know, he would
never know, that she had then and there ceased to believe in it--that
she saw as clear as the sun in the sky the exact manner in which,
between them, before they had done, the Murray Brushes, all zeal and
sincerity, all interest in her interesting case, would dish, would
ruin, would utterly destroy her. He wouldn't have needed to go on, for
the force and truth of this; but he did go on--he was as crashingly
consistent as a motorcar without a brake. He was visibly in love
with the idea of what they might do for her and of the rare "social"
opportunity that they would, by the same stroke, embrace. How he had
been offhand with it, how he had made it parenthetic, that he didn't
happen "personally" to know Basil French--as if it would have been at
all likely he _should_ know him, even _im_ personally, and as if he
could conceal from her the fact that, since she had made him her
overture, this gentleman's name supremely baited her hook! Oh, they
would help Julia Bride if they could--they would do their remarkable
best; but they would at any rate have made his acquaintance over it,
and she might indeed leave the rest to their thoroughness. He would
already have known, he would already have heard; her appeal, she was
more and more sure, wouldn't have come to him as a revelation. He had
already talked it over with _her_, with Miss Lindeck, to whom the
Frenches, in their fortress, had never been accessible, and his whole
attitude bristled, to Julia's eyes, with the betrayal of her hand, her
voice, her pressure, her calculation. His tone, in fact, as he talked,
fairly thrust these things into her face. "But you must see her for
yourself. You'll judge her. You'll love her. My dear child"--he
brought it all out, and if he spoke of children he might, in his
candor, have been himself infantine--"my dear child, she's the person
to do it for you. Make it over to her; but," he laughed, "of course
see her first! Couldn't you," he wound up--for they were now near
their gate, where she was to leave him--"couldn't you just simply make
us meet him, at tea say, informally; just _us_ alone, as pleasant old
friends of whom you'd have so naturally and frankly spoken to him: and
then see what we'd _make_ of that?"

It was all in his expression; he couldn't keep it out of that, and his
shining good looks couldn't: ah, he was so fatally much too handsome
for her! So the gap showed just there, in his admirable mask and
his admirable eagerness; the yawning little chasm showed where the
gentleman fell short. But she took this in, she took everything in,
she felt herself do it, she heard herself say, while they paused
before separation, that she quite saw the point of the meeting, as he
suggested, at her tea. She would propose it to Mr. French and would
let them know; and he must assuredly bring Miss Lindeck, bring her
"right away," bring her soon, bring _them_, his fiancée and her,
together somehow, and as quickly as possible--so that they _should_
be old friends before the tea. She would propose it to Mr. French,
propose it to Mr. French: that hummed in her ears as she went--after
she had really got away; hummed as if she were repeating it over,
giving it out to the passers, to the pavement, to the sky, and all as
in wild discord with the intense little concert of her music-box. The
extraordinary thing too was that she quite believed she should do it,
and fully meant to; desperately, fantastically passive--since she
almost reeled with it as she proceeded--she was capable of proposing
anything to any one: capable too of thinking it likely Mr. French
would come, for he had never on her previous proposals declined
anything. Yes, she would keep it up to the end, this pretence of owing
them salvation, and might even live to take comfort in having done for
them what they wanted. What they wanted _couldn't_ but be to get at
the Frenches, and what Miss Lindeck above all wanted, baffled of it
otherwise, with so many others of the baffled, was to get at Mr.
French--for all Mr. French would want of either of them!--still more
than Murray did. It was not till after she had got home, got straight
into her own room and flung herself on her face, that she yielded to
the full taste of the bitterness of missing a connection, missing the
man himself, with power to create such a social appetite, such a grab
at what might be gained by them. He could make people, even people
like these two and whom there were still other people to envy, he
could make them push and snatch and scramble like that--and then
remain as incapable of taking her from the hands of such patrons as of
receiving her straight, say, from those of Mrs. Drack. It was a high
note, too, of Julia's wonderful composition that, even in the long,
lonely moan of her conviction of her now certain ruin, all this grim
lucidity, the perfect clearance of passion, but made her supremely
proud of him.

Henry James