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Title: Georgina's Reasons
Author: James, Henry, 1843-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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GEORGINA'S REASONS

By Henry James

1885



PART I.



I.

She was certainly a singular girl, and if he felt at the end that he
did n't know her nor understand her, it is not surprising that he should
have felt it at the beginning. But he felt at the beginning what he
did not feel at the end, that her singularity took the form of a charm
which--once circumstances had made them so intimate--it was impossible
to resist or conjure away. He had a strange impression (it amounted
at times to a positive distress, and shot through the sense of
pleasure--morally speaking--with the acuteness of a sudden twinge of
neuralgia) that it would be better for each of them that they should
break off short and never see each other again. In later years he called
this feeling a foreboding, and remembered two or three occasions when he
had been on the point of expressing it to Georgina. Of course, in fact,
he never expressed it; there were plenty of good reasons for that. Happy
love is not disposed to assume disagreeable duties, and Raymond Benyon's
love was happy, in spite of grave presentiments, in spite of the
singularity of his mistress and the insufferable rudeness of her
parents. She was a tall, fair girl, with a beautiful cold eye and a
smile of which the perfect sweetness, proceeding from the lips, was full
of compensation; she had auburn hair of a hue that could be qualified as
nothing less than gorgeous, and she seemed to move through life with a
stately grace, as she would have walked through an old-fashioned minuet.
Gentlemen connected with the navy have the advantage of seeing many
types of women; they are able to compare the ladies of New York with
those of Valparaiso, and those of Halifax with those of the Cape of Good
Hope. Eaymond Benyon had had these advantages, and being very fond
of women he had learnt his lesson; he was in a position to appreciate
Georgina Gressie's fine points. She looked like a duchess,--I don't mean
that in foreign ports Benyon had associated with duchesses,--and she
took everything so seriously. That was flattering for the young man,
who was only a lieutenant, detailed for duty at the Brooklyn navy-yard,
without a penny in the world but his pay, with a set of plain, numerous,
seafaring, God-fearing relations in New Hampshire, a considerable
appearance of talent, a feverish, disguised ambition, and a slight
impediment in his speech.

He was a spare, tough young man, his dark hair was straight and
fine, and his face, a trifle pale, was smooth and carefully drawn.
He stammered a little, blushing when he did so, at long intervals.
I scarcely know how he appeared on shipboard, but on shore, in his
civilian's garb, which was of the neatest, he had as little as possible
an aroma of winds and waves. He was neither salt nor brown, nor red, nor
particularly "hearty." He never twitched up his trousers, nor, so far as
one could see, did he, with his modest, attentive manner, carry himself
as one accustomed to command. Of course, as a subaltern, he had more
to do in the way of obeying. He looked as if he followed some sedentary
calling, and was, indeed, supposed to be decidedly intellectual. He
was a lamb with women, to whose charms he was, as I have hinted,
susceptible; but with men he was different, and, I believe, as much of a
wolf as was necessary. He had a manner of adoring the handsome, insolent
queen of his affections (I will explain in a moment why I call
her insolent); indeed, he looked up to her literally as well as
sentimentally; for she was the least bit the taller of the two. He had
met her the summer before, on the piazza of a hotel at Fort Hamilton, to
which, with a brother officer, in a dusty buggy, he had driven over from
Brooklyn to spend a tremendously hot Sunday,--the kind of day when the
navy-yard was loathsome; and the acquaintance had been renewed by his
calling in Twelfth Street on New-Year's Day,--a considerable time
to wait for a pretext, but which proved the impression had not been
transitory. The acquaintance ripened, thanks to a zealous cultivation
(on his part) of occasions which Providence, it must be confessed,
placed at his disposal none too liberally; so that now Georgina took
up all his thoughts and a considerable part of his time. He was in love
with her, beyond a doubt; but he could not flatter himself that she was
in love with him, though she appeared willing (what was so strange) to
quarrel with her family about him. He did n't see how she could really
care for him,--she seemed marked out by nature for so much greater
a fortune; and he used to say to her, "Ah, you don't--there's no use
talking, you don't--really care for me at all!" To which she answered,
"Really? You are very particular. It seems to me it's real enough if I
let you touch one of my fingertips! "That was one of her ways of being
insolent Another was simply her manner of looking at him, or at
other people (when they spoke to her), with her hard, divine blue
eye,--looking quietly, amusedly, with the air of considering (wholly
from her own point of view) what they might have said, and then turning
her head or her back, while, without taking the trouble to answer them,
she broke into a short, liquid, irrelevant laugh. This may seem to
contradict what I said just now about her taking the young lieutenant
in the navy seriously. What I mean is that she appeared to take him more
seriously than she took anything else. She said to him once, "At any
rate you have the merit of not being a shop-keeper;" and it was by this
epithet she was pleased to designate most of the young men who at that
time flourished in the best society of New York. Even if she had rather
a free way of expressing general indifference, a young lady is supposed
to be serious enough when she consents to marry you. For the rest,
as regards a certain haughtiness that might be observed in Geoigina
Gressie, my story will probably throw sufficient light upon it She
remarked to Benyon once that it was none of his business why she liked
him, but that, to please herself, she did n't mind telling him she
thought the great Napoleon, before he was celebrated, before he had
command of the army of Italy, must have looked something like him;
and she sketched in a few words the sort of figure she imagined
the incipient Bonaparte to have been,--short, lean, pale, poor,
intellectual, and with a tremendous future under his hat Benyon asked
himself whether _he_ had a tremendous future, and what in the world
Geoigina expected of him in the coming years. He was flattered at the
comparison, he was ambitious enough not to be frightened at it, and he
guessed that she perceived a certain analogy between herself and the
Empress Josephine. She would make a very good empress. That was true;
Georgina was remarkably imperial. This may not at first seem to make it
more clear why she should take into her favor an aspirant who, on the
face of the matter, was not original, and whose Corsica was a flat New
England seaport; but it afterward became plain that he owed his brief
happiness--it was very brief--to her father's opposition; her father's
and her mother's, and even her uncles' and her aunts'. In those days,
in New York, the different members of a family took an interest in its
alliances, and the house of Gressie looked askance at an engagement
between the most beautiful of its daughters and a young man who was not
in a paying business. Georgina declared that they were meddlesome and
vulgar,--she could sacrifice her own people, in that way, without
a scruple,--and Benyon's position improved from the moment that Mr.
Gressie--ill-advised Mr. Gressie--ordered the girl to have nothing to do
with him. Georgina was imperial in this--that she wouldn't put up with
an order. When, in the house in Twelfth Street, it began to be talked
about that she had better be sent to Europe with some eligible friend,
Mrs. Portico, for instance, who was always planning to go, and who
wanted as a companion some young mind, fresh from manuals and extracts,
to serve as a fountain of history and geography,--when this scheme for
getting Georgina out of the way began to be aired, she immediately said
to Raymond Benyon, "Oh, yes, I 'll marry you!" She said it in such an
off-hand way that, deeply as he desired her, he was almost tempted to
answer, "But, my dear, have you really thought about it?"

This little drama went on, in New York, in the ancient days, when
Twelfth Street had but lately ceased to be suburban, when the squares
had wooden palings, which were not often painted; when there were
poplars in important thoroughfares and pigs in the lateral ways; when
the theatres were miles distant from Madison Square, and the battered
rotunda of Castle Garden echoed with expensive vocal music; when "the
park" meant the grass-plats of the city hall, and the Bloomingdale
road was an eligible drive; when Hoboken, of a summer afternoon, was a
genteel resort, and the handsomest house in town was on the corner
of the Fifth Avenue and Fifteenth Street. This will strike the modern
reader, I fear, as rather a primitive epoch; but I am not sure that the
strength of human passions is in proportion to the elongation of a city.
Several of them, at any rate, the most robust and most familiar,--love,
ambition, jealousy, resentment, greed,--subsisted in considerable force
in the little circle at which we have glanced, where a view by no means
favorable was taken of Raymond Benyon's attentions to Miss Gressie.
Unanimity was a family trait among these people (Georgina was an
exception), especially in regard to the important concerns of life, such
as marriages and closing scenes. The Gressies hung together; they
were accustomed to do well for themselves and for each other. They did
everything well: got themselves born well (they thought it excellent to
be born a Gressie), lived well, married well, died well, and managed to
be well spoken of afterward. In deference to this last-mentioned habit,
I must be careful what I say of them. They took an interest in each
other's concerns, an interest that could never be regarded as of a
meddlesome nature, inasmuch as they all thought alike about all their
affairs, and interference took the happy form of congratulation and
encouragement. These affairs were invariably lucky, and, as a general
thing, no Gressie had anything to do but feel that another Gressie had
been almost as shrewd and decided as he himself would have been. The
great exception to that, as I have said, was this case of Georgina, who
struck such a false note, a note that startled them all, when she told
her father that she should like to unite herself to a young man engaged
in the least paying business that any Gressie had ever heard of. Her two
sisters had married into the most flourishing firms, and it was not
to be thought of that--with twenty cousins growing up around her--she
should put down the standard of success. Her mother had told her a
fortnight before this that she must request Mr. Benyon to cease coming
to the house; for hitherto his suit had been of the most public and
resolute character. He had been conveyed up town from the Brooklyn
ferry, in the "stage," on certain evenings, had asked for Miss Georgina
at the door of the house in Twelfth Street, and had sat with her in the
front parlor if her parents happened to occupy the back, or in the back
if the family had disposed itself in the front. Georgina, in her way,
was a dutiful girl, and she immediately repeated her mother's admonition
to Beuyon. He was not surprised, for though he was aware that he had
not, as yet, a great knowledge of society, he flattered himself he could
tell when--and where--a young man was not wanted. There were houses in
Brooklyn where such an animal was much appreciated, and there the signs
were quite different They had been discouraging--except on Georgina's
pail--from the first of his calling in Twelfth Street Mr. and Mrs.
Gressie used to look at each other in silence when he came in, and
indulge in strange, perpendicular salutations, without any shaking of
hands. People did that at Portsmouth, N.H., when they were glad to
see you; but in New York there was more luxuriance, and gesture had a
different value. He had never, in Twelfth Street, been asked to "take
anything," though the house had a delightful suggestion, a positive
aroma, of sideboards,--as if there were mahogany "cellarettes" under
every table. The old people, moreover, had repeatedly expressed surprise
at the quantity of leisure that officers in the navy seemed to enjoy.
The only way in which they had not made themselves offensive was
by always remaining in the other room; though at times even this
detachment, to which he owed some delightful moments, presented itself
to Benyon as a form of disapprobation. Of course, after Mrs. Gressie's
message, his visits were practically at an end; he would n't give the
girl up, but he would n't be beholden to her father for the opportunity
to converse with her. Nothing was left for the tender couple--there
was a curious mutual mistrust in their tenderness--but to meet in the
squares, or in the topmost streets, or in the sidemost avenues, on
the afternoons of spring. It was especially during this phase of their
relations that Georgina struck Benyon as imperial Her whole person
seemed to exhale a tranquil, happy consciousness of having broken a law.
She never told him how she arranged the matter at home, how she found it
possible always to keep the appointments (to meet him out of the house)
that she so boldly made, in what degree she dissimulated to her parents,
and how much, in regard to their continued acquaintance, the old people
suspected and accepted. If Mr. and Mrs. Gressie had forbidden him the
house, it was not, apparently, because they wished her to walk with him
in the Tenth Avenue or to sit at his side under the blossoming lilacs
in Stuyvesant Square. He didn't believe that she told lies in Twelfth
Street; he thought she was too imperial to lie; and he wondered what she
said to her mother when, at the end of nearly a whole afternoon of vague
peregrination with her lover, this bridling, bristling matron asked her
where she had been. Georgina was capable of simply telling the truth;
and yet if she simply told the truth, it was a wonder that she had not
been simply packed off to Europe.

Benyon's ignorance of her pretexts is a proof that this rather
oddly-mated couple never arrived at perfect intimacy,--in spite of a
fact which remains to be related. He thought of this afterwards, and
thought how strange it was that he had not felt more at liberty to ask
her what she did for him, and how she did it, and how much she suffered
for him. She would probably not have admitted that she suffered at all,
and she had no wish to pose for a martyr. Benyon remembered this, as
I say, in the after years, when he tried to explain to himself certain
things which simply puzzled him; it came back to him with the vision,
already faded, of shabby cross-streets, straggling toward rivers, with
red sunsets, seen through a haze of dust, at the end; a vista through
which the figures of a young man and a girl slowly receded and
disappeared,--strolling side by side, with the relaxed pace of desultory
talk, but more closely linked as they passed into the distance, linked
by its at last appearing safe to them--in the Tenth Avenue--that the
young lady should take his arm. They were always approaching that
inferior thoroughfare; but he could scarcely have told you, in those
days, what else they were approaching. He had nothing in the world but
his pay, and he felt that this was rather a "mean" income to offer Miss
Gressie. Therefore he did n't put it forward; what he offered, instead,
was the expression--crude often, and almost boyishly extravagant--of a
delighted admiration of her beauty, the tenderest tones of his voice,
the softest assurances of his eye and the most insinuating pressure of
her hand at those moments when she consented to place it in his arm.
All this was an eloquence which, if necessary, might have been condensed
into a single sentence; but those few words were scarcely needful, when
it was as plain that he expected--in general--she would marry him, as it
was indefinite that he counted upon her for living on a few hundreds
a year. If she had been a different girl he might have asked her to
wait,--might have talked to her of the coming of better days, of his
prospective promotion, of its being wiser, perhaps, that he should leave
the navy and look about for a more lucrative career. With Georgina it
was difficult to go into such questions; she had no taste whatever for
detail. She was delightful as a woman to love, because when a young man
is in love he discovers that; but she could not be called helpful, for
she never suggested anything. That is, she never had done so till the
day she really proposed--for that was the form it took--to become his
wife without more delay. "Oh, yes, I will marry you;" these words, which
I quoted a little way back, were not so much the answer to something he
had said at the moment, as the light conclusion of a report she had just
made, for the first time, of her actual situation in her father's house.

"I am afraid I shall have to see less of you," she had begun by saying.
"They watch me so much."

"It is very little already," he answered. "What is once or twice a
week?"

"That's easy for you to say. You are your own master, but you don't know
what I go through."

"Do they make it very bad for you, dearest? Do they make scenes?" Benyon
asked.

"No, of course not. Don't you know us enough to know how we behave? No
scenes,--that would be a relief. However, I never make them myself, and
I never will--that's one comfort for you, for the future, if you want to
know. Father and mother keep very quiet, looking at me as if I were one
of the lost, with hard, screwing eyes, like gimlets. To me they scarcely
say anything, but they talk it all over with each other, and try and
decide what is to be done. It's my belief that father has written to the
people in Washington--what do you call it! the Department--to have you
moved away from Brooklyn,--to have you sent to sea."

"I guess that won't do much good. They want me in Brooklyn, they don't
want me at sea."

"Well, they are capable of going to Europe for a year, on purpose to
take me," Geoigina said.

"How can they take you, if you won't go? And if you should go, what good
would it do, if you were only to find me here when you came back, just
the same as you left me?"

"Oh, well!" said Georgina, with her lovely smile, "of course they think
that absence would cure me of--cure me of--" And she paused, with a
certain natural modesty, not saying exactly of what.

"Cure you of what, darling? Say it, please say it," the young man
murmured, drawing her hand surreptitiously into his arm.

"Of my absurd infatuation!"

"And would it, dearest?"

"Yes, very likely. But I don't mean to try. I sha'n't go to Europe,--not
when I don't want to. But it's better I should see less of you,--even
that I should appear--a little--to give you up."

"A little? What do you call a little?"

Georgina said nothing, for a moment. "Well, that, for instance, you
should n't hold my hand quite so tight!" And she disengaged this
conscious member from the pressure of his arm.

"What good will that do?" Benyon asked,

"It will make them think it 's all over,--that we have agreed to part."

"And as we have done nothing of the kind, how will that help us?"

They had stopped at the crossing of a street; a heavy dray was lumbering
slowly past them. Georgina, as she stood there, turned her face to
her lover, and rested her eyes for some moments on his own. At last:
"Nothing will help us; I don't think we are very happy," she answered,
while her strange, ironical, inconsequent smile played about her
beautiful lips.

"I don't understand how you see things. I thought you were going to say
you would marry me!" Benyon rejoined, standing there still, though the
dray had passed.

"Oh, yes, I will marry you!" And she moved away, across the street. That
was the manner in which she had said it, and it was very characteristic
of her. When he saw that she really meant it, he wished they were
somewhere else,--he hardly knew where the proper place would be,--so
that he might take her in his arms. Nevertheless, before they separated
that day he had said to her he hoped she remembered they would be very
poor, reminding her how great a change she would find it She answered
that she should n't mind, and presently she said that if this was all
that prevented them the sooner they were married the better. The next
time he saw her she was quite of the same opinion; but he found, to his
surprise, it was now her conviction that she had better not leave her
father's house. The ceremony should take place secretly, of course; but
they would wait awhile to let their union be known.

"What good will it do us, then?" Raymond Benyon asked.

Georgina colored. "Well, if you don't know, I can't tell you!"

Then it seemed to him that he did know. Yet, at the same time, he could
not see why, once the knot was tied, secrecy should be required. When
he asked what special event they were to wait for, and what should give
them the signal to appear as man and wife, she answered that her parents
would probably forgive her, if they were to discover, not too abruptly,
after six months, that she had taken the great step. Benyon supposed
that she had ceased to care whether they forgave her or not; but he
had already perceived that women are full of inconsistencies. He had
believed her capable of marrying him out of bravado, but the pleasure of
defiance was absent if the marriage was kept to themselves. Now, too, it
appeared that she was not especially anxious to defy,--she was disposed
rather to manage, to cultivate opportunities and reap the fruits of a
waiting game.

"Leave it to me. Leave it to me. You are only a blundering man,"
Georgina said. "I shall know much better than you the right moment for
saying, 'Well, you may as well make the best of it, because we have
already done it!'"

That might very well be, but Benyon did n't quite understand, and he was
awkwardly anxious (for a lover) till it came over him afresh that
there was one thing at any rate in his favor, which was simply that
the loveliest girl he had ever seen was ready to throw herself into his
arms. When he said to her, "There is one thing I hate in this plan of
yours,--that, for ever so few weeks, so few days, your father should
support my wife,"--when he made this homely remark, with a little flush
of sincerity in his face, she gave him a specimen of that unanswerable
laugh of hers, and declared that it would serve Mr. Gressie right for
being so barbarous and so horrid. It was Benyon's view that from the
moment she disobeyed her father, she ought to cease to avail herself
of his protection; but I am bound to add that he was not particularly
surprised at finding this a kind of honor in which her feminine
nature was little versed. To make her his wife first--at the earliest
moment--whenever she would, and trust to fortune, and the new influence
he should have, to give him, as soon thereafter as possible, complete
possession of her,--this rather promptly presented itself to the young
man as the course most worthy of a person of spirit. He would be only
a pedant who would take nothing because he could not get everything at
once. They wandered further than usual this afternoon, and the dusk was
thick by the time he brought her back to her father's door. It was not
his habit to como so near it, but to-day they had so much to talk about
that he actually stood with her for ten minutes at the foot of the
steps. He was keeping her hand in his, and she let it rest there while
she said,--by way of a remark that should sum up all their reasons and
reconcile their differences,--

"There's one great thing it will do, you know; it will make me safe."

"Safe from what?"

"From marrying any one else."

"Ah, my girl, if you were to do that--!" Benyon exclaimed; but he did
n't mention the other branch of the contingency. Instead of this, he
looked up at the blind face of the house--there were only dim lights in
two or three windows, and no apparent eyes--and up and down the empty
street, vague in the friendly twilight; after which he drew Georgina
Gressie to his breast and gave her a long, passionate kiss. Yes,
decidedly, he felt, they had better be married. She had run quickly up
the steps, and while she stood there, with her hand on the bell, she
almost hissed at him, under her breath, "Go away, go away; Amanda's
coming!" Amanda was the parlor-maid, and it was in those terms that the
Twelfth Street Juliet dismissed her Brooklyn Romeo. As he wandered back
into the Fifth Avenue, where the evening air was conscious of a vernal
fragrance from the shrubs in the little precinct of the pretty Gothic
church ornamenting that charming part of the street, he was too absorbed
in the impression of the delightful contact from which the girl had
violently released herself to reflect that the great reason she had
mentioned a moment before was a reason for their marrying, of course,
but not in the least a reason for their not making it public. But, as I
said in the opening lines of this chapter, if he did not understand his
mistress's motives at the end, he cannot be expected to have understood
them at the beginning.



II.

Mrs. Portico, as we know, was always talking about going to Europe;
but she had not yet--I mean a year after the incident I have just
related--put her hand upon a youthful cicerone. Petticoats, of course,
were required; it was necessary that her companion should be of the sex
which sinks most naturally upon benches, in galleries and cathredrals,
and pauses most frequently upon staircases that ascend to celebrated
views. She was a widow, with a good fortune and several sons, all of
whom were in Wall Street, and none of them capable of the relaxed pace
at which she expected to take her foreign tour. They were all in a state
of tension. They went through life standing. She was a short, broad,
high-colored woman, with a loud voice, and superabundant black hair,
arranged in a way peculiar to herself,--with so many combs and bands
that it had the appearance of a national coiffure. There was an
impression in New York, about 1845, that the style was Danish; some one
had said something about having seen it in Schleswig-Holstein.

Mrs. Portico had a bold, humorous, slightly flamboyant look; people who
saw her for the first time received an impression that her late husband
had married the daughter of a barkeeper or the proprietress of a
menageria. Her high, hoarse, good-natured voice seemed to connect her in
some way with public life; it was not pretty enough to suggest that she
might have been an actress. These ideas quickly passed away, however,
even if you were not sufficiently initiated to know--as all the
Grossies, for instance, knew so well--that her origin, so far from
being enveloped in mystery, was almost the sort of thing she might have
boasted of. But in spite of the high pitch of her appearance, she didn't
boast of anything; she was a genial, easy, comical, irreverent person,
with a large charity, a democratic, fraternizing turn of mind, and a
contempt for many worldly standards, which she expressed not in the
least in general axioms (for she had a mortal horror of philosophy), but
in violent ejaculations on particular occasions. She had not a grain of
moral timidity, and she fronted a delicate social problem as sturdily as
she would have barred the way of a gentleman she might have met in her
vestibule with the plate-chest The only thing which prevented her being
a bore in orthodox circles was that she was incapable of discussion. She
never lost her temper, but she lost her vocabulary, and ended quietly
by praying that Heaven would give her an opportunity to _show_ what she
believed.

She was an old friend of Mr. and Mrs. Gressie, who esteemed her for the
antiquity of her lineage and the frequency of her subscriptions, and to
whom she rendered the service of making them feel liberal,--like
people too sure of their own position to be frightened. She was their
indulgence, their dissipation, their point of contact with dangerous
heresies; so long as they continued to see her they could not be accused
of being narrow-minded,--a matter as to which they were perhaps vaguely
conscious of the necessity of taking their precautions. Mrs. Portico
never asked herself whether she liked the Gressies; she had no
disposition for morbid analysis, she accepted transmitted associations,
and she found, somehow, that her acquaintance with these people helped
her to relieve herself. She was always making scenes in their
drawing-room, scenes half indignant, half jocose, like all her
manifestations, to which it must be confessed that they adapted
themselves beautifully. They never "met" her in the language of
controversy; but always collected to watch her, with smiles and
comfortable platitudes, as if they envied her superior richness of
temperament She took an interest in Georgina, who seemed to her
different from the others, with suggestions about her of being likely
not to marry so unrefreshingly as her sisters had done, and of a high,
bold standard of duty. Her sisters had married from duty, but Mrs.
Portico would rather have chopped off one of her large, plump hands than
behave herself so well as that She had, in her daughterless condition, a
certain ideal of a girl that should be beautiful and romantic, with
lustrous eyes, and a little persecuted, so that she, Mrs. Portico, might
get her out of her troubles. She looked to Georgina, to a considerable
degree, to gratify her in this way; but she had really never understood
Geoigina at all She ought to have been shrewd, but she lacked this
refinement, and she never understood anything until after many
disappointments and vexations. It was difficult to startle her, but she
was much startled by a communication that this young lady made her one
fine spring morning. With her florid appearance and her speculative
mind, she was probably the most innocent woman in New York.

Georgina came very early,--earlier even than visits were paid in New
York thirty years ago; and instantly, without any preface, looking her
straight in the face, told Mrs. Portico that she was in great trouble
and must appeal to her for assistance. Georgina had in her aspect no
symptom of distress; she was as fresh and beautiful as the April
day itself; she held up her head and smiled, with a sort of familiar
bravado, looking like a young woman who would naturally be on good terms
with fortune. It was not in the least in the tone of a person making a
confession or relating a misadventure that she presently said: "Well,
you must know, to begin with--of course, it will surprise you--that I 'm
married."

"Married, Georgina Grossie!" Mrs. Portico repeated in her most resonant
tones.

Georgina got up, walked with her majestic step across the room, and
closed the door. Then she stood there, her back pressed against the
mahogany panels, indicating only by the distance she had placed between
herself and her hostess the consciousness of an irregular position. "I
am not Georgina Gressie! I am Georgina Benyon,--and it has become plain,
within a short time, that the natural consequence will take place."

Mrs. Portico was altogether bewildered. "The natural consequence?" she
exclaimed, staring.

"Of one's being married, of course,--I suppose you know what that is. No
one must know anything about it. I want you to take me to Europe."

Mrs. Portico now slowly rose from her place, and approached her visitor,
looking at her from head to foot as she did so, as if to challenge the
truth of her remarkable announcement. She rested her hands on Georgina's
shoulders a moment, gazing into her blooming face, and then she drew her
closer and kissed her. In this way the girl was conducted back to the
sofa, where, in a conversation of extreme intimacy, she opened Mrs.
Portico's eyes wider than they had ever been opened before. She was
Raymond Benyon's wife; they had been married a year, but no one knew
anything about it. She had kept it from every one, and she meant to go
on keeping it. The ceremony had taken place in a little Episcopal church
at Harlem, one Sunday afternoon, after the service. There was no one in
that dusty suburb who knew them; the clergyman, vexed at being detained,
and wanting to go home to tea, had made no trouble; he tied the knot
before they could turn round. It was ridiculous how easy it had been.
Raymond had told him frankly that it must all be under the rose, as the
young lady's family disapproved of what she was doing. But she was of
legal age, and perfectly free; he could see that for himself. The parson
had given a grunt as he looked at her over his spectacles. It was not
very complimentary; it seemed to say that she was indeed no chicken. Of
course she looked old for a girl; but she was not a girl now, was she?
Raymond had certified his own identity as an officer in the United
States Navy (he had papers, besides his uniform, which he wore), and
introduced the clergyman to a friend he had brought with him, who was
also in the navy, a venerable paymaster. It was he who gave Georgina
away, as it were; he was an old, old man, a regular grandmother, and
perfectly safe. He had been married three times himself. After the
ceremony she went back to her father's; but she saw Mr. Benyon the next
day. After that, she saw him--for a little while--pretty often. He
was always begging her to come to him altogether; she must do him that
justice. But she wouldn't--she wouldn't now--perhaps she would n't
ever. She had her reasons, which seemed to her very good, but were very
difficult to explain. She would tell Mrs. Portico in plenty of time what
they were. But that was not the question now, whether they were good or
bad; the question was for her to get away from the country for several
months,--far away from any one who had ever known her. She would like
to go to some little place in Spain or Italy, where she should be out of
the world until everything was over.

Mrs. Portico's heart gave a jump as this serene, handsome, familiar
girl, sitting there with a hand in hers, and pouring forth this
extraordinary tale, spoke of everything being over. There was a glossy
coldness in it, an unnatural lightness, which suggested--poor Mrs.
Portico scarcely knew what. If Georgina was to become a mother, it
was to be supposed she was to remain a mother. She said there was a
beautiful place in Italy--Genoa--of which Raymond had often spoken--and
where he had been more than once,--he admired it so much; could n't
they go there and be quiet for a little while? She was asking a great
favor,--that she knew very well; but if Mrs. Portico would n't take her,
she would find some one who would. They had talked of such a journey
so often; and, certainly, if Mrs. Portico had been willing before, she
ought to be much more willing now. The girl declared that she must do
something,--go somewhere,--keep, in one way or another, her situation
unperceived. There was no use talking to her about telling,--she would
rather die than tell. No doubt it seemed strange, but she knew what she
was about. No one had guessed anything yet,--she had succeeded perfectly
in doing what she wished,--and her father and mother believed--as Mrs.
Portico had believed,--had n't she?--that, any time the last year,
Raymond Beuyon was less to her than he had been before. Well, so he was;
yes, he was. He had gone away--he was off, Heaven knew where--in the
Pacific; she was alone, and now she would remain alone. The family
believed it was all over,--with his going back to his ship, and other
things, and they were right: for it _was_ over, or it would be soon.

Mrs. Portico, by this time, had grown almost afraid of her young friend;
_she_ had so little fear, she had even, as it were, so little shame. If
the good lady had been accustomed to analyzing things a little more,
she would have said she had so little conscience. She looked at Georgina
with dilated eyes,--her visitor was so much the calmer of the two,--and
exclaimed, and murmured, and sunk back, and sprung forward, and wiped
her forehead with her pocket-handkerchief! There were things she didn't
understand; that they should all have been so deceived, that they should
have thought Georgina was giving her lover up (they flattered themselves
she was discouraged, or had grown tired of him), when she was really
only making it impossible she should belong to any one else. And with
this, her inconsequence, her capriciousness, her absence of motive, the
way she contradicted herself, her apparent belief that she could hush up
such a situation forever! There was nothing shameful in having married
poor Mr. Benyon, even in a little church at Harlem, and being given away
by a paymaster. It was much more shameful to be in such a state without
being prepared to make the proper explanations. And she must have
seen very little of her husband; she must have given him up--so far
as meeting him went--almost as soon as she had taken him. Had not Mrs.
Gressie herself told Mrs. Portico (in the preceding October, it must
have been) that there now would be no need of sending Georgina away,
inasmuch as the affair with the little navy man--a project in every way
so unsuitable--had quite blown over?

"After our marriage I saw him less, I saw him a great deal less,"
Georgina explained; but her explanation only appeared to make the
mystery more dense.

"I don't see, in that case, what on earth you married him for!"

"We had to be more careful; I wished to appear to have given him up. Of
course we were really more intimate,--I saw him differently," Georgina
said, smiling.

"I should think so! I can't for the life of me see why you were n't
discovered."

"All I can say is we weren't No doubt it's remarkable. We managed very
well,--that is, I managed,--he did n't want to manage at all. And then,
father and mother are incredibly stupid!"

Mrs. Portico exhaled a comprehensive moan, feeling glad, on the whole,
that she had n't a daughter, while Georgina went on to furnish a few
more details. Raymond Benyon, in the summer, had been ordered from
Brooklyn to Charlestown, near Boston, where, as Mrs. Portico perhaps
knew, there was another navy-yard, in which there was a temporary press
of work, requiring more oversight He had remained there several months,
during which he had written to her urgently to come to him, and during
which, as well, he had received notice that he was to rejoin his ship a
little later. Before doing so he came back to Brooklyn for a few weeks
to wind up his work there, and then she had seen him--well, pretty
often. That was the best time of all the year that had elapsed since
their marriage. It was a wonder at home that nothing had then been
guessed; because she had really been reckless, and Benyon had even tried
to force on a disclosure. But they _were_ stupid, that was very certain.
He had besought her again and again to put an end to their false
position, but she did n't want it any more than she had wanted it
before. They had rather a bad parting; in fact, for a pair of lovers, it
was a very queer parting indeed. He did n't know, now, the thing she had
come to tell Mrs. Portico. She had not written to him. He was on a very
long cruise. It might be two years before he returned to the United
States. "I don't care how long he stays away," Georgina said, very
simply.

"You haven't mentioned why you married him. Perhaps you don't remember,"
Mrs. Portico broke out, with her masculine laugh.

"Oh, yes; I loved him!"

"And you have got over that?"

Georgina hesitated a moment. "Why, no, Mrs. Portico, of course I
haven't; Raymond's a splendid fellow."

"Then why don't you live with him? You don't explain that."

"What would be the use when he's always away? How can one live with a
man that spends half his life in the South Seas? If he was n't in
the navy it would be different; but to go through everything,--I mean
everything that making our marriage known would bring upon me,--the
scolding and the exposure and the ridicule, the scenes at home,--to go
through it all, just for the idea, and yet be alone here, just as I
was before, without my husband after all,--with none of the good of
him,"--and here Georgina looked at her hostess as if with the
certitude that such an enumeration of inconveniences would touch her
effectually,--"really, Mrs. Portico, I am bound to say I don't think
that would be worth while; I haven't the courage for it."

"I never thought you were a coward," said Mrs. Portico.

"Well, I am not,--if you will give me time. I am very patient."

"I never thought that, either."

"Marrying changes one," said Georgina, still smiling.

"It certainly seems to have had a very peculiar effect upon you. Why
don't you make him leave the navy, and arrange your life comfortably,
like every one else?"

"I would n't for the world interfere with his prospects--with his
promotion. That is sure to come for him, and to come quickly, he has
such talents. He is devoted to his profession; it would ruin him to
leave it."

"My dear young woman, you are a wonderful creature!" Mrs. Portico
exclaimed, looking at her companion as if she had been in a glass case.

"So poor Raymond says," Georgina answered, smiling more than ever.

"Certainly, I should have been very sorry to marry a navy man; but if I
had married him, I should stick to him, in the face of all the scoldings
in the universe!"

"I don't know what your parents may have been; I know what mine are,",
Georgina replied, with some dignity. "When he's a captain, we shall come
out of hiding."

"And what shall you do meanwhile? What will you do with your children?
Where will you hide them? What will you do with this one?"

Georgina rested her eyes on her lap for a minute; then, raising them,
she met those of Mrs. Portico. "Somewhere in Europe," she said, in her
sweet tone.

"Georgina Gressie, you 're a monster!" the elder lady cried.

"I know what I am about, and you will help me," the girl went on.

"I will go and tell your father and mother the whole story,--that's what
I will do!"

"I am not in the least afraid of that, not in the least. You will help
me,--I assure you that you will."

"Do you mean I will support the child?"

Georgina broke into a laugh. "I do believe you would, if I were to ask
you! But I won't go so far as that; I have something of my own. All I
want you to do is to be with me."

"At Genoa,--yes, you have got it all fixed! You say Mr. Benyon is so
fond of the place. That's all very well; but how will he like his infant
being deposited there?"

"He won't like it at all. You see I tell you the whole truth," said
Georgina, gently.

"Much obliged; it's a pity you keep it all for me! It is in his power,
then, to make you behave properly. _He_ can publish your marriage if you
won't; and if he does you will have to acknowledge your child."

"Publish, Mrs. Portico? How little you know my Raymond! He will never
break a promise; he will go through fire first."

"And what have you got him to promise?'

"Never to insist on a disclosure against my will; never to claim me
openly as his wife till I think it is time; never to let any one know
what has passed between us if I choose to keep it still a secret--to
keep it for years--to keep it forever. Never to do anything in the
matter himself, but to leave it to me. For this he has given me his
solemn word of honor. And I know what that means!"

Mrs. Portico, on the sofa, fairly bounded.

"You _do_ know what you are about And Mr. Benyon strikes me as more
fantastic even than yourself. I never heard of a man taking such an
imbecile vow. What good can it do him?"

"What good? The good it did him was that, it gratified me. At the
time he took it he would have made any promise under the sun. It was
a condition I exacted just at the very last, before the marriage took
place. There was nothing at that moment he would have refused me;
there was nothing I could n't have made him do. He was in love to that
degree--but I don't want to boast," said Georgina, with quiet grandeur.
"He wanted--he wanted--" she added; but then she paused.

"He does n't seem to have wanted much!" Mrs. Portico cried, in a tone
which made Georgina turn to the window, as if it might have reached the
street.

Her hostess noticed the movement and went on: "Oh, my dear, if I ever do
tell your story, I will tell it so that people will hear it!"

"You never will tell it. What I mean is, that Raymond wanted the
sanction--of the affair at the church--because he saw that I would never
do without it. Therefore, for him, the sooner we had it the better, and,
to hurry it on, he was ready to take any pledge."

"You have got it pat enough," said Mrs. Portico, in homely phrase. "I
don't know what you mean by sanctions, or what _you_ wanted of 'em!"

Georgina got up, holding rather higher than before that beautiful head
which, in spite of the embarrassments of this interview, had not yet
perceptibly abated of its elevation. "Would you have liked me to--to not
marry?"

Mrs. Portico rose also, and, flushed with the agitation of unwonted
knowledge,--it was as if she had discovered a skeleton in her favorite
cupboard,--faced her young friend for a moment. Then her conflicting
sentiments resolved themselves into an abrupt question, uttered,--for
Mrs. Portico,--with much solemnity: "Georgina Gressie, were you really
in love with him?"

The question suddenly dissipated the girl's strange, studied, wilful
coldness; she broke out, with a quick flash of passion,--a passion that,
for the moment, was predominantly anger, "Why else, in Heaven's name,
should I have done what I have done? Why else should I have married him?
What under the sun had I to gain?"

A certain quiver in Georgina's voice, a light in her eye which seemed to
Mrs. Portico more spontaneous, more human, as she uttered these words,
caused them to affect her hostess rather less painfully than anything
she had yet said. She took the girl's hand and emitted indefinite,
admonitory sounds. "Help me, my dear old friend, help me," Georgina
continued, in a low, pleading tone; and in a moment Mrs. Portico saw
that the tears were in her eyes.

"You 're a queer mixture, my child," she exclaimed. "Go straight home to
your own mother, and tell her everything; that is your best help."

"You are kinder than my mother. You must n't judge her by yourself."

"What can she do to you? How can she hurt you? We are not living in
pagan times," said Mrs. Portico, who was seldom so historical "Besides,
you have no reason to speak of your mother--to think of her, even--so!
She would have liked you to marry a man of some property; but she has
always been a good mother to you."

At this rebuke Georgina suddenly kindled again; she was, indeed, as Mrs.
Portico had said, a queer mixture. Conscious, evidently, that she could
not satisfactorily justify her present stiffness, she wheeled round upon
a grievance which absolved her from self-defence. "Why, then, did he
make that promise, if he loved me? No man who really loved me would have
made it,--and no man that was a man, as I understand being a man! He
might have seen that I only did it to test him,--to see if he wanted to
take advantage of being left free himself. It is a proof that he does
n't love me,--not as he ought to have done; and in such a case as that a
woman is n't bound to make sacrifices!"

Mrs. Portico was not a person of a nimble intellect; her mind moved
vigorously, but heavily; yet she sometimes made happy guesses. She saw
that Georgia's emotions were partly real and partly fictitious; that,
as regards this last matter, especially, she was trying to "get up" a
resentment, in order to excuse herself. The pretext was absurd, and the
good lady was struck with its being heartless on the part of her young
visitor to reproach poor Benyon with a concession on which she had
insisted, and which could only be a proof of his devotion, inasmuch as
he left her free while he bound himself. Altogether, Mrs. Portico was
shocked and dismayed at such a want of simplicity in the behavior of a
young person whom she had hitherto believed to be as candid as she was
elegant, and her appreciation of this discovery expressed itself in the
uncompromising remark: "You strike me as a very bad girl, my dear; you
strike me as a very bad girl!"



PART II.



III.

It will doubtless seem to the reader very singular that, in spite of
this reflection, which appeared to sum up her judgment of the matter,
Mrs. Portico should, in the course of a very few days, have consented to
everything that Georgina asked of her. I have thought it well to narrate
at length the first conversation that took place between them, but I
shall not trace further the details of the girl's hard pleading, or
the steps by which--in the face of a hundred robust and salutary
convictions--the loud, kind, sharp, simple, sceptical, credulous woman
took under her protection a damsel whose obstinacy she could not speak
of without getting red with anger. It was the simple fact of Georgina's
personal condition that moved her; this young lady's greatest eloquence
was the seriousness of her predicament She might be bad, and she had a
splendid, careless, insolent, fair-faced way of admitting it, which at
moments, incoherently, inconsistently, and irresistibly, resolved the
harsh confession into tears of weakness; but Mrs. Portico had known her
from her rosiest years, and when Georgina declared that she could n't go
home, that she wished to be with her and not with her mother, that she
could n't expose herself,--how could she?--and that she must remain with
her and her only till the day they should sail, the poor lady was forced
to make that day a reality. She was overmastered, she was cajoled,
she was, to a certain extent, fascinated. She had to accept Georgina's
rigidity (she had none of her own to oppose to it; she was only violent,
she was not continuous), and once she did this, it was plain, after all,
that to take her young friend to Europe was to help her, and to leave
her alone was not to help her. Georgina literally frightened Mrs.
Portico into compliance. She was evidently capable of strange things if
thrown upon her own devices.

So, from one day to another Mrs. Portico announced that she was really
at last about to sail for foreign lands (her doctor having told her that
if she did n't look out she would get too old to enjoy them), and that
she had invited that robust Miss Gressie, who could stand so long on her
feet, to accompany her. There was joy in the house of Gressie at this
announcement, for though the danger was over, it was a great general
advantage to Georgina to go, and the Gressies were always elated at the
prospect of an advantage. There was a danger that she might meet Mr.
Benyon on the other side of the world; but it didn't seem likely that
Mrs. Portico would lend herself to a plot of that kind. If she had taken
it into her head to favor their love affair, she would have done
it frankly, and Georgina would have been married by this time. Her
arrangements were made as quickly as her decision had been--or rather
had appeared--slow; for this concerned those agile young men down town.
Georgina was perpetually at her house; it was understood in Twelfth
Street that she was talking over her future travels with her kind
friend. Talk there was, of course to a considerable degree; but after it
was settled they should start nothing more was said about the motive
of the journey. Nothing was said, that is, till the night before they
sailed; then a few words passed between them. Georgina had already
taken leave of her relations in Twelfth Street, and was to sleep at
Mrs. Portico's in order to go down to the ship at an early hour. The
two ladies were sitting together in the firelight, silent, with the
consciousness of corded luggage, when the elder one suddenly remarked to
her companion that she seemed to be taking a great deal upon herself in
assuming that Raymond Benyon wouldn't force her hand. _He_ might
choose to acknowledge his child, if she didn't; there were promises
and promises, and many people would consider they had been let off when
circumstances were so altered. She would have to reckon with Mr. Benyon
more than she thought.

"I know what I am about," Georgina answered. "There is only one promise,
for him. I don't know what you mean by circumstances being altered."

"Everything seems to me to be changed," poor Mrs. Portico murmured,
rather tragically.

"Well, he is n't, and he never will! I am sure of him,--as sure as that
I sit here. Do you think I would have looked at him if I had n't known
he was a man of his word?"

"You have chosen him well, my dear," said Mrs. Portico, who by this time
was reduced to a kind of bewildered acquiescence.

"Of course I have chosen him well! In such a matter as this he will be
perfectly splendid." Then suddenly, "Perfectly splendid,--that's why I
cared for him!" she repeated, with a flash of incongruous passion.

This seemed to Mrs. Portico audacious to the point of being sublime; but
she had given up trying to understand anything that the girl might
say or do. She understood less and less, after they had disembarked in
England and begun to travel southward; and she understood least of all
when, in the middle of the winter, the event came off with which, in
imagination, she had tried to familiarize herself, but which, when it
occurred, seemed to her beyond measure strange and dreadful. It took
place at Genoa, for Georgina had made up her mind that there would be
more privacy in a big town than in a little; and she wrote to America
that both Mrs. Portico and she had fallen in love with the place and
would spend two or three months there. At that time people in the United
States knew much less than to-day about the comparative attractions
of foreign cities, and it was not thought surprising that absent
New Yorkers should wish to linger in a seaport where they might find
apartments, according to Georgina's report, in a palace painted in
fresco by Vandyke and Titian. Georgina, in her letters, omitted, it will
be seen, no detail that could give color to Mrs. Portico's long stay at
Genoa. In such a palace--where the travellers hired twenty gilded rooms
for the most insignificant sum--a remarkably fine boy came into the
world. Nothing could have been more successful and comfortable than
this transaction. Mrs. Portico was almost appalled at the facility and
felicity of it. She was by this time in a pretty bad way, and--what
had never happened to her before in her life--she suffered from chronic
depression of spirits. She hated to have to lie, and now she was lying
all the time. Everything she wrote home, everything that had been said
or done in connection with their stay in Genoa, was a lie. The way
they remained indoors to avoid meeting chance compatriots was a lie.
Compatriots, in Genoa, at that period, were very rare; but nothing could
exceed the businesslike completeness of Georgina's precautions. Her
nerves, her self-possession, her apparent want of feeling, excited on
Mrs. Portico's part a kind of gloomy suspense; a morbid anxiety to see
how far her companion would go took possession of the excellent woman,
who, a few months before, hated to fix her mind on disagreeable things.

Georgina went very far indeed; she did everything in her power to
dissimulate the origin of her child. The record of its birth was made
under a false name, and he was baptized at the nearest church by a
Catholic priest. A magnificent contadina was brought to light by
the doctor in a village in the hills, and this big, brown, barbarous
creature, who, to do her justice, was full of handsome, familiar smiles
and coarse tenderness, was constituted nurse to Raymond Benyon's son.
She nursed him for a fortnight under the mother's eye, and she was then
sent back to her village with the baby in her arms and sundry gold coin
knotted into a corner of her rude pocket-handkerchief. Mr. Gressie had
given his daughter a liberal letter of credit on a London banker, and
she was able, for the present, to make abundant provision for the little
one. She called Mrs. Portico's attention to the fact that she spent none
of her money on futilities; she kept it all for her small pensioner
in the Genoese hills. Mrs. Portico beheld these strange doings with a
stupefaction that occasionally broke into passionate protest; then she
relapsed into a brooding sense of having now been an accomplice so far
that she must be an accomplice to the end. The two ladies went down to
Rome--Georgina was in wonderful trim--to finish the season, and
here Mrs. Portico became convinced that she intended to abandon her
offspring. She had not driven into the country to see the nursling
before leaving Genoa,--she had said that she could n't bear to see it in
such a place and among such people. Mrs. Portico, it must be added,
had felt the force of this plea,--felt it as regards a plan of her own,
given up after being hotly entertained for a few hours, of devoting a
day, by herself, to a visit to the big contadina. It seemed to her that
if she should see the child in the sordid hands to which Georgina had
consigned it she would become still more of a participant than she was
already. This young woman's blooming hardness, after they got to Borne,
acted upon her like a kind of Medusa-mask. She had seen a horrible
thing, she had been mixed up with it, and her motherly heart had
received a mortal chill. It became more clear to her every day that,
though Georgina would continue to send the infant money in considerable
quantities, she had dispossessed herself of it forever. Together with
this induction a fixed idea settled in her mind,--the project of taking
the baby herself, of making him her own, of arranging that matter with
the father. The countenance she had given Georgina up to this point was
an effective pledge that she would not expose her; but she could adopt
the child without exposing her; she could say that he was a lovely
baby--he was lovely, fortunately--whom she had picked up in a poor
village in Italy,--a village that had been devastated by brigands. She
would pretend--she could pretend; oh, yes, of course, she could pretend!
Everything was imposture now, and she could go on to lie as she had
begun. The falsity of the whole business sickened her; it made her so
yellow that she scarcely knew herself in her glass. None the less, to
rescue the child, even if she had to become falser still, would be in
some measure an atonement for the treachery to which she had already
lent herself. She began to hate Georgina, who had drawn her into such an
atrocious current, and if it had not been for two considerations she
would have insisted on their separating. One was the deference she owed
to Mr. and Mrs. Gressie, who had reposed such a trust in her; the other
was that she must keep hold of the mother till she had got possession of
the infant Meanwhile, in this forced communion, her aversion to her
companion increased; Georgina came to appear to her a creature of brass,
of iron; she was exceedingly afraid of her, and it seemed to her now a
wonder of wonders that she should ever have trusted her enough to come
so far. Georgina showed no consciousness of the change in Mrs. Portico,
though there was, indeed, at present, not even a pretence of confidence
between the two. Miss Gressie--that was another lie, to which Mrs.
Portico had to lend herself--was bent on enjoying Europe, and was
especially delighted with Rome. She certainly had the courage of her
undertaking, and she confessed to Mrs. Portico that she had left Raymond
Benyon, and meant to continue to leave him, in ignorance of what had
taken place at Genoa. There was a certain confidence, it must be said,
in that. He was now in Chinese waters, and she probably should not see
him for years.

Mrs. Portico took counsel with herself, and the result of her cogitation
was, that she wrote to Mr. Benyon that a charming little boy had
been born to him, and that Georgina had put him to nurse with Italian
peasants, but that, if he would kindly consent to it, she, Mrs. Portico,
would bring him up much better than that. She knew not how to address
her letter, and Georgina, even if _she_ should know, which was doubtful,
would never tell her; so she sent the missive to the care of the
Secretary of the Navy, at Washington, with an earnest request that it
might immediately be forwarded. Such was Mrs. Portico's last effort in
this strange business of Georgina's. I relate rather a complicated
fact in a very few words when I say that the poor lady's anxieties,
indignations, repentances, preyed upon her until they fairly broke her
down. Various persons whom she knew in Borne notified her that the air
of the Seven Hills was plainly unfavorable to her, and she had made
up her mind to return to her native land, when she found that, in her
depressed condition, malarial fever had laid its hand upon her. She was
unable to move, and the matter was settled for her in the course of an
illness which, happily, was not prolonged. I have said that she was not
obstinate, and the resistance that she made on the present occasion
was not worthy even of her spasmodic energy. Brain-fever made its
appearance, and she died at the end of three weeks, during which
Georgina's attentions to her patient and protectress had been
unremitting. There were other Americans in Rome who, after this
sad event, extended to the bereaved young lady every comfort and
hospitality. She had no lack of opportunities for returning under a
proper escort to New York. She selected, you may be sure, the best, and
re-entered her father's house, where she took to plain dressing; for she
sent all her pocket-money, with the utmost secrecy, to the little boy in
the Genoese hills.



IV.

"Why should he come if he doesn't like you? He is under no obligation,
and he has his ship to look after. Why should he sit for an hour at a
time, and why should he be so pleasant?"

"Do you think he is very pleasant?" Kate Theory asked, turning away her
face from her sister. It was important that Mildred should not see how
little the expression of that charming countenance corresponded with the
inquiry.

This precaution was useless, however, for in a moment Mildred said, from
the delicately draped couch, where she lay at the open window, "Kate
Theory, don't be affected!"

"Perhaps it's for you he comes. I don't see why he should n't; you are
far more attractive than I, and you have a great deal more to say. How
can he help seeing that you are the cleverest of the clever? You can
talk to him of everything: of the dates of the different eruptions, of
the statues and bronzes in the Museum, which you have never seen, poor
darling! but which you know more about than he does, than any one does.
What was it you began on last time? Oh, yes, you poured forth floods
about Magna Græcia. And then--and then--" But with this Kate Theory
paused; she felt it would n't do to speak the words that had risen to
her lips. That her sister was as beautiful as a saint, and as delicate
and refined as an angel,--she had been on the point of saying something
of that sort But Mildred's beauty and delicacy were the fairness of
mortal disease, and to praise her for her refinement was simply to
intimate that she had the tenuity of a consumptive. So, after she had
checked herself, the younger girl--she was younger only by a year
or two--simply kissed her tenderly, and settled the knot of the lace
handkerchief that was tied over her head. Mildred knew what she had
been going to say,--knew why she had stopped. Mildred knew everything,
without ever leaving her room, or leaving, at least, that little salon
of their own, at the _pension_, which she had made so pretty by simply
lying there, at the window that had the view of the bay and of Vesuvius,
and telling Kate how to arrange and rearrange everything. Since it
began to be plain that Mildred must spend her small remnant of years
altogether in warm climates, the lot of the two sisters had been cast in
the ungarnished hostelries of southern Europe. Their little sitting-room
was sure to be very ugly, and Mildred was never happy till it was
rearranged. Her sister fell to work, as a matter of course, the first
day, and changed the place of all the tables, sofas, chairs, till every
combination had been tried, and the invalid thought at last that there
was a little effect Kate Theory had a taste of her own, and her ideas
were not always the same as her sister's; but she did whatever Mildred
liked, and if the poor girl had told her to put the doormat on the
dining-table, or the clock under the sofa, she would have obeyed without
a murmur. Her own ideas, her personal tastes, had been folded up and put
away, like garments out of season, in drawers and trunks, with camphor
and lavender. They were not, as a general thing, for southern wear,
however indispensable to comfort in the climate of New England, where
poor Mildred had lost her health. Kate Theory, ever since this event,
had lived for her companion, and it was almost an inconvenience for her
to think that she was attractive to Captain Benyon. It was as if she
had shut up her house and was not in a position to entertain. So long as
Mildred should live, her own life was suspended; if there should be
any time afterwards, perhaps she would take it up again; but for the
present, in answer to any knock at her door, she could only call down
from one of her dusty windows that she was not at home. Was it really in
these terms she should have to dismiss Captain Benyon? If Mildred said
it was for her he came she must perhaps take upon herself such a duty;
for, as we have seen, Mildred knew everything, and she must therefore be
right She knew about the statues in the Museum, about the excavations at
Pompeii, about the antique splendor of Magna Græcia. She always had some
instructive volume on the table beside her sofa, and she had strength
enough to hold the book for half an hour at a time. That was about the
only strength she had now. The Neapolitan winters had been remarkably
soft, but after the first month or two she had been obliged to give up
her little walks in the garden. It lay beneath her window like a single
enormous bouquet; as early as May, that year, the flowers were so dense.
None of them, however, had a color so intense as the splendid blue of
the bay, which filled up all the rest of the view. It would have looked
painted, if you had not been able to see the little movement of the
waves. Mildred Theory watched them by the hour, and the breathing crest
of the volcano, on the other side of Naples, and the great sea-vision
of Capri, on the horizon, changing its tint while her eyes rested there,
and wondered what would become of her sister after she was gone. Now
that Percival was married,--he was their only brother, and from one day
to the other was to come down to Naples to show them his new wife, as
yet a complete stranger, or revealed only in the few letters she had
written them during her wedding tour,--now that Percival was to be quite
taken up, poor Kate's situation would be much more grave. Mildred felt
that she should be able to judge better, after she should have seen her
sister-in-law, how much of a home Kate might expect to find with the
pair; but even if Agnes should prove--well, more satisfactory than her
letters, it was a wretched prospect for Kate,--this living as a mere
appendage to happier people. Maiden aunts were very well, but being a
maiden aunt was only a last resource, and Kate's first resources had not
even been tried.

Meanwhile the latter young lady wondered as well,--wondered in what book
Mildred had read that Captain Benyon was in love with her. She admired
him, she thought, but he didn't seem a man that would fall in love with
one like that She could see that he was on his guard; he would n't throw
himself away. He thought too much of himself, or at any rate he took
too good care of himself,--in the manner of a man to whom something had
happened which had given him a lesson. Of course what had happened was
that his heart was buried somewhere,--in some woman's grave; he had
loved some beautiful girl,--much more beautiful, Kate was sure, than
she, who thought herself small and dark,--and the maiden had died, and
his capacity to love had died with her. He loved her memory,--that was
the only thing he would care for now. He was quiet, gentle, clever,
humorous, and very kind in his manner; but if any one save Mildred had
said to her that if he came three times a week to Posilippo, it was for
anything but to pass his time (he had told them he didn't know another
soul in Naples), she would have felt that this was simply the kind of
thing--usually so idiotic--that people always thought it necessary to
say. It was very easy for him to come; he had the big ship's boat, with
nothing else to do; and what could be more delightful than to be rowed
across the bay, under a bright awning, by four brown sailors with
"Louisiana" in blue letters on their immaculate white shirts, and in gilt
letters on their fluttering hat ribbons? The boat came to the steps of
the garden of the _pension_, where the orange-trees hung over and made
vague yellow balls shine back out of the water. Kate Theory knew all
about that, for Captain Benyon had persuaded her to take a turn in the
boat, and if they had only had another lady to go with them, he could
have conveyed her to the ship, and shown her all over it It looked
beautiful, just a little way off, with the American flag hanging loose
in the Italian air. They would have another lady when Agnes should
arrive; then Percival would remain with Mildred while they took this
excursion. Mildred had stayed alone the day she went in the boat;
she had insisted on it, and, of course it was really Mildred who had
persuaded her; though now that Kate came to think of it, Captain Benyon
had, in his quiet, waiting way--he turned out to be waiting long after
you thought he had let a thing pass--said a good deal about the pleasure
it would give him. Of course, everything would give pleasure to a man
who was so bored. He was keeping the "Louisiana" at Naples, week after
week, simply because these were the commodore's orders. There was no
work to be done there, and his time was on his hands; but of course the
commodore, who had gone to Constantinople with the two other ships, had
to be obeyed to the letter, however mysterious his motives. It made no
difference that he was a fantastic, grumbling, arbitrary old commodore;
only a good while afterwards it occurred to Kate Theory that, for a
reserved, correct man, Captain Benyon had given her a considerable
proof of confidence, in speaking to her in these terms of his superior
officer. If he looked at all hot when he arrived at the _pension_,
she offered him a glass of cold "orangeade." Mildred thought this an
unpleasant drink,--she called it messy; but Kate adored it, and Captain
Benyon always accepted it.

The day I speak of, to change the subject, she called her sister's
attention to the extraordinary sharpness of a zigzagging cloud-shadow,
on the tinted slope of Vesuvius; but Mildred only remarked in answer
that she wished her sister would many the captain. It was in this
familiar way that constant meditation led Miss Theory to speak of him;
it shows how constantly she thought of him, for, in general, no one was
more ceremonious than she, and the failure of her health had not caused
her to relax any form that it was possible to keep up. There was a kind
of slim erectness, even in the way she lay on her sofa; and she always
received the doctor as if he were calling for the first time.

"I had better wait till he asks me," Kate Theory said. "Dear Milly, if
I were to do some of the things you wish me to do, I should shock you
very much."

"I wish he would marry you, then. You know there is very little time, if
I wish to see it."

"You will never see it, Mildred. I don't see why you should take so for
granted that I would accept him."

"You will never meet a man who has so few disagreeable qualities. He is
probably not enormously rich. I don't know what is the pay of a captain
in the navy--"

"It's a relief to find there is something you don't know," Kate Theory
broke in.

"But when I am gone," her sister went on calmly, "when I am gone there
will be plenty for both of you."

The younger sister, at this, was silent for a moment; then she
exclaimed, "Mildred, you may be out of health, but I don't see why you
should be dreadful!"

"You know that since we have been leading this life we have seen no
one we liked better," said Milly. When she spoke of the life they were
leading--there was always a soft resignation of regret and contempt in
the allusion--she meant the southern winters, the foreign climates,
the vain experiments, the lonely waitings, the wasted hours, the
interminable rains, the bad food, the pottering, humbugging doctors,
the damp _pensions_, the chance encounters, the fitful apparitions, of
fellow-travellers.

"Why should n't you speak for yourself alone? I am glad _you_ like him,
Mildred."

"If you don't like him, why do you give him orangeade?"

At this inquiry Kate began to laugh, and her sister continued,--

"Of course you are glad I like him, my dear. If I did n't like him, and
you did, it would n't be satisfactory at all. I can imagine nothing more
miserable; I should n't die in any sort of comfort."

Kate Theory usually checked this sort of allusion--she was always too
late--with a kiss; but on this occasion she added that it was a long
time since Mildred had tormented her so much as she had done to-day.
"You will make me hate him," she added.

"Well, that proves you don't already," Milly rejoined; and it happened
that almost at this moment they saw, in the golden afternoon, Captain
Benyon's boat approaching the steps at the end of the garden. He came
that day, and he came two days later, and he came yet once again after
an interval equally brief, before Percival Theory arrived, with Mrs.
Percival, from Borne. He seemed anxious to crowd into these few days, as
he would have said, a good deal of intercourse with the two remarkably
nice girls--or nice women, he hardly knew which to call them--whom in
the course of a long, idle, rather tedious detention at Naples, he had
discovered in the lovely suburb of Posilippo. It was the American consul
who had put him into relation with them; the sisters had had to sign, in
the consul's presence, some law-papers, transmitted to them by the man
of business who looked after their little property in America, and the
kindly functionary, taking advantage of the pretext (Captain Benyon
happened to come into the consulate as he was starting, indulgently, to
wait upon the ladies) to bring together "two parties" who, as he said,
ought to appreciate each other, proposed to his fellow-officer in the
service of the United States that he should go with him as witness
of the little ceremony. He might, of course, take his clerk, but the
captain would do much better; and he represented to Benyon that the Miss
Theorys (singular name, wa' n't it?) suffered--he was sure--from a lack
of society; also that one of them was very sick, that they were
real pleasant and extraordinarily refined, and that the sight of a
compatriot, literally draped, as it were, in the national banner,
would cheer them up more than most anything, and give them a sense of
protection. They had talked to the consul about Benyon's ship, which
they could see from their windows, in the distance, at its anchorage.
They were the only American ladies then at Naples,--the only residents,
at least,--and the captain would n't be doing the polite thing unless he
went to pay them his respects. Benyon felt afresh how little it was in
his line to call upon strange women; he was not in the habit of hunting
up female acquaintance, or of looking out for the soft emotions which
the sex only can inspire. He had his reasons for this abstention, and
he seldom relaxed it; but the consul appealed to him on rather strong
grounds; and he suffered himself to be persuaded. He was far from
regretting, during the first weeks at least, an act which was distinctly
inconsistent with his great rule,--that of never exposing himself to the
chance of seriously caring for an unmarried woman. He had been obliged
to make this rule, and had adhered to it with some success. He was
fond of women, but he was forced to restrict himself to superficial
sentiments. There was no use tumbling into situations from which the
only possible issue was a retreat The step he had taken with regard to
poor Miss Theory and her delightful little sister was an exception on
which at first he could only congratulate himself. That had been a happy
idea of the ruminating old consul; it made Captain Benyon forgive
him his hat, his boots, his shirtfront,--a costume which might be
considered representative, and the effect of which was to make the
observer turn with rapture to a half-naked lazzarone. On either side the
acquaintance had helped the time to pass, and the hours he spent at
the little _pension_ at Posilippo left a sweet--and by no means
innutritive--taste behind.

As the weeks went by his exception had grown to look a good deal like
a rule; but he was able to remind himself that the path of retreat was
always open to him. Moreover, if he should fall in love with the younger
girl there would be no great harm, for Kate Theory was in love only with
her sister, and it would matter very little to her whether he advanced
or retreated. She was very attractive, or rather very attracting.
Small, pale, attentive without rigidity, full of pretty curves and quick
movements, she looked as if the habit of watching and serving had
taken complete possession of her, and was literally a little sister of
charity. Her thick black hair was pushed behind her ears, as if to help
her to listen, and her clear brown eyes had the smile of a person
too full of tact to cany a dull face to a sickbed. She spoke in an
encouraging voice, and had soothing and unselfish habits. She was very
pretty,--producing a cheerful effect of contrasted black and white, and
dressed herself daintily, so that Mildred might have something agreeable
to look at Benyon very soon perceived that there was a fund of good
service in her. Her sister had it all now; but poor Miss Theory was
fading fast, and then what would become of this precious little force?
The answer to such a question that seemed most to the point was
that it was none of his business. He was not sick,--at least not
physically,--and he was not looking out for a nurse. Such a companion
might be a luxury, but was not, as yet, a necessity: The welcome of the
two ladies, at first, had been simple, and he scarcely knew what to call
it but sweet; a bright, gentle friendliness remained the tone of their
greeting. They evidently liked him to come,--they liked to see his big
transatlantic ship hover about those gleaming coasts of exile. The fact
of Miss Mildred being always stretched on her couch--in his successive
visits to foreign waters Benyon had not unlearned (as why should he?)
the pleasant American habit of using the lady's personal name--made
their intimacy seem greater, their differences less; it was as if his
hostesses had taken him into their confidence and he had been--as the
consul would have said--of the same party. Knocking about the salt parts
of the globe, with a few feet square on a rolling frigate for his only
home, the pretty, flower-decked sitting-room of the quiet American
sisters became, more than anything he had hitherto known, his interior.
He had dreamed once of having an interior, but the dream had vanished in
lurid smoke, and no such vision had come to him again. He had a feeling
that the end of this was drawing nigh; he was sure that the advent of
the strange brother, whose wife was certain to be disagreeable, would
make a difference. That is why, as I have said, he came as often as
possible the last week, after he had learned the day on which Percival
Theory would arrive. The limits of the exception had been reached.

He had been new to the young ladies at Posilippo, and there was no
reason why they should say to each other that he was a very different
man from the ingenuous youth who, ten years before, used to wander
with Georgina Gressie down vistas of plank fences brushed over with the
advertisements of quack medicines. It was natural he should be, and we,
who know him, would have found that he had traversed the whole scale of
alteration. There was nothing ingenuous in him now; he had the look of
experience, of having been seasoned and hardened by the years.

His face, his complexion, were the same; still smooth-shaven and slim,
he always passed, at first, for a man scarcely out of his twenties. But
his expression was old, and his talk was older still,--the talk of one
who had seen much of the world (as indeed he had, to-day), and judged
most things for himself, with a humorous scepticism which, whatever
concessions it might make, superficially, for the sake of not offending
(for instance) two remarkably nice American women, of the kind that had
kept most of their illusions, left you with the conviction that the
next minute it would go quickly back to its own standpoint There was a
curious contradiction in him; he struck you as serious, and yet he could
not be said to take things seriously. This was what made Kate Theory
feel so sure that he had lost the object of his affections; and she
said to herself that it must have been under circumstances of peculiar
sadness, for that was, after all, a frequent accident, and was not
usually thought, in itself, a sufficient stroke to make a man a cynic.
This reflection, it may be added, was, on the young lady's part, just
the least bit acrimonious. Captain Benyon was not a cynic in any sense
in which he might have shocked an innocent mind; he kept his cynicism
to himself, and was a very clever, courteous, attentive gentleman. If he
was melancholy, you knew it chiefly by his jokes, for they were usually
at his own expense; and if he was indifferent, it was all the more
to his credit that he should have exerted himself to entertain his
countrywomen.

The last time he called before the arrival of the expected brother, he
found Miss Theory alone, and sitting up, for a wonder, at her window.
Kate had driven into Naples to give orders at the hotel for the
reception of the travellers, who required accommodation more spacious
than the villa at Posilippo (where the two sisters had the best rooms)
could offer them; and the sick girl had taken advantage of her absence
and of the pretext afforded by a day of delicious warmth, to transfer
herself, for the first time in six months, to an arm-chair. She was
practising, as she said, for the long carriage-journey to the north,
where, in a quiet corner they knew of, on the Lago Maggiore, her summer
was to be spent. Eaymond Benyon remarked to her that she had evidently
turned the corner and was going to get well, and this gave her a chance
to say various things that were on her mind. She had many things on her
mind, poor Mildred Theory, so caged and restless, and yet so resigned
and patient as she was; with a clear, quick spirit, in the most perfect
health, ever reaching forward, to the end of its tense little chain,
from her wasted and suffering body; and, in the course of the perfect
summer afternoon, as she sat there, exhilarated by the success of her
effort to get up, and by her comfortable opportunity, she took her
friendly visitor into the confidence of most of her anxieties. She told
him, very promptly and positively, that she was not going to get well
at all, that she had probably not more than ten months yet to live, and
that he would oblige her very much by not forcing her to waste any more
breath in contradicting him on that point. Of course she could n't talk
much; therefore, she wished to say to him only things that he would
not hear from any one else. Such, for instance, was her present
secret--Katie's and hers--the secret of their fearing so much that they
should n't like Percival's wife, who was not from Boston, but from New
York. Naturally, that by itself would be nothing, but from what they
had heard of her set--this subject had been explored by their
correspondents--they were rather nervous, nervous to the point of not
being in the least reassured by the fact that the young lady would bring
Percival a fortune. The fortune was a matter of course, for that was
just what they had heard about Agnes's circle--that the stamp of money
was on all their thoughts and doings. They were very rich and very new
and very splashing, and evidently had very little in common with the two
Miss Theorys, who, moreover, if the truth must be told (and this was a
great secret), did not care much for the letters their sister-in-law had
hitherto addressed them. She had been at a French boarding-school in
New York, and yet (and this was the greatest secret of all) she wrote
to them that she had performed a part of the journey through France in
_diligance!_

Of course, they would see the next day; Miss Mildred was sure she should
know in a moment whether Agnes would like them. She could never have
told him all this if her sister had been there, and Captain Benyon must
promise never to reveal to Kate how she had chattered. Kate thought
always that they must hide everything, and that even if Agnes should be
a dreadful disappointment they must never let any one guess it And yet
Kate was just the one who would suffer, in the coming years, after she
herself had gone. Their brother had been everything to them, but now
it would all be different Of course it was not to be expected that he
should have remained a bachelor for their sake; she only wished he had
waited till she was dead and Kate was married One of these events,
it was true, was much less sure than the other; Kate might never
marry,--much as she wished she would! She was quite morbidly unselfish,
and did n't think she had a right to have anything of her own--not even
a husband. Miss Mildred talked a good while about Kate, and it never
occurred to her that she might bore Captain Benyon. She did n't, in
point of fact; he had none of the trouble of wondering why this poor,
sick, worried lady was trying to push her sister down his throat Their
peculiar situation made everything natural, and the tone she took with
him now seemed only what their pleasant relation for the last three
months led up to. Moreover, he had an excellent reason for not being
bored: the fact, namely, that after all, with regard to her sister,
Miss Mildred appeared to him to keep back more than she uttered. She
didn't tell him the great thing,--she had nothing to say as to what that
charming girl thought of Eaymond Benyon. The effect of their interview,
indeed, was to make him shrink from knowing, and he felt that the right
thing for him would be to get back into his boat, which was waiting at
the garden steps, before Kate Theory should return from Naples. It came
over him, as he sat there, that he was far too interested in knowing
what this young lady thought of him. She might think what she pleased;
it could make no difference to him. The best opinion in the world--if it
looked out at him from her tender eyes--would not make him a whit more
free or more happy. Women of that sort were not for him, women whom one
could not see familiarly without falling in love with them, and whom it
was no use to fall in love with unless one was ready to marry them. The
light of the summer afternoon, and of Miss Mildred's pure spirit, seemed
suddenly to flood the whole subject. He saw that he was in danger, and
he had long since made up his mind that from this particular peril
it was not only necessary but honorable to flee. He took leave of his
hostess before her sister reappeared, and had the courage even to say to
her that he would not come back often after that; they would be so much
occupied by their brother and his wife! As he moved across the glassy
bay, to the rhythm of the oars, he wished either that the sisters would
leave Naples or that his confounded commodore would send for him.

When Kate returned from her errand, ten minutes later, Milly told her
of the captain's visit, and added that she had never seen anything so
sudden as the way he left her. "He would n't wait for you, my dear,
and he said he thought it more than likely that he should never see us
again. It is as if he thought you were going to die too!"

"Is his ship called away?" Kate Theory asked.

"He did n't tell me so; he said we should be so busy with Percival and
Agnes."

"He has got tired of us,--that's all. There's nothing wonderful in that;
I knew he would."

Mildred said nothing for a moment; she was watching her sister, who was
very attentively arranging some flowers. "Yes, of course, we are very
dull, and he is like everybody else."

"I thought you thought he was so wonderful," said Kate, "and so fond of
us."

"So he is; I am surer of that than ever. That's why he went away so
abruptly."

Kate looked at her sister now. "I don't understand."

"Neither do I, darling. But you will, one of these days."

"How if he never comes back?"

"Oh, he will--after a while--when I am gone. Then he will explain; that,
at least, is clear to me."

"My poor precious, as if I cared!" Kate Theory exclaimed, smiling as she
distributed her flowers. She carried them to the window, to place them
near her sister, and here she paused a moment, her eye caught by an
object, far out in the bay, with which she was not unfamiliar. Mildred
noticed its momentary look, and followed its direction.

"It's the captain's gig going back to the ship," Milly said. "It's so
still one can almost hear the oars."

Kate Theory turned away, with a sudden, strange violence, a movement and
exclamation which, the very next minute, as she became conscious of what
she had said,--and, still more, of what she felt--smote her own
heart (as it flushed her face) with surprise, and with the force of a
revelation: "I wish it would sink him to the bottom of the sea!"

Her sister stared, then caught her by the dress, as she passed from her,
drawing her back with a weak hand. "Oh, my dearest, my poorest!" And she
pulled Kate down and down toward her, so that the girl had nothing for
it but to sink on her knees and bury her face in Mildred's lap. If that
ingenious invalid did not know everything now, she knew a great deal.



PART III.



V.

Mrs. Percival proved very pretty. It is more gracious to begin with this
declaration, instead of saying that, in the first place, she proved very
silly. It took a long day to arrive at the end of her silliness, and the
two ladies at Posilippo, even after a week had passed, suspected that
they had only skirted its edges. Kate Theory had not spent half an hour
in her company before she gave a little private sigh of relief; she felt
that a situation which had promised to be embarrassing was now quite
clear, was even of a primitive simplicity. She would spend with her
sister-in-law, in the coming time, one week in the year; that was all
that was mortally possible. It was a blessing that one could see exactly
what she was, for in that way the question settled itself. It would have
been much more tiresome if Agnes had been a little less obvious; then
she would have had to hesitate and consider and weigh one thing against
another. She was pretty and silly, as distinctly as an orange is yellow
and round; and Kate Theory would as soon have thought of looking to her
to give interest to the future as she would have thought of looking to
an orange to impart solidity to the prospect of dinner. Mrs. Percival
travelled in the hope of meeting her American acquaintance, or of making
acquaintance with such Americans as she did meet, and for the purpose
of buying mementos for her relations. She was perpetually adding to her
store of articles in tortoise-shell, in mother-of-pearl, in olive-wood,
in ivory, in filigree, in tartan lacquer, in mosaic; and she had a
collection of Roman scarfs and Venetian beads, which she looked over
exhaustively every night before she went to bed. Her conversation
bore mainly upon the manner in which she intended to dispose of these
accumulations. She was constantly changing about, among each other, the
persons to whom they were respectively to be offered. At Borne one of
the first things she said to her husband after entering the Coliseum had
been: "I guess I will give the ivory work-box to Bessie and the Roman
pearls to Aunt Harriet!" She was always hanging over the travellers'
book at the hotel; she had it brought up to her, with a cup of
chocolate, as soon as she arrived. She searched its pages for the
magical name of New York, and she indulged in infinite conjecture as to
who the people were--the name was sometimes only a partial cue--who had
inscribed it there. What she most missed in Europe, and what she most
enjoyed, were the New Yorkers; when she met them she talked about the
people in their native city who had "moved" and the streets they had
moved to. "Oh, yes, the Drapers are going up town, to Twenty-fourth
Street, and the Vanderdeckens are going to be in Twenty-third Street,
right back of them. My uncle, Henry Piatt, thinks of building round
there." Mrs. Percival Theory was capable of repeating statements like
these thirty times over,--of lingering on them for hours. She talked
largely of herself, of her uncles and aunts, of her clothes--past,
present, and future. These articles, in especial, filled her horizon;
she considered them with a complacency which might have led you to
suppose that she had invented the custom of draping the human form. Her
main point of contact with Naples was the purchase of coral; and all the
while she was there the word "set"--she used it as if every one would
understand--fell with its little, flat, common sound upon the ears of
her sisters-in-law, who had no sets of anything. She cared little for
pictures and mountains; Alps and Apennines were not productive of
New Yorkers, and it was difficult to take an interest in Madonnas who
flourished at periods when, apparently, there were no fashions, or, at
any rate, no trimmings.

I speak here not only of the impression she made upon her husband's
anxious sisters, but of the judgment passed on her (he went so far
as that, though it was not obvious how it mattered to him) by Raymond
Benyon. And this brings me at a jump (I confess it's a very small one)
to the fact that he did, after all, go back to Posilippo. He stayed away
for nine days, and at the end of this time Percival Theory called upon
him, to thank him for the civility he had shown his kinswomen. He went
to this gentleman's hotel, to return his visit, and there he found Miss
Kate, in her brother's sitting-room. She had come in by appointment from
the villa, and was going with the others to seek the royal palace, which
she had not yet had an opportunity to inspect It was proposed (not by
Kate), and presently arranged, that Captain Benyon should go with
them, and he accordingly walked over marble floors for half an hour,
exchanging conscious commonplaces with the woman he loved. For
this truth had rounded itself during those nine days of absence; he
discovered that there was nothing particularly sweet in his life when
once Kate Theory had been excluded from it He had stayed away to keep
himself from falling in love with her; but this expedient was in itself
illuminating, for he perceived that, according to the vulgar adage, he
was locking the stable door after the horse had been stolen. As he
paced the deck of his ship and looked toward Posilippo, his tenderness
crystallized; the thick, smoky flame of a sentiment that knew itself
forbidden and was angry at the knowledge, now danced upon the fuel of
his good resolutions. The latter, it must be said, resisted, declined
to be consumed. He determined that he would see Kate Theory again, for
a time, just sufficient to bid her good-by, and to add a little
explanation. He thought of his explanation very lovingly, but it may
not strike the reader as a happy inspiration. To part from her dryly,
abruptly, without an allusion to what he might have said if everything
had been different,--that would be wisdom, of course, that would be
virtue, that would be the line of a practical man, of a man who kept
himself well in hand. But it would be virtue terribly unrewarded,--it
would be virtue too austere for a person who sometimes flattered himself
that he had taught himself stoicism. The minor luxury tempted him
irresistibly, since the larger--that of happy love--was denied him; the
luxury of letting the girl know that it would not be an accident--oh,
not at all--that they should never meet again. She might easily think it
was, and thinking it was would doubtless do her no harm. But this would
n't give him his pleasure,--the Platonic satisfaction of expressing to
her at the same time his belief that they might have made each other
happy, and the necessity of his renunciation. That, probably, wouldn't
hurt her either, for she had given him no proof whatever that she cared
for him. The nearest approach to it was the way she walked beside him
now, sweet and silent, without the least reference to his not having
been back to the villa. The place was cool and dusky, the blinds were
drawn, to keep out the light and noise, and the little party wandered
through the high saloons, where precious marbles and the gleam of
gilding and satin made reflections in the rich dimness. Here and there
the cicerone, in slippers, with Neapolitan familiarity, threw open a
shutter to show off a picture on a tapestry. He strolled in front with
Percival Theory and his wife, while this lady, drooping silently from
her husband's arm as they passed, felt the stuff of the curtains and
the sofas. When he caught her in these experiments, the cicerone, in
expressive deprecation, clasped his hands and lifted his eyebrows;
whereupon Mrs. Theory exclaimed to her husband, "Oh, bother his old
king!" It was not striking to Captain Benyon why Percival Theory had
married the niece of Mr. Henry Piatt. He was less interesting than his
sisters,--a smooth, cool, correct young man, who frequently took out
a pencil and did a little arithmetic on the back of a letter. He
sometimes, in spite of his correctness, chewed a toothpick, and he
missed the American papers, which he used to ask for in the most
unlikely places. He was a Bostonian converted to New York; a very
special type.

"Is it settled when you leave Naples?" Benyon asked of Kate Theory.

"I think so; on the twenty-fourth. My brother has been very kind; he
has lent us his carriage, which is a large one, so that Mildred can lie
down. He and Agnes will take another; but, of course, we shall travel
together."

"I wish to Heaven I were going with you?" Captain Benyon said. He had
given her the opportunity to respond, but she did not take it; she
merely remarked, with a vague laugh, that of course he couldn't take his
ship over the Apennines. "Yes, there is always my ship," he went on. "I
am afraid that in future it will carry me far away from you."

They were alone in one of the royal apartments; their companions had
passed, in advance of them, into the adjoining room. Benyon and his
fellow-visitor had paused beneath one of the immense chandeliers of
glass, which in the clear, colored gloom (through it one felt the strong
outer light of Italy beating in) suspended its twinkling drops from the
decorated vault. They looked round them confusedly, made shy for the
moment by Benyon's having struck a note more serious than any that had
hitherto souuded between them, looked at the sparse furniture, draped
in white overalls, at the scagiiola floor, in which the great cluster of
crystal pendants seemed to shine again.

"You are master of your ship. Can't you sail it as you like?" Kate
Theory asked, with a smile.

"I am not master of anything. There is not a man in the world less free.
I am a slave. I am a victim."

She looked at him with kind eyes; something in his voice suddenly made
her put away all thought of the defensive airs that a girl, in certain
situations, is expected to assume. She perceived that he wanted to make
her understand something, and now her only wish was to help him to say
it. "You are not happy," she murmured, simply, her voice dying away in a
kind of wonderment at this reality.

The gentle touch of the words--it was as if her hand had stroked his
cheek--seemed to him the sweetest thing he had ever known. "No, I am not
happy, because I am not free. If I were--if I were, I would give up my
ship. I would give up everything, to follow you. I can't explain; that
is part of the hardness of it. I only want you to know it,--that if
certain things were different, if everything was different, I might tell
you that I believe I should have a right to speak to you. Perhaps some
day it will change; but probably then it will be too late. Meanwhile, I
have no right of any kind. I don't want to trouble you, and I don't ask
of you--anything! It is only to have spoken just once. I don't make
you understand, of course. I am afraid I seem to you rather a
brute,--perhaps even a humbug. Don't think of it now,--don't try to
understand. But some day, in the future, remember what I have said to
you, and how we stood here, in this strange old place, alone! Perhaps it
will give you a little pleasure."

Kate Theory began by listening to him with visible eagerness; but in a
moment she turned away her eyes. "I am very sorry for you," she said,
gravely.

"Then you do understand enough?"

"I shall think of what you have said, in the future."

Benyon's lips formed the beginning of a word of tenderness, which he
instantly suppressed; and in a different tone, with a bitter smile and a
sad shake of the head, raising his arms a moment and letting them fall,
he said: "It won't hurt any one, your remembering this!"

"I don't know whom you mean." And the girl, abruptly, began to walk to
the end of the room. He made no attempt to tell her whom he meant, and
they proceeded together in silence till they overtook their companions.

There were several pictures in the neighboring room, and Percival Theory
and his wife had stopped to look at one of them, of which the cicerone
announced the title and the authorship as Benyon came up. It was a
modern portrait of a Bourbon princess, a woman young, fair, handsome,
covered with jewels. Mrs. Percival appeared to be more struck with it
than with anything the palace had yet offered to her sight, while her
sister-in-law walked to the window, which the custodian had opened, to
look out into the garden. Benyon noticed this; he was conscious that
he had given the girl something to reflect upon, and his ears burned a
little as he stood beside Mrs. Percival and looked up, mechanically, at
the royal lady. He already repented a little of what he had said, for,
after all, what was the use? And he hoped the others wouldn't observe
that he had been making love.

"Gracious, Percival! Do you see who she looks like?" Mrs. Theory said to
her husband.

"She looks like a woman who has run up a big bill at Tiffany's," this
gentleman answered.

"She looks like my sister-in-law; the eyes, the mouth, the way the
hair's done,--the whole thing."

"Which do you mean? You have got about a dozen."

"Why, Georgina, of course,--Georgina Roy. She's awfully like."

"Do you call _her_ your sister-in-law?" Percival Theory asked. "You must
want very much to claim her."

"Well, she's handsome enough. You have got to invent some new name,
then. Captain Benyon, what do you call your brother-in-law's second
wife?" Mrs. Percival continued, turning to her neighbor, who still stood
staring at the portrait. At first he had looked without seeing; then
sight, and hearing as well, became quick. They were suddenly peopled
with thrilling recognitions. The Bourbon princess--the eyes, the mouth,
the way the hair was done; these things took on an identity, and the
gaze of the painted face seemed to fasten itself to his own. But who in
the world was Georgina Roy, and what was this talk about sisters-in-law?
He turned to the little lady at his side a countenance unexpectedly
puzzled by the problem she had airily presented to him.

"Your brother-in-law's second wife? That's rather complicated."

"Well, of course, he need n't have married again?" said Mrs. Percival,
with a small sigh.

"Whom did he marry?" asked Benyon, staring.

Percival Theory had turned away. "Oh, if you are going into her
relationships!" he murmured, and joined his sister at the brilliant
window, through which, from the distance, the many-voiced uproar of
Naples came in.

"He married first my sister Dora, and she died five years ago. Then he
married _her_," and Mrs. Percival nodded at the princess.

Benyon's eyes went back to the portrait; he could see what she meant--it
stared out at him. "Her? Georgina?"

"Georgina Gressie. Gracious, do you know her?"

It was very distinct--that answer of Mrs. Percival's, and the question
that followed it as well. But he had the resource of the picture; he
could look at it, seem to take it very seriously, though it danced up
and down before him. He felt that he was turning red, then he felt that
he was turning pale. "The brazen impudence!" That was the way he
could speak to himself now of the woman he had once loved, and whom he
afterwards hated, till this had died out, too. Then the wonder of it was
lost in the quickly growing sense that it would make a difference
for him,--a great difference. Exactly what, he didn't see yet; only a
difference that swelled and swelled as he thought of it, and caught up,
in its expansion, the girl who stood behind him so quietly, looking into
the Italian garden.

The custodian drew Mrs. Percival away to show her another princess,
before Benyon answered her last inquiry. This gave him time to recover
from his first impulse, which had been to answer it with a negative;
he saw in a moment that an admission of his acquaintance with Mrs. Roy
(Mrs. Roy!--it was prodigious!) was necessarily helping him to learn
more. Besides, it needn't be compromising. Very likely Mrs. Percival
would hear one day that he had once wanted to marry her. So, when he
joined his companions a minute later he remarked that he had known Miss
Gressie years before, and had even admired her considerably, but had
lost sight of her entirely in later days. She had been a great beauty,
and it was a wonder that she had not married earlier. Five years ago,
was it? No, it was only two. He had been going to say that in so long a
time it would have been singular he should not have heard of it. He had
been away from New York for ages; but one always heard of marriages and
deaths. This was a proof, though two years was rather long. He led Mrs.
Percival insidiously into a further room, in advance of the others,
to whom the cicerone returned. She was delighted to talk about her
"connections," and she supplied him with every detail He could trust
himself now; his self-possession was complete, or, so far as it was
wanting, the fault was that of a sudden gayety which he could not, on
the spot, have accounted for. Of course it was not very flattering to
them--Mrs. Percivals own people--that poor Dora's husband should have
consoled himself; but men always did it (talk of widows!) and he
had chosen a girl who was--well, very fine-looking, and the sort of
successor to Dora that they needn't be ashamed of. She had been awfully
admired, and no one had understood why she had waited so long to marry.
She had had some affair as a girl,--an engagement to an officer in the
army,--and the man had jilted her, or they had quarrelled, or something
or other. She was almost an old maid,--well, she was thirty, or very
nearly,--but she had done something good now. She was handsomer than
ever, and tremendously stylish. William Roy had one of the biggest
incomes in the city, and he was quite affectionate. He had been
intensely fond of Dora--he often spoke of her still, at least to her
own relations; and her portrait, the last time Mrs. Percival was in his
house (it was at a party, after his marriage to Miss Gressie), was still
in the front parlor.. Perhaps by this time he had had it moved to the
back; but she was sure he would keep it somewhere, anyway. Poor Dora
had had no children; but Georgina was making that all right,--she had
a beautiful boy. Mrs. Percival had what she would have called quite a
pleasant chat with Captain Benyon about Mrs. Roy. Perhaps _he_ was the
officer--she never thought of that? He was sure he had never jilted her?
And he had never quarrelled with a lady? Well, he must be different from
most men.

He certainly had the air of being so, before he parted that afternoon
with Kate Theory. This young lady, at least, was free to think him
wanting in that consistency which is supposed to be a distinctively
masculine virtue. An hour before, he had taken an eternal farewell
of her, and now he was alluding to future meetings, to future visits,
proposing that, with her sister-in-law, she should appoint an early day
for coming to see the "Louisiana." She had supposed she understood him,
but it would appear now that she had not understood him at all. His
manner had changed, too. More and more off his guard, Raymond Benyon
was not aware how much more hopeful an expression it gave him, his
irresistible sense that somehow or other this extraordinary proceeding
of his wife's would set him free. Kate Theory felt rather weary and
mystified,--all the more for knowing that henceforth Captain Benyon's
variations would be the most important thing in life for her.

This officer, on his ship in the bay, lingered very late on deck that
night,--lingered there, indeed, under the warm southern sky, in which
the stars glittered with a hot, red light, until the early dawn began to
show. He smoked cigar after cigar, he walked up and down by the hour, he
was agitated by a thousand reflections, he repeated to himself that
it made a difference,--an immense difference; but the pink light had
deepened in the east before he had discovered in what the diversity
consisted. By that time he saw it clearly,--it consisted in Georgina's
being in his power now, in place of his being in hers. He laughed as he
sat there alone in the darkness at the thought of what she had done. It
had occurred to him more than once that she would do it,--he believed
her capable of anything; but the accomplished fact had a freshness of
comicality. He thought of Mr. William Roy, of his big income, of his
being "quite affectionate," of his blooming son and heir, of his having
found such a worthy successor to poor Mrs. Dora. He wondered whether
Georgina had happened to mention to him that she had a husband living,
but was strongly of the belief that she had not. Why should she, after
all? She had neglected to mention it to so many others. He had thought
he knew her, in so many years,--that he had nothing more to learn about
her; but this ripe stroke revived his sense of her audacity. Of course
it was what she had been waiting for, and if she had not done it sooner
it was because she had hoped he would be lost at sea in one of his long
cruises and relieve her of the necessity of a crime. How she must hate
him to-day for not having been lost, for being alive, for continuing to
put her in the wrong! Much as she hated him, however, his own loathing
was at least a match for hers. She had done him the foulest of
wrongs,--she had ravaged his life. That he should ever detest in this
degree a woman whom he had once loved as he loved her, he would not have
thought possible in his innocent younger years. But he would not have
thought it possible then that a woman should be such a cold-blooded
devil as she had been. His love had perished in his rage,--his blinding,
impotent rage at finding that he had been duped, and measuring his
impotence. When he learned, years before, from Mrs. Portico, what she
had done with her baby, of whose entrance into life she herself had
given him no intimation, he felt that he was face to face with a full
revelation of her nature. Before that it had puzzled him; it had amazed
him; his relations with her were bewildering, stupefying. But when,
after obtaining, with difficulty and delay, a leave of absence from
Government, and betaking himself to Italy to look for the child and
assume possession of it, he had encountered absolute failure and
defeat,--then the case presented itself to him more simply. He perceived
that he had mated himself with a creature who just happened to be
a monster, a human exception altogether. That was what he could n't
pardon--her conduct about the child; never, never, never! To him she
might have done what she chose,--dropped him, pushed him out into
eternal cold, with his hands fast tied,--and he would have accepted
it, excused her almost, admitted that it had been his business to mind
better what he was about. But she had tortured him through the poor
little irrecoverable son whom he had never seen, through the heart
and the vitals that she had not herself, and that he had to have, poor
wretch, for both of them!

All his efforts for years had been to forget these horrible months, and
he had cut himself off from them so that they seemed at times to belong
to the life of another person. But to-night he lived them over again;
he retraced the different gradations of darkness through which he had
passed, from the moment, so soon after his extraordinary marriage, when
it came over him that she already repented, and meant, if possible, to
elude all her obligations. This was the moment when he saw why she had
reserved herself--in the strange vow she extracted from him--an
open door for retreat; the moment, too, when her having had such an
inspiration (in the midst of her momentary good faith, if good faith it
had ever been) struck him as a proof of her essential depravity. What he
had tried to forget came back to him: the child that was not his child
produced for him when he fell upon that squalid nest of peasants in
the Genoese country; and then the confessions, retractations,
contradictions, lies, terrors, threats, and general bottomless, baffling
baseness of every one in the place. The child was gone; that had been
the only definite thing. The woman who had taken it to nurse had a
dozen different stories,--her husband had as many,--and every one in the
village had a hundred more. Georgina had been sending money,--she had
managed, apparently, to send a good deal,--and the whole country seemed
to have been living on it and making merry. At one moment the baby
had died and received a most expensive burial; at another he had been
intrusted (for more healthy air, Santissima Madonna!) to the woman's
cousin in another village. According to a version, which for a day or
two Benyon had inclined to think the least false, he had been taken by
the cousin (for his beauty's sake) to Genoa (when she went for the first
time in her life to the town to see her daughter in service there), and
had been confided for a few hours to a third woman, who was to keep him
while the cousin walked about the streets, but who, having no child of
her own, took such a fancy to him that she refused to give him up, and
a few days later left the place (she was a Pisana) never to be heard
of more. The cousin had forgotten her name,--it had happened six months
before. Benyon spent a year looking up and down Italy for his child,
and inspecting hundreds of swaddled infants, impenetrable candidates for
recognition. Of course he could only get further and further from real
knowledge, and his search was arrested by the conviction that it was
making him mad. He set his teeth and made up his mind (or tried to) that
the baby had died in the hands of its nurse. This was, after all, much
the likeliest supposition, and the woman had maintained it, in the hope
of being rewarded for her candor, quite as often as she had asseverated
that it was still, somewhere, alive, in the hope of being remunerated
for her good news. It may be imagined with what sentiments toward his
wife Benyon had emerged from this episode. To-night his memory went
further back,--back to the beginning and to the days when he had had
to ask himself, with all the crudity of his first surprise, what in the
name of wantonness she had wished to do with him. The answer to
this speculation was so old,--it had dropped so ont of the line of
recurrence,--that it was now almost new again. Moreover, it was only
approximate, for, as I have already said, he could comprehend such
conduct as little at the end as at the beginning. She had found herself
on a slope which her nature forced her to descend to the bottom. She did
him the honor of wishing to enjoy his society, and she did herself
the honor of thinking that their intimacy--however brief--must have a
certain consecration. She felt that, with him, after his promise (he
would have made any promise to lead her on), she was secure,--secure
as she had proved to be, secure as she must think herself now. That
security had helped her to ask herself, after the first flush of passion
was over, and her native, her twice-inherited worldliness had bad time
to open its eyes again, why she should keep faith with a man whose
deficiencies (as a husband before the world--another affair) had been
so scientifically exposed to her by her parents. So she had simply
determined not to keep faith; and her determination, at least, she did
keep.

By the time Benyon turned in he had satisfied himself, as I say,
that Georgina was now in his power; and this seemed to him such an
improvement in his situation that he allowed himself (for the next ten
days) a license which made Kate Theory almost as happy as it made her
sister, though she pretended to understand it far less. Mildred sank to
her rest, or rose to fuller comprehensions, within the year, in the Isle
of Wight, and Captain Benyon, who had never written so many letters as
since they left Naples, sailed westward about the same time as the sweet
survivor. For the "Louisiana" at last was ordered home.



VI.

Certainly, I will see you if you come, and you may appoint any day or
hour you like. I should have seen you with pleasure any time these last
years. Why should we not be friends, as we used to be? Perhaps we shall
be yet. I say "perhaps" only, on purpose,--because your note is rather
vague about your state of mind. Don't come with any idea about making me
nervous or uncomfortable. I am not nervous by nature, thank Heaven,
and I won't--I positively won't (do you hear, dear Captain Benyon?)--be
uncomfortable. I have been so (it served me right) for years and years;
but I am very happy now. To remain so is the very definite intention of,
yours ever,

Georgina Roy.


This was the answer Benyon received to a short letter that he despatched
to Mrs. Roy after his return to America. It was not till he had been
there some weeks that he wrote to her. He had been occupied in various
ways: he had had to look after his ship; he had had to report at
Washington; he had spent a fortnight with his mother at Portsmouth, N.
H.; and he had paid a visit to Kate Theory in Boston. She herself was
paying visits, she was staying with various relatives and friends. She
had more color--it was very delicately rosy--than she had had of old, in
spite of her black dress; and the effect of looking at him seemed to him
to make her eyes grow still prettier. Though sisterless now, she was not
without duties, and Benyon could easily see that life would press hard
on her unless some one should interfere. Every one regarded her as
just the person to do certain things. Every one thought she could do
everything, because she had nothing else to do. She used to read to the
blind, and, more onerously, to the deaf. She looked after other people's
children while the parents attended anti-slavery conventions.

She was coming to New York later to spend a week at her brother's, but
beyond this she didn't know what she should do. Benyon felt it to be
awkward that he should not be able, just now, to tell her; and this
had much to do with his coming to the point, for he accused himself of
having rather hung fire. Coming to the point, for Benyon, meant writing
a note to Mrs. Roy (as he must call her), in which he asked whether she
would see him if he should present himself. The missive was short; it
contained, in addition to what I have noted, little more than the remark
that he had something of importance to say to her. Her reply, which we
have just read, was prompt. Benyon designated an hour, and the next
day rang the doorbell of her big modern house, whose polished windows
seemed to shine defiance at him.

As he stood on the steps, looking up and down the straight vista of the
Fifth Avenue, he perceived that he was trembling a little, that _he_
was nervous, if she was not. He was ashamed of his agitation, and he
addressed himself a very stern reprimand. Afterwards he saw that what
had made him nervous was not any doubt of the goodness of his cause,
but his revived sense (as he drew near her) of his wife's hardness,--her
capacity for insolence. He might only break himself against that, and
the prospect made him feel helpless. She kept him waiting for a long
time after he had been introduced; and as he walked up and down her
drawing-room, an immense, florid, expensive apartment, covered with
blue satin, gilding, mirrors and bad frescos, it came over him as a
certainty that her delay was calculated. She wished to annoy him, to
weary him; she was as ungenerous as she was unscrupulous. It never
occurred to him that in spite of the bold words of her note, she, too,
might be in a tremor, and if any one in their secret bad suggested that
she was afraid to meet him, he would have laughed at this idea. This
was of bad omen for the success of his errand; for it showed that he
recognized the ground of her presumption,--his having the superstition
of old promises. By the time she appeared, he was flushed,--very angry.
She closed the door behind her, and stood there looking at him, with the
width of the room between them.

The first emotion her presence excited was a quick sense of the strange
fact that, after all these years of loneliness, such a magnificent
person should be his wife. For she was magnificent, in the maturity of
her beauty, her head erect, her complexion splendid, her auburn tresses
undimmed, a certain plenitude in her very glance. He saw in a moment
that she wished to seem to him beautiful, she had endeavored to dress
herself to the best effect. Perhaps, after all, it was only for this she
had delayed; she wished to give herself every possible touch. For some
moments they said nothing; they had not stood face to face for nearly
ten years, and they met now as adversaries. No two persons could
possibly be more interested in taking each other's measure. It scarcely
belonged to Georgina, however, to have too much the air of timidity;
and after a moment, satisfied, apparently, that she was not to receive a
broadside, she advanced, slowly rubbing her jewelled hands and smiling.
He wondered why she should smile, what thought was in her mind. His
impressions followed each other with extraordinary quickness of pulse,
and now he saw, in addition to what he had already perceived, that she
was waiting to take her cue,--she had determined on no definite line.
There was nothing definite about her but her courage; the rest would
depend upon him. As for her courage, it seemed to glow in the beauty
which grew greater as she came nearer, with her eyes on his and her
fixed smile; to be expressed in the very perfume that accompanied her
steps. By this time he had got still a further impression, and it was
the strangest of all. She was ready for anything, she was capable of
anything, she wished to surprise him with her beauty, to remind him that
it belonged, after all, at the bottom of everything, to him. She was
ready to bribe him, if bribing should be necessary. She had carried on
an intrigue before she was twenty; it would be more, rather than less,
easy for her, now that she was thirty. All this and more was in her
cold, living eyes, as in the prolonged silence they engaged themselves
with his; but I must not dwell upon it, for reasons extraneous to the
remarkable fact She was a truly amazing creature.

"Raymond!" she said, in a low voice, a voice which might represent
either a vague greeting or an appeal.

He took no heed of the exclamation, but asked her why she had
deliberately kept him waiting,--as if she had not made a fool enough of
him already. She could n't suppose it was for his pleasure he had come
into the house.

She hesitated a moment,--still with her smile. "I must tell you I have
a son,--the dearest little boy. His nurse happened to be engaged for the
moment, and I had to watch him. I am more devoted to him than you might
suppose."

He fell back from her a few steps. "I wonder if you are insane," he
murmured.

"To allude to my child? Why do you ask me such questions then? I tell
you the simple truth. I take every care of this one. I am older and
wiser. The other one was a complete mistake; he had no right to exist."

"Why didn't you kill him then with your own hands, instead of that
torture?"

"Why did n't I kill myself? That question would be more to the point You
are looking wonderfully well," she broke off in another tone; "had n't
we better sit down?"

"I did n't come here for the advantage of conversation," Benyon
answered. And he was going on, but she interrupted him--

"You came to say something dreadful, very likely; though I hoped you
would see it was better not But just tell me this before you begin. Are
you successful, are you happy? It has been so provoking, not knowing
more about you."

There was something in the manner in which this was said that caused him
to break into a loud laugh; whereupon she added,--

"Your laugh is just what it used to be. How it comes back to me! You
_have_ improved in appearance," she went on.

She had seated herself, though he remained standing; and she leaned back
in a low, deep chair, looking up at him, with her arms folded. He stood
near her and over her, as it were, dropping his baffled eyes on her,
with his hand resting on the corner of the chimney-piece. "Has it never
occurred to you that I may deem myself absolved from the promise made
you before I married you?"

"Very often, of course. But I have instantly dismissed the idea. How can
you be 'absolved'? One promises, or one doesn't. I attach no meaning
to that, and neither do you." And she glanced down to the front of her
dress.

Benyon listened, but he went on as if he had not heard her. "What I came
to say to you is this: that I should like your consent to my bringing a
suit for divorce against you."

"A suit for divorce? I never thought of that."

"So that I may marry another woman. I can easily obtain a divorce on the
ground of your desertion."

She stared a moment, then her smile solidified, as it were, and she
looked grave; but he could see that her gravity, with her lifted
eyebrows, was partly assumed. "Ah, you want to marry another woman!" she
exclaimed, slowly, thoughtfully. He said nothing, and she went on: "Why
don't you do as I have done?"

"Because I don't want my children to be--"

Before he could say the words she sprang up, checking him with a cry.
"Don't say it; it is n't necessary! Of course I know what you mean; but
they won't be if no one knows it."

"I should object to knowing it myself; it's enough for me to know it of
yours."

"Of course I have been prepared for your saying that"

"I should hope so!" Benyon exclaimed. "You may be a bigamist if it
suits you, but to me the idea is not attractive. I wish to marry--" and,
hesitating a moment, with his slight stammer, he repeated, "I wish to
marry--"

"Marry, then, and have done with it!" cried Mrs. Roy.

He could already see that he should be able to extract no consent from
her; he felt rather sick. "It's extraordinary to me that you should n't
be more afraid of being found out," he said after a moment's reflection.
"There are two or three possible accidents."

"How do you know how much afraid I am? I have thought of every accident,
in dreadful nights. How do you know what my life is, or what it has been
all these miserable years?"

"You look wasted and worn, certainly."

"Ah, don't compliment me!" Georgina exclaimed. "If I had never known
you--if I had not been through all this--I believe I should have been
handsome. When did you hear of my marriage? Where were you at the time?"

"At Naples, more than six months ago, by a mere chance."

"How strange that it should have taken you so long! Is the lady a
Neapolitan? They don't mind what they do over there."

"I have no information to give you beyond what I just said," Benyon
rejoined. "My life does n't in the least regard you."

"Ah, but it does from the moment I refuse to let you divorce me."

"You refuse?" Benyon said softly.

"Don't look at me that way! You have n't advanced so rapidly as I used
to think you would; you haven't distinguished yourself so much," she
went on, irrelevantly.

"I shall be promoted commodore one of these days," Benyon answered.
"You don't know much about it, for my advancement has already been very
exceptionally rapid." He blushed as soon as the words were out of his
mouth. She gave a light laugh on seeing it; but he took up his hat and
added: "Think over a day or two what I have proposed to you. Think of
the temper in which I ask it."

"The temper?" she stared. "Pray, what have you to do with temper?" And
as he made no reply, smoothing his hat with his glove, she went on:
"Years ago, as much as you please I you had a good right, I don't deny,
and you raved, in your letters, to your heart's content That's why
I would n't see you; I did n't wish to take it full in the face. But
that's all over now, time is a healer, you have cooled off, and by your
own admission you have consoled yourself. Why do you talk to me about
temper! What in the world have I done to you, but let you alone?"

"What do you call this business?" Benyon asked, with his eye flashing
all over the room.

"Ah, excuse me, that doesn't touch you,--it's my affair. I leave you
your liberty, and I can live as I like. If I choose to live in this way,
it may be queer (I admit it is, awfully), but you have nothing to say
to it. If I am willing to take the risk, you may be. If I am willing to
play such an infernal trick upon a confiding gentleman (I will put it as
strongly as you possibly could), I don't see what you have to say to it
except that you are tremendously glad such a woman as that is n't known
to be your wife!" She had been cool and deliberate up to this time; but
with these words her latent agitation broke out "Do you think I have
been happy? Do you think I have enjoyed existence? Do you see me
freezing up into a stark old maid?"

"I wonder you stood out so long!" said Benyon.

"I wonder I did. They were bad years."

"I have no doubt they were!"

"You could do as you pleased," Georgina went on. "You roamed about the
world; you formed charming relations. I am delighted to hear it from
your own lips. Think of my going back to my father's house--that family
vault--and living there, year after year, as Miss Gressie! If you
remember my father and mother--they are round in Twelfth Street, just
the same--you must admit that I paid for my folly!"

"I have never understood you; I don't understand you now," said Benyon.

She looked at him a moment. "I adored you."

"I could damn you with a word!" he went on.

The moment he had spoken she grasped his arm and held up her other hand,
as if she were listening to a sound outside the room. She had evidently
had an inspiration, and she carried it into instant effect She swept
away to the door, flung it open, and passed into the hall, whence her
voice came back to Benyon as she addressed a person who was apparently
her husband. She had heard him enter the house at his habitual hour,
after his long morning at business; the closing of the door of the
vestibule had struck her ear. The parlor was on a level with the hall,
and she greeted him without impediment. She asked him to come in and be
introduced to Captain Benyon, and he responded with due solemnity. She
returned in advance of him, her eyes fixed upon Benyon and lighted
with defiance, her whole face saying to him, vividly: "Here is your
opportunity; I give it to you with my own hands. Break your promise and
betray me if you dare! You say you can damn me with a word: speak the
word and let us see!"

Benyon's heart beat faster, as he felt that it was indeed a chance; but
half his emotion came from the spectacle--magnificent in its way--of her
unparalleled impudence. A sense of all that he had escaped in not
having had to live with her rolled over him like a wave, while he looked
strangely at Mr. Roy, to whom this privilege had been vouchsafed. He saw
in a moment his successor had a constitution that would carry it.
Mr. Roy suggested squareness and solidity; he was a broadbased,
comfortable, polished man, with a surface in which the rank tendrils
of irritation would not easily obtain a foothold. He had a broad,
blank face, a capacious mouth, and a small, light eye, to which, as
he entered, he was engaged in adjusting a double gold-rimmed glass.
He approached Benyon with a prudent, civil, punctual air, as if he
habitually met a good many gentlemen in the course of business, and
though, naturally, this was not that sort of occasion he was not a man
to waste time in preliminaries. Benyon had immediately the impression
of having seen him--or his equivalent--a thousand times before. He was
middle-aged, fresh-colored, whiskered, prosperous, indefinite. Georgina
introduced them to each other. She spoke of Benyon as an old friend whom
she had known long before she had known Mr. Roy, who had been very kind
to her years ago, when she was a girl.

"He's in the navy. He has just come back from a long cruise."

Mr. Hoy shook hands,--Benyon gave him his before he knew it,--said he
was very happy, smiled, looked at Benyon from head to foot, then at
Georgina, then round the room, then back at Benyon again,--at Benyon,
who stood there, without sound or movement, with a dilated eye, and a
pulse quickened to a degree of which Mr. Roy could have little idea.
Georgina made some remark about their sitting down, but William Roy
replied that he had n't time for that,--if Captain Benyon would excuse
him. He should have to go straight into the library, and write a note to
send back to his office, where, as he just remembered, he had neglected
to give, in leaving the place, an important direction.

"You can wait a moment, surely," Georgina said. "Captain Benyon wants so
much to see you."

"Oh, yes, my dear; I can wait a minute, and I can come back."

Benyon saw, accordingly, that he was waiting, and that Georgina was
waiting too. Each was waiting for him to say something, though they were
waiting for different things. Mr. Roy put his hands behind him,
balanced himself on his toes, hoped that Captain Benyon had enjoyed
his cruise,--though he should n't care much for the navy himself,--and
evidently wondered at the stolidity of his wife's visitor. Benyon knew
he was speaking, for he indulged in two or three more observations,
after which he stopped. But his meaning was not present to our hero.
This personage was conscious of only one thing, of his own momentary
power,--of everything that hung on his lips; all the rest swam before
him; there was vagueness in his ears and eyes. Mr. Roy stopped, as I
say, and there was a pause, which seemed to Benyon of tremendous length.
He knew, while it lasted, that Georgina was as conscious as himself that
he felt his opportunity, that he held it there in his hand, weighing it
noiselessly in the palm, and that she braved and scorned, or, rather,
that she enjoyed, the danger. He asked himself whether he should be able
to speak if he were to try, and then he knew that he should not, that
the words would stick in his throat, that he should make sounds that
would dishonor his cause. There was no real choice or decision, then, on
Benyon's part; his silence was after all the same old silence, the fruit
of other hours and places, the stillness to which Georgina listened,
while he felt her eager eyes fairly eat into his face, so that his
cheeks burned with the touch of them. The moments stood before him in
their turn; each one was distinct. "Ah, well," said Mr. Roy, "perhaps I
interrupt,--I 'll just dash off my note" Benyon knew that he was rather
bewildered, that he was making a pretext, that he was leaving the room;
knew presently that Georgina again stood before him alone.

"You are exactly the man I thought you!" she announced, as joyously as
if she had won a bet.

"You are the most horrible woman I can imagine. Good God! if I _had_ had
to live with you!" That is what he said to her in answer.

Even at this she never flushed; she continued to smile in triumph. "He
adores me--but what's that to you? Of course you have all the future,"
she went on; "but I know you as if I had made you!"

Benyon reflected a moment "If he adores you, you are all right. If
our divorce is pronounced, you will be free, and then he can marry you
properly, which he would like ever so much better."

"It's too touching to hear you reason about it. Fancy me telling such a
hideous story--about myself--me--_me_!" And she touched her breasts with
her white fingers.

Benyon gave her a look that was charged with all the sickness of his
helpless rage. "You--_you_!" he repeated, as he turned away from her and
passed through the door which Mr. Roy had left open.

She followed him into the hall, she was close behind him; he moved
before her as she pressed. "There was one more reason," she said. "I
would n't be forbidden. It was my hideous pride. That's what prevents me
now."

"I don't care what it is," Benyon answered, wearily, with his hand on
the knob of the door.

She laid hers on his shoulder; he stood there an instant feeling it,
wishing that her loathsome touch gave him the right to strike her to the
earth,--to strike her so that she should never rise again.

"How clever you are, and intelligent always,--as you used to be; to
feel so perfectly and know so well, without more scenes, that it's
hopeless--my ever consenting! If I have, with you, the shame of having
made you promise, let me at least have the profit!"

His back had been turned to her, but at this he glanced round. "To hear
you talk of shame--!"

"You don't know what I have gone through; but, of course, I don't ask
any pity from you. Only I should like to say something kind to you
before we part I admire you, esteem you: I don't many people! Who will
ever tell her, if you don't? How will she ever know, then? She will be
as safe as I am. You know what that is," said Georgina, smiling.

He had opened the door while she spoke, apparently not heeding her,
thinking only of getting away from her forever. In reality he heard
every word she said, and felt to his marrow the lowered, suggestive
tone in which she made him that last recommendation. Outside, on the
steps--she stood there in the doorway--he gave her his last look. "I
only hope you will die. I shall pray for that!" And he descended into
the street and took his way.

It was after this that his real temptation came. Not the temptation to
return betrayal for betrayal; that passed away even in a few days,
for he simply knew that he couldn't break his promise, that it imposed
itself on him as stubbornly as the color of his eyes or the stammer of
his lips; it had gone forth into the world to live for itself, and was
far beyond his reach or his authority. But the temptation to go through
the form of a marriage with Kate Theory, to let her suppose that he was
as free as herself, and that their children, if they should have any,
would, before the law, have a right to exist,--this attractive idea held
him fast for many weeks, and caused him to pass some haggard nights and
days. It was perfectly possible she might learn his secret, and that,
as no one could either suspect it or have an interest in bringing it to
light, they both might live and die in security and honor. This vision
fascinated him; it was, I say, a real temptation. He thought of other
solutions,--of telling her that he was married (without telling her
to whom), and inducing her to overlook such an accident, and content
herself with a ceremony in which the world would see no flaw. But after
all the contortions of his spirit it remained as clear to him as before
that dishonor was in everything but renunciation. So, at last, he
renounced. He took two steps which attested ths act to himself. He
addressed an urgent request to the Secretary of the Navy that he might,
with as little delay as possible, be despatched on another long voyage;
and he returned to Boston to tell Kate Theory that they must wait. He
could explain so little that, say what he would, he was aware that he
could not make his conduct seem natural, and he saw that the girl
only trusted him,--that she never understood. She trusted without
understanding, and she agreed to wait. When the writer of these pages
last heard of the pair they were waiting still.





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