by Henry James
By Henry James
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 whichonce circumstances had made them so intimateit 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
pleasuremorally speakingwith 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'tthere's no use talking, you don'treally 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 happinessit was very briefto 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. Gressieill-advised Mr. Gressieordered the
girl to have nothing to do with him. Georgina was imperial in
thisthat 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 thatwith twenty
cousins growing up around hershe 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 whenand
wherea 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 discouragingexcept on Georgina's pailfrom
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 couplethere was a curious mutual
mistrust in their tendernessbut 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 themin the Tenth
Avenuethat 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 expressioncrude often, and almost boyishly
extravagantof 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 expectedin
generalshe 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 proposedfor
that was the form it tookto 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
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?
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 willthat'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 Washingtonwhat do you call it! the
Departmentto have you moved away from Brooklyn,to have you sent to
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 ofcure 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 appeara littleto 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
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
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 firstat the earliest
momentwhenever 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 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 housethere were only dim lights
in two or three windows, and no apparent eyesand 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.
Mrs. Portico, as we know, was always talking about going to Europe;
but she had not yetI mean a year after the incident I have just
relatedput 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 knowas all
the Grossies, for instance, knew so wellthat 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 withof course, it will surprise
youthat I 'm married.
Married, Georgina Grossie! Mrs. Portico repeated in her most
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
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
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 himfor a
little whilepretty often. He was always begging her to come to him
altogether; she must do him that justice. But she wouldn'tshe
wouldn't nowperhaps 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 suggestedpoor 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 ItalyGenoaof which Raymond had often spokenand
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 believedas 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 awayhe was off,
Heaven knew wherein 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 upso far as meeting him
wentalmost 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 mana project in every way so
unsuitablehad 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
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 himwell, 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 prospectswith 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
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
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
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 secretto
keep it for yearsto 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
degreebut I don't want to boast, said Georgina, with quiet grandeur.
He wantedhe 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
sanctionof the affair at the churchbecause 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
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
toto 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
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 motherto think of her, evenso!
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!
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 whichin the face of a hundred robust and salutary
convictionsthe 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
beenor rather had appearedslow; 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
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
Everything seems to me to be changed, poor Mrs. Portico murmured,
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 palacewhere the travellers hired twenty
gilded rooms for the most insignificant suma 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, andwhat
had never happened to her before in her lifeshe 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
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 RomeGeorgina was in wonderful trimto 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 babyhe was lovely, fortunatelywhom she had picked
up in a poor village in Italy,a village that had been devastated by
brigands. She would pretendshe 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
Gressiethat was another lie, to which Mrs. Portico had to lend
herselfwas 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.
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 thenand 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 girlshe was younger only by a
year or twosimply 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 provewell,
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 thingusually so idioticthat 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 wayhe turned
out to be waiting long after you thought he had let a thing passsaid
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
leadingthere was always a soft resignation of regret and contempt in
the allusionshe 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 allusionshe was always
too latewith 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 girlsor nice women, he hardly knew which to call
themwhom 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?) sufferedhe
was surefrom 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 sweetand by no
means innutritivetaste 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
couchin his successive visits to foreign waters Benyon had not
unlearned (as why should he?) the pleasant American habit of using the
lady's personal namemade their intimacy seem greater, their
differences less; it was as if his hostesses had taken him into their
confidence and he had beenas the consul would have saidof 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
secretKatie's and hersthe 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 setthis subject had been explored by their
correspondentsthey 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 circlethat 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
ownnot 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 worldif it looked out at him from her tender
eyeswould 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
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
So he is; I am surer of that than ever. That's why he went away so
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 willafter a whilewhen 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 feltsmote 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
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
werethe name was sometimes only a partial cuewho 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 clothespast, 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 setshe used it as if every one would
understandfell 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 largerthat of happy lovewas
denied him; the luxury of letting the girl know that it would not be an
accidentoh, not at allthat 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
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 wordsit was as if her hand had stroked his
cheekseemed to him the sweetest thing he had ever known. No, I am
not happy, because I am not free. If I wereif 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 youanything! 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,
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
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 princessthe 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
meantit stared out at him. Her? Georgina?
Georgina Gressie. Gracious, do you know her?
It was very distinctthat 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
themMrs. Percivals own peoplethat poor Dora's husband should have
consoled himself; but men always did it (talk of widows!) and he had
chosen a girl who waswell, 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 Dorahe 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 officershe 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 pardonher 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 herselfin the strange vow she extracted from
himan 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 intimacyhowever briefmust 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 worldanother 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
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.
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'tI 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,
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 colorit was very delicately rosythan 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
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
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
Why didn't you kill him then with your own hands, instead of that
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 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
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
youif I had not been through all thisI believe I should have been
handsome. When did you hear of my marriage? Where were you at the
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 housethat
family vaultand living there, year after year, as Miss Gressie! If
you remember my father and motherthey are round in Twelfth Street,
just the sameyou must admit that I paid for my folly!
I have never understood you; I don't understand you now, said
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 spectaclemagnificent in its
wayof 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 himor his equivalenta 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 mebut 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 storyabout myselfmeme! 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. Youyou! 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
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
hopelessmy 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
stepsshe stood there in the doorwayhe 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