As for Mrs. Julian, there was never any doubt as to her conduct. I used to think her—and I was not alone in the opinion—the most perfect combination of gentleness and power, and charity and humour, that I had ever seen. She was a year or so older than Julian—though she did not look it—and a good deal wiser, especially in the ways of the world; and, oddly enough, one of the features that worried us most in the whole situation was how he was ever going to get on, in the worldly sense, without her. He was to suffer not only from the loss of her counsel but from the lack of her indorsement. There are certain women who are a form of insurance to a man; and Anne gave a poise and solidity to Julian’s presentation of himself which his own flibbertigibbet manner made particularly necessary.
I think this view of the matter disturbed Anne herself, though she was too clever to say so; or perhaps too numbed by the utter wreck of her own life to see as clearly as usual the rocks ahead of Julian. It was she, I believe, who first mentioned, who first thought of divorce, and certainly she who arranged the details. Julian, still in the more ideal stage of his emotion, had hardly wakened to the fact that his new love was marriageable. But Mrs. Julian, with the practical eye of her sex, saw in a flash all it might mean to him, at his age, to begin life again with a young beauty who adored him.
She saw this, at least, as soon as she saw anything; for Julian, like most of us when the occasion rises, developed a very pretty power of concealment. He had for a month been seeing Miss Littell every day before any of us knew that he went to see her at all. Certainly Anne, unsuspicious by nature, was unprepared for the revelation.
It took place in the utterly futile, unnecessary way such revelations always do take place. The two poor innocent dears had allowed themselves a single indiscretion; they had gone out together, a few days before Christmas, to buy some small gifts for each other. They had had an adventure with a beggar, an old man wise enough to take advantage of the holiday season, and the no less obvious holiday in the hearts of this pair. He had forced them to listen to some quaint variant of the old story, and they had between them given him all the small change they had left—sixty-seven cents, I think it was.
That evening at dinner Julian, ever so slightly afraid of the long pause, had told Anne the story as if it had happened to him alone. A few days afterward the girl, whom she happened to meet somewhere or other, displaying perhaps a similar nervousness, told the same story. Even the number of cents agreed.
I spoke a moment ago of the extraordinary power of concealment which we all possess; but I should have said the negative power to avoid exciting suspicion. Before that moment, before the finger points at us, the fool can deceive the sage; and afterward not even the sage can deceive the veriest fool.