“There again!” she cried. “I thought, by offering to take your arm, to intimate approbation of your dress and general appearance. I meant it as a compliment.”

“You did? You meant, in short, to express that you are not ashamed to be seen in the street with me; that if Mrs. Cholmondeley should be fondling her lapdog at some window, or Colonel de Hamal picking his teeth in a balcony, and should catch a glimpse of us, you would not quite blush for your companion?”

“Yes,” said she, with that directness which was her best point—which gave an honest plainness to her very fibs when she told them—which was, in short, the salt, the sole preservative ingredient, of a character otherwise not formed to keep.

I delegated the trouble of commenting on this “yes” to my countenance; or rather, my under-lip voluntarily anticipated my tongue. Of course, reverence and solemnity were not the feelings expressed in the look I gave her.

“Scornful, sneering creature!” she went on, as we crossed a great square, and entered the quiet, pleasant park, our nearest way to the Rue Crécy. “Nobody in this world was ever such a Turk to me as you are!”

“You bring it on yourself. Let me alone. Have the sense to be quiet I will let you alone.”

“As if one could let you alone, when you are so peculiar and so mysterious!”

“The mystery and peculiarity being entirely the conception of your own brain—maggots, neither more nor less—be so good as to keep them out of my sight.”

“But are you anybody?” persevered she, pushing her hand, in spite of me, under my arm; and that arm pressed itself with inhospitable closeness against my side, by way of keeping out the intruder.

“Yes,” I said, “I am a rising character—once an old lady’s companion, then a nursery governess, now a school teacher.”

“Do—do tell me who you are. I’ll not repeat it,” she urged, adhering with ludicrous tenacity to the wise notion of an incognito she had got hold of; and she squeezed the arm of which she had now obtained full possession, and coaxed and conjured till I was obliged to pause in the park to laugh. Throughout our walk she rang the most fanciful changes on this theme, proving, by her obstinate credulity, or incredulity, her incapacity to conceive how any person not bolstered up by birth or wealth, not supported by some consciousness of name or connection, could maintain an attitude of reasonable integrity. As for me, it quite sufficed to my mental tranquillity that I was known where it imported that known I should be. The rest sat on me easily: pedigree, social position, and recondite intellectual acquisition, occupied about the same space and place in my interests and thoughts; they were my third-class lodgers, to whom could be assigned only the small sitting-room and the little back bedroom. Even if the dining and drawing- rooms stood empty, I never confessed it to them, as thinking minor accommodations better suited to their circumstances. The world, I soon learned, held a different estimate; and I make no doubt the world is very right in its view, yet believe also that I am not quite wrong in mine.

There are people whom a lowered position degrades morally, to whom loss of connection costs loss of selfrespect. Are not these justified in placing the highest value on that station and association which is their safeguard from debasement? If a man feels that he would become contemptible in his own eyes were it generally known that his ancestry were simple and not gentle, poor and not rich, workers and not capitalists, would it be right severely to blame him for keeping these fatal facts out of sight—for starting, trembling, quailing at the chance which threatens exposure? The longer we live, the more our experience widens; the less prone are we to judge our neighbour’s conduct, to question the world’s wisdom. Wherever an accumulation of small defences is found, whether surrounding the prude’s virtue or the man of the world’s respectability, there, be sure, it is needed.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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