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“I have read about Mrs. Billy in the newspapers,” said Lucy. “But I never expected to meet her. How in the world has Oliver managed to jump so into the midst of things?”

Oliver undertook to explain; and Montague sat by, smiling to himself over his brother's carefully expurgated account of his own social career. Oliver had evidently laid his plans to take charge of Lucy, and to escort her to a high seat upon the platform of Society.

“But tell me, all this will cost so much money!” Lucy protested. “And I don't want to have to marry one of these terrible millionaires.”

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She turned to Montague abruptly. “Have you got an office somewhere down town?” she asked. “And may I come to-morrow, and see you, and get you to be my business adviser? Old Mr. Holmes is dead, you know. He used to be father's lawyer, and he knew all about my affairs. He never thought it worth while to explain anything to me, so now I don't know very well what I have or what I can do.”

“I will do all I can to help you,” Montague answered.

“And you must be very severe with me,” Lucy continued, “and not let me spend too much money, or make any blunders. That was the way Mr. Holmes used to do, and since he is dead, I have positively been afraid to trust myself about.”

“If I am to play that part for you,” said Montague, laughing, “I am afraid we'll very soon clash with my brother.”

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Montague had very little confidence in his ability to fill the part. As he watched Lucy, he had a sense of tragedy impending. He knew enough to feel sure that Lucy was not rich, according to New York standards of wealth; and he felt that the lure of the city was already upon her. She was dazzled by the vision of automobiles and shops and hotels and theatres, and all the wonders which these held out to her. She had come with all her generous enthusiasms; and she was hungry with a terrible hunger for life.

Montague had been through the mill, and he saw ahead so clearly that it was impossible for him not to try to guide her, and to save her from the worst of her mistakes. Hence arose a strange relationship between them; from the beginning Lucy made him her confidant, and told him all her troubles. To be sure, she never took his advice; she would say, with her pretty laugh, that she did not want him to keep her out of trouble, but only to sympathise with her afterwards. And Montague followed her; he told himself again and again that there was no excuse for Lucy; but all the while he was making excuses.

She went over the next morning to see Oliver's mother, and Mammy Lucy, who had been named after her grandmother. Then in the afternoon she went shopping with Alice—declaring that it was impossible for her to appear anywhere in New York until she had made herself “respectable.” And then in the evening Montague called for her, and took her to Mrs. Billy Alden's Fifth Avenue palace.

On the way he beguiled the time by telling her about the terrible Mrs. Billy and her terrible tongue; and about the war between the great lady and her relatives, the Wallings. “You must not be surprised,” he said, “if she pins you in a corner and asks all about you. Mrs. Billy is a privileged character, and the conventions do not apply to her.”

Montague had come to take the Alden magnificence as a matter of course by this time, but he felt Lucy thrill with excitement at the vision of the Doge's palace, with its black marble carvings and its lackeys in scarlet and gold. Then came Mrs. Billy herself, resplendent in dark purple brocade, with a few ropes of pearls flung about her neck. She was almost tall enough to look over the top of Lucy's head, and she stood away a little so as to look at her comfortably.

“I tried to have Mrs. Winnie here for you,” she said to Montague, as she placed him at her right hand. “But she was not able to come, so you will have to make out with me.”

“Have you many more beauties like that down in Mississippi?” she asked, when they were seated. “If so, I don't see why you came up here.”

“You like her, do you?” he asked.

“I like her looks,” said Mrs. Billy. “Has she got any sense? It is quite impossible to believe that she's a widow. She needs someone to take care of her just the same.”

“I will recommend her to your favour,” said Montague. “I have been telling her about you.”

“What have you told her?” asked Mrs. Billy, serenely,—“that I win too much money at bridge, and drink Scotch at dinner?” Then, seeing Montague blush furiously, she laughed. “I know it is true. I have caught you thinking it half a dozen times.”