This whole notion of "appearances" has baffled Bill Broadhurst from the start, descending on him like yet another layer of Louisiana humidity. First it suffocated Gary Hart's weeks-old candidacy, and now it's got a stranglehold on Broadhurst's reputation.

When it came to "appearances," the thoroughness of The Miami Herald's stakeout didn't matter, nor did the disputed details of the sleeping arrangements in Washington: All the important facts seemed perfectly clear. Here were the married presidential candidate, 50, and his married buddy, 48, spending a cozy weekend with two young single women -- when their wives were out of town.

Perhaps it was all innocent, as Donna Rice has professed. Maybe she and friend Lynn Armandt just flew up for Armandt's job interview, as Hart, Rice and Broadhurst have all said. Perhaps the good ship Monkey Business, on which the foursome sailed to Bimini a few weeks earlier, just has an unfortunate name. But surely Bill Broadhurst must have seen how bad these things could look?

"Are we saying that every time two women have dinner with two men there is something illicit about it?" Broadhurst asks in reply. "Are we categorizing all women as sluts because they have dinner with two men? What looks bad to me is the characterization of it. That's how I see it."

Still, sitting in the famous Capitol Hill town house where Rice and Armandt purportedly slept, Broadhurst now seems to understand the concept of "appearances" much better.

Yesterday morning, the newly notorious lawyer-lobbyist decided to break his silence and talk about his role in one of the most bizarre weeks in American political history. And he had his wife of 24 years right by his side.

As the Hart campaign went down in flames last week, Broadhurst was portrayed as the front-runner's comrade-in-sleaze. At best, the Washington weekend looked like a double date; at worst, it evoked the booze-and-broads heyday of Louisiana back-room politics, with big-spending lobbyists picking up the tabs for candidates and introducing them to women.

Bill Broadhurst is the man the Hart campaign called "Mr. Deep Pockets."

He is the man who rented the $2,500-a-day, 83-foot yacht on which Gary Hart spent those lost days in March.

He is the man who owns the Last Affair -- the fishing boat docked in Bimini towhich the four friends paid their famous visit.

He is the man who offered Lynn Armandt a job as caretaker for his Washington town house.

Mary Jane Broadhurst is the wife who was out of town during most of last week's pandemonium.

This morning, they are perched at opposite ends of the same taupe satin couch. They don't move for an hour. He is in his pin-striped best. She is dark and slim, attractive in a navy knit coat dress, gray and black pumps and round pearl earrings. Her nails are beautifully manicured red, and her hands are clasped so tightly together they look as if they might snap. She is very southern, very ladylike and very unused to doing interviews.

She says she believes his story. To hear them talk about it, you'd think you were listening to a replay of Gary and Lee Hart.

"My wife is one of the strongest women I have ever known," he had said in an earlier phone conversation. "She has so impressed me this week with her courage."

"This has drawn us closer together," he says now.

"I honestly never suffered an anxious moment over this," she says.

She is asked if she understands the appearances problem, how bad things can easily be made to look. He answers for her.

"Let me go back a second," he says, sipping his black coffee from the blue and white china a maid has deposited on a glass table. "I understand why some people say it looked bad. But from an inside factual standpoint ... If the facts had been known from the beginning, I don't think it would have looked as bad."

He admits the Bimini trip looks "terrible" in retrospect.

"We invited several people to come along. Had it been that 10 instead of two came, and had it been that it went the way it was originally intended -- a ride over to look at the boat -- then it wouldn't have looked as bad. Did it end up looking terrible? Obviously, yes.

"But again, that's something I have to deal with with my family, not with the world."

He says no one has been listening to his version of events, which he says he "begged" The Miami Herald to take and which differs very little from Gary Hart's version.

One minute Broadhurst was cooking steaks and artichokes for a presidential candidate and a couple of female friends. And the next -- well, there was The Herald outside the door, painting him as a supporting actor in The Self-Destruction of Gary Hart.

Mary Jane, meanwhile, was in New York, working on her fledgling consulting business, when she got the news that all hell was about to break loose.

"I have a bridal consulting business, and I have a friend who asked me to join her in New York ... I paint a total picture of planning a wedding," she says, when asked where she was when the bad news arrived. "I have a very strong feeling about the personal touch because I think that's what makes a wedding special -- the little personal things."

"The only good thing that may come out of this is that she'll get good publicity for her business," he says.

But back to how she found out ...

"He called me," she says.

"Sunday, by the time that everything was unraveling, I called and at that time I also called my daughter {in college} and got her over here," he says. "We thought it was better for her to witness it from the inside."

Mary Jane stayed in New York until last Thursday.

"I just didn't pay attention to it all," she says. "It really didn't bother me at all ... I never had an uneasy moment. I really do enjoy merchandising. I was pursuing my own interests."

And Broadhurst was pursuing his, as he tried to hire Armandt, who currently owns the Too Hot bathing suit boutique in Miami. Asked if he still planned on hiring her, he quips: "Well, am I going to be in business?"

And then: "I don't imagine she would want the job now." (It seems doubtful -- Armandt was quoted this week as saying that the Hart incident has "ruined my life.")

But that's not really what Broadhurst wants to talk about today. "Oh, let's not review every little detail," he implores. "It's all been said."

The Broadhursts take care to explain how they pursue their own lives and careers, and that this has made for a healthy marriage.

"I need to be a complete and happy person before I can share, so consequently I busy myself," she says. "I chose to be around pretty things, nice things, beautiful things and happy things."

They are apart, he says, 40 percent of the time, with husband staying in Washington and wife in Louisiana.

"It doesn't bother me," she says, "because I feel the only way a marriage can really work is if people are complete within themselves.

"Coming up through the old standards, where women did stay home and raise their children and allow their husband to do their thing -- those things don't work in today's times," she says. "If I'm going to survive, the thing for me is do what I can do well ... I've grown with Bill in the things he's doing and found a way for us to survive together, and that's why I haven't had an anxious moment."

Little-known nationally before last week, Bill Broadhurst is a well-connected politico in his home state, where he's known as Billy B. He is regarded as "one the most effective political operatives in Louisiana," says NBC correspondent Ken Bode, who calls himself a friend.

Broadhurst has very close ties to controversial Gov. Edwin Edwards. The two men started a law practice together two decades ago in Crowley, La. When Edwards broke off to pursue politics, Broadhurst developed a strong practice, mostly representing oil and gas concerns and the state. He eventually started his own firm -- Broadhurst Brook Mangham & Hardy -- which now has about 65 attorneys with offices in New Orleans, Houston, Lafayette and most recently Washington.

Louisiana has been a major Broadhurst client. In a dispute with Texaco over natural gas royalties, he helped secure a $28 million settlement for the state in 1981. Many in Louisiana believed the settlement was far too low; Broadhurst had sought additional legal fees for his work, but incoming Republican governor David Treen turned him down. When Edwards returned to office in 1984, the state dropped the objection to the payment.

Sources say Broadhurst's law practice may be adversely affected by recent events. Broadhurst confirms that the firm has been planning to split up into three separate practices, but insists the Hart episode had nothing to do with those plans. He also confirms that he expects to give up his partnership; he will be "of counsel" to all three firms.

This probably means that the Washington operation Broadhurst has developed over the past few years will be curtailed.

About the time he decided to try his hand here, he purchased two adjoining town houses on A Street NE, which he elaborately renovated for entertaining. Other lobbyists say he burst dramatically onto their scene; suddenly, they found themselves at Democratic meetings in his living room.

It was around this time that fellow Louisianan and political consultant Raymond Strother introduced Broadhurst to Hart. The two hit it off instantly. Broadhurst became an active Hart fundraiser, bringing in about $40,000 at three events.

Soon, Broadhurst was flying around the country with Hart on various campaign swings. Last year, the Harts were the Broadhursts' guests at the Super Bowl.

"Gary Hart was very smart," says Bode. "They liked each other -- and Broadhurst was key to the Edwards financial network. He was Gary Hart's hole card for Louisiana."

There have been recent news reports that Hart's staff advised the candidate to spend less time with Broadhurst. Newsweek reported in its current issue that Hart senior staffers "succeeded in scratching another Broadhurst party scheduled for mid-May."

"I haven't seen that nor have I felt that from any of the people I have talked to," Broadhurst replies when Hart's staff advice is mentioned. "My experience was that Senator Hart's senior aides enjoyed me being with him because he and I related very well, had a good chemistry. Or have a good chemistry.

"As they say about the jilted person, I may be the last to know -- but until I know from someone's lips, I don't believe it."

Broadhurst says he and Hart talked several times last week; he says it was just to say "Howya doing?"

He says he feels maligned by the press, and would like to talk a little bit about how an "average businessman" got caught up in the whirlwind of a scandal he inadvertently helped create.

"I think it's outrageous," he says, "for them to be judgmental on me for setting up this or that or whatever and to ask my neighbors if I have lewd or indecent parties on a regular basis! That's the insinuation, and it couldn't be further from the truth."

The insinuation has also been, to put it bluntly, that he has been a procurer of women.

"And I say that that's outrageous," he retorts again. "About 90 percent of the time I've spent with Gary Hart has been with Lee Hart also."

Has it occurred to him, he is asked, that Hart might have been set up by another campaign?

The Broadhursts smile, roll their eyes and nod in agreement.

"It could have been anybody," he says. "I had a friend of mine in the media call me up and say how very strange it was that by Monday morning there were photographs of {Donna Rice} with color separations on the wire.

"There's a guy who I don't know and never have met," he says, "Pat Caddell -- don't know if he's ever said this or not, but it's been told to me several times that Pat Caddell has said he'd do anything to ruin Gary Hart."

Caddell, a pollster who is currently teaching in California, denies any connection with last week's events. "The problem is that it is emotionally difficult for them to accept the end," he says. "There is always a human instinct to believe someone did something. I predicted last week I would soon be accused of doing this. I was accused of sending in the marshals to his fundraiser. Listen, they owe me $100,000. I had an interest in having the campaign continue. This is not logical. Anybody involved in another campaign would never do that. It would destroy that campaign."

At the end of the interview, the Broadhursts offer a tour of the house, including a peek at the king-sized brass bed where they say Armandt and Rice slept Friday and Saturday nights. "I want to make sure someone legitimate sees that there are no mirrors and flashing light," he says.

So what now? How does a lobbyist tainted by a sex scandal go about rebuilding?

"That depends a lot on where the media goes from here," he says. "If the legitimate people in the press print the truth about my serious business and my family and my home, then in a short period of time the world moves on to other problems and I go about my business."

Gary Hart, he firmly believes, will recover and run again for president.

"And if he does," Bill Broadhurst says, "I'll be there. But I won't cook any more dinners."