“‘Very well,’ I said; ’it isn’t your fault. All the better if you are well born—I am not a person of prejudices. But understand, if you come to me, there must be no question of worrying your relations. There are scores of them in London. I know them all, or nearly all, and of course you’ll come across them. But unless you can hold your tongue, don’t come to me. Julie Dalrymple has disappeared, and I’ll be no party to her resurrection. If Julie Le Breton becomes an inmate of my house, there shall be no raking up of scandals much better left in their graves. If you haven’t got a proper parentage, consistently thought out, we must invent one—’”
“I hope I may some day be favored with it,” said Sir Wilfrid.
Lady Henry laughed uncomfortably.
“Oh, I’ve had to tell lies,” she said, “plenty of them.”
“What! It was you that told the lies?”
Lady Henry’s look flashed.
“The open and honest ones,” she said, defiantly.
“Well,” said Sir Wilfrid, regretfully, “some sort were indispensable. So she came. How long ago?”
“Three years. For the first half of that time I did nothing but plume myself on my good fortune. I said to myself that if I had searched Europe through I could not have fared better. My household, my friends, my daily ways, she fitted into them all to perfection. I told people that I had discovered her through a Belgian acquaintance. Every one was amazed at her manners, her intelligence. She was perfectly modest, perfectly well behaved. The old Duke—he died six months after she came to me—was charmed with her. Montresor, Meredith, Lord Robert, all my habitues congratulated me. ’Such cultivation, such charm, such savoir-faire! Where on earth did you pick up such a treasure? What are her antecedents?’ etc., etc. So then, of course—”
“I hope no more than were absolutely necessary!” said Sir Wilfrid, hastily.
“I had to do it well,” said Lady Henry, with decision; “I can’t say I didn’t. That state of things lasted, more or less, about a year and a half. And by now, where do you think it has all worked out?”
“You gave me a few hints last night,” said Sir Wilfrid, hesitating.
Lady Henry pushed her chair back from the table. Her hands trembled on her stick.
“Hints!” she said, scornfully. “I’m long past hints. I told you last night—and I repeat—that woman has stripped me of all my friends! She has intrigued with them all in turn against me. She has done the same even with my servants. I can trust none of them where she is concerned. I am alone in my own house. My blindness makes me her tool, her plaything. As for my salon, as you call it, it has become hers. I am a mere courtesy-figurehead—her chaperon, in fact. I provide the house, the footmen, the champagne; the guests are hers. And she has done this by constant intrigue and deception—by flattery—by lying!”