“I don’t deny it’s—risky,” said the Duchess, her hands on her lap, her eyes dreamily following the streets.
“Risky!” repeated the Duke, shrugging his shoulders. “Well, I don’t want to speak harshly of your friends, Evelyn, but Miss Le Breton—”
“Mrs. Delafield,” said the Duchess.
“Mrs. Delafield, then”—the name was evidently a difficult mouthful—“seems to me a most undisciplined and unmanageable woman. Why does she look like a tragedy queen at her marriage? Jacob is twice too good for her, and she’ll lead him a life. And how you can reconcile it to your conscience to have misled me so completely as you have in this matter, I really can’t imagine.”
“Misled you?” said Evelyn.
Her innocence was really a little hard to bear, and not even the beauty of her blue eyes, now happily restored to him, could appease the mentor at her side.
“You led me plainly to believe,” he repeated, with emphasis, “that if I helped her through the crisis of leaving Lady Henry she would relinquish her designs on Delafield.”
“Did I?” said the Duchess. And putting her hands over her face she laughed rather hysterically. “But that wasn’t why you lent her the house, Freddie.”
“You coaxed me into it, of course,” said the Duke.
“No, it was Julie herself got the better of you,” said Evelyn, triumphantly. “You felt her spell, just as we all do, and wanted to do something for her.”
“Nothing of the sort,” said the Duke, determined to admit no recollection to his disadvantage. “It was your doing entirely.”
The Duchess thought it discreet to let him at least have the triumph of her silence, smiling, and a little sarcastic though it were.
“And of all the undeserved good fortune!” he resumed, feeling in his irritable disapproval that the moral order of the universe had been somehow trifled with. “In the first place, she is the daughter of people who flagrantly misconducted themselves—that apparently does her no harm. Then she enters the service of Lady Henry in a confidential position, and uses it to work havoc in Lady Henry’s social relations. That, I am glad to say, has done her a little harm, although not nearly as much as she deserves. And finally she has a most discreditable flirtation with a man already engaged—to her own cousin, please observe!—and pulls wires for him all over the place in the most objectionable and unwomanly manner.”
“As if everybody didn’t do that!” cried the Duchess. “You know, Freddie, that your own mother always used to boast that she had made six bishops and saved the Establishment.”
The Duke took no notice.
“And yet there she is! Lord Lackington has left her a fortune—a competence, anyway. She marries Jacob Delafield—rather a fool, I consider, but all the same one of the best fellows in the world. And at any time, to judge from what one hears of the health both of Chudleigh and his boy, she may find herself Duchess of Chudleigh.”