Sir Wilfrid could not think of it without a touch of excitement.
“Was she reminding me of Gherardtsloo?” he said to himself. “Upon my word, I must find some means of conversation with her, in spite of Lady Henry.”
He walked towards Bond Street, pondering the situation of the two women—the impotent jealousy and rancor with which Lady Henry was devoured, the domestic slavery contrasted with the social power of Mademoiselle Le Breton. Through the obscurity and difficulty of circumstance, how marked was the conscience of race in her, and, as he also thought, of high intelligence! The old man was deeply interested. He felt a certain indulgent pity for his lifelong friend Lady Henry; but he could not get Mademoiselle Julie out of his head.
“Why on earth does she stay where she is?”
He had asked the same question of Lady Henry, who had contemptuously replied:
“Because she likes the flesh-pots, and won’t give them up. No doubt she doesn’t find my manners agreeable; but she knows very well that she wouldn’t get the chances she gets in my house anywhere else. I give her a foothold. She’ll not risk it for a few sour speeches on my part. I may say what I like to her—and I intend to say what I like! Besides, you watch her, and see whether she’s made for poverty. She takes to luxury as a fish to water. What would she be if she left me? A little visiting teacher, perhaps, in a Bloomsbury lodging. That’s not her line at all.”
“But somebody else might employ her as you do?” Sir Wilfrid had suggested.
“You forget I should be asked for a character,” said Lady Henry. “Oh, I admit there are possibilities—on her side. That silly goose, Evelyn Crowborough, would have taken her in, but I had a few words with Crowborough, and he put his foot down. He told his wife he didn’t want an intriguing foreigner to live with them. No; for the present we are chained to each other. I can’t get rid of her, and she doesn’t want to get rid of me. Of course, things might become intolerable for either of us. But at present self-interest on both sides keeps us going. Oh, don’t tell me the thing is odious! I know it. Every day she stays in the house I become a more abominable old woman.”
A more exacting one, certainly. Sir Wilfrid thought with pity and amusement of the commissions with which Mademoiselle Julie had been loaded. “She earns her money, any way,” he thought. “Those things will take her a hard afternoon’s work. But, bless my soul!”—he paused in his walk—“what about that engagement to Duchess Evelyn that I heard her make? Not a word, by-the-way, to Lady Henry about it! Oh, this is amusing!”
He went meditatively on his way, and presently turned into his club to write some letters. But at five o’clock he emerged, and told a hansom to drive him to Grosvenor Square. He alighted at the great red-brick mansion of the Crowboroughs, and asked for the Duchess. The magnificent person presiding over the hall, an old family retainer, remembered him, and made no difficulty about admitting him.