As they turned westward, the winter streets were gay with lights and full of people. Sir Wilfrid was presently conscious that among all the handsome and well-dressed women who brushed past them, Mademoiselle Le Breton more than held her own. She reminded him now not so much of her mother as of Marriott Dalrymple. Sir Wilfrid had first seen this woman’s father at Damascus, when Dalrymple, at twenty-six, was beginning the series of Eastern journeys which had made him famous. He remembered the brillance of the youth; the power, physical and mental, which radiated from him, making all things easy; the scorn of mediocrity, the incapacity for subordination.
“I should like you to understand,” said the lady beside him, “that I came to Lady Henry prepared to do my very best.”
“I am sure of that,” said Sir Wilfrid, hastily recalling his thoughts from Damascus. “And you must have had a very difficult task.”
Mademoiselle Le Breton shrugged her shoulders.
“I knew, of course, it must be difficult. And as to the drudgery of it—the dogs, and that kind of thing—nothing of that sort matters to me in the least. But I cannot be humiliated before those who have become my friends, entirely because Lady Henry wished it to be so.”
“Lady Henry at first showed you every confidence?”
“After the first month or two she put everything into my hands—her household, her receptions, her letters, you may almost say her whole social existence. She trusted me with all her secrets.” ("No, no, my dear lady,” thought Sir Wilfrid.) “She let me help her with all her affairs. And, honestly, I did all I could to make her life easy.”
“That I understand from herself.”
“Then why,” cried Mademoiselle Le Breton, turning round to him with sudden passion—“why couldn’t Lady Henry leave things alone? Are devotion, and—and the kind of qualities she wanted, so common? I said to myself that, blind and helpless as she was, she should lose nothing. Not only should her household be well kept, her affairs well managed, but her salon should be as attractive, her Wednesday evenings as brilliant, as ever. The world was deserting her; I helped her to bring it back. She cannot live without social success; yet now she hates me for what I have done. Is it sane—is it reasonable?”
“She feels, I suppose,” said Sir Wilfrid, gravely, “that the success is no longer hers.”
“So she says. But will you please examine that remark? When her guests assemble, can I go to bed and leave her to grapple with them? I have proposed it often, but of course it is impossible. And if I am to be there I must behave, I suppose, like a lady, not like the housemaid. Really, Lady Henry asks too much. In my mother’s little flat in Bruges, with the two or three friends who frequented it, I was brought up in as good society and as good talk as Lady Henry has ever known.”
They were passing an electric lamp, and Sir Wilfrid, looking up, was half thrilled, half repelled by the flashing energy of the face beside him. Was ever such language on the lips of a paid companion before? His sympathy for Lady Henry revived.