“Lady Henry seems in better spirits,” he said, bending towards her.
She did not reply for a moment. Her eyes dropped. Then she raised them again, and gently shook her head without a word. The melancholy energy of her expression gave him a moment’s thrill.
“Is it as bad as ever?” he asked her, in a whisper.
“It’s pretty bad. I’ve tried to appease her. I told her about the bazaar. She said she couldn’t spare me, and, of course, I acquiesced. Then, yesterday, the Duchess—hush!”
Lady Henry’s voice rang imperiously through the room.
“Yes, Lady Henry.”
Mademoiselle Le Breton stood up expectant.
“Find me, please, that number of the Revue des Deux Mondes which came in yesterday. I can prove it to you in two minutes,” she said, turning triumphantly to Montresor on her right.
“What’s the matter?” said Sir Wilfrid, joining Lady Henry’s circle, while Mademoiselle Le Breton disappeared into the back drawing-room.
“Oh, nothing,” said Montresor, tranquilly. “Lady Henry thinks she has caught me out in a blunder—about Favre, and the negotiations at Versailles. I dare say she has. I am the most ignorant person alive.”
“Then are the rest of us spooks?” said Sir Wilfrid, smiling, as he seated himself beside his hostess. Montresor, whose information on most subjects was prodigious, laughed and adjusted his eye-glass. These battles royal on a date or a point of fact between him and Lady Henry were not uncommon. Lady Henry was rarely victorious. This time, however, she was confident, and she sat frowning and impatient for the book that didn’t come.
Mademoiselle Le Breton, indeed, returned from the back drawing-room empty-handed; left the room apparently to look elsewhere, and came back still without the book.
“Everything in this house is always in confusion!” said Lady Henry, angrily. “No order, no method anywhere!”
Mademoiselle Julie said nothing. She retreated behind the circle that surrounded Lady Henry. But Montresor jumped up and offered her his chair.
“I wish I had you for a secretary, mademoiselle,” he said, gallantly. “I never before heard Lady Henry ask you for anything you couldn’t find.”
Lady Henry flushed, and, turning abruptly to Bury, began a new topic. Julie quietly refused the seat offered to her, and was retiring to an ottoman in the background when the door was thrown open and the footman announced:
The new-comer drew all eyes as he approached the group surrounding Lady Henry. Montresor put up his glasses and bestowed on him a few moments of scrutiny, during which the Minister’s heavily marked face took on the wary, fighting aspect which his department and the House of Commons knew. The statesman slipped in for an instant between the trifler coming and the trifler gone.