As for Wilfrid Bury, he was dazzled by the young man’s good looks. “‘Young Harry with his beaver up!’” he thought, admiring against his will, as the tall, slim soldier paid his respects to Lady Henry, and, with a smiling word or two to the rest of those present, took his place beside her in the circle.
“Well, have you come for your letters?” said Lady Henry, eying him with a grim favor.
“I think I came—for conversation,” was Warkworth’s laughing reply, as he looked first at his hostess and then at the circle.
“Then I fear you won’t get it,” said Lady Henry, throwing herself back in her chair. “Mr. Montresor can do nothing but quarrel and contradict.”
Montresor lifted his hands in wonder.
“Had I been AEsop,” he said, slyly, “I would have added another touch to a certain tale. Observe, please!—even after the Lamb has been devoured he is still the object of calumny on the part of the Wolf! Well, well! Mademoiselle, come and console me. Tell me what new follies the Duchess has on foot.”
And, pushing his chair back till he found himself on a level with Julie Le Breton, the great man plunged into a lively conversation with her. Sir Wilfrid, Warkworth, and a few other habitues endeavored meanwhile to amuse Lady Henry. But it was not easy. Her brow was lowering, her talk forced. Throughout, Sir Wilfrid perceived in her a strained attention directed towards the conversation on the other side of the room. She could neither see it nor hear it, but she was jealously conscious of it. As for Montresor, there was no doubt an element of malice in the court he was now paying to Mademoiselle Julie. Lady Henry had been thorny over much during the afternoon; even for her oldest friend she had passed bounds; he desired perhaps to bring it home to her.
Meanwhile, Julie Le Breton, after a first moment of reserve and depression, had been beguiled, carried away. She yielded to her own instincts, her own gifts, till Montresor, drawn on and drawn out, found himself floating on a stream of talk, which Julie led first into one channel and then into another, as she pleased; and all to the flattery and glorification of the talker. The famous Minister had come to visit Lady Henry, as he had done for many Sundays in many years; but it was not Lady Henry, but her companion, to whom his homage of the afternoon was paid, who gave him his moment of enjoyment—the moment that would bring him there again. Lady Henry’s fault, no doubt; but Wilfrid Bury, uneasily aware every now and then of the dumb tumult that was raging in the breast of the haughty being beside him, felt the pathos of this slow discrowning, and was inclined, once more, rather to be sorry for the older woman than to admire the younger.
At last Lady Henry could bear it no longer.
“Mademoiselle, be so good as to return his father’s letters to Captain Warkworth,” she said, abruptly, in her coldest voice, just as Montresor, dropping his—head thrown back and knees crossed—was about to pour into the ears of his companion the whole confidential history of his appointment to office three years before.