The Duchess was in her morning-room. On the rug, in marked and, as it seemed to her plaintive eyes, brutal contrast with the endless photographs of her babies and women friends which crowded her mantel-piece, stood the Duke, much out of temper. He was a powerfully built man, some twenty years older than his wife, with a dark complexion, enlivened by ruddy cheeks and prominent, red lips. His eyes were of a cold, clear gray; his hair very black, thick, and wiry. An extremely vigorous person, more than adequately aware of his own importance, tanned and seasoned by the life of his class, by the yachting, hunting, and shooting in which his own existence was largely spent, slow in perception, and of a sulky temper—so one might have read him at first sight. But these impressions only took you a certain way in judging the character of the Duchess’s husband.
As to the sulkiness, there could be no question on this particular morning—though, indeed, his ill-humor deserved a more positive and energetic name.
“You have got yourself and me,” he was declaring, “into a most disagreeable and unnecessary scrape. This letter of Lady Henry’s”—he held it up—“is one of the most annoying that I have received for many a day. Lady Henry seems to me perfectly justified. You have been behaving in a quite unwarrantable way. And now you tell me that this woman, who is the cause of it all, of whose conduct I thoroughly and entirely disapprove, is coming to stay here, in my house, whether I like it or not, and you expect me to be civil to her. If you persist, I shall go down to Brackmoor till she is pleased to depart. I won’t countenance the thing at all, and, whatever you may do, I shall apologize to Lady Henry.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” cried the drooping Duchess, plucking up a little spirit. “Nobody meant any harm. Why shouldn’t the old friends go in to ask after her? Hutton—that old butler that has been with Aunt Flora for twenty years—asked us to come in.”
“Then he did what he had no business to do, and he deserves to be dismissed at a day’s notice. Why, Lady Henry tells me that it was a regular party—that the room was all arranged for it by that most audacious young woman—that the servants were ordered about—that it lasted till nearly midnight, and that the noise you all made positively woke Lady Henry out of her sleep. Really, Evelyn, that you should have been mixed up in such an affair is more unpalatable to me than I can find words to describe.” And he paced, fuming, up and down before her.
“Anybody else than Aunt Flora would have laughed,” said the Duchess, defiantly. “And I declare, Freddie, I won’t be scolded in such a tone. Besides, if you only knew—”
She threw back her head and looked at him, her cheeks flushed, her lips quivering with a secret that, once out, would perhaps silence him at once—would, at any rate, as children do when they give a shake to their spillikins, open up a number of new chances in the game.