It was a somewhat depressed company that found its straggling way into the Duchess’s drawing-room that evening between tea and dinner.
Miss Le Breton did not appear at tea. The Duchess believed that, after her inspection of the house in Heribert Street, Julie had gone on to Bloomsbury to find Madame Bornier. Jacob Delafield was there, not much inclined to talk, even as Julie’s champion. And, one by one, Lady Henry’s oldest habitues, the “criminals” of the night before, dropped in.
Dr. Meredith arrived with a portfolio containing what seemed to be proof-sheets.
“Miss Le Breton not here?” he said, as he looked round him.
The Duchess explained that she might be in presently. The great man sat down, his portfolio carefully placed beside him, and drank his tea under what seemed a cloud of preoccupation.
Then appeared Lord Lackington and Sir Wilfrid Bury. Montresor had sent a note from the House to say that if the debate would let him he would dash up to Grosvenor Square for some dinner, but could only stay an hour.
“Well, here we are again—the worst of us!” said the Duchess, presently, with a sigh of bravado, as she handed Lord Lackington his cup of tea and sank back in her chair to enjoy her own.
“Speak for yourselves, please,” said Sir Wilfrid’s soft, smiling voice, as he daintily relieved his mustache of some of the Duchess’s cream.
“Oh, that’s all very well,” said the Duchess, throwing up a hand in mock annoyance; “but why weren’t you there?”
“I knew better.”
“The people who keep out of scrapes are not the people one loves,” was the Duchess’s peevish reply.
“Let him alone,” said Lord Lackington, coming for some more tea-cake. “He will get his deserts. Next Wednesday he will be tete-a-tete with Lady Henry.”
“Lady Henry is going to Torquay to-morrow,” said Sir Wilfrid, quietly.
There was a general chorus of interrogation, amid which the Duchess made herself heard.
“Then you’ve seen her?”
“To-day, for twenty minutes—all she was able to bear. She was ill yesterday. She is naturally worse to-day. As to her state of mind—”
The circle of faces drew eagerly nearer.
“Oh, it’s war,” said Sir Wilfrid, nodding—“undoubtedly war—upon the Cave—if there is a Cave.”
“Well, poor things, we must have something to shelter us!” cried the Duchess. “The Cave is being aired to-day.”
The interrogating faces turned her way. The Duchess explained the situation, and drew the house in Heribert Street—with its Cyclops-eye of a dormer window, and its Ionian columns—on the tea-cloth with her nail.
“Ah,” said Sir Wilfrid, crossing his knees reflectively. “Ah, that makes it serious.”
“Julie must have a place to live in,” said the Duchess, stiffly.