“A beautiful woman is never especially clever,” Rochester remarked.
Harleston blew a smoke ring at the big drop-light on the table and watched it swirl under the cardinal shade.
“The cleverest woman I know is also the most beautiful,” he replied. “Yes, I can name her offhand. She has all the finesse of her sex, together with the reasoning mind; she is surpassingly good to look at, and knows how to use her looks to obtain her end; as the occasion demands, she can be as cold as steel or warm as a summer’s night; she—”
“How are her morals?” Rochester interrupted.
“Morals or the want of them do not, I take it, enter into the question,” Harleston responded. “Cleverness is quite apart from morals.”
“You have not named the wonderful one,” Clarke reminded him.
“And I won’t now. Rochester’s impertinent question forbids introducing her to this company. Moreover,” as he drew out his watch, “it is half-after-twelve of a fine spring night, and, unless we wish to be turned out of the Club, we would better be going homeward or elsewhere. Who’s for a walk up the avenue?”
“I am—as far as Dupont Circle,” said Clarke.
“All hands?” Harleston inquired.
“It’s too late for exercise,” Rochester declined; “and our way lies athwart your path.”
“I don’t think you make good company, anyway, with your questions and your athwarts,” Harleston retorted amiably, as Clarke and he moved off.
“Who is your clever woman?” asked Clarke.
“Curious?” Harleston smiled.
“Naturally—it’s not in you to give praise undeserved.”
“I’m not sure it is praise, Clarke; it depends on one’s point of view. However, the lady in question bears several names which she uses as expediency or her notion suits her. Her maiden name was Madeline Cuthbert. She married a Colonel Spencer of Ours; he divorced her, after she had eloped with a rich young lieutenant of his regiment. She didn’t marry the lieutenant; she simply plucked him clean and he shot himself. I’ve never understood why he didn’t first shoot her.”
“Doubtless it shows her cleverness?” Clarke remarked.
“Doubtless it does,” replied Harleston, neatly spitting a leaf on the pavement with his stick. “Afterward she had various adventures with various wealthy men, and always won. Her particularly spectacular adventure was posing, at the instigation of the Duke of Lotzen, as the wife of the Archduke Armand of Valeria; and she stirred up a mess of turmoil until the matter was cleared up.”
“I remember something of it!” Clarke exclaimed.
“By that time she had so fascinated her employer, the Duke of Lotzen, that he actually married her—morganatically, of course.”
“Again showing her astonishing cleverness.”