This is how a weekly paper of indifferent reputation but immense circulation brought Tallente’s love affair to a crisis. In a column purporting to set out the editor’s curiosity upon certain subjects, the following paragraphs appeared:
Whether a distinguished member of the Democratic Party is not considered just now the luckiest man in the world of politics and love.
Whether the young lady really enjoys playing the prodigal daughter at home and in the country, and what her noble relatives have to say about it.
Whether there are not some sinister rumours going about concerning the politician in question.
Jane’s mother, who had arrived in London only the day before, was in Charles Street before her prodigal daughter had finished breakfast. She brandished a copy of the paper in her hand. Jane read the three paragraphs and let the paper slip from her fingers as though she had been handling an unclean thing. She rang the bell and pointed to where it lay upon the floor.
“Take that into the servants’ hall and let it be destroyed, Parkins,” she ordered.
The Duchess held her peace until the man had left the room. Then she turned resolutely to Jane.
“My dear,” she said, “that’s posing. Besides, it’s indiscreet. Parkins will read it, of course, and it’s what that sort of person reads, nowadays, that counts. We can’t afford it. The aristocracy has had its fling. To-day we are on our good behaviour.”
“I should have thought,” Jane declared, “that in these democratic days the best thing we could do would be to prove ourselves human like other people.”
“And people call you clever!” her mother scoffed. “Why, my dear child, any slight respect which we still receive from the lower orders is based upon their conviction that somehow or other we are, after all, made differently from them. Sometimes they hate us for it and sometimes they love us for it. The great thing, nowadays, however, is to cultivate and try and strengthen that belief of theirs.”
“How did you come to see this rag?” Jane enquired mildly.
“Your Aunt Somerham brought it round this morning while I was in bed,” her mother replied. “It was a great shock to me. Also to your father. He was anxious to come with me but is threatened with an attack of gout.”
“And what do you want to say to me about it? Just why did you bring me that rag and show me those paragraphs?”
“My dear, I must know how much truth there is in them. Have you been going about with this man Tallente?”
“To a certain extent, yes,” Jane admitted, after a moment’s hesitation.
“Pooh! You know I finished with all that sort of rubbish years ago, mother.”
“I am informed that Mr. Tallente is a married man.”
Jane flinched a little for the first time.