And the brougham was standing there a third time. It was May now, the latter end of May, and the park opposite was beautiful with green things, and the air was soft and balmy, as it will be sometimes even in May, and the flowers in the balcony were full of perfume, and the charm of London,—what London can be to the rich,—was at its height. The Duke was sitting in Madame Goesler’s drawing-room, at some distance from her, for she had retreated. The Duke had a habit of taking her hand, which she never would permit for above a few seconds. At such times she would show no anger, but would retreat.
“Marie,” said the Duke, “you will go abroad when the summer is over.” As an old man he had taken the privilege of calling her Marie, and she had not forbidden it.
Yes, probably; to Vienna. I have property in Vienna you know, which must be looked after.
“Do not mind Vienna this year. Come to Italy.”
“What; in summer, Duke?”
“The lakes are charming in August. I have a villa on Como which is empty now, and I think I shall go there. If you do not know the Italian lakes, I shall be so happy to show them to you.”
“I know them well, my lord. When I was young I was on the Maggiore almost alone. Some day I will tell you a history of what I was in those days.”
“You shall tell it me there.”
“No, my lord, I fear not. I have no villa there.”
“Will you not accept the loan of mine? It shall be all your own while you use it.”
“My own,—to deny the right of entrance to its owner?”
“If it so pleases you.”
“It would not please me. It would so far from please me that I will never put myself in a position that might make it possible for me to require to do so. No, Duke; it behoves me to live in houses of my own. Women of whom more is known can afford to be your guests.”
“Marie, I would have no other guest than you.”
“It cannot be so, Duke.”
“And why not?”
“Why not? Am I to be put to the blush by being made to answer such a question as that? Because the world would say that the Duke of Omnium had a new mistress, and that Madame Goesler was the woman. Do you think that I would be any man’s mistress;—even yours? Or do you believe that for the sake of the softness of a summer evening on an Italian lake, I would give cause to the tongues of the women here to say that I was such a thing? You would have me lose all that I have gained by steady years of sober work for the sake of a week or two of dalliance such as that! No, Duke; not for your dukedom!”
How his Grace might have got through his difficulty had they been left alone, cannot be told. For at this moment the door was opened, and Lady Glencora Palliser was announced.
Rara Avis in Terris
“Come and see the country and judge for yourself,” said Phineas.