And Chloe said, ‘Because you are beautiful.’
’Very beautiful; young and beautiful; beautiful in the bud. You will learn to excuse them, madam.’
‘But, Chloe—’ The duchess shut her mouth. Out of a languid reverie, she sighed: ’I suppose I must be! My duke—oh, don’t talk of him. Dear man! he’s in bed and fast asleep long before this. I wonder how he came to let me come here.
I did bother him, I know. Am I very, very beautiful, Chloe, so that men can’t help themselves?’
’There, good-night. I want to be in bed, and I can’t kiss you because you keep calling me madam, and freeze me to icicles; but I do love you, Chloe.’
‘I am sure you do.’
’I’m quite certain I do. I know I never mean harm. But how are we women expected to behave, then? Oh, I’m unhappy, I am.’
‘You must abstain from playing.’
’It’s that! I’ve lost my money—I forgot. And I shall have to confess it to my duke, though he warned me. Old men hold their fingers up—so! One finger: and you never forget the sight of it, never. It’s a round finger, like the handle of a jug, and won’t point at you when they’re lecturing, and the skin’s like an old coat on gaffer’s shoulders—or, Chloe! just like, when you look at the nail, a rumpled counterpane up to the face of a corpse. I declare, it’s just like! I feel as if I didn’t a bit mind talking of corpses tonight. And my money’s gone, and I don’t much mind. I’m a wild girl again, handsomer than when that——he is a dear, kind, good old nobleman, with his funny old finger: “Susan! Susan!” I’m no worse than others. Everybody plays here; everybody superior. Why, you have played, Chloe.’
’I’ve heard you say you played once, and a bigger stake it was, you said, than anybody ever did play.’
’Goodness—yes! I understand. I understand everything to-night-men too. So you did!—They’re not so shamefully wicked, Chloe. Because I can’t see the wrong of human nature—if we’re discreet, I mean. Now and then a country dance and a game, and home to bed and dreams. There’s no harm in that, I vow. And that’s why you stayed at this place. You like it, Chloe?’
‘I am used to it.’
‘But when you’re married to Count Caseldy you’ll go?’
She uttered it so joylessly that Duchess Susan added, with intense affectionateness, ‘You’re not obliged to marry him, dear Chloe.’
‘Nor he me, madam.’
The duchess caught at her impulsively to kiss her, and said she would undress herself, as she wished to be alone.
From that night she was a creature inflamed.