At midnight the great supper party to celebrate the reconciliation of Mr. Beamish and Duchess Susan broke up, and beneath a soft fair sky the ladies, with their silvery chatter of gratitude for amusement, caught Chloe in their arms to kiss her, rendering it natural for their cavaliers to exclaim that Chloe was blest above mortals. The duchess preferred to walk. Her spirits were excited, and her language smelt of her origin, but the superb fleshly beauty of the woman was aglow, and crying, ’I declare I should burst in one of those boxes—just as if you’d stalled me!’ she fanned a wind on her face, and sumptuously spread her spherical skirts, attended by the vanquished and captive Colonel Poltermore, a gentleman manifestly bent on insinuating sly slips of speech to serve for here a pinch of powder, there a match. ‘Am I?’ she was heard to say. She blew prodigious deep-chested sighs of a coquette that has taken to roaring.
Presently her voice tossed out: ‘As if I would!’ These vivid illuminations of the Colonel’s proceedings were a pasture to the rearward groups, composed of two very grand ladies, Caseldy, Mr. Beamish, a lord, and Chloe.
‘You man! Oh!’ sprang from the duchess. ’What do I hear? I won’t listen; I can’t, I mustn’t, I oughtn’t.’
So she said, but her head careened, she gave him her coy reluctant ear, with total abandonment to the seductions of his whispers, and the lord let fly a peal of laughter. It had been a supper of copious wine, and the songs which rise from wine. Nature was excused by our midnight naturalists.
The two great dames, admonished by the violence of the nobleman’s laughter, laid claim on Mr. Beamish to accompany them at their parting with Chloe and Duchess Susan.
In the momentary shuffling of couples incident to adieux among a company, the duchess murmured to Caseldy:
‘Have I done it well.’
He praised her for perfection in her acting. ’I am at your door at three, remember.’
‘My heart’s in my mouth,’ said she.
Colonel Poltermore still had the privilege of conducting her the few farther steps to her lodgings.
Caseldy walked beside Chloe, and silently, until he said, ’If I have not yet mentioned the subject—’
‘If it is an allusion to money let me not hear it to-night,’ she replied.
’I can only say that my lawyers have instructions. But my lawyers cannot pay you in gratitude. Do not think me in your hardest review of my misconduct ungrateful. I have ever esteemed you above all women; I do, and I shall; you are too much above me. I am afraid I am a composition of bad stuff; I did not win a very particularly good name on the Continent; I begin to know myself, and in comparison with you, dear Catherine——’
‘You speak to Chloe,’ she said. ’Catherine is a buried person. She died without pain. She is by this time dust.’
The man heaved his breast. ‘Women have not an idea of our temptations.’