“When we go to Paris, would you like to make a little present to your fiance?”
“Je voudrais bien, mademoiselle.”
“Then you shall give him these,” said Zuleika, holding out the two studs.
“Mais jamais de la vie! Chez Tourtel tout le monde le dirait millionaire. Un garcon de cafe qui porte au plastron des perles pareilles—merci!”
“Tell him he may tell every one that they were given to me by the late Duke of Dorset, and given by me to you, and by you to him.”
“Mais—” The protest died on Melisande’s lips. Suddenly she had ceased to see the pearls as trinkets finite and inapposite—saw them as things presently transmutable into little marble tables, bocks, dominos, absinthes au sucre, shiny black portfolios with weekly journals in them, yellow staves with daily journals flapping from them, vermouths secs, vermouths cassis...
“Mademoiselle is too amiable,” she said, taking the pearls.
And certainly, just then, Zuleika was looking very amiable indeed. The look was transient. Nothing, she reflected, could undo what the Duke had done. That hateful, impudent girl would take good care that every one should know. “He put them in with his own hands.” HER ear-rings! “He kissed me in the public street. He loved me”... Well, he had called out “Zuleika!” and every one around had heard him. That was something. But how glad all the old women in the world would be to shake their heads and say “Oh, no, my dear, believe me! It wasn’t anything to do with HER. I’m told on the very best authority,” and so forth, and so on. She knew he had told any number of undergraduates he was going to die for her. But they, poor fellows, could not bear witness. And good heavens! If there were a doubt as to the Duke’s motive, why not doubts as to theirs?... But many of them had called out “Zuleika!” too. And of course any really impartial person who knew anything at all about the matter at first hand would be sure in his own mind that it was perfectly absurd to pretend that the whole thing wasn’t entirely and absolutely for her... And of course some of the men must have left written evidence of their intention. She remembered that at The MacQuern’s to-day was a Mr. Craddock, who had made a will in her favour and wanted to read it aloud to her in the middle of luncheon. Oh, there would be proof positive as to many of the men. But of the others it would be said that they died in trying to rescue their comrades. There would be all sorts of silly far-fetched theories, and downright lies that couldn’t be disproved...