“How long the day has been!” Dahlia sighed, and stretched out her hands to the rays which peeped through her lodging window, inspecting her nails with dainty satisfaction as though they alone brought relief to her soul. Outside, the sombre bells rung out their daily chime, earlier than Dahlia could wish, later than would be judged by the accomplishments of the day (she was washed, she was brushed, but she had not yet dressed for the evening, and a slim novelette had been thrown on one side, in pique at its having had the heroine renounce her lover for no reason in the least.)
Zéphine who herself had come by in the morning to call on her friend and remained to first break her fast, and then gossip with her- trifling harmless nonsense to be sure, pulled a curl over her shoulder and inspected it. “A very long day,” she said with a smile that pulled her soft lip over her white teeth in a way that she knew very well was engaging to behold. She had a habit of practicing these wiles in an unpracticed way, even if there was no-one to charm within the room, a sort of absentminded coquetry, more artless still than assumed which was indeed a large portion of their appeal had she but known it. “What time will Listolier arrive?”
Dahlia shrugged, a little petulant shrug of her shoulders as though to dismiss the absent Listolier from any place in her regard, her ill humour only a little abated by the conclusion that the muslin did indeed look very well upon her, when it had not looked so very well upon Favourite who had affected the style for a little. “I am sure I do not know,” she said, “and I do not very much care either. It is shameful of him to neglect us thus,” though these words were given the lie by the anxious way she bit at her lips and glanced from the window, and then turned and poured herself a glass of wine.
Zéphine indulged as well and admired the effect upon her already rosy lips, and then in an attempt to turn her friend’s thoughts away from her recalcitrant lover, she embarked upon a new avenue of thought. “Favourite told me that she believes Blachevelle will set her up with an establishment,” she remarked idly. “I suppose it must be true, she is terribly fascinating,” and they both contemplated the charms of Favourite in silence for a second.
“It is those English mannerisms that she affects,” Dahlia said with a burst of spite, for intermingled with her admiration of Favourite was a chafing at the highhanded way in which she managed their affairs and spoke for all the girls regardless, that sometimes was given vent in frustration. “The way she poses at every window, her trick of sitting so straight and holding her cup just so, that is what enchants him.”
“Is that what they are?” Zéphine asked and her face flushed a little as though the wine she had drunk had stained more than her lips.
“What else would they be?” Dahlia demanded.
Zéphine looked away. “I had misunderstood,” she admitted. “When Blachevelle spoke of her English ways, I had assumed the other,” and she bashfully hid her meaning in euphemism, believing Dahlia would understand her words.
Dahlia, not blessed with intense penetration by a nature that had been so liberal with other gifts, had not the slightest idea what she meant though and by dint of persuasion managed to work it from Zéphine. “The English vice?” she repeated slowly, “I have not heard of it. Is not vice very different from mannerisms?”
“They are both English,” Zéphine pointed out, “and the English are a godless race so the priests say. It is surely not so unlikely. If they so enjoy being beaten why should they be bashful about it?”
Dahlia’s mouth had dropped open a little from the shock of Zéphine’s words. “How ludicrously impossible,” she said in a decided fashion, “what could there be to enjoy about it?”
There seemed little to be done to Zéphine bar to toy with her girdle and avoid the gaze of Dahlia, lest she confess both being tricked by Favourite as to the meaning, and to her decided enjoyment of the trickery. It had not been just gentle taps that she had been initiated into but the shocking thrill that it was not only men who could be lustful and demanding. Now Dahlia, still in her night dress with the sun beginning to set was proving a temptation to discover whether it was not only their faces that looked well together. She drank a little more wine, just a very little to heat the blood and give her bravery.
It was not so very much effort to kiss Dahlia nor so very frightening to touch warm lips and taste the remnants of wine on them, nor so very surprising that Dahlia let her. It was perhaps more so for Dahlia to declare that she was speaking nonsense, that this was no English vice but decidedly well known, and Zéphine resolved that any further initiations could wait for another time as indeed this discovery must since Listolier was even now rapping upon the door below.