The Duchess of Duke Street: A Lady of Virtue

Previously on The Duchess of Duke Street: Louisa Trotter bought a hotel, worked herself almost to death, and managed to make a success of it after all.

We can hear loud cheering from one of the upstairs rooms as Merriman comes down the steps with some empty champagne bottles. Starr asks what’s up and Merriman says it’s some Liberals celebrating their victory in a Yorkshire by-election, with Louisa in attendance. Merriman shoves off with the recycling, just in time for Fred to start losing his little terrier mind over a basket held by a well-dressed lady who’s just come in. The woman holds the basket out of reach, looking alarmed, and Starr jumps into action, shoving Fred into his little bed and greeting the lady. He snootily asks the woman if there’s an animal in the basket and she tells him there’s a cat in there. Starr says that explains it, because Fred doesn’t usually freak out that way. I think this might be a good time to offer the lady an apology for your dog’s behavior, Starr. He does not, which irks me a bit. I love my dogs to death, but you can be sure I apologize all over the place if they behave badly towards someone. The lady’s a lot nicer than I am towards Starr and tells him she’s there to meet with a Sir James, who’s up with the partying Liberals. The lady, who introduces herself as Mrs. Strickland, asks Starr to tell Sir James that she’s arrived. Apparently, Sir James is lending her his rooms. Starr asks Merriman, who’s passing by on his way back upstairs, to tell Sir James that Mrs. S has arrived.

Upstairs, the party’s in full swing and Louisa’s enjoying the champagne and talking politics with Sir James and one of the triumphant politicians. Merriman passes along the word that Mrs. S has arrived and Sir James excuses himself to go greet her. The politician goes tête-à-tête with Louisa and guesses Mrs. S is Sir James’s mistress. She doesn’t think it’s likely, and she won’t give the politician any extra information on Mrs. S.

In Sir James’s rooms, Mrs. S unlatches the front hatch on the basket and removes a cat, which seems pretty calm considering the scare Fred probably gave it. Mrs. S nonetheless pets and cuddles and speaks soothingly to her feline as Starr comes in and pompously asks her if she’s “made arrangements” for it. He’s really bugging me this episode. Starr, you work in customer service, and right now, you’re sucking at it. Nobody really wanted Fred there in the first place, you just bulldozed in with him, and although I like Fred and all, when he starts inconveniencing paying guests, I think it’s about time to put him away for the few days the woman’s going to be staying there. He’s acting like a total dick, in my opinion. Not everyone should have to make way for your precious little angel, Starr.

Mrs. S says she hasn’t and makes a pointed reference to dogs apparently being tolerated, but cats not being ok. Starr tells her that Fred’s a watchdog (oh, come on, now), and Mrs. S guesses Fred’s there to see off unwelcome guests.

Starr leaves without actually resolving anything, and he’s quickly replaced by Sir James, who greets Mrs. S (first name, Diana) in an affectionate but not particularly romantic manner. She thanks him for the room and apologizes for turning him out. He affably says he’s staying with his brother around the corner, so it’s no big deal. He then asks after “Harry” and it sounds like “Harry” has recently had a stroke, but he’s doing better. Louisa comes in then and Sir James introduces her to Diana. Louisa offhandedly remarks on the cat but has no problem at all with it being there. We soon learn that Diana’s an artist, and not the first they’ve had at the Bentink. Louisa tells her they had Walter Sickert there not too long ago (ummmm). Louisa urges Sir James to take Diana up to the party and she agrees.

Sir George, Diana, and Louisa arrive back at the party and Louisa introduces Diana to the politician she was talking to earlier (Mr. Duggan). Duggan shakes Diana’s hand and welcomes her to the party. In the course of their conversation, Diana reveals that she does illustrations for children’s magazines. Duggan seems surprised to hear she actually makes a living doing that. Duggan asks her what her husband thinks of that and Diana says he seems amused. Does he? That’s not condescending at all. Louisa pipes up that it’s awfully nice of her husband to let her trot up to London to work without interfering in her plans, and Duggan rather smarmily agrees and asks to see Diana’s work. I have a feeling that, in his mind, her “work” doesn’t really mean her illustrations. Especially when he goes on to say he just wants “a glance”. This guy’s giving me the creeps. Louisa tipsily says it sounds nice, that she wouldn’t mind a glance herself. And on that awkward note, the scene ends.

Still tipsy, Louisa’s in her office with Merriman and Starr, telling them she doesn’t see what the big deal is with having a cat stay there. Starr tells her the cat gives Merriman allergies, but Louisa doesn’t really care. She tells Merriman that if he can’t go into the room to serve then Mary can do it, no big deal. Starr stupidly tells her it’ll be “unsettling” for Fred and Louisa sharply tells him that if the cat goes, Fred’ll have to go too, because you can’t have one rule for guests and another for staff. Thank you, Louisa. She advises him to let the subject drop, and Star pissily stalks out of her office.

Upstairs, the party’s over and Duggan has, apparently, asked Sir James if it’s cool for him to try to bang Mrs. S. Yeah, this guy’s definitely giving me the creeps. Sir James tells him it’s a no go, because she’s a well-behaved lady who loves her husband and is “quite incorruptible.” That’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull, that is. Sir James tells Duggan he just wants Diana left alone. Duggan guesses Sir James is in love with Diana, and although Sir James says he was once, years ago, he claims to just be really good friends with her. Duggan tries another tactic, trying to find out if she’s unhappy with her husband. Sir James insists the Stricklands are devoted to each other.

The next day, Louisa’s just finishing up some orders with Mary when the Major comes into the office. Once Mary’s gone, the Major asks what Diana’s doing there. He knows her and guesses she walked out on “poor Harry” at last. Seems Diana’s husband, though nice, is a bit of a spendthrift, and the Major can’t imagine what she ever saw in him. Some think the stroke Harry had recently was a bit of luck, since it would keep his creditors at bay for a bit. Louisa prudishly says she doesn’t like ladies who have left their husbands, because they’re trouble. I guess she’d know.

Speaking of money, the Major actually had some come through recently, and he promptly turns it over to Louisa, apologizing that it isn’t more. Louisa thanks him anyway, for thinking of her before the ponies.

In her room, Diana’s hard at work, painting the cat, who’s calmly posing for her. I’m not a big cat person, but I will admit that when it comes to sitting still for long periods of time, they’ve got most dogs beat, hands down. Duggan comes in and apologizes for interrupting. Diana invites him to stay and take a look at the paintings if he likes while she keeps on with her work. The paintings are very Beatrix Potter meets Tasha Tudor by way of Kate Greenway, if you ask me. Apparently, Diana does illustrations for other people’s stories, but of course, what she’d really like to be doing is illustrating her own story.

Diana waxes nostalgic about her father and the stories he used to tell about bears and wolves and such. Duggan asks to see pictures of those and she directs him to a portfolio that contains pencil sketches of real, non-anthropomorphized animals. Duggan admires them and urges her to send them to a publisher. He just so happens to have a good friend who’s a publisher and asks for permission to show the drawings to him. Diana agrees, as long as he’s not just doing this out of charity. Duggan insists he’s not, and then informs her he’s taking her to the Savoy for lunch.

A little later, they come down the stairs and Duggan sends Starr for a cab. The Major folds up his newspaper and asks Diana how she’s getting on. She says life is just lovely right now, right as Sir James comes in for a visit. She announces she’s going to the Savoy and invites him along. Sir James blusters, giving Duggan enough time to blow him off and hustle her out the door. Louisa observes the sight from the stairs, and once they’re gone, she comments that that was fast off the mark. The Major and Sir James exchange a disturbed look.

At the Savoy, Duggan and Diana are having a cozy lunch; he’s telling her all about how he got started in politics. She brings up her husband, who apparently once stood for Parliament but was defeated. In short order, we learn that the husband is almost twice Diana’s age and he rescued her from penury when she came over from Canada with her widowed mother. Duggan asks her why she’s not at her ailing husband’s side and she tells him she has to work and can’t with the distractions of a sick spouse. Duggan gets kind of creepy, growling that he’s always found conjugal fidelity a very appealing attribute in a woman. Yick. For some bizarre reason, she seems a bit charmed by that. Then he ratchets the creepy up to 11 by taking her hands and, when she pulls hers away and reminds him they’re sitting in the middle of a crowded dining room, he calmly suggests they return to the hotel and discuss “their relationship” in private. She laughs that she wasn’t aware there was any relationship and apologizes for giving him the wrong idea. He tells her not to worry about it, but that she should know he’s head over heels for her. She informs him that, although she’s touched, she’s in love with her husband and won’t be embarking on any affairs during this visit. Duggan backs off and asks if they can just be friends instead. She’s fine with that.

Duggan goes right to Sir James, who crows happily over having been right about Diana’s virtuous behavior. Sir James scolds his friend for trying to seduce a married woman in the first place and Duggan falls back on the age old “men have urges that need to be satisfied” bs. Sir James is still delighted that Duggan failed, but Duggan doesn’t see it as a total failure, since he and Diana will be friends, after all, putting him on the same footing as Sir James.

In her room, Diana’s been joined by her teenage daughter, who calls her mother’s paintings silly. Diana points out that they’re not really geared towards her daughter’s age group. As Merriman comes in, sneezes, and hands over a letter to Diana, the daughter exposits that she’s in London because of a toothache. As Merriman goes, Louisa enters with a bouquet from Sir James. Diana introduces her daughter, Sophie, who’s looking forward to going to the natural history museum. Diana’s a bit busy to go, so Louisa offers to take her instead, along with the Major, who I guess needs something constructive to do. The ladies leave and Diana opens her letter, looks horrified, and drops into a chair.

Downstairs, the Major’s quietly placing a bet with Starr. Louisa and Sophie come down just as Duggan’s coming in. He introduces himself rather excitedly to Sophie, then heads upstairs to see Diana, asking Merriman to bring up a bottle of champagne.

In her room, Diana’s standing next to the window, looking distressed. Duggan comes hurrying in and happily tells her his publisher friend loved the drawings and wants to meet her. He offers to act as her lawyer and make sure she gets a suitable advance, and she pounces on that word like a cat on a particularly delectable mouse, asking immediately how much she could get. Duggan says a few hundred, and she bursts into tears. He asks her what’s wrong, but the scene fades out before we get an answer.

At the museum, the Major grandly introduces a stuffed elephant. Sophie wants to see the dinosaur, and the Major pretends to know exactly where he’s going, but he has no idea. He leads them instead to more stuffed animals, including an African four-hooved mammal of some kind that has little birds picking parasites out of its fur. Sophie asks what a parasite is. “Hotel guests that stay on and don’t pay their bills,” Louisa answers. Ouch, Louisa! Kind of a mean thing to say with the Major right there. He grimaces and she just shrugs and says “no offense.”

Back at the hotel, Duggan’s looking over the letter and asking Diana if she knew the extent of her husband’s gambling debts. Apparently not. Their estate is mortgaged to the hilt, their only income is her illustrations, and now court proceedings are beginning. Duggan pulls out a checkbook, despite Diana’s protests. He urges her to take the money and to look at it as an investment in her book. Since she doesn’t really have all that much of a choice, she accepts.

At the museum, the Major is regaling Sophie and Louisa with tales of hunting a man-eating tiger in India back in the day. It’s hard to say if the story’s true entirely, but there’s enough detail to make me think it’s at least partially true. They end up back at the stuffed elephant, where two Indian gentlemen are chatting in Hindi. The Major’s ears perk up and he joins the conversation, talking with them like a native, to the gentlemen’s delight. Even Louisa’s impressed.

Bentink. Duggan’s still in Diana’s room, talking an awful lot about himself, and somehow managing to ease some flirting in there. Diana, softened, no doubt, by the check, seems to be falling for it. He offers, basically, to make her his mistress and give her full run over his house out by the New Forest. Ooooh, I love it there! Diana looks like she’s seriously considering it.

Later, Sophie returns and finds her mother back at work, Duggan nowhere to be seen. She excitedly tells Diana all about the museum, and Diana a little hyperactively hugs her, shows her some sketches, and then hurries to take her daughter to the train station. Sophie begs to stay another day, but Diana says she can’t. Sophie then asks when Diana plans to come home and Diana gets evasive, just promising to come home “soon.”

Apparently Diana took Duggan up on his offer of a weekend away, because Sir James is now in Louisa’s office complaining about it. She tells him to chill out, because it’s just one weekend, and anyway, the poor woman needs friends, she can’t be expected to work herself to death to keep her family going. Sir James is worried about what could happen with the election if word of the affair were to get out, and he also frets about Diana getting her heart broken.

Upstairs, Diana and Duggan have returned and are speculating over what sort of animals the hotel staff and their friends would be (for the record: Starr is a beaver, Merriman’s a heron, and Sir James is a buzzard, which seems pretty unkind.) Duggan catches her up in a passionate clinch and she promises never to forget this past weekend. He asks her to come up to his room later and she agrees.

In Duggan’s room, however, is Sir James, ready to give his friend a good dressing down for messing about with Diana. Duggan isn’t worried at all and guesses this is more about Sir James being jealous. Sir James denies it and reminds Duggan he represents an entire party and should keep that in mind. Duggan appeases him a bit with a drink and tells him that Diana will be up soon, because she wants to say hi to Sir James. They gossip a bit about the state of her marriage, and Duggan mentions Diana’s not an easy woman, being rather highly strung, which I don’t think quite gels with what we’ve seen of her so far, but whatever. Duggan admits he’s besotted with her and rages over the insanity of men who neglect beautiful women. Duggan, her husband had a stroke! Cut the guy some slack! Diana shows up right about then and greets James warmly. And that’s about the end of the scene.

At some indeterminate later date, Diana and Duggan come downstairs and head out, possibly to lunch with Duggan’s publishing friend to discuss her book. They’re observed by Mary, who smiles and comments that they seem very happy together. Starr doesn’t seem to think it’ll last long.

Diana and Duggan are back upstairs in his room, where she happily tells him he’s changed her life. He asks her if she’ll be able to finish a book under the deadline that’s been set, and she says she’ll work day and night, stopping only to give him googly eyes and generally act sickeningly sweet around him. Duggan tells her he has to go away, since the election’s set for January (I thought it already happened?) and he has to go back to his constituency for a few weeks. She moans and groans and gets teenagery, begging him not to go and telling him she has no life without him. Oh, please, lady, get a grip! Have you been reading Twilight? He promises to write to her every day. Yeah, sure, we’ll see if that happens.

Some weeks later, Mary finds Diana asleep on the sofa in her room, a few sketches scattered about her. Mary shakes her awake and opens the curtains as Diana happily opens a letter. Mary admires one of the sketches, which clearly depicts Merriman as a heron and is actually a little bit mean in its depiction, if you ask me. Mary offers to run Diana a bath, but Diana’s too busy laughing over the letter (presumably from Duggan) to listen.

Sir James comes to see her to urge her to give up the affair, but she won’t do it. She’s rather blasé about the fact that her husband isn’t expected to live long, and Sir James skeptically asks her if she expects Duggan to marry her. Of course she does, even though Duggan hasn’t once mentioned marriage. Sir James asks what she plans to do about Sophie, since Duggan hates kids and has no relationship at all with his own son. This is news to her, apparently. James plays hardball and tells her she’s living in a dream world and that Duggan’s a known seducer who carried out affairs even before his wife died. Diana’s actually naïve enough to be shocked by that and scolds Sir James for talking about Duggan in such a way behind his back, since he’s supposed to be Duggan’s friend. He’s supposed to be your friend too, Diana. In this case, it seems he can only show genuine loyalty to one of you.

Later, Diana comes floating downstairs with a letter to post and asks for her mail. Starr informs her that there are no letters for her. She’s surprised to hear it.

Staff meeting! Louisa’s sitting at her desk with a newspaper in her hand, telling Starr, Merriman, and Mary to make sure Diana doesn’t hear a word of “it.” They agree and depart as the Major comes in. Louisa shows him the paper, which has a gossipy story about Duggan being seen around Deauville with another woman. The Major already knows, and he confirmed the story with a friend of Duggan’s too. Apparently this woman, Mrs. Monroe, has money and political connections. Louisa mentions that she’s supposed to be cooking dinner for Duggan that night and now her heart’s not in it at all. Wouldn’t it be funny if she just ordered out fish and chips for him or something? The Major advises Louisa to tell Diana about the matter, since it’s kinder than letting her get strung along.

Louisa takes his advice, and we next see Diana sobbing like a heartbroken teenager as Louisa tries, ineffectively, to comfort her. Louisa tries to pass off the story as something the papers could have made up, and reminds Diana that Duggan’s coming by that evening and will explain everything. Diana whimpers that he won’t come and Louisa tells her he’s an honorable man and will totally show up. Diana smiles for a second, but then starts sobbing again, so Louisa suggests she lie down and get some rest before Duggan comes for dinner.

That evening, much calmer and all dressed up, Diana waits for Duggan in her room, where Mary and Merriman are laying the dinner. Duggan appears, apologizing for being late, and compliments her dress. Diana thanks him and pours him a drink as he complains about his day and tells her he’s missed her. She softens and gives him a good luck present of a pair of cufflinks. Dunning promises to wear them on polling day.

Mary hurries down the stairs and happily informs Starr that the papers must have been wrong, because Duggan and Diana are just like lovebirds upstairs.

Dinner’s finished, and Diana passes along her compliments to Louisa. As Merriman makes himself scarce, Duggan says the meal is a relief after all the provincial hotels he’s had to slum it in lately. Diana asks him how Deauville was and he asks her how she knew he was there. She tells him it was in the newspaper and asks him why he went. He claims he was invited by one of his constituents, and it was a welcome rest for him. She asks him point blank about Mrs. Monroe and he starts to spin a story that sounds like it’s going somewhere along the lines of—I was only fake dating her. Merriman chooses that moment to return with the coffee, but Diana’s not interested in caffeinated beverages at the moment. She asks Duggan why he didn’t tell her right away what was going on, as Merriman stands there awkwardly, trying to blend into the background. Duggan finally calls her attention to the waiter, and she tells him to just leave the tray. Merriman gratefully puts it down and gets the hell out of there. Once he’s gone. Duggan breaks up with Diana, trying to soften the blow by telling her he’d prefer to be with her, but they’re both the victims of circumstance. She gets all melodramatic, going on about how he’s changed her life, and he tells her all he did was help her get her feet under her.

Diana accuses him of dumping her to avoid a scandal, but he counters that he’s breaking things off for her sake, because she has a sick husband she still cares for, and she’d hate herself if she abandoned him now. Plus, Society would totally shun her, and him too. Her face hardens and she castigates him for caring more about what other people think and about his career. I’m sorry, but this woman’s an idiot for ever thinking this could go any further. The man’s a politician, lady, that’s his profession. What other people think actually does matter! And what about your kid, were you going to ditch her too? Did you not care at all how she’d feel about you leaving her father in his toughest hour?

Duggan blusters that he’s a man with frailties, and Diana coldly says he certainly is, and she was a fool for not seeing it. Duggan apologizes for not making it clear that this was just a bit of fun. He promises never to forget her and withdraws slowly.

The following morning, Louisa comes up to Diana’s rooms and meets Mary, who whispers that Diana’s already packing to leave. Louisa bursts in and tells Diana she should tell the whole world what Duggan did to her. And what was that, exactly? She wasn’t forced to do anything, he made no promises. It was a dalliance that went a little far, on one side. True, he should have known better (and Sir James did try to tell him to back off and he refused to listen), but there’s not a whole lot of blame to be thrown around in this case, and I don’t really know why Louisa’s getting so worked up about this.

Diana calmly tells Louisa she was foolish and selfish, and anyway, she has no weapons to use against the guy. Louisa picks up a bundle of letters Duggan wrote to Diana and suggests she use them, but Diana’s not keen on hurting Duggan, not when he did, after all, help her out by paying off that debt and getting her a publisher. Diana just wants to go home, take care of her family, and work to pay back Duggan’s loan. She takes the letters from Louisa and puts them in the fire, packs up the cat, and heads out.

Duggan’s checking out as well, handing tips to Starr and Merriman, who thank him politely. He goes into Louisa’s office to settle his account and Louisa tells him he’s already settled up; in fact, she owes him a bit of money. £28 10 shillings, to be exact. She’s paying off Diana’s loan for her. Duggan argues that she can’t do that, because it was a private matter. Louisa insists, so he accepts, since it’ll make her happy. Louisa rises and politely asks him not to return to the Bentink in the future. Duggan asks her what terrible tales Diana’s been telling, and Louisa’s eyes get all fiery as she tells him Diana hasn’t said a word, and that, in fact, she’s defending him. She angrily tells him he’s lucky to have meddled with a good woman who refuses to drag him through the mud. Duggan bids her farewell and goes back into the front hall, just as Diana’s coming down the stairs. They share a momentary look, and then Duggan hurries out.

Later, Merriman reads a newspaper that reveals the Liberals have won. Mary comes running down the stairs to ask Merriman for more champagne for the noisy party going on upstairs. As Merriman leaves, she gossips with Starr that Lloyd George is holding the party, and Duggan’s there with Mrs. Monroe, his new fiancée. And yes, Louisa knows they’re there, because she’s up there partying with them. Way to stick to your guns, Louisa.

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