She was always plain Madame Merle, the widow of a Swiss negociant, with a small income and a large bosom, who stayed with “people” a great deal and was almost universally “liked.” Ralph Touchett could not have known, however, though it would have bedeviled him to extinction, that this urbane creature, still very much in her prime, was beloved among the cigar-smoking lions of Europe for administering sublime felatio. Her specialty was in expertly sprinkling her generous endowment with the spume of male ecstasy. His health being so beastly and abject, Ralph had no spunk to speak of. But the thought was never far from his mind. In the lustier days of his adolescence he had taken to calling on Lord Warburton at Lockleigh for long week-ends, particularly when the duke’s youngest sister was there to grace the company with her sparkling laughter. She and Ralph had somehow arrived at a silent understanding between them. She used to masturbate young Touchett behind the curtains in the library on late afternoons. Ralph would shoot what looked to her like jets of clotted cream into the thick velvety folds of the drapes while she, with her free hand, lifted her skirt and fingered the button of her secret garden. Lord Warburton was fully cognizant of the arrangement and wished regretfully that she had not been his youngest sister so he, too, could partake of such ministrations. He was scrupulous for an aristocrat. Of late, however, his lordship was much occupied with Pansy. Mrs. Osmond had met him at her cousin Ralph’s hotel the day after he had failed to give her tangible proof of his sincerity toward the girl. While Isabel knew his lordship to be most trustworthy, he had been unusually distracted during his visit to the palazzo last Thursday night. The royal peer fidgeted throughout the evening and kept interrupting his train of thought to wonder aloud if any stray cats had not found their way into the house. “Do you hear mewing?” he would interject quite impertinently. Pansy thought it a ploy to distract her from the recurring borborygmus which she perceived over the general din of conversation at dinner. He pantomimed a gentleman enjoying himself, in reality picking at the fennel and roast chicken with his silver fork, filling and refilling Pansy’s small untouched glass of sherry to overflowing, only to excuse himself abruptly several times for short intervals. When he reappeared, he was more pale than an apparition in black tie. After myriad departures and returns, Osmond asked gaily whether the grounds of the Roman villa were to the Englishman’s liking. “I am sure it is very smart,” said the great lord, “but just now I am making a special study of your Turkish commode.” Pansy could not help but notice that the duke’s impeccable white cuffs were trimmed with specks of shit.