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Zibeline, complete by Phillipe de Massa

Part 2 out of 3

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confidential aside.

"Now, ladies," added the president, "I believe that the best thing we can
do is to leave everything in the hands of Mademoiselle and our treasurer.
The examination of the annual resources will be the object of the next
meeting. For to-day, the meeting is adjourned."

Then, as Mademoiselle de Vermont was about to mingle with the other
ladies, the Duchess detained her an instant, inquiring:

"Have you any engagement for this evening, Mademoiselle?"

"None, Madame."

"Will you do us the honor to join us in my box at the opera?"

"But--I have no one to accompany me," said Zibeline. "I dismissed my
cousin De Sainte-Foy, thinking that I should have no further need of his
escort to-day."

"That does not matter at all," the Duchess replied. "We will stop for
you on our way."

"I should not like to trouble you so much, Madame. If you will allow me,
I will stop at your door at whatever hour will be agreeable to you, and
my carriage shall follow yours."

"Very well. At nine o'clock, if you please. They sing Le Prophete
tonight, and we shall arrive just in time for the ballet."

"The 'Skaters' Ballet,'" said the General.

This remark recalled to Mademoiselle her triumph of the evening before.
"Do you bear a grudge against me?" she said, with a smile.

"Less and less of one," the General replied.

"Then, let us make a compact of peace," said Zibeline, holding out her
hand in the English fashion.

With these words she left the room on the arm of the Duke, who claimed
the honor of escorting her to her carriage.

"Shall you go to the opera also?" asked the Duchess of her brother.

"Yes, but later. I shall dine in town."

"Then-au-revoir--this evening!"

"This evening!"

CHAPTER XIV

A WOMAN'S INSTINCT

The General had been more favorably impressed with Zibeline's appearance
than he cared to show. The generous action of this beautiful girl, her
frankness, her ease of manner, her cleverness in repartee, were likely to
attract the attention of a man of his character. He reproached himself
already for having allowed himself to be influenced by the rancorous
hostility of the Desvanneaux, and, as always happens with just natures,
the sudden change of his mind was the more favorable as his first opinion
had been unjust.

Such was the theme of his reflections on the route from the Hotel de
Montgeron to that of Eugenic Gontie's, with whom he was engaged to dine
with some of her friends, invited to celebrate her success of the evening
before.

On entering her dining-room Eugenie took the arm of Lenaieff, placed
Henri de Prerolles on her left and Samoreau opposite her--in his
character of senior member, so that no one could mistake his transitory
function with that of an accredited master of the house.

The four other guests were distinguished writers or artists, including
the painter Edmond Delorme, and, like him, all were intimate friends of
the mistress of the house.

Naturally the conversation turned upon the representation of Adrienne,
and on the applause of the fashionable audience, usually rather
undemonstrative.

"Never have I received so many flowers as were given to me last night,"
said Eugenic, displaying an enormous beribboned basket which ornamented
the table. "But that which particularly flattered me," she added, "was
the spontaneous tribute from that pretty foreigner who sought me in the
greenroom expressly to offer me her bouquet."

"The young lady in the proscenium box, I will wager," said Lenaieff.

"Precisely. I know that they call her Zibeline, but I did not catch her
real name."

"It is Mademoiselle de Vermont," said Edmond Delorme. "She is, in my
opinion, the most dashing of all the Amazons in the Bois de Boulogne.
The Chevalier de Sainte-Foy brought her to visit my studio last autumn,
and I am making a life-size portrait of her on her famous horse, Seaman,
the winner of the great steeplechase at Liverpool, in 1882."

"What were you pencilling on the back of your menu while you were
talking?" asked the actress, curiously.

"The profile of General de Prerolles," the painter replied. "I think
that his mare Aida would make a capital companion picture for Seaman, and
that he himself would be an appropriate figure to adorn a canvas hung on
the line opposite her at the next Salon!"

"Pardon me, dear master!" interrupted the General. "Spare me, I pray,
the honor of figuring in this equestrian contradance. I have not the
means to bequeath to posterity that your fair model possesses--"

"Is she, then, as rich as they say?" inquired one of the guests.

"I can answer for that," said the Baron de Samoreau. "She has a letter
of credit upon me from my correspondent in New York. Last night, during
an entr'acte, she gave me an order to hold a million francs at her
disposal before the end of the week."

"I know the reason why," added Henri.

"But," Lenaieff exclaimed, "you told me that you did not know her!"

"I have made her acquaintance since then."

"Ah! Where?" Eugenie inquired, with interest.

"At my sister's house, during the meeting of a charitable society."

"Had it anything to do with the society for which Monsieur Desvanneaux
asked me to appear in a kermess?"

"Well, yes. In fact, he has gone so far as to announce that he is
assured of your cooperation."

"I could not refuse him," said Eugenie. "Under the mantle of charity,
the holy man paid court to me!"

"I knew well enough that he had not yet laid down his arms forever," said
the General.

"Oh, he is not the only one. His son-in-law also honored me with an
attack."

"What, Monsieur de Thomery? Well, that is a good joke!"

"But what is funnier yet," continued the actress, "is the fact that the
first-named gentleman was on his knees, just about to make me a
declaration, apparently, when the second was announced! Immediately the
father-in-law jumped to his feet, entreating me not to allow them to
meet. I was compelled to open for him the door leading to the servants'
stairway--"

"And what did you do with the other man?" asked Lenaieff, laughing
loudly.

"I rid myself of him in the same way. At a sign from me, my maid
announced the name of the father-in-law, and the alarmed son-in-law
escaped by the same road! Oh, but I know them! They will come back!"

"Under some other pretext, however," said the General. "Because
Mademoiselle de Vermont's million francs have destroyed their amorous
designs."

"So now we see Zibeline fairly launched," remarked the banker. "Since
the Duchesse de Montgeron has taken her up, all the naughty tales that
have been fabricated about her will go to pieces like a house of cards."

"That is very probable," the General concluded, "for she has made a
complete conquest of my sister."

At these words a slight cloud passed over the actress's face. The
imagination of a jealous mistress sees rivals everywhere; especially that
of an actress.

After dinner, while her other guests went into the smoking-room, Eugenic
made a sign to her lover to remain with her, and seated herself beside
him.

"I wish to ask you a question, Henri," said she.

"What is it?"

"Do you still love me?"

"What reason have you to doubt it?"

"None that warrants me in reproaching you for anything. But so many
things separate us! Your career, to which you owe everything! Your
social standing, so different from mine! Oh, I know that you are
sincere, and that if you ever have a scruple regarding our liaison, you
will not be able to hide it from me. It is this possibility of which I
think."

"You are quite wrong, I assure you. Did I hide myself last night in
order to prove openly my admiration for you? Did I appear to disclaim
the allusions which you emphasized in seeming to address me in the course
of your role?"

"No, that is true. Shall I make a confession? When I am on the stage,
I fear nothing, because there the points of comparison are all in my
favor, since you can say to yourself: 'This woman on whom all eyes are
fixed, whose voice penetrates to the depths of the soul--this woman,
beautiful, applauded, courted, belongs to me--wholly to me,' and your
masculine vanity is pleasantly flattered. But later, Henri! When the
rouge is effaced from my lips, when the powder is removed from my cheeks
--perhaps revealing some premature line caused by study and late hours--
if, after that, you return to your own circle, and there encounter some
fresh young girl, graceful and blooming, the object, in her turn, of the
fickle admiration of the multitude, forgetful already of her who just now
charmed them--tell me, Henri! do you not, as do the others, covet that
beautiful exotic flower, and must not the poor comedienne weep for her
lost prestige?"

"It is Mademoiselle de Vermont, then, who inspires you with this
apprehension," said the General, smiling.

"Well, yes, it is she!"

"What childishness! Lenaieff will tell you that I have never even looked
at her."

"Last night, perhaps--but to-day?"

"We exchanged no more than a dozen words."

"But the more I think of her visit to the greenroom, the more
inexplicable it appears to me."

"You need not be surprised at that: she does nothing that any one else
does."

"These things are not done to displease you."

"I may agree as to that; but what conclusion do you draw?"

"That she is trying to turn your head."

"My head! You jest! I might be her father."

"That is not always a reason--"

Nevertheless, Henri's exclamation had been so frank that Eugenie felt
somewhat reassured.

"Are you going so soon?" she said, seeing him take his hat.

"I promised my sister to join her at the opera. Besides, this is your
reception night, and I leave you to your duties as hostess. To-morrow,
at the usual hour-and we will talk of something else, shall we not?"

"Ah, dearest, that is all I ask!" said Eugenie.

He attempted to kiss her hand, but she held up her lips. He pressed his
own upon them in a long kiss, and left her.

CHAPTER XV

DEFIANCE OF MRS. GRUNDY

For more than fifty years the first proscenium box on the ground floor,
to the left, at the Opera, had belonged exclusively to ten members of the
jockey Club, in the name of the oldest member of which the box is taken.
When a place becomes vacant through any cause, the nine remaining
subscribers vote on the admission of a new candidate for the vacant
chair; it is a sort of academy within the national Academy of Music.

When this plan was originated, that particular corner was called "the
infernal box," but the name has fallen into desuetude since the
dedication of the fine monument of M. Gamier. Nevertheless, as it is
counted a high privilege to be numbered among these select subscribers,
changes are rare among them; besides, the members are not, as a rule, men
in their first youth. They have seen, within those walls, the blooming
and the renewal of several generations of pretty women; and the number of
singers and dancers to whom they have paid court in the coulisses is
still greater.

From their post of observation nothing that occurs either before or
behind the curtain escapes their analysis--an analysis undoubtedly
benevolent on the part of men who have seen much of life, and who accord
willingly, to their younger fellow-members, a little of that indulgence
of which they stand in need themselves.

An event so unexpected as the enthronement of Zibeline in one of the two
large boxes between the columns, in company with the Duchesse de
Montgeron, Madame de Lisieux, and Madame de Nointel, did not escape their
observation and comment.

"The Duchess is never thoughtless in her choice of associates," said one
of the ten. "There must be some very powerful motive to induce her to
shield with her patronage a foreigner who sets so completely at defiance
anything that people may say about her."

"Nonsense! What is it, after all, that they say about this young woman?"
demanded the senior member of the party. "That she rides alone on
horseback. If she were to ride with a groom, some one would be sure to
say that he was her lover. They say that she drives out without any
female chaperon beside her in the carriage. Well, if she had one, they
would probably find some other malicious thing to say. Paris has become
like a little country town in its gossip."

"And all this," added a third member, "because she is as lovely as a
dream, and because she drives the handsomest turnout in the Bois. If she
were ugly, and contented herself with a hired carriage, she would be
absolved without confession!"

"Where the deuce does Christian charity come in, in all this gossip?"
said Henri de Prerolles to himself, who had just entered the box and
overheard the last remarks. "Will you grant me your hospitality until
the beginning of the next act, gentlemen?" he said aloud. "My sister's
box is full of guests and transient visitors; she can not admit even me!"

The General was a great favorite with the members of the club. One of
them rose to offer him his place.

"I shall stay only a moment, to escape a cloud of questioners in the
foyer. Every one that stops me asks--"

"About the new recruit in the Duchess's box, eh?" said a member. "We,
too, wish to inquire about her; we are all leagued together."

"Thank you, no," said the General.

"But if it is a secret--"

"There is no secret about it," the General replied; and in a few words he
explained the enigma.

"Why, then," exclaimed the senior member, "she is indeed the fowl that
lays the golden eggs! What a lucky bird will be the one that mates with
her!"

The rising curtain sent the spectators back to their places. The augurs
of the Duchess's box reinstalled themselves before it where they could
examine at their ease through their lorgnettes the fair stranger of whom
so much had been said; and, mounting to the next floor, the General was
at last able to find room among his sister's guests.

"You can see for yourself that our young friend is altogether charming,"
whispered Madame de Nointel, behind the shelter of her fan, and
indicating Zibeline.

"If you pronounce her so, Madame, she can receive no higher praise," said
Henri.

"Say at once that you think me exasperating," laughed the lady.

"Was it not you that first called her Zibeline?" Henri inquired.

"Yes, but she calls herself Valentine--which rhymes, after all. Not
richly enough for her, I know, but her means allow her to do without the
supporting consonant. See how beautiful she is to-night!"

In fact, twenty-four hours had sufficed to change the lonely stranger of
the day before into the heroine of this evening, and the satisfaction
that shone in her face tempered the somewhat haughty and disdainful
expression that had hitherto characterized her.

"You have not yet said 'good-evening' to Mademoiselle de Vermont, Henri,"
said the Duchess to her brother, and he changed his place in order to act
upon her hint.

"Ah, is it you, General?" said Zibeline, affecting not to have seen him
until that moment. "It seems that music interests you less than comedy."

"What has made you form that opinion, Mademoiselle?"

"The fact that you arrive much later at the opera than at the Comedie
Francaise."

"Have you, then, kept watch upon my movements?"

"Only a passing observation of signs--quite allowable in warfare!"

"But I thought we had made a compact of peace."

"True enough, we did make it, but suppose it were only an armistice?"

"You are ready, then, to resume hostilities?" said Henri.

"Now that I have Madame la Duchesse, your sister, for an ally, I fear no
enemies."

"Not even if I should call for aid upon the camp of Desvanneaux?"

"Alceste leagued with Tartufe? That idea never occurred to Moliere,"
said Zibeline, mischievously.

"Take care!" said the Duchess, interrupting this skirmishing, "you will
fall over into the orchestra! It is growing late, and if Mademoiselle de
Vermont does not wish to remain to see the final conflagration, we might
go now, before the crowd begins to leave."

"I await your orders, Madame la Duchesse," said Zibeline, rising.

The other ladies followed her example, receiving their cloaks from the
hands of their cavaliers, and the occupants of the box made their exit in
the following order: Zibeline, on the arm of the Duke; the Comtesse de
Lisieux, leaning upon M. de Nointel; Madame de Nointel with the General;
the Duchess bringing up the procession with M. de Lisieux.

As soon as they reached the outer lobby their footmen ran to find their
carriages, and that of the Duc de Montgeron advanced first.

"I beg, Madame, that you will not trouble yourself to wait here until my
carriage comes," said Mademoiselle de Vermont to the Duchess, who
hesitated to leave her guest alone.

"Since you wish it, I will leave you, then," said the Duchess, "and we
thank you for giving us your society this evening. My brother will
accompany you to your carriage."

When Zibeline's vehicle drove up to the entrance in its turn, the General
conducted his charge to the door of a marvellously equipped brougham, to
which was harnessed a carriage-horse of powerful frame, well suited to
the kind of vehicle he drew.

A thaw had begun, not yet transforming the gutters into yellow torrents
rushing toward the openings of the sewer, but covering the streets with
thick, black mud, over which the wheels rolled noiselessly.

"Your carriage is late, is it not?" said Zibeline, after the General had
handed her into the brougham.

"My carriage?" said the General. "Behold it!"

He pointed to a passing fiacre, at the same time hailing the driver.

"Don't call him. I will take you home myself," said Zibeline, as if such
a suggestion were the most natural thing in the world.

"You know that in France it is not the custom," said the General.

"What! Do you bother yourself with such things at your age?"

"If my age seems to you a sufficient guaranty, that is different.
I accept your invitation."

"To the Hotel de Montgeron," said Zibeline to her footman.

"I never shall forget your sister's kindness to me," she continued, as
the carriage rolled away. "She fulfils my idea of the great lady better
than any other woman I have seen."

"You may be proud of her friendship," said Henri. "When once she likes a
person, it is forever. I am like her in that respect. Only I am rather
slow in forming friendships."

"And so am I."

"That is obvious, else you would have been married ere this."

"No doubt--to some one like young Desvanneaux, perhaps. You are very
flattering! If you think that I would sacrifice my independence for a
man like that--"

"But surely you do not intend to remain unmarried."

"Perhaps I shall--if I do not meet my ideal."

"All women say that, but they usually change their minds in the end."

"Mine is one and indivisible. If I do not give all I give nothing."

"And shall you wait patiently until your ideal presents himself?"

"On the contrary, I am always looking for him."

"Did you come to Europe for that purpose?"

"For that and for nothing else."

"And suppose, should you find your ideal, that he himself raises
obstacles?"

"I shall try to smooth them away."

"Do you believe, then, that the power of money is irresistible?"

"Far from it! A great fortune is only a trust which Providence has
placed in our hands, in order that we may repair, in its name, the
injustices of fate. But I have another string to my bow."

"What is it?"

"The force of my will."

"You have plenty of that! But suppose, by some impossible chance, your
ideal resists you even then?"

"Then I know what will remain for me to do."

"You will resort to the pistol?"

"Not for him, but for myself," she replied, in a tone so resolute as to
exclude any suggestion of bravado.

Zibeline's horse, which was a rapid trotter, now stopped before the Hotel
de Montgeron, arriving just in advance of the Duchess's carriage, for
which the Swiss was watching at the threshold of the open Porte cochere.
He drew himself up; the brougham entered the gate at a swift pace,
described a circle, and halted under the marquee at the main entrance.
The General sprang lightly to the ground.

"I thank you, Mademoiselle," bowing, hat in hand, to his charming
conductor.

"Call me Valentine, please," she responded, with her usual ease of
manner.

"Even in the character of a stage father, that would be rather too
familiar," said the Marquis.

"Not so much so as to call me Zibeline," said Mademoiselle de Vermont,
laughing.

"Ha! ha! You know your sobriquet, then?"

"I have known it a long time! Good-night, General! We shall meet
again."

Then, addressing her footman, she said in English: "Home!"

CHAPTER XVI

FRATERNAL ADVICE

Like all residences where the owners receive much company, the Hotel de
Montgeron had a double porte-cochere. Just as the Swiss opened the outer
gate to allow the departure of Mademoiselle de Vermont, the two carriages
crossed each other on the threshold. In fact, Henri had had hardly time
to cross the courtyard to mount to his own apartments before his brother-
in-law and his sister stopped him at the foot of the steps. He rejoined
them to say good-night.

"Won't you come and take a cup of tea with us in the little salon?" they
asked.

"Willingly," was his response. He followed them, and all three seated
themselves beside a table which was already laid, and upon which the
boiling water sang in the kettle.

"Leave us," said the Duchess to the butler. "I will serve tea myself.
Did Mademoiselle de Vermont bring you home?" she asked, when the servant
had retired.

"Well," said Henri, "in proposing to do so she mentioned my discreet age,
which appeared to her to make the thing all right! If I had declined her
invitation, I should have seemed to pose as a compromising person! That
is the reason why I accepted."

"You did quite right. What do you really think of her?"

"She is very different from what I had fancied her: I find her frank,
intellectual, full of originality. I have only one fault to mention: she
is too rich."

"Well, surely, you do not expect her to ruin herself to please you."

"I should think not! Besides, what would be the object?"

"To permit you to fall in love with her."

"Oh, that is what you are thinking of, is it?"

"Certainly, for, if need be, perhaps you would make a sacrifice to your
feelings."

"In what way?"

"In the toleration of a few remaining millions which she might retain, so
that when you marry her neither of you will be reduced to absolute
beggary!"

"Marry her!--I?" cried the General, astonished.

"What is there to prevent your doing so?"

"The past, my dear sister. To speculate upon my title and my rank in
order to make a wealthy marriage? To quit my nomad's tent for a fixed
residence other than that where the Prerolles have succeeded one another
from generation to generation? Never! Of all our ancient prejudices,
that is the only one I cherish. Besides, I am free at present to serve
my country under any form of government which it may please her to adopt.
But, with his hereditary estates lost, through his own fault, shall he
who has nothing left to him but his name form a mere branch of another
family? He has no right to do so."

This declaration was categorical. Madame de Montgeron bent her head; her
jesting vein was quenched in a moment.

After a moment of silence the Duke spoke.

"There are scruples that one does not discuss," he said. "But, on the
other hand, if I do not deceive myself, there are others which can be
adjusted to suit circumstances."

"What circumstances?" said the General.

"The subject is rather delicate--especially to mention before you, my
dear Jeanne."

"I was just about to propose that I should retire," said the Duchess.
"Good-night, Henri!" And she bent to kiss him.

"You are not vexed?" said her brother, embracing her tenderly.

"What an idea! Good-night!"

"Am I always to be considered as occupying the stool of repentance?"
Henri inquired, as soon as his sister had left the room.

"Yes, but you will not be offended if I interrogate you a little, after
the manner of a judge?" said the Duke.

"Quite the contrary. Go on; I will listen."

"Had you not just now expressed yourself very distinctly in disfavor of
any project of marriage because of perfectly unimpeachable principles,
I should not permit myself to make any allusion to your private life.
Every man is his own master in his choice of liaisons, and on that head
is answerable only to his own conscience. In these days, moreover, art
is on a level with birth, and talent with military glory. You see that I
am quite modern in my ideas! However--"

"Ah, there is a reserve?"

"Without liability. Mademoiselle Gontier is surrounded by great luxury.
She maintains an expensive house and keeps an open table. Her annual
salary and her income can not possibly cover these expenses. Whence does
she obtain further resources?"

"From the investments made for her by the Baron de Samoreau."

"Without her having to pay a commission of any kind? A most remarkable
case of disinterestedness!"

"I never have sought to examine the matter particularly," said Henri.

"And is that the way you keep yourself informed? A future general-in-
chief!"

"I was not aware that I am in an enemy's country."

"No, but you are in a conquered country, which is still more dangerous.
Oh, no one will attack you face to face at the point of the sword. But
behind your back, in the shadow, you have already massed against you
various rejected swains, the Desvanneaux of the coulisses, jealous of a
preference which wounds their own vanity, and the more ready to throw
discredit--were they able--upon a man of your valor, because they are
better armed against him with the logic of facts."

"What logic, in heaven's name?"

"That which emanates from the following dilemma: Either Danae is obliged
to hide from Jupiter--or, rather, from Maecenas--her intimacy with you--
and you are only a lover who simply loves her--or else Maecenas is an
epicurean who has no objection to share his fortune philosophically; so
that ostensibly you sit at the feast without paying the cost--which is
worse yet."

"Does any one dare to say that of me?" cried the General, springing from
his chair.

"They are beginning to say it," the Duke replied, his eyes fixed on his
brother-in-law, who paced to and fro, gnawing his moustache. "I ask your
pardon for throwing such a bucket of ice-water on you, but with men of
your constitution--"

"Pleurisy is not mortal," Henri interrupted briefly. "I know. Don't
worry about me."

"I knew you would understand," said the Duke, going toward the door of
his own apartments. "That is the reason why I have not spared you a
thorough ducking!"

"I thank you," said the General, as he was about to leave the room.
"I will talk to you about this tomorrow. The night brings counsel."

Wrapped in thought, he made his way to the little suite of apartments
between the ground floor and the first story which he occupied, and which
had a separate door opening on the Rue de Bellechase.

At the foot of the stairs, in a coach-house which had been transformed
into a chamber, slept the orderlies beneath the apartment of their chief.
This apartment, composed of four rooms, was of the utmost simplicity,
harmonizing with the poverty of its occupant, who made it a point of
honor not to attempt to disguise his situation.

The ante-chamber formed a military bureau for the General and his chief
orderly.

The salon, hung with draperies to simulate a tent, had no other
decoration than some trophies of Arabian arms, souvenirs of raids upon
rebellious tribes.

More primitive still was the bedroom, furnished with a simple canteen
bed, as if it were put up in a temporary camp, soon to be abandoned.

The only room which suggested nothing of the anchorite was the dressing-
room, furnished with all the comforts and conveniences necessary to an
elegant and fastidious man of the world.

But his real luxury, which, by habit and by reason of his rank, the
General had always maintained, was found among his horses, as he devoted
to them all the available funds that could be spared from his salary.
Hence the four box-stalls placed at his disposal in the stables of his
brother-in-law were occupied by four animals of remarkably pure blood,
whose pedigrees were inscribed in the French stud-book. Neither years,
nor the hard service which their master had seen, had deteriorated any of
his ability as a dashing horseman. His sober and active life having even
enabled him to preserve a comparatively slender figure, he would have
joined victoriously in the races, except that his height made his weight
too heavy for that amusement.

Entering his own domain, still overwhelmed, with the shock of the
revelations and the gossip of which he never had dreamed, he felt himself
wounded to the quick in all those sentiments upon which his 'amour
propre' had been most sensitive.

The more he pondered proudly over his pecuniary misfortunes, the more
grave the situation appeared to him, and the more imperious the necessity
of a rupture.

When it had been a question of dismissing Fanny Dorville, an actress of
humble standing, his parting gift, a diamond worth twenty-five thousand
francs, had seemed to him a sufficient indemnity to cancel all accounts.

But now, in the presence of an artiste of merit, who had given herself
without calculation and who loved him for himself alone, how, without
wounding her heart and her dignity, could he break violently a chain so
light yesterday, so heavy to-day?

To indulge in tergiversation, to invent some subterfuge to cover his
retreat--he did not feel himself capable of such a course; moreover, his
manoeuvre would be quickly suspected by a clever woman whom nothing
escaped.

To ask to be sent back to Africa, just at the time when his intelligent
and practical instruction in the latest grand manoeuvres had drawn all
eyes upon him, would compromise, by an untimely retirement, the
advantages of this new office, the object of his ambition.

For the first time this nobleman, always prompt and radical in his
decisions, found himself hesitating; and, such is the power of human
egotism even in generous natures, he felt almost incensed against
Eugenie, the involuntary cause of his hesitation.

After weighing everything carefully in his mind, he finally said to
himself that an open confession, sincere and unrestricted, would be the
best solution of the difficulty; and just as the first light of day came
to dissipate the shadow that overcast his mind, when his orderly entered
to open the blinds in his chamber, he formed a fixed resolution as to his
course.

CHAPTER XVII

THE LADY BOUNTIFUL

Valentine de Vermont was not yet twenty-two years old.

Her birth had cost the life of her mother, and, brought up by an active
and enterprising man, her education had been directed by plain common-
sense, rather masculine, perhaps, but without injury to her personal
attractions, nor to those of her delicate and lofty spirit.

Her father, who was endowed with a veritable genius for commercial
action, had monopolized more than the fur-trade of Alaska and of Hudson's
Bay. From year to year he had extended the field of his operations: in
Central America, dealing in grains and salt meats; in Europe in wines and
brandy; commodities always bought at the right time, in enormous
quantities, and, without pausing in transshipment from one country to
another, carried in vessels belonging to him and sailing under the
English flag.

Without giving her any unnecessary instruction as to the management of
his affairs, he wished his daughter to possess sufficient knowledge of
them to handle herself the wealth that she would receive as a dowry and
at his death; and he decided that she should not contract a marriage
except under the law of the separation of goods, according to the custom
generally adopted in the United States.

An attack of paralysis having condemned him to his armchair, he
consecrated the remainder of his days to settling all his enterprises,
and when he died, about two years before the arrival of Valentine in
Paris, that young lady found herself in the possession of more than one
hundred and twenty million francs, nearly all invested in English,
American, and French State bonds.

At the expiration of her period of mourning, the wealthy heiress could
then live in London, New York, or Paris, at her pleasure; but the French
blood that ran in her veins prevented her from hesitating a moment, and
she chose the last named of the three cities for her abode.

Being passionately fond of saddle and driving-horses, she did not stop in
England without taking the necessary time to acquire everything of the
best for the fitting-up of a stable, and after a time she established
herself temporarily in a sumptuous apartment in the Place de l'Etoile,
furnished with a taste worthy of the most thorough Parisian.

On the evening after her appearance at the Opera, just as she left her
breakfast-table, M. Durand presented himself at her dwelling with the
architect's plan for the building of the orphan asylum, and declared
himself ready to take her orders regarding the plan, as well as on the
subject of the gift of money to the Society.

"I have resolved," said Zibeline, "to transform into an asylum, following
a certain plan, the model farm belonging to the estate that I have
recently purchased through you. If I required carte blanche in choosing
the site, it was because I desire that Monsieur Desvanneaux shall have
nothing to do with the matter until the day when I shall put the
committee in possession of the building and its premises, which I have
engaged to furnish, free of all expense to the Society. I shall employ
my own architect to execute the work, and I shall ask you to indemnify,
for me, the architect who has drawn up this first plan, which will remain
as the minimum expense incurred on my part. But I wish to be the only
person to superintend the arrangements, and to be free to introduce,
without control, such improvements as I may judge suitable. Should the
committee demand a guaranty, I have on deposit with Monsieur de Samoreau
a million francs which I intend to use in carrying out these operations.
Half of that sum may be consigned to the hands of some one they may wish
to choose; the other half will serve to pay the laborers in proportion to
their work. In order to insure even greater regularity, have the
kindness to draw up, to cover the interval that will elapse before I make
my final definite donation, a provisionary document, setting forth the
engagement that I have undertaken to carry out."

"Here it is," said the notary; "I have already prepared it."

Having examined the document carefully, to assure herself that all
statements contained therein were according to her intentions, Zibeline
took her pen and wrote at the foot of the page: "Read and approved," and
signed the paper.

"Mademoiselle appears to be well accustomed to business habits," observed
M. Durand, with a smile.

"That is because I have been trained to them since childhood," she
replied. "My plan is to place this document myself in the hands of
Madame la Duchesse de Montgeron."

"You can do so this very afternoon, if you wish. Thursday is her
reception day," said the notary, rising with a bow, preparatory to taking
his leave.

"I shall take good care not to fail to call," earnestly replied the fair
Lady Bountiful.

She telephoned immediately to her head-groom, ordering ham to bring
around her brougham at three o'clock.

CHAPTER XVIII

A MODERN TARTUFE

At the same hour that the elegant carriage of Zibeline was conducting her
to the Hotel de Montgeron, M. Desvanneaux descended from a modest fiacre
at the gate of the hotel occupied by Eugenie Gontier.

The first impulse of the actress--who was engaged in studying a new role
in her library--was not to receive her importunate visitor; but a sudden
idea changed her determination, and she gave the order to admit him.

"This is the first time that I have had the high favor of being admitted
to this sanctuary," said the churchwarden, kissing with ardor the hand
that the actress extended to him.

"Don't let us have so great a display of pious manifestations," she said,
withdrawing her hand from this act of humility, which was rather too
prolonged. "Sit down and be sensible," she added.

"Can one be sensible when he finds himself at your feet, dear
Mademoiselle? At the feet of the idol who is so appropriately enthroned
among so many artistic objects!" replied the honey-tongued Prudhomme,
adjusting his eyeglasses. "The bust of General de Prerolles, no doubt?"
he added, inquiringly, scrutinizing a marble statuette placed on the high
mantelpiece.

"You are wrong, Monsieur Desvanneaux; it is that of Moliere!"

"I beg your pardon!--I am standing so far below it! I, too, have on my
bureau a bust of our great Poquelin, but Madame Desvanneaux thinks that
this author's style is somewhat too pornographic, and has ordered me to
replace his profane image by the more edifying one of our charitable
patron, Saint Vincent de Paul."

"Is it to tell me of your family jars that you honor me with this visit?"
said Eugenie.

"No, indeed! It was rather to escape from them, dear Mademoiselle! But
alas! my visit has also another object: to release you from the promise
you were so kind as to make me regarding the matter of our kermess; a
project now unfortunately rendered futile by that Zibeline!"

"Otherwise called 'Mademoiselle de Vermont.'"

"I prefer to call her Zibeline--that name is better suited to a
courtesan."

"You are very severe toward her!"

"I can not endure hypocrites!" naively replied the worthy man.

"She appeared to me to be very beautiful, however," continued Eugenie
Gontier, in order to keep up the conversation on the woman who she felt
instinctively was her rival.

"Beautiful! Not so beautiful as you," rejoined M. Desvanneaux,
gallantly. "She is a very ambitious person, who throws her money at our
heads, the better to humiliate us."

"But, since it is all in the interest of the Orphan Asylum--"

"Say, rather, in her own interest, to put herself on a pedestal because
of her generosity! Oh, she has succeeded at the first stroke! Already,
at the Hotel de Montgeron they swear by her; and if this sort of thing
goes on, I shall very soon be regarded only as a pariah!"

"Poor Monsieur Desvanneaux!"

"You pity me, dear Mademoiselle? I thank you! The role of consoler is
truly worthy of your large heart, and if you do not forbid me to hope--"
said this modern Tartufe, approaching Eugenie little by little.

"Take care!" said she; "suppose the General should be hidden under that
table, like Orgon!"

"The General!" exclaimed Desvanneaux; "he is too much occupied
elsewhere!"

"Occupied with whom?"

"With Zibeline, probably. He never left her side all the evening, last
night at the Opera."

"Pardon me! He was here until after ten o'clock."

"Yes, but afterward--when the opera was over?"

"Well, what happened when the opera was over?" Eugenie inquired, forcing
herself to hide her emotion.

"They went away together! I saw them--I was watching them from behind a
column. What a scandal!"

"And your conclusion on all this, Monsieur Desvanneaux?"

"It is that the General is deceiving you, dear Mademoiselle."

"With that young girl?"

"A bold hussy, I tell you! A Messalina! Ah, I pity you sincerely in my
turn! And should a devoted consoler, a discreet avenger, be able to make
you forget this outrage to your charms, behold me at your feet, devoting
to you my prayers, awaiting only a word from you to become the most
fortunate among the elect--"

A loud knock at the outer door spared Mademoiselle Gontier the trouble of
repelling her ridiculous adorer, who promptly scrambled to his feet at
the sound.

"A visitor!" he murmured, turning pale. "Decidedly, I have no luck--"

"Monsieur le Marquis de Prerolles is in the drawing-room," a domestic
announced.

"Beg him to wait," said Eugenie, reassured by this visit, which was
earlier than the usual hour. "You see that you are badly informed,
Monsieur Desvanneaux," she added.

"For heaven's sake, spare me this embarrassing meeting!" said the
informer, whose complexion had become livid.

"I understand. You fear a challenge?"

"Oh, no, not that! My religious principles would forbid me to fight a
duel. But the General would not fail to rally me before my wife
regarding my presence here, and Madame Desvanneaux would be pitiless."

"Own, however, that you richly deserve a lesson, Lovelace that you are!
But I will take pity on you," said Eugenie, opening a door at the end of
the room. "The servants' stairway is at the end of that corridor. You
know the way!" she added, laughing.

"I am beginning to know it, dear Mademoiselle!" said the pitiful
beguiler, slipping through the doorway on tiptoe.

CHAPTER XIX

BROKEN TIES

After picking up a chair which, in his alarm, the fugitive had overturned
in his flight, Mademoiselle Gontier herself opened the door leading to
the drawing-room.

"Come in, Henri!" said she, lifting the portiere.

"Do I disturb you?" the General inquired, entering the library.

"Never! You know that well! But how gravely you asked the question!"

"For the reason that I wish to speak to you about serious matters, my
dear Eugenie."

The image of Zibeline passed before the eyes of the actress. That which
Desvanneaux had revealed, in accusing the girl of debauchery, now
appeared plausible to her, if considered in another way.

"You are about to marry!" she exclaimed.

They were the same words pronounced by Fanny Dorville in similar
circumstances.

"Never! You know that well enough!" he replied, in his turn.

"Speak, then!" said she, sinking upon a chair and motioning him to a
seat before her.

He obeyed, and sitting so far forward upon his chair that his knees
touched her skirt, he took both her hands in his own, and said gently:

"You know how much I love you, and how much I esteem you. You know, too,
the story of my life: my past follies, and also the honorable career I
have run in order to atone for them morally, for in a material sense they
are irreparable--according to my ideas, at least. This career has been
fortunate. I have reached the highest rank that a soldier can attain to-
day. But my rapid promotion, however justifiable it may be, has none the
less awakened jealousy. The nature of my services being above all
possibility of suspicion, calumny has sought another quarter at which to
strike, and at this moment it is my delicacy which is impugned."

"Your delicacy, Henri! What do you mean?" asked Eugenie, in an altered
voice.

"Our friendship is well known. You are rich, and I have only my pay: the
antithesis is flagrant! The gossips comment upon it, and exploit the
fact against me."

"Against you!" cried Eugenie, indignantly.

"Against me--yes. I have proof of it. A man in private life would be
justified in ignoring such gossip, but for a man in my profession
ambiguity has no place, nor has compromise. Himself a severe judge of
the conduct of others, he must not afford them a single instance whereby
they can accuse him of not following his own precepts."

And, as his companion remained silent and startled before an explanation
so unexpected, he added:

"You say nothing, my love. You must divine the depth of my chagrin at
the prospect of a necessary separation, and you are sufficiently
charitable not to remind me that I ought to have made these tardy
reflections before I yielded to a fascination which made me close my eyes
to facts."

"I reproach you with nothing, Henri," said Eugenie in a trembling voice.
"I myself yielded to the same enchantment, and in abandoning myself to
it, I did not foresee that some day it might be prejudicial to your
honor. A singular moral law is that of the world!" she pursued, growing
more excited. "Let General de Prerolles be the lover of Madame de
Lisieux or of Madame de Nointel; let him sit every day at their tables--
if there be only a husband whose hand he may clasp in greeting, no one
will call this hospitable liaison a crime! But let him feel anything
more than a passing fancy for Eugenie Gontier, who violates no conjugal
vow in loving him, but whose love he is not rich enough to buy--even were
that love for sale--oh, then, everyone must point at him the finger of
scorn! As for myself, it seems that it was useless for me to resist so
many would-be lovers in order to open my door more freely to the man of
my choice--an action which no one holds against me, however, because I am
only an actress, and the public classes us in a separate category, so
that they may more readily offer up to us the incense with which they
smother us! Be it so! There are also in my profession disinterested
hearts which may serve as examples--and I pretend to the very highest
rank as an actress in every role I assume, even in this city. Take back
your liberty, Henri!"

"I have most unwillingly offended you," said he, sadly.

"You? Ah, no! I know that you are loyal and sincere, and I could not
harbor resentment against you after your avowal. You would have lacked
self-confidence had you acted otherwise. But," she continued, "have you
indeed told me all?"

"All!" he replied, without hesitation.

"Will you give me your word of honor that no other woman stands between
you and me?"

"I swear it to you!"

"I thank you! You are incapable of lying. Whatever happens, you never
will have a better friend than I, for your just pride is still more dear
to me than my own. If you cease to come to the theatre, and appear no
more at my receptions, that will be sufficient to insure the silence of
gossip concerning us. Go without remorse, Henri! But come back to see
me sometimes--quietly, without the knowledge of the envious--will you
not?"

"Do you doubt it?" he responded, folding her tenderly in his arms.

"Yes and no! But if this is our supreme farewell, do not tell me so!"

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Ambiguity has no place, nor has compromise
But if this is our supreme farewell, do not tell me so!
Chain so light yesterday, so heavy to-day
Every man is his own master in his choice of liaisons
If I do not give all I give nothing
Indulgence of which they stand in need themselves
Ostensibly you sit at the feast without paying the cost
Paris has become like a little country town in its gossip
The night brings counsel
You are in a conquered country, which is still more dangerous

ZIBELINE

By PHILIPPE DE MASSA

BOOK 3.

CHAPTER XX

ZIBELINE RECEIVES

The Duchesse de Montgeron had no children, and her most tender affections
were concentrated upon her husband and her brother. The scruples which
caused the latter to forswear matrimony grieved her deeply, for, knowing
the inflexibility of his character, she was sure that no one in the world
could make him alter his decision.

Thus, on one side the title of the Duc de Montgeron was destined to pass
to a collateral branch of the family; and on the other, the title of
Marquis de Prerolles would become extinct with the General.

But, although she now considered it impossible to realize the project
which she had momentarily cherished, she continued to show the same
kindness to Mademoiselle de Vermont. She would have regarded any other
course as unworthy of her, since she had made the first advances;
moreover, the young girl's nature was so engaging that no one who
approached her could resist her charm.

Very reserved or absolutely frank, according to the degree of confidence
with which she was treated, Valentine had sufficient intuition to avoid a
lack of tact.

She was, in feminine guise, like 'L'Ingenu' of Voltaire, struck, as was
Huron, with all that was illogical in our social code; but she did not
make, after his fashion, a too literal application of its rules, and knew
where to draw the line, if she found herself on the point of making some
hazardous remark, declaring frankly: "I was about to say something
foolish!" which lent originality to her playful conversation.

After receiving from Valentine's hands the contract signed in presence of
the notary, for the benefit of the Orphan Asylum, the president of the
society did not fail to give a dinner in honor of the new patroness.

As she was a foreigner she was placed in the seat of honor at the table,
to the great displeasure of Madame Desvanneaux, who was invited to take
the second place, in spite of her title of vice-president.

"It is because of her millions that she was placed before me," she said
in an undertone to her husband, as soon as the guests had returned to the
drawing-room. And, giving orders that her carriage should be summoned
immediately, she left the house without speaking to any one, and with the
air of a peeress of England outraged in her rights of precedence!

This was, for the hostile pair, a new cause of grievance against
Zibeline. When she, in her turn, gave at her home a similar dinner,
a fortnight later, she received from them, in reply to her invitation,
which was couched in the most courteous terms, a simple visiting card,
with the following refusal: "The Comte and the Comtesse Desvanneaux, not
being in the habit of accepting invitations during Lent, feel constrained
to decline that of Mademoiselle de Vermont."

The dinner was only the more gay and cordial.

Valentine's household was conducted on a footing more elegant than
sumptuous.

The livery was simple, but the appearance of her people was
irreproachable. The butler and the house servants wore the ordinary
dress-coat and trousers; the powdered footmen wore short brown coats,
ornamented, after the English fashion, with metal buttons and a false
waistcoat; the breeches were of black velveteen, held above the knee by a
band of gold braid, with embroidered ends, which fell over black silk
stockings. At the end of the ante-chamber where this numerous personnel
was grouped, opened a long gallery, ornamented with old tapestries
representing mythological subjects in lively and well-preserved coloring.
This room, which was intended to serve as a ballroom at need, was next to
two large drawing-rooms. The walls of one were covered with a rich
material, on which hung costly paintings; the furniture and the ceiling
of the other were of oak, finely carved, relieved with touches of gold in
light and artistic design.

Everywhere was revealed an evident desire to avoid an effect of heaviness
and ostentation, and this was especially noticeable in the dining-room,
where the pure tone of the panels and the moulding doubled the intensity
of the light thrown upon them. Upon the table the illumination of the
apartment was aided by two large candelabra of beautifully chiselled
silver, filled with candles, the light of which filtered through a forest
of diaphanous little white shades.

The square table was a veritable parterre of flowers, and was laid for
twelve guests, three on each side.

The young mistress of the house was seated on one side, between the Duc
de Montgeron and the Marquis de Prerolles. Facing her sat the Duchesse
de Montgeron, between General Lenaieff and the Chevalier de Sainte-Foy.
--Laterally, on one hand appeared Madame de Lisieux, between M. de
Nointel and the painter Edmond Delorme; on the other, Madame de Nointel,
between M. de Lisieux and the Baron de Samoreau.

Never, during the six weeks that Valentine had had friendly relations
with the Duchess, had she appeared so self-possessed, or among
surroundings so well fitted to display her attractions of mind and of
person. She was a little on the defensive on finding herself in this new
and unexpected society, but she felt, this evening, that she was in the
midst of a sympathetic and admiring circle, and did the honors of her own
house with perfect ease, finding agreeable words and showing a delicate
forethought for each guest, and above all displaying toward her
protectress a charming deference, by which the Duchess felt herself
particularly touched.

"What a pity!" she said to herself, glancing alternately at Zibeline and
at her brother, between whom a tone of frank comradeship had been
established, free from any coquetry on her side or from gallantry on his.

The more clearly Henri divined the thoughts of his sister, the more he
affected to remain insensible to the natural seductions of his neighbor,
to whom Lenaieff, on the contrary, addressed continually, in his soft and
caressing voice, compliments upon compliments and madrigals upon
madrigals!

"Take care, my dear Constantin!" said Henri to him, bluntly. "You will
make Mademoiselle de Vermont quite impossible. If you go on thus, she
will take herself seriously as a divinity!"

"Fortunately," rejoined Zibeline, "you are there, General, to remind me
that I am only a mortal, as Philippe's freedman reminded his master every
morning."

"You can not complain! I serve you as a confederate, to allow you to
display your erudition," retorted the General, continuing his persiflage.

But he, too, was only a man, wavering and changeable, to use Montaigne's
expression, for his eyes, contradicting the brusqueness of his speech,
rested long, and not without envy, on this beautiful and tempting fruit
which his fate forbade him to gather. The more he admired her freshness,
and the more he inhaled her sweetness, the more the image of Eugenie
Gontier was gradually effaced from his memory, like one of those tableaux
on the stage, which gauze curtains, descending from the flies, seem to
absorb without removing, gradually obliterating the pictures as they
fall, one after another.

CHAPTER XXI

A DASHING AMAZON

On leaving the table, the fair "Amphitryonne" proposed that the gentlemen
should use her private office as a smoking-room, and the ladies followed
them thither, pretending that the odor of tobacco would not annoy them in
the least, but in reality to inspect this new room.

Edmond Delorme had finished his work that very morning, and the enormous
canvas, with its life-size subject, had already been hung, lighted from
above and below by electric bulbs, the battery for which was cleverly
hidden behind a piece of furniture.

The portrait, bearing a striking resemblance to the original, was indeed
that of "the most dashing of all the Amazons on the Bois," to quote the
words of the artist, who was a better painter of portraits than of
animals, but who, in this case, could not separate the rider from her
steed.

Seaman, a Hungarian bay, by Xenophon and Lena Rivers, was drawn in
profile, very erect on his slender, nervous legs. He appeared, on the
side nearest the observer, to be pawing the ground impatiently with his
hoof, a movement which seemed to be facilitated by his rider, who, drawn
in a three-quarters view and extending her hand, allowed the reins to
fall over the shoulders of her pure-blooded mount.

"What do you think of it?" Zibeline inquired of General de Prerolles.

"I think you have the air of the commander of a division of cavalry,
awaiting the moment to sound the charge."

"I shall guard her well," said Zibeline, "for she would be sure to be put
to rout by your bayonets."

"Not by mine!" gallantly exclaimed Lenaieff. "I should immediately
lower my arms before her!"

"You!--perhaps! But between General de Prerolles and myself the
declaration of war is without quarter. Is it not, General?" said
Valentine, laughing.

"It is the only declaration that fate permits me to make to you,
Mademoiselle," Henri replied, rather dryly, laying emphasis on the double
sense of his words.

This rejoinder, which nothing in the playful attack had justified,
irritated the Duchess, but Valentine appeared to pay no attention to it,
and at ten o'clock, when a gypsy band began to play in the long gallery,
she arose.

"Although we are a very small party," she said, "would you not like to
indulge in a waltz, Mesdames? The gentlemen can not complain of being
crowded here," she added, with a smile.

M. de Lisieux and M. de Nointel, as well as Edmond Delorme, hastened to
throw away their cigarettes, and all made their way to the long gallery.
The Baron de Samoreau and the Chevalier de Sainte-Foy remained alone
together.

The Duchess took the occasion to speak quietly to her brother.

"I assure you that you are too hard with her," she said. "There is no
need to excuse yourself for not marrying. No one dreams of such a thing
--she no more than any one else. But she seems to have a sentiment of
friendship toward you, and I am sure that your harshness wounds her."

A more experienced woman than Madame de Montgeron, who had known only a
peaceful and legitimate love, would have quickly divined that beneath her
brother's brusque manner lurked a budding but hopeless passion, whence
sprang his intermittent revolt against the object that had inspired it.

This revolt was not only against Zibeline's fortune; it included her all-
pervading charm, which penetrated his soul. He was vexed at his sister
for having brought them together; he was angry with himself that he had
allowed his mind to be turned so quickly from his former prejudices; and,
however indifferent he forced himself to appear, he was irritated against
Lenaieff because of the attentions which that gentleman showered upon
Zibeline, upon whom he revenged himself by assuming the aggressive
attitude for which the Duchess had reproached him.

In a still worse humor after the sisterly remonstrance to which he had
just been compelled to listen, he seated himself near the entrance of the
gallery, where the gypsy band was playing one of their alluring waltzes,
of a cadence so different from the regular and monotonous measure of
French dance music.

The three couples who were to compose this impromptu ball, yielded
quickly to the spell of this irresistible accompaniment.

"Suppose Monsieur Desvanneaux should hear that we danced on the eve of
Palm Sunday?" laughingly pro-tested Madame de Lisieux.

"He would report it at Rome," said Madame de Nointel.

And, without further regard to the compromising of their souls, each of
the two young women took for a partner the husband of the other.

Mademoiselle de Vermont had granted the eager request of Lenaieff that
she would waltz with him, an occupation in which the Russian officer
acquitted himself with the same respectful correctness that had formerly
obtained for him the high favor of some grand duchess at the balls in the
palace of Gatchina.

He was older and stouter than his brother-in-arms, Henri de Prerolles,
and a wound he had received at Plevna slightly impeded his movements, so
that he was unable to display the same activity in the dance as the other
waltzers, and contented himself with moving a 'trois temps', in an
evolution less in harmony with the brilliancy of the music.

Henri, on the contrary, who had been a familiar friend of the Austrian
ambassador at the time when the Princess de Metternich maintained a sort
of open ballroom for her intimates, had learned, in a good school, all
the boldness and elegance of the Viennese style of dancing.

But he sat immovable, as did also Edmond Delorme, because of the lack of
partners; and, not wishing to take the second place after Lenaieff, his
rival, he would not for the world abandon his role of spectator, unless
some one forced him to it.

"Suppose we have a cotillon figure, in order to change partners?" said
Valentine suddenly, during a pause, after she had thanked her partner.

And, to set the example, she took, from a basket of flowers, a rosebud,
which she offered to Henri.

"Will you take a turn with me?" she said, with the air of the mistress
of the house, who shows equal courtesy to all her guests.

"A deux temps?" he asked, fastening the rosebud in his buttonhole.

"Yes, I prefer that," she replied.

He passed his arm around her waist, and they swept out upon the polished
floor, he erect and gallant, she light and supple as a gazelle, her chin
almost resting upon her left hand, which lay upon her partner's shoulder,
her other hand clasped in his.

At times her long train swirled in a misty spiral around her, when they
whirled about in some corner; then it spread out behind her like a great
fan when they swept in a wide curve from one end of the gallery to the
other.

During the feverish flight which drew these two together, their breasts
touched, the bosom of the enchantress leaned against the broad chest of
the vigorous soldier, her soft hair caressed his cheek, he inhaled a
subtle Perfume, and a sudden intoxication overflowed his heart, which he
had tried to make as stern and immobile as his face.

"How well you waltz!" murmured Zibeline, in his ear.

"I am taking my revenge for my defeat on the ice," he replied, clasping
her a little closer, in order to facilitate their movements.

"The prisoners you take must find it very difficult to escape from your
hands," she said, with a touch of malice.

"Does that mean that already you wish to reclaim your liberty?"

"Not yet--unless you are fatigued."

"Fatigued! I should like to go thus to the end of the world!"

"And I, too," said Zibeline, simply.

By common consent the other waltzers had stopped, as much for the purpose
of observing these two as for giving them more space, while the wearied
musicians scraped away as if it were a contest who should move the
faster, themselves or the audacious couple.

"What a pity!" again said the Duchess to her husband, whose sole
response was a shrug of his shoulders as he glanced at his brother-in-
law.

At the end of his strength, and with a streaming brow, the gypsy leader
lowered his bow, and the music ceased.

Henri de Prerolles, resuming his sang-froid, drew the hand of
Mademoiselle de Vermont through his arm, and escorted her to her place
among the other ladies.

"Bravo, General!" said Madame de Lisieux. "You have won your
decoration, I see," she added, indicating the rosebud which adorned his
buttonhole.

"What shall we call this new order, ladies?" asked Madame de Nointel of
the circle.

"The order of the Zibeline," Valentine replied, with a frank burst of
laughter.

"What?--do you know--" stammered the author of the nickname, blushing up
to her ears.

"Do not disturb yourself, Madame! The zibeline is a little animal which
is becoming more and more rare. They never have been found at all in my
country, which I regret," said Mademoiselle de Vermont graciously.

The hour was late, and the Duchess arose to depart. The Chevalier de
Sainte-Foy, exercising his function as a sort of chamberlain, went to
summon the domestics. Meanwhile Valentine spoke confidentially to Henri.

"General," said she, "I wish to ask a favor of you."

"I am at your orders, Mademoiselle."

"I am delighted with the success of this little dinner," Valentine
continued, "and I wish to give another after Easter. My great desire is
to have Mademoiselle Gontier--with whom I should like to become better
acquainted--recite poetry to us after dinner. Would you have the
kindness to tell her of my desire?"

"I!" exclaimed the General, amazed at such a request.

"Yes, certainly. If you ask her, she will come all the more willingly."

"You forget that I am not in the diplomatic service, Mademoiselle."

"My request annoys you? Well, we will say no more about it," said
Zibeline. "I will charge Monsieur de Samoreau with the negotiations."

They rejoined the Duchess, Zibeline accompanying her to the vestibule,
always evincing toward her the same pretty air of deference.

The drive home was silent. The Duke and the Duchess had agreed not to
pronounce the name of Mademoiselle de Vermont before Henri, who racked
his brain without being able to guess what strange motive prompted the
young girl to wish to enter into closer relations with the actress.

A letter from Eugenie was awaiting him. He read:

"Two weeks have elapsed since you have been to see me. I do not ask
whether you love me still, but I do ask you, in case you love
another, to tell me so frankly.

"ARIADNE."

"So I am summoned to the confessional, and am expected to accuse myself
of that which I dare not avow even to my own heart! Never!" said Henri,
crushing the note in his hand. "Besides, unless I deceive myself,
Ariadne has not been slow in seeking a consoling divinity! Samoreau is
at hand, it appears. He played the part of Plutus before; now he will
assume that of Bacchus," thought the recreant lover, in order to smother
his feeling of remorse.

CHAPTER XXII

AN UNEXPECTED MEETING

The life of General de Prerolles was uniformly regulated. He arose at
dawn, and worked until the arrival of his courier; then he mounted his
horse, attired in morning military costume.

After his ride, he visited the quartermaster-general of his division,
received the report of his chief of staff, and gave necessary orders.
It was at this place, and never at the General's own dwelling, that the
captains or subaltern officers presented themselves when they had
occasion to speak to him.

At midday he returned to breakfast at the Hotel de Montgeron where,
morning and evening, his plate was laid; and soon after this meal he
retired to his own quarters to work with his orderly, whose duty it was
to report to him regarding the numerous guns and pieces of heavy ordnance
which make the object of much going and coming in military life.

After signing the usual number of documents, the General would mount
another of his horses, and at this hour would appear in civilian attire
for an afternoon canter. After this second ride he would pass an hour
at his club, but without ever touching a card, no matter what game was
in progress.

He dined at different places, but oftenest with his sister, where by this
time a studied silence was preserved on the subject of Zibeline. This,
however, did not prevent him from thinking of her more and more.

Mademoiselle de Vermont had not been seen again in the Bois de Boulogne
since the night of her dinner, although Henri had sought in vain to meet
her in the mornings in the bridle-path, and afternoons in the Avenue des
Acacias.

He decided that probably she did not wish to ride during Holy Week; but
when several days had passed after Easter, and still she was not seen
amusing herself in her usual fashion, he said to himself that perhaps it
would be the proper thing to make what is called "a dinner-call."

There are some women whose fascination is so overwhelming as to cause the
sanest of lovers to commit themselves, whence comes the slightly vulgar
expression, "He has lost his bearings." Henri began to feel that he was
in this state when he presented himself at Zibeline's home. A domestic
informed him that Mademoiselle had been absent a week, but was expected
home that evening. He left his card, regretting that he had not waited
twenty-four hours more.

It was now the middle of April, the time when the military governor of
Paris is accustomed to pass in review the troops stationed on the
territory under his command, and this review was to take place the next
morning.

The order for the mobilizing of his own division having been received and
transmitted, Henri's evening was his own, and he resolved to pass it with
Lenaieff, feeling certain that his colleague at least would speak to him
of Zibeline.

The aide-de-camp general lived at the Hotel Continental, much frequented
by Russians of distinction. Henri found his friend just dressing for
dinner, and well disposed to accept his proposition.

As they descended the stairs, they passed an imposing elderly man, with
white moustache and imperial, still very erect in his long redingote with
military buttons--a perfect type of the German officer who gets himself
up to look like the late Emperor William I. This officer and the French
general stopped on the stairs, each eyeing the other without deciding
whether he ought to salute or not, as often happens with people who think
they recognize some one, but without being able to recall where or in
what circumstances they have met before.

It was Henri whose memory was first revived.

"Captain, you are my prisoner!" he said, gayly, seizing the stranger by
the collar.

"What! The Commandant de Prerolles!" cried the elderly man, in a
reproachful tone, from which fifteen years had not removed the
bitterness.

"I know who he is!" said Lenaieff. "Monsieur is your former jailer of
the frontier fortress!"

The officer of the landwehr attempted to withdraw from the hand that held
him.

"Oh, I don't intend to let you escape! You are coming to dine with us,
and we will sign a treaty of peace over the dessert," said Henri,
clasping the officer's hand affectionately.

His tone was so cordial that the stranger allowed himself to be
persuaded. A quarter of an hour later all three were seated at a table
in the Cafe Anglais.

"I present to you General Lenaieff," said Henri to his guest. "You
should be more incensed against him than against me, for, if he had done
his duty, you would probably have had me imprisoned again."

"Not imprisoned--shot!" the Captain replied, with conviction.

"In that case I regret my complicity still less," said Lenaieff, "for
otherwise I should have lost an excellent friend, and, had Prerolles been
shot, he never could have made me acquainted with the delicious
Mademoiselle de Vermont!"

"Ah! So that is what you are thinking of?" Henri said to himself.

"I do not know the young lady of whom you speak," the German interrupted;
"but I know that, for having allowed the Commandant to escape, I was
condemned to take his place in the prison, and was shut up there for six
months, in solitary confinement, without even seeing my wife!"

"Poor Captain! How is the lady?" Henry inquired.

"Very well, I thank you."

"Will you permit us to drink her health?"

"Certainly, Monsieur."

"Hock! hoch!" said Henri, lifting his glass.

"Hock! hoch!" responded the ex-jailer, drinking with his former
prisoner.

This delicate toast began to appease the bitterness of the good man;
while the memories of his escape, offering a diversion to Henri's mind,
put him in sympathetic humor with the stranger.

"'Ah! There are mountains that we never climb but once,'" he said. "We
three, meeting in Paris, can prove the truth of that proverb."

"Not only in Paris," said Lenaieff. "If you were in Saint Petersburg,
Henri, you might, any evening, see your old flame, Fanny Dorville."

"Does she keep a table d'hote?"

"No, indeed, my boy. She plays duenna at the Theatre Michel, as that fat
Heloise used to do at the Palais-Royal. She must have died long ago,
that funny old girl!"

"Not at all. She is still living, and is a pensioner of the Association
of Dramatic Artists! But, pardon me, our conversation can hardly be
amusing to our guest."

"No one can keep a Frenchman and a Russian from talking about women! The
habit is stronger than themselves!" said the old officer, with a hearty
laugh.

"Well, and you, Captain," said Lenaieff: "Have you not also trodden the
primrose path in your time?"

"Gentlemen, I never have loved any other woman than my own wife," replied
the honest German, laying his large hand upon his heart, as if he were
taking an oath. "That astonishes you Parisians, eh?" he added
benevolently.

"Quite the contrary! It assures us peace of mind!" said Lenaieff. "To
your health, Captain!"

"And yours, Messieurs!"

And their glasses clinked a second time.

"Apropos," said Lenaieff to Henri, "the military governor has asked me to
accompany him to-morrow to the review at Vincennes. I shall then have
the pleasure of seeing you at the head of your division."

"Teufel!" exclaimed the German officer; "it appears that the Commandant
de Prerolles has lost no time since we took leave of each other."

"Thanks to you, Monsieur! Had you not allowed me to withdraw from your
society, I should certainly not have reached my present rank! To your
health, Captain!"

"To yours, General!"

Succeeding bumpers finally dissipated entirely the resentment of the
former jailer, and when they parted probably never to meet again--he and
his prisoner had become the best friends in the world.

"Meine besten complimente der Frau Hauptmannin!" said Henri to him, in
leaving him on the boulevard.

"Lieber Gott! I shall take good care not to own to her that I dined with
you."

"And why, pray?"

"Because there is one thing for which she never will forgive you."

"What is that?"

"The fact that you were the cause of her living alone for six months!"

CHAPTER XXIII

THE MILITARY REVIEW

The different troops, assembled for review, were massed on the parade-
ground at Vincennes, facing the tribunes.

In the centre, the artillery brigade, surrounded by two divisions of
infantry, was drawn up in two straight columns, connected by regiments;
each division of infantry, in double columns, was connected by brigades.

These six columns were separated by spaces varying from twenty to twenty-
five metres.

In the background, the cavalry division was lined up in columns; behind
that was its artillery, in the same order of formation.

At a given signal, the troops advanced five hundred metres, and, as soon
as they halted, drums, clarinets and trumpets beat and sounded from all
parts of the field, saluting the arrival of the military governor of
Paris.

This functionary, followed by his staff, in the midst of which group
glittered the brilliant Russian uniform of the aide-decamp General
Leniaeff, rode slowly past the front and the flanks of the massed body,
the troops facing to the left or the right as he passed.

This inspection finished, he took up his stand before the pillars at the
entrance, and the march past began by battalions en masse, in the midst
of the acclamations of numerous spectators who had come to witness this
imposing display, well calculated to stir patriotic pride.

The enthusiasm increased; the Prerolles division marched past after its
artillery, and, as always, the martial and distinguished profile of its
general produced its usual effect on the public.

He rode Aida, his favorite mare, an Irish sorrel of powerful frame, with
solid limbs, whose horizontal crupper and long tail indicated her race;
she was one of those animals that are calm and lively at the same time,
capable of going anywhere and of passing through all sorts of trials.

After its parade, the infantry, whose part in the affair was finished,
retraced their steps and took up a position on the other side of the
field of manoeuvres, facing the north, and in front of rising ground, in
preparation for the discharge of musketry.

During this time the artillery brigade, re-formed in battle array on the
parade-ground, detached six batteries, which advanced at a trot to within
one hundred and fifty metres of the tribunes, where they discharged a
volley. The long pieces were run rapidly to right and left, unmasking
the cavalry, which, after a similar volley from its own batteries,
appeared behind them in battle order, and executed a galloping march, its
third line held in reserve.

A few moments later all the troops rejoined the infantry on the ground
set apart for rest and for the purpose of partaking of a cold repast,
consisting of potted meats, with which each man was furnished.

Nothing more picturesque could be imagined than this temporary camp, with
its stacked arms, knapsacks lying on the ground, holes dug in the ground
in which to kindle fires, and the clattering of cans. On the other side
of the field the artillerymen and cavalrymen ate, holding their reins
under their arms, while their officers stood around some temporary table,
served by canteen men of the united divisions. Tiny columns of blue
smoke rose where coffee was making, and everywhere were the swift
movement and sprightly good-fellowship in which the soldier feels himself
in his natural element.

The curious spectators crowded themselves in front of the banner, while
in the centre of the square the military governor of Paris, and the other
officers, talked with some privileged persons who had been able to
present themselves among them.

Descending from his mount a little apart from the group, and plunged in
thought, the former sub-lieutenant of 'chasseurs a pied' gazed at the old
fortress, the sight of which recalled so many sad memories.

Vincennes had been his first garrison, and its proximity to Paris had
been disastrous for him. There he had entered one morning, stripped of
his fortune!

And what a series of disasters had followed! But for his heavy losses
upon that fatal night, he would not have been compelled to sell
Prerolles, the income of which, during his long absence, would have
sufficed to lessen the tax on the land, transmissible, had events turned
out otherwise, to some heir to his name. If only fate had not made Paul
Landry cross his path!

"Good morning, General!" came the sound of a fresh, gay voice behind,
which sent a thrill through him.

He turned and saw Zibeline, who had just stopped a few steps distant from
him, sitting in her carriage, to which was harnessed a pretty pair of
cobs, prancing and champing their bits.

"Ah, it is you, Mademoiselle!" he said, carrying his hand to the visor
of his kepi, fastened under his chin.

"I found your card last night," said Zibeline, "and I have come here this
morning to return your call!"

Then, leaning back in her driving-seat in order to reveal Edmond Delorme
installed beside her, she added:

"I have brought also my painter-in-ordinary. We have watched the review
together, and he is as enthusiastic as I over the picturesque effect of
this improvised bivouac. See! He is so much occupied with his sketch
that I can not get a word out of him."

It was Aida, whose bridle was held by a dragoon, that served as a model
for the artist's pencil.

"Will you permit me?" he said to Henri.

"It appears decidedly, that my mare has caught your eye," replied the
General, approaching the carriage and resting his spurred foot on its
step.

"She has superb lines," said the painter, without interrupting his
drawing.

"Well, I am curious to know whether she could beat Seaman," said
Zibeline. "Are you willing to run a race with me, General?"

"As you please--some morning when you return to the Bois."

"You noticed my absence, then?"

"I assure you that I did," Henri replied, earnestly.

Then, fearing that he had said too much, he added:

"I, and many others!"

"Good! You were almost making a pretty speech to me, but, as usual, the
disavowal was not slow in coming. Fortunately, here comes your friend
Lenaieff, who is hastening to make amends to me."

"What good fortune to meet you here, Mademoiselle!" cried Constantin,
who, having perceived Valentine from a distance, had taken an abrupt
leave of his general-in-chief.

"I know that you have called to see me several times," said she, "but I
was in the country."

"So early in the month of April?"

"Oh! not to live there. Monsieur de Perolles knows that I have promised
to build our Orphan Asylum at a certain distance from Paris, and hardly
three weeks remain to me before I must hand over the property. If I am
not ready on the day appointed, Monsieur Desvanneaux will be sure to
seize my furniture, and I could not invite you any more to dinner,
Messieurs! A propos, General, Monsieur de Samoreau has failed in his
negotiations. Mademoiselle Gontier refuses to come to recite at my next
soiree!"

"What necessity is there for you to make her acquaintance?" demanded
Henri.

"Ah, that is my secret!"

During this conversation a hired fiacre, well appointed, had stopped
beside the road, and Eugenie Gontier descended from it, inquiring of an
officer belonging to the grounds where she could find General de
Prerolles. When the officer had pointed out the General to her, she
started to walk toward him; but, on seeing her former lover leaning
familiarly against the door of Zibeline's carriage, she immediately
retraced her steps and quickly reentered her own.

"There is no longer any doubt about it!" said Mademoiselle de Vermont,
who had been observing Eugenie's movements. "Mademoiselle Gontier has
made a fixed resolution to avoid meeting me."

"That is because she is jealous of you!" said Lenaieff naively.

"Jealous? And why?" said Zibeline, blushing.

Visibly embarrassed, Henri drew out his watch in order to avert his
countenance.

"Midday!" he cried. "This is the hour for the return of the troops to
their barracks. You would do well not to delay in starting for home,
Mademoiselle. The roads will be very crowded, and your horses will not
be able to trot. I beg your pardon for taking away your model, my dear
Delorme, but I really must be off."

"It is all the same to me; I have finished my sketch," said the painter,
closing his portfolio.

At this moment, as the military governor passed near them, on his way to
the crossway of the Pyramid, Henri made a movement as if to rejoin him.

"Do not disturb yourself, General de Prerolles," said the military
governor. "The compliments which I have made you on the fine appearance
of your troops are probably not so agreeable to you as those to which you
are listening at present!"

And saluting Mademoiselle de Vermont courteously, he went his way.

"Now you are free, Henri. Suppose we accompany Mademoiselle back to
Paris?" suggested Lenaieff, seeming to read his friend's mind.

"What an honor for me!" Valentine exclaimed.

The General made a sign to his orderly, who approached to receive his
instructions.

"Tell the brigadier-generals that I am about to depart. I need no more
escort than two cavalrymen for General Lenaieff and myself. Now I am
ready, Mademoiselle," Henri continued, turning toward Valentine. "If you
will be guided by me, we should do well to reach the fortifications by
way of the Lake of Saint-Mande."

She made a little sound with her tongue, and the two cobs set off in the
direction indicated, the crowds they passed stopping to admire their high
action, and asking one another who was that pretty woman who was escorted
by two generals, the one French, the other a foreigner.

"I must look like a treaty of peace in a Franco-Russian alliance!" said
Zibeline, gayly.

The sun shone brightly, the new leaves were quivering on the trees, the
breeze bore to the ear the echo of the military bands.

Animated by the sound, the two cobs went ahead at a great pace, but they
were kept well in hand by their mistress, who was dressed this morning in
a simple navy-blue costume, with a small, oval, felt hat, ornamented with
two white wings, set on in a manner that made the wearer resemble a
valkyrie. Her whip, an unnecessary accessory, lay across the seat at her
right, on which side of the carriage Henri rode.

The General's eyes missed none of the graceful movements of the young
girl. And his reflections regarding her, recently interrupted, returned
in full force, augmenting still more his regret at the inexorable fate
that separated him from her. "What a pity!" he thought in his turn,
repeating unconsciously the phrase so often uttered by his sister.

Arrived at the Place du Tr&ne, Valentine stopped her horses a moment, and
addressed her two cavaliers:

"I thank you for your escort, gentlemen. But however high may be your
rank, I really can not go through Paris looking like a prisoner between
two gendarmes! So good-by! I shall see you this evening perhaps, but
good-by for the present."

They gave her a military salute, and the carriage disappeared in the
Faubourg St. Antoine, while the two horsemen followed the line of the
quays along the Boulevard Diderot.

CHAPTER XXIV

THE CHALLENGE

That person who, in springtime, between ten o'clock and midday, never has
walked beside the bridle-path in the Bois de Boulogne, under the deep
shade of the trees, can form no idea of the large number of equestrians
that for many years have been devoted to riding along that delightful and
picturesque road.

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