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Title: Zibeline — Complete
Author: Massa, Philippe, marquis de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Zibeline — Complete" ***

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ZIBELINE

By Philippe De Massa

Translated By D. Knowlton Ranous



ALEXANDRE-PHILIPPE-REGNIER DE MASSA

MARQUIS DE MASSA, soldier, composer, and French dramatist, was born in
Paris, December 5, 1831. He selected the military career and received a
commission in the cavalry after leaving the school of St. Cyr. He served
in the Imperial Guards, took part in the Italian and Franco-German Wars
and was promoted Chief of Squadron, Fifth Regiment, Chasseurs a Cheval,
September 10, 1871. Having tendered his resignation from active service,
he was appointed a lieutenant-colonel in the territorial army February
3, 1880. He has been decorated with the Legion of Honor.

The Marquis de Massa is known as a composer of music and as a dramatic
author and novelist. At the Opera Comique there was represented in
1861 Royal-Cravate, written by him. Fragments of two operas by him were
performed at the Paris Conservatory of Music in 1865, and in 1868. The
list of his principal plays follows: ‘Le Service en campagne, comedy
(1882); La Cicatrice, comedy (1885); Au Mont Ida, Fronsac a La Bastille,
and La Coeur de Paris, all in 1887; La Czarine and Brouille depuis
Magenta (1888), and La Bonne Aventure--all comedies--1889. Together with
Petipa he also wrote a ballet Le Roi d’Yvetot (1866); music by Charles
Labarre. He further wrote Zibeline, a most brilliant romance (1892) with
an Introduction by Jules Claretie; crowned by the Academie Francaise.
This odd and dainty little story has a heroine of striking originality,
in character and exploits. Her real name is Valentine de Vermont, and
she is the daughter of a fabulously wealthy French-American dealer in
furs, and when, after his death, she goes to Paris to spend her colossal
fortune, and to make restitution to the man from whom her father won
at play the large sum that became the foundation of his wealth, certain
lively Parisian ladies, envying her her rich furs, gave her the name of
Zibeline, that of a very rare, almost extinct, wild animal. Zibeline’s
American unconventionality, her audacity, her wealth, and generosity,
set all Paris by the ears. There are fascinating glimpses into the
drawing-rooms of the most exclusive Parisian society, and also into
the historic greenroom of the Comedie Francaise, on a brilliant “first
night.” The man to whom she makes graceful restitution of his fortune
is a hero of the Franco-Mexican and Franco-Prussian wars, and when she
gives him back his property, she throws her heart in with the gift. The
story is an interesting study of a brilliant and unconventional American
girl as seen by the eyes of a clever Frenchman.

Later came ‘La Revue quand meme, comedy, (1894); Souvenirs et
Impressions (1897); La Revue retrospective, comedy (1899); and Sonnets’
the same year.

               PAUL HERVIEU
             de l’Academe Francaise.



LETTER FROM JULES CLARETIE TO THE AUTHOR

MY DEAR FRIEND:

I have often declared that I never would write prefaces! But how can
one resist a fine fellow who brings one an attractive manuscript, signed
with a name popular among all his friends, who asks of one, in the most
engaging way, an opinion on the same--then a word, a simple word of
introduction, like a signal to saddle?

I have read your Zibeline, my dear friend, and this romance--your
first--has given me a very keen pleasure. You told me once that you felt
a certain timidity in publishing it. Reassure yourself immediately. A
man can not be regarded as a novice when he has known, as you have,
all the Parisian literary world so long; or rather, perhaps, I may more
accurately say, he is always a novice when he tastes for the first time
the intoxication of printer’s ink.

You have the quickest of wits and the least possible affectation of
gravity, and you have made as well known in Mexico as in Paris your
couplets on the end of the Mexican conflict with France. ‘Tout Mexico y
passera!’ Where are they, the ‘tol-de-rols’ of autumn?

Yesterday I found, in a volume of dramatic criticism by that terrible
and charming Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, an appreciation of one of your
comedies which bears a title very appropriate to yourself: ‘Honor.’
“And this play does him honor,” said Barbey d’Aurevilly, “because it is
charming, light, and supple, written in flowing verse, the correctness
of which does not rob it of its grace.”

That which the critic said of your comedy I will say of your romance.
It is a pretty fairy-story-all about Parisian fairies, for a great many
fairies live in Paris! In fact, more are to be found there than anywhere
else! There are good fairies and bad fairies among them. Your own
particular fairy is good and she is charming. I am tempted to ask
whether you have drawn your characters from life. That is a question
which was frequently put to me recently, after I had published
‘L’Americaine.’ The public longs to possess keys to our books. It is not
sufficient for them that a romance is interesting; it must possess also
a spice of scandal.

Portraits? You have not drawn any--neither in the drawing-rooms where
Zibeline scintillates, nor in the foyer of the Comedie Francaise,
where for so long a time you have felt yourself at home. Your women are
visions and not studies from life--and I do not believe that you will
object to my saying this.

You should not dislike the “romantic romance,” which every one in these
days advises us to write--as if that style did not begin as far back
as the birth of romance itself: as if the Princess of Cleves had not
written, and as if Balzac himself, the great realist, had not invented,
the finest “romantic romances” that can be found--for example, the
amorous adventure of General de Montriveau and the Duchesse de Langlais!

Apropos, in your charming story there is a General who pleases me very
much. How was it that you did not take, after the fashion of Paul de
Molenes, a dashing cavalry officer for your hero?--you, for whom the
literary cavalier has all the attractions of a gentleman and a soldier?

Nothing could be more piquant, alert, chivalrous--in short, worthy of
a Frenchman--than the departure of your hero for the war after that
dramatic card-party, which was also a battle--and what a battle!--where,
at the end of the conflict, he left his all upon the green cloth. That
is an attractive sketch of the amiable comedienne, who wishes for fair
weather and a smooth sea for the soldier lover who is going so far away.
It seems to me that I have actually known that pretty girl at some time
or another! That chapter is full of the perfume of pearl powder and
iris! It is only a story, of course, but it is a magnificent story,
which will please many readers.

The public will ask you to write others, be sure of that; and you will
do well, my dear friend, for your own sake and for ours, to follow the
precept of Denis Diderot: “My friends, write stories; while one writes
them he amuses himself, and the story of life goes on, and that is less
gay than the stories we can tell.”

I do not know precisely whether these last words, which are slightly
pessimistic, are those of the good Diderot himself. But they are
those of a Parisian of 1892, who has been able to forget his cares and
annoyances in reading the story that you have told so charmingly.

With much affection to you, and wishing good luck to Zibeline, I am

Your friend,               JULES CLARETIE
             de l’Academie Francaise.
APRIL 26, 1892.



ZIBELINE



BOOK 1.



CHAPTER I. LES FRERES-PROVENCAUX.

In the days of the Second Empire, the Restaurant des Freres-Provencaux
still enjoyed a wide renown to which its fifty years of existence had
contributed more than a little to heighten its fame.

This celebrated establishment was situated near the Beaujolais Gallery
of the Palais-Royal, close to the narrow street leading to the Rue
Vivienne, and it had been the rendezvous of epicures, either residents
of Paris or birds of passage, since the day it was opened.

On the ground floor was the general dining-room, the gathering-place for
honest folk from the provinces or from other lands; the next floor had
been divided into a succession of private rooms, comfortably furnished,
where, screened behind thick curtains, dined somewhat “irregular”
 patrons: lovers who were in either the dawn, the zenith, or the decline
of their often ephemeral fancies. On the top floor, spacious salons,
richly decorated, were used for large and elaborate receptions of
various kinds.

At times the members of certain social clubs gave in these rooms
subscription balls of anacreontic tendencies, the feminine element
of which was recruited among the popular gay favorites of the period.
Occasionally, also, young fellows about town, of different social rank,
but brought together by a pursuit of amusement in common, met here on
neutral ground, where, after a certain hour, the supper-table was turned
into a gaming-table, enlivened by the clinking of glasses and the rattle
of the croupier’s rake, and where to the excitement of good cheer was
added that of high play, with its alternations of unexpected gains and
disastrous losses.

It was at a reunion of this kind, on the last evening in the month
of May, 1862, that the salons on the top floor were brilliantly
illuminated. A table had been laid for twenty persons, who were to join
in a banquet in honor of the winner of the great military steeplechase
at La Marche, which had taken place a few days before. The victorious
gentleman-rider was, strange to say, an officer of infantry--an
unprecedented thing in the annals of this sport.

Heir to a seigneurial estate, which had been elevated to a marquisate in
the reign of Louis XII, son of a father who had the strictest notions as
to the preservation of pure blood, Henri de Prerolles, early initiated
into the practice of the breaking and training of horses, was at
eighteen as bold and dashing a rider as he was accomplished in other
physical exercises; and although, three years later, at his debut at St.
Cyr, he expressed no preference for entering the cavalry service, for
which his early training and rare aptitude fitted him, it was because,
in the long line of his ancestors--which included a marshal of France
and a goodly number of lieutenants-general--all, without exception, from
Ravenna to Fontenoy, had won renown as commanders of infantry.

At the outbreak of the French Revolution, Henri’s grandfather, who had
distinguished himself in the American War for Independence, left
his native land only when he was in the last extremity. As soon as
circumstances permitted, he reentered France with his son, upon whom
Napoleon conferred a brevet rank, which the recipient accepted of his
free will. He began his military experience in Spain, returned safe and
well from the retreat from Russia, and fought valiantly at Bautzen and
at Dresden. The Restoration--by which time he had become chief of his
battalion--could not fail to advance his career; and the line was about
to have another lieutenant-general added to its roll, when the events of
1830 decided Field-Marshal the Marquis de Prerolles to sheathe his
sword forever, and to withdraw to his own estate, near the forest of
l’Ile-d’Adam, where hunting and efforts toward the improvement of the
equine race occupied his latter years.

He died in 1860, a widower, leaving two children: Jeanne, recently
married to the Duc de Montgeron, and his son Henri, then a pupil in
a military school, who found himself, on reaching his majority, in
possession of the chateau and domains of Prerolles, the value of which
was from fifteen to eighteen hundred thousand francs.

Having been made sub-lieutenant by promotion on the first day of
October, 1861, the young Marquis, already the head of his house and a
military leader, asked and obtained the favor of being incorporated with
a battalion of chasseurs garrisoned at Vincennes.

Exact in the performance of his military duties, and at the same time
ardent in the pursuit of pleasure, he was able, thanks to his robust
health, to conciliate the exigencies of the one with the fatigues of the
other.

Unfortunately, Henri was fond of gaming, and his natural impetuosity,
which showed itself by an emulation of high standards in his military
duties, degenerated into recklessness before the baccarat-table. At the
end of eighteen months, play, and an expensive liaison with an actress,
had absorbed half his fortune, and his paternal inheritance had been
mortgaged as well. The actress was a favorite in certain circles and had
been very much courted; and this other form of rivalry, springing
from the glitter of the footlights, added so much the more fuel to the
prodigalities of the inflammable young officer.

Affairs were in this situation when, immediately after Henri’s triumph
at the race-track, a bettor on the opposite side paid one of his wagers
by offering to the victor a grand dinner at the Freres-Provencaux.



CHAPTER II. BIRDS OF PREY

The hero of the night was seated at the middle of one side of the table,
in the place of honor. For his ‘vis-a-vis’ he had his lively friend
Fanny Dorville, star of the Palais Royal, while at his right sat Heloise
Virot, the “first old woman,” or duenna, of the same theatre, whose well
known jests and eccentricities added their own piquancy to gay life in
Paris. The two artists, being compelled to appear in the after-piece at
their theatre that evening, had come to the dinner made up and in full
stage costume, ready to appear behind the footlights at the summons of
the call-boy.

The other guests were young men accustomed to the surroundings of the
weighing-stand and the betting-room, at a time when betting had not yet
become a practice of the masses; and most of them felt highly honored
to rub elbows with a nobleman of ancient lineage, as was Henri de
Prerolles.

Among these persons was Andre Desvanneaux, whose father, a churchwarden
at Ste.-Clotilde, had attained a certain social prestige by his good
works, and Paul Landry, in his licentiate in a large banking house in
Paris. The last named was the son of a ship-owner at Havre, and his
character was ambitious and calculating. He cherished, under a
quiet demeanor, a strong hope of being able to supply, by the rapid
acquisition of a fortune, the deficiencies of his inferior birth, from
which his secret vanity suffered severely. Being an expert in all games
of chance, he had already accumulated, while waiting for some brilliant
coup, enough to lead a life of comparative elegance, thus giving a
certain satisfaction to his instincts. He and Henri de Prerolles never
yet had played cards together, but the occasion was sure to come some
day, and Paul Landry had desired it a long time.

The company, a little silent at first, was becoming somewhat more
animated, when a head-waiter, correct, and full of a sense of his own
importance, entered the salon, holding out before him with both hands
a large tray covered with slender glasses filled with a beverage called
“the cardinal’s drink,” composed of champagne, Bordeaux, and slices of
pineapple. The method of blending these materials was a professional
secret of the Freres-Provencaux.

Instantly the guests were on their feet, and Heloise, who had been
served first, proposed that they should drink the health of the Marquis,
but, prompted by one of her facetious impulses, instead of lifting the
glass to her own lips, she presented it to those of the waiter, and,
raising her arm, compelled him to swallow the contents. Encouraged
by laughter and applause, she presented to him a second glass, then a
third; and the unhappy man drank obediently, not being able to push away
the glasses without endangering the safety of the tray he carried.

Fanny Dorville interceded in vain for the victim; the inexorable duenna
had already seized a fourth glass, and the final catastrophe would have
been infallibly brought about, had not providence intervened in the
person of the call-boy, who, thrusting his head through the half-open
doorway, cried, shrilly:

“Ladies, they are about to begin!”

The two actresses hastened away, escorted by Andre Desvanneaux, a modern
Tartufe, who, though married, was seen everywhere, as much at home
behind the scenes as in church.

Coffee and liqueurs were then served in a salon adjoining the large
dining-room, which gave the effect of a private club-room to this part
of the restaurant.

Cigars were lighted, and conversation soon turned on feminine charms and
the performances of various horses, particularly those of Franc-Comtois,
the winner of the military steeplechase. This animal was one of the
products of the Prerolles stud, and was ordinary enough on flat ground,
but a jumper of the first rank.

At last the clock struck the half hour after eleven, and some of the
guests had already manifested their intention to depart, when Paul
Landry, who had been rather silent until then, said, carelessly:

“You expect to sleep to-night in Paris, no doubt, Monsieur de
Prerolles?”

“Oh, no,” Henri replied, “I am on duty this week, and am obliged to
return to Vincennes early in the morning. So I shall stay here until it
is time for me to go.”

“In that case, might we not have a game of cards?” proposed Captain
Constantin Lenaieff, military attache to the suite of the Russian
ambassador.

“As you please,” said Henri.

This proposal decided every one to remain. The company returned to the
large dining-room, which, in the mean time, had been again transformed
into a gaming-hall, with the usual accessories: a frame for the
tally-sheet, a metal bowl to hold rejected playing-cards set in one end
of the table, and, placed at intervals around it, were tablets on which
the punter registered the amount of the stakes.

On reentering this apartment, Henri de Prerolles approached a sort
of counter, and, drawing from his pocket thirty thousand francs in
bank-notes, he exchanged them for their value in mother-of-pearl
“chips” of different sizes, representing sums from one to five, ten,
twenty-five, or a hundred louis. Paul Landry took twenty-five thousand
francs’ worth; Constantin Unaieff, fifteen thousand; the others, less
fortunate or more prudent, took smaller sums; and about midnight the
game began.



CHAPTER III. THE GAME

It began quietly enough, the two principal players waiting, before
making any bold strokes, to see how the luck should run. The first
victory was in favor of Henri, who, at the end of a hand dealt by
Constantin Lenaieff, had won about three hundred Louis. Just at this
moment the two women returned, accompanied by Desvanneaux.

“I had some difficulty in persuading our charming friends to return,”
 said he; “Mademoiselle Dorville was determined that some one should
escort her to her own house.”

“You, perhaps, Desvanneaux,” said Henri, twisting up the ends of his
moustache.

“Not at all,” said Fanny; “I wished Heloise to go with me. I have
noticed that when I am here you always lose. I fear I have the evil
eye.”

“Say, rather, that you have no stomach,” said Heloise. “Had you made
your debut, as I made mine, with Frederic Lemaitre in ‘Thirty Years in
the Life of an Actor’”

“It certainly would not rejuvenate her,” said Henri, finishing the
sentence.

“Marquis, you are very impertinent,” said the duenna, laughing. “As a
penalty, you must lend me five louis.”

“With the greatest pleasure.”

“Thank you!”

And, as a new hand was about to be dealt, Heloise seated herself at one
of the tables. This time Paul Landry put fifteen thousand francs in the
bank.

“Will you do me the favor to cut the cards?” he asked of Fanny, who
stood behind Henri’s chair.

“What! in spite of my evil eye, Monsieur?”

“I do not fear that, Mademoiselle. Your eyes have always been too
beautiful for one of them to change now.”

Stale as was this compliment, it had the desired effect, and the young
woman thrust vertically into the midst of the pack the cards he held out
to her.

“Play, messieurs,” said the banker.

“Messieurs and Madame,” corrected Heloise, placing her five chips before
her, while Henri, at the other table, staked the six thousand francs
which he had just won.

“Don’t put up more than there is in the bank,” objected Paul Landry,
throwing a keen glance at the stakes. Having assured himself that on the
opposing side to this large sum there were hardly thirty louis, he dealt
the cards.

“Eight!” said he, laying down his card.

“Nine!” said Heloise.

“Baccarat!” said Henri, throwing two court-cards into the basket.

The rake rattled on the losing table, but after the small stakes of
the winners had been paid, the greater part of the six thousand francs
passed into the hands of the banker.

Five times in succession, at the first deal, the same thing happened;
and at the sixth round Heloise won six hundred francs, and Henri found
himself with no more counters.

“This is the proper moment to retire!” said the duenna, rising from the
table. “Are you coming, Fanny?”

“I beg you, let us go now,” murmured Mademoiselle Dorville in the ear of
her lover.

Her voice was caressing and full of tender promise. The young man
hesitated an instant. But to desert the game at his first loss seemed to
him an act unworthy of his reputation, and, as between love and pride,
the latter finally prevailed.

“I have only an hour or two more to wait. Can not you go home by
yourself?” he replied to Fanny’s appeal, while Heloise exchanged her
counters for tinkling coin, forgetting, no doubt, to reimburse her
creditor, who, in fact, gave no thought to the matter.

Henri accompanied the two women to a coach at the door, which had
been engaged by the thoughtful and obliging Desvanneaux; and, pressing
tenderly the hand of his mistress, he murmured:

“Till to-morrow!”

“To-morrow!” she echoed, her heart oppressed with sad forebodings.

Desvanneaux, whose wife was very jealous of him, made all haste to
regain his conjugal abode.



CHAPTER IV. THE RESULT

Meanwhile, Paul Landry had begun badly, and had had some ill turns of
luck; nevertheless, feeling that his fortune was about to change, he
raised the stakes.

“Does any one take him up?” asked Constantin Lenaeiff.

“I do,” said De Prerolles, who had returned to the table.

And, seizing a pencil that lay on the card-table, he signed four cheques
of twenty-five thousand francs each. Unfortunately for him, the next
hand was disastrous. The stakes were increased, and the bank was broken
several times, when Paul Landry, profiting by a heavy gain, doubled and
redoubled the preceding stakes, and beheld mounting before him a pile of
cheques and counters.

But, as often happens in such circumstances, his opponent, Henri de
Prerolles, persisted in his vain battle against ill-luck, until at three
o’clock in the morning, controlling his shaken nerves and throwing down
his cards, without any apparent anger, he said:

“Will you tell me, gentlemen, how much I owe you?”

After all accounts had been reckoned, he saw that he had lost two
hundred and ninety thousand francs, of which two hundred and sixty
thousand in cheques belonged to Paul Landry, and the thirty thousand
francs’ balance to the bank.

“Monsieur de Prerolles,” said Paul Landry, hypocritically, “I am ashamed
to win such a sum from you. If you wish to seek your revenge at some
other game, I am entirely at your service.”

The Marquis looked at the clock, calculated that he had still half an
hour to spare, and, not more for the purpose of “playing to the gallery”
 than in the hope of reducing the enormous sum of his indebtedness, he
replied:

“Will it be agreeable to you to play six hands of bezique?”

“Certainly, Monsieur. How much a point?”

“Ten francs, if that is not too much.”

“Not at all! I was about to propose that amount myself.”

A quick movement of curiosity ran through the assembly, and a circle was
formed around the two opponents in this exciting match.

Every one knows that bezique is played with four packs of cards, and
that the number of points may be continued indefinitely. The essential
thing is to win at least one thousand points at the end of each hand;
unless a player does this he is said to “pass the Rubicon,” becoming
twice a loser--that is, the victor adds to his own score the points lost
by his adversary. Good play, therefore, consists largely in avoiding
the “Rubicon” and in remaining master of the game to the last trick,
in order to force one’s adversary over the “Rubicon,” if he stands in
danger of it. The first two hands were lost by Landry, who, having each
time approached the “Rubicon,” succeeded in avoiding it only by the
greatest skill and prudence. Immediately his opponent, still believing
that good luck must return to him, began to neglect the smaller points
in order to make telling strokes, but he became stranded at the very
port of success, as it were; so that, deducting the amount of his first
winning, he found at the end of the fifth hand that he had lost six
thousand points. Notwithstanding his wonderful self-control, it was
not without difficulty that the young officer preserved a calm demeanor
under the severe blows dealt him by Fortune. Paul Landry, always
master of himself, lowered his eyes that their expression of greedy
and merciless joy should not be seen. The nearer the game drew to its
conclusion, the closer pressed the circle of spectators, and in the
midst of a profound silence the last hand began. Favored from the
beginning with the luckiest cards, followed by the most fortunate
returns, Paul Landry scored successively “forty, bezique,” five hundred
and fifteen hundred. He lacked two cards to make the highest point
possible, but Henri, by their absence from his own hand, could measure
the peril that menaced him. So, surveying the number of cards that
remained in stock, he guarded carefully three aces of trumps which might
help him to avert disaster. But, playing the only ace that would allow
him to score again, Paul Landry announced coldly, laying on the table
four queens of spades and four knaves of diamonds:

“Four thousand five hundred!” This was the final stroke. The last hand
had wiped out, by eight thousand points, the possessions of Landry’s
adversary. The former losses of the unfortunate Marquis were now
augmented by one hundred and forty thousand francs. Henri became very
pale, but, summoning all his pride to meet the glances of the curious,
he arose, rang a bell, and called for a pen and a sheet of stamped
paper. Then, turning to Paul Landry, he said, calmly “Monsieur, I owe
you four hundred thousand francs. Debts of honor are payable within
twenty-four hours, but in order to realize this sum, I shall require
more time. How long a delay will you grant me?”

“As long as you wish, Monsieur.”

“I thank you. I ask a month.”

A waiter appeared, bringing the pen and paper.

“Oh, your word will be sufficient for me,” said Landry.

“Pardon me!” said the Marquis. “One never knows what may happen. I
insist that you shall accept a formal acknowledgment of the debt.”

And he wrote:

“I, the undersigned, acknowledge that I owe to Monsieur Paul Landry the
sum of four hundred thousand francs, which I promise to pay in thirty
days, counting from this date.”

He dated, signed, and folded the paper, and handed it to Paul Landry.
Then, glancing at the clock, whose hands pointed to a quarter before
four, he said:

“Permit me to take leave of you, gentlemen. I have barely time to reach
Vincennes before roll-call.”

He lighted a cigar, saluted the astonished assembly with perfect
coolness, slowly descended the stairs, and jumped into his carriage, the
chasseur of the restaurant holding open the door for him.

“To Vincennes!” he cried to the coachman; “and drive like the devil!”



CHAPTER V. A DESPERATE RESOLUTION

The chimneys and roofs of the tall houses along the boulevards stood out
sharp and clear in the light of the rising sun. Here and there squads
of street-cleaners appeared, and belated hucksters urged their horses
toward the markets; but except for these, the streets were deserted, and
the little coupe that carried Caesar and his misfortunes rolled rapidly
toward the Barriere du Trone.

With all the coach-windows lowered, in order to admit the fresh morning
air, the energetic nobleman, buffeted by ill-luck, suddenly raised his
head and steadily looked in the face the consequences of his defeat.
He, too, could say that all was lost save honor; and already, from the
depths of his virile soul, sprang the only resolution that seemed to him
worthy of himself.

When he entered his own rooms in order to dress, his mind was made up;
and although, during the military exercises that morning, his commands
were more abrupt than usual, no one would have suspected that his mind
was preoccupied by any unusual trouble.

He decided to call upon his superior officer that afternoon to request
from him authorization to seek an exchange for Africa. Then he went
quietly to breakfast at the pension of the officers of his own rank,
who, observing his calm demeanor, in contrast to their own, knew that
he must be unaware of the important news just published in the morning
journals. General de Lorencez, after an unsuccessful attack upon the
walls of Puebla, had been compelled to retreat toward Orizaba, and to
intrench there while waiting for reenforcements.

This military event awakened the liveliest discussions, and in the
midst of the repast a quartermaster entered to announce the reply to the
report, first presenting his open register to the senior lieutenant.

“Ah! By Jove, fellows! what luck!” cried that officer, joyously.

“What is it?” demanded the others in chorus.

“Listen to this!” And he read aloud: “‘General Order: An expedition
corps, composed of two divisions of infantry, under the command of
General Forey, is in process of forming, in order to be sent to Mexico
on urgent business. The brigade of the advance guard will be composed of
the First Regiment of Zouaves and the Eighteenth Battalion of infantry.
As soon as these companies shall be prepared for war, this battalion
will proceed by the shortest route to Toulon; thence they will embark
aboard the Imperial on the twenty-sixth day of June next.’”

Arousing cheer drowned the end of the reading of this bulletin, the
tenor of which gave to Henri’s aspirations an immediate and more
advantageous prospect immediate, because, as his company was the first
to march, he was assured of not remaining longer at the garrison; more
advantageous, because the dangers of a foreign expedition opened a much
larger field for his chances of promotion.

Consequently, less than a month remained to him in which to settle his
indebtedness. After the reading of the bulletin, he asked one of his
brother officers to take his place until evening, caught the first train
to town, and, alighting at the Bastille, went directly to the Hotel
de Montgeron, where he had temporary quarters whenever he chose to use
them.

“Is the Duke at home?” he inquired of the Swiss.

Receiving an affirmative reply, he crossed the courtyard, and was soon
announced to his brother-in-law, the noble proprietor of La Sarthe,
deputy of the Legitimist opposition to the Corps Legislatif of the
Empire.

The Duc de Montgeron listened in silence to his relative’s explanation
of his situation. When the recital was finished, without uttering a
syllable he opened a drawer, drew out a legal paper, and handed it to
Henri, saying:

“This is my marriage contract. Read it, and you will see that I have
had, from the head of my family, three hundred and fifteen thousand
livres income. I do not say this to you in order to contrast my riches
with your ruin, but only to prove to you that I was perfectly well able
to marry your sister even had she possessed no dot. That dot yields
seven hundred and fifteen thousand francs’ income, at three per cent.
We were married under the law of community of goods, which greatly
simplifies matters when husband and wife have, as have Jeanne and
myself, but one heart and one way of looking at things. To consult her
would be, perhaps, to injure her. To-morrow I will sell the necessary
stock, and ere the end of the week Monsieur Durand, your notary and
ours, shall hold at your disposal the amount of the sum you lost last
night.”

The blood rose to the cheeks of the young officer.

“I--I” he stammered, pressing convulsively the hands of his
brother-in-law. “Shall I let you pay the ransom for my madness and
folly? Shall I a second time despoil my sister, already robbed by me of
one half her rightful share? I should die of shame! Or, rather--wait a
moment! Let us reverse our situations for an instant, and if you will
swear to me that, were you in my place, you would accept--Ah, you see!
You hesitate as much now as you hesitated little a moment ago in your
simple and cordial burst of generosity: Consequently, I refuse!”

“What do you mean to do, then?”

“To sell Prerolles immediately-to-day, if possible. This determination
troubles you because of the grief it will cause Jeanne. It will grieve
me, too. And the courage to tell this to her is the only effort to which
my strength is unequal. Only you can tell it in such a way as to soften
the blow--”

“I will try to do it,” said the Duke.

“I thank you! As to the personal belongings and the family portraits,
their place is at Montgeron, is it not?”

“That is understood. Now, one word more, Henri.”

“Speak!”

“Have you not another embarrassment to settle?”

“I have indeed, and the sooner the better. Unhappily--”

“You have not enough money,” finished the Duke. “I have received this
morning twenty-five thousand francs’ rent from my farms. Will you allow
me to lend them to you?”

“To be repaid from the price of the sale? Very willingly, this time.”

And he placed in an envelope the notes handed him by his brother-in-law.

“This is the last will and testament of love,” said the Marquis, as he
departed, to give the necessary instructions to his notary.



CHAPTER VI. THE FAREWELL

His debts were easily reckoned. He owed eight hundred thousand francs to
the Credit Foncier; four hundred thousand to Paul Landry; more than
one hundred thousand to various jewellers and shopkeepers; twenty-five
thousand to the Duc de Montgeron. It was necessary to sell the chateau
and the property at one million four hundred thousand francs, and the
posters advertising the sale must be displayed without delay.

Then he must say farewell to Fanny Dorville. Nothing should disturb a
sensible mind; the man who, with so much resolution, deprives himself
of his patrimonial estates should not meet less bravely the separation
imposed by necessity.

As soon as Henri appeared in Fanny’s boudoir, she divined that her
presentiments of the previous night had not deceived her.

“You have lost heavily?” she asked.

“Very heavily,” he replied, kissing her brow.

“And it was my fault!” she cried. “I brought you bad luck, and that
wretch of a Landry knew well what he was about when he made me cut the
cards that brought you misfortune!”

“No, no, my dear-listen! The only one in fault was I, who allowed
myself, through false pride, to be persuaded that I should not seem to
fear him.”

“Fear him--a professional gambler, who lives one knows not how!
Nonsense! It is as if one should fight a duel with a fencing-master.”

“What do you wish, my dear? The evil is done--and it is so great--”

“That you have not the means to pay the sum? Oh, but wait a moment.”

And taking up a casket containing a superb collar of pearls, she said:

“This is worth fourteen thousand francs. You may well take them from me,
since it was you that gave them to me.”

No doubt, she had read De Musset, and this action was perhaps a
refection of that of Marion, but the movement was sincere. Something
of the stern pride of this other Rolla was stirred; a sob swelled his
bosom, and two tears--those tears that rise to a soldier’s eyes in the
presence of nobility and goodness--fell from his eyes upon the hair of
the poor girl.

“I have not come to that yet,” he said, after a short silence. “But we
must part--”

“You are about to marry?” she cried.

“Oh, no!”

“Ah, so much the better!”

In a few words he told her of his approaching departure, and said that
he must devote all his remaining time to the details of the mobilization
of troops.

“So--it is all over!” said Fanny, sadly. “But fear nothing! I have
courage, and even if I have the evil eye at play, I know of something
that brings success in war. Will you accept a little fetich from me?”

“Yes, but you persist in trying to give me something,” he said, placing
on a table the sealed envelope he had brought.

“How good you are!” she murmured. “Now promise me one thing: let us dine
together once more. Not at the Provencaux, however. Oh, heavens! no! At
the Cafe Anglais--where we dined before the play the first time we--”

The entrance of Heloise cut short the allusion to a memory of autumn.

“Ah, it is you,” said Fanny nervously. “You come apropos.”

“Is there a row in the family?” inquired Heloise.

“As if there could be!”

“What is it, then?”

“You see Henri, do you not?”

“Well, yes, I do, certainly. What then?”

“Then look at him long and well, for you will not see him again in many
a day. He is going to Mexico!”

“To exploit a mine?”

“Yes, Heloise,” the officer replied, “a mine that will make the walls of
Puebla totter.”

“In that case, good luck, my General!” said the duenna, presenting arms
with her umbrella.

Fanny could not repress a smile in spite of her tears. Her lover seized
this moment to withdraw from her arms and reach the stairs.

“And now, Marquis de Prerolles, go forth to battle!” cried the old
actress to him over the banisters, with the air of an artist who knows
her proper cue.



CHAPTER VII. THE VOW

Notwithstanding the desire expressed by his mistress, Henri firmly
decided not to repeat that farewell scene.

The matter that concerned him most was the wish not to depart without
having freed himself wholly from his debt to Paul Landry. Fortunately,
because of a kindly interest, as well as on account of the guaranty of
the Duc de Montgeron, a rich friend consented to advance the sum; so
that, one week before the day appointed for payment, the losing
player was able to withdraw his signature from the hands of his greedy
creditor.

Relieved from this anxiety, Henri had asked, the night before the day
set for departure, for leave of absence for several hours, in order
to visit for the last time a spot very dear to him, upon whose walls
placards now hung, announcing the sale of the property to take place on
the following morning.

No one received warning of this visit in extremis save the steward,
who awaited his master before the gates of the chateau, the doors and
windows of which had been flung wide open.

At the appointed hour the visitor appeared at the end of the avenue,
advancing with a firm step between two hedges bordered with poplars,
behind which several brood-mares, standing knee-deep in the rich grass,
suckled their foal.

The threshold of the gate crossed, master and man skirted the lawn,
traversed the garden, laid out in the French fashion, and, side by side,
without exchanging a word, mounted the steps of the mansion. Entering
the main hall, the Marquis, whose heart was full of memories of his
childhood, stopped a long time to regard alternately the two suites of
apartments that joined the vestibule to the two opposite wings. Making
a sign to his companion not to follow him, Henri then entered the vast
gallery, wherein hung long rows of the portraits of his ancestors; and
there, baring his head before that of the Marshal of France whose name
he bore, he vowed simply, without excitement, and in a low tone, either
to vanquish the enemy or to add, after the manner of his forbears, a
glorious page to his family’s history.

The object of his pilgrimage having thus been accomplished, the Marquis
ordered the steward to see that all the portraits were sent to the
Chateau de Montgeron; then, after pressing his hand in farewell, he
returned to the station by the road whence he had come, avoiding the
village in order to escape the curious eyes of the peasantry.



CHAPTER VIII. IN SEARCH OF GLORY

The next morning the 18th battalion of ‘chasseurs’, in dress uniform,
with knapsacks on their backs and fully armed, awaited in the Gare de
Lyon the moment to board the train destined to transport them to the
coast.

At a trumpet-call this movement was executed in silence, and in perfect
order; and only after all the men were installed did the functionaries
who kept the crowd in order take their own places in the carriages,
leaving a throng of relatives and friends jostling one another upon the
quay.

Fanny Dorville and her friend the duenna tried in vain to reach the
compartment wherein Henri had his place, already in marching order;
the presence of the Duc and the Duchesse de Montgeron prevented the two
women from approaching him. Nevertheless, at the moment when the train
began to move slowly out of the station, an employee found the means to
slip into the hands of the Marquis a small packet containing the little
fetich which his mistress had kept for him. It was a medallion of the
Holy Virgin, which had been blessed at Notre-Dame des-Victoires, and it
was attached to a long gold chain.

Thirty-six hours later, on the evening of the 26th of June, the
battalion embarked aboard the Imperial, which, with steam up, was due to
leave the Toulon roadstead at daybreak. At the moment of getting under
weigh, the officer in charge of the luggage, who was the last to leave
the shore, brought several despatches aboard the ship, and handed to
Lieutenant de Prerolles a telegram, which had been received the evening
before at the quay.

The Marquis opened it and read: “Chateau and lands sold for 1,450,000
francs. Everything paid, 1600 francs remain disposable.”

“That is to say,” thought the officer, sadly, “I have my pay and barely
three thousand francs’ income!”

Leaning both elbows upon the taffrail, he gazed long at the shores
of France, which appeared to fly toward the horizon; then, brusquely
turning his eyes to the quarters filled with the strong figures and
manly faces of the young foot-soldiers of the 18th battalion, he said
to himself that among such men, under whatever skies or at whatever
distance, one found his country--glancing aloft where floated above his
head the folds of his flag.



CHAPTER IX. THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE

Twenty-three years after the events already recorded, on a cold
afternoon in February, the Bois de Boulogne appeared to be draped in a
Siberian mantle rarely seen at that season. A deep and clinging covering
of snow hid the ground, and the prolonged freezing of the lakes gave
absolute guaranty of their solidity.

A red sun, drowned in mist, threw a mild radiance over the landscape,
and many pedestrians stamped their feet around the borders of the lake
belonging to the Skaters’ Club, and watched the hosts of pretty women
descending from their carriages, delighted at the opportunity afforded
them, by this return of winter, to engage in their favorite exercise.

Received on her arrival by one of the attendants posted at the entrance,
each of the fair skaters entered in turn a small building reserved for
ladies, whence she soon came forth in full skating array, ready to risk
herself on the ice, either alone or guided by the hand of some expert
cavalier.

Here and there, around the enclosure, large garden-seats, shaped like
sentry-boxes, were reserved for the mothers and sisters of the members
of the club, so that they could observe, from a comfortable shelter, the
evolutions of those in whom they were interested.

Within two of these nooks, side by side, sat the Duchesse de Montgeron,
president, and the Comtesse Desvanneaux, vice-president of the Charity
Orphan Asylum; the latter had come to look on at the first essay on the
ice of her daughter, Madame de Thomery; the former, to judge the skill
of her brother, General the Marquis de Prerolles, past-master in all
exercises of strength and skill.

At forty-five years of age, the young General had preserved the same
grace and slenderness that had distinguished him when he had first
donned the elegant tunic of an officer of chasseuys. His hair, cut
rather short, had become slightly gray on his temples, but his jaunty
moustache and well-trimmed beard were as yet innocent of a single silver
thread. The same energy shone in his eyes, the same sonority rang in his
voice, which had become slightly more brusque and authoritative from his
long-continued habit of command.

In a small round hat, with his hands in the pockets of an outing-jacket,
matching his knickerbockers in color, he strolled to and fro near his
sister, now encouraging Madame de Thomery, hesitating on the arm of her
instructor, now describing scientific flourishes on the ice, in rivalry
against the crosses dashed off by Madame de Lisieux and Madame de
Nointel--two other patronesses of the orphanage--the most renowned among
all the fashionable skaters. This sort of tourney naturally attracted
all eyes, and the idlers along the outer walks had climbed upon the
paling in order to gain a better view of the evolutions, when suddenly a
spectacle of another kind called their attention to the entrance-gate in
their rear.

Passing through the Porte Dauphine, and driven by a young woman
enveloped in furs, advanced swiftly, over the crisp snow, a light
American sleigh, to which was harnessed a magnificent trotter, whose
head and shoulders emerged, as from an aureole, through that flexible,
circular ornament which the Russians call the ‘douga’.

Having passed the last turn of the path, the driver slackened her grasp,
and the horse stopped short before the entrance. His owner, throwing the
reins to a groom perched up behind, sprang lightly to the ground amid a
crowd of curious observers, whose interest was greatly enhanced by the
sight of the odd-looking vehicle.

The late-comer presented her card of invitation to the proper
functionary, and went across the enclosure toward the ladies’ salon.

“Ah! there is Zibeline!” cried Madame Desvanneaux, with an affected air.
“Do you know her?” she inquired of the Duchesse de Montgeron.

“Not yet,” the Duchess replied. “She did not arrive in Paris until the
end of spring, just at the time I was leaving town for the seashore. But
I know that she says her real name is Mademoiselle de Vermont, and that
she was born in Louisiana, of an old French family that emigrated to the
North, and recently became rich in the fur trade-from which circumstance
Madame de Nointel has wittily named her ‘Zibeline.’ I know also that
she is an orphan, that she has an enormous fortune, and has successively
refused, I believe, all pretenders who have thus far aspired to her
hand.”

“Yes--gamblers, and fortune-hunters, in whose eyes her millions excuse
all her eccentricities.”

“Do I understand that she has been presented to you?” asked the Duchess,
surprised.

“Well, yes-by the old Chevalier de Sainte-Foy, one of her so-called
cousins--rather distant, I fancy! But the independent airs of this young
lady, and her absolute lack of any respectable chaperon, have decided me
to break off any relations that might throw discredit on our patriarchal
house,” Madame Desvanneaux replied volubly, as ready to cross herself as
if she had been speaking of the devil!

The Duchess could not repress a smile, knowing perfectly that her
interlocutor had been among the first to demand for her son the hand of
Mademoiselle de Vermont!

During this dialogue, the subject of it had had time to cast aside her
fur cloak, to fasten upon her slender, arched feet, clad in dainty,
laced boots, a pair of steel skates, with tangent blades, and without
either grooves or straps, and to dart out upon this miniature sheet of
water with the agility of a person accustomed to skating on the great
lakes of America.

She was a brunette, with crisply waving hair, a small head, well-set,
and deep yet brilliant eyes beneath arched and slightly meeting brows.
Her complexion was pale, and her little aquiline nose showed thin,
dilating nostrils. Her rosy lips, whose corners drooped slightly,
revealed dazzling teeth, and her whole physiognomy expressed an air of
haughty disdain, somewhat softened by her natural elegance.

Her cloth costume, which displayed to advantage her slender waist and
graceful bust, was of simple but elegant cut, and was adorned with
superb trimmings of black fox, which matched her toque and a little
satin-lined muff, which from time to time she raised to her cheek to
ward off the biting wind.

Perhaps her skirt was a shade too short, revealing in its undulations a
trifle too much of the dainty hose; but the revelation was so shapely it
would have been a pity to conceal it!

“Very bad form!” murmured Madame Desvanneaux.

“But one can not come to a place like this in a skirt with a train,” was
the more charitable thought of the Duchess.

Meantime the aforesaid tournament went on in the centre of the sheet of
ice, and Zibeline, without mingling with the other skaters, contented
herself with skirting the borders of the lake, rapidly designing a chain
of pierced hearts on the smooth surface, an appropriate symbol of her
own superiority.

Annoyed to see himself eclipsed by a stranger, the General threw a
challenging glance in her direction, and, striking out vigorously in a
straight line, he sped swiftly toward the other end of the lake.

Stung to the quick by his glance, Mademoiselle de Vermont darted after
him, passed him halfway along the course, and, wheeling around with
a wide, outward curve, her body swaying low, she allowed him to pass
before her, maintaining an attitude which her antagonist might interpret
as a salute, courteous or ironic, as he chose.

By this time the crowd was gradually diminishing. The daylight was
waning, and a continued sound of closing gates announced the retreat of
the gay world toward Paris.

Zibeline alone, taking advantage of the free field, lingered a few
moments to execute some evolutions in the deepening twilight, looking
like the heroines in the old ballads, half-visible, through the mists, \
to the vivid imagination of the Scottish bards.

Henri de Prerolles had entered his sister’s carriage, in company with
Madame Desvanneaux and Madame Thomery, and during the drive home, these
two gentle dames--for the daughter was worthy of the mother--did not
fail to sneer at the fair stranger, dilating particularly upon the
impropriety of the challenging salute she had given to the General, with
whom she was unacquainted.

“But my brother could hardly request his seconds to call upon her for
that!” laughingly said the Duchess who, it seemed, had decided to defend
the accused one in all attacks made upon her.

“Look! Here she comes! She is passing us again. One would think she was
deliberately trying to do it!” exclaimed Madame Desvanneaux, just before
their carriage reached the Arc de Triomphe.

Zibeline’s sleigh, which had glided swiftly, and without hindrance,
along the unfrequented track used chiefly by equestrians, had indeed
overtaken the Duchess’s carriage. Turning abruptly to the left, it
entered the open gateway belonging to one of the corner houses of the
Rond-Point de l’Etoile.

“Decidedly, the young lady is very fond of posing,” said the General,
with a shrug, and, settling himself in his corner, he turned his
thoughts elsewhere.

Having deposited her two friends at their own door, the Duchess ordered
the coachman to take her home, and at the foot of the steps she said to
her brother:

“Will you dine with us to-night?”

“No, not to-night,” he replied, “but we shall meet at the theatre.”

And, crossing the court, he entered his little bachelor apartment, which
he had occupied from time to time since the days when he was only a
sub-lieutenant.



CHAPTER X. GENERAL DE PREROLLES

The sub-lieutenant had kept his word, and the progress of his career
deserves detailed mention.

He was a lieutenant at the taking of Puebla, where he was first to
mount in the assault of the Convent of Guadalupita. Captain of the Third
Zouaves after the siege of Oajaca, he had exercised, during the rest
of the expedition, command over a mounted company, whose duty was to
maintain communications between the various columns, continuing, at the
same time, their operations in the Michoacan.

This confidential mission, requiring as much power to take the
initiative as it demanded a cool head, gave the Marquis opportunity to
execute, with rapidity and decision, several master-strokes, which,
in the following circumstances, won for him the cross of the Legion of
Honor.

The most audacious of the guerrillas who had devastated this fertile
country was a chief called Regulas. He pillaged the farms, stopped
railway trains, boldly demanding ransom from captives from the municipal
governments of large towns. He was continually, active, and always
inaccessible.

Warned by his scouts that the followers of this villain menaced the town
of Pazcuaro, Captain de Prerolles prepared himself eagerly to meet them.
He overtook them in a night march, and fell upon them unexpectedly, just
as they were holding up the diligence from Morelia to Guadalajara.
His plans had been so well laid that not a man escaped. What was the
surprise of the French officer to find, among the travellers, delivered
by himself from certain death, Paul Landry, the principal cause of his
ruin, who the chances of war now laid under obligations to him!

“This is my revenge,” said the Captain, simply, to Landry, attempting to
avoid his thanks, and returning to him intact his luggage, of which the
chinacos had not had time to divide the contents.

Reconciled in Algiers with his regiment, Henri de Prerolles did not
again quit the province of Constantine except to serve in the army of
the Rhine, as chief of battalion in the line, until the promotions which
followed the declaration of war in 1870. Officer of the Legion of Honor
for his gallantry at Gravelotte and at St. Privat, and assigned for his
ability to the employ of the chief of corps, he had just been called
upon to assume command of his former battalion of chasseurs, when the
disastrous surrender of Metz left him a prisoner of war in the hands of
the Germans.

Profoundly affected by this disaster, but learning that the conflict
still continued, he refused to avail himself of the offer of comparative
freedom in the city, provided he would give his parole not to attempt
to escape. He was therefore conducted to a distant fortress near the
Russian frontier, and handed over to the captain of the landwehr, who
received instructions to keep a strict guard over him.

This officer belonged to the engineering corps, and directed, at the
same time, the work of repairs within the citadel, in charge of a
civilian contractor.

Taking into consideration the rank of his prisoner, the captain
permitted the Marquis to have with him his orderly, an Alsatian, who
twice a day brought from the inn his chief’s repasts. This functionary
had permission also, from ten o’clock in the morning until sunset, to
promenade in the court under the eye of the sentinel on guard at the
entrance. At five o’clock in the evening, the officer of the landwehr
politely shut up his guest in his prison, double-locked the door, put
the key in his pocket, and appeared no more until the next morning.

The middle of November had arrived; heavy snows had already fallen, and
the prisoner amused himself by constructing fortifications of snow--a
work which his amiable jailer followed with a professional interest,
giving him advice regarding modifications proper to introduce in the
defense of certain places, himself putting a finger in the pie in
support of his demonstration.

This sort of amusement was followed so industriously that in a few days
a kind of rampart was erected in front of the casemate of the fortress,
behind which, by stooping a little, a man of ordinary height could
easily creep along unseen by the sentinel.

While pursuing his work of modelling in snow, the Marquis de Prerolles
had taken care to observe the goings and comings of the civilian
contractor, who, wearing a tall hat and attired in a black redingote,
departed regularly every day at half-past four, carrying a large
portfolio under his arm. To procure such a costume and similar
accessories for himself was easy, since the Marquis’s orderly spoke the
language of the country; and to introduce them into the prison, hidden
in a basket of provisions, was not difficult to accomplish.

To execute all this required only four trips to and fro. At the end
of forty-eight hours, the necessary aids to escape were in the proper
place, hidden under the snow behind the bastion. More than this, the
clever Alsatian had slipped a topographical map of the surrounding
country between two of the plates in the basket. According to the scale,
the frontier was distant only about five leagues, across open
country, sparsely settled with occasional farms which would serve as
resting-places.

By that time, the plan of escape was drawn up. Upon the day fixed for
his flight, the Marquis assumed his disguise, rolled up his own uniform
to look like a man asleep in his bed, lying after the fashion of a
sleeping soldier; and pleading a slight illness as an excuse for not
dining that evening, and, not without emotion, curled himself up behind
the snowy intrenchment which his jailer himself had helped to fashion.
That worthy man, only too glad to be able to rejoin his ‘liebe frau’
a little earlier than usual, peeped through the half-open door of the
prisoner’s room and threw a glance at the little cot-bed.

“Good-night, Commander!” said the honest fellow, in a gentle voice.

Then he double-locked the door, according to custom, and disappeared
whistling a national air. A quarter of an hour later the contractor left
the place, and as soon as the functionary who had seen him depart was
relieved by another, the prisoner left his hiding-place, crossed the
drawbridge in his turn, simulating the gait of his twin, and, without
any hindrance, rejoined his orderly at the place agreed upon. The trick
was played!

A matter of twenty kilometres was a mere trifle for infantry troopers.
They walked as lightly as gymnasts, under a clear sky, through the
fields, guided by the lights in the farmhouses, and at nine o’clock,
having passed the frontier, they stumbled upon a post of Cossacks
ambuscaded behind a hedge!

Unfortunately, at that time the Franco-Russian alliance was still in
embryo, and an agreement between the two neighboring States interdicted
all passage to Frenchmen escaping from the hands of their conquerors.
The two deserters were therefore conducted to the major of the nearest
garrison, who alone had the right to question them.

As soon as they were in his presence, Henri could not restrain a
start of surprise, for he recognized Constantin Lenaieff, one of his
adversaries on the fatal night of the Freres-Provencaux.

“Who are you?” demanded the Major, brusquely.

“A dealer in Belgian cattle, purveyor to the German intendant,” hazarded
the prisoner, who had his reply all prepared.

“You--nonsense! You are a French officer; that is plain enough to be
seen, in spite of your disguise.”

The Major advanced a step in order to examine the prisoner more closely.

“Good heavens!” he muttered, “I can not be mistaken--”

He made a sign to his soldiers to retire, then, turning to Henri, he
said:

“You are the Marquis de Prerolles!” and he extended his hand cordially
to the former companion of his pleasures.

In a few words Henri explained to him the situation.

“My fate is in your hands,” he concluded. “Decide it!”

“You are too good a player at this game not to win it,” Lenaieff
replied, “and I am not a Paul Landry, to dispute it with you. Here is a
letter of safe-conduct made out in due form; write upon it any name you
choose. As for myself, I regard you absolutely as a Belgian citizen, and
I shall make no report of this occurrence. Only, let me warn you, as a
matter of prudence, you would do well not to linger in this territory,
and if you need money--”

“I thank you!” replied the nobleman, quickly, declining with his
customary proud courtesy. “But I never shall forget the service you have
rendered me!”

A few moments later, the two travellers drove away in a carriage toward
the nearest railway, in order to reenter France by way of Vienna and
Turin.

They passed the Austrian and Italian frontiers without difficulty; but
at the station at Modena a too-zealous detective of the French police,
struck with the Alsatian accent of the orderly, immediately decided
that they were two Prussian spies, and refused to allow them to proceed,
since they could show him no passports.

“Passports!” cried Henri de Prerolles, accompanying his exclamation with
the most Parisian oath that ever had reverberated from the Rue Laffitte
to the Madeleine.

“Here is my passport!” he added, drawing from his pocket his officer’s
cross, which he had taken good care not to allow to become a souvenir
in the hands of his jailer. “And if that does not satisfy you, give me a
pen.”

Suiting the action to the word, he seized a pen and wrote out the
following telegram:

   “DEPUTY OF WAR, TOURS:

   “Escaped from prisons of the enemy, I demand admittance to France,
   and official duties suitable to my rank, that I may cooperate in the
   national defence.

               “DE PREROLLES, Commandant.”

He handed the paper to the police agent, saying: “Do me the favor to
forward this despatch with the utmost expedition.”

As soon as the agent had glanced at the message, he swept a profound
salute. “Pass on, Commandant,” said he, in a tone of great respect.

Promoted to a higher rank, and appointed commander of a regiment of
foot, the Lieutenant-Colonel de Prerolles rejoined the army of Chanzy,
which, having known him a long time, assigned to him the duties of a
brigadier-general, and instructed him to cover his retreat from the
Loire on the Sarthe.

In the ensuing series of daily combats, the auxiliary General performed
all that his chief expected of him, from Orleans to the battle of Maus,
where, in the thick of the fight, a shell struck him in the breast. It
is necessary to say that on the evening before he had noticed that the
little medallion which had been given to him by Fanny Dorville, worn
from its chain by friction, had disappeared from his neck. Scoffing
comrades smiled at the coincidence; the more credulous looked grave.

The wound was serious, for, transported to the Chateau de Montgeron,
a few leagues distant, the Marquis was compelled to remain there six
months before he was in fit condition to rejoin his command. Toward the
end of his convalescence, in June, 1871, the brother and sister resolved
to make a pious pilgrimage to the cradle of their ancestors.

Exactly nine years had elapsed since the castle and lands had been sold
at auction and fallen into the possession of a company of speculators,
who had divided it and resold it to various purchasers. Only the farm of
Valpendant, with a house of ancient and vast construction, built in
the time of Philippe-Auguste, remained to an old tenant, with his
dependencies and his primitive methods of agriculture.

Leaving the train at the Beaumont tunnel, the two travellers made their
way along a road which crosses the high plateau that separates the
forest of Carnelle from the forest of the Ile-d’Adam, whence one can
discern the steeple of Prerolles rising above the banks of the Oise.

From this culminating point they beheld the chateau transformed into
a factory, the park cut up into countryseats, the fields turned into
market-gardens! With profound sadness the brother and the sister met
each other’s glance, and their eyes filled with tears, as if they stood
before a tomb on All Souls’ Day.

“No expiation is possible,” said Henri to Jeanne, pressing her hand
convulsively. “I must go--I must move on forever and ever, like the
Wandering Jew.”

Thanks to the influence of the Duke of Montgeron, whose faithful
constituents had sent him to the National Assembly, his brother-in-law
had been transferred to a regiment of zouaves, of which he became
colonel in 1875, whereupon he decided to remain in Africa during the
rest of his life.

But Tunis and Tonquin opened new horizons to him. Landing as a
brigadier-general at Haiphong, he was about to assume, at Bac-Ninh, his
third star, when the Minister of War, examining the brilliant record
of this officer who, since 1862, never had ceased his service to his
country, called him to take command of one of the infantry divisions
of the army of Paris, a place which he had occupied only a few months
before the events related in the preceding chapter.



CHAPTER XI. EUGENIE GONTIER

Few salons in Paris have so imposing an air as the foyer of the
dramatic artists of the Comedie Francaise, a rectangular room of fine
proportions, whose walls are adorned with portraits of great actors,
representing the principal illustrations of the plays that have been
the glory of the house Mademoiselle Duclos, by Largilliere; Fleury, by
Gerard; Moliere crowned, by Mignard; Baron, by De Troy, and many others.

At the left of the entrance, separated by a large, high mirror which
faced the fireplace, two other canvases, signed by Geffroy, represent
the foyer itself, in costumes of the classic repertoire, the greater
part of the eminent modern ‘societaires’, colleagues and contemporaries
of the great painter.

Between the windows, two pedestals, surmounted by busts of Mademoiselle
Clairon and Mademoiselle Dangeville, stood, one on each side of the
great regulator--made by Robin, clockmaker to the king--which dominated
the bust of Moliere--after Houdon--seeming to keep guard over all this
gathering of artistic glory.

Opposite this group, hanging above a large table of finely chiselled
iron, were two precious autographs under glass: a brevet of pension,
dated 1682, signed Louis and countersigned Colbert; an act of notary,
dated 1670, bearing the signature of Moliere, the master of the house.

Disposed about the room were sofas, armchairs, and tete-a-tete seats in
oak, covered with stamped green velvet.

Here, at the first representations of new plays, or at important
revivals of old ones, flocked literary notables and the regular
frequenters of the theatre, eager to compliment the performers; here,
those favored strangers who have the proper introduction, and who
wish to see the place at close range, are graciously conducted by the
administrator-general or by the officer for the week.

Here it was that the Marquis de Prerolles appeared in the evening after
his experience at the skating-pond. He had dressed, and had dined in
great haste at a restaurant near the theatre.

The posters announced a revival of ‘Adrienne Lecouvreur’, with
Mademoiselle Gontier in the principal role, in which she was to appear
for the first time.

Eugenie Gontier was, it was said, the natural daughter of a great
foreign lord, who had bequeathed to her a certain amount of money.
Therefore, she had chosen the theatrical life less from necessity than
from inclination.

She was distinguished in presence, a great favorite with the public,
and had a wide circle of friends, among whom a rich banker, the Baron
de Samoreau, greatly devoted to her, had made for her investments
sufficiently profitable to enable her to occupy a mansion of her own,
and to open a salon which became a favorite rendezvous with many persons
distinguished in artistic, financial, and even political circles.
Talent being the guaranty of good companionship, this salon became
much frequented, and General de Prerolles had become one of its most
assiduous visitors.

The first act had begun. Although the charming artist was not to appear
until the second act, she had already descended from her dressing-room,
and, finding herself alone in the greenroom, was putting a final touch
to her coiffure before the mirror when the General entered.

He kissed her hand gallantly, and both seated themselves in a retired
corner between the fireplace and the window.

“I thank you for coming so early,” said Eugenie. “I wished very much
to see you to-night, in order to draw from your eyes a little of your
courage before I must face the footlights in a role so difficult and so
superb.”

“The fire of the footlights is not that of the enemy--above all, for
you, who are so sure of winning the battle.”

“Alas! does one ever know? Although at the last rehearsal Monsieur
Legouve assured me that all was perfect, look up there at that portrait
of Rachel, and judge for yourself whether I have not reason to tremble
at my audacity in attempting this role after such a predecessor.”

“But you yourself caused this play to be revived,” said Henri.

“I did it because of you,” Eugenie replied.

“Of me?”

“Yes. Am I not your Adrienne, and is not Maurice de Saxe as intrepid as
you, and as prodigal as you have been? Was he not dispossessed of his
duchy of Courlande, as you were of your--”

A gesture from Henri prevented her from finishing the sentence.

“Pardon me!” said she. “I had forgotten how painful to you is any
reference to that matter. We will speak only of your present renown, and
of the current of mutual sympathy that attracts each of us toward the
other. For myself, that attraction began on the fourteenth of last July.
You had just arrived at Paris, and a morning journal, in mentioning
the troops, and the names of the generals who appeared at the review,
related, apropos of your military exploits, many exciting details of
your escape during the war. Do you recall the applause that greeted you
when you marched past the tribunes? I saw you then for the first time,
but I should have known you among a thousand! The next day--”

“The next day,” Henri interrupted, “it was my turn to applaud you. I had
been deprived a long time of the pleasures of the theatre, of which I
am very fond, and I began by going to the Comedie Francaise, where
you played, that night, the role of Helene in ‘Mademoiselle de la
Seigliere.’ Do you remember?”

“Do I remember! I recognized you instantly, sitting in the third row in
the orchestra.”

“I had never seen you until then,” Henri continued, “but that
sympathetic current was soon established, from the moment you appeared
until the end of the second piece. As it is my opinion that any officer
is sufficiently a gentleman to have the right to love a girl of noble
birth, I fell readily under the spell in which she whom you represented
echoed my own sentiments. Bernard Stamply also had just returned from
captivity, and the more enamored of you he became the more I pleased
myself with fancying my own personality an incarnation of his, with less
presumption than would be necessary for me to imagine myself the hero of
which you spoke a moment ago. After the play, a friend brought me here,
presented me to you--”

“And the sympathetic current did the rest!” added Eugenie Gontier,
looking at him tenderly. “Since then you have consecrated to me a part
of whatever time is at your disposal, and I assure you that I never have
been so happy, nor have felt so flattered, in my life.”

“Second act!” came the voice of the call-boy from the corridor.

“Will you return here after the fourth act?” said the actress, rising.
“I shall wish to know how you find me in the great scene, and whether
there is another princess de Bouillon among the audience--beware of
her!”

“You know very well that there is not.”

“Not yet, perhaps, but military men are so inconstant! By and by,
Maurice!” she murmured, with a smile.

“By and by, Adrienne!” Henri replied, kissing her hand.

He accompanied her to the steps that led to the stage, and, lounging
along the passage that ends at the head of the grand stairway, he
entered the theatre and hastened to his usual seat in the third row of
the orchestra.



CHAPTER XII. RIVAL BEAUTIES

It was Tuesday, the subscription night; the auditorium was as much the
more brilliant as the play was more interesting than on other nights.
In one of the proscenium boxes sat the Duchesse de Montgeron with the
Comtesse de Lisieux; in another the Vicomtesse de Nointel and Madame
Thomery. In the first box on the left Madame Desvanneaux was to be
seen, with her husband and her son, the youthful and recently rejected
pretender to the hand of Mademoiselle de Vermont.

Among the subscription seats in the orchestra sat the Baron de Samoreau,
the notary Durand, treasurer of the Industrial Orphan Asylum; the
aide-de-camp of General Lenaieff, beside his friend the Marquis de
Prerolles. One large box, the first proscenium loge on the right, was
still unoccupied when the curtain rose on the second act.

The liaison of Eugenie Gontier with the Marquis de Prerolles was not a
mystery; from the moment of her entrance upon the scene, it was evident
that she “played to him,” to use a phrase in theatrical parlance. Thus,
after the recital of the combat undertaken in behalf of Adrienne by her
defender--a recital which she concluded in paraphrasing these two lines:

     ‘Paraissez, Navarrois, Maures et Castilians,
     Et tout ce que l’Espagne a produit de vaillants,’

many opera-glasses were directed toward the spectator to whom the
actress appeared to address herself, when suddenly a new object of
interest changed the circuit of observation. The door of the large,
right-hand box opened, and Zibeline appeared, accompanied by the
Chevalier de Sainte-Foy, an elderly gallant, carefully dressed and
wearing many decorations, and whose respectable tale of years could
give no occasion for malicious comment on his appearance in the role of
‘cavalier servente’. Having assisted his companion to remove her mantle,
he profited by the instant of time she took to settle her slightly
ruffled plumage before the mirror, to lay upon the railing of the box
her bouquet and her lorgnette. Then he took up a position behind the
chair she would occupy, ready to assist her when she might deign to sit
down. His whole manner suggested a chamberlain of the ancient court in
the service of a princess.

Mademoiselle de Vermont disliked bright colors, and wore on this
occasion a robe of black velvet, of which the ‘decolletee’ bodice set
off the whiteness of her shoulders and her neck, the latter ornamented
with a simple band of cherry-colored velvet, without jewels, as was
suitable for a young girl. Long suede gloves, buttoned to the elbow,
outlined her well-modelled arms, of which the upper part emerged,
without sleeves, from lace ruffles gathered in the form of epaulets.

The men admired her; the women sought some point to criticise, and had
the eyes of Madame Desvanneaux been able to throw deadly projectiles,
her powerful lorgnette would have become an instrument of death for the
object of her resentment.

“This morning,” said the irreconcilable matron, “she showed us her
ankles; this evening she allows us to see the remainder.”

“I should have been very well pleased, however--” murmured young
Desvanneaux, with regret.

“If you had married her, Victor,” said his mother, “I should have taken
full charge of her wardrobe, and should have made some decided changes,
I assure you.”

Perfectly indifferent to the general curiosity, Zibeline in her turn
calmly reviewed the audience. After exploring the boxes with her
opera-glass, she lowered it to examine the orchestra stalls, and,
perceiving the Marquis, she fixed her gaze upon him. Undoubtedly she
knew the reason for the particular attention which he paid to the stage,
because, until the end of the act, her glance was divided alternately
between the General and the actress.

As the curtain fell on this act the spectators turned their backs to the
footlights, and Lenaieff, indicating Zibeline to his friend, said in his
slightly Slavonic accent:

“Who is that pretty woman, my dear Henri?”

“One of Jules Verne’s personages, a product of the land of furs.”

“Do you know her?”

“Not at all. I have a prejudice against girls that are too rich. Why do
you ask?”

“Because it seems to me that she looks at you very attentively.”

“Indeed! I had not noticed it.”

In saying this, the General--exaggerated! He had been perfectly well
aware of the gaze of Mademoiselle de Vermont, but whether he still
cherished a slight resentment against the lady, or whether her
appearance really displeased him, he cut the conversation short and went
to pay his respects to the occupants of several boxes.

Evidently Zibeline knew few persons in society, for no visitor appeared
in her box. However, after the next act she made a sign to M. Durand.
That gentleman rejoined the Baron de Samoreau in the corridor and took
him to meet Zibeline, and a sort of council appeared to be going on in
the rear of her box.

“What the deuce can she be talking about to them?” said Desvanneaux to
his wife.

“A new offer of marriage, probably. They say she declares she will marry
no one of lower rank than a prince, in order to complete our chagrin!
Perhaps they have succeeded in finding one for her!”

The instructions that Mademoiselle de Vermont gave to the two men must
have been easy to execute, for neither the notary nor the banker seemed
to raise the least objection. The conversation was finished, and both
gentlemen saluted her, preparing to take leave, when she said to M.
Durand:

“You understand that the meeting is for tomorrow?”

“At five o’clock,” he replied.

“Very well. I will stop for you at your door at a quarter of an hour
before that time.”

The fourth act had begun, that scene in which Adrienne accomplishes her
generous sacrifice in furnishing herself the ransom which must deliver
her unfaithful lover. The rapt attention that Zibeline paid to this
scene, and the slight movements of her head, showed her approval of
this disinterested act. Very touching in her invocation to her “old
Corneille,” Mademoiselle Gontier was superb at the moment when the
comedienne, knowing at last who is her rival, quotes from Racine that
passage in ‘Phedre’ which she throws, so to speak, in the face of the
patrician woman:

  .... Je sais ses perfidies,
     OEnone! et ne suis point de ces femmes hardies
     Qui, goutant dans la crime une honteuse paix,
     Ont su se faire un front qui ne rougit jamais.

From the place she was to obliged to take in the arrangement of the
scene, the apostrophe and the gestures of the actress appeared to be
unconsciously directed toward Mademoiselle de Vermont, who could not
restrain a startled movement.

“Look! One would think that Zibeline took that allusion for herself,”
 said Madame Desvanneaux, whom nothing escaped.

On reentering the greenroom, after two well-deserved recalls, Eugenie
Gontier was soon surrounded by a throng of admirers who had come to
congratulate her upon her success.

“Were you pleased, Henri?” she said in a low tone to the General.

“Enthusiastically!” he replied.

“Ah, then I can die happy!” she said, laughingly.

As she traversed the ranks of her admirers to go to change her costume
for the last act, she found herself face to face with Zibeline, who,
having quickly recovered from her emotion, was advancing on the arm of
the Chevalier de Sainte-Foy.

“My dear child,” said the old nobleman to the actress, “I bring to you
Mademoiselle de Vermont, who wishes to say to you herself--”

“That Mademoiselle must be very tired of listening to our praises,”
 interrupted Zibeline. “But if the tribute of a foreigner can prove to
her that her prestige is universal, I beg that she will accept these
flowers which I dared not throw to her from my box.”

“Really, Mademoiselle, you embarrass me!” Eugenie replied, somewhat
surprised.

“Oh, you need not fear to take them--they are not poisoned!” added
Zibeline, smiling.

And, after a gracious inclination of her head, to which the actress
responded with a deep courtesy, Zibeline took again the arm of her
escort in order to seek her carriage, without waiting for the end of the
play.

Three-quarters of an hour later, as, the audience was leaving the
theatre, M. Desvanneaux recounted to whoever chose to listen that
Mademoiselle de Vermont had passed the whole of the last ‘entr’acte’ in
the greenroom corridor, in a friendly chat with Eugenie Gontier.



BOOK 2.



CHAPTER XIII. THE INDUSTRIAL ORPHAN ASYLUM

When the prefectoral axe of the Baron Haussmann hewed its way through
the Faubourg St. Germain in order to create the boulevard to which this
aristocratic centre has given its flame, the appropriation of private
property for public purposes caused to disappear numerous ancient
dwellings bearing armorial devices, torn down in the interest of the
public good, to the equalizing level of a line of tramways. In the
midst of this sacrilegious upheaval, the Hotel de Montgeron, one of
the largest in the Rue St. Dominique, had the good fortune to be hardly
touched by the surveyor’s line; in exchange for a few yards sliced
obliquely from the garden, it received a generous addition of air and
light on that side of the mansion which formerly had been shut in.

The Duke lived there in considerable state. His electors, faithful
in all things, had made of their deputy a senator who sat in the
Luxembourg, in virtue of the Republican Constitution, as he would have
sat as a peer of France had the legitimate monarchy followed its course.
He was a great lord in the true meaning of the word: gracious to the
humble, affable among his equals, inclined, among the throng of new
families, to take the part of the disinherited against that of the
usurpers.

In Mademoiselle de Prerolles he had found a companion animated with the
same sentiments, and the charitable organization, meeting again at
the Duchess’s residence, on the day following the revival of ‘Adrienne
Lecouvreuer’, to appoint officers for the Industrial Orphan Asylum,
could not have chosen a president more worthy or more devoted.

Besides such austere patronesses as Madame Desvanneaux and her daughter,
the organization included several persons belonging to the world
of fashion, such as Madame de Lisieux and Madame de Nointel, whose
influence was the more effective because their circle of acquaintance
was more extensive. The gay world often fraternizes willingly with those
who are interested in philanthropic works.

The founders of the Industrial Orphan Asylum intended that the
institution should harbor, bring up, and instruct as great a number as
possible of the children of infirm or deceased laborers.

The secretary, M. Andre Desvanneaux, churchwarden of Ste.-Clotilde,
as was his father before him, and in addition a Roman count, had
just finished his address, concluding by making the following double
statement: First, the necessity for combining all available-funds for
the purchase of the land required, and for the building of the asylum
itself; second, to determine whether the institution could be maintained
by the annual resources of the organization.

“I should like to observe,” said the Duchesse de Montgeron, “that the
first of these two questions is the only order of the day. Not counting
the purchase of the land, the architect’s plan calls for an estimate of
five hundred thousand francs in round numbers.”

“And we have on hand--” said the Comtesse de Lisieux.

“One hundred and sixty-odd thousand francs from the first
subscriptions,” said M. Desvanneaux. “It has been decided that the
work shall not begin until we have disposed of half of the sum total.
Therefore, the difference we have to make up at present is about one
hundred and forty thousand francs. In order to realize this sum, the
committee of action proposes to organize at the Palais de l’Industrie
a grand kermess, with the assistance of the principal artists from
the theatres of Paris, including that of Mademoiselle Gontier, of the
Comedie Francaise,” added the secretary, with a sly smile on observing
the expression of General de Prerolles.

“Good!” Henri promptly rejoined. “That will permit Monsieur Desvanneaux
to combine very agreeably the discharge of his official duties with the
making of pleasant acquaintances!”

“The object of my action in this matter is above all suspicion,”
 remarked the churchwarden, with great dignity, while his wife darted
toward him a furious glance.

“You? Come, come!” continued the General, who took a mischievous delight
in making trouble for the worthy Desvanneaux. “Every one knows quite
well that you have by no means renounced Satan, his pomps--”

“And his good works!” added Madame de Nointel, with a burst of laughter
somewhat out of place in this formal gathering for the discussion of
charitable works.

“We are getting outside of the question,” said the Duchess, striking her
bell. “Moreover, is not the assistance of these ladies necessary?”

“Indispensable,” the secretary replied. “Their assistance will greatly
increase the receipts.”

“What sum shall we decide upon as the price of admission?” asked Madame
de Lisieux.

“Twenty francs,” said Desvanneaux. “We have a thousand tickets printed
already, and, if the ladies present wish to solicit subscriptions, each
has before her the wherewithal to inscribe appropriate notes of appeal.”

“To be drawn upon at sight,” said the Comtesse de Lisieux, taking a pen.
“A tax on vanity, I should call it.”

She wrote rapidly, and then read aloud:

   “MY DEAR BARON:

   “Your proverbial generosity justifies my new appeal. You will
   accept, I am sure, the ten tickets which I enclose, when you know
   that your confreres, the Messieurs Axenstein, have taken double that
   number.”

“And here,” said the Vicomtesse de Nointel, “is a tax on gallantry.” And
she read aloud:

   “MY DEAR PRINCE:

   “You have done me the honor to write to me that you love me. I
   suppose I ought to show your note to my husband, who is an expert
   swordsman; but I prefer to return to you your autograph letter for
   the price of these fifteen tickets. Go--and sin again, should your
   heart prompt you!”

“But that is a species of blackmail, Madame!” cried Madame Desvanneaux.

“The end justifies the means,” replied the Vicomtesse gayly. “Besides, I
am accountable only to the Duc de Montgeron. What is his opinion?”

“I call it a very clever stroke,” said the Duke.

“You hear, Madame! Only, of course, not every lady has a collection of
similar little notes!” said the Vicomtesse de Nointel.

The entrance of M. Durand, treasurer of the society, interrupted the
progress of this correspondence.

“Do not trouble yourselves so much, Mesdames,” said the notary. “The
practical solution of the matter I am about to lay before you, if Madame
the president will permit me to speak.”

“I should think so!” said the Duchess. “Speak, by all means!”

“A charitable person has offered to assume all the expenses of the
affair,” said the notary, “on condition that carte blanche is granted to
her in the matter of the site. In case her offer is accepted, she will
make over to the society, within three months, the title to the real
estate, in regular order.”

“Do you guarantee the solvency of this person?” demanded M. Desvanneaux,
who saw the project of the kermess falling to the ground.

“It is one of my rich clients; but I have orders not to reveal her name
unless her offer is accepted.”

The unanimity with which all hands were raised did not even give time to
put the question.

“Her name?” demanded the Duchess.

“Here it is,” replied the notary, handing her a visiting card.

“‘Valentine de Vermont,’” she read aloud.

“Zibeline?” cried Madame de Nointel. “Bravo! I offer her the assurance
of my esteem!”

“And I also,” added Madame de Lisieux.

“I can not offer mine,” said Madame Desvanneaux, dryly. “A young woman
who is received nowhere!”

“So generous an act should open all doors to her, beginning with mine,”
 said the Duchesse de Montgeron. “I beg that you will tell her so from
me, Monsieur Durand.”

“At once, Madame. She is waiting below in her carriage.”

“Why did you not say so before? I must beg her myself to join us here,”
 said the master of the house, leaving the room in haste.

“See how any one can purchase admission to our world in these days!”
 whispered Madame Desvanneaux in her daughter’s ear.

“Heavens! yes, dear mother! The only question is whether one is able to
pay the price.”

We must render justice to the two titled patronesses by saying that the
immediate admission of Mademoiselle de Vermont to their circle seemed to
them the least they could do, and that they greeted her appearance, as
she entered on the arm of the Duke, with a sympathetic murmur which put
the final stroke to the exasperation of the two malicious dames.

“You are very welcome here, Mademoiselle,” said the Duchess, advancing
to greet her guest. “I am delighted to express to you, in behalf of
all these ladies, the profound gratitude with which your generous aid
inspires them!”

“It is more than I deserve, Madame la Duchesse!” said Valentine. “The
important work in which they have taken the initiative is so interesting
that each of us should contribute to it according to his means. I am
alone in Paris, without relatives or friends, and these ladies have
furnished me the means to cure my idleness; so it is I, rather, who am
indebted to them.”

Whether this speech were studied or not, it was pronounced to be in very
good taste, and the stranger’s conquest of the assemblage was more and
more assured.

“Since you wish to join us,” resumed the Duchess, “allow me to present
to you these gentlemen: Monsieur Desvanneaux, our zealous general
secretary--”

“I have already had the pleasure of seeing Monsieur at my house,” said
Valentine, “also Madame Desvanneaux; and although I was unable to accede
to their wishes, I retain, nevertheless, the pleasantest recollections
of their visit.”

“Good hit!” whispered Madame de Nointel to her neighbor.

“The Marquis de Prerolles, my brother,” the Duchess continued.

“The smiles of Fortune must be sweet, Mademoiselle,” said the General,
bowing low.

“Not so sweet as those of Glory, General,” Zibeline replied, with a
pretty air of deference.

“She possesses a decidedly ready wit,” said Madame de Lisieux in a
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!”



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 Trene, 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.

To see and to be seen constitutes the principal raison d’etre of this
exercise, where the riders traverse the same path going and coming, a
man thus being able to meet more than once the fair one whom he seeks,
or a lady to encounter several times a cavalier who interests her.

On this more and more frequented road, the masculine element displayed
different costumes, according to the age and tastes of each rider. The
young men appeared in careless array: leggins, short coats, and small
caps. The older men, faithful to early traditions, wore long trousers,
buttoned-up redingotes, and tall hats, like those worn by their fathers,
as shown in the pictures by Alfred de Dreux.

For the feminine element the dress is uniform. It consists of a
riding-habit of black or dark blue, with bodice and skirt smoothly
molded to the form by one of the two celebrated habit-makers, Youss or
Creed. The personal presence alone varied, according to the degree of
perfection of the model.

A cylindrical hat, a little straight or turned-over collar, a cravat
tied in a sailor’s knot, a gardenia in the buttonhole, long trousers and
varnished boots completed the dress of these modern Amazons, who, having
nothing in common with the female warriors of ancient times, are not
deprived, as were those unfortunates, of any of their feminine charms.

The military element is represented by officers of all grades from
generals to sub-lieutenants, in morning coats, with breeches and high
boots, forbidden under the Second Empire, but the rule at present.

At the top of the Pre-Catelan, the path is crossed by the Bagatelle road
to the lakes, a point of intersection situated near a glade where the
ladies were fond of stopping their carriages to chat with those passing
on horseback. A spectator might have fancied himself at the meet of a
hunting-party, lacking the whippers-in and the dogs.

A few days after the review at Vincennes, on a bright morning in May,
a file of victorias and pony-chaises were strung out along this sylvan
glade, and many persons had alighted from them. Announcing their arrival
by trumpet-blasts, two or three vehicles of the Coaching Club, headed
by that of the Duc de Mont had discharged a number of pretty passengers,
whose presence soon caused the halt of many gay cavaliers.

Several groups were formed, commenting on the news of the day, the
scandal of the day before, the fete announced for the next day.

More serious than the others, the group surrounding Madame de Montgeron
strolled along under the trees in the side paths which, in their
windings, often came alongside of the bridle-path.

“What has become of Mademoiselle de Vermont, Duchess?” inquired Madame
de Lisieux, who had been surprised not to find Zibeline riding with
their party.

“She is in the country, surrounded by masons, occupied in the building
of our Orphan Asylum. The time she required before making over the
property to us expires in two weeks.”

“It is certainly very singular that we do not know where we are to go
for the ceremonies of inauguration,” said Madame Desvanneaux, in her
usual vinegary tones.

“I feel at liberty to tell you that the place is not far away, and the
journey thence will not fatigue you,” said the president, with the air
of one who has long known what she has not wished to reveal heretofore.

“The question of fatigue should not discourage us when it is a matter of
doing good,” said M. Desvanneaux. “Only, in the opinion of the founders
of the Orphan Asylum, it should be situated in the city of Paris
itself.”

“The donor thought that open fields and fresh air would be better for
the children.”

“Land outside of Paris costs very much less, of course; that is probably
the real reason,” said M. Desvanneaux.

“Poor Zibeline! you are well hated!” Madame de Nointel could not help
saying.

“We neither like nor dislike her, Madame. We regard her as indifferently
as we do that,” the churchwarden replied, striking down a branch with
the end of his stick, with the superb air of a Tarquin.

Still gesticulating, he continued:

“The dust that she throws in the eyes of others does not blind us, that
is all!”

The metaphor was not exactly happy, for at that instant the unlucky man
received full in his face a broadside of gravel thrown by the hoofs of a
horse which had been frightened by the flourishing stick, and which had
responded to the menace by a violent kick.

This steed was none other than Seaman, ridden by Mademoiselle de
Vermont. She had recognized the Duchess and turned her horse back in
order to offer her excuses for his misconduct, the effects of which
Madame Desvanneaux tried to efface by brushing off the gravel with the
corner of her handkerchief.

“What has happened?” asked General de Prerolles, who at that moment
cantered up, mounted on Aida.

“Oh, nothing except that Mademoiselle has just missed killing my husband
with that wicked animal of hers!” cried the Maegera, in a fury.

“Mademoiselle might turn the accusation against him,” Madame de Nointel
said, with some malice. “It was he who frightened her horse.”

The fiery animal, with distended veins and quivering nostrils, snorted
violently, cavorted sidewise, and tried to run. Zibeline needed all her
firmness of grasp to force him, without allowing herself to be thrown,
to stand still on the spot whence had come the movement that had alarmed
him.

“Your horse needs exercise,” said Henri to the equestrienne. “You ought
to give him an opportunity to do something besides the formal trot
around this path.”

“I should be able to do so, if ever we could have our match,” said
Zibeline. “Will you try it now?”

“Come on!”

She nodded, gave him her hand an instant, and they set off, side by
side, followed by Zibeline’s groom, no less well mounted than she, and
wearing turned-over boots, bordered with a band of fawn-colored leather,
according to the fashion.



CHAPTER XXV. THE AMAZON HAS A FALL

They were a well-matched pair: he, the perfect type of the elegant and
always youthful soldier; she, the most dashing of all the Amazons in the
Bois, to quote the words of Edmond Delorme.

Everyone was familiar with the personal appearance of both riders, and
recognized them, but until now Mademoiselle de Vermont had always ridden
alone, and now to see her accompanied by the gallant General, whose
embroidered kepi glittered in the sunlight, was a new spectacle for the
gallery.

The people looked at them all the more because Seaman was still
prancing, but without unseating his mistress, who held him at any gait
or any degree of swiftness that pleased her.

“What a good seat you have!” said Henri.

“That is the first real compliment you ever have paid me. I shall
appropriate it immediately, before you have time to retract it,”
 Zibeline replied.

At the circle of Melezes, Henri proposed to turn to the right, in order
to reach Longchamp.

“A flat race! You are joking!” Zibeline cried, turning to the left,
toward the road of La Vierge,

“You don’t intend that we shall run a steeplechase, I hope.”

“On the contrary, that is exactly my intention! You are not afraid to
try it, are you?”

“Not on my own account, but on yours.”

“You know very well that I never am daunted by any obstacle.”

“Figuratively, yes; but in riding a horse it is another matter.”

“All the more reason why I should not be daunted now,” Zibeline
insisted.

When they arrived at the public square of the Cascades, in front of the
Auteuil hippodrome, she paused a moment between the two lakes, uncertain
which course to take.

It was Thursday, the day of the races. The vast ground, enclosed on all
sides by a fence, had been cleared, since early morning, of the boards
covering the paths reserved for pedestrians on days when there was no
racing; but it was only eleven o’clock, and the place was not yet open
to the paying public. Several workmen, in white blouses, went along the
track, placing litters beside the obstacles where falls occurred most
frequently.

“Do you think the gatekeeper will allow us to enter at this hour?”
 Zibeline asked.

“I hope not!” Henri replied.

“Well, then, I shall enter without his permission! You are free to
declare me the winner. I shall be left to make a walkover, I see!” And
setting off at a gallop along the bridle-path, which was obstructed a
little farther on by the fence itself, she struck her horse resolutely,
and with one audacious bound sprang over the entrance gate. She was now
on the steeplechase track.

“You are mad!” cried the General, who, as much concerned for her safety
as for his own pride, urged on his mare, and, clearing the fence, landed
beside Zibeline on the other side.

“All right!” she cried, in English, dropping her whip, as the starter
drops the flag at the beginning of a race.

The die was cast. Henri bent over Aida’s neck, leaning his hands upon
her withers in an attitude with which experience had made him familiar,
and followed the Amazon, determined to win at all hazards.

Zibeline’s groom, an Englishman, formerly a professional jockey, had
already jumped the fence, in spite of the cries of the guard, who ran
to prevent him, and coolly galloped after his mistress, keeping at his
usual distance.

The first two hedges, which were insignificant obstacles for such
horses, were crossed without effort.

“Not the brook, I beg of you!” cried Henri, seeing that, instead of
running past the grand-stand, Zibeline apparently intended to attempt
this dangerous feat.

“Come on! Seaman would never forgive me if I balk at it!” she cried,
riding fearlessly down the slope.

The good horse gathered up his four feet on the brink, took one vigorous
leap, appearing for a second to hover over the water; then he fell
lightly on the other side of the stream, with a seesaw movement, to
which the intrepid Amazon accommodated herself by leaning far back. The
rebound threw her forward a little, but she straightened herself quickly
and went on.

The General, who had slackened his pace that he might not interfere
with her leap, gave vent to a sigh of relief. He pressed Aida’s flanks
firmly, and the big Irish mare jumped after her competitor, with the
majestic dignity of her race.

Reassured by the ‘savoir-faire’ of his companion, the former winner of
the military steeplechase felt revive within himself all his ardor for
the conflict, and he hastened to make up the distance he had lost.

The two horses, now on the west side of the racetrack, were almost
neck-and-neck, and it would have been difficult to prognosticate which
had the better chance of victory. Zibeline’s light weight gave Seaman
the advantage, but Aida gained a little ground every time she leaped an
obstacle; so that, after passing the hurdles and the third hedge, the
champions arrived simultaneously at the summit of the hill, from which
point the track extends in a straight line, parallel with the Allee des
Fortifications.

Feeling himself urged on still harder, the English horse began to lay
back his ears and pull so violently on the rein that his rider had all
she could do to hold him, and lacked sufficient strength to direct his
course. Seeing Zibeline’s danger, Henri hastened to slacken his horse’s
pace, but it was too late: the almost perpendicular declivity of the
other side of the hill added fresh impetus to the ungovernable rush of
Seaman, who suddenly became wild and reckless.

The situation was all the more critical for the reason that the next
obstacle was a brook, only two metres wide, but of which the passage was
obstructed on the farther side of the track by heavy beams, laid one
on top of another, solidly riveted and measuring one metre and ten
millimetres from the base to the summit. The excited horse charged
obliquely toward this obstruction with all his might. Paying no more
attention to the pressure upon his bit, he rose in the air, but as he
had not given himself sufficient time to take plenty of room for the
leap, his hoofs struck violently against the top beam, the force of
resistance of which threw him over on one side; his hindquarters turned
in the air, and he fell in a heap on the other side of the obstacle,
sending up a great splash of water as he went into the brook.

Had Zibeline been crushed by the weight of the horse in this terrible
fall, or, not having been able to free herself from him, had she been
drowned under him? Henri uttered a hoarse cry, struck his spurs into the
sides of his mare, crossed the brook breathlessly, stopping on the other
side as soon as he could control his horse’s pace; then, rushing back,
he leaped to the ground to save the poor girl, if there was still time
to do so.

Zibeline lay inanimate on the grass, her face lying against the earth.
By a lucky chance, the horse had fallen on his right side, so that his
rider’s limbs and skirt had not been caught. Unhorsed by the violence
of the shock, Zibeline had gone over the animal’s head and fallen on the
other side of the brook. Her Amazon hat, so glossy when she had set out,
was now crushed, and her gloves were torn and soiled with mud; which
indicated that she had fallen on her head and her hands.

Henri knelt beside her, passed his arm around her inert and charming
body, and drew her tenderly toward him. Her eyes were half-open and
dull, her lips pale; her nose, the nostrils of which were usually well
dilated, had a pinched look; and a deadly pallor covered that face which
only a moment before had been so rosy and smiling.

These signs were the forerunners of death, which the officer had
recognized so many times on the battlefield. But those stricken ones had
at least been men, devoting themselves to the risks of warfare; while
in the presence of this young girl lying before him, looking upon this
victim of a reckless audacity to which he felt he had lent himself too
readily, the whole responsibility for the accident seemed to him to rest
upon his own shoulders, and a poignant remorse tore his heart.

He removed her cravat, unhooked her bodice, laid his ear against her
breast, from which an oppressed breathing still arose.

Two laborers hurried to open the gate and soon arrived at the spot
with a litter, guided by the groom, whose horse had refused to jump
the brook, and who since then had followed the race on foot outside the
track. While the General placed Zibeline on the litter, the groom took
Aida by the bridle, and the sad procession made its way slowly toward
the enclosure surrounding the weighing-stand.

As for Seaman, half submerged in the stream, and with an incurable
fracture of the leg, nothing was left to do for the poor animal but to
kill him.



CHAPTER XXVI. AN UNCONSCIOUS AVOWAL

Walking slowly, step by step, beside her whose power had so quickly
and so wholly subjugated him, watching over her removal with more than
paternal solicitude, Henri de Prerolles, sustained by a ray of hope,
drew a memorandum-book from his pocket, wrote upon a slip of paper a
name and an address, and, giving it to the groom, ordered him to go
ahead of the litter and telephone to the most celebrated surgeon in
Paris, requesting him to go as quickly as possible to the domicile
of Mademoiselle de Vermont, and, meantime, to send with the greatest
despatch one of the eight-spring carriages from the stables.

It was noon by the dial on the grand-stand when the litter was finally
deposited in a safe place. The surgeon could hardly arrive in less than
two hours; therefore, the General realized that he must rely upon his
own experience in rendering the first necessary aid.

He lifted Valentine’s hand, unbuttoned the glove, laid his finger on her
pulse, and counted the pulsations, which were weak, slow, and irregular.

While the wife of the gate-keeper kept a bottle of salts at the nostrils
of the injured girl, Henri soaked a handkerchief in tincture of arnica
and sponged her temples with it; then, pouring some drops of the liquid
into a glass of water, he tried in vain to make her swallow a mouthful.
Her teeth, clenched by the contraction of muscles, refused to allow it
to pass into her throat. At the end of half an hour, the inhalation
of the salts began to produce a little effect; the breath came more
regularly, but that was the only symptom which announced that the swoon
might soon terminate. The landau with the high springs arrived. The
General ordered the top laid back, and helped to lift and place upon the
cushions on the back seat the thin mattress on which Zibeline lay; then
he took his place on the front seat, made the men draw the carriage-top
back into its proper position, and the equipage rolled smoothly,
and without a jar, to its destination. On the way they met the first
carriages that had arrived at the Auteuil hippodrome, the occupants of
which little suspected what an exciting dramatic incident had occurred
just before the races. Zibeline’s servants, by whom she was adored,
awaited their mistress at the threshold, and for her maids it was an
affair of some minutes to undress her and lay her in her own bed. During
this delay, the surgeon, who had hastened to answer the call, found
Henri nervously walking about from one drawing-room to the other; and,
having received information as to the details of the fall, he soon
entered the bedchamber. While awaiting the sentence of life or of death
which must soon be pronounced, he who considered himself the chief cause
of this tragic event continued to pace to and fro in the gallery--that
gallery where, under the intoxication of a waltz, the demon of
temptation had so quickly demolished all his resolutions of resistance.
A half-hour--an age!--elapsed before the skilled practitioner
reappeared. “There is no fracture,” he said, “but the cerebral shock
has been such that I can not as yet answer for the consequences. If the
powerful reactive medicine which I have just given should bring her back
to her senses soon, her mental faculties will suffer no harm. If not,
there is everything to fear. I will return in three hours,” he added.
Without giving a thought to the conventionalities, Henri entered the
bedchamber, to the great astonishment of the maids, and, installing
himself at the head of the bed, he decided not to leave that spot until
Valentine had regained her senses, should she ever regain them. An
hour passed thus, while Henri kept the same attitude, erect, attentive,
motionless, with stray scraps of his childhood’s prayers running through
his brain. Suddenly the heavy eyelids of the wounded girl were lifted;
the dulness of the eyes disappeared; her body made an involuntary
attempt to change its position; the nostrils dilated; the lips quivered
in an effort to speak. Youth and life had triumphed over death. With
painful slowness, she tried to raise her hand to her head, the seat of
her pain, where, though half paralyzed, thought was beginning to return.
Her eyes wandered to and fro in the shadowy room, seeking to recognize
the surroundings. A ray of light, filtering through the window-curtains,
showed her the anxious face bending tenderly over her. “Henri!” she
murmured, in a soft, plaintive voice. That name, pronounced thus, the
first word uttered after her long swoon, revealed her secret. Never had
a more complete yet modest avowal been more simply expressed; was it not
natural that he should be present at her reentrance into life, since
she loved him? With women, the sentiment of love responds to the most
diverse objects. The ordinary young girl of Zibeline’s age, either
before or after her sojourn in a convent, considers that a man of thirty
has arrived at middle age, and that a man of forty is absolutely old.
Should she accept a man of either of these ages, she does it because a
fortune, a title, or high social rank silences her other tastes, and
her ambition does the rest. But, with an exceptional woman, like
Mademoiselle de Vermont, brought up in view of wide horizons, in the
midst of plains cleared by bold pioneers, among whom the most valorous
governed the others, a man like General de Prerolles realized her ideal
all the more, because both their natures presented the same striking
characteristics: carelessness of danger, and frankness carried to
its extremest limit. Therefore, this declaration--to use the common
expression--entirely free from artifice or affectation, charmed Henri
for one reason, yet, on the other hand, redoubled his perplexity. How
could he conciliate his scruples of conscience with the aspirations
of his heart? The problem seemed then as insoluble as when it had been
presented the first time. But Valentine was saved. For the moment that
was the essential point, the only one in question. The involuntary
revelation of her secret had brought the color to her cheeks, the light
to her eyes, a smile to her lips, in spite of the leaden band that
seemed still pressing upon her head. “How you have frightened me!” said
Henri, in a low voice, seating himself on the side of the bed and
taking her hand. “Is that true?” she asked, softly pressing his fingers.
“Hush!” he said, making a movement to enjoin silence. She obeyed, and
they remained a few moments thus. Nevertheless, he reflected that
the account of the accident would soon be spread everywhere, that
Valentine’s new friends would hear about it as soon as they arrived at
the race-track that day, and that he could no longer prolong his stay
beside her.

“Are you leaving me so soon?” Valentine murmured, when he said that he
must go.

“I am going to tell my sister and the Chevalier de Sainte-Foy of your
mishap.”

“Very well,” she replied, as if already she had no other desire than to
follow his wishes.

He gave the necessary orders, and again took his place beside the bed,
awaiting the second visit of the doctor, whose arrival was simultaneous
with that of the Duchess.

This time the verdict was altogether favorable, with no mention of
the possibility of any aggravating circumstances. An inevitable
feverishness, and a great lassitude, which must be met with absolute
repose for several days, would be the only consequences of this
dangerous prank.

The proprieties resumed their normal sway, and it was no longer possible
for Henri to remain beside the charming invalid.



CHAPTER XXVII. DISTRACTION

The Duchesse de Montgeron, who had passed the rest of the day with
Mademoiselle de Vermont, did not return to her own dwelling until eight
o’clock that evening, bearing the most reassuring news.

Longing for fresh air and exercise, Henri went out after dinner, walked
through the Champs-Elysees, and traversed the crossing at l’Etoile, in
order to approach the spot where Zibeline lay ill.

If one can imagine the feelings of a man of forty-five, who is loved for
himself, under the most flattering and unexpected conditions, one can
comprehend the object of this nocturnal walk and the long pause that
Henri made beneath the windows of Zibeline’s apartment. A small garden,
protected by a light fence, was the only obstacle that separated them.
But how much more insuperable was the barrier which his own principles
had raised between this adorable girl and himself.

Had he not told his sister, confided to Eugenie Gontier, and reiterated
to any one that would listen to him, the scruples which forbade him ever
to think of marriage? To change this decision, in asking for the hand of
Mademoiselle de Vermont, would-in appearance, at least--sacrifice to the
allurement of wealth the proud poverty which he had long borne so nobly.

But the demon of temptation was then, as always, lurking in the shadow,
the sole witness of this duel to the death between prejudice and love.

When he returned to his rooms he found another note from his former
mistress:

   “You have just had a terrible experience, my dear friend. Nothing
   that affects you can be indifferent to me. I beg you to believe,
   notwithstanding the grief which our separation causes me, in all the
   prayers that I offer for your happiness.

                  “ARIADNE.”

“My happiness? My torture, rather!” he said, the classic name of Ariadne
suggesting the idea that the pseudonym of Tantalus might well be applied
to himself.

But he had long kept a rule to write as little as possible, and
was guarded in making reply to any letter, especially to such a
communication as this.

When he left the house the next morning, on his way to attend to
military duties, he learned that his sister had gone away early on an
excursion to one of the suburbs, and that she would not return until
evening. As the Duchess was the only person who had been initiated into
the mystery surrounding Zibeline on the subject of the building of the
Orphan Asylum, it was evident that she had gone to take her place in the
directing of the work.

In the afternoon Henri called to inquire for the invalid, and was
received by the Chevalier de Sainte-Foy. She had had a quiet night; a
little fever had appeared toward morning, and, above all, an extreme
weakness, requiring absolute quiet and freedom from any excitement. On
an open register in the reception-room were inscribed the names of all
those persons who had called to express their interest in Mademoiselle
de Vermont: Constantin Lenaieff, the Lisieux, the Nointels, Edmond
Delorme, the Baron de Samoreau, and others. Only the Desvanneaux had
shown no sign of life. Their Christian charity did not extend so far as
that.

Henri added his name to the list, and for several days he returned each
morning to inscribe it anew, feeling certain that, as soon as Valentine
was able to be placed half-reclining on a couch, she would give orders
that he should be admitted to her presence. But nothing of the kind
occurred.

On the evening of the fifth day after the accident, the Duchess informed
her brother that their young friend had been taken to the country, where
it was thought a complete cure would sooner be effected.

This hasty departure, made without any preliminary message, caused Henri
to feel the liveliest disappointment.

Had he deceived himself, then? Was it, after all, only by chance
that she had so tenderly pronounced his name, and had that familiar
appellative only been drawn from her involuntarily because of her
surprise at beholding his unexpected presence at her bedside?

Regarding the matter from this point of view, the whole romance that he
had constructed on a fragile foundation had really never existed save in
his own imagination!

At this thought his self-esteem suffered cruelly. He felt a natural
impulse to spring into a carriage and drive to the dwelling of
Eugenie Gontier, and there to seek forgetfulness. But he felt that his
bitterness would make itself known even there, and that such a course
would be another affront to the dignity of a woman of heart, whose
loyalty to himself he never had questioned.

Try to disguise it as he would, his sombre mood made itself apparent,
especially to his brother-in-law, who had no difficulty in guessing the
cause, without allowing Henri to suspect that he divined it.

The date for the formal transfer of the Orphan Asylum to the committee
had been fixed for the fifteenth day of May.

On the evening of the fourteenth, at the hour when the General was
signing the usual military documents in his bureau, a domestic presented
to him a letter which, he said, had just been brought in great haste by
a messenger on horseback:

The superscription, “To Monsieur the General the Marquis de Prerolles,”
 was inscribed in a long, English hand, elegant and regular. The orderly
gave the letter to his chief, who dismissed him with a gesture before
breaking the seal. The seal represented, without escutcheon or crown, a
small, wild animal, with a pointed muzzle, projecting teeth, and shaggy
body, under which was a word Henri expected to find: Zibeline!

The letter ran thus:

   “MY DEAR GENERAL:

   “An officer, like yourself, whose business it is to see that his
   orders are obeyed, will understand that I have not dared, even in
   your favor, to infringe on those imposed upon me by the doctor.
   But those orders have been withdrawn! If you have nothing better to
   do, come to-morrow, with your sister, to inspect our asylum, before
   Monsieur Desvanneaux takes possession of it!

   “Your military eye will be able to judge immediately whether
   anything is lacking in the quarters. Yours affectionately,

                  “VALENTINE DE VERMONT.

   “P.S.--Poor Seaman is dead! I beg you to carry this sad news to his
   friend Aida. V.”

If a woman’s real self is revealed in her epistolary style, finesse,
good-humor, and sprightliness were characterised in this note.
Zibeline’s finesse had divined Henri’s self-deception; her good-humor
sought to dissipate it; and her sprightliness was evidenced by her
allusions to M. Desvanneaux and the loss of her horse.

When they found themselves reunited at the dinner-hour, the Duchess said
simply to her brother:

“You must have received an invitation to-day from Mademoiselle de
Vermont. Will you accompany us tomorrow?”

“Yes, certainly. But where? How? At what hour?”

“We must leave here at one o’clock. Don’t disturb yourself about any
other detail--we shall look after everything.”

“Good! I accept.”

As he was not so curious as the Desvanneaux, it mattered little to him
to what place they took him, so long as he should find Zibeline at the
end of the journey.

At the appointed hour the brother and sister drove to the Gare du Nord.
The Duke, a director of the road, who had been obliged to attend a
convocation of the Council until noon, had preceded them. He was waiting
for them beside the turnstile at the station, having already procured
their tickets and reserved a carriage in one of the omnibus trains from
Paris to Treport which make stops at various suburban stations.

“Will it be a very long journey?” Henri asked, on taking his place in
the carriage.

“Barely three-quarters of an hour,” said the Duke, as the train started
on its way.



CHAPTER XXVIII. THE VOW REDEEMED

The third road, constructed between the two lines which met at Creil,
passing, the one by way of Chantilly, the other, by Pontoise, was not
in existence in 1871, when, after the war, Jeanne and Henri de Prerolles
went to visit the spot, already unrecognizable, where they had passed
their childhood. L’Ile-d’Adam was at that time the nearest station; to
day it is Presles, on the intermediate line, which they now took.

“This is our station,” said Madame de Montgeron, when the train stopped
at Montsoult. They descended from the carriage, and found on the
platform two footmen, who conducted them to a large char-a-banc, to
which were harnessed four dark bay Percherons, whose bridles were held
by postilions in Zibeline’s livery, as correct in their appearance as
those belonging to the imperial stables, when the sojourn of the court
was at Compiegne or at Fontainebleau.

“Where are we going now, Jeanne?” asked Henri, whose heart seemed to him
to contract at the sight of Maffliers, which he knew so well.

“A short distance from here,” his sister replied.

The horses set off, and, amid the sound of bells and the cracking of
whips, the carriage reached the national road from Paris to Beauvais,
which, from Montsoult, passes around the railway by a rapid descent,
from the summit of which is visible, on the right, the Chateau of
Franconville; on the left, the village of Nerville perched on its crest.

One of the footmen on the rear seat held the reins, and a quarter of
an hour later the carriage stopped just before arriving at the foot of
Valpendant.

Valpendant had formerly been a feudal manor within the confines of
Ile-de-France, built midway upon a hill, as its name indicated. On the
side toward the plain was a moat, and the castle itself commanded the
view of a valley, through which ran the little stream called Le Roi,
which flows into the river Oise near the hamlet of Mours. Acquired
in the fifteenth century by the lords of Prerolles, it had become an
agricultural territory worked for their profit, first by forced labor,
and later by farmers.

Even recently, the courtyard, filled with squawking fowls and domestic
animals of all kinds, and the sheds crowded with agricultural implements
piled up in disorder, presented a scene of confusion frequent among
cultivators, and significant of the alienation of old domains from their
former owners.

“We have arrived!” said the Duchess, alighting first.

“What, is it here?” Henri exclaimed, his heart beating more quickly.

“Your old farm was for sale just at the time that Mademoiselle de
Vermont was seeking an appropriate site for the Orphan Asylum. This spot
appeared to her to combine all the desirable conditions, and she has
wrought the transformation you are about to behold. It might as well be
this place as another,” the Duchess added. “In my opinion, it is a sort
of consolation offered to us by fate.”

“Be it so!” said Henri, in a tone of less conviction.

He followed his sister along the footpath of a bluff, which as children
they had often climbed; while the carriage made a long detour in order
to reach the main entrance to the grounds.

The footpath, winding along near the railway embankment, ended at
a bridge, where Zibeline awaited the three visitors. A significant
pressure of her hand showed Henri how little cause he had had for his
apprehensions.

They entered. Seen from the main entrance, the metamorphosis of the
place was complete.

The old tower that had served as a barn alone remained the same; it was
somewhat isolated from the other building, and had been repaired in
the style of its period, making a comfortable dwelling for the future
director of the Asylum. Mademoiselle de Vermont occupied it temporarily.

On each side of the grounds, standing parallel, rose two fine buildings:
on the ground floor of each were all the customary rooms and accessories
found on model farms; on the upper floors were dormitories arranged
to receive a large number of children of both sexes. There were
schoolrooms, sewing-rooms, a chapel-in short, nothing was lacking to
assist in the children’s intellectual and manual education.

“You have done things royally,” said the Duke to the happy donor, when,
having finished the inspection of the premises, they returned to the
directors’ room, indicated by a plate upon its door.

As for Henri, silent and absorbed, he hesitated between the dread of
facing a new emotion and the desire to go once more to gaze upon the
tower of Prerolles, hardly more than two kilometres distant.

“What is the matter with you, General?” Zibeline asked, observing that
he did not appear to take pleasure in the surprise she had prepared.

“I lived here many years a long time ago,” he replied. “I am thinking
of all that it recalls to me; and, if you would not consider it
discourteous on my part, I should like to leave you for a little time to
make a pilgrimage on foot around the neighborhood.”

“Would you like to have me take you myself? I have a little English cart
which can run about anywhere,” said Zibeline.

The proposition was tempting. The sweetness of a tete-a-tete might
diminish the bitterness of recollections. He accepted.

She ordered the cart brought around, and they climbed into the small
vehicle, which was drawn by a strong pony, driven by Zibeline herself.

“Which way?” she asked, when they had passed through the gates.

“To the right,” he said, pointing to a rough, half-paved slope, an
abandoned part of what had been in former days the highway, which now
joins the new road at the Beaumont tunnel.

Passing this point, and leaving on their left the state road
of l’Ile-d’Adam, they drove through a narrow cross-cut, between
embankments, by which one mounts directly to the high, plateau that
overlooks the town of Presles.

The hill was steep, and the pony was out of breath. They were compelled
to stop to allow him to rest.

“It is not necessary to go any farther,” said Henri to his companion. “I
need only to take a few steps in order to see what interests me.”

“I will wait for you here,” she replied, alighting after him. “Don’t
be afraid to leave me alone. The horse will not move; he is used to
stopping.”

He left her gathering daisies, and walked resolutely to the panoramic
point of view, where a strange and unexpected sight met his eyes!

All that had once been so dear to him had regained its former aspect.
The kitchen-gardens had given place to the rich pastures, where yearling
colts frisked gayly. The factory had disappeared, and the chateau had
been restored to its original appearance. The walls enclosing the park
had been rebuilt, and even several cleared places indicated the sites of
cottages that had been pulled down.

Henri de Prerolles could hardly believe his eyes! Was he the sport of a
dream or of one of those mirages which rise before men who travel across
the sandy African deserts? The latitude and the position of the sun
forbade this interpretation. But whence came it, then? What fairy had
turned a magic ring in order to work this miracle?

A crackling of dry twigs under a light tread made him turn, and he
beheld Zibeline, who had come up behind him.

The fairy was there, pale and trembling, like a criminal awaiting
arrest.

“Is it you who have done this?” Henri exclaimed, with a sob which no
human strength could have controlled.

“It is I!” she murmured, lowering her eyes. “I did it in the hope that
some day you would take back that which rightfully belongs to you.”

“Rightfully, you say? By what act?”

“An act of restitution.”

“You never have done me any injury, and nothing authorizes me to accept
such a gift from Mademoiselle de Vermont.”

“Vermont was the family name of my mother. When my father married
her, he obtained leave to add it to his own. I am the daughter of Paul
Landry.”

“You!”

“Yes. The daughter of Paul Landry, whose fortune had no other origin
than the large sum of which he despoiled you.”

Henri made a gesture of denial.

“Pardon me!” Zibeline continued. “He was doubly your debtor, since this
sum had been increased tenfold when you rescued him from the Mexicans
who were about to shoot him. ‘This is my revenge!’ you said to him,
without waiting to hear a word from him. Your ruin was the remorse
of his whole life. I knew it only when he lay upon his deathbed.
Otherwise--”

She paused, then raised her head higher to finish her words.

“Never mind!” she went on. “That which he dared not do while living, I
set myself to do after his death. When I came to Paris to inquire what
had become of the Marquis de Prerolles, your glorious career answered
for you; but even before I knew you I had become the possessor of these
divided estates, which, reunited by me, must be restored to your hands.
You are proud, Henri,” she added, with animation, “but I am none less
proud than you. Judge, then, what I have suffered in realizing our
situation: I, overwhelmed with riches, you, reduced to your officer’s
pay. Is that a satisfaction to your pride? Very well! But to my own, it
is the original stain, which only a restitution, nobly accepted by you,
ever can efface!”

She paused, looking at him supplicatingly, her hands clasped. As he
remained silent, she understood that he still hesitated, and continued:

“To plead my cause, to vanquish your resistance, as I am trying now to
triumph over it, could be attempted with any chance of success only by
a dear and tender friend; that is the reason why I sought to establish
relations with--”

“With Eugenie Gontier?”

“But she would not consent to it--all the worse for her! For, since
then, you and I have come to know each other well. Your prejudices have
been overcome one by one. I have observed it well. I am a woman, and
even your harshness has not changed my feelings, nor prevented me from
believing that, in spite of yourself, you were beginning to love me.
Have I been deceiving myself?--tell me!”

“You know that you have not, since, as I look at you and listen to you,
I know not which I admire more-your beauty or the treasures of your
heart!”

“Then come!”

“Whither?”

“To Prerolles, where all is ready to receive you.”

“Well, since this is a tale from the Arabian Nights, let us follow it to
the end! I will go!” said Henri.

Browsing beside the road, the pony, left to himself, had advanced toward
them, step by step, whinnying to his mistress. Valentine and Henri
remounted the cart; which soon drew up before the gates of the chateau,
where, awaiting them, reinstated in his former office, stood the old
steward, bent and white with years.

The borders of the broad driveway were of a rich, deep green.
Rose-bushes in full bloom adorned the smooth lawns. The birds trilled a
welcome in jumping from branch to branch, and across the facade of the
chateau the open windows announced to the surrounding peasantry the
return of the prodigal master.

At the top of the flight of steps Valentine stepped back to allow Henri
to pass before her; then, changing her mind, she advanced again.

“No, you are at home,” she said. “It is I that must enter first!”

He followed her docilely, caring no longer to yield to any other will
than hers.

Within the chateau, thanks to the complicity of the Duchess, the
furnishings resembled as closely as possible those of former days. The
good fairy had completed successfully two great works: the restoration
of the chateau and the building of the asylum. The inhabitants of the
one would be so much the better able to foresee the needs of the other.

Having explored one of the wings, they returned to the central hall.
Mademoiselle de Vermont made a sign to the steward to remain there, and
beckoned to Henri to accompany her to the historic gallery. After they
had entered it, she closed the door. The family portraits had been
rehung in their former places, in chronological order, and, in its
proper place, figured that of the General of Division the Marquis de
Prerolles, in full uniform, mounted on Aida, the portrait being the work
of Edmond Delorme.

At this sight, touched to the depths of his heart, Henri knelt before
Valentine, and carried her hand to his lips.

“I adore you!” he said, without attempting to hide the tears of
gratitude that fell upon those generous hands.

“Do you, indeed?” Zibeline murmured.

“You shall see!” he replied, rising. “Come, in your turn.”

He led her before the portrait of the ancestral marshal of France, and
said:

“Twenty-three years ago I vowed before that portrait either to vanquish
the enemy or to regain with honor all that I had lost at play. I have
kept my word. Will you be my wife?”

“Ah, you know my heart is yours!” Zibeline whispered, hiding her face
upon his shoulder.

The door at the end of the gallery opened; the Duc and the Duchesse de
Montgeron appeared. Henri took Zibeline’s hand and approached them.

“The Marquise de Prerolles!” he said, presenting her to his sister and
her husband.



CHAPTER XXIX. THE MARQUISE DE PREROLLES

The next day a special train landed the fair patronesses at the station
of Presles, whence Zibeline’s carriages conducted them to Valpendant.

The deed of gift was signed before M. Durand and his colleague, a notary
of Pontoise.

This formality fulfilled, M. Desvanneaux, whose own role, for a moment
overshadowed, appeared to him to renew its importance, took the floor
and said:

“It remains to us, Mesdames, to assure the support of the Orphan Asylum
by means of an annual income.”

“The Marquis and the Marquise de Prerolles assume this responsibility,”
 said the ministerial officer, treasurer of the Asylum. “This mutual
engagement will form the object of a special clause in the drawing up of
their contract.”

In this way was the news of the approaching marriage between Valentine
and Henri announced to the Society.

“The little intriguer!” murmured the churchwarden, nudging the elbow of
his Maegera.

The General, who noted the effect which this announcement had produced
upon the peevish pair, divined the malicious words upon the hypocritical
lips. He drew the husband aside, and put one hand upon his shoulder.

“Desvanneaux,” he said, “you have known me twenty-five years, and you
know that I am a man of my word. If ever a malevolent word from you
regarding my wife should come to my ears, I shall elongate yours to such
a degree that those of King Midas will be entirely eclipsed! Remember
that!”

The ceremony took place six weeks later, in the church of St.
Honore-d’Eylau, which was not large enough to hold the numerous public
and the brilliant corps of officers that assisted.

The witnesses for the bridegroom were the military governor of Paris and
the Duc de Montgeron. Those of the bride were the aide-de-camp General
Lenaieff, in full uniform, wearing an astrachan cap and a white cloak
with the Russian eagle fastened in the fur; and the Chevalier de
Sainte-Foy.

On the evening before, a last letter from his former mistress had come
to the General:

   “I have heard all the details of your romance, my dear Henri. Its
   conclusion is according to all dramatic rules, and I congratulate
   you without reserve.

   “If, on the eve of contracting this happy union, an examination of
   your conscience should suggest to you some remorse for having
   abandoned me so abruptly, let me say that no shadow, not even the
   lightest, must cloud the serenity of this joyous day: I am about to
   leave the stage forever, to become the wife of the Baron de
   Samoreau!

          “Always affectionately yours,

                    “EUGENIE GONTIER.”


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     All that was illogical in our social code
     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
     Life goes on, and that is less gay than the stories
     Men admired her; the women sought some point to criticise
     Only a man, wavering and changeable
     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
     Their Christian charity did not extend so far as that
     There are mountains that we never climb but once
     You are in a conquered country, which is still more dangerous





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