“Yes,” answered the Count, “and I shall feel deeply grateful to you for such a mark of confidence.”
Andre went to the picture, but as he touched the curtain he turned quickly towards his visitor.
“No,” said he, “I can no longer continue this farce; it is unworthy of me.”
M. de Mussidan turned pale.
“I am about to see Sabine de Mussidan’s portrait. Draw the curtain.”
Andre obeyed, and for a moment the Count stood entranced before the work of genius that met his eyes.
“It is she!” said the father. “Her very smile; the same soft light in her eyes. It is exquisite!”
Misfortune is a harsh teacher; some weeks ago he would have smiled superciliously at the mere idea of granting his daughter’s hand to a struggling artist, for then he thought only of M. de Breulh, but now he would have esteemed it a precious boon had he been allowed to choose Andre as Sabine’s husband. But Henri de Croisenois stood in the way, and as this idea flashed across the Count’s mind he gave a perceptible start. He was sure from the excessive calmness of the young man that he must be well acquainted with all recent events. He asked the question, and Andre, in the most open manner, told him all he knew. The generosity of M. de Breulh, the kindness of Madame Bois Arden, his suspicions, his inquiries, his projects, and his hopes. M. de Mussidan gazed once more upon his daughter’s portrait, and then taking the hand of the young painter, said,—
“M. Andre, if ever we can free ourselves from those miscreants, whose daggers are pointed at our hearts, Sabine shall be your wife.”
Yes, Sabine might yet be his, but between the lovers stood the forms of Croisenois and his associates. But now he felt strong enough to contend with them all.
“To work!” said he, “to work!”
Just then, however, he heard a sound of ringing laughter outside his door. He could distinguish a woman’s voice, and also a man’s, speaking in high, shrill tones. All at once his door burst open, and a hurricane of silks, velvets, feathers, and lace whirled in. With extreme surprise, the young artist recognized the beautiful features of Rose, alias Zora de Chantemille. Gaston de Gandelu followed her, and at once began,—
“Here we are,” said he, “all right again. Did you expect to see us?”
“Not in the least.”
“Ah! well, it is a little surprise of the governor’s. On my word, I really will be a dutiful son for the future. To-day, the good old boy came into my room, and said, ’This morning I took the necessary steps to release the person in whom you are interested. Go and meet her.’ What do you think of that? So off I ran to find Zora, and here we are.”
Andre did not pay much attention to Gaston, but was engaged in watching Zora, who was looking round the studio. She went up to Sabine’s portrait, and was about to draw the curtain, when Andre exclaimed,—