The three Ministers went out by the private stairway. The President of the Council was waiting for them.
The last act had begun; Madame Martin had in her box only Dechartre and Miss Bell. Miss Bell was saying:
“I rejoice, darling, I am exalted, at the thought that you wear on your heart the red lily of Florence. Monsieur Dechartre, whose soul is artistic, must be very glad, too, to see at your corsage that charming jewel.
“I should like to know the jeweller that made it, darling. This lily is lithe and supple like an iris. Oh, it is elegant, magnificent, and cruel. Have you noticed, my love, that beautiful jewels have an air of magnificent cruelty?”
“My jeweller,” said Therese, “is here, and you have named him; it is Monsieur Dechartre who designed this jewel.”
The door of the box was opened. Therese half turned her head and saw in the shadow Le Menil, who was bowing to her with his brusque suppleness.
“Transmit, I pray you, Madame, my congratulations to your husband.”
He complimented her on her fine appearance. He spoke to Miss Bell a few courteous and precise words.
Therese listened anxiously, her mouth half open in the painful effort to say insignificant things in reply. He asked her whether she had had a good season at Joinville. He would have liked to go in the hunting time, but could not. He had gone to the Mediterranean, then he had hunted at Semanville.
“Oh, Monsieur Le Menil,” said Miss Bell, “you have wandered on the blue sea. Have you seen sirens?”
No, he had not seen sirens, but for three days a dolphin had swum in the yacht’s wake.
Miss Bell asked him if that dolphin liked music.
He thought not.
“Dolphins,” he said, “are very ordinary fish that sailors call sea-geese, because they have goose-shaped heads.”
But Miss Bell would not believe that the monster which had earned the poet Arion had a goose-shaped head.
“Monsieur Le Menil, if next year a dolphin comes to swim near your boat, I pray you play to him on the flute the Delphic Hymn to Apollo. Do you like the sea, Monsieur Le Menil?”
“I prefer the woods.”
Self-contained, simple, he talked quietly.
“Oh, Monsieur Le Menil, I know you like woods where the hares dance in the moonlight.”
Dechartre, pale, rose and went out.
The church scene was on. Marguerite, kneeling, was wringing her hands, and her head drooped with the weight of her long tresses. The voices of the organ and the chorus sang the death-song.
“Oh, darling, do you know that that death-song, which is sung only in the Catholic churches, comes from a Franciscan hermitage? It sounds like the wind which blows in winter in the trees on the summit of the Alverno.”
Therese did not hear. Her soul had followed Dechartre through the door of her box.