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.”