“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.”