“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.