“It is more than I deserve, Madame la Duchesse!” said Valentine. “The important work in which they have taken the initiative is so interesting that each of us should contribute to it according to his means. I am alone in Paris, without relatives or friends, and these ladies have furnished me the means to cure my idleness; so it is I, rather, who am indebted to them.”
Whether this speech were studied or not, it was pronounced to be in very good taste, and the stranger’s conquest of the assemblage was more and more assured.
“Since you wish to join us,” resumed the Duchess, “allow me to present to you these gentlemen: Monsieur Desvanneaux, our zealous general secretary—”
“I have already had the pleasure of seeing Monsieur at my house,” said Valentine, “also Madame Desvanneaux; and although I was unable to accede to their wishes, I retain, nevertheless, the pleasantest recollections of their visit.”
“Good hit!” whispered Madame de Nointel to her neighbor.
“The Marquis de Prerolles, my brother,” the Duchess continued.
“The smiles of Fortune must be sweet, Mademoiselle,” said the General, bowing low.
“Not so sweet as those of Glory, General,” Zibeline replied, with a pretty air of deference.
“She possesses a decidedly ready wit,” said Madame de Lisieux in a confidential aside.
“Now, ladies,” added the president, “I believe that the best thing we can do is to leave everything in the hands of Mademoiselle and our treasurer. The examination of the annual resources will be the object of the next meeting. For to-day, the meeting is adjourned.”
Then, as Mademoiselle de Vermont was about to mingle with the other ladies, the Duchess detained her an instant, inquiring:
“Have you any engagement for this evening, Mademoiselle?”
“Will you do us the honor to join us in my box at the opera?”
“But—I have no one to accompany me,” said Zibeline. “I dismissed my cousin De Sainte-Foy, thinking that I should have no further need of his escort to-day.”
“That does not matter at all,” the Duchess replied. “We will stop for you on our way.”
“I should not like to trouble you so much, Madame. If you will allow me, I will stop at your door at whatever hour will be agreeable to you, and my carriage shall follow yours.”
“Very well. At nine o’clock, if you please. They sing Le Prophete tonight, and we shall arrive just in time for the ballet.”
“The ‘Skaters’ Ballet,’” said the General.
This remark recalled to Mademoiselle her triumph of the evening before. “Do you bear a grudge against me?” she said, with a smile.
“Less and less of one,” the General replied.
“Then, let us make a compact of peace,” said Zibeline, holding out her hand in the English fashion.
With these words she left the room on the arm of the Duke, who claimed the honor of escorting her to her carriage.