“You are quite wrong, I assure you. Did I hide myself last night in order to prove openly my admiration for you? Did I appear to disclaim the allusions which you emphasized in seeming to address me in the course of your role?”
“No, that is true. Shall I make a confession? When I am on the stage, I fear nothing, because there the points of comparison are all in my favor, since you can say to yourself: ’This woman on whom all eyes are fixed, whose voice penetrates to the depths of the soul—this woman, beautiful, applauded, courted, belongs to me—wholly to me,’ and your masculine vanity is pleasantly flattered. But later, Henri! When the rouge is effaced from my lips, when the powder is removed from my cheeks —perhaps revealing some premature line caused by study and late hours— if, after that, you return to your own circle, and there encounter some fresh young girl, graceful and blooming, the object, in her turn, of the fickle admiration of the multitude, forgetful already of her who just now charmed them—tell me, Henri! do you not, as do the others, covet that beautiful exotic flower, and must not the poor comedienne weep for her lost prestige?”
“It is Mademoiselle de Vermont, then, who inspires you with this apprehension,” said the General, smiling.
“Well, yes, it is she!”
“What childishness! Lenaieff will tell you that I have never even looked at her.”
“Last night, perhaps—but to-day?”
“We exchanged no more than a dozen words.”
“But the more I think of her visit to the greenroom, the more inexplicable it appears to me.”
“You need not be surprised at that: she does nothing that any one else does.”
“These things are not done to displease you.”
“I may agree as to that; but what conclusion do you draw?”
“That she is trying to turn your head.”
“My head! You jest! I might be her father.”
“That is not always a reason—”
Nevertheless, Henri’s exclamation had been so frank that Eugenie felt somewhat reassured.
“Are you going so soon?” she said, seeing him take his hat.
“I promised my sister to join her at the opera. Besides, this is your reception night, and I leave you to your duties as hostess. To-morrow, at the usual hour-and we will talk of something else, shall we not?”
“Ah, dearest, that is all I ask!” said Eugenie.
He attempted to kiss her hand, but she held up her lips. He pressed his own upon them in a long kiss, and left her.
DEFIANCE OF MRS. GRUNDY
For more than fifty years the first proscenium box on the ground floor, to the left, at the Opera, had belonged exclusively to ten members of the jockey Club, in the name of the oldest member of which the box is taken. When a place becomes vacant through any cause, the nine remaining subscribers vote on the admission of a new candidate for the vacant chair; it is a sort of academy within the national Academy of Music.