When this plan was originated, that particular corner was called “the infernal box,” but the name has fallen into desuetude since the dedication of the fine monument of M. Gamier. Nevertheless, as it is counted a high privilege to be numbered among these select subscribers, changes are rare among them; besides, the members are not, as a rule, men in their first youth. They have seen, within those walls, the blooming and the renewal of several generations of pretty women; and the number of singers and dancers to whom they have paid court in the coulisses is still greater.
From their post of observation nothing that occurs either before or behind the curtain escapes their analysis—an analysis undoubtedly benevolent on the part of men who have seen much of life, and who accord willingly, to their younger fellow-members, a little of that indulgence of which they stand in need themselves.
An event so unexpected as the enthronement of Zibeline in one of the two large boxes between the columns, in company with the Duchesse de Montgeron, Madame de Lisieux, and Madame de Nointel, did not escape their observation and comment.
“The Duchess is never thoughtless in her choice of associates,” said one of the ten. “There must be some very powerful motive to induce her to shield with her patronage a foreigner who sets so completely at defiance anything that people may say about her.”
“Nonsense! What is it, after all, that they say about this young woman?” demanded the senior member of the party. “That she rides alone on horseback. If she were to ride with a groom, some one would be sure to say that he was her lover. They say that she drives out without any female chaperon beside her in the carriage. Well, if she had one, they would probably find some other malicious thing to say. Paris has become like a little country town in its gossip.”
“And all this,” added a third member, “because she is as lovely as a dream, and because she drives the handsomest turnout in the Bois. If she were ugly, and contented herself with a hired carriage, she would be absolved without confession!”
“Where the deuce does Christian charity come in, in all this gossip?” said Henri de Prerolles to himself, who had just entered the box and overheard the last remarks. “Will you grant me your hospitality until the beginning of the next act, gentlemen?” he said aloud. “My sister’s box is full of guests and transient visitors; she can not admit even me!”
The General was a great favorite with the members of the club. One of them rose to offer him his place.
“I shall stay only a moment, to escape a cloud of questioners in the foyer. Every one that stops me asks—”
“About the new recruit in the Duchess’s box, eh?” said a member. “We, too, wish to inquire about her; we are all leagued together.”
“Thank you, no,” said the General.
“But if it is a secret—”