“I know that you have called to see me several times,” said she, “but I was in the country.”
“So early in the month of April?”
“Oh! not to live there. Monsieur de Perolles knows that I have promised to build our Orphan Asylum at a certain distance from Paris, and hardly three weeks remain to me before I must hand over the property. If I am not ready on the day appointed, Monsieur Desvanneaux will be sure to seize my furniture, and I could not invite you any more to dinner, Messieurs! A propos, General, Monsieur de Samoreau has failed in his negotiations. Mademoiselle Gontier refuses to come to recite at my next soiree!”
“What necessity is there for you to make her acquaintance?” demanded Henri.
“Ah, that is my secret!”
During this conversation a hired fiacre, well appointed, had stopped beside the road, and Eugenie Gontier descended from it, inquiring of an officer belonging to the grounds where she could find General de Prerolles. When the officer had pointed out the General to her, she started to walk toward him; but, on seeing her former lover leaning familiarly against the door of Zibeline’s carriage, she immediately retraced her steps and quickly reentered her own.
“There is no longer any doubt about it!” said Mademoiselle de Vermont, who had been observing Eugenie’s movements. “Mademoiselle Gontier has made a fixed resolution to avoid meeting me.”
“That is because she is jealous of you!” said Lenaieff naively.
“Jealous? And why?” said Zibeline, blushing.
Visibly embarrassed, Henri drew out his watch in order to avert his countenance.
“Midday!” he cried. “This is the hour for the return of the troops to their barracks. You would do well not to delay in starting for home, Mademoiselle. The roads will be very crowded, and your horses will not be able to trot. I beg your pardon for taking away your model, my dear Delorme, but I really must be off.”
“It is all the same to me; I have finished my sketch,” said the painter, closing his portfolio.
At this moment, as the military governor passed near them, on his way to the crossway of the Pyramid, Henri made a movement as if to rejoin him.
“Do not disturb yourself, General de Prerolles,” said the military governor. “The compliments which I have made you on the fine appearance of your troops are probably not so agreeable to you as those to which you are listening at present!”
And saluting Mademoiselle de Vermont courteously, he went his way.
“Now you are free, Henri. Suppose we accompany Mademoiselle back to Paris?” suggested Lenaieff, seeming to read his friend’s mind.
“What an honor for me!” Valentine exclaimed.
The General made a sign to his orderly, who approached to receive his instructions.
“Tell the brigadier-generals that I am about to depart. I need no more escort than two cavalrymen for General Lenaieff and myself. Now I am ready, Mademoiselle,” Henri continued, turning toward Valentine. “If you will be guided by me, we should do well to reach the fortifications by way of the Lake of Saint-Mande.”