“Are you leaving me so soon?” Valentine murmured, when he said that he must go.
“I am going to tell my sister and the Chevalier de Sainte-Foy of your mishap.”
“Very well,” she replied, as if already she had no other desire than to follow his wishes.
He gave the necessary orders, and again took his place beside the bed, awaiting the second visit of the doctor, whose arrival was simultaneous with that of the Duchess.
This time the verdict was altogether favorable, with no mention of the possibility of any aggravating circumstances. An inevitable feverishness, and a great lassitude, which must be met with absolute repose for several days, would be the only consequences of this dangerous prank.
The proprieties resumed their normal sway, and it was no longer possible for Henri to remain beside the charming invalid.
The Duchesse de Montgeron, who had passed the rest of the day with Mademoiselle de Vermont, did not return to her own dwelling until eight o’clock that evening, bearing the most reassuring news.
Longing for fresh air and exercise, Henri went out after dinner, walked through the Champs-Elysees, and traversed the crossing at l’Etoile, in order to approach the spot where Zibeline lay ill.
If one can imagine the feelings of a man of forty-five, who is loved for himself, under the most flattering and unexpected conditions, one can comprehend the object of this nocturnal walk and the long pause that Henri made beneath the windows of Zibeline’s apartment. A small garden, protected by a light fence, was the only obstacle that separated them. But how much more insuperable was the barrier which his own principles had raised between this adorable girl and himself.
Had he not told his sister, confided to Eugenie Gontier, and reiterated to any one that would listen to him, the scruples which forbade him ever to think of marriage? To change this decision, in asking for the hand of Mademoiselle de Vermont, would-in appearance, at least—sacrifice to the allurement of wealth the proud poverty which he had long borne so nobly.
But the demon of temptation was then, as always, lurking in the shadow, the sole witness of this duel to the death between prejudice and love.
When he returned to his rooms he found another note from his former mistress:
“You have just had a terrible experience, my dear friend. Nothing that affects you can be indifferent to me. I beg you to believe, notwithstanding the grief which our separation causes me, in all the prayers that I offer for your happiness.
“My happiness? My torture, rather!” he said, the classic name of Ariadne suggesting the idea that the pseudonym of Tantalus might well be applied to himself.