On the evening of the fourteenth, at the hour when the General was signing the usual military documents in his bureau, a domestic presented to him a letter which, he said, had just been brought in great haste by a messenger on horseback:
The superscription, “To Monsieur the General the Marquis de Prerolles,” was inscribed in a long, English hand, elegant and regular. The orderly gave the letter to his chief, who dismissed him with a gesture before breaking the seal. The seal represented, without escutcheon or crown, a small, wild animal, with a pointed muzzle, projecting teeth, and shaggy body, under which was a word Henri expected to find: Zibeline!
The letter ran thus:
“My dear general:
“An officer, like yourself, whose business it is to see that his orders are obeyed, will understand that I have not dared, even in your favor, to infringe on those imposed upon me by the doctor. But those orders have been withdrawn! If you have nothing better to do, come to-morrow, with your sister, to inspect our asylum, before Monsieur Desvanneaux takes possession of it!
eye will be able to judge immediately whether
anything is lacking in the quarters. Yours affectionately,
Seaman is dead! I beg you to carry this sad news
friend Aida. V.”
If a woman’s real self is revealed in her epistolary style, finesse, good-humor, and sprightliness were characterised in this note. Zibeline’s finesse had divined Henri’s self-deception; her good-humor sought to dissipate it; and her sprightliness was evidenced by her allusions to M. Desvanneaux and the loss of her horse.
When they found themselves reunited at the dinner-hour, the Duchess said simply to her brother:
“You must have received an invitation to-day from Mademoiselle de Vermont. Will you accompany us tomorrow?”
“Yes, certainly. But where? How? At what hour?”
“We must leave here at one o’clock. Don’t disturb yourself about any other detail—we shall look after everything.”
“Good! I accept.”
As he was not so curious as the Desvanneaux, it mattered little to him to what place they took him, so long as he should find Zibeline at the end of the journey.
At the appointed hour the brother and sister drove to the Gare du Nord. The Duke, a director of the road, who had been obliged to attend a convocation of the Council until noon, had preceded them. He was waiting for them beside the turnstile at the station, having already procured their tickets and reserved a carriage in one of the omnibus trains from Paris to Treport which make stops at various suburban stations.
“Will it be a very long journey?” Henri asked, on taking his place in the carriage.