“Take care, my dear Constantin!” said Henri to him, bluntly. “You will make Mademoiselle de Vermont quite impossible. If you go on thus, she will take herself seriously as a divinity!”
“Fortunately,” rejoined Zibeline, “you are there, General, to remind me that I am only a mortal, as Philippe’s freedman reminded his master every morning.”
“You can not complain! I serve you as a confederate, to allow you to display your erudition,” retorted the General, continuing his persiflage.
But he, too, was only a man, wavering and changeable, to use Montaigne’s expression, for his eyes, contradicting the brusqueness of his speech, rested long, and not without envy, on this beautiful and tempting fruit which his fate forbade him to gather. The more he admired her freshness, and the more he inhaled her sweetness, the more the image of Eugenie Gontier was gradually effaced from his memory, like one of those tableaux on the stage, which gauze curtains, descending from the flies, seem to absorb without removing, gradually obliterating the pictures as they fall, one after another.
A DASHING AMAZON
On leaving the table, the fair “Amphitryonne” proposed that the gentlemen should use her private office as a smoking-room, and the ladies followed them thither, pretending that the odor of tobacco would not annoy them in the least, but in reality to inspect this new room.
Edmond Delorme had finished his work that very morning, and the enormous canvas, with its life-size subject, had already been hung, lighted from above and below by electric bulbs, the battery for which was cleverly hidden behind a piece of furniture.
The portrait, bearing a striking resemblance to the original, was indeed that of “the most dashing of all the Amazons on the Bois,” to quote the words of the artist, who was a better painter of portraits than of animals, but who, in this case, could not separate the rider from her steed.
Seaman, a Hungarian bay, by Xenophon and Lena Rivers, was drawn in profile, very erect on his slender, nervous legs. He appeared, on the side nearest the observer, to be pawing the ground impatiently with his hoof, a movement which seemed to be facilitated by his rider, who, drawn in a three-quarters view and extending her hand, allowed the reins to fall over the shoulders of her pure-blooded mount.
“What do you think of it?” Zibeline inquired of General de Prerolles.
“I think you have the air of the commander of a division of cavalry, awaiting the moment to sound the charge.”
“I shall guard her well,” said Zibeline, “for she would be sure to be put to rout by your bayonets.”
“Not by mine!” gallantly exclaimed Lenaieff. “I should immediately lower my arms before her!”
“You!—perhaps! But between General de Prerolles and myself the declaration of war is without quarter. Is it not, General?” said Valentine, laughing.