The first act had begun. Although the charming artist was not to appear until the second act, she had already descended from her dressing-room, and, finding herself alone in the greenroom, was putting a final touch to her coiffure before the mirror when the General entered.
He kissed her hand gallantly, and both seated themselves in a retired corner between the fireplace and the window.
“I thank you for coming so early,” said Eugenie. “I wished very much to see you to-night, in order to draw from your eyes a little of your courage before I must face the footlights in a role so difficult and so superb.”
“The fire of the footlights is not that of the enemy—above all, for you, who are so sure of winning the battle.”
“Alas! does one ever know? Although at the last rehearsal Monsieur Legouve assured me that all was perfect, look up there at that portrait of Rachel, and judge for yourself whether I have not reason to tremble at my audacity in attempting this role after such a predecessor.”
“But you yourself caused this play to be revived,” said Henri.
“I did it because of you,” Eugenie replied.
“Yes. Am I not your Adrienne, and is not Maurice de Saxe as intrepid as you, and as prodigal as you have been? Was he not dispossessed of his duchy of Courlande, as you were of your—”
A gesture from Henri prevented her from finishing the sentence.
“Pardon me!” said she. “I had forgotten how painful to you is any reference to that matter. We will speak only of your present renown, and of the current of mutual sympathy that attracts each of us toward the other. For myself, that attraction began on the fourteenth of last July. You had just arrived at Paris, and a morning journal, in mentioning the troops, and the names of the generals who appeared at the review, related, apropos of your military exploits, many exciting details of your escape during the war. Do you recall the applause that greeted you when you marched past the tribunes? I saw you then for the first time, but I should have known you among a thousand! The next day—”
“The next day,” Henri interrupted, “it was my turn to applaud you. I had been deprived a long time of the pleasures of the theatre, of which I am very fond, and I began by going to the Comedie Francaise, where you played, that night, the role of Helene in ‘Mademoiselle de la Seigliere.’ Do you remember?”
“Do I remember! I recognized you instantly, sitting in the third row in the orchestra.”
“I had never seen you until then,” Henri continued, “but that sympathetic current was soon established, from the moment you appeared until the end of the second piece. As it is my opinion that any officer is sufficiently a gentleman to have the right to love a girl of noble birth, I fell readily under the spell in which she whom you represented echoed my own sentiments. Bernard Stamply also had just returned from captivity, and the more enamored of you he became the more I pleased myself with fancying my own personality an incarnation of his, with less presumption than would be necessary for me to imagine myself the hero of which you spoke a moment ago. After the play, a friend brought me here, presented me to you—”