Mademoiselle de Vermont disliked bright colors, and wore on this occasion a robe of black velvet, of which the ‘decolletee’ bodice set off the whiteness of her shoulders and her neck, the latter ornamented with a simple band of cherry-colored velvet, without jewels, as was suitable for a young girl. Long suede gloves, buttoned to the elbow, outlined her well-modelled arms, of which the upper part emerged, without sleeves, from lace ruffles gathered in the form of epaulets.
The men admired her; the women sought some point to criticise, and had the eyes of Madame Desvanneaux been able to throw deadly projectiles, her powerful lorgnette would have become an instrument of death for the object of her resentment.
“This morning,” said the irreconcilable matron, “she showed us her ankles; this evening she allows us to see the remainder.”
“I should have been very well pleased, however—” murmured young Desvanneaux, with regret.
“If you had married her, Victor,” said his mother, “I should have taken full charge of her wardrobe, and should have made some decided changes, I assure you.”
Perfectly indifferent to the general curiosity, Zibeline in her turn calmly reviewed the audience. After exploring the boxes with her opera-glass, she lowered it to examine the orchestra stalls, and, perceiving the Marquis, she fixed her gaze upon him. Undoubtedly she knew the reason for the particular attention which he paid to the stage, because, until the end of the act, her glance was divided alternately between the General and the actress.
As the curtain fell on this act the spectators turned their backs to the footlights, and Lenaieff, indicating Zibeline to his friend, said in his slightly Slavonic accent:
“Who is that pretty woman, my dear Henri?”
“One of Jules Verne’s personages, a product of the land of furs.”
“Do you know her?”
“Not at all. I have a prejudice against girls that are too rich. Why do you ask?”
“Because it seems to me that she looks at you very attentively.”
“Indeed! I had not noticed it.”
In saying this, the General—exaggerated! He had been perfectly well aware of the gaze of Mademoiselle de Vermont, but whether he still cherished a slight resentment against the lady, or whether her appearance really displeased him, he cut the conversation short and went to pay his respects to the occupants of several boxes.
Evidently Zibeline knew few persons in society, for no visitor appeared in her box. However, after the next act she made a sign to M. Durand. That gentleman rejoined the Baron de Samoreau in the corridor and took him to meet Zibeline, and a sort of council appeared to be going on in the rear of her box.
“What the deuce can she be talking about to them?” said Desvanneaux to his wife.
“A new offer of marriage, probably. They say she declares she will marry no one of lower rank than a prince, in order to complete our chagrin! Perhaps they have succeeded in finding one for her!”