“See how any one can purchase admission to our world in these days!” whispered Madame Desvanneaux in her daughter’s ear.
“Heavens! yes, dear mother! The only question is whether one is able to pay the price.”
We must render justice to the two titled patronesses by saying that the immediate admission of Mademoiselle de Vermont to their circle seemed to them the least they could do, and that they greeted her appearance, as she entered on the arm of the Duke, with a sympathetic murmur which put the final stroke to the exasperation of the two malicious dames.
“You are very welcome here, Mademoiselle,” said the Duchess, advancing to greet her guest. “I am delighted to express to you, in behalf of all these ladies, the profound gratitude with which your generous aid inspires them!”
“It is more than I deserve, Madame la Duchesse!” said Valentine. “The important work in which they have taken the initiative is so interesting that each of us should contribute to it according to his means. I am alone in Paris, without relatives or friends, and these ladies have furnished me the means to cure my idleness; so it is I, rather, who am indebted to them.”
Whether this speech were studied or not, it was pronounced to be in very good taste, and the stranger’s conquest of the assemblage was more and more assured.
“Since you wish to join us,” resumed the Duchess, “allow me to present to you these gentlemen: Monsieur Desvanneaux, our zealous general secretary—”
“I have already had the pleasure of seeing Monsieur at my house,” said Valentine, “also Madame Desvanneaux; and although I was unable to accede to their wishes, I retain, nevertheless, the pleasantest recollections of their visit.”
“Good hit!” whispered Madame de Nointel to her neighbor.
“The Marquis de Prerolles, my brother,” the Duchess continued.
“The smiles of Fortune must be sweet, Mademoiselle,” said the General, bowing low.
“Not so sweet as those of Glory, General,” Zibeline replied, with a pretty air of deference.
“She possesses a decidedly ready wit,” said Madame de Lisieux in a confidential aside.
“Now, ladies,” added the president, “I believe that the best thing we can do is to leave everything in the hands of Mademoiselle and our treasurer. The examination of the annual resources will be the object of the next meeting. For to-day, the meeting is adjourned.”
Then, as Mademoiselle de Vermont was about to mingle with the other ladies, the Duchess detained her an instant, inquiring:
“Have you any engagement for this evening, Mademoiselle?”
“Will you do us the honor to join us in my box at the opera?”
“But—I have no one to accompany me,” said Zibeline. “I dismissed my cousin De Sainte-Foy, thinking that I should have no further need of his escort to-day.”