“Under some other pretext, however,” said the General. “Because Mademoiselle de Vermont’s million francs have destroyed their amorous designs.”
“So now we see Zibeline fairly launched,” remarked the banker. “Since the Duchesse de Montgeron has taken her up, all the naughty tales that have been fabricated about her will go to pieces like a house of cards.”
“That is very probable,” the General concluded, “for she has made a complete conquest of my sister.”
At these words a slight cloud passed over the actress’s face. The imagination of a jealous mistress sees rivals everywhere; especially that of an actress.
After dinner, while her other guests went into the smoking-room, Eugenic made a sign to her lover to remain with her, and seated herself beside him.
“I wish to ask you a question, Henri,” said she.
“What is it?”
“Do you still love me?”
“What reason have you to doubt it?”
“None that warrants me in reproaching you for anything. But so many things separate us! Your career, to which you owe everything! Your social standing, so different from mine! Oh, I know that you are sincere, and that if you ever have a scruple regarding our liaison, you will not be able to hide it from me. It is this possibility of which I think.”
“You are quite wrong, I assure you. Did I hide myself last night in order to prove openly my admiration for you? Did I appear to disclaim the allusions which you emphasized in seeming to address me in the course of your role?”
“No, that is true. Shall I make a confession? When I am on the stage, I fear nothing, because there the points of comparison are all in my favor, since you can say to yourself: ’This woman on whom all eyes are fixed, whose voice penetrates to the depths of the soul—this woman, beautiful, applauded, courted, belongs to me—wholly to me,’ and your masculine vanity is pleasantly flattered. But later, Henri! When the rouge is effaced from my lips, when the powder is removed from my cheeks—perhaps revealing some premature line caused by study and late hours—if, after that, you return to your own circle, and there encounter some fresh young girl, graceful and blooming, the object, in her turn, of the fickle admiration of the multitude, forgetful already of her who just now charmed them—tell me, Henri! do you not, as do the others, covet that beautiful exotic flower, and must not the poor comedienne weep for her lost prestige?”
“It is Mademoiselle de Vermont, then, who inspires you with this apprehension,” said the General, smiling.
“Well, yes, it is she!”
“What childishness! Lenaieff will tell you that I have never even looked at her.”
“Last night, perhaps—but to-day?”
“We exchanged no more than a dozen words.”
“But the more I think of her visit to the greenroom, the more inexplicable it appears to me.”