“And all this,” added a third member, “because she is as lovely as a dream, and because she drives the handsomest turnout in the Bois. If she were ugly, and contented herself with a hired carriage, she would be absolved without confession!”
“Where the deuce does Christian charity come in, in all this gossip?” said Henri de Prerolles to himself, who had just entered the box and overheard the last remarks. “Will you grant me your hospitality until the beginning of the next act, gentlemen?” he said aloud. “My sister’s box is full of guests and transient visitors; she can not admit even me!”
The General was a great favorite with the members of the club. One of them rose to offer him his place.
“I shall stay only a moment, to escape a cloud of questioners in the foyer. Every one that stops me asks—”
“About the new recruit in the Duchess’s box, eh?” said a member. “We, too, wish to inquire about her; we are all leagued together.”
“Thank you, no,” said the General.
“But if it is a secret—”
“There is no secret about it,” the General replied; and in a few words he explained the enigma.
“Why, then,” exclaimed the senior member, “she is indeed the fowl that lays the golden eggs! What a lucky bird will be the one that mates with her!”
The rising curtain sent the spectators back to their places. The augurs of the Duchess’s box reinstalled themselves before it where they could examine at their ease through their lorgnettes the fair stranger of whom so much had been said; and, mounting to the next floor, the General was at last able to find room among his sister’s guests.
“You can see for yourself that our young friend is altogether charming,” whispered Madame de Nointel, behind the shelter of her fan, and indicating Zibeline.
“If you pronounce her so, Madame, she can receive no higher praise,” said Henri.
“Say at once that you think me exasperating,” laughed the lady.
“Was it not you that first called her Zibeline?” Henri inquired.
“Yes, but she calls herself Valentine—which rhymes, after all. Not richly enough for her, I know, but her means allow her to do without the supporting consonant. See how beautiful she is to-night!”
In fact, twenty-four hours had sufficed to change the lonely stranger of the day before into the heroine of this evening, and the satisfaction that shone in her face tempered the somewhat haughty and disdainful expression that had hitherto characterized her.
“You have not yet said ‘good-evening’ to Mademoiselle de Vermont, Henri,” said the Duchess to her brother, and he changed his place in order to act upon her hint.
“Ah, is it you, General?” said Zibeline, affecting not to have seen him until that moment. “It seems that music interests you less than comedy.”
“What has made you form that opinion, Mademoiselle?”