“What circumstances?” said the General.
“The subject is rather delicate—especially to mention before you, my dear Jeanne.”
“I was just about to propose that I should retire,” said the Duchess. “Good-night, Henri!” And she bent to kiss him.
“You are not vexed?” said her brother, embracing her tenderly.
“What an idea! Good-night!”
“Am I always to be considered as occupying the stool of repentance?” Henri inquired, as soon as his sister had left the room.
“Yes, but you will not be offended if I interrogate you a little, after the manner of a judge?” said the Duke.
“Quite the contrary. Go on; I will listen.”
“Had you not just now expressed yourself very distinctly in disfavor of any project of marriage because of perfectly unimpeachable principles, I should not permit myself to make any allusion to your private life. Every man is his own master in his choice of liaisons, and on that head is answerable only to his own conscience. In these days, moreover, art is on a level with birth, and talent with military glory. You see that I am quite modern in my ideas! However—”
“Ah, there is a reserve?”
“Without liability. Mademoiselle Gontier is surrounded by great luxury. She maintains an expensive house and keeps an open table. Her annual salary and her income can not possibly cover these expenses. Whence does she obtain further resources?”
“From the investments made for her by the Baron de Samoreau.”
“Without her having to pay a commission of any kind? A most remarkable case of disinterestedness!”
“I never have sought to examine the matter particularly,” said Henri.
“And is that the way you keep yourself informed? A future general-in-chief!”
“I was not aware that I am in an enemy’s country.”
“No, but you are in a conquered country, which is still more dangerous. Oh, no one will attack you face to face at the point of the sword. But behind your back, in the shadow, you have already massed against you various rejected swains, the Desvanneaux of the coulisses, jealous of a preference which wounds their own vanity, and the more ready to throw discredit—were they able—upon a man of your valor, because they are better armed against him with the logic of facts.”
“What logic, in heaven’s name?”
“That which emanates from the following dilemma: Either Danae is obliged to hide from Jupiter—or, rather, from Maecenas—her intimacy with you—and you are only a lover who simply loves her—or else Maecenas is an epicurean who has no objection to share his fortune philosophically; so that ostensibly you sit at the feast without paying the cost—which is worse yet.”
“Does any one dare to say that of me?” cried the General, springing from his chair.
“They are beginning to say it,” the Duke replied, his eyes fixed on his brother-in-law, who paced to and fro, gnawing his moustache. “I ask your pardon for throwing such a bucket of ice-water on you, but with men of your constitution—”