A MODERN TARTUFE
At the same hour that the elegant carriage of Zibeline was conducting her to the Hotel de Montgeron, M. Desvanneaux descended from a modest fiacre at the gate of the hotel occupied by Eugenie Gontier.
The first impulse of the actress—who was engaged in studying a new role in her library—was not to receive her importunate visitor; but a sudden idea changed her determination, and she gave the order to admit him.
“This is the first time that I have had the high favor of being admitted to this sanctuary,” said the churchwarden, kissing with ardor the hand that the actress extended to him.
“Don’t let us have so great a display of pious manifestations,” she said, withdrawing her hand from this act of humility, which was rather too prolonged. “Sit down and be sensible,” she added.
“Can one be sensible when he finds himself at your feet, dear Mademoiselle? At the feet of the idol who is so appropriately enthroned among so many artistic objects!” replied the honey-tongued Prudhomme, adjusting his eyeglasses. “The bust of General de Prerolles, no doubt?” he added, inquiringly, scrutinizing a marble statuette placed on the high mantelpiece.
“You are wrong, Monsieur Desvanneaux; it is that of Moliere!”
“I beg your pardon!—I am standing so far below it! I, too, have on my bureau a bust of our great Poquelin, but Madame Desvanneaux thinks that this author’s style is somewhat too pornographic, and has ordered me to replace his profane image by the more edifying one of our charitable patron, Saint Vincent de Paul.”
“Is it to tell me of your family jars that you honor me with this visit?” said Eugenie.
“No, indeed! It was rather to escape from them, dear Mademoiselle! But alas! my visit has also another object: to release you from the promise you were so kind as to make me regarding the matter of our kermess; a project now unfortunately rendered futile by that Zibeline!”
“Otherwise called ‘Mademoiselle de Vermont.’”
“I prefer to call her Zibeline—that name is better suited to a courtesan.”
“You are very severe toward her!”
“I can not endure hypocrites!” naively replied the worthy man.
“She appeared to me to be very beautiful, however,” continued Eugenie Gontier, in order to keep up the conversation on the woman who she felt instinctively was her rival.
“Beautiful! Not so beautiful as you,” rejoined M. Desvanneaux, gallantly. “She is a very ambitious person, who throws her money at our heads, the better to humiliate us.”
“But, since it is all in the interest of the Orphan Asylum—”
“Say, rather, in her own interest, to put herself on a pedestal because of her generosity! Oh, she has succeeded at the first stroke! Already, at the Hotel de Montgeron they swear by her; and if this sort of thing goes on, I shall very soon be regarded only as a pariah!”