“Poor Monsieur Desvanneaux!”
“You pity me, dear Mademoiselle? I thank you! The role of consoler is truly worthy of your large heart, and if you do not forbid me to hope—” said this modern Tartufe, approaching Eugenie little by little.
“Take care!” said she; “suppose the General should be hidden under that table, like Orgon!”
“The General!” exclaimed Desvanneaux; “he is too much occupied elsewhere!”
“Occupied with whom?”
“With Zibeline, probably. He never left her side all the evening, last night at the Opera.”
“Pardon me! He was here until after ten o’clock.”
“Yes, but afterward—when the opera was over?”
“Well, what happened when the opera was over?” Eugenie inquired, forcing herself to hide her emotion.
“They went away together! I saw them—I was watching them from behind a column. What a scandal!”
“And your conclusion on all this, Monsieur Desvanneaux?”
“It is that the General is deceiving you, dear Mademoiselle.”
“With that young girl?”
“A bold hussy, I tell you! A Messalina! Ah, I pity you sincerely in my turn! And should a devoted consoler, a discreet avenger, be able to make you forget this outrage to your charms, behold me at your feet, devoting to you my prayers, awaiting only a word from you to become the most fortunate among the elect—”
A loud knock at the outer door spared Mademoiselle Gontier the trouble of repelling her ridiculous adorer, who promptly scrambled to his feet at the sound.
“A visitor!” he murmured, turning pale. “Decidedly, I have no luck—”
“Monsieur le Marquis de Prerolles is in the drawing-room,” a domestic announced.
“Beg him to wait,” said Eugenie, reassured by this visit, which was earlier than the usual hour. “You see that you are badly informed, Monsieur Desvanneaux,” she added.
“For heaven’s sake, spare me this embarrassing meeting!” said the informer, whose complexion had become livid.
“I understand. You fear a challenge?”
“Oh, no, not that! My religious principles would forbid me to fight a duel. But the General would not fail to rally me before my wife regarding my presence here, and Madame Desvanneaux would be pitiless.”
“Own, however, that you richly deserve a lesson, Lovelace that you are! But I will take pity on you,” said Eugenie, opening a door at the end of the room. “The servants’ stairway is at the end of that corridor. You know the way!” she added, laughing.
“I am beginning to know it, dear Mademoiselle!” said the pitiful beguiler, slipping through the doorway on tiptoe.
After picking up a chair which, in his alarm, the fugitive had overturned in his flight, Mademoiselle Gontier herself opened the door leading to the drawing-room.