A letter from Eugenie was awaiting him. He read:
“Two weeks have elapsed since
you have been to see me. I do not ask
whether you love me still, but I do ask you, in case you love
another, to tell me so frankly.
“So I am summoned to the confessional, and am expected to accuse myself of that which I dare not avow even to my own heart! Never!” said Henri, crushing the note in his hand. “Besides, unless I deceive myself, Ariadne has not been slow in seeking a consoling divinity! Samoreau is at hand, it appears. He played the part of Plutus before; now he will assume that of Bacchus,” thought the recreant lover, in order to smother his feeling of remorse.
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
The life of General de Prerolles was uniformly regulated. He arose at dawn, and worked until the arrival of his courier; then he mounted his horse, attired in morning military costume.
After his ride, he visited the quartermaster-general of his division, received the report of his chief of staff, and gave necessary orders. It was at this place, and never at the General’s own dwelling, that the captains or subaltern officers presented themselves when they had occasion to speak to him.
At midday he returned to breakfast at the Hotel de Montgeron where, morning and evening, his plate was laid; and soon after this meal he retired to his own quarters to work with his orderly, whose duty it was to report to him regarding the numerous guns and pieces of heavy ordnance which make the object of much going and coming in military life.
After signing the usual number of documents, the General would mount another of his horses, and at this hour would appear in civilian attire for an afternoon canter. After this second ride he would pass an hour at his club, but without ever touching a card, no matter what game was in progress.
He dined at different places, but oftenest with his sister, where by this time a studied silence was preserved on the subject of Zibeline. This, however, did not prevent him from thinking of her more and more.
Mademoiselle de Vermont had not been seen again in the Bois de Boulogne since the night of her dinner, although Henri had sought in vain to meet her in the mornings in the bridle-path, and afternoons in the Avenue des Acacias.
He decided that probably she did not wish to ride during Holy Week; but when several days had passed after Easter, and still she was not seen amusing herself in her usual fashion, he said to himself that perhaps it would be the proper thing to make what is called “a dinner-call.”
There are some women whose fascination is so overwhelming as to cause the sanest of lovers to commit themselves, whence comes the slightly vulgar expression, “He has lost his bearings.” Henri began to feel that he was in this state when he presented himself at Zibeline’s home. A domestic informed him that Mademoiselle had been absent a week, but was expected home that evening. He left his card, regretting that he had not waited twenty-four hours more.