And saluting Mademoiselle de Vermont courteously, he went his way.
“Now you are free, Henri. Suppose we accompany Mademoiselle back to Paris?” suggested Lenaieff, seeming to read his friend’s mind.
“What an honor for me!” Valentine exclaimed.
The General made a sign to his orderly, who approached to receive his instructions.
“Tell the brigadier-generals that I am about to depart. I need no more escort than two cavalrymen for General Lenaieff and myself. Now I am ready, Mademoiselle,” Henri continued, turning toward Valentine. “If you will be guided by me, we should do well to reach the fortifications by way of the Lake of Saint-Mande.”
She made a little sound with her tongue, and the two cobs set off in the direction indicated, the crowds they passed stopping to admire their high action, and asking one another who was that pretty woman who was escorted by two generals, the one French, the other a foreigner.
“I must look like a treaty of peace in a Franco-Russian alliance!” said Zibeline, gayly.
The sun shone brightly, the new leaves were quivering on the trees, the breeze bore to the ear the echo of the military bands.
Animated by the sound, the two cobs went ahead at a great pace, but they were kept well in hand by their mistress, who was dressed this morning in a simple navy-blue costume, with a small, oval, felt hat, ornamented with two white wings, set on in a manner that made the wearer resemble a valkyrie. Her whip, an unnecessary accessory, lay across the seat at her right, on which side of the carriage Henri rode.
The General’s eyes missed none of the graceful movements of the young girl. And his reflections regarding her, recently interrupted, returned in full force, augmenting still more his regret at the inexorable fate that separated him from her. “What a pity!” he thought in his turn, repeating unconsciously the phrase so often uttered by his sister.
Arrived at the Place du Trene, Valentine stopped her horses a moment, and addressed her two cavaliers:
“I thank you for your escort, gentlemen. But however high may be your rank, I really can not go through Paris looking like a prisoner between two gendarmes! So good-by! I shall see you this evening perhaps, but good-by for the present.”
They gave her a military salute, and the carriage disappeared in the Faubourg St. Antoine, while the two horsemen followed the line of the quays along the Boulevard Diderot.
That person who, in springtime, between ten o’clock and midday, never has walked beside the bridle-path in the Bois de Boulogne, under the deep shade of the trees, can form no idea of the large number of equestrians that for many years have been devoted to riding along that delightful and picturesque road.